Neal Island

Of Rhythm and Blues, Part Four

Title: Of Rhythm and Blues
Author: eldorah
Artist: embroiderama
Beta(s): rose_of_sharon1
Rating: PG13
Characters/Pairings: Peter Burke/Elizabeth Mitchell, June Ellington, Neal Caffrey, Mozzie, Matthew Keller, Reese Hughes
Warnings: None
Spoilers: Through the end of Season 5 (This AU contains canon elements of Neal’s family history, which we receive various bits of info about throughout different episodes and seasons.)

Summary: When Peter Burke, well-to-do talent agent of both his billboard topping wife, Elizabeth Mitchell, and the legendary soul singer, June Ellington, finds raw talent unlike any other in the form of a young man recently relocated from the Midwest, he must find a way to gain the young man’s trust while helping him share his talent with the world.

Art Post | Master Post | Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

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Friday Evening, Beacon Theater

“You ready?” Peter asked Neal, patting him on the shoulder, “You are going to be great.” They were backstage at the Beacon Theater, and Matthew was two songs away from finishing his set. Soon, Neal would be on.

“Yeah, I think so,” the young man answered, sans his usual confidence. He had been uncharacteristically edgy all day, and Peter was not convinced it was solely due to tonight’s show. He did not have much of a backstory on the kid, and he had been quick to pick up each and every dodge he had made whenever the subject of his past came up.

Looking out across the stage, Peter thought back on the week. On one hand, the mysteriousness of the young man’s past added to Neal’s charm. You never quite knew what he had up his sleeve, and it kept Peter on his toes. But on the other hand, Peter got the vibe that Neal had not grown up as privileged as his current situation might imply. The most heartfelt of his three new songs told a painful story of a young boy who leaves his home, and Peter couldn’t help but wonder how much of those lyrics had been autobiographical.

“I’m definitely ready now,” Neal said, standing a little taller and smiling wildly, holding a shot glass in the hand not clutching his guitar. Peter blinked when he saw who had seemingly materialized next to him.

“Did you just give him a shot?” the talent agent hissed incredulously, “Please don’t tell me you just gave him a shot right before he is about to walk onto that stage.”

“A little Jameson never hurt anybody,” Mozzie smiled as he held up an ornate flask, “You want some, Suit?”

“What? No, no I do not want some. Why are you even here? How did they even let you back here?” Peter seethed.

“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of him,” Diana swooped in suddenly, putting her hands on Mozzie’s shoulder and turning him toward the exit.

I do not need taken care of,” Mozzie garbled, a little too loudly, “Get you hands off me, Lady Suit!”

Shaking his head, Peter turned back in time to hear Keller announcing this as his last song. He glanced at Neal, whose eyes were glued on Keller as the first few bars began. The tune sounded oddly familiar, and as the talent agent watched his young new artist lose all of the color in his face, he finally realized what was happening. By the time Keller hit the first verse, there was no denying it. Keller was singing Neal’s new song. But then, a thought slowly dawned on Peter. What if it had never been Neal’s from the start?

“What did you do, Neal,” Peter hissed, “What is this about?”

“I didn’t steal his song, Peter, you have to believe me,” Neal said pleadingly.

“I told you not to hang around Keller, but you didn’t listen!”

“To be fair, I hadn’t heard your ‘intellectual properties’ comment yet,” Neal snarked, but was immediately silenced by an icy glare from the agent.

“Peter, Neal, what is this?” Hughes appeared from around the back of the stage, steaming, “Isn’t this the song you just played for me the other day?”

“It was, it’s my song,” Neal said in a hushed voice, “I wrote this song.”

“That’s not what Matthew Keller told me right before he went on stage,” Reese fumed, turning to Peter and shoving sheets of paper into the agent’s hands, “Matthew said he found this next to Neal’s backpack the other day. ‘Of Rhythm and Blues, by Matthew Keller.”

“This is the whole score,” Peter said quietly as he turned the pages over in his hands, “Did you steal it, Neal?”

“No!” Neal said, bewildered, “No, no. I – I wrote that song. I lived that song!”

