Neal Island

Of Rhythm and Blues, Part Two

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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83878_original
Mozzie downed the last half of his Bailey’s Irish Crème in one gulp. He wasn’t sure why he came to this place anymore, since it seemed like every night, Matthew Keller was the only winner. The man didn’t even have real talent as far as he was concerned – he only knew how to work a crowd, molding his set into what he knew would earn the most money instead of concerning himself with producing music that would challenge him or make him better. It was like a giant con designed to make maximum profit off minimal effort, and while it was well known within his circle that Mozzie didn’t mind cheating the rules every now and then, he suspended his opinion on that when it came to music. Intellectual property laws aside, music was something deeply personal, meant to share one’s inner thoughts and feelings and to reward a listener by making them feel something in return. Besides, Keller lacked a certain grace and majesty that Adler’s was once known for drawing out, and his posture, one of Mozzie’s biggest pet peeves, was abysmal.

Idly, he remembered back a few years ago when he and June would come here each Thursday evening to enjoy the show. There had been many talented duelers then. The sound of Chopin, Beethoven, and the like would fill the air, graced with an occasional original score, and Mozzie and June would sit back with their coffee and just enjoy. When Matthew Keller first came on the scene a few months ago, his style was new and edgy. It was fun for a while, but then his sets became repetitive and it seemed that Mozzie could hear the same damn thing on any radio station in the city. He craved individuality in his music. However, it seemed that the rest of the regular population had been captivated and Matthew’s tired, monotonous act subsisted.

As the bald man stood up to leave, he noticed a rustling in the back of the room. Someone he hadn’t seen before was making his way up to the front of the stage, clumsily but with some purpose. He looked to be but a young kid, no more than twenty, and his clothes suggested that he did not frequent this kind of upscale place. Curious, Mozzie flagged down his favorite waitress, Gina, to order another Irish Crème, and then sat back down. He supposed he had time to watch one more round, even if he was doubtful this adolescent would offer his ears any reprieve.

The kid bounded up the stage steps and placed his guitar and hat on the ground. Then, he sat down at the old Steinway and looked Keller directly in the eye as Adler gave them the signal to play, exuding an almost extortionate amount of confidence.

The young man went first, choosing to start out with a mellow song with a fairly complex melody that Mozzie had never heard before. He at first wondered if it was another pop number like Keller often chose to play, but based on the looks of the other faces in the crowd, he suspected that maybe it was an original. It was beautifully poignant, and as the notes filled the air, they invoked a surge of despondent emotion that took the bald man off guard. He hadn’t expected this at all.

On stage, the young man’s blue eyes were closed as he allowed himself to get lost in the music. His posture was less than perfect, but Mozzie could excuse that this one time, as it was evident the young boy was completely lost in the piece. His fluid movements that mirrored the rhythm of the song indicated he was playing from someplace deep within his heart. Too quickly, his turn was over, and as the kid’s deft fingers slid over the final notes, the bald man was pleased to see that some people were already tossing some money in his fedora.

Keller retaliated with a swifter cover of a current punk rock song, a charade that caused the young boy across from him to look repulsed. Matthew had a look of defiance plastered across his face, clearly shaken by the raw talent the kid had exuded but certainly not about to give up. Keller oversold the performance, rocking his head back and stomping at the pedals, and despite his exaggerated theatrics earned some money from the typical following. Mozzie sat and absently drummed his fingers on the table, waiting patiently for Keller’s turn to be up so the dark haired young man could go again. In what felt like an eternity, the punky melody finally ceased.

The newcomer immediately chimed in, this time with a much, much faster paced song with a syncopated beat and a harmony in the melody that added a familiar flair of blues or jazz. The crowd began clapping along, and soon Mozzie found his own loafers stomping in time as well. Again, the music guru didn’t recognize the song, so he had to believe it was an original, and now, he was truly impressed. The kid smiled a huge, white-toothed grin the whole time while looking directly at Keller as the crowd ate up each note, a silent challenge to the veteran’s throne, and by the time he finished the number, his fedora was overflowing with dollar bills.

Keller looked ticked. It wasn’t often his opponents forced him to show real talent anymore, and Mozzie thoroughly enjoyed watching him seethe. In retaliation, he chose his own original score, perhaps the only one the bald man ever considered liking. The familiar tones soon filled his ears, but in Mozzie’s opinion, even though it was an original it still lacked a level of depth that good music should possess. The crowd, however, was elated to hear one of Matthew’s own tunes, for it happened so rarely, and soon his jar was overflowing as well.

In his final attempt, the new kid whipped out a pure classic. When Mozzie heard the upbeat notes of Le Piccadilly by Satie, he was sure that this young man was something special. The boy’s fingers seemed to float over the keys, mastering the complex and lively melody with such ease that Mozzie thought that he must be a prodigy. In the back of the room, a few of the older couples had cleared tables away and begun dancing, and in the front, newfound fans were rushing forward to place dollar bills in his fedora.

Partially because Keller’s jar still looked ominously full and partially because he had been so unexpectedly blown away, Mozzie fished a hundred dollar bill out of his wallet and walked up to place it in the black fedora. For the briefest of moments, the boy broke his concentration to acknowledge the bald man, and his young eyes widened in disbelieving gratitude when he saw how much he had given.

In that moment, Mozzie could tell that this kid wasn’t here just because he wanted to have fun or to show off. This kid was here because he had nowhere else to go, and that notion broke the older man’s heart.

Thanks in large to Moz’s contribution, at the end of the round Vincent Adler declared the young man the winner. When asked his name, he charismatically teased that he never gave away all his secrets before he collected his things and scurried off the stage. Thoroughly intrigued by this mysterious young musician, Mozzie quickly hurried out after him after throwing a twenty down on the table for Gina.

