Fandom: White Collar
Characters/Pairings: Neal/Peter, Mozzie
Word Count: 3,225
Beta Credit: elrhiarhodan
Summary: A year has passed. Neal is gone. Then Peter reads the cork.
Author’s Notes – Written for kanarek13 for the 2nd day of my 12 Days of Christmas Meme. She requested “First Time – Peter/Neal”. The Muse decided that I needed to have a REALLY loose interpretation of the prompt and pairing….(Shakes Head)
“One identification badge… sixteen credit cards, various names… a .38-caliber bullet for evidence… one white pocket square… one key… one tracking anklet…”
Neal’s body – pale and lifeless on stainless steel.
Mozzie – convinced it all had to be the ultimate con, until reality sank in and he disappeared.
He thought Elizabeth came to get him at the hospital, but he wasn’t sure.
June visited the next day with Neal’s estate planning documents. Paperwork appointing Peter as Executor. Neal’s last Will and Testament putting all his finances into a Trust for ‘Baby Burke’, the amount just enough not to send up any flags. Details on where to send the body for cremation, the urn he’d selected, and the simple ceremony requested. Everything wrapped up in a nice, neat bow.
Peter made the calls, gathered the attendees and didn’t even flinch when the group was an even split between agents and criminals. Alex and Sara were there. So were Hughes, Jones and Diana.
When it was all over, when Neal’s ashes were scattered into the Atlantic to ride the gulf stream towards Europe, Peter sent Elizabeth home and found a nondescript bar in Alphabet City. He put a Benjamin on the liquor stained wood, asked for a bottle of Jameson 18 Year Old Limited Reserve and proceeded to get thoroughly shit faced.
Jones found him there several hours later and managed to pour him into a taxi and take him home to Brooklyn. Peter spent the rest of the night alternately sobbing and puking.
In the morning he woke, put on his suit, got in his car, and stepped off the elevator onto the 21st floor.
He didn’t tell anyone about the flashes of Neal just beyond his vision, the subtle reminders throughout the city, the dreams where he gotten to Neal in plenty of time to save him.
He went to work, went home, and learned to enjoy the ‘what is’ instead of wishing for the ‘what was’.
A week turned into a month, to six, to a year. ‘Baby Burke’ became little Neal, they learned how to be parents and things settled into a predictable pattern.
All that changed with the cork.
JFK International Airport was packed, as usual, when the cab dropped Peter off at the Air France terminal. He threw money at the cabbie and hurried to check in, skirting around a German tour group, several families with small children and what looked like a honeymoon couple making out in the middle of the ticket line.
Peter handed over his passport and badge and ran though the last several hours in his mind.
The conversation he’d had with Elizabeth was not one of his more stellar accomplishments. Coming home from Neal’s storage container, he’d rehearsed every angle of presentation, only to blurt out, “El, Neal’s alive and I’m going to Paris to find him,” the minute he walked through the door.
To her credit, she didn’t look at him like he was crazy. Calmly folding the baby clothes, she’d replied, “Why do you think Neal’s in Paris?”
“Because he left a message on the cork from the bottle of wine we had last night and that led to a key to a storage container on the docks. When I got there, I found evidence that he staged his death and somehow wound up in Paris….” Peter had trailed off, his brain catching up with his mouth. “Wait, you didn’t say he was dead. You asked me why I thought he was in Paris.”
“That’s right.” She’d continued folding the baby’s t-shirts. “I did.”
“Why?” Peter thought about it. “You know Neal’s alive, don’t you. How?” He quickly put the pieces together. “Mozzie.”
“He called this afternoon and told me that he wouldn’t be able to visit for a while because he was heading to Paris to visit an old friend.” She’d looked at Peter, her expression a mix of resignation and happiness. “For all his words, Mozzie is very transparent, at least to me.”
She’d stood up and headed to the kitchen. Peter had followed her. She’d handed him his passport and a small suitcase. “If you hurry, you can make the same flight he’s on.”
“Hon…” Peter had begun, but she had cut him off with a gesture.
“No, don’t.” Her eyes had filled with tears. “I was completely prepared to ask you not to go, Peter, but your face when you came through the door - I couldn’t do that to you. To us. I loved – love -,” she’d corrected herself, “I love him, too. Just – just come home when it’s over, okay?”
