Hey, guys. I haven't written anything for White Collar in awhile, but, well, Agni and I dragged each other back into it. It's more accurate to say that the the second to last episode of the finale dragged us back into it and the finale set that ship to sail. If you're reading, both of us appreciate it greatly. I know that I live for this type of thing – writing – and as pathetic as that might sound, if I'm going to college for writing than I guess I know I'm on the right track.
Enough about me. I'm not going to explain this one-shot, though there'll be a small note about it at the end because if I tell you it at the beginning it might give a piece of it away. General series spoilers, by the way, but no particular finale spoilers.
Disclaimer; I don't own the series, as I'm not brilliant. I borrow, and then I pat them on the head and put them back where they belong.
I hope you enjoy this one shot.
Even though he knew it was ridiculous, Neal's heart was beating twofold. He'd pulled off scams, heists, things the FBI couldn't even lay a finger on, and he'd done it all without a nervous bone in his body. This was different; this was frightening because he'd come to depend on this little impromptu family.
Too much could go wrong here.
Neal Caffrey was normally a very composed man, but he couldn't sit still now. His knees bounced, his hands twisted and untwisted in intricate patterns. Uncharacteristic worry lines creased his forehead, and his chest felt as though it would explode from the pressure building inside it. He'd never been this nervous about something, not in a way that showed outwardly.
His nervousness had nothing to do with his being in a hospital waiting room. Hospitals were Mozzie's fear, though Neal wasn't particularly fond of them. No, it wasn't the hospital that was bothering Neal, but rather the people that he was waiting for news from that had him wishing for something, anything to keep his mind off of things.
Every person that passed had him looking up expectantly, but the man he was waiting for did not come. He'd long since made a resolution to stop checking the clock, but it was a rule that had been broken too many times by now for him to care. Four hours; he'd been sitting for four hours without a word from Peter Burke.
A single word; that was all he was asking for. Hell, he'd be able to tell just by the look on his partner's face, and then every worry would be settled and a grin would be firmly back in place. The conman's confidence had not extended to this event in his life; he couldn't will it and he could hardly fake it. He'd faked his trademark charm for Peter and for El, ready to get out of the car when they'd told him to stay.
Well, he certainly hadn't needed much convincing.
He'd watched Peter put a hand on her arm, murmur reassurances, and from the backseat Neal had mourned what he knew he'd never have with somebody.
Because, in the end, Neal knew that he was only borrowing the feeling of family from the Burkes.
Four hours since that car ride and it was all he could do to remain seated and not do something, as so many of his FBI friends liked to call it, 'illegal'. He'd played a doctor before, would have done it again if the stakes weren't too high today. No matter how bored he got, no matter how antsy or worried, he wasn't going to ruin this day for either of them by being Neal Caffrey, conman extraordinaire. Instead, he flipped his hat mindlessly, once, twice, until he was attracting attention from several of the nurses and one receptionist.
"Are you going to teach that to my daughter?"
He looked away from the blue eyes of the receptionist, surprised to find Peter standing there, happier than Neal had ever seen him before. The words registered slowly to him, one at a time, before he pushed aside the first part of the sentence and focused on the last word.
"Daughter?" He echoed, as if he was testing out the word. "You have a daughter?"
Peter nodded, pride written over every inch of his expression. "Cheryl Katherine Burke." He said the middle name hesitantly, looking over Neal. "I hope that's alright, Neal, we thought-"
He was up in an instant, arms around the man he'd come to see as a father during some point of this entire thing. "Yeah, Peter. It's more than alright."
Neal felt Peter's hand pat his back and he breathed a sigh of relief, a breath he hadn't even realised he'd been holding. When Peter spoke, Neal could hear the smile in his voice. "You want to come say hi?"
He broke away, hesitant. "El's probably tired, I don't want to intrude or -"
"You're not intruding, Neal." There was nothing but finality and insistence in Peter's voice. The new father didn't leave any room for argument, but Neal still hesitated until Peter closed his hand around Neal's upper arm and took a step backwards, still grinning when his voice took on a more serious tone. "C'mon. El and I have something we want to talk to you about."
A small bundle, a tiny little thing swathed in a pink blanket. That was Neal's first sight of Cheryl Burke, a little girl he was already mentally calling his niece. A little girl he was already planning gifts for, drawings and paintings when she was older and every stuffed animal he could possibly find now; he'd write her name on the sky and make sure that nobody was unaware of the little miracle that was Cheryl Burke.
El did look tired; her hair was plastered to her face but, like her husband, Neal had never seen her looking happier. The woman was glowing, radiant, devoted eyes on her daughter. He couldn't contain the smile, any hint of the nerves he'd had moments before dissipated in his current environment. He'd never seen a family so happy, certainly not his own, but the idea that three people – a mother, father, a daughter – could be like this cleared away a bit of the jealousy he'd been harboring. They deserved this, each and every one of them – this happiness and radiance, beyond happiness and into something a word couldn't contain.
He moved towards Elizabeth, dropping a kiss on her forehead and grinning at her. His voice a whisper, he murmured, "You're both gorgeous."
A grumble from Peter turned Neal's head. "What, no love for the Dad?"
