Neal was ticked off, walking home alone as he thought about everything that had just happened. He had nearly died except for Peter's interference, thankful for that until the agent had all but accused him of single handedly stealing the treasure. Who did he think he was? The con was pissed, chewing on the inside of his cheek and lip at times as he walked until he tasted blood and stopped, wishing he knew what had happened and why. For now he was just glad he was alone, another moment with the agent and he might have punched Peter out. He walked for some time off anklet, Neal arriving home at June's a few hours later as he draped his jacket over a chair and sighed still unhappy with the situation. After everything with Adler and the U-boat Peter didn't trust him? Hadn't he proved himself by now? What was wrong with his so called friend to accuse him of anything?
He turned and saw something reflected back at him in the dimly lit room, Mozzie's glasses like cat eyes in the darkness as he sighed in reply. Neal had thought himself alone, hoping to deal with his feelings without interference.
"Mozz... go away."
He growled at his friend as he turned towards the back door, opening it up and going back into the closet to hang up his smoke and dirt stained suit. The explosion had nearly ruined this one but right now he had more important things to think about as he continued to fume, walking out of the closet in his boxers and tee, back to the bathroom where he took a long hot shower. Afterwards, he wrapped himself up in his robe, making his way back to the front room to find Mozzie gone, relief evident as he moved over to another small wardrobe near his bed and pulled out clean boxers, pajama pants and a white tee. He finished dressing, padding barefoot to the main door and bolting it. Neal didn't feel like being bothered as he moved over to the kitchenette, pouring himself a glass of wine and turning to see something shiny and goldish sitting on his dining table. Mozzie must have left it, Neal having a hard imagining June dropping something like this off in his rooms. It was one of those old oil lamps like you find in Persia or India but it seemed more decorative than anything.
"What is this?"
He sat down, looking at the item curiously and holding it in his hands. It was hefty in weight so it was maybe brass at best if not a dirty pewter. Neal wasn't sure as he heard a slight slosh of liquid in it. So it was really a lamp? He grabbed a match from a small box on the tabletop and lit the wick on top, his thoughts remaining dark as the lamp flared up a bright neon blue. He had never seen anything like this but his mind was too wrapped up on the past few hours to enjoy such a sight.
Damn you Agent Burke... If you never existed... My life would have been better!
The thought flared up like the flame before him and he blinked as the light seemed to respond to his anger, growing higher for a moment as the color flickered to a deep purple then back to its original blue. There was a sense of electricity in the air or maybe he was that exhausted. A man had died today and a lost treasure forever destroyed as was his friendship with Peter. He wasn't sure he could forgive the agent for what he'd said. Neal just... he just wanted to understand why but at the moment he just wanted Peter to go away.
He finished his wine, washing out the glass as he put out the flame on the odd lamp and walked over to his bed. Maybe the morning would bring some release from his anger if not an explanation. Neal closed his eyes and fell into a dreamless sleep. The room was dark now but for a slight glow off to the side, a dark purplish blue light evident for a moment before flickering off.
"Nick... hey sleepy head... wake up, Nick."
The voice was familiar but he must still be asleep, no way they could be here as he rolled over and felt someone next to him in bed. Neal immediately opened up his eyes and glanced into two blue eyes smiling back over bare shoulders.
"Bout time. Someone named Mozzie called. Said he's coming over in a few minutes?"
Neal just stared at those blue eyes, sitting up after a moment as shock washed over him and surprise. They couldn't be here, not now as he looked around and saw where he was, the room different. This wasn't June's. He saw the pillars around the room and the one separating wall from here to the rest of the studio. A soft hand gently caressed his chin, pulling his face to look at theirs and he couldn't help but grasp the hand in his own. It was soft and warm. She was really with him but the uncertainty was still there.
"Nick? Did you have a bad dream? Why are you looking at me so strangely? What's wrong?"
Kate was questioning him as he tried to figure out what kind of a nightmare or flight of fancy this was. He couldn't really be here with... with her. She was...