Stepping out onto the busy street, he immediately caught sight of the fedora floating away from him through the crowd. It had been a while since he had tailed anyone like this, but the kid surely needed someplace to go and Mozzie knew just the place.
--------------

Maybe it was just his nerves on edge at the first time being in this new city, but it felt like Neal was being followed. His impromptu stint at Adler’s had gone better than he ever would have dreamed, but he couldn’t revel too long. He needed to find a place to sleep tonight.

After walking a few blocks from the coffeehouse, Neal found a relatively well-lit park. Quickly, he hopped the chain link fence and then walked over to the swing set and sat down. He hadn’t actually counted his earnings yet, but he wanted to see how much was there. Deciding that his concern at being followed was just his nerves, he took a few deep breaths to settle down and soon he felt much more at ease. He had just pulled out the wad of cash from his backpack when a figure appeared next to him, startling him.

“Hey kid,” an older bald man with glasses said. He was dressed a little too nicely to be creeping around a park at night, “I’m the guy from the coffeehouse.”

“Yeah,” Neal acknowledged, suddenly recognizing him as the man who gave him the hundred dollar bill, “I’m not giving you your money back.”

“Keep it,” the older man said succinctly as he sat down on a swing, his short legs barely touching the woodchips below.

“What’s your angle?” Neal eyed him curiously.

“Would I be wrong to think you are in need of a place to go tonight?”

Neal remained silent, unsure of whether or not to trust this eccentric man.

“Listen, kid, I saw how talented you are. I know someone who might be interested in hearing you play,” the older man probed.

“I don’t have a lot of money,” Neal said defensively, “I can’t pay you.”

“You don’t need to,” the bald man said sincerely, “Just trying to find myself a new partner.”

At this, Neal looked up. “Partner? What do you do?”

We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams,” Mozzie began to quote.

Neal stared blankly back at the man, not quite understanding what that meant.

“Listen, I have connections,” the man replied curtly, “And you need to read more. You need a place to stay tonight or not? I don’t have all night.”

Neal thought about it a moment before replying. The man seemed harmless. Strange, but harmless, and after all, where else was he going to go?

“Sure,” Neal said, “What’s your name?”

“You can call me Mozzie,” the older man replied as he stood up to leave, “What’s yours? Nice evasion back at Adler’s.”

Neal was silent for a moment, unsure of how to answer. The name Neal still felt so awkward on his tongue, void of meaning and memories. But the name Danny brought back such a terrible clenching feeling in his chest.

“I don’t know why you are here, but I’m not going to rat you out or anything. The mind-controlling bureaucrats who rule our fair land may or may not know my real name either.”

At this, Neal smiled. It’s not that he did anything wrong, per se. But he didn’t want word of his presence in New York to get back to WitSec.

“Neal,” the boy replied awkwardly. It was the first time he had introduced himself using his true name, and it felt oddly liberating. “My name’s Neal.”

Mozzie smiled wordlessly and then abruptly took off out of the park. After catching up, Neal walked beside him in silence for what felt like forever, all the while alternating between excitement and homesickness. This city was nothing like his home, and it both thrilled and frightened him. Finally, they stopped in front of a house bigger than any Neal had seen in his life.

“You live here? It’s like a palace from a novel.” Neal stated in awe.

“Ah, so you do read. Don’t get too excited, I just rent the epilogue. June is the owner, but she’s asleep by now. You can meet her in the morning,” Mozzie explained as he let himself in and then stepped aside so that Neal could follow.

The place was absolutely grand, with incredibly high ceilings and decorated with enormous works of art. Mozzie led him up two flights of stairs to third floor, where he unlocked another door into his apartment. This space was also gorgeous, with an open floor plan that had access to a beautiful outdoor terrace, and boasted an impressive collection of both books and wine, as well as a bird’s eye view of Manhattan.

“This is amazing,” Neal said, stunned.

“It’ll do for now,” Mozzie replied, looking around the place, “I’m going to go get some sheets for the couch. You can make yourself at home.”

The bald man then disappeared around a corner, only to return a split second later.

“And don’t try anything funny, this place has cameras,” he added tersely before disappearing again.

Snickering at the man’s comment, Neal sunk down into the red leather sofa, allowing its glorious softness to encompass his body. He hadn’t been inside of a real home since his mother’s in St. Louis, and it felt amazing to be able to relax in something other than someone’s passenger seat.

As he let his eyes close just for a moment, Neal thought absently that he was going to like Mozzie. He was strange for sure, but he seemed genuine and sincere.

By the time Mozzie returned with the sheets, Neal was already fast asleep.
--------------

Peter groaned when his phone rang, awakening him from his slumber at what he considered an unnatural hour on a Saturday morning. Beside him, Elizabeth stirred as he clumsily reached out to his night table.

“This is Burke,” he slurred, still stuck in a somnolent stupor.

“Hey, Suit,” the distantly familiar voice on the other line said, “I have a favor to ask.”

“Mozzie?!” the talent agent replied, suddenly wide awake as he shot up in bed, “What the hell? It’s eight in the morning on a Saturday!”

“No time for pleasantries, Suit – “

“That wasn’t a pleasantry.”

“Semantics. Listen, I met a kid last night at Adler’s. He is really good.”

“The dueling piano house, really? You woke me up this early on a Saturday because of someone at the dueling piano house?”

“I repeat, he was really good! He blew me away.”

Peter sighed in annoyed exacerbation. “And you’re a musical expert?”

“I’ve been around the block a time or two, yes.”

“Define around the block.”

“I’d rather not,” Mozzie said cryptically, “Listen, will you meet with him?”

“No, Mozzie. This is my first free weekend home with Elizabeth in a year. I will not meet with him.”

