"Love me when I deserve it least, as that is when I'll need it most."

~Anon~

(Chapter 1)

He was tired of being treated like he was nothing more than a tool to be used till his time was over. Peter wasn't mean to him so much as he had become more firm with him and less lenient after the Fowler incident. Hughes and Peter were walking on eggshells with the higher ups after what had happened and Neal was the main reason for it. Peter knew there was someone behind the scenes trying to get at the con artist, they had discussed it in the past but after everything that had happened, Neal had less protection regardless of what Peter or Hughes thought. Someone wanted him out in the open and they wanted to destroy any chance he had to be free.

Neal sighed, getting up after a moment and making his way over to what passed as a coffee maker. He poured himself a cup of mud and took it back to his desk where a large pile of case files awaited him. He had barely glanced through a third of the stack but he was familiar enough with the idea of mortgage fraud he didn't have to read much to get the gist of them. They were doing a clean out of cases and their department was busy going through the unsolved cases mostly dealing with mortgage fraud. He sighed, writing down more notes on another boring file and then taking a sip and crinkling his nose at the coffee. He was not a happy camper. He gazed over at Peter's office and saw the agent drinking the same crappy coffee and moving between the files and PC like a pro. He wondered how his friend managed such boring tasks without complaining.

Another hour crept by and it was barely 1 pm. Neal felt his mind turning to the same consistency as the coffee and just as brackish. He had begun to fold origami shapes after a bit when he reached the halfway point. He wasn't so much bored with the task, that was a given, but today was a special day and he had asked for it off but Peter had said no. Obviously only Neal remembered what today was and it had been hard enough on him to get up and think about the significance of the date without having to go to work. He fumed silently, eyes staring deeply into the ceiling when he got bored enough. Someone coughed.

"Neal..."

He turned to see Peter looking down at him. He must have been distracted if he didn't hear or notice the agent come down to scold him for not working. He sat up straight again, a deep frown on his face as he looked up at the older man. Peter looked about to say something but Neal beat him to it, knowing full well what he was going to say.

"I know I know... get to work. You can go back to your files, Peter." Neal spoke testily at his friend who seemed about to say something again then stopped with an almost hurt expression before he nodded and left towards the stacks of files and cases. Neal didn't like fighting with Peter but they'd been on eggshells since his last big screw up. If only he could go back and turn things around, he'd do it. Or would he? Neal gave a sigh and started working on the nearest file, his eyes blurring as he rubbed the sleepiness from them.

()()()

It was around 2 pm that Peter told Neal he could go home early. The consultant had been more than surprised, knowing that they were far from done with the work at hand but there had been no arguing with Peter when he said to go. Neal nodded, putting away the files he had finished and the handing the unfinished stack which had shrunk considerably to the agent. Peter barely said good-bye to him as he headed back up to his office and started on the small stack he'd acquired from Neal. He watched his friend from below before finally pulling closed his jacket and heading out.

When Neal reached the lobby and exited the building into the coolness of the afternoon air he felt a chill not just from the weather or season but the almost dismissive attitude Peter seemed to have had today. They had all been on eggshells but this had been different. There had been no acknowledgment of him as if he wasn't too important. He sighed thinking maybe he was seeing more into than he was but another part of him, a quiet part that had been piping in lately seemed to think otherwise. He pushed it aside but that voice like Mozzie's own paranoia had a way of making him turn and listen.

No... he was just being stupid!

Neal sighed, walking further into the throng of people but feeling a sudden panic overcome him that made him feel he had to get away if only for a minute. He needed to get out of this crowd. Neal started to run and finally ducked into a nearby alleyway and crouched behind a dumpster breathing hard. His breath came out in tiny puffs of steam as he tried to calm and keep his sanity. He had to especially today.

