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Resistance and Futility: A Study (Or: Seven Times Peter Burke Caught Neal Caffrey)

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April, 2003

Peter had expected Caffrey to be...well, Peter had expected Caffrey to be a lot of things. Taller, oddly, and definitely older. He'd pictured him, ridiculously enough, as middle-aged, greying at the temples, the look of a hardened criminal around his eyes.

But the guy in the corner, in the perfectly creased grey trousers, with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows--well, he couldn't have been farther from Peter's mental image. He was smiling, waving the wineglass in his left hand with aplomb, his right hand tucked into the small of a dark-haired woman's back.

He's a kid, Peter thought, disgusted, and this is a kid's mistake. He shouldn't have able to get into this party, shouldn't have been able to breeze through on a whim and glance at the documents he'd glanced at. This was the man behind the Helsinki job? The mastermind of the case than blindsided Interpol in Denmark? This little shit couldn't be more than twenty-two and Peter was furious and bowled over and--

"You must be Captain America," Caffrey said, right next to him. It took all of Peter's FBI training to keep himself from jumping right out of his skin--how had he gotten over there so fast? He restrained himself to a small cough of surprise, but Caffrey smirked at him anyway. A thousand thoughts clamored for first ranking in his mind--at the forefront was the realization that Caffrey had ID'd him as an agent already, goddamn it--but none of them were so powerful as the impulse to shut the little bastard up.

Peter scowled. "Don't call me that," he snapped.

Widening his eyes, Caffrey lifted his wineglass to his lips. "You'd prefer just Captain, then?"

"You do realize I could arrest you right now?

Caffrey gave him a wry, shuttered look. There was no way he was 22, Peter realized suddenly--up close he looked older, 25 or 26. Still a kid, said a voice in his head, and then the little brat wiggled his eyebrows and said "On what grounds?" like this was some game, some joke.

He was so--flip, so glib, that Peter could've just killed him. Three whole months after this guy, this guy who'd seemed brilliant and insane and fascinating, and now he was going to be an easy grab? The guy who'd wrapped his body around a seaplane leg in full scuba gear, who'd climbed across a building on a 200-year-old trellis, was going to be brought down by documents left out in plain sight and an open housewarming party?

And then--he looked at Caffrey, at the white of his knuckles around his wineglass, at the tightness of his smile, and realized that the dirty little thief was trying to distract him while he planned an escape route. The brunette he'd been talking to before had vanished, and a little bald man with glasses had disappeared as well; one to take care of those documents, Peter imagined, and one to facilitate whatever he'd planned.

Peter knew the rules. He should have cuffed Caffrey right then, before he got the opportunity to run. It was what his bosses would have wanted, it was what a good agent would have done. But...he'd been so excited, to have a real challenge, someone who took some actual initiative.

It would be cheating, to take him down like that.

So Peter smiled, a dangerous, enigmatic smile, and enjoyed the brief moment of fear that clouded Caffrey's eyes. "Privileged information," he said. Caffrey clapped him on the shoulder.

"I bet it is," he murmured. He was just a hair too close, and something tight and strange flickered once in Peter's chest and died. "Keep me posted, Captain."

And then suddenly Caffrey was gone, as quickly as he'd come. Peter--idiotically--hadn't posted guards on the doors, because he'd actually assumed Caffrey was smart enough to keep a party like this locked down, and hadn't expected to get in. By the time he got through the sudden convenient crush of bodies around him, Caffrey was long gone.

Peter smiled to himself, long and slow. Next time, he'd do it right.

July 2004

But, goddamn it, the next time was on a boat.

It was just like Caffrey, Peter thought bitterly, to go ahead and set himself up for capture in Peter's absolute least favorite place. He'd had to sneak off to the bathroom four times already, and the look of pity on Diana's face was threatening a fifth.

"You're looking a little green around the gills, sir," she said, and he scowled at her.

"I'm fine. What've we got?"

Diana checked her notes again. "So far? Ninety minutes of Caffrey flirting with everything in sight, thirty minutes of Caffrey making a big show on the dance floor, and two whole hours of that little bald guy getting shut down by every woman aboard. He's persistent, though, I'll tell you what. I kind of want to buy him a pity-drink."

Peter sighed--he couldn't make it more then half an hour without running for the bathroom, and his second-in-command was considering buying a pity drink for an accomplice who wasn't even of her preferred gender. What a team.

