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The FBI's White Collar office was buzzing busily, more than usual for a Monday morning. The weekend team's bust of a mid-level fence had in turn led them to a Matisse thought to be lost since WWII. There had been a lot of celebration...and a lot of paperwork. Peter was glad he hadn't been involved, despite the high profile find. He'd had the weekend to relax; read the paper in a leisurely fashion, drink lots of coffee in the morning and lots of bourbon at night, and keep a certain White Collar consultant naked and anklet-free...

Said consultant walked into Peter's office, looking cool and trim, a far cry from the seductive man in Peter's bed all weekend. “What's the winning case today?” Neal gracefully collapsed into a chair, and Peter wondered for the umpteenth time how he managed to move so fluidly. If it were Peter, he'd be all legs akimbo and--

“Ring stolen from the Channing Museum.” Diana stated, shuffling through her notes. “Eighteenth century, emerald the size of a quarter surrounded by diamonds, platinum band. Belonged to a nobleman who gave it to his ward, and then it was lost for over a hundred years. Discovered during an excavation of the area and presented to the Channing along with other notable pieces.” She gestured to the screen at the end of the office.

Everyone turned to look. It was a beautiful piece, thought Peter; bold and assertive, the emerald a dark, rich green, the diamonds in sparkling counterpoint around it. Isn't it a bit romantic for a guardian to give to a ward? And expensive? He shook his head. It was a different era, maybe that was the norm.

Neal's eyes were glued to the screen. Peter knew that this beautiful jewel was exerting its lure on the former con man. As if he'd heard Peter's thoughts, Neal turned his gorgeous blue eyes to Peter. The intensity of that gaze made Peter's neck start to sweat inside the collar of his button-shirt shirt, and his dick to stir inside his navy dress pants. He tore his own eyes away and looked at Jones instead, waiting to see what further information he'd found.

“The theft was a pro—they knew about the laser alarms, the weight sensors, the whole nine yards.” Jones shook his head. “I gotta think that's a short list. Of course the Channing wants it taken care of as quickly and quietly as possible. They're more than a little embarrassed.”

“Time to renovate their security. Jones, make a note that we can offer to help them with that. In the meantime, we need a lead. Neal? Is there anyone around that you think could handle something as old and valuable as this?”

Neal sat back in his chair with a sigh. “Could be a couple of possibilities. Let me check around and get back to you.”

Peter nodded. “Okay. Neal's got his ear to the ground. Jones, I want the complete breakdown of the security protocols that the thief or thieves evaded. Diana, check on any other history you can dig up on the ring, preferably in this century before it landed at the Channing. The rest of you, check with your fences and informants. Go!”

The team scattered out of the room, but Neal lingered behind. Peter smiled at him. “Beautiful, isn't it? Make your fingers itchy at all?”

Neal gave a twisted half-smile. “Yeah, a little bit. Not enough to go after it like that though. I've traded in my evil ways for more...pleasant pursuits.” He winked at Peter.

Peter felt his cheeks flush a little. “Easy there, we're at work,” he cautioned quietly.

“I'm aware,” Neal said, moving away from Peter, his face shuttering. Peter's stomach clenched. Neal had been pushing—no, pushing was too strong a word, he'd been hinting that they could come out at the office and stop hiding their relationship. “I'm not going to grab your ass in the conference room or blow you in the elevator. I just want to be able to hold your hand for a minute, maybe kiss your cheek—just be acknowledged as yours, Peter.” Those blue eyes had been soft with love, pleading with Peter.

Peter couldn't bring himself to say yes though. Unlike Neal, he'd never been out. He'd even been married for a few years, and was fortunate enough to still be friends with his ex-wife. Elizabeth had greeted his admittance of his sexuality and the demise of their marriage with great aplomb. “I always knew there was something holding you back, but I cared for you and I knew you cared for me, so I let it go. I thought we could make a good life together, and we did. For a while.” She had kissed his cheek. “Peter, you can hide all you want from other people, but don't hide from yourself. Be happy.” They still met regularly for drinks or dinner, and he was grateful to have the gift of her warmth and common sense in his hectic life.

Peter's refusal to be more public had created some tension between him and Neal. Not enough to derail them, but the strain was discernible. Neal still had his electronic monitoring anklet on—removing that was way beyond Peter's purview—but it didn't bother them when they were in Neal's bed, naked and sweaty. They always went to Neal's apartment so that Peter wouldn't have to explain Neal's presence overnight at his townhouse, when the reports of Neal's whereabouts were scrutinized. Neal came over to Peter's for meals and sex and just to hang out, but he never spent the night there.

“Okay, I'll go see what the street has to say,” said Neal. “I'll ping you.”

“Okay,” agreed Peter, knowing that “the street” meant Mozzie. “Maybe we can--” But Neal was already gone, striding through the office toward the elevator.

Peter watched him, his heart aching. He hated for Neal to be unhappy, but this? This was something he couldn't do.

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June was in the foyer when Neal entered the corner mansion. As always, she looked effortlessly elegant and chic. Neal smiled and kissed her on the cheek.
“Darling, how are you? You seem a little tired and put out.” She patted his cheek with one fine-boned hand and studied him with her dark eyes. “Everything all right at work?”

“Sure. New case, looks like fun.” Neal tried to sound upbeat and figured he at least half-succeeded.

She pouted. “Then it must be Peter.” June held Neal's chin in one hand. “You've had a fight, haven't you? Is it time to kiss and make up yet?”

