(Chapter 1)

It had been too long since Neal had had a real day off from working with Peter. Not that he didn't like working with the agent or the FBI for that matter. There were advantages he liked but he was feeling a bit worn from the past few assignments. Being undercover could be fun but the last two assignments had nearly cost him his life and Peter had more than cussed out a few agents, including Ruiz for not helping the matter. Neal was appreciative that Peter protected him but he needed his space to think about things; Get down to what he wanted to do, think about and in general apply his mind on. He had been reconciling himself with everything that had happened up till now including Kate's death and Mozzie's near murder. It made him reconsider a few options and think about what he might do once he was free.

The young man sat on the terrace thinking as he sipped coffee from a little cup and smiled slightly. It was Friday and he had the whole weekend to himself. Mozzie had promised to come by later to discuss a few things but for now, Neal was alone and he had the morning to himself for once. He finished the small but scrumptious breakfast of eggs Benedict and fruit June's housekeeper had brought up and cleaned up the table before he checked himself in the mirror and left the apartment. He took the steps two at a time down noting that June wasn't there to greet him. He'd been surprised the housekeeper had brought breakfast today but Maggie had told him June left early to visit with her granddaughter. He felt a small pang of loneliness but swept it aside as he headed outside and into the crisp late Winter air of New York. The city smelled nice for once, a soft scent of rolls from a nearby bakery making his mouth water. He moved across the street and bought one with a small cup of hot chocolate as he walked down the sidewalk towards the park.

There was very little snow on the ground or ice but it was still very cold. Neal felt the chilly breeze whip at his hair as he pulled his hat protectively over his face and his jacket collar up a bit higher. He watched people walking past to work or elsewhere and tried to imagine why or where when someone bumped into him which made him drop his hot chocolate to the ground as they paused.

"I'm sorry."

It was a young woman, a very pretty girl with bright brown eyes beneath long golden brown lashes. She had her hair pulled back in a tight bun as she tried to apologize to him for the drink.

"It's ok. Just be careful next time."

He smiled at her charmingly as he picked up the cup and tossed it into the trash and she hurriedly ran off after apologizing yet again. She seemed nervous but he shrugged it off as he moved on towards the park. It was his day off and he was going to enjoy it.

()()()

He roamed the park for a good hour, taking in a few nature trails, getting a hot dog and a coffee before sitting down to enjoy them. He was looking for a bench to sit down when someone bumped into him but this time he managed to save his drink and his food. It was the same young woman from before, an odd coincidence he thought.

"I'm sorry. Oh it's you."

She seemed to remember him and he nodded, feeling a bit confused at the chances they'd bump into one another again. New York wasn't exactly a small city. He noticed she turned back behind her and that nervousness was still there. Neal glanced the same way and thought he saw some mean looking guys looking her way or at least pretending not to with Neal there. She started to walk off when he gently grasped her arm.

"Are you ok?"

She just stared at him a moment as if uncertain what to say as she nodded her head, obviously a lie as she pulled from his grasp and walked quickly away. Neal watched her curiously, more so when the two scary looking guys moved on after her. He sighed as he looked at his hot dog and coffee, scarfing them down quickly as he made a quick run across a large grassy knoll towards a point where he might catch her before they did. The young woman was passing by the small copse of bushes he chose when he reached out and grabbed her quickly, his gloved hand covering her mouth but turning her so she saw it was him. She nodded as the two scary guys stopped and looked around but didn't see them. Neal noticed one had a phone and pulled it out and texted someone quickly before they both split up and he heard them say something about finding the woman and soon.

They hid a while longer till she pulled away and Neal let go of her. She stared at him and seemed uncertain what to think as she gazed into his eyes.

"Thank you..."

He flashed his most charming smile and bowed slightly.

"Neal... Miss..."

He left it open and she seemed uncertain a moment holding out her hand.

"Lydia. I guess first names are ok. Thank you, Neal. I have to go now but thanks."

