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Out of the Darkness

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One Year Since Neal Escaped

Neal woke up one Saturday morning and looked the time on his phone. 10:30, that was odd. Normally Ellen woke him up by then. She tended to wake up early and would wake him up by crying until he woke up. Normally that didn’t take long. He got out of bed and went to her bedroom (His old closet turned nursery) to check on her and wake her up. He walked in and saw her sitting in her crib with her blanket and playing with Mozart, the bear that Mozzie gave her when Neal first came home.

He smiled at the sight of his daughter. She looked up at him and said happily, “Dah-dee!”

“Good morning, Sweetie!” He greeted and picked her up, “You hungry?” He asked, she nodded, “Okay, let’s get some breakfast.” He walked into the main room and sat her in her high chair. He then turned to make breakfast and listened to her babble away using some actual words. He started to brew some coffee then cut up some strawberries and put them in a small plastic bowl for her along with some milk in a sippy cup. He poured himself a bowl of cereal because he didn’t feel like actually cooking. He brought it all to the table and sat down.

Ellen grabbed a piece of strawberry from the bowl and tried to eat it.

“You need help?” Neal asked watching her closely, paying no attention to his own food. She had been trying to feed herself lately with moderate success.

“No.” Ellen replied and shook her head. She learned, no, a few months back and used it all the time. She continued to try to feed herself with moderate success. She switched between eating a few pieces and squishing some in her hand which made her giggle and Neal smile. She tried to grab her sippy cup but missed and it tumbled to the floor.

“Uh-oh.” She said put her hands up

Neal smiled and went to get it, “It’s okay. Here you go.” She grabbed it from him and put it up to her mouth to drink. After breakfast Neal cleaned up Ellen and put her on the floor next to some toys while he cleaned up from breakfast.

He looked back at her and asked, “Want to go to the park today?”

She smiled and said, “-Ark!”

“We can go to the park but first we need to get dressed. Come on.” He started towards her room and she followed, toddling behind him.

While trying to put some pants on her his phone rang. He luckily had it nearby and was able to answer the call while trying to dress his child. He saw it was Peter,

“Hey, Peter. What’s up?”

“I’m so sorry but you need to come into the office.” Neal stopped what he was doing and sighed. Peter continued, “You know I wouldn’t ask unless it was truly necessary.”

Neal replied, “Yeah, I know. What happened?”

“You know that pharmaceutical company, Lucenttech?”

“Yeah.” Neal said, balancing the phone on his shoulder while putting a shirt on Ellen.

“They were robbed last night. At first glance about $10 million in new drugs that haven’t been to market yet were taken.”

Neal sighed again, “So this can’t wait until Monday?”

“Nope. I’m sorry. I have higher ups breathing down my neck to get this solved quickly and we need all the help we can get.”

“Alright, I’ll call Mozzie. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” He hung up and groaned.

He really liked working with Peter again but he didn’t like the long hours and occasional weekends. When he was on the anklet, it was just a minor annoyance. But things were different now. Now it was an actual problem.

Ellen sensed his change in mood and turned her head to the side confused. “I’m sorry but Uncle Mozzie will take you to the park instead.”

Neal called Mozzie, “Hey, Moz. I need you to come over and watch Ellen. Peter called and needs me in the office.”

“On a Saturday? Seriously?”

“Sadly.”

“Hey, you wouldn’t happen to know anything about the Lucenttech heist would you?”

“No. Why?”

“Damn. Thought that if you knew something this could be solved faster and maybe I wouldn’t have to go into the office.”

“Sorry. I’ll be over as soon as I can.”

"Thanks, Moz.”

“Of course. Anything for the Little One.”


Mozzie knocked at the door and Neal answered it.

Mozzie entered and said, “So you’ve been summoned by Big Brother.”

“Yeah. I hope to be back soon, but I don’t know how long I’ll be gone.” Neal said while tying a tie.

“It’s okay.” He said and walked over towards Ellen who was playing with some blocks on the floor nearby. “Hey there, Squirt!” She smiled at him. “What’s you got there?” She raised up a block.  

“I was going to take her to the park today. If you do, just, you know.”

“Yeah I know.” Mozzie replied. He knew to be very watchful, watch out for potential threats.

Well, one threat really.

Neal gave her a kiss goodbye. “I’ll be back later. I love you.” She then started to cry and reach out for him. She still didn’t like him leaving and her reaction still broke his heart. Mozzie managed to distract her with the blocks and Neal left quietly.


 

Neal walked into the office wearing resting bitch face. He walked into Peter’s office and he immediately said,

“I know. I’m sorry. I wouldn’t have called if it wasn’t absolutely necessary.”  

“Where’s the file?” Neal asked, Peter handed it to him and said,

“Alarms were triggered when Lucenttech was being robbed for about $10 million.”

Neal scanned the file, he looked up and asked, “Any suspects?”

“No, not yet. But the CEO should be here soon.”

The CEO, Jeffery Robertson, came by and gave them information about the company, the building, security, and who would want to rob them.  After he left Peter and Neal worked the case all day and into the evening. They were sitting in Peter’s office that evening, bouncing ideas off each other when Peter said,

“You should go home, be with Ellen. We can meet at my house tomorrow and work the case more.”

Neal let out a sigh of relief and said, “Thank you. I’ll see you tomorrow.” After Neal left Peter stayed for a while longer. He had some more questions for the CEO, he thought that he could drop by his place on his way home. He drove to the townhouse and parked outfront. Peter knocked at the door, Jeffrey answered,

“Agent Burke. What can I do for you?”

“I just have a few more questions if you don’t mind.”

“Of course not. Come in.”

Peter walked into the nice modern townhome and followed Jeffrey who walked into the kitchen. He was cooking homemade pasta.

“Smells delicious.” Peter commented

“Thanks. What did you want to ask me?” Jeffrey asked while stirring some sauce

“About that vengeful former employee, Marcus.” Peter said while casually looking around the room. As Jeffrey talked about how Marcus probably wouldn’t steal from the company in revenge.  Peter saw a small family photo of Jeffrey and who he assumed was his husband, Luke, along with a boy. Peter guessed the boy was about 18 at the time the picture was taken. He could tell the picture was taken a while ago because Jeffrey looked older now.

“Cute family.” He commented

Jeffrey turned from the pot he was stirring. “What?”

“Cute family.” Peter commented and pointed to the photo. Peter saw the small look of sadness on his face.

“Thanks.” Jeffrey responded and turned back to his cooking.

“Is this your son?” Peter asked

“Yeah.”

“He looks to be about 18 here?”

“Yeah.” Jeffery said, he sadly sighed and said, “He’d be 22 today, actually.”

Peter was interested. He asked confused, “Would be?”

Jeffrey turned from his cooking and confessed, “My son, James. He disappeared four years ago. Today’s his birthday.”

This revelation struck a chord with Peter for obvious reasons. He said sincerely, “I’m so sorry.” Jeffrey looked at Peter and noticed the sympathy on his face was not the normal pity he got from others. It was sincere. The kind of sincere you can only have by going through the same tragedy.

Jeffrey responded, “Thank you.”

“If you don’t mind, do you know anything about what happened? I know those details can be fuzzy.”

“He was coming home from school one day and according to witnesses he was dragged by a man in a black hoodie into a grey van. He hasn’t been seen since.”

“I’m so sorry.” Peter said at a loss for words

“Today’s his birthday. My pasta’s his favorite food. I’m not expecting him to walk through that door, but,” He paused and Peter filled in,

“You can’t not celebrate.”

Jeffrey nodded, a little surprised with Peter’s insight. Peter confessed, “Two and a half years ago, my partner, Neal, was abducted. It took him over a year to escape.”

Jeffrey knew something had to have happened for Peter to have that level of sincerity and insight. He said, “I’m so sorry.”

“To the normal person, he seems fine, happy. He is...kind of. I know he’s still hurting, badly. But by God if he hasn’t come leaps and bounds from a year ago.” There was a moment of silence.

“How was he? If you don’t mind me asking.”

“He was a mess.”

There was another moment of silence.

“You said your son’s name is James?”

“Yeah. Luke and I adopted him from a woman in her twenties who didn’t want kids but accidentally got pregnant. We found her when she was pregnant and adopted him the day he was born. She wanted a closed adoption so we respected her wishes.”

“Does she know about the abduction?”

“Yeah, we told her shortly after it happened. She was torn up about it. Well, to an extent. She doesn’t really know him. She doesn’t have that maternal bond with him.”  Peter nodded, Jeffrey continued, “Ever since it happened Luke has been distancing himself from me. Long days and nights at the hospital. He’s the Head of Surgery at Mt. Sinai. Even when he’s home we don’t talk anymore. He’s distanced himself so far from me that he’s more like a roommate then a husband.”

Peter couldn’t imagine that happening to him and Elizabeth. If that ever did, it would completely break him beyond repair.  

“He’s more of a suppressor. Doesn’t talk about it. Won’t talk about it. I’ve wanted to go into couple’s counseling with him for years but he won’t. I’ve been in counseling for a while now. Since it’s James’ birthday I know he won’t come home. He’ll make sure that he’s there all night and into tomorrow.”

“He suppresses this with work?” Peter asked

“Yeah.”

“Birthdays and holidays are just, really hard.”

“I know.” Peter replied, “The holidays we had without Neal were, very difficult.” Peter said remembering that Thanksgiving and Christmas, “We tried to have a good time, but we didn’t. It just felt, incomplete. Wrong.” Jeffery nodded, completely understanding where Peter was coming from.  “Because not everyone’s there. Instead everyone’s wondering where they are. If they’re okay. If they’re even alive.” Jeffrey nodded knowingly

“Luke normally works all holidays now. My parents died a few years back, so I’ve been spending the holidays with my in-laws. Better than sitting in this empty house all by myself. They try to make the holidays less depressing, but they know there’s only so much they can do.”

“My wife, Elizabeth, tried to make the holidays less depressing. She knew it was a losing battle, but I admire her for trying.”

“Unlike Luke, it seems like she really stuck by you.”

“Yeah, she did.” Peter said remembering, “I’m sorry that Luke hasn’t been that supportive.”

“It’s okay. That’s just not how he deals with things. Everyone deals with things differently. It’s not his fault. He’s still my husband and I love him.” He paused, “And maybe. Maybe one day. We’ll have our family back.”  There was silence between them. Jeffrey asked, “Is that too far-fetched?”

“No. It’s not.” Peter always wished that he’d have Neal back. “I always wished that I’d get Neal back. That I’d find him this time. Before all that, he was a criminal and I was the guy who caught him. I caught him three out of four times. That fourth time was the only time that truly mattered.”

“But you got him back.” Jeffrey pointed out

“I didn’t have anything to do with it. It was all on him. He finally had an escape and he took it.”

“Hold on.” Jeffrey said and went to the den off the kitchen. He came back with a stack of papers in a Manila folder. He said, “I know this is a lot to ask, but do you think you could look over his case?”

Peter was confused, “I don’t work with Missing Persons.”

“But you know what’s it’s like to have someone you consider family go missing. You seem like you know what you’re doing. Maybe you’ll see something the myself, the cops, or the private detectives I’ve hired over the years, didn’t.”

Peter, shocked by Jeffrey’s trust, took the file and said, “Yeah, I’ll take a look it. I’m not making any promises.”
“I know. But just the fact that someone new is looking and cares makes me feel just a little bit better.”


 Peter came home that night and Elizabeth could tell he was lost in thought.

“Hey, Hun. How was the case?” She asked

“What?” Peter asked, coming from his daze

“The case that you were called for this morning.” Elizabeth reminded him

Peter thought for a second, “Oh right. Yeah it’s going fine. Neal’s coming over tomorrow and we’re gonna continue working it.”

“You seem out of it. What’s wrong?” Elizabeth was concerned

Peter told Elizabeth about why he went to Jeffrey’s house, how they got to talking about his son, “...It turns out his son, James, has been missing for going on four years.”

Elizabeth sadly sighed, “Oh my God.”

Peter told her about their conversation, about his husband, then about how he agreed to take a look at the case, “I know I said I’d look at it, but I don’t know El. I don’t know if I’ll find anything. I couldn’t find Neal when it counted. What makes me think I can find James.”

Elizabeth consoled him, “I have faith in you, Peter. Maybe this time it’ll be different.”

“Ever since I left his house, I just keep thinking, what if that was Neal? What if he was still locked in that damn cabin? What if he never had a chance to escape? God knows the cops weren’t looking and I was no closer to finding him.”

“But he did, Hun. He’s home now.”

“Okay, but what if he didn’t have that chance to escape? What if Jeffrey was me in a few years? What if he was stuck there forever?”

“He’s not you. Neal and Ellen are home now. They’re home and okay. Ellen’s thriving, Neal’s been back at work for months now. For this situation, this is the best ending we could’ve ever hoped for.”

“Okay but what if?” Peter couldn’t help but ask. He couldn’t help but think of the worst case scenario. That Neal was never able to escape. That he would be forced to live in that hell forever.

“Just remember, they’re home and they’re doing great. They’re very lucky. We all are.” Elizabeth was careful not to say that Neal and Ellen were safe. Because she knew that was complete bullshit. She knew as long as Christina was out there they weren’t safe.

“Any leads on Christina?” She asked

“Sadly, no.” Peter answered, “But I’m gonna keep looking.”

“I know you will.” Elizabeth said and gave her husband a kiss.


 Early the next afternoon Neal came by with Ellen to work the case. Peter answered the door,

“Hey.”

“Hey.” He smiled at the child in Neal’s arms. Whenever Neal had to work weekends Peter tried to work outside the office whenever possible so Neal didn’t have to leave her. Sometimes it couldn't be avoided but sometimes it could.

Neal put her down on the ground and they walked inside. She toddled over to see Satchmo who greeted her with kisses and headbutts, which nearly toppled her over which terrified Neal. She giggled as Satchmo gave her affection, “Dawggie!” She said happily and rubbed his head. Neal knew she already loving going over there for that reason alone, a dog.

They sat down at the table and started to get to work. Neal was going through files on the table when he saw a Manilla folder, not the typical FBI folder.

“What’s this?” He muttered and looked inside. Peter looked up from the evidence he was examining and said,

“No, that’s not it.”

Neal looked inside and asked surprised and confused, “Is this the son of the Lucenttech CEO?”

Peter confessed, “Yeah.” He explained the situation at Jeffrey’s house the night prior. “I made no promises but I said I’d look it over.”

“I want to help.” Neal said seriously. This was obviously very personal and emotional for him.

“Neal.”

“He’s been missing for four years.” Neal said seriously, “That’s four years too long. Let’s bring him home to his family.”

Peter replied, “Okay. Let’s do that. Let’s bring him home.”


 Christina sat in the tiny dark apartment, planning and plotting. Her plan was already in motion. After she put the final safety customizations on her draft of the house blueprints she decided to call the head architect on the project and see how it was going. She grabbed her prepaid burner phone from the coffee table in front of her and dialed Thomas Morgan’s number.

“Hello, Thomas Morgan speaking.”

“Hello, it’s Amber Munoz I’m calling about a progress report on my housing project.”

“Okay.” Thomas said as he started typing on this computer to look up her project. Still had no idea she was a wanted fugitive. “Munoz you said?” Confirming her name.

“Yes.”

He found her progress report and said, “The report says that we just started framing this week.”

Christina got pissed, they were supposed to have done that weeks ago. “Why are you just getting there?”

The overworked and underpaid architect sighed and explained, “Well since my firm has never done on a house on a private island we needed to first find where to get the proper permits then go through those proper channels to get the permits. That took a while. We can only get supplies there via cargo ship, which takes also takes a while. It doesn’t help that it’s currently the rainy season there so we keep having to start and stop construction.” He heard his client groan on the other end, “Lady, I told you this was going to take a while.”

“What’s an updated estimate for completion?” She asked, completely done with this conversation. This was not what she wanted to hear. Even though she knew there would be delays of some sort and this sort of thing takes a while.

This wasn’t the first time she built a house in the middle of nowhere.

“Well since we’ve just started framing, and since we have to come up with all new power and water sources. You said you wanted solar power right?”

“Yeah.”

“Well that won’t be too much of a problem. Setting up a fresh clean water source, connecting it to the house, and praying that it works and doesn’t break. That will take a while. So I’m going more towards another year and a half to two and a half years. Two and a half max.”

She groaned, “Fine. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Good day.”

She hung and up looked at the picture of a child that she had on the coffee table. It was taken when the girl was about two or three weeks old.

“I’m coming, Baby Girl.” She said, “Daddy can’t take you away again if we’re on an island and there’s nowhere to run.”

Chapter Text

Neal walked into Dr. Anderson’s office

“Good afternoon.” She greeted

“Good afternoon.”

“I’m glad that you could make it in.” Anderson commented, “It’s been awhile since your last appointment.”

“Yeah, I know.” Neal replied, “A full time job and a 15 month old doesn’t leave much time for for anything else.” He smiled

“How’s everything been going?”

“Really well, actually.” Neal replied, “Ellen’s doing great, I’ve been doing well. Work’s good.”

“That’s good.”

Neal’s phone digged he checked it real quick before putting it back in his pocket.

“Lead on a case?” Anderson asked

“Kind of.” Neal replied, “Now I’m helping Peter on a case he’s doing in his free time.”

“Uh-huh.” She said as he wrote something down in her notebook

Neal continued, “Long story short the CEO of the company that we’re investigating the heist of was talking to Peter as his house and eventually found out that the CEO’s son has been missing for four years.” Dr. Anderson looked up from her notebook very interested, “I knew you’d be interested in that.” Neal commented

“Well yes, I very much am.” She said eagerly, “How did Peter get this case?”

“He commented on an old family photo and one thing lead to another they chatted and he asked Peter to look into it.” Neal informed, “I was at his house and saw a file on his table that wasn’t FBI so I was interested and looked. I insisted on helping.”

“I can see why.” Anderson said very interested,

Neal’s phone digged again, he checked it and said as he got up, “I know that you want to psychoanalyze this to death but Peter thinks that he might have a lead.” Anderson nodded

“Good luck on the case.” She said as he left, “Also!” She said calling him back, He came back into the room. “Be careful. Something like this could also really trigger you and maybe make you regress. So please be careful. If it feels at any time like it might be too much. Tell Peter. Please.” Neal just stared at her, she commented, “But because you’re you. You won’t do that.”

“You know me well.” Neal commented

“At some point soon we should talk about your self destructive tendencies and lack of impulse control.” Neal smiled and left.


 

Neal arrived at Peter’s house, “Hey!” Peter greeted

“You got a lead?” Neal asked

“Yeah.” They walked over to Peter’s table to see the case file and evidence. “Okay.” Peter started to explain, “So James was last seen being dragged into a gray van.”

“Yeah.”

“Well I managed to get the street surveillance footage. I got the license number.”

“That’s great but it’s probably stolen.” Neal said

“That’s what I thought.” Peter said and went on to explain, “I checked the number anyway. Both were stolen. But, it turns out this license plate number and gray van were involved in a number of abductions with the same MO including one a few days ago.” Neal looked impressed

“So they weren’t dumping cars between uses?” Neal deduced

“Apparently not.”

“I was planning on talking to the precinct that has the most recent case and see what they know. And luckily, we know them.”

“Great. Let’s go.”

 

Neal and Peter walked into the precinct that was handling the most recent case. They walked into the unit. Detective Amaro looked up from his desk and saw them come in.

“Agent Burke. Neal Caffrey. Everything okay?”

“Yeah, everything’s fine. We have some questions on a case that we could use your help with.” Peter said

Amaro was surprised, “Sure what case?”

“Henderson.”

“What do the Feds want with a local case?”

“Looking into it for a friend.” Peter said

“What do you know about the case?” Neal asked

Amaro searched his messy desk for a few moments before finding the file. He handed it to Peter who started looking through it with Neal. Amaro informed, “Nicky Henderson was walking home from a friend’s house when a man in a grey van snatched her. No ransom call, no nothing. We are currently eliminating people in her life who didn’t do it.”

He asked about the license plates, “Did you know that the plate numbers matched other missing persons cases?”

Amaro was not aware of this information. He was taken by surprise, “No, I didn’t. We never thought to check the plates because we just assumed that the van was stolen.”

“You shouldn’t have assumed.” Neal said looking up from the file he scanned the file. Peter detected anger and resentment in his voice. Neal looked at Amaro, “Do you have any idea as to who took her?” he asked, the anger and resentment becoming more prevalent.

“Neal. A moment.” Peter said seriously. He worried this was too much for Neal. He pulled him aside for a minute and asked him, “Are you okay? Is this too much for you?”

“I’m fine.” Neal insisted, “These guys are just completely fucking incompetent. I should have known.” Peter could tell Neal wasn’t fine. That he was angry that the cops hadn’t found the missing girl yet.

Just then an older woman came to them and asked, “I need to speak with someone on the Henderson case.”

“They’re over there we were just talking with him. What’s it about?” Peter said

“I saw the girl on the news get abducted.” The woman said

They directed the woman to Amaro who listened to her statement. They managed to get a description of the guy who took Nicky Henderson. They assumed he or someone he knew took the others, including James. Neal helped make a sketch of their new suspect.

They ran the sketch through the NYPD databases and luckily got a hit. Amaro updated Benson on the case.

“Our suspect is Mal Damien.” Benson said

“He has quite the rap sheet.” Peter commented looking through the file

“No one’s been able to make any charges stick. A while back we suspected him of trafficking under aged girls but they didn’t have any proof.” Benson informed

“Do we have a clue as to where he is now?” Neal asked

“Him and his buddies are said to hang out at a club across town. We should stake it out tonight.” Amaro said

“Let’s go pick him up instead.” Neal said eagerly

“Well first of all you’re not going anywhere.” Benson said to Neal. He got confused, “You’re not going anywhere near this case now.”

Why ?” Neal asked. Peter could tell that Neal was not happy about this at all .

“Well first of all you’re a civilian and second of all this is dangerous.”

“I do dangerous shit all the time and no one bats an eye.”

“I do.” Peter interjected, “I’m in a constant state of worry about you.” Neal ignored his comment.

“Go home, Neal. Be with your daughter. As a professional courtesy I’ll keep Agent Burke on as a consultant.” Benson also didn’t want Neal working the case due to his past, worried it may be too much for him.

Neal looked at Peter pissed off.

“We got this from here. Go home. I’ll call you with any developments.” Peter told Neal. “Go.” He groaned and left.

After Neal was out of earshot Peter called Mozzie and said, “Go over to Neal’s and stay with him until this case we’ve been working is over. He was just kicked off it and is pretty pissed about it. Make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid. Thanks.” And he hung up.


 

That night they were staking out the club their suspect frequented, ready to confirm their suspicions of Damien trafficking, but not wanting to spook him or his associates into hiding. They saw Damien, leading a about ten or so others into the club. They suspected those were the ones being trafficked.

Not too long after Damien and the others entered the club Peter saw someone who looked pretty familiar walking the street about to enter the club.

He grabbed his binoculars and said in disbelief, “ No.”

“What?” Benson asked

“I’m gonna kill him. I’m gonna kill him. I’m going to kill him. ” Peter muttered angrily

“What?” Benson asked again

Peter threw his hands up and said angrily, “That’s Neal!” He sighed

“What’s he doing here?”

“Doing something stupid.” Peter reasoned. He called Mozzie and immediately said, “I told you to stay with him and make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.”

“Yeah. I am.” Mozzie said, sounding like he just woke up

“Then why did he just walk into a club with suspected traffickers! What the fuck went wrong?”

“Well we were chatting drinking bourbon, then oohh shit. ” It came to Mozzie

“What?”

“Neal knows that bourbon makes me tired.” Mozzie told Peter

Peter groaned. Neal snuck out after Mozzie fell asleep.

“I didn’t know what he was doing.” Mozzie honestly claimed

“You’re an idiot.” Peter groaned and hung up.

He then almost immediately got another call. When he saw it was from Neal he immediately picked it up and said in his angry dad voice, “Neal! What the fuck do you think you’re doing?!”

He then heard slightly muffled background noise and it sounded like the phone was in his pocket.

Peter heard Neal say, “Hello I’m looking for Mal Damien.”

A man answered “He’s over there.”

“What are you doing?” Peter groaned, wishing for once Neal did what he was told. He put the phone on speaker.

They heard who they assumed was their suspect, “Hello. You are?”

They heard Neal answer, “I’m Preston Tucker. I’ve been told that you can lead me to some product.

There was a few moments of silence. Benson started to record the call and muted it so no one could hear their end.

“How do you know that?”

“Your reputation proceeds you, Mr. Damien.”

“Please call me, Mal.” He said, “And I suppose it would. What are you interested in?”

“What are you selling? I’ll take whatever for the right price. It’ll be worth it for you. Trust me.”

“Currently, I could get rid of some ethnics, some whites. I can give you five ethics for ten and five whites for five each.”

“I would like to see your product before I buy. I’ve been burned before, given bad product.”

There was a silence.

Neal continued, “Unless of course, you’re not interested in my money.”

“Of course I am.”

“Then show me the product.”

“Fine. Follow me. We have to make sure we’re not followed.” Mal conceded

They walked out the club and into Mal’s van. Peter could see that Neal was hiding the terror from his face. Mal couldn’t tell but because Peter was Peter he could tell.

After they left, Benson groaned and started to follow them. She asked Peter, “Was he always like this?”

“Sadly, yes.” Peter answered

They drove discreetly behind them and parked a reasonable distance away when the van parked at a house in Brooklyn.

Benson commented, “As much as I don’t approve of what he’s doing. He propelled our investigation weeks ahead, maybe even months. He got in faster than any UC we could put in.”

“Yeah. He’s that good.” Peter answered, still wishing Neal hadn’t done this.

They saw the two go into the house. They heard Mal say over the phone, “Here’s some Asians, got some blacks. There’s some whites and Hispanics upstairs.”

“Do you have any men?”

“Of course. They’re downstairs.”

“Can I see them?”

They heard a door open and stairs creak. “Again, got some whites, some blacks, some Asians. What would you like? I can do ten for twenty.”

There was a pause before Neal said, “They look good. Sounds like a deal.”

“Move in!” Benson commanded her squad

They made the bust, arrested Mal and his men, and began to get everyone else from the house to the hospital to get checked out. Among the hell-like conditions Peter saw a man whom he recognized. He looked somewhat different for his photo but it was obvious. It was Luke and Jeffrey’s son, James Robertson.


 

Neal and Peter were standing outside of James Robertson’s hospital room when Peter asked Neal,

“Why did you do it?”

“Because I know the feeling.” Neal said, looking into the room. Peter looked at Neal, he continued, “I know mostly what they’re feeling, what they’ve been through. To be abused, held against your will, powerless to do anything to help yourself. I felt this intense need to help them. Those people needed to be rescued, so they can finally go home. The cops were taking too long. I couldn’t wait for them. I couldn’t stand those innocent people suffering for one more moment. Let alone for you guys to go by the book.”

Peter understood why Neal did what he did.

“There was a chance you could have gotten into serious trouble. Maybe even killed if your cover was blown.”

“I knew that you were nearby and wouldn’t let that happen.” Neal said, “I figured since traffickers treat people like objects the sale would the same as for objects. All about the money.”

“And when I sent Mozzie over you had someone to watch Ellen.” Peter realized

“For some reason Mozzie can’t handle bourbon and is unconscious after like, three drinks. That enabled me to get out quickly. Right before I left I told June to watch her while I was out for a case. Technically not a lie.”

Peter sighed, “Why don’t you ever stay where I tell you to?”

Neal responded, “A lot has changed, but that hasn’t.” and gave him a small smile.

Jeffrey and Luke came out of the room and Jeffrey said to them, “Thank you, for giving us our son back. For making us a family again. Honestly, thanks just aren’t enough, but thanks anyway.”

“You’re welcome.” Peter said

“Where’s Lt. Benson? I would like to thank her.”

“She went back with her squad.” Peter informed

“Oh, I just have one question for you guys.” Jeffrey said

“What?” Peter asked

“Where do we go from here? How do we help him recover?” Jeffrey asked

“He’ll need time, space, therapy, and family.” Neal responded, knowing from personal experience, “He’ll never be ‘over it’. He’ll never be ‘the same as before’.  But after a while, if given those things, he’ll be able to function like a human being again, and move on.”

“Thank you.” Jeffrey said to Neal and he nodded. Jeffrey and Luke went back into the room to call Lt. Benson in thanks.


 

That night Neal tossed and turned in his sleep. Sweating and talking in his sleep. Eventually waking up with a violent jerk, hyperventilating. It was the first time in a while that he had woken up from a night terror.

He got his breathing under control. His mind registered that he was home and safe.

He walked into Ellen’s room and saw her peacefully sleeping. He sat in the rocking chair and just watched her. After taking down Mal Damien and his crew Neal couldn’t stop remembering his own abuse. He knew that his psychologist was right. It was a lot for him, and caused him to slightly regress. He had absolutely no regrets, he knew it was the right thing to do. He was just upset that he slightly regressed.

Chapter Text

Neal got dressed and got Ellen ready. It was Thanksgiving and they were going over to Peter and Elizabeth’s for dinner. Mozzie said he’d even come over. As soon as he got Ellen ready he picked her up and walked downstairs. Before leaving he went to wish June a happy Thanksgiving. He came into the dining room where she was setting up the table. Her family was coming over. She asked Neal and Ellen to join them but he already said yes to Peter.

“Hey, about to head out and wanted to wish you a happy Thanksgiving.” Neal said

June came over to him and gave him a hug, “Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving, dear. Have a good time today.”

He walked out the door, the chill hitting him immediately. He had a jacket and scarf and he bundled up Ellen so she didn’t get cold. He knew better than to try to catch a cab in New York City on Thanksgiving. Due to the parade route and security you couldn’t get anywhere by car...at least not efficiently. He could have taken a cab, but with the amount of roadblocks and traffic he would get to Peters’ well after dinner. He walked part of the way and took the subway the rest. He normally didn’t take it but he had to make an exception.

He got to Peter’s not to long after. Peter greeted him with a hug, “Hey! Happy Thanksgiving!”

“Happy Thanksgiving!” Neal greeted back

He walked in and put Ellen down. She toddled off to find Satchmo. Elizabeth came by and gave him a hug then said, “Happy Thanksgiving. Dinner should be ready in a little while.”

“Thanks. Happy Thanksgiving.”

He sat next to Peter who was sitting back on the couch watching the football game with a beer.  Neal smiled and took it all in, spending time with family, especially during the holidays. He knew there was a time that he never thought he’d have this again. That he’d never see his family again.

He tried to block it out, but he couldn’t help but remember where he was last Thanksgiving. Locked in that damn cabin.

 

Christina put the pan back in the oven. She was humming a cheery tune. Neal couldn’t name it but if he heard it again he’d puke. She maneuvered her pregnant belly around the small kitchen.  Neal was sitting at the table, stone faced. He was trying to just keep his mind blank. He found that was best. Thinking in the moment made him depressed and thinking of home made him more depressed. Although he couldn’t help but think about what Peter was doing.

He was taken out of his daze when Christina said, “We’re lucky I found a wild turkey on an earlier hunt. We can celebrate Thanksgiving with a turkey.”

Neal didn’t know what she meant by ‘celebrate’. He didn’t want to celebrate anything with her. Especially not such a family-oriented holiday like Thanksgiving. She insisted...more like commanded, and he wasn’t in a position to argue. He couldn’t think of anything more depressing than being forced to celebrate a holiday with his captor. Holidays in prison weren't this depressing.

Christina got the potatoes off the stove and started to mash them. She got them and other vegetables from her garden that she harvested a while back.

“Next Thanksgiving we’ll have our baby with us.” Christina said while mashing potatoes with more force than was really needed.

Neal tried to let that comment go in one ear and out the other. He added it to the ever growing list of things he tried not to think about. He was good at not thinking about things. He was compartmentalizing to survive.

He didn’t want to think about how she was very clearly planning for the future. For this to continue. Forever.

Christina soon took the turkey out of the oven again. She carved it up and put some on two plates, along with some mashed potatoes and vegetables.

She put the plates on the table and sat down across from Neal. She smiled and said, “I’m thankful for you.” She rubbed her stomach, “And our baby.” A chill ran through Neal every time she said, ‘our baby’. His goal was to survive long enough to get the child away from her.

“Eat up.” She said and started to eat. Neal ate only because he knew that’s what his body needed.

The doorbell pulled Neal from his daze. Peter answered the door, it was Mozzie. He handed Peter a bottle of wine he brought. He looked at it and commented

“This is really nice. Where’d you get it?”

“I bought it.” Mozzie said condescendingly, “I know better with you, Suit.” He commented

Peter just smiled and shook his head, “Dinner should be ready soon.”

“Thanks, Suit.” Mozzie went over and said hello to Ellen who was playing with Satchmo before sitting down near Neal.

Peter stood in his kitchen. Elizabeth was finishing up the potatoes and stuffing.

“Need help?” He offered

“No, you don’t know what you’re doing. Just let me handle it.” She responded

Peter backed away and grabbed another beer from the fridge. He tried to block it out all day but he couldn’t help but remember last Thanksgiving.

 

It was barely three o’clock and he was already on beer number three. He wanted something stronger but Elizabeth would give him her judgemental death stare if he even tried to get drunk on a holiday. He heard the doorbell and went to get it. It was Mozzie.

“Hey, Suit.” He said with a sad smile

“Hey.”

Mozzie came in and sat down.

“Wanna drink?”

“Most certainly. Strongest thing you’ve got.”

Peter went and got some scotch from the cabinet, Elizabeth was mashing potatoes and gave him a death stare.

“It’s not for me.” Peter defended

“I totally understand why, but he better not get drunk on Thanksgiving.”

“When are your parents coming?” Peter asked. They were supposed to arrive an hour ago.

“Their flight was cancelled. They’re going to a friend’s instead. It’ll just be the three of us.” Elizabeth said continuing to mash potatoes.

Peter went back to the couch and turned on the game. He and Mozzie sat in silence. Neither actually watching the game.

Not too long after, Elizabeth said, “Okay guys, dinner’s ready.” She brought the plates and bowls of food to the table. They sat down. They all subtly looked at the fourth chair at table, the only one not being used. Thinking about how it should be filled. How Neal should be there with them. But they had no idea where he was. If he was even alive.

Everyone, especially Peter, felt this intense feeling of incompleteness, wrongness.

Their Thanksgiving table was incomplete, because it was missing one person.

No one brought up to say where they were thankful for that year. The one person they wanted to be there, wasn’t there.

“This looks delicious. Thanks, Elizabeth.” Mozzie said

“Thank you, Mozzie.” She responded

“This does look delicious. Thanks, El.” Peter said

Elizabeth sadly smiled, knowing that everyone was hurting. She knew that the holidays were going to be hard. She just wanted to get her husband through them.

She looked at the empty chair and said, acknowledging the elephant in the room, “Maybe next Thanksgiving.”

 

Peter was pulled from his daze when he heard his name being called.

He looked over at Neal who said,“Look.” He pointed over at Satchmo. Ellen was riding him like a horse. Neal and Elizabeth were making sure to get video and pictures of the moment.

Peter smiled, with tears in his eyes. He was just so thankful to have Neal back home, where he belongs.

A timer dinged and Elizabeth said, “Dinner’s ready.” She got the remaining food from the oven and put it all on the table.

They all sat down. Neal had Ellen on his lap. Peter looked at everyone at the table and smiled.

Because this year, his Thanksgiving table was complete.

Peter said, “I just want to say something real quick.” They looked at him, “I know I’m not the only one who’s so damn thankful that this year, our little family is happy, healthy, and together. ” Peter held back tears. He didn’t mean to get sappy but he felt it needed to be said.

Neal smiled and said, “Yeah. Me too.”

Peter sniffled and said with a smile, “Okay, enough with the sappiness. Let’s eat. This looks delicious!”

They ate, smiled, laughed. They forgot about their problems for a little while and had a holiday meal together as a family.

Chapter Text

Neal woke up the morning after the Robertson case, after finally managing to get a little more sleep. His depression crept up and made him think, Just go back to sleep. Just lay in the bed the next week or so. It’ll feel good. It’s not like you haven’t done it before. Neal seriously thought about it. He could tell Peter that Ellen got sick or something. Because if he said he got sick then Peter would catch on immediately and would want to talk about it. Neal didn’t want to talk. He grabbed his phone from the nightstand to call Peter when he heard a distant cry.

“Dad-dee! Dad-dee! Dad-dee!”

He put the phone back down with a small smile. He knew that he had to get up. He had a little girl to take care of.

He walked into her nursery and saw her standing up grasping the side of the crib. He smiled when he saw her. Her big blue eyes and big smile never failed to make him smile. Even in the darkest of times. He’d seen a few pictures of him as a baby and a young child. Ellen looked exactly like him.

“Good morning!” He greeted

She waved and said happily, “Dad-dee!” She then rubbed her stomach

“You hungry?” Neal asked

“Yah.” She said

“Let’s get some breakfast.”  He picked her up and took her into the main room.

After breakfast Mozzie came over to watch her, like he did everyday since Neal went back to work.

Shortly after Neal got to the office Peter saw him and asked him when they were in his office,

“You okay?”

“Yeah. I’m fine.” Neal responded, brushing off the question

“You just look a little off. Tired. I know that last case probably really shook you.” Peter commented. He could see straight through Neal. Neal knew it.

“I’m fine. What’ve you got?” He asked

Peter could tell something was wrong. He could also tell that Neal didn’t want to talk about it. He knew that if Neal didn’t want to talk he wouldn’t. Peter knew that pushing would do more harm than good so he just said, “If you ever want to talk, about anything. You know I’m here for you.”

“Noted.” Neal remarked before asking about the file in Peter’s hands, “So again, what’ve we got?”

Peter sighed and gave Neal the file from his hands, “Bank heist. Our suspect is Dominic Owen. He was caught by employees coming in for the day stealing everything from their vault at Manhattan Mutual Bank.”

“Bet he figured he’d get in and out before anyone else and that plan backfired.” Neal deduced

“Yep.”

“Let’s go talk to him.”

They walked in and Neal noticed that the man didn’t look good. He looked pale, sickly, and tired. Even though he was sitting down Neal could tell that he was thinner than a man of his size should be. He was about average height but far from average weight.

Peter said to him seriously, “You were caught stealing millions of dollars from Manhattan Mutual. You’re looking at hard time.”

Dominic just sat there, stone-faced.

Neal was intrigued by the fact that hard time in prison didn’t seem to faze this man. First Neal thought that maybe he didn’t fully grasp the concept that he’d be in prison for the majority of the next one or two decades.  Then Neal thought of the other option and was impressed with his level of poker face.

Either he was amazing at not showing his emotions or he truly didn’t give a shit about going to prison.

“When people hear that they’re gonna do hard time in prison, normally, even in the worst of criminals, you see even just a little bit of fear on their face.” Peter confronted

“I already got the worst news someone could get.” Dominic said matter-of-factly, “So nothing else could be worse.”

“What news?”Peter asked

“That I’m dying.” Dominic responded in the same tone. That shook Neal and Peter. Although they didn’t show it. Dominic continued, “Stage five renal failure, in both kidneys. Doctors said even if I do receive treatment chances of it actually working until I can get new kidneys are slim to none.”

“So you’re not receiving treatment?” Peter asked

“I realized I had two choices, both end with me in a casket.” Dominic started, Neal could hear just a sliver of hurt coming through, “EIther bankrupt my family trying to save my life, and still die and leave my family nothing but a bunch of bills that they wouldn’t be able to pay. Because my insurance will only pay for a little of the dialysis. Or I could do pain management, and actually be able to give something to my kids when I die. For me the choice was simple. Both are pretty shitty and end with me in a coffin. At least this way I won’t die tied to machines and leave my family with insurmountable debt.”

“Did you rob the bank to pay for your medical bills? Or to leave something to your kids?” Neal asked. It was a good hunch.

“Oh that’s a different story.” Dominic said, voice changing, a little cheerier

“Well then enlighten us.” Peter remarked

“Well I knew that I wasn’t gonna get away with the robbery. I’ve watched crime shows, the smallest slip-up can fuck you.” Neal nodded, Dominic continued, “That was the final thing on my bucket list.”

“What?” Peter asked, he was confused

“I was a law abiding citizen my entire life. Not even a parking ticket. But I always wanted to rob a bank, but I was also afraid of going to prison. I left it to be the last thing so when I got caught,”
“Your list would be finished anyway.” Neal finished, impressed with Dominic’s logic.

“Yeah.”

Neal asked out of sheer curiousity, “What else was on your list?”

Dominic paused for a moment before saying, “I backpacked around the world with my family. I rode a bull and fought the same one. Spent time with family and friends. Made amends with everyone. Tried to be the best person I could be. I hiked the Appalachian Mountains and climbed the Rockies. I finished the New York City Marathon. I went skydiving and scuba diving in the Caribbean. Do at least one act of kindness a day. Among other things.”
“That’s quite a list.” Peter commented, “Seems like bank heist is the odd one out.”

“How much longer do you have?” Neal asked

“I was diagnosed three months ago and the doctor say it could be any day now. I’ve really gone downhill in the past two weeks. My bad days are becoming more and more. I was able to get out of bed today thanks to pharmacology. I’m a walking drug store. Most days lately, even with a lot of drugs, I don’t have enough strength to get out of bed. After everything that’s happened today I’ll probably spend the next two weeks in bed. And I may not even see two weeks from now. I’m living on borrowed time.”

Neal and Peter were speechless. They were not expecting anything like this when they walked in.

Dominic continued, “My will is finalized. Hell, I’ve already given like half of my assets away, just to make sure there aren’t any problems later. I’ve even had a going away party. My wife died in a car crash a few years ago. I have it set up that my kids will be raised by my brother and his wife. My parents suddenly died in a fire when I was little and they didn’t have a will. My dad’s friend had to fight in court so that I didn’t end up in foster care. I wanted to make sure that my kids were taken care of.”

He then looked Peter straight in the eyes, with a look of acceptance, “So prison doesn’t scare me, Agent Burke. Because dialysis or no dialysis, I’m a dead man walking.”

“Excuse us a moment.” Peter said and motioned for Neal to follow him. They walked outside the interrogation room. Peter said in shock, “I can’t charge this guy. He’s right. He’s a dead guy walking.”

“I know.” Neal said

Peter thought for a second. Dominic was caught red handed, but Peter didn’t want this man to be in prison for what little time he had left. Peter then got an idea. He walked back into the room without saying a word, Neal followed.

“Because I’m a good guy. I’m gonna offer you a deal.” Dominic looked interested

“You plead guilty to theft and I personally make sure you get community service. No prison time.” There was a moment of silence, “No one will ever offer you a deal like this. I suggest you take it.”

Dominic thought for a second, “You got a deal, Agent Burke.”

 

Peter and Neal were in Peter’s office. Neal was looking over a file for another case while Peter was looking at a copy of Dominic’s will, out of sheer curiosity.

“He has everything clearly worked out. This will is iron clad.” Peter remarked. He then asked Neal, “Do you have a will?”

Neal replied while looking through a file, “Who are you kidding? I’m going to live forever.” Brushing off the question.

“I have one.” Peter said, “Everything goes to El. In the unlikely event that she dies first everything goes to various people and charities.” Neal still wasn’t looking at him. Peter said seriously, “You should make one. For Ellen’s sake. To make sure that she has someone to take care of her incase something were to happen to you.”

Neal sighed, looking down. He didn’t want to talk about or even think about his own death.

Peter said, “I know that you don’t want to think about it, but you have to make sure that your daughter’s taken care of.”

Neal sighed again, knowing Peter was right.

Peter knew that Neal would do it. After a few moments of silence Neal spoke up, “So about that real estate scam.”


 

The next day Neal was at the park with Ellen. Ellen played in a sandbox a few feet away, Neal was talking to Mozzie. While talking he was going between watching Ellen like a hawk and surveying everyone in the park. Making sure they weren’t threats. Whenever he was out, especially with Ellen, he was constantly on guard about his surroundings.

“So Peter thinks I should make a will for Ellen’s sake.” Neal brought up

“Sounds like a good idea actually.” Mozzie responded, Neal looked at him in surprise

“You know, that’s the sound of hell freezing over.” It wasn’t often that Mozzie agreed with Peter. Once in a blue moon they agreed on something...and it was always about Neal. He then asked, on a completely different note, constantly on guard, “Does she look suspicious to you?” And nodded about a women a while to his left. Mozzie looked and commented

“Odd, but not suspicious. Plus the face is different and the skin’s darker. Getting a will for Ellen does seem like a good idea though. And that’s coming from me.”

“I know I should do it,” Neal started

“But thinking about your own demise, again, scares the shit out of you.”

Neal nodded, “Yeah.”

“You don’t want to think about dying by gunshot or falling down stairs.”

Neal then retorted, “After everything I’ve survived, if I die in some bullshit way, like falling down stairs. I swear to God.” Mozzie slightly smiled.

“Maybe you’ll be one of the lucky ones. Dying in their sleep, with family around them.” He suggested, trying to make Neal feel better.

Ellen then started to toddle over to them. She got up, toddled a few steps, fell down, then got right back up and toddled the rest of the way, a few feet. Mozzie noticed that Neal didn’t look alarmed that his child fell right on her knees. “I thought you’d react more to her falling.”

Neal responded, “I realized that a small fall is nothing. She survived her first few months. She can survive almost anything.”

Mozzie was surprised with that level of insight. He wondered how many psych visits it took to reach that realization.


About a week later Neal walked into Peter’s office.

Peter told him, “I just got a call that Dominic Owen died last night in his sleep at his home.”

“I’m sorry.” Neal said

“He was right. He said he was on borrowed time and that he might not even see two weeks from then. He was right.” Peter said sadly, “I never got around to filing the paperwork for his deal. At least now he’ll never have a conviction on his record.”

“I made my will.” Neal said. Peter wasn’t that surprised but was interested.

“Oh.”

“I made you and Elizabeth her legal guardians in case something were to happen to me.”

Peter was taken aback. Although in hindsight he should’ve known.

“Thank you.”

Neal added, “Also, keep Mozzie in her life. He wants to be in her life too.”

