LJ Username: medjai_trowa
Title (Working or otherwise): Family Matters
Characters/Pairings: All the usual suspects from WC and LEV
Any Warnings: Past violence to main characters. Mention of abuse of position by the bad guys.
Short Summary: Peter didn't realise that Neal had a brother. Or that his oldest sister was living so close. And just why is Nate Ford in town?
El wasn't totally sure how she had got through the rest of her day, that first day she had officially met Neal. Well, officially according to Peter not officially according to the FBI, given that he had been out of his area and therefore In Trouble. She had been relieved that, despite his many skills in observation that the FBI had instilled in him, Peter was still at heart a man: one who would gloss over a lot of what may be wrong unless it directly assaulted him.
"Good to meet you," Neal had said, eyes shining. He had got one over on Peter, after all.
He'd said it and she'd echoed it, although she knew he was unaware of the significance at the time. "Good to meet you. After all these years."
And she'd meant it. Really and truly meant it. She hadn't expected Neal Caffrey to be so young, handsome and charming. And she most certainly hadn't expected him to be the younger half-brother she had been searching for almost longer than she could remember. Well, okay, a decade, which was still far too long for him to have been missing. It hadn't even crossed her mind when she had seen the surveillance photos that the young man in the pictures was the little boy she had tearfully watched her father drive away with as he left her mother for another woman. Had been the gangly teen she had last seen in the care of her step-brother.
Meeting him face to face, on the other hand, allowed her to fill in all the gaps that the grainy, black-and-white security camera stills had left. Certainly those eyes simply couldn't have belonged to anyone else, a colour even shared by their second half-sibling Molly, less than a year younger than Neal, who was himself barely a year younger than Elizabeth.
Apparently their father hadn't been so hot at keeping it in his pants.
He hadn't been so hot at keeping his fists to himself either, by all accounts. Neal had split with Molly and her half-brother, but had been picked up again mere hours later by social services after a call from the nearest hospital – a call which had led to their father serving some serious jail time.
And Elizabeth knew enough about her step-brother not to ask when he said that the man would no longer be a problem for any of them after he had got out of jail.
She had weighed things up in her own mind before stealing Peter's phone and obtaining Neal's contact details, and had made sure that Neal was in no doubt that she knew exactly who she was.
So what remained was the problem of telling Peter how a full half of her generation of her immediate family had decided upon careers that were on the more shady side of the legal street. The urgency of the problem was somewhat raised now that she had been informed that the two problem children were both on the Atlantic coast and within easy reach of each other. With a sigh, she reached for the phone.
Molly may be in Arizona but at the very least she could offer a sympathetic ear or, preferably, a bolt-hole where she could stay until Peter had had his inevitable meeting with the over-protective elder brother she alternately wanted to hug because she knew he hadn't received enough of them and beat with a skillet because she knew it was the only thing that would leave any sort of impression on the man.
And Peter had thought Neal had led him a merry dance. Maybe she should sell tickets to his encounter with Eliot and the rest of Nate Ford's team.
From somewhere well out of the blast radius – like Molly's. Now, where did she put that phone number? She was just reaching for the phone when it rang under her hand. Checking the number, she had to smile to herself.
How did she always seem to know when El wanted to speak to her?
"Hey sis," she greeted the younger woman and had to laugh when Molly hesitated before she remembered that El didn't live on a military base with family housing and therefore had caller ID because her husband was an FBI agent who Had Enemies, despite being in White Collar. They both laughed.
"Sorry. Sorry, that always throws me," Molly told her. "Doug's got one of those novelty phones shaped like a steam-train."
El smirked, though she knew Molly couldn't see her. "Eliot?" she asked and Molly snorted.
"How did you guess?" she asked drily. "I told him not to, but did he listen?"
"Does he ever?"
Molly paused. "Um, that's kind of why I'm calling."
El blinked. "Eliot buying novelty phones is why you're calling?"
"Ellll..." groaned Molly. "He's going to be in town. Your town, not my town that is. It's why I'm calling. I thought you should have a heads up, y'know?"
El stopped in shock. "He's what?" she managed eventually after a long silence. "He's coming to New York? Why?"
Molly sighed. "He said he'd call you later. Apparently he had to go speak to a man about a camera, whatever that means. Sounded quite urgent though, so he's probably on one of his jobs. Did, um, did he tell you anything about the guys he's working with now? Well, anything more than names?"
"Does he ever, Mol? He's too used to trying to protect us from what he does, you know? Do, uh. Did you know that Neal was in New York?"
It was Molly's turn to fall silent for a long moment, long enough for El to experience a moment of perfect clarity. "You knew!" she accused. "You knew where he was and you didn't tell me?"
El heard the creak down the line as Molly tightened her grip on the novelty phone's handset and absurdly found herself thinking how disappointed Doug would be if it got broken. "Eliot was worried that something was up," she began faintly. "He told me not tell you because he knew Peter was the one chasing him."
And that? That made El see red. Hard voiced, she demanded, "He thought that Peter was involved in whatever was going on, you mean?"
She would have continued, but Molly interrupted urgently, "No! No, El, he didn't. But Peter was about the only one he didn't think was involved and he was pretty sure Peter didn't know that something else was going on behind his investigation." She paused. "He knows Peter's a straight-up cop. That's why he makes sure he doesn't put him in an awkward position with family. But something wasn't right about stuff going on in the background, and I don't ask how he finds out these things, but he's usually right about them."
It was El's turn to fall silent for a long, drawn out moment. "That," she confessed with a sigh, "sounds exactly like something Eliot would do. Does Doug do that? Or is it just peculiar to the family? Because Neal does it too, but Peter doesn't. Or didn't 'til he started working with Neal."
Molly laughed at that. "Hate to break it to you, but I think it's purely a family thing, El. Unless Doug's seriously good at getting things past me and I haven't noticed."
"Growing up with Eliot? I think you've got more practice at spotting the sneaky stuff than Doug has being sneaky."
Still laughing, Molly was forced to agree to that, laughter cutting off as something broke noisily in the background. "Simon! Simon leave it! Let mommy clean it up!" she called. "I'm sorry El; Si's breaking things in the kitchen."
El chuckled. "Go. It's better than baby FBI agents breaking things in the kitchen. At least Simon isn't trying to hide it or feed it to the dog yet..."
"Oh God, anything but that," Molly agreed. "You are so telling me that story! Talk you later El!"
She had barely rung off when the phone in El's hand rang again. The number was unknown, but thanks to her conversation with Molly she had a pretty good idea about who it was.
To be fair, he only hesitated a moment before saying, "Molly give you the heads up?"
"What do you think?" she demanded. "You'd better be coming to see me when you hit town, mister!"
He hesitated for a moment too long at that, so she pointedly continued in a falsely sweet tone, "It would be nice to see you, Eliot. You don't have to come round when Peter's here but it's nice to see my siblings. When I know where they are."
She could practically hear the wince. It wasn't often that she got one over on Eliot.
"Uh," he began. "Is this worse than the time I smashed your door down at college?"
She had to give him points. She would have bet money that the college incident would be something Eliot would never want mentioned again. Ever. At least he had some idea of the magnitude of his indiscretion this time. "Oh this is worse, buster. You make arrangements to come see me. It's time I told Peter a little more about the family he married into and you get to be my assistant."
Neal frowned as his phone flashed a message alert and flipped it over before Peter glanced across and noticed it was from El. Instead of reacting, he turned his attention back to the presentation from the guys in organised Crime who had agreed that in this case it would be better for White Collar to head up the operation to turn the Petrelli family's go-to guy for everything from art fraud to the forgery of currency into an informant. Ruiz wasn't happy – Neal kept seeing him shooting black looks in the direction of him and Peter, but honestly, Neal got the impression that Ruiz wasn't often pleased about much.
His eyes widened slightly as he recognised the man on the screen next to Petrelli senior. He had worked with Boris Schevchenko precisely once before the man's arrogance had made him decide to get the hell out of Dodge. Well, Kiev at any rate. He leaned forwards, chin resting on his hands as he studied the image. The man hadn't changed much in eight years. Still whipcord thin, probably still twitchy in the extreme – he couldn't see working for the Mob having improved that particular nervous tic any. He jerked in surprise as Peter nudged him and sat up again. "What?"
"You know him, right?"
Somewhat sceptically, he eyed Peter. "Sure. I mean, at the alleged top of the game there's only so many people. Not that that's a confession, you understand."
Peter huffed and shook his head. "Of course not," he agreed amiably. "It never is."
Neal did his best to look offended, but couldn't help smirking along with Peter as they both returned their attention to the presentation as the agent in charge turned a frown in their direction and Hughes cleared his throat from the other side of Peter.
