"Behind the sternness of his voice there was a shackled anger, and beneath that shackled anger there was a buried pain."

~ Dean F. Wilson, Hopebreaker

TRIGGER WARNING/READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED: This chapter may not be suitable for all audiences. This chapter contains VIOLENT and MATURE themes.

December 3, 2013 On Route to the Burke Residence 6:03PM

Her thrift store boot covered feet epigoned him from a palladium distance. Neal heard the soft crunch of the snow skittered about the New York City street under the knee high Doc Martins. He noted the lady aback him took great care in staying just outside his peripheral sightline. Still the man in the Tom Ford Cashmere Chesterfield coat couldn't get her body's mutinous shaking out of his mind.

When he alighted from the frozen tundra of the tiled floor, his peregrination was that of a cobra released from his basket at market uncoiled and rising to strike. He thought back to his uncle punching him in the barn the seconds that ticked as he flew through the air time hovering frozen in suspended animation. How for just those few moments the terror of the coming beating shorted his brain.

Neal balled his pugilist fist in his marred winter coat the one engulfed in the tin smell of a battle lost with Mr. Wilson. His skin pulled at the shirt around the cuff of his wrist, he could feel the garment almost stitched into the groves from were Peter's handcuffs had lain. With a little punch down into the pocket he felt rather than heard the rip as the zipper of skin separated, trickles of blood cried lonely tears down his knuckles.

The man in the red tie had vowed to himself that night in the barn to never ever cause to bring about that same fear in someone. There were so many other ways to bring about the results you desire in any given situation than to resort to wroth. With Ms. Carney that is what he did and what more, he did it with jouissance purposeful intention. He used his body to control her's through the promise of brutality.

Ms. Carney's verbal riposte after her body's reddened rebellion was to accept his malicious opprobrium as her punishment for her underlying moral culpability in the part she played in the White Collar production of To Catch a Criminal Boss. With a grace that lived up to her name she humbled herself before him, "Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil fearg ort. Cibé rud a theastaíonn uait a rá leis an Uasal Caffrey, éistfidh mé go hiomlán." (I know you are angry. Whatever it is you have need of saying Mr. Caffrey, I will listen in full.)

She received his callous control as if it were a down payment due on a much larger purchase. The look in her brown eyes relayed that she was well aware that he had other machinations in mind. Her sponge would absorb all the venom he thought to sink into her. First and foremost she was concerned for his safety, even when he had shown a blatant disregard for hers. Her voice had been rock solid in the fustigating hail storm of his contempt as she beseeched him with all she had "NÍ MÓR dúinn imeacht. ANOIS." (We MUST leave NOW.)

He saw her body convulse quite without her consent as he bulked out his girth an unrestrained river of fury seeping out of his pours like toxic waste meant to ravage all in its path over and over on the projector in his head. When he brought his arms hulkingly out to his sides it must have seemed to her a fighters stance, still she stood her ground, she wouldn't give him an ounce of cower. It was then he became cognizant of how far beyond the veil of his personal ethics he had strayed.

He wasn't just adrift on a dark Midwestern highway in an old rattling truck with no clear destination to head to. He was his uncle, a man (if you could call him that) who sought to sway dominance through savage unbridled force with sadistic schadenfreude. That he was capable even for a moment in time of relishing that feeling of puissance. He really had learned well all the lessons Cairbre beat into him.

Neal pulled his balled white knuckled fists out of his pockets. He forced the palms open, for a split second all he could see was the carnage of that day, the blood dripping like a leaky faucet off them into the earth below his broken body. His hands so known for bringing about the beauty of art started to shake like leaves falling of a tree in autumn. He shoved the offending limbs back in their cashmere sheaths were they continued to rumble with intransigent flinches. He heard the steady crunch of her leaden walk behind him as they made their pilgrimage to the subway station.

Once he realized what he had done in that spilt second moment in time where the sand in the hourglass hovered frozen in the air, he snapped himself out of his rage induced haze of having the man he most trusted in the world shatter that foundation by using a woman a clear victim of a violent crime as a pawn. He sought to offer her all he could in that moment to change the tide, simple words of contrition. "Tá brón orm." (I am sorry.) If he were she, he would not have accepted his apology either.

Neal was nearing the entrance to the subway stairs, he loosened the bolts on his limbs a scant amount, confirming that his traveling companion was in his wake. The sight of her black boots against the white of the snow that littered the ground like pearlized Marti Gras beads established that she was. Why he wondered in that moment did those boots go all the way to her knees? It suddenly though inexplicably seemed important. The shitkicker boots and there length.

He acknowledged the brisance in the unsteady frame that made up his psyche. What was his detonation pressure? When would he simply explode? The image of Peter in his office telling him to 'get out of my sight, you make me sick' jerked across the floor of his mind as if a depined grenade. He heard Peter as if he were right next to his hat covered ear spit out the words from the conference room, "there is no magic time amount that will right all that is wrong with you."

The man in the ichor soaked Bassistoni just couldn't unhear "right all that is wrong with you." Did a part, even a small part of his partner really believe that there were things wrong with him? 'Get out of my sight, you make me sick.' 'All that is wrong with you.' Neal knew in his rational mind they were acting and the agent's words was an improvised script. To the torn and destuffed rag doll soul inside him those words sounded just like his uncle's. "Ní mór duit cuimhneamh go bhfuil tú bruscar." (You need to remember you are trash.)

"I'm so sorry Neal." The unfettered remorse in those four words both balmed the festering lacerations in his heart and twisted his nuts as if they were trying to store for winter hibernation. Peter was sorry, so very very sorry, not just for cuffing him a physical action they had already discussed for the operation.

Though the felon knew forcing the agent to put him in irons in such an impersonal manner must have been a prizefighter gut punch. The older man was more so apologetic for obliterating the foundation of trust they had built, for damaging the once uncompromising faith they had, for losing faith in himself and in turn questioning the depth of the faith Neal had in him.

Peter was like a dish that had been thrown against a wall broken pieces scattered about and Neal was the glue. The coal head had given the older man the one thing in that moment he could to relay that all hope was not lost that he would paste him back together. He lifted his finger, a tangible representation of the words, I trust you, I have not lost faith in you, and my love for you is unconditional.

His pursuviant was closing the distance between their two points he could feel her turbulent energy bouncing off the metal stairwell, swirling about the small space like snowed haboob above the descending New York skyline. His blue eyes could just see the stage curtain swing of her coat as it bounced of the steps. Stage curtain. Would the world always be a stage?

Thoughts of the hallway outside of interrogation flitted through his mind like flinders of color at the end of a kaleidoscope. His conscious mind hadn't processed the abject horror of images past that weltered across Peter's crimson face when the agent took in how the lady in black's brown eyes locked on his marinated in red sauce shackled wrists. IF he had only seen the profundity of self-recrimination ablaze like a five alarm fire on the fifty year olds face, the day would have ended much differently.

The former Bennett watched the woman with her unhatted head and ungloved hands ease her way into the background of the subway car he sat in the front of. Her eyes washed over him as if to reconfirm his presence otherwise they continued the practice of buffered distance allowing the felon to ride in companionship with the demons in his head.

Every good con knows if you can't hide the reactions of an emotion you redirect the perceived outcome. The agent wasn't just upset at having to place his CI (and friend) in irons. He was aggrieved for the lady in black having to watch someone's wrists becoming a tic tac toe board of x's and o's. Peter must have seen her limbs in a similar state of blood saturation and confinement. That was the only logical conclusion the native of DC could make with the small amounts of evidence at his disposal.

The man with the rivers of dried blood around his wrists worked to find a point were his unconditional love for Peter was resynced with the trust and faith he had provided him all through the play. His heart worked to find bridge with his mind. That Peter didn't tell him about Ms. Carney's history didn't surprise him. It was not Peter's to tell. It was her's. That Peter employed her in a supporting role in their play without making him aware of the casting was where he was having trouble. How long had she been a player on the stage?

The overhead speaker warbled out something. Neal's ears scrunched at the static whistling after the microphone had been left in open to long. From his seat in the corner he could see Ms. Carney's unfocused eyes watching the inside of the tunnel go by like comet streaks in the night. Where was her mind at? Her face was a battleground of conflicting emotions, her shoulders hunched in an effort to protect herself from impending harm.

Neal swallowed down the rocks that littered the path in his throat he knew she thought him to be the forthcoming arbiter of pain. Her right fingers unconsciously rubbed at her left wrist as if she could just do it long enough the lines bracleting the space would just fade into the ether. She kept rolling her one ankle as if it was a slumber and she was trying to rouse it without jarring it awake.

The next stop was the one that would take them to Peter's and all the answers held in the House of Burke. The man in the three piece Brioni waited a beat to see is the lady and her trusty Doc Marten's moved, thus proving she was already in possession of this information. The only things in motion were the Hokey Pokey of her right fingers and her left ankle. The car rolled into the stop the sound of the brakes screaming cries of agony echoed off the walls around them.

The man in the red tie made a show of departing his seat. He made sure to ruffle the folds of his gentlemen's coat like the tails of a kite high in the sky, absently noting the plows of volcanic printer ash that joined the feted subway air. Her view master focused on the settling landscape of the subway stop. Her body shot up out of the plastic seat as if doused in kerosene and the seat a match.

The wayward travelers sought their exits from alternate doors of the metal cart spilling out at the same time on to a platform that reeked of voided urine and something else Neal didn't even want to contemplate. The lady in black continued at her measured ten paces behind him. Eventually the sable haired man knew he would need to engage the almost automaton like in her movements woman trailing him as if headed the gallows.

For their safety and the protection of Peter (and by part El who was thankfully out of town at event) they could not enter together through the brownstone's front doors. Which meant the meandering path behind the dwellings, past the garbage can's reeking of week old turkey byproducts and decayed carcasses of pie. Some things he thought with a wrinkle of his nose just can't be helped.

Slowly with great care over his larger body's placement the dancer spun on his feet. He kept his boxers arms lose at his sides. He was cognizant enough of what little chivalry he had left to not touch her or cross the barrier of vulnerable physical distance. Doe colored eyes met his cerulean. At least he thought they did, she was more looking through him than at him.

He took in the tighten strings in her violin neck, the slight angled turn of her body. It was a retaining wall built at slope to withstand the direct attack of a storm. While anger was still the most prevailing wind of emotion on his landscape, the man in the Stetson hat found he did not have it in him to continue to fustigate as if a nor'easter at her horizon.

Once they made it to safety of the Burke backyard Neal worked to ignore the obmutescent woman as if she wasn't even there. Had he thought about this in depth, he would have come to the conclusion this was an equally cruel measure to take against someone who had only shown him kindness, who had given such a private part of herself bowing in ritual with him, scrubbing as he scrubbed, washing as he washed.

December 3, 2013 The Burke Residence 6:35PM

Was that all an act and if so to what outcome? Peter all ready had his allegiance. Why involved Grace who had yet to said one word to him since he turned his back on her. Neal knew he had to reign in his ping-ponging thoughts. The man on the other side of the door not been complicit in actions of deception alone. Why the lady (he again noted without hat and gloves) hovering in attempt to become one with the shadows had been part of the con? For how long and in what capacity remained to be seen.

The Peter he knew even the one that had been drenched in the battery acid of anger over being thrown in prison for actions his father wrought and armored with the shards contempt for his CI over the way he released him from the cell was not capable of bidding her to perpetrate such private actions of their belief systems.

The man in snow soaked Berluti's stomach worked to contain the contents suddenly threatening an over throw. If it was the last thing he did he would burn those bowls would be ash. Once the man in the toner covered cashmere coat knew he could knock without wanting to rail vociferously at the man on the other side, he raised his hand.

