A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words.
White Collar belongs to Jeff Eastin and USA Network. Without them my life would be very boring! Of course, they're also mainly responsible for the evidence of PTSD when they go on hiatus!
Summary: Neal gets his hands on the manifest, but there's just one tiny thing he's overlooked. Peter knows him too well.
Plenty of Season 3 spoilers. This is set directly after "As You Were."
Neal was sitting at his desk looking through a boring mortgage fraud case. It had been a quiet morning, but Neal was certain something was up because Peter had been quiet all morning. Neal heard someone clear their throat and looked up to see Peter giving him the double finger point.
Well, Neal thought, Maybe he'll have a new case for us to work on.
Upon entering Peter's office, Neal noticed the definite frown gracing Peter's features. Neal decided not to push Peter's patience and refrained from putting his feet on the desk, and then risked looking up at Peter's face with a very innocent expression on his face.
Peter just glared at him for a few seconds before quietly asking a one word question.
Neal just stared back at Peter, not letting the older man intimidate him with his glare.
"Why after everything that's happened would you do this?"
"I'm a lot of things, Peter, but I'm not a mind reader. Could you maybe give me a hint?"
"You've heard it said, 'a picture is worth a thousand words'?"
"I'm not sure how that's relevant."
"Oh, it's relevant alright."
In one smooth motion, Peter swiveled his desktop monitor toward Neal showing a freeze framed picture of Neal in the Burke's bedroom holding the page of the U-boat manifest in his hand, the safe still open behind him.
Neal was stunned, he realized he hadn't been wearing a mask and he had quite obviously missed the security camera.
"I'm going to ask you once more, Neal. Why?"
If it had been anyone other than Peter, Neal might have been able to outright lie and come up with some crazy story, but this was Peter. He had just been caught on tape breaking into the agent's home.
"Peter." Neal stopped unable to say more and looked up to gauge Peter's expression. Neal had expected seething hatred, but found disappointment and pain. Neal almost thought he caught a slight sheen, an almost teary look in Peter's eyes, right before Peter spoke.
"I'm guessing you are not so appreciative of my distrust of you anymore. Yes. I expected you to break in. Yes, I installed a security camera, hoping beyond hope to prove once and for all that you wouldn't do this."
Peter looked frustrated beyond belief, and Neal didn't trust his voice at the moment, so he let Peter continue.
"How could you do this to me? How could you do this to Elle?"
Of course Peter couldn't leave Elle out of the argument, Neal thought. Peter was trying to make him feel even more guilty. How on earth had that even happened? When had he developed a conscience? What could he even say? "The truth. Just tell him the truth" a little voice whispered inside his head.
"Peter, you once asked me 'If you were one step away from pulling off the biggest score in your life could you let it go?'. I know you were referring to David Lawrence and him getting away with the Federal Reserve job, but I always wondered if you were really asking me. I guess you finally have your answer."
Neal didn't look Peter in the eye. He just couldn't. He knew he had been stupid and impulsive, but as much as he tried, he couldn't stop thinking about the treasure and doing whatever it took to get it.
Peter finally broke the silence."So all of this; everything we've done together has all been a lie? It's all been about revenge on Adler?"
"I just want you to understand, Peter. Have you ever wanted something so much you would do anything to get it?"
"I've always wanted to be an FBI agent and now you are doing everything in your power to destroy that."
"It wasn't like that Peter. I just wanted freedom to do what I wanted, and be able to afford it all. I accidentally found out about the manifest, and the urge was just..."
"...an involuntary reflex?" Peter finished Neal's sentence before he had a chance.
"I wasn't meaning to hurt you Peter. I never meant to hurt Sara either, but it always happens. It seems I'm always doing something wrong for the wrong reasons, I can't ever get it right and I don't even know what the right reasons are? It wasn't until I saw that White Collar staff picture that you have in your safe that I really even felt guilty.
"Were you just going to disappear? Not even say goodbye? You and the little guy were just going to disappear, double cross an FBI Agent and a woman that loves you? How could you stoop so low as to break into my house to get your hands on the manifest? Does our partnership mean nothing to you?
