A/N: So, this is it. The final chapter to my story. I feel kind of sad, yet happy at the same time that I managed to accomplish this. I had never thought that I could write, and I managed to complete a story greater than 13000 words! Thank you everyone who read this, especially the 116 followers of this story and all those who favorite this. Thank you Fierce Queen for beta-ing this; 'Alone' really wouldn't have been the same without your help.
To all the friends I have made because of this story, you know who you are. This is for you.
"He took my wife."
Neal knew that things were never going to be the same when Peter choked out the words more than three weeks ago. It didn't matter that he had nothing to do with El's kidnapping or that he had played a major role in saving her life. He didn't steal the treasure, and, more importantly, he chose to stay. But none of that mattered to his handler because the most precious thing in his life had nearly been taken away from him.
"Neal, we need to talk." Peter said.
Neal knew that this day was coming. He had been dreading the day when Peter would come and finally slap cuffs around his wrists and toss him back into the awful six-by-eight cell. Neal knew for a fact that if he was thrown back into prison he would never come out alive. Sure, they would arrange protection for him, but guards had been paid off to look the other way many times in Neal's experience. Now that he had helped put a lot of criminals in prison, he was sure he would be dead before his sentence was up.
Peter had walked closer to where Neal was standing, and the con-man thought back to the day of El's kidnapping. Peter had, understandably, been furious. He had taken Neal outside for some privacy and slammed the young man against a wall. If he was honest, Neal had been scared of that side of Peter Burke and he wasn't sure that fear had subsided.
As Neal watched, Peter walked to the dining table and took a seat and gestured for him to do the same. The young consultant hesitantly made his way to the table and sat across his handler, watching him warily.
"Neal. I came here to apologize for the way I have treated you the past couple of weeks. You didn't deserve that. You're my friend, and I didn't even give you the benefit of doubt. You were trying to give me an explanation. I'm willing to listen now."
"Wait, I'm not going to prison?" Neal stared at Peter in shock.
"Who told you that I was here to put you in prison?" Now it was Peter's turn to be shocked.
"No one. I just thought.."
"You thought that because of the past few weeks I was going to send you back?" Peter let out a weary sigh. "I won't lie to you, the thought did cross my mind, several times actually. But then I realized, well El made me realize, that it was wrong. You helped save her, and I'm not sure of the role you had in the Nazi treasure to begin with. So tell me now, did you steal it?"
Peter had learnt in the two years that Neal had been his CI that he had in fact never lied to him. Sure, he twisted words, omitted a few essential points at times and deflected questions. But he had never blatantly lied to Peter. The FBI agent just needed to know which questions to ask.
"Do you know who stole it?"
"Yes, I do. But before you ask me, no, I won't tell you who it was." Neal stared Peter in the eye for the first time in God knows how many days, his eyes shining with a fierce determination.
And just as if Neal had admitted it to him, Peter knew that it had to have been Mozzie who was behind the whole Nazi treasure fiasco.
"It was Mozzie, of course it was Mozzie!" Peter let out an annoyed sigh when Neal refused to meet his gaze or reply to him.
In all the years Peter had known Neal; the con-man was quite loyal to his friends. It had been frustrating at times, when Neal managed to get one of his criminal friends off the FBI's radar, but Peter had respected that nonetheless. Neal had gotten Alex out of trouble more than once that way. But he was here to understand, not to interrogate. So he would let that go.
"Wait, so the day of the explosion? When I shot Adler.."
"I had no idea about anything. I honestly thought that the treasure had burned."
"So when I accused you of faking the explosion..." Peter said, realization suddenly striking him, taking his breath away.
"I was totally innocent." The con-mans lips were a thin line.
"Neal, I'm so sorry. I really thought you had done it."
"Oh, Peter, that's just bull! I told you that I hadn't stolen the treasure. I have never lied to you. And yet you kept me up all night to take the polygraph test. You didn't believe me. You never trusted me and you never will." Neal let out a bitter laugh as he started pacing the length of the room agitatedly.
"I had proof, I had a piece of your painting of the Chrysler building which flew out of the warehouse."
"Yeah well, someone must have allegedly replaced the Nazi loot with my art and let it burn instead," Neal said, a hint of sadness lacing his voice as he thought about his destroyed art. He was, after all, an artist at heart and it physically hurt when he found out that his creations had been destroyed.
"Okay, but you did find out about the treasure. Why didn't you turn it in?"
Neal gave Peter an incredulous look. "You had blamed me for doing something I hadn't done. I was angry. And then I saw the art. And I was tempted, so tempted." Neal's eyes took on a dreamy look as he returned to his previously occupied chair.