Neal sighed and gently pulled out of her grip. “It's...not quite that easy.”

She chuckled. “It really is that easy. When you are young, everything is so complicated. But when you reach my age—you see that it's so much easier.” She gave his shoulder a little push. “Go on, go have some wine. Mozzie is already in there.”

Neal went into his apartment and found Mozzie on the couch, an art book in his hands. He looked up and frowned at Neal. “Finally. It took you long enough.” He raised the book to show Neal. It was a volume of Barrons, pertaining to estate jewelry. “Yes, I heard. Yes, I'm researching. I think we should talk about this ring, Neal. Maybe we need to find it and then accidentally 'forget' to tell the Suit. It could bankroll some very lucrative deals.”

Neal flopped onto a chair. “Whatever, Mozzie. Let's find it first and then we can talk about it.”

Mozzie looked at him knowingly. “Is everything not perfect in Suit-land? I thought the straight and narrow path was all the rage.”

Neal sighed, running a hand through his hair. “Moz—I love Peter. You know I do. And I know he loves me. I just—I want to not hide it. I want to be able to not worry about my every reaction, every expression. I'm not looking for PDA. I just want to be free to say that Peter is my partner. And not in the law-and-order sense.”

Mozzie looked sympathetic, although Neal knew he still had reservations about 'the Suit', as he referred to Peter. Not wishing to discuss it any further, Neal got up before Mozzie could say anything else and went into the dressing room to change.

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“Okay, where are we on this? Diana? Jones? Neal?” Peter sipped his coffee, grimacing at its bitterness while he surveyed his team seated around the conference table, looking back at him.

“We have a new development,” said Diana, looking grim. “While we may have found our thief--”

“That's great! Excellent work!” Peter smiled, then realized that Diana was not smiling with him. “What's the catch?”

“He's dead.” She shook her head. “And here's the odd part--”

Peter thought that the thief being dead within twenty-four hours of his successful heist was odd enough, but he refrained from commenting.

“He was killed by a shish-kebab skewer while dining at an Armenian restaurant.”

“A...shish-kebab skewer?” Peter was pretty sure his expression was being mirrored by his team, who were all looking at Diana with equally great surprise. “How on earth did that happen?”

“The server was removing it from someone's meal and it flew out of his hand. It went directly through our victim's heart.” Diana closed the folder in front of her. “He died instantly.”

“Well, I'll grant that that is a little odd.” Peter turned to Jones, sitting on his left. “Anything from your end?”

“We went through the security systems at the museum. Everything was in working order. I have absolutely no idea how that guy got in there without tripping the alarms.” Jones slumped back in his chair. “He has to be a magician. The only thing that seemed to work properly was the security cam at the entrance to the exhibit. It gave us a good clean head-shot of two guys, and that's how we knew who our victim was.”

Peter sat down heavily. “Well, this is getting worse and worse. Neal? Anything from the street?”

Neal sat forward stiffly and said, “I have some feelers out. I'm hoping to hear some news shortly, although now that we already have the thief it might be less pertinent. There may be some back story that we still could use.”

“Okay. Well, our robbery is now a robbery and suspected murder. Let's get on it, people!” Everyone left the room except for Neal and Peter. He approached Neal, sitting at the edge of the table without touching his partner. “Neal? Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I'm—I'm fine.” He got up, smoothing his bespoke suit. “Just, we have to talk about this at some point, Peter. I'm not some little dirty secret.” His eyes looked beseechingly at Peter. “I love you. We deserve to be ourselves.”

Peter longed to kiss away the worry lines between Neal's eyes, but instead he simply said, “We will. Just--”

“Not right now.” Neal finished for him, with a bitter laugh. “Well, I better get to work. Find out who's skewering jewel thieves.”

Peter watched Neal leave the conference room, his jaunty step belied by his set mouth. Peter sighed and scooped up his folders, returning to his office with a feeling of foreboding and dismay.

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“Mozzie, what's up with the shish-kebabbing?” Neal put his hands on the dining table and leaned forward. “Who would do that? Who did it?”

Mozzie shook his head, patting the papers spread around the table. “I don't know. All I can tell you is the thief was relatively new to the scene. He was in his early twenties, no significant record to speak of, nobody seems to have known him, and I can only think he had to be a freakin' Houdini to get through those alarms and sensors. The Channing security system is no joke. This isn't just Grade A work, it's astounding. And now the miscreant is dead.”

“And the ring is in the wind.” Neal pushed away from the table and collapsed onto the sofa. “Send me the info and I'll fill Peter in.”

Mozzie texted busily to Neal, who in turn relayed it to Peter. Mozzie preferred keeping his communications with the FBI on the down-low, unless he was talking to Peter in person. Not that he cared too much for that either.

As soon as Mozzie finished, his phone chirped. He looked at the screen and snapped his fingers at Neal. Neal got up and came over, looking over Mozzie's shoulder and reading along.

Dead guy is Lary Feldman. Partners with Ron Wurthers most of the time. PARTNER-partners, iykwim. Ron not seen or heard from since theft.

Neal sat down across from Mozzie. “So the ring is probably with Ron now. We need to catch up with him.”

Mozzie agreed. “Before the Suit does, if he wants to avoid doing time.”

“Yup, we just want the ring back.” Neal stood up. “I gotta change. Send out some feelers, see if Ron is looking to fence the ring.”

Mozzie bent over his phone, fingers moving quickly, while Neal went to change.

