When Neal's phone went off at 2 a.m., he almost ignored it. But only a few people had his number, and if any one of them was calling him at this hour, then it was probably important. He rolled over and read the caller ID. Of all the possibilities, this one was definitely the most likely, he had to admit....
"Moz," he sighed. "You know, some of us have jobs."
He was braced for the usual diatribe about being on The Man's schedule and getting Stockholmed by the military-industrial complex, but instead, there was just silence on the other end. When he concentrated, he could hear traffic noise, and breathing. Neal sat up, suddenly a lot less sleepy.
There was a pause, then "Shhh."
"Mozzie," Neal said, lowering his voice, "you called me. What's going on? Are you in some kind of trouble?"
"I eat trouble for breakfast," Mozzie said in a fast, breathy whisper.
"I can't tell if that's a yes or a no."
"Is this phone bugged?" Mozzie whispered. "They're listening, aren't they?" He hung up.
Neal stared at the phone for a moment. He scrubbed his hand through his hair, switched on the bedside lamp, and called Mozzie back.
Mozzie answered on the first ring, with a quick, soft "Who is this?"
"Uh, it's Neal."
"I don't believe you," Mozzie said. "Password."
The only thing that kept Neal from rolling his eyes, hanging up and going back to sleep was that Moz really did sound scared. And he was talking really fast.
"There's not a password," Neal said. "We haven't used passwords for years -- not you and me. Is someone listening to you?"
"Is someone listening to you?" Mozzie countered.
Neal knew from experience that this sort of conversation with Mozzie could go on all night. "Moz, if you're in trouble, just tell me, or else I'm going back to bed."
"I hope it's really you, man," Mozzie said, and his voice broke a little at the end. "They're really after me this time."
Neal swung his legs out of bed. Jeez, what had Mozzie gotten himself into now? "Who's after you, Moz?"
"I don't know, I can't get a good look at them." He was speaking so quickly now that Neal could barely understand him. "I think they might be from the future."
"From the -- future?"
"Ninjas," Mozzie said, sounding a little more sure of himself. "From the future. Alien ninjas, maybe."
Neal's first thought was that Mozzie was either joking -- though it didn't sound like a joke -- or using some kind of code; then a suspicion occurred to him. "Moz," he said carefully, "is this like the MK-ULTRA thing back in '05? Have you been testing CIA drugs on yourself again?" Well, technically it had been the antidotes he'd been testing that other time, but the results had been the same.
"The CIA!" Mozzie said. "I knew it! You're with them, aren't you? Are you a pod person? I knew that was based on a true story! You can't fool me, pod Neal!" And he hung up.
Neal gazed at the phone. "I don't need this," he said, and shuffled into the bathroom, where he splashed some water on his face and stared blearily at himself in the mirror. Then he called Moz again.
"Hello, pod Neal," Mozzie said in a very calm voice with hysteria crackling underneath.
"Hello," Neal said. "Where are you, Moz?"
"Somewhere you and your alien CIA friends will never find me."
Oh great. "Mozzie," Neal said, "listen, this is very important. What did you take?"
"Nice try, pod Neal," Mozzie said, started laughing hysterically and hung up.
Neal called him back. It went to voice mail. He tried twice more before giving up and staring at his phone in growing worry.
That had definitely been traffic noise in the background. Which meant wherever Mozzie was, he was outside, and definitely at least somewhat messed up on ... something.
Neal closed his eyes, fought a very brief internal battle, and called Peter. It rang, rang, and right before it went to voice mail, Peter said in tones of drowsy annoyance, "Neal. This had better be important."
The thought crossed Neal's mind that Peter's tone of voice was almost exactly the same one Neal had heard coming out of his own mouth when Mozzie had called him ten minutes earlier. Maybe he really was developing a case of Stockholm Syndrome.
"It's Mozzie," he said. "He just called me. He's in trouble."
"This is news? When isn't he in trouble?"
But Neal could hear the bed creaking as Peter sat up. El mumbled something in the background; the phone went muffled as Peter, presumably, covered it with a hand and answered her. Then he said, "What sort of trouble?"
"I'm not really sure. He says someone is after him."
"Neal, he always says that."
"I know. The problem is -- he's drugged. At least I think so."
There were some small getting-dressed type rustlings. "What did he say?"
"He won't tell me anything. In a different than usual way, I mean. He's not acting like himself."
"Some people," Peter said, "would consider that an improvement."
"Look, if you're just going to be sarcastic ..."
"How can you possibly expect me not to be sarcastic under these circumstances?" Peter heaved a sigh. "All right, give me time to get dressed and drive over there. Half an hour?"
