Neal was sure he'd had longer hours—probably several of them just today—but the wait for Peter to get back to the federal building was excruciating. Mozzie and Elizabeth both believed that as soon as Burke returned, this ordeal would be over for all of them, though Caffrey wasn't entirely convinced that was the case. But, either way, he knew he wasn't going to feel entirely at ease until he saw the man with his own eyes.
Elizabeth had remained in the room for another thirty minutes or so after her phone call, but then had given in to the truth that she really wanted to see her husband alone for at least a few minutes, so she'd gone to wait in Peter's office. Mozzie stayed with his client and had been, for once, surprisingly quiet, leaving Neal to a multitude of thoughts. But the silence finally seemed to be more than he could stand.
"I can hear you thinking all the way over here."
Caffrey smiled slightly and raised his head from the table to see Mozzie standing at the far wall, staring out to the skyline beyond, which was now bathed in the golden glow of a dwindling day. The view was nicer now than it had been earlier, he thought.
"What are you so worried about?" Moz continued, still watching the outside world.
"I'm not sure exactly," Neal admitted. He crossed the small room to stand next to his friend, thinking the outside world should be easier to deal with now that he knew Peter was okay. "Earlier, being a suspect, getting stuck in here, answering their same questions a dozen times—it was frustrating and, honestly, it was hurtful, but it was . . . secondary. Getting Peter home was the important thing."
"Now, I have time to consider how deep this hole might actually be."
Mozzie turned to face him. "You heard Elizabeth. The suit will set them straight."
"I'm sure he'll try," Neal agreed, "but what if he can't? Unless Prinz offered up a confession, he doesn't know anything. And, really, what if the reverse is true? What if somehow Prinz managed to convince Peter that he was telling the truth?"
"For what purpose?"
"Who knows? I don't know why he did it to begin with."
"It doesn't matter what they think, Neal, there's not going to be any evidence. They can't convict you of something based on nothing more than the ramblings of a lunatic kidnapper."
"They don't have to convict me, Moz, they just have to revoke my probation, and they don't need much more than suspicion to do that. You saw what they did after the explosion, and I even had corroborating evidence on my side then." He shook his head roughly. "Putting me back in prison is easy, no matter what I do."
"Neal." Mozzie spoke his name and then waited silently until Caffrey finally met his gaze. "You're spiraling, mon frère. It's been a long day, and you've been worried about the suit, but you need to take a breath now. Don't borrow trouble."
Neal kept his eyes on Mozzie's, drawing strength, until his mind quieted a bit. Then he crooked a tiny grin, and looked back out at the city, watching the lights beginning to pop on in anticipation of the coming evening. "You do know you basically just told me to trust the suits, right?"
Mozzie's eyes widened. "Wait. What? I think you must've misunderstood."
But Neal chuckled. "I don't think so. I think that's just another secret I'll have to keep."
"It's not easy to keep secrets from the FBI," said a voice from behind them. "And probably not smart."
"Peter." Neal's grin split his face, and he was across the room quickly, pulling his partner into a strong hug, grateful for an opportunity he had feared would never come.
He held the other man for a long moment, then pulled back, but still didn't let him go. Grasping Burke's arms, Caffrey looked him up and down critically. Rumpled suit, loose tie, shirt missing a collar button, small crack at the edge of his mouth, and one slightly grayish eye that looked like it would be fully bruised by tomorrow. The agent had clearly had a rough day, but nowhere near as rough as Neal had imagined. "Are you okay?"
Burke smiled at him. "I'm fine. Really. Prinz was apparently supposed to deliver me to some Russian with a bad attitude, but then when he figured out I wasn't going to be the only one on the dance card, Prinz decided he might need a bargaining chip at some point, so he kept me pretty intact." Burke examined his own partner. "What about you?"
"Me?" Neal was surprised enough that he released his grip from the agent. "I'm fine."
"No thanks to your cohorts," Moz interjected.
Peter finally acknowledged the little man. "Haversham. I gather from your getup that you're here in your legal capacity."
"Very astute, Suit. I'm glad to see your unexpected outing today did not cause you any impairment."
"Yeah, me, too. Do you think I could talk to your client alone for a while?"