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“We have another body. This one has an ID.” Diana dropped a manila folder onto the glass table. “Ron Wurthers. Turns out he was partners with Lary Feldman, which made him the front-runner suspect in our robbery. And when I say 'partners', I don't just mean at bridge.”

Peter grabbed the folder and skimmed the sheets inside. “Damn!”

Neal said, “So if Ron was our next go-to for the ring, that means the ring itself is floating around?”

“Yup.” Peter sat down, mouth in a grim line. Neal knew Peter's stomach was probably churning as he processed the news, but he didn't suggest a Tums or water, in case that seemed too personal in front of the team.

“How was this one killed?” asked Jones.

Diana and Peter looked at each other. Neal already knew, so he just looked at the table. Jones looked around at everyone until Peter finally spoke. “Knitting needle.”

“What?” Jones exclaimed. “Like...a knitting needle? Like with yarn?”

“Stainless steel,” confirmed Diana. “Right through the heart, just like Lary and the skewer.”

“So...we're looking for a psycho grandma?” A nervous titter ran around the table at Jones' query.

“One-of-a-kind emerald rings and killer grandmas? This is nuts,” said Peter. He opened the coroner's report on Lary and the one on Ron and compared them. Neal knew he was looking for a clue to where the ring might have gone. Neal himself had no clue, and he was pretty sure that Peter didn't either.

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Neal shut the door of his apartment behind him and tossed his keys into the Venetian glass bowl sitting on his dining room table. It had been a long day of fruitless leads and mounting frustration. He was so tired; tired of conforming to a regular schedule, a regular job, of hiding part of himself every damn day. God, why couldn't Peter--

No, he wasn't going to go there. He loved Peter, and he'd take Peter any way he could. Better to keep their relationship under wraps (even though Neal was pretty sure Diana suspected) than not have him at all.

Right? It was totally worth it. Just...what he wouldn't give for a little touch of hands, the freedom to say “my partner” or—even better--”my husband.”

He flopped down onto the couch, throwing an arm over his eyes.


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“I think we've got something here.”

Sam Winchester's eyes scanned the laptop screen as he scrolled down. “Two mysterious deaths in New York City.”

Dean Winchester snorted. “NYC? I'm sure the Big Apple's full of mysterious deaths. Gotta do better than that, Sammy.” One of his hands rested atop the steering wheel of their black '67 Impala while the other rummaged around in a nest of white deli paper, emerging victoriously with half of a burrito. He bit into it happily.

Sam tsked behind his teeth. “There's more, Dean. Both deaths occurred after a valuable antique ring was stolen from the Channing Museum; the victims were linked together by that robbery and--” His words broke off.

“And what?” Dean looked at his brother curiously. It took a lot to surprise the Winchesters, after all the monsters and mysteries they had dealt with.

“They were both gay. There's speculation of it being possibly a hate crime or a lovers' quarrel.” Sam looked out his window, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “That strikes me odd somehow. You'd think they could tell if it leaned toward one or the other of those situations, not both at the same time. Those are very different crimes. Besides, that's not even factoring in the theft.”

“I think the ring itself bears looking into. Jewelry like that, antique and all, could be all kinds of complications with it. We could be looking at a cursed object.” Dean finished up the burrito with an appreciative smack.

Sam rolled his eyes. “Dude, really?” He closed the laptop lid. “So? What do you think?”

Dean burped. “Looks like we're headed to the Big Apple, Sammy!”

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They pulled into town late that night, finding a seedy motel that had off-street parking for a small fortune. Sam knew that Dean was willing to pay rather than risk Baby on the New York streets. They caught a few hours sleep before breakfasting across the street at a greasy spoon. Sam limited himself to a bagel with a schmear and coffee while Dean attacked a plate of eggs, bacon, and hash browns.

“The FBI is already involved, so I don't think we can go that route.” Sam tapped the paper. “They have an elite unit on it that specializes in art theft, forgery, and so on.”

“So no feeb suits for us. We'll just have to go below the radar. Janitors or something?” Dean mopped up egg with a triangle of toast. “Hey, how about appraisers?”

Sam shook his head. “Museum and insurance will have those. If we do anything, probably better off being blue collar, blend-in-with-the-crowd types.” He thought for a moment. “Or...we could be Interpol, working from the angle that the ring originated in England, or that it could be fenced internationally.”

Dean's eye lit up. “That works! Let's see if we can get some more intel on the ring itself.” He signaled for more coffee. “When I'm done.”

“The wi-fi at the motel was decent enough this morning. Let's go.” Sam rolled his eyes at Dean's pout. “Get a coffee and danish to go!”

They split the research, Dean focusing on the museum itself and the crime reports, Sam delving into the history of the ring. The rest of the morning sped by quietly, punctuated by the rustle of Dean's danish wrapper and his slurps of coffee. It was close to noon when Sam sighed and pushed back from the table his laptop was sitting on, standing and stretching his cramped limbs.

“What d'ya find out there, Sasquatch?” Dean tilted his chair back, resting his feet on the table.

Sam sighed again. “This ring has quite the sordid little history. It originated in 1882, when it was commissioned by Viscount August Walters for his ward, Archibald, or Archie. Only Archie was actually more than just his ward—he was Walters' lover. Walters presented the ring to Archie as a token of his love as well as a, well, like a dowry or inheritance; something for Archie to build his future on.”

