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The Audition Job

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Art enables us

To find ourselves

And lose ourselves

At the same time

 

Shoulder and thigh throbbing in time with his pulse, Eliot settled into the quiet car of the 110 Northeastern Regional with his tea and a bagel. The hour was early enough he was the only one in the car, the other passengers sitting where they could make use of the free wifi.

Falling into a light doze so by the time they reached Penn Station the throbbing of his gunshot wounds was down to a level he could ignore. Not wanting his ribs jarred by a trip on the subway, he hailed a cab and headed for a familiar mansion by the river.

~>~>~>~>~>

Consciousness was highly overrated as far as Neal Caffrey was concerned. Boxing with ‘beat ‘em til they beg’, Eric, and staying in character when he could have easily put the inside trader down had him hurting in places that hadn’t hurt since the last time Eliot was in town. Looking forward to nothing more than a hot shower and breakfast with June, Neal opened his eyes then blinked several times to make sure he was truly seeing Eliot standing on the patio.

He was so not ready to have his lover here right now. Eliot didn’t know about Ellen, Wit-Sec, his birth parents or anything about his life before he’d gone to live with the Elliotts. A quick detour to the bathroom and he was ready to step up behind the retrieval specialist. The smell of antiseptic and the disparity in the size of his right arm and leg to his left stopped whatever words he was about to say.

“You’re hurt.” He gently touched the padding on Eliot’s back.

“It’s nothing.” The voice was flat.

“Spencer …”

“I thought I’d surprise you, but the surprise is on me.” Eliot turned.

Neal could feel the blood drain from his face.

“You can’t blame June ... She thinks I know everything about you. So color me surprised to find out your daddy’s in town leaving a trail of bodies and trouble.”

“Spencer …”

“I know Nate’s kept us on the run hunting down Moreau … I told you things would be changing soon …  You know I can smell them here … The women … Alex … Sarah … Then you ran with … Mozzie. Are you tired of me, Nikolas? Am I too old … Too damaged … Too many scars … Not the right gender?”

Eliot continued to look out over the river and sipped his tea as though he wasn’t metaphorically bleeding out on June’s rooftop patio.

“God, Spencer, it just all got away from me, Peter’s boss was going to virtually enslave me to the Bureau. Peter put his career on the line to bring Kramer down …”

“See, that’s the part I don’t understand. You don’t have to keep being Neal Caffrey. You can go back to your real life instead of this pissing contest you’re in with Burke.”

The wounded retrieval specialist finally turned to look him in the face.

“I love you, Nikolas, but I’m beginning to hate Neal Caffrey.” He moved through the door and set his mug on the table with a clatter. “I’ll be at the gallery ‘til I’m healed enough to go back to Portland.”

The door slammed behind Eliot before Neal’s shocked brain could form an answer.

~>~>~>~>~>

The Artist’s Walk was within the radius of Neal’s anklet, but the conman thought to give Eliot until he got off work to calm down. Looking back at the past year, he could see where the older man would begin to doubt Neal’s commitment to their relationship, but he wanted to come to Eliot a free man. He had to make Eliot understand that for the next two years he would be playing a long game. If he could just keep people from taking advantage of the fact that the FBI kept him like a leashed pet that every Tom, Dick, and horse’s ass like his ‘father’ felt like they could use then throw away, he might just get out of this without the retrieval specialist giving up on him. He’d hung on to Eliot since the ninth grade surely they could make it through the next two years.

Walking into the private entrance that bypassed the gallery with its extra security, Neal took the elevator to the top floor. He was feeling pleased that he’d made it through the first day of the international law enforcement convention without verbally gutting Peter. No matter what he said, Peter twisted the story to take credit for Neal’s ideas … Neal’s work. Peter had trailed after him in an attempt to explain how it wouldn’t reflect well on their office if it was known how much of their success was due to Neal.

Neal had ended the conversation by getting in Mozzie’s cab. He’d stopped at Eliot’s favorite restaurant to pick up dinner for two, and had Mozzie drop him at the gallery. Pouring wine that would go perfectly with dinner he shed his suit coat and tie before heading up to the roof.

The soft ping from his phone had alerted Eliot that someone with the building’s codes was in the elevator. Only Mozzie and Nikolas had the codes, so he stayed stretched out on the chaise. In deference to the bullet hole in his thigh, he’d changed into a pair of sweat pants he’d found in ‘his’ dresser, and spent most of the day deciding if or how long he wanted to put up with Nikolas continuing to play at being Neal Caffrey. By the time his pretty boy lover came through the door with wine and a smile, Eliot decided to listen to ‘the plan’ before he gave up on them.

Neal had wanted to keep the conversation light, talk about the gallery, and the work he and Mozzie were doing with Elliott Consolidated to make the subsidiaries better corporate neighbors. He wanted to spend his time with Eliot being Nikolas Elliott, but he was so aggravated with the situation involving Peter and his birth father that by the time they’d moved to sitting area of the loft with an after dinner glass of wine, he’d spent the entire meal being Neal Caffrey.

Eliot had remained silent until the anger and frustration had been vented.

“I used to be better at compartmentalizing.”

Neal felt his face heat up when all Eliot did was arch his eyebrow when the younger man looked up from where his head rested on Eliot’s chest.

“As much as you don’t want to hear it, your old man was probably on the take. Knowing the Irish mob, the man has some tidbit of information that could be disastrous. The Boston families are still rebuilding after Nate cut his swath through them, and if the Flynn's go down, the vultures will start circling. If you’re going up against a protected Senator with just you and Burke ... All I can tell you is don’t let him make you play his game. You’ll lose big time, Niki.” He paused long enough to let his lips rest on the dark head. “Remember the FBI will throw you to the wolves in a heartbeat. You are expendable to them. They can always get another CI.”

It was a sad commentary on how far his relationship with Peter had deteriorated, that there was no doubt to the truth in Eliot’s words. He sat up and turned to Eliot.

“Let’s put Neal and his problems on the roof, and be Spencer and Nikolas … at least until I have to go to the office.”

Eliot’s answer was to tumble him backwards with a kiss.

~>~>~>~>~>

Listening to Peter prattle on about his new position as Agent In Charge of the New York White Collar Division, and how it was a stepping stone to Washington had Neal grinding his teeth. Elizabeth then laid all of Peter’s troubles at Neal’s door. She expected him to get Peter free by fair means or foul. Now Peter’s making noises like they’re packing for Washington and Neal is beholden to two masters.

Piled on top of all that, Mozzie lost all his assets under his real name. He still had those under the Archie Goodwin alias he used as Nikolas Elliott’s personal assistant, but they needed to keep that alias as clean as possible for when he was done playing Neal Caffrey.

The light at the end of the tunnel … The one thing that kept him from killing off Neal and locking himself and Eliot in the penthouse over the gallery was the fact that Nathan Ford’s time was almost over and he would have Eliot back where he belonged.

Already Eliot was preparing to return full-time as chief trouble shooter for Elliott Consolidated. Very few people had met Cain Connors in person. If you met him in person it meant heads were rolling so he’d been able to handle most of Elliott Consolidated business by phone or video conference. Eliot remembered how he and Mozzie argued while Nikolas’ comments urged Mozzie to go to the extreme. It was all Eliot could do to keep Mozzie’s inner geek from making the alias into a caricature. By the time they finished, Eliot had had his fill of geek brains and unintelligible geek babble.

Nikolas had laughed at their bickering until his ribs ached, and begged them to stop. He would pull that memory out when Peter got particularly obnoxious to settle him back into the game. The word ‘soon’ was his mantra to keep the charade going … To keep from shouting at Peter that he only had his perfect life because Neal indentured himself to Curtis Hagen.

Waiting for the elevator that would take him to the White Collar offices, he tucked away his memories of his evenings with Eliot at the gallery penthouse, firmly affixed Neal Caffrey in his mind and stepped into the elevator.

~>~>~>~>~>

Not long after Nate had swept Sophie from their rooms behind The Brew Pub, Eliot was in his room deciding what would go and what would be loaded in his truck for the drive east. Feeling a presence, he turned to see Parker and Hardison watching him.

“Whatcha doin’?” Parker poked through trunks and boxes.

“Packing. Not just Sterling knows our faces now. The entire Portland office of INTERPOL knows us.”

“What about Black Book? I thought we were going after them?” Hardison asked.

“I’m going to New York; not the Outback.” Eliot smacked Parker’s fingers as she reached for something in his foot locker.

“Can we come?” Parker asked.

“Figured you had your own plans.” He looked between the couple. “I’ll be at the gallery.”

“Oooo. Are we going to steal Nikolas?” Parker spun around.

“That’s up to Nik.” Eliot answered. “I’ll be using my job at Elliott Consolidated to travel without getting Sterling or any other agency on my ass.”

“I get it.” Hardison rubbed his chin. “Do our outside the system stuff from inside the system … I like it. When do we leave?”

“You got a place?”

“Not where Hardison would live.” Parker smirked at the hacker.

“I haven’t found anyone I trust to live in the other floor over the gallery.” Eliot offered. “I’ve may even have space for Lucille.”

The couple grinned wide then bolted out the door. They had a lot to do.

~>~>~>~>~>

Eliot laid down his tablet. Stretching the kinks out from sitting too long at his desk, he headed for the kitchen. He’d been dealing with Europe all morning and would soon be dealing with Nikolas’ west coast people. Thankfully, he and Mozzie have good people in place allowing them both to keep up the lives of their alter egos while running a global conglomerate until Nikolas decides who he wants to be when he grows up.

Washing the last of his sandwich down with the last of his water, a ping from his Leverage phone pulled him back to the present. Hardison and Parker were crossing the Ft. Lee Bridge and would soon be at his front door. Putting the kitchen to rights, he headed to the building next door to open the door for Lucille. Crates and boxes were scattered throughout the former factory waiting for the hacker and thief to arrive and set them to rights.

Walking through the buildings, Eliot was proud of what had been accomplished in the past six months. The facades had been renovated, blocked up windows replaced with the most high tech windows he could find. Government grade one way, bullet and surveillance proof, the three buildings gave a facelift to the west Harlem neighborhood. Parker had designed the security system, and Hardison had people coming and going installing only the hacker knew what, and once again the younger man had his dream office.

Once the couple was settled on their floor over the gallery, Leverage International would be ready. Until then, they were around the corner from the Apollo Theatre and within the radius of Neal’s anklet when Nikolas wanted to come by the galley or spend the night.

Truth be told there wasn’t many of those nights. There was the case with Neal's dad, Elizabeth insisting that he get Peter out of jail, dancing to Hagen’s tune, and Nik didn’t want Burke or Jones looking too closely at who Neal was spending time with when he wasn’t at June’s ... Sometimes Eliot wondered …  Shaking himself out of his melancholy thoughts, Eliot raised the garage door and cleared his expression.

~>~>~>~>~>

They got Lucille unpacked and their gear to the fourth floor. Eliot had split the floor into two apartments with private entrances and connecting doors. No one would ever accuse Parker and Hardison of having a normal relationship so when Parker said they wanted to be together but not, Eliot rolled his eyes and called his contractor.

Having time, Eliot scanned cities on the Black Book drive looking for any that matched with Elliott Consolidated offices. He’d gone to June’s one night to discuss Elliott business with Nikolas, and to spend the evening with his lover. Mozzie and June were in the living room sharing a bottle of wine, but didn’t notice the cat-footed retrieval specialist as he slipped up the stairs. He tapped lightly, and smiled when he heard Nikolas call out, “just a minute.”

Eliot smiled when the door opened on his beautiful lover in nothing but a sheet. Taking a breath to greet Nikolas, the smell of perfume and sex hit his sensitive nose. His smile faded as Neal gaped.

“Eliot?”

