When Elliot Donnelly woke, he had a moment of disorientation -- he wasn't in his own bed, but he wasn't in a familiar bed either. Not Sara's or Martin's, and he couldn't remember picking up some stranger. That wasn't really the sort of thing he did. He wasn't sure why he'd woken, either. There had been a noise, hadn't there? He was normally a light sleeper.
He turned his face and almost bumped his nose against a head of dark hair. Oh. That was Elizabeth. Peter's wife. Curled up against his arm, one hand clasped as if in ownership around his shoulder. He remembered, now: his desperate confession, the peculiar, possessive look on Peter's face, the way Elizabeth had kissed him.
Christ, he was in Peter and Elizabeth's bed, he'd told them he loved them, he'd told Peter all about his ma and Archie. He hadn't told anyone about his ma or the way he'd been brought up before she married his stepfather, not even when they ran the background check on him for Quantico. (He'd been startled when it came back clean; he was a good forger but he didn't realize he was that good.)
And now, he discovered as he turned his head, Peter was gone. Gone from the bed, in the middle of the night. The noise that had woken Elliot had been a door closing, maybe, or Peter's footsteps on the stairs.
He pulled away from Elizabeth, gently. He froze for a second when she protested in her sleep, but then she rolled away and curled up in the blankets, leaving him to slide off the bed with a soft creak of the springs. There was a pair of pajama pants flung carelessly over a chair in the corner; he pulled them on, making a mental note to give Peter endless shit about having pajama pants with monkeys on them, and went downstairs.
Light was spilling out through the kitchen doorway; he made sure it creaked as he opened it. Peter was standing at the sink in his robe, a glass in one hand. He glanced over sharply.
"Don't shoot," Elliot said, smiling. "Just me."
"You'll get a reputation, prowling around like that," Peter said. He held up the glass, shaking it a little. "Couldn't get back to sleep."
Elliot leaned against the counter next to him. "You're freaking out."
Peter turned back to the window overlooking the sink. "I'm not freaking out," he said, taking a sip of water.
"I know you, Peter. You're freaking out," Elliot repeated. "You talk a good game, but so do I. Is this about the sex? Or is it me?"
Peter set the glass down and bowed his head, one hand resting on the edge of the kitchen sink.
"Okay," he said. "I might be having a moment. But it's not what you think."
"What is it?" Elliot asked, curious.
"You want this, and I get that, I really do. And we -- I mean, I think I speak for both of us, El and me," Peter said slowly, "when I say we want this too. But I'm not sure it's what's best for you."
"Why don't you let me decide that?" Elliot asked.
"Because you haven't always been good at deciding it," Peter said, turning. "You were twenty-one years old and you decided screw it, why don't I spend ten years of my life pretending to be a criminal. And remember, I've been witness to some of your dumber decisions since then."
"That's not how it was," Elliot protested.
"No, but that's how it ended up," Peter said. "I just -- I can't stop thinking about that. Twenty-one, Elliot. You were a child."
"I was a child with a college degree and top scores from Quantico," Elliot reminded him. "Some of us grow up fast, Peter."
"And now you're here, thirty-two years old, eleven years later, and we're your dream life?" Peter asked. "Come on. You should find someone who can give you a real life."
"What's not real about this life?" Elliot asked, gesturing around the room. "You have a mortgage, you own a car, you have a dog, you have a humidifier. This is the realest my life has ever been, believe me."
Peter rubbed his face. "But it's not something you can talk about. You can't just...walk into the offices of the FBI and say, yeah, my weekend was great, I took my boyfriend and his wife to the movies."
Elliot laughed a little, but Peter didn't.
"I want you to have a life where, for once, you don't have to lie," Peter said, not quite looking at him. "I know what it means to you, not having to be someone else anymore. I don't want to take that from you."
Elliot sighed and stepped forward, rubbing Peter's cheek with one hand, curling it around to tangle in his short hair.
"Some lies are worth it," he said, low and quiet. "Neal was worth it, for what I did. What Kate and I did together. What you and I did together, even if you didn't know it. This is going to be worth it, Peter. And this time it's for me, not for the Bureau or anyone else. This is my lie. I have a right to tell it if I want. If you don't mind lying, I don't."
"I want you to be happy," Peter said, sounding wretched -- Elliot wasn't sure if it was because Peter was such total crap at saying this stuff, or if it was because he thought he was going to have to give up something he'd only just gotten.
"I am happy, Peter," Elliot said, and kissed him to prove it. Peter leaned into the kiss after a few seconds, hands sliding over Elliot's hips, down to clasp in the small of his back, trapping him there. Elliot decided that Peter was right; obviously he didn't need to worry about any impending sexual identity issues. The kiss was direct, no screwing around for Peter Burke, but it was easy, too -- quiet and focused, like Peter.
"I'm going to spend the weekend with you," Elliot said in his ear, when Peter finally broke the kiss. "And on Monday I'm going to walk into the office and ask you how your weekend was, and I'm going to be okay with the lies we tell. If you aren't okay with them, end this now -- "
"No," Peter said quickly.
"Then stop worrying. Come back to bed. If you're so hung up on us making rules about this, you need to sleep so you can argue with me about them clearly," Elliot continued. This time Peter did laugh, just a little.
