A Matter of Trust

AN: This is just a shameless story of angst and whumpage. Enjoy!

"I didn't do it." Neal told Peter. "I did not do this."

Peter looked at Neal. "It's your handiwork, Neal. You signed it. You SIGNED it, Neal!" Peter took the painting out of the evidence bag and showed him the signature. "That's yours. We found it on the wall, in place of the original, Neal."

Neal shook his head. "I did not do this." Neal paused.


"Peter!" Neal pleaded. "Do you really think I would be that stupid?"

Peter just shook his head. He put the painting back into the evidence bag.

Neal left Peter's office and went back to his desk, whispers of his 'alleged' guilt following him. He sat down in his seat. He leaned back and stared up at the ceiling for a moment. He then righted his chair to see Peter staring at him.

"Let's go Neal." Peter said, walking towards the door.

Neal got up and obediently followed. "Listen Peter, I…."

Peter just shook his head, waving away Neal's objections.

Neal dropped his head and followed Peter onto the elevator.

Peter was angry and Neal could feel it in the same confines of the elevator. "Don't you get what you have here? Don't you get it? Don't you get how good this deal is for you?" Peter asked.

Neal opened his mouth to speak.

Peter shot him a look and he closed his mouth quickly. "I put my reputation on the line with this…with you." Pete said, exasperated. "And you…you just don't give a damn."

"I know what I have here, Peter. I know. I was just thinking…I know who this is. I know who's doing this…Keller. Keller's out! He escaped!"

"Neal..." Peter said, shaking his head. "If Keller were out…we would know. He's not out!" Peter paused. "And isn't it just really convenient that you named him."

"He's out, Peter!" Neal insisted. "Maybe somebody forgot to tell you guys. But it's true. He has it in for me." Neal paused. "If you remember, he said the game's not over."

"Somebody FORGOT to tell the FBI." Peter repeated. "That doesn't happen, Neal."


"No, Neal!" Peter put up his hand to stop him. "Stop blaming other people for the things you did!"

Neal opened his mouth to speak.

"Stop it!" Peter paused. "Just stop it!" He made no effort to try and conceal his anger. "You're going back this time, Neal. I mean it."

"Every day you make me prove myself all over again. It's…I don't get credit for anything. What about all those cases I've helped you solve? What about all the times I led you guys to the criminal? What about that?" Neal asked. "Why do I not get credit for anything? You knew what I was when you agreed to do this. Do you regret it?" Neal asked, surprised by his last question. He had wondered it before. But he hadn't dared ask it. He wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer.

Peter looked at him for a moment. "Maybe I do." He stated, honestly.

Neal felt as if somebody had stuck a knife in his heart.


Peter sighed. He and El were sitting at the dinner table and he was playing with his food.

"Maybe this whole thing was a huge mistake." Peter sighed.

"You can't believe that." El looked at Peter, not believing her ears.

"He's blaming the whole thing on Keller."

"Keller's out?" El asked, alarmed.

Peter shook his head. "We haven't gotten any word on that."

"And they would tell you?" El questioned.

Peter nodded. "Given what happened to you…yes."

"Isn't it possible?" El asked.

"Whose side are you on here?" Peter asked, slightly offended.

"Yours, Hon." El replied. "But Neal may have a point."

"And what would that be?"

"Maybe Keller is doing things from prison." El explained.

Peter shook his head. "…doubtful given Keller's personality…. He's burned every partner he's ever had. He has no money to pay anybody. He's…."

"There are ways." El replied.

"But why now?"

"Maybe it's taken him this long to get things…arranged." El stated. She could tell Peter was not quite buying it. "Just give Neal a chance."

Peter sighed. He would look into things a little more in the morning.


Neal looked up at Keller through the one eye that was not swollen shut.

"You did this!" Neal said as a spray of blood came from his lips.

Keller grabbed a handful of Neal's hair to hold his head steady. Keller smiled. "It was easy, Caffrey." Keller said, kneeling close. "I know your style. I found that stash of your art work, and I took my pick. And the best part is everybody blames you…Sweet Revenge."

Keller took the butt of his gun and hit Neal again across the face. Neal head fell to his chest as he lost consciousness.

