Pairings: Gen for now, Neal/Kate, Peter/Elizabeth canonically, possibly starting on pre-slash for Peter/Neal and pre-OT3 for Neal/Peter/Elizabeth
Rating: PG-13 for now.
Wordcount: 1,892 for this part.
A/N: post-Free Fall, and therefore contains serious spoilers to the last scene. My first fic in this fandom, so mostly trying out the new playground. It's not my current working theory for the final scene, but it's a theory.
There aren’t many things that surprise Neal Caffrey, not when it comes to people. He’s sure there are natural phenomena that could shock him, yes, but people are easy, they always were. You learn to read them fast, especially if you’re talented enough, observant enough. You learn to gauge the reactions and to predict them, to pick them apart like you pick the locks; you just need the right tools.
So, people – not that surprising. Except that once in a while someone comes along who defies all expectations and then Neal is smitten. Well, fascinated, maybe, because it’s not always sexual and not always romantic – he’s fascinated by Mozzie and no one would call what they have a romance. (By now they owe each other a million favours, and if you counted, the balance would probably come out in Mozzie’s favour, but Mozz still doesn’t say anything when Neal calls him up and asks for just one more thing.)
Kate was, is, fascinating – she came along and could see through Neal’s bullshit as if he was made of glass, and she could tell glass from diamonds too. She was a little unpolished herself, but with a mind like that, sharp and slick, everything was only a matter of time. But, for years, Kate was an exception, others he came across were all too predictable.
Then, some seven years ago, Mozzie’s sources reported that Neal’s case changed desks; agent Ford retired and someone called Peter Burke took over.
“Rumour has it, he’s good,” Mozz said, folding his arms expectantly.
“Good isn’t good enough,” Neal answered confidently. That was then.
Elizabeth goes to get pillows and blankets from the hallway closet; by unspoken agreement Neal is expected to spend the night on the couch. It seems that Peter doesn’t trust him to wait until tomorrow, that’s why the details of Kate’s location aren’t given to him yet.
The last few months it was like a game between them, the amount of trust he had been given. There was no question of trusting Peter, because Neal always had, he trusted Peter would behave in exactly the same predictable manner every time. Last few hours destroyed everything, and now he’s standing in the ruins and making out the familiar shapes of what once was; it seems that not everything is gone yet.
“How did you even find her?”
Peter shakes his head, lips twitching in a smile. “I’ve chased you for three years. Both of you. I know everything about you, I know a lot about her.”
“Not everything?” Neal teases even though he’s not in the mood for jokes; there are things that are expected and making light is one of them.
“I’ll never claim to know everything about any woman,” Peter says solemnly and gets a small smile from Elizabeth who reenters the room, carrying the pillows. She lays them on the couch and reaches to ruffle Peter’s hair.
“Seems like you have things to discuss, so me and Satchmo are going to watch a movie upstairs. You stay up late, you find yourself a place to sleep because Satchmo will be taking your bed and Neal is taking the couch.”
Neal laughs, but the glance he gets from Peter plainly states ‘you think she’s kidding, she’s not’.
“Night, Neal,” Elizabeth says with a final smile and ascends the stairs, followed quickly by Satchmo.
“Stay away from the bed,” Peter yells after the dog, but he’ll be ignored; it’s not hard to notice that the dog listens to only one person in the house, and that’s Elizabeth.
“Back to Kate,” Neal says once Elizabeth disappears. Peter snorts at that.
“Isn’t it always?” he pauses and picks at the sleeve of his shirt, tugging at some invisible string. “While you were in prison, she stayed in the game. Nothing major, nothing to put her on the agency’s wanted list, but she’s been on the radar all the same. Made up a few new aliases, too. I checked them out when you run after she visited you, contacted her.”
“You didn’t tell me.”
“She didn’t want me to,” Peter muttered, but Neal could tell it wasn’t all. The truth, but not all, but he didn’t need to ask, he could hear the unspoken: you’d run after her, violate the terms of your release in a heartbeat, landed back in prison in a day. And Peter would be the one to put him back there, he’d hate to do that but he would. That was Peter for you.
“She seemed to genuinely want out, told me she had enough of the life of crime,” Peter continues, smiling wryly at the last part. He probably heard it from a lot of people, all of them claiming it was just this once, it was the last time, never happen again I swear. “She seemed tired, not at all like Kate.”
Did He have her back then already? She gave him the first message in prison, she was in trouble. “And that didn’t seem strange to you?”
“I don’t have a vast experience of giving up the life of crime, I don’t know how you’re supposed to look and act on such an occasion.”
“From my experience, you get a new fashion accessory. And a grumpy shadow who has no fashion sense.”
Peter glares at him, as expected. There is a sport in irritating Peter, sometimes, on getting just the right expression of exasperation and annoyance that tries to hide the amusement beneath.