Neal? Who’s there?” A female voice came from inside the apartment.

“Obviously, no one important.” Eliot’s whisper was broken.

Torn between Rebecca and Eliot, Neal wanted to stay, but Nikolas wanted to follow Eliot down the stairs. When he heard the door to the street close, he turned back to Rebecca.

Neal, who was it?”

Neal looked down and saw a bottle of wine. Looking at the label, Neal cringed as Nikolas ranted in the back of his mind. The wine was one of his and Eliot’s favorites.

“Just Mozzie replacing one of the many bottles of my wine he’s drank.”

Neal quickly put the bottle in the pantry.

“I’m going to get a shower … Work some more on the window.”

There was no way he was going to crawl back in bed with Rebecca.

“I’ll join you.” She hopped out of bed and nearly danced across the apartment.

Ten minutes ago her perkiness had been endearing … Now it was simply exhausting. With a sigh, he started the shower.

~>~>~>~>~>

Parker looked around Eliot’s space. She’d gotten a very bad feeling when they’d had dinner, and she wanted to ask him why.

There was a picture of a red head on his laptop, but the retrieval specialist was nowhere to be found. First she pulled Hardison away from his fake computer world ... Setting him to work on identifying the woman then she started searching for Eliot.

Everyone knew if you wanted to find Parker when she was upset you either went high or looked for Eliot. All Parker could do was start high and finish low. He wasn’t in the kitchen or his rooftop greenhouse. He never entered her or Hardison’s space without a reason, and none of the cameras were activated in the buildings that housed their cars and gear.

Parker started to get a bit concerned when Eliot wasn’t in his meditation room. Bypassing the gallery’s offices, she shut off the alarm and began working her way through the gallery. After checking both floors and finding no Eliot, she could feel a knot forming in stomach. She went back to the top floor.

“Find anything?” She asked as her eyes darted around the space that only used walls around the bathroom and bedrooms. Eliot had used decorative Chinese and Japanese screens to define the rest of the space.

Translucent Japanese screens stood along the windows allowing for privacy and light, but an alcove off the kitchen was separated by the biggest Chinese floor screen she’d ever seen. Black lacquered wood painted with pine trees and cranes, it was old and exquisite and gave her thief’s heart palpitations at its worth.

Peeking around the corner, a tiny gasp escaped as she saw all the tools any artist could ever desire just waiting for someone to use them. Eliot sat in a window seat, a sketch pad and pastels on his lap as he stared at out across Harlem.

“What do you want, Parker?” Eliot never turned his head.

She slipped up to his side and looked down at the pad. Indigo eyes went wide as she saw herself on the page. So caught up in the images she almost forgot why she was there.

“Parker?”

Frowning she looked up at Eliot’s face. Never before had she heard that sound in Eliot’s voice. Not when he faced them in the park over Moreau, not when Sophie and then Nate conned them. Never did Eliot admit defeat, but now …

“What did Niki do now?”

“I think Nikolas is gone and only Neal remains.” Eliot said in soft sigh.

Parker narrowed her eyes in anger. If she didn’t like Eliot’s friend, June so much she’d blow up Neal’s apartment.

“Hey guys!” Hardison called from the living area.

Parker backed out of the way so Eliot could get out of the window seat, but her eyes never left the sketchbook. Her fingers itched to snatch the book and go hide in the rafters of the warehouse to study this unknown aspect of Eliot.

Eliot gave her a narrowed eyed glare as he walked past.

“Leave it.” He growled.

Parker knew that growl. That was the one that said she would not be forgiven if she stepped over the line. Staring at the stiff back and hunched shoulders a smile lit her face. She couldn’t steal it, but maybe she could pick at him until she wore him down enough to show her the book so she’d leave him alone. Watching the heavy way he moved across the loft, she decided to wait a day or two when he didn’t feel so bad. Decision made she tumbled across the back of couch causing a tangle of arms and legs.

“Dammit, Parker!” Both men grumbled as they righted themselves.

Hardison gave her a wink for starting to drag Eliot from his funk.

“Meet Rebecca Lowe, former book scholar at the Gershon museum, fired for losing her ID that allowed a thief to get in and steal a very expensive painting, causing a rare book display to be pulled and returned to the owner.”

All three studied Rebecca’s records.

“Does all that look …” Parker started.

“Like one of my aliases.” Hardison finished.

“It’s all too pat … Too average.” Eliot added. “We need an address.”

“We have one.” Parker said.

“We have Rebecca’s address. We don’t have an address for the real person. Is there any way to find out when the Rebecca Lowe ID came online?”

“Maybe. It’ll take time.”

“We got time.”

“I know where Rebecca probably is so I’ll see if she’ll lead me somewhere other than the address on her present alias.”

Eliot headed for the bedroom to change. He didn’t see the worried looks that followed him across the loft.

“She hurt Eliot.” Parker whispered through gritted teeth.

Neal hurt Eliot.” Hardison corrected.

“Yeah … Well … It’s time to choose. Be Neal or be Niki.” Parker’s glare dared the hacker to contradict her.

“Got no argument with that. I’m tired of seeing Eliot hurt, too.”

Parker backed up and the surprise on her face was less than flattering.

“Hey! I notice things.” He whined.

“Not usually, but apparently you’re getting better.” Parker teased. “Now, let’s find this hussy and kick her ass to the curb.”

“Wow. I’m going to have to start monitoring your playtime with Eliot.” Hardison mumbled; awed by the woman Parker was becoming.

~>~>~>~>~>

Mozzie looked up from the Codex notes he was studying when he heard someone coming down the stairs. He felt his temper start to rise when he heard Neal and Rebecca’s voices as Neal walked her to the door. He’d thought Eliot was with Nikolas.

The retrieval specialist had stopped to give June a container of Italian Wedding Soup before heading up to Neal’s apartment. If Mozzie had known Rebecca was still there he would have stopped Eliot from climbing the stairs. He must have been in the kitchen with June when Eliot left.

Seeing Mozzie sitting in the window alcove, Neal wandered over ... A smile on his face and his hands in his pockets.

“Hey Moz, find anything new?” He asked.

“You mean other than just now realizing that I allowed my brother in the art of the con to walk into seeing his lover of almost twenty years smelling of sex after crawling off some mark to answer the door.” Mozzie snapped.

Neal drew back from Mozzie’s anger. His oldest friend next to Eliot rarely got angry, but when he did it was never pretty for the object of his anger.

“We need her cooperation, Moz …” He tried to placate the older man.

“You didn’t need to fuck her.” Mozzie snarled. “She was already hooked.”

Neal paled. Mozzie was never vulgar, but this one act was apparently more than he could stomach.

“Eliot …” He started.

“If you tell me Eliot understands, I will find my least favorite cork screw and stab you some place painful but non-life threatening.” Mozzie stood and looked Neal up and down. “In fact, I think I’ll take Eliot up on his offer of his spare room. I need some place where the air’s a little clearer.”

Making a wide loop around Neal, Mozzie hurried up the stairs.

Neal hung his head and turned to see June watching him from the kitchen.

“June …” He walked over to take the comfort he could see offered in her eyes.

Neal.” She hugged her to him. Comforting him for a few minutes she gently shoved him away. “You need to choose.” Her voice was gentle, but stern.

“Choose?” Neal rubbed his hands over his face.

“Sweetheart, look around. Do you actually see the pain Neal Caffrey is causing the people you supposedly love?” She used her index finger under his chin to lift his head. You need to decide who dies … Neal Caffrey or Nikolas Elliott. Think about who you keep and who you lose by the choice you make.”

“I don’t want to lose you.” He sounded like a petulant child.

“You won’t lose me either way. I’m going to tell you a little secret … One Eliot will be put out with me for sharing.” June got that gleam in her eye she got when she helped them on a con. “Remember that giant windfall Eliot received from his first job with his then ‘new’ crew?” She waited until Neal nodded before continuing. “He bought this house so I could enjoy what Byron had left me instead of worrying over the upkeep on this place.” June placed a hand on each of Neal’s cheeks so he had to look at her. “He told me his dream was to one day have his family live in this house.”

Seeing the tears welling in his eyes, she kissed his forehead and let him go.

“Think about what I’ve said, and make you decision soon. Eliot’s thief and hacker won’t stand for Neal’s shenanigans much longer.” June warned.

Giving her a kiss on the cheek, Neal turned to go back up the stairs. He looked back over his shoulder.

“Thank you.” He said softly before he shut himself away to think about how to fix the mess he’d made of his life.

~>~>~>~>~>

Two days after deciding to steal Nikolas, the trio had finished one of Eliot’s excellent dinners when the enforcer told Hardison to stop trying to backtrack Rebecca Lowe.

“What?! Why!?” Parker and Hardison yelled together.

“After we clean up the dishes, I’ll tell you a story.” Eliot sounded exhausted.

Hurrying, Parker and Alec soon had the kitchen set to rights. Eliot had settled in ‘his’ chair with a beer, leaving the couch for the other two. Hardison grabbed his wireless keyboard in case it was needed.

“Not long after Nik graduated from college and found out I was still alive, I went to work for Damien Moreau.” Eliot looked up at Parker’s gasp, but continued. “His wife, Arabela, was beautiful, warm, loving … Sophia Loren with red hair. They had two daughters, Catrina and Rebecca. Nik wanted to travel Europe and work on his art before ‘settling down’. I never could tell that boy ‘no’ so I got my guy that did my ‘papers’ to make a set for Nik. That’s how he met Mozzie and when Neal Caffrey was born.”

Unable to sit as Hardison pecked away looking for information on Arabela, Catrina and Rebecca, Eliot moved to stare out the window toward June’s.

“I was moving quickly through the ranks of Moreau’s thugs. I’d been assigned as a bodyguard for Moreau’s ‘girls’. Niki being a bit insecure about our relationship, insinuated himself into Caterina’s life, and the epic love affair between Neal Caffrey and Cate Moreau began.”

“He was insecure about your relationship so he started one with a woman?” Disbelief colored Hardison’s voice.

“Niki is a giant brain … Sorta like you. He compartmentalizes. Nikolas Elliott is not Neal Caffrey. Nikolas Elliott’s partner is Cain Connors/Eliot Spencer. They’ve been together since Nik’s college days, and Elliott Conglomerate would fall to ground without Cain and Archie Goodwin.

Neal Caffrey is a grifter, forger, thief that would fuck a rattlesnake if someone held its head and it meant his mark is hooked … Two distinct and separate people.”

“That sucks.” Parker quipped.

“Yeah.” Eliot pinched the bridge of his nose. “Not in a good way, either.”

“So you think Rebecca Lowe is really Rebecca Moreau?”

“Yeah. Look up the holdings for A.R. Bela, Inc. in New York City. It’s one of Moreau’s shell companies. You remember the plane explosion?”

“What are you thinking?” Parker asked.

“I’m thinking Rebecca is her father’s daughter. She would manipulate whoever she needed to in order to kill Cate because she was always obsessed with Neal. At the time she was too young to be of any interest to him. Could be she latched onto Curtis Hagen to manipulate Neal away from Peter and the FBI. She underestimated how far Neal would go to protect Peter and Elizabeth so she’s off plan … Improvising, which makes her more likely to screw up, but also more dangerous.”

“She gets desperate enough bodies will start hittin’ the ground.” Hardison put several documents on the big screen.

“What I’m afraid of is whose body.” Eliot turned away to study the documents on the screen.

“There.” Eliot pointed. “Nik said when Agent Siegel was murdered they found a business card in his pocket that had a Cooper Street address. His body was found on Cooper Street in Brooklyn.”

“Find everything on that property. If she killed an FBI agent for getting close, we need to know what’s in that building, but without meeting the same fate as Siegel. Parker and I will take a walk and hope she only knows about the people in Neal Caffrey’s life and not about Nikolas Elliott.”

