Two Sugars, No Pain
Summary: Alex, Fowler, Kate, the music box and a secret code. Things come to a head and Mozzie ends up in the crosshairs. My take on the sequel to episode 2x09 'Point Blank'. PG-13, Gen.
Rating: PG-13 for language
Characters/Pairings: Neal, Mozzie, Peter/Elizabeth
Warning: Spoilers for anything up to and including 2x09 "Point Blank"
Author's Note: This story picks up where episode 2x09 (Point Blank) left off, assuming that Mozzie actually did get shot and wounded. Since I'm a spoilerphobe, I've stayed away from promos and other spoilers as best as I could, but I have more than a strong suspicion that my story isn't in line with what's to come in episodes 2x10 and onwards. For the sake of storytelling, though, let's just assume this is how things might go, okay?
I like angsty stuff, so beware. I'm going to go all kinds of McPunisher on Neal (but hopefully still keep it true to the show).
Just in case you don't remember, the beginning of the very first scene of this fanfic is from episode "Point Blank".
One last thing about something some of the White Collar fan fiction writers have discussed over on LiveJournal. Apparently, some people are unhappy about how most post 'Point Blank' stories peg Neal as the bad guy, and how Peter needs to punish him for it (by making him push paper for weeks, by putting him under house arrest, you name it). There's been protests about how Peter doesn't even consider Neal's side, and that maybe what Neal did was justified enough for Peter not to punish Neal for it. Or that, while wrong and illegal, Peter should at least understand why Neal did it, and cut him some slack. Well, I must admit that I'm more on Peter's than Neal's side here. That's reflected in my story, and I stand by it, though of course I also understand what drove Neal to act the way he did. I just don't see how Peter, being an FBI agent and having a strong moral sense of what's right and what's wrong, could condone what Neal did. And since Peter has a certain control over Neal's life, does Neal really have many options?
Thank you once again to the wonderful rabidchild67 for beta-reading.
Disclaimer: White Collar, its characters and its settings belong to Jeff Eastin and USA Network. And, guys? Your characters are not only welcome, they're wonderful. I'm just borrowing, I promise.
"You wanna explain the guns?" There was an almost amused sparkle underneath the surprise in Neal's eyes.
Peter and Diana were now holstering their weapons after bursting unannounced into Neal's apartment. Diana looked at Neal who was stepping closer. "Someone killed Akiro Tanaka."
Peter stepped in. "We thought they were headed here next."
"Why?" Neal asked.
"Surveillance tape at the antique shop was paused on your image."
Neal's eyes went dark with sudden foreboding, his forehead creased in a frown. "I wasn't there alone."
Peter at first didn't understand. When he did, his eyes widened. "Mozzie?"
"Yeah," Neal said, his voice almost a whisper. His hand was already in his pocket to find his phone. Three rings—four. Nothing. "Come on, Moz, pick up!" he hissed. He hung up and looked at Peter. "Voice mail."
"How do we find him?" Peter asked, anxiously looking at Neal's apartment door. He was antsy to get going, knowing that Neal's friend was in danger.
"Can you track his phone?"
"We can try," Peter said.
Neal was fully aware that the last thing Mozzie would want was for Neal to give the Feds his phone number, but this was also an emergency.
"Neal, can you stop pacing, please?" Peter chastised, sitting at his office desk with the phone to his ear, having been put on hold.
Things had been happening so fast, he'd barely had time to think about the bigger picture. For all intents and purposes, Neal should not be walking around a free man—or as free a man as he could be with an anklet that would keep him within his predetermined 2-mile radius.
He had stolen a gun—and used it. As if that wasn't enough, he'd used it on Fowler. Thankfully, he'd not fired it at Fowler directly, otherwise there would be no doubt as to whether Neal belonged back in prison.
Peter's eyes followed Neal as he was wearing out the carpet in front of his desk. Beneath the carefully constructed mask, when subjected to closer scrutiny, he read the anxiety and worry. Neal would be more of a liability if cut loose without supervision right now, so what choice did he have than to keep him close, where he could keep an eye on him?
