White Collar belongs to Jeff Eastin and USA Network. I'm just playing with their wonderful characters. If only I could play with them in real life ;-)

Chapter 3 – Through the Looking Glass

This follows the aftermath of "Countdown" and this chapter has several flash backs from the episode "Company Man."

I know it's been forever, but life has a way of happening…please forgive me…so just for review…

NealwatchedinhorrorasPeterrippedupthepiecesnoticingthatPeter'sfingerswerenowdrippinginbloodpresumablyfromscratchesandcutsfromtheflyingglassandthebloodwasstainingthepicture.Nealrealizedhowsymbolicitallwas;theglass,thepicture,theblood.Theyallindicatedsomethingthathadbeenforeveralteredandcouldneverbeputbacktogetherinexactlythesamestructure.

Peter finally looked down at his hands, stained in red, as if he was seeing them for the first time. The emotions washing over him combined with the blood loss conspired to make him lightheaded and before he could say anything he felt himself spiraling down to the floor just like the picture pieces he had ripped.

Neal laid Peter down on the floor, not wanting to stain the couch with Peter's blood still dripping from his hands. Neal pulled out his cell and hit the speed dial for June, who answered on the first ring.

"Hey, June. It's Neal. Peter got himself hurt, but he refuses to get medical attention. Could you send your doctor friend over who makes house calls? I'm at the Burke's."

"Oh, dear. Will he be all right?"

"I'm sure he'll be fine. There is blood and glass involved and I don't want to make things worse than they already are. Peter refused to go to the hospital, so I was trying to help when he fainted."

"Give me a few minutes and I will send Harry over as soon as possible."

"Thanks June. I really appreciate it."

Neal hung up and quickly got two wet towels from the kitchen and loosely wrapped Peter's hands in them. He was trying to stem the flow of blood without further damaging Peter's hands with any tiny shards of glass that might be present. Neal didn't feel comfortable trying to do more because just the sight of blood made him feel queasy. He didn't want to cause Peter any more pain and have him wake up and hurt himself further. Deciding he wasn't going to attempt to move Peter, Neal swept up the remaining glass and carefully picked the pieces of the picture out of the dustpan before emptying the contents in the trash. He walked over to the dining room table and laid the picture fragments out. Did he really even want to attempt to put the pieces back together? Was there anything left for him here? He couldn't make himself throw the pieces away though; they still reminded him that day when he and Peter had worked side by side to take down the Detroit mob. It was a day to be remembered, not forgotten, no matter what. Neal quietly entered the Burke kitchen and rummaged around until he found a Ziploc bag. He put the picture fragments in the bag and put it in his suit coat pocket. Neal checked on Peter again, and this time noticed that Peter's forehead was a little warm. Neal was about to get a cold wet washcloth from the kitchen when he heard the front door bell ring. ThankGoodness, Neal thought. Helphasarrived. Neal opened the front door relieved to see Harry standing there in a black trench coat with his black medical bag. Neal stepped aside to let Harry in, and closed the door behind him.

"Thank you so much for coming. I don't know what June told you, but my friend hurt himself and we need to keep this as under the radar as possible."

Harry chuckled good-naturedly.

"June wouldn't have called me if this didn't need to be discreet; that's part of what she pays me for."

Harry knelt beside Peter's still form on the floor, carefully raising one of Peter's hands to check the condition of his new patient.

"Should I assume this was self-inflicted, or did you two have a falling out that involved some rough-housing maybe? Boys will be boys, you know."

Neal colored slightly before answering.

"I could truthfully say that I'm probably not Peter's favorite person right now, but we didn't throw any punches. He was rightfully mad at me and he … ah, he smashed a glass photo frame into the wall. It shattered and he was cut by the glass. I told him we should go to the hospital, but he wouldn't listen. He just wanted some band aids. I'm not sure what happened, but the next minute he looked like he was going to faint and I caught him before he hit the floor."

Harry looked doubtful at Neal's story, but returned his gaze to his patient's hands. Harry opened his bag and withdrew a syringe, a vial of some sort of liquid, tweezers, gauze and some sort of ointment.

"I need some warm soapy water to soak his hands in. Could you get that for me, please?"

Neal disappeared through the door to the kitchen and reappeared a few minutes later carrying a medium sized plastic washbasin full of warm soapy water. Harry was just removing a needle from one of Peter's arms as Neal set the plastic washtub on the floor.

"What was that for?" Neal questioned Harry.

"I don't need him thrashing about while I'm trying to fix the damage to his hands, so he'll be out of it for a while."

Peter lifted his head off his desk. He must have fallen asleep. Where was he? This didn't look right. This was not his office!

The telephone on Peter's desk lit up as his assistant's voice came over the intercom. The voice sounded familiar, but he realized it should if she was his assistant.

"Mr. Burke, your two o'clock appointment is here to see you. A Mr. Halden. Should I send him in?"

Peter was still trying to grasp the situation and why he was in this glass lined office with a phenomenal view of New York City. He was so caught up that he didn't respond right away.

