Fandom: White Collar
Characters: Peter, Neal (Gen)
Summary: A detour from an officially-sanctioned escape.
Author's Notes: A late offering for run_the_con and the prompt of "Breakdown."
"The conference this weekend should be good," Neal said.
The skyscrapers of New York City had given way to warehouses, tree-lined suburbs, and finally cows, as Peter and Neal drove toward Harrisburg.
"As long as you don't leave the hotel. Your anklet is linked to my monitor and we've altered the range, so you have to stay within 300 yards," Peter said.
"So do you," Neal pointed out.
Peter shrugged. "I'm not the one who always wants to disappear..."
"Hey." Neal held up his hands in protest. "I'm just here for the education."
"And the female attendees. And the buffet."
"Come on, Peter. Field agents from Waukegan and creamed, rubber-chicken casserole aren't exactly my style."
"Oh, ye of little faith." Peter leaned forward and resettled his back against the car seat. "For all you know, the hotel has an aspiring Iron Chef on staff."
"Riiight," Neal said. "At the hotel. Not the local French restaurant, or better still, a place in a big city with an actual reputation."
Peter glanced over at him. "I'll bet it's better than prison cafeteria food."
"Harsh," Neal said. "Definitely harsh."
"Well, you've insulted the family honor now. My grandfather farmed rubber chickens."
"Ah." Neal surveyed the Brooks' Brother's suit Peter was wearing. "The source of the Burke family fortune."
"Or lack thereof. Not a lot of money in rubber chickens…"
They rode on in silence for a few minutes, before Neal sat up slightly and squinted out the windshield. "Should the engine be making that noise?" he asked.
"Noise?" Peter said. "Do you even drive?"
"I'm serious! Listen: don't you hear that grinding sound?"
Peter concentrated for a moment, and No—no, no, no, no, no! He'd just had the car serviced a couple of weeks ago, what the hell was he paying for if not freedom from threats like this? "I'm sure it's nothing," he said, trying to reassure himself.
The engine coughed out a puff of blue smoke.
"Oh, boy," Peter said. Why the hell hadn't he taken one of the official department vehicles?
He turned off at the next exit, and drove into the closest parking lot. Then he shut off the engine, popped the hood, and got out to take a look—in his dress slacks and despite Neal's eye-rolling, because investigating engine failures was what men did, damn it.
Peter peered at the machinery—capped, valved, and sealed, with only a telltale wisp of lingering smoke. Neal stepped up next to him and followed his gaze. "Don't tell me you know about cars," Peter said.
"Well, not these newer ones, with the computers. These are hopeless."
"Tell me about it," Peter said. He looked things over for another minute or so, then pulled out his phone and called Triple-A.
"Tried and true," Neal said when Peter hung up. "So, now what? Should we even bother with the conference?"
"Let's see how long the repair estimate is," Peter said. "Though I don't think we're going to make the Meet-and-Greet Cocktail Hour tonight."
Neal grinned. "Tragic."
"More tragic than hanging out in a parking lot, waiting for the serviceman?"
"Well, maybe not. But somebody'll come, eventually. Probably..."
The Triple-A guy showed up twenty minutes later, and wound up towing the car to a local mechanic's shop. "Ten o'clock tomorrow morning, best I can do," the mechanic said.
"Should we just give up and try to get back home?" Neal asked.
"Bus station's just up the street," the mechanic offered, "though the buses don't come through all that often."
"I can't ask Elizabeth to drive all the way out here to bring us back for the night." Peter tapped the written repair estimate with a pen while he thought. "Is there a hotel near here?" he asked.
"One." The mechanic thumbed through a parts catalogue. "Two blocks south."
"Thank you." Peter picked up his jacket, briefcase, and suitcase and nodded to Neal.
Neal took the remaining two suitcases (both his, which had seemed to make sense when he'd packed) and followed Peter out the door. Five minutes later, he and Peter arrived at the Wayside Motor Inn. "God, I hope this place doesn't have bedbugs," Neal said.
Peter grimaced. "Mind over matter." He went into the front office and rang the bell sitting on the counter.
A man in a Mets cap came around the corner. "Help you?"
"Two rooms, please," Peter said.
"Only have one room left for tonight."
"One?" Peter said.
"There're only four altogether. Got live-ins in two of 'em, and the other's being renovated."
"How on earth do you make a living with a setup like that?"
"I own half the grocery store."
Neal nodded. "Fair enough. We can't exactly sleep in the car."
