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22 October 2013 @ 08:58 pm
Caffrey-Burke Day Fic: A Friend Indeed  
Title: A Friend Indeed
Rating: PG13
Warnings: None
Genre: H/C, emotional H/C, friendship
Pairings: None
Word Count: ~ 2,400
Spoilers: S1-13 Front Man and although there are no specific or even non-specific references I seem to be channeling some of the emotional stuff from the S5 premier in this fic.
Summary: Tag to Front Man. Written for Ivorysilk, because she commanded it. ;)

A Friend Indeed

Peter stopped in the doorway to his office and turned back to face Neal.  "You know, you can either go back to wearing an orange jumpsuit and pining for the girl who got away or you can stay here and do something good with your life.  Your choice.”  A simple statement that was both a challenge and a promise.

Neal swallowed hard and watched as Peter turned away from him and walked down the stairs.  Peter’s words were like a punch in the gut. His second in twenty-four hours. It hurt that Peter didn’t understand that Kate hadn’t gotten away, that she had been taken from him and that getting her back was doing something good with his life.  It hurt more than Wilkes's fist had.

Suddenly every punch, Taser hit, kick and fall Neal had experienced over the past day descended on him again along with an undeniable exhaustion.  He pulled in an unsteady breath and then stepped out of Peter’s office hoping the tight feeling in his chest would lessen outside the confines of the small space.

His vision tunneled in from the edges, dark spots dancing against the watery brightness created by the overhead fluorescents.  He felt his legs waver.  He tried to lock his knees and grab for the railing on the walkway above the bullpen but his attempt was thwarted by the weakness that had overwhelmed his beaten and otherwise abused body.  He stumbled, falling forward, crumpling against the short glass wall beneath the railing before slumping to the floor.

Clinton Jones caught the movement of Neal's downward spiral out of the corner of his eye, and then heard the solid thud of Neal’s body striking the floor.  “Caffrey!”

The double glass doors of the White Collar offices were just closing behind Peter when he heard Jones’s shout.  He turned, confounded.  Hadn’t he just warned Neal against making poor choices?  But he didn’t see Neal, just Jones sprinting up the stairs toward his office.

Peter pushed back through the doors just as Jones reached the landing and knelt.  That was when Peter saw Neal, lying in a heap on the ground.  Peter tossed his coat and briefcase aside and dashed across the bullpen and up the stairs two at a time, worry replacing the frustration that he had felt moments ago.

Neal was already attempting to push himself up while Jones was trying to keep him down.  "I'm fine," he mumbled though it was clear to both Jones and Peter that Neal was anything but.  All the color had drained from Neal's face in the few short minutes since Peter had left him and his movements were uncoordinated and very unNeal-like.

"Just stay down a minute, catch your breath," Peter urged.

But Neal ignored him, awkwardly brushed away the restraining hand Jones had placed against his chest and struggled into a seated position leaning up against the glass wall. "I'm fine," he stated again.

"Yeah, I'm not sure you know what those words mean," Peter replied.

Neal glared up at him.  But Peter saw more hurt than annoyance in Neal's look. Peter took a deep breath and then crouched down beside Neal.  "Look, it's been a long couple of days.  Give yourself a break, okay?"

"You first."  Neal sighed as Peter's earlier words echoed in his aching head.  "I'm willing to look past your little trip off the reservation because you did well today."

"Oh, that's right you already gave me a break today and I forgot to thank you for your generosity.  Thank you."  He didn't really have the energy for sarcasm but the words were out before Neal could stop them. He dropped his head into his shaking hands, closing his eyes against the too bright office lights.

Peter grimaced.  Maybe it had been a bad idea to taunt Neal today.  The truth was he hadn't even bothered to make sure that Neal was okay.  The kid had just spent the last 24 hours with a man who had once tried to kill him and obviously it hadn't been a walk in the park.  "Jones, help me get him into my office," Peter said sliding a hand under one of Neal's arms.

Jones nodded and took Neal's other side.

Neal wanted to shrug them off, but he wasn't entirely certain that he could manage on his own, so he let Peter and Clinton pull him up to his feet, lead him slowly into Peter's office and set him down again in one of Peter's guest chairs.  He kept his eyes closed the whole way in the hope it would keep his earlier dizziness away. It was only a partial success.

"Thanks, Clinton. Can you go grab a bottle of water?"  Peter asked.

Jones nodded and left Neal and Peter on their own.

Peter sat in the other chair beside Neal and waited while Neal gathered himself.  After a couple of minutes Clinton returned with the water. "Hey Neal, this should help," he said as he unscrewed the cap on the bottle.

