Fandom: White Collar
Genre: Gen, post season 3 finale and spoilers for same.
Disclaimer: Not Mine.
Notes: Balk is a baseball term. (Also...sorry about the text size/type changing. I can't fix it in dw and I can't even edit it in LJ.)
Summary: He took the mystery picture out of his jacket and set it on the table top. “Look what I found in Peter’s house. Another Mrs. Suit?”
Neal put the Burkes’ house back together after it had been ransacked by crime scene techs. Elizabeth was still at the hospital getting checked out. She was fine, as fine as someone who had just been kidnapped out of her own home by a violent psychopath could be. Just thinking about it made Neal tense and almost nauseated. He’d never imagined that Keller would go to these lengths.
Peter knew Neal was there. Neal hadn’t explicitly said he’d go make El’s house look less like a crime scene before she got home, but he felt it was the least he could do. Peter hadn’t told him not to, also hadn’t punched him, or had him arrested, or any of the other potential responses.
Keller was gone, the treasure was gone. All that remained of the entire disaster were bruises on El’s arms, Mozzie’s pouting silent treatment, and the fact that Neal felt so guilty he wanted to puke.
So, Neal cleaned up the Burke’s house. He wiped fingerprint dust off the walls and mopped away the footprints of the dozens of people who’d been inside. He focused on getting the Burke home pristine and hoped the tidier it got, the better he’d feel. That wasn’t proving true, but he kept going.
Someone had knocked books off shelves in the study, scattering magazines and half-used legal pads on the floor. Keller hadn’t even been in that room, but about fifty other people had. Neal knelt down and started re-shelving. He almost wanted to alphabetize it, but figured that’d be weird rather than helpful.
As Neal picked up a handful of ancient Sports Illustrated magazines from the floor, a glossy placeholder slid out from among the pages. He picked it up to put it back, idly turning it over. It was an old 5 by 7 photograph and its image made Neal halt.
Peter Burke, maybe twenty years younger, stared out at him. Young Peter wasn’t the only one in the picture. Next to him sat a pretty blonde woman, and between them they cradled a tiny, newborn infant.
Neal stared at the photo, confused. That was definitely Peter, not some similar-looking cousin. And that woman definitely wasn’t El. But the photo certainly suggested that was their baby. Neal checked the back for an identifying note, found the numbers 8/93 scrawled in tiny pencil print in the bottom left hand corner. Nothing else.
He probably should have put the photo back inside its magazine, and resumed arranging the room. But it was too strange.
Instead, Neal used Peter’s scanner and made himself a copy. Then he tucked the original photo back inside. The magazine was well-loved, like Peter made it a point to review sports news from February 1992. Or, more likely, he kept coming back to look at this picture.
It was probably sad, Neal guessed immediately. As sad as a lost child or a deceased partner, or maybe both. The woman wasn’t in any of the photos on display in the Burke’s house. Nor was the baby, unless it’d grown into one of Peter’s nephews. The baby’s outfit was an unhelpful, gender neutral white.
Neal’s cell phone ringtone interrupted his thoughts. It was Peter, on his way home with El. Neal promised him everything was in order, although in truth the mystery photo had distracted him from his mission.
He quickly finished with the study and straightened up anything else out of order. Before he left, Neal called in a delivery order of Peter and El’s favorite Chinese food place, which would hopefully show up right around when they got home. It wasn’t much, but he charged it to his own credit card.
Peter took a few personal days to stay home with El. Neal had some random tasks in the office without him, but he used that time to investigate the picture. It was surprisingly easy. Peter had been married to El since before he’d been assigned to Neal’s case. Neal had done a little research on his pursuer back then, mostly to periodically taunt him. But he hadn’t looked further back, or he would have found a 1995 divorce decree from the New York State courts. It formally severed Peter Burke from a woman named Haley Anderson, on the grounds of abandonment.
The court papers didn’t, however, mention any child support or alimony obligations.
Abandonment didn’t really explain much. And the divorce papers looked a little sparse and incomplete. Neal had helped a friend of his get a quickie divorce from an abusive husband in New York once, and the paper work actually looked a lot like that, namely full of lies.
Haley Anderson proved to be an incredibly common name, and that was also the point where Jones showed up with a bunch of counterfeit checks and stood over Neal while he looked at them, effectively ending his research into the other matter.
Fortunately, Neal’s other source of information was waiting for him in his apartment when he got home.
Mozzie was sitting in the kitchen, helping himself to Neal’s wine when Neal opened the door.
Mozzie didn’t answer immediately, so Neal sighed. “You can’t break into my apartment if you’re still giving me the silent treatment.”
“June let me in,” Mozzie retorted, faster that he expected. “I didn’t break in.”
