Here we are! The last chapter of Cat's Game!
Thanks so much to everyone who's been following this story for - oh my gosh - almost two years. Wow. Hahah.
I hope you guys like it and thanks again for reading! I'll still be around the WC side of fanfiction working on As The Smoke Clears, and hopefully some inspiration for other fics will arise. So I'll definitely see you guys around! :)
Neal pulled the jewel out of his pocket as he ran, grinning as the moonlight danced off the kaleidescope-like diamond. He put it back safely in his pocket, content with himself. He was on his way to the highway that led away from the museum, to a good place to wait for Mozzie.
The jewel, freedom, ah.
He did it.
"I know you're out there."
Neal stuttered in his run, hearing the shout from where the museum stood. It was far away, but the yell permeated the silence of the entire area.
It wasn't Peter's shout.
It was the thief.
Neal pushed himself to go faster.
"I have something you want."
There was a… threat in the thief's words.
But what could he have that I could possibly want?
"Give me the jewel." the thief began, and Neal scoffed. Fat chance.
Neal ran faster.
"And I won't kill your partner."
Neal skidded to a stop.
Did he mean…?
Neal hesitated, still in the silence. The thief caught up to Peter? The thief… caught Peter?
Neal felt his chest seize at the sudden pained shout.
That most certainly came from Peter Burke.
Neal turned his head toward the museum, caught in conflict.
"Take that as a warning," called the thief. "Trade in 20 minutes. Museum parking lot. Any longer than that, and your friend is dead."
The forest fell silent again.
No, said a voice in the back of his mind. Run. Just run. Forget you heard anything.
Neal shifted to keep running, but his feet didn't move.
He screwed his eyes shut.
Remembered the concern in Burke's expression, the moment Neal fell to his knees.
Concern that Neal had never seen from a man of the law, someone only interested in treating criminals like scum and catching them for a gold star on their resume.
Concern that Neal hardly even saw from the few people in his life that Neal hasn't completely cut out.
Neal cursed the sudden surge of conscience.
No matter how he looked at it, he could make the agent look like a fool, but he couldn't leave him for dead.
But if you go back…
Neal opened his eyes. If he went back, he was risking his life or his freedom or both. And for what? A cop who's spent the past two years hunting him down.
Scaring him every chance he could get.
Threatening his freedom.
Neal's face screwed up in the internal war.
He had the jewel.
He had a getaway.
He had his freedom.
If he turned and left right now, he was in the clear.
Neal huffed out a sharp breath through his nose.
But Burke will die.
But if he saves Burke…
...he's sacrificing himself.
What the hell was he supposed to do?
Peter's head pounded.
The thief's brilliant way to prove to Neal that he wasn't bluffing about catching Peter was to slam the back of his head with the butt of his gun. It throbbed with every quick beat of his heart, with every step he took as the thief prodded him with the weapon.
If Caffrey had heard the thief's offer—which he had to have, with the forest this silent and the fact that he couldn't have run that far in two minutes—he didn't respond. Not that Peter would have expected the conman to shout back, "Sure, be right there!"
Caffrey wouldn't show.
Peter knew that.
He spent the past few years chasing him, threatening to lock him up. Caffrey knew if he came back, and if he managed to save Peter—which Caffrey had no motivation to do—he'd be signing his own arrest warrant. Besides, Caffrey's only threat was Peter. No one else has ever gotten close to catching him. With Peter gone, Caffrey's life will be a hell of a lot easier.
The realization hit home and hit hard.
Caffrey was gone and Peter was on his own.
Not only on his own, he was in the hands of a crazy, gun-wielding madman who spent the past eternity chasing him down.
Oh, hell, he really was on the other side of the chase.
Peter suddenly realized this fear in his chest and the adrenaline coursing desperately through his veins is what Caffrey must feel all the time.
But he chose this life.
He chose it.
"You don't know anything about my choices."
Either way, Peter could officially confirm that this side of the chase sucked.
If Caffrey had just run and left at least the jewel with Peter, then maybe Peter would have had a chance. That son of a…
But Neal's voice snaked back into his head:
"He's seen us. We've seen him. He doesn't leave witnesses behind."
Peter cursed in his head, his heart beating faster with fear.
This thief was going to kill him whether Caffrey shows up or not.
Was he seriously still hoping he would?
Peter had to realize that.
He's probably already at the thruway by now, catching a ride with some trucker. Or whatever contingency plan he had.
"Move it," came the thief's voice, and Peter realized he'd slowed as he climbed up the incline toward the museum. He held in a choice word and kept up. The thief had a crushing grip on his shoulder and the muzzle of the gun to his back.
He had to find a way out of this.
Finally, they reached the parking lot. Peter looked around.
Hughes will be here soon.
I just have to hold out until then.
If Hughes was here after twenty minutes, however…
He tried really hard not to think about that.
The thief prodded Peter forward, then stopped him, and turned him around to face the forest, gun still to his back.
"For both our sakes," said the thief in his ear, "you better hope your partner thinks highly of you."
Hughes, please hurry.
Twenty minutes ticked by slowly.
Wind shifted leaves on the trees.
Owls hooted from the distance.
