AN: I promised I would update the rest of the story soon, so here it is. This the final chapter. I can't express how happy you've all made me by just sharing how much you liked the story and leaving such wonderful reviews. Thank you for taking the time to read!
Disclaimer: White Collar belongs to USA Network and Jeff Eastin.
It had been a year. The treasure was returned, and things got better. Neal got better. They got better. Neal visited museums and took up gardening with Elizabeth. They cooked together, went shopping and to the movies. Neal walked Satchmo and helped Peter with cases. Mozzie was over for dinner every Wednesday night. Neal and Peter took a weekend off the next year for their annual fishing trip.
School was better for Neal, as well. Peter and Elizabeth had insisted, and he'd agreed to attend two months of therapy with the FBI psychologist. He managed to be more truthful than he'd intended at first, and it helped. He had some friends at school, no panic attacks, and although the nightmares never left, they were better.
Part of Neal's new work release program consisted in Community service. He enjoyed it, working on art projects with children in a hospital. He attended every weekend unfailingly.
Peter and Elizabeth had spent months researching and discussing. It started three weeks after Peter got out of the hospital. They couldn't envision their life without Neal anymore.
The necessary arrangements for his work release were done first. Half a year later their inquiries started in earnest and the process was initiated. They attended de Parenting Preparation classes, and they were there for all the visits and environment monitoring. It hadn't been easy; everything in Neal's case was special. Ultimately, Neal had the final word on it all.
It was finally the day before they had to sign and it would be official. Neal was sitting outside in their patio absently scratching Satchmo's ear and looking at the sky. Elizabeth had been busy all afternoon cooking his favorite dish for dinner. Peter had come home from work early and was probably setting the table.
Neal was looking at the sunset and realized he'd been trying to classify each color in his head. It was a game he'd liked to play ever since he was little. When he'd started, the only thing he'd had were the pictures in the books he perused regularly in the library. Neal relished at the memory of his ingenuity as a small child. He had found a way to make up colors, to classify them in his mind. The names and associations came back to him and he found himself holding on to the memory. The sunset was the color red from the lady's lips on Renoir's 'The Theater Box'. The blue was the color from the reflection of the dress on Rembrandt's 'The Abduction of Europa.' The orange was most definitely his favorite of the ten different shades of orange in Kandinsky's 'Blue Segment'.
Satchmo moved and settled down beside him, resting his head against knee. Neal petted him affectionately. The dog suddenly lifted his head and wagged his tail, but didn't move.
Neal not even bothered turning around. Peter made his way to another chair and sat down beside him, offering a root beer and taking a sip of his own beer bottle.
Neal took the bottle, closed his eyes and breathed in the wonderful smell coming from the open kitchen door. Elizabeth was talking with someone on the phone and her surprised and amicable laughter filled his heart with warmth. Home. That's what his mind came up with when he thought of her. She was everything that meant home to him.
"You holding up?" Peter asked, taking another sip of his beer.
Neal smiled. As much as he loved Elizabeth, as much as he'd do anything for her, it would always be Peter. His voice, his presence, his…everything, he meant something much more important. Peter meant safety, security, refuge. Peter made him feel safe.
Neal resumed petting Satchmo and started talking. He'd been thinking about all of this for a long time, and he probably owed it to Peter to finally have this talk with him.
"You know, before meeting the two of you, I think I had been looking for something I couldn't even understand. I couldn't imagine something like what you've given me." Neal paused, taking a breath. "Peter, I want to stay."
"Neal, you're not going anywhere, you know that. El and I, we'll never sent you away," he responded calmly. They'd had this conversation before, many times.
Neal's jaw twitched and his brows furrowed. "I can't change who I am, who I was. Some part of that will always be in me."
Peter nodded. He understood. He had always known that. It had taken forever for Neal to accept that he had made mistakes but he himself had never been the reason for everything bad happening around him. "Even if you screw up a million times, we'll be here," Peter assured him.
They sat quietly for a while, El's voice drifting occasionally from the kitchen.
"I want to stay, but this is the last chance to back out."
Peter frowned. This part of the conversation was definitely new.
"Are you sure about this?" Neal continued anxiously. "I'm not exactly son material."
Peter turned to him, visibly vexed at the turn the conversation had taken. "There's nothing wrong with you. There never has been." He had to say something, apologize. "I'm sorry if I ever made you feel like something you are not. You are not a criminal, not anymore. You are a kind hearted boy."
Neal lifted his eyes and met Peter's gaze. Peter's voice had taken an affectionate tone, and the love and warmth of his next words was almost palpable.
"You are my son, and I love you."
"You love me?" Neal asked. It had never been said before, not directly, not by Peter.
"Yes," Peter affirmed.
Neal knew that. After all this time, he knew. "I trust you… it's just…" he shook his head.
Peter sighed. "Buddy, you got to let go of the past and keep going forward. Give us a chance. Give me a chance. I never make a promise I can't keep."
Peter rose, walked over, and knelt down in front of Neal. Saying those next words was not only necessary, it was vital. Neal needed this. They both needed this. He put his hand on the back of Neal's neck and pulled him forward.
"I promise you. I will never abandon you." Peter's voice was bursting with emotion. "If you agree to be my son, nothing you could do would ever drive me away. Nothing. I will not leave you."
Neal felt the tears in his eyes. The man pulled him over for a hug and he went willingly. Peter's presence surrounded him completely. The safety was like a tidal wave hitting him full on and not leaving a single doubt in his mind. He held on and buried his head against Peter's chest.
It wouldn't be easy, he was sure, but he wouldn't be alone. Peter had promised. They would always be there. He knew it was the truth, and he'd never felt so certain of anything in his life before.