Fandom: White Collar
Disclaimer: Not Mine.
Summary: “You mean sometimes not-so-innocent men get locked in prison for the wrong reason."
“Peter, I didn’t do this.” Neal sat tensely in the chair, arms held together like he was still handcuffed even though Peter had taken them off.
“I believe you.” Peter cast an eye suspiciously back at the two-sided mirror where the other FBI agents were. He’d asked for privacy out of professional courtesy, but he thought they were listening. They were doing him a bigger favor, though, so he couldn’t complain.
“You do?” Neal’s eyes widened in surprise. “Really?”
“Yeah.” Peter nodded.
“Somebody planted everything in my apartment,” Neal continued, a little desperately. “And tipped the FBI off.”
“I agree,” Peter said.
Some of the shock left Neal’s face, replaced by confusion. “I’m glad you’re on my side, Peter, but…”
“I don’t think you’d launder money for the Bartolo crime family, for one thing.”
“I wouldn’t,” Neal said. “Of course not.”
“And if you did, I don’t think you’d keep it in your apartment.” Neal tilted his head a little at that. “Because that’s an incredibly stupid thing to do.”
“It is,” Neal agreed. “And I didn’t. I swear I didn’t, Peter. Someone set me up. I don’t even know why!”
Peter glanced again at the mirror. He knew why.
“What are we going to do?” Neal asked, a little alarmed by the way Peter kept looking away. “You have to –”
“I’m not allowed to do anything, Neal,” Peter interrupted. He took a deep breath. “Hughes talked to me while they were processing you. After everything, I’m not allowed to participate in this investigation, at all.”
“You know what,” Peter said, because just because Neal was innocent this time didn’t undo everything else he’d pulled since becoming a CI. “You have two choices.”
Neal waited, face creased suspiciously.
“They can charge you with everything they want to based on the evidence-”
“- that was planted in my home!”
“- that was found in your house with a legal search warrant,” Peter overrode him. “Money laundering, conspiracy, everything they use to bury mobsters.”
“I’m not a mobster, Peter. That’s not even fair.”
Peter ignored him. “And you can take your chances at trial.” He stopped and looked at Neal, who was shaking his head. “And I am not allowed to help you.”
“And my second choice?”
“What?” Neal leaned forward.
“Parole violation,” Peter repeated. “This was offered to me as a professional courtesy, Neal. It gets written up as a failure to comply with conditions of parole.”
“And…” Neal said, suspicious.
“And you go before the parole commission to determine –”
“If I go back to prison! Peter, no!” Neal sank back in his chair. “How is that a professional courtesy?”
“Because you don’t get charged with several additional felonies,” Peter said. “Worst case scenario, they revoke your parole.”
“Yeah, that is the worst case scenario!”
“But you only go back for the time you owe, Neal. Not the lifetime organized crime conspiracy felony convictions get you.”
“And I get to testify on your behalf. And Diana will, too. Even Hughes. We can help you.”
Neal blinked, falling silent. “I think I need to talk to my lawyer,” he said quietly, after a moment.
Peter nodded. “I’ll get him. But this offer isn’t on the table forever, Neal.”
Neal picked the parole hearing. It was the right choice, even if he looked horribly betrayed. Mozzie showed up long enough to harangue Peter like this was his fault, then remembered he was in a federal building and vanished on them. Neal didn’t seem to blame him, and Mozzie wasn’t the best company for the actual hearing, anyway. Neal’s chances were better without him.
The hearing went…well, predictably.
Peter, Diana and Hughes all testified on Neal’s behalf. They had good things to say: Peter’s case closure rate, Neal’s genuine quantitative contributions to the unit. Peter didn’t volunteer the bad things: the escaping prison (more than once), trying to shoot Fowler, stealing Sara Ellis’ mail…but the commission knew to ask.
Organized Crime testified about the evidence found in Neal’s apartment. And that was indisputable. It was definitely there, and it was definitely piles and piles of blood money. The fact that Neal’s tracking data showed he never ventured out of his radius meant nothing when someone could have waltzed into it and handed him the cash. Neal denied everything and tried really hard not to remind them he was also a charming liar.
And that was why Peter had wanted Neal to avoid federal court.
Peter went home at the end of the day, tired and sore from the hard benches outside the commission room.
El was waiting for him in their kitchen, already heating up leftovers for his dinner. She peered behind him as he entered and shut the door.
Peter shook his head. “They revoked him,” he said. “Gave him partial credit for being a CI and time served, only 38 months left on his sentence.”
“Oh,” El said, softly. She put his plate in the microwave and pushed a few buttons. Then, she walked across the kitchen and took him into her arms. Peter dropped his head, resting his face in her hair. “I’m so sorry,” she said.