“Now from all reports the two men loved each other, but Walters was ordered to make a marriage based on money and family alliances. He married a county neighbor, Lydia Sylvester, and their estates were merged, but unfortunately she was barren apparently, and there were no children. As the last male heir, Walter's line therefore died out.”

Dean snorted. “Well, that was a waste then. He could have kept his boy toy after all.”

“Archie was more than just his boy toy, Dean. He really loved Walters. So much so that he killed himself.”

Dean's chair thumped onto the floor. “What?”

“Archie killed himself. About a month after Walters' and Lydia's wedding.” Sam coughed to clear his suddenly constricted throat. “He wrote a note that he had nothing left to live for, so he hung himself and he left the ring on top of the paper.”

“So how did it get to the Channing?” Dean leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table.

“Walters couldn't bear to see it again, so he put it in a box with a lot of other older jewelry, and when he died, it all got presented to a distant cousin. Ultimately, that entire collection was bequeathed to the Channing. The ring has been in a display case there ever since.”

“Until Wurthers and Feldman broke it out. And I have some ideas on that subject.” Dean leaned back, hands behind his head. Sam sat on the bed, listening attentively. “From everything I can see, the Channing's security is top-notch. These guys are newbies, they haven't been around long enough to best a system like that. It's making me wonder if they didn't pull a few rabbits out of their hat.”

“ think they used magic?” Sam's face twisted in disapproval. “Man, people never get that magic is never a good idea.”

“I'm with you on that, little brother. But yeah--this is way too slick a job for crooks at their skill level.” Dean sat forward, bringing all four chair legs back on to the floor. “Now the question is just how are we going to find it?”

“And what do we do with it once we do? Can't take the chance it keeps on killing, if it is a cursed object.” Sam drummed his fingers on the table. “I can have Bobby overnight a curse box.”

Dean stood up, stretching and yawning. The strip of skin that showed between his t-shirt and jeans widened, then narrowed again. Sam's eyes stayed riveted to it, studying the flash of freckles and the trail of dark blonde and ginger hair that disappeared behind the denim. Dean cleared his throat loudly, and Sam's focus broke, leaving his mouth half-open while Dean laughed. “See something you like, Sammy?”

Sam sniffed haughtily and tried to apply himself to his laptop, but it was impossible for him to concentrate. Dean sidled over, rocking his hips right in front of Sam's face, fingers trailing over his fly. “I got whatcha want, Sammy boy,” Dean crooned, grabbing his crotch. “You can't fool meeeeee...” He bumped the bulge of his dick into Sam's nose.

“Okay, cut it out!” Sam spluttered, waving his hands around to drive Dean back. “We have a case, Dean! We can talk about your mangy dick afterward.”

”Mangy?” Dean huffed. “Nothing 'mangy' about this fine piece of meat, Francis! See if I give you any jolly-time when we're done here!” He stalked away, head held high, leaving Sam unsure if he should laugh or apologize. He settled for a snicker, then resumed his reading.

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Peter sighed heavily, his very breath filled with frustration. They were making no headway on the theft of the emerald ring, or the two mysterious deaths that had followed it. On top of that, Neal was being cool and distant. Peter had a good idea what that was all about, but since he had no immediate plans to come out or announce their relationship, it didn't seem like that situation would get better any time soon.

He walked into the conference room, immediately discouraged at seeing the downcast faces of his team.


“Well? Who has something to report?” Peter hoped his brisk tone would conceal his dismay and frustration. He looked around the room, but no one met his eyes. He ended his scan with Diana, who did at least meet his gaze, but she simply gave a little shrug and showed empty hands. “Come on, people! You are the best team here at the Bureau! We can do better than this!”

“What new information do you have for us, Peter?” Neal's tone kept just to the edge of insubordination. “As head of the team, we look to you for direction.” His eyes gazed at Peter, pointed and simmering, but his face was serene.

Peter bit back the angry response on his lips, but the meeting was interrupted by Reese Hughes entering the room. Two tall men in dark suits accompanied him, neither of whom Peter knew.

Hughes motioned to the unknown men. “Peter, this is Agents Sumner and Copeland from Interpol. They're here to consult with us on the Channing theft.” Hughes looked sternly at Peter. “In the interest of inter-agency nice.” He left.

Peter's first impression was how tall they were. Agent Sumner had to be over six foot, and his partner Agent Copeland was a good three inches taller still. “Agents, Peter Burke. My team—Diana Berrigan, Clinton Jones, Wesley Blake, and Neal Caffrey, our consultant.” The agents nodded, Agent Copeland giving a little wave as well. Peter eyed him curiously; Copeland's hair seemed rather long for a government agent, but maybe Interpol, being Europe-based, was different in its protocol.

“Thank you, Agent Burke.” Sumner's voice was deep and authoritative. “We want to get caught up with where you are in your investigation, and then we'll see what we can offer.”

“We're very concerned about retrieving the ring itself,” added Copeland. “There seems to be a lot of—a lot of deaths following it.”

Peter barked a harsh laugh. “Agent, are you suggesting that the ring is cursed or something?” He smiled, looking around the room. Everyone else besides the Interpol agents was smiling and chuckling as well. Sumner and Copeland...were not. Peter couldn't help wondering about that.

“Of course not!” snapped Sumner. Peter glanced at Copeland in time to see his eyes skittering around the room. Curiosity niggled at the back of Peter's brain, but he was distracted by Diana outlining the case to the Interpol agents. Neal was also studying the agents, sitting back with his hands steepled in front of his mouth, his eyes bright as he glanced back and forth. Peter wondered what his take was on the addition of Agents Copeland and Sumner. Neal was an acute scholar of humanity.