“We’re talking now?” Neal walked further inside his apartment.
Moz tilted his head up, like it was with the greatest reluctance. “How are the Suits?” he asked, ignoring the question.
“Okay,” Neal said. “They’re okay. El is okay. And they’re…not as mad as they should be.”
“We didn’t know he’d go after Mrs. Suit,” Mozzie snapped, defensively.
“We didn’t,” Neal said, taking a seat opposite Moz. “But he did.”
“Ruined everything,” Mozzie mumbled, and took a gulp of wine. “Mrs. Suit is okay?” he checked again.
Neal nodded. “Speaking of which.” He took the mystery picture out of his jacket and set it on the table top. “Look what I found in Peter’s house. Another Mrs. Suit?”
Mozzie’s eyes went wide and he grabbed the photo. “This is old,” he said, immediately. Then he paused. “Who’s the baby?”
“I don’t know.”
“Where’d you find this?”
“I was cleaning up their house so it looked less like a scene from a kidnapping, and it fell out of an old magazine,” Neal explained.
“You were snooping.”
“I was not.”
“Mrs. Suit gets kidnapped and you use the opportunity to snoop.”
“No,” Neal denied. “I was trying to do a nice thing. And then I found this picture. And then I snooped.”
“Peter got a divorce in 1995 from a lady named Haley Anderson.”
“Oh. There was another Mrs. Suit?”
“From 1989 to 1995 there was.”
“Was there a baby Suit?” Mozzie flicked the picture.
“In the photo, yes.” Neal shook his head. “In the suspiciously fake divorce papers, no.”
“They looked like something I’d make,” Neal said. “Except a judge signed off on them. And it didn’t mention a baby.”
“That’s weird.” Mozzie frowned. “Do you think the baby died? Did you look up death certificates?”
“I didn’t have time,” Neal said. “I got company at work. Also, Haley Anderson is a much more common name than you’d think.”
“Do you think Mrs. Suit knows?”
“Peter keeps the photo in an old Sports Illustrated. It looks like he reads that particular issue a lot, though.”
“Hmm.” Mozzie looked concerned. “Do you think we should tell her? Do you think she knows?”
“Peter is a terrible liar,” Neal said, automatically.
“What are the chances she’d ask him about this particular topic?” Neal shrugged. “Should we tell her?”
Neal looked at him. “The week after she was kidnapped because of something we did?”
“Yeah, we did,” Neal interrupted.
“I’ll look into it,” Mozzie declared. “Haley Anderson? What’s the baby’s name?”
“I don’t know.”
Mozzie looked at the picture again. “Suit daddy,” he mused out loud. “Hard to imagine.” Neal shrugged. “For some reason I’m picturing a little infant-sized anklet,” Mozzie continued.
“Oh, shut up,” Neal said, while Mozzie snorted into his wine.
Mozzie found out who Haley Anderson was pretty quickly. Within a week or so, he was back in Neal’s apartment
“Dead,” he said. “The former Mrs. Suit is dead. The late former Mrs. Suit.”
“Oh,” Neal said. “Okay.” He looked at Mozzie’s face. “What?”
“Her death was pretty interesting. She got on the wrong side of a Brazilian mob pyramid scheme. There were also drugs. A drug and pyramid scheme out of Rio.”
Neal blinked. “This woman was married to Peter?”
“Pre-FBI,” Mozzie confirmed. “Pre-suit, if you will.” He paused. “Nah, I bet he always had suit-tendencies. Anyway, she got caught in a DEA sting, flipped on the suppliers, and conveniently disappeared before she could testify.”
“Dead,” Neal said.
“Yeah, unless the Brazilians just took her out for some BBQ and forgot to bring her home.”
Neal frowned. “Peter’s never mentioned anything. What about the baby? Did they kill…”
“I couldn’t find anything on that,” Mozzie admitted. “Which is a little weird in itself. They never found her body. Peter divorced her a while after she disappeared.”
“Abandonment,” Neal said, echoing the word on the papers. “Wow.”
“So…” Mozzie trailed off. “What do you want to do?”
“I know this doesn’t sound like me,” Neal said, “but I think I want to pretend like I don’t know about any of this.”
“It’s really sad,” Mozzie offered. “I bet they killed the baby.”
“Yeah,” Neal said. “And I bet Peter really doesn’t want to talk about it.”
Neal was actually proud of himself for letting Peter’s bizarre tragic secret past go. Peter wasn’t obligated to share it. It might have explained the FBI agent’s intense commitment to the straight and narrow. He did occasionally wonder about the baby in the picture. Peter was good – awkward but good – with kids. It had been amusing before, but now it made Neal sad.
