By 10 am, the jury had dictated the verdict and Peter Burke was a free man. They all gathered at the FBI office with champagne in hand to celebrate.
"Ah, what a great mood around these offices" said Kramer entering the bullpen making everyone turn to look at him. Neal's blood ran cold.
"I'm glad the whole team is gathered here, I have some news to share" said Kramer leaning on one of the desks next to Peter and smiling.
Neal gave Peter a panicked look and he just gave him a reassuring nod.
"Agent Amanda Calloway will no longer be leading this team. Let's just say she had some issues at handling the Pratt incident, which made one of our best agents go through a terrible ordeal. Fortunately, Peter is out of this mess and it's all good now" said Kramer patting Peter's shoulder.
Kramer started walking towards Neal and held a hand out to him "Mr. Caffrey, I have to say I was wrong about you. Thank you for proving me wrong. You're a great asset to this team and living proof that people do change. Please, everyone let's give Neal a round of applause" and everyone cooperated happily. Neal had truly gained the respect and appreciation of all the agents there. Neal just stood there dumbfounded and frowning. People who were nice to him always had an angle, he thought.
"So, without further stalling, from now on, I'll have the honor of leading this successful team, helping to keep the NY White Collar division on a tight leash and impeccable record" he said the last part looking directly at Neal.
A series of 'welcome, sir' and 'it will be an honor' came from the agents in the room shaking Kramer's hand. Neal went immediately to Peter "What the hell?!"
And before they could talk further, Kramer interrupted them "Neal, a word please?" taking him to the conference room.
"I won't beat around the bush" said Kramer putting his hands on his pockets.
"Caffrey, you pissed me off last time I was here. You made me look like an idiot but despite that, I respect you and I do appreciate your expertise in solving cases" he said looking at him coldly
"Um, thank you…" said Neal hesitantly
"However, you are a man full of secrets and I know that Peter has covered for you all these years. I won't" he said
Neal felt like all the blood ran cold and held his breath.
"I know about the Nazi treasure and I also know of your little adventure at the Empire State building, taking off your anklet and all… Let's just say I know enough to put you behind bars for a long time but I can also make deals, you know?" he said coming closer to Neal
"What kind of deal you want to make?" asked Neal remaining surprisingly calmed
"Well, I want you to work for the FBI permanently, here in the NY office" he said smiling and Neal could almost jump up and down from excitement if it wasn't for the fact that Kramer was pretty much blackmailing him.
"But...?" provided Neal obliging him to continue
"Your sentence is supposed to end in one year but c'mon, Neal, with all the secrets you have, it is clear to me that even when you have changed, you can't go unsupervised yet. So my deal is, I can keep your secrets too, as long you keep your anklet for a little longer" he said
Neal couldn't believe it. Even when he had come to accept his anklet and feel almost free even with it, he thought he finally could go free in one year… Damn it. 'Sara'… he had just promised her a new life in one year and now this…
"I assume this isn't up for negotiation…" said Neal trying to find an angle he could take advantage from.
"You're a smart man, Neal" said Kramer smiling and then continued "But I am retiring in a few years, maybe a couple. So who knows, maybe you could make a new deal by then. I can make sure Peter gets promoted. I just need your cleverness to retire at the top of my game. The pension and retirement bonus will be amazing" said Kramer smiling even wider.
Neal actually had to laugh at that. Kramer was being blunt and honest about his motives and he respected that. "I guess we have a deal, then" said Neal extending his hand.
Kramer took his hand and said "As long as you don't try to bullshit me, we're gonna have a good time" before exciting the room.
Neal stood there dumbfounded. Once again, his damn anklet was not coming off. But somehow he felt happy. He was home.
Kramer went to knock on Peter's door "Hey Pete? I need you to follow a lead for me. It's James Bennett. I'm sure you know him. Find him"
Peter swallowed hard but nodded and said "Phil? How did you manage to get Calloway out of the picture?"
"Oh Petey, your old man has his ways and she made it very easy for me. Plus, I had been chasing Pratt for a long time. He was as dirty as a sewer and… I happened to knew him since he was a cop back in DC" said Kramer mysteriously.
