rillalicious: (Peter and Neal)
[personal profile] rillalicious
And here is Part Two...

Title: Playing to the Firmament
Pairing: Peter/Neal, (Peter/Elizabeth open marriage)
Rating: Hard R
Word Count: ~11,600
Summary: Neal Caffrey, a radical journalist formerly imprisoned on domestic terrorism charges, has been released into agent Peter Burke's custody. Neal's first assignment is to help Peter bring down a domestic terrorist ring operating out of upstate New York.
A/N: Clearly, this is AU fic. I hope you guys find it as much fun to read as I found it to write! Special thanks again to both my betas!


Part One



The thing about Denny's at four a.m. was that it was populated almost entirely by college students. And unlike Peter and Neal, they hadn't woken up before sunrise to get a jump on the day's work. They were still burning the other end of the candle. Peter remembered that vaguely, in the way one looks back on any blessedly distant exercise in youthful misjudgement, but Neal, he still seemed to thrive here. Peter supposed it only made sense; these unwashed, strung out kids were just opening their minds up to all the possibilities of the world. They seemed to flock to Neal's brand of activist journalism in droves. These were Neal's proverbial people, at least in part.

Neal raised the mug in front of him to his nose, then made a face and thrust it away.

"That's not coffee. I don't know what it is, but I'm not drinking it."

"You're a coffee snob, Neal. Why am I not surprised?"

"Do you even know where that comes from, Peter? I can guarantee you that it's not organic, and it sure as hell isn't fair trade. I know you've read my work on the coffee trade, Peter. I saw the magazines in your car in Dallas."

"When were you in my car in Dallas?"

"I wasn't in your car. I just walked by it. Besides, I was flattered. You were doing your research."

"And you were planning to vandalize the office of the Republican gubernatorial candidate."

"Vandalize is such a dirty word. We were looking for information that would link him to the pharmaceutical cover ups."

"You got more than you bargained for with that one."

Neal smirked. "Tell me about it. Three girlfriends on the side, an entire rolodex of call girls, and two secret children. It was the motherload of political scandals. People didn't even care that he was an accessory to the mass-poisoning of seventy-five elderly people through tainted liver medication. Sex sells. Elderly abuse? Not so much, it turns out."

Peter saw the good humor fade from the lines around Neal's eyes.

"I'm going to use the men's room," Neal said, pushing himself out of the booth. "I'll be back in a minute."

All the time Peter had spent chasing him, he'd never really considered that Neal was so passionate about the words he wrote. He'd always thought it was the attention Neal craved; he'd seen the sheer joy on Neal's face every time he walked into a room and all eyes were drawn to him. Neal-the-criminal had been easier to understand than Neal-the-man, he thought. He was a little bit glad for it.

Peter paid the bill at the counter, then wandered into the vestibule and tucked his hands in his pockets. If Neal had exited the bathroom just a few seconds earlier, Peter never would have seen it, but as he'd taken instead to examining himself closely in the mirror, readjusting his scarf and straightening his vest, Peter had idly glanced down, and caught sight of the local free paper sitting in a rack near the door.

In a striking, stenciled font on the cover, was a quote from Moses Royle, headman of the AIE. Peter picked up the paper. He closed his eyes for a moment, gathering himself, even though he knew what he'd find inside. Flipping it open, he scanned the bylines, his eyes stopping beneath the AIE article. By Nick Halden.

Peter had spent years chasing Neal, searching for anything that linked Neal Caffrey to the acts of domestic terrorism and corporate harassment that seemed to tie in with every article Neal wrote. He'd seen only two articles by Nick Halden, both were published under questionable circumstances, at times when Neal was able to provide an airtight alibi. No publisher had ever seen Nick Halden's face. And in the end, the case against Neal stood on its own; Peter never needed to prove that Nick was really Neal. The difference to the prosecution would have been insignificant.

At the moment, he didn't know whether he was relieved or infuriated that Neal was never confirmed to be Nick. Neal stepped out of the men's room then, and Peter folded up the paper, tucked it into his coat. Neal was writing again, and could very well be in the pocket of the AIE.

"Goddammit," Peter murmured, and he pushed open the door, holding it as Neal walked through, flipping a fedora onto his head and shooting a wink at the waitress standing behind a glass case of pies.

Peter's jaw clenched. He had a long night ahead of him.


