A/N: I'm still working on my other fics, have no fear (though real life tends to be... very real, nowadays). But there's something about White Collar that just grabbed me. Almost every episode is a win, and I just love Peter and Neal, and really everyone around them. Mozzie's amazing, and I think it's incredible - and a very bold choice - that Peter has this wonderful, perfect marriage and even so it's interesting and believable. That takes some serious skill.
As for this fic... it started out as a concept that almost grew beyond my control. But then it ended, and RPS was very, very relieved. I got enough on my plate as it is... but I'll admit, I loved writing this. It's rough, unpolished, and I don't know the characters nearly as well as I feel I should. But to hell with that. Here you go.
He will remember Neal's smile, after. That almost curve of the lips, the brief flash of white. How despite Neal's very best efforts, the way his eyes seemed to almost will Peter into taking it for granted, none of it hid the stark, vulnerable uncertainty - the sudden tension in his stance, the brittle fragility of his expression Peter could read, as easily as a case file.
It's nothing memorable, to tell the truth. Just a smile. Certainly not one of Neal's best, or even all that unusual - in fact Peter has seen it often enough, normally just before the shit really hits the fan, or those times he has a suspicion (a very strong suspicion, mind you) that Neal's up to something and they both know Peter can't pin him down for it quite yet.
Just this once, though, this smile brings Peter a strange, warm hope rather than the usual uneasy feeling in his stomach, because this smile means Neal's thinking, and if Neal's thinking it means he hasn't decided, means that he knows what he stands to lose, that he's still weighing his options.
Most importantly, it means Peter still has a chance.
The words come easily once he realizes that. "You said goodbye to everyone but me. Why?"
Neal stops in his tracks. "I don't know," he evades clumsily, and really, sometimes Peter has to wonder how anyone can fall for Neal's games, the guy can be so incredibly transparent.
Then again, it's harder when the game is personal. Or, for that matter, when the one you're really trying to con is yourself.
"Yeah you do," Peter interrupts. "Tell me."
Sigh, "I don't know -"
Yes you do. "Why."
"You know why," Neal changes tactics, and from there it's just too easy.
"No," he lies, because he wants to hear Neal say it, to actually acknowledge that there's a reason he's been talking to Peter instead of getting on that plane. "Tell me."
Neal drops the facade like small change, and the blue eyes dart about desperately like an animal cornered. Peter suppresses a grim smile; it's not often he sees Neal this harried, on the off-balanced end of a conversation.
It's kind of refreshing.
"Because you're the only one who can change my mind," Neal forces out quickly, not meeting his eyes. It's the most honest thing Peter had ever heard him say.
The hope burns in his chest. "Have I?"
"I..." Neal says, and shutters. He turns away from Peter, presumably so he could look at Kate, probably because he doesn't want Peter to read his face.
The urge to smile vanishes. Just like that, it's over. For once Peter wishes he wasn't the good guy, the one who plays by the rules, because he's never wanted to shake Neal like he does now.
Only, it wouldn't help, and probably just make things worse. There's always been a line there between them, and while they can bait each other, save each other, challenge each other, share in the exhilaration of the chase, the exhilaration of catching the bad guys, and even hang out, sometimes - Peter and Neal are not friends, or, at least, not that kind of friends. Peter, after all, is the FBI agent who put Neal behind bars, while Neal... Neal's the charming, slippery genius who could be someone great, if only he let himself.
If only he let Peter help him.
Neal walks away, and Peter can only watch him go. Frustration fills him to the brim, overflowing - there's so much potential, so much good, so much they've already built and done and Neal's just going to throw it all away. He's watched this kid become something, these past few months, had him invade his home, become part of his team, he's seen for himself the brilliant artist, the methodical planner, the righteous Robin Hood, the all too likable charmer, and there are literally millions of things this kid could do in the world, millions of people this kid could become, and to see it all wasted, to see it all disappear into nameless obscurity... it kills him. It just kills him.
As does the knowledge that when Neal leaves this time, he'll never be found.
…This is it.
"Peter," he hears, and he snaps out of his thoughts. Neal's looking at him, and there's that hesitation again, that smile.
It's a lost cause. He still takes it up. "Yeah?" he says, doesn't hide the hope. He's got nothing else in play.
"I -" the ex-con's smile fades, and there's a split second when Peter thinks almost but then Neal glances back at Kate. "I'll send you a postcard," he says instead.
Peter swallows back the disappointment, tries on a faint smile of his own. He pretends he's crossing his arms because of the cold.
"Don't," he says, because losses are losses and he's always been a gracious loser. "Just make all this worth it."
"I will," Neal says, and Peter believes him.
"So," he clears his throat and shoves his hands in his pockets, searches for something to say. He never was much at goodbyes. "Neal." He flounders for a bit, manages, "Have a good life. I... I hope it doesn't get too exciting."
Neal laughs, eyes crinkling at the corners as he sees right through Peter. "Don't worry," he says, "I think you broke me. The white picket fence is actually looking pretty attractive at the moment."