He eyed the video monitor with resignation; after a moment, he realized something was missing. "Hey," he said, feeling a thrill run up his spine, "where's Caffrey?"

Diana looked up sharply and said "He's right--shit."

Peter was already running to the cabin door. "Radio me if he pops back up," he called back to her, and he shut the door and rounded the corner to the small deck on the back of the boat, where--

--Neal Caffrey was being quietly, competently sick over the railing. Peter stared at his hunched figure, fellow-feeling welling in his stomach like a curse, like a disease, and he tried to tamp it back down and slip away.

He was too slow. Caffrey must have somehow heard his footsteps over the nauseating rush of the water, because he straightened, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, and turned. "Well," he said, offering a smile only a shade shakier than the cocky one from the surveillance tapes, "Captain America. Nice to see you again."

"Can't say the same," Peter said, "and don't call me that." Caffrey just cocked his head and widened the smile a little, and Peter sighed and walked over to join him. "If you've gotten any...anything on this," Peter started, eyeing the railing with trepidation, "I am going to send you to prison before you can blink."

Caffrey laughed. It was strange, to hear him laugh--Peter couldn't remember another time in his whole career when he'd gotten that particular reaction from a suspect. "You want to send me to prison anyway," he said, lifting an eyebrow, "for an assortment of alleged crimes I assure you I had nothing to do with. But no, the railing's clean. I was careful."

Peter sighed and leaned against it. He looked down at the water and then, realizing his mistake, looked quickly back up. Caffrey must have noticed his expression, because he made a soft noise that made Peter's hair stand on end and said, "You too?" with genuine concern in his voice.

Peter grimaced. This was weird, this was not how this kind of interaction was supposed to go, but he was almost too nauseated to care. "Yeah," he said, staring at the sky--the blissfully immobile sky. "Not much of a boat guy."

Caffrey pulled a face. "Me neither," he said, and then, a little wryly, added, "obviously. Too much up and down, I think. It's not the boat so much as the constant motion--"

Peter put up a hand and made a strangled noise and Caffrey stopped talking at once. "Sorry," he said, after a minute, and he actually sounded sorry. "I--look. I've got these seasickness bracelet things. You put them on and they press on your pressure points and I guess they help some people." He grinned, rueful, and said "I'm clearly not one of those people. You want them?"

Peter stopped looking at the sky to look at Caffrey, who was--staring right at him, a hesitant, almost scared expression on his face. Peter couldn't believe, now, that he had ever imagined Neal Caffrey as a man with hardened, criminal eyes; he couldn't think of anything further from the truth. Caffrey's eyes were playful and so sincere that they were actually suspicious and...and piercing, in a way Peter couldn't quite figure out.

You're one hell of a puzzle, he thought, not sure if he meant Caffrey or himself. What he said was "I never thought I'd see the day when Neal Caffrey would be giving jewelry away," and Caffrey laughed, throwing his head back.

"There's a first time for everything," he said, still chuckling. Then his face went hard and closed off and he said "Allegedly," like a test. After a moment, Peter nodded his tacit confirmation, and Caffrey grinned like the sun coming up.

"Here," he said, slipping a grey band off of his left arm. "You put the points of them--" and then he took Peter's arm, pulled his sleeve up, and put three fingers to his wrist. "Here," he said, pressing, and Peter slid the band up, nestled the round plastic dot into his flesh. Caffrey nodded and handed him the other one.

"Hope they work better for you than me," he said. Then he smiled and added "You look like you need them more," and Peter scowled at him.

"Oh, fuck you too, Caffrey," he said, and Caffrey laughed again, tossing one last smile back as he walked away.

"Happy to help, Captain," he called. Peter shook his head, slid the second band onto his right arm, and headed back to the cabin.

But a few hours later, when he'd told Diana to get some sleep on the tiny board the idiotic boat people called a bed, Peter fingered the cloth of those bands and thought about how well they were working. He thought about Caffrey's face as he handed them over, smiling and smiling at him, and he didn't wake her as he watched the little man with glasses surreptitiously lower a lifeboat into the water. He hadn't seen Caffrey slip away to steal the necklace he was after, hadn't seen him get on the boat--but then again, he wouldn't have.

It would have been easy, to get up and check the lifeboat, to haul Caffrey back up before he hit the water and search him. It would have been easy, and it would have been unfair, so he smiled as he watched the monitor and didn't feel sick for the third hour running.

