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Picture Perfect 3/4 - Swirly Stars

About Picture Perfect 3/4

Previous Entry Picture Perfect 3/4 Sep. 10th, 2010 @ 01:15 am Next Entry
Title: Picture Perfect
Pairing: Referenced Neal/Kate. Character focus on Neal and Peter. El and Moz make an appearance.
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 13,146
Spoilers: Season 1 finale. A brief mention of a single conversation in season 2
Warnings: General angst. Neal being Neal.
Summary: Neal gets over Kate, only for her to show up again. Peter wants him to stay, Kate wants him to leave, and Neal is stuck somewhere in the middle
Author's Note: I do not own White Collar or its characters. And the artwork for my story was done by the talented and wonderfully creative [info]aruna7 

 Previous
 

When Peter woke up on Sunday, he immediately checked his laptop and pulled up Neal’s tracking data. As he played through the evening’s data, Elizabeth came downstairs and smiled at the distracted, contemplative expression on Peter’s face. She sauntered over to him and patted him on the shoulder.

 

“Honey, Neal’s young. It’s not inconceivable he wanted to do something else on a Saturday night than hang out with his FBI keeper and wife,” Elizabeth suggested, no small amount of amusement lacing her voice.

 

Peter pressed pause on the tracker playback and looked up at his wife with an embarrassed smile.

 

“Well, when you put it like that,” he said. However, he still remained sitting where he was. Crossing his arms, Peter leaned back in his seat. “But I don’t know. Something just seems off…am I being paranoid? Tell me I’m being paranoid.”

 

Elizabeth smiled sweetly and headed towards the kitchen, calling over her shoulder,

 

“You’re being paranoid. Besides, you’ll figure it out on Monday; or I will.”

 

“What would I do without you?” Peter asked.

 

“You wouldn’t do anything,” she said through the kitchen door.

 

Smiling to himself, Peter forced his mind to focus elsewhere. The steaming cup of coffee that suddenly appeared under his nose served that purpose perfectly. He thanked Elizabeth for the coffee and she smiled back as she sat down across from Peter. They sat in silence, enjoying each other’s company. Peter thoughtfully sipped his coffee while Elizabeth rubbed Satchmo’s stomach with her foot. A soft whine alerted them to Satchmo’s sudden needs. Swallowing the last bits of his coffee, Peter stood up and motioned for the dog to follow him. While he tried to calm Satchmo down enough to let him hook on the leash, Elizabeth collected the mugs and took them into the kitchen to start breakfast.

 

It was a blessedly quiet weekend; Peter free from any current cases and Elizabeth free from any clients. And now, from the sounds of it, the day was free from any Neal Caffrey’s as well. But then, just thinking about how Neal was behaving himself caused Peter to wonder more about him. However, Elizabeth, and many times Satchmo, distracted him enough to get through the day only mildly distracted. By the evening, Peter had stoically restrained himself from calling Neal. As he was preparing for bed, Peter reminded himself that tomorrow would be Monday and he would be free to interrogate Neal, discretely of course. Elizabeth kissed him goodnight, lectured him not to think too loud in his sleep, and slid under the covers. Sighing over how well his wife knew him, and more importantly, accepted him as he was, Peter checked his phone one last time, turned off the desk lamp, and sidled up against Elizabeth.

 

By the time the sun was just beginning to rise, Peter got out of bed, a bit more eagerly than usual, much to the amusement of Elizabeth. He paused in the middle of getting ready to apologize, but she just held her hand up, shoved breakfast in his hands, and smiled.

 

“Since you’re already in such a hurry,” Elizabeth said. “I’ll just check in with you for lunch.”

 

Peter thanked her with a kiss and resumed straightening his tie.

 

“I’ll be sure to call you and tell you I worried for nothing,” he replied.

 

“You do that, sweetie,” she agreed as he left their home.

 

Peter checked his phone one last time before getting in his car. The drive to the office went by as slowly as it usually did, and Peter found it more grating than usual. When he arrived at the office, he immediately looked at Neal’s desk and then his office. Mindful of the other agents milling about, Peter kept moving with a frown. Just as he was about to enter his office, he heard the doors open, or rather, he heard Neal laughing at something Jones was saying.

 

Satisfied that Neal appeared to be in one piece, and more or less normal, Peter sat down at his desk and pulled out the most recent file for the day. He perused the file, not really focused on it, but doing his best to convince everybody he was. Peter waited for Neal to make his customary stop into his office.

 

“Morning, Peter,” Neal greeted, internally cringing at the slightly too chipper tone. “Hope you didn’t miss me too much on Saturday.”

 

“Well, it was quiet, that’s for sure,” Peter responded in turn, a single eyebrow arched in question.

 

They both took a moment to stare each other down, silently challenging the other to say something about it. Having chased and worked with Neal long enough, Peter knew to trust his instinct, and it was telling him to wait on it. It was the right choice. Neal felt less threatened and far more at ease. He smiled, just a little too brightly, and sat down on a spare chair.

