Summary: One-shot. Neal comes down with a cold and spends the day at home. Different members of the WC Universe ponder his partnership and friendship with Peter. Features Peter, June, Hughes, Blake, Moz, Jones, Diana, and Elle POV. No slash. General spoilers.
Reflections on an Unlikely Partnership
Author's Note: In an end-of-summer frenzy, I've decided to write another story, this one centered on Peter and Neal's partnership and friendship and featuring snippets from most of our beloved White Collar characters. This story is set sometime in the near future. I've never attempted something like this before, so I'm quite nervous as to the readers' reactions. Ergo, please R&R! I'd love to know what you all thought of this piece.
Disclaimer: I claim no rights to anything White Collar. As if the brilliance of Peter and Neal could've sprung from the recesses of my mind. Ha!
At five-to-seven on Monday morning, Peter smoothly pulled his Taurus into a parking spot on the street situated directly below the ten-million-dollar-view terrace of June's mansion, awaiting his partner while sipping at a cup of coffee.
At seven o'clock sharp, Peter expected to see Neal sauntering from around the corner to the passenger side of the car, gracefully pulling open the door and sliding into his seat, removing that ridiculous hat from his head, and promptly beginning to hound Peter with questions about his weekend, Elizabeth, and the day's case.
At a minute past the hour, Peter smiled gleefully. Neal was late and Neal made it a point to never be late. Peter had to give Neal credit, though, as he was always punctual – and liked to remind Peter of this fact on the rare occasion that he arrived at the Bureau before Peter did.
Almost ten minutes later, there was still no sign of Neal. Peter wasn't concerned, not yet, but he was curious. What could be keeping him?
Stepping out of the car and locking it behind him, Peter walked to the front door, ringing the bell and greeting June when she answered it. "Good morning, June. Is Neal up yet?"
Ushering him inside, June proceeded to lead Peter up the stairs. "I haven't heard a peep from him this morning. Perhaps he overslept?"
Peter snorted. "Yeah, maybe he stayed up too late planning something-or-other with Haversham." He and June both chuckled at this, and Peter moved to knock on Neal's door upon reaching his room. "Neal! What's taking you so long?"
When no witty response floated to them after several more inquiries, June turned to Peter anxiously. "Peter, do you think he's alright? He's never ignored us before."
Feeling worried by this point, Peter tried the doorknob, finding it unlocked. Cautiously pushing the door open, he peered inside, June following his lead. Sensing no immediate danger, they stepped more fully into the room, glancing about them until they spotted a lump buried under the covers of Neal's bed.
Irritated at the fact that Neal had, indeed, forgotten to wake up on time, Peter strode over to the bed and roughly yanked the comforter aside. Seeing Neal facing away from him, curled into a ball, Peter berated his charge, "Neal, wake up! You're late!"
A groan met his ears and he watched impatiently as Neal slowly rolled over to face him, but refused to open his eyes. June, who was standing by Peter's side, let out a soft gasp at the sight, and Peter's earlier annoyance melted into sympathy and guilt as he studied his very ill friend.
Neal had clearly come down with some sort of sickness, Peter observed as he sat on the edge of the bed and tentatively laid the back of his hand against Neal's forehead, which felt warm to the touch. June hurried to the kitchen and Peter glanced in her direction to find her rummaging amongst the cabinets for a first-aid kit. He returned his attention to Neal, who appeared to be more exhausted and sicklier than Peter had ever seen him. His normally perfectly coiffed dark locks lay in disarray and Peter wondered if he had been tossing and turning in his sleep, if the wrinkled and rumpled bed sheets were any indication. He was shivering, so Peter stood up briefly to pull the abandoned comforter back over Neal's form, smoothing his hair once he was seated again.
June reappeared, holding a thermometer and a bottle of ibuprofen. She slid the probe across Neal's forehead, reading the temperature aloud to Peter: 100.4°F. She sighed, but smiled slightly at Peter's frown. "It could be worse. He's going to be uncomfortable all day, I think, but with some rest and medication, he should be better in no time." She laughed quietly at Peter's skeptical look. "Peter, I've had to take care of my fair share of sick children and grandchildren. Neal will be just fine."
Nodding sheepishly, Peter eased himself off of the bed. "I trust you, June." Bending over Neal, he gently patted his cheek until he forced his eyes open. "Hey, buddy, how're you feeling?"