“Of course.” Peter said, he understood

“He also has access to an account that would pay for her college and keep her comfortable until she would have a job.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

“No thank you. I now know that if God forbid, anything would happen to me, she would be okay and taken care of.”

There was a silence and Neal said, “You were right by the way.” Peter looked up confused

“That case was harder on me than I thought it would be.” Peter was concerned

“What’s wrong?”

“I haven’t been sleeping much.” Neal confessed, “Last night I had another nightmare about Barry Lander.” The man who stumbled upon the cabin by accident, was going to help Neal, but that Christina killed by shooting him in the head with a shotgun. “No matter how hard I try I can never get the visual out of my mind, of him getting murdered, and what happened after. But I guess you can never forget picking a man’s brains off your shirt.”

Neal said, changing the topic, “I’m sorry about Dominic Owen.”

“Yeah. Me too.” Peter responded


 

That night, after he put Ellen to bed, he grabbed a camera and set it up on a tripod. He pulled a  chair from his table and had it facing the camera. He turned it on, pressed record, sat down, and spoke from the heart,

“Hey, Ellen.” He smiled, “I hope that you don’t watch this for a very long time. Because if you’re watching this, it means that I’m dead.” It sounded weird for him to say that, “If we had a good relationship, which I hope we did, then you’re probably feeling really sad. If we had some sort of falling out. Just drop it. It’s most likely not worth it. It’s okay.” He paused for a moment, “I tried to do right by you. I tried to be the best father and person I could be. I don’t know if you know when you’re watching this, but I didn’t have a male role model growing up. So I’m just making it up as I go along and praying I don’t screw you up too badly. You’re actually named after the woman who raised me. My dad was a cop, Ellen was his partner. Very long story short, she basically raised me. You’re also named after Peter. The closest thing I ever had to a father. I’m making this just to say, how much I love you, give you some life advice. So you don’t make the same mistakes I’ve made.”

He paused, thinking of what to say next, “Something that you need to know is about family. Keep them close. They love you. Now if you only remember one thing from this video. Remember this. Biology doesn’t make you family. Family is,” He paused, trying to think of the right words,

“Family are the people who love and care about you unconditionally. They’re the people who are there for you, always. Through the good times and the bad. Especially the bad. They only want the best for you, and you feel the same way. Family protects their own. Your Uncle Peter and Uncle Mozzie were there for me in the darkest periods of my life. Friends can be your family. Also, just because you’re related doesn’t make you family. Family is so much more than blood. Family is earned, through your words and actions. Family never deserts you. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”

He continued, “On that note, don’t let anyone walk over you. Be strong, smart, and independent. But since you’re my daughter. I don’t think I have to worry about that.” He smiled, “Just be happy. Do what makes you happy. Laugh, smile. I just want you to be happy. You can do anything you set your mind to. Even if it seems impossible.” He paused, turning to a different note, “ I want you to know that even in the worst times, the darkest of times, there is still hope. Never lose hope. Never. It’s always there, you just have to survive long enough to see it, to find it. If you’re going through a hard time and I’m not there. Everyone else will be. They’ll help you. Even if I’m there, they’ll be there as well. Like I said, family doesn’t desert their own.”

He thought for a moment,

“Also, always follow the law. Because your Uncle Peter will find out and I don’t want you going to prison.” He smiled and added, “If you don’t know the story of how we met and got so close, ask him. It’s quite the story. If you want to hear some really interesting stories about me in my younger days then ask your Uncle Mozzie. He’ll be more than happy to talk to you about it.”

He paused, his smile faded, “Finally. I just want to say, I love you, so much. I’d do anything to keep you safe. You helped me through some really dark times. You gave me hope, when I thought there was none. You gave me a reason to live, when I didn’t think there was one.”

He was holding back tears.

“I don’t know if you know this you’re watching this, but I have a history of depression. Whenever I have an episode knowing that I had to take to care of you, helped get me through. It got me out of bed in the morning, even if it was just for a little while.” He wiped tears from his eyes.

“So I guess these are my final words to you. Just remember, I love you so much. And remember who your real family is. I love you.”

He turned off the camera and put it away. Hoping that video wouldn’t be viewed for a very long time.

Chapter Text

Neal woke up that Christmas morning. He got up and looked out the balcony doors to see the snow falling. A few inches fell the night before. He smiled, he loved New York in the winter. Neal loved the way the snow made the city look. Except when he had to go out in it. Which is what he was doing today. He and Ellen were going to Peter and Elizabeth’s for Christmas. Mozzie was meeting them there. He walked passed the Christmas tree in the corner to wake up Ellen. She was already awake.

“Good morning!” He greeted with a smile, “Merry Christmas!” He picked her up and walked into the main room. He put her down to make breakfast. The one year old toddled around the room, getting more steady on her feet. Afterwards Neal got dressed and got her dressed to head to Peter’s. He made sure to bundle her up due to the cold and snow. He grabbed the presents before leaving the apartment. He quickly realized that he couldn’t carry the few gifts and Ellen. He grabbed a duffel bag from under his bed and put them in there. He hurled the bag over his shoulder and picked up Ellen to head out. He got outside and the cold immediately hit them. It didn’t take long to hail a cab.

Due to the snow it took them longer than usual to get to Peter’s. He knocked at the door and Peter quickly answered.

“Merry Christmas, guys!” Peter greeted

“Merry Christmas!” Neal replied.

“‘Erry Kissmiss!” Ellen babbled which made Neal and Peter smile. They got inside and Neal put her down and put the gifts on the chair nearby. The home was tastefully decorated and smelled like fresh gingerbread cookies. There were Christmas carols playing in the background.

“Smells delicious in here.” Neal remarked

“El just finished her first batch of cookies. She’s gonna start lunch soon.” Peter informed

Elizabeth came by and cheerily greeted with a hug, “Merry Christmas, Neal.”

“Merry Christmas, Elizabeth.”

Peter grabbed two gifts from under the tree and handed them to Neal, “One from me and one from El.”

“Thank you, guys.” Neal replied. After he opened them he went into the bag and got two gifts. “Merry Christmas.” He handed one to Peter and one to Elizabeth.

“Thank you.”

After they opened their gifts Elizabeth got Ellen’s attention from playing with Satchmo “Hey, Ellen!” She looked over, “We have some presents for you! You want to open them?”

She toddled over and Elizabeth gave her a few presents. Elizabeth made them easy for her to unwrap so Ellen was able to open them herself with only a little difficulty.

“These aren’t even the first gifts she’s gotten.” Neal commented with a smile. June left some before going to see her grandkids upstate and he knew Mozzie was going to bring some when he showed up. “She’s going to be spoiled rotten, isn’t she.”

Elizabeth looked at him and said, “Of course. She’s family. She has a lot of people who love her.”

Neal was smiling ear to ear. He was with people he considered family. He was watching his child open presents on her first Christmas. He had never felt like part of a family more than in that moment. He was so damn thankful that his daughter could spend her first Christmas with family.

They heard a knock on the door.

“That must be Mozzie.” Peter said as he got up to answer the door. It was Mozzie. They greeted and Mozzie entered.

“Merry Christmas, squirt!” Mozzie greeted Ellen

“‘Erry Kissmiss!” She babbled again which made everyone smile. Mozzie greeted the others and noticed the wrapping paper on the floor and said with a smile,

“Looks like someone’s been popular today.”

Neal chuckled and said, “Oh yeah.”

After Mozzie handed out some gifts that he was holding he and Neal helped Elizabeth make lunch. Then Peter watched the football game while Neal helped Elizabeth bake some more gingerbread cookies and Mozzie played with Ellen.

When the cookies were done Neal called Ellen over, “You want a cookie?”

She lit up and toddled over. Neal handed her a cookie, she took it with both hands and started to munch.

“You like it?” Elizabeth asked her. She nodded with the gingerbread man still in her smiling mouth. She soon finished the cookie and raised up her hands,

“More!” She said. Elizabeth looked at Neal and he said,

“Alright. You can have another.” Elizabeth picked one up from the tray and handed it to her. She munched it up.

“‘Nummy!” She told them, they smiled.

Shortly after Mozzie noticed she was rubbing her eyes a lot, “You tired little one? You’ve had a big day.”

“No.” She replied and continued playing her new blocks.

Neal looked at the time and said, “She’s overdue for her nap. I’ll take her upstairs.” He said to her, “Let’s go upstairs. It’s time for your nap.”

“No.” She replied and shook her head

“Yes. Come on.” Neal insisted, he grabbed her hand and they walked upstairs.

Neal tucked her into the guest room bed and she fell asleep quickly. Mozzie was right, she was quite tired. Neal sat and watched her a few moments. He looked up and saw Peter standing at the door. Neal said to him,

“I want her to have what I didn’t.”

“I know.”

“I want her to have the whole kid at Christmas experience. Family, presents, decorations, traditions. Things I didn’t have.”

Peter turned curious. Neal never talked about his childhood. Peter knew more about the cabin than Neal’s childhood. That’s how little he talked about it. Although from what little Peter knew, his childhood wasn’t great.

Neal continued, “We didn’t have much, but Ellen tried. She honestly did. Although sometimes she had to work on holidays, my mom mostly slept on holidays. So I was more or less alone. When I wasn’t and we actually had Christmas. I could tell that my mom was just barely holding it together.” Peter nodded, walking closer to Neal “To be honest, I didn’t celebrate a real proper family Christmas until I started coming over here a few years ago.” That surprised Peter. “When you’re on the run celebrating the holidays tends to fall towards the bottom of the priority list. You try but it kinda fails.” Peter nodded, that made sense to him.  

Neal continued, “Like I said, when I was little Ellen tried, but she couldn’t give me what I really wanted.”

“Which was?” Peter asked

“To have my mom mentally there and happy. My dad physically there.” Neal responded. That broke Peter’s heart. “I understand that between having a small child, hearing about my dad, and WITSEC. It was too much for her. I know that feeling too well. To be there, but not really there mentally.” He paused for a moment, getting back to his main point, “ I want her to be surrounded by family during the holidays. To have happy Christmases.”

Peter said, now standing next to Neal, “She will be. El was right. She has a lot of people who love her. Who will protect her to the ends of the Earth. You’re so far from being alone.”

“I know.” Neal replied. Ever since he got to the hospital and saw Peter again he knew he was far from being alone. He had a family who loved him and his child.

That night they shared a dinner of roasted chicken, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. Neal helped Elizabeth make it.

They ate, drank, laughed, and had a generally great time. Neal was so thankful he could spend the holidays with his family.

Neal looked forward to more Christmases with his family.

Chapter Text

2 Years after Neal escaped

Peter was in his office doing paperwork when an agent knocked on his open door.

“Hello, Agent Burke. You have a minute?”

Peter looked up and saw an older female agent he knew as Agent Beth Coles.

“Yeah what’s up?” Peter asked

“I think I may have a case for you. But it needs to be kept quiet.” Agent Coles said as she gave him a file. Peter was worried and took it. Beth continued, “I think that Agent Pierce is accepting bribes.” Peter tried to hide his shock.

Because he knew for a fact that Pierce took bribes.

That was the reason the Feds let Neal’s’ sentence expired.

“Any leads or evidence?” Peter asked while reading the file.

“I first noticed that he lives far beyond the means of an FBI agent. He takes frequent extravagant trips, buys expensive gifts for his wife and himself, and talks about how his two kids are going to be coming out of college debt free. I’ve met them. They’re not scholarship material. So I anonymously pulled his financial records from the last five years. Large cash deposits to his personal bank account either before big commutation hearings or high profile cases of his suddenly being dropped.”

Peter had to resist the urge to put his head in his hands and groan because of this guy’s idiocy.

This didn’t stop him from thinking, ‘This guy’s a fucking idiot.’

“Can you look into it? You’re the only one I trust with something like this. I know you have the skills to do this discretely. I don’t want anyone to know yet. Don’t want to spook him. You know?” Beth asked

Peter couldn’t say no because that would look super shady. So instead he had to say, “Of course. No problem.”

“Thank you so much. I owe you one.” She said and left his office. Peter watched to go to the elevators and leave the building. He then walked from his office to the balcony to get Neal’s attention and give him the double finger point. Neal sighed and walked up to his office.

“What’s up?” Neal asked

“We have a problem.” Peter said urgently

“What’s wrong?” Neal asked now concerned

“You remember Agent Pierce?” Peter asked Neal was really concerned now, he said hesitantly, “Yes. Why?”

“Because another agent just came to me and said that she thinks he’s taking bribes. She has his financials.”

“Maybe she only has the most recent ones.” Neal uselessly hoped

“She has them for the past five years.”

“Fuck.” Neal said,, “We have to see what Pierce knows. We have to see if there’s any connection to Mozzie.”

“I’m going to set up a lunch with him today and ask him exactly that.” Peter said


 

Peter entered the quiet restaurant. It was a small Italian place far from the Bureau. He found Pierce and sat down.

“Nice to see you, Burke? Why did you call me here?”

Peter was calm and collected, “Because I wanted to tell you that I've heard rumors you being investigated for bribery. Thought I should give you a heads up.”

Pierce did not show any shock, he said in a powerful yet calm manner, “How's Caffrey? How's that little girl he loves so much? That if it wasn't for me he wouldn't have.” Peter didn't say anything. Just tried not to look like he was going to kill him.

“She should be what, around 2 now? That's a fun age, they're truly becoming people. Although the terrible twos are no joke.” He chuckled

Peter sat stone faced.

Pierce continued with a sinister knowing smile, “There’s only one reason why you would tell me about the accusations. It’s not out of the goodness of your heart. It’s because you know the real reason why Caffrey’s sentence was let to expire. You want to make sure I don’t rat on anyone.”

Peter hid his surprise that he put it together.

“When did you find out? Did Shorty tell you when he made the deal?” Pierce asked

“That’s not the point.” Peter sternly tried to deflect

“No that is the point.” Pierce leaned in and said lowly and seriously, “If I go down...you and the Short One are coming down with me.”

“His name is Mozzie and he’s very smart. There’s no way you can connect him to this. Nor me or that matter.”

“Well this clandestine meeting is pretty shady, I talked to Mozzie about bribery and finally...bribery makes you really good at fabricating evidence.” He gave another sinister smile and left the restaurant.

After Pierce left Peter looked around, pounded his fist on the table and muttered, “Fuck.”


 

He came back to the office and filled Neal in.

“We need to find a way to take him down without him taking anyone else down.” Peter said

“You can’t drop the case, right?” Neal asked

“No, because that would be suspicious.” Peter informed

“So we need to find a way to cover this up while still exposing him.”

“Yep.”

“Well we have our work cut out for us.” Neal said with a confident smile

That night when Neal came home, Mozzie was sitting at the table with a book and a glass of wine while Ellen sat on the floor nearby playing with some blocks. She looked up and exclaimed, “Daddy!” She ran up to him to give him a hug. He gave her a hug and said with a smile, “Hey, sweetie!” Using her limited vocabulary she talked about how Mozzie took her to the zoo today and how cool she thought it was. Neal listened then said, “Hey, I need to talk to Uncle Mozzie. Can you go in your room for a while?”

“Ok.” She said and ran off.

He turned to Mozzie and said seriously, “Mozz, we have a problem.”

Mozzie replied, “It’s been so long since you’ve last said that.”

“Remember Agent Pierce?”

Mozzie grew concerned, “Yeah, why?”

Neal informed, “Well an agent who works with him came to Peter with suspicions of bribery.” Mozzie looked at him like, are you fucking kidding me?

Neal told him about Pierce’s financial statements to which Mozzie's reaction was

“What a fucking idiot. I give the guy unmarked bills and he puts them in his regular person bank account. It’s a miracle he wasn’t caught earlier.”

“Peter had lunch with him today to see what he knows. Well he deduced that Peter knew and is completely determined on taking you and Peter down with him.”

“Well...fuck.”

“So Peter and I are currently trying to find a way to take him down without taking you and him down in the process. Because if he were to drop the case it would be fishy.”

“Well,” Mozzie said, “Let’s get to work. We need to take him down. Alone.”


 

Christina got into the shitty little sedan that she stole a while back after switching the plates yet again. She pulled out a burner phone and called her contractor, “Hey, It’s Amber Munoz calling about my housing project.”

“Yes, Amber. I was just about to call you.”

“Good news I hope. Last week you said the house would be ready in three months.”

“Yeah that’s not gonna happen.” Thomas Morgan said regretfully

“Why?” She was getting angry

“We were putting the solar panels on the roof as per your request, and well..” His voice trailed off

“Well what!” Christina almost yelled into the phone

“The roof collapsed. The entire thing basically.”

“What?” She asked in anger shock

“Apparently the guys who put on the roof didn’t do well.”

“NO SHIT! REALLY!” Christina yelled into the phone, “You guys are FUCKING INCOMPETENT!”

“I’m going to find new guys to inspect the damage to the house, clean up the debris, install the new roof, and put the solar panels on. Along with the other work that still needs completed.”

Thomas tried to calm down his client, “I’m glad that we found out about the roof now and not after you moved in and the roof collapsed killing you.”

Christina guessed he had a point. Killing Neal and Ellen defeated the point of kidnapping them.

She started to calm down and was completely done with this conversation, “So now when do you think it will be done.”

“Because of all the work that is now required in the house I would say about 8-12 months. I told you there’d be delays.”

Christina threw her head back and groaned. She didn’t want to wait. She wanted to execute her plan now.

But she knew that the best plans took time.

If she wanted her plan to work for the long term this time. She was going to have to wait.

Chapter Text

Mozzie came over that morning as usual to watch Ellen while Neal went to work. Mozzie helped himself to some left over breakfast on the table.

Neal came from Ellen’s room with her and Mozzie greeted, “Morning.”

“Morning.” Neal greeted as he put her down and she went over to some blocks.

“Thought about our problem?” Mozzie asked

“Of course. I still haven’t thought of a way out but I’m going to talk to Peter today. We’ll work on it. It’ll be okay.” Neal reassured

“Yeah it better be. Not going to share a cell with the Suit.”

Neal chuckled. He reassured again before going out the door, “We’re going to fix this, Moz. We will.”


Neal walked into the office where Peter immediately summoned him to his office using the double finger point. He hesitantly walked up to Peter’s office.

“What’s wrong?” He immediately asked

“Pierce is being officially investigated for bribery. It’s our case.”

“Shit.” Neal muttered, “Has my case come up?”

“Not yet, but it might.”

“Shit.”

Peter summoned up Diana and Jones up to his office with the double finger point.

“There is a problem with the Pierce case.”

“What?” Jones asked

Peter explained, “Among the many cases he’s worked, Neal’s was one of them. It was no coincidence that they ruled in his favor.”

Jones sighed and put his head back. Diana sighed, and gave him a death stare, “What did you do, Caffrey?”

Neal innocently put his hands up, “I didn’t do anything! I swear!”

“It was Mozzie.” Peter started to explain, “Elizabeth heard him on the phone making the deal. She told me. I had a ‘hypothetical’ conversation with Mozzie and...I just decided not to tell anyone that he did it.”

Diana and Jones looked surprised, Peter finished, “Neal found out a few months later.”

“Still upset that you deliberately decided not to tell me.” Neal commented to Peter

“So  basically we want to ensure that the Little Guy doesn’t get taken down too?” Diana tried to clarify

“There’s another thing.” Peter hesitated

“What?” Jones asked

“Well as soon as I was given this case I went to see how much Pierce knew. If he knew I knew, if he would bring down anyone with him. He deduced me knowing and says he will take Mozzie and me down with him if we take him down.”

“Well...shit.” Jones said

“So you want us to see if there is anything tying any of you to the bribery and try for his case to be brought up as little as possible.” Naturally in a case about case bribery all Pierce’s past cases were being brought into question.

“Also he made no secret about making false evidence to bring us down.”

“Oh goodie.” Jones sarcastically responded


When Neal got home that night he greeted Mozzie and Ellen as usual. After putting Ellen to bed he Mozzie had a drink.

“So how’s the case going?” Mozzie asked while Neal brought two glasses of fine red wine to the table.

“It’s officially ours now.” Neal informed

“Well...shit.” Mozzie said in shock. He asked, “If your case does come up, do you think they would make you serve the rest of your sentence.”

Neal shook his head, “No. It’s years over and I’m already working for them. So they’re happy. Now if Pierce talks about your involvement and Peter’s part ...then...yeah.” They would be arrested. Their whole problem.

Mozzie took a sip of wine then asked a more hypothetical question “What would you have done if you served your whole sentence?”

Neal was confused, “Like what would I have done after?”

“If you were free when you were supposed to be, yes.”

Neal thought for a second, then said sincerely, “I truly don’t know.” There was a silence between them, “There were so many things I wanted to do. Most legal. I wouldn’t risk prison again. I wanted freedom so badly I don’t know what I would truly do with it.”

Even though Neal was technically free and had been for years. He didn’t feel free. He was so goddamn afraid that his daughter’s life and his life would be in a certain kind of danger again.

He knew that as long as she was still out there he would never truly be free.

Although he kept the conversation to legally being free.

He took a sip of wine then said, “I don’t really think about that. Because then it just leads down a road of what could have been. Like what if I never got back home? What if it never happened in the first place? It’s useless because that’s not what happened and it’s not where I am.”

Mozzie was impressed again with Neal’s logic. It was another thing Neal learned in therapy. Don’t think about what could have happened or what if something didn’t happened because that’s not where you are. Deal with what actually happened.

Conversation soon switched to other topics for a while when all of a sudden Neal had an idea. While Mozzie was going on about his latest conspiracy theory Neal interrupted him, “I know how to fix our Pierce problem.”

Mozzie stopped and said very interested, “Great. How?”

“Get him to confess.” Neal said with a smile. Mozzie didn’t look convinced

“How do we do that?”

“Get his wife in on it.” Neal smiled


Neal ran it by Peter the next day. They were going to talk to his wife about the allegations and get her to wear a wire and get Pierce to confess.

The two met in a cafe near the Bureau that afternoon with the van listening not too far away.

His wife, Jade, an older woman with sleek black hair and a slender figure, waited anxiously for her husband.

He finally arrived and he greeted her with a kiss.

“Hey, babe.”

“Hey.”

They sat on opposite sides of the booth table. She got right to the point, “Should I be worried about that FBI investigation? It sounds serious.”

Pierce waved it off and said nonchalantly, “It’s nothing, sweetie. It’s nothing.”

“It doesn’t seem like nothing. It’s an official investigation.” She worried

Pierce reassured her, confident that he was going to get away with it. Or at least take Peter and Mozzie down with him or try to blackmail them further. He took her hands, “Don’t worry. It’ll all be okay. Don’t worry.”

Jade paused before speaking again, “As your wife, can you tell me the truth? So I know what we’re dealing with. Did you do it? Did you take bribes?”

Pierce was silent. “No.” She said in disbelief. “No.”

“How do you think I’m able to give us this life? Put the kids through college without crippling debt. Give you nice gifts and trips. Things that you deserve.” Jade was in shock. She didn’t initially believe that he actually did it. “I couldn’t do that on my salary. Neither could you. But don’t worry. I know a way out.”

Just then Peter and his team came bursting in.

“FBI!” Peter called

Pierce was very surprised and Jade was in shock.

“Alexander Pierce, you are under arrest for bribery...” Peter said as he cuffed him and lead him out of the cafe.


Later Peter was talking to Neal outside the interrogation room.

“His lawyer wants a deal. I would love to give one to close this as quickly as possible. I think Pierce will agree to one so he doesn’t have to go to trial.” Peter informed, “Good idea with the confession.”

“Thanks. Got him in prison without taking you and Moz with him. It was perfect.”

“Thank you, by the way.” Peter said sincerely

“You’re welcome. And thank you, for doing what you did back then.”

“You’re welcome.”

There was a moment of silence before Neal chimed in with a smile, “At least I don’t have to find a new partner and best friend. Also another best friend that will watch my daughter five days a week for free.” Peter chuckled

“Speaking of which, take the rest of the day off. Tell Mozzie the good news.” Peter said with a smile

“You don’t have to tell me twice. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Neal said with a wave

While he was walking away, Peter got his attention, “Thank you again. If he took me down with him I could have lost almost everything.”

Neal responded with a smile, “You know I wouldn’t let that happen.” Peter smiled as Neal walked away.

Chapter Text

Three years after Neal escaped

It was a beautiful Wednesday afternoon and Mozzie was watching Ellen in the park. She was a few feet away playing on the jungle gym.

He turned around to throw away his coffee cup into a nearby trashcan.

His back was turned for all of about 10 seconds.

He looked at where Ellen was last playing and was quick to notice that she was gone.

He started panicking and searching for her. “ELLEN! ELLEN!” He yelled while running around searching for her. Others looked at him worried.

He ran around the park for a few minutes before seeing a small child that looked like Ellen.

“ELLEN!” He yelled and ran up to her. She turned around to smile and wave at him. She was standing right next to a big yellow Labrador.

“Look! Dawggie!” She exclaimed with a smile while pointing to the dog.

He breathed a sigh of relief and bent down to give her a relieved hug. “What the hell were you doing? You know not to run off like that or talk to strangers.”

“I not talkin’ to them. Talkin’ to da dawggie!” Much like her father, Ellen had an excuse for everything. She already had a tendency to try to talk her way out of and into things.

Mozzie put his head back and sighed. He muttered, “You are your father’s daughter.”

Then the young couple who owned the dog spoke up. The woman explained, “We tried to talk to her and find out where her parents were but she wasn’t really saying much. She was more interested in our dog, Bo.”

“He looks like Satch!” Ellen said while petting the dog.

Mozzie said to the couple, “I’m so sorry about this.”
The man smiled and said, “It’s alright. I have a young nephew who runs off all the time. Glad you found her.”

Mozzie politely said goodbye to the couple and pulled Ellen aside, “Why did you run off like that?”

“I saw a dawggie like Satchemo so I follow it to pet it.”

Mozzie was still trying to calm down from the intense panic, “You know that you’re not supposed to run off on your own.”

She asked in typical child fashion “Why?”

Mozzie blurted, “Because it’s dangerous! There are a lot of evil people out there. Evil people who would like to take little kids.”

He had one particular person in mind.

She looked confused.

“Come on, we’re going home.” Mozzie said and took her hand. Ellen looked disappointed. “Your dad is not finding out about this.” He demanded

In the cab on the way back Mozzie looked at how Ellen was looking out the window happily.

He thought about innocent she was. How she was so blissfully unaware of the evil in the world. How evil and violent people can be.  

He hoped she stayed innocent and naive for as long as possible. He prayed that she never found out what horrendous things people were capable of.

He was taken from his daze when the cab driver huffed the total. He payed then they left the cab.


 4AM

Neal tossed and turned in bed one night. He couldn’t sleep. He got out of bed and went to check on Ellen. She was blissfully asleep in bed and had been for several hours. He then went to the safe behind the picture near the bed and pulled out a joint and a lighter. Mozzie had given him some a while after he came home to help with insomnia. He said that it could help more than sleeping pills and it did. He slept great afterwards and wasn’t a zombie the next day, unlike when he took pills. He noticed that those made him very out of it the next day.

So after smoking on the terrace for a while he went back to sleep.

He slept like the dead.


7AM

Neal woke up, feeling better than he did the previous night. He got up and started walking over to wake up Ellen when he noticed out of the corner of his eye that his terrace door locks were unlocked. He distinctly remembered locking them before going back to bed. He and Mozzie designed those after the place was broken into a few years back. They were as close to unbreakable as you could get.

He ran to check on Ellen.

She was gone.

Neal started panicking.

He frantically ran around his apartment looking for her or anything that would help him. He grabbed his phone off his nightstand and with unsteady hands dialed Peter’s number.

“S-she’s gone! Ellen’s gone!”

“What do you mean, gone?” Peter was concerned and caught off guard

“SHE’S GONE! SHE HAS HER! SHE HAS MY DAUGHTER!” Neal yelled frantically

“Meet me at the Bureau asap!” Peter said urgently then hung up


7:30AM

Neal ran into the Bureau. Peter saw that he looked like disheveled and unkempt. He had barely taken the time to get dressed before coming there. He ran up to Peter’s office.

Peter, in Agent Burke mode, said, “Tell me what happened. Everything. Deep breaths.”

Neal paced the office and said while trying (and failing) to take deep breaths, “I checked on her at four and she was fine. I went to wake her up at seven and she was gone. She has her! She has my daughter!”

“Do you have any proof?” Peter asked

“No, but it’s obvious!” Neal declared. His mind was set.

“Okay, I’ll put out an AMBER Alert and start looking.” He reassured his friend, “We’ll find, Ellen. We will.”

He called Jones and Diana up to his office and pulled them aside and filled them in. “...Also, Neal’s mind is set but we need to rule out other options. Between his criminal past and being in the FBI, he hasn’t exactly made friends over the years. There are plenty of people he has pissed off enough to do something like this. So watch out for possible ransom calls. We don’t have enough evidence to rule it out right now.”

“Anything else? Any leads?”

“No and no. Just start with people that were recently released or recently convicted or sentenced. Those have the biggest motive. Either they will carry out the revenge themselves or they will have their families do it. So go. Do. I’m going to run things from here and not take my eyes off of Neal so that he doesn’t go off and do something that could get him killed.”

“Got it, Boss.” Diana said and they left his office.

He stood in his office and sighed. Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.


7:40AM

Two middle aged men, Scott and Dylan, sat in the living room of Dylan’s old apartment. Dylan was short with brown hair and wearing jeans and a navy blue sweater. He was sitting on his couch while Scott paced the room. He was taller with dark black hair wearing black jeans and a blue flannel shirt. They were two men that Peter and Neal put away a few years back and recently escaped from prison.

“We should make the call.” Dylan said as he picked up his phone

Scott stopped pacing and said, “We should ask for more.”

“Why? Two mill is enough to get us to another country and set up there.” Dyan answered

“We kidnapped a Fed’s kid.” Scott said bluntly, “We should get our money’s worth.”

“Technically he’s not a Fed but a consultant. That’s like a fake Fed. All the work with none of the power or authority.” Dylan corrected

“I still think we should our money’s worth.”

They argued about this for a while, not coming up with a solution, until Scott asked an unrelated question,

“What happens if she wakes up. It’s not like she’s drugged or anything. She’s just asleep, she’ll wake up soon.”

Dylan retorted, “Well if we can agree on a number I can make the call to organize the drop and that will be less of a problem. The sooner I make the call the sooner this can all be done and we can be off somewhere. Just the two of us. We need that two mil first.” He then brushed it off, “Also I left a box of cookies and my iPad in there. If she wakes she’ll be fine until her dad makes the drop and picks her up.”


7:45AM

Ellen woke up and sat up on the bed. She was a little confused because this wasn’t her bedroom. She tilted her head in confusion. She looked around and smiled when she saw a clear plastic box of chocolate chip cookies and an iPad. That thoroughly distracted her.

She broke open the box of cookies and started munching on one. She grabbed the iPad and started looking at it. She smiled when she said the Netflix app.

She soon found Dora the Explorer on Netflix and was thoroughly distracted.


7:50AM

The Bureau was bustling with the entire division trying to track down leads. Peter asked Diana while keeping his eyes on Neal, “Do you have anything?”

“No, no one fitting Ellen’s description with any women or anyone else for that matter. We’re checking other avenues. I’m about to check in with SVU to see if they’ve got anything.”

“If she did take Ellen. This would be the first real lead we’d have in years . We could find her and she can finally pay for what she’s done.” Peter had a look of fierce protectiveness that Diana rarely saw. “Get Neal to help you. He needs to be doing something to help right now or he’ll go off the deep end. Don’t need him doing something stupid and possibly getting hurt.”

“Got it, Boss.”


8AM

“Thank you.” Christina said with a small smile  to the older waitress who handed her a cup of coffee at the bar of a tiny diner off the New York Interstate. There were some people in the diner, but not many. It was a small classic diner that you passed through anonymously.

Passing through places anonymously had become her speciality over the years.

She stared down at her coffee as a small television above the bar was showing a morning show.

When all of a sudden a loud beeping and buzzing sound vibrated throughout the tiny diner. Everyone’s attention was drawn to the small television above the bar that was now displaying an emergency message.

An automated voice said as the message was displayed on the screen, “ ATTENTION! ATTENTION! THIS IS A CHILD ABDUCTION EMERGENCY! Be on the lookout for an abducted child from Manhattan. Three year old, Ellen Petra Caffrey, was last seen at 87 Riverside Drive and is believed to have been abducted between five and seven this morning. She is three feet tall and about 25 pounds, caucasian with blue eyes and long brown hair. She was wearing a pink set of pajamas with small white dogs on them. She is believed to be abducted by Christina Mendoza, wanted fugitive for many violent crimes, including but limited to, kidnapping and murder. She is about five foot five with slightly tan skin, brown eyes, and black hair. The Federal Bureau of Investigation believes that the child is in severe and imminent danger. Please contact NYPD SVU or the FBI if you see them or have any information. Thank you.”

The messaged played again then went back to a local morning show. Christina knew she had nothing to do with this. She said in shock with urgency, “My daughter is in trouble.”

She sprinted out of the diner.

Chapter Text

9AM

Christina walked away from yet another person whom she thought may know what happened to Ellen.  She was going through the criminal underworld trying to see who Neal pissed off enough recently to warrant kidnapping a small child.  While of course trying to maintain a low profile.

She finally found Adam, whom she heard knew Neal and Mozzie well enough to get info from.

“So you don’t know them?” She asked.  She was obviously very irritated.

“For like, the third time, no.  Me, along with many others, stopped talking to them when Neal went to the other side.  Literally, I heard he’s working with the Feds now.  And wherever he is Mozzie is. Those two are joined at the hip. ”

Adam was lying.  He was close to Mozzie and knew full well that they were looking for the woman who fucked over Neal.  

She soon left in a huff.  When he thought that she was out of earshot he immediately called Mozzie

“Hey, Mozzie, got some intel you need to know. ”

“What?”

“A woman just talked to me asking a lot of questions about Neal, that kid, and you.  Figured it was your woman.”

“Where are you?”

“The upper eastern corner of the old warehouse yard.”

“Follow her!”

Mozzie then heard a woman’s voice a in the background “Who the fuck are you talking to?”

“Excuse me?” Adam said to her

“Who. The fuck. Are you talking to?”

“None of your goddamn business.” He replied

All Mozzie could do was listen.

He heard the woman sigh, he could tell she was closer now.

She said with an exaggerated sigh, “You know, I try to do something good and it comes back to bite me on the ass.”

Mozzie then heard a single gunshot.

“Adam! Adam!” He called out in a panic. Then the line went dead.

He ran in a panic to the FBI building.


 

9:20AM

Mozzie raced into the FBI building and up to Peter’s office where Neal and Peter were.

“Good news, she doesn’t have her.”

“Yeah we know. ” Neal responded, “We got a ransom call. How do you know?”

“I heard from the street that a woman was asking a lot questions about you and Ellen. Got a call from Adam that someone had just approached him from the warehouse yard. Which leads into the bad news?”

“Which is?” Peter asked in his stern agent tone

“One, she doesn’t have her but she’s looking, and I soon heard a woman’s voice in the background, asking who he was talking to.” He paused, “Then she said ‘I try to do something good and it bites me on the ass.” He paused again, Then I heard a gunshot and the line went dead.”

Neal looked like he’d seen a ghost.

Peter was concerned but not surprised, “So she’s armed. Do you know where Adam was last seen?”

“Yeah, upper eastern side of the old warehouse yard.”

“I’ll send SWAT to check the place right now. See if anyone knows where she went next.” Peter was focused on two angles, getting Ellen back safely, and getting Christina by any means necessary.


 

9:25AM

Peter raced down to Diana,“I need SWAT and snipers in the upper east side of the old warehouse yard. Need more snipers on standby for when we get her next location. Wear your vests !” He then sounded like Liam Neeson when he said, “I only want one person dying today, and it’s her .

“Got it, boss.” Diana replied

“I want her located and taken care of by lunch.”

“Yes.”

He kept telling himself, ‘ you’re going to finally get her to pay . She’s not going to get away again . You finally have your shot .’


 

9:45AM

“So these guys, Scott and Dylan, were pissed and decided to prison break and use kidnapping for ransom to pay for it.” Christina clarified

The guy she was talking to, Gerald, wasn’t that smart. He didn’t connect the dots that the woman Mozzie warned him about could the woman he was currently talking to.

“Yeah they met in prison and found out that Burke and Caffrey put them both away. So they did a prison break and got some revenge and cash in the process.”

“Do you know where they’d be?”

“Why are asking all these questions?”

“Concerned citizen,” She brushed it off, “Now where would they be?” She was getting quite irritated

“Probably Dylan’s apartment.”

“And where is that?” She asked impatiently. Patience was not one of Christina’s virtues.

Well...she doesn’t have any virtues.

But if she did patience would not be one of them.

“35th Street I think.”

“Could you be more specific?”

“Umm,” He thought for a few moments, “A little shithole at 35th and 3rd.”

She breathed a sigh of relief. She finally got useful information from the guy.

“Thank you.”


 

10AM

Christina found the little building on the corner. As she approached another tenant was also arriving and she went in behind him so she didn’t have to worry about the buzzer. She walked over to where the mailboxes were and found Dylan’s name and accompanying apartment number.

She walked up to the fifth floor of a nine story walk up and with one hand on her gun she knocked on the door.

She heard a defensive, “Who is it?”

“Hey, it’s your neighbor. I lost my key. Can you help me?”

She heard a sigh then locks being unlocked

“Yeah, what’s up?” Dylan asked. He quickly realized that this woman was not his neighbor.

“Where’s the child?” She demanded  

“In the back. Who the fuck are you?”

“Someone that you shouldn’t have pissed off.” She replied simply and shot him in the chest in one fluid motion. Scott tried to run but she shot in in the chest as well.

“That’s what happens to people who get in my way or piss me off.” Christina muttered and stormed to the back and saw a closed door. She put her gun in her grey waistband where it would be covered by her black jacket and carefully opened the door to see a small child eating cookies and watching cartoons.

She smiled and immediately thought, ‘ She looks exactly like Neal.’

Ellen looked up in confusion.

Christina slowly walked over and said calmly and in a sweet tone that most people thought she wasn’t capable of, “Hey, sweetie.”

Ellen didn’t say anything, she munched on her cookie and continued watching Netflix.

“What are you watching?”

Ellen was still silent

“What’s your name, sweetie?”

Ellen finally looked up and said, “Daddy says no talking to strangers. It’s a rule.”

Christina softly smiled, “That’s a good rule.” She said, “It’s okay. I’m going to take you to your Daddy right now.” Ellen was silent for a few moments, “I promise.”

“Okay.”

“Okay, let’s go.” Christina said with a smile, “Did those other men hurt you?” She asked

“What men?” Ellen had never even seen Scott or Dylan

“Okay, I’m going to need you to hold my hand and close your eyes until we get outside. Okay?”

“Okay.” Ellen replied

Ellen closed her eyes and Christina took her hand and led her out of the bedroom and past the two dead bodies in the living room.

As soon as she closed the apartment door she told Ellen, “Okay, you can open your eyes now.” She did and they walked down to the car.


10:15

Christina opened the back door of the stolen sedan, making sure that no one was watching. Ellen climbed in and Christina helped her with the seatbelt.

She got in and quickly got going.

Christina then started to ask a few questions. “So do you live here or somewhere else?”

Ellen was looking out the window when she responded, “We live in a house above Grammy June. She has cook who cooks da second best cookies!”

“Well then who makes the best cookies?;”

“Daddy does! He cooks da best food! I help now!” She smiled “Sometimes we go to Uncle Peter’s house. He has dawggie named Sachemo! I wanna dawggie; Daddy says when I bigger.”

“Does your Daddy work?” She asked

“Yeah.”

“What does he do?”

“Daddy and Uncle Peter get bad guys. Like superheroes!”

Christina couldn’t help but smile at that, “Well then who watches you when he’s out?”

“Uncle Mozzie. He’s fun and silly!”

“I bet.” She put the car in park and said, “Okay, your Daddy should be up in that building;” She pointed to the large building they were in front of. It was the FBI building. She grabbed a piece of paper and wrote something down real quick. She turned to Ellen and said, “You’re going to go inside and tell the first person you see your name and that you’re looking for your Dad. They’ll help you.”

“You’re not coming?” Ellen was confused

“No, sweetie. I’m sorry, I can’t go in there. But I know you can do it.”

Wanted fugitives had a thing where you don’t go into the FBI building.

Especially when you know that more than one person in there wants you dead.

“Just go in tell them your name and that you’re looking for your Dad. Okay?”

Ellen nodded

“Also give this to your Dad okay?” She handed Ellen a small folded up piece of paper.

“Okay.” Ellen said and got out of the car and walked into the building.

Christina drove off as fast as possible to ditch the car, change her appearance, and get the fuck out of the area.


 

10:30AM

Peter called Diana, “How’s that lead on 35th St.?”

Diana was in Dylan’s apartment. She looked down at the two dead bodies and replied, “Credible lead. She was most definitely here. There’s two guys here, probably the kidnappers I’ll send their photos to be id’ed, both shot point blank in the chest.”

“No Ellen?”

“No. No one’s here.”
“What? What happened? What?” Neal, who was pacing nearby in Peter’s office, eagerly demanded. Peter held up his finger for Neal to wait a moment. Neal anxiously ran his hands through his hair.

Peter soon hung up and filled Neal in.

“So she has her now.” His voice filled with fear. He turned to leave when Peter called

“Neal.”

He turned around, “What?”

“We’ll find her. Just work with us. For the millionth time you cannot be running off on your own right now.” That’s why Peter had been watching him like a hawk stalking its prey and making sure Neal was doing something with the case to keep his mind busy.

Peter’s face then turned from stern Agent Burke to confused and Neal asked, “What?”

“Oh my god. Look.” Peter pointed to the door. Neal turned around and saw in shock that walking next to a security guard was Ellen. He immediately ran down to her.

“Daddy!” She cried and ran to him and he picked her in a hug as tight as he could, holding her close.

For the first time in three and a half hours he could breathe again.

He let out some relieved breaths while holding his daughter close. “I was so worried about you.”

Peter rushed down behind Neal and everyone else looked on.

The security guard said, “I saw her in the lobby and she told me her name and that she was looking for her Dad.”

“Thank you.” Peter said and the guard nodded and left

Neal sat down with Ellen on his lap, “Can you tell me what happened?” He asked

“I wake up in a room with cookies and Netix. I finded Dora! The cookies were good, but not good like yours.”

“Then what happened?” Peter asked, “Did you see anyone?”

“The lady.” Ellen replied. Peter and Neal looked at each other in concerned confusion.

Ellen continued, “I hear really loud bangs. Bang! Bang!  Then lady comes in and talks to me. But no talking to strangers.”

“What did the lady look like?” Peter asked

“Short black hair, tall, pretty black shirt.” Ellen answered

“What did she say?” Neal asked, hiding his immense concern

“That she will take me to you.”

Peter stepped aside and asked Jones who was also watching the light questioning, “Get me the surveillance from outside the building. Now!”

“Got it. Also got an id on the kidnappers. Two guys who recently escaped from prison that you and Caffrey put away.”

“Okay thanks.” Peter continued to listen, “Did she say anything else?”

“To close my eyes until she said so. I closed them in da room and opened them outside.” Ellen said

“Then what happened?” Neal asked

“In da car she asked a ton of questions. I dunno if I can remember them all.”

“What kind of questions?”

Ellen sighed and thought for a moment, “Where house is? About Daddy and about Uncle Mozzie.” Neal looked at Peter with great concern.

“Wait!” Ellen said remembering, “She said to give it to you.” She handed Neal the small piece of folded up paper. Neal looked confused and opened it.

“What does it say?” Peter asked

“You’re welcome.” Neal’s voice shock as he read the two simple words  in shock. He gave Peter the note.

Jones nodded to Peter. He had the footage. He turned his computer screen around so they could see it.

Peter looked in shock.

Neal looked like he had seen a ghost.

Actually, he would be less freaked out by a ghost.

Neal nodded, it was Christina.

Peter called the NYPD and Diana to have them look for the car she used and her description from the surveillance footage. Neal held on tight to his child.


 

11:00AM

Shortly after Peter called the cops about the car he said in a rush, “I’m going to go help them.”

Jones put down his phone and said, “No need. They found the car dumped a few blocks from here. No word on where she could be.” Everyone let out a sigh.

“Well, we’ll keep looking. It hasn’t been long so she couldn’t have gone far. ” Peter was determined. “She was in the middle of Manhattan, she couldn’t have gone far this fast.”

Neal didn’t look convinced.

“No it’s quite possible.” Neal finally said. His voice was full of unimaginable disappointment and sadness. Everyone looked at him. “Remember I’ve successfully run from big cities in a rush before. Including New York. If you know what you’re doing it’s not that hard.”

He paused and said completely defeated, “She’s long gone.”

There was silence.

“Jones, go help Diana and SVU. I’ll run things from here.” Peter declared. He preferred to still stay with Neal out of concern and for emotional support.

They separated and Neal just sat there with his daughter knowing that she had enough time to at least go underground.

He knew that she was probably long gone.


 

6PM

They searched all day with little success. One by one agents left the office. Neal and Ellen had been in Peter’s office most of the day. Ellen was asleep on Neal’s lap. Jones and Diana came up to his office with disappointed looks.

Peter immediately said, “If your news is to say there is no news than just leave.”

“Sorry. Still nothing credible.” Diana said

“Well then start looking at the uncredible!” Peter snapped, “Anything!”

Peter couldn’t accept that she was in the wind again.

Neal did due to his past experience with being on the run.

He knew all too well that if someone really wanted to disappear in a rush they could. Especially if they knew what they’re doing. He’d done it before.

There was silence, Jones went to leave Diana started to follow but stopped to turn around and ask, “She must have seen the AMBER Alert.” Everything turned their attention to her, “Why did she decide to risk coming back? Why didn’t she just take Ellen God knows where? Why did she bring her back here ? Of all places. The FBI building. Ellen said that she promised to bring her to you. Why did she bring her back to you?”

Everyone looked shocked and confused.

Except Neal.

He simply responded, “I’ve thought about that. She did it because she just wanted to fuck with me.”

