Characters: Neal, Peter, (Mentioned Briefly - Elizabeth, Satchmo, Mozzie, Keller and Kramer)
Spoilers: Up until the end of Season 3. None from season 4 promos/clips.
Warnings: No Beta!
Disclaimer: Not Mine. Just having fun. Property of USA Network.
Word Count: 2,625
Summary: Diana's keeping secrets, El's shopping, Peters avoiding and Neals worried.
Word Count: 2,625
A/N: Just a fun thing that popped into my head while stuck in traffic behind a minivan the other day. Light H/C, mostly emotional and set in the future after S3 where Neal has come back to work as a CI for the FBI. It's about 3 months after his return, so things are still shaky. For my Wild Card Fill on my H/C Bingo Card that is currently giving me formatting trouble:/ Enjoy:) And let me know what you think!
On this particular morning, Neal had made his way to the office on his own. Peter had said something about taking Diana and going by First National Bank before he arrived, to speak with the manager. They had been working on a recent chain of mortgage fraud cases that Neal had found particular interesting. Imagine that. Neal had been speculating, loudly, over the past few days that he thought someone at the bank may have been involved. But not just any someone. The high-class, untouchable, manager of the bank. Nathaniel Fry was no one to be trifled with. He had the triple threat of the business world. Power, money, and a few judges and various political figures in his back pocket. The White Collar Unit had been playing it very safe, not wanting to stir up trouble on a hunch of Neal's, no matter how awesome his hunches were, in his opinion.
After a good two days worth of badgering Peter about it at the office, and a very underhanded "slip of the tongue" to Elizabeth about how Peter was doing that, not trusting him thing again, his friend had finally agreed to stop by and at least talk to Fry. He had strictly forbid Neal from coming, citing that he didn't want his smart comments landing his team in hot water with the bosses. Neal suspected maybe he really didn't want Fry finding out Neal was the one who pointed the finger.
After the debacle with Keller and Kramer running off to Kapiti - a lovely Non-Extradition island off the coast of nowhere, Neal was on more than shaky ground. For a while, it looked like it might have been the end of Burke and Caffrey, or Caffrey and Burke, depending on who you asked. But Peter was Peter. He was forgiving, more so than Neal ever thought he deserved. He was also determined and unstoppable when it came to protecting his friends. The kind of determined that got corrupt old mentors fired and calmed embarrassed marshals and commutation board members. The kind that brought Neal home, and back to work as his consultant. The kind that made Neal want to come home.
The last thing Neal or Peter needed was an angry powerhouse stirring up more trouble. The bureau had made it crystal clear. Anymore trouble would result in an imminent and long lasting trip to the ad seg unit at Rikers. And because Peter had given up a lot for him lately, a lot more than most friendships would have expected, Neal was actually listening to him this time. Imagine that.
Actually, Neal had been a model CI here lately. Diana, who knew how to hold a grudge, thought he was running a con. Jones thought he was trying to avoid prison food. Mozzie thought his Stockholm Syndrome was kicking into high gear. But Neal didn't know what the Burkes thought, and they were the ones that mattered. It was them he owed so much of his life to now. They were the reason he had a home to come back to and a reason to stay there. He hoped they knew that it wasn't a con or an angle on his part.
Before running, he'd meant what he told the commutation board about having a family here, and he saw himself as apart of their family. He felt like the annoying little brother or sometimes the wayward son. He made their life exciting, he liked to think, and they gave his life some grounding and roots. Which is something he'd never expected to want, but it had become strangely addicting. They had been through a lot here lately, and Neal had started to feel the doubt and uncertainty that comes when things start unraveling. He knew that feeling all too well.
He knew how it felt to loose everything. He'd done that too many times to count now. What he couldn't figure out was wether this feeling was stemming from his own lingering guilt, or the Burkes actual feelings towards him. All this had been rumbling around in his head for the past 3 months since he had been back now. A normal person would have just asked them about it. But Neal didn't do normal. So he just did his very best on everything while he tormented himself with these uncertain thoughts about his place in their lives.
Thats what he was doing right now. Flipping through an old file, making notes, and planning his next move to make things right.
As Peter and Diana stepped off the elevators and through the glass doors to the bullpen, Neal immediately looked up and noticed the flustered look on his face. He was tinged slightly red and blotchy as he suppressed a grimace, calling back to Diana.