"You couldn't possibly understand what our partnership means to me, Peter, and no, I didn't even tell Mozzie. He doesn't know I had the manifest."
"I know you put it back in the safe, but I assume you took a picture, right? What is that picture worth to you now? If you were willing to risk breaking into my home, then you must know where the treasure is hidden. You lied to me Neal."
"I didn't lie to you, Peter. I didn't have the treasure and I didn't know what had happened when I took the lie detector test."
"But you do now, and with that manifest you'll be able to make yourself millions. You could keep it all to yourself and ditch everyone that has come to call you a friend over the last few years; apparently even Mozzie!"
"No, it's not like that."
The look on Peter's face expressed serious disbelief.
"Yes, Neal, that's exactly what this is. You would give up everything you and I've worked for. Not only are you making me look bad, but it would disappoint Jones, Diana, June, and Elle. You've already lost Sara because of your choices. Is it worth it?"
"Do I have to have an answer?"
Neal was fiddling with his hands. He was really wishing he had his fedora that he could pull down over his eyes, but he hadn't brought anything into Peter's office with him. His fingers absently crept over to Peter's tin of paperclips and pulled one out, rearranging it into a question mark without realizing it, but Peter noticed right away.
"Is that your subconscious way of telling me that you are questioning your actions yourself?"
"Hmm? I'm sorry. What did you say?" Neal had been lost in his own thought process, still trying to debate Peter's 'Is it worth it' question.
"You rearranged the paperclip into a question mark, Neal. You can't tell me that's not symbolic."
Neal looked down at the paperclip, finally seeing what Peter saw. It hadn't been his intention to form a question mark; his hands were just idly messing while his mind rambled. Great, he thought, now even my subconscious is giving me away, what kind of conman am I?
"Honestly, Peter, I can't even tell you why I'm still here. I don't know why I haven't just disappeared already. I have changed. You changed me. If I hadn't changed, I would have been long gone.
"What do you really expect me to believe, Neal? Is this a con too? Are you playing with my emotions for sympathy, so I don't throw you back in jail?"
"Maybe it doesn't even matter anymore, Peter. First, I lost Kate, and now I've lost Sara. I've lost what slim measure of trust you've afforded me, so why am I still here? Why didn't I run?"
Peter realized that Neal was actually self analyzing and wasn't just trying to divert him off the subject. Maybe Neal had changed, just not in the way he had expected.
"Did you want me to be the one to catch you? Were you were secretly hoping I could? I've seen you break into safes, Neal. You had no trouble helping Robin Hoodie and Sara return the bustiere. I knew the safe in my bedroom wouldn't stop you, but I wanted to see just how far you would go."
Peter saw the realization dawning on Neal's face, but managed not to smirk.
"You set me up? You were testing me? Is this manifest even real or were you just trying to draw me out?"
Peter decided a little mystery wouldn't hurt Neal at all. There was no sense confirming or denying the existence of the manifest just in case Neal was conning him.
"It worked didn't it? DC Art Crimes was very interested in helping out. If you create enough smoke, people see fire. In your case, you saw all those dollar signs disappearing and I just couldn't see how you could possibly resist."
"Once again, Peter, it is quite obvious that I underestimated you."
"Neal, this doesn't have to have a tragic ending. You don't have to go to prison for this."
Neal gave a sharp almost derogatory laugh.
"And what exactly might my other options be, Agent Burke? I'm sure you've been dying to send me back to jail ever since the warehouse exploded. I'm sure this was not the outcome you had hoped for."
"Why do you keep Kate's bottle of wine?"
"What? You've lost your mind, what does that have to do with anything?"
Peter took a deep breath, determined to prove his point to Neal, no matter how long it took.
"Why do you keep Kate's bottle of wine?"
"It's stupid, I know. She's not coming back."