~>~>~>~>~>

Mozzie dodged to the side as Parker and Hardison tumbled out of Eliot’s apartment. The retrieval specialist looked up from the papers he was studying.

“Hey, Man. Thought you were staying at June’s.” Eliot stated.

“I am … Was … Going back … Just needed a change of scenery.”

A sharp glance from his old friend and Mozzie felt like Eliot knew exactly what he was talking about.

“You know where things are so make yourself at home. Be back late.” Eliot gathered his papers in a folder, grabbed his hooded leather jacket, and headed out the door.

Watching out the window, Mozzie saw Eliot get in the passenger side of grey conversion van that quickly pulled away.

Making sure to keep to the posted speed limit, the grey van passed the rundown brick apartment building and found a parking lot full of other vans in which to park.

“You make sure every door is locked after we get out.” Eliot admonished the hacker.

“Go on … Get out of here. Besides, Parker gave me a tazer for my birthday. I’ll be fine.” Hardison made shooing motions as he settled in front of his computer.

“You better be or I’ll let Parker kick your ass … Again.”

“Someday the shoe’ll be on the other foot.” Hardison muttered into the comm.

“Maybe I should let him win.” Parker whispered.

“You know he can still hear you, Parker.” Eliot fought down a grin.

“Oops.” She snickered.

“Y’all’s lucky that I am so secure in my masculinity that sparring with Parker in no way is threatening to me.” Hardison grumbled.

“Whatever gets you through the day, Bubba.” Eliot snarked as they moved through the shadows.

“Quiet now … Cameras?”

“There are, but I have them. Give me just a second … And go.”

Parker made short work of the door lock. Since there was no name on the buzzer for apartment 3, that would be their first target. They paused to listen at the door. Parker got ready to insert her picks in the lock when Eliot pulled them into the shadows under the stairs.

They watched the red haired woman leave the apartment dressed for a night on the town. Alec gave them the all clear that Rebecca had gotten into a cab before they moved back to the apartment.

Stunned by the site of the rows of file cabinets, ID’s, clothes, wigs, and all the things needed to set up elaborate cons,  they checked for cameras and bugs before Eliot started on one end, and Parker took the other. They photographed the information page at the beginning of each file.

“She’s got files on Moreau’s men, associates, women, buyers, sellers, enemies. Everything’s old school … Paper only. “

“I’ve got files on Neal, Peter, everyone in White Collar Division, Mozzie, June, basically everyone that ever spent more than fifteen minutes with Neal.” Parker said.

The last cabinet on his side of the room, Eliot grabbed Parker’s duffle, and started pulling files.

“We can’t take anything. She’ll know we’ve been here.” Parker hissed.

“These are our files from San Lorenzo, and files from when I worked for Damien. You really want to leave them here for the FBI to find? Knowing Burke, he will find this place. Besides, these look like dead files. The ones you’ve got looks like her work in progress.”

“There’s a file on Cain Connors.” Parker pulled it up. “No picture.”

Eliot quickly finished what he was doing and grabbed the file.

“Shit. This is where I bought June’s house after Dubenich.” He flipped through the file. “Just a notation that Connors is an absentee landlord, and June is managing the property. We can leave it … Thankfully there’s nothing about Nik.”

They made sure everything looked undisturbed and headed back to the van.

Pulling in the garage, Eliot stopped the couple before they got out of the van.

“Mozzie’s at my place. Take the files with you. I don’t want him finding them if he goes nosing around the loft.”

“You’re not going to tell him about creepy stalker hussy that’s having sex with Neal?” Parker asked.

“Thanks for that reminder, Parker. No, I’m not telling him. This has to play out. If Rebecca’s game takes out Hagen and White Collar takes out Rebecca, the better for us. Rumor has it Burke is headed for Section Chief in DC in a couple weeks, Neal keeps his nose clean for six months, it’s bye-bye anklet, and this nightmare is over.”

“So you’re not breaking up ‘cause he slept with the hussy?” Parker asked as she shouldered her duffle.

“We’ve been together a long time, Parker, and I haven’t really wanted to think about it so let’s just say we’ll see who’s standing when the smoke clears.” Eliot rubbed his hands wearily over his face.

Eliot spent a few minutes with Mozzie before pleading fatigue. A hot shower and a long meditation, and he felt like he might be able to sleep.

Surprised he woke at his usual time, and at having slept the whole night, a chuff escaped him at being pinned between Parker and Hardison. He untangled himself from the couple, and after starting a pot of coffee went to the warehouse next door for his morning workout.

~>~>~>~>~>

Neal ran around the plastic sheeting to find Mozzie painting symbols on the pages of the Codex. He looked at the big screen showing Rebecca still bound and gagged.

“What? ....” Shaking off the shock of the ancient text being ruined, Neal got back to business. “We got to get out here … The FBI’s not very far behind me.”

“Not until he's done translating the Codex …” Hagen’s phone interrupted his tirade.

“Mozzie I want you to take a REALLY good look at those symbols.” Neal’s eyes darted around the room.

“What … They’re not in any language I recognize.”

“I don’t care about that now … I just want you to have a clear picture of them.” He watched Hagen at his computer then lowered his voice. “I put the bug in Peter’s pocket.” His eyes darted to Hagen. “That call is the gallery manager working with the FBI to buy the painting forged by ‘The Dutchman’.

“Looking.” Mozzie chirped with his full attention on the symbols.

“Got it?”

“Absolutely.”

“We need to go … NOW!” Neal looked over his shoulder at the plastic sheeting.

“What you need to do is …”

With a speed that shocked Mozzie and Hagen, Neal swept the pages to the floor. Tipping over the paint thinner to soak the pages, he wielded a lit Zippo.

“Now, let Rebecca go.”

Hagen glared at his nemesis until Neal started to lower his body toward the floor.

“Alright … Alright!” He growled.

He dialed his phone.

“Let her go.” His eyes never left Neal as the younger man split his attention between Hagen and Rebecca.

“Give her the phone, and give me yours.” Neal demanded.

With a huff of impatience, Hagen complied.

“Rebecca, are you okay?” Neal’s voice was soothing.

“I’m fine.”

“Rebecca, I want you to get out of there, and I want you to stay on the line, run and don’t stop. I’m on my way.”

Hagen started to protest but Neal dropped the Zippo onto the pages. A wall of flame separated the three men. Neal and Mozzie scattered while Hagen tried to put the flames out. He was still trying when he heard feet running toward him.

FBI … FREEZE!” Peter Burke yelled.

~>~>~>~>~>

Rounding the corner to see Rebecca running toward him, Neal threw Hagen’s phone in the storm drain. He snatched the one from Rebecca and did the same as he swept her into her arms.

Babbling nonsense and checking for bruises and rope burns, he kissed and hugged the red head, thankful she was unhurt.

“Come on. Peter should have arrested Hagen by now.” He explained as he pulled Rebecca down the street behind him. “You go back to my place … Moz is finding us a safe house. I have to go to the office and find out what Hagen is telling Peter.”

“Okay. Neal, be careful.” Rebecca kissed Neal one more time before she took off for the river side mansion.

Neal walked into the conference room in time to hear Hagen tell Peter …

“By the time you see the information I have you’ll give me a full walk.” He said smugly.

“Peter …” Neal tried to interrupt.

“Shut up, Neal. We’ll deal with you later. Where’s this information?”

“I’ll have to take you.” Hagen’s smirked at Neal.

“We’ll all take a ride.” Peter nodded at Jones. “Neal you’re with me.”

Resigned, Neal followed Peter, Jones and Hagen down to the garage.

Standing in front of the rundown apartment building on Cooper Street in Brooklyn, Hagen’s expression was still smug.

“Just wait until you see …” The bullet that ripped through Hagen’s chest dropped ‘The Dutchman’ like a stone.

Peter pulled his weapon and covered them while Neal checked Hagen. Jones called dispatch as the rest of the team scattered to look for the shooter.

“He’s dead.” Neal stood and straightened his suit.

Looking around, Peter paused when he saw the address. Pulling a business card out of his pocket, he looked at the address next to the smear of Agent Siegel’s blood. He showed it to Neal.

“I wonder what three means?” He pondered out loud.

“No idea.”

They spotted the buzzers at the same time.

“Is there a name for number three?” Peter asked.

“No.”

“Get us in there.” He demanded.

Inside the apartment, the two men could only stare. The bleak emptiness that filled him when he saw the pictures taped to the vanity mirror, the lights, camera and backdrop to Rebecca’s abduction nearly drove him to his knees.

“It was all a scam. Rebecca must have been working with Hagen all along.”

He was still himself enough to barricade the feelings of betrayal and embarrassment behind his conman façade.

Neal, look at this.” Peter called him to his side. “She has files on you, me, every person in the White Collar division. She has information about you I’ve never seen.”

A gasp from Peter had Neal snatching the file out of his hands.

“Peter?” Neal opened the file.

“It says you have a twin.” The FBI agent sounded breathless.

“That can’t be right. No one said anything about my mother having twins.”

Neal sounded shocked, but not because he had a twin he didn’t know about, but because it meant Eliot had found this place and used it to set up a way for Neal to return to his real life. He closed his eyes against the pain his game of being Neal Caffrey had caused everyone who loved him. As he handed the file back to Peter, something clattered to the floor.

The two men stared at the small plastic case containing an SDIC card like it was bomb.

“We really need to watch that before you get your team in here.” Neal bent to pick up the card. “We don’t need to be blindsided by whatever might be on here.”

Peter stared at the younger man. His trust in the system battling with everything he had to lose if there was something on that tiny card that undid Neal’s work to keep him out of prison for Senator Pratt’s murder. He had no problem lying to Neal, but lying to his agents was another matter.

As though Neal knew exactly what was running through Peter’s mind, he pocketed the plastic case and moved toward the door.

Neal …”

“No. Peter. I promised Elizabeth, and I’ve hurt enough people I care about. It’s time to finish this … This … monumental clusterfuck my father caused so we can get on with our lives.”

Burke stopped in his tracks. Never in all the time he’d known Neal had the thief used vulgar language. It was one of the things that intrigued Peter because of the conman’s rough background. All the emotional blows Neal had withstood since he’d become Peter’s CI were finally causing cracks in the younger man’s façade.

Stepping carefully over the electronic eye, they closed the apartment. Instead of going to the office or Neal’s apartment … They went to Peter’s townhouse alleviating the chance of Rebecca walking in on them looking at whatever was on the memory card.

~>~>~>~>~>

Parker sat on the couch in ‘her’ apartment staring at the sketchbook she’d taken from where Eliot had hidden it in one of the window seats. She knew she and Hardison were good artists, but Eliot’s work was different. While they were technically ‘good’ artists, what Eliot drew made her heart beat faster and tears prick her eyes.

Looking at the pictures of Nate, Sophie, Hardison, Niki, and especially the ones he drawn of her, Parker is amazed at how they looked so real she expected something creepy to come out of Nate’s mouth. Like his music, Eliot’s pictures showed his heart. Looking at a picture of her hands, Parker realized it was the last time Eliot had drawn anything since he’d been to Neal’s and found him with ‘The Hussy’.

Getting off the couch, she noticed it was the middle of the afternoon. That was when Eliot did his Cain Connors work if they weren’t on a job, so he’d be in his office on the third floor. Letting herself into his loft, Parker returned the sketchbook to its previous hiding place and went to find Hardison. Maybe instead of stealing Nikolas from the FBI … She and Hardison needed to steal Eliot from Nikolas.