Neal blinked tiredly up at him, his speech slurred. "I'm okay… But my whole body aches." He shifted his position on the bed, curling up into a ball again, and grabbing onto his pillow. He was miserable, but managed to focus his gaze on Peter and June, smiling for their benefit. "Guess I can't go in to work today. Hope Hughes won't be mad."
Straightening up, Peter resisted the urge to ruffle Neal's hair, feeling awkward now that Neal was awake and more alert than he had been when Peter had first found him. A semi-unconscious Neal was one thing. A Neal who could take stock of his surroundings, despite his sleepiness, would definitely rib him for being a mother hen later. Attempting to mask his sudden, embarrassing desire to fawn over Neal, Peter mock-glared at him instead. "Hughes will understand, but you'd better rest up. The Bureau isn't paying June seven hundred a month for her to baby-sit you all day."
June swatted at him. "Nonsense, Peter. I was planning on staying home today, anyway, so it will be no trouble at all to check in on Neal once in a while." She smiled at Neal, who winked back at her.
"Thanks, June," he murmured, eyes drifting shut again. "Go to work, Peter."
Peter's expression softened as he watched Neal fall into a light sleep, but he maintained a stern tone to his voice. "I'm still going to check your anklet, Neal. If I find out that you've snuck off anywhere today – "
But the rest of his threat was cut off by Neal's nearly inaudible mumble. "Not going anywhere…"
Stopping short, Peter shook his head, trying not to smile. Bidding June a hasty goodbye, he promised to stop by after work to check up on Neal and made his way downstairs.
The fact that Peter was about to think adorable was almost reason enough to want to slap himself upside the head.
Reese Hughes had an excellent vantage point from his office. Sitting in front of his desk, he could observe the entire White Collar Crime Unit without having to set one foot into the bullpen. As he discreetly observed his senior and junior agents, he was surprised to see Peter, his lead agent, step through the glass doors without Neal Caffrey in tow.
This was an unusual occurrence, Reese mused, as he was accustomed to having Caffrey within his sight at all times, barring investigations and operations taking place outside of the Bureau walls without his participation. In fact, nowadays, it was strange to see one without the other. Burke and Caffrey worked so closely together, it seemed that their minds functioned in perfect sync. And despite having had little legal trouble from Caffrey since Fowler's disappearance, Reese knew better than to let his guard down when he didn't know where exactly the conman-turned-consultant was.
But he had to quickly hide his smile when Peter knocked on his open door. He hadn't even needed to execute the feared double-finger point – not that Peter feared him, of course, for Reese considered them equals in the Bureau and friends in every other office. "Morning, Peter. Where's Caffrey?"
Peter rolled his eyes at the name. "Neal is sick. He can't come into work today. Don't worry, I checked on him myself. He's not pulling our leg on this one." And there it was. Neal. Not Caffrey. Neal.
Motioning with his hand, Reese dismissed his best agent to tackle their newest mortgage fraud case before allowing his thoughts to be diverted from the mountain of paperwork waiting for him. Burke and Caffrey. They were partners now. No longer Special Agent Peter Burke, FBI, and convicted felon, Neal Caffrey. Now, people simply referred to them as Burke and Caffrey. Almost everyone remained wary of Caffrey, even those who liked him, because – as much as Reese hated to admit it – if he really put his mind to it, he could cut his tracker and likely make his escape to Europe before anyone even received a call from the U.S. Marshals Service.
At least, he thought, as he smiled proudly at his dedicated agents, Neal was helping Peter clear a ninety-three percent conviction rate. Surely, Neal Caffrey hadn't conned the entire division into believing that he had turned over a new leaf, had he?
And so, Reese would continue to uphold his suspicions until proven paranoid – but he liked to think that there were some… consultants who deserved a second chance.
Agent Blake watched in well-concealed awe as Agent Burke walked by his desk to speak with Agents Jones and Barrigan nearby. As he'd blurted to Neal during his first case with the Bureau, he was psyched to be working with the legendary Special Agent. Peter Burke was hard-working, collaborative, experienced – he was the greatest role model and mentor that Blake could have hoped for, but his consultant, Neal Caffrey, was a different matter.
Speaking of Caffrey… Blake, who was the newbie and didn't want unnecessary attention drawn to him, had to withhold his snicker as he unintentionally eavesdropped on Peter, Jones, and Diana. He watched them surreptitiously from the corner of his eye. They actually sounded disappointed that Caffrey was out sick today!
"Neal's sick, can't come in. It'll just be the three of us working cases today." That was Agent Burke.
"Finally, some peace and quiet!" Diana sounded pleased, but then she amended, "Nothing serious, though?"
