Alter Ego - Epilogue
A little something extra!
Neal took the few steps up to the door two at a time despite the little bit of pain he still felt at exerting himself. He had to maintain his sprightly, carefree appearance even if it did hurt a bit to move after two months of recuperating. He had a nice bottle of wine under his arm with a small shiny bow delicately tied around it. He reached to knock on the door but paused when he heard voices inside. Lots of voices. Maybe he was picking a bad time to show up? He hadn't thought to call ahead a time, which was his usual M.O. Neal paused trying to think of what to do when the door suddenly opened up.
"Let me just walk the dog and I'll be right back." Peter had his back to the door, Satchmo at his feet. The agent turned around and blinked as he nearly bumped into Neal.
"Neal? What..." He saw the bottle under the young man's arm and saw the expression on his face. Neal blushed a bit seemingly trying to hide the bottle under his jacket.
"Hey, Peter. Uhm... What's up?" Peter closed the door behind him as Neal moved away from the door and he stepped outside with the dog. Satchmo sniffed around Neal's shoes and licked at his hand. The con smiled, petting the Lab on the head.
"Hey Satch." Peter was still looking at Neal curiously as they started down the stairs without speaking, Satchmo still paying attention to Neal as he continued to scratch the dog behind the ears. They turned right at the bottom of the stairs and started walking down the sidewalk. Satchmo started to sniff around at things so Neal wiped his hands on his pants and just kept pace with Peter as they walked the dog in silence. When they had made it about half way down the street, Peter turned and touched the young man on the shoulder with his free hand.
"Just coming over to visit?" Neal blinked and turned surprised by the break in silence but nodded. He looked as if he wasn't sure what to say but finally opened his mouth and just spit it out.
"Yeah, I was just uhm stopping by. Thought we could have a drink or something." He nudged the bottle into view and then pushed it back under his arm again. Peter smiled a bit, turning to watch Satchmo stop to do his thing.
"El will find the bow charming." Neal was also watching the dog as well as the general traffic and other activities of the street.
"I thought she might. June let me borrow some of it from her Christmas box." Peter nodded, starting to turn as Satchmo trotted up towards him ready to go home. Neal didn't move. Peter glanced at him curiously.
"Coming?" Neal didn't turn right away as if he were thinking about something. Peter reached out and touched the young man's arm with a smile.
"El made pot roast." Neal turned and a hint of something that hadn't been there for a while sparkled in his eyes. A slight smile formed on his face and he started to follow Peter back the way they came. When they reached the house again, Satchmo took the lead up the stairs with the two men behind the big lab. They heard the door open up and El gawked a moment as she saw Neal standing there with her husband.
"Neal? When did you show up?" She glanced over at Peter who pushed the young man inside ahead of him.
"He was in the neighborhood. He has wine." El smiled broadly, taking Neal's arm and giving him a little hug as they walked inside and entered the living room. Another person was also there. Neal turned and stiffened slightly as he saw who it was sitting on the sofa. The other person stood, their face somewhat surprised. Peter stood between the two, patting Neal on the shoulder as he spoke.
"Neal, this is my friend from my FBI academy days, Michael Masters. Michael, this is my partner Neal Caffrey." Neal felt Peter nudging him ever so slightly forward and he finally held out a hand.
"Hi." He said with as friendly a voice as he could fake. He saw Michael seemed to be feeling somewhat similar as he responded in kind. Their handshake was curt and short lived, El taking hold of Neal's arm and smiling apologetically.
"Let's put that wine on ice?" Neal nodded absently, his eyes still looking at the other agent with a cautious expression. Once Neal and El had disappeared into the kitchen, Michael looked at Peter with a pointed stare.
"Was he invited as well, Peter? One big happy invitation?" Peter blinked and shook his head, a slight frown on his face.
"No, he has an open invitation or I should say, he likes to show up when he shows up. Kind of like kids in college when they need their laundry washed." Michael blinked then smiled slightly.
"I understand. He seems like a nice enough person. Sam likes him but that's my brother. He takes everything in stride." Michael looked a bit uncomfortable suddenly, his eyes looking at the door behind Peter.
"Maybe this was a mistake. We haven't seen each other in ages. People change..." Michael looked like he wanted to leave but Peter stood in front of him.
"Michael..." He couldn't think what to say, making a motion for the man to sit down as he took a seat on the sofa. Michael finally sat, hands in his lap clasped tightly.
"This isn't an easy situation to walk into so I'll just come right out with it... Neal is my partner. Yes he's an ex-con and he was a thief but he's more than paid his debt. You read his file, not just the one OPR created." Michael didn't look up but nodded stiffly, his body language tense.
"And he's my friend. You may not understand that, very few people seem to but I wouldn't trust anyone else to be my partner." Michael looked up at Peter finally, his eyes curious.
"You trust him? Just like that?" Peter nodded without hesitation and he saw a slight frown on Michael's lips.
"I guess I just... You know what happened with my Father. Someone like your partner connived him out of his business. I was barely 10 years old when that happened. Sam was 15. It was a hard time for both of us losing everything we had grown up with." His voice shook as he spoke but he continued.