"Talk to me, Nick. Please... I'm getting scared. Tell me what's wrong."
She was insistent, hands holding onto him like he was there... here. She hugged him, her warm naked body holding his close and he could smell her perfume, the sweetness of her hair. She was here and he was...
"Nothing, Kate. I'm sorry. I had a strange dream but now I don't remember it. Probably best. I... I'm glad you're here."
He watched her smiling back, relief evident as he found himself back in the moment holding her tight and knowing that whatever he had been thinking about was past. This was reality not the dream he had as they curled up under the covers and snuggled.
"So what did Mozzie say?"
They were close, her lips tickling his ear as he turned to look at her, those blue eyes as clear as a spring morning. She shrugged, kissing his earlobe gently.
"He didn't. Wanted to talk to you but I said you were asleep and he hung up after saying he was coming over. Who is Mozzie?"
She was looking at him curiously but he wasn't certain he should tell her. They were still working on getting the money from Vincent and he had only delayed when the man had been kind to him by giving him a tailored suit. It wasn't something he expected or the advice the man had given him. Kate was even more of a present, showing up last night on his doorstep desperate to be with him. She hadn't left for Chicago which made him happier than words could express as he thought about what could make Mozzie call but probably just checking up on him. Neal was the inside man and he still had to plug in the code to get Adler's cash. Kate turned, wrapping the sheet and blanket around her as she did, Neal reaching for a bit of the cloth but she was out of his grasp, a sly grin on her face.
"I need this more than you do, young man."
She was being coy now, the cloth wrapped sari-like around her slim form. Neal was bare, nothing but his birthday suit on as he stood up and went to hug her, her blue eyes full of mirth, peach colored cheeks blushing a bit.
"Nick, the window... everyone can see you!"
She was laughing, not seriously worried and still a bit conscious of their view as he turned and danced for the few that might see them. She placed a fedora on his head and giggled girlishly.
"There, now you're presentable."
They were like two kids playing a game, him hugging her close a moment before Kate pulled away, the words "coffee" whispered from her lips as he nodded, reaching over to pull on a pair of boxers before following her out into the main area of the apartment. He noticed she was staring at something, the TV on but on mute as he grabbed the remote and turned it up, both of them transfixed by the scene before them.
"The fire is estimated costing the company 2 million dollars and gutted the building, destroying bonds, cash and other investor and company revenue kept inside the company vaults. The loss for investors has been calculated over 4 million in irreplaceable assets and the death of company owner Vincent Adler. Arson is suspected..."
He couldn't believe what he was seeing. This felt wrong. Something was off here and the fact that Adler was dead... Neal felt cold, shivering slightly until Kate pulled him closer, her head on his shoulder as she cried. Vincent had been like a father to both of them, the code in his memory gone as he realized he couldn't steal from the company now. It wasn't the loss of assets, there was nothing to steal but the loss of a man he had come to believe to be his benefactor. In the end he had started to like his mark, something Mozzie had warned him about. They both jumped as the door rattled, someone knocking on it in a certain rhythmic manner that could only be his friend. Kate excused herself back to the bedroom as Neal grabbed up a robe and walked over to the door and peeked out the peep hole. It was Mozzie and the little guy looked more paranoid than normal.
"Mozz... you look like a man on the run. What's wrong?"
Neal was mostly joking but then he found himself pushed inside, the door shut and locked by Mozzie as the little guy peered out the small peep hole a moment then back up at him.
"We have to leave now. No questions, Ne... Nick."
Mozzie had almost called him Neal but the look on the little guy's face told him someone was listening in, Neal turning to see Kate peering around the corner curiously. Neal smiled back at her then turned to lead Mozzie over to the far side of the apartment, voice low.
"I saw the news, Mozz. Adler's dead. Everything was destroyed by the fire. We lost everything!"
He watched his partner in crime nod more curtly than was normal, glancing over at Kate who was now dressed in a light blue summer dress, hair up in a messy bun as she made coffee and what smelled like eggs. Neal wanted nothing more than go back to bed with her but a squeeze to his arm brought him back to his friend.
