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27 September 2014 @ 09:18 pm
Fic: What Is Left Is but Ashes and Dust - Part 3  
Title: What Is Left Is but Ashes and Dust - Part 3
Author: pooh_collector
Art by: angelita26, who also served as plot bunny source, beta and cheerleader. Thanks ang!
Characters and Pairings: Neal Caffrey, Peter Burke, Vincent Adler, Elizabeth Burke, Mozzie, Sara Ellis, Diana Berrigan, Clinton Jones, Gen
Rating: R
Word Count: ~26,300
Spoilers: Under the Radar, Wanted and Most Wanted
Summary: Alternative ending to Under the Radar. Alder gets everything he wants, the treasure and Neal. In return Neal loses everything he loves, New York, Mozzie, June, working with White Collar and worst of all, Peter.
Warnings: A bit of bad language. Mild non-con.





Sweat was dripping down into Neal’s eyes steadily despite the cooler temperatures the wine cellar offered. He was feeling shaky and nauseated as well. But, he couldn’t let go, couldn’t release the pressure on his thigh. He had no idea how long Adler would leave him like this and as bad as things were in his life currently, he really didn’t have any desire to die caged up like a badly behaved dog. On the other hand, dying would be a great way to show Adler that Neal Caffrey was no one’s possession.

Sadly, there was more merit to option two that he really cared to admit.

As Neal was imaging just how icily angry Adler would be to find him lying dead on the floor, the door above opened and someone began to descend the stairs. It was Jacobs again. He unlocked the cell door and tossed a shredded piece a white sheet to Neal. “Wrap up that leg,” he ordered.

Neal complied, if for no other reason than to give his arms and back a rest from keeping pressure on his wound. He wrapped the sheet around his leg as best he could with his hands still shaking, took a deep breath to brace himself and then pulled the fabric tight. A roar of pain surged through his whole body. Thankfully, it subsided quickly because just as it did, Jacobs yanked him to his feet.

“Let’s go.”

“Where may I ask are we off to now?”

Jacobs sneered. “You’ll find out when we get there.”

“Excellent,” Neal snarked, “I love surprises.”

Jacobs pulled Neal to the stairs and then pushed him up the first step. Neal hung onto the bannister on either side of the stairs tightly and made his way up as best he could, hissing in pain every time he was forced to put weight on his injured leg.

On the main level, Jacobs guided Neal into Adler’s office and then pushed him roughly down into one of the chairs in front of the desk. Neal had just managed to catch his breath when a woman he had never met before entered the room. She came straight too him and placed a medical bag on the floor beside his chair.

Neal sighed in relief. At least Adler wasn’t planning on letting him bleed out. Thank goodness for small favors.

Dr. Sanchez introduced herself quickly and then got to work on his leg, first injecting him with a local anesthetic and then removing the bullet from his thigh. Despite the drugs, Neal tensed as the stinging pain intensified while he tried not to pull away from the metal forceps that were the source of this new agony.

Thankfully, the doctor had the bullet out quickly and Neal sucked in a ragged breath in relief as she dropped it into a dish on the table beside his chair. She had just finished putting a couple of stitches in to close the wound when Adler walked into the office with a bundle of clothing in his hands.

"Doctor, how is he?" Adler asked as he dropped the clothing onto the desk.

Neal was flabbergasted by the concern he heard in Adler's voice. Adler was like an emotional yo-yo, sociopathic one moment and empathetic the next. It was more dizzying than the blood loss.

"Assuming he keeps off the leg, he should heal fine," she replied as she taped a bandage over the wound.

Adler nodded and then ran his fingers down Neal's cheek. It took all of Neal's willpower not to flinch away from the touch.

"Neal, I brought you some things so that you can clean up and change in the bathroom here," Adler told him, indicating a doorway just off the office. "Doctor, I'll see you out."

Dr. Sanchez nodded, finished gathering up her supplies and then allowed Adler to usher her out of the room.

Alone, Neal took a deep breath and let it out slowly. It had been hard to turn his back on Peter that morning and he was paying a steep price for choosing to stay with Adler. The bullet wound in his leg would heal, but the scar it left behind would always remind him of what he had given up, a life with people he loved, who loved him back. He silently prayed that Peter and Mozzie understood that he had done what he had to, to protect them, and leave before Adler's next bullet found a different mark.

Slowly he pulled himself out of the chair, gathered the clothes Adler had left for him and hobbled to the bathroom. Putting any pressure on his leg hurt like hell, but Neal rinsed the seawater off himself the best he could with a washrag at the sink, dried himself off and then put on the underwear, white cotton slacks and a matching white button down shirt. Before leaving the bathroom, he used the glass that sat beside the sink to drink some water. He had lost a decent amount of blood and he felt weak and dizzy. The last thing he needed was to let himself get seriously dehydrated. It was an effort not to just gulp the water down. But he took his time, sipping from the glass until he had finished its contents.

When he exited the bathroom, Adler was waiting for him. "Feeling better?" He asked.

Neal nodded. He didn't trust his voice to hide the pain or the contempt he was feeling at the moment.

"Good, because we're going on a little trip."

Neal startled and almost lost his tenuous balance. Did Adler know about Mozzie and Peter's 'plan' or was this simply an attempt to keep Neal tethered to his side? "Where?"

Adler smiled. "Why don't we let that be a surprise for now, shall we?"

Neal shuddered involuntarily since Adler's surprises seemed to have a way of biting him in the ass and made his way across the room to his keeper.

Adler took Neal's arm and some of his weight as they made their way out of the house to the jeep that sat waiting for them. Two suitcases and a briefcase had already been loaded into the back seat. Adler helped Neal into the passenger seat and then took the wheel himself.

Neal was surprised that they were leaving the estate unescorted, but he didn't want to question it for fear that Adler would suspect him and change his mind. If Peter and Mozzie were up to something, he didn't want them to be outnumbered and outgunned.

***

Peter watched with his heart in his stomach as Adler led Neal to the jeep and then helped him up and into the vehicle. There was definitely something wrong with the way his partner was moving.

"Now we know what the doctor was for," Mozzie said quietly.

"We did that," Peter sighed, certain that their escapade on the beach this morning had caused Neal harm.

Mozzie grabbed Peter by the shoulder and pulled him around so they were face to face. His eyes were huge behind his glasses. "No Suit, Adler did that. Just like he killed Kate, just like he shot me, just like he shot you. Vincent Adler with his avarice and his sociopathic inhumanity is responsible, not you, not me and not Neal."

Peter nodded. Mozzie was right. Even if Mozzie and Neal had never attempted to pull the long con on Adler, the man believed, like many in the circles in which Neal and Mozzie ran, that Neal had the music box. Adler would have come into all of their lives for that simple reason alone. And, none of what Adler had wrought was anyone's fault except Adler's.

They watched as the gate was opened and the jeep began to pull out onto the street. Then they quickly made for their own vehicle.

"Can you keep on his tail without being spotted?" Peter asked as Mozzie took the driver's seat.

