Disclaimer: I don't even own anything that has a white collar or matching cuffs for that matter.
A/N: This takes place after season one and contains major spoilers for Free Fall, Bottleneck, Front Man and Out of the Box.
Summary: Neal thought he won the last game of one up man ship with Keller but Keller had other plans.
Facing the con sequences of his actions
Mathew Keller was the only one who was ever able to get Neal to think about violence. It just took the sound of his voice; the words didn't matter, and Neal wanted to beat the man's head against the nearest hard object and that was only when he was feeling charitable.
Ironically, the thief/murderer/con artist who had no compunction against violence didn't need to use a gun or a car to hurt Neal. Keller knew exactly what buttons to push and he could use his words much more efficiently than he had any lock pick.
Sitting across from the chained convict, Neal questioned his own sanity for coming here, to the very prison where he had spent the worst years of his life, from where he escaped only to be thrown back and then released by Peter. The man who so valued his freedom still had nightmares from his incarceration, still woke up sometimes forgetting where he was, and frightened of the space, the privacy, the different sounds and smells and the lack of restraints to the point that ironically disoriented in the dead of night, the only thing to save his grip on reality was the anklet he still wore.
While the powers that be felt they needed that piece of jewelry on Neal to keep him honest, or at least keep him from disappearing, they knew that Keller was providing his own form of restraint. Unless he confessed, they'd kick him out of the stone walls and iron bars that kept him safe, and into the murderously waiting and eager arms of Sergei and the Russian mafia.
So Keller gave them just enough to hold him, with promises of more than enough to keep him in prison and alive, if he got a face to face with F.B.I. Special Agent Peter Burke's pet-consultant, Neal Caffery.
Despite the offer of the return of stolen property, Peter didn't think any good would come of the meeting with the "anti-Caffery, the bisaro Neal." Having been on the receiving end of Keller's venom for less than five minutes, Peter was sure this meeting wouldn't do the presently fragile Neal any good either.
Neal, always a sensitive person, was still shaky from his own near doom and witnessing his girlfriend's horrible murder just week ago. But that was only the half of it. Overtures were being made to Neal, subtle though they were, of what he could have if he went forward with Mentor.
But whispers had reached Peter's ears of plans and operations the F.B.I. considered way too dangerous for any agent before now going forward. He knew they were sheer suicide, with the benefit not nearly worth the cost, volunteer only, with little or no exit strategy, and they were being reworked because somebody upstairs knew they had Neal.
Though Neal was depressed and looking for a means to clear his conscience at any cost, Peter was sure he was making progress, talking Neal out of the offer of full immunity from prosecution of any past crimes and freedom with OPR, and to consent to continue on the relatively safer path he'd started, even if it meant again wearing the anklet. That was until these insane orders came down.
Unfortunately, neither man had a choice in the matter so Peter did the only thing he could, he volunteered to accompany Neal to the prison. But that's all he could do, Keller insisted the meet be between just him and Neal. Peter insisted on being able to listen in.
The two con-artists had already gone through their usual game of one-up-man ship, a game which Neal tired of easily. Keller taunted him with half truths and lies about Kate, digs at Neal's F.B.I. status, Neal's lack of willingness to get his hands dirty, just to get under Neal's skin, to make him act against his nature, his principals. Yet despite the verbal attacks, Neal sat somewhat confidently across from his opponent. After all, Neal could leave; Keller could not, which was enough of a win for the FBI consultant/OPR agent.
Keller was at it again. "You want to kill me Caffery, admit it. If it weren't for your keeper listening in and if you thought you could get away with it, you'd choke me with my own chains or bash my head against this table."
"Using violence isn't an achievement. It's a failure and too great a price to hurt someone just to get what you want," Neal said with some pride.
"You think so?" Keller gave his trademark smirk. "You think you're way's better, huh. I wonder Caffery, you think you never hurt anyone? Interesting! That's not what I heard."
This was where Neal knew he had Keller. Neal never carried a gun even though Kate had begged him to for his own protection if nothing else. He planned his heists in such a way that there was no need for violence, even when drugging or hitting a guard on the head might have been easier and less time consuming and maybe even a little less dangerous. Physical violence sickened him in a way that few if any of the inmates of this place could understand.
"I'm not even going to ask because I know what I've done. I never did anything to hurt anyone."
Keller smirked, "You ever find out what happened to some of those guards you tricked, some of those secretaries and curators you charmed, some of the owners of the things you stole? Eh, Caffery, you ever even bother?"
Usually a master of control of his facial expressions, Neal felt himself pale, his throat go dry as he unconsciously shook his head. Once a con was completed, he and his crew never stuck around, getting as far away from the scene of the crime and each other as they could, waiting months, even a year or so before arranging to get their share.