"I don't usually recommend such reckless behavior," Mozzie said severely, "though he's already been operating against my wishes today, and you're probably the safest suit I've left him with."
"That's flattering," Peter said drily and jerked a thumb at the door.
"Will he still be needing representation at the end of your conversation, Suit?"
Peter shrugged. "I don't think so, but until we can talk . . ."
"Fine. Neal, remember what I said about knowing when to keep your mouth shut, even for this one. I'll wait for you at your place, and we can debrief then."
Caffrey had opened his mouth to agree when Burke surprised him by saying, "I'm not sure you should plan on him being home tonight."
Neal forced words from his tightening throat. "Then, maybe my attorney should be present for our conversation, after all."
Mozzie sidled closer to Caffrey, putting himself between the other two men. "Perhaps I miscalculated your danger level, Suit."
Peter glared down at him. "Mozzie, go. Let me talk to my partner."
Neal blinked at the words, then searched Burke's face, trying to understand. "Peter?"
"Trust me, Neal."
The agent's softly spoken words were all the CI needed. "It'll be okay, Moz." He held up a hand as Mozzie turned to object. "I won't forget what you said. And I'll call you tonight no matter what, okay?"
Moz nodded once. "As you wish. Hopefully, the call won't be of the you're-only-allowed-one variety." He directed one more remark to Burke on his way out. "Don't make me regret being glad to see you, Suit."
When they were alone, Neal turned his tentative gaze to the older man. "What's going on, Peter?"
"You tell me."
Caffrey stiffened a bit but didn't turn away from the stern tone. He slipped his hands into his pockets, conjured up a wisp of a smile, and would've looked coolly relaxed to the casual observer. Of course, Peter was hardly a casual observer, so Neal knew he would also have seen his darkening eyes and the tension of his jawline. But he kept his voice soft. "Don't play games, Peter, not today. If they've decided to send you in as the big guns for another round of questioning, could we just get on with it?"
"I'm not the big guns, Neal; I really just wanted to see you, make sure you're okay."
"Whatever you say. But let me just get this on record again, for you: I wasn't involved."
"Oh, come on, Caffrey, you think I don't know that? Much as I hate to admit it, I've been outsmarted by you enough times I can at least recognize it after the fact. If nothing else, this lacks a certain finesse I would expect from you. Besides, you're still here, right? Your schemes don't go that far off the rails all that often." He took a step closer to his friend and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "And, there's no way I'd ever believe you'd be willing to trade my life for your freedom. I'm sorry that anyone has doubted that today."
And finally, Neal felt all the fear of the day melt away, and a rare, genuine smile lit his face. "Peter." Every ounce of relief and loyalty and truth was breathed out in the single word. He pulled the older man in for another brief hug—just long enough to convince himself the warm stability was real—then released him again. He didn't delude himself that all his problems had disappeared with Peter's return, but he knew he'd be better prepared to face them now.
"Okay, Agent Burke, why don't you tell me about your day? We'll compare horror stories." He moved back toward the table.
"Horror stories?" Burke was incredulous. "No matter what was going on here, at least you didn't have guns pointed at you all day." As he sat, he discreetly reached over and activated one of the microphones.
"No, not all day," Caffrey agreed calmly, "just once." He laughed as the look of surprised horror flashed across the agent's face. "But that's for later. You go first."
So, Burke recapped his day, explaining how he had not immediately realized he was no longer in the same office, how he'd wondered what had happened to Neal, as well as where his backup had gotten to and what was taking them so long to show up. Prinz had worked hard to spin his tale of Caffrey's betrayal, but soon discovered it was his own partner who'd done the betraying. They'd been at a prearranged meeting spot, where Peter was supposed to be turned over to Vikander, when the Russian made his move. But Prinz's bodyguards were well-paid and loyal, and several of them gave their lives protecting the man, while those that survived had dragged Burke out of the firefight along with their boss. After that, they'd moved from place to place, trying to stay ahead of Vikander and his men, but Prinz had apparently been too trusting with a fairly new business partner and hadn't kept enough secrets; Vikander always knew where to look. Peter had tried to convince Prinz to turn himself in, of course, make some kind of deal. Even without knowing Vikander, the agent had a pretty good idea the guy was bigger fish than his forger. But Prinz had refused, convinced he would be able to make his escape as soon as he figured out a way to leverage the federal agent now in his possession. He was still trying to figure out his plan when Vikander caught up with them again, closely followed by a small army of FBI agents.