The lawman had watched in silent sentry from the alcove of the living room as the man outside reigned in the storm of emotions threatening his topography. Neal thought he had orchestrated Grace's friendship, that she was simply a pawn on the chessboard; the Neal himself was simply a pawn. That the trust he had given Peter so plainly and without reserve that morning was insignificant to the fifty year old.

Peter ran his hands over the lines in his face, feeling the grief etched in the canvas. With one deep fortifying breath the homeowner swung open the barrier between them with all possible speed. He fought to control the winds of worry that must be flying across his face as if a category five hurricane. One look between the occupants of his newly decorated backyard (El's attempt at providing him a safe space) and he knew, the damage was done.

Would there ever be a finger lift he could provide Neal that would make him believe with all the certainty he did less than twelve hours ago that he trusted him with his life, that he respected him and the decisions he mad and that he loved him so much there wasn't even a word that would describe the depth of that feeling?

The man in his favorite jeans took an unsteady step back into the warmed house biding the duo entry. His brown eyes swung like Newton's Cradle between the guests. A sigh filled with clouds of regret and lightening strikes of remorse escaped the lawman's lips. Two sets of his bored into him as if they were the nail guns and he was the plasterboard.

"I don't even know where to begin." Peter's words faded into a wall of cashmere, snow and something he wasn't sure he wanted to know as Neal stepped into the kitchen towards a drawer with the movements of someone long acquainted with the space. His lanky almost steady fingers reached for the nearest red in Elizabeth's rack, a 2004 cabernet sauvignon from Lokoya. The wine aficionado uncorked the 100% Mount Veeder grown bottle with a pop heard round the house then pour the glass full.

With fluid cat like movements the felon moved to the table in the living room area and placed the stemware down with a gentle knock. Before Peter could halt his progress and continue on the speech he had prepared, the man still in his marred overcoat swung back into the kitchen kettled some tea for the lady and snagged a beer of the top shelf of the refrigerator. Neal took great care in setting the blue ceramic mug down in front of what he assumed would be the lady's seat. He jammed the new bottle in Peter's hand. The fifty year old popped the top off the domestic brew. He and Neal took deep in unison sips of their beverages.

Grace's full of unshed tears eyes skittered about the living room looking for anything to keep her eggshell from cracking, her yoke spilling on to the hardwood floor below. Eventually her search landed on the folded cotton atop of the couch, before she was even conscious of her feet moving she had made tracks to the handmade quilt.

The five foot five woman felt a presence behind her. "El likes to pull it out during the winter, so we can snuggle by the TV." There was a flicker above her head to the left, a lamp she discovered with its bulb working to short itself out. The lady in black was about to propel her eyes back down towards the long ago anniversary gift she made the couple when they landed on the photo next to the Tiffany reproduction. Two carefree smiling faces stared back at her.

From his perch near the doorframe of the kitchen Neal watched her take in the old patchwork covering atop the couch, then try and discern where the flickering light was coming from. Her eyes locked on the photo that El took of he and Peter in their tuxes before they had gone undercover at the men's auction and accidently on purpose almost married the agent off to a black widow. The older man was trying to relay this historical information to the woman with the snow dusted bun but she her attention had flown off to parts known only to her.

Her brown eyes accidently caught his blue in her merry go round searching of the space. Her eyes held his for some few moments, Neal swallowed as he watched the world come crashing back like the pelts of a waterfall across her face. With deliberate almost restrained movements she forced her attention to Peter, consciously stepping in front of his broadened expanse, so as to shield herself from the sightline of the man by the doorframe.

From this angle of view the work-released felon could just make out the gesticulations of her hands. He could clearly see something was not right with her mits; they were almost an etiolated blue. Peter's back hunched over under the weight of her words.

Eventually he turned towards the stairs, locking sober eyes on the lady in black "are you sure?" The care with which Peter relayed those words slapped Neal in the face. There was so much he didn't know about these people in front of him, so very much.

Grace's only response was one single resolute "yes."

Slowly as if she were walking across the artic in backwards snow shoes the lady closed the distance between her present location and the chair on the opposite side of the table. She was back to her senses, Neal observed without comment. He took another calming sip of the red wine in his hand. Stub like fingers removed her weather soaked coat, once the water heavy garment was fold across the back of the whitewashed dinning room chair, she landed in the chair like a bag of potato's dumped in a pantry bucket.

She made no move to take mug of chamomile despite how chilled her blue tinted hands were. Instead with balled reserves even he didn't think he had she locked eyes with him. She opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted when the agent made his way back down the stairs. Peter absently acknowledged Neal out of the corner of his eyes, but his main focus was of the lady sitting at his dining table.

"Grace," Peter whispered softly engendered the younger woman to look him in the eye. "Are you sure?"

Her head tilted slightly not quite finding the center of the dartboard, but somewhere close enough. "Yes Peter." Neal almost chocked on the sip of wine he just swallowed. The way the lady with the Smurf hands thanks to the near freezing temperatures outside and her lack of proper covering said Peter was familiar, intimate even.

The agent's eyes rose to his CI's. "Why don't you join us at the table Neal?" He took a small bolstering sip from his Blue Point beer bottle. "We have much to discuss." It was then Neal mimed something to Peter; his actions deliberate in a silent communication code known only to Neal and Peter. The older man simply replied "Mozzie." That answer seemed to satisfy the wine drinker as he sunk down into the chair across from the woman who had still made no move to nip at her tea.

"Níor nimh mé é." (I did not poison it.) Neal offered hoping that she would try a little of the warm liquid. While her body was no longer racked with the force of the gale force winds rattling the windows, it radiated the cold of an icebox full in stock. Her brown eyes watched the steam still swirling off the top of the mug, yet she made no move to take it. The tea maker went to repeat it his declaration of not trying to slip a mickey in her fin.

For the first time since leaving the FBI building the records maven and Woolworth Building actress spoke directly to him, "Tá a fhios agam." (I know.) And she did know, for all his anger, for all his rage, what was foremost in his cyclone of emotions was the ignominy that he allowed her into a private part of his life. So intimate in nature that the lawman aside him wasn't even aware of.

"Déanann tú?" (You do?) Neal moved the errant curl away from his sight line as he implored her to drink the beverage. The lady who had still not sipped at the seeping tea wondered why, why was it so important to the man still fuming like a factory smoke stack that she drink some stupid tea. Because at his core, Mr. Caffrey was still the kind and caring person who would always put others needs before his own.

"Sea." (Yes.) The lady with discolored mits knew she had to keep her responses succinct otherwise she might crack like a Humpty Dumpty and this time there would be no one to try and help put her back together. She knew he had no intention of poisoning her. At least not her tea, what he might do to her psyche might be a different story. He wouldn't seek his balance through something so tackless as poison in tea.

Peter observed the conversation in front of him like a judge in a tennis match, back and forth they went, volley, serve, volley, and serve. Since he did not speak the funny sounding language being spoken at this dining table he had use his finely honed detective skills to suss out they way they held their bodies, their facial expressions and the tone of their locution.

Neal while radiating the anger of a thousand suns mixed with gasoline soaked hornets nest did not want the lady to feel threatened. Whatever had happened between the time he practically ran into the elevator like the devil was at his back and when they arrived here at the tense stand off at the NOT OK Burke Corral must have included the man with the dried blood about his wrists treading the line of minaciousness toward the lady with the flushed face.

Grace had done what he and Reece asked of her. She sat right in the chair she was sitting (if you could call the stiff perch at the edge of the chair sitting) now and listened as mostly Reece explained the events that lead to breakthrough in the Man Behind it All. Peter knew the whole time she listened to Reece she was watching him, his eyes couldn't stay focused they flew around the room looking for something tangible that just might pull him back from the brink.

In the course of that early afternoon tete a tete she all the while paying close attention the former ASAC she reached her fingers over to the man of the house, her palm open, much like he had done when they found her broken and bleeding hanging from the metal hook screwed into the ceiling. She wanted him to know, she saw him, he mattered and above all else he was not alone.

Peter brought his thoughts back to the present. The way her bun sagged on under the weight of the dispelling snow, the way her eyes watched when he wasn't looking, the cave of her shoulders told him more than anything, she had come to not only respect his CI but to care for him as well. Whatever was aggrieving her and angering him was personal. It wasn't the production they were part of. They were much to invested in seeing Bancroft go down. No whatever she had done in service of Neal had been private and confidential. Neal was questioning if it was part of some elaborate ploy to engage him further into the production.

The more he watched their bodies in the Valse Trieste of the Burke chairs the more it dawned on him that they were disjecta membra of souls who had life beat into them with very real fists. They identified with the other whether they were conscious of it or not. What was it that bard said? 'Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind.' El had picked up the little nightstand copy of a Midsummer Nights Dream at a flea market upstate. While she was away at one of her events he flipped through it, that line in particular stood out to him.

The homeowner cleared his throat to break their stalemate. "Neal." Peter started hoping his voice sounded like smooth butter instead of clotted cream. The man in question raised an eyebrow otherwise remaining aphonic. "Thank you for your Tony Award wining performance today." Neal nodded, waved his hand in the air with exaggerated flourish and bent forward in the mimic of a bow. Once he righted took a smaller sip from the stemware in his hand before setting it down.

"Grace thank you for all that you have done in support of our "performance." Peter raised his fingers up to air quote. "Reece and I are in your debt." Her eyes never left the mug she hadn't move to touch. Reece? Neal questioned in his head. Not Hughes, not former ASAC Hughes or even Agent Hughes. Reece.

She paused for a moment before replying with unswerving purpose, "You are welcome Peter." Neal steepled his painters fingers as he swung his blue eyes between the people opposite him.

Speaking to the table at large Peter offered what solace and gratitude he could "I know this is not easy. I know that is had repercussions far beyond what we could have imagined." The young conman had gone from watching the agent to watching the Smurf across from him. He could feel the clonus in his pants at the need to scream out all that was trapped inside him. Life made him well aware of what happens when you show your outside reactions, so he pushed the palm of his hand down in an effort to quell the rising storm.

"How do we proceed with the performance?" Neal made sure to add the air quotes as the fifty year old had. Peter looked at the man in his gray suit and vest visibly flinching when his eyes washed over the soiled edges hiding the bracelets of blood hovering below. His brown eyes swung to the lady in black and a gray sweater his eyes zeroing in on place beneath the rolls of wool that bore similar markings. "We proceed by easing the tension in the room." The homeowner took a much-needed sip off his beer, "that is how we proceed."

"An bhfuil dóiteán ann dó sin?" (Is there a ritual for that?) Neal tossed the question like a dart at the lady who had still not taken a sip of her now cooling tea. Grace looked as if he backhanded her across the face with a closed fist. The man in the marred suit pushed the palm of his hand down again to quell his body's reaction to the look on her face. He realized as the moment hung about the air like a bomb set to go off that it was he, not her who was demeaning the integrity of the bowls and all they stood for.

"B'fhéidir gur chóir duit a bheith nite níos deacra?" (Maybe you should wash harder.) Neal felt his face flush as if he was suddenly in the Sahara shrouded in wool. His blue eyes opened wide at the sass and vinegar in the question. Ms. Carney was done with allowing him the grace to process how he needed too. Mettle infused her body as if she had taken a shot of bourbon.

"Tá roinnt salachar taobh amuigh is féidir liom triail a bhaint as anois." (There is some dirt outside I can try now.) The fencer goaded the woman in the soaked gray sweater on to clash verbal swords with him. Maybe if they were just able to rail at each other they could work through the cyclone funneling around them at mock speed.

She pushed the ceramic mug towards him careful not to spill on the table, which he noted was hard to do with the power in her shove "ar an seans go dteastaíonn rud éigin níos láidre ná uisce uait le bheith glan." (On the off chance that you need something stronger than water to be clean.) Challenge met, accepted and increased.

