Fandom: White Collar
Rating: PG, Gen, pre-series.
Summary: And just like that, Neal was in Peter Burke's house.
Word Count: ~4,000
Disclaimer: Not Mine.
Author's Note: Feedback is delicious.
“You are suicidal.”
“C’mon, Moz. I need a utility van. Some paint decals would be nice, but plain’ll do.”
“And I need it by Wednesday.”
“I said no. Hell no, Neal. Are you listening to me at all?”
“Are you helping me at all?”
“No,” Mozzie snapped. “I am not helping you infiltrate the home of the FBI agent chasing you just for shits and giggles”
“Infiltrate?” Neal echoed. “I just want to visit.”
“Because you want to go to prison.”
“Nooo,” Neal stretched it out. “C’mon.” He paced the limits of Moz’s storage unit home, which took all of six steps until he was right back facing his friend. “I’m not meeting Kate in Monte Carlo until Friday. I’m bored.”
“You know what else is boring? Prison.”
“That’s getting old,” Neal warned. “I’m not going to get caught. I never get caught.” He paused. “I’m not even sure it’s a crime.”
“Trespassing,” Mozzie said. “Misdemeanor.”
“Until the FBI agent nails you on, you know, the felonies.”
Neal rolled his eyes. “Right, ‘cause that’s happened. Besides, Peter’s in Chicago. I was spotted casing the Field Museum.”
“I was,” Neal asserted. “I’m not crazy enough to do it with Peter home, Moz.”
“But you admit that you’re crazy.” Silence, while Neal made a face. “You know, I don’t like you on a first-name basis with the Suit.”
“I’m friendly,” Neal said, smiling.
“You’re going to send your friends to prison,” Mozzie retorted.
Neal frowned, looked beseechingly at Mozzie. “So, the van?”
“Fine,” Mozzie growled. “But I’m not visiting you in prison and I’m not sending you care packages.”
“You’re the best!” Neal practically hopped with joy, while Mozzie rolled his eyes some more and grumbled inaudibly.
Neal outfitted himself appropriately. He got a white painter’s jumpsuit from a hardware store and splattered it using a quasi-Jackson Pollack technique ‘til it looked appropriately used. For the hell of it, he took his fakest-looking mustache – a thick black caterpillar-thing – and glued it to his face. It looked ridiculous but that was kind of the point.
Mozzie took one look at him and refused to speak to him for the duration of the ride out to Peter’s recently purchased home. He even ignored Neal well-meaning compliment about the old, battered van with the name of the home improvement company the Burkes happened to be using affixed perfectly to the side.
“You look like one of the Mario brothers,” Mozzie hissed as they pulled up in front of the Burkes’ home. “You are such a child.”
“Stay until they let me in?” Neal asked, ignoring the comment.
“I hope it’s the Suit and he shoots you,” Mozzie said.
But it wasn’t. The painters didn’t recognize Neal, of course, but they saw the van with company name idling. He told them he was replacing their ill colleague – who’d actually “won” tickets courtesy of Neal to the Yankees game and had called in sick – and they didn’t question it.
And just like that, Neal was in Peter Burke’s house.
It was a little anticlimactic.
Peter, of course, wasn’t there. Which was good for the sake of the lack of bullets in Neal’s body, but also just a little disappointing.
But the house wasn’t really a home, yet. The living room was basically empty. Paint cloths lined the floor and old sheets protected the few pieces of furniture. Unopened cardboard boxes were clearly being used as makeshift seats. It was really unexciting. The Burkes had just bought the place and were trying to live there while it got painted and one bathroom renovated, the paint crew told Neal.
Someone had picked decent paint colors, at least. Probably not Peter, then.
Neal grabbed a roller and pretended to listen intently to the crew chief’s instructions. He didn’t need the Painting 101 and he really just wanted to snoop through the house. Unfortunately, he had to actually do the work. His painting partner was kind of sloppy and decidedly unappreciative of Neal’s critique.
But then noon rolled around and the crew took a lunch break.
“I brown-bagged it,” Neal said, smiling, as the other five guys started arguing over which fastfood joint to drive to. “See you at 1?”
“1:30,” the chief said, and Neal grinned even wider.
He waited until he was sure the van had reached the end of the block and wasn’t coming back. And then he darted up the stairs.
