AN: First person, Neal's POV.
The night before I run, I dream of Peter.
We are on a beach. Far from everything.
The light is too bright in our eyes, and the sand is too hot on our feet. But we don't care.
I hold his hands still even though they are pulling away, the hands somehow more impetuous than the man, straining to roam over me. But I rein his desire in, just for a moment, and somehow I am strong enough to grab tight and hold his hands in place. And then I look in his eyes and I ask him to tell me everything, to tell me all the ways he loves me.
He just smirks wickedly and says, "You first."
Even in my dreams, Peter is still Peter....
But then his hands are free. I don't remember how. I must have let them go.
And they're all over my body, the fingers rough with sand somehow, pressing and gliding and roaming, and his breath whispers in my ear, "You're all mine, Caffrey."
He is about to show me what that means when the alarm sounds.
I swipe at it until the snooze works. Dreamworld is better.
I tell my mind to go back, I fix on the image of sand on his fingers and I relax into unconsciousness and try let the image take me back.
To the ocean. I tell my mind to smell the salt, the heat, tell it to ignore the dark room and see only the blinding bright of the shore and sky. Only the sandy expanse of Peter's eyes and mouth and shoulder and stomach and cock. I tell my mind to go someplace where Peter can't control himself, and I can't think of any reason why he should.
Just as I get dream-Peter back where he was, the alarm goes off again. I bash at it, but this time the clock falls off the nightstand, still beeping.
I reach down to get it and nearly fall off the bed. When I finally silence it, I'm too awake to slip into that dream again.
I sigh as I realize I'm going to have to get up and go to work. I kick at the covers a little in resentment. Even after all of Peter's efforts to change how I think, I still think sometimes about reality, and its inescapability. And accepting the world as it is? Kind of like hearing a cruel stupid joke and pretending you think it's funny.
But maybe Peter has trained me well after all. Because I am accepting the reality.
I am choosing to do the smart thing, rather than the thing that lets me be with the person I love.
Peter would be so proud. If it weren't for the fact that I'm running.
It will surprise him to know that I've thought this through.
I won't be caught this time. For one thing, I know how they find people now.
And besides, I won't be tempted into doing the things that get most people caught: being tempted into another job, another score. Thinking you just NEED that wine, that suit, that painting, that everyone with a computer and a clearance knows you think you need. Really, if you try not to be the type of person that gets noticed, you don't take many risks, you avoid luxury items, and you truly let go of any hope of seeing people you care about, it's easy to disappear.
Of course none of these things are easy for me. But Peter has done his best to annoy, guilt, and scare me into changing into the kind of guy who doesn't need the thrill of the con, who doesn't need the ego boost of the brilliant forgery. And while working cases has many of the same highs, the same thrills, it's not the same. I don't even miss the 'criminal life' that much any more. I've been domesticated.
It should really make me angrier than it does. When I agreed to let Peter Burke own me, I sure as hell didn't mean that he could turn me into the kind of guy who can see what he wants and shrug and decide that if I can't have it, then oh well. But it's been two years since Peter and Elizabeth separated, and I still haven't found a way to say, 'Hey Peter, thanks for saving me from myself and by the way sorry I ruined your life, you wanna make out or something?'
And living like that, literally inches away from what I want most... I understand now. Why we resent those who get whatever they want.
So it looks like Peter got to rehabilitate me after all. I don't think I'll be committing any more felonies. Except of course for escaping federal custody.
Never talking to Moz will be hard. He cried when I told him but he said I was right, it was safer for him and me both.
It's safer for everyone.
Okay, yeah, Peter might be able to catch me. But if I convince him not to chase me, I don't think anyone else will be able to. Hell, even before I went all disgustingly boring, Peter Burke was the only one who could catch me. So if he lets me go, I'll be able to fade away, get lost in that ocean of people, with their lives of quiet desperation.
I should fit right in.
Great. Now I'm boring, normal, AND self-pitying.