“Are you sure?” Diana asked

“What do you mean?” Neal asked curious

“She was obviously in the area, but she didn’t pursue you until the alert was issued. She didn’t have to act. Doing nothing would have served her better than doing something.”

“What are you saying?” Neal asked

“Violent psychopaths don’t tend to do things that benefit other people and almost take them down in the process.” Diana declared

“So what, she’s not a psychopath?” Neal was getting irritated, sass seeping through his voice.

No one would ever argue about that. She is an irredeemable obsessive psychopath.” Diana started when Jones finished

“I think what she’s trying to say is, why would an objectively evil person do something inherently good and unselfish, like saving a child? Is an objectively evil person even capable of doing something good?”

Diana nodded and pointed, “Exactly.”

Neal simply responded, “They’re not.”

“Well what would she get out of doing this? Nothing.” Jones declared, “She got nothing out of this. It didn’t benefit her at all.”

“Except fucking with me.” Neal was adamant

“If she wanted to do that why didn’t she do it earlier? She was obviously in New York before this so why didn’t she earlier?” Jones asked

Everyone paused because that was a valid point.

“Perhaps since then she’s lost interest in you and that’s why she decided to take Ellen back here.” Diana pointed out

Peter, who had been oddly silent during this finally spoke up, “Although whether or not an objectively evil person is capable of doing something good is an interesting philosophical question.  I doubt she just lost interest. She held it long enough last time.”

“Looking at the psychology of psychopaths,” Diana started, choosing her words carefully, “They do not tend to do things that are not for their own gain. That being said, it’s been researched and tested that psychopaths do have the capacity to care about certain people. That they are capable of doing actions that benefit others.”

Neal snappily retorted, “Maybe it’s because I didn’t go to Quantico but I think that’s a load of shit.”

Everyone was quiet.

Peter then spoke up again, “She’s fucking insane. Completely delusional. Why are you trying to find a reason for crazy? Crazy people don’t need a reason to do anything. A similarity between crazy people and psychopaths, of which she is both ,  is that they do reckless actions without reason. Or their reason is just as crazy and delusional as they are.”

Everyone stayed quiet, because it was another valid point.


 

8PM

Peter went to check on Neal before going home. Neal had insisted on going home that night. Peter didn’t think it was a good idea.

He would figure out why Neal wanted to go back so badly.

He knocked at Neal’s door. “Neal. It’s me. Open up.”

Neal opened the door and said in an aggregated tone, “What?”
“Just coming to check in.” Peter walked in and saw a small black duffle bag open on the bed. “What’s that?”

Neal answered while picking up a shirt from the bed and tossing it in, “I have to go.”

Peter was confused, “Why?”

“I have to get Ellen out of here. It’s not safe. It was a mistake staying here.”

“So you’re going on the run again.” Peter clarified

Neal turned to look at Peter, “It’s not safe here. She was here , Peter. She was here! I can’t risk it again. I need to get Ellen to safety.”

“Does Mozzie know?” Neal didn't respond. Peter then responded, getting very irritated and hurt, “Oh so you were just going to leave without a trace. No one would know what happened... again .” Neal stood in realization for a few seconds.

While putting another shirt on the duffel he said passively, “I was going to call you.”

“When? When I'm losing my goddamn mind because I saw that you were gone!”

“Well that would give me ample time then. Wouldn't it?” Neal remarked

“I can't stop you from running, but I can tell you what a bad idea this is.” Peter said in his dad tone

“It's not safe here. We’re too easily found.” Neal paused and said determined, “Keeping her safe is my job. If that means having to run to keep her safe then I'll do it.”

“Running is still a terrible idea. There are other options.” Peter insisted

“You don't get it, Peter!” Neal snapped, “She was with my daughter! I'm not taking that risk again!”

“Do you have to be reminded what life on the run is like? How it isn't place for a child!”

Neal was silent. He heard a knock on the door and went to get it. “Hey, Moz.” He greeted

“Just coming to check in.” Mozzie said. He was quick to notice the mood in the apartment and the open duffel bag on the bed. “You're running.”

“Yes.” Peter unhappily replied

“Why didn’t you tell me? Whatever happened to you run I run?” Mozzie almost sounded hurt

“That was when we were just protecting our own asses. This is bigger. More important.” Neal simply reasoned and closed the duffel bag.

“You know that life on the run is no place for a kid.” Mozzie declared

Neal turned and insisted, “I know but I need to keep her safe.”

Peter then brought up another point, “You told me that you wanted her to have a better childhood than you did.”

“Yeah. And?”

“Living on the run. Always looking over your shoulder, because there is no one there to have your back. Never being able to truly settle down. Or if you do you’re so goddamn paranoid that you can’t take care of her as well as you want too. One day she might ask why you move so often, why you insist on changing names. Or maybe one day she’ll figure out why you ran.”

There was silence in the room.

Neal didn’t know what to say to that.

Peter continued, “You wanted her to have a big loving family. She has that here. You have that here. You both lose that if you leave. You lose everyone who loves you, cares about you, and has your back completely. Everyone who loves her and would protect her with their lives. You know that you cannot do this alone.” He said referring to his ever ongoing psychological recovery and that he could not take on a violent delusional psychopath on his own. He would need back-up for that.

“He’s right, Neal, and you know it.”

“If you want to run, there’s nothing stopping you. But you should know the cons and well as the pros. Also, you have other options.” Neal looked confused, “You can come live with me, at least for a while. Or in one of Mozzie’s safehouses.”

Neal thought for a long while.

“What are you going to do, Neal?” Mozzie asked

Neal finally said, “Alright. Peter, We’ll stay with you.”

Mozzie and Peter breathed sighs of relief.

“Thank you.” Peter said and put his hand on his shoulder, “It’s going to be okay. We’re all here for you. That’s why you need to stay here. So your family can have your back.”

Neal nodded. He hoped that everything was going to be okay.

Little did he know it was just the beginning.

Chapter Text

A Few Months Later

I walk through the house I’ve been working on for the past about three years now. Oh my it’s been three years already. Where has the time gone?

I’ve missed about three years of my child’s life.

Well that will all be fixed soon when Phase 2 gets rolling shortly. It’s just about ready to go.

I look out the big bay window above the kitchen sink which faces the ocean.

Well...on such a small island basically everywhere is a view of the ocean...but that’s not the point.

These windows are just for sunlight though. They don’t open. They’re hurricane windows. I’ve personally tested them. Nothing can cause even as much as a scratch.

Furniture, knives, body slamming, nothing.

It will also be good for the rainy season too I guess.

Construction finally finished a few weeks ago. So now I’m putting in my security upgrades. Ones that even the fucking oblivious architect might find fishy. Like locking everything away. Making sure everything is sturdy and bolted down. Making sure locks can’t be picked. A titanium alloy front door and back door. Not pretty and doesn’t go with the beach house vibe I’m going for but it worked last time so why change what isn’t broken. Going with a keypad this time instead of a lock. Numbers 0-9 and the entire alphabet, there are literally millions of combinations.

He’ll never guess it.

Even if he manages to get out of the house he can’t get off the island. We’re 200 miles from civilization and he’d have no way to get there.

You see, the cabin wasn’t the problem last time. I was stupid enough to let my guard down, just for a moment. When I thought he was finally coming around. He’s a conman, he could have convinced himself that the cabin was best for him.

The plan itself worked. Sustaining it was the problem.

It’s going to be better this time. I’m going to fix the mistakes I’ve made before.

UGHHH! I remember that day like it was yesterday.

Ughh, my head was throbbing. I slowly rose my head and slowly sat up. I was in the garden. Crushed some good tomato plants. Damn. I saw on my right was the shovel I was using. It was thrown haphazardly to the ground. I frantically looked around and didn’t see my daughter in sight.

Neither was Neal.

“FUCK!” I yell. I run into the cabin to see no one there.

“Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck” was all I could say. I ran all around the clearing and throughout the woods screaming their names.

The fucking bastard took my child!

I got back to the cabin and  screamed a blood curdling angry scream.

‘Oh the defeat! The failure! The complete failure! So much planning down the drain!’ I thought, ‘You shouldn’t have let your guard down. You fucking idiot!’

“No. Now’s not the time for self pity. You need to get out. Abort mission. Go underground and come up with a new plan. Do you have time to wipe down the surfaces? Don’t know how long I’ve been out. Probably not too long. Plus the time looking for them. Can’t be too cautious. You need to get out. There’s no way you can get all of your DNA out of there. Okay at least do a little bit of clean-up job in case the cops find this place. Which they might.”

After wiping down all the surfaces I get the fuck out of there. I look back and sigh,

“We could have it all. And we did. For a while. But we will again. Someday. Neal will be mine again, all mine ,  one day. I’ll have my child back one day. And we’ll make more. He’ll learn to love it.”

He was so scared and so resistant at first. It was cute. Kinda hot actually. Knowing how much power I have over him. I completely dominated him. I loved every second of it. Eventually though he learned to play nice. Learned how to make me happy. I appreciate it. Although my power will do that.


You know, I remember the day that we met. It was the best day of my life.  It was such a simple interaction. I was with the other interns at Adler’s company at the coffeemaker in a breakroom. They were all insufferable jerks. I couldn’t stand them. Then he came by.

It was like a dream. I did a double take. He was a true work of art. Truly extraordinary. I didn’t understand the feeling of love until I saw him. I had never felt it before, not with anyone. As soon as I saw him I loved him. I knew he had to be mine.

And I get what I want.

No matter what.

“Can I get you guys some more?” He asked with a smile

I smiled back, “Of course.” I continued looking at him while he refilled my mug. He smiled. I smiled.

It felt right.

He then refilled other mugs and started asking us some questions about Adler. I would later learn why he asking those.

After that I snuck into functions I knew he would at so I could get the chance to see him again. I felt this magnetic draw to him that I didn’t know it was possible to feel until then.

I had to sneak into the functions because interns weren’t allowed to go. Sometimes I would wait outside the office for him at the end of the day and beginning of the day. Just to even have a look at him.

Although he was so busy in his plot to take down Adler (a failure but admirable) and that fucking cunt, Kate.

That bitch. She never loved him. Not really. It was all an act.

You know, if that plane didn’t take care of her, I would have.

Maybe I should have. We could have been together sooner. But nothing was ready yet. Ugh. Stop. The past is done. You have to learn from it and move on.

You know, he never really remembered me. He tried, I’ll give him that. But he never really remembered who I was.

Well...that’s not a problem anymore.

He’ll remember me forever. A little piece of me will be with him forever. He’ll remember me till the day he dies. I've impacted his life in a way that he can never forget.

I slowly smile and walk away from the window. There are more things on my list to do. I need to continue locking and bolting everything down. Making sure it’s Neal-proof.


I get back to the States to check a few things off my list to get Phase 2 moving. Once it starts there’s no going back. Everything is done back at the house. I think it turned out very nice. One floor, little bigger than the cabin, better views. Increased security. Built a shed and a greenhouse nearby so we can grow our food. So we can be self-sustaining. Don’t have to rely on that corrupt food industry.

I walk into a gun store in rural Mississippi. Real hole in the wall kind of place.

“What can I do for ya?” The old balding man asks with a thick southern accent from behind the counter.

“Would like a Beretta M9, Colt Anaconda, and a Glock 17, please.” I tell the guy, whom I just noticed doesn’t have any teeth left. Okay, maybe like two. He’s a real life stereotype.

“I think we’ve got those in stock.” He says grabbing the Glock from the display case below him. “Like girl who knows what she wants.” He goes to the backroom presumably to grab the others. “True beauties.” He says about the guns as he came back to the counter. “Is this all?”

I think for a second. “Yeah that should be good.”

“Can I see some ID?” He asks

“I’m sorry I left it at home.”

“It’s okay, the database is down anyway. Wink wink. Would you like a small box of amino or big sized for an extra few dollars.”

I’m a really good shot. I’ll be good with the small. “I’ll take the small. Thank you.”

I give the guy a some crisp hundreds and he doesn’t even question it.

God this country is so broken, I love it.

I really do love America’s basically non existent gun laws. It’s just so easy to get them here.

Phase 2 is almost ready for action.


So tonight I was thinking about my favorite topic, my family. Ellen seems like such a good sweet girl. Thankfully I’ll be able to take away from all the bad things in the world. The evil things in the world that corrupt people. Take away their innocence. She’ll be safe and happy on the island. I think she’ll love it.

She’s such a wanted baby. Much like me. Even though I shouldn’t have even been born alive.

My parents tried and tried and tried to have a baby. They wanted one so damn badly. I relate, that’s how I feel about being with Neal.  I don’t even remember how many miscarriages and stillbirths she had. She must have had 4-6 stillbirths and more miscarriages before me. I heard actually that one was born, a girl before me, but she died shortly after.

Weak.

When I was finally born via c-section (come on you couldn’t do a vaginal birth like a real mother. Ugh. Anyway.) I was kicking and screaming. Apparently they didn’t even know what to do. They didn’t expect me to live. It was days before they actually gave me a name.

Guess they didn’t expect me to live long enough to have one.

I always knew I was special. The only real survivor of Mary Beth’s womb. When I was little it made me feel invincible. After they learned that she couldn’t have any more kids due me ruining her womb.

I took pride in that I was the only kid they were able to have.

Although what pisses me off, still, is even though they wanted me so badly they were always off working. Work was all they cared about. My mom, Mary Beth, was a nurse and my dad, Ray, was a salesman. I basically raised myself.

When I would get angry about them working all the time they would just respond,

“Chris, you know we don’t have much,” blah blah blah “We need to work so we can continue living here and have food to eat, Chris.” I always hated that nickname. I mean, Jesus Christ, you gave me a name for a reason, fucking call me it.

Also whenever they did have the time and money they wanted me to go see a doctor because they claimed "there was something seriously wrong with me" Hah, bullshit. I don't wanna see any shrink and tell them about my feelings (or lack thereof). So I always adamantly refused.

That led to some colorful confrontations. 

Also, if we were so strapped for cash when I was a kid why did they even want kids? Huh? They obviously couldn’t afford them. They gave whatever they had to me, apparently to make up for not being there. I took it because why the fuck not. But I want to be different. Right those wrongs. I’ll be there for my child. I’m just glad I didn’t have my mother’s problem and she was born alive. That I didn't need to try five or six times to have a live child.

She’s a survivor.

Just like her mother.

I was always a problem child. Gave my parents such a hard time. I hope Ellen isn’t like that.

As far as I know they’re still alive and living and working in that small shithole town in upstate New York. I haven’t talked to them in God only knows how long. Few years at least. Although they probably heard on the news that the cops are looking for me. They’ll be upset, but not completely surprised.

Like I said, I was a problem child.

My mom always wanted me to have a career, not a just a job. “Do something with your life.” She would always say to me, “Find a good man, one who will take care of you. One you love and can settle down with and have some kids.”

Well Mom, I did something with my life.

I found the One. I have a daughter. You’re a grandmother.

You proud of me, Mom?


My daughter will be safer on the island. There will be no one to hurt her. I won’t have to come in and save the day like I had to do recently. Neal should thank me when he sees me. I got there before the police could.

Those bastards had my child. They needed to be shown what happens to people that get in my way or piss me off.

I had to give her back to Neal because it wasn’t time yet. Everything wasn’t ready yet. Can’t go against the plan. Can’t start the plan before everything is ready. I will take them when it's time. It’s the plan. Phase 2.

Not going to make the same mistakes this time.

Everything is just about ready now.


So I've mentioned Phase 2 a few times. What is it exactly? Well it's my plan to getting my family back. Phase 1 was getting the house ready. Phase 2 is a little more complicated. It's bringing my family to our new home. Of course Neal won't go willingly, so I'm going to have to persuade him. That's where some guns come in. But making sure that Ellen doesn't see them. Don't need her getting scared. Then get them on my boat and away we go. Thought of giving Ellen something so she doesn’t get too scared. Moving can be overwhelming to a child.

Also of course I have to get rid of the boat afterwards so there's no chance of Neal somehow breaking out of the house and stealing it. I have that all planned out.

But before I do any of that I need to first get rid of the obstacles. First, take out Mozzie and dispose of the body. Then go to Burke’s and take him out, his wife too. Maybe I'll make him helplessly watch as his wife bleeds to death. Them I’ll kill him.  Yeah that sounds like a plan.

Ellen said that she loves dogs, so I think I'm going to take the Burke’s dog too. I think that Ellen would like to have him on the island. Then after cleaning that up I'll go get Neal and Ellen. If his landlady’s there I'll take her out too.

You know, no witnesses and all.

Then he'll be all mine.

No one will look for them.

At least not that hard and for long.

They'll never find them anyway.

If something goes wrong then there’s Plan B. Which I have all planned out. It’s a rather simple abort mission really.

I won’t go peacefully into the night.

I load my Beretta and put it with my other supplies in my black duffel bag. Going to leave this piece of shit roadside motel soon.  I heard that Mozzie is at Washington Square Park. I heard The Burkes are home and so is Neal.

I cock the gun, “It's time to get my family back.”

Phase 2 is finally a go.

Chapter Text

Mozzie was sitting in the park, along with enjoying the crisp summer day turn to evening, he was doing a little recon on a current mark.

He sat back with his to-go cup of tea, when all of a sudden he heard a female voice behind him say,

“Hello, Mozzie. Glad to finally meet you.”

Mozzie had never heard that voice before but it sent chills down his spine. He turned around and tried to hide his shock.

“Christina.”

She walked in front of him, wearing a combination of black and grey, her black hair tied back with a hair tie.

“It’s interesting how I know so much about you, and presumably you know so much about me, yet we’ve never met.”

Mozzie was quiet. His left hand was near his pant pocket where he could grab his phone.

“Your unspoken assumptions are correct. I am here for Neal, and my child. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

She pulled out her gun and shot him in the chest.

Then she grabbed his phone from his pocket, “Calling for help or to warn Neal kinda defeats the point of me killing you.”

Mozzie heard her mutter as she walked away, “Now on to the Burkes.”

What Christina failed to account for was that Mozzie had numerous phones on him at all times. She only took the one he was reaching for.

He knew he didn’t have long, which made it all the more important that he warn Neal.

He managed to grab a phone from his coat pocket.

CODE RED. GET OUT. GOT ME. SUIT’S NEXT.

As he started losing consciousness he called 911.


 

Neal had recently come back to his apartment. He wanted to come back because he wanted to live on his own again and Ellen was missing the only home she’d ever known.

“Hey, what do you want for dinner?” He asked Ellen who was playing with some Playdoh on the table.

She stopped and thought for a second before enthusiastically answering, “Pasta! Your pasta! It’s da best!”

He smiled, “My pasta it is. Want to help make it?”

She smiled, “Yaayy!” and she ran over to the kitchen. Neal was getting some ingredients from the fridge when his phone buzzed. He walked over to where it was on the table. He opened the text and froze.

“Daddy! Da pasta!” Ellen said from the counter

He said with fear and urgency, “We need to go. Right now.”

“What?” She asked

“We need to go. Come on.” He grabbed his keys and wallet and took her hand. When he started to leave she exclaimed,

“Wait!”
“What? We need to go. Now.” Neal was getting impatient. Ellen ran to her room and came back a few seconds later with her bear, Mozart.

“Okay, let’s go now.” He started to call Peter, but he wasn’t answering.

Once they got out to the street Neal hailed a cab as he continued trying to call Peter to warn him.


 

He told the cabbie where to go, and kept getting Peter’s voicemail. He called Elizabeth with the same result. He tried Mozzie’s numbers but got voicemail as well. He tried to hide the pure and completely overwhelming fear and panic that just near paralyzed him. He didn’t want to scare Ellen who was sitting beside him, hugging Mozart and looking out the window.

He would move heaven and hell if it meant keeping her safe.

Or at the very least, making sure the Satan’s Mistress never saw the light of day ever again.

They soon arrived at their destination, the precinct that housed SVU. The cops that originally handled his case. He decided to go there because it was early on a Saturday evening, no one was at the Bureau, but people would be at the precinct.

He knew Ellen would be safe in a building full of armed cops.

He continued calling and leaving messages. As he was walking in Peter finally answered,

“What’s wrong I saw like 20 missed calls from you?”

“She’s back and she got Mozzie. He said that you’re next. Where are you and El?” Neal said urgently

“We just got out of a movie, that’s why our phones were off. Where are you?”

“Walking into SVU. Figured a building full of cops is the safest place for Ellen right now.”

“Good idea. I’ll send El out of the city and be right over.” Peter said in full Agent Burke mode. He added now compassionate, “It’s going to be okay. We’ll get her.”

“Let’s hope.” Neal replied before hanging up.


He raced into SVU and saw Lieutenant Olivia Benson coming out of her office. She looked surprised, “Neal Caffrey. What’s wrong?”

“Christina’s back and she got my friend, Mozzie.”

Olivia seemed a little caught off guard. They had been unable to locate her since she was last spotted in Manhattan a few months earlier when Ellen was held for ransom.

“Okay. How do you know this? Tell me what happened.” She guided him to her office, “Rollins.” She looked up, and Olivia nodded towards Ellen.

“Hey sweetie, you want a snack?” Rollins asked to distract the child from the current crisis. Ellen nodded.

Neal followed Olivia into her office.

“Okay, walk me through what happened.” Neal told her about the text. “Okay, do you know where he’d be now? A hospital?”

“I’m hoping.” Neal responded

Olivia picked up her cell phone, “Mozzie’s a criminal right?” Neal looked confused at her question. She elaborated, “What alias would he use at a hospital?”

“I don’t know. It could be several.”

“Okay I’ll just ask about a middle aged male with a trauma wound, probably a gunshot. Stay here.” She said as she started calling local hospitals and got her team to start locating Christina.

Peter got there soon after.

“Have you made any progress?” He asked right after he barged into Lt. Benson’s office.

“Working on locating Mendoza and Mozzie now.” She said as she was on the phone with a local hospital. “Great, thank you.” She told the person on the phone. “Found Mozzie. He's in surgery at Memorial. Gunshot wound to the chest.”

Neal jumped to ask, “Is he going to be okay?”

“He's still in surgery.” Olivia responded, “I'm going to send you and Ellen there with some armed guards.”

“Why? I can be of more help here. Just make sure Ellen is safe.” Neal insisted. He understandably wanted to help bring down Christina.

Olivia retorted, “Because last time I told you to go home and you ended up catching a dangerous human trafficker.”

“So you remember that?” He responded

“Yeah.” Olivia didn't have time for Neal’s shit.

“You're welcome by the way.” Neal responded with a smile

Olivia rolled her eyes with a sigh. She was starting to wonder how Peter put up with him for all these years. She declared, “It’s too dangerous. You're staying out of it. I'll let you know when we get her.”

“No! I want to help!” Neal was adamant, “Also, I do dangerous shit all the time.”

Olivia confronted, “I don't know how things are done in White Collar but in SVU, my unit, we try to minimize danger. We work with violent predators on a daily basis. My job is to keep you and your daughter safe and catch who did this. I'm going to make damn sure that happens. You're staying out of this and that's final.”

Before Neal could continue she left to get someone to bring Neal to the hospital. Peter followed, “You know that he doesn't stay where he's put, right?”

Olivia said, while looking at a file, “Yeah I got that.” She looked at him, “But two guards with semi automatics should hold him.”

Peter was impressed.

“I take my job very seriously.” She remarked, “I'd send you away for safety, and you being too personally involved, but we could use your help. Consider it a professional curiosity.”


 

Neal sat restlessly in Mozzie’s hospital room. He had made it through surgery and was still unconscious. Neal looked over to Ellen who was asleep on a chair next to him. It was now late that night. He wanted to leave and help the cops but the armed guard at each side of the door prevented that.

Soon Mozzie started to wake up. Neal leaned towards him, “Hey.”

Mozzie weakly responded, “People just love to shoot me in the chest. Don’t they? But it takes more than a gun to take me out.” Neal gave him a worried smile.

“You know taking the time to send that message could have killed you.”

“What was I going to do. Not warn you.” Mozzie sarcastically responded

Neal said sincerely, “Thank you. Your saved our lives. You saved Peter and Elizabeth’s lives.”

Mozzie tried to think of a pithy comeback but he was still tired from the surgery.

“Why aren't you out there helping?” Mozzie asked, knowing his friend.

“I would if I could.” Neal nodded over to the guard at the door.

Mozzie looked over, “Wow, they aren't playing around.”

“No they most certainly are not.”

“That's good though” Neal looked at him confused, “You two need to stay safe. Let the Suits handle this.”

“Is that the drugs talking?”

“Only a little.” Mozzie responded and Neal nodded.

Olivia along with her partner, Nick Amaro, and Peter soon entered the room. Olivia and Amaro reintroduced themselves to Mozzie to which he replied,

“Oh yey, Local Suits.”

They looked confused for a second before Olivia asked, “Do you know who shot you?”

“Yeah, it was that Devil.” Mozzie replied

“So it was Christina?” Amaro clarified, Mozzie nodded.

“What happened exactly?” Olivia asked

Mozzie thought about what he was going to say for a moment and said with a sigh, “I was sitting in the park. I hear a voice that I’ve never heard before greet me. I turned around and there she was.”

“For a clear id this is who shot you.” Amaro said and showed him surveillance footage of Christina outside the FBI building from a few months earlier.

“Yeah, that’s what I said.” Mozzie was losing patience, “She said as she was walking away that the Suits were next.”

They looked confused again, not having time for Mozzie’s nicknames.

“Peter and Elizabeth.” Neal clarified and the two nodded

“She said she was coming back for Neal and Ellen. Have you made any progress yet?” Mozzie said, fear now prevalent in his voice.

“We’re working on it.” Olivia said, Mozzie scoffed in response

“So she won’t leave without them.” Amaro deduced, “Good to know.” He was on to something.

Neal spoke up, bringing up an old conversation, “It’s me that she wants. I can really help you catch her.”

Mozzie, Peter, Olivia, and Amaro all said coincidentally at the same time, “No.”

“Why? It’s not like I haven’t been used as bait before.”

“That’s different, Neal.” Peter lectured, “The kinds of people we deal with are very rarely violent psychopaths. Even then I don’t put you in the field with them.”

“Again, I don’t know how you do things in White Collar but in SVU this is how we do them. You’re staying out of it and that’s final.” Olivia lectured

Neal sighed and slightly slumped in his chair.


 

Since they figured that Christina had no intentions of leaving the city without Neal and Ellen they knew that they had a real chance of finally catching her.

Olivia and Peter called a meeting in the SVU squad room. The team and a room full of backup and SWAT were there and Peter called Jones and Diana, along with some others in to help.

Olivia began to brief everyone on the target.

Olivia announced, “Christina Mendoza. Those from the FBI and SVU know her well. She has been on the run for about three years. Her crimes include, rape, kidnapping, and murder. She is highly manipulative, highly motivated, and highly intelligent. She knows how to be on the run and blend in with the group. She already has killed four civilians. One three years ago, three a few months ago, and tried to kill another civilian today. She is without conscience. She will not hesitate to kill anyone who she deems as a threat. So wear your vests! Do not be a hero!” She then slightly turned her head toward Peter who was standing next to her, “Do not I repeat do not pursue alone!”

She didn’t know Peter all that well but she knew how close he was to Neal. She worried about him losing it and acting out in revenge.

Peter added, “Remember she is armed and highly dangerous. Don’t hesitate to shoot...if needed.” Olivia noticed this fierce protectiveness on his face and in his eyes. She had seen that in the families of victims many times before in her almost 20 years of experience.

Those were the family members that were out for blood.

Vengeful acts make an easy prosecution more difficult and messy. Revenge on the victim’s side was a great way to jeopardize a case.

She was genuinely concerned that Peter could not hold his anger and work professionally.

After the briefing she pulled Peter aside and asked, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, of course, Lieutenant.” Peter responded, “I’m glad we’re finally going to catch her.”

“Is your personal vendetta against her going to get in the way of this case? Because even if it might I’m sending you to be with Mozzie and Neal. Because you shouldn’t even be here due to how personal this is for you. This was a professional courtesy and we could use your resources. I know how close you are to Neal. Please don’t do anything stupid.” Olivia warned

“Don’t worry, Lieutenant. I’m not going to do anything stupid. She’s not worth it. Let’s get her so she can rot in prison for the rest of her life.” Olivia believed Peter to be sincere so she backed down.

But she shouldn’t have.

She should not have believed him.


 

They spent the next few hours following potential leads. Peter called Neal to update him every so often. Keeping him as much in the loop as possible. Knowing that made him feel at least a little bit better.

They followed a few leads and had just barely missed her. By the next morning they found another two people whom she shot trying to find Peter and Elizabeth to kill and Neal and Ellen to kidnap. She thought that she had already taken care of Mozzie.

The phone on Fin’s desk rang and he immediately picked it up, “Yeah.”

“I know where Mendoza will be in thirty minutes.” The male voice on the other end said

“Who are you?” Finn asked

“Get me your Lieutenant.” He said. Finn ran and grabbed Olivia from her office.

She put the phone on speaker, “What?”

“I know where Mendoza will be shortly.”

“Who are you?” Olivia was wondering about how credible this lead is. It seemed too good to be true.

“Do you want to know or not?” the voice asked exasperated

“Where?” Olivia asked

“Sunrise Cafe, thirty minutes. You’re welcome.” The voice hung up.

“Let’s go.” Peter said urgently

“This is the most credible lead we currently have on her.” Finn added

She thought for a second, “Okay, let’s go.”

They all headed out to the cafe to hopefully finally arrest Christina.

 

Chapter Text

Christina sat at the Sunrise cafe early that morning. Despite it being a Sunday morning there weren't many people there. She sat restlessly, constantly checking her phone.

A man called her a while ago and told her that he knew who she was looking for and could help. They set up a meeting for this morning where he'd give her their whereabouts.

But he was 15 minutes late.

Christina kept trying to contact him. She finally got a text response.

Sorry, cab stuck in traffic. Wait there.

She groaned and slammed her phone on the table.


 As SVU approached the cafe, SWAT got ready to go in ahead of them.

“Are you sure about this? It could be a trap.” Amaro asked Benson

“Yeah I know. But it's all we've got. That's why we have SWAT going in first.”

As they got ready to move in, Peter stood outside, waiting for what he been wanting for years.

Justice.

SWAT stormed in followed by SVU.

“FREEZE! NYPD!”

Christina immediately thought, ‘ Fuck!’ And started to run. She was quickly stopped by someone on SWAT. She knew she was surrounded.

Benson caught up with her, now at the back of the cafe. She smiled as she pulled out her cuffs, “Christina Mendoza, you are under arrest for kidnapping, rape, and murder…” She cuffed her and led her out of the cafe, everyone followed.

As Olivia led her to the car, Christina saw Peter. Peter looked at her with the biggest shit eating grin. He had been waiting for this day for so long. She gave him a death stare in return.


 Mozzie was the only one awake in the hospital room that morning. He was lying in thought when a phone of his buzzed. He reached over to the table on his left to get it.

“Hello.”

“Hey, Mozzie. It's Mark.”

“What do you want?”

“That bounty still on Mendoza from years ago?”

Mozzie was interested, “Yeah, you want to claim it?”

“Lured her to a cafe then called the cops. Had no intention of showing up. I saw cops drag her out of there not too long ago.”

“That's great but the bounty for her death.” Mozzie retorted

“I stuck my neck out trying to help. Thought that you could give me a little something.”

Mozzie groaned, “Fine, I'll call later with details. If you find a way to kill her you'll get the full reward.”

“Sounds good. Thanks Mozzie.”

Mozzie hung up the phone. He looked over to his sleeping friend and his child.

“Sleep well mon frère. You're safe now.”


 Olivia and Amaro brought Christina into their interrogation room. She sat down and angrily demanded, “I want a lawyer.”

Towering over her Olivia angrily and coldly told her, “A lawyer can’t help you now, but okay.”

They left, Peter was standing outside.

“You should go be with Neal now.” Olivia said compassionately

Peter was determined, “I need to hear from her. What she did. Why Neal?”

“Fine.” Olivia conceded

“Let me help with the interrogation.” Peter wanted so badly to go into that room.

“No. Because it won’t be five seconds before you start throwing punches. As much as I would love to see that, it’s illegal.”

Peter sighed. Deep down he knew that she was right.

DA Barba rushed in. He immediately asked Olivia, “What’s he doing here?”

“He’s helping.” Olivia insisted

“He shouldn’t be.” Barba insisted, “Conflict of interest. Also, not a federal case.”

“I needed to help.” Peter insisted

“Well you did, now leave.” Barba didn’t want anything to possibly jeopardize this pretty open and shut case.

“Like I said, I need to hear it from her. Why? Why Neal? How can she justify this in her mind.” Peter sounded distant yet determined

Barba sighed, “Fine, but you do not go in.”


 While they waited for her to get a lawyer Peter called Neal to tell him the good news. News he had been waiting to give for three long years.

“Hey, Neal.”

“Hey.” Neal sounded groggy

“Did I wake you?”

“A little.”

“I’m just calling to say that we got her. She’s sitting in interrogation right now. She’ll never see the light of day again.” Peter smiled

Neal couldn’t believe it. He had been waiting for this news for so long.

He was speechless.

He sat in the hospital room in shock.

He finally said a relieved, “Thank God.”

“I’m going to stay to watch the interrogation. I’ll come by later.”

“Okay.” Neal still couldn’t believe that it actually happened.

That Christina was finally arrested.

It sounded too good to be true.


 When Christina’s attorney finally showed up, Olivia and Amaro could finally question her. Peter, ADA Barba, and the rest of the SVU squad stood outside.

They strolled in, towering over her as she sat at the table next to her attorney.

“We’ve been looking for you for, what, three years now.” Amaro started as they paced around her, “Why did you decide to come back? You’re smart, you knew the risks.”

Her lawyer, an older balding male, shook his head, Christina didn’t listen.

“It was time. I needed to see my family again.”

Olivia sternly retorted, “You have a pretty sick definition of family.”

Christina looked confused.

Olivia angrily slapped evidence photos of the cabin in front of her, “Kidnapping someone, drugging them, and forcing them to impregnate you doesn’t make you family! It makes you a rapist!”

Christina scoffed, “I didn’t do anything to him that he didn’t want.”

Olivia threw her head back. If she had a dime for each time she heard that from a perp she could pay for her son’s college tuition.

Outside Peter shifted uncomfortably. Rollins uselessly tried to comfort him, “Trust me, all the perps say that. It doesn’t mean anything. We all know it’s not true.”

Inside the room, Christina’s lawyer glared at her, wanting her to stop talking.

“Oh so you’re saying that he wanted to be locked in an isolated mountain cabin. That’s why he had to hit you over the head with a shovel to get out!” Amaro slapped down more pictures of the cabin and its contents.

Christina was about to respond when her lawyer warned, “Don’t say anything.” She sat back in the chair.

Olivia said, “Okay then talk to us about Barry Lander.” She slapped down pictures of a six week old corpse they found at the scene.

Christina crossed her arms. Not saying a single word...because anything she said would incriminate herself.

They were silent for a few seconds until Christina demanded, “I want to see Neal and my daughter.”

They scoffed, Olivia remarked, “Over our dead bodies.”

I could arrange that.’ Christina immediately thought. Olivia continued, “You’re never going to see the child. Ever. The next time you’ll see Neal is when he testifies against you in court.”

Amaro brought up again, “You were going to take him again, weren’t you?”

Christina’s lawyer glared at her not to say anything.

Christina leaned in and responded, “ If I would take him. I’d take him to paradise. A paradise I would create just for us.“

Going along with this hypothetical conversation Amaro asked, “Where would this hypothetical place be?”

She smiled like she was in a dream, “An island, a few hundred miles from the coast. We’d be the only ones there. We could have it all...again. He wouldn’t leave...because he couldn’t.” Her malicious smile sent chills down everyone’s spines.

Olivia asked a question she was wondering, but knew that Peter was wondering more, “Why did you choose Neal?”

Her lawyer gave her yet another look of caution, she came back with a question, “Do you believe in love at first sight, Lieutenant?”

“When it’s consensual.” Amaro quickly retorted, pacing the room. Olivia was standing right in front of her.

“That’s what I felt about Neal.” Christina simply responded

“So that’s why you stalked him and everyone else in his life.” Olivia slapped photos of the stalker storage unit on top of the other pictures.

Christina remained silent. Olivia kept maintaining eye contact. Never breaking.

“You had to know how best to kidnap him.” Amaro speculated. Christina was silent.

She finally broke her silence when she demanded again, “I want to see Neal and my child.”

They scoffed, “Never.” Amaro firmly stated

“Then I think we’re done here.” Her lawyer declared, bringing the interrogation to an end. Christina gave them a smartass smile.

They started to leave when Olivia turned and asked, “Also, we have surveillance footage of you dropping off Ellen in front of the FBI building when she was kidnapped. Why did you do that?”

A slow smile crept across Christina’s face, not saying a single word.

“Like I said, we’re done here.” Her lawyer declared

They nodded and left the room.

Peter stood there in shock, “She’s fucking delusional.”

Barba noticed that throughout the interrogation Peter’s hand hovered over his gun. He wondered if Peter could remain objective. Barba said on another note, uncomfortable by the interrogation, “I want to offer her a deal. Spare Neal the trauma of a trial.”

“What are you going to charge her with?” Peter asked

“Of course kidnapping, rape, and murder, stalking, maybe even child endangerment. She had them so far off the map that if something were to have happened to Ellen she could have died before she could get help. Also, anything else I can charge her with”

Peter looked impressed, “I like you.”

Barba smiled, “I take my job very seriously, and I’m very good at it.” The others nodded.

 

Barba walked into the room, along with Olivia and Amaro. “Because I’m a good person, unlike you, and to spare Neal the trauma of a trial. I’m going to offer you a deal so good it will be good for only 10 seconds after I give it.”

Christina sat back with her arms crossed. Her lawyer was closely listening.

“You admit to kidnapping, rape, and murder, and you get life with parole, and you never contact Neal or the child ever again.”

“How is that good? ” Her lawyer asked

“If or when she’s convicted she would get the maximum. A life sentence per charge.”

Her lawyer looked at her like, you should take this.

She leaned in and said lowly with a smile, “No.”

Barba sighed and said, “Then we’re done here. I was trying to do something to help, but it fell on deaf ears. When we go to trial, you will lose. I’ll make sure of it.” He got up and left.

She simply fought back, “Who’s going to believe the word of a convicted conman anyway?”

Barba turned around and declared, “The NYPD, myself, a judge, and a jury, that’s who.” He turned back around and walked out.


After being processed Christina was brought to arraignment. She was brought into the busy courtroom as the court officer read the docket of charges and brought it to the judge.  

She noticed that Peter and Neal were sitting in the front row.

It was the first time she had seen Neal since that day at the cabin.

Neal gave her a small satisfied smile.

She returned with a death glare before turning around.

The judge took the document of case information from the court officer and remarked as she looked at it, “Ms. Mendoza, good to see you in New York again after all these years.” She asked, “How does the defendant plea?”

“Not guilty.” She responded then turned around and gave a smile that sent chills down Neal and Peter’s spines. They responded with death glares.

She turned her attention back to the judge who said, “Since you’ve been on the run for the past three years I am not even going to hear the people on bail.” At the prosecution, Barba smiled. He knew that would happen. “Defendant is remanded until trial.” She pounded the gavel and they moved on to the next case.

As she was being led out by the court officer she managed to grab his gun and immediately starts shooting it in the air before lowering it and continued to shoot.

People immediately started ducking, running, and screaming. Barba ducked below the prosecution table, the judge below her chair. Peter pushed Neal down and covered him with his body.

Christina ran out in the ensuing chaos.

After the shooting stopped, people started to come up from where they ducked. Barba stood up and immediately called Olivia. Peter looked to see if the coast was clear before telling Neal he could get up.

Peter ran up to Barba and yelled, “What the fuck just happened??!!”

“I don’t know.” Barba said clearly shaken while calling Olivia, “Get Caffrey back to the hospital. It’s safe there. We’ll work on what happened.”

“You bet your ass I’m helping.” Peter could be hella intimidating when he wanted to be.

Barba gave in, “Fine.”

When Neal got back Mozzie’s hospital room could tell he was shook. After Neal said hi to Ellen and giving her a hug Mozzie was quick to note, “There’s something wrong. You don’t look right. What happened?”

Neal put his child down and said, “She got away after arraignment.” Mozzie was in shock, “She grabbed a court officer’s gun and shot up the place. No one was hit but she was able to get away in the chaos.”

Mozzie responded, “Then she didn’t want to hit anyone. Just cause enough chaos to get away.” Neal was confused, “If she wanted to hit someone, she would have.” Mozzie was proof of that. “She’s not a perfect shot, but a pretty damn good one.” Mozzie was pretty accurate about that.

Neal sat down restlessly. Fearing they were at step one again, having to find her again.


 That evening Mozzie was asleep and Neal was currently trying to occupy Ellen. She had been asking questions lately, such as, “When can we go home?” and “Why are we staying at the hospital?”

Neal had danced his way around those questions. He thought that if she was occupied she wouldn’t ask again. Suddenly his phone rang. He looked at it and was surprised to see that it was a blocked number. He wondered who would be calling him from a blocked number.

He curiously picked it up, “Hello?”

“Hey, Neal.”

The voice sent chills down his spine and made him want to vomit. He hoped he would never have to hear that voice again. His stood up, his body stiffened. 

He was dead serious, “Christina.”

Chapter Text

He curiously picked up his phone to the unknown blocked number “Hello?”

“Hey, Neal.”

The voice sent chills down his spine and made him want to vomit. He hoped he would never have to hear that voice again.

“Christina.”

“It’s so good to hear your voice. I’ve missed it.”

Neal went into the small bathroom in the hospital room and closed the door. “Why are you calling?”

In typical fashion Christina didn’t answer the question, “Oh you’re welcome by the way.”

Neal was confused as to what she meant. “For bringing our daughter back to you when you fucked up. I gave you another chance.”

Rage boiled within him when she said, ‘our daughter’ “She’s not yours.” He said through gritted teeth.

“I didn’t have to bring her back to you.” She scoffed, “You should be grateful.”

“We were close to getting her.”

“When?” Christina asked, “Finding missing people isn’t one of Peter’s skillsets. You’re very aware of that. I don’t even know why you had help him with that. If he couldn’t find you what made you think he could find her.”

Neal knew that she was pressing every button he had. Trying to get a reaction. Trying to dive further inside his head.

He was trying so damn hard not to give her what she wanted.

But he hated that it was working.

“You’re not going to get away with this.” His voice was confident and determined, “ I know that you can’t run forever.”

“You better hope I don’t get caught.”

Neal humored her, “Why not?”

“Even if convicted, a biological parent still has legal rights to their child. Doesn’t matter how they were conceived.” Christina threatened, Neal froze in fear. “Judges don’t normally take children away from their mothers. If caught I would file for visitation of my daughter. If I get off, then custody. I would be nice and file for shared custody. How does every other weekend sound? If I’m in prison bringing her up for supervised visits. I know you wouldn’t run because you’re not stupid enough to bring a child on the run. I know you wouldn’t uproot her life and keep her running forever.  You know that the run is no place for a child. She’d start to ask questions, probably sooner rather than later. Eventually she’d find out who you’re running from. None of that happens if I’m never get caught. Either way she’ll eventually catch on. Ask why she doesn’t have a mother around.”

“I will do whatever it takes to keep my daughter away from you . She’ll never even know that you exist. She is not yours.” Neal was trying to remain calm, confident, and determined, but it was getting harder and harder not to just start screaming and punch a wall.

He knew full well that she mastered psychological judo.

“That’s where you’re wrong, Neal.” Chills went down Neal’s spine when she said his name, “Because Ellen is mine.”

“Don’t you dare say her name!” He snapped. Neal realized he was starting to lose it and tried to calm down. He let his guard down by blurting that out.

He knew that she was pressing the one button that she knew would get Neal the most.

His child.

She continued, “Ellen. It’s a cute name. The name of your dad’s friend. The woman who basically raised you. I always knew you were the sentimental type. It’s something I love about you, Neal.”

Neal was taking some deep breaths. Trying not to let her get to him, again. But it was so damn difficult.

She continued to taunt him, “Ellen thrived in my womb for nine months. She has my genes. My DNA. She birthed of my womb. She is my daughter.”

“Biology means nothing! ” Neal fought back, fiercely protective “Biology does not make you a parent! A parent is someone who loves their child.”

“Who says I don’t love her! I brought her back to you! I didn’t have to do that!”

“You’re a fucking psychopath! You’re not capable of loving anything!” Neal almost yelled, but he didn’t want the others in the hospital room to hear him. He calmed down and said angrily, “She is not yours! Only mine!”

She taunted, “Sure tell yourself that if it makes you feel better.” She continued, “She has me in her DNA, so since you love her so much. That means that you love at least part of me.” Neal’s blood boiled with rage, he clenched and unclenched his fists trying to stay calm. “Like I said, Ellen came from my womb. I gave birth to her. You wouldn’t have her without me. You should be grateful to have her. You should never forget where you got her.

She immediately hung up before Neal could fight her more.

He punched the wall in panicked anger. He ran his hands through his hair and tried to take deep breaths to calm down.

 

He immediately called Barba, who was still in his office. Neal instantly said, “She called and threatened Ellen.”

“Okay when did this happen, what did she say, and do you have any clue where she could be?” Barba asked, all business

Saying Neal was still shaken up was an understatement. He could only be strong for so long. He used all that up on his last conversation. “It was a blocked number, most likely from a burner phone. It was just now.” He paused before continuing, “She said if she was caught she would file for visitation of Ellen. Custody if she would get off. Can she even do that?”

“Sadly yes.” Barba regretfully informed, “Convicted rapists can sue for custody of their children in 31 states. There are no laws in New York about it.”

“Does it happen?” Neal asked. He needed to know. Barba was quiet. Neal got angry, “Does it happen?!” He raised his voice

Barba lowly replied, “I’ve seen it happen, yes.” Neal threw his head back in defeat.

