Peter had been furious. Finding out why Hagan had been freed and what Neal had been doing this whole time behind his back. He had known, deep down inside he had been more than aware of something going on with his friend but he'd chosen to ignore it over peace, tranquility and not having to send his friend back to prison. Kramer's words echoed in the back of his mind as he paced outside June's house, fury still evident as he finally strode up to the door and gave it a hard unfriendly knock. Neal's landlady answered after a moment, looking at Peter with a curious glance.
Even she was unhappy with him if not sympathizing with Neal. It was painfully obvious. Peter appreciated what his friend had done for him but the way it had been done was going to get them both in trouble. He was on the high road to DC and now… those dreams might never come true. In fact, he might lose his job, end his career if this ever got out. All he could do was confine Neal to the golden cage that was June Ellington's home until he was certain how to handle it. She was civil but something about her tone made him think she was on his partner's side.
"Ms. Ellington… I need to talk to Neal."
He was probably less kind than he meant to be but at the moment so many things hung in the balance. Elizabeth still didn't know the truth nor did anyone but himself, Neal and possibly Mozzie. He wasn't sure how much June knew from her manner but she nodded with a hint of curiosity before moving aside to let him in.
"He hasn't left his room in two days, Agent Burke. I'm sure he's available."
Those words made him pause a moment, nodding briefly to her before he headed up the stairs. Every step felt like the gaping void between himself and Neal was growing larger. Why hadn't the con told him the truth? Did Neal still not trust him? Peter considered that a moment, pausing briefly outside the door as he remember their conversation the day he took the ASAC position. He'd called him a criminal. It was the day before Siegel arrived and the agent had been afraid to admit how much he hated separating from Neal. Elizabeth was afraid for him and he had taken her words too much to heart about pulling away considering his imprisonment. His life had been safe and simple even with the dangers of the FBI, things were clear and concrete before Neal stepped into his life. The con man had changed the way he saw things, his mind trying to make up between his instinct to be upset and his worry over why his friend had done such a thing as join forces with Hagan.
He knocked on the door, calling out before waiting for a reply. A minute went by and nothing happened, Peter knocking again before he tried the door and found it unlocked. The agent turned the knob, slowly opening the door to find the room a mess. Overall it was clean but the kitchen area was messy with torn up canvases, splattered paint and a large tarp covering all of the wood floor which meant it hadn't been ruined. Neal had been considerate despite whatever had made him throw this fit. Peter moved closer to one piece, lifting up what was left of the shredded canvas and finding an image of himself there. He blinked at the painting, a perfect image of himself only now it was ripped and splattered with various shades of smeared newly dried paint.
Now he was worried, some of his anger dissipating as he searched the small room and the back hallway and found no signs of the con man present. Something felt off, hints Neal had been in the bathroom evident from the smudged bare footprints of paint going down the hallway. Neal had been here but where was he now? It looked as if the prints had dried some time ago, the prints powdery. He turned to find June staring around the room with obvious surprise and some shock as he entered the main room again and went back into agent mode.
"June, any idea where Neal is? I checked his anklet and it's still reading that he's here. Tell me the truth."
He was firm despite his worry, anger superseding that as she glanced up at him with a glittering of rebelliousness, pulling herself up to her full height.
"I don't know, Agent Burke. He was here yesterday morning when I left him alone as he requested. I haven't checked on him since."
She was chilly towards him despite her own obvious worry. Peter wasn't sure what to think when it came to Neal Caffrey and knowing June's past…
"Not that it matters but I had nothing to do with this. You'll excuse me while I contact my lawyer… I will need one at some point I'm certain."
June's words weren't friendly as they once were as he made to apologize but she was gone, leaving him alone in the room. Peter was making things worse but the fact Neal was gone wasn't his imagination. Had the con run? He'd been rough on his friend and partner but why wouldn't he be upset. Neal had admitted to freeing him through illegal means which had created the mess they were in now. Maybe it had nothing to do with Siegel's death but the con was guilty of so much more and Peter was at an impasse trying to figure out how to deal with all of it.
June's voice was just audible, Peter turning to see the little bald con rushing into the room, looking around as if he lost something and then glaring accusingly up at him. He doesn't need this right now as he tries to figure out what happened and where the con had left to. He holds up a hand before Mozz can say anything as he calls to confirm Neal is showing up here although he's not here. He hangs up the device then makes a motion for the little guy to continue.