Peter parked outside June's place, and gazed up at the building for a moment before stepping out into the warm, humid night. He could be in bed with his wife, but no -- he was running all over the city because his felon CI claimed that another felon friend was in some sort of vague, unspecified trouble and wanted Peter to get him out of it. How was this his life?
The really sad thing was, he hadn't even hesitated. The minute Neal said "Mozzie's in trouble", he'd already been reaching for his pants. He really needed to work on that reflex.
Neal opened the door as Peter approached, and let him into the foyer. He was dressed, and had his phone in his hand. "He's not answering," he said, glancing at the screen. Neal looked genuinely worried, which erased a little of Peter's irritation and suspicion. Only a little, though. "I did get him to pick up once while you were driving over, but he just hung up on me when I tried to talk to him."
"Before we get too deep into this," Peter said, "I want you to look me in the eyes and tell me this isn't part of a con."
Neal met his gaze squarely. "It isn't part of a con, Peter. Moz is really -- well, something. I wouldn't have called you if it wasn't serious."
Peter realized a moment too late that he'd given Neal a perfectly legitimate "out" for his promise. On the other hand, Neal did seem to be serious. And concerned. "You said you don't know where he is, or what happened to him?"
"No. He called me a few minutes before I called you, talking about time-traveling alien ninjas, among other things."
Peter grinned. "Sounds like Mozzie to me."
"Admittedly, Moz's version of reality is a little different from most people's," Neal said. "But he's got a firm grip on it. He doesn't normally start giggling and telling me I'm a pod person."
No wonder Neal looked freaked out. "Is he involved with anything right now that you know about?" Peter asked.
Neal gave him a look.
"Don't even start," Peter said. "You dragged me out of bed in the middle of the night. A little reciprocal trust is not too much to ask for." When Neal continued to gaze at him, obviously waffling between loyalty and worry, Peter said, "Look, I'm not asking you to incriminate him in anything. ... okay, maybe that's what I did ask, but point me in a direction, at least. I can't work in the dark here. When did you last see him?"
Neal leaned against the wall and tucked his hands into his pockets. "He was over at my place early this evening. Typical Moz. We had a little wine, chatted a bit, and he headed out for the night. I didn't ask where he was going."
Neal shrugged. The corner of his mouth quirked up.
"Any guesses? Any enemies that might have been stirred up recently?"
"I don't know most of what Moz is up to these days." Neal sounded wistful.
"But you do have a guess," Peter said, when Neal left the sentence hanging in the air.
"I have a completely unfounded suspicion." Neal looked down at his phone, and hit Mozzie's preset again. Peter could hear it ringing, then the switch to voicemail. Neal grimaced and looked up at Peter. "Any chance you could work your FBI magic and trace the location of his cell?"
"Well, not from here."
Neal made an after-you gesture towards the door.
"You're really worried," Peter said. "This isn't just an excuse to drag the FBI into another of your little schemes ...?" He let it end on a question.
"My schemes," Neal said, "are never little." He put his hat on. "But yes, I'm worried. You asked me about my suspicions. I'll tell you in the car."
When Neal told him, Peter was silent for long enough that Neal started to wonder if the truth had really been such a good idea in this instance.
"You think he drugged himself? Are you serious?"
"I don't know for sure," Neal said quickly. "How can I? We haven't even found him yet."
"Neal," Peter said, in the tone that Neal had come to know meant Stop messing around and tell me right now.
"It's happened before," Neal said reluctantly. He twirled his hat between his hands; it gave him something to do -- better than worrying about Moz and why he wouldn't pick up.
"Please tell me that's a joke."
"It's not a joke. On two occasions that I know of, he injected himself with something to try out the antidote. I hadn't thought he'd try it again after the --" Neal stopped himself just in time. "Story for another time," he said to Peter's intensely curious look. "Anyway, that's a possibility, and it's also possible that he got into something by accident."
"How do you drug yourself by accident? No --" Peter held up a hand. "Don't finish that thought. I have a sudden mental image of identical crates full of unmarked containers from former Soviet Bloc countries -- he does have the sense not to taste-test things he bought off the Internet, doesn't he?"
Neal gave him a look.
"I can see why you're worried," Peter said.
The White Collar offices were dark and silent. Peter turned on his computer. "This'll take a few minutes, especially without Jones. I'd really rather not get Jones involved in this. It's hard enough to explain why I'm involved in this."
Neal studied his hat. "Did I say thank you?"
Peter glanced up from the computer, and smiled, quick and lopsided. "It may have slipped your mind."
"Yes. Well. Thank you."