However, in Peter's mind, there was no question that he and Neal would have to have an honest talk about what happened today, and there would also have to be consequences. But there was a time and place for that, and it wasn't now.
Peter's attention was drawn back to his telephone conversation. He listened intently for a moment, then muttered a thank you before he hung up.
"Argch," he exclaimed loudly so that Neal could hear, his face contorting in frustration. "Damn the man. He's just too good."
Normally, Neal would have smiled a knowingly smug smile and inwardly commended his friend. Now a worried frown was etched into his features.
He didn't have to ask before Peter went on, "It figures. His phone can't be tracked. We tried everything."
"Peter, we need to find him." The urgency in Neal's voice was becoming more and more pronounced with every passing minute.
"Yeah, I know. You're his friend, you know his hideouts. Shouldn't we start looking there?"
In the car, Neal tried calling Mozzie's phone again. His heart skipped a beat when someone picked up, but the voice wasn't familiar. "Hello?"
"Who is this?" Neal asked.
"My name is Melissa Calahan, I'm a nurse at Lenox Hill Hospital. Who am I speaking to?"
It didn't take Neal long to find out what had happened, or at least an abbreviated version of it. Mozzie had been admitted to the hospital with a gunshot wound to the chest. Peter was already turning the Taurus around, unmindful of any speed limits.
Hospital waiting rooms were a place of desperation. It was as if the stale afterthought of all the good and bad news that had been delivered in them continually lingered in the air. It was quiet despite the handful of people occupying the uninviting, sterile confines, the oppression of anxiety shushing all voices.
This was where they had directed Peter and Neal after their arrival at the hospital. Mozzie's life was hanging by a thread. They were now performing emergency surgery.
Neal had paced the room for a while. Now he was sitting on one of the light blue, comfortless plastic chairs. Peter eyed him carefully from where he was sitting. The young man had withdrawn from the world around him, his face a blank mask, but Peter was all too aware of the turmoil that was raging underneath. The uncertainty was the worst. He knew, because he still remembered.
Different time, different hospital, but they had rushed Elizabeth to the emergency room one night, years ago, when she had collapsed after a bad bout of belly cramps. It had turned out to be a cyst in her uterus that they had to operate on. Those had been difficult times for the couple, with the uncertainty still hanging in the air of whether they would ever be able to conceive children.
Elizabeth. He hadn't even told her about Mozzie yet. He took his phone out of his jacket and got up, saying to Neal, "I'll be right back."
Neal barely acknowledged him.
No! No, this couldn't be. This wasn't fair.
Neal gripped the handrail beneath the ICU window that looked into the room they had taken Mozzie to after the surgery. His knuckles were white, his face wearing a desperate expression. Mozzie was his friend. His best friend. And now he was lying in this bed, barely more than a shell of himself, fighting the battle for his life.
Somewhere at the back of his mind, the thought scraped at his consciousness that this was his fault. Like an overturned can of crimson paint, it spread quickly. If he hadn't gotten Mozzie involved in the hunt for Kate's killer... If he hadn't asked him to decipher the recording of the music box's encoded tune... If he'd just stayed away from Fowler... There were so many ifs.
A few feet away, keeping his distance, Peter stood and watched his friend. Friends—plural. Even though Mozzie was such a strange, paranoid guy, he had slowly become more than just an acquaintance. He quietly stepped closer and stood next to Neal.
The faint but regular beeps of the medical equipment in the adjacent rooms mingled with the heavy silence that hung in the air for half a minute. Irrefutable reminders of life's ephemerality. Peter reached out to put a comforting hand on Neal's shoulder. For a second, he could feel the young man succumb, his shoulders sagging. Then the walls came up.
"Neal," Peter said in a soft voice. The silent tears on the young man's cheeks were telltale signs of a vulnerability not many people were allowed to see. It drove home what Peter realized must be gnawing at Neal's insides. "You know you can't blame yourself for this."
