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Friday, November 26th, 2010 08:58 pm
Author: J. Rosemary Moss
Genre: White Collar; Friendship and/or Pre-slash
Pairing: Peter-Neal
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: Alas, I don't own White Collar or the characters
Summary: Peter begins the evening staking out Neal Caffrey--and ends it with a drunken suspect on his hands.

~oOo~

Peter Burke didn’t often smile on a stake out. Especially a pointless stake out like this one. Neal Caffrey was too damn clever a suspect to reveal anything. Still, Peter had to cover all his bases, even knowing the best he could hope for was a glimpse of some compatriot apart from the girlfriend.

So he frowned as he watched the entrance to Caffrey’s new place. The kid had rented himself a second floor apartment in a half-way decent section of Queens. Well, better staking him out here than in San Diego; at least Peter was closer to home.

He hadn’t bothered to hide the stake out from Caffrey--he had too much respect for his intelligence--so he wasn’t surprised when Caffrey gave him a playful salute as he walked out of his apartment toward the convenience store down the block. In fact, the salute even drew a small smile from him. Had to give the kid points for his audacity.

But he was surprised when Caffrey walked back with two small grocery bags and headed straight for Peter’s car instead of his apartment. He was even more surprised when Caffrey rapped on the passenger window. Peter rolled his eyes, but put the window down.

“Good to see you, Agent Burke,” Caffrey said with a friendly smile. “It’s getting cold--why don’t you come up? I’ll make dinner, then we can watch a movie.”

Peter grinned--his second smile on this ludicrous stake out. “You’re inviting an FBI agent into your apartment? I’m starting to admire your balls, Caffrey.”

“Not just any FBI agent,” Caffrey assured him. “My own personal stalker.”

Peter smiled yet again, but shook his head.

“Come on,” Caffrey coaxed. “There’s nothing illegal about accepting a suspect’s hospitality, is there?”

“No, but it’s foolish of you to make the offer.”

“Not at all. You can look around to your heart’s content, Peter. I’m innocent.”

“Peter? Are we on a first name basis now?”

Caffrey gave him a smile that even Peter had to admit was dazzling. “We might as well be. So what do you say?”

Peter couldn’t help answering with another smile of his own. “Ok, Neal. Let me just apprise the agency of the situation.”

~oOo~

Neal turned out to be a decent cook--no surprise there. He whipped up some Chinese dish that might have fit right into a Chinatown restaurant: the ones where no one speaks English and you scarcely know what you’re ordering . . . but G-d, is it good.

Peter ate heartily at the cramped kitchen table; he knew the kid wasn’t trying to poison him. To do him justice, Neal wasn’t the type to physically harm anyone. He was a classic white collar criminal, abhorring guns and violence.

So what was the kid up to? Ok, granted, it had been safe enough to invite Peter up here. Neal had just moved in--there was only a little furniture, a few basic supplies (including a wok) and a bunch of unpacked boxes that Peter had no excuse to rifle through. Still, why take a chance?

As Neal set another beer before him, he began to get an inkling. “You hoping to get me drunk, Caffrey?”

Neal nodded as he took his seat again, completely unabashed.

“Why?” Peter asked.

“To rip your clothes off, of course.”

Peter blinked.

“Kidding,” Neal said, his eyes alight with mischief.

“Good,” Peter answered. “Even if I was interested, I think screwing a suspect might cause me some headaches.”

Neal grinned. “I considered that angle, believe me. Something to hold over your head would be nice . . .”

“Except that you’re innocent, of course, so you don’t need to hold anything over my head.”

Neal raised his glass in a mock toast. “Precisely.”

Peter shook his head and opened the beer.

“Ok, so no ripping off clothes. Why are you trying to get me drunk?”

Neal looked disappointed--and a little offended. “You mean the thought of me seducing you didn’t distract you from your line of questioning?”

“No.”

He laughed. “Curiosity, Peter. I want to know what kind of drunk you are.”

“A very mellow one.” Neal cocked his head.

“Really?”

“Really,” Peter confirmed. “But you won’t find out tonight. I’ve got a much harder head than you do. I know you’re not much of a drinker--keep downing that wine and you’ll be on your ass before long.”

Neal gave him an enticing look. “And who knows what I’ll confess in that state.”

Peter leaned toward him. “Why don’t you come with me and make a real confession about those forgeries? You do that, and I’ll go to bat for you. I’ll get you the best deal I can.”

