Note from the Phoenix: I hope you have all enjoying this story as much as I have! Thank you all for pushing me to write better! And, yes, I have thoughts for another White Collar after this one. So look for White Collar: The Eye of Sita.
White Collar: Knock on Wood
Neal woke in his own bed, slightly disoriented but not feeling as sick as he thought he should. He had scattered memories from the previous night that were all jumbled together. It was the itching around his wrist that reminded him of the Nightshade poisoning. His chest felt heavy and warm and he worried that it was a secondary effect from the Nightshade.
Slowly opening his eyes he found that once again it was Sparkles who was causing the odd feeling on his chest. Curled up in a tight ball of midnight fur the cat opened one of her emerald eyes. Neal tensed, waiting for the cat to hiss at him and run away. Sparkles just closed her eyes again and began to purr. Neal hesitantly reached up and scratched behind her ears. Sparkles pressed her head against his hand and purred louder.
"So we're friends now?"
Sparkles got up and stretched out her back before jumping down off the bed and walking off with her tail held high. The finicky feline was not about to admit that she enjoyed Neal's company too much. Rolling onto his side Neal noticed Peter sleeping on his couch. Curled up on his side Peter slept fitfully. Neal had always assumed that Peter would be a peaceful sleeper, but he jerked and twitched in the throws of some unknown dream. Neal waited until Peter naturally began to wake before disturbing him.
"Peter," Neal called in a mocking tone "I'm watching you sleep."
"Don't be creepy, Neal." Peter growled as he rolled over to put his back to Neal and tried to go back to sleep.
"Seriously, Peter, why are you sleeping on my couch?"
"Someone had to keep an eye on you."
"And you're doing an amazing job of that." Neal pointed out.
"I'm a light sleeper, I would have noticed if you'd gotten up."
Neal chuckled as he sat up. He knew the real answer was that Peter had tried to keep watch over him all night, but as the adrenaline of the night wore off he'd fallen asleep. Desperately thirsty Neal walked over to the kitchen and filled a glass from the tap. He wanted to just down the whole glass, but he sipped at it carefully in fear of upsetting his delicate stomach.
"Coffee?" Neal asked.
"Please." Peter groaned.
Hunting down the supplies Neal started some coffee. Peter didn't manage to sit up until the acrid scent of coffee filled the air. Neal decided against any coffee himself and just brought Peter over a mug. Neal sat down on the hassock across from Peter and handed him the coffee.
"Thanks." Peter said. "So...how much do you remember about last night?"
"Bits and pieces. Toffle thought that Josephine still had your gun and was demanding it."
"She was going to set Josephine and I up as a murder/suicide." Neal explained. "I'm unclear if I was going to be the murder or the suicide...I didn't think to ask."
"I wouldn't have believe either scenario."
"It would have been perfect though. You wouldn't have had any leads on Toffle if I hadn't called you. She would have just gone back to work on Monday and been shocked when I turned up dead."
"She's a dangerous one. She's in the hospital, but she's already fully laywered up. Without Josephine's testimony we'd be lucky to get her for kidnapping."
"I was too drugged to be a sound witness?"
"Exactly. Her lawyers would be able to twist anything you said around."
"I hate lawyers."
"Amen." Peter chuckled. "Remember anything else?"
"You...you thought I was shot." Neal said as he pieced the memory together. "You thought you had shot me. What made you think that?"
"I was in the building across the street when I saw her about to fire on you. I figured if I didn't take the shot you'd be dead either way."
"You hit Toffle from across the street through a pane of glass?" Neal asked impressed.
"Nice. Remind me to never give you a reason to put me in your sights." Neal said seriously. "I can't believe I lead Toffle straight to Josephine. I could have gotten us all killed."
"You weren't yourself, in fact you were very chatty."
"I was?" Neal asked nervously.
"Nightshade is an impressive truth serum, and it lasted until about three am."
"That's not good. What did I say?"
"You sang like a canary...quite literally at times." Peter teased. "How can one man, particularly one of your age, be involved in so much crime?"
"Natural talent?" Neal offered.
"Clearly. I couldn't believe the stories about Georgia."
"Georgia as in USA, or Georgia as in Eurasia?" Neal asked nervously.
"Both stories were equally shocking."
True fear filled Neal's eyes. He had several reasons for not wanting Peter to know the extent of his past crimes. Neal's greatest fear was that Peter would realize that he shouldn't be trusted. More than once Neal had turned on his partners in crime when things went wrong or too violent. Neal wasn't sure that he could explain to Peter that their partnership was different and that he wouldn't cut and run when things went wrong the way he had done to so many others.
"I'm going to wear this anklet for the rest of my life." Neal sighed miserably.
"No, don't worry about it." Peter assured. "Only the CIA accepts confession given under coercion, the F.B.I has more integrity than that. Your secrets are safe with me."
"Yeah. Besides I can't verify anything you said. I'm sure most of it was true, but you also said that your real name is 'Charles Lytton'."
"Isn't that the jewel thief from the Pink Panther movies?" Neal asked.
"Yup, and that you had once stolen the Hope Diamond."
"Maybe I did in a previous life. The last time it was stolen was 1775 from King Louis XVI."
"Statue of Limitations is probably up on that one." Peter pointed out.
