Such Fragile Bonds As These

Summary: In some ways, Peter trusts Neal more than anyone else in the world. In other ways, he can't trust him at all. Neal, for his part, thought they were past this.

A/N: First off, let me say how much I appreciated the review response to my first WC story. You guys seem like a very welcoming fandom and it's really exciting, so thank you all again. Anyway, now I'm a few episodes into the third season, and so I decided to try my hand at writing what is motivating both Peter and Neal at this time.

In some ways, Peter trusts Neal more than anyone else in the world. He knows Neal, knows the kind of man he is, knows his limits. He knows that Neal is not a murderer, and the one time he ever came close, it was not premeditated as much as it was an act of grief and rage. Peter trusts Neal with his life, even with El's life if it comes down to it.

Before his time spent with Caffrey as a consultant, Peter never knew it was possible to trust someone so much and so little at the same time.

Because for all the faith he has, for all the faith he wants to have that Neal will fly straight from now on, Peter sees things that other people don't. He sees the way Neal's eyes light up at a work of art, or even more so at a master forgery. He sees the slight twitch of the fingers, the way Neal glances at him just to see if he's watching. He sees the way Neal takes unnecessary risks on the job, as if he's trading one high for another.

What Peter doesn't understand is how Neal came to be this way. For a man as smart, attractive, and as charming as Neal, it should have been easy for him to find a real job. Peter is sure that Neal could have made a fortune through entirely legal ventures; he would also have the wife and son Peter knows he secretly wants, and still could have had long stretches of vacations abroad with the family in tow.

But part of Peter knows that Neal has always needed more. He needs the challenge of the game and the artistry of doing what no one else can do. And now, as Peter looks at a piece of Neal's painting singed around the edges, he feels the true sting of it, the betrayal. He's risked his life for Caffrey, he's shot a man for Caffrey, and still Caffrey wants to give it all away for one final con.

Peter's built up this trust between them block by tentative block, and with one gentle breeze and a painting on the wind, it all comes tumbling down to nothing.

It's been two years, and Neal thinks that it should count for something. Sure, he's had a few lapses of judgment, but he's been an asset to the FBI and he's legitimately helped people. He's taken down bad guys and saved Peter's job, saved Peter's life.

Two years should be enough to at least give him the benefit of the doubt.

But then Peter accuses him of stealing and hiding the art, and Neal doesn't know a damn thing about it, and it feels like a stab in the back that Peter can just be so sure. Peter's furious and yelling, and it's in this moment that Neal understands. The friendship and trust he thought they'd created has been nothing more than an illusion.

They've had a good run at pretending that this is more than business, pretending that it's more than a punishment, but the anklet on his leg has long since been a reminder of the truth.

So when Neal sees the art, perfectly intact and just waiting for him, he smiles. The game is not yet over, but he will not be Peter's pawn anymore.

It's just too hard to know that all the good he's done, all the good he could do, will never erase the past in Peter's eyes. It's just too much to know that it's never going to be enough.

So with this in mind, Neal Caffrey returns to the life he's chosen for himself and not the one the government forced upon him. If ever he gets a chance, he'll be ready to run with Mozzie and the art, and they'll never look back.

Not even once.

A/N: Neal likes to tell lies even to himself. And I know this isn't the only reason that Neal's pulling this con. He's an addict, and let's face it, that treasure is too tempting for him. But he was pretty much angrier than we've ever seen him, so I think it could be a factor. Reviews much appreciated, once again!