Neal shook his head. “I’m not a criminal, Peter. I’ll admit that I have done copies of famous paintings, but I’ve always sold them as such--not forgeries.”

“You’re into more than forging pictures and we both know it. If I catch you on something worse, Neal, you’re looking at a lot of years in super-max.”

Neal just shook his head as he took another sip of wine.

Peter considered him for a long moment. What the hell drove this kid to these acts? He wasn’t malicious--hell, Peter wondered if he even understood the harm he caused.

“Ok,” Peter said at last. “Why don’t you answer me a hypothetical question. What would make a brilliant and talented young man--a young man who could easily make a comfortable living legitimately--turn to cons, frauds, money laundering and forgeries instead?”

Neal leaned back in his chair. “That’s a vague question, Peter,” he chided. “You’ll have to give me more details about this hypothetical criminal.”

“Fine. Let’s say, hypothetically, that his childhood had a few difficulties--enough to excuse him for a high therapy bill, but not enough to justify his future career.”

Neal’s eyes went cold as he flashed him a mocking smile. “Would you say, hypothetically, that he lacked a good father figure? Are you applying for the part?”

“I’d like to take the kid in hand,” Peter said, meeting Neal's angry glare without a trace of shame. “In fact, if it were up to me, I’d put him over my knee and ground him rather than send him to prison.”

Neal stared at him for a moment, but then his smile became genuine. Hell, it was almost appreciative. “It’s a shame you can’t test that theory, Peter--you’d be a good father figure, I think. But the FBI might frown on an agent spanking his suspect.”

“More’s the pity,” Peter said. “But it doesn’t matter, Neal, because it’s not up to me. And as much as I’ll hate putting him there, he deserves prison.”

Neal’s eyes flashed, but he kept quiet.

“Anyway, our hypothetical young man was the kind of kid who always got into trouble in school,” Peter continued. “He was the class clown. Personally, I think he was just bored. You know how the real bright kids sometimes have problems because they’re just too far ahead of everyone else?”

Neal nodded as he finished his wine. “Including their teachers,” he said, pouring himself another glass. “That’s a recipe for disaster.”

“Still, he thrived on all the attention he got from his antics,” Peter continued. “I figure that’s part of his motive now--he’s showing off. He loves seeing how much he can get away with. He loves having the full attention of his own personal stalker from the FBI.”

“I can see how he’d be flattered by it,” Neal owned. “Sounds like you have him all figured out.”

But Peter shook his head. “No. I mean, I get the attention-seeking part. I even get that he’s a thrill-seeker who loves pushing the envelope. And then there’s the part of him that loves the high life . . . some of his alternate identities can do much better than Queens.”

Neal grinned and took another sip. “So what don’t you get?”

“I don’t get him wasting his talent on forgeries and fraud. Why doesn’t he want to make a legitimate mark on the art world? Why settle for fraudulent work that he can’t even take credit for?”

To Peter’s surprise, Neal laughed softly. Then he took a long draught of wine. “You’re making an enormous assumption about this hypothetical young man, Peter,” Neal said as he set down his glass again.. “You’re assuming he has the ability to make a legitimate mark in the art world.”

“Yeah, I am. I told you he has talent.”

Neal’s eyes glittered as he stared across the table at him. “I asked you up here for dinner and a movie--we haven’t gotten to the movie part. I only have two of my favorites here: Amadeus and Bull Durham.”

Peter knew that Neal hadn’t changed the subject--but he wasn’t following the kid. Nonetheless, he played along. “You’re the Amadeus type,” he said slowly. “I’m sure you listen to Mozart all the time. But Bull Durham is a baseball classic. As far as I know, you don’t have more than a polite interest in sports.”

Neal shrugged as he finished the glass and poured himself another. “One’s about music and one’s about baseball--but they’re the same movie.”

Peter thought about that. Now he could see where the kid was going with this. “Both movies are about the difference between talent and G-d-given genius.”

Neal nodded. “There’s lots of talent in the world, Peter. But G-d makes so damn few geniuses. The films are about having the talent, but not the genius--not that divine spark that makes your work soar. Not that divine spark that makes people want to copy your work just to get as close to that divine spark as they can.”

The kid paused and looked away. “You’re right. I’m going to be drunk off my ass soon.”

Peter reached out and put a hand on his arm. “I think you’re already there, Neal,” he said gently. “But thanks for the insight.”

Neal looked back at him. “Can you muster some sympathy for your hypothetical young man now?”