"Mister Caffrey," the agent giving the presentation called after a moment, "You've dealt with our target before. Opinions?"
Neal startled slightly. He hadn't expected to have to speak out in the meeting, but he leaned forward on the table to address the men and women who were being read into the operation. "Well," he said carefully, all too aware of Ruiz' eyes on him, "He's arrogant. He's been arrested several times and has always been released due to insufficient evidence. He thinks he's untouchable. He's..." Neal paused, searching for the right word. "He's abrasive. Doesn't play well with others. But he does have a certain, somewhat heavy-handed skill. If you know what to look for, you'll have him."
Ruiz snorted in disbelief. "And you're just going to roll over on a former associate? We're supposed to believe that?"
"Hey!" snapped Peter, springing to his feet, hands splayed on the table.
Hughes, most senior agent in the room since the organised crime unit chief had been called away by an urgent situation involving another team who were allegedly 'in hot pursuit' and had managed to piss off a whole plethora of other law enforcement officials, chose that moment to interject with a stern, "Gentlemen." Peter was pretty sure the SAC had just sagged in relief.
Once he was certain that he had everyone's attention, he stood, leaning forwards. "I'm sure you'll agree that Mr Caffrey is uniquely placed to, shall we say encourage, Mr Schevchenko to see things our way. After all, he finds himself in the perfect position of being able to vouch for our hospitality." He met Ruiz's gaze then Peter's, then Neal's, a warning to all three that they had better not screw up this interdepartmental cooperation with some juvenile pissing contest. They all evidently managed to convey through expression or body language that they would behave, because Hughes turned back to the agent doing the briefing with a nod to continue.
As Hughes turned his attention back to his copy of the case file, Peter glanced back to Neal and found him checking something on his phone. Surreptitiously he leaned across, only to briefly catch El's name at the top before Neal swiftly pocketed the device. Caught, Peter jerked his gaze back to the presentation – he could have just been shifting uncomfortably in his seat, right? These seats were hell on the posterior at the best of times and, after an hour or so with no comfort breaks, this was not the best of times.
He frowned to himself. He didn't like to suspect that something was going on, but they had only really met for any protracted period a grand total of twice and yet were seemingly endlessly texting each other. Admittedly, yes, there was often a completely reasonable explanation – such as the previous week when they had ganged up on Peter to make him TiVo a show on the Discovery channel that Neal had wanted to watch and Peter had insisted he work through with Jones as Peter had been manning the observation during the day and they had needed someone familiar with the crook's style to watch during the night. Or the time that El had made disapproving noises about his tie and then he had got to work and Neal had made practically identical disapproving noises. And had then engineered for coffee to be spilled all over said tie. There was no way El hadn't partially been behind that one – probably right up to the point where Neal had said, "Oh, leave it to me..." thinking that it was all his own idea.
He almost shook his head angrily to clear it, but realised in time where he was and managed to suppress the urge before anyone caught the movement. Frowning to himself, he had to admit that he wasn't surprised that El and Neal got on so well. After all, both were bright, vivacious people, both were intelligent and meticulous in their organisation.
Somehow, that train of thought wasn't making him feel any better.
Shaking himself mentally, he forcefully dragged his attention back to the briefing which, thanks to the originators, was far more in-depth about the Petrelli family than it needed to be for the White Collar Unit's part of the operation, but it served as a reasonable distraction until he could examine the evidence of Neal and El's interactions on his own time.
It was late when Peter finally arrived home. Setting up for the operation had taken longer than he had hoped it would, persuading the US Marshalls that they needed to alter the centre for Neal's radius being the largest part of that. As it was, there was now a very real risk that if the younger man forgot what had been done and wandered down the street for coffee, his anklet would go off.
Not that Peter expected Neal would forget. And if he forgot, June would remind him. Sharp as a tack, that woman. Peter was rather glad he had never had to chase her husband, because he was pretty damn certain that June would be a formidable opponent.
He was just about to put the key in the lock when the door swung open to reveal El smiling up at him.
"Hi honey," he greeted, leaning down to kiss her warmly.
She smiled into the brief kiss, pulling him into the house and herding Satch ahead of her so that Peter didn't trip over the yellow lab. "I put your dinner in the oven to keep it warm when Neal called to say you were going to be late. He get home ok?"
Peter ambled into the kitchen as he loosened his tie. "He's still stuck with Ruiz going over what he should and shouldn't do, and who he shouldn't talk to. Jones said he'd stay with them."
El laughed lightly. "Poor Neal," she said kindly. "Why didn't you break him out when you made your escape?"
He frowned to himself as he retrieved his dinner, muttering something in reply about the importance of the operation and how Neal knew that. He didn't like it. It was one thing for them to be doing it without him officially knowing and quite another for one of them to be asking him about the other in such a sappy tone.
"Poor Neal," he echoed, once he was certain El was out of earshot. "Why didn't you break him out?" He guiltily checked to make sure she was really not able to hear him before sighing. This was El. She wouldn't do something like that to him. To them. She was simply aware precisely what kind of an asshole Ruiz was and would have expressed the same kind of sympathy had it been Jones or Lauren who had been stuck with the man for a more in-depth briefing. It wasn't Neal's fault that Peter was being a hyper-suspicious ass.
Nate pinched the bridge of his nose. Of course it was Eliot who spoke Polish. And of course the person who needed a translator would be a delicate looking young woman who was clinging to the hitter, staring up at him with big blue eyes through an uneven blonde fringe like he was the best thing that had ever happened to her.
Perhaps he was: Nate didn't like to speculate in this sort of situation. It was also plainly obvious that she was desperately in need of the type of help the team could provide. Eliot, apparently reading Nate's mind, met his gaze levelly with an expression that said, 'Don't even think about it!' as he patted Teofila on the back consolingly as she took a long drink of the soda in front of her.
Next to him, Sophie asked in a gentle tone whether Teofila knew the name of the family who were holding her siblings' passports, something Eliot translated with almost exaggerated care, and between them, they gradually managed to tease the story out.
Once Eliot had seen the girl back to the care of the small group who had brought her to talk to Nate and his crew, they directed Hardison to start pulling up the information they needed, Sophie heading off to round up Parker from the roof while Nate demanded Eliot unwrap his hand from around what turned out to be the remains of his shot glass. He had seen the hitter reach for it as the blonde had whispered something to Eliot and Sophie, distracted by the suddenly vicious expression on the hitter's face, had missed the glink of glass shattering under pressure.
He wasn't too concerned. Had there been blood, he would have sent Eliot upstairs and called one of the girl's friends over, but as it was, he figured that Eliot had simply realised what he had done and not wanted to scare the girl more than she already was. Scowling, Eliot opened his hand to reveal a palm full of shards, only a couple of which had broken the skin. Nate figured that it must be similar to biting down on a light bulb – all the shards curved towards the centre - and this seemed to have saved Eliot from injury.
Tipping the shards onto a napkin, Eliot bundled it up carefully for disposal and stomped off to demand what Hardison had dug up.
Hardison, it seemed, had dug up plenty, including what he presumed their client had whispered to Eliot, a fact evidenced by his wide-eyed gaze and the ashen look to his face. Even Parker had forgone her usual bowl of snacks, convincing Nate that Sophie and Hardison had told her at least the parts they knew.
As they hashed out Petrelli's movements and his support network, they got a picture of a man who had built his empire on other peoples' blood, sweat and tears, a man who apparently knew no end of ways to contravene human rights, from confiscating the passports of the people who laboured in his sweatshops to allowing his guards to take physical liberties with those self-same people. A brief glance at Eliot's black expression spoke volumes about what Teofila had told him.
Sophie was the one who came up with the weak link in the man's crew. She had Hardison back up to the image of a soft-looking heavy-set man. "Him," she said. "Boris Schevchenko. He's the way in."
The team all stared at the image for a long, drawn out moment.
"Well," said Nate after a beat, "Let's go steal ourselves an art forger."
"Caffrey!" one of the Organised Crime agents he didn't know hollered across the office as he and Ruiz left their meeting. "Message for you. Some consultation thing. Said his name was Winchester." He waved a post-it in Neal's direction, barely waiting for him to snag it before he hurried off after Ruiz, apparently slightly resentful of having to play messenger for the convict.
Neal stared at the note. He couldn't believe that Eliot would call him at work. No, scratch that. He couldn't believe Eliot would call him at work, have the audacity to use the name of a wanted man and demand that Neal call him back after leaving a number – a traceable phone number – with the FBI.