"I know, that's why I'm here. We need to go before they start asking questions. I have passports."
Mozzie was efficient but something in his tone made Neal realize that there was only papers for them. Kate wasn't a part of this but he...
"Not without Kate. She lost money too and I can't leave her here alone to fend for herself. Get her papers and we can go, otherwise... go without me."
He could see the little guy was paranoid about something else other than a quick getaway but also not keen on going without him. Mozzie looked about to say something then finally nodded, pointing at the door.
"Meet me around the corner at the park in about an hour. Be packed. I have a plane waiting. I'll tell them to anticipate one more."
Mozzie was reluctant but obviously wanted Neal to go with him, giving a quick glance of uncertainty at Kate before he scuttled out of the apartment and Neal closed the door and locked it behind him. Something felt wrong not just with the news of Adler's death but with Mozzie. He hadn't known the little guy long and yet they had connected immediately on so many things. Now that connection felt off if not wrong but he had no time to think. They were obviously in trouble so he just had to convince Kate to join them. It shouldn't be too hard he thought, her eyes watching him as she handed him a cup of coffee and a plate of still warm eggs and bacon.
"Was that Mozzie?"
Her question surprised him and he realized they hadn't met yet as he nodded, mouth full of food and coffee. He swallowed and answered.
"Yes. He was worried about us because of the news. Has a friend taking him overseas on a trip and asked if we wanted to join him."
He was doing his best to sound positive uncertain what was going to happen. Adler was dead, their money was gone and they had to do something. Mozzie obviously had a plan. Kate gazed at him curiously, her mind obviously still in turmoil over the news about their former boss and mentor and the loss of their money. She nodded, a sigh escaping her delicate lips as he leaned over and kissed her.
"We have to pack now. Plane leaves in about an hour or so. Private charter."
Neal was giving her his brightest smile but something still felt off about this whole day. Mozzie's demeanor and rush to leave was the first sign as was the fire. Who would want to hurt Vincent? Neal pushed the thoughts aside thinking of a brand new start elsewhere which is what his friend was promising. Kate would be with him so he wouldn't be alone and he felt responsible in some manner for her being out of money although he wasn't sure why. He hadn't actually robbed Adler but the man was dead and someone had to take care of her, Neal feeling a strong attraction to the blue eyed girl who loved art about as much as he did.
"Oh... well, sure. Let me go to my place and pack a bag. I'll meet you here?"
She was already putting the dishes away, Neal watching her go as they gave each other one last kiss and hug.
"Yes. Just hurry. Mozzie was in a rush."
Neal paced the studio apartment, a worrying feeling about everything including Mozzie's more than usual paranoia getting to him. He finally cleaned up his own plate, moving over to the TV to shut it off, something catching his eye as he did. There was a very unusual item sitting on the shelf next to it, something like you'd see in a curio shop or Aladdin movie. It was one of those Persian oil lamps, the metal a bit shinier than he remembered although he wasn't sure how he knew that when he was certain he hadn't seen it before. He was about to reach for it when his cell buzzed in his pocket and he moved to answer it.
"Mozz... I'm almost done. Waiting for Kate. Yes... We're going to meet you in a little while at the park. Yes... we're hurrying.. Ok..."
He hung up, moving over to the bedroom and pulling out his overnight bag. Neal didn't have much to pack, pushing in the few clothes he had brought with him along with the one suit Adler had given him folded up neatly. He tried to imagine who would have done such a horrible thing as kill Vincent and burn the building down but running seemed to be the best thing to do at the moment. It wouldn't help to stick around if they discover their little scheme with the bonds he had forged. He'd be a prime suspect as would Mozzie if it came up, his thoughts a rush of panic and uncertainty. He'd forgotten about the lamp, walking out of the room and looking around to be sure there wasn't anything else he was forgetting. Kate had taken all her stuff but would come back to meet him here soon. Just as he thought that there was a knock at the door, Neal moving over to answer without looking out the peephole. He was surprised when the door swung open hard, hitting him across the chin and chest as he was thrown back onto the floor sprawling. A large African American man, good looking but slightly thuggish in attitude despite his nice clothes stared down at him, two other men definitely thugs behind him.