It took a few minutes to get himself calm again but soon as he did he regretted his current position and choice to hide. His nose was cold and frozen but it didn't keep him from smelling the nasty aroma wafting from the dumpster he hid behind. He crinkled his nose taking a gloved hand to push himself up as he used the dumpster for leverage. It shifted slightly and he noticed a kind of glint just underneath along the edge of the dumpster bottom. There was something there! He stood but then promptly bent over and pulled the object from beneath the small space under the metal box. He took out his handkerchief reluctantly and wiped at the object's surface, eyes widening in disbelief at the find.

"It can't be..." He was just staring at it as the item glittered back at him enticingly. Neal gazed around but nobody was around so what was the harm in taking it. He could quietly advertise the item was found or have Mozzie ask around but if nothing came back couldn't he technically keep this? A broad smile crossed his face as he pocketed the item, wrapping it gently in his handkerchief and walking down the opposite side of the alley towards the street.

()()()

When 5 PM finally rolled around, Peter couldn't be happier. He had been so into the groove with doing the case files he felt he had forgotten something. He stood, stretched getting all the kinks out and grabbed his jacket and coat putting them both on quickly. He turned off his PC and turned off his light as he started out of the office and waved to Hughes who was as usual on the phone busy. His boss nodded at him before turning to continue his call. Peter was glad to be going home, happily running down the steps and looking over to where his partner normally was. He stopped midway and slowly made his way down to the bottom and blinked. Neal was gone? It took him a moment then he remembered.

I sent him home.

Peter sighed, giving a quick wave to Jones and Diana on the way out as he pulled the glass doors open and walked up to the elevator and pushed the button. Neal had left a few hours ago and probably best he did. Peter had noticed the young man had been working diligently but something was bugging him so he had decided to let him off early. Maybe tomorrow he would act less antsy... he hoped. The elevator dinged and Peter stepped inside as the doors opened and pushed the Lobby button, doors closing with a quiet whoosh.

In the lobby it was pretty quiet, the holidays coming up and everyone was either upstairs working quickly to get home, do shopping or get ready for something or already out doing one of the latter items. He knew Jones had a date tonight so he was working quickly and Diana was expecting Christie's parents later that week. Everyone was stressed or busy with anticipation. He smiled as he thought of Elizabeth. She'd had her plate full most of the month but this weekend she was free and since it was Thursday they were going to start the celebrating early by going out to their favorite place, maybe walk in the park and go for a drive to see the lights if possible.

He looked up as he exited the building, walked around to the FBI garage and approached his car. He was happy if nothing else and now that he thought about it...

Dammit!

Peter paused halfway opening his door and rubbed at his face with his free hand. Now he remembered what was so significant about today. At least he had given Caffrey a few hours off but... would the younger man appreciate it considering he had asked for the day off? Peter sighed and felt like a first class heel. How could he have forgotten? He sighed again getting into the car and closing the door. Maybe Neal was at June's and he could call him or stop by briefly. Apologize? Yeah... take him to dinner with... No maybe not that but he had to do something. He had to make this right.

()()()

Neal made it to June's and found Mozzie waiting for him when he went upstairs. His friend had gotten his message and now he could tell him if what he suspected was true. Mozz was already refilling a glass with more wine when he turned at the sound of the opening door and paused like a deer in headlights.

"Please, continue Mozz. I know you come for my company and not my impressive wine collection." He smirked teasingly his friend nodding as he continued to pour wine into the glass and grabbed up another.

"Well you can't help having access to some great wines staying here at June's. Speaking of which, you have to try this one. She just brought it up a few minutes ago. It's superb!" He was already pouring the second glass with some, corking the bottle as Neal closed the door and went to join him out on the terrace. It was just barely 3 PM now but he knew Peter was probably still burning that candle in the office. He'd spent the last hour or so walking the park and thinking about things before he'd finally called Mozz about his find and gotten over the worse of his disappointment over the day. If only he could just redo it...

"Earth to Caffrey. Communique from Mozz..." His friend was waving at him before he blinked and looked at Mozz somewhat irritatedly.

"Sorry, just... Never mind." He got up and walked to the edge of the terrace and leaned on the edge looking over with a far away glance. Footsteps neared and he felt Mozzie near him.