The thief and Peter waited in silence.
For the third time, the thief shifted to check his phone. "Nineteen minutes," said the thief. "You got sixty seconds till your partner's time is up." He told Peter, making the agent's chest tighten.
Hughes still wasn't here.
Caffrey wasn't going to show.
Another shift from the thief.
Nothing in the forest moved.
Despite the thief's word, he still waited a minute longer, but nothing changed. It was still silent. Still… still.
The thief pulled back the hammer on his gun, crushing his grip over Peter's shoulder. "Guess you aren't worth saving."
Peter swallowed, hard. "Please," said Peter, surprised to find himself begging. He thought of Elizabeth. And Satchmo. He felt something burn at his eyes. This was his day off. "Don't."
"I don't leave witnesses behind."
Peter shut his eyes as the gun moved from his back to between his shoulders. But just as he stopped breathing—
"Hey! You want this, right?"
The thief froze and Peter's eyes shot open.
Peter looked at the conman like he was from another world.
Neal stood in the parking lot, looking like he came from the forest further down. He walked up toward them, stopping a good twenty paces away. He was holding the jewel in his hand, up to the moonlight that glinted off its surface.
Peter was speechless.
He came back?
He came back?
Caffrey's expression was blank. Peter couldn't read the kid on a good day and he certainly couldn't read him now. For a split second, their eyes met. There was something…something in Neal's eyes that Peter couldn't pinpoint. Peter simply stared at him in shock.
He came back for me.
"You're late." said the thief.
Neal just shrugged. "Your clock must be fast."
"You're really going to play with your partner's life like that?" said the thief, tightening his grip on Peter's shoulder, making him wince.
Neal didn't move. "You want to do the trade or not?"
"Fine." said the thief. "Come over here, leave the jewel on the ground, back away slowly. I get the jewel, and then I'll release your partner."
Neal's eyes narrowed. "This isn't my first exchange. My…" He hesitated, like he was trying to speak a word in a language he just learned, "partner…" He swallowed, and Peter lifted his brows, hearing Caffrey call him that, "and I are going to walk away from this deal alive. Capisce?"
The grip on Peter's shoulder didn't change. "Him for the jewel," the thief said simply.
"I'm going to put the jewel on the ground in between us." said Caffrey, and Peter was shocked to hear his tone of voice. So unlike the savvy, overconfident conman he's grown to know. This Caffrey was serious and… dare Peter admit, impressive. "My partner," said Neal, the word rolling a little easier off his tongue, "will walk to the middle once the jewel is there. He then joins my side and you can retrieve the jewel."
The thief adjusted his grip on the gun behind Peter. "Deal."
Neal nodded. He walked toward the middle and put the jewel on the ground. He backed away, to where he originally stood.
The thief slowly let go of Peter's shoulder. Peter hesitated, still all too aware of the gun, and he walked toward the middle, passed the jewel, and continued toward Neal. He stopped at Neal's side. They both looked back toward the thief.
His turn, the thief walked to get the jewel. His gun was held out in front of him, aimed at Neal. He bent to pick it up, and pocketed it. He stood.
And he smiled.
Peter sensed the double cross instantly, but there was nowhere to go. Nowhere to hide. The gun was aimed at Caffrey, and he pulled the trigger—
—just as Caffrey moved with speed no human should have, and drew his own gun from behind his back and fired at once, throwing himself into Peter just as the other gun went off.
The thief cried out as Caffrey's bullet pierced his shoulder.
Where the hell did he get a—
Neal had shoved Peter to the side, throwing them both to the ground, and Peter picked himself up, looking incredulously at Caffrey—
And Peter's own gun in the conman's hand.
His own gun that he'd dropped inside the museum.
"You went back for my gun?!" exclaimed Peter in both shock and impress.
"Y-Yeah," came the gasped reply, and Peter looked away from the gun to Neal, who was clutching his leg and breathing hard through his teeth. The thief's bullet had gone wide and caught him in the thigh.
He'd been shot.
He came back.
"Oh, my god," said Peter, getting back to his knees beside the younger man. He heard something behind him, seeing the thief clutching his shoulder with one hand, and reaching for his discarded gun with his other. Peter jerked himself up and ran, grabbing the gun before the thief could.
He smiled as the man glared at him. "My partner's a better shot than you," he gloated. And just to make sure he was neutralized, Peter quickly cuffed the man's hands together with his handcuffs.
Once taken care of, he looked back to Caffrey.
The kid was half on his good knee, trying to get up, but failing. He tried putting weight on his injured leg, just to fall back to the pavement with a cry.
"Caffrey!" Peter ran to his side. He put a hand on Neal's arm, feeling him shake.
At the same time, he heard sirens in the distance.
Caffrey heard them too. His eyes shot open and widened. It stole Peter's breath—the fear he saw in them.
"No—" whispered Neal. He tried again to get up, just to groan and fall back. "Dammit!" Peter's hand tightened on his arm.
Don't do it.
Peter shut his eyes as an angel and a devil argued on his shoulders.
But his mind was made up.
Making sure that the thief was immobilized in the handcuffs, Peter picked up his gun where Neal dropped it and put it back in his holster before the thief could get any ideas. Then, Peter reached down and grabbed Caffrey under his arms and began to drag him away.