"Does a wine have tannins?" Mozzie replied as he started their jeep and pulled out onto the road toward Santa Maria.

Thirty minutes later they followed Adler's jeep into the gates of the airport and Peter breathed a sigh of relief. He'd taken the bait. Mozzie hung back, their own jeep idling while Adler drove across the tarmac toward the plane that was chartered to fly to the Canary Islands. "When he has Neal on board," Moz replied in answer to Peter’s questioning look.

"Let's just hope he isn't armed.”

Mozzie scowled in distaste. "Guns are for the unimaginative."

They sat in silence then, as Adler stopped the jeep close to the plane. He took two bags and a briefcase out of the back seat and loaded them on board before going back to help Neal. Neal had maneuvered himself from the passenger seat onto the tarmac, but he had made no move toward the plane. Adler took him by the arm again and together they made it to the plane's hatch. Neal limped awkwardly up the steps and disappeared from view with Adler just behind him.

Moments later, Mozzie pulled their jeep up beside Adler's and Peter and Moz quickly made their own way onto the plane.

They found Neal sitting in the front row of seats, with Adler sitting just across the aisle. Adler got to his feet as soon as he recognized Peter.

“Agent Burke, I should be surprised to see you here.” Adler looked pointedly at Neal. “But for some reason, I’m not.”

“Adler,” Peter replied. “It’s going to my extreme pleasure to remand you over to custody.”

Adler laughed, that annoying supercilious chuckle that sounded to Peter exactly like nails on a chalkboard. “And how exactly do you expect to do that, Agent. Cape Verde has no extradition.”

Peter smirked. This was the part he loved. The part that made being an FBI agent not simply rewarding, but downright fun. “That’s true. Cape Verde has no extradition. But, the Canary Islands do and the paperwork has been in motion for days.” Peter turned and nodded to Mozzie, who quickly pulled up the steps and sealed the jet’s door. “We’ll be there in about an hour and I’ll have you in handcuffs five minutes later.”

Adler scowled and turned and looked at Neal again. “You did this. You could have killed him on the docks. You were supposed to have killed him on the docks.”

Neal shrugged. “You forced my hand, but you could never convince me to kill for you, Vincent. You may have figured out that I was trying to pull the long con on you all those years ago, but you obviously never figured me out. I could never kill anyone. Just like I could never love a man like you.”

Peter did a mental double take at Neal’s final statement, looking from one man to the other trying to read in their expressions how difficult Adler had made Neal’s time on the island. He and Neal were going to have to have a long talk about exactly what had happened while Neal was Adler’s captive. Peter could only hope now that Neal hadn’t been forced to do anything that he couldn’t recover from.

***

Neal watched as Adler’s scowl deepened and took on a sinister quality. It made the hair on his neck stand up and his skin crawl. But before he could figure out how to put his feelings into words, Adler drew a gun from inside his jacket, the same way he had that day on the pier. Neal shivered and drew back as much as he could while sitting in the tight airplane seat, with his useless leg holding him down. But this time Adler didn’t try to place the weapon in his hand, didn’t try to coerce Neal into doing his bidding. This time Adler held the gun trained on him, for the second time in one day.

Neal took a breath and then shook his head, a strained chuckle escaping from between his lips. “You son of a bitch. Go ahead, shoot me, again. Kill me if you want. It won’t change anything. You’re finished. Your greed and your ego have finally brought you down. And, if you kill an unarmed man you won’t spend the next twenty years behind bars, you’ll spend the rest of your miserable existence there. Dying would be a price worth paying to see you end up like that.”

Adler seemed undeterred by Neal’s words. He cocked the gun and straightened his arm, Neal’s head directly in his sights.

Neal desperately wanted to look at Peter. To convey, in the one moment that he would have, how much he respected his partner. How he understood the difference between the kind of man that Peter was, keeping Neal in check to teach him, to support him, to help him have a chance at a better life and the kind of man that Adler was, keeping Neal just to use him for his own selfish ends, and nothing more. Neal wanted Peter to know all of that, and to understand what he was about to do. But, he couldn’t look at Peter, not if he wanted this to succeed.

“Do it!” He yelled, egging Adler on. “Or are you just as cowardly today as you were that day on the docks? You still need someone else to do your dirty work for you.” Neal sneered and added, “You’re pathetic.”

Adler’s eyes looked black as all of his focus settled on Neal. “And, you’re dead.”

***

When Adler cocked the gun he had aimed at Neal, one and only one thought ran through Peter’s brain. There was no way he was going to let this end this way, with Neal lying dead. His words to Mozzie from a few days ago, he'll kill Neal to keep us from getting him back, echoed in his head like the report of a handgun and his FBI training took over.

When Peter heard Neal yell, he knew instinctively that his partner was riling Adler to throw him off balance and focus his attention away from Peter. Peter took the opportunity Neal created for him and grabbed the arm in which Adler held the gun, wrenched it back and around and slammed Adler’s wrist against the top of the seat across the aisle with as much force as he could muster.

Startled by Peter’s sudden move, Adler let out a surprised cry and the gun fell from his loosened grip. But Peter wasn’t done. He was furious, more furious than he had been in a very long time. Neal was right, Adler was a user and a coward and Peter wanted him to pay for all the pain he had caused Neal, Mozzie, Elizabeth and himself. His fist was flying before he really even registered his intent. He landed a right cross square on Adler’s jaw and the other man’s head snapped back sharply. Moments later he was sprawled awkwardly in the narrow aisle, unconscious.

Silence reigned in the small cabin of the plane for several long minutes. It seemed everyone, including Peter, was stunned by the force of his actions. Then the plane’s engines roared, dispelling the stillness and it began to slowly taxi toward the runway.

Peter picked Adler up off the floor with difficulty due to the confined space and dumped him into a seat a couple of rows back from the front. He was just beginning to rouse when Peter propped him upright and then buckled the seatbelt around him.

“Moz, keep an eye on him,” Peter stated as he moved up to sit in the window seat next to Neal.

Mozzie nodded and made his way down the aisle. “I’ll keep all four eyes on him, Suit.” Then he sat down directly across the aisle and glared at Adler as if daring him to try something.

Peter put his seatbelt on and then stared over at Neal until the younger man snapped his into place as well. Shortly after, the plane was in the air, and Peter breathed a relieved sigh.

“How’s the leg?” Peter asked Neal eventually. Neal hadn’t looked at him since he put on his seatbelt and Peter was certain that Neal had mixed feelings about his rescue and his rescuers. But clearly he was in pain, his face was pale and a fine sheen of sweat was dotted along his hairline.

“It’s fine,” Neal replied tersely.

“Neal,” Peter began.

“Don’t Peter, please.” Neal turned his head, finally looking at his partner. The anguish Peter saw there nearly took his breath away. “You shouldn’t have done this. You’ve risked too much for me. I’ve almost gotten you killed more times than I can count in the last three months. You almost died by my own hand.” Those last words were followed by a stifled sob.

