Ah, hi! So here we are! The reunion between our boys! I hope I did it justice. :)
See you guys soon with the next chapter, and hope you're all staying safe!
Also if anyone is following my other White Collar story Cat's Game, I actually started writing it again. I know, crazy, right? Well I decided that I'm going to pretty much finish it before I post any new chapters so no one has to worry about another long gap between updates. So yay for productivity!
Hope you guys like it and thanks so much for reading!
"Neal… I'm scared."
"Don't be scared. I've got you, Kate. I promise. I'll never leave you trapped."
"Caffrey. Knew it wouldn't be long till you were back."
"Snitches don't do well in prison."
"Oh, Neal. It's so beautiful. This is perfect. I love it."
"I love you."
"I love you, too."
"You've been charged with the murder of Kate Moreau."
"You're the only one who could change my mind."
"Something doesn't have to be real for you to love it."
"You and Peter…"
"Neal, find who did this to me."
"Neal, this feels like a trap."
"I don't care! I need to find her."
"Find him, Neal. Find who killed me."
"How'd you know?"
"You've got an important meeting coming up."
"Peter's worried about you."
"You've got them guards now. But don't worry."
"Not seeing you… It's killing him."
"For the murder of Kate Moreau."
"We'll be here for you when they ain't."
Neal blinked at the ceiling.
He didn't sleep.
Not a wink.
Every close of his eyes, a picture. A person. A thought. A voice.
So many voices.
So many voices.
His hands were clasped together over his chest, shaking there, but Neal'd given up trying to control it hours ago. He was still lying on the cot, pretending to himself that maybe if he stayed long enough, the ghosts would leave him alone.
And if Neal were being honest with himself-which was happening so much lately, so few lies, so few good lies-he knew they wouldn't. The ghosts were there. Had always been there. And today-in just a few hours, he would find out if he'd have to deal with them here, in this cement box, alone, for years to come.
And he knew, with the shake of his fingers and the pounding in his head and the throbbing of ribs that weren't healed enough for fear to play his heart like a drum against them, that he couldn't handle it that long.
Not like this.
So he blinked, listening to the voices, until one last one came through, and this one, unlike the others, pleasantly lingered.
"I'll get you out, Neal. I promise."
Seemed so strange that Peter Burke's voice in his head, up until the past few months, had been something that grated on his nerves. On his fear.
And now, it was the only thing that scared fear itself away.
Neal held his hands tighter.
It was the early hours of the morning. Peter would be getting ready for the meeting with IA right now. Does he even know what to say?
If anyone could, it would be him.
He's done it once before.
As slim a chance as ever, he could do it again.
Just like any con gone awry, that held on one thread, one last contingency plan, one last hope for luck, Neal would have to trust that this chance would hold him.
Because if it didn't…
Neal blinked again at the ceiling.
He chose not to finish the thought.
"So, how's Elizabeth doing?"
"She's great, actually. Talking about starting her own event planning company."
Neal Caffrey nodded from where he sat in the back of the cruiser. The back of Peter's cruiser. Peter pressed on the gas as the light changed, but he spared a glance in the rearview mirror.
He caught him.
He finally caught him.
"She'll love that, you know how much she hates her boss." said Neal to the window, as casually as ever. "Be a bit more busy, but hey, you're always at the office anyway."
The officer riding shotgun looked incredulously from Peter to Neal, stunned from the conversation appropriate for two long time friends being held between two enemies.
"Actually," said Peter with a grin, "I won't be as busy as I have been. Now that I have you off my hands."
"If you get bored, lemme know. I'm sure it won't be too hard to break out of a prison."
Peter laughed, but his hands tightened a little on the wheel.
Oh, no you don't.
"Believe me, Caffrey," said Peter, taking a right a little harder than necessary, and both Neal and the other officer shifted in their seats. "You aren't going anywhere. I'm going to make sure you get there and you stay there."
"So that's why you're personally taking me to prison?" said Neal, awkwardly shifting himself off the side of the door he slid into, unable to use his hands.
Peter chose to drive him to prison as a reward. To see the kid he's been chasing for over two years locked up right before his eyes. Part of it was to avoid someone as slick as Caffrey pulling something over on an officer who would underestimate him. And the other part, well, this was his favorite part.
