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In Darkness and Hope

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She grabbed her camera and went to the street that she found out he was going to be staking out with the FBI. She saw the normal Municipal Utilities van pull up. She sat behind some bushes across the street, knowing her mark was inside. She’s been keeping tabs on him for years now, but others might call it stalking. She knew the day where they would be together was approaching. A few hours into her nightly watch she noticed her mark left, but no one else left from the van. She saw him grab a cab to presumably his place. She followed him. He did go back to his place. She then went to her “happy place”, a storage unit in the Lower East Side. She moved the boxes from the entrance. She printed out that night’s pictures and added them to her ever growing collection on the walls. She knew everything someone could know about him. She grabbed a picture of him smiling off the wall and hugged it. The picture was taken from quite a distance. She caressed the face in the picture and said, “Soon, my love. Soon we’ll be together. You might not know that we’re soulmates, but we are. I think once you know what we could have you’ll realize it too.”

She recorded the day’s events of her mark in her notebook. She then looked at her calendar, “Damnit!” She remembered, “If I don’t do it tonight, I might as well wait until next month.” An idea came to her and she thought out loud, “Well the Feds will be out all night and will sleep tomorrow. His friend’s gone. His landlady’s out for the weekend. It’s late enough that no one will notice. Everything’s all ready.” She asked herself and realized, “Then what the hell am I waiting for?” She grabbed a hat of his that she grabbed from his apartment (she visited once or twice when no one was there) and hugged it. “I’m coming my love!” She said excited, put the hat down, and grabbed a set of keys, a gun, and a loaded syringe. She turned off the lights, put the boxes in front of the door, and locked it up for good. She didn’t need it anymore. She was getting herself the real thing.


Neal, Peter, Jones, and Diana were sitting in the van. The man they suspected of selling weapons was supposedly going to make a deal that night and they were going to catch them in the act. They were doing it for a few hours when Peter was looking at Neal taping on the desk. He’s been at it on and off since they started a few hours ago. Peter finally reached his breaking point and snapped at him, “Oh my god! Stop!”

“What?” Neal asked

“With the tapping! It’s driving me nuts.” Peter snapped. Jones and Diana nodded in agreement.

Neal said, “Why do I have to be here? You’re just gonna arrest the guy if he shows. I don’t take part in that.”

“You’re staying.” Peter commanded

“Okay then,” Neal said, “But it’s really not needed. I’m just taking up space.” He added as a sidenote, “If he hasn’t come yet then he’s not going to.” Neal was trying to get Peter to tell him to leave so he could go home, make some dinner, and go to bed. Neal knew that Peter had a very long hard day. The thing that pissed him off the most (other than Neal right now) was that a suspect of another case got off due to a technicality. Neal then started to whistle instead.

 

Peter raised his voice, “Fine! Go home! I’ll see you Monday.” Neal smiled that his juvenile plan worked.

“See you all Monday.” Neal said with a wave, “Have fun in the van.” He added sarcastically.

No one had any idea they would not see Neal on Monday.

Nor any day in the foreseeable future.


Neal went home and opened a bottle of wine and was planning to have a quiet night in. He was about to start dinner when someone knocked on the door. He answered thinking it was Mozzie or even Peter when a woman came in that he didn’t recognize. She was average height, medium length straight black hair, slightly tan skin, wearing a knee length black sundress.

“Hi Neal.” The woman said with a smile. Neal looked at her confused

“I’m sorry, do I know you?” He asked. The woman scoffed and said,

“Of course. Men like you never notice me.” Her voice rose angrily towards the end, “I’m Christina Mendoza. We both worked for Vincent Adler.” She said. Neal noticed the angry undertone to her voice. It took a second but he remembered a Christina. She was an intern. He didn’t remember much about her. In fact, he just barely remembered her. He was too consumed with his con on Alder and he was head over heels for Kate. In a company like Alder’s, the interns never got face time with the boss. He worked closely with Alder, their paths didn’t really cross. He’d get people coffee sometimes and she was probably included but he never really talked to them.

“Oh yeah. Christina.” He played it up a little. “What brings you by at,” he looked at his watch,  “10:30 on a Friday night?”

“You.” Christina said seriously and went into kiss him. He rejected the advance and said defensively,

“Whooa.” He was confused, “What?” Christina got angry pulled a gun out, Neal immediately backed away and put his hands up

“Come with me.” Christina commanded

“How about we talk about this.” Neal said defensively, trying to talk her down. He was surprised, about the gun and the shift of mood, “Let’s just sit down. Put the gun down and talk.”

“We can talk later.” Christina said with the gun still pointed at him, “Let’s go.”

“What do you want? Anything I don’t have I can get for you.”

Christina scoffed and said, “I don’t think you’re understanding me. I want you.” Neal got even more scared than he already was.

“Could you please put down the gun?” Neal asked, “Please.” Christina lowered the weapon and sat down at the table. Neal sat next to her. “Let’s just talk about this. Okay?” He was wondering why she came back when he’s hasn’t worked for Adler in years. He saw his phone was on the kitchen counter, too far to get discreetly to text Peter.

“Why are you here, Christina?” Neal asked

Christina replied, “No one really understood me and I was so alone until I met you when we were working for Adler.” She leaned in close to him, her arm left arm going behind him with a syringe ready to be injected, she continued, “I realized that tonight was the night. It was now or I’d have to wait longer.” The hand behind Neal then came up and stabbed him in the neck with the syringe, unloading its entire contents. He was shocked, he never saw it coming.

“What the hell!?” Neal yelled and touched the area where she dosed him. A few seconds later he started to feel tired. “You bitch!”

Christina sat there satisfied. His neck, around where she stabbed him, itched and tingled, despite how terrified he was he felt his heart rate slow. He managed to get up, he needed to get to his phone. He needed to contact Peter. He started to go over when Christina remarked matter-of-factly,

“You’re not gonna make it.” She knew exactly what he was trying to do. He got to the counter and grabbed his phone, his vision blurry. He fell to the floor unconscious before he could dial Peter’s number or send him a text.

Christina looked down at him and remarked, “About time.”  She smiled,  “Time to set the scene.” and got to work.

 

 

Chapter Text

Neal woke up on a bed, whipped up realized he was not in his apartment but in a cabin about a few hundred square feet. From the bed he saw a kitchen, bathroom, living area, and a door.

The door was about 30 feet from the bed. The bathroom being about 10 feet from the bed. He was about 20 feet from the living area. The kitchen table was about 20 feet from him and the kitchen was about 30 feet from him. He bended down to feel for the anklet but it wasn’t there. He prayed she took it off after it notified everyone that he left the radius so they had a clue as to where she took him, at least a direction. If she took it off at his apartment, then they’ll have nothing and they’d think he ran.

He got up to inspect the area, to see if there is any way out. As it turned out there wasn’t. The main door in reinforced titanium alloy locked on the outside. The wood was actually plastic so no chance of rotting or peeling. There was no way to get some of the plastic wood off to make an impromptu lockpick. All cabinets were locked with industrial strength locks and since there was nothing available to make an lockpick from, he couldn’t get into them. All furniture was deadbolted to the floor. Double heavy insulation kept everything secure and soundproof as well.

It was truly Neal proof. He found comfort in the fact that Peter excelled at finding him and that the anklet already alerted him. He knew it was only a matter of time before Peter found him. He just needed to stay alive until then. He thought about the last conversation he had with Peter, trying to get out of van duty. He thought, ‘God, I'd give anything to be cooped up in that van right now.’ He sat on the bed with his back against the wall and kept repeating in his head, ‘Peter will find you. Peter will find you. He hasn’t failed before and he won’t fail now. This is what he excels in. Peter will find you. Just stay alive until then. He already knows you’re gone. It shouldn’t be too long. Just stay alive. It shouldn’t be too long. Peter will find you.’

Christina came in and he snapped out of his daze, jumped up, and demanded answers.

“Where the hell am I?”

She put some groceries on the counter. She was completely calm and even disinterested in the conversation at times as she unloaded the groceries

“You’re safe from the Feds. They’ll never find us here.”

He was standing next to the bed, a few feet away. That statement kinda terrified him. Before he could ask more questions she said, “We’re truly in the middle of nowhere. We’re so off the grid no one will ever find us. ” She looked up at him and said, “You’re finally free from the Feds. That’s what you wanted, isn’t it? To be free.”

“This isn’t exactly what I had in mind.” Neal stated, referring to the cabin.

She continued to put the tupperware containers of food away and said, “This is a new start. You’ll learn to love it here. This will be a wonderful place to live and raise our children.” Neal couldn’t help that his eyebrows and concerns raised at that comment. “If you ran you wouldn’t last more a few days. You’d never make it to a village or town. But why would you want to?” She looked up at a very concerned Neal and said, “This is what you needed. It’s a new start. A clean slate. You don’t even need a new identity for it. You never have to worry about the Feds again, or society for that matter.” She then went on to romance living off the land while Neal was just thinking, ‘This can’t be happening. Damnit, where are you Peter?’ He then thought ‘Where am I?

He then asked her, “What about Peter? He’s going to know that I ran because of the anklet. He’s never going to give up. He doesn’t do that.”

She scoffed and said like it was no big deal, “I handled that issue. After you passed out I made your apartment to look like you ran. I also hacked your anklet so it would come off and not notify Peter.” Neal tried to hide the fear on his face, Christina remarked, “I was always really good with computers.”

“What about Mozzie? Peter knows I’d never run without him.”

Christina, who seemingly had an easy explanation for everything, said, “Oh I took care of him. He won’t cause any more problems.” Neal was taken aback by that. Because that really sounded like she killed him. He never hung out with those kinds of people but he knew what ‘I took care of him’ meant.

He hesitantly asked, “Did you kill him?”

She came up close to him and said, “You don’t have worry yourself with your old life anymore. It’s time to drop that and embrace your new life, with me.” Neal was upset that he didn’t get a straight answer, but he assumed that she killed him and disposed of his body where no one would find it. He didn’t want to think about that though. He didn’t want to face that possible reality. He thought, ‘I really need to get out of here. Right now!’ He tried to talk himself out of the situation. A tactic that’s worked basically his entire life in some form or another. Words were his weapons, very persuasive words. But she didn’t buy it. She loved him, but didn’t trust him nor did she underestimate him. He would learn quickly to not underestimate her either.

 

He got close and tried to get the keys from her pocket, attempted to distract her. She was already angry. She caught on, “Do you think I’m that dumb or naive?”

Neal backed off and said innocently, “What are you talking about, of course not.” 

She replied, “I wouldn’t be dumb enough to keep the keys on me. I know you could snatch them in a second.”

She showed him a tiny password protected vault under the bed. She opened it (making sure he didn’t see the code) and he saw a large keyring and syringes. He knew he was fucked because he would need specialized equipment to get into it and he had jack shit. She came towards him with another syringe and he got defensive. She lunged at him and they fell onto the bed fighting. She was on top and eventually drugged him again in the neck.


 

Neal woke up again and quickly realized that his hands and feet were tied to the bed. He looked down and realized that he was completely naked and had a panic attack. He struggled against the ropes and looked around frantically to see she was not around at the moment. He tried to undo his hands, but couldn’t because he was spread eagle and the knots of the ropes were right behind his palms, He couldn’t reach it. He noticed his clothes were now on the floor. He tried to calm himself down. He tried to control his breathing and only mildly succeeded. ‘Get it together, dammit!’ He thought.

Christina came out of the bathroom in a white lacy bra and underwear set. She smiled seductively. She came over to him, he tried to move but failed. She straddled his waist. He didn’t like how she was right above his dick. She ran her hands up and down his chest, he looked up and said terrified, “No. Please stop. Please.”

She ignored him and said, “You have such a beautiful body. It’s a shame you don’t show it off more often. You know, I’ve waited so long for this. You don’t even know how long.” She ran her hands up and down his arms and planted a kiss on his lips.

“Please stop.” Neal pleaded. She continued to kiss his face and neck. He kept pleading with her to stop. “You don't know how long I have wanted to touch your lips and hold you tight.”

She stopped and looked at him, “You know why I chose today?” Neal could tell that was more of a rhoretical question and didn’t say anything. “Because I looked at my calendar and saw that this Friday and Saturday were my peak ovulation days this month. If I didn’t do it then, then I basically had to wait until next month. Everything was ready and I knew you’d be alone all night.” She went down and laid kisses his chest while taking off her bra.
“You were stalking me?” He asked surprised

He was trying not think of how she was currently very fertile, apparently intent on having a child, and he was a young fertile man. She took off her underwear and straddled his waist. She was right below his dick. She looked down at it with a smile. Seemingly not hearing Neal’s pleas to stop. She went and grabbed some lube from the drawer that she must have unlocked earlier and sat back down below Neal’s dick. She squirted some into her palm.

“Please no! Please, please, no! Please stop! Please!” Neal begged desperately

“You never noticed me before. But now you will notice me. You will remember me. Forever.”

She started to fondle him to get him erect. Neal continued to desperately beg her to stop but also was confused because the sensation felt oddly good. He felt very guilty about that. What he hated the most is that after a little while it started working. He thought of anything that would take away the rising erection. He continued to tell her to stop. She groaned in agitation, stopped fondling him, grabbed his tie from the floor and tied it tightly around his mouth, effectively gagging him. He still yelled from behind the gag as she sucked on his dick and balls until he was erect. Before having him enter her she said happily, “You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting for this. And now it’s finally happening.” She then had his dick enter her until she got him to come inside her, she orgasmed as well. She breathed deeply while coming down from her orgasm. She smiled at him, while he had a blank look on his face. She then got up and went into the bathroom. Neal heard a shower turn on. He started to cry. He thought, ‘How could this happen? No. That didn’t just happen. No. No. No. No! NO!’

 She came back from the shower a few minutes later in a tasteful white lace nightgown. She saw the tears running down his face, she wiped them away then untied and ungagged him. She snuggled next to him saying, “We’re gonna have it all. Everything we could ever want. No one will be able to find us. No Feds to worry about. No more anklet to worry about. And soon, baby will make three. Then four, five,” She chuckled, “You get the picture. And then we’ll truly have everything. It’s great because we can build on to the cabin as our family expands.” Neal didn’t know where this “we” was coming from. He wasn’t consenting in all this but she didn’t care. He just kept mentally repeating “It’s gonna be okay. Peter will find you. Peter will find you. Peter will find you. Just hang on, Peter will find you.” 

 

Chapter Text

Monday morning Peter was swamped and didn’t realize that Neal wasn't in until he got a call on his cell from a blocked number. The voice on the other end asked Peter,

“Has Neal come in yet?”

“Mozzie?” He replied shocked and confused

“Yeah. Answer my question.”

“Why are you calling me? Whenever you call me that means something bad happened. Like catastrophic.” Peter said, a little irritated with a touch of concern.

“Well if you would answer my question you would find out.” Mozzie then repeated his question, “Has Neal come in yet?” Peter looked into the gallery of desks and file shelves below, he noticed Neal wasn’t there. He looked at the time, 10:30. Neal was never late, especially not this late.

He responded, “Surprisingly no.”
“I haven’t been able to reach him since Friday afternoon. I was out of town on business that is none of yours and I’m just getting back.” He added, “Have you spoken to him or anything, since Friday?” Mozzie asked, referring to checking the anklet.

Peter sat back in his chair satisfied,“Just say you want me to check the anklet and see where he is.”

“Shut up, Suit!” Mozzie snapped back, He muttered under his breath, “Just do it.”

Peter checked the anklet and found that ‘Neal’ hadn't moved from his apartment since Friday evening.

“That’s weird.” Peter commented

“What?"

“Neal hasn’t moved from his apartment since Friday night.”

“I’m heading over there now.” Mozzie said concerned

“I’ll meet you there. Just me.” Peter said concerned, “For now.”


 

Peter arrived at June's about the same time as Mozzie. They both enter to see what looked like Neal fleeing. The anklet was on the table completely unaltered, phone and wallet were on the counter. Peter sighed and said angrily, “Dammit, Neal! Not again!”

Mozzie immediately went to the safe behind a picture next to his bed to see if his fake passports, cash, and id's were still there, they were. The only people in the world who knew about that were Mozzie and Neal.

Peter said angrily, “Mozzie, why the fuck would you guys try running again?”

He admitted, “We didn’t have anything really in the works. It takes months and months of very specific strategic planning due to the increased number of variables that we have to work out/around” (ie: the bride/transport money, anklet, and the Feds). He continued, “Neal wouldn’t, and couldn’t, leave without his new ids, passports, and cash. And he would never leave without me having the slightest clue.”

Then an idea came to him, “Someone must have taken him.” They were against goodbyes (Mozzie had said to Neal on multiple occasions, “Remember, no goodbyes.”) but running like that was just dumb and reckless.

Mozzie admitted, “I do suggest running all the time but Neal normally says no.” 

Peter brought up a good point, “How did he break the anklet?! How was I not notified!” He examined it on the table, knowing he wouldn’t find anything.

Mozzie asked, “That’s a good question, Suit. Why did you go so long without checking it? I thought you Suits were supposed to be naturally suspicious.”

Peter didn’t know what to say to that. He was in the van on Friday, sleeping on Saturday before his in-laws came in for a quick visit on their way upstate, and they were there on Sunday. Mozzie went to check something in the back when he noticed something on the floor, an empty syringe. If he wasn’t looking down he wouldn’t have seen it.

“Hey, Suit. I think I’ve got something.” He grabbed a towel from the kitchen table and picked up the empty syringe and showed Peter.

“Okay Mozzie, there’s a chance you may be right.” Peter was now convinced that foul play was involved. The hard part would be making everyone else believe it. Because their only evidence is an empty syringe, the ids/cash, and the fact that Mozzie was still there. Circumstantial at best.

Peter said regretfully, “I have to report this. I’m sorry.”

Mozzie insisted, “Let’s just hold off a little while so we can look into it without the Suits.”

Peter said, “I can’t, Mozzie. Not this time.”

Mozzie insisted, “Neal didn’t run. I know it.”

Peter said, “I’m gonna need you to come down to the office to talk. There’s no getting out of it.”


 

They got to the office, it was now late morning/early afternoon. Mozzie got to the office and was still overwhelmed and unhappy.

Diana saw them and immediately went to Peter and said, “What’s wrong? I can count the amount of times on one hand with fingers left the times the Little Guy has been here.”

Peter pulled Diana, Jones, and Mozzie up to his office and said, “Neal’s disappeared again.”

Jones and Diana groaned immediately. Peter said, “We found an empty syringe on the floor. His cash, fake id’s and passports were still there and Mozzie’s insisting that Neal didn’t run. Although there was no real evidence of foul play.” He continued, “Jones, check all tollbooths, tunnels, train and bus stations, airports. Everything. Diana, find how how no one was notified about the anklet coming off and see if any of the neighbors saw anything.”

He looked at Mozzie and said “I need every alias he has. We know most but I need a list. We need to put a stop on those. Also make a list of everyone that would want to hurt him. After talk to your crime friends and see if they know anything.” He noticed that Mozzie didn’t look happy. He added compassionately, “For Neal.”

Mozzie replied, “For Neal.”

Peter added, “I know that most likely a lot of stuff will come out during this. I want you to be fully cooperative so anything that comes up, anything that you do, is protected under immunity until we find Neal.” Mozzie’s stunned, but went with it,

“Okay, Suit. Although I’m gonna need that in writing.”

Peter replied, “Of course, you’ll have it today. Now go.” Mozzie got a list of every alias he knew of. There were quite a few that the Feds didn’t know about. It was pretty easy, got it done in record time. The list of people that would want to hurt him on the other hand, much longer and harder. Being criminals and conmen didn’t exactly earn you friends. Even though they were nonviolent. Though Christina’s name wasn’t there, because Neal completely forgot about her and Mozzie didn’t even know about her. After giving Peter the list to start tracking down people, Mozzie went to his number one guy on the street for info, Mike. Meanwhile Jones and Diana updated Peter on the case.

“No trace of anyone looking like Neal going through any airport, train, or bus station. Nothing on tunnels or tollbooths either.” Jones updated,  “Do you think it was a ransom?” He suggested

“The anklet stopped transmitting on Friday night so I don’t think so. That might have been the night he was taken. Mozzie or Peter would’ve gotten a ransom call by now.” Diana contributed

“What about the anklet? What happened?” Peter asked, deep in thought

“There were no irregularities in the data so I checked for viruses.”
“And?”

“I found a virus that hacked the anklet to come off, keep the current location, and not notify anyone.”

“Who could’ve done this?”

“Certainly not Neal. Someone would need grade A hacking skills to do this.”

“Like a hacking prodigy?” Peter asked

“Yeah, sure.”

Peter leaned back in his chair and wondered out loud, “Who the hell are we working with?” 

 

Chapter Text

Mozzie was talking to this guy, Mike, black, other than being a criminal, he was a good guy.

They greeted each other and Mozzie asked, “Has anyone come by asking about Neal or myself? Do you know if anyone was recently approached asking about us?”

Mike replied, “Yeah, actually. This woman came up to me on Friday asking a lot of questions about you and Neal. Why do you ask?”
“I have reason to believe that Neal’s in trouble. What did she ask?”

“Where she could find you, if I knew where Caffrey was going to be that night, about your relationship with him, lots of questions about you and Neal.”

“What did you tell her?”

“I got a bad feeling about her. She had the crazy eyes. I didn’t tell her anything. I claimed I didn’t know you two well enough. I knew you were out of town for the week so I just told her that you left New York for good. She seemed very satisfied with that answer.”

“Did you get a name? What did she look like?”

“Didn’t get a name. She was probably average height and weight, longish/medium black hair, brown eyes, slightly tan skin. Sorry I couldn’t help you more. I hope you find Caffrey.”

Mozzie was glad he had a lead. It wasn’t much but it was something.  He said, “No, you’ve been a big help. Thank you. I hope to find him soon too. Tell everyone to keep an eye out for any sign of Neal or that woman.”

“I will” Mike responded

Mike was only willing to cooperate with Mozzie. He didn’t want to work with the Feds. Peter scoured Neal's entire history trying to find a woman that fit Mike’s description. He knew the Marshalls and upper Feds didn’t care whether Neal ran or was kidnapped they just wanted him back to serve his sentence and extort his knowledge for all it's worth for as long as they can, hoping they had a repeat offender. But if exploiting that means bringing Neal home then he’d do it.


About a week about Neal was abducted and five days after Peter found out. Peter was still tracking down and interrogating everyone on Mozzie’s list and looking for a woman fitting that description. When he got a call that the fingerprints on the syringe were a match to a Christina Mendoza. There were trace amounts of tranquilizer inside and Neal’s DNA on the needle. She had prints in the system from a civil servant job in her early twenties. He searched for a connection to Neal and didn’t have to look far. He found that she worked as an intern for Adler when Neal worked for him. He had Mozzie show a picture of her to Mike and he positively identified her as the woman who talked to him about Neal and Mozzie.

Peter said after Mozzie talked to Mike, “She wasn’t on the list. You don’t know her?”

“I wish I did, Suit.” Mozzie said wishfully

Peter was able to track down some of the people working for Adler at the time. They all said that she was head over heels in love with Neal but he was completely in love with Kate and completely ignored Christina. Peter also knew that Neal was also focused on his con on Adler.

A woman who worked with Christina said, “If someone hadn’t gotten to Kate, then Christina probably would have. She had a fixation with him. She was devastated when she heard Nick, I mean Neal, went to prison. She didn’t seem to care that he wasn’t who she thought he was and that he was a felon.”

Peter said to the woman, “I know Neal’s prison record backwards and forwards and a Christina never showed up.”

The woman said, “That’s because she was already in a non-extradition country mailing him letters with no return address saying how they’d be together one day how she loves him, how they’d be happy one day and have kids. It was creepy. I’m glad Nick, I mean Neal, just ignored her.” Peter knew that she must have taken Neal, but wondered why she came back so many years later. He had probable cause that foul play was involved and that Neal was kidnapped.


 

Diana told Peter in his office, “The only people I could find to talk to were her parents that she is seemingly not close to. She doesn’t have any friends and no colleagues close enough to talk about her. She’s seemingly very isolated. Her parents said that she always had an obsessive personality, she didn’t like to be around others that much, she always tended isolated herself, apparently has her entire life. They always felt like something was wrong with her, like mentally, but no doctor could ever gave a clear diagnosis because she didn’t like to go to the doctor in the first place.”

 Peter asked, “What she tended to obsess over?”

Diana said, “She obsessed over getting her fairy tale ending with the perfect guy.”

Peter asked, “Where is she?”

Jones informed, “She’s a ghost. There is no trace of her existence since she worked for Adler in her early twenties, she’s in her early thirties now.”

Diana asked, “So we’re pretty sure she drugged him, but how did she get him out of the apartment? Especially without anyone seeing anything. She’d be pulling dead weight. Caffrey’s not a large man but still. It would be very difficult to get him out. Also how did she get him away from the apartment?”

Peter said, “It was at night, June wasn’t there. There wasn’t anyone to see anything. I’m not sure how she got Neal out though.”

Jones suggested, “Perhaps she put him in the back of a car or van. She might have known we’d look for him on traffic cams and the like but we wouldn’t be looking for her face.”

Peter said, “And we don’t know what she looks like now?”

“Not really. Very vague description from a source that wants nothing to do with us and a photo from over ten years ago.” Jones informed

Peter sighed, “Doesn’t he know what’s at stake here?” Jones and Diana turned solemn.


 

Peter later presented the case to the higher Feds, Marshals, and Interpol, who all agreed to treat it as a missing person's case, but before argued that Neal made it look that way, but they let it go because they wanted their prized CI back to pad their stats. The case was tossed to the local NYPD precinct. Because now that they agree he wasn’t an escaped white collar felon Peter couldn’t work the case officially because it wasn’t his jurisdiction. The case was not related to his previous crimes. The precinct it was given to wasn't actually pursuing it because at this point it was cold because no one could track down Christina, also because Neal was a felon the cops didn’t really care. It was all up to Peter and Mozzie. 

Shortly after the case was tossed one of the FBI higher ups came to Peter’s office. Some tense yet courteous small talk then the man who Peter knew as Agent Pierce said to him,

“You better hope that the NYPD finds Caffrey. You don’t seem to be very good at keeping track of your CI. This isn’t even the first time he’s disappeared under your watch.”

“I’ll find him. I mean, they’ll find him.”

“You better hope so. He better be found and back at work ASAP. You’re in hot water with my friends upstairs. Right now the best thing you can do is to keep your head down and cleanly close as many cases as possible.” Agent Pierce turned around and left.

Chapter Text

The morning after the first night, Neal woke up, realized where he was. That it was not a nightmare, that it was very real. He turned and saw Christina in the kitchen humming some tune while cooking. She looked up and said cheerfully,

“Well good morning, babe! I hope you slept well.”

Neal was hesitant, he knew just going with she said will work out best, as he got up he said, “Yeah.” He started to get out of bed and move towards her when he heard the sound of metal on wood. He looked down and lifted his pant leg and saw a chain about 25 feet long connected to the bed at one end and the other end connected to a cuff with padlock around his left ankle.

“Glad to hear it!” She said happily, Neal thought, ‘Holy shit, what the fuck?!’ She looked up at him from her cooking, acknowledging his concern she said, “It’s just a precaution. Breakfast? Since it’s our first morning together I decided to do something special. I made omelets!”

You’re psychotic.’ Neal thought in shock

They had breakfast. Neal ate because he realized how hungry he was; he hadn’t eaten since lunch on Friday. Whenever that was, he wasn’t sure how much time had passed. He was going to put on some dinner Friday night but he never got that far.

She said the schedule for each day, breakfast, she’d do outside work, he’d clean inside, they’d have lunch, (she cooked, didn’t want him cooking) more chores, dinner, rec time, (reading or old movies.) then sex, shower, and bed. She made it a point to say how he won’t be going outside. She’d do all outside work. Neal thought, ‘Fuck! Dammit, Peter, get over here already!’

After breakfast, Christina went to do chores outside. As soon as she left he immediately began to re-case the place. He first found out that he couldn’t get to the door. He was off by about five feet.

“Fuck!” he muttered, he then went to see what he could reach. He could make it to the bathroom, living area, kitchen table, but not the kitchen or the door. She was smart, made sure he couldn’t get to the two things that could help him escape. He re-examined the places he could get to see if there was anything to help him. In the bathroom the cabinet next to the sink was padlocked (like everything else in the damn cabin) and the old fashioned toilet's lid was cemented down. Nothing around the living area with the bookshelf, old television and some selected old movies. He couldn’t see them thought because they were locked up in a cabinet that was bolted down. The table and chairs were bolted down, along with all the other furniture. He tried again to get an impromptu lockpick from the floor or walls, he failed. He realized and accepted that he wasn’t going to get anything from there.

There weren’t any windows to break. He examined the safe under the bed with the keys. He’d die of old age before being able to break into it or just plain break it. The safe was a strong metal and he couldn’t break into it without tools. It’s hard to break into things when you have nothing. Houdini would have a hard time getting out of there. It really pissed him off that if he had the resources he could probably get out of there.

Freedom was so close, yet so far.


 

That night she made a move on him, to repeat the previous night’s events. Without thinking he automatically reacted by punching her in the face. After recovering from the blow she left in a huff for the kitchen to clean up from dinner. He thought, ‘Was it seriously that simple? It couldn’t have been.’ Neal was suspicious. When she was done she bought over two glasses of water. She was drinking one and handed one to him. He hesitantly took it.

She said in a kind voice, “Drink. You have to keep hydrated, babe.” She took another sip from her glass. He knew it was most likely a trap but he knew there wasn’t a way out of it. He hesitantly drank some. He was out shortly later. He woke up tied up again where she injected him with more drugs. Neal didn’t know how long this went on, but he was in a haze of consciousness and unconsciousness. When he was conscious he was in a complete daze, high and complacent. He didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. At some point she finally stopped drugging him and, even though he couldn’t really remember, abusing him. The drugs wore off and he knew that violence wasn’t going to get him out of there. Also she was the only one who knew the code to get into the safe with the keys for everything, including the chain around his ankle and the door. She always made sure he didn’t know it and was smart enough not to fall for anything that would reveal it. Neal assumed she had him doped up for at least a few days, maybe a week, he didn’t know. Although he did know that his only real chance of escape was getting outside...somehow. 

So he learned quickly that saying no to her was not an option. He learned how not to piss her off. Because, along with the second night, if he did then she would completely ignore him and would deny him food until she decided not to anymore. Depending on how pissed she was it spanned from either one meal to a few days. That was her main punishment. She made sure she controlled his food. Since he was still chained up and couldn’t reach the kitchen, since it and he were locked up, he couldn’t get food. Meanwhile he tried to think of ways to get outside. He knew his best chance of escape was getting outside and then running until he could get help.


 A few weeks later

Neal noticed Christina was sad and moody. Although that wasn’t abnormal. He quickly noticed she had erratic mood swings. He never knew what to expect. When she got upset, she got angry.

When she got angry she got violent.

One moment she was over the moon happy and the next she was fuming with anger. She stormed out of the bathroom and into the kitchen. “I thought this was it. But I was wrong.”

“What was it?”

“I got my period!” She grabbed a dish from the counter and threw it at the wall. Making it shatter into piece.

Despite how terrified that made Neal, he hid how relieved he was, thinking, ‘Oh there is a God...kind of.’ But since he didn’t exactly have the upper hand in this situation he just went with it to keep her happy for his survival. He’s a conman. He played the part.

Hoping maybe it’ll work this time. Generally, she didn’t believe him when he tried to sympathize and shit. She picked up when he was playing her. That normally ended up with something bad happening, like denying him food. He tried to get info from her in the beginning but she’d just get angry, saying things like,

“I went through hell trying to make a place to us! So we could have a life free from the Feds! I do so much for you. For us! And this is how you repay me! Why, don’t you like it here?” And “We can have it all. A life without the feds always behind us. A life that’s free!”

Also, “I give you everything and this is how you repay me! All you wanted was to be free from the Feds. I gave you that! A life completely off the grid! And this is how you repay me!” Basically I love you and I gave you what you wanted, why don’t you like it.

 Even though Neal knew that they had completely different views of what, we can have it all, and freedom, meant. This was a very twisted and contorted version of what he wanted.

So Neal said, playing sincere, “I’m so sorry.”

Christina said, “You’re not sorry. Don’t lie. You know I don’t like lying.”

Neal said again, “I’m sorry.”

“Now I believe you. I should be ovulating again in a few weeks. We’ll try again.” Neal just nodded.

The same story unfolded the next month with Neal wondering where the fuck Peter was and why hadn’t he found him yet. Peter always saying that he’d find Neal was always kind of like a veiled threat. Like don’t do something stupid because I’ll find you. Well, Neal never wanted to be found more than he did this time.

Chapter Text

At night, after she would rape him, Christina liked to lay in bed, snuggle, and talk. She talked about anything really. This night she talked about her favorite topic, having a family and how she intended on raising said kids.

“I’m so glad that our future kids won’t be tainted by society. Today’s culture poisons the youth. Here our children will be safe from that. We’ll bring them up with good pure values. Raising our children here will give us the opportunities to do that. They won’t have to live in cities or suburbs full of pollution and corruption. Cities are just terrible for the Earth and the people in them.”

Neal was tired but listened to her rant and thought about how she was insane. She then said, “Our children won’t be eating that processed food. They’re full of chemicals and preservatives, it’s not even food by the time people buy it. And don’t even get me started on so-called ‘organic’ companies.”