The upper level had already been painted. It looked much more like a home, furnished and everything. There were still piles of boxes and some furniture probably intended for the lower level haphazardly stacked around.
Neal made a beeline for Peter’s bedroom. The door was closed, but not locked. Peter trusted the painting crew, evidently. The bedroom didn’t have any extraneous furniture or cardboard boxes lying on the floor. Everything had been unpacked and arranged neatly around the room. It looked nice, Neal would admit. Homey, even.
He went to the large dresser opposite the queen-sized bed. Mrs. Burke had some lovely jewelry, sitting out right there in a thin, unsecured wooden jewelry box. Neal hesitated for all of three seconds. It was stuff he wouldn’t have bothered with, generally. A couple genuinely expensive pieces, but most of it wouldn’t resell well. But he’d be a terrible thief to just leave it there, might give Peter the wrong impression when Neal told him all about it later.
So he slid the entire box into an interior pocket he’d sewn into the jumpsuit. Maybe he could send pieces to Peter as rewards whenever the FBI agent did something clever. That could be fun.
Neal opened the closet, next. Mrs. Burke’s half was respectable. She had style and taste. It wasn’t all designer, but it was definitely this season.
Peter’s half? Hanger after hanger of ugly, cheap suits. He’d seen them before, but usually only in quick backward glances while running as fast as he could. Neal had optimistically chosen to believe Peter just wore those when he was going to be doing some chasing. Sighing, Neal contemplated setting it on fire. Accidentally burning down the Burkes’ house would be really conspicuous and Neal wasn’t an arsonist. The paint crew would definitely notice if he replaced all their drop cloths with Peter’s suits, too.
If he’d thought ahead, Neal would have smuggled in a designer suit in Peter’s size. That would have been suitably clever and maybe Mrs. Burke would make him keep it. Neal thought about calling Mozzie with a request, decided it wouldn’t work and Mozzie would say mean things about him.
A yellow message pad lay on the bedside table next to the phone. Peter’s side, probably. Neal borrowed a page, folded an origami giraffe, and tucked it under the lapel of the closest suit. He wanted to leave a note, but that was probably stupid. Mozzie said all his letters to Peter were going to be used to indict him some day, and confessing to wanting to burn Peter’s suits would probably make Neal look a little crazy.
So, he stifled the urge and used a second sheet to fold into an origami kitty. He tucked it under the comforter on the Burkes’ neatly made bed, so just its little paper ears stuck out. After a second, he decided it needed a friend. Neal used a third sheet to fold a mouse and tucked it in next to the cat, its tail peeking above the sheet.
That was just awesome.
Next, Neal went and found Peter’s home office. It was right next to the bedroom and its door was locked. Peter was more paranoid about it than his wife’s jewelry. Not surprising. Neal yanked out his kit and had the lock open in four and a half seconds.
He was tempted to leave a note about that, too.
Neal vaguely wondered if he would find any files on him, here. Peter’s office wasn’t too neat; it looked like it was primarily storage for the unfurnished downstairs. But Neal found the filing cabinet stashed in the corner.
And he was enormously pleased that the label printed on the very top drawer featured his own name: CAFFREY.
It was locked, too.
Neal whipped out his kit again, but before he could get to work, he heard the sound of keys in the downstairs door. He froze, darted to the window to look out. The painting van was nowhere in sight, but an American sedan had pulled up in front.
Confused, Neal tucked his kit away. He raced out of Peter’s office, pulled the door shut as quietly as possible, and all but vaulted down the stairs.
He managed to be sitting cross-legged on a drop cloth in the living room, pretending to be engrossed in reading the paint-smeared newspaper the crew had used to stand on, by the time Mrs. Burke got the front door open.
“Hello?” she called.
“Hi,” Neal said, staying seated on the floor.
Mrs. Burke was really pretty. Younger than Peter by a little, with bright blue eyes and dark hair. Her arms were full of a paper grocery bags.
“Where’s the rest of the crew?” she asked, peering around.
“Lunch,” Neal answered, surprised to find the first thing he said to her wasn’t a lie. “I brown-bagged it.” But that was.
