Neal hates himself for flinching – later, remembering, when he has time to think.
Of course Peter's not working with Collins. Of course he doesn't have a team at his back and those brutal plastic ties in his pocket. It's right there on his face, so clear, exposing so much it sets Neal's teeth on edge. No one should wear their true feelings out in the open like that. Too risky. Too much chance of getting hurt.
It's impossible right now to follow his own advice, Neal knows, and he fights the urge to rub at his watering eyes as Peter wraps him up in a tight, unselfconscious hug. He takes those few seconds as an opportunity to blink back the tears, not letting himself relax into the embrace. Two days ago, it had been goodbye forever. And now...now Peter is here, and he's not letting go, and there's no way this ends well.
“Damn good to see you,” Peter says, with a gruff smile Neal can hear in his voice.
Finally, Neal brings one arm up in a half-hearted effort at returning Peter's gesture, and it must be enough, because Peter withdraws to arm's length and spreads his hands, launching into an explanation Neal never gets to hear. Mozzie's voice breaks in, dripping with suspicion and turning the conversation toward escape tactics in the space of a few sentences. The new topic draws Peter's attention away, at least for the moment, and Neal breathes a hopefully imperceptible sigh of relief.
He's run from many things over the years – old debts, and international governments, and ex-lovers. His family. Himself. This, though...this look in Peter's eyes, an almost childish hope...this makes him want to turn tail and vanish off the map, somewhere even Peter's resources and intuition and dogged perseverance will never find him.
Suddenly, the silence around him breaks into his thoughts, and he realizes that Peter and Mozzie are both staring at him. Waiting for an answer, obviously. He coughs and fights the urge to duck his head away, staring out over Peter's shoulder into the distance instead.
“Sounds like a plan,” he says, taking a shot in the dark.
Peter gives him a lopsided smile and a nod. “All right. Lead the way.”
For a second, Neal thinks Peter's comment is directed toward him, and he freezes, his jaw clenching tight. Fuck, he's got to get off this island – six weeks of sun, sand, and cocktails, and his brain is turning into mush.
Then Mozzie steps forward and takes Neal by the elbow, dragging him toward the back staircase at a near-run. He's not happy, obviously, and his voice is a low hiss of frustration when he leans in and mutters in Neal's ear, too soft for Peter to hear.
“You're going to ground with the Suit while I make arrangements. Don't let him do anything stupid. If you run and leave me here with him, I will never come to your rescue again.”
Neal's mouth drops open. “Mozz...”
“Shut up and walk.”
Important, then, whatever Mozzie's planning. Definitely dangerous. And he just agreed to it.
Neal shuts up and walks.
They hole up in the cellar of the church, chilly and damp and close enough to the ocean that they can still hear the rush of waves, even underground. Peter's good mood at finding Neal seems to have faded a bit, dulled by the severity of their situation, and he hasn't said a word since Mozzie took off. Neal leans his head back against the stone wall and closes his eyes. He'd thought silence would be better, but instead, it makes the air feel charged, the tension between them build. It makes everything feel too important – Peter's gaze, almost tangible as it flicks back and forth between Neal and the door, watching. Neal's own breathing, still just a little too loud and a little too fast, even after their dash across the sand. The bells chiming out over his head, vibrations crawling down the stone and into his skull.
Neal's eyes fly open. “Spanish brass.”
A pause, and then Peter's surprised guffaw of a laugh breaks through the silence. “Yeah, you're right. I gotta tell you, we were pretty proud of that one.”
Neal risks a glance and finds Peter grinning at him, a grin that makes his eyes wrinkle at the corners. The same one he saves for El and Satchmo...for the people he...
“Damn it, Peter!” Neal's voice comes out too loud, and he brings his hands up to cover his face, knowing he's failing miserably at this and hardly caring any more. They probably won't make it off the island anyway. Collins will rope them in like stray dogs, and then they can all be together forever in prison. Problem solved.
Peter's footsteps cross the floor in a brisk stride, even as ever, but his voice is shaking a bit when he speaks, and his grip on Neal's shoulders is a little too tight.
“Stop it,” Neal demands, shaking loose of Peter's hands without taking his hands away from his eyes. He can't see, but it doesn't matter. He knows exactly what Peter looks like right now, eyebrows raised in surprise and hands up in the air, showing he's not a threat as he takes a step back.
“I'm sorry, I didn't mean to...I mean, if you don't want--”
“What I want? What the fuck do you know about what I want, Peter?” Something in the back of Neal's brain is screaming at him to stop, that this isn't the place, isn't the time. But he's started, now, and there might not be another. Might as well finish. He opens his eyes.
Peter's still staring, like he's in shock. Neal wouldn't blame him. This obviously isn't the happy reunion he'd been imagining, and isn't that just the whole problem?
“I told you,” Neal says, regret bleeding into his voice. “I told you it had to be the last time. I thought I'd earned enough of your respect for you to listen. Guess I was wrong.”
Peter's shaking his head now. Disbelief. “But...this is how it works. This is how it's always worked between us, hasn't it? You run, and I--”
“This wasn't supposed to be a chase!”
