Author: Regency

Title: The Snare

Rating: PG-13 for a bit of cursing.

Genre and/or Pairing: Neal/Peter/Elizabeth, implied Neal/Kate,

Spoilers: General series, but with particular spoilers for Free Fall (1.07) & Hard Sell (1.08).

Warnings: Sap and regret. Unusual injury. Character death.

Word Count: ~ 4,225

Summary: The final showdown between Neal, Peter, and Kate has more winners than losers, but no fewer casualties.

Author's Notes: Written for the White Collar Valentine's Day Fic Exchange.

Prompt: Kate has been kidnapped and Neal knows exactly where she's being held. He charges in blind. It's a setup. Whether she wants his stash or is trying to get to Peter is up to you.

Things you would love to see in your story: El/Neal/Peter OT3, darkfic, plot, manipulative/evil Kate

Things you DO NOT WANT to see in your story: Moz/Neal, useless!El, Neal's Epic Childhood Trauma.

Disclaimer: I don't own any characters recognizable as being from White Collar . They are the property of their producers, writers, and studios, not me. No copyright infringement was intended and no money was made in the writing or distribution of this story. It was good, clean fun. The stanzas quoted at the beginning are taken from the poem Joy and Sorrow by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

~!~

Ah! on shore, and to the wood

Past the cliffs, o'er stock and stone,
One foot's traces I pursued,

And the maiden was alone.
Lips were silent, eyes downcast

As a clasp-knife snaps the bait,
With her snare she seized me fast,

And the boy was captured straight.

~!~

Neal

Is there a bigger fool in the world than me tonight? Neal closed his eyes against the blinding dark and thought there couldn't be.

His hands, long since numb from the elaborate knots Kate had bound them in, wanted to move. But that must have been his heart talking. His heart wanted him to shake off this chafing rope and taunting silk to run after the girl who'd been his first, true love. It wanted him to break laws, break bones to find her and pull her into his arms, to remind her of how sweet she used to be.

If he could have shut his eyes any farther, he would have, but he'd found all the darkness he was going to find in a quiet marina where no one boated anymore. He was all alone on a sinking yacht while the girl he used to love confronted the man he loved right now, tonight, and who'd he'd die loving if she had her way.

And, who'll love Elizabeth, then, he questioned in the same breath that his pallid fingers pricked back to life. He hissed with discomfort, but began to coax the stiff joints to work in the hopes of working his magic and making the impossible happen just one more time. I'll give it up, he promised to the night. I'll give it all up—the game, the cons, the priceless rewards—just to see them again.

If he ignored the cool and colder water swirling around his tethered legs, he could believe that someone upstairs had heard him and they'd believed. For once, it wasn't a con and he wasn't a conman. For once, he would have looked into the face of God and laid his cards on the table.

It was almost comical that the first time he'd been truly, unbearably exposed in years would be the first the time he'd been truly and unbearably alone in just as long.

But, he didn't want to be alone now. It was too cold to be alone out here.

~!~

Peter

Peter wasn't a guy who boated. He really didn't know much more about aft and stern than he'd read in some magazine in a doctor's office he had visited thirteen years ago. As you could imagine, those details were a little fuzzy and beyond outdated, so he didn't give any credence to them. What he did know much about, however, was the law, Murphy's more than any. If it could go wrong, it would. If it could do so at the worst possible time, you might as well set your watch by it.

He knew a bit about biology, too. Too much Discovery Health, he decided, but he was trying not to think about it. As usual, that was a bust. He put things together by profession, synthesized information from a half-dozen different sources at a time to prove a single theory. For once in his life, he would have liked this one disproved. The thing was, Peter's eyes didn't lie and his logic was faultless, so he put it all together, like he was trained to do.

If a boat wasn't on the surface, then it had to be under it. And if a body had no air, then it couldn't breathe.

Of all the things he'd never forgotten, Peter wished he could have remembered a lot less about this.

~!~

Elizabeth

She'd been sitting in the front window of her house for hours now, but it felt like days. The agents wandering in and out of her home had stopped tiptoeing behind her back when they realized that the sounds didn't bother her or, at least, she didn't care. There was something she was looking for, someone she was waiting for and until they arrived she couldn't come to life.

