Disclaimer: The following is a work of fan fiction based on the TV series, White Collar which belongs to Jeff Eastin and USA. It is in no way intended to infringe on the copyrights of Jeff Eastin and USA.

Special thanks to Mam711 for your beta reading, editing and feedback.

Copyright to Murder

White Collar.

Pre-series

Main Characters Neal, Peter, Elizabeth

Notes on psychopathic behavior taken from "A Natural State of Psychopathy" by Laura Knight-Jadzyk and www. findlaci2003 .us; all errors are mine. Story inspired by a line from Criminal Minds season 6 when they said that most con men have psychopathic tendencies, and from an article in a British newspaper about psychopathic behavior being more common than imagined, and of course the master writer herself, Agatha Christie.

The Present - 2011

Peter entered Neal's apartment, the door being unlocked; he looked around and saw that his partner stood out on the balcony, his body slumped forward as he leaned on the stone wall and gazed off into the city night. Calling out to Neal, he was concerned when he didn't get a reaction from him. As he passed the table he saw the half-empty bottle of whiskey, and shook his head; this was worse than he thought. The sting had been straightforward, Neal had gone undercover at a private psychiatric hospital, while Jones had gone undercover at the insurance company. Between them they had caught the people behind a health insurance fraud which had cost the insurance company thousands and left patients denied the most basic treatment.

Neal had gone in as a patient, and he had expertly mimicked the symptoms needed to set himself up as a prime candidate for the fraud. Peter had gone in as an orderly so that he could keep close to him, but it had gone to hell in a hand basket, and he had found Neal drugged and struggling violently in a straitjacket when he led the raid on the hospital.

Peter had rushed him to the local hospital; the next 24 hours had been exhausting as Neal had detoxed from the drug given Neal's acute reaction to some drugs, Peter had stayed by his side, refusing to leave him until he was cleared for discharge.

Very much against Peter's will, Neal had refused to come home with him; there had been something darker in Neal's mood that Peter had never seen before, and that was why the older man was at his apartment now, because Peter's gut feeling was that there was something wrong with Neal, and he was there to find out what.

Making his footsteps heavier, Peter made sure that Neal could hear him approach, because the last thing he wanted to do was spook his partner. Peter leaned on the balcony next to him as if he was admiring the million-dollar view of the city, and waited for the younger man to acknowledge him.

The silence stretched on, and finally Peter broke it as he said, "I am sorry, Neal." He had misjudged the situation at the asylum and hadn't had a chance to apologize, and now was a good time to do that, but what he wasn't expecting was the response he got.

The slender con man shrugged, and his voice was flat and cold as he said, "It wouldn't have made any difference. You still needed your pet con to go in; I didn't have a choice."

He had only heard that depressed tone in his partner's voice once before, and that was when Kate had died and he and El had dealt with the aftermath of keeping Neal sane and centered. Now that tone was back, and he was the cause of it.

Peter had heard some of the agents call Neal his pet or tame con, and refer to the anklet as his leash at headquarters, and he'd come down hard on them; he might not be able to stop it, but he wouldn't allow anyone to put Neal down in his hearing: he didn't deserve that.

"You know you're my partner; you're sure as hell not my tame con." Peter didn't hide his emotions from Neal, but all he got in return was a shrug of the shoulders.

It was cold out on the balcony, and he could see Neal was shivering, dressed just in his dress shirt and slacks. Quickly Peter slipped out of his coat and threw it around the younger man's shoulders; as he did so, he felt Neal shudder and somehow knew that it had nothing to do with the cold. It was then he felt the pressure of Neal's shoulder as the younger man leaned into him. Peter didn't hesitate; he wrapped his arm around his partner and pulled him close as if that way he could shield him against whatever demons he was fighting.

Neal didn't look at him, but one hand clutched the coat, the other hand covered his, as he wordlessly drew comfort from him. For a man that had made his living from spinning stories designed to con people out of their money, Neal was strangely quiet at times. Usually those times were when he needed to open up about himself, when the con-man veneer was peeled back, and he couldn't hide behind the public face of Neal Caffrey or one of his many aliases. Now was one of those times; Peter had learned to be patient and wait it out.

Finally Peter said, when it seemed that Neal wasn't going to speak, "I wouldn't have sent you in if I had known there was a problem, but you have to talk to me, Neal; you can't keep this kind of thing a secret."

"I thought you knew, or guessed, after the ABC murders; I was surprised you didn't use it against me when I was caught. I thought it was just your style, that you wouldn't stoop that low, and when you briefed me on the sting all I could think was that I was wrong and you didn't care."

Peter shook his head and then tugged Neal a little closer. "It was six years ago, Neal, and I never did find any evidence other than what I guessed from the way you acted at the asylum; I never knew for sure. In the future you have to trust me, buddy, and if a sting is going to be a trigger for you, you have to tell me."

"Huhhh." Neal said it softly under his breath, the meaning all too clear to Peter hell would freeze over before he willingly gave over personal information.

"I mean it, Neal. You're my consultant; we have a job to do, but I am not going to send you into situations that are going to damage you, not just because I am your handler, but because I am your friend.

Somehow he must have gotten through to Neal when he spoke from the heart, because Neal released a shuddering breath, and then began to talkā€¦