More than Blood

Tag for 4.01 "Wanted"

Summary: Ellen Parker thought she knew what to expect of the FBI agent who locked Neal away in prison. She was wrong.

Disclaimer: Not mine!

This story is dedicated to Darth Mom who came up with the title for this little one shot. Thanks Darth Mom! :D

It is not flesh and blood, but heart that makes us fathers and sons.

-Friedrich von Schiller

Ellen Parker went home that night, her emotions coiled and rolling like the ocean she used to be able to see from her apartment window on Roosevelt Island. She sank into a soft chair, a cup of coffee warming her hands and the TV turned on low, lost in thought.

Life over the past twenty-five years had taught her she could depend on no one and nothing to be there long. It was all temporary; the house or apartment, the furniture, the city, the neighbors, the grocery mart a few blocks away. Nothing stayed the same. That was the life of someone in Witness Protection. One always had to be prepared to drop everything at a moment's notice, to start over from scratch, to adapt and change to a new environment as best as possible.

It was not that different from the life of a con man on the run from the authorities, she supposed. It certainly had taught Neal practically everything what he needed to know to disappear and live on the run.

When Neal came to her apartment six weeks ago, she had been only slightly surprised. There had been little doubt in her mind he would come back eventually. While she may not have spoken to him directly since the day he ran away, he had communicated with her with some short, handwritten messages. It was how they'd exchanged pager numbers when the fed were closing in on him six years before. At the time, it acted as a balm to her soul to know that however angry, however much he may have hated her, he still cared. But it could not compare to the relief she had felt when Neal told her he didn't hate her, in fact was grateful to her for telling him the truth.

Ellen sipped her coffee, glancing out the window at the New York lights as a tendril of fear wrapped around her heart.

Did she do the right thing giving the federal agent the emergency pager number?

No use wondering, her inner voice scolded. The deed was done.

Taking a deep breathe, Ellen reminded herself why she did it in the first place.

"I gave Neal the signal to run."

The words were like an explosion in her ears, ringing with truth and guilt and protectiveness. Why would an FBI agent, the same one who caught and imprisoned Neal for four years, signal Neal to run?

"The day of his commutation hearing, the day he would have gone free, an agent with a grudge decided Neal didn't deserve that freedom. So he was going to be hauled off for life. Prison—an anklet in D.C. Something he didn't deserve. So I gave him the signal to run."

Stunned, she had whispered, "You set him free."

It was shocking, an unexpected shot to left field she could not have anticipated. Peter Burke had freed Neal; let him go to protect him. It was difficult to process. She had not expected this anguish and genuine parental concern practically pouring out of the agent.

"And now he's out there somewhere. And the other agent who came to you..."

"Agent Collins?"

"He won't stop. Until he brings Neal back alive or…" Naked terror had shone in the man's brown eyes as he forced himself to finish. "Or otherwise. Ellen, if anything were to happen to him I-," he inhaled sharply. "I don't think I could live with it."

Ellen had been stunned.

Did Neal realize? Did he know? Did he understand just how far Peter was willing to go to protect him? He must have a notion, having obeyed Peter's signal to run. Ellen hoped and prayed the boy did for in Peter's expression she had seen the one thing she would have never believed possible: love. Peter loved Neal, as a father loves his son. And somehow she knew Neal returned the affection, saw Peter as the father he'd never had. She had known Neal as a child after all, watched him grow up; she knew just how badly he wanted—needed—a father figure in his life to guide him. By a stroke of fate or by Providence perhaps, he had found one in Peter Burke. Whether or not he understood it, what it meant, she had no idea. She could only hope.

So she told Peter about the emergency pager, gave him the number guaranteed to get him in contact with Neal. He'd lit up with hope when he picked up that small scrap of paper, a stark contrast to the fear only moments before.

"Protect our boy," she'd said. It was a plea and a command all at once. Protect him like she had not been able to fourteen years ago. Protect him because he needed it. And Peter had looked her in the eye and nodded. Some of the tension had left her.

Collins would not lay a single filthy digit on her boy. And if he did, if Peter did not reach Neal in time, she would come out of hiding and kick Collin's and Peter's butt into next year herself. But her instincts told her Peter would find Neal first. After all, he was the only one who had in the past. She'd been harsh on Agent Burke when she first met him because of that fact. How dare he lock Neal up! Now it filled her with an odd sense of security. Peter had told the truth the first time he appeared on her doorstep. He was Neal's friend.

Ellen was old enough to admit she had been blinded by her own prejudices as far as Agent Peter Burke was concerned. Sadly after what happened with Neal's father, trusting others, especially those working for justice and the law, had become very difficult. But seeing Peter earlier this afternoon, the raw fear and concern exposed in his voice and eyes…there was no denying he cared about Neal a great deal.

Moreover, she owed Peter Burke for protecting her boy since he was released on an anklet under FBI supervision.

No. Their boy, she corrected. The boy they both viewed as their responsibility, past and present, their son by rights of affection not blood.

Ellen inhaled deeply, closing her eyes.

Yes, Agent Peter Burke would find Neal. He would protect him.

And somehow he'd bring the prodigal son home.


Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you

Matthew 7:7

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