When they reached the bedroom, they discovered Elizabeth had sprawled out in the middle of it, one arm flung across as if reaching for where Peter had been. Elliot eased in on one side of her and Peter slid under the blankets on the other, until she was held between them, her face against Peter's chest, Elliot's arm around her waist. He nuzzled against her hair and inhaled, blissfully. It felt, for once, like he belonged somewhere.
"I can't believe you have pajamas with monkeys on them," he whispered to Peter, but he was met with a snore.
This is the way Neal Caffrey became Elliot Donnelly.
Peter knew, and then Elizabeth knew. Then the White Collar unit knew, and before the Marshals knew (it took some wrangling to burn Elliot's criminal record) gossip had begun to spread.
A memo went out to the New York FBI office. (Humiliating, somehow.) Peter blocked the idea of an all-staff assembly before Hughes could schedule it, which Elliot was grateful for, but there was no removing it from the spotlight: for days the only subject of conversation at the New York FBI branch office was Elliot Donnelly, and how he was an FBI agent leaving deep cover.
Before the memo, though -- between the administrative staff telling their friends on other floors and the memo going out -- Elliot ran into Ruiz in the lobby of Federal Plaza.
"So, Donnelly," a voice said, and Elliot looked up from his contemplation of the elevator call-button to find Ruiz standing next to him. "A miraculous transformation."
"Ruiz," Elliot said guardedly.
"Is it true you spent ten years undercover?" Ruiz asked. His voice, soft-spoken as always, was more carefully neutral than usual.
"That's what the dossier says," Elliot replied, just as neutral. Ruiz shoved his hands in his pockets and considered him. "Do we have a problem?"
Ruiz tilted his head. "Burke and I don't get along," he said. "You probably guessed."
"We got different styles. I don't like people who don't do the time they're supposed to do. I don't like playing games. I'm a direct kinda guy," Ruiz continued.
"I'm sure that's useful in your department," Elliot replied.
"Yeah, it is. But I got no problem with a guy who did time in service to the Bureau," Ruiz said, and to Elliot's surprise, he offered his hand. "If I'd known you were an agent I wouldn't've copped an attitude. Sorry."
Elliot looked down at his hand, still surprised by the apology, by the olive branch. He took Ruiz's hand, shook it, let it go.
"I'll keep out of your way. You keep out of mine," Ruiz said. "Any of my guys give you trouble, let me know."
"Fair enough," Elliot replied. "Hey, Ruiz," he added, as the man turned to walk away -- he hadn't even been going for the elevators, Elliot realized. He'd come to speak to Elliot, no other reason.
"What?" Ruiz asked, turning.
"You didn't have to do that. Thanks," he said. Ruiz rolled his eyes, turned again, and kept going. Elliot spent so long watching him he almost missed his elevator.
Elliot and Ruiz didn't encounter each other again for a while after that meeting, except for FBI functions and the occasional nod in the hallway. White Collar didn't often cross over into Organized Crime. On the rare occasions the two departments consulted, it usually wasn't Ruiz's team that requested help.
The Monday after Elliot's confession and Peter's minor freakout, the Monday after everything changed, Ruiz was waiting for them in the conference room. Elliot had been home to June's that morning just long enough to put on a new suit, grab his gun, and give June a kiss hello on the cheek; Peter, with odd recalcitrance, had waited in the car. Now they gave each other a look, so quick Ruiz probably didn't notice, and Elliot followed Peter up the stairs.
"Ruiz," Peter said, shaking hands with him cautiously. "This is a surprise."
"Burke, Donnelly," Ruiz said, offering Peter a file folder. "For me too. I'm not here for pleasure."
"Yours or ours," Peter murmured, and Elliot kicked his heel gently, remonstrating. Peter pretended not to notice, studying the file. "Gangland hit. So?"
"My SAC kicked me over," Ruiz continued, as Peter scanned the information. "Seems your boy here did some work for la famiglia while he was running dark."
Elliot leaned over Peter's shoulder, curious, and caught sight of a photo: a blood-spattered painting, hanging on a wall. He winced.
"Yeah, that's my work," he said, pointing to the painting. This close, he could feel Peter's body heat; Peter seemed calm, but there was a light flush on the tips of his ears. "Well, not the blood, obviously."
"This was a job?" Peter asked.
"I thought it might get me in with the family," Elliot said. "Hughes wanted to see if I could get tight with the Bonnanos. They didn't bite, I didn't want to push. So what's the story?" he said, turning to Ruiz.
"Same one," Ruiz said, with a small smile. "We need an entre into the Bonnano family. That painting is Amelio Bonnano's favorite. He's been asking around about art restoration."
"You have nobody inside the Bonnanos?" Peter asked.
"One, but she's working a different patch. This is our chance to get someone deep inside fast," Ruiz said. "And since it's Donnelly's work..."
"Technically it's Caffrey's," Elliot said, taking the folder from Peter. "He doesn't know it's not the real thing. Unless you want me to tell him he's got a fake."
"Why the hell would we do that?" Ruiz asked. Elliot lifted an eyebrow.
"Well, if I tell him he's got a fake on his hands, but not that I painted it, I can offer to fence him some real stuff," Elliot said. "Get in cozy. Amelio's being backed as the new head of the family, right?" he asked. Ruiz looked surprised. "Yeah, I hear things."
"I don't want to jump in on an organized crime case until we have all the facts," Peter said. "Let me call my team. You can brief us," he said, and looked at Elliot for confirmation. Elliot shrugged and nodded.