“We'd like copies of everything,” said Sumner. Clearly he was used to being the lead man. “The museum history and schematics, the file on the thieves, and whatever background you have on the ring itself.”

Peter nodded assent to Diana's questioning look. Neal dropped his hands and leaned forward. “Excuse me, agents, but exactly what do you have to share with us?” Peter's flash of annoyance at Neal's presumption was quickly extinguished by the guarded looks exchanged between Copeland and Sumner.

“Yes,” Peter said. “In the interest of agency cooperation and all. What do you have for us?”

Sumner gestured with one hand to Copeland, who pulled a sheaf of papers from inside his jacket. “We've found out quite a bit on the history of the ring. You're welcome to copy it.” He shook his head. “The murders are all about the ring. We need to find it and then we can figure out what's going on.”

“Well, we have our ears to the street. A unique piece like that, I'd think we should hear something soon.”

“Yeah,” growled Sumner. “Hopefully before someone else dies.”

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Mozzie was intensely curious about Agents Sumner and Copeland, when Neal told him about them that evening. Neal could see the gears turning in that bald head, but after a couple of questions, Mozzie simply sat silently, fingers thrumming together. Neal knew that if Mozzie was silent, there was a lot of thinking going on.

“So how are we going to find this ring?” Neal wanted to break that weird silent bubble that Mozzie was sitting in. It was not like the Mozzie he knew, and therefore unnerving.

“It will turn up. Something like that? So beautiful and valuable, with a story like it has? Oh yeah, it'll turn up.” Mozzie nodded sagely.

Neal sighed. That wasn't exactly what he wanted to hear.

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“Mozzie was right,” Neal muttered to Peter. The Metro Police had found a body in Times Square, lying in an alleyway between Rite Aid and Food Emporium. A Food Emporium clerk, out early to collect stray shopping carriages, had found Howard A. Biederman halfway up the alley, next to a couple of the errant carriages. He was too well-dressed to be a street person, but the real heads-up had been when Metro PD did a quick frisk through Howard's pockets and pulled out a several-carat emerald ring.

As puzzling as the ring was, there was no confusion about Howard's cause of death. A crowbar was still sticking out of his chest; it had ripped through his wool houndstooth coat and navy blue suit, with the claw end lodged squarely in his heart.

“Mozzie called it? He doesn't miss a trick, does he.” Peter shook his head as he surveyed the body. “Well, isn't this interesting,” he said grimly.

“Isn't that the same--” Neal began.

“As the other two.” Peter turned at the sound of Sumner's deep voice. “Right through the heart.”

“That has to figure in somehow,” Copeland said quietly. “But how?”

Peter looked sharply at Copeland; the same vibe of silent communication he and Neal shared could definitely be felt humming between the two Interpol men. Sumner turned slightly toward Copeland and made a flat hand gesture that Peter could only interpret as “cut it”. Copeland's mouth snapped shut, lips pressed tightly together. Glancing at Neal, Peter saw that he was studying the two men, blue eyes darting between them as if he too thought there was more going than met the eye.

“I'll want the pathology report ASAP,” Sumner said. “And we'd like to study the ring ourselves.”

“With the utmost care, of course,” Copeland hastened to reassure Peter. “We're used to handling objets d'art and other valuables.”

“Well, if you can't trust Interpol, who can you trust?” asked Neal, casually walking behind Peter.

“Let's just get this bagged and back to the Bureau. You can study it all you want there.” Peter waved a crime scene tech over and motioned to the ring, the green stone winking in the afternoon sun. Sumner and Copeland stood off to one side, whispering to each other. Peter wondered what was going on with them, but got distracted when he slipped a hand into his jacket pocket and found a note. He looked up at Neal, who tapped his nose. Unfolding the scrap of paper, he read,

They're not Interpol.

Peter's head snapped up, but Neal was gone.

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“There is no connection between the original pair of thieves and Biederman. No way to explain the ring leaving Lary's body and showing up now. No discernible reason for the similarity in the killing method.” Sam knew he sounded frustrated, but then again, he was. “If we can't figure out how this is happening, we can't stop it.”

“We can burn the thing. Melt it down to scrap.” Dean took a swallow of whiskey. “That'll take care of it.”

“Yeah, but how are we going to do that with everyone watching it? It's under lock and key in the FBI lab.” Sam sat back and sighed heavily. “Sucks when we aren't the only feds in town.”

Dean gazed into his glass before taking another swallow. “Maybe we tell them.”

Sam straightened up. “What?”

“We tell them. At least that Peter guy. He's no dummy. Neither is Neal, for that matter. Those pretty blue peepers don't miss a thing. I'll bet my chrome rims that he's no Bureau hack. He's something else altogether.”

Sam looked intently at Dean. There was definitely some admiration in his voice. Neal was a very attractive man, Sam had to admit, but...”Should I, jealous?”

Dean got up and came over to Sam. “They're both easy on the eyes, and I'd like to know more about Mr. Neal Caffrey's story, but baby—they ain't got nothing on you!” He kissed Sam hard, his mouth expressing the love and possessiveness he felt for Sam in no uncertain terms.

Sam immediately got on board with Dean's course of action, pulling Dean down on his lap. “Thanks,” he murmured between kisses. He slid his hands around Dean's ass, squeezing it and easing his hand down the back of Dean's jeans. “I think it's time we relocate this party,” Dean growled. “So get your hand out of there and get your ass on the bed!”