“Oh I wouldn't dare.” Neal said half asleep, sarcastically. He then realized that was going to piss her off and he instantly regretted it.

“You like food right?” She asked. Neal looked at her concerned, that woke him up, “Well then watch the sarcasm.” She said sternly. She’s executed on that threat before and would do it again. He learned that real quick. She then went back to talking about how the organic food companies paid off the FDA to be called natural. How food companies want to kill people.

Neal thought that if she wasn’t a complete psychopath she’d get along with Mozzie. They both were paranoid and talk conspiracies. Then he got sad because he was afraid that Mozzie was dead or worse. He never really found out. He tried not to think of home because it made him too sad.

The way she talked about living there is so romanticized and like it was a sure thing terrified the ever living shit out of Neal but he didn’t say anything. He was in survival mode, waiting for Peter to show up. Praying he’d show up. He tried on a few occasions to convince Christina to let him outside but she wouldn’t budge, and it’s not like he could just leave. He tried not to bring it up often, didn’t want to make it obvious. He was also realizing how he was becoming very dependent on her because she gives him access to food. She was keeping him alive.

Later he’d really realize that.


 

When he had been there about four months he noticed that Christina was happier than usual, she was for the past few days. He was suspicious. Preparing for the worst case scenario but hoping for the best. She told him that night while they were lying in bed, “I think I’m pregnant.” Neal tried his hardest not to have a panic attack. He looked at her concerned and she said, “I’m going to go get it confirmed tomorrow. I’ll be gone until the day after tomorrow. Don’t get into trouble.”

She left the next day. Leaving just a protein bar and a pitcher of water on the table, somewhere where he could reach it, she still kept him chained up. It was his first time alone overnight in the cabin. He tried again to escape but it was more out of the urge to do something than actually thinking he could do it. The conditions hadn’t changed in a few months. He soon just sat on the bed and wondered if Mozzie was alive, why Peter hadn’t found him yet, did he know he’d been taken? Or did he still think he ran? Is everyone else okay? He couldn’t help but think of all that. He spent most of the time beating himself up for ‘letting’ himself get into this situation. There was so much self-blame, thinking he deserved this for all the shit he’s pulled in the past that he didn’t regret. He just couldn’t stop blaming himself for the situation. There was no one there to tell him that the blame didn’t lie with him. That no matter what he thought, he didn’t deserve this and that he was the victim of a smart violent psychopath, that this wasn’t karma for his past crimes.

She came back what he assumed to be the next day. As for time he had no fucking clue. He only had a rough estimate as to how long he had been there. She came back with a huge fucking smile and he fucking knew. He tried not to have a panic attack, again.

She said, “It’s official! I’m about 5-6 weeks along! The doctor was surprised I caught it this early on my first time. I track my cycles.” She went and gave him an excited hug.

“Oh I know.” Neal remarked, he knew all about her cycle. Along with the fact that she talked about her fertility very often it was a way for him to tell time (in weeks and months) so he took it and ran with it.


That night, tons thoughts ran through his head. His mind was going at a hundred miles an hour. He prayed for a miscarriage, ‘It’s super early. It could happen.’ He thought to himself. Even though his escape attempts have been dismal with a splash of pathetic, the attempts to get outside had been a complete failure. He knew he couldn’t try again until the baby was either born or she miscarried. He never saw leaving the baby with her as an option for obvious reasons. He also knew that if he ever left alone she might be crazy enough to hurt herself and the child. He knew this because she’d say things along those lines of, “If I didn’t have you anymore. I don’t know what I would do. Most likely just die with our child.” He hated it when she called it “our child”, Neal considered it to be a mistake and he shouldn’t even be there. Although he couldn’t stand the idea of Christina bringing more people into her trail of destruction.

If that baby made it to term he thought of it as his job to get the baby out of there and back to safety. He thought about the possibility of Peter finding him while Christina was pregnant. Although that was seemingly going as well as his escape attempts. He thought about how she’d give birth in prison and if he was in prison serving the remainder of his sentence then that baby would go in foster care and never be seen again. Over the years Mozzie had told him about his time in foster care and his experience as an orphan. How the system hadn’t changed too drastically over the years. How it fucked him up that his parents sincerely didn’t want him and that he knew nothing about his parents or family, and wasn’t even 100% certain of what his birthname was. Neal knew he couldn’t do that to a child. He couldn’t give the child up for adoption if he got out.

Also being cooped up in a windowless cabin the size of a tiny studio apartment for months hadn't been well on him mentally. He had severe cabin fever. What also crossed his mind was the possibility of as soon as he got back to New York being arrested and sent back to jail or put back on the anklet to serve the remainder of his sentence. Although he would gladly take prison instead of this. He never thought he’d think that. At least in prison he saw the sun and had sane guards. He also still had almost no knowledge as to where the fuck he was. The thick walls and insulation kept him from ever hearing a single goddamn thing.

Chapter Text

About 9 months after Neal disappeared

June convinced Mozzie to go storage unit hunting one Saturday. After much convincing that Mozzie needed to get his mind off things he finally agreed. The auctioneer opened a unit with a bunch of large boxes in front. Mozzie had a feeling about this one so they bought it. Later they went to the unit to check it out. They chatted while moving boxes and were shocked and horrified to see the walls covered in pictures and news clippings, marked maps, and internet printouts of Neal and his cases. Stalker pictures of him and Sara (and various other women) with their faces scribbled out, and some with her face pasted in. Hundreds of pictures of Neal, all taken from quite a distance. (stalker pictures) Stalker pictures of Peter, a handful of Mozzie, some of June, Elizabeth, Jones, Diana, her son Teddy. Even the dogs were there. Some of Neal’s forgeries, one of his fedoras, articles of his clothing, a copy of his FBI case file. June and Mozzie were shocked.

Mozzie said breaking the silence as they cautiously walked around the storage unit, “I’m gonna call Peter.” He pulled out his phone and called Peter,

He answered, “Hello?”

“Go to 28 Stanton Street on the Lower East Side, right now! It’s about Neal.”

“On my way!” Peter ran out of the office grabbing Jones and Diana along the way. They got there, wondering what was going on. They see June and Mozzie standing in the middle of the storage unit turned Neal shrine.

Jones said in complete disbelief, “Oh. My. God.”

Mozzie was still in shock, “Christina’s been stalking him for years. She’s been stalking all of us.”

Diana saw a picture of her in the park with Teddy. “That’s my son. That bitch! I’m gonna kill her!”  Jones saw a picture him at work and one of him out drinking with friends which was only taken a few months earlier. Peter saw a picture of himself with Neal and El in his house.

“That’s my wife. And my house.” He said angrily. He saw a picture of Neal leaving the office with Peter dated for the day they suspected he was taken and one of him leaving the van dated for the same day. All the photos were dated. There was a calendar with that Friday circled.

Peter commented on those pictures and the calendar, “That must have been taken the day he was taken.” He looked around, opened a box to find files on everyone who has worked in White Collar in the past ten years and Neal’s tracking data since inception with radius. She had professional grade recon on everyone in Neal’s life, past and present. He picked up a journal from the table and thumbed through it. It was a daily log of Neal’s movements along with related doodles and her comments about being with him one day.

“Who the hell is this woman?” Peter asked in horrified shock

All of a sudden the cold case became hot again. They got CSU in to see if Neal’s ever been there, later they found out that he was never there. Christina’s prints and such were all over the fucking place. There was nothing in the storage unit to indicate where she could have taken him. She was smart enough to destroy any evidence of where she could have taken him.


Diana came into Peter’s office and informed him,

“I found that the storage locker was registered to a PO box with a name so sloppy it’s just swiggles. The PO box didn’t lead me anywhere and the storage unit went up for auction a few months ago when the bill was months overdue and they stopped paying cash.”

Peter commented, “You don’t need a storage locker when you have the real thing. Did you find anywhere she could have taken him?”

Diana informed, “No, there wasn’t anything there. I found something that could to link her to the anklet hack though.”

Peter pounded his fists on his desk and yelled, voice seething in anger, “So we still have nothing! Even though we found this place we’re still NO CLOSER TO FINDING HIM!” He said sadly and hurt, “We’re still have nothing on where she could have taken him.” Diana stood there, sad and solemn. This wasn’t the first time that he blew up about this.

Peter continued, “We checked all her old apartments and jobs, looking for any sign of where she could have taken him. Her parents haven’t seen or talked to her in years. Other than Mike no one remembers her and no one saw her anywhere. She left no damn trail of where she went or could have went.” He raised his voice again, “She’s a damn ghost! We have still no clue where to even fucking look! And it’s been MONTHS!”

Diana said seriously, trying to reassure him, “We’ll find him, Peter. And she’ll never the see light of day again.”

Peter got to leave and said, “I have to see if Mozzie’s got anything.”

 

Peter found Mozzie and updated him about the storage unit. Mozzie also came up empty and ended up blowing up at Peter.

Mozzie yelled, “Damn it, Peter!” Peter was caught off guard that Mozzie didn’t call him the normal, Suit. “I thought you were suppose to always know where Neal is! Because Big Brother and the other Brooks Brothers are always watching everyone! Especially Neal! How could you not know that he was being stalked? That you were being stalked? That Elizabeth was being stalked?” Peter didn’t have a good answer to this. Or any answer, really. Mozzie threw his hands in the air and said sarcastically and exasperated, “You’d think that with intensive government surveillance he’d at least be protected from the people that want to hurt him! You were ALWAYS supposed to know where he was!”

Peter looked defeated and just let Mozzie rant, “But NO! You leave him out to DIE! He’s stuck his neck out for you Suits for YEARS! You CONSTANTLY put him in danger and he cooperated. He never ONCE turned down an assignment! And THIS is how you repay him!” He seemed to calm down and said, “This is just, complete bullshit. This all is just, complete bullshit.”

“Mozzie.” Peter said trying to talk him down

Mozzie raised his hand and said, “Don’t.” and walked away.


 

Later that night Peter was sitting at his kitchen table when his phone rang.

“Hello.”
“I’m sorry about earlier, Suit. I shouldn’t have blown up at you. I was upset and I took it out on the wrong person.”

“It’s okay. You’re going through a lot. We all are.”

“I know that you care about Neal a lot. I know you’re doing everything you can to bring him home.”

“I know you are too.”
There was a moment of silence then Mozzie said, “It’s just really hard. You know?”

“I know.” Peter said

“And oddly enough, you’re the only person that even remotely understands. How’s that for irony.”

“Neal’s family, to both of us. He’s the closest thing I’ve ever had to a son. And he’s the closest thing you’ve ever had to a brother.”

“So does that make you the weird uncle.” Mozzie tried to joke, but Peter heard a sniffling nose. Peter was also holding back tears.

“Yeah, sure.” Peter said sadly smiling

Chapter Text

Christina would leave, what he understood as once a week or so, to go for a checkup. She was now about 6 months pregnant. He didn’t know where she went or what direction but she was back within a few days (He couldn’t pinpoint how many, it wasn't not too long though) so he thought that there had to be a town within reasonable driving distance. He normally went without food when she was gone. She said she won’t be gone long and wouldn’t leave anything.

He was still chained up, so he would lie on the bed and would think about anything to keep him busy. He still blamed himself for ‘letting’ himself get into this mess. He wondered about home. What happened to Mozzie? What Peter thought about this? He prayed that Peter knew that he didn’t run. Those were his normal thoughts. He tried not to think about it but he couldn’t help it. Although sometimes no matter what he was thinking or what he was doing his mind would wander back to thoughts of home and his family.

When Christina would come back she’d excitedly show him the sonogram which kind of would make him uncomfortable but kind of not at the same time. She didn’t want to know the gender so he didn’t know, nor did he really care at this point. He had weird mixed feelings about her pregnancy, he felt an intense urge to protect the baby once it was born, but he also hated it because it was a part of Christina. He just couldn’t stand even the idea of leaving the baby with her. He knew that for sure. If he could ever escape, it would be with the baby.

 

A day or so later after Christina came back from her latest appointment Neal was inside doing chores when Christina came inside and said,

“I need your help outside.” She went and unlocked on chain on Neal’s ankle. He was very surprised and hesitant. He wondered if it was a test or a trap.

“Move it! Now! I mean it!” Christina yelled and pointed out the open door. She tossed him a pair of boots and a jacket. “You’ll need those. It’s cold out.” She informed.  

Neal stuffed his pant legs into the boots and put on the jacket. It was a little big, like it would have fit nicely a few months ago. He walked outside and the sunlight reflecting off the snow made his eyes water and the cold air smacked him in the face. He looked up and saw the sun. It was the first time he saw the sun since that Friday almost a year ago.

Neal took stock of his surroundings. The air smelled fresh, they were in a large sized clearing. Pine trees on his right when he came out, then the cabin, then a river on his left, finally there was more clearing. There were mountains behind the cabin and mountains in front of it about 75ft away. Large pine trees all around, couldn’t identify a species. A river about 25-30 feet away moving down past them on his left as he came out of the cabin. Most likely still in the US, thought that because there was a slight chance she could have got him into the Canadian mountains. Clothesline running from three fruit trees about 30 feet away. More fruit trees around the clothesline. There was a garden right against the cabin and a shed near the river about 25 feet from the cabin and about 10 feet from the river.

It felt so good to be outside after so long he never wanted to go inside again.

Christina grabbed his attention by snapping and said, “Hey! I need you to move this bear into the shed so I can skin it. I would move it but my stomach’s too large.” That brought Neal’s attention to the large black bear about 10 feet from the cabin and a few feet in front of him. Neal noticed how the bear was killed, a slit throat and a bullet between the eyes. He thought that was a bit overkill. He already knew that she had no qualms about killing. He wondered if she would kill him like that. Then just throw him in the shed. An even more terrifying thought crossed his mind, would his body even be found? He quickly got that thought from his mind. She’s obsessed with him she wouldn’t kill him. Would she? No...probably. He got his mind back in the here and now when Christina snapped her fingers again and said annoyed, “Hey! Get it in the shed! Chop chop!”

He wasn’t as strong as he was before but with time, leg work, and a lot of grunting he managed to get the bear into the shed. The shed wasn’t too large. Christina grabbed a large hunting knife and started to skin the bear. Neal noticed the walls were covered in shelves that had canned fruit and veggies. Boxes lined the wall on his left. He noticed what seemed to be part of a door on the floor, like one to a cellar. It was mostly covered by boxes but he noticed a corner not covered by boxes.  There was a freezer a few feet from the door against the wall and a workstation against the right wall.

Christina told Neal, “Go back to the cabin. I’ll be back later.”

“You know, I can help with this. You shouldn’t be doing all this manual labor with the baby.”

“I’ll be fine I’ve done it before.” Christina insisted and started hacking away at the bear. Neal really didn’t want to go back in the cabin. Not just yet.

He tried assure her, “I’m not going to try anything.”

Christina looked up and asked, “How do I know?”

“Because I haven’t tried anything before.”

“Because I haven’t given you the chance. You know I love you, Neal, but we still have a trust issue.” Neal had to physically bite back a, ‘No shit, really?’ because she didn’t like sarcasm and he wanted to eat tonight...and tomorrow. She still had no qualms about restricting food.

Instead he said, “You must trust me at least some to let me outside. You’ve never done that before.”

He saw her thinking about it and finally she said, kinda defeated, “Fine, I’ll cut and you’ll bag the meat, put it in the vacuum sealer, then in the freezer.” She then added pointing the large bloody hunting knife at him for emphasis, “It would not be a good idea to touch anything else.”

Neal put his hands up and said, “I know.” Christina then went on about how long the bear will feed them and how they could use all the parts of the bear. As Neal worked he couldn’t help but wonder what’s in the boxes on the other side of the shed, what she had in that cellar. The amount of meat in the freezer and the amount of fruit and veggies on the wall shelves also greatly alarmed him. It was yet another reminder that she was in this for the long haul. He tried not to think about that. He couldn’t even try to disarm her because he couldn’t risk the baby getting hurt.

She let him outside a few more times but it was few and far between. During the days and lying in bed at night he tried strategizing. But it was hard since he knew nothing beyond the clearing. He didn't know how far he was from civilization. He felt that he might just have to wing it because he had no way of knowing what's beyond the clearing until he was there. He’s been slowly losing faith in Peter finding him, but he wouldn’t think about that either.

He took everything day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.

The night that Christina skinned the bear they were lying in bed, she had her hands wrapped around his waist, using his chest as a pillow, she intertwined her legs with his. She then looked up at him and said,“I was thinking. Peter didn’t actually care about you. Just what you could do for him. You propelled his career forward massively. If he truly cared about you he would have found the cabin by now. He probably looked for a few days and gave up when no leads came up. Perhaps because he thought you ran again. No one’s there to refute it and there’s no evidence to point to foul play. I got rid of it all.” She didn’t know that she forgot to dispose of the syringe.

She continued, “He’s probably glad you’re gone anyway. He never liked how you were always getting into things. Still pulling cons. Mozzie was always a bad influence on you. I’m glad we don’t have to worry about him anymore. Also, with Peter’s track record of finding you, if he really wanted to find you. He would’ve by now. Me and this baby are all you have left now.” She rubbed her belly with one hand, “We’re the only ones left who care about you and love you. Embrace it. I’m glad we can move on to this new and exciting chapter in our lives.”

Neal layed there and thought, ‘Maybe Peter does think I ran. If he really wanted to find me. He would’ve by now. Dammit, you can’t think like that. But it sounds about right. Peter’s probably happy that I’m gone. The games are over, the constant worrying that I’m doing something stupid is gone. His arrest rate is lower but he probably works more efficiently without my constant antics and screwups. Dammit. Is she right? I don’t even know anymore.’

Chapter Text

Mozzie was waiting at the corner of 25th and 15th. He was told that someone wanted to meet with him. Deep down he hoped it was about Neal, but he knew it wasn’t. It was most likely a business proposition. He turned around and from a few feet away saw a face he hasn’t seen a few years, Alex Hunter.

“Hey there.” She said with a wave

“Alex. To what do I owe the pleasure?”

“I have some artifacts I need to get rid of and my contact info’s old. I haven’t been back in a while.” She informed, “Went to Caffrey’s place first, thought he’d be the easiest to find. Where is he? He wasn’t at his place.”

Mozzie tried to hide the look of hurt and pain on his face. He scoffed and said sadly, “Where’s Neal? That’s the question of the year.”

“What? He ran again?” Alex asked interested

“No, he was taken.” Mozzie informed

“Do you know who took him?” Alex was now kinda concerned

“This woman who worked for Adler at the same time he did.”

“How long ago did this happen?”

“Ten months, 2 weeks, and 3 days.”

Alex was surprised with his exact count. She said sarcastically, “The Feds were probably real happy to hear about his disappearance.”

“Yeah, they weren’t happy. It took them a week to rule out that Neal didn’t run.”

“A week?” Alex asked surprised
“Yeah. In that week we could have found out about her and possibly found out where she took him. But by the time we found out she did it she was long gone. And the case was formally tossed to the local suits who have done jack shit about it. We haven’t gotten a lead in a month.”

“I’m sorry. What does Burke think?”

“He first thought he ran, got suspicious when we found an empty syringe in his apartment, and was confirmed when there were prints on the syringe.” He chuckled and said, “This is the one scenario that can make me work with the Suit.”

“Unlikely allies brought together by a common cause. How poetic. It actually describes your relationship with him quite well.” Alex remarked and Mozzie smiled and chuckled.

“How you doing?” Alex knew how close Mozzie was to Neal.

Mozzie deflected and said, “So what are those artifacts you have to fence?”

“That bad, huh?”

“What?”

“You deflected. You would only do that if it was bad. Also, your exactness with when he disappeared shows that you’re hurting.” Alex deduced

“Okay, so this is far from my finest moment.” Mozzie admitted. He came clean about something that's been still heavily weighing on him, “She stalked him for years, Alex. She stalked everyone in his life. Everyone at the FBI. She didn’t really have much on me. I’m purposely hard to stalk.” He started to get emotional but tried to hide it, “The FBI has been monitoring his every move for years and they didn’t know he was being stalked. She had professional recon on him and everyone he knows. A while back we found that she had a stalker’s paradise in a storage unit on the Lower East Side.”

“Give me some more details and I can look into it. Get my contacts on it.” Alex said considerately.

“I already have the entire New York underworld looking into this. More eyes couldn’t hurt. Especially fresh ones.” Mozzie reasoned.

They went to a nearby cafe where Mozzie updated her on the case and they talked about the Chinese artifacts she wanted to fence. Before leaving Alex said to Mozzie,

“I’ll make sure to look into it. Although with you and Burke on the case. I know Burke’s track record with Caffrey. I’m sure you’ll find him.”

“Thanks.”

“Let me know when you find him.” Alex said, Mozzie nodded, and she left.


One night they were in bed, Christina was rubbing her belly that was seemingly getting larger daily. She started to talk about her favorite topic, family and the baby. She looked at her stomach, smiled, and said, “I’m so excited to meet our baby. They’re developing well. I’m glad that our baby will be raised here, away from the world. We’ll instill good pure values in him or her. Our children will always respect and listen to us. They will be nice and understanding of others. They will never feel alone.”

Neal was always uncomfortable when she used children, as in plural, but he was good at not thinking about things. Every so often he asked about her, her past. See if there was anything he could use. He tried not to do it often or else she might catch on and close up.

“How did you think of that?” Neal asked, he knew she had a less than stellar childhood but she never really went into detail.

“Other children in today’s society can be cruel.” Christina remarked, she then looked at him and confessed, “Nobody ever noticed me, nobody ever cared to get to know me. Even when I was little. When they did, they picked on me.”

“I’m sorry, but you had your parents.” Neal said

Christina scoffed and said angrily, “Much like you, my childhood wasn’t exactly great. My parents were absent and I was lonely.” Neal ignored how she knew about his childhood which was sealed away in a WITSEC file somewhere. Peter didn’t even know about his childhood.

Christina continued, “They only cared about their jobs. Getting success and getting more money. I basically raised myself. And when they did care, it was too late. I was already an adult, emotionally at least. We’re going to be active parents. Not like those parents who pawn their kids off on nannies and babysitters. If you’re not going to spend time with the kid then don’t have one.”

“Can’t argue with that.” Neal agreed, she smiled and he was glad that he didn’t piss her off. Every time he opened his mouth his goal was to not piss her off.

Christina continued, “When it comes time, I’ll educate our children. I’ll be able to teach them better than schools could. They aren’t going to be tainted by society. I saved them.”

Neal thought, ‘I can’t let this child grow up here. Not in this hell. She cannot get pregnant again. As soon as she gives birth I need to get that baby the hell out of here. I need to get the baby outside. I know she’ll be territorial and not let me around the baby outside. Fuck. Just, fuck.’

Chapter Text

One morning Peter was sitting at his kitchen table, staring at nothing in particular with a cup of coffee in front of him. Elizabeth came out and tried to get his attention,

“Peter. Peter!”

Peter asked, not completely coming out of his daze, “Why did I tell him to leave the van that night?” Elizabeth sighed, he was getting on himself about Neal again. He was always getting on himself about Neal. Peter continued, “I remember it like it was yesterday, El. He was annoying us and I was angry about another case. I was fed up, so I told him to go home. His last words to us were, ‘See you Monday. Have fun in the van.’ He probably didn’t have any idea that he wouldn’t see us.”

Elizabeth gave her husband a hug and said, “He didn’t know, Hun. You probably couldn’t even have avoided this.”

Peter looking at Elizabeth, got a little angry at himself and said, “I should have seen it coming, El. I wasn’t watching him close enough. I was so hung up on cases and making sure he didn’t run or do something equally stupid that I didn’t notice what was in front of me. That he was being stalked. That we all were. I knew he had enemies, I should have kept an eye on them.”
“Hun, you shouldn’t beat yourself up so hard. You didn’t even know that Christina even existed.” Elizabeth was trying to be supportive.

Peter said, “You know, this kid from HR got pissed at me the other day because I said that we needed another desk, chair, and computer for the new transfer. The kid was pissed because there was ‘one already available.’” Elizabeth knew where this was going. Peter continued, “I can’t let someone else use his desk, El. I know it’s stupid but I just can’t.” Elizabeth had tears in her eyes. Peter said, fighting back tears, “Because it’s something that says that he’s not coming back this time. It seems so final. It seems like I’m giving up on him and that I’m moving on. I know it’s stupid.”

Elizabeth said seriously, “Peter look at me.” He looked his wife, she continued, “It’s okay. Do what you need to do.”

“I’m not giving up on him, El.”

Elizabeth hugged Peter close and said, “I know, Hun. I know.”


 When Christina was nine months pregnant. She came into the cabin and said “It’s time.”

Neal looked up from what he’s doing. He had a look of pure panic. He was expecting this soon, just not at this second.

“Are you sure?” He asked, she gave bitch face and he said, “Okay.”

“You need to help me.”

Neal put some towels and extra sheets on the bed. While he did that she sat in a warm bath. She yelled for him to come there. As the contractions got closer and closer and harder and harder. She insisted on him talking to her, about anything. When the bath turned cold she got out, threw on a nightgown and sat on the bed. The labor continued for hours. She screamed in agony for hours, she screamed at him. Neal enjoyed seeing her in that much pain. He enjoyed it more than he probably should have, but he felt no remorse for it. He sat oddly distant from her. Eventually it was time for her to crown. Neal knew just what to do, stand there and catch it.

Finally he saw the head and with a final push the baby was out. A healthy baby girl. He was amazed. He cleared her face and lungs. Holding the baby he pleaded,

“Please cry. Please.” 

Christina demanded, very tired, “Give me the baby! Give me my baby!”

“Hold on!” He told her, he was trying to get the baby to breathe and cry. She finally let out a large loud wail. Neal breathed a huge sigh of relief and said, “That’s my girl.” Tears filled his eyes.

This was the first face and the first voice he’s seen and heard in just over a year.

He was holding her in complete shock, comprehending what just happened. His moment was interrupted when Christina demanded,

“I need to hold my baby! Give me my baby!” Neal’s stomach jumped, the fear he’s been feeling for so long set back in, he didn’t want to give her the baby.  “Now! Or else!” Neal handed her the baby. Tears fell from her eyes as she delighted over the baby. She was over the moon. She looked down at the baby, looked up at Neal and said,

“Now baby makes three. We’re officially a family.” Neal just nodded. He never really thought about having kids until this. He was just trying to keep himself out of prison. He definitely never expected it like this.

“I can cut the umbilical cord.” Neal said

“No I got it.” Christina insisted, she had a knife on the nightstand for this purpose. Before she was able to she started passing the afterbirth. She slowly and hesitantly gave the knife to Neal to cut the cord, he did.  She then grabbed it back

“I was going to give it back!” Neal insisted


 

Christina fell asleep soon after. He took the baby, sat on the floor against the foot of the bed and held her tight. Strangely delighted by her, that she was his as well. Although he was devastated that she was brought into this situation. No child should be brought into the world like this.

He whispered in her tiny ear, “I’m going to get you out of here. I’ll do whatever it takes. Somehow, someway, I’m going to get you out of here.” He knew that escaping was now his sole responsibility. He realized that Peter was an option anymore. He truly realized that since it's been so long (Just over a year. He guessed 12-15 months) this is the first time that Peter won’t be able to find him.

He finally completely lost faith in Peter doing what he does best, finding him.

Because he figured if Peter didn’t have anything by now he won’t. Or he was just following false leads.

He whispered to her again with renewed determination, “I promise on my life, I’ll get you out. However possible.” She cooed and squirmed, he held her tight, He whispered “I’ll get you back to New York. You’ll meet Uncle Peter and Aunt Elizabeth. Maybe even Uncle Mozzie. You’ll be surrounded by family.” He was unsure if Mozzie was still even alive. Christina never gave him a straight answer but he assumed. He wouldn’t admit it, but he was forgetting how everyone looked, what their voices sounded like. Neal knew full well that he was making very big promises that he was very unsure he could actually keep.

He felt terrified yet comforted that in this dark hellhole, he was no longer alone.

Chapter Text

Peter was at his kitchen table. It's been a little over a year since Neal disappeared. He was looking at current case that he's supposed to be working on, a forgery of a famous sculpture. He couldn’t concentrate on it, which was no surprise. He has been off his game since Neal disappeared. He kept looking at Neal's case file across the table. He ended up grabbing it, and took yet another look. The case has long gone cold with not a single lead since the storage unit. He still hadn't given up. He and Mozzie were the only ones really working on it now. They would call each other every once in a while to check in. He wouldn't give up, not until he found Neal, dead or alive. He hadn't failed in finding Neal before and he didn't want to start now. He can't fail Neal.

Even though he already did and he knew it.

Elizabeth came behind him, put her arms around him, and said, “Hun, go to sleep. Please. Put it down for tonight.”

“I know he’s out there, El. I just know it.” Peter insisted, not looking at Elizabeth. 

“You’ll find him. You’ve always found him.” Elizabeth assured. She wasn’t completely sure she believed that statement, and she was unsure he believed it, but she was always trying to comfort Peter. She was always trying to be there for him.

“I can’t fail him, El. Not this time.” Peter said, angry at himself, “Even though it’s too late. I already did.” Elizabeth looked at him for an explanation, he says, “It’s been over a year. We’re still no closer to finding him than we were months ago.” He sighed and said, “He was supposed to be happy today.” Elizabeth looked confused, “He was supposed to get the anklet off today, for good. His sentence was up today.” He said with tears in his eyes, “And instead I don’t even know if he’s alive.”
“If Christina’s so infatuated with him, she wouldn’t hurt him. Would she?” Elizabeth asked

“I don’t know.” Peter confessed, “Her parents told us that she’s always been unstable.”

Elizabeth comforted her husband. Peter continued, “If he’s still alive then he’s probably still with her. If he’s been stuck with her all this time,” Peter paused and said, “Then perhaps it would be better if he was dead. Then he wouldn’t be suffering.” He put his head in his hands. He felt awful for thinking that. He could never forgive himself for what happened to Neal. “He was my responsibility, El!” He paused, “Him running and getting into trouble is one thing. But him getting hurt. That’s something else entirely.”

“Oh Hun,” Elizabeth consoled

“A week.” Peter said, she looked at him, “It took us a fucking week to figure it out!” He pounded his fist on the table. “She was long gone by the time we knew she took him.” Elizabeth’s been worried about Peter since this whole thing started, and she continued to attempt to comfort him.

 

Peter was in his office. He got a call that he needed to get down to the East River. Peter asked what this was about. The man on the other end said they found a body that looks like a missing persons case of his. He only had one of those, he knew it was about Neal. He got Jones and Diana and they went down to the river. The coroner’s voice sounded muffled and everything seemed to be in slow motion as they pulled Neal’s body out of the river. He heard the coroner say, “He was seemingly shot in the chest and bled out. It seems like he was tortured before death. I’ll have more details after the autopsy.” He heard someone call his name, “Peter! Peter!”

He woke up and saw Elizabeth above him shaking him awake. “You were shaking and talking in your sleep.”

Peter responded, “I’m sorry, Hun.”

“Another nightmare about Neal?”

Peter admitted, “Yeah. This time we found his body in a river.” Nightmares about Neal plagued him almost every night.

Elizabeth hugged him, “Oh hun.” She tried to comfort him. Knowing it won’t make him feel any better, but she had to urge to at least try.


 

The next day Mozzie was over having some wine with Elizabeth in the kitchen. She asked Mozzie, “How you doing? Honestly.”

“Honestly,” Mozzie paused and looked down, “Just barely hanging on.” He looked up at her and asked, “How’s the Suit? Haven’t spoken to him lately.”

“I’m worried about him, Mozzie.” Elizabeth confessed, “He has nightmares constantly. He’s anxious. Whenever he hears a knock on the door or his phone rings, he jumps, and I see it. This look of hope in his eyes. Hoping it’s about Neal. It never is.” Mozzie looked down at his drink, he knew those feelings far too well. He continued to listen to Elizabeth, “He’s driving himself crazy trying to solve this case. I’ve seen him get really involved in cases,”

“But it’s never been like this.” Mozzie finished, Elizabeth nodded, “And the stakes have never been higher.”

“He feels so guilty about not being about to find Neal this time.” El said

“It’s not over yet.”

“He always said that if something ever happened to Neal, he didn’t know if he could live with it. He was right. This is killing him.”

“Well then we just have to find him then.” Mozzie said confidently, “And we will. We’ll bring him home.” Mozzie said. He wasn’t sure who he was trying to convince, Elizabeth or himself.

Chapter Text

About a day or so after the baby was born. Christina came into the cabin carrying some baby furniture and supplies. Neal insisted on helping her.

“If I had known you wanted something moved I would've done it.”

Christina insisted, “It was only from the shed to here. I could do it.” Neal thought, ‘of course’. He knew she was smart not to let him in the shed. Because he would grab something or try to escape. Because the shed wasn’t Neal-proofed. He cased the place last time but knew he couldn’t risk taking anything for escape, at the time she was months from popping so he was months from trying to escape again. He couldn’t risk her finding out about his attempt.

He’d later find out about her wrath regarding that.

Following her birth Neal made sure he was always there at the smallest hint of her being fussy. Although he quickly learned Christina got angry when he did it frequently. “I’m her mother! I need to tend to her!”