“Meet with who?” Elizabeth murmured next to her husband in bed.

“Mozzie found some kid at Adler’s last night that he thought was decent –“

“Not just decent – a prodigy!” Mozzie yelled into the phone in the background.

“And he wants me to take a listen to him,” Peter finished.

“What could it hurt, hon?” Elizabeth said, sitting up, “Maybe he is a prodigy.”

Peter shot his wife a look of disbelief before returning to his conversation. “We’re busy this weekend, Mozzie. Maybe some other time.”

“She wants you to listen to him, doesn’t she?”

“No.”

“Yes, she does.”

“No, she doesn’t.”

Yes, she does.”

“This conversation is over.”

“He beat Matthew Keller.”

At this, Peter silenced. Matthew Keller was slated to be the next up and coming star for Reese Records. It wasn’t common knowledge just yet, but another talent agent who had been in the business for years, Garret Fowler, had just cut him a deal. Fowler was a seedy man, and Peter didn’t care much for him. He had felt the same about Keller on the single occasion he had met with him.

“He beat Keller?” Peter repeated.

“I may have helped…” Mozzie trailed off, “But he did.”

Peter sighed. He always got roped into these things.

“Fine. Bring him by the house this afternoon and I’ll meet with him.”

“Why don’t I just bring him by the studio?”

“How do you even know where that is?”

“Never mind. Thanks, Suit! We will see you later,” Mozzie finished quickly before hanging up. Peter put his phone back on the nightstand and then fell back heavily on his pillow beside Elizabeth.

“How do I always get into these situations?” he asked rhetorically.

“You’re a good man, Peter Burke,” Elizabeth said, sliding her arm around him.

“This is why I don’t tell people what I do. They start to use you for your job. Just like neighbors, who use me for my tools.”

Elizabeth giggled. “Just listen to him, hon. He may be better than you expect.”

Sighing, Peter curled into Elizabeth’s embrace, trying desperately to cling to what was left of his peaceful Saturday morning.

“For Mozzie’s sake this kid had better be good.”
--------------

Neal awoke, startled, to a knock on the door, disoriented and unsure of where he was. Then, the memories hit him like a truck – the huge mansion, the quirky bald man, the park, Adler’s, long hours with strangers on the road, fedoras… He forced himself to stop here, unwilling to dive any deeper into the memories of his past few days.

Pulling himself up off the couch, Neal saw that Mozzie was out on the terrace making a phone call. He couldn’t make out what the man was saying, but it appeared he was arguing with whoever was on the other end of the line, and he was flailing his free arm wildly in the air.

The knock on the door sounded again, and Neal hesitantly shuffled over to open it. He nearly fell over when he saw who it was.

“Hi, I’m June,” the jazz queen said, holding a tray of biscotti and three mugs of coffee, donning a brilliantly white smile, “You must be Neal.”

“Yes, I am,” the young boy said, quickly stepping aside to let her into the apartment, “I – just – wow – I can’t believe… Mozzie said… I had no idea – It is such an honor to meet you, I am such a huge fan.”

The legend beamed in response. “Thank you, it’s always so nice to see fans coming from the younger generation. I hear you have quite the talent yourself.”

 “I just mess around here and there,” he said, his face reddening, “But I grew up listening to you. My mom would play your music all of the time.”

June smiled and was about to say something just as Mozzie burst in from the terrace.

“Oh good, you’re awake, kid.  I see you have met the lovely June,” Mozzie said, beaming.

“Yes, you didn’t tell me the June who owned this place was June Ellington.”

“Semantics,” Mozzie said, waving his hand in the air, “Listen, I got you an appointment with that guy who might be interested in your work. His name’s Peter, and we are meeting him later this afternoon at his place. He’s a little stuffy, but his wife is perfect.”

“Oh excellent,” June said, still smiling, “Will Elizabeth be home?”

“I am sure she will be,” Mozzie replied.

“Give her my regards and hellos, please,” June said with a wink.

“Of course, of course, my lady,” Mozzie responded.

“Now does Peter know Neal’s style?”

“No, I only told him I met him at Adler’s last night.”

“Good, good. He will be pleasantly surprised if he is expecting a Keller.”

“Precisely,” Mozzie said, pointing his finger in the air to accentuate the point, “Now, how should we dress him?”

Neal was starting to feel like he wasn’t even in the room as his two new city friends carried on about him.

“He looks to be the same size as Byron,” June said as a slight glisten formed in her eye, “Let me see what I still have in the closet back there.”

The legend disappeared only to return promptly with three suits in her hands.

“I’m not really a suit kind of guy,” Neal said sheepishly, and Mozzie and June looked at him quizzically.

“Honey,” June probed with a convincing smile, “You are going to look dazzling.”

So Neal conceded, because how could he say no to June Ellington, and in the end the trio chose a dark grey combination with a maroon skinny tie.

“This is for luck,” June beamed, pulling a tie clip out of her pocket and pinning it on, “My Bryon always wore it at my shows.”

Mozzie stepped back and looked in the young kid’s direction. “You’re missing something,” he said concernedly.

“A plan?” Neal said, only half in jest. This all seemed like it was happening so quickly.

“No one needs a plan. ‘The best laid plans of Mice and Men often go awry’.”

“He’s missing this,” June said, ignoring Mozzie’s quote and picking up the fedora that young man had unceremoniously tossed aside in his tired haze last night.

Neal took it and smiled, and then flipped it suavely onto his head, tilting it at just the right angle.

“Now you’re a star, Dino,” Mozzie said, with a grin, and June agreed. “Let’s go meet Peter.” Continue to Part Three!
Neal Island

Of Rhythm and Blues, Part One

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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The old wooden door slammed against its frame as the young man pushed into the third story apartment, storming in a rage of emotion.

