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 and I would like to thank  mam711, Antoinette,  the vampire act and Alocine  for all your interest, your help and support  you gave so freely to help me with this story it what was a new fandom for me.

This story is for my sister, Happy Birthday, a girl couldn’t have a better sister, with all my love Susan

A Different Present

N/P/E   N/OC non-con implied

 

FBI Headquarters, New York

Diana Barrigan was an experienced agent; she had moved to Washington, DC, five months ago to take up an appointment with the anti-terrorist unit, but had moved back to New York and the job that she really loved: White Collar crime working with her boss and mentor, Peter Burke. She was all too aware of what had happened to Agent Cruz: the probie had made one too many mistakes, and the final one, she had heard on the grapevine, was encouraging a perp to shoot their convict consultant Neal Caffrey when she had been in a Mexican standoff. Cruz had gone down in Peter Burke’s eyes as not Neal-safe, and where Burke was concerned that was damning.

Peter was away from the office at the moment, going undercover in the offices of a multi-million dollar corporation in Dallas, Texas, helping out the regional office. Before he had left, he had worked with Neal on a series of high-profile cases, including nailing the elusive Dutchman; together they had brought them all to a successful conclusion, proving that Burke was right in thinking that Neal would be an asset to FBI. But that was where it had gone wrong. Once Peter was out of the city, Assistant Director Freeman had taken over from Director Hughes while the older man had been overseeing some political wrangling. Freeman hadn’t liked Neal Caffrey having what he considered free rein, and had called her and Jones into his office, leaving Neal watching them from his desk in the bullpen.

Diana came out of Freeman’s office, and strode straight across to Neal, leaving Jones in her wake. She tossed the file down on the con man’s desk. “He’s overruled us.” She shook her head in disbelief. “I am sorry, Neal; even though Peter gave us joint custody of you, he’s assigning his own handler.” 

Neal shrugged. “I appreciate you going in there for me,” he smiled. “How bad can it be?”  Fate had decided to take a hand, and Neal didn’t realize that he was going to regret those words as Freeman came out of his office. “Barrigan, Jones, what are you waiting for, do it.”

Neal looked at the two agents he had begun to consider his friends, his smile slowly fading as Jones pulled his handcuffs out. “I need you to stand up, Neal, and hold your hands out.”

Slowly the slender con man got to his feet, and then looked up at Freeman as he felt the cold steel of the cuffs being snapped around his wrists; the man was smiling smugly. Jones took his arm firmly and gave him a gentle pull to start him walking.

“Where are you taking me?”

It was Jones who answered; he was the senior agent of the two of them. “We’re to take you back to prison until Assistant Director Freeman has allocated you a new handler.”

“June?”

“I’ll make sure she knows,” Diana reassured him as they led him out; the other agents all stopped what they were doing, and she could hear the comments flying through the air. If Neal heard them he ignored them, his head up, ice cold, and the professional mask in place. 

0-0-0-0-0-0

Two days later, Neal was out of prison; Diana had managed to sell the idea to Freeman that she needed him for a job, so he was allowed back in their custody. But the bad news was that Freeman had selected a new agent to act as Caffrey’s handler until Burke returned, and it was the worst possible choice. Agent Alf Burton would use a sledgehammer to crack a nut, and he also had a serious beef with Neal Caffrey: the young con man had been the only high-profile failure of his career.

Alf Burton sat in his car watching the front of the mansion, his anger building. It was bad enough that Caffrey was out of prison again, but he was living in the lap of luxury. Alf’s face turned ugly as he saw the stylish older woman come out of the front door on Caffrey’s arm. It seemed that Caffrey had other skills he was using, whoring himself out to older women, and Burke ignored it. You only had to see the way that Caffrey dressed to know that he was selling his ass, just like some high-class escort.

Burton knew who he had to blame for the mess his life was in; if it hadn’t been for Caffrey, his career wouldn’t have gone down the can, his wife wouldn’t have left him, and he wouldn’t be living out an existence in some shoebox apartment. It was time that Caffrey found out that payback was a bitch.

His smile was pure evil. The next day he began to work Neal Caffrey into the ground; he was determined to clear as many cases as possible before Burke came back and reclaimed his pet convict.

One week later

Diana had called around to pick Neal up, only to find that Burton was already there. The older man was furious; he was ranting and raving as he stood in the artist apartment of June’s mansion. The apartment was a mess; a canvas that she knew Neal was painting was slashed into pieces, and by the red mark on his face she was sure that Burton had used his hands on Neal.

“I should bust you right now, going back to your old tricks, forging a painting.”

“It’s a copy.” Neal didn’t back down even as Burton got in his face.

 Without turning to acknowledge her, Burton snapped, “keep the hell out of here, Barrigan, or I’ll have Freeman all over your ass. You come here regularly and didn’t notice that he was forging a painting.”

Diana fought to hold her temper. “Agent Burke has examined the painting; it’s a copy, sir,” She almost spat the 'sir' at him. “It’s an adaption of a Monet; Caffrey wrote across it in white lead before he started. Agent Burke signed the canvas as well. There is no way it could be sold as the real thing.”

Burton snorted in disgust, pushed past Neal and upended the two bags that Neal was packing, then started pulling the suits out and throwing them onto the floor.

June stood in the doorway. She was angry, her voice cold with fury. “You have no right to do this.”

Burton turned on her. “I can come back and it will be worse for him.” He jerked a thumb at Neal. “And his next stop is prison.”

He pulled another suit out and waved it in her face. “Did Caffrey steal them—they must be worth a few bucks—or did you give them to him?”

“I gave them to Mr. Caffrey; they used to belong to my husband, Byron.” June stared him down.

“You also allow him to stay here—nice apartment, a view to kill for—so how much is he paying you in rent?”

“The federal government is paying me the regulation amount.”

“Yeah, right, $700 a month for this place,” Burton scoffed, cutting her off. “Well, I am his handler, and I have reason to believe that Neal Caffrey is working out of this apartment for immoral purposes, namely as a male prostitute.”

June drew herself up, regal and imposing. “How dare you say that? Agent Burk….”

“Agent Burke isn’t here, lady; now either Caffrey shakes that tail of his and hauls ass to my car, or I’ll arrest him and he’ll be in prison by noon, and ...” Burton smirked. “... and they know how to treat you there, don’t they, Caffrey.”