“Pity, not sympathy,” Peter corrected. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe he doesn’t have the kind of genius that would set the art world on fire. But he has real talent--and, more importantly, he has the ability to recognize and appreciate genius when he sees it. He should put that to better use.”

Neal smiled--a sad, drunken smile. So the kid wasn’t a happy drunk; that was interesting. The face he showed the world was invariably cheerful and carefree.

“Tell me something,” Neal said. “I’ve never been really drunk before. How close do you think I am to a crying jag?”

“Hard to say,” Peter answered with a shrug. “You might fall asleep first.”

“Hope not. I think everyone should be allowed to bawl their heart out when they’re drunk. But--but they shouldn’t have to be alone when it happens.”

Peter sighed at the wide blues eyes in front of him. If he had any sense, he would get up and leave now. The last thing he needed was a drunken suspect on a crying jag. But there was always the possibility--however remote--that he could convince Neal to confess once he sobered up. That could lead to a relatively light sentence. Peter had enough compassion to want that for the kid.

“Will I be alone?” Neal asked, blue eyes still pleading.

Peter sighed again, but then he patted Neal’s arm. “I’m not going anywhere.”

~oOo~

Peter was staying. Not only staying--he was willing to see Neal through a crying jag.

Neal stared at the agent, letting that fact seep into his brain, which, for some reason, didn’t
seem to be working at its usual lightening speed. That must have something to do with the excess of wine.

“Thank you,” he managed. Then he smiled, relieved that his words didn’t sound slurred. Or not too slurred, anyway. “So what now? When does the crying jag start?”

The agent grinned. “If it’s going to come at all, it’ll come on its own--don’t worry.”

“Oh, right.” But then Neal cocked his head. “How about you? I’ve been plying you with dark beer all night--but you look ok.”

Peter shrugged. “I’m hard-headed when it comes to alcohol.”

“And it doesn’t set you off on a crying jag, huh?”

He shook his head. “Like I said: I’m a mellow drunk.”

Which probably meant he was a happy guy--or at least a guy who was basically satisfied with his life.

Neal, on the other hand, was discovering that he wasn’t a mellow drunk; alcohol wasn’t making it seem like everything was right with the world. No, it seemed to be lighting up all the dark crevices in his life instead--the places he usually avoided. It had even prompted him to confess to Peter what he had never confessed to himself: that he had no art to offer except imitations.

Damn fine imitations, he reminded himself--but that fact didn’t console him. No wonder he’d always been so careful about the amount of wine he drank.

“Why are you determined to go on a crying jag?” Peter asked.

Neal realized that he was staring down at his wine glass. He forced himself to look up at the agent. “I’ve never been on one--I like to be open to new experiences.”

“Yeah? Why not wait till your girlfriend is back in town? Why not cry on her shoulder?”

Neal shook his head. “Can’t.”

Peter raised his eyebrows. “You can’t cry on your girlfriend’s shoulder? Why not?”

“Because I take care of her.”

“So? I take care of my wife--but she takes care of me too.”

“It’s different with Kate and me,” Neal said with a shrug. “I--I can’t lay this on her.”

“Why not? I know you Neal--convincing people to take care of you is one of your specialties. You’ve got that lost-puppy look down pat.”

Neal managed a smile. “It hasn’t worked on you.”

“I’m here, aren’t I?” Peter countered. “And I’m here knowing that I’m soon going to be stuck taking care of a drunken suspect on a crying jag.”

Neal’s smile deepened. “Ok, it’s working on you a little. But you want something in return.”

“And that’s a novel concept for you, is it?”

“Yeah,” Neal retorted. “Most people take care of me without any thought of repayment. But you--you’ll want . . .” Neal let his voice trail off, and the apartment grew quiet.

“What will I want?” Peter asked at length.

Neal stared at him. “You’ll want to shape me and mould me and make me into something I’m not. And it’s tempting, Peter--it is tempting. If you just wanted to reform me . . .But you’re looking for an official confession, and I never confess. I’m never going to throw myself upon the mercy of the system.”

He paused and gave Peter his best lost puppy look--and somehow the alcohol in his blood made that even easier than usual.

“But I’ll throw myself on your mercy,” Neal told him, his voice soft as he leaned toward the agent. “Reform me, Peter. Say the word, and I’ll let you put me on the straight and narrow. Just let my past go. I’ll give you my future in exchange.”

Peter snorted, clearly not believing him.

“I will. I’ll put myself in your hands.” It was a wild, impulsive gesture--even Neal knew that--but that didn’t make it any less true.