The two of them trudged over with their luggage once the room was booked. Peter opened the door. "Not bad," he said. "Better than I expected."
Neal sniffed at the décor, but dumped his suitcases on the bed closest to the door.
"Try again," Peter said.
"Fine." Neal moved his things over to the other bed. "I'll bet this place doesn’t even have cable."
"Probably not. I guess we should go out and get something to eat."
Neal plopped down on the bed, next to his suitcases "Like, where, Taco Bell?"
"There's a diner," Peter said. "Down the street from the auto shop."
"Change your clothes and let's get going. It's not going to kill you."
At the diner, Peter ordered a Kielbasa dog with sauerkraut and a side of potato salad. Neal threw caution to the winds and ordered a Denver omelet, thinking Bureau-sponsored hors d'oeuvres suddenly didn't sound so bad. He looked around at the other patrons. "You should've let me bring the hat. It'd be right at home here."
"The people here are wearing baseball caps, Neal. And that hat hasn't fit in with a crowd since the 50s."
"All the more reason to bring it back in style…"
Peter's food was everything he'd hoped for, and Neal's omelet was hot and surprisingly good. They had pie afterward. Neal's slice of blackberry brought back memories of his childhood, and how many times he'd wished his Dad had been around while he was growing up.
"You're not going to finish that?" Peter asked.
"What?" Neal looked down at his plate. "No. I'm done."
The walk back to the motel was quiet. "Hey, tomorrow you'll be knee-deep in women wearing power suits," Peter joked.
"And sitting through symposia on locking down paperwork."
Peter nodded. "It's a tradeoff…"
At the motel, Peter turned on the television set, which had just four channels: Gray's Anatomy, Dateline NBC, sitcoms, and the Grand Old Opry. "Geez," he said.
"It's okay, I brought a book along. And a deck of cards."
Peter's gaze flicked over to Neal. "I am not playing poker with a profession pickpocket. And God knows what else."
"Well, it doesn't have to be poker," Neal said. "There are lots of other games."
"Go Fish, though that's kind of basic. Old Maid, Hearts, or Gin Rummy…"
"Let's do that one. Do you know the rules? What am I saying, of course you know the rules—you probably won other kids' lunch money playing cards when you were little."
Neal coughed, ignoring the accusation. "Would you like me to teach you?"
"Sure, why not."
They settled in at the chipped table wedged into the corner by the window. Neal dealt the cards, and they played a few rounds with their hands laid out in the open to help Peter get the hang of things. They were just about to start into a real game when Peter remembered that he needed to call El. Neal stepped outside to let him do it.
Peter opened the door a couple of minutes later. "Thanks."
"No problem," Neal said. "You're a lucky man," he added.
Peter's face lit up the way it always did when he talked about Elizabeth. "I sure as hell am."
What Peter and Elizabeth had was the kind of thing Neal wanted, and once hoped he'd have with Kate. There was no chance of that now.
"You'll find someone," Peter said, as if he could read Neal's mind. Maybe he could—when things were on the up and up, Neal showed almost as much of himself to Peter as he did to Mozzie. There were only a handful of people who'd ever had the privilege of really knowing Neal, and Peter was getting close.
"Maybe," was all Neal said, picking up a stock card and putting down one of his own.
Peter punched him softly in the arm. "It'll happen."
"What makes you so sure?"
Peter took from the discard pile and removed one of the cards from his hand. "Because I can see it. You and the missus with a couple of kids, feeding them caviar and reading them poetry, teaching them to like opera."
Neal took one of the discards himself. "God, that sounds insufferable."
"It'll all work out," Peter said. "And if it doesn't, I'll have El start introducing you to some of her friends."
Neal was sure some of his horrified reaction had to be showing on his face. "Uh..." he said.
Peter traded another card out of his hand. "I can have her start tomorrow."
Neal emitted a noise that any other person would have called a squeak. He searched his cards distractedly, and swapped one out. It took him a moment to notice the silence. "What?" he asked. "What's that look for, what did I say?"
Peter gazed at him shrewdly.
"I mean, I'm not in that big of a hurry," Neal rambled on. "There's still time. Though I suppose if Elizabeth really wanted to, I obviously could, but there's no rush or anything, and why are you still looking at me like that anyway?"
Tapping his chin with his cards, Peter regarded Neal with an expression that implied Neal knew where all the bodies were buried.
Then he put his cards down on the table, and casually spread them all out with one hand.
--- fin ---