Appendix: Original ending
A/N: When I first wrote this story, I thought I should return these wonderful characters to where they were in canon. It took some contriving, and I think the revised ending is better. Here is the original ending for those who are interested or who simply want a little H/C. Because the alternate ending is now the primary ending for the sake of the AU, I've moved the original ending to an Appendix, making the story flow better. So if this results in notifications going out to readers, the only change is the order of chapters and fixing some typos.
St. Louis. Hotel room. Thursday evening. Early December, 2003.
It was almost 9pm when Peter Burke opened the door to the young brunette who came to collect the dishes from their evening meal. He had picked up his gun and badge before she arrived, not wanting them lying around. Neal Caffrey still slept, under the influence of a prescription-strength cold medicine.
Peter sat on the foot of the bed closest to the window, staying out of the way and wondering if he and Neal could finally return to New York in the morning. Suddenly the woman gathering the dishes tripped, and Peter's shirt was covered with leftover lasagna. "I'm so sorry," the woman said, her blue eyes wide with dismay. "You'll need to rinse that out, if you don't want a stain." She reached forward, as if to help him undress, but Peter waved her away.
"I'll change," he said, grabbing his last clean t-shirt on his way to the bathroom. After rinsing out his dress shirt, he left this gun on the bathroom counter and closed the door, keeping the weapon out of sight. He looked up to see the woman sitting on Neal's bed, pressing a white towel over the lower portion of Neal's face. "What the hell?" Peter asked.
"This is all your fault!" she said. "You couldn't leave him alone."
"OK. Let's talk. How about you tell me what you're doing with that towel?"
"It's to keep him quiet, so he'll listen to me."
"Is it chloroform?"
Peter stepped closer. "It sounds like a dangerous mix with a cold that makes it hard to breathe and the medication that put him to sleep. Just move the towel, OK?"
"Don't come any closer!"
Peter put his hands up around shoulder height, showing he was unarmed and trying to look non-threatening. "It's Kate, right? I didn't recognize you at first. Our photos of you are fuzzy, but you're suspected of being an accomplice of Neal's in some cons earlier this year. You heard we wanted to offer him a deal?"
"You can't have him," Kate answered. "We still need him."
"Then you should really put away that towel. He can't help anyone if he's dead."
"Better dead than a Fed. I'll kill him if you don't leave this room."
"Kate, that's enough. He's not breathing." Peter pulled Kate away from Neal, grabbing the towel from her. He experienced a moment of dizziness from the chemicals soaked into the fabric, before he tossed the towel into a corner. When Kate ran from the room, Peter wanted to give chase, but Neal really had stopped breathing. Remembering what Dr. Santos had demonstrated that morning, Peter began chest compressions. He also put the nightstand phone on speaker and called 9-1-1.
The paramedics arrived in a matter of minutes that felt like hours. And then time sped up crazily. There was a whirlwind of activity and questions. They were moving Neal to a stretcher, and asking Peter what had happened. They were giving Neal oxygen and asking if he had taken any drugs or medications. They were wheeling Neal out of the room and asking for the patient's name and allergies. One minute they were in the elevator, then suddenly in the ambulance, and then at the hospital, where someone made Peter stop following Neal and handed him forms to sign. Soon the police arrived to follow-up on a report of a guest attacked at a local hotel. Peter was glad he'd been able to grab his badge, because he was aware the story sounded bizarre. At least they took him seriously enough to issue a BOLO for a woman matching Kate's description trying to return to New York, and promised they'd get her fingerprints from the dishes in the hotel room and put the towel into evidence as an attempted murder weapon.
By the time they left, the doctor was ready for a chat. Dr. Siobhan Merritt assured Peter that Henry Neal Winslow (everyone calls him Neal) should be fine. "We'll keep him on oxygen a couple of more hours, to be safe, and have him stay overnight for observation. He'll have a tremendous headache when he wakes up, but that should be the worst of it. He's lucky, this time."
"Mr. Burke, you listed yourself as Neal's emergency contact. What, exactly, is your relationship?"
Peter pulled out his badge again. "I'm recruiting Neal to work for me at the FBI. This trip to St. Louis was a combination interview and on-the-job training."