"That's what I like to hear, kid," he replies softly, which is a lie since what he would really like to hear is gotcha! What, you didn't think you'd get rid of me so easily, did you, Peter? but since this is what Neal wants to hear he says it anyway. He can give in, just this once. Neal's made his choice.
And he follows through. One last laugh, and bye, Peter, oh and lose the suit, and Neal's off. There's no hug, or handshake, or even a fistbump, but then there's no need to make things harder than they already are.
He waves once before getting on the plane, that fringe of hair flopping comically in the wind, and Peter bites back a smile because Neal's Neal, after all, and if the kid stays on the straight and narrow, has a good, honest life with the woman he loves... well, who's Peter to begrudge him that?
"Be happy, Neal," he says quietly, before turning his back on the plane and finally allowing himself that bittersweet smile. He despises losing, and he loathes goodbyes, but he'll be fine.
They'll both be fine.
...Except they're not.
Peter's opening the door to the car when the shock wave hits him.
He won't remember later the jumble of thoughts, that leaden weight of shock and horror, the way he could see the top of the explosion reflected on the windshield or even the sheer indescribable noise of a plane exploding and crashing back onto the ground. How he'd yelled Neal's name until he was hoarse even though there was no point, there was no point but he screamed it again and again because there was just nothing to do, what else could he do? He won't remember running toward the fire, or fumbling with his phone, or listening to Elizabeth call his name, frightened by the silence on his end.
Just Neal's smile, just that one smile when he could see that Neal honestly, truly contemplated staying.
…It's nothing memorable, that smile. But when it's the last memory of the brightest, strangest friend you ever had, you can't help remembering everything, even something so small as that.
Perhaps the worst thing about it all is that there's no one to go after. Fowler's already in custody, and once Peter and Diana connect one of his aliases to purchases of C4 made a week before the explosion it is far too easy to indict him. Two counts of first degree murder (most likely three considering there must have been a pilot on the plane in addition to Caffrey and Moreau), and Fowler's not going anywhere but maximum security federal prison for a long, long time.
It's almost disappointing, in a way, because there's no invigorating chase, no climactic confrontation; Peter doesn't even get a goddamn interview because as far as any judge is concerned, this is all cut and dry and there's nothing more to investigate. Not to mention they all seem to think Peter's been 'emotionally compromised,' which is a bullshit excuse if he's ever heard one.
"Face it, Peter, you'd probably just beat the living daylights out of him," Hughes says when Peter confronts him on the matter.
"Tell me how that would be a bad thing," he points out.
He still denies him the interview, though.
Unlike the day of his death, the day of Neal's funeral is exceptionally bright and sunny, almost too warm to wear a jacket. Some people would have thought it a mockery, or at the very least ironic, but when Peter looks up at the sky he can't help but think it fits, somehow.
Elizabeth sits next to him, elegantly clad in a long black dress the dead man would have probably liked (and which makes Peter wonder which credit card she used), eyes red around the rims and puffy - in the kind of way the dead man would probably not have liked - and the expression on her face causes Peter to wrap his arm around her shoulders and whisper comforting, meaningless nothings into her hair.
It's not an open casket funeral, mainly because there isn't really a casket - or rather, there wasn't really a body to bury. Caffrey would have most likely wanted one, Peter thinks, just to afflict the world with his face one last time, but for his part Peter is rather relieved because he's seen many people dead, but not Neal Caffrey.
To be honest, he's not sure he could have handled that. It's hard enough to trust a conman when he's alive, let alone when he's dead.
Elizabeth squeezes his hand as June speaks about the charming ex-con who barely had to talk his way into her ex-husband's clothes, not to mention her home. Once her voice trembles once too often, she steps down shakily and it's Hughes' turn to speak. Peter's boss is surprisingly sincere as he recalls a few of the man's well known hijinks in and out of the office - as well as some Peter wasn't aware he knew about - leading to several moments of fond laughter from his audience.
He meets Peter's eyes for a moment as his tone turns more serious, the you should be up here obvious, but Peter only looks back at him evenly, feeling absolutely no regret. They'd asked him to speak, citing that he knew Caffrey better than anyone, and if anyone had a right to talk about Caffrey, well, Peter, you know, you kinda do.
Which may be true, in its own way, but Peter's never been much of a public speaker, and. Well.
What's there to say, really.
June's granddaughter is the most stiff he's ever seen her as she solemnly puts down yellow daffodils and a soccer ball on the grave, though the dignity of the moment falters for a moment when she has to run after the ball to keep it from rolling off. Again, though, Peter thinks it's fitting.
As if June's granddaughter - Lucy? Marcy? - not only literally starts the ball rolling, but figuratively, one by one Neal's coworkers and friends - more than Peter expected, many wearing hats and sunglasses and probably not precisely on the right side of the law - place flowers beside the stone and drift away, talking quietly amongst themselves. He watches Ell kneel next to the grave, speaking softly to someone who will never hear her as she puts one hand on the grave, a dozen roses by her feet. She stands jerkily, wiping at her face with the pads of her fingers.