He let out a hollow laugh. "Can't I?"
Couldn't he? Peter wasn't sure. This was such a mess, but right here, right now was not the place or time to discuss it. "Mozzie's a tough guy. He'll make it."
"Yeah," Neal said just above a whisper, his voice devoid of conviction.
They stood in silence until Peter gently took Neal's upper arm to guide him outside. "Come on, we should leave."
"There is nothing you can do for him right now. The hospital has our telephone numbers. They'll call if there's any news. You see that guy over there?" Peter pointed at a man in a black suit sitting in a chair at the nurse's station, well within sight of Mozzie's room.
"That's Agent Lang. We'll have someone stationed here at all times. Mozzie is safe."
Neal looked through the window for a long moment, then relented. "Can you take me home?"
The drive was heavy with unspoken words and accusations. Both of them were still trying to figure out what the hell had happened, how it could have come to this.
Peter took a right at the next block. Neal's eyes seemed glued to the side window, but Peter knew he wasn't registering what was going on outside of it.
When they stopped and Peter turned off the car, Neal suddenly realized where they were. "This isn't my home."
"No, it's not," Peter just said.
"Peter," Neal said in a resigned tone. "I just wanna go home, okay?"
"I don't think that'd be a very good idea."
"Oh no? And why not?" he raised his voice. "Are you afraid I'm gonna cut my anklet and run? Tell me, where do I have left to go? My girlfriend's dead, my best friend's as good as—"
"No!" Peter interjected sharply. "You don't get to yell at me. If anyone should be yelling, it'd be me. You're in a world of trouble, so consider this a kind of peace offering."
Neal stayed quiet and just turned his head away. Peter sighed a heavy sigh. This would be awkward. He got out of the car, Neal following him at a safe distance.
Walking up the front stairs, Peter got out the keys and opened the door for Neal to step in. Elizabeth was waiting in the living room, stepping closer at the two of them entering, unsure what to do.
Peter walked over to her and she drew him into a hug. "How is Mozzie?" she asked.
"They say the surgery went well, but he's still in critical condition."
"Oh, honey," she sighed, the concern clearly audible in her voice. Her eyes carefully searched the room for Neal, who had walked over to the window behind the couch that overlooked the street, his back now turned towards the two of them.
Her husband's gentle grip on her upper arm stopped her from walking over to him.
She looked at Peter questioningly, who silently shook his head. She understood. It meant, 'Give him some space.'
As more of a distraction than anything, she went to the coffee machine in the kitchen and started to put on a pot. When she felt Peter's arms closing around her from behind, she leaned back against his warm chest. "And how is Neal?"
"In shock. Angry. Confused."
Her brow creased in worry. "What can I do?"
There was a brief silence—then an unsure, "I don't know, El. You're the expert on this kind of thing."
Neal was such a hard person to read, and she hated that. Her motherly instinct just wanted to envelop him in a hug and tell him that everything was going to be fine. But would it be? She sensed there was something else going on here that eluded her for the moment, so she opted for caution.
Sitting down at the small counter that they had equipped with two barstools, she watched the coffee maker spring to life. "So what exactly is Neal's involvement in all this? He looks like he's beating himself up over something, like it should be him in that hospital bed."
Peter was silent for a long moment, which prompted her to look him in the eyes. "You don't think he should, do you?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I mean, I'm still not sure what the hell happened. One moment I'm investigating home burglaries, the next I find myself sitting opposite Fowler in my office, actually feeling sorry for the guy."
"Fowler? How does he fit into all of this?"
Peter sighed. This was going to be a long story. He described the events of the day to El's utter shock and amazement, finishing with how Mozzie had been found with a bullet wound to the chest in Central Park.
"So why Mozzie?" Elizabeth wondered.
"He figured it out. He figured out the music box code."
Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. "Then isn't he—?"
"Still in danger? Yeah, we have agents at the hospital round the clock."
She put her chin on her propped up elbow. "And Neal blames himself for getting Mozzie involved." It wasn't a question.