“Oh, that’s a shame.” Mrs. Burke tried to close the door and nearly dropped one of her bags. Quickly, Neal rose to help. She let him take both bags out of her hands while she shut – and locked, Neal noticed – the door.
“Kitchen?” she asked him. He followed her, his nose catching interesting culinary smells wafting out of the grocery bags. “Thanks.”
He set the bags down on the counter, glancing around the kitchen. He hadn’t been in here yet. It was a good thing, Mrs. Burke might be confused by random paper animals peeking out at her from the stove. Or worse, she might get it. He noticed a large dog crate against the wall, too.
“I’m an event planner,” Mrs. Burke said. “I was testing out a caterer today and I thought the crew might like the leftovers.”
“Wow,” Neal said. That was unexpectedly nice. “It smells really good.”
“I’m not really sure,” Mrs. Burke said. “I’m getting over an upper respiratory-sinus thing and my taste buds are pretty dulled.” She frowned. “That’s why I’m home early, actually. They don’t like it when you sneeze all over the kitchen.”
“Ah,” Neal said. He conspicuously sniffed the bags on the counter.
“Are your buddies gonna mind if you-” she began.
“Nooo,” Neal answered, quickly. “They went to McDonald’s.”
Mrs. Burke tapped the bag’s side. “This is probably better.”
And a couple minutes later, Neal was seated in the Burkes’ breakfast nook, while Peter’s wife served him a $75-a-plate wedding menu.
Neal’s life was awesome.
“This place markets itself as a fusion of Greek and Mexican cuisines,” Elizabeth told him. “What do you think?”
“That’s creative,” Neal said.
“That’s a diplomatic answer,” she replied. “Do you think it’s gross?”
“I wouldn’t say that.” He took a big bite of his meal and chewed thoughtfully. “I’m not sure using cooking with lamb and feta and cilantro and jalapeños really counts as a fusion, though.”
Mrs. Burke laughed. “Their office fused the colors of the flags: it’s red, white, green, and blue crosses everywhere. Hideous.”
“What wine are they going to serve with this?” Neal asked. “It won’t go with retsina.”
Peter’s wife did a double take. “Um,” she began.
“I’d recommend a katoi, I think.”
She laughed. “Most people don’t know much about Greek wine.”
“I’m a connoisseur,” Neal said, give her a wide smile. “It’s only a problem if you have to go to one of those meetings where they make you say your name.”
Mrs. Burke laughed, pretty much overtly staring at him. “I’m Elizabeth, by the way.” She extended her left hand – the right holding a serving utensil – and he took it. He also took her wedding and engagements rings right off her fingers. He couldn’t help it.
“Neal,” he said, slipping her rings into another jumpsuit pocket. He watched her face for any recognition at his name. She didn’t react.
“So,” Neal said. “What about saving some of these leftovers for your husband?”
Elizabeth shook her head. “Peter’s not big on food creativity.” She laughed and rolled her eyes. “Anyway, he’s out of town.” She looked a little sad, at that. Sort of lonely.
“Oh,” Neal said, with sympathy. “Work?”
“Yeah.” She paused, as if deciding she shouldn’t have told a strange man she was going to be alone in an empty house. “But he’ll be back soon. And I have my guard dog.”
She walked over to the crate and unlatched it. Neal peered at it, a little wary. Dogs weren’t his favorite unless he had pants stuffed with bribery bacon. But then a tiny yellow lab puppy raced out of the giant crate.
“Aw,” Neal said.
“He’s vicious,” Elizabeth warned, clearly joking. “Don’t give him any jalapeños,” she said, when the puppy tried to clamber up Neal’s leg towards the plate.
“What’s his name?” Neal asked.
“Satchmo,” she said.
And so, Neal got to make best friends with Peter Burke’s puppy before it grew it a giant guard dog. He couldn’t have planned better.
He also got to make friends with Peter Burke’s wife.
Elizabeth Burke was really, really nice. She could make excellent, educated conversation about exotic food and wine. And when Neal planted the tiny seed of suggestion that they actually break out some wine to test with the food, she did.
He desperately wanted to film this.
She pulled out a bottle of Bordeaux and Neal had to touch his face to make sure he wasn’t broadcasting his glee.
“Should you paint while drinking?” she asked, but still poured him a glass.
“Why, is your husband going to charge me with PWI?” he asked, making her chortle.
