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Fic: Five Times Peter Burke Didn't Arrest Neal Caffrey
wc_icons, neal, peter
doctor_fangeek
Title: Five Times Peter Burke Didn't Arrest Neal Caffrey
Rating: G
Spoilers: None
Characters/Pairings: Mainly just Peter & Neal
Summary: The title pretty much is the summary.  Features a bit of both Neal!Whumpage and Peter!Whumpage.
Word Count: ~5300

A/N: This is something I started writing a really long time ago, but then I got stuck, and then things got really crazy at work, and then after a while I started to worry that a number of plot elements/plot points had, in the meantime, become kind of fandom cliches.  Oh, and I'm quite confident that it will be thoroughly Jossed by the upcoming flashback episode.  Despite all of that, however, I really liked the structure and the progression of the piece - I had a couple of things that I was trying to develop with each successive encounter, and I still think that aspect works pretty well.  I also need to thank elrhiarhodan , whose Promptfest got me writing again.  And I kind of bent and twisted a brief moment in one of the season 2.5 promos to fit what I was doing - if you've seen it, I think you'll spot it pretty quickly.  So, without further ado...

 

The first time doesn’t even really count.  Peter’s only been on the Caffrey case for a couple of months.  They have a lead, which is why Peter is at this gallery today, but no actual evidence.  And Caffrey, apparently, knows it.

Peter is standing in front of a Van Gogh, a glass of what he’s decided is probably ridiculously overpriced wine in his hand when it happens.  “Agent Peter Burke,” says a voice from just over Peter’s left shoulder.  Peter manages not to start at the sudden – and unexpected – greeting, but it’s a near thing.  The tone is friendly, with a trace of amusement.  Peter turns and finds himself face to face with his quarry, and Peter can see the same amusement in the startlingly blue eyes.  He’s pored over all of the available surveillance photos, but this is the first time Peter’s seen Caffrey in person.  His first thought is that this kid is the thief (and forger, and con-artist) who’s got more than one law enforcement agency in an uproar?  His second thought is that the kid has nerve.

In response, though, Peter just looks him up and down once, quirks an eyebrow, and asks, “You want something, Caffrey?”  He’s rewarded by the briefest flash of surprise on the kid’s face, but it’s gone almost as soon as it appears, and then Caffrey is actually chuckling.

“Other than to meet my new stalker?” he says with a grin.  “No, not really.  What about you, Agent Burke, what do you want?”

“Other than you in handcuffs?” Peter replies.

“On the first date, Agent Burke?  I don’t know what you think, but I’m not that kind of guy.”

Peter shakes his head, amused in spite of himself.  What he’d really like is a confession – which obviously isn’t coming, or barring that some actual, admissible evidence, which he suspects isn’t much more likely.  “How about a tour of the gallery?” he says, on impulse.

Caffrey just looks at him, startled, and this time the surprise lingers.  To be honest, Peter’s not entirely sure himself where the idea came from, and it’s his turn to be surprised when Caffrey laughs and says, “Why not?”

Peter doesn’t really expect to learn anything that will help with their current case, and he doesn’t.  What he does learn is that Neal Caffrey has a genuine passion for the art he steals and forges.  “Allegedly steals and forges,” he hears Caffrey’s voice saying in his head as he files away the details of their conversation in case something in there might turn out to be useful one day.

 

The second time is a closer call.  It’s a forgery case this time, and they’ve tracked Caffrey to an apartment currently being leased by someone named George Danvary, who, if Peter’s reading things right, is really Caffrey himself.  Unfortunately he can’t prove it, and so any connection they can make between Caffrey and the money trail is tenuous at best.  They have evidence linking him to the probable buyer, but it's not enough.  And so Peter and his team are running surveillance, sitting in a non-descript van down the block from “Danvary’s” apartment.  So far tonight there hasn’t been much activity.  A petite brown-haired woman – Caffrey’s girlfriend Kate Moreau – has come and gone.  Peter suspects that she’s not an innocent in all of this, suspects too that he might be able to use her as leverage against Caffrey, but he’s got no evidence of her involvement so for now he just watches her leave. 