~>~>~>~>~>

Eliot stared at the facts and figures on his computer screen. Between Neal Caffrey and the FBI seizing the assets of Theodore Winters, the cash cupboard was showing a lot of bare spots. With Nik so deep into Neal Caffrey, Eliot had begun liquidating the smaller holdings of Elliott Consolidated. If Neal absorbed Nik, things would be in place for the division of assets and cash between the three of them. A knock at the door pulled him out of the melancholy that threatened to take over as he thought of all the scenarios where Niki didn’t come back to him.

“Come.” Eliot mustered a small smile when he saw the gallery manager. “What can I do for you, Renee?” He asked.

“You’re two o’clock appointment is here, Mr. Connors. I put him in the gallery office.” The willowy brunette’s smile was wicked.

“Thanks, Renee. I’ll be right there.”

Eliot returned her smile. The gallery office wasn’t anyone’s office … It was strictly a show piece where clients spent their money. The décor was so highbrow, Eliot practically got a nosebleed when he used the office. He settled his suit jacket in place. *Time to make some more money.*

~>~>~>~>~>

Looking at the papers in his hand, Mozzie was glad he was follically challenged or he’d be pulling his hair out. He knew the antics of the past few years had hit their reserves hard, and after the Teddy Winters fiasco, he’d pled charity from June. Now an account he was not aware of in the name of Barry Dante was enjoying a windfall of cash.

Eliot was apparently giving up on dragging Nik away from Neal Caffrey and was preparing to go to ground with his crew. This was so not good. There was no way he could confront Nik about this … The distraction could get them all killed.

He wouldn’t have noticed except Neal had tasked him with finding a safe house, and knowing their cash reserves were low, he’d started checking all his accounts. Their stock accounts were still solid, but when he’d looked at the second quarter reports for Elliott Consolidated he saw the sale of several small concerns and an influx of cash.

As soon as they wrapped this case, Archie Goodwin would be paying a visit to Cain Connors. He hoped he wasn’t too late to salvage his brothers’ relationship.

~>~>~>~>~>

Hardison and Parker were worried. Since Curtis Hagen had been killed, Eliot had been shadowing Neal. Their retrieval specialist had been using clothes out of foot locker they’d never seen before. Parker had pilfered through the clothes and had come back to Hardison nearly in tears.

The foot locker contained various coats and hoodies that had top of the line bullet proofing. Eliot was anticipating getting shot. Hardison hacked into Neal’s anklet knowing wherever Neal was Eliot wouldn’t be far behind.

They’d done everything short of crawling naked into Eliot’s lap to convince him to turn to them instead of pining after the man whose affairs with women lasted longer than his time with Eliot. Every time Eliot had tried to settle some place with Nik, the genius would get restless and take off on the next chapter of the The Life and Times of Neal Caffrey.

The couple thought they’d finally succeeded when Eliot started liquidating Elliott Consolidated, and separating himself from Elliott, Caffrey and Mozzie until that June Ellington woman had called and asked Eliot to be her escort one evening.

When he returned home, he gone down to the gallery and spent the rest of the night in the statue exhibit.

The next day he started shadowing Neal. Hardison packed the van, so he and Parker could be there to pick up the pieces when it was time for the final act.

“Wish Sophie was here …” Parker looked at something on her phone. “She’d know what to say to get Eliot to stop hurting himself.”

Alec had taken the phone out of his thief’s hands to see what captured her attention. Looking at the sketches of the thief, he placed a kiss on her blonde hair.

“I think you’ll do just fine, Little Mama … Just fine.”

~>~>~>~>~>

Eliot watched Peter and Neal go into the Burke’s townhouse. Having no one else to call, Eliot switched on his comm.

“Hardison?”

“Yeah, El?”

“Peter and Neal just plugged something into the Burke’s home computer. Is there any way you can find out what they’re watching?”

“Just give me a sec … And … I’m there.” The hacker crowed.

“Tell us your name so the people at home know who you are.” Rebecca’s voice came through Eliot’s comm.

“James Bennett.”

“How do you know Neal Caffrey?”

“He’s my son.”

“How do you know Peter Burke?”

“He’s holds my son’s leash for the FBI.”

“Are you and Neal close?”

“No. I hadn’t seen him since he was small until I used him to help me get to Senator Pratt.”

“Why did you want to get to a US Senator?”

“He was a corrupt cop that stepped over me and my family to get to the Senate with the backing of the Flynn mob family. I was arrested for murder and my partner and family were forced into Witness Protection.”

“Did Peter Burke murder Senator Pratt?”

“No. I framed him for murder after shooting Pratt.”

“Why?”

“Because I could, and I was tired of looking over my shoulder for the Flynn's and Pratt.”

“Even though Neal is your son?”

“It made it easier. The boy was so anxious to make up to Daddy that it was easy to twist him and the FBI in knots.”

Eliot heard a soft pop. He heard gasps from three different people.

“Oh. My. God.” Hardison breathed out.

“Hardison?”

“She shot him in the head.” The hacker whispered.

“Get out of there, Hardison.” Eliot admonished quietly.

At least Nik wouldn’t have to worry about James crawling out of the woodwork in the future. Shame it didn’t happen before he left a string of bodies and misery across New York.

Eliot had only met Ellen Parker once before her death. He’d met Nik when Nik lived with the Elliotts because the boy wanted to stay in one school until he graduated. The Eliotts had recently retired from the Marshall’s service, and agreed to stay with Nik until graduation.

Now the last of Nik’s blood family was dead, and Eliot couldn’t say he was sorry except for the one last stroke of misery James Bennett painted before he died.

~>~>~>~>~>

Peter Burke was a happy man. Now that he had solid proof that James Bennett killed Pratt, and not the proof Elizabeth had coerced out of Neal, his conscious was clear. He felt bad that Neal was hurting because of Rebecca … Rachel’s mind games she was playing with his CI, but one little dark corner of his soul that had been jealous of Bennett was doing an Irish jig that the man was dead. Every time it seemed his team was making progress keeping Neal on the right side of the law, someone from his past crawled out of the slime to put the younger man through the wringer.

“You know DC was built on a swamp.” Neal teased, but his voice carried a tension not usually there.

“A wetland.”

“Better take your mosquito netting.”

“I’m from upstate. We’ve got mosquito the size of helicopters, I’ll be fine.”

“Great practice for dealing with the bloodsuckers in Congress.”

“Politics will only be a small part of the job.”

“I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

Neal said as he turned to cross the street. He stopped when Peter grabbed his arm.

Neal, you don’t have much time left on your sentence so don’t give whoever is assigned as your handler a hard time.”

“No. You got your promotion off OUR cases. No more handlers, no more cases, no more anklet. I want my sentence dropped. I’ve talked to a lawyer. A recommendation from you would go a long way to making that happen. You know it’s the right thing to do, Peter.”

Neal…”

Neal pulled his arm out of Peter’s grip. The FBI agent was so flabbergasted by Neal’s words he didn’t try to stop the younger man when he pulled away.

~>~>~>~>~>

Leaving Hardison to finish wiping down the counters, Parker bounced across the loft to where Eliot sat in his chair with a beer, the remote and a book. Finger on the power button, the remote was snatched out of his hand before it made contact.

“Dammit, Parker. Give. Me. The. Remote.” Eliot growled.

“No. She tossed the remote over her shoulder.

“Ow!” Hardison squeaked proving the theory of two objects cannot share the same space.

Grabbing Eliot’s hand, Parker pulled.

“Come paint for me.” She cajoled.

“Parker …”

“Please? I want you to do this …” She shoved the sketchpad in his face turned to her picture.

“Parker …” Eliot’s voice was beginning to sound a bit desperate.

“Painting makes you not sad. I want you to be not sad.” She continued to pull on his fingers.

She knew she couldn’t make Eliot move. No one made Eliot move unless he wanted to move. So like a complicated lock she kept fiddling.

“Parker, where did you get my sketchbook?” He sounded exasperated.

“Where you left it, Silly.” She smiled that smile that said she was tolerating his stupid question.

With a deep sigh, Eliot stood and let Parker pull him toward the alcove with his easel.

“Man, you could have saved yourself about fifteen minutes if you’d given in when she grabbed the remote.” Hardison teased.

“How many fingers you need to type on your little keyboard?” Eliot bared his teeth at the hacker.

“Cold, Man … Seriously cold.”

Eliot had just finished the rough sketch on the canvas while Parker sat still as a stone when Hardison called from the living room.

“Guys, you better get out here … NOW!”

“What?” Eliot and Parker stopped behind the couch.

On the screen were pictures of Rachel Turner aka Rebecca (Moreau) Lowe.

“Earlier today they transported Rachel to the FBI offices. They were on their way back to The Tombs when she escaped.” Hardison played the recording of the police calls.

“See if you can find camera footage from where she disappeared. I have to get to Niki.” Eliot grabbed his shoulder holster with his knives and assorted odds and ends.

Eliot heard the distressed sound from Parker. Turning gentle eyes to the thief, Eliot grabbed her hand.

“I’ll have my comm and a back-up stashed.” I’ll call you if I need you.” He looked over at Hardison and caught his worried look. “Hardison, can use an extra set of eyes while you’re waiting.”

“He’s right.” Hardison’s voice was just as gentle.

Parker didn’t speak. She just hugged her enforcer hard then shoved him toward the door.

Eliot didn’t look back.

~>~>~>~>~>

He didn’t know where to begin to look for Rebecca, but he did know where to find Peter and Neal. He shadowed them to Ft. Totten, as the two men solved the puzzle that was the reason Mozzie was fighting for his life.

The sound of a helicopter caught his attention at the same time his phone vibrated. Keeping a close watch on Rebecca waving her pistol and ranting before she deflated and sat down with Neal to wait, Eliot listened to his caller.

“Grazie.”

He felt the darkness that Niki, Parker and Hardison kept at bay at the edges of his mind. The word from his Italian contact was that the death of her daughter, Cate and the arrest of Damien in San Lorenzo had pushed the gentle Arabela Moreau over the edge. She’d been telling her friends that her son and daughter would soon be returning from the States. It was time to find out who had come into town.

~>~>~>~>~>

“Eliot!” Mozzie yelled as he burst through loft door. “Neal’s disappeared. The suits found the pieces of his anklet but no Neal. We have to …”

Eliot held up his hand to stop Mozzie’s tirade. Parker and Hardison watched from the couch as the older man paced through the loft.

“Niki’s been kidnapped.” He stated flatly.

“What!” He pulled out his phone. “We have to call The Suit.”

Mozzie gasped as his phone disappeared.

“No we don’t have to call the Suit. He’ll get Niki or his team killed. I know the crew that’s making the grab. They’re pros and won’t hesitate to leave bodies to complete a job. We have the advantage … We know where they’re going. We’re wheels up in an hour.”

“I’ll grab Archie and meet you at the plane.”

“Moz …”

“Where are we going? I’ll check my address book …”

“Mozzie, you have to stay here.” Eliot said softly.

“What? No! We have to …”

“This is what I … What we do. This is going to be ugly and you’ve never handled ugly well. Plus I need you here to be my eyes with Burke and what he’s planning. We need him focused domestically. If you disappear he’ll think Neal  ran.”

“You have a point. I am extremely distressed over the disappearance of my very good friend.”

Though Mozzie’s tone is light, they can all see the strain of Neal’s kidnapping.

“We’ll call as soon as we know something.” Eliot assured him.

“I know you will. Just bring him back.”

“With my dying breath, Brother.”

~>~>~>~>~>

“How do you want to handle this, Man?” Hardison asked as they watched the Moreau compound from an apartment across the way.

“It depends on how far around the bend Arabela has gone. It can go from being shot on sight to her letting me walk out with Nik. I was her favorite bodyguard. I think she made Damien sleep on the couch for a week after he put me on his personal security.”

“We could just tazer her and walk out with Niki/Neal.” Parker suggested brightly.