When he had time alone with her, mostly at night when Christina’s asleep or if she left her inside while doing outside chores. He doted on her completely. He saw his blue eyes in hers. She made him smile for the first time in a year. He would tell her stories at night when Christina was asleep about New York and escaping. He hated it when Christina took her for breastfeeding. His heart stopped every time she went near her. Lately, Christina had been freaking out because the baby wouldn’t breastfeed.

“Why won’t she latch on? Doesn’t she know that I’m her mother. This is what she’s supposed to do.” Christina would melt down into a puddle of tears and despair when the baby wouldn’t do it. Claiming that the baby didn’t like her, etc. She would then switch to being angry in a heartbeat due to her erratic mood swings.

Neal had to bite back from saying, ‘She won’t breastfeed because she senses pure evil.’ Christina was very distraught and angry that she had to bottle feed formula. Neal was forced to make her feel better.

He felt fiercely protective of his baby and tried not to grab her whenever Christina went near her. He would do anything to keep his daughter safe. He was still rarely let outside, anytime he was she had the baby in a sling made out of an old dress wrapped around her body. So he had no access to grab her and run. When he was inside she kept him chained still. Although she’d let him off when she was in a really good mood.


Neal held the small infant tightly and securely as he bounced her up and down, trying to calm her down. She still screamed and screamed. A normally happy baby was having a terrible day and Nela couldn't stop her piercing wails. It was the kind of piercing that left your ears ringing when it finally stopped. Neal cautiously looked over at Christina who was sitting at the table mending a shirt.

She spoke up, “You coddle her too much. She just needs to cry it out.” He stopped bouncing the baby and looked at her. She gave him a death glare, “Put her down.”

Of course Neal wasn’t going to tell her that letting the baby cry this out wasn’t going to work.

He wasn’t that suicidal.

Neal regretfully put her back in the small crib. 

She kept screaming which bounced off the soundproof walls of the small cabin. A while later Neal looked over to Christina again and noticed she was getting to her limit. Her jaw was clenched and she was stabbing the needle into the shirt much more aggressively than necessary. He prayed that she calmed soon. Although he knew better by now.

She finally threw the shirt at the wall and yelled over the infant, “DEAL WITH HER!!” She stormed out slamming the door behind her. Neal immediately got up to hold and protect his daughter.

She wouldn’t come back for a solid few hours.

Although this went better than a few times she stormed over to the crib and Neal immediately shielded the girl. That's when she would take her anger out on Neal.


 

Once they were all outside doing chores. Christina had the baby in the makeshift sling. The clearing and mountains around them were normally very quiet but Neal swore he heard something behind some trees, crunching leaves and pine needles. He kept an eye on Christina to see if she noticed it too. It was most likely just a bear or something. Neal thought that with any luck maybe the bear would come and eat her. Fantasy aside he noticed she looked up from her garden and he knew that she heard something.

“You hear that?” She asked

“Hear what?” Neal asked innocently

The sounds got louder as they got closer, Christina hugged the child close to her chest and a man popped out of the trees nearby. He was about mid-fifties, brown short hair, caucasian, average weight and height, average looks, and was wearing camouflage hunting gear. Christina automatically got defensive

“What are you doing here?! Get off our land!” The man put his hands up, his hunting rifle with shoulder strap dangling in front of his chest.

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know people lived in these parts!” He said, nonthreatening

“What are you doing here!?” Christina angrily demanded again

“I heard these parts where a good place to hunt. Lots of bears and such. I don’t mean to intrude. I swear.” Christina calmed down when she realized he was just an innocent bystander who stumbled upon them by accident.

She looked down at her garden and said, “Excuse me, I need to get more fertilizer.” She walked into the shed, the door was open and Neal asked the guy,

“It’s rather warm out, you look thirsty, would you like some water?”

“Sure.” The man said, Neal went into the cabin and over to the kitchen sink where Christina had a pencil and pad. He wrote a quick note for help then got the guy some water. He came back outside, Christina was still in the shed. He gave the glass to the man.

“I’m Nick, by the way. Nick Halden.”

“Barry Lander.” They shook hands which was when Neal slipped Barry the note. Barry saw the paper in his hand, looked at him confused, opened it and read it. He looked at Neal with disbelief to which Neal responded with the ‘shh’ hand gesture. Neal then said,

“You really need to leave now. Please.” He gave Barry a look that said, are you going to give my message?

“Yeah, I’ll get on my way. Thank you for the water. I’m so sorry again for the intrusion. I didn’t know.” Barry gave Neal a look that said, yes I’ll relay your message with a nod and he put the note in his hunting jacket. Neal looked relieved, just for a second, until he saw Christina come out of the shed. Berry turned around and started to leave when Neal saw that Christina now had a shotgun of her own.

“WATCH OUT!” Neal yelled as Barry turned around Christina shot him in his left temple. The sound of the shotgun echoed throughout the clearing and trees. He fell to the ground. Neal fell from the impact also with his body moving to protect itself. In complete shock, Neal reached over and took his pulse. Unsurprisingly there was nothing.

“I shot him in the temple at close range, do you really think he’s still alive?” Christina said sarcastically as she lowered her weapon. The baby was scream crying from the loud bang the shotgun made.

“WHAT THE FUCK?!” Neal got up and yelled, blood and brain splatter all over both of them and their clothing. Neal was only about a foot or two from Barry when he was shot and Christina was about 5 or so feet away.

“He could’ve messed up everything! I couldn’t let him leave!”

Neal was in complete disbelief and shock. He hadn’t comprehended what had happened. That someone was there, was going to get help, and was now lying dead in front of him. She then said, “I have to get rid of the body, get inside, now.” Neal stood there, still in shock. She pointed the gun at his right thigh and commanded, “Get inside! Now! Before I shoot you in the leg!” Neal knew she wasn’t bluffing and didn’t want to test someone who just shot someone at close range in cold blood. He went to the cabin while looking back at Barry’s dead body, and what was left of his skull. Once inside he heard the door lock from the outside.

He sat on the bed and comprehended what just happened. He got so fucking upset and angry because he thought that he was finally going to get off this fucking mountain. He went up to the door and started screaming and punching the door.

He quickly started sobbing. He screamed, cried, and punched until his voice was raw and his hands and the door were covered in blood. Of course the door was completely fine, no marks whatsoever.

He then leaned against the door and sat, just sobbing with his and Barry’s blood all over him.

Chapter Text

Peter was in his office, trying to focus on the mountain of paperwork on his desk, a new transfer agent came in his office, Agent Robert Johnson, black, mid 30’s, average height and weight.

“I’m need the Bickmore file.” Johnson said.

Peter looked up from the file he was looking at and pointed to the corner of his desk and said “It should be there in the ending stack I call my inbox. My ‘paper mountain’.” The Bickmore file just happened to be right next to Neal’s file that Peter still had on his desk. Peter always seemed to have a copy of it with him. Johnson accidently picked up the wrong file. Peter looked up, realizing that Johnson picked up the wrong file and said, “No, no. Wrong file.” Johnson looked at it and said “Oh the Caffrey case. That’s your old CI right?” Peter nodded.

Johnson asked, “You still working it?”

“Technically no, it’s technically not mine. But the cops assigned to the case haven’t done jack shit.”

“I’m sorry.”

“But yeah, I’ve been working it off books.”

“How’s it been going?” Johnson asked

“Terrible.” Peter admitted, “The case has been cold for months.”

Johnson was looking at the file and said, “Says here that he was taken from his apartment not far from here a little over a year ago. You have any idea who took him?”

“Yeah, a woman who worked with him years back, Christina Mendoza.”

Johnson asked more questions about the case and Peter filled him in and then asked, “Why are you asking all these questions?”

Johnson reminded him, “Before I transferred here I worked in Missing Persons. If you want I can take a look. It would help to get some fresh eyes.”

Peter thought for a few moments, “I guess it wouldn’t hurt.” Johnson noticed uncertainty in Peter’s voice.

To reassure him Johnson told him a story, “Six years ago I picked up a cold case on a slow day of a woman, Amber Murphy, who had been missing for ten years. I found her alive about a week later.” Peter was very impressed.

“Was she alright?” Peter asked concerned

“She had a lot of recovery, and will always be in recovery. But a few months ago I went to her wedding. She found a wonderful guy, beautiful ceremony. Her fourteen-year-old daughter was the maid of honor.”

Peter was confused for a second about the child but then put it together and was visibly quite horrified. That was above his pay grade. Johnson noticed Peter’s obvious expression and said, “I’ll take a look at it tonight.”

He took both files and started to leave when Peter asked, “Why did you leave Missing Persons?”

Johnson turned and said, “Long story short, I needed a change.” He then turned back and left.

Johnson went back out to the gallery and went over to Diana’s desk. He flipped open the Bickmore file, looked it over, and said, “So I got the Bickmore file. I thinking the wife.”

Diana looked up from her desk, Jones was next to her.  She saw that Johnson had another file under his arm. She asked him, “What’s that other file?”

Johnson just brushed it off and said, “Yeah, just a case I’m looking over for Burke. You want to go question the wife?” He asked getting the conversation back on the insurance scam they were investigating.

“Caffrey?” Jones asked

Johnson was surprised and said, “Yeah. How’d you guess?”

“He’s been working on that case ever since it happened.” Diana informed him.

“And just about killing himself in the process.” Jones added

“Yeah I heard stories about him and Burke. I think everyone has.” Johnson said “They seemed to get really close.”

“Yeah they did.” Diana said sadly

Jones said, “That’s why that case has been killing him. He was furious at first. We were just done.”

Diana piped in and said, “Then as more evidence came in. It became more apparent that he didn’t run this time. Now he just feels a lot of guilt, not being able to find him this time.”

Jones contributed, “We support him. If he wants help tracking down a lead or needs to bounce ideas off someone, stuff like that. We’re there for him.” He continued, “The Peter Burke you’ve been working with isn’t the real Peter Burke. He’s been really off his game since this happened.”

Johnson said solemnly, “I’m sorry. So that’s why he argued with that HR kid for like an hour to get more office supplies up here. Because he didn’t want me using that desk.” Jones and Diana sadly nodded. Peter wouldn’t give up Neal’s desk, not just yet.

Jones said, “But for what it’s worth, good luck looking at the case. She’s good. She made it basically impossible for us to find him.” Diana nodded.

“I’ve cracked cases older than this.” Johnson assured, “Maybe I’ll get lucky twice.” He smiled and said, getting back to their current case, “Want to come with to question the wife?” Jones nodded and they left with Johnson putting Neal’s file on his desk nearby.


 

Before Johnson left the office that day, Peter and him were about the last two people there.  Johnson popped into Peter’s office and said “Hey, you got a minute?” Peter looked up from the file he was currently reading and said, “Yeah, sure. What’s up?”

Johnson, a tad uncomfortable, said, “Agent Burke,” He then tried to a little less formal due to what he wanted to say, he said compassionately, “Peter, I hope I’m not overstepping my boundaries. But I heard that you and Neal were very close, so his disappearance must be really hard on you.”

Peter nodded and said, “Myself and a few others are as close as has to family. He’s got no blood family left.” Peter wondered where this was going, but he humored Johnson and continued to listen.

Johnson continued, “I’ve dealt with a lot of families and friends of missing persons. Project Delia provides resources and support to them and promote awareness of missing persons. I’ve recommended it to a lot of families and it seemed to have helped a lot.” Johnson handed Peter a small piece of paper. Peter seemed confused at the kind gesture. It was unexpected. Johnson continued, “They hold local support groups. There’s one not too far from here. Just in case you’re interested.” Peter nodded and Johnson said, “Goodnight.” before leaving. Peter looked down at the paper that turned out to have meeting times on it.


 

A few days later after work Peter walked into a church not too far from the Bureau. He walked through the fairly basic church and went down a small set of stairs to a basement and into a backroom. He didn’t know why he was going there. He could turn around and go home. Then he remembered what Elizabeth told him, “Do what you have to do.” It wasn’t something he had to do but something he wanted to do. He was curious as well. Deep down hoping it would help with the intense hurt he felt. He saw a room that had about 10 people in it. He stood at the door and a friendly middle aged woman saw him and said a friendly, “Hello.”

He asked, voice low, “Is this the Project Delia meeting?”

She gave him a soft and warm smile and said friendly, “Yes. Welcome, come in. We were just about to start.”

Everyone took a seat in the chairs nearby that were arranged in a circle. The friendly woman from before started the session and said, “Hello everybody. I see some old faces and some new faces. For the new faces I’ll introduce myself. Hello, I’m Andrea Bennett. I work for Project Delia. We provide resources and support to families and friends of missing persons and promote awareness of them. Although they aren’t here with us now, they aren’t forgotten. And to the new faces, no one is ever pressured into sharing. Sharing is encouraged but completely voluntary.” Even though it was true, Peter found it cheesy and was going to get up and leave when Andrea said, “Another part of our philosophy is that we’ll never stop looking for our loved ones and we will never give up.” That grabbed Peter’s attention so he stayed.

A woman, about middle aged, started to say, “Hi, my name is Janice. My mom, Alice, has worsening Alzheimer's. Five months ago during the night she wandered off and hasn’t come back. She seemingly just vanished. No one with her description has appeared in any hospitals or morgues. She’s 86 so it would raise some red flags if someone like her came to a morgue or hospital. It’s just devastating because before the Alzheimer's she was so vibrant, so lively.” Janice sadly smiled at the memories.

Then a man, young, probably mid-late thirties, started to talk, “Hey, I’m Jim. My little girl, Katelynn, disappeared four years ago.” He paused, and said sadly, “She was just fifteen. She was walking home from school with friends. She was grabbed by a guy in a grey van and hasn’t been seen since.” He teared up. The woman next to him consoled him. He continued, “I try. I try not to think about what could have happened to her. I lost my daughter. I lost my marriage. My wife just about drank herself to death over this. Who the fuck knows where she is now. I lost contact with her a while back. I lost my job because I was distracted. I came here today because I was hoping that maybe this would help me somehow my my life together.”

A few more people spoke, all genders coming from all different walks of life. Each had a different unique story. Finally an older woman, probably late fifties, started to speak. “A lot of you probably know me already but to the ones that don’t. Hi, I’m Sarah. My precious boy, Christopher, disappeared ten years ago. And I believe the cops are to blame for not being able to find him.” That caught Peter’s attention. “He was seventeen when he disappeared. He had a history with running away. The evidence was circumstantial at best that someone took him. The police didn’t believe me. So I investigated on my own. I got a few leads, but nothing that lead me back to my son. I haven’t gotten any new ones in years.”
“Who do you think took him?” Peter asked. Sarah was surprised by the question from the newbie.

“I believe my ex took him.” She answered, “I have no idea why. My ex was angry that when we divorced my son didn’t want to be associated with him.” She paused and said hesitantly, “We got a divorce because he would hit me, and Christopher, a lot. He disappeared after the divorce. He just didn’t come home from school one day. Since he’d run away before the cops didn’t care. They said they looked into it but I don’t think they gave a shit and they for sure didn’t believe me. It took me so long to get them to actually look into it.” That hit Peter very hard because that was what he had been dealing with since Neal disappeared. Higher ups and cops not believing him and not caring to look into the case.

Peter decided to speak up and said, “Hi, I’m Peter.” He hesitantly continued, “My colleague, my best friend, Neal, disappeared over a year ago. I’m an FBI agent, Neal’s my CI. He’s a conman and I’m the guy who finally caught him. I eventually decided to take a deal working him him, solving cases. White collar crime, his expertise, and mine. Highest closure rate in the Bureau.” He smiled at the memory. “He wore an electronic monitoring anklet, since he was still technically serving out a four year sentence. I was always supposed to know where he was. He disappeared from his apartment over a year ago. At first I thought he ran, shortly after I thought it was possible that something else happened. By the time I had proof it had been a week and the woman we believe took him was long gone. I had such a tough time convincing my bosses that he didn’t run this time. They still don’t really believe me.”

He paused and sighed. “The case was tossed to the local pd. They didn’t care because he’s a felon who has run before. Also they couldn’t find the woman who took him. A vengeful ex-coworker who extensively stalked him and everyone around him. I investigated hoping to find him this time. I’ve found him time and time again before. But this time I can’t. I haven’t gotten a lead in months” He took a deep breath, “I’ve always been able to find him. Always. Now the one time I need to find him is the one time that I can’t. I let him down. I failed him.” 

After Peter finished Andrea said, “I’m sorry but that’s all the time we have for this session. Thank you everybody for coming. Especially the people coming for the first time and those who shared. It takes a lot to be able to do that.” She finished with, “Times are hard now, but just remember to always keep fighting, because you are not alone. That’s what we’re here for.”

Chapter Text

What Neal assumed was a few hours later, he was tired and the pain in his hands was excruciating. His knuckles, along with the rest of his hands were covered in dried blood, beaten up and bruised from hitting the door for so long. He moved from his spot in front of the door and sat in front of the bed. Shortly after, Christina came back very sweaty with the baby still wrapped around her. Neal stood up and asked, voice determined, angry, but shaken

“What did you do with his body?”

“I took care of it.” She said nonchalantly without skipping a beat as she put the baby in her crib near the bathroom. She used that phrase to describe what she did to Mozzie. He was now sure that she killed him and dumped him unceremoniously somewhere where he would never be identified or even found. She blew what could be his last chance at freedom. He angrily went over to her and yelled still hoarse,

“YOU DIDN’T HAVE TO KILL HIM! HE WAS INNOCENT!”

“I already told you! He was going to ruin everything!” She yelled, “I couldn’t let him leave, let alone live.” She scoffed

He stepped back and said as it finally hit him, “He was dead as soon as you saw him. He didn’t have a chance.” Christina smiled and nodded. Neal was still in shock. She then went up to him and saw his beaten up hands, caressed them, and went into the bathroom. She came out with some bandages and a first aid kit. She motioned for him to sit at the table, he did. She bandaged his hands.

After she finished, she distracted him by speaking about something irrelevant as she snuck a syringe from the pocket of her dress and slid her right hand under the table towards his thigh and then seemingly out of nowhere, stabbed the syringe in his right thigh. Neal was shocked. He didn’t see that coming.

She said, “I knew you were still going to be angry when I got back, and I was right. So I was prepared. Maybe you’ll feel better later.” And she gave him a sinister smile. He quickly passed out and fell onto the floor. She then packed a bag, grabbed the baby, and left, but not before leaving a note.


 

He woke up what he assumed was a few hours later, still lying on the floor. He then felt something sadly familiar around his left ankle. He looked and she chained him again while he was out. He also noticed that neither she nor the baby were anywhere in the cabin, which was alarming. As he looked around he noticed a piece of paper on the table. He grabbed it and just about lost his shit when he found out it was his message to Barry.

Need help. ASAP. Call FBI Agent Peter Burke 212 342 2344. Neal flipped the paper over and saw

Goodbye for now, my love -Christina

He spiraled into a full on panic attack. He made it to the toilet where he vomited for a good long while, shaking and sweating. He then went back into the main room, comprehending what just happened. He’s done a lot of that today, or these days. He doesn’t know how long he was out. He anxiously paced the cabin. He realized that she must have found that note when she was disposing of Barry’s body and left because she was angry, and she took the baby. God only knew what she could do to her.

His current strategy was to survive, to protect the child, and eventually find a way to escape safely with the child. He refused to leave an infant with someone who was psychotic. He blamed himself for not being able to do that.

He was completely defeated and helpless. He felt the possibility of finally having his freedom was gone. The one person that made him smile in the God forsaken place and the one person he was trying to protect was gone. He failed to protect her. He failed to protect Barry. He got on himself for taking the time to write a note, he should have told Barry to leave as soon as she went into the shed. Then he maybe he was still be alive because maybe he would’ve gotten out in time. Even though he was dead as soon as Christina saw him. He found himself guilty for Mozzie’s supposed death. He again blamed himself for getting in this mess. (for about the millionth time since this all happened) He was terrified that he was actually going to die there and never be found. (Perhaps die by starving since he couldn’t access food.) He lied on the bed worrying for hours until he eventually fell asleep.

When he woke up he then laid on the bed and decided to keep his mind busy with thinking of memories of home, but he quickly remembered that was the quickest way to cry again. He thought of more mechanical things. He thought about how to break-into every museum he could think of. Thought about every little detail until he realized he was thinking about nothing and was just staring at the wall or he fell asleep. The process of planning a heist helped him block out the emotions of thinking that he most likely won’t see his family again. He began sleeping most of the time he was alone.

Once while mentally planning a heist in Paris to keep his mind busy he fell asleep.

 

Neal was trying to hurriedly prepare breakfast in a large, beautiful, kitchen, full of nature light, inside of a penthouse. His beautiful wife came up and gave him a kiss on the cheek, “Hey, Neal. Are you taking Ellen to school or am I?”  

He responded while cooking, “Mozzie is. Then he and June are going to watch the twins.”

Ellen, a child about six, yelled from the table a few feet away, “Mommy! I spilled my juice on my dress!”

“Okay, hold on. I’m coming.” Neal gave his wife a happy smile as she grabbed some paper towels and went over to the child. As she cleaned Ellen, cries sounded from a baby monitor on the counter. Neal went over to his wife and said, “You go get them I’ll finish up here.” She nodded. As she left Peter entered the kitchen and said as she passed, “Morning, Sara.” She waved as she went to the twins’ nursery.

Peter then informed Neal, “Hendrickson’s deal is going down sooner than we anticipated. We need to go right now so we can catch him in the act.”

“Alright hold on.” Neal told Peter

“Hi, Uncle Peter!” Ellen said cheerfully and waved

“What happened there?” Peter asked referring to a fresh stain on her dress and a mess on the floor, “Did you spill something again?”

“Yeah.” She nodded

Mozzie then entered the kitchen. “Yey! Uncle Mozzie!” Ellen cheered and Neal smiled. He’d been doing a lot of that in the past few years.

“Hey kiddo! You ready for school?” Mozzie said to Ellen cheerfully

“We’ve got to go and Sara has to leave soon as well. June here yet?” Neal asked Mozzie

“Yeah she’s in the nursery with Sara.” He then added as a side note while grabbing Ellen’s backpack, “Hey, Suit.” Before the two left Neal gave Ellen a kiss and said,

“Have a good day at school. I love you.”

“I love you too, Daddy!” She replied, Neal smiled ear to ear,

Peter was looking at them and smiled.  He was so fucking happy that through overwhelming odds, that his friend had found what he strived to find for years. There were times that Peter didn’t think that would happen. Finally his friend of over a decade had finally found freedom and happiness. He had a wife he would die for, children he adored, a job he loved, financial security, and friends that were his family.

He had everything he could have ever wanted.

 

Neal woke up and sadly realized where he was and that was just a dream. He drank some water from the bathroom sink. His stomach rumbled. He thought he would just have to get used to that.

He was alone for a little more than a week before Christina came back with the baby.


 

When she came in she looked cheerful. Neal raced to her to see the baby. He was able to take her from Christina and he asked, “Where were you? Where did you take her?”

“After what happened we just needed some time to ourselves.” She said vaguely, “You prefer to be home though don’t you, Pumpkin.” She cooed at the baby in Neal’s arms, “I’m going to get dinner started.” She said as she went into the kitchen. Neal may have been a little out of it from being starving but he was smart enough to know to not bring up anything that happened last time he saw her. She hummed as she stirred a pot and Neal discreetly checked the baby for anything even remotely bad. He was relieved that he didn’t spot anything anywhere.

Christina said,  “Sweetie, time for dinner!” She said cheerily as she brought two soup bowls to the table.

Neal thought, “You leave me here alone restrained with no food access for God knows how long, thinking I was going to die here. I mean I still might die here but that’s not the point. And now it’s ‘sweetie’. You psychopath.” He walked over and they had dinner. Neal first started to inhale the soup until Christina pulled the bowl from in front of him and said,

"Slow down, you're gonna choke. It'll be there even if you eat slowly." He looked angrily and she pushed the bowl back and he continued to eat.


 

One day she asked for his help outside. That was normally why he was let outside. That was the first time since Barry Lander that he was outside. He followed her to the garden where she knelt down to the soil, back turned to Neal, she said,  “Hold on just a sec. I need to finish this.”

 Neal immediately noticed that the baby was lying on a blanket a few feet from the garden and Christina. Normally Christina kept her in a sling close around her body. He then noticed that there was an average sized shovel close to her, but far enough away that he could grab it without her noticing. She normally had any utensils and tools right in front of her or on her, so she could keep track of them. He had a viable escape route, the river, the baby was far enough to be safe but close enough to be grabbed in a pinch. Other times he was outside he didn’t have access to anything that would incapacitate her. Since she normally had the baby on her he couldn’t hurt her without risking hurting the baby.

This time was different.

This time the stars aligned for the perfect escape.

He knew that he had only seconds to pull this off.

Luckily Neal thrived under pressure.

He subtly and quietly picked up the shovel and brought it above his head, ready to swing. She kneeled back towards him.

A small sinister smile crept across Neal’s face. He muttered, “You finally messed up. It takes time, but you finally messed up.” Christina heard him say something but before she could ask. Neal swung the shovel down upon her head. He screamed as the shovel fell from behind his head to her skull.

She fell unceremoniously to the ground. He saw blood around the wound. Even though there wasn’t much blood, he assumed Christina was dead. He hoped to God that she was dead. He stood there in shock for a good few seconds. He finally got to his senses, or at least as much as his shocked and traumatized brain could. He looked around and saw the baby, just lying there. He grabbed her and ran as fast as he could down river.

Starting on his greatest escape.

Chapter Text

Peter was walking the streets and saw Mozzie on the street corner, doing some card hustling. Mozzie saw Peter and stopped what he was doing and came over to him.

Peter said, “I still hope every day that he just comes into the office. Same damn hat and smile as always. Asking about a new case and grimacing at the horrible coffee.”

Mozzie said, “You know the amount of times I still go to call him without realizing it. How many times I find myself going up to his place, still.”

Peter sadly smiled and said, “I would give anything to come home and see him sitting on my couch having wine with El and Satchmo at his feet.”

Mozzie sadly smiled and replied, “You got anything new?”

Peter said, “Maybe, a new agent recently transferred in from Missing Persons saw the file on my desk and was asking about it.”
“And?”
“He’s going to look over the case with fresh eyes. He’s cracked cases much older than this.”

“Yeah, but he doesn't know, Neal.” Mozzie said unsatisfied

“Yeah well I’ll take anything at this point. If a random stranger called and said they knew where he was I would most likely believe them in a heartbeat.” Mozzie nodded in agreement.


Neal ran through the forest for what felt like an eternity, but it was really between 25-45 minutes, on pure adrenaline clutching the baby to his chest.  He was looking for any sign of civilization, a road or a car, a house, something. He knew that she had to have a car, how else did she leave all those times. He also knew that if he followed the river he’d find some sort of civilization eventually. He stopped when he noticed some strategically placed branches. He moved them to discover a white van. He knew it must have been hers. He hurriedly put his shirt sleeve over his closed fist, broke the window, and unlocked the door. “Not pretty but it’ll do in a pinch.” He muttered. He quickly looked for something to put the baby in and found a small box in the back. He put her in the box and strapped the seat belt from the front seat around it. He looked in the glove compartment but found nothing of use. After a few minutes he was able to hotwire the van.

He looked at the baby and said, “We’re going home.”

He then put it in drive and started looking for a road. He figured if he continued on the same route eventually he’d find some sort of civilization. He soon found an old dirt road. It hadn’t been used in a long time. After driving another hour and a half Neal reached a small town. He saw civilization for the first time in about a year and a half. Tears filled his eyes. He started looking for a hospital or police station. Just somewhere where he could call Peter. Let Peter know that he was alive and that he didn’t run. He saw a hospital coming up on his right. He got a little too excited that help was so close. As he turned into the parking lot he slammed face first into an upcoming car.

 

Neal slammed his head on the back of the seat and the airbags deployed. The baby jostled in the box but didn’t fall out. A young woman stumbled out of the other car. Neal was knocked out and woke when the doctors were pulling him out of the van. Neal held his head then noticed it was bleeding, just a little. He felt dizzy and lightheaded, not exactly sure where he was. He felt hazy. He got out the car in a stumbled haze. A few doctors were swarmed around him and the other young woman. The doctors could tell Neal was not okay, and it wasn’t because of the crash. Neal started muttering, “How is she? I need her. I have to protect her. I have to take care of her. I need to call Peter, because I didn’t run.”

A female doctor asked him, “Sir, what’s your name?”

He dazedly responded, “Neal. Neal Caffrey. Give her to me.”

She told the three other doctors around him, “Let’s get him inside.” she then said to Neal, “We’re going to get you inside, okay. Then we’ll give her to you.” He nodded.

 The doctors got both of them into an exam room where the female doctor started to examine him. Before she started she said, “Hi. I’m Doctor Winters. I’m going to get a nurse to take the baby up to the pediatric ward to get checked out.”

Neal admittedly refused and said sternly while holding the baby closer to his chest, "You're not taking my child anywhere.”

She agreed and asked cautiously, “Okay. So is this baby is yours?”
“Yes”

“Where’s the mother?”

“Not here.” He responded

“Where’s the mother?” She asked again, cautious and concerned.

“With any luck, dead.” He said, still in a daze.

She stepped back cautiously. She was concerned that he killed a woman and took her baby. For the first time she took a good look at Neal’s appearance. She noticed his pants were torn, his shirt was drenched in sweat. He looked malnourished and underweight. His hair was longer, unkempt, and straggly. His face hasn’t been shaved in a while, not a beard but a shadow. Along with looking out of it he looked terrified and depressed. She then continued with the examination and said, “I’m going to examine you now. Okay?” She started to check him, one touch and he flinched and said sternly, “Don’t you dare touch me.”

She backed off and said, “I’m going to get a doctor to look at the baby in the room with you. I’ll be right back.”

Doctor Winters left. She went to the nurse’s station and asked, “Anybody know what’s the deal with the guy, Caffrey, in room two? Because I feel there’s something seriously wrong.”

“Um, yeah. There is something seriously wrong.” Nurse Garner said looking up from a computer with concern. There was two other nurses at the station.

“What?” Doctor Winters asked

“Neal Caffrey was abducted from his Manhattan apartment around a year and a half ago.” Garner informed

“Where did you find that?” Doctor Winters asked

“I’ve been searching him. A Missing Persons report came up. The picture isn’t exactly the same but close enough.” Garner said and the others looked at the article.

“Does it mention anyone in there that we can contact? It would save us some time.” Doctor Winters asked

“It mentions an Agent Peter Burke. Apparently that’s his partner and boss.”

“Wasn’t he muttering about a Peter when he was brought in?” Winters asked, Garner nodded.

Another nurse, Cortez, piped up and asked, “Has he told you anything?”

“He didn’t tell me anything. But you didn’t see him. He looks like shit. He’s jumpy and doesn’t want to be touched. He insists that the baby he brought in is his.”

“Is it? Where’s the mother?” Garner asked

“He insists. I want to run a DNA test to make sure. Although that is where I’m concerned.” She paused and then said,  “I think abuse is involved. Along with the suspected PTSD, and just general shitty appearance, underweight, malnutrition, the whole nine yards. I asked where the mother was and he said ‘not here’. I asked again and he said, ‘with any luck, dead’ .” The other nurses, who were all female, were very alarmed.

“He won’t say anything. I know something happened and he won’t let me near him or the baby.” Winters insisted

“Maybe a male doctor would help.” Garner suggested, trying to be helpful

“I think so. Who’s on call? It’s getting late, the night shift should be on by now.” Winters said

“I believe Mitchell’s upstairs.” Cortez informed
“Okay. Garner, get Burke’s contact info and get him up here. I’ll get Mitchell down here. Maybe Neal will tell him what happened.” Winters hoped.

“What about the cops?” Garner asked

“Garner. After you call Burke, make the call.” Winters said, Garner nodded. Winters told Cortez, “You just, make sure Caffrey’s okay. Maybe just stand outside or something, I don’t know.”

Dr. Winters left to get Dr. Mitchel.

Chapter Text

A little while after Doctor Winters left another doctor came in. Neal was holding the baby close, he’s no longer feeling dazed, his head hurt less. As soon as he saw the doctor he jumped and said,

“You need to call Peter Burke with the FBI.”

The doctor responded, “A nurse is already on it, Mr. Caffrey. I’m Dr. Mitchell.” He was older, taller, and black.

“How do you know my name?” Neal asked suspicious

“You crashed a van earlier and have a concussion. You were dazed and said your name and to call Peter Burke. I need to know what happened so I know how to treat you.” He paused and said, “You were reported missing about 18 months ago, do you know that?”

“Where am I?” Neal asked

“You don’t know?” Mitchell asked surprised

“That’s why I asked?” Neal sarcastically responded

“You’re in North Hudson, New York. It’s a few hours north of the city.” Mitchell informed. Neal nodded. “Medically, I need to know what happened, so I can treat you?” Mitchell repeated. When Neal didn’t say anything Mitchell asked, “How about the baby? Is she eating and sleeping well?” He was trying a different tactic to get Neal to talk.

“Yeah.” Neal didn’t care to speak to doctors right now. He just wanted to see Peter again. He wanted to see his family again. He knew he was going to have to repeat this story a bunch of times. He knew how the system worked. Although he did say, “Although at the beginning she wouldn’t breastfeed.” He muttered just loud enough for the doctor to hear, “ It’s like she knew.”

