Neal is under a spell. Peter has been aware of this fact for quite some time. He's no magician though, and he can't break it, no matter how hard he tries.
The first time he's gotten an inkling of it is at the moment of his triumph, the climax of the most thrilling and frustrating hunt of his career. He shakes the con man's hand, surprised at the sincerity of the gesture, but doesn't even attempt to hide the jubilance filling his very soul. It hadn't been easy, and it definitely hadn't been smooth, but for that moment Peter allowed himself an idealistic fantasy, that the Law was just, that the good guys would always defeat the bad.
It's broken a second later, when the handcuffed man going meekly with his agents out the door turns his head just a bit, and Peter almost sucks in a sharp breath at the Look that passes between him and the woman still frozen in shock against the door. It's gone so quickly, practically instantly, that Peter's still-celebrating mind quickly jostles it aside to bask in his success. As he stands there unwrapping the green lollipop that had been given to him what was now another lifetime ago, the human, empathetic part of him fights with the cold analytical side for the right to file away that look.
Because whether for good or worse, a look that loaded is only going to spell trouble.
The next time he senses it is at the trial. Neal insists that the woman, Kate, had nothing to do with any of his crimes. Peter thinks she does in fact have something to do with them, or maybe even all of them, but it's still just that. A thought. They don't even have proof for all of Caffrey's thefts, let alone a partner's. He quietly uncovers the memory of that look though, when he sees the con man on the last day of his trial. The verdict has already been decided, and Peter sits with only half a mind on the proceedings.
He watches Caffrey out of the corner of his eye instead. He'd been restless, though Peter doubted anyone else had noticed. It was just a few nondescript glances, from side to side or up at the ceiling, once even straight at him. To a casual onlooker, it probably seems like the man is completely disinterested in his fate being decided in front of him. Peter, though, knows that he's looking for someone. He keeps his eyes peeled, just in case, for any of Caffrey's contacts. It isn't until after the gavel had thundered down, after the fraction of a bowed head at the sound, after one last sweep of the courtroom full of people by blue eyes set on a face that still kept on a facade of good humor, that Peter realizes that he can relax, that there isn't anybody there to be wary of.
There isn't anyone there.
He should feel relieved that his part of his life is over now, that he can now move on, but he doesn't. Caffrey turns to look back at the woman over and over again in his mind.
He tries not to think of how searching blue eyes came up empty.
Peter visits Caffrey about a year into his incarceration. Officially, he is there to see if he can get some information on Kate out of him. Unofficially, he's there because he's curious.
Over the course of the year, he'd had time to study that look, to dissect it and to give meaning to it. The myriad of emotions and messages it contained astounded Peter. Assuming of course, that he hadn't been thinking too much of a moment that wasnt really there. He didn't think so though. His instincts were rarely wrong. There'd been trust, guilt, unspoken memories of times that had long past, their history together, perhaps what had caused them to split. There had been a goodbye. A wish for happiness for her. An apology. But most of all there had been love.
Peter wants to see if Caffrey still has some of that look in him, wants to know if he's redeemable.
He does, and therefore he is.
It's faint, but Peter can sense it, and he wonders, not for the first time, how a man like this could be a criminal. It's easy to imagine the man handcuffed across from him in ill-fitting orange prison garb, with the faintest smudge of a bruise coloring his jaw at a high end party instead, dressed in a suit, where the only discoloring of his face would be a slight flush from too much wine.
He doesn't learn anything about Kate, but he doesn't mind; he'd doubted that he would as soon as he got the assignment. The Bureau doesn't really want to bother with her. It has Neal Caffrey behind bars, and that is good enough for the higher ups. There are plenty of bigger fish to fry.
He shakes Caffrey's hand when he finishes questioning him, watches as the guards lead him back to his cell.
He moves differently now, Peter realizes. The movement's harder edged, tension wrapped in a body that nevertheless seems relaxed to onlookers. It makes him feel sad.
