First White Collar fic! WOOT!
Takes place early season 1, before Peter and Neal's relationship/ trust has really had time to grow. Hope you enjoy!
Neal: "Bad cop, good criminal."
Peter: "No such thing."
Peter sighed, resisting the urge to drop his head to the desk in front of him and just sleep for days. It had been an exhausting week filled with less excitement and more mortgage fraud than seemed humanly possible. Looking over the rest of the office, he noticed none other than Neal Caffrey, the FBI's resident pet convict, doing card tricks for Jones and Cruz. Shaking his head, Peter stood. Misery loves company, after all…
Catching his eye, Peter did the famous double-finger point and returned to his office. Neal shrugged at the two junior agents and trotted up to join Peter. Stepping inside, he tilted his head. "What's up?"
Pointing at the stack of files on his desk, Peter grinned evilly. Neal's face fell. "Not more mortgage fraud!" He whined.
"Get to it." Peter said shortly.
Huffing, Neal crossed his arms. "This is a misuse of my services! I agreed to use my talents to help but instead they're being wasted on-" A sharp ring cut him off. Reaching into his pocket, the con pulled out his phone, sitting in the chair in front of Peter as he flipped it open.
"Hello?" Unexpectedly, Neal's face lit up with pleasant surprise. "Billy boy! It's been awhile. How are you?" There was a pause as the man on the other end of the line responded. "Good, good. So to what do I owe the pleasure of this call? … Wow, is it that time of the year already?" This caught Peter by surprise. Time of the year? There were no holidays anytime soon, so what could he mean? Pushing the thoughts aside, the agent once again focused on the con's call. "Aw, well I'm flattered. … No, of course I don't mind. … Uh huh. Well…" Neal glanced up at Peter with an amused grin. "it is technically outside my radius, so I may need to be 'chaperoned'." He laughed at the other man's response. "You'd think, but you know how they are. … Yeah, alright. See you then. Tell Samantha I say hi." And with that, the call ended, Neal still ginning at some unknown joke.
Unable to hold his curiosity any longer, Peter finally burst out, "Alright, what was that about?"
"Nothing." Neal looked up at him innocently. Seeing that the older agent wasn't fooled, he chuckled. "A friend of mine is having a birthday party this Saturday, but it's outside my radius."
Peter raised an eyebrow. A birthday party? A friend's birthday party? That was just so… normal. Normal, everyday people have friends, who have birthdays and invite them to parties to celebrate said birthday. Neal was far from normal or everyday, and Peter suddenly found himself almost uncomfortable. Criminals have birthdays? And they actually celebrate them? Did Neal have a birthday? Ok, that was a stupid question, but still…
The agent started, pulled from his thoughts as Neal tapped on his shoulder. Evidently he had been trying to get his attention for awhile. Shaking his head slightly, he responded, "Sorry, what?"
"If you escort me, can I go?"
Peter narrowed his eyes in suspicion. "That depends. In no way am I going to some… shindig surrounded by your old fences, or sources, or… whatever."
Neal cringed. "'Shindig'?"
The other man simply laughed and looked at him with a mischievous glint in his eyes that did not make Burke feel any better.
"Don't worry. This friend's not a criminal of any sort. In fact, I think you'd like him."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better?"
Neal rolled his eyes, but continued smiling in a way that made Peter positive there was something he wasn't telling him.
"Look, can I go or not?"
It took a few minutes of consideration to make a decision. He didn't want to, and he knew Neal was keeping something from him, but it was such a simple request; to go and celebrate the birthday of a friend (questionable legality aside). Peter would be with him the whole time anyways. Besides, he would be lying if he said a part of him didn't want to see Neal interact in a normal environment. Peter sighed in defeat.
"Fine. Where is it?"
The smile turned up a notch, and the agent felt his stomach churn with dread.
"It's just outside town. I'll give you directions."
"Yeah… Am I going to regret this?"
The con merely laughed.
Saturday afternoon found the two men on their way, the radio playing softly in the background. Peter snuck another glance at the young man seated next to him. However, his attention was quickly pulled back to the task at hand as a car honked at him and he swerved back into the correct lane. Neal gripped the sides of his seat.
"Eyes on the road!"
A grumbled response was all he received. Peter couldn't help it. The whole situation was surreal. Neal was sitting in the passenger seat of his car, relaxed now that Peter's eyes were on the road. In his lap sat a box, meticulously wrapped in shiny red paper with a gold bow carefully tied around it. He was dressed as impeccably as ever, suit, tie and hat all in place. Blue eyes soaked in the view through the window as he hummed along to the radio.
"So…" Peter began, "Who is this friend of yours?"
"His name's Don. Turning the big 4-5 this year." He laughed casually.
