There was only one more week before Neal would be officially off his tether and free to roam as he pleased. His sentence working for the FBI would be finished and he could either stay or leave. His choice.
Neal was of course excited, uncertain what he wanted to do although Peter hoped that the young man would stay and work with them in some capacity. He had been quietly asking around with Hughes' help trying to find a position for the ex-con with the Bureau if not a local company. The agent wanted to keep his friend with him and it seemed Neal wanted to stay. Elizabeth was planning a surprise party for the day the anklet came off for good. It was hard but they had kept it secret with June and Mozzie's help, the older con seemingly happy to help.
Peter and Neal were currently finishing up a case involving a crew of cat burglars robbing some of the more historic brownstones with half a million dollar chandeliers and paintings that should be in museums. They had caught one man who was involved and he had pointed them towards a yacht on the harbor. It was one of the biggest boats and more like a floating mansion than a typical yacht. That was his crew's next target.
The plan was for Neal to pretend to be the owner while Peter, Jones and Diana would be off on the side listening in and waiting to pounce. Peter wasn't taking any chances as he stayed hidden below in the bowels of the ship listening in. The owner had allowed them to do this with the promise nothing would happen to his possessions or yacht. Hughes had promised the man all would be well taken care of, the words emphasized for Caffrey's benefit.
It was three days before Neal's freedom from his anklet and he was sitting in the master bedroom on the 2nd floor of the yacht. He was dressed in a burgandy silk smoking jacket and matching pajamas with a brandy in his hand as he watched the fire in the large hearth. It was a very nice ship he thought, listening to Peter telling him to be wary from the receiver in his ear. He nodded, hiding it with a yawn since he might be watched and overheard. Neal made a move to rise and move over to the bed when he heard a small sound but enough to know someone was there. The con acted like he hadn't heard it as he continued to turn off the lights and move towards the bed. Someone moved close and cocked a gun by his ear.
"Don't say a word... don't move!"
The voice was cold and unfeeling as he held up his hands and hoped that Peter had heard that. Someone pulled his arms behind him in the dim darkness punctuated by the flickering of the fireplace. They pulled a piece of tape over his lips as his wrists were cuffed behind him and he was pulled out of the room.
Peter heard everything, Diana and Jones asking what to do as he told them to move in closer but wait till he gave the signal. He moved from his hiding place as quietly as he could. The agent could hear the men talking in harsh whispers that were picked up by the hidden mic on Neal's jacket. Finally they spoke a bit louder, asking the con to open up a safe. The owner had changed it temporarily for the sting to something Neal could use. They had to catch the thieves red handed or it wouldn't work. Peter waited just out of sight of the room they were holding Neal in as he snuck around in the darkness. He could make out the faint forms of agents on the shore as he peeked into the room and watched the thieves at work.
"Thank you Mr. Conners. It was nice doing business with you."
They pulled Neal out with them at gun point, bags of what they had stolen from the billionaire being stuffed into backpacks on their shoulders. They yanked him along to the front of the yacht, Neal wondering where Peter and the rest of them were when a boat came up along the edge of the yacht, the engine practically silent.
"Take the goods while I take care of him."
He felt the gun pressed up against his temple, Neal realizing their MO had changed if they were killing the owners now. This was a new part of their plan that hadn't shown up before as he waited for Peter and everyone to come out of hiding and rescue him.
"It's a shame you'll be taking Mr. Conners' place as his body double. He wanted this to look as much like a heist as possible. Too bad you can't thank the FBI for us, Mr. Caffrey."
Neal blinked at the man who was smiling under his mask. He heard the gun cocking, waiting for the kill shot when someone yelled out.
"FBI! PUT YOUR HANDS UP!"
It was Peter! Neal was never happier to see his friend, kicking at the distracted man hard and then head butting him as he made a run for it. He could only move to the front of the boat as the gun man turned and blocked his path. There were urgent hissings from the other boat for the man to join them as Neal watched him glare at him then turn to leave. Neal had already loosened one cuff and once he had the other he pulled the tape from his mouth and ran towards the man. He saw a rope and ships' tackle on the end, picking it up to lasso the man's leg. He tripped the man up, diving at him as they struggled on the edge of the ship beside the boat with the other thieves.
Peter called out to the young man who turned a brief moment in his struggle, a moment too long as the two men fell over the side onto the other boat and it took off. The agent ran forward to leap over but was too late. Neal saw him disappear into the distance as the boat took off with him and the man still rolling around and struggling.