“Hey,” Peter soothed as he turned toward Neal. Ironically he felt his chest twinge from the stretch as he continued, “I’m okay, because of you.”

Neal nodded and looked away from Peter. “Sure.”

Peter wanted to press the issue, to resolve the anxiety and pain that Neal was feeling. But now was clearly not the time. Neal was hurting physically and he was plainly exhausted too. They would have plenty of time to work things out in Neal’s head once they were home and Neal was back under his wing where he belonged. “We can talk about this later. Now, I think you should close your eyes and get some rest.”

Neal nodded again, and did as Peter bid.

As Peter had foretold, Reese had come through and gotten Justice on board with Adler’s extradition and within five minutes of entering the airport on the Canary Islands, Peter had the paperwork signed and cuffs on Adler’s wrists. He made sure they were tighter than they strictly needed to be.

Neal had sat silent in one of the chairs in the departure lounge with Mozzie glued to his side, looking even more tired and ill than he had on Cape Verde. Mozzie had tried to convince his friend to eat something, but Neal declined, only sipping at a bottle of water.

Thanks to Reese, again, tickets were waiting for them on a flight to New York, via Barcelona. On the commercial flights Peter was forced to sit with Adler. He was sitting on Adler’s left side and he took an inordinate amount of pleasure throughout their trip watching the bruise he had created blossom and darken across Adler’s cheek. Peter wasn’t a violent man, and he didn’t generally believe that violence solved anything, but he had to admit to himself that taking some of his anger and frustration out on Adler with his fist had been satisfying.

Adler had tried to talk to Peter on the first flight, with his not so subtle attempts to manipulate and coerce, but Peter ignored him completely by putting on the pair of headphones from his seat back pocket and pretending to watch the in-flight movie. While he stared blankly at the small screen in front of him, he worried about Neal, and played out endless conversations in his head where he told Neal that everything would be okay, that Adler was the only one responsible for what had happened these past few months and where Neal agreed and their lives resumed as they had been, with Neal as his partner again.

***

When their flight finally touched down at JFK International, Neal’s leg was a mass of pain. He didn’t think anything was seriously wrong, but hours and hours spent sitting in tight economy-class seats where he had no room to stretch out or elevate his injuring limb, had left him stiff and aching. He stayed on the flight with Mozzie, Peter and Adler until all of the other passengers had disembarked. Finally Peter hauled Adler to his feet and ushered him into the aisle and up toward the plane’s door. When they were nearly gone, Neal hauled himself to his feet and shuffled out into the aisle. Mozzie followed him nervously, uncertain of how to help Neal as the younger man, hissed and shook as he limped off the plane and up the jet way.

They emerged into a scene of only slightly subdued chaos in the waiting area. FBI agents were flocking around the space in their dark blue windbreakers. Adler was being taken away surrounded by half a dozen of them. Neal could see Reese Hughes, Blake, Diana and Jones among the throng. Hughes was standing with Peter and they seemed to be arguing. The look on Peter’s face was pure frustration. Neal glanced behind him and noticed that Mozzie was gone. Some things would never change. But Neal was grateful that his friend always managed to be around when he truly needed him.

Suddenly, Neal felt dizzy. He took a shaky breath and then made his way unsteadily to the nearest molded plastic chair. From there he watched the end of the argument between Peter and Reese, when Reese handed Peter something that his partner accepted with reluctance.

Then Peter turned, and scanned the room. When he spotted Neal, he made his way over and sat down in the chair next to him. Now Neal could see that Peter was holding a pair of handcuffs.

“Neal…”

Neal shook his head. He didn’t want Peter to think he needed to explain or to feel any guilt about what had happened or what was about to. “It’s okay Peter. I understand.” He held his wrists out.

Peter grimaced. “I’m sorry.”

“Please don’t be.”

Peter nodded and gently secured the cuffs around Neal’s wrists. Peter kept them loose. Neal could have easily slipped them if he had had any desire to do so. “I have to go into the office for a while. Diana is going to take you to Lenox Hill and get you checked out. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Forty-five minutes later Neal found himself lying on a bed in the emergency room. Diana had removed his cuffs when they arrived, so he was actually able to stretch out and get as comfortable as possible on the hospital gurney, after the nurse who had taken his vitals finished and left them alone. Horizontal was really good, he decided, but the position was making it very hard for him to keep his eyes open, despite Diana’s presence next to him on a chair.

He was just drifting off when a petite, blonde doctor dressed in bright pink scrubs and a lab coat came through the curtains surrounding his bed. She was reading a medical chart. “Mr. Caffrey, I’m Doctor Watkins. I hear you have a gunshot wound to the right leg.”

Neal nodded. “The bullet was removed and the wound was stitched.”

“Well, let’s have a look, shall we?” She took a pair of surgical scissors off the tray next to the bed and sliced his pants up from the cuff to his hip. Then she carefully removed the bandage that the doctor on Cape Verde had put on his leg so long ago that it seemed almost like another lifetime to Neal, and maybe it was.

She hummed and poked and prodded for a couple of minutes, before picking up the chart and scribbling some notations. “The wound looks fairly good. But, you’re running a slight temperature and you’re dehydrated. I’m guessing you’re also exhausted, by the way you look. We’re going to admit you overnight to get some antibiotics and fluids into you. Give you a chance to get some rest.”

Neal nodded. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome,” she replied with a small smile. We’ll have someone move you upstairs as soon as we get a room set up. And, a nurse will be in in a minute to start you on an IV.” Then she turned to Diana. “Will he need to be cuffed to the bed upstairs?”

“No, someone will be here with him until he’s discharged.”

“Good. I’ll check on you later, Mr. Caffrey.” With that she turned and left the cubicle.

Neal turned his attention to Diana. “You don’t have to stay. I’ll be fine cuffed to the bed, really.”

Diana gave him that disbelieving look she had used on him more times than he could count. He had missed that look. “Not a chance Caffrey. There’s no way a bullet in the leg could keep you here if you didn’t want to stay.” The words were harsh, but there was amusement in her voice. “Besides Peter would bust me down to mail fraud if I left you alone.”

“Thanks, Diana. I appreciate it.”

“Don’t let it go to your head, Caffrey.”

Neal smiled for the first time in a long time. It felt strange, but right. “Not a chance.”

Twenty minutes later, Diana escorted him up to his room on the hospital’s second floor. It hurt when they transferred him to the bed. But, Diana patted his hand comfortingly and told him to close his eyes. The pain eased, thanks in part to the meds coursing through his veins. The knowledge that he was finally home, free from Adler, seeped through him and he was able to truly relax in a way he never could with Adler, even when he was trying to convince himself that a life with Adler would be the best he could hope for. He closed his eyes and felt his body melt into the mattress beneath him. And, then he felt nothing more as sleep took him.

***

Peter spent a long ten hours at the office dealing with Adler and the paperwork involved in bringing a fugitive in from overseas. When he was finally done, he was beyond exhausted. But, he couldn’t sleep yet. As much as he wanted to go home, climb into bed and snuggle with his wife, he had somewhere else he had to be.