"Fine by me," Ruiz said. "But remember, Burke, this is my case. I call the shots. Donnelly goes in, he's my guy until he comes out again."
"Don't worry, we won't step on your precious flowers," Peter drawled. He went to the door, gesturing for Diana and Jones to join them in the conference room.
"Could you just try not being a dick for five minutes?" Elliot said in an undertone to Ruiz, while Peter herded his team into the room. "I know you can do it, I've seen you."
"Nice guys end up in the river," Ruiz replied.
"This should be fun," Elliot sighed.
The briefing was fast and dirty, and as with a lot of the Organized Crime cases it was built on a combination of hearsay, legally dubious wiretaps, and rumor. Elliot listened with one ear, but he didn't look up from the photograph of the painting. One of his paintings, a forgery of a minor Spanish work. It felt like it was from someone else's life, and in a way it was; the life of Neal Caffrey. He'd just started working with Kate when he'd done that painting, and the exuberance and passion he'd tried to redirect away from his partner were evident in everything from the vivid color to the sharp brushstrokes. He felt disconnected from it, especially from the blood spattered across it.
"Elliot," Peter's voice said, and Elliot looked up. "You still with us?"
"Yeah," Elliot said, closing the folder. "Get in, make friends, drop a few bugs. Ask about the email scam they're running in Jersey. The Newark office give us the go ahead on this?"
"Newark doesn't know about this yet," Ruiz said. "And it stays that way until we have something solid to give them."
"Treading on toes," Elliot murmured.
"Problems?" Ruiz asked.
"No," Elliot said. He set the folder down on the table. "I need some prep time, though. Gotta talk to my CI."
"What, Mozzie?" Peter asked, eyebrows drawn together.
"He fenced Amelio the painting," Elliot said. "When he finds out it's a fake, Mozzie's gonna need to keep his head down for a while. His contacts are mostly in Detroit, shouldn't be a big issue."
"Who is this Mozzie guy?" Ruiz butted in.
"He's my CI, you can't have him," Elliot replied easily.
"Seriously," Peter said, when Ruiz opened his mouth. "Don't go there."
"So," Elliot said, "I'm gonna go revive Neal Caffrey, get myself some ID, do some homework. You got someone who can pass my name along to Amelio?" he asked Ruiz, who nodded. "Good. Talk me up a little. I'll send you a number for Neal's phone, let you know when he calls."
He got up and sauntered out of the conference room, back to his desk -- never let 'em see you sweat. Ruiz and his people passed him, heading for the elevator, and Peter stopped at his desk. Both of them watched until the Organized Crime guys were off their floor.
"You okay with this?" Peter asked in a low voice.
"Yeah. Piece of cake," Elliot said, smiling. Peter looked unconvinced. "It'll be fine," Elliot assured him. His eyes drifted over Peter's collar; there was a dark spot just behind his ear, mostly hidden, a bruise sucked into his skin. He wondered if Peter was feeling the same pleasant soreness he was. "I'll talk to Mozzie today. In the meantime, I got research to do," he added, holding up the casefile and heading for the file stacks. He diverted through the shelves, circling around and past the coffee station to the restrooms, keeping out of Peter's view.
In the men's room, in the one locking stall, he leaned against the wall with his hands on his thighs, then bent over and breathed deeply, silently.
This is how Elliot Donnelly betrayed his best friend.
Peter knew before Mozzie did. Elizabeth knew before Mozzie did. Mozzie was the third person he told, even before June, but Mozzie should have been the first, and he should have known years before. He'd been friends with Neal and Kate both, taught them things they couldn't have learned on their own, protected them occasionally when they needed it. He'd conspired with them against Agent Burke, and they'd done him a lot of favors over the years. Some of them not strictly legal; some of them, if known, could get Elliot fired from the Bureau, possibly imprisoned for real.
It didn't matter to Mozzie, that Elliot had occasionally put his career on the line for him. He was angry, and Elliot could grant that some of it was justified. On the other hand, it was unspoken between them that Mozzie would never turn Elliot in; Mozzie wouldn't do that to an enemy, let alone a friend, and neither of them could figure out what exactly Elliot was to Mozzie anymore.
So Elliot had taken all of Mozzie's shouting with good grace, had tried to rebuild their friendship. He'd tried arguing Mozzie into accepting his new status. He'd tried cajoling. He hadn't tried threatening, but --
Every time they talked, sooner or later, Mozzie's eyes went to Elliot's shoulder holster. Accusing. You carry a gun, you wear a badge. You were never one of us. Elliot didn't have to threaten. His very existence was a threat to his best friend.
Elliot didn't know how to fix it. Six months after he'd come out of cover, Mozzie finally stopped calling him Agent Liar on the rare occasions they encountered each other. He was now Suit Junior, and probably would be until the end of time. Peter wasn't even Junior, Peter was Suit, but as Mozzie pointed out, Peter hadn't lied to him for eight years.
A year after leaving cover, things were better; he and Mozzie got lunch sometimes, but Mozzie couldn't talk much about what he was doing or who he was doing it with. They saw each other more often, as Mozzie got used to being a CI and Elliot got used to the gut-twist when Mozzie shut down and wouldn't talk to him because he was a suit. Sometimes, for a few minutes, it felt like it had when he was Neal and he and Mozzie were geniuses with the world at their feet, no lock too strong, nothing they couldn't take if they wanted it.