She started to leave but he grasped her arm gently making her turn and stare at him questioningly.

"Why are those men looking for you, Lydia?"

She pulled her arm free and took a few steps backwards, her manner guarded again.

"You don't want to get involved Neal, but thank you for the help."

She gave him a soft smile back before slipping out onto the main path again. He slipped out and watched, curious why the men were chasing her as he mentally kicked himself for getting involved with this kind of thing on his day off and followed her.

Neal lost her after about thirty minutes, uncertain which way she went when he realized he was going to be late to meet up with Mozzie at June's. He had enough excitement in his life without adding to it with a mystery girl and men chasing her. He was close to the edge of his radius as it was (a good enough excuse) so he went back the way he'd come from when someone bumped him hard.

"Excuse me..."

He nodded and started to pass when someone grabbed his arm and pulled him aside into a doorway out of sight. Neal was about to protest when someone hit him hard across the jaw and his head was pushed back till he heard a slight crack of bone against the wall.

"I don't know who you are buddy but it's best you leave this alone. Kapish?"

Neal could barely nod to them as he saw stars and he felt a slight slap of his face and laughter.

"Good... now, what did Lydia tell you and you can go on your way."

He started to come to from the manhandling when he blinked up at the two innocently. For once he didn't know anything, the woman never having said a thing to him other than thanks. He just stared up at them with his most innocent look, which for once was honestly devoid of any knowledge, and shrugged.

"She never said anything. We just bumped into one another."

Both goons looked between each other, obviously not believing him. They whispered not so quietly to the other.

"Think he should have a visit with the boss? Might loosen his tongue..."

Neal felt a chill wash over him as he wondered who their boss was and how to escape meeting him. He was truly regretting getting involved with this Lydia woman now as he struggled against the man holding him.

"Sounds like a plan."

One of them pulled out a gun, holding it out of sight but obvious to Neal who's right arm was twisted back hard behind him while he felt the gun pushed against his spine.

"Don't do anything stupid!"

Neal nodded, head and neck hurting as he was forced down the sidewalk and to a black sedan. The other man opened up the back door and they shoved him inside, more goons within.

"Who's this? I thought we were supposed to pick up Lydia."

The driver looked confused as the other man inside held a gun on Neal and another cuffed his wrists behind him.

"Don't know. She bumped into him twice so he must be someone. He won't talk either."

Neal swallowed hard wondering if he could talk his way out of this but saw a look from the goon with the gun telling him to stay quiet so he did. He was too dizzy still from the hit to the jaw and head to really think straight anyhow.

"Well, boss won't be happy with this but if you think he knows something I'll back you."

The man who'd clocked him nodded, pulling something out of his pocket as the other man in the back seat held him. A rag was pressed to Neal's face as he struggled to free himself, a sickly sweet smell filling his nostrils.

"I hope Lydia's worth this, buddy."

Neal felt himself starting to succumb to the chloroform as his eyes rolled back into his skull and he passed out.

()()()

Neal had a nightmare about big guys with guns chasing him and then tackling him to the ground and beating the crap out of him. He thrashed as much as he could in his sleep til someone slapped at his face and he started to come to.

His first impression of consciousness wasn't what he expected. The room was brightly lit by a lamp of some kind directly shining in his face. He squinted against it, trying to turn his head but someone behind him held his head firmly so that the light continued to blind him. He tried to move his arms up to cover his face but found them bound behind him with some kind of heavy cord as were his legs to a chair. There were rags stuffed in his mouth and tape over his lips as the young man tried to figure out where he was and if was actually awake from that nightmare.

"Look! Sleeping Beauty wakes up finally. I think you gave him a bit too much of that chloroform, Bobby. Pretty boy here looks a bit confused. Shall we remind him why he's here?"

Neal only just recognized the voice as the man who had socked him and then asked him about someone. Who was it they had been questioning him about. His head was fuzzy when another semi-familiar voice piped in.

"Yes. I believe you know Lydia. Too bad you don't have ID on you or I would have made sure your love ones received an ear as proof of your death."