~*~*~



Something was up with Peter. Neal didn't know what it was, but he knew he didn't like it. Peter was watching him, more intensely than before even, and he was quiet more often. Peter only descended into silence when he was plotting. A series of coded text messages to Mozzie had uncovered nothing. Whatever Peter was up to, the New York office wasn't in on it with him.

Neal listened by the door, waiting to hear Peter turn on the shower, then he hurried to the bed. His notebook was tucked beneath the mattress, and he pulled it out, setting it on his lap. Another glance at the bathroom door. Water was still running.

He shook his head. Peter was making him paranoid. This small space was making him paranoid. Any journalist worth his weight in words couldn't afford to be paranoid. Neal--Nick--had a big story here. Huge. He had to focus.

The distraction Peter provided wasn't only professional, though, and that was becoming a bigger and bigger problem for Neal. It was one thing to find the FBI agent tempting, but quite another to catch him looking at Neal with the kind of hooded longing that Neal understood, that he was starting to crave from Peter. This couldn't lead to anything good.

He'd only typed a few lines when the sound of water pummeling the shower floor went silent. Neal hissed softly and slammed the notebook shut, slid it between the mattress and box springs again. His hand was half-covering his face when Peter stepped out of the bathroom, steam billowing into the room behind him like a storm.

Neal froze that way, hand over one eye, the other eye fixed on Peter standing there in the doorway, wet hair clinging to his temples and neck, the thin white hotel towel wrapped around his waist.

"Rough day at the office?" Peter said, shooting a raised eyebrow in Neal's direction as he walked over to his suitcase on the other bed.

"What are you doing?" The words were out before Neal remembered speaking at all, an accusation, not a question. Was Peter tempting him? On purpose? Distracting him from the case for some greater FBI purpose? He'd obviously spent too many years covering conspiracy theories.

"I was getting out of the shower, Neal. I have to get my clothes."

"You couldn't take them in there with you in the first place?"

Peter stopped moving, a sharp crease marring his forehead. "I didn't give it that much thought," he said, slowly. "Are you all right?"

"You can't... walk around like this, Peter. Just... no." He knew he sounded unhinged, but he'd worry about the note of hysteria in his voice once he tore his eyes away from Peter's chest, which was suddenly so close that Neal could smell the soap Peter had used.

"Neal. Are you all right?" Peter pressed his hands to his knees, leaning forward, seeking out Neal's gaze.

"Fine," Neal said. When had it become so hard to swallow? He continued to stare at Peter's chest, painting it onto the canvas of his memory in exact detail. "What's this?"

He pressed two fingertips to a crescent scar on Peter's chest.

"Got that on the job a few years ago," Peter said, his voice catching between words.

"Neal, you're my CI--"

"How?"

"How--what?"

Neal pressed his fingers to the center of the scar, then traced it outward, measuring the distance between the two points, curled around Peter's heart.

"How did you get this?"

"I was chasing a suspect up a fire escape. I lost my grip for a minute, slid down a few rungs, and caught myself on a piece of metal."

"It wasn't someone trying to hurt you?"

"No. It wasn't. Neal, what's got into you?"

Neal licked his lips and looked up at Peter finally. He could feel Peter's heart beating, his fingertips like pulse points on Peter's chest.

"Peter." It was a plea, though Neal wasn't sure what he was begging for. But he knew with the certainty of the North Star that Peter did.

"Oh, hell, Neal. This isn't how I thought this would happen."

"You thought this would happen." Neal's eyes widened.

"I... well..."

The version of Neal who always wore his game face, who could pull a con and get a scoop all in the same breath, was completely absent, leaving Peter's awkward stammering disregarded.

"Did you think it would happen more like this?" Neal asked, and then his free hand was on the back of Peter's neck, pulling him in, and he was catching Peter's lips with his own and it was perfect.

Peter kissed just the way Neal had expected: a little rough while trying to be gentle, eager yet suppressed. Neal had to focus hard to keep from folding into the kiss. Instead he guided Peter into it, pulled him to sit down on the bed beside Neal. Peter's hands slid up Neal's back, over his shoulders. Before Neal even realized Peter's mouth was gone, he was speaking.

"You want this? And you're sure about that?"

"Peter," Neal's eyes were all over Peter at once; he didn't know where to start, "God. Just... shut up."

Peter laughed, fingers closing around Neal's shoulders as he pushed Neal down to the bed.

"Wait," Neal said as his head came to rest on the mattress. "Don't shut up. Not yet. You have a wife."