Peter had grabbed her in a hug and whispered, “I will, I promise.”
Elizabeth had laughed shakily. “You better.” There was a honk outside. “Your cab’s here. Go, before I change my mind.”
He had given her a fierce kiss. “I’ll call you when I land,” before rushing out the door and heading to the airport.
A few calls to the office and he’d claimed a family emergency and let Jones know it was nothing serious but he’d be out of the office for a bit and to call his cell phone, then booked a ticket on Air France, seated next to T. Winters.
“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, Air France, flight number 007, Non-stop to Paris, Charles de Gaulle Airport, now boarding Business Class passengers at Gate 10.”
The announcement broke into his thoughts. Peter headed over to the check in, handed over his boarding pass and walked down the jetway to the plane. The flight attendant directed him to his seat. Sitting down, Peter belted himself in and closed his eyes. A moment later, he heard a voice.
“Mozzie,” he replied, not moving.
“I see you understood the message.” Peter felt Mozzie brush past him and take his seat.
“I did.” There was a pause.
They didn’t speak until the plane taxied from the gate and onto the runway. Peter opened his eyes and looked at the man next to him. “You didn’t know, did you?”
“No…no I didn’t.” Mozzie’s expression was closed, but Peter could tell he was hurting.
“I’m sorry,” Peter said softly. A surge of anger welled up. How dare Neal put Mozzie through the pain of the last year. And Elizabeth, Jones, Diana, Sara.... and me. Breathing through his emotion, he tried to control himself.
“It’s okay, Suit. I’m sure he had a good reason.” Peter felt a hand on his arm and looked at the man next to him. “We just need to find him and ask him why.”
“You’re awfully calm about this, Moz.”
“I’ve had a little longer to process this than you.” Mozzie accepted the glass of champagne that the flight attendant offered. Peter declined and asked for a beer instead. “Philistine,” Mozzie commented at his choice. Peter ignored his remark.
“Aren’t you angry? The fact that Neal has been alive all this time and hasn’t contacted you? That doesn’t upset you?” Frankly, Peter was shocked. He’d expected Mozzie to go off on a rant, but he was surprisingly calm.
“Of course I was. ‘When you learn that a truth is a lie, anger follows.’” Mozzie sipped the champagne.
“Nope. Grace Slick. But the Buddha said ‘Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.’” Mozzie shrugged his shoulders. “Like I’ve told you, Neal never does anything without a reason. It’s not worth it to be angry now when we don’t know what that reason is.”
“The Mozzie I know wouldn’t have felt that way.” Peter saw a sad smile flit across Mozzie’s face.
“It’s amazing what a year in mourning will do to you.” Mozzie’s statement was simple.
Peter had to agree. He was not the same person he was twelve months prior. “So, do you have a plan for when we land?” He could see the wheels turning as Mozzie considered their options.
“Neal knows we’re coming. He’s always said that some of the most fun he had was when you were chasing him.” Mozzie grinned and Peter could see a spark of the old con artist he knew and – in a weird sort of way – had grown to love and respect. “So – let’s go chase him.”
Parisian traffic was as crazy as Peter remembered. After almost losing his lunch and his life, the cab dropped them off at the Hotel Le Relais du Louvre. Check in was swift and Mozzie came to his room with a bug detector. Peter had to ask, “How’d you get that past airport security?”
“You are not allowed to learn all my secrets, Suit.” Mozzie ran the device around the room. “We’re clean.”
“No one knows we’re here, Mozzie.” Peter sighed, opening up a bottle of water and texting Elizabeth that they had checked in. He was happy that the old Moz was coming back but still….
“You’d be surprised,” Mozzie responded darkly. “Okay, so what do we know?”
“If I know Neal, he’s left us clues.” Peter opened his laptop and plugged in his phone. “I took pictures of the layout of the container.”
Moment’s later they appeared on the screen. “Here’s the one – the Louvre beefing up security.” He flipped the laptop around to show Mozzie. “Think it’s him?”
Mozzie studied the article. “Yes and no.”
“What’s that mean?” Peter took a sip from the bottle.