Then it was over and Mozzie would shut down again.
By agreement, if he needed to get in touch, Elliot would go to a place Mozzie called Safehouse. Safehouse was a courtyard formed by the windowless backs of three buildings and the side of another one, a little urban quirk that meant Moz, looking down into it from one of the windows, could see him without being seen. There was no easy way for a team to get into the courtyard, either, so Mozzie knew if Elliot was there he was there alone. They could walk through any one of the other three buildings and come out onto a different street, go to a different cafe and get a bite to eat.
Safehouse was ludicrous, but it was a concession to Mozzie's paranoia. It made things between them easier.
So it hurt, this, having to go to Moz and say look, don't talk to the Bonnanos for a while, because I'm about to snitch on you to them. Every little inch of trust Mozzie gave him was so easily retracted. He'd left his badge and gun in Peter's office, another small concession, and slipped his ring into his pocket.
Lucky, too, because he'd been loitering in Safehouse for about ten minutes when he felt a sharp stab in his shoulder. He turned, trying to see what it was, but turning threw him off balance. He barely got a look at the sedative dart in his shoulder before the tunnel vision kicked in and he stumbled to his knees.
He tried to crawl away -- somewhere, anywhere -- but his legs wouldn't move, and his arms crumpled underneath him. He barely had time to consider the literal implications of "biting the dust" before he passed out.
Elliot woke to darkness and heat, the constriction of bound arms and the crush of fabric against his hair. He blinked, trying to see for a few seconds, before realizing there was a hood on his head. Again.
The hood was pulled off as soon as he moved, and the sudden bright light made him blink. When he could finally see without squinting, he saw Mozzie crouched over him, holding the hood in one hand.
"Did you drug me?" Elliot asked, around a tongue that felt too thick for his mouth. His words slurred.
"Okay, you need to listen," Mozzie said, his voice high and frightened. "Because there are some seriously bad people on the other side of the door and they all have guns and they are deeply unhappy with you."
Elliot stared at him, trying to think clearly.
"Bananas," he said. "Bandana."
"Bonnano?" Mozzie suggested.
"Them," Elliot managed.
"How much do you know?" Mozzie asked. Elliot tried to push himself up into a slightly more comfortable position, looking around. They were in a small room -- carpet on the floor, no furniture, a radiator in the corner. He was cuffed, but not to anything.
"Umm," Elliot licked his lips. "They have a painting."
"Yeah, the de Solum," Mozzie said.
"I was gonna warn you..." Elliot shook his head to clear it.
"Good timing, cowboy," Mozzie drawled.
"Sorry. My de Solum. Was gonna offer to restore it," Elliot continued. "We had a plan."
"Don't tell me what it was," Mozzie urged. "I don't know if they're listening."
"M'kay." Elliot drew his legs up and pushed -- ah, there. At least now his shoulders were against a wall, taking his weight. "What's the story?"
"Amelio asked around about getting the painting restored. Someone had a look and told him it's a fake," Mozzie said. "I don't know who but if we get out of this I am going to bring the pain."
Elliot would have laughed at Mozzie threatening to bring the pain, but he'd seen people on the receiving end of Mozzie's wrath a few times. Mozzie didn't torture people or kill them; he just made sure that everything in their lives malfunctioned, disappeared, broke, or fought them to a standstill. It was glorious and painful to watch.
"And?" he prompted.
"And they found me. I didn't rat," Mozzie added.
"You wouldn't rat," Elliot agreed. "How'd they find Safehouse?"
"Followed me. Sorry, man, these people are organized, I think they used traffic cams," Mozzie said. "They tied me up, darted you. Seems like Amelio probably wants us both dead."
"I had dinner plans," Elliot said, the fog beginning to clear from his brain as the pain from his cramped shoulders made itself known. "Peter'll know something's wrong when I don't show up. What time is it?"
Mozzie looked pointedly at his bare wrists. Elliot groaned.
"Okay, we have one thing going for us," Mozzie said. "They know you're Neal Caffrey."
Elliot felt baffled by this statement for a minute, until he figured out that Mozzie was still talking like someone might be listening. He was figuring out how to respond to that when the door opened and Mozzie scuttled away from him, hands in the air.
Amelio Bonnano stood in the doorway, six foot five and solid muscle, barrel-chested, the kind of guy who could snap most other people in half if he got annoyed. He was wearing one of his signature tailored suits, and he had both a shoulder holster and a hip holster and a gun in one hand.
"You're up," he said, grinning. It pulled at a scar on his cheek. "Good boy."
Elliot got his legs under him slowly, pushing himself up the wall to a standing position. He glanced at Mozzie.
"Come along, Caffrey," Bonnano said. "You and I need to have a chat."
"Look, you got me. Moz didn't know the painting was a fake. Let the guy go," Elliot said. He could feel Neal running over him like a skin, all that old confidence surging back, the cocking Caffrey smile, the glint in his eyes. "Come on, Padrone, we can do business."
"Bullshit he didn't know it was a fake," Amelio replied. "The pipsqueak stays here. You, come with me."
Elliot gave Mozzie a reassuring nod and followed Amelio through the door, out into a sparsely-furnished living room. An apartment building, somewhere, in some ratty part of town. The radiator whistled. Four guys with Mafia written all over them were playing poker in one corner. Amelio led him through the room and into a small tumbledown kitchen, gesturing with the gun for Elliot to take a seat at a little folding table.