Peter and Hughes both shot Neal a quizzical look, and Hughes opened his mouth to say something just as the familiar voice of Matthew Keller filled the airspace, nearly shouting over the cheers and applause. All three men turned to look at him from the side of the stage.

“Thank you, thank you. It has been so good to share that last song with you. Now, without further hesitation, I’d like to introduce you to a new friend of mine. Some of you may recognize him from Adler’s, Mr. Neal Caffrey!”

Quickly, Peter and Hughes turned back to the young man.

“Neal, just do the other two songs and we will sort this –“ Peter started, but stopped short, “Where the hell did he go?”

Hughes looked at Peter and shook his head, the disappointment weighing heavy in his eyes. The agent wasn’t sure how it was possible, but the young man had completely disappeared.
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If there was one thing Neal had learned how to do growing up, it was how to disappear. He had actually come to depend on the ability as a default when things got rough, and growing up he had gotten out of many a conundrum this way. Usually he felt slick to have the to seemingly dissipate without being noticed, but this time, everything was different.

Neal had left the Beacon Theater about two hours ago and still hadn’t fully regained composure over what had happened. Sure, Mozzie and Peter had both warned him that Matthew Keller was no good, but he never thought the man would actually steal his song and hang him out to dry. Apparently, he had misjudged.

As he walked through the city streets toward Mozzie’s apartment, though, it occurred to him that Matthew wasn’t truly what bothered him about the whole situation. It was Peter, and the way he had looked at him when he realized what was going on. Peter thought Neal had lied, and now, he probably thought he had run as well. This pained Neal the most. He hadn’t realized how much he had grown to like the talent agent, and how much he respected him and appreciated his guidance. Peter was a good man, and the only thing the man had done since Neal arrived was bend over backwards to make this work for him. He hated this had suddenly been brought upon Peter – Keller had made a mockery of both him and Peter in front of one of the most powerful men in the business, and he only hoped that he wouldn’t lose his job for it.

Sighing, Neal thought sadly to himself that again, he had no choice but to leave. Clearly, it would be better for Peter that way.

Finally stopping in front of the huge mansion’s steps, Neal took a deep breath before going inside. He needed to collect his things, but he hoped no one was home and that he could sneak away unnoticed. He really hated goodbyes, and he had had enough of them in the past few weeks already.
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“He’s gone, Mozzie,” Peter said angrily, “He ran.”

“I don’t think he ran,” the bald man said, slamming his hand into the tiny dining room table of his apartment, “And you know he didn’t steal that song.”

“Well, even if he didn’t run, how are we going to find him again?” the talent agent asked, sliding the music scores Hughes had given him across the table, “And how do we explain this?”

“He played the song at Adler’s the other night,” Mozzie mumbled, “He wanted to see how people liked it. Keller was there.”

At this, Peter fumed. “I told him not to hang around with Matthew Keller, I knew something like this would happen.”

“He didn’t know, Hon,” Elizabeth said from across the table, “Let’s focus on how to find him again. He’s just a kid, and we can’t let him out on his own in the city like this.”

“I can use my resources,” Mozzie said after a while, and Peter shot a skeptical look in his direction.

“I can ask around too,” Elizabeth said, “If he is still in New York, he is going to need a place to stay and a way to make money. Surely, someone will see him.”

“And I guess I will talk to Hughes Monday morning,” Peter finished, “And see if I can convince him that this is really Neal’s song. He has so much talent, I don’t know what it would take to make him realize it.”
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Neal had easily picked the lock to June’s house and gotten inside, but his mission was halted by the sounds of Peter, Elizabeth, and Mozzie coming down the steps. Swiftly, he ducked around the corner and waited for them all to pass, and then raced upstairs to collect his things. Then, he grabbed his fedora, flipping it onto his head with smooth flip of his hand, and disappeared again, before any of them had even known he had returned.
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Hesitantly, Peter stood outside Hughes’ office. It was 4:45 on Monday afternoon, and they hadn’t heard from Neal all weekend. His belongings had disappeared from Mozzie’s house, though, and Peter had a sinking feeling that he had left town for good.

