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the island of conclusions

A line that is always running (White Collar fic)

the island of conclusions

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A line that is always running (White Collar fic)

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Neal-Peter
Title: “A line that is always running”
Rating: pg-13 (for language); gen.
Warnings/Spoilers: takes place after 1.06: “All-In.”
Word Count: ~5.5K

Summary: What happens in Staten Island stays in Staten Island.

a/n: for the prompt “build-up of job-related trauma” on my hc_bingo card.
a/n: Peter wears a Le Moyne t-shirt in “Bottlenecked” (Le Moyne is a Jesuit college in Syracuse, and TdeK’s alma mater)—so at least one thing in this is canon.
a/n: title from “Cousins” by Vampire Weekend.


A line that is always running

The whole Costa thing did a number on Peter.

Neal got it, he did. Losing an agent hurt, even if it wasn't anybody they knew personally. They all felt it. It was one thing to know they put their lives on the line every day, and another to see the evidence of what happened when things went wrong stuffed into a packing crate. And Peter took his responsibility to the people who worked for him pretty damn seriously at the best of times, so of course it was going to hit him hardest. And then there was the part where he'd been the one to find the body.

And Neal knew he wasn't one to talk. He’d felt spooked himself all week, after that last unsettling phone call from Mai Lin, found himself casing everything in the office, everyone who came in, with a level of suspicion he thought he’d put aside for good.

So, overall, the atmosphere was more--well, oppressive--than he could remember it being since he'd started working with the White Collar Unit.

It wasn't as if Peter reamed them out more often. More like the opposite, in fact. One thing Neal enjoyed about base-level Peter was the way that so many of his emotions leapt across the surface--his enthusiasm, his praise, his affection, came quick and free. And if he was quick to anger too, well, the first three things more than made up for it. Neal had spent so much of his own life learning to mimic, to manipulate and to never, ever reveal what he was really feeling that he found Peter's openness exotic—maybe a little endearing, too, if he came right down to it.

Though he was sure Peter could keep a secret if he wanted to, Neal reminded himself, thoughts returning gloomily to Mai Lin's warning.

A point the present conditions were driving home. Peter conducted himself with unrelenting, grim restraint. He didn't fly off the handle--he didn't even raise his voice. But he didn't get excited about anything either. A stranger might have simply thought him a taciturn man, but Neal heard the careful click of the door every time Peter tried little too hard not to slam it, saw the tiny rips in the paper where he'd dug the pen in too deep, could almost feel the seams in the his jacket strain when he jammed his arms too hard through the sleeves putting it on. As the week wore on, Neal started to wish that Peter would just give in and yell or hit something--he was seriously considering picking a fight himself, to clear the air.

Which was just to say he was pretty glad when Friday finally rolled around. With any luck, Neal thought, Peter would knock off early, go home and let Elizabeth screw his brains out or work some other kind of domestic magic. Come back Monday morning in better shape.

So he was somewhat surprised when Peter stuck his head into the conference room at about 4:30 and said, "Who’s up for a drink after work?"

Neal was sitting with Jones going over some files--Lauren had ducked out at three for a dentist's appointment. Or manufactured one to get out of the pressure cooker the office had been all week; he couldn't tell—she had a good poker face.

It was the most enthusiasm Peter had shown all week, and Neal felt a weird little jump of happiness to see it. "I’m in,” he said, before he had time to think. He pictured the kind of comfortable bar Peter usually favored. Maybe Elizabeth would join them. A few drinks, some good stories—just what the doctor ordered, maybe.

"Jones?"

"Love to, boss," Jones said, "but it's my grandma's birthday—promised I'd have dinner with the family. You know."

"Oh,” Peter sounded a little disappointed. “Okay, give her my regards. Neal, give me an hour to finish up, then we'll take off." And he was gone.

Neal turned to Jones. "Your grandmother's birthday? Please. What gives?"

"Hey, I love the man, I do," Jones held up his hands defensively, "I'd take a bullet for him, any day. But after a week like this, he likes to unwind at this place one of his cousins owns out in Staten Island. And by 'unwind' I mean tie one on but good."

"And the problem with that is?" Neal wasn’t quite getting it.

"Well, don't get me wrong, I’ve gone out with him a few times, and they're good people, his cousins,” Jones said, “But let's just say that that particular corner of Staten Island doesn't have the most congenial atmosphere for a single gentleman of the African-American persuasion. If you get my drift."

Neal did. "Oh,” he said, his fantasies of a pleasant evening dissolving.

He must have looked as dismayed as he felt, because Jones turned a stern eye on him. "Oh, no. No, no, no. Don't even think of begging off. Someone's got to make sure he gets back to Elizabeth in one piece. We can't make her go scrape him off some relative's couch tomorrow morning, can we?"