January, 2005

Caffrey had taken to calling the Bureau and asking to talk to him. Not by name, of course--Peter wasn't sure if that meant that Caffrey didn't know his name or that Caffrey was an obnoxious sort of bastard, but he was willing to place money on the latter. Peter hadn't even known he'd been calling until that bitch who ran the switchboard had demanded Hughes let her hold a staff meeting. Then she'd berated them all about giving out the FBI switchboard number--she knew someone had done it, because they were getting prank calls all the time now, some cheeky bastard asking for Captain America--

"Caffrey," Peter had breathed, right there in the meeting, and he'd made the woman--Elaine, he thought it was--show him the call logs. Then he'd noticed that each call had lasted less than a minute, and berated her for not realizing this was a caller who didn't want to be traced. "This is the FBI, for fuck's sake!" he'd shouted, eventually, and she'd just raised an unimpressed eyebrow.

"I'm a secretary," she'd said, "not a mindreader. I'll have his calls transferred to you in the future."

The first time a call had come through, Peter had answered the phone and Caffrey had said "Finally."

"Caffrey," Peter had said, "long time no talk."

"Not for lack of effort on my part," Caffrey'd replied, "you're a hard man to reach, Captain." They'd bickered back and forth for a few seconds and then Caffrey had said "Time's up," with something that sounded like regret in his voice.

He'd called a few times a week since then. He never stayed on the phone long enough to be traced, just long enough to say hi and hang up. Peter had, god help him, started to rely on the calls. He'd started calling him Neal. He was thinking of asking to be transferred off the case--this kind of, of, of attachment wasn't going to help him any. He'd already let the guy go twice, decisions that had made him doubt his own judgement, however right they'd felt at the time.

He was working late one night, staring at his case files and trying not to wonder why Neal hadn't called yet this week, when the intern knocked on his door. He was a good worker, obsessed with the Bureau, here whenever he wasn't in classes at NYU; Peter liked him well enough, but wasn't sure he was agent material. Still, he said "Come in, Clinton," without looking up, and the kid slipped inside.

"Um," he said. He cleared his throat uncomfortably, and Peter looked up from his work impatiently.

"What?" he snapped.

"Sir," Clinton said, and cleared his throat again. Then: "I'm sorry to bother you but, um, the switchboard called, apparently there's someone on the phone who was singing and, uh, talking about captains--"

Peter sat bolt upright. "Caffrey," he said, nearly shivering with anticipation. "Is he still on the phone?"

Clinton cleared his throat. "Well," he said, "he's not talking anymore but the call's still going--"

"Clinton," Peter said. He stood and grabbed his coat from the chair. "Can you have a trace run on that call?"

Clinton shifted uncomfortably and said, "Um, well, sir, I thought you might want me to, so I--I hope you don't mind, I took the liberty." He held out a folder and Peter resisted the urge to pump his fist in the air with glee.

He clapped Clinton on the shoulder instead, saying "Good kid, good instincts," and was out the door too fast to notice the expression of shocked pleasure moving its way across the man's face.

Peter looked at the address in the file and realized it was a payphone near the water, in one of the less savory parts of town. He threw himself into the car and drove like his life depended on it, letting his blood get hotter and hotter, covering all the options--Caffrey could be scamming him, it could be a setup, but it could also be a drunken confession or a stupid mistake--a stupid mistake Peter would not make allowances for this time.

He slammed his way into a parking spot, screeching his brakes, when he reached the closest intersection. Then he crept along, gun drawn, until he saw the payphone bank. He felt a sharp spike of triumph for a moment, and then his heart slipped up into his throat--Caffrey was lying underneath them, his leg bent at an odd angle.

"Fuck," Peter hissed, holstering his gun, and ran. Neal was facedown, and Peter rolled him over to reveal a bruised but definitely still alive face--even as he was checking his pulse, Neal's eyes fluttered open, and he smiled.

"Captain...America," he said, grimacing, haltingly, "you came."

Peter made a frustrated noise and said "Stop calling me that. Jesus, Neal, what happened to you," and Neal gave a wet, coughing laugh.

"Job gone... wrong," he whispered, "fell... too hard... window. You gonna... arrest me now?"

Peter ran a hand through his hair and looked around desperately. He saw a black case next to Neal and he knew he'd find something stolen in it, he just knew it. He wished, impossibly hard, that he cared. "I should," he hissed, furiously, "why the hell did you call even me? Out of everyone you could have--"

Neal looked up at him with wide, confused eyes and rasped "Cell phone... shattered... couldn't remember..."