"And how long have you known Neal?"
"About a year. As far as I know, he hasn't had any contact with his family since high school. Yesterday he told me they probably think he's dead, and he wants it that way." In other circumstances Peter would have been less blunt, but he wanted to make it clear that there wasn't a better option for an emergency contact.
"I see." Dr. Merritt closed her file, and studied Peter. "When Neal was admitted, we asked if he had a concussion. It's a common concern when dealing with someone who has been attacked. You said you didn't think so, but authorized a scan to let us check for injuries that our unconscious patient couldn't communicate to us. Did you know what we would find?"
Peter flashed back to the conversation over dinner. "Let me guess. Evidence of injuries from about 15 years ago, that could indicate he was a victim of child abuse. Evidence you need to report to law enforcement, unless I can tell you a report has already been filed."
Dr. Merritt sighed, clearly relieved that she wouldn't have to betray confidential patient information to an iffy emergency contact. "Has it been filed?"
"Neal told me the abuser was arrested and sent to prison. I plan to follow-up to confirm that." He couldn't help asking, "How bad were the injuries?"
"Bad enough to keep him in a hospital for a while." She shook her head. "I'm sorry. I really can't say any more."
"When can he go back to New York?" Peter asked.
"He doesn't have a concussion, but it's going to feel like he does. I'd like for him to avoid travel until Saturday."
With a police officer in place guarding against another attack by Kate, and an assurance from the doctor that Neal wouldn't wake up before the morning, Peter returned to the hotel. He first checked for any evidence the police might have missed in the hotel room. When he was certain they had done a thorough job, he called Elizabeth with an update.
Like Peter, El was shocked that Neal's girlfriend seemed willing to kill him rather than let him work with the FBI. "What is she hiding?" El asked. Peter didn't know, but planned to put her on a watch list as soon as he returned to New York.
Peter didn't mention Dante to his wife or to Hughes when he reported into the Bureau. He didn't know enough about the guy to include him in a report yet, but his gut was telling him that Dante was in the middle of this. He probably sent Kate to persuade Neal against making a deal with the government. But did Dante know Kate was willing to sacrifice Neal? "Only one way to find out," Peter told himself, picking up Neal's phone to call back the number from last night's conversation.
Dante answered with, "Neal, are you a government drone, or did Kate get through to you?"
"Oh, she got through to him," Peter answered. "She put him in a hospital."
"Suit." There was a pause. "And why should I believe you?"
"It's public record. A Henry Neal Winslow was admitted two hours ago." Peter named the hospital. "Respiratory arrest. He's still on oxygen."
"Damn. That mix of chemicals must have been stronger than I thought. I told her to go easy with it."
"When he stopped breathing, she looked me in the eye and told me she was willing to kill him. I don't think she was bluffing. Do you?"
"I'm sure you'll get to the truth when your interrogators use their mind control techniques on her."
"Unfortunately we won't get to do that. Given a choice between chasing after Kate and resuscitating Neal, I chose Neal. She got away."
"You chose to resuscitate someone you believe to be a felon? Interesting."
Peter started to pace the room. He doubted he could keep Dante on the line much longer. He needed to get answers quickly. "You put his life in jeopardy by sending Kate here. Will you back off and let him make his own choices? He's already said he won't provide evidence against his friends."
"And I'm sure he means it. It's you I don't trust."
"Maybe you want to rethink who you trust. Unless you wanted Kate to kill Neal?"
Peter thought he heard birds, maybe pigeons. Where would Dante be with pigeons this time of night? Then Dante said, "If I confirm you're telling the truth, I'll trust you marginally more than I trust Kate. And I'll do my best to keep her away from him in the future. All that romance stuff distracts him and makes him lose his edge anyway. Hmm. Dr. Merritt has a good track record, but she should update her password more often."
"Are you hacking into hospital records?"
"I'd call it finessing."
"I'm sure you would," Peter said. "Who is Kate working for?"
No answer from Dante.
"She said we still need him. I can go after the person pulling her strings, and help keep Neal safe. Obviously they don't have his best interests in mind. Just give me a name."
