Hello all! I know it has been entirely too long. I thought about discontinuing this story because I'd lost confidence about it and felt like I wasn't getting the relationship between little Neal and Peter right anymore. I shouldn't have left you guys hanging, though. I am so glad that things finally, finally calmed down with school and work and I was able to complete this for you. Thanks so much to all the people who left me chapter ideas in their reviews; it really means a lot. And re-reading them also helped me get up the courage to update again. I've decided this is going to be the final chapter. I think I've left Peter, Neal and the rest of the gang in a good place. I hope you will think so too. Your never-ending support has been the greatest gift on this long journey. I appreciate you all so much. This chapter was inspired by an idea from caseylf123. Thank you! Hope you all enjoy.
If any other voice had woken him at this hour, the person it belonged would have suffered consequences. Big time. Jones would have been temporarily fired, Diana threatened with re-organizing the file room for the rest of the year, El… well, El, he would try to be gentler. That left Neal. That voice pulled Peter from a deep sleep and doused his senses in ice, making him bolt upright with his heart hammering against his ribs.
El flipped her bedside light on and sat up too. "What was that?" she asked, eyes wide and questioning. Why did she look so scared?
Peter threw the covers back and strode out of their bedroom and down the hall. He stopped in front of Neal's room, and the voice came again, from the other side of the door. Peter felt his throat tighten. He'd nearly forgotten the sound of that voice. He pushed the door the rest of the way open – he and El were used to keeping it ajar so they could hear if the little guy moved during the night.
"Oh my god…"
Neal stood before him. All six feet of him, wrapped in the now tiny Thomas the Train comforter. His hair was sticking up on the left side.
"Peter," he breathed, and Peter found that he couldn't for a second. Neal was back. Neal was there, right there, standing in front of him. A good three feet taller, with those broad shoulders, and elegant, slender hands. Any trace of the tiny boy they'd come to know so well was gone –
"Peter!" Neal said again, a big grin spreading across his face. "I can't…" He laughed, and Peter felt his eyes sting at the familiarity of the sound. "I'm… me."
Peter gave a shaky laugh too, and before he knew what he was doing, he'd grabbed Neal by the shoulders and drawn him into a tight hug. Neal chuckled and clapped him on the back. They lingered for a while until Neal cleared his throat.
Peter coughed, and backed up, dropping his hands to his sides. "You are."
They were interrupted by a gasp from the doorway. El stood there, rooted to the spot, her eyes even wider now. "Neal? Oh... Neal!" She shook herself and hurried over to wrap him in a hug.
"My lack of clothes really doesn't seem to bother anyone, huh?" he muttered as they broke apart. Peter clipped Neal upside the head. That was… normal.
"Let's get you some clothes then." He let El and Neal lead the way to the master bedroom, lingering behind for a few seconds. He couldn't detach his eyes from the tiny bed in the corner by the window. Those tiny little fingers and tiny little feet were gone now. That was all he'd wished for a long time. To get the Neal they knew back. Why did it feel so wrong now?
Neal sighed contentedly as he sat with his feet up on his desk. He got pleasantly familiar, reproachful looks as a couple of agents in dull suits passed by, and the same flustered blushing from the receptionist. He could get used to this part of things again. The rest still had his mind reeling. He'd been up and pacing until four this morning, measuring how much things between him and Peter could have changed. Though he'd tried not to dwell on it too much, tiny, flitting images had kept popping into his mind. Him at three years old, holding Peter's hand in front of the Christmas displays at Rockefeller Center. Peter, not his father. El picking him up at school. His later memories remained the same. But those with Peter and El… They had a pleasant glow to them that those with his mother and father lacked. He couldn't wrap his head around it, so had pushed it to the background of his mind. For now at least.
Things hadn't changed in the end, surprisingly. Neal had expected awkwardness and avoidance, and instead had been greeted at 7 am by the same old Peter, albeit a little distant. He'd probably been up late too. Or maybe it was because Neal hadn't respected the 'no talking before coffee' rule. But when did he ever?
Peter slapped his feet with a thick file, pulling him out of his musings. "New case," he said, "Right up your alley too."
Neal rubbed his hands together and grinned at the spectacular eye roll Peter gave him. "What? It's always better than mortgage fraud."
"Even when it involves a dead body?"