Peter stared at him. "Your cell phone broke," he repeated, his voice cracking a little in shock, "and you couldn't remember any number but the FBI's?" Caffrey nodded, and tried to shift; he grimaced again and made an agonized sound and Peter's decision was made.

"You are the worst thief ever," he muttered, and when Caffrey laughed Peter put an arm under his shoulders and hauled him up. "I wouldn't do this if I thought you'd remember it tomorrow, I want you to know that."

Neal, as if on cue, nodded and passed out against Peter's chest. Peter sighed and lifted him, struggling under his weight, and double checked for traffic cameras as he put Neal into his backseat. He woke then, a little--Peter took advantage of this to ask if Caffrey still lived in that apartment, the one where they'd first met. When Caffrey nodded, Peter got in the driver's seat and drove like hell until he reached the spot, trying not to wonder why he remembered its exact location.

Hauling Neal up three flights of stairs was less than enjoyable, but he managed it, and he leaned Neal's head against the wall and pounded on the door. A woman opened it, smiling, and then she looked down at Neal in Peter's arms and gasped.

"What the hell happened to him," she started, tears springing up behind her eyes, as Peter pushed past her and dropped Neal onto the couch.

"Call the hospital," Peter snapped, "his leg is broken."

"Tell me who you are," she snapped back, "or I'm calling the police."

"That would be a very bad idea," Peter ground out. Neal shifted and said "Captain," and Peter glared at him--which was really ridiculous, considering.

The woman looked at him with sharp eyes. "You're him," she said, realization dawning bright and bitter on her face, "you're that Fed, oh my god, and I let you in here," and Peter held up a hand to shut her up.

"Look," he said, "don't tell him about this. I'll leave and I won't tell a soul, but you can't tell him, alright? He said he fell out of a window at whatever job he was pulling--I don't want to know. Just...just call the hospital, and we'll pretend this never happened." He swallowed down his guilt--at what? At betraying the agency or leaving Caffrey like this?--and stared her down. "Swear to me."

She nodded, wide-eyed. He looked down at Neal, didn't let his eyes linger, and said "Take care of him." Then he was gone.

 

August 2005

There was a line; Peter knew this. He knew there was a line. He was firmly aware of its location, its meaning, and the fact that he'd stepped over it to hide himself in this room. He just--hadn't been able to help himself, for maybe the first time in his life. He'd had an impulse, to cross that line he'd always been so careful to toe, and he'd done it.

Goddamn Caffrey and his goddamn--

He'd started calling again, a few weeks after Peter had taken him home (with a Caravaggio, no less, which Peter hadn't taken with him in the heat of the moment and which Caffrey now swore up and down he hadn't stolen). He'd started calling again, and Peter couldn't very well ask him how that leg was doing, because...well. Because as far as he knew his girl had kept that promise, and Neal hadn't heard about his misguided rescue. And Peter needed him to stay in the dark--he could use that knowledge to get Peter fired, to ruin Peter's career, or to be really damn insufferable.

So Peter had gritted his teeth, and made vague references to the painting he knew damn well Neal had stolen, and avoided asking. They'd fallen back into that same routine--Neal calling a few times a week, Peter looking forward to the calls--when suddenly, two weeks ago, with no explanation, they'd stopped.

So now Peter was in Neal's private apartment, which he'd broken into after a few too many beers, and was tucked up inexpertly behind a heavy baroque curtain, peering out from behind a fold. He could only hope that he wouldn't sneeze.

"You can skip the job," the woman was saying, not all that convincingly, as she shut the door behind her. "No one will think any less of you--"

"I'll think less of me," Neal snapped. Then he sighed, and took her hand, and said "Sorry. I'm sorry, Kate. It's not you, I just--"

"You what?"

"If I do this, I'm going to have to run," he said, and his face was open and scared like Peter had never seen it before. "He's too smart not to figure it out; I've already stopped calling, I'm sure that's tipped him off. He'll be right on me, I won't have any wiggle room anymore, they'll have me on camera--"

She sidled closer to him, pressed him into a wall. "So we buy an island," she murmured, "with all the money." He laughed softly and ran a hand through her hair.

"I don't want an island," he said. "Nothing to do, no one to talk to. I'd go crazy."

"You'd have me," she said, her voice low, and Peter was beginning to worry that he was actually going to have watch Neal have sex with her when he sighed and stepped away.