“I’m not seeing a lot of security people … Cameras … A few motion detectors.” Hardison added.

The Moreau fortune isn’t what it was before we stole Damien’s money and put him in jail. Arabela might not be able to sustain the force that was in place.”

“Eliot!” Alec hissed.

Eliot snatched up the binoculars and saw a wheelchair pushed into the living room. The dark head lifted and Eliot saw an obviously drugged Neal talk to someone hidden from view.

~>~>~>~>~>

Consciousness returned slowly. Neal kept his eyes closed trying to determine where he was and who had grabbed him, but all he heard was the hum of jet engines. His body felt heavy … His mind sluggish, the world disappeared.

Blue eyes opened to find himself strapped into a wheelchair being lowered by lift at an airport. He could hear a woman’s voice giving directions about the care of her son that was recovering from a terrible illness, and how she appreciated the airport personnel going above and beyond to see to their comfort.

“You may call on us anytime, Senora Moreau.” A man’s voice replied.

If he could, Neal would have been holding his head in his hands. Eliot had warned him time after time to stay clear of anyone named Moreau. Not only had he ignored that advice, he had cheated on his longtime lover with both of Damien Moreau’s daughters, been the indirect cause of Cate’s death, and now it appeared that he was a captive guest to Arabela Moreau.

Keeping his body limp, he acted being in a drugged stupor as a gorilla in a designer suit loaded him into a private wheelchair van. He recognized the route taking them to the Moreau compound and wondered if anyone knew he’d been kidnapped or if Peter thought he’d run after his knee jerk reaction to Peter’s news the FBI was going to keep him a slave to the White Collar Division as long as possible.

Neal’s head lolled and his eyelashes fluttered as his gorilla lowered his wheelchair from the van. He felt like a life size Ken doll as he was stripped, bathed and redressed into silk pajamas, tucked into one of many ornate beds in the villa. A woman that had traveled with him in the van came at him with syringe. Seeing the needle made Neal begin to struggle, which caused the gorilla to hold him down with an arm across his throat.

“Mr. Moreau, you really must calm yourself. My name is Dr. DePalma. Your mother has explained the trauma you have suffered through the death of your sister Cate and the incarceration of your father and sister Rebecca. These drugs will make it possible with counseling to accept the terrible events in your life. Mr. Hopkins, you’re to hold Mr. Moreau still not suffocate him.”

Neal drew a breath that allowed him to push back the spots swimming before his eyes. As he drew another breath to begin to work the doctor Neal felt the pinch of the needle. His last thoughts were of Eliot, his personal retrieval specialist, before the curtain of blackness dropped over his mind again.

When Neal woke, the antique clock told him it was morning. It was a slow journey to the bathroom, and after his morning ablutions, he fought the effects of the drugs to explore his room. Neal found his clothes, dressed, and determined that his gorilla either didn’t sleep or had a brother. Dr. DePalma swept into the room followed by said gorilla to find Neal sitting quietly looking out the window.

“Good morning, Mr. Moreau. I trust you slept well?” The doctor set her case on the blanket chest and pulled out another needle. “If you’d roll up your sleeve, we’ll start regulating your medications.”

Neal remained passive and silent as he rolled his sleeve and accepted the shot.

“Mr. Teets will take you down to join your mother for breakfast.” She turned toward gorilla #2. “Get the chair. Mr. Moreau might be a little unsteady until he becomes used to the medication.”

Still quiet, Neal was pushed to the elevator and into the living room where Arabela Moreau waited like a queen on a throne.

Neal … Darling … How are you feeling?” Arabela said as she floated across room and kissed him on the forehead.

“Drugged.” Neal answered truthfully.

“I am sorry about that, my darling, but life has been one trauma after another for you these past five years. Your mind simply couldn’t handle anymore. I am so angry with Rebecca. I told that girl she was going about this all wrong. To kill that nice FBI agent, was so over the top. I’m sorry she deceived you the way she did … Damien’s arrest seemed to unhinge her.”

Neal wanted to scoff at this whole ‘happy family’ charade, but seeing the look on Arabela’s face he knew the woman believed the fiction she was spinning so kept his comments behind his teeth. The drugs were making his thinking sluggish so playing along seemed his best course of action until an opportunity arose for him to jump off the crazy train. Another female voice drew his attention back to the room. 

“Thank you, Gina. Come along, Dear, Gina has laid a wonderful breakfast for us.” Arabela waved her hands as though summoning sycophants to follow.

Admonishing himself for losing track of time and his insane host, Neal reached for the wheels to push forward only to startle when the wheelchair began to move. *Teets* he’d forgotten about Gorilla #2.

“Don’t strain yourself, Pretty Boy. Miz Moreau pays me a lot of money to look after you, and I intend to take VERY good care of you.”

Cold chills ran down Neal’s spine at the lecherous malice in the man’s tone. He was not a religious man, but he’d listened to one of Moz and Eliot’s debates after Christmas Mass at the church where Eliot’s crew had performed a Leverage Christmas miracle with a statue of St. Nicolas. Neal had been basking in having his family with him at Christmas as their voices rolled soothingly over him, but now he remembered Sophie saying St. Nicolas was the patron saint of thieves. Silent entreaties to St. Nicolas to save this thief from the consequences of his own con ran through his brain as Teets pushed him into the dining room.

~>~>~>~>~>

The hacker was none too happy with his team mates when they had moved him from the nice dry apartment they’d been using to a boat at the marina in the Gulf of Policastro. Granted it was a very nice boat with all the latest toys and gadgets that warmed the cockles of his hacker’s heart, but it was still a boat.

“Dammit, Hardison, it’s a yacht, not a boat, and you won’t even know you’re on the water unless we’re in the middle of a hurricane.” Eliot had growled.

“Don’t be such a baby.” Parker had shoved him so hard he almost flipped over the rail.

“Dammit, Woman, don’t do that!” He screeched.

“Seriously, Hardison. I know you can swim, and we’re tied up at the marina.” Eliot smirked. “So what’s your malfunction?”

“A pool, Man … A pool. A pool is a controlled environment without sea creatures and who knows what else in the water. I know you’ve seen the shows with all the little icky things that burrow under your skin … Eat you from the inside out …”

“That’s the Amazon, Hardison … This is the Mediterranean.” Eliot teased. “This is the quickest way to get away once we have Nik. There are too many places between Maratea and Naples where we can get trapped in a bottleneck if we go overland.” 

“Where did you get this big assed boat anyway?” Hardison calmed when he saw the mini fridge stocked with orange soda.

“It’s mine.” Eliot said through gritted teeth. “Well … I  mean … It belongs to Cain Conners.”

“Yours!” Hardison squeaked.

“Yes!” Parker took off to explore.

“What’s her name?” Hardison was already absorbed in his wickedly fast Internet connection.

Raising Cain.”Eliot mumbled as he slipped from the salon to find the yacht’s captain.

Before Eliot and Parker left to infiltrate the Moreau villa, the thief had pulled Alec away from his computers.

“What?” The hacker complained.

“Ssshhh. He’ll hear.”

“Who’ll hear what? We’re the only ones here other than Eliot and the crew.”

“Exactly. I want to show you something.”

Rolling his eyes, Hardison followed Parker to the sleeping quarters. He loved the slim thief dearly, but sometimes …

His thoughts were interrupted when Parker jerked him into a bedroom and slid the door shut. Seeing the king sized bed and tasteful décor, a grin spread across Alec’s face.

“You know I’m ready any time you are, but I don’t think we have time …”

“I didn’t bring you here to have sex.” She frowned hard at him. “I brought you here to show you the pictures. I’m not having sex with you on Eliot and Niki’s bed.”

Hardison almost swallowed his tongue before his eyes followed where Parker was pointing. Over the bed was two paintings obviously done by two different artists. The portrait of Eliot reading in a patch of sunlight was so lifelike, Alec expected him to turn his head and yell at them for being in his room. The portrait of Neal … Niki sketching on a ranch house porch was just as lifelike but reminded the hacker of Remington or Russell.

“One of them has got to be Caffrey’s … Niki’s … We live over a gallery of his stuff. Who did the other?” He couldn’t imagine either man letting a stranger into their private safe houses.

“Eliot.” Parker smirked.

“Mr. ‘I never met anyone I didn’t want to punch’ Eliot is an artist?”

“That’s how they met in high school. When the teacher saw how good Nik was she bounced him to the senior art class where he met Eliot.”

“How do you know that? There’s nothing in any records about art class.” Hardison started into a rant when a noise had him scrambling for the door.

Shaking her head, Parker followed the skittish hacker back to the main salon.

“Sometimes if you’re very quiet and fiddly you can get Eliot to tell you a real story about when he was growing up.” The thief said quietly before she disappeared to the upper deck.

~>~>~>~>~>

Parker and Eliot felt blessed while Hardison felt cursed that a paranoid Damien Moreau had only installed electronic surveillance in his office at the Moreau villa. The grounds were a different story, but there didn’t seem to be anyone minding the cameras. The third floor was clean, but vacant as had been most of the servants’ quarters. Moving silently onto the second floor, they hid under the stairs when they saw the big man outside a door at the far end of the floor.

“Must be where they’re keeping Nik.” Eliot whispered.

“Then Dr. “Feelgood” should be right next door.” Parker speculated.

“If they didn’t remodel since I left, there should be a connecting door between those rooms. Hopefully they’ve been simply drugging Nik to keep him easy to handle and not trying to brainwash him into thinking he really is Neal Moreau.”

After staying hidden for two hours, the guard walked away from them to a powder room giving Eliot and Parker just enough time to get into the room they suspected was the doctor’s before he returned.

A small tranquilizer dart from Eliot made sure the doctor stayed asleep while Parker pulled bottles of drugs from her bag.

“She has some very pretty things in here.” She commented while pulling a brunette wig and glasses that matched the doctor’s out of her pack.

“Meticulous records of Nik’s meds schedule, too.”

Eliot lifted Dr. DePalma from the bed and carried into the maid’s alcove in the walk-in closet. Looking through the bottles, he measured out two syringes and went back to the doctor while Parker got in character.

Parker slipped between the sheets for a nap until time for the doctor to start her day. Eliot stood watch talking intermittently with Hardison. It was time to end this charade one way or another.

~>~>~>~>~>

With a resigned sigh, Neal got up and showered without Gorilla #1 or 2 coming in his room. Hopkins was just doing his job, but Teets continued with the innuendoes. He knew the man got off more on the power game he was playing so Neal refused to give the man the satisfaction by keeping his emotions locked down. It also seemed the best way to deal with Arabela. No longer in the wheelchair, Neal remained passive and cooperative, causing no problems. Even the Gorillas had relaxed their vigilance.

Sitting by the window as he waited for the doctor, Neal wondered if anyone was looking for him. Arabela had been reading a newspaper when he walked into the dining room yesterday. One headline talked about a harvest festival schedule for the upcoming weekend telling Neal he’d been Maratea for three weeks. The newspaper had been quickly folded and disappeared.

The longer Dr. DePalma pumped him full of drugs, the more he was convinced no one was coming. Mozzie and Peter didn’t know he’d been kidnapped, and Neal had probably totally alienated Eliot with the women that had moved through his bed. He was rubbing his forehead when a shadow fell over him. He automatically rolled up his sleeve and presented the crook of his arm.

“You may feel a little pinch.” A woman’s voice whispered.

Neal’s head turned slowly in case one of the Gorillas was in the room. His eyes widened when he recognized the elfin face under the brunette wig and black framed glasses.

“All done.”

She crooned as she slipped a piece of paper in his hand under the pretext of taking his pulse.

“Thank you.” Neal said sincerely.

