A/N: So... this was started shortly after the Season 4 finale aired. And then the summer real-life doldrums set in, and the story languished. But with a new season looming, it's finally done - just in time to get it posted before Season 5 proves this to be totally AU :-)
Let me give you some advice. In this life, someone always takes a fall. Don't let it be you…
The words reverberated in Neal's mind, paralyzing him as he considered the meaning. He wanted to say something, to move, but he found himself incapable of doing either as he watched the door close behind his father.
This was what he had waited for these last thirty years? This was what he had searched for in the bathroom mirror, as he stared at the blue in his eyes? This was what he had run from, or for, fifteen years earlier? This was the man he had let dictate so many of his life decisions?
No, this was the man who was running out on him, again, and this time leaving Peter to take the fall.
With that thought blazing in his mind, Neal suddenly found himself able to move. He pulled the door open, bounding down the stairs two or three at a time. He nearly skidded through the glass front door, but caught himself just in time, fumbling for a moment with the latch. And then he was outside, down the front steps, on the sidewalk, looking around. But there was no one in sight…
Except Jones, just getting out of the car by the curb.
"Did you see him?" Neal demanded, still looking around. "James. Did you see him when you drove up?"
Jones shook his head, studying the surrounding streets now himself. "No, I didn't see anyone. He was here?"
"Yes, he was just here. I tried to get him to do the right thing…" Neal broke off, taking long strides toward the nearest corner. "He can't have gotten far."
Jones had come up next to him. "Was he on foot?"
Neal took a deep breath and shrugged. "I don't know. I'm sure he didn't drive here, but I don't know if he had a cab waiting."
"Well, you're right, if he was on foot, he couldn't have gotten very far." Jones pointed to the car. "Come on, we'll drive around a few blocks."
Neal just nodded absently and climbed into the passenger seat. Jones pulled away from the curb, and Neal put his window down. Leaning out, he forced himself to concentrate on what he was seeing, paying attention to detail, looking for any sign of a fleeing fugitive. The fresh air against his face helped clear his mind somewhat, and he willed James to appear around each corner Jones turned.
To no avail.
He was vaguely aware of Jones, behind him, calling in an update to the BOLO – be on the lookout, James Bennett, last seen Riverside Drive…
And then that's where they were, back on Riverside Drive, pulling up next to June's. Neal was still numb as he put the window up and stepped out onto the sidewalk.
Another car pulled up behind Jones, and he watched as Diana got out, hurrying over to join them. "Any sign of him?" she asked.
Jones shook his head. "No. We just drove around the neighborhood looking, but nothing."
"He was here?"
"He was in the room with me when you called," Neal replied. "I tried to get him to stay, to do the right thing, but he wouldn't. And I couldn't stop him," he added, his voice a mixture of sadness and anger.
"Neal, Peter said James had Pratt's gun when he ran. Did he still have it?" Diana asked.
Neal could only shrug and shake his head. "I didn't see a gun. But we didn't exactly have a warm family hug. He might have still had it."
Jones reached for his phone. "I'll update the BOLO, still possibly armed."
Diana stepped closer to Neal. "The Marshals are probably on the way, or will be soon."
"Marshals?" Realization hit, and Neal sighed. "The anklet."
She nodded. "That, and Pratt accused you of assault."
"Right. How much time do I have?"
"I'm not sure," she admitted. "Things have been a little crazy."
"Yeah." Neal sucked in a deep breath, held it a moment, exhaled. "How's Peter?"
"Angry. But… he's Peter," Diana said. "He was making a statement just like he was doing a case briefing."
"I guess Callaway walked in while he was leaning over the body, gun still in his hand," Jones added as he joined them again. "Didn't look very good."
"Especially since Peter wasn't even supposed to be in the building," Diana said.
That caught Neal's attention. "What do you mean? He was leading the search."
Diana shook her head. "Callaway took his gun and badge when they found the anklet on Peter's leg. Watson was supposed to escort him out of the building."
"But Peter slipped away and went back upstairs," Jones added.
"Peter only took the anklet…" Neal started.
Diana cut him off. "Peter said he did it because he believed you didn't assault Pratt, and he wanted you to be able to propose."
"That's true… more or less," Neal said.
"Make it more," Jones suggested.
Neal nodded. "I can work with that." He pointed toward the door. "Come on, there's something you need to see."
He led the way inside and up the stairs, aware of the footsteps following him, but his mind racing to other issues. How times changed – a few years earlier having FBI agents behind him would have been a major concern.
The door was still wide open, just as he'd left it in his haste to get outside. Neal went directly to the table, starting to speak without turning around. "This is it."
Diana was flipping through the top pages. "This is what was in the evidence box?"
Neal nodded. "That's it." He moved to the mantle, sliding open the cover to the hiding space on the left. "Plus this," he added, setting a few more pages on the table.
Jones picked them up. "This is about your father," he said softly.