"No," Neal agreed ruefully, "No, I suppose we can't."

++++++

Peter’s small burst of enthusiasm had dissipated, and he was managing to look both subdued and on edge as they crawled towards the entrance to the Verrazano tollbooths, oddly shrunken inside his suit. Now that he’d been sitting close to him in the car for a while, Neal could feel the exhaustion rolling off Peter in waves; he wondered suddenly if Peter had slept at all that week. The thought tugged unexpectedly at him. He considered offering to drive, even though he knew that would be a non-starter.

He reminded himself sharply of Mai Lin’s intel—he couldn’t let some strange new concern for Peter’s well-being—or lack thereof—interfere with figuring out who at the FBI had Kate--whatever Peter might have said about them being partners now. Even if Peter hadn't just been joking around.

"Gonna be late tonight, babe, I'm sorry." Peter was saying. He'd finally been able to reach Elizabeth, and he had her on the speaker phone.

"Work?" She sounded resigned.

"Um, actually, I'm heading over to Johnny's place,” Peter said, a little sheepishly, “ I kinda owe the guys a visit—it’s been ages.”

"Oh,” Neal could hear Elizabeth kissing her Friday night plans good-bye. But she rallied quickly--or maybe she, too, thought it would do him good. “You’re right—it’s been too long—you know how they miss you.”

"Yeah, “ Peter said, accepting the permission gratefully. “Wanna come?" he added, "wanna meet me out there?"

"No, that's okay.” Elizabeth, to Neal’s alarm, struck exactly the same note Jones had, "I've got a bunch of things to do here. You have fun—say hi for me. Wait," her voice changed, "you're not alone, are you?"

"No, no—Neal’s here."

"Good," she sounded relieved. "Neal?"

"Hi Elizabeth," Neal said.

"Keep him out of trouble for me, okay?"

“No one's getting in any trouble, El,” Peter protested.

Elizabeth ignored him. “Neal?” she said again.

"Yes, ma’am," Neal said, as brightly as he could. Inwardly, he was sighing, though. The evening was looking less and less fun by the minute.

++++++

Given the way everyone had been reacting, Neal expected the worst when they finally parked on a nondescript commercial block in deepest, darkest Staten Island. But the building looked unthreatening enough—a battered brick façade with a band of Kelly green neon around the top spelling out O’Neill’s Bar and Grille, looped round with a few garish shamrocks. It was flanked by an Italian restaurant on one side, and a drycleaners on the other—nothing sinister at all.

Peter pushed open the door, Neal trailing behind. The place was dimly lit and cramped, exuding a residual smoky smell, despite the newly-mandated absence of smoke. The guy behind the bar put his head up as they walked in, and broke into a delighted grin.

“Hey,” he said, “Willya look at what the cat dragged in? What happened, Petey—that pretty wife of yours finally throw you out?” The guy looked like Peter—or rather what Peter might look like in ten years, if he’d hit the booze and cigarettes about ten times worse in his youth.

“Good to see you too, Johnny,” Peter said, equally pleased, and the two of them did a complicated hand-grasping, shoulder-punching thing across the bar.

That finished, Johnny set up two boiler makers without being asked, and shouted into a particularly dark corner of the room, “Look sharp, boys, the Feds are here.”

Peter threw back the shot, and Neal thought a fraction of his tension and fatigue had lifted by the time he set the glass back down. He grabbed his beer, and headed off into the direction of Johnny’s shout. Neal pasted on what he hoped was friendly smile, and followed in his wake.

Neal was pretty sure that none of the “boys” were ever going to see the better side of thirty again. There were about five or six of them crowded around a battered table already jammed with bottles.

“Nice of you to grace us with your presence, college-boy,” the oldest and biggest of them said as Neal and Peter approached.

“Shut up, Dom,” Peter answered amiably, “I’ve seen your framed diploma. And your phi beta kappa ring.”

“Not from the Jesuits, kid,” Dom said, “yours are special,“ and he stood up to greet Peter properly.

He looked like Peter too, only with the lantern jaw and protruding brow more pronounced, gray hair cropped close to his head. Neal had just about gotten used to Peter having a few inches on him, but Dom topped Peter by a few more, and was built out more broadly besides. He was in his mid-fifties at least, but not an inch of his substantial muscle had gone to fat. When he pulled Peter into a fierce hug, the younger man more or less disappeared. Neal glanced around the table, and noted that the rest of the guys were almost as big. He tried to wrap his head around the idea that Peter might be the pipsqueak of his family.

When Peter emerged from the embrace, he gestured towards Neal. “My new colleague, Neal Caffrey,” he said.

Dom gave Neal a once over. “Caffrey, huh?” he said, “where’re your people from?”