“Danny,” a woman acknowledged from a small kitchen table, her dark hair a mess as she took a swig of the small square glass in front of her, “I didn’t expect you home so early. Ellen said you were going out for dinner. Happy Birthday, baby. I can’t believe my little boy is eighteen already.”

The boy didn’t even glance in her direction as he made his way through the old kitchen into his tiny bedroom. Hastily, he dumped his day’s worth of textbooks onto his bed and started shoving clothing into his ragged knapsack. Then, after tearing apart his sock drawer, he threw in a wad of cash bound by a gold tie clip with a police prescient’s engraving. Hands shaking, he slammed the drawer shut again and stormed back down the hallway, his steps echoing wildly in the small, barren space.

The woman had gotten up from the table and was standing in the kitchen doorway, supporting herself on its paint chipped frame and blocking the only exit from the small apartment. Her breath smelled strongly of whiskey, and as she clasped the young boy’s face, he could see the tears welling in her eyes.

“I told her not to tell you, baby. I wanted to talk to you myself,” she slurred, trying to stroke his hair. The boy pulled out of her grasp.

“But you didn’t,” was all he said, pushing past her.

“Where you gonna’ go?” she asked, her voice cracking, “Where you gonna’ go, Danny? You can’t just run off. I’m sorry, baby, but I did the best I could.”

The boy stared back at her, blue eyes matching hers in a cold stare.

“My name is Neal,” he stated as he shoved open the door, walking out of the apartment, and by the time she had stumbled across the kitchen, he had already disappeared.
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The sequins on her lacy black dress caught the turn of the stage lights, scattering brilliant rainbows through the air in every direction. Her voice was smooth and rich as she hit each note with ease, and her smile was simply dazzling. She twirled around, her long brunette hair wrapping her body in a curtain as it flowed behind her, and the noise decimal easily tripled in the huge arena as she reached the chorus of her newest hit song. She was beautiful in every aspect of the word, and each time he watched her perform, Peter Burke could not believe that he could call Elizabeth Mitchell his wife.

“She’s come a long way from that meek young woman you first introduced me to,” June Ellington said from her seat beside him backstage, linking her arm into his, “You should be so proud.”

Peter blushed a little. Even though his friendship with June had started well before he had even met Elizabeth, there was something still so reverent about receiving a compliment from the likeness of such a legendary jazz and soul star.

“She’s got a lot of talent,” Peter said humbly, “I can’t take credit for that, and we both owe you a huge thank you for teaching her how best to use it.”

“Nonsense,” she said, flipping her free hand, adorned with pearls and a vintage diamond ring, “I enjoyed working with her this past year. It has been an absolute honor.”

Peter smiled. In retrospect, he also had come a long way since he first walked in as a new graduate to fill out an application as a talent agent with Reese Records. To his surprise, he had immediately been offered the job. Then, mere months after his start, the business got wind that the legend June Ellington was in the market for a new representative, since her longtime talent agent and husband, Byron, had passed away a few months prior. Peter had only been one of many agents vying for the spot, and the one with least experience at that, so he had never expected to land it. But his mentor, boss, and company owner, Reese Hughes, had encouraged him to bid on it, and ten years ago today he had signed a contract as an agent for the legend. He hadn’t looked back since.

The crowd thundered in applause as Elizabeth sang the last line, and lighters and cellphones immediately danced across the vast breadth of darkness that expanded in front of the stage, signifying the fans’ desire to witness a third encore. But Elizabeth just blew kisses to the sold-out crowd in response. She was young and fit, but a three and half hour set was draining nonetheless, especially with the heart and soul she poured into her performance. Plus, as much as she loved this new life, she was dying to finally get to be home and to spend some time being normal again.

“What a beautiful crowd to share my last night of this first tour with. Thank you, Madison Square Garden, it is good to be home!”

Smiling, she shook hands with the fans in the front row as she collected bouquets on her way offstage, winking in between handshakes at her husband and June.

“Boss,” a voice suddenly cut over the noise into Peter’s ear, who was excitedly anticipating his reunion with the starlet, “Wesley’s got a private party going downtown and invited you both there to celebrate. Should I tell him you’ll be coming?”

Peter looked at his assistant with a blank stare.

“When do we ever attend the after-party? We’re in New York, it’s the last night of the tour. Elizabeth and I will be celebrating at home this evening.”

“That’s what I thought, Boss, I’ve already declined the invite. Clinton has pulled the car around back,” Diana said with a knowing smile, “I’ve placed a bottle of moscato in the car for the Mrs., and some Sam Adams for you.” She knew him all too well.

“You’re too good to us, Diana. You go home too, and spend some time with Christie and Theo. You deserve it, it’s been a long haul.”

“But a good one, Peter, but a good one,” the young woman, clad in an elegant business suit, replied, and then, after a quick wink, she turned to go.

Smiling, Peter turned back toward the stage just in time for his wife to leap into his arms.

“You were fantastic, Hon,” he said, swinging her around and kissing her softly on the forehead, “But I’m so glad I don’t have to share you with millions for a while.”

“I love you, Hon,” she replied hoarsely, “I can’t wait to finally be home.”

“Me neither,” he said, whisking her away quickly toward the back exit, “Me neither. Let’s make a quick escape before too many people realize you’re leaving,”

“Wait, June,” Elizabeth called over her shoulder, “Thank you so much for coming.”

“Sweetie, I wouldn’t miss it for the world. Now you two run off and have a good evening.”

Elizabeth turned back to her husband, elated to be returning to their little townhome in Brooklyn for the first time in almost a year. She felt like a teenager about to go on her first date.