The man didn't know his name, addressing him in a polite manner but a hint of street in his tone. Neal was still a bit surprised, scooting backwards to run and hide but the two thugs behind the main man ran in quickly and grabbed him, holding them up between them. He struggled but they held on tight, the first man smiling at him but not in a good way.
"This is where you tell me what your name is... Hello, …"
The man was eyeing him curiously but not kindly as Neal finally replied.
"Nick. And you are?"
He said it a bit sarcastically, uncertain who this man was, getting his courage back for a moment before he saw the cold glint in the man's eye. He wasn't expecting it as someone hit him hard across the chin, another fist hitting him in the stomach before the man spoke again when the thugs were done.
"Nick, was it? Send a message to your little friend with the glasses... Tell him, Wilkes was here... but you can call me Ryan."
The man bent over as Neal slumped in the other man's arms, his body aching from the blows. He felt a strong hand grasp his chin and make him look upwards, dark eyes glancing down with menacing glee.
"My associate... sends his greetings to you and Kate."
Wilkes smiled brightly, letting go as the two thugs let him have a few more punches and kicks before leaving him on the floor of the apartment, door open. Neal was in pain, unable to move but to give a few gasps of breath. Maybe his ribs were broken? He couldn't be sure as he suffered alone on the cool tile floor before someone finally showed up and he heard a familiar gasp.
Kate was there beside him, holding him close and dialing with shaky hands on her cell.
"Yes... an ambulance. My boyfriend... he's been attacked. I don't know why or who. He was like this when I showed up. Yes... thank you."
Neal is more conscious now, hearing Kate's words and knowing that going to a hospital isn't the answer despite the pain as he shifts, sitting up and closing his hands around hers as he hangs up the cell in her hands.
"No... no hospitals, Kate. We have... have to meet... Mozz..."
He can't say much, his breath wheezing as he fights to stand despite Kate trying to keep him on the floor and comfortable. She's shaking her head at him despite Neal trying to move to grab his bag and leave. They have to leave and warn Mozzie. Just then the little guy shows up, peeking around the corner at them, looking at both of them as Neal holds onto Kate for balance, his side and ribs hurting him too much to stand up completely on his own.
"I thought you wanted to come with me and I find you hugging and cuddling here? We have to go now!"
Mozzie looks upset, unlike his usual self and then those bespectacled eyes widen as the con man walks over and glances at Neal's face up close. His lips part, mouth open in a gaping yet silent "oh" as if it just hit him what happened. Neal just wants to leave but he's still too much in pain, eyes fluttering between open and closed as he fights unconsciousness. He gives a weak mirthless laugh.
"Ryan... said to tell you hi."
He slumped a bit after saying that, his strength waning as Mozzie paled at the words but moved closer to help Kate with him. She was moving them towards the inside of the apartment but Mozzie shook his head.
"We have to go. He wasn't supposed to stop by. The plane is waiting."
Mozzie sounded absolutely terrified now, Kate looking between them curiously but helping Neal up to his feet as they left the building down a back stairwell. They weren't taking any chances of being seen, Neal telling Kate to go on ahead as she got directions from Mozzie to where they were going. They would catch up. She nodded uncertainly, Mozz pushing some papers into her hand before sending her off as he turned back to Neal and gave him a long look.
"I'm sorry... I didn't think Wilkes would figure out we were partners so quickly. I'm not sure who's funding him but they're powerful and if we want to get out of here alive, that plane is all we have at the moment."