Where aren’t they from? Neal thought. “Florida,” he answered, picking a state more or less at random.

But that turned out not to be what Dom meant at all. “I knew some Caffreys over in Bay Ridge,” one of the other guys volunteered. “They were all from County Meath, I think. You related?” Neal shook his head—the question had never really occurred to him. “Caffrey” could be the Ellis Island version of “Kapowski” for all he knew.

Dom seemed satisfied, though. “Dominic Reardon,” he said, sticking out his hand, “pleased to meet you.”

“That’s Lt. Reardon to you,” Peter added, giving Neal a warning cuff on the shoulder, “NYPD.”

“Retired,” Dom laughed, catching the look on Neal’s face, “doing private security now.” Neal filed that one away for future reference.

Dom launched into a complicated round of introductions for the rest of the men around the table.
This was Peter’s mother’s family, as it turned out—the sons and sons-in-law of Mary Burke, ne Murray, and her five sisters, and so none of them Burkes at all, but rather a tangle of Reardons and Murrays, O’Neills and Loughlins. One of them—Ed—was Mary’s youngest brother—an uncle not a cousin, though he looked no older than Dom. A couple were still active on the force; one was a firefighter, another a captain in the Coast Guard. One, no less heavily muscled than the rest, was a CPA. Most wore wedding rings, though their wives were nowhere in evidence, apparently having decided, like Elizabeth, that the better part of valor meant suddenly remembering other things to do.

Neal was pretty sure that there wasn’t going to be a quiz on this later, but he slotted all the names and relationships into a neatly ordered mental family tree nevertheless, labeled it “the Murray boys.” It was the way his mind worked, organizing data for later benefit; he could rarely shut it off, even when he wanted to.

“You eaten?” Dom asked when he finished the introductions, “Betcha haven’t eaten. Ryan,” he called, without waiting for an answer, and one of a group of younger guys gathered around the old-fashioned jukebox in the corner detached himself from the rest.

“Yeah, Uncle Dom?” Ryan said. He had on black jeans and black t-shirt, sandy hair in a bristling crew-cut.

“Go next store and get Petey and Neal something to eat, willya?” Dom pressed a twenty into his hand.

“Petey? Seriously? That’s adorable,” Neal said, sotto voce, and Peter cuffed him again.

++++++

By the time Ryan came back with tin-foil-wrapped garlic bread and Styrofoam boxes full of surprisingly good spaghetti in clam sauce, Neal had caught the rhythm of the conversation. Okay, so he’d never actually encountered a social situation he hadn’t been able to catch the rhythm of sooner or later, and this one wasn’t particularly complicated—just a bunch of guys who’d known each other their whole lives shooting the shit on a Friday night.

No one asked what had brought Peter down there on that particular evening, nor did anyone try to catch up on what was happening in his life, aside from a few perfunctory questions about his mother and brother. They just installed him the conversation as if he had never left it, seemed to decide that “Petey’s new colleague” was a good enough explanation for Neal’s presence, and carried on as usual.

They were good talkers—smart and quick—like Peter in that too—and the stories and insults flowed fast and loud. Neal had to admit he wasn’t listening as carefully as he might have, though—he was too busy trying to get a read on Peter in this new situation, trying to see if the change of scene would lift him out of the morass he’d been in all week.

Not so much so far, he decided, though it was interesting to see Peter shed his habitual need to take charge of any situation, to go with the flow for once. Peter laughed, and held up his end of the conversation, but none of it seemed to make a dent in the tired slump of his shoulders, the grimness around his eyes.

So, once Neal got the hang of them, he tried to steer the stream of anecdotes away from work and sports and back to Peter’s past—nothing like embarrassing reminiscences to take you away from the present-day stress, he thought.

The boys were happy to oblige—glad to have a new audience for old stories, probably. And so Neal found out, to his delight, that not only was 6’2” Peter the runt of the litter, he was also the family geek, and had been something of a bleeding heart in his youth. Neal was quite pleased to hear about the year teenage Peter had spent as a vegetarian—telling all and sundry at family barbecues that meat was murder; and the touching tale of Peter’s first date, when he’s suavely taken the gum out of his mouth to kiss his girl—and ended up getting it stuck in her hair. But the story of the childhood cowlick that had gotten him the nickname Tweety-bird took the cake (“Get it? Petey—Tweety-bird? Petey—Tweety-bird?” the cousin everyone inexplicably called Dutch asked him repeatedly, until Neal couldn’t help laughing).

Peter went beet-red, and tried to defend himself against the most embarrassing parts, but Neal thought he looked marginally more relaxed. He’d gotten rid of his jacket and tie and rolled up his shirt sleeves, at least, uncurled the hunch in his back a bit.