Neal struggled against his bindings but someone cuffed him hard across the side of the head, stunning him. He continued to squint against the light as the men spoke to him. Someone not so gently yanked the tape off his lips and he coughed up the rags after a moment.

"So... we know you were talking to Lydia and helped her evade us. What did she tell you and was it about the item in question?"

He blinked up at them through slitted eyes as he tried to think straight. His temples were thumping from the drugs and earlier hit across the jaw but this current smack across the head hadn't helped him any. He gave a cough to clear his throat which felt dry from the rags.

"We just bumped... into each other. Nothing more."

Neal kept it simple, hoping for some mercy but was certain these big guys didn't know the meaning of the word. He heard someone laugh, everyone chuckling a moment before they went silent and a new voice spoke.

"I wouldn't protect her if I were you. She's not worth it and she'll only betray your trust as she betrayed mine."

A man moved closer, out of view of the light as his head blocked it and Neal got a good look at the new speaker.

The man was tall, good looking and blond. His hair was cut short and somewhat spiky. He had light green eyes, his expression dark with a cold gleam in his eyes and a smirk on his lips as he grasped Neal's chin tightly in his thin fingers and made the con look at him.

"You look like a smart guy to me. I don't see how you'd be swayed by a pretty face but I could be wrong. She did it to me too."

The man was practically nose to nose with him now, his chin firmly held so he couldn't move with the man holding his head behind him.

"Let's make this simple. I'm willing to cut you in if you tell me what she offered you. I'm willing to be fair long as I still get the product. What do you say?"

Neal had no idea what was going on but he wasn't willing to lose his life over a stranger he barely knew. He nodded his head, the blond man patting his cheek gently, an expectant look on his face as the con tried to figure out what the man was talking about and fake him out.

"She offered me 4..."

He hoped he was being vague enough when the man's eyes popped open and he let go of his chin, pacing back and forth, the light blinding him once again.

"Stupid witch! She's going to pay for her backstabbing ways if it's the last thing I do."

He saw the blond man make a motion towards him, a not so quiet whisper just audible.

"Cut him loose, drug him and toss him into the Hudson. If she's going to do this to me, I don't need to be making deals. Just find her!"

Neal tried to act like he hadn't heard anything, feeling his bonds cut loose and several strong hands holding him as he was led semi-blind from the darkened room with the bright light into a dimly lit hallway. Someone opened a door and he found himself staring at the evening sun just dropping behind the skyline of New York. How long had he been here that it was almost nighttime?

"Boss says we're going to let you go. We'll give you a lift, ok?"

Neal didn't have much of a choice as he tried to think of a plan. He didn't have much so he just did what he could, his body suddenly going limp in their arms, head slumping to one side heavily. The goons seemed confused, one of them slapping him across the face in a not so gentle manner but he didn't move, feeling their hands loosening on him ever so slightly.

"He fainted! Son of a... Well, doesn't matter does it? He's going to swimming with some fishes pretty soon. Larry, watch him while I get some rope and a sack."

All but one hand left him and even after a moment he felt those hands loosen up and heard someone pacing nearby, the sound of a lighter and aroma of a cigarette reaching his nose as he opened up one eye and looked around. Larry seemed to be off about 15 or so feet away, face lit up dimly by the cigarette and not paying any attention to him in the least. Neal had expected that as he quietly slipped out of his shoes and ran quietly around the vehicle and off towards a large pile of palettes and wood. He slipped his shoes back on once he was out of earshot, starting to run in earnest towards the city lights but finding the river between him and total freedom.

"He can't have gotten far!"

He heard voices catching up as he turned back, grabbed up one of the smaller wooden palettes and dropped it into the water. If he had to row across he'd do it but he wasn't going to get caught by these guys again. Neal lay on the palette and started to row with his arms when he realized this was just ludicrous. He slipped into the water and started to swim in earnest to the other side. It was a good half a mile he thought but it was better than being murdered and dumped here without his permission. It was going to take a good dry cleaner to get the smell of the river out of his suit but it was worth it if he lived.