Furious, he punched the number into his cell phone, unsurprised when Eliot picked up on the first ring, but blinked in surprised when he growled, "Call you back in the morning," and hung up abruptly, leaving Neal staring at the phone in his hand in slack-jawed surprise.
From across the bullpen as he entered the following morning, Peter could see Neal lurking in his office, the lights off. He was apparently making every effort to remain unnoticed, but Peter had to smirk as the younger man occasionally twitched as he had to force himself not to pace.
Pausing just before the door, in front of the office next to his, he carefully listened to the conversation the forcefully reformed criminal was having.
"Damnit, Eliot," he heard Neal hiss into his phone, "You can't be here! The FBI are all over this guy like a rash and you're on their Most-" He cut off as his conversational partner ran right over what he was saying. Eliot. Peter filed the name away. "I don't care if you don't think the White Collar unit could arrest you. They'd at least have a damn good go at it." He caught sight of Peter as he started walking again, moving into Neal's line of sight.
Peter shoved the door open as Neal was hitting the "end call" button with a furious, somewhat stumped expression. He looked at the younger man in askance, something Neal deliberately ignored. "Mozzie?" he asked out loud.
Neal gave him an odd look. "Friend of his who was supposed to have some information," he obfuscated. It was a blunt lie – Neal had to have known that Peter would catch it – but the fact that he hadn't even bothered to try to hide it made Peter let it lie.
Looking at him long and hard, Peter decided he didn't even need to know who Neal was trying to protect. He would usually fess up in his own time if it was something relevant to the case. A possibly violent informant was not someone they had time to deal with alongside an attempt to extract an art-forger with potentially useful information about the Petrelli family.
"Hello Eliot," El greeted after barely two rings.
Wincing, Eliot glanced back to make sure Hardison was engrossed in figuring out angles for cameras before he replied. "Hey El," with the tone of one disarming a bomb. "So..."
"You're in the city," she told him, filling in the conversation for him. "And you're trying to wiggle out of a telling off."
"What? Damnit El! I've got a damn job to do!"
She snorted in disbelief, while Eliot went silent as he checked over his shoulder, only to see that Hardison had stopped work and turned to look at him.
"A booty call, man?" the younger man protested. "Ain't you got something you should be doing?"
Eliot growled at him and stalked into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.
"One of your team mates?" El asked him, tone amused. "You still doing that deep cover crap?"
He hesitated. He managed not to demand how she knew about that. "I'm busy, El. I just wanted to let you know I was in town."
Another snort from her. "You're always busy," she told him, tone gentling. "You know what would perk you right up? A family meal. You can come and eat with me and Neal and Peter and help me tell Peter what he doesn't know about our family." By the time she reached the word family, her tone was positively saccharine. Eliot started to worry about cavities with the tiny part of his mind that wasn't occupied with the sheer terror of the thought of a family meal.
He had obviously left it too long to reply, because El had abruptly started talking again. Almost shouting, really. "You owe me, Eliot Spencer! You owe me for ten years not knowing where my little brother was!"
"You wanna come play in my world, El?" he demanded abruptly. "You wanna do that? Because what I do is a world away from what Neal does."
He paused, waiting until she started to take another breath to speak again before continuing. "You knew he was alive," he told her, more gently this time. "I didn't want to worry your with anything beyond that, because sometimes he was working for some not very nice people. And you'd have thought you had to get Peter more involved than he already was."
She apparently had decided that he was right because she said, somewhat shakily, "You should have told him where I was then. You should have let him choose."
"El-" he tried, but was cut off.
"Dinner, buster. Friday. No excuses. And don't you ever lie to me about Neal again."
There was a loud bang on the bathroom door so Eliot meekly agreed to the terms as he left the room, deciding that there were times to stand and fight and times to make very certain that someone who knew most of your weaknesses was not plotting any form of revenge.
"Whipped!" El heard as Eliot was saying goodbye, which caused the start of an argument like she remembered Eliot and Molly getting into over Thanksgiving dinner in the years before she had met Peter and Eliot had voluntarily stopped attending them so that her new boyfriend, fiancé, husband hadn't had to make an attempt to arrest him.
It had utterly failed to stop him pestering her for news on when she was going to give him a niece or nephew. Really, she had to find some way to get him settled down with his own kids rather than stealing Molly's whenever he visited her. He maintained that he couldn't help it if they wanted to spend time with their favourite uncle, but she would put money on him being an excellent father if some girl ever managed to nail his feet to the floor.
The way she was feeling at the moment, she was inclined to help whichever young lady was a candidate.
Eliot waited until Hardison had finished in the bathroom before ambushing him and taking him down to the hotel's gym to make him slog through his daily run. At about double the usual pace.
When he figured that the boy had learned his lesson, and Eliot had snatched his last bottle of orange soda, he went in search of Nate.
He found him in the main room of the suite, poring over the guest list for the following evening's gala event they had discovered that Schevchenko was to attend. They'd already decided that Sophie was to be the one to lay the bait – a seemingly poorly guarded "treasure" belonging to a doddering old eccentric played by Nate, who Sophie had hooked but was lacking a copy of the painting to trade out.
Nate was finalising the details, studying a list of employees, when Eliot cleared his throat pointedly. Barely glancing up at him, Nate said in a pointed tone, "No."
"You don't even know what the question is."
Sighing, Nate put down his pencil. "You're about to ask me if you can hide out somewhere in case whoever it is on the guest list who's making you twitch recognises you. No. Grow a pair."
"Damnit Nate, her husband's a fed."
The mastermind had apparently not been expecting that protest. "Not an ex-girlfriend then?" he asked Eliot, tone amused.
Eliot glared. "Just 'cause you figure you get some sort of parental points," he groused. "She's m' step-sister. She's married to a fed and she's the event organiser. And the fed and Neal Caffrey are going to be there too. So I need to be somewhere Caffrey's not going to pitch a fit and tip Burke off that we're there."
Eyebrows raised, Nate folded his arms and leaned a hip on the table as he studied Eliot. "And I suppose Caffrey's your brother, the way this conversation's going," he snapped, not entirely joking. The silence stretched for too long for his comment to have been anything other than right on the mark. "Damnit, Eliot! You didn't think this was something we needed to know?"
Eliot glared at him. "First," he snarled, "He ain't my brother. He's Molly's brother and he's a pain in the ass. And second, I didn't know White Collar Crimes were going to be getting dragged into an investigation into the Russian Mob! They're going after our damn mark!"
The pair stared at each other as the silence stretched.
Abruptly, Nate turned away. "Right. I'm sure they can use a pastry chef. You get to poke around the basement to check security down there. And you can keep Mrs Burke occupied and not interfering." He checked a couple of details on his screen. "Is there anything else you need to tell me now? Because right now I need to work out how we can do this and not get locked up by your brother -in-law."
Sheepishly leaving the suite, Eliot sighed and muttered a quiet, "Damnit," to himself as he fished out his cell phone and scrolled through to find the number for Mozzie. He didn't particularly like the guy, but he knew that Mozzie was an incredibly loyal friend to Neal, even if he did occasionally tell him he was being an ass. Or maybe because he occasionally told Neal he was being an ass. Hey, it sometimes caused Neal to pause before doing something stupid. Or stupider.
He did know his little brother rather well, after all.
Not finding the number in the phone, he pulled out the little black book that he had the team convinced contained the phone numbers of all the women he'd known. Well, all the team bar Parker. Parker's not convinced because she had stolen it to check. She did give it back when he asked though, so he has high hopes that she's starting to socialise better.
He smirked to himself – he loved being able to wind Hardison up with those stories: if the boy knew something, anything, about human physiology, he'd know sleeping for just ninety minutes a day was impossible and a sure-fire way to end up locked up in some kind of asylum, but he figured that unless the kid had to impersonate a doctor for a job he likely wouldn't ever figure it out.
Checking the number, he dialled the small, ferrety man he had clashed with during a couple of retrievals in the area. "Moz?" he asked as the phone was picked up to silence. After the silence had stretched for longer than he thought appropriate, he added pointedly, "Mozzie, I can hear you breathing."
"Shit!" the man on the other end squawked in surprise. "It's you. Shit. How did you get this number? Damnit, why are you calling me?"
Shouting, regrettably, didn't cut off the babble. It merely changed the direction. "Sorry. Sorry. It's just that talking to a man who can pull my kidneys out of my nose without breaking a sweat makes me kinda nervous!"
Eliot snorted as Mozzie paused for breath. "Shut up and listen. You listening?" he asked after a moment of absolute silence.
He could practically see the smug expression on Mozzie's face as the man replied, "You told me to shut up and listen!"