"You told me once, the bottle was the promise of a better life. The bottle, an empty bottle, holds memories for you and they are special, no one is denying that, but no one else will ever understand it either. This Nazi plunder, it holds memories too. Memories that neither of us could possibly understand. What if we could find who it actually belonged to before it was stolen by the Nazi's? What if you could give them back a remembrance of happier times in the past and a promise of happier times in the future? What do these paintings really hold for you? If they had burned, they would have been ashes and yes, that's a shame, but you didn't lose any memories because they weren't yours. What you did lose because of your greed was the one woman who is still alive that loves you.
"I know." Peter had almost missed Neal's response because it was mumbled, but he was grateful the conman hadn't totally shut him out and might be paying at least a little bit of attention.
"Did Sara walk out because you told her, or did she walk out because you didn't and she somehow found out anyway?"
Neal thought that was a much too personal question and was none of Peter's business. Why did he care anyway, he already had Elizabeth. Blissfully unaware of Neal's negative thoughts, Peter pressed on.
"What is she worth to you? What are friendships even worth to you? Mozzie is going to find out eventually and yet you're willing to throw this all away for some greenbacks? I'm warning you, Neal; keep running down this path and all you'll have is yourself, your money and the threat of me chasing you all over the globe for both our lifetimes. I know I have better things to do, and you do too."
Neal was still sitting in stunned silence; still beating himself up over missing the security camera. Could Peter be right? Had he subconsciously wanted to be caught?
"I'm sorry, Peter. I knowingly violated your home and I wish..."
"...you wish you were never caught."
Peter could see the deer in the headlights look. It wasn't often he could catch Neal off guard, but when he did, it was definitely a moment worth savoring.
"So, what are you going to do? Invalidate our agreement? Send me back to prison?"
"Is that what you think you deserve?"
"Clearly I'm at your mercy, but I do trust you to do the right thing."
"I'm glad you trust me. Remember this picture here?" Peter indicated the security camera snapshot of Neal still visible on his computer screen. "This picture has plenty of symbolism and memories. If I turn it over to the person in the photo - you - because it means something to you, how much do you think it would be worth? Could you even begin to put a price on it? Now think what would this picture be worth to me? Tough choices, I know. Should I decide to keep it to myself or bring it to the attention of any law enforcement agencies?"
Neal dared ask, "What do you think you would do?"
Peter looked Neal directly in the eyes. "It is worth more to me to give a certain person another chance at doing the right thing. But that's not what's at stake, what's at stake is what is this picture worth to you?"
Neal was so blown away by the first part of Peter's statement that he could only breathe, "You would do that for me?"
"Yes, I would, but I need you to answer my question, Neal. What's this picture worth to you?"
"I don't know. I don't know how I would know."
"You're so excited about this Nazi treasure that's worth a fortune, but have you ever counted up what all the friendships and relationships you have here add up to? You have got to remember, Neal that money can't buy happiness, it's a priceless treasure that is often squandered even with good intentions."
Neal smiled at Peter. It was a genuine smile, a grateful smile, and most importantly a smile that said thank you.
"I think you might be wrong about that, Peter."
"What do you mean?"
"You paid money for the security camera that took this picture, and this picture just might be the key to buying me happiness."
"Could I ask just one favor, Peter?"
Peter held back a laugh, but was unable to keep his eyes from rolling.
"Do you really think this is a good time to ask for a favor?"
"Quite possibly not, but I would really like a copy of that staff photo you have in your safe. You know to remind me what a picture is worth."
"I'm proud of you Neal, I really am."
"Are you going to delete the security camera footage?"
"Will I need bribery material in the future?"
Peter gave Neal a while-I-think-you-are-changing-you-still-do-dumb-things-and-I'm-just-trying-to-protect-you look. Neal couldn't really deny it. He was still a work in progress, so he just looked at his feet and mumbled.
"It might not hurt to keep it, you know just in case."
"Yeah, I thought so. Now, what are you going to do about Mozzie or Sara?"
Neal raised his head to give Peter a look of disbelief.
"Could you not even let me have a moment or two of peace before you rain on my parade?"