Neal seemed to be fast asleep in the narrow hospital bed when Peter arrived close to midnight. Diana was sitting in an uncomfortable looking chair next to the bed typing on her tablet.

“Hey Boss,” she whispered when she noticed him standing in the doorway.

“Hey Di. How’s he doing?” Peter asked tilting his head in Neal’s direction.

“Exhausted, dehydrated, hurting and a pain in my ass,” she replied with a wry smile. “He’ll be fine. They’re pumping him chock full of fluids and antibiotics and after some rest and some rehab, he’ll be good as new.”

“That’s good to hear.” Peter managed to pull up a small smile as he made his way into the room. “Go home, Di. I’ve got it from here.”

Diana looked at him skeptically. “You sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

“I’ll have Jones come and relieve you in the morning,” Diana said as she got up from her seat.

“They’re releasing him in the morning, right?”

Diana nodded. “Yeah, assuming he passes muster.”

“I’ll stay and take him home. Then I’ll take the rest of the day off.”

“Okay, night Boss.”

“Night, Diana,” he replied to her back as she exited the room.

With a sigh, Peter dropped down into the chair Diana had just vacated. He looked over at his partner in the bed. It felt good to have Neal home. That day on the pier seemed so long ago now. Neal had been willing to sacrifice everything he had to save him that day. And, Peter would never forget it. There were still some details to work out with Justice, but Neal would get his deal back thanks to Adler’s capture and in three years he would be a free man. Peter would do everything he could to make sure of that.

***

The nightmare was so familiar that Neal knew he was dreaming, again. The gun was heavy in his hand. Adler’s words were lilting and hypnotic in his ear. Peter was standing before him. There was no fear in his partner’s eyes, but he was holding out a hand, beseeching. Neal could smell the salt in the air, hear the toll of the weather buoy, feel his body trembling with fear, though the hand holding the gun was as stable as steel. He knew what was going to happen. Adler had deemed that Peter must die and that Neal must be the instrument of his will. Neal was holding his breath. He couldn’t allow anything to throw off his aim. He blinked once to clear his vision, aimed down the sight and fired.

The moment the recoil hit him, Neal knew that he had failed. That his aim wasn’t true and that his bullet had killed his partner. Despair filled every crevice of his heart.

The scene skipped forward several hundred frames to Neal standing over Peter’s body. Peter’s sightless brown eyes reflecting the azure sky. The red blood that bloomed across his chest was an obscene primary color contrast.

“I’m sorry,” Neal said to no one that could hear him. “I’m so sorry.”

Neal woke then, sobbing, tears staining his cheeks.

There was a hand in his hair, heavy and soothing. “Ssshhhh, you’re okay. It’s okay, Neal.”

Peter. Peter.

It took a moment for the image of Peter lying dead to be replaced by the image of Peter standing over him, his brown eyes filled with concern and compassion. It took even longer for the feeling of grief that had gripped Neal to ease.

“Peter.”

The older man smiled at the sound of his name. “That’s me.”

“What time is it?” Neal asked as a deflection, as he swiped at the tears on his face.

“Ridiculously late, or ridiculously early depending on your point of view. You should go back to sleep.”

Neal nodded and closed his eyes, but the nightmare and the reality of that day on the pier were too close and despite how tired he still felt there was no way he could sleep again just yet.

Peter’s hand was still in his hair, as if he was standing guard against another nightmare. Neal let himself relax into the touch, into Peter’s solid presence at his side.

“It’s going to work out,” Peter whispered. “Adler’s going down and Justice is going to reinstate your deal.”

Neal nodded again. He didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t have it in him right now to tell Peter that he didn’t want his deal back. He didn’t want to be put in a position again where he could or would hurt Peter, or Elizabeth or Mozzie or June. So he slowed his breathing and let himself drift, even if true sleep would be elusive for some time yet.

In the morning, after some hemming and hawing about low grade fevers and the possibility of infection, Neal was released from the hospital with a pile of antibiotics, Vicodin and a hospital-issued metal cane. Peter took Neal to Brooklyn, insisting that it was necessary because a, Neal’s legal status was still in limbo and b, because El would kill him if he didn’t bring Neal home with him. Neal knew better than to try to argue and before he knew it he was ensconced in the guest room, tucked in the bed, with a lunch tray across his lap and El sitting next to him catching him up on all the celebrity gossip he had missed while he was gone.

The bowl of soup in front of Neal was El’s homemade chicken soup. He knew it was delicious, but strangely Neal’s taste buds were still MIA, wherever he had left them after he had gone with Adler. He ate because he knew he had to until he felt like he had finished enough to be polite and not leave El and Peter worried.

Neal spent most of the afternoon dozing. Every time he woke either Peter or El was there to fluff his pillows or get him fresh water, or help him to the bathroom. It felt good, to be cared for, cared about, and Neal let himself go with it, knowing that soon enough he would be on his own again.

By dinnertime, Neal was feeling restless enough to hobble downstairs to join Peter and El at the table. There was a manila envelope on the sideboard behind Peter’s chair. Neal had heard the doorbell ring a half hour earlier and he could guess what was in that envelope.

Thankfully, Peter left it to the side during dinner. It was a nice meal, roast chicken with new potatoes and steamed vegetables. Neal didn’t say much, but he listened in amusement as Peter and El amiably argued about siding and whether or not El needed new tires on her car. He remembered the last time he had dinner here, that night with Sara that seemed so long ago now. That night he felt uncomfortable with the domesticity, now it was like a soft blanket, warm and soothing.

After the meal was over, El cleared the dishes and then excused herself, leaving Peter and Neal on their own. Peter smiled as he pulled the envelope Neal had noticed earlier over and laid it on the table between them.

“Jones dropped this by a little earlier. It’s your new contact. It’s the same as before with no new conditions added,” Peter assured.

In an effort to stall for time, if nothing else, Neal picked up the envelope, pulled the papers inside free and then spent a couple of minutes perusing them.

While Neal was doing that, Peter dug into a drawer in the sideboard, pulled out a pen and reached across the table to place it next to Neal.

Finally, Neal looked up from the papers. Peter looked expectant and happy and Neal had to swallow against the self-loathing that burned in his chest. “Thank you, Peter, for doing this. I really do appreciate it.”

Peter nodded, the smile on his face growing.

“But, I can’t sign them.”

“You what?” The smile left Peter’s face abruptly and his brows furrowed in confusion.

“I can’t sign them,” Neal repeated.

“I don’t understand. Is there something wrong?” Peter asked pulling the papers from Neal’s grasp and across the table. “Jones was supposed to make sure that everything was in order before he brought them over,” he continued as he began scanning through the documents.

Neal shook his head. “I’m sure they’re fine, Peter. I just can’t sign them.”

“Why?”