“She’s never going to give up. This is never going to end.” He muttered

“Don’t be too unsure.” Barba had an idea, “She showed her hand. She told us her next move. SVU is closing in on her as we speak. To avoid the visitation suit we can do an involuntary termination of parental rights first. Since she’s not on the birth certificate, on the run for various violent crimes, and we already have the DNA for the case, we already have a good start. I know a great family court lawyer who can draft it tonight.” Neal found odd comfort in his confidence.

“You sound very confident.” Neal remarked

“Like I said before, I’m very good at what I do.”


At the precinct Peter was helping SVU track down leads. They were listening to Rollins who recently had a discovery. They gathered around her desk.

“So I was wondering if she would go on the run. During interrogation she talked about “a paradise I would create just for us.” She talked about an island. We know she likes isolated places. So I looked at isolated islands allocated in the last three years. I found one in the south Atlantic about 200 miles from the coast and any sort of civilization. I looked and it was recently acquired in cash and handled by lawyers who don’t even remember dealing with the property. I dug trying to find who built the house, found a architect, Thomas Morgan, who is so overworked he barely remembers her. He did know that she wanted to build a house to surprise her husband and daughter and that money was no problem.”

“And he didn’t find this at all suspicious?” Peter sarcastically asked

“He said he’s swamped and he’s worked with obscenely rich people in the past who surprise their family with extravagant gifts like houses. I called my friend at the Coast Guard and he’s going to the island now with backup to check it out and make sure she didn’t run there.”

“How did she even get in and out of the country for years with how much she’s wanted?” Amaro asked

Peter simply answered, “It’s not that hard if you know what you’re doing.” They looked at him curiously, “Back in the day I chased Neal around the US and Europe for longer than I care to admit.” That got some strange confused looks, “He was that good.”

His phone rang and he answered it. It was Neal. He told Peter about the phone call. “She did what? Okay. Well, we’re close to finding her. She’ll be in prison for the rest of her life.”

“That’s not good enough. Prison won’t stop her. She’ll find a way out.” Neal was in a panic

Peter tried to assure him, “Neal, not everyone’s like you and can walk out the front door of Supermax. Once we catch her she’ll never get out.” That got Peter more confused and shocked looks from the SVU squad. They didn’t know that bit about Neal.

He hung up and said, “That day he made me miss another meal with my wife. That was around when we started working together. Do we have anything on Christina?”

Benson started talking about possible leads and Peter’s phone buzzed. He checked it and saw a text message from a blocked number.

Lower west side of the old warehouse yard.

Come alone.

He wondered if it was her who sent this text. His curiosity burned within him. He had to know. He subtly pulled away from the others and quickly made his way out of the precinct.

A few minutes later the unit disbanded to pursue different avenues and immediately noticed that Peter wasn’t there.

“Where’s Burke?” Olivia asked no one in particular

“He was just here a second ago.” Rollins insisted

“Find him. Make sure he doesn’t find Christina and do something stupid. Like kill her.” Benson said, completely done with the situation. She did not need this right now.


 

That night Peter cautiously walked through the old warehouse yard with his gun drawn. He was still wearing a bulletproof vest from earlier. He was pretty certain that blocked number was Christina. He was curious as to what this was about, why he was called there. His instincts told him this was a bad idea.

He should have listened to them.

He weaved between buildings until he heard other footsteps in a cross section between four buildings. He stopped and pointed his gun. Suddenly a female figure stepped out in front of him. The nearby streetlight cast a shadow on her face, which somehow made her look even more evil.

“Hello Peter. It’s good to finally talk to you.”

Peter kept his gun on her, “It’s over, Christina. You have to come with me.”

Christina let out a slight evil chuckle, “It’s only just beginning.”

Peter was confused. He kept his stern demeanor, “You need to know when it’s over. Because it is. You’re not getting away this time. It’s time to stop running.” He cautiously went for his cuffs.

His full intention was to bring her in. Although he had one question that he needed to ask her, “Why? Why did you do all this?”

Christina smiled an evil smile, “Because I wanted him to be mine.” She paused and said sternly, “And I get what I want.” She was entranced in a memory, “A part of me will be with him forever . He’ll remember me forever .”

She put her right hand behind her back towards her waistband and held it there.

Peter thought she was reaching for a gun.

His trained instincts kicked in and he shot her straight in the chest.

She fell to the ground. Peter rushed to find the gun he suspected was in her gun waistband. He knelt down and searched her.

He started panicking when he didn’t find a gun anywhere on her.

“Where’s the gun!” He yelled

She was breathing heavy, she managed a weak chuckle, which brought up blood from her lungs, “You’re an idiot, Peter.” He was confused, “I’m unarmed. All I have on me is some id’s, cash, and a phone. Plan B is working just as I thought it would.” She coughed up blood

“What the fuck is Plan B?!” Peter yelled in a panic

She took a few deep breaths, “Lure you to an isolated area alone and get you to shoot me. I knew it was over, Peter. So I figured I would bring someone down with me.” She coughed up some more blood while talking. She didn’t have much time left.

“What?”

“You just shot an unarmed woman, Peter.”

“I’ll explain everything. That it was self defense. I thought you had a gun. They’ll understand.” Peter reasoned, still kneeling over her.

She smiled, “Will they? You snuck off to meet with me alone. You have the biggest revenge motive. Everyone knows you want me dead.” Peter thought about how he acted recently. More out of raw emotion than anything else. It was pretty common knowledge that he wanted revenge. He had even been asked more than once if he could handle helping with this case.

“You’re fucked, Peter.” She took great satisfaction in this, “The cops aren’t going to believe you because of how much you want me dead. Best case scenario you go down for manslaughter.” Her voice was severely weakening due to blood loss.  “Worst case, first degree murder.”

An evil smile crept across her face, “Either way, I win.”

Life slowly drained away and she took her final ragged breath. Peter was in pure shock.

He took her pulse, there wasn’t anything.

He knelt there in shock for what felt like forever.

He couldn’t believe that she was actually dead.

He thought due to all the evil and chaos she caused it would take more than a regular bullet to the chest to kill her. A silver bullet maybe. A stake to the heart. An enchanted object perhaps.

In death she looked oddly human. It creeped him out.

He then heard police sirens nearby. He knew that SVU had found him somehow. The cars pulled up behind him.

He heard many footsteps charging towards him calling his name. He slowly stood up and put his hands up. He squinted at the bright headlights from the cars.

SVU stared at the scene in shock. They all looked at Peter with the same look on their faces, Oh Peter. What did you do?

“I thought she had a gun.” Peter immediately defended

Olivia came up to him and said, “Don’t say a single damn word until your lawyer arrives.”

She turned to Finn and demanded so only he could hear, “Find that gun! Now!”

Finn remarked, “If there is one.” Olivia death glared at him, “What? It’s no secret he wanted the bitch dead. No one blames him after what she pulled. He did good.” Olivia glared at him again and went to take Peter to the precinct to talk about what happened while her team secured the crime scene.

Chapter Text

Peter sat in SVU’s interrogation room late that night. He had called a lawyer whom Olivia had suggested who was on her way then he called Elizabeth. He didn’t tell her he was going to be interrogated for murder, he just told her she could come back to the city. She went to see a friend upstate as soon as this all started so she would stay safe.

Olivia sat in her office comprehending how the night had unfolded. She put her head in her hands. She, like everyone else, wanted Christina gone too, but not like this.

ADA Barba came storming in her office in a frenzy. She called him shortly after they brought Peter in.

“What’s so urgent that you are calling me in late at night? Please tell me that you found Christina.”

“Good news, we found Christina. She’s dead.” Olivia informed

“Well that’s fantastic. What’s the bad news?”

“Peter shot her.”

Barba’s mouth fell in shock, “W-what?! H-how?! How?! I thought you were watching him! I knew him helping was a bad idea! He shouldn’t have touched this case to begin with!”

Olivia put her hands on his shoulders, “Okay, calm down.”

“We have an off duty FBI agent who just revenged killed the woman who tortured his friend!” He took a deep breath and muttered, “This case just keeps on giving even though no one asked it too.”

“He said that he thought she had a gun.”

“He said that? You’ve talked to him, without a lawyer?” Barba was trying to understand what happened. Much like the rest of the squad.

Olivia admitted, “No, we’re waiting on his lawyer. I told him to get one before we talked to him. We found him alone, over her body with a gun. He made a spontaneous admission as we arrived. We haven’t found a gun yet. We’re canvassing the area.”

“Yeah if there is a gun.” Olivia glared at him, “You didn’t see him during the interrogation. He was five seconds from charging in there and killing her. His hand hovered over his weapon the entire time. And I don’t blame him, but it is murder.”

“We have to hear him out.” Olivia insisted. From what little they knew, Olivia really wanted to believe him, but she was unsure.

Elizabeth came running into the precinct and into Olivia’s office. “Hi, I’m Elizabeth Burke, Peter’s wife. He wasn’t at home, work, or anything, so I figured he was here. Where is he? Is he okay?”

Barba and Olivia shared a look of oh shit we have to tell her. Before they could She looked over Barba’s shoulder and asked confused and angry, “What’s Peter doing in an interrogation room?”

Olivia walked up to her and broke the news to her, “We had to bring him in.” Elizabeth was confused, “He shot Christina. We’re waiting for his lawyer to question him.”

Elizabeth was paralyzed with shock. She was reminded of the last time she heard that news. When James Bennett killed Senator Pratt and Peter was caught in the crossfire.

A new wave of shock and terror washed over her when a new realization came to her. “You-you think he did this on purpose.”

“We don’t know what to think right now.” Olivia was pretty honest about that. Although she was praying that Peter’s story checked out.

Elizabeth wasn’t buying that. Before she could argue with them a middle aged woman came charging into Olivia’s office. Olivia greeted, “Well hello, Rita. You’re here for Peter Burke?”

“Hello, Olivia, Counselor. Yes I am. I hope you haven’t talked to him.” Rita Calhoun declared. She turned to Elizabeth and introduced herself. Elizabeth did the same.

“I’ll need some time with my client.” Rita walked into the room and introduced herself to Peter.

“So tell me what happened.” She said as she sat down next to him. Peter had to give some background first. He explained that Christina tortured Neal.

“Neal’s your partner, friend, what?” Rita wanted to clarify.

“Both.” Peter responded. He explained that she was on the run and they finally caught her.

“So what happened tonight?” She asked, all business. Peter explained how she tricked him and how it was self defense.

She deadpanned, “Oh that’s what we’re going with. Okay.” Peter was confused, “I think I can try to work with that. It won’t be easy though. As I understand there’s a very large revenge motive.”

He doubled down very concerned and aggravated, “That’s what happened.”

“And I said okay. I can’t make any promises, but I’ll do my best.”

Peter stared straight ahead and said in shock to no one in particular, “My own lawyer doesn’t even believe me.”

“It’s just going to be an uphill battle. If you’re right, then she’s made it very difficult to disprove.”


While Rita was talking to Peter, Olivia told Elizabeth to leave. When she refused until she learned what happened with her husband she was all but kicked out. As she stood outside the 19th Precinct she called Neal to update him on what happened.

“Hey, Neal.”

“Hey. What’s going on?” Neal was worried that the call was coming from Elizabeth, not Peter.

“So Peter told me I could come back to the city. I found him at the precinct.  Peter found Christina at the warehouse yard. He shot her.”

Neal was in shock. It sounded too good to be true. “S-she’s dead?”

“Apparently she’s very dead.”

Neal sensed the worry in her voice, “You don’t sound too happy. Why?”  

“Since Peter was apparently alone the cops think that he shot her in revenge. They’re questioning him now.”

Another wave of shock rolled through Neal, “O-oh my god. However they think it went down, they’re wrong. Peter wouldn’t do that.” Neal knew Peter. He didn’t think he would do that.

He knew Christina better than anyone.

If there was someone who could successfully fuck someone over with their last dying breath it was her.

“I’ll come right over.” Neal insisted

“No, don’t. They basically kicked me out before they started questioning him. He’ll probably still be there tomorrow, come by then. I will.”

“Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Neal then hung up and slowly lowered the phone from his ear.

“What happened?” Mozzie was extremely curious. Neal looked at him from the chair he was sitting in.

“Christina’s dead.”

“Hallelujah!” Mozzie cheered

“Peter shot her.”

“Cheers to the Suit!”

“The cops think it could have been a revenge killing.”

Ooohh shit! Premature celebration. I’m sorry.” Mozzie quickly said. His tone softened, more serious, “They’re wrong though.” Neal was curious, “Because if I had time alone with her and had some sort of weapon on me, I would have killed her sight unscene. Peter has more morals than I. More lawful.”

Neal realized that was true. Mozzie then added on a previous point, “Actually I would use a slow acting poison. Or a hit man.”

Neal slightly smiled, “You’re a good friend.” Mozzie smiled.

“I’m going head to the precinct tomorrow and find out what they know. Find out what happened. Would go tonight but they apparently kicked Elizabeth out.”

“How about for now you go home. It’s late.”

“Good idea.” Neal realized. He picked up his sleeping child, careful not wake her, and headed out.


After putting Ellen back to bed Neal sat next to her. He looked at his innocent sleeping child. His voice was low, “When you were born I promised to keep you safe from her. I’ve mostly been able to do that. But today I succeeded.” He sat and watched her sleep for the longest time.

He soon walked out onto the terrace.

He felt like he could breathe again.

He felt safe again.

He was finally starting to truly feel free.

Although he felt terrible that it could cost Peter his freedom. He exhaustively muttered, “Dammit. You couldn’t go down without fucking over one last person. Could you?”

He then heard a small voice behind him. “Daddy?” He turned around to see his sleepy child rubbing her eye. “I had a bad dream.”

He gave her a sympathetic look and picked her up holding her tight. “It’s okay. I got you. I’m here.” He walked to his bed and sat down. She snuggled up to him and fell back asleep. He held her tight.

For the first time he was able to truly comprehend what had happened lately.


Olivia, Amaro, and Barba walked into the room and sat down on the other side of the table. Olivia sighed, “What the hell happened, Peter? Start at the beginning.”

Rita gave him a look to start, “I got a text to go to the old warehouse yard alone.”

“Why didn’t you say anything to us?” Olivia asked

“We could have helped you.”

“I was afraid how she would react. She’s erratic. She shot up a courthouse recently.”

Amaro brought up, completely done with this whole case, “We could have been discreet, you know that. If or when she pulled something we could have taken her out legally .”

“It was legal. It was self defense.”

“What happened after you got there?” She asked

“I tried to find her, with my gun drawn. I finally did when she came out of a corner. I told her that it was over and she had to come with me.”

“So you were going to turn her in?” Barba turned curious

“Yes. I had every intention of doing so until she put her hand behind her waist. I thought she was reaching for a gun.”

“How far away were you during all of this?” He asked, “A few feet? Few yards? What?”

“About four feet.”

“Okay,” Benson began, “After you said you wanted to bring her in then what happened? Is that when you shot her?”

“She was of course resistant to being brought in. I told her it was over. She didn’t like that.”

“Did she come at you?” Amaro asked hopefully

“No. She didn’t.”

Damn.’ Everyone else thought. If she came at him then they would have an easier time calling it self defense.

“What happened next?” Barba asked

“I asked her why she did all this.” Peter turned very uncomfortable, “She said that she wanted him and she gets what she wants. She then reached behind her. I thought she was reaching for a gun. So I shot her.”

“Did you see a gun?” Benson asked

“No, but given what I know about her I felt it was safe to assume there was a gun.”

“You shouldn’t have assumed, because we’ve checked the entire area. There’s no gun. All she had on her was a phone and some cash.” Amaro declared

“What happened next?” She asked

“I checked her for a weapon and I could not find one.”

Rita sternly looked at him, “You should stop talking now.”

Peter didn’t listen, he wanted them to know what happened after, “She said that this was her Plan B.” They looked confused, “Lure me to a place then get me to shoot her. I was set up. It was self defense.”

The detectives and the ADA looked at each other before finally leaving the room. The sun was rising casting sunlight into the Lieutenant's office and the interrogation room beside it.

Amaro immediately asked, “Does anybody believe his self defense story?”

Olivia spoke up, “I do.”

Everyone else gave eachother a look. No one else believed Peter. Barba sympathetically looked at her, “He has the perfect motive. Hell, everyone here wanted her dead. It’s not like this is the first time law enforcement has used self defense to cover up revenge. We’re not strangers to this.”

Olivia was silent for a while before turning her attention to Barba, “What are you going to do?”

Barba was confused, exhausted, and exasperated, “These are the times that I really hate my job because I don’t want to charge him but I don’t think I have a choice. It’s a he said she said, except she is dead and he has every reason to want her that way. I don’t even know what I would charge him with. I would have to leave that to the grand jury.” Everyone sighed, “There’s also some politics involved.” Everyone groaned, “As soon as my boss hears he’s gonna order me to prosecute a Fed who shot someone allegedly in self defense but has every reason for revenge. It’s an election year, gotta show people that no one is above the law and you won’t stand for villagante justice. No matter how deserved it may be.”

“So he’s City Hall’s sacrificial lamb. Fantastic.” Olivia deadpanned

“I’m sorry. Either I pled this out or I take it to the grand jury to decide whether or not to indict.” Barba was truly regretful.


Neal was attempting to clean up from breakfast in his chronically disorganized and messy apartment while Ellen ran around. She normally had a lot of energy in the morning...well all day...but more in the morning. Neal heard someone knock at the door he went to answer it. He was more than surprised to see that it was Mozzie.

“Shouldn’t you be in the hospital?”

“My friend needs help, so no. A week’s enough. Nothing much else they can do for me there.” Mozzie walked in and put a file he was holding under his arm on the messy kitchen table.

“Oh other than, you know, make sure you don’t die. ” Neal deadpanned as he closed the door

“The Suit’s in trouble again.”

“So you’re here to make sure I don’t do anything stupid or interfere in any way.” Neal unenthusiastically deduced

“No, I’m here to help you and make sure you don’t get caught or even suspected.” Mozzie walked over to get himself some coffee. He greeted Ellen on his way over. She then ran out to play on the terrace.

“Are you sure you should be drinking coffee?” Wondering about his heart. Mozzie glared at him. “Okay.”

Mozzie poured himself a cup of espresso that Neal had made a little earlier and turned towards Neal who was a few feet away, “Okay, we need to make sure that whatever we do, you aren’t outwardly involved.”

As Neal got himself another cup he groaned, “Why isn’t anyone letting me near this case?”

Mozzie raised his eyebrows and answered sarcastically, “Well let’s see. I got shot, the Suit’s looking down life in prison, and oh SHE WANTED TO KIDNAP YOU AGAIN!” Mozzie put down his cup and said seriously, “Also, when this is all said and done, Ellen’s going to need her father. You have got to remember that.”

“So what are we working with? Will bribery work again?”

Mozzie grabbed his cup and walked over to the table where he opened up the file, “The ADA, Rafael Barba, there’s nothing on him.” Neal was confused

“Okay there’s normally something we could use as leverage.”

“He’s clean, Neal. There’s nothing on him.”

“So what you’re saying is that Peter got the only clean and ethical ADA in the city.”

Mozzie solemnly nodded, “There is one very mild grey area.”

“What?”

“He gave money for quite a while to a witness's daughter.”  Neal got a little excited, but then wondered why Mozzie didn’t lead with that.  “Turned out it was to help her finish school because her mom overdosed after she testified. He was already suspended for it.”

Neal hung his head in defeat. When all of a sudden he got an idea.

“Damn it I got it!”

“What?”

“We make up something we’ll say is from his past to blackmail him with. We tell him to drop the case or else we’ll expose the fake evidence and he’ll lose his job and reputation.”

Mozzie nodded impressed, “Okay, but what would we make?”

Neal smiled, “We’ll think of something."

“I think I have an idea, actually.” Neal could tell Mozzie had an idea, “Stay here, I’ll be back.” He rushed out the door.

Mozzie had an idea.

But it wasn’t what Neal thought it was. He was going off on his own.

“Like hell.” He muttered

He had an ADA to confront.

Chapter Text

Mozzie found Barba in the back of a nice resturant. He was sitting alone in a booth eating a steak and drinking what appeared to be a scotch while looking at some files and books.

He was looking through laws and the case files trying to find a way to plead out Peter’s case as self defense.

There was the question of, was Peter’s use of deadly force legally justifiable.

Mozzie came and sat down at the other end of the dark leather booth. “We need to talk.”

Barba looked up in confusion at Mozzie’s intrusion.

“Aren’t you Caffrey’s friend? The one who’s supposed to be in the hospital?” He closed the file he was looking at.

“Yes. That friend.” Mozzie brushed off. He was all business, “We need to talk about Peter.”

“Did Neal send you?”

“No, I can do things separately of him.”  He got back to the reason he was there, “We need to talk.”

Barba repeated the company line, “We’re working on the case. We’ll let you know when we have something.”

Although he knew that if this man searched him out the party line won’t satisfy him.

It didn’t.

“So we just sit around while you and your Local Suits find ways to put an innocent man in prison for life.”

Mozzie didn’t know that lately Olivia had her squad trying to find evidence to write this off as self defense. Because after investigating they did not completely believe it was intentional. The question now is, was the use of deadly force legally justifiable. Before being interrupted Barba was trying to do the same thing. He wanted to continue what he was doing.

Barba sighed, “You’re not going to leave, are you?”

“No. Not until we talk about this.”

He groaned and pushed his plate away to turn his attention to Mozzie, “Okay, what do you want to talk about?”

“I’ve known the Suit for much longer than I ever intended to. You’ve known him for all of two seconds. He would never murder like that. It’s not in his nature. You need to dismiss this case.”

Barba retorted, “Well, he has a good attorney and can call character witnesses at the grand jury.” He added, “Also, just because it’s out of someone’s character doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of it. Finally, and the big reason here now, was his use of deadly force legally justifiable.” He wasn’t going to spill case details that easily. You aren’t supposed to spill case details anyway.

“So you’re going to charge him.”

Barba continued his exasperated tone. He felt like he was running in circles, “I don’t have enough evidence to dismiss this. I have to let a grand jury decide whether or not to indict.”

Mozzie looked furious. “He shouldn’t face prison time for something that needed to happen. She needed to be taken out. Because she was never going to stop terrorizing him. Prison wouldn’t have stopped her.”

He was 100% right.

She wasn’t going to drop Neal just because she went to prison.

Barba sighed and sarcastically informed, “I’m unsure if you know or...even care, but we’re going according to the law. We have to give every case, no matter who is involved, a fair investigation.”

Mozzie then got angry, “Where the fuck was that when his case was tossed to the local department and they didn’t give two shits about Neal because of his legal situation and the lack of easy leads?!”

“Of course the Department is flawed, but we try.”

“No shit!” Mozzie shouted, causing attention from nearby tables. Mozzie lowered his voice, “You all are probably more than happy that you have someone else to nail to the wall.” Mozzie, ever the distrust in the government, believed they wanted to persecute Peter instead of find out what actually happened.

Barba leaned in and asked in surprise, “You think that I want to be working this case?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“We don’t! I wanted to nail Christina to the wall in court because she wouldn’t take a deal. God knows we had enough evidence! Her death complicated things. We’ve looked more into Burke. He seems like a good man. Ideal agent. Not someone who would be the suspect in a murder investigation. This job is easy when I’m prosecuting rapists and pedophiles but when a good person is caught red handed and knowledge of what happened is debatable, this job is terrible and I genuinely want to quit.” Barba leaned his back against the leather booth and took a few deep breaths.  

Mozzie genuinely didn’t know whether or not to believe him.

Although he should have.

He added exhausted, “We just want to know what happened and why. And if he needs to be prosecuted then I’ll have to do that. We don’t have enough to dismiss it at this moment. Like I said before, we’re working on determining whether or not it was justifiable use of deadly force.”

Mozzie demanded, “Well you’re going to have to find a way to get rid of all this.”

Barba was curious, “Why?”

Mozzie vaguely threatened, “You know why Neal originally worked with the Suits, right?” Barba nodded, “He’s the best forger of his generation. Technically he’s never been caught for that. And I’ve never been even suspected. Together we make an unbeatable team.”

Barba wondered where Mozzie was going with this. He was a little worried and it showed. “If you don’t dismiss this case then we will create evidence from your ‘past’ that will destroy you.” Barba looked noticeably frightened but tried to hide it, “Don’t worry, nothing prison worthy or anything. We’re not evil.” He clarified “Just enough to get you fired and ruin your reputation.” He smiled, “Then I’ll talk the next ADA into dropping the case.”

“You do know that blackmailing an ADA is a crime, correct?” Barba clarified

“I know.” Mozzie was completely unfazed. Barba now knew Mozzie’s endgame and knew why Neal wasn’t here. He realized that Neal might not even know about this meeting. He didn’t.

“The grand jury is coming up quickly. I can’t just stop it.” He brought up

Mozzie leaned in, “Then don’t focus on the so-called ‘debatable’ events of that night and focus on the bigger picture. That she’s a violent delusional psychopath with no intention of stopping her torment. That he was completely justified in believing he was in danger because she could have been armed.” He paused, “There’s the smaller truth, then there’s the larger truth of what needed to happen. Tell the larger truth.”

“Or else?”
“Or else we will end you.” Mozzie soon realized that sounded more murderous than he intended, “Your career. We will end your career. No one will question our ‘evidence’.”

Mozzie got up to leave when Barba asked, “This isn’t the first time interfering with an investigation, is it?”

Before leaving Mozzie said subtly, “How do you think Neal’s sentence was dropped when he got home?” He left Barba in a jaw dropping shock.

 

After Mozzie left the restaurant that evening his phone rang. It was Neal. “Hey, Mozz. I think I know how to get them to drop the case.”

“Don’t worry about it.”
That worried Neal. He asked in his dad tone, “Mozzie, what did you do?”

“I just talked to him.”

“Mozzie!” Neal was stern, “We had a plan.”

“Relax, I just talked to him…and vaguely threatened him.” He heard Neal groan.

“What did he say in response? Even though we don’t have anything ready to use.”
“Didn’t say much, although I think I scared him enough to dismiss the case or turn a possible grand jury to our favor. So our little homemade kryptonite may not be needed.”

Neal sighed. Mozzie knew that Neal was really annoyed that he did this, “You better pray that works.”

 

Shortly after Mozzie left Barba called Olivia, “Hey, Liv. Do you have anything that would allow me to dismiss the Burke case?”

“No, sorry.” Olivia informed, “Draw up the grand jury subpoena tomorrow for Neal to testify.”

“No, you know what,” Barba knew, “I think he’ll be more than happy to help his friend. Maybe we can talk to him about it.”

“I can drop by tomorrow morning.” Olivia suggested


Olivia dropped by Neal’s apartment that morning on her way to work. Neal heard someone knocking on the door as he was trying to make breakfast. Ellen was standing on a stool watching him cook and anxiously waiting for the pancakes to be ready. He throw a hand towel over his shoulder and walked over to the door.

He was surprised to see Olivia, “Lieutenant Benson. What can I do for you?”

She walked in, “Hello Neal. Hey, Ellen.” She kindly greeted

“Hi!” She said with a wave from her stool at the kitchen counter. Neal went back to the stove and put some pancakes from the pan onto a plate.

“Here you go, sweetie.” He said and gave her the plate.

“Yum!” She took the plate and some syrup from the counter and ate at the table. Neal and Olivia stood near the door.

“We need you to testify at the grand jury.” Olivia got right to the point. Neal was taken aback.

“So there is going to be a grand jury.”

“Yes. We need you to testify about what Christina did to you.”  Barba was continuing his plan to address how Peter was reasonable in thinking she could have been armed. They planned on having Neal testify about what she did, a psychiatrist testify about her psychology and Olivia testify about her professional experience dealing with dangerous psychopaths. They hadn’t decided on whether or not Peter should testify. They knew that he wanted to, but they warned him of the risks. That it could hurt his case, as with any defendant testifying.

Neal of course wanted to help, but he hated the idea that he would have to relive everything on the stand. Although he knew it would happen eventually.

“If you don’t agree then we’ll subpoena you. I thought I’d ask first.”

“Of course. If it will help Peter.” Olivia could tell that Neal was uncomfortable but was trying to hide it.

“Remember that grand jury testimony is confidential. The records are sealed...if that makes you feel any better.” Olivia tried to comfort

“Yeah, until if he goes to trial.” Neal was disgruntled and left to clean up the kitchen. It didn’t really need cleaning, he just wanted to distract himself.

Olivia brought up lowly, “It...might not get that far.”

Neal turned to her interested, “What?”

She looked up at him, “...After some investigation we’re thinking that perhaps he didn’t do it in revenge.”

Neal’s voice was bitter, “Well yeah I could have told you that.”

Olivia sighed, "I'm sorry, but we had to investigate that angle."

"Do you believe his story now?"

"I always felt we should give him the benefit of the doubt, but my squad felt differently. We're investigating his story now."


 

The night before the grand jury Peter was out on bail and was at home having drinks with Neal. They were sitting outside on the porch watching Ellen play tug of war with Satchmo.

Peter looked at the playful child, “I don’t regret it, you know.” Neal turned to look at him, surprised at Peter’s confession, “I feel like I should have some regret or remorse especially due to the possible consequences, but I don’t.”

Peter finally turned to look at Neal, “I’d do it again in a heartbeat. What she did to you. She just about made you lose your goddamn mind. She put you through hell. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

“Peter.” Neal was surprised at his confession, “You didn’t do this in revenge.”

“You’re right. I wasn’t thinking revenge at the time. That didn’t mean I wasn’t thinking it earlier.” Peter confessed. Neal was curious, “Ever since this all started I’ve had this boiling rage inside me. I wanted to hurt her so badly. So she’d experience even a fraction of the pain that she put you through.” He remembered, “When she was being interrogated it took everything I had not to run in there and just beat some sense into her and forcefully coerce a confession .I wanted her to pay so damn badly. What if I wanted justice beyond the system? Perhaps I went there alone because deep down I wanted to kill her. Perhaps I didn’t wait to see if she had a gun because I wanted a reason to kill her. ”

“Peter, that isn’t you.” Neal was adamant

Peter countered, “When Ellen was kidnapped and we had a lead on Christina I told Diana that “I want her located and taken care of by lunch.” I ordered SWAT and snipers on the case because, “I only wanted one person dying, and that’s her.”” Peter took a deep breath, “I had the power to take her out and I was intent on using it. Justified or not. Neal, that scares me.”

He paused for a moment, “Everyone has a dark side, Neal! What if this is mine?”

Neal stood firm, “Peter, you’re a good man. That isn’t you. You would never do that.”

Peter scoffed, “Neal, I’m far from perfect...Shooting her was a mistake...but I don’t regret it. If that makes any sense.” Peter was silent for a moment, “I’m just saying, I’ve been thinking about this for a while and what if there was more to this than I thought. What if I was looking for a reason to kill her. What if my mind is just using self defense to subconsciously justify what I did and I deserve to go to jail.”

Neal didn’t believe it, “Okay, Peter. You’re grossly over thinking this. You’re under a lot of stress and aren’t thinking straight.”

Peter thought that maybe Neal was right. “You can’t overthink. Trust me. She wants to get inside your head. She wants you to question your sanity. That what she lives for.”

Peter looked at him alarmed. He quickly noticed Neal’s use of the present tense.

“Want ed and liv ed , Neal. She’s dead. I watched it happen. Neal, she can’t hurt you anymore.” His concern for his friend grew.

“Is she?” Neal asked, “Or will she always be inside my head?”


 

That morning Barba walked into the courthouse to preside over the grand jury. Over the next few days they would hear testimony from various people and decide whether or not to indict Peter on murder.

He walked into the courthouse and the bailiff brought in the jury. They were twenty three individuals of varying genders, ages, and races.

He briefly introduced himself, the case, and their responsibilities as jurors.

He opened a file on the table then looked up, “Alright. Then let’s begin.”

 

Chapter Text

Barba brought up his first witness, Olivia Benson.

“Lieutenant Benson, how long have you worked with SVU?”

“I’ve worked with SVU going on 19 years.”

Barba slowly paced in front of her, “So you’ve had your share of dangerous perps?”

Olivia responded, “Yes, I have.”

He stopped in front of her, “Would you consider Ms. Mendoza to be one of them?”

Without hesitating Olivia answered, “Most definitely.”

“Why is that?”

“When we first met Neal and took his statement we were all in shock.”

“And you believed him.” Barba finished

“Of course. No one would make that up. The evidence at the cabin also corroborated his story.” Barba nodded, “When we were finally able to get her into interrogation...this chill went down my spine.” She became uncomfortable, “I’ve had a chill like that three times in my long career. With career psychopaths and serial killers.”

Barba nodded. The grand jury looked sympathetic and interested.

“Do you believe she was a threat to your lives?”

“Yes I do.”

He walked back to the podium where some files were, “How many violent suspects have you chased in your career?”

Benson was taken aback by that, “...Um, hundreds.”

“How many times did you believe your life was in danger? Would dozens be a fare estimate?”

“I guess.” She wondered where he was going with this.

“According to your file, you’ve shot two such suspects. Is that correct?”

“Yes. That is correct.” Her voice was low.

“So you’ve had violent suspects run, even pull weapons on you. Yet you've rarely chosen to use deadly force.”

“Because most people can be talked down enough to be arrested. There was no talking her down.” She was adamant

Barba walked in front of her, with his back turned to the grand jury, “Did he have any other option other than using deadly force? Such as calling you or telling you in the first place. He had a vest on. Could he had waited another second to see if she was armed and arrested her instead?”

Olivia gave him a stern look, “Wait for what? For his head to get blown off? Vests don’t protect against headshots. She was a violent career psychopath who was never going to stop. It’s a damn miracle he got out of there alive!” After her voice raised towards the end she took a breath, “I can’t say what I would have done in that situation. I probably would not have gone alone, but in regards to the use of deadly force, all police procedures were followed.”

With his back still towards the grand jury he gave her the slightest of smirks. She realized that eventually she said what he wanted her to say. His actions after meeting her were justifiable. He was reasonable in believing that his life was in danger.


Others from the unit testified, giving their accounts of what happened. He had a profiler read up on Peter and testify. Dr. Barnes was an older man who was an expert in criminal profiling.

“Dr. Barnes, based on the files you’ve read about this case, would you call Ms. Mendoza a psychopath?”

Dr. Barnes responded, “We don’t like to throw around words like, psychopath, for they lose their meaning for when we really need them.”

“Is this word needed in this case?”

The old man did not hesitate, “Yes.”

“How come?” Barba walked from the podium to in front of Dr. Barnes.

“She had callous unemotional behavior. She could not truly care about the feelings of others. All she cared about was herself and what she wanted. She saw the law and people close to Neal as being obstacles in the way of getting what she wanted.”

“In his statement, Agent Burke said that he was set up. What do you think about that? Do you think that is possible?”

“Based on what I’ve read, she could have known that it was over. That she wasn’t going to get away with this. More importantly, that her goal of kidnapping Neal and the child again were not going to happen. So she got out of it.”

“By setting someone up for her murder?” Barba clarified

“Yes. From the files that I read her moves are calculated and careful. She thinks everything through. Such as the cabin she held Mr. Caffery in. Everything was thought of. The second location she was going to take them too, the house on the island, I saw the blueprints and pictures. She had meticulously designed it.”

Barba was wondering something. It was a little off the line of questioning, but ever since it happened he, along with everyone else, had been wondering. “Not too long before this Mr. Caffrey’s daughter was taken for ransom. Ms. Mendoza, unexpectedly found the child on her own and brought her back to the FBI headquarters. Why would she do that?” He hoped he could provide Neal with an answer to a question everyone still had.

Dr. Barnes looked puzzled. Not with the contents of the question, but that it wasn’t completely relevant.

“In people we consider psychotic, there is always a motive behind kindness. They are not capable of love the way that normal people are. It’s always a selfish love. They put themselves first. If a person hurts someone a psychopath is close to, then the psychopath sees that they hurt something that was ‘theirs’. In the eyes of the psychopath, everything comes back to them. So in this instance, Ms. Mendoza probably considered the child to be no more than a pawn. She liked how she could use the child for her own gain. Even though Ms. Mendoza was never near her. The kidnappers took something that she considered hers. So in her logic they had to pay.”

“So why would she bring the child back to Mr. Caffrey?”

“That can be debated. I would need to ask her to find out. Speculating, maybe it wasn’t part of her plan. Her moves were calculated risks. Maybe she just wanted to mess with him. Although it should be noted that even though this field is still evolving. It seems like any ‘goodness’ in their actions is accidental. It’s just a byproduct of their own desires.”

Barba got back on track. After only getting a portion of the answer. They wouldn’t know the real answer. Although Dr. Barnes’ speculation was correct. She knew that everything wasn’t in place to take Ellen yet. So she brought her back to Neal. She would have never told anyone, because she knew they’d be dying to know. She knew she could use it as a bargaining chip she’d never actually play.

“Now on her tendencies. You said she could have known it was over. That was part of her plan too?”

“Someone like her would have most definitely had a plan B for if things went south.” That really caught Barba’s attention. Peter had described it like that when he was questioned. “Also, from what I read she was a sadist.” Dr. Barnes added as a side note to the grand jury, “Another word we don’t like to toss around. Saving it for when it is truly warranted” He got back on track, “If she was going down, she would definitely want to bring someone down with her. She would probably take great joy in someone going to prison for her murder.”

Barba walked back to the podium and read from the file, “Earlier Lt. Benson testified that when she interrogated Ms. Mendoza, ‘this chill went down my spine. I’ve had a chill like that three times in my long career. With career psychopaths and serial killers’ What are your thoughts on this?”

“Talking to a career psychopath does illict a certain emotional and even physical response. Because you know what they are truly capable of and how they will not hesitate to do it. They are not capable of feeling remorse. I’ve had that chill questioning death row serial killers. I believe that if I had gotten the chance to interview Ms. Mendoza, I would have felt that same chill.”

Barba changed the subject, “You’ve read Agent Burke’s file. Do you remember how many times he has used deadly force on a suspect, other than now?”

“I believe it was twice.” Dr. Barnes answered, he was a little uncertain

“You’re correct.” Barba walked back towards him, “For any jurors who might be wondering, do you think this was a premeditated move?”

He shook his head, “No.”

“Why not?”

“Because from what I’ve learned about Agent Burke, he seems like a straight arrow. A good agent. Albeit not perfect, but better than a lot of cops and agents. There’s also the matter in which she was killed.”

“Please elaborate on that.”

“It was a single shot to the chest. If he killed her in mallace, emotion would have soon taken over and there would have been a lot of overkill.”

“Like him shooting until he was out of ammo or stabbing her repeatedly, or strangling her.”

“Exactly. This cause of death is not personal or emotional. If he killed her on purpose it would have been the exact opposite.  He shot once and saw that she was down. So he stopped shooting. That’s self defense. Shooting until the suspect is down and is not a threat anymore.”

“In your professional opinion, was his use of deadly force justified?”

Dr. Barnes thought for a few seconds, “He was justified in thinking that his life was in danger. She was more than capable of manipulating him into killing her.”

Barba walked back to the podium “Thank you, Dr. Barnes.”


 Finally Barba had Neal testify.

“How long have you known Agent Burke?”

“About a decade, give or take.” Neal responded

“You’ve worked with him for a lot of that time, haven’t you?”

“Yes I have.”

“So you really know him. You know how he works. What kind of agent he is.”

“Yes.”

“What kind of agent is he?”

“He’s a good influence. Lawful. Always trying to do the right thing.”

“Has he ever misjudge a situation?”

Neal was puzzled for a moment, “Probably. He’s not perfect.”

Barba strolled in front of Neal. He changed the topic, “Would you call Ms. Mendoza manipulative?”

“Without a doubt.” Neal didn’t hesitate

“Based on what you know about her, would she try to pull of something like this? Could she achieve it?”

“Most definitely.” Neal, again, didn’t hesitate

“You, unfortunately, knew her well. Why do you say that?”

Neal stopped making eye contact and shifted his weight. He did not want to talk about this. Barba sensed this and repeated with compassion, “Why do you say that?”

Neal finally took a deep breath and answered, “Because she has this way of getting inside your head. She had truly mastered psychological judo.” He vividly remembered when she called him after she escaped police custody purely to taunt him.

“What kinds of things did she say?” Barba asked cautiously but needing an answer

He closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath, “She had me questioning everything. My life, my relationships with my friends. My relationship with Peter.”

“So she could have gotten to Agent Burke?”

He took another deep breath, “She knows exactly what buttons to press to get a certain reaction. If she wanted defense or fury from Peter. She knew exactly know to get it.”

“So all she had to do was making it look like she was going to shoot him.”

“Yes.”

Barba, finished with his questions, started walking back to the podium to gather his files before asking the grand jury to vote. About halfway he stopped and turned back around. He had one more question. “Do you think prison would have stopped her?”

Neal looked at him puzzled. Barba clarified, “Do you think that prison would have stopped her with her obsession with you, your child, and getting rid of the people you care about?”

Neal shook his head, “No. I truly do not think that prison would have stopped her. Nothing would have stopped her. She was intent on torturing me forever.”

“Thank you.”

 

After Neal left Barba told the grand jury, “You have in front of you the possible charges of reckless endangerment in the first degree or criminally negligent homicide. Once again, reckless endangerment is the offense of recklessly engaging in conduct that creates a substantial risk of serious physical injury or death to another person. Criminally negligent homicide is brought against a person who, through negligence, allows another person to die.”

It went to a vote.


Peter, Elizabeth, Mozzie, and Neal were all sitting in Neal’s apartment waiting to hear whether or not the grand jury decided to indict. Peter jumped when he heard a knock at the door. Neal got up to answer it. It was Rafael Barba. Everyone got up in suspense.

“So the grand jury came back.”

“And?” Peter had to ask

“They decided not to indict.” Barba gave a very small smile.

A sigh of relief filled the room. Elizabeth gave her husband a tight relieved hug.

“Even under those circumstances, why I went to the warehouse yard, they still thought it was justifiable?” Peter was in shock. He was still processing the news.

Barba gave a subtle side eye to Mozzie. “Sometimes you have to focus on the larger facts.” He remembered the conversation he had with Mozzie right before the grand jury started. Telling him to focus on the ‘larger truth’.

“So that means…” Peter started but drifted off in shock

Barba looked at Neal and Peter full of relief, “It’s over.

Neal had been waiting to hear those words for years . He stood in shock for a solid while. He couldn’t believe that was actually said to him. He couldn’t believe it was actually over.

“You can finally move on.

Neal was still in shock which soon turned into waves of almost capsizing relief. “Thank you.” He didn’t know what else to say. If there was even anything he could say.

Barba smiled, “You’re welcome.” Before leaving he said, “Take care of yourself. Everyone.”


They all celebrated that afternoon. Everyone was flooded with relief and joy. The evil had been defeated. Later that evening after Peter and Elizabeth went home and Ellen was asleep, Mozzie and Neal were sitting at the table with a bottle of wine.

“For the first time since all this happened, I can breathe again .” Mozzie looked at his friend, surprised at his openness and paying close attention, “For years I was walking on eggshells. Just waiting for the other shoe to drop. Constantly looking over my shoulder.” Neal thought for a second, “You know, even though my sentence was up years ago, I never quite felt free. Now I finally have it. I finally found my freedom.”

He smiled, “Now I feel like I can do anything.”

Mozzie smiled, “The world is your oyster.” He knew the phrase was corny, but fitting. He poured himself another glass of wine, “So, what do you want to do with your newfound freedom?”

Neal thought for a second. He didn’t actually know. Then he finally thought of something, “You know, Paris is beautiful this time of year. I haven’t been in so long.”

Mozzie gave a knowing smile, “Get the two of you ready. I’ll make the arrangements. We’ll be airborne first thing tomorrow.”

When Mozzie reached the door he turned around and said seriously with a small smile, “Congratulations.”

Neal nodded and smiled in response. He went to check on his daughter. He smlied again when he saw she was peacefully asleep. Unaware of everything that had gone on. Neal would tell her about the trip in the morning. He knew she would be very excited. She was.

He walked back into the main room and grabbed his phone to call Peter.

“Hey! What’s up?”

“I’m going to be taking a leave of absence.”

Neal could hear Peter’s concern, “Why?”

“Taking a trip.”

He heard Peter release a big breath. “Oh wow. Where?”

“Well, Paris first...then...I don’t know.”

“Well that’s great. You need this. You deserve it.” Peter was happy for him, “Do you know when you’ll be back?”

“I don’t know. Sometime before Ellen starts preschool in the fall.” The fall was still a few months out.

“Well have fun. Is Mozzie going with you?”
“Yeah. He’s actually making the arrangements now.”

“Well keep him out of trouble. You too.” Peter slightly chuckled but was serious.

“I will.”

“Have fun. You deserve it.”

“Thanks. I will.”

He hung up the phone with a big smile. He was excited for what was to come. He was truly looking towards a bright future. A future free of Christina.

It almost sounded too good to be true.

Neal had this overwhelming feeling that great things were in his future. Albeit he knew there’d be obstacles, because this was life. He would face a whole new set of challenges, but they were the kind he would welcome.

He learned that there was nothing he couldn’t overcome with his own strength and his family. He also knew that nothing could be as hard as the last few years.

He was right.

He had a bright future ahead of him.

The best was yet to come.

Chapter Text

“Hey, slow down there!” Neal called as Ellen darted down the bright school hallway which was filled with delightful children’s decor. It was her first day of preschool at the prestigious Edgewood Academy and she couldn’t wait to start.

Neal ran down the hallway to catch up with her. He caught up just in time to walk into Ms. Thompson’s classroom.

Ms. Thompson was a young woman with short blonde hair. The room was full of color furniture and decor, and filled with different cubbies, tables, and supplies. She smiled as they came in. “Hello! Welcome!”

“Bongor!” Ellen tried to say. Ms. Thompson gave a surprised smile and looked at Neal.

He smiled, “We were recently in Europe and she picked up a few words.”

“It’s always best to start them early with languages.”

She bent down Ellen, “Bonjour!”

The child smiled, “That’s how you say hi in France!”

The adults chuckled, “Yeah that is.” She said.

Neal asked Ms. Thompson, “So should I stay or…”

“We normally recommend a quick and loving goodbye.”

He sighed and turned to say goodbye and saw Ellen already across the room drawing with a little boy.