He turns. "Diana."
She quirks her lips, a sad sort of greeting. She wears a jacket and a respectable skirt - yeah, Peter thinks, Caffrey would definitely disapprove - with her straightened hair pulled back in a neat ponytail. Her arm is wrapped around a redheaded beauty - Christie, Peter presumes, and is proven right when they're introduced. There's a bit of awkward silence, then, before Christie politely excuses herself and Diana finally says to him, "Nice suit."
"Huh?" Peter looks down at himself in puzzlement. "What do you mean, I wear this all the time."
Her eyes glimmer. "Exactly."
"Oh." He pauses, weighs what to divulge. "He told me to get rid of it. Right - right before."
He sees her note his phrasing and summarily dismiss it. "So you decided to wear it to his funeral?" she says in amusement, raising an eyebrow.
"Can't let him win them all, right?" he says, and smiles.
The joke - if that's what it was - falls flat, but Diana still laughs a little. They stand next to each other, not talking as they watch purple streak the sky, the crowd in front of them dwindle to a few well-wishers.
"I can't believe he's gone," she says, all of a sudden. "He was so..." she seems to search for the right word. "Alive."
"Yeah," Peter replies. "He was."
After an hour or two of expertly maneuvering to avoid the very thing, Peter finally finds himself in front of Caffrey's grave.
It's a nice one, so far as graves go. Certainly looks new enough, shiny enough that the conman himself would have given it a thumb's up. The grass around it is green and well maintained despite the season and last few stormy weeks, and Peter wouldn't be surprised if it was a rare imported species from the Himalayas, or to find that the groundskeeper had lately received a new windfall of cash. Caffrey had friends in high places.
Or at least very extravagant, sleazy places. If nothing else.
He stands there, a bit awkwardly to be painfully honest, legs shoulder-width apart and hands decidedly not curled at his sides.
"So," he says to the gravestone. "Caffrey."
But there's nothing to say.
And so he says nothing.
...He says nothing for a long time.
He starts, loosens his tie when he absently notices how constricting he is. He looks at Elizabeth, sees the weariness in her posture, the fading shimmer in her eyes in the light of the streetlamp. They're alone in front of the grave. "Ell? What time is it?"
"Just over eight," she says, eyes betraying her concern for him.
He curses to himself, but she looks nothing but understanding as she slides her arms around him. "I'm so sorry, Ell, I must have been really out of it. Let's go, we could still make it to June's dinner if we hurry."
But Elizabeth doesn't move, just stares down at Caffrey's grave as if it hurts her to look at it, but maybe a little as though hurts her even more to look at Peter. At least, that's what it feels like, to him.
Silence. Uneasiness crawls up his neck. He's always hated it when she does this, when she goes quiet, because Elizabeth could be thinking anything, anything, and if she doesn't voice it then how would he know, how can he stop it or protest or defend himself if she, if she won't even tell him -
"Ell?" he blurts when he can't stand it anymore.
Her voice is soft. "I... I keep thinking. How he must have felt."
He winces. "Oh, Ell," he murmurs, and pulls her head to his shoulder, runs his fingers through the leagues and leagues of unruly hair. "It was quick," he tries to comfort her, "he probably didn't even have time to know it was happening."
She flinches against him. "N-no, not that," she says, quickly, and he silently congratulates himself for being a tactless buffoon. "I mean, how he must have felt. You know... finally getting what he wanted."
Ah. "You mean Kate."
Her voice is soft. "Can you imagine? Finally being together, the chance to start everything over. Having a blank slate." Her arms tighten around him. "...He must have been so happy."
The white picket fence is actually looking pretty good right now -
"Yeah, for maybe ten seconds," he snaps, and regrets it immediately when she tenses up against him. "...Sorry, Ell. I just..." he pauses, then sighs, and for the first time since the explosion, says what's on his mind. "...If I'd just convinced him to stay. It would have - it would have been different."
Her head snaps up, eyes widening in astonishment. "This is not your fault."
He looks away. They're not quite so alone as he thought, it seems, because he can spot a lean shadow not too far away, looking odd and misshapen until he realizes they're wearing a hat. He swallows. "I know that, I know -"
His wife gently touches his cheek, forcing him to face her. "Peter," she tells him firmly. "It wasn't your fault."
"Neal decided to get on that plane, and he had a right to. It's not his fault he's dead, honey, and it's certainly not yours."
"...I could have tried harder."
"You tried your best. Peter, Neal never liked being pushed, you know that."
He exhales, then chuckles halfheartedly. "No, he never did."
She smiles at him, brushes a strand of hair away from his forehead. The simple gesture makes his throat tighten."I know you did what you could. You're the best man I know."
He shuts his eyes for a moment, just a moment. "I'm glad you're here," he tells her quietly, and means I'm just lucky to have you.
