January 2011

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Saturday, September 4th, 2010 06:19 pm
Author: J. Rosemary Moss
Genre: White Collar; Gen/Friendship 
Rating: PG 
Disclaimer: Alas, I don't own White Collar or the characters
Summary: Neal refuses to take his GED, regardless of the consequences.
Notes: Part of my 'My Old Man' verse

~oOo~


Peter beckoned to Neal and watched the ex-con glide into his office. He leaned forward on his desk as Neal folded himself into the chair opposite him with a casual and enviable grace.

Peter shook his head just a little and then went straight to business. “I made an appointment for you,” he began, sliding a folder across the desk. “The test is next month, but we can change the date if you want more time to brush up.”

Neal blinked at the folder, but didn’t lay a finger on it. “Test? Since when does the Bureau have me testing?”

“Since we found out that you didn’t complete high school.”

Neal seemed to save himself from gaping. His face took on a stern expression instead. “Peter, you had better not be talking about what I think you’re talking about.”

“It’s the GED, Neal. Or the first section of it, anyway. You have to take them all and get your high school equivalency.”

“Why?”

Peter shrugged. “Because as a convicted felon serving out his time with us, you’re still a Federal ward. If we’d known about this earlier, you’d have had to complete your GED's back when you were serving your first four years.”

“I’m not taking it.”

Peter stared at him. He hadn’t expected this flat refusal—hell, he didn’t even see what the big deal was. “Neal, what’s the problem? You did an excellent job educating yourself; you should be able to breeze through this test.”

“I know.”

“Then what’s the issue?”

“I don’t need to prove myself to you, the Bureau or the state.”

Peter raised his eyebrows. “Yeah, you do Caffrey. If you want to stay as a consultant.”

“You’d put me back in prison for this?”

Peter stared at him for a long moment. “No,” he admitted. “There’d be no point, since the prison would also make you take the GED.”

“So what do you plan to do?”

“I plan to drag your ass to the testing site next month.”

Neal shrugged. “Fine. Anything else?”

“Not at the moment, no.”

The kid nodded and then stood up and left the office. Peter sighed and allowed himself to slouch back in his chair. What the hell had that been about? Well, it would all be over next month.

~~~

Peter should have known better than to trust Neal’s docility on the way to the testing site. Neal went willingly enough—he just refused to take any section of the test once he was there. No amount of threatening, lecturing or browbeating from Peter made a difference.

That made for an angry, uncomfortable ride home. Peter drove Neal straight back to Brooklyn, rather than the kid’s apartment. He still had more lecturing to do.

He called El first. He was in the kitchen; Neal was banished to the living room couch for the time being.

“El,” Peter said as he paced the floor, “I have no idea what to do with him. I’m not going to send him back to prison over this.”

“Honey, you need to find out why he’s so dead set against taking the GED.”

“I’ve asked him! He keeps saying that he doesn’t have to prove his knowledge to anyone.”

There was a pause on the phone line. “Have you asked him as his boss—or as his friend and his father figure?”

Peter opened his mouth to answer, but then shut it again. There was no question that he and Neal were friends. There was no question that they enjoyed each other’s company. There was no question that they were comfortable hanging out together. Hell, there was no question that they’d put their lives on the line for each other.

But those facts didn’t make it any easier to deal with Neal when he dug in his heals like this. And as for Peter as a father figure . . .

Peter sighed. Neal had conned the neighborhood into thinking he was Peter’s son, the product of a teenage indiscretion on Peter’s part. Peter was ok with that. And he knew that to some extent, Neal wanted him as a father—but he wasn’t sure how far he could push that aspect of their relationship. He'd thought about offering . . . but that didn't matter right now. 

“Honey?”

“Sorry, El. I’ll—I’ll try to talk to him again. Wish me luck.”

There was a warm smile in her voice as she answered. “Good luck, Peter.”

~~~

Neal was sitting on the couch petting Satchmo when Peter walked back into the living room. Peter watched them for a moment, allowing a smile to tug at his lips before sitting down next to his partner.

Neal didn’t say anything to him. He just kept petting Satch.

“Hey,” Peter began. “Can we talk about this like civilized human beings?”

Neal shrugged. “You were the one doing all the shouting.”

“Yeah, I know. Neal, can you please tell me why you don’t want your high school equivalency?”

The kid took a deep breath. “Can you tell me why you took something I mentioned in passing to you and our team and made it the Bureau’s business?”

Peter sighed. “Neal, I know when you told us that you didn’t graduate high school, you probably didn’t want that to become official knowledge. But to make this arrangement work, I have to dot all my i’s and cross all my t’s. You know that. I can’t let a stupid thing like this come back to haunt us later.”

“So anything I tell you becomes official knowledge of the FBI?”

“You already knew that, Neal. I notice you’re careful about what crimes you confess to.”

The kid had the grace to blush at that. He even managed a small smile. “That’s true,” he owned.

“Is that why you wouldn’t take the test? Because you were angry about me making your lack of a high school degree official knowledge?”

He hesitated. He even stopped petting Satch for a moment. “That’s part of it.”

Peter reached down to pet Satch as well. “So what’s the other part?”

“Nothing I can put into words—not now.”

Peter frowned. “You’re not making this easy, Neal. If you’re determined not to take this test, you’ve got to give me a damn good reason.”

Neal just shook his head.

Peter sighed again. “Ok. Well, until you either take the test, or give me a compelling reason as to why you should be excused from taking it, you’re grounded.”

Neal shifted toward him, raising his eyebrows. “Did Elizabeth tell you to play the Dad card?”