Mitchell noted that in his chart and asked, “It’s like she knew what, Neal?” He then asked “What about her mother? Where is she?” Neal didn’t say anything, but Mitchell noticed Neal shifted his weight, looked down, and held the baby closer, signs of discomfort. Mitchell then asked, “Neal, is this baby the product of non-consensual sex? Where you raped?” Neal swallowed, shifted again, but didn’t say anything. Doctor Mitchell looked down at his chart and muttered, “Okay.” He then looked up at Neal and asked, “Can I physically examine you then? Nothing invasion or painful. Just a physical.” Neal sighed and nodded. Mitchell then gave him a hospital gown and said, “Just put this on. I’ll be right outside. Knock on the door when you’re done.”

Mitchell came back soon after and examined Neal. Mitchell noticed he was underweight immediately after he started. Mitchell asked him, “How often have you been eating?”

Neal responded, voice barely audible, “When I could.”

Mitchell soon noticed the ligature mark around his left ankle. He asked Neal, “Where you restrained?”

Neal, still uncomfortable, voice still low, responded, “Yes.”  Mitchell was keeping track of all this in the file. Mitchell noted various scrapes and bruises. Neal got those during his escape running through the forest. At the end he asked, “Can I take a quick look at the baby? Please. I need to make sure she’s okay. We’ll do it right here and now.” Neal thought for a second, looked down at the baby and said, “Okay.”

Mitchell physically examined her, she was fine, no marks, healthy weight. He then asked, “How old is she?”

“Not exactly sure.”

“Okay.” Mitchell said, he told Neal, “She looks to be around 7-8 weeks old. Does that at least sound right?”

“Yeah. I guess.” Neal said. Doctor Mitchell had so many questions about this situation but kept them to only what was medically relevant.

“She seems to be fine.” Mitchell informed Neal. He looked relieved.

“I’m going to have to admit you though.” Neal nodded and Doctor Mitchell left to get the process started. He knew he would have to talk to Neal about a rape kit, he’d do that once Neal was admitted, before the family and cops got there.


 

Peter was at home, sitting at his kitchen table, looking at the copy of Neal's file he had. Elizabeth was cooking dinner with Satchmo at her feet. Elizabeth looked at him, knowing how badly he was hurting. She went over to sit next to him and asked,

“Has Johnson came up with anything yet?”

“No, at least not yet.”

Elizabeth comforted him and said, “He’ll find something soon.” Elizabeth went back to her cooking, taking a pot off a burner and turning it off. Then Peter’s phone rang. She looked at him and saw the flash of hope across his face then fade as quickly as it came. That maybe it was about Neal. It just about killed her. That happened every time the phone rang, every time the doorbell rang. Peter picked it up, “Hello.”

The woman on the other end said , “Hello. Is this Agent Peter Burke?”
“Yes.”
“I’m Nurse Jana Garner from North Hudson Medical Center.” Peter was curious and deep down, hopeful. Garner continued, “We admitted Neal Caffrey late this afternoon. He insisted on calling you.”

“You found Neal?” Peter asked without missing a beat. That caught Elizabeth’s attention and she went over to Peter.

“Yes.” Garner said

“How is he?”

“He’s alive, conscious, and stable.” That’s all Garner could and would say over the phone.

“Where are you located?” Peter asked while grabbing a paper and pen off the table. He scribbled down the address and said a quick, “Alright. Thank you. Thank you so much. I’ll be right there.” And hung up right after. Elizabeth looked at him, needing to know what just happened.

Peter said in disbelief, “Neal’s been found. He was admitted to a hospital up north.”

Elizabeth said in disbelief, but excited, “Oh my God! We’ve gotta go!”

“I have to call Mozzie.” Peter said and they grabbed their wallets and phones and headed out.


NYPD SVU

That night Lt. Olivia Benson was working late when she got a call, answered it.

“Lt. Benson, SVU.”

“Hello this is Jana Garner from North Hudson Medical Center.” 

“Hello. What can NYPD do for you?”

“I might have a case for you.” Jana said, “Today we admitted someone who went missing from Manhattan, showed up this afternoon after being missing for over a year.”

Benson asked, “Okay, what else?”

Jana said that “We believe the patent was a victim of rape. Being territorial, jumpy, not wanting to be touched, being ‘out of it’. Also he came in with a 2 month old infant that he won’t let anyone touch and swears is his.”

The fact that Jana used male pronouns really caught Benson’s attention, “Wait, your vic is male?”

“Oh I’m so sorry. I should have given you the case details. This afternoon we admitted Neal Caffrey, reported missing a little less than 18 months ago. Confidential Informant to the FBI. I already contacted his case agent Agent Peter Burke along with the local cops.”

“As much as I want to help I don’t know what my unit can do. The local PD probably got this covered.”

“He’s a possibly a long term rape, abuse, and kidnapping victim, could you at least come up to talk to him. Share your knowledge and experience with these kinds of vics with the local cops and possible Feds. If you can even take the case that would be great. Our local cops don’t have the experience or capacity to work a case like this. We don’t deal with kidnappings and other crimes like that up here. The cops would need your help. He was taken from your neck of the woods. You owe me from that vic a few months ago.”

Olivia thought about it for a second. She knew he needed help and she couldn’t refuse. They’ve gone upstate to pursue cases and leads before.

Before Olivia could say her decision Nurse Gardner said, “I called the local station and explained the situation. They would like the assistance.”

 Olivia finally said, “Okay, one of my guys and I will be coming up now.” They ended the call shortly after and she got up to see who was still in the office to make a drive upstate.


Peter arrived at the hospital in a rush with the others. Mozzie, Jones, Diana, Johnson, and Elizabeth. The Feds and Marshalls weren't far behind. They got wind of it quickly after.

Peter rushed to the nurse's station to ask “I’m Peter Burke. Where’s Neal?” The nurse pointed to a male doctor coming towards the desk.

“Is one of you Peter Burke?”

“Yeah, I am.” Peter said, “How’s Neal?”

Doctor Mitchell said, “I’m Doctor Mitchell. Physically, Neal has a concussion, severe weight loss, a vitamin D deficiency, malnutrition, along with various scrapes, bruises and the like. Although the baby seems to be just fine. Now Neal mentally, that’s another story.” Everyone was horrified yet relieved to know he was at least alive and stable.

Then Mozzie piped up and asked in complete disbelief, "Wait wait wait. What baby?" Then everyone realized what the doctor had just said.

Mitchell looked surprised, but at the same time thought,  ‘Aww fuck I have to tell these people this’. He said, "I'm sorry, you didn't know. I thought the nurse told you. Mr. Caffrey came in with an infant about eight weeks old. Very protective and claims that it's his." Everyone went pale. Mitchell added, “It is what you’re thinking. No confirmation, but we can safely assume.” Mozzie muttered something about needing to puke and walked away.

Peter asked, “Can I see him?”

Mitchell said, “One person at a time and the cops should be here shortly.”

Peter slowly walked through the door.

Chapter Text

Peter walked into the room, saw a hospital baby crib, his heart stopped, he continued and saw Neal for the first time since that Friday in the van. His hair straggly, cheeks sunken in, obvious weight loss, pale skin, looked so sad. Neal was holding the baby. He looked up and saw Peter. He started to tear up, so did Peter. Neal said, "You finally came."

Peter said, "I'm here now." Neal's words ripped through Peter. Knowing he failed Neal so badly. Because this happened on his watch. Peter was supposed to protect him and he didn’t.  He went to hug him, which Neal did not refuse. "I'm here now." he repeated and said "I'm so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

Neal defended, “I swear I didn’t run.”

“I know.” Peter said, pulled away and looked down at the baby, looked up at him and said "She looks more like you.”

He sat down in the chair next to the bed. They sat in silence for a little while. Neither knew what to say after all this time. After everything that happened. Neither knew where to start again. Since nothing would ever be the same again. That, they both knew. Without a doubt. Tons of questions ran through Neal’s mind. The main question being, ‘Why didn’t you find me this time?’ So many thoughts ran through Peter’s mind as well. The main thought being, ‘I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you this time. When it truly counted.

Peter was about to say something when there was a knock at the door. A man and woman who turn out to be detectives, another set of detectives, and a set of Marshals came in. They introduced themselves, the detectives last.

Benson said, “I’m Lt. Benson,” She points to her partner “And this is Det. Amaro from the Manhattan Special Victims Unit. Nurse Garner called us since you went missing from your Manhattan apartment. We need you to tell us what happened.”

Then the very unhappy Marshals and local detectives started badgering Neal with rapid fire questions such as "Who took you?" "Where were you" "Did you run?" "Where you raped?” They all seemingly talked at once.

Peter puts his hands up seeing how obviously distressed Neal got, and said, "How about we do this another time."

Neal said exhausted, "I just want to get this over with."

Benson pulled the others aside and said, “We would like to do the questioning if that’s okay with you. He was abducted in our jurisdiction and this is seemingly unrelated to his previous crimes. This case is unusual but these kinds of cases are our specialty. We’re trained to deal with this.” The Marshals and local detectives begrudgingly nod in approval. They stood in the back. Benson came back over and said to Neal, “Can you tell me what happened?”

Before Neal could say anything Peter interrupted, "Fine, but one question at a time, and just start at the beginning."

Neal told them about Christina, how they originally met. How she came into his apartment with a gun, he tried to disarm her, succeeded but she ended up drugging him. Then Nurse Garner came in to adjust an iv.

Amaro interrupted Neal to show him a picture and said, “Is this Christina?”

Neal said “She looks older now, a little different hair, but yes, that is most definitely her.” Garner looked over at the picture and asked, “Is that the woman who did this?”

Neal answered “Yeah”

Amaro asked Garner, “Do you recognize her?” He noticed the nurse looked spooked.

“Someone who looked kinda like her used to come into the clinic for prenatal visits. I swear I had no idea.” Neal and Garner discussed her appearance and it was most definitely her.

Benson asked, “Was there anything suspicious about her?”

“No. She was so excited to have a baby and a family. She would always come in alone. I would ask her where the father was but she always said he couldn’t make it.”

Neal piped in and added sarcastically, “Well she wasn’t lying.”

Amaro said, “To tie Christina with your story and to the baby we’re gonna need a DNA sample from her. Is that okay?”

Neal responded, “Yeah, that’s fine.” Benson prompted him to continue with his story. He then went on about how he woke up in a cabin, was asked about the cabin, he described it. Except the location. Other than it's an hour or so north and he ran a lot, south because it was downriver. He went back to how she came in, in a matter of speaking said how fucked he was. How unstable she was. How she made it so that Peter would think he ran and spent months hacking the anklet. He then asked "How's Mozzie? Where is he?" His voice broke when he asked "Is he dead?"

Peter beat everyone to the punch to say, "He's outside. I just saw him before coming in. Why do you think he's dead?"

Neal said, "She told me that she 'took care of him'. I know what that means. I know she’s very capable of killing someone."

Peter told Neal, “Mozzie was out of town that Friday. He came back the following Monday. But apparently during that week a woman was asking around and someone told her that Mozzie left for good. He’s fine.”

Neal’s relieved and then said “She said that Mozzie had to be taken out for her plan to be believable and work.” He told them how he tried to talk his way out of it but she got angry and they fought and she drugged him again. He then hesitated, but started to tell them about the rapes. Everyone but Benson and Amaro were visibly uncomfortable, especially Peter. He was not able to keep eye contact, hand/finger wringing, checking his phone. Anything to distract himself from hearing this. Even though he knew it was coming. He then went on to tell them about her psychopathic plans.

Amaro asked, “Was the sex only for procreation purposes?”

“No. It was whenever and however she wanted it. Or else.”

“Or else what?” Benson asked

Neal was uncomfortable but said , “She kept the food locked up. As I said earlier, I couldn’t pick any of the locks. If I said no to anything she wouldn’t give me food.” Peter was horrified by this. Benson then prompted Neal to continue.

Neal then told about the pregnancy, said how he felt such an intense need/urge for her to either have a miscarriage, or just to get the child away from her. He talked about the first time he was allowed outside when she was 6 months pregnant. Described the outside. He finished up and told them about his escape. Explained why this was the only time for him to escape with some amount of safety and security. He told them the facts. not how he felt and most of Christina’s psychological abuse. He told them the bare minimum. He really didn’t want to say anything else.

Amaro then misspoke when he said, “When you were found did you see any landmarks, anything to indicate location.”

Neal then retorted, in the most salty tone of voice, “I wasn’t found. I escaped. There’s a big difference.” He then added, “No. Just trees and eventually a dirt road.” That just about killed Peter, more than he was already hurt.  He then asked, beating everyone to it, "Neal, did you kill her?"

Neal admitted, "I don't know. I think. She fell and I just grabbed the baby and ran as fast as I could. I didn't look back. I couldn't." Everyone went to leave because thought he was done and one wanted to talk to Peter outside when Neal then added something, “Also,” they turned around, “A while before I escaped, we were outside. We heard something. It was a man, about middle aged, Caucasian, brown hair, average height and weight. He was a hunter who heard that there were good hunting opportunities in the area, bears and such. Just an innocent guy who was at the wrong place at the wrong time and stumbled upon the wrong thing.”

“What happened to him, Neal?” Benson interrupted and asked.

“Christina went into the shed and came out with a shotgun. She shot him in the head before he could leave. Left temple. I don’t know what she did with his body. She said that she couldn’t let him leave, let alone live.” No one saw that coming, even after everything they just heard.

“Do you know his name?” Benson asked

“Barry Lander.” Neal said, “Please tell his family, I’m so sorry. It wasn’t his fault. He shouldn’t have gotten wrapped up in all this.” Benson nodded.

Everyone went to leave, one of them wanted to talk to Peter so he left as well.


 

They went outside, Amaro said to no one in particular, "There's no way he's making this up. It’s too elaborate. Too horrifying. Also physical evidence matches. I’ll get someone to check the story and find Lander’s family."

A Marshall commented, unsure about the whole scenario, "I don't know, Caffrey's such a great con man. Class A liar.”

Peter fucking snapped. He turned around, punched the Marshall square in the jaw, picked up him from the ground by his shirt, shoved him against the wall and yelled, "AFTER EVERYTHING WE'VE JUST HEARD IN THERE YOU THINK HE'S FUCKING LYING?! WHAT THE FUCK!" Jones and Diana got Peter off him and Elizabeth tried to calm him down.

Benson said, “We’re going to go find the cabin.”

“I’m going.”  Peter insisted

“No. You’re not. You’re too close to this.” Benson firmly said

“I’m going whether you want me to or not.” Peter insisted

Diana piped up and said, “He’s serious. He’s not going to back down.”

Benson didn’t want to fight, there were more important things than that right now so she conceded, “As long as he doesn't lose his temper again he can come.” She pointed to Jones and Diana and said , “You need to come to monitor him.” They nodded in agreement.

All the law enforcement went to leave while Mozzie slid into Neal's room.

Chapter Text

Mozzie came into the room and made a smart remark. Neal sadly smiled and said, "Hey Moz.” Mozzie looked into the hospital crib and said, "This must be the baby."

Neal nodded, Mozzie looked at him and said, "Looks more like you" 

Neal remarked, "That's what Peter said."

"Oh God, a year and half of the Suit has rubbed off on me. I worked with him to try and find you. He got into a literal fight in the hall with an upper Suit. They’re going to check out some details and investigate.” Mozzie informed

Neal knew this whole situation was going to be an uphill battle, he didn’t have the energy to deal with all this.

Then the baby stirred, not fussed, but stirred, and Neal automatically went to check on her.

Neal said, “I tried not to believe it, but I truly thought you were dead.”

Mozzie joked, “Not even guns can take me out.”

Neal said seriously, “You were so lucky that you were still out of town when this happened. She wanted to kill you. But she settled for you leaving the city ‘for good’.”

Their reunion was cut short when a nurse came in a said, “I’m sorry but we need to run a test.” She told Mozzie, “You can come back later.”

Mozzie said to Neal, “I’ll see you soon.” and he left.


 

Before leaving the hospital Benson asked the nurse, “Where’s the nearest forest?”

The nurse pulled up a map of the area online while saying, “There’s some forest areas and mountains up north. Probably an hour or so. Hold on I’m pulling up a map.” She then showed the map and they all agreed that a forest a little less than a two hour drive was their best bet. The nurse printed out the map and they were on their way.

There was a lot of land to cover so the Feds and Benson used a helicopter to search for the clearing while the rest of the cops and the crime scene unit drove SUVs. After flying around the forest for about twenty minutes Peter spotted a small clearing and said, “That must be it.”

“Is that a roof?” Diana asked squinting at the small blip on the ground.

“It would make sense. There’s no other sign of civilization within 50 miles, at least.” Benson commented

“This is truly in the middle of nowhere.” Peter’s voice full of heartbreak.

They landed in a clearing a while away and meet up with the team in the SUVs. They saw a river and followed it upstream for a few miles until they reached a clearing and saw a roof in the distance. They pulled up nearby and parked. They got out and saw the cabin, rest of the shed, garden, trees, clothesline with clothes still on it. They didn’t see a body at first glance.

“Where is she?” Peter asked, surprised, “He said that she was struck outside in the garden.”

“I’ll have my guys search the area.” Benson said and went off to do so.

Peter, Jones, Diana, and Johnson were still standing around the garden

“What if the blow didn’t kill her?” Peter asked concerned

“It’s possible.” Johnson said. He didn’t want to say it but he knew it was a possibility.

“Yeah depending on how much force was used and where on her head she was hit.” Diana contributed.

The cops started to look in the shed and looked to see if Christina was still on the property or surrounding area. CSU started documenting and processing the crime scene. Peter, then, without thinking or saying a word, walked cautiously into the cabin. Johnson, Jones, and Diana followed him. Peter examined the door and remarked hurt, “This seems like a reinforced titanium alloy locked from the outside. That’s almost impossible to break even when you have tools available to you.”

Peter pushed the door open and saw a cabin about a few hundred square feet. Peter sadly sighed and went to investigate. The rest followed Peter and dispersed throughout the cabin.

Diana commented, “Like he said, all furniture is dead bolted down. All cabinets and drawers are securely locked. Neal would need formal tools or at least something to pick them, and there’s nothing sharp or dangerous within access.” The locks were a mix of formal locks, chains, and bolts.

Jones noticed the chain on the bottom of the bedpost and muttered, “Oh God. He didn’t say anything about this.”

Peter came over and said in sad disbelief, “Oh God. What the hell happened?”

“What else didn’t Neal tell us?” Jones asked concerned.

Johnson was examining the structure of the cabin and commented, “The wood in the floor and walls are plastic so there’s no chance or rotting or peeling. You can’t pick this to make something sharp, like a lockpick. The insulation keeps everything out and Neal in, and there’s no windows.”

Diana noticed how Peter was turning completely white. She then asked “Peter, how about you go outside and get some bolt cutters so we can get into the drawers and cabinets.” It was an excuse for Peter to go get air. Peter left to do that. He came back and they were able to open some of the cabinets. They continued to investigate the cabin. All the kitchen equipment was plastic and kept locked away. The wood stove was locked up. All the cleaning fluids were human grade biodegradable. All the food was locked away in plastic containers. Nothing to break and nothing harmful.

 

Peter went over to the living area and saw the baby supplies, books, etc. He tried to ignore how tiny and dark this hellhole was. How his best friend was chained up and forced to live with a psychopath. He noticed something under the bed and found the safe. He knew that Neal couldn’t break it or into it without tools. He managed to shake it a little and said, “This must be where she kept the keys. And something else I can’t id.”

Diana came over and listened, “Sounds like syringes. He said she drugged him. This is an ideal place to keep them.” Peter then noticed a piece of paper under the bed, he picked it up and read, Need Help. ASAP. Call FBI Agent Peter Burke, 212 342 2344. Peter flipped the paper over and saw

Goodbye for now, my love -Christina

Peter showed it to Diana and she said, “He must of wrote this note to Barry Lander before she killed him. Christina must have found it afterwards.”

“What the hell did she do to him when she found this?” Jones asked

“What the hell didn’t he tell us?” Peter asked hurt, scared of what else could have happened that Neal didn’t include in his initial statement.

Johnson opened the bedside table and said an automatic, "Oh God." Peter jumped to his side, Johnson said, "Peter, don't look" But Peter looked anyway, and saw things used in light/moderate BDSM. He started coughing so hard he could barely breathe and left to get some air. Diana left after him. She found Peter kneeling over the side of the river, dry heaving and breathing heavy. She walked over to him.

He said to Diana, angry at Christina and himself  "Oh god, Diana. This must have killed him. Being stuck in a tiny cabin in the middle of nowhere with a lunatic who never intended to let him go. Being helpless and forced into sex. I failed him, Diana. I failed him so badly. He COUNTED on me to find him! To save him from this hell! I was always supposed to know where he was! That was my JOB! I should have PROTECTED HIM! But I DIDN’T! All this time he was so close but I couldn't find him. I shouldn't have told him to go home that night in the van."

Diana didn't really know what to say to that, but replied to the last part "There was no way you could’ve known what she was planning. Nobody saw this coming."

He said, "I keep thinking, what if I didn’t send Neal home that night. What if I just told him to shut up and sit still like I normally do. Could I have prevented all this?”

Diana replied, "Peter, this was obviously very premeditated. It doesn't matter whether he got home that night or the next morning or whenever. She still would have eventually made her move. You probably couldn’t have stopped this." That didn’t really make Peter feel better and she knew it, but still she knew she had to try.  She tried to comfort him until she was called away for something. Peter waved her away. Not feeling too nauseous anymore. He turned around to get back to work when Johnson came up to him.

Johnson said, "You once asked me why I left missing persons. My last case was of a girl, Alice, just fifteen, abducted coming home from a friend’s birthday party in the city. We found her about two weeks later. She was taken by a human trafficking ring. The conditions,” He paused remembering, “They made this place look like paradise. Completely just, deplorable. As soon as we put the cuffs on the ring leaders I put my transfer papers in. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I needed a change. I needed to catch criminals that were less,” He paused trying to think of the right word.

“Depraved.” Peter finished and Johnson nodded.

“Seeing things like this just reminded me, you know.” Johnson confessed

 

Amaro came up to them and broke the news “We haven’t found any evidence that Christina is still here. There’s soil traces, probably from her shoes, going about 10 feet downstream.”

Peter replied, “Meaning she was conscious and one point and ran. Well at least I’m not a week behind this time.”

“A week?” Amaro asked

“It took us a week to figure out she took him.” Peter informed him. Peter then made the remark "The one time I actually want to find a body." They all agreed.

 

The CSU man with a cadaver dog yelled from about 30-40 feet away from the cabin “I think I’ve got something!” They all rushed over and eventually a body was unearthed.

“I assume this is Barry.” Peter said

The medical examiner said, “I won’t know for sure until I’m back at the lab, but it’s safe to assume.”

“She probably buried him close to the cabin because she had a hard time moving the body.” Benson remarked

“I need to get him back to the lab.” Warner said

“I’ll have people check the forest for traces of Christina. See if she got anywhere that we haven’t checked yet.” Benson said. She turned to Peter and said, “You go be with Neal, okay.” Peter nodded.

Chapter Text

Mozzie was back in Neal’s room. During a lull in conversation, (which was more awkward than either of them anticipated because neither of them knew what to say after all this time.) Mozzie said, “I’ve looked into Christina...again. No one seen or heard anything. She hasn’t tried to get a new identity or leave the country illegally. I told everyone to report her if they see her.”

Neal asked, “What are you going use as payment?”

Mozzie replied, brushing it off,  “Don’t worry about that.” Shifting conversation Mozzie hesitated to ask, “What were you thinking...regarding the little one? Have you even thought of anything?” Referring to future plans with the baby. He was the first person to ask Neal about this issue. Mozzie was just concerned whether or not he was in the right frame of mind to take care of an infant. He also took the conception of the child into account.

Neal was sure when he said, “Yeah. I haven’t told anyone yet, but I want to keep her. I’ve always thought that actually. It was never up for debate.” Mozzie nodded, just acknowledging that he said something and didn’t give an opinion one way or the other.

Neal continued, “She’s only around two months old and she’s been through so much. If I can protect there. We’ll be fine anywhere. I just, I just need to protect her. I don’t trust anyone else to keep her safe.” He thought for a second and then said,  “She’s my baby too.”

Mozzie looked at her in the hospital crib next to the bed and said, “She won’t have to wonder why no one wanted her. And she won’t have to grow up without a family.” He said with a sad smile. Knowing far too well of the impact that has on a person.

Neal responded, “Yeah, but she will wonder why she doesn’t have a mother.”

When Mozzie left he saw a Marshal outside and told Neal, who wasn’t surprised, just sighed.


 

Peter came back to the hospital. On his way to Neal’s room he called Benson to see if they had news. He thanked Benson and Amaro for coming up and doing the questioning, he then asked “Do you have anything on Christina?”

Benson said, “We’re still looking. Since Neal took the van she had to have left on foot. We have people combing the forest because the chances of her getting out of there in this amount of time is slim to none.”

Peter was about to hang up when Olivia said, “I understand why you couldn’t find him. I also have people looking into Christina. Where she could have gone or would have gone. She’s a complete ghost. We have APBs out on her description, and any and all aliases she has. We’ll find her.”

Peter retorted “Yeah, that’s what I said about Neal.” and hung up.

When Peter reached Neal’s room, he was confused to see a Marshal outside Neal’s door. Elizabeth noticed Peter didn’t seem to be doing well and went to hug him, “Hey, hun.” She said.

Peter asked, “What’s with the guard?”

Elizabeth said, “I don’t know, but he hasn’t been there long.” Then Peter saw a higher up, Agent Pierce, whom he talked to shortly after the case was tossed to the local pd. He came up to Peter and asked, “Agent Burke, a word?” Peter nodded and they went a few feet away from everyone.

“What’s wrong?” Peter asked

“I’ve been talking to my associates and my colleagues at the DOJ. We want Caffrey to finish the remainder of his sentence that he didn’t serve, one year.” Peter was in complete disbelief before he could say anything Pierce continued, “We’ll be having a meeting in a few days to make a final decision.”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.” Peter said angrily, trying not yell this time, “After everything Neal has been through.” Peter said, just barely holding his temper, he then said through gritted teeth, “You want to throw him back in prison.”

Agent Pierce, ever composed, said smugly, “No, he’d be back on the anklet. We’d have one of our psychiatrists evaluate him and he’d be back at work as soon as possible. If Caffrey wants to keep that child then there will be a hearing to determine whether or not he’s fit to raise the it.”

“No, you can’t do this to him. No.” Peter said breathing heavily, trying to compose himself.

Agent Pierce said, still composed and smug, “We can, and we just might.” Pierce knew just how much power he had in this situation and Peter knew he’d use it. Agent Pierce walked away while Peter tried to compose himself, but ended up punching the wall next to him, causing a small dent. Elizabeth came over concerned. Mozzie followed in curiosity. He almost never saw Peter lose his temper like that. Elizabeth was trying to comfort him and Peter was muttering,

“They can’t do this.”

“What?” Elizabeth asked

“They want Neal to finish his sentence. One year. They want him back at work as soon as possible.” Peter informed, still in disbelief

“Oh my God.” Elizabeth said

“What?! How?” Mozzie asked angrily, in disbelief

“There’s going to throw him back in prison after all this?” Elizabeth asked, astonished

“No they’d put him back on the anklet,” Peter then added pissed off, “Because they want him back at work as soon as possible.”

“What about the baby?” Mozzie asked

“He said that if Neal kept the baby there’d be a hearing to determine whether or not he’s fit to raise her.” Peter informed

Mozzie retorted knowingly, “And we all know how that would turn out.” Mozzie knew that if Neal would lose custody, which if all this happened, he would, Neal would never get her back.

“They can’t do this. Not legally...or ethically.” Elizabeth said, trying to comprehend this.

“That won’t stop them.” Mozzie said angrily

“If they see the evidence maybe they won’t do it.” Elizabeth reasoned

“No. They will. Because when has the legal system ever worked in Neal’s favor.” Mozzie said exasperated

Peter wanted to correct him that the justice system has done its job in the past. Because Neal hasn’t always been innocent, but the system has since become faulty. Peter knew that now wasn’t the time for being technical, so didn’t say anything.

Mozzie continued his rant, “They just want to exploit Neal more. If they could keep Neal on forever they would. They’d do it in a heartbeat. He’s been exploited by the Feds, they never intended to reduce his sentence. He’s been used, abused, and exploited by that bitch and now more exploitation by the Feds. It never ends. He can never catch a fucking break.” Elizabeth went to comfort him but he pushed her away and left muttering how the government are heartless bastards.

Elizabeth said, “You need to tell Neal.”

Peter retorted sarcastically, “I don’t know if you noticed, but he’s kinda been through a lot lately.” He added, tone switching to concern “I’m sorry, but he doesn’t need this right now, El.”

Elizabeth said, “You need to tell him. He’s going to find out. It’s better he find out now from you.”

“He doesn’t need to hear this now.” Peter repeated

“He’s been lied to enough. He needs to be told the truth.” Elizabeth said, trying to convince him. Peter knew she was right. “Fine.” he conceded. He then went into Neal’s room to tell him.


 

As Petered entered, Neal made a comment about the guard stationed at the door. Peter said as he sat down, "Since they didn't find anyone at the cabin it's for your protection."

Neal said "And so that I don't run." Peter didn’t say anything and Neal continued, "Come on, you can be honest. When are they gonna throw me back in prison or put me back on the anklet?"

Peter sat in the chair next to him and said "Um, actually your sentence expired months ago." ‘I’m gonna tell him. I will.’ Peter thought. Neal sat in silence, surprised. He forgot about his release date. He's been so preoccupied lately that he didn't connect the dots.

He then asked the main question on his mind “Do you have anything on her?” 

“She wasn’t at the cabin. We’re looking but we haven’t found anything yet.” Neal was devastated.

Peter said hesitantly, “Although, there is something you should know.”

Neal was worried, he asked, “What’s wrong?”

Peter hesitated and immediately regretted what he just said, “You know what, you should get some rest. I’ll come back later.” And Peter got up to leave.

Neal said sternly, “No! Tell me. What’s wrong?”

Peter sighed, it hurt him to say it but he continued because Neal was going to find out eventually, it’s best that Neal hear it from him. He said, “I’ve heard from my bosses that,” he paused, “They want you to finish your sentence. One year.” Whatever color was left in Neal’s face left after Peter finished.

He sighed, completely defeated, he said sadly, “Of course they would. Of course.” Peter felt so terrible, he said quickly, “They wouldn’t though. They couldn’t legally.” Peter then added, “And ethically.” Peter didn’t know if what he just said was true, he was just trying to make Neal, and himself, feel better.

Peter instantly regretted bringing it up because it did more harm than good. Even though Neal needed to hear it. The nurse came in and told Peter to leave so Neal can get rest, because it was getting late. But Neal didn’t sleep, because when he did he had nightmares.

Chapter Text

About a week after Neal escaped, Benson was with her team. They were updating her on their progress on their current cases. Benson asked, “What do we have on the Caffrey case?”

Finn said bluntly, “A whole lotta nothin’.”

Rollins interjected and said, “We have no record of her after Adler’s scheme brought down his company. We don’t have anything on her leaving the mountains. No one in the town Neal drove to has seen her. There are no other towns in the area. We don’t have her on any tollbooth cam, bus station, airport, anywhere. She’s seemed to have vanished into thin air. Also no one knows how she got the cabin or the land. Must have paid people under the table.”

Benson, not happy with the lack of progress, said, “Well she has to be somewhere. We combed those mountains and she wasn’t there. So she had to get off that mountain somehow! And if she’s so infatuated with Neal she couldn’t have gone too far and she’s going to come back. Do you have anything on Barry Lander?”

Finn said, “Yeah, unsurprisingly the dentals of the corpse we found at the cabin matched a Barry Lander that was reported missing a few weeks ago upstate. His family said that he went on a hunting trip and never came home.”

ADA Rafael Barba arrived and said to Olivia, “You live to make my life difficult don’t you.”  Barba continued, “The Caffrey case. You got anything?” Amaro said they don’t. Barba said, “So we have have a female suspect who’s in the wind and is a psychopath who has perfected going into hiding.” He then said, “When you find her pray I can pled her out. She doesn’t seem like the type who will go down easy.”  Barba, like usual, was already thinking of prosecution.

Rollins said, “We have plenty for trial if she doesn’t want to pled out. The cabin and Barry’s body along with his statement. It’s a pretty open and shut case.”

Barba retorted, “I want to charge her with at least kidnapping, murder, and rape. I want her going away for all of the destruction she’s caused.”

“What about the baby?” Finn asked

“Sadly, legally it proves they had sex, not consent.” Barba replied, “With the evidence from the cabin and Neal’s testimony it should be enough.”

Benson then interrupted their little sidebar conversation and said, “We need to find her before we can charge her and we’re so far from any plea deals or trials.”

Rollins suggested, “Perhaps we haven’t found her because we don’t know her well enough. Neal didn’t tell us too much about her other than what happened.”

Benson said, “Good idea. Finn, Rollins, go back to Caffrey and ask for more personal details on Christina. Anything we can use to find her. He was there for over a year he has to know a lot about her.”

Barba piped in, “This case is a minefield. I need all the time and ammunition I can get to build a case.” Barba said. So he and Rollins went to see Neal.


 Peter came into the hospital waiting area and saw Elizabeth and Mozzie.

Elizabeth got up and asked, “Are you any closer to finding to Christina?”

Peter sadly shook his head and said, “No, she’s seemingly vanished. No one can find anything on her or where she could be.”