"You're good at this, Suit. But I can't help you. The name that seems most likely is already on the Feds' wanted list, and you haven't been able to catch him." With that comment, Dante disconnected the call.
St. Louis. Hospital room. Friday morning. Early December, 2003.
Neal Caffrey had a lot of experience with hospitals. Emergency waiting rooms had a bad reputation, but the non-emergency wings often had lobbies filled with comfortable couches. A runaway teenager or a conman on the run could easily hide out in one of those lobbies for a few hours, and everyone would assume you were waiting for a loved one to get out of surgery.
But for all of his impulsiveness, he took only carefully calculated risks with his safety. It had been years since Neal had woken up as a patient in a hospital room. He accepted the pills a nurse gave him for the headache she knew he would have, and tried to clear the fog that filled his brain. "What happened?" he asked.
"Someone disguised as room service staff drugged you, and you stopped breathing."
Neal knew that voice. "Peter."
Peter Burke stepped closer to the bed. "Hey. You feeling ok?"
"Yeah, I guess. For someone who stopped breathing." Something incongruous caught his eye, and he reached for the left sleeve of Peter's suit. "You have a dry cleaning tag."
"I always forget those." Peter unpinned the red tag that was inside the sleeve. The drycleaner's name included St. Louis.
St. Louis. Roland Villiers. Tiffany exhibit. Peter Burke? Neal sat up, verifying that he wasn't shackled to the bed.
"Take it easy," Peter cautioned, watching Neal as if expecting him to keel over at any moment. "The doctor said you might be dizzy for a while. She also said you might have some memory loss. What's the last thing you remember?"
Seriously? An FBI agent was handing him an excuse to "forget" anything incriminating he'd done recently. That wasn't what he expected from Peter Burke. Neal needed to know what was really going on here. Wherever here was. "What hospital is this?"
Peter told him the name. When Neal groaned, the agent added, "I remembered what you said about the last time you were in a hospital in St. Louis. You're checked in as Henry Neal Winslow."
"I told you about the last time I was here?"
Peter frowned. "You don't remember that conversation?"
Neal shook his head.
"This is not good." Peter pulled up a chair and sat down. "I need you to tell me what you remember since arriving in St. Louis."
"I rented a car."
"Beige Camry, right. Then what?"
"I stopped at a fast food place. Drive thru."
"Fries and a soft drink. Then?"
"How do you know what I ordered?"
"You mentioned it Wednesday night."
"And today is…"
"It's Friday morning. What did you do after going through the drive thru?"
Wednesday night was when the museum heist was scheduled. Did it happen? Did he get caught? Was Peter fishing for information to see if he'd incriminate himself? "Why were we talking Wednesday night?"
Peter clenched his eyes shut for a moment and took a deep breath. "We'll get there. What do you remember after the drive thru?"
Neal wasn't going to endanger Ellen by mentioning the drive through his old neighborhood, and after that things got fuzzy. "Should I ask for an attorney before I answer any more questions?"
"Damn it, this isn't an interrogation." Peter stood up and put his hands on his hips. "I'm trying to help you. I've been trying for the last 36 hours, and I thought… Listen, Neal. Yesterday, the FBI offered you a tentative deal, and you accepted it."
Neal tried not to show his shock, but suspected Peter's intense scrutiny caught the flicker of surprise in his eyes. "I'm listening."
"That deal was offered due to assistance you rendered on Wednesday. In order to finalize the deal, you still need to be interviewed about that assistance and why you offered it. If you can't remember it, then the deal's off the table."
"That doesn't seem fair."
"Fair or not, you can't pass the interview if you don't recall the incidents they'll ask about."
"Actually, I'm very good at interviews."
"I'm not surprised to hear that, but I don't think you can fake your way through this one. Just… Get some rest. Maybe it will come back to you. I'll check on you this afternoon." Peter started to walk out, then turned around. "Here." He pulled an origami swan from his jacket and placed the slightly squashed creature on the bedside table. "You said you made this as a reminder."
When Peter returned to the hospital that afternoon, Neal had already checked himself out.
Even worse, Neal must have been watching for Peter to leave the hotel and slipped into the room while he was away. Peter got back to find that all of Neal's things were gone. The front desk said he'd paid for the room including the charge for a late check out, giving Peter time to pack.