So, she didn't come to life.

She held a freezing mug of coffee in her hands that she hadn't drank from since it was hot and Satchmo sat docile at her feet. He didn't even whimper as though he feared the sound would make her disappear as surely as the other constants in his world.

Something's wrong. It's always been wrong. She felt it as keenly as she felt the absence of her husband, as she felt the absence of the conman who'd wormed his way into her heart.

She shivered and clung tighter to the mug, even as it leeched from her fingertips the warmth it was supposed to give. Someone wasn't coming home and she was too afraid to guess which of her men it would be.

~!~

Neal

Neal fought back persistent shivering and fought until he bled, contorting to pick the meticulous knotting at each wrist. Any criminal worth the clothes on their back knew that tying a hostage to a chair, even a 17th century oak Wainscot chair, was the fastest way to find themselves down one hostage and maybe more if the first was bold. Neal certainly knew that—but so did Kate.

This, this was a gesture, he reasoned. Sink or swim, Neal. Show me that you're worth it, she'd be thinking as she went. Prove yourself to me. He imagined that the scuttled yacht was merely the froth on the fairytale.

She'd always loved grand gestures; romantic, heroic, legendary gestures. Kate dreamed the dreams of a damsel but harbored the desires of a queen, and she had since the day he'd met her. That was why he'd loved her, the sporting maiden to his dashing knight. They'd been so evenly matched that he'd never bothered to look into her eyes.

But, Peter had. He'd looked into the bright portals that had once taken Neal's breath away and seen the monster she disguised.

"I looked in her eyes, Neal, and I didn't see concern for you."

"I know, Peter, I saw. God, I saw," he murmured through slackening lips. He wasn't trembling as much anymore. He knew that was bad, but it was getting so hard to care about anything besides the stinging, straining motion of his fingers on the twine. He could still feel that, even sort of see it.

That had to be a sign. Didn't it?

~!~

Peter

He lay in an uncomfortable position on the cluttered deck of a god forsaken fish boat. He would have gladly gotten up and left if he could have, but he couldn't actually move. (Though, he had tried. Trying and failing had never hurt so badly.) He couldn't even think of it, actually. Pain had a way of doing away with the whole thinking enterprise, anyway, and, if Peter was anything, wow, was he in pain.

Can we please, for the love of God, outlaw harpoons in the state of New York, he asked himself because he didn't have a legal scholar or a legislator handy. Neither would have been particularly useful out here, but he might have liked the company—for the first few minutes, at least. He could have done with a cop or a doctor, too. Especially, a doctor. With drugs, only if he brings the drugs. Peter wanted the old school birthing room treatment. He wanted to be knocked out for the duration and revived when the thing was out of him.

He curled his fingers around the rod protruding from his abdomen like fucking Excalibur and he was not amused by the reference. It was something Neal might have said and he didn't want to think about Neal. He was in enough physical pain without adding nine doses of grief on top of that.

He didn't want to keep remembering the undisturbed surface of the harbor where Kate said the yacht would be. It wasn't there and if the surprise on her face was any indication, it shouldn't have been gone so soon.

She wasn't a crack con like her ex was…like Neal had been. She couldn't make a plan and make it stick. If a con didn't start out gold and stay, it would turn to dust completely.

He was pretty sure he could feel that selfsame dust coating the pole embedded in his guts. Hope they've got something stronger then penicillin for this one, he thought in a miserable attempt at humor. Because he wasn't really a naturally, charmingly hilarious guy, it just gave him one more thing to regret.

I wish I could have touched more people in my life. Even if it was just to make them laugh, it would have been enough to be remembered as the guy who'd done that. He didn't want to be infamous, or even famous, but it wouldn't hurt to think that more people would have remembered him after this.

"They'll remember me," he reflected aloud, "as the guy who got fucking harpooned on the Long Island Sound." He nearly laughed, because, come on, it was kind of funny, but then he remembered the rest of what he knew about biology.

When blood loss changed your skin color from a robust tan to a pallid, chalky white, edging toward blue, you were in some serious trouble. Laughing was not generally described as an appropriate response to…what? Traumatic penetration injuries? He was not calling it that, but he didn't know what to think of it as instead. Probably, he thought, these types of catastrophes have their own names.