Keller had followed Neal home from work. He had forced Neal, at gunpoint, into the back of a van. Keller had them had his hired thugs bring Neal into a room in an abandoned warehouse and tie him to a chair. Keller smiled as he looked down at his victim. Keller had escaped two days ago. He had since been hiding out, following Neal's movements. He was waiting for an opportune time, when Neal and Peter were not together. Last night had been perfect. Neal had opted to walk home. Keller had waited until Neal was far away from the FBI building and then nabbed him. Keller left Neal's anklet on. He didn't need the added attention, yet. He would cut the anklet when he was ready. But he had not decided in what condition the FBI's C.I. would be in when he was returned.


Peter was pacing his office. It was 9:05 a.m. and Neal was late.

"Call Neal, try his phone! Call June!" Peter said to Diana and Jones. "Check his anklet."

Diana nodded. She called Neal. "It's going to voicemail." She then went to the computer. "We have a signal. He's at 207 East 42nd Street." Diana paused. Neal was still in his range. "Wait! The…it's been cut. The anklet's been cut!" Diana replied, looking at Peter.

"When?!" Peter asked, looking at the computer screen.

"Just now!" Diana replied.

Jones got off the phone with June. "Neal didn't come home yesterday. Nobody's seen him."

"Come on!" Peter replied, extremely worried. He grabbed his coat and Diana and Jones followed him out to his car.

They arrived on the scene 10 minutes later. They searched the building. They entered the room were Neal had been held. There were blood-stained ropes still tied to the chair. There were several large drops of blood on the floor. But, most importantly, they found Neal's fedora, his jacket, and his anklet cast aside into a dark corner of the room.

Peter knelt down. He could tell the blood was still fresh. He picked up Neal's hat and his jacket. He then picked up the anklet and threw it across the room in an expression of anger.

"Damnit! He was right! He was right!" Peter said as he began to pace.

Diana looked at him. "Right about what?"

"Call the NY Department of Corrections. Get the status on Keller." Peter replied.

Both Diana and Jones just stared for a moment. "Keller!?"

Peter nodded.

Diana made the phone call. "He's out…escaped three days ago."

Peter shook his head. "The bastard will kill him. He'll kill Neal."


Neal slowly opened his eyes. He didn't know where he was, but he knew that they had changed locations. And he could tell he was no longer wearing his anklet.

Neal looked up at Keller. "Why…?"

"Why did I do this?" Keller asked. "Why did I wait so long?" He grinned. "I told you that our little 'game' was not over. Do you remember that?" Keller walked around Neal's chair. "But mainly I had a little time to think, being locked up And I decided that you were to blame for all my problems. I could have paid off the Russians a long time ago, if you hadn't screwed me over on the bottle of wine. Then I had to co-operate with the feds on the U-boat thing. You can imagine how happy that made me. I've been following you for the past two days. I just had to wait until the opportune time to make my move."

"…brought it…on yourself." Neal said through his pain.

Keller's thugs had broken Neal's ribs and dislocated his left shoulder. Keller had given him a concussion. Neal was fighting just to stay conscious.

Keller glared at Neal before he punched him in the face.


Peter, Diana and Jones loaded into the car. Peter deposited Neal's jacket and hat on the backseat. Peter smacked his hand, repeatedly, against the steering wheel. He had no idea what to do now. He had no clue what Keller was up to, except that Keller, most likely, was blaming Neal for all his troubles. And then he remembered, he hadn't even called El and updated her on the fact that Neal was missing. He hated to worry her. But he knew she would want to know what was going on. He made the call.

"Keller could be anywhere with Neal. He…." Peter lamented. "He could be anywhere." He drove back to the office, unsure what to do next.

Peter's phone rang just he walked into his office. He picked it up on the second ring.

"Agent Burke, remember me?" Keller asked.

"What have you done with him?" Peter demanded.

Peter nodded to Diana, and she sat about trying to trace the call. Diana shook her head. Keller was using a burn phone.

"Agent Burke, you are in no position to make demands. After all, I have your golden boy." Keller said smugly.

"Let me speak to him." Peter requested.

Keller looked over at Neal. He was unconscious, his chin resting on his chest.

"That won't be possible there, Burkie." Keller smiled. "Caffrey is a little…occupied at the moment."

"If you hurt him…." Peter warned Keller.

"A little too late for that, Burkie."

"What…did…you…do!?" Peter said, unable to control his anger.