Peter smiles at me when I arrive at the office. No time for small talk, though: we're off to prison. He no longer jokes about sending me there, which I'm thinking means he trusts me now.
We have to figure out something from the case we're working on now, and Peter wants me to help interview a prisoner at the facility. I got the blueprints of the facility last night, and Moz bribed someone for the security details. I am prepared.
I go through it again and again, not just the plan but the whole situation, thinking that maybe I've missed something, maybe there's another way. I wait for brilliance, for inspiration, the night before, the morning of. It doesn't come.
On the drive over to the prison, Peter talks about how we should approach the questioning. I'm not really been paying attention. Mostly I just nod and act on board while I think about what it's going to be like for Peter when I leave. Now that El's gone, really all he has is his career. And his credibility, maybe even his job, is going to be trashed by what I'm about to do.
When he brought me into his life, he probably didn't know I was just going to shatter it to pieces and then casually walk away.
Okay, not casually. And it's not like I knew that this would happen. But still. Peter really, really deserves to have someone who will never leave him, no matter what. But it doesn't seem like it's going to be me....
I really should have stayed in prison.
Maybe if I had, I would be out on good behavior already. I might look Peter up. He might decide I needed someone watching me. He and Elizabeth would both look out for me. I would make better choices. Or at least different choices. I could be over at their house right now, me and El telling Peter he should enjoy his breakfast instead of rushing off to...
Okay. No. Reality. Not fantasy.
And the reality is that I'm dead if I don't run. And if Peter tries to protect me, then he's dead too. And so is Cruz and Jones and Diana and maybe even Reece, because they would help protect me too. And besides, if someone killed Peter or maybe even me, they wouldn't stop, and that would end badly for them.
So I leave Peter. Or I get our team killed.
Did I just think 'our team'? I meant the admirable individuals whom I care about despite their institutional affiliation.
Dammit. I really am domesticated.
I was 19. And an idiot.
I heard rumors that he was powerful. Connected. I conned him anyway.
Took his whole art collection, left forgeries behind. I ingratiated myself for months, posing as an art restoration intern, so I would have time to get in and look closely at the originals while I made all the copies. When I left, it was on good terms. He hugged me even, laughing and pounding a slap on my back.
He didn't notice the forgeries for months, and by then I was long gone.
The art dealer who pointed out the forgery to him disappeared. The man in charge was in embarrassed, humiliated, made a fool of by some kid. The dealer was expendable, and word had it that he didn't want anyone with knowledge of my con to survive to talk.
But someone must have lived to talk. Because I kept hearing about the bodies piling up. The art restorer who I had claimed to intern for, whom I had never met but whose name I had used. The maid who let me charm my way in through the kitchen entrance. The lieutenant who told the man in charge that he had a hunch I was a good kid. Anyone who could be blamed, died.
I picked my marks better after that. Because there are a lot of people who will kill me for pulling a con, even people who will kill my friends. But it takes a crazy damn psycho to kill HIS friends because he's mad at me.
I didn't get caught by him, though he put out a bounty. I was lucky enough that I got less gangly-looking over the next couple of years and didn't look the same. And it's not like I used my real name. And I really was good at being both flamboyant with my success and still under the radar, if I do say so myself. Even Mozzie says that if it weren't for Peter catching me, most people would think of 'Neal Caffrey' as more legend than man. And Mozzie's not exactly quick to praise.
So I still dreamt about him sometimes, but I had pretty much lucked out, I thought.
Until that case we closed a few months ago. The trial wasn't until yesterday, and I had sat in when Peter testified, the first witness for the prosecution. Some of the mark's - or, the perp's - colleagues were there, though we hadn't seen them on the case itself, and one kept staring at me. I felt a cold rush of something, fear I haven't felt in a while. And then I remembered where I saw him.
He was a runner for the man I had conned all those years ago. And it looked like he was moving up in the world, had left his homeland to live the American criminal dream. But that hardly meant that he was out of contact with the old country. And he was looking at me so closely, and people can recognize things in person that they can't from a photo.