Ms. Thompson noticed that she was already off and that Neal looked kind of sad and rejected, “That’s a good thing. Also, it’s normally harder on the parents than the kids.”

“Yeah I know.” He walked over to Ellen. “Hey. I’m going to go now. I have to go to work. I’ll pick you up later.”

“Okay.” Ellen didn’t look up from her drawing. Neal was taking the rejection a little hard.

“Can I get a hug before I go?”

“Okay.” Ellen put down her crayon and gave her dad a big hug. That was always the best feeling in the world for Neal. He gave her a kiss, “I’ll see you later, okay?”

“Okay.”

“I love you.”

“Love you, Daddy!”


 

Neal walked into the office that morning and was summoned to Peter’s office.

“Hey, what’d we got?”

Peter handed him a file, “Someone stole about $500 million in Chinese bare bonds. Owen Parks, an investigator from Sterling Bosch, should be here shortly.”

Neal nodded as he scanned the file.

Peter looked up and his jaw almost dropped, “Or not.” Retracting his previous statement. “Oh. My. God.”

Neal looked up confused. He turned and his jaw just about dropped to the floor when he saw none other than Sara Ellis walking up to Peter’s office.

“Oh my god.” He muttered

She strolled into the room, not looking too different from the last time she saw Neal years earlier before when she left for London.

She smiled, “Wow. It’s like nothing changed while I was gone.”

She was referring to Neal and Peter working together.

Neal and Peter exchanged a subtle look...because nothing could have further from the truth.

They greeted each other and gave some hugs.

Neal asked, “What brought you back to New York?”

“There was a VP job opened at the New York headquarters, so I took it. I don’t intend on doing a lot of fieldwork but I can’t resist a case here and there.”

“When did you get back?” He asked

“A few days ago actually.”

Neal and Sara had lost touch when she moved to London. They actually hadn’t spoken since the day Sara left. She had no idea what had gone on over the past years.

They talked about the case for a while. Afterwards as she was leaving she asked Neal, “Want to have dinner tonight? Your place?” She assumed he was still living in the same place.

“There’s a new place on 31st st. I’ve been meaning to try.”

Sara was a little confused because that was across town. There was a little part of her that wondered if Neal was still working with Peter because he messed up again and had to serve more time. The fact that she thought that made her feel really guilty. Of course she wasn’t going to say anything. She hadn't spoken to the guy in years, she didn't know he was free. “ Oh. ” She quickly realized that came out a little more rude than she intended. “Okay. Sounds good. I’m staying at the Four Seasons till I get a new place. You can pick me up after work.”

After she left Neal saw that Peter had the proudest look on his face. He was smiling ear to ear.

To which Neal replied with a quick, “Shut up.”


 

Sara was working on the case alone in the conference room until she felt someone staring at her. She had a feeling she knew who it was. She sighed and looked up. She was right, it was Peter.

“We’re going to dinner tonight. It’s nothing. Just two friends catching up. You happy?”

“You’re wrong. It’s not ‘just dinner’. It’s not ‘nothing’ because you two were never ‘just friends’.” Sara sighed at Peter’s comments and his use of air quotes. Peter continued, almost cautioning her, “Sara. Neal’s not the same person he was about six years ago when you last saw him.”

“Well it’s been almost a decade, people tend to change over that amount of time. It’s only natural.” Sara sarcastically informed.

Peter sighed ‘ No, you don’t understand.’  Instead he said, “It’s been a really rough couple of years for him. He’s changed. His priorities are different now.”

Sara, completely oblivious to what Neal’s been through said, “Sorry to hear that. On the other hand maybe he finally has his life together.”

“He does...for the most part.” Peter informed with a sad smile. Sara sensed there was a story there, but at the same time, sensed Peter did not want to talk about it.


 

After work Neal met Sara and they went a nice Italian restaurant. After they ordered there was a short silence between them.

“So, you’re still working with the FBI?”

Neal smiled, “Yeah, after my sentence was up a few years back, I had decided to stay in New York and I needed a job. He offered me my old one except with a paycheck this time.”

Technically that wasn’t a lie.

It was the truth...just with all the context removed.

“So how was London?” He turned the conversation to her.

“It was...amazing. My job was great, my apartment was great. I was able to travel a lot.” She talked more about how the last couple of years had been fantastic for her.

“Sounds like that job was great for you.” Neal was happy at least someone didn’t have a shit few years.

“The only real hiccup was breaking up with my boyfriend.”

"Oh I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, it happened a few months ago. It was mutual.” Neal didn’t fish for details, but Sara soon continued, “He just...he wouldn’t let me in. I don’t know if he was ready for a relationship after how his last one ended.” Neal nodded sympathetically. He didn’t ask for any details and Sara noticed. “So, are you seeing anyone?”

Inside Neal laughed, he was hopelessly single. Instead he answered a calm and normal, “No, I’m very single.”

She smiled, “So what’s been up with you lately? I want to know how you’ve been doing.”

Neal had been feeling anxious ever since she came into Peter’s office that morning and couldn’t really pinpoint why. He hadn’t felt like that the last time he saw her. When she asked what he had been up to lately, he felt his anxiety increase to where it was getting harder to control it. He knew he couldn't manage this all night. He didn’t understand why he was feeling this way. He subtly went to the phone in his pocket and made it ring.

“Yeah, I’ve..” He stopped and feigned a sigh to the ringing phone. She motioned for him to answer it.

“Hey, Peter.” He feigned annoyance, “Yeah. Alright I’ll be right there. Bye.” She seemed to have bought his annoyance and disappointment.

“We’ll reschedule.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay.” She smiled, she understood.


 

Neal immediately went home and when he entered his daughter came running up to him.

“Daddy!” He scooped her up to give her a hug and a kiss. That was the best part of his day.

“Hey, sweetie!”  

“Daddy! Mufasa went to heaven again.” She looked sad. Mufasa’s death in the Lion King always made her cry.

“Aww. I taught you how to fast forward past that.” Neal consoled

“I thinked maybe he won’t go this time.”

He smiled and put her down.

“It’s amazing how emotional they could make a cartoon lion’s death.” Mozzie commented from the table with a glass of wine. “I never even had a dad and that makes me cry.” Neal tried not to laugh, “If Mufasa’s death doesn’t move you then you don’t have emotions. Plain and simple.” Mozzie defended

“True there.” Neal poured some wine and sat down. Ellen climbed into his lap.

“Although Mufasa was never a good ruler anyway.” Mozzie brought up and took a sip of wine.

Neal curiously looked at him. “He never really kept an eye on Scar.” He told Ellen, “Always keep your enemies close.” He looked at Neal, “The argument can be made that Scar was a civil rights hero.”

Now Neal was really confused, “What?”

“So if you don’t live in the gentrified part of the pridelands Mufasa literally doesn’t think you’re his problem. It’s bad enough there that a bunch of hyenas, who totally resembled Nazis by the way when they paraded through Scar’s evil lair, followed him into full out murder,”

Neal gave him a dirty look

Mozzie corrected himself, “Okay, full out death, just by offering them food. You can’t destabilize a healthy populace that way. It just doesn’t happen.”

Neal thought about that for a moment. “What about the famine when Scar takes over?”

Mozzie gave him bitchface, “I didn’t say it was perfect. Disney literally owns childhood nowadays. Their movies are messed up though. Except Aladdin, I like Aladdin”

Neal chuckled, “Of course you do.”

Mozzie poured himself another glass of wine, “Beauty and the Beast is messed up though. He literally traps her in a castle with all his enchanted servant objects till she loves him. That's messed up. Belle doesn’t love him. She has Stockholm Syndrome. She needs to get out of there! Also, if this is set in small town France then why does everyone have American or English accents? There's so much wrong with those films.”

"You can buy magic teapots and candelabras but not incorrect accents?"

"Yes."

Neal chuckled again, “Maybe you shouldn’t watch movies with her.”


 

As soon as Neal came from tucking Ellen into bed Mozzie, who was still sitting at the table, asked, “So why were you late?”

Shit. He noticed.’ Neal thought, “Work. That happens.” Neal responded plainly and attempted to tidy his chronically disorganized apartment. It was blantely apparent that a single parent of a preschooler lived there.

“If you’re going to lie then tell me a lie I can believe.” Mozzie quickly responded, Neal stopped and looked at him,  “Four years and you’ve always called when you’re going to be late. So why were you late?”

“Okay, I had a dinner.”

Mozzie was really curious, “If it was with the Suit then you would have told me.” It hit him, “Oh my God! You had dinner with someone !” He immeditally got up and walked over to Neal across the room.

“Yeah that’s how dinners normally go.” Neal distracted himself with cleaning up.

“No, you had dinner with someone whom you won’t tell me about. It must be someone special.

Neal looked at him annoyed, “What are you, twelve?” He sighed, “Fine I had dinner with someone.”

Mozzie put his hand over his mouth, “Oh my god! You were on a date!”

“It wasn’t a date.” Neal defended, “It’s not like I’m prime dating material anyway.” Mozzie gave a look that said, come on. “I’m an ex-con, single parent, who works 60 hour weeks, and has enough emotional baggage to fill a freight train.”

“Well they don’t know that.” Mozzie didn’t miss a beat, “Who’s the lucky girl you decided not to tell me about. Or that you’re dating in the first place.”

“Why are you so interested?”

“Because I’m your best friend. Also, because you’re last date was with Rebecca, and with how they ended I don’t think that actually counts.”

“When was your last date?” Neal shot back

Mozzie gave bitchface, Neal smiled, “I have a full time job and a 4 year old. What’s your excuse?”

Mozzie rolled his eyes, “ Suuurrre , we’ll go with that.” Mozzie only partly believed that. He also believed that Neal just wasn’t ready for a relationship again. Neal had not done anything in regards to sex or relationships since before all that happened.

He knew that he wasn’t going to get Mozzie to shut up about this and sighed in defeat, “Okay, so it just happened.”

“Who is it?” Mozzie interrupted, almost too eager to know

“Sara Ellis walked into Peter’s office today for a case and wanted to have dinner.” Neal sat down at the table with another glass of wine.

Mozzie’s jaw dropped to the floor and followed Neal to the table. “What?! What happened? How did it happen?”

He filled Mozzie in what happened. Until he got to how the night ended.

Mozzie was in thought, “You didn’t go back to her place...and you didn’t bring her back here...”

“I claimed work emergency before anything could happen.” Neal admitted, almost a little embarrassed.

Oh. That’s interesting.”

Neal gave him bitchface, “Why? Why is that interesting?”

“Not only did you not tell her that you have a kid, but you abruptly left because you knew how the night would end based on your history.” Neal was confused, “Neal. When you two were dating I stopped coming over here in the mornings and late evenings for a reason. She was here. Almost all the time. I actually interrupted you guys more than once.” He concluded, “You knew exactly how this night was going to end and you didn’t want to reject her.”

“If I didn’t come home tonight and never called you’d think I was dead.”

“Yes, but you could have contacted me with a simple lie if you really wanted to.”

Neal sighed, “Are you done analyzing this to death?” He thought that Mozzie’s explanation could have been right, maybe that’s why he was feeling so anxious. He didn’t actually know.

“No. She's the one that got away.”

"What?"

"A lot of people have that one person that things were going great then Life splits them apart. Like what happened between you two. Let's hope Life doesn't tear you apart this time."

Neal sighed again, “You know, I don’t even know what this is. If it’s even something.”

Mozzie scoffed, “Oh it’s something alright. You two always get heavy fast. You either hate each other or love each other. Lately, it’s been the latter.” He got serious, “You need to decide whether or not you want something with her. You need to figure it out quickly. You need to figure out if you’re even ready for something like that. You also need to inform her of the main changes in your life, such as you have a kid.”

All of a sudden this was getting too real for Neal, “You done?” Before Mozzie could respond, “You’re done. Shouldn’t you be leaving anyway?” Neal got up and walked towards the door.

He got up and walked towards the door, “You know, if you want a night with Sara, the Suit or I would gladly take Ellen for the night.” He gave the biggest ear to ear cheeky smile.

“Get out.” Neal deadpanned and pointed towards the door.

“Okay.”

Chapter Text

Neal walked into the office the next morning and before he even stepped foot in the office Peter was right there waiting for him.

“So how’d it go?”

Neal gave an annoyed, “Can I get in the door first?”

“Of course.” Peter moved from in front of the door and Neal walked in. As soon as he did Peter eagerly repeated, “So how’d it go?”

“It was fine.” Neal walked over to his desk and put his hat down.

“That’s it?” Peter was expecting more.

“Yes.” Neal sat down at his desk

“How’d she react? I mean, I assume you told her that you have a kid.”

Neal was silent and distracted himself with a file. It hit Peter, “You need to tell her. Mostly on the basis so she knows that there are more than two people in this relationship.”

Neal let out a low, “I know.” He was a little ashamed he didn’t say anything.

“Yeah it’s not like that sort of stuff doesn’t come up when catching up with someone.”

“I just...I wasn’t ready to say anything.” Neal lowly confessed

Peter’s face turned soft and concerned, “Are you sure that trying a relationship is a good idea? Because if you’re not ready then that’s okay . Just tell her that you don’t want a relationship. No questions asked.” Neal was quiet, “You know that she’s going to have questions when you tell her about Ellen. Are you ready for that? What are you going to say?”

Neal was confident when he said, “Well I’m not telling her the truth. That’s for damn sure.”

Neal wanted to be able to have a normal relationship with Sara. He knew this was different. He knew that she would never do anything to hurt him. He knew he was safe with her.

Now if only someone could tell his psyche that.


Neal and Sara were leaving a restaurant when she said, “You want to go back to your place?”

Neal sighed and gave a disappointed face, “I’m sorry, Mozzie’s been basically squatting at my place.” The lie rolled off his tongue with familiar ease.

Sara said playfully, “Well then kick him out.”

He sighed, “I’m sorry I just can’t. He doesn’t have anywhere else to go.”

She sighed in defeat, “You’re a good friend.”

He smiled, “Plus I have to get back to work anyway.”

She groaned, “So much work these days.”

“There’s a lot of crime in this city.” He flashed a playful grin

“Oh I know.” She smiled


Neal got home that night to see Mozzie sitting alone at the table with a bottle of wine.

“So...did you say anything yet?”

Neal put his head in his hands then removed them, “Since when are you so invested in my personal life?”

“Since I’m your best friend… so, always.” Mozzie retorted, “Sit, drink, let’s talk.” He poured another glass for Neal who sat down next to him, “So, have you decided if you want a relationship with her yet?”

Neal took the glass, “Yes...I want a real relationship with her, a lot, but…”

“You’re not sure if it’s possible.”

“Yeah.” His ongoing mental issues, his PTSD, depression, and anxiety were a funny thing.

Sometimes you wanted something really badly, but your mental illness kept you from it. It prevented you from doing the things you want.

“You’re going to have to tell her about Ellen, and soon. What are you going to say? What about the last few years?” He realized that was a lot to ask in a short time, he turned compassionate, “I know that’s a lot to ask, but you have to figure it out.”

Neal knew exactly what to say, “As far as she’s concerned nothing happened.” Mozzie’s eyebrows raised, “I’m more or less the same person I was years ago.”

Mozzie retorted, “Yeah and the sky’s neon green.”

Neal gave a small mischievous grin trying to derail the conversation, “Well if anyone can sell it, it’s me.”

Mozzie was still unamused, “ Neal. You know I’m all for a lies and a good con, but I think this will backfire on you.”

“What the hell am I supposed to do? Tell her the whole damn story?!” Neal’s voice raised angrily

“I don’t know! Maybe at least the gist of it all!”

“NO!” Neal was adamant. He soon calmed down, “It’s too...painful...horrifying...intense...I’m not going to burden her with that intensely heavy shit. She doesn’t deserve that. It’s in the past. It should be left there.”  

Yes it was in the past, but the psychological effects still lingered. They probably always would, at least in some capacity. Not wanting to ‘burden’ someone with your past trauma isn't unheard of. They don't want to unload their heavy shit to someone else. They don't want someone else to be impacted with what happened to them, So they think that they can just hide it.

Although sooner or later, anyone who tried it realized that it wasn’t going to work. In order to have a truly close relationship they had to let their significant other in on the traumatic event that changed their life so dramatically. To help explain why they were, the way they were.

Neal was no different.

This was going to be far from easy for Neal. That he did know.

Mozzie asked, “What have you been telling her?”

"That I’ve been working a lot and you’ve been squatting here. Not complete lies actually.”

“How long are you going to keep this up?” He added compassionately, “I ask because I care. I don’t want you getting hurt.”

“...Just until, I just need some time. That’s all.”

Mozzie gave him some hard truth, “If you’re lying for more time then you’re not ready. And that’s okay .”

“It happened four years ago!” The immense, hurt, anger, frustration, and pain, pouring out in his voice. He was referring to when he got home. He just wanted to be ‘better’ and ‘normal’ again. Even though the rational part of his brain knew he was never going to be his old self again.

“Yeah and it only ended a few months ago. ” Referring to when she was caught and killed, “It’s okay to need more time. Just tell Sara that.”

Neal retorted, “Then what the fuck am I supposed to tell her? Huh?”

“Well since you’re so intent on lying to her, you’ll figure something out!” He sarcastically added, “All great and healthy relationships are built on lies anyway.”

Neal death glared at him, “These are lies of omission. They don’t count. These are good lies. Saving lies. I don’t want to burden her with any of it! It’s too much!”

Mozzie reminded him, “I can’t tell you what to do, but I have to remind you, fate has a way of putting in front of us that which we most try to leave behind.”

 

She had taken almost everything from Neal. He wasn’t going to have the ability of having a healthy loving relationship taken from him as well.  He was determined to make this work. Regardless and in spite of what happened to him. It was going to be an uphill battle. Neal knew that. Like everything else in his life, he wasn’t going to give up without a damn good fight.

He wanted a relationship with Sara and he didn’t want to tell her anything about what happened. He wanted to have his cake and eat it too.

He didn’t know that just wasn’t possible.

Communication, trust, understanding, and empathy are the keys to a healthy and long term relationship. He couldn’t have that with Sara without telling her why he was the way he was. At least the gist of it. Sometimes you have to figure things out the hard way. Because whether he liked it or not, that waking nightmare shaped his whole life. He couldn’t be in a relationship and pretend that none of what happened had affected him.

His mind wouldn’t let him.

Chapter Text

Ellen had always been a curious kid who loved to learn. She nearly drove her father crazy because of all her questions. The main one being the classic question of, why. She wanted to know everything.

Once she got a little bit older and started to really learn about the world around her, observation came naturally to her. Neal was impressed with how much she could notice.  Between her love of learning and naturally social demeanor, she was a picture of her father.

Because of that she loved going to school. When she started preschool she quickly made friends and broadened her horizons with different kinds of people. It didn’t take her long to notice that not everyone had the family structure that she had.

 

Mozzie was taking her home from a playdate in the park with her friend, Jackson. A little boy from her class. Today she learned that Jackson had two moms.

After she got home her Dad came home shortly after with her Uncle Peter.

She was excitedly talking about her playdate when she said,  “And Jackson has two mommies!”

“Oh wow!”

Neal was sitting at the table with Ellen standing in front of him. Mozzie was sitting at the table drinking some wine while Peter was grabbing a beer from the fridge.

“Daddy?” Her voice was curious

“Yeah.”

She asked without hesitation and very bluntly, “Why don’t I have a mommy?”

Mozzie spit out his wine in shock and Peter dropped his beer causing it to crash on the floor. They both intensely looked at the two.

Neal took a deep breath, he said lovingly “Come here.”  She climbed on his lap. “There’s all different kinds of families. Some kids have a mommy and a daddy. Some have two mommies or daddies. Some only have one. All these families are good. All these kids are loved the same. You have so many people that love you.” He gave her a warm smile.

“Jackson said babies come from mommies’ tummies.”

Neal was hesitant, “Well...yeah.”

“Did I grow in a tummy?”

“Yeah, you did. Then I got you and brought you home because I love you so much and was so happy to meet you.”

“If I growed in a tummy, where’s my mommy?”

All eyes were on the two. She was just trying to understand this. Ellen was looking at her dad like he had all the answers. Because as far as she was concerned, he did. Neal took a another deep breath, “Sometimes, people who have babies just aren’t meant to be parents.”

“Why?”

“Because some people are just very sick in the head.” He reminded her, “But you have so many people who love you. I love you, Uncle Peter and Auntie El love you, Uncle Mozzie loves you, Grammy June loves you.” She smiled which made him smile.

He changed the conversation, “Hey, how about some ice cream?”

She cheered and ran to the fridge and Neal followed.

Mozzie and Peter were still frozen in shock. Mozzie commented, “Where was he when I asked that question?”


 

“She’d start to ask questions, probably sooner rather than later. Eventually she’d find out who you’re running from. None of that happens if I’m never get caught. Either way she’ll eventually catch on. She will ask why she doesn’t have a mother around.”

She continued to taunt him, “Ellen thrived in my womb for nine months. She has my genes. My DNA. She birthed of my womb. She is my daughter.”

“Biology means nothing! ” Neal fought back, fiercely protective “Biology does not make you a parent! A parent is someone who loves their child.”

“Who says I don’t love her! I brought her back to you! I didn’t have to do that!”

“You’re a fucking psychopath! You’re not capable of loving anything!” Neal almost yelled, but he didn’t want the others in the hospital room to hear him. He calmed down and said angrily, “She is not yours! Only mine!”

She taunted, “Sure tell yourself that if it makes you feel better.” She continued, “She has me in her DNA, so since you love her so much. That means that you love at least part of me.” Neal’s blood boiled with rage, he clenched and unclenched his fists trying to stay calm. “Like I said, Ellen came from my womb. I gave birth to her. You wouldn’t have her without me.

You should be grateful to have her. You should never forget where you got her.”

 

Neal shook awake with a violent jerk. His nightmares had been more frequent than usual in the months following her return. He sat up in bed, his heart was going a mile a minute, he was sweaty and shaking all over, and his breathing was shallow and shaky. He nearly tripped over himself trying to get out of bed. He needed some air. He felt like he was going to suffocate.

He found his way to the French doors in the darkness of his apartment and swung one open and ran out.

As soon as he was out he took a few deep breaths. He tried to stop hyperventilating. After some deep breathing and a joint he managed to calm down. The entire evening and into the night he couldn’t stop thinking about Ellen’s questions. He knew this was coming, so he prepared himself, but being asked had affected him more than he thought it would.

Ellen asking him made it real for Neal all over again.

As much as he wanted to, he couldn’t escape the truth of what happened. He wondered if it would ever truly be behind him.


 

The next morning Peter and Neal were staking out a suspect’s place when Peter brought up yesterday’s conversation.

“You...you were very good with her yesterday.”

Neal looked over at Peter. He knew what Peter was talking about. “You handled that better than I could have ever dreamed of.”

“It’s not like I didn’t know this was going to happen.” Neal initially asked about his father when he was around Ellen’s age. He knew when she started preschool she would ask. Because she was old enough to notice the different family structures and wonder.

“My mom told me what I wanted to hear, that my dad was a hero. I realize now, saying that probably killed her inside. I grew up envying a conning murderer. I cannot and will not lie to her like that. I just can’t, and won't.”

There was a silence between them, “Also, the best lies have an element of truth. Some people aren’t supposed to be parents...and some people are very sick.”

Peter knew that he didn’t mean ill, but instead depraved, perverted.

He couldn’t help but ask, “What if she asks for more information when she’s older? That answer won’t probably sate her forever.”

Neal shifted in the seat and his hand hovered over the door handle. Peter could tell he was clearly uncomfortable. Peter didn’t want to ask these questions, but they had to be asked at some point.

Neal answered lowly, “I’ll cross that bridge if I get to it. I’ll make up something.”

Peter didn’t agree with keeping this from Sara, but he 100% agreed with keeping the truth from Ellen. He, along with everyone else, prayed she’d never find out. “Well just remember that you’re not alone. You can lean on us.” Unlike Ellen telling Neal about James, no one had any intention of ever telling Ellen about Christina. That was never even in the cards. It was an unanimous unspoken decision that no one even thought to discuss.

A secret like this had the ability to ruin someone’s life. When Neal found out about James he moved to New York and went on a tailspin. And although James was a terrible person, he wasn’t a violent depraved psychopath.

Although family secrets like this were nuclear. They eventually found their way to the surface.


 

That evening Neal and Mozzie were having their almost routine evening drink when Neal brought it up, “Do you think Ellen will ask more questions when she’s older?” Mozzie turned interested and a little surprised at the question. Mozzie knew Neal was asking him, not only as a friend, but as an orphan.

He answered honestly, “I only wondered because I didn’t have anyone. I knew plenty of adopted kids who never knew their biological parents and didn’t give give a rat’s ass about them. Because they grew up in happy homes with people they considered their real parents. There were some kids who were never adopted and still didn’t care about their parents. I believe that you either care too much or not at all. There’s not much in between. I know that you have a better chance of not wondering or caring if you don’t have a reason to.” He didn’t know how much solace that gave Neal, but it was the truth.

He continued with his opinion, “Honestly, she has so many people who love her and protect her, that I don’t think she’ll care enough to wonder. If she does, I truly don’t think she’ll care enough to do the work to find out.”

Neal nodded and put down his glass. He knew that Mozzie wouldn't give him sugar coated bullshit. He wasn't.

Mozzie added one final thought he had just realized, “Although...if you and Sara turn out to really be in this for the long haul this time...Ellen’s still very young.” He hoped Neal was following his logic, “If you and Sara are together since before she can remember...she might never have a reason to doubt her maternity when she’s older.”

Neal had never thought about that. It was a valid point.

Although, sometimes the best kept secrets still find their way into the light. Not because they're told, but because they’re accidently stumbled upon.

Chapter Text

Neal and Sara were taking a walk after another dinner. It had been about two weeks after Sara first step foot in the FBI offices.

“Want to go back to your place?” She asked, not exactly being subtle.

Neal feigned a disappointed sigh, “I’m sorry but,”

She let out an actually disappointed sigh.She asked exactly what she was currently thinking, calling him out on his bullshit “Is there something there you don’t want me to see?”

She hadn’t been even close to Neal’s place yet. Sara was a very intelligent woman who knew Neal very well.

She knew something was up.

She had no idea what, but she knew he was hiding something.

Her comment caught Neal off guard, “Why would you think that?”

“Because it’s been two weeks and you keep coming up with reasons not to go back to your place or mine.” She pointed out, “I’ve been getting the feeling lately that you’ve been keeping something from me. The last time you did that it was a German U-boat.”

He could have come clean right then and there with the bare bones basics.

It was great timing.

She literally gave him an opening.

But he didn’t.

Instead he smiled and brushed it off, “Don’t worry, I don’t have a German U-boat.” He added on her first point as he got closer to her, “We also have so many more places to chose from than last time.”

Well...he wasn’t exactly wrong about that. They had limited options before. They couldn’t even go to her place without FBI permission. So they normally just stayed at Neal’s place.

She asked changing the topic, “Are you still going to help me apartment hunt tomorrow?”

“Of course.”


Neal felt guilty taking a beautiful Saturday morning away from his kid to spend it apartment hunting with Sara. Single parents normally felt guilty about spending their free time away from their kid. Neal thought it would be odd if he rejected her invitation so he agreed when she asked a few days prior.

The real estate agent was showing them a lovely one bedroom across town. He added as he concluded the tour, “We also have multi bedroom units available if you plan on having children. There’s one of the best schools in the city right around the corner.”

Sara got flustered, “Oh no, we’re not…”

“Oh I’m sorry.” He was now the one who was flustered, “You know what, I’ll just let you...take in the views for a moment.”

After he left Neal and Sara were silent for a few moments roaming around the empty bedroom.

That old realtor gave Neal another in, so he could address the elephant that Sara didn’t know was in the room.

He took a breath, “So, he thought…”

“Yeah.” She turned to him from the window,

“You know, I don’t remember if I’ve asked you before, but how do you feel about kids?”

She looked at him curiously. He looked innocent. “Honestly?”

“Yeah.” He thought, ‘ Shit. That’s not good.’

She shrugged, “Ehh, if I think that if I really wanted kids I would have tried to have them by now. My job just has always come first. Before diapers, soccer games, and PTA meetings.”

All Neal could think was a simple, ‘ Fuck.’

“What about someone with a kid?”

She was interested as to why he was asking this, “It’s okay I guess. Based on my experience it probably won’t work, but why-”

“What do you mean?”

“You remember when I said that my last boyfriend was a mutual breakup?”

“Yeah.” He remembered. She told him the first time they had dinner as the only real low point in her last few years.

That lucky duck.

“He had a four year old boy with his wife who died shortly after birth.”

Neal was surprised, “Oh.”

“Yeah. He was finally trying dating again. We dated for about a year before we called it quits.”

“Why did you end it?”

“We had a lot of issues. It’s hard to form a lasting relationship when he wouldn’t let me in. He wouldn’t give me anything, you know. He wouldn’t talk to me. He wouldn’t introduce me to his son. I don’t think he was ready for a relationship.” She came closer to Neal, “He also worked full time and had a toddler. His time could only be split so many ways. His kid had to always come first, then his job. Eventually something had to be cut.”

This hit Neal like a ton of bricks but he tried not to show it. It was about to get more real, he had to know, “When did you find out he had a child?”

She was quick to respond, “Oh oddly enough, he dropped the c-bomb right away.”

Neal looked at her for clarification, “The child bomb.” She explained, “Which I appreciated. When someone has a kid it really affects a relationship. I’m glad he told me as soon as possible.”

Shit.’

Neal was airing on the side of caution now, “Why?”

“Because not only did he make sure to not waste his time with someone who may not want to raise a child.” She added, “Bringing children into a new relationship naturally brings baggage of past relationships. It’s up the the other person if they are willing to accept the baggage.”

“So did you…?” He began to ask.

She gave him a look, “I was with him for about a year.”

He nodded. It was more a stupid question. He was a little off his game at the moment by how real this situation was.

Also, he wasn’t going to get a better in than his.

He had to say something .

“Sara...we need to talk.” Just as he said that the realtor came back in the room.

“So what do you think of the unit?”

Neal could have told the guy to leave because what he had to say was really important.

But he didn’t.

He couldn’t bring up the courage to say something.


Neal had Peter and Elizabeth over for dinner that night. After the meal Ellen ran off to play in her room while the adults chatted.

“So…” Peter started

“Have you told Sara anything yet?”

Before Neal could respond he put his finger up for her to wait a second. He didn’t hear any commotion coming from the back. That wasn’t normal. She was normally up to something. “Ellen. I don’t know what you’re up to, but whatever it is, stop.”

Peter and Elizabeth couldn’t hold in their laughter.

They heard a small, “I’m up to nothin’.”

“Yes, you are. Whatever it is. Stop.” He called back

They heard another small, “How you know?”

“Because I’m your dad, I know these things.”

They heard a final small, “Okay.”

Neal turned his attention to his bemused friends, “What’s so funny?”

“The amount of times I’ve said that to you over the years.” Peter smiled, “It’s nice that you know how I felt.”

Neal just smiled and shook his head. Elizabeth turned everyone’s attention back to what they were previously talking about, “So, about Sara.”

Neal sighed as he was pulled back to reality. “Yes, what about Sara?”

“What have you told her?” Elizabeth asked

“Have you told her anything in the first place?” Peter asked

“What are you going to tell her?”

“Bare bones? Full on explanation?”

“More lies?”

“Okay, okay. Just, okay. I was going to tell her, but I’ve been getting interrupted.”

“The longer Ellen stays a secret the more the that will hurt her because you haven't told her sooner.” Peter told him

“When you have a child in a relationship, your partner needs to know early.”

“Because Ellen is a core part of your life. If she doesn’t want to deal with that for any reason then no matter how you feel about Sara you shouldn’t be wasting your time.” Elizabeth nodded in agreement with her husband.

Elizabeth added, “She needs to accept you for you. The you are you are now. Baggage and all. Not the you from years ago.”

“So what, sit her down and tell her the whole convoluted story.” It was clear that Neal didn’t want to do that.

“Maybe do baby steps. Start with the basics.” Peter repeated his stance, “I know that you do not want to tell her...but you have to. It will hurt like none other, but if you want a lasting trusting relationship, you need to be completely honest with her.”

Neal should have listened and called Sara right then and there to come over to chat.

But he didn’t.

“I’ll invite her to dinner on Monday and I’ll tell her everything then.”

He should have called her over and told her that night.


That night Neal had an anxiety induced nightmare about the worst possible scenario with telling Sara that he had a child.

“I was going to tell you.”

“When? If we moved in together?!” Sara almost yelled, “It’s been weeks! And you’ve said jack shit about the most important person in your life!”

“I was going to tell you and invite you to meet her tomorrow.”

“Suuurrre.” Sarah said sarcastically

“It’s just a complicated situation.” Neal defended

“No, it’s really not. You had sex and she got pregnant.” Sarah retorted without knowing any of the background information. “Are you even single?”

Neal sighed, “Yes. Very much so.”

She sat down at the table, “So, tell me this, ‘complicated’ situation. Where’s her mother?” She made hand gestures for the air quotes.

Neal sighs and says, “Her mother could never in the picture,”

“Where is she?” Sara asked, more like interrogated.

“Dead.” Neal replied, Sara was taken aback, her body language softened from interrogating investigator,

“How?” She asked concerned.

“She was very manipulative, very selfish, would do anything to get what she wants and keep what she has. She conned until she got what she wanted.” That wasn’t a lie, but wasn’t the full truth either. A lot of details were omitted.

“Gee, that doesn’t sound like anyone I know. Seems like I’m not the only one that has a type.” Sara said rudely yet sarcastically. This is like a stake through Neal’s heart. How she alluded to anything between them as mutually consensual. Although Neal knew that Sara knew none of this. Sara noticed that Neal kinda looks like a kicked puppy. Sara got up to leave, “I have to go.”

“We can still make this work.”

Sara turned around and scoffed, “Really? It was never going to work. We just hung out at your place and fucked every so often. And we haven’t done any of that recently. Which is such a disappointment.”  She turned to leave.

“Wait!”

She turned one final time, “I don’t want to help raise your bastard kid, Neal!” She turned around and left.

He shook awake. He needed more air. Once he got out to the patio he started to process the nightmare. The rational part of his brain told him that nightmare blew things completely out of proportion and nothing like that would ever happen.

Although the anxiety riddled side, the irrational side, told him that it would go down something like that.

He tried not to listen to his irrational side, but anxiety was a funny thing. It had a tendency to take over your brain and make you believe your irrational side was right.

He sat on the patio and tried to take some deep breaths. He tried to figure out what he was going to do. He prayed she took it well. Rationally speaking, Neal didn’t know how she wouldn’t take it well.

His irrational side though, did.

The next morning he asked her to dinner Monday night.

Although he should have called her earlier that Saturday evening. After he talked to Peter and Elizabeth.

It’s great that he wanted to open up to her...but he should have done it sooner.

Because sometimes, Life makes other plans that force your hand.


The next night Neal was making his pizza for dinner. Ellen loved when he cooked from scratch. She said everything was so much better when cooked that way and she was right. It was no secret that Neal was a magnificent chef.

As he was making the pizza dough he heard a knock on the door. He wondered who it was. He wiped his hands with a small towel, he tossed it back on the counter, and headed for the door.

He opened the door just a little bit so only a part of his body could be seen and not much else. He was completely shocked to find Sara on the other side.

“Hey, Neal!” She greated

He was taken aback and she noticed, “Hi.”

“I decided to surprise you with some takeout.” She raised a brown take out bag.

“Yeah. This is a surprise.” Neal was in shock.

“Is now a good time?”

He took that literally and figuratively. He thought, ‘ Well I guess it’ll have to be.’ She was at his apartment. Ellen was about 20 feet away. He was backed into a corner. He had to tell her. He had no choice.

“Sara we need to talk.” He was just about to squeeze out and close the door behind him when Ellen came running up to him and squeezed through the door so she could see,

“Who’s this, Daddy?”

Now Sara was the shocked one.

Her jaw dropped as she kept looking down at her then up at him, “Daddy?” She clarified

Neal was mortified. This was not how he wanted this to go. “Um, what I wanted to talk to you about. This is my daughter, Ellen.” Neal told her, “This is Daddy’s friend, Sara.”

“Hi!” She waved

Sara was completely blindsided by this. She was not expecting this curveball. All she could feel was shock and confusion. “Hi.” She gave him a shocked expression that said, since when do you have a kid?

She was completely speechless. She could barely form a complete thought.

“Oh-um-um-yeah-you-you-you look busy. I sho-I should-I should go.” She nearly pushed the takeout bag at him and got the fuck out of there. Only able to feel complete shock and confusion.

Neal hung his head in defeat. This was not how he wanted this to go. Although compared to his nightmare it was a raving success.

Ellen peared up into the bag in Neal’s hands then looked at him, “I thought you was making pizza?”

Chapter Text

First thing the next morning Sara walked into the Bureau with the intention of talking to Neal about their run-in last night.

When she didn’t see Neal around she asked Diana, “Hey is Neal in yet?”

“No, but he should be shortly.”

“Okay, great.” She looked up and saw Peter already in his office. She had an idea. She walked up to his office and immediately said, “Since when does Caffrey have a kid?”

Neal had called Peter last night about the unwanted surprise so he wasn’t shocked when Sara brought it up. He didn’t look up from the file he was looking at, “Since about four years ago.”

Sara gave bitchface, “Peter, you know what I mean. Kids don’t come from a pumpkin patch.”

Peter was still looking down at the file, “No they do not.”

She left out an aggravated huff at Peter’s sass. “Why didn’t anyone tell me?”
“Because it’s not for me, or anyone else, to tell.”

“What happened?”

Peter sighed and finally looked up from the file, “Why are you asking me this? Why don’t you just talk to Neal?”
Her tone wasn’t angry, but a little frustrated and very candid, “Because apparently Neal doesn’t tell me jack shit.” She elaborated, “I figured since you’re you, you’d know. The two of you have always been close.”

“Well talk to Neal. If he wants to, he’ll talk.”

She turned to check if Neal was in yet and noticed he had just arrived. She immediately left Peter’s office and made a b-line for Neal,  “Hey, we need to talk.”

Neal knew exactly what this was about, “Yeah, of course.”

“Now.” She walked behind some filing shelves and motioned for him to follow.

Once behind the shelves neither really knew how to start this conversation.

Sara started with a simple, “So...um...what the fuck, Neal?”

“Okay, I’m really sorry. I was going to-”

“I understand that you probably had your reasons. I just want to know so I can understand.” She wasn’t actually mad at him. Just frustrated and very caught off guard. She just wanted to understand why Neal didn’t say anything sooner. Neal appreciated that throughout the conversation she was pretty calm and collected. Unlike what he had feared.

For the first time in awhile, Neal was honest with her, “I was trying to find the right time, and when I did, I kept getting interrupted. I was planing on telling you tonight. That’s what the dinner invite was about?”

Her tone now compassionate, “You just have to talk to me more. Okay? If, whatever this is, is going to work. You have got to meet me halfway. You have to communicate with me. Okay?”

He nodded, “Alright.”

Sara was just trying to wrap her head around this, “I have a few questions, if that’s okay.”

“Shoot.”

“Where’s her mother?”

It made sense to him that was her first question. When possibly dating someone with a child, the other person needed to know how much involvement/if any, the other biological parent had. He also made the quickest of grimaces when she said ‘mother’. Implying that that woman had anything to do with his child. It was so quick that if you blinked you would have missed it.

He answered honestly, “She’s dead.” He immediately realized that his intonation was too cheerful for talking about death. Out of context, it sounded odd.

Sara noticed his tone but said, “Oh, I’m sorry.”

Without thinking Neal blurted, “Oh don’t be.” He managed to stop himself before he said the second half of that sentence ‘the bitch deserved it’. Because out of context that sounded pretty bad.

Sara found Neal’s comment and intonation to be a little odd.

“So um...what happened?”

Well...it can’t get more direct than that.

This wasn’t the time nor the place to get into this.

They were standing behind some shelves at the Bureau where one, if not both, of them could be interrupted at any moment. On top of that, it was completely public.

If Neal was going to be completely honest with her, then it needed to be done right.

To him, that meant that they sat some time aside and met in a private place (ex: Neal’s place) where there wouldn’t have any distractions or interruptions (ie: Sending Ellen to Peter and Elizabeth’s or Mozzie’s, turning off phones.) and having a serious talk about a serious issue.

Not giving her the gist of it behind some shelves then going right back to work. This was news that you needed time to digest.

Although doing baby steps and giving a Sparknoted version sounded great in theory, Neal didn’t really know how to or even could summarize all the trauma and pain he’d been through. Not necessarily the actual timeline of events but rather their psychological effects.

It also wasn’t just a one time assault. It was numerous mental and physical assaults over a long period of time. With a one time assault, the Sparknotes version is probably enough.

Sara wanted to know and truly understand what happened. You can’t know and truly understand something like this just by reading the Sparknotes.

Just then by coincidence, Peter came by, “Hey, Neal. We need to go interview a suspect.”

Neal gave Sara a look. She understood, “It’s okay, go.”

Before they left Sara got his attention, “Although I would love to meet her sometime.” She gave a playful smile, “See if the apple falls far from the tree.”

He smiled back, “I’d like that.”


 

Sara asked this time and came over that evening. Neal answered the door and she walked in. She immediately noticed that the apartment didn’t look like it did the last time she was there years earlier. It was a little disorganized, little messy, it was apparent that a child lived there. She slightly shook her head and smiled. Her attention was then drawn over to table where a little girl was sitting. She had her bear, Mozart, in her lap and was drawing a picture with some crayons.

“Hey, Ellen.” She greeted and cautiously walked over to the table as Neal watched with a smile.

“Hi.” She smiled, “You bringed us food before.”

She chuckled, “Yeah. I did. I’m a friend of your Dad’s.” She sat down next to her, “What are you doing?”

Ellen replied, “It’s a kitty.”

Sara looked at the drawing. It was much better than the average four year old. It actually resembled a cat fairly well.

“Wow, you’re really good. You must have gotten that from your Dad.” Everyone smiled.

 

Later that evening when they had some alone time, Sara told him, “She seems like a good kid.”

“Yeah, she is.” Neal smiled.

There was a silence between them before Sara asked again, “So we were interrupted earlier. What happened with Ellen?”

There it was yet again. The question seemed to taunt him.

He had going back and forth all day about when to tell her. If he was ready to tell her.

He thought about waiting until he knew if they were serious or not.

It was too painful and traumatic to remember and recount.

If he was going to go through all the pain, anguish, anxiety, and possible PTSD flare ups by reliving that literal waking nightmare by telling someone, he was going to make damn sure it wasn’t for nothing.

Neal didn’t wear this on his sleeve, ready to reveal to anyone at any moment. The only people who truly knew what happened (other than the cops and his psychologist) were Peter and Mozzie. And it took a while for him to open up to them.

Recalling what happened and telling Sara would require a supreme amount of openness and vulnerability that is objectively terrifying for anyone, let alone someone who doesn’t let their vulnerabilities show. It’s terrifying to be that open and vulnerable with someone. There had to be a lot of trust there.

Neal kept his vulnerabilities hidden deep underneath a thick armor of smiles, wit, and charm. He had always done that and probably always would. That armor built an ‘everything’s amazing, I’m amazing’ persona.

“It’s...it’s not important.” Neal responded.

But it was. He just wasn’t ready yet. He needed more time and more time with her and thus more trust.

Also, some could say that Sara wasn’t entirely blameless. She didn’t prod him. She just let it go. She was suspicious, but she didn’t try to get him to talk even a little bit. Maybe he just needed some gentle prodding to open up. Some people needed that to open up. Kind of like an onion, you need to break through the thick outer layers before anything else.

Although she didn’t ask anything else because she sensed that there was something there and that Neal didn’t want to talk about it.

Neal had thought about what could happened after he told her. He was afraid of how she would react. Not that she would be angry or anything, but that she couldn’t handle it and left.

Hell, he could barely handle what happened.

He was afraid that Sara would see him differently. He mainly worried that she would see him as a victim and run away...or worse, walk on eggshells because she didn’t know how to act around him anymore. That she would pity him.

He didn’t know if he could handle that. He didn’t know if all this was his anxiety talking or not.

He’d tell her in time. When he was ready.

Soon enough, he would lay his cards on the table.

Something that he forgot was that he wasn't a victim. He was someone who lived through a literal waking nightmare and lived to tell about it. He struggled to get back to normalcy and overcome his trauma, and he's doing a pretty damn good job. He can hold down a stressful job and had a kid that was happy, healthy, and well adjusted.

He's stronger than most.

Chapter Text

Neal and Sara had been seeing each other for a some time now and had decided to take it slow, which Neal appreciated. They used the reasoning that since there was a child involved they should go slower than they had in the past. Although something they noticed quickly was that it was hard for them to meet in the first place due to how busy they both were and Neal’s need to have someone watch Ellen.

Sara no longer just dropped by and stayed till morning and changing at her place before going to work. In fact, they hadn’t done anything like that yet.

Sara had noticed that Neal had changed since they last saw each other. He was more cautious, careful, protective, he took things slower. She could tell that he looked over his shoulder. It was subtle but she noticed. Because she knew him before. Although she never brought up any of it.

 

One Saturday evening they were both luckily available and were at Neal’s place. The three of them were having a pretty enjoyable evening. Until Neal’s phone rang. Ellen immediately frowned and sighed. Neal sighed and picked it up, “Hey, Peter. Wait, it was moved to now?” He sighed, “Fine. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” He hung up. “I’m sorry I have to go.”

“Aw, I’m sorry.”

Ellen groaned, “ Whhyyy?”

“I’ve got to call Mozzie to come watch her.” He told Sara before remembering, “Damn. He has that job tonight. I forgot.” He racked his brain of who could watch Ellen while he was gone and came up with empty.

“I could watch her.” Sara volunteered which took Neal by surprise.

“Seriously?"

“Yeah.” Neal was hesitant about this. Not that he couldn’t trust her, but he didn’t let many people watch his child. 

Sara could tell he was hesitant by the fact that she wasn’t given an exact answer yet. She already knew that he was very protective of Ellen. So she reassured him, “She’ll be fine, Neal.”