The valet confirmed that Neal had taken the Camry. Peter went to the airport, but already knew what to expect. Henry Winslow had returned the car and then taken the shuttle to the main terminal.
Peter sat in the rental company's parking lot, contemplating whether to keep looking for Neal, or to return his own car and catch a flight back home.
His first thought had been that Neal had regained his memory and changed his mind about the deal. How else would he have known the hotel and room where they were staying? But the answer was obviously Dante. Even though Neal didn't have his cell phone in the hospital, he would have found a way to contact his friend. Wednesday night he'd told Dante what hotel they were at, and that they were on the seventh floor. That would have been all he needed to pull this stunt.
Peter had memorized Dante's number, but wasn't surprised the man didn't answer a call from Peter's phone. He called the Bureau, where a clerk confirmed that Dante's number belonged to a burner phone. It was a dead end, and Neal could be anywhere by now. Peter went back to New York, and added Henry Winslow to Neal's lists of aliases, but the St. Louis hotel charge was the last hit they got on that name.
Thinking back to Neal's comments about a fight-or-flight response, Peter added a note to his file: He runs.
New York. Interrogation room. Friday night. Mid 2005.
After they arrested him, the FBI didn't jump right into the interrogation about Neal's alleged crimes. They escorted him to a room and left him alone, probably hoping to increase his anxiety. He took the opportunity to consider his approach with Peter.
He realized now shouldn't have run from Peter in St. Louis. There might still have been a chance to convince the Feds to go forward with the deal. But learning he'd almost had immunity only to have it snatched away when he hadn't done anything wrong – the memory loss wasn't his fault – he'd overreacted. It was like a rerun of his reaction to learning about his dad, when he ran away and decided to be a criminal instead of following in his father's footsteps as a cop. Neal had gone on to bigger and bolder crimes, wanting the FBI to regret that they hadn't tried harder to keep him on their side. Now it meant they would try harder to put him away.
Mozzie had been right that morning about the information regarding Kate's location. It had been a trap. But Neal had prepared accordingly. The passports and fake IDs, the pager Ellen had left for him at her church, all of those important or incriminating items were safely hidden away. Neal gave the Feds the address of his apartment, but they weren't going to find any evidence there to use against him. And his willingness to provide the address made him appear at least cooperative, if not innocent.
Before he left to find Kate, Neal had finally asked Mozzie about those lost 36 hours in St. Louis. "That was a long time ago, Neal," Mozzie had said.
"And you have perfect recall. Listen, you said this could be a trap, and that means I may be facing down the FBI later today. I need any edge I can get. Right now they know something about my actions that I don't remember, and they could use it to throw me off my game. Maybe I can turn that against them, if I know more than they think I do."
Mozzie poured a glass of wine, and then launched into the story. "You remember what the job was supposed to be. What we didn't realize was the client who commissioned it had already been arrested. The Feds kept it quiet, in order to catch people he'd implicated, including Roland. It turns out the client bore a resemblance to your favorite Fed, who went to St. Louis claiming to be the client. When you got there, you thought the Suit was in danger."
"Was he?" Neal asked.
"Probably. Roland was more unhinged than I realized. When I called, you said you had led Roland to believe you were a Fed, taking the heat off the Suit. That got you cut out of the action. Honestly, it's surprising Roland didn't kill you. But it means you weren't there when everyone else was arrested with the goods. And next thing I knew, the Suit was arguing that you would be happier, or more fulfilled, if you were on their side."
"Wait. You talked to him?"
"Um. Yeah. A couple of times. He was less of a philistine than I expected. The important thing is that he was wrong. And of course if you're arrested I can't help you in any way where he might hear my voice."
"I impersonated a federal agent and Peter didn't arrest me?"
"I think you simply implied you were a federal agent. But what I'm saying is, the Suit was wrong. Sure, you've gotten a little carried away recently. I mean, stealing gems in Burma would be insane. A short break might not be a bad thing."
Neal took away Mozzie's wine glass. "Seriously? How much have you been drinking? You think going to prison would be good for me?"
"Better than switching sides and working for the Feds."