“I think he’s the security not the heist. See?” Mozzie pointed to a spot in the article. “The reason it says that the museum is upgrading their security is because of an attempt on Georges de La Tour’s ‘Cheat with the Ace of Diamonds’. That’s not a well-known piece. The thieves set off the alarms with smoke bombs after an attempt to hack into the system. Neal would never do that. He’d either use them or not. He wouldn’t change up the plan in the middle of the heist.”
“True. So why leave the paper for us?” Peter scanned the story. “There it is. You were right, Moz. Look.” He pointed to the name of the security company. “Regina Corda Security. ‘Regina Corda’…”
“Means ‘Queen of Hearts!’ Google the company.” Mozzie was vibrating.
Peter quickly looked up the web site. “Hmm… founded in 2006. Offices in Bangkok, London and Sydney. And would you look at that – they just opened a new office in Paris.” He read further and began to laugh. “You’ll love this, Moz. The new CEO is none other than Nathaniel C. Burke.” Looking at Mozzie, he smacked the table and grinned. “We found him.”
“Don’t get excited, Suit. You know – chicken counting and all. This could be a red herring.”
“Well let’s go and find out. What time is it?” Peter checked his watch. “Almost noon. Phone call?”
“No, I think we need to go visit.” Mozzie scribbled the address on the hotel stationary. “Ready for another cab ride?”
“Another chance to take my life in my hands? I wouldn’t miss it.”
Their visit to the Regina Corda offices was a bust. The perky receptionist told them that “Monsieur Burke” was out of the office and that she didn’t know when he would be back and would they like to leave a message. Peter found it a bit disconcerting to hear his name in reference to Neal. “No, we’ll just try back later.”
On the street, he looked at Mozzie. “What now?”
“We can try the Louvre. I snuck a look at the appointment calendar while you were talking to the receptionist and ‘Monsieur Burke’ was scheduled for a status meeting there at 11:30.”
The Louvre was unsuccessful as well. The status meeting had been canceled due to an unexpected issue with the ticketing system. By the time they got back to the hotel, the jet lag had caught up with him and Peter was dragging.
“What next, Moz?” he said, when they entered his room. “Both locations were a bust and we can’t just stalk them.”
“Let me see if I can find where Neal is staying.” He opened up Peter’s laptop and soon was wrapped up in searching for any information as to where Neal might be living.
Peter wandered to the window and opened it up. The afternoon light washed the buildings in sun and shadow. Peter sighed. He should be here with Elizabeth, not Mozzie. But it was Neal. It was always Neal. “Where are you?” he whispered.
“Peter, this is going to take a bit and your sighs are distracting.” Mozzie’s eyes never left the screen. “They have ESPN, I checked. Find a ball game, please.”
Peter chuckled. Mozzie was right. They were at a standstill for the moment and there was nothing he could do. Settling himself on the bed, he clicked on the TV and found a repeat of the Yankees-Red Sox game, and soon his light snores played counterpoint to Mozzie’s keystrokes.
It was dusk when Peter woke. The television was off and Mozzie was not in the room. He ran a hand over his face and noticed a note on the nightstand.
Peter got up, wincing at the tightness in his back and went to splash water on his face. He heard the doorknob rattle and opened the door to see Mozzie trying to pick the lock.
“You know, you could have knocked.” Peter took one of the bags from Mozzie.
“Where would be the fun in that?” Mozzie unpacked containers on to the table. “I got some grilled chicken and ratatouille, baguettes, desserts…oh and filet de boeuf sauce au poivre. That’s fancy steak.”
“I know what filet de boeuf is, Moz,” Peter took the container and tasted the contents, moaning in delight at the flavors. “This is delicious.” He put down the food and took a drink of the wine that Mozzie had poured for him. “Thanks, Moz.”
“Don’t mention it, Suit.”
They ate in silence, each enjoying the sunset and the food. Peter was finishing a raspberry clafoutis when Mozzie spoke. “Paris is beautiful. Perfect place tell someone you love them, I would imagine.”
“Yeah. One day I want to bring El here.” He smiled at the idea.
“I wasn’t talking about Elizabeth, Peter.”
What? Peter wasn’t sure he liked where Mozzie was going with this. It was too close to….
“I know about you and Neal.” Mozzie’s voice interrupted his thought. “I know it’s something more than friends.”