Taking a deep breath and suppressing the urge to smack someone, Eliot very calmly said, "I'm in town for a while. Shut up!"he added before Mozzie managed to get himself started on a new tirade. "MOZZIE!"
Moz quietened down, though not without muttering mutinously about retrieval specialist rock stars never making time for the little guys.
"Hey!" Eliot cut him off. "I called you, didn't I? Look, just make sure Neal doesn't do anything stupid, right? Or at least, no more stupid than normal. That's all."
Moz paused. "Oh," he said after a moment. "Oh, that I can do. Anything else?"
Eliot blinked as he tried to shake off the mental whiplash that always resulted from his dealings with Mozzie. "Uh. No, actually," he said after a moment's consideration.
"Good," Mozzie told him. "Stop in and see June. She wants you to play chess with her."
As Neal's associate hung up, Eliot stared at his phone feeling a little confused. That conversation really hadn't ended the way he had expected it to. Not that he was surprised that June knew he was here, but it was something of a shock that she had discussed it with Mozzie. With a mental shake, he headed back to the hotel room for the final briefing before the set-up tomorrow.
Parker peered out from around the pillar she had ducked behind as she had spotted Peter Burke talking to Neal Caffrey about something by the buffet table where she was trying to set up both glasses for later and Hardison's bugs.
"Parker?" Hardison asked over her ear bug. "The bugs aren't up yet. What's the delay?"
She risked another peek. "Oh, I don't know," she replied sardonically, "The Fed and his pet art forger by the drinks table?"
Hardison made a surprised noise and there was a flash as a CCTV camera across the room caught the light as it turned to look. "Okay. Okay, hold on." After a pause, a younger agent across the room called out something to Burke, who shook his head in bewilderment but went to investigate, leaving Parker free to take the drinks, and consequently Hardison's bugs, across the room.
It wasn't until she had crossed the room back to the kitchen entry that she noticed Neal standing almost over with Burke, but looking right at her. He raised a brow at her in question and was apparently quite surprised that she had glared at him.
What? He was horning in on their investigation, him and the Fed.
El arrived at the kitchen an hour ahead of the time she was due, to the surprise of a number of the kitchen staff. None of them, it seemed, were more surprised than her pastry chef for the day, who took one look at her and tried to head for the freezer.
'What the hell?' was her first thought. Her second was, 'He better not screw this up for me!'
Her calmer, third thought prevailed however as she planted herself in his escape route and snapped, "You better be making that chocolate parfait with the rum and peaches, buster, or your job here is over."
Slightly wide eyed, Eliot grabbed a chopping board as if to ward her off. "El! Um. Hi?"
"Damnit, Eliot, what the hell are you doing here?" They stared at each other as realisation dawned on El. "If you say, 'Your job' I will tell Peter exactly where you are and lock you in the freezer until he has enough back-up to make sure you stay arrested."
He blinked at her, winced at a crash from near the station he had been working at and turned away from her to yell something in French at one of his assistants. Turning back, he gestured her over to the bank of ovens where he started to check pastry cases. "Guy we're after," he began as he poked contemplatively at one set of tart shells, "He runs sweat-shops staffed by kids who he paid to get into the country. He's a bad guy, El. And we're going to stop him. Didn't you want me to get out of the other business?"
She huffed, deflating slightly. "Look, Eliot, the Organised Crime guys are probably going for the same guy. They're after a mob boss and... Well, he's probably the same guy you're after. Peter keeps hiding case notes when I walk in, so he's definitely a bad guy."
"So we just leave? We go back to our client and say, 'sorry, the FBI is dealing with it. Maybe they'll get your siblings out before the shop's shut down and they're moved, but maybe they'll just get a bullet to the back of the head like all the other kids'. Is that what we do?" El glared at him, but this time he didn't back down, though he did flinch and yank something out of his ear, jamming it into his apron pocket and immediately moving to wash his hands. "The people we go after, El, are none of them good people, and we promised our client we'd get her brother and sister out."
El folded her arms in a manner that said, 'I know what you're trying to pull, Mister', but she already knew she'd lost this round. At least if he was here, she could keep an eye on him. And make sure he at least let Neal know he was in town.
Peter snorted in disbelief at the conversation Neal and Jones were having over the wire. Really, could Neal not stop trying to corrupt his team for this one evening? At least Jones always played along in a tongue-in-cheek manner rather than getting annoyed and threatening like Lauren. But really, did they have to behave like this while there was another team involved. He had already had to stop Lauren from causing permanent damage to one of Ruiz's men as he had tried to get involved.
Jeez, he was tempted to just put every last one of them on report.
He shook his head in bemused resignation as he reached out to take a glass from a passing waiter's tray before freezing in disbelief.
Parker the art thief was on the wait staff at this event. She met his gaze, blue eyes widening slightly as she realised who he was, before she turned on her heel and marched determinedly away, tray of glasses still held perfectly balanced on her raised hand.
He blinked as he raised his hand to his pocket instinctively to check for his wallet and the moment was gone, leaving him doubting everything he had just seen until he heard a brief yelp over comms and glanced up to see Neal disappearing backwards from his current vantage point on the mezzanine with a surprised expression on his face. A brief flash of white disappeared with him into a doorway across the narrow stretch of floor. His eyes went wide as he realised that it had been a guy called Eliot that Neal had been speaking to earlier. The only guy called Eliot he knew of who associated voluntarily with Parker was...
"Eliot Spencer has Neal," he managed to hiss out over the headsets a mere second before it cut out with a squeal and a hiss of static. "Damnit!"
Startling several guests into surprised exclamations, he set off for the stairs at a dead run, able to note Jones' progress from further along the mezzanine by a similar outcry.
Neal staggered out of the side gallery straightening his collar as hurricane Peter roared past to check the room. He could have told Peter that it was no good, that Eliot had someone who was listening in to the FBI's comms with as much ease as the FBI tapped phones. Hurricane Jones was following closely on his heels, and both shortly reappeared after twin calls of "Clear!" went up from the room.
He managed to restrain himself from rolling his eyes as Peter helped him into an upright position, taking in the slightly rumpled collar and Neal's slightly stunned expression with a questioning look.
"I could have told you he was long gone," he said by way of explanation.
Peter skewered Neal with a more determined expression. "Want to tell me why one of the most dangerous guys in the business dragged you away for a friendly chat and then just let you go?" he demanded. "What's he up to, Neal?"
Neal got his usual 'offended cat' expression on his face as he twitched his cuffs back into place and rolled his shoulders to resettle his jacket. "I have no idea, Peter. None at all. He's not-" He cut himself off as something apparently occurred to him.
"Not what?" Peter snapped, "Not sticking his oar in and trying to wreck our case? What's Petrelli paying him? What did he offer you?"
"Peter-" Neal began to protest but Peter was beyond listening as he ordered the team to spread out and look for anyone known to associate with Eliot. As Peter mentioned that he had encountered Parker not moments before Eliot had hijacked Neal, Neal took a careful step away and was gone by the time Peter turned back to him.
Peter edged up to the corner as he heard Neal almost shout, "Well he just kidnapped me and now Peter's after him. And the blonde!" before he ended the call and stalked back around the corner, almost knocking Peter to the floor as he did so. "Damnit, Peter, you scared me," he complained before he added, "Did you get him?"
Suspicious, FBI-trained mind working overtime, Peter shook his head and made up his mind then and there to pull all of Neal's phone records and, if he had to, dig out his and El's phone records on the itemised billing, even though when El finds out what he has done, she is likely to enact her comment about it only being mildly amusing the first time and that if he did it again, he would be sleeping downstairs with Satch for a week. In the meantime though, he had Spencer to find.
Thanks in part to the conversation he had overheard between Neal and El, he ordered his team to search the kitchen first. With the party in full-swing, the cooks and chefs had apparently finished their jobs and the food was either already on the buffet tables or awaiting one of the waiters to take it out to the guests.
Indeed, a thorough search of the kitchen revealed one waiter collecting another tray of tartlets and El sitting on a counter eating a slice of chocolate parfait that hadn't appeared anywhere on the menu or at the event. "What?" she asked around a forkful. "It's a sample for another event. The pastry chef made it for me to try." Digging out another forkful, she waved it in Peter's direction. "Want to try it?"
Dodging the – admittedly very tasty looking – forkful, he frowned slightly. "Everything okay down here?" he asked as Lauren accepted the fork, expression turning delighted.
"Of course," El told him. "We wrapped up down here about an hour ago. Last of the kitchen staff left about twenty minutes ago." She was looking right at him as she said it, and something hard and cold clenched in Peter's gut.