When he reached the other side he crawled up onto the shoreline and collapsed. He was a pretty strong swimmer but this was farther than he'd had to swim outside a pool in a long time, not to mention the reek of the water, the cold temps and his weariness from being drugged and mistreated. He just wanted to sleep there, nobody to bug him... when he heard the sound of a boat motor and opened his eyes again to see a dark form out in the water and someone flashing a light looking for him.

Crap! They'd noticed the palette as he tiredly dragged himself to his feet and up the embankment. He made it to the top and found a fence surrounding the area he was in. Another pitfall but he was too tired to care as he searched for a good spot, took off his suite jacket and threw it up onto the barbed wire on top and gingerly climbed over. He left the jacket behind too tired to jump up and grab it as he made a break across the silent dirt road towards the city lights. He was just making a slow lope up onto what appeared to be a real road when he heard flashing lights, red and blue to be exact and someone spoke through a megaphone.

"Put your hands on your head!"

Great... now he was going to get arrested? He was tired and achy enough he wasn't sure he cared as he did as he was told, the crunching of steps on the road telling him they were coming closer as hands grabbed him and he was cuffed.

"Neal Caffrey. Your keeper will be happy to know you aren't as reformed as he thought. Take him away."

Neal saw the snide smile on the Marshall's face, recognizing the man from a previous case although his name escaped him. He glared back at the man without expressing how tired he was. It wouldn't help his case with the man already had a prejudice against him. He sighed, knowing Peter was going to be furious when everyone started to duck and cover. There were gun shots from near by and Neal felt himself duck along with them.

"What the hell is going on? Someone figure it out... You, keep an eye on him!"

The Marshall nodded to a rookie looking guy who nodded as the rest of them went to see what the shooting was all about. Neal just wanted to hide in the car but knew he'd rather be off on his own then here with whatever was going on. This day was not ending well as he quickly unlocked his cuffs and acted coy till the rookie was distracted by the radio.

"Yes... there are gunshots. Erickson and the others went to check it out. No I'm here watching someone. Yes..."

Neal quietly slipped back away from the Marshals towards the back of the car and then out of sight as he quickly ran into the brush and made his way back out onto the road again. He reached into his pocket in hopes of calling Peter before the news got back to him but cursed when he found his cell gone. Those goons must have taken it when he was unconscious. He sighed as he ran in the growing gloom towards freedom. Finally when he thought it was safe, he attempted to hail a ride back to town. Neal could only hope he didn't look as badly as he felt as he put on his most charming smile. It took a few minutes but someone finally stopped as he walked up and leaned on the open passenger side window. The car was dark inside but he could just make out the driver was a woman.

"Hi, thanks for stopping. Are you headed back into the city?"

He saw the person nod in the darkness as he heard the door unlocked and slipped inside. He felt badly as he saw his face in the rear-view mirror and sighed. He looked a fright from his usual self and he was damp and dirty to boot, his suit ruined.

"I really appre... ciate this."

His voice cracked as he realized the driver had a gun on him and the overhead light went on. It was Lydia.

"You must not be as innocent as I thought if you escaped from Gregory and his goons. Where's your jacket?"

She was waiting for an answer as he shivered from his swim in the cold water and cold air despite the heater on in the car.

"Jacket? They took my coat and I had to leave my suit jacket on the barbed wire. Why?"

He saw her face pale and suddenly she cocked the gun.

"I never should have involved a civilian in this... Dammit! Gregory will find the item in your jacket and get the money for himself. I should kill you now but it wouldn't do me any good."

She pressed the gun a bit closer as she unlocked the doors. Her voice was pure venom.

"Get out before I shoot you."

He no longer thought she was pretty, anything that had been beautiful about her eaten up by the ugliness he saw in her now. He nodded, opening the door and slipping out tiredly onto the shoulder. He barely closed the door before she squealed off quickly, the smell of burnt rubber and exhaust making him cough as he realized he was going to have to hoof it back.