Those seven years ago, few weeks after Neal completely disregarded Mozzie’s warnings, agent Peter Burke arrived in a hotel room in San Francisco that Neal had vacated a day before. One day; that was too close for comfort.
He made a point of learning about Peter then. Nothing special; fast track career, good service record, an exemplary marriage and no vices Neal could use, no gambling problems, no addictions, no mistresses. For an FBI agent the guy was surprisingly well-adjusted. There had to be something else, something to set him apart, something to made him be that one guy who seemed capable of tracking Neal down.
“It’s like you’re courting him,” Kate said, laughing, as Neal was writing that first birthday card.
“Know your enemy,” he joked and she shook her head at that.
“Thin line, Neal.”
It was. An enemy you grew accustomed to, who you knew through and through, became somehow more like an old friend. Someone you knew, someone you slowly learned to trust.
“Who has her?” he asks seriously, looking up as Peter punches one of the pillows lightly, frowning in thought. “I don’t think it’s Fowler.”
“I think ‘has her’ is an overstatement. She has a freedom of movement, she was able to contact you… the question should be, what they’re threatening her with,” Peter says matter-of-factly and then stays silent, doesn’t ask how Neal knows it’s not Fowler, doesn’t demand answers as Neal expected him to.
The silence is like a void that needs to be filled, and Neal finds himself speaking, even though he didn’t plan to volunteer this piece of information just yet. “I thought it was you.”
“Am I supposed to look surprised?” Peter asks, an echo from before, his mouth twisting in something that could be smile if it held any mirth at all.
It’s the strangest feeling of déjà vu Neal ever had, because it’s like looking at the same thing from the upside down. He’s been here before, but it wasn’t like that; for weeks now, for months, he had been trying to get Peter trust him and the last day had proved that he succeeded somehow. So much that Peter, always ready to accuse him of any crime that occurred in the two miles radius simply refused to believe Neal was guilty this time, and took steps to prove his innocence.
“Yeah, should have known better,” he offers lightly, shrugging and calling up his most charming smile, the one Peter always suspects of hiding something. “But it’s been a long day.”
“Not over yet,” Peter says, agreeing, and this time the smile hiding in the corner of his mouth seems real. “So, not Fowler? You seemed sure before. Something I don’t know?”
“You could stand to learn more about the Dutch painters, to be honest.”
Peter rolls his eyes at that, predictably. He has always been predictable, reliable in every way, but somehow Neal is still hooked, like he had been seven years ago, trying to figure out the puzzle of that one FBI agent who seemed to actually be able to track him down.
It’s because Peter loves the game, enjoys the chase. He’d swear up and down that it was just his job, and that Neal was a piece of work himself, but there’s a look of sheer joy on his face every time Neal pulls one of his stunts, every time he does something crazy and dangerous and wonderful. Peter, despite his grumblings to the contrary, understands the thrill of gambling all and winning.
It’s not something many people get. People worry, about the consequences, about the future. They plan for the rainy day. Not many understand the joy of living from one perfect moment to the next. Sure, Neal is a meticulous planner himself, when he’s orchestrating one of his scams, but what keeps him alive is improvising at the last moment. Peter doesn’t really do it, but he appreciates it, so there’s hope for him yet. It’s more than Neal gets from Mozzie or Kate sometimes.
“Get some sleep,” Peter is saying now, standing up, folding his jacket. “Kate’s supposed to meet us tomorrow. Maybe she’ll tell you more than she told me.”
His hand rests briefly on Neal’s shoulder; as much of a comfort gesture as Peter allows himself. At least he’s not being told to cowboy up.
That much happened before; Peter’s not great at comfort, but he has been known to reach out and awkwardly try and make things better before quickly changing the subject. But his hand lingers just a second too long. Something had shifted in the last few days. Not with the click of the handcuffs but with the jacket wrapped over them. Not with Neal’s jump off a window ledge but with Peter’s decision not to chase him. And not with Peter’s disappointment but with Neal’s ardent need to have him understand he didn’t let Peter down.
He had it wrong for a while now; trusting Peter because Peter was always reliable, always acting in the same good old honest way. The chase is over, the game is still on, but maybe finally they are on the same side.
“Fowler didn’t have your phone bugged to get to me,” he says quietly. It takes Peter a moment, the surprise and understanding flickering in his expression.
“What would he want with me?”
“I was hoping you could tell me,” Neal shrugs. “You’re the most boring person I know, your conversations can’t be that interesting.”
The tense moment passes with that, Peter moves away, shaking his head. “Another mystery to look into tomorrow. You know, my life was pretty boring before you arrived in it.”
“Aren’t you lucky?” Neal asks winsomely, setting himself against the pillows comfortably. Peter doesn’t answer, but then again, Neal doesn’t expect him to. The eyeroll alone is nicely familiar.