"I know what day it is. Suit made you work I heard. I told you they were heartless..." Mozzie paused when Neal turned and glared at him holding up a hand in surrender.

"I'm just saying..." He didn't finish as he took a sip of his wine and Neal kept looking over the edge at the city. She had been here, Kate and he missed her every day since. Nobody understood not even Mozzie. He had teased him with Peter that day they'd met each other. He sighed wanting to jump off the wall but not feeling like straining himself by having to climb it. Instead he turned and went back inside with little word to his friend but hearing Mozzie's steps following on the Spanish tile till the sound changed to a softer step on the wooden boards of the floor within his apartment. He plopped down unhappily on the couch and leaned back eyes shut. He could still go visit her grave if he wanted but since he was off work Peter had more than likely already changed his radius back to the 2 miles.

"Neal, I can take flowers if you want." Mozz sounded sincere enough or maybe the wine was mellowing him out. Neal shook his head as he sat up straight and rose again. He walked over to his jacket he had hung by the door and reached inside the pocket till he pulled out he item he had found. Mozzie was watching him as he walked back and dropped the item into the other man's lap.

"Can you tell me what that is?" Neal sat back down waiting as his friend blinked, put down his wine glass and started to unwrap the item he'd found from the handkerchief. As the item was revealed it seemed to glitter even more brightly as Mozzie held it up with two fingers as if it were on fire and dangled it in his grasp. He gave a small gasp of amazement.

"Neal... where in the world did you find this?" His friend sounded truly impressed. Neal felt a small smile curve his lips.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you. So it is what I think it is?" Neal was hopeful as he watched the impressed look of his friend, glasses reflecting the shiny gold surface back at him as he held it in the same manner and kept twirling it round to see all sides.

"Just tell me. I just can't... these are so hard to find and this one looks about as near mint as you're going to get. Neal... this is an incredible find." Mozzie just kept admiring the item more and more squinting at something on the back of it as he moved it closer to dangle right over his nose. Neal sighed.

"I found it in an alleyway under a dumpster." He saw Mozzie look at him disbelievingly before turning his attention as if he'd said nothing back to the item in question.

"It's only... a... ma... matter of... time." He blinked as did Neal looking to see what he was reading. Mozzie pointed with his free hand.

"Someone had this inscribed. Neal we have to get rid of this. No way the suit will believe anything you say about this. This watch is so incredibly rare I don't see why it would have been under a dumpster." Mozzie still sounded like he thought Neal was lying but obviously he didn't care one way or another. He was staring at the shiny yet rare timepiece with a fascinated look. Neal nodded.

"That's why I want to see if I can find out who it belongs to. Put out a few feelers. Someone may have stolen it and dumped it there when they couldn't sell it off. Can you put the word out there... well at least enough to figure out who it belongs to?" Neal gazed at his friend who just stared at him curiously.

"You want to FIND the owners? Neal... this is a rare piece of art. It's one of five made. It's..." He was looking for a way to describe it when Neal piped in, holding up one hand.

"I know what IT is. I just want to be sure I go through the legal channels to find the owners. If they don't show up well... I might just keep it." He was smiling a bit now, Mozzie nearly dropping the watch but placing it on the coffee table in the cloth.

"Neal, they won't let you keep something like this once the Suits find out about it. Especially Peter. You know he'll always suspect you stole it and so will every other suit. Nobody just finds something like this on the street especially a 'former' con man." He got up and walked over to the sink and washed his hands before walking back. Mozzie spoke as he wiped at his hands.

"You have to get rid of this Neal. It's just going to bring you bad luck. Trust me. There's some bad hoodoo going on if you're just finding rare items like this floating around. Some one's setting you up. I'm just saying..." Mozz had seen the look on Neal's face to shut up but stayed standing, his eyes moving down to the item on the table as if it might bite him.

"Just put out feelers, Mozz. Please? If nobody claims it, I'll figure something out. Thanks." He smiled at the con and Mozzie just shrugged heading for the door.

"Keep that out of sight and I'll do what I can."