"You mind?" Elliot asked, shrugging his shoulders. "I'm feeling a little confined, here."
Amelio butted the barrel of his gun up under Elliot's chin. "I mind."
Elliot held very still. Eventually the gun was removed. He sat.
"So, you and your pal ripped me off," Amelio said. "You were pretty easy to find for a guy who ripped me off. Usually they disappear, one way or another."
"What do you want, an apology?" Elliot asked.
"You're pretty mouthy, you know that?"
"Well, if you were going to just kill me you'd have done it already."
Amelio grinned. "You're smart. I heard that about you. The Feds got you ratting for them now, I heard that too. Heard you had an ankle monitor, so imagine my surprise when you turned up without one."
"They got me off the leash," Elliot said. "Undercover work."
"Yeah, figured. That's why we had to leave your pretty watch behind," Amelio nodded. Elliot subtly felt his left wrist; sure enough, his perfectly ordinary not-GPS-enabled watch was missing. "Nobody knows you're here, Caffrey."
Elliot waited patiently. Amelio was going somewhere with this.
"Now, I figure, this was what, ten years ago?" Amelio said.
"Eight," Elliot corrected.
"Sure. You were young, you were stupid, happens to all of us. So I'm going to let you make it up to me," Amelio told him. "You sold me a fake? I want the real thing."
Elliot stared at him. "The real thing's in a private collection in Barcelona. I'm off the leash but not that far off, Padrone."
"Yeah, maybe so, but they got a pretty nice de Solum at the Guggenheim, so I hear," Amelio said. "Pretty shit. Landscape. I like landscapes. You know, my business doesn't take me out of the city very much."
"You want me to steal the Guggenheim's de Solum," Elliot surmised.
"Now you're catching on," Amelio told him, with an almost paternal expression. "Here's the deal, Caffrey. You steal the de Solum, you leave a replica so nobody knows it's stolen, you bring it to me, and we're square. You double-cross me or you tell your Fed friend about our little deal, and I'm gonna shoot your friend. Then I'm gonna catch you and cut your arms off."
It should have sounded ridiculous. Coming from anyone else, it would have. But Amelio looked like he meant it, and also like he wasn't overly bothered by the prospect.
"If I disappear he's going to notice," Elliot said. "I'm going to have to talk to him, let him know why I'm not around."
"Yeah, that's why you get this," Amelio said. He reached over and pulled off the tie-bar holding Elliot's tie in place, replacing it with one from his pocket. "That's got GPS and a mic. You say anything, we'll know. You take it off, we'll know. You keep that shit by your bed so when you sleep I can hear you snoring, you understand me?"
"Perfectly," Elliot said.
"Then we're golden. You got three days. After that I start roughing up your pal."
"I only need two," Elliot answered, giving him a cocky grin. If he painted the de Solum tonight he could have it ready to go by dawn, and --
Jesus Christ, that was Neal talking.
Still, the impressed look on Amelio's face told him he'd done the right thing.
"Then we have a deal," Amelio said.
They put him back in the hood, though they didn't drug him this time, and drove him around for about an hour before leaving him in front of June's place. A guy waiting nearby handed him his phone and his watch. Elliot put the watch around his wrist and said, "Okay, Amelio. Start your clock."
It was only five in the evening, and Peter and Elizabeth weren't expecting him at their place until six. The plan, discussed over breakfast, had been lasagne and wine for dinner, and (not outright stated, but obvious) lots of sex afterward. Elliot had really been looking forward to that part. Well, and to the lasagne too.
He began setting up an easel -- he hadn't set it up in ages, sculpture was really more his thing -- even as he hit Peter's number on speed dial.
"Hey, it's me," he said, when Peter answered. He was sure he had a canvas around here somewhere, and the de Solum was a pretty standard size. "Listen, I think I need to beg off on dinner."
"More research?" Peter asked. "What's going on?"
"Just a long day," Elliot replied. "Had the meet with Mozzie, it didn't really go very well. I think I'm just going to stay in."
"You sure?" Peter sounded puzzled.
"Yeah, I'm not great company," Elliot said. There it was, in his closet, the perfectly sized canvas for the de Solum. "Tell Elizabeth I'm sorry, okay? Maybe reschedule for Wednesday?"
"She's got a dinner that night. Thursday's out, I have the intramural league at the gym. Tomorrow?"
"No can do, there's a donor event at the Natural History Museum. Friday?"
"Come on, a donor event?"
"It's a lecture on Darwin, Peter!" Elliot said, trying not to let any impatience creep into his voice as he raided the closet for his oil paints. "Look, I have some stuff to take care of tomorrow for the job, I won't be in. I'll see you Wednesday, we'll hammer it out then."
"You're missing lasagne."
"I'll live," Elliot said, laughing. "See you Wednesday. Bye."
He hung up the phone with one hand, pulling out his brushes with the other, using the clatter to silence the sound of him turning his phone volume all the way off. He set the phone aside and began laying out his tools -- God, it had been over a year since he'd forged anything. Almost as long since he'd painted at all.
"Okay, I've got the fed off my back," he said, for the benefit of his audience over the bug. "I'm gonna take the bug off and clip it to my shirt, I'm not painting in a suit."
He took the bug off and set it on the table with a click, stripping out of his clothes and pulling on a pair of sleep pants, the kind he used to paint in. He left his undershirt on and clipped the bug to his collar.