"And what did they want with you in the first place?" Caffrey asked. "And what the hell was their beef with me?"
Burke laughed. "As near as I can figure, when we got made, Vikander assumed we were using Prinz to get to him, wanted to be able to extract information from me to see what the Bureau knew, how compromised his operation really was. You, Prinz was apparently just pissed at on general principle for daring to con him. Vikander wasn't interested in you, and Prinz really isn't much of a killer, so he figured landing you in prison would be a good compromise. At least I think that's how it was. It's not like we had a big heart to heart; I'm making a lot of assumptions based on the few things I know."
Neal felt a smile working its way to his lips again, secure in the knowledge that one of the things the agent knew was that his CI could at least be trusted not to sell him out to a murderer. But what he asked was, "And how did we get made?"
"That I don't know."
Watching all traces of laughter vanish from his handler's face, Caffrey instantly understood the problem. "Oh."
"Look, Neal, I know it wasn't you."
"Yeah. I mean, no, it wasn't. But what you know isn't the only consideration, right? Have to be able to prove it." Sometimes he really hated that part of the bureaucracy, though it had undoubtedly saved him many times in the past. He let his eyes wander the room, away from Peter's. "They think I did it because of Kate, you know. Or, at least, what happened after. They think I don't want to be here anymore; they think I blame you." He scrubbed a hand tiredly across his face. It felt like this day had lasted forever, though it was barely past twilight through the window. Then he looked back at Burke.
"They're wrong," he said softly. "About all of it."
Peter leaned back in his chair, examined his young friend thoughtfully for a moment, then gestured toward the piles of paper at the far end of the table. "El told me you helped keep her mind off things today."
"It was pretty mutual."
"I appreciate it just the same. I know how scared she must've been."
Caffrey nodded, didn't tell him they were all scared. "I was just glad to be able to do something useful."
"Well, you've heard about my day; I think it's time I hear about yours."
"Sounds like you've already heard about the important parts."
"Come on, Caffrey, a deal's a deal."
Managing a small grin that he didn't quite feel, Neal began his own recitation. He did mention the fear then, waking up alone in Prinz's office, automatically assuming the worst. He told about the agents' suspicious accusations, how Jones had taken charge of him, grilled him for answers, then did it again with the machine, stayed angry with him then finally came around. As frustrating as it was to be on the wrong end of that process, Neal was confident Peter would've approved of the entire procedure. It wasn't exactly by the book, but it was an effective way to wear down a prisoner and get at the truth. He didn't mention how far down he'd actually felt himself slipping. He gave a lively account of the initial brief encounter with Agent Downing, telling his handler the guy probably deserved some kind of bonus for the day. Burke had seemed a little worried by the incident, and Caffrey hoped the young agent hadn't broken some sort of regulation Neal didn't know about that would land him in trouble. As far as he was concerned, the kid might've been a little overzealous, but agents pointed guns at suspects all the time, so he didn't think there should be a problem. He explained how he put Mozzie to work, how they'd all tried to protect El from learning Russian mobsters were involved. He glossed over Elizabeth's initial entrance into the interrogation room, focusing instead on their silly games and drawings. Then he finished by telling about his low-key interrogation by Hughes, the team's mad dash to Peter's newly discovered location, and the agonizing wait the last couple of hours in this room. He did not include his renewed fear that he might soon be trading the interrogation room for a more traditional cell.
"And there you have it," Caffrey concluded with a shrug, "a day in the life."
Burke was staring at him a little wide-eyed. "Are you telling me that I have to thank Mozzie for finding the key to my rescue?"
Neal grinned at him. "Honestly, he'd probably rather you didn't. Being responsible for saving a suit might be more than his psyche could handle."
The agent let out a short laugh. "I bet." He looked around the room slowly, almost as if seeing it for the first time. "I'm kind of surprised they left you in here," he commented idly.
"Me, too," Caffrey admitted.
"How many ways out did you come up with?"