So, he deliberately forgot the picture and Mozzie’s story. It was a month or so later, and honestly Neal was mostly contemplating a recreational visit to the Met that Peter would not approve of at all. So, Peter, of course, was displaying his usual preternatural attention to Neal. And he delivered a dinner invitation Neal couldn’t turn down without explaining that he wanted to review illicitly obtained floor plans that night.
Dinner was good. El was friendly and light, and didn’t act weird around him. In exchange, he tried not to act weird around her. She didn’t know the exact details of Keller, or the treasure, or her kidnapping, but she probably knew enough to know he’d been involved on both ends.
At the close of the meal, the subject moved towards something Neal really didn’t want to discuss.
“Thanks for cleaning up the house last month,” El said. “We really appreciate it.”
“No problem.” Neal grinned. “I know how annoying it is to have finger print powder all over your possessions.”
“Somebody else’s possessions,” Peter corrected.
“Tomato, Larceny,” Peter interrupted. El just laughed.
“Anyway,” El said. “Thanks.”
Peter took a deep breath. His face was abruptly serious. “You cleaned in the study,” he said. “They must have knocked the shelves over?”
Immediately, Neal knew what he was getting at. He chose to play dumb. “Yeah, they did. I just straightened up.”
“We think you may have seen something you weren’t supposed to,” El said, bluntly. That was a little odd; damning statements were usually Peter’s job. Neal just stared at her, since technically making a dumbfounded face wasn’t lying. “A picture,” she continued.
“You put it back in the wrong place,” Peter interrupted. He didn’t sound angry, just serious.
Now, Neal defended himself. “It fell out,” he said. “I found it cleaning. I put it right back. I wasn’t trying to invade your privacy or anything.”
El sighed. She still didn’t look angry, and neither did Peter. Neal was genuinely confused.
“Neal, this is very important. Did you do something - anything- after you found the picture?” Peter asked. He sounded like he already knew.
“I tried to find out who the woman is,” Neal said, a little shocked by his own honesty. “And I did and then I dropped it.” He put his hands up in surrender. “I’m sorry. I was curious.” He waited a second while Peter and El made worried eye contact. “What’s going on?”
“That’s not too bad,” El said, softly to Peter. Peter nodded, and his face had relaxed a fraction.
And in that instance, Neal figured it out.
“She’s not dead, is she?” he asked.
“If I tell you, do you promise to drop it for good?” Peter asked. El murmured worriedly, and Peter shook his head. “It’s safer to tell him at this point,” he said.
“I already dropped it,” Neal reminded him. “I figured it wasn’t any of my business.”
“It’s not,” El said. “And it has to stay a secret. Can you keep a secret?”
“Haley’s in the Witness Protection Program,” Peter said, before Neal could answer. “She’s been in since 1994.”
“But it’s very important that everyone outside this room think she’s dead,” El said.
“The men she turned on still want to kill her,” Peter said. “And they still pay attention to me. And people around me.”
“Okay.” Neal scratched his neck, unsure of how to ask his next question. He settled for making it a statement. “I’m glad she and your baby are okay. I thought they were dead.”
“That’s the idea,” El said.
“I didn’t know you had a –”
“That’s also the idea,” Peter interrupted. He’d schooled his face not to look sad, but Neal saw the emotion anyway.
“Peter,” he said. “What happened?”
“We were young and poor,” Peter said, although Neal had half expected him to refuse to answer. “And Haley was very…naïve. She thought she’d hit upon easy money and the next thing you know she’s coordinating drug mules through JFK.”
“Why didn’t you go with her?” Neal asked. “I mean…” He looked apologetically at El.
“We were over by the time she was busted,” Peter answered. “And that didn’t exactly bring us back together.”
“The Witness Protection Program doesn’t do joint custody,” El added, grimly.
Neal nodded. “So you don’t know where they are now.”
“I write letters that the US Marshals deliver,” Peter said. “I’ve never heard back.”
That just about broke Neal’s heart. “How old is your-”
“He’ll be 17 soon.”
“I’m really sorry, Peter,” Neal said, genuinely. “I had no idea.”
Peter shrugged. “I have a decent understanding of how a 17-year-old boy might feel about an absentee father. He was too little to remember me and doesn’t know I exist. I don’t take it personally.” That was probably a lie. “I need you to promise that you won’t do anything,” Peter continued. “I know you think it might be cute or fun to find my son for me, but it wouldn’t. It’d be dangerous and wrong. I don’t want to know where he is.”
“And I will kill you,” El interrupted. “In case you’re wondering.”
“I’m glad you told me,” Neal said, finally. “I’m not going to do anything to endanger your son. I won’t pursue it. I promise.”
“Okay, then,” Peter said.
“Thanks, Neal,” El told him.
“Consider the topic dropped,” Peter added, and Neal nodded.