Something was still off, though. Neal’s tolerance for domestic beer was pretty much exhausted after a few sips, so he gotten Johnny to pull down a dusty bottle of Bushmills, and was going slow through the generous measure the barkeep had poured—both Jones and Elizabeth had pretty much sent him in as designated driver, after all. Peter, on the other hand—well, Peter, Neal was distressed to see, was drinking in a determined and methodical way that was completely unlike him, outpacing the others almost two to one. Dom had noticed too, Neal realized, as their worried glances accidentally intersected over Peter’s head.

Neal frowned. Could whatever had been going on this week been worse than he’d thought?

He so was distracted by the question that he made a rare misstep. When the unspoken rules of the group seemed to demand that he contribute a story of his own, he chose one he thought of as among his most entertaining, only to remember too late that a major element of it hinged on the ineptitude of the NYPD.

Peter wasn’t too drunk yet to realize this almost before Neal did, and he started marking sharp little abort gestures with his head and hands. But Neal had already gone too far to go back. He tried to edit and smooth things over as he went, but that only had the effect of making the story less amusing, and as he drew towards the usually rip-roaringly hilarious conclusion, he saw, instead, the laughter go out of everyone’s eyes, and the faces around the table take the vengeful cast of those whose honor has been insulted on their home turf.

He finished lamely, and tried to salvage the situation with a guarantee-to-charm smile. It made no impression whatsoever. Neal felt a twinge of panic. He had no doubt that Peter’s cousins would erase any lingering questions he might have about the expertise of New York City law enforcement with a few well-chosen blows in the back alley, and he wondered if Peter would even bother to defend him, since he’d pretty much brought it on himself.

But it was Dom who came to his rescue.

“Well,” he said, with studied formality, “That was a funny story, Neal. But I’m sure every branch of the criminal justice system has its incompetents. Isn’t that right, Peter?”

“Yes it is, Dom,” Peter answered, looking daggers at Neal, words only the tiniest bit slurred, “yes it is.”

++++++

The stream of conversation faltered some after that, and after one more round of beers, Dom suddenly said, “Okay, boys, you ready?” and everyone, including the younger guys near the jukebox, shrugged into their jackets, nodded to Johnny and filed out.

Neal followed apprehensively. No one had mentioned a second act. Could this be the beginning of the trouble he was supposed to be keeping Peter out of? He doubted this crowd would do anything illegal, but he could think of plenty of perfectly legal trouble one could get up to in New York on a Friday night.

He tried to ask Peter as they made their way to the car, but Peter just smiled vaguely at him, patting his pocket s for the keys. Neal tried to get them from him when he found them—Peter was certainly well over the legal limit by now—but got his hands smacked away for his trouble.

Peter nudged the Taurus into the little caravan of cars pulling away from O’Neill’s, and they all drove with exceeding care—like some kind of midnight funeral procession—a few blocks through the nearly-deserted streets, before coming to a halt, not at the “gentleman’s club” Neal had half-expected, but at one of those semi-industrial street corners that showed up all over the city. A brightly lit all-night gas station held pride of place on one corner, and two more were occupied by body-shops/garages, grilles down, blue alarm lights blinking. On the fourth corner was a bare-bones city playground, girded round with a iron fence—half given over to swings and monkey-bars, half devoted to a basketball half-court with cracked asphalt and a torn net.

By the time Neal and Peter had gotten out of the car some of the younger cousins were already practicing their jump shots in the weird fluorescent spill-off of the gas station lights.

Neal hated basketball. It reminded him all too viscerally of the prison yard. But not playing didn’t seem to be an option on this occasion. And, as with so many things, the fact that he hated it didn’t mean he wasn’t good.

The night was muggy, and after a while, everyone had pealed down to undershirts or skin, revealing a panoply of tattoos that would have done the yard at the Supermax proud. The Murray boys played fast and rough, with the crazy competitiveness endemic to long-standing family rivalries. They seemed to have modified the rules somewhat so as to allow for more holding and outright tackling than was strictly regulation, and Neal would have been flattered that they treated him like one of their own, if the brutal body-checking hadn’t hurt quite so much.

He and Peter ended up on opposite teams. “You doing okay?” Neal asked as he vainly tried to dribble around Peter.

“Doing great,” Peter said. He tossed Neal a wolfish grin, checked him hard to the shoulder and expertly stole the ball.

That seemed true enough. Peter was down to his t-shirt now, the thin white cotton starting to cling damply to his back and sides. As always, Neal was a little startled by the lean, rangy lines of Peter’s body, the loose, easy strength of it, released for once from those wrinkled, ugly suits. Peter was throwing himself into the game with a vengeance, driving up the court as if he were bent on making the ball pay for all the sins ever committed against the FBI. Only the occasional off-balance pivot betrayed the amount of alcohol in his system.

