Disclaimer: I don't own White Collar or profit off it, I just dream in their world.
This is one a lot of us had to write. Let's hope we all get our wish!
This may or may not be AU.
Additional info: this contains references to the episodes Payback (Season 2), Under the Radar, On Guard (Season 3) and Gloves off (Season 4)
The office was a cooler place with Neal Caffrey mad at Peter Burke. He still did his job and did it well. He was a con man after all, he could pretend. But the banter and smiles were gone. There was an unspoken ache. Peter recognized it. Neal felt it but buried it under his fury. He could not trust Peter. Peter had betrayed him.
The day Neal came to the office and Peter didn't show, he refused to ask about it when Jones and Diana gave him his assignments. He did those just fine too. But his eyes kept glancing at the empty office where Peter normally sat. He managed to hold off until the next day when concern finally forced it's way past his anger. "Where's Peter?"
"Took you this long to notice?" Jones asked, still a bit annoyed at Neal's behavior to Peter. He'd witnessed Neal's furious attack in the boxing ring and knew it wasn't an act, even though he didn't know the cause.
"One day could be a bug. Two days isn't like him." Even as he said it, he knew that the excuse didn't fly. Peter was a workaholic. It would take more than a bug for him to go down. At the very least, he'd have come to the office and taken paperwork home.
The way Diana stared at him told him he wasn't fooling her. "There was an accident."
"Hit and run. He got knocked up and..." her eyes narrowed as she carefully studied Neal, "someone else was killed."
Neal's jaw dropped. Killed?
"They think it was a drunk driver. The light changed and the car ran up onto the sidewalk, hit a parked car that Peter was standing next too. When it pulled back out it ran over someone in the crosswalk.
"How bad is it?" Neal tried to ignore the concern. He was determined to stamp it down where it couldn't rear up and hurt him.
"Bad enough he'll be out for awhile."
Neal was tense as he retreated to his desk. He worked on the paperwork but he found himself reading and rereading a line.
He didn't want to care. He'd set out to use Peter to help him find Kate. Kate was dead. He would acknowledge Peter had helped him, that staying and serving out his sentence for the FBI was the best thing. But trusting Peter had hurt him badly. It made Sam run. Sam, his only link to his family. His throat closed in grief. He fought back a shudder, thinking of Ellen's funeral. So many unanswered questions in his life! Knowing she was out there was different than knowing her dead. There was a gaping hole now, and with the questions about his father the hole was growing ever larger.
He tightened his fingers on the pencil and stared down at the paperwork. FBI paperwork. A few years ago he would not have believed it. If he had known then, what he knew now, would he have stayed with Peter? Come back, all those times?
He finally jumped up and left to grab lunch. He ended up picking at a deli sandwich on a park bench. His stomach was hungry but he had no appetite. His eyes strayed to the statue where he'd hidden a ring. An engagement ring for Kate, that he'd given up to save Peter from Keller. A rare expensive and valuable item that he would never be able to give to his deceased girlfriend. Neal's thoughts drifted.
He started. Diana was standing there.
"Fine." He looked surprised. "Why?"
"You left for lunch two hours ago." She motioned to the uneaten food in his hand. "You aren't answering your phone..and you haven't eaten half of it."
Neal looked away, lips pressed firmly together. "I've been right here. I was just thinking about...Kate. " He checked the phone. "Batteries dead. Forgot to charge it."
"Uh huh." Diana sat next to him.
"I hid the ring there. On that statue. ."
"In plain sight?"
"I covered it so it looked like part of the statue. I was...going to ask her to marry me."
Diana studied him quietly. "It gets better."
"Losing someone you meant to marry?"
"Feeling a friend let you down."
Neal looked at her, then away. "You don't know anything about it." It was a dare. If Peter had approached Sam, run his name, than what had he told Diana after promising not too?
Diana didn't take the bait. "I don't need details. It's kind of obvious. He won't stop caring just because you wall yourself off. And you can put on that con man face and do your job and maybe even con yourself into believing you don't miss him. But you do. And...when you care about people and they care about you, both sides get hurt. You can't help it. That's life."
Him. Neal knew she didn't mean Kate. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Then don't. But don't nurse it Neal. You're better than that and your hurting yourself."
"What makes you think I'm better than that?"
She snorted softly. "You wouldn't be hurting this much if you didn't care."
"I said we were done. Personally. I meant it."
Diana sighed. "Do you remember saying he was the one we all wanted to be like?"
Neal remained stone faced and silent.
"How many times, have your actions hurt him, and he forgave you anyway? You're better than this. You aren't a killer. But you are killing now Neal. Every time you decide your grudge and hurt and anger are more important than your friendship, you kill the best part of yourself. I don't think you want to be that person. I don't think you'd like what you would become."
Neal slowly looked up at her. "It's not that easy."
"Forgiveness is never easy. I'm not saying I'm good at it by any stretch of the imagination."
"I did trust him. We made a pact. We even shook on it. He broke it. He didn't ask me if I broke it. He just assumed I would."
Diana considered him. "You've broken your word on occasion." She reminded him with surprising gentleness.
Neal scowled. "I trusted him. This...this was important to me." There was pain he couldn't hide in his voice. Conflict was there too. He missed Peter, but couldn't admit it.
Diana pulled him up lightly. Neal left the sandwich on the bench and someone charged up and grabbed it. They both started as the homeless man tore into it. They glanced at each other. Diana nudged him on a slow walk back to her car. "So, you hold Peter to a higher standard than you hold yourself."
Neal was not walking with his normal, confident stride. His eyes were on the ground, hat pulled low. "Well, he is the agent after all." His voice simmered with resentment and just a touch of pain.
"And your friend and mentor and protector and it's hurting you like crazy that you feel like he let you down. Well, guess what? He's only human. You know he would never hurt you on purpose."
"I'm doing my job. I can't guarantee anything else." Neal got in the car and didn't comment on her driving.
"Just give yourself time to heal. Don't lie to yourself Neal even if you feel you need to con everyone else."
Neal sighed. He stared out the window at the passing traffic.
"Are you mad at me?"
"No." He muttered.
"Would you do us a favor?"
Neal gave her wary look. Jones was put out with him, he knew. "What kind of favor?"
"Make a get well card for Peter?"
Neal shook his head sharply.
"You don't have to sign it. We just don't have time to go out and buy one."
Neal gave her an incredulous look. "Really? That's the reason your going with?"
"Everyone in the office, except you, I guess, wants to. We therefore need it fast."
Neal sucked in a deep breath, let it out with a sigh. It was still a lame reason, he knew. "All right." He grumbled.
Neal had the card ready quickly. It was hardly his best work. But everyone in the office signed it. Finally it came back to Diana. "I'll drop it off on the way home."
to be continued