The man of the house calmly sipped at his beer while watching the ping pong match at his table. Whatever was being said needed to be said. Grace snapped out of her quiet contemplative thoughts and was done with Neal's business. She was meeting whatever he was saying head on and thrust for thrust. The look in the young mans blue eyes when she shoved the mug towards him was a one of awe tinged with the ashes of recrimination.

"Bhí a fhios agam go raibh tú go maith i do phost." (I knew you were good at your job.) Neal brought his eyes level to hers allowing all the fire burning inside him to burn across his face, "Ní raibh a fhios agam cé chom lo h maith go dtí anocht." (I didn't know how good until tonight.) Her eyes widened at the levy of words meant to bruise her with the assault. Her blue tinted hands clasped in a physical barrier not to ball into fists.

"Aisteoir agus fealsamh. Is bean tú le go leor buanna." (Actor and philosopher. You are a woman with many talents.) Her lips slipped open at the closed fist punch of words being pummeled into her. Peter took in the amelioration of her body's stance. Whatever it was that Neal was saying to her was passing the very definition of the word enough. " Is mór an náire nár éirigh liom níos mó díobh a bhlaiseadh." (It is a great shame that I have not been able to sample more of them.)

There was a deadly calm in the Burke House; the kind right before the hurricane hits and destruction litters the land. With the last sentence Neal had not just crossed the line he trampled it and then stomped it into the ground. Peter thought to intervene until he saw her hands unfurl into flat lines. Her face took on the look of cement after in had aggregated with paste, "Niall. Bí cúramach cad a deir tú ina dhiaidh sin." (Neal, be careful what you say next.) The man not in the language know understood without knowing the words that the lady had just issued the other man words of castigated warning.

It was the color that splashed across her décolletage like a cold wave against the shoreline rocks that snapped Neal into the realization of just how savage and sadistic his words sounded. His mind flashed on the scars he viewed on her back when she bowed to pray, he flashed on her wrists a doc cee doo of cicatrix, his eyes made for the line across her neck. He wondered at the knee-high boots and why, why would she armored such a strange location to prepare for battle. One final look at her redden expanse and he lay down his sword.

She was saying something the man with his hand pressed into his nether regions realized, "an ngéilleann tú dom a bheith olc?" (Do you think me to be evil?) Neal saw the fingers of his hand on the table were shaking, he could the pressure building behind his sack, and there were drips of sweating rolling down his back at a pace of tortoise v hare. With what little control he had over his body he shook his head the barest hint of no.

"Le do thoil lig dom cabhrú leat é seo a chríochnú." (Please, let me help you finish this.) His head weeble wobbled on his neck. Ms. Carney wanted to assist him further? After he used his body as a weapon brandished against her, after he used his words as bullets targeted at her center mass, after he just implied he meant her body to suffer the physical ramifications of his ministrations. He was not worthy of such an offer.

Peter knew the words being leveed were significant and would either bring peace or destruction. The lady in black (and a heavy dusting of white) urged the man across from her to meet her eyes. "Tá comhad ag Peadar." (Peter has a file.) Blue eyes worked there way up from the table where he had been staring at the pace of climbers in December at Mount Everest. "Míneoidh sé seo, i bpáirt, mo rannpháirtíocht (that will explain, in part, my involvement.)

Neal took in the cover of the unassuming government issued FBI stamped manila folder. His mind went back to a teacher reading aloud from John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, "As happens sometimes, a moment settled and hovered and remained for much more than a moment. And sound stopped and movement stopped for much, much more than a moment." He now knew the importance of that moment, the one when movement stopped.

Once he viewed the contents of file he could never go back. He could never go back to the before, there would only be the after. With shaking fingers he inched the file from in front of Peter bring it to rest before him. The man in the ruined suit jacket laid his hand flat on top as if to hold the contents in even if just for a short time more, "an bhfuil tú ag taispeáint dom tú féin a chéasadh?" (Are you showing me to torture yourself?) Neal made sure to hold her gaze his eyes filled to overflowing with guilt.

The lady in the knee high Doc Martins smile was as lugubrious as it was understanding, "Níl." (No.) She brought her hand to rest next to his as if to bring her side of the drawbridge. "Ní mór duit fios a bheith agat nach bhfuil tú i d'aonar. Shéid Bancroft agus Pratt mo shaol freisin." (You need to know that you are not alone. Bancroft and Pratt blew up my life too.)

Peter knew that despite the face he had zero idea what was said, when Neal placed a hand over hers that the fury trapped inside his five foot eleven frame had washed out onto the ocean setting the captives free. The man in the red tie squeezed her hand with the smallest indent of pressure.

"Gentleman, would you mind if I started on dinner?" The soon be chef alighted from her perch. Peter waved a hand towards the kitchen as if to say 'yes please.' While the lady worked on cooking what Neal would come to find out was in fact little chickens (of a sort) he opened the cover of the file folder. Peter took a long finishing sip of his warming beer. He placed the bottle down on the floor by the table leg.

The older man leaned in low near Neal. Peter's face awash with memories of times past and his unvarnished love for the man across from him, "I know you are angry Neal, I know you are hurt. I know you feel betrayed. I know you have all these feelings trapped inside. Please underst—"

Neal silenced the deprecatory speech with an "I understand Peter. We have all suffered." The younger breathed out a settling sigh with a force matching the winter wind outside, "I am not angry anymore, well not at you or…" The artist turned to the woman fast at work creating something he had no doubt that would taste seven levels past amazing. "Her." The former Bennett worked his body to settle the fireworks shooting off in his nervous system.

Neal's unconditional everything for Peter emanating from the depth of his being, "I trust you." Peter felt his stomach flip flop at the simple naked honesty from the man aside him. "And her?" Neal brought his body around watching her as she sprinkled fairy dust into her cauldron. "I trust that she wants to see this through." The younger man wanted to give more. He just wasn't there yet.

Neal leafed through the medical reports not really interested in trying to absorb more terminology for the word tortured. He flipped through Peter's report and Hughes reports with the same sense of detachment before pulling the photos free of the little pocket in back. The lawman reached a wide hand over to cover the top one. "If you are looking at this to punish her later." Neal's eyes went wide and the forceful remonstrance in the agent's voice.

"Then I have to stop you. She might feel that some form of punishment is warranted." The older man swallowed down the memories of her hanging their like a lifeless carcass barely swinging against the wind that rustled when they swung back the iron door, "But I don't and I won't let you do that." The man in the three-piece suit watched as the man in jeans tried to rein in whatever images he saw in his head.

"I was there Neal." Neal stared at the hand atop the photographic portals, "I didn't know if it was a rescue or recovery." Peter's Adam's apple bobbed before continuing, "I didn't know if I would find a pulse." The younger man's hands tightened at the implication. "I held her body while Hughes removed her handcuffed wrists from the hook…" The younger man's hands tightened on the edges of the photos as if he were the one holding her body.

"I held her Neal, I held her frozen body wracked with the smallest tremors a body can give to still provide signs of life while the medics dug the cuffs from her wrists." The agent brought his free hand to his chest. "I was the one her blood ran over in ribbons and waves. So if you mean…" Neal placed his hand over Peter's much as he had hers moments before.

"I am not looking to punish Grainne." Neal breathed through his calming breath cycle of breath. In through the nose, hold for eight, out through the mouth, hold for eight. After investigating his face for signs of deception for what seemed an eternity, in reality a few seconds, Peter looked at the man in the chair to the side of him, he doubted he even knew he used the Gaelic pronunciation of her name, he removed the barrier wall.

With tightened hinges in his hands Neal picked up the first photo. The lady now in the kitchen chopping and dicing's head was hanging to the side as if she had fallen asleep standing up. Her hands restrained over her bowed head. The felon could make out the telltale lines of Smith & Wesson Model 104 Handcuffs, the kind used for maximum security. His eyes took in the vintage cast iron meat hook they were locked over.

He could not see most of her face in the picture as her hair obscured that landscape. What he could see were the derited brick walls adumbrate behind her. Their shape and color informed they were a mixture of clay most likely from the banks of the Hudson and river sand. Which informed him the building was in New York and constructed sometime in the 1930's. Though why that suddenly seemed important to him, he wasn't sure.

Neal's blue eyes locked on to the area that now held a long white scar, it was flayed open like a fish on display at the market. The residuum of her camisole was more crimson than its original petal pink. Her arms were streams of blood and froth. Peter touched his knuckles to lend aphonic aegis. Neal hadn't even realized his hands were twisted into the portrait of the house of horrors.

His errant curl bounced across his forehead as he nodded his ok to Peter. Even though the man in the chair in the three-piece suit knew he would never be ok again. His eyes traveled down her body, her pants looked as if they had been hemmed with a cleaver. Neal focused on the missing fastener at the top. Peter must have sensed what held his veiled surveillance. "No." Was all the layman said to the unasked question. Neal swallowed down the bile at the back of his throat threatening to drown him.

Her ankles were fettered to the ground in what were those? The historian of law enforcement jewelry pulled the photo closer, Providence Tool Company Leg Irons (circa the Civil War). The skin on her calves was raked with indents and welted over with so much blood, he couldn't tell about her feet because again the canvas was covered in bright red sauce.

The tintibulation of the Five Star oven jostled the men out of their projector show of times past. Peter looked over to see the chef slide the red Le Creuset baking pan out using his mother in laws potholders. She would be happy they were seeing some action. The lawman watched as she moved the stainless steal Williams and Sonoma pasta pot to the sink.

Neal gently as if he were handling her body not a photo of it placed the picture down on the table, the next shots were close ups of the wounds on her neck you could see bone peaking out like a needle searching for thread, her wrists with there many circles, her blacked eyes a Rorschach of subconjunctival hemorrhage, her broken nose (this is why the glasses never sit straight,) a lacerated cheek, this was why she always wore a layer of foundation, it wasn't enough to curb her freckles but enough to dull the scar.

He stilled his fluctuant fingers before reaching for the next one. The younger man knew the older one was watching him in attempt to provide him easement and just the barest hint of caution. He moved on to the following photos, they were binder clipped together facing in towards each other. Neal brought his face to Peter's. The lawman's voice tried (and failed) to remain equable, "they are of a more intimate nature."

Neal carded the pictures back to an orderly stack, placed them in the flap that had previously held them secure and closed the folder. He needed air like a man trapped in a house on fire. His feet were out the door before he realized his exit. Winds worked their fingers through his wildly bouncing hair. Snow fell like pellets from a wood chipper, fast and furious at his face.

He could feel his heart pounding in discordant punches trying to free itself from the meager confines of his chest. He needed to scream out everything trapped inside, he wanted to collapse to his knees in prayer, the urge to just throw something hard and watch it break like they had broken… His ears heard the door open, of course Peter would come to check on him. He could just imagine what his present state displayed.

"Peter its…" His words walked off into the wind slicing through the air around him. For a second, just a second the time in which it takes a your eyes to blink, all he saw was ichor dripping off her like icing on a fallen cake. When Neal blinked he realized it was just her, her freckles and some wind burned cheeks. Her etiolated hands tucked safely into the pockets of the chicken adorned apron.

"Ní i bpíosaí." (Not in pieces.) He worked at the rocks in his throat she was offering him comfort. She inched closer to him ever vigilant to keep a buffered distance. "Ní i bpíosaí." (Not in pieces.) She repeated, understanding that he was seeing the violence in the photos and meshing it with his own experiences of brutality and force.

The man in the blood stained Bassistoni's eyes were heavy with rain threatening to fall from his overcast skies. His hands tried to clench, as watched her try to stamp out the fear running across her face like ants across the boardwalk. As he reigned in his breathing and brought his view master more into focus he could see she wasn't afraid of him. She was just overwhelmed by the enormity of the day (and night and what was almost certain to be a longer night yet.)

