Neal Caffrey didn't need anyone.
His childhood taught him to never count on anyone but himself. His mom had been a mess for as long as he could remember and, even with Ellen's help, he'd pretty much raised himself. He learned early on that if he didn't want to starve, he'd have to learn how to fend for himself. It was like his eighth birthday. All Neal wanted was a Teddy Ruxpin Storytelling Bear. He'd told his mother for months that was what he wanted. Neal's birthday came and went without his mother even acknowledging it. Ellen made him a cake and brought it to the house, but his mother was already passed out on the couch, so he ate cake alone at the dinner table. A few weeks later, his mother gave him a birthday card and cried for twenty minutes about how his father would never see him grow up.
He spent most of his childhood trying to live up to the image his mother had created of his father: upstanding hero of the law. He'd wanted to make his mother proud, be like his father. Maybe she'd be less of a mess. So he trained. He'd never had trouble with memorization so he knew all of the police codes, policies, and jurisdictions by the time he reached high school. He worked out everyday of senior year to make his body as fine-tuned as a cop's should be. He learned to shoot because he wanted to be the best at the police academy.
When he turned 18 and Ellen told him the truth, that his father was a corrupt cop, that his entire life had been built on lies, that his name wasn't in fact Danny Brooks but was actually Neal Bennett, he left his mom, Ellen, his high school, his hometown, his dreams of being a cop, and never looked back. There was nothing left for him except hollow echoes of a life that never existed in the first place.
It was a good thing that he didn't need anyone.
Neal thought he needed Kate.
He loved her like he had never loved anyone. From the moment he laid eyes on her, he knew he loved her. Even when she thought he was Nick Halden, when she had a boyfriend, he knew he had to be with her. When he'd finally told her who he really was, that he'd been conning Adler, he thought she'd leave him. But she didn't. She stayed. They'd shared so much; he'd opened up to her more than he had .txte he'd left home. He started to think he needed her.
He wanted to marry her at one point, had even bought a ring. He thought that maybe they could have a life together, plan one last big con that would set them up for life and then they'd run away to some far off island with new identities where no one could find them. On the nights when it was just them in his apartment, when they were pressed close with nothing but sweat between them, when they were just Neal and Kate, no aliases or ulterior motive, that was when he'd been con.txted that he needed her. His body yearned for her, ached for the feel of her skin against his. He thought he couldn't live without her. But he'd always had a doubt in the back of his head that she'd leave him if the con was lucrative enough.
When she did leave him, it wasn't for a bigger con. She left because he was stupid, had tried to con.txte her to do some con with Alex. But Neal knew he had to get her back. He undertook some of his biggest cons, like stealing the Raphael they'd discussed when they first met, just to bring her back into his life. He managed it, even through three and a half years in prison. But then she was taken. He still thought he needed her. Hell, he'd broken out of jail for her with only a few months on his sentence. He must have needed her to do something like that, right? It wasn't until after she died that he realized that as much as he loved her, would always love her, he'd never really needed her. Need implied trust, and he never trusted anyone anymore.
He knew how that turned out.
Neal could always rely on Peter.
From the moment Neal met Peter, he knew he'd found a worthy opponent, someone who might actually make his life more interesting. Cons were always beneficial, but to actually have a challenge was refreshing. Someone to keep him on his toes. He'd planned some of his most creative cons just to see if Peter could figure them out. He'd like to see how long it took Peter to find out where he'd been, what aliases he used in order to pull off his latest job. See how many aliases he'd burn through before he finally slipped past Peter's watch and made his getaway. Kate and Mozzie never understood why he wasted the energy baiting an FBI agent. Didn't understand the thrill he got evading him each time. He should have known that Peter would catch him. He'd studied Neal as much as Neal had studied Peter. Of course Peter knew how to draw him out.
That didn't change after he started working as Peter's CI. Peter was still the person he could always trust to see through the majority of his cons. He figured out that he was looking into Kate's disappearance, knew that he had to find out what happened after she died. Peter helped him when he could, pulled him back from the edge when Neal took things too far. Which, to be fair to Peter, was more often then not.
He was still alive because of Peter's reliability. He had kept Neal from getting on the plane. In true Peter fashion, he'd found Neal right as he was about to run off with Kate. There was a moment on the airstrip when he almost changed his mind. Had almost wanted to stay in his life in New York. With Peter. He still hadn't decided when the plane exploded. He guessed he'd never know which life he would have chosen. But after Kate was gone, he eased into his life with Peter, into life as a CI. But he still didn't need Peter. Neal knew better than to need someone who had put him in jail twice.
