A/N: Enjoy :D In case anyone is wondering, iconography is a discipline of art history related to interpretation, identification, symbolism, etc.
And yes, I've totally fallen in love with the whole Bryce-is-Neal plot device. More people should write it. Like people who know more about Chuck than I do.
Ebb and Flow
Neal settled into his couch with a bottle of wine, intent on some quality relaxation time. It had been a long day, and a trying case. Not as harrowing as the things he used to do, or anywhere near as exciting, but they'd done good work. And Neal had remained within the boundaries of the law. No gray areas.
Peter had been proud of him, he could tell. Even if the agent would never dare say it.
What would he do if he knew what you really were?
The question came unbidden and Neal scowled into his glass. Nothing. Peter wouldn't do anything, because he would never know. And if he ever did figure it out… well, Neal hadn't always been proud of the things he'd done, but Peter would understand. It would be hypocritical of him not to.
Would it? There's not much comparison.
Fingers clenched around the glass before slowly, deliberately unwinding. There was no point in thinking about any of it, Neal decided firmly, replacing the glass for a sketchpad.
He proceeded to lose himself in the process of drawing for the next hour, shapes becoming forms in gray-scale, soft lines blurring into warm, intelligent eyes, smiling features, dark, curly hair… Stopping abruptly, he all but slammed the book onto the table.
Why am I so damn insistent on thinking about this tonight? Neal flicked on the television, hoping something mindless would distract him long enough to get him out of his funk.
It worked, barely, for about thirty minutes when the sound of his phone ringing jarred him back to full awareness. Blue eyes glanced at his clock then down to his cell phone. 1:32. Unknown Caller.
"Hello?" he spoke, flipping the phone open. He forewent using his name, just in case.
"You're being recalled. A driver will be by to pick you up in an hour. We'll brief you when you get here."
Neal stiffened, straightening in his seat. "What about the FBI?" he asked, eyes trailing down to the blinking light on his anklet. He had to bite down his next question. What about Peter?
"We're taking care of it." There was a click, signifying that the caller had hung up.
Neal stared at the phone for a full minute before snapping it shut. Why now? When I'm just getting used to things here… He cursed, expression tightening for a moment. Because I'm getting used to things here, he thought cynically.
Shoulders slumping slightly, he wasn't quite sure what to do. He had his orders to follow, but he wasn't ready to go, not yet. Not when I've just found the only other person in the world I can trust, aside from…
He sighed, expression clearing. Standing, he began methodically stripping down his – June's apartment. Various knick-knacks from old cases came down from shelves, the occasional picture pulled from its easel. Expensive suits and hats were replaced into the closet, and Neal dragged out his old clothing; the only things he'd brought with him from prison.
Slipping out of his pajama pants, he switched them for jeans and a turtleneck, throwing on the jacket he'd kept from his undercover work as Mr. Black.
Grabbing the bottle of Bordeaux from its place on the bookshelf, Neal shook his head in amazement. He couldn't believe how much clutter he'd managed to spread around the room. Most of it was small; old ID's, some files he'd taken to look through, things he'd kept from solved cases, paintbrushes, and a few other tools. It all fit rather neatly into the single battered suitcase he'd bought and stored. Just in case.
The only other things he had to pack away were some drawings and paintings he'd made, all of which he carefully slid into a flat portfolio, and a laptop, which he still needed.
Leaving the suitcase and portfolio by the door, Neal swept his gaze around the room for anything he may have missed. When he didn't find anything he pulled out cleaning supplies from the kitchenette and proceeded to wipe down every surface in the apartment. Logically, he couldn't get to everything in he'd touched in June's house, but her staff was pretty thorough. They would do it for him.
Neal just stood there for a moment after he was done before reluctantly switching on his laptop. Fingers flew across the keys and in five minutes, the familiar light from his anklet blinked off.
He glanced at the time. 2:26.
The anklet was cut; awkwardly as it didn't have the same strap as the older model. Tossing it in his suitcase, he shut off the computer and put it inside as well.
Picking up his things, he crept silently down the four floors of June's home. He felt bad for not saying goodbye, but she would understand. She knew what people like Neal were like, after all.
At exactly 2:30, Neal walked out the door. The driver wasn't there yet.
He spun, catching sight of Peter as he barreled out of his car and down the short strip of sidewalk between them. He didn't move.
"Peter? What are you doing here?"
"Don't you dare," Peter started, gripping Neal's shirt in his fist. "Don't pretend you don't know why I'm here."
He must have done something wrong when hacking the anklet's program. But Neal wasn't about to admit it. "I don't," he said instead.
"Which is why, when I was looking through your files twenty minutes ago, they vanished," Peter bit out sarcastically.
Neal blinked, not sure he wanted to know why the agent was looking him up at two in the morning. "I'm flattered, Peter. Does El know why you're so interested in your computer so late?"
Peter narrowed his eyes. "Going somewhere?" he countered, eyes flicking meaningfully to the suitcase and portfolio.
Neal hesitated, and the agent latched onto that small pause. "Why are you running now, Neal? You have something good here. Don't throw it away."
I don't want to. "I have to do this, Peter."
"And I have to stop you."
A cab whirled around the corner at that moment, slowing to a stop in front of Neal. He looked away. "No you don't. You might have to stop Neal Caffrey," he said, "but he doesn't exist anymore."
"What is that supposed to mean?" Peter barked, trying to slip in front of Neal as he shoved his belongings into the car.
"You won't find any records that Neal ever existed," he said firmly, nudging the agent to the side and jumping into the cab. He slammed the door shut, rolling down the window. Giving a small, ironic smile, he added, "So no arrest records or deals with the FBI, either."
"Neal," the agent started angrily.
"I should probably tell you it's better to forget about me, but I know you won't," Neal interrupted. The window started to slide back up. "Check your pocket when you get home." The cab abruptly pulled away from the curb, speeding down the street.
Peter was left staring after him.
Neal sighed from his place in the passenger seat. Next to him, the driver gripped his shoulder sympathetically, warm eyes looking him over briefly. Letting go, he brushed a lock of curly hair back before placing his hand back on the wheel.
"Don't worry. I'm sure he'll understand."
Neal reflected on his thoughts earlier that evening. He wasn't sure he was that positive, but he let it go.
It was out of his hands, now.
Peter watched the car until it was out of sight before dropping a hand into his pocket. He pulled out what looked like a small business card, plain black typeface contrasting sharply with the white cardstock.
Contemporary Iconography Association
On the other side was a phone number. Peter stared at the card in confusion, automatically assuming it was for a group dedicated to the interpretation of contemporary art. Then he looked closer. Nothing with Neal was ever what it first appeared to be.
Contemporary Iconography Association.
He shook his head in disbelief, pocketing the card. Pulling out his phone, he dialed Diana and Jones to let them know Neal had gotten away. If the CIA was involved, he had no doubt that what the ex-con had said earlier was true. Neal Caffrey didn't exist anymore.
Peter wondered when he should try the number on the business card, knowing that it had been one last-ditch effort by the ex-con to preserve their friendship. He smiled at the knowledge that it meant so much to Neal, unable to deny that he felt the same.
Shaking his head, he slipped his phone into his pocket. That didn't mean he wasn't pissed as hell.
He'd let him stew for a few days, first.