Locking criminals away.
Making the world a better place.
"I'm taking you because I know you. I know your tricks. And because I've earned it."
"Oh," said Neal. "Thought this was just part of the punishment. Your driving leaves something to be desired." His nose wrinkled. "How does your wife let you drive her anywhere?"
He let the dig slide.
Because he just pulled up to the gates of the prison, and that effectively wiped the smug grin off Caffrey's face.
Peter pulled the car up to where a group of guards were waiting. Another set of chains were in one of the guards' hands, and at the same moment Peter saw it, he saw Neal flinch the smallest bit in the corner of his eye. But when Peter turned, the savvy conman was looking back at him. "Think that'll hold me?" he said jokingly.
"Oh, it will." Peter got out of the car and opened Neal's door. "Come on, Caffrey. Out."
Neal got out. Peter took his arm, still finding it surreal that Neal Caffrey-Neal Caffrey-was in his possession. Finally.
And it felt amazing.
"We'll take him from here, Agent Burke," said one of the guards, one who looked like he held the most authority. Peter, somewhat reluctantly, gave Neal to him. The guard with the cuffs and chains started to click them over Neal's wrists and ankles. Peter looked at the conman, but his head was turned away. He was probably still wearing that stupid smirk.
"Keep an eye on him," said Peter to the guard, making Neal turn his head back. "And don't underestimate him. I worked damn hard to get him here, so don't undo all my hard work."
The guard was unfazed. "We do know what we're doing, Agent Burke," he said with slight annoyance. "There's no way he's escaping. Escaping this prison is impossible."
So were half the things Caffrey's already done, thought Peter. Either way, he walked up to Neal, who met his gaze. "Good game, Caffrey."
Something in Neal's eyes flashed. "Game's never over, Peter. You won this round. Next one starts in four years. It's my move."
Something tightened in Peter's chest at the threat in his tone, but he smiled anyway. "You do, and I'll bring you right back," said Peter with a grin. He slipped his sunglasses back over his eyes. "I'll always bring you right back. You can count on that."
Peter shut the door to his cruiser, staring at the drop off zone.
Almost five years ago, his cat-and-mouse game with Neal ended.
And where he made Neal that promise. The promise he forgot he even made, only reminded of it now, seeing the ghosts of the guards and Neal himself in the empty space of the drop zone before his eyes.
"You do, and I'll bring you right back. You can count on that."
It had felt so good to say it that day.
It had felt right.
If only he'd known then, that five years into the future, he'd be making the same exact conman a complete opposite promise.
"I'll get you out, Neal. I promise."
So much has changed in five years.
They went from enemies to friends-to partners.
Peter shook his head at the thought-for all the worrying he's done over Neal this past week, he couldn't imagine what his past self would have thought to hear it. He's gone from playing against Neal to playing for him. And Neal has as well.
"I'll bring you back."
He would bring Neal back.
Just not here.
I'll bring you home.
Neal was still staring unseeingly at the ceiling when the guards came to his cell. Cells were unlocked for the morning not long ago. The IA meeting would have started and possibly ended by now.
So when he heard them approach, he didn't hesitate to get up. He moved faster than his ribs were happy with but Neal grimaced through the pain, not letting it stop his journey upright.
Two guards, looking bored, said, "Caffrey. You have a visitor."
Neal knew who it was.
They didn't have to say.
"You can get me out of here."
Peter stood in the empty visitation room of the prison, too anxious to sit. Feeling the cold, stale air. The furthest atmosphere from what anyone could call home. He, as the Universe would have it, was in the same visitation room he visited Neal the day Neal mentioned the deal.
Peter stared at the empty seat across from him as he waited, remembering the Neal Caffrey that had sat there. Just a year ago. And then, it was Neal who'd fought so hard to get the deal. It was Neal who felt desperate to get out of prison.
And now, it was Peter, whose twist in his gut betrayed just how terribly he never wanted to see Neal within this building again.
"I saw him today."
Mozzie's voice suddenly filtered in through the reminiscence. Peter felt his chest tighten, with the other reason he was desperate to get Neal out of here and back at his side.