“Don’t you worry, June,” she said, “We will.”
--------------

The air was heavy and balmy, way too hot for this early in the year, but Neal had grown accustomed to the erratic weather that had characterized his home in Missouri for the past eighteen years. Idly, he wandered up the steps toward the Gateway Arch, the crowning symbol of his city. Looking out over the Mississippi Riverfront as the sun set behind him, he pondered where he ought to go. One of the easier ways out of the city would be to sneak on a barge and take it down to Baton Rogue, but something about that didn’t sit right with him. He had little cash for a bus or a train ticket, and walking wouldn’t get him far enough. Sighing, he sat down on the shallow steps and watched the world below as he contemplated his options.

Children danced jovially down along the Riverfront walkway as their parents lumbered slowly behind. A group of college aged kids, decked out in black and gold and presumably on a trip from the University walked by, taking photos of the monument as they passed. Before today, he would have thought that one day that would be him. He had already earned an academic scholarship, a full ride to take on a double major in art history and civil law a few hours west in Columbia, and with graduation only mere months away, he knew the smartest thing would be to wait it out and start anew there. He could lie low in a friend’s loft for the next few months, finish out his high school diploma, and take off to the University without a word to his mom or Ellen. But he didn’t want to do that anymore, not after finding out everything he had worked so hard for had been built on a lie.

Lovers strolled through the park’s path, holding hands and oblivious to the world around him. Old blues music wafted through the air from a street musician sitting on a nearby bench, who was finger picking an old Gibson and singing about glory days gone by. Neal had always loved this aspect of the Midwestern city. There was a certain culture here that could not be replaced. Sure, other cities had better art museums, or plays, or restaurants, all of which Neal could appreciate, but this city had such great history and personality, and its streets were always alive with the sound of an old-time tune. He thought absently that he would always carry that with him, no matter where he might end up.

As the sun sank lower on the horizon, he made his way back down the steps toward the street musician, still unsure of exactly where to go. He dug in his backpack awkwardly for his wad of cash, and stopped in front of the older man, dropping two dollars in the fedora sitting on the ground when he took a break between songs.

“How much for the Gibson?” the light-eyed boy asked with an authority that belied his age.

“It’s not for sale,” the gruff voice replied, aged blue eyes peeking up curiously from his work.

“What about this?” Neal asked as he produced the tie clip with his father’s precinct number engraved on it out of thin air, “It’s pure gold.”

“Nice trick. Where’d you get this, kid? It ain’t stolen, is it?”

“No,” Neal said, “It was my dad’s. You want it for the guitar or not?”

The man took the clip from Neal and studied it.

“Your dad a cop?”

“No,” Neal said, and when the musician’s eyes met his with skepticism, he added, “Not anymore. It’s worth a lot. You could melt it down or resell it. You want it?”

The man remained silent for a moment, his tough demeanor slowly melting as he studied the clip a while longer.

“Sure,” he said, slowly, placing the guitar in its case and handing it to Neal, “It’s got a broken pickup and a big ol’ crack in the back, though.”

“That’s fine,” Neal said, taking the instrument, “It still makes music.”

“That she does, son,” the street musician said, his face softening, “Where you headed?”

“Who says I’m headed somewhere?” the boy asked, suddenly defensive.

“I know people, kid, I can tell when they’re leaving for good. Wherever you go, don’t be afraid,” he said with a genuine smile, “It’ll be alright. You got your whole life ahead of you. Go on and have fun.”

Neal smiled and shook the man’s hand before turning to go, his heart aching a little already.

“Just don’t forget the ones you leave behind,” the street musician called out, and as Neal turned back, he thought he saw the man’s eyes glistening.

“And you’d better take good care of my Gibson! Here,” the man called him back, emptying out the fedora of his night’s meager earnings, “Take this with you. You’ll need it more than I do.”

Neal watched as the man stood up, smiling fondly as he tossed Neal the fedora, “You put that on now and walk like you’ve got someplace to be. You’ll go far, kid, don’t you worry.”

The young boy smiled, blue eyes looking back as he rolled the fedora up his arm and popped it on his head with his shoulder. “I’ll mind your Gibson just fine, sir, I promise. What’s your name, anyway?”

A twinkle lit in the old musician’s eye, “Wise men don’t give away all their secrets. Now get going, you’re a natural, blue eyes. Take care of yourself, kid.”

Smiling to himself, the young boy turned quickly on his heels and jogged off down the path, hoping to make it to the east entrance ramp of interstate 70 before nightfall. For some reason, the old man had reminded him of the vintage Sinatra posters his mom had hanging on the walls of her bedroom. Whenever Neal was sick or sad back when he was a child, she used to let him crawl into her bed, and the smooth voice of the famous crooner would lull him to sleep. She had told him that his father loved the singer, and that their first song together had been one of his. He wasn’t sure what about the old man had brought that memory back, but somehow, he seemed distantly familiar, as if he knew more about Neal than he had let on.

At any rate, he was glad he did, because the man had reminded him of just the perfect place to go to get his brand new start. He had always wanted to go to New York City.
--------------

Peter playfully goosed Elizabeth as he slammed his shoulder against his townhome door, eager to walk into his Brooklyn home for the first time in what felt like forever, but reluctant to remove his hand from Elizabeth’s waist long enough to manipulate his keys. The place was modest – certainly not what one would expect from such a high profile couple – but it was how they liked it. A little two-bedroom townhome with a tiny backyard for their Labrador in the heart Brooklyn seemed like the perfect reprieve from the chaos their life had become since Elizabeth’s recent rise to fame.

Finally able to swing the door open, Peter stepped aside and allowed his wife to walk in first, greeted in the dark by a happy yip from a ball of fur literally trembling with excitement.

Peter stepped in behind her and bent down to pet the dog just as the agonizingly bright living room lights turned on suddenly and a little bald man jumped from the staircase raising a banana in the air, shrieking manically. Elizabeth screamed, Satchmo barked, and Peter aged ten years before he realized who it was.