"It's proof that he lied about what got him arrested," Neal confirmed. "James Bennett did shoot his supervising officer. Ballistics confirmed it was his service weapon."
"There's a lot in here about Pratt too," Diana said, setting some documents aside. "And a lot of other names, some that seem familiar."
Neal nodded. "Ellen said the corruption reached high up in the DC ranks."
"You've looked through all of this?" she asked.
"No. I only had a chance to glance at part of it." Neal reached over and picked up a document. "Like here, a Joseph Callaway."
"You think he might be related to Amanda Callaway?" Diana asked.
Neal shrugged. "At this point, I wouldn't bet against it. And you should talk to Hughes."
Jones looked up from the document he was studying. "Hughes? Why?"
"He has a recording of Callaway calling Pratt to warn him about the search."
"Damn," Diana swore. "There was something so wrong about her letting Pratt stay during the search."
"This whole thing is so wrong," Neal said softly, reaching for his phone. "I need to call Mozzie before you take me in."
Jones and Diana exchanged a glance. "Neal, we didn't come here to arrest you," Diana said.
"Yeah," Jones agreed. "In fact, if you think it would help, we can say you weren't here."
Diana nodded in agreement, and Neal gave it a moment's thought before he finally shook his head. "No, if I disappear, that damages Peter's statement about why he took off the anklet, which would hurt the rest of his account too. And being on the run would pretty much be a full time job here in the city, so I'm not sure I could do much. Besides," he continued, his voice softer, sadder, "a lot of street sources won't talk to me anymore. I'm a… snitch." He hit a speed dial on his phone, turned on the speaker, and laid the instrument on the table. "They'll talk to Moz."
The phone was answered on the first ring. 'Neal, did you get everything?'
"Yes, it's here, Moz."
'Excellent. I'll be over soon. I can't wait to see…'
'…what the evidence shows. I'll bet…'
'…you'll be convinced that my theories aren't all conspiracies after…'
'Neal, what's wrong?'
"Pratt is dead."
"James shot him."
'I knew it! He was…'
This time, only silence greeted him, so Neal took a deep breath and continued. "It was probably self-defense, but James didn't stick around to answer for it."
'Neal, he was…'
"He left Peter to take the blame."
"Peter was left alone with Pratt's body, and with the gun that fired the shot. He's been arrested."
'What do you want me to do?'
"Every street contact you've got, Moz, we need to find James."
'Consider it done.'
"He was last seen here…"
'He was there?'
"He was. I couldn't stop him, Moz."
'We'll find him. What about you, Neal?'
Neal sighed. "I imagine I'll be arrested. Peter took me off anklet to meet with Sara, plus Pratt accused me of assault."
'But you never touched him!'
"I know that, Moz, but a dead Senator accused me of it. Now if you can find some hidden camera coverage of the park…"
'I'll see what I can do."
"First priority is to find James. He wasn't in New York that long, so I'd guess he's going to try and leave the city."
'Leave it to me. What about what's in the evidence box?'
"Once you get the search started, I'll want you on that." Neal looked up at the two agents. "Someone will meet you…"
Jones nodded and started to gather up the documents. "I guess that'll be me."
'I will meet with Intern Suit.'
"Thanks, Moz," Neal said quickly, before Jones could do more to object to the moniker than just roll his eyes. "I'm going to give Jones this number."
'Fine. But I need time to get the search started. I'll call him in an hour.'
Jones nodded again. "That's fine."
'He needs to bring the documents.'
"He will," Neal agreed. "And he's going to make copies in between – lots of copies."
'Good idea. I'll see that they're secreted safely in diverse locations.'
"I knew you'd understand."
'What about you, Neal? Do you need your attorney?'
Neal considered that for a moment. "Not today," he finally said. "I'm sure I'll be arrested, regardless. But I haven't done anything."
'As if that will make a difference to the industrial military complex!'
Neal wasn't quite sure how to exactly characterize the scoffing-type utterance from Mozzie, but Diana's eye-roll was totally clear. "I might need some legal counsel in the days to come. But I'm not sure where I'll be."
"I'll keep your… attorney… up to date," Jones offered.
"Thanks, Jones," Neal said. "Moz, there's one more thing."
"Peter took the anklet off when Callaway was looking for me on the assault charge. That's the only way I made it up to the observation deck. But Sara…"
'May not be on the same page.'
"Her flight's in the air right now, and this is something I'd rather not leave on voicemail."
'I will check her arrival time, and contact her directly.'
"I think that's it for now."
'Then tell Intern Suit to expect my call.'
The line went dead, and Neal pocketed his phone, but not before activating an app that cleared his call history. He turned back to where Jones and Diana were standing, but before he could say anything, a new voice got their attention.
"Oh, you are here."
Neal looked toward the door, watching as June walked in. "Is something wrong?"