Peter wanted to ask further. If Kramer knew Pratt, he probably knew Neal's father as well. "But I thought you were always on art crimes and white collar" he asked.
"Before I went to teach at Quantico, I was a criminal profiler at FBI's organized crime's division in DC…" Kramer made a pause and sighed "I also met Ellen… just, find James Bennet ok? Soon" and with that, Kramer left Peter's office and MANY questions hanging in the air.
Peter went to find Neal and the latter said "Can we go for a walk in the park?" which seemed strange for Peter but he agreed. After all this, they deserved a little quiet time.
While walking, Neal bought a pretzel and explained animatedly his little adventure with Sara at the airport, minus the stolen ring of course, which made Peter smile widely and congratulated him. He then proceeded to tell him about Kramer's deal…
"I knew he was up to something" said Peter through gritted teeth
"It's OK, Peter. I get to work with you here" said Neal smiling
"But it's not fair, Neal. You deserve to make your own decisions"
"Peter, thank you but I'm a criminal. I know where I belong" said Neal looking down
Peter looked at him, really focusing on Neal "Do you really?"
Neal looked up frowning "What do you mean?"
"Do you know who you've become?" asked Peter
Neal didn't know where Peter was going with this… "Um, Peter, don't get all Freud on me"
"Neal, you're a wonderful man. Do you realize that? You've made a lot of mistakes but you've also been man enough to face them and conquer victory after victory, not only solving cases but winning over people's hearts" said Peter
Neal was blinking quickly. Where was this coming from?
But when Peter Burke was on a roll, nothing could stop him so Neal just kept on listening… "The way you took the stand for me, even when your father was involved and the way you overcame Kate's death... How much you've done to save other people's lives along these years working for the FBI… I mean my wife practically would give an arm for you. Sara loves you by her own admission. Hell, even Hughes and Diana, FBI coldest souls, have stood up for you… do you see all that?" Peter asked Neal almost desperately
Neal kept blinking rapidly "Peter, I… thank you but I've let you down many times and to me, it's what counts the most" he said in a small voice
Peter gave him a loop-sided smile and put a hand on his shoulder "Neal, I'm the proudest of them all. Hell, if I ever have a son, I just hope he is half as smart as you and half as good-hearted as you. Just not a thief of course…" Peter said with a smile.
Neal had watery eyes and just swallowed hard.
Peter continued "Life hasn't been fair to you. Your father could've given you a better life but he made a terrible mistake. But look at you, you're way past that and you've grown to give yourself a better life all on your own. You're a better man, despite all that happened with your parents and all the little detours you have taken... Neal, you have never let me down. I am very proud of you"
Neal couldn't help it and a tear rolled down his cheek. He cleaned it quickly feeling embarrassed.
Peter chuckled and took a hold of Neal's neck, grasping his hair roughly making him look up affectionately "Listen, El told me something that's very true. She said you had managed to con your way into our hearts and I think she was right" he said looking straight into Neal's watery eyes before pulling him for a tight hug.
Neal couldn't hold it anymore and he just let out a sob, hugging Peter really tight and managing a choked "Thank you".
They stayed in the park for a little while; Neal trying to step firmly into the shoes where he belonged and Peter providing the solid ground. It's how their partnership worked best.
As long as that balance was never broken, Neal would always find a place for him. His kingdom, who he was… A kid with big dreams, trying to fit into Italian leather shoes and a fedora.
I swear to you, while I'm uploading this, my iPod decided to play "New York, New York"... spooky, huh? LOL.
Well, that's it. The grand finale! I truly hope you enjoyed reading this story as much as I did while writing. I'm just anxious to see what will happen next season and this came as a creative response to a White Collar withdrawal. I love this show, too much. It's the best I've seen in a long time, it's the only that has kept me glued and obssesed since the X-files hehehe
God bless Jeff Eastin and the writers... and may the Force be with them so they can keep on writing brilliant stuff for many more seasons to come!
All comments are most welcome :)