"And you believe I really agreed to that in St. Louis."
"I didn't want to, but I think if anyone could talk you into it, it would be Special Agent Peter Burke. You have to watch yourself around him. There's something about him that you… that you identify with."
"Identify with. Right. What were you really going to say?"
"Idolize." Mozzie reclaimed his wine glass. "He's smart, he's talented, he doesn't seem to have any dark secrets we can use against him. He's what you grew up thinking your dad was. What you wanted to grow up to be, before you shed the rose colored glasses and saw the world as it really is."
"No," was all Neal could say.
"Just think about it," Mozzie warned, "in case you find yourself willing to confess because you want his approval."
Neal kept that in mind as Peter questioned him about the forged bonds. It was immediately clear that they had solid evidence he had created and sold the bonds. They'd send him to prison for that. How long depended on how well he could charm the jury.
After a couple of hours, they took a break. Peter refilled Neal's glass of water and made a point of turning off the recording equipment and lie detector.
Neal nodded toward the mirrored window. "How many agents are watching?"
"None at the moment. We're swapping out teams for the next round."
"Your side gets to stay fresh while you wear me down. Doesn't seem fair."
"I can guarantee justice. Fairness is more subjective. The people you stole from -"
"Allegedly stole from," Neal corrected.
"Their idea of fair might not be the same as yours. But in the name of fairness, I'm going to bow out of the rest of the interrogation."
"The bonds were something I investigated before St. Louis. It was after that you started to escalate into the things we'll question you about next. What happened in St. Louis, well, it changes things."
"Would it matter if I remembered what happened there?"
Peter looked intrigued. "Do you?"
"I know a lot of it."
"Not the same thing as remembering. Other people could have filled you in on parts of it, Villiers' arrest is public record, and you could deduce a lot of the remainder from that."
"Peter, what difference does it make? If I know what I did, understand why I did it, and stand by my actions, then the deal could still hold. That's all I needed to pass the interview, right? And the interview was the last step."
"Do you stand by your actions?"
Neal leaned back in his chair, or tried to. The handcuffs attached to a bolt in the table jerked him back. He closed his eyes, almost shaking in frustration, upset with the cuffs, with having walked into a trap, with the lost memories that had changed the course of his life. Then he looked up to see Peter unlocking the cuffs.
"Maybe you can use a break from these," the agent said mildly.
Neal placed his elbows on the table, and briefly rested his head in his hands. A headache was building behind his eyes. No surprise, really. They didn't intend for this to be a pleasant experience for him. He sighed, and sat up straight again. "If someone had asked me that yesterday, I'd have said I must have been temporarily insane in St. Louis. But being here and talking to you again reminds me… Not that I remember, exactly. It just puts me back in the mindset. There aren't many good guys out there, not really. You're one of the few. So, yes, I stand by my actions." He ran his hands through his hair, which had started to hang in front of his eyes. "Why aren't you offering a deal this time?"
Peter didn't answer at first. Finally he said, "The circumstances are different, now."
"I get that."
"Do you? Last time we offered a deal out of gratitude for a service you rendered. We stood to gain your skill set, and to get you off the street."
"And you would gain the same thing now."
"No, now we have enough evidence to get you off the street by other means. We have a lot more victims who want to see justice. The FBI's position, our goals - they've changed."
"The balance of power shifted."
"Something like that, yeah."
"Were you really going to offer me immunity?" Neal asked.
"In St. Louis? Yes, it was a legitimate offer."
"And now you're going to put me in prison for something you already knew about when that offer was on the table."
"That isn't the only charge now."
"But it's the only one you'll interrogate me about, because of something I don't remember doing in St. Louis."
"It's not so much what you did, but what you said. During much of those 36 hours you were running a fever, and overdosed on some strong cold meds. You were… Impaired was the word you used. Nothing of what you told me went into your file, but I can't just erase my memory. I'm not going to jeopardize our case against you by potentially using something that I learned when you were impaired in order to gain a confession now. I may testify at your trial, but I'm turning things over to Agent Hitchum for now."
As Peter stood, Neal asked, "Why don't you even the playing field by reminding me what I said?"
