Disclaimer: The following is a work of fan fiction based on White Collar which belongs to Jeff Eastin and USA. It is in no way intended to infringe on the copyrights of Jeff Eastin and USA.

This was actually the first White Collar Story, I ever wrote along with Different Present it was originally one long story. I would like to thank The vampire act, and Alocine, for the early beta reading your help and feedback gave me confidence to continue with this fandom. Thanks to Antoinette for your support and helping me to see the end of the tunnel and whipping it into shape, and Mam711 for the final editor beta reading when I turned the story on its head. 

Without all your help and support this story would never have seen the light of day, let alone get published on the net.

My thanks always this story is dedicated to the four people who had confidence in me, as they say “all it takes is a little confidence”, Newman to Redford in “The Sting”.

A Different Present

 

A Different Past and Future

N/P/E (implied)  N/P

The Past

Agent Peter Burke had finally caught, after a three year chase, one of the most infamous master con men, art forgers and counterfeiters of the 21st century, Neal Caffrey.

Caffrey was in his mid-twenties, handsome, intelligent, and with a sense of humor that had made Peter laugh and tear his hair out in equal measures. The young con man had never used violence in any of his crimes; the kid used his brain and his speed to get out of trouble, and not always cleanly. Peter knew of at least a handful of occasions when he had heard about or had seen evidence that Neal had been injured in a robbery or some transaction with a client or fence. Each time it had happened, Peter had felt a sickness in his stomach that was hard to put into words. As an FBI agent he knew that an injured Neal would be an easier target to catch, but at the same time it brought out in him a fierce protective streak that he had trouble controlling. It was an anger that made him want to plant his fist straight through the face of the men that had hurt Neal, gather him up and take him somewhere safe. It had caused him many a sleepless night.

Finally he had set a trap. It had been almost anticlimactic; after all the chasing, Caffrey’s arrest had been peaceful. He had gone in with the FBI Rapid Response Team as backup, but had known that he hadn’t needed it; the kid had actually thanked him with a shake of the hand for finding his girlfriend Kate, so deeply in love had he been with the pretty brunette that he was willing to give up his freedom to be with her one last time. Peter had watched as Jones had handcuffed Neal, making sure that it was done correctly. He wasn’t blind to the fact that there were agents on his team who, given a chance for a quiet few minutes with Caffrey, would have beaten him into a bloody pulp for the run he had given them.  But his new agent Clinton Jones had done it by the book, and escorted Caffrey out to the car, with nothing more than a firm grip on his arm.

Peter stood in the now-empty room and looked at Kate, searching her face for any signs of remorse as her lover was being led away to what would be a prison sentence. But he saw nothing there; she just met his gaze levelly and then lifted her head at him defiantly with a smirk, and it was at that moment that Peter knew who had given him the tipoff; Kate had turned her own lover in.

He had turned his back on her in disgust; Neal had deserved better than her. Pausing outside of the storage facility, he took a deep breath and let it out slowly, watching as Jones guided Neal into the backseat of the car before shutting the door behind him.

Neal looked out of the window back at the building, hoping to see one last glimpse of Kate, but she never came and he turned back, his head dropping forward as he became resigned to the fact he was caught and the game was finally over.

Mack Philips grinned at Peter. “Never thought you would get him, so kudos to you, Pete; what you are going to do now?”

“Process Caffrey and then go home to my wife,” Peter said as he got into the passenger side of the car as Mack slid in behind the wheel. But even as Philips drove, Peter couldn’t help but watch Neal in the mirror; he hoped that Caffrey never found out that his girlfriend betrayed him, because that would destroy him.

And while he wanted him for the crimes he committed, deep down he knew that Neal was a good man; with luck Neal would get four or five years maximum, and then have a chance to start a new life if he wanted. All Peter could hope was that Neal would take that opportunity.

