Author's Note: This is my first foray into the land of White Collar - the show, at least. White collar crime has actually been a factor in my family's life for generations. It's sad that I connect with Dexter and Neal over many "real" people, but I came up with this as an answer to someone's comment in my A School class. It's not a whump, or slash, or anything like that. Just an exposition to explain people like my family members.
Peter Burke spent the better part of his career in the White Collar Crime Division of the FBI chasing what comic books and children would refer to as 'bad guys'. Putting them behind bars and leaving them to just desserts was his favorite part of the job, followed secondly by the fact that he liked proving that 'good guys' usually triumphed over the bad.
He liked that there was good and bad, black and white, and a distinctive line between them all.
And then came Neal Caffrey. Right out of a romance novel that he would've mercilessly teased his wife about reading. Dressed like Frank Sinatra with moves that probably made Don Juan look like an awkward teenager. He looked like he'd just stepped from the pages of a cartoon designed by someone in the fashion industry.
At first, Peter regarded him with little difference than his other quarries. But then he found out more about this impossible man. For one, he was barely a man. When Peter first started chasing him, he thought Neal was somewhere in his late 30's, given his expertise and the ease with which he dodged the law.
Then he met him.
A boy. Barely into his twenties. Yet the master of forgery in this country as well as a few others. Bold enough to walk into a museum with almost no plan except which painting he wanted, and walk away successful. He even committed crime with flair from a long bygone era.
What was worse was that he was polite, charming, and very considerate. When the FBI had staked out one of his known hideouts around Christmas time, Neal sent care packages to the car so they wouldn't be stuck eating devilled ham or stale cookies on the holiday. He even wrote apology notes in long, flowing calligraphy that would've been a work of art - if he hadn't been writing to tell them he was sorry he kept them from their families on such a holiday, but they were guarding the wrong house, and he was nowhere close to where they were positioned.
Charming and polite turned into smug and arrogance in Peter's mind as the capricious youth lead both international and federal law enforcement agencies on a merry chase. Other people on the case were taken in by the conman's charmning prescence and some even boldly suggested that what he did was harmless, and perhaps he wasn't as guilty as Peter suspected.
Those people were promptly reassigned to the mail room.
What irked Peter even more was that even if he could catch up to the man, he didn't have anything to hold him on. Just strong suspicions and alluded "I may have something to do with it, or I may not" half confessions.
Finally, he managed to find something with Caffrey's initials on it. An eyewitness saying they had seen him drop off the forged bonds, a tenuous lead about how he may have been bragging about it in a coffee shop. It was the closest thing he could find, and Peter jumped on it. Half a decade later, and he finally has SOMETHING to pin on this con artist.
Neal couldn't even run like a normal criminal. He didn't bolt into a crowd and across a busy street, shoving people out of his way and leaping over cars. No, Neal Caffrey walked away from the pursuing agents. He even stopped to hold the door for an older woman as he passed. Granted, he also shoved a mop handle into the same door as soon as she was through to stop the agents but still...the nerve.
At this point, Peter could only see red when he saw the radiant smile the young man flashed at him as he tipped his hat at him. He really wished Caffrey liked guns so he could shoot him.
If it weren't for Neal's propensity for being more charming than any criminal had a right to be, Peter probably wouldn't have caught the con. Peter probably wouldn't even be alive, though he was loathe to admit it. He liked to think he would've been fine, it was just convenient Neal turned around to save the man chasing him.
The fire escape that Neal was scaling with the ease of an alley cat was old, rotting and rusting, and Neal was probably just as lucky the stairs hadn't given out under him on his original flight up them.
Originally, when he felt the metal give out under him, Peter wasn't all that concerned. Then he realized he was a lot higher up than he thought. He'd chased Neal alone, everyone else either trying to find where Neal was going so they could cut him off, or caught in one of his clever traps. Neal had already made it to the roof when the screech of tormented metal giving way made him turn back.
Peter could even see the look on the con's face when he looked over the edge of the roof at him, biting his lower lip as if debating whether or not to go back down after him. When Neal disappeared from view, Peter was strangely relieved. Neal Caffrey wasn't the picture perfect romantic lead in a cat burglar movie. He was a criminal, and had run away instead of helping a fellow human being.
Then the window next to him popped open, and Neal Caffrey was standing there, holding out his hand.
"Come on, Agent Burke. Your wife would never forgive either one of us if I let you fall."
Childishly, Peter really, really didn't want to take the offered well-manicured hand.
"You can glare at me all you want, Agent Burke. But I really don't want to leave you like that. Give me your hand, and I'll pull you in." Neal smiled. That stupid, aggravating, catch me if you can smile.
"I'll do one better," Peter said. He reached over and snapped one half of the handcuffs over Neal's wrist. "You're under arrest."
The look of shock on Caffrey's face was well worth it. That is, until he laughed.
"Kings to you*, Agent Burke."
And that, as they said, was history.
Up until this point, Peter was always convinced he knew everything about Neal Caffrey, con artist and art forger extraordinaire.
And then they gave him his fake identity, making him valedictorian, and that comment slipped out.
"Neal," Peter began.
Neal raised an elegant eyebrow. "Yes?"
"Why didn't you graduate high school?"
Neal shrugged. "School never mattered all that much to me. Neither did a diploma. Most famous artists were starving and barely educated, so I figured it wasn't worth the paper to get a diploma."
"But you're obviously educated," Peter pointed out.
"Yeah. Home school. Or the library. I learned a lot of about the things I was interested in, and not so much about the boring stuff."
"Is that why you got into white collar crime?" Peter asked.
Neal chuckled at that. "Not exactly, no...I know everyone expects me to have this tragic past, like my parents died in some horrific accident, or they beat the crap out of me, but really, I was just following the family business. My parents were kind of hippies, actually. Very down to earth, no value in objects, that sort of thing. That's why there's not much of a record of them. They liked to live 'off the grid'."
"How do hippies constitute a family business of crime?"
"Well..." Neal paused. "Think of it this way - they liked the idea of sticking it to the man, and they never liked violence. Annoying people with money and wealth like it was their only drive in life was sort of my way of carrying on that idea."
"You turned to crime to stick it to the man?" Peter asked skeptically.
"I also may have this compulsion to take things that don't belong to me that happen to be shiny and pretty," Neal said.
"I hadn't noticed."
"Okay, Peter, I'll try to explain it in more 'you' terms. Why are you in White Collar instead of something like violent crimes?" Neal asked.
"I like the work better. More of a challenge, and generally less of the unsavory element of humanity," Peter said.
"And because you like proving you're smarter than the average guy. White collar guys do what they do because we like to prove that we're smarter than you. It's not so much the crime we like, it's the chase. We like waving something under your noses practically confessing what we did, but knowing you can't prove it. All those people I stole from, I did it because I didn't like the way they thought of themselves as better than everyone else. I liked the idea I could remind someone they weren't as smart, or as cunning, or as untouchable as they thought they were."
"So you are an elitist when it comes to crime?" Peter said.
Neal considered it for a moment. "I guess you could look at it that way. I was also dirt poor when I started out, and it was a convenient way of making money. Though I got started as a grifter, not a thief. It just sort of escalated."
"With that smile and those eyes, it's a wonder you didn't become a gigolo," Peter mused.
"I have standards, Peter," Neal said, looking affronted. "Besides, how would I ever come up with a worthy adversary in the vice department?"
*Kings to you - From Count of Monte Cristo and my dad. We used to say it to one another when the other had won in our battle of wits...though he and I are more like Shawn and Henry Spencer than Peter Burke and Neal Caffrey