Why, it seemed like a simple question, but Neal wasn’t certain that he could really answer it. Not in a way that would satisfy Peter at least. Peter wasn’t likely to easily accept a non-answer either, but that was all Neal really had to offer, because telling Peter the whole truth, that Neal was too afraid of what would happen to the people he cared about if he took Peter’s deal would certainly send Peter’s protective instincts into overdrive. “I don’t want it. I don’t want to work for you anymore Peter, or White Collar, or the FBI.”

Peter took a minute to absorb Neal’s words. Neal could almost see the thoughts churning in his partner’s mind. “If you don’t sign these papers, you’ll go back to prison for the remainder of your sentence.”

Neal nodded. “I know.”

“That’s really what you want?” There was incredulity in Peter’s question.

Neal huffed. “No, of course not. But, it’s the best option I have right now.”

Peter sighed and pursed his lips. “Bullshit. You let Adler get inside your head. And, now you’re punishing yourself for his actions.”

Neal blinked, surprised once again by how damn smart and intuitive Peter was. Neal couldn’t deny that there was truth in Peter’s observation, but it wasn’t the only truth and it wasn’t the most important truth. “It’s not that simple,” he replied.

As soon as the words had left his mouth, Neal knew that he had screwed up, that he had given something important away.

“It is that simple,” Peter responded, pouncing on the opening that Neal had given him. Peter pushed the documents back across the table to Neal. “You’re going to sign them. I’m not going to let you rot in prison. I didn’t risk my career and fly all the way to Cape Verde just to usher you from one prison to another.”

Suddenly, Neal was back on the pier again, with Adler whispering choices that offered no choices at all in his ear. Neal felt corned, trapped. His chest tightened and his breathing sped up. He stood up abruptly on shaking legs. His chair skid across the hardwood, loud in the silence that separated Neal from Peter.

“You do not get to make my decisions for me.” His voice was shaking as much as his legs, but he knew his words conveyed the determination he felt.

His cane forgotten, Neal limped awkwardly and unsteadily away from the table, through the living room and up the stairs. When he reached the guest room, he almost slammed the door to vent his anger physically, but he knew El was up here somewhere and he didn’t want to startle her, so he closed the door and reached the safety of the bed just before his injured leg gave way beneath him.

***

Peter sat at the table stunned by the turn events had just taken, stunned and angry. What the hell was going on in Neal’s head? How could he be so screwed up that he would willingly return to prison, when he could go back to living his cappuccino in the clouds life? So it came with an anklet and a two mile radius. That was a hell of a lot more leeway than he seemed to have had on Cape Verde.

Peter gathered up the documents on the table and started to roughly shove them back into the envelope. In the midst of the process El joined him and gently took it all from his hands and carefully put the paperwork away, even returning the envelope to the sideboard.

“He didn’t want to sign them.”

It wasn’t a question, but Peter nodded his head anyway. “I don’t understand what’s going on in his head, El. How could he possibly prefer going back to maximum security?”

El sat down at her place at the table and took Peter’s hand twining their fingers together. “I don’t really think that he does, Peter. I think that’s he still reeling from everything that’s happened since the day that you were shot, since the day that he shot you.”

Peter looked up, surprised.

“You don’t think I can read you after all of these years, mister?”

Peter smirked. He really should have known that he couldn’t hide anything from her. “He didn’t want to El, and he saved my life.”

El nodded. “I don’t know the details and I really don’t want to. I know Neal is a lot of things, but when it counts you can trust him.”

“Yes, you can.”

“So maybe you need to trust him now,” El continued gently. “Give him some time to recognize that he’s safe and to work through what happened to him and what he needs to do to move on.”

“How did I end up marrying someone so damn smart?”

El smiled and shrugged. “Some things even I’m not smart enough to know.”

***


The next morning Neal got up late. He had heard Peter and El moving around earlier and hoped that they had both left for work by the time he finally opened his door. He found his cane resting against the wall and grabbed it thankfully as he made his way to the bathroom. He took a fast shower, unsure of how long his leg would hold him and then re-bandaged his wound with the supplies the hospital had given him while sitting on the closed lid of the toilet. Then he pulled on a pair of sweats and a tee shirt that had been left waiting for him by the sink and carefully made his way downstairs leaning heavily on the bannister and his cane.

The house as he had hoped was empty, but when he peered out the front window he spied Blake sitting in an FBI motor pool car watching the house.

El had left him a note on the kitchen island. Good morning sweetie, There’s a quiche in the fridge and fresh muffins in the bread basket. Help yourself to whatever you want. I’ll be home by lunchtime. Love, El

As usual these days, he wasn’t really hungry, but he cut himself a small slice of the quiche and warmed it in the microwave. He sat at the counter and ate the quiche and half of one of the muffins and made his way over to the couch. He laid down and propped his leg up on several of the throw pillows and channel surfed for a while. But he felt antsy and restless and when Satch went to the back door and laid down in front of it Neal realized that some time outside would probably do them both some good.

In the backyard, he settled down on one of the loungers and when Satchmo was done with his doggie business he stretched out next to Neal, close enough that Neal could reach down and run his fingers through the dog’s soft fur.

Neal closed his eyes and let the sun and the comfortable position lull him. He didn’t know how long he would have before the Marshals took him back to prison. He assumed that Peter would stall for a few days, despite the fact that he was clearly very angry with him right now. Neal hadn’t wanted to make Peter angry, he had caused Peter enough grief, but he supposed it was inevitable. How did he think Peter would react after he had gone to such lengths to bring him home? Even when he was actively trying not to cause people pain, he managed to do so anyway. That was why he needed to go back to prison, because no matter what he did, people got hurt.

Around noon, Neal heard the front door open and close. He assumed it was El, so he stayed where he was to give her a chance to get settled in. Then there was movement in the kitchen and Neal waited, knowing that El would come and get him when lunch was ready. He wished mightily that food would start to taste like something again while he was still able to eat El’s cooking. All too soon he would be back to the cardboard carbs of prison. Then again maybe he didn’t want his taste buds to return from wherever they’d been hiding. It would really be terrible to fall in love with food again only to have to deal with prison fare for a three solid years.

Neal was still ruminating on the horrible reality of prison food when the door opened and someone totally unexpected walked out of the house carrying two cups of coffee.

“Sir?” Neal sputtered as he tried to rise from his seat.

“Sit, Caffrey,” Hughes ordered as he walked around Neal to sit on the other lounger. He put the mugs down on the small table between them, pushing one toward Neal.

With a small hiss of pain, Neal resumed his seat.

"How's the leg?" Hughes asked with a wave of his hand in the general direction of Neal’s injured limb.

“It’ll heal.”

Hughes nodded and picked up his mug, taking a long sip.

Neal followed suit, picking up his own and sipping gingerly. It had a splash of cream and no sugar, just like he liked it. Neal was contemplating how it was that Hughes knew how he took his coffee when the older man put his mug down again and turned to face him.

“Peter tells me you don’t want to renew your deal.”

Neal sighed. He hadn’t counted on Peter involving his boss. “I don’t.”