As Eliot and Parker followed Nate into the hotel room, Hardison bounded up to them. "You, man, need to stop with the inappropriate girlfriends. She's married to Mr FBI."
Glaring, Eliot stalked past and grabbed a beer. Something stronger would have been nice, but they were on a job and it wouldn't do to let the team see how much the set-up had rattled him. He might stay in touch with his siblings, but he certainly didn't keep dropping by. And damn if El wasn't scarier than an armed Parker when she was on the warpath.
He glared over the bottle.
"What, what?" Parker asked. "We just want to know how you know her. Ooh! And Neal. How do you know Neal? He was pretty good when he was in Europe. Pulled a couple of good jobs over here too but, you know..." She trailed off as Eliot stared at her speculatively.
"Hey!" she protested, "You know El pretty well! You cooked for her! And she knows you pretty well because she managed to threaten you into doing it!"
"What? It's not my fault you were too distracted being scared of the nice lady to worry about who could hear you! And she is nice. She figured out I was with you and let me try that chocolate stuff you made. Will you make it for me sometime? When the job's over?"
Dropping into a seat had been a mistake, he realised as Nate and Parker both stood over him while Hardison spoke to Sophie from the laptop he used to control comms to let her know where the car had been left for her. That done, he joined the pair attempting to get Eliot to spill.
"You should tell them," Nate said. "It affects the job."
Narrowing his eyes, Eliot refrained from asking whose side Nate was on and snorted, shaking his head. "She's m' step-sister," he told the pair. "And Neal's her half-brother. Their father is my half-sister's father."
Parker and Hardison stared at him.
He stared back.
"What?" he asked after a long moment. "You wanted to know, I told you."
Hardison raised his eyebrows. "Yeah, with minimum information and the maximum impact. Man, you tell a lousy story. And how come I never found no half or step siblings when I went looking?" He sounded betrayed. Like Eliot had deliberately obtained a family just to throw him off. "And what about Burke? Does he know that his family's mostly on the opposing side of the law?"
"Seriously?" the Hitter demanded, "You think Eliot Spencer is my real name?" Hardison apparently had, because he raised his eyebrows challengingly. "Just the first one on record. And as amusing as all this is, can we focus on what's important here?"
Sophie laughed over their earpieces. "I'm forced to agree," she told the team. "As much fun as it is listening to you trying to get historical blood from the metaphorical stone, we've got a job to do and Schevchenko took the bait."
"Thank you," Eliot told her. "I think."
"Yeah," Nate agreed. "Sophie's right. We have a job to do here. You can bully the rest of his background out of him later." Glossing over Eliot's shout of protest, he continued: "Right now we need to figure out how to get the FBI to take down Petrelli and raid the sweatshops we know about so that Teofila's brother and sister don't get spirited away again."
He paused and studied Eliot. "Well, seeing as you obviously know two out of four of the leads on Burke's team-"
"We mostly all do," Hardison pointed out, "Because it's Peter Burke. And don't you deny knowing him, Nate Ford. We know you did joint investigations with him."
Nate rolled his eyes. "Yeah," he agreed, "Me and half the IYS investigators, guys. It's a huge world of art theft out there, remember? He knows Sterling too..."
He trailed off as even Hardison glared at him and the indrawn breath he heard from Sophie was very telling.
"You know," Peter said conversationally, "We found Eliot Spencer's fingerprints all over the kitchen today?"
El looked up from her laptop, where she had ostensibly been working but had in actual fact been in the middle of composing an e-mail to Molly about how, in detail, she planned to kill both of their brothers in a glorious and bloody act of revenge for all the crap they gave her, even though she had just found Neal again. It involved wood-chippers and alkaline baths and she refused to feel guilty. Neither of them got stress – they just gave it to others.
"And?" she replied, because she knew exactly how Peter's mind worked, and she was pretty sure that knowing the reason at this point in the case would be far worse for his blood pressure than not knowing.
"El," Peter said gently, "We know Eliot Spencer was there. If he threatened you, if he hurt you, you need to tell me. He's dangerous, and we need to stop him before he does whatever it is he's been employed to do."
El seriously debated crowning her husband with a skillet when he voiced his opinion, but chose instead to quietly point out that everyone in the kitchen had been a perfectly capable cook and that she could vouch for all their abilities, unless they had been on the wait staff, in which case she couldn't speak for their culinary abilities but could say that without doubt they had been a good staff and she would likely hire them again if she needed them. She could see him working through that in his head, fitting 'cook' into the 'Hitter' folder he had in his head for Eliot.
She let it sink in as she plotted ways to get out of answering the question when abruptly Peter's cell phone rang. He frowned at it but answered.
When Hughes had called him to tell him that Nathan Ford, former insurance investigator for IYS and current "Person of Interest" in the eyes of the FBI had shown up at their office, Peter had been surprised.
When Hughes had told him that Ford was claiming that he and his team could offer them up Petrelli, gift-wrapped and with incontrovertible proof of wrong-doing, provided certain conditions were met, he was sceptical. Petrelli was Mobbed up, and no matter how good Ford and his crew were, they still had to factor in Parker and Spencer in Petrelli's employ.
When he arrived however, certain questions received answers they weren't expecting. Eliot Spencer stood at Nate Ford's back, keeping a lazy but practiced eye on the FBI agents who looked a little unsure how they should react to the elephant in the middle of the room.
He caught Peter's eye and smirked wickedly in his direction, before leaning closer to Ford and muttering something. As he straightened, Ford stood and turned and... Well, he looked much better than Peter had expected. Rumour had had him on a permanent bender, looking for salvation in the bottom of the nearest bottle. And this man wasn't.
He leaned closer to Hughes. "It's Ford," he confirmed. "And that's Eliot Spencer with him. Not that we can prove it at the moment," he added sotto voce with a nod in the direction of one of the lifeless monitors around the office.
"Can we take this as official confirmation that you're working with Alec Hardison?" Peter asked as he stepped closer to Ford, who smirked and stuck out an arm to stop Spencer stepping forward.
"Take it as you like, Agent Burke," Ford said amicably. "We're simply here as concerned citizens. Certain information has fallen into our hands regarding the subject of one of your investigations, and we had wondered if you were the right people to hand it to."
Neither man blinked as Peter tried to figure out Ford's angle and Ford apparently tried to figure out how Peter was going to react. "Information?" Peter asked eventually, and Ford nodded.
"Information. For instance, the locations of a number of sweat-shops with illegal workers."
They stared at each other some more before Ford took the envelope Spencer proffered and handed it to Peter. "Consider them the down-payment, as well as one of the conditions. When you take Petrelli down, you make sure you take the sweat-shops down at the same time. We've made a promise to the sister of two of the kids stuck in one of them."
Hughes looks at Peter – he knew Ford better than Hughes ever had. What did he think? Would it be making a deal with the devil? Peter shrugged in response and demanded to know what their plan would be.
Ford smirked at him and pointed out that as an FBI agent Peter was better off not knowing so that the Bureau could say with all honesty that a concerned citizen dropped off the ledgers, thus negating the need to turn the art forger into an informant.
"Wait," Hughes snapped. "How did you know about that? No-one outside this department knew about that."
Nate smirks and stood, handing him a phone-number. "Get in touch when you've thought about it," he told them
Eliot also smirked and wordlessly handed him a recipe, apparently for the chocolate thing that El had been eating earlier, before he followed Nate to the elevators and left Peter gaping after him in slightly stunned surprise. He couldn't prove anything. Spencer knew he couldn't prove anything beyond the fact that he had been in the kitchen and – according to all evidence – cooking something at El's behest. It was exactly the sort of thing that Neal would have done.
He narrowed his eyes. It was time to have a word with their consultant about hitters who went thump in the night. Well, whenever they damn well pleased, apparently, given his propensity for getting into and out of places surprisingly quietly.
Neal refused to tell him anything about either Spencer or the reason he had been talking to El so much, beyond "Well, we swap tips about how to get you wearing better ties. C'mon, Peter, some of them are truly refugees from the 1970s!"
Peter moved to block his exit. "Alright then, smart guy, how about how you got away from Spencer without any form of physical damage?"
Neal looked offended. "He could have torn my suit pretty badly!" he protested, gesturing at the slight, practically invisible creases in his lapels which nonetheless seemed to be what Neal would consider a fate worse than death. Peter would have bet money that Neal would attempt to fix the slight wrinkling before he returned to June's later that evening.
Peter gives up in frustration and moved away from the door, catching a glimpse of Mozzie as Neal made his way out.
Mozzie kept an eye on the suit until the door had swung shut, then said, "Hey, heard big brother was in town? Do I need to hide again or has he finally gotten over the... you know?"
