Barry Harvey sat alone in his high priced condo (financed by his father), fashionably decorated with a totally unloved feeling about the place. He was angry and frustrated. He had tried to do his job with a dirty agent; well, he looked to be dirty at the time and now he, Harvey, was placed on administrative leave, pending review. It was unfair, completely unfair, he reassured himself for the tenth time. He was doing his job. Maybe he was looking to attract some of the right attention for a career move as well but there was no harm in that. Lots of people went up the ladder that way. Barry knew he wouldn't win any popularity contests with the agents, but somebody had to be the enforcer. And now, this was his thanks.
The phone rang; he frowned. This had better be good. "William, I said I didn't want any interruptions. What? No, I didn't order anything. Send him away. What do you mean, he won't go?"
Minutes later, going downstairs in the elevator, he came out to bizarre scene. William the doorman stood outside with some delivery driver, a small man with glasses. Pushing through the doors, Barry brushed by one of his socialite neighbors, a fashionably slender woman, heavily botoxed, who hissed at him, "For God's sake, Barry, this is Manhattan but be discreet!"
Confused, he stood in mortified astonishment. The boxes, four large ones, were all flamboyantly labeled in vivid colors, ACME ADULT ENTERTAINMENT COMPANY. OUR MOTTO: PORN WILL BE YOUR FRIEND WHEN NO ONE ELSE IS.
"Where do you want this stuff, buddy?" The delivery driver smacked his gun irritatingly loud. "I don't have all day here," he announced even louder than his gum.
Barry was torn between scathing anger and raging embarrassment as it was after five pm and all of his fashionably wealthy neighbors were returning home, looking at the assorted boxes with varying expressions of astonishment, condescension and pity for the poor classless idiot parlaying his habit in the open. Passerby walked along, snickering. William, that jerk, must still be pouting about getting stiffed on a tip after lugging his latest fashionable vase up to his condo in that large crate last week. He, too, stood by smiling and doing nothing about getting rid of this loutish driver.
On top of everything else, Harvey looked up to find a cell phone aimed at him. Diana Berrigan, the most obstructive and hostile agent he had interviewed in Burke's whole division of obstructive and hostile people, stood by laughing. "Now I have something new to put up on the office bulletin board," she purred sweetly, holding up the phone. She walked off with a saucy smile.
Harvey protested to any and all who would listen, "I didn't order this stuff!"
The delivery driver, who had professed to be in a hurry, stood by with a small envelope. "Maybe your girl did. It says, Love, Amanda. I like to read these things; it is so sweet," he added with a nauseating cheer.
Harvey's head exploded.
Later, Diana stood waiting a few blocks away when the delivery van pulled to a stop beside her. "Hop in, Sheena of the Suit Jungle," Mozzie invited.
Diana did, laughing. "You did good, half pint. Is he still standing out there?"
Mozzie smiled. "Oh yes. The doorman doesn't like him either; he did his part for free. Neal did the labels. And I picked out a nice assortment for Mr. Harvey from the ACME Company. I'm sure he will love it."
They both laughed as Manhattan traffic crawled along.
WC WC WC
Neal went home the first week Peter was in Hawaii. There were no phone calls but Neal told himself it was all right. It was time to stop being so dependent. What had happened to him? Was this his long absent father's legacy? Clutch whoever/whatever he needed close, no matter what the cost, to himself or them? If he didn't, they wouldn't have a chance to leave, right? He shook his head; cool it, Doctor Phil. Too much analysis. He needed to, oh, wait for it; cowboy up andmanage on his own. His father was under maximum security, bail denied (Good, he thought.) but Neal felt no need to go and visit. Jones had informed him that James was under a psychiatrist's supervision and, hearing that, Neal felt panic. James needed to pay for his crime, not plead mentally challenged. But he kept his mouth shut and accepted the pampering June and her staff lavished on him during his recovery. He was sore and he found it hard to get around, so the help was doubly welcome.
Mozzie stayed close as well, although after pestering Neal intensely one night about what Peter would do next and what Neal would do if Peter chose not to return to the Bureau, he subsided when Neal had snapped him. Moz said nothing after that, only stared with that round eyed, unnerving look that made it appear he never blinked. Neal felt badly but not enough to make amends that night. Sometimes Moz was just too ….. much. He didn't want to have his inner most fears relentlessly analyzed with a sure expectation of the worst.
June on the other hand, was certain all would be well when the Burkes returned. "They need some time to themselves, dear," she replied when Neal had finally broken his self - imposed silence on the subject with her. "But I am convinced Peter will be back to work again, although I must confess I hear he has several job offers waiting if he doesn't. Dear Arthur would love to have him as his own private investigator and with the fees Arthur charges, they wouldn't have to live in a townhouse in Brooklyn!"