Hughes nodded and then they sat in silence for a couple of minutes before Hughes spoke again. “When Peter first told me this morning, I tried to figure out what angle you were playing. Did you think Peter was going to sweeten the pot or come up with some way to cut time off your sentence? But, you’re a smart guy, Caffrey and I know you know how hard it was to get Justice to agree to reinstate the deal you had. There was no way they would agree to anything better. So that leaves us with you really don’t want the deal.”

Neal kept his eyes focused on the yard and sipped at his coffee. He certainly didn’t want Hughes or anyone picking to carefully at his refusal or the reasons behind it.

“And like I said, you’re a smart guy. You know what another three years in super max is going to be like, especially with the sign you’re going to be wearing around your neck for your whole stay. The one that’s going to read ‘snitch’.”

Neal flinched at the sound of the word and hoped that it wasn’t visible to Hughes. He knew of course the reputation that working for the FBI would bestow on him in prison, but he hadn’t wanted to analyze that reality too closely. Going back, leaving the people and the life he had come to love to return to grey walls, bars and the morose and often violent world of life inside was hard enough to contemplate.

Hughes picked up his mug again and sipped at it. The interludes of silence were making Neal uncomfortable. Not that he was ever really comfortable in Reese Hughes’ presence, but this was particularly challenging. “I’m not really sure what you want to hear, sir,” he finally said to try to fill the void.

Hughes placed his mug back on the table. “I don’t know what really happened the day that Adler took you and the treasure and Peter was shot. Peter’s report was, shall we say vague, and Adler is naturally still not saying anything about anything. But something tells me the reason you’re so eager to return to living in an eight by eight cell and working in the machine shop has everything to do with the day. Just like Peter’s relentless need to retrieve you from Adler and bring you back to White Collar has everything to do with that day.”

Neal opened his mouth, about to deny or redirect or out and out lie, but Hughes stopped him with a look. “Save it Caffrey. I don’t really want to know. I have a feeling it would give me nightmares. But do me a favor, think about this before you let yourself go back to prison; Peter put a lot on the line for you, his career, his integrity. And he didn’t do it to catch Adler or to make sure that you served the rest of your sentence. He did it because you’re important to him. He cares about you, about what happens to you. Don’t throw that away on some misplaced sense of nobility.”

Neal blinked and was about to vehemently deny Hughes’ conclusion. But he couldn’t bring himself to utter the words even though Hughes was completely off base. The truth was, there was nothing at all noble about what he was doing. It was purely selfish self-preservation. Shooting Peter was the hardest thing he had ever done. He never wanted to hurt anyone he cared about like that again, ever. It hurt too damn much.

Hughes was looking at him as if he could read every thought that was playing through his mind. And for some reason, Neal didn’t want Hughes to think him ignoble, so he simply nodded. “I’ll think about it.”

“That’s all I can ask,” Hughes replied as he rose from his seat.

This time Neal got up too and stuck out his hand. “Thank you for stopping by.”

Hughes took Neal’s hand firmly and pumped it once. “I hope this won’t be the last time we meet, Caffrey.”

Before Neal could formulate a reply to Hughes' veiled compliment, he was gone, back through the door and into the house.

After a moment Neal followed him inside, went up the guest room, closed the door and lay down on the bed.

When Elizabeth came home a short time later and told him that lunch was ready, Neal politely told her that he wasn't hungry, that he was going to take a nap. It was only half a lie. He wasn't hungry, but despite being extraordinarily tired, he couldn't sleep.

His promise to Reese turned out not to be a lie either. As he lay there curled up on the bed, he thought long and hard about what Reese had said and the realizations that had come to him as a result. His decision to go back to prison was purely selfish. The upshot would be that he couldn’t hurt Peter again, or Elizabeth, or June or Mozzie, but he knew that even in making the decision to remove himself from their lives for their protection he had hurt them. Choices that were no choice at all seemed to have become his hallmark.

***

When Peter got home, after a long day of paperwork on the Alder case and giving the DOJ and the Marshals the runaround about Neal, he found El in the kitchen making lentil soup. Of Neal there was no sign.

"Hey hon," he said as he wrapped his arms around his wife.

She turned in his arms and returned his embrace. "Hey hon. How was your day?"

"Long. It's good to be home. How about you?"

El sighed. "Fine, but Neal's been holed up in the guest room all afternoon."

Peter scowled. He had hoped after Neal had had a chance to sleep on his previous decision that he would change his mind and things could go back to normal. Apparently, that had been wishful thinking. "I'll go talk to him."

"Gently, hon. He may still be running a fever."

Peter nodded, released his wife and made his way upstairs. Before going to Neal's room, he made a pit stop at the bathroom and grabbed the thermometer, a glass of water and the Tylenol. When he knocked on the bedroom door, the pills rattled in their bottle. "Neal."

There was no reply for a long moment and then Peter heard Neal's voice through the door. "I'm not really hungry, Peter. But, thanks."

Peter opened the door and stepped into the room. "Then it's a good thing I didn't come about dinner," he replied waggling the thermometer.

Neal was lying on his side on the bed, his injured leg propped on a pillow between his thighs. He sighed when he saw the things Peter was carrying and pulled himself up to lie partly against the headboard. "That's really not necessary. I'm fine."

"When you've been fever free for 24 hours, then I might start to buy the I'm fine bit, but until then…" He left the end of his sentence hanging as he sat on the edge of the bed and held the thermometer out to Neal.

Neal rolled his eyes, but took the device and stuck it in his mouth without looking at his partner. When it beeped, Neal pulled it out and handed to back to Peter.

Peter tsked at the reading. "One hundred point four," he grumbled. "Take these," he continued as he shook two pills out the Tylenol bottle.

Silently, Neal took the offered medication and the glass of water to wash them down. He tried to hand the tumbler back to Peter after only sipping at the water, but Peter glared and Neal sighed and then drank all the water before handing the glass off. Neal slid back down on the bed and put his arm over his eyes.

It was a dismissal, but Peter wasn't ready to leave. He was determined to hash things out with the younger man again, gently, but purposefully. "Neal, I want to know why you've decided not to re-up your deal. After everything, I think I deserve to at least know why."

Neal was quiet for a long minute. And, then he took his arm away from his eyes and looked at Peter. "I'm sorry, Peter. I'm truly sorry I hurt you again, but this is what I have to do. Please believe that I never wanted to hurt you, or Elizabeth."

"Oh Neal, of course I know that. And, I think I understand more about what's going on in your head than you know."

Neal closed his eyes and Peter could see it for what it was, another escape attempt. Neal was always trying to run from something. It was time for him to stay and accept the good things this life had to offer him.

Peter rested his hand on Neal's calf. "I've worked White Collar since I first graduated from the academy. As jobs in the FBI go, it's relatively calm. I've only needed to draw my gun a couple dozen times in two decades and I've had to fire it even less. But that doesn't mean I've never shot anyone, never killed anyone."

Peter watched as a tear ran out of the corner of Neal's eye and down his cheek. "I'm not trying to tell you that it's easy or okay or whatever other platitude comes to mind. It's not. I know I did the right thing, each and every time I've ever fired my weapon, but I still regret the harm I caused. I always will."