"I do." Peter finished loosening Neal's belt, flicked open his fly and shoved a hand inside. Neal caught the whimper just before it left his throat. "And you want to know if I'm being unfaithful."

Neal's gaze trailed down to where Peter's wrist was the last visible bit of bare skin, and he snorted. "I can't see how you're not," he said.

"Neal, we have an open marriage. Elizabeth and I discussed this. She... not only approves, she was encouraging it."

"You and me? She was encouraging it?"

Peter's face was slowly darkening, the red flush of embarrassment crawling down from his hairline, and Neal watched in fascination. As the self-confidence waned from Peter, Neal seemed to absorb it himself, a palpable turning of the tide, one which made Neal infinitely more comfortable.

"She knows things," Peter said. "Things I don't have to tell her."

"You know your wife is awesome, don't you? I mean, obviously she knew you were hot for me."

"Neal, I'm not--All right, yes. I'm hot for you." These words that came so grudgingly from Peter's lips that it made Neal smile. "But it's... more than that."

"Good."

"Good?"

"Yes. Good. Peter, if we're..." Neal's voice broke a little as he trailed off, rocking his hips to press his erection back into Peter's hand. "You're driving me crazy. If we're going to do this, it's because it's more than that."

Peter's hand tightened around Neal's cock and Neal gasped, bucking up again. Peter leaned close to his ear.

"Do you trust me, Neal?"

"Of course I do. My life's in your hands."

"Okay." Peter exhaled, his thumb grazing the head of Neal's cock. Neal shivered, made needy sounds low in his throat. "Can I trust you?"

"Peter. Yes. You can trust me."

"Are you loyal, Neal?"

Fuck. There was no skirting the question now. Peter's hand was kneading Neal's cock as he stroked, working it over as if he knew it as well as his own. Neal lacked the capacity to lie entirely.

"Only to you, Peter. Loyal to you."

Peter's body went tension-free beside Neal, the pressure of Peter's weight suddenly urgent and hard, no longer restrained. That must have been the right answer, Neal thought, but then Peter's mouth was on his throat and his head was thrown back and he couldn't think anymore.

Neal's shirt was open, but the water on Peter's skin soaked through the places where it still covered Neal's torso. Peter's cock was hard and long and perfect against his thigh, and Neal angled his hips closer as he bucked into Peter's hand, because he needed more, and he'd needed it for a very long time.

He slid his hand through the beads of water on Peter's back, took hold of the towel, and jerked it away, then grabbed for Peter's erection. As though it were made to fit into the bend of Neal's curled fist, Peter's cock rubbed against Neal's hand and that was all it took.

Neal's head went back, his mouth falling open as he cried out, the sensation of Peter's fingers tangling in his hair, trembling and pulling. Peter rolled on top of him, squeezing Neal's fist between their bodies, rutting into the hot, wet vice they created there with a grunt. Then Peter stilled, and shook, and Neal's breath was ragged as everything was hotter and slicker, and Peter's cock pulsed beneath his fingers.

Peter kissed Neal's throat, down to the hollow at its base, then back up again to his jaw.

"Neal," he said, in a raw, sated voice that Neal had never heard before.

"Oh, God, Peter."

"Yeah. Neal, this was... It shouldn't--"

"I know, Peter. Let's not talk about it now. Right now it's... perfect. Let's not, okay?"

Peter rolled away to reach up and flip the switch, plunging the room into darkness.

"Damn near perfect," he said, fidgeting and fussing as he tried to right the blankets over them.

Neal, still half-dressed, was content to let that wait. He reached up and tugged Peter down.

"It's just that--"

"Peter. Sleep. Now. We can discuss in the morning, over Fruit Loops and sketchy-looking bananas."

"Glad to hear you've been enjoying the continental breakfast here."

Peter chuckled and pulled Neal against him. Neal started to hesitate, then gave in. Tomorrow's run with the AIE was too important to risk the relationship talk right now. Besides, once that was out in the air, there was no going back. Neal excelled at weighing risk, and if he could buy himself some time before risking this, he was going to do it.


~*~*~



"Neal, once you know who the target is, you've got to let us know. We're not going to have a lot of time to move on this one, not if Royle already has his bombs."

Through the binoculars, Peter watched Neal approach a drum circle on the campus green.

"Got it. These guys don't get any points for originality if they're trying to blend," Neal murmured.