“MOZZIE!” The talent agent roared, his heart rate racing, “What are you doing?!”

“What am I supposed to do when you come barging in at all hours of the night?” the bald man replied, clad in his pajamas and clearly annoyed, “I was protecting your humble abode. And your canine, for that matter.”

Sighing, Peter rubbed his forehead. He had wanted to hire anyone, anyone, but this quirky man to take care of the house and Satchmo while he and Elizabeth were out on tour, but June had spoken so many great things about him. Apparently, they had met years ago at a local coffeehouse and now played Parcheesi together. Plus, the first time Elizabeth had met him, she had been enamored by his peculiar personality. In the months leading up to the tour, they had even started having regular lunch dates, not that Peter would ever admit to jealousy.

“What exactly were you defending yourself with? A banana?” Peter asked incredulously, his heart still racing.

“Not just a banana,” Mozzie said with pride as he flicked it open to extend a sharp blade from its top, “A banana knife. Russian surplus –“

“Just stop,” Peter said, holding up a hand, “I don’t want to know.”

Sensing that the characteristic bickering was never going to end without her interjection, Elizabeth jumped into the conversation to thank Mozzie for his services while they were away. They then exchanged small talk for a little while before he turned to leave.

“As always, it’s been a pleasure, madam,” Mozzie said charmingly to Elizabeth bowing slightly as he kissed her hand, and then, “Take good care of her, Suit.”

Peter cringed at the man’s nickname for him. It was well known in the business that despite his incredible success as a talent agent, Peter Burke lacked any semblance of success when it came to his wardrobe. Despite this fact, the ascot-wearing man’s digs about his Brooks Brothers attire always rubbed him the wrong way.

He had a few choice words he wanted to say in retaliation, but a look from his wife told him it was best just to smile and wave as the short man bounded down their stoop steps and disappeared into the darkness.

After Peter closed the door, he turned to Elizabeth. “Why do I always feel the need to search our place for missing items every time he leaves?”

“Oh, you’re too hard on him, Hon,” Elizabeth said, kissing him lightly on the lips. “He means well. Now, come with me. I think we’re supposed to be celebrating tonight, aren’t we?”

Smiling deviously, Peter kissed her back, his annoyance at Mozzie dissipating quickly. It was already past midnight, but that didn’t matter. They were finally home, and it sure felt nice to wrap himself in Elizabeth’s arms as they receded for the evening to their bedroom. She was right: there sure was a lot to celebrate.
--------------

The ride to New York City took all of about twenty-four hours, between stopping for food, rest, and switching vehicles. All in all, Neal had bummed rides off of two truck drivers, one college kid headed home for the summer, and a man relocating himself due to a divorce. The last leg, which was a particularly long stretch from West Virginia straight into the city, was rather quiet and depressing. His companion, with good reason, hadn’t been very talkative and Neal had a lot of time to think about his current situation. By the time he bid his thanks and well wishes to the man and stepped out onto the bustling New York City street, Neal had worked himself up to a state somewhere in between depression and anxiety.

Looking up at the towering buildings and around at the people brushing past him, the young man had never felt more alone. It was unlike him not to have a plan already in play and a back up ready just in case, but this had all happened so fast. He had always been one to react rashly in the wake of strong emotions, and this situation had been especially tough to handle. But, poor planning aside, he needed to move forward and figure out where to go from here. The college kid who had given him a ride from Indianapolis to Wheeling had briefly explained the city layout the best he could, but already Neal could tell New York was so much bigger than his home city of St. Louis. If he was perfectly honest, he wasn’t even sure he knew which way was east and which was west.

A ticker atop a corner news shop indicated that it was nearly 9pm. He surprisingly wasn’t tired, but the growl in his stomach indicated he was probably running on pure adrenaline. The sun had long since set but the city was far from asleep, so he set out in no particular direction, focused on getting oriented and getting food.

About a block into his journey, Neal caught the unmistakable sound of a baby grand piano fighting to be heard over the city traffic. He followed the beautiful music, keeping his Gibson pulled taut against his back, until he was standing outside a corner coffee shop. Looking up at the old, vintage sign, he saw that the place was called Adler’s, and that it marketed itself as a piano coffee bar. Inside, two Steinway baby grands were facing each other on a small stage, and from the looks of it, both musicians were going at it whole-heartedly. Thoroughly intrigued, Neal popped his fedora on his head and walked in.

The place had an upscale, slightly pretentious vibe and the young man immediately felt under-dressed in his worn out jeans and grey v-neck tee shirt. Gazing around, he saw that people of every age were sitting in swank chairs, dressed to the nine and sipping Café Americanos, enjoying the two pianists’ show. The two musicians seemed to be dueling against one another in an attempt to win over the audience, who showed their apparent preference in the form of donations to their chosen musician’s jar. At the end of each round, the person with the most money in their jar got to stay on stage, while the other retired to the crowd with their earnings.

Neal was immediately fascinated. After fishing through his pockets, he determined he had just enough money to order a small cup of the place’s signature Italian Roast. He then sat down near the back of the room and observed the next few rounds.

He deduced quickly that the house favorite was unequivocally a short, slippery looking man named Matthew Keller. He was dressed for the part that he seemed to play, with a black leather jacket and dark washed jeans. Most of his tunes appeared to be complex piano arrangements of classic rock songs, although he did sprinkle in an original tune or a classical piece every now and then. He swept the floor with three other young men eager to try to take away his throne before volunteers stopped coming up to the stage readily. He was good, Neal thought, but nothing extraordinarily unique. After all, it was easy to win if you were feeding into what the crowd wanted, which was songs that they could recognize. It would have been more impressive had he been winning while playing only original or classical works.