He knew that she was right...and he didn’t exactly have any other option. “Alright...I’ll be back later. There’s some marinated chicken on the counter you can pop in the oven when it’s ready.”

He said goodbye to Ellen, she was let down, “You gotta go get bad guys?”

He smiled, “Yeah. I’ll be back soon. Be good for Sara, okay?”

“Okay.” He gave her a kiss and hug before leaving.


 

Sara soon got some dinner started while talking to the energetic four year old. While the chicken cooked they played hide and seek. Sara found it painfully ironic when she couldn’t find Ellen because she was very good at hiding.

She finally found Ellen in a hallway closet outside the apartment. “I told you to stay in the house.”

“Yeah I did. I’m still in the house, like you said. You didn’t say my house. You said the house.”

Sara sighed to hide a slight smile. She knew that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. “You’re just like your Dad. You know that.”

Her face lit up before turning back to the game, “Time to hide again!”

Once dinner was ready they sat down at the table and Ellen started talking about school and her new friends. The conversation took a sudden shift when Ellen asked Sara, quite bluntly, “Are you going to be my new mommy?”

Sara choked on her food. Ellen had noticed that her Dad and Sara had been spending a good amount of time together recently.

“Daddy seems really happy when you’re here.” She noticed

Sara got herself together and tried to think of an answer for the child. She and Neal had been taking their relationship day by day.  They hadn’t talked much about the future...nor the past for that matter. She was in no way, shape, or form, prepared for this question.

Ellen continued, “When my friend, Joey’s, Mommy and Daddy stopped living together he got a new mommy right away. It was his nanny.”

Sara almost choked again. That was a lot of information that she didn’t need to know. “Well, this is different. We haven’t talked about that.” After getting herself together once again she asked something she had yet to get an answer to. She tried to think of a way to phrase it to a child and finally found it, “Has it always been just you and your Dad?” She didn’t know what she expected to hear back but she figured she didn’t have anything to lose.

“Yeah.” Ellen answered while taking a bite of the cut up chicken on her plate,

"What about your mom?"

Ellen looked up from her food, “I asked Daddy before if I had a mommy. He said there’s bunches of different families with some with mommies and some with daddies. I growed in a mommy’s tummy but then I was born and Daddy took me home.”

“So where do you think your mommy is?” Neal already told Sara that she was dead but Sara wanted to hear what Ellen had to say. What Neal told her.

“Daddy said that some people can’t be mommies and daddies because they’re sick in the head.”

“Hmm.” Sara found this interesting for numerous reasons. Ellen not knowing about death and the phrase, ‘sick in the head’ were among her top reasons.

“What do you mean ‘sick in the head’?”

Ellen shrugged, “I dunno. He didn’t say,” and ate her dinner. She then started talking about something funny that her teddy bear ‘did’ the other day.

Between being told she was dead and ‘sick in the head’ Sara was not only thoroughly confused but even more curious than before.

Sara knew that Neal was keeping something from her. When Neal did do that, it was something big, like having a child or a German U-boat. Everything didn’t add up to her. Neal, and everyone else for that matter, were very tight lipped about how Neal got his child. Which Sara found inherently suspicious. She wondered what happened that no one would talk about. When she asked Peter he brushed it off, Mozzie changed the topic, and Neal said it was ‘not important’. She disagreed with Neal but knew better than to push. No matter how badly she wanted to. She didn’t know that she could find out with a little research. The case was a matter of public record. It never occurred to her that her questions were Googleable.

She wanted Neal to be open and honest with her.

Although, in this case, she didn’t know what him being honest actually meant.

That perhaps she couldn’t handle the truth. Sara expected a more normal story.

If given a million guesses she would not think of violent psychopath.


 

Afterwards Ellen wanted to watch her favorite movie, The Lion King. During the Circle of Life Ellen got up a chair with her teddy bear to play Rafiki. The entire time Sara was thinking, ‘ Please don’t fall and hurt yourself. Because Neal will kill me.’

Her boundless energy finally found its end. By the second half of the movie she was curled up on the couch near Sara.

“You tired?”

“No.”

“You seem tired.”

“My tummy hurts.” Sara gave her a sympathetic look

“Maybe it was too much ice cream.”

“No. Ice cream don’t do that.”

“Hmm. I don’t know then.” Sara started to think of what it could be.

“When’s Daddy comin’ home?”

Sara gave her another sympathetic look, “He’ll be home soon.”

All of a sudden Ellen jolted up and ran to the bathroom.

Sara alarmingly followed. She knew that wasn’t good.

The bathroom door was left wide open and she saw Ellen sitting on the toilet.

“Bad poops.” Ellen informed

Sara breathed a sigh of relief, thinking ‘ Hey it could be worse. She could be vomiting.’

As if on cue, Ellen doubled over on the toilet and vomited all over the bathroom floor.

Sara froze and muttered, “Oh no.”

Ellen started crying and Sara was thinking, ‘ Oh God! What do I do?!’ She got Ellen off the toilet and cleaned up then went to grabbed some paper towels from the kitchen to clean up the floor.

“Are you okay?” Ellen moaned in response, “If you feel like you’re going to throw up again, do it in the toilet.” She got up, put the dirty soaked paper towels in the trash, and went to get her phone to call Neal. When a little voice cried out,

“Don’t leave me!”

She turned to the crying child, “I’m just going to get my phone, sweetie. So I can call your Dad.”

“No leave me!”

So she picked up the child and went into the other room to grab her phone then returned to the bathroom. She sat in front of the toilet with Ellen curled up on her lap. She called Neal but it kept going to voicemail. She wondered if he was undercover. So she called Peter.

“Hey, Sara. What’s up?”

“Hey I can’t reach Neal. Do you have any clue when he’s going to be done?”

“I don’t, I’m sorry.”
“What he’s doing right now, how important is it? Like can he leave now?”

“No, not really. It’s pretty important. Also he doesn’t have his phone on him.”

“What is it?”

“We’re currently in the middle of a sting that will take down the biggest guy on Wall Street for a vast insider trading ring. Why are you asking? Is everything okay?”

“So it can’t wait till later?”

“Not particularly. What’s wrong?”

“Ellen’s sick.”

“Oh shit, I’m sorry. What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know. She just started vomiting.” Peter could tell she was overwhelmed

“Take a few deep breaths.” He told her, “Do you think it could have been something she ate?”

“I don’t know...maybe.”

“Did she eat too much?”

“Um, I don’t think so.”

“Any undercooked food? Like meats.”

“I did make some marinated chicken earlier.”

“That could be it. Does she have a fever?”

Sara checked Ellen’s forehead, “A little.”

“It’s probably a slight case of food poisoning.”

“Oh great.” Her voice turned sarcastic

“I think you just have to ride it out.”

“I made that food and it made her sick. Neal was already hesitant to leave her with me. I’m dead.”

Peter tried to calm her down, “Relax. It was just a mistake. Did you eat the chicken?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Well, then you’ll probably have a rough night as well.” Sara let out an exasperated sigh, “They took his phone as soon as he got into the meeting, but as soon as he’s done I’ll tell him.”

“Alright.”

Before she hung up Peter tried once more to calm her nerves, “She’ll be fine. Neal will understand that it was just a mistake and that you’re trying your best.”

“Thanks.” After she hung up Ellen asked lowly

“Is Daddy coming home?”

Sara’s heart ached for her. She gave Ellen a consoling smile and held her close, “He’ll be home soon.”


 

Neal raced into the apartment, “Ellen! Sara!” He ran to Ellen’s room and saw Sara sitting next to the small bed while Ellen slept. He walked towards them.

“Hey, how is she?”

“Doing better. She fell asleep a little bit ago. Gave her some water and Tylenol.”

“Peter told me that it may be food poisoning.”

She stood up and immediately responded, “I am so sorry. I didn’t know it was undercooked. I’m so sorry.”

Neal just shook his head in the room’s dim light, “No, I’m sorry I had to leave. I really hate when that happens.” She could tell this was probably a problem for him over the last few years. Which it had been. The FBI wasn’t a 9-5 job.

He slightly smiled, “You were never a good cook anyway.”

She let out a small breath of relief with a slight smile, “Yeah, you were always better with that.”

“I’m glad you were here for her. You seemed to have done well.”

She replied, “Well it wasn’t easy.”

He chuckled, “No, it most certainly is not.” He looked down at his sleeping daughter and his tone turned serious and sincere, “But it’s most certainly worth it.” Sara saw Neal in a new way.

In light of her evening she had a new respect for Neal. She only babysitted for a few hours and it was terrifying and damn difficult. Let alone doing this for four years, and to her understanding, more or less alone.

In the silence that followed Sara considered asking again about what happened. About the conversation she had with Ellen earlier, but she doubted she would actually get an answer.

Instead she said, “You know, if it was the food. Then I should be getting back. Before it all goes down.” She was right, it did turn out to be the undercooked food.

“Yeah, alright.” Neal nodded defeated, Sara turned to leave, “Next time, just do take out.” She turned around to a smiling Neal. He knew there’d be another work emergency, and Sara would still be on his very short list of people he’d let watch his child.

She knew they were okay. She also knew that their relationship had taken a new step. Taking care of his child when he couldn’t be there while she was sick was definitely a large step forward.

She smiled, “Will do.”

 

Chapter Text

Sara came over for dinner one night a few months after they got together. After Ellen went to bed Neal and Sara sat on the couch and watched Netflix. They both soon fell asleep on the couch. When Sara groggily awoke she muttered, “Shit.” She got up and got ready to go back to her place. Although the apartment with dark, with just the light from the laptop on the coffee table and the streetlamps shining in. Her movement woke up Neal, who asked groggily, “What are you doing?”

“Shit, did I wake you?” She stopped putting her heels back on.

“It’s okay. You leaving?”

“Yeah.”

Neal grabbed his phone from the side table next to him and looked at the time. “Sara, it’s 3am and you live across town. Just stay here.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah.” Neal got up and put on some soft pajama pants from his dresser. He tossed her a t-shirt to wear.

“Thanks.” She smiled and changed from her dress to the t-shirt. Neal walked over and got into bed and Sara followed. Soon they were both fast asleep.

 

She walked towards him wearing nothing but a bra and underwear. He slowly backed up towards the head of the bed, bringing his legs in front of his chest and wrapped his arms around them. She went into a small nightstand drawer and got out a small bottle and a few lengths of rope.

After closing the drawer she turned towards Neal, “Are you going to be good tonight?” The question hung heavy in the air.

He took a deep breath, “Ye-Yes.” Trying to steady his voice.

Christina looked down at the rope in her hands and thought for a while.

“I’ll-I’ll be good. Please.” He begged

A small malicious smile crawled across her face, “Good.” She put the rope down on the table and walked over towards the bed, “On your back. Stretch out.” She saw his hesitation. She raised her eyebrows, shrugged, and turned back towards the table, “Alright then. We’ll do it the hard way.”

“Okay!” Pure fear seeping from his voice. She smiled.

Even if there wasn’t a chain around his ankle, there was nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide.

He complied to her command. She sat on the bed and straddled him, pulling his pants and underwear down in one fluid motion. She pulled up his t-shirt, “Off.” She commanded. Neal shakily took off the shirt and dropped it on the floor. She grabbed the bottle of lubricant that she brought over and opened it. She squirted some into her hand and got to work.

Neal laid there and stared at the ceiling, counting the logs in a futile attempt to distract his mind. He gripped the sheets as he tried to control his breathing.

As she stimulated his dick she praised, “You’re doing great, Neal.”

Although after awhile, she started getting angry that she wasn’t getting the results that she wanted.

He knew, when she got angry. She got violent.

Christina yelled, “Why won’t you get hard you piece of shit!!” She punched him in the stomach which completely took the wind of out him. She delivered a few more strong punches before getting up and going into the kitchen. Neal, doubled over in pain, curled up at the head of the bed. His eyes widen in fear when he saw her coming back with a kitchen knife. He instinctively grabbed the closest thing to him, a pillow, and put it in front of himself. She stood over him and brought down the knife. He held up the pillow as an impromptu shield. The knife cleared the pillow. She tried to stab him through the pillow. Neal tried to stop her, but Christina was stronger than he was. The knife nicked his shoulder before losing contact with his skin for a moment.

“You fucking shit!” She yelled. She got a few more stabs in, resulting a few minor wounds on Neal’s upper body before she finally stopped.

“That will fucking teach you.” She muttered. Even though it was just a mistake. That shit can happen.

She angrily got dressed from her clothes on the floor and put on some shoes. She slammed the heavy door, taking the knife with her.

Neal looked at his wounds. They didn’t need stitches or anything but they still bled some and hurt. He pulled up his pants and grabbed his shirt from the floor. He curled up on the bed and cried. He wondered if she was going to come back or if she just left him there to starve to death.

A few days later she came back. She immediately gave him a devious smile and pulled a bottle of little blue pills from her pocket, “We’ll never have that problem again.”

They never did.

Several weeks later she told Neal that she was pregnant.

 

Neal awoke with a violent jerk and jumped out of bed. After a particularly horrifying nightmare it took his mind a few seconds to get back to reality. The sudden swift movement woke up Sara. She looked over from the bed but sat up when she noticed that Neal looked like he just saw a ghost.

“Neal. Are you okay?” He looked at her, still looking like a deer in headlights. “Neal, what’s wrong?”

He stepped back, “Nothing. Nothing.”

“No, it’s not nothing. You look like you just saw a ghost.” She got out of bed and walked towards him. He stepped back some more before walking towards the French doors. He opened them and stepped out to get some fresh air. She followed him, but felt the need to keep her distance.

“Are, you okay?”

“Yeah. I’m fine.” He lied, looking out towards the skyline.

“There’s something wrong. I can tell.” She walked towards him and said warmly, “You can talk to me.”

He wordlessly turned around and went to check on Ellen. She was still fast asleep. He came back into the main room, turned on a lamp near the table and went to the kitchen to get himself some wine. He took his glass to the table, sat down, and opened a casefile on the table. That was his normal routine after a particularly horrifying nightmare. Fresh air, check on Ellen, distraction with work. Sometimes it also came with a call to Peter in which Neal would say, “I have some ideas for the (insert name) case.” Which came to be code for, I need a distraction from a nightmare. That code was never formally made but both men knew what it meant. He could only get back to sleep after a nightmare if he took something.

Sara watched as he did all that. She finally asked, “Why won’t you talk to me?”

He didn’t look up, “About what?”

“Anything! Why you suddenly jumped out of bed. Why you look so damn terrified. I’m worried about you!” Sara felt this immense hurt that Neal wouldn’t let her in. She also feared like this was her previous relationship all over again. Not being let in and communication issues.

“It’s complicated.” He simply responded.

“Well try me.”

His head whipped up and snapped, “NO!”

Sara backed away, surprised at his outburst. Neal calmed down and continued looking at the casefile.

Sara felt like she could see the walls Neal had built around him. Not willing to let her in, even a little.

She was at a loss for what to do. She didn’t think there was anything she could do. She laid back down in bed and eventually fell back asleep.

She got up early the next morning. She saw Neal in the same position at the table looking at a casefile. It seemed to be a different one that a few hours earlier.

She gently asked, “Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” She knew he was lying.

“Have you slept any more?”

“It’s not your concern.” Neal got up to distract himself with making a cup of coffee.

Sara turned towards him, “Well, since I care about you, yes it is my concern.” She also took that as a no.  “Please talk to me. Please.” She almost begged, “What made you so upset? I want to know because I care about you. Maybe I can help you.”

Neal kept himself distracted and distant from the conversation, “I need to get Ellen up for school.” He put his mug down and walked to her room.

Sara hung her head in defeat and sighed in frustration. She always knew that Neal kept his vulnerabilities deep behind a brick wall. She didn’t know how she could break through it.


 

“So how are things going with Sara?” Neal’s psychologist, Dr. Anderson asked

Neal thought for a second, “Could be better.”

“Why is that?” She wrote something down in her notebook.

Neal shifted on the couch, “I had a nightmare the other night. I accidentally woke her up. She noticed something was wrong and asked about it.”

“And you didn’t say anything.”

“No. Although I could tell she was irritated, but in a caring way. You know?”

“She’s probably frustrated that you won’t let her in. She’s upset because she cares about you, and doesn’t want to see you hurting.” Anderson suggested, “You know that the best and healthiest relationships are built on a strong foundation of trust and communication. You’re not giving her either. At least not fully.”

Neal sighed, “What I should tell her the whole damn story? That’s what everyone else thinks.”

The older woman nodded interested, “They think you should open up? So you can let her in?”

Neal turned irritated, “Yeah.”

She thought for a second, gathering her thoughts, “You should tell her when you’re comfortable. Although with how you’re relationship is doing, perhaps sooner rather than later. I’m not saying you have to give all the gory details, but you need to let her in on your issues caused by the abuse so she can support and comfort you when you fall. Such as when you have a severe nightmare or panic attack. How much you tell her is up to you. In my experience, people either tell little, or once they get started they can’t stop. It’s like a dam breaking. There’s no stopping till it’s empty. I feel that’s what your friends where getting at, but maybe not articulating correctly.”

She closed the notebook on her lap, “It seems like you truly care about each other and want to be in a relationship. She wants you to let her in. You’re not ‘saving her pain’ by not saying anything. You're just hurting the relationship by not communicating when it matters." She added, "On another note, she can’t ‘fix’ you. She can’t ‘love away’ the effects of your traumatic past. But she can be there for you and support you when you need it. ”

Neal slightly raised his eyebrows, “Yeah, but can she even handle what that all means?”

She gave him a small reassuring smile, “Well, there’s only one way to find out.”

Chapter Text

Neal and Sara met for lunch on sunny Wednesday afternoon. Being prime lunch time in Manhattan the small restaurant was booming. While they ate their sandwiches Sara brought up an idea she’d been thinking about lately, “What if we took a weekend together, alone?”

Neal looked up from his sandwich, “Oh.” It kinda took him by surprise, “Where would you thinking?”

“I don’t really know.” She shrugged and put down her sandwich, “I was just thinking that it wasn’t possible to do till now. I thought that a weekend getaway with just us would be fun.”

Neal didn’t know what he thought about that. Instead he smiled one of his infamous smiles,  “Yeah, that sounds nice.”

“How about this weekend?”

That took Neal by surprise. He thought that she meant, at some vague point in the future. Not that Friday or Saturday.

“You could have Mozzie or Peter watch Ellen.”

“I mean, I’ll have to see. It’s a little late notice.”

Sara noticed her error, “Shit, you’re right. I’m sorry. How about next weekend?”

“I’ll see.” He knew that she just wanted to spend more time with him. He wanted the same thing.  She smiled when he took out his phone and called Peter, “Hey, can you take Ellen next weekend?” Her smile made him smile, “Great. Thanks. See you later.”  

She added, “How about a surprise getaway?”

His brows furrowed, “Surprise? I already know it’s coming.”

“Well we haven’t decided on anywhere yet.” She noticed his hesitation, “Come on, it’ll be fun. I want to do something for you. Let me.” She gave him a consoling smile and touched his hand.

“I don’t know.” He brushed off how being taken to an undisclosed location alone made him really uncomfortable. He then felt stupid because this was Sara, she truly cared about him. She wouldn’t ever even to try to hurt him.

He thought he’d be okay psychologically.

“Alright. Let’s do it.” He gave her an infamous Neal smile. She was very excited to be able to plan their surprise weekend getaway.


 As soon as Neal got back to the office he was summoned to Peter’s office.

“So? A weekend with Sara.” He had an ear to ear smile.

“Yes. It was her idea. She seemed excited about it.” Neal was kinda annoyed by Peter’s questioning but answered anyway.

“Where are you going?”

“Don’t know yet.” Neal told him, “Is this the only reason you called me up here or do you have an actual reason?”

“No, this was it.” Peter admitted

“Well then I’m leaving.” Neal turned around and left, but before he could Peter asked

“When are you working out the details?”

Neal turned around with a sigh, “She wanted it to be a surprise.”

Peter’s eyebrows raised, “Wha-you agreed to that?!” Realizing all the ways this could possibly go wrong.

“She seemed excited and she’s perfectly sane.” Neal assured, there was a hint of odd sarcasm in his voice.

Peter sighed and lectured, “Neal, you know that triggers aren’t a joke.”

Neal’s voice turned condescending, “Yeah, I know, Dad.”

“I don’t see this ending well.”

“Relax, I’ll be fine.”

He was not fine.


 

The next Friday morning was a clear sunny day, perfect for driving. After Neal dropped off Ellen at Peter and Elizabeth’s, Sara picked him up from his apartment.

He first noticed that she rented a black SUV. “So, we’re driving?”

She smiled, “Yep. Get in.”

So they started their surprise journey. They went north out of the city and continued going north. He noticed the interstate she took, “We’re going northwest instead of northeast. We’re staying in state.”

She quickly glanced over and teased, “Great deduction there, Sherlock.”

He took a deep breath and settled into the seat. He was more uncomfortable than he thought he would be, but he thought could handle it.

On the way they had some great conversation, listened to some great music. Although Neal noticed that as they continued going northwest they were going more towards the middle of nowhere. His anxiety steadily increased.

After they’ve been driving awhile they found a tiny run down gas station to stop at to fill up. Sara got the gas while Neal went into the tiny run down shop to pay and get some snacks and drinks. He took two small bags of chips and two waters to the register and made sure to add on the gas.

“Good thing you stopped here if you’re running low.” The old man behind the register said as he rang up the snacks.

“Why?”

“Because this is the last gas or anything for a really long time. About 80 miles or so.”

Oh. ” That was not what Neal wanted to hear.

“Good luck to ya.”

He grabbed the bag of snacks and left. As soon as he got back in the car Sara noticed he looked just a tad uncomfortable.

“You okay?”

Neal looked at her and brushed off, “Yeah. I’m fine. The guy in there was just a little odd.” He went into the bag and grabbed out the chips and waters, “Got some chips.”


Neal’s eyes kept scouring their surroundings. It was nothing but mountains and woods as they ascended up. Soon they weren’t even on a real road, it was mostly dirt. “Glad I got the SUV.” Sara commented, thankful for having four wheel drive uphill on a mostly dirt road.

Neal’s anxiety started racing. He tried to keep his mind busy, “So, about how much longer?”

Sara looked at the directions on her phone, “A little bit.”

He had to know, “I’m sorry, where are we going?”

“It’s a surprise!” She smiled and blindly dug into an almost empty chip bag.

“Okay but where?”

Sara sighed, her smile was gone, “You really want to know, don’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“You sure?”

Neal was growing ever irritated, “Yes!”

She let out another agitated sigh, “Fine, it’s Whiteface Lodge, up north. Got us a wonderful cabin. Well, it’s more like a small mansion. It’s all decked out with the resort’s 5 star amenities. We should be there by dusk.” She chuckled, “I figured this is about as close a we’ll ever get to ‘roughing it’.”

Neal knew that Whiteface was a 5 star resort upstate, but his mind stopped listening when she said that she got them a cabin in the mountains.

She was taking him to a cabin in the mountains.

He didn’t exactly like them ever since he was held captive and tortured in one, four years prior.

His anxiety reached near panic levels. He tried yet failed to stop his mind from flashing back to the cabin. The rational and irrational sides of his mind started to battle each other. The rational side saying that everything would okay. She’s not psychotic. It’s a luxury resort, not a waking nightmare. Just calm down.

The irrational side just screaming at him, “GET OUT! YOU’RE GOING TO DIE OR WORSE! GET OUT OF THERE!”

The thing that people don’t tend to understand about anxiety is; no matter how irrational the fear is, no matter how hard the rational side of your mind fights. The irrational side always has a way of winning. When anxiety’s in charge, fear has a great track record of winning.

“Stop the car!” Neal all of a sudden demanded

Sara quickly glanced over at him, really confused, “What?”

“Stop the car! Stop the FUCKING CAR!” Neal started yelling. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t think. He needed to get out of there.

Sara slowed down and pulled on the side of the deserted dirt road.

Neal barely waited till the car stopped before unlocking the door and jumping out. He started pacing and having a full blown panic attack. His breathing was erratic, his heart was beating a mile a minute, his hands were cold, numb, and shaking. When he felt immensely nauseous he kneeled down on the ground a about 20 feet or so from the car and started dry heaving.

Sara immediately followed him, wondering what was happening and super concerned about him. She first thought that perhaps he just got a little sick, but then she heard him muttering, “No no no no no. Not again.”

She put her arms around him to console him, but as soon as she did he violently jerked away and managed to get up and get a few feet away, “NO! Please get away! Please.”

Neal looked like a deer in headlights. Sara didn’t recognize him. He had completely mentally checked out. She stood there in an absolutely terrified shock. Not only did she not have the slightest clue as to what the actual fuck was going on, but she had no clue how to help him.

She heard him mutter, “I have to get out. I have to get back.” She had no clue what he meant.

She was speechless but tried to say something. It ended up coming out as gibberish, “What? Why? What? Neal?”

She wanted to console him with a hug but since the last time didn’t exactly work out she refrained from doing so. She stood there completely helpless and terrified for a few minutes until he started calming down. He immediately turned back towards the car, Sara followed. He got into the driver’s seat, Sara got into the passenger. The car was still on, so Neal immediately put it back into drive and swung it around to go back to the city.

When Sara finally found the words, she managed, “Are you okay?”

Neal looked over angrily and spat, “Do I look like I’m fucking okay!?” He looked at the road and he couldn’t stop the tears that soon consumed him. He pulled back over and the tears completely overwhelmed him, turning into sobs. Sara was hesitant to try to comfort him, but tried anyway. He merely flinched this time but she continued to wrap her arms around him as much as possible. She didn’t know why he was so overcome with emotion, but she was going to comfort him.

After a long heart-wrenching sob exhaustion soon took over and Sara concluded the drive home.


When they got back that evening, Neal immediately got out of the car. He was a almost up the steps before Sara thought, ‘ what the fuck are you doing? Follow him!’  She reached his apartment shortly after he did. He was distracting himself by putting some clothes away.

“I’m trying.” Her voice full of defeat, he kept his head down, keeping his mind busy. “I’m trying to...understand you. I’m trying to...know you. But I don’t know how.” He walked over towards the kitchen to clean up some dishes. She followed, “Ever since I got back I’ve noticed there was something different about you. Over time I noticed that everything just didn’t add up, and no one will tell me jack shit.” She had reached far beyond her limit with Neal not letting her in.

Neal finally said as he cleaned an already clean wine glass, “Time passes, people change. No need to talk about it.”

“Damnit, I’m trying!” She blurted, “I’m trying to get to know you again. Because I don’t know you now, but you won’t give me anything! If we’re going to work then you have to give me something back.” She almost begged.

He slammed the glass down, “I give you everything!”

“Ellen’s mother.” Sara brought up.

Neal stopped cleaning and looked at her for the first time, “What?”

“Ellen’s biological mother. Obviously something happened that no one will talk about. What was it? Also, what the fuck happened today?”

He couldn’t keep eye contact with her, “What-I’m-we’re-no-no. We’re not doing that.” He went back to cleaning a glass.

"See! You give me nothing!” She almost yelled, “I’m trying to connect with you. I’ll try anything, anything, but you have to give me something back.”

He gave her a look of daggers, “Well she is irrelevant.”

Sara blurted, “Yeah, like I’ll be in three years time.”

He stopped what he was doing to distract himself, clearly hurt, “That’s not fair.” He got back to putting away some glasses.

She was honest, “I’m trying to love you, why won’t you let me?”

He stopped putting the glasses away and turned towards her for the first time. He looked at her and finally spoke honestly, “...She...she took something from me. Actually...she took everything from me. She wanted me for herself. She wanted me to be...something I wasn’t. Something I never wanted and never asked for. I was just living my life, then all of a sudden I was thrust into just merely surviving each dreadful day. I lost myself, for a very long time.” He took a deep breath, “I love you. I love you so damn much that I’ll do anything for you or just to be with you. And that scares the shit out of me.” He took another deep breath, “When you said you were taking me...taking me to a ca-cabin in the mountains, you took a piece of me. It took me to a very dark place...that I swore...would never happen again.”

Sara was listening attentively. She finally felt like she could ask him, “Neal, what happened?”

Neal gestured towards the table, “Sit. We need to talk.”

The dam had been broken.

And there was no closing it till it was empty.

Chapter Text

This is...a very long story. A very hard story. It’s not something I want to do...but I feel like I have to do. I think I’m ready to tell you now. Although if I’m going to do this...then I just need to get it out and for you to listen. That’s the only way I can do this. I’m sorry if this turns disorganized or like word vomit, I just need to get it all out.

 

It was just an ordinary night. We were all on van duty and I annoyed Peter into letting me go home. I was exhausted. I just wanted to make some dinner and go to bed. Not too long after I got home someone knocked on my door. Mozzie was out of town and Peter was still in the van so I wondered who would be coming by late on a Friday night.

I’ll never forget how it all started.

I answered the door and she acted like she knew me. Because she did. She had stalked me for years.

I didn’t know her. At least I didn’t think I did.

...Her name was Christina Mendoza.

Turned out she worked at Vincent Adler’s company as an intern when I was there trying to run a con with Mozzie.

I wasn’t there to talk to interns, so I didn’t really know her at the time.

I asked why she was came. She said it was for me.  She made on a move on me. I rejected it then she pulled out a gun.

She got angry pulled a gun out, I immediately backed away and put my hands up

“Come with me.” she commanded

“How about we talk about this.” I tried to talk her down, “Let’s just sit down. Put the gun down and talk.”

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

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

Christina scoffed, “I don’t think you’re understanding me. I want you.

The way she said it was just...chilling. I eventually got her to put down the gun but as it turned out that was useless because afterwards she ended up stabbing me in the back of the neck with a needle. I immediately felt the effects of whatever drug cocktail she had in there. I tried to get up from the table and get my phone from the counter, right over there, but it was too far. As soon as I got up she said, “You’re not going to make it.”

She was right.

I was just about to call Peter when I fell unconscious.


You’d think that after being out cold for a solid while it would take awhile to get back to it. As soon as I awoke I knew I wasn’t at home. I whipped up so fast I’m surprised I didn’t pass out. I was in a small mountain cabin, a few hundred square feet or so. This one was customized to be a fucking fortress. When I closely inspected everything I quickly noticed everything was bolted down or locked down, the logs weren’t actually real so they wouldn’t rot or peel, the door was solid titanium (nothing I could beat), and the windows were nonexistent. The insulation kept me from hearing a damn thing.

I knew from the extensive customization and survival supplies (food cabinets, toiletry cabinets, etc.) that she wasn’t intent on killing me...right away. You don’t go through all that intensive security just to kill someone. If you’re going to kill someone immediately or fairely quickly you just do it. That’s just common sense.

All that was good in terms of overall survival...but motherfucking terrifying in terms of what she wanted from me, what she was going to do in the meantime, and why she did all this in the first place.

There was a part of my brain that I desperately tried to ignore that kept telling me, ‘ This was built for the long term. You’re going to eventually die here.’

I checked every square inch, there wasn’t anything I could break into, nothing I could use. Which wasn’t unexpected but very infuriating.

I kept telling myself that Peter would find me. The anklet was gone so he already knew I was gone. I just prayed he knew that I was taken and that I didn’t run.  I told myself that this was just a temporary setback. That I would be home soon. I’d find a way out or Peter would find me.

I had to think that.

I had so much faith in Peter. I knew he’d find me. I had to think that. Especially when after I found out there was no way to get out. He found me each time I ran. It was his unofficial job. My own personal search crew. Now was the time he truly needed to find me.

I was like the boy who cried wolf. When he didn’t really need help everyone found him, but when he truly needed help, no one came to his aid.

 

Christina came in and I jumped up, demanding 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 some food.

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

That was only the first sentence of many that scared the everliving shit out of me.

“We’re truly in the middle of nowhere. We’re so off the grid no one will ever find us. ” She looked up at me and said, “You’re finally free from the Feds. That’s what you wanted, isn’t it? To be free.”

I remember this so clearly because it was so damn haunting . She took what I wanted and twisted and contorted it until it was unrecognizable.  She went on to say how this was a new start and we’d live there and have kids. Which was fucking terrifying and batshit crazy. I knew that I was not only dealing with a psychopath, but a delusional psychopath.

That’s even scarier.

She then went on to say how absolutely fucked I was. That we were so far from civilization I would never make it back.

I then asked the obvious questions. 

“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 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.” Mozzie couldn’t even hack that thing. It was basically unhackable. 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.”

At that point in time, that was the most terrifying thing she said. Because you don’t have to be a genius to know what “I took care of him.” means, especially in this context.

I had to ask, “Did you kill him?”

She never gave me a straight answer, just her delusional bullshit. I assumed she killed him and disposed of his body...somewhere. I only learned he was alive when I asked Peter at the hospital if he was dead and if they managed to find his body. Everyone was really shocked and Peter told me he was standing outside. The two had never even met.

She drugged me again and that night...was the first time...she forced me to have sex with her. She succeeded in getting reactions. I never thought I could be betrayed by my own body in those ways. But I was...a lot.

My psychologist was quick to tell me that just because you have bodily reactions during an assault didn’t mean you wanted it or enjoyed it. Comparing it to crying while peeling an onion. I got the metaphor but it didn’t help.

I just kept telling myself that Peter was coming and this would all be over soon. That was my only comfort, as small as it was. I’ve never really been religious, but I had faith in Peter.


 

I remember waking up the next morning thinking, hoping, praying, that it was all just a fucked up nightmare.

It wasn’t.

It was so very real.

When I woke I realized that she had restrained me. Like the place wasn’t small enough already. I couldn’t reach the kitchen or the door. I remember that she acted like this was completely fucking normal. She again, laid out how fucked I was and how she intended things to be. The part I would be forced to play.

I remember thinking, ‘ Dammit, Peter, where are you? Please come and find me. Because it doesn’t seem like I can get out of this hell on my own.’

I learned quickly that saying ‘no’ to her wasn’t an option and to never underestimate her. The second night she made a move on me. I punched her in the face.

It really hurt my hand, and it was quite stupid, but damn it felt amazing.

That didn’t end well for me. She drugged me again and I woke up, days later, with fuzzy memories and plenty of bruises and scars.

She made sure she was in charge of the food, and I couldn’t reach the kitchen. If I didn’t do something right or if she was just feeling particularly evil she would refuse to give me food. Instead she would just eat right in front of me. Savoring every second of it. She used food as a weapon.

I remembered that if someone likes you and you’re useful to them. It’s harder for them to kill you. I had to submit to her rules in order to survive. That didn’t mean that I wanted to do it, because it hurt like hell to submit to her.

Also I want it to be perfectly clear, even though my survival depended on her, I never felt anything towards her other than pure hatred. There was no Stockholm Syndrome.


The days were spent trying to survive and the nights…

She was determined to have her delusional fantasies of a ‘life’ with me up there. She was intent on getting pregnant. She would read books on how to get pregnant naturally. Which I found painfully ironic. Because his whole fucked up situation is so fucking natural!

This also meant some long painful nights when she was ovulating. Just painful nights when she wasn’t. At night I was just a tool to be used.

 

As days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months, I wondered where Peter was and why he hadn’t found me yet. I realized just how good she was at getting off the grid. That scared the shit out of me.

The same part of my brain that told me the cabin was built for the long term, told me that Peter wasn’t going to find me this time.

I tried to ignore it.

You know, I thought that I was going to go crazy from the cabin alone, let alone the survival and mind games. It was so small and dark...and cold, and the air was stale. Being there felt like I was buried alive. It felt like my grave.

My escape attempts had been dismal at best. Because there was no way out. Nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide.

Since we were so goddamn removed from society, even if I did get out. I was still in the middle of fucking nowhere and could die of exposure, or literally anything else! Or worse, she’d find me and slowly kill me. My imagination was probably tame in comparison to reality.

I learned quickly that, when she got angry, she got violent.

All of that was dependent on being able to escape in the first place. Which, like I said, wasn’t going well.


 

I’ll always remember the night she told me that she thought she was pregnant. As soon as she said it I tried not to have a fucking panic attack. She left for a few days to get it confirmed. So I was alone there. Which terrified me in a different way. Since I couldn’t reach the locked up kitchen, I didn’t have anything to eat. I just hoped that she didn’t leave me there to starve.

When I was left alone I had nothing to do but think.

I tried to figure out why this was happening to me. I kept thinking that maybe it was karma for all the shit I’ve done during my life. I wondered if Mozzie was still alive. I prayed he was but I was doubtful. I hoped that Peter knew I didn’t run, that he knew I was taken. There was a lot of misplaced self blame.

 

Early on I made a goal and I clung to it.

I was not going to die there. I was going to get out. Somehow. Someway.

I was fiercely determined to survive. I wasn’t going to let her win. I would do what I needed to do in order to survive. That’s not saying I didn’t waver and want to give up, because I most certainly did. But I preserved when the odds were far against me.

I had to remember what I had to get back to. Who I had to get back to. Everyday was a fight to survive and a fight to get back home.

I had hope, fierce determination, stubbornness, perseverance, and patience on my side. I would have to constantly remind myself during the low points. I had to remind myself that there was life outside the cabin. And that throughout all odds I was going to get back to it.

I would use all that to survive.

  

When she finally came back she had the happiest fucking look on her face and I fucking knew . She was over the fucking moon. I just about had a fucking panic attack. It was so damn terrifying.

Normally at night after...after she loved to talk. Well, she talked all the time, but especially at night and during meals. It was normally her delusional bullshit...or mind games. I forced myself to listen, just incase there was anything that I could use. Some nights were harder to listen than others. Like when she would bring up Peter.

“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 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.”

After a while it became harder and harder to ignore it. Thinking that perhaps she was right. Maybe Peter did just use me for my skills. Maybe he didn’t care I was gone.

She had a way of...getting inside your head, and just staying there forever. Making you believe things that weren’t true. She knew exactly which buttons to press to get the response she wanted.

 

The night she told me she was pregnant she couldn’t shut up about how happy she was.

“I’m so happy we’re finally going to start a family. Just like I always dreamed about. We’re bonded now, Neal. We’ll forever be connected through our child.”

She said things like that every chance she got . I knew it was purely to get to me.

It worked.

Although it didn’t take long for that happy mood about her pregnancy to deteriorate. She was already erratic. So with all the pregnancy hormones her mood swings became more common and more severe.

Which led to more long nights, more bruises, more pain.

I knew why she wanted to become pregnant. Along with her crazed delusions, she knew that she could use it to manipulate me into doing whatever she wanted.

She was right.

It didn’t take long for her to start threatening the baby.

Christina rubbed her small stomach, “I wonder when you start feeling pain?” That got my attention, “I heard you start in the womb.” I tried to hide the fear, but I knew she picked up on it. “Behave and we won’t find out.”

I wouldn’t dare test her, because she was crazy and psychopathic enough to do it.

The pregnancy, the baby, it was all her insurance policy. To ensure that I stayed in line.

She had all the leverage and power...and I had none.

 

My goal of survival got a lot more complicated with this news. It was the first time I started to think long term. Which was terrifying in its own right. I knew I couldn’t try anything while she was still pregnant. Because I couldn’t leave a baby with her or risk Christina harming her. I knew I had to wait until either she miscarried or gave birth.

I couldn’t think of just myself anymore. I had to think about her.

I had to think of a way to get the both of us out.

 

Months later was the first time she let me outside. It had been almost a year since I was last outside.

I quickly noticed I was in a clearing up in the mountains. It had recently snowed a good few inches. There were a lot of trees nearby and a river. I knew that if you followed a water source (like a river) long enough you’d find some sort of civilization. I kept that in mind for later. She wanted me to move a bear that she had killed into the shed. I always remember how she killed it. Not only did she slit its throat but she put a bullet right between its eyes. After a little convincing she let me help in the shed. It was that or go back into the cabin. Which I did not want to do, not just yet.

I saw all the supplies she had stocked up in the shed. It was yet another reminder that she was in this for the long haul. I tried not to think about it. It was so disturbing to see her hack away at that bear. Peeling its skin off to get to the meat. She was very skillful when it came to knives.  

You know, having a very vague idea of where I was, was helpful, but...it reminded me how very far from home I was.


 

She came in one day and said that it was time. I knew immediately what she meant. She was in labor. She laid down on the bed. I sat at the table for most of it. There wasn’t anything I could do. I sure as hell wasn’t going to help her...unless she threatened me or the child.

She was in labor for a long time. I don’t know how long, but it was more than a few hours. She writhed on the bed screaming the entire time.

I’m not going to lie, I took great enjoyment in her pain. It was so gratifying to see someone who has tortured you for so long in so much pain.

Finally she started to crown. I got ready to catch the baby.  With a few pushes she was out and in my arms.

I saw my baby girl for the first time. The first face other than hers that I’d seen in over a year.

I cleared her face and lungs, but she hadn’t cried yet. I pleaded with her to cry. I prayed that she would cry. She finally let out piercing wails that bounced off the soundproof walls. It was the most beautiful sound. It was the first voice other than hers I’d heard in over a year.

God she was beautiful. The attachment was immediate. It finally hit me, I had a child. For the first time since I woke up there I felt something that wasn’t fear, terror, panic, pain, or hate. I felt...love, joy. Which feels so weird, almost wrong, to say.

But that was all quickly taken away when Christina demanded to hold her. Suddenly this fear, the likes of which I’ve never felt before, set in. She demanded again with a threat.

I regretfully handed over my daugther.

I stood there in shock as she cooed over her and boosted about how we were a family now.  

“I can cut the umbilical cord.”

“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 me the knife to cut the cord, I did. She grabbed it back

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

She didn’t need to grab it back, or keep the knives away in the first place. It wasn’t like I could get away. If I tried anything I was dead. I also wouldn’t jeopardize my child’s life.

 

She fell asleep soon after and I remember taking my daughter and sitting on the floor against the foot of the bed and holding her tight. I made her a promise.

I 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.”

This was when I truly lost faith in Peter doing what he does best...finding me. It was the one time that he couldn’t find me. I knew that it had been more or less a year. If he didn’t have anything by then he wasn’t going to, or worse, he was on a wild goose chase. I knew if we were going to get out there, it would be all up to me.

She lit a fire inside me of renewed determination to find a way out,

I whispered in her tiny ear, “ I promise on my life, I’ll get you out. However possible.” She cooed and squirmed, I held her tight, “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. I will keep you safe.”

I knew I was making a very big promise that I was very unsure I could actually keep.

I couldn’t stop looking at her. I was surprised with how much I was able to love her. How quickly it happened. She was beautiful and healthy, and perfect. She looked just like me.

Looking into her deep blue eyes I thought, ‘ Who could ever hate when they were staring into the eyes of a such a creation? How can a monster kidnap me and hurt me every day when beauty like this exists? How can something so wonderful come from something so painful? I didn’t think that was possible. 

I won’t let that monster harm my baby. Everything I am is now dedicated to prevent it and get us out.

One day we’re getting out of here. One day soon maybe. One day late maybe.

But one day nonetheless.’

I was terrifying yet oddly comforting that in this dark hellhole...I was no longer alone. I was alone with her for so long, and now I wasn’t.


 

After Ellen was born I became paranoid that Christina was going to hurt her. I knew she was crazy enough to do it. I was there at the slightest hint of her being fussy. Luckily she was a very good baby. The last thing I needed was a stubborn baby to add to everything. This didn’t last long though. Soon she got angry that I was tending to my baby too much. I regretfully had to decrease my role, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t subtly watching both of them like a hawk.

Christina got so angry when she wouldn’t breastfeed. I was terrified for my child. I was terrified that she was going to hurt her.

 

A few weeks after she was born Christina let outside to help with some chores. She let me outside few and far between. Always having tools in sight and my baby in a makeshift sling around her.

I heard something. Someone. I couldn’t believe it. She heard it too.

Soon a man in hunting attire came into the clearing. He was an innocent man who was just in the area to hunt.

The sounds got louder as they got closer, Christina hugged my 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 this by accident.

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

I knew this was my chance. My chance to get us out. My chance at freedom. But I had to be very careful. I would later realize how desperate I was.

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

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

“I’m Nick, by the way. Nick Halden.”

“Barry Lander.” When we shook hands I slipped him the note. Barry saw the paper in his hand, looked at me confused, opened it and read it. He looked at me with disbelief to which I responded with the ‘shh’ hand gesture.

I said, “You really need to leave now. Please.” I gave Barry a look that asked, 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 me a look that said, yes I’ll relay your message with a nod and he put the note in his hunting jacket. I was unbelievably relieved, just for a second, until Christina come out of the shed. Berry turned around and started to leave when I saw that Christina now had a shotgun of her own.

I yelled for him to move. It too late.

His brains were all over the place.

I don’t remember much after that. Probably due to pure shock. I remember she threatened to shoot me if I didn’t go back inside. I remember looking at what was left of Barry’s head, which wasn’t much. I remember later picking his brains off my shirt. Being covered in his blood because I was so close when he was shot.

I remember being back inside screaming and sobbing and punching the door. Because I finally ...I finally thought I had a way off that  fucking mountain!

I felt like all hope was lost. That I was never going to make it out.

When she came back in I’ll never forget what she said.

“What did you do with his body?”

“I took care of it.” She said nonchalantly without skipping a beat as she put my baby in her crib near the bathroom. She used that phrase to describe what she did to Mozzie. I 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 have been my last chance at freedom. I 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

I stepped back and said as it finally hit me, “He was dead as soon as you saw him. He didn’t have a chance.” She smiled an evil smile and nodded.

She was always at least one step ahead. She always made sure she got what she wanted. As much as I still blame myself for his death. I know he didn’t have a chance. She was going to kill him...whether I gave him a note or not.

It was a moment of weakness, desperation. Because I kept telling myself that I should have known what she was going to do. That I should have gotten him out of there before she came back. Maybe he would still be alive...and I wouldn’t have blood on my hands.


 

I would soon find out that she found my message to Barry, probably when she was burying him. She then took my child and left. She left a short note on the other side of my help note to Barry.

She said goodbye.

Remember when I told you that I realized if she ever caught me trying to escape my imagination was probably tame in comparison to reality.

Yeah.

 

I was stuck. Restrained in an impenetrable hellhole with no access to food.