Several cars passed by, a few honking at him or slowing down but he waved them off preferring to walk than to take a chance another crazy person would pick him up. He just wanted to get back to June's and crawl under the covers or into a hot shower. Either would do at this point.

It was three hours later he made it back, a vegetable salesman offering him a ride in the back of his rig. Neal was too tired by then to complain and it was already past sunset. He just wanted to sleep, the rocking of the small cart and the smell of fresh vegetables lulling him to sleep. He heard a honk not too longer after, the driver letting him off at a deli near June's. He didn't want her address compromised as he walked the last block to her home and dragged himself inside. Nobody was home which was probably for the best as he limped up the stairs. He didn't even care his nice shoes were ruined and making a soft squishing sound as he made his way up to his room. He unlocked the door and found everything the way he'd left it as he closed the door, locked it and slipped into the bathroom. Neal quickly disrobed, his clothes reeking of the East River among other things as he ducked into the shower and turned on the water as hot as he could stand it.

Twenty minutes later he turned off the water and exited feeling cleaner although the stench of the river still filled the bathroom from his clothes. He placed them in the shower and let them soak in a small basin of water as he wrapped himself up in a towel and gave a look at his face in the mirror. He looked beat up and tired, bags under his eyes and a few light bruises. Neal sighed as he dried his hair and styled it as best he could before exiting out to his room again and digging around for a comfortable pair of cotton pajama pants and a tee. He heard a knock on the door just as he finished dressing, tempted to act like he wasn't home but the knocking continued. He sighed, walking over to the door and opening it up.

"I don't appreciate it when people miss their appointments..."

Mozzie stood there, his face set in a minor scowl as he waited as if expecting something. Neal nodded tiredly as he moved aside but really didn't feel in the mood for visitors, even Mozzie. After the day he had all he wanted was to curl up under the covers and pass out. Mozzie didn't seem to notice his exhaustion as he moved over to the kitchenette and started to uncork a bottle of wine. Neal was in no mood to chide him as he moved back into the bathroom briefly to pull his clothes from the basin in the shower and wring them out a bit as he walked out into to the terrace and hung them out on a small line. Mozzie was watching him with interest as he sipped a glass of something red and handed him another glass. Neal took it once he had finished his task.

"So why are you hanging your suit to dry and why is it so dirty? Is that mud on your shirt? What did the Suit have you do for him today?"

Neal didn't even want to go there as he made to open his mouth to explain but heard another knock at his door. He held up a hand as he hobbled a bit over to the door, his feet and legs still hurting from his long walk among other things and opened up the door. Peter stood there, his face a bit red and looking somewhat angry he thought. Great... he'd forgotten about his incident with the Marshalls in his attempt to relax but now that he was here...

"Come in Peter... might as well start this party off right."

He knew the agent was angry at him, looking down finally as he noticed the blinking light on his anklet. He hadn't had a chance to think about it with the walk back and the surprise visit with Lydia. He just wanted to end the day's events and get back to his weekend.

Peter just stared at him, closing the door and starting to talk when he saw Mozzie and paused.

"Can we discuss this alone, Neal? I really don't have the patience for this right now. Elizabeth and I were in the middle of dinner with some friends when the Marshall's called me and said you escaped after they caught you. Can you explain that to me?"

Neal felt a bit guilty at the fact they had been at dinner but with the day he'd had it was only a little bit.

"No... I skipped out on Mozzie and he deserves to know why. Did the Marshall's tell you what was going on while I was allegedly escaping?"

Neal hobbled, without trying to make it obvious, over to the sofa and sat, the wine glass Mozzie had offered him still in his hands. Peter blinked, staring at him a moment as he fumbled with words.

"No, which is why I came. They made it sound like you had committed a big crime. Apparently they caught Gregori Michev and his gang after your disappearing act."