Peter blushed. “Yeah.”

Neal smiled again. “Ok.”

“Ok what? You’ll give me a compelling reason?”

“No. Ok, I’ll accept being grounded. Are you driving me home or should I go up to the guest room?”

Peter rolled his eyes. “Go upstairs.”

~~~

Neal seemed perfectly content to be grounded—a fact which had Peter all but pulling out his hair. He knew Neal hated missing out on his life in Manhattan, but he was determined to prove to Peter just how much he didn't mind. Besides, a guy who had gone through four years of prison could survive in a comfortable guest room.

Every weekday, Neal would eat breakfast with Peter and El and then accompany Peter to work. At night he would come home with Peter, and Peter would send him straight to his room. Neal would go without complaint, and El would bring him dinner.

This went on for a week. But late Friday night, before he got ready for bed, Peter knocked on the guestroom door and then let himself in without waiting for a response.

Neal was lying in bed in those fancy pajamas he liked. He had a pencil in hand and a sketchbook balanced on his knees.

He glanced up. “Hey, Peter.”

“Hey,” Peter said, taking a seat on the edge of the bed.

“What’s up?”

Peter sighed and gave him a helpless shrug. “I’m not sure where to go from here.”

Neal gave him a look that was probably supposed to come across as playful—but the seriousness in his eyes ruined it. “Do you mind having me here?”

“No.”

“Then what’s the problem?”

“Neal, I need you to take that damned test. Or give me a reason to tell the Bureau and the Federal prison system to excuse you.”

Neal just rolled his eyes and went back to sketching.

“Please, Neal,” Peter said. This had gone on long enough—if begging was what it took, then Peter was willing to give it a shot. “At least give me a clue.”

Neal sighed as he put the pencil and sketch book down. Then he put his hands behind his head and stared up at the ceiling. “You and Elizabeth have each other. You have a Dad who worked construction. You have your high school diploma and your college degrees.”

Peter blinked. “Yeah,” he agreed, his voice uncertain. Where was the kid going with this?

“Everything you have is concrete,” Neal explained, still staring at the ceiling. “I don’t have anything like that, Peter. I don’t have a wedding ring on my finger to show that I’m your partner. I’m not your blood; I can con people into believing you’re my dad, but it doesn’t mean anything. I have the anklet, I guess, to prove I’m your property—but, well, you know how I feel about that. And it’ll be gone a few years from now anyway. Then what?”

“Then you’ll still be my friend, my partner, and—well, the closest thing I’ll ever have to a son.”

Neal rolled his eyes again. “There’s nothing concrete to say so, Peter. The things that matter most to me are things that aren’t real. The MBA’s and doctorates I’ve created for myself, the glamorous identities . . . I know they’re illusions, but--whatever.”

He paused as his face grew taut. “You’re asking me to take a test that proves to the world I never even graduated high school. That will be concrete proof that everything that matters to me about myself is just a lie.”

Peter leaned toward him. “Neal, look at me.”

Neal obeyed him. Grudgingly—but he did sit up so that he could look Peter in the eye.

“The education you’ve gotten for yourself is real,” Peter said, “and no one can take that away from you. The GED doesn’t cancel that education out—if anything, it just affirms it. And if you want something concrete between us, I can—well, we can . . .”

Neal gave him a look. “We can what? You’ll marry me too? Last time I checked, the state of New York doesn’t recognize polyamorous arrangements.”

It was Peter’s turn to roll his eyes. He was pretty sure he was blushing too. “Just as well,” he managed. "I’m not quite ready to jump your bones. And don’t think you’re going to seduce my wife.”

Neal ignored that. “Then what? What are you offering me that’s concrete?”

Peter stared at him, trying to find a way to get the words out. He’d been thinking about this for a while now—but thinking it was one thing; actually saying it was something else.

“I could adopt you. Adult adoption is legal in New York. I mean—look, that may be the last thing you want. You could end up my next of kin if I ended up with alzheimer's or something—“

He broke off. Neal’s face was blank; Peter had no way of reading it.

“You think I wouldn’t take care of you once you’re old and decrepit?” Neal said at last. “I would, Peter.”

Peter felt himself relax, except that he recognized the insult. “You know, you’re not that much younger than me.”

Neal grinned. “I know. But you’ll probably need caring for before me. And believe me, Elizabeth and
I will both take care of you. Or I’ll take care of you both, if it comes to that.”

“Ok,” Peter said. “And, anyway, we’ve got time to think this through. I may not be able to do this while you’re still in my custody. We may have to wait till you’ve served out your time. But I’m sure there are things we can do in the meanwhile. There must be, right? We can talk to lawyer who specializes in family law . . . ”

Neal was still grinning. “You’re babbling, Peter. This offer must scare the hell out of you.”

Peter managed a grin of his own. “It does,” he owned. “But—but it’s for real, Neal. It’s concrete.”

Neal looked away from him, but the kid couldn’t quite hide the smirk on his face. “You must really want me to take that damned test.”

Peter laughed. “Yeah. I do. But the offer stands regardless.”

Neal nodded. “Ok. I’ll—I’ll take it. The test I mean. Probably the offer too but—well, we’ll talk about that later. I’ll reschedule myself for the GED on Monday, ok?”

Peter didn’t bother disguising his relief. “Yeah.” He paused to clasp Neal’s shoulder. Then he got up and walked to the door.

“Peter?”

He turned back. “Yeah?”

Neal opened his mouth to speak, but then seemed to change his mind. “Nothing. Thanks.”

Peter smiled at him. “Good night, Neal.”
 
~The End~

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