They heard the front door open. Neal's first instinct was to place himself in between her and a preserved threat. Her eyes welled at the base instinct of the gesture; he sought to protect her from harm. She swallowed the tears down into the cave in her heart; there was no commination, at least from the man in the entryway. "Its Reece."

She watched as their breaths swirled in to the night as snow found its way to dust their bodies as if confectioners sugar. Her smaller hand found his larger one. She never actually touched it just hovered near it as a show of solidarity and something she wasn't even sure she could name. Without a backward glance Neal walked through the back door of the Burke house, leaving the lady standing alone snow toping her mountains. She had known her time with Neal was borrowed.

With steady feet the lady in black, white and gray followed the felons path back into the warmed townhome. "Grace" Reece Hughes called out his arms open for a hug. She walked right into the waiting embrace. "Reece, it is so good to see you." The older man rested his chin on her head the belayed a comfortableness born out of long acquaintance. From his vantage point he could see the file, his knowing gaze moved the file to Peter to Caffrey who looked ready to be ill. (Apparently things had been delved into before his entrance.) He squeezed the young lady in his arms tight before letting her go.

"Do I smell What's up Chicken up?" The former white collar ASAC teased to break some of the tension swirling in the room like cyclone ready to touch down at any point. The lady next to him giggled touched that he would recognize her dinner based on ole factory wafes. Peter smiled at the old reference of a favorite meal. Neal took in that she called him Reece that the older man hugged her and then joshed with her. The Reece Hughes he knew never even cracked a smile.

The chef walked back into the kitchen towards what the artist could only surmise was What's up Chicken up. The homeowner went about the task of setting down table wear and the antique trivets that had been holiday gift to El from Moz for the serving dishes. Peter secured another beer for himself and snagged one for the newly joined dinner guest. He held up the red wine bottle to Neal who only shook his head no. To complete his domestic pursuits Peter brought out pitcher of that funny fruit water El had chilling on the top shelf in the fridge.

What's up Chicken up made the table. Along with chickpea pasta in lemon sauce with a light caper overlay. Sautéed red and yellow peppers and topped with green onions. Sugar cookies that tasted as if angels dusted them with heavenly applique and biscuits that made every man at the table's mouth water.

Once everyone had their meals in front of them, those eating at Burkes Diner were able to talk about how to the further the performance of White Collar: To Catch a Criminal Boss. Furthering plans were made, changes and updates to the performance were meted out and contingences added, just in case. Upon conclusion Peter told an aproned adorned Grace he would take care of clearing the table, washing and storing the dishes. The chef just laughed him off saying, "those who cook clean."

The sage lady knew the men at the table needed a minute to talk amongst themselves, say things they didn't want her to hear and worked to give them that time without making anyone feel bad about. By the time the kitchen was clean, Reece had donned his utilitarian Navy pea coat left over from his time service and his wool fiddler's cap.

The former white collar ASAC held out his arms for a hug good night from the bun toped woman in the apron. She was more than happy to oblige such a simple request for affection. Reece was a good man, with a good heart. When he went to release her back to the room, he remembered to add a little something that would make her chuckle. He brought his lips close to her ears whispering so only she could hear. Her following laugh and smile made all the men in the room relax into their first easy smiles of the night. With a nod to the room the senior man took his leave.

Peter turned around to the duo remaining in his suddenly very cramped house. Grace murmured something about the laundry basket and Neal, Neal stood locked in battle with the file, which had been relocated to the mail area. Once Grace had returned from depositing her cooking covering and the used kitchen towels with the little chickens on them (a private joke had turned into a running them) into laundry hamper she went about the task of reapplying her still sodden coat.

Peter remembered his manners after fixating on Neal who couldn't break his chess match with the file. "Grace, its late. You can stay in the guest room. I don't really think you should try heading out to the island in this weather." Her lips smiled, but her eyes didn't. She couldn't stand another minute of be locked prisoner in that house. All she could feel was the blanket of tension hovering waiting to suffocate them and the oozing of venom emanating from that file that held the man in the three piece suits attention.

Still Peter's offer came from a place of genuine love and affection. She had spent many a night at the Burke household, many. Tonight however would not join that number. She needed out of there like a birthday celebrant needed the candles out of the cake. "Thank you for the kind and generous offer Peter." Grace slid her jacket on buttoning it up to the top and pulling the wet lapel up to protect her neck as best it could in its sadden state of affairs. "I will be—"

"Coming home with me." Neal simply explained she was coming home with him. Her eyes widened at the former Bennett's period at the end of a sentence statement. Peter sought out her eyes to make sure this was a decision she felt safe with. They hadn't exactly been roses in the garden with each other the last few hours. Her brown eyes traveled the length of the man who had rendered the uncompromising decree.

Her wooden legs carried her over to Peter. The lady swung her messenger bag over her should before hugging the older man in jeans, whispering quietly into his bent down ear "he means me no harm Peter." The agent swallowed at the sonar vibe he was emanating, he hadn't even thought that Neal would harm her. Not physically at least, Neal would hurt himself before he raised a hand to the lady in the soused wool coat. However, the MENSA level brain trapped inside the coal head will the bouncing in the wind curls knew a great many words and how to apply them for maxim effect, the wounds that words leave often stay with you when the bruises fade.

The young man again in his marred overcoat held the back door ajar as the lady left the confines of the older man's hug to join the native of DC outside. Neal poured all the words he could not say into the look he gave Peter as he closed the door with one single finger tap at the frame. The fifty year old felt his legs give as he saw the seemingly small movement from the CI's hand, the one that made the biggest impact on his tormented soul. The home own sank down into the chair at the table with the view and looked out the door for a long time into the night.

December 3, 2013 On Route to 351 Riverside Drive, (June's Apartment), 9:31PM

A swirling storm of screaming silver littered white confetti atop their coats. Grace sank her hands as far as they would go into her diminutive pockets. She stood patiently as the flakes whipped at her head, landing in her uncovered ear. Her eyes watched as the man beside her turned on his Berluti heal careful not to slip on the glistening expanse and headed down the back path filled with its rancid leftovers and fetid pools of slime.

The five foot eleven man continued at a pace that forced her much smaller stride to almost run to keep up with him. Neal looked over at her feet as the Doc Martin's sunk in the snow mounds with a crunch and a munch. Why was he doing this to her? Bending her to his will in the one way available to him at the moment. He slowed his stride down as the tightness in his groin reminded him that he was not built with the testicular fortitude to perpetuate such acts of opprobrium.

Eventually the obmusent duo made their way to fly infested subway station both careful to veer around the pool of curious liquid at the bottom of the stairwell, then onto the subway car their only riding company a young set of boys engaged in a furious tango of tongues and a wizened older gentleman with his border collie (safe in a bag so as not to break the subway rules.)

With a sigh born of utter emotional exhaustion the lady missing her hat and gloves collapsed down next to the man who had just hours earlier called her a woman of many talents almost leering with barbarian delectation when he followed up "it is a great shame that I have not been able to sample more of them."

Grace folded her hands over in her lap. For a long time she said nothing, what really at this point was there even to say? The lady with the again bluing hands sat thinking about that verbal slap and why she still felt safe in returning to his apartment in an empty house where no one would hear her scream.

Eventually she moved her head over, wisps of her bun falling around her chin tickling at her jaw, to where his hands were stacked loosely like hers. She focused her lens on the blood dried at the edges of his cuffs, how it had marred his white shirt, his beautiful jacket, how it was still there now after all this time, how he hadn't even thought to wash as it. She flashbacked to the one clear image in her head of the dried blood on her wrists.

The lady with the memories of long past was just about to say something to her seatmate when the subway announced it was time to exit the metal coffin. She dutifully rose as he did maintaining the silence he had throughout the sojourn back to the Upper West Side. This portion of their trip the man in the Stetson made a concentrated effort to walk at a pace she didn't have to practically run to keep up with.

Not that the man astride her wasn't still fuming, she could feel the clouds of anger rolling off him like plums of factory dust seen even know in the distance. He just lost a little of the coal stroked fire in his furnace, he was literally running on the fumes, they circled him like vultures over their prey. His coat swirled as if he were a villain in a movie as he trudged up the steps, he kept his hat-covered head bowed as he worked the lock and key.

December 3, 2013, 351 Riverside Drive, (June's Apartment), 10:01PM

Grace slowed almost to crawl as they approached the house at 351 Riverside Drive. Neal glanced back at her with a discerning set of eyes. He noticed how she hesitated at the entry stairs her right foot hovering in flight almost as if her wheel sought touchdown, her glasses covered eyes were locked on an image far far away only she could see. "Ciallaíonn mé aon dochar duit." (I mean you no harm.) He offered reverently as if he was whispering into the confessional box at church.

The lady half in flight was lown for such an extended duration the gentleman at the top of the mountain didn't think she would respond to his round about offer of alms. "Táim cinnte." (I am sure.) She brought her head up to his general location. "Áit éigin istigh tú féin ciallaíonn tú sin. (Somewhere inside yourself you mean that.)

Ms. Carney truly believed he meant her harm? He would never raise a hand to her in harm. (Never say never it almost assures it is going to happen.) Neal's hand tightened on the door handle, he had become a Caffrey true in true if someone associated him with violence. The man with such permanent reminders of those acts littering his canvas bowed his shoulders in shame.

The toe of an obsidian Doc Martin landed on the first step, peaking out beneath the white flakes that covered it as if in the center of a snow globe. She was making a definitive statement without even using her vast lexicon. 'I am taking the first step Mr. Caffrey.' Still her next words set the pulse in his neck into overdrive.

"Tá a fhios agam nach bhfuil aon cheart agam ceist a chur." (I know I have no right to ask.) The other black boot partnered the first. "Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil údar maith leat i do chuid feirge." (I know you are justified in your anger.) The lady covered in a foundation of ice and snow surmounted another step. Neal worked at calming his bobbing Adam's apple.

Whatever it was he thought he was expecting her to say, it was not that following peripetia. "Le do thoil, lig dom cabhrú leat." (Please let me help you.) The air around them was a thicket of white flowers. The wind whirled around them in an angry vortex. The street was losing its black to the teardrops from the sky. Her head tilted from the second to last step, another hair had escaped her chignon snapping wildly at her chin.

When the former Bennett thought himself able to speak without the millions of emotions trapped inside him leaking out like a spilled wine bottle he responded with as few words possible, "Cabhair liom?" (Help me?) Her eyes focused from whatever she saw on the screen in her head to his, her gaze didn't waver, her face didn't welt. She brought herself cautiously up the final stair so that she stood equal to him, careful to extend her indigo hands in an 'I mean you no harm' gesture.

Grace understood how hard it was to accept help, help you didn't even know you needed. She had told him "níl tú i do aonar," (You are not alone) and she meant it for as long as he would allow. "Cabhraigh leat," (Help you) she cupped her hands over his wrists never crossing the barrier into touch. It must have been the wind rushing the sideways snow past his face that was the wetness that had found a downward trickle down his alabaster surface.

Her eyes never left his, she just watched him, her hands hovering over his in prayer. His knuckles graced the inside of her palms with the faintest of touch, barely one vane on feather made contact with her as the man with the blood stained wrists backed up and bid her to follow him into the darkened house on the Upper West Side.

Two weary to the bone federal servants labored up the great expanse of the treene stairs almost as if their feet were to heavy to carry their loads. Words were rendered obsolete as the duo crossed the threshold into the rooftop apartment. Each in their own way cognizant that it was more than just a wooden frame they made passage through.

Neal shuffled almost as if he were carrying a ball and chain over to the dressing area afoot the queen-sized bed. He worked his coat off of with the determination of a last stand. His fingers found the hanger almost by route. With automatic movements he sleeved the snow heavy, toner heavier cashmere garment.