“I’m supposed to believe that--that if I stop investigating you, you’ll turn clean?”
Neal gave him a solemn look of promise as he nodded.

Peter shook his head. “You might believe yourself right now, Neal, but you know it doesn’t work that way.”

“Why not? How do you know it doesn’t work that way? How come we can’t make it work that way? Besides, if I renege on my promise to let you reform me, you can always reopen the investigation.”

The agent looked away. Neal thought he heard him swearing under his breath before he spoke up again. “I can’t let your past go, Neal. At this point, I don’t even have the power to stop the FBI from investigating you.”

“If you were off the case, no one else would be able to make the connections--there would never be enough evidence to stick.”

“No,” Peter said. There was a depressing finality in his voice. “You’re my case, Neal, and my responsibility. You’ve caused a lot of harm, and you’ll have to do some time.” He paused, looking Neal over. Neal kept still, determined not to squirm under the agent’s measuring gaze.

“But I can still get you a deal,” Peter continued. “If you’ll confess to the least of your forgeries, I’ll go to bat for you.”

Neal sighed. He should have known Peter was too hidebound by rules and regulations. “No, Peter,” he said, leaning back in his chair again. “But at least tell me you were tempted by my offer.”

There was another long moment of silence before Peter answered. “I was tempted,” he confessed.

Neal nodded and wondered if he should just start the crying now. He could cry on command--a talent he used judiciously, as it led to mixed results. Still, Peter seemed mellow enough to allow him to cry; he was still here, after all. And maybe he would interpret the tears as genuine remorse on Neal’s part and rethink his refusal. That was a long shot, but Neal had nothing to lose.

The tears started slowly, but Neal found he couldn’t control them the way he usually did. It wasn’t just a trickle of tears, indicating an embarrassed guy trying to hold back, which was the most effective way of garnering sympathy. No, he was getting what he wanted instead: a genuine crying jag, complete with a torrent of tears. He stood up, figuring he should turn away from Peter for form’s sake--that would still make him look like an embarrassed guy trying to hide it. But his body betrayed him; for some reason, he lost his sense of balance.

But that was ok, because Peter was somehow at his side, grabbing hold of his arm and steadying him. Neal managed to turn his body into the agent’s, leaning against the man so he didn’t have to balance himself at all.

~oOo~

Peter swore under his breath as Neal collapsed against him, sobbing. The kid was a spoiled brat who expected everyone else in the world to take care of him. And he was so damn charming that everyone else in the world complied . . . including, apparently, Peter himself.

"Easy, Neal," Peter said. "Here, put your hands up on my shoulders--I can't have them near my gun." Neal made no effort to obey, so Peter moved his hands for him. Not that the kid would have touched his gun anyway; he wasn't that kind of foolish.

Now that Neal's hands were better situated, Peter risked putting his arms loosely around him, even patting and rubbing his back. He would rather have slugged Neal on the arm and told him to cowboy up, but that wouldn’t work when the conman was three sheets to the wind. Peter would have to let him cry himself out and then bundle him into bed.

Peter sighed as he tried to comfort Neal, listening to his choking sobs and almost incoherent words. He was still babbling about letting Peter reform him--how typical. Neal wouldn’t even take responsibility for reforming himself.

Well, at least he had learned more about this conman. No wonder Neal came up with such creative schemes and no wonder it was so damn hard to pin anything on him. That child-like quality of his allowed him to think far outside the box. Neal wasn’t limited by the boundaries of what other people thought was possible. Peter smiled despite himself. Maybe there was something to be said for that child-like quality. Neal just needed to learn how to put it to better use.

Funny how the kid had found and latched onto a girl who was even more needy than he was. Well, maybe Neal realized he had to play the grown up sometimes.

Neal's sobs were subsiding now, so Peter led him to the bed. He got the kid's socks and shoes off and pulled the covers over him.

"Will you stay?" Neal asked, through half-closed and presumably tear-blurred eyes.

"No," Peter answered. "I need to go home. But if you want to talk sensibly about turning yourself in, I'll come back in the morning."

Neal sighed. "I want to talk," he said. That wasn't quite the promise Peter wanted, but it would have to do.

"Take a key," Neal continued, his words surprisingly coherenent now. "You can let yourself in--there's an extra over on that table."

Peter looked in the general direction that Neal was pointing. There was, indeed, a key there. He turned back to the conman in disbelief. "Neal, I'm not your friend or your buddy. I intend to put you behind bars--do you understand that?"