"He can hardly walk. He's a mess."
Peter hadn't seen Neal since that moment on the hangar.
Hasn't seen him since he held him back.
Since he saw that agony, that raw agony in Neal's eyes.
And now, seven days have passed.
Seven long days, where Neal's been alone. A broken, raw mess.
Hurt, in more ways than one.
"I'll get you out, Neal. I promise."
Peter felt determination rise in his chest.
He would get Neal out.
He had to.
It was then that a clang and thud of locks turning, the echo of a keypad being typed into that preceded the opening of the door Peter had been staring at. Peter steeled himself, not sure what exactly to expect, and hoping that some of Elizabeth's compassion has managed to rub off on him over the years he's been with her. Then, he saw him.
Peter's chest caught.
God, is that really him?
This wasn't the man Peter had chased for three years.
This wasn't the man who'd stood at his side, wise-cracking and charming.
This wasn't Neal.
But, when those blue eyes found his, they widened just a fraction in what Peter could only describe as relief.
And that was what stunned Peter to the core.
He could see more than just blue in those eyes.
This wasn't the Neal Peter knew, and Peter was realizing this was the man-the person-the kid who'd been hidden underneath all along. And if Peter had seen the look in Neal's eyes now, like he was about to collapse out of sheer relief right where he stood, Peter could never have imagined locking him away for even half a second.
But just as quickly as that look appeared, it was gone.
It was the first time, however, that Peter watched the mask slide into place. Slowly, like it was heavy, like it was hard to move. But like watching a time-lapse of a painting, Peter watched Neal's raw emotions shift into something almost composed, something almost okay.
And if Peter hadn't met Neal's eyes the moment he did, he might have believed that composed and okay Neal tried for.
They both held the gaze in silence, for what felt like frozen time until a guard stepped in front of Neal, blocking their eye contact. Peter felt himself breathe, the tightness in his chest tighter than ever.
The guard patted Neal down as the chains were now removed, and Peter watched Neal give half a glare to the guard. Peter's brows lifted the slightest bit, so unused to seeing Neal unfiltered.
But as the guard finished his search, they both leave, and Neal seemed to shake off his annoyance. He closed his eyes for a second longer than a blink, like he was readying himself for something. But he opened them, lifting his head, smiled, and there he was.
The Neal Peter knew.
Despite the paleness and the weariness in his face, this was Neal Caffrey as Peter-as the world-knew him.
And somehow, knowing how much of a lie it truly was, broke Peter's heart.
It took a moment to find his voice. "How are you holding up?" he asked softly, in a tone he'd have used to approach a scared, wounded animal.
And there it was-a slip. A crack in the armor. Neal's eyes betrayed him, and Peter could see it. The pain. The fear. The desperation. The unhinged confidence.
But he blinked and it was gone.
"They don't let me wear ties." said Neal lightly. Jokingly.
Peter breathed out, wanting badly to break through that damn armor.
And try to avoid the fact that Neal thought he had to lie to him.
Again and again and again.
But with a Neal this off kilter, Peter had to be careful. Neal was hanging on by a thread, to his confidence, his pride, and his composure. So, for now, he'll play along, treading carefully on thin ice. "Overrated," said Peter, shaking his head.
And somehow, his playing along worked. Something slipped once again from the mask and Neal's eyes dropped to the table. He always looks me in the eye when he lies. "Food's as bad as I remember," said Neal quietly, betraying just a little truth. A little heaviness.
"Coffee?" tried Peter.
"Instant," said Neal with a scrunched nose.
Peter shook his head. "Cruel and unusual."
They both fell silent. And in an instant, palpable tension crackles like static in the air around them. Neal's eyes drop from his and Peter swallows, fisting his hands in his pockets. He was never good at this. Peter was still trying to find a place to start when Neal spoke.
"New suit," he commented.
It stunned Peter, yet again, to see this Neal. A Neal at a loss for words. A Neal who was as lost as he felt.
Peter looked down at the suit, smoothing the tie unconsciously. "Yeah…"
Still with his eyes to the table, Neal asked, "They give you your badge back?" It was phrased lightly, spoken like a conversation to shoot the breeze.