Her sad blue eyes almost seem to glow in the artificial light, a cold wetness glinting from each of her long dark lashes.
She's never been more beautiful.
"I know," she whispers back, then kisses him so softly that he can almost forget about his dead friend, for a moment.
Just a moment.
They run into Mozzie on the way out. It surprises Peter in the way his absence at the funeral didn't (it was packed with far too many FBI agents for the short man to really be comfortable with), because if anything he would have expected Mozzie to vanish into thin air immediately after hearing the… news.
There is no more reason for him to stay, after all.
"Suit," Mozzie greets, and barely has the time to nod at Peter before Ell crashes into him. His hands flutter nervously in the air before settling cautiously on her back, and the panicked expression on his face would be rather hilarious if it weren't for, well, everything.
"Didn't think you'd come, Moz," Peter says once the man untangles himself with a few soft words in his wife's ears. Ell sniffs a little, but she steps back and threads an arm through Peter's, and smiles a glittery wet smile.
Mozzie puts his hands in his pockets, huddles in his puffy jacket. "Yeah, well," he mumbles, shrugs uncomfortably. "It just wouldn't feel right, not making an appearance."
"I'm sure Neal wouldn't care -" Peter starts, but then Elizabeth cuts in neatly, "How are you holding up, sweetie? You need anything? Place to stay? Dinner?"
Peter doesn't protest, but Mozzie glances at him anyway before he shakes his head. "Thanks, Mrs. Suit, but I prefer living unfettered by societal conventions." He pauses, cranes his head. "I do appreciate the offer, however," he concedes quietly.
"If you're ever in town, it still stands," Peter finds himself saying. "Anytime."
Two pairs of wide eyes look at him in surprise.
"I mean it," he tells them both.
Mozzie smiles a little, unreadable but sincere. "Then I will keep it in mind." They're all quiet for a moment. Then, "Well. Gotta go pay my respects. Say hi to Neal, you know."
Peter's smile feels more like a grimace. "Right. See you around then, Mozzie."
"Goodbye, Mozzie," Ell says softly.
They're already past him when he suddenly says, "Hey, Suit?"
He turns his head. "Yeah?"
"If you... if you ever require my services. Tell June you're in the market for a house. I'll find you."
He's taken aback, strangely touched. "Thank you, Mozzie."
"You took care of him," is the sober reply. "It's the least I can do."
They watch the short, lonely man disappear into the cemetery.
As they do, Peter can't help but think that Caffrey might not have been his strangest friend, after all.
There's still the music box.
Peter and Diana steal it from evidence in a maneuver that would make any conman proud. They inspect it, trace the music's origins, notice the missing cherub, discover the gaping keyhole.
…And. That's as far as they get.
Without a key, there's nothing they can do short of permanently damaging a priceless relic, and there's no record in history of such a key to the music box - no sign it ever existed.
It's a dead end. Still, Fowler killed two people for it, and it might be paranoia but something tells Peter he wasn't alone. At least for the foreseeable future, he has Diana hide it away somewhere safe. Of the two of them, she's least connected to the box, and with everything that happened, Peter doesn't trust the FBI - or someone else - not to bug his house without his knowledge.
...Another reason, which Peter doesn't mention, is that he doesn't trust himself not to smash the damn thing to pieces.
It's five months before Peter goes back.
Or, put another way, it's five months before Ell kidnaps him after work under the deceptive premise of going out for dinner, then rolls the Taurus up before a vaguely familiar graveyard entrance.
She doesn't say a word, just sits there quietly, hands clenched tightly around the wheel.
"Honey," he points out eventually, "you're blocking the road."
"I don't care."
He sighs a little. "Ell..."
"I'm not moving!" she snaps at him. "Not until you get out and... and resolve yourself!"
He stares, shocked at the outburst. "'Resolve myself?" he echoes. "What do you mean -"
Elizabeth turns, face flushed and eyes – fuck, he thinks as he starts to panic, fuck you Peter Burke she's crying Ell's crying - suspiciously damp. "I am not kidding, Peter! I am tired of you working yourself to death, I am tired of you never smiling anymore, and I am tired of you being - being far from me!"
It takes him completely by surprise. "I'm not - far from you, Ell -"
She whirls away from him sharply, stares out the windshield. "No," she bites. "No 'Ell.' Get out. I'm not moving this car until you leave."
A small tendril of anger roils in his belly. "You can't do this to me," he says.
Elizabeth scoffs, wearing a trembling smirk that doesn't reach her eyes. "Can't do this?" she echoes him incredulously. Her voice climbs higher, "Can't do - " but she cuts herself off, shuts her eyes, inhales shakily. "Out of the car. Out!"
Behind them, impatient drivers start honking, loud and long.
He shifts uncomfortably in his seat. "Elizabeth -"
Her glare flashes at him. "No," she tells him fiercely. "You won't talk to anyone, you won't talk to me, so whatever grudge you have, Peter, go take it up with Neal!"