I ducked out of the courtroom. Peter asked me why later, but I told him it was a bad sandwich at lunch. He could tell I was lying, but he lets me have my secrets now, waits for me to be ready to tell him.
He trusts me that much now.
So I took advantage of that and went home early to do research on the man I had conned. I should have done it sooner but I was trying so damn hard to forget him, and all the people who shouldn't have died at his hands, who died because I wanted a Redon and a Tanning and a Bocklin. But Mozzie helped me research, and he - a total conspiracy theorist - thought it was the most disturbing thing he'd ever heard. Because he had the rep of going so over the top that mobsters, assassins, and even dictators were afraid to cross him. And none of the governments where he did business had ever been able to touch him. The closest was in Germany, where intelligence officers and Interpol agents worked together to protect a witness who had evidence against him. The witness was taken- no one knows what he suffered before he died - and all seventeen agents and officers in the building at the time were gunned down, few surviving. And somehow no media frenzy followed, and no big takedown. Somehow the man's contacts, his reputation, his wealth - and his control over large areas necessary to the transportation of natural resources, weapons, and everything else used to build societies - meant that he was untouchable.
If I waited to see if this would become a problem, by the time I figured it out, it would be too late.
And the way that guy was looking at me in the courtroom....
This was going to be a problem.
The thing is, as romantic as it sounds to die tragically with and/or for the one you love, I've never had any desire to actually do it. Honestly, I think some things are better off in the opera house or theatre than in real life. Personally, I think Romeo and Juliet should have stolen some money, ran off together, and make sure no one ever again even knew their last names were Montague and Capulet. Problem solved.
And don't even get me started on Antony and Cleopatra.
Not that I don't empathize. With lovers who would rather choose their own fate than have it chosen for them.
But still, dying a noble death? Getting other people killed to boot?
There's no romance in that. Just puss and blood pouring into bullet wounds, turning your cells toxic.
Life may be a stage, but I'll go for existentialism over high tragedy. I'll be miserable. But there are worse things than miserable.
When Mozzie stopped crying, he agreed to help me plan. Good thing, because my head wasn't exactly on straight.
It turns out the prison we're visiting has a large section of empty cells. The old fashioned kind, not electronically controlled, which is why they're no longer in use.
The kind that automatically lock when you close them. A whole section of them, in which someone could yell to their heart's content and no one would hear. Not patrolled, since it would be locked up and off limits to anyone but an FBI agent who's been given all the keys.
All I have to do is lift Peter's cellphone so he can't call anyone. I'll take the bullets out of his gun, too. Not because Peter would shoot me, just so when they investigate how I escaped, no one will accuse Peter of anything. Since I'll be at work, no one will be monitoring me, so I can wait until I'm at Grand Central Station to slice off the anklet binding me to the FBI. When I do that, they'll try to call Peter's phone. I'll answer and tell them I attacked Peter Burke and left him in the abandoned wing of the prison, right before I toss the phone.
So all I have to do is get to the prison and tell Peter that a source informed me that a corrupt guard has hidden evidence in one of the empty cells, but we need to go alone since anyone working there might be in on it. And he'll do it. Because he's smart and Peter's biggest weakness is that he trusts me.
I'll lead Peter to a cell and close the door behind him.
And then he'll be trapped. And he'll have no choice but to let me explain everything.
He'll have to listen. Because as much as I tell myself that the only way I'm getting away is if the FBI has to start their search for me without Peter's help, I know that the real reason for my plan is that after everything, I can't just leave a note or send a letter. I have to explain. I have to make him understand why before I can go.
There was a time when I wouldn't care that much about the listening. I would have been busy savoring the irony that I am trying to lock Peter Burke in prison.
Right now, it doesn't seem as funny as it should.
The plan works.
Peter notices several times this morning that I'm not myself. He keeps asking if I'm okay. But he doesn't push, doesn't press.
He walks into the empty cell.