Neal nodded remembering that Lydia had mentioned someone named Gregory. Made sense.

"Yes... Gregory and his men. Made me feel right at home with bright lights, the third degree and guns."

Peter's mouth opened to say something but he paused and looked at him curiously.

"Did you say guns? Neal..."

The agent was looking at something now, moving closer to Neal and grasping his chin gently in his hand. Neal winced a bit at the touch having been hit once and slapped numerous other times. His face was a bit tender particularly around the chin.

"Where did you get these bruises?"

The agent was still there but Peter his friend was now asking him if he was hurt. He pulled his head out of his friend's hand and took a sip of his wine as he put his feet up on the table and winced a bit more. The soles of his feet ached from the long walk if not his legs from swimming across the East River.

"What does it matter. I was out of my radius and nothing I'll say will cancel that out. I just want to hear my punishment so I can go lie down and sleep this off."

Neal didn't care anymore as he leaned back and closed his eyes tiredly. He opened them when he felt someone sit beside him and saw Peter there.

"Neal, tell me what happened. The Marshall who called is not one I like mostly why I was pissed. I didn't think you had done anything and now that I see you up close I realize something else is going on here. Talk to me."

The young man could see his friend was honestly concerned, Mozzie having moved closer and was now sitting across from them. The audience aspect bothered him as he just wanted to crawl into bed and sleep. He was exhausted after all that had happened and he wanted to forget about the day and start again with tomorrow.

"I don't even know what happened. I don't think anyone would believe me if I told them, least of all you guys."

Mozzie sipped at his wine, shaking his head.

"Anything dealing with Gregori Michev has to be good. Just don't leave out any of the juicy details Neal."

Neal sighed, putting down his glass and trying to get comfortable despite all his aches and pains. He still had a bit of a headache from the chloroform which made him feel worse but he should just get it out while it was fresh.

"I'll start from the beginning..."

Neal told them how he had been minding his own business and the woman had bumped him spilling his hot chocolate followed by bumping into her again in the park with the men following her. Then he'd help her hide and they'd grabbed him and taken him to somewhere on the other side of the East River. He'd escaped by pretending to faint, swimming across the river, ruining a perfectly good suit climbing the embankment, throwing his jacket over the barbed wire fence (which he left to his regret now) and finally getting caught by the Marshals and then again by the young woman in question at gun point and left to walk home till the man with the vegetable truck gave him a lift.

He saw his friends looking at him. Mozzie seemed incredulous, rubbing at his chin as he sipped at his wine again while Peter just blinked and seemed to be trying to connect the dots with what he knew of Neal's rep and what the Marshall had told him. He knew they were both thinking he was full of it but at this rate he didn't care.

"Ok, story time is over. I hate to be a bad host but with the day I've had I'll talk to you both tomorrow if not Monday. I'm not leaving my apartment after today unless I have to."

Peter and Mozzie gave each other a look before both stood and the agent patted his friend on the shoulder gently. Neal winced slightly, his arms aching still from the swimming he did.

"We'll talk... I need to get back to that dinner. I left El alone."

Peter didn't seem angry but he did look confused as he left the apartment. Mozzie stood and walked over, leaving his glass on the sink before doing so.

"I guess this means we aren't playing chess tonight?"

Neal shook his head with a slight smile but he was too tired to do more.

"You'll have to tell me about Michev. I hear he's bloodthirsty."

Neal nodded as the little guy left and he closed the door, alone at last. He locked it as he turned all the lights off and made his way to his bed. It was painful but he curled up under the blankets as he turned off the last light and passed out.

oOoOoOo

Author's Note: Ok, this was in response to someone saying I don't write enough Neal anymore. I just started to like writing a well rounded episode sort of speak. I like to see if I can get everyone involved even if I do really only like Neal. I've never been that flexible with a show before but I like all the characters on WC so it's fairly easy to do everyone in one story if I have the gumption to do it. So anyhow, a little more Nealcentric story. Still playing with what happens or if this is it.