Neal's eyebrows rose in surprise as he quickly looked away from the older man, knowing even as he did, it was a sure giveaway. He raised his eyes again and let his rueful grin concede the point. "Three." But Peter was still holding his gaze, clearly waiting for a different answer. After a bit, he mumbled something further. "I mean, you know, three sure-fire plans, a few others that were pretty iffy, maybe one or two emergency last-ditch efforts that probably never stood a chance."
This time when Peter laughed, it was long and hard, and Neal guessed it was a welcome release of the day's tensions. At least, that's how it felt for him when he finally joined in.
When the last of Burke's laughter faded away, he straightened to face his friend directly, his expression open and sincere, warmth radiating from his eyes. "I'm proud of you, partner."
That earned the man another of those rare, personal Caffrey smiles, and Neal thought it might be the most surprising thing he'd heard all day. The unexpected affection of the moment gave him the courage to ask the question he'd been putting off. "What haven't you told me, Peter? Why am I not going home tonight?"
Burke blew out a small sigh. "We need to get Prinz on record that you weren't actually involved. And, hopefully, figure out who blew us in to him. Vikander or someone else in the organization might have that information, but I don't know. But everyone lawyered up pretty fast, even before we got them processed. It's getting late. Attorneys may or may not make it down tonight, and they might advise their clients not to talk yet. Very possible tomorrow is the earliest we can hope to get this mess cleared up."
Caffrey could see where this was going, but he tried to throw up another possible diversion. "What about the blood test?"
"Results came back while the team was out grabbing me up," Peter told him. "Some kind of unknown drug cocktail, looks like its primary ingredient was propofol, but it had such a quick and easy recovery, no real side effects, there is some concern it could've been administered to set a cover story."
Burke hitched an eyebrow. "Okay?"
Neal tried to put on a brave face. "Probably MCC, huh?" He shrugged. "I told them from the beginning to stick me there if they needed to. I get it."
Peter seemed disgusted by the idea. "Neal. I'm not putting you in the correctional center. What the hell are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking that after Kate, you guys shipped my ass right back to maximum security before her body was even cold. Probably too late to take me all the way out there tonight, but the MCC is practically around the corner, and they've probably even got space in the supermax unit. That's what I'm thinking." Caffrey really hadn't intended to be so bitter, but this day was wearing him down fast. He thought it might actually be easier to just be locked up rather than keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. He was tired. After a beat, he offered up that truth as part of an apology. "I'm sorry, Peter; it's just been a really long day. If you've got any more questions, I'll answer them, but, otherwise, let's just get this done, okay? Wherever you're dropping me for the night, let's just go."
"It has been a long day," Peter agreed, "and it's obviously made you a little nuts. I'm not dropping you anywhere; I'm taking you home. My home, I mean. If that's okay with you."
"Really? But . . . I don't understand. After Kate—"
"After Kate," Burke broke in, "was different. Different in a lot of ways, really, but most importantly, different because I didn't have a badge then. You think I would've let them lock you back up if I'd had any authority at all? You don't give me enough credit sometimes."
"I really don't," Neal agreed with a small smile.
"So, are you ready then?"
"You mean now?" Caffrey jumped to his feet. "Yeah, I've been ready to get out of this room for hours. Just wasn't sure we were done with the interrogation."
"This wasn't an interrogation, Neal," Peter corrected, "it was a debrief."
"Okay. I just figured with the recording and all, it was an interrogation."
"Oh, you saw that, did you? I thought I was being pretty smooth." He reached over and stopped the recorder.
"Peter. Maybe you don't give me enough credit sometimes."
The agent grinned. "Maybe. Anyway, the debrief needed to be done, and El says we're not allowed to talk about any work stuff tonight once we're out of the building. Okay?"
"No arguments here."
They were in the open doorway before Peter remembered something else. "Oh. El said there's a picture she wanted; said you'd know which one it was?"
Neal stepped back to the table, rummaged through the stack of papers and found the portrait he'd drawn only a few hours earlier. Seemed so much longer. It really had been a very long day. "Got it." He attempted to breeze on out the door, but Peter stopped him.
"Well, let me see it. I've been wondering what kind of doodle she'd be so interested in bringing home."