Peter snorted. He watched the way Neal walked: all confidence and swagger, all easy charm. He turned the binoculars to the circle, zeroing in on Royle. Moses Royle was an enigmatic kid, wildly curly hair framing his friendly, youthful face. He was unpredictable, impetuous, and arrogant. Everything that Peter was not. Peter couldn't help wondering if Royle was temptation for Neal. He lowered the binoculars to pinch the bridge of his nose for a second.

He needed to put last night out of his mind. This was exactly what he was trying to tell El; why office romances didn't work. Romance, he thought. Neal would never let him hear the end of it if he knew Peter was framing it that way. At least Peter was fairly certain that Neal wasn't slipping back into his old life. Peter had a beat on him now; whatever Neal was getting out of this Nick Halden scam, it wasn't with the intent of double-crossing the FBI.

Neal grinned and took a seat in the circle next to Royle, who immediately leaned over and started speaking quietly to him. Peter adjusted his earpiece, noting Royle's every expression. These guys were dangerous and while Neal had covered dangerous stories before, this one was on Peter's watch. Knowing that Neal was going for a story meant there was another angle to it all together. Peter couldn't let this go bad.

If it did, he'd never forgive himself for spending last night in Neal's bed instead of busting him for the AIE article. Peter was a good agent, he'd always known that, and he wasn't about to blow it now. The circle started to break up and Neal stood up beside Royle.

Royle leaned over, whispered a name into Neal's ear, his voice too low for Peter to pick it up. Peter caught the momentary lapse of Neal's mask when Royle pulled away and clapped him on the back. Then Neal recovered. He followed Royle toward the cars, and from the corner of his eye, glanced up in Peter's direction.

"Diana," Peter said into his microphone, "the game's just changed. He's got a new target. We dont' know where he's goin'."


~*~*~



The last time Neal saw Vincent Adler was at his trial. Adler was, to put it lightly, not a fan. He couldn't be blamed for that. Neal had made his name uncovering a Ponzi scheme run by one of Adler's most lucrative corporations. He worked for the company for two years, conned his way up the ranks, and did everything but deliver the bad guys to the FBI's lobby. Unfortunately, the FBI didn't see it that way.

The first night Neal spent in jail was after Peter arrested him for obstruction, citing the numerous laws Neal must have broken (but was never proved to have broken) in order to get the evidence for his expose. Peter claimed that Neal had blown their investigation to hell. Neal, however, was happy to take credit for the four members of upper management who were successfully prosecuted, even if they hadn't been able to prove a clear connection to Adler himself.

Neal slid into the back of the car with Royle. He didn't recognize the driver.

"Who's this guy?" he said.

"No one you need to worry about," said Royle, and he tossed a black shirt into Neal's lap. "Put it on."

Neal looked at the shirt, then at Royle, who was pulling off his own shirt to replace it with one just like the one he'd given Neal. It clung to him, slipping over Royle's upper body like a second skin. Neal swallowed, and started to tug his shirt over his head.

"Take the other one off first," said Royle. "It'll be too bulky."

Neal paused. "Look," he said. "I'm just writing an article here. I get your cause, man, I do, but... I didn't sign an oath of allegiance."

"Caffrey," Royle said, grinning from ear to ear, "do you want to get your story or not? I am giving you an opportunity that no one else would give you. We're taking down the Vincent Adler machine. Front row seats, man. You can't tell me you don't want to finish the job you started eight years ago."

Neal studied Royle's face, both inspired and a little fearful of all that boyish enthusiasm. Then he started unbuttoning his shirt.

"Let's do this," he said. He shrugged his button-down shirt off, pulled on the black one. Like Royle's, it clung to him.

Peter's bug was in the shirt on his lap. Did Royle know about that all along? Neal couldn't give it away now. He was going to have to sacrifice it for the sake of getting this job done. He was in a car full of explosives with a radically violent man, and he'd just balled up his only link to the outside world and stuffed it into a duffel bag Royle provided. He imagined that right about now, Mozzie would proffer a quote about asking for one's own death.

The thing was, Neal knew Peter Burke. He knew the agent who had found him in Milan when no one else in the world knew he was there. He knew the man he'd been in bed with the previous night, the man who promised Neal could trust him as long he could trust Neal in return. Peter would keep watch; Neal had to believe that.

Small talk with Royle was excruciating. The man had a god-complex that Neal had only seen rivaled in, perhaps, Adler himself. He really thought he was a soldier on a mission, and that anyone with a bit of sense wouldn't see it any differently. It was no secret that Neal's personal politics were staunchly non-violent, but Royle seemed to expect that Neal would be thrilled at the prospect of blowing Adler's buildings off the map, even if it meant a few casualties in the process.

