Fandom/Pairing: White Collar - Peter/Neal
Summary: Neal jeers at Peter's next choice of reading material, but the further in he gets, the harder the assignment becomes.
AN: Very slight nod, at the end of the chap, to one of my other obsessions: NCIS. Blink and you'll miss it, but hardcore fans of the show may catch what I threw...
"Please. I don't think so." Neal protested mildly, pushing the book away from him. His ersatz, unofficial literature professor wouldn't take the offering back, however.
"Yeah... this." Neal retorted, gazing at the small book with disdain. "This is no challenge. It's practically Dr. Seuss."
"You mean it's too easy for a brain like you."
"Something like that."
"Yeah, well, this is your assignment. You're not getting another one 'till you finish and hand in your report on this."
"Peter... 'Tom Sawyer' ? If this is a joke, it's a bad one."
"When was the last time you heard me make any *kind* of joke, Caffrey? Huh? When?"
"Months ago. Even that I'm still not sure about."
"Right. Read the book."
"Hey, if you wanted the right of veto, you should've demanded it up front. Too late now."
"But everybody knows this story."
"Is that what you think?"
This cryptic reply made Neal hesitate for several seconds, carefully studying Peter's face.
"Okayyy... what's up your so-called sleeve?"
"Are you reading the book or not?"
Again the younger man waited before answering.
"Absolutely no substitutions? You're sure?"
"Not a chance."
"Fine, but I'm writing my report in blue crayon." Neal shot back as he rose and began to leave.
"If you want a failing grade, go right ahead."
This stopped Peter's student in his tracks.
"You don't mean that." He replied quietly, fighting with everything he had not to let Peter see how deeply the threat had touched him.
"I don't? You really want me to let you get away with doing just enough? Let you slide by on your smile and your charm and ignore your *true* gifts?"
Neal swallowed hard and let a faint grin touch his lips.
Peter simply stared him down until his charge relented. "Okay, okay. 'Tom Sawyer.' "
"I hear and obey." Neal grumbled, sliding the battered paperback into his pocket as he turned and left the office.
THIRTY-SIX HOURS LATER: NEAL'S APARTMENT
The moment Neal opened the door, Mozzie rushed in, staring around him in semi-panic.
"Where is he? Is it a gun or a knife?"
"Is he in the back waiting to ambush me?" the smaller man continued, his tone more hushed in order no to alarm the supposed threat.
"Feds love a good ambush. It's their favorite way of taking out a savvy target..."
"Moz, there's nobody else here."
"It's okay, kid. I know you have to say that so he doesn't blow a hole in you first."
"For God's sake, Moz..."
"Okay, okay. So what was the 911 call about, then?"
"I didn't mean it to sound that way. I just... I need help."
"I knew it had something to do with the fed..."
"It's nothing like that. He... he gave me an assignment... and it's messing with me. Big time."
"Yeahhh..." Moz replied cautiously as he slid into a chair. He could easily tell that his best friend was genuinely on the edge of descent into misery, a state he hadn't witnessed Neal in for several months. Forcing down his growing enmity at Peter, he focused on helping his brilliant buddy solve whatever problem the FBI had dragged him into this time. "So what'd he do and how bad do I get to hurt him for it?"
"I told you..."
"I know. Mea culpa. What's the assignment?"
Neal hesitated, frowned and gestured vaguely before finally stepping away a bit and gathering the detested book into one hand. He paused again then handed it off to Mozzie.
" 'Tom Sawyer'. You an' the fed looking at a rogue book dealer or something? Is the guy fronting for drug deals or people trafficking?
Ducking his head, Neal mumbled a few words. "Uhhh... in the less than immortal words of Brittany... hit me baby one more time."
"I said... I'm reading it. For credit."
"Credit? As in grades?"
"As in. He picks the book, hoping I'll get something out of it I can take into the real world and use to make my life better. I read, write a report... and we talk about it after. So he knows I understand."
"Not now, okay? I swear, later you can yell and rant all you want. I need you to help me, Moz. Please." Neal pleaded quietly, dropping onto the couch facing his friend.
"With what? Interpreting? I know the colloquial way some of the dialogue is written makes it a little difficult, but..."
"Not for me. It's him... it's the character. You've known me so long... since I was thirteen. Was I... I mean... this book, it's like reading..."
"... your journals?"
"Yeah. You know I trust you and I shouldn't ask..."
"They're still safe. Nobody will ever find them."
Neal released a barely audible sigh of relief.
"So... was I?"
"Kind of. Your reasons were a lot different, though. He just wants to have fun and break the rules for the sake of doing it... to push the limits of his mind and the people around him. You... you were a busted up kid tryin' to survive in a world where nobody had your best interests at heart."
" 'Till you. From the first minute I knew your motives would always be pure when it came to me... and you'd do anything it took to keep me safe."
Mozzie blushed and looked away.
"Yeah, well... did you ever remember any of that stuff? From before we met?"
"I quit trying. I figure if I mentally redacted the better part of my first twelve years, there was a reason. Safer to leave it alone. Hey, you had dinner yet? We could order in... you could sleep on the couch. Last time you stayed you said you preferred the couch."
Mozzie responded instantly to Neal's thinly veiled petition with smiles and distraction, belatedly recalling that the slightest mention of his self-edited childhood memories often resulted in repeated cycles of ambiguous nightmares and tearful anxiety for the other man.
"Only if you let me consult on the book report."
"I can't. Peter will know if I don't write it myself. I keep telling myself I don't care what he thinks or how he sees me... sometimes I want it to be true. Sometimes..."
"Did I say anything about ghost-writing? I said consultation. I've only read Twain's collected works a thousand times. The fed can't object to a tutor, right?"
"No. I don't think he would. Chinese, Japanese, pizza, sandwiches..."
"I was hoping you'd pick Chinese..."
"There's nothing wrong with how I like my pizza."
"You've *got* to be kidding. No cheese, peanut butter and pickles... ughhh. The delivery boy gives me the weirdest look..."
"Just make the call, Tom, while I skim the book to refresh my memory."
"Fine... Huck wouldn't make his best buddy order something so disgusting, I guarantee it..."