"Don't push your luck. I've got plenty of mortgage fraud cases that need a home."
Neal sobered and obediently read through the file. It was a simple case. Intercept Maxwell Harley, renowned art thief and forger, during the auction where his painting was to be sold. Bids starting at an even one million dollars.
"How was this guy never caught?"
Peter sat down on the edge of Neal's desk and dragged a hand down his face. "He's got the money for a security detail. And the firepower."
Neal raised his eyebrows, unimpressed. "Peter, seriously, what's the catch?"
"He's managed to have every agent sent after him shot to death, and still gotten away in the end. All by hired killers who pretty much dropped off the face of the earth, leaving us with nothing on the guy. His records are squeaky clean. We need someone who knows the ropes to go undercover… Offer the highest bid, without raising suspicions, get close to him."
Neal drummed his fingers on the desk, excitement already humming through him. "You're thinking if someone more like him can worm their way in, he won't get suspicious?"
"Seems like our last resort."
"How'd he pop back up on the Bureau's radar?"
"The body. The closest we ever got to him was when we interviewed his girlfriend of the time, Natalia Savalyeva. She said he'd knocked her around a few times, and that she'd try to get us into his apartment." Peter pointed to the wall honoring agents killed in the line of duty. "Special Agent Jeffery Layton took the bullet meant for her as the minute they stepped out of HQ after that interview. We were going to put her in witness protection, but she was gone within hours. Her body was found last night in a ditch upstate."
Neal flipped through the forms and scanned documents to find her picture. Natalia had long, styled blond hair, elegant and sophisticated red lips wearing a tiny crystal necklace. He grinned and bounced his eyebrows up and down at Peter. "The guy had good taste. I'm looking forward to the mingling after the auction."
Peter held up a hand and leant in. "I reiterate: dead body. Neal, this isn't just some occasion to go to a snazzy event and wear a tux. Harley is dangerous."
Neal nodded, but mentally shrugged it off. It was good to be back.
Things had gone so smoothly. Until, as things often go, they just suddenly weren't. Harley's two muscle men stood in strategic corners of the luxurious hotel auction room in black suits, huge arms crossed over their chests. The intentional bulge under their arms showed the whole room, and Neal in particular now, that they were the real deal.
The painting was his – mission accomplished on that front – but it didn't look wise to stay and socialize much longer tonight. Harley and he had connected surprisingly well before the auction, and the man had seemed pleased the painting had gone to someone with the same affinities as him. Harley had drifted in and out of different groups of extremely well dressed party goers later, until one had pulled him aside and begun talking urgently in his ear. Neal had the watched the whole thing and the bad feeling he'd gotten when the two parted turned out to be more than justified. This was the biggest auction taking place in the art world in New York City at the moment. How they had not been prepared for the eventuality of someone recognizing him, Neal did not know. Yet exactly that had occurred and now, Neal quickly slipped through the gaps between groups of tuxes and sparkling dresses and made a quick retreat for the door. It wasn't exactly a surprise when Harley's muscle men followed, hands reaching inside their jackets. Bad, bad news. Neal quickened his pace, slipped around the corner ahead a few feet ahead and slipped through the door to hotel's underground parking garage.
. . . . . . . .
"I've got trouble," Neal's voice crackled through Peter's headphones.
"Where are you?"
"Parking garage, level 3. Harley's following. I need an out now." Peter signaled to Diana to pull the video feed up.
Neal ran past under the camera, and quickly after followed Harley's security detail, guns drawn.
"Time to go, guys."
Diana held up the rear while Jones and Peter ran ahead into the parking garage. SWAT stayed way behind, but ready to intervene. They were nearing the stairwell door when it burst open, and Harley himself bolted out. He took one look at them and opened fire, sending the three of them diving for cover behind nearby cars. Diana and Jones retaliated with a few shots, then there was the sound of feet pounding the pavement as Harley ran deeper into the garage, towards Neal and the bodyguards.
Peter turned back to Diana, who nodded curtly to him. "We've got you covered, go get Neal."
He gave her shoulder a squeeze, then left the cover of the car and ran out into the open. Harley's voice echoed down from a few floors up, furious. "Neal Caffrey! I've heard about you, you little prick. You really thought you could cheat your way in with us?!"