"Island it is, then," he said, and she clapped her hands delightedly. "We'll have to get started now, though, if we're going to get it back without anyone noticing." He left the room for a moment, came back wearing white gloves and heavy-framed, dorky glasses Peter would never have expected of him; Peter had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. Then Neal dropped his briefcase on the table, clicked it open, and pulled from within....

Jesus Christ, Peter thought, stunned, that's a Gutenberg bible. He watched as Neal turned the pages, taking photographs of each, and his hands itched for his handcuffs. He was willing to bet on the scheme--Neal would just have to mock up a few forgeries, sell all of them to rare book dealers in the city somehow, and skip town with the money. He couldn't believe, though, that he was seeing it, that he was watching this project in its baby steps, and couldn't do anything to stop it.

Well, that wasn't technically true. He could, technically, burst from behind this curtain and haul Caffrey in. But he'd lose his job, his credibility, and every shred of professional respect he'd ever garnered, and Caffrey would probably walk because of the illegal conditions of the arrest.

So he watched. It took Neal two hours to photograph every page, turning each one with care. Once, he'd looked up sharply and stared right at the spot where Peter was hiding, but Peter had held his breath and Neal had looked down after a moment. And then...well...

Peter didn't often get a chance to just look at Caffrey. Bent over the book, his shirtsleeves up, a focused, determined expression etched across his face--he was like a piece of art in and of himself, and Peter stared, fascinated. Twice Kate brought him water and he smiled up at her, a smile Peter had never seen on his face before--sweet and gentle, strange. He spoke with less of an edge to his voice, too, when she asked him things; Peter had gotten used to the heady, near-panicked speed of him on the phone or when he thought Peter was going to arrest him. It hadn't occurred to him that in his home, in his element, Neal could slow down too.

His leg certainly looked fine. He'd walked in without any kind of limp, and he was bent down on it, taking photos. His concern was eased, though in reality, he didn't feel any better.

Neal and Kate went to bed three hours after Peter had arrived at their apartment. He waited 45 minutes, snuck out, and leaned against the hallway wall until he felt like he could breathe again before going home.

October, 2006

Everyone had patted Peter on the back. Diana had hugged him and Hughes had clapped his shoulder so hard that Peter imagined there was a bruise, and he'd smiled and thanked them all. He'd taken the champagne he'd been offered and he'd had a glass--and then another, and then another, and then another. He'd let Cruz, the new agent, drive him home when she volunteered, and he'd accepted her congratulations again as he'd shut the car door.

And then he'd looked at his house, his home, and thought about Neal's face, going from shocked to betrayed to terrified. He thought about the pleading in his eyes as Peter had cuffed him, and he couldn't bear to go in and tell his wife the good news.

He was sitting on the front stoop when she came out, staring at his hands. "Hi," she said, and he smiled up at her, gestured for her to sit down.

"Hey," he said, and she sank onto the step just above his, next to him. He craned his neck to look up at her and she smiled, silent in the still-warm autumn night.

God, she was beautiful. In the dim glare of the streetlights, with her hair pulled back in a loose knot, her white tee shirt clinging, Peter had never seen anything he wanted more, anything that looked more safe. He turned his head and put in on her knee and closed his eyes, wanting, more than anything, to let it go.

She ran her long nimble fingers through his hair for a few minutes. He sighed and kept his eyes shut, imagining that she was pulling this day away from him, stripping him of it.

"I guess you caught him," Elizabeth said, finally. Peter sighed.

"Yeah," he said, and if his voice rasped a little on the word, so be it. "I guess I did."

November 2009

Peter had gone to Neal's court dates. He'd followed with fascination the various holdups to sentencing Neal's lawyers had manufactured and he'd told himself, over and over, that he was doing it in case Neal tried to run, in case someone trained needed to be there to catch him.

Neal hadn't tried to run. Neal had just looked at him, stealing nervous glances from the front of the courtroom, making Peter hate himself. He'd stopped at Peter's row, once, as he was led out--four years, Peter had thought, feeling lightheaded about it--and said "That's a really unconvincing gloat you've got there, Peter."

Peter had stared at him, and opened his mouth. He'd meant to say "I'm not trying to gloat," or maybe "This isn't about you, Caffrey, it's about justice," or hell, even "I'm sorry."