There wasn't much Neal could do, so he perched on the edge of Peter's desk while Peter hunted up the FBI cell-trace program. When Neal's phone vibrated in his hand, he almost dropped it.
"Neal?" He'd never heard that tone from Moz before. It was small and scared and lost.
"Hey man," Neal said. He stepped away from Peter, automatically, because Peter might be a friend but this was too -- too private, too raw; he didn't want to risk anyone but himself overhearing that tone in Mozzie's voice. "You okay?"
"No," Mozzie said. Neal could hear his teeth chattering, and it wasn't a cold night.
"Is that Mozzie?" Peter said. "Put him on speaker."
Neal gave his head a single, hard shake. "It's okay, Moz," he said. "Where are you?"
"You wouldn't ask if you were really my friend," Mozzie said, and to Neal's absolute horror, he started to cry. "You're with them," he said in the most miserable voice that Neal had ever heard, and hung up.
"Moz!" Neal dialed back with fierce jabs of his finger. No answer.
"Oh," Peter said, a single soft syllable, and exploded out of his chair, grabbing his jacket. Neal looked up in surprise. "Come on!" Peter snapped, and Neal followed by instinct, drawn by the tone of command.
"What?" Neal asked, bounding down the stairs two steps at a time to keep up.
"Got the trace," Peter said, and when he looked over at Neal, Peter really looked scared -- which might have frightened Neal more than anything else tonight, if it hadn't been for Peter's next words, which sent Neal's stress level right through the ceiling. "He's on the Brooklyn Bridge."
At least 26 Federal Plaza wasn't that far from the bridge. Peter kept shooting glances at Neal, who was white-faced and silent, and kept redialing Mozzie at thirty-second intervals.
"Neal, give me some direction here," Peter said. "If this were anyone but Mozzie -- or you -- I'd be doing what I'm supposed to do, and calling the NYPD, and possibly an ambulance. Do you want me to do that?"
"I don't know!" Neal said. He sounded on the edge of hysteria himself, or at least closer to it than Peter had ever seen him when he wasn't in the throes of grief or fury.
"Odds are good he'll end up in jail if I do," Peter said. "But it's better than dead."
"I don't think it is," Neal said heavily. "Not for Moz."
"Is that a no, then? Neal, talk to me!"
"I don't know!" Neal took two deep gulps of air, closed his eyes, and when he opened them his face was calmer. "Let's try finding him ourselves. If we can't, then we can call for help. All right?"
He sounded fragile and terrified. "It's your call," Peter said. But it wasn't, really, at least not in a legal sense -- it was his call, because he was the law enforcement officer on the scene. If we end up dredging him out of the East River, it's my ass on the line. But that wasn't the most important thing at stake and he knew it. He felt as if he was balanced on a fulcrum between Mozzie's life and Neal's trust, with his duty as a sworn officer of the law wobbling somewhere in the middle. How do I get myself into these things?
As they approached the bridge, Neal said in a helpless tone, "Where on the bridge? It's a lot of bridge."
"I don't know. The trace isn't that accurate." Peter skidded to a halt by the pedestrian access to the bridge, causing the truck behind him to honk its horn and veer around him. "Tell you what: you search the walkway, I'll loop around on the bridge, check both sides and then join you up top."
His last words were spoken to empty air: as soon as the car stopped moving, Neal bounded out the door, tossing his hat back into his seat.
"Stay in touch!" Peter called after him, uselessly.
He drove slowly across the bridge. It was hard to see anything between his headlights and the bridge lights and the passing cars. There were too many places to hide, too many little crevices in the girders where a person could wedge themselves, especially a person in the throes of drugs and rampant paranoia. Too bad we don't have an anklet on YOU, Peter thought, and then winced at the idea of having both Neal and Mozzie to be responsible for. Or perhaps not.
He circled around and got back on the bridge going the other way. His phone rang. "Anything?" Neal said.
"Nope. Still looking." Then his eye was drawn to something. A flash of glass? Or glasses ... "Hold on a minute, Neal."
He pulled over to the guardrail, flicking on his hazard lights. There was no shoulder at all, not even a strip of pavement, just a concrete bumper, which meant that he was blocking traffic. So he was presently making himself into a gigantic traffic hazard -- and not just the car, he realized as he got out and almost got run over by a semi; in his jeans and dark jacket, he was nearly invisible in the glittering night to the other drivers on the roadway. But he was pretty sure he'd glimpsed a human shape curled up against one of the bridge's support towers. "Neal? I think I might have found him."
"Where?" Neal said breathlessly. "Is he okay?"