Neal was different in prison, this time. Instead of cute Hallmark cards, he sent Peter dissertations on his innocence. He had a lot of theories on who might have set him up and a lot of suggestions about how Peter could investigate, despite the fact that Neal’s revocation meant there was officially no case.
El visited him every other week, alternating with June. Peter kept intending to come with her, but various fugitives, embezzlers, and non-imprisoned con artists interfered with his plans.
“He is miserable,” El told him, one day after her visit. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so unhappy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone so unhappy, period.”
Peter frowned. “Is he –”
“He told me to assure you that he’s not more miserable than he’s supposed to be,” she sighed. “He’s in some kind of protective custody so the other inmates can’t hurt him.”
“Asked me to inquire about the status of his case,” Elizabeth continued.
“There is no case,” Peter said. “He knows that.”
“I told him you were working on it,” El countered. “Okay?” Peter frowned. “I didn’t want him to feel hopeless.”
He shrugged. “You know, El, I know Neal didn’t commit the crime that sent him back.”
“But he did commit a lot more that I was never able to prove, and he would have gotten a lot more time for those.”
“But he didn’t commit this one,” El said, ignoring his point. “And he wants you to visit him. Says he misses your ugly clothes and bad haircut.”
Elizabeth shrugged back at him. “Also, he said that you should visit him while you still have the chance, whatever that means.”
Peter went the following week. He knew exactly what Neal’s little comment had meant, and he had to go yell at Neal face-to-face for it.
It took him a second to remember that, though, when he walked into the visiting room. He’d forgotten what Neal looked like in inmate attire. All that orange, all that one-size-fit all, and none of Neal’s hair products.
“Peter!” Neal said, excitedly. “I was beginning to think you forgot I existed.”
“You aren’t going anywhere, Neal,” Peter retorted. “No way.”
Immediately, Neal pulled a blank face. “Huh?”
Peter had to resist the urge to wag his finger in Neal’s face, since that probably wouldn’t help. “I’m going to have the chance to visit you for another 30-some months, you know exactly what I mean.” He sat down opposite Neal on the metal bench. “Don’t even think about it.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Neal said, airily. “I wouldn’t dream of it. Every night. Definitely not every night.”
Now, Peter did wag his finger. “No.”
Neal put his elbows up on the table. “Why not?”
“What do you mean, why not? It’s only 36 months now, Neal! That’s nothing.”
“No,” Neal said, firmly. “It’s 36 months.”
“It’ll be more,” Peter threatened. “A lot more. For skipping out and for whatever you do the moment you’re out. You’ll be back for longer, maybe forever.”
“I don’t think so,” Neal said, smirking.
“I do,” Peter retorted. “I’ve done it twice, I’ll do it again.”
For a second, Neal didn’t answer. Then he twisted his face up. “I’m going out of my mind, Peter. I can’t take this much longer. 36 months, 36 days…”
“I really don’t think you do,” Neal said.
“And I don’t think you’ve thought this through. You’ll hate it even more when it’s a life sentence.”
“There are a lot of countries without extradition treaties, Peter.”
“You’d miss me.”
“I’d send you postcards.”
Peter sighed. “You being a fugitive would seriously interfere with my efforts to prove you had nothing to do with the Bartolo money.”
Neal paused. “You’re working on that?” he asked. “I thought it didn’t exist, officially.”
“It doesn’t,” Peter admitted, and Neal frowned. “So, I need your help?”
“I need you to help me with my official work, so I have more time for the unofficial.”
With that, Peter reached down and set his briefcase up on the table top. In that second, Neal’s face lit up.
“There’s a jackass forging bonds better than you did,” Peter said, opening the case and spreading his papers out.
“Don’t be mean, Peter. It doesn’t suit you.” Neal reached out eagerly for the paperwork.
“I’m not mean. You need some perspective.”
“I have lots of perspective, and this looks like a 5-year-old did it.”
Two months later, Peter found a CI – or a man he aggressively persuaded into becoming a CI – hired by someone anonymous to plant all that mob money in Neal’s apartment. The guy, not coincidentally, also had a great deal of information about the Bartolo family business. And one of the things he did before vanishing into witness protection was appear before the parole commission and exonerate Neal Caffrey. The parole commission, of course, promptly reinstated the previous arrangement.
Peter gave Neal back his hat after the man got to take off his inmate uniform and put back on one of his ridiculously expensive suits.
“June saved your apartment,” he said, casually. “I said she should put it on Craigslist.”
Neal grinned at him. “No, you didn’t.”
“She’s at home,” Peter said. “El’s in the car, and Mozzie’s at the nearest gas station. He wouldn’t come any closer.”
“Sometimes innocent men get locked in prison for no reason,” Neal said, earnestly.
Peter clapped his arm around Neal’s shoulder, guiding him out the door.
“You mean sometimes not-so-innocent men get locked in prison for the wrong reason,” he said.