Peter knew Neal was listening, as more tears joined the first. "You did the right thing, Neal. In the end that's what's important. I'm proud of you. And, I know it’s your decision but, I want you to stay and be my partner again."

Peter could feel Neal's leg shuddering under his palm. He rubbed his hand up and down along Neal's calf for several minutes until Neal's body quieted. "I know it's cliché, but let's live to fight another day."

With a final pat on Neal's leg, Peter got up and went to the door. "Dinner will be ready in about 30 minutes. We'd really like you to join us."

Peter left the room and closed the door softly behind him. He stood there in the hallway for a moment more, hoping that he had said the right thing, done the right thing, and that Neal would change his mind. It would break his heart to have to send his partner, his friend, back to prison.

***

Neal wiped away the tears that had begun to dry on this cheeks while Peter's words rang in his ears, I'm proud of you. And, I know it’s your decision but, I want you to stay and be my partner again. Words Neal had never expected to hear and wasn’t certain he could accept.

But he was so tired of being stuck in places that were not of his own choosing, so tired of letting Adler dictate how he lived. Neal suddenly realized that Adler had been dictating his choices since the day he agreed to Mozzie’s long con, more than half a decade ago. Neal shivered; his body reacting to the awfulness of his thoughts.

Now thanks to Peter, Adler was behind bars and would remain there for a very long time. Neal didn’t have to live under the shadow of a man who claimed to care about him but who had no real understanding of what that meant. He had a choice.

Neal took a couple of deep breaths and sat up, swinging his legs carefully off the side of the bed. His head swam momentarily, but he closed his eyes and everything settled back into place quickly enough. He grabbed his cane and levered himself up from the bed and made his way slowly downstairs.

Peter and El were already at the table when he finally arrived; but there was a place set for him. When he sat down across from Peter, a smile spread across the older man’s face. Neal liked the way it looked on him, liked the fact that he put it there. Peter’s smile was genuine and heartfelt. It was so completely different from any of the looks that Adler had ever bestowed on him.

El filled Neal’s bowl from the terrine that sat on the table and placed it in front of him. Then she added a couple of slices of fresh, warm bread to his plate. “There you go, sweetie. Eat up.”

The lentil soup was rich and earthy and the lentils had just the right texture. The carrots in the mixture added a sweetness against the chili powder Neal could taste. The bread was just the right balance of crispy crust and tender middle and the butter Neal spread on it was perfectly creamy and salty. Neal ate his whole bowl and half of another and three pieces of bread before he finally put his spoon down with a contented sigh.

“That was delicious, thank you.”

“You’re very welcome. I’m just glad to see you eating. You’ve gotten far too skinny,” El replied with a smile of her own. But Neal could hear the worry and the caring in her tone.

“I’m sorry. I’ll do better, I promise.”

“Oh honey, I don’t want you to do it for me. I want you to do it for yourself, okay?”

Neal nodded, unexpectedly a little overwhelmed by how much Peter and El cared about him, despite everything.

He pushed himself up from the table and walked around it to the sideboard. He picked up the manila envelope that held his contract and pulled a pen from the drawer. Before he could let himself second guess his decision, Neal pulled the documents from the envelope and signed them.

As he was trying to place the pen back in the drawer, Peter stood and enveloped Neal in his arms. Peter might claim to be awkward and uncertain when it came to emotional stuff, but he definitely knew how to give a hug. His arms were strong and supportive, his hold warm and filled with the protective caring that Neal had come to see as the heart of who Peter was. Neal put his head down on Peter’s shoulder and brought his own arms up to return the embrace. Neal hoped that in his acceptance he was able to convey even a little of the gratitude he felt for Peter’s understanding and his love.

Five days later, on a bright Monday morning, Neal walked through the glass doors to the White Collar offices with Peter at his side and an open smile on his face. Hughes was standing on the balcony outside his office and when he noticed Neal he gave the younger man a nod. Neal nodded back, in gratitude for the part Hughes had played in convincing him to accept that this was where he belonged.

Jones and Diana met Neal and Peter at Neal’s desk. “The prodigal son returns,” Jones snarked.

“Something like that,” Neal replied accepting the light teasing. “Thank you both for bringing me back.”

“Don’t let it go to head, Caffrey,” Diana chided, but her words were softened by the hand she laid against his arm.

“I won’t, I promise.”

“Good, now that the pleasantries are out of the way, there’s a stack of mortgage fraud files waiting on your desk,” Peter said pointing to the pile of folders in the center of Neal’s workspace.

“Wow Peter, for me,” Neal responded playfully, laying a hand against his chest.

“Don’t say I never gave you anything,” Peter replied keeping up with the teasing and light tone the conversation had taken.

Neal looked at Peter before he answered, no hint of the conman that he once was on his face. “Never.”




 
 
 
micehell: neal gaggedmicehell on September 29th, 2014 05:20 pm (UTC)
Much entertaining! I liked the way you mixed the canon in with the AU part of it, and, being the evol person that I am, I luffed the h/c part of it, too. ;) Much thanks for providing a much better Monday than I usually have.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 1st, 2014 07:20 pm (UTC)
I'm glad I could make your Monday better. Thanks for reading and commenting.
elrhiarhodanelrhiarhodan on September 29th, 2014 05:44 pm (UTC)
I love this so very much - you really DON'T know how hard it was not to take a peek at your final draft. And I'm so glad I waited - because it was gloriously, wonderfully unexpected. You did an incredible job in rewriting both Under the Radar and Wanted/Most Wanted. The switch in storylines is well-conceived and perfectly executed.

Adler is, of course, my all-time favorite villain and you've captured his evilness perfectly.

Peter wasn't the only one who wanted to slug him!

Brava, little bear, brava!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 1st, 2014 07:24 pm (UTC)
I'm really glad that you waited. I made some fairly significant changes from the final I submitted to get to this posted version.

And, THANK YOU! I'm so happy to hear that you thought the AU aspects of the rewrites worked. It was fun to try and figure out what should stay and what should be changed and how to come up with a somewhat viable plot line too.

I enjoyed writing Adler. He is so insidious and emotionally manipulative. Poor Neal.
kanarek13kanarek13 on September 29th, 2014 08:48 pm (UTC)
Oh, Pooh, I was so waiting to read this \o/ I came home and I was so tired but I started reading it and I couldn't put it away :D

This is absolutely brilliant ♥ You've done such a beautiful job combining pieces of canon with the AU parts and creating this new Cape Verde setting with Neal and Adler.

Absolutely amazing. And such lovely dose of h/c with Neal recuperating at the Burkes' house, feeling so lost and being eaten by guilt. Awwwwwwww ♥

Love the story, love you, love the art ♥
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 1st, 2014 07:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It was fun and challenging to meld the canon with the AU bits. I didn't even realize that I was writing AU Wanted/Most Wanted until I was part of the way into the story already. It just sort of went in that direction all on its own. LOL.