Neal shrugged as he pulled the blankets more tightly around himself. "Just take it."

"Ok," Peter said, returning his shrug. "I'll see you in the morning."

~oOo~

“He gave you a key?” El repeated from the bed, eyebrows raised. She couldn’t help but smile, however. She was almost as fascinated by Neal Caffrey’s antics as her husband was.

Peter nodded as he undressed. “Yup. Not only does he invite me up to dinner; he gives me a key to his place afterwards and tells me to let myself in come morning. The kid has balls--I’ve got to give him that.”

“But he was drunk,” El pointed out.

“Yeah--and on a crying jag,” Peter said as he climbed into the bed and pulled his wife into his arms. “ I think his plan was to get me drunk too, but that didn’t work out so well.”

“It’s that hard Irish head,” El said, rolling her eyes as she snuggled against him. “You don’t think there’s any chance he’ll confess and turn himself in, do you?”

Peter sighed. “No. Shame though. I’m starting to like the kid.”

Elizabeth looked up at him, flashing him a playful smile. “My competition--that’s how I think of him. Sometimes you seem to know more about him than you know about me.”

Her husband grinned. “That’s because he’s my job,” he said, leaning down to kiss her.

Her smile turned sultry as she wrapped her arms around his neck. “Well, let me see if I can make you forget about work.”

~oOo~

Peter wasn’t sure what to expect when he let himself into Neal’s apartment the next morning. He went in cautiously--not that he was really expecting a trap, but he didn’t want to be caught unawares.

He was pretty sure the kid would still be there; another agent had continued the stake out last night, and he hadn’t reported any movement. Still, Neal had been known to disappear before . . . but not today. Peter found him in his bedroom, still in bed, bundled in his blankets.

He stood there for a moment, staring down at him. At length the kid opened his eyes--slowly, as if there was pain involved. The hangover had set in.

“Hey,” Neal whispered, squinting at him. “I wasn’t sure you would come.”

“Why not? You gave me a key.”

The kid managed a grin. “I know. I just wasn’t--never mind.” He paused, looking Peter over. “Guess I’m not at my prettiest, huh? You don’t look like you want to tear my clothes off right now.”

Peter grinned as he took a seat on the edge of the bed. “I couldn’t even if I wanted to, remember? No screwing suspects.”

“Right, I remember now,” Neal said. “No screwing suspects; no spanking suspects.” He paused and shook his head regretfully. “Tough life.”

“Yeah, the Bureau never lets us have any fun,” Peter agreed as he resisted the urge to reach out and ruffle Neal’s hair. How did this kid get this kind of reaction from him? Why was Peter regretting the fact that he couldn’t just bring him home and look after him?

Must be that damned ‘lost-puppy’ look.

One thing was certain: Peter would have to fight this fondness he felt for Neal. He’d go to bat for him if he confessed--but apart from that, the kid was just a job.

Neal shut his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again they were glassy. “I don’t feel too good.”

“That’s because you’re about to hurl your guts out,” Peter said as he stood up and pulled Neal to his feet. “Come on. Let’s get you to the bathroom.”

~oOo~

Peter was still here. That fact rolled around Neal’s mind as he leaned over the toilet, hurling up everything he had eaten and, more importantly, drank last night. What a waste of good food and wine.

But Peter was still here. He even had a hand on Neal’s back, steadying him. Comforting him.

When nothing more would come up, Peter led Neal back to the bed and told him to sit down. Then the agent brought him a glass of water, held it to his mouth and ordered him to drink up. When Neal finished, Peter set the glass on a table, pushed Neal back down on the bed and pulled the covers back over him.

Neal must have drifted off, but when he opened his eyes again, he saw Peter sitting in a chair near the bed, reading the Daily News--the back section, where the sports were.

Neal smiled as he sat up. “Still here?”

Peter nodded without looking up from the paper. “I’m still hoping to bring you in for a confession.”

“No, Peter.”

“Why not?” the agent asked as he put down the paper. “You’re going to get caught, Neal. You’ll do much less time if you come with me now.”

Neal considered him. “I made you my offer,” he said slowly. “If you forgive and forget my past, I’ll let you teach me how to behave myself in the future.”

Peter snorted. “Your past isn’t mine to forgive. Think how many people lost money or even went bankrupt because of your money laundering and fraudulent stocks and bonds.”

“Alleged money laundering and alleged fraudulent stocks and bonds,” Neal corrected. “And if you’re worried about the people who suffered because of those alleged crimes, why are you willing to let me confess to just the least of them?”