"He's outside the guardrail," Peter said. He cracked a road flare and tossed it behind his car, in the hopes of preventing a three-lane pileup. Vehicles whipped around him in the night. This was a bad, bad place to be. "I'm inbound to Manhattan, about two thirds of the way across."
"I'm coming down!" Neal said.
"Take the pedestrian path!" Peter snapped. "The path, goddammit!"
There was no answer, leaving him all too much leeway to imagine what Neal meant by "coming down" under the circumstances. He wouldn't climb down, would he? But it was Neal. Of course he would. And there wasn't a damn thing Peter could do to stop him, other than threaten to arrest him, which had never worked in the past.
One crisis at a time. Peter made his way back along the guardrail, flattening his body as much as he could. There really was nowhere to walk, and the wind of passing cars buffeted him. "Mozzie?" he called, and then closed his mouth. He wasn't sure if calling out would be a good idea or a bad one, if Mozzie had actually been where Peter had thought he'd seen him.
And yes, there he was, a darker patch of darkness, with the flash of his glasses reflecting the lights of passing cars. Mozzie was huddled on some kind of ledge wrapping around the support tower -- maintenance access, maybe. He was curled up with his arms around his knees.
Peter wasn't sure how to approach without startling him. Even under the best of circumstances, it looked awfully easy for someone to lose their balance and plunge into the black water below. And these weren't the best circumstances by a long shot.
"Neal?" he said quietly into the phone, but Neal had hung up on him.
Nice. Peter chewed his lip. Then the decision was made for him when Mozzie looked up, saw him, and flinched violently. For a moment Mozzie's precarious balance teetered, and Peter leaned over the guardrail, making an instinctive grab for him -- which was of course useless, since Mozzie was too far away. Mozzie lost his glasses; they went tumbling, flashing light, and vanished from view in the darkness below. Mozzie himself managed to regain his balance and pressed his body against the pillar, staring at Peter with wide, naked eyes.
Great. Now Mozzie was trapped and mostly blind. This just kept getting better.
"Hey," Peter said. He tried to smile. Hopefully it didn't look like as much of a frozen rictus as it felt. "How ya doin'?"
"Who are you?" Mozzie asked. It emerged in a strangled croak.
To lie or not to lie ... But unlike the members of Team Con Artist, he wasn't good at lying, and with Mozzie's life suspended a hundred feet above the East River, Peter figured he'd better play to his strengths. "I'm the Suit," he said. "Neal's Suit, remember?"
"Oh," Mozzie said.
Peter couldn't tell if that was a good "oh" or a bad "oh". "Why don't you come on back here and we'll discuss it," he said, holding out a hand.
Bad idea. Mozzie scuttled another couple of feet farther along the ledge. "You're with them, aren't you?"
"Which them?" Peter asked.
Mozzie blinked at him owlishly. "All of them," he said in a small, miserable voice, and he started shivering, taking his hands off the masonry to hug his shoulders -- and making his position even more precarious. To Peter, it looked like a strong wind could blow him right off.
Negotiating with jumpers wasn't Peter's thing. He'd always hated that sort of situation, not that it came up all that often in the White Collar unit. He wasn't good at it. Talk down a crazed gunman? Hey, that he could do. Talking down a miserable, suicidal person with a psyche so fragile that it could be crushed like a soap bubble ... this was the sort of area where people like El and Neal excelled, while Peter felt like a bull lurching around in the proverbial china shop.
Not that Mozzie was suicidal, exactly. But right now, with the fatal drop to the river below him, it was close enough for government work. And Peter felt panic climbing his throat. Where the hell is Neal? He's good at this! And Mozzie's his friend; he knows what to say ... If it were Neal out there, he thought he could probably do it. Neal trusted him. Neal would listen to him. All he'd have to do would be to order Neal over to him, and he'd bet his service weapon that Neal would snap to it, even without knowing exactly why.
He watched one of Mozzie's feet slip off the edge and almost choked on terror. Maybe it was time for a leap of faith. "Mozzie, get over here!"
Mozzie looked up at him sharply, eyes wide. Peter extended both hands over the railing. "Stop being stupid, you know I'm not going to hurt you. I know you're completely screwed in the head right now, but look me in the eyes. The eyes, Mozzie --" when Mozzie looked away, and down. "Look at me, and quit messing around, and get over here."
"But -- they --" Mozzie began in a shaking voice.
"I'll keep them away," Peter said. "Shoot them if I have to. You know me, right? You don't have to like me, but you know I'll keep you safe. Now get over here."