But as usual, Peter seemed to be expecting to get his way and just held out his hand. "It was for Elizabeth, Peter," Caffrey said as he handed it over with a slight flush.
Burke looked at the drawing for a long moment, then back up. "I can see why she wanted it." He clapped his partner on the back and finally led him out of the interrogation room.
"Goodnight, Downing," Peter said as they passed the junior agent. "We're done here, go home."
"Yes, sir, goodnight. And, goodnight, Neal."
Caffrey grinned and waved a farewell to the young agent.
As they made their way downstairs, Neal placed a quick call to check in with Mozzie, and was grinning as he hung up. "He wanted me to remind you," he said to Burke, "that any reasonable person would still consider this a custodial situation and any violation of my rights would be dealt with stringently."
"I'll consider myself on notice," Peter replied, rolling his eyes.
As they settled themselves in the car, Peter asked Neal to text Elizabeth to let her know they were headed home, since his own phone had been a casualty of the day. She immediately called right back, so Neal dealt with the phone while Burke pulled out of the parking garage. "Hi, Elizabeth; Peter's driving so I've got you on speaker."
"Hi, Neal, hey, hon."
"Neal, I'm glad you're coming over. I wanted you to know I went by June's and packed a bag for you. I hope you don't mind."
"Of course not, but you didn't have to do that. You should take it easy tonight, relax."
"I'm glad to hear you say that because the other thing I wanted to tell you guys is that I don't feel like cooking tonight."
"No problem," Neal assured her. "I can put something together. Least I could do for the people keeping me out of lockup."
"Oh, sweetie, that's not what I meant. I meant, you two should stop and pick up Chinese or something."
"We can do that, hon," Peter told her. "Anything in particular?"
"No, you know what I like. Just get a lot; I'm going to need it to absorb all the wine I plan on having."
Peter laughed. "Sounds like a plan. We'll see you soon."
Neal glanced over at his handler. "Rough days all around."
"Yeah." Burke cast a sudden scowl over to his passenger. "But you need to quit making me look bad."
"How did I make you look bad?" Caffrey demanded. "I'm the one who has to have a babysitter just to stay out of jail, and you're the upstanding lawman riding in to save the day."
"Oh, please. Jail. El knows you don't belong there, so that doesn't count. I'm talking about the other thing. Never volunteer to cook!"
Dinner had been more relaxed than Neal would have imagined, considering the day they'd been through, but there had been good food, good conversation, and lots of laughter. And, as promised, lots of wine. Now the three of them sat in the living room, Peter and El snuggled up on the couch, Neal slouched into an occasional chair that had been rearranged to allow him to prop his feet up on the coffee table. A newly opened wine bottle also sat on the table, positioned for easy access, though Peter had switched to beer after dinner.
As agreed, there had been no FBI talk, and certainly no conversation concerning the day's events, and that was fine with Neal. There would be plenty of time to revisit that particular nightmare tomorrow.
But El didn't consider Neal's previous exploits business talk, so he was entertaining them with stories of some of his grander adventures. Allegedly, of course.
"Honestly," Peter laughed, "sometimes it amazes me you lived long enough for me to catch you. And, for the record, I'm adding bridge diving to your list of probation prohibitions."
"Uh-uh, Peter," Neal admonished, even wagging a finger in his handler's direction, "no FBI business allowed tonight."
"He's right, hon," El agreed, "none of that tonight." She leaned up and kissed him quickly. "But you be sure and change that list of rules tomorrow; someone's gotta keep him safe."
"No fair ganging up on me," Neal laughed.
"Now you know how I usually feel," Peter told him petulantly. "But go on, tell us what happened after the swan dive off the Bay Bridge."
But before Neal could elaborate any further, the telephone rang. Peter grabbed the cordless handset and glanced at the incoming name. "Sorry, it's Diana."
"I should have told her the rules," Elizabeth muttered as Peter answered the call.
"Hey, Diana. . . Oh? He did? . . . That sounds like a good plan. . . Who? . . . I can't believe it. . . Say anything else? . . . No, it's great. Maybe the best news today. Thanks for calling, and thanks for taking care of it tonight. And, really, thanks for everything today; you were great." He laughed. "Yeah, a couple . . . okay, more than a couple. But that doesn't mean it's not sincere. Now go home, and I'll see you tomorrow."