He heard the intensity as well as apology in his friend's voice which explained part of what he wanted to ask but he held back, Neal nodding as they stumbled along, finding a cab after a block and taking that when he couldn't walk any longer. The trip to the airport was quiet with looks from Mozz telling him the little guy was more sorry than he could express. Neal wasn't sure what was happening other than Vincent was dead and his friend wanted to leave the country in a hurry because of this Wilkes fellow. He wondered how it tied in with their con on Adler as his mind wandered off in that direction despite the pain he felt from the beating. The cab finally stopped, both men exiting as Mozzie paid and he limped with his friend looking at him worriedly.
"I'm ok, Mozz. Really. Just... warn me next time about someone like that. How did you guys even meet?"
Wilkes didn't seem the type Mozzie would hang out with but he was still getting to know the little guy, the past few months pretty informative while he did the con on Adler but it never reached completion and never would now. He sighed as he felt a pain unassociated with his injuries, the two men passing through the hanger towards the tarmac. There was a plane, small like a learjet two figures inside. Neal could just make out Kate and the pilot as they started to move closer. Soon they would be on their way to... well Neal had no idea where Mozzie was taking them but he trusted the con enough to protect them as he paused briefly to adjust his bag over his aching shoulder.
"Want me to carry that for you, Nick?"
Mozzie was trying to help him, regret all over the man's face but he shook his head as he started to walk again.
"Where exactly are we going? You never said."
Neal walked slowly, side burning but he had Kate in his sights, her smile beaconing him like a moth to the flame. It was love at first sight with her and when she came to him last night, he knew she must have felt the same. Craig her boyfriend was a distant memory to them both as he felt a hand on his arm and he paused.
"An island nobody can find us on. Ever heard of Cape Verde?"
Mozzie was back to being his usual paranoid mysterious self, Neal nodding back. He didn't understand the intrigue as they stood at the edge of the hangar, everything around him feeling oddly familiar as if he knew this scene all too well.
"We didn't get the money, Mozz. How are we going to get to this place without cash?"
He grimaced slightly from shifting to stand up as they spoke, Mozzie smiling.
"With your good looks and my brains, we'll figure something out."
Mozzie was grinning now although that apologetic look remained as Neal gave a weak thumbs up back, looking up at the plane. Kate was glancing back at them expectantly, a look of surprise on her face as she spoke on her cell. Her blue eyes were gazing straight at him, the expression alien to him a moment before everything exploded. Neal was tossed back against the ground as was Mozzie, both flat on their backs as shock turned to terror and he could only gaze up at the burning mass of metal before him.
He sat up, a scream on his lips and a name following it but someone gently pushed him back against the soft surface he was sleeping on. It was a bed although not a super comfortable one but it would do, his aching body less achy now. Mozzie was sitting beside him, a bandage across his forehead as Neal started to remember what had happened.
"Hey... it's ok. You're safe. Change of plans but we're ok. I called in an anonymous tip on Wilkes. He's getting a nice visit from the FBI if not a SWAT team."
Neal was shaking despite laying back on the lumpy bed, groaning slightly from his injuries and realizing he was missing his shirt, chest wrapped in bandages. He gazed despondently at the little con man and tried not to let the tears roll down his face but it couldn't be helped. Kate was dead and he didn't understand what this had to do with himself or better yet Mozzie as he sat up and grabbed his friend around the collar and pulled him closer.
"Dammit, Mozz! What the heck did you get me into?!"
He was pissed, adrenaline pumping through him from the nightmare about what happened. He'd seen that plane explode before his very eyes, the memory drawing a childlike fear in him as he felt the need to scream or hide. Right now he was shaking Mozzie by the collar, anger overcoming him as the little guy let him.
"I didn't... didn't know he'd do this! He wasn't my partner for very long and I don't like guns so I came to you. You seemed the right match for my non violence. I had no idea he was going to come after me or you. I swear!"
The little guy was practically crying now, Neal finally too exhausted to keep shaking him as he let go and collapsed back on the hotel room bed. Mozzie moved back a few inches but he seemed unaffected by what happened as if he knew he deserved it. Neal rolled over as best he could, the one side they hadn't kicked him on and curled up into a ball under the rough blankets.
"Just... leave me alone, Mozz. Just..."