After a minute or two sans challenger on the stage, a man in an incredibly fancy suit sauntered out. Introducing himself as the coffeehouse owner, Vincent Adler, he made one last call for volunteers to duel against Keller before he declared this evening’s official winner. Silence fell across the room as a smug smile began to spread across Matthew’s lips.

Neal didn’t know what it was about the man that he didn’t like, but something rubbed him the wrong way. Perhaps that is why he found himself shoving past the crowd, careful not to jostle anyone’s coffee with his guitar bag as he weaved his way up to the stage. The small crowd roared in eager anticipation as he placed the bulky instrument on the ground, removed his fedora, and placed it upside-down next to the jar on his side. He then took his place at the piano across from Matthew Keller while Adler, still on stage with them, welcomed him and declared the start of the next round.

And Neal, looking his opponent directly in his cold, brown eyes, began to play. Conintue to Part Two!
Neal - smile

White Collar Big Bang - Miles To Go Before I Sleep Artwork

Hello, everyone!

I am so excited to share the artwork for aragarna's WONDERFUL story, Miles To Go Before I Sleep, written for the 2014 Challenge at whitecollar_bb! Please check it out using the link below if you have not already read it. It is fantastic!

Title: Miles To Go Before I Sleep
Author: aragarna | Artist: eldorah

Summary: post-season 5. Neal goes missing, El goes to DC,
Peter gets restless and Mozzie steps over the line.


Link: Master Post | Part One | Part Two | Part Three

Miles To Go Cover Finished
More Art Here!Collapse )
Neal H/C

He Lies Waiting

Title: He Lies Waiting
Author: eldorah
Rating: PG
Pairings/Characters: Neal/Kate, Mozzie
Word Count: 1,978
Spoilers: None
Warnings: deals with homesickness, loneliness
Summary: A heart sore for home has the longest wait to endure. Written for the homesickness square on my H/C Bingo Card.

A/N: Beta'd by the wonderful rose_of_sharon1, my never-ending source of writing encouragement and guidance. All remaining mistakes are mine.

Disclaimer: White Collar and its characters are not mine - they are the property of Jeff Eastin and USA Network. Just having a little fun, I promise.


Neal lies awake in the early hours of the morning as the sound of the rain hitting the window taps out a gentle rhythm a few inches from his ear. Beside him, Kate is sleeping, with her slender fingers intertwined in the light blue mulberry silk sheet she bought last week with the reaping from a recent art heist.

He remembers that she had been so happy when she first brought the set home, pulling Neal seductively into the bed and kissing him teasingly on his lips until he admitted he adored it too. She had bought it because it was luxuriously soft and fancy, and the glimmer it caught from the sunlight made her feel like a princess in a private house along the Cote d’Azur.

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Neal - smile

Meme - Seven Days of Self-Promotion - Day 7

I have been wanting to join in on this meme but have been hesitating since I don't have a whole bunch of fics to pull from... but I have something that fits each day, and it has been such fun to read through everyone's entries and read fics/enjoy art I probably wouldn't have found otherwise. So I decided to give it a go! I believe the original source is embroiderama.

The Days
1. Something old
2. Something new - talk about a new fanwork of yours!
3. Something you made for someone else
4. Something you made just for yourself
5. Something for a large fandom/pairing/character
6. Something for a small fandom/pairing/character
7. Something you're just really proud of

Day 7 - Something You're Just Really Proud Of

Ah, the scheduled posting for this meme was going so well until I forgot to schedule the last day and missed yesterday.::face palm::  So, a day late, but the last fic I would like to share through this meme is All You Need. A response to a prompt by kanarek13, this relatively new piece is probably my favorite of any I have written, aside from Write Me Back which I have already shared. Sometimes, I will get stuck when writing a fic, or more often part of a fic, and it becomes a wrestling match to try to put down in words what I see in my head. For this one, however, the words just flowed like water, easily and naturally, and that made it so much fun to write.

All You Need
Summary: When memories cause Neal to lose control, a terrified Peter still finds a way to make it right.
Word Count: 2,500
Rating: PG13
Warnings: PTSD, flashbacks, kidnapping

Thank you to all who have followed along or may have stopped by to read a story, old or new. I greatly appreciate your time!
Neal - smile

Meme - Seven Days of Self-Promotion - Day 6

I have been wanting to join in on this meme but have been hesitating since I don't have a whole bunch of fics to pull from... but I have something that fits each day, and it has been such fun to read through everyone's entries and read fics/enjoy art I probably wouldn't have found otherwise. So I decided to give it a go! I believe the original source is embroiderama.

The Days
1. Something old
2. Something new - talk about a new fanwork of yours!
3. Something you made for someone else
4. Something you made just for yourself
5. Something for a large fandom/pairing/character
6. Something for a small fandom/pairing/character
7. Something you're just really proud of

Day 6 - Something For a Small Fandom/Pairing/Character

Most of my fics are driven by the dynamic between Peter and Neal, whose bromance I touched on for yesterday's category regarding popular characters in the fandom. For today, I'd like to share a piece that deals heavily with one of the great supporting characters of the show.

The fic for today is To Chase A Dream, another one written in response to a fantastic prompt by sholio, this time in collarcorner. I have always loved how the writers of White Collar portray women in a way that is feminine yet still strong and independent, and Elizabeth's decision in the finale of season 5 is no exception.

While trying to be vague for the sake of spoilers, although my heart was breaking, I was still so proud of her in that moment. And although I suspect the focus for this particular twist in our show will be more on how it affects Peter, since after all, Elizabeth is a supporting character, it makes me so happy to see a portrayal of a working woman confident enough in her marriage that she is willing to chase her dreams wherever they take her. Thus, with this piece, I wanted to validate her decision yet still present her in a way that is realistic to the modern, adaptable, resilient Burke couple we all know and love.