Ruiz would probably have called it a fuck up. Peter doubted that's what it'd be called anymore by the time this whole thing was through.

"Yep, I really Burked this one up," he concluded with a mild, agonized chortle.

If it wasn't so depressing—and insulting and wrong, Peter wouldn't have minded so much being remembered that way at all.

~!~

Elizabeth

El remembered that she used to want a lake house. Not out of some misguided need to connect with nature or any desire to repudiate the excess of life in the city. No, Elizabeth had wanted a lake house so that she could swim with the fish whenever she wanted. And, she wanted often.

She wanted Peter there to chase her into the shallow depths on colder than expected afternoons, and there to catch her when she shrieked and came running right back out.

She wanted Neal there to let her wear his hat and choose between expensive ties to sneak into Peter's inexpensive collection.

She wanted to be there with her devoted pet laid over her feet to stave off the chill blowing in from the surface of the lake.

She wanted them all there because, otherwise, everything would be wrong. Hadn't they had enough of that?

Elizabeth wanted often, but she didn't often get what she wanted.

Funny, she didn't want a house on the lake so much anymore.

~!~

Neal

If he could have, he would have leapt for joy when his one wrist came free. His fingertips were pruned and bluing, more purpling as his skin was stained by slow-flowing blood from his where his nails used to be. He stared dumbly at the narrow digits, his focus narrowing to the here and now—and where's here anyway? It's way too late for a pool party.

He blinked and yawned and faintly shook all over, as much as he could while tied securely to the vintage Wainscot. That's no way to treat an antique, Katie, he silently chastised. The water damage is gonna come back to bite us at auction. Be it yesterday or years ago, some things had never changed. Kate had never been good at taking care of her beautiful keepsakes.

So this is what shock feels like, he contemplated amid a jumbled head of other thoughts.

With a clumsy, but steadying, touch, Neal began the work of releasing his other hand. The job was no easier now that he knew what to do, though it seemed faster. He compared his unbound fingers, then his unbound fists. They didn't seem so delicate anymore. He wished there was someone here to hold them until they were warm, to kiss them until they were beautiful again.

He went to lay them across his knees, only to find his lap had been replaced by the harbor and that the harbor was trying to replace the rest of him, too. Somehow, someway, the Long Island Sound had flowed onto the dying boat to find the dying man. He might have considered it poetic if it weren't his life, his death. If it weren't for Peter—God, Peter, he recalled. And, Elizabeth, perfect Elizabeth, who we left on her own. His slowing heart skipped a pained beat in remembrance of her.

This isn't how I wanted this to end, he confessed to the night as his body was bulldozed by the ever-increasing volume of ocean water occupying the space around him, above and beneath him. Even if the compulsion toward sleep hadn't seemed so suddenly irrepressible, he doubted he could have found the knots at his ankles or the sash at his waist for the inability of his lungs and the dimness collecting in his eyes. He wouldn't have to wait to freeze to death, but he found that he couldn't even thank Kate for that.

Neal Caffrey had gone from living for beauty—things, people, and places—to dying for love.

To him, that wasn't poetic at all. To him, it just sucked. Even if there were worse things he could have died for.

~!~

Peter

Peter listened very carefully to the sounds of the half-sunk fish boat. It hadn't seen a crew in some time, but Peter wasn't putting it past Kate to have planned for a few opportunistic stragglers to come on by and finish him. Nope, there was no love lost there. Love found in an odd, indirect, way, but none lost.

At least, not for me, Peter thought, feeling smug and regretful all at once. Somewhere else in this great water channel was his partner, his friend, and so much more than the one language he spoke well had defined yet. He wondered if there was a word for Neal in French or Portuguese. Neal would know, he attested and had no doubt. Neal always knew.

Peter just hoped that Neal didn't know that his partner was nearby, but couldn't save him, couldn't save either of them. I'm so sorry, El. I tried to bring us both home.

Unfortunately, Peter couldn't put it past him to know this, too, because Neal knew everything.

That only made it worse.

~!~

Elizabeth

The only difference between the state El was in now and the state she'd been in was that she'd switched locations. Now, she was at the marina, staring out at the great body of water in front of her as though she could actually see through the darkness that had fallen hours ago.

