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Driven

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"Long as I don't have to live under anyone else's time or dime I'm a free man."

He's heard Mozzie give this speech before. Sometimes when he pontificates Neal will egg him on, grin and nod and try to get him to keep talking. Tonight, though, he just lets the words wash over him, soaking in without his participation.

Mozzie isn't perturbed when Neal points out he lives in a storage unit. Though really, Neal wasn't expecting him to be. In some ways Mozz has even less shame than he does-- and he's right about one thing, he doesn't ask for much. Contentment for him isn't measured by square feet or stamps in his passport, but by waking up every day knowing that whatever he does with his day, he's the only one who'll be making the decision-- even if the most exciting choice to cross his path is whether he wants his reuben on pumpernickel or rye.

Neal wants more out of life. He wants his cake and the scoop of ice cream on top; he wants his freedom and the means to enjoy every ounce of it. Mozzie's right, it's not living if you're penned in.

His sidelong relationship with freedom has only served to remind him how confined he still is, bounded on all sides by more things than he can count, and sometimes it feels like the circle's tightening. Two mile radius, he thinks bitterly, and Burke acts like it's a gift he gets that much.

The bitch of it is, even if he weren't wearing an FBI choke-chain around his leg, there would still be Kate. That's a puzzle he's going to get to the bottom of, no matter how long it takes. It's what he wants; she means everything to him. But Neal can't shake the feeling that he's forgotten that easy spontaneity he had when the world was his oyster. He can't remember what it's like just to be driven by his own impulses.

 

After the genius plan for tomorrow gets thrown down, Neal's ready to kick them both out and spend the rest of the night pickling himself in the rest of that bottle of gin. Mozzie knows that look of Neal's and totters obligingly off downstairs; Neal closes the door behind him and turns to find Peter's not at the table anymore. A frown creasing his forehead, he glances around (bookshelf, bathroom, bedroom, he wouldn't put it past Burke to do a little snooping) til a flicker of movement on the balcony resolves into Peter's silhouette.

Neal picks up his drink from the table and drains it. He's on edge without knowing why, buzzed and annoyed that his nerves won't let him enjoy the feeling. Inexplicably, he wants Peter gone.

He puts the glass in the sink and goes out, leans on the railing, sharing the view. "It is something," he agrees. He was too weirded out by having Mozzie and Burke in the same room to say so earlier.

"You really think like he does?" Peter asks after a minute, not looking at him but out at the city. "That rules fence you in, take all the fun out of life?"

He could play obtuse and ask why Peter's asking, but he doesn't want to do the verbal sparring thing right now. The wit's drained out of him anyway, a combination of nerves and booze and one long day after another. He thinks about Kate, then wishes he hadn't.

"Sometimes." It's the only answer he has time to give, and it's not a good one. There's so much he could say-- about the shit he's done and why he did it-- but Peter's not really ready to listen.

Neal just hopes someday he will be. He'd hate to think they spent all this time together and he let Peter walk away thinking-- what, that Neal's a bad guy?

He doesn't know why he cares-- personally, at least, why it matters to him that Peter trusts him. Not Peter-the-FBI-agent trusting his pet convict not to bite his hand and slip his leash every chance he gets; that Peter-who-might-almost-be-his-friend-except-for-the-ankle-bracelet-thing trusts him, Neal Caffrey, not to dick him over.

He hates that he's made that distinction. He wants to take it back. He misses the days of cops and robbers, when it was instinct to run the other way whenever he saw Burke coming. Now things are different, and he doesn't think he likes it.

"Better get some sleep," Peter says after he's downed the rest of his drink. "Big day tomorrow, Mr. Reporter."

Neal grins. "I could do this with my eyes shut and one hand tied behind my back." At least bragging about how cool he is doesn't seem like it's gonna get old anytime soon.

"Either way," Peter grumbles, and goes back inside.

"Tell Elizabeth I said hi," Neal calls, and lets Peter let himself out.