"Mr. Burke? Are you ok?" Hearing nothing, Peter's assistant became worried that something was indeed wrong with her boss, until she finally heard a response coming back through the intercom.

"Yes, Yes. I'm fine. Please send him in."

Peter was still out of sorts trying to figure out if this was real or a dream. Maybe it was something he had eaten for lunch? He didn't remember having lunch, but maybe his assistant knew where he had gone. Peter had just made a mental note to remember to ask his assistant when his door opened and a smartly dressed young man in a high class suit and black fedora let himself in.

Peter got up from his chair and walked toward the man. He looked slightly familiar, but he couldn't quite place where he might have known him. Peter extended his hand and the young man extended his as well, giving Peter a firm and confident handshake. Peter realized that his assistant had said he had an appointment, but Peter could not remember what the young man was here for.

"Please have a seat, Mr. Halden." Peter said, indicating a chair as he walked around to the other side of the desk. "I apologize, I don't seem to be feeling well, and I don't remember what the purpose of your appointment was."

"Nick. Sir. Nick Halden. I'm a security consultant. You have quite a few priceless treasure scattered around your office and you were looking to beef up your security."

"Yes. Yes, I was." Peter responded, but his mind was working furiously to catch up. Iwasthinkingaboutupgradingmysecurity?WhatdoIdo?WhatamIdoinghere?Thisallfeelswrong.Peter noticed Nick had a look of concern on his face. MaybeIreallydolooksick.Peter thought.Whatwerewediscussing?Oh,yes.Security.Askhimaboutsecurity.

"So, Mr. Halden, did you have a list of recommendations?"

"Well, for starters, your employees need to be more cautious, they are very friendly to strangers. This is not in and of itself a bad thing, but they just need to be more aware of the dangers inherent when giving strangers access to your company. I would recommend a metal detector and everyone needs to wear a badge identifying them as an employee visible at all times. I would also recommend some positive public relations incentives. If people think you are giving back to the community they will be less likely to be a viable security threat than someone who thinks you are sticking it to them. Your image is a bit tarnished. We need to steer you away from the Scrooge impression."

"I'm not sure what you mean. I'm not Scrooge."

Peter saw the way Neal's eyebrows raised at his comment as if Neal really did think he was Scrooge.

"You, Mr. Burke, are the CEO of a major Fortune 500 company. You own a private jet and a lovely penthouse suite. You have a stable in the Hamptons. You obviously have money to burn. You've successfully climbed the corporate ladder, but that creates enemies, not friends. We need to create a more pleasant atmosphere. You have to romance the stockholders, and create goodwill with your employees. You're not an FBI Agent. You don't have to interrogate your employees. They want to feel appreciated. Now, I do have one other security related question. Have you received any threats so that we might be able to narrow our focus?"

"Threats?" Peter looked up confused. WhatdidNickmean,notanFBIAgent.OfcoursehewasanFBIAgent.Thiswasn'tthelifehehadchosen. Whathadhappened?Whowasthismanandwhydidheknowsomuchabouthim?

"Yes. Have you or any of your employees received any type of threat?

Peter felt his heart sink. He knew it sounded crazy, so he whispered.

"He threatened my wife, and then she was gone. He kidnapped her."

Peter closed his eyes trying to remember. Whatwashiswife'sname?Whycouldn'theremember?

"Mr. Burke? Peter? You're not married. You don't have a wife. Don't you remember? You choose this job and she left you standing at the altar. It was all over the society pages; quite the scandal. Like I said, you have more enemies than friends. You need a security consultant, and I'm the best person for the job."

The audacity of this man was overwhelming; no one talks like that at an interview where they are trying to impress someone. It was beginning to grate on Peter's nerves.

"You're not listening to me. It was Keller. Keller kidnapped my wife. You find Keller, and I'll hire you with a generous salary."

"You can save your money, Mr. Burke. Not that you need to though, maybe you could donate it to a charity that could actually use it. You know help with your public image as a charitable person."

Both Nick and Peter looked up startled by the new occupant of Peter's office.

"So I overheard a few things including that you were looking for me. I'm right here. Oh, and as for your security consultant, he has something that rightfully belongs to me, and I intend on getting it back."

Peter glanced over at Nick before muttering under his breath.

"Keller."

Peter looked aghast as Keller drew a weapon. Peter moved in front of Nick, protecting his future security consultant from the intruder as he wasn't exactly sure what the problem was yet.

"How did you get past my security?"

"Charm really goes a long way, especially when there's money involved. You really do need a security consultant, but I really can't recommend this one." Keller motioned to Nick with his weapon.

"I'm really not sure why you are protecting him, but you should know that he's been lying to you from the start. His name is Neal Caffrey, not Nick Halden, and he has already walked away with many of your priceless treasures - half of which were supposed to be mine."

Neal had a mega watt grin as he said, "Burke's security can't be all bad, they certainly sprang into action when I yelled 'Gun!' It wasn't my fault you insisted on carrying a weapon. You could have gotten away with your half of the art if you'd only listened to me."