When the door slams, he looks annoyed. His 'stop-screwing-around-Neal' frown.
Then he sees me, standing there, pathetically trying to find the words, and he knows.
This is not an act.
He shakes his head violently, anger and fear and all those things he is usually is so good at repressing. He yells and tells me all the reasons I can't, I shouldn't, I won't.
I seem to recall imagining it would be easier than this to get a word in.
But no one can hear us. And finally he lets me explain.
Shaking his head no, the whole time. Waiting for me to finish, stacking up counterarguments in his head to use against me.
I answer all of them.
He tells me he will protect me, the full force of the FBI will protect me.
"Peter, you know better than anyone. The person hunting can fail for years, the one being hunted only has to mess up once."
He tells me that we can work with Interpol, put this guy away.
I tell him why that can't happen. I remind him he taught me that the world doesn't work the way we want just because we want it.
He tells me he'll find me.
I tell him, "You'll be killing us both if you do. And besides, they won't let you look for me again. You'll be taken off the case. For getting too close, for getting them to trust me."
That last one almost kills me.
He isn't fazed. Argument after argument, and I just want this to be over, because with every answer I give, I'm saving him, but with every answer I'm also betraying him, again and again and again. He repeats questions and I repeat answers.
I start to think Peter might just be better at denial than I am. I stand there, my hands on the bars as he stands next to the door, his hands on the bars right below mine, almost touching. For a moment, I think he might be trying to distract me.
But as we argue, as he yells and threatens and cajoles and reasons and yells again, I can see that he is starting to see. And he doesn't want to, he hates that he is starting to see.
Peter understands. He sees the logic. I can tell.
So he pulls out his trump card.
"You promised me, Neal. Total ownership. You promised me."
I don't have an answer. Instead, "I'm sorry."
"Sorry..." he mocks, voice bitter. "If you're sorry, don't run! You say you trust me, Neal, trust me to protect you."
I repeat myself, and it has never hurt so much to tell the truth, and for me that's saying something. "I leave and everyone lives, I stay and everyone dies."
"Were you conning me, Neal? Huh? Were you conning me this whole time?!"
He knows that's not true. He knows and he saying because he thinks I'll lose it, I'll break if he says it.
He's kind of right.
I feel the blood rise in my face, I feel the anger taking over my words. "Who the fuck do you think you're talking to Peter?! I gave up conning for you! I gave up stealing for you! I risked my life for you! I gave up you, stopped chasing you when I wanted you more than anything, because I thought it would help you. I have given you things I never thought I would even be capable of giving, Peter! I gave you everything I was and everything I have, and I would do anything for you, BUT I WILL NOT WATCH YOU DIE FOR ME!!"
And then I stop. Because Peter looks broken.
More precisely. He looks like I broke him. He understands. He must or he would still be fighting.
I manage to stay standing. His face is still near mine but his eyes are closed.
I realize he doesn't want to have to watch me go.
I whisper "I'm sorry," again and I take my hands off the bars. I start to turn. I am slow and sad and trying not to think of anything but the fact that reality is a bad joke. For a second, I stop paying attention.
And then suddenly there's metal pressing into my chest.
Peter's eyes are open now. He's not the one who couldn't watch, turns out.
His hand has reached through the bars and grabbed my shirt. He's holding it in his fist, pulling me against the bars.
And I panic.
The first time I have ever panicked when I was with Peter.
And if you're used to danger, if you're a smart enough conman to handle the pressure, panic won't make you stop thinking. It makes you think faster. And in that second, as I felt Peter's hand pulling me in, I thought a hundred different things, none of them good.