Agent Burke smirked, something Blake hadn't gotten used to seeing yet. "Nah, just a cold. He's Neal, he'll be back to annoying us in no time."
Jones chuckled fondly. "But I wanted to ask Neal for a restaurant recommendation. He knows all the best places." A round of laughter here, then they parted ways.
Refocusing on the computer monitor, Blake felt confused and out-of-the-loop. He certainly didn't wish for illness to befall anyone he worked with, but he couldn't fathom why everyone in this unit relied so heavily on Caffrey's knowledge. What was more, he'd never heard of a partnership like Burke and Caffrey's. The Bureau's finest paired with a con artist suspected of over a dozen crimes. It wasn't logical.
Burke and Caffrey should belong on opposite sides of the law, but they had an understanding. They shared a secret repartee, which was openly displayed in every meeting, and Agent Blake supposed that he was more envious of their partnership than he cared to disclose.
Jones and Diana took their lunch break at noon, inviting Peter to join them in the café downstairs, but he declined, claiming to be swamped with work, though they suspected otherwise.
They took the elevator to the ground floor, wishing that Neal could accompany them. They sometimes ate together when Peter ditched Neal for lunch or Neal agreed to try a new place, and they always had a good time. Diana would threaten Neal with bodily harm each time he flirted with her, but he never failed to entertain with stories of "alleged" heists and talking about Peter behind his back. Jones always found Neal amusing, no matter what the circumstance was: striking up a conversation with agents from other divisions, making faces at Ruiz as they crossed paths in the lobby, flirting with the waitresses, and any number of other situations.
After settling into a corner booth and placing their orders, Diana brought up Neal in their conversation. "I don't think Caffrey's ever called in sick before. It's weird not having him around. I'm so used to seeing him with Peter."
Jones agreed. "Remember when he first signed on as a consultant? We were working that Dutchman case. I think we were more worried about Neal picking our pockets than about finding those bonds." He grinned at the memory.
Diana smirked. "I think he was more concerned with finding the bonds than we were. It was a temporary arrangement for him." Her smile faltered. "Still is. One wrong case and he might be sent back." Peter had emerged victorious and off suspension from his hearing, as she knew he would, but Caffrey would remain the subject of constant scrutiny until he finished serving the next three-odd years under Peter's supervision.
"Peter wouldn't let that happen," Jones countered. He thought of all the cases they'd solved as a team, of Neal's invaluable input and willingness to risk his own safety every time they sent him in undercover. "I think even Hughes likes him." They both laughed heartily.
Their discussion turned to other topics as the food arrived, but Jones paused as he picked up his burger. "You think Peter made the right decision?" He was quite certain he wasn't the only one who thought the partnership was brilliant.
The slightest hesitation. "Yes." After rejoining White Collar in New York City, Diana had had two distinct workloads placed upon her: one, to continue performing as Agent Barrigan, helping Peter's team to crack cases while keeping a close watch on Neal; and two, to figure out the mystery of the amber music box with Peter during her off-hours while keeping this business a secret from Neal. Within these last few months, she had worked in tandem with two of the smartest men she had ever had the privilege of knowing, and thinking of Peter forgoing a lunch with his agents because his partner was absent only served to banish the hint of doubt lurking in the back of her mind.
After Peter had left for the Bureau, June had busied herself for some time with ensuring that Neal was comfortable, waking him up momentarily to administer two tablets of ibuprofen for his fever and ordering him to drink a tall glass of water before allowing him to fall back to sleep. She tucked him into the bed as she would have done for any sick family member and sat at his beside for a few minutes, watching him sleep.
Not for the first time, June marveled at how easily Neal had become a part of her life. She loved him for being a source of joy and youthfulness in her previously empty home. She enjoyed asking him to spend weekend mornings in the park with her and he always accepted graciously. Cindy, whenever she was in town, liked Neal for his worldliness and his compliments on her sketches. Samantha was happy to have a new companion, especially one who treated her to ice cream after her soccer games. Life held more excitement for June now, and for as long as Neal had lived in her home, the pain of Byron's absence had been markedly lessened.
One day, she determined, she'd have to tell Peter how grateful she was that he had agreed to Neal's proposal, but then she decided that this particular sentiment didn't require verbal acknowledgement after all. Judging from the mornings Peter had spent with Neal and with her on the terrace and from his earlier behavior, June had a feeling that he was already aware of Neal's impact on the people in his life. However, she hoped that Peter understood his role in Neal's life, as well. He was the one person Neal trusted above all others, and June knew that they would come through for each other in a tight spot, regardless of their differences.
