Summary: In the end, capturing Caffrey felt a lot like letting Neal go. Peter, post-Judgment day.
A/N: So, this one is a result of a few different forces. Firstly, I felt the need to experiment a bit because my usual writing style just wasn't conveying the gravity of Judgment Day in a way I felt was right. One problem I was facing was that I was trying to write about Neal at first, and found myself repeating a lot of what was already in the episode, and while I haven't quite given up on that, it was time to give Peter a try. And last but not least, Min Daee's fic, Blur, set my brain on fire with inspiration even though it's not about the same thing. I also recommend Min Daee's Draw the Line, which is about Judgment Day and is also awesome.
Peter Burke's been called a lot of things (the Suit, the Fed, and Mr. Satchmo all come to mind), but no one has ever called him stupid. Sure, he doesn't know much about the arts or history except as far as they apply to his job (still more than most will ever know), and he's never been able to outsmart a certain con (playing to his emotions is not the same thing and always felt a bit like cheating), but Peter Burke isn't dumb by any means.
He's intelligent enough, aware enough to see the parallels, the irony. They tend to mock him at every moment, and when he finally returns home after hours of interrogation (payback for the same treatment, a voice whispers), he rolls his neck slightly and stretches his muscles, trying to shake off the feeling of loss.
But it's sunk deep into his skin, and to cut it away now would allow nothing to remain.
El's been waiting up, of course, and she doesn't speak, though the tears in her eyes say so much more than words ever could. He knows she feels it too.
She hugs him tight, and for a wild moment, he has absolutely no strength and she's the only thing holding him up. They sit on the couch (he calls it Neal's couch, because that's where he first met El and Satchmo and inevitably snuck his way into Peter's personal life), and Elizabeth rubs a gentle hand across Peter's back. "Are you in trouble?" she asks finally, and he knows it's just too hard to ask about what matters, about the one who's gone.
"They think I warned him, tipped him off."
She isn't surprised, and he didn't expect her to be. She breathes in deeply, slow and sad.
"But they have no proof," he continues. "What I did barely counts, to be honest. A shake of the head and he knew to run." Peter almost wants to laugh, because it's absolutely ridiculous, that they know each other to the point of swift, silent communication. But after all these years, after everything, perhaps it shouldn't be surprising.
Three years of chasing Caffrey, three years of being partners with Neal. You learn a lot about a person that way. He knows Caffrey's shoe size, distaste of guns, preferred aliases. He knows Neal's favorite cereal, his hopelessly romantic nature, and he knows the subtle difference between a Caffrey smirk and a true Neal smile.
And he knows that Neal's always had this almost child-like faith in him to make things right, to make it all work out in the end. The only one I trust...
Peter feels like a failure.
Neal never should have had to run, never should have had to make that choice when he'd, for once, so desperately wanted to stay.
The only one who could change my mind...
They've been in this together for years now, as Burke and Caffrey, Peter and Neal. If one was ever without the other, it was only because one was trailing closely behind (usually Peter, Neal always seemed to be one step ahead). But through everything, through birthday cards and champagne delivered to a surveillance van, through second chances and the loss of Kate, through close calls and the distrust that's cropped up now and again, through doing wrong things for the right reasons and the right things for the wrong reasons...
It's just such a punch to the gut, that it must end so suddenly, and Peter can't fix it, wouldn't even know where to begin. I'm sorry, Neal, Peter thinks, even as Elizabeth coaxes him to bed. But at least you're free.
Peter's not stupid - he sees the parallels, and in the end, capturing Caffrey felt a lot like letting Neal go.
The thing is, neither Peter nor Neal have ever been able to stand the taste.
A/N: I had quite a bit of fun with this one. Reviews much appreciated, as always.