Elizabeth then asked, “Have you heard anything about Neal’s status?”

“It doesn’t look good.” Peter said sadly

“How?” Asked Elizabeth surprised

“I’ve heard that they’ve been making arguments about having him serve his sentence.”

“How could they do that?” Elizabeth asked

It was more of a rhetorical question but Mozzie retorted with a bitter and angry, “Because they think they’re above the law they’re supposed to be upholding. They think they’re so high that no one can touch them.”

Peter just looked sad and Mozzie left muttering, "I need, I need to get some air." as he walked away he muttered about how awful the law is, why he hates it, and how “the Suits” are heartless bastards. Peter then went into Neal’s room.

Right after Barba and Rollins arrived and went into see Neal.

“Hey, I’m Detective Rollins from SVU.”

“And I’m ADA Rafael Barba, I’ll be prosecuting your case.”

“What can I do for you?” Neal asked. He still didn’t want to talk. He’d much rather just be with Peter.

“Can you tell us more about Christina? Anything we can use to find her.” Rollins explained. Peter noticed Neal subtly tense up when Rollins said Christina’s name.

Neal said, “Um, sure. What do you want to know?”

“Anything else you haven’t already told us. You’ve spent a year and a half with her. You have to know more than what you’ve already told us.” Barba said.

Neal didn’t want to say anymore. Peter was worried and wondered if there was anything worse than what Neal had already said. Neal thought for a second, sadly sighed and started talking.

He addressed how Christina romanized living in the cabin and having kids when he first got there. The emotional abuse, the backlash when he tried to talk her into giving info about location. How she didn’t fall into his charm, about she drugged him and kept him chained, her rituals and routines. Her erratic mood swings and violent episodes. How she was completely unstable, would lash out at him for no reason. How the baby wouldn’t breastfeed and how she reacted. How she denied him food or gave complete silent treatment, if he did something she didn’t like or if he didn’t obey her. How he used his conman skills for self preservation and protecting the child. He talked about the bear. How she killed it, that the amount of food she had stocked up in the shed concerned him.Then he saw his only chance to escape.

Barba said, “Thank you. Agent Burke, can we talk to you outside?”


 

They left and Barba asked, “I need to start building a case. It’s good to start at the beginning. What were you doing during the abduction, when you noticed? You know, the beginnings.”

Peter said, “The Friday he was abducted Neal and I, along with two of my agents, Jones and Berrigan, were doing van surveillance. He was being annoying so I told him to go home. The three of us stayed in the van until morning. I went home and slept all day until my in-laws came by. They came by on their way upstate and left Monday morning.”

They could easily tell the regret in his voice when he said, “I was too busy to check the anklet. I didn’t notice something was wrong until his friend, Mozzie, called me and asked if he came into the office.”
“Why did he call you?” Barba asked before Rollins could ask more about the anklet.

“Because Mozzie was out of town from Wednesday until Monday morning. He said that he hadn’t heard from Neal since that Friday morning and he knew that I would know where he was. I checked and saw that he hadn’t left his apartment since Friday night.”

“And that’s when you saw the anklet and the syringe.” Rollins said

“How long did it take to rule out that he ran? I know you spent some time wondering that.” Barba asked

“It took us a week to rule out anyone else who would want to hurt him. We got the prints back and hers were in the system.”

Rollins and Barba were surprised that Peter went an entire weekend without checking Neal’s anklet and didn’t notice when he didn’t come in.

“You went a weekend without checking the anklet? When he’s run before? And you didn’t notice when he didn’t come in Monday?” Rollins said surprised

Peter felt like shit and they knew it. “The one time I go more than a day without checking it.”

Barba asked, “Where did Mozzie go? We’d like to speak to him.”

Peter said, “I don’t know and I don’t know when he’ll be back.”

“We’ve got all we need. Thank you.” Rollins said and they left.

Peter was sitting outside Neal’s room, hunched over and deep in thought. Elizabeth came by with coffees. They, along with Mozzie, had rooms at a nearby hotel but they were basically camped out in the hospital. Elizabeth prompted, “What are you thinking?”
He looked up at Elizabeth and said, “It’s not fair, El. They can’t make him finish his sentence. Not after what he’s been through.”

“I know.”

“No, El. You didn’t see this place.” He got up, hands on hips, and said to her, “She made sure he wouldn’t be able to escape. He was put through hell for over a year.” He choked back a tear, “And I couldn’t find him. I failed him.” Elizabeth comforted him, “They can’t take his freedom from him. Not again. Not after so much was taken from him. The Bureau just wants to use him for his skills. They don’t care that he is a person who’s been through unimaginable hell.” Elizabeth continued to comfort him. 


 

Barba and Rollins updated the rest of the squad in the squadroom. They were in disbelief about Peter’s story.

Benson said, “I’ve heard about these two before this. Agent Burke’s close to a legend in White Collar, and Caffrey is a legend in the opposite sense.”

Amaro said in disbelief, “I just can’t believe an Agent like Burke would go more than a day without checking in on Neal due to his history.”

Benson asked, “When was he reported missing again?”

Rollins informed, “A week later. When everyone agreed, most begrudgingly, that he was a missing person, it was tossed to the local precinct. I talked to them, I had to remind them that they took the case. They told me that didn’t even spend an entire day working it. They said since he’s a felon who has run before and they couldn’t locate Christina, gee wonder why, and that they had “more pressing cases”. They declared it cold hours after they first got the case. Burke unofficially worked it the entire time.”

Benson was angry and done. She sighed, “Of course and this poor guy can’t catch a damn break. Now what do we know about Christina?”

Finn said, “She’s a nutcase. Emotional abuse, some physical abuse, the whole nine yards.”

Benson thought out loud, “So she’s unstable but won’t get help, knows she can’t go to the underground criminal network for help, and is infatuated with Neal. She’s also pretty brilliant and we have no leads on her location.” She wondered, “Where do we go from here?”

Chapter Text

A nurse went into Neal's room to check on them and she noticed him yawning and looking more like shit than he should. She asked, “When did you sleep last?”

He sarcastically said, "What day is it again?" He didn’t say but he hadn’t slept in about two days because when he did, he had severe night mares.

She asked, “Is the baby was keeping you up?”

He said, “No, she’s been great.”

She said, “You need to get some sleep. Or I’ll have to give you something.”

Neal admittedly refused, “No! No more drugs!”

“Well then get some sleep. Okay.” The nurse said softly and concerned. She then remembered, "Oh also, I forgot, but we have a birth certificate for you fill out. So think of names, after you sleep of course. You want to be able to take care of her, right?"

She smiled and he sadly smiled back and agreed. The nurse left and told Peter and Elizabeth,

“You should leave for a while, get lunch or some sleep. Neal needs to rest and won’t get that with the constant stream of visitors.”

“Alright. We’ll be back later.” Elizabeth said to her.

“Where’s Mozzie?” Peter asked Elizabeth as they were leaving. They hadn’t seen him since he left in his huff about the anklet a while before.

“I don’t know. Maybe he went back to New York for something.” Elizabeth reasoned. That reminded Peter about how much work he was missing. He had rarely been in the office since Neal escaped around a week ago.

“I’m worried, El.”

“Why?”

“Because the last time we saw him, he was angry. Him and Neal tend to do stupid stuff when things aren’t going their way.” Peter said

“Mozzie wouldn’t do anything stupid would he?” Elizabeth asked

“I don’t know.” Peter confessed and they walked to their car.


 

Later Peter came back to see Neal. They talked for a while about various things. Peter talked a little about work. During a lull in the conversation, the baby woke and Neal grabbed a bottle of formula from the table to feed her.

He was feeding the baby when Peter said calmly and concerned, "You know, I can make the call to the social worker to take care of the baby."

Neal looked up at him, and again, any color in his face was gone and he said, "So they made their decision. I'm going back to prison or back on the anklet."

Peter jumped and said, "No no no. I just. I just thought." He switched his tone and said, "You're not going to keep her, are you?" Unlike Mozzie did, he automatically made an assumption about the child and Neal’s mental state.

Neal said, "Yes. That's what I was planning." Knowing where Peter was going with this, he continued, challenging Peter, "Why wouldn't I?"

Peter said, "Because," and he then visibly chose his next words very carefully "Because of the situation of her conception, I did not think you could or would want to raise her."

Neal, now very pissed, muttered, "Situation of her conception.” He yelled, “DAMMIT, Peter! Just say it!"

Peter deflected and said, "Well sue me if I didn't think you would want to raise that bitch's baby! How can you not think of what happened when you look at her?"

Neal yelled, “Because she’s my daughter too! I had to protect her! I need to protect her from Christina! Also she was the first face I saw in over a year.” He calmed and said seriously, “We bonded.”

Peter rested a little, realizing that somehow he loved this child. He didn’t understand it. He could never understand what Neal went through and how he felt about the child. He retorted, "You can't raise a child." In the heat of argument Peter voiced a few concerns. He made a few comments like he couldn't raise an honest child. One comment was the final straw for Neal, "...And as a criminal you won't be able to get a good job that can support you and her. Then you'll turn back to crime because you’re a con! That’s what you do! And you'll end up in jail! Again! And she'll just end up in the foster system! At least this way she won't have to go through that."

Neal raised his voice angrily, “Well if you would have done your job then none of this would have happened! But you didn’t!” He paused and said sadly and sternly, “I was stuck there.” A confession that he wouldn’t have said if he wasn’t provoked in such a way and such on edge. Although everyone else was also on edge. It was a very tense and emotional situation.

That comment was a stab in Peter’s heart. Because that’s what he was thinking ever since Neal disappeared. Peter stepped backwards, surprised and holding back tears. Neal was holding back tears as well. 

Neal breathed deeply, completely consumed with pain masked with anger. While still maintaining his composure, not wanting to scare the baby cradled in his arms.

He said sternly, "Get out! Right now! And don’t come back."

As Peter went to leave the same nurse as before came in, sensing the tension, she said, "If this is a good time. I have that birth certificate for you."

Neal said, "No, this time is fine. He was just leaving." Peter stood there as the nurse gave Neal the form and he started to fill it out.

She asked, “What he'd like to put for date, height and weight? Would you like to put her current or what could've been when she was born.”

“I’ll guess.” He guessed about two months ago, 8 lb, and 10 inches.

She asked, "What do you want to put for the mother's side?"

He said, "Leave that blank."

She asked, "Did you want to put yourself as the father?" Neal death glared up at Peter, who was still there. He was standing near the door.

"Yes. I do."

Peter left the room and walked over to Elizabeth who was with Mozzie just saying over and over, "I fucked up I fucked up I fucked up."

Mozzie stood up interested, "Ohh, what did you do now?"

Peter said, "I told him I could make a call to social services to take the baby and he got really angry."

Mozzie said in a raised voice, "You idiot!"

Elizabeth said surprised, “What?”

Peter defended, "I didn't think he would want to raise her, after what happened. Sue me.”

Mozzie almost yelled, “He TOLD me that he wanted to keep her.” He was fuming with anger, “Also the system isn’t all puppies and roses.” He said hurt and serious, “It’s really hard.” He then changed this tone back to angry and said, “It hasn’t gotten better over the years. Neal knows all about that.” Referring to his own experience with the foster system. Mozzie continued but switched his tone back to hurt, revealing the pain inside, “He knows what I’ve been through and what happened to me because I never knew my parents. He would NEVER subject ANYONE to that.”

El just shook her head all disapproving, "You shouldn't have asked that, you should have waited to see what he said first. Or at least ask what he was thinking. You shouldn’t have assumed."

Peter subtly caved in and said, "I didn't stop there."

They looked shocked and Elizabeth asked, "What else did you say?"

Peter said regretfully and hesitantly “I said a lot of things that I shouldn’t have. Things that I said in the heat of the moment and don’t necessarily mean. I kind of went off about how Neal couldn't raise a child, nor an honest child. How he’d go back to crime to support her. Stuff like that.” Peter then tried to defend himself by saying, “It was wrong and stupid. I didn’t really mean it. I need to go back in there. I need to talk to him. I need to explain that I exploded. I need to apologize. He kicked me out before I could.” Peter then went into see Neal.

Elizabeth stopped him and said, “Everybody has been very emotional and very tense lately with everything that’s happened. You have to give him time to cool off.  Talk to him tomorrow.”

Mozzie’s phone rung and, thankful for small miracles, he left to take it.
Elizabeth said, “I’m going to get some coffee. Stay here, don’t do anything.” Elizabeth went to the elevator but then saw a sign on the both of them that said ‘Out of order. Sorry for the inconvenience.’ She then went to take the stairs. She opened the door and went quiet as she heard Mozzie’s voice saying, “Okay so you got it?” She saw Mozzie in the stairway talking on the phone, “Good, so we’re all good? You’ll make good on your end? Good. Glad to do business with you.” She then saw him hang up, pull what seemed SIM card from the phone, smash it under his foot, stomp on the phone and tossed it down the stairway. She ducked as he walked down the steps and out through a door a few flights down.

She closed the door and muttered, “Oh Mozzie, what did you do?”

Chapter Text

The next day Peter was back at the office, catching up on the work he’d missed. Agent Pierce knocked on his office door, they greeted and exchanged pleasantries. Peter said, "Since you're here you must have made a decision." Peter was edgy.

Agent Pierce said, "Yes, we have.” He paused, Peter’s heart stopped, Agent Pierce continued,  “We've decided to let Caffrey's sentence expire."

Peter was relieved said, "Oh thank you. He's going to be very happy."

“In exchange, he has to see a psychologist. He can choose it but he has to see one.” Peter agreed with the deal. They exchanged a few more words and he left. Peter sat at his desk so happy to give Neal the news.


He walked into the room and Neal saltily greeted him while holding the baby. Peter said, "They’ve talked about having you finish your sentence."

Neal looked up at him intensely and said, "And?"

Peter responded, "They've decided to let it run out. You're completely free."

Neal looking relieved said, “Thank you.”

Peter said, “I didn't do anything.”

Neal told Peter his daughter's name, "She's Ellen Petra Caffrey."

Peter said, "That's a very nice name. Look," he said as he sat down next to him "I'm so sorry about yesterday. I’m a complete ass and said things that I didn’t mean. I shouldn’t have assumed. I know you’ll do it. Because you always find a way. I know you have the potential to do it right."

Neal interrupted, "No, maybe you were right. How can she turn out well when both of her parents are criminals. I can see why she gravitated towards me, we're both the same, we're criminals."

Peter jumped and insisted, "No! You two are not the same! You do not have a violent bone in your body and I know it! And you know it! You two are in no way the same!"

Neal paused and said, “What if when she grows up she’s a criminal too? It’s in her blood. I can’t have her doing what I did. Oh God if she doesn’t something like what she did. She can’t be a third generation criminal.” Peter knew that Neal couldn’t get their argument out of his head. Peter couldn’t either.

Neal continued, “And who the hell am I trying to kid. I can’t take care of a child. I can’t be a father. I don’t know how. I didn’t exactly have parental examples growing up. Maybe this was a bad idea because I’m not thinking straight.”

Peter responded, “You can choose to believe this or not but you’re doing everything right for this situation. You’re taking care of her needs. You protected her there as much as you could. You waited to escape until you could get her out as safely as possible. You didn’t have to, but because you’re you, you did. You have a good heart. Misguided at times, but good, a chaotic good, really. And I believe in you, Neal.” He added, “And I want to remind you that you’re not alone. You don’t have to go through this alone. Ever since I got the call I’ve been on your side. I’ve messed up. I know. I was a complete ass. But I’ve learned from my mistakes. I regret what I said. I shouldn’t have assumed and spoke like that. That was not the right way to address these issues. And if you want to raise her, or if you don’t, then I know for a fact that you won’t be alone. Because everyone who cares about you, your family, will be right there with you.”

Neal sadly smiled, he said, “I know. Thank you.” He then said, “Since we’re being so honest.” He paused, “You might regret what you said,” He hesitated but continued, “But I don’t.” Peter knew that Neal meant it, and he didn’t blame him. He felt the same way. Peter felt that if would have done his job better then he could have prevented all this.

Neal then retorted,  “I never thought I’d say this but I miss the days where U-boat treasures and federal bribes were our biggest problems.” Peter sadly smiled. He wished they could go back to the start as well, but they can’t. So they were going to take what they’re given and work with it.

Peter said, for the second time, “For whatever it’s worth, I tried everything I could to find you. I never stopped. And I never would have.”

“I know.” Neal responded. Neal and Peter knew that this was one of the many issues that Neal was going to have to deal with.

Peter reassured him, “If you ever want to talk, or just be mad, angry, or sad, about anything. I’m here. We all are. Just remember that you’re not alone.” Neal nodded and sadly smiled.


 

Later Peter and Elizabeth were walking back into the hospital after getting food when she said, “This might sound odd, but I think Mozzie may have paid off everyone to let Neal's sentence expire.”

Peter asked interested, “Why would you think that?”

Elizabeth said, “He was really angry that Neal there was a chance of going back on the anklet. He would be absent for large periods of time afterwards whenever we addressed the possibility. He was very concerned and angry about the baby going into foster care and how Neal would never get her back.” Peter knew it was circumstantial, but he also knew there was more to the story.

“And?” He asked

“Earlier when I went to get some coffee, the elevator was out of order so I used the stairs. I opened the door and heard Mozzie saying stuff about being glad to do business with the person on the other end, that what they agreed on is done, that he’ll receive his payment. When he hung up he smashed what seemed like a SIM card and broke and tossed the burner phone. He didn’t see me.”

Peter said exasperated, “I should have known that he would do something cockeyed like this. Neal has to be involved.”

“You don’t know that.” Elizabeth said

“This is something he’d do El.” Peter defended, “I have to talk to Mozzie.” Then Peter went to find Mozzie.

Peter found Mozzie in a nearby waiting area. He walked in, Mozzie was sitting thumbing through a magazine.

He walked up to him and said, “You consider Neal to be family, right?”

Mozzie, not looking up from the magazine, said, “Yes, of course. He's the closest thing I've ever had to family.”

Peter then asked, “What would you do for family?”

Mozzie looked up and said seriously, “Whatever I have to do to protect them.”

Peter said, “Apparently some think that the committee was bribed into making a decision.”

Mozzie knew that Peter knew and replied while looking at the magazine, “How much do Suits go for?”

“2 million.”

“Huh.” Mozzie replied, “I always knew that the Suits were corrupt.” He then added, “Except for you.” He hated Peter’s profession but he had to objectively give him that.

“The person who did this must have really wanted Neal to be free.” Peter prompted

Mozzie, still not looking at him said, “Well it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this is what Neal needed. That this is what he deserved.”

Peter informed him, “Well that person still broke the law. Along with the people who took the bribe.”

Mozzie looked up and asked, “Who broke the law more? The briber and bribed, or Christina?” Peter sighed and paused, Mozzie continued, “You can’t say they’re equal.”

Peter conceded and said, “No, I can’t. But they both broke the law!”

“Who got hurt in the bribery case? Who? In my eyes it’s a win-win.”

Peter sighed and said sarcastically, “Of course it is.”

“Whoever did it.” Mozzie said, “It was the right thing to do. Neal was going to lose everything. Again.” Mozzie paused and then said, “He’s putting up a brave face now. But that won’t last forever. I already see it cracking. He couldn’t handle going back on the anklet and losing everything.” Hurt, anger, and frustration raging through Peter. Mozzie said calmly and seriously, “Neal has no idea what happened. It should stay that way. He should focus on his recovery right now. We should focus on him and finding Christina right now. Not some Suits with sticky fingers.”

Peter insisted, “But they both broke the law. Not to mention how unethical this whole thing is.”

Mozzie slightly raised his voice, “What’s unethical is the Suits wanting to extort him for his knowledge after he was in the Ninth Circle of Hell!” He continued on another note, “And if they are brought to ‘justice’ then who really wins? No one. You’ve tried to take down big players before and they’ve almost finished you. You wouldn’t get out of it unscathed.” Before Peter could respond Mozzie said, “It was the right thing to do, Peter, and you know it.”

Peter responded, “None of this is right! This whole situation is so fucked up!” He left angry and frustrated to talk to Elizabeth.

 

He came back to Elizabeth, she asked, “What happened?”

“He did it El. He bribed the committee to let Neal’s sentence expire.” Peter said in disbelief, fuming with anger

“Was Neal involved?”
“No. Thankfully not.” Peter replied, he then said “I should have known he’d do something like that.”

“What are you going to do?” Elizabeth asked

“I have to go after them.”

Elizabeth was surprised, “Why?” She asked

“Mozzie broke the law, El. Those Feds and Marshals are dirty. They took a bribe, and I know about it.  It’s my duty to bring them to justice.”

“They won’t go down easy. They won’t go down at all. If they do then they’ll find a way to bring you down with them.” Elizabeth explained

“I know. But I have to try.”

“You’ve taken down big fish before and they’ve almost finished you. Do I have to remind you about Terrance Pratt?!” Elizabeth confronted

“I have to do something, El! Mozzie bribed them! And they took it!” Peter said angrily

“So by coming forward with this you’ll bring down Mozzie, Neal’s best friend. You’ll bring down some Marshalls and Feds who will bring you down with them, somehow. And you’ll bring down Neal. And that baby that he wants to keep goes into the foster system never to be seen again. How does that seem fair to you! How is that justice?!” Elizabeth almost yelled angrily.

“I’m sorry, El.” Peter apologized

“Neal doesn’t need this right now. You saw what Christina put him through! What she made him do! You heard what she did to him! Hell, earlier you were talking about how they couldn’t do this to him. Now you want to do it to him! You want him to lose everything. You want him to lose his freedom and his family. Again!” Elizabeth almost yelled angrily.

Peter knew that Mozzie and Elizabeth were right. But he couldn’t let those dirty officials get away.

“I can’t let them get away with this, El.” Peter defended.

“You have to pick and choose your battles, Peter.” Elizabeth confronted, Peter looked at her for clarification, “You can’t go after everyone. Sometimes you have to pick and choose the battles you wage. You don’t want to make more enemies from the higher ups. Sometimes you have to lose the battle to win the war. Let them go so you can focus on Christina and bringing her to justice. You can’t go back and prevent the kidnapping or find him soon after he was taken. Although you can make sure he doesn’t have to go through any additional pain.” She then asked him a final question, “Neal already resents you for not finding him. How do you think he’ll feel when he finds out that you’re the one who took his family and freedom away from him? Again. Do you think he could handle that without doing something stupid and reckless, like running with the baby?”

Peter had to think, “I have to get some air.” He told Elizabeth right before he left the building. He felt the warm air outside on that cloudy afternoon. He knew that he should just focus on going after Christina, but he couldn’t stand the fact that there were corrupt officials. Corrupt officials working for a system that he believed in with his whole heart. Corrupt officials made a corrupt system. He wondered how many others could be bought. How widespread was this corruption? In his experience, corruption cases were like rats, for every one you see, there are at least ten more you don’t. He walked around the hospital a few times, thinking about what Mozzie and Elizabeth said. What Elizabeth said really stuck with him. He kept thinking,  ‘Neal already resents you for not finding him. How will he feel when he finds out that you took his freedom and family from him. Again. Do you think he could handle that without doing something stupid and reckless?’ He walked around the hospital for a while longer before he made a decision and made peace with it. Or at least as much peace as he could. For Peter, there was no ‘right’ option. Both options really sucked in his opinion, because this was a shitty situation inside of an even shittier situation. He then came up to Elizabeth who was coming out of Neal’s room. When she saw Peter her heart stopped,

“So?” She asked

“I thought about it. Long and hard.”

“And?”

“As much as I feel the need that I should go after them. I’m not going to.” Peter said, not exactly happy, with the decision. Elizabeth was relieved, Peter continued, “Like you said. Lose the battle to win the war. I’m not exactly happy with it but there is no ‘right’ option. If I could take them down without taking down Neal and everyone that he cares about, I would. I’d do it in a heartbeat. But I can’t. I told myself that I would never do something like this ever again, not after Pratt’s murder. But I can’t, I can’t do this to him, not after everything that happened. This whole damn situation is so fucked up. ”

Elizabeth went in for a hug and said, “I know hun. I know. We’ll all get through this.”

 

Chapter Text

About 2 weeks after Neal escaped, Peter came into his room bearing gifts of snacks. Neal was still putting on a brave face for everyone, even himself. Peter wondered how long it was going to last. He knew it couldn’t last forever. He figured the longer he held it in, the worse it was going to be. As soon as he came in Neal said, "It's been two weeks. When am I getting out of here? This is driving me nuts. I’m fine. This is bullshit!" Neal was not fine he just wanted to get out of the hospital.

Peter sat down and said, "It shouldn't be long. I talked to the doctor when I came in he said the psychologist wants to talk to you and that depends on when you get out." Neal groaned and reached for the snacks in the bag. He’s been delaying the psychologist talking to him since he escaped. He knew that they wouldn’t discharge him without it. Peter joked, "I'm surprised you haven't ran to get back to New York."

Neal chuckled and joked, "I've thought about it." Neal continued, "June said I could stay in my old place as long as I want when I get out of here."

Peter was completely against this, he said, “You should really just stay with El and me. Just until you get back on your feet.”

“We’ll be fine.” Neal insisted

“You two should really stay with us. Just for a little while. Just think about it.” Peter insisted

“You don’t think that me being on my own is a good idea. Do you? You don’t think I can handle it.” Neal deduced.

Peter defended, “You’ve been through a lot and you shouldn’t be alone. You should also have someone to help you with Ellen.” His intentions were pure, he just wanted to help.

“Well I haven’t been alone.” Neal retorted, referring to how basically Peter, Mozzie, and Elizabeth, have basically been living at the hospital and nearby hotel since this all happened. Neal thought that was completely unnecessary but he didn’t say anything. He knew their intentions were good. Peter saw Neal’s facade fade for just a second as he told Peter sincerely, “I just want to go home, Peter.”

That made Peter back off and he said sincerely, “Okay. But if you ever change your mind. At any point.”

“I know. Thanks.” Neal replied


 

The hospital psychologist came in a while later. He was super young and looked like he just graduated shrink school that day. It was a small hospital; they didn’t have a psychiatric unit so they outsourced their psychologists when needed. The quality of the doctor was luck of the draw because they called whoever they could get.  Neal was far from fine but played it enough so that he could leave. He made himself sound sane while managing to act enough insane so that the doctor didn’t think he was handling things too well. Because Neal would rather stand still on hot coals then tell this random psychologist how he really felt. The questions the doctor asked were absolutely ridiculous. He asked Neal questions such as, “Were you scared?” and “Are you angry at Christina?” The poor guy tried to help but this was completely out of his depth.

The doctor came out and spoke to Peter and Elizabeth,

“Mr. Caffrey’s ready to be released.” The doctor told them

“Really?” Elizabeth replied surprised

“He should follow up with regular appointments but I see no problem with letting him go. He’s fine to take care of the infant.” He left to get the nurse so she could start the discharge papers.

Peter turned to Elizabeth and said unsure, “I think Neal just conned that doctor.”

“What?” Elizabeth asked

“I know he’s not fine. He’s been putting on a brave face. I do know he really wants to get out of the hospital. And he knew that the doctor was the only way to do it.” Peter thought out loud.

“What are you thinking?”

“I don’t know.” Peter said, “But perhaps...possibly….maybe...Neal will be okay.


 Soon after Neal and Ellen were released from the hospital. Mozzie brought up some clothes for Neal to wear coming back, just some sweats and a t-shirt. A nurse who cared for them gave him a car seat for Ellen. They then headed down to New York. They got to June's and went up to Neal's apartment. He walked in carrying his baby, memories flooding back to him. He looked down at the floor next to the counter, where he fell unconscious trying to call Peter for help. He remembered the last time he was in the apartment and remembered how much had changed.

 

“I didn’t touch the apartment. It’s the same as when you left.” June said, she then added, “Well, it’s not completely the same. You might want to check the backroom.” Neal went into the backroom, the others followed, and saw it was transformed from a closet into a small nursery. White wooden furniture and light green walls with whimsical animals on them. June said, “I still had some stuff in storage from my last grandchild. I figured you wouldn’t mind if I moved your clothes to around your bed. The nursery is fully stocked as well.”

Neal’s speechless as he looked at it, holding Ellen’s carrier. He finally turned to her and said, “June, you shouldn’t have.”

“Of course I should have. You two are family.” June replied

“When did you do all of this?” He asked

“Mozzie and I started when I heard you were being discharged soon with Ellen.”

“I don’t know how to thank you.” He then saw in the corner of the crib, a light brown bear. He recognized it immediately. It was Mozzie’s bear, Mozart. He picked it up, looked at Mozzie, and said, “Mozzie. You shouldn’t have.”

Mozzie smiled and said, “He’s gotten me through some tough times. I thought she could use him. Plus, he should stay in the family.” Neal was speechless.

 

Later that night after everyone left. Mozzie saw Neal with Ellen on the terrace. He went out and sat down. Without looking at Mozzie, instead looking out off the terrace, Neal said “You have no idea how much I missed New York.”

“It's just traffic, overpopulation, and bad smells.” Mozzie joked

Neal said, still looking off the terrace, "It was just so quiet at the cabin. Even outside. I could have screamed and no one would have heard me." Mozzie turned towards him interested, glad he was opening up. It was the first time he talked to anyone except cops about what happened. Neal continued, "I just felt so isolated up there. You know? I missed the sights, and sounds, and smells of the city. Of civilization period. You never know how much you miss the small things until they're gone and you think you'll never experience them again. I’ve had a lot of run ins with death. But there, I truly thought I was going to die. Or worse, live, and never get out. There were times that I truly wanted to die. But when she got pregnant, I knew that I had to survive to get Ellen away from her." Mozzie had no idea what to say to that. Neal turned and looked at Mozzie. He saw he was closely paying attention. Neal then changed the conversation asking, “So where’s that wine you brought?” Mozzie let the conversation go. June later brought up some food and they ate together. They noticed and ignored that Neal basically pushed food around his plate.

They didn’t know what to say. Everyone noticed they felt that a lot lately. They had no idea how to really handle this situation. 

June later went back downstairs to go to bed. Mozzie told Neal, “Oh, by the way I’m staying here until further notice because the Suits know about my safe houses. I need somewhere to stay until I can get some new ones."

Neal knew it was bullshit and Mozzie knew it. Neal knew he wasn't going to get Mozzie to leave for a while, but he liked that. It was comforting to have someone there. Mozzie feel asleep on Neal's couch after Neal put Ellen to bed. After Neal sat in the rocking chair in Ellen's nursery. He just watched her for hours. He eventually fell asleep where he had another nightmare. 

Neal woke up with an almost violent jerk. He was breathing heavily, shaking uncontrollably, and drenched in sweat. He quickly registered where he was, that he was home and alright, that his daughter was okay. He crept into the living room and saw Mozzie snoring on the couch. He didn’t sleep the rest of the night. That wasn’t uncommon for him though.


 

Mozzie woke up to the smell of crackling bacon. Neal cheerfully asked, “Breakfast?”

Mozzie had to ask, "Did you get any sleep last night"

Neal replied, "Yeah"

Mozzie said concerned, "How much?"

Neal replied, "What are you, my mom? Bacon?" Mozzie knew he didn't want to talk about last night or anything and said, "Yeah, sure."

For about the past week Neal had been trying to be his old self, acting like everything was okay when it most definitely wasn’t and he was realizing that couldn’t keep up this ‘I’m okay’ facade. He knew that everyone else knew that he was putting on this act. It was getting tiring, not just because Neal wasn’t sleeping. He was realizing he had to let people in on how badly he was hurting.

Neal thought about how he was cooking for himself for the first time in what seemed like forever. He had a flashback to breakfast at the cabin.

He woke up, before he even opened his eyes he remembered where he was. That the woman lying next to him was not someone he loved, or even liked. He knew he had to wake up. He wished he could just lie there instead of going on with the day like everything that was happening was normal. He eventually opened his eyes.

“Good morning, Sweetie.” Christina greeted with a smile, “I was about to wake you up for breakfast.”

She kissed his cheek, got up, and walked into the kitchen. Neal got up and walked over to the table, the chain connected to the and his foot behind him. While she cooked at the stove she hummed a cheery tune. She put what smelled like eggs onto a plate and turned towards Neal and started to eat. Neal couldn’t reach the stove or anything else with the chain. He looked at her devastated. Neal was famished. He was accidentally sarcastic towards her and she had since refused to give him food. That was two days prior.

“Tomorrow.” She said definitively to his unasked question. Neal’s heart sank, he was so hungry.

He then heard his name being called out, “Neal! Neal! Neal!”

He got back into the moment and turned behind him to Mozzie saying, “The food’s burning.”

He looked at the tons of smoke rising from the pan, “Oh.” Neal said. He got the pan off the burner, tossed the burned bacon in the trash, and went to the fridge for more.

Mozzie asked concerned, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Neal lied and gave a bullshit smile that Mozzie saw straight through.

“Go sit down, I’ll cook.” Mozzie said, trying to help...and make sure that Neal didn’t burn the place down.

“NO!” Neal snapped, causing Mozzie to back away from him. “I got it.” Neal said. He now couldn’t stand the idea of others even so much as touching his food, let alone prepare it. Not after having his food completely controlled and used as a weapon for the past year and a half.

While they were eating, Mozzie saw Neal really going at his plate of bacon and said, "Slow down, you're gonna choke. It's just bacon, it'll be there even if you eat slowly."