“Only if you paint a forgery of a masterpiece,” she said. “And then sell it. I think that’s how it works.”
“Did any of the masters work in a medium with rollers?” he asked, with patently fake sincerity.
She nodded. “I think that’s how what’s his face did the Sistine Chapel.”
Neal might have fallen in love with her then, just a little. He felt bad that he’d swiped her wedding ring and her entire jewelry box. She gave strange painters expensive food, her own wine, and let them make stupid jokes in her kitchen. She was a nice lady.
“I was thinking,” he said. “For your bathroom, what do you think about a miniature Sistine Chapel ceiling. Just the important part.” He tapped his fingers together.
“Peter said nothing floral and no decals,” she replied. “He didn’t say anything about no Sistine Chapel.” She paused. “I don’t know if I want a bunch of medieval naked dudes first thing in the morning, though.” She grinned at him.
“What about an accent wall between the living room and the kitchen?” Neal asked, coming back to serious. “It’s not in the plans but I think it’d open the room a whole lot.”
“Hrm,” Elizabeth said. “What color?”
Peter would have had a coronary if he’d known Neal was now actively involved in the interior design of his home. And as much fun as actually doing a mini-Sistine Chapel in the bathroom would have been – lots – delicious lunch with the lovely Elizabeth was better. And she liked Neal’s ideas, too, the good ones not designed to mess with her husband.
“I’ll run it by Peter,” she said. “He probably won’t care, but I like to pretend I’m consulting him.”
“That’s the spirit,” Neal said.
“I’m going to give him a call,” she said, putting down the serving spoon. “Enjoy lunch.”
“Thanks,” he called after her. He wanted to eavesdrop on their conversation, and he didn’t even have to bother moving because Elizabeth made the call from the kitchen, wrinkling her nose at the paint fumes when she briefly crossed the threshold towards the living room.
“Hey, honey,” she said, lowly, standing in the corner. “How’s it going?” She paused and listened for Peter’s response. It was curt and probably unhappy, because she sighed. “Oh, I’m sorry. You know you’ll get him.”
Neal snickered internally. No, you won’t, he thought.
“I’m feeling better,” Elizabeth was saying. “I came home early because the caterers thought I had the plague. I gave the samples to the painters for lunch.” She paused. “It was weird; you wouldn’t like it. Anyway, what do you think about an accent wall in the living room?” Neal cleaned his plate and swallowed some more wine while listening to Elizabeth define accent wall to Peter.
The conversation was short. She told Peter she loved him, which was really quite sweet, then hung up.
“I don’t think he understands what an accent wall is,” she reported. “But I like it. Do it.”
“Awesome,” Neal said. He knew he shouldn’t ask about Peter, but he simply couldn’t resist. “How goes the crime-fighting?”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Not as exciting as you’d think.” She sat down opposite him. “Which is good,” she added. “I don’t like it when it’s too exciting.” A cute little concerned expression crossed her face. “My husband works in White Collar Crime, so he doesn’t have too many violent offenders, but I worry.”
“I bet,” Neal said.
“I wish he was home more, though.” She sipped her wine. “He chases people all over the world.”
Neal frowned, then hid it. “FBI has that kind of jurisdiction?”
She looked at him with big eyes. “He can get it.”
That made him shift in his seat and gulp down some more wine. She wasn’t completely right, he just didn’t like the confident way she said it. And arguing would be stupid.
“I do have lots of trinkets from foreign airports, though,” she said, trying to smile. “If his travel was predictable, I’d move in with my sister and we’d get the house all painted and renovated, and the wiring fixed now.”
“Criminals don’t call ahead?” Neal joked.
“One of them does,” Elizabeth laughed. “Sometimes I think my husband spends more time with him than with me. He’s a little brat.”
Neal nearly choked on his wine. “Brat?” he said, and hoped she didn’t notice how hotly that came out. “You don’t mean criminal mastermind?” he tried to lighten it.
Elizabeth giggled. She didn’t seem to have caught his overreaction. The wine was probably helping; she’d been drinking it fast and the tip of her nose was pinking.
“He’s a little brat who calls Peter all the time and teases him.” She drank some more. “He calls and goes “neener-neener” and Peter almost strokes out.”