At last going back to work, Neal, who was indeed relegated to light duty and case file reading, made sure he did nothing to put himself on the radar of Charles Peterson, temporarily in charge of White Collar. Peterson was nearly Hughes' age and clearly thinking more about retirement than cases but he made it clear he wanted no trouble. Neal intended he did not have any and was so quiet, Diana and Jones teased him about it. Hughes met them all for lunch one day and talked shop. Neal confronted him with the question uppermost in his mind when they had a moment alone. Hughes admitted he had heard nothing from Peter either but he was certain Peter would be back, as he had only a few more years to go to reach twenty years. No use in giving up a good pension, Hughes said gruffly. The older man himself was obviously in a transition stage; when they talked cases Hughes was completely involved and clearly itching to come back. But when he talked of traveling with his wife and watching his grandchildren grow, it was a different story.
All of which left Neal feeling that FBI men were a weird lot, all in all.
Then, one Saturday where Neal had indulged himself by sleeping in very late, the phone rang. Irritated, as he was certain it was Moz on the line with some other trivial bit, he skipped the caller ID and barked, "What now, Moz?"
"For some reason, that greeting really worries me," Peter's voice came through the phone, warm and amused. "What's going on?"
Neal sat up in bed. "Peter!"
"Neal," his partner said in that tone that mixed fondness and reproach, all at the same time.
Bleary eyed, Neal glanced at his watch. "Hey, it's what? Six a.m. out there? What are you doing?"
"Watching the sunrise with a beautiful brunette on the beach," Peter replied and Neal could hear Elizabeth's bubbly laugh in the back ground. "But you didn't answer my question. What are you – and Mozzie – doing?"
"Nothing illegal," Neal hurried to reassure him, a smile lighting his face. "We were experimenting with some different wines last night and we had a bet-"
He could almost see Peter holding up his hand. "Never mind." Neal heard El in the background again and then obviously a decision had been made as Peter said, 'I'll meet you back at the hotel.' Returning to Neal again, he said, "Sorry about that. El says hi, by the way."
"Tell her hello back," Neal said warmly. God, he missed them. "How is Hawaii?"
"It is beautiful," Peter admitted. "But I think I'm shopped out and sick of Hawaiian music."
"Philistine," Neal said fondly.
"Whatever. Now, how are you doing? Diana told me you came back to work last week. How is it going?"
Neal's glow of happiness evaporated. "You talked to Diana?"
"She called me about the Whitman case. I did the undercover on that one, not you." Peter said briskly. "So stop sulking."
"I wasn't. Sulking, that is." Neal attempted to recover lost dignity. "And yes, I am fine. Truly, fine."
"Have you seen your father lately?" Peter asked quietly.
Irritated, Neal snapped. "I suppose that was Diana too."
"No, I asked her to keep me informed before I left. She told me you were thinking about it. That's all. What did you decide?" Peter sounded like he was about to go into interrogation mode. Just like the old days. Only this time Neal felt warmed by the concern.
He swallowed. "I saw him yesterday. He… well, he looks like a broken man, Peter. He is so passive; maybe they have him on drugs. I wanted to hate him and I still do when I think of what he did to you but, I'm not sure he's worth the energy of hate anymore."
There was a silence on the line for a moment and then Peter said, "That's good, Neal. Don't dwell on him. You have a life of your own to lead and James made his own problems a long time ago. Time to move on. You are free of him. And his legacy."
"Speaking of," Neal hurried to change the subject; he didn't want even the shadow of his father to mar this phone call, "how are you doing? Made any decisions yet?"
"I'm doing fine," Peter replied but Neal heard the unspoken, 'now' at the end of that sentence. "We really needed this time together. It has helped us both a lot." There was a pause and Neal could hear the ocean in the background for a moment. "However, we will be back at the end of the week. We leave here tomorrow. Going to stop and see El's parents – I am so looking forward to seeing Dr. Mitchell again – then my parents. And I've had contact with the Bureau; suddenly they don't want me gone for another month."
"White Collar?" Neal asked breathlessly, his heart pounding.
Peter sighed. "Somebody has to watch you."
WC WC WC
Peter's first week back was hectic but happy. Everybody was overjoyed to have him back, none more than Neal Caffrey. His partner looked tanned, happy and relaxed. Everyone stood around expectantly (mystifying Peter) when he walked into his office for the first time. To his surprise, everything looked just where he had left it. Sometimes OPR could be slow to return items. Then he noticed one extra thing on his desk. A small, ornate silver frame with a photo of flustered Barry Harvey standing out on some Manhattan sidewalk with several huge brightly labeled boxes of …. adult entertainment? And there was pleased looking Mozzie standing off to the side in delivery uniform. In Neal's best calligraphy, (Peter recognized that) the matte was inscribed, "Just Desserts."
