A/N: Many thanks to Jedisapphire for her help and support.
Summary: Tag To 2x16, Under The Radar
In "Need To Know" (S2 E2) Neal emphasized strongly to Peter that he had never told him a direct lie. In the Season 2 finale "Under The Radar" Neal tells Peter that he didn't take the Artwork, that he is not lying yet Peter refused to believe him, feeling he is guilty of this crime. Where do they go from here?
Location: Neal's Place. The Following morning
A Matter Of Trust
We're never so vulnerable than when we trust someone - but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy. ~ Walter Anderson
Neal closed the door gently behind Peter, leaning his head against it momentarily before turning to face the inevitable confrontation. He still had hope in spite of the odds for a quick and friendly resolution, but the awkward silence he encountered as they stood facing each other, said differently.
"Why are you here Peter?" Neal asked softly. His arms were crossed protectively over his chest like a shield.
"I want to help you. Why else would I be here?" Peter answered, startled it had been asked.
"How can you help when you don't even believe me?" Neal questioned.
The hurt carried in his words tugged at Peter's heart. It was apparent Neal was having a hard time keeping up the facade he wore like a second skin, and doubts about his guilt began to enter Peter's mind, as they'd done repeatedly ever since Neal had said he wasn't lying and he didn't steal the Art.
But Peter couldn't allow his growing fondness for Neal and the instinctive reaction to protect him that accompanied it, to interfere with doing his job.
"Trying to convince you to tell the truth is the best way to help," Peter answered. "It would make things easier for everyone, maybe even help fix things so you don't have to go back to jail."
"So you would bend the law, even go as far as to break it, in order to help me escape the consequences of something I didn't do?" Neal summarized, shaking his head incredulously. "Peter, what exactly has you so convinced that I did this?"
"I'll tell you." Peter spoke in earnest. "I promise! But first you need to be honest with me."
"I have been honest with you!" Neal stated strongly. "Why isn't my word good enough for you Peter? After everything?"
"I want to believe you Neal. I really do, but the evidence..."
"What evidence?" Neal asked loudly, hurt, frustrated, and now growing increasingly angry.
"You know what Peter?" Neal reconsidered. "Forget it! It doesn't matter what evidence you have! I've never directly lied to you, that hasn't changed and if you can't believe me when I say I didn't do this, then there's really no reason for you to be here."
It hurt more than Neal could've imagined saying this. Peter had taken a chance on him, offered him an opportunity for a good life and most importantly set expectations for him to live up to. No one in Neal's life had ever cared enough about him to do that. But Peter had.
So Neal tried his hardest to live up to those expectations. There were times he slipped up, but he did his best out of respect and gratitude for the kindness Peter had extended to him. But the one thing he kept true to was never lying directly to Peter, and that was a huge step for a guy who made a living at telling lies. Sure there were times he let Peter draw the wrong conclusions, but Neal never told Peter an outright lie and he wasn't lying to him now.
Peter started slowly towards the door looking visibly upset and unsure of what to do or say and Neal feeling he had no choice but to say what he did stepped outdoors. Walking over to the ledge of the balcony, he leaned against it and looked out at the city. He'd been fighting to keep his emotions in check ever since Peter walked in the door and he was very close to losing that battle. Just maybe, he thought, the cool morning air and distancing himself from Peter might put him back in charge of his emotions again. But Neal knew he was only fooling himself.
The sound of the door closing broke the last strand of control and Neal's heart and the tears began to fall. He was alone now, where no one could see the real Neal Caffrey, the little boy lost who lives hidden in that secret place behind the facade. So like his gentle make up Neal cried softly, finally admitting to himself the release it gave was much needed.
Suddenly he become aware of a presence beside him and he didn't dare look, but tilted his face away from whoever it was. No one could be allowed to see him this way. The hand gently placed in comfort on his shoulder told him at once it was Peter.
"Neal," Peter spoke in a gentle and comforting voice, one also edged with concern.
"Please!" was all Neal could say mortified at having been caught so exposed.
"I need to talk to you Neal!"
What was it about Peter, which caused him to listen, to try his best and want more than anything to earn his approval? Neal knew but he hadn't dared go there even in thought until now, until it might have been lost to him.
Peter was the closest he'd ever come to having a positive father figure in his life and until he experienced this he never knew how much he wanted or needed it.
"Neal, please look at me." Peter both asked and pleaded with urgency.
With the hand mechanics of a 5 year old, Neal wiped away at his tears before turning towards Peter.
What Peter took in, knowing he had been responsible nearly unhinged him. But he kept his composure and said what he needed to say.
"You were right Neal! I should've believed you!" Peter emphasized strongly, then rephrased it. "I do believe you! After everything I should never have doubted you."
Neal nodded in acknowledgement. It was all he could manage caught without the mask he wore in everyday life.
Wrapping his arm around Neal's shoulder Peter began to guide him back indoors but stopped himself after a couple of steps, and guided Neal right into his arms, not giving him a choice and held him tightly."I'm so sorry, Neal," Peter apologized wholeheartedly.
Feeling two arms wrapping themselves around him tightly Peter smiled. Apology accepted.
Seconds later, Neal loosened himself out of the embrace and grabbed Peter by the arm. "I have to show you something!" And he pulled the puzzled yet amused FBI agent the distance it took to get inside and shut the door.
"When I got home," Neal said handing Peter the note. "I found this and a key."
Peter took the items and gave them a look but his mind was elsewhere. He was glad Neal was snapping back to his old self, all excited, the love of figuring out a case lighting up his face. It was something they both shared but the remnants of what his lack of trust had done were still evident on that face, and it weighed heavily on Peter's heart. He had grown to be very protective of his young partner, who for reasons unknown as of yet hid parts of himself behind a facade. Never did Peter imagine as he took in the red eyes and traces of missed wetness on his face, that he'd be the one to inflict the kind of pain needed to cause that facade to crack and fall.
"Peter?" Neal asked wondering where Peter in thought had wandered off to. "Do you want to check out the warehouse, what's in it will blow your mind!"
"Yes I do! But first I need to tell you something."
"Okay" Neal said giving Peter his full attention
"Trusting people is difficult for me," Peter revealed, pausing to follow up the thought. "Never comes easy."
"Must have been like trying to defy gravity with me." Neal, answered light - heartedly but knowing there was something deeper behind what Peter was telling him
Peter, with great affection smiled and met Neal's eyes, "No, not that bad."
"Why?" Neal asked
"Why is it so hard for you Peter? Trusting someone."
"One step at a time kiddo, some day I'll tell you. Maybe when you're ready to tell me why you didn't finish High School in California and chose to come to New York."
"Maybe." Neal, answered in agreement. Both of them feeling good about this future goal and the meaning behind it
"We Okay, then? "
"Of course we're okay!" Neal answered with a big grin. He was Neal again bouncing back the way a child would, easily forgiving and forgetting, moving on to what's next.
Peter decided to follow his lead. "Okay, let's go check out that warehouse! Going to give me a hint as to what's in it?"
Peter smiled, gently closing the door behind them.