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Neal looked around the bullpen, but caught no sign of Agents Sumner and Copeland. He went up to Peter's office, but Peter was alone there, making a face at the crappy office coffee. “Keep telling you, get a French press at least!” Neal teased.

Peter rolled his eyes. “Distract me from this foul brew,” he groused. “What's up?”

“I was just looking for our friendly neighborhood Interpol agents,” said Neal lightly.

“Oh, yeah!” Peter got up and closed his door. “What the hell was that note about? What do you mean, they aren't really Interpol?”

Neal turned out looked out of the huge window, observing the traffic below. “They're...wrong. Off.” He shook his head. “Frankly, I can't give you specifics, but I've spent a lot of time with various people from Interpol, and these two? Not it. They just...smell wrong.””

Peter was quiet for a few minutes, and Neal knew he was digesting Neal's words, mulling them over before coming to a new conclusion. He'd learned that Peter might be slower than Neal to act, but Peter's mathematical background meant he could manipulate endless variables and come up with a variety of possible answers.

“Okay,” Peter finally said. “I'm not going to confront them yet, because I want to know why they're here. What do they want? I don't think it's as simple as stealing the ring, not with it under our scrutiny now. So let's not tip our hand until we find out more about what's going on.” He opened his door and waved for Neal to join him. “Let's go down to the lab and see what they're up to.”

Neal followed Peter out of the office and down to the elevator. If he got a little distracted watching Peter's fine ass under his suit pants, one else had to know.

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Sam studied the typed pages in his hand while Dean stared at the ring. “It's pretty enough, I guess. Not my taste. Too...fancy.” Dean cautiously poked at it. “I don't feel anything from it.”

“That was the style in the 1880's, especially for a nobleman,” answered Sam idly. “And stop poking the killer ring that we don't understand yet.” He flipped a page over and continued reading.

“God, aren't you done yet? Maybe you need to take one of those speed-reading courses,” grumbled Dean.

“Jesus, Dean! You're so impatient!” Sam put the papers down. “Well, I don't know everything in there but I can tell you this much—this ring is composed of normal materials. Nothing unearthly or unnatural, physically speaking.”

“So, cursed object? And if so, how do we get it out of the bowels of the FBI?”

Sam made a face. “Don't say 'bowels', Dean, that's gross.”

“Inner depths, is that okay, Princess?”

Sam nodded. “Seriously though, let's review the history again.” He joined Dean in front of the ring, staring at it on its black velvet mount. “Nobleman commissioned it.”

“For his boytoy.”

“Secret lover.”

“Killed himself.”


“Hey,” Dean blinked, cocking his head in thought. “Did anyone with the ring die back then?”

Sam stared at him. “Back when?”

“Back when the ring was new and shiny. Did anyone die after Boytoy died but before it went to the museum?”

“I don't know. That's a really interesting question, although I'm not entirely sure what it would tell us.” Sam jotted a note down.

The door opened and Peter and Neal entered. “Good morning,” said Peter crisply. “What would be good to know?”

“Where I can get better coffee,” bantered Dean. “Your FBI joe is crap.”

“Uh-huh. Right,” drawled Peter. “Anything new on our little bauble here?”

“No!” exclaimed Sam. All three men stared at him, Peter and Neal looking surprised at his outburst and Dean frowning. “I mean, I looked at the reports and there's nothing odd.”

All four men focused their gaze on the ring. It lay there innocently enough, but Sam saw the dark green faceted depths less as something beautiful and more as harboring something dark in its verdant depths. We fucking need to figure this out. I'll bet anything it's just waiting to kill again, he thought in mingled fear and frustration. Somehow, it's going to--

The ring vanished.

ring divider

If Peter hadn't seen it himself, he would never have believed it. One moment the ring was there, resting on its square of black velvet and the next—it wasn't. The plexiglass cage over it was undisturbed.

“What--” he began to say, but stopped in total befuddlement. He looked at Neal.

Neal shook his head, his eyes wide and hands spread open. “Don't look at me. That is nothing I could have done.”

Peter turned on the Interpol agents, but they too were staring in shock. “What the hell! Evidence doesn't just vanish into thin air!” He heard the frantic note in his voice, but he couldn't stop it. He knew the ring had to be the key to the murders, plus it was an extremely valuable artifact.

Sumner and Copeland exchanged looks. Copeland scowled at his partner, and Sumner sighed and nodded back.

Copeland turned to Peter. “Is there someplace...private we can go and talk?”

They unanimously decided to leave the FBI building for some fresh air, ending up at Peter's townhouse. Everyone remained quiet until they were seated in Peter's living room with a freshly brewed cup of Peter's excellent dark roast in front of them. Peter almost laughed at how orgasmic Sumner's face looked when he took the first sip. While the coffee brewed, Peter had rummaged around and found some Milano cookies in a cabinet and put them out on a plate. He couldn't really understand why he was putting cookies out, but it felt polite, and it beat wondering frantically where the fuck his valuable piece of evidence had gone. Sumner grabbed a cookie right away.

“Why are we here?” asked Neal, saving Peter the effort of starting the discussion. “What's going on?”

Copeland rested his elbows on his knees and sat forward. “We have some things we need to tell you. They're going to seem...outlandish, maybe even outrageous, but you need to just take it on faith for a bit that it's the truth.”