This was his body's one allowance for undressing without assistance. When the five foot eleven man went to remove his gray Brioni he found that his hands quite without his permission were shaking like a sifter set too high. He felt more than saw the shadow of a presence behind him.

When he turned slowly (his whip fast turns would not make the scene while she was near, not for a long time) he noted that she was sans coat and sweater. His eyes locked on her undraped arms making their way down to the permanent jewelry encircling her wrists. To relay she meant him no harm she turned her palms over as if to show a card trick in Central Park. Then rose her fingers in question. He offered the only answer he thought capable at the moment, he turned at an angle, her hands were softs as clouds tickling at the sky as she slid his jacket off, making sure to slow the movements as the woolen fabric lifted from the dried ichor at his cuffs.

Sweat trickled down the small of his back as if snow had fallen down behind his collar. His blue eyes honed in on her fingers as she carded the jacket on the other hanger. Her body found his in the shadows once more, her eyes asking for silent permission to continue.

The thief looked down at his hands racked by continued tremors, the tools of trade, his rock solid never wavering in the face of danger hands, he had jumped off skyscrapers, leapt from planes, tunneled through catacombs with hands that never even flexed.

He raised his blue eyes up to her and nodded the barest essence of yes. With steady fingers he was the envy of she worked to loosen his tie from the confines of his vest. Absently he thought to himself it had to be a double Windsor. The tightness of the Carlos Santana silk neck piece (a gift from Moz) almost halted his breathing, at least that is what he reasoned with himself, as he felt her fingers a top his breastplate.

Once the lady in the black Doc Martins with the rose colored rivets had loosened the red noose from around the man's neck, she inched it over his head working at not ruffling his curled under the weather conditions hair, that one little curl in the front bounced to and fro despite her chary actions. She laid the tie in sympathy with his coat along the base of the hanger.

Grace could feel the air around them hovering as if they were in a snow globe, the rest of the apartment just out of touch. The scent of cedar permeating from the bed behind him was tickling at her nose. It was then she realized she was touching a man inches from were he lay. She scrunched her toes up as far as her steel toes would allow.

Neal watched as her fingers loosen the buttons from his vest, one by one by one the constriction in his chest eased, as he was able to take in a deeper breath. Her blued hands slid the binding device off one arm careful not to snag on his akimbo elbow and then down the other. Joining it on the hanger with the other members of his dressing cabinet.

Her eyes took in the expanse of his chest, the landscape only covered by a thread count higher than her sheets at home and blood spatter. He hid muscles, valleys and groves beneath his armor. She wrinkled her nose, how many of those had been marred by inclement weather?

The native of the District of Columbia felt the hair on the back of his neck extend, the back of his knees were quivering as if a huge gust of the freezing air fustigating outside had hit them with their gale forces. This time he knew the squinching in his Brioni pants was not brought on by anger. He waited with a tense breath to see how she would unburden him from the confines of his ruined Bassistoni shirt.

If she made note of the proturbate forming beneath the zipper of the gray trousers she didn't do it to the Neal's visual confirmation. His eyes skittered around the room in an attempt to anchor his thoughts away from the fact her hands were at his hips, her fingers perilously close to his private affairs. She pulled gentle at the tuck above his pants as if loosening a strawberry from a fruit tray, proceeding to drag the shirt inch by out inch away from its trapped encumbrance.

Once the garment was free the man heard the lady's exhalation of breath. Without any input from him his body reacted on instinct to her mussitations. Her response was to place her frozen palm on his heart; it took him a moment to settle on what she was saying over the fireworks exploding below her hand, "Ciallaíonn mé aon dochar duit." (I mean you no harm.)

There was no way around her not noticing his erratic breathing, every breath he tried to take filled with the scent of her shampoo, roses and peonies was it? Her garden was intoxicating he thought as he drank in the smell from the petals. When she had concluded her veneration to his soul she lifted her hand, suddenly he found that he missed the weight of it holding his heart in his chest.

Grace waited while seconds clicked down on the antique metal clock on his nightstand. Neal knew she was allowing him the dignity to make the choice if he wanted to guard himself from her seeing his wounds. The man in the untucked shirt couldn't have stopped her even if he wanted to, which he didn't.

Her body moved closer into his space, she could feel the hotness of his breath as it chugged across her bowed necks in waves of steam. She could smell the leather and honey from his aftershave, she could feel the heat radiating from just below his surface.

The lady in black brought her hands up the pearlized buttons, her pretty painted nail sliding behind the first one. Neal couldn't control the rumble his body gave his mountain was rolling like an avalanche. Of all the women to underdress him and the number was great though not as enumerate as people liked to believe. Not one had done so with as much care and respect as he was being shown now.

To most women he was simply a gorgeous specimen of manhood. He was a beautiful carved piece of marble for them to grab at hold at, as Sara had done in the vestibule of The Woolworth Building. He was effulgent blue eyes they could swim laps in, a chiseled chin they bit in animal frenzy, honed cheeks for them to maw at and raw naked sex appeal they wanted to rut with. They found his conman's smile alluring and his magnetism irresistible.

The man in the shadows looking down at the woman below him had no doubt Ms. Carney would agree he had a certain debonair flair she might even agree that he was handsome. She was not undressing him in an effort to bed him; she was removing his armor so that she may help him. She was helping Niall. Because what she saw and what all those other women saw were different. They saw the con where she was seeing the man.

His eyes skirted just past her neck as her head stayed low to her work. He could see the end of the white scar as it wrapped just around the collarbone. Her potpourri flower garden was passing past his lips; he could almost taste the flowers. He took in the black of her shirt and malacodermous peaks below it, he looked at the short legs covered in the color of night, she wore armor like he wore armor. People see what they needed to see. What they needed to see was someone who blended into the background, who faded away in obscurity.

His body flinched as she neared the remaining buttons that hovering over his rocky crag. Her brown eyes locked on his face with more understanding than was due him, her smile a smile she would only ever share with him. He knew that this lady all in black was seeing Niall Caffrey the man, not Neal Caffrey the con.

Her head found the penumbra once more as she moved herself lower to finish her task. His eyes sought out the moon in the sky above, anything so that he would not see her silhouette at such an angle. As the last button gave he felt the air sneak under the shirt as she moved the sides over towards the edges of his ribcage.

"Táim chun na cnaipí a dhéanamh ag do chaol na láimhe anois." (I am going to do the buttons at your wrists now.) The rain once again threatening his clouds would not fall. He swallowed down the squall hovering just near the periphery of his landscape, and inclined his head for her to continue that wayward curl bouncing about.

Her fingers worked at the right, easing the first button from its stitched holder, then the second. Her eyes flitted between his wrists and his stomach, she knew he was aggrieved he couldn't quell the earthquake shuttered that his body gave. With everything she had the lady with the snow-drenched bun eased the cuff wide as the fabric would allow. Using only two fingers she sought to remove the pieces of fabric imbedded in the dried blood with the utmost care. The pulse beneath those digits was pounding like federal agents were there to come to take them away.

She moved to the left wrist, the man in partial undress watched as her neck flushed crimson with the continued close contact. He knew she could feel the steady beat of his pulse, the gush of the winds leaving his mouth in erratic bursts. The former Bennett wanted to offer her some extension of comfort. He was at a loss as too how to proffer. So the man standing in front of a woman while she unbound his wrappings did the one thing he could do, allow her to comfort him.

She worked the buttons on his left wrist; they were frosted with his ichor icing. Her hand hovered in the air as if one of the flakes of snow outside, pausing for the smallest of moments before easing the cuff apart. When her hand made contact with his skin his stomach shrank back with the contact of skin on skin. His balls clonused a hair at the slide of the one finger around his radius.

Her Smurf hands were the texture of sandpaper and the temperature of ice. Even so her touch was infused with gentleness and peace. Grace took her time removing the fabric on the wrist that had suffered the brunt of the metal restraint abuse. Once the thread had been unpicked from the stich, she weltered around his body.

Neal felt her behind him close enough that his marbled haunches could feel the touch of her clothing. She rose her arms up almost resting her wrists on his shoulders never quite making contact as her pincher fingers removed his once fine men's shirt from his body, eventually freeing him from the chains of the fabric confines. The shirt evaporated with the lady as she moved to float towards the kitchen.

Before he was conscious of what he was doing, Neal stayed her with a hand, fingers really not even a full circle of a hand. He wanted, no needed her to know she was free to step back or step in. She brought her brown eyes up to meet him in question at such a never initiated physical touch.

He urged her into a hug praying to the Heavens that heretofore never listened to him that she not startle at his body cylinders firing haphazardly. She hesitated only a second before bring her arms around his waist, laying her head against his heart. He enjoined his, what had she called them his big strongly muscly arms to encircle her. Vigilant not to leave bloodied tracks across her back.

Neal heard muffled words from where she had fit right under his chin, they were quiet, oh so quiet, "go raibh maith agat." (Thank you.) Thank you? She was thanking him. For what? And then it dawned on him. She was thanking him for trusting her, not to hurt him and not just with the removal of his shirt, the removal of his battle dress. His big strong muscly shaking arms tightened in response. She whispered something else towards the percussioning of his chest then rested her forehead to his breastplate allowing him all the time he needed with her.

Slowly he brought his hands down her sides to rest on her hips before releasing her. The intimacy of the contact was lost on him till he felt the solidness of her twin towers, till he saw the bounce of the lose hairs around her chin, till he felt the area beneath his hands calefacient to her touch. The lady in black didn't startle or pull. She simply stepped back and headed towards the kitchen folding his marred covering on the counter.

He ran a calming palm over the lower half of his body and one through his hair. His body suddenly felt as if he were covered in acupuncture pins. His eyes rolled like marbles on a hard wood floor towards were the lady stood in the bright light of the sink area. She had rescued two clean towels from the drawer, filled a bowl with warmed water. It was not lost on either of them the shutter her body gave as she completed the action of adding the fluid to the circled container.

Neal scooted by the Doc Martin covered feet with only, "beidh mé ar ais" (I will be back.) Grace swallowed the tears that formed in her heart. The man with the bloodied wrists was allowing her to do this because it had to be done. One day she knew in her soul, he would find a way to balance the scales. Using the bowls with the water and the dirt, scrubbing and washing was a private part of their belief system, reverent actions.

The man now barefoot she realized returned with a small basket of supplies. He placed it in the center of the small table and waited for her to offer instruction. She bid him to sit which he did fully till he felt his back straight against the lines of chair. The nursemaid make quick work of fanning out the tools she would need to cleanse his wounds, the physical ones she noted in her head. Her elorited hands submerged a brown Egyptian cotton washcloth into the warmed water of the basin afore them. Taking great care to wring out the excess so that it would not drip and make water tracks across the injured mans forearms.

As she debrided the valleys and groves about his wrists the lady in black made note of the unconscious flinch he gave on the right hand when the astringent played a nerve like a violin during the solo part of a symphony. She grimaced in tune with him as he rolled his bottom lip when she dug a shard of embedded cotton out of the zippered skin on his left wrist. When his wounds had been brought to pristine and the water to crimson she placed the cotton squares in the water to hide them from view.

"Cén fáth nach bhfuil tú ag cithfholcadh?" (Why don't you shower?) She threw away the small bits of cloth she had removed from the flayed bracelets of alabaster skin. "Nuair a bheidh tú críochnaithe," (When you are finished) her voice was surprisingly solid as she explained the last part of her Florence related tasks her eyes still locked on the angry welts from Peter's silver jewelry "gléasfaidh mé iad." (I will dress them.)

