Bryce stared down at Neal and Peter, the men under his protection for the duration of this case. They were sleeping still, their limbs entangled as Peter's breath sent soft ruffles through the hair atop Neal's head. Peter, smart as he was, had somehow believed that they were twins, had somehow never thought that another man with Neal's face might raise questions about those little scars on either side of the jaw. That, or Peter put on a good show when he decided it was better not to press Neal for answers.
Bryce was glad either way. It wasn't a simple story.
Years ago, Neal had been cut to be able to pass for Bryce. The Agency needed someone to make Bryce's kidnapper believe Bryce had escaped, thus leading the CIA t where he was being held. "Neal," as he went by now, had the right build, right voice, right hair and eye color even. More importantly, he had the intelligence, the ability to break in anywhere, and a spy's natural skills at deception. Plastic surgery it was, then; Neal got a new face and avoiding being classified as a threat to national security (the threat was made after Neal stole some artwork from a high ranking intelligence official, Bryce later found out -- Neal hadn't taken any of his classified documents while in his office, but the point for the Agency is that he could have).
Things went to pot pretty quickly, and soon they were asking Neal to pose as Bryce in all sorts of situations -- including the actual Bryce's rescue. It was the first time Bryce had been held by anyone for a real length of time. It was not long after Bryce finished college, and in those terrifying and painful - yet somehow mind-numbingly boring - months alternately dreaming of seeing Chuck again, and being angry at himself for wanting something that was never going to happen. Sometimes he dreamed that Chuck rescued him, pathetic as that fantasy was.
So it was an especially big surprise to see himself standing over him, rescuing him. Bryce remembered that the kid was so scared that his hands tremble as he cut the cords that held Bryce captive. At first Bryce thought he was dreaming; why else would he see his own face on his rescuer's body? But in the middle of the big rescue, when the chance of surviving reared its head and Bryce's inner core of FIGHT took back its rightful place, he realized that this kid, this smooth-talking, brilliant, terrified kid, who was using, of all things, a tranq gun, must have been sliced into so his bosses could make sure that a Bryce Larkin finished the mission. At the time, he wondered how they made the kid do it, if he had committed some forbidden act and they made him choose between safety and freedom, or if they just forced him, if they just drugged the kid and then let him wake up with a new face.
He felt guilty as much as he felt grateful. This kid -- who had agreed to give up his identity and have a painful surgery but wouldn't agree to kill -- didn't belong here. He was probably scarred for life because of Bryce, he assumed.
He shouldn't have underestimated Neal. He turned out to be more resilient than Bryce gave him credit for. Maybe more resilient than Bryce, it seemed. When they got to safety, Bryce had thanked him - and he hardly ever thanked anyone. But Neal had just run his fingers down his own face, feeling the structure of his now-handsome jaw, and said, "I should be thanking you. I can't wait to see what jobs I can get away with now that I have your good looks." And he grinned, and it was wider and more joyful than Bryce had ever smiled, and he walked away, probably to get as far away from governments and guns as he could.
Bryce had wondered for many years about what happened to the kid - if he was still alive even. He was smart, but had a side to him that might try, well, anything. Bryce avoided looking into it; he had his own problems, and besides, if there's one thing that Bryce had learned, it's that his friendship wasn't exactly a shiny bundle of happy times for the other party.
Another reason to leave the kid lone: it's not like Bryce's motivations were all that pure. Neal was... different. Not better - in some ways worse - than other people Bryce had been with. But there was some combination of swagger and innocence that Bryce found appealing. Neal wasn't naive about the world the way some people were, but he certainly wasn't a spy either. It was appealing -- appealing enough that keeping tabs on the kid could only lead to trouble.
He did keep thinking about Neal, though. Which was odd for Bryce, who usually managed to keep connections in their neat compartments, right next to his guns and his gadgets. Maybe the reason he kept thinking about Neal was because the list of people who knew Bryce was a spy was very short, and mostly full of people who would kill Bryce if there were ever exigent circumstances to do so.
Maybe it was because he was a narcissist, wanting to make love to himself.
Well, no. Yes to the narcissism but he had no desire to make sweet soft love to Neal-wearing-Bryce's-face. He tried not to think about exactly what he wanted, but he's pretty sure at the very least it would involve blindfolds and rugburn.
So maybe that was it. He wanted to be fucked senseless. By himself.
Or maybe it was really just Neal. Neal's sex appeal was about half from his intelligence (which Bryce had seen when Neal had TALKED his way out of a Morvonian prison camp) and half his personality, and his face was maybe just a funny coincidence.
Or maybe Bryce was thinking about Neal because it meant he didn't have to think about Chuck.
But he stayed away, let the kid make his own life.
Until the FBI got in right in the middle of a CIA case. And Bryce had to convince Peter Burke, as well as all the people they were investigating, that he had a twin brother.
Bryce thought the whole series of events over as he watched Neal and Peter sleep -- how they had gotten here, how surprising Neal's path had turned out to be. He wached thm sleep an felt an odd tension, something like affection. Soon, Neal began to snore into Peter's neck, and Bryce smiled at that - Neal snored, but he didn't. He enjoyed those little things, those little reminders of their separateness, so easy to forget when they were sharing an undercover mission.
It was perhaps this desire for separateness that has made Bryce refuse to try on Neal's hat every time he asked.
But really, though, Bryce is glad that Neal has found someone. Especially someone like Peter, who is just enough like Bryce to keep Neal from going off the rails, and just enough like Neal (like Chuck) that Bryce is actually glad Neal trusts the guy.
Mostly trusts him, anyway. Neal had confided to Bryce the night before: "Sometimes I wonder if Peter would still want me if I had my real face." He sometimes did that with Bryce, let his wall down, as if Bryce really were his brother. Bryce couldn't explain it, but he knew it didn't happen with many people in Neal's life.
The con artist of course thinks his looks are his best tool. But Bryce answered, simply, "Have you seen the way Peter looks at you when you say something brilliant?"
Neal smiled at Bryce, grateful, sheepish to be insecure in the first place. Bryce wished sometimes he could look like that, like Neal...
But at least Neal was doing all right. At least having to share a face with Bryce hadn't destroyed him (and Bryce was beginning to see how that was perhaps an irrational fear). But he was glad that Neal had found someone - and in particular, someone who withstood all the grilling Bryce had done as the protective "brother" who wanted to know about the ethics of a relationship that involved Peter and the man in Peter's custody.
But Peter had passed the test. Squeaky clean. Peter had a moment of panic when Bryce had stumbled upon their box of toys, wondering if Bryce was the type to judge, to draw absurd conclusions. Bryce was tempted to play the prude, just to get a reaction, but he didn't. When it came down to it, Bryce was happy for Neal. He could see that they were happy together – trusting, but with enough tension that they still excited each other. And they knew each other well, their good and their bad sides in equal measure.
Bryce has never had that. Even with Chuck, he had to hold back, had to make sure he didn't scare him off.
Bryce watched Peter and Neal sleep for a few more minutes before sneaking out to check the perimeter once more.
But he thought about their gentle sleep for a long time. He wasn't jealous exactly, not of Neal. And he wasn't quite jealous of Peter either. He was happy for them, and relieved that Neal was safe. But mostly it was just… a strange sight. He thought about Neal's face (Bryce's face), resting contentedly on Peter's chest, safe and trusting and deeply happy. So willing to stay in one place even when his instincts said to run. It was strange to see that face looking that way. Like he had figured out who he was and where he was supposed to be.
It was nice to see. Even as it pulled some strange tension through Bryce's chest, some longing he was sure he had overcome long ago.
He was starting to think it was confusing having a brother.