"What have you done with him, Suit? June says you're here to arrest him? Are you going to arrest her too? He was here yesterday safe and sound and now…"
Mozzie keeps going, saying everything he'd been holding back since he had been witness as had June apparently to his tirade with Neal just over a day ago. Now the con was missing and he had everyone upset with him like it was his fault when he just wanted answers about why and how. He didn't understand everything Neal had told him, his friend telling him most of the truth but still leaving enough out to make him curious.
"I don't have him Mozzie and if I find out you did anything to make it look like he's here at home…"
Now he was yelling at the little guy, not really angry at him but concerned and worried but everyone's feelings were upside down and topsy turvy as they used anger instead of speaking civilly. He saw the little guy blink and grow quiet, something in his manner making him think he had hit the jackpot.
"What ever made you think I would have any means to hack Neal's anklet? Why don't you look up OPR… Suit."
Mozzie was trying too hard to turn the blame from himself, Peter approaching him with a menacing look.
"You're not telling me something… Don't think I'm not aware of your association with Teddy Winters!"
He was throwing out his trump card now, the little guy going pale but still holding his own against him as he refused to give in. Peter was at a loss, uncertain why Neal's anklet was showing up as here when he wasn't. The new one was supposed to be hack proof but there was always a way when it came to Caffrey and especially Mozzie. The little guy glared at him.
"I had nothing to do with this but if I did, I wouldn't tell you."
As usual Mozzie's rantings didn't make much sense but the manner in which he spoke was enough to let the agent know even Neal's partner in crime didn't know where he was. He'd come in accusing Peter of whisking Neal away and now that proved something else had happened.
"Wait a minute… you thought I had him, Mozzie? Why in the world would you think that?"
He turned to see that June had peeked in to see what all the noise was, they're voices carrying downstairs. She still looked upset with him but also concerned.
"Peter… Mozzie… Obviously neither one of you nor myself is hiding Neal and yet evidence to the contrary says he's here."
She spoke the truth, both men calm enough now to answer her with a yes and a nod as they tried not to be angry any more. It was obvious something had happened to Neal but what and by whom they didn't know.
"Thank you June. I…"
He was going to apologize, obviously wrong about the whole situation but she shushed him, holding up her hand like a mother to two young boys as Mozzie and him listened.
"Apology accepted… So, do we have any ideas where he might have gone? I know he's not downstairs. I would have seen Neal if he were in my home and I think you're well aware of all the hiding places, Peter… Mozzie."
Mozzie looked nervous about that last comment but both men nodded back, everyone trying to figure out what could have happened to the con man as Peter scratched his chin. He'd been pretty hard on his friend but at the time he felt justified. Who makes a deal with the devil just to get justice done? It didn't make sense to him but for some reason it had to Neal and now he felt guilty for the way he had treated the con. He'd just been trying to help him in the only way he knew how. Could he blame him?
"Well I saw him late yesterday morning. He wasn't in the mood for company so I left around 1 after playing Parcheesi with June."
Mozz spoke, looking over a June who smiled and nodded as if remembering the moment fondly.
"Yes, I believe you still owe me for that game, Dante."
They were having a moment when Peter interrupted, curious about something.
"So Neal never left his rooms? Not even to eat?"
He watched the two look at the other then shake their head. June replied.
"The staff was off yesterday so it was just myself, Dante and Neal. I never saw him come down unless he used the back staircase. We were in the dining room playing our game so we wouldn't have seen or heard him. Neal kept to himself, Agent."
It was obvious she was angry with him and their argument. He hadn't been quiet and it was only after June showed up to see if they were ok he had left. He wasn't embarrassed so much as trying to save the young man some face despite everything. Neal had screwed up but as always, it had been for a very dire and well intentioned reason. Peter couldn't fault him that but making a deal with Hagan was hardly something to ignore.
"So the afternoon before I… was yelling at him when you walked in and I left. I changed his radius that moment so he couldn't have left… without me knowing."
He looked at June first then Mozzie but both had their most innocent expressions on for them. It was obvious they weren't involved despite what he might want to think. Neal had just vanished. OPR shouldn't be involved but with everything said and done, maybe something had come up again. It wasn't Fowler though as he sighed and wiped tiredly at his face.