I immediately panicked. I felt like my fate was set in stone. I was going to die there. That was my grave. I was going to slowly starve to death.

All I could do was think. I thought of home, but that just made me emotional. I wondered why this was happening to me. I thought of the child I was just trying to protect but failed to. I thought that I failed to protect Mozzie, and Barry.

I tried to get to the food..but it was useless. There wasn’t anything to use as a lockpick. As hours turned to days I tried to delude myself into thinking that she’d come back so I wouldn’t starve and I would have my daughter back. I couldn’t stand the idea of my child being alone with a psychopath, let alone be raised by her if she never came back and I died there.

As time went on the fatigue set in and I mentally checked out. I was already not in good shape. I had lost a good deal of weight and muscle and was already suffering from malnutrition, among other things I would later be diagnosed with. I started spending a lot of time asleep. I didn’t have the energy to do anything else. It must have been days when I realized that I was likely going to die. It wasn’t how I thought I was going to go but I was starting to make peace with it.

I remember I had a dream that I had this perfect life. I was with my family, Ellen was there. You were there. We had recently moved into a beautiful penthouse to accommodate our growing family. We had everything. The comfort of the dream was cruelly taken away when I woke up in the cabin alone.

This all was by far the lowest point.

 

She finally came back after I don’t know how long. At the very least a week. Maybe longer. She acted like nothing happened and I wasn’t suicidal enough to bring it up. I immediately checked my daughter for any traces of abuse. She was fine.

I was so relieved to see my daughter again, and to know that I wasn’t going to starve to death.

 

Although that night she said something that rocked my core.

“I should be ovulating again soon. With any luck we’ll have another one by the new year.”

This caught my attention, ‘Another one? There’s going to be more of that ? More time here? More children? Like as in plural? This is going to repeat itself? I’m already having a hard enough time protecting one and trying to get one out. I can’t get two out and myself.

This is never going to end.’

I knew she could pick up on my panic, but luckily she didn’t say anything about it.   I took a few deep breaths and tried to calm myself. It was one of the times I had to remember what I was fighting for. But it’s hard to survive when the odds are so stacked against you and you’re just tired. I had to remember why I had insisted on surviving. I had to be strong. I had to be brave. I had to survive.

I had no choice.

One day she needed help outside. She was in the garden which was next to the cabin. She was kneeling and my baby was a few feet away from her. That was new. The tools were also behind her. Which was unusual. She normally kept the tools in front of her and my baby on her.

I thought, ‘ This couldn’t be? Could it?’ Could it be my opportunity?’

This was the scariest moment of my life. If I failed I was most definitely a dead man and she could kill my child.

I knew I had only moments to pull this off. Luckily I thrive under pressure.

 

I subtly and quietly picked up the shovel and stood behind her. I brought it above my head, ready to swing. She kneeled back towards me.

I smiled, “You finally messed up. It takes time, but you finally messed up.” I swung the shovel down upon her head with a piercing scream.

She fell unceremoniously to the ground. I saw blood around the wound. Even though there wasn’t much blood, I prayed that she was dead. I stood there in shock for a solid while. Waiting for the inevitable blast wave.

Eventually my brain started screaming, ‘WHAT THE ABSOLUTE FUCK ARE YOU DOING YOU TRAUMATIZED FUCK!? RUN YOU MOTHERFUCKER RUN!’

I frantically looked around for my baby. She was a few feet away, just lying there. I clutched her to my chest and ran as fast as I could down the river.

I started on my greatest escape.

I never checked her for a pulse. 

I just tried to get out as soon as possible.

I should have checked.

That was my mistake.


 

I ran through the forest faster than I thought was possible. Running around huge pine trees, almost falling over logs and tree stumps. I was terrified that she woke up and was after us. I couldn’t stop running. I have no idea how long I ran, but it seemed like an eternity. I prayed that Ellen wouldn’t start crying. If she was after us that could give away our location. I don’t want to know or imagine what she would have done.

My heart was beating so fast I thought I was going to have a fucking heart attack. All I could feel was my blood whooshing through me and my heart thrashing against my chest. All I could hear were my heavy breaths. I soon saw some meticulously placed branches. I finally stopped running and moved them with my free hand. It was a van. It was most definitely hers. It was probably how she did supply runs and the other times she left. She also probably used it to get me up in this hell.

I knew it would be locked but I tried anyway. It was. I anxiously broke through the window and unlocked the door. I saw a box in the back which I strapped to the front seat and put her in.

I sat in the driver’s seat and hotwired the car. I knew she wasn’t dumb enough to keep the keys in the car. I then sat there as it finally hit me, ‘Holy shit. You did it. You fucking did it. You got out. You got her out. You’re free. You survived. That was your goal. You achieved your goal. You can finally go home.

 

I drove for probably two hours or so before I finally reached civilization. A very small town. Seeing civilization again, after all of that was...truly indescribable. I needed somewhere to call Peter. I looked for a police station or a hospital.

I drove down the street a little before I saw it. Like a shining beacon. A hospital.


 

I think that between the shock of all this actually working and getting too excited and hitting a car in the hospital parking lot that’s why I don’t exactly remember what happened after that. I do remember that’s when I learned I was still in New York, in a very small town called North Hudson. I also remember just wanting to call Peter. To tell him that I was alive and that I didn’t run.

We had our reunion soon enough. It was quite emotional.

I finally saw him for the first time since that Friday in the van. He looked like he was about to cry. I felt the same way. “You finally came.”

“I’m here now.” The words ripped through me. He gave me a big hug, “I’m here now. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

I had to make it clear, “I didn’t run.”

He pulled away, “I know. I know.” There was something about how he said it that truly made me believe it. He looked over at Ellen, “She looks more like you.”

I would find out that he and Mozzie just near went crazy trying to find me and find out what happened.

He sat down in the chair next to the bed. We sat in silence for a little while. Neither of us knew what to say after all this time. After everything that happened. Neither of us knew where to start again. Since nothing would ever be the same again. We knew that, without a doubt. I was just happy to be with him again.

Although tons of questions ran through my mind. The main question being, ‘Why didn’t you find me this time?’

In hindsight, Peter was probably thinking, ‘I’m sorry that I couldn’t get to you this time. When it truly counted.’

We were soon interrupted by the cops. The nurses immediately knew that I was far more than their small town sheriff could handle.

The biggest case they ever handled was tricycle theft.

They gladly shoved this to the NYPD saying that since I was abducted there it was their problem. The Marshalls came by because even though I was technically declared a missing person some people didn’t believe it. Apparently Peter had to convince his bosses that I didn’t run. Some reluctantly agreed. I was declared a missing person instead of an escaped felon. My case was tossed from the FBI to the NYPD where the first person barely looked at it and just shoved it in a drawer till I reappeared.

Did you know that only about 2% of long term missing people come home alive? I knew I was one of few. I beat the odds. A lot of missing persons receive low priority because they assume the person just ran away and they have so many other cases to handle. Also, as soon as they saw I was a felon who escaped before, they didn’t care.

Peter and Mozzie were the only ones looking for me.

 

So I had to give my statement to the cops, which I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want to talk about it. Especially not in the detail they needed for the following investigation. At least they seemed to care and treaded lightly. The Marshalls didn’t give a single fuck and didn’t seem to believe I word I said.

Because I would totally make this shit up.

It took no time for them to be excused from the room.

Later Mozzie and I had our reunion. I was just relieved that he was alive and okay.

"This must be the baby."

I nodded, Mozzie looked at me,"Looks more like you"

"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

I didn’t have the energy to deal with an investigation. I knew how the legal system works. I knew generally how this all happens.

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

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

I could tell he was trying to keep things as light as possible but I was serious, “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’.”

 

When Peter and the cops found the cabin they didn’t...she wasn’t there. The blow to the head didn’t kill her.

She got away.

She was still out there.

 

On top of all that my sentence became an issue. It technically expired months earlier, but the Feds wanted me to serve the year remaining on my sentence. It was not what I needed at the moment. They wanted to put me back on the anklet and take away my child. I would learn that they voted against it...because Mozzie bribed them. Everyone eventually found out and kept me out of the loop on purpose. Because they said I was ‘dealing with a lot of shit’ and that I couldn’t handle it.

It really pissed me off.

Because it made me think that they were treating me like I was nothing more than a broken victim.

I survived Satan’s Mistress. I could handle what they had to say and what they did.

This all led to a fight between me and Peter a few months later when he finally told me.

At the hospital I finally got to officially name her. I named her what I called her in secret up till this point. Because of course Christina would not let me name her. You remember Ellen Parker, right? She was my dad’s partner who basically raised me. Then as a middle name I chose Petra, the female form of Peter.

There was no way I was putting her name on my child’s birth certificate. So I left it blank.


 

I was so...on edge the first week or so I was back. It didn’t take much to set me off.

No surprise I refused drugs that even had the capability to put me out. I wasn’t doing that shit again.

That’s why I didn’t get much sleep when I first got back. Because when I did I have nightmares. Still do from time to time. That night you stayed over and I woke up in a panic, couldn’t go back to sleep and you were confused. Yeah...it was a particularly bad one that night. I did what I normally do, fresh air, check on Ellen, and distractions. Sometimes a call to Peter.

 

Since I was so on edge I rarely let anyone around Ellen. Only the occasional doctor. Even then it was rare. I was fiercely protective, still am to an extent. It’s gotten better. I got lots of love and support from everyone but I knew what they were thinking, is he mentally sound enough to be taking care of an infant? Should they be separated? If anyone thought that no one was suicidal enough to talk to me about it.

Except Peter.

He brought up the elephant in the room.

"You know, I can make the call to the social worker to take care of the baby."

I looked up at him, the life drained from my face, "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?"

"Yes. That's what I was planning." I had a feeling I knew where he was going with this, "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."

This really pissed me off. I was already on edge and there were so many emotions overwhelming both of us. It didn’t take much to blow up.

I muttered, "Situation of her conception.” I yelled, “DAMMIT, Peter! Just say it!"

He didn’t. He deflected, “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?"

This hit me like a ton of bricks. It pissed me off because he was acting like he knew and understood what I went though. What I was thinking. He never asked about any of this, just assuming. Like it never occurred to him that I could love this child, my child. He didn’t know what I had to do in order to protect her. What I had to do to survive. He could never truly understand what I’ve been through. What it was like. Yet there he was making grand assumptions without even so much as asking me about it.

A lot of things were said, some were true, some weren’t. Since I was so angry I blurted,  “Well if you would have done your job then none of this would have happened! But you didn’t! I was stuck there.”   That was something I meant. I could tell it got to him. I don’t know if I would have ever said it without being provoked in such a way.

After I kicked him out he came back the next day to apologize. He gave me his support, but it was too late. Crippling doubt had already set in. It set me wondering if I could actually raise a child. I didn’t exactly have a male role model growing up. He supported me, even though I didn’t know what I was doing. Honestly, I still don’t. I’m just trying my hardest and praying that she turns out well.


 

Going home for the first time was so...surreal. As determined as I was to survive there were times where I truly didn’t think I’d ever see this place again. Mozzie and June surprised me by turning the back room into a nursery for Ellen. Which was very nice of them. I really appreciated it.

After I got back no one really knew what to say or do around me. To be honest, I didn’t know what to say to them either, and I didn’t have any suggestions for them. Other than don’t be pushy and weird.

Something that really bothered me is that I could tell that they were sometimes walking on eggshells around me. Acting like I’d break at any second. Because there is the expected love, support, and comfort...but you know there’s also pity. I thought they saw me as a victim, and I hated that.

For a while I put up this ‘I’m okay’ front. Thinking that maybe I could make myself believe I was okay if I just acted like it.

It didn’t last long. I was so damn far from okay. It took me a really long time to get to where I am now.

Mozzie stayed with me for a while, which was nice. I enjoyed the distraction and the company. Eventually I told him to leave. Because I just wanted to be by myself. I didn’t have the energy to do anything. I was kinda going to shit. I lost myself for a very long time. I only got out of bed when Ellen started crying. If she wasn’t there...I don’t know when I would have turned the corner. If I would have turned the corner. I barely left the apartment. I spent most of the time just lying in bed. I was either sobbing or completely numb and trying to feel anything at all. I was exhausted all the time, yet I slept either not at all or too much. Everything just hurt so damn badly.

A lot of times I sat in Ellen’s nursery. I would sit there for hours just holding her and watching her sleep. Seeing how happy and peaceful she normally was. She gave me something to look forward to. I couldn’t have dealt with this without my family. Without my daughter. She reminded me that there was life after this. She reminded me there was good in the world. In my life.

She was my hope in the darkness.

Although it wasn’t always okay. Because there were times where her words haunted me. How much she emphasized her role. That we were connected. There were a few days....a few days were I thought...I thought about giving her away. I thought we’d be better off, that I couldn’t give her what she deserved. I knew I could never do it though. That it was just the doubt talking.


 

I was unsurprisingly quickly diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety, and depression. The unholy trinity of trauma induced mental illnesses. Which made sense, I already said my lack of motivation, I had a lot of nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks. For years I lived in constant fear of her coming back. For years I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Because I wasn’t stupid, I knew she wouldn’t give up that easy. I remember it just so happened that after I got home, the place was broken into.

God I was so scared and paranoid. I was a damn wreck. Nothing was touched and it was seemingly just a random break in, but it still shook me. Peter advised I stay with him until the security here was upgraded and the guy was caught. It turned out to just be some unrelated kid, it took me a while to truly believe that.

 

You know, I thought that once I got home, life would get back to how it was before.

That would never happen.

Not just because I had a child now, but because so much had happened. I was a different person. Whether I liked it or not, that hell really changed me. I mean, in hindsight, how could it not?  It took me a while to admit that all that shit really got to me and really changed me.

 

This probably won’t surprise you, but it took a while to open up to anyone, even my psychiatrist, about what happened.

I didn’t want to talk about it. In a vain attempt that maybe it would just go away. Deep down I knew that I couldn’t hold it in forever. So that led to a lot of intense talks with Peter. (and my psychiatrist) Mostly just about what I was thinking and feeling. Like you right now, I just needed someone to listen. Although sometimes it was just talking to have a distraction from something like a nightmare.

You know, I thought I already did the hard part, I survived. I thought it was over and it would all be okay. I quickly learned that recovery’s a bitch, and it’s long as fuck. Like I didn’t how how bad I was until I got home. I wanted to get better...but I didn’t know how. After a while I thought I’d just be a screw up for ever. I couldn’t have done it without my family, without my daughter.

There was no way I could have done it alone.


Then, many months after I got home. I started to feel again. I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel. With a lot of time I realized that when you talk about it, you put light on it. You can see all the angles. That it is horrible...but there is life on either side and it’s somehow manageable. If you can name it, mock it, that takes away its power. Yeah I know that sounds like therapy bullshit, but it’s actually kinda true. I slowly started to enjoy things again. I started to relate to other people again. I started to feel real joy again. I started to feel like myself again.

That gave me hope that everything was going to be okay. That I was going to be able to move on from this. 

So around this time Peter offered me my old job back. I was surprised. I realized I was going to need a job soon. Financially I had almost nothing left. I asked Mozzie about assets to liquidate but he told me that he didn’t have anything. This led to a fight.

“How the hell did that happen? Where did it all go?”

Mozzie loudly spouted, “To finding you!”

Without thinking I blurted, “Well a whole lot of good that did!”

He and Peter tried, they really did.

She was just really good at hiding and covering her tracks.

I had a lot of medical bills piling up. The hospital tried to comp as much of the costs as they could, but they were a tiny hospital. They couldn’t afford to comp everything. Then intense psych care and on top of it all an infant. Even though they don’t do much they’re still very expensive. I didn’t have any insurance so the costs were all on me.

I was getting desperate. I was so relieved that Peter offered the job but I wondered if I could handle it. I decided to roll the dice and go back to work. It was the best decision I could have made. Because I finally started to feel normal when I went back to work. I had a routine. I had this new normal. Things were looking up. After I went back Ellen started walking and soon said her first word. Dada.

That was the most...amazing, indescribable, remarkable feeling. I truly thought that everything was going to be okay. I knew that I had a life after this. I remembered that I wasn’t alone.


 

About a year ago I got a text from Mozzie on a regular Saturday night,

CODE RED. GET OUT. GOT ME. SUIT’S NEXT.

She was back.

All of a sudden I felt like I was back in the cabin again.

She was intent on taking us again. This time she really was ‘taking care of’ everyone. She shot Mozzie in the chest. It’s by pure luck he’s still alive. I immediately got Ellen to safety. I figured since there would be no one at the Bureau on a Saturday evening the SVU police precinct would be safer. I kept trying to reach Peter and Elizabeth to warn them but when they weren’t picking up my mind went to the worst possible scenario. That she got to them. Peter eventually picked up and they were okay.

I was relieved to know that I got to them before she did.

Because she was on a mission to kill them so there would be no one to look for me when she tried again.

 

I wanted to help in any way I could. Except the Lieutenant in charge of the unit didn’t exactly tolerate my bullshit like Peter does. By that I mean, she didn’t at all tolerate it. She sent Ellen and me to the hospital Mozzie was at with some guards until this was all over. Which I do understand, but I still wanted to help. I felt this intense need to help. I said to just send Ellen and let me help, but she wasn't having it.

They caught her after getting an anonymous tip. It felt too good to be true. It was...she broke out at arraignment. Which, as it turned out, was probably her plan all along.

 

After she broke out she called me just to taunt me. Just to play more mind games. Press my buttons.

“She has me in her DNA, so since you love her so much. That means that you love at least part of me.” My blood boiled with rage, I clenched and unclenched my fists trying to stay calm. “Like I said, Ellen came from my womb. I gave birth to her. You wouldn’t have her without me. You should be grateful to have her. You should never forget where you got her.”

I punched a wall a few times after that. I knew she was just playing psychological judo.

But it was working.

She lured Peter to an isolated place, the old warehouse yard. Peter was intent on bringing her in.

But she knew exactly what buttons to press.

She made Peter think that she was reaching for a gun by putting her hand in her back waistband.

He sincerely thought she was reaching for a gun.

He shot her once in the chest and killed her.

While the cops were trying to formally figure out what happened I couldn’t believe she was dead. It sounded too good to be true. I thought that due to all the evil and chaos she caused it would take more than a regular bullet to the chest to kill her. A silver bullet maybe. A stake to the heart. An enchanted object perhaps. I was paranoid that maybe she wasn’t dead. I’ve faked my death on more than one occasion.

Logically I knew she was dead...but anxiety doesn’t listen to logic. After the autopsy I secretly went to the morgue just to see for myself. To calm down and prove to myself that this was over. She was truly dead.

 

After the cops ruled out revenge killing they had a tougher time trying to prove self defense. Which she most definitely intended. She wanted Peter to take the fall for her death. They ended up going to a grand jury, which I had to testify at. I really didn’t want to talk about this on the stand, but I would for Peter. They decided not to indict which is when I heard the best words anyone could have ever said to me, “ It’s over.”

She was finally gone. I could live without the constant fear of her coming back. I felt like I could do anything. I felt like I finally had my freedom.

I don’t regret what Peter did. Neither does he. He had doubts about his intentions, but those were just her mind games.

I felt like this massive weight was finally lifted from my shoulders and that I could finally move on. I know I’ll never truly be over what happened. But I mostly have a handle on it now. It doesn’t control me nearly as much as it used to.

I can say that I survived against all the odds.

I fucking survived.

I’m so much stronger than I thought I was.




 

He finally stopped pacing near the table, “So yeah. That’s my story. That’s what happened.” He paused for a second,  “I’m sorry if it was disorganized or like word vomit. I know it's a lot and it was really long... but I just needed to get it out. And there it is.” It really was like a dam breaking. All the water rushed out and it didn’t stop until there was nothing left and it was all over.

He looked at Sara for the first time since he started his story. He couldn’t look her in the eyes and tell her all this. Sara looked up at him in complete shock. She didn’t know what to say, “Oh. Oh my god.” She didn’t think that helped much, “I’m. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”

She didn’t know what to say to him. She tried to think of a way to comfort him but came up empty. She was still trying to wrap her head around all of this. He didn’t know what to say next either. Both of them knew that their relationship had changed with Sara knowing this.

They both looked at each other and thought the same thing, ‘Where do we go from here? What happens next?’ 

Chapter Text

Neal was physically and emotionally exhausted. Retelling and reliving all of that really took its toll on him. He spent the rest of the weekend in a half awake half asleep depression nap. Barely getting out of bed all weekend. Which he got away with since his energetic four year old was with Peter and everyone thought that he was out of town.

 

Sara sat in her apartment just trying to wrap her head around all of this. The shock hadn’t worn off over a day later. A part of her wanted to look this up out of morbid curiosity, but the other part told her it would be inappropriate. That it would crossing some sort of line. She got up from her kitchen table and walked into her living room to grab her laptop. She sat on the couch and opened it.

“You shouldn’t be doing this. You shouldn’t be doing this.” She muttered. With a little research she found the New York court records website. Before she could access the database she closed the computer. “I can’t do this.” She muttered. She took a few breaths then felt compelled to open her computer again. “I have to see.”. She closed her old tab and opened a new one. With some light Googling she was typing the name into a mugshot site. She had to see the person who was responsible for all of this.

Her mugshot quickly came up in the search results. She saw that she was around her age, tall, tan skin, and appeared to have a thin yet muscular stature. She long dark brown, almost black, straight hair. Sara noticed that her eyes were almost a chilling black. Sara felt like she was staring right at her. Her resting bitchface gave off a feeling of, I will fuck you up and no one will figure it out.

Sara was consumed with this instant fear. Especially since she knew what she was capable of. She wanted to look away, it was too hard to look, but she forced herself to keep looking. If Neal could endure her, she could at least look at a damn picture.

A “How?” and  “Why?” narrowly escaped her lips.

She closed the tab and closed her computer again.


 

Before she knew it she was at the Burke’s doorstep. She needed to talk and she figured Peter was her best bet. She knocked on the door.

When Peter opened it he was surprised to see her, “Sara? What are you doing here? I thought you were out of town with Neal.” Sara walked past Peter and into the living room without Peter inviting her in.

“Peter, I fucked up.” He looked confused, “I really fucked up”

“What happened?”

“I need to talk.”

Peter was concerned, “Elizabeth should be back soon with Ellen. Let’s go outside.”

They walked out to the back porch and sat at the table.

“What’s wrong?”

Sara confessed, “Neal told me what happened to him.”

Peter was not expecting that. He didn’t know what he was expecting, but it wasn’t that.

“I understand why he didn’t want to say anything or do it earlier. It’s not something you want to talk about.”

“Wha-why-how much did he tell you?”

“Everything. He told me everything.”

Peter was surprised with Neal’s honesty. He was concerned about what prompted it.

“How did he, why did he, come forward with all this?”

She looked upset with herself. She repeated, “I fucked up.”

Peter was starting to feel like a broken record, “What happened?”

She took a breath, “I was so excited about this getaway. I made a reservation at this resort upstate. In the mountains.”

Peter’s face dropped.

She was so angry at herself, “I...I got us a fucking cabin.”

His eyes widened, “ Oh no. Oh god.

“Yeah.” She got up and started to pace.

Peter stood up, “Is he okay?”

“Yeah, now.”

She explained how it all happened. “...It’s no wonder he had a fucking mental breakdown when I told him where we were going. When we got back he told me the story.” She was still in shock, “Holy shit, Peter.”

Peter was at a loss for words, “Yeah.” He noticed she was still in shock, “Are you okay? It’s not exactly an easy story to hear. It’s a lot to wrap your head around.”

She sat down again, Peter followed, “Did you ever hear about my sister?”

“I didn’t know you had a sister.”

“Emily, she was a little older than me. When I was 13 she ran away. At least that’s what we think happened. No one’s heard from her since.”

Peter’s face fell again in shock, “Oh my god.”

“It destroyed my parents. When I was younger I thought she ran away to achieve her dreams. As I got older, less naive…”

“You realized there were more options.”

“Ever since he told me I can’t get Emily out of my head. I can’t stop thinking about the worst case scenario….that she’s not out there achieving her dreams and having a great life, that she’s dead. Or worse….locked up with her own psychopath.”

A long silence hung heavy in the air before someone spoke again. “I have a question.”

“What?”

“How...how is he even functional? After all of that...I couldn’t be…”

“He wasn’t. For a long time he wasn’t. It killed me to see him that broken, defeated. With help, and time, he turned the corner.” He took a breath, “He’s the strongest person I’ll ever met, by miles. I just wish I that I didn’t have to find out like that.”

Sara noticed that Peter seemed to be very far away. He looked down towards the ground.

“I still feel like it was somehow my fault. I should have been watching him closer. Watching the people in his life closer. I shouldn’t have told him to leave the van that night. I should have checked the anklet that weekend. I should’ve noticed there was something wrong. I know I’ll carry that guilt til I die.” Sara was listening attentively. She didn’t know if there was anything she could say to help him.

“I keep wondering, asking myself. What if I put together sooner? What if I put it together at all? I could always find him. Why couldn’t I find him this time? He needed me to find him. What if I found him at all?” His voice got very low. So quiet Sara almost couldn’t hear him, “What if I found him before she got pregnant?”

After a long heavy silence Sara reminded him, “But you got him back.” Peter looked up at her, like he was just remembering she was there. “Yes, he was in pieces, but you got him back...A lot of people aren’t that lucky.”

She pulled her phone out of her bag to look at the time, “I should be going.” She got up to leave

Peter got up, “Did...did he tell you...how it all ended?” Referring to his involvement in her death.

She turned back, “Yeah. He did.” Peter’s stomach dropped. “I believe you, Peter.” A wave of relief washed over him. “Although I have to say. If I had the opportunity, there is no doubt that I would take my baton to her. There is no way it would be self defense…. But you’re much different than me.”


 

Monday afternoon Sara went to Neal’s place to pick up some files she left there the previous week. As she knocked on the door she knew no one was going to be there. Which made it more odd when the door was unlocked. She carefully opened the door and wasn’t surprised, more confused, when she saw Mozzie raiding Neal’s wine rack.

“What are you doing?” She asked, standing at the open door.

Mozzie didn’t look away from the wine rack, “Oh, Neal has a cabernet I wanted to have for lunch.” He finally found the bottle and put in on the counter to uncork it. “What are you doing here? Neal’s not going to be back for a while.”

“Yeah. I just needed to grab some files that I left.” She walked over to the table and grabbed the files.

“So, how are you and Neal doing?” Mozzie knew what happened the previous weekend. He was fishing.

“We’re fine.” She turned to leave but Mozzie said,

“So he told you his tragic backstory.” She turned around in surprise, “It really shows the worst of humanity, doesn’t it.”

“Yeah. It does.” They stood there for a few moments, “I was wondering. How did he not become just an, angry, bitter, hard, resentful, person? After being used like that, God knows I’d be bitter and angry all the time.”

Mozzie nodded and quoted, “Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let the pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness, steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”

Sara seemed confused, Mozzie elaborated, “He definitely had his moments of anger. But he’s not that kind of person who would let it consume him. It’s just not him.”

Sara didn’t know what to say. So she just nodded in acknowledgement.

“Any more questions?”

She shook her head, “No.”

"Well, if you do. Ask Neal.”

“Yeah. Will do.” She turned to leave again,

“You know, I hope you realize how big this was for him. Letting you in like that.”

“I know.”

“Good.”

Chapter Text

“We still on for dinner tonight?” Neal asked over the phone

Sara sighed, “I’d love to but I’m still swamped with work. I’ve barely left the office this week.”

“Yeah, that sucks, I’m sorry.” Neal wasn’t exactly surprised to hear that she was cancelling on him yet again. They had barely seen each other in the week since their failed gateaway and Neal’s confession. After he hung up he started to think that this many scheduling conflicts was statistically impossible.

He was starting to think that perhaps she was avoiding him and that’s why she kept cancelling on him.

So the next night he called Mozzie over to watch Ellen and he got some takeout to surprise Sara in her office.

When Neal arrived at Sara’s office at Sterling Bosch, he was confused when he saw the office lights off. Her assistant’s desk was right outside her office. He turned when he heard someone coming, it was her young assistant, “Can I help you?” She asked.

“Is Sara still in?”

She sat down, “No, Sara left a few hours ago.”

Sara told Neal that she was pulling yet another late night at the office. He needed to get to the bottom of this.

“Pulling a late night to keep up with all the craziness?”

She shook her head, “No, it’s about as busy as it normally is. I just have a lot of roommates and this place at night is the only time I can get any peace and quiet.”

Fuck.’ Neal thought, but he kept his calm and cool exterior. As much as he didn’t want to admit it, his suspensions were gaining more and more credibility.


Neal decided to surprise Sara at her place. When she answered the door she was surprised to see him.

“Hey!” He smiled and raised the takeout bag, “Thought you could use a break.”

She hesitated, “Um...sure, come in.”

He came into her large one bedroom brownstone, “I tried your office but you weren’t there.”

Sara walked into her large open kitchen, “Yeah, decided to work from home tonight.”

Neal followed her and put the takeout bag on the marble counter, “So you’ve been busy.”

Sara reached in her cabinets for some plates, “Yes, very. We recently bought another insurance company and it’s been a mess.”

Neal knew this was a lie. It was the first time he heard about this, the first time she gave him a specific reason about why she was so busy, and her assistant just told him otherwise.

He had a theory, soon he thought of a way to test it.

He came up behind her and put his arms around her.

“What are you doing?” She asked as she poured some wine.

“Thought that maybe dinner could wait a while.” He kissed her neck.

She turned around and pulled away, “I have a lot of work to do and an early morning tomorrow.”

Neal backed off immediately. Even though they had been together for a while, they hadn’t had sex yet. With his current theory about Sara avoiding him, he wondered if he made a move on her would she reject him.

He could tell she seemed uncomfortable. She looking down and leaning away from him. “I’m sorry, I have a lot to get done. You should go.” She walked towards the door with her eyes down.

He was going to confront her when she said, “Thank you for the kind gesture,” referring to the food, “but you should be leaving.” She was standing at the door.

He walked towards the door. Before he left he simply said, “I spoke with your assistant.” Her head shot up as her eyes widened and her brows raised.


 

Neal woke up the next morning and looked at his phone. He sighed when he realized he was running late. He got up to wake up Ellen for school. He knew she wasn’t awake yet because if she was, he would most definitely know.

He walked into her room and smiled to see her peacefully sleeping. He just took in the moment before gently waking her up.

“Time to get up, sweetie. You’ve got to go to school.”

“No. Sleepy.” She put her comforter over her head.

Neal quietly sighed, “Okay, I’ll be back in five minutes. Then you have to get up.”

He went back into the main room and started to make breakfast. He had some waffle batter in the fridge from yesterday so he just used that. He pulled the waffle iron from the bottom cabinet and poured the mix in. As it was cooking he hustled over to his closet to get dressed. He looked at his phone for the time and muttered, “Oh shit.” He was probably going to be late. While only about half dressed in pants and untucked dress shirt, he ran into Ellen’s room to try to wake her up again.

He was more than surprised to see that not only was she now awake but she managed to spill Legos all over the floor. He bit his tongue trying not to swear when he stepped on some while barefoot. “Ellen what are you doing? It’s time to go to school.” He still didn’t understand how her energy could go from zero to a hundred at the drop of a hat.

She looked up from the legos, “Not me! It’s Tigger!” She pointed to the stuffed Tigger next to her.

He sighed, “Well you have to pick them up now, okay.” He knelt down to help.

She didn’t like that. “No!”

He looked up raised eyebrows and a serious look, “What?”

She stopped what she was doing and thought again, she knew that look. “Okay.”

He nodded, “Good.”

After cleaning up that mess he asked, “You hungry?”

“Yah!” She rubbed her stomach.

He then remembered that he forgot to take the waffle out of the waffle iron from earlier. He muttered a very quiet, “Fuck.” He ran into the kitchen to see a slightly smoking waffle iron. “Fuck.” He muttered again while he twisted the handle and opened the top. The waffle was burned to a crisp. There was no saving it.

Behind him Ellen commented, “So you burnt it?”

“How about cereal?” He asked while he put the waffle iron aside to clean later.

“I want waffles!” She stomped her feet.

He turned towards her, “Well that was the last of the batter and there isn’t time to make more.” He got some cereal from the cabinet and some milk from the fridge. She gave him an overdramatic pout and he was quick to notice. “You can have waffles tomorrow. I promise.” He grabbed some orange juice from the fridge and a glass from the cabinet. After filling the glass he brought it and the bowl over to the table. “Here you go.” She sighed and walked over to the table to eat. While she ate he got himself dressed and ready. Because Ellen was being especially slow that morning he had time to pack her lunch before she was finished.

The next battle of the morning was getting her dressed for school. Normally, he gave her a few options and let her choose and dress from that.

This morning she was having none of that.

After trying and failing to get her dressed she showed an interest in shoes. So Neal took that and ran with it. Figuring he’d get back to clothes afterwards.

Ellen grabbed a pink pair of shoes from the closet, “T’is!”

Neal shook his head, “No, it’s cold and rainy, remember. You’re not wearing sandals. How about the sneakers or the boots?” He picked them back up and showed them to her.

“No! I don’t wan it!”

Neal took a deep breath. It was one of those mornings where if they got out the door at all it would be a damn miracle. After the complete mess that was the previous night. He didn't need this. He was already on edge.

“You have to pick one or I’ll pick for you.”

She stomped her feet and scrunched her face. She was on the edge of a complete 4 year old meltdown. Neal held firm. She looked in her closet and grabbed another pair of boots. “T’is!”

“Okay.” They were warm and fit so Neal called it win. She was able to put on the boots while Neal grabbed the two dresses he grabbed earlier and again tried to get her to pick one.

“No! Somethin’ else!”

His patience was running very thin by this point. He was about to blow up at her. He put the clothes down, got up, and left. He walked out to the main room and outside. He was already pissed off that Sara had been avoiding him and lying to him since he poured his soul out to her. The last thing he needed was a difficult, defiant child who was normally good.

It was one of those mornings where parents think, ‘ I love them, but Is it too late to give them up? Was this a mistake? Can I really do this?’

Between large, slow, deep, breaths and the sound and feel of the rain, he started to calm down. Those thoughts and doubts slowly crept away. He took a few more deep breaths, felt the rain on his face, then went back inside. He walked back into Ellen’s room, ready to battle with her again.

He was pleasantly surprised to see her getting dressed in one of the dresses he offered earlier.

She beamed at him, “It’s purple!!”

He smiled and chuckled, “Yeah, it is. It’s pretty.” He silently thanked God for the minor miracle.


Neal finally made it to the office after dropping off Ellen at preschool and was summoned up to Peter’s office. He gave Neal a file and started to brief him on the case when he stopped.

“You okay?” Peter noticed that seemed distant from the conversation, like he was thinking about something and silently fuming about it.

“What? Yeah.” Neal was a little caught off guard by the question.

“Is there something wrong? You seem out of it which isn’t like you.”

Neal looked down at the casefile, “Chaotic morning, Ellen was being difficult.”

Peter smiled and remarked with sarcasm dripping from his voice, “What? Your child. Difficult? Say it isn’t so.” Neal gave bitchface, “That wouldn’t explain why you’re so distracted. So what is it really?”

“How can you even tell?” Neal redirected

“One, how long have we known each other again? Two, because of that, I’m one of the two people who can read you like a book.” Only Peter and Mozzie could see through Neal's thick facade of charm, wit, and smiles.

Neal closed the file and put it down on Peter’s desk with a sigh, “Sara’s been avoiding me for the past week.”

“Since your…”

“Yeah.”

Oh.”

Peter sat down at his desk, Neal sat on the other side, “She’s been lying to me. She told me she’s been busy with a merger. I went to her office last night to surprise her with dinner and not only wasn’t she there, but her assistant told me they’re not busier than they normally are. It was all bullshit!” The anger was prevalent in his voice. Peter could tell that under his calm body language lay anger and hurt. He listened attentively, “I went to her place, it was clear that she was uncomfortable...After she cancelled on me for about the 5th time in a row, I got suspicious. I thought that she could be avoiding me. Last night confirmed it.”

“What happened last night?”

“...I knew she was avoiding me, I wondered how far her avoidance would go. So I tested it, maybe not the best way but it was effective in getting an answer. I made a move on her.”

Peter didn’t expect that, “What? How’d that go?”

“She kicked me out.” He nodded, “Yeah, didn’t expect that. Expected more plain rejection.” Peter didn’t expect that either. He didn’t know what to say. “I was going to say something...but what is there to even say at this point? I told her my baggage and she won’t tell me that she can’t handle it. Well that makes two of us!” All of a sudden Neal was feeling too vulnerable for his comfort. He took a deep breath, grabbed the file he tossed on Peter’s desk earlier and started to leaf through it, “So you think this company’s a front for money laundering?”

Peter didn’t push, he was glad he at least got that much out of him. He turned his attention to the case.


Peter took an early lunch saying that he going to meet with Elizabeth. Instead he went to Sterling Bosh and stormed into Sara’s office ignoring her assistant who told him that she was busy. Sara was on the phone and more than surprised to see Peter storm into her office.

“Hang up.” He demanded, "Hang up."

“I have to call you back. I’m sorry.” She hung up and put her cell on her desk, clearly confused.  “What can I do for you?”

Peter got straight to the point, “You can tell me why you’ve been avoiding Neal and lying to him.” Sara knew she was caught. “You need to come clean, Sara.”

She sighed, “Alright...I don’t want to push him away.”

“Then why are you?”

There was silence between them, her face turned soft and hurt, “Last Friday was all my fault...I just wanted a nice weekend with him. Instead I re-opened a wound that can never fully heal. I...I caused a complete mental breakdown. I never wanted to ever hurt him, yet I did so spectacularly!”  She blurted without thinking, “I can’t stand that I caused the man I love so much pain and I never want to cause even a fraction of that ever again!”

She stopped in surprise and thought about what she just said. This was the first time she ever admitted that she loved Neal.

Peter was surprised at her comment, “You’re pushing him away so you don’t accidentally hurt him again.”

She was still thinking about her previous comment, “...Yeah. I am.”

He nodded and calmly explained, “I understand, but there’s some flaws with that. Firstly, he’s not made out of glass. You don’t have worry about breaking him. It takes a lot to do that. Secondly, by pushing him away, you’re still hurting him. Just in a different way. He’s very pissed and upset that after he told you all that you’re actively avoiding him and lying to him.”

Sara finally realized the consequences of her recent actions. She sighed, “I fucked up again, didn’t I?”

Peter reassured her, “It’s fixable. Talk to him. Explain yourself.”

“Will...will he understand?”

“I think he will, but you need to talk to him.” 


Later that night Neal was cleaning up the kitchen when he heard a knock at the door. He was wondering who’d be coming by that late. He opened the door and had trouble hiding his shock, “Sara. What are you doing here?”

She seriously and lowly asked, “Can I come in?”

“Sure.” He gestured for her to come in.

She walked in and Neal was wondering why she was there. With her behavior the past week he thought that were more or less over. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.” She started, her voice low and apologetic. A part of his brain told him that she was probably going to break up with him. Another part of his brain was more hopeful and curious as to where she could be going with this.

“You’re right. I have been lying and avoiding you...but not why you think.”

Now Neal was really confused.

“Last Friday...was all my fault. I’ve been having a hard time dealing with that I caused you so much pain, and distress.”

Neal was completely taken aback by that. He most definitely did not expect that answer. That had never even crossed his mind. He scrambled trying to think of something to say. “...It...was an accident. I know you didn’t mean to.”

She threw her arms in the air, “Does it even matter? If it wasn’t for my dumbass idea you would have never had a complete mental breakdown!” There was a thick lingering silence, “I would never want to hurt you, even a fraction. Because I love you, Neal. I love you so fucking much. It killed me what I caused you to remember. It killed me to avoid you, to kick you out last night. But I thought that I could prevent any more pain by just staying away. But I realize now that was stupid and wrong. So I’m sorry. You’re probably really pissed, and I get it. As much as I can, I get it. So if you want to kick me out, by all means. Go for it. I just thought you should know the truth. But if you can somehow forgive me, I really want to try to make this work. So we can both be happy.”

Another thick silence filled the room. Neal stood there in shock. He truly realized that Sara was someone special. He walked up to her, “I love you too.” He pulled her in for a long lingering kiss. She wrapped her hands around his back. His hands traveled from her back to through her hair. When they broke they looked into each other's eyes and smiled. They kissed again, this time they started moving towards the bed. As they continued he tugged at her dress, pulling it down. She unbuttoned his dress shirt and he shoved it off.

When they reached the bed she pulled away from his lips and looked down at his pants. He unzipped and pulled them down. She laid down on the bed and he got on top of her. He leaned in for another kiss as he unhooked and pulled off her bra. She pulled down her panties and he pulled off his boxers. They were ready.

Everything was slow, deliberate, loving. Once they were finished they fell asleep wrapped in each other’s arms.

Chapter Text

When Ellen woke up the next morning, she jumped out of bed clutching her bear, Mozart. “‘M hungary.” She said as she walked out of her room and into the main room. She walked over to the bed in the corner and noticed there was another person in it. She tilted her head in confusion and went to investigate.

She walked over to the far corner near the dresser and saw Sara asleep. She stood right at the head of the bed and stared for a while. Sara sleepily opened her eyes and then startled when she saw Ellen standing so close.

Ellen simply said, “I’m hungary.”

Sara’s eyes darted around for a few moments before elbowing Neal, “Neal. Neal! Wake up!”

He woke with a slight groan and Ellen ran around the bed and repeated, “I’m hungary. I want waffles. You said I can today.”

It took Neal a moment to remember the previous morning. “Alright. How about you go get the ingredients for the mix and I’ll be over in a second.”

They were both still naked from the previous night’s activities and he needed to at least put on pants. After Ellen ran to the kitchen, Neal saw his pants next to the bed. He was able to discreetly slide them on before removing the covers. While Ellen was still preoccupied in the kitchen Neal noticed that Sara’s dress was across the room, but his shirt was nearby. He discreetly grabbed it and tossed it to Sara who was still lying in bed trying to stay covered. She caught the shirt and gave him bitchface, ‘ Really?’

To which Neal replied by raising his eyebrows and slightly pointing to how her dress was across the room and it was his shirt or nothing. She let out a small quiet groan and tried to put the button down shirt on without removing the covers. After she looked at her phone and muttered, “It’s 7am on a Saturday, what the hell is she doing up?” She didn’t know that a lot of kids are early risers, and Ellen was one of them.

Sara got up and walked over towards the table. She smiled as she watched them playfully make waffles. Ellen was fascinated with the waffle maker. She loved to turn the handle and try to pour the batter. Sara watched as Ellen wanted to put some toppings on her waffle. She smiled and chuckled when Ellen couldn’t decide between syrup or whipped cream so she was going to try both.

Ellen grabbed the plate and turned towards the table, “It has whipped cream and syrup!”

Sara chuckled again, “Sounds delicious!”

Neal turned from the kitchen, “Sorry to wake you so early.”

“No, it’s okay.”

“Since, you’re up, you want one?”

“Sure.”

He brought Ellen a glass of juice while the waffle cooked and coffee brewed. Sara sat down at the table next to Ellen. She looked at Sara and candidly asked, “Why are you wearing Daddy’s shirt?”

Sara gasped then composed herself, Neal was surprised as well. Sara thought for a second, “...Umm, I spilled something on it so it has to get washed.”

Ellen nodded, “I get it...sometimes cake happens.” Sara’s shock washed away and she chuckled.  Neal brought over two more waffles followed by some badly needed coffee.

As they ate Ellen asked, “Can we go to the zoo today?”

“I don’t see why not.” Neal answered

“Can Sara come?” They were surprised by that question and looked at each other.

Neal was still looking at Sara, “If she wants, she might already have plans.”

Sara smiled, “No, actually I’m free all day. I’d love to come.” Neal smiled and Ellen cheered.


 

Early that afternoon they went to the zoo. Due to it Saturday afternoon it was pretty crowded. Ellen was really excited and kept charging ahead which prompted Neal to keep telling her to slow down. As they tried to keep up with the energetic preschooler, Sara noticed Neal was panting after running after Ellen “What Caffrey, can’t keep up? Can’t run as well as you used to?” She smiled and let out a few small laughs.

He covered up his smile, “I was making sure that we didn’t lose you.”

Standing at the gate to the enclosure Ellen yelled back at them, “Daddy look! Daddy look! It’s the otters!”

“I see!” Neal called back and they walked over.

Standing next to them at the enclosure was an older couple with their grandkids. The man looked at Neal and Sara and offered some advice, “Hey, enjoy these days.” They turned their attention towards the older couple, “These are what we call, the good old days. You’ll miss them when they’re gone.”

The older woman complimented, “Your daughter seems lovely. You look like a wonderful couple.”

The older couple walked away with their grandkids. Neal and Sara looked at each other, not exactly sure what to think about what they were told and what was assumed by the older couple.

They were distracted when Ellen called out in excitement, “The lions are over dat way! They’re my favorite! Let’s go!”

 

That night when Neal was tucking Ellen into bed he asked, “Hey, what do you think of Sara?”

“I really like her. She’s really cool. She has pretty hair and likes the lions.” Neal was beaming, having his daughter's approval of Sara was very important to him, “Can she come to gradu’aion?” Her preschool was having a graduation ceremony in a few weeks when their school year ended to celebrate everything they had learned over the year. Neal was surprised that she brought it up.

“You really want her there?”

“Yeah!”

Neal smiled, “Then we can most certainly ask.” which made Ellen cheer.


 

Sara stayed over a night the following week. While everyone was trying to get ready the next morning Neal got called into the office early.

Neal held a spatula full of eggs in one hand as he held his cell with the other, “Right now?”

“Yeah, I’m sorry. The lead just came in and we have to act now. I’m on my way already.”

Neal sighed as he brought a plate of eggs to the table and put them in front of Ellen who started to eat.

He sighed, “Alright, I’m on my way. I’ll meet you there.” He hung up, “I have to go now.” Ellen gave an overdramatic frown and sigh.

He turned to Sara who was sitting at the table drinking coffee, “I know this is a lot to ask, but can you help her finish getting dressed and take her to school?” Sara was shocked. That was a lot of responsibility, “I wouldn’t ask, but I really do need to go now.”