"Take it up with -" he starts incredulously - "The guy's dead, Ell!"
"Exactly!" she shoots back. "So talk to him!"
Her words reverberate throughout the small space, silence punctuated by the bellows and curses of the other drivers. Peter runs a hand over his face, wipes away the slight sheen of sweat from his forehead.
Peter and Elizabeth haven't fought in years. They have a perfect, civil, wonderful marriage, and even with Peter pulling long hours chasing Neal (or chasing with Neal, in later years), their relationship has been solid, a rock, a foundation that didn't even tremble. They've endured days apart and nights away, the rocky start of Burke Premiere Events, ups and downs in both their careers, even Peter getting shot in a confrontation gone wrong.
Nothing since Peter's stint in the hospital has even come close to putting this expression on his wife's face, like this was it, like she was at the end of her rope.
Like she was afraid.
That, if nothing else, causes his defenses to shatter.
"...Okay," he finally gives in. "Okay. Okay."
And even though this is the last thing he wants to do, El's relieved smile makes it all worth it.
"So," Peter says to the grave. It feels as though he was only here yesterday. The marble headstone looks almost new, only a little worn at the edges. The surrounding grass isn't quite as green anymore, but it's still growing beautifully under the bitter autumn sun. There are no flowers though, no trace that anyone ever laid daffodils or roses at the foot of the grave, and Peter idly wonders what happened to the soccer ball.
And then he rallies himself, inhales deeply the scent of dead leaves and dirt and sorrows of what is, yet again, a beautiful day.
"So," he says, again.
Life returns to normal.
The office seems strangely emptier, colder. People joke less, laugh less, the coffee's not as good.
Though maybe that's just Peter.
There's a new guy in the office – a consultant, Henry Donovan. Aside from his age and somewhat disconcerting expertise on art, money and forgery equipment, he's as different from Caffrey as it gets - innocent and gullible instead of sly and conniving, the butt of jokes rather than the comedian, and so far he's been absolutely useless at anything involving acting or keeping an even remotely straight face. Not to mention, he has a stable family life and purely functional wardrobe as opposed to whatever Caffrey had (the time before the conman turned eighteen is a black hole of paperwork) and a rich woman's dead husband's clothes.
He's not Caffrey, but (or maybe because of that) everyone likes him. Peter even likes him, it's that difficult not to. And yet, Donovan doesn't get invited (or invite himself, really) into Peter's home, Elizabeth doesn't meet him, Satchmo never plays with him. He doesn't get coffee with Peter from that place down the street, nor does he steal into Peter's house just to eat his cereal. He doesn't wear a tracking anklet, let alone a hat.
...And he's not Peter's partner. There's also that.
"Hon, do you know anyone called Matt or Fiona Crane?"
Peter turns to the sports page without looking up. "Nope, why?"
His wife sounds mildly bewildered. "They sent us a Christmas card. Must be a wrong address."
...And the Packers lose again. Great. "Is the right one on there? We could put it back in the mailbox."
Elizabeth glances at the back. "Doesn't look like it. No return address either."
"Oh well," he says absently, taking a sip from his coffee.
"Shame," Elizabeth frowns. "It's a beautiful card. Almost looks handmade."
Time moves on.
Everything's almost unnaturally normal. Which is a good thing, really; the cases are less likely to blow up in their faces, less likely to turn dangerous. It's been at least two years since Peter's had to go undercover, more so since he's been confronted with a gun, or had to escape an air-locked safe.
And that's a good thing too.
It could be a function of all this sudden invasion of the mundane, or that Peter's just never noticed it when life was one exciting crime after another. But Peter could have sworn he's never heard from so many goddamned telemarketers before.
He wearily picks up the phone. "This is Burke."
There's a sudden intake of air, then a pause.
"Hello?" he says irritably into the receiver. If this is a prank, so help him God...
And then abruptly - "Morning sir, I'm calling on behalf of Kinder Mutual to offer you our new mortgage plan, and I can offer you a discount that not even Oprah would -"
He interrupts with a groan. "Don't you people get Saturdays off?"
"Discounts wait for no man, sir, and if you don't get yours now, you'd be missing out on the deal of a -"
His head drops to the pillow with a muffled thump. "Look, kid," he growls very patiently, "I don't know what they're paying you to do this, but I am a federal agent, and if you call me at seven in the morning ever again - let alone a Saturday - I will go to wherever Kinder Mutual is and hunt. You. Down."
Pause. "I'm sorry," the guy says, sounding honestly contrite, and strangely sincere. "I - I'm really sorry. Sir."
Peter sighs. Man's only doing his job, he reminds himself. "That's all right. I'm going to hang up the phone now. You find a job that preserves your dignity, okay?"
Elizabeth turns to him sleepily, barely coherent. "Wazzat you th'reatnin' a telmkter?"