"Nah, I didn't think so."
Neal made to leave. Keller had his one on one and there was no further reason for him to stay.
"Hector Dainer," Keller called out as Neal turned to the door, stopping him with his voice. "You probably don't even remember him. He was a janitor. His brother is in here. I met him the other day. You bribed Hector for some information. A Fed found out, your keeper Burke it was. But Hector got off easy, no prison, no charges, but he lost his job and couldn't get another one. He couldn't support his wife and family so he killed them, and then he ate a bullet. Hector's brother blamed the museum so he went in there, with a shotgun, killed three tourists before they caught him. The way I see it, you've got the blood of at least eight people on your hands from just one job. It went down sweet, didn't it? No evidence, no witnesses, no violence, not a single way to trace anything to you. You made a few million, just for the cost of their blood."
Neal felt as if he were choking, like he had to flee as far and as fast as he could yet he couldn't leave, like watching an accident happening in front of his eyes. He didn't like guns, never used them, and never resorted to violence. Neal Caffery would not hurt anyone in the game he played with the law.
"Then there's Sam Rodner. I'm sure you never heard of him either. You sold his brother some forged bonds. Only his brother didn't have the money to pay for them so he borrowed it from Sam. They didn't discover the bonds were forged until Sam's little girl got sick and they tried to sell the bonds to pay for the treatments she needed to stay alive. Both of them are in here. Their families don't come to visit because they lost everything in that little transaction. Oh, and Sam's little girl, I understand it was a long a painful death. But, hey, you made a fortune on that deal as well, no evidence, no trace, there and gone, and your hands are clean, right Caffery."
"It's not true," Neal barely choked out, "you're just trying to get to me. None of it is true."
"I've found dozens of others Caffery, some in here, and some elsewhere. The great Neal Caffery, hates violence, never carries any weapon, is too principled to get his hands dirty. But you're so called moral principals make you no better than me. You kill, you hurt, you destroy. It's just that you're too much of a coward to do it cleanly."
Neal ran to the door, "Let me out, please, let me out," he screamed banging his fists on the metal door until the guard pulled it open. He stumbled out, falling near a garbage pail where he heaved until there was nothing left inside him.
Peter kneeled there with him, helping him to support his weight, rubbing his back until he got control of himself. Neal looked up at his friend, his voice shaking with self recrimination, with pleas for forgiveness. "Peter, what Keller said, it's not true, it can't be true."
Though the agent, his friend, didn't say a word, it was in that silence that Neal got his answer, "Oh G-d, I didn't know, I swear I didn't know. I never, thought, never realized. What have I done? How many have I hurt?"
Peter shook him, making Neal look at him. "Neal, you are only responsible for your own actions. What others did or didn't do wasn't necessarily based on what you did. But at some point you've got to realize what you did wasn't the game you thought you were playing. It wasn't just a game of you against the law, a matter of one-up-man ship. You were here; you're wearing the anklet because what you did were crimes, Neal because they hurt people."
Most people have a lifetime to adjust from the games and fantasies of childhood to the reality of how harsh life can be that there are no fairy princesses and dashing white knights riding to the rescue. Most people have years to learn that every action, every word, good or bad can never be taken back and that most of what they do will come back either as a reward or a punishment, sometimes immediately, other times not for years or even a lifetime later.
Neal was not given that grace, that time to accept, learn and adjust. He had not been given the time to grow up. Neal had just faced all the consequences of his actions, all his misdeeds, all the results of his playful, childish view of life at once and his whole sense of self came crashing down on him. Sitting on the floor of a prison Neal Caffery faced reality for the first time in his life. Losing Kate, had broken his heart, but Keller's revelations had broken his spirit. For the first time in his life, Neal Caffery, master con, had no idea of who he was.
A/N: I'm sure there will be people out there who will be upset about this story and the portrayal of Neal Caffery, and they are free to let me know, however I feel that it would be to Neal's credit if he were affected this way.
I wrote this because while plenty of fanfiction has been written about criminals wanting to settle a score with Neal or Peter or Neal and Peter, I've never seen this issue addressed.
In Free Fall, Neal told the judge he wasn't ashamed of anything he had ever done. Even, working with Peter and seeing some of the hurt and pain that white collar crime causes, Neal seemed to have disassociated himself from it. After all, for him, it was a game, a test of skill, matching wits with a worthy opponent. By the time he faced Martin Gless in Front Man, he had begun to regret some of his past actions, realizing that what he had done caused some hurt to innocent people. It's just my opinion, but I don't think Neal could ever change until he has to face the reality of the consequences of his actions.