By Tenhsi Noyo Ryu Taiga

Summary- Takes place after S2 (with one small change). My version of S3



Chapter 2:

Neal sighed, toying listlessly with the edge of the file he was meant to be studying. Yesterday, he had been a long day. It started with an explosion that destroyed billions of dollars worth of art (or so he thought) and ended with Adler- the man who made Neal who he was, the man who killed Kate- skipping town on the first available flight after making bail. Whatever judge decided he wasn't a flight risk was an idiot.

And now, Peter was mad at him. It wasn't obvious, but it was definitely there. The passive-aggressive tone, the withering stares and worse, Diana and Jones had picked up on it too and were now looking at him searchingly, trying to figure out what happened.

Peter had called the two into his office almost a half hour ago and they had been up there talking since. Neal just knew they were talking about him. He wished he was closer so that he could read their lips, but knew that loitering outside Peter's office would be extremely suspicious, so he was left to sit at his desk and stew.

After Peter told Neal that Adler was gone, Neal contemplated telling him about the art, but after a few minutes of thought, decided against it. Now that Adler was out, it would be better if he never knew that the treasure was still out there otherwise Neal and by association, everyone Neal knew, would be in danger. To keep everyone safe, it would be better if only he and Alex- and maybe Mozzie- knew where the treasure was.

"Caffrey!" Peter yelled, catching the attention of the entire room. He pointed and gestured for him to come upstairs. Neal set his shoulders, wondering what Peter wanted. He, Diana and Jones were already waiting for him in the conference room. Neal walked in and settled into the chair farthest away, waiting to see what was going on.

"What do you know about Alex?" Peter asked, staring down at Neal.

Neal was inwardly surprised at the line of questioning and looked around to meet the curious gazes of Diana and Jones, "Why?" He asked curiously. He assumed that Peter was here to talk about his accusation that Neal stole the art.

"Answer the question," Peter stated angrily, clearly in no mood to answer questions, at least not Neal's questions.

Neal raised an eyebrow but answered, "Alex isn't like me. She grew up with money, surrounded by wealth," He took in the group's raised eyebrows of interest and continued on, "She was going through her bored little rich girl phase when she realized she had a knack for stealing. She began pulling off heists at fifteen. Despite this, Alex continued on legitimately: she graduated valedictorian at some award winning prep school. By then she had moved up into working cons. We met her sophomore year at Columbia. She was using her contacts and her school resources to track down the music box. Her resources led her to Adler which led her to me. I was 22 when I began working for Adler and she came in trying to con my boss. She was 20 at the time, but with hair and make up, she looked 25 at least. Adler intimidated her into stopping her questions and I escorted her out. She figured me as a grifter and we began seeing each other. Over the next year, we worked several jobs and became known as quite a team." Neal didn't mention that several of these jobs involved forged artwork. Alex was a fantastic artist- not as good as Neal, but then who was?

Peter nodded, interested in hearing more. He had heard bits of the story from Neal earlier, but they had mostly glossed over Alex and focused on Kate and Adler, "But then there was Kate."

Neal nodded, sighing heavily, "I'm not proud of it, but I had always been in love with Kate and I think Alex knew it. After a year together, Alex and I had grown really close, but one day, Kate came to me. One thing led to another and Kate finally agreed to be with me. I know that I hurt Alex really bad, but she never seemed angry… just hurt. She asked me to stay away from her for a while and I readily agreed to whatever she needed. She took her last year of college abroad and that's when she found the box. The box had become a shared project between us, so when she found its location in Copenhagen, she contacted me." Neal began nervously fiddling with a piece of paper in front of him, "You guys already know that story. The job went bad, we got separated and she got injured. I was on my way to France where she was admitted to a hospital when Kate called. She wanted to meet up. I knew that Alex wouldn't want to see her, so I came back to New York. That's one of the biggest regrets I have in my life," He shook his head, lost in thought, "No one should have to wake up alone in a foreign hospital with no one there to see them."

Peter looked at his friend with sympathetic eyes. He had no idea the kind of hardship Alex faced in dealing with her obvious love for Neal.

"She burned me after that. I found out after I got out of prison that Alex gave into her father's demands and went to law school. She continued at Columbia so that she could continue working cons and heists but eventually she moved into fencing. After she graduated, she stood up to her dad and he kicked her out. Luckily, she had a lot of money built up from her jobs. Her parents died in a car crash not long after, though, and she was left with everything. I know that she lives in her parents' home, but she doesn't touch any of the money. She never liked spending money that she didn't earn."

Diana scoffed, "You mean money she conned."

Neal shrugged easily, "Conning people is hard work," He grinned. He gave a lot of information about Alex away to the FBI and he knew that she would be pretty pissed at him when she found out, but he made sure not to mention anything too revealing and the FBI didn't even know the name she went to school under since Alex went by her mother's maiden name. The FBI could cross reference Columbia students who studied abroad their senior year with the school's law students, but Neal was pretty sure that Alex would have figured a way to cover her tracks in that regard. Still, just in case, he'd better warn her about it later, "What is this all about?" Neal asked.