Watching him, hoping that the sanctioned violence of the game was giving Peter the solace he’d come down here for, Neal let his own guard down again. So when Ryan passed to him from the left, and Dutch immediately barreled into him from the right, the combination sent him sprawling to the lumpy pavement, breath half knocked out of him.

“Oh, man, I’m sorry.” Dutch sounded genuinely contrite as he offered Neal a hand up, “You okay?”

Neal waved him off, but took the opportunity to retreat to the sidelines for a moment, and stood, hands on knees, breathing hard. Someone passed him the flask that had been making the rounds, and for once he was grateful for the harsh bite of cheap whiskey as it burned down his throat.

When he straightened up, Peter was gone.

++++++

Fighting the irrational fear that Peter had gone home, so smashed he’d forgotten he’d brought anyone with him, Neal scanned the playground and the surrounding streets. The car, he was relieved to see, was right where they’d left it. And after a minute, he located Peter as well. He was on the far side of the swing sets, sitting on the raised curb between the two parts of the park, elbows resting on his bent knees.

The pool of light from the gas-station faded almost to nothing there, but Peter’s face was illuminated by the glow of the cigarette he held pinched between thumb and forefinger.

“You don’t smoke,” Neal said, settling himself beside him.

“I don’t smoke,” Peter agreed, and took a long, deliberate drag.

They sat in companionable silence for a while, watching the still frenetic basketball game.

“He had two sets of twins, you know that?” Peter asked after a minute, as if continuing some conversation Neal hadn’t known they were having. “Funny how that happens in families sometimes—like lightning striking twice.” Neal wasn’t sure who he was talking about—some lost cousin, maybe. “They all came to the funeral, too, even though the older ones were only about six.” Oh. Costa. “Fucking shame,” Peter concluded, shaking his head with the slow solemnity of the truly intoxicated.

“Yeah. Yeah, it was,” Neal agreed.

“I lost an agent once,” Peter went on, following some personal path through memories of grief and guilt. “A woman. Don’t know why that makes it worse, but it does.” He took another drag off the cigarette, and Neal felt a cold finger of alarm in his stomach as he saw it trembling a little in Peter’s hand. “She was working a mob case, undercover—this was when I was based out in St. Louis. And…well, long story short, they made her. Garroted her with her own stockings; left her out for us to find. Beautiful girl. It was the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.”

Neal didn’t know what to what to say to that. He’d seem some ugly things himself, but swapping nasty ways to die didn’t seem the right way to handle the situation, somehow.

And besides, Peter didn’t seem to really want a response. He was lost in his memories now, head canted back, vaguely tracking some plane or satellite above the city glare. He took long, shaky breaths around his cigarette, his face wet with perspiration.

Or no, Neal corrected himself, startled: his face wet with tears.

Inexplicably, the realization made Neal almost panicky. In his experience, crying was never okay: it was hitting rock bottom--it was giving away too much.

For once in his life, Neal was at a loss. He had no idea if this was just Peter finally processing the impact of Costa’s death, or the prelude to a full-on work-related break-down—to Peter spiraling completely out of control. Somewhat to his surprise--he'd come to think of dealing with Peter as an important part of his skill set--Neal found himself deeply afraid that he wouldn't be able to deal with a Peter who was losing it.

“Hey,” he said cautiously, “hey, take it easy.” He put a careful hand on Peter’s knee, patted. Peter paid no attention, just swiped his hands ineffectually over his streaming eyes, sniffed mightily, swiped again.

They might have stayed like that for hours, if Dom hadn’t made his way over to them. He took stock of the situation wordlessly, then stiffly lowered himself to the curb Peter’s other side, giving off a waft of beery sweat as he sat. He’d stripped down to a wife-beater, and the corded muscles in his arms and shoulders showed clearly through flesh just starting to go slack with age.

Without hesitation, he wrapped one of those strong, weathered arms around Peter, drew him hard against his side. Peter went easily, dropping the cigarette and ducking his face into Dom’s neck, shoulders starting to shake, as if his cousin’s embrace had given him permission to really let go. Dom dug his fingers into Peter’s hair, knuckling his scalp in a kind of rough caress.

“Aw, Petey,” Dom said, with a kind of raspy gentleness, “You let it out, kid, you let it all out. That’s right. Never gets any easier, losing a man. Hurts the same, every fucking time.”

Neal realized belatedly that Dom—and probably everyone else at the bar—had known all along why Peter had come down to Staten Island that night, what he’d been looking for. He wondered why he’d ever thought otherwise.