When the door closes behind Caffrey and the guard, Peters eyes fall to a doodle that he'd watched Caffrey scratching at almost absentmindedly. He gets up for a closer look. It's an eye, perfect in every detail. No doubt sketched with a paper clip. He wonders how Caffrey had managed to get his hands on one. Who knew what trouble the former con man could cause with just a paperclip? But he shoves the thought aside for the moment. Peter thinks that if he goes to search Caffrey's cell, he would find hundreds of these little eyes, grey eyes on gray metal, decorating anywhere that could be marked with a paperclip.
Before he leaves, he tells a guard to give the photograph of Kate he had brought with him to Caffrey. He doesn't know if it'll be a cruelty or a relief, but he knows that now at least, there could be a smile, and not just those cold eyes of scratched metal, to keep him company.
He doesn't know what he expects from their next meeting, but it's not hearing that Caffrey had escaped with just four months left on his sentence, recapturing him, and bringing him back to prison. At least it hadn't been as difficult to find him as it had the first time around. Peter doesn't think he could take the strain of chasing after Caffrey again.
Maybe he should have expected it; the man sitting across from him at the table is a criminal. What he mostly feels, though, is disappointment.
Still, the information Caffrey had given them was good, and obviously the man's clever, as he had outwitted Peter for so long. He agrees to the deal and hopes that he doesn't regret it.
The whole fiasco with Fowler and the music box is going to blow up in their faces, Peter knows. Neal-he hasn't been Caffrey in his mind for a long time-still doesn't trust him completely, and his secrets are going to get him injured or land him back in jail. He knows that Neal thinks he can take care of himself, but Peter refuses to allow him to break the law to do whatever he's doing, even if the other man thinks it'll somehow heal a broken heart.
He thinks he understands what's driving Neal, but he's not sure. Kate had been the one to leave Neal. And now she's missing. Does he really think that finding the box is going to lead him to her? And even if he does find her, how does he know she'll want to be with him? How does he know she isn't leading him on, that this isn't a trap?
From the time Peter's spent with Neal, he knows that the former criminal is a good man. It'd taken him awhile to accept that, that someone who'd broken the law so many times and had made a ridiculous amount of money in stolen art and forgeries could have a better heart than some agents he knew. Neal's an asset, a good one, and Peter won't let him throw his life away by doing something stupid and getting locked up for life.
Because Neal stopped being just a consultant long ago and had, albeit tentatively on both their parts, crossed the line into friendship. And he knows that Neal would never survive more time in prison.
He hasn't forgotten the look that Neal gave Kate on the day of his arrest, because he can still see it. Only now, it's become twisted somehow. Darker. Obsessive.
When it does actually blow up in their faces, quite literally, Peter doesn't say 'I told you so,' not even to himself. Mostly because Neal's back in prison, which Peter's pretty angry about. He's also under a lot of stress. A lot of it comes from worry-questioning from his superiors puts him on edge. He's afraid of what Neal is going through, afraid that it'll change him, shape him into someone else.
There hadn't been chance to talk to him in the aftermath of the explosion. He'd grabbed Neal to stop him from running straight into the fire, and when he stopped struggling, he'd let go of him. Neal had collapsed to his knees and dry-heaved. Peter, not knowing what else to do, had called the Hughes and explained the situation.
When Peter finally gets the chance to see Neal, he's back to being his calm and collected self, but he seems far away. He thinks that Neal is thinking about vengeance.
At the sight of Neal, the man who hates guns, understands childen, plays with his dog, gets along great with his wife, THAT Neal, pointing a gun at Fowler, Peter feels something twist inside him, and he wonders how, why, it had come to this.
He finally realizes that Neal's been ensnared when he hears the music box's song for the first time. It's a haunting and beautiful tune, hidden away in a box that's almost as haunting and beautiful as it is, the kind of song that wraps itself around your heart and pulls, the kind that fills your head when there's nothing else to think about.
Blue eyes are fixed intently on the box that had cost so much to acquire, and there's something broken in the gaze. They talk and they make plans and promises, but all Peter can think about is the siren song that's caught hold of Neal and isn't going to let him go.
Not until it's dragged him down into endless, smothering depths and drowns him there. And perhaps not even then.