Neal stood up and headed to the safety of a shower with all possible haste before he lost it completely. He turned the water full blast to the left just as he had done this morning, he let his pants fall to the floor in unison with boxers, jumping just a bit when the silver belt buckle bounced off the white tiled floor. The light above the sink washed over his anklet and for one moment in time everything stood still then he heard the terrace doors open. The naked man save for the bling about his ankle stepped into the scalding water that would never clean the parts of him that felt dirty.

Brown eyes stared at the first winter storm beating her drums outside. Her ears heard the agonized cries of the wind as it bounced between the gargoyles. Her fingers worked to release her from her blouse inching it over her shoulders finally freeing her torso from the straight jacket. She folded the cotton blend covering atop her water logged jacket and favorite old gray sweater now a soggy mess like cheerios left to long at the bottom of a bowl.

She released the ties in her bun letting her hair cascade down her back in waves joining the pieces already loosened from her sprinting along side the man in the shower. She folded her glasses and placed them like a cherry a top a Sunday on the members of her closet already astride the seat.

Her body sank into the opposite chair, the one recently vacated by the man with the errant curl. She noted he left the seat warmed for her. Grace worked to find a steady breath. With each shutter his body gave and each confetti piece of cotton she removed her memories flashed back to the nurses doing the same to her.

Her hair washed over the table as she bent to undue her laces. Without focusing on anything but the snow falling outside the lady half in black pulled the ties out of the rivets one by one by one eventually getting to the point where she knew she could slide the steal toed coverings off. She set the boots under the chair housing her garments.

She stared at her socks for a moment taking in the debris from the drier that velcroed to random spots on the coal-covered surface. Her frozen fingers found the elastic and with a tug snapped off the left and then the right one. She folded them into her boots as if to protect them from the wind about to whiz past them.

With a straight back and undeterred purpose in her stride the Irish lady walked outside the doors barely registering the near freezing temperatures and the silvered shards of winter punching at her undraped canvas. With one diminutive click she brought the balcony door to a close, trapping the hurricane of swirling emotions inside with the heat.

Bare feet padded their way to the opposite side of the rooftop deck used some nights before, those actions and words whether the man in the shower believed it or not were in peace. These were in flagellation. Her leaden legs couldn't hold her any longer.

She collapsed to her knees on to the blanket of white watching it fly like fireflies into the darken night. A bone weary exhale escaped her chapped lips with a cry. She could feel the harden tile of the balcony floor digging into her knees. Only mildly aware of the water soaking into her pants.

This job was so much harder than she thought. Peter and Reece had come to her oh so many weeks and weeks ago, they had asked her to lunch. Inviting her to dine with them was not in and of itself strange they met often, well as often as their schedules would allow for. The anomalous part was the location the Burke household. Meeting as the brownstone was usually reserved for special occasions.

"We have a way to make them pay." Reece had started without preamble or warning. She had listened to the older man while taking in the tight way Peter had carried himself, his normally straight shoulders hunched over. His eyes darting around the room, his fingers absently though forcefully pulling at his tie. "And we need your help."

They needed her help to catch the man responsible for her scars, the remaining one. The other was gone to where evil go when their tenure on earth has passed. If the turncoat ASAC that had been at White Collar for 2.5 seconds was to be believed, because Peter had shot him dead in cold blood. Nothing could be farther from the man she knew. Nothing.

The lady in black asked Reece to take her to visit him. She wanted the man who literally held the broken pieces of her in his arms to know that he was not alone. He hadn't looked at her, or even around her, his eyes stayed on the table. He thanked her for coming, begged her not to return. As she sought her leave his question stalled her in her tracks. "Why didn't you ask me?" She hadn't asked, because she didn't need to.

On the way back from the Brooklyn facility she asked Reece what they were going to do? He had told her with the fury of a thousand and one suns radiating from his gut that they needed to wait. All would settle and then they would work towards a plan. So she waited and waited. And this was the start of the plan.

They had monished her about Neal. Everything was upside down right now. His birth father was the man who shot Terrance Pratt, not Peter. Somehow the felon had convinced his missing progenitor to confess so that the agent his son was assigned too was released from the detention center. She remembered how Reece had added, "his friend" when explaining how Neal was attached not just at the ankle but the heart too. Peter's hands were shaking when Reece said that, but he made no move to argue the validity of the words.

For the play to win the Tony, everyone needed to believe in the rift between the two. Taking in the state of Peter's affairs she didn't image in would be that hard. Peter was not himself he was jumpy, he was angry, he was a man tossed in the deep end of the ocean without a lift raft, out of his mind with too many emotions for one who's sole philosophy on the subject was 'cowboy up.'

Reece and Peter, though mostly Reece as Peter's vocabulary had shrunk like wool in water to a few sentences mostly consisting of 'yes he right' or 'stupid hats,' presented her the synopsis of the man beneath the water he was MENSA level smart a veritable walking encyclopedia on facts and figures, an accomplished conman who was able to become just about anyone a dignitary, a professor, a roof layer (that was the only time that day she saw Peter attempt a smile.)

The man with the startling blue eyes was an enigma wrapped up in a Devore. Reece said he had would be the very definition of the word charming, he was debonair and he always sought to flourish. Peter piped up at this point interjecting he was also wary, he would look for an in, it was just his way he needed to know all the angles so he could understand the outcome and act accordingly.

They both went on to asservate with sanguine confidence, that the felon was NOT violent and he would NOT seek to harm her. They would never even think to place her in a situation where that would become the result. Nor did either senior law enforcement agent think he would attempt to con her because she was so plain. Reece said those last words almost as if begging for her apology.

The felon would be banished to the morgue (records department) to unearth a set of old case files related to an unsolved mystery. Though seemly nugatory the Newgrange case was salient to the play at large and very specifically chosen. If Neal and his honking brain cells could absorb all the information housed in the blue (they had not used manila then) file folders and follow the leads, it would be the final piece of the puzzle (or so they thought.)

When the records clerk first saw the white collar CI at her counter all the attributes they pontificated about were in regal display. His dapper dress, his keen mind, his practiced charm. None of those were as significant or glaring as the hollowness in his eyes as if the candle in the lantern was flickering at dim, the vacancy of spirit there was no joy in his words just a privation of all he held dear. This was a man who had been provided the trust and the faith he so desperately sought and the love he so desperately needed. (Not that he would admit that.) And this was the man who had lost it.

And what did she do? She played those losses against him. The man who cut such swaths with his hats and his suits might have show clemency for her providing him an office space to hunt down the details in the file, he might have looked past the culinary delights she provided more so because he really did find them delights he might have even excused the assistance she provided to his lady friend Sara as the strawberry blond hadn't really offered much choice in the matter.

There would be no Caffrey pardon for the sacred use of the bowls. He might be a conman of the finest order, he might employ deceptions on the daily, he might use all the little facts he has garnered about a person to work them, even he had lines he wouldn't cross. What she did was a traducement to their beliefs.

She bowed her head on the ice-covered tile in supplication. Her hair fanned out quickly absorbing water weight as flakes landed upon the darkened tresses at a rapid fire pace. Snow imbrued her thin cotton camisole and her wool pants, the wind permeated her bones till there was simply no part of her that had not merged one with the elements about.

The barefoot lady lay prone for sometimes allowing winter to encircle and envelope her in castigation for the abuse she meted out to the man with the marred wrists. She felt water trickle down her back disappearing beneath the band of her pants; there was a comfort in becoming one with the storm.

Grace was vaguely aware of the change in space around her as if everything was stilled to a freeze frame just before the shutter closed and the world started again. From somewhere in the distance much farther than the few actual feet it was the lady with her head on the redden tiles heard the click heralding the portal between outside and in had been breached.

She continued her veneration to the universe without so much as toe twitch. Neal remained obmusent not wanting to caesura her private moment. They both needed to process the day and all that had happened in their own ways. If she needed to do it prone in the snow, then as much as he wanted to pull her into the warmth of the apartment he would allow her to continue to be a snowwoman.

The man in his sleeping attire wasn't going to disrupt the lady in a partial state of undress's praying. As much as it shot arrows through his sinew, he wasn't. Until the outside lantern lighting snapped at the ground in an iniquitous macabre dance of eburnean light bouncing off the scar on her ankle.

The observer swallowed the bile that raised in his already much to raw throat forcing it down the roughed tunnel. 'You can either be a con or a man. You can't be both.' Neal made the choice before he even understood the ramifications of what he was doing. The Irishman eased himself into the open space between the balcony and the lady in prayer. He knelt down next to her; he splayed his arms out in veneration with her.

When the snow covered woman sat up her lower legs tucked beneath her she looked over at the man next her who mirrored her position, there was no acting her quiddity was on full display. Her brown eyes were filled to the brim with regret as if a coffee cup near to overflow, her face contoured with lines of agony at causing someone else suffering. Her little hands were clasped so tightly together her fingers were almost white with loss of blood flow.

The man in his night ware took in the bluish tint of her canvas all that was on display etiolated under the harshness of the weather attacking it from all sides. Her body had a sheen of ice across it as if to highlight the blue hues. "Le do thoil teacht taobh istigh." (Please come inside.) She looked at him, then the balcony and eventually the snow falling as if taking in the world about her for the first time all night.

She rolled off her feet and pushed up off the ground. He could see more of the scar at the base of her back. These were her reasons for helping. These were her reasons for entering into the White Collar production of to Catch a Criminal Boss. She stood in silent sentry waiting for him by the door, her feet hidden below the bank of snow. They needed to get in before she was a solid block of hypothermia.

The lady with the snow covered hair and water soaked clothing needed to say so many things to the man in flannel pajama bottoms and the blue tee shirt, so very many things. All she found she could lend voice to was, "an féidir liom iad a ghléasadh?" (May I dress them?) One look at her unguarded face and Neal knew that wasn't all the blue lady wanted to say. However, she was methodical in her thinking and her patient needed his wounds tended too.

The pajama clad man sat down in the chair he recently vacated, again putting his hands out palm up. She moved to his side, she opened the gauze rolls, the ointment and the tape. She washed her hands with warm water and the kitchen soap, which smelled heavily of Meyer lemons. The nursemaid leaned over her charge, her hair tickling at his tee shirt covered shoulder. He felt the ends teasing at the where the cotton ended and the skin began.

Grace applied the ointment vigilant in her task of working it in without causing pain or discomfort. A skill Neal fervently wished he had especially in his formative years. The Smurf wrapped the right wrist first making sure to double the padding near the ulna where the metal dug in at a severe angle. She moved onto the left with efficiency and care. When the camisole-clad lady was sure the tape wouldn't come lose she put the remaining contents back in the basket.

He assumed when she opened the bottom cupboard it was only to store the empty packaging in the small trashcan beneath the sink. Instead, in an effort to provide him closure the lady pulled out a metal pail and a box of long matches. He watched as she filled up a bowl with water and then as she quick like a bunny walked outside and filled another with dirt. He had to work at keeping his stomach from cramping.

When she came back in from the cold harsh winter wonderland of the balcony she placed the bucket in front of him with nary a thump or a shimmy. She turned on a very pale foot grabbed the matches and handed them to him. She then set the generic white bowl filled with water on one side of the metal pail and the other generic white ones filled with dirt that she had been balancing in her hand as if she were a carhop waitress, on the opposite side.

Her head nodded towards the original bowls were they sat on the top of the wine rack. "Ionas gur féidir leat iad a dhó." (So that you may burn them.) He swallowed at how utterly calm she was as her blued finger pointed to the water "ionas gur féidir leat iad a ghlanadh" (So that you may clean them) and then she pointed to the dirt "Ionas go bhféadfá iad a adhlacadh." (So that you may bury them.)