“He always was a weepy drunk,” Dom said affectionately over Peter’s head, still doing that kneading thing to his hair, “should have seen him at my daughter Teresa’s wedding. ’Course, we were all bawling that night—it was fucking poignant, is what it was.”

Neal opened his mouth to say something, and then closed it again.

“What?” said Dom, amused, “you’ve never seen a man cry before? All that time you spent in prison.”

And, so, okay, they knew all about that too. Of course they did.

“Hey,” Dom said, “you got a tissue or something.” Neal dug Byron’s monogrammed linen handkerchief out of his pocket and passed it over.

“You good?” Dom asked Peter, who’d finally emerged, red-faced and snuffling, from under his arm, “You’re good.” He gave Peter a firm pat on the chest and pressed the handkerchief into his hand, “Blow.” Peter did, resoundingly. “Alright, son,” Dom said to Neal, not unkindly, “make yourself useful and go see if that service station has any coffee.”

++++++

When Neal got back from the gas station with three cups of thin, bitter coffee, the game had broken up, and Dom had Peter propped up against the Taurus. He’d stopped crying, but he looked exhausted, like holding himself upright was almost too much of an effort.

Dom basically poured one of the coffees down Peter’s throat, then said, “Keys, Petey.” Peter handed them over without a word and Dom tossed them to Neal.

Between them, they loaded Peter into the passenger seat.

“See you around, Caffrey,” Dom said.

“Dom,” Neal replied, and they shook hands as if they were sealing a bargain.

Neal pulled out into the Staten Island night, suddenly very grateful for the GPS on his phone.

Peter crashed immediately, head at an awkward angle against the door, giving out an occasional little gusty snore.

Neal watched him sleep. He felt somewhat winded himself, and not just from the midnight basketball. He hadn’t quite realized how much he’d started to rely on Peter’s stability—his energy, his optimism—until he’d thought he’d seen it slipping away.

Uh-uh, he heard Mozzie’s voice in his head, don’t go there, Caffrey. A suit is a suit is a suit-- don’t let your guard down. Like that hadn’t already been happening all night.

Neal knew a lot about Peter. He’d worked up a file on Burke when the FBI man had first begun to pursue him, and had Mozzie update it when Neal had gotten out of prison. So he knew which scholarships had gotten Peter his Phi Beta Kappa ring from Le Moyne; he knew the address of Peter’s widowed mother out in the Five Towns, and the name of the destroyer his naval officer brother served on in the South China Sea. He knew every miserable Midwestern field office Peter had done time in before making it back to New York. But he also knew, had always known, that these were just names and numbers, had nothing to do with the textures and resonances of a life.

And when you got right down to it, Neal was a texture and resonance kind of guy. It was his genius, and it was also what got him in trouble, every time.

++++++

Somewhere on the other side of the bridge, half-way across Brooklyn, Peter jerked awake. He blinked a few times, swallowed, and jabbed at the button to get the window down fast.

“You need me to stop?” Neal asked, hating to think what the Bureau would say about puke in the car.

Peter shook his head, did some kind of controlled breathing exercise, head turned towards the damp night air.

After a minute, he leaned back, danger apparently averted.

“Thanks for driving,” he muttered, staring straight ahead.

“Don’t mention it,” Neal said.

“I hope I didn’t—That you weren’t--“ Peter obviously felt more explanation was in order, but wasn’t sure what to say, “I mean, the boys—“

“Hey,” Neal said quickly, “don’t worry—it’s all good. And you know what they say: what happens in Staten Island, stays in Staten Island.”

“Fuck you, Caffrey,” Peter said, but he sounded relieved.

Neal darted another look at him. Peter was a mess: eyes red, hair spiky with dried sweat, clothes twisted and scuffed. Neal could understand why Jones and Elizabeth had dodged the trip. And yet, right now, he felt a little more envious of Peter’s life, with its safe, well-worn spaces for love, for blows—for tears—than he usually did. His own life, by comparison, seemed a wilderness, in which no place was safe, every response vulnerable to surprise attack.

Except, maybe, here in this car. Neal could hardly let himself think it, but maybe, here, with Peter, he was safe. Wasn't that what partners did for each other?

++++++

Peter got himself out of the Taurus and up to the door of his house under his own power, stepping a little gingerly, like a man who feels a vicious hangover coming on.

As he put the keys in the lock, he turned. “It’s late,” he said, “You want the bed in the spare room for the night?”

Neal was tempted. It was late, and it was really long way back to Riverside Drive. But then a light flicked on in one of the second floor windows, and he changed his mind.

“Nah,” he said, “I’ll see you Monday. Get some rest, Tweety-bird.”