Peter gave him a look, as if the answer was obvious. “Because a lighter sentence is the reward for turning yourself in.”

Neal kept his smile in place, even as he rolled his eyes. “So it comes back to rules and regulations and the way things are supposed to be, huh? And according to those rules, people who confess get lighter sentences.”

He paused and leaned forward, toward the agent. “How do I get you to ignore the rules, Peter?”

“You don’t,” Peter retorted as he leaned toward Neal. “I’m not a childish genius who thinks the rules don’t apply to him because he’s so damn special.”

Neal’s smile turned sour. “I’m not a genius, remember? I have talent--but no genius, except for imitation.”

“And that gives you an excuse for all the cons and frauds?”

“Alleged cons and alleged frauds.”

Peter managed a small smile at that. “So your answer is no?”

Neal shrugged. “I never confess to the authorities.”

“Then we’re done here,” Peter told him.

Neal watched as the agent stood up, grabbed his coat and took a business card out of it.

“I already know your number,” Neal informed him, before Peter could hand him the card. “Your home number, your cell number and your office number. All by heart.”

Peter stared at him for a moment. “Good. Think this over Neal--call me any time if you change your mind.” He paused and his eyes seemed to soften. “Be careful today, especially if you’re sick again. Keep drinking water so you don’t dehydrate.”

Neal flashed him a triumphant grin. “You can’t help but take care of me.”

“Yeah, well, you’ve got that lost-puppy look down pat,” Peter admitted. “But I’m still going to put your ass behind bars.”

“You’ve got to find some evidence first, Peter.”

“I will. So do yourself a favor and call me soon to tell me you’ve come to your senses.”

Neal sighed. “We both know that’s not going to happen. But thanks for coming up and looking after me--last night and this morning.”

Peter nodded. “Where do you want me to leave the key?”

“Keep it,” Neal said as he laid himself back down and snuggled under the covers. “I’ve got nothing to hide here--you can come up whenever you want. Can I call you next time I‘m not feeling well?”

“No,” Peter said. But he was smiling a little as he said it--and Neal bet he was still smiling, even as he walked out and shut the door behind him.


SIX YEARS LATER . . .


Neal woke up from a dozing sleep as he felt the weight on his bed change--Satchmo had just jumped off and somebody else had just sat down on the edge of it. He opened his eyes and found Peter staring down at him.

“Hey Sleeping Beauty,” the agent said. “How you feeling?”

“Ok,” he answered through a yawn. “Elizabeth makes good soup.”

“Yeah, she does,” Peter agreed, giving him a critical look. “You’re not looking too good, though.”

Neal lapsed into a coughing fit and then managed a smile. “Does it matter? You’re still not allowed to screw me, right?”

“It might raise some eyebrows at the office--and El might have something to say about it.”

“Hey Elizabeth!” Neal called out in the loudest voice he could muster through his bronchitis.

She must have been upstairs already, because she stuck her head into the guest room a moment later. “What’s wrong?”

“Would you share Peter with me?”

She winked at him. “I’ve been sharing him with you for years. Go for it.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “Thanks for the display of jealousy, El.”

“No problem,” she said sweetly as she left the room.

Peter turned back to Neal. “The Bureau would still have a problem with it, so I’m going to have to resist your charm--although you’re not quite so charming with that cough.”

Neal grinned. “You’re still all about the rules and regulations.”

“Right now I’m all about getting you better. Did you take your antibiotics?”

“Yes--and the cough medicine, I swear it.”

“Good. I need you back.” He paused to put a hand on Neal’s shoulder. “Turns out you have a genius for white collar criminal investigations--a real genius, not just talent.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“Fancy that. Guess I won’t have to go back to forging art.”

“Allegedly forging art,” Peter corrected.

Neal’s grin widened. “I’m a bad influence on you, partner.“

“Don’t call me that,” Peter ordered as he ruffled Neal’s hair. “Now get some rest.”

“You still can’t resist taking care of me,” Neal taunted.

“No, I can’t,” Peter owned as he stood up.

Neal cocked his head. “That’s it? You’re going to let me have the last word? You’re not going to brag about having thrown my ass in prison, just like you promised?”

“I’m not even going to threaten to haul it back in there--not today,” Peter said as he pulled an extra cover up over Neal.

Neal gave him a satisfied nod as he shut his eyes. “I’m definitely a bad influence on you,” he whispered.

He sensed Peter’s answering smile as he drifted off to sleep.

~The End~

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