Neal cracked open any eye and accepted the plastic container with a nod.  "Thanks, Jones."

"Anytime," Jones replied as he exited Peter's office again.

Neal's hand trembled slightly as he lifted the bottle to his lips.  The water was cold and tasted like something from a desert oasis to a man who had been lost in the searing sands for days.  He had no idea just how thirsty he was until that first sip.

Peter watched as Neal first sipped and then began to guzzle the water down.  "Hey, slow down," he said as he gently tugged Neal's hand down.  "You don't want to make yourself nauseous."

Neal nodded minutely acknowledging Peter's words and then finished the bottle at a more relaxed pace.

"When was the last time you had anything to eat or drink?"  Peter asked.

Neal shrugged.  "Before Wilkes, lunchtime yesterday."

"Well, that could explain why you collapsed."

Neal shrugged again.  His eyes were still closed making it harder for Peter to read him, but it was clear that there was more going on.  Neal had mentioned being Tased when they briefly met at the airport earlier and Peter couldn't help but wonder about other injuries Wilkes might have inflicted.  "What did Wilkes do to you?"

Neal turned his head and opened his eyes.  The look he gave Peter was tired and cold. "Not much.  Just a particularly nasty sucker punch to the gut.  What he ordered his associates to do to me on the other hand..."

Neal turned away from Peter and left the rest unsaid.  He wanted Peter to worry, to feel sorry for what had happened to him. Neal wasn't sure why he was so angry with Peter. Peter's 'you can choose right or you can choose wrong' speech was one that Neal had heard a dozen times already, but today, after what he had done to protect Lindsey, it hurt.  So, he used the opportunity it presented to meet with Alex. That wasn't why he had done it. He had spent a night and a day with a man who wanted him dead to protect an innocent life.  He had chosen the right path and all Peter cared about was his meeting with Alex and whatever trouble Neal might be trying to get into.  It wasn't the first time that Peter had questioned his motives and Neal was certain it wouldn't be the last, but it rankled nonetheless.

Peter watched as Neal closed himself off.  He had been angry at Rice earlier for calling Neal a tool in her belt.  He had been even angrier that she had used Neal in just such a way.  That had never been his own style. He relied on Neal and treated him like someone of value.  And, he did trust the kid, in his own fashion.  He knew Neal wouldn't have done anything to put Lindsey's life in further danger.  And, in the end he knew Neal would do whatever he had to try and protect her.  She was home tonight, safe with her father, not because of Rice, not because of him or Jones or any other agent, but because of the con artist, forger, thief and CI, Neal Caffrey.

"You know I meant it when I said you did good today. You saved Lindsey's life."

Neal nodded minutely, but continued to stare out at some point outside the windows of Peter's office.

"You know that I don't think of you that way, as a tool in my belt, right?"

Neal remained mute and closed his eyes again.

Peter took a deep breath and let it out slowly.  "I push you because I know what you're capable of.  I know you have it in you to be the guy who makes the right choices."  Peter hesitated, weighing his words.  "I care about what happens to you."

That got Neal's attention.  Neal looked at him again, the rebuke easy to read in Neal's blue eyes.

Peter nodded and held up a placating hand.  "I know I didn't do the best job of showing you that today.  I'm sorry about that. But, it's the truth, Neal. And, I'm here now and I want to help."

Neal took a moment to let Peter's words soothe him and wash his anger away.  He was too tired to try and hang on to it and if he was honest with himself he knew that Peter was right.  He knew Peter valued him and he knew Peter wanted to 'reform' him, and not just so that Peter didn't have to keep chasing after him for the rest of his FBI career.

"Okay," Neal breathed quietly.

"Do we need to go get you checked out somewhere?"

Neal shook his head.  "I'm just tired and probably really hungry."

Peter looked Neal over, assessing.  "You said at the airport you got Tased?"

Neal nodded with a grimace and held up two fingers.  "Twice."

Peter scowled.  "What else?"

"Not much, really.  The sucker punch, kicked a couple of times, tossed around a bit.  Nothing really to write home about.  I really am fine."

For a moment Peter debated taking Neal to the ER despite and maybe even because of Neal's assurances.  But Neal looked so tired Peter didn't have the heart to drag him to a crowded hospital and make him wait around for hours before he could get seen by a doctor.  "Okay, let's get you home."

Peter stood and then helped Neal up.  The younger man wavered for a moment and then stabilized.  When he was sure Neal was ready Peter ushered Neal out the door and down the stairs to the bullpen, with one hand on Neal's elbow and the other on the small of Neal's back ready to catch him should he stumble.  They made a brief pit stop at Neal's desk to gather up Peter's coat and briefcase; someone must have picked them up from where he had dropped them earlier.  Then Peter directed Neal down to the Taurus.