Instead, like a middle school girl with a fucking crush, he'd said "You know my name." He'd realized his mistake a second too late, but before he could start stammering an excuse, Neal raised both eyebrows and offered him a slow, enthralled smile. He looked like himself for the first time since Peter had arrested him.

"I have the whole time," he'd said, and he'd continued to smile at Peter until the bailiff had grunted and yanked him away.

Then Peter had gone to see Neal in prison. Just a few times--checking to make sure he hadn't broken out, he always joked. It was a flimsy lie, and Peter knew it, but of the two of them, only one had made a career out of stretching the truth.

But visiting Neal in prison had turned out to be an exercise in futility. It was worth it, it helped eat at the guilt, for the time he was there, and then inevitably he'd have to leave. Catching the hard, shuttered expression slip back over Neal's features as he turned away had been enough to cure him of the desire to see his face, to hear his voice.

Then he'd gotten the first birthday card, and it had given him an idea.

So he'd written Neal letters, sparse, terse things, and gotten surprising responses. Neal had talked about his childhood, his years at art school. He'd described the personalities of various quirky accomplices, giving them ridiculous aliases for their own protection. He'd sketched, hilarious one-panel comics of Peter chasing him and strange, dark etchings in the margins. Neal was a good writer, strong in his descriptions, and a better artist. When Peter had suggested jokingly that Neal write a children's book, Neal had sent him back an illustrated manuscript.

The point being, it was more than fair to say that by the time Neal broke out of prison, Peter knew him better than pretty much anyone. That was why it was so easy to catch him.

"I see Kate moved out," he said, because he had to say something. He was at war with himself--on the one hand, the proximity, the heady rush of catching the only criminal he'd ever really wanted, was as exhilarating as ever. On the other hand, Neal's back was against a support beam, he was rolling an empty wine bottle around in his hands, and Peter had never seen him more despondent--not in court and not in jail. "She leave you a message in that?"

Neal didn't even look up. "The bottle is the message."

Peter felt his hands twitch in annoyance, in hatred for that hollowed-out voice. "It's been awhile," he tried, and knew immediately it was the wrong thing to say.

"Yeah, a few years," Neal said, sarcasm dripping heavy in his tone, "give or take." Peter felt guilty all over again for halting his visits, and then he remembered that he was a trained FBI agent and this was an escaped convict, and the hell if he had to feel guilty for anything.

"You carrying?" he asked. It was an important question, one you had to ask, even if you did already know the answer.

"You know I don't like guns."

Doesn't answer my question, you asshole, Peter wanted to scream, but didn't. He was--god, he was angry at Caffrey. He'd been looking forward to his release, to chasing him again, perverse and strange though it was.

"They ask me," he said, trying to keep the bitterness in his voice to a dull roar, "what makes a guy like you pull a boneheaded escape with four months to go?"

"Guess you figured it out." It was like--well, it was like looking at one of Neal's forgeries, a copy of Neal himself. Almost the real thing, but lacking the original panache. It made Peter want to throttle someone.

"Kate says adios to you at prison," Peter continued, knowing now that he was crossing some boundaries, that this wasn't normal behavior, "and gets busy with her disappearing act. Her trails ends here...but you already know that."

"I missed her by two days," Neal snapped. Ahhh, Peter thought, feeling a sharp spike of adrenaline, we have emotion. He rewarded Neal with a compliment, a congratulation on the speed with which he'd escaped prison, which earned him a ghost of a laugh. Then he radioed his team, because he felt like he should, and told Neal how many agents were there when he asked, even though he felt like he shouldn't.

And then--well, he was curious. "What's the message?"

A shadow broke over Neal's face; he looked, in that moment, like he was going to cry. "Goodbye," he said, and his voice broke, and Peter didn't know quite what to do anymore.

"Women," he said, because he had to say something. Neal just made a dismissive sound, so Peter said "They're gonna give you another four years for this, you know." He wasn't sure if he was telling himself or Caffrey.

"I don't care," Caffrey said. Then, to Peter's surprise, he looked up, glanced at Peter, and started to laugh. He pushed himself up the wall, grinning at him--it was a facsimile of the smile Peter had gotten used to over the years, but it was something. "Is that the same suit you were wearing the last time you arrested me?"

Peter was, to his own shock, a little embarrassed. "Classics never go out of style," he said, attempting to cover this, and Neal gave him a sharp, knowing look. And then--Neal was suddenly too close to him, looking and leaning, and Peter was thrilled and terrified and maybe in the process of suffering a heart attack--

--when Caffrey pulled back, held up one of the reddish fibers from the explosion that afternoon, and offered to tell Peter what it was.