Peter laughed so hard he nearly fell into his chair.
Diana was first inside, followed by Jones and Neal. "We thought you'd like that, boss."
"Neal and the little guy came through," Jones observed with a contented smile.
Neal shrugged, radiating false modesty. "A lesser effort but still so satisfying." He caught a brief, faraway expression on Peter's face. "Sweet?" He asked curiously.
Peter, reliving the nightmare of his arrest aftermath ever so briefly, said simply, "So very sweet." Gathering his thoughts, he said, "I've got to show El; she is going to love it."
After a breakfast of decadent pastries and fancy coffee, (Neal again) they got back to work. Cases had piled up since Peter was away and there was a lot to do. As usual when Peter got on a roll, it was all systems go on the case files. Any doubt was soon erased that he was back on the job. Diana was in and out of his office, with armloads of files. Neal had his own pile of cases to ponder. Jones worked the phones. File clerks ran this way, agents ran that way. But, unlike before, everyone was smiling; the boss was back and in rare form. The air crackled with energy. They started on a mortgage fraud and art forgery and things began to be White Collar normal once more. Peterson was pleased, stayed in his office and left them to their own devices. His whole tenure smacked of temporary and this time, Neal, Diana and Jones vowed privately, Peter would get that corner office of Hughes', if they had anything to say about it.
Neal lingered at the door of Peter's office as five o'clock loomed. "Well, you're back all right."
Peter shrugged on his jacket. "You sound thrilled," he remarked, a little wary.
Neal shrugged. "It was easier with Calloway. We sat around until the next hot tip; then we drove around aimlessly. Less work."
Peter caught his arm and gently propelled him to the door. "Get out of here," he said in exasperation.
They went down the stairs together, Neal snatching up his fedora on the way out, still chattering. Peter looked long suffering.
Jones and Diana watched, gathering up their own possessions to leave. "They're baaack," Diana said in the approved fashion.
Jones shook his head smiling. "Better believe it."
WC WC WC
A few days later, June held a victory celebration party at her gorgeous mansion, assisted by Elizabeth. An assortment of people showed up, friends of the Burkes, and friends of June who were overjoyed that Senator Pratt's true legacy was out in the open. By necessity, not many of Neal and Mozzie's acquaintances appeared. Mozzie wandered around, showing off an eclectic collection of very strange stuff. Arthur Anderson popped in briefly. Thankfully, at least where Jones, Diana and Neal were concerned, Landon Shepherd did not show. Peter definitely had mixed feelings about her involvement but he had been through so much lately, he didn't want to start in on another new worry. He decided it was easier to let the pieces fall where they may. Hughes and his wife stopped by but didn't stay too long. Jones enjoyed one of his prize cigars out on the terrace while Diana peered over June's record collection.
"June, I can't thank you enough for everything you did," Peter said over the music and the chatter. He stood with his arm around Elizabeth's shoulders. She leaned against him, her arms around his waist. Since his release, El was always holding him, touching him. Peter decided he was fine with a clingy wife. It felt so good.
"Well, it was all in a good cause. Byron and I met Terence Pratt once, during his first campaign for Senate. A truly odious man. I'm glad the truth has finally gotten out about him."
Elizabeth reluctantly relinquished her hold on her husband for a moment. "I will never be able to thank you enough for what you did. When you came over that first night, I think you saved my sanity."
Peter flinched a bit at hearing the intensity of emotion in El's voice. June grasped both of Elizabeth's hands warmly. "I was just so happy to be of some help." Turning to Peter, she added, "And Arthur is serious about wanting you to work for him, Peter. He told me to tell you he would wait a few years after you finish at the FBI. It is something to think about."
Peter nodded seriously. "I will. I do want to finish out my twenty though first. Reese Hughes keeps calling to remind me of pensions rightfully earned, as he calls it."
June looked shrewd. "That's not the only reason though, is it?"
Peter smiled and glanced down at Elizabeth. "No. It isn't just that. I have to make sure Neal finishes out his time and gets off the anklet. I started that commitment and I will finish it. Also, the Bureau has taken a beating lately from politicians and the wrong people (he thought of Calloway and that pompous little jerk Harvey, who had been demoted out of OPR for his mishandling of Peter's investigation. Plus there was the strange business of a widely circulated photo around the FBI building.) in positions of authority. I guess I'm idealistic," he admitted with a self-deprecating smile, "but I would like to see it get back to where it was. Or at least not be regretful of being an FBI agent again."
Smiling, June touched his shoulder and brought Peter's head down for a gentle kiss on the cheek. "I think you'll do just fine in that regard."