So besides the 'Nononononothiscan'tbehappening,' there was 'How could I have been so stupid? How could I have been so trusting?' Because I never thought that Peter might just reach through and physically force me to stay, and now he could slam me against the bars or grab my neck and make me pass out, or any other damn FBI thing he wanted to do, and I have never truly been physically afraid of Peter until that moment, and Peter would never want to hurt me, and I'm an IDIOT for thinking that he would let me walk out, because he IS going to hurt me, and Peter physically hurting me, hurting me and meaning it, is terrifying and horrible and unthinkable but still I'm so STUPID for not even thinking of it. And this can't be happening, I can't have just made Peter HATE me and for no reason but now I won't be able to get away and he hates me and I betrayed him for NO REASON.
And I pull away, panicked, but even with both my hands pushing away, Peter's grip is stronger, and I am suddenly reminded of how much bigger he is, and I look in his eyes to face how angry he is and because if he's going to bash me into these damn bars he's going to have to look me in the eyes while he's doing it.
But when I look at Peter in the eye finally, his are watering as much as mine are, and I can see, then, clearly this time.
He understands that I have to run. He's as wrecked and pissed off about as I am, but he sees it.
But he's not letting go, something is stopping his fist from unclenching, and I'm about to tell him again that I'm sorry, I'm so so sorry, but then he rushes at me, and his lips are on mine, and our faces are pressing, almost smashing against the bars, but I am kissing Peter.
And it's perfect and hot and warm and bitter and needy and rough and desperate and full and .
And I know, in that moment, I know for sure, that it has not all been in my head, that everything I felt - those tidal waves of need that made me think I was going crazy - he felt them too. And I know that it wasn't just me, it was never just me.
All this time, Peter was drowning too.
And I know this moment, this one perfect kiss, would be all we would get, and that's wrong, so stupid and awful and wrong, and I close my eyes tight and try so hard to will this moment into lasting forever, but then Peter's mouth leaves me, and my lips feel crushed in every way a person can be crushed, and I actually whimper when his lips leave mine. And then he smiles at me, and it's the fucking saddest smile I've ever seen on anybody, but he finds the strength to smile even though I can barely find the strength not to cry or collapse.
And his hand lets go of my shirt. Lets go of me.
And the lack of pressure on my chest feels brutal.
And then he says, "I wish -- I should have..."
He is looking at me with pain his eyes, and even though I feel like I finally just met the real Peter, for a second, and I know it's irrational, but for a second, I think he's going to say "I wish I had left you in jail."
And for that second I think I just might shatter. But he finishes. "I should have done things differently, Neal. I -- " his voice breaks again, "I was just trying to do right by you."
And that's the worst reason I can think of, that may be the cruelest stupidest joke I've ever heard, but I can't even hate him for it. Because at this moment, I think if he asked me to stay with him, I would. I would do that doomed-lovers-who-get-each-other-killed bullshit that I had always thought was so dumb, I would stay with him and never stop touching him and just try to have as much of him as I could before everything goes dark and bloody. I would die for him if he asks me at this moment.
But Peter is stronger than me.
And I can see in his eyes that he forgives me, that he understands, that he hates it as much as I do, but he forgives me for leaving him even though I already know I won't forgive myself. And I should hate him for not telling me, for waiting until our last day, our last minute together, to let me know what is going on in that brain of his, but I can't hate him or blame him. On this one, we both outsmarted ourselves.
And this man, who has never been able to stop telling me what to do with my life, gives me one last order as he nods toward the exit, using that Peter voice that tells you he means it, that there will be no failing him on this one. "Be safe, Neal," he tells me, and as his lips say my name, I realize that this will be the last time I hear his voice.
And right then, I don't want to be safe. I want to fall down and sleep in Peter's arms and dream of the ocean forever.
But Peter has just told me to do what I have to do, and I can't think of anything worse than having Peter Burke love me enough to tell me run from a prison and then letting him down. Which I guess means I'm still an owned man after all.
So I run. I act casual as I leave the prison, showing my ID, and no one points out that my eyes and my lips are both red.
As soon as I get off prison property, I start to run as fast as I can. I don't have to go this fast yet, but I run, faster than I have in years. I run and I run and I run, until I am nothing but the sound of my own blood pumping, and the blur in my eyes of the things that I pass.