Author's Note #1: This is my first jump into the world of writing White Collar, and was prompted after watching last weeks emotionally charged episode "Gloves Off." I'm not sure about the rest of you, but man, when that got over...was I ever PO'd at Peter for what he'd done. My muse just kept screaming at me, so I had to take the plunge and write this.
This will be three chapters. My original goal was to get it all complete and posted before the mid-season finale, the first two chapters are complete; my twins getting the stomach bug seriously changed those plans. While chapter 3 is partly hand-written, I don't know if it will be finished by tomorrow night.
Author's Note #2: Great big HUGS, and THANKS to my best friend Riathe Mai, who not only edited the first two chapters at the last minute, after having a very long day, but also - after enduring my many text rants, and being a Neal fan herself - still offered sound and logical advice and explanations for Peters behavior; helping me changed this from the rant I started it as to the emotional and caring story I hope that it is.
Author's Note #3: I own nothing but the words. All characters belong to USA Network and Jeff Eastin.
"I really screwed up this time, El."
He felt his wife's arms circle around his shoulders from behind. She kissed the top of his head and Peter closed his eyes, tipping his head to rest in the crook of her arm, breathing in her sweet scent, and reveling in her quiet strength and love.
"I don't think this can be fixed," Peter admitted, the despondency in his voice choking his words. "Not this time."
"You and Neal have had disagreements before, hon, outright arguments." She lifted her head, resting her chin in his hair. "The whole Keller fiasco, for example, or the U-boat treasure…you guys exchanged some pretty heated words. But you worked it out, things were fine after that. This'll be no different."
Peter lifted his head, staring at the laptop screen that lay open on the dining room table; at the small blue dot blinking innocuously as it turned left at the park…again.
Never deviating, never stopping….pacing the same two-mile circuit over and over.
After Neal had stormed out, Peter had stayed and investigated Sam's apartment, looking for what, he didn't know, knowing that whatever had been there of any importance was long gone, but hoping to find that key piece of evidence just the same.
His heart and soul hadn't been in it, though. Neal's words had stung. The vehemence behind them had shocked him, but it was the emotional quiver in his friend's voice, the overly bright eyes, that had cut straight through his heart.
Peter knew how much truth those words had held, and that was what had hurt the most. Every fiber of his being had screamed at him to run out the door, to go after Neal right then. He knew that, right then, trying to stop him would only end in disaster, that they both needed some time.
As hard as it was, he held himself back; stood frozen while he watched Neal's retreating form
He'd locked the door when he'd left, not reporting the incident to either the local PD or his own people, keeping this between just himself and Neal; how it should have stayed as long as possible, he'd thought regretfully.
Sam was long gone. If he returned, and Peter knew just how doubtful that was, he certainly wouldn't be returning to the same place. Whatever the people who'd tossed the place had been looking for had either been found or not. Either way, Peter was certain that they wouldn't be returning to the scene of the crime.
He'd returned home, Elizabeth knowing that something awful had happened the moment he'd opened the door. That was hours ago. He was still sitting in the same spot, doing the same thing; feeling just as guilty, just as unsure at what to do now, as he was then.
"You didn't hear his voice when he said we were done, El. It wasn't just anger. It was…devastation…utter betrayal," Peter said softly. "Or the look on his face. Hon, when we were in the ring…when he stepped into that ring…"
Peter shook his head a bit. "I've known Neal for a long time. I can see through the scams and the con's…past all the shields he's put in place. I've seen him at his lowest points, but when he stepped into that ring…there was no more case, no more criminal to put away, no more con to pull off. There was only pure fury…all directed at me."
Peter shifted in the chair, reaching up and pulling Elizabeth around to sit on his lap. He tried, and failed miserably, to suppress the low grunt of pain the action caused, sore and aching muscles protesting any movement. He was sure his ribs and chest would be sporting colorful bruises by morning.
And if he was this sore, he couldn't imagine what Neal felt like.
"You sure you don't need something for the pain? Some ice maybe?" Elizabeth asked concerned.
"I'm fine, really hon." Peter kissed her lightly. He gently rubbed at what he was sure was a growing bruise on his temple. "Though for someone who abhors violence, and does everything in his power to avoid it, the kid sure does have a mean right hook. Left one isn't so bad either."
Elizabeth studied her husband, she knew that she wouldn't get him to care for any injuries, however minor, or for that matter get any rest, until he could fix the situation he felt he had created and caused.
She glanced at the laptop perched on the dining room table. "Neal still just walking?"
"Yeah." Peter wished that the tracking anklet came with a video feed, watching a blinking dot loop circles around a computer screen told him nothing about the state of the person it was attached to. Peter ran his hand wearily down his face. "He's been walking the periphery of his radius for over two hours now. Not doing anything else, not stopping, just walking the same circuit."
"You don't think he's thinking of running do you?" Elizabeth questioned.
"No." Peter's answer was quick and firm. The only thing, out of all the questions and uncertainties storming through his mind, that he was stone-cold positive of. "Neal's used to being in control, to being able to stay in control, no matter what the situation; when he can't…he cons, he charms, he puts on that dazzling Neal Caffrey smile and fools the world.