Neal shook his head. "No," he said, "But Peter seems to be convinced that one or both of us is flirting with Elizabeth. He pulled phone records!" he added in a scandalised tone.
Moz laughed at that. "Maybe you should persuade her to tell him about your family. Well, most of your family. Not the bits that Eliot and Molly picked up, you know. Or the other bit about Eliot."
"That... might work. Hopefully she'll do it while Eliot and I are outside the blast radius." He pondered. No, this was El. She'd probably wait until everyone was in the same room and Molly was knocking on the door.
"Nah," Mozzie reassured him, "The Suit wouldn't do that. You can't help who your family are. No more than El or Molly can. Is Molly doing the usual thanksgiving dinner? Is El taking Peter this year? Please tell me she's not so that Eliot can make dessert?"
Neal stared at him, a slight smirk gracing his lips. "You're terrified of the guy but you don't want to miss dinner with him in case he makes dessert?" he asked, keeping a mostly straight face by an immense act of will. "You are a strange, strange man Moz. Don't ever change."
Some days, Eliot really wished that he could gather henchmen together in some sort of union and damn well teach them that, if someone was standing at the front desk and shouting about a delivery that he was supposed to be making, and if that person then sheepishly said, "Oops, my bad. This is for next door," they should not just let them walk out. They should take them down, hard, lock the damn building down and then – and only then – examine the package the shouting had been about.
Seriously. It was less than impressive that Petrelli's 'cream of the crop' had utterly failed at all those basic steps in their thought processes. They were supposed to be defending their boss.
He wasn't impressed.
Parker could have carried the books out through the lobby for all the attention security was paying to proceedings after Sophie's little display at reception, all relayed to him by Hardison as Eliot waits for Schevchenko to show up at Nate's character's home to 'value' his painting.
Fed up of New York and its interfering FBI agents, Eliot went for expedience over subtlety and brought Schevchenko down with a fist applied surgically to his jaw. Nate raised a brow at him as they duct taped the man's wrists and ankles together and loaded him into his own SUV.
Jones stared at the blonde woman who had stalked across the lobby to meet him. She looked just like every other FBI agent and lawyer using the building and really, he was having trouble associating her with Parker-the-art-thief in his head. She thrust a stack of brown ledgers into his hands, all carefully sealed in plastic bags, a scowl on her face.
"Don't you dare mess this up," she growled at him, and damn, the girl had apparently spent waaay too much time around Spencer, because the last time he saw that expression had been on the hitter's mug shot.
She turned and stalked away, heading for a dark SUV down the street.
"Should we apprehend?" Lauren asked from her vantage point on a bench in the middle of the plaza.
Peter, from his seat a little further down, sighed. "Much as I hate to say it, they delivered. Let them go." He raised his radio again. "They did deliver right, Jones?"
"Yeah," Jones told them. "I'm on my way to the forensic accountants right now."
Wrapping up, Peter and Lauren made their way back to the office, waving at Jones as he made his way past them to forensics.
"Peter?" El said, voice slightly hesitant as she hovered in his office doorway. "I have something I need to tell you."
He closes his eyes briefly before turning to her, automatically shuffling the papers on his desk into neat piles which hid all pertinent information. This is it, he thought to himself. This is where she was going to tell him she was leaving him for a criminal. The least he could do for her was to hear her out, he supposed.
"Peter," she began again, the verbal flailing so unlike El that he almost smiled. "I..." She paused, apparently mentally regrouping, before restarting, "Did I ever tell you about my family?" she asked.
And, what? That was a non-sequitur if ever he heard one, and he frowned. "Some," he responded, startled into speech, and she nodded.
"You met my mom and my step-dad at the wedding," she told him. "And my half-sister."
Peter nodded. "Molly," he agreed. "Her husband's in the air force?"
"Doug. Yes. But anyway," she told him, gesturing a little wildly, "I have two brothers too."
Peter feels his face go completely blank as abruptly all the dots connect. "Shit." It's out before he can stop it.
And apparently El didn't hear him because she kept right on with, "Well, a half brother and a step-brother really. Eliot's Molly's half brother though, but we used to joke that our kids would need a flow-chart to keep the cousins straight. And Neal's the freak of the family," she added. "No idea how one of us ended up that tall."
Neal was the only bit of this that actually made sense. What he didn't understand – didn't want to understand – was how his beautiful, non-violent, elegant wife was somehow related to the long-haired maniac who had, at their previous meeting, thought nothing of hospitalising three mafia thugs and head-butting their boss into a delirious, if mostly cooperative, concussion simply for shorting his payment, and who had had former insurance investigator Nate Ford smiling like a proud papa. How had El, El of all people, ended up with two master criminals as brothers?
Something else he didn't want to think about since the incarnation of Nate Ford he had known was the least likely person to fall into step with the band of crooks Ford had apparently had assembled for him since the last time they had met professionally.
June stared at the smiling man standing on her doorstep, and narrowed her eyes.
"Young man," she told him, "While you may have been friends with my late husband, that does not give you permission to appear at my front door unannounced and apparently in the middle of some sort of business. You could at least have taken him around to the back door."
Sheepishly, Eliot nodded, "Yes, ma'm, but I was hoping Neal was home. See, this guy is someone his friend Peter is looking for and we had an arrangement where we'd find him and deliver him."
June shifted her gaze to the forger Eliot was holding upright. "Very well. Bring him in. I'll shout Neal. You really should come back when you aren't busy. I miss our chess games."
Unable to think of a reason to refuse, Eliot nodded. "Of course. I'll bring my team along. I'm sure they'd be delighted to meet you."
With the forger safely ensconced in a chair, Eliot and June settled down to start a chess game, but had made only a few moves by the time they heard Neal's quick, light footsteps on the stairs. He paused in surprise as he reached the bottom before carefully asking, "Eliot?"
Eliot waved him to silence while he contemplated his next move then turned to the younger man. "Well?" he asked, nodding at Schevchenko, who had decided that discretion was the better part of valour and had settled into his chair to watch the chess game.
Neal stared at the guy, then turned back to Eliot. "Yeah, I'll talk to him," he agreed. "Did you let Peter know he's here?"
Eliot shook his head. "Not yet. The team's letting him know now."
Eliot startled as his phone buzzed in his pocket and yanked it out, stepping further away from Neal and June.
El. Why was El calling him now?
He answered and was immediately bombarded by words. "So, I told Peter the main bit," she informed him. "You get to answer his questions. And don't you dare let Neal wriggle out of it. And if you leave town before tomorrow morning, I will hunt you down, buster. And Parker will help me."
Faced with no other choice, Eliot meekly agreed. Why did the women in his family always manage to do that?
"And your team is invited to lunch." She allowed him a few moments to protest before she continued.
"I know you Eliot," El told him. "You can't help adopting people. I want to meet these guys. Particularly if Nathan Ford really is your father. I want to let him know what's going to happen to him if he screws up again."
Finally, she allowed him to add more to the conversation than startled splutters. "You know Peter's not going to like that, right?" he pointed out dryly. "And neither's Nate."
"You're my brother Eliot," she told him urgently. "My brother. I get to do this for you."
He lowered his head. "Step-brother," he reminded her pointedly, and she snorted disparagingly, showing exactly what she thought of that.
"Since when has that mattered?" she told him forcefully. "But remind Neal not to mention our dad in front of Peter."
With a sigh, Eliot glanced up to make sure that Neal was still arguing on the phone with Peter over whatever it was Peter was demanding he do, or not do as the case may be, before he carefully turned his back on the younger man and said in a low voice, "Neal doesn't know what happened to your dad. He had a grade three concussion and he still thinks the guy just ran off."
El is silent for a long moment before saying "Good. One of us should be innocent of that one." She hesitated then said "See you tomorrow," and rung off.
"You delivered the ledgers?" Eliot asked as he climbed into the back of the SUV Sophie had parked close to the front of June's house and received agreement from both women.
The sat in silence until they were about halfway back before Parker turned in her seat to stare at him.
She grinned at him. "El texted me."
Sophie, glancing in her rear-view mirror, frowned at his somewhat stunned expression. "Parker, who's El?"
"Eliot's sister. She invited us to lunch tomorrow. Eliot's cooking."
"She texted you?"
Eliot and Sophie had spoken at the same moment and cast a brief glance at each other before Sophie protested, "Parker, how did she get your number?"
Parker gave a disparaging snort. "She's Eliot's sister. She's not turned him in yet. Besides, she's nice. She gave me chocolate cake."
"Hold on a second. Eliot, I thought your sister was called Molly. Isn't she married to some guy in the military?"
