Kramer is waiting for him in the lobby. Peter hasn't a single ounce of inclination for hearing "I told you so" but the look on Kramer's face is anything but smug. Somehow it's worse, because Peter can be angry at smug, but not at disappointment and wariness.
"I don't know how and I don't know when, but you tipped Caffrey off." Kramer doesn't make it an accusation. It's a statement of fact.
"I told you: you box Neal in, and he'll run."
Peter is evading and Kramer sees right through him though he doesn't comment on it. Instead, he says, "Is it worth it?" From the tone of his voice, it's clear what Kramer thinks the answer should be.
Peter ignores the question, takes the steps down from the building sure-footed, unwilling to give anything away. He stops at Kramer's halting hand on his shoulder, but he doesn't turn around.
"Tell me, Peter," and it's not 'Pete' or 'Petey'.
Peter heaves a breath, unable to help it, shrugging free from Kramer's hold as he turns around to face his mentor, a man he can no longer look at in the same way ever again. But he can see that the feeling is mutual.
"Caffrey-- *Neal* is my friend."
And here Peter thought he knew the worst he could get from Kramer, but no, this is it right here instead: pity.
"A friend won't cost you your good name, and that's the price you're going to pay. Are you ready for that?"
Peter's voice is steel when he answers, "I'm ready for anything."
But not for this:
Two weeks later, Peter is subjected to the two-finger point from Hughes when he returns to the office after lunch. Foreboding strikes, leaden and thick. One look at Hughes, and Peter knows it's not good news.
There is no preamble, just Hughes setting down a small evidence bag on his desk and pushing it toward Peter. The object inside is small, round. Peter picks it up, frowning as he inspects the item. An old gold coin, Grecian most likely. Puzzled, he looks at Hughes for an explanation.
"Agent Kramer kindly forwarded this to me. He got it from an Interpol agent investigating Piet van Rijn."
"Van Rijn," Peter repeats the name, trying to place it. "Dutch fence based out of Southern France, specializes in gold." Peter's gut is tightening and it churns with one name. "Neal." A dozen questions leap to Peter's lips -- has Neal been caught, is he all right, where is he, is he okay, is he safe, do the Marshals have him or Interpol, is Neal all right -- but he lets none of them pass.
Instead, he scrutinizes Hughes, who is oddly silent for a long moment. Hughes is not a man with a kind face, but Peter's known him long, knows the difference between the perpetual look of disapproval that's actually Hughes' neutral and the darkened mien of genuine displeasure. His expression now is something else altogether.
"The Interpol has reasons to believe that coin is part of a collection of ancient Greek coins that was once on display in the Catherine Palace from the 18th century until some time around 1941."
The coin slips from Peter's hand.
He doesn't bother picking it up. It takes all his effort just to remember how to breathe.
"Are you telling me that van Rijn fenced this for Neal?"
"There's no conclusive evidence right now, and it'll be very hard to prove anything, but Agent Kramer is very insistent that you be informed." Hughes leans forward in his seat, and Peter recognizes the look in his eyes, the lines of his shoulders. It's not SAC Hughes now anymore, but Reese, his friend.
"I feel like we've had this conversation before. But it's different this time, Peter."
"OPR is coming after me again." The realization is a distant one, like the wall that's too far away to be a concern right now, but he's traveling at the speed of light and he'll crash into that wall before he knows it.
"It's a matter of days before the order comes down. That's all I can say."
Peter absently reaches down, finally picks the coin back up from the floor. He lays it gently on Hughes' desk. "Thank you."
Concern flits across Hughes' face. "You need to be prepared, Peter." He doesn't have to say the rest: it doesn't look good, Peter; a shitstorm is coming, Peter; OPR still holds a grudge over what happened with Fowler and they won't let you go so easily this time, Peter.
Neal isn't here to save your ass, Peter.
Except Neal is the one who got him here. No, that's not true at all. Neal gave him the rope, but Peter hung himself just fine on his own.
He hardly hears Hughes' offer for him to take the rest of the day. He just nods and goes, sure-footed as the day he told Neal to run.
Disorientation clings to him all the way home. He must have sat for hours, staring at nothing at all. El finds him on the couch when she comes home. Concern pours from her, and it feels like grit against his skin, in his eyes, stinging.
Peter tells her about the coin. About OPR. But El doesn't believe. Her blue eyes are filled with such hope, desperate and raw, and Peter can feel an echo of it twisting inside his chest. He wants to hope, too, but he can't, and the irony is that there's always been a part of him, sometimes conscious and sometimes not, that distrusted Neal. The too slick style, the sickly sweet charm. Peter knows all about things that are too good to be true. But he's seen the core of Neal, too, he thought. The sincerity and the truth. *When this is over, I'll tell you everything.* And Peter *believed*. Not a single doubt lived in his heart when he spoke his truth: that Neal should be free.
And he'd let him go. He'd told Neal to run.
"He put your life in danger, El, over that goddamn treasure. And now he's god knows where, spending it."
Peter can be angry. It's easier to be angry. His hands hurt from being clenched so tightly. But El... his El, with her tear-brimmed eyes and sad smile, lays her hand on his cheek and doesn't even have to say a word at all.
Peter squeezes his eyes shut tight and lets her fold her arms around him. He buries his face into her shoulder and allows himself to shake.
Funny, it's not like a knife, not a blade in his back or slipped between his ribs. Not the force of a gunshot. It's air, rushed from his lungs.
This is what drowning feels like.