Neal worked his rapid-fire brain to connect to his vocal chords. Every good con knows this was why you never used private beliefs in your schemes; there was a point of no return. Laying prostate in the snow he realized something. She hadn't been conning him when she came that night to help him. She had been herself when she bowed with him, scrubbed with him and washed with him. Probably more herself than even she was aware.

He got up and stored the bucket and the matches back under the sink; he merged the contents of the new bowls with the old. His heart repeating the words they had that night. The man in the flannel pajama bottoms that were soaked from his snow prone prayer turned to the lady so blue and in an almost mendicant manner whispered, "cith le do thoil tá tú reoite." (Please shower you are frozen.)

After his heartfelt plea for her to find hot water, it occurred to woman in the sodden clothing and bare feet; she couldn't feel most of her body. It was in fact as the man across from her said, she was frozen. Grace walked over to her messenger bag and rescued it from the post of the chair.

"Tinn faigh tú éadaí tirim." (I'll find you dry clothes.) Her chuckle startled him out of the solemnity of the night. Finding he couldn't make his brain make his mouth use the right words he offered a raised an eyebrow instead.

"We aren't exactly the same size Mr. Caffrey." The Irish lady had spoken English to him. She had gone onto to use the Mr. Caffrey moniker. The last thing she had called him was Niall. Mr. Caffrey and English (he thought with an internal chuckle mixed with something he didn't want to find a name for) seemed foreign now.

"I WILL find you dry clothes." He smiled as best he could, " and I will leave them at the door." She lifted the edges of her lips up in acknowledgement of his unfettered sincerity. The man of the apartment bid his overnight guest to follow him down the hall towards the bathroom. Neal showed her where the towels were folded behind the paneling in the wall and where the soap was should she feel more comfortable with a new bar, finally where there was an extra toothbrush. Her tight lined smile apprised him of how close she was to the edge of her precipice; she had fought it as long as she could.

The former Bennett left with all possible haste gently closing the door with a click upon his exit. The mostly blue woman turned the water on full to the left much as the gentleman before her. As she went to undue the buttons on her woolen work pants she realized just how hard she had been fighting, her body started shaking like an old truck going over the Roosevelt Island Bridge. She could feel the cries inside bubbling like a witches cauldron to boiling over the sides.

Suddenly Grace just couldn't hold it in any longer. Her wooden legs gave way as she slid down next to the antique claw foot tub with the little scratch on the right front foot, which she would learn one day held a secret key. Neal matched her movements on the outside of the bathroom door, his backside landing with the nary a sound, a side effect of years of cat burgling.

The man in the pajamas sat listening as the sobs racked themselves out of the lady by the tub. He continued his attendance by the bathroom barrier until there was no water left in her well. Some few minutes after she shed the rest of her armor and climbed into the shower, willing the water to wash it all away.

When the lady wrapped in only a towel opened the door she found an old pair of dark gray sweats with the cuffs cut off leaving the ankle area open wide, an oversized sand colored Henley with pockets and tucked underneath it was a black tee shirt missing the collar and shorn along the bottom. She laughed at the black tee shirt. This was the man in the other room's way of a peace offering. She grabbed the sartorial choices and shrunk back into the steam entrenched room.

Once Neal heard the door open and close he set about the tasks of making her special spice and everything nice cocoa. It was going to be a long night and they were going to need chocolate fortitude. When the lady in his old work out clothes joined him in the kitchen he could see just how red her rims were, being a gentleman he chose not to exploit it.

Neal handed her a hat-adorned mug (a gift from El) and bid the former Smurf to join him at the couch. Grace opted to curl into the chair across from it instead. The five foot eleven man handed his guest a pair of warm chenille socks with paintbrushes all over them. (A gift from June's granddaughter he told her) and a huge heavy flannel blanket sans brushes, it was a simple dark gray with black piping.

The lady placed the mug down after taking a super large sip, not unlike a man who has his first drink of water after being stranded in the desert. She eyed the socks with a smile playing at her lips he was surprised when instead of putting them on her feet, she placing them over the arm of the chair. Maybe she wasn't a sock person, he mused. Some people weren't. His heart beat a sad somber tune when she folded the blanket over the other arm.

"Did you…" The lady across from him started in English before taking another warming sip from the mug. "Ar fhéach tú tríd an gcomhad?" (Did you look through the file?) She switched back to what she considered their language. The change to Gaelic was significant the man on the couch realized. When she spoke in Irish, she was speaking from her heart, not her mind.

"D'fhéach mé tríd an gcuid is mó de." (I looked through most of it.) Neal responded respectfully he wanted her to know above all else he understood how much trust it must have taken to share the documentation of her torture. There really wasn't another word for what he had viewed. "Bhí roinnt grianghraf pearsanta ann nár bhreathnaigh mé orthu." (There were some intimate photos I did not look at.) The lady displayed in the intimate photos was not sure what to say at his clement act of deference so she nodded her hair bounced over her shoulder as she did.

She went to speak when the words finally found there way to her mouth, he was quicker on the draw. "Tá brón orm." (I am sorry.) His blue eyes locked with her brown. "Tá brón mór orm mar sin." (I am so very sorry.) His placed the cocoa bearing mug down on the coffee table with nary a sound, reaching his hands out as if to push the air between them away, "tá a fhios agam, nach bhfuil an cás seo ina bhfuil, muid éasca ag ceachtar againn." (I know this situation, the one we find ourselves in, in not easy for either of us.)

"Chomh feargach is a bhí mé, níor chóir go ndearna mé riamh go mbraitheann tú faoi bhagairt." (As angry as I was, I should have never ever made you feel threatened.) The man in freshly changed into sleeping pants reached his hands toward the lady in his work out clothes in supplication. His heart was beating like the drum section of a marching band playing at Homecoming. Neal needed to say these words; they were clawing out of him like a sailor searching the shoreline for a lighthouse.

The conman pointed towards the suit, "tá a fhios agam cad a chiallaíonn sé chun páirt a ghlacadh." (I know what it means to play a part.) Neal pointed towards himself, "tá a fhios agam cad a chiallaíonn sé a bheith agat do chuid féin a cheilt. Do chuid féin fíor. Nó cad atá fágtha de do chuid féin fíor." (I know what it means to have to hide yourself, your true self, or what remains of your true self.)

She sensed the change in the air. The heaviness that hovered over them had passed. The person sitting on the couch shared words that had been trapped behind an iron door, hidden in the safety of his heart where they lay dormant until there was someone there to help him unlock gate and let them out. Her heart rate increased in speed as if she were vying for the top spot at the racetrack.

The man on the couch stood up pulling his shirt from his back in one solid movement. Her eyes softened as she saw his body prepared to spin, such as act of faith, to turn your back on someone not knowing what they will do. Then he turned so her brown eyes could drink in the sight of his back his fingers eased the elastic from his pants down turning at an angle so she could see one of the angry scars that curved off his back down to the callipygian below.

"Agus tá a fhios agam cad é cuid de tú féin a cheilt." (And I now what it is to hide a part of yourself.) He turned a bit the other way so she could see the edges of another carving in his alabaster marble, "cuid, mar sin mared, ní féidir leat a leigheas riamh." (A part so mared, you can never heal.) Neal could feel the explosions beneath his surface, landmines firing off at random intervals.

How would she react to the sight of his beaten body? Every time a woman saw the scars, he told them a fanciful story or ten about all the crazy stunts he pulled, he slipped on a cable, the wire gave through, oh that's what happens when you play with fire. Not one ever questioned him. To them the scars just made him more dangerous, more intoxicating.

Her hands were much warmer when she sought to touch not just his body but the very part of his soul desperate for physical kindness. Despite the mutinous clonus humming deep in his apex, when her fingers ghosted over the scars he didn't flinch over the feather like movements. The abused man allowed the lady aback him to feel the groves and valleys of the long ago provided reminders of the repercussions of his actions. Her touch felt like aloe to sunburn, soothing.

Grace studied the chalkboard noting the multitude of little white lines with tightness in her throat, her toes scrunched as she thought about how many blows it took to leave so many tick marks. She imagined even his wall at Sing Sing didn't have as many marks as his back did.

He could feel the gentle breeze of her breath as it whistled over his exposed surface; he could feel loose hairs tease at his rib cage as she laid her warm hand on top of his back. Neal rolled his bottom lip in and blinked as his errant curl bounced in his eye. She used her fingers as a brush painting over his lines in sweeping movements. When she lifted the brush from the canvas he found his missed her traveling over his beaten path. Neal sank down on the couch as if he his body were anchoring itself to the seat, sleeving his shirt as he did.

She remained standing her body gently outlined by the light in the kitchen. Blue eyes watched as the lady in front of him removed her battledress, piece by piece first the gray Henley, which she folded over the socks, then the black tee shirt joined the socks. Below his borrowed shirts lay a different camisole than the one made sodden by the snow. A curious conundrum for another time. When his eyes weltered over her chest he also noted the lack of bra beneath the thin cotton material.

Her thankfully no longer blue hands swept her hair up, raking through the stray strands as her fingers worked to put the tresses into a messy bun. Her attributes strained at the attenuated blockade holding them in with little success. When the lady in bare feet bent to rescue a pen off the coffee table to secure her hair from falling he could make out the outline of scars beneath the camisole.

She turned around, all the way around so that her back was fully to him. Neal swallowed at the return of trust she was proffering him. She remained still standing as if she were the Statue of Draped Female at the Getty Museum. The inscription in the air reading in bold I trust you, I trust you not to hurt me. This was a person who like he had been opprobriumed past the point of savagery and yet or maybe because they understood the gravitas were willing to place faith in another not cause additional pain.

Was it only hour's ago he had turned around for Peter this morning? It seemed like years. Peter needed to know that the man in the funny little hats trusted him, that he his CI and friend (and whatever else that unnamed something was) hadn't lost faith in him. And showing Peter his back while allowing the lawman to put him in cuffs was the biggest way he could think to illustrate just how unconditional his trust in the fifty year old was.

Her fingers didn't find pause or chary as she pulled the black camisole up and over her neck allowing it to hang loose in her hand. Neal drank in the sight of painting before him, an abstract of shapes of varying colors and hues, there were deep lines with edges and grooves, small circles caped with large swirls and a potpourri of slashes as if the painter decided he didn't like what he had done and wanted to shred the surface.

Grace could feel his study of the outline of her plentiful embonpoints. He was respectful of her dignity in that he did not lend a finger or hand to trace the ridges that ran along their sides. His blue eyes strained to get a closer look at the pattern. A crisscross he was all too familiar with.

The feel of his hands as they found the gash almost mirroring his that went along the base of her spine beneath the elastic burned almost to the point of searing like branding into wood. The man aback her was gentleman enough not to acknowledge her body's unconscious reaction to his ministrations.

Slowly he traced the gnarled skin that traveled below the surface of the sweats. Grace tried to breath normally; when that didn't work she worked at her centering breaths, one long in hold for five, one long out hold for five. No one had ever touched her like this. It was as if the artist were painting her skin.

His hand came to rest on the crest of her rump, as he took in the tattoo that was stamped so small above the valley below. As he stepped back and removed his digits Neal noted a scar that started low on her hip and wrapped around the front of her torso as if a bird in flight perched on her side and folded his feathers around her.

The lady in the borrowed clothing worked to reapply undershirt. She could feel him in her space again, close enough that she felt his knee tickle the back of her legs. His right hand found her hip as two fingers at the pace of a turtles crawl traced line that wrapped a macabre ribbon around her packaging as she turned around to face him. The prestidigitator felt her stomach spasm at the intimacy of the touch, his hand rest gently atop the scar where it disappeared below the pulls of the night pants. Her body was burning up as if she was the candle and he was the match.