"Kill him! Someone kill him already!"
He saw the other men looking at the one yelling and one of them pulled out a pistol. Neal kept the masked man he was fighting with between him and the other men, the thieves hesitant to shoot one of their own. Finally he felt a hard punch to the solar plexus and fell over to the floor of the boat as the man who hit him grabbed a gun and pointed it at him.
"You fought a heck of a fight, Mr. Caffrey but now it's time for fate to intervene."
Neal didn't know what to think as the man raised the gun and aimed at his chest. He had screwed up by chasing the man but they had to have them with the evidence for it to work. They should be chasing them and he hoped the sound was still going through.
"Neal? Neal can you hear me?"
He heard the faint sound of Peter's voice in the earpiece and knew they were still there.
There was a gun shot and a loud splash.
Peter froze as he heard the sound, the coast guard boat stopping nearby so he could jump on. Jones and Diana joined him as they sped after the thieves. They had all they needed on tape and video but he hoped that Neal was ok.
"Neal? Neal answer me! Neal!"
Peter was talking into the mic but hearing nothing but static. The coast guard was closing in on the boat and another boat came from the other side till the thieves put up their hands and gave in finally. Peter jumped on board with the other agents looking around and seeing no sign of his consultant, partner and friend. He was on the wire telling everyone to get boats out there and skim the water till they found Neal. He approached the masked men, one of them looking particularly smug as Peter pulled off the man's ski mask and glared at him.
"Where is he?"
Diana looked worried as she came to intervene as did Jones but Peter didn't do more than shake the man, anger in his eyes as he tried to avoid doing more.
"I have no clue of whom you speak of. Are you missing a man, Agent?"
The man's green eyes twinkled coldly but Peter just pushed him over to a group of agents with a disgusted look.
"Book this SoB and get me a boat to comb the water with!"
It was just over a month before Hughes called off the search officially. The case against Conners and his crew was now upped from high larceny to murder of a Federal Employee. Peter was a wreck but he hid it with a look that made everyone but Jones and Diana shrink away from him. Hughes gave Peter the rest of the month off to settle down when he blew up at him over ending the search for Neal. There were words but Reese knew it was Peter's grief speaking so he didn't discipline him except to tell him to go home and stay there till he had gotten it out of his system. Hughes had been affected by Caffrey's loss as well, a sadness at seeing his number one agent so hurt by the loss of his partner and friend. Everyone quieter at having lost a person who had become a big part of their department and team.
The agent was devastated when they hadn't found a trace of Neal after two months much less three. It was hard to go to work when Peter was using every free moment to initiate a search of his own. He rarely slept or ate during the initial time after Neal's disappearance. The only sign that Neal had been in the water was the discarded mic and earpiece found by divers along with the burgundy smoking jacket. Any other signs of the ex-con were still to be found. Elizabeth was hard hit by the news, her plans to have the party for Neal's freedom turned from happy to sad as she created a wake in his memory instead. After four months, Peter finally had to give up hope of ever finding a trace of his friend. The coast guard could only say that they thought the under tow probably pulled the body out to sea if it hadn't been found by now. It was no consolation to know that Neal's body might be rotting in the ocean somewhere where it might never be recovered.
A year passed and Peter was not the same man he had been. He spent too much time at work but when he was at home he spent too much time looking over the original case files from when he chased Neal Caffrey and caught him. He stared at pictures in an album that Elizabeth had collected over time for a day when she knew Peter and Neal would no longer be cat and mouse but true friends. It had been a surprise for the party she had originally planned but now just served to remind them all of their loss and the young man who had ingrained himself so deeply in their lives. El found it hard knowing that the con she had once been jealous of stealing her husband's attention from her would now be gone forever. He had been a great friend and a surrogate son of sorts.
Mozzie came around the first month or so but then he disappeared, something missing with Neal gone. June would stop by off and on for coffee or invite them for dinner but Peter rarely joined them so it was just Elizabeth and it was hard not to want to cry. June really missed her boarder who had brought back the excitement of youth and life to her home. She had been one of his biggest cheerleaders as had El and now they could only recall what he was like.
Another five months passed and it had been nearly a year and a half since Neal's death. There had never been a body found but Peter knew as did everyone else that if he had been alive he'd have returned to tell them. The agent was certain of that if anything.