Parker gave him a wink before leaving the room. Neal could feel tears welling in his eyes at the thought that Eliot’s team had come for him. He blinked back the tears ... There were only a few minutes before Gorilla #1came to take him to breakfast. Neal quickly unfolded the paper. ‘See you at supper.’

Knees weak with relief, Neal made a quick trip into the bathroom to flush the paper down the toilet. He wondered what Parker had given him, already his mind was clearing, or maybe it was the knowledge he had not been forgotten in this house of insanity.

Neal Caffrey was back in the game.

~>~>~>~>~>

Eliot gave Parker a quick once over when she came back into the doctor’s room. He took the black bag and filled two more syringes while Parker fussed over his fussing.

“I’m fine … Your whatever you call him is fine … Easy peasy … Don’t fuss.” She pouted then turned thoughtful. “The guy at the door ... You might want to watch him.”

“I … You … I didn’t … I don’t fuss … Just doing my job.” Eliot stammered at the thief’s inane grin, but he understood she was trying to shake whatever spooked her about Arabela’ gorilla in a suit.

“You’re so cute when you say ‘I love you’.” Parker giggled.

“Dammit, Parker. Pay attention.” He ground out from between gritted teeth. “Give both these to the doc right before you give Neal his four o’clock injection. It should keep her out until morning … After that get back to the yacht. The crew knows to be ready to leave as soon as I’m on board with Nik.”

Parker started to argue, after all they were in Italy, and it might be hours before Eliot got his boy back from Crazy Female Moreau #3. Eliot held her face in his hands to stall her words.

“I need to focus on Nik and Arabela. She’s unstable and could do about anything when I take him away. I don’t want to have to worry about you on one of your museum tours and missing the boat … Literally.”

Her eyes got dewy and blue as the deepest ocean at his words. In the endorphin rush of all the beautiful art at her fingertips she almost forgot this was not a regular job … This was family. She nodded her understanding.

“I got your back on that, El.” Hardison’s voice was soft on the comm.

“Thanks, Bubba.” Eliot dropped his hands. “Behave. I don’t care what you filch … Don’t get caught while I’m gone.”

Parker gave him a mock salute after Eliot turned for the door. A deep growl caused her to giggle as he slipped out the door.

~>~>~>~>~>

“We’re having guests for dinner, wear your grey heather suit.” Arabela informed him at breakfast.

“Anyone I know?” Neal asked meekly.

“I don’t think so, Dear. We met after you and Catrina moved from the villa, but she has stayed a true friend after the terrible scandal with Damien’s arrest.” Arabela set down her coffee cup. “Elisabetta is a beautiful and successful young woman. She reminds me of my beloved Catrina.” She eyed Neal speculatively. “I’m sure you and Elisabetta will get on as well as you did with Catrina.”

Neal shivered at the insane glint in the dark eyes. He hoped the Leverage plan would be put into play soon, or Arabela would be trying to marry him off.

~>~>~>~>~>

Feeling energized, but having to remain in character, made the day drag, but eventually Parker in her guise of Dr. DePalma gave him his four o’clock medication while extolling the benefits of vitamins and exercise.

“Enjoy your evening, Mr. Moreau.” She gave another wink on her way out of the room.

Neal laid out his clothes for dinner before a quick shower and shave. Anticipation tingled through his body at the thought of ending his captivity and seeing Spencer. The past three weeks had given him time to do nothing but think about the past five years, and the train wreck that Neal Caffrey had made of his life with Eliot. If he’d given up the Caffrey identity, and left with Spencer when he quit Moreau instead of running off with Cate, it would have saved so much pain to Eliot, Mozzie, Ellen, and himself.

He stood at the full length mirror after finishing the knot in his tie, looked himself in the eye, and made a promise ... If he got out of this he’d find a way to get out from under Neal Caffrey and live the rest of his life with Eliot as Nikolas Elliott.

Straightening his jacket and cuffs, Neal Caffrey stepped out of his suite and into the final act of his life.

~>~>~>~>~>

Neal!” Arabela Moreau practically skipped to his side. “Come see who Elisabetta brought as a dinner date.” She gushed as she grabbed his hand and pulled him into the living room.

He saw the statuesque brunette holding a glass of wine blocking his line of sight to her escort. When he turned around from where he was pouring drinks, Neal had to catch himself on the back of the couch.

“Eliot?” He breathed out.

“I told you you’d be surprised.” She took her glass from Eliot. “Eliot worked for my husband several years ago.” Arabela explained to Elisabetta. “In fact Eliot brought Neal into our family.”

Elisabetta drew Arabela away from the two men as Eliot handed a glass of red wine to Neal.

“First time I’ve seen you speechless in a long time.” Eliot commented.

Neal wanted to throw himself against Eliot, and never let go. He had to take a swallow of wine to dislodge the lump in his throat.

“Eliot.” He whispered.

“Niki.” Eliot kept his voice low.

“I love you …” Neal said.

Handing Neal a glass of wine, Eliot rubbed his thumb over the back of Neal’s hand. “Shall we rejoin the ladies?” The retrieval specialist’s voice carried across the room.

“Certainly, as always, Arabela has picked an excellent local wine that I’m sure will compliment whatever cook has prepared for supper.” Neal continued to act as though he was fully drugged.

Everyone stayed in character as they went into the living room with their pousse-café. Neal was sitting on the loveseat with Arabela as the older woman continued her conversation with Elisabetta about an upcoming trip to Monaco. Eliot stood by the window watching the tableau while nursing a snifter of brandy.

When Neal started feeling lightheaded he thought it was an aftereffect of withdrawal from whatever drugs DePalma had been injecting in his veins added to the wine with dinner. As spots started appearing before his eyes he heard Arabela yelling his name from far away. As the world disappeared he heard Eliot asking if he was on any kind of drugs.

~>~>~>~>~>

While Elisabetta held the sobbing Arabela, Eliot gently laid Neal on the couch and went to fetch Dr. DePalma. The retrieval specialist smirked when he saw Parker had moved the doctor from the maid’s bed to her usual bed. He roughly woke the woman making sure she didn’t have time to fight off her disorientation as he bodily hauled her down the stairs with her bag.

“Oh Teresa, you must help my boy. We were having a wonderful dinner when he collapsed.” Arabela wailed.

The doctor felt for a pulse at the wrist … Neal’s throat, checked his pupils for reaction before pulling out her stethoscope and listening for a heartbeat.

“I am sorry, Signora, but there is no pulse … No pupil reaction. Did he eat or drink anything out of ordinary?”

“No … Nothing he hasn’t had before.”

Like a switch was flipped, dark eyes turned cold.

“It was something you gave him. The drugs you’ve been pumping in his veins. I wanted you to stop them, but you said we had to go slow … Wean him off them. IT’S YOUR FAULT MY BOY IS DEAD!

Arabela tore out of Elisabetta’s hold and lunged for the doctor. She was intercepted by Eliot.

“The doctor was only following your orders.” He whispered in her ear.

Looking out the corner of his eye, Eliot saw Elisabetta convincing the badly shaken doctor to fix a sedative for the distraught Signora Moreau, and they’d help her to bed while Eliot took care Neal’s body.

“Doctor, we will need a certificate of death for Mr. Caffrey. I hate to be so indelicate at a time like this, but I’m sure you understand that the official paperwork must be in order so as to not cause the Signora any unnecessary stress. She has lost so much in such a short period of time.” Elisabetta soothed the spooked doctor. “As Arabela is my dear friend, I want to keep you here with her, on retainer, of course, to see to her continued care.”

“Of course, Signorina. I will be most happy to help Signora Moreau.”

For all that she was shaken to her core, Dr. DePalma quickly understood that any sign of rebellion on her part to anything she was told to do would have her in prison for no less than manslaughter along with accessory to kidnapping, and a long list of other charges that would have her in prison the rest of her life.

At Arabela’s scream, Neal’s guards, and the butler run into the room. Eliot recognized both men. They had started to work for Damien right before he quit. Hopkins was a plugger, did what he was told, kept his head down and his mouth shut. Teets was a twisted son-of-a-bitch that made Eliot’s skin crawl. He’d wanted to throw the man in the middle of Mediterranean the minute he laid eyes on him. To think Nik had been dealing with the man while being drugged for three weeks caused Eliot to see red when Teets went directly to where ‘Neal’s’ body lay and practically salivated.

“I’ll carry Mr. Neal to his room.”

He bent to reach for Neal only to find his way blocked.

“I don’t think so.” Eliot growled.

“You stoppin’ me from doing my job little man?” Teets leered.

“Looks like.”

Hopkins started to move, but a glare from Elisabetta stopped him.

“If you want to keep you cushy job, you will see to your mistress.” The Italian hissed. She turned her attention back to Teets and Eliot. “If you don’t kill him, I can make sure the authorities find out about Mr. Teets perverted hobbies.”

Eliot paused for a moment as if weighing the options.

“You touch him?” He asked Teets.

“We haven’t gotten that far in our relationship … Yet.” Teets’ tone was lascivious.

Eliot moved and when he stopped Teets was unconscious on the living room floor.

“That’s the only reason you’re still alive.” He gave the downed man a last kick to the ribs as the doorbell rang.

Having been with the Moreau family for many years, the butler, Dennis, stood on the sidelines until the situation settled into the clean-up stage. He’d seen Madame’s friend on the phone, and prayed that the ringing doorbell signaled someone coming to pick up the pieces besides Madame’s staff. He gave a sigh of relief when he saw the gurney and uniforms.

Behind the gurney came two men in suits who handcuffed Mr. Teets and poured him into the backseat of their unmarked sedan. *Good riddance to bad rubbish* the butler thought as he turned to back to see Mr. Eliot hovering as they laid Mr. Neal on the body bag and closed the zipper.

“I’ll be following you to the morgue.” Eliot stated.

The attendants started to argue, but a glare from Mr. Eliot shut off the man’s argument. Dennis held the door as Mr. Eliot spoke softly to Miss Elisabetta. The woman gave him a sharp nod and an envelope then turned to follow Mr. Hopkins and Madame.

~>~>~>~>~>

Peter Burke looked around at the boxes littered throughout the living room. El was such a wonder. His wife had found them a house in DC, found a job at the National Gallery, and had their New York house nearly ready for the movers. All the excitement over his promotion and their move had fizzled with Neal’s disappearance. He’d been so sure Neal had run, but Mozzie’s frantic phone calls day after day finally convinced the FBI that someone had kidnapped his CI. Peter was drawn out of his thoughts as his phone vibrated in his hand.

“Burke.”

“Agent Burke, my name is Archie Goodwin. You may remember me from the unfortunate incident last year at Mr. Elliott’s gallery showing your wife catered.”

“Mr. Goodwin, yes, I remember. What can I do for you?” Peter asked but he felt a knot of anxiety forming in his stomach.

“Mr. Elliott has recently learned that he was separated from his identical twin at birth. It has been brought to his attention by his investigator that the FBI has listed one Neal Caffrey as a Confidential Informant that bears a striking resemblance to Mr. Elliott. We will be in New York next week, and in your offices on Tuesday to meet with Mr. Caffrey.”

Peter felt sweat prickling the back of his neck.

“I look forward to meeting Mr. Elliott. If he’s anything like Neal, I’m sure it will be a fascinating meeting.”

“I do hope there won’t be any unfortunate misunderstandings because Mr. Elliott resembles Mr. Caffrey. My employer doesn’t deal well with crowds, and I hope there will be no manhandling of Mr. Elliott’s person.”

“Why don’t we set any appointment so my staff can be informed of your arrival?”

“Excellent idea, Agent Burke. Mr. Elliott will arrive promptly at 10 am, Tuesday.”

The call ended, and Peter Burke rubbed the ache in his temples at the thought of telling a man who’d just found his twin that said twin was missing.