Neal seriously replied, "No." He wasn’t allowed to have bacon at the cabin because it was processed food. She had a thing against that. That was also that is exactly what she told him after she starved him for a week after Barry died.

Mozzie was worried about his friend. He then addressed a topic they’ve discussed many times in the past, "You know, since you're technically free now. We can go anywhere. The world is our oyster. Just say the word and within hours I can have us setting off for anywhere in the world where no one can find us. Maybe somewhere tropical. Off the map. Say the word and we could be there by tonight.” He then added, “Just keep that in mind for the future."

Neal gave bitchface, and thought, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?! I've been disconnected, unfindable, and off the map for the last year and a half. I thought I would never see my family again. I said last night how much I missed the city. Also, you want me to worry them again. Right after I get them back you want me to leave them. I haven’t even been in the city for 24 hours. You're an idiot, Moz.’

But Neal said with as little sass as he could muster, "No thanks, but I'll let you know if anything changes." and went back to devouring bacon. Mozzie’s intentions were good, a fresh start in a new place after tragedy...but completely misguided.

Mozzie said, “Okay. Just let me know. Although if we left, went somewhere else, we could have it all. The life we’ve always dreamed of. No more worrying about the Feds, or anything. ” Neal dropped the piece of bacon in his hand and turned pale. Mozzie knew he had struck a cord. Neal said, kind of embarrassed, “Could you not say that? Just...any of that.”

Mozzie really wanted to know why. He didn’t know. He replied, “Of course. You mind-” He paused and Neal interrupted,

“She would always say that. She took what I wanted and twisted and contorted it until it was unrecognizable.” He suddenly didn’t have an appetite anymore and went to put his dish in the sink and went to check on Ellen.

Chapter Text

In the following days, Neal still didn’t open up. He didn’t show any interest in doing anything. Especially anything that involved leaving the apartment and putting on anything that weren’t sweatpants and a t-shirt. He would only leave his apartment to go see his psychologist, a condition of his release. He would just lay in bed all day and all night or sit in Ellen’s nursery. He didn’t have the drive or motivation to do anything else. He would only really get up when she cried. He refused to leave her with anyone and refused to let anyone tend to her. Mozzie stayed for a few days, until Neal insisted that he leave, that he’d be okay alone. He didn’t tell Mozzie that he just wanted to be alone, but at the same time, he didn’t want to be alone.

Mozzie would come over frequently, just to make sure he was okay. But when he did he had little idea of what to do or say. Peter and sometimes Elizabeth would come over frequently as well. Elizabeth would bring tupperware containers full of food along with groceries. She didn’t know what else she could do to help him. Neal’s phone rang constantly, mostly from Peter saying, ‘I had some time so I decided to call and check in’. Neal almost never wanted to answer because he just didn’t have the energy. But he knew that if he didn’t answer, even once, then Peter would come to his apartment with the entirety of the FBI to check on him.

So when his phone rang one sunny afternoon, Neal was sitting in Ellen’s nursery, rocking her in the chair. He picked up his phone from the nightstand next to the rocking chair and looked at the caller id on his phone. It was Peter. He sighed and picked it up, “Hello.”

“Hey. I have some time and decided to check in.” Neal sighed, ‘Here we go again.’ He thought. Neal said annoyed, “Ask me how I’m doing or if I’m okay one more time. I dare you.” He heard Peter sigh on the other end. Neal said now compassionate, “Peter this is the third time you’ve called today and its barely noon.”

“I’m sorry.” Peter apologized, he then asked, “How’s Ellen?”
“She’s fine.” Neal responded

“Where are you?” Peter asked

“Home.” Neal responded

“Whatcha doing?”

“Not much.”

“Any plans for later?” Peter asked. He asked those questions every time he talked to Neal.

“No, nothing.” Neal responded, then said slightly amused, “It kills you that you can’t track me anymore, doesn’t it?” Then Peter heard what he swore to God was a very slight chuckle.

“It did make me feel better, not gonna lie.” Peter admitted

Neal then muttered, “Like it helped last time.”

“What?” Peter asked, he didn’t hear what Neal said.

“Nothing.” Neal responded

“Mind if I come over tonight after work?” Peter asked. Sometimes Peter asked to come over, other times he just showed up.

Neal sighed, he didn’t want Peter to come over but he said anyway, “Yeah, sure.”

“Good, see you then.”

Neal hung up the phone. He looked down at Ellen and said, “I know they all have good intentions and I love them, but they are driving me crazy.” Neal added, “And I know crazy.”  He thought the calls and visits numerous times a day were a little much, but he tried not to say anything because he knew they had good intentions and that they were worried about him. Although he hated that they saw him as a victim. They wouldn’t admit it but Neal knew.

Neal wanted to be left alone, but at the same time he craved to be with Mozzie, Peter, and Elizabeth again. He craved solving a case with Peter, planning a con with Mozzie, or having a drink with Elizabeth or June.

He craved his old life.

But he didn’t have the energy or the drive to pursue any of it. He didn’t feel up to any of it anymore. He didn’t feel like himself anymore. He felt like all that was who he used to be, not who he was now. He didn’t know who was now. He felt like it was now difficult to have conversations about cons and marks with Mozzie or talk about cases with Peter. He felt it was difficult to connect and relate to their conversations.  Especially with Christina still out there, with no one able to find her when they had the cops and the criminal underworld looking for her.


 

Peter came by that night, they had the now typical odd evening. Peter noticed the unkempt apartment as soon as he got in. Neal had to tend to Ellen and left right after opening the door. Peter noticed clothes were on the floor, dishes piled up in the sink and on the counters. Peter peaked in the fridge and saw all of Elizabeth’s food was sitting untouched. Neal hadn't told anyone but he was through with other people making his food. He couldn't handle other people giving him food. Oddly he was okay with takeout.

“Sorry about that.” Neal said as he came back in. He still looked unkempt.

“No, it’s okay. Takeout?” He raised the takeout bag

“Sure.” Neal said and started to clean the clothes, plates, boxes, other shit off his table. “Sorry. I didn’t think it was this bad.” He apologized, referring to the table.

During their awkward dinner he talked about an art forgery case, hoping that it might peak Neal’s interests, but nothing. He just nodded and pushed food around his plate. Peter said,

“El was talking today about this new gallery opening on 47th and Park. Impressionists or something. She wants me to go with her. You want to go with her instead?”

“Nah, I’m good. Thanks though. I’ll catch it later.” Neal said as he got up and took the takeout container to the garbage.

Peter quietly sighed.

Peter asked Neal, because he noticed the was in the same sweats and t-shirt as he was a week ago, “When was the last time you left the apartment?”
“I left when I went to the shrink then to the shop around the corner.” Neal answered while trying to clean up the kitchenette.

“That was a week ago, Neal. And you cancelled your appointment for this week.”

He hated seeing Neal like that. Peter’s heart shattered seeing Neal like that. It made him so fucking angry at Christina for doing this to him. Peter hated himself for not being able to help him. Neal was only a shell of who he used to be.

Peter then suggested, “How about you and Ellen come over for dinner this week.”

Neal grimaced, still turned towards the kitchen, “How about you two come here.” He suggested, even though the thought of socializing made him made him want to crawl into bed and not come out. Although of course, he didn’t tell this to anyone.

Peter accepted the compromise as a tiny victory and they set a date knowing Elizabeth would be fine with any day. Something, anything, to get him out and doing something and keep him connected to other people.

Later Neal would cancel saying “Baby troubles, sorry, raincheck?” That was his excuse to get out of anything now. Doctor appointments, social outings, anything. Peter ended up staying the night Neal didn't like being alone, especially at night. He didn't feel safe, but wouldn't outright say that he wanted someone to be there. So Peter and Mozzie took shifts a few nights at a time whenever they could.


 

That night when Neal went to check on Ellen, Peter grew concerned after he didn’t come back for quite a while. He then went to check on them. He walked into the backroom closet turned nursery and saw Neal standing over the changing table against a wall, clutching Ellen to his chest. Peter heard Neal muttering, “It’s okay. I’ll keep you safe. I’ll get you out of here. I promise.”

Peter standing by the door asked concerned, “Neal? Are you okay?”

Neal turned to him and his eyes went large, just for a second. Peter looked at him and grew more concerned. Because unlike Mozzie, Peter recognized the signs of someone having a flashback. He knew many veterans who mainly fought in the Middle East, mostly FBI colleagues. Luckily, Peter knew how to deal with flashbacks.

“I was just about to put her down. Unless you want her of course.” Neal said, fear in his voice

“Neal, it’s Peter. Your friend.” Neal looked uncertain, “She’s not here. You’re in your apartment. That isn’t happening now. You’re having a flashback.” Peter said, concerned and cautious. Speaking slower and clearly. Neal put her down on the changing table, still looking terrified and out of it.

Peter asked, trying to ground him in reality, “Look around the room, okay. What color are the walls?”
Neal looked and replied “Green. Light green.”

“Deep slow breaths. Is there anything else on the walls?”

“Yeah, animals.”

“What kind?”

Neal looked, “Um, giraffes, monkeys, elephants, lions, tigers.”

“Okay, keep taking slow deep breaths. How many pieces of furniture are in the room?”

Neal looked around, trying to breathe deeply and slowly, “Four.”

“Good. Who’s in the room?”

Peter could tell Neal was really thinking about this one. Peter asked again, “Who’s in this room, Neal?”

“You Peter, me, and Ellen.”

“That’s right. Are you feeling better?” He asked starting to slowly come towards him, making sure not to make any sudden movements.

Neal said, breathing deeply and slowly, coming back to reality, “Yeah. Yeah I am.”

Peter came over and asked, “How often has something like this happened? How often do you have flashbacks?”

“Since I came home, a few. Nothing like that though.”

“You’re getting help right?” Peter asked

“Yeah.”
“And you’re letting them help you?” Neal didn’t say anything. Peter continued, “You have to let them help you.” Neal nodded.

“Can I hug you?” Peter asked, knowing that when someone had just had a flashback they might not want to be touched. Neal nodded and Peter hugged him.

“We’ll get through this. Okay. We will.”


 

Peter came home the next morning after staying at Neal’s.

Elizabeth greeted him, “Hey, hun.”

“Hey.” She gave him a kiss.

“How’s Neal? Any better?”

“No, he’s still pretty bad.” He’s been like that since about a day or two after he came home. Mozzie was right, his ‘I’m okay’ facade broke.

Peter said to Elizabeth, “Neal’s just not himself. It kills me to see him like this. It makes me so fucking angry at Christina for doing this to him.”

“I’m sorry, hun.”

“If Neal was himself then he and Mozzie would be coming up with some half-baked cockeyed scheme that would lure her in and catch her in a trap. It would be reckless and stupid but because they’re them it would work. But they’re not. Neal’s not doing much of anything now.”

“Oh hun.” Elizabeth gave her husband a comforting hug.

“I’m worried about him, El. I’m really worried about him.” Peter confessed

Chapter Text

Neal sat in the waiting room with Ellen in her carrier. He wasn’t a fan of going to his psychologist but he knew he had to. He wished he could just get up and go home. The secretary soon came into the waiting area and said with a clipboard in her hand, “Mr. Caffrey?” He looked up at her, she said, “Dr. Anderson will see you now.” Neal picked up Ellen and headed into the doctor’s office.

“Hi, Neal.” The doctor said and smiled.

“Hey.” Neal sat down. Doctor Anderson grabbed her notebook and pen and sat down across from him. Her office was pretty minimalist. She had a lot of degrees, but didn’t paint her walls with them. She was an older woman, probably mid-late fifties. She was average height with short grey hair.

“How are you doing?” She asked

“Not that great.” He said honestly

“How’s the baby? Have you let anyone around her yet?”

“She’s fine. Pretty happy baby, oddly enough.” He paused, “But no. I haven’t let anyone around her yet. I just can’t bring myself to do it.”

Dr. Anderson nodded, she asked, “How are the night terrors? Have you been sleeping any better?”

“No, they haven’t gotten any better.” Neal replied

"Have you had any flashbacks lately? Any severe ones like the one in Ellen's nursery."

"They haven't been as frequent. I haven't had any more severe ones."

She said compassionately, “You know, we could work on improving your sleep, among other issues, if you would start to talk about what happened. About the cabin, Christina.” Neal didn’t say anything. She continued, “We’ve had three sessions and you’ve yet to talk about it, other than you can’t sleep and won’t let anyone around Ellen. I’ve looked into you. I could tell that you have difficulty opening up, rather it be by habit or something else. I know you’re stubborn, you don’t let people in, not completely. Even the people closest to you. I don’t know if this is something you’ve done your whole life or just during your criminal career, but you’re doing it now. I won’t push too hard, but you need to talk about it. I know you don’t want to. I know it’s hard, but you have to. So you can heal and move on. This is the only way.”

“I know.” Neal said a little annoyed

“Have you talked to anyone else about what happened? Other than the cops.”

“Not really.”

“I know showing your vulnerabilities is something that you just don’t want to do. You don’t tend to do it. It can be daunting, I know. People who suffer long term trauma tend to take a long time to open up, if at all. So how about you choose one person in your life that you’re very close to and use them as a support system. Then branch out from there. Of course, you don’t have to tell them everything. Just let them in on your pain, so they can help you.”

“You make it sound so easy.” Neal remarked

“Oh I know it’s not. But I can help. Once you let your friends and family in, they can help as well. They just want to help you, because they care.”

“I know.”

She then proposed an idea, “When you have said something of substance. You’ve talked about you and your friend and partner, Peter. That he’s the one person you trust. How about you let him in first. Just start talking about what you’re thinking, how you’re feeling. You don’t even have to look at him if you don’t want to or can’t.”

Neal thought for a second and said, “That doesn’t sound like a terrible idea.”

The doctor slightly chucked and said, “You’ll find I’m full of good ideas if you let me help you.”


 

That night Peter came over. Neal was thinking about what the doctor said. They were both sitting at the table having drinks. Neal finished his second glass of wine, wishing he had something stronger. He was going to follow Dr. Anderson’s advice. He thought it would be a bit easier if he was at least a little drunk but mostly sober would have to do. During a silence, Neal finally spoke, “Lately I’ve wondering, how did I get here? How did my life go to shit so quickly? I mean, I know how but,” He paused at a loss for words, “How is this now my life?” Peter was paying close attention, glad Neal was opening up, especially on his own terms. Although he was surprised at his sudden openness. “A few years ago I was pulling cons all over the place. Now I can barely get up in the morning.”

Neal continued, remembering the night he was abducted, “I got you to tell me to leave because I didn’t want to spend another long night in the van. It was supposed to be a quiet night in. Just dinner and then going to bed, because I was exhausted. Then everything changed. Believe it or not I normally think things through, thinking of all outcomes,” Planning and thinking of all possible outcomes were essential when he was executing cons, “But I could have never seen anything like this happening. No one could have. Ever since I started pulling higher cons I knew that prison was a possibility, so I prepared for it. I could never have prepared for this.” He was at a complete loss for words, articulating his thoughts and feelings as best as he could. He confessed, “I’m such a damn mess. I don’t know how I can move on.”

Peter responded, listening very carefully, “Well this is a good start.” He asked, “Do you want to talk about it some more?”

Neal continued, “For so long before this all happened I thought about settling down with a good woman, having a family. Knowing that doesn’t really happen with guys like me. Mozzie said that on numerous occasions. Saying that con men don’t normally have happy endings like that. I never thought that I would be in this position, having a child on my own, in these conditions.” Neal saw that Peter was listening attentively.

He continued and confessed something that he tried not to even think about, let alone say out loud, “I love Ellen, I do. I feel this intense need to protect her that no one else can satisfy.  But some days.” He looked down, wishing his was at least a little intoxicated for this, he looked back up at Peter, “Some days I look at her and all I think about is how and why she was conceived. All I think about is Christina. Those are the days that I just want to take her to a hospital or something and just leave her there. No questions asked.” Referring to the Safe Haven laws, “Thinking that it would be better for the both of us. That maybe I could move on quicker without the reminder and she can have real parents. She could have a mother. She could have a father,” He paused tears in his eyes, “A father that isn’t a completely broken screw up.”

“How often do you feel like that?” Peter asked very concerned

“That particular feeling?” Neal asked, Peter nodded, “Rarely. I doubt I would act on it.” Peter nodded in acknowledgement. He feared that would happen. He kind of voiced those fears in not the healthiest of way back at the hospital during their fight.

The floodgates had opened, and he didn’t know if he could close them again. Neal continued, “Although the few times I have thought that I’ve felt like shit after. Because I’m all she has. She didn’t ask to be born, especially not into this situation. Also, I don’t think I would act on those thoughts because she gives me hope. That things might turn out okay. That maybe, just perhaps, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. If I didn’t have her, I don’t think I would have much to look forward to. I’m a guy in his thirties who is the definition of not having his shit together, especially now. But now, I have to take care of her and make sure she grows up well. I have her growing up to look forward to.” Peter nodded, letting him get it all out, or as much as he felt comfortable with. Neal continued, “It’s so hard to even get out of bed. Eventually she always gives me a reason to get up.” Switching to a different fear he said, “I’m also constantly scared for her. For us.”

“Why?” Peter asked, knowing why but wanting him bring it up.

“I’m terrified that she’s going to come back. That she’ll take Ellen, and me again. That’s she’s out there planning the next abduction. And that I might not be so lucky next time.” He said, referring to escaping and living to tell about it. “I also just feel so different, like I’m not myself. Or who I thought I was or possibility could be.”

“No one expects that, Neal. It’s okay. It would be impossible to feel the same after what happened. Just take it day by day.” Peter said

 Neal then poured himself another glass of wine. He was just about done with talking for the night. He was now exhausted. Peter could tell that from looking at him.

He asked him, “Did that make you feel better?”

“Yeah, actually.” Neal replied

Peter gave a sad smile, happy to be there for his friend. Peter was glad that Neal opened up on his own terms. He knew that pushing would do more harm than good. “That’s why I’m here, Neal. I’m here for whatever you need and whatever she needs.” He then offered suggestions, “Whatever you need, whether it be someone to listen, just hangout to get your mind off things, or things like food or babysitting. We’re here for you. You’re not alone.” He noticed Neal tensed up and got more concerned, “What?”

“Another thing,” he started, he hesitated but continued, “I don’t feel comfortable leaving Ellen with anyone, or letting anyone around her. I don’t trust anyone around her. I know it’s dumb, but for now. I just can’t do it.”
“That’s okay. It’s perfectly understandable.”

“Thank you,” Neal said, “For listening. It means a lot.”

“Like I said, I’m with you, for everything.” Peter assured


 

At his next psychologist appointment Doctor Anderson said, “I’m glad you decided to let Peter in. I’m proud of you, Neal.”

“Thanks. It was hard, but I’m glad I did it.” Neal confessed

“Now this normally isn’t a clear simple path of progression. You might backslide. You probably will. But you have to fight through it. I know Peter and the rest of them will be there. As will I. Are you ready to talk about the cabin now?”

Neal said, “Yeah. I think I am. At least a little bit.”

Chapter Text

Neal was in front of Ellen in a high chair, trying to get her to eat some mashed carrots when the door rang. He went to get it. He answered it and Christina was standing there. “Hi, Neal.” She said. He was shaken to his core. “It’s time to be a family again. Our daughter needs to go home.” She said as she showed a gun in her waistband. “You can either come the easy way or the hard way.” He backed up and went in front of the high chair, shielding his daughter from Christina.
“I’m not going with you. At all.”

Neal woke, still shaking and sweating. He checked the time, about 9:30 in the morning. He knew that he had to do whatever it took to keep his daughter safe from her. He picked up his phone and called an old contact, Mike.

“Hey, Mike. It’s Neal.”

“Hey, Neal. What’s up?”

“I need your help getting a certain item. Can we meet?”

“Sure.”

Neal went to meet Mike shortly after, it was just around the corner.

Neal showed up with Ellen in a carrier in a parking lot behind some cars.

“Hey, Neal.” Mike said cheerily and went in for a handshake.

Neal went straight to business and inquired, “Do you still have a hand in arms trading?”

Mike was surprised yet not surprised. “Not much anymore. But I could put you in contact with someone that could help. He should get you hooked up quickly.” He wrote down a name and number and gave it to Neal.
“Thank you.” Neal then went to leave when Mike said,

“Take care of yourself, Caffrey.” Neal nodded and left.

As soon as Neal was out of earshot Mike called Mozzie and said, "Hey, so something bad just happened."

"What?"

"Neal Caffrey just tried to buy a gun off me."

"What!?"

 "I don't know what happened to him, but I know he's not in the right mind to handle a gun. He's gonna hurt himself or that kid. So I called as soon as he left."

"Did you give him anything?!" Mozzie asked alarmed

"I told him I didn't do that much anymore but that I knew a guy. The name I gave him an old burned alias and the number an old disconnected one of mine. I just thought you needed to know."

"Thanks. I'll take care of it. Thanks so much for letting me know."

"Anything for a brother."  Mozzie then called Peter and told him the story. They'd meet at Neal's place to have an intervention because obviously Neal was more not okay than they were lead to believe.


 

Mozzie and Peter went to Neal's for an intervention. They sat down. Neal knew something was up since they were both there. Neal asked, “Wow, both of you. What’s up?”

Mozzie went right for it and said, "I know you tried to buy a gun. Mike called me as soon as you left." Neal tried to hide how he looked shocked. He was more angry than anything.

Neal commented, "And you told Peter."

Mozzie defended, "Because it was necessary. You know I wouldn't have done it otherwise. As much as it pains me to say this, he needed to be told about this."

Peter asked angrily, "Brushing aside for the moment how this is about 10 different kinds of illegal. Why the hell did you do it?"

Neal defended, "Because it's necessary! I need to protect my daughter and myself! She's gonna come back! It's only a matter of time. She would kill anyone of you in an instant to get to me and Ellen!"

Peter said angry, starting to raise his voice, "I don't doubt that but we can protect you!"

Neal yelled, "NO! You DON’T get it! She KILLED someone! In cold blood! An innocent man! For no reason other than she thought that he could possibly get in her way!”

“We can protect you!” Peter repeated

Neal retorted angrily and sarcastically, “Yeah because you did such a great job last time!” Peter looked like he was punched in the gut. Neal continued in the same angry tone, “That was your JOB and you FAILED!" Peter and Mozzie were speechless, Neal looked defensive. Neal calmed down just a bit and asked, "When did you realize I was gone?"

Peter looked exasperated, "Neal."

Neal didn’t back down, "No, tell me. When did you realize I was gone?"

Peter admitted, "Late Monday morning."

Neal had an expression that said, are you fucking kidding me?! He shouted, “IT TOOK YOU THREE FUCKING DAYS TO NOTICE?! YOU COULD SEE WHERE I WAS IN MY APARTMENT BUT IT TOOK YOU THREE MOTHERFUCKING DAYS TO NOTICE THAT I WAS GONE?!” The room fell silent. Neal continued, “I first thought, ‘This is really bad. It doesn’t seem like I can get out. But it’s okay because Peter will come. He’ll find me. Because that’s what he does. Some might say that’s his specialty. Little did I know YOU DIDN’T EVEN FUCKING KNOW THAT I WAS FUCKING GONE!” He pushed cups off his table in anger and they crashed onto the floor. Neal was seething with anger. He asked, “What the fuck happened?!”

Peter explained the situation, “I spent the rest of Friday in the van and Saturday sleeping. El’s parents came Saturday night on their way upstate. You know how they are. They left Monday morning. That morning I was so swamped I didn’t realize you didn’t come in until Mozzie called.”

Neal seemed confused. Peter explained, “Mozzie tried to call you throughout the weekend and was concerned. He just got back in town. He called me when he couldn’t reach you. I checked the anklet and saw that ‘you’ hadn’t moved since Friday night. We went to your apartment and I saw the anklet on the table,”

Neal said, "So you thought I ran."

Peter said, “Yes until Mozzie showed me the fake id's and passports, and we found a syringe that she must’ve forgotten about. We later found out him trace amounts of tranquilizer and Christina's fingerprints. She hacked the anklet so no one knew that it was taken off. Also the fact that Mozzie had no idea what was going on.” He got the subject back on track and said, "I understand you don't feel safe but a gun is not the answer. I thought you hated guns."

Neal said very angry and defensive, "You could NEVER understand this!"

Peter said, "I heard your police statement. I saw the cabin. I will never understand completely but I understand more than anyone else.” He said sternly, “We'll come up with alternatives that don't involve guns.”

“Why? It would protect us.” Neal defended

Peter almost yelled, “Because they’re fucking dangerous! What if when Ellen gets older she finds it. She plays around with because she doesn’t know what it is then accidentally shoots herself.”

“I’d hide it so Ellen couldn’t find it.”

“What if she comes back and you can’t get to it. Like how you couldn’t get to your phone. THEN IT’S NO FUCKING PROTECTION!” Peter retorted, getting angry for a reason he wasn’t even sure of.

Neal went silent, still fuming. Peter brought up another point, “You’ve had good days and you’ve had bad days. You’ve had some really bad days. Where we were too afraid to leave you alone. I’m terrified that,” He paused, composing himself, trying to calm down, “I’m terrified that if you had a gun on a bad day you would use it on yourself.”

Mozzie nodded in agreement. The room fell silent again. Neal sighed, wishing he could go back in time before all this happened, back when times were simpler. He knew that Mozzie and Peter felt the same way.

Neal didn’t argue about Peter’s last point.

Chapter Text

Neal, now in his mid 50’s, time had been very good to him, was sitting in the park reading a book and enjoying the day when his phone rang. He picked it up, “Hello?”

“Hey, it’s Diana.”

“You mean new ASAC Berrigan.” Neal smiled and Diana chuckled on the other end. “I know this isn’t a social call so what’s up?”

“I’m sorry to call for this reason but we had to arrest Ellen today. I’m telling you personally because of our history.”
“Why?” Neal asked concerned

“We’ve actually been tracking her for some time and weren’t able to find her.”
Neal hadn’t spoken to his daughter in some time but she told him that she was just traveling and was busy. Diana continued, “We suspect that she has done numerous cons and heists around the country and into Europe.” Neal sighed. He always feared that would happen. He always feared that she’d be a criminal.

“Anything violent?” He asked. Diana was silent. “Diana. Anything violent?”

“Certain people in trail of her heists have ended up dead. We suspect that she kills anyone who gets in her way so she can get what she wants.” Neal sighed and put his head in his hands. This was his greatest fear. That she would be like Christina.

Neal shook awake. He rolled over to check the time on his phone. It was 2:33 am. He laid in bed for a while and stared at the ceiling and the shadows from the moonlight on the wall. Mozzie was asleep on his couch. He didn’t want to disturb him. He laid in bed a while more, he turned on the TV at low volume and watched the first thing that came on. It was some documentary about Norwegian prisons. He laid there for a while, determined to distract himself enough to go back to sleep, or at least get off edge, but when he kept hearing noises in the apartment he caved and called Peter. He didn’t really want to. He knew the noises were nothing, just an old apartment in an old house but he was still shook up enough to call him. Calling Peter in the middle of the night a few times a week had become almost sadly routine for Neal. He’d call and say something random immediately and they would talk about random topics for at least an hour before Neal hung up. Peter never refused a call. Sometimes Neal would talk about the nightmare that woke him up or open up about the cabin in general but not always. Peter tried not to pry.

When Peter answered the phone he said, groggily, “Hey, Neal.”

“Norwegian prisons are like palaces. If we were in Norway I wouldn’t have escaped.” Neal opened

“What? Why? We’re not in Norway.” Peter said waking up

“I’m watching this documentary about Norwegian prisons palaces.”

“Why?”

“I’m over here, and the remote is over there.” Peter’s just face palmed. They ended up talking for a good hour or so about random topics. Neal didn’t open up this call.


 

The next morning Ellen wouldn’t stop crying and Neal couldn’t figure out why. He fed her, burped her, changed her. Nothing. He was holding her, trying to get her to stop. He was exhausted and frustrated. He heard someone knocking on the door and calling his name. He knew before opening it that it was Mozzie. He answered it, crying baby in hand.

Mozzie walked in and immediately said angrily, “You will not believe with Mack did!” Neal had to think for a second and remember who the hell Mack was. He was a guy from the street who focused on art and antiquity heists.

Neal humored him, he said preoccupied with his crying child, “What?”

“You know that heist I’ve been planning for months?”

Neal thought, he remembered Mozzie saying a while back that he was planning something. The details kind of went in one ear and out the other. He didn’t care too much about it. He had too much to deal with.

“Yeah.” Neal said still preoccupied and unenthused

“He got there before me and carried out the heist exactly how I planned it! How could this happen?! Again!” Mozzie went on to tell his tale of woe.

Neal had absolutely no sympathy. Because even though he knew that he should care about his friend’s issues, no matter how minor, with all the shit he was going through he just couldn’t do it. Basically, he knew he should care...but he wasn’t at the part of recovery yet.

So Neal instead said, completely deadpan and sarcastic, “You’re life is so hard. My heart breaks for you. It really does.”

Mozzie quickly noted Neal’s sarcasm and immediately felt like shit. “I am so sorry. I shouldn’t be complaining to you. Of all people, you. I’m such an ass. I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”

“No, it’s okay.” Neal said brushing it off. Ellen finally stopped crying soon after, much to Neal’s relief.

“How’s she doing?”

“She wouldn’t stop crying this morning and I still don’t know why?”

“Well she stopped so obviously you’re doing something right.”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“I’m sorry, again. I shouldn’t throw my petty problems at you.”

“No, I’m sorry. I should care about other people’s problems, but it’s so hard when I have so much shit going on. At a later date I’ll care.”

“Just take it day by day, my friend.”

Neal looked at the time and said, “I have an appointment. I have to go. We’ll talk later, okay?” Mozzie nodded and left. Neal left with Ellen soon after. 


 

Neal was walking back with Ellen in a stroller after a psychologist appointment. He turned the corner and saw some NYPD cars in front of the house. That caught his interest for obvious reasons and he ran up to the door and saw Peter.

“What happened?!” He asked, very alarmed

“There was a break-in. Most likely part of a series of break-in’s that have been happening in the neighborhood recently.” Neal grabbed Ellen from the stroller and ran upstairs. Peter hot on his heels.

He ran past June who was surveying the cops and CSU documenting the crime scene who yelled at a passing Neal, “They didn’t touch your place! They already checked!” Neal completely ignored her. He got up to his place, put Ellen on the bed and started to search the apartment.

Peter was right behind him and insisted, “CSU already searched here. Nothing’s been touched. The robber just went after June’s valuables. There’s no trace anyone else has been up here.”

“That’s because she doesn’t leave traces. She learned from last time.” Neal insisted still searching the apartment.

Peter sighed and insisted, “It wasn’t her, Neal.”

 Neal almost yelled as he turned to Peter, “Yes it was! I know it! You don’t know her like I do!” He continued to scour the apartment.

Peter stood firm and grabbed Neal’s attention, “Neal!” Neal turned and Peter continued seriously, “It. Wasn’t. Her.”

“She’s going to come back and you know it. I know it was her. She’s after me. She’s after Ellen.”

Peter knew that he wasn’t going to be able to convince Neal any different. Peter also knew that if Neal stayed by himself he was going to do something stupid and reckless...again. (Like trying to buy a gun.) So Peter proposed a suggestion, “You told me that June is currently upgrading the security system.”

Neal nodded, “Yeah.”
“How about until that’s finished and until the guy is caught you and Ellen stay with me and El.” He reassured, “Just until the guy is caught and the upgrades are finished.”

Neal thought about it. He realized it would be better for him than being at home wondering, ‘If it wasn’t her then what did they take? Why were they here? Are they working for her? When will she find us? When will she come back? Was she here and we just happened to be gone?’  So he reluctantly said, “Fine.” At least he’d have someone else to distract him from those thoughts.

Also he knew there wasn’t any saying no to Peter. Even though Peter phrased it as a suggestion Neal knew it was a command, or else Peter would basically move in with him. He grabbed some essentials from the apartment, threw them in a bag, and they left.


 

When they arrived at Peter’s house they were greeted with Satchmo’s raving enthusiasm. Elizabeth greeted them, she smiled and said, “Hey, guys!” She gave Peter a kiss and went to hug Neal. Peter noticed Neal’s expression went to deer in headlights. Neal backed up and raised the baby carrier in his hand and said, “I should get her upstairs.”  Elizabeth was taken by surprise by Neal’s rejection and said, “Oh of course. I have the guest room ready for you two.”

“Thanks.” And Neal headed up the stairs with Ellen.

As soon as Peter heard a door open and close he said to Elizabeth, “It’s not your fault, El.”
“I can’t try to even touch him?” Elizabeth asked, she had only seen Neal a few times since he left the hospital.

“I wouldn’t, El. At least not now. It’s not you.”

“It just triggers him.”

“Yeah.” They walked into the kitchen and Peter continued but in a hurt tone, “It just kills me to see him like this. This isn’t him, El.”

“I know.” She consoled her husband

“It just makes me so angry what she did to him.” Peter, lost in thought said, “I just keep thinking over and over. Why didn’t I check the anklet Saturday? Why didn’t I call at some point over the weekend? Why didn’t I notice when he didn’t come in on Monday until Mozzie pointed it out? If I would have called or checked over the weekend I would have noticed and found out so much sooner. We could have known who took him earlier. Then maybe the trail would have been less cold. I know Neal, I should have checked. Why didn’t I check it El? Why did I go an entire weekend without checking the anklet?”

