AN: I will start off by saying some of you are really, really truly tired of these type stories, so this story will not be for you. I, however, love writing and reading them, so I will continue to do so. This is one of 'those' Tony has more education than given on the show. And I know before a comment is written…I use Harvard, as I will here, because everyone, in the U.S. and many internationally recognize that institution of higher learning. I got a comment once that asked why we writers only chose places like Harvard. And it is for that reason, we know Harvard is widely recognized and we know that reputation precedes them. Whereas, another excellent institution of higher learning may not be as easily recognized and the writer may have to end up explaining why they chose that particular institution. There's your answer.
Also, this will be an NCIS / White Collar crossover. It is not a part of The Cop and The Con series because I didn't keep Kate alive in that series. And Kate will figure very prominently in this story.
The ways the New York White Collar case was connected to NCIS's dead Marine case were complicated. So complicated, in fact, that NYC had sent down a couple of its finest. Well, one of its finest and his Confidential Informant. Gibbs was expecting Special Agent Peter Burke and Neal Caffrey to arrive any moment.
Peter and Neal walked into the bullpen a few moments later. They had been directed there by an NCIS agent. Peter held out his hand and introduced himself to Gibbs, Kate and Tim. He then introduced Neal. But they both kept looking over at Tony's desk. Neal kept looking around; it was obvious he was looking for Tony. And Gibbs was about to ask. But by that time Tony was back in the bullpen, having just seen Abby.
"Hey, Kid." Tony said as he embraced Neal. He then turned and looked at Agent Burke. "Good to see you, Peter." .
Agent Burke nodded. "You too, Tony." Tony and Peter shook hands.
Gibbs, Tim and Kate just stared at the trio, trying to understand what was going on. They had read what was available on Burke and Caffrey. They were well versed on both men. But Tony's connection had them all baffled.
"How do you know DiNozzo?" Gibbs asked Neal.
"We met in military school." Neal replied. "I was 12. Tony was 13."
Tony nodded. "…been friends ever since."
"A federal agent and a conman…that's…." Tim started
"We were kids then, McGee." Tony replied. "And there's a lot more to Neal than just being a conman."
Neal smiled. "Thank you."
Kate couldn't help but stare at Neal. He was extremely handsome. And she just couldn't get over how very blue his eyes were. She was also impressed with his knowledge of paintings, and of art. The two, Tony and Neal, seemed to be such a mismatch. Even in their clothing. Tony had on jeans and a hooded sweatshirt. Neal was wearing a tailored suit. Neal obviously was more educated. He had many degrees. Tony had his Phys. Ed. Degree. There is the fact that Neal could speak several languages. Well, there they were kind of even, Tony could speak several also.
Neal had been recommended by someone in the Art Crimes Division in D.C. The D.C. office had its experts. But D.C. knew New York had one of, if not, the best in international art thief Neal Caffrey. So, when NCIS called them needing help, they quickly recommended Caffrey, by name. When Tony heard, he was thrilled. He rarely made it to New York, and it had been almost a year since he had seen Neal. He missed his 'little brother' as he called Neal and was thrilled to have his friend in town, even if it was only for a day or two.
"So…you're an expert?" Kate asked.
"That's what they tell me." Neal replied, turning on the charm.
"He's a charmer, Kate." Tony warned her.
"…better than you, DiNozzo." Kate replied. "But I'm immune."
Tony just grinned.
"I accept the challenge." Neal stated.
Kate smiled at Neal. She liked him, and she had to admit to herself, it could be the eyes, it could be his looks. But she decided that she liked him.
"Neal, the case…remember." Peter replied, trying to remind Neal why they were in D.C.
Neal nodded. He smiled at Kate. "I remember."
"DiNozzo…" Gibbs said, observing the interaction. He wanted the case solved, ASAP. And he didn't like strange agents playing in his sandbox. He wanted this agent and his lackey back in New York, and out of his jurisdiction. But right now, he wanted his agent's attention focused on the case.
Tony looked at Gibbs.
"We'll take Agent Burke and Mr. Caffrey to the evidence." Gibbs said, as he started down to Abby's lab.
The rest of Gibb's team followed Gibbs as they all went down to see Abby.
Abby enveloped both Gibbs and Tony in hugs before she saw the newcomers. She gave Neal a quick once over before he was enveloped in black. He was left gasping from one of Abby's enormous hugs. Peter met the same fate. Abby then stepped back to let both men recover.
"I'm a hugger." Abby gave as explanation.
"She's never met a stranger." Tony added.
Both Neal and Peter nodded, unable to speak. They were just now getting a look at the Gothic forensic scientist. She was dressed in black boots, up to her knees. She had on a black mini skirt and a white 'Hello Kitty' tee with a black, spike-studded, dog collar. The only thing that was actually regulation was the white lab coat.
Neal looked at her and then at Tony, unsure what to say.
"Come on, Sinatra." Abby said. "What you need to see is over here?"
Neal smiled at the reference and followed Abby to a nearby table.
Tony held out his hand and nodded at Peter. Peter rolled his eyes and pulled out his wallet, depositing a $20 bill in Tony's hand.
Gibbs, Tim and Kate looked at them both, confused.
"Long standing bet, anytime anybody calls Neal 'Sinatra.'" Tony explained.
Peter shook his head. "You're cutting into my retirement fund."
"You made the bet." Tony reminded him.
Gibbs grinned and then turned his attention to Neal. He watched as Neal examined the artifact. Neal spouted information as he examined the piece. He finished with concluding that the piece they had was, indeed, real. And it was worth a couple million dollars.