He freezes, caught, and hesitates for a moment, trying to think of the optimal response... but ultimately failing. "Uh... maybe?"
She burrows into the hollow next to him with a yawn. "L've you," she murmurs.
That's coherent enough for Peter. He smiles and leans over to kiss her nose. "Love you too."
Later, on a whim, he googles Kinder Mutual. They're a small mortgage company based in Tallahassee.
Huh. Maybe they're expanding their operation.
He stares incredulously. "What, another one?"
"Same names. To our friends, from the Crane family... oh, look," Ell almost squeals, "this one has reindeer!"
He groans and picks up his suitcase. "Maybe I should look them up on the database, tell them they've been sending cards to the wrong address for four years now."
"No, dear," she says firmly, and pecks him on the cheek as she hands him his lunch. "That would be slightly creepy, and, uh, what's the word... stalkery."
Peter sighs. "You're probably right," he concedes.
"Trust me, hon, I would know."
Peter can't help smirking at her. "Didn't throw you off though, did it."
He's always loved the way Ell laughs. "You forget I had already seen you almost stumble on a Calder mobile trying to chat me up," she teases. "Not exactly threatening FBI agent material."
She squeaks when he drops the suitcase and snatches her by the waist. "And yet here you are," he growls playfully.
Elizabeth lets out a breathless giggle. "Well," she says, trying to keep a straight face, and lightly fingers his collar, "you know how much I love that shoulder holster."
...Peter decides it wouldn't be so bad to show up to work a little late, just this once.
Waiting is the hardest part of any heist or con - or so he'd once been told by an expert on these matters. In Peter's opinion, though, waiting is probably rather harder on the FBI agents who have to sit around until for a con to even begin.
There's something about the van that can trigger anyone's closeted claustrophobia. It's not exactly the size, it's not exactly the smell, nor is it the computers that take up at least half the available space. It's all of those, rather, together with being in one place with three other people just as antsy for action as you are, along with the somewhat pessimistic knowledge that there's a very good chance that there won't be any.
Jones shakes his head suddenly, pen in his mouth as they all watch the live feed of the bustling street where something's supposed to happen but hasn't yet. "I still can't get over the nerve of this guy. Robbing a museum in broad daylight."
"Wouldn't be the first time," Diana tells him.
"Yeah, but sending the FBI a note about it beforehand?" He chuckles. "Sounds like the sort of thing Caffrey would have pulled."
"Nah," Peter says vaguely, focused on the screen. "Neal liked keeping things on the down-low. He'd be gone before we even knew there was something missing."
"You call sending us pizza and drinks during a stakeout 'keeping things on the down-low?'"
"We couldn't exactly arrest someone for giving us free Domino's, could we."
"Plus if he left a note, he probably wouldn't leave it in cipher," Diana remarks thoughtfully, and rests her chin on her fists as she becomes a stunning vision of bored. "Speaking of which, do we have a nickname for this one yet?"
Jones and Peter exchange amused glances. "Oh, do we," Jones smirks.
Peter suppresses his own smirk as he focuses back at the screen and volunteers offhandedly, "Donovan picked it."
"Leave me alone," Donovan gripes sullenly from the front seat. "It's a good one."
Diana raises an eyebrow as she looks from one agent to the other. "...Well? Well? What is it?"
"Get this," Jones grins at her. "The Codefather."
He watches her lose any and all composure with unreserved satisfaction. "You dork," she gasps, hugging her stomach.
Donovan glares at them. "The guy resorts to codes and is most likely a middle aged white male. It makes linguistic sense."
"It's a good movie -"
"Guys," Peter says lightly, and Donovan stops his protests. Though it takes several minutes for Diana to stop snorting.
His shoulders feel a little lighter than before now that the tension's been eradicated, his head a little clearer. Peter's eyes roam across the screens, spotting the undercover agents he recognizes, several he doesn't. Everything seems normal, just another busy day at MoMA. Pairs of schoolchildren walking in lines behind their nervous teachers, art students from NYU and Cooper Union hauling backpacks of sketchbooks and drawing materials through security, bright-faced tourists, and the classic schtick of guys just trying to show girls a good time. A couple of families here and there, only several lonely appreciators of art walking by themselves -
His eyes narrow.
"Can I help you?" he hears Donovan say.
He's seen that kind of gait before. Confident, smooth.
"I've got a delivery right here, if you could just sign -"
No facial ID, though. This is someone who knows how to avoid cameras.
"What's that smell?"
"Probably the anchovies. Got two larges, one plain, one half veggie and half anchovies, all according to order."
It nags at him. He turns on cameras 5 and 6, trying to follow the guy's path. Turn around, he thinks, come on turn around -
"Order? We didn't order any - what's the meaning of this? Who're you with?"
"Don't want no trouble, ma'am, honest -"
"Says here 'deliver to Municipal van behind MoMA.' Diana, this is someone who knew exactly when and where we'd be here."
The man walks up the escalator slowly, face averted.