The conman's lips twitched in a sly grin. "Oh, would you like a kiss too, Peter?" He challenged in a whisper, careful not to wake the tiny girl in El's arms. "It could be arranged, if you'd like to-"
A glare from Peter stopped his words, but he held up his hands in mock innocence. "You brought it up, partner, not me."
El rolled her eyes, amusement flickering over tired features. "He's still learning to keep his mouth shut." She said of her husband, casting a teasing glance in his direction.
"Now you're just ganging up on me." The FBI agent crossed his arms in mock offense, but his eyes were on his daughter. He could hardly take them off of her; she was captivating, grabbing every available sentence of his attention. Who was he to be so lucky as to have her? To have El?
Eyebrows raised, Neal's smile was that of a cat's. "Just wait till Cheryl can talk." He said, nodding towards the youngest Burke. He winked at the sleeping newborn, a confirmation of comradeship.
Another set of eyes was on him, one that didn't belong to Peter's mocking glare. El's eyes held a question, and it was one that he immediately shrank back from, because he'd feared it – fearless Neal Caffrey – from the moment Peter had insisted on his coming in.
"Do you want to hold her?" She asked gently, in that way she had of knowing exactly what he was thinking. She was sensitive enough to know exactly what people were thinking, and she was one of the few people that had him pegged.
"I don't think –" He started over in a last attempt to not admit his fear of holding something so alive and not his in his arms. "She's sleeping." He finally came out with, forcing himself not to take a step back so he couldn't be persuaded. He'd never held a baby, and this was – well, this was Cheryl.
"You're going to hold her, Neal." She said, all insistence and encouragement, a warm smile on her lips. He looked to Peter, suddenly feeling like a child asking for permission, for reassurance and a smile.
Peter offered both of those, and a chair that he pushed to Neal's side. "Go on."
He sat in the chair, eyes flickering from husband to wife, to Cheryl and back again to El, before he swallowed and said nervously, "Are you sure?"
She answered by carefully placing her daughter in his arms, Neal already supporting her head before the words had the chance to leave her lips. "See?" She whispered, smiling. "You're a natural."
He was looking at Cheryl's face, her eyes, lips, nose, everything so tiny and perfect. Cheryl yawned and Neal smiled at the bundle cradled in his arms. "You're lucky," He whispered to her, but it was loud enough that Mom and Dad could hear it as well. "You've got the two best people in the world. Treat them well, Cheryl. Only drive them crazy once in awhile. I've already done that for the both of us."
He looked up, surprised to see Peter was blurry in his vision. The man blinked away the unshed tears until both Elizabeth and Peter were clear in his view again. "Mm?" He managed.
"She's got three." Peter said with a nod.
Neal shook his head, confused. "Three of what?"
"She's got three of the best people in the world." Peter elaborated, looking towards his wife.
Neal furrowed his brow for a moment before an inkling of what Peter had said dawned on him and he said, "I don't think I understand."
"We'd like you to be Cheryl's godfather." El said, locking eyes with her husband.
Neal looked to the tiny person in his arms, confusion sweeping across his features because each of those words meant something so different than what they might mean to somebody else. From the Burkes to him, those words were an invitation. A doorway into a world that he wanted but would never ask for out loud because it wasn't something that men like him got to have.
It was being part of their family in a way that wasn't stealing their breakfast foods or showing up unannounced at their house. It wasn't him putting his feet on their coffee table or knowing where the spoons were located.
This was official; this was coming from them.
This was them asking.
"Godfather," He said, as if he was testing out the word, and looked down to Cheryl. "Hi, Cheryl." Neal whispered. "I'm Neal, your godfather. I'm going to teach you all kinds of things."
"Great," Peter said, but his voice was teasing. "She'll be able to shuffle a deck by the time she's five."
"Four." Neal corrected with the hint of a grin. "But I was thinking more like riding a bike."
Even while looking down at Cheryl, Neal could see Peter's grin.
"Neal," El said, and her voice reminded him that there was more importance to the conversation than card tricks and bike rides. "If Peter and I weren't around anymore," She looked to her husband then, and Neal could sense what was coming.
"We'd like you to be the one to take care of Cheryl."
There was importance, too, in Peter being the one to finish that sentence. That it meant the both of them wanting it and not just El, that after the year and a half they'd been working as partners Peter trusted him enough to ask him something that big. Because, in anything and everything that Peter had ever asked of him – of all the times he'd ever said that he'd trusted him – this was moment that Neal believed it.
"Yeah," Neal said. "Yeah, of course. You guys won't have to worry."
And he meant it. He meant every word of it. No more running around, skipping town. Nothing that would mean Peter might rescind that trust, because it meant more to Neal than he'd thought anything possibly could.
"By the way, Peter," He said, and the mood instantly returned to the one of new, of innocence, "I'll be teaching her that hat trick."
Time for that small note. This oneshot could be considered a prelude to the fic, The Value of a Life, in that it features Cheryl Burke. Obviously, you don't have to read one to understand the other. (Though, hey, we'd love it if you did. And if you did decide to tune into that, you would totally get to see that hat trick. Just saying.)
Reviews are much appreciated. So is pie. If you could send us either one of those things, we'd be happy as clams. If you could send us both, you're a golden person.