The FBI agent nodded. "I see. So how'd you meet him?"
"Now that, I'm leaving as a surprise."
"But he's… not… a criminal."
"Nope." After a moment, the ex-con sat up a bit straighter, smiling deviously.
"Turn left up there."
Peter followed Neal's hand to where he was pointing. He frowned. He knew that road. He had driven it many times before. The situation had been so distracting he hadn't realized exactly what road they were on. And even if he had, he probably wouldn't have made the connection. Of all places, Neal was going to…
"Prison?" Peter exclaimed in disbelief. "You're having me escort you to prison?"
Neal shrugged nonchalantly. "It's outside my radius."
Turning onto the road, Peter shook his head, trying to wrap his mind around what was happening. "You said this wasn't for one of your criminal friends!"
"It's not!" Neal cried defensively.
"Oh right, I'm supposed to believe that a common man is holding his birthday party in the 'supermax'."
Caffrey simply grinned. "You're supposed to enjoy the ride."
Opening his mouth to say something, he was cut off by their arrival at the front gate. Rolling down the window to speak to the guard, he was cut off again by Neal leaning over him.
"Hey, we're here for Don's party?"
The guard nodded with acknowledgment. "Parking lot's to the right. Bryan will take you to the recreation room."
Neal sat back and Peter drove in, unable to believe that he was actually attending a prison party. Parking the car, the two men stepped out and walked towards the entrance.
"Neal, you planning to let me in on what's going on?"
The con patted his shoulder in mock reassurance. "You'll find out soon enough."
At the entrance, another guard was waiting for them. He was a tall black man, probably in his mid fifties with a shaved head and a tough look. However, Peter found his jaw dropping as the man broke into a smile and stepped toward them.
"Caffrey!" Neal laughed and the two shook hands before pulling into a short half-hug. "S'been awhile, man."
"Been a bit busy. Good to see you Bryan."
"Good to see you, too. Nice hat. Must say it suits you better than the orange."
Peter could only watch in shock as the ex-con laughed and joked with the prison guard. "I couldn't agree with you more." Glancing back at Peter, Neal smiled. "Now where are my manners! Bryan, this is Agent Peter Burke. He's my very own FBI handler."
"You must have the envy of many." The man chuckled as he held out his hand. "Bryan Winters, good to meet you."
"Same." Peter mumbled, still trying to get his bearings. Before he could dwell too much on everything, the three began walking down the hall of the building, Bryan and Neal catching up while Peter trailed behind. Before long, they reached the recreation room. There was a TV in one corner, and a pool table on the far side of the room. In the center, two plastic tables had been set up. One held bowls of chips and dip surrounding a chocolate cake, while the other displayed a small pile of presents. Chairs had been scattered throughout the space for people to sit, and balloons and streamers decorated the white walls. From what Peter could tell, there was a mix of guards and civilians, with about five men dressed in orange mingling within them. As the three entered one of the guards, not short but not tall, with a stocky build and light blond hair, smiled and jogged over to them.
"Neal! You made it!" The two shared a quick hug.
"Wouldn't miss it. Happy birthday Don!" Neal handed his gift to his friend who smiled appreciatively before placing it on the table with the others, more focused on the man in front of him.
"Thanks man. So how've you been?"
"Good, good. You?"
"Better without you around to keep me on my toes."
Neal put a hand over his heart, his voice laced with mock sadness. "Donnie, I'm hurt! After everything I did to keep you from going soft. I was doing you favors, really."
Don Laughed. "I'm sure."
"Oh, and this is Agent Peter Burke." Neal gestured behind him. "Peter, this is Don Lieber."
The two shook hands before Don motioned for Neal to follow him. "Come on, everyone's been dying to see you again." And just like that, Peter was left standing by the door. At least he finally got the joke, why Neal seemed to be laughing at him the whole time.
"This friend's not a criminal of any sort. In fact, I think you'd like him."
Of course he would. He was one of Neal's old prison guards.
Peter jumped slightly when he heard chuckling coming from behind him. He had forgotten that Bryan was there too. The guard shook his head in amusement.
"You, sir, look like your head's about to explode."
Peter chuckled as well. "I won't lie, it just might."
"I'm gonna guess Caffrey didn't tell you everything about today."
The agent shook his head. "He just said it was a birthday party for a friend."
"This not exactly what you were expecting?"
After a moment of consideration, Peter answered. "I don't know if I'm more shocked that Neal would go to a party for a prison guard, or the fact that he was actually invited."
Surprise colored the man's voice, confusing Peter. "What do you mean?"
Bryan shrugged. "Well, why wouldn't Neal be invited? Everyone loves him."