Half an hour later they were calmer, Peter sipping coffee even if he should be back home. Elizabeth had called him but he didn't tell her about Neal. For once he did what his partner would do and stretched the truth. Mozzie was sipping one of Neal's expensive wines which made the agent wonder what his friend would say as June nibbled on a small sandwich. She had brought up snacks after a moment when they were all calmly discussing what could have happened to Neal. For now Peter wasn't involving anyone, not even Jones until he had all the answers.
"You said there was a staircase in the back of the hall? I've never actually seen it."
He was addressing June, grabbing up a sandwich himself as his stomach growled. Mozzie continued to sip at his wine quietly, watching them both like a sibling protecting their own from squabbling parents.
"Yes, Peter. I also have a freight elevator. Byron didn't like surprises so we had many things built into the house to make things easier. In fact…"
She seemed to be hesitant to say anything but finally he watched her eyes give him a particular look meaning it was just for their ears. Mozzie seemed to notice, moving closer to hear what she might say.
"I'm not sure how familiar you are with my home's history, Peter. There were tunnels leading to various sections of the city at one time. This was pre-prohibition so they were possibly for illicit means or travel. The path was caved in long before we moved in and what's left of it we turned into a basement, blocking off the entrance to the old tunnels so the children wouldn't get hurt."
June didn't emphasize one thing or another, her tone more narrative than emphatic as Peter digested all she said. He knew many buildings in the area, mostly colonial ones had tunnels and passages but a house like this was old enough it had to have at most something related to prohibition.
"I'm guessing your granddaughters have been down there exploring?"
He was trying to ease the tension between them, June nodding as she sipped at a cup of coffee and sighed.
"The oldest… Well Cynthia is a bit of a free spirit. She found the entrance when she was 8 and got stuck inside the wall. Easier to get in than out. Byron had to call a contractor friend to break the wall down and rescue her. After than we placed a false wall up. Samantha doesn't know about it. I may have told Neal about it in passing, I can't remember."
June looked thoughtful for a moment, shaking her head and taking another bite of her sandwich.
"Actually, I never told him about the wall. Perhaps Cynthia did. They hit it off when she was staying with me. I wouldn't doubt she told him just about everything about the house."
She was honest with him and that helped, Peter feeling badly about his behavior earlier but right now they were just three friends sitting around trying to figure out where Neal had gone. Under the circumstances, they were the only ones who could do this.
"Cynthia is a chatterbox. I remember her and Neal talking on the terrace most mornings when she was here."
They looked at Mozzie, his expression a bit sloshed as he'd been sipping wine the whole time. He finally blinked back at them, his manner like a turtle going back into its shell. Peter started to think, standing up and heading towards the back hallway. Something in his gut was telling him that was where they needed to look for Neal but he knew all the hiding places on the main floors. Neal knew that. Suddenly his phone buzzed, the agent excusing himself as he took it.
"Burke… What? When? Ok… I'm already here. Thanks Jones. No I don't need any help. Thanks."
He hung up, his eyes staring into space a moment as he processed what the agent had told him. Neal had just cut his anklet but the location where he cut it was still here in June's home. It didn't make any sense.
"Peter, is something the matter?"
June had stood up, looking at him expectantly, Mozzie still sitting with his glass of wine firmly attached to his hand although he had paused out of curiosity.
"Neal cut his anklet. They said his location was showing up as here still. It doesn't make any sense though. We already looked around the house and he's not here!"
He was frustrated now, nobody hiding his friend but the con had run or at least cut his anklet but…
"Hold on a moment. I need to get something from my car."
Peter left, going downstairs quickly and exiting June's home. He ran across the street to his car and opened it up, pulling out his briefcase. Inside was his laptop, which he set up in Neal's room when he returned. He brought up the site that showed the anklet's tracking data, both June and Mozzie watching the screen with him as he started it up.
"This is like watching paint dry, Suit. We know Neal was here the last couple of days. Maybe… he's invisible! It's been known to happen."
Mozzie was getting either more paranoid or drunk, Peter wasn't sure which as he ignored his rantings and watched the replay of Neal's movements. It showed the con moving around June's residence the past two days and then… The signal was cut, erratically coming on and off and it suddenly occurred to him where he'd seen that before.
"June… could you possibly show me your basement?"
He could tell she was thinking what he was, both of them remembering that night when Neal had done something similar. The con had hidden at Peter's house which at the time had been shut down while contractors replaced his wiring. If he had read the message right, it had said the following: B - A - S - E - M - N - T. June nodded as she stood and they headed towards the back hallway. She had a key, opening up a cabinet he wouldn't have given a second look to where the elevator was hidden. They were silent, Mozzie following them after a bit and getting in as the elevator door was pulled shut and they headed downward.