"I don't know. Probably." She fingered one of the napkins on the counter. "It's just not fair, you know? He's already lost the woman he loved." She looked at her husband, studied the expression on his face. "You're worried about him too, aren't you?"
Peter drew in a breath and held it for a second. "If Mozzie dies... I don't know if he's gonna come back from that. He'd have nothing to lose, nothing to stop him. He'd cut and run."
"You could stop him."
"I'm not so sure."
It was then that the coffee machine's sputtering indicated that the brewing process had finished. Elizabeth got up and poured a mug, walking with it into the living room. Neal was still standing in the same spot, his stare blank, his mind miles away.
She sidled up to him, holding the coffee mug out to him. "I know it's not Italian roast..." she said with a sad smile.
"Thanks," he muttered.
What a stupid question. Of course he wasn't okay.
His gaze on her was surprisingly sober. "Yeah, I'm fine."
'Liar,' she thought. But it was his game. His little dance, his invisible shield that only few people could penetrate. "Is there anything I can do?"
"No," he said, maybe a little too fast. "No. This," he lifted the mug, "is just fine."
They both knew it wasn't what she had meant, but she understood that he didn't want to talk. "Just find me if you need anything, okay?"
"Yeah," he just said.
Her eyes brimmed with worry as she walked away. But with Neal, they needed to wait for him to come to them.
The Burke home had been quiet. Too quiet. Peter sat at the dining table, his finger absent-mindedly drumming on the wooden surface. Elizabeth was preparing dinner in the kitchen. Neal had quietly asked whether he could take Satchmo for a walk. Peter hadn't liked the idea, but Elizabeth's pleading but firm look had made him let go of the veto he'd had on his lips.
A storm was brewing inside him, and Peter wasn't sure when it would hit. The more he thought about it, the more uneasy it made him. After today's events, he couldn't just pat Neal on the back and send him on his merry way. Mozzie or no Mozzie, the fact that Neal had yet again truncated their ribbon of carefully established trust was undeniable. The bitter aftertaste it left in Peter's mouth couldn't be washed down that easily.
Peter knew the time would come soon where Neal would ask him to look into who had shot Moz. He also knew he wasn't ready to tell him about Julian Larssen. Mozzie's plight only fueled his desire for vengeance, and giving Neal another target would only pave the way to the kind of disaster he had tried and almost failed to avert earlier today.
Peter put his head in his hands on his propped up elbows. He was still sitting that way when Elizabeth joined him from the kitchen. She stood behind him, resting her hands softly on his shoulders. Rubbing them a few times, she kissed him on the top of his head before she sat down opposite him.
"Dinner should be ready in about fifteen minutes."
He grunted approval.
She knew him way too well, his mind was far away from the idea of taking pleasure in ingesting food. "Penny for your thoughts," she carefully prodded.
He breathed out a heavy sigh. "This is such a mess. I really don't know what's going to happen."
"Yeah. He stole a gun, and he was this close to shooting Fowler with it. He had Alex steal the music box to—I don't know—get some sort of target off her back. Either of those is grounds enough to put him back in prison."
"Do you want to put him back in prison?"
He sighed again. "I honestly don't know. Tell me, how can I let him get away with it? But what really gets me is the fact that he keeps doing it, without even a second thought. I mean, dammit, El, doesn't any of this mean anything to him? Is it so easy for him to throw all this away in the blink of an eye?"
"You think he betrayed you."
"No, I know he betrayed me. He used me to get what he wanted. How can I—"
It was then that the door to the living room opened and Satchmo waddled in, followed by Neal. Peter was just getting started, and now was as good a time as any to get it out in the open. He stood up from his chair, turning towards Neal.
Elizabeth was by Peter's side in two quick steps. She took him by the arm, holding him back, telling him, "Not now."
He glowered at her, but didn't make another move in Neal's direction.
Neal stopped by the couch, the awkwardness of the moment not lost on him. "Not now what?"
Peter took a step back. "Let me check the casserole," he mumbled and vanished into the kitchen.