Neal hid his smile in a napkin, dabbing his lips. “Like a super villain,” he said.
Elizabeth shrugged. “Brat,” she repeated. “Peter’s got indictments and the guy’s going to prison, where he can’t give my husband an aneurysm.” She raised her glass. “Cheers!”
Neal just stared at her “Indictments?” he echoed. “For what.”
“I don’t know,” she answered. “Like he doesn’t know what an accent wall is.” She was looking at him a little strangely.
“Cheers,” Neal covered, and clinked his glass to hers.
It was time to go. If he stayed, he was going to start asking really suspicious questions. He wanted to know what ‘indictments’ she was talking about. It sounded like he’d timed his trip to Europe unexpectedly well.
“Ah!” Neal gasped and grabbed his stomach. “Oh, God!”
Elizabeth put her glass down, leaned forward. “Are you okay?”
“Did that have cilantro in it?” he asked, pointed at the empty plate.
Neal rose, staggered out of his seat. “I’m allergic. I need to use the bathroom!” He hugged his midsection like it hurt.
“Upstairs on the left,” Elizabeth said, eyes wide. “But you knew it had cilantro in it.” She looked bewildered.
Neal ignored that, staggered up the stairs as fast as he could. Elizabeth didn’t follow, thankfully. He slammed the bathroom door, but didn’t enter. Instead, he raced back to the Burkes’ bedroom. Quickly, he returned Elizabeth’s jewelry box to its place on the dresser. He tugged her wedding rings out of his pocket and placed them on an empty spot inside it.
It was definitely time to go.
He waited about a minute, then ran back down the stairs. Elizabeth still stood by the banister, one foot on the first step as if about to come up.
“I have to go to the doctor,” he said, brushing by her. “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. Tell the crew I got sick.” He paused and couldn’t resist a stupid impulse. “It was lovely to meet you, Elizabeth.” Neal grabbed her hand, raised it to his lips and kissed her on the knuckles.
She looked at him, tipsy and utterly confused. And that was when Neal realized his crappy fake mustache had come off and stuck to her hand.
“Bye!” He unlocked the door and raced out, running down the street like Peter would magically be on his heels.
“I would have shot you,” Peter growled, when Neal called him two days later from Monte Carlo.
“Shot me?” Neal asked, offended. “For what?”
“For being in my house.”
“I painted your living room,” Neal said, innocently. “For free! Do you know how much your walls are worth now?”
The noise on the other end of the line sounded suspiciously like Peter was grinding his teeth. That couldn’t be healthy.
“I didn’t even steal anything,” Neal defended himself. “Do you know how hard that is for me?”
“You didn’t steal anything because there aren’t any Monets in my house,” Peter snapped.
Neal paused. “Do you want some?”
“I want you to stay out of my house and away from my wife,” Peter said, about as angry as Neal had ever heard him.
“I really liked her,” Neal told him. “She’s really nice.”
“I know that,” Peter answered. “She’s my wife!” He paused, heaved a breath. “This was stupid, even for you, Caffrey. Leave her out of this.” And this time it was actually a request, not a demand.
“I didn’t scare her,” Neal checked, “Did I?”
“No,” Peter said, like he didn’t want to admit it. “She felt dumb for not figuring out why the friendly painter had a gigantic crooked mustache.”
“Okay, then.” Neal felt vindicated. “See.”
“But she’s mad.”
“At me? Why?”
“No,” Peter said. “At me. I might have yelled at her a little.”
“It wasn’t her fault,” Neal said. “I was there before she even got home.”
“I know that.” Peter grunted. “But I had to yell at someone.”
“You should apologize, Peter.”
“Tell her I’m sorry, too.”
“You’re sorry?” Peter sounded incredulous. “About what, exactly?”
“Tell her I’m sorry for monopolizing her husband. I won’t be so demanding of your time anymore, Peter.”
“Is that right?”
“And this is out of the goodness of your heart or because you know I have indictments in the pipeline?”
“The heart,” Neal said. “Very much the heart. I’ll miss you, Peter.”
“Enjoy that,” Peter said. “Because it won’t last.”
Neal grinned, despite himself. “Goodbye, Peter.”
Peter sounded much less angry than when the conversation had started: “Goodbye, Neal.”
~please feed the author~