Looking over at the rest of the crowd, Neal and Don in the center telling stories and jokes to amuse the crowd, Peter knew he was right. But still…
"He's a criminal!"
For a moment, Bryan just stared at him. "Ooh," He said in a knowing tone, "You're one of those guys."
"Agent Burke, have you ever heard of a dirty cop?" He stated sarcastically with a raised eyebrow.
"Well yeah but, they're just criminals too."
Bryan laughed. "You've been in that black-and-white world awhile, haven't you?"
"You telling me it's not?"
"Sir, I regret to inform you that the world is not that simple. Take Neal for instance." The two men glanced over where Neal was laughing so hard at one of the inmates' jokes he was clutching Don for support. "Neal's like a little kid. A little kid who likes pretty pictures and expensive wine. He doesn't fully grasp rules and consequences. Legal and illegal aren't as important as right and wrong."
Peter frowned. "They're different?"
Laughing, Bryan continued. "Not always, but yeah. Sticking with the analogy, is a kid evil just cause he cheated on a test, or ate dessert before dinner after you told him not to?"
Hesitantly, Peter shook his head. "No…"
"So there you go. Leave a plate of cookies on the windowsill, some of them will go missing. But when it comes down to it, Caffrey knows right from wrong. He does everything in his power not to hurt people. No one will deny he's a criminal, not even Neal. But he's not a bad guy."
"Huh." Peter considered the man's words. Deep down he knew he was right. None of Neal's "victims" had really been victims at all. Museums that had insurance, rich families who bought another million dollar painting the next day. No one was hurt. Still, it was hard to rearrange his world-views in the space of a day.
Reaching into his shirt, Bryan pulled out a golden cross on a chain around his neck. "You know," He began, fiddling with the necklace, "I've met cops, legitimate cops, who do their jobs well, catch bad guys, the whole nine yards. But in other aspects of their life…" Peter noticed his eyes darken, lost in memories the agent wasn't sure he wanted to know about. "…They never actually broke the law. But I can assure you they've got a reserved space in Hell." Glancing at Neal, his eyes lightened. "But Neal? Nah… Neal's got a special place in heaven."
Peter nodded in consideration and for a moment the two stood in silence. Gesturing at the necklace which Bryan still held, Peter smiled. "That's nice."
Bryan let out a hearty laugh and patted the agent's shoulder. "Neal gave it to me for Christmas two years ago."
Before he could respond, the subject of their discussion called over.
"Bryan! Peter! Stop being antisocial and get over here!"
Soon, Peter was immersed among the crowd. He was introduced to all of Neal's friends; guards, civilians, and inmates alike. Watching Neal, seeing him laugh and smile, he seemed more relaxed then Peter had ever seen him. Surrounded by people who could see beyond his criminal status. He wondered if he would ever find this anywhere else. After awhile, the cake was cut and passed around while everyone continued talking.
"…and so I'm sitting there, trying to calm down this massive guy before he decides to pummel me, and Caffrey just waltzes in and says, 'Dude, General Hospital started five minutes ago'. And just like that the guy completely forgets about me and runs off to the TV room. Then Caffrey looks me up and down and just says, 'Learn the TV schedule. It may be the only thing that keeps you alive'." The crowd laughed as Billy, a skinny guard who had been the one to call Neal about the party, told them the story about his first day on the job and his subsequent meeting of one Neal Caffrey. Peter laughed along with them, until he looked at his watch and noticed the time.
"Neal, we gotta get going soon. I told El I'd be home by 7."
The crowd groaned, but the ex-con merely laughed. "Sure thing, Peter." With that, he began saying goodbye to everyone, promising to keep in touch with all. As he began to walk away, one of the inmates called out.
"Hey Caffrey! Don't forget this!"
Neal turned around in time to catch the fedora that was tossed at him. Twirling it, he smiled. "Thanks man! How could I forget?" Replacing it on his head with a flourish, the two men gave a final wave before departing.
Once back in the car, Neal grinned at Peter. "So, you enjoy yourself?"
"I actually did have some fun."
"I told you you'd like him!" Neal laughed.
"Yeah, yeah." A pause. "I learned a lot."
The man next to him narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "What's that mean?"
Peter shook his head, smiling. "Nothing. Don't worry about it."
Neal grumbled something or another before fiddling with the radio. The FBI agent glanced at the man out of the corner of his eye.
Not a bad guy, huh?
He knew it was the truth. Maybe always had, but didn't want to deal with it. The fact was, of all the criminals Peter had met, dealt with, or even heard of, Neal was the best.
In more ways than one.
There ya go! Hope you enjoyed! (Reviews letting me know would be very appreciated!)
I have another multi-chapter fic in the process, so keep an eye out for me!