Neal looked at Elizabeth questioningly. "What was that all about?"
"You would do well not to ask that question."
"Is he mad at me?"
"Neal," she said with a half-sigh. "You stole the music box. You stole a gun and held Fowler at gunpoint, and then left Peter to clean up the mess. What do you think?"
"I guess I had it coming."
"Yeah, you did," she said with more harshness to her voice than she intended.
"How much trouble am I in?"
"I wish I could say. He hasn't arrested you yet, if that's any indication." She met his steel-blue eyes. "Just promise me one thing."
He hesitated a moment, then nodded.
"Don't do anything to make this worse. My husband is a very forgiving man, but even he has his limits. Do you think you can do that?"
"Yeah," he agreed. Elizabeth took a last look into his eyes, but it was near impossible to tell if he truly meant it.
The next morning, the bed in the guest room where Neal, after careful persuasion on Elizabeth's part, had slept was empty. The extra blanket was folded neatly at the foot of the bed, the pillows and covers arranged as if untouched. Neal's typical MO: Leave no trace.
Peter went downstairs, the dark green tie still hanging loosely around his neck. As he was tying it in front of the living room mirror, he heard Elizabeth coming down the stairs. "Neal's gone?" she asked.
"Looks like it."
"Do you know where he is?"
He turned around to look at her. "El, he's not a kid and I'm not his father."
She held up her hands in mock defense, giving him a poignant look.
He softened just a little. "I'm gonna check his GPS tracking data later. But I think we can both guess where he is."
"That's my best guess."
Something caught her eye on the dining table. She walked over and picked it up. It was an origami tulip, made from a piece of old newspaper. "What's this?"
Peter smiled a knowing smile. "It's the Caffrey way of saying thank you."
Neal had been at the hospital, that much was true. He was grateful that it was just barely within his radius. However, he didn't linger. There was no news to speak of. Mozzie was still unconscious, hooked up to a ventilator that was breathing for him. The doctors didn't want to commit to any prognoses. The message Neal took home was that it looked rather bleak, but there was still hope that it could turn out for the best.
They had let him into Mozzie's room for a few minutes. He stood by the bed without saying anything. What was there to say?
Leaving the sterile surroundings behind, he didn't want to dwell on any of it right now. There would be enough opportunity for that later, and he knew the black hole of what-ifs and worst case scenarios would find him eventually and suck him in, spiral him into the dark place.
There was only one thing he could think of that might make a difference. He needed to find out what Moz had deciphered. Where would he have hidden it?
He needed whatever Mozzie had with him when he had... when they had shot him. But his clothes and belongings were now sealed in an evidence bag at the NYPD crime lab, waiting to be processed. Neal wondered if there was a way of getting to them before the CSIs or FBI would.
In the White Collar field office, things felt much too ordinary. Time didn't stop and didn't care about personal crises. Peter was reminded of that when he walked in and up the stairs to his office. Neal was a no-show, but that didn't surprise Peter. It worried him, of course. The worry was accompanied by a nagging, uneasy feeling that he should not have let Neal roam free.
Diana and Clinton wanted to know about Mozzie. Diana even asked if Neal was okay. It made things easier, knowing that someone else cared. Hughes didn't really know the whole story, about the incident with Fowler, about the stolen music box. And Peter wanted to keep it that way—for now.
Peter sat down at his desk and opened the file lying in front of him. He studied the photocopied page at the top. The scribbled notes and music didn't make any more sense to him than the math formula at the bottom. Something equaled 0.70010. What could that number possibly mean?
Beneath the sheet with the cryptic clues was the profile of Julian Larssen. Served in the military most of his life. US Special Forces Security Specialist. Navy Seal. Got an honorable discharge after fifteen years of service. The file or anything else he'd been able to pull on Larssen didn't explain as to why.
It was as if Larssen had vanished off the face of the earth since he'd been released from the military. No credit card purchases, no car, phone or address registered in the system. The guy was an enigma.
Fowler hadn't been able to provide any more clues either. He was now in FBI custody. Someone higher up than one Agent Burke would decide his fate.