Four years later

Neal Caffrey had broken out of prison with only a couple of months to go on his prison sentence because Kate had said goodbye to him. He had been caught hours later, but then he hadn’t, Peter mused, really tried that hard to escape, only to make his way to their old apartment. Even though he had the Rapid Response Unit present, and the US Marshals, Peter had gone up to the apartment alone, knowing that Neal would be unarmed, and wanting to arrest him himself not for the kudos for slapping handcuffs on an escaped prisoner, but because he wanted to make sure that Neal wouldn’t be harmed when he was recaptured. As he had been led away he had asked for a visit in one week, and then had proposed the most harebrained idea that he had ever heard of, no matter there had been precedent. Peter still remembered the conversation with Hughes when he had put it forward. To begin with it had been a firm and solid no, but Peter wouldn’t give up.

Director Hughes looked up from his work when Peter knocked and waved him in; leaning back in his chair, Hughes said,  “You’re still determined to do this, Peter?” Hughes had worked with Peter and in private the difference between Director and Senior Agent was forgotten.

“I want Caffrey as a consultant; he’s got too much to offer to just sit in prison for the next four years,” Peter had said. “It’s going to work, Reese. While he’s working with me, there’s not a problem, but when he’s off the clock the anklet keeps him to a two-mile radius. If he tries to run or cuts the anklet the Marshals will be all over him before he can get far. Also Caffrey knows if he runs I’ll always find him.”

Hughes shook his head. “I hope you know what you’re getting yourself into, Peter.” He pushed the folder across his desk. "Here is the paperwork, and it will take roughly six weeks to make this happen.  But remember this Caffrey will be thinking through all the angles.”

“It’s his idea, but I am going to pull the strings.”

“Good luck; you’re going to need it.”

 

Six weeks later

Peter stood outside of the prison. Jones had volunteered to come with him to collect Neal Caffrey when he was released, but Peter had waved him away. Neal was no threat: the one thing he had learned very quickly was that Neal Caffrey was not violent; he went out of his way to avoid conflict, relying on his quick wits and a good turn of speed to escape.  He halted Neal before he stepped outside of the prison, making him show him the tracking device on his ankle; where Caffrey was concerned he couldn’t afford to underestimate him.  Neal grinned at him, and Peter patted his pocket, making sure his wallet was still there; it was ridiculous Caffrey was nowhere near him but there was something about that grin that made him double-check.  He had spent three years chasing this particular ghost; the younger man was without doubt one of the top art forgers, at the apex of his talents; one of the top con men in the country; and a hopeless romantic. Now it was going to be his job to keep Neal on the straight and level, because if this failed and he went back to prison, he would never see the outside again, third strike and life.  Peter vowed there and then that was not going to happen.

The Future

Four years later

Manhattan

El sat behind the ornate desk in her own art gallery, looking around it with pride. She had sold Burke's Premier Events at a profit, and returned to her first love, art. Neal had still been finishing his parole work placement when she had started the business, but after a long meeting with Hughes where the guidelines had been hammered out, it had been agreed that Neal could work and develop the business, when he was off the clock, but that special dispensation was needed because he was an alleged art forger, and convicted counterfeiter. One rule was that the account books and the gallery pictures had to be open for inspection at any time it was requested and that he could only officially become a partner when his sentence expired eight months later. El had readily agreed, and the High Lit Gallery had been born.

Once Neal’s work placement had finished, as planned he had become a full partner in the gallery, and the business was flourishing. Neal’s own artwork was sought after, and he had an eye for new artists, which put them ahead of the curve. He combined the art gallery with what he laughingly called his day job as an FBI consultant.

After years of dancing the dance around their emotions, Peter had taken Neal home nothing new there but the moment that the door had closed behind them he had finally taken Neal into his arms, pressed that lean muscular body against his, feeling Neal’s arms wrap round him, as his body melted against him. Their first time together was frantic, with clothes thrown all around the room, as they couldn’t get enough of each other. Neal was naked on his back, one ankle on the back of the couch, the other on the floor, Peter’s body covering him as they made love; it was then Neal had frozen as the front door had opened and El had walked in. His hands had clutched at Peter, so hard that his nails had cut into him, as he buried his face against Peter’s shoulder; the sick feeling of what he had done had washed over him. All he could think of was his betrayal of El, the woman he loved; he had always dreamed of this moment with Peter, but it had always been with El there with them. But things had spun out of control, and now it was all going to crash down on him. But instead of screaming at him, El had knelt down on the floor so that she was level with his face and, reaching a hand out, had carded it lightly through his sweat-soaked hair, and then pressed a kiss to his lips.