Diana saw the color drain from Neal’s face as he turned and began to cram the other clothes back into his bags, his hand lightly brushing the expensive cloth of one of the suits, before he straightened up with his hat in his hand. When Burton went to reach for it, he managed to sidestep him and handed it to June. “Thank you.”

June held the hat close to her as Neal turned and picked his bags up. All Diana could do was pat her arm to try to reassure her, as she followed them down and out into the street. It was no surprise when she saw that Neal was being taken back to the roach hotel that Peter had first taken him to. As he got out, Burton lowered the window. “Your tracker is now restricted to two blocks, Caffrey, and you have a curfew of 7:00 pm. If you violate it, you're back in prison so fast your head is going to spin. And get a suit.” Burton jerked a thumb backward. “The thrift shop's that way.”

0-0-0-0-0

Elizabeth Burke was just about to cook dinner when there was a knocking on the door; puzzled, she opened it to find June there. The usually-immaculate older woman was clearly upset and had been crying, but now there was just a look of determination on her face as she said, “they took our Neal.”  

0-0-0-0-0

The Roach Hotel

Mozzie looked around a room that was no bigger than a shoebox, and gingerly sat down on the sagging mattress. The television had a cracked screen and hanging wires, the paint was peeling from the door, and it was a dump.

“Now do you believe me?” Mozzie sighed. “Give me 24 and cut the anklet and we can be out of here.”

Neal turned from hanging up the thrift-store suit, brushing it down with his hand as he spoke. “I am not running, Moz.”

“For god’s sake, Neal. The Suit is screwing you over; he won’t be happy until you’re going down for the third time.”

“I promised Peter I wouldn’t run; he’ll be back.” Neal’s voice hardened. “He will put this right: there’s no way Peter would leave me here; he’ll let me go back to June.”

“How long before he’s back?” Moz asked.

“No idea, eight to ten weeks; they’re running a long con.”

“And you think you can....” But Mozzie didn’t get a chance to finish, as Neal cut across him.

“I survived prison, I can survive this.”

Mozzie didn’t answer; he was all too aware of what had happened to Neal in prison; taking in Neal and the room, he realized that it was happening again. When he cleared his throat, Neal just stared him down, and the words remained unsaid.

The older man had known Neal for a long time, and knew his history like no other person, and what he knew was that there was steel in the young con man. People saw the good looks and the easygoing persona, and what they missed was the man inside the gorgeous wrapping, a man with a cool head and ice-cold nerves. A man that might hate violence but could take care of himself if needed. Neal broke into and escaped from places that defeated most other people, taking risks that most sane people would walk away from.

Neal had lived through a past that would have left most people damaged beyond repair. Okay, Neal might not always be the poster boy for good mental stability: prone to obsessive behavior—you just had to look at him and Kate to see that—and he lacked impulse control where paintings were concerned. But it was all the contradictions that made him Neal Caffrey.

“You best go, Moz; Burton’s got the receptionist under his thumb and the guy's got standing orders to report on any visitors I have.” Neal paused, then added, “luckily he hates Burton enough to warn me, but not enough to lie to him.”

“Okay,” Mozzie said, but his voice showed it was far from okay as he dug into one of his pockets and pressed a burner phone into his friend’s hand; they both knew there would only be one number on it, and that would be Mozzie’s one-off emergency contact number. Mozzie paused at the door to the room just as he was about to leave. “Lady Suit and Junior Suit: they backing you up?” 

 “Diana and Jones, they’re good people,” Neal confirmed, and Mozzie nodded; it meant that he could approach Neal even if he was with them. It also warmed Mozzie to know that even in The Man’s Headquarters, Neal had some backup.

0-0-0-0-0

Two days later

Jones sat enjoying a Sunday meal with his mother when he saw the advertisement on the back of the newspaper, and a smile spread across his face. This was perfect—Neal was trapped in his two-block radius; maybe this would help him.

During the week, he had chatted to Diana about it and she had agreed. Peter had left standing orders that as long as Neal had an agent willing to go with him, he could leave his radius when he was off-duty. The exhibition wasn’t Jones’s first choice for a great day out for himself, but for an art-loving ex-forger, it would be perfect.

Thursday, Jones had perched on the edge of Neal’s table, looked around, and then dropped the clipping onto the desk. “Wanna visit to the Met on Saturday?”

The look on Neal’s face was one that made Jones smile; the clipping was examined as if it were the Holy Grail. “The Monet Collection.” Neal savored the title: it was the biggest collection of Monets outside of France. It was on display for the next two months, but he had given up any chance of going to see it. 

“I’ll pick you up at eleven on Saturday.”

“Thanks,” Neal said, but Jones could see his whole attention was on the news cutting, before he carefully folded it up and reverently placed it into his pocket.

Saturday Morning

Jones pulled up outside of the roach hotel, and saw Neal was already waiting for him; the con man was wearing the thrift-store suit and gave him a smile as he crossed the sidewalk to the car.

“Sorry, Neal.”  Jones saw Neal falter. “Something has come up.”

 Neal smiled. “No problem, we can do it Sunday.”

“Burton blocked it. I had it cleared with the Marshals and even though it’s a standing order from Peter, Freeman backed him; you can’t leave your radius, even if I am with you. Hell, when Diana heard, she said she would come too, what could be more safe than two agents?  But he couldn’t buy it.”

“That’s okay, you tried.”

“I got you this.” Jones reached down and pulled a thick journal out; it was the deluxe version of the exhibition catalog. “I know it’s not the same, but….” Jones stuttered to a halt.

Neal looked at the catalog; he knew how expensive they were. “You didn’t have to,” but even as he said it he was touched that Jones had thought enough of him to do it.

“I wanted to, and it’s still got two months to run. We’re getting you there, I promise.”

Neal looked up and saw Burton’s car parked along the road. “We’ve got company; you'd best be getting off, and Jones, I’ll remember this.”

“Any time, Neal.”

Neal watched as Jones drove away, and then turned and headed back into the hotel, the catalog cradled against his chest. He would hide it away before Burton came crashing through his door. The man was coming over more and more often, and what he was forcing him to do was getting more violent; it could only end one way, and he didn’t want any of his friends there when it happened.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Two nights later

The Burkes’ house

El welcomed Diana and Jones into her home, sat them down after pouring coffee, and asked about Neal; she saw the way they looked at each other and knew it was bad.

