Consultant is a Noun, not a Verb

Disclaimer: White Collar belongs to Jeff Eastin and USA network.

A/N: completely understandable that some of you thought I was harsh, but hopefully this chapter will clarify a few points, and has Elle's usual sensibility. No, I don't think Peter would do this, but I also didn't think Mozzie would get shot either, but hey, what do I know…As usual, enjoy and please review!

Chapter 2

3 weeks later…

Peter climbed the stairs and knocked on the door to Neal's apartment. He didn't wait long before the door slowly opened and Neal was standing in front of him. Peter noticed how pale Neal looked; he wasn't sure why he hadn't noticed it before…he had seen him almost every day.

"Are you ok? Have you lost weight?"

"I don't have an obsession with weighing myself, and I'm sure it would be on your list of bad verbs. Here's your files."

Neal thrust the files at Peter's chest and slammed the door in his face; this had become a usual occurrence and Peter was accustomed to it by now. Tonight though he really needed to talk to Neal; he knocked again.


Peter caught himself and groaned. He probably hated this as much as Neal did. It was not working out like he had hoped, but what else was he supposed to do with a spoiled rotten adult/ child who refused to listen to authority and was constantly getting himself and Peter in trouble? He thanked God for the thousandth time that he and Elle did not have kids. He had his hands full enough with Neal. He had fought so hard to keep him out of prison with Hughes chewing him up and down for trusting Neal.

"Caffrey…please open the door…I need to talk to you."

Peter was sure that Neal heard him, but he wasn't so sure that the door would actually open. He had to wait a full minute before the door creaked open.

"What can I help you with Agent Burke?"

Peter grimaced at the resignation that he heard in Neal's voice.

"I was going to invite you to dinner tomorrow night. I've been so busy, Elle has been out of town, and it's just been crazy. I wanted to keep my end of the deal and have you over. I told Elle and she wants to make steaks and apple pie. Shall I pick you up around 6 p.m.?"

"That's fine."

Peter turned to leave, but then changed his mind.

"Are you sure you're ok? Did you need me to get you anything?"

"As if you care."

Peter was trying to figure out what Neal's tone was. It wasn't hatred, but more resigned as if he had already accepted that Peter didn't care, and was merely pointing that fact out to Peter.

"Caffrey, if I didn't care I wouldn't have grounded you in an adult way. This is for your benefit."

Peter tried hard not to sound angry. He really didn't want to fight with Neal, and he was too tired to intellectually spar with him.

"How very adult of you."

"If you want to go back to prison, I can arrange that, but I don't want to. We just have to let things cool down some more, ok? I cannot have you in the office right now. You are a liability because we haven't found Kate's killer yet, and that means you will be unpredictable. You are in danger and I don't want you getting hurt."

"I'm sorry I let you down Agent Burke. I will see you tomorrow."

Peter couldn't decide which was worse; the look of absolute loathing or the look of utter defeat that was now gracing Neal's features. Peter felt absolutely horrible about the whole situation; perhaps he had been too harsh, but Hughes hadn't left much wiggle room. Neal closed the door, and Peter realized that for the first time it wasn't slammed in his face.


Peter and Neal arrived for dinner just as Elle was putting the steaks on the table.

"Just in time honey…Hi Neal…so good to see you!"

Fortunately, Elle set the plate down before she looked up, otherwise she would have dropped it.

"Peter! What did you do to him? He looks like you've worked him to death."

"I have not."

Elle realized that something was terribly wrong, but didn't think Neal would say anything with Peter standing there so she tried to distract her husband.

"Honey, would you please get the salad and dressings out of the fridge?"

Peter didn't look too thrilled but walked toward the kitchen anyway. Elle walked over to Neal and gave him a hug. She was horrified at how much of his spine she could feel. She felt like she was hugging a skeleton and was afraid she was hurting him. He didn't pull away, and her feminine instincts told her he really needed to be hugged.

She finally let go and looked up into two blue green shiny pools filling with water. She didn't say a word and just reached forward pulling him into another warm embrace hoping he was able to draw encouragement and strength from her simply by osmosis.

She heard Peter set the salad bowl and dressings on the table. She let go of Neal and grabbed his hand pulling him over to the table.

"Why don't you sit here."

Once they were all seated, Peter said grace and then Elle passed the steak to Neal first.

"We need to get some meat back on your bones since Peter is obviously not feeding you well enough at the office."

Neal shot a questioning look at Peter who looked very uncomfortable. Elle didn't miss the interaction.

"What am I missing? I know I've been gone a lot for the last three weeks, but something is definitely up with you two and it's not good. How is Mozzie?"

"I don't know."

Neal said it softly and regretfully as if he had failed his friend.

