Tag to 2x14 Payback

The arraignment was uneventful; or so Peter told Neal, who refused to set foot in the court room.

"It's boring," the con man lamented. The agent didn't push the issue, knowing how well the consultant's last court appearance had gone. He instead left Neal to his own devices for the half hour or so the proceedings took, admonishing him to stay close by and not to do anything stupid.

The younger man was sitting on the courthouse steps with a camera in his hands when Peter walked outside. Neal didn't even turn around until he felt the hand on his shoulder.

"Careful, you'll mess up my shot," he warned playfully.

"Photography?" the agent asked.

"Trying out a new medium," Neal confirmed. "Expanding my horizons as an artist, you know."

Peter rolled his eyes. "It's a lot harder to forge photographs, Neal," he replied cautiously.

"That's the idea," the consultant answered, lowering the camera from his eyes and turning to look up at his handler with a sly grin. "I thought you wanted me to turn honest."

"I do, I do," the older man insisted. "I just didn't expect you to listen to me."

"How much trouble did you really think I could get into this close to a courthouse?" Neal questioned.

Peter opened his mouth to speak, one eyebrow raised curiously. "Don't answer that," the younger man interjected. "The lady at the rental place was very nice… let me have it overnight," he continued, practically beaming at his own abilities.

"Unbelievable," the agent muttered. "You've found a legal way to swindle." Neal's smile widened until the New York sunshine glinted off of it. The pair set off down the street to where the Taurus was parked before ultimately returning to the office.

Hughes caught their attention when they walked in, summoning them both with the double finger point. Peter immediately glanced at his consultant, who shrugged innocently to indicate he wasn't aware of anything he had done.

"Close the door, please," Hughes asked when they stepped inside his office, "and have a seat." He cleared his throat. "I spoke with George Friedman this morning," he began.

"Lyle's lawyer," Peter replied.

"Yes," his boss confirmed. "He wants a deal. No prison time in exchange for paying the full ten thousand dollar fine and twelve months' probation."

"Ten thousand dollars is nothing to a guy like him," Neal responded quickly.

"I agree, Caffrey, but all we have is the testimony of two witnesses," Hughes continued. "In this audio-visual age, the jury will need more convincing to convict Lyle. I'm afraid this deal is the best option."

"Will the charges on Macmillan and Walters stick?" Peter asked.

"We'll see when it gets to the judge," Hughes answered, dismissing them. The pair had almost left the room when he added, "Oh, and Caffrey? This came for you." He handed Neal an envelope before sitting back at his desk to resume work.

"What's that?" Peter asked his partner, who was holding the envelope up to the fluorescent light to attempt to see through it.

"It's from the doctor's office," the con man answered quietly. The agent could see the anxiety slowly settling over him.

"Okay, it's probably just the results from your lab work," he said calmly, guiding the younger man into his office and into a chair. "We'll open it together."

Neal shook his head and extended the envelope to Peter with a trembling hand. "You do it," he requested.

The older man took the envelope and Neal dropped his arm into his lap. He jumped involuntarily when Peter made the first tear. "Relax, Neal," the agent ordered. He pulled the paper out of the envelope and studied it for a few seconds, before turning it around and holding it in front of the consultant. "See, everything came back normal. They don't need to see you for another year."

Neal gave an audible sigh. "That's good," he breathed, leaning back into the chair to wait as his body came down off the adrenaline surge.

"There's a note here from Dr. Cohen – he's willing to see you again, any time you need a doctor," Peter continued, peeling off the post-it note for Neal to see. "Are you comfortable with that?"

The con artist took a moment to gather his thoughts. "Yeah, he was good," he expressed levelly.

"C'mon, Neal, let's sneak out early," the older man urged, an excited twinkle in his eye. Neal looked up skeptically. Peter continued, "we wrapped up our case, and we aren't going to make much progress on these cold files in the…" he checked his watch, "eighty-six minutes we have left in the workday."

"The world's best FBI agent wants to play hooky?" the con artist asked, mockingly incredulous.

"Well, it's been a long week, and you've been really good, so… consider this a reward," the agent answered.

"I'm getting a little old for bribery, Peter," Neal began condescendingly.

"8th Street Wine Cellar," Peter interrupted. "El's meeting us there."

The consultant's eyes grew large. "There's an Argentinean Malbec I've been meaning to try…" he was incapable of finishing his sentence as Peter plopped his fedora onto his head for him and led him out of the building.