"I remember when Byron had this constructed. I was pregnant with our daughter. He wanted me to have it easy."
She smiled at the memory, Peter nodding as Mozzie stood to the back of the car, wine glass still in hand. They were an odd bunch but it was all he had to work with and not get Neal sent back. They would have to talk about what they'd discussed more calmly once he found his friend again but for now, he had to hope Neal was ok. It was a few minutes before the elevator gave a little groan, trembling as it hit the basement level and June opened up the gate.
"Basement level… Storage, Spiders and… is that a snooker table?"
Mozzie had been trying to be funny and now he was interested in all the stuff stored down below. He stepped out first, squeezing past both himself and June to look at all the neat things in sight. Peter thought he saw some very nice Ente pieces, possibly originals along with some old clothes and other items boxed and labeled neatly. The space was bright and nothing like the usual basement as they stepped through and she pointed at the false wall. There was a hole in it now, large enough to fit a skinny con man.
"There. It wasn't open like that the last time I was here. It's been a while though. I wonder if Neal came down here to find his art materials. I had stored some of them for him here after his last absence."
June move towards an open box marked simply "Neal's Art Supplies." It had been opened recently, handprints on it indicating Neal had done it, the imprint definitely the con's. Peter gave it a quick glance before going to the hole in the wall and peeking inside. It was dark as pitch, only a hint of a tunnel back there as he peered within then called out through the narrow opening.
Peter waited, his voice echoing slightly in the space but fading away into the darkness beyond. There was no reply even though he was listening hard to hear something.
"Suit… I think… yes, that might work."
Mozzie had started talking when Peter turned to see June handing the little guy a large sledgehammer. She had another one for him.
"Thank you June. I'll help fix any damage…"
She held up a hand and pointed at the hole. Both men nodded, staring in earnest on the wall and smacking away at it until there was a hole big enough for both Peter and Mozz to squeeze through. Peter had to bend over a bit, hunching uncomfortably but it was worth it as he shone the flashlight around. The tunnel wasn't so much a tunnel as a large hollow space with lots of collapsed rock within. Mozzie shuffled in behind him as they searched the perimeter, moving along to the far side where it was a bit darker.
Peter yelled out again, flashlight moving quickly around when he heard it. He thought he heard a groan. Mozzie was looking at him curiously as they both moved towards the sound, faint but coming from a large pile of rocks.
There was a weak moan as the two men started to work on shifting the rocks aside, thankfully they weren't too heavy as they moved the rubble aside and a hand appeared. There was paint on the hand and also blood, Peter working faster to move the debris away. Finally they had dug a figure out, more red dripped messily across a pale olive tone face. It was Neal.
"Did you find him, Peter? Mozzie?"
June called out from the hole in the wall, the agent answering back.
"Yes. It looks like he's ok but may have been caught in a small avalanche. Mozzie, help me move him. Careful now."
They carried the semi-conscious con out of the old tunnel and back into the basement, another groan as Neal tried to talk.
He was trying to cover his face, June soothing him as she went to dim the light and they lay him down on the carpeted floor. She excused herself a moment, disappearing from sight up the elevator and then coming back a few minutes later with a medical kit and some water. Peter gladly took the items and started to tend to Neal's wound, the con whining some but finally allowing the agent to clean him up, bandage his head and check him over for other injuries. He was apparently ok minus the bump to the head.
"Hey buddy… how are you feeling?"
Neal thought he was doing the right thing. He did what he had to do make sure Peter didn't get jaded by the system he trusted. Now that he had told his friend everything (well almost everything) about Hagan and the thefts, Peter was angry. The agent went on a tirade, scolding him like a father does a teenage son who tells him he's just wrecked the car after chugging beer at a frat party. He let the agent yell at him at first, feeling like he deserved it before Peter's words hit him hard. He had done everything he could, making it as easy as possible for nothing to go wrong and now Peter was mad at him? He yelled back, arguing why he'd done it and why after everything that happened Peter could believe the hypocrites he worked for would give any concern to him. Neal threw out his points, the two men arguing loudly until June peeked in and stopped it. Peter looked embarrassed but he could have cared less as angry as he felt about everything. He'd sold his soul to save his friend and now he was being put on house arrest. Damn Peter Burke! He didn't say as much, watching June as the agent left hastily and Neal felt the need to punch his friend out. His landlady tried to ease his worries but he wasn't nice as he could be, just polite and it seemed she understood. He was alone now, his thoughts buzzing like so many angry bees. Neal had to do something.