Diana took a deep breath. “Burton is getting worse. He’s got Neal on a tight leash: he heard him on the cell phone trying to call you; Burton grabbed the phone off him and destroyed it. He began to rant in the bullpen about how you were being stalked by Caffrey. Jones found Neal later; some of the agents had jumped him, dragged him into the stairwell and beat him up—he was nursing his ribs for the rest of the week.”

“But why? Peter doesn’t mind him calling me.”

“No one cared about that; Neal was their worst nightmare criminal going after their family—he had to be put in his place. Burton was a pig over it; he still had Neal in the field even though his backup would have loved to have left him hanging.” Diana put a hand up to stop El. “It’s all right; we have his back, but it’s getting harder to find people we trust to help us.”

El knew she couldn’t wait any longer. Jones and Diana had done what they could to help Neal. But they knew they were losing him; the young con man was cutting himself off from them in his attempt to protect them from his aggressive handler.  Burton was wearing him down; also, they knew that he was using his hands on him, as well as humiliating Neal in front of the other agents at every opportunity, even going as far as strip searching him in one of the interrogation rooms.  El made her mind up; she had to see Neal, make sure he understood that he hadn’t been forgotten.

Mozzie was waiting for her outside the hotel: it had been decided that she would go with him; El marveled that she had made such a good friend of the small man, who always reminded her of a paranoid Mr. Mole from Wind in the Willows.

“Burton’s just left, so we have a clear window to see Neal; the creep shouldn’t be back any time soon.” El hefted the bag she was carrying; June had filled it with of some of the things that she knew Neal liked: just because for the moment he couldn’t come to her home didn’t mean that they couldn’t go to him.

Mozzie  lifted his hand to knock on the door to room 211 when it pushed open. “Neal,” El called his name as she came in behind Mozzie.  

Turning away from the bed Neal stormed past them and slammed the door shut. He rounded on Mozzie. “What the hell do you think you’re doing bringing her here; you have to get her out of here.”

“Neal, we were worried about you.” El’s eyes widened as she took in the young man in front of her. He was dressed only in a pair of cargo pants that rode low on his hips, there were red welts around his wrists and a ligature mark around his throat, and old bruising on his arms.  She started forward, only to have Neal back away from her, throwing his hands up to ward her off; the unmistakable smell of sex permeated the room.

“Don’t touch me, El, please, don’t.” She could see the pain and desperation in his eyes. El moved a little closer, only to see him shy away.

“It’s all right, Neal.” She placed the bag on the floor. “But you have to understand something. We don’t care what happened here.” The moment the words left her mouth, she could see the hurt in his eyes.  Angrily she closed the distance between them, catching his arms. “I don’t mean it that way.” She shook him. “We care that he hurt you, but that won’t make me or June turn away from you; you’re family.” She felt him sway and followed him down onto the bed, taking his hand, linking her fingers through his, and pulling his hand against her chest. She could feel his pulse racing; with her other hand she lightly stroked his cheek and jaw and smiled softly as he leaned into her touch.

Looking at his hand she could see his knuckles were scraped. Neal had fought; his voice was soft, the exhaustion showing through.

“It wasn’t about sex.” Neal looked into her eyes, wanting her to understand.

“I never thought....” she started, only for him to clutch her hand tighter.

“Burton’s all about power.” Neal took a breath. “He blames me for all the crap in his life, and he keeps saying that Peter had him assigned to me, to take care of me.” The look he gave her was a silent plea for her to deny it, then he looked away.

“Neal, he would never have assigned Burton to you, you know.” El gently coaxed Neal’s face up so that she could look him in the eyes. “You know that he assigned Diana and Jones to look after you. You have to remember that, no matter what crap Burton tells you.”

Neal gave a shudder. “Diana said he had.” He put a hand up and rubbed his face. “Sometimes it’s hard to remember, I'm….” Neal trailed off, gave a sigh, and straightened up. “I can stick this out until Peter comes home; I have to, and I am not going to run.”

“I know that, sweetie,” El said. She could see how bone-tired he was, and every maternal instinct she had came to the fore as she coaxed his head down to lean on her shoulder; with a soft sigh his body melted against her. At the moment all she could do was hold him close and reassure him he was loved. El looked up at Mozzie as she felt his gaze on her; she saw him quirk his head to one side, examining her through his thick glasses. El lifted her head a little higher as if challenging him to say something. But all she got was a smile, as if she had passed some important test.

0-0-0-0-0

Four days later

Peter Burke was back. He was exhausted, and after hugging El he had crawled into bed and slept for the next ten hours. It was when he woke that El told him what had happened. As much as she had wanted to help Neal, she knew that Peter needed to rest, but she also knew that Peter would be furious if Neal suffered one more day because he didn’t know the truth.

Peter listened carefully to everything that El told him; when she had finally ground to a halt, her eyes awash with tears, he had pulled his wife into his arms and held her close.  “I can understand Burton’s beef with Neal, El. He was being fast-tracked for a senior position when he was given his file; at that time all we didn’t even have a name for the counterfeiter But Burton drew a blank and I was brought in, a fresh pair of eyes.  If you remember we worked the case together for about a year before Burton was taken off it; it was after an incident.” Peter breathed out. “Hell, I forgot all about it.”

“What happened?”

“One day Burton went after Neal. We had him under surveillance but were running into a brick wall; Neal was good at misdirection. One night he slipped us and we got a tipoff that he was at the Fuller Gallery. I knew it was him, even if we couldn’t see his face; only Neal had the balls to pull a robbery right under our noses.” Peter shook his head in disbelief. “Anyway, he was too fast on his feet; he’s one hell of a free runner and Burton was just about to put a bullet between his shoulder blades as he escaped. I stopped him.  Neal might have been a notorious art thief but he didn’t deserve to die like that. Burton tried to knock me on my ass when I stopped him; at least three other agents saw it happen.”

El said, “What happened to Burton?”

“He lost his fast track, but still had enough pull to be moved sideways into Organized Crime. I wasn’t aware he was back in White Collar, and the rest you know.”

Peter got up; he strode to the phone, and punched in the number. “This is Special Agent Peter Burke, and I am Neal Caffrey’s handler.” El got up and got his coat for him;  she knew that Peter wouldn’t rest now that he knew what was happening with Neal. She stood by the door, the car keys in her hands. Peter gave her a kiss and took the keys. “Don’t worry; he’s coming home with me.” 