Peter tapped the printout of Larssen's picture. "Who are you?" he murmured to himself. Neither the picture nor anyone else was there to provide him with an answer.
Nothing. There was nothing. Neal went over Mozzie's belongings one more time, the formerly sealed plastic evidence bag carelessly tossed aside on the floor. He flinched every time he looked at the beige shirt with the bullet hole in it. Large crimson stains marked the flow patterns of Mozzie's blood. Point blank. They had shot his friend point blank, in plain sight. Only a very brazen or very desperate man would do such a thing.
Neal wondered if Peter had other evidence, other clues. Even though he knew it was wrong and went against everything that the man had ever done for him, he didn't want Peter involved. Whether it was to protect him or out of a misguided desire to keep Peter out of things that were personal to him, he couldn't tell.
But doing this on his own wasn't getting him anywhere. It pained him to admit it, but he'd need Peter's help on this. The conversation with Elizabeth from last night replayed in his head. This would be difficult. Every fiber of his being wanted to avoid an encounter with Peter because he knew that there'd be accusations and recriminations that he didn't have the strength to bear up against.
Peter would also learn soon enough of Neal's latest escapade at the crime lab. It would fuel his anger in ways Neal didn't want to imagine. Yes, of course he felt regret at breaking the half-hearted promise he'd given Elizabeth the night before. Neither she nor Peter deserved his betrayal, but this wasn't a question of deserts. Moz didn't deserve getting shot either. Some things just were more important than others.
"What do you mean, you can't find it?" Peter bellowed into the receiver. "Look again! And let me know the second you find it!"
He hung up, staring at the phone in frustration. How could they lose evidence that was attached to an attempted murder case? This was the kind of thing that, if it ended up in the media, would put law enforcement in a bad light. It was also the kind of thing that could decide whether they could prosecute Mozzie's assassin or not—provided they'd find him.
Then it dawned on him, and he chastised himself about not realizing it sooner. The evidence hadn't been lost, it had been taken. Three guesses by whom. Bringing up Neal's tracking data, sure enough, there it was.
He slammed his palm down on the table. "Goddammit, Neal!"
This put him into an impossible position. Again. Everything inside of him wanted to go and arrest him right there on the spot, putting him back in jail where he could not do more harm—to himself and the people around him. Where he might just learn a lesson. Still, there was something that stopped him, and he knew it wasn't common sense.
Calling Neal's cell, there was still only the voice mailbox. He'd heard the message one too many times today. "Neal, I'm not sure what you're up to, but you better stop it right now. To say you are in trouble doesn't quite cover it. You bring me the evidence you stole, or I swear to God, I am going to put you back behind bars!" He left it at that.
Latent anger was stirring in his gut as Peter raised his hand to knock on Neal's apartment door. There had been no callbacks from Neal, nor had he shown up at the Bureau. It was easy enough for Peter to figure out Neal was still at home. Unless he had tampered with his anklet again. After recent events, Peter wouldn't put it past him.
The knock reverberated in the hallway and Peter wasn't sure what to expect. Neal was unpredictable at the best of times. Paired with a wish for revenge not only for Kate's death but also for Mozzie's near-death made him a volatile hazard not only to himself.
He knocked again. "Neal, open up. We need to talk."
The expected smug smile greeted him on the young man's face when he did open the door. "I hate it when you say that, Peter."
"Neal, I'm serious."
The smile gave way to a more sincere expression. "What did I do now?"
The feigned ignorance drove Peter right up the wall. "You stole evidence from the crime lab."
"What evidence are we talking about?"
Peter raised his voice. "You know damn well what evidence I'm talking about! Have you listened to your voice messages at all?"
Neal walked to the table and picked up his cell. "Oops, look at that. Battery died."
"How convenient. Do you wanna know what you'll hear when you get to your voicemail? This is what you're gonna hear: I'm gonna throw your sorry ass back in prison if you don't get me that evidence back!"