Peter’s laughter followed him down the street.

fin

  • (no subject) - ex_calamity172
    • lol, I should really add up the number of words I've written in other fandoms trying to avoid summergen *headdesk* But now that I've posted this, I have no more excuses. Tomorrow: summergen or bust.

      Thanks for reading--cousins are really a universal constant, aren't they?
  • This was a pretty good fic! Poor Peter. I'm so glad that his family and Neal were there for him. And I couldn't help but LOL at the Kapowski reference.

    I loved this!
    • Thanks for reading--I'm glad you enjoyed it! I think Peter'll be okay--he just needs to get stuff out of his system every once and a while ;)
  • I liked this! I was a bit cautious. When Staten Island is mentioned in most things, it tends to be either embarrassing or insulting. This, however, was cute.

    All in all it was very good. Bravo.
    • Oh, phew! I was so, so, worried about the Staten Island setting--for just the reasons you say--I didn't want it to be insulting or OTT. Cute is much better!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
      • Yeah, all of the MTV shows give us a bit of a bad image(why can't they leave us alone?). We're not all that bad (hey, I'm not orange!). I can be very sensitive about the way Staten Island is portrayed. You did wonderfully :) I didn't cringe once!
        • That means a lot to me--thank you! I grew up in Boston, and I live in the south now, so I understand a little of what it's like to feel like your place is being misrepresented. Thanks so much for the feedback!
  • Very good back story for Peter and partnership story for Neal and Peter.
  • Excellent OCs, too! Really glad you're writing White Collar genfic!
    • Really glad you're reading White Collar genfic! And I'm thrilled you liked the OCs--they were fun, but felt kind of risky...(well, out of my comfort zone, anyway). Thanks so much for reading!
  • Ooh, I really, really liked the way you wrote Peter's cousins - after Jones's and Elizabeth's begging off, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but ... they weren't mean or dumb or bad people, just *helpless shrug* coming across as genuine?

    Loved how Peter's slump affects everyone around him, but especially Neal, to the point where he loses his cool a little. Last scene left me smiling and convinced all was well again.
    • Thanks so much for the nice feedback! I know the set up was little weird--I wanted a situation where Neal would be a little unsure of himself--but I'm glad the cousins worked okay--I also wanted Peter to have a place where it was okay to break down a little. And I got interested in how Peter freaking out might make Neal freak out a bit too!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • Very nice story! I admit I was a little nervous about Peter's cousins after both Jones and Elizabeth didn't want to go, but I'm glad I read the story anyway.
    • Thanks for giving it a chance! I know the set-up is a little weird, and I worried a lot about it--but I wanted to put Neal in a situation he wasn't sure of....Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • Hello, I'm new to the fandom and mostly a lurker, but I wanted to say how much I enjoyed this story. It's really excellent, well-paced. controlled and complete in itself - one doesn't have to have watched the show to feel the emotions and understand the relationships. Thanks.
    • Thank you so much for the lovely feedback--your comment put a big smile on my face--all the things you mention are things I was really hoping to achieve! I'm really glad you enjoyed the fic!

      Edited at 2010-07-25 08:14 pm (UTC)
  • Oh wow, I love this so much. All the details of Peter's cousins and the way Neal views everything, analyzing and categorizing and finally understanding. Gorgeous!
    • Thank you--I'm thrilled you enjoyed it! I'm so glad the Neal POV worked--it started off as a fic about Peter, but in the end, it may have been more about Neal--

  • I like how you had Peter turn to his cousins when he was hurting. They knew exactly what to do, and exactly what Peter needed. It was interesting to see Neal's reactions, as an outsider, to this unknown side of Peter's personality. His sense of confusion, and of not knowing what to do with this 'other' Peter. But doing his best to look after him anyway.

    Very nice. Thank you!
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it! That's exactly the dynamic I was trying to portray; Peter having places in his life where it was okay to break down a little; Neal being a little unsure, but wanting to do the best for Peter regardless.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • I loved it! Amazing imagery!
    Both Neal and Peter are so in-character. Brilliant!
  • This is brilliant! I don't read much White Collar genfic, but I'm glad I made an exception for this.

    I love some of the insights into Neal's character, like this:

    Neal was pretty sure that there wasn’t going to be a quiz on this later, but he slotted all the names and relationships into a neatly ordered mental family tree nevertheless, labeled it “the Murray boys.” It was the way his mind worked, organizing data for later benefit; he could rarely shut it off, even when he wanted to.

    And this is very powerful too:

    And yet, right now, he felt a little more envious of Peter’s life, with its safe, well-worn spaces for love, for blows—for tears—than he usually did. His own life, by comparison, seemed a wilderness, in which no place was safe, every response vulnerable to surprise attack.
    • Thanks for making an exception--I'm so glad you enjoyed the fic!