"What do you mean you don't know? When was the last time you were there?"

"I don't know. It's been a little while, at least a week I think. Agent Burke's been busy."

"I'm confused, Neal. The hospital is well within your two mile radius and why on earth are you referring to Peter as Agent Burke?"

Peter cleared his throat knowing he was going to have to interrupt this conversation and really wishing he didn't have to.

"Yeah, um…about that. Neal doesn't really have a two mile radius anymore and Hughes said Neal needs to see me as more of an authority figure."

"What are you talking about?"

"Hughes was adamant that Neal be sent back to prison and he was questioning my involvement in the whole affair. I was fortunate that I was able to convince him to agree to house arrest instead of prison. It could have been worse."

"Worse? Have you looked at Neal, Peter? Really looked at him? He looks like he hasn't eaten in weeks! How could you?"

"Elle, that was the best I could do."

Elle looked over at Neal who had gone back to picking at his meal. It was no wonder he looked like a skeleton; he probably had no appetite and no one standing over him making him eat.

"Peter…in the kitchen…now!"

Peter grumbled but shoved his chair back and followed his wife into the kitchen. Elle leaned back against the counter and glared at him.

"Peter, you can't continue this…Neal can't take this much longer. He has to have social interaction - he needs it to survive. You are draining the life out of him."

"He's draining the life out of me."

"So that makes it all right?"

"Honey, we haven't found Kate's killer and that makes Neal unreliable. He has proven he can get out of the anklet. He conned me and the FBI, and he won't stop until he finds Kate's killer. He is safer away from the office."

"We need to do more for him, Peter, he is suffering alone; all by himself. Did you see him picking at his food? It's no wonder he looks like a skeleton! First things first, you are going to let him call you Peter again. Agent Burke is absolutely ridiculous. If you want to insist he use it in Hughes' presence…fine. Second, how could you keep him from seeing Mozzie? Mozzie is his best friend in the whole world! We have no idea what they've been through together. If you won't take him than I will; he needs to see Mozzie. Arrange it with whomever you need as soon as possible."

"Absolutely not, Elle! It is a huge security risk. I will not put you in danger! Whoever shot Mozzie could well be planning to come back to finish the job. Neal's face was paused on the security feed, so I can only assume Neal is the next target; I don't want those two in the same room more than absolutely necessary. His life is in danger, whoever it is that shot Mozzie will not stop until Neal is dead too. I appreciate your concern for their friendship. I've tried to take him on different days so that it is not at all predictable, but I can't take him every day; this week just got busy. "

"Well clearly he's not safer at his apartment…just take a look at him and you'd see."

"I've had different agents there rotating all the time in different places outside of June's mansion."

"Are they making sure he eats? I don't think so. By the way, does Neal know this?"

"I'm sure he knows he's a target, but I don't think he knows about the security detail. I want him safe, but I also want him to know there are consequences; he has taken this too far. I can't trust him right now."

"You aren't giving him any reasons to trust you either."

"Why are you always so trusting Elle? Neal went rogue…he had Alex steal the music box…he stole the key to his anklet and a gun. He almost murdered Fowler. How am I supposed to trust anything he says?"

"Because this is about Kate and not you; you keep forgetting that. Peter, you need to imagine how you would feel if it was me that was murdered instead of Kate."

"I can't go there Elle."

"That's the problem! You can't have empathy for Neal unless you can truly feel what he's going through. I know you Peter…I know how much you love me and I know that you would have shot Fowler point blank without any regrets, and no one…I mean no one would have been able to talk you out of it. Think about it…think about how much Neal trusted you to be able to turn away and not kill Fowler when it was screaming out of every pore in his body…and this is how you repay his trust? To him it looks like you were the one that betrayed him."

"That's not what it looks like to Hughes, ok? Our jobs were on the line. I had to do something or he would have gone back to prison for a long, long time."

"If you are absolutely positively insistent on this house arrest thing, then let him stay here where we can keep an eye on him and make sure he eats a decent meal. He needs companionship, Peter. We can help him through this, but I'm begging you, please tell him your side of the story – tell him all of it. He needs to hear it."

"I don't want you in harm's way, Elle! Whoever this guy is, he is willing to kill for the music box. I can't let that happen."

"You have the resources to protect me. That's what Neal was trying to do; protect Kate…and he couldn't. I want to help him, and so do you. Now go, tell him that he can stay."

Peter reluctantly left his wife and walked back into the dining room. His heart briefly skipped a beat as Neal wasn't sitting at the dining room table. He took a few more steps and noticed Neal stretched out on the couch, fast asleep. Peter reached for the blanket on the back of the couch and covered Neal with it. He quietly walked back to the kitchen to tell Elle what he had found. The apple pie would have to wait until later.