As confident as he tried to sound, he didn't actually expect it to work. Mozzie didn't trust him like Neal did. But, to his amazement, Mozzie scuttled along the ledge -- it was an absolute miracle, in Peter's opinion, that he didn't slip off and plummet to his death in the river below -- and let Peter haul him over the guardrail.
Neal knew Peter would probably try to stop him from climbing down to the roadway below, but it didn't look that hard. Just a little walk on some girders and then a quick scramble down ...
Granted, the fact that he was doing it in darkness, with traffic barreling along beneath him at 55 mph, made it more challenging. He almost lost his footing a couple of times, and when he finally made it down, he paused for a moment, and then ran -- he could see Peter's blinking hazard lights from here.
By the time he reached Mozzie and Peter, Mozzie was already inside the guardrail -- clinging to Peter, who looked over the top of his head at Neal with a helpless, desperate expression that would have been funny under different circumstances.
... well, actually it was pretty funny even under these circumstances. Neal pried Mozzie loose, not without a certain amount of resistance. "He said he'd protect me," Mozzie whimpered.
"Uh, yes. Yes, he will." Neal looked at Peter, who shrugged. "Where are your glasses, Moz?"
"They fell," Peter answered on Mozzie's behalf, two succinct words that appeared to contain a whole story.
They made their way back to Peter's car, Mozzie hanging onto Neal and Peter bringing up the rear, shepherding them along. Just as they approached the Taurus, flashing red and blue lights pulled up behind it.
"About damn time, it's been blocking traffic for ages," Peter muttered wearily, and flipped out his badge. "I'm a federal agent," he barked. "This is FBI business."
While Peter argued with the NYPD cop, Neal pushed Mozzie into the backseat of the Taurus and crawled in after him. Mozzie was shivering, despite the warm night, and Neal wrapped his jacket around him.
"So what exactly did you do to yourself, Moz?" Neal asked, taking Mozzie's cold hands between his own.
"I'm perfectly normal," Mozzie said through chattering teeth. "It's the rest of you that are all the wrong shape."
Right. Apparently the questions would need to wait until things wore off a bit.
Peter slid into the driver's seat and pulled back into traffic. "Hospital, Neal? Or your place?"
"No hospitals," Mozzie said, still trembling against Neal.
"I wasn't asking you," Peter retorted.
"My place is okay," Neal said.
As they turned off the bridge on the way to June's, Mozzie said in a tremulous voice, "The ninjas --"
Neal opened his mouth to reassure him that there were no ninjas, but Peter said loudly, "Got 'em. No problem. Don't worry about it."
Mozzie hesitated, then said faintly, "The aliens?"
"All gone," Peter said in a firm voice.
Mozzie shut up. Neal frowned at Peter, who raised his eyebrows at him in the rear-view mirror.
Peter helped him maneuver a rubbery-legged Mozzie out of the car and up to Neal's apartment. "You sure it wouldn't be a good idea to take him to the hospital?" Peter asked.
"Nah. He doesn't seem to be in distress or anything. I mean, not anymore," Neal added, with another glance at Peter.
They deposited Mozzie on Neal's bed, where he burrowed in and seemed to fall asleep almost instantly.
"He's got a replacement pair of glasses, right?" Peter asked.
"Just one? Are you kidding?"
"Right," Peter said dryly. He looked out the glass doors, at the sky lightening towards dawn above June's balcony, and sighed. "While I suppose it's pointless to try to get any sleep, I may as well go home and have breakfast with my wife."
Neal looked towards Mozzie, in a heap on the bed.
And Peter heaved another sigh. "I cannot believe I'm allowing this -- but you," he said, "are taking a sick day. I had better not check your tracking detail and find you anywhere but this apartment."
Neal walked him down to June's foyer. "Do I even want to know how you talked him in?"
"No," Peter said. "And we will never speak of this again." At the door he turned back. "Neal, if you figure out whatever he did to himself, make sure he never does it again, all right?"
"I'll do my best. I'm not his keeper, you know."
"Too bad. He needs one." A look of brief horror crossed his face. "I am not volunteering, by the way."
Neal almost choked on a laugh. "I don't think anyone would appreciate that."
"And if it turns out that someone actually is after him ... call me."
"I will," Neal said. "Peter ..." He'd already said thank you. Still, there was something to be said for knowing that he could call Peter in the middle of the night, say I need help and have Peter come running. It was an ace in the hole that he realized he'd better not abuse, because it was too good a feeling knowing it was there.
Peter was still waiting, looking tired but a little amused.
"Friends help you move," Neal said. "Real friends help you move bodies."
"And then they arrest you, and testify against you at your trial. Remember that." But Peter smiled crookedly as he ducked out the door.