"Wow… uhm Neal, I didn't realize you were reverting back to primary arts. Fingerpainting is so 1st grade."
Mozzie had come to visit him the next day, Neal feeling less like himself as he ignored his friend and continued what he was doing. It was angry painting of the worse degree. He was splattering it everywhere but he'd had the forethought to put a tarp out to ease the cleaning June might have to do as he started the piece. It wasn't what he intended but the image of Peter Burke appeared on his canvas despite his best efforts and maybe it was for the best as he finished the portrait and stood back, bare feet stepping partially into a blob or two of paint. He had successfully portrayed a sense of self satisfaction and boy scout morale his friend… no jailer portrayed. The angry father look echoed back at him and he wanted to scratch the eyes out.
"Neal… that's a pretty good… What?"
He had turned to glare at the little guy, Mozzie staring back at him first with his usual casualness and then with a hint of fear. Neal wasn't in the mood for company, hissing at his friend as he replied back.
"Just leave Mozzie. I don't need any critiques. Leave me alone…"
Neal was pissed, his anger evident as Mozzie nodded and left him alone without comment. Once he was alone again his eyes returned to that face, the one he hated at the moment and before he knew it his fist had punched through the canvas several times, paint coated fingers ripping at the remnants before he dropped it to the floor and headed for the bathroom. He was washing off his hands when he cursed, looking down to see he had left oil paint footprints from the bedroom to here on June's wood floors. He was calmer now, Neal giving a heavy sigh as he realized what he had done. There were cleaning supplies in the basement and he was nearly out of paint and thinner anyway. Wouldn't hurt to go looking through his boxes of supplies for a new canvas too. His anger was simmering now, not completely left but he had gotten most of his resentment and tension out of his system. Neal was calmer, his mindset on getting more paint and thinner if not cleaning up after himself. He was a mess and so was his room.
Neal had everything he needed, yawning as he stretched and started to carry the large can of thinner from the box marked "Neal's art supplies." He had given the snooker table and various other things a quick once over, curiosity as usual making him look around before he noticed it. It was just a small something, most people would ignore it but the mark on the wall behind the shelf caught his attention. Neal put his stuff aside, moving boxes and the shelf a bit until he could properly examine the wall.
"Sneaky… A false wall, June?"
He hadn't meant to make a mess of it but he started to poke at the plaster until he had a big enough opening covering what looked to be stone and brick. He knew some of these old buildings had tunnel systems, it was typical of larger older cities but this must be the ones that Cindy told him about. The entry was just large enough for him to squeeze through as he grabbed up a small flashlight and shimmied inside. It was much larger than he expected and cooler than the rest of the house. Neal was barefoot and wearing nothing more than thin khaki pants and a sleeveless tee. His attention was averted from his current situation to exploring this new place. He remembered now that Cindy had said the tunnels were caved in but you could go a few yards before it ended in a wall of rubble. Neal moved along the space until he found the end, poking at the rocks but unable to go further or move any of the large stones. He sighed in disappointment thinking Mozzie would love to see this or even…
He whispered the name like a curse, sighing again as he turned to go back out. There was a quiet sound, an insidious one he didn't yet recognize until it was too late. The flashlight rolled out of reach, the dim light from the hole in the wall far enough he could only just see it before Neal slumped over in the darkness and passed out.
You can be a con or a man… you can't be both…
These something for nothing schemes are what got you put away in the first place…
You did this!
All those angry words, things he had done wrong in the past but for a good reason. Elizabeth always told him he was a good person who did the wrong things for the right reason. Neal wasn't Robin Hood, he stole for his own benefit not others and he had no taste for violence. Most of his partners he'd duped or left in one way or another because of their need to hurt others. Peter was the only partner he'd kept on as long as he had although it was technically by mandate. Still, he felt a connection to the agent and even with their current argument Neal had that need to please his friend. He sighed softly, coughing as he started to come to. Blue eyes fluttered open as he adjusted to the darkness and realized it was even darker. His head turned, painful as it was to move with the throbbing headache he had.
Where was he?
How had he gotten here?