"But the only one who'd know would be -"
"Guys, pizza man's still here. Hey, whoever you are, are we supposed to pay for this?"
"Uh, no, sir, it's already been paid for -"
Peter exhales, eyes glued to the screen. The guy's good. Could be our man.
"By who? Did you see him?"
Except then the man on the screen reaches out, and his hand is immediately latched onto by a tiny white hand with short and stubby fingers. Peter sits back with an explosive exhale as the small spike of adrenaline in him evaporates, watching the two figures join hands with another two and stroll merrily into the Renaissance exhibit.
Or not, he thinks resignedly.
"N-not a him, ma'am, it was a woman, long hair, smiled a lot, looked like a supermodel. Am... am I in trouble? Is this when I call a lawyer?"
"Not yet you don't -"
"Woman? ...She didn't happen to use a credit card, did she?"
"No, ma'am. All cash."
"So what, do we tip you?"
"Uh... don't- don't worry about it."
He watches their backs wryly. Losing your touch, Burke, Peter thinks to himself. Almost went after a family man, there.
"...Damn. So much for that."
"What were you thinking would happen, anyway? Not like we can arrest someone for sending us lunch."
"Wait, so we've been after a Codemother all this time? Donovan, I thought you said middle aged white male, not someone from the cover of Vogue."
"Hey, even I can make mistakes sometimes. I just wish all my mistakes sent me pizza."
"True that, man. Hey, pass me a slice."
But at just the last moment before vanishing, the owner of the tiny white hand turns her head to grin widely at the camera, and Peter's heart promptly skips a beat.
He tells the team something about needing to go to the bathroom, mind swirling with thoughts and doubts and emotions and you're probably hallucinating, Peter, completely wacko, gone round the bend. They promise to save him a slice.
Peter turns the corner and takes out his phone. Waits.
"Hey there, June, it's Peter." He waits. "...Peter Burke?"
"Ah, Peter. It's been a while. How are you and that lovely wife of yours?"
"Busy, as usual. Uh, how about you, how've you been?"
"Feeling my age more every day, but I suspect that's not what you really want to hear. This is not a social call, is it, Peter? How may I help you?"
He feels horrible suddenly, thinking of the sharp old woman living alone in a mansion, no convicted criminals (or not-convicted-yet criminals, for that matter) running around to make life more interesting. No federal agents, either, and the guilt - he should have called her more - floods him, for a moment.
And yet she's right. This isn't a social call.
"I need to talk to Mozzie."
He feels silly walking around Central Park with a brown paper bag in hand - talk about suspicious - but it's hardly the most inconvenient thing Mozzie ever demanded of him, not like he's required to speak code words in iambic pentameter or set up a fake stand full of Elvis paraphernalia. This time. He spots the bench June mentioned, and feels a brief flash of irritation when he notices the homeless man laying there sleeping under newspapers, evidently taking advantage of what seems to be the sole patch of sunlight in sight. He hesitates, warring between the desire to leave the poor man alone and the temptation to run him off with his badge.
There's only a bit of room by the man's feet, and Peter settles there awkwardly, paper bag crumpling loudly between his fingers. He can only hope Mozzie isn't scared off by this - he'll probably think it's all some elaborate trap, and God only knows if he'll let Peter find him again -
"Looking well there, Suit."
Peter almost jumps at hearing the familiar voice. "Moz -" he starts, but the hobo clears his throat, and Peter duly swallows his exclamation. "Mr. Havisham," he remarks instead, trying very hard not to stare at his old... acquaintance? Friend? Something in between the two.
Perhaps. It's been years.
"You're looking..." he trails off uncertainly. "Uh..."
"Impoverished? Destitute? Vaguely repulsive and yet completely unremarkable?"
"Then I have done my duty well," he says, voice a little muffled under the newspaper, and somehow the tone of his voice causes Peter to relax, though at the same time he can't help but inch away from the stink of body odor and garbage. "I hear you brought the bag?"
"I did." He shakes it pointedly.
"Good." Mozzie makes a show of yawning as he sits up, blinking grimy eyes against the frigid sun. "Now, don't be stodgy," he commands, and reaches out an arm clad in layers upon layers from where it was wrapped around his torso. "
Peter sighs, but inserts a hand into the bag, breaks off half the loaf and hands it to the dedicated conman. "This is stupid," he mutters, even as he himself tears away a couple of pieces and tosses them on the ground. "There aren't even any birds around this time of year."
Mozzie tuts at him, mouth full. "He that can have patience," he intones (once he swallows), "can have what he will."
Peter frowns as he throws away more breadcrumbs. "...Ben Franklin?"
Mozzie gives him an approving glance as he bites enthusiastically on the whole wheat bread (he was very insistent on the brand, too, the picky hobo). "Good, you're learning," he says, then mmms and ahhhs and adds, "not bad, Suit, but for future reference, bring jam."