"Hope you guys get off on painting," he muttered, as he dug through his books. He had a Guggenheim catalogue in here somewhere -- there. The de Solum. Kind of a shitty one, actually, but there was no accounting for taste.
He mixed the paints quickly and efficiently, but he left the palette on the dining-room table, keeping his left hand free. With his right he began sketching out the shape of the landscape, studying the images in the catalogue for reference. With his left hand, he casually picked up his cellphone and began texting.
bugged and in trouble do not phone will send info texing slowly he typed. The stupid auto-correct changed his typo, texing, into Texas, and he had to backspace laboriously and fix it even while continuing to work. Once he'd hit send he didn't wait for a reply; he just kept writing, hoping Peter wouldn't do anything stupid.
mozzie hostage by amelio -- autocorrect kept trying to fix that to amiable until he finally just wrote mafia instead -- mafia wants nc to do a job.
At that point he saw Peter's name come up, and a single question mark next to it.
forging painting to replace original on wall of museum, he continued, not bothering to even battle it out with his phone over "Guggenheim". if not delivered by wednesday morning mozzie dead nc in trouble
You're bugged? Peter asked.
Y, Elliot sent, and then, will get away meet me three blocks north junes three am
What can I do? Peter texted.
dont call the bureau be patient Elliot replied, and then put the phone in his pocket. He was -- no, it wasn't really him.
Neal was hatching a plan.
It felt like Neal was the one who did the painting, and Neal was the one who fiddled the voice recorder on his phone around the same time he went to bed, and Neal who faked sleep, restless sleep, so that the recorder would pick up some noise and have a nice ninety-minute loop to play back for the bug.
When he thought he had enough, he set the playback on repeat, gently set the phone by the bug on his nightstand, and eased silently out of the bed. He pulled some pants on over his pajamas and then padded across the floor slowly so as not to make any noise. He picked up his shoes and put them in the bathroom, then went back for his coat and put that in the bathroom too, then slowly shut the bathroom door and carefully eased the window open. It opened out onto the roof of June's house, and he figured by two in the morning anyone who was watching the house had given up and gone home. Still, once he was outside and in the shadow of a gable, he pulled on his shoes and wrapped the black coat around him, buttoning it tightly. It would be some camo, anyway.
Neal scanned the street, carefully checking every car before he hurried down the roof and grasped the guttering, sliding the rest of the way to the ground, and freedom, on a drainpipe.
It was half past two in the morning but Peter was already at the rendezvous spot, inside an all-night cafe, sitting in the back and worriedly sliding a coffee cup back and forth between his fingers. Neal dropped into the seat opposite him and sighed with relief, relaxing for the first time in hours. Peter didn't speak, just gave him a questioning look, and Neal realized Peter probably thought he was still bugged.
"I'm clean now," he said. Peter leaned forward.
"What the hell is going on?" he demanded. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine, for now," Neal assured him. "Here's what happened."
He sketched out the story quickly, leaving out the part where Amelio had put a gun under his chin and the part where he'd slid down a drainpipe to get there. Peter listened, face increasingly drawn and tense, until Neal finally came to an end. And then he looked at him, something infinitely sad in his eyes.
"You're Neal right now, aren't you," he asked softly. Neal nodded. "Shit. This isn't good."
"Look, I came to you, I could have just pulled the con," Neal said. "I need help, I can't rob the goddamn Guggenheim alone on twelve hours notice. I can't rob it at all, I'm an FBI agent. We can't call in the Bureau, you know what they'll do," he added when he saw that trust the professionals look on Peter's face. "Peter, I'm screwed here, I don't know what to do."
Peter rubbed his face, a clear sign he was thinking. Neal watched him, fighting down that old feeling of mistrust, of wariness. Somewhere inside him, Elliot trusted Peter with his life, and Elliot didn't want to rob the Guggenheim but he sure as hell didn't want Mozzie dead.
Also he was kind of attached to his arms.
"Okay," Peter said finally. "Is Amelio going to know if you pass him a fake? Will he have an appraiser there?"
"How good is the fake, could it stand up?"
"Yeah, I think so," Neal said.
"And the only way he's going to know if you swapped the paintings is if he hears you doing it, right?" Peter said. "So we can old school this."
Neal felt like light was breaking over him. Oh, this was a good con. This was going to be a great job.
"You want me to pull a Border Crossing scam," Neal said.
"Yeah. With a federal twist," Peter agreed. "I'll talk to the Guggenheim, I'll set everything up today. You up for this?"
"Lay it on me," Neal said, grinning.
"Okay. Here's the plan..."
The heist went off without a hitch. It wouldn't have, if Peter hadn't jiggered security at the Guggenheim; God knew what he'd told them or promised them, but Neal got in, did what he had to, and got out with no problems. By the time he was outside, the large folio case still in his hands, he was sweating. Now the real con began.
"It's done," he announced, for the benefit of the tie-bar bug clipped to his security guard's uniform. "You know how to find me, come get me."
Ten minutes later, as he was walking along Madison Avenue, a car pulled up and a back door opened. Neal climbed in. The car was empty except for the driver, who didn't speak; he just checked Neal's wrists for the watch (left behind at June's) and passed Neal a hood. Neal sighed and pulled it on.
When they reached -- well, wherever they were -- he was led up the stairs, his knees bumping painfully against the edge of the folio case, and into a room that turned out to be the kitchen he'd been in before, once his hood was removed. Amelio was sitting at the table. He gestured to the folio.