Neal fought him a little. "No—please—"
But Peter ignored him and dragged him past the thief who was writhing in pain and fury on the ground, blood dripping steadily onto the pavement.
"What are you—" began Neal, but Peter shushed him.
He dragged him off the pavement and a few yards into the forest. As he did, the sirens grew closer. Peter leaned Neal against a tree. Neal looked at him with incredulity. "What are you doing?" repeated Neal, looking at him in confusion.
Peter took a breath. "Do you have anyone who can come for you?" asked Peter.
Neal's eyes widened. "Wh-what?"
Peter sighed. "Do you have anyone who can come for you?"
When Neal didn't respond, Peter said with a sigh, "You can tell me if you do, Caffrey. If I'm going to leave you here I want to make sure you won't bleed out." When Neal's confusion and shock only deepened, Peter said, "Now, do you have anyone who can come for you?"
"'Leave me here'?" repeated Neal in a small voice that reminded Peter so much of a kid.
"Yes," said Peter exasperatedly.
"But…" Neal blinked. The words didn't register. "You have me. You have backup. I can't…" The fear mixed with the confusion. "I can't run. Why..?"
Peter sighed. "Because I'm not winning this way."
Neal's brows lifted in even more shock.
"Look," said Peter, wrestling with emotions that rarely saw the light of day. "I don't know what made you choose to come back for me. But you saved my life. And you took a bullet for it. You'd be halfway off my radar if you didn't come for me. I'm alive because of you." His gaze softened. "Thank you." Caffrey blinked, seeming unsure of how to take that. Peter felt a question itch at him and he asked, "Why did you come? You were in the clear."
Caffrey's shock subsided a little. The conman hesitated, and Peter wasn't sure if he'd get an answer-or an honest one, anyway. But, in the end, Neal spoke. "That wasn't how I wanted things to end," Neal said quietly.
Peter smiled a little. He stood, and Neal's eyes followed him. "I'm probably going to regret this," he said, then cocked his head and said, "I'm going to regret this, but I… I'm calling a temporary truce."
Caffrey's eyes had that shock in them again. "You are?"
"You going to try to change my mind?" asked Peter with raised brows.
"No, I…" Caffrey looked like he was struggling with words. Then, he found that grin of his. "Don't expect me to save your ass next time."
"I'm trying to be nice."
Caffrey nodded. Peter held his gaze for a second, then started to head back to the parking lot.
"Peter," said Neal, and the agent turned. "Thank you." The words were quiet. But Peter heard them. Heard the gratitude in them. He nodded, and turned around.
Peter turned back, again. "What?"
"You do know which one of us is Tom, right?"
Peter just shook his head and walked back to the parking lot.
As he approached the thief on the ground, three police cars parked before him, lights flashing. Out of one of them walked Hughes.
"Peter!" he said, then saw the struggling man in Peter's handcuffs. "You caught the thief."
Peter smiled, looking off toward where he left Neal. "Yeah, I did."
Hughes raised his brow. "And you… shot the thief."
"He tried to take a shot at me," said Peter, which wasn't exactly a lie.
Hughes nodded. "I'm glad you're all right."
A few other agents approached and picked up the thief, mentioning driving him to a nearby hospital to get treated before getting locked up. Hughes clapped a hand on Peter's shoulder. "We got a call at the office an hour ago from the museum curator, telling us he's been robbed."
Peter looked back at Hughes. "But how did he even know—?"
Hughes smiled grimly, staring at the struggling thief in the hands of three agents. "Turns out the curator hired this thief to steal the jewel. They had a deal to split both the profit of the diamond and the insurance payout. Idiot didn't even wait until he knew he'd really stolen it."
Peter breathed out. "Quite the payout. At least that explains why that bastard was so heavily motivated."
Hughes clapped a hand on Peter's back. "Hell of a job you did on your day off, Peter. You're showing up the rest of us. Catch any other infamous bad guys tonight or is it just the one?" he joked, but Peter laughed at the truth Hughes didn't know he alluded to.
Looking back off to where he knew Neal was, Peter said, "There was only one bad guy tonight."
Peter smiled at the honesty in that statement.
A criminal is a criminal, no matter how you look at it.
Peter had to admit; there was something different about Caffrey. Peter's caught his fair share of criminals in the years he's been an agent, but he couldn't imagine any one of them taking a bullet to save him, while he was still hunting them.
"I don't know why you chose to come back for me."
"You don't know anything about my choices."
Maybe he didn't.
Maybe a criminal had more sides than one.
Maybe there was a color in between the black and the white.
Or maybe Neal Caffrey was simply the enigmatic exception.
Either way, even in the midst of letting go the one fish he's been so desperate to catch, Peter felt himself grin, excited to continue playing the game. Who knows; maybe he and Caffrey will cross paths again in the middle of another thief's heist, and partner up like they had tonight to catch the culprit. Surprisingly, their skill sets did complement each other quite well.
Peter felt himself laugh.
A cop and a criminal, partners in crime-fighting.
He shook his head to himself.
What a crazy idea.