There's a long pause before Peter speaks again. “Tell me, then, Neal. What was it?”
Neal bows his head and stares at the floor, long enough for Peter to step forward again and reach out a tentative hand. He takes a deep breath. This isn't going to help. If anything, it's going to pull Peter in deeper, make him that much more determined. But he's talked himself into a corner, and he can't find a way to slip it. The only way out is through.
He hardly recognizes his own voice when it comes, quiet and simple, without a trace of embellishment to soften the blow. “You told me to go, so I went. I disappeared. And you were supposed to let me.”
“Neal, if you had crossed that street, you were as good as Kramer's. I wasn't banishing you. I was trying to protect you.”
Neal huffs and keeps his eyes down. “Right. Protecting me. So that a few weeks later, you could decide you missed me and lead them right to my safe haven? Thanks, Peter, but I'll pass on the heroism next time.”
The silence stretches, long enough for the outside world to seep in again. Waves. Cold stone against Neal's back. Mozzie out there trying to save them, find somewhere new to hide on an ever-shrinking map. El, waiting for her husband to come back home.
From Peter's muttered curse, it seems some of the same thoughts have filtered back into his head. Neal finally risks a glance and finds Peter looking nothing so much as chastised.
“I'm sorry, I didn't think.”
“Yeah, I know.” Cutting sarcasm, but Neal takes no pleasure in it. It's a double-edged sword. He keeps attacking anyway. “What exactly was the next part of your plan, anyway? Find me, and then what? Drag me back to the FBI and ask them to forgive us?”
Peter shakes his head. “I just wanted to find you. Bring you home.”
Neal laughs humorlessly. “Home. Right.”
At that, Peter's eyes flash, and Neal feels something spark in him, the same reaction he's always had to Peter's anger – excitement, and a little bit of pride.
“Oh come on, Neal. I know things weren't always perfect, but you can't tell me you were unhappy there with...”
Neal raises an eyebrow. “With?”
Peter clears his throat uncomfortably, and Neal waits for one of a dozen old strategies. He'll change the subject, or send Neal off on some task to occupy him, or just take off and leave Neal reeling with the question unanswered. Peter's done his share of running himself, much as he'd like to deny it.
It's hardly more than a whisper, but it cuts right through all the chatter in Neal's head and makes everything go quiet and frozen. When Neal can reply, it's in a similar low murmur, like someone might hear.
“We were never...”
“I know, god, I know, Neal. But there was something. There was...the beginning of something, at least. You can't tell me you don't know that.”
Neal swallows past a hard lump in his throat and reminds himself to breathe. “It doesn't change anything.”
Peter throws his hands up at the ceiling and lets out a helpless laugh. “Oh, it doesn't? Neal Caffrey, the most...” He pauses, flailing for the right word. “The most romance-obsessed person ever to walk the streets of New York, and he says love doesn't matter. You know, I knew you were a good liar, Neal, but this--”
Neal pushes off the wall, takes two steps forward, and kisses him.
For a moment, it's horribly awkward, more a shocked press of lips than anything. And then Peter's arms come up around him, and Neal opens his mouth, and for a span of seconds everything fades, everything but sweet wet heat, and the smell of Peter's drug store aftershave, and the lingering taste of pineapple juice on his tongue.
Their lips break apart soon after, but Peter doesn't let go, and Neal doesn't struggle. They're both breathing hard, tasting each other's air, and Peter is staring down at him, his eyes darker than Neal has ever seen them. Their bodies fit together, all the way down, and Neal shivers. Why does he have to know that? Why does he have to learn it now?
“You see, Peter?” he asks, all the sharp edges gone from his voice. “Are we any safer now? Does this fix anything?”
There's no answer, just Peter's arms going even tighter around him, and Neal's eyes fall away.
“It really doesn't matter,” he says again, more for himself than Peter this time. Idiotic. Maybe he's been hanging on, too.
Peter reaches up and rests a gentle finger under Neal's chin, tilting his face up to meet Peter's eyes – and, somehow, he's smiling. “You're wrong, Neal,” he says, and there's a smile in his voice, too. “It matters to me.”
But Neal's done talking, overwhelmed by an indistinct future where everything he wants and everything he stands to lose intertwine in an endless puzzle, impossible to figure out. They wait out the rest of the day in silence, and though they don't kiss again, Neal can't deny that something has changed. Maybe even for the better. Something in his head is shifting, or...waking up, maybe. It's too soon to tell.
As night begins to fall, he glances around the cellar, seeing it with new eyes. There's a crowbar and a length of rope discarded in a corner, and he knows that upstairs there's a closet, probably containing the robes that were used in the service just this morning. He bites his lip and starts to put the pieces together in his head, and wonders how he didn't see it before.
“Gonna tell me what you're planning over there?” Peter's voice is all fondness, and that hope is back, that apparently irrepressible belief that they're actually going to get out of this okay.
Neal looks up at him and grins, already imagining the look on El's face when they walk through her door. “No...I don't think so. Just follow my lead.”
And Peter does.