"That it?" he asked. Neal made sure his hands were steady as he opened the case and pulled out the painting.
"Had to leave the frame behind," he said. "Couldn't source a replacement on short notice. I'm sure you've got something lying around that'll work."
"Don't get fucking smart with me," Amelio replied. He studied the painting intently. "It's better in person," he muttered, hovering his hand over the slightly crackled paint. "You are a hell of a thief, Caffrey."
"I do my best," Neal said, affecting modesty.
"I got half a mind to keep you around," Amelio continued.
"With all due respect, I don't think you want the FBI coming down on you for headhunting their felon," Neal answered. "So are you letting us go, or what?"
"Sure. We're square," Amelio said. "Course if you tell the feds about this -- "
"Yeah, note taken," Neal rolled his eyes. Amelio laughed.
"Ballsy motherfucker. Hey!" he yelled, and one of his guys put his head in from the other room. "Cut the pipsqueak loose. Toss him and Caffrey in a car."
"By the way," Neal said, and offered the bug back to Amelio. When Amelio didn't take it, he set it down on the table. Then he let himself be hooded, listening for Mozzie's outraged complaints from nearby, and walked back down the stairs and out.
The driver left the pair of them outside June's place; when the hoods came off the first thing Neal did was go to Mozzie, hands on his shoulders, studying his face for bruising or signs of pain.
"Are you okay?" he asked. "Mozzie, are you good? They hurt you?"
Mozzie shook his head. "No, I'm fine. You?"
"I'm okay. Come on, let's get the hell off the street," Neal said, and pulled Mozzie along, into June's house and up the stairs to his apartment. The lights were on; Peter and Jones were sitting at Neal's dining room table, Peter with a laptop out, Jones with a phone to his ear.
"Thank God," Neal gasped, and collapsed into one of the chairs. "Tell me we got them."
"You did great," Peter said, patting his shoulder.
"The bug's working," Jones said briefly. "GPS too. Amelio has no clue. They're taking it back to his place now. Our guys are following, they'll set up a listening post when they get a good permanent fix."
Mozzie was still standing in the doorway, looking shocked. "Does someone want to tell me what the hell is going on?"
Neal turned his head and sat up, beaming at him. "We just ran a Border Crossing with a bugged painting."
Mozzie's jaw dropped. "You did what?"
"Mozzie, I can explain -- " Neal began, but Mozzie interrupted him.
"That's genius!" he said, sitting down with Neal at the table. "How'd you do it? Wait, don't tell me yet," he added, getting up again and hurrying over to the fridge. "I need wine first. And food. Those cretins fed me on Big Macs and Doritos."
"What's wrong with a Big Mac?" Peter asked. He had his phone to his ear.
"Cheese?" Mozzie said, glaring at him. Peter held up his hands innocently. Neal tried not to laugh, shaky with relief.
"Yeah, it's me," Peter said into the phone. "They're back safe. El says hi," he said to Neal, who beamed. "He's good. Okay, love you. Be home soon."
While Mozzie fussed in the kitchen, pouring out wine and pressing it on Jones and Peter regardless of their being on duty, Peter leaned over and dropped Elliot's badge wallet into Neal's hand.
"Come on back," he said quietly. Neal closed his eyes and slipped away with only the softest of protests, and when he opened them again Elliot was there. It hurt, in some ways; in others, it was a relief. After all, Peter had never looked at Neal quite the way he looked at Elliot. Peter gave him a nod.
"Okay, now, explain," Mozzie said, sitting down with a plate of food and a fork. "Walk me through it."
"Peter rigged security at the Guggenheim," Elliot said, sipping the wine, steadying his nerves. "When I got there with the fake, there was a dummy painting sitting on the floor below the real one. Nice art, by the way," he added to Peter, who had taken a blank canvas, put it in a frame, and drawn a stick figure on the front in permanent marker. "Amelio was listening, so I popped the dummy painting out of the frame, found the bug Peter left for me, planted it inside the fake under the canvas, and then popped the dummy back in the frame. Never even touched the real thing."
"Shame," Mozzie said, through a mouthful of food.
"FBI agents," Peter reminded him.
"I never forget," Mozzie growled, rolling his eyes.
"So now Amelio thinks I've got the real painting in the case I'm carrying, and the fake's on the wall at the Guggenheim. But I've actually got the fake, with a bug planted in it," Elliot said. "Piece of cake. I get out past security, I tell Amelio I've got his goods, and now he's got an FBI bug hanging on his wall. I hope to hell you got a warrant for that, by the way," he added to Peter, who patted his pocket. Paper crinkled.
"And you get yourself and me out without either of us getting shot," Mozzie finished.
"And before he notices it's a fake, we're going to have enough to take him and half his crew down," Peter said.
"Ruiz is going to shit a brick," Elliot said. "Oh man, can I be the one to tell him? Please?"
"In the morning," Peter assured him. "Mozzie, you doing okay? You need a doctor or anything?"
"I'm fine." Mozzie leaned back, taking them both in. "I gotta hand it to you, that was pretty well done."
"For a couple of suits?" Elliot asked, daring. Mozzie regarded him carefully.
"Suit, can I have a minute with Junior?" he asked. Peter waved a hand, and Mozzie grasped Elliot's arm, pulling him out onto the terrace. It was freezing and dark.