Peter froze, wine glass halfway up to his lips. “Moz, what are you talking about. Neal’s my – Neal was my CI, and my friend. That’s it.”
“I’m a con man, Peter. I know a person’s tells.” Mozzie began gathering up the remains of their meal. “And yours were never really that subtle. The way you stood next to each other, your hand on Neal’s back. The way he always made sure he knew where you were when you were in the same room. I’m surprised more people didn’t notice.”
Oh god. Peter put the glass down and walked to the window. Taking a deep breath he turned back to Mozzie. “Nothing happened between me and Neal, Moz.”
“I know. Neal told me.” He smiled at Peter. “So did Elizabeth.”
“Wait, you talked to Elizabeth about this?” Peter didn’t know whether to laugh or get angry.
“Before Neal – before everything happened, we were trying to figure out a way to get the two of you realize how you felt about each other.” Mozzie shrugged. “Then – then it didn’t matter anymore.”
Peter didn’t know what to say. Yes, there were feelings there but he’d never acted on them, even though he and Elizabeth had talked about it. There never seemed to be a right time. Then Neal was gone and it was a moot point anyway.
“Elizabeth texted me while I was out getting food.” Mozzie handed Peter his phone.
He read the words on the screen more than once, trying to let them sink in.
Elizabeth: Mozzie. I’ve thought about it and I realize that this is a chance for them to be happy, even for a little while. You know Peter will never act on his feelings so you need to push him. Tell him I love him, and that it’s okay. El
“She’s an amazing woman, Peter. She’s letting you have this. Don’t blow it.” Mozzie handed him a slip of paper. “Neal’s address. His landlady says he comes home about eight every night.” Mozzie looked at his watch. “That gives you about twenty minutes. There’s a car downstairs.”
“Moz…” Peter could barely speak. “What about you, Moz?”
The little man smiled. “Don’t worry. Neal and I will connect.” He shooed Peter towards the door. “Go, before you’re late. And Peter?”
“Don’t let him run this time.”
Peter didn’t remember the ride to Neal’s apartment. He didn’t remember climbing out of the car or tipping the driver. He must have, because the car zipped away as soon as the door closed.
Peter stood on the curb across the street, looking up at the building where Neal had been living for the past year. It reminded him of June’s and he chuckled. Of course Neal would have found something similar. Why he’d ever questioned the fact that Neal would always land on his feet was beyond him.
He looked at his watch – 7:55. Five minutes. Five minutes and he would see Neal again. All the anger, the sorrow, the grief disappeared. He didn’t care why Neal was alive, just that he was. The questions could come later.
His attention was drawn to a figure strolling down the sidewalk and he grinned. He recognized that walk – no that strut. Long limbed and graceful, Neal was dressed in a very familiar suit. One of Byron’s, Peter was sure. He’d have to talk to June about that.
Peter watched as Neal dug out his keys to open the front door before he called out. “You know, I meant it when I said if you ever ran, I'd catch you."
Neal’s head whipped up and he whirled around. “Peter?”
“You sound surprised.” Peter walked across the street and into Neal’s space. “You did send a clue.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t know if you’d get it. And if you did… whether you’d come find me.” Neal was fidgeting, looking uncertain for the first time.
“I’ll always come find you, Neal.”
“I need to explain…” Neal began rambling, but Peter cut him of with a gesture.
“Not right now. Now I need to do something I’ve wanted to do since I started chasing you.” He cupped Neal’s face and pressed his lips to Neal’s, gently exploring his mouth. Pushing in deeper, he coaxed Neal’s mouth to open, reveling in the first taste, the first kiss. Neal moaned and wrapped his arms around Peter.
An elderly couple passing by laughed and the man commented, “Ah…l’amor…”
Peter didn’t know how long they stood there kissing. He finally broke away gasping. “Upstairs, please.”
“Okay…okay…” Neal fumbled for the keys, almost dropping them twice.
“Here, let me.” Peter removed the keys from his hand. Pulling Neal into another hug, he whispered. “It’s okay, Neal. It’s all gonna be okay.”
The door closed slowly behind them as they made their way up the stairs.
Mozzie stood in the shadows, tears running down his face. He’d read Peter’s expression, the words on his lips and agreed.
It was going to be just fine.