By the time Peter had maneuvered out of the parking garage Neal was asleep in the seat beside him.  Neal still looked pale, almost luminous in the glow of the harsh city lights coming in through the car windows.  It was hard for Peter to deny the angelic quality of Neal's face relaxed in sleep despite knowing full well the little devil that lurked in Neal's quick mind.

Neal woke on his own when Peter parked the car around the corner from June's front door.  Peter got out of the car with Neal.  "You don't need to come in, I'll be fine," Neal said from his position on the curb.

Peter shook his head, "I'm still not convinced you know what those words mean."  He put his hand under Neal's elbow again.  "Come on."

When they finally reached Neal's apartment, after the rather laboriously task of ascending the stairs to the third floor, Neal was winded and more than ready to get off his feet but Peter guided him all the way over to his bed before allowing him to sit.  "Get into bed, I'll make you something to eat."

"That's really not necessary Peter.  I've got it from here.  I'm just going to get some sleep."

"It's been more than 24 hours since you last ate anything.  I'm going to fix you something," Peter replied in his best no-nonsense voice.

Neal held up his hands conceding the point and then started tugging off his jacket.

Peter made his way to Neal's efficient kitchen and dug around in the fridge coming away with a carton of eggs, some assorted ingredients for omelet making and a bottle of orange juice.  He pulled a couple of glasses from the cabinets, poured water from the tap into one, orange juice into the other and then brought them over to Neal's beside.

Neal was just climbing in under the covers as Peter set the glasses down on his bedside table.  "Here start with these."  He turned on the bedside lamp for Neal and then stooped to pick up Neal's jacket and slacks from where Neal had dumped them on the floor.

Neal watched as Peter took his suit over to the wardrobe and carefully hung it up.  Then he watched as Peter took off his own jacket and then fumbled around in the kitchen chopping vegetables, whisking eggs, toasting bread and cooking a couple of omelets.

In the warmth of his bed, with his head resting on his feather pillows, Neal felt better.  It helped too that Peter was here. He knew that Peter saw him as more than a way to keep his clearance rate over 93 percent.  Even when Peter was chasing him, Neal knew that Peter respected his intelligence, his abilities.  And, he did understand why Peter pushed him constantly to do the right thing. He cared. It was that simple and that complicated.

Peter finished up in the kitchen and brought two plates over to the bed. Neal scootched up against the headboard and accepted the plate that Peter handed him.  "Thanks," Neal said as he picked up his fork from the plate.

"You're welcome.  Eat," Peter responded perfunctorily as he sat down on the bed beside Neal.

"No, I mean thanks Peter, for being you and not Rice."  Neal's eyes were focused on the eggs on his plate.

Peter nodded, a smile slowing growing.  "You’re welcome," he replied affectionately. "Eat."

kanarek13kanarek13 on October 23rd, 2013 06:22 am (UTC)
Awwwww, I love this, especially how you managed to channel that bit of s5 premiere and have the boys work through it and end up right where they belong *hearts*

Also yay for whump, that ep had so much potiential in that department :D

This is great, thank you. And happy Caffrey-Burke day \o/
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 23rd, 2013 03:44 pm (UTC)
For some reason when I started writing this I couldn't get the Season 5 premier out of my head. It's interesting to me how these themes keep replaying in vaguely different ways throughout the course of the show.

And, you know I love me my whump.

I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Happy C-B Day!
pipiljpipilj on October 23rd, 2013 08:58 am (UTC)
Lovely fic.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 23rd, 2013 03:44 pm (UTC)
Awwww thanks pipi!
aragarna: Peter and El 2aragarna on October 23rd, 2013 09:10 am (UTC)
awwww boys *hugs them both so hard*

Nice fic. :-) Happy Caffrey-Burke day !
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 23rd, 2013 03:45 pm (UTC)
Our boys do have their issues, which is what makes them so darn fun.

Thanks for reading!

Happy C-B Day!
calis_1stcalis_1st on October 23rd, 2013 10:55 am (UTC)
What a wonderful tag to a great episode. And this -

It hurt that Peter didn’t understand that Kate hadn’t gotten away, that she had been taken from him and that getting her back was doing something good with his life.

- this sums up so much of Neal's head in the first season.

Thanks for posting, and happy Caffrey-Burke Day.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 23rd, 2013 03:48 pm (UTC)
I agree, that really was where Neal's head was at in S1. Thanks for pointing that out!

