Title: The Journey (sequel to Losses) Section 1/3: A Thousand Miles, One Step

Author: BuffyAngel68

Rating: FRT

Summary: How did Neal end up in the relatively sane, pulled together place he'd made it to when the new season started? El, Peter, a whole lot of TLC and a smidgen of butt kicking. Part 1: 72 hours past the airport and Neal is essentially catatonic. First job? Dangle a carrot that he desires more than he wants to stay lost in his head...

Disclaimer: Don't own beautiful boys... men... men who act like boys? Other people own them and I made no money off this little adventure... though if I was in the God-chair, you know perfectly well what we'd be seeing on screen. I might even find some gorgeous male to get Jones smiling on a more regular basis. Hand them over USA! I know how to give them what they need!

Peter gazed down at the broken figure lying on his couch and raised a hand to his face, pressing the palm into his eyes. He simply couldn't move forward with what he'd been commanded to do. The object dangling from his other hand once meant almost nothing to him. It was a tool of his trade; a collection of plastic, wires and components with no particular emotion attached to it. Now, however... now it had a nasty connection and flooded him with even worse memories. The ankle monitor disgusted him.

A small hand settled on his shoulder and squeezed.

"Honey... he barely knows we're around. You're not going to hurt him or make anything worse."

"Damn it."

"I feel the same way, but you were both given a break under the condition that the monitor goes back on. If you don't do it... three weeks of leeway turns into fifteen minutes. They'll come and get him *now*. I was there when Hughes offered you the deal, remember? It was a promise and he'll keep it, you know that. He can't afford not to."

"For God's sake, El... it's one more blow, one more betrayal... one more loss he shouldn't have to suffer. Even somebody as strong as Neal Caffrey can only get knocked on his ass so many times. The plane was already too much. This godforsaken modern version of a ball and chain..."

"I know, Peter, I get it. He's already sacrificed so much for the promise Fowler made him. It shouldn't be. You and Neal both have to deal with the mess that bastard left behind, and that shouldn't be either... but it is. You'll pull each other through all of it, but it starts with doing this. Without the monitor, nothing else can get fixed. If you want..."

"No. No, I may hate it... but I won't dump the job on you. Thanks for the offer, though. Love you for making it." he told her gruffly, his voice hitching and breaking.

Shaking his head slightly, desperately fighting the scary jumble of emotions pulsing through him, Peter knelt down beside the couch and, as gently as he could, re-connected the monitor around Neal's ankle. As he rose to his feet again, he turned directly into El's waiting arms and clung to her.

"Good... I said you could do it. Good job, honey..."

"That really, *really* hurt..."

"I know."

"You were right, he barely twitched..."

"He'll come back to us, Peter, I believe that. We just have to give him a strong enough reason."

Abruptly, a particular memory from the airport came rushing back to the older man, a bit of conversation repeating itself over and over in his mind. He pulled back from El's embrace a bit and smiled at her, receiving an echoing touch of a grin from her in response. "Peter?"

"I may have an answer. Can you put me in touch with some of your contacts in the art world?"

"Yeah, of course. What are you thinking?"

"Something Neal said to me right after the explosion just sparked an idea. I only hope it works."

"Hey, me too. Let's go make some calls."

FOLLOWING DAY: EARLY AFTERNOON

Perched on the edge of the couch, Peter stretched out a hand and sifted his finger through the back of Neal's hair. The young man still lay with his face to the couch cushions, shutting out the world that had so casually shredded first his heart, and then his dream of reunion with Kate and a life of freedom together. His chest tightening to the point where it was becoming difficult to breathe, the FBI agent sent up a silent, but fervent prayer that what he'd arranged would succeed in bringing his young charge around. If Neal didn't begin to eat and drink soon, there would be no point in worrying about him being hurt or possibly killed in prison. They could skip straight to the morgue.

"Neal. I know you hear me. Everything sucks right now... that's a given. I know you feel like just laying back and fading into the sunset... like maybe that's your best option. The thing is, El's getting really worried about you, bud. She's determined not to let you go and when she sets her mind on something, believe me, she gets it one way or another. She'll pull out all the stops to keep you around. And I won't do any less..."

Sliding his hand down, he squeezed Neal's shoulder. "There's a surprise present for you in the garage. I think it'll help with... everything. Go check it out, okay? Please. For yourself *and* for Kate."

For the next two hours or so, Elizabeth kept her husband constantly busy, knowing that otherwise he'd be checking every five minutes to see whether Neal had taken the bait they'd put out so much effort to secure. By the time she finally released Peter to go and look, the sight of the vacant couch brought such a huge grin to his face that El covered his mouth to help hold back the whoop of joy.

"Yes, I see it, Peter." She responded, hardly able to keep a rein on her own elation. "Now we give him a little more time."

"What? El..."

"This is a good first step. Trust him to take the next one, too."

"No pushing?"

"No pushing."

"God, this is hard. Just standing around, *hoping* things turn out right... I don't *do* things that way! I need to wade in, use my hands... start picking up the pieces, slapping the glue on and putting them back where they go."

"When was the last time you saw me stay in the background when an event I'd been planning went sideways? I want to help him too... but the best way to do that is let him decide if his life is worth taking back. Okay?"

Peter nodded, hugged her tight once again and slammed the lid down on his doubts.

It took another twenty minutes before a light rap on the kitchen doorframe interrupted a discussion of what the couple would make for dinner. El looked up to find Neal wavering in the entrance, his expression so lost and uncertain that she ached intensely.

"Neal? Sweetheart?"

He stayed silent, staring for a few more seconds, then turned and moved off the way he'd come. El began to follow, but Peter kissed her cheek and held her back.

"I'll go."

"He likes chicken doesn't he?"

"Yeah. Cacciatore is his favorite, I think."

"That's what we're having for dinner."

With a soft smile and another brief hug, Peter left her to begin the preparations and trailed his charge out and down to the garage. He found Neal gazing at the materials that had been carefully piled there early that morning. After a moment he looked to Peter, confusion in his eyes, as if asking what kind of present this was and what he was supposed to do.

"It's everything you need to re-create the statue. I thought maybe if you made another one... one that would never be destroyed... you'd feel like you got to say I'm sorry after all."

Neal shifted his gaze back toward the house. "Yeah, she got all the stuff here. I told you, the woman is amazing. When she wants something done now... it happens."

The younger man shuffled over and reached for the tools laid out on a large piece of cloth on a long unused workbench. It had been thoroughly cleaned, however, in anticipation of the plan working out. "Those are from your place. June brought them over. She said to tell you anything you need or want... it's yours, no matter what."

This news engendered only a momentary trace of a smile, but even that was a huge victory and Peter's heart leapt again when he saw it. "You don't have to even touch any of this. I just thought... I hoped..."

Neal used both hands to vaguely wave his friend and mentor back inside, giving Peter's spirit another boost. "Okay. Great. I'll uh... I'll bring out some water?"

A slight nod. "Alright. Dinner should be ready soon. One of us will come out and let you know when it's ready... if you don't smell it and come running first."

The indication this time was in the form of a pointing hand. Peter accepted the gesture, stuffed down all the words he so wanted to let go of and hurried back to the kitchen, interrupting El's cooking by lifting her off her feet and spinning her around and around.

END