Elizabeth didn’t know what to say to that. She continued to hug and comfort her husband. Peter admitted, “And I don’t know what I’m doing, El. I don’t know how to help him.”

“No one knows how to help him. Neal probably doesn’t even know what would help him. But you’re there for him and that’s all that counts. You’re actively trying.” Elizabeth said

“I’m supposed to be such a good FBI agent how didn’t I know that Neal was being stalked? That we were being stalked?”

Elizabeth then changed her tone and finally said, “Beating yourself up isn’t gonna change what happened.”

“I know.”

“So let’s just continue to be there when he needs us. You can’t change the past, but you can improve the present and the future.”

They then heard footsteps coming downstairs. Neal came down with a baby monitor.

“Neal, dinner should be ready shortly.” Elizabeth informed

Neal softly smiled and said, “Thanks.”

Chapter Text

At dinner Elizabeth tried to make conversation. Neal went along with it as he pushed food around his plate. No one brought up the fact that Neal wasn’t eating. Peter wondered when Neal ate last. He only tended to eat when he made the food. During dinner they heard Ellen cry over the baby monitor. Neal started to get up when Elizabeth said,

“It’s okay, I got it.” She was trying to do something nice. Just a random act of kindness.

“No I got it.” Neal said, trying to be nice

“I’m happy to help.” Elizabeth said, being sincere

“NO!” Neal snapped, his change of demeanor surprised Elizabeth, “I got it.” He said angrily. He grabbed the baby monitor from the table and almost stormed upstairs.

Elizabeth looked at Peter confused. Peter assured Elizabeth, “It’s not you, El.”

“I know.”

“He hasn’t let anyone tend to the baby. Barely let anyone around her.” Peter told her, “It’s not a surprise he doesn’t let people, especially women, around her.”

“Has he talked to you lately about what happened? Or Mozzie?” Elizabeth asked

“Sometimes.”

“Do you know if the therapy's helping?”

“I have no idea.” Peter replied, “I just know he goes.”


 

Neal and Peter were in his living room, fighting. Neal yelled, “Why didn’t you find me! Why couldn’t you find me! Why could you find me when it wasn’t life threatening but when it is you fail?! If you knew I was being stalked then you could have avoided this whole mess! I would be fine! I would be free and safe doing whatever I wanted! Now I can barely get up in the morning!”

“I’m sorry.” Peter said defeated

“Well that’s all well and dandy but that doesn’t do shit for me now!” Neal yelled, “I will never be safe from her! Ever!” He then asked, “Why didn’t you call or check the anklet during that entire weekend? Mozzie tried calling apparently. He cared. He cared so much he called you! Of all people! You don’t care about me! Only what I could do for you! You probably liked me not being your CI. No more drama.”

Peter looked defeated and said, “That’s not true. You’re family.”

“You FAILED me! I did SO much for you and you left me to die up there with that bitch!”

Peter shook awake. Much like Neal, he had nightmares frequently. His were about failing Neal and Neal’s well being. He decided to go downstairs. He stepped downstairs and saw a light on, he turned off the lights when he went to bed. He walked over and saw Neal holding Ellen in the kitchen. His back was to Peter.

“Hey, Neal.”

Neal jumped and grabbed something off the nearby counter before turning around. When Neal turned around Peter saw that not only was he feeding the baby but he had a rather large knife in his hand. Peter immediately went defensive. Neal quickly realized it was just Peter and put it down. Peter knew that knife was put nearby intentionally. Neal sighed, defeated, and said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t expecting anyone.”

“It’s okay.”

“What are doing down here? It’s,” Neal looked at the clock at the wall, “Four am.”

“I couldn’t sleep.” Peter admitted, “What about you?”

“Ellen needed fed.” Neal said, he then admitted, “I couldn’t sleep either.”

“You want to talk about it?” Peter asked, since Neal admitted to not sleeping Peter figured that maybe he’d want to talk about it. He reassured Neal, “You know you can talk to me. About anything. If you want to. I’m here for you. Always. So are Mozzie and Elizabeth.”

Neal looked down at the baby he was feeding and said, “I had a nightmare about Barry Lander.”

“Oh.” Peter said, happy Neal was opening up.

“He was so innocent. Why did he die and I get to live?”

“Neal, don’t beat yourself up over this.” Peter insisted

“Barry’s family had to bury him. I looked it to it. He had a wife and kids. His mother’s still alive.” Neal looked at Peter and said, “She had to bury her son, Peter.”

Peter knew that now that meant so much more to Neal. Neal couldn’t comprehend the idea of losing his daughter. Neal continued, “I should’ve jumped in front of him or tried to disarm her.”
“Neal don’t.” He didn’t want Neal to beat himself up over this. Even though Peter was doing the exact same thing.

“I wanted to go to the funeral, but I was still in the hospital.” He then said, getting angry, “But what would I even say? Hey, sorry your son died because I couldn’t protect him. I couldn’t even protect myself or my daughter.” Peter started to interject but Neal continued, “I should have called as soon as she entered my apartment. I should have fought back more in the apartment. I should have fought back more at the cabin. Why did I let her push me around like that?”

Peter interjected, trying to make his point, “You did everything you could at your apartment. If you didn’t comply at the cabin she would have killed you, Neal! Or worse!”

Neal put the baby down on the table and said, “I gave Barry a note to call you. He was going to too.” Peter knew this already, he found it at the cabin. He never asked Neal about it, things came up. (ie: The anklet debacle) Neal continued, “Then she shot him. She told me to get back in the cabin or else she’d shoot me too, but in the leg.” Neal couldn’t look at Peter. He stood facing the kitchen table.

Peter said, “Neal, she had a shotgun. If she would have shot you then best case scenario you wouldn’t have your leg. You survived and got her out safely. You did everything right.”

Neal said, immersed in the memory he would always try to forget, “I was so damn angry.” He pounded his fist on the table, “I thought I finally had a safe way to get us off that fucking mountain! I was so goddamn helpless!” He said through gritted teeth, trying not to yell.

“What did you do Neal? What happened?” Peter prompted, curious

“I punched the door, just screaming and sobbing. She then came back and snuck a syringe under the table when we were sitting down. She’s a sneaky one. I never saw any of them coming.”

“And?”

“She left me alone, chained in the cabin for God only knows how long. All I know is that it was more than a few days. Maybe a week. As usual, I didn’t have access to food and couldn’t get to the door. I couldn’t pick the lock. So I was stuck.” Peter knew something horrific happened due to the note. “I noticed something on the nightstand when I woke up. It was my note to Barry. She must have found it when she was burying him. She said goodbye. She left with Ellen for a good while. It was truly the first time I thought that I was truly going to die. I felt, feel, like such a failure for not being able to protect myself, Ellen, or Barry.” Neal then turned it around and asked Peter,

“Why were you up?” Peter paused, Neal said, “I shared. Your turn.”

“I had another nightmare, about failing you.”

“What?” Neal was surprised by this revelation

Peter confessed, “When you were gone I had nightmares all the time about you. About not finding you at all. About finding your body in various places killed numerous ways.” He paused, “Now it’s nightmares about failing you, for not finding you when it really counted, for not knowing that you and others were being stalked.” There was a moment of silence and before Neal could say something Peter continued, “Nine months after you were abducted Mozzie and June came across a storage unit. Turns out she was stalking not only you but everyone in your life. She had professional recon on everyone. And I had no idea.” He was getting angry when he blurted, “It’s no wonder I couldn’t find you! Because I couldn’t even tell that you, me, El, everyone, were being stalked!”

Neal felt bad for Peter. He realized, for the first time, the impact that Christina had on not just him and Ellen, but everyone he cared about. 

For the first time he realized how wide her path of destruction really was.

 “I’m sorry, I had no idea.” Neal said, shocked about Peter’s confession.

“You shouldn’t be apologizing.” Peter insisted

There was a pause and Neal said, “Do you want to hold Ellen?” Peter was shocked, he hadn’t let anyone near the baby so far, other than the occasional doctor to ensure her health.

“Sure.” Peter said unsure. Neal then picked her up from the table and handed her to Peter who looked like a deer in headlights. He had no idea how to hold her.

Peter looked uncomfortable but tried to hide it. Neal was opening up. He was trusting others. This was significant progress. Neal said, “I need to grab another bottle. I’ll be right back.” And before Peter could question whether or not Neal wanted her back he was in the kitchen.

All Peter thought while Neal was in the kitchen was

‘I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING! DON’T DROP HER! DO. NOT. DROP. HER. DO NOT MOVE A SINGLE MUSCLE. IF SHE CRIES DON’T MOVE. OH NEAL PLEASE COME BACK AND TAKE HER! IF I DROP HER I’M DEAD’ Children weren’t exactly Peter’s forte. Luckily Neal relieved him shortly later.


 

Although Neal’s progress wasn’t permanent. In the following days he’d returned to not letting anyone around the baby. He wouldn’t go near Elizabeth. Her normal hospitality along with her usual friendly and cheerful demeanor just triggered him. He knew he could trust Elizabeth but she just kept reminding him of Christina. Neal knew it was stupid but he couldn’t help it. One night Neal was upstairs and Peter and Elizabeth were cleaning up after dinner when Elizabeth said,

“I think I’m hurting Neal more than I’m helping.”
Peter was confused, “What?”

“I think me being around is just hurting him. Reminding him, you know?” Before Peter could respond Elizabeth said, “I think I’m going to go visit my parents for a while. Just until they catch the guy that broke in and Neal goes back to his place.” Peter knew that her mind was made up, but he still asked,

“Anything I can say to change your mind?”

“No, because having someone around who’s female and trying to help is just making things worse. It’s triggering him. I can see it. He’s trying to be better but,”

“He’s still hurting inside” Peter finished


 

The next morning Neal was sitting at the kitchen table feeding Ellen while Peter was getting some cereal. Neal asked, “Where’s El?”

“Oh I forgot to tell you, El was planning on visiting her parents this week.” Peter lied, this was a spur of the moment trip. “She was thinking of rescheduling but I insisted that she go.” Peter thought that Neal would believe that. He did.

“Oh that’s nice. “ Neal commented. Peter sat down and started to eat and Neal asked, “You going into the office today?”

“Nah, I don’t think so. Diana holds down the fort pretty well.” Peter said as he ate

“You haven’t gone in in days.” Neal confronted, “You should go in.” he recommended, when Peter looked resistant Neal said, “We’ll be fine here.” Peter still looked resistant, Neal playfully demanded, “Go! We’ll be fine. We’ll see you later.”  Peter got up and said,
“Fine. Anything happens. Call me.” Peter said in his dad voice

“I will” Neal assured

Peter got his stuff together and went into the office.


 

Jones, Diana, and Johnson were updating him on their current caseload. They noticed Peter kept checking his phone. Jones finally said, “Boss, if he hasn’t called it’s a good thing.”

“How’s Neal doing?” Diana asked

Peter put his phone down and admitted, “Depends on the day. Some days he’s almost normal. Other days he can’t get out of bed. Most of the time he’s somewhere in the middle.”

“I’m sorry.” Diana said compassionately

“El went to see her parents while they search who broke in.” They looked confused, he continued, “Another woman there, trying to be nice and care for him and Ellen,”

“It triggered him.” Diana finished and Peter nodded.

“Do they have any leads on who broke in?” Jones asked

“They’re working on it.” Peter said.

“He’s seeing someone about it right?” Johnson asked

“Yeah.” Peter answered, “He’ll also talk to me about it from time to time.”

Johnson nodded positively, “That’s a good sign. Just give him time and don’t push him. If you’re overbearing he’ll retreat in, push everyone away, and he may not talk to anybody about it.”

Then Peter’s office phone rang and it was a lead on a case of theirs.


 

That night Neal and Peter were sitting outside, having a drink. There was some silence when Neal said, “The cops still have nothing on Christina.” Peter looked over at him, saddened, Neal continued, “It’s been so long. She’s long gone. I know for the right price you can pay off anyone. I’ve made a few calls, no one’s seen or heard anything.”

Peter said, “Come on, Neal, you shouldn’t do this.” He looked into it as well but found nothing.

Neal said, “I know she’s coming back. It’s just a matter of when.”

Peter said, “I know you don’t want to hear this, but you can’t be doing this. You need to focus on taking care of yourself and Ellen. Let them take care of this. Also tell Mozzie to stop looking too.” Neal looked defeated,

Peter confronted, “I know if you’re on this then Mozzie’s all in. Let the police do their job.”

“Well if someone wants to disappear they will.

“If someone wants to find them they will.

“You know, that doesn’t mean nearly as much as it used to.”

“I know.”  Peter said completely defeated

Chapter Text

About two weeks after the break in (a few months after he got home) Neal got a call that they caught the guy who broke in. He grabbed Ellen and went to leave. When he opened the door he saw Peter who was coming home from work and asked, “Where are you going?”

“The cops just called. They caught the guy who broke in.”
Peter asked again, using his dad voice, “Again, where are you going?”

“I’m going to get answers.” Neal said, determined and went to leave.

Peter stopped him and said, trying to reassure him, “She wasn’t involved.”

“How do I know that?” Neal asked raising his voice, Peter stood there defeated. Peter followed Neal who left with Ellen and headed to the local precinct who was dealing with the break-in. 

Peter was standing outside the interrogation room at the local precinct with Neal and Ellen. Neal pushed his way into the interrogation area and Peter talked to the cops to let Neal watch. They weren’t happy but they were too busy to argue. Neal was intently watching as the kid, no older than sixteen, was confessing to breaking into numerous houses in the neighborhood for no other reason than just because he could.

Peter commented, “Kid’s tripping over himself trying to make a deal.”  He looked at Neal who was intently staring into the windowed room. He tried to reassure Neal, “He seems sincere, Neal. He acted alone and he’s not connected to her at all.”

Neal looked down then at Peter and said, “He doesn’t seem to be lying.” Neal had to see for himself that the kid wasn’t lying and that he acted alone. Peter knew that. Neal normally knew when people were lying, the kid wasn’t.


The next day Peter was walking through the hallway at home and saw Neal packing his bag, he came in the room and asked,

“You’re leaving?”

Neal said while packing, “Yeah, they caught the guy. June said the security upgrades are done.” Peter didn’t want Neal to leave, not just yet. He thought Neal should stay just a little longer. Then again he constantly worried about Neal, Ellen, and their safety so he knew that his vision was blurred on the topic.

He gave it a shot and said, “You should stay a little while longer. Until your back on your feet.”

“Peter,” Neal said, he knew that Peter didn’t want him to leave. He knew how much Peter worried about him. “You will always have an excuse for me to stay longer.” Peter looked defeated, Neal continued, “Peter, I’m ready to go home.”


About two days after Neal got home from Peter’s he came to check on Neal after work. He knocked on Neal’s door. “Neal!” He called, “It’s Peter. Open up.” When Neal didn’t answer after a while Peter tried the doorknob. The door was open.

That wasn’t normal.

He cautiously opened the door with one hand and another on his holstered gun.

When he pushed the door open he looked and didn’t see anybody. He looked around, didn’t see anyone.

“Neal?” He called out

Nothing.

He noticed his wallet and phone where on the table. His heart started racing and he started sweating profusely.

“Neal?!” He called a little louder.

Nothing.

He looked in the back and on the terrace.

Nothing.

He got intensely nervous and worried. He ran out of the apartment and down the steps shouting Neal’s name as loud as he could. Praying he was there.

Nothing. No one was home.

Peter ran back upstairs in a full panic attack, shakes, sweats, hyperventilating, tears, red faced, the works. He kept flashing back to that Monday he found out Neal was missing and that he didn’t run. He remembered everything that followed.

He screamed over and over, “NEAL!

He got back to Neal’s apartment. He ran his hands through his hair, thinking of what to do next while muttering, “Not again. Not again. Not again.” Over and over.

“This can’t be happening to him, again.” Peter tried to get his breathing under control...but failed. He pulled his phone out to call Lt. Benson to update her and get the investigation started again when he heard someone behind him.

“Peter?”

He recognized that voice.

Neal.

He could exhale.

He turned around and saw Neal holding Ellen. He looked confused, like he missed something.

“Neal!” Peter said relieved and gave him a hug, tears falling down his face. Neal was still confused.

Peter pulled away and then shouted angrily, “Where the fuck were you!?”

“I wanted a sandwich but I was out of bread. I went to the shop at the corner. I don’t think I was even gone 10 minutes. What’s wrong?” Neal was interested in why Peter seemed to be in a full scale panic attack. Peter then noticed the white plastic grocery bag around Neal’s left arm.

“You weren’t here! Your phone and wallet were on the table!” Peter shouted angrily, trying to catch his breath. “I thought,” He paused, Neal realized what he was going to say.

“You thought she came back for us, and she succeeded.”

Peter nodded. “I’m so sorry I worried you like that.” Neal apologized

“It’s okay.”

Neal said, “I guess what they say is true. It’s not paranoia if someone is truly out to get you. Then it’s just common sense.” Peter nodded.

“Why didn’t you take your wallet or phone?” Peter asked

“I just grabbed some cash and I didn’t realize I forgot my phone until I already gone.”

Peter pointed at him and said sternly in his dad voice, “Don’t you dare worry me like that again. You make sure you always have your phone on you. Always!”

Neal nodded, “Will do.” He asked, “You want a drink?”

“Desperately.”

Neal headed towards the kitchen and Peter sat down at the table.

“You ever worry me like that again. I swear to God you’re moving back in with us...for good.” He was starting to calm down. Although he would always worry about Neal, Ellen, and their safety. Peter was well aware that this fight for Neal and Ellen's safety from her was far from over.

He was right.

Chapter Text

A few days later he called Mozzie about his financial situation, or lack thereof. He had almost nothing left at this point. He knew that Mozzie had safe assets they could liquidate until he could get a steadier stream of income (ie: legal employment). When Mozzie came over he said, “I heard about how you nearly gave the Suit a heart attack the other day.”

“Oh.” Neal said, prepared for a lecture on his actions.

“You ever do anything like that again. I swear to God, Neal.” Mozzie said sternly

“I’m sorry. I was only going to be gone a few minutes. I wasn’t expecting anybody to come over and I didn’t realize that I forgot my phone until after I left.” It was an accident. Peter just happened to come by during the few minutes of the day he wasn’t home. He understood why they were concerned after what happened. He didn’t want to cause more worry.

“We worry because we care. Please don’t forget your phone again. And don’t just pull cash from your wallet and leave it. I know you weren’t doing it intentionally but, please don’t. Just, have your damn phone with you. It’s really not too much to ask.”

“I know.”

Mozzie was right, it wasn’t too much after everything that happened. Also, ever since Neal forgot his phone once he knew he wouldn’t hear the end of it anytime soon because they worry about him.

“You two are the closest people I have to family. I can’t lose you...again.” Mozzie said, very serious, “I know the Suit feels the same way.”

“I know.”

Neal then said, changing the topic, “On another unrelated note. The reason I called,”

“What? It wasn’t for my great company.” Mozzie half joked

Neal smiled, “Besides that. I need cash. I need some of your assets to liquidate.”

Mozzie replied, “I’m sorry, but, they’re all gone.”

“What do you mean?” Neal asked concerned

“They are all gone. No more.”

“What about the backups?”

“Gone. The backups of the backups. Everything.”

Neal asked surprised, “How the hell did that happen? Where did it all go?”

Mozzie loudly spouted, “To finding you!”

Without thinking Neal loudly and angrily blurted out, “Well a whole lot of good that did!”

Mozzie made a face like, bitch what the fuck did you just say? Neal realized what he had just said. Before either of them could say anything there was a knock at the door. Neal turned around to get it, it was Peter.

Sensing the tension in the room he said, “I’ll come back later.” He didn’t want to get in the middle of something. He started to leave when Mozzie said angrily,

“I was just leaving.” Neal looked sad and Mozzie left in a huff. When the door closed Peter asked, “What was that all about?”

Neal said, “I just said something that crossed the line.” He paused and said, “And I don’t know whether I meant it or not.”

Peter asked “What did you say?”

Neal said vaguely, “Just something about money.”

Peter said, “I don’t care if it’s illegal. What happened?”

Neal confessed, “I asked about the assets we had in storage and foreign accounts.”

“And?”

“He said there was nothing left. Nothing. Everything’s gone. I asked him where it all went.” Neal paused

Peter prompted, “And?”

“He said that it all went to finding me. I said,” He paused again, “Well a whole lot of good that did.”

Peter had an expression that said, oh Neal you didn’t say that. He was sad, let down. He admitted, “He helped you. More than you know.”

“Yeah I know he worked with you to try and find me.”

Peter confessed matter-of-factly, “He also spent $2 million on bribing the committee to let your sentence expire.” This really caught Neal off guard. He had no idea this had happened. After Elizabeth and Peter found out they never told him.

He said in shock, “What?”

Peter explained, “The committee didn’t look like it was going to go your way. Mozzie didn’t like that. He, rightly, didn’t think you deserved it. So, in typical Mozzie fashion, when something isn’t going his way. He made it so.”

Neal was in disbelief, “How did you find out about this?”

“El told me.”

“What? How did she know?” Neal was confused.

“She was nearby and overheard a call Mozzie made about making good on a deal. About the deed being done and making the payment. She saw him destroy the burner phone and SIM card. He was also very angry when the committee probably wasn’t going to go your way and that Ellen would most likely end up in foster care.”

Neal was interested and asked, “Why didn’t you arrest him? Yet.”

“El and Mozzie talked me out of it.” Peter continued, “I talked to Mozzie. Asked him some ‘hypothetical’ questions. He had no remorse for what he did. Because he thought it was the right thing to do. Even though he broke the law. Both brought up the ramifications if I pursued this case.”

Neal thought for a second and came to a conclusion, “Mutually assured destruction.” Peter nodded.

“If I arrested them I would not only bring them down, but Mozzie, you, and Ellen would most likely go into foster care. And knowing the child care system you’d never get her back. Also because the Marshalls and my bosses have so much power they’d probably find a way to bring me down with them. I’ve almost got taken down before when taking down big fish. Also, my bosses weren’t happy that I lost you...again. So they already didn’t like me.”

Neal was still in disbelief, “And you were okay with this?” He couldn’t believe that Peter let corrupt officials get off since he was the definition of Lawful Good.

“No, I’m not happy about it. If I could go after them without taking down you and everyone you care about. I would do it in a heartbeat. It took me a while to get to that conclusion. El helped me realize it was the lesser of two evils in a completely fucked up situation.”

“Why am I just hearing about this?” Neal asked getting angry.

“I decided not to tell you.” He saw Neal get angrier, “You were, and still are, dealing with a lot of shit. You didn’t need this too.” Peter defended in his dad voice.

“Because you see me as a victim!” Neal yelled angrily, “What else haven’t you told me? What else happened that you decided I shouldn’t hear because you didn’t think I could handle it?!”

Peter went quiet.

He was angry because no one told him. He didn’t mind what Mozzie did. He was pretty damn grateful. He’d never be able to thank him enough. He was angry that this whole thing happened behind his back. That they deliberately decided not to tell him because he thought they saw him as a victim.

Neal calmed but with an angry undertone, “How hard do you even look for me?”

“After we found out that Christina took you. I had to present the case to the Marshalls and my bosses. They, some begrudgingly, finally decided to declare you a missing person instead of an escaped felon. It was tossed to the local pd who didn’t do jack shit about your case. They probably didn’t even look at it twice.”

Neal said sadly, realizing what happened, “Because I’m a felon and they seemingly couldn’t find Christina, they didn’t care.” Peter shook his head.

“Since it technically wasn’t my case I had to work it off books.”

“So no Bureau resources.”

“Mozzie and I worked it the entire time. He had the entire criminal underworld looking for you. We tried everything to find you. We were never going to give up on you. I never did and never would’ve.” Neal nodded, but Peter sensed doubt, he repeated himself to reassure Neal, “We seriously tried everything. Mozzie and I were never going to give up.”

Neal decided to come clean, “I had faith you’d find me, for a long time I thought that. I knew you’d come crashing into the cabin with a team behind you. Then I’d be saved. I thought about it all the damn time. Because I know that’s what you excelled at, finding me. But that never happened.” Neal paused for a moment, “Then as the months went on. I started to believe a little less, and a little less, and less and less. Then when Ellen was born, I lost hope that you’d find us.”

Peter looked completely heartbroken.

Neal continued, “I knew it was only up to me to get us out. Because I knew I was there over a year. I knew the trail was long cold. I knew if you had nothing on me by then, then you weren’t going to. Or even worse you were on a wild goose chase. I would keep wondering where you were. Hoping and praying you knew that I didn’t run.  I knew I was on my own to get my daughter to safety. I’m glad I was able to deliver on promises I didn’t think I was going to be able to. I promised her that I would get us back to New York, back home. I promised that she would be here, with her family.”

He paused and sighed before continuing, trying to find the right words to describe what he was thinking, “Everything was falling apart and I was praying you’d come and save me. Because I couldn’t do it myself. I was wondering where you were and why hadn’t you found me yet, and like I said, praying you knew that I didn’t run.”

Neal could see the hurt on Peter’s face, and Peter could see the hurt on Neal’s. He continued, “She had no intent on letting me go. I had no way out. She’d get rid of any possible way out. Like with Barry Lander. You know, at first I kept trying to find a way to escape. I failed but I kept trying. I knew getting outside was my best bet. But she made sure that never happened. When she told me she was pregnant. I knew that if she didn’t miscarry that I’d either have to wait until I could get the baby from her or wait until you found me. But there was a part of me that knew that wasn’t going to happen. It was the part of me that after a while, said to give up, to give in. But there was another part of me that couldn’t let her win. That was the part of me that fought like hell to get my daughter home to safety. And in that moment, everything just happened to be set up so perfectly. I knew it was truly now or never. In the most literal sense of the word.”

Peter already knew some of this, but he was glad that Neal was speaking openly about it.

Neal looked down, angry at himself,  “I should have looked back. I should have killed her when I had the chance.”

That broke Peter’s heart and he hugged Neal. He didn’t know what else to say. He was well aware that nothing would be able to make it okay. Neal knew that Peter was never going to be able to truly forgive himself. Even though he was working on it, Neal didn’t know if he’d ever not, even so slightly, resent Peter for not finding him the one time it truly mattered.

Chapter Text

The next day he called Mozzie over. He didn’t pick up so Neal left a message. Mozzie came over a short while later and was still pissy about the comment Neal made the previous day.

Neal opened the door and said, “I’m glad you showed up. I didn’t know if you were going to.”

Mozzie walked in holding a briefcase and said, getting right to the point, “What do you want?”

“I wanted to apologize for yesterday. I shouldn’t have said that. I just didn’t know how much you did for me.” Neal said sincerely

Mozzie knew that Neal about the bribery. Neal continued, “I wanted to thank you. For everything. I’ll never be able to make it up to you.”

Mozzie smiled and said, “Don’t worry about it. You’re family. I’d do anything for you two.”

Neal smiled and went to get them some drinks.

Mozzie then put the briefcase on the table and said, “This should hold you for a while. It’s clean, don’t worry.” Referring to the cash Neal assumed was inside.
Neal smiled and said, “Thank you, Moz.”

Mozzie smiled and said, “Like I said. Anything you need. I got you."


 Several months after Neal came home. Peter knocked at Neal’s door one evening after work, “Neal! It’s Peter!” He called. He heard a groan from behind the door. Neal opened the door and Peter immediately noticed that Neal looked sick. His nose was red and he looked exhausted, wearing just a t-shirt and sweatpants. What he has normally worn since he got home.

“Hey.” Neal said congested

“What’s wrong?” Peter asked concerned

“Nothing, it’s just the flu. I’ll be fine.” Neal insisted brushing it off

“You look like shit.” Peter commented

“So I look how I feel.”

Then Ellen started to cry from the nursery in the back and Neal turned to get to her. Peter followed and said, “You shouldn’t be alone right now.”
“I’ll be fine.” Neal insisted as he made his way to the backroom turned nursery then stopped when a coughing fit hit and leaned against a wall.

After almost coughing up a lung Peter insisted in his dad voice, “Okay, I’m staying. You shouldn’t be alone.” Neal looked annoyed. Peter added, “You need someone to help you with Ellen. You could be contagious.”

“She has all her vaccines.”
“Doesn’t matter. Bed. Now.” Peter said in his dad voice and pointed towards his bed, “You’re lucky I’m not telling you to come to my house.” Neal went over and got into bed. “I’m going to call El and have her bring over some soup. I’ll take care of Ellen. Is that okay?” Neal thought for a moment then nodded. Peter slightly smiled and nodded. He went to the backroom as he pulled out his phone.

He came back with a thermometer in his hand, “She’s fine. Happy as can be.” He sat next to Neal on the bed and said raising up the thermometer, “Open up.” Neal did and Peter put it under his tongue until it beeped. He read it, “102.5. You’re not moving from this bed. Got it?” He said compassionately, “Whatever you need, I got it.”

Neal nodded, “Okay.”

“El is bringing over some soup. Would you like some tea or something?”

“Sure.”

Peter got up to put some water on. Later Elizabeth dropped by with some homemade chicken soup, some cough meds, and some clothes for Peter, who insisted on staying until Neal was better. She would had stayed but she had a lot of work to do and an event that night.


 

Neal spent the next few days on cough meds with a high fever, a bad cough, congestion, and occasional vomiting. One night they were watching a shitty TV movie and picking out its flaws. Neal was lying under a couple blankets after eating more of Elizabeth’s soup. Peter was sitting stretched out on top of the blankets next to him. Peter noticed Neal was quiet for a while. He looked over to see if he fell asleep. God knew he needed it. He was still running a fever and was very congested. You could hear it when he spoke. Neal wasn’t sleeping though. He seemed deep in thought.

So he muted the TV and asked, “What’s wrong?”

Neal was silent for a second then sat up, he sighed and said, looking off into the distance, “I can’t seem to get this thought out of my head.” Peter was curious, Neal continued, he looked at Peter and said, “I just keep wondering, why me? Out of all the men that worked for Adler, all the men she knew before and after. Why did she choose me? Not that I would wish this on anybody but. Why me? Do I just attract crazy?”

Peter sighed, he wished he had an answer. He wished he could just say the word and Neal would be okay again. He had been doing better but he was still suffering.

He told Neal the truth, “I wish I could answer that.”

Neal sighed, “Me too.”

There were a few moments of silence when Neal said, “I’ve done a lot of bad things. What if this was just karma?”

Peter said determined, “No. This isn’t karma. This was just,” He paused trying to think of the right word, but he couldn’t, so he settled, “Shitty. This was just shitty.”

There was another moment of silence and Neal and said bitter and angry, (yet still congested), “You know, you have to give her this, she’s a really good criminal.” Peter looked at him, wondering where Neal was going with this. He continued, “She knew my habits, she knew everyone I know’s habits. She did her homework. “He looked away and continued, “I have to say, she did a great job getting me off the grid. She didn’t even have to deal with border control. She managed to fool the best.” Peter looked for clarification, he looked at Peter, “You.”

“She didn’t fool me.”

“But she had me so far off the grid that even you couldn’t find me.”  Peter looked like he was kicked in the gut. He would never forgive himself for not being able to find Neal the one time it really counted. “And she’s still in the wind.” He added, “It was by pure luck I was able to get out.”

There was another few moments of silence. Neal looked at Peter and asked sincerely, “Do you think I’ll ever be myself again?”

Peter said to him sadly and sincerely, “Your old self? No.” Neal nodded knowingly, “But given more time, more therapy. I think you’ll be okay. There’s life after this.”

“That’s what I thought.” Neal said as he grabbed the remote from the bed and unmuted the TV. He started channel surfing and on one channel one character said to another,

“The darkness can’t last forever. The sun will rise. You can make it, you’re not alone.”

A small smile crept across Neal’s face as he continued to channel surf. He’d been thinking about that as well. He didn’t tell that to Peter yet.


Neal started to feel better the next day and the day after he insisted that Peter went home. He’d been there a week.

A few days after Neal was sick Peter came to see him. He normally came by a few times a week.

He came to the door and knocked, “Hey, Neal! It’s Peter.” He called out

Neal came and answered the door. Wearing a tank top with sweatpants, but Peter noticed someone thing different about him. For the first time he looked not completely depressed. He even looked a little bit happy. He also looked like he was in the middle of something.
“Hey, Peter. What’s up?”
“Not much. Just wondered how you were.” Peter said, distracted with what Neal was doing, “Did I catch you at a bad time?”

“No.” Neal said, “Okay, maybe. I was in the middle of something.” Peter was curious. “Come look.” Neal encouraged and started towards the back. Peter followed curiously.

Neal walked into the nursery, Ellen was sitting happily in an infant swing. Peter noticed the crib that was normally against the back wall was moved and there was plastic coverings on the nearby furniture. He was surprised when he saw a stand with paints and brushes near the wall. He looked at the wall and saw the very beginnings of a mural. Neal noticed Peter taking note of it.

Peter was taken aback, he asked, “What’s this?”

Neal replied, “It’s the beginning of a mural. I just started it today.” Peter was tearing up, trying not to cry. He had the biggest smile on his face.

This was the first time Neal painted or did anything he used to do since before the abduction. The first glimpse of the old Neal.

Peter tried to subtly wipe the tears from his eyes. He asked, “What’s it going to be about?”

“What I want for Ellen.” Neal replied, “I want her to be happy and do whatever she wants. I want her to know if she tries hard enough to can do anything.” He looked at the wall and said, “I want her to know that even though times can be really dark. Eventually,” he paused, “Eventually, after a while, you can see there’s hope. There truly is light and hope at the end of the tunnel. You just have to get there.”

