Mona Lisa, Caffrey Style - Chapter 1

By: True Love Lives Forever

Summary: Neal's four years are up. His anklet would be cut tomorrow for the last time. Freedom. But that, in the world of Neal Caffrey, among reflections on his life can also mean that he now has more liberty to pull one last stunt... in the White Collar Division, targeting none other than his own partner.

Setting: The last few days of Neal's four-year sentence. Basically, right when he becomes free again.

Disclaimer: Guess what? White Collar doesn't belong to me.

~White Collar~

Neal knew this was probably going to bite him in the butt. After all, how many times has Peter threatened him with orange jumpsuits? Certainly more than he cared to count over the time they've worked together. But then again, his four years were finally up. Well, almost up. Tomorrow was his official, last day on the anklet. Or leash. Depends on how you want to think about it. Two names - yet they both have the same symbolism attached to them.

And after tomorrow - there will be freedom. Freedom to travel, go places, see hundreds of museums and be able to linger to memorize every stroke and brush of the paint instead of being rushed inside his world of art during the occasional case that allowed him to set a foot inside.

He could almost feel it already - being able to step outside his two mile radius that sometimes felt as confining as a prison cell. He knew it was way better than the alternatives, but four years is a long time and one foot of space can feel like being an ocean away from your dream place.

It was a bittersweet feeling, really. When he suggested the work release to Peter, it was an excuse to get out of prison, to help him find Kate, and then to run with her. Probably forever. And this time, not allowing Peter to catch him again because he'd be more careful not to make the same mistakes, plus he'd know Peter better - his old opponent. He'd be able to predict Peter's moves more accurately. Besides, once he'd be with Kate, Peter would lose his leverage over Neal and thus the possibility to catch the con artist would slowly diminish.

And yet, his mindset changed. His life stopped being only about Kate even before her tragic death.

Kate will always be a part of him. But what he told Peter at the hanger three years ago was true. Neal changed. His dreams changed. Neal came to trust Peter the most out of everyone in his life. And he didn't want to run anymore. Just a few years passed and his life has been turned up-side down.

Sure, he respected Peter ever since he first started chasing him, once Neal realized that the fed was more than just a badge. The fed had an honest heart and compassion. He was a real person. A likeable person. And somewhere along the way, Peter became his fed. Not only that, but Peter became his friend. Peter's team became his team. Their job became his job. That was just the thing - somewhere along the line, not only was Neal working for the FBI because it was his arrangement and because it kept him outside of prison walls, but it became to be a career he enjoyed. While working for the FBI, Neal was still able to use his skills and keep his mind sharp while being on the right side of law for a change, something that ensured he wouldn't land himself another four years or more in prison for his new adventures.

And he planned to continue doing that. Working for the FBI, that is. But this time as a real consultant, free to make his own decisions, especially outside of work hours. And he had to thank Hughes and Bancroft for pulling quite a few strings to permit that opportunity.

Nevertheless, this does not automatically mean he won't take risks. He likes taking risks, feeling the adrenaline pumping in his veins. His whole life consisted of risks. That's what made life interesting and this element of his life wasn't going to change anytime soon.

Besides, he cannot - for the life of him - ever see himself as a straight-arrow. Surely not of Peter's caliber. (Although Mozzie would surely use some quote about being half-way there already, if he could read minds.)

If he didn't know better himself, he'd have to agree with Peter (if only to himself) that the notion of walking the fine line between legal and illegal was created to describe him. Luckily for him, his new and old friends alike, have been able to pull him to safety and away from further legal punishment when such lines have been blurred. Or if he was truly honest with himself, he'd have to say crossed, not blurred.

He made some dumb decisions along the way. Crashing into a Russian museum and pulling a gun on Fowler was just one of many in the last few years. And it was one of the biggest ones, too, which could have easily landed him back in prison, with plenty of years added on to his sentence to make sure he didn't forget about the incident quickly. Not that he would forget it anyway, even now when all of those disastrous affairs have been left in the past, buried with Kate, Adler, and the Nazi treasure.

Then there are of course all those years of his criminal youth. The actions that got him on FBI's radar to begin with. Not to mention all of the - let's call them "events" - that FBI never found out about. And hopefully never will, judging by his last encounter with Agent Kramer. All is well that ends well, but that was an experience he would rather not repeat. Granted, some of his "alleged" crimes have already reached their expiration date, so to speak, so he cannot be thrown back into a dreadful orange suit, which really should be punishment enough without the prison walls to begin with.

For now, all of that can be considered his past.

And that leaves him to think about the here and now.

He just hopes this latest stunt of his will not do the trick of making it his last one. After all, orange really is bad for his skin tone.

But, of course, there are rationalizations available. Many of them since he's so good at this part of his career - of making everything he does sound completely logical and non-incriminating.

After all, it's not like he stole anything lately (of great importance, anyway). He just... rearranged... a few objects, for the lack of a better term. So what if it was in a place he wasn't expected to be right now. That's just a minor detail, easily overlooked and explainable. It's not like he broke in. The guard let him in and out of the building without batting an eye...

That is why he has the true Caffrey smile for a job well done as he walks out of the FBI Headquarters building into the cool air on his last night of pseudo freedom; the anklet being a leash, a reminder that his freedom is in part an illusion.

But that will all change tomorrow. The illusion will become reality. Pseudo freedom will become absolute freedom, allowing him to travel to his heart's desire before coming back as a consultant for the FBI, benefits and all.

That is assuming his masterpiece and the act of... hmm, rearrangement... from a "job well done" tonight, which should be revealed tomorrow or in the near future, will not drive Peter to his snapping point.

After all, he just couldn't resist pulling one last stunt to signify his release and to pull Peter's leg one last time until the (hopefully) eventual reunion.

He wouldn't be the Neal Caffrey if he had more impulse control than that, now would he?

Besides, it was Peter he was talking about. His keeper, his partner, and most importantly - his friend. How mad could he get?

Then again, just by thinking about his masterpiece, Neal could already imagine Peter grunting and giving him the look. Of course for Neal, that idea just put a smile on his face. They wouldn't have made such a great team all these years if wasn't for the close, understanding relationship they have.

Still, ideally, the "discovery" will occur after his farewell party and after Neal is well out of Peter's reach.

Just in case.

~White Collar~

A/N: This will probably be a really short, two-shot story. Let me know what you think Neal is up to. I'm curious to see what you've got in those creative minds of yours. :) Please review.