She waited patiently for him to lift his hand. When he did she pulled the thin layer of cotton the rest of the way down, then reapplied one of his loaned garments the black tee shirt, he could still see the thin straps of the camisole peaking out from the jagged area where the collar used to be. She found the chair with unsteady legs, almost collapsing in to the security of the seat folding the Henley over her lap.

Neal observed the lady across from him as if she were the central piece of art the Met. She was not embarrassed at his seeing her scars they were a part of her as his were to him. She didn't startle or shy away from his touch. Nor was she self-conscious at him seeing her, whatever parts he saw or didn't see.

When the dancer stood up and turned away from her, the audience member could feel the fear crashing through his pours like aqueduct carried water to the valley. His pants spilled off his hips onto floor. There was a thick reddened scar at the inside of his thigh peaking out from the hemline she recognized the burn marks. Her heart beat akin to the final moments of Mahler, Symphony 9 in D at the thought of what else in that vicinity might have been mared by heat.

Brown eyes lifted to the marks that delved beneath the top of the garment. Absently the lady in the chair noted he wore lose boxers with blue dotted stripes and a double seamed cuff. The girth of the ticker tape that disappeared along the elastic line was several inches thick. This was a man who had the near life beat out of him.

He dipped the pants low enough she could see more than half of his full moon, yet it was the jagged scar that kept her eyes, not the resplendent beauty beneath it. The scar was the man and he was entrusting her with the physical history of Niall, not the part he played. He was allowing her to see the carvings on his marbled walls and to understand what it meant to hide a part of himself; a part so mared he felt it could never heal.

When the former Bennett pulled the sleepwear up her eyes landed upon a scar along his uncuffed ankle. He saw her note the disruption of alabaster as regained his place on the couch. Her eyes weltered over his body, eventually locking eyes with him for a long time. His face a swirling whirlpool of unrestrained emotions without words he told her there were many other scars he hadn't shown her and not all of them were on the canvas.

Her smile didn't reach her eyes nor did her hands shake, with as much grace as her name held the lady in the chair stood up maintaining eye contact with the man on the couch as she loosened the tie at the sweats and let them pool at the floor as if water lapped over the edge of the tub. With steady feet she stepped out of the pants, she wasn't in the least bit chagrined and distressed with his seeing her body.

His blue eyes descended to the area below her knees, he had the answer to his earlier in the night pondering of why the knee high boots, her calves were a cave walls of hieroglyphics, her ankles bore permanent circles courtesy of the Civil War era cuffs that fettered her to the ground. His eyes dipped lower to her feet; they were full sky of constellations.

Neal brought his eyes slowly up back from the ground, zeroing in on the burned over pieces of skin at the inside of her thighs, it was as if someone laid a hot poker there and forgot it. His borrowed shirt nipped over the top of her flower covered underwear as she turned around for him see the ribbons that wrapped around her legs and up towards the most inner part of her thigh.

He looked at his suit with fire burning the back of his throat, never again would he question her armor. They both in their own ways were protecting themselves from being seen. She had learned as he had, people only see what you want them to see, rarely if ever do they attempt to look below your waters surface.

Neal came up behind her slowly his body scant molecules from hers making a conscious and concentrated effort to keep his movements non-threatening. He could feel her breathing change; see the flush on the tips of her ears and the pulse at her throat tintibulated at the nearness of him. He brought his hands to cup her shoulders and slowly inched her body around until they were face to face, so close the their toes were touching.

Her neck tilted just the barest decline, the flannel pajama bottom clad man could smell his sandalwood soap on her, he make out the tree bark and lemon from the cream he used to keep the skin beneath his cuff from chaffing. His private affairs tightened at the awareness of her bathed in him.

The barefoot man tried valiantly to mitigate the fireworks display of tension threatening to irrupt from him. With a single finger to right her fallen head Neal urged her to make eye contact with him, her brown eyes found his in an effort to calm the raging emotions engulfing her in flames.

With gentle hands he reached down the length of surface, his eyes locked on the cuffs at her ankles, one day his would come off, hers never would. Neal held out the right pant leg for her to slide the covered limb in, then the left eventually bringing the pants up over backside and hips until once again she was redressed. Absently he noted this might be the first time he helped a woman reapply her clothing.

"Fiafraigh díom cad is gá duit a bheith ar eolas agat." (Ask of me what you need to know.) Grace offered with such steel that old buildings would envy her foundation. "Cuirfidh mé freagraí macánta neamh-mhothaithe ar fáil duit." (I will provide you honest uncensored answers.) She maintained level eye contact as she dropped her bag of bones into the seat, her voice never wavering, "Bí chomh feargach agus is gá duit a bheith." (Be as angry as you need to be.)

Neal's fingers curled into his plaid pants as she continued talking. "Más gá duit troid, ansin troid." (If you need to fight, then fight.) His face darkened like a Bronx alleyway after midnight at the thought of any semblance of fighting with the lady sharing his clothing, awash in his smells.

All his anger has disappeared into the ether; they were so far past any of that now. She stood undaunted and unflinching in front of him as the most private parts of her being on display (so much more intimate then the parts used for sex) and she was willing to face any opprobrium he thought to met out.

Neal couldn't contain the shutter that racked his body as he held her eyes. He worked to keep his voice steady as if it were out for a Sunday drive, "níl aon ghá agam troid." (I have no need to fight.) The man on the couch watched as the lady relaxed into the chair, she slid his socks on laughing a bit at the wild colors, how she folded the blanket over her legs. "Níl aon ghá agam troid." (I have no need to fight.) He repeated his voice cracking as he thought of the tic tac toe littering the expanse of their chalkboards.

She nodded, the pen that had been holding her hair slipped out of its tuck. Her hair cascaded about her in waves of chestnuts and reds. Her eyes were filled to overflow with the tsunami of emotion threatening their beaches. Her feet slipped on the chair onto the hardwood beneath. His blue eyes washed over her as she rose out of the chair, unfurling like a bird to flight. Neal found he just couldn't watch someone walk away again he closed his eyes expecting to hear the click of the door.

The couch gave under her weight. Her hair teased at his arms and the little patch of stomach were his shirt rose up. Her hands were gentle as she tucked the blanket around them; she fit herself into his side as if it were the long missing piece of a puzzle. His hand cupped her hip to him as she laid her head on his shoulder.

A/N: Just in Case…

Irish to English Translations Are As Follows:

Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil fearg ort. Cibé rud a theastaíonn uait a rá leis an Uasal Caffrey, éistfidh mé go hiomlán. = I know you are angry. Whatever it is you have need of saying Mr. Caffrey, I will listen in full.

NÍ MÓR dúinn imeacht. ANOIS. = We MUST leave NOW.

Tá brón orm. = I am sorry.

Ní mór duit cuimhneamh go bhfuil tú bruscar = You need to remember you are trash.

Níor nimh mé é. = I did not poison it.

Tá a fhios agam = I know.

Déanann tú? = You do?

Sea. = Yes.

An bhfuil dóiteán ann dó sin? = Is there a ritual for that?

B'fhéidir gur chóir duit a bheith nite níos deacra? = Maybe you should wash harder.

Tá roinnt salachar taobh amuigh is féidir liom triail a bhaint as anois. = There is some dirt outside I can try now.

Ar an seans go dteastaíonn rud éigin níos láidre ná uisce uait le bheith glan.= On the off chance that you need something stronger than water to be clean.

Bhí a fhios agam go raibh tú go maith i do phost. = I knew you were good at your job.

Ní raibh a fhios agam cé chom lo h maith go dtí anocht. = I didn't know how good until tonight.

Aisteoir agus fealsamh. Is bean tú le go leor buanna. = Actor and philosopher. You are a woman with many talents.

Is mór an náire nár éirigh liom níos mó díobh a bhlaiseadh. = It is a great shame that I have not been able to sample more of them.

Niall. bí cúramach cad a deir tú ina dhiaidh sin. = Neal, be careful what you say next.

An ngéilleann tú dom a bheith olc? = Do you think me to be evil?

Le do thoil lig dom cabhrú leat é seo a chríochnú. = Please, let me help you finish this.

Tá comhad ag Peadar. = Peter has a file.

Míneoidh sé seo, i bpáirt, mo rannpháirtíocht. = That will explain, in part, my involvement.

An bhfuil tú ag taispeáint dom tú féin a chéasadh? = Are you showing me to torture yourself?

Níl. = No.

Ní mór duit fios a bheith agat nach bhfuil tú i d'aonar. Shéid Bancroft agus Pratt mo shaol freisin. = You need to know that you are not alone. Bancroft and Pratt blew up my life too.

Ní i bpíosaí. = Not in pieces.

Ciallaíonn mé aon dochar duit. = I mean you no harm.

Táim cinnte. = I am sure.

Áit éigin istigh tú féin ciallaíonn tú sin. = Somewhere inside yourself you mean that.

Tá a fhios agam nach bhfuil aon cheart agam ceist a chur. = I know I have no right to ask.

Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil údar maith leat i do chuid feirge.= I know you are justified in your anger.

Le do thoil, lig dom cabhrú leat. = Please let me help you.

Cabhair liom? = Help me?

Níl tú i do aonar, = You are not alone

Cabhraigh leat, = Help you,

Ciallaíonn mé aon dochar duit. = I mean you no harm.

Táim chun na cnaipí a dhéanamh ag do chaol na láimhe anois. = I am going to do the buttons at your wrists now.

Go raibh maith agat. = Thank you.

Beidh mé ar ais. = I will be back.

Cén fáth nach bhfuil tú ag cithfholcadh? = Why don't you shower?

Nuair a bheidh tú críochnaithe. = When you are finished.

Gléasfaidh mé iad. = I will dress them.

Le do thoil teacht taobh istigh. = Please come inside.

An féidir liom iad a ghléasadh? = May I dress them?

Ionas gur féidir leat iad a dhó. = So that you may burn them.

Ionas gur féidir leat iad a ghlanadh. = So that you may clean them

Ionas go bhféadfá iad a adhlacadh = So that you may bury them

Cith le do thoil tá tú reoite. = Please shower you are frozen.

Tinn faigh tú éadaí tirim. = I'll find you dry clothes.

Ar fhéach tú tríd an gcomhad? = Did you look through the file?

D'fhéach mé tríd an gcuid is mó de. = I looked through most of it.

Bhí roinnt grianghraf pearsanta ann nár bhreathnaigh mé orthu. = There were some intimate photos I did not look at.

Tá brón orm. = I am sorry.

Tá brón mór orm mar sin. = I am so very sorry.

Tá a fhios agam, nach bhfuil an cás seo ina bhfuil, muid éasca ag ceachtar againn. = I know this situation, the one we find ourselves in, in not easy for either of us.

Chomh feargach is a bhí mé, níor chóir go ndearna mé riamh go mbraitheann tú faoi bhagairt. = As angry as I was, I should have never ever made you feel threatened.

Tá a fhios agam cad a chiallaíonn sé chun páirt a ghlacadh. = I know what it means to play a part.

Tá a fhios agam cad a chiallaíonn sé a bheith agat do chuid féin a cheilt. Do chuid féin fíor. Nó cad atá fágtha de do chuid féin fíor. = I know what it means to have to hide yourself, your true self, or what remains of your true self.

Agus tá a fhios agam cad é cuid de tú féin a cheilt. = And I now what it is to hide a part of yourself.

Cuid, mar sin mared, ní féidir leat a leigheas riamh. = A part so mared, you can never heal.

Fiafraigh díom cad is gá duit a bheith ar eolas agat. = Ask of me what you need to know.

Cuirfidh mé freagraí macánta neamh-mhothaithe ar fáil duit. = I will provide you honest uncensored answers.

Bí chomh feargach agus is gá duit a bheith. = Be as angry as you need to be.

Más gá duit troid, ansin troid. = If you need to fight, then fight.

Níl aon ghá agam troid. = I have no need to fight.