0-0-0-0-0

One hour later

Neal sat in the car, his eyes fixed on whatever was going on outside rather than look at Peter. “Why don’t you ask, Peter; I know you want to.”

Peter glanced across at his partner. “El told me.” He saw the way that the younger man tensed.

“I didn’t do anything, Peter.” Peter could hear the anger behind the words, but Neal was masking it well, and it was with a heavy heart that the older man realized that Neal didn’t expect to be believed.

“I believe you, and the bastard is going down.”

“He’s FBI.” Neal looked at him; Peter could feel the blue eyes burning into him, challenging him.

Peter glanced from the road to Neal. “It didn’t stop us with Fowler, and it’s not going to stop us now.” Reaching a hand out, he patted Neal’s knee, only to have the young con man’s hand move to cover his. Peter felt the tension in Neal’s slender tapered fingers as he waited for his touch to be rejected, but Peter didn’t move away, allowing Neal to lay claim to his hand.

In a couple of days Neal could get back to June's, but for now, he would be in their guest room. Peter couldn’t put it into words, but he needed to know that Neal was safe, and that meant keeping him close and letting El do what she did best: looking after Neal; ever since she had first met the con man she had tucked him firmly under her wing, protecting him with a fierceness that would put a mother lion to shame.

When they arrived at the house, the first thing El did when Peter called to her that they were home was to take Neal in a hug; Peter saw the way that Neal froze, his hands hanging down by his sides. Peter knew what he had to do; he put a hand onto Neal’s shoulder, and when Neal looked at him, he nodded, “it's okay, Neal.”

Slowly Neal brought his arms up and wrapped them around El, hugging her gently, as she guided his head down on her shoulder and just held him. How long they stayed like that Peter didn’t know, but when finally Neal eased back from her, he saw a look of peace on his face that hadn’t been there before.  It was only as El led Neal by the hand upstairs to the guest room that Peter realized that he should be feeling jealous seeing his wife in the arms of another man. But all he could think of was it was Neal, and he was home and safe.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Tuesday Morning

When Peter entered the offices of the White Collar Unit, Neal was by his side; the FBI agent’s hand rested on the small of his partner’s back, giving him physical reassurance. Neal was dressed in a vintage Rat Pack suit, his trademark hat in his hand. The agents stopped what they were doing then they started clapping and wolf-whistling.  Peter halted as Neal did a 360 with a flourish and flipped his hat up his arm, so that it landed on his head in a practiced move that got a thundering round of applause; Neal Caffrey was back.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Peter had promised to bring Burton down, but it wasn’t going to be easy; it would be Neal’s word against Burton’s that the sex was non-consensual; the injuries could be explained away as a con that likes rough sex. Burton would be reprimanded, suspended for improper behavior, at worst allowed to resign, but it would be Neal that would pay the price. There was enough of the top brass that disliked the idea of a con man being given the run of the White Collar Unit, without them being given more ammunition to use against him. Because one thing Peter knew for sure was the blame would be put on Neal: poor Burton, seduced by Neal Caffrey.  Burton had to be brought down in such a way that there would be no risk of Neal being blamed, and that took time.

Alf Burton’s anger was building with each successful case they closed, and his rage had only one target. He hadn’t been able to get close to Caffrey since Burke came back, and it was either him or one of his cronies that kept near the con man. Hell, Jones had even followed Caffrey into the john when he had seen him. It sickened him that Caffrey had pulled the wool over all their eyes; for fuck's sake, was he the only one that could see Caffrey for what he was?  Sitting in his car outside of the mansion, Burton leafed through the photographs he had; they had arrived unannounced in his mail. They had sickened him and at the same time excited him. Mr. High-and-Mighty Caffrey was going to regret he was ever born.

The next morning, Elizabeth Burke was sitting at her desk in her small office when her assistant Yvonne came in, her face bright red. “Elizabeth, this came for you.”

“Yvonne, what’s wrong?” The other woman hadn’t answered, just dropped it on the desk as if the envelope was red hot and rushed out of the room. Elizabeth pulled out what looked like a file; she opened it and saw Neal Caffrey’s face looking back at her. She flipped the page up and then muttered an “oh my god.”  Unable to look away, she began to dial her husband.

Peter had just opened the file on his desk as the phone rang. He answered it, only half his attention on the file. “El, you need to slow down; what’s wrong?” It was then he saw the file contents. “I have one here.” He paused. “Look, put it back in the envelope and bring it in.” It was then he heard a knock at his door and Agent Ruiz was standing there with an identical file in his hand. “El, I have to go; it just got a lot worse.

“Ruiz.”

“Burke.” The Organized Crime SAC didn’t like the fact that Neal was working for White Collar, and made no secret of the matter, and now he had the file.

“This came today; now I can’t say I like Caffrey, but ...” He paused. “... but no one needs this being spread around the office. If you need help bringing the scumbag down that did this, let me know.”  Ruiz laid the file down and then turned to leave. “Whether I like it or not, Caffrey is one of ours, and we protect our own,” and with that he strode away.

When Peter came out of his office he saw Neal looking up at him from his desk; the con man started to get to his feet when Peter shook his head and headed straight into the office of Director Hughes.

Reese Hughes saw the file and then tapped with a finger the file in front of him, and then the second copy. “This one came to me today; this one ...” He indicated the second file. "... was sent to Agent Rice; she passed it on.”

Peter laid the other two files down. “This one came to me, the other to Ruiz, and El just rang to say she received one at her office.” His cell phone went off; he glanced at the text—it was from El, simple and to the point: 'June called she has a copy of the file.'

“That makes six copies, Reese; someone is out to do a real hatchet job on him. I….”

Peter was cut off as Diana knocked on the door. “Sorry, sir, there’s an email; it’s about Neal.”

Reese’s fingers flew across the keyboard as he opened up his email account, and sure enough there was one there. He opened it and swore; there were digital copies of the pictures in the email.  Looking quickly, he could see it had been copied to all the departments of the FBI in the building.

“You'd best get Caffrey; he’s got a right to know,” Reese said, the anger barely suppressed as he dialed the IT department, and told them what he wanted done: he wanted the email traced and deleted from the system now.

Neal was suddenly aware that the other agents had stopped what they were doing, and were looking at him, hell no, staring at him, with a mixture of pity and revulsion. Then Peter was at his side and he was being escorted to Hughes’ office. 