"Well, I thought I heard you come up here, but I was just getting ready to go to the neighborhood association meeting, and I noticed my car keys were missing. Since I had told you that you're welcome to borrow the car…"
Neal sighed and shook his head, running his hands through his hair before turning to the two agents. "He stole June's car."
"That explains why we didn't see any sign of him on foot," Jones said.
June stepped all the way into the room. "Neal, what's happening?"
Neal sucked in a deep breath and turned to face her. "James stole your car."
Neal offered one single short, sharp nod. "Yes. Though I'd appreciate it if we could not call him that."
June was at his side. "Neal, dear, what is it?"
"James shot someone, probably in self-defense. But he ran out, and he's leaving Peter to take the blame. And, he stole your car to get away." Neal stepped toward the older woman, a hand going to her arm. "June, I'm so sorry."
"Oh, darling, it's not your fault."
Neal wasn't so sure about that, but instead of arguing he grabbed a pen and sheet of paper from the writing desk. The pen scratched against the paper, and then he handed it to Jones. "Make, model, and license plate," he said. "Plus, Mozzie's phone number."
"I'll update the BOLO," the agent confirmed.
As Jones made his call, Neal went back to the mantle and picked up a fabric bag, returning to June. "Here's your ring back," he said. "Safe and sound, like I promised."
"I never had a doubt," June replied. "Now, is there anything I can do?"
"I don't think so. Between the FBI and Mozzie's contacts, they'll find James," Neal said, trying to put more confidence in his voice than he felt at the moment. "But there will probably be agents here with a search warrant."
"I'll have my attorney standing by. Don't you worry about me."
"I'll just go call a cab," June said, taking the initiative. "But if you, or Peter, need anything, you know you can call me."
She held out her arms, and Neal found himself stepping into her embrace. He hadn't realized how much that was exactly what he needed, and he stayed there, arms wrapped around her, for longer than he would have guessed. "Thank you, June," he finally whispered, stepping back with some difficulty.
"One in a million – no, in a billion," June said, letting her hand trail from his temple to his cheek. "And don't you ever forget it."
Neal watched as June walked out the door toward the stairs. He took a couple of deep breaths and then turned back to the table. "What else do you need?"
Jones already had the evidence documents packed up. "I think I've got everything to get started. I'll call Hughes, get the copies made, and wait for the little guy's call."
"You might want to pick up a burner, so you can turn your official phone off," Neal suggested. "Moz might insist."
Jones nodded in agreement. "I see your point."
"But don't leave the phone off for too long," Diana suggested. "Callaway might get suspicious if you're not at the office and not reachable."
"Yeah, well, you know how smart phones drain the battery," Jones said. "And I guess I was looking in the wrong places for Caffrey."
"I can be hard to find sometimes," Neal agreed. He turned to Diana, holding his hands out. "Take me in, Agent Berrigan. Better you than the Marshals."
She scowled and shook her head. "Are you planning to attack me or run off?"
Neal shook his head. "No."
"Then I think having you come in voluntarily will go farther toward discrediting Callaway's charges."
"Well, let's go then."
Neal followed the two agents out of the apartment, pulling the door shut behind him; he didn't bother locking it…
Just in case he didn't come back…
Outside, Jones got into his car and drove off on his mission. Neal followed Diana to her car and slid into the passenger seat, buckling up as she started the engine. For the briefest moment the urge to flee came over him, but he pushed it aside.
Diana pulled out into traffic, turning downtown. Neal leaned back against the headrest, watching as the streets went by in a blur.
How had things gone so horribly wrong…
The church was quiet as Mozzie let himself in by the side door. A couple of elderly women sat in a front pew, heads bowed. Along one side, a custodian was busy dusting and polishing the carved stone adornments. A young priest stood near the front, talking to a couple.
Holding hands, how cloyingly cute. Probably buying into the whole government-sanctioned marriage ploy...
The man he sought came into view near the confessionals, and Mozzie gave up on his internal rant. There were more urgent matters at hand.
Making his way casually that way, he watched as the 'priest' stepped into one of the booths. After a careful observation to make sure no one was paying undue attention, Mozzie stepped into the other side of the split confessional.
The privacy divider slid open and Mozzie said the familiar words. "Bless me father, for I am about to sin."
"We all are, and you found me – again. Tell me."
Mozzie slid a photo through the opening. "James Bennett."
"Never heard of him. Who is he?"
"All the pertinent information is on the back of the photo."
"How many pieces you want him in?"
"One. This is very important. Bennett needs to be located but not harmed. He has a lot to answer for."
"And the fee for this locating service?"
Mozzie pushed a slip of paper across – one with a number on it.
A number with a lot of zeroes.
"Minimum," Mozzie said. "There's a bonus for fast service."
"Don't forget my commission."
"As soon as he's located."
"Consider the word put out."
"Then I'll be expecting a call," Mozzie said, getting to his feet.
"Bless you, my son," the other man called out as the door opened. "And leave something in the collection plate."