Before Eliot could speak up, Parker grinned. "He's got another sister. And Neal Caffrey is his little brother." She had been a little worried about Neal when she had heard the full story, but she had liked Maggie and El seemed to be a lot like her, so maybe Neal would be okay for Eliot to have as a brother. "She's nice. She's got the FBI under her thumb."
Eliot scowled at her. It had little effect on the back of her head. "Stop helping, Parker," he growled, just so that she was left in no doubt about his opinions on the subject. And he really didn't want to think exactly how someone he counted as a younger sibling was keeping her FBI husband under her thumb.
Sophie parked up outside their safe-house as Parker took in Eliot's face and mimed zipping her mouth shut. Turning, she leaned over the seats to look at Eliot properly. "So I'm officially intrigued. How are you, our favourite flannel wearing hitter, related to the suave and charming Neal Caffrey? Or, indeed, the elegant Elizabeth Burke?"
Eliot scowled at her. "I can be charming."
"Yes," Sophie agreed diplomatically, "But I've never known Neal to get out of a tight spot by headbutting someone into unconsciousness." She added, in a reasonable, thoughtful tone, "And I notice that you didn't even try for elegant."
"That was once!" He chose to ignore the second dig in favour of the first.
Sophie raised a brow.
"OK, twice. Maybe three times." He scowled again, realising he had gotten sidetracked from the original conversation, despite it not being one he had particularly wanted to have. Still, if he told them more now there would be less for them to keep bugging him about later and they could ask Neal and El for details tomorrow rather than him if he managed to deflect enough tonight. Thank God they'd never meet Molly. She'd break out the pictures. All the pictures. "And he's my step-brother. Molly's half brother, not mine."
"And your step-dad?"
"Not around any more." He told them flatly with a forbidding expression before getting out of the car and stalking into the building. He hoped he'd moved quickly enough to forestall closer questioning about his family situation. They all looked at each other in surprise before getting out to hurry after him.
Nate waited until the rest of the team had headed out to whatever they had planned to do in town that evening. It had taken some persuasion, but Teofila had agreed to meet with an Agent Ruiz of organised crime to hand over the statements of workers in the sweatshops and addresses of those self same operations. Eliot had arranged to be there to translate for her – and hadn't Ruiz's expression been a picture. Burke had smirked in a 'feel my pain' kind of way but had manfully restrained himself from commenting, before he had turned to Nate and demanded, "Parker? You have Parker?"
"Is there anyone better?" He had asked, and Burke hadn't known how much like Nate he was as he replied, "No, but Parker is insane."
"Should I point out that your wife is the one that invited her to lunch tomorrow?"
Burke had paled slightly at that, but covered well by turning and shouting at a member of his team. Nate had taken that as his cue to vacate and had sidled unnoticed to the elevator.
Smirking at the memory, he turned to Eliot and asked, "Well?" Eliot was busy at the fridge. He had been busy at the suite's fridge since before the rest of the team had left, apparently in an effort to restrain the urge to be busy at the cutlery drawer, such as it was. Nate had a feeling that wouldn't have mattered much.
"You butt out unless you're going to help," Eliot tells him pointedly, gesturing with the wilting lettuce he had come up with. Were they really that bad about eating properly? Did they really all subsist on snacks and take-out?
"Worried about tomorrow?"
Eliot shrugged. "Not sat down to talk to Neal since his father... died. Might turn up one or two skeletons that I've been lugging round too long. Not sure I want 'em turning up. Been buried too long." He stalked away from the kitchenette in apparent disgust at its lack of supplies and flopped onto the couch.
Nate dropped into the chair near it. "You wanna tell me about it?"
Eliot snorted in something that was almost amusement and shook his head. "What's that, Dr Ford, do a practice run on you, you mean? No thanks Nate. Not exactly my cup of tea if you've noticed? Besides, it's not something I want to have to rehash more times than I have to."
Nate had to admit that yeah, he might just possibly have noticed that Eliot would rather have teeth pulled without anaesthesia than talk about mushy stuff. He fixed the younger man with a long look. "You're ok though?" he asked seriously.
"Will be," he replied and Nate nodded, gesturing at Eliot's bottle of beer.
"Refill?" he asked.
Eliot studied Nate for a long moment before shrugging. "I'll get 'em." There was no point, after all, in giving the group's resident alcoholic the chance to add anything else to what was actually a pretty weak beer.
El flung open the door pretty much as Eliot knocked, a move which almost resulted in a black eye but luckily El had been moving too fast.
Eliot had stood there sceptically and blinked suspiciously. "You been sampling Peter's evidence?" he asked warily.
She had giggled nervously, then clamped a hand over her mouth when she realised that it sounded mildly hysterical. "Sorry. Sorry. Too much coffee. Peter's gone to kidnap Neal."
"Still not a morning person then?" Eliot asked. He smirked as he stepped into the house, and she really wished he hadn't felt the need to catalogue all the exits like that.
"When he wants to be," she replied instead of mentioning it. "Usually when he's driving Peter up the wall. They'll be here in a bit. Let me show you round the kitchen."
Peter glared at Eliot, who was perched somewhat tentatively on the couch in the living room, looking for all the world like, quite honestly, he would rather be anywhere else than in the living room of an FBI agent. He had the good grace to smile sheepishly at Peter and shrug as El returned with a tray of mugs, handing some odd-smelling tea to the man before shooting Peter a narrow-eyed glare as he heaped sugar into his coffee.
What? It was a bad day. He was having to deal with a wanted felon who wasn't on parole in his house. A wanted felon who killed people, and who he currently had no evidence against. He deserved sugar. Lots of sugar. He needed the energy.
Particularly given the way Neal and Satch had just clattered in from the back yard and practically bounced onto the couch next to Eliot. Who winced, quickly putting his tea down.
Maybe the man wasn't so bad after all.
Not that Peter would admit that. Or rescue him from the bundle of enthusiasm that was Neal with a target. He had caused even Satch to turn traitor after all.
El smiled at him primly over the rim of her coffee mug before turning to her step-brother and asking, "So you found your father then?"
And, what? Father?
Eliot snorted. "Yeah, not so much. Already knew where he was. Was offered a job by a guy called Dubenich-"
"Wait, Victor Dubenich?" Peter demanded abruptly as his brain made connections. "Victor Dubenich who is currently serving time for breaking the terms of his government contracts and industrial espionage?"
The man practically pouted, proving beyond a doubt that he had spent time with Neal during their formative years – the expressions were practically identical. "He did try to kill us to hide the evidence," he pointed out, tone adding a 'so there' to the end of the statement.
Neal grinned and jostled Eliot with his shoulder. "So that's why you didn't just hop a plane to Europe," he teased. "Stayed around to help dad out."
Eliot jostled back, not entirely in jest, and Neal subsided slightly, turning to make a fuss of Satch instead, as El gestured for Eliot to continue with the tale. "Like I said, got offered a job. Pay was good, was between other stuff at the time so I took it." He sipped his tea, nodding his thanks to El, before continuing, "Just happened that Nate was hired as the brains of the operation."
Nate Ford. Why did this always come back to Nate Ford? "How the hell did Dubenich manage that? Didn't he go off the rails after his kid... uh, Sam, wasn't it? After Sam died?" Peter asked.
Shrugging, Eliot looked down at the mug he was now clasping between both hands. "That was how Dubenich got him on board. Told him the guys who wouldn't pay out for Sam's treatment were the insurers for the original owners of the information and turned him loose." He looked back at Peter, eyes slightly narrowed as though expecting him to comment.
Peter shrugged in reply. "Jim Sterling told me the story," he clarified. "Not like I'm shocked. Blackpoole was an ass of the highest order."
Eliot snorted. "So's Sterling," he grumbled. "But at least he was on Nate's side."
Peter looked hard at Eliot for a long moment, then at El. Something was kicking at his brain for attention and he was pretty sure he wasn't going to like it when he finally figured out what it was. Blackpoole. No, not him. Had to be something about Nate. This was all circling about Nate Ford like water round an open plughole.
His gaze snapped back to Spencer almost of its own volition. "Nate Ford is your father?" he demanded, then winced as El snapped a stern, "Peter!" and Neal started to applaud ironically. "Damn," he muttered mutinously drawing a blacker look from El that promised many, many tears before bedtime, "It's like Star Wars in reverse."
Eliot snorted in amusement and the tension abruptly drained from the room as Neal said, "Wait, didn't you swear you'd never watch that 'piece of sci-fi crap'?"
Peter gaped, mouth opening and closing soundlessly for a moment before he sagged back into his chair. "Alright," he said. I'm listening. Tell me about your family."