"Because telling you wouldn't even the playing field."
Neal stared after Peter, wondering what he'd told the agent during that lost time.
That question was distracting, but Neal didn't need a lot of brain power to deal with Hitchum. It wasn't merely that Hitchum wasn't the same caliber of agent as Peter. Even though Peter was right about Neal's crimes escalating in seriousness after St. Louis, Neal's skills had also increased. He knew he didn't leave much, if any, evidence. In the next round of interrogation, the Feds did an impressive job of connecting the dots regarding what he had done and when. But in the end, all they had were educated guesses and circumstantial evidence. As compelling as it sounded, they didn't have actual proof, and Neal didn't incriminate himself.
And where he'd been polite with Peter, Neal didn't have as much respect for the next agent. The man got on his nerves, and as exhaustion set in, Neal transitioned from bored to sarcastic to smart ass.
Hitchum wasn't happy.
Early Saturday morning, Peter returned to the Bureau to learn how the interrogation had gone.
He arrived in time to see Hitchum slam Caffrey up against a wall. "Talk, you son of a bitch!" Hitchum demanded.
"Lawyer," Caffrey rasped.
"Yeah, we called your lawyer. He'll get here on Monday." Hitchum loosened his grasp on Caffrey's collar, and watched the man slide down the wall while holding his rib cage. "So let's try this again."
Peter intervened. "What the hell is going on here?"
"Getting a confession."
"More like getting counter charges for brutality. Where's Jones?"
"I'll get him," volunteered a nervous-looking member of the Harvard crew, three of whom had been hovering in the hall.
"Hitchum, back off. You!" Peter pointed at another member of the Harvard crew. "Help me get Caffrey back in a chair."
"Not a good idea," Caffrey warned, sounding like he'd been in a desert for the last few hours. He'd looked pale before, but now was looking green.
"You! Trash can. And you! Water." The crew scurried to follow Peter's orders. Thankfully Caffrey didn't throw up, and the water seemed to help. Peter demanded a camera, which arrived at the same time as Jones.
"He doesn't look so good," Jones said.
"Ya think? I need you to take that camera and catalog all of Caffrey's injuries. Determine if he needs first aid or EMTs."
"You're helping his case!" Hitchum protested.
"No, you did that. I'm reminding us of what justice means."
When Peter asked for a summary of what had happened in the last eight hours, Hitchum and the Harvard crew painted a bleak picture. They had ignored the guidelines for treatment of suspects. They took breaks, got food and water and rest for themselves, while Caffrey got nothing but a continuous stream of questioning. He had requested a lawyer multiple times, and they still kept going. Requests for water had also been ignored.
Only Hitchum had resorted to violence, but the others hadn't tried to stop him. It looked bad for the FBI. Peter knew that Hitchum wanted a promotion and had been looking for a big win, but hadn't expected him to act so desperately.
"I think we need EMTs," Jones said.
"Already did. We've got a black eye, sprained wrist, fractured ribs, a lot of bruises, possibility of a concussion. Can't tell if there are internal injuries."
Caffrey still sat on the floor, leaning against the wall with his eyes closed. His shirt was open, exposing the blossoming colors around his ribs. "I'm willing to forgive all of this and just walk away," he offered.
Peter almost smiled. "Nice try."
"Peter," Jones said. "I swear I had no idea. Hitchum sent me out for food and then had me filing the report on the arrest and all the related the paperwork. I guess I should have checked in."
"Yeah, we'll go over procedures so this doesn't happen again. Send one of the crew out to meet the EMTs. Escort Hitchum to a conference room, and call Hughes. He needs to know what's going on."
Jones grimaced, clearly dreading Hughes' response. "He'll want to talk to you."
"I'll be there as soon as I can." With everyone else gone, Peter sat on the floor next to his battered prisoner. "You look awful."
Caffrey laughed and winced. "He has some anger issues."
"The photos Jones took will go in your file and be available to your attorney. Hey, you didn't egg Hitchum on, to help your case?"
"I'm really not into violence. Anyway, my case doesn't need help. You have no evidence. He knew it, and that's what drove him nuts. He was going to do anything to get a confession, and I'm not confessing to something you can't prove."