The talent agent had been putting off this conversation all day, in some vain hope that the young man might contact him. He wasn’t sure why, but he was worried about this kid he barely knew, and he wanted to make sure that he was okay after all of this. But Neal, to his dismay, had not reached out.

Sighing resolutely, Peter knocked.

“Come in,” Hughes called from the other side.

“Hey, Hughes, I wanted to talk to you about Neal,” Peter started but stopped aburptly, surprised to find Matthew Keller already sitting across from his boss, “But I see someone may have already gotten to you first.”

“What is there to talk about? The kid was out to make a buck. He stole Keller’s song and ran away when he was caught.”

“I don’t know if it is that simple,” Peter continued, keeping a watchful eye on the slippery, leather-clad song artist, “Neal played the song at Adler’s the night before, and Keller had been there. I think the song was Neal’s, and Keller stole it. “

“Hey, you weren’t even there,” Keller yelled, jumping to his feet, “This kid came out of nowhere and stole my work, and you defend him? That takes a lot of nerve, Burke. We don’t even know this kid. Where did he come from, anyway?”

“It takes a lot of nerve to steal someone’s song,” Peter mumbled under his breath, ignoring the question that had plagued Peter since the first day he met Neal.

“And how about him leaving me out to dry on stage Friday night? I introduce him, and he chickens out? I looked like an idiot out there,” Keller continued.

“I’m sure that wasn’t his intention,” Hughes started.

“Maybe that was always his intention,” Keller interrupted, “You know, he used to want to rig the stints at Adler’s? He would come to me with set lists, saying we would split the money down the middle.”

“Oh, and you had nothing to do with it, did you, Keller?” Peter seethed, frustration bleeding into his voice.

“Why do you even care?” Keller yelled, “You don’t even know him. He was just some wash up that got lucky to land in the right place at the right time.”

“He is good, Keller,” Peter said defiantly, “He has more talent in his little pinky than you do in your entire body, and that scares you, doesn’t it?”

“Listen, it doesn’t matter,” Hughes said calmly, stepping between the two men and trying to restore order to the situation, “Neal ran, and he isn’t coming back. So let’s just all move on and make like this never happened.”

“I didn’t run.”

All three men in Hughes’ office suddenly turned to find Neal standing in the doorframe.

“Neal,” Peter started softly.

“I thought you had left town, Neal,” Keller said, surprise and hatred evident in his voice.

“I was going to, but I thought I owed Hughes and Peter an apology,” Neal said, turning to Peter, “I didn’t mean to disappear like that, I just didn’t know what to do.”

“Did you steal the song?” Peter asked directly.

“No, that was my song from the start, and I brought someone who can back me up.”

“So help me if you bring in the little man, Neal,” Peter hissed under his breath as the prodigy left, only to return moments later followed by June.

“June,” Hughes said, “So wonderful to see you again. How do you know our new friend Neal, here?”

“Hello, Reese, Peter. Neal has been staying in the third story apartment at my house with our mutual friend, Mozzie. He came to me this weekend looking for advice, and I was appalled when I heard he was being accused of stealing this song. I was there the night he played it at Adler’s for the first time, and there’s no way it was written by Keller.”

“That is not true,” Keller stood up to look June in the eye, “There’s no way you could know that.”

“As someone who has been such a successful influence in the business for the past thirty years, I think she can,” Hughes spat out at Keller, “Now sit down, and let her continue.”

“Thank you, Reese. I saw the way Neal performed the song, with an emotion that you just cannot ‘steal’. You see, there’s a huge difference between the songs you write yourself, and the songs someone writes for you to sing. The songs you write yourself come from your own heart, and they have meaning, wisdom, and emotions beyond any that another person can write for you. Good musicians let that seep into their performance, and Neal did. He didn’t steal it from Keller. Keller stole it from him.”

A proud smile crept across Peter’s lips as June dabbed at her eyes. Neal wasn’t sure if she was actually crying or just playing up the emotions, but he was glad for her support either way. He smiled gratefully to her as she excused herself, and she winked as she walked by.

