CHOOSE A SIDE
It was dinner time at the Burkes'. Peter had made it home at a reasonable time for once, and Elizabeth had been looking forward to having a nice conversation with her husband over meatloaf. Afterwards, they could relax, grab a beer or some wine and maybe enjoy a nice movie together. But as the minutes passed in silence, El slowly became sure that that plan would have to wait for another day.
"I've given the scrap to the gallery," said Elizabeth finally when it became apparent that Peter was more than willing to brood all the evening. "They should have the results in the next few days."
Peter looked at her with a tired smile. "Thanks, hon. I don't know what I'd do without you…"
El smiled and got up to massage Peter's shoulders. "Well, Agent Burke, then I guess it's a good thing that you have such a smart wife."
Dropping his grave expression for the moment, Peter laughed and squeezed her hand. "Oh, my wife is really smart and lovely. I'm definitely a lucky man."
"And I'm sure your wife knows she is lucky as well," said Elizabeth with a smile and kissed him on a cheek.
Then she sat next to him and her expression turned serious.
"So… have you thought about what you'll do if the tests do come back positive as recent work?" she asked quietly.
Peter gave a deep sigh. "I don't know, El," he admitted heavily. "Obviously, I will confront Neal about it. But beyond that…"
"You think you'd be able to turn him in?" asked Elizabeth softly.
"It's not a question of what I want," replied Peter. "If Neal truly stole it… I have a duty as an FBI agent."
"Yes, honey, but you have also bent the rules for him a few times before…"
Peter looked at her, obviously upset. "And you think I should do it again? If Neal really did it, you think I should still help him again?"
"I don't know," said Elizabeth simply. "But will you be able to live with yourself if you don't at least try?"
Peter shook his head. "Honey, there is little I would be able to do to protect him… And a part of me doubts I would even want to. If he really did it, if he planned it all and then lied to me – "
"I can't believe Neal would do that to you," said Elizabeth decisively. "He knows better than that."
"Yeah, but it's also the biggest score of his life," countered Peter. "The ultimate temptation. Neal has never been very good with impulse control."
"You think he could have pulled something this big on an impulse?" asked Elizabeth.
"I don't know, hon," sighed Peter. "I don't know what to think. But I know Neal, and I've watched him closely. The way he acts now, how he looks at me… there's more behind it; more than the grievance of an innocent man. He knows something, El, and he's hiding it from me. Whatever it is, even if he didn't steal the art himself, this doesn't bode well for him."
"But you would help him if you could," said Elizabeth gently.
"That would depend on Neal, I suppose," said Peter gravely. "On whatever he'd have to say for himself. I can't do this all the time, El," he said openly. "That's not how this is supposed to work. My job is to supervise Neal, not to clear up every mess that he leaves behind."
"Peter, you knew this might happen when you got him out."
"Yes, I knew," replied Peter a bit darkly. "And there was a damn good reason why it took me three months to decide."
"But things have changed since," opposed Elizabeth. "He's your partner now; your close friend."
"That's only more the reason why he shouldn't be putting me in this position again," retorted Peter sharply and got up from his chair. "There are certain lines that shouldn't be crossed. I've known there would a few bumps on the way with Neal as my consultant, but I always hoped it would never get so far that I would start to wonder where exactly these lines lie. Neal has pushed it once or twice before…"
"But it was for Kate," said Elizabeth plainly.
Peter grimaced. "Yeah. For Kate." He shook his head and turned to El. "There has to be a line somewhere, El," he said quietly. "If he truly did it – the explosives, swapping the paintings, the fire – then he shouldn't get away with it. And…" he hesitated and looked away.
Elizabeth came closer and gently pulled him into a hug. Then she touched his face to make Peter look into her eyes. "And…?" she asked softly.
"And the thing is, that even if he did it, even if he lied to me, to my face –" He let out a shaky breath. "If Neal asks me to help him – I can let him make an anonymous tip. I can redirect the investigation. After everything…" Peter swallowed and felt an involuntary shiver run through his body.
"How bad could it get?" asked Elizabeth hesitantly.
"If Neal's behind this, I'll soon have proof and a way to persuade him to turn himself in," evaded Peter. When Elizabeth's stare didn't lighten, he sighed. "Very bad."
Elizabeth looked a bit stunned. Then she collected herself: "Well, I can't believe Neal would be involved in this… But if he was – whatever you do, honey, I'm sure you'll make the right decision."
"Thank you," murmured Peter and let El kiss him and then lean her head on his shoulder.
But his unease didn't diminish.
What if there wasn't a right decision?
Peter knew that if it had been El's freedom or life at risk, even in the event that she had betrayed him (not that that would happen; Peter trusted his wife more than anyone else in the world), he wouldn't hesitate to do whatever it cost to protect her. Peter might be a good agent – but that was secondary when it came to his family.
If Neal stole the art and was discovered…
But Peter was an FBI agent. He had responsibilities.
And yet, he couldn't forget how Neal erased Fowler's tape, how he saved his life in Kent's office, nor how he gave up the two and half million dollar ring – Kate's engagement ring. He couldn't forget the unspoken words they exchanged before they cut the wires to the explosives on the sub.
No, even if Neal had conned him about the treasure, it couldn't completely erase the past two years. Their friendship wasn't a lie, of that, Peter was sure.
But he didn't know how far Neal was willing to go despite that friendship… or what he would give up, how far he would go because of it.
Peter had told Neal numerous times that a day would come when he would have to choose a side… But he hadn't thought of the fact that he might be forced to choose as well.
It would be incredible if the art have survived…
However, when Peter thought about the consequences, he really hoped that he was wrong.
Well, the next few days would give him the answers.
Deep down, Peter knew that no matter what test results came back from the gallery, he wouldn't be bringing the painting scrap back as evidence. The part of him that saw Neal as a friend and brother recognized that Peter had already chosen a side.
Now he could only wait for Neal to do the same.
A/N: This story has been beta'ed by GrayWolf84.
Reviews are deeply appreciated!