"Relax, Peter, this is gonna give you a heart attack if you're not careful."
"Spare me the sarcasm! When is it gonna get into your skull that you can't keep bullshitting me whenever you want? I have tolerated your little games time and again, but I'm gonna draw a line this time."
"Fine. Now what? Are you gonna arrest me? Because if you don't, I have somewhere to be."
Neal turned towards the door.
"Sit. I'm not done. The Silver Burglar. Our FBI file. You set that up too, didn't you?"
"Dammit, Neal, you just can't stop doing it, can you?" Drawing in a long breath, Peter tried to quell his rising anger. "Why does it always have to be two steps forward and one step back with you? Just when I think I can trust you, you pull another stupid stunt."
Neal shrugged noncommittally. "I guess it's just what I do."
"No," Peter turned around and pointed a finger at Neal. "No, this is not what you do. Over the last year, I've seen you become more than that, better than that." He shook his head. "But this is... Whenever it comes to Kate and the boneheaded idea that vengeance is going to get you closure or satisfaction, or whatever it is that you're seeking, it's like the part of your brain that controls common sense goes completely blank. I can't keep doing this, Neal. I can't help you. Not if you shut me out."
The playful tone had all but vanished from Neal's voice. "I didn't shut you out."
"Oh no? And what was this? You know, at first I didn't want to tell you about Fowler and the explosives. But I took a leap of faith. And what did I get in return? You steal a gun and damn near shoot Fowler with it. You break into the crime lab to steal evidence. You forge an FBI file. You send Alex to steal the music box. From Diana. From a colleague you work with every day. What do you think that does to the idea of us having you as a member of our team?"
"Oh, come on, Peter, I was never a member of your team. I was the guy who tagged along whenever it was convenient for you. I was the guy who you used as a tool to up your recovery rate. I was the guy you called for help when you hit a roadblock. That's why it says 'Consultant' on my ID and not 'Agent'."
"I think you're conveniently forgetting the fact that you're a convicted felon with three more years to serve."
"Yeah," Neal retorted sarcastically. "Thanks for reminding me. Because this," he lifted his trouser leg to reveal the anklet, "doesn't really do the trick."
Peter took a step closer, looking down at Neal in the chair in front of him. "I want to trust you, I really do. But how can I when you keep going behind my back?"
Neal looked past Peter, at the book shelf on the opposite wall. He hated this. He was good at arguing, good at winning people over with a charming, innocent smile, but not when it came to Peter Burke. The man would get to him every time and just hit that sore spot with a poison tipped arrow.
Neal's voice was low and composed. "It's not like I haven't tried. But you keep shooting me down. Whenever I come to you with something that's important to me, you give me a slap on the wrist and send me away. What do you think that does to the idea of me wanting to confide in you?"
Peter met Neal's clear, blue eyes. "So instead you call on your go-to guy and go against everything I've ever taught you. Very smart thinking."
"Who died and made you king?"
"Oh, come on, Neal! I work for the FBI. There is no way I can condone your little schemes and plots and con games. You know that!"
"Look at you. Peter Burke, upstanding citizen of high moral value. All hail the king."
Peter's stance straightened, his eyes dark. "I think this conversation is over."
He walked out the door without looking back. It fell into its lock with a soft click that betrayed the FBI agent's harsh final words.
Inside, Neal took the object closest to him—which turned out to be a glass bottle with Italian mineral water—and threw it against the nearest wall with as much force as he could muster. It shattered into pieces and the remains of the water spilled onto the floor in small, bubbly puddles.
It took him longer than expected to regret the impulse. And he found the notion frightening because he had never pictured himself as a person prone to impulsive acts of violence, even those aimed at inanimate objects.
In the car, Peter grabbed the steering wheel and tried to control his breathing. He hated himself for letting his anger get the better of him. When he had calmed down enough for his hands to stop shaking, he took out his phone.
"Jones? Send someone to pick up Caffrey. Or better even, do it yourself. I want him at the Bureau. You're not to let him out of your sight, do you understand?"