All there was was the artful echo of a moonless night above and below and she idly wondered if from wherever they were they could see it, too.

She hugged herself tight and thought, Neal could improve on perfection if he painted this. And she didn't doubt it. Neal had always had a gift for not only imitation, but flattery. She was pretty sure nature would have approved of whatever he put up on her living room wall as long as it was finished by his hand.

There she went again, wanting things.

They'd asked her if she wanted to go out on one of the retrieval boats. They'd been careful not to say rescue. They don't think there'll be a rescue. She hadn't said yes or no, she'd just looked at them, because to get on either boat was to decide that seeing one of them again was more important than seeing the other. That wasn't a choice she was prepared to make—ever, really.

So, she'd stayed on the deck in its uneasy silence with a battalion of search and retrievers and FBI agents standing shoulder to shoulder with her. Neal hadn't started out a good guy, but he'd become one of their own pretty quick. And, Peter, well, Peter went without saying. He always had. She wondered if he'd ever realized how much people admired him. She doubted that, he didn't spend his time wishing that people loved him more or carrying if they didn't love him at all. He did his job and, that, he loved more than enough.

There was a commotion on the left hand edge of the Sound. There was a ship's horn blowing so loud, El's teeth rattled even this far in. There were search lights and ants, or people who might as well have been ants for all she could see, leaping into the murky depths off the back of a water cruiser.

She might have held her breath if she'd taken a breath since yesterday afternoon. But she hadn't, so there was no need. Besides, she didn't think the dizziness had come from oxygen-deprivation. They were pulling someone from under the surface and she didn't have the heart to look. Too bad her body didn't have the heart to look away.

She might have hit the deck like a weighted anchor if Jones hadn't been there. He was there, though, and she didn't even fall.

~!~

Neal

In death, he hadn't thought he could be colder, but he shivered again anyway. His muscles twitched in spasms that would have made him wince if his waterlogged eyelids seemed even slightly capable of the motion. He'd been still too long and his body protested. He tried to move and gasped, surprisingly, unbelievably surprisingly, sucking in air where water had been.

The air didn't even seem salty and he'd been expecting that. Then again, that could have been the waterlogged everything else talking. Either way, he was just glad there was air, because air meant he could breathe, he could live.

Maybe even forever if there was an Elizabeth to his Neal and a Peter for them both.

As long as there's air, too. Can't forget the air.

All right, so he guessed there was some poetry to be found in that. He coughed when he would have laughed; but, then, his mind remembered and his heart rebelled.

Peter?

~!~

Elizabeth & Neal

They sat huddled together in the back of an ambulance that had surrendered its blinking lights to their stubbornness. Even if he'd nearly drowned, he wouldn't go; even if she'd nearly gone into trauma-induced shock, like hell was she leaving. They were in this together, the three of them, and that was how they'd be leaving: together. That was the plan.

If you ever show your rule-abiding face around here, Peter, we'd be glad to get this show on the road, Neal mused with a touch of affection he would have loved to bestow on his handler, whom he needed more than a warm blanket or a cup of French-roast. Elizabeth's getting antsy, better hurry before she makes you clean the attic. That was his mind right now, a constant series of thoughts to Peter as though just thinking of him would keep him alive.

He tried to keep the, Don't go, please and I need you, you know that, don't you to a minimum, but he couldn't tell how well he was doing with that. The itchy rawness of his of ankles and wrists—and, oh, yeah, his lungs—was playing havoc with his ability to think clearly. It's kind of a bitch.

Elizabeth, for her part, was kissing Neal's forehead with comforting regularity. Every time his teeth would begin to chatter anew, he'd get a series of warm soft kisses to his brow. She relished holding him close, brushing through his damp curling hair, and dancing her fingers intermittently over his carotid as though he couldn't tell what she was doing. Even if he could.

Not that it mattered, but he did the same to the pulse thrumming at her wrist and he kept breathing in her clean, Elizabeth scent. She didn't smell like saltwater or rust or damaged wood. She didn't smell like a beautiful Chinese silk sash worth more money than sentiment. She didn't smell like hysteria or blood-caked fingernails. She smelt like tasteful perfume and the leather from Satchmo's collar. She smelled like blue ink and collated carbon paper from the 1990's, like Peter; and loved and laundered wool and shoe polish, like Neal.