“You boys better go and shower; dinner will be ready at 7:00, okay.” She kissed Peter, then patted his ass with a grin as she added, “and I’ll expect you both to bring your best game to me later,” and left the two of them together. For a moment they just looked at each other, and Neal smiled; it was the smile that Peter loved, it was the one that only a few people got to see as it was the window to his soul.

Then with the smile still on his lips he pushed his hips up against Peter. “You going to finish this, Agent Burke?”

“They don’t call us Special Agents for nothing, Caffrey.” Then he swooped down and claimed that smart mouth in a searing kiss.

It was several weeks later that Neal Caffrey’s world crashed down around him; it was on a sunny morning and he was enjoying a cup of Italian roast on the terrace with Peter and El it was the first time that they had spent the night at his apartment when he had heard the door open and someone call his name. 

Neal was on his feet and into the room; the color drained from his face at the shock of seeing Kate standing there. Then in two strides he had caught her in his arms, swinging her around and then pulling her into a rib-crushing hug as he kissed her. 

But suddenly she was pushing him back; her pretty face became ugly as she dragged the back of her hand across her mouth, wiping his kiss from her lips with a look of total disgust.

“Kate.” Neal moved closer to her only to have her throw up a hand to stop him.

“For god's sake, Neal, do you think I want you to touch me after what you did in prison?” 

Neal felt his blood go cold and it was as if all the air was sucked out of the room, and he couldn’t breathe.  Everything that he had held onto since seeing Kate die in the exploding plane, hunting down her killer, was in those short minutes made a lie. Everything that he had built up since then was leveled flat; his world was spinning out of control.  He felt El’s hand on his arm, and turned towards her, completely lost.

Kate turned on El. “How can you bear to have him around you; he’s clingy, obsessive, he’s….”

El met her gaze levelly. “He’s a good man.”

Kate laughed; it was harsh and bitter. “A good fuck, a good forger, but a good man, no.” She shook her head as she looked around at the picture on the easel and walked over to it. Her voice became softer, almost wistful. “I am a good artist, but Neal, he couldn’t even let me have that; they look at my work, and it’s good, they look at his and it’s exceptional. I’ve got a degree in art; he didn’t even finish his GED. What right has he to be that good?  He could have made amends by giving me the music box, but no, he didn’t; he had to try and save me by playing the hero.”

“We were going to go away. “ Neal started forward only to have Kate back away from him. She turned on him again as she said with utter contempt, “You were never in the picture. I was going to take what you owed me and leave you.”

“No, Kate, we were….”

“For god’s sake,” Kate shook her head. “You see what I have to put up with?” Kate looked back at El.

Neal took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, shaking his head as if coming out of a dream. “Then why come back now, Kate? You know that the music box is in the Hermitage.”

“I remembered the ring, the one you got for me, but never got around to giving me; it was worth a cool two million. It was my money: you owed me that, Neal.  All those years I sat back and waited for you to run, all this ...” She waved a hand around at the apartment and Peter and Elizabeth. “... all this had to be a beard you were using. I knew the music box had a secret and then I heard about the Nazi sub from Adler; that was a gold mine. So when he died I knew you had to have the treasure, and I waited for you to cash it in and run, and that was when I was going to join you.

"A few tears and a sob story of being too scared to risk going to you while you had your FBI prison guard watching over you.  But you couldn’t even do that, could you, Caffrey,” She spat the name with venom. “You and that toad, Mozzie, tipped off the State Department and arranged for the treasure to be sent back to the Russian Foreign Office. You didn’t even hold anything back from them: you returned every painting, every jewel, everything, because of your newfound morals. It was then I knew that you weren’t going to run.” Her pretty face had turned ugly again. “The ring, Neal you owe me that for the time I invested in you.”