Peter and Neal glanced at each other before nodding in unison. “We're certainly willing to hear what you have to say,” said Peter.

Copeland cleared his throat. “We aren't Interpol.”

“What?” At the very least, Peter found himself shocked at the casualness of the announcement.

“Called it,” Neal muttered. Peter rolled his eyes.

Sumner brushed the cookie crumbs from his hands and said, “I'm Dean Winchester, and this is my brother, Sam. We handle things of a...”

“A special nature. Extra-special, actually,” Sam joined in. “Like--”

“Like vanishing emerald rings and weird murders,” said Neal dryly.

“Yes. Like that.” Sam nodded and took a sip of his coffee.

“So—do you know where the ring went?” Peter felt ridiculous asking, but things were already getting pretty weird.

“Yes and no,” answered Sam sadly. “Yes, in that it has probably gone to its next victim. No, as in we don't know who that is.”

“Victim! You mean...the ring is killing people?” Peter felt like he was falling into the Twilight Zone. He hoped the little voodoo dolls were not about to make an appearance. Or that creepy Talking Tina. He stifled a semi-hysterical snicker.

“Yes...and no.” Dean gave a half-smile. “Things like this can be complicated, except when they're straightforward. The ring isn't killing people. Whatever spirit or curse is attached to the ring is killing people.”

Silence filled the room again. Peter glanced at Neal, who as usual looked calm except for his raised eyebrows. When Peter looked back at Sumn--Dean, he was exchanging glances with Cope—no, Sam.

“So there's a curse on the ring,” Peter managed to say calmly.

“Yes,” answered Sam. “Or else a vengeful spirit is attached to it.”

“And...what do we do about that?”

Dean said matter-of-factly, “If it's a curse, we'll lock it away in a curse box—a container specially warded to contain a cursed object. If it's a vengeful spirit, then we have to figure out what the spirit is angry about and either fix it or vanquish it.” He picked up another cookie.

Neal suddenly sat up straight. “You're hunters!”

Sam and Dean looked at him with surprise. Sam nodded, replying “Yes. We're hunters.”

Peter stared at Neal. “How did you--hunters? What the heck are 'hunters'?”

Neal shrugged. “When you've been all over the world, in all kinds of crazy places, you learn things. I never met any before, and I thought it was really a rumor or something, but I heard about them. You two hunt the things that live in the dark. The...monsters.”

Peter felt like laughing or pulling his hair out. “Monsters? What are we, on Buffy the Vampire Slayer? This is—this is crazy!”

“Yeah, it is. But it's real too. I don't know what else I can tell you to help with it.” Sam's eyes were compassionate. “There's never a good way to learn about it.”

“I need a minute.” Peter got up and went out the back door, collapsed in a patio chair. The air was cool and fresh and green, and he sat there just breathing and trying to re-adjust everything he'd ever thought about the world.

Neal dropped into the chair next to him.

“Why aren't you freaking out?” Peter asked irritably.

Neal shrugged. “I didn't think they were real, but I'd at least heard about them before.”

Peter sighed, and Neal reached over, twining his fingers with Peter's. Peter squeezed his hand, and then pulled on Neal, drawing him close for a kiss. With the touch of Neal's lips on his, Peter felt his mind unknot and his pulse slow down. “Jesus, that's what I needed,” he murmured before kissing Neal again, unhurried and deep. “Love you, baby.”

“Love you too, Peter.” Neal withdrew after a final brush of his mouth. “But now we should talk to them, find out what's next.”

Peter groaned and got to his feet. He brushed himself off, running his hands down his front. A lump caught his attention and he patted himself. Neal looked at him with a question on his face. “There's something in my pocket,” Peter explained. He reached inside his jacket and fumbled in his shirt pocket. “What the hell?”

Pulling out his hand, Peter opened it and stared with shock at the vibrant green emerald ring that sat on his palm.

ring divider

Dean took a plastic cup and filled it half-full from the water cooler. He drank it quickly, knowing he had to get back inside the lab shortly. Get back to the fucking ring that had appeared in Peter Burke's fucking pocket.

“Okay, tell me the scoop.” Neal appeared on Dean's left. “You know more than you're saying, and I need to know what it is.” His bright blue eyes bored into Dean's. “You can't con a con man.”

Dean nodded. “Okay. Let's go back in, don't need to say it all twice. Plus Sam has half the backstory.”

They re-entered the lab, where Sam was typing busily on a laptop and Peter was staring off into space. The ring was back inside its plexiglass cage, but they all knew that didn't mean shit.

“Sam? You wanna clue them in?” Dean leaned against a lab table, crossing his feet and arms.

Sam took a deep breath, running one hand through his long brown hair. “Sure.” He cleared his throat. “We know that the ring comes from a history of love and denial and pain. Specifically, it seems to favor gay love.” He looked at Peter. “I guess that means...”

Peter clenched his jaw and looked away. Sam glanced at Neal and saw his blue eyes dim before he shifted his gaze to the ground.

“Yeah. So, the ring isn't cursed. It's a vengeful spirit.” Both Peter and Neal looked up at Sam, staring in clear befuddlement. “A spirit, an angry one—it's attached itself to the ring. It wants vengeance, and...well, it wants justice. It wants a wrong to be righted. And it's going to slam itself around until that happens.” Sam's mouth twisted unhappily for a moment. “It doesn't care about who gets killed or hurt or anything. It's in too much pain. It can't think straight anymore for the pain.”