Hughes waved him to a seat which sent the alarm bells ringing; the Director usually gave the impression he could barely tolerate him.

“There has been a security breach, Mr. Caffrey.”

“I didn’t do it; ask Peter.” Neal put in quickly.

“We know you didn’t, but the breach concerns you. Copies of your prison medical file have been received by people connected to this department.”

Neal’s face didn’t show any emotions as he asked, “who?”

“Agents Burke, Ruiz, Rice, myself, Mrs. Burke, and your landlady.”

Neal closed his eyes for a heartbeat and then turned to Peter. “Please tell El I am sorry; she shouldn’t have seen that.”

“Neal, it's all right; she understands.” Peter tried to reassure the young former con man even as Hughes continued.

“I am afraid it’s worse than that; they also sent them as an email attachment to all the agents in the office.” Neal buried his face in his hands; now it made sense why he was being stared at: his prison medical record made grim reading.  Or had until the Mitchell brothers had taken him under their wing. After that no one had dared touch him; the brothers had made sure of that. But everything had had a price.

“I have IT tracing it and then they’re going to delete it off the system,” Hughes added. “I promise we will get to the bottom of this and the person responsible for it will be caught.”

Taking a steadying breath, Neal got to his feet, brushing a hand down his suit, then to his tie, before tugging at his cuffs. “If that’s all, I'd better get back to the mortgage case you gave me, Peter.  Thank you for telling me yourself, Director Hughes.” Both the agents watched him walk out of the office, pause slightly, then go down the stairs into the bullpen, head up high as if there were nothing the matter.

Hughes leaned back in the chair. “That kid’s got balls, you know that.”

“He’s one of the best, Reese, and that’s why I am going to nail the son of a bitch that did this.”

0-0-0-0-0-0

Burton spent more and more time staking out the mansion, waiting until he saw June leaving Caffrey alone in the house for the first time since he’d moved back in. Getting in was easy. He made his way up the stairs. He flexed his hands, liking the tight feel of the leather gloves. He dropped one hand to his pocket and fingered the rope, lube and condoms that he had in there. He was going to ride him hard, tear him apart before he killed him, and leave Caffrey so that everyone could see what a slut he was. Burton patted the pocket and took his gun out; one hand on the door handle, he jerked the door open and threw down on Neal.

The con man stepped back from the painting he was working on, and slowly brought his hands up.

“Burton.”

“Caffrey, I see your pimp's out, so me and you, we're going to have so much fun.”

“No.” Neal said levelly.

Burton cocked the gun, pointing it straight at his head. “Strip, Caffrey, then get on your knees and crawl and lick my shoes; you do it good enough, I might even use the lube.” His laugh was fractured as he cocked the hammer back on the gun.

Neal stood there, the bitterness burning in his eyes; Burton felt himself hardening when he saw it: that was what he wanted, that was what he reveled in when he took Caffrey, knowing that each time he destroyed a little more of the man’s worth. "What are you waiting for, Caffrey? Take them off.” He waved the gun at the clothes the younger man was wearing. “Nice and slow, Caffrey, like the whore you are.” 

Neal let his head drop forward as if he were concentrating only on the buttons, taking it slowly, peeling the shirt off his shoulders and letting it fall to the floor. At the same time as Peter and Diana stepped out from the terrace behind Neal, Jones came through the door. “Freeze, Burton; don’t try anything.”

Even as Burton started to pull the trigger, Peter caught Neal and sent him crashing to the floor as the shot was fired; there was the crack of another gun, muffled to Neal as Peter kept on top of him, shielding him with his body.  Only when Neal heard Diana and Jones give the all clear did Peter slowly ease up off him, reaching down to pull him to his feet.

Burton was on the floor, alive but bleeding from a shoulder wound. “It’s over, Neal; it’s finally over.” Peter’s hand dropped on Neal’s shoulder; without looking at Burton, Peter said, “Alf, you’re going to plead guilty; this isn’t going to court, you understand me.”

“Why should I, Burke?” he smirked through the pain. “Don’t want your boyfriend here in the witness box....”

Peter ignored him. “A one-off deal: you plead guilty and they move to sentencing and you keep out of general population and are put in administrative segregation; you go to court and I’ll make sure that you spend every day of your sentence in  population, Alf, and don’t think I won’t.”

 

For a long minute the former partners' gaze met, and then Burton looked away. “All right, I plead guilty.”

“Who gave you the pictures?”

He smiled, savoring the reaction he was going to get. “You're going to love this, Caffrey; it was that bitch Moreau, your own precious Kate. She gave them to Fowler, only he didn’t use them. Seems that there was one line the bastard wouldn’t cross. One of Fowler’s old friends knew where the files were and seeing as how he hated Caffrey he passed them along; said I would get a kick out of them, seeing as I was his handler now.”

Neal started forward, cutting him off. “You're lying; she’s dead, you bastard; she can’t defend herself, she would never do that.”

“Doesn’t make any difference, Caffrey, she still sent them to Fowler; you really think she would want you after you got fucked over in prison?” Burton gloated with a smirk on his face.

Peter lunged forward and managed to get his arms around Neal and pull him back, even as the younger man went for Burton; as Peter struggled with Neal he yelled for Diana and Jones to get Burton the hell out of there.

Peter’s fight with Neal was made all the harder because he didn’t want to hurt him, but he couldn’t allow him to get to Burton; Neal was the victim here, not Burton.  It was finally a combination of his weight and skill learned at Quantico that enabled Peter to get Neal in an arm lock and pinned face first against the wall.  “Don’t make me cuff you, Neal; quit struggling,” Peter hissed. Neal didn’t answer him; he just kept on struggling. “Damn it, Caffrey,” Peter swore under his breath, and brought the younger man down to the floor in a controlled move: a knee in the small of his back as he cuffed Neal’s hands behind his back, then, giving him a push, rolled him over onto his back. An out-of-breath Peter got to his feet and tugged out his cell phone and stabbed the speed dial; this situation needed the big guns.