Neal sat up with a groan, covered in a small bit of rubble and dust. He moved to get up and felt sick, laying back again until the nausea passed. His head hurt more than he thought it would, suddenly remembering something of what had happened to him. He'd heard what sounded like a truck overhead, the ceiling of the tunnel rumbling before some of it fell and hit him on the head. Then he'd blacked out, Neal shivering as it all came back to him. lf only he knew how long he'd been here but he had nothing to tell him the time or hour much more the day. It was dark in the tunnel, nearly Stygian and it looked like someone had turned out the basement light. His flashlight had run out of juice which meant he had been here more than 5 hours at best but he still had to get up and out of here. Neal made to rise again but his head ached too much so he stayed as he was, closing his eyes for just a moment and finally passing out again.
You've always known who I am…
You're a Fed, I'm a con…
He woke up from memories of talking to Peter about who he was. Justification of his actions from a man who didn't know what he wanted. He had to admit he was still very naive and immature for someone of his nature and age but… Suddenly he felt sick, rolling over some and throwing up into the rubble before he curled up on his side and gave a weak groan. He was still in the tunnel, remembering again where he had waken up before. Was it colder? He shivered in the darkness wanting to get up and leave but feeling too weak to do anything but lay there. He pulled something out of his pocket, the edge sharp as he pulled his left leg close to his hand. He could just see the green light of the anklet but he figured Peter didn't know he was in danger. Nobody did. Peter would find him… He cut at the anklet strap finally feeling the ends sever as he pulled it away. Neal was free now but he was far from safe. He grabbed the ends and started to tap them together in a deliberate manner.
After a moment he dropped the device and slumped back to half consciousness. Neal was tired and thirsty but mainly he was cold, eyes fluttering shut as he heard a voice talking softly to him in his memories.
It seemed hours later, maybe days he finally felt a hand on his neck and then voices speaking softly as they brushed debris from him and gently lifted him up.
The voice was familiar as he started to come to, groaning softly as he was moved quickly out of the cold and into a brighter space. He squinted even with closed eyes muttering something about how bright it was. Almost immediately the lights were softer and he was able to see his surroundings and the people there. A blurry face hung over his own, crouched nearby as he tried to focus on them.
"Hey buddy… how are you feeling?"
Peter. Neal was thinking of their argument but he let it go and shrugged weakly.
He couldn't think straight, the agent bobbing his head slightly but it could have been a nod for all he knew. His vision wasn't clearing yet as he felt himself falling back into darkness, a gentle but firm slap to the face making him stay awake.
"Don't sleep, Neal. You might have a concussion. We're taking you to the hospital. Ok?"
Peter sounded worried and relieved, holding his hand in his. It felt warm and Neal just nodded back, wanting to sleep but resisting for his friend's sake. He heard an apology in the context of Peter's tone but it was glossed over as Neal fought for consciousness. Others were there and until they spoke he had no idea who, his vision still blurry.
"I've called for an ambulance. Neal… everything's going to be ok. You're safe now."
It was June speaking, the con smiling towards that blurriness and nodding slightly. He felt so very tired, blinking but not closing his eyes but a little.
"Sorry… bout the floor… footprints…"
He was apologizing but his thoughts were becoming incoherent as his body started to shut down again. Neal wasn't sure he could stay awake, eyes rolling back as darkness fell over him again. Someone was shaking him gently but he didn't respond.
Neal… Neal wake up… Neal…
You're the only one…
The only one what?
The only one I trust…
He was drugged up, not himself and Peter was staring down at him as he crouched in the conference next to him. They'd been investigating a clinic and a doctor with less than admirable intentions. He could read the agent, something in Peter's face fighting not to be angry but finally giving in. It wasn't clear why the agent had helped him, cuffing him to a chair (like that would keep him from leaving) and returning later with a small surveillance tape. It was like that song by Anne Murray, the one about needing someone. Peter didn't want to see him in trouble so he protected him although why was beyond Neal. The agent had said once he had liked him from the beginning, even while chasing him but now… did he still like him? Had Neal finally gone too far to be forgiven even if it was for the right reasons? These thoughts haunted him as he started to come to, hints of light until he found himself staring up at a dull white ceiling.
"He's still sleeping, hun. Yeah… I hope the event is fun. Wish I was there with you. See you soon."
Neal turned his head, vision clearing up as he saw a figure facing away from him sitting on a squat little coffee table. He knew exactly who it was as he watched them silently, curiosity getting the better of him as they hung up their cell and started to make another call.
"I forgot about El's… event. Met, wasn't it?"