Peter meanwhile had gotten very pale, he was piecing together the tale that Neal and Keller had already robbed him and that Neal was trying to worm his way back into the company for more while Keller just brazenly walked into his office with a weapon that looked suspiciously like a tranquilizer gun.

"The attempted robbery was you two?"

Neal finally looked up at Peter's face as Peter turned to look at him seething in anger, so much for the security job. It wasn't like he really needed the security job anyway, it had been more of an inside way to keep tabs on the wealthy bachelor.

"To be technical, Keller was the one caught with the paintings."

Peter realized that there was more that Neal left unsaid and it was something like "and I was the one that got away." Peter could see that Neal couldn't help but gloat, in fact, he was positively beaming. It wasn't often that Neal was able to get a step ahead of Keller, but it seemed that Keller was taking it personally and more than happy to make Neal suffer.

Keller took a step closer but stepped to the side to avoid Peter and aimed the gun at Neal.

"You're nothing but a flea, Caffrey; a mere annoyance. If Burke's security guards hadn't detained me and found the art I would never have been able to play on their insecurities and their discontent. They wholeheartedly agreed that Mr. Burke here could be taken down a peg or two, and I assured them it could be done."

"You took my wife, Keller. You told me so yourself! Now, you're gloating about bribing my security team? I don't understand what's going on. This is not my life! What do you want? Why do people I don't even know betray me?"

Keller started to chuckle again, and suddenly Peter heard Neal's voice in his head followed by Peter's own answers.

Embrace your hypothetical self.

I don't do hypothetical.

We speculate all the time.

On our cases, not on my life choices.

Keller was still laughing at him, saying, "You are your own worst nightmare. You are everything you were afraid of becoming. You are your own worst nightmare. You are everything you were afraid of becoming."

Peter couldn't make Keller stop, it was like listening to a broken record of something he didn't want to hear. Finally another conversation surfaced and Peter could hear a conversation between himself and Neal.

Don't fight your instincts Peter, embrace your true self. …In some alternate universe, you'd be wearing power ties, doing power lunches, flying corporate jets.

I doubt we'd have ever met.

Maybe under different circumstances.

Wellthat'strue,youmighthaverobbedthecompany.

Peter looked down, he was wearing a power tie, and he still didn't remember lunch, maybe he had flown somewhere on his corporate jet. Keller was claiming that Neal had robbed his company and gotten away with it while Keller had bribed his security guards for access. He wasn't an FBI Agent and he wasn't married. He didn't like this alternate universe. He wanted his life back. Peter pulled himself back to reality, still hearing Keller's voice droning on.

"It's all about character, Mr. Burke. If you're not respected by your employees then it really doesn't matter how much you're paying them. Character matters, even I know that. I just use it to get what I want. So, the real question is, 'Who are you now and who are you willing to save?"

Keller gave a small wave with the hand not holding the gun, and two members of Peter's security team appeared holding a dark haired beauty between them.

"Meet your lovely assistant, Peter."

Peter's eyes widened in disbelief.

"Elizabeth? What? How?"

While Peter was momentarily distracted by the sight of Elle, Neal noticed Keller's finger tightening on the trigger. Neal rushed to Elle's side and caught the tranquilizer dart in his shoulder.

"A brave, but foolish act." Keller sneered as he pushed Neal to the floor and sent another dart zinging into Elizabeth's arm. The guard let her drop to the floor right next to Neal, while the other security guard already had restrained Peter from helping either one. Keller blew some imaginary smoke off the end of the tranquilizer gun and took a few steps over to where Peter was being held back.

"Now, Peter." Keller began, with a look of satisfaction. "Both of your so called friends have been tranquilized, but I only have enough antidote for one of them. Who are you going to save? The woman you love, or the man who betrayed you?"

Peter was frozen in place. He didn't have any words, and his voice wasn't working. How could Keller force him to choose? Peter looked down at Elle and Neal, both out cold from the tranquilizer darts. He felt responsible for getting them into this mess, but then remembered that Keller had also told him that Neal was behind the theft of his priceless artwork. Did Neal deserve what was happening? Did Elle? Was Peter heartless if he just let Neal die to save his wife? Someone's blood was going to be on his hands even if it wasn't real physical blood. He didn't like the man Keller was claiming he was now, but how did he get back to the man he had been? He wanted his life back with Elle. He wanted his townhome, his work at the Bureau, and he wanted his dog. He didn't need fancy cars, fancy ties and fancy espresso drinks. He wanted to be a man of character that people would respect. Peter could feel himself growing faint. He had to make a choice. He had to choose.

Peter finally choked out, "She's my wife. Save her."

Peter could see Keller leaning over to administer the antidote to Elle, while the guards were still retraining him. He had chosen his wife over Neal. He looked down at his hands imagining them covered in blood, Neal's blood. It was his fault Neal was going to die, but he was still hearing Neal's voice.

"Maybe you picked the wrong universe to live in?"