"Not a word about this in the office, Diana. Or anywhere else for that matter. "
"Sure thing boss," She called back with a laugh as she headed to her desk.
She grinned at Neal as she passed him, but didn't say a word. Peter didn't even look at him.
Ok. Something was up.
Neal started to ask, but Diana cut him off before he could even finish his sentence.
"Nope, not this time Caffrey. I'm sworn to secrecy. You heard." Her voice still sang with laughter. It only made him want to know even more.
"Come on," Neal pleaded, "You know I can keep a secret."
Diana's smile turned sarcastic but was still playful as she answered.
"Oh that I know, Caffrey. But this one you'll have to wait for. Don't worry, your bound to find out sooner or later. There's no hiding it anymore."
And that was all he could get out of her before Peter called down to ask if they planned on doing any real work today. Properly scolded, Diana went to work on her current caseload and Neal tried to go back to his cold cases, but he had lost all focus.
A thousand questions went through his head. What was he waiting for? What couldn't he hide? What would Peter be hiding from him? His life of crime flashed before his eyes. Every job, every heist, every con, trying to figure out what Peter may have found out. He wondered if this happened to every criminal before they were caught.
After all the half truths about the treasure, they had all come to an agreement that they would be more honest with each other. No lies of omission or protection allowed. It was the only way they could rebuild their trust and continue working together. And it had been working well, he thought.
But maybe Peter had found something he couldn't deal with, and now he couldn't deal with Neal anymore either. Maybe that's why Diana was so happy. She'd finally be rid of him soon.
He couldn't think like that and still function, so he pushed it as far back in his mind as he could and plunged back into his cold case files.
After a slow morning, Neal's stomach called out for food and he made his way to Peter's office for relief.
He knocked twice to get Peter's attention and leaned against the door frame.
"Ready for lunch?"
"Almost," Peter replied, "Just let me finish these last revisions."
"Ok, but it's my pick this time."
"Sure, thats fine." Peter said distractedly.
By the time Neal had his desk straightened up and his coat and hat on, Peter was coming down the stairs and making his way toward him.
"Ok, lets go. Your pick. Nothing too price though."
" Excellent. I say we enjoy a nice braised salmon with a glass of Pinot Noir," And then he casually slipped in, "While we discuss what kind of secret you and Diana are keeping from me."
Peter's response was a clear, "No." So Neal tried to think of another approach as the elevator moved to the bottom floor.
"Well, is about the Fry case?" Neal tried as they exited the building.
"Okay, well is it about my tips on any of the other active cases?"
"Is it about how I..."
Peter cut in with a sarcastic laugh, "It's all about you right?"
"Well...actually, usually it is."
"Your right, It usually is." And thats all he got.
They made it to the street and Neal headed towards the Taurus.
"Where are you going." Peter called, still standing a few feet back.
"To the car. For lunch...remember." Neal spoke slowly giving Peter an odd look.
"You mean we cant walk there?" Peter complained.
"No Peter, it's like twenty blocks east. It'd be easiest to just drive."
Peter looked around uncomfortably and shuffled his feet, still not moving towards the car.
"But it'd be healthier to walk, don't ya think. El's always on to me about my health. You know her." It wasn't even a good lie and they both knew it.
Neal had had enough of this game and his insecurity reared it ugly head. "Yeah," he said, "And I know you too. What's going on Peter? Why don't you want to go to lunch with me?"
"It's not that." Peter said immediately.
"Then what is it?" Neal shot back tersely. "What's with the laughing and secrets and not wanting to take the car? It is something I did? Is it about the case, or the bureau or my past? Are they threatening you Peter, because if it comes down to you or me, you know I'd go back if it would-"
Peter cut in quickly after this started and put a hand on Neal's shoulder. "No, Neal, it's really not about the case or the bureau or what you allegedly did or did not do. But you're right. It is about you. Honestly, it's ridiculous. I don't even know why Diana's giving me such a hard time about it. It's just a sticker! I told El this was going to be another mustache story."
Now Neal was thoroughly confused. "Wait, what?"
"Come on, I may as well show you. Your going to see it at some point anyhow." Peter motioned for him to follow as they walked towards his car.