He watched the figure twitch slightly, turning to look at him with a look that spoke more than just surprise.
"Yeah. You've been asleep a few days Sleeping Beauty. How's the head?"
They were civil, calm but under the circumstances that was expected. Their last conversation was obviously a sore spot.
"Better. So… Now you know there are tunnels under June's home. I think that's the last of her secrets."
He was trying to make light of the situation but Peter's expression made him think he had gone too far or maybe he was reading it wrong. The agent came closer, Neal suddenly finding himself in a big hug he hadn't expected at all. Slowly he pulled his arms around his friend, memories of Cape Verde returning to him. It was like deja vu but it felt right considering their recent upset. Peter pulled away, a slight blush to his cheeks but he was smiling and it was a happy smile. Something had changed.
"I was hard on you, Neal. I… know what you did for me was your way of helping."
It wasn't the words he had expected but Peter was trying to apologize, badly at that and he let him. The agent fumbled with his words.
Peter was sitting now, watching him curiously but with that worried look he had come to associate with his friend. Peter cared and Neal, he did what he had to to help the one person who he felt made a difference to him. His eyes were feeling warm and watery, Neal wiping at them before he answered.
"I… wasn't thinking. He had a solution when I should have been able to come up with one. Call it the one time I was at a loss… hopeless. Elizabeth was miserable and… and I wanted to help. Stupid, right?"
He gave a humorless chuckle at the end, turning his head away as he tried not to give too much of himself but he was still unhappy with the way things had turned out. Siegel was dead possible due to his deal and Peter was distancing himself. Neal knew exactly who he was now and he'd already made up his mind to go when the time was right. He just had to end the deal with Hagan so Peter was safe. Until that was done, he had to stick around a while longer. It was the one thing he hadn't spoken aloud. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned, seeing a bit of unshed tears in the agent's eyes.
"Things between us… I want them to be good again, Neal. You're my friend…"
Peter was coming clean with him, Neal nodding as he sat up a bit more.
"Friends get mad at each other sometimes. They grow apart too. DC is a great opportunity, Peter. I don't want you to feel like you have to stay for me. You have a bright future ahead of you."
Maybe he was feeling sorry for himself still but he was honest. When and if he got off the anklet, he was breaking all ties. Mozzie was right about entanglements but it was only now that Neal was realizing how right.
"DC is still just a glint on the horizon, Neal. You're still my responsibility and I'm not going to let a two bit forger ruin my friend's life. I'm here. Talk to me. Tell me what we have to do to get at Hagan."
He was let go the next day, Peter picking him up despite being late for a meeting. Neal felt little guilt and maybe a little annoyance. They were on the same page again but getting Hagan would be more complex than just making nice again. His feelings were still hurt and it was obvious that he and Peter would only ever just be friends. The agent didn't have time for him despite trying to make up for it today but it wasn't enough. Neal was beyond all of it, missing the first days of their partnership when trust seemed more possible despite everything.
Peter was talking to him but he hadn't been paying attention, his mind a million miles away.
"What is it Peter."
He was tired, some of the weight off his shoulders about Hagan but he still had guilt about Siegel's death. Was he responsible? If it was his fault…"
"I'm… sorry about the other day. Glad you're still with us."
Peter's voice trembled slightly, emotion evident. The agent rarely showed that outright and he was glad for it despite acting nonchalant.
Neal hesitated saying the next part but finally he finished his reply.
"Me too. So…"
He was tired but he'd been out of commission for almost 3 days. He wanted to do something, looking out the window and seeing a bistro out of his radius.
"How about lunch, Peter. You're already playing hooky. Why not go all the way?"
Neal was of course teasing, that fatherly look from Peter evident before a different one replaced it.
"Hooky? What are you… 12? I did reschedule… nothing else today but the usual paperwork and I can do that later. Sure… why not."
Peter was thinking aloud. He was smiling now, really beaming as he made the next turn without saying a word and soon they were back at the bistro before Neal could make it a suggestion. He gawked at the agent as if he could read minds, Peter grinning broadly as he parked the beamer.
"Like your eyes don't pop out every time we pass this place. Good enough time to try it out. You coming?"
Peter was already getting out of the car, Neal hesitating but finally removing his seatbelt and opening the door. They strode up to the entrance, Neal feeling a smile touch his lips. He didn't want to forgive much more forget but at the moment he could try.
Author's Note: A very long one shot. Hurt Comfort and some minor Whump. Hope you like. :D