It’s about quarter past seven when Peter and his two junior agents are startled by a banging on the van door.  Carter and Perez look to him, uncertain.  Peter is as much at a loss as they are, but is careful not to let it show.  He stands up, steps to the door and waits.  After a moment, the banging comes again.  Peter’s hand drifts to his weapon – not drawing it yet – and he cracks the back door to look out into the street, where just outside the van he sees…a pizza delivery boy??

“Can I help you?” Peter asks in his Official FBI Agent Voice, shooting the young man a dark look. 

The poor kid pales.  “Agent Peter Burke?” he stutters out.

“I’m Agent Burke,” Peter replies a bit more gently, taking pity on the kid.

“I have a delivery for you,” the young man says, holding up a black insulated bag.

“I didn’t order any pizza,” Peter says, speaking slowly now, as if the kid is maybe confused, but he has a sinking feeling that’s not the case.  The feeling is confirmed when the young man, apparently encouraged by the fact that Peter hasn’t taken his head off yet, explains how a man called in to place the order, giving a description of the van and a message for an Agent Peter Burke.

“He give you quite a tip to deliver pizzas to a parked car?” Peter asks.

The delivery kid ducks his head sheepishly.

“Fine.  What’s the message?”

The young man hands the pizzas over, then pulls a piece of paper out of the pocket of his windbreaker and reads.  “Apologies for keeping you from your wife – and your dinner.  I wasn’t sure what Agents Carter and Perez like on their pizza, so I went with cheese.  Sausage, onion and extra cheese for you.  Enjoy.” 

“Caffrey!” Peter huffs, shaking his head.

“How did you know that?” the delivery kid asks, clearly taken by surprise.

“What?” Peter responds, barely paying attention.

“The guy who ordered the pizza.  His name was Caffrey.  Neal Caffrey.  How’d you know?”

“I’m with the FBI.  We know things,” Peter deadpans.  The delivery boy looks confused, but Peter is too busy trying to figure out what Neal is up to, to care.  He thanks the kid and sends him on his way, and takes the pizzas into the van.  Carter and Perez, who had stood up behind Peter, sit down again, shooting each other looks.  Peter clears a space for the pizza boxes, setting them down before taking a seat himself.  For a few minutes he just sits and stares at the innocent-looking boxes.  “As if anything connected with Neal Caffrey could be innocent,” he thinks.  Then again, it’s not as if Caffrey would try to hurt them.  As far as Peter can tell, he’s one of the least violent felons Peter has ever pursued, even since he’s been with the White Collar division.  Peter feels the smile tugging at his lips and finds that once again, as seems to be happening a lot since he started chasing Neal Caffrey, he’s torn between exasperation and amusement.  The kid – except he’s not, really, is he – is playing with them.  Peter stands back up, doing a little mental “shrug” as he decides that he might as well benefit from Caffrey’s sense of humor, then opens up one of the boxes and pulls out a slice of pizza.  Sausage and onion with extra cheese.  For the moment he decides not to pursue that line of thought – how Neal Caffrey knows what kind of pizza Peter likes – and instead just takes a bite.  It is, not surprisingly, excellent.

 

The third time, Peter finds himself in a hotel room in San Francisco, having missed Caffrey by less than twenty-four hours.  He’s talked to several hotel employees, and is conducting a careful search of Caffrey’s room – even if he is fairly certain he won’t find anything useful.  He’s about at the point where he is trying to decide whether to be encouraged that he’s gotten this close or angry that it’s not close enough when his cell phone rings.  Pulling it out, Peter looks at the display and sees a number he doesn’t recognize.

Going with a hunch he flips the phone open, barks “What do you want, Caffrey?” into it, and waits.

“And good morning to you too, Agent Burke,” comes the amused-sounding reply.

“I’m busy, Caffrey,” Peter says with a sigh.  “What do you want?

“I wanted to congratulate you.”

“Congratulate me,” Peter says, genuinely lost.

“Well yeah.  For almost catching me,” Caffrey says brightly.  “You’re way better than any of your predecessors.”

Peter’s earlier waffling between encouraged and angry shifts toward the angry end of the scale.

“Gloating doesn’t become you, Caffrey,” he says.

There’s a pause then, only silence coming from Peter’s phone for a long moment.

“Whatever you say,” Caffrey finally says, and there’s something strange in his tone, something Peter can’t quite figure out. 

“Caffrey?” Peter replies, wondering what’s going on in the other man’s brain right about now.  If he didn’t know better, he’d say Caffrey had almost sounded hurt just then.

