In Plain Sight
Author: Cheryl W.
Disclaimer: I do not own Neal, or Peter or any rights to White Collar, nor am I making any profit from this story.
Summary: When Sam proves wholly unworthy of his trust, Neal realizes that who he has in his life is more important than who he doesn't. Story takes up after "Gloves Off." No slash.
Looking down at Neal, Peter didn't like the fact that Neal's bed was no longer elevated or seeing the younger man's pinched features. "Mozzie regaling you with tales of how unhealthy it is being in a hospital?" he lightly asked even as he silently vowed to give Mozzie a talking to if the man had anything to do with Neal's current discomfort.
"No," Neal replied, knew he was looking at Peter strangely but he couldn't put Mozzie's theory out of his mind. "Didn't expect to see you again today."
"Work load is light," Peter lied, wasn't so sure Hughes wouldn't ream him out for the backlog of cases on his desk that he had let stack up since Neal had been hurt.
And Neal knew it was a lie because, last week, before everything had fallen apart, he had counted the cases they were behind and it had been a staggering amount. And yet, every time he woke up the last three days, Peter had either been at his side or had soon materialized in the room.
It was Mozzie's fault he now put more stock into that. Put new importance on the fact that his first waking sight had been of Peter at his bedside, that his first sensation, after the agony was filed away and accounted for, was of a hand squeezing his, the hand of the guy who thought "cowboy up" was a rousing compassionate speech. And then there was the way Peter's eyes had held his at that moment. Peter had given him a look like he had in the Cape Verde island, right before he hugged him.
Now Neal recalled how choked his friend's voice had been as he said, "Neal, thank God you're awake." And Neal almost believed that declaration wasn't an exaggeration on Peter's part. Though it would be break from Peter's staunch philosophy on God. But Peter wasn't acting all that like Peter in more respects than that.
For a man who faced life threatening situations with an outward show of fearlessness, there had been a strange uneasiness about Peter the past few days, as if this was a situation FBI Special Agent Peter Burke didn't know how to handle. And that thought had initially scared Neal a bit, made him wonder how badly he was hurt, if Peter knew something he didn't yet know. But when the doctor recounted his surgery to him, explained the extent of his injuries, estimated the time it would take for him to heal, Neal couldn't help but be mystified by what part of it all had made Peter so uncharacteristically nervous.
A nervousness that had been slowly lessening but hadn't completely vanished yet, still showed itself in the careful way Peter always approached his bed, claimed a seat at his bedside, handed him a glass of water by practically wrapping Neal's hand around the plastic cup before he finally released his hold…on the cup and on Neal.
And unlike Mozzie's theory, Neal had another more logical one. That Peter's super attentiveness was more practically explained. Peter felt at fault for his injuries, wrongly blamed himself for the vulnerable situation he had put himself in. And as soon as he cleared all that up, things would go back to the way they were. "Can you help me sit up?" he asked.
"Neal, I think you need your rest…" Peter hedged, didn't like the lack of color in Neal's face.
"I want to talk about what happened," Neal announced, knew that Peter hadn't wanted to push him before and, honestly, with the drugs he had been given at first, it had been more likely that he would confess to one of his past crimes than start recounting the events that led up to his present medical vacation.
Peter was torn between his concern for Neal's mental wellbeing and his unquenchable need to understand how he had nearly lost the young man that he loved. Seeing the familiar look of determination in Neal's eyes for the first time since everything had happened, Peter bowed to Neal's desires. Sliding his hand under Neal's back, he pressed the button to raise the bed, could feel the bandages that wrapped around Neal's torso as his fingers skimmed over skin that was still too warm, could feel the weakness in the usually fit body that necessitated help with something as simple as leaning forward.
When he deemed Neal comfortable, Peter reclaimed his seat and vowed to wait on the younger man' timing. But as braced as he was to hear Neal detail the agony he had endured at Sam's hands, Neal's first words were wholly unexpected.
"Sam said my father's been watching me, for years. That's why Sam thought he could use me to lure him out of hiding."
It didn't sit well with Peter, the notion of Neal's father lurking around, spying on Neal. The man was wanted by the mob and by dirty cops, was supposed to be off in WITSEC, effectively keeping all the danger away from his family, from his son. But Peter buried that cauldron of disrespect and anger, did it for Neal, because this was Neal's father they were talking about. "Do you want me to contact WITSEC, see if he's still in the program, is established somewhere locally…"
But Neal's resounding "no" cut Peter's offer off mid-breath.