He ended the call then looked up to see two pairs of blue eyes staring at him expectantly. He grinned and said, "It's FBI business, so I don't know if I should—"
"Peter Burke!" Elizabeth slapped at his chest for added emphasis. "Tell us!"
Neal had dropped his feet to the floor and was leaning forward, eyes clouded with apprehension. "Yes, tell us. Unless it's bad, and then I'd rather wait until tomorrow. I mean unless you have to arrest me tonight—"
"—then I guess it can't wait, but if there's a choice—"
"—I'd sure rather go to jail in the daylight. Sometimes guys get cranky if you interrupt their sleep."
Burke's shout finally got through, and Caffrey shut up. He straightened slightly and then sat silently, head cocked just to one side, eyes frozen open, waiting.
"You are not going to jail," Peter began, making the most important point first. But Neal didn't relax much, so he hurried on. "Prinz is going to flip on Vikander, get himself a reduced sentence in some medium-security facility someplace warm. But the deal was also conditioned on him giving a full statement about your part in today's adventures. He finally admitted it was all a setup, that you weren't involved at all. It's all wrapped up, signed, sealed, delivered."
Caffrey was still staring, waiting.
"Neal. You understand? It's over."
But Caffrey thought there was still an unanswered question. He also thought maybe he shouldn't have had quite so much wine. He took a breath and focused his thoughts.
"Oh. Peter, how did they make us to begin with? He told them that wasn't me, right?"
Burke smacked himself on the forehead. "Right. Sorry, forgot that part. You are never gonna believe this."
Elizabeth slapped at him again. "Don't be so dramatic, Peter, just spill it."
"What she said," Neal agreed.
"Remember when Sergei was in town earlier this year, for Keller?" Neal nodded, so Peter continued on. "Seems he's a friend of Vikander's. Just happened to be in the office one day when Prinz was reviewing some security footage from one of our meetings and recognized us. Can you believe that? He tells what he saw that day on the waterfront, Vikander and Prinz do enough digging to put names with faces, and then this morning, we walk right into a trap."
Caffrey shook his head slowly. "That's crazy. Can't believe Keller's still causing trouble all these months later."
"The only good thing is the AUSA thinks she can get Vikander to flip on Sergei, just keep reeling in the bigger fish."
"So it really is over," Neal said slowly, leaning himself back into the chair.
"It's really over."
"This is definitely worth breaking the rules for," Elizabeth declared. "And it's worth celebrating. More wine, anyone?"
The men laughed. "I shouldn't," Neal told her, holding out his glass, "but I'm going to, because you're right, it's worth celebrating. I can't tell you how annoying it was going to be to go to prison for something I didn't even do."
Peter laughed again, then said suddenly, "Hey, you're not a suspect anymore, you don't have to stay here tonight. You can go home if you want. I could drive you."
"You can't drive me, Peter. I'm sure the Bureau frowns upon their agents driving under the influence."
"Oh, yeah. I might be a little tipsy."
"But I can get a cab, get out of your hair." Neal was pushing himself to his feet.
"No, wait. That's not what I meant," Peter objected. "I just wanted you to know you didn't have to stay."
"But you can stay," El added. "And I think you should stay. You're here, the guest room is already made up, and it's getting late."
Caffrey didn't really need to be convinced. The fear he'd had that Peter might not survive this day was still too fresh, not to mention his fear of being returned to prison. If they were willing, he wanted to stay here, where it was safe. "You sure?"
"Of course. I don't know how I would've made it through today without you, Neal. We had the scary part; we should have the good part." She looked pointedly over toward the bookcase, where she'd placed his drawing into an oversized picture frame. He smiled at her and nodded.
"Besides," Peter, a step or two behind, was still trying to convince him, "you still haven't told us what happened after the bridge."
Neal laughed as he sank back into his chair. "It's probably going to seem a little anti-climactic at this point, but after I came up out of the water . . .
AN: Many thanks to everyone for reading; I'm glad you came along for the ride. And special thanks to all those who have taken the time to drop a line of encouragement; I appreciate it more than you can know.