“I don’t have the ring, Kate.” Neal said levelly, glancing at Peter and then back at her. “Peter was being held for ransom; they needed the money, I used the ring, and last I heard it had been returned to Scotland.”

“Two million for him?” Kate glared at Peter in disbelief.

For the first time since she had torn his life down Neal’s lips twitched into a shadow of a smile. “He’s worth every cent of it, Kate.”

Peter’s hand dropped down onto Neal’s shoulder, giving him physical reassurance; under his hand the older man could feel him shivering. “Kate, get the hell out of his life.”

“Or what, Peter? If I go down I’ll take Neal with me.” She gloated as she added, “there’s things he’s done that haven’t expired their statute of limitations yet.”

June and Mozzie appeared in the door way, they had followed Kate upstairs, but had waited silently in the hallway, letting things unfold, but when Kate had threatened Neal, it was more than June could stand. Her voice was chilling. “Don’t you understand that now Neal’s protected?” She used her money like a weapon. “With the legal team I can put together, Neal won’t see a day in prison, but you will be an old hag by the time you get out.”

“You couldn’t. I….” Kate began to bluster. “You don’t have any evidence.”

It was Mozzie that answered her next.  “Evidence is a very subjective area, Kate. It’s amazing what can be done with a latex glove … superglue.” He raised an eyebrow. “Believe me, Kate, if you try to hurt Neal again or use him again or even come within a city block of him I will ruin you.” It was no threat; it was a promise.

June’s hand tightened on Mozzie’s arm. “I have the resources to make it happen.”

 “You want him, you keep him,” Kate spat at them as she strode for the door.

The door slammed behind her and rattled on the hinges as she left their lives and Neal’s for good.

Neal watched her go, and felt nothing for her. For the first time he saw her for what she was: she hadn’t loved him, she had loved the excitement of a life on the run, of the heists, the cons, but she had never loved him. He felt his lovers wrap their arms around him and pull him close. What he had was worth more than money; it was people that loved him for his own worth. 

Two weeks later Mozzie took over Neal’s former apartment at June’s and Neal had moved in with them; now that he was officially off the anklet, his time served, he was able to openly live with them. Hughes had been the first one they had told since he was both his and Peter’s boss. Hughes had looked them up and down and shook his head, and then surprised them both by saying, “it’s about time,” handed them a new case file and then turned back to his work, leaving his best agent and his FBI consultant partner to work their magic on it.

Quantico Three years later

Director Miles Hudson stood facing the trainee agents. “For the next week you are going to be looking at the field of White Collar crime. Our lecturers for this module are Director Peter Burke and Senior Consultant Neal Caffrey from the White Collar Division, New York Office."

Peter got to his feet and said, “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, Director Hudson. I am Director Peter Burke, I have been a member of the FBI for 18 years and twelve of them have been in the field of white collar crime.

"During that time, the New York office has handled a whole spectrum of crime from forged wills, bonds and paintings to jewel and museum art thefts, and mortgage and financial fraud. Working closely with me has been my partner Senior Consultant Neal Caffrey; during the course of the module you will ...” He looked towards Neal with a smile. “... Hear about Mr. Caffrey’s previous career; in the early 2000's, Neal was one of the top master con men, art forgers and counterfeiters of his age. He was only ever convicted of bond forgery; the rest is merely speculation and conjecture. In fact, some enterprising criminology students even tried to copycat his MO once. He now lends his considerable talents to catching people who break the law, which has attributed greatly to our over 90% clearance rate. The best, I might add, in the country.”

No one could miss the smile that Caffrey gave him, as the younger man said, “just to set the record straight, ladies and gentlemen, we did get the copycats.” Neal favored them with a bright smile that even after all those years still had Peter patting his pocket to check he still had his wallet. “They do say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

Peter’s smile broadened as the older man turned back to the trainee agents. “So let’s get started! What is a confidence trick and how does a good one work?”

When he was met with silence, he added, “Neal? Let’s start with the Phoebe Cates.”

The end