"But this…this is too much for him to deal with. Everything around him is spiraling. He's lost. All the revelations about his father he's finding out, he's still reeling from Ellen's murder…"
Neal's voice echoed in his mind, screaming that he was responsible and Peter took a jagged breath in, squeezing his eyes shut. He didn't want to believe that…to be responsible for that…but if he had just left it alone, not run her name all those months ago…
Elizabeth cupped his face, knowing inherently what he was thinking. Her slender fingers were soft and tender against his jaw. "You can't blame yourself for that, hon. You were doing your job, you didn't know any of this back then."
"He's confused, El. He's angry, distraught, hurting…hell, he could actually be hurt, but he still has so much adrenaline coursing through his system that he wouldn't even realize it.
"I knocked him out, El," Peter cried, "shot to the head. Not just once, but twice. Both times he went down. Second time…his legs just folded…and he crumpled. Mozzie threw the towel in, stopped the fight, but it didn't matter…he wasn't getting up under his own power.
"All I wanted to do was protect him. That was my only concern," Peter admitted quietly. "I know how badly he wants answers. But these people…," he shook his head. "Whatever his father got involved with, these people are powerful …we have to do this right, one misstep…it terrifies me what could happen to him if he takes matters into his own hands."
"You really think the corruption, the dirty cops…all of this, is that big?" Elizabeth sat up straighter, her blue eyes filled with concern and fear as she glanced from the screen back to her husband. "These people are in positions of that much power?"
Peter looked at the monitor, the blue dot still moving…Neal still trying to burn off anger, frustration and adrenaline. He glanced up at his wife; saw the concern reflecting in her beautiful, expressive eyes.
"Despite all the conspiracy theories that Mozzie weaves, the U.S. Government doesn't just up and grab people, and hide them away under new names in secret locations for no reason. Whatever happened all those years ago, it was big; serious enough to warrant WITSEC relocating three people…one of them a toddler…halfway across the country," Peter said.
Peter lifted his hand, tucking a wayward strand of long, dark hair behind her ear. "You're right about one thing though."
"Only one?" Elizabeth countered, and was grateful that her comment elicited the small smile from her husband that she wanted.
Peter leaned in and kissed his wife sweetly on her lips. "I didn't know who exactly E. Parker was when I had Jones run her name, or the domino effect of danger that might have caused. But I did know about Sam. Knew he was an undercover, knew he had ties to both Ellen, and Neal's dad, knew he held a lot of information about the events that went down. But I ran his name anyway."
Peter took his wife's hands in his own, rubbing his thumb over her knuckles. "I jumped to conclusions, El. I know Neal better than anyone; know when he's smiling an honest-to-goodness, real smile, and when it's all just smoke and mirrors, when he's truly running a con and when it's just Neal getting into mischief because he's bored.
"Sam was at his loft, and I immediately was mad…immediately came to the conclusion that he had broken our agreement, even after I asked him twice and he denied it. I should have given him the benefit of the doubt…I should have trusted him."
"Peter, Neal has lied to you before," Elizabeth reminded him gently.
"He's never outright lied," Peter corrected, and knew that some people would call misdirection semantics, and Neal lied all the time to everyone. "He never tried to sell me on something else, or try to point me in another direction. Words are a powerful weapon in Neal Caffrey's hands; he answer was a simple 'No'.
"I was so concerned with protecting Neal from himself that I never stopped long enough to consider that he may be looking for other answers that he's not even aware he's looking for; not willing to admit to even himself that he wants…or needs them."
"So what other reason would Neal have for Sam to be there then, Peter," Elizabeth inquired.
"Because Sam is the only person Neal knows who knew his dad," Peter responded simply. He was angry with himself for not realizing that before now, heartache gripping his chest at the many times he had talked about his own father with his young CI, and the implications that statement brought to his mind.
"Not the detective, or the corrupt cop, but the man who I have no doubt loved his son very much. Neal told me he has no memory of his dad, his mom wasn't really there for him…it was pretty much him and Ellen. He has no connections, no sense of who he is. Everything was a lie. The ultimate long con…with him caught in the middle. And he didn't even orchestrate it," Peter said bitterly.
"All these years I've been lecturing him about making good decisions, setting down roots, about belonging, the importance of family…and he finally try's to start to do just that…"
Peter blew out a long breath on a sigh, eyes bright. "I screwed up, El."
"You want to know what I think?" She asked, gingerly inspecting the deepening purple mark on the side of his face.
"You're going to tell me regardless of my answer, aren't you?" Peter shot back.
"Smart man." Elizabeth patted his chest. "I think you need to go and tell him just what you told him."
"I'm not sure he's going to stop walking long enough for me to say anything to him."
"I don't think that'll be a problem," Elizabeth advised, pointing at the laptop screen.
Peter glanced over her shoulder. Sure enough, the blue blinking dot at some point had finally stopped. Riverside Drive.
A surge of emotions surged through him, most of which passed so fast even he couldn't identify; trepidation at what the future held, uncertainty that he couldn't find the right words to fix this.
But at the forefront was an overwhelming sense of what Peter could only call fear and overwhelming sadness…that could he not fix this, he would loose not only the best partner he's ever had, but a dear friend and someone he considers a brother.
"Go," Elizabeth encouraged, standing up and pulling Peter with her.
"I love you. Thank you…for everything." Peter kissed his wife, resting his forehead on hers for a moment. "Don't wait up."