      I'm really happy you liked the parts you pulled out. When I started writing it, I thought it would be mainly a story about Peter, but by the end, I thought it might have ended up being more about Neal.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • Great fic - so lovely, and Neal's reactions, trying to figure Peter out, and also why all this means so much to Neal himself, are great
    • I'm so glad you enjoyed it! When I started writing it, I thought it would be mainly a story about Peter, but by the end, I thought it might have ended up being more about Neal--so I'm glad Neal's reactions worked for you!

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
  • That was a very touching story. Well done. :)
  • This was really nicely done! Lots of nice moments here, like Neal considering dealing with Peter one of his major skills, and Neal recognizing that Peter has spaces in his life to be vulnerable that Neal himself doesn't have.
    • Neal recognizing that Peter has spaces in his life to be vulnerable that Neal himself doesn't have.
      Thanks! I'm so glad this in particular came through--I'm really interested in where Peter's (relative) emotional openess might come from---

      Thanks for reading--I'm glad you enjoyed the fic!
  • I love this. Great insights into both of them, especially Neal at the end. *smishes him*
    • thank you--I'm so glad you enjoyed it! I started off thinking it would be a story about Peter, but it almost ended up being more about Neal in the end--

      thanks for reading!
  • In many ways this is my favorite White Collar fic. I come back to it and read it often. It's a sound piece of literature as well as an outstanding piece of fan fiction!
    • oh, wow, what a lovely thing to say! I'm so glad you've been enjoying the fic. I have kind of a soft spot for it myself--I feel like it gets at some of the things I love about these characters--

      thanks for reading!
  • Guess what! I discovered White Collar! Looking around everywhere for fics, and I jumped on this one when I saw your name on it.

    Really loved it... loved the writing, the relationship, the banter. It just feels right. Will have to check if you've got any more WC stories lying around. :)
    • Hey you! I was thinking of you this week, and hoping everything had gone okay!

      I'm so glad discovered White Collar, and that you enjoyed this--I have a real soft spot for it, for some reason--it feels like the fic where I was best able to express what I like about White Collar and these characters.

      (I have a couple more h/c fic, if you look at the masterpost, and a couple of pieces of porn. I've finally finished the White Collar/Sherlock fic I've been working on forever, and plan to post it this weekend sometime (it's gen).)
      • Things went well, but I'm very glad to have it over with. :)

        I will look for your other stories - yay! And if you know of any rec sites, I'd love to know about them. My searches haven't been very successful.

        • yay! I'm glad it went well and you can put it behind you!

          I don't know of any good WC rec coms...

          Here's a nice blog that has a recs page (which I haven't really gone through, but it looks good): http://whitecollarfixation.blogspot.com/p/fwhite-collar-fan-fic-recs.html

          here's my tag on delicious: http://www.delicious.com/ariadnesstring/whitecollar?page=1

          There's some gen fic listed there--but the fandom is very porn-centric.

          dotfic has written some really nice episode codas too--

          Maybe you'll write something *looks hopeful*
          • It's funny - that first site is run by someone I knew from my very first fandom. She'd set me up with a page on her blog - I'd never known what happened to her. Thank you SO much for the recs. Too bad there's not much gen out there. I think SPN was unusual that way, which makes sense.

            I love new fandoms to read, but very few have grabbed hold enough to write. So, you're mostly writing Sherlock and WC these days? Have you written H50?
            • Oh, that's funny! fandom is such a small place!

              I've been writing a little bit of WC--it's not the easiest thing for me--but no Sherlock really since the summer (except for the bat story). I've written a bunch of H50, though (I think you've even read some of it), and some other random stuff--I've been kind of a gadfly...

              I don't think I could write SPN S6 to save my life, tho' -- I enjoy the episodes, but it doesn't really speak to me...
  • This is so beautifully written that even a gal from South Texas 'gets' the Murray boys and what they do for Peter, how they save him from himself and his job. I commented on another story that the intricacies of Neal and Peter's friendship is what I find most fascinating about the show and fic like yours. Their relationship is multi-layered and they seem to discover new depths to their friendship depending on the circumstances surrounding them. Truly a gem!
    • Thank you so much for the lovely feedback--I'm really glad you enjoyed the fic! This started off as a fic about certain things I found fascinating about Peter, but quickly turned into something about Neal too, and about their relationship, which I agree is the most interesting thing about the show.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
  • Excellent story of Peter dealing with the death, I love his cousins :) I also love Neal helping him, even when he's uncomfortable and unsure what to do.
    • Oh, I'm glad you liked this one--for whatever reason it's my favorite WC story I've written. Maybe it was making up all the cousins (though the backstory I give Peter here has been jossed now).

      And it turned out to be a story almost as much about Neal.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!
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