Neal tried to smile, but his heart was still heavy. Sparkles came up and rubbed against Neal's leg and purred loudly. Neal absent mindly reach down and pet the cat. Peter sneezed, but didn't say anything about the animal. Being reminded of the past Neal's thoughts had drifted back to the Raphael painting and the implication behind it. It wasn't the fact that Kate had taken it that hurt, it was the fact that she would sell the personally meaningful piece for a fraction of its value that gave him the sting of betrayal.
"Everything alright, Neal?" Peter asked. "You've got that look."
"The 'I'm thinking about Kate' look."
"I didn't realize I had a 'look' for that."
"Everyone has a look for everything, you're just harder to read than most."
"I see, and am I an open book to you?"
"Far from it." Peter smiled sadly. "But I think I've translated a few pages."
"Did I talk about the Raphael last night?"
"You did, but nothing that surprised me."
"Neal, I knew the instant it was gone that you took it, I just could never prove it. The heist didn't literally have your fingerprints on it, but your signature was all over it."
"I had to make it flashy."
"And you did. I have to admit I was impressed. However, it was also the first step to figuring out that every move you made was for Kate, and ultimately lead to your capture."
"You would have caught me eventually anyway, I was becoming increasingly reckless in my attempts to impress Kate."
"Why was she hiding from you?"
"I've asked myself that same question a thousand times. I don't have an answer."
"Well the only important part about the past is that you loved her, and here in the present you didn't steal the painting when you had every opportunity to."
"Are you saying there is hope for me yet?" Neal asked with a slight grin.
"There's always been hope for you."
Neal managed a more genuine smile. Peter drank more of the coffee that Neal had made for him, clearly enjoying it more than the swill that they served at the office. Neal looked out the windows at the bright sunny day that was waiting for them outside.
"Peter, what happened to Josephine?"
"She's currently at a safe house waiting to testify at Toffle's trial."
"What will happen to her after that?"
"She had a lot more resources than we thought, somehow all of it clean. She was able to get some very expensive lawyers and got herself a really good deal."
"Better than the one I got?" Neal asked as he glanced down at his anklet.
"I need to stop using Mozzie for my legal advice."
"Now there's a thought."
"I don't suppose I could see her?" Neal asked.
"She's already requested to see you. I can take you over there."
Neal stood up and went over to the walk in closet. After a quick shower he changed into one of his favorite three piece suits and secured a deep blue tie with golden scroll work around his neck. Picking up his black fedora he flipped it on and pulled it over his eyes to tilt it forward. When he came back out into the main room Peter looked him over and shook his head sadly.
"It's Saturday, Neal. We're not going into the office."
"You must be feeling better."
Neal smiled brightly and picked up Peter's car keys from the table. Slowly getting to his feet Peter snatched the keys away from Neal before putting on his sports jacket from the previous night. On the way to the safe house Peter tried to make casual conversation about the crimes Neal had told him about the night before.
"Nice try, Peter, but I'm not confirming or denying any of that."
"Hey, I'm just making conversation."
Peter narrowed his eyes in irritation at Neal's demand, however they had just arrived at the hotel that house the 'safe house' and there was no time left for argument. Josephine jumped up from the couch where she had been sitting when she spotted Neal and Peter. She accosted them both with an enthusiastic embrace.
"You are looking well, Neal." Josephine said as she looked him over. "You have an impressive resistance to Nightshade."
"Not impressive enough. I am sorry that I lead Toffle to you."
"You don't remember protecting me from her, do you?"
"You were very brave." Josephine said proudly.
"That sounds like me." Neal chuckled.
"Oh brother." Peter grumbled.
"Peter, can I talk to Josephine alone for a minute?"
"Just remember this is a safe house, not the Playboy mansion."
"Trust me, the differences are obvious." Neal assured.
Peter gave Neal one more meaningful warning glance before stepping out into the hall with the Agent on guard. Josephine took Neal's hands in her own and guided him over to the couch to sit down.
"I can't thank you enough for believing me, Neal." Josephine said quietly. "I'm sorry for all the trouble I caused."
"It's okay. I wanted to ask you a question."
"Give me your palm."
"There is no question that I can not find the answer to in the lines of your life."
"You don't even know the question."
"I think I do."
Neal humored Josephine and held out his hand. Josephine took it gently and studied it intently. She traced a few of the lines with her fingertip and smiled. Neal looked at his own palm wondering what it was she was seeing in the fine lines of his hand. He couldn't help the way his heart started racing in anxiety. Josephine took a closer look at the center of his palm.
"This is rare. You have a duel Line of Fate."
"Like the Hanged Man," Neal smiled sadly "a struggle between two worlds?"
"Precisely. There is a point where your Fate is a merged line, but two distinct creases veer from one another here..." Josephine brushed Neal's palm sending a chill down his spine. "Two clear paths to chose from. One promises everything your heart desires, however it ends senselessly, a life without purpose with a violent end. The other path looks treacherous and unappealing at first, it does not offer what you want. Instead it gives you what you need, and it stretches out in a full life of meaning and reward."
"How will I know how to chose the right one when the time comes?"
Josephine's face lit up in a warm smile. She closed Neal's hand and held it in her own. Leaning forward she gently kissed his cheek. Neal found himself paralyzed by her once more as she brought her lips near his ear. Her warm breath brushed against his skin and seemed to slow his heart to a peaceful rhythm.
"Neal...you've already chosen."