Relieved to see that Neal was sleeping deeply if not entirely without discomfort, June left his apartment and walked downstairs to the kitchen. She asked the cook to put together a pot of soup and seated herself in the living room to wait with a book. When the doorbell rang a few hours later, she answered it, smiling kindly at Dante Haversham fidgeting nervously in her doorway.
"Hi, June. Is Neal upstairs? He hasn't been taking my calls. Is he okay?" Mozzie tugged at his neckerchief distractedly.
June gestured for him to follow her into the kitchen. "Neal woke up sick this morning. He's been sleeping all day." She ladled the soup into a bowl and set it onto a wooden tray along with a spoon and a package of goldfish crackers. She handed the tray to Mozzie. "Would you bring this up for him, please? Try to get him to eat something."
Mozzie balanced the laden tray carefully as he walked over to set it down on Neal's dining table before moving to wake his friend. Shuddering at the thought of Neal sick, Mozzie crept over to the bed and took a hold of Neal's shoulder, shaking him warily as he whispered, "Neal. Neal, wake up. June sent me up here with soup."
"Moz?" Neal moaned, eyes opening and narrowing as he tried to focus on the figure standing in front of him. With Mozzie's help, he sat up against the headboard, running his hands over his face and hair. "What're you doing here?"
"You didn't answer my calls. I thought the Suit had abducted you into eternal slavery." Neal laughed, turning his head in the direction of the kitchen, finding the delicious aroma. Mozzie retrieved the bowl and spoon, handing them over to Neal and opening the packet of crackers, dumping the fish in, as well. He pulled a dining chair over and sat down. "So, what ailment's got you holed up in here for the foreseeable future?"
"Just a cold. I should be all better within a few days' time." Neal sipped at the soup, not having much of an appetite, though he liked pushing the goldfish around and eating them before they grew soggy. "Peter was here in the morning. Said I was excused from work, at least for today."
"The Suit was here? And he didn't think to call me?" Mozzie leaned back in his seat, crossing his arms. He might have begun to trust Peter Burke as one of the few straight-laced government agents he knew, but that didn't mean he wouldn't warn Neal about getting too chummy with the fed. "Checking up on a valuable government asset, I suppose?"
Neal sighed. "No, Moz. I didn't wake up on time, so he found me in bed." He spooned the last fish into his mouth and set the half-empty bowl onto his nightstand. Slumping against his pillows, he drew the covers up to his chin, still affected by chills. "You can sleep on the couch if you want, but Peter's coming by after work." He yawned. "I don't think I can stay awake for much longer."
Mozzie stood and huffed in annoyance. "I'll be long gone before he can start interrogating me. I'll come over tomorrow, Neal. Neal?" His friend had fallen asleep again, snoring softly. Mozzie gathered the remnants of Neal's lunch, making a mental note to give the Suit a call on his way down the stairs.
Peter had been having a quiet day, one free of sarcastic comments and pleas to be spared the evils of mortgage fraud, but by lunchtime, he'd decided that it was an unwelcome change. The morning's debriefing had been subdued and monotonous, although Peter refused to attribute that to a lack of Neal's hand-raising and feet-on-the-table. Jones and Diana had spent a few hours on the mortgage fraud case while Peter cleared his desk of reports, and if he missed the constant chatter from the empty chair facing him, he didn't dwell on it.
The boredom really kicked in at lunch. Mondays normally meant sandwiches at the corner deli, but since Neal had so conveniently left him without a lunch buddy, Peter had picked up his usual deviled ham before coming into the office. In the early afternoon, drowsiness almost caused Peter to fall asleep at his computer, and he realized that he didn't have anyone's annoying humming to keep him alert. Around three o'clock, Peter found himself pouring a fourth cup of coffee and he allowed a small part of him to admit that a day in the office was not the same without Neal. The cases were duller, the criminals were sneakier, but what Peter missed most was bantering with his partner. Tenuous though their partnership may be, it was the best thing to have happened in his FBI career nonetheless. White Collar was closing more cases than ever, thanks to Neal's first-hand knowledge of forgeries and fraud, but most importantly, Peter felt that Neal was learning to appreciate his new life, with or without Kate, and that was a victory in and of itself.
Late in the day, he received a call from a blocked number. Placing his cell phone to his ear, he was amused to hear the unmistakable tones of a person speaking through a voice-changer.
Why didn't you call to tell me that Neal was sick, Suit?