"Can we make it quick?" Elliot asked. "I just saved my own arms, I don't want to lose a finger to frostbite."
"I have never seen you do that before," Mozzie said seriously. "You were totally Neal for two days."
"Yeah, well, that's the job," Elliot answered. "Really, Moz, my teeth are chattering."
"I didn't think it worked that way," Mozzie said. "I didn't think it was just...like that."
"So you're still Neal, aren't you?" Mozzie asked.
Elliot rubbed his arms. "Look, I can be. And when I'm not -- this is me. I invented Neal. It's me, Moz. I've been trying to tell you."
Mozzie nodded. "Okay. Elliot," he added, and Elliot suddenly didn't feel quite so cold anymore. "You're right, it's freezing out here, let's go inside. This has been a weird couple of days."
"You think that's weird, remind me to tell you what I did last weekend," Elliot said.
"Why, what? Did you rob something and not tell me?" Mozzie asked. Elliot laughed.
"We'll do lunch," he promised. "Right now I have to be an FBI agent, okay?"
"Sure, sure," Mozzie said, and dropped him a wink.
Jones, having confirmed the bug was in play, left quickly; Mozzie waited until he was gone, announcing that he wasn't going to let Jones try and tail him, and then disappeared as well. Peter began packing up, but as soon as Mozzie's footsteps died away he left the computer and briefcase where they were and went to Elliot, who was pulling off the security uniform shirt he'd been wearing. He crowded Elliot back up against the wall and kissed him, harsh and ruthless, hands cupping Elliot's face.
"Don't do that again," Peter whispered, biting the edge of Elliot's jaw. Elliot laughed.
"Come on, Peter, we do this all the time," he said, sliding his hands under Peter's jacket. He hooked one in Peter's holster and the other in his belt, nuzzling against Peter's ear. "It's why you keep me around, remember?"
Peter lowered his face and bit harder, hard enough to leave a bruise on Elliot's throat. "That's not what I meant."
Elliot couldn't pull back, but he could push, and he maneuvered Peter back just a little so he could look him in the eye. "Okay, king of not talking about things, what did you mean?"
Peter snorted, breathing heavy, a little like the first time he'd ever seen Neal Caffrey in a suit, the day he'd told him he looked like a cartoon (it was a memory Elliot treasured deeply).
"You were Neal," he said, and he looked almost broken. "You were Neal."
Elliot swallowed. So that was it. Peter knew he could switch on personalities at the drop of a hat; he did it all the time in their work, but that was work. Peter knew to expect it then. This had been -- something else. Elliot in danger, yes, but Neal running the show, and that probably frightened Peter badly, because Neal wasn't a federal agent. Neal wasn't bound by the law. Neal was the guy who'd pulled a gun on Garret Fowler, the guy with the tracking anklet. Neal was not the guy who'd sat on Peter's couch four days ago and said he was in love with them.
"Hey, hey, it's okay," he said, patting Peter's chest, his shoulders, trying with touch to reassure him. "Look, I did what I had to do to get through it. It won't happen again. I'm safe, Mozzie's safe. We beat the bad guy, right?"
"Right," Peter echoed, but his hands clenched on Elliot's arms. Elliot took one of them and pressed it against his right hand, over his ring.
"It's me, Elliot," he said, and a little of the tension eased from Peter's shoulders. "Hey, you got any leftover lasagne?"
Peter stared at him and then laughed once, briefly, still a little harsh. "Yeah. Come on."
Elliot hadn't slept much since being taken; now, with relief coursing through him, he leaned his head against the window of Peter's car and dozed most of the way to Brooklyn. When Peter pulled up in front of the house he woke, but he could still feel himself fading. Elizabeth met them at the door, swept Elliot up into a tight hug, and then held his face, studying him, eyes worried.
"It's okay," he said. "I'm fine. Peter made sure."
She glanced past him to Peter, and Elliot knew Peter must have nodded because she hugged him again and let him go.
"Are you hungry?" she asked. "Peter said you were hungry."
"Would you believe that was a pretext?" Elliot said. Elizabeth laughed.
"What do you want, hon?" she asked. "Anything you want."
"That's a dangerous offer," Elliot said, and felt Peter's hand resting gently in the small of his back. He felt dizzily tired, tired enough for both Neal and Elliot. "I'd really like to sleep," he said.
Elizabeth ruffled his hair. "Okay," she said, tugging him up the stairs. "Come on."
Elliot shed his clothing while Peter hung up his holster and locked away his gun; Elizabeth pulled the blankets back on the half-made bed and slid in after Elliot, draping an arm over his shoulder. Peter, all flannel pajamas and quiet calm, climbed into the other side. Elliot pressed his face against Peter's throat.
"Can you sleep like this?" Peter asked.
"Mmhm," Elliot answered, only half-conscious. He could feel Peter's arm, over his hip, hand resting on Elizabeth's behind him. "Is this all right?"
"Sure," Peter said, into his hair. "Just be Elliot, okay?"
Elliot laughed. "I am. Promise."
"Good," Peter said. Elliot drifted off again; at some point he thought he heard Peter say something, I wouldn't trade you for Neal even if I could, but he wasn't sure.
In the morning he'd get in touch with Mozzie about lunch. Before today, Mozzie wouldn't have cared who Elliot slept with, but Elliot was sure, now, that he'd get a kick out of this.