“We’ll be with you in about 15 at the latest.  Yeah, we got him, El; Neal....” Peter paused. “He’s a little tied up at the moment, hon, but he’ll be with me.” For the first time since they set the trap, Peter smiled as he said to El, “as if I would cuff him; come on, El, give me credit.” He looked down at Neal. “He would be out of the cuffs before I could turn my back on him.” He clicked the cell phone off, and then reached a hand down. For a long second, Neal looked up at him, and then reached up a hand, the cuff hanging off his wrist, and allowed Peter to pull him to his feet. He flinched slightly as Peter wrapped an arm around him, but he didn’t pull away, and Peter chose to ignore it. Releasing his hold, Peter patted Neal on the back. “Come on, buddy, we can’t keep El waiting; the paperwork can wait until tomorrow.”

Peter caught the way Neal looked at himself in the mirror: the paint-splashed cargo pants, the undershirt, and the sneakers. Peter did a double take—Neal Caffrey actually owned a disreputable pair of sneakers. He reached down and picked up Neal’s shirt and held it out to him; for a long minute it hung in the air before Neal took it.

“I need to get changed; El....”

“Kiddo, I hate to break it to you; El might like your suits, but she cares more about the man in them than if you pass muster for GQ. Live with it. I do.”

Neal nodded but his face showed he didn’t really believe it; he went to his closet and pulled out a dark midnight-blue shirt and pulled it on, then on the way out grabbed a battered leather jacket, as Peter shepherded his young charge out of the house and to the car.

 Neal paused at the passenger door, looking across the roof at him.

“Yeah?” Peter asked.

“Am I still under arrest?”

“I didn’t arrest you, Neal, just detained you. Are you going after Burton again?”

For a long minute they just looked at each other. Neal shook his head.

“Then you’re not under arrest.” Peter didn’t even check to make sure that Neal was following him as he got into the car, but he had to admit to himself he felt a wave of relief when the passenger door opened and Neal sat down next to him.  He might not be able to fix everything in Neal’s world but he and El would be there when Neal needed them, and could give him a warm and safe haven.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

There was no way the weeks that followed could have been good; Neal was  thrown into deep depression, turning in on himself; he had lived through the time when he thought that Kate had been murdered, fueled by his need for revenge. But now he knew the truth: Kate had used him and deserted him; she had never loved him.  No one wanted him for him, just for what he could give them; he wouldn’t make that mistake again. He lost his appetite and couldn’t sleep at night, spending his time painting, and each morning when he left for work he put the con man’s face on, to hide his emotions. Emotions were weaknesses he couldn’t allow to show.

It was Mozzie in the end that came to Peter and Elizabeth; he was clearly uncomfortable. He had been pacing up and down outside of the house for twenty minutes before he made up his mind to come in, and all the time he sat on the couch in the Burkes' living room he fidgeted with his cravat. “I wouldn’t have come here, Suit, if I didn’t think that you and Mrs. Suit have what Neal needs. You have to understand a few things about him. I ... well, I never really liked Kate; she wasn’t good for him. Neal has always been tactile, and needs to touch people he loves: just small touches; it grounds him. Neal, well, Neal’s always been hyper, high maintenance. But Kate never liked him touching her; it had to be on her conditions. She would cut him off from her, pushing him away, kicking him out of bed more than once, just to see him climb the walls.” Mozzie shrugged. “Love’s blind and Neal was blind; I can’t tell you his past; just say that he was starved for affection, the right sort of affection, when he was young. If you care about him you have to show him.” Mozzie got up. “Now I have to go.”

“Mozzie, thanks,” El said just as he reached the door, but it was Peter who stopped him, when he said, “it’s not easy.”

Mozzie turned, but before he could open his mouth, Peter continued. “I have too much power over him: I can send him back to prison. I don’t want him to think that I'm like Burton, that he’s being forced, coerced.”

“You’re not like Burton, Suit, you and Mrs. Suit really care for him. I just ask you don’t leave it until it’s too late. Neal has a destructive streak in him; that’s not healthy. Just do what you can, okay.”

0-0-0-0-0

For Neal the next couple of weeks became puzzling. Peter was more tactile with him, keeping him close, often with a firm hand to the small of the back as he guided him around, offering reassurance with a touch. El would take him in her arms; hugs came readily from her, along with little pecks on the cheek or forehead.  Slowly he pulled out of his depression as his attention fixed fully on the Burkes.

 The pair of them began to invade his dreams, and he would lay there half asleep imagining that it was Peter’s firm hand that was stroking, touching him and bringing him off, that El’s long hair was brushing his face as she leaned in to kiss him, her perfect hands caressing his chest and flanks. Neal began to thrash and writhe as he came, crying out their names at the height of his passion, before collapsing back on the sweat-soaked bed, breathing heavily as he dashed the tears from his eyes. Who was he kidding? They would never want him that way. During the day he would take their friendship, reveling in it; at night he had his dreams to keep him warm. He now spent most of his time with them, and he still found it hard to believe that they allowed him to visit them anytime he wanted without it having to be work-related, just so that he could spend time with them, just for the sake of being with them; not many people would welcome a known felon into their homes like that. But they did and made him feel he was one of the family.

But one of his biggest surprises had taken place about a week later when Director Hughes had called him into his office. Peter had stood there smiling like a proud father, as Director Hughes explained in that gruff manner of his that he was being given a small extension to his radius.  Neal had smiled happily; any increase in his radius was a godsend. But it was then that Hughes had looked at him. “That exhibition you wanted to go to, Caffrey, I can’t authorize any agents to take you, on or off the clock.”

Neal had tried to keep his disappointment from showing. It was then Hughes had smiled. “Your radius now includes the Met, so you'll be able to visit whenever you want.”

It had taken all his powers to avoid his jaw dropping, as Hughes continued, “I’ve reviewed your case files and over the last six months you have been instrumental in closing some major cases with Agent Burke. Therefore in recognition I have authorized this inclusion in your radius.” He leaned forward and pointed a finger at Neal. “If so much as a postcard disappears from the Met, I will be looking at you, Caffrey.” He paused, then added, “now get; I have to talk to Peter.”

Neal got to his feet and started for the door, then turned. “Director Hughes.” He waited for the older man to look at him, and then said, “thank you.”

Hughes just nodded. “Just keep up the good work, and we might be able to add the Fuller Gallery to your radius next time.”

For the next week, whenever he was off the clock, Neal could be found at the Met, in his own personal seventh heaven, but all the time he was waiting for the other shoe to drop, not allowing himself to believe that it wasn’t some con that Hughes was running. But gradually, Neal started to believe that Hughes might have been sincere. 