Peter found a second stairwell door, burst through and took the steps two at a time. He threw a look over his shoulder once, and was relieved to see Diana and Jones were right behind him. Peter lay his ear against the fifth floor level door, and Harley's voice floated in loud and clear from the other side. He counted to three, then kicked the door open.
A gunshot exploded, causing all three of them to lurch back in surprise. The next few seconds blurred as SWAT burst in, and Harley and his body guards were forced face down onto the grown and roughly put into cuffs.
Neal stumbled back a few steps, banging into the car behind him. His hand went to his right shoulder, eyes wide in disbelief, then slid down it to the ground.
"Neal!" Peter sprinted over to him, yelling for Jones to call a bus. He knelt down on the concrete by him, gently prying his hand away from his shoulder. With some trepidation, he peeled the suit jacket back. "Jesus…"
A crimson stain was already spreading across the fabric. Peter pulled his own jacket off and balled it up against the wound. Neal shrunk back, making a pained sound through gritted teeth.
"I'm sorry…" Peter muttered, "Just hang in there, okay?"
Neal nodded, eyes squeezed shut. He'd paled considerably in just a few minutes. "Sorry…" he murmured. "Didn't go so…well."
"No, no, no, you did fine. You did just fine… Jones!" Peter called, hands shaking slightly. "Where's that goddamn bus?"
"ETA's four minutes, boss."
A clammy hand latched onto his left wrist, and Peter turned back to Neal. "Help is on the way. You're going to be alright, you hear me?"
Neal's eyes were beginning to lose focus, so Peter shook him gently. He moaned at being moved. "D-dad?" he whispered, not letting go of Peter's wrist. "Don't l-let me…"
Peter felt his eyes sting. "Neal, look at me," he tried a little more forcefully. "You're going to be okay." You have to be okay.
Neal's eyes slid shut.
Two days. It had taken Neal two long days to wake up, and two more for him to say anything remotely coherent.
Peter stifled a yawn as they drove down toward Lenox Hill. From what Diana had last told him, Neal was doing better, and talking coherently. Good news. He wasn't too happy Diana had spent all night at the hospital again. Neal's sudden 'change' should have been a relief to everyone. The tiny version of the Neal Caffrey they had grown to know – and love - had left a deep imprint on each of them, Diana included. They'd gone from losing that tiny, blue eyed child to almost losing Neal altogether in the space of just a few days. Peter felt numb.
"Peter," Elizabeth brought him out of his thoughts by taking his hand over the middle armrest. "What did Diana say?"
"Neal's getting there… He'll be okay."
El smiled softly. "Yes, he will."
The look on Diana's face when they got to the hospital made Peter go cold inside. He'd only seen that look a few times.
"Neal's gone, Peter."
Gone. Peter's mind went into overdrive. Diana was still talking to him; he could barely register what she was saying.
"I checked his tracking data… It says he's still in his room. He must have cut his anklet."
He turned away, leaving Diana and El alone in the hall, and made his way to Neal's hospital room. The bed was empty, the sheet trailing off of it and onto the floor. Peter scanned the whole room, flipped the light on in the adjoined bathroom and peered out the window into the parking lot four stories down.
"Neal?" He called uselessly, his voice sounding loud and invasive in the quiet room.
Then a soft sound reached his ears.
High pitched and quiet, like a whimper. He strained to hear against the pounding of his heart. There was rustling, and a tiny hand poked out from under the bed.
Somehow, Peter found himself on his knees on the floor. "Neal?" He barely recognized his own voice.
A second hand tentatively reached out from under the bed, feeling the tiles with tiny fingers, then a head of brown curls appeared and Peter didn't even try to stop the tears.
Neal looked up at him, blue eyes wide. "Small again…" the little voice said.
Something shook Peter out of his trance and he scrambled forward and whisked Neal's tiny body up against him. "Are you okay? Oh my god…" He ran his shaking hands over the child's little frame. Any trace of the gunshot wound was gone. Peter was too relieved to question why and pulled Neal into a tight hug.
"Petew," Neal's muffled voice came from somewhere against his chest. "I naked."
Peter laughed shakily and stood Neal up to grab the sheet off the bed and wrap it around him. Neal reached out a tiny hand and placed it on Peter's cheek. "You always here, Daddy," he whispered, the tiny fingers patting at the wetness of Peter's tears. "I always here too."
"I'll always be here, little man. Always."