"So, why the change in the plan?" he asked as they pulled onto the New York State thruway. It was a ballsy move, Neal thought, passing through the toll booths, risking being seen by the cameras there.

"What change?" Royle said idly.

"All the talk about political targets. Adler's a lot of things, but he's not a politician."

"Are you defending him, Neal?"

"There's no defense for men like Adler," said Neal. "I'm just curious. People are going to want to know when this all comes out."

"About that." Royle scratched the back of his neck. "I don't think you're going to be finishing your story, Neal."

"I'm sorry?"

"Neal, you're our golden boy for this job. The great Neal Caffrey, the journalist who unmasked Vincent Adler's duplicity, who put a face on all the damage Adler has done to his investors, his employees, the environment. Neal, whose selfless determination to uncover the truth sent him to prison for four years."

Neal let out a slightly nervous laugh. "This is starting to sound a little like a eulogy," he said.

"No," said Royle, but before Neal could exhale, he added, "I'll do a much better job on your eulogy. That was just off the top of my head. Think I might have a future in journalism?"

Neal glanced back up at the driver he didn't recognize, with the dark ink of a twisting tattoo winding up the back of his thick neck to the base of his wide, shaved skull. Hired muscle. Neal turned back to Royle, but the other man was already holding a gun.

"Hey," Neal said, raising both palms in the air. "I don't like weapons. You know that's not necessary."

"Oh, it is, though, Neal. Because in my experience, most martyrs aren't willing."

Neal's eyes fell closed for a moment and he drew a long breath through his nose.

"This is why you didn't care about the casualties. You were counting on them."

"Well, I was counting on at least one," said Royle.

"Why me?"

"You came to me, Neal. Remember? You were right, you know. Our original target was political, but we've been watching Adler for a long time, waiting for an opening. And when you showed up, man. Serendipity."

"So what's your story going to be? I woke up one morning and decided I wanted to go down in flames and take Adler with me?"

Royle smirked, tossing his head a little, loose curls bouncing off his temples. "I think I'll go with a variation of the truth. You approached us for a story, got caught up in the rhetoric and the glamour," at this Neal snorted, "and came up with the idea for this one all on your own. You wanted Adler, and you got him."

Neal's jaw clenched and he inhaled. "Covered all your bases, then." Except maybe one.

Royle's grin broadened. "That I did."



A few hours later, they were back in New York, Royle's Prius pulling up in front of Adler's building. Neal rolled his shoulders back, trying to take a deep breath under the weight of the explosives strapped to his chest. Royle had provided a cheap suit coat as cover, and Neal thought that under any other circumstance, he'd be insulted by the knock-off brand. Right now, though, he could literally feel his life ticking away.

He introduced himself as Neal Caffrey in the lobby, and of course Adler would make time to see him right away. If left to his own devices, he would have finessed his way up to the office in a much more subtle manner, but Moses Royle was no con. He wanted to make a statement up front.

Neal wasn't surprised to see armed guards both inside and outside Adler's office, and he wondered if he'd take a bullet to the head before he had the chance to get blown up. He wondered which would hurt less. Which would impress Peter more.

The latter was a stupid thought, he knew that, but unless brilliance struck in the next fifteen minutes, Neal was on a forced suicide mission anyway, and he imagined it would be all right that his last thought was a stupid one, as long as it was about Peter. There was only one way out that he could see, and it required trusting the second most evil man Neal had ever met, a man he'd both betrayed and publicly humiliated.

"Vincent," he said, nodding cordially as he stepped into the office.

"Neal!" Adler smiled, and the expression reminded Neal of a cat on the hunt. "Neal Caffrey. In my office again. I'll admit I didn't think I'd live to see the day." Adler stood from his desk and walked toward Neal. "How did prison treat you, Neal? I mean, I know that I tend to joke about being too pretty for prison, but you," he broke off with a laugh, and now he was circling Neal. Cat-turned-shark. "You just have a delicate beauty about you. You must have been popular."

Neal swallowed impassively, crossed his arms over his chest, and started to tap his fingers against his upper arm in a steady pattern.

"What happened to your sense of taste, Neal? That jacket is vile. What is that, Men's Warehouse? Goodwill, maybe? I can't imagine you came out of prison doing too well for yourself."