“Keller, why don’t you wait outside as well,” Hughes directed, “I want to talk to Neal and Peter in private. Then I will deal with you.”

“Hughes, you can’t believe –“

“That was not a suggestion, Matthew,” the company owner cut him off bluntly.

Looking flustered, Keller stood up to go.

This won’t be the last you see of me. That is a promise,” he whispered quietly as he brushed shoulders with Neal.

When the three of them were finally alone, Hughes addressed Neal.

“I’m sorry we accused you of stealing, Neal. The circumstances surrounding all of this were… are… a little fuzzy,” the company owner started, “But I’d like to re-establish your previous terms with you, with a chance to showcase your work, and providing that is successful, a possible record deal.”

“Thank you,” Peter said, shaking Hughes’ hand, “That is a generous offer –“

“I don’t know if I want that,” Neal responded quietly, stopping his friend in his tracks, “I just wanted to apologize and to make sure I hadn’t left things in a terrible mess for Peter.”

“Neal,” Peter said, “This doesn’t change anything, you are still one of the most talented musicians I have ever seen. You still deserve this opportunity.”

“I don’t think that New York is really the place I should be, after all,” Neal replied, “But thank you, Peter, thank you so much for giving me this chance.”

With that, Neal turned and walked out, leaving Peter and Reese standing in the office speechless.
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Quickly, Neal bounded down the steps and through the lobby of Reese’s Records, throwing open the door to the city street as fast as possible and resisting the urge to look back. For the second time in two weeks, he found himself in the unusual position of not having a plan or a place to go. He did know one thing, though – he wanted to start over, again.

He stalled for just a minute, trying to decide which way to go, and suddenly, Matthew Keller appeared next to him.

“What, did you follow me out here?” Neal asked dryly.

“Come with me,” Keller said as he walked off around the back of the building. Every instinct in Neal told him to run, but against better judgment he followed him around the building.

“Look, I wasn’t trying to make things difficult –“ Neal started, but was interrupted when Keller grabbed him by his shirt collar and pinned him up against the wall.

“They are going to cancel my record deal for this,” Keller fumed, laying a punch into Neal’s side, “You do know that, right?”

“Maybe you should’ve though about that before you stole my work,” Neal gasped as he tried to gain enough purchase to throw Keller off.

“Maybe you should have just left town when you ran off on Friday night. Maybe you should have never decided to one-up my stint at Adler’s,” Keller continued, landing a punch square across Neal’s jaw. “Maybe you should go back to whatever hole you crawled out of, or can’t you, Neal? Don’t you have someplace else to go?”

“Are you threatened by a little talent, Keller?” Neal said, now fuming, as he was finally able to land a punch against his rival, “Afraid you weren’t going to be able to keep up with me, so you had to bring me down?”

This comment sent Keller into a rage, and despite Neal’s best efforts at defense, he was brought to the ground by the sudden onslaught.

The struggle ensued for a few moments until suddenly, Keller caught a blow across the jaw that was not from Neal. Looking up, the young man was surprised to see Peter, who had come to his defense.

“Leave him alone, Keller,” Peter growled, “Get out of here now or I’ll bring Reese out here to end you career for good.”

Grumbling Keller stood up and wiped himself off.

“Fine, but if you want to side with him, I guarantee you I will end his career,” Keller threatened.

“I’d like to see you try,” Peter retaliated, his brown eyes burning holes into Keller’s back as he stalked off.

His whole demeanor softening, Peter then bent down to Neal.

“Need a hand, kid?” he asked gently.

“Thanks,” Neal said, sorely climbing to his feet, “Some people just don’t like to be wrong, I guess.”

“Some people don’t know how to be decent human beings,” Peter grinned, “You alright?”

“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Neal responded, rubbing his bruising cheek and wiping a splash of blood away from a cut on his forehead.

“You want to come back to my place?” Peter asked, “You can get cleaned up, and Elizabeth makes great Cornish game hens.”

Neal smiled. “I don’t even know what that is, Peter.”

“They’re like little chickens. Come on, she’ll be glad to see you.”