And Peter found it harder than it had been before, defending Neal's father, but he still managed to do it. Did it for Neal. "I know you think your father betrayed you, Neal. Left you ….but he might have done it …"
"For all the right reasons?" Neal acidly challenged.
"Yes," Peter stated, knew that as much as Neal felt anger toward his father, the younger man would always yearn for a connection with his biological father. 'A connection that I can't give to Neal, no matter how much Neal feels like my son,' Peter painfully had to admit to himself.
"I don't think he's watching me. I don't think he's trying to find me. I don't think he ever intends for us to meet again," Neal declared, believed it more deeply even as he said the words. "Sam thought my father wrangled the marshals to get Ellen located close to me but Ellen told us in the tape that she asked to be close to me and my mom, wanted to protect me. He said my father knew I was in jail, helped me stay safe but to prove that…." But then indecision marred Neal's features, doubt crept into his next words. "Maybe…I don't know…there was this big, kindhearted guard who took good care of me, his name was…."
"…Bobby Weiler," Peter supplied, couldn't stand there and let Neal's father take credit he didn't deserve.
Neal was very rarely shocked speechless but he was this time, could only stare at Peter, struggled to put the pieces together.
Peter shrugged, tried to make it seem like a little thing as he explained, "I might have asked Bobby to watch out for you."
This was all coming from left field for Neal. "Why? You didn't really know me back then, didn't owe me anything."
Peter sighed, could still remember how horrified he was as Neal's sentencing was announced. "Neal, you did white collar crimes, never hurt a soul and they sentenced you to a maximum security prison, with the murderers and kidnappers and…the worst of humanity."
"Thought your motto was 'you do the crime you have to do the time'?" Neal lightly teased.
But Peter glared at him. "Do the time, not get yourself killed in C block."
Neal couldn't quite wrap his head around Peter's kindness, even when he was nothing but a case number to him. "So you're my mysterious benefactor. It's kinda like the Hunger Games, you authorized some flying canister to show up with exactly the supply I needed to stay alive one more day."
Peter manufactured a scowl. "And you wonder why I didn't tell you this before."
"I know why," Neal cockily assured, smiling. He knew that it was all due to Peter Burke's big heart that the other man tried so hard to hide.
"Be quiet now. Nap time," Peter teased, knew that there was no use in trying to downplay what he had done and why. He had liked Neal. And all the time that he had spent chasing him, he had been in awe of "James Bonds" artistic talents, marveled at his genius and admired his love of life. It was Neal's track record of falling in love with something that belonged to someone else that he had had a problem with.
But Neal sobered quickly. Mozzie's theory, Peter's consideration was touching, but he still needed more facts, more proof, more reassurances that he wasn't once again foolishly trusting in a relationship that was bound to end in betrayal and loneliness. "If agent Collins hadn't gotten on my trail, would you have still come to Cape Verde, arranged for me to come back to White Collar with you?" he demanded, needed to hear the truth, for Peter to tell him the truth.
"Yes," Peter definitively declared, had known the second that Diana announced that Neal had cut his anklet that he wouldn't let what they had between them end there. That he wouldn't set Neal adrift in a world where no one knew his real name except Mozzie, let Neal be at the mercy of people who didn't realize how breakable the brash man was underneath it all, like he did.
"Why?" Neal beseeched, didn't know why this good man had done, not once but three times, what his own father and mother never had: searched relentlessly for him until he was found.
There were a hundred reasons why he had chased after Neal but, in truth, Peter had only needed the one to pack his bags and board a plane. "Because I believe a family should stay together," he earnestly declared and before Neal could protest, he hurriedly defended his position. "I know we're not blood but ….that hasn't stopped us from being a family: you, me, El, Satchmo. Even Mozzie's wheedled his way into a seat at our table."
Neal so wanted what Peter was offering but he knew who he was soul deep, that Peter couldn't treat something broken like he was as if it ….he were something new, untainted. "Peter I…I.." he stammered. "I'm not good with family stuff. Families, good families, are about trust and truth and …"
"….Forgiveness, arguing, shared confidantes, little white lies, good times and bad," Peter added to Neal's list. "It's not about perfection, Neal. It's about imperfections. It's about screwing up and still getting a free pass. It's what we've been doing for the past four years, what we have," he explained, loved Neal's open expression of awe. Couldn't resist throwing in a jab at the hopefully reformed thief, " ….and you didn't even have to steal anything to get it."