~>~>~>~>~>

Walking into the office the next morning, Peter noticed many of the agents suddenly needing to leave their desks. Clinton and Diana stood at the foot of the steps, their demeanor calm, but their expressions sad.

“What’s happened?” Peter asked. “Is it Neal?”

Diana handed him a folder.

“Sorry, Boss.” She squeezed his shoulder as she and Jones moved to allow him to climb the steps to his office.

Settling behind his desk, he opened the file. Inside was a death certificate along with a coroner’s and police report for the death of Neal George Caffrey.

He shut the folder and covered his face with his hands. Fighting to maintain his composure, he dropped his hands, re-opened the folder, and picked up the police report.

Neal’s body had been found in a hotel in Maratea, Italy, when the hotel maid had gone in to clean the room. The drugs in his system were barbiturates and tranquilizers. The conclusion of the police and the coroner was a kidnapping scheme gone wrong when the kidnappers overdosed Neal. His body had been claimed by the Moreau family, but there was no indication of what had become of Neal after his body was released from the morgue.

Not wanting to believe, and REALLY not wanting to call Mozzie, Peter picked up the phone and dialed the number for the Maratea, Italy polizia.

“Yes, this is Special Agent Peter Burke with the FBI. I just received information that you found Neal Caffrey. I would like to speak to the officer that signed off on the report.”

“A moment, Agente Burke.”

“Agente Dominick Giovinazzo, how may I help you, Agente Burke?”

“I just got your report on the death of Neal Caffrey.” He took a deep breath to settle his emotions. “Neal was my Confidential Informant, and he’s been missing for almost a month. I saw in your report the Moreau family claimed Neal’s body.”

“Yes, the Signora, she is from a very old family in Maratea. She told me Signor Caffrey had no family, and that she considered him a son since he was engaged to her daughter before Catrina’s death. We believe that is why Signor Caffrey was targeted. Signora Moreau said she had had received communications to pay a ransom for Signor Caffrey. Unfortunately, Signor Caffrey died before his ransom could be paid.”

“Is there a way I can speak with Mrs. Moreau? I’d like to find out where Neal’s buried so I can tell his friends.”

“No need, Agente Burke.” Peter heard the turning of pages. “The Signora had Signor Caffrey cremated and placed him in the plot next to her daughter.”

“Thank you for your time, Agente Giovinazzo.”

Peter hung up the phone and went to look out the windows. He would have to tell June and Mozzie, but right now he needed a minute to come to terms with looking out into the office and never seeing that smirk and those bright blue eyes twinkling with humor.

When he was sure he had his emotions under control, he made the drive to June’s.

“Peter! Have you gotten news about Neal?” June came into the sitting room followed by Mozzie.

Peter turned from where he was looking out over the river. Seeing the look on his face, June gave a cry and turned into Mozzie. The shattered look on the older man’s face was more than Peter could stand.

“I’m sorry.” Peter whispered as he fled from the old mansion.

He stopped in the middle of the living room looking at the sum total of his and El’s lives packed in boxes.

“Honey?” Elizabeth called down the stairs.

When Peter didn’t answer, Elizabeth came down the stairs. Seeing her husband standing in the living staring into space sent a spike of panic through her … In ten years of marriage she’d never seen that look on his face.

“Peter, what’s happened?” She touched his arm lightly.

“We got word today about Neal.” Peter reached out to draw her into his arms.

“That’s good … Isn’t it? Where is he? When’s he coming home?”

“Never … He’s never coming home. Neal was kidnapped and died in Italy.”

“Oh Peter. I’m so sorry.” Elizabeth pulled him over to the sofa.

“On Tuesday I have a meeting with Nikolas Elliott and I get to tell him that the man who may have been his twin is dead.”

“THE Nikolas Elliott? The one I did the catering for last year?”

“That’s right. We found evidence in Rachel Turner’s apartment that Neal’s father sold his twin in a black market adoption scheme the day they were born.”

”Oh my God.” Tears streaked down her cheeks.

When she got back some of her control back, Elizabeth pulled back.

“Is there going to be any kind of memorial?”

“I don’t know. I came home after I told June and Mozzie.” Peter answered. He stopped as though something occurred to him. “When are the movers coming?”

“Thursday.” She sounded confused.

“I say we get a hotel room that night, leave Friday morning for Washington. We’ll put all this behind and start fresh. No Neal. No Mozzie. No cons or scams … Just good solid investigative work, and the rest of our lives.”

“I say yes.” Elizabeth’s smile was a bit watery. “I’m going to miss Neal, Mozzie and June, but I think the National Gallery will be plenty exciting for me.”

They spent a quiet evening mourning the loss of their young friend, but looking forward to the next chapter of their lives.

~>~>~>~>~>

His first awareness was the sound of birds … Sea birds … Then feeling the warmth of the sun on his face … Soft sheets … Smell of salt water … And … Eliot … And …

“HE’S AWAKE!” A female voice yelled in his ear.

Blue eyes opened to dark blue eyes staring back. A straw was stuck in his mouth before he could ask.

“Damn, Mama, you ought not yell like that around a man just returned from the dead. You’re liable to scare him back to the other side.” Hardison sauntered into the room. “Eliot’s putting the finishing touches on breakfast. He should be here shortly.”

Hardison made himself comfortable while Parker continue to stare. When Neal raised his eyebrows in a question, the thief grinned.

“I’ve seen someone come back from the dead … Well technically Sophie wasn’t dead … So I guess you my first real dead person to see come back. ”Parker prattled.

Neal looked at Hardison for an explanation.

“Nik.” Hardison informed him. “As far as the world, INTERPOL and the FBI are concerned, Neal Caffrey is dead, and Nikolas Elliott has an appointment at 10am Tuesday with Agent Peter Burke to meet his hoped to be twin.”

“I’m stealing Eliot.” Parker announced.

“WHAT!” Both men gasped.

“You keep throwing him away so I’m stealing him.”

Parker gave them her sternest look just as Eliot pushed a cart in the room laden with breakfast.

“Why is Parker looking constipated?” Eliot asked.

“She’s having one of her idea moments.” Hardison jumped in before Parker could repeat herself. “Let’s not let all this great looking food go to waste.”

They pushed the cart over to the sitting area to give the two men a semblance of privacy.

“Hardison said I’m dead?”

“No Niki, you’re not dead. Neal Caffrey is dead.”

Eliot lifted the top off the night stand and slid his thumb over the biometric pad. He removed a ledger from the safe and laid it on the bed.

“You can look at that after breakfast and decide what you want to do.”

“Where are we?” Nik asked.

“Monaco. The plane’s ready to go whenever you are.”

“Are you going with me?”

“I don’t know, Niki. You don’t seem to want me anymore so I’ll go with Parker and Hardison and you and Mozzie can go be Nikolas Elliott and his Man Friday, Archie Goodwin.”

“Spencer …”

“No … Niki … Just no. I … I can’t … I can’t keep watching you walk away to run your games, and take other people into your bed … I … I’m not wired like that, Niki. I’ve loved you since I was eighteen years old, and I’m not enough … So … When we get back to New York, Leverage International will find somewhere else to go, and you and Archie can ...”

With a dismissive wave of his hand Eliot left the room. That earned Nik a glare from Hardison and Parker. They wouldn’t have to steal Eliot, Nik had practically packed his bags, and put them in Lucille.

“You know your problem?” Parker asked in between bites of pancake.

“Parker, maybe we should let them sort this out on their own.” Hardison encouraged.

“No. We watched and waited for five years for them to sort it out. Nikolas ...” Nik had never heard his name sound like an obscenity, “Thought he was smarter than the rest of the world, got himself press ganged to the FBI and had sex with people that weren’t Eliot.” Parker’s eyes and face went soft. “Eliot must really love you. You’re the only person he ever let hurt and abuse him.” The indigo eyes glittered like sapphires as Parker glared at him.

“Parker …” Hardison’s voice carried a warning note.

“Oh … Unknot you shorts. I’m not going to try out my new tazer on him.” She shifted her focus back to the man on the bed, “But I am going to offer you an audition.”

“What?!”

“Excuse me?”

Nik and Hardison asked at the same time.

“Yeah. I wasn’t sure when Eliot suggested it, but now I think it’s a good idea. We do alright by ourselves, but Nik can audition to be Sophie.” Parker’s smile was all teeth.

“If him and Eliot are on the outs do you really think it’s a good idea for Nik to work with us.” Hardison asked.

“Hey … Still sitting right here.” Nik reminded the younger couple.

“It’ll give him a chance to grovel and court Eliot … Like you did me.”

She gave Alec the soft expression she had when she talked about Eliot and all the hacker’s arguments flew out of his genius brain.

“If he sucks at the audition we throw him back.” Parker said bluntly. “We steal Eliot and you make us disappear.”

Hardison leaned into the slim pale hand on his cheek, and knew he’d say yes to just about anything that didn’t involve jumping off buildings.

Nikolas Elliott, aka Neal Caffrey, deceased, felt like a fist was squeezing his heart. Eliot had told him that Parker was still working on being ‘normal’, but the blunt honesty of her plan to steal Eliot so Nik stopped hurting him left him unable to breathe.

“What do I have to do for this audition?”

The couple looked back at the Nik to find him pale and sweating.

“Hey, Man, you okay? Do I need to have Eliot check you out?” Hardison asked.

“NO! Just … I’ll do whatever you want … Just … You can’t …” Nik’s voice was pleading.

The hard look on both their faces said they would.

“When we get back to New York, The Audition Job will commence. You will convince Agent Burke and all his ducklings that you are Nikolas Elliott.” Parker’s eyes strayed to the book Eliot laid on the night stand. “Poor little rich genius boy sold his companies so he could concentrate on finding his long lost twin only to find out he’s dead.”

Exaggerated clapping from the bedroom door startled everyone in the room.

“Dammit Eliot, I’m gonna put a bell on you.” Hardison grumbled as he brushed orange juice off his shirt.

“I knew your crazy’d be good for something some day, Parker.” Eliot looked at Nik. “Looks like you met your match, Niki.”He looked back at his hacker and thief. “I’ll be …” He waved toward the back of the yacht.

Nik closed his eyes and prayed to all Mozzie’s gods to make this work.

~>~>~>~>~>

“LISTEN UP, PEOPLE!” Agent In Charge Peter Burke called for the attention of the bullpen. When it got quiet he continued. “At ten o’clock this morning a man is coming in this office for an appointment.” He took a deep breath to steady himself. “This man’s name is Nikolas Elliott, and he’s coming here to meet his twin. In the Rachel Turner case there was a file on Neal Caffrey. In that file there was evidence that James Bennett, Neal’s father, sold one of his twin boys in a black market adoption.”

A buzz started across the room.

“One last thing!” Peter demanded their attention again. “Mr. Elliott does not know that Neal is dead. I’d like to keep it that way until I can tell him.”

Clinton Jones broke the uncomfortable silence that followed that statement.

“We got you covered, Boss.”

“Thank you … All of you.” Peter went back in his office and shut the door.

“Did anyone clean out Neal’s desk?” Diana asked Jones.

“I did.” He indicated the box sitting on his cadenza. “Nothing that would tell you anything about Neal, but we never had a dull moment with him here.” Jones sounded wistful.

“Guess that’s what made him so good at the game.” Diana agreed. “It’s not going to be the same without Neal and Peter.”

“Yeah. I’m thinking about moving myself.” Clinton gave her a wink.

“Great minds.” She grinned. “If you need a place to crash until you find something …”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” He grinned as he opened the first file from his inbox.

At ten o’clock everyone stopped to stare as the elevator doors opened and a man stepped into the lobby of the White Collar Division offices. He looked around as though not sure he was in the right place. A collective gasp was heard as the dark haired blue eyed man opened the door.