Six weeks later

Neal was seated at his desk in the bullpen, working on a file, and looked up at the light touch of Peter’s hand on his shoulder to see Director Hughes give him the famous two-finger wave, indicating he wanted him in his office. It was then Neal’s heart sank; he guessed that this was payback time.

Peter chivied Neal up the stairs, his hand resting on the small of the con’s back; Neal found his touch reassuring but at the same time frustrating.  His love life was zero; oh, he knew that if he wanted, he could get a woman into his bed; he just didn’t want to. What he wanted was something that he knew that he couldn’t have, or could he?

“On the 28th, Caffrey, you are going to be leading a prison break.”

Neal did a double take; he had allowed his mind to wander. “Prison break.” He latched onto that one word, 'prison'. “Hell no.” He was nearly out of the chair when Peter’s hand clasped down on his shoulder, pinning him in place.  The next thing he knew Peter was pushing his head down between his knees and telling him to breath; the only plus side was that Peter’s other hand was rubbing his back, soothing him. Neal tried to brush his hand away; as much as he needed Peter’s touch, it was a sweet torture to him, and a taste of something he could never have. “I am all right, Peter.”

The older man looked slightly flustered. “You looked as if you were going to keel over, Neal.”

But before he could answer, Hughes did: he shook his head. “Caffrey....” He paused. “It’s all right, Neal, it’s all right.”

“I am not going back in there.” Neal’s voice was harsh, as he looked up through his hair that had fallen forward over his eyes.

“You are not going back to prison, Neal,” Peter said firmly. “Director Hughes didn’t mean it that way.” Peter glared at Hughes, one of the few people Neal knew that could get away with doing that.  “Every year the FBI holds a charity event and raises money through sponsorship.”

“A charity event,” Neal took a deep breath; that was the last thing he had expected Hughes to say. He tried to concentrate on what Hughes was saying, but then there was Peter’s hand on the back of his neck, those strong fingers that touched him so gently, caressing him, petting him. Slowly Neal felt himself relaxing into the touch, and it was then he realized that it wasn’t the only part of him that liked this attention; he crossed his legs to try and hide his growing erection. Dead mice, Hughes and dead mice, Bambi as venison. To Neal’s relief it seemed to do the trick; it was then he caught Peter’s half-smile and realized that the older man had seen his erection and was amused by it, not disgusted but amused. 

Hughes coughed. “Caffrey, as I was saying, the aim of the event is to travel as far as you can in 24 hours without using money, just your skill, to hitch rides; we haven’t won in the last five years, so you are going to be our ringer.”

“Isn’t that cheating?” Neal asked.

“If it was a singing contest and Pavarotti was a member of the team, would that be cheating?  No, Mr. Caffrey, it would be using his gifts.” He paused. “Now to the rules: they state that the team is made up of two agents and a civilian. We are fielding two teams. Agent Jones, Agent Barrigan and her significant other are team A; Peter, Elizabeth, and you, Caffrey, are Team B.”

“I am not an agent.” Neal said.

“You’re a consultant; that’s close enough.” Hughes smiled as he added, “as a wise man once said, all's fair in love, war and inter-department rivalry, Caffrey.” 

Peter picked up when Reese nodded at him.

“The rules state we can’t use friends and family, or their personal vehicles or do anything illegal; anything else is fair game. Also, you can sabotage another team if you have the chance, and during the course of the event, we would have six challenges to complete. The winner is the one that travels the furthest distance inside of the tri-state area and have six items collected.

“And the items are?” Neal asked.

“That’s the rub,” Peter said. “They don’t tell us until the last minute because of the risk of someone cheating, and we have to be dressed in prison clothes.”

“I don’t look good in orange.” Neal’s tone had flattened again slightly.

“Nothing like that; think stripes, think Laurel and Hardy; no one is out to humiliate you here, Neal; you have to trust me on that.”

Hughes had been watching the two men, and saw the way that Peter had been acting without conscious thought; the older man was acting protectively about Caffrey. It had nothing to do with the fact he was the man’s handler. For Hughes, the telling moment had been when Peter and Neal had had to trade places for a case; Elizabeth Burke had brought the informant in, and Neal had given her a greeting kiss on the cheek. It was a perfectly innocent action that no man would normally take exception to. Only problem was, this was a convict kissing the wife of an FBI agent, and there were enough men in the White Collar bullpen that would have taken offense, and once the situation was back to normal would have wanted to put Caffrey back in his place.  But not Peter Burke; he acted as if it was the most natural thing in the world: he trusted Neal and that showed. There was a look that Hughes was sure that only he had seen because of his knowledge of Peter; it was there for only a fleeting microsecond: it was a hunger, and it was aimed at his wife and Caffrey. For a long minute Hughes sat there, and then decided that he didn’t care as long as it didn’t interfere with Burke’s work, and there was no denying that Peter and Elizabeth were a steadying influence on the flighty Energizer Bunny of a con man. He would let it go.

Two weeks later

Neal looked around at the people crowded into the office; he was surprised to see Ruiz until Jones whispered that Organized Crime had won the cup for the last two years. All of them wore the same striped suit that he did.

He looked at Elizabeth; she caught his gaze and smiled at him and then looked away, and he felt a jab of pain in his heart as he saw the smile that she gave Peter, the way she leaned forward, gave him a kiss, and slipped an arm through his, and to his surprise slipped her other arm through his own, and pulled him closer.             

Director Hughes came out of his office with the four people chosen to referee the challenge; he stood looking down at the different teams crowded into the White Collar unit office.

“The rules of the competition are straightforward: you have 24 hours to travel the furthest distance away from FBI headquarters as possible, while remaining in the tri-state area, and you will have to use your skills at persuading and charming people to get you on your way. You will not have any money; the winner will get the Challenge Cup and bragging rights for the next year.” Reese put a hand up to stop the catcalls as the highly-qualified FBI agents became children again.

He continued, “I would like to thank the Marshals Service for their help this year; they’re going to be monitoring the Challenge. If you cut the anklet, it’s coming out of your wages, people,” Hughes joked.

It was then that Neal noticed that every third person had a tracking anklet on. He could see they were enjoying the novelty of it; he caught the look Peter gave him, and matched the older man’s smile, knowing that Peter had left this as a surprise for him.  Peter had told him that he would be treated the same as any other team member during the prison break, and he had laughed it off with a shrug, making a crack about the others not being on an anklet. Now he knew different; he accepted that, okay, tomorrow their anklets would come off and his would stay on, but today he could just join in the fun and be one of the crowd, no radius and the whole of the tri-state area to play in and that was priceless.