“Sure, if you don’t mind, I’d love a hot meal before I head out.”

“Not one bit,” Peter assured with a smile.
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“Elizabeth, that was the best meal I have ever eaten,” Neal said, sitting back in his chair in the Burke’s dining room, “I’m not kidding. What were they called again?”

“Oh, sweetie, thank you,” Elizabeth gushed, “Cornish game hens. I picked up the recipe while we were… was it Nashville, hon?”

“Yes, Nashville, I think,” Peter confirmed. An easy silence settled in the room. Neal thought absently how strange it was to see Elizabeth Mitchell in her home, doing mundane things like cooking and cleaning up. She was such a tremendously well-known singer, yet here she was, a normal person, as beautiful on the inside as she was on the out. Neal felt privileged that the Burke’s had included him in this part of their lives, even if only for one night.

“So, Neal,” Peter started hesitantly, in a way that Neal understood that this conversation had just become serious, “Where are you headed?”

“I don’t know,” the young man answered truthfully.

“Do you mind if I ask you what you meant Friday night at the Beacon when you said that you had ‘lived’ that song?” Peter probed.

Immediately, Neal had to suppress the knee jerk reaction to spin a lie in response to the question about his past. He didn’t want anyone to know where he had come from. He didn’t need anyone else to carry that with them.

“We don’t mean to pressure you,” Elizabeth said, “We are just a little worried about you.”

At this, Neal looked up. Why would the Burke’s be worried about him?

“You don’t have to worry,” Neal said, “I can make it on my own.”

“We know you can, Neal,” Peter said, “We just want you to know that you don’t always have to.”

Neal sighed and looked away. He hated these kinds of conversations, but Peter had given him a chance. He was still giving him a chance, and Neal thought that the least he could do was give him the whole story.

“I grew up in St. Louis with the name Danny, thinking my father, who was a cop, had died a hero in a hail of gunfire. My mother wasn’t all there after my father passed, so my dad’s partner, Ellen, took care of me a lot of the time. As I got older, I found ways to earn my own money, mostly hustling pool halls and picking wallets off of people. I loved – I still love – school, and I had a full ride on an academic scholarship to study art history and civil law at the University of Missouri, starting next fall.

“On my eighteenth birthday, a few weeks ago, Ellen had me over after school and told me that my dad wasn’t a hero. He was, instead, a dirty cop, and he was still alive. She also told me that the three of us had been placed in a witness protection program, and my name wasn’t Danny. It was Neal.”

At this, Neal paused to compose himself, and Elizabeth moved around to the other side of the table to put her arm around him.

“I didn’t know what to do. You know, when someone tells you everything you thought you knew about yourself was a lie, what are you supposed to do? I chose to run away from it all. So I bought my guitar off of a street musician and hopped a bunch of rides until I landed in New York City. I hadn’t really planned on being anything more than a street musician, until I stumbled upon Adler’s and met Mozzie, who introduced me to you guys.”

“Honey,” Elizabeth said, stroking his shoulders, “Your mother and Ellen must be so worried about you.”

“My mother hasn’t tried to get in touch with me since I left,” Neal responded, pain bleeding in his voice, and Elizabeth pulled him closer, “Ellen had called a bunch of times, and I’ve spoken to her once. She said WitSec was relocating her, which means they will change her name and her contact information. I didn’t want them to find me again, so I got rid of my phone that day.”

“Is that who you were talking to the day we went in to speak with Hughes?” Peter asked, and Neal nodded solemnly in response.

After a few moments of silence, Peter spoke again.

“So that leaves us with the question, where are you going to go?”

Neal looked up at him, trying to fight back the tears.

“I told you, I don’t know. I don’t have a place I can call home, but I’ll be fine on my own.”

“You can stay here,” Elizabeth offered with a warm smile, “As long as you want to.”

“You guys have done enough for me already…” Neal started, his voice trailing off.

“Neal,” Peter said firmly, “You’re a good kid. You’re a talented kid. You deserve a life that’s better than running from your past all of the time. Stay with us.”