And, of course there had to be some comfort with all the hurt I dished out. ♥
aragarnaaragarna on September 29th, 2014 09:55 pm (UTC)
really cool story! Clever way to mix both storylines.
Love the end, Hughes is the best ;-)
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 1st, 2014 07:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks Ara!

I was glad when I realized I had the opportunity for Neal and Hughes to have that heart to heart. He is one of my favorite characters too.
drooddroodlebug on September 30th, 2014 01:29 am (UTC)
Wonderful story! Thanks very much.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 1st, 2014 07:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you! For reading and commenting.
caseyf123 on September 30th, 2014 04:33 am (UTC)
Once I started reading this, I couldn't put it down. You have my highest praise. You touched every emotion I could possibly feel from pure hatred of Adler to profound love and empathy for both Neal and Peter and so many more in between. Your writing was absolutely brilliant. A perfect blend of hurt, comfort, suspense, sadness, elation.......
Bringing Reese in to talk to Neal particularly tugged at my heartstrings. I truly loved this story (Not that I was surprised by that. You always deliver.). Thanks so much for all your hard work. The accompanying pictures were just the icing on the cake. You are appreciated.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 1st, 2014 07:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!

Your time and your comments are greatly appreciated as well.

I'm glad I could deliver, and that you enjoyed the story and found it emotionally compelling.
shimyaku: neal caffrey / closeuphybridshade on September 30th, 2014 06:02 am (UTC)
Great story and highly entertaining- I really enjoyed it! Love how you blended the two story lines, and this particular plot just played out SO well with Adler as antagonist. Amazing stuff :)
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 1st, 2014 07:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I'm really glad you enjoyed it!

It was a fun and challenging plot to concoct. Adler really is a great bad guy. He's just so good at emotional manipulation.
pipiljpipilj on September 30th, 2014 08:24 am (UTC)
Enjoyed reading your AU tremendously. Loved how evil Adler was.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 1st, 2014 07:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you pipi! I glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for commenting.
sheeniannisheenianni on September 30th, 2014 12:37 pm (UTC)
This was absolutely wonderful. I enjoyed the story from the beginning to the very end. There were so many amazing moments. I loved the emotional depth of this, and how real and heart-wrenching it all felt. And then the ending - complicated, but honest and filled with hope.

What a great story.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 1st, 2014 07:36 pm (UTC)
Oh, thank you sheeni!

There were definitely points where I struggled with that emotional depth. It was hard to maintain over such a long story. I'm glad it came across so well for you.
a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf: White Collar - Neal tropicalembroiderama on October 1st, 2014 01:41 am (UTC)
Oh, pooh, this is so wonderful. I ended up waking up in the middle of the night last night and finishing reading this, and I loved it so much. You did such a great job of writing a Neal who was not quite broken but certainly rather folded and spindled by the things Adler did to him and made him do, and the ways you turned canon events to your own purposes was fantastic. ♥
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 1st, 2014 07:38 pm (UTC)
Thanks e!

Adler did do some very serious messing with Neal's head. It was challenging to write those bits, without going to far and making Neal into someone who was truly broken.

I'm so glad that you enjoyed after I made you wait so long to read it! LOL! ♥
angelita26angelita26 on October 2nd, 2014 02:19 am (UTC)
I adore this story so very much. I know how much of a pain in the ass it was for you, but it's beautifully written and the weaving of canon events into this AU telling is brilliant. I love that you used Adler as the bad guy and that Peter got to put him away (death was too good for him on the show - he needed to suffer in prison!).

I especially loved Neal's emotional journey to some very dark places and then back toward the light of living in NY and being among his friends and co-workers. So heart-wrenching and beautiful.

Thank you so much for taking my three little sentences and turning them into this amazing epic. That's all you - you are amazing, and I'm so proud of you, pooh bear! *HUGS*
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 4th, 2014 03:18 pm (UTC)
Awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww! Thank you ang! It means a lot to me that you really enjoyed it.

Neal's emotional journey was the bit that gave me the most trouble in the writing process and I'm really glad to hear that it came through for you.

And, thank you again for those three little sentences, the beta, the AMAZING art and the months of cheerleading!
Jasmine: P & N - Hug!!reve_silencieux on October 9th, 2014 05:49 pm (UTC)
Oh wow... I was a little leery, given the warning of non-con, but I was really curious how this AU would play out. You wrote it so beautifully, and even though I just wanted to smack Adler, and shake some sense into Neal, I loved it. I felt so bad for Neal - having to shoot Peter then just succumb to Adler and stay for what he felt was the only way to keep everyone safe. I am glad Reese and Peter were able to get through to him. Really, you did a wonderful job, keeping Neal in character despite the difficult situation he was placed in. And I enjoyed how you weaved in canon! It worked out great.
pooh_collector: bb iconpooh_collector on October 14th, 2014 02:21 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I'm so glad you took the chance. The non-com was really mild, but I did feel it necessary to warn for it.

I worried about how well Neal remained in character throughout. I'm glad to hear that he did for you.

Thanks for reading and commenting!
calis_1stcalis_1st on October 12th, 2014 01:50 pm (UTC)
I really, really enjoyed this story. You did an outstanding job of bringing Under the Radar and Wanted/Most Wanted into a well-planned and executed AU. Your version of Adler is delightfully sociopathic, yet you didn't let him really break Neal.

Thanks for posting this.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 14th, 2014 02:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading and commenting!

I have always seen Adler as a narcissistic sociopath. I'm glad it came across in this story. And, thank you for letting me know that my rewoven plot worked too!
joy2190joy2190 on October 13th, 2014 03:34 am (UTC)
Aww, love this so much! Especially Hughes coming over to take with Neal and the welcome back he got. Great fic, Pooh.
pooh_collector: bb iconpooh_collector on October 14th, 2014 02:24 pm (UTC)
Thanks joy! I'm glad you enjoyed it. I had to thrown into the mix. He was the perfect person to convince Neal to come back to WC.
theatregirl7299theatregirl7299 on October 18th, 2014 03:57 pm (UTC)
This is fantastic!!

I agree with Elr - this is so well written and perfectly executed.

One of the things I love in a story is when an author takes dialogue and events of canon and tweaks them to create a totally different reality while keeping true to the feel of the series. You have done that so wonderfully here and I was bouncing in delight as I kept reading.

What I liked - Peter staying true to his belief that Neal specifically shot him so he would live.

Neal's angst - you do Neal's angst so well.

Food porn!!! (and the dichotomy of Neal's lack of appetite to the wonderful descriptions of the meals)

Brava - excellent, excellent job!








pooh_collectorpooh_collector on October 29th, 2014 01:52 am (UTC)
Sorry TG! I got caught up in RL!

THANK YOU! When I started this I knew I was rewriting Under the Radar, but until I was in I didn't know I was rewriting Wanted/Most Wanted too and it was kind of trippy to cut all of season three out of canon. I'm glad that you felt that it still felt true to the series.