But the fact that he couldn't seem to lift his eyes from the table showed how much it wasn't.
Here we go.
Peter sighed, sitting down at the table across from Neal. Neal lifted his head as he did, and Peter could see the attentiveness in Neal's eyes. The desperation, the fear, that he was trying his damn hardest to keep at bay.
"Yeah," said Peter, though for as good as the news is, it hasn't released the tension the week has left in his chest. Neal waited, and Peter bit the bullet. "Justice finished its inquiry."
When Peter didn't elaborate, the composure Neal had been struggling to keep disappeared at once. He was raw. And once again, it stole Peter's breath to see. "Then why am I still here?" whispered Neal, and he either couldn't keep the desperation out of his voice or he didn't care to try.
Peter sighed again, hating this.
Peter was trying to find a way to say it, a way to make it sound better, a way to get that look out of Neal's eyes, when the look only deepened as Neal read his mind.
Barely above a whisper, Neal said, "They think I blew up the plane?"
Peter felt himself wince. "They… don't know what to think."
"What do they suspect?" asked Neal, his gaze almost piercing.
No way around it.
With reluctance, Peter said, "You were trying to escape."
Neal's brows shot up. "Escape?" he echoed, and he laughed, but the laugh sounded nothing like him. And that look in his eyes blurred with a sort of hopelessness, making Peter's chest tighten so hard it hurt to breathe.
"Fowler disappeared," said Peter, letting his exasperation leak through. "OPR's denying Mentor existed."
Neal's eyes snapped back to him. "I've got paperwork that proves it did."
Peter screwed his eyes shut, feeling like he was kicking down a hurt puppy with every response he gave. "Yeah, and I've been reminded that you're one of the best forgers on the planet."
Neal let out a laugh, but one that sounded nothing like a laugh, and he rubbed a hand over his face. That rawness of him wavered and Peter watched it threaten to drag him down. And watching it…
Peter had thought Neal at the hangar was the most heartbreaking thing he'd ever seen.
"Listen," said Peter, softer, gentler. "There's a chance I can reinstate our deal."
Neal lifted his head, looking like he took a step away from the edge of a hole he'd been about to fall into. Something about that look in Neal's eyes-a look Peter's seen before-made him suddenly feel the need to give one condition.
"One thing," said Peter slowly, "if we do this again…"
The darkness shifted deeper into Neal's eyes. In little more than a whisper, he said, "I have to know who killed Kate."
Peter fought the urge to rub his temples.
I can't let you.
I can't let you do this for someone who tried to drag you down once already.
"I'll find out," said Peter quickly, changing tactics. "I'll tell you. That's how this has to work, Neal."
Because I don't think I can get this deal a third time.
And again, it was surreal. Surreal, to see the man who had an answer for everything, who seemed to know it all, who seemed so… perfect.
But here he was, all truth and no lie, and he was the furthest thing from perfect Peter's ever seen.
Neal finally lifted his head. "Can I get back to you?"
Peter's brows lifted in surprise. "You're looking at three and change, Neal," he said, wondering not for the first time why that girl clouded his judgement so damn much. "Your only choice is to serve out your time with me or rot in this place!"
And his own desperation leaked in.
What the hell was he thinking?
Neal couldn't stay here-how could he even fathom staying here? With everything that's happened to him in this place, how could he-
Footsteps entering the room from the door Peter had come through made him turn his head.
Of damn course.
Mozzie cleared his throat. "I'm gonna have to interrupt this meeting, gentlemen." He gestured to Neal. "The defendant requested the presence of his attorney."
Peter looked at Neal, who'd managed to compose himself into something less raw, less broken. He simply shrugged. Peter met his eyes, wanting to say something, anything, to make him see reason.
But he knew when Neal's mind was made up.
So Peter stood, and walked toward the door, pausing by Mozzie. "Talk some sense into him," he whispered.
And if Peter wasn't mistaken, there was a sort of fondness in Mozzie's eyes as he met Peter's. "We'll take that into advisement… Suit."
Peter hesitated for a moment longer, looking back at Neal, who had his gaze fixed to the table.
Shaking his head to himself, Peter walked out.
His chest growing tighter with each step away.