He laughs a little. Funny how time turns what would have been previously perceived as condescension into a genuine compliment. "I'll try," he says, only a little wryly. "Though you know, if you'd just agreed to meet somewhere more... well, standard, you could have had your jam."
"Perish the thought," is the affronted reply, but the thin mouth quirks under the week-old beard, sharing the humor. "Well, Agent Burke," he gestures at the area with a flourish, "what brings you to my office?"
Peter wets his lips, inhales deeply. They're almost alone, only the casual persistent jogger passing them every once in a while. His eyes venture down to the brick-laid path, where a couple of fat old pigeons have gathered to peck at his offerings.
Patience, he thinks.
He opens his mouth, wonders how much the answer matters to him.
The man beside him stiffens, then slides down the bench, entwining his hands on his stomach and resting his head on the bench to stare up at the sky.
"I suspected as much," he concedes quietly, answering the question Peter hadn't dared utter.
Something in him loosens even as he sits up, shocked. "You 'suspected?' ...Wait, you didn't know? You?"
The other man's eyes roll in his direction. "How would I?" he says, tonelessly.
Peter winces. Open mouth, insert foot. Way to go, Peter. "I just - I just meant -" he fumbles - "I mean, you're you. You know everything."
Mozzie shuts his eyes, a little mollified. "I thought it was too convenient. The plane exploding the moment you were out of the way."
"They used me as alibi," Peter says, realizing. "With an FBI agent as a witness, no one would ever think to go after them. Everyone would believe they were dead."
"Not everyone," Mozzie corrects him primly, but nods. "But even so, the trail would be too cold to follow by that point."
"Brilliant," he sighs. "Kate's idea, of course."
"She always was one for the classics."
"Did you try?"
"No," Mozzie says, and Peter hears, I wasn't sure I wanted to know.
Peter doesn't blame him.
They sit there in silence, clouds veiling the sun over their heads. The flock of greedy birds becomes steadily more substantial, the braver ones - or maybe the stupider ones - splotchy shadows weaving in and around their feet.
"...You saw him then, I take it."
"I saw a little girl with his face and Kate's eyes."
Despite everything, there's a faint smile, at that. "Wow," Mozzie marvels quietly.
Peter smiles a little himself. "Yeah."
After all, if Neal is alive, and happy -
"So... other than seeing whether I was in on the whole thing, was there something you wanted?"
"You're the only one who can find him, Moz."
"At this point, probably," the other man agrees easily. "But why should I? He's out. And, clearly, doing well for himself."
"I just want to talk." And maybe yell a little. "I think he does too."
"Right, else he wouldn't have gotten himself seen," Mozzie says, and Peter lets him assume that, leaves his secret suspicions about Alex and her dubiously altruistic motives aside. "I'll see what I can do," he decides. "He's good."
"You're better," Peter says, and means it. "After all, that's why he never let you know he was alive. He couldn't find you without putting himself back on the grid. You're never in the same place twice. "
"No need to state the obvious," Mozzie rolls his eyes. Even so, though, his shoulders straighten a little, and Peter knows that for once he said the right thing. "After all -" he stops. "Wait."
Peter's the one to frown now. "What?"
For the first time, Mozzie actually faces him. Under the dirt and grime and wild facial hair, he looks exactly the same as the last time Peter saw him, years ago, from the spark of intelligence in his eyes to the narrow look of contemplation. "While I'm never in the same place, you are. In fact, you're completely predictable. You haven't changed your address in at least ten years, and I bet you still eat lunch with Ell at the Corner Bistro every Thursday."
"How did you -" Peter starts, unnerved and maybe a little offended, except then he understands. "You think he contacted me."
"Neal does have a sentimental streak," Mozzie nods, before elaborating. "It would be something innocent at first glance, something you'd be disinclined to throw away. Probably a small present with an unknown sender, perhaps an enigmatic message -"
It dawns on him suddenly. "Or something handmade?"
Moz peers over at him. "You know what it is?"
He runs a hand down his face and groans. "I think he might have sent us a postcard. Several postcards."
Mozzie blinks, then starts to laugh.
It's a beautiful day.
...Or it probably is, anyway. Peter isn't paying attention.
"Hey," Neal Caffrey says nervously. His fingers fidget against his jeans, uncomfortable under Peter's wordless scrutiny.
Good, Peter thinks a little vindictively. He says nothing.
Neal clears his throat loudly. "So," he says again, expectantly, and so easily it's almost like he's not forcing himself, almost like he's not putting on an act, except Peter knows better. The kid's transparent.
Seconds pass, like years.
"Peter," he says in a smaller voice, and suddenly it's like no time has passed at all, suddenly they're both standing in an airplane hangar and there, there's that brief little smile again, as if Neal doesn't know whether to stay or run.
Tempting as it is, Peter sees right through the illusion. It's been years.
And regrets, wishes... Peter's had enough of those to last a lifetime.
"Hello, Neal," Peter replies, and inwardly smiles his own little smile - because this time, he's going to make sure Neal stays.