He was so flabbergasted that he wasn't even sure what he was agreeing to until Caffrey'd been led away. Then he leaned against the spot where Neal had been standing, thought about the rush of having him so close, and wanted very much to be sick.

He grinned, despite himself. He'd sort of missed it.

February, 2010

"I cannot believe," Peter says, as Neal jerks his head up, "that you haven't slept in three days."

Neal eyes him blearily from the other end of the couch. "Believe it," he says. He takes a long pull from his beer and then laughs. "Not like the circles under my eyes are really keeping that secret anyway."

Peter grins a little himself--four people at the office today had exclaimed over Neal's face, asking what had happened, and when they'd gotten back to Peter's after solving the case, El had asked who had punched him. Every time someone brought it up, he'd flinched a little harder--he'd practically jumped out of his skin when El had mentioned it.

"It's a good look for you, Caffrey," Peter says, and Neal rolls his eyes and takes another pull from his beer.

"At least we got him," Neal says, leaning back against the couch. He sighs, a little contented sound, and straightens the collar of his jacket.

"Yeah," Peter says, "we got him." They grin at each other, and Peter stands to get them another round of beer. When he gets back, Neal is asleep, his head lolling against the back of the couch, his jacket still on.

Peter...should wake him. He doesn't particularly want to; Neal will just whine about not wanting to go home, and then they'll bicker about it, and then, inevitably, El will get involved and he'll have a convict sleeping on his couch. Again.

You wouldn't be so surly if that convict was sleeping in your bed, a nasty voice in his head whispers, but he ignores it. He sits next to Neal, half an inch too close, and sighs, flipping the television on.

Maybe it's the ambient background noise, maybe it's the sheer impossibility of it all, but the first time Neal says Peter's name, he thinks maybe he's imagining it. Still, he mutes the television and turns to stare at Neal, whose face is contorted in the half-slack expression of dreaming. Peter is just about to turn back to the television when Neal's face twists into something like hunger and he makes an unmistakeable bucking motion and he opens his mouth and moans, moans around a single word.

"Peter," Neal Caffrey says, and every rational cell in Peter's brain shortcircuits.

"Neal," he hisses, shaking him, "Neal." It takes another few seconds of shaking, and then Neal sits bolt upright, blinking rapidly. Peter feels a little guilty about the circles under his eyes, but not guilty enough to let him go back to sleep. "Neal," he says again, almost a whisper.

"Wha?" Neal asks, still clearly half-asleep, so Peter leans forward and kisses him.

It's a hard kiss, maybe too hard, but Neal surges into it with enthusiasm after a moment of shocked stillness. He straddles Peter in a smooth motion and lets Peter run a hand up his back, twist a hand into his hair--and then Peter's hand gets stuck, and Neal freezes mid-writhe.

He pulls away slowly, giving Peter a measured look. "I'm not--I'm not really dreaming, am I?" he says, after a moment. Peter shakes his head, and Neal lets out a nervous breath of a laugh and says "Didn't think so. That wouldn't have happened in a dream--your hand, I mean." Then, carefully, like he's walking the plank, "Did I--take advantage here, somehow?"

Peter shakes his head again and Neal smiles, hesitant, tentative. "And this is something you want?" he asks. He is hovering now, still straddled over Peter, his lips working around his words half an in from Peter's mouth.

"Yes," Peter hisses, and Neal makes a small hopeful thrilling noise as Peter lunges up, closes the distance between them, and rolls Neal onto his back.

It's almost--well, it's a little like fighting. They push and pull at each other, snapping a little, harder than the soft sweet kiss of his wife or even the sharp strong push of her, when she's in the right mood. Peter loves Elizabeth and they have a wild, titillating sex life, but he's never had anything quite like this underneath him before. Neal squirms exquisitely, arching and gasping in what is almost a rhythm--like even this is art to him, like even this must be perfect.

When Peter breaks away Neal looks up at him, panting heavily, and grins--that smile that looks like the sun coming up, that smile Peter's been chasing for seven years. "What now?" he gasps. His eyes are bright and mischievous, and Peter touches his hand, the side of his face, and smiles back.

"Take off your jacket," he says. Neal does, slipping it over his shoulders, his eyes flashing seductively, and it's then that Peter realizes: this is his best capture yet.