“But--” started Peter. “I don't—this is crazy. It's just a ring.” He looked again at the emerald ring, lying docilely in its cage.

“How did it get in your pocket, Peter?” asked Dean. “You just slip it up your sleeve?” He gazed calmly at Peter, and Sam almost wanted to laugh as Peter visibly struggled to come up with an explanation.

“It's okay. I know it sounds ridiculous. But these things exist. These, and so much more.” Sam shook his head. “I can't tell you how much more. Everything you ever had a nightmare about—it's real. Magic—it's real. And vengeful spirits—obviously, they're real too.”

Peter sagged against the desk he was leaning on, his eyes sliding to Neal's. Neal stared back at him, his mouth a thin line.

“Peter, we—you can't afford to notbelieve them. The last three people who had the ring died.” Neal's voice shook a little. “I don't want you to die.”

ring divider

Neal watched Peter work to accept a reality that was as unreal as it could be. Peter was a man who dealt with numbers, who added things up and got answers. Even when he went with his intuition, Peter was logical. And now, here was this completely illogical version of life, and he was going to have to accept it. Otherwise, he would—he could die.

And Neal was not standing for that. Peter Burke was not dying on his watch.

“Just do it, Peter. What do you have to lose? If they're flakes or charlatans, so what? But if they aren't, then you live. You live, Peter.” Neal felt passion clog his throat. “Isn't that worth it? Worth a little trust? A little belief?”

Peter's eyes flicked from to another of them, Sam, Dean, Neal. Could he trust them? Even with the wild things they were saying? Wasn't it crazy talk?

But Neal—Neal didn't talk crazy talk. Oh, he came up with some outlandish ideas sometimes. Approached things from the left side. But he was almost always right. Peter had learned this time and time again.

So why not trust him now? What did he have to lose?

More importantly, what did he have to gain?

His life?

Peter cleared his throat and straightened up. He put all the authority he could into his voice. “Okay. How do we stop this son of a bitch?”

ring divider

Sam and Dean looked at each other. That was the $20,000 question.

“If it were a cursed object, we could lock it away in a special box that is warded just for that.” Dean sighed. “That would be so much easier.”

“Where do you get a box like that?” asked Peter, his voice tinged with incredulity.

“Oh, we have a good line on them—we could just get one Fed-Exed out overnight.” Sam sounded breezy and casual, but his eyes were still dark and unhappy. Dean wanted to touch him, reassure him—oh fuck it, there was no reassuring to be done. There was only one angry-as-hell spirit tied to a ring that had most recently appeared in Peter's pocket.

Neal's bright blue eyes flicked back and forth between Sam and Dean. “So...since that's not the case here, what do we do instead?” Dean wasn't fooled by Neal's light tone; he could read the tension in Neal's body as he leaned against a cabinet. Then there was the way Neal's eyes were constantly moving between himself, Sam, and Peter. Dean knew what that kind of anxiety meant.

Please save Peter--I love him.

“We summon it. Vengeful spirits are, well, vengeful because they're angry.” Sam's voice was calm, and Dean knew he was trying to soothe Peter and Neal's anxiety. “We can often find out why they're worked up and resolve it—right some wrong, hand out some kind of justice. Then the spirit dissipates naturally.”

Peter nodded. “Okay. And what if that doesn't work? What if it's still...vengeful?” His face showed his disbelief in his own words. Dean knew to a logical, rational man like Peter, accepting the reality of the supernatural had to be difficult.

Dean cleared his throat. “Then we kill the son-of-a-bitch. Destroy the object—in this case, the ring—and extinguish it.”

Sam nodded. “We kick it in the ass, get rid of it once and for all.”

ring divider

Neal opened his door and saw Sam and Dean waiting, each with a brown paper shopping bag. “What's all that?” he asked, stepping back so they could enter.

“Supplies. Summoning spells always have a list of ingredients. We got your butterfly dust, yarrow blossoms, consecrated soil, and a cat skull.” Dean grinned and held up his other hand. “And beer. That's for us, not the spirit.”

Sam rolled his eyes as he put his bag down on the table. “We also needed salt, candles, and a brass bowl, which we had in the trunk of our car.”

“Salt? What's that for?” Neal's curiosity began to outweigh his trepidation.

“Salt represents purity, so it's a natural defense against spirits and darkness. We'll make a protective ring around us before we summon the spirit,” Sam explained, emptying the bag onto the table. He picked up a large container of salt and waggled it.

“Where's Peter? Were you able to get the last thing we needed?” Dean set a large brass bowl on the table and lined up half a dozen little jars and bottles.

Neal peered at the bottles. Some looked like they just had sand or spices in them, but one looked like it had a--was that a claw? And in that other one, were the contents... moving?

He realized Sam and Dean were both looking at him expectantly. “Oh, yeah, I'm—a friend is taking care of that. He should be here shortly.” Neal caught the exchange of glances between Sam and Dean. “Not to worry; Mozzie is more than discreet. He'll never speak of what happens here.”

A knock on the door, and Peter entered. “Well, I've now absconded with major evidence in a current investigation. Not only is it evidence, it's incredibly valuable. So let's make this count.” His tone was light, but his expression was grim. Neal knew how difficult this was for the incredibly moral, law-abiding Peter Burke.

“It's worth it if we save your life,” Neal said, trying to reassure Peter. He went over and squeezed Peter's shoulder, wishing he could full-out hug his boyfriend despite the Winchesters' presence, but knowing how uncomfortable that would make Peter. Peter looked at Neal