"So you were going to run?" Peter felt anger bubbling beneath the surface.
"Do you wish you had left when you had the plane ready?" To Peter, this was a question he desperately needed answered. Would Neal have run if he the chance?
"I realized that New York is my home now. I have a life here. So no, I don't regret it."
Peter stared at the young man as he turned over this knowledge in his head
"I wanted to stay Peter," Neal said with vulnerability in his voice Peter had never heard before. "I chose to stay."
And suddenly, everything made sense to Peter. It felt like a huge burden had been lifted from his shoulders.
"I'm so sorry about El. It's all my fault," the young man lamented.
"What happened to El wasn't your fault Neal. You didn't steal the treasure." He had wanted to reprimand Neal, explain to him that even though he wasn't the one directly responsible for El's kidnapping, he had in fact played a rather important role. Neal's inability to turn in the treasure when he had found it had eventually led to this. If Neal had only made up his mind to stay or leave earlier, this wouldn't have happened.
Peter wanted to shake Neal, to yell at him. It wasn't him but he had been angry that the love of his life had been dragged into danger because of the younger man's greed. But he could understand now why he had done what he did, at least to a certain extent. Neal had lived as a criminal for so long he didn't know what else to do. But he was trying. His delay in leaving with the treasure was proof of that.
"No. But Keller knew about the two of you because of me. First, he kidnapped you. Then El. He killed a man in front of me in cold blood, Peter. He wouldn't have hesitated to hurt either of you." Neal turned haunted eyes towards him.
"Neal, listen to me. This was all Keller's doing. You weren't responsible for it. Sure, you could have turned in the treasure and this might have been prevented…" Peter was now solely trying to comfort the con-man because it was obvious Neal had been blaming himself for what had happened more than anyone else.
"Peter, you don't understand. He is my oldest friend. He was there for me at a time I was totally alone. I don't know what I would have done if he wasn't there." Neal turned pleading blue eyes towards brown ones. And Peter suddenly understood what the con-man had been going through. Peter and Mozzie had been pulling him to two completely opposite directions. He was being forced to choose between his two best friends, between being a con or a man. And he had chosen the later, Peter realized with a jolt.
"I get it Neal. Now, can you forgive me for being a total ass the past few weeks?"
"I thought you'd never ask." Neal replied cheekily, eyes shining with mischief.
God, he had missed his smart-aleck CI.
"Peter, I am truly so sorry for what El had to go through. What I put you through. I will understand if you don't want to work with me anymore." Neal looked straight into Peter's eyes with anguish filling his.
"Neal, I know. I also know that you're busy berating yourself for what happened more than anyone else. To me, that means everything right now. Because it shows that you are willing to change your ways."
Neal nodded fiercely, determination filling his eyes.
"Though I think now you can forgive yourself. Everyone is fine, and you have learned your lesson."
"So forgive and forget?" Neal's hopeful voice was rather husky and his eyes were suspiciously bright.
"Forgive and forget, buddy," Peter said, as he placed a comforting hand on his consultants shoulder.
He didn't expect Neal to turn around and hug him back tightly.
"God, I wish we had met me when I was younger. You would make a great Dad."
Surprise and happiness filled Peter's heart and blinked his eyed rapidly. Stupid allergies were acting up.
The two men finally parted, subtly clearing their throats.
"Why don't you come over for dinner tonight? El's making one of those foofy things you like so much."
A genuine smile lit Neal's face. "I'd love to."
Peter gazed fondly at his friend did his hat trick and placed the old fashioned hat atop his wavy hair. He had truly missed Neal acting like a cartoon. It might take some time, but they would be okay.
A/N: Thank you for reading. This is it, the end of a story which turned out to be more than just a one-shot because of all your support and encouragement.
A special thank you to grandmadiva who is the reason why I wrote this in the first place. I had posted the wrong document as the first chapter initially and she was kind enough to point it out after which I uploaded the correct story and all of you wonderful people supported me and drove me to write it.
I would also like to thank hickeyosemite, Fab 50's, CaStaub, Elle92, Silverdawn2167, govagal, aliceann, Linoria, wotumba1, melgoodwin, SallyCarefree, EvE79, FedoraGirl90, Linaceae, ccluvhorses101, castielslittleleviathan, BlueDiamondStar, leahk80, kat11bookworm and the guest reviewer AlexHa , ale ,Alyce, and all the rest of you who I couldn't mention. I read each and every single one of your reviews and they all made me so happy!
And my heart is breaking a bit as I finish my extremely long rant; Please leave behind a review if you can. I hope to see you guys soon.