“Oh my God.” Diana whispered.

As Peter’s SIC, Jones stepped forward.

“Can I help you?” He blocked the man’s path to the stairs.

“Yes. I have an appointment with Agent In Charge Peter Burke. My name is Nikolas Elliott.”

Clinton Jones was taken aback at the tone in the man’s voice. He looked like Neal and sounded like Neal, but there was none of Neal’s playfulness or charm. This man carried himself with a quiet confidence and authority, and looked Jones straight in the eye.

“If you follow me …”

Mr. Elliott waved his hand to indicate he would follow. Jones knocked and when Nikolas Elliott stepped into Peter’s office it was as though all the air had been sucked from the room. Shaking loose from his shock, Peter extended his hand.

“Mr. Elliott, it’s a pleasure to meet you. My wife catered your opening at the gallery last year. Have a seat.”

“Yes, I heard about the little floor show you and Mr. Ford provided for my guests, Agent Burke.”

“Yes, well … Sometimes a favor for an old friend turns out a little different than what you expected.”

“Indeed. I expected to see Neal Caffrey in your bullpen when I entered. Is he out investigating a case?”

Peter felt the blood drain from his face.

“There’s been a recent tragedy with Neal. Mr. Elliott, how much do you trust the people you had investigating Neal.” Seeing the anger flash in the cool blue eyes so like his dead friend’s, Peter pushed on. “The reason I asked … Only a few days after we found the file with the information about a twin, Neal was kidnapped and taken to Italy where they tried to ransom him to the Moreau family.”

When Elliott simply stared at him, Peter scrambled for something to add.

Neal was engaged to Damien Moreau’s oldest daughter, Cate, when she was killed in an explosion. The kidnappers thought they could use Neal as leverage to get access to what’s left of Moreau’s fortune.”

“I know of a Damien Moreau. I believe he’s in prison in San Lorenzo. Other than what my investigator has told me, I have no personal knowledge of Neal Caffrey’s dealings.”

“If your investigator took that knowledge …”

Elliott raised his hand to stop Peter’s words.

“My investigator has my utmost confidence.” He stated coldly.

“But …” Peter started.

“My investigator, Agent Burke, is my spouse, and has been at my side for more than twenty years. Now then, have you retrieved Caffrey from his kidnappers?”

“In a manner of speaking.” Peter hedged as he noticed the wedding ring on Nikolas Elliott’s left hand.

“Agent Burke. I am a busy man who does not hold to word games and prevarication.”

“I’m sorry. This is difficult for all of us.” He took another breath. “Neal died when the kidnappers overdosed him on whatever drugs they were using to keep him malleable. Arabela Moreau took custody of his body and buried him next to her daughter.”

Peter watched as the anger drained out of the billionaire artist’s face.

“So close … I’ve been searching so long … Since my parents died and I found the truth in their papers.” Elliott rubbed a hand over his face.

“Can I call someone for you, Mr. Elliott?” Peter asked the distraught man.

Elliott waved him off.

“You were friends with my brother?”

“My relationship with Neal was very complicated.”

“So you were merely the warm body at the end of his tether. Neal was a tool to fast track your career to Washington.”

“No! I mean I cared about Neal’s well-being … He had dinner at my house … Socialized with us away from the office … Helped my wife’s business.”

Neal felt he had to ingratiate himself to you and your wife in order to make his incarceration easier. I believe your wife was overheard telling Neal that since he was already a criminal that he needed to ‘fix’ your problems.”

“It wasn’t like that.” Peter insisted.

“I have dealt with government bureaucrats my entire career, Agent Burke. My brother’s intellect and experience is … Was a tremendous asset to the FBI. I imagine you were not looking forward to Neal being released.”

The longer Elliott talked the angrier he became.

“I assure you Mr. Elliott, my recommendation was for Neal to be released from FBI custody, but as you say, the higher-ups in Washington said he had to serve out his entire sentence.”

“It’s all a moot point now.” Nikolas’ anger deflated. “It was my intention to get my twin free from the FBI’s slavery, but now he’s forever free.”He stood indicating the interview was over. “I’ll let you get back to packing your office, Agent Burke. Good luck with your promotion.”

“My … How do you know …” Peter trailed off.

“My people are very good and very thorough. I could probably find out the color lingerie your wife is wearing right now if I so desired it.” Elliott started for the door.

“For what it’s worth, Mr. Elliott, I’m sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine the rollercoaster of finding you’re a twin to finding the twin then losing him before you meet.”

Peter came around the desk. He wasn’t sure why he felt the need to comfort this man. The connections … The conclusions he’d drawn with the information he got from his investigator told the agent the man was smart, blunt and read people’s motivations like a page in a book. If he and Neal had been raised together, the twins could have easily taken over … Everything ... Scary thought.

“Mr. Elliott, if there’s anything Elizabeth or I can do for you …”

“I think you’ve done quite enough, Agent Burke. If you’d left him in prison he could have gotten out on parole, and would probably still be alive if you hadn’t put him in everyone’s crosshairs to boost your career.”

Neal made his own decisions, Mr. Elliott.” Peter was trying to be understanding, but he was getting tired of being castigated.

“Did he? You’ve been in prison, Agent Burke. If the shoe was on the other foot I’m sure you would have jumped at the chance to leave your cage.”

“For someone who only recently found out about Neal, you suppose a lot, Mr. Elliott.”

“I am where I am today because of my creativity—that creative thinking built Elliott Consolidated. Applying that same creativity, which I hear my twin could have put the art world back on its heels, I can stand in his shoes and see through his eyes.” Opening the door Nikolas Elliott turned back to leave Peter with one last thought. “I suspect we won’t see each again, Agent Burke, but I hope in the future when you speak of my brother you will be kind.”

The office turned silent as Nikolas Elliott stalked from the White Collar Division offices.

~>~>~>~>~>

Parker and Hardison kept surveillance on June’s house and Peter whether he was at home or the office. On Thursday the movers loaded the house and The Burkes splurged on a room at the Trump International hotel, and headed south for Washington Friday morning.

Mozzie had been staying with June so Nik found himself alone in the loft with Eliot. They had not had time to talk, nor did Spencer seem inclined to spend a lot of time in Nik’s company. He’d left the wedding ring in place hoping Spencer would take that as a sign that he wanted to repair their damaged relationship.

“Did you think it would be that easy?” Nik nearly jumped out of his skin.

He looked up to see Parker dangling over his head from the ceiling beams.

“Did you think all you had to do was wear a ring and Eliot would go all soft and gooey?”

“I thought it would be a good first step.” Nik picked up the pencil he’d thrown when Parker startled him.

“Know where he is right now?” She peered over his shoulder at his sketch.

“No.”

“The boys are setting up our new offices over at a house on the river.”

“We’re staying in New York?” Nik brightened up.

“It gives us easy access to most of the people in the Black Book.”

“Even though most of law enforcement in New York City knows my face?”

“By now everyone who matters knows Neal Caffrey’s twin brother is the reclusive Nikolas Elliott who has surfaced in New York City. Being this close,” she held her thumb and forefinger a small space apart, “to finding his long lost twin only to find he’d been killed while working for the FBI. The disappointment was such that Nikolas Elliott retired … Liquidated his business and is concentrating on his art and running The Artist’s Walk.

“Nathan and Sophie taught you well.” Nik was awed at Parker’s story.

“Actually, it was Eliot. Nate was creepy drunk or sober, and Sophie was way too fancy.” She dropped to the floor and started coiling her rope.

“So … Do I get the job?” Nik continued to sketch.

“Yeah. There was never any doubt about you being Sophie … Except for the whole being a man thing.” Parker stood for a minute with her head cocked to the side. “Eliot’s telling Mozzie and June you’re alive so I’d expect them about … Now.”

Parker slid out of the room as Mozzie burst through the door followed by June. There was a lot of yelling and remonstrations for running a game without them. Eliot and Hardison returned in time for Eliot to fix a late supper while they discussed plans for Leverage International.

Eliot offered to take June home after the evening wound down. As Eliot started to unlock the garage, June laid a hand on his arm.

“I think I’d like to walk.” She looped her arm through Eliot’s.

They walked in companionable silence enjoying the late summer evening.

“Are you going to give Nikolas a chance to redeem himself?” June asked quietly.

“You think I should chalk it up to sowing his wild oaks and forgive him one more time?”

“I think that Nikolas created Neal Caffrey and got so far into the character that he believed his own fiction. He didn’t see Cate, Alex, Sarah, or Rebecca as cheating because it was Neal sleeping with those women not Nikolas.”

“Are you saying Niki got so deep in his own con that he believed Neal was a separate person?”

“Exactly. For as much of a pro as he was, there was one time Byron did the same thing. Peter, Jones and Diana watched Nikolas so closely there was never time for him to relax from being Neal except when you were here.”

“So, Byron …” Eliot prompted.

“What brought Byron back to me was our wedding anniversary. You remember Bradford?” She asked.

“Toman? ... Yeah.”

“He knew where Byron’s character was having lunch. He sat down at the counter beside Byron and handed him two tickets to the top Broadway show of the day. ‘Tell her Happy Anniversary,’ was all he said to Byron. Byron gave his mark the blow off that afternoon and was home in time to take me to the theater.”

“I’m just supposed to let it all go … No harm no foul because it wasn’t really cheating though we gave oaths to each other? His ring hangs around his neck …” Eliot clamped his mouth shut.

The hurt … The anger … All the emotions he’d kept shut in the vault in the back of his mind threatened to burst out. He started to lose the rigid control he’d maintained all these years. June seeing the retrieval specialist’s struggle pulled him to a stop.

“Eliot, I’m not saying you’re not entitled to your feelings, and I’m not saying Nikolas doesn’t need to take responsibility for the way he’s treated you while he was lost in Neal Caffrey. Just don’t hold onto your pain until there’s nothing left of your love for each other.”

“I’ll think about it.” Eliot said as he stood in the foyer he’d left only hours before leaving the older woman with a kiss on the cheek.

~>~>~>~>~>

Six months later, Leverage International had started to whittle away the list of people and companies that almost managed to collapse the world’s economy and make a profit at the same time. Their team had come a long way from that day in Portland, Oregon watching Nate and Sophie walk out of The Brew Pub.

Maybe they’d gotten arrogant, maybe they skimped on their research, but all that didn’t matter as Eliot sat in the dark alley binding his wounds before the two goons he’d given the slip thought to track his blood trail. The fire he’d started as a distraction had allowed Parker and Nik to make their escape. Their mark had returned to her office unexpectedly as they were working the safe in her office.

Eliot came in from her bodyguards’ blindside turning their attention to the enforcer. Parker hit the mark with her tazer while Eliot drew the bodyguards away to kick a trip wire that set off the fire that separated the guards from the mark’s office.

Guns had come out as Hardison informed him that Parker and Nik had their evidence and were back in Lucille. Eliot felt a wave of relief with a wave of pain as the first bullet slashed across his ribs. The momentary pause to open the door allowed a second bullet to hit high on his shoulder. Bleeding and short of breath, Eliot moved deep in the shadows as the bodyguards tumbled through the door.

Squeezing between a dumpster and the wall, Eliot fought to control his breathing. Closing his eyes he began separating his mind from the pain in his body. When he succeeded he limped from the alley leaving the bodyguards unconscious on the sidewalk. He was moving toward Lucille when his battered body failed to respond to his iron will. Instead of meeting the asphalt, a pair of strong arms stopped his fall and helped him into the van.

“You were supposed to get Parker and the evidence out then leave.” He growled weakly.

Hardison pulled away from the curb in the direction of their hotel. Nikolas held Eliot upright while Mozzie cut away his shirts to tend his wounds.

“Never again.” Was Nikolas’ reply.

~ Fini ~