()()()

Neal sat on the sofa a little while after Mozzie left. Finally he rose and walked over to the wardrobe and pulled out a small tackle box and walked back to the sofa. He spread out the handkerchief, now dirty with the equally dirty watch on it. It had been a bit filthy when he found it probably why Mozz had been so reluctant to hold it with more than two fingers. Neal opened up the tackle box and pulled out two fine cotton gloves and pulled them over his fingers before taking out a small bottle marked "jewelry cleaner" and some q-tips. Cracking his fingers like a pianist, he took the dirty timepiece into one hand and started to delicately clean it.

It took all of thirty minutes before he realized the item was about as sparkling and shiny as if it had just been made. He had cleaned every last inch of the watch between the face and body, each link of the band which had been the dirtiest part and around each delicate knob. During his process he noticed things about the watch that made him wonder about the owner. The face had some extra gems inserted around a small animated image on the top right quarter. It was one of those watches that changed the image from day to night as time progressed. At the moment it was currently set between the two, some odd gems placed above and below the small window. Neal wanted so much to pry the top off and look at the gems. They appeared to be pyrite but he couldn't be for certain unless he opened it up which he wasn't sure he should do.

Neal finally gave in and opened up the back of the watch finding a bit of rust inside which surprised him. He took out another small bottle and started to clean the little bit of corrosion which was minimal to the gears and clockwork till they shone every bit as well as the day they were made. He smiled at his handiwork, forgetting about looking at the gems as he closed the back up.

It's only a matter of time.

What kind of engraving was that? Who placed such a time worn saying onto a rare and beautiful timepiece such as this? He tried to figure what they could have meant when he decided to wind it up. Wouldn't hurt to see if it worked. He'd been so busy worrying about the find and excited about its discovery he hadn't even thought to see if it worked. Now he could see it in action!

It only took a moment as he started to wind the watch with gently motions. He had already removed the white gloves, now dirty and was handling the item as gently as he could. After about a minute of winding he paused and held the device to his ear.

Nothing.

He frowned trying to wind it yet again but only for thirty seconds this time around. These pieces were very delicate and if you over wound one you could easily break it which is maybe why the owner had dumped it if it had indeed been legally dumped. Perhaps they'd had it in a safe because it was broken and someone stole it. The thief could have figured out it was broken after the fact then dumped it in their haste to be rid of the object. Sounds like the likely story seeing most two-bit thieves were far from patient when it came to handling broken valuables. He finished winding for the second time and listened.

Nothing.

Neal sighed, staring at the object and realizing how bad his day truly was if he not only missed out on going to visit with Kate but found a remarkably rare timepiece only for it to be broken. Just his luck. He dropped it down with frustration onto the coffee table and made his way with his glass and Mozzie's to the sink. He washed and replaced Mozz's in the cabinet but refilled his own as he stood there in the small kitchenette and stared across at the watch. The gods in their infinite humor were definitely playing with him now to drop such a golden item into his hands only to have it be less than worthy of the time he took to clean it. He started to feel the unsung hero of sorts of at least somewhat in the vein of Job if anything but he was less than happy about it. His faith was far from revitalized by such acts as this and it only served to remind him how unreliable the world and people truly were.

There was a knock at the door. Neal perked up, walking quietly towards the door and listening. He heard it again and paused midway.

"Neal? It's Peter. Can I come in?"

Neal blinked his gaze narrowing a bit as he thought if he really wanted to talk to the agent today. He finally sighed and called out.

"Just a minute!"

Neal quickly hid the watch and tools back in the wardrobe while he placed his glass on the coffee table. He mussed his hair a bit to look like he had been asleep or something before walking over to the door and unlocking it. He opened it but a few inches, blocking the view with his own body just out of habit. He saw Peter standing there an uncharacteristically chagrined look on his face.

"Peter. What brings you to my neck of the woods?" He tried to sound a bit smart alec as he usually did but Peter just ignored it, his brown eyes looking apologetic.