To Chase A Dream
Summary: Elizabeth knows her decision is right, but that doesn't mean it was easy.
Word Count: 1,180
Rating: G
Neal - smile

Meme - Seven Days of Self-Promotion - Day 5

I have been wanting to join in on this meme but have been hesitating since I don't have a whole bunch of fics to pull from... but I have something that fits each day, and it has been such fun to read through everyone's entries and read fics/enjoy art I probably wouldn't have found otherwise. So I decided to give it a go! I believe the original source is embroiderama.

The Days

1. Something old
2. Something new - talk about a new fanwork of yours!
3. Something you made for someone else
4. Something you made just for yourself
5. Something for a large fandom/pairing/character
6. Something for a small fandom/pairing/character
7. Something you're just really proud of

Day 5 - Something from a large fandom/pairing/character

Ah, but who in our fandom can resist the bromance between Peter and Neal? This is often the subject of my writing, as their friendship and partnership is what captivated me about the show in the first place.

The first fic that I think fits this category well is The Magician. It is just a light-hearted little fic that I wrote while a friend was writing a companion piece for the Almost Human fandom. At the heart of this story is Neal's ability to relate to and charm everyone, especially children, but what makes it work is Neal and Peter's friendship with and mutual respect for each other. I so much enjoy prosing their banter!

The second fic that I think fits this category well is 5 Times Neal and Peter Needed Each Other: A Future Fic. This was written in response to a prompt by love_82 in collarcorner , who had asked for a scenario in which Peter and Neal discover they still need each other even after Neal's anklet comes off. This fic hopefully showcases that continuing bromance through five situations, some light-hearted, some not-so-much.

The Magician
Summary: Samantha solicits Neal and Peter to present at her fifth grade career day, and Neal in turn brings some fun to the classroom.
Word Count: ~1,900
Rating: G

5 Times Neal and Peter Needed Each Other: A Future Fic
Summary: Peter and Neal discover they still need each other even after the anklet comes off.
Word Count: ~4,300
Rating: PG
Neal - smile

Meme - Seven Days of Self-Promotion - Day 4

I have been wanting to join in on this meme but have been hesitating since I don't have a whole bunch of fics to pull from... but I have something that fits each day, and it has been such fun to read through everyone's entries and read fics/enjoy art I probably wouldn't have found otherwise. So I decided to give it a go! I believe the original source is embroiderama.

The Days

1. Something old
2. Something new - talk about a new fanwork of yours!
3. Something you made for someone else
4. Something you made just for yourself
5. Something for a large fandom/pairing/character
6. Something for a small fandom/pairing/character
7. Something you're just really proud of

Day 4 - Something you made just for yourself

For today's fic, I am going to slightly bend the rules- technically, this fic was written in response to an awesome prompt by sholio for the 2013 H/C Advent over in whitecollarhc.

But, I am promoting it for today's category because the challenge itself was something I wanted to do just for me. I had stopped writing for a long time and had been itching to get back into it. However, my life around this time was incredibly non-conducive to picking up an old hobby, especially one that required as much energy and thoughtfulness as writing does, so I kept making excuses. When I saw this challenge surface, I registered as a way to give myself a reason to do something that I loved and was missing dearly. And now, I am so glad I did.

Write Me Back: A White Collar Christmas Story
Summary: Peter and his favorite conman are trapped and injured on Christmas Eve and exchange Christmas memories to stay focused until help arrives.
Word Count: ~4,500
Rating: PG-13
Neal - smile

Meme - Seven Days of Self-Promotion - Day 3

I have been wanting to join in on this meme but have been hesitating since I don't have a whole bunch of fics to pull from... but I have something that fits each day, and it has been such fun to read through everyone's entries and read fics/enjoy art I probably wouldn't have found otherwise. So I decided to give it a go. I believe the original source is embroiderama.

The Days
1. Something old
2. Something new - talk about a new fanwork of yours!
3. Something you made for someone else
4. Something you made just for yourself
5. Something for a large fandom/pairing/character
6. Something for a small fandom/pairing/character
7. Something you're just really proud of

Day 3 - Something you made for someone else

Today is the first time I have used the scheduled posting feature on LJ, so hopefully this posts on the day it is supposed to. :)

I often write in response to prompts left by other people. In fact, collarcorner is one of, if not my most favorite community within our fandom. I think it may have been the first community I stumbled upon way back when, and it has earned a permanent spot in my favorites web bar ever since.

Today, I will promote Masterpiece Manifestations, which was the first fic I wrote for someone else. It was in response to a prompt by the ever fantastic and creative kanarek13 during Round 2 of that community. At the time I had stumbled across her very compelling prompt, I was just beginning to realize my love for classical music, and specifically, a rather well-known song as performed by Alexander Rybak, Song From A Secret Garden. To this day, this beautiful song still moves me almost to the point of tears.

Kanarek's prompt asked for a situation in which Peter finds a piano he cannot resist playing, and subsequently leaves Neal speechless. I couldn't resist the temptation to give Neal some musical talent as well, and in my head, he plays the song above.

This fic is special to me for two reasons. Firstly, I am a lover of music, so if ever there were to be a canon scene of the boys playing together, I think I would just die from squee overload. But secondly, and perhaps more relevantly, this fic called on me to broaden my writing style in a way that was both challenging and fulfilling. I wanted this fic to have an air of elegance and grace about it which was so different from what I had written up until that time. Hopefully, I did it justice.

Masterpiece Manifestations
Summary: Peter finds a piano he cannot resist playing, and subsequently leaves Neal speechless.
Word Count: 1,454
Rating: G