"I guess I always saw things in black and white after that. It was hard to see the gray area when I was so close to everything. I'm not proud of what I did and I apologize for it. I'm still waiting for them to revoke my badge. Probably the best thing so I can get away from the hypocrisy. I'm sorry Peter. I really am." Michael's eyes looked shiny suddenly and Peter just patted the man's shoulder.
"Michael, they tricked you. I saw the file they showed you. It had nothing in there about Neal's current assignment with me or his actual work profile. Someone's out to get Neal and they used your past to do it." Michael nodded slightly.
"I guess after he saved my brother I wasn't sure what to think. They told me he was manipulating the system for his own benefit and I believed them. I've never had to think in the gray before. I never wanted to. Now... I have to take things into a whole new perspective." Peter smiled, patting his friend again.
"It's ok. I can't say I'm happy with what happened, but we can let bygones be bygones now that we know where everyone stands." Michael nodded slowly, looking up as someone coughed from the far side of the room. It was Neal. He was just standing there beyond the bookshelf apparently out of sight till just now when he decided to make a statement. Peter stood up and glanced over surprised. Michael remained sitting down, staring at the young man with a slightly ashamed look.
Neal walked over to the two men, his expression guarded.
"I overheard your conversation." He smiled slightly at Peter and then turned towards Michael, his expression back to guarded. He licked his lips slightly.
"Michael, I'm sorry about your father. You had every right to be angry." Peter started to interject but Neal stopped him with a slight glare as he continued.
"I never really understood the harm I was doing to others with my "profession." It was always just a game to me, but working with Peter has opened my eyes to another side of things I couldn't have seen had I stayed where I was. He's been like a mentor to me. Even when I didn't always do things the right way, he's been patient." He saw Michael blink at him, eyes still looking somewhat shiny, as he stood up and stood face to face with Neal. Suddenly Michael was hugging Neal. It was brief but he spoke to the young man, gently grasping his arms in his.
"Thank you for saving Sam. He's all the family I have. I'm... sorry for what I did." Neal looked kind of shocked as if unsure of what to do. Peter intervened, patting both men on the shoulder. Neal still looked a bit surprised by everything, whatever animosity between the two men evaporating. El took that moment to come out with a big plate of what looked like corn. She turned and saw the three men standing around with odd looks on their faces and stared curiously.
"Dinner's almost ready. Peter, can you help me?" Peter nodded excusing himself and walking over to his wife. She whispered to him out of ear shot as they entered the kitchen:
"Is everything ok?" Peter turned and saw Neal sitting down with Michael, the two men seemingly chatting and nodded.
"I think so." He looked back one more time as he disappeared into the kitchen and saw that both men were smiling slightly.
"So..." Neal sat down with Michael Masters, the ice more or less broken between them.
"Sam was asking how you were doing. He never got to thank you for what you did." Neal blushed slightly.
"Just returning the favor. He stood up for me when..." He paused and Michael shook his head.
"Yeah... Sam was still mad at me for a bit. He took our father's death to heart but he never blamed anyone like I did. He just dealt with it. He's always been the most tolerant person I know. I should have trusted his instincts instead of my anger." Neal wasn't sure how he felt but he knew he wasn't mad anymore. He couldn't completely forgive Michael but he could let it go to some extent.
"Sam definitely has a good heart. Tell him I said Hi." Michael nodded, smiling.
"I will. He's out on the road at the moment." Neal blinked.
"Road? Traveling?" Michael shook his head.
"Truck driver. He's always had a kind of wanderlust about him even when we were little. He liked to travel. Dad used to have to send someone out to find him sometimes cause he would just wander off for hours without telling anyone where he went. I always worried about him, still do but he seems to like what he does." The man shrugged.
"I can understand the feeling. Wanderlust that is. I've seen some places..." Neal had a kind of dreamy look in his eye.
"Really? I was looking at your case file and saw you'd had some adventures in Europe." Neal blinked unsure of what to say then nodded with an impish grin.
"I guess you could call them "adventures." I take the fifth on anything unproven." Michael laughed standing up as he saw Peter and El come back into the room with some more dishes of food. Peter looked a bit surprised at the banter between the two. El took the plate from him as he paused to stare at Neal and Michael curiously.
"Dinner's nearly ready if you want to sit down?" Neal stood and followed Michael to the dining area. Peter continued to stare at the two men curiously, one brow arched in query. Neal just shrugged as Michael hit him on the back in a friendly manner.
"I can see why you like him, Burke." Michael smiled, taking a seat at the end while Neal sat down in the middle on the right. Peter finally grinned.
"Well, he does have a certain mystique about him." Neal coughed.
"Mystique? Is that what you're calling it now? I thought you referred to it as that annoying Caffrey charm." Michael could barely contain a guffaw as Peter smirked.
"Well yes, it has been referenced as such but for company's sake, we'll use the word mystique." Neal nodded, his lips tight as he tried not to laugh.
"Sounds good to me. Perhaps you can write it up in a memo for the rest of the office to see? Make it official?" Peter gave a mock scowl as Neal's eyes glittered with unspoken laughter.