This story takes place a few years before Peter arrests Neal, back during the time Peter was chasing him. The time of the chase will be more established in the story.
I have had this idea for years now, and think I finally figured out how to write it out.
For those of you who are following my other White Collar story, As the Smoke Clears, I haven't forgotten about it! Inspiration for it just seems to come a lot slower for me. But I am definitely working on the next update :)
I hope you guys enjoy~
A tie in Tic-Tac-Toe is called a cat's game.
Tic-Tac-Toe ties are called cat's games because no matter how hard a cat tries to win against its own tail, it never does. Tic-Tac-Toe itself is a cat-and-mouse game. A game of skill, where the cat goes one way and the mouse another. It is a chase between one player and another, one that can go in any direction, just like a cat and a mouse. Where either the mouse is caught or gets away.
But when the cat and the mouse are both out of directions, and find themselves at a stalemate, it becomes a tie.
It becomes a cat's game.
And the chase either continues…
Or it ends for them both.
It was supposed to be an easy con.
And it was a fairly good plan. Or, well, it should have been.
It was a museum a few miles out of the city. There were only a few guards at night and Neal had already memorized their patrol patterns. He had a solid ten minutes alone with the jewel he came here for. In, out, perfect.
And maybe the simple perfection should have tipped him off that something would go wrong.
But it had been too long since the last one. He needed a con. Needed it like air to breathe or water to drink.
So maybe that's why he wasn't as careful as he should have been. Maybe that's why he just had a really, really bad stroke of luck.
Because not a minute and a half of his window of time in the room with the jewel had gone by when footsteps echoed in the large room.
Neal froze. He halted his movement, shut his eyes, muscles tensing. Without even having to turn, he said, "Agent Burke."
The man behind him seemed to find a way to sneak a smirk into the very sound of his voice as he said, "Neal Caffrey."
Neal turned around slowly, not surprised to see that Agent Burke had a gun aimed at him. Pursing his lips slightly, Neal slowly raised his hands, feeling forced confidence somehow find a way into his words. "You look good," he said casually, taking in Burke's suit and tie. Neal cocked his head and raised an eyebrow. "I wouldn't have gone with that tie, though." He grinned in amusement as Burke's eyes narrowed slightly and tried to ignore his own nervousness. "Didn't you get the one I sent you?"
Burke pursed his lips into a face that Neal recognized almost every time he caught sight of the agent. It was something close to annoyance. "You mean the Tom and Jerry tie?" asked Burke in monotone.
Neal smiled wider, and shuffled a small step backward. "I think you know which one of us is Tom."
Burke shook his head, adjusting his grip on the gun. "Game ends tonight, Caffrey." He nodded in the direction of the encased jewel. "You here for that?"
Neal shrugged, taking another step backward, cursing himself for not getting out of here quicker.
"Don't move," said Burke, taking a step closer to Neal. They were standing a good ten feet apart, but that was still far too close for Neal's comfort. Burke's footsteps echoed imposingly in the silence. Neal felt himself move backward, despite the agent's warning, shifting his weight seamlessly from one foot to another, toward the hallway to his left. His eyes flicked over Burke's shoulder, almost as if he spotted something behind the agent. "Did you bring backup?"
"Hands on your head, Caffrey," repeated Burke slower, watching as Neal kept his eyes glued to whatever the conman seemingly saw behind him. Hmm, thought Neal with surprise. He doesn't have backup.
"You're sure?" asked Neal, allowing nervousness to creep into his voice as he stared at the nothingness behind the agent, acting as if he was hoping to fool him.
Burke couldn't resist. He turned to look over his shoulder. An empty room stared back at him and he turned back around.
But Neal was already gone.
His feet hit the tile floor rhythmically and his heart beat furiously in his chest. Neal snuck a look behind him, feeling the confidence he'd forced earlier dissipate instantly. He could hear the pounding footsteps of the agent behind him, shouting his name and to "freeze" or whatever. Neal clung to the shadows against the wall of the museum, softening his footsteps but didn't dare slow his pace.
Neal hadn't seen Peter Burke since the day he met the agent outside of that bank over a year ago. Sure, Neal had seen the agent from afar, as he watched the FBI run around on searches for him like chickens with their heads cut off. He'd sent the man postcards, souvenirs, even called him to chat just for his own amusement. But this was the second time he'd ever been truly face-to-face with the man. He looked a bit older than the last time Neal had seen him, and maybe a little more put-together, even. And aside from the whole government-agent-who's-hunting-him thing, Neal liked Peter Burke. They, in some weird way, understood how the other functioned. Neal could almost always predict what Peter's next moves were and-though he hated to admit it-Peter was pretty good at predicting Neal's moves, too. More than anything, Agent Burke had been the closest to catching Neal than anyone, and Neal appreciated that. He knew for a fact that someone had to be incredibly talented to come as close as Peter has. Peter made this chase challenging and Neal had to admit…
He liked the game.
Neal took another sharp turn down a shadowed hallway, nearly tripping over himself. He caught himself roughly on the wall and shoved himself forward. Heart tripling in speed, Neal heard Peter shout his name again. He was catching up. Yes, Neal liked this cat-and-mouse game with Peter.
But that was because he had been winning.
Neal heard the agent's footsteps coming faster and Neal picked up his pace. Images of rusting jail cell bars and orange jumpsuits suddenly flitted through Neal's mind but he shoved them away. Relax, he told himself firmly, this isn't the first time you've been chased by a cop.
But… it was the first time he'd been chased by Peter Burke.
Thinking quickly, Neal grabbed the nearest doorknob, and swung open the door, silently grateful that it wasn't locked. He breathed out a sigh of relief as it shut soundlessly behind him. He continued to run, thinking about how much Mozzie was going to lecture him when he got out of this, when he heard a voice speak behind him and the distinct cock of a weapon.
And it wasn't Peter Burke.