“Okay, so I’m also calling to apologize,” Caffrey finally says, sounding upbeat again, almost as if the previous bit of conversation had never occurred.  Peter is beginning to feel as if this conversation needs subtitles. 

“Okay.  I’ll bite,” he says, playing along for now.  “Apologize for what?”

“C’mon, Peter.  Really?  Tomorrow?”

Peter shakes his head. Caffrey knows way too much.  Still, Peter finds that he is more exasperated than angry.  “That’s Agent Burke to you, Caffrey,” he says, but there’s no real heat to it.  “And tomorrow is none of your business.”

“Whatever you say, Agent Burke,” the other man replies, and Peter can hear his smile.  “Oh, and you should try the deli across the street for lunch – the soups are all homemade.”

It’s later that same day, and Peter is finally back in his own hotel room.  The only thing he’s found that clearly links Caffrey to the sale of the stolen painting is an origami crane, which tells Peter something but isn’t much use for the case.  Room service has just been delivered, and he’s working his way through a pot of coffee and poring over a stack of police reports.  He has to reluctantly admit that Caffrey was right about the soup.  His cell phone rings and he almost just lets it go to voicemail before taking a quick look at the display.  A smile breaks out on his face as he answers.

“El!” he says, brightly.  The call is welcome, though unexpected.  “I wasn’t expecting to hear from you today.”  She doesn’t usually call him when he’s on a case, especially if he’ll only be a day or two.  They talk, but it’s usually Peter making the calls when he has a free moment.

“Something strange happened at work a little while ago,” Elizabeth Burke says, sounding a little uncertain.  "And I thought you’d want to hear about it right away.”  Peter is immediately on alert.

“El?  Is everything okay?  Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” El says quickly, and it sounds like she really is.  Peter lets out a slow breath.

“So what is it you need me to hear about?” Peter asks, his trepidation clear.

There’s a pause, as if his wife is trying to decide how to break whatever the news is, and then she plunges ahead in one breath.

“Neal Caffrey sent me flowers.”

“What?” Peter says, practically yelling into the phone.  A fact which he realizes a moment later.  “Sorry, El,” he adds.  It’s not her fault that Caffrey is incorrigible.  And Peter has a fair idea what this is all about.  “Sorry.  I don’t mean to shout at you.”

“That’s all right, honey,” El says.  “So…what should I do with them?”

Peter is shaking his head, the increasingly familiar war between exasperation and amusement going on in his head.  “Are they nice?” he finally asks, almost in spite of himself.

“Honey?”  Elizabeth sounds confused.

“The flowers.  Are they nice?”

There’s another pause, possibly as El tries to decide if her husband is losing his mind, but when she answers Peter can hear a hint of amusement.  “They’re beautiful.  Either he has very good taste or a very good florist.”

“Probably both,” Peter replies.  “What does the card say?”

Another pause.  “El?”

Elizabeth sighs, then apparently starts reading: “To the lovely Mrs. Burke – Sorry for dragging your husband so far from home on the eve of your anniversary.  Please accept these flowers as a token of my sincerest apology.  Neal Caffrey.”

“Cheeky bastard,” Peter mutters to himself, though truth be told he has the feeling that Caffrey is sincere.

“Only Caffrey,” he says out loud.

“Peter?”

“It’s fine, El.  I don’t think he means any harm.  Honestly?  I think he really is trying to apologize to you.”

“Okay…,” El says, sounding a bit uncertain.  “But that still doesn’t tell me what I should do with them.”

“Keep them if you want.  Bring them home – they’ll brighten up the house.”

“They’re not evidence?  Or something?”

“Evidence that Neal Caffrey is a romantic?  Maybe.  Evidence in any of my open cases involving him?  Unlikely.”  Peter sighs, rubbing the bridge of his nose with one hand.  At least Caffrey didn’t send them to the house.  “All right.  Here’s the plan.  Keep the card and the flowers together for now.  I’ll send Jones over to take a look and follow up with the florist.  But as long as there’s nothing wrong with them, you can bring the flowers home.”

When Peter gets back to Brooklyn late the next night, he has to admit that yes, the flowers are quite lovely.  And he brings his wife chocolate, not flowers, and an IOU for an anniversary dinner at their favorite Italian restaurant.

 On to Part 2


 

 


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