Rating: FRT-FRT 15
Fandoms: White Collar/L&O: SVU x-over
Summary: Forced into a challenging situation by an undisclosed requirement of his probation, Neal must look into the mirror at last and come face to face with truths he's been running from most of his life.
Disclaimer: I don't own either show and I've made no money off the use of these characters, who are works of other people's genius. I'm simply inspired by the two worlds (by all the 'verses USA has gifted us with, for that matter) and if Neal had to be dragged kicking and screaming into this scenario... I couldn't think of anyone better to see him through it.
"What? No. Not a chance, Peter." Neal asserted, shifting out of his leaning posture against the front of the desk. Seated behind the large piece of furniture, his handler shrugged and favored the younger man with a sympathetic expression.
"Hey, if I could take the hit for you, I would, you know that. Hughes wasn't given an alternative... so we don't have one, either."
"Peter. I can't." Neal protested even more intensely, staring at the paper in Burke's hand as if it had suddenly grown fangs and begun to snarl at him.
"I know. You think I don't understand what hell this'll be for you?"
"But... a psych eval? I hardly tell *you* what's going on in my head, Peter, and I trust you only a little less than Mozzie!"
Peter fiercely suppressed the grin that compliment engendered and fought to stay focused on the problem.
"Appreciated, but you have to understand what blowing this off means. It was in the fine print of the deal you signed. I've been letting it slide and covering both our asses because I knew the battle I was in for when I told you. Now that they've found me out, if I don't make sure you get this done... we're both screwed. I'll be busted so low on the totem pole I'll be working out of a cave, like Batman. You... for breaking the agreement, you know what they'll do to you."
"I didn't know it was *in* the agreement."
"You think they care?"
Neal paced a short distance then retraced his steps to face Peter again.
"So I have to sit around and let some so-called *expert* dredge up everything I'm trying to leave behind me? I don't think so..."
"Who says you have to play it straight? Treat it like a short-con, if that's the only way to get through it. Make stuff up, string him along... hell, lie through your teeth if you have to. You used to be the best at getting people to believe every word coming out of your mouth was the gospel truth... when we both know it wasn't."
Neal raised an eyebrow. "Okay, okay, you still are the best. You just do it for a good cause, now."
"As far as you know." Caffrey mumbled.
"What was that?"
"Nothing." Neal shot back quickly then scrubbed both hands over his face. "If it wasn't for you, Peter, this would have me sprinting for some remote, beautiful corner of the world where nobody would ever find me... but I can't let you be hurt just because I don't want an unqualified, ego-driven fraud messing with my head."
"Not all therapists and psychologists are half-assed morons, kid. I've actually heard good things about this guy. He consults with the NYPD a lot, but he works for the bureau. I hear he's smart, intuitive, confident... pretty much you. Like I said, your best bet is probably to just bluff your way through and get it done as fast as possible. But if you decided to give him a chance... who knows, right?"
Neal hesitated for a long time, but gradually a concealing smile appeared on his face, drawing a mildly weary sigh from Peter. "Bluffing it is. Here." He said, handing Neal the slip with the man's name.
"George Huang... he works in the building?"
"Not that I'm aware, but Hughes said he's happy to work with you here. I guess it'll be up to the two of you."
"And there's no exit strategy? None?"
"Sure you are. When?"
Peter glanced at his watch.
"It's... just seven-thirty, so about half an-hour."
"Well, at least I can get this over early. Unless a case comes in, you and I can still get breakfast at a reasonable hour."
Peter smirked and rapidly turned his chair away. Neal scowled and left in search of a cup of coffee to bolster him before the torture began.
Finishing another complete circuit of the immense bullpen area, Neal discreetly shook his hands to soothe the ache from knotting them together almost constantly. When the elevator bell sounded for the twentieth time in a half hour, he paused and turned his head partially in that direction, hoping against hope that, as was the case every time before, it was not the stranger he'd been dreading. This time he was bitterly disappointed, but he settled himself and let a calm smile develop.
The shorter man gazed around, also smiled and approached Neal slowly.
"Dr. Huang. Good to meet you."
Huang accepted the offering and studied his subject carefully before replying.
"I can see it really isn't, but I'll do my best to change that."
"Your chances are slim to none, I'm afraid... but don't let that stop you."
"This process has to succeed for you, right? If it doesn't, you could lose everything you've built since you made your deal with the bureau."
Neal's smile shifted from deliberately casual to wary and uptight.
"Let's get something straight, okay? I'll do the bare minimum, give you at least part of what you want... you sign off and tell the people above Peter Burke that I fully complied and not only am I mentally stable... I'm damn close to perfect."
"So you're only doing this for him."
"My motivation is irrelevant."
Neal's heart sank and his stomach twisted as he realized he might not be able to breeze and deceive his way through the exam as he'd been planning, but his expression never changed.
"He's been good to me. Matter of fact, he saved my life. The very least I can do is make this minor sacrifice to be sure he keeps his job."
" 'Minor sacrifice'. Interesting turn of phrase."
"I bet you say that to all the psychos."
"Am I what?"
"A psycho. Is that how you see yourself?"
The jab finally made contact with Neal's defenses. It didn't come close to breaking through, but the young man felt the impact and the brief twitch of jaw muscle Huang observed told him he'd scored at least a weak hit.
"Can we get this over with? I'm sure there's an empty office somewhere..."
"Actually, if you don't mind, I'd rather go out. There's a small park near here. It's well within your radius."
Neal's suspicion grew exponentially, but he fiercely reminded himself that it wasn't just his future on the line.
"The park is fine."
"Great." Huang told him brightly, leading the way back to the elevator. Neal released a slow breath, shook himself minutely and followed.