It was a Saturday and Satchmo was sitting on his pillow quietly chewing on one of his toys when the door bell rang. Peter barely acknowledge it, his hand holding the remote for the TV as he gazed blankly at the screen and surfed. He paused at a program and started to watch when El walked in from the kitchen and noticed what he was doing.
"Did you answer the door, honey?"
He looked up and shook his head, eyes stuck on the screen. El sighed noticing he was watching a show on impressionist artist which struck her as odd as she moved to answer the door.
"Delivery for Peter Burke."
The carrier was dressed warmly, a large thick muffler covering the lower half of his face and his cap the rest of it. Elizabeth looked back worriedly at her husband who continued to watch the screen. Satchmo perked up and moved off the pillow and over to the door beside his owner. She was trying to sign for the package when the dog barked ever so slightly, holding up a paw at the mail carrier.
"Nice dog. Lab?"
Elizabeth nodded, finishing up with the signature as she took the package and the carrier nodded slightly and left. She quickly closed the door against the cold, walking over to the sofa and dropping the large envelope in her husband's lap. He glanced up surprised at his wife.
Peter glanced at the package something familiar about the handwriting style but he couldn't quite place it. El leaned over and kissed him, Peter reciprocating as she smiled and left for the kitchen again. Peter's attention went from the program to the package, the dog sniffing at it as he finally tore it open and found a note inside.
"In the Backyard."
The note only contained those three words as Peter blinked and looked at the address again.
There was no street number or zipcode which confused him and he didn't know anyone in Missouri. The agent turned off the TV as he rose to go to the backdoor. Satchmo suddenly barked again, running to the back door and scratching in a familiar fashion that drew El back from the kitchen.
"Honey, what's wrong with Satchmo?"
Peter shrugged, pulling on his jacket and shoes as he grabbed the dog's lead and took him outside. He was still trying to figure out the note as he opened up the door and the huge lab went barrelling outside with Peter in tow.
The agent struggled to get control of the dog when the lab suddenly stopped and was jumping up at the gate excitedly. Peter moved to open it and a figure stood there wrapped up against the weather. Satchmo jumped up on the figure and was licking at their gloved hands as Peter tried to pull the dog away.
"Sorry... he's a little excited today."
The figure petted the dog gently on the head, their voice muffled by the scarf around their face.
"It's ok. Maybe he's excited for a reason, aren't you Satchmo?"
Peter was about to nod when he realized the man had called the dog by the right name.
"Did you just call my dog Satchmo?"
The figure nodded, pulling the muffler aside till Peter leaned back against the wall around their yard to keep from falling. The agent reached forward after a moment and touched the man on the shoulder, finally just gaping.
Elizabeth was fixing the table, bringing out a dish of greens when she heard the back door opening up. Peter had been gone quite a while. She had barely put the plate on the table when Peter entered, Satchmo in the lead.
"Did Satchmo behave once you got him outside, honey?"
She wasn't really paying attention to anything but the table till she saw the look on her husband's face. He was half in and half out of the door and the cold air was making her shiver.
"Honey, come in or go outside but please close that door!"
She noticed Peter finally nod at her as he stepped inside followed by another figure she hadn't noticed. They seemed vaguely familiar to her as she blinked at her husband. The figure was wrapped up in a scarf and she suddenly realized it was the mail courier from earlier.
"Did I forget to sign something for the envelope? Was there a payment?"
She was confused by his presence till Peter made a slight nod of his head and the figure removed their scarf and she gaped. Elizabeth looked about to faint as both men ran forward to catch her. Peter got there first as the other closed the door and El looked at her husband confused.
"I must have breathed in some gas fumes... Neal's..."
"Right here. I didn't mean to scare you."
El looked between both men, finally gaining her feet and standing up beside Peter as they both looked at the young con. He looked well for someone who was supposedly dead but she noticed a small scar along his hair line and a limp when he moved forward to sit with them. He seemed quieter too unlike the young man she had known before.
"Neal? I don't understand..."
"He just told me what happened, El."
Author's Note: I wrote this for my Menagerie set. It was just a scene but I've since been requested to finish it. I've been working on seeing how much I could write before I actually post and so far I have 3 whole chapters. Hoping for a few more but not sure where this will go exactly yet. It's a bit on the AU side of things or maybe more a PF (possible future) if I can make up my own fan fic short speak. :P