 

“So, what do we got today?” he asked.

 

“Not a whole lot,” Peter answered. “Here, take these and see what you can find.”

 

Neal took the offered stack of files and quickly leafed through them.

 

“What are these about?”

 

Peter smiled, and using his smug tone that he really only got to use with Neal, said,

 

“That would ruin the surprise.”

 

Taking the chance to roll his eyes at Peter, Neal stood up and obediently headed for his desk with an overly innocent smile that let everybody know he was far from it.

 

“I guess I’ll just go to my desk and find my surprise,” Neal said.

 

Now it was Peter’s turn to roll his eyes. He watched Neal’s back as he walked over to his desk, stopping along the way to chat with Jones and greet Diana with a little flirting. As far as anybody was concerned, everything was exactly how it should be, nothing out of place. Neal finally went to his desk and read through the files, while the others ran on errands or completed paperwork. They worked diligently, or as diligently as they did when Neal was in a mood to not be diligent. But by lunch time, each of the agents somehow managed to complete their given tasks, even with Neal doing his best to break the office monotony. Visiting agents always marveled at the productivity of the White Collar Crimes New York Division, and the amount of cases they closed. In actuality, the New York agents were often left marveling at how they managed to close a case, and most likely, in a round about way.

 

Papers dropped unceremoniously, but neatly stacked, onto Peter’s desk with a soft thud. Peter looked up from his work. Neal stood, hands in his pockets, looking absolutely full of himself.

 

“Son-in-law running a mortgage fraud,” Neal declared. Then, with a little less enthusiasm, he added, “Again. Mortgage fraud. Where’s all the creativity?”

 

Peter looked at him with mild annoyance and fondness.

 

“You should be glad you solve these cases before it turns into a kidnapping, grand theft auto, bank robberies,” he said, listing each off on a finger. “Need I go on?”

 

“In my defense,” Neal answered. “It wasn’t really GTA since I had her permission.”

 

Shaking his head in disbelief, Peter set down the file he was reading and began collecting his personal belongings.

 

“When she said you could try it out sometime,” Peter lectured. “I don’t think she meant jacking it in the middle of the night and taking it for a joy ride around town.”

 

Shrugging his shoulders and smirking, Neal replied,

 

“I still had her permission to try it, and it’s not jacking if you have the keys. Besides, we caught her red-handed because of that.” 

 

Peter shrugged on his jacket and tucked his phone in his pocket.

 

“Uh-huh. Now if only everybody else saw it that way, it would have been a perfect case,” he commented. “Grab your things. El wants us over for lunch.”

 

“Sounds good. I’ll just grab,” Neal paused and stared at the screen of his cell phone with a small frown. “I’ll just grab my jacket.”

 

Pretending not to notice Neal’s hesitation, Peter just gently pushed him out of the office with a nod of his head. Mentally noting Neal’s agitation, Peter herded him to the parking garage and into his car. They drove in silence, Neal struggling with how he was going to explain his sudden shift in mood. His head thudded against the window. Peter looked over at him.

 

“You okay over there?” he asked. “Or are you just trying to break the window with your head?”

 

Even though they knew it was futile to say otherwise, Neal smiled back.

 

“I’m fine,” protested Neal. “Just testing the structural integrity of your vehicle…with my head. You know how much I love this car.”

 

Once again, Peter let it slide with a shrug and small smile. Neal bit the inside of his cheek to keep a straight face and get his heartbeat under control. Peter was clearly humoring him, and Neal did not know why he was doing so. Having put off running away with Kate, Neal knew it would not take long for Peter to become suspicious and start prying. However, Peter was not prying, and Neal found it increasingly difficult to bring himself to remain silent.

 

Despite his urge to break the silence between them, the car remained silent, though now it was filled with tension. When they pulled up to Peter’s house, Neal got out of the car and quickly headed to the door. Before he could reach it, however, it swung open to reveal Elizabeth beckoning him inside. It took little effort to begin to relax with Elizabeth. She gave Peter a quick kiss and ushered them to the dining table.

 

“So, Neal, have a good time on Saturday?” she asked casually.

 

“Yeah, sorry again about backing out last minute,” Neal answered. “And yes, I had a great time. How was yours?”

 

“Quiet and relaxing,” replied Elizabeth.

 

They sat down for lunch and spent the next hour enjoying each other’s company. All the tension in Neal’s body began to relax as he chatted with Elizabeth about potential locations for an upcoming event and what foods went with what occasion. Peter added a few of his opinions, but generally just sat back and watched the two people most prominent in his life.

 

Neal went through the entirety of lunch composed, and even deftly brushed aside Elizabeth’s concern about leaving most of his sandwich untouched. As they continued to chat while brining the dishes into the kitchen, Neal unobtrusively backed off and just observed.