"Oh, I just broke his nose and busted his ribs, for starters." Keller said. "Well, actually…I don't like to get my hands dirty. Hired thugs always work well for those types of things."

"When I find you…I will kill you with my bare hands!" Peter promised.

"Agent Burke…and you a federal agent…" Keller said smugly. "…I hardly think that that is FBI policy. And…by the way, I'm sure you've tried to track me, but I'm using a burn phone. Been nice talking to you, but Caffrey, here, is waking up. And we still have some business to take care of."

Peter slammed his phone down. "The bastard is baiting me! He has Neal and he's baiting me!"


Neal opened his one good eye. He found he was still tied to a chair, his hands behind his back. He looked down at his chest. He could see the bruises forming through the rips in his shirt. His shirt was stained with his own blood and what was left of it was hanging off of him in tatters.

"…you gonna…kill me?" Neal asked, wincing at the pain in his ribs.

Keller looked at Neal, contemplating his question. "You're not worth a life term in prison. But I will make you wish you were dead."

Neal groaned and continued to look up at Keller.

Keller then let his hired henchmen lose on Neal. After about 10 minutes Keller called them off. He looked at the bloody mess tied to the chair in front of him. He felt for a pulse in Neal's neck. He found one, but it was faint. He then called Burke and gave him Neal's location. Keller and his goons were long gone by the time Peter, Diana and Jones arrived 15 minutes later.


Peter knelt down in front of Neal. He tried to take a deep breath to steady himself, but the sight in front of him made him ill. Peter put his hand on Neal's leg. He shook Neal's leg gently. He spoke Neal's name. There was no response.

Jones cut the ropes that held Neal to the chair. He fell forward, collapsing into Peter's arms. Peter gently lowered Neal to the floor. It was like handling a life-size ragdoll, his full weight landing on Peter. Peter checked Neal's pulse again as he watched the color drain from Neal's face. Neal then began to convulse, his body fighting for air.

Peter quickly pulled Neal into his arms, cradling Neal's head, stopping his seizures almost immediately. Peter could feel Neal's body relax as the air flowed into his lungs. Peter called his name again. He still got no response. Moments later an ambulance arrived, and Neal was taken away, lights flashing.


El and Peter paced the waiting room.

"What I said to him, El. I didn't trust him." Peter said. "He said Keller was out and I didn't believe him."

"How did he know it was Keller?" El asked.

Peter shook his head. "I don't know. But he did." Peter paused. "He did, and I should have listened to him."

"Peter, you can't…." El said shaking her head.

"Oh yes I can. I can blame myself." Peter replied. "I do blame myself."

El gave her husband a hug.

"I told him that our partnership was a mistake." Peter confessed. "Neal looked at me like I'd stabbed him in the heart."


Peter sighed. "He asked me if I regretted my decision…to make him my C.I. I told him that maybe I did."


"God help me, El. I meant it at the time. I was so angry." Peter replied. "But now…." He shook his head.


Neal had been out of the hospital for about three days. He and Peter had not talked during that time. Neal had declined staying at the Burkes home, opting instead to stay in the hospital for a few more days until he could care for himself a little more, so he could go back to June's . June was out of town visiting a daughter in California.

Peter showed up at Neal's door a few days later. He walked in without knocking.

"What are you doing here?" Neal asked.

"You should have come and stayed with us, Neal, with June not here…."

"I can take care of myself, Agent Burke." Neal voice was icy.

"Neal, what I said…." Pete started.

"What you said, you meant." Neal replied without emotion. "How much longer do I have?"

"What?" Peter asked, confused.

"How much longer to I have?" Neal repeated. "How long before I go back?"

Peter shook his head. "Neal, I…."

"I was really surprised you let me stay in a regular hospital, instead of recovering in the prison infirmary." Neal replied.

"Neal, I'm not sending you back."

"You said you made a mistake. You said the whole thing was a mistake." Neal reminded him.

"I was angry." Peter confessed.

"I'm tired of having to prove myself to you every day. Every day I start back at zero. I never get any credit for anything. No matter what I do, no matter what I say, you still don't trust me." Neal said.

"Neal, that's…."

"Maybe I made a mistake trusting you." Neal stated.


END NOTES: I know this is a weird way to end a story. But the angst factor is off the charts...I think that that part is just awesome. I hope you enjoyed. Jackie