And thanks for reading!

Happy C-B Day!
a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf: White Collar - Neal h/cembroiderama on October 23rd, 2013 01:24 pm (UTC)
YAY for collapsing Neal! :D I love Peter (and Jones) taking care of Neal here, and especially Peter cooking up omelets for dinner/breakfast in bed.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 23rd, 2013 03:49 pm (UTC)
I love the comfort almost more than the hurt these days.

Glad you liked it E!

Happy C-B Day!

elrhiarhodanelrhiarhodan on October 23rd, 2013 01:32 pm (UTC)
A lovely, painful and wonderful story.

I always thought that Peter was a bit cruel to Neal at the end of Front Man - or at least, oddly uncaring.

Thank you for fixing that.

pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 23rd, 2013 03:51 pm (UTC)
I thought that too and then after watching the S5 premier there were so many similarities in how Peter and Neal were interacting with each other, with that good guy/criminal tension that I this fic just went there even though my original intention was to write something more whumpy and less angsty.

But, I'm so glad you liked it.

Happy C-B Day!
Winter: blackwhitewinterstar95 on October 23rd, 2013 10:59 pm (UTC)
I love that line - thanks peter for being you and not rice.....perfect!! Thanks for a great little read.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 24th, 2013 01:23 am (UTC)
Yeah! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Thanks for reading!
morgansladymorganslady on October 23rd, 2013 11:45 pm (UTC)
Like them together. And Peter not being sure that Neal knows what 'I'm fine' really means.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 24th, 2013 01:25 am (UTC)
The heart and soul of the show has always been Peter and Neal's relationship, which felt a little dented to me after this ep, so I tried to fix it.

I'm glad you liked it.

Thanks for reading!
angelita26: Peter!Armsangelita26 on October 23rd, 2013 11:47 pm (UTC)
What a great tag! This episode definitely needed it, and I kind of have a soft spot for collapsing Neal. I really loved Jones and Peter being there to help him and then Peter taking him home and making him dinner. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy about our boys. Thanks!!
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 24th, 2013 01:26 am (UTC)
I too have a soft spot for collapsing Neal.

I'm glad you enjoyed the comfort as much as the hurt.

Thanks for reading Ang!
azertyninazertynin on October 25th, 2013 07:51 pm (UTC)
Love your story. A hurt/comfort scene was really missing in this episode. Thanks for sharing ♥
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 28th, 2013 02:55 pm (UTC)
I've always thought the comfort scene was missing too. This ep just begs for one.

Glad you liked it.

And thanks for reading!
ladyrose42ladyrose42 on October 26th, 2013 12:00 am (UTC)
Very insightful, characters in canon, realistic. Like your style of writing
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 28th, 2013 02:54 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks LR!

I'm glad you enjoyed it.
joy2190joy2190 on October 26th, 2013 02:36 am (UTC)
Okay, is it totally wrong of me to feel jealous toward Neal? I appreciate he's been punches and tasered and generally whumped, but what I would give to have Peter make ME an omelette! Great story, thanks dear bear.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 28th, 2013 02:57 pm (UTC)
No, it is not wrong to feel jealous of Neal. I would love some warm fuzzies from Peter myself.

Thanks for reading joy!
Stacysahiya on October 26th, 2013 09:08 pm (UTC)
Awwww. This made me all fuzzy. I love "Front Man" for all sorts of reasons, but especially for the h/c potential. You handled that wonderfully here. I loved the bit at the end where Peter was making omelettes and taking care of Neal. *squishes them*
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 28th, 2013 02:58 pm (UTC)
Thanks sahiya! I love this ep too, in large part because of all the Neal whumppage. *hangs head in shame*

I'm glad this worked for you.

Thanks for reading!
caseyf123 on October 27th, 2013 03:56 am (UTC)
Awwwwwwwwww....That was sweet. I'm so glad Peter finally opened up and told Neal what he needed to hear. I just love these guys.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 28th, 2013 03:03 pm (UTC)
I love them too. I just can't help myself so I needed to write some comfort to go along with the hurt in this ep.

I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Thanks for reading.
love_82 on October 28th, 2013 07:50 am (UTC)
This was lovely! A perfect tag to that episode. They were both so in character. And it is interesting how much this parallels the season 5 premiere. Boys. <3

Thanks for sharing.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 28th, 2013 03:04 pm (UTC)
Yeah! I'm so glad you thought the boys were in character. I started writing this with no intent to parallel the premier, but I couldn't stop it from happening. Round and round the trust issues go.

Thanks for reading!