"Just thought I'd... well... Are you going to let me in?" He sounded a bit flustered if not frustrated. Neal blinked but finally moved aside and let the agent in the room. Peter seemed to be nervous about something if not slightly upset which was not like the agent at all. Neal was in no mood to really know what was going on, his own mood soured by the events of the day and the significance of missing out on it. He closed the door, leaning against it when Peter paused to look at him.

"Elizabeth had a late client meeting so our date night is out but... I was wondering if you wanted to go out and get a drink or something?" Peter seemed sincere enough but the fact he was always the back up plan when Peter's went south irked him today with all the bad he'd already experienced. He was of a mind to tell the agent something nasty when another knock came to the door. Neal put on his facade and called out.

"Who is it?" He waited a moment before June's lilting voice called out. He opened the door and smiled at his landlady. She smiled warmly at him as she peered between the two men.

"I'm not interrupting anything am I? I just wanted to know if you were going to be in for dinner. Maggie is making some rosemary chicken. I have to go out to one of my meetings for a bit but I just thought I'd ask." She stood beside him in the doorway, Neal uncertain what to do between June's kindness and Peter's presence that irked him to no end at the moment.

"I'm not certain yet, June but thank you." He gave her a little squeeze when she hugged him and left, her face looking between Peter and Neal before she disappeared out of sight. Neal started to close the door then stopped looking at Peter with a not so happy expression.

"Was there something you needed Peter because if not, I think I'm going to turn in early." He suddenly had a terrible headache and all he wanted to do was change and get into bed. He saw Peter shake his head then walk over and put a hand on his arm.

"Look... I just wanted to apologize for today." He almost sounded sincere Neal thought but his mood was pretty sour and he wasn't sure he wanted to forgive him yet. He shrugged at the agent.

"Is that all?" His tone was less than friendly, Peter giving him a glance of disbelief before nodding and grabbing the knob from him.

"Just know that I'm sorry, Neal. See you tomorrow..." Peter's voice trailed off as he exited the room and left. Neal didn't bother to watch, closing the door immediately and leaning against it as he slid down to the floor and sat there with his back leaning on the frame.

Damn him!

Peter always did this to him and then expected him to just roll over and take it. Yes he made a mistake with Fowler but was he going to have to pay for it the rest of his life? He cursed, hitting the door frame with his hand as he felt warm tears roll down his cheeks. He wouldn't forgive Peter for this. Never! Maybe... maybe he should have never taken this offer and gone back to prison. He would have been safe seeing he hadn't taken the deal yet. Four years. Maybe it would have been better there. No Peter... nobody to worry about or act like they worry about him. Kate would be alive...

He had barely thought that when he heard a loud squeal of brakes and something like a thud echo up from the street below. Neal was on his feet in a second as he ran to the edge of the terrace and gazed down. On the street below he could see several vehicles stopped but in the middle of the street laying still was a figure. He couldn't quite identify them but suddenly his heart leaped into his throat as he recognized the beige overcoat.

No... it couldn't... be...

Neal was downstairs before he could even realized he was there, out the door and by the agent's side. Peter didn't move, his eyes staring skyward, dull and glassy brown. Neal was crying but now he felt something wrench inside of him as he held the agent's bloodied hand in his.

"Peter..." He was pushed aside as paramedics arrived and started to check the agent's vitals and injuries. It was barely enough time but they placed sheet over the agent as Neal crouched there looking dumbfounded and transfixed by the scene.

He couldn't... Peter wasn't... Not today...

"Sir... Are you a friend or family member. Sir? I think he's in shock. Sir... can you tell us about the victim... sir?"

Neal didn't hear the voices of the paramedics and police talking to him as he sat there by the sheet covered form of his partner and zoned out. Peter was gone. Peter...

Everything spun around him and suddenly he passed out.

oOoOoOo

Author's Note: I like doing different versions of the same idea. Get a kind of overall view of something. Very few of my fan fics are connected to one another. This is sort of in the vein of the last story only I added a bit of a twist borrowed from a Dresden File's fan fic I did a while back. It won't be obvious in this first chapter what's up but in the next one it will be. Thanks for reading!