She pulled them all together and nothing had ever been this right. There was an Elizabeth for his Neal. They just needed a Peter to complete the picture.

Neal was an optimist. He did the hope thing with more regularity than Peter had ever encouraged.

Maybe they didn't notice that gunfire?

No, Peter, you don't really look like a Fed. You just act like one.

Elizabeth's totally not mad at you right now. Scout's honor.

Generally speaking, most of those counted as a cross between optimism and a little white lie, but that had always worked for him. He didn't see the point in tweaking a working system.

He squeezed Elizabeth's hand. "He'll be okay. I bet any moment now he'll come walking from the shadows and ask what all the fuss is about."

She nodded and, even if she didn't believe, she knew how to play along. "He'll probably smack you upside the head for nearly killing yourself."

He waved his free arm around in a fit of indignation. "Hey! Drugged and kidnapped here. I was not expecting to be tied to a sinking ship." He paused and tipped his head thoughtfully. "I don't think anyone can actually predict that happening" He stuck his tongue out at her, his judgment made. "So not my fault."

She snorted and raised a finely arched eyebrow. "We'll let Peter be the judge of that."

"Oh, yeah, that'll work out in my favor." He rolled his eyes, hoping without saying that he'd get the chance to see.

"Your problem, not mine." She beamed and hoped the same. They were good at hoping.

He hissed in her direction, "Traitor." He was pretty sure he'd been a bad influence on her all along.

"You love me for it," she twinkled, snuggling even closer to him. He was as bad an influence as one kitten could be on another, but she'd learned the nuzzling thing all on her own.

All he could say was, "Yeah," and nuzzle right back.

There were more searchlights and more horns blowing and actual, honest to God whooping somewhere farther out and to the right of where Neal's yacht had been. The night air carried the sounds and, no, Neal had never heard a symphony play more beautifully than that. It was one of theirs and he was back.

He didn't spare a thought for where Kate might be. Somewhere. He almost hoped that somewhere was in the Sound, near the bottom.

~!~

Peter

"Who brings a harpoon to a gunfight?" Neal asked, disbelief coloring his shuddering syllables.

Peter smiled crookedly and gave a brief shrug. It might have hurt like hell an hour ago, but since he was pretty much numb from the chest down, what did he know from pain? I know cold, though. Got that down pretty well. Blankets are beautiful things. Peter had decided this fundamental truth and would not be deterred.

As though in response to his thinking, one of the rescuers tucked another blanket around him, taking great care, of course, to avoid the oversized steel arrow that had already nearly put someone's eye out. Between Peter and God, he had to admit he'd nearly laughed at that. Morbid, yes, but also funny. He was pretty sure being pinned to a deck like a frog to be dissected had warped his sense of humor, and, mostly likely, his sense of right and wrong, too. What a shame.

"I'm going to kill her," was the first thing El said once she was through touching every unbruised, unpunctured part of Peter she could reach. (It was a surprisingly large surface area. He was impressed, though if by El or Kate or himself, he couldn't say.) "I am actually going to kill her."

"Don't worry about her," he croaked, shifting his eyes toward the organism known as the free-range, stumbling Neal Caffrey out of Greater Manhattan that was lurching along at his side. His eyes were shadowed, with good reason given the time of night, but he didn't seem totally opposed to El's plan. He even seemed like he might have been cooking up a couple of his own.

If it made a difference, the girl wouldn't stand a chance, he opined and felt strangely proud. His Neal and his Elizabeth could be dangerous when they wanted to be. Lucky for everyone, they never did. However, he wasn't kidding himself, or any of them.

It wouldn't make a difference.

Be it a matter of days or a matter of hours, they'd eventually find Kate Moreau. Just off the ship where'd she'd left Peter to die, dead herself among the sundry nets and hooks that had snared a hundred thousand fish in their day.

Caught in her own trap, Peter tutted. He would have scoffed if he could have. Cute.

Cute, because it was actually a little poetic, and, God, Peter hated poetry.

He did love happy endings, though.

Even if he'd be damned before he ever told Neal that.