The young man looked up at Peter, whose concerned brown eyes were almost pleading with him. And he thought, that for the first time since he had become ‘Neal’, that he might have finally found a place to call home again.
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Epilogue
2 Years Later

“And now I would like to introduce a very special guest this evening, Mrs. June Ellington!” Neal called from the stage at the Beacon Theater, and his fans went wild.

“What shall we sing, then, Mr. Caffrey?” June asked playfully as she sauntered on stage, the lights catching her diamonds and making them glitter, “How about my favorite?”

Neal simply smiled and flipped his old fedora onto his head as the beginning bars to his first hit song began to play. As June began to harmonize to the melody of the first verse, Neal stole a quick glance to the side of the stage, where Peter and Elizabeth were both looking on. He never would have guessed two years ago when he was sitting on the steps of the St. Louis Arch that life would have ever brought him to this moment, but he was so glad it did. It seemed like such a long time ago now, but the years had passed so quickly.

As the chorus came around, Neal chimed in with June in perfect rhythm, singing the song of his past proudly, knowing that he had come a long way since that eighteen year old who had landed awkwardly in the heart of New York City. These days, the memories the song brought back didn’t hurt as much. He had a story and he wanted to tell it, just as June had told him once years ago.

And to the side of the stage, Elizabeth Mitchell whistled and Peter Burke stood proudly looking on. Throughout this journey, they had been his biggest fans, continual sources of encouragement and support. They had showed him he didn’t always have to run from his past, and he was so glad he listened. He was so glad he had stayed.

Thank you so much for your time. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it. :)
 
Terrific story. I loved that Neal's first instrument was a violin and that, oh my G-d, he LOVED to practice. WOW, that was great. Could a sequel possibly be in order on any fall out from Keller and Adler? Please.
Oh wow, thank you so much! I really appreciate your awesome feedback - this is my first true AU and I was a little nervous about it!

I would definitely love to write a sequel. A fallout between Keller and Adler would be extremely fun to write - and I could definitely see that happening within the context of this AU. I will have to see where that plot bunny goes... ;)

Thank you so much, again! I am really glad you enjoyed this!! :)
It was great to see June come to Neal's defence. I also loved that Peter got to punch Keller and save Neal. Thanks for a happy ending. : )
Thank you so much for taking the time to read it and for your feedback!! I am so glad you enjoyed the ending. I imagine Peter enjoyed that chance to deck Keller quite a bit. :)
(Anonymous)
What a wonderful, feel-good story. It was so nice to see everyone rally around Neal and give him the support he so desperately needed. Peter punching Keller was just the icing on the cake. Thanks so much for sharing. I forgot to mention the artwork--It was amazing and definitely enhanced the story.
Thank you so much for your feedback! I am so glad you enjoyed this! Neal definitely deserved all the support he received after what he had been through. :)

And I agree, the artwork by embroiderama is indeed amazing! Thank you again! :)
What a beautiful story! I really liked this. I loved that Neal didn't run and June backed him up. Great fic :)
Thank you so much! I am really glad that you enjoyed this. :) I love June, I feel like no matter what the circumstance, she will always stick up for Neal!

Thank you again!
That's so sweet. I loved that Neal was such a fan of June's from childhood, and how she was able to back his story about his song. I especially ejoyed how, no matter the 'verse, Mozzie will always irritate Peter.
I am glad that you enjoyed this, thank you so much for reading and leaving feedback! I love that aspect of Peter and Mozzie - it is so much fun to see how he will annoy Peter, even outside of canon circumstances.

Thank you again! :)
Awesome story! and a really touching ending. I loved how everybody fits in this AU, but I especially, especially loved Mozzie :-D
Thank you so much! I am glad you enjoyed it! Mozzie is such a fun character to write - I feel that no matter what the situation he would be put in, his... Mozzie-ness... will never change. :)

Thank you again! :)
this is lovely. As a musician I appreciate any and all fics with music at the center. You did a great job. Loved the tension when Keller stole Neal's song and the fact that everyone thought that Neal ran but he didn't.

Great job.
Thank you so much, I really appreciate your time and feedback!! How awesome it is that you are a musician... I wish I had that talent!