Kate and Tim were very impressed by Neal's knowledge and understanding of art. They still couldn't understand how Neal and Tony had remained so close.
"It's amazing how you know that, Neal." Kate stated.
"I have an excellent memory." Neal replied. "Plus, I understand the process." He was referring to the art of painting…the strokes…the technique.
"Fine art versus gym teacher…." Tim snickered as he leaned and whispered to Kate.
Kate chuckled, getting Tim's little…joke. "Yeah."
Neal bristled at the comment. He opened his mouth to speak. Neal could have told them off, right them, told them something that Peter didn't even know. It would have shocked them all. Neal wasn't even sure that Tony knew this interesting little tidbit of information. But Neal didn't speak. Because even as easily and as he could have done it, it was not his place.
Tony looked at Neal, and he immediately knew something was off. Neal caught his gaze and acknowledged it. Neal then shook his head.
"How…why do you put up with that Tony?" Neal asked later when he and Tony had a moment to themselves.
"They're just joking, kidding around." Tony replied.
"They're being disrespectful, Tony." Neal replied. "You're their superior."
"It's not…." Tony started to say that bad.
"You're earned this, Tony." Neal stated. "I read up on those two. I've read up on everybody you work with here. Well, those you work with on a regular basis, I know. And I know why they feel the way they do…aside from what you've told me." Neal paused. "It bothers you, Tony."
Tony shook his head.
"I know you. You wear a good mask. We both do." Neal admitted. "But I know better, Tony. I know that the slights…they hurt. I know they do."
"It's not meant…. The way I act around here…." Tony replied, without conviction.
"Who are you trying to convince, Tony, them…or me?" Neal asked.
Tony shook his head again.
It made Neal angry, and he started to pace. "I don't like it. I can't stand by and watch my brother be treated this way."
Tony didn't speak. But he smiled. He loved to hear Neal call him brother.
"You're their superior. You don't have to explain it. You don't have to justify it. That's how it is." Neal paused. "Your work with the various police departments, the fact you became detective so quickly, saving that little boy's life from that fire…all of it…." Neal looked at Tony. "You're had some amazing accomplishments, Tony."
"But all they see is the Phys Ed. Degree from Ohio State." Tony stated.
Neal grinned. "I have a way to fix this."
Tony looked at Neal. "What are you going to do?" He asked, concerned.
"Don't worry." Neal said, shaking his head. "You're going to love it."
Tony followed Neal back into the bullpen. Neal leaned against Tony's desk, and Tony leaned against the partition that surrounded their work area.
"I'm sure you and your agents looked into me and Agent Burke here, read everything that you could have on the both of us. And I'm sure you know about my 'alleged' thefts and forgeries." Neal paused. "And that's a good thing. You need to know who you're working with." Neal looked at Peter. "When Agent Burke was chasing me, he poured over my file, carried it around with him all the time. He knew what time I got up in the morning. He even knew my shoe size. It's…it was necessary for him to get to know me for him to do his job." Neal smiled. "I studied up on him too, though. I had to. No better way to find out how to avoid a guy than to get to know him, get to know his habits." Neal paused and looked pointedly at Kate. "I guess you could say I profiled him. I studied him and tried to figure out what his next move would be so that I could stay ahead of him."
Both Peter and Tony looked at Neal, very uncertain as to where he was going with this.
"That's one thing you can never do though, and that's underestimate people." Neal paused. "Because as much as you think you have someone pegged, they can still surprise you." He paused again. "I suppose you noticed that I have no history before the age of 18. Neal Caffrey didn't exist."
Now even Gibbs was wondering what it was Neal was about to tell them. He had wondered about Neal before the age of 18. He had even had Tim double check to make sure they had not missed anything.
"People think a lot of things about me. And I've never corrected them. I wear nice clothes, and I'm well-spoken. I know a lot about art so, they assume, I must be highly educated." Neal stated.
Kate nodded, but neither she nor Tim remembered reading about Neal's education.
"The truth is just, sometimes, so different than our perceptions." Neal paused. "The suits aren't mine. They belonged to my landlady's deceased husband. I left prison wearing every piece of clothing I owned which was a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and an old ratty coat. She gave the suits to me."
Kate and Tim just looked at one another shocked.
"I'm a veracious reader. I read anything and everything I could get my hands on as a kid. You can ask Tony. And I found art fascinating. I never went to school to learn art. I never attended a college or got any kind of degree in art. You could say I was self-taught. I found a love of painting and drawing at an early age. And I stuck with it. I went to art shows and browsed the paintings. I looked at the finished painting and then tried to duplicate what I saw in my own works." Neal said.
Kate and Tim looked at each other again. How could Neal have not gone to college?
Peter was surprised. He had never asked Neal about his education. But the degree certificates he had known about were forged. That didn't mean, however, that Neal couldn't have obtained higher education using an alias.
"I grew up in Texas, and I had a heavy accent, even more motivation to be well spoken. I didn't want people to just listen to me and think me ignorant." Neal said. "So I watched a lot of TV. I tried to speak like all the big actors out in California. I was determined to have a Californian accent. And it worked, after a while no one had any idea I was a Texan."
Neal paused. He smiled at them, ready to drop his bomb. "Pretty good for a kid who never graduated high school…wouldn't you say?"
Tony grinned. And Neal had been absolutely correct. The expressions on Kate's and Tim's faces had been priceless.