As they approached the vehicle squeezed into the tiny spot, Neal didn't notice anything different at first, so Peter pointed it out.
He put his hand on his hips and sighed, "Lower left corner of the rear mirror."
And then Neal saw what he supposed the laughter had been about.
There, on the lower portion of the window, were four tiny window decals of a family. There was a stick figure of a man, holding a badge. Peter. Then there was a twiggy woman with large purse. Elizabeth of course. Next to her sat a plump dog, tongue hanging out in a doggy smile - had to be Satchmo.
You would have expected the picture to end there, but next to Satchmo, was another stick-figure. This one was tall, almost as tall as the Peter figure. He was fairly simple and nondescript in terms of clues about what his hobbies or job may be, but perched on his stick-figure head was a tiny hat, slightly cocked to the side. Just like Neal wore his.
Neal starred at the family of light pink decals and found himself at a loss for words. Peter felt the tension in the silence and babbled on about how El had went to a conference down south where she had been given her choice of decals as a free sample to take back home to promote the tiny company that was trying to expand. She had insisted that Peter put them on the car, because after all, she had been a struggling, small business owner once too. And she had promised to apply them to a car and drive them around for advertising purposes. So here they were, stuck on his Ford for an indefinitely amount of time, and everybody was getting a kick out of it.
Peter had finished explaining, but Neal had yet to take his eyes from the decals or say anything, so he reached out his hand again and squeezed shoulder to get his attention. Neal started and turned to him with bright eyes. Peter may have detected a hit of wetness there.
At first, Neal had been shocked to see himself as apart of the Burke family in decal form. Shock quickly morphed to sadness as it occurred to Neal that Peter may have been embarrassed to have him in his little stick-on family, so he offered a fix.
"You can just peel of the one if you're embarrassed, Peter. I get it. It's fine. Elizabeth won't even notice." He turned to walk back towards the FBI building. He wasn't feeling hungry anymore.
"No, I don't think you do get it, Neal." Peter called after him and Neal stopped, but didn't turn back to face him completely.
Feeling a strange mix of frustration, sadness and longing he asked, "What don't I get, Peter?"
Peter approached slowed and turned Neal so he could meet his eyes as he spoke. He had seen his young friends struggle over the past few months. The struggle to regain what he had lost. And this conversation had been a long time coming.
"I'm not embarrassed or angry about the decal of you in our family Neal. And I'm not embarrassed or angry that you are apart of our actual family either." He could tell Neal wasn't really hearing him so he placed his other had firmly on his other shoulder, brining them face to face so Neal couldn't block him out physically, and hopefully not emotionally either. He continued.
"I know things have been shaky around the bureau lately, but thats the agency. It's how they operate. All justice, no mercy and very little forgiveness. That place does great stuff. When things are right, it runs like a well oiled machine and its a great place to work. I know with all the late nights recently it feels like we live there, but its not home, Neal. And it's not like a family. They are not selling FBI family decals at any conference around here. You and me and Elizabeth, we aren't operating on the same rules as the FBI. We are not on shaky ground with each other. If we keep being honest with each other, we can offer each other forgiveness and mercy and a family."
"Then why were you embarrassed for everyone to see?" Neal asked quietly.
"Neal," Peter laughed, "I'm a grown man, an FBI agent at that, riding around with pink stick-family decals on my car."
"Point taken." Neal smiled, finally hearing what he needed to hear.
He wanted to tell Peter how much that had meant to him. How much he and Elizabeth had meant to him over the past few years, but all that would come out was, "Thanks Peter."
"Anytime." Peter said, giving his shoulder one last squeeze and dropping his arms. Neal's stomach protested loudly and they both laughed. "How about we go get that lunch now. I'm starving."
Neal nodded and they walked back towards the car.
As Neal plopped into the passenger seat, he felt more like himself than he had in ages.
"Ya know what your decal is missing?" He asked Peter.
"An anklet monitor."
"Funny, no. A badge. You know, I'm practically an agent anyhow. I mean, I basically do all the work around here anyhow, so... it would make sense."
"I take it back, I'm scraping you off, first thing tomorrow."
They both laughed.
"No, I think I'll stick around." Neal said seriously.
Peter looked over at him with just as much intensity, "Good."