When they arrived at the wine cellar, they found Elizabeth already seated at a table in the corner. She waved them over with an enthusiastic smile. She stood and kissed Peter before embracing Neal warmly. They sat around the table when a waitress came over and passed out menus. Neal held his like a priceless golden tablet, eyes fixed on the listing of reds and whites while the Burkes' quiet laughter went completely undetected.

"Great idea, hon," Peter whispered to his wife. She winked back at him.

"Why don't you choose a bottle for us to share, Neal?" Elizabeth asked loudly, hoping to break his concentration. It failed, and Peter had to nudge him to get his attention.

"Oh, yes, of course," he recovered suavely, pointing out the Malbec on the page for the waitress and looking up at her with that Caffrey grin. She returned the smile and sauntered off with the menus. Peter nudged him again, harder, to express his reluctant amusement at Neal's ability to charm anything with a pulse.

It took all of Neal's might to stifle an I told you so when the waitress returned with a complementary cheese platter and a sampling of bruschette. He made Peter apologize before he allowed him to taste any of the appetizers. The older man looked to his wife, who said nothing, as her mouth was too full to speak, before caving in.

The afternoon quickly descended into evening, and before the trio could notice, they had all had quite a bit to drink. Peter hailed a cab for his wife, insisting he and Neal would take the subway to June's, and he would bring the Taurus back home in a few hours when he sobered up. Elizabeth knew her husband well enough not to question the arrangement, though she was sure Neal knew what was going on as well. She wished them a good night before heading off in the taxi.

Soon the pair found themselves alone again on the street corner. "So, what did you want to talk to me alone about?" Neal asked astutely.

"You still have an angle, even when you're drunk," Peter chortled.

"Well?" the con artist prompted.

"You should know my story," the agent began. "You deserve to know, you've earned it."

"What story, Peter?" the consultant inquired as they walked down the stairs to the subway platform.

"About the first time I – the reason I went to see Dr. Ford."

"Aw, you don't have to, I mean, that's personal," Neal stammered uncharacteristically.

"You're my partner now," the older man replied steadily. "You told me everything. Now it's my turn. No secrets, remember?" Neal simply nodded as they boarded the train and rode uptown in silence.

The silence persisted until they closed the door behind them at Neal's apartment and sat on opposite sides of the kitchen table. The consultant slid his chess board to the side so he could fold his hands on the tabletop. "Keller stopped sending moves when he escaped," he said in reply to Peter's questioning gaze.

The agent grunted in response. "I'm not the best at this feelings stuff," he began after a moment. He cleared his throat. "My second year with the bureau, I – I shot a suspect during a case. He was fleeing, and… I did everything according to protocol. I did everything I was supposed to do, trained to do… all the evidence we had at the time said that he did it, but…" He exhaled loudly. "He was innocent, and I killed him."

"You blamed yourself," Neal echoed empathetically.

"I felt guilty about it for a long time," Peter confirmed. "I couldn't concentrate, couldn't sleep… they say it's hard enough the first time you kill a man, but then finding out he didn't do it – that really messed with me."

"How did you put it behind you?" the younger man asked.

"The FBI set me up with Dr. Ford after they debriefed me, for the mandatory session. I ended up going back three more times to talk about things until it finally started to get easier to accept what I had done." The agent deliberately caught Neal's eye. "The memory never completely goes away, but it gets more distant as you process it in a healthy way. Then you can go on living and making new memories instead."

"That's how I feel now," Neal replied. "Everything bad that's happened to me is slowly fading away."

"That's really good, Neal," Peter praised. "That's good progress."

"It still hurts," the consultant pointed out.

"It will, for a while longer," his handler said. "But it goes away eventually." He checked his watch.

"Do you need to get home to Elizabeth now?" Neal asked.

"Yeah, I think I'm nearly okay to drive. I'll be fine by the time I get back to the car," the agent assured him. "Do you want your sleeping pills tonight?"

"Nah, I was fine last night," the con man answered. "I'll be fine tonight." With a smile, he let his partner out and got ready for bed.

That night, Neal did have a nightmare – but it was different. He dreamed Peter was a unicorn and that the devil was trying to cut his horn off. It became really frightening when he was being chased by the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz and the Thought Police from the novel 1984. Fortunately, Neal stepped in to save the day, winning a lightsaber duel with Satan. There was a big celebration, and all the hobbits from Lord of the Rings made him a big chocolate cake.

If these were the kinds of nightmares he'd have for the rest of his life, well, he could live with that.