Peter pinched the bridge of his nose. "Mozzie, how could I have called you? You said, emergencies only!"
This was an emergency! Good thing Neal's okay. He told me you were going to see him tonight.
"Yes, I'm going over there after work. You can come, too, if you want." That should appease him.
Nice try, Suit, nice try. Just make sure he gets better! A click on the other end. Mozzie had hung up.
Peter pushed his phone back into his pants pocket. Squinting at his watch, he saw that it was almost five. Deciding to call it a day, he pulled on his coat and made his way to the elevators, waving to Jones and Diana. Elizabeth would be happy to have him home early. Perhaps they could visit Neal a little bit sooner than expected. But just so that they could still go out for dinner afterward, Peter assured himself.
Elizabeth was pleasantly surprised at seeing Peter home an hour earlier than usual. She hadn't had a chance to call him all day, what with having recently returned from a business trip and trying to co-ordinate her schedule with that of a new client. Meeting her husband at the door and tilting her head up to give him a quick kiss, she beamed at him. "Wow, honey, this is a first for you. Are you buttering me up because you did something wrong?" She teased him as she hung up his coat and tugged him to sit on the couch.
Peter pulled her onto his lap, leaning his cheek against her hair. "Got done early. I thought we could go out to dinner. There's a new sushi place by the Bureau."
"Sounds good," Elizabeth said excitedly, jumping up. She grabbed her purse, slipped into her heels by the door, and turned to see Peter still sitting. "What's wrong, Peter?"
He stood and walked over to her, a hand rubbing the back of his neck. "Would you mind if we stopped by June's place first? Neal was sick when I went to pick him up this morning and I said I'd stop by after work…"
Elizabeth grabbed his hand. "Of course we can! How was he? Should we bring him anything?" Poor Neal, sick in bed and likely bored out of his mind. Come to think of it, she thought, as she noted Peter's frown and restlessness, her husband was probably as displeased with his partner being sick as he was unhappy to be without his best friend for the whole day.
Peter smiled gratefully and shook his head. "He was miserable, but June says it's nothing serious. She's been with him all day. Let's just pop in for a few minutes, then we can go eat."
"Awww, honey, you must've been so lonely without him today." Elizabeth was looking at him knowingly and Peter couldn't deny the truth of her words.
After sleeping for a good eight hours, Neal was permitted to lie on the couch to watch the news, but only if he stayed covered up and hydrated. Therefore, wrapped in a thick blanket and drinking orange juice with a straw and half-focused on the television, Neal was startled out of his daze when Peter and Elizabeth suddenly appeared by the foot of the couch. He tried to sit up and was embarrassed to find that he'd never changed out of his disheveled pajamas. "Hey, Peter, Elizabeth." He scooted to one end of the couch, seeing that Elizabeth wanted to sit next to him in order to gauge his health.
"How are you feeling, Neal?" She held the back of her hand to his forehead for a moment, then dropped it to brush aside a few stray locks of hair. He blushed at her concern.
"I'm better. I can stay awake now, at least." He saw that Peter had haphazardly moved aside piles of books before seating himself on the low wooden table. He looked at him pointedly. "Hey, don't sit on that, it's delicate. You're gonna break it."
Peter glared, his relief at seeing Neal diminished by the insult. "It won't break. And anyway, shouldn't you be in bed, resting?"
"I've been asleep all day. I'm bored," Neal whined, appealing to Elizabeth, who was openly laughing at their antics.
"Sorry, hun, but you need the rest. The sooner you get better, the sooner you can go back to work." Elizabeth smiled mischievously. "Peter missed you today."
"Elle!" Peter covered his face with his hands, before lowering them to glare at Neal and his wife. "I missed not having my own personal gopher. No one missed you, Neal." He smiled smugly and Elizabeth immediately slapped his arm.
"Peter! What a terrible thing to say." She turned back to Neal, resting a hand on his forearm. "Why don't we have dinner together, Neal? We can order in and watch a movie."
Knowing when to take a hint, Neal grinned widely, snuggling further into his blanket cocoon. "Sure, thank you, Elizabeth. Peter, the take-out menus are downstairs."
Grumbling about the unfairness of it all, Peter stomped out of the room, leaving Elizabeth to look after Neal until he returned, and only on the stairs did he allow himself to crack a grin. Neal was feeling better already and despite his fear of imminent gray hairs, Peter couldn't have been happier at the prospect of working with his partner again.
Thank you for reading! Constructive criticism is always welcomed and appreciated.