"You know me," said Neal. "Voice of the people. I've just modified my style accordingly."

Adler was watching the motion of Neal's fingers now, frowning. "You are one of them, Neal. More the pity. You had potential."

"And look at you," said Neal. "Your companies seem to be thriving. Your remaining companies, that is."

"Thanks to some intrepid reporting by you." Adler's gaze was narrowed on Neal's hand now, and Neal was starting to feel a wicked urgency to get through to him. He was almost entirely certain that Royle had bugged the explosives; it only made sense. He had to be listening to every word they said.

Neal held out one hand and mimed scribbling on it with the other. Without taking his eyes off Neal, Adler strolled over to the blinds and pulled them shut.

"If you ask me, that was some award-winning journalism. And I should probably thank you. It was my first arrest."

"Mmm, it looks like we both got something out of it," Adler said, smiling tightly as he handed Neal a pen and notepad. "I was able to unload a rather unprofitable branch of my corporation, and you had your face splashed all over the papers. Just the way you like it."

"No publicity is bad publicity." Neal scribbled quickly.

Wired with explosives. AIE. Call Peter Burke. FBI. NOW.
Adler inhaled and caught Neal's eyes. "Excuse me for a moment, would you? I seem to have left my watch in the gents. I trust you'll be in good hands." He nodded toward his security detail, and all three of them took a well-choreographed step forward.

"Oh yeah," said Neal. "These guys look like tons of fun."

Adler was gone for just under a minute, during which time Neal was sure one of the guards was looking him over in an attempt to determine which bones would break the fastest. When he returned, he was holding up a small sheet of paper for Neal to read.

Burke already here. North corner of the roof. On my signal.

And then, as if he knew the exact moment Neal read the last word, Adler nodded, and walked swiftly past the guards and out of the room, Neal on his tail. The three armed men from the office, and the two who had been standing guard outside followed.

They hadn't yet reached the roof when Neal heard a distinctive click. Royle had set off the timer on the detonator. That gave him four minutes. Neal froze in the narrow stairwell. He was fairly certain from the moment they'd left Adler's office that Peter wasn't meeting them on the roof. Adler was too smart for that. Maybe he hadn't even called, though Adler would have had no way of knowing that Peter was already en route.

"You know," Neal said, flashing a smile at the armed guards beneath him on the stairs. "On second thought, maybe I'll take the elevator after all."

Above him, Adler cleared his throat, and Neal was unsurprised to feel the cold barrel of Adler's gun pressed to his back.

"I don't think that's an option, Neal. Now move. Do you have any idea how much the Rothko above my desk cost? There's no way I'm going to let you destroy my office. Now that your cover's been blown, and I assume your partner in crime can hear everything we're saying, how long do we have? And don't lie to me, Neal. I can hear you ticking."

"Three and a half minutes." Neal took the rest of the stairs behind Adler, and stepped out onto the roof under sunny, clear skies. A pigeon took off from a precipice on the next building, and Neal watched the bird's silhouette against a cloudless blue background. A good day to take flight, apparently.

"So you're going to throw me off the roof?" said Neal.

Adler shrugged. "I find the thought of exterior damage less stressful," he said. "But don't worry." He raised the gun, pressing it to Neal's forehead. "I'll shoot you first."

"Well, that's a relief," Neal said. "I'm not crazy about dropping from great heights. Then again, I'm even less crazy about guns, so I guess it's six of one, half a dozen of the other."

"I've been wanting to do this for a very long time," Adler said, smirking. "You're just--"

"Drop it, Adler." Peter's voice had never sounded better.

"Agent Burke," said Neal. "You're just in time."

But even as Peter's team appeared from the far end of the roof, Adler didn't move. Neal inhaled, Adler's fingers tightening on the gun, so close to his face. He wasn't going to close his eyes, though. Not in front of Peter. For God's sake, he was about to blow up, anyway. Peter didn't know it, but Adler did.

"Take off your coat, Neal," said Adler. "Show your FBI friend what we're dealing with."

Neal looked over at Peter and slowly removed the coat. They had to be down to the one minute mark by now. Royle's vest was a leaden weight on his chest.

It was cliche, but Adler's finger moved on the trigger in slow motion and Neal didn't see his life flash before his eyes, he saw last night, with Peter. The gunshot sounded like it was much farther away and he did close his eyes then, waiting for what felt like an eternity before he felt the sensation.

But it didn't come.