Neal sat next to Eliot, letting most of the conversation wash over him. He was going over what El and Eliot had been telling Peter about how they had ended up split up and something wasn't adding up.
It wasn't what they had said – he already knew about the hospitalisation, even if he didn't remember most of it – but more what they hadn't. Particularly on the subject of why the police hadn't bothered with contact numbers in case of emergency.
He licked his lips, testing out the idea in his own head first. "Why?" he asked abruptly. He hadn't meant to say that. Had he?
The other three turned to look at him.
"Why what," Peter asked, apparently slightly at a loss.
Neal stared at him before deciding to throw caution to the wind. "Why didn't you tell me my father was dead?"
Eliot, who had to have been the one to arrange things for the police, given that El had survived Peter running her background before he asked her out, fixed him with a level stare. "We did," he said quietly. "The first time you woke up."
El moved over to sit next to him so that he was bookended on the sofa by his siblings. "You didn't react well," she told him gently, reaching for his hands. "It made your blood pressure spike and the doctor said it was probably for the best that we didn't tell you."
"Yeah," Eliot agreed. "You had a grade three concussion. We were telling you stuff and it wasn't registering. And after that it was easier not to bring it up."
"You mean," Neal snapped, "That if you didn't tell me, it wouldn't jog any memories for me and I couldn't contradict anything you'd already told the police?"
Peter sat in slightly stunned amazement as Neal snatched his hands away from El and stalked across the room. He knew that El would be quite capable of plotting someone's death and subsequently getting away with the crime. He just didn't know that she technically had. Neal reached for the door handle, a move which snapped Peter out of his surprised inaction.
"I never thought I would be telling you this," he almost shouted, "But Neal, sit your ass down and listen to the guy who killed your father. He did save your life."
Neal abruptly came to a halt, blinking in surprise at the unexpected assault.
"Thanks," Eliot said. "I think. El, make him stop helping."
He got up and marched Neal back to the sofa, standing over him and glaring until he subsided with a somewhat mutinous expression. Determined not to let this drop without a fight – not a literal one, obviously. He did know what Eliot did for a living – Neal settled in to listen to why they had felt justified in keeping this from him for so long.
As they spoke, he felt his objections drain away as he stared at them. He was white lipped as he attempted to process what they were telling him and it was only when they gave up on explanations and stared at him in silence that he realised they needed him to say something.
It took him a couple of goes to get his tongue to cooperate. "He. He tried to kill me and you didn't tell me?" he asked eventually. He looked between El and Eliot, and then at Peter. "I... They didn't ever tell me?"
Tactfully, El retreated to the kitchen and dragged Eliot with her, not saying "it was for your own good" by a great act of will. She opened the fridge, pulling out the ingredients for chocolate parfait for Eliot and gathered the rest of the ingredients together so that they could start to get lunch together. It left Peter to talk Neal down from where he had wound himself up into a state during the story Eliot told him with interjections from El.
As Eliot was breaking chocolate into a bowl, El decided it was the perfect time to ambush him. "So," she asked, "What's it like? It must be weird working for your father."
Eliot snorted. "Since when have our family ever gone for anything but the weird way to do things?" he asked. El smirked, unable to disagree for all she and Molly's tried to pretend to normalcy. He shrugged. It wasn't his fault that his siblings' father had been utterly criminally insane and that they hadn't had time to call the cops on him before things escalated.
El fixed him with a long look. "They let you off," she said eventually. "You were in there way longer than either me or Molly. They knew. You lied to them?"
Eliot gestured for her to quiet down. Her voice had risen in both volume and pitch, and there was no need for this part to be overheard. Neal was having enough trouble processing as it was. "No," he told her. "No, it was telling them the truth that got them to let me out. They knew – GSR on my coat. I washed my hands and forgot my damn coat. So I told them everything. Right from the start, from when I first met him. How me'n Molly ran with Neal but he got sick and we had to leave him at the hospital, and how he got taken into care because he wouldn't tell them about his mom in case your dad got him again."
She subsided slightly, making tea for both of them while Eliot finished breaking the chocolate and made a concerted start on lunch for eight. "I guess this is what Neal's feeling like right now, huh?" she said after a while before she moved to stand next to him and handed him a mug. "And what I need to ask you now is how are you feeling now that you've let your huge secret go?"
He took the mug from her and took a swig before he turned to her and shrugged. "Just one of many," he told her. "Let you know how it goes."
El frowned at him but let it go – she knew that a lot of what Eliot did for a living he wasn't allowed to talk about, even though she probably shouldn't. She'd managed to hide most of the off-colour postcards he had sent via the US military from Peter and passed one or two off as being from an old friend from college who had joined up.
"You better hurry making that chocolate concoction, buster!" she cajoled instead, jostling his shoulder and making him smirk and jostle back, resulting in a battle with tea-towel whips that had Peter and Neal hurrying in to see who was dying. The resultant unholy alliance caused Peter to rethink the wisdom of allowing the siblings to meet in more than pairs as he fled first the kitchen and then, snatching up Satch's lead, the house.
As he hurries out of the house, he practically tripped over Parker and Hardison who were sat on his doorstep. He checked his watch in bewilderment before asking cautiously, "Aren't you a little early?"
"Nah, man," Hardison told him, "We're right on time to make sure you haven't tried to run Eliot in."
Parker agreed with a serious nod and a scowl on her face. "Yeah, you better not be calling for back-up," she chimed in, as she looked him over suspiciously. She even studied Satch like he might have some sort of radio on him.
There was a reason he had vowed never to chase after Parker again unless Hughes made it a direct order.
Peter raised his brows at the mismatched pair in surprise. "Please tell me you two aren't part of that family as well," he demanded. It wasn't his best opening but he supposed that he could plead stress: he had just discovered that his brother-in-law was a man on the Most Wanted list that he wasn't allowed to arrest.
"Eliot's ours," Parker told him, face set stubbornly. "You can't have him."
"Yeah," Hardison agreed. "What she said."
Footsteps behind him alerted him to the arrival of the one member of the team he hadn't managed to spot at the gala. "Oh, do stop picking on the FBI agent," she told the pair. "I'm fairly sure he doesn't want to keep Eliot. He already has Neal. Two of them would be far too much trouble."
Peter raised a brow at her. "And what's your name today, Clara? Elaine? Marie?"
Sophie smiled at him sweetly and offered her hand for him to shake. "Call me Sophie," she introduced herself. "As we're all here, shall we go in?"
Peter gestured them inside and shut the door behind them before slumping down on the top step that Parker and Hardison had just vacated. When did his life get so complicated? He was pretty sure that it was all Neal's fault somehow. It wasn't this complicated before he met Neal, of that he was pretty damn certain. He smiled somewhat maliciously as there was a surprised yelp that told him Hardison had just encountered a tea towel.
He was still sitting there when Nate arrived.
Nate narrowed his eyes at the FBI agent sat on the top step of his own house, expression thunderous. Through the open window he heard a crash and two unfamiliar voices laughing as Parker barked out her usual, "Hah!" and Eliot protested loudly - and slightly breathlessly – that he was going to put someone across his knee and he didn't particularly mind who.
He should have known.
He handed Burke the coffee cup that contained coffee and sat next to him despite the man's dark expression turning in his direction.
"I did try to warn you, you know," he pointed out conversationally.
Burke glanced at his cup, then at Nate's and very deliberately switched the two before taking a long drink.
Behind them, the door crashed open and Parker and Neal bolted out, both dodging neatly around the two older men and down the street as El and Sophie made an heroic effort to hold Eliot back from attempted homicide, at least while they were in Peter's neighborhood and Hardison promised to do evil things to the pair with a computer if Eliot promised not to get blood on the floor.
Peter appreciated that. Maybe not the suggestion of hacking, but the restraint: that was something he could learn to like.
Peter arrived into work on Monday morning surprised to be informed that he had a visitor waiting for him in his office.
Jones looked a little confused and for some reason had Curtis Hagen's details up on his screen as he got off the phone from, presumably, checking that the man was still in jail and awaiting trial. Peter frowned at him in question. Just another odd addition to an extremely odd weekend.
His questions were answered as he entered his office to find someone sat in his chair.
"So," Sterling asked as he turned the chair to face Peter, "When were you going to let us know that Nate Ford and his merry little band of thieves had hit town?" He paused infinitesimally. "James Sterling, Interpol. We've been tracking that team for a while."
Peter snorted. "I know who you are, Jim," he said. And then he simply could not resist asking the oddest question Sterling has ever been asked. "Tell me, Mr Sterling," he said carefully, "Is there any chance that you have a brother?"