Neal closed his eyes, tears streaming down his face as he heard movement and a small voice answer back.
"I'm sorry, Neal. It wasn't... I'm sorry."
He heard a door shut soon after, his mind blank but for the memory of the explosion. He hadn't known Kate but a month or so but he had been in love with her. That much he knew as he opened his eyes again, glancing around the dingy hotel room and down at his aching body. He had to get away from everything, from New York. He couldn't stay here and deal with the hurt, anger and fear occupying his mind as he sat up, easing himself off the bed which creaked underneath him. Neal shuffled painfully over to the dresser and pulled on his shirt, grabbing up his bag when his cell phone rang. He figured it was Mozzie as he pushed it to his ear stiffly.
"I don't want to talk to you..."
He was about to say Mozzie when someone he never expected to hear answered back.
"Mr. Halden... You don't sound like a man who just lost the love of his life. I would have thought Kate would mean more to you."
He froze almost dropping the cell but somehow keeping his arm up with the device pressed to his ear as the voice spoke. His throat tightened up just a little in fear so he couldn't reply.
"Nick... did I lose you? I thought you might want to know why my friend Mr. Wilkes came to visit. Don't you want to hear why poor Kate exploded without you?"
The voice chuckled at him over the cell and he felt his hand gripping it until the case gave a sound of cracking like it might break.
He'd found his voice, the name slipping off his tongue like a whispered curse. The man wasn't dead but... this made no sense as he tried to figure out what had happened. Kate was dead, Adler was alive and he'd been beat up for what?
"The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated. I knew you were smarter than you looked and now I know it. I have a proposition for you if you're smart enough to take it. If not, I will make sure you and your little bespectacled friend are never seen again."
Neal shivered slightly at the threatening tone, Vincent not the nice person who had acted the mentor to him before. Adler had obviously faked his death for reasons he didn't understand but he had killed Kate. Neal was filled with impotent rage, wanting to reply back but only saying a few words in his exhausted state.
"Why... Why Kate? She... We trusted you."
His voice was weak, raspy from shock at hearing a dead man speaking to him and knowing everything had been a lie. Adler's voice chuckled back at him over the cell as he tried to figure things out.
"Innocent Kate. It was you and your friend siccing the Feds on my associate Mr. Wilkes that caused her death. I might have let you go if not for that. Ryan is just hired muscle but you... we could do something good together. I almost fell for your little ruse, Nick. You have brains and smarts but I could teach you so much more. Someone should be coming to escort you to meet with me soon. Ta ta..."
The call ended as he dropped it to the bed and collapsed back onto the mattress. Adler was alive and he had Kate murdered? There was more going on here, the con desperate for answers but also afraid. He was in over his head and he didn't know why, a knock at the door making him jump but he stood, body stiff from his injuries as he moved to answer it. There was no peephole so he called out when he didn't hear anything behind the door.
Nobody answered, a warning that this was probably the person Adler had sent for him. Neal moved away from the door, pulling on the rest of his clothes despite the pain he was in. He silently slipped on his shoes as while grabbing only what he needed from his bag and stuffing it into his jacket pockets. He had to leave in a hurry, opening up the window in the corner. There was a fire escape, rusty and dangerously rickety but he needed to get away by any means necessary. He wasn't going to take a chance this was Vincent's "friend." Luckily he was only three stories up as he closed the window back, easing himself down the creaking metal structure until he was down on the first floor, dropping to the street below. He had barely turned to walk away when someone showed up, a dark smile on their face.
"Mr. Halden... So nice to see you again."
It was that voice, the man who had him beat up before as Neal moved back and saw two more men behind him at the other end of the street. He was surrounded, body too wrecked to get up the fire escape again to run but someone was up there too, peering out the window. He was trapped as he held up his hands in surrender. Ryan Wilkes smiled back at him like a predator as he moved closer, pointing over at a black limo that had just rolled up.
"My associate requests your presence."
Author's Note: Thought a little change to the landscape was in order. Neal without Peter. What would that be like?