 

“Oh, honey, I almost forgot,” Elizabeth said as she stacked the dishes in the sink. “Do you think you could pick up some more dog food for Satch? We’re about out.”

 

Peter nodded as he took one last drink.

 

“Sure,” he replied. Looking down at Satchmo, who was eagerly waiting underfoot for a scrap of food, Peter frowned. “How much do you eat? I’m always buying food for you.”

 

Satchmo answered with a soft bark and a wagging tail. Neal could not help but smile at the way the dog tried to endear itself to Peter by literally sitting on top of his feet and sticking his moist nose into Peter’s hand. Elizabeth broke off a piece of crust and bribed Satchmo to leave Peter alone and turn his attention on her. After a few attempts of trying to get Satchmo to sit, Elizabeth finally succeeded in her task and tossed the crust in the air. Satchmo happily snatched it midair and chomped on it noisily. Turning her attention to Neal, Elizabeth turned on the faucet and asked,

 

“Hey, are you free on Friday? Yvonne is out of town this weekend and I-“

 

“Kate’s back,” Neal suddenly blurted out, cringing at his abrupt interruption and volume of his voice.

 

Elizabeth stared at Neal, astonished. She slowly reached behind her and shut the water off. Neal held his breath as he reluctantly looked over to see what Peter’s reaction was. The inscrutable expression he wore made Neal distinctly uncomfortable. He had always prided himself on at least always having some idea as to what Peter was thinking, but right now, he could only guess.

 

“I met her Saturday, which is why I cancelled, and I was planning on telling you, Peter, I really was, but I didn’t, and I’m sorry, and I’m not planning some grand scheme-“

 

Peter held his hand up sharply, cutting Neal off in the middle of his ramblings. He pointed to the kitchen door, Neal obediently listening. Sharing a knowing look with his wife, Peter and Elizabeth followed Neal out of the kitchen and into their living room. Neal walked over to the couch and sat in the far end stiff as possible. Even Satchmo trotting over and resting his head on Neal’s lap was not enough to calm him. He studiously avoided eye contact with either Peter or Elizabeth as they entered the room. Elizabeth took a seat next to Neal while Peter remained standing, hands resting on his hips. Finally, after sitting and listening to the clock check off the seconds, Peter spoke.

 

“Neal,” he said, the soft tone clashing with his posture. “Kate’s dead.”

 

“But she’s not, Peter. I know what I saw,” Neal argued earnestly. “She’s alive. I spent the weekend with her.”

 

Pursing his lips, Peter mentally cursed at how he should have guessed Neal’s odd behavior was because of Kate. Slowly letting out a breath he was holding, Peter relaxed his stance and openly studied Neal.

 

“How could she be back, Neal?” Peter asked. “We both saw the explosion, we both read the reports.”

 

Neal shook his head.

 

“But those can be tampered with,” Neal insisted. He silently pleaded for Peter to hear him out. When he received no response from him, Neal took it as a sign to continue. “It was all a con. It was a long con, and now Kate is back and free from everybody.”

 

To prove his point, Neal pulled out his phone and clumsily flipped through the phone’s programs in his haste. Settling on a single photo, he held it up so Peter could look at it. Peter frowned at the photo, grabbing the phone from Neal’s hand to get a closer look at it. After staring at it a few moments, he handed it to Elizabeth. Her expression mirrored Peter’s perfectly. Neal did not know whether to be worried or relieved they believed him.

 

“I don’t believe it,” Peter said, more to himself than anybody else. Despite seeing the photo of Kate, leaning casually against the wall in what was clearly Neal’s room; Peter did not want to believe it. “How did she survive that? What is she planning?”

 

“She…it’s a long story, and lunch is almost over,” Neal replied weakly.

 

Just as he thought, Peter picked up his phone and dialed the office. He quickly gave Diana instructions to finish up the remaining bit of his paperwork and told her he and Neal were taking the rest of the day off. When he hung up the phone, Peter sighed, scrubbing his face with his hand, and dropped into the seat next to Elizabeth.

 

“Well, now we have time.”


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Leave a comment
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From:afiawri
Date:September 12th, 2010 03:52 pm (UTC)
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Another well-done foil with the Burke’s easy marriage and Neal and Kate’s relationship.
Neal and Peter’s banter over that file is spot on. (I transcribe episodes and stare at such banter for hours; I would know.)
The way you chose to express Neal’s complete inability to lie well around Peter is beautiful comedic relief with perfect timing.
I find it interesting, given the title, that it's a picture of Kate that really kicks the plot into high gear.
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From:astra_sequi
Date:September 13th, 2010 01:01 am (UTC)
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Ah, you're last point is really interesting and true. I didn't even think realize it until you mentioned that. Way to be more insightful than I am. :D
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From:afiawri
Date:September 13th, 2010 01:04 am (UTC)
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I always love it when my readers take away things from my story that I never meant to put there. Something of a buried treaasure thing. And this particular one was very enjoyable to find.
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