When Neal opened his eyes again, Adler was on his knees, on the ground, and it was Peter's gun that had gotten off the first shot. Adler's men ran, there were agents everywhere, and Peter was shouting something as he rushed toward Neal, but Neal's brain wasn't parsing anything right now, let alone spoken words.

Clinton Jones was coming at him from behind with a knife, and Peter caught Neal as he staggered backward. Jones shoved the knife up under the vest and Neal felt the blade skim across his skin, through the shirt. Then Peter and Jones together were jerking the vest off of Neal. Several agents were dragging Adler into the stairwell.

Peter threw the vest toward the far end of the roof, then grabbed one of Neal's arms, Jones taking the other as they hustled him through the door, just as a blast of fire and light eclipsed the sky, blowing the door shut on their heels. The deafening blast seemed to swallow every other sound. Neal pitched forward, his head landing soundly against the steel railing. And then everything was dark.


~*~*~



Peter knew it would be a while before Neal woke up. That didn't make it any easier. If Elizabeth hadn't been there to ease his impatience, Peter was certain the hospital staff would have had him thrown out already. When the nurse informed him that Neal had woken, finally, Elizabeth squeezed his hand, reassured him there would be time for introductions later, and headed to the cafeteria.

Peter stopped at the door, cleared his throat, straightened his jacket. He reminded himself that he wasn't a schoolboy. His prom date wasn't waiting on the other side of that door. Appearances, though more important to Neal than Peter under normal circumstances, meant nothing today. He entered the room.

The first things he would remember seeing, for as long as his mind would be capable of holding onto the thought, were Neal's eyes. Ocean-blue and full of light and alive, and it was probably one of the most pathetically sappy thoughts Peter had ever entertained over anyone besides Elizabeth, but at the moment, he didn't care. Neal was here, smiling at him, and those eyes had the ability to make Peter forget how close they'd all come to a nasty end just hours ago.

The bandage wrapped around Neal's head set his hair all on end and wild, and Peter thought that maybe Neal looked good like this--a little unkempt, like someone had messed him up. He instantly felt guilty for the direction his mind started to take after that thought. For chrissake, he'd almost lost Neal forever today.

"Are you going to come in, or are you maintaining a safe distance?" said Neal. He raised his palms toward Peter. "I swear, I'm not wired anymore."

"Don't even joke about that," Peter said, though his customary grumble was softer now. He walked over to the bedside, hesitating before deciding to sit in the chair. Sitting on the bed might seem too forward, he thought, and he was immediately mocked for it by a voice in his head that could have been Elizabeth or Neal.

"Sorry. Is Adler all right?"

"He'll live," said Peter.

"To try and kill me another day?"

"Maybe not. I think it's safe to say I'm higher up on his list of enemies than you are now," said Peter.

"Where did you hit him?"

"Back of the knee."

Neal smiled, wincing slightly as he did. "Ouch. Nice shot."

"Thank you." Peter grinned in return. He licked his lips. He wanted, desperately, to touch Neal, to show him some sign of affection, to remind himself that last night had been real after all. The events of today made it seem a lifetime ago.

"What about Royle?"

Peter lowered his eyes. "He got away. Diana just missed him. We didn't know exactly where he was taking you until the last minute, and our priority was getting a bomb squad in place. I'm sorry, Neal."

"It's all right, Peter. Really. Besides," he glanced up at Peter with his head tilted, shooting Peter a sideways, mischievous smile, "that's what you've got me for, right? To catch the guys like Royle?"

"You're kidding me, right? Do you really think I'm going to let you go after him after everything that just happened?"

"It's not like I'm asking to spend a weekend away with him. But you've got to admit it's going to be easier to find him with my expertise than without."

"I found Neal Caffrey without your expertise."

"That was different. Did you ever consider that I wanted to get caught?"

"No. No, I did not. Because you didn't."

"True, but there were extenuating circumstances."

"Like what?"

"I became infatuated with the FBI agent on my tail."

The corner of Peter's mouth quirked up. "Nice try, Neal. But no. You're off the Royle case. That's final."

"Okay, good idea. We'll just talk about it later, then.'

"That's not what I--"

"I'm sorry, can you speak up? You see, I was in this explosion today..."

Peter rolled his eyes and shook his head. "Fine. We'll discuss it later. Speaking of that explosion, how're you feeling?"

"A little banged up. My head hurts."

Peter did reach for Neal's hand then, and Neal took it so eagerly that Peter wished he'd done that the moment he walked in.