No matter how reliable he was.
Neal didn't expect Peter to surprise him.
Instead of treating Neal like most FBI agents treated their CIs, Peter treated him like a friend. More like a troublesome younger brother at first, but as time went by, Neal could tell that Peter trusted him, at least the majority of the time. He trusted Peter, too, more than he did most of the people in his life. He even enjoyed spending time with him. The nights he spent having dinner with Peter and Elizabeth were the nights during his first few months as a CI, and especially in those after Kate's death, that really kept him going. They had become like the family he never had. Similar to the years he spent with Kate and Mozzie, but maybe just a bit better. They knew exactly who he was, knew they had no ulterior motive. He didn't have to pretend with them.
Mozzie spent some of those nights with them at the Burke's house, conversations after dinner over beers and a bottle or two of wine. Mozzie would relate his latest conspiracy theory about the subliminal messages in radio commercials or the spy codes hidden in the prizes of cereal boxes while Peter tried to con.txte him that the FBI was not, in fact, full of nothing but bureaucratic saps. Neal and El would just sit back and watch as they got more and more worked up, laughing as they got louder and more enthused with each beer and glass of wine. But the nights where it was just him, Peter, and Elizabeth were his favorites. Sometimes it was just a dinner to go over a case, but he always felt at home in their house. More at home than he every had, really.
It was on one of these nights that Peter kissed him. In front of Elizabeth. She didn't seem bothered, just leaned over and kissed him, too.
Maybe he could get used to surprises.
Neal was constantly amazed by Peter and El.
The first time he met El, he knew why Peter loved her. She was the most genuine person he'd ever met. Living the life he did, Neal didn't meet too many people that were exactly as they seemed on the outside. But El was. Sweet and compassionate but stubborn and strong-willed.
She was perfect for Peter. Knew exactly when to push him and when to hold back. Neal could see how much they loved one another just by the way they looked at each other. And every time something seemed like it might tear them apart or come between them, they endured and ended up closer than before.
The night Peter and El kissed him, he'd seen a look pass between them. A look he'd seen before, one that meant they were in complete agreement. Neal didn't expect that he could be part of their world. But by some stroke of fate, they wanted him. They showed him later that night just how much. Neal lost himself in the feel of El and Peter around him. El pressed close to his back, nipped at his ear. Peter tugged at his hip, urged him to thrust just a little harder. As he lay panting on their bed, legs thrown over El's and head resting on Peter's chest, Neal felt more content then he had .txte before Peter had caught him. Maybe more than ever.
It got easier after awhile. For him to come out of his head, be less 'Neal Caffrey' and more Neal. El and Peter made it easy. They loved him without reservation, made him feel like he belonged. Each time that El ran her hand through her hair as they watched TV, that Peter pulled him close and kissed him without preamble, Neal felt himself relax and years of tension melt away.
Neal could get used to this.
Neal was a very con.txting liar.
He'd built his life on his ability to charm and persuade the people around him. He never had trouble lying to Mozzie about where he'd been on the nights he missed his call, too caught up in the feel of El's lips on his or Peter's skin pressed close to his back to notice his phone ringing. He lied to June, told her he had found a nice girl to date, that maybe he'd bring her around to dinner some night just to keep her from feeling sorry for him once his relationship with Sarah ended. Even Diane and Jones believed him when he told them that he'd just stopped by for breakfast before heading into the office. They never expected that Neal had Peter pressed against the breakfast table screaming his name as he thrust into him while El watched from the couch just hours before.
Lying between Peter and El, each pressed close to him, Neal thought that maybe he should rethink his position on need. He loved Peter and El, he knew that. But it was more than that. The time they spent together, the life they were building, it was more than he'd had with Kate. There was no fear of El or Peter leaving him for a bigger con, there were no lies that could come between them. They already knew everything about him. About his dad, his childhood. But the feeling in his chest when he thought about the look on El's face when they slow danced in the living room, the face Peter made when his favorite ball player hit a home run, the way they looked at each other when they thought Neal wasn't looking. It was something different.
Without realizing it, Neal had pulled off the most elaborate lie of his life. Neal had conned himself. But Neal knew he'd be ok.
Conmen were nothing if not adaptable.