Peter heard the EMTs down the hall. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault he –"
"Not about Hitchum. You'll get payback for that in court. I mean for what's going to happen in the hospital. They'll do scans, and they'll find evidence of what happened when you were nine. They'll ask for assurance that the abuse was reported."
Caffrey finally opened his eyes, and turned to stare at Peter. "I've never told anyone about that."
"You told me. In St. Louis."
"Very impaired, yes. Just tell them it was reported and investigated, and then invoke the privacy laws. That way it won't go into your file, because you do want your medical record made public with regard to your injuries today."
"What else did I tell you?"
Peter wanted to tell him not to worry, but couldn't ignore the fear in Caffrey's eyes. "Your mother gave you food poisoning when you were six. Your family didn't know about the abuse, probably because the person who should have noticed had a drinking problem. When that person went to rehab, you lived with your aunt. When you were 18 you drowned, skipped out of the hospital, and ended up with pneumonia. Your family doesn't know where you are, and might think you're dead. Under no circumstances should they be contacted or even mentioned in your FBI records."
"You promise?" Neal asked as the EMTs entered the room. They pushed Peter out of their way, but Neal wouldn't let them touch him. "No. Wait. Peter. You have to -"
"You had my word two years ago, and it still holds," Peter said, "Now let them do their job, Neal."
He closed his eyes again, and complied with everything the EMTs asked of him.
It reminded Peter of St. Louis, when Dr. Santos was checking up on a frighteningly compliant patient. This was why Peter hadn't led the interrogation. He had an unfair advantage, one that would be illegal to use. He liked to think he wouldn't have resorted to using it, but it would have been tempting to invoke Neal's concern for his family in order to get a confession for crimes where the evidence was a bit sketchy. The kid had almost hyperventilated now at the thought of them being included in his FBI file.
Peter knew they wouldn't meet again until the trial, and wouldn't really talk to each other then. This was the end of the Caffrey Conversation. Peter had failed at reforming Neal, but at least he'd been able to protect his one-time stepson from Hitchum.
Four years later, Peter sat at his desk, looking out over the bullpen, but his thoughts were far away. Last night he'd gone through a box of items that had been collected over the years but not used as evidence against Caffrey. Items like the birthday cards sent to Peter from prison. Now, Peter remembered the first time he'd attempted the Caffrey Conversation.
In 2003, it had been about putting a criminal on the road to reform. And he'd almost succeeded. He'd been surprised to gain a stepson in the process, if only temporarily. If things had worked out then, Neal might have become a friend. But after Kate's intervention he'd slipped away, and Peter had to think of him as Caffrey again.
In 2005, he'd finally arrested Caffrey. Before he could send Caffrey to prison, he'd seen a glimpse of the man he'd come to know as Neal in 2003. But it was too late then to re-initiate the Caffrey Conversation. The FBI wouldn't have considered a deal. Offering one would have looked like a pay-off after Hitchum's actions. Instead of reforming Caffrey, Peter had to focus on reforming his own department.
In 2009, Caffrey had escaped from a maximum security prison, with three months left in a four-year sentence. It was no surprise to find Kate was behind that insanity. What did surprise Peter was the discussion that started in the empty apartment where he found the escapee and continued when Peter made his promised visit to the prison. It was as if the Caffrey Conversation had merely been on hold all of this time. But Peter hadn't been ready for it.
Now, they had passed the end of Caffrey's original sentence. And Peter was no closer to catching the Dutchman. He had to admit that it was time for an unconventional approach to bringing this criminal down.
Caffrey had the skills to help with this case. But could they trust him? Which side of Neal Caffrey would the FBI be getting?
Both sides, Peter realized. He couldn't separate the bold criminal Caffrey and the mischievous choirboy Neal who made up Neal Caffrey. Maybe the real question he should ask was whether he could counter with the right mix of Special Agent Burke and stepdad Peter to keep the partnership working. It would be a challenge unlike any Peter had ever faced.
At least this time he understood that the Caffrey Conversation couldn't be a one-time event. It would be a long-term effort to keep Neal on the straight-and-narrow.
It would be worth it, he decided, and requisitioned a tracking anklet.