Peter couldn’t stop the tears anymore. He let them go and gave Neal a big hug.

Peter now knew for certain that Neal was going to be okay.

Chapter Text

Not too long after Neal finished the mural in the nursery. He cancelled yet another dinner with Peter and El. “Sorry, baby troubles, maybe another time” was still his go to excuse for not leaving the apartment. Peter cursed the day Neal realized that was the perfect excuse to get out of anything. Peter was surprised how much he used it. He had not seen Neal in a few days and wanted to make sure he was okay. So he decided to drop by his place. He knocked at Neal’s door and said who it was.

He heard a distant yell “Come in!” Peter came in, the apartment had seen better days, but much better than months earlier. He went back into the nursery and saw Neal holding a fussy Ellen, trying to get here to go to sleep.

Peter said, “So this time you actually had baby troubles.”

Neal looked at him and said, “So you caught on?”

“Yeah, months ago.” Peter said, he asked, “She okay?”

Neal said as he held her, “She’s just being fussy. She’ll be fine.”

Neal checked her diaper and took her to the changing table. He bended to get another diaper then sighed when he pulled one of the package to find it was the last one. He threw the package in the garbage next to the changing table.

Peter insisted on going around the corner to the bodega to get more. “Hey, don’t worry I got it.”

“Thanks.”

“You need anything else?” Peter asked, trying to be helpful

“No, but thank you so much.”

“Of course, you’re welcome.”

Peter left and shortly after arrived at the bodega. He had made supply runs for Neal before so he knew what to buy. He grabbed two things of diapers and headed to the register.

As the man was checking him out the man remarked kind of pissed off, “At least you’re paying for these.”

Peter asked, “Excuse me?”

The clerk replied, “Someone’s been stealing these diapers and baby food. It’s not even like they could steal the cheap stuff.” He huffed and said the total.

Peter gave him some cash and asked, “You have any idea who’s been stealing these?”

The disgruntled clerk replied, “No idea, but I know for sure it’s someone who shouldn’t be a parent. If you can’t afford the very basic essentials for your kid then you shouldn’t have one.” Peter said, “I hope you catch him.” He grabbed the bag and left. He almost instantly put it together. Neal’s financial troubles (a newborn and intensive therapy weren't cheap. He and Mozzie currently had no assets to liquidate), the bodega he normally went to, the kind of food and diapers Neal used. Neal had been stealing supplies when he ran low on cash. “Dammit Neal. What are you doing?”  He muttered. 


 

He got back to Neal’s. He had cleaned the place up a bit. Neal offered Peter some food and thanked him for the supplies.

Peter had been seeing something lately in Neal’s face, in his eyes, something that he hadn’t seen in so long.

Hope.

Neal had been doing better in the past few weeks. He’d been leaving the apartment more frequently. Not just when he had to. He seemed less depressed and anxious. He hadn’t had a nightmare in a few days and hadn’t had a flashback in quite a while.

Ever since he walked out of the bodega he had been thinking about something. He asked Neal, “Hey, how would you feel about getting your old job back?”

Neal looked up interested, Peter continued, “Except this time you’d have a paycheck.”

“Really?” Neal asked interested

“Yeah. We could really use you back around the office.” There was a pause, “Think about it and get back to me.” Neal working with him again would give Peter to the opportunity to keep an eye on him, make sure he was okay. Peter promised himself that wouldn’t fuck up this time. Also giving Neal a job would help with the financial situation. He’d make sure Neal was paid well. (He deserved it anyway.)


 

The next day Jones and Diana were in Peter’s office after talking about a case. When they were finished Peter said, “So I offered Neal his old job back.” They were surprised

Jones asked, “Did he take it?”

Peter answered, “He’s thinking about it.”

Diana asked, “Why did you offer?”

Peter said how he deduced he was stealing baby supplies “....This way I can keep an eye on him. Make sure he’s okay.” He added as an afterthought, “Also the Bureau could still use his skills.”

Jones said, “So he was stealing baby supplies.”

Diana cut in and said, "I can kinda see why. Infants aren't cheap. Trust me. Along with the intensive therapy for someone who is probably uninsured. I don't know how much in assets he has. By this time it's probably not much." She added, "Sometimes you get desperate and need to ensure that your child is taken care of." 


 

The night after Peter offered Neal his old job back Mozzie was over. They were talking, Neal was cooking dinner.

Mozzie was sitting at the table reading a book. Neal turned his head from the stove and asked “What would you say if I went back to the FBI?”

Mozzie replied, not looking up from his book and wine, “I would say go see your shrink because you’re insane.” Neal was quiet, Mozzie realized where this was going, got up and said, “You’re not serious?!”

Neal replied kinda defensive, “Peter offered me my old job back, but with a paycheck this time. I’m gonna need a job eventually.”

Mozzie looked betrayed but sighed and said calmly, more exhausted than anything else, “I knew you’ve gotten too close to the Suit. I always knew this was a possibility.”

Neal said to him, “What am I supposed to do? Go back to pulling cons? Risk going back to prison.” He paused and then said, “I haven’t even thought about pulling one since I got back.”

“Well yeah, you have had a lot to deal with.”

“Even if I would, I don’t think I would want to.” Neal paused

Mozzie finished Neal’s thought, “Because so much has happened. So much has changed.”

Neal nodded. “It’s impossible to get back to where I was before.”

“Perfectly understandable.”
Neal then confessed, “I wanted something like this before. Maybe going back to the FBI after my sentence, marrying a good woman, having some kids. I just never thought it would happen like this.”

“You know what they say. ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.’” Mozzie quoted

“But happy endings don’t happen to guys like us.” Neal quoted seriously, Mozzie immediately remembered how many times he’d said that to Neal over the years.

He said in thought, “But maybe they do.” Neal was little surprised by his take back. “Perhaps I was wrong. I can be a little bit of a pessimist.”

Neal gave bitch face and said sarcastically, “A little bit?”

Mozzie smiled and said, “Whatever you decide. I’m here. I may not approve of your decision but I’m still going to be here for both of you regardless.”


 

That night he sat in Ellen’s nursery he thought about his options as he watched her sleep. He thought about trying to get a job at a security firm. It was a possibility. He could work with art and artifacts. It would give him a job and a good paycheck. Although he did miss solving cases with Peter. Basically doing what he was doing before but with a paycheck. A paid consultant to the FBI. He wondered if he was ready to go back to work. He knew he would have to eventually. He wondered it was too early. He got home about seven months ago. He then thought ‘Fuck it.’ He figured if he went back and realized that he still needed time Peter would understand. He thought that he wouldn’t know if he was ready to work until he started working. Also, spending so much time in his apartment was making him antsy.

He then called Peter and said, “Hey, I’ll take the job.”

Peter smiled on the other line, “That’s great, Neal. You up for starting tomorrow?”

“I’d love too.”

“That’s great! See you then.” Neal hung up and then called Mozzie.

“So it seems like I have work tomorrow. Could you look after Ellen when I’m gone.”

“For the little one, of course.” Mozzie replied, Neal smiled.

Chapter Text

The next morning Mozzie came over. He smiled ear to ear when he saw Neal in a suit. The first time he’d put one on since the day of the abduction. Neal asked, “How do I look?” And flashed an old fashioned Neal smile.

Mozzie smiled, trying not to cry, because there were times that he never thought Neal would get this far. He said being a smartass to cover up his emotions, “Amazing as always, you Adonis.”

This was the first time he had truly seen the old Neal.

Neal did the hat flip and smiled, Mozzie smiled as well. For just a moment, everything was normal, everything was fine. For just one moment, things felt normal, like nothing in the previous two years ever happened.

Then the moment ended.

Neal then gave him a piece of paper with a bunch of phone numbers. “You have my number. There’s Peter’s number, Jones, Diana, her pediatrician's is on there too.”

“Fun. I have every Suit’s number.” Mozzie deadpanned

“Are you sure you’re cool with this?” Neal asked uncertain

“Yeah of course.”

“You sure?”

“Yes.” Mozzie slightly annoyed

“Anything you need is either in the nursery or in the kitchen.”

“I know.” Mozzie replied

“Anything I’m forgetting?”

“Yeah, going to work.” Mozzie replied getting annoyed, “You’re stalling. You’re going to be late. We’ll be fine. Go.” He insisted and he was right. Neal was stalling.

“Okay, thanks again.” He gave Ellen a kiss who was sitting in her highchair nearby.  “Bye.”
“Bye. Don’t arrest anyone we know unless I owe them money.” Mozzie half joked

As Neal left Ellen reached her hands out and started to cry and babble in between wails. Which made Neal’s heart shatter into a million pieces. He stood in the doorway, just wanting to say fuck it and stay home with her longer.

“She’ll be fine, Neal. Go to work.” Mozzie insisted

Neal sighed and closed the door.


 

For the first time since the Friday he was abducted about two years prior and about seven months after he escaped. He walked into the FBI building and took the elevator up to the twenty first floor.

He walked into the office and saw Peter was holding a file and standing near the door with Jones and Diana. When Neal walked in the door everyone turned to look. They all smiled at him. Peter had the biggest smile on his face and tears in his eyes. So proud of Neal for getting this far. Before anyone could say anything Neal took the file from Peter’s hands, opened it up and said playfully but kind of serious, “This better be a good one.” Getting right to business.

Peter said, “It is. The Metropolitan Museum realized this morning that not only was their entire new collection stolen, but they were replaced with forgeries. Good ones.” Neal looked impressed. Peter said, “I said it was a good one. I was going to brief everyone on it in a few minutes.”

A few minutes later everyone gathered in the conference room to hear about the recent cases. As Peter was briefing the division on the Metropolitan heist he noticed that Neal was constantly checking his phone. Peter didn’t say anything about it. He just continued with the meeting. After he dismissed the agents he called Neal over.

“What’s up?” Neal asked

“Are you sure you’re okay to start? Maybe you should go home, start another day.” Peter said concerned
“Peter. I’ve only been here twenty minutes.”

Peter sighed, “I just worry.”

Neal said trying to reassure him, “I know, but I’m fine. I’ll let you know if that changes.”

“Just like Mozzie will let you if anything happens to Ellen.” Peter retorted, Neal knew that Peter saw him checking his phone all throughout the meeting.

“Let’s question that museum owner. See what he knows.” Neal said getting back to the case, Peter sighed and they left.


 

Late that afternoon Peter and Neal were sitting in Peter’s car staking out the area where they thought their suspect was going to fence some of the art from the Metropolitan heist.

“I’m so glad to have you back.” Peter said and smiled

Neal replied, “I’m glad to be back.” He smiled and said, “Back to sitting in parked cars.” He didn’t tell Peter how much he missed the simple stakeout with him. Just sitting, watching, talking, maybe listening to a baseball game while Peter ate a deviled ham sandwich. It reminded him of the old days, when things were simpler. It also reminded Neal about how everything had changed since the last time he had a stakeout with Peter.

Neal later realized he was going to be later than he anticipated and called Mozzie to let him know.

As soon as Mozzie picked up he said annoyed, “Like I’ve told you time and time again all day, she’s fine. So you can stop texting me. If literally anything happens I’ll let you know.”

Peter heard that and Neal knew. Neal said, “That’s good to know but that’s not why I’m calling. I’m going to be later than I first anticipated.”

Peter heard Mozzie say, “Okay, that’s fine. We’ll be here when you get back.”

Neal hung up and Peter said, “I knew that’s why you’ve been on your phone all day.”

Neal replied, “Tell Elizabeth yet?” Ignoring Peter’s comment. Peter was just about to do that and he picked up his phone.


 

They caught the guy fencing some of the art. Peter was going to question him the next morning. Neal walked in the door and saw Mozzie sitting at the table drinking a glass of wine and reading a book.

He smiled, because some things never change.

“Hey, Moz.” He greeted

“Hey.” Mozzie looked up and greeted

“Where’s Ellen?” He asked

“The little one tired herself out. She’s fast asleep now.” Mozzie informed, Neal was relieved.

“How was she this morning?” He asked concerned

“Little bit of crying, nothing a game of peek-a-boo couldn’t fix.” Mozzie said, Neal was happy that she was good during the day and after he left.

Neal grabbed a glass to pour himself a drink from the bottle on the table. He sat down and confessed to Mozzie, “Sorry about harassing you today. It’s just,” He paused, “This was the first time I’ve ever left her alone with anyone.” Ellen was about nine months old now and until today he didn’t leave her with anyone.

Mozzie smiled. He was speechless at first, that Neal chose him to be the first person to watch her alone. He didn’t know Neal hadn’t done that yet. He said, “Thank you. For letting me be the first. It means a lot.”

He knew just how important this was. What a big step this was for Neal. He was overjoyed that his friend was getting better, slowly and steadily.

Neal knew that he would never be the same, but he was rebuilding his life one step at a time. Today he made two very large steps.

Chapter Text

About a week after Neal started working again, Peter and Neal were chatting as they walked up to Peter’s office where Jones and Diana joined them. The four discussed the case of some missing jewels that they suspect were smuggled into New York. They were going to talk to a potential suspect later that day. Afterwards, Neal asked, “Hey, what’s the deal with that new guy, Johnson? How long has he been here?”

There was a few moments of awkward silence. Neal asked, “What?”

Diana said, “He’s actually been here almost a year.”

Neal felt really awkward. He just thought, “Shit. I did not know that.” He didn’t know that the FBI hired a new person so long ago. He was reminded that while he was locked away the world went on without him. Neal then made an excuse to leave and went back to his desk.

After he left Diana said, “How’s he doing? He seems to be doing well.”

“He has his bad days but he’s getting better. Like it’s been five days, since he’s called me in the middle of the night. Which he normally does when he wakes up from a particularly terrible nightmare. Five days is a new record. Three was the old one. He’ll finally leaves Ellen alone with someone. It’s progress.”

“Just the fact that he’s able to even function after all of that is just amazing.” Jones remarked

“Well he was barely functioning for months.” Peter replied, “He’s been doing better recently. Perhaps a lot of this is behind him now.” He paused, “But I’m so scared that he’s gonna backslide and we’ll be at step one again.”

Jones said, “You know that his bad days won’t disappear. They’ll just become less frequent.”

“I know.”

Diana added, on a slightly different note, “I couldn’t even imagine dealing with all of that after Theo was born. Being a single parent ain’t a walk in the park, you know. Then adding all that baggage. Just,” She said at a loss for words, “Damn.” Jones nodded in agreement.

“He could never get enough credit for doing what he’s doing. Even just getting out of bed in the morning.” Jones commented

Peter said sincerely, “Neal’s the strongest person I’ll ever know.” He added, “I just didn’t want to find out like this.”

Jones remarked, “It’s still just so shocking how much damage one person can cause on their own. And how many people can be affected.” Peter just nodded.

Just then Neal walked back in Peter’s office with a file and said, “I have a lead on the missing jewels.” They all turned their attention to the case.


 

Neal was sitting at his desk with some files in front of him, tracking down leads. When he got a text from Mozzie saying, “911”. His heart started racing, he immediately got up and ran out of the office. He raced home, threw open the door and said out of breath,

“What’s wrong?”

Mozzie, who was trying to get in a cabinet, looked up and said simply, “How do you open this cabinet?”

Neal, shocked and pissed off. He thought for a second, processing what Mozzie had just said. He said, “So let me get this straight. You texted me 911, which is for life or death emergencies, because you couldn’t get a cabinet open.”

“Yeah.”
“Nothing wrong. No one dying or in danger.”

“Yeah.”

“What the actual fuck, Mozzie?”

There was a moment of silence then Mozzie said, still working on the cabinet, “Ever since you baby proofed it’s hard to get in these open.”

Neal then responded in the most sarcastic tone of voice, “You know, I’m still kinda new to this whole parenting thing, but I’m pretty sure that when your kid is crawling around trying to get into things you secure them so your kid doesn’t die. That kinda defeats the point of parenting.”

Mozzie gave bitch face and said, “I didn’t need that sass.”

Neal was quick to reply, “Well I didn’t need a 911 text in the middle of the day!” He then asked, “It’s one in the afternoon, why are you trying to get into my wine cabinet?”

“I was going to saute some chicken breasts for lunch and wanted to see what wines you had that I could use. So how do you open this?”

Neal groaned, he muttered, “How can someone be so smart yet so dumb?”

He went and simply undid the childproof lock and Mozzie went, “Oh.”

He then went over to see his daughter who was playing on the floor nearby.

“Hey, Sweetie.” He picked her up to give her a hug. He said to Mozzie, “Well since everything’s fine here I’m going to leave in a few minutes.”

He soon had to go back to work. He would rather stay home with her but he knew he had to go back. “I’ll see you later, I love you.” He said and gave her a kiss before putting her down. He went towards the door and Ellen started crying. She normally did that when Neal left. It never failed to completely break his heart.

He turned and looked back and saw her push herself up onto her two little feet and started toddling over to him.

Neal said in disbelief, “Oh my god, Mozzie, look!”

Mozzie turned from the kitchen and said in disbelief, “Oh my god. She’s walking!”

She fell on her butt when she reached Neal. He picked her up again and swung her around delighted which made her giggle.  He said to her, “What I good girl! You’re walking!”  He said to Mozzie, “She’s been trying lately but hasn't been able to quite get it.”

He gave her another hug. Mozzie smiled because it had been so long since Neal had been that happy. He couldn’t remember that last time that happened.
Neal stayed home a little longer to see his daughter toddle around the apartment. Overjoyed at his daughter's milestone.

And like any parent, he couldn’t wait to tell someone about it.

Chapter Text

Neal walked into his psychologist's office a few days after restarting work.

“Good morning, Neal.”

“Hey, good morning.”

“How have you been doing?” Dr. Anderson asked

“Good. Really good.” Neal replied

“That’s good. What’s been going on lately?” She asked

“Went back to work last week.” Neal said

“Oh, how’s that been going?”

“It feels great. It feels almost normal.”

Dr. Anderson commented in her normal calm tone of voice, “It’s good that you started working again. It adds routine and normality to your life. Which helps you recover.” She asked, “Anything else? How’s Ellen doing?”

“She’s doing great. She started walking the other day.” Dr. Anderson smiled, as did Neal, recalling the memory, “Now she just toddles all around the apartment babbling. It’s really cute. I swear one of these days she’s gonna say her first word.” He said, “I see that she’s slowly beginning to become her own person with a distinct personality.”

“Aww. What’s she like now?”

“She’s very smart, and stubborn. That might be a problem later.” He chuckled. Dr. Anderson noticed whenever he talked about Ellen he got so happy. His eyes just lit up.

She smiled and retorted, “Smart and stubborn, just like her father.” Neal chuckled then sighed.

“I notice that this is the first time you didn’t bring her with you.”

“Yeah, Mozzie’s watching her. He’s been doing that since I went back to work.”

“You’re letting other people be alone with her. That’s great improvement.” She asked him, “How have the nightmares been?”

Neal lost his smile, paused for a moment and said, “Alright. They’re still a few days a week. Although it’s been five days since I’ve made a middle of the night call to Peter. When I do I talk about a case we’re working on that ‘I just happened to have ideas for.’ I hope to make the streak seven days soon.”

“That’s a good goal.” Anderson commented, “Have you had any flashbacks lately?”

“No, thankfully not.”

“That’s good. Now when you call Peter after a nightmare, how often do you talk about what woke you up?”

Neal went quite, “Rarely.”

Dr. Anderson’s face and voice turned firm, “Neal.”

“I know.”

“Neal. You’ve come so far since I first started seeing you. You can’t close up now. I know it’s tempting. After a certain point to say that you’re cured and you can just repress everything and move on. But that won’t work. That’s not how it works.” Anderson almost begged

“I know.” He said, his eyes traveling the room, distracting himself

“Neal.”  She firmly said, drawing Neal’s attention back to her

He confessed, “I’ve told Peter a lot of things. Mostly just thoughts and feelings. He was there for the police statement and investigation. He knows what happened.” He paused, “But some things I just can’t seem to talk to him about.”

“Like what?”

“The mental and physical assaults.” Neal said, she nodded

“That’s okay, because you’ve talked to me about them. You’re getting help. You mentioned the police statement. How’s the investigation going?”

“Cold.” Neal said bluntly and obviously, completely unsatisfied, “She’s gone completely off the grid...again. No one’s been able to locate her...again. Every so often Lt. Benson calls and tells me that they still have nothing but they’ll keep looking. I’m polite but I know it’s a load of bullshit.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I’m just so scared that she’s out there planning the next abduction. I’m terrified that it will work and I won’t be able to get us out that time, and Peter won’t be able to find us...again. I know Ellen and I will never be truly safe with her out there. I might technically be free, but we never will be truly free with her in the wind.” He paused then said, at a loss for words, “With her still out there sometimes it’s like I’m still in that damn cabin.” Dr. Anderson nodded

Neal then added in a way that can only be described as his inner Liam Neeson coming out, “If or when she ever comes back. If she even so much as lays eyes on my daughter. God won’t even be able to help her.”

She nodded. She knew how protective Neal was over his daughter.

He calmed down and said, “I just hope I can make it up to her.” Anderson looked confused

“What do you mean, Neal?”

“Her first two months, I was so focused on survival and then after I was just completely operating on autopilot. When I functioning at all. There were a lot of days where I just couldn’t get out of bed. I was there for her, but I wasn’t really there. You know?” Dr. Anderson nodded, “I once heard someone say that you know how sick you are until you try to get better. I didn’t really understand it until I came home.”

“How do you think you are now?” She asked

“Over the last few weeks I’ve started to become more functional, less depressed. Feeling more normal, more like myself. It feels really good.”
“I think you’re leaps and bounds from where you were months ago. I’m very proud of your progress.”

Neal, still thinking about how his depression, anxiety and intense PTSD made him feel, “I don’t want to be like that ever again. I know that the anxiety will be there until she’s caught, maybe even after. I just want to be there for Ellen. I don’t want her to be like me, having physically and mentally absent parents. I want to be a good father for her. She deserves it.”

“You already are a good father.” Dr. Anderson assured, “You got her out of there. You made bringing her to safety your top priority. She’ll most likely never know what you did for her, but you saved her life. And your life. What you did was very heroic and brave. Stop doubting yourself, Neal.”

Neal never saw any of it like that.

“You’re still doing very well.” Dr. Anderson said getting back to her point, “If you keep coming and keep getting help from your family. Just imagine where you could be in another seven months, or even a year.” Neal nodded

“Even though I still have things to work through. Lately, I feel like there is truly life after this. I think I’m going to be alright.”

Dr. Anderson smiled.


 

That night Elizabeth came home from an event and saw Peter working on a case at the table. As she walked closer to the table she knew it wasn’t just any case he was working.

It was Neal’s.

Except now his case had a lot more evidence. She knew that he was still trying to find Christina.

“Any leads?” She asked

“Mozzie gave me a name she could be using.” Peter said not looking up from the computer he was using.
“And?”

“It’s not panning out to anything. I don’t think she’s been using that name” Peter said discouraged. Elizabeth could tell he was upset and distraught. She was as well.

“You’ll find her.” She assured

“I’m not sure about that.” Peter said looking up at her, “Other than the fact that she’d been completely untraceable. I couldn’t find her when she had Neal. When it truly counted.” He sighed angry at himself, “It still kills me that I could always find Neal. Except when it truly mattered. The one time I couldn’t find him was the one time he truly needed me to find him. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t get to him. I couldn’t save him. Catching her and making sure that she never sees the light of day again is the only way I could make this situation a little bit better.” He sighed, “I’ve said before that if anything ever happened to Neal I don’t think I could live with it. I was right.”

Elizabeth gave her husband a hug. She asked, “When are you going to tell him that you and Mozzie have been working on his case since it happened?”

“When I get a credible lead that leads to her getting arrested then I’ll tell him. I don’t want to get his hopes up.”

“Didn’t you tell him not to focus on it and not to have Mozzie working on it for him.”

“Yeah, but I didn’t say anything about me working it. And because I’ve been having Mozzie help me instead.”

“He seems to be doing better, more himself.”

“Yeah, that’s why I don’t want to get his hopes up. I don’t want to disappoint him.”  He said angrily, “She can’t get away with this, El. She just can’t.

“Well she knows if she comes back the cops will arrest her. She’s wanted on a lot of charges.”
Peter replied, “Back when Neal was in the hospital ADA Barba told me he wanted to charge her at least with kidnapping, murder, battery, assault,” His voice trailed off. Peter couldn’t say the other thing she was going to be charged with. Rape. Of course everything was at a standstill until they caught her.

Peter told Elizabeth, his voice full of determination, “I’m gonna look until I find her. I don’t care how long it takes. No one hurts my family like that and gets away with it.”

Elizabeth smiled, because that was the Peter Burke she knew and loved. Determined and never willing to give up.


Peter was finishing up briefing the division on a suspect they had on an art heist.

“...Now she’s been known to kill anyone who crosses her. So when we have the controlled meet they’ll be wearing a vest. I need someone to be the buyer and authenticate the piece.”

“I can do it.” Neal volunteered, a seemingly simple sting with authenticating art, that was right up his alley.

But Peter completely ignored him. He pointed to Diana and said, “Diana, you’ll be the buyer.” Neal had a face that said, ‘What the hell, Peter?” Peter then dismissed the meeting and talked to Diana about her uncover alias. Neal decided to wait for Peter in his office. This was now the third undercover operation that he had been overlooked for since he started working again about a week or two earlier.

Peter came into his office and saw Neal waiting for him,

“What’s up?” He asked

“Why aren’t you letting me go undercover?” Neal asked, getting straight to the point. Neal thought he knew why, Peter was too worried about him and didn’t think he could handle it.

Peter replied, “Because there hasn’t been an assignment yet that fits you yet.” He then sat down and preoccupied himself with a file, hoping Neal would just drop it and leave.

But he knew Neal better than that. He knew realistically that excuse wouldn’t work.

“This was the third undercover assignment you’ve passed me up for, Peter. Other than help questioning people or doing a stakeout you’ve barely let me in the field. I’m not much help sitting behind a desk.”

Peter looked up and sighed, “Okay, next time there’s an undercover opportunity you can have it.” He conceded

Neal said, not happy with the answer, “No. What about this one?”

Peter adamantly said, “No.”

“Why not?”

“Diana’s got it handled.”

Neal wasn’t going to back down, “I can handle this sell and authentication better than she could.”
Peter, now getting angry, “Dammit, Neal! I said no!”

Neal challenged, “You wouldn’t have said no two years ago when I worked here. You wouldn’t have thought twice about giving it to me. What changed?” Neal knew damn well what changed (everything) but he wanted Peter to say it.

Peter gave him a look that said, ‘You’re not bringing this up now.’ He said something along those same lines, “We’re not talking about this now.”

Neal, still not backing down, “No, we are! Why won’t you let me in the field now?”

“Fine!” Peter conceded, he paused for a second and said, “Everything’s just changed so drastically,” He paused for only a second when Neal cut him off and almost yelled,

“No shit! Really? I haven’t noticed!”

Peter was fuming but trying to calm down. Just when he thought everything had been going well. He sighed and then finished his thought, “I can’t get myself to put you in harm’s way, again! I worry too much about you, about Ellen.”

“Why did you offer me my job back?” Neal asked

“I thought it was a good idea at the time.”

“Do you still think that?”

Peter was quite, he was unsure. He loved having Neal back but the danger of the job made him want to keep Neal out of the field, out of harm’s way. Because he’s been hurt too much already.

Neal said, trying to reassure him, “I’m a big boy, Peter. I can handle it. Put me in the field. Let me prove it.”

Peter sighed again and thought for a second. He looked at Neal and said, “Fine. Against my better judgement you can do this.” Neal smiled, but Peter said sternly, “But it’ll be under my terms.” Neal nodded, happy that he was able to prove to Peter that he could handle field work.


 

The next day the normal Municipal Utilities van pulled up a discreet distance from the meetup location.

Peter said as he gave Neal the recording pen to record the conversation, “So you know the code word?”
“Yes. You’ve said a hundred times.” Neal said, a little agitated.

“And I’ll say it a hundred more.” Peter said seriously, “You can still back out.” Neal gave him bitchface, “Okay.” Before Neal left the van Peter said, “Just authenticate, make the swap, and let us handle the rest. Just get in and get out quickly. Our response time is 60 seconds.” It was no secret that Peter didn’t want Neal to be doing this semi-dangerous op with a woman who seeming had nothing against killing people who got in her way. Although he knew that he was going to have to let Neal back in the field at some point. He was just hoping he could have waited a little longer.

Neal left the van and walked to the meetup site. He was still hyper aware of the world around him. Always looking for and evaluating possible threats. He noticed a lot of people that looked like plain clothed agents. He said to Peter so he would hear him in the van.

“How many agents do you have in this park?”

“Not enough for my standards but this is all I was able to put in. They can respond in 10-30 seconds, depending on their proximity to you.” Neal sighed, he knew early on that he was never to be able to shake everyone, especially Peter, being so protective of him. He was right. Even though it was justified.

He met with the woman and made the authentication and swap which went off without a hitch and she was arrested shortly after. Peter was just relieved when it was over.

When Neal saw Peter he just gave him a smile that said, see everything’s okay. I can do this. Neal was let in the field undercover again when appropriate with only some resistance from Peter.


 Neal came home after work with Peter so they could work late on another case they were close to solving. When they walked in Ellen toddled over to Neal and he picked her up and gave her a big hug and a kiss. Peter noticed how he always got the biggest smile when he saw her. His eyes just lit up. “Hey there!” He greeted her. Mozzie was sitting at the table and greeted them.

“Peter and I were just going to work on a case. You can leave if you want.” Neal told Mozzie

“Ordinarily I would but I have some dinner in the oven.” So Mozzie stayed and hung out while Neal and Peter worked their case.

At one point they were discussing case theories when Ellen toddled over to Neal and raised her hands, wanting to be picked up. He saw her and picked her up to sit her on his lap while talking to Peter.

She looked up at Neal and said her first word, “Dada!” That caught everyone’s attention. 

“What did she just say?” Peter said in shock

“What?” Mozzie came over and asked

“Dada!” Ellen said happily and pointed up to Neal. He was speechless. He looked down at her in amazement and surprise.

He said with a smile, very emotional, “Yeah. I’m Dada.” Then gave her another heartfelt hug.

Any doubts he had about everything possibly not being okay vanished. Even know he didn’t know what the future held. Neal was certain everything was going to be alright and he was looking towards the future with his family.


 

The woman walked into an architect's office.

“Hello, I’m Thomas Morgan.” The older man greeted and reached out to shake her hand

“Hello, I’m Amber Munoz.” She greeted and shook Thomas’s hand. But that was a lie. That was not her real name.

Thomas sat down at his very messy desk, full of different folders, blueprints, and other papers. He was very overworked and had a ton of appointments and meetings before and after her. He searched his desk for the blueprints ‘Amber’ sent to his office earlier before their meeting. He finally found the folder and looked inside. He sat down with a grunt and a sigh and said, “Okay so you want our company to build a house on your private island. Is that right?”

“Yes. I want to surprise my husband and daughter with a summer house.”

She did want to surprise someone. But they weren’t family. And the house wasn’t intended just for summer use.

He looked up at her with a touch of concern, “Lady, you know this island is hundreds of miles from the East Coast.”

“Yes.” ‘Amber’ said fully aware of her new private island’s extremely remote location and complete absence of any other people. That was the reason she picked it.

“What I’m saying is that this is going to be very expensive, Mrs., ” Thomas paused trying to remember the woman’s name, or at least the name she gave him.

“Munoz.” She reminded him, “And money's no object.” ‘Amber’ said, “How long do you think it will take to complete?”

Thomas replied while looking back at the blueprints of the house, “Well since the location is so isolated getting labor and supplies there will take a while, along with construction. Then there’s always delays of some sort. Getting all the permits and paperwork to work there is gonna take a while. Prepping the land and laying the foundation is going to take forever.”

“How long?!” ‘Amber’ asked, getting angry

Thomas thought for a second, “Well with construction and these relatively complicated blueprints. Probably a year or two. Three if everything that could go wrong does. A year minimum.”

‘Amber’ groaned, but she knew that the best plans took time. Thomas’s assistant then came in and said, “Sir, your 1:30’s here.”

“Alright.” Thomas said to her. He turned to his current client and said, “It’ll take at least a year, probably more. You can surprise your family then. Now Mrs. Munoz, I’m extremely busy. I have more clients to see. I’ll let you know when we break ground.”

“When should that be?”
“Soon. Hopefully.”  Thomas said, which made ‘Amber’ smile. Thomas almost shooed her out the door to bring in his next client who would receive the same rushed treatment.

He had no idea that his newest client was lying about her name because she was a wanted fugitive.

That she was wanted in New York for kidnapping, rape, battery, assault, and murder.

He never thought twice about her story of wanting to surprise her family with a summer house. He’d worked for plenty of rich people before. He’d heard a lot of odd things that people of normal wealth didn’t normally do. Like give houses as gifts. He was also so busy he barely remembered her name, let alone did any sort of background check. He didn’t normally do those on clients anyway.

Also, she stopped looking like her wanted photo long ago. He would have no idea if a client was actually a fugitive.

‘Amber’ left the office and muttered devilishly, full of determination, “It’ll work better this time. I’m coming, Neal.” She said with a malicious smile, “I’m coming.”