“Um, okay.”

He was relieved, “Oh thank you. I owe you.” He gave her a quick kiss then finished getting dressed, said goodbye, and left.

As soon as Neal left Sara thought, ‘ Um, alright. All you have to do is get her dressed and to preschool. You can do this. You can handle this.’

Ellen started talking about school which reminded her, “We havin’ a gradu’aion. Can you come?”

Sara didn’t actually understand what Ellen was asking at first. Sometimes kids are hard to understand.

“We gonna wear hats and dresses and celeb’ate.”  

She still didn’t really know what she was talking about. So she took her time trying to respond, “Sounds awesome.” She figured that was a safe response.

Ellen finished her eggs and gulped down the rest of her orange juice.  “Wanna come?” She asked again. Sara suddenly remembered that Neal had said something to her about it the other day and it all made sense. She remembered because it reminded her about how she moved back to New York that past September and caught up with Neal and met Ellen. She couldn’t believe it was almost summer already.

Sara smiled, “I’d love to.” The little girl bubbled with excitement. “Now you have to get dressed so you can go to school.”

“What if I wear my pjs?”

She shook her head, “I wish we could wear our pj’s outside, but we can’t.”

“Why?”

“Because that’s just how it is. Let’s go.”

Getting dressed wasn’t as hard as Sara previously feared. They ended up bonding over clothes. Sara thought it was really cute when Ellen said that she liked looking at the models in fashion magazines because she loved their clothes.

“You should come to my house. I have lots of pretty dresses and accessories.” Ellen lit up.

“Like a princess!”

Sara chuckled, “Yeah, like a princess.”


Once they reached the bright classroom they were greeted by a young and cheery brunette woman, “Good morning!” She waved at them, “I’m Ms. Mallark. I will be filing in for Ms. Thompson this week. She’s on vacation.” She looked at Sara and offered a handshake, “Hi, you must be Ellen’s mom. Nice to meet you.”

Sara tried to hide her shock. She shook the woman’s hand. She looked down and saw Ellen with an ear to ear smile and bouncing with excitement.

Ms. Mallark turned her attention back to Ellen, “Ellen, you can go put your backpack in your cubby. We’re going to start soon.”

“Okay!” She gave Sara another smile before running off.  Ms. Mallark quickly said goodbye to Sara and went to teach the class.

Throughout the entire day Sara couldn’t get the encounter out of her head. Ellen’s mom.

The more she thought about it...the more she liked it.

Ellen’s mom.

She could get used to that.


 

The three were sitting at the table after dinner one night playing Uno. Ellen said, “Uncle Mozzie’s gonna teach me poker when I older.”

“You mean how to cheat at poker?” Sara quipped which made Neal chuckle, “What? Does he know any other way to play?” She almost couldn’t get it out due to laughter which was infectious to Neal and Ellen.

They continued to play until Ellen suddenly put her cards down and got up. “I forgot!” She ran over to her pink backpack. Neal and Sara looked each other then at her curiously, “What did you forget?” Neal asked.

Ellen pulled a folded piece of paper with a lot of colors on it from her backpack near the front door and ran back over.

They were surprised when Ellen handed the paper to Sara. She slowly took the paper, “For me?”

“Yah!” Her eyes were as big and bright as her smile.

Sara looked at the paper and unfolded it. Above a picture of three stick people, she read the purple crayon scrawl over and over. Just to make sure she was reading it correctly.

happy mothers day mommy!

love Ellen

Sara started to tear up. She tried to hide the tears or wipe them away.  “You-you made this for me?”

“Yah! We was making mommy’s day cards in school. So I made it for you.” She noticed that both Neal and Sara couldn’t contain their tears. “Why you crying? Don’t you like it?”

“Did anyone tell you to make it for her?” Neal asked as he wiped a tear away

She shook her head, “No. Did it all by myself!”

“I love it!” Sara started crying more, “Come here” She brought her in for a warm and tight embrace.

Chapter Text

Peter and Neal were called in on a sunny Saturday afternoon. As they approached Peter’s office they saw a small child, probably four or five, sitting in the conference room.

“Who’s kid is that?” Peter asked

“I don’t know.”

“Jones!” Peter called out and did the double finger point.

Jones came up the steps and Peter pointed to the conference room, before Peter could ask Jones started, “Oh yeah, I arrested that suspect in those museum jewel heists. He had his kid with him. Name’s Mikey.”

“Wait, weren’t you staking out the place today, waiting for them?” Neal was confused

“Yeah.” Jones confirmed

Neal and Peter’s faces was of utter confusion and trying to comprehend this. “Wait… if you arrested him at the museum-”

Neal finished Peter’s thought, “Then he took his kid on a heist.” Peter nodded that it was what he was going to say.

“Yeah.”

“A+ parenting.” Neal sarcastically commented.

The suspect’s name was Ethan Palmer. He was suspected of a few B&E’s and a few higher profile heists. Which is what got him on the Fed’s radar. He was also a real piece of shit person. As Peter and Neal would soon find out.

“Have you talked to him yet?” Peter asked

“No, I just brought him in.” Jones informed

“Well…Let’s go talk to him.”

“We can also ask what made him bring his kid to a heist.” Neal remarked.


Peter and Neal strolled into the interrogation room where Ethan was sitting. He was of average height, around mid thirties, and had light brown scruffy hair that matched the scruff on his face.  He was dressed in all black, appropriate for a heist.

Peter sat down and opened a file, Neal sat next to him, “So what were you doing trying to rob the Studio Museum?”

“I wasn’t trying to rob it. I was just taking my son there.” He raised his hands innocently.

“Bullshit.” Peter replied, “Then why were you going in through the back with burglar's tools?”

Ethan was silent.

So Neal asked, “Why was your son with you? It doesn’t take a genius to know that’s too dangerous for a kid.”

Ethan stuck to his story, “I was taking him to the museum. You know, bonding and shit.”

Peter asked, “How can we contact his mother to come pick him up?”
Ethan rolled his eyes, “The bitch is gonna fucking flip. Here’s her number.” Peter gave him a scrap of paper from the folder and a pen. After he wrote it down Peter left to give it to Jones who was outside.

While Peter was outside, Ethan sat back in the metal chair, “You seem like a cool dude.”

“Oh.” Neal wasn’t exactly amused

“Don’t know what’s you doing working here.”

“Why did you take your son to a heist?” Neal asked again, when he didn’t answer, Neal said, “We caught you in the act. I’m going to be honest here, you’re looking at hard time.”

Ethan sat back and folded his arms. He muttered with a huff, “I tried leaving him at home, but the little bastard kept screaming and he only shut up when I agreed he could come with me.”  His voice got slightly louder, more matter of fact, “You know, I didn’t even want him.” Neal pursed his eyebrows in confusion, “She found out I was back in New York and dumped him on me. Sayin’ I need to bond with him and shit.”

Peter walked back in the room and sat down next to Neal who asked, “So you and his mother aren’t together.”

Hell no!” Ethan exclaimed. His passionate response surprised and intrigued Peter and Neal, but Ethan left it at that.

Peter asked, “If you don’t mind, why aren’t you together?”

Ethan put it simply, “She’s fucking nuts, man. She’s messed up.”

Peter and Neal looked at each other curiously. They wondered what he meant by ‘messed up’.

“What do you mean?”

“She loves the blow, you know? Found that out later. She’s strung out or smashed most the time.”

“How did you two meet?” Neal asked

“We were both at some dive bar and drunk as fuck. We were so smashed I barely remember fuckin’ her. Few weeks later she found me and told me she’s preggo and it’s mine. I didn’t believe her, but a test proved it.”

“So what did you do?”

He huffed like Neal had just asked a stupid question, “I got the fuck outta there.”

Neal sat there, trying to wrap his head around this, “So...you knowingly left your child with a drug addict.”

Ethan got defensive, “Well when you put it like that of course it sounds bad! But I wasn’t gonna stay with her! She’s crazy! When I told her I want nothin’ to do with her or the kid she got so pissed. She grabbed a kitchen knife and tried to fucking stab me!”

Neal’s eyebrows and attention raised, “So she gets violent!?”

“Yeah, the bitch has a fiery side to her.”

“You knowingly left your child with a violent drug addict?!!”

“Is she still on drugs?” Peter demanded

“She was high when she dumped him on me today, so yeah.”

Diana peered into the interrogation room, “Peter, come out for a second.” Peter nodded and got up. Once he got into the hallway Diana filled him in, “The kid’s mother is here. She’s a real piece of work.”

“Oh?”

“She has her own rap sheet. She was diagnosed with manic depression. In and out of jail for drugs. Right before she got pregnant she served time for assault with a deadly weapon. As soon as she came in it was obvious that she was high. When I told her that I wouldn’t let her take her son home, she tried to punch me in the face. So now she’s cuffed to my desk.” Peter was rendered speechless at all this information. She added as a side note, “That also explains why she had a black eye now. .”

Peter took a deep breath, “Okay.” He took a few moments, “Do you know if Mikey’s okay. Does he have any marks or bruises?”

“A doctor’s going to look at him. He looks a little underweight for his age but other than that he looks fine.”

Peter breathed a sigh of relief, “Between these two, it’s a fucking miracle.”

“Some people just shouldn’t be having or caring for kids.”

“You can say that again.” There was a short silence before Peter got back to the case,  “Call Child Protective Services to pick him up. I’m going to get back in there. Or else Neal’s gonna kill this guy.”


Peter walked back in to the interrogation room, Neal was leaning in towards Ethan, he looked like he wanted to kill him. Peter wondered how long he should let this go on without intervention. He was very well aware that this was unintentionally getting too close to Neal and there was no real stopping him. There was also a part of Peter who wanted to know about this as well.

“When did you find out about her issues?”

“The second time I met her. When she told me she was pregnant. She could have been high the night we fucked but I was too drunk to remember.”

Neal took a deep breath, trying not to strangle the guy. “So, let me get this straight. You knowingly left your child in an unsafe situation with someone who you knew was mentally unstable, violent, and had drug issues.”

He simply replied with a nod, “Yeah. I didn't want him. Hell, the last time I saw him he was a fucking baby. When she found out I was in New York and didn’t tell her she got angry and said I needed to bond with him and shit. So I guess I’ll take him to a game every now and again.”

“Or a heist.” Neal’s voice raised and he stood up, towering over Ethan, “If you are going to be in that boy’s life then you have responsibilities to him!"

Ethan waved it off, “I’ll be there...now and again. Whenever it’s convenient.”

“Mikey is not a coat you hang in the closet and take it out when you’re ready to wear it! His life goes on! He’s not supposed to be here for you, you’re supposed to be there for him! It's not all about you anymore!!”

Ethan sprang from his chair, “Get off my back! You think I want this! I didn’t ask for this! It just happened!!!...When Mikey was a baby I was scared-”

“Cut the bullshit! Cut it! Because I’ve been there! But I didn’t run off on my child! I was there every day for her! Because that’s what a man does.”

Ethan threw his hands up in a mock defeat, “ Fine! You’re the man….You’re a better man than me.”

The two men kept staring at each other as Peter speechless watched. Ethan continued, “Since you’re apparently such a good guy, what was I supposed to do?! Some Gone Girl shit! Stay with the crazy bitch because she happens to be carrying half my DNA!”

Neal pounded his fists on the metal table, “YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO ENSURE THAT YOUR CHILD IS SAFE! WHICH MEANS GETTING HIM OUT OF THERE! THAT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY!...... I’m glad you’re going to prison, because he’ll be safer when he’s not around either of you.”

 

Peter finally put a stop to this, “Neal. Outside.”

The two men kept staring at each other. Neal had a look of pure murder on his face. “Neal!”

He finally stopped and stormed out with Peter right behind him.

“You need to go home. This is too personal to you.”

Now Neal was at a loss for words, “How...how can he just leave that innocent child with her?”

Peter put a hand on his friends shoulder, “Not everyone sees things the way you do.”

Neal pushed Peter’s hand off him, “Well, sue me but I thought it was common sense not to leave helpless children with crazy people!”

“Go home. See Sara, hug Ellen.” Peter caringly demanded, “It’s not a request.”

“...Mikey’s not going back with her is he?” Peter could tell the ever so slight undertone of fear in Neal’s voice.

“No, Diana already called CPS to come pick him up.”

“Make sure he goes to a good steady foster home.”

“I will. I promise.”

Peter kept his promise.


When Neal got home his little girl came running up to him and he picked her and held in a tight hug, “Daddy!”

“Oh sweetie, I missed you!”

“We make cookies!”

Sara was in the kitchen cleaning up, “She really knows her way around a kitchen already. Really takes after you!” She smiled.

“I love you two so much.” He smiled. He needed to see his family after the day he had.

“I love you too, Daddy!” She gave him a kiss, “Wanna cookie?!”

“Of course!”

Sara walked over to greet him with a kiss, “You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Just glad to be back home. You know how I don’t like working weekends.” Neal turned towards Ellen, “What kind of cookies did you make?”

“Choco’late chip!!”

“Sounds delicious!” He followed her over the tray on the counter.

“Catch any bad guys?” Ellen reached up to grab a cookie from the pan and started munching.

Neal smiled and slightly chuckled as he grabbed a cookie, “Yeah, we did.”

“Oh yey!” She gleamed

He took a bite of the cookie, “These are delicious!” He wasn’t lying, they were surprisingly tasty.

Chapter Text

It was late on a sunny Friday afternoon. Neal was sitting at his desk, debating on whether or not to call it a day slightly early as he checked his emails. It was a relatively slow day anyway. Manhattan had been going through an intense heatwave lately and not even the criminals were going out in this.

As Neal mindlessly scrolled through some work emails about primarily about meetings and updates on cases. He saw one that actually caught his eye. It was from a Thomas Chausson with the subject line, Opportunity with Vitruve Defense International. What really got his attention was that the subject line was in French.

He wondered if it somehow got past the spam filters, but he opened it partly out of curiosity and partly because he had nothing else to do. The French email said that the Thomas Chausson who sent the email ran a security company in Paris, currently specializing in private security for people and high profile items, consulting for businesses and the French government.  They were restructuring their recovery and authentication division. It dealth with forgeries, frauds, counterfeits, and the like. They wanted him to be a main consultant. Thomas left his number for his direct line for Neal to follow up.

Normally when something sounds too good to be true it normally was. After a little digging it the company and email seemed to be legit so he decided to call it a day and call the number on his walk home.

When he called a man with a thick French accent answered, “Bonjour, Thomas Chausson.”

Neal replied in perfect French, “Hi, I’m Neal Caffrey. I got your email today.”

Thomas sharply inhaled in surprise, “Oh hello, Neal. I’m so glad you called. As I said in my email, we are a security firm based in Paris, France. We are opening up a new division and would love your expertise as a Senior Security Consultant. We know that you’re one of the best there is and have a very vast skill set.”

Neal slightly smiled at the compliment as he walked the streets which were oddly sparse at this time of day.

“What would the job entail?”

As Thomas described the job it seemed very similar to what he was already doing, but more high profile, European travel opportunities, and more of a senior management role. They wanted his expertise and as he would find out, they would pay him very handsomely.

“You work for the FBI right now, correct?”

“Yes.”

"You probably work a lot of long hours, correct? Get called in on your time off.”

“Yes.” It had been a problem over the past few years about getting called in when he was off or having to work late. 

“Well at Vitruve Defense you would never have to worry about that. You’d never have to work overtime and never be called in on days off. Do you have kids?”

Neal approached the mansion and stood outside to complete the call, “Yes, one.” He paced in front of the door.

“Aww, how old.”

“She just turned five.”

“Aww, that’s adorable. You’d probably want to spend more time with her, especially over the summer, have more vacation time. With Paris’s central location you can visit anywhere in Europe or even internationally very easily.” Neal knew where Thomas was going with this and he couldn’t argue with him. He had solid points. “What about eight weeks paid vacation a year. Which is negotiable of course.”

Neal knew this guy was giving him the hard sell.

He hated that it was kind of working.

“Yeah that sounds wonderful.”

“Paris has some of the best international schools in the world. Kids are like sponges. Your daughter is so young, it would be very easy for her to become multilingual. Schools and travel here would broaden her horizons more so than in the US.” He let that simmer for a few seconds before moving on to another topic, “Do you have a significant other?”

“Yes, I do.” Neal started to gently pace around the front entrance.

“What do they do?”

“She’s the Vice President of Sterling Bosch Insurance.”

“That’s a great company. She should be very proud. Well, as I understand they have a branch here. If they are looking for a new Vice President then she would be perfect. Otherwise, this is Paris, there are plenty of international companies that would highly value experience and expertise like hers. We can put in a good word for her as well as aid in the transAtlantic move.”

“Well I would have to talk to her about it.”

Thomas slightly backed down, “Yes, of course.” He got back to business, “Now there is one thing left to discuss. Salary. We are willing to pay three times what the FBI is currently paying you.”

Neal stopped pacing and his eyes widened as Thomas continued. “Which is also up for negotiation of course, but this is more of a starting point.”

Neal kept his neutral tone, “Well that can be negotiated after I talk it over with my girlfriend.”

“Yes, of course. We would like to act quickly, so if you could give me a call back in a day or so.”

“I will, thank you.”


After he hung up he walked into the house and up to his apartment. He couldn’t stop thinking about the offer, what it could do for him, for Ellen. When he entered his apartment Mozzie was sitting at his table reading a book with a glass of red wine, the bottle next to the glass. So his usual. “Hey!” Neal called out as he walked in.

“Daddy!” Ellen peered over the couch with Mozart under her arm and an iPad sliding off the couch. He went to give Ellen a hug and the little girl held on tight. That was the best part of his day.

“Hey there! What’s you been up to?”

“It’s super hot.”

He put her down on the couch and she leaned over the back, “Yeah it is, but we have the AC up as high as it will go. Maybe later we can go to the pool. Do some swimming, you’re getting really good at it.”

She shook her head, “Nah, it’s too hot.”

Neal looked at her confused, “Too hot to go to the pool?”

“Yeah.”

“Well that three block walk would be just too much.” Mozzie joked from the table which made the little girl giggle.

“How about you take the iPad in your room for a bit while I talk to Uncle Mozzie.”

"Okay.” She grabbed the iPad as well as the old stuffed bear and ran off.

Neal walked over to the kitchen and grabbed a wine glass. “There any left?”

Mozzie inspected the wine bottle, “A little.”

Neal sat down at the table and poured the rest of the bottle into his glass. His eyebrows raised expectedly when the glass barely filled with wine.

“So I got a very interesting email today.”

“Oh.”

“Have you heard of Vitruve Defense?”

“Yeah, a big French security company. Why?”

“They’re restructuring their recovery and authentication division and want me to basically head it.”

Mozzie nodded, very interested at the development “What would you be doing?”

“Similar to what I’m doing now, except with more seniority, in Paris with easier hours, more vacation time, and much more pay.”

“How much more?” Mozzie went to take a sip of his wine.

“At least 3 times more.”

Mozzie’s eyebrows lifted and his put his glass down without taking a sip, “Wow.”

“And they said it’s negotiable. A starting point.”

“And this isn’t a scam?” Mozzie clarified and went back for his wine.

“I checked before I called them. No it’s not.” Neal took a sip from the glass.

“That would mean leaving all of this.” He gestured to their surroundings, not just meaning the apartment, but New York in general. “Leaving all the people you have here...I mean of course I’m all in for a French move, but there’s more people involved here.”

Neal rubbed his face with one hand and sighed, “Yeah. I’m a little anxious to tell Sara. She texted me a while back, she’s really busy so she’ll be here later.” Even though Sara still technically had her brownstone she basically lived with Neal and Ellen. The move was so slow and gradual that neither really noticed.

Mozzie gave him a confused look, “Why?”

“Because if you recall correctly, an overseas job opportunity is why we broke up last time.”

Mozzie didn’t miss a beat, “Well I’m going to be brutally honest with you...you’ve told her a lot of shit. if she hasn’t left you by now, then she isn’t going to. She’s in this for the long haul and you have good news to tell her for once.”

Neal thought for a few seconds. Mozzie had a point. With all the trainloads of emotional and physical baggage he brought into the relationship, and yet Sara was still there.

That gave Neal some consolation but he still worried, “We just have a really good thing going. We finally hit our stride. I don’t want to do anything to fuck it up.”

“You still need to tell her. Tonight.”

“I know.”

Mozzie got up to get a new bottle of wine from the rack, “I’m serious, Neal. We’re not doing that dance again where you two won’t talk about what needs to be addressed.”

Neal rolled his eyes, “I know. Also they need an answer soon anyway.”

“You should tell Ellen first. As a guarantee that you will tell Sara tonight.” Mozzie inspected a bottle before bringing it to the table and uncorking it. Neal looked at him for clarification as he refilled his glass, “I love her, but she cannot tell a lie or keep a secret to save her life. That’s the one thing that she didn’t get from you.” Neal smiled. He knew Mozzie was right. “If you don’t tell Sara tonight then Ellen will.”

After a short silence Mozzie asked, “How do you feel about leaving all this for good? Yet not in the way you always thought it would happen.”

Neal put his glass down and sat back with a sigh. “I’ve lived here for so much longer than I ever anticipated I would. This is where I restarted my life. More than once. When my life shattered into a million pieces and I had nothing . This is where I rebuilt it. This is where my family is. This is the only home my child has ever known...but this would be such a great opportunity not just for me, but for Ellen and Sara as well.” He huffed, “You know, something I’ve always known but never truly understood until a couple years ago is that you can never predict where life will take you. You can plan every detail yet it can be for nothing.”

Mozzie raised his glass “Amen to that.” They clinked glasses.


While Neal made dinner, Ellen was sitting on the floor playing with some dolls. Sara texted Neal and said she’d be there in a little while. “Hey, Ellie.”

She didn’t really look up, “Yeah.”

He put the pan of chicken in the oven then turned around to face her, “You remember when we went to Paris right?”

She nodded excitedly, “Yeah! We saw DiseyLand and the tower!” Her bright blue eyes and big smile never failed to bring Neal immense joy.

“How would you feel about going back, but staying there.”

She tilted her head in confusion, “Wha?” He sat down on the floor next to her, stretching his legs out. She took that as an invitation and sat in his lap while holding a doll. She brushed her long brown hair from her face.

“Well we’d live there. You’d go to school there.”

“I have school here.”

“You’d make a lot of new friends.”

“I have friends here. Why do I have two schools?”

Neal smiled and corrected, “No, you’d move schools. Go to school in Paris instead.”

Ellen nodded, “Oh. Why?”

“Because Daddy got a new job offer in Paris. Where I’d have a lot more time to spend with you.” Her sapphire blue eyes lit up and widened.

“Really?!”

“Yeah.”

“So we movin’ to Paris!”

“Maybe. I got to talk to Mommy first.”

She calmed a little with a nod, “Aww.” He smiled and held her close.


Sara came by later that night after Ellen was already in bed. “Sorry I’m so late.”

“No, it’s okay. I’ve been there more than once.” A lead in about where this night was heading. “There’s leftovers in the fridge if you’re hungry.” He gestured towards the kitchen. He was now in just pyjama pants and a tank top.

She collapsed on the couch near the bed, “Nah, I’m good. I ate at the office.”

He sat next to her, “What were you working on.”

She got up excited, “Oh you’re going to love this.” She walked over towards the door where her black leather briefcase was. “You know how I only will work a case occasionally.”

“Yeah.”

“Well this is an occasion.” She grabbed a few files and headed over back towards the couch. She sat back down and stretched out her legs so they stretched over Neal’s lap. “You know the Jeanne Toussaint necklace.”

Neal got interested, “Yeah from Cartier. Worth about $150 million. Was recently discovered after being stolen about 12 years ago from being on display at the Getty Center.”  The Getty Center was a large museum in Los Angeles. It had one of the best security systems in existence.

She handed him a file, “We insured it when it was worn on the red carpet from the same museum during their annual gala. This year is was about the royal jewels from around the world. The Toussaint went missing and Cartier wants their money or their jewels. Except we have no idea where it could have gone. Three people who don’t have alibis who shouldn’t be suspects because they don’t have the skills. Then one who does but has an alibi for the whole night.” She showed him a picture of the woman. She was older, tall, with long blonde hair. “Do you know her?”

Neal examined the photos, “Of course she is. Because she’s smart. She knew she’d need an alibi. If you think she has the skills and she was in the cameras all evening then she most definitely had something to do with it. Guilty people always make sure to have albies. It defects blame off them.” Neal spoke from experience. He examined the statements from local law enforcement, “It was taken from the bathroom?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s the weakest point in any secure place. Also the only place where you legally cannot have cameras.” He added as a cavat, “Other than store dressing rooms, but those are too obvious.”

He looked at the pictures from outside the bathroom. “These cameras were moved. The bathrooms should be a couple feet closer. They would never put the door in the camera blindspot. Someone was able to walk right in and out with the jewels completely unseen by security.”

That caught Sara’s attention. She curled up her legs and leaned in closer so she could examine the photos again. “Holy shit you’re right. How did I not notice that?”

That’s why Neal’s expertise was so valuable and why Vitruve Defense wanted him. He added as a side note, “There were more valuable jewels at this event as well?”

“Yeah, why?”

“And all those have been accounted for.”

Sara felt she knew where Neal was going with this and it wasn’t anywhere good, “We never thought to check. They all seemed to be. We didn’t notice anything missing.”

“Check for them and have them all authenticated. You don’t break into the Getty during a high profile event like that just to steal one necklace. No matter what it’s worth.” Sara felt that Neal was talking from experience.

Upon further inspection it would turn out that all the other jewels on display were forgeries. Which floored everyone involved.

That was the other reason Vitruve Defense wanted Neal. He really was the best there in the business.

She closed the files and asked out of sheer curiosity, “Do I even want to know how you know about bathroom placement at the Getty Center?”

He bit back a smile, “Probably not.”

She gasped, “Oh my god! Did you steal those jewels!” Neal just gave an innocent smile. “Caffrey, you little shit!” She playfully shoved him which made him chuckle.

He felt this was a good a time as any, “Hey, how do you feel about Paris?”

That caught her off guard, “What? Don’t try to change the subject.”

“No, seriously.” Her demeanor stiffened when she noticed the seriousness in his voice.

“I don’t know. It’s a nice city. Why? Planning a trip?” She smiled

He took a deep breath, “More like a move.” She turned confused, “Sara, we have to talk.”

Chapter Text

...So it’s been a while since the last update. Honestly, I lost all motivation and inspiration to write this series. Then after Mameeta’s lovely comments on this series, it got me looking back into it. I haven’t really known what to do with this series over the past year (hence partly why no updates.) and through writing other fics I’ve learned I really enjoy mystery and a little bit more thrills in my hurt/comfort and whump and it's been a while since Neal's had an antagonist to face. 

So I am going to drop the current plot point of Neal being offered an international job in favor of doing a completely new plot, probably a mystery/thriller/drama with lots of hurt/comfort and whump. It will be rooted in this series and this fic (hence why it’s not a new fic) but with a new villain (or perhaps one from canon) Therefore taking this fic in an exciting new direction.

I’ve been thinking of some plots and I’m getting very excited about them and this fic again after so long. If you have any ideas I would love to hear them so leave them in the comments below! 

I’m going to be re-outline this fic along with the other fics in this series. What Could Have Been is almost finished so I hope to finish that soon. Right now I’m aiming for the next chapter of this fic to be posted this fall. Depends on how long it takes to get a good outline. I’m so sorry about the long hiatus but this series is back!

I hope you’re as excited as I am!

Chapter Text

“Daddy look!” seven year old Ellen called from sitting on top of the monkey bars.

“I see, you little climber!” Neal called from the park bench a couple feet away. He quickly snapped a picture on his phone to send to Sara.

It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, the sun shone through the trees of Tompkins Square Park. Sara was called into the office while Neal took Ellen to the park. She promised she’d be home for dinner.

“Five more minutes then we’re going home for lunch!” Neal called out.

“Awww.”

“We can come back tomorrow if you want.” Neal sat back with his coffee in one hand and his phone in the other. 

“You know, they say children are our future. Hard to argue with that.”

Neal froze when he heard the menacing tone of a man behind him. He surveyed the nearest exit, about 20 feet from Ellen. He could get her out safely if he thought this might escalate to violence.

The man came around to face Neal. He was tall with a medium build, he was bald with a short scruffy brown beard. He wore black pants with a black zipped jacket. “Enjoy every minute of it. Because before you know it they’re all grown up.”

“Why are you here?” Neal asked stone faced.

The man answered honestly, “To ruin your life.”

Neal’s eyebrows raised and he nodded, “Lead with the big guns. Not the first one to jump that quickly with their threats.” He maintained intense eye contact with the man, “What do you want from me?”

“Revenge.”

The man reached around his waist, Neal thought that he was going to pull out a gun. He jumped up and screamed to Ellen, “Ellen! Rockstar!” She immediately took off running. That was their family safe word. If Neal ever sensed danger around her, he’d say ‘rockstar’ which Ellen knew meant to drop everything and run, take a cab to the FBI offices and wait in the White Collar division. Also not to worry about paying the cab driver because they wouldn’t get mad a panicked kid. That driver would be a witness in case something happened to Ellen before Neal could pick her up at the office. 

Neal thought this would be a good idea in case any old or new foes approached them.

 

The man squinted in confusion but didn’t take his eyes off Neal. He slowly pulled a picture from his back pocket. He unfolded it and nearly shoved the picture at Neal, “Do you remember her?” It was the picture of a woman. Her hair was bright blonde with pale skin and a gentle smiling face. 

“Am I supposed to?” Neal asked

The man scuffed, “Of course you don’t. You forgot about her as soon as she wasn’t useful to you anymore!” Neal noticed the man’s hurt undertone. She was important to him.

“I’m sorry you must have me mistaken for someone else.” Neal insisted.

The man shook his head, “No, you’re Neal Caffrey. She was Taylor Cornet. You did a job with your friend Mozzie, her and her husband in Nafpaktos. I am her husband.”

Neal suddenly remembered him from a heist in Greece long ago, about a year before Peter caught him the first time. “Mark Cornet. I remember you.” An alarm was triggered and the authorities were on hot on the case. Taylor fell behind due to an injury Mark stayed behind to help his wife. They were too slow getting out and were arrested by the Greek authorities. Neal and Mozzie had to continue on and couldn’t go back for them because Peter was hot on Neal’s tail. They had to keep moving. 

“Because of your incompetence the alarm went off!” Actually, no one knew for certain how the alarm was triggered, but they did suspect it was Neal since his job was to disarm them. “Which led us to the mad dash from the authorities. We were climbing out the window down a rope and you were going to be the last one but she offered herself to go last instead.” 

Neal vividly remembered what happened that night.

“Then the fucking rope split apart causing her to fall two stories! She broke her femur and wasn’t able to move. I pleaded with you and Mozzie for help...but you ran away...like cowards. I couldn’t lift and help her walk by myself. I would never desert her like that. So, we were sitting ducks. We were both arrested. While waiting for trial she was killed by another female inmate.” Neal became paralyzed in fear, “The detectives looking into her death told me that she was 12 weeks pregnant. A little boy. She had probably found out not long before the heist because she hadn’t told me yet. Although I know she was going to tell me because she wanted to do something extra special after the heist.”

“My wife and son would be alive if you didn’t fuck up that heist and send her to prision.” Mark maintained intense eye contact.

Neal knew there was no calming Mark down. This was too personal. His goal was to not trigger Mark’s anger further, so eventually he’d run out of steam and calm down enough to be reasoned with.

Mark asked, “How old was the girl? Six or seven? It is true what they say, she does look more like you. At least you’ve gotten to meet your child. Bond with your child. In prison, I spent years planning my revenge. Then I heard about Mozzie’s underworld APB I thought she already beat me to it. Glad I’m the one who ultimately gets to put the final nail in the Caffrey coffin. When I heard you came back with a child. I knew I could use it against you when I finally got out of jail...well, here I am.”

 Neal maintained intense eye contact and a steady voice, “Revenge is not the answer. Bringing children into this is not the answer. Trust me I know what it feels like to want revenge like that. But it does not make you feel better nor will it bring your family back. Don’t bring my daughter into this. She’s innocent-”

“SO WAS MY SON!” Mark yelled casting a small echo in the now empty park.

“So I’m going to make you pay. Separate you and her for life.” He looked at the time on his phone, “Right about now Peter Burke should be at The National Film Museum investigating a heist that occurred last night. Except you wouldn’t know this because you explicitly don’t work weekends. So the entire crime scene will be processed and filed long before you get to work on Monday. Peter will find that $50 million in film props and memorabilia have been stolen. They’ll find your DNA and fingerprints at the scene. Oh and to put sprinkles on top these were insured by Sterling Bosch. Why do you think the VP, your girlfriend, was called in on a Saturday morning? Soon the Feds will find out that you were alone that night because your girlfriend took your daughter for a mother/daughter evening. Mozzie wasn’t there, Peter and Elizabeth were enjoying a date night. So you have no alibi.”

Neal’s blood boiled, his face burned with rage, “You were watching me?”

“Not for long. You’ve become very predictable so I picked up your routines quickly. Didn’t need much recon for this.”

“How did you get my DNA? Did you break into my house?”

Mark shook his head, “No. That was too risky, along with FBI forensics. The only other place I knew to get your DNA easily with minimal risk was at the NYPD long term evidence warehouse. Which has the security equivalent to a shopping mall. Walked in and out in a breeze.”

Neal thought for a few seconds, “Peter won’t believe I did that.”

“Peter seems to trust you until facts tell him differently.”

Neal got close to Mark’s face, “He won’t believe this. He knows I’d never jeopardize my family, no matter the score or the challenge.”

Mark scoffed, “Even if he does believe you, he won’t be able to prove it...In didn’t just plant your DNA.” He devilishly smiled, “I deleted all security footage...except for a few seconds during the robbery which I flawlessly edited you into the timestamped footage. They can inspect every pixel but will find nothing to prove the video was altered.”

Fear paralyzed Neal to his very core, he tried and failed not to show the distress on his face, “That’s not possible.”

“Yes, it is very possible. I know because I did it.” Mark turned to walk away but had one last thing to say, “Enjoy the time you have with your daughter now. You’ll be lucky to see her twice a year when you’re in prison.”

He left Neal in overwhelming and paralyzing shock.

Once Mark was out of earshot he pulled out his phone to make a call, “Hey, it’s me. The plan is in motion.”


Peter had just finished briefing the rest of the division on what they knew about the heist when Jones came into the conference room, “Peter I need to talk to you. Now.” The seriousness and urgency in his voice worried Peter.

“Of course.” Peter motioned for them to go in his office. “What did you find?”

Jones handed Peter a file, “Almost all of the security footage with erased and couldn’t be salvaged. Except the camera did catch a few seconds of the robbery.” He tried to prepare Peter, “You’re not going to be happy with this.”

Peter opened the file and saw the screenshot from the video footage. His heart stopped. His stomach dropped. Peter looked up at Jones, “No. No no no no no. This can’t be.”

“We found his DNA and fingerprints at the scene. I had the lab run the test five times. It came back the same each time.”

Peter felt like his heart and lungs were going to burst, “Was the footage altered?”

Jones shook his head, “No, doesn’t seem like it.”

Peter found it difficult to breath as he tried to suck in air, “Look again.”

“You don’t believe he did this?”

Peter shook his head, “No, I don’t believe it. He would never jeopardize his family like that. No matter how tempting or challenging a heist may be. He’d never do that to Ellen. She’s too important to him.”

“So you think someone is framing him?”

“Yes. Except I have no idea who or why. Get Diana and make a list of anyone who may have a vendetta against Neal.”

“Do you have anything else to prove this, other than your knowledge of Neal?”

Peter sighed, “I know he’d never be this sloppy. He doesn’t mess up by leaving DNA or leaving any video evidence. Except that doesn’t carry as much weight.”

“We’ll figure this out.” Jones assured.

“I need to talk to Neal. I need to warn him.” 

Chapter Text

As Peter left to warn Neal about the evidence when an unexpected visitor stopped him in his tracks.

“Ellen? What are you doing here?” She was sitting at Neal’s desk. She had on a white flutter sleeve shirt with a picture of a girl with a flower crown with pink and brown geometric leggings and pink sneakers. Her long brown hair was in a french braid which sat over her shoulder.

“Hi Grandpa. We were playing in the park and a man started talking to Daddy. He said the safeword so I came here like I should.” Peter knew the safeword and what it meant.

He gave her a reassuring smile, “Good job. How about we go to my office and you tell me what happened.”

She nodded, “Alright.” 

 

Peter pulled a chair over to his side of the desk and sat down next to Ellen. 

“So, can you tell me what happened?”

She fiddled with her braid, “I was on the monkey bars. I climbed on top of them. Daddy told me we’d have to leave soon. Then a man started talking to him.”

“Do you remember what the man looked like? What was he wearing? Was he tall or short?”

She squinted in thought for a few seconds, “He wore all black. He was kinda tall, but not as tall as Daddy. He was bald like Uncle Mozzie but he had a big brown beard. It’s like all his head hair moved to his face.” She giggled.

Peter nodded, “And then your Dad said the safeword.”

She nodded, “Yeah.”

“Good job coming here. We’re going to work this out. You stay here, Jones will wait with you. I’m going to see your Dad and figure this out.”

As he left Ellen turned around, “Is Daddy going to be okay? Rockstar means there’s danger nearby. I’m scared.” 

Peter turned around, his heart sank, because he didn’t know for sure. He didn’t want to give her false hope but he had to be gentle. “Your Dad is the strongest person I’ve ever met. I’m sure he’s just fine.”

He walked towards Jones at his desk, “Watch her. I have to go check on Neal.”

“Of course.”


As Peter sped to Neal’s as the sun started to set. He got a call from the federal prosecutor, “So Forensics sent me the preliminary lab report.” 

Peter subtly hit his steering wheel. He thought he had more time. 

“I’m ordering an arrest warrant to be served today.”

“Why the rush?” Peter’s blood started to boil in fear.

“Your bosses and mine will love an open and shut case. I can make him a deal and maybe he’ll be out for his daughter’s wedding. We can have this closed by tomorrow and we can still have a bit of our weekend to enjoy.”

Peter felt his skin burning as it turned a bright red and he fumed with anger. “I don’t think we should rush to judgement just to savor some of the weekend.”

“If you won’t then I’ll just give it to another agent that will have no problems throwing the cuffs back on Caffrey.”

Peter had to buy Neal time. “There’s still some evidence that needs processing and some leads that need to be followed. How about we execute the warrant tomorrow.” Peter could tell he was thinking, so Peter followed the prosecutor's earlier logic, “Why don’t we keep our Saturday evenings and just do this tomorrow. Dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s for an open and shut case.”

“Alright.”


Peter urgently knocked on Neal’s door, “Neal! It’s Peter! Open up!” If Neal wasn’t home then he had no idea where Neal could be.

Neal came to the door, “Hey, Peter.” He gestured for him to come in. Peter did and saw Mozzie sitting at the table with a glass of wine. 

“We have a big problem.”

“I can’t believe we haven’t copyrighted that phrase.” Neal commented.

“Please tell me that you have an alibi for last night. Even if you have to lie.”

Neal knew that Peter knew. He had just updated Mozzie. “You found the planted evidence already?”

Peter raised his eyebrows as he sat down across Mozzie and Neal, “Ellen came to the Bureau after you told her the safeword. She said that a man approached you. What happened?”

Neal nodded, “His name is Mark Cornet. We worked a job with him and his wife in Greece about a year before your first caught me...”

After being filled in, Peter sighed, “And he told you just as we were investigating. So we’d find out after already using Bureau channels. So we couldn’t even keep your name out of it.”

“Yeah. He timed it perfectly.”

Peter put his head in his hands and sighed again, “This isn’t good Neal. There’s enough evidence not only to arrest, but to convict.”

They were all silent. 

Neal silently gulped, hiding his fear, “How much time do I have?” Peter was silent. “How much time!” Fear and desperation filled his voice and his face.

“The federal prosecutor already ordered an arrest warrant. He was pushing for tonight. He just wanted a quick and easy case, as do our bosses. I managed to talk him into executing it tomorrow morning. Although he could backtrack on that.” 

Neal knew how these warrants were executed. He knew they would pound down his door at 5am with a no knock raid. 

Which gave him less than twelve hours to figure a way out.

They sat in silence, at a complete loss of what to do. Then Mozzie spoke up, “We all know what needs to be done. We need to run.” He looked at Neal, “If you get back in the system we all know that they’ll ensure you’ll never get out.”

They sat in silence for a while in thought. They knew Mozzie was right. It was hard enough to get Neal’s freedom before, it would be just as hard or even harder now. They knew the upper Feds would probably put Neal back on the anklet so he could continue working and they could exploit his knowledge for free once again.

Through all this there was no guarantee that Neal would retain custody of Ellen. If/when Neal would be arrested there would be no one to take custody of Ellen and she would go into foster care since Neal had no biological family and the mother’s side of the birth certificate was blank. Peter and Elizbeth were her legal godparents but since Peter was on the team investigating Neal that would be a conflict of interest, of course Mozzie was out, and Sara had no legal ties to Ellen so trying to get custody would be an uphill battle. Especially since Sterling Bosh insured the stolen pieces she was supposed to be investigating. If she sought custody, not only would it be difficult but Ellen would have to go to foster care without absolute certainty that she was going back to her family. If Neal was found innocent, the courts would shy away from giving a world class thief their child back.

Once children entered the system, it was notoriously difficult to get them back to their parents.

Peter finally spoke up, breaking the silence, “We’re going to need a smoking gun to get you off. Which will take more time than we have. I can have Jones bring Ellen over from the Bureau. Other than the three of us, no one will know till you’re long gone.”

“If the Bureau ever found out about your involvement, you’d lose your job.” Neal brought up
“At the very least.” Mozzie noted.

Peter took a deep breath, “I’m already too deep in. Because of how close we are, they’re going to think I was involved one way or another. I’ll figure out how to deal with that later. Also, you didn’t do anything wrong. You shouldn’t lose everything.”

“What about Sara? I can’t leave her behind.”

“You have to.” Mozzie didn’t want to say it but he had to, “You know we can’t be bringing so many people into this. I’d say only bring Ellen because of custody issues. Sara would be an accomplice and she would certainly lose her job. It would be very difficult to get another one when word about this gets out.”

Neal was completely overwhelmed by everything. He was having a hard time processing it all. It was like his mind was back in survival mode. “Mozz, how long would it take to make the necessary arrangements?”

“Probably a couple hours if we hauled ass. Most of it spent making Ellen’s new passport. Do you still have the one from a couple years ago?”

“Yeah.”

“That took a decent chunk of time off. We can just update it.”

Peter got up, “I can’t be here while you do this. I’m going to call Jones to bring Ellen over.” Before he left he turned to Neal and said, “Remember this is not goodbye. Because you’re going to come back. This is just temporary. We’re going to figure this out.”

Neal prayed that was true.

After Peter left Mozzie said,“Let’s get to work.” 

Mozzie got to work on the arrangements while Neal put some clothes, id’s, and cash in a duffel bag then got to work on Ellen’s passport.

As Neal worked his mind was running at a thousand miles an hour. ‘ You were done running. You always say that. But you never are. You never will be.’ He thought about bringing his child on the run, ‘ When she was born, you promised you’d keep her safe. Is this the right thing to do?’ He kept trying to convince himself that it was the only option, but he still felt incredibly guilty.

He was taken from his thoughts when Ellen ran through the door. “Daddy!” She ran over to the table where he was working to give him a big hug. “I was so scared, Daddy. You said the safe word so I ran and Grandpa saw me at the FBI and I told him what happened. I was scared the man hurt you Daddy.”

Neal clutched on his child like his life depended on it, “It’s okay, Ellie. It’s okay.” He had to figure out a way to tell her what they had to do without scaring her and in a way that she could understand. 

After a long hug she let go and looked at the table to see what he was working on, “What’s this?” She had seen him make replicas for work so that’s where her mind went first, “You gonna use that to catch a bad guy?” She pointed at the passport he was working on. There was equipment all over the table. She didn’t see that he was using her picture.

“Kind of.” Neal answered, she looked at him and tilted her head in confusion. Through everything that was going on this made him smile because she looked so much like him. “Come here.” He gestured for her to sit on his lap. She gladly did. 

As Neal looked in his daughter’s piercing blue eyes, he had to uproot her entire world. “You, me, and Uncle Mozzie are going to go on a little trip.”

“Why?”

Neal thought for a few moments. He thought of making something up, but he also thought of a dialed down version of the truth. He never wanted to lie to her like that, “You remember the man from the park?” She nodded, “He’s making the FBI believe that I did something very bad, but I didn’t. So you, me, and Uncle Mozzie have to go on a little trip till we can prove that he’s making all this up.”

Ellen squinted in confusion, “I don’t get it. Why can’t you and Grandpa tell them you didn’t do it.”

Neal’s face fell as he sighed, his heart shattered, “I wish it were that simple.”

“What about Mommy?”

Neal’s heart broke even more, “She can’t come. She needs to stay to help Grandpa.” His voice turned deadly serious, “And you cannot tell anyone about this. I’m serious. Not a word to anyone. ” 

“Why?”

“Because that’s how it has to be. You understand?”

She mimed zipping her lips, “Got it.”

Neal nodded, “We’re going to have to pretend to be other people. Like a game.”

“When can we come home?”

“Hopefully soon.” Neal had no idea. Neal could tell she was trying to be strong, trying not to cry. He brought her in close for another hug as he held back tears, “It’s going to be fun. We’ll get to see so many new places. Have so many new adventures.” He tried to tell her a version of the truth but shield her from the painful realities of being on the run. When the hug broke, he saw her wipe her eyes with a small sniffle, “I’ve already packed you some clothes. How about you get your backpack and pack your most favorite toys. That sound good?”

She nodded and ran to her room.


 

Sara arrived home late that night. When she opened the door she was confused to see Peter sitting alone at the table.

She looked around with concern when she didn’t see her family, “Where’s Neal and Ellen?”
Peter took a deep breath, “Sara, sit down. We need to talk.”