"Peter," Neal said, and it was an almost-whine, the way Neal said his name when he wanted--needed--something from Peter.

"Yes, Neal?"

"You saved my life."

"Of course I did."

"Thank you."

"You don't have to thank me for that."

"Yeah, I do. How did you know where to find me?"

"We had two and a half hours to do the legwork," said Peter. "Diana started working on a list of every politician, business, and individual the AIE had targeted in recent months, and as soon as Adler's name came up... Call it a gut feeling."

"Did he really call you? He wanted me to think he did."

"Oh, he called," said Peter. "He told me you were heading to an old bomb shelter in the basement."

"So you went to the roof? Another gut feeling?"

"Dumb luck, actually. I was already on my way to meet the two of you half way when front security desk got a call. Apparently Adler didn't clue all his thugs in on the plan, because someone in security saw him head for the roof access staircase and called it in." Peter snorted. "Poor dumb shmuck thought he missed a memo."

Neal smiled. "Thank God for the stereotypical henchman." His thumb was drawing concentric circles on the back of Peter's hand, and Peter swallowed.

"Yeah," he said. "Neal, when you're feeling up to it... We really should talk about last night."

"Okay," said Neal, and the quick answer took Peter by surprise. "Also, you should probably introduce me to your wife."

Peter laughed. "Oh, believe me, that's going to happen. Soon."

"Good." Neal ran his tongue over his upper lip, and his chest rose with a deep breath, then he raised Peter's hand to his mouth and kissed his knuckles.

This was going to change everything: the work, their partnership, Peter's marriage.

"There's something else we should talk about," said Peter.

"Oh, yeah?" said Neal, settling their joined hands beside him in the bed. He clearly had no intention of letting go, and Peter wasn't about to argue with that.

"Yeah," Peter said, and he tightened his grip just a little bit, to keep Neal from pulling away. "About Nick Halden."

"Ah. Yeah. That." Neal's expression went bashful, and even though Peter knew it was probably an act, he let it charm him. They'd have time to hash it out when Neal had recovered.

"That," said Peter. "But for now, you need to get some rest. Neal." He added Neal's name after a pause; it was a term of endearment, the best Peter could come up with right now. He was in so far over his head.

"Yes, doctor," said Neal. He closed his eyes and rested his head back against the pillows. He didn't let go of Peter's hand.


~*~*~



"So," said Mozzie, without looking up from his book. "You and the Suit."

Neal had barely closed January's door behind him. He smiled reluctantly.

"Yeah, Mozz. Me and the Suit."

"What about the Suit's wife?"

"She gets him too. Most of the time."

Mozzie did look up then, tucking his bookmark between the well-worn pages and setting the book aside.

"Neal Caffrey is learning to play nicely with others."

"Hey now," said Neal. "I'm always nice."

"But you don't always share."

"There's a first time for everything."

"Just do me a favor, Neal."

"Sure."

"Make sure you're not going to regret this. Remember one thing: The most painful state of being is remembering the future, particularly the one you'll never have."

Neal snorted. "Kierkegaard, Mozz?"

Mozzie shrugged. "You had a whole world of possibilities ahead of you. Instead you're choosing to become big brother's secret weapon."

"C'mon, Mozz. It's not like that. Peter really does want to catch the bad guys."

"Ah, yes. But even with the best of intentions, he caught you instead."

"Think of it this way," said Neal. "I'm on the inside now. I'm figuring out how not to get caught next time."

Mozzie raised one finger in the air. "That would be believable only if your heart was not a factor."

The tips of Neal's ears started to feel warm, and he smiled and shook his head.

"Peter and I, we're taking this slowly. I've got plenty of time to bring him over to the dark side. Er, politically speaking, of course."

Mozzie's smile was sly as he picked up his book and resumed reading.

"Famous last words."

"Maybe," said Neal. He set his notebook down on the picnic table and opened it. For the first time since Neal had allowed himself the title of journalist, he didn't know where to start. Vincent Adler was in prison, Moses Royle was on the lamb, and Peter Burke was... Well, Peter was something more than Neal's handler now, something more than the man who had hunted Neal down and put him in prison.

Neal decided that his first priority would be to figure out exactly what that meant.


[END]



Profile

rillalicious: (Default)
Rilla

January 2012

S M T W T F S
1234567
891011121314
15 161718192021
22232425262728
293031    

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags
Page generated Jul. 22nd, 2017 06:36 am
Powered by Dreamwidth Studios