Peter sighed, sitting down, "At the warehouse, I accused you of stealing the art. The reason I thought it was you was because the art that was destroyed wasn't the art in the U-boat; it was yours. I saw the painting you did of the Chrysler building in the fire. But this morning I pulled your tracking anklet data from the other night and you were at home the whole time. The only other people that knew about the warehouse were you, Alex and Adler. Adler swore you blew up the art and he genuinely seemed to have no idea that they were switched out. Since your anklet rules you out, that leaves Alex."

Neal began to worry slightly. What could he do? He could rat on Alex; a. it would get her in trouble and b. it would piss her the hell off. A pissed off Alex did not bode well for anyone. Plus, if they found Alex there was a chance they'd find the art and thus Neal's connection to it. So that left option B, "Alex didn't take it."

Peter raised an expectant eyebrow as they all turned to look at Neal, "Is that so?"

Neal nodded, "I went home that night- you have proof. But I didn't exactly go home alone."

Peter's eyes were blank for a second before widening in comprehension, his eyebrows raised. Jones looked impressed and Diana was shaking her head in amusement, "After… after dinner with Sara?"

Diana choked on a laugh and Jones looked envious. Neal, however, inwardly winced. Oh, yeah. The extremely awkward pseudo double date, "Alex was waiting for me at my apartment when I got home. We're casual," He defended at the look he was receiving, "And before you ask, there was no way that Alex had the time to go home, change her clothes, steal the art and make her way back to my place in time for me to come home."

Peter looked at Neal appraisingly as he contemplated whether or not to take Neal's word for it. Deciding to go with it, Peter spoke, "So, who does that leave us with?"

There was a brief moment of silence as they all thought. Neal however had already come up with a cover and was using the moment to make it seem like he wasn't lying. One of the easiest tells a liar had was getting their lies out too quick, "Maybe Adler had a partner. Or maybe one of his henchmen double crossed him?"

"Henchmen? Really?" Peter asked. Neal just shrugged, "It's possible, I suppose. We still have all four of Adler's men in custody. Let's see if we can't figure out how many were on him team."

Diana and Jones both nodded, "Got it, boss," and left the room to follow up on it.

Peter looked at Neal expectantly seeing as how the conman was still sitting in his seat making no move to leave yet, "I think it would be better if you didn't tell anyone besides Jones and Diana about the missing art," Neal spoke slowly trying to make it seem as though he was thinking about it on the spot, "Adler has men in a lot of places. It would be better if he believes the treasure burned."

Peter was once again looking at Neal suspiciously, but he nodded in agreement, "Adler's dangerous. We don't want to add fuel to that fire." Neal smiled slightly in thanks and slowly left the office, aware of Peter's stare on his back. Neal may have gotten Peter off his back, but he knew that he still had to be cautious. Peter was still suspicious of Neal and that could prove problematic. Neal had no interest in running, but if it meant staying out of prison and keeping Alex free as well, then he would have no problem cutting off his anklet and leaving the country with the brunette. He wouldn't relish severing ties; Peter and Elizabeth had become good friends. But he wouldn't go back to lock up and he wouldn't let Alex go down. Besides, Peter had always caught Neal by using Kate. Now that Kate was dead, Neal was reasonably certain that he could disappear without Peter finding him.

With this thought in mind, Neal left the office to grab lunch. He had a make-up date with Sara planned. A half hour later had them both walking away, chatting about some antique piece that Sara had recently insured when Sara suddenly stopped and turned to face him.

"Okay, I think it's time we talked about this," She said, staring him straight in the eye.

Neal smiled, but tried to avoid the subject, "Talk about what?"

Sara was uninterested and shot him a withering stare, "Alex. Our relationship. Your relationship with her."

He smiled uncomfortably before leading them to a nearby building alcove so that they wouldn't be in the middle of the street having this conversation, "Before the other day, my relationship with her was in the past," He started, aware that he had spoken these words to Sara before, "But that's the thing about the two of us… Alex and I… Our relationship was built on who we are and what we do; the thrill, the excitement, the danger and that day was chock full of all of that. But our relationship only ever really lasts as long as we have those things. The minute it's gone… so is she."

Sara nodded in understanding, "So, what does that mean?"

"It means that Alex has left town," Neal shifted uncomfortably, "But when she inevitably comes back, we might go out once in a while. I like you Sara, but I have a lot of history with Alex and my relationship with you is still new. I'd like to go out with you, but I want to make sure you know that this- whatever this is- is casual. You are free to date other men and I am free to date other women."

Sara tilted her head to think about this before slowly nodding, a smile growing on her face, "That sounds completely reasonable. We barely know each other and it would hardly be fair to expect a monogamous relationship when we have only just had our first date."

Neal nodded in relief, "Good. So we're agreed. We're keeping it casual."

Sara nodded, "Casual."