Standing nearby, Mozzie muttered, "Mistake, Suit." Peter and the women laughed. Neal stood nearby, feeling better than he had in a long time. He had finally found a world he belonged in, nearly lost it but, defying the odds, got it back again.
Later, standing outside on the terrace, Peter and Neal stared at the brilliant, full moon. They sat at the table, Peter with his beer, Neal with his wine. The night was cool and there was a promise of autumn in the air. "Beautiful sight," Peter remarked with a trace of wistfulness in his voice.
"It is lot better when you're a free man, right?" Neal remarked, guessing the mood.
Peter turned, with an earnest look on his face. "If we can keep out of trouble, you're almost home yourself, Neal."
"I know," Neal replied quietly. "I suspect that is our new motto; no trouble."
"We can't afford any more," Peter said bluntly. He turned to Neal directly. "I mean it, Neal. We can't go over the line again like this."
"Peter, what you mean is that I can't ask you to go over the line," Neal clarified. "And I won't." At Peter's sharp look, he modified his statement. "All right, I won't ever ask you casually to go over the line. And I will look for a better way first."
Peter stared at the moon, his expression momentarily bleak. Neal didn't have to be psychic to know he was reliving those days in prison. "I made mistakes here. Too many." Making an effort to change his mood, he added, "But I think we can turn this to our advantage. Make a new start. We drifted, Neal, both of us. Maybe it is time to right the course. Refine our technique."
Neal stared. "What, second star to the right and straight on till morning? Peter, are you going nautical on me? You're taking that sextant way too seriously."
Peter smiled. "Maybe."
Neal took a swallow of wine. "So, where do you think we'll be four years from now?"
Peter looked thoughtful. "Four years from now? You'll be a free man. And I'll be at twenty years plus at the Bureau. Hard to say."
"You are thinking of staying past twenty at the Bureau?" Neal persisted.
Peter glanced at him in mock annoyance. "What are you getting at, Neal?" He took a swallow of beer and regretfully put down the now empty bottle.
"Nothing," Neal shrugged. "Just wondering."
"I'm going to play it by ear," Peter replied. "Right now, I am seriously attracted to the idea of leaving the Bureau, which is something I never thought I'd hear myself say. But they are good people at the Bureau and if they all run away like I'm considering, who will police the politicians and catch the crooks?"
Neal made a dismissive gesture. "One and the same there."
Peter smiled. "Probably. But I also have to consider El too. I know she would be happier if I left the Bureau and I don't ever want to subject her to this kind of a nightmare again." He looked at Neal. "But I know you're up to something, so let's have it," Peter declared abruptly, leaning back in his chair with an expectant smile.
Neal was secretly chagrined. For a man who made his living deceiving people, Peter always read him so easily. It was demeaning. However… "Well, Sara called last night. It seems Sterling Bosch would be really, really interested if you were to come on the open market. And of course, they are interested in me for my expertise," he added, with a futile attempt at modesty. "We could be a package deal again."
Peter shook his head. "I'm not sure I'm up to another round of working with you after we finish this FBI stint. Too much wear and tear," he added with a tragic sigh.
"Ha, ha," Neal replied. "Well, I told Sara you might not be up to the challenge-"
Peter shot him a look. "Oh, how thoughtful of you," he said darkly.
Neal looked smug. "Just looking out for you. I don't want you to get in over your head."
Peter gave a snort of disbelief. "Delusions can be comforting. However, in the here and now, I think somebody mentioned earlier solving every case upon my return. So, what do you say?"
Neal smiled; a genuinely pleased smile. This must be what a family reunion was like when you actually liked your relatives, he thought happily. "Oh, I'm in. All in."
They chatted a bit over a new loan case Peter had just gotten that day. Jones joined them, then Diana, and Mozzie, who demanded to know what 'their' new case was about.
June and Elizabeth stood inside, looking at the group outside.
"Well, they seem involved in something," June observed.
"A new case. Some sort of loan scam. Peter was intrigued by it on the way over. Something about a woman named Ashley Hamilton, a loan officer at some credit union."
"Ashley Hamilton! I know her," June exclaimed. "And I really cannot stand her. Arrogant hussy! What's all this about?"
"We can find out quickly enough." With a sudden grin, Elizabeth said, "I think Burke's Seven, with one substitution, Ellington in for Ellis, rides again."
June looked intrigued. "Tell me more."
Elizabeth started to explain and they both laughed while going outside to join the others.
Thank you all for staying with the story until the end and thank you so very much for the nice reviews.
To those of you who have kindly put me on author alert; there will probably be some stories posted in the future that are not White Collar. These are older stories. I'm sure I'll be back with more White Collar in the near future.