He was glad they hadn’t realized he’d told Mozzie, and that Mozzie hadn’t made any promises.
Mozzie and Neal didn’t endanger Peter’s son. They really didn’t. And while conning his information out of the US Marshals was hard, it wasn’t impossible. Unfortunately, Neal couldn’t participate. His face and his anklet were a little too well known within that agency. But Mozzie had his ways. Ways that could be put to use by any number of evil people, when Neal thought about it. But he wasn’t evil and they weren’t going to harm the boy or Peter’s ex-wife.
After everything that had happened, it’d be nice to be responsible for something good happening to the Burkes.
“He looks like the suit,” Mozzie reported. “Tall, law-abiding.”
“Good kid?” Neal asked.
Mozzie shrugged. “You said not to touch, I didn’t have my envoy get very close.”
“Right.” Neal was a little wistful.
He’d kind of wanted to give the kid a message. Something simple and ambiguous about his father loving him, and to skip the pointlessly destructive authority problem life stage that would probably appeal to him as it did all fatherless sons. But if the kid understood it, he might tell an adult who would only hear that someone had found Peter Burke’s son. The US Marshals would move him and Haley and then Neal would be responsible for traumatizing another set of Burkes.
“What was your story?” Neal asked, a little worried. Mozzie wasn’t evil but the people he hired often were, or were totally willing to pass on interesting or profitable information to others.
“Illegal NCAA baseball scout,” Mozzie answered. He rolled his eyes. “Don’t check on me. I am a professional.” He stared at Neal. “I cover my tracks.”
“Of course you do,” Neal said, not pointing out that sometimes Mozzie’s tracks were giant landmines in other people’s lives. “What’s the DVD?”
“Baseball game,” Mozzie answered. “Edited to remove all location-identifying details.”
Neal frowned. “Are you sure about that? If there’s something to find…”
“The Suit will find it,” Mozzie agreed. “Whether he wants to or not.”
“He found me,” Neal said. “He’d find his son.”
“It’s the Wildcats vs. the Wildcats,” his friend continued, “in a high school baseball field with no sponsors. There’s no audio. Grass is green and baseball fields have diamonds in all 50 states.”
“Peter still won’t even know his son’s name.”
“Yep.” Mozzie paused. “Still want to give it to him?”
“Yeah.” Neal nodded. “I do.”
“He’s going to be angry.” Mozzie twirled the DVD case in his hand. “You know that, right?”
“I’m hoping that will distract him long enough that I’ll get away, and afterwards he’ll forgive me.”
“The Suits are very forgiving,” Mozzie agreed, thoughtfully. He handed Neal the disc. “All the same, if you could neglect to mention my involvement, in case the Suit goes thermonuclear, that’d be cool.”
Neal took the DVD. “I think you’d want some credit.”
“I do. If the credit isn’t an ass-kicking and imprisonment.”
Neal would have liked to have been there when the Burkes watched the DVD. He would have liked to have seen their faces as they watched the tall, sandy-haired teenager play baseball. The camera lingered on him, in the outfield or on the bench, even as the game action continued elsewhere. He did look like Peter. A young, carefree Peter playing baseball. Neal wasn’t sure if he was any good, but he was definitely enthusiastic. The kid didn’t notice the camera, fortunately. He was just a happy kid in a baseball game.
But on the probability that Peter would lose his temper before Neal managed to explain any of that, Neal just slipped the disc into the Burke’s DVD player. They would find it when he wasn’t there. The kid resembled Peter way too much to leave any doubt about what the movie was. And if Peter showed up to kill him later, Neal decided he was still okay with it.
No one came to kill him – and it would have been El, if Neal remembered the threat correctly. In fact, he didn’t hear a single word about his gift. Peter didn’t mention it. Nor did El. They acted as if nothing had happened, and Neal knew that was the safest thing to do.
But the next time he was at their house and left alone for a few minutes, he couldn’t help but check Peter’s Sports Illustrated hiding place. The picture of the baby had company: the DVD in a plastic case labeled March Madness 2011 in Elizabeth’s careful script.
“Thanks, Neal,” Peter said, having entered the room silently.
Neal looked up, then stood and carefully put the magazine back in its place. “You’re welcome,” he said, tentatively.
Peter shrugged. “At least you used your insane compulsion to do the exact opposite of what I told you to do for something harmless.”
It was Neal’s turn to shrug.
“I figured you wouldn’t have told me what not do if you weren’t okay with me possibly doing it,” he offered. “Harmlessly.”
Now, Peter chuckled. “That’s what you hear when I talk? That explains a lot.”
Neal just grinned as Peter led him out of the room with a gentle squeeze on his shoulder.
~please feed the author~