"Technically, that's not true," Neal drawled with a cocky smile. "I had to steal a lot of things …just to get your attention. Then I had to leave bread crumbs for you to pick up my trail so you could look good to your superiors."
"Oh really, how generous of you," Peter drolly said, reached out and ruffled Neal's hair as they both broke into laugher.
Elizabeth couldn't hold back her smile as she entered the room, heard laughter coming from her two favorite men. "Well, you both sound up to no good," she saucily predicted as she joined Peter at Neal's beside. Giving Neal's cheek a feather light, motherly caress, she noted with concern, "Neal, honey, you look tired."
"He was just about to get some more rest," Peter announced, not wanting him or Neal to be on the bad side of Elizabeth's motherly tenacity, he had played that game too many times with Satchmo and lost.
"Elizabeth, you should know, I think Peter just adopted me," Neal joked, even as part of him wanted her reaction, needed to know where he stood with her.
Leaning familiarly against Peter's shoulder, Elizabeth couldn't hold back her joyful smile. She just knew Peter had it in him to open up, to make himself vulnerable. That he would do it only for the people he loved most in the world and that had included Neal Caffrey for longer than her stubborn husband would ever confess to. But that didn't mean she couldn't divulge a few interesting tidbits. "Neal, you've been family practically the second you stepped out of the prison with the ankle monitor."
"No. No, you weren't," Peter denied with as much believability as a dad who swore he wasn't Santa Clause. "More like my own personal pet, on a leash."
Elizabeth bestowed a knowing smirk upon her husband. "It was three years ago when you saw that old school friend of yours, Hank."
"He was never my friend," Peter interjected, shooting a co-conspiring look to Neal and shaking his head, making the other man smile.
"He was your friend and he was bragging about how smart his son was…"
Knowing where this story was leading, Peter got up, pretended to stretch his stiff muscles. "Well, I think we need to go…."
But Elizabeth wouldn't be deterred, sent a saucily look to Peter before stepping up to Neal's bed again. "And Peter started talking about his son, Neal."
"Neal's a very common name, picked it off the top of my head…."Peter tried to derail the train that was set to run him over. But now his wife and his roguish, adopted son were staring at him with smiles.
"Neal who could paint a reproduction of any artist, any period and you would swear it was the real deal," Elziabeth continued to quote her husband, turned to Neal and found that the young man looked genuinely surprised and utterly touched. "He said you had paintings in some of the best galleries in the world."
"That part's true… ..course they happened to be forgeries …" Peter allowed, couldn't help but send a reprimanding look toward Neal.
"A rose by any other name…" Neal quoted, loved Peter's reproving fatherly shake of his head and his, "no, don't do that."
Smiling at the antics of her men, Elizabeth marveled that, four years ago, she had been certain that her and Peter's lives were complete. Didn't know how wrong she was or how much more blessed it would become after Neal Caffrey stole his way into their family. 'They say crime doesn't pay…but sometimes it does,' she joyously thought, had absolutely no intentions of sharing that thought with her FBI husband.
"Alright, Neal needs to get more rest," she announced, began ushering Peter out the door but her husband stopped at the door, turned back to Neal, his expression drenched in compassion. "It's not your dad or me, you know. You don't have to choose. I'm here and I'm not going anywhere."
And Neal felt his heart swell, knew that was exactly what Elizabeth had tried to tell him before with her 'we're always going to be here for you.' But now he saw that it wasn't a chain binding him to a decision, it was a lifeline keeping him afloat. Couldn't believe that everything that he had lost when Ellen had told him the truth about his parents, his life, his very name, it had been returned to him, but even better than the original had ever been.
Neal couldn't find the words to honor what Peter was giving him, had given him, could only swallow hard and give a bob of his head. He knew Peter understood the depth of his gratitude by the other man's smile. Then Peter pulled Elizabeth to his side, bade, "Good night, Neal. See you in the morning" and they headed for their home, a home that they had lovingly, trustingly opened to a thief, a liar, a prodigal son. But more risky than that, they had opened their hearts to a son that was not their own.
And Neal found it almost laughable, that after all of the hundreds of things that he had stolen, the most precious thing ever to come into his possession had been hiding in plain sight all along. Free for the taking.
Well, it's been so much fun posting this story and getting to hear all of your wonderful thoughts and encouragements. Thank you all for taking the time to read this story.
Have a great day!