Hughes continued. “Each team will be made up of two agents and a civilian.” He looked at the sea of faces. “Franklin, Murdock, nothing illegal, and the aquarium better not be missing a fish this year; remember, if it says pick up a Swedish Fish it means the candy, not the fish.” He looked around at the different teams. “Okay. Ladies and gentlemen, the clock is now officially running, and good luck to you all.”

As Peter ushered El and Neal to the elevator, he kept his voice low, “Neal, you and Mozzie....”

“Mozzie and I have a few ideas that we came up with last night, Peter, that might fit the bill.” He smiled at his own personal FBI agent with a megawatt smile. “I think you’re going to like them.”

The Burke’s home

The escapee teams had returned back to the federal building after the 24 hours, each of them handing over the digital camera they had taken with them so they could take a picture of all the objects they had been tasked to find during the 24 hours of the prison break.  While the mileage was worked out, and the photographs checked, the escapees dug into a meal of pizza and beer, or in Neal’s case a rather-nice bottle of wine, even if it was complete with a screw top courtesy of Peter and swapped stories of what had happened during the escape.

Finally the judges announced the winner: White Collar Crime Unit, the team of Burke, Burke and Caffrey; they had accepted the cup to cheers and good-humored banter from the other teams, but for Peter it was worth it to see the acceptance that Neal was getting from the other FBI agents. When they had finally left the party it was Peter who had refused to let Neal go home to June's, and instead propelled him into a cab to take them back to the Burke family home.

The moment that they walked through the front door, Peter could feel the tension rising, and he looked across at El for support; she smiled softly and nodded her agreement, without a word being spoken. Over the weeks Peter and El had spoken of their attraction to Neal and argued it from all angles. Peter voiced his concern that as much as he wanted Neal, he didn’t want to destroy his marriage. El had been sweet reason; she had kissed him tenderly and told him firmly that if Neal felt the way they thought he did, then it was only going to get better.

Neal was walking around the living room picking up pictures, his fingers lightly brushing knick-knacks as if it was the first time he had seen them. But he kept shooting Peter and El looks as if trying to fathom what was going on. He paused and looked up at a painting on the wall, leaning into it; it was Elizabeth’s favorite picture, the water lilies. He gave a huff of disgust: it was a print.  He would soon put that right: she deserved only the best. In his mind he began to plan out a copy of it in oils for her.

Hearing his name called, Neal turned; Peter and El had closed the distance between them. Peter’s arm was wrapped around El’s waist and Neal couldn’t help feel a stab of sadness; he loved them, and it hurt to see what he wanted but knew he could never have.

Peter reached a hand out as El did the same, “you can have what you want, Neal; you just have to tell us.” He paused. “I can’t do this for you, Neal. You have to ask.”

“If you say no, we will respect it, sweetie; no one is here to force you, and the power lies with you,”  El said.

Neal slowly reached his hands out and Peter and El drew him close into a embrace; his body started to shake as he brushed against Peter and felt the older man’s hardness pressing against his hip, then El’s hand was gently stroking the back of his neck and back. She was speaking softly, telling him how much he was loved by them, and that he had nothing to fear from them; they would never force him to do anything he didn’t want too. Peter lowered his head so that it rested against Neal. “We want you, Neal. It doesn’t matter if you only want to sleep with us, and all we do is hold you and nothing more; we can do that. But we want you here with us now. I think we’ve all waited too long to go back now.”

Neal raised his head from Peter’s shoulder so that he could look him in the eyes. Peter smiled, his lips quirking into the boyish smile that had melted Neal’s heart the first time he saw it. “Hell, it’s going to give me the bluest balls in New York, but if it’s what you want, what you need for now, it’s okay; this goes at your speed, Neal.”

Stepping back from them, Neal broke the embrace and looked from Peter to El and back again; he could feel the fear churning in his stomach. Memories of Burton, the belt, the handcuffs, of feeling as if he was being split open washed through him, and all he wanted to do was run. Run, get the hell out of there, he.… Then he looked at Peter and El, and all he saw was understanding and love, not lust or the need to hurt him, just love, and he knew then that they would wait for him, that he was safe and finally he was home. This time it was Neal that stepped forward and held out his hands to them, and they pulled him gently back into their loving embrace.

It was Neal that led them upstairs to the master bedroom; they moved at his pace: kisses that were light and tender, touch that gave pleasure without the pain he expected. Neal panicked when Peter’s weight rested on him; he flashed back to Burton pinning him down as he raped him. He pushed Peter back, and would have fallen out of the bed if El hadn’t been on the other side of him and caught him. When Peter reached out for him, he buried his face against El’s shoulder, clinging onto her for dear life.

Peter edged closer. “It's okay, Neal, I am sorry; you know I wouldn’t hurt you, don’t you?”

Neal slowly lifted his face up, he felt embarrassed; he knew in his heart that Peter wouldn’t hurt him but something had kicked in and…. He nodded, trying to banish the memory of Burton from his mind.  He couldn’t allow it to spoil what he had now, so when Peter eased back and opened his arms, this time Neal moved into them to rest against him, his body tense. But slowly, as Peter’s warm firm hands stroked over his back and shoulders, his body relaxed and he melted against him at the same time as he reached back and took El’s hand and pulled her close, as Neal nestled between the two of them feeling loved and protected.

 

Early morning

Peter lay on his side in bed, his head propped up on one hand, looking at El who mirrored his position; their eyes meeting, they smiled and looked at the silver cup on the table, and then down at the young ex-con man that was lying between them.

Neal Caffrey was asleep, his face buried in the pillow; both of them knew that the true prize they had won yesterday wasn’t the tarnished cup, it was Neal Caffrey. Finally he was where he belonged, in their bed. Neal was their lover; it didn’t matter that all they had done was hold him: he was their lover: this handsome, brilliant young man who was so damaged it made their hearts ache for him, he was part of their family now and they were going to make sure that he understood that.

In the morning, Neal would try to pull back from them: it was what he did; he'd try to make out that it was harmless fun born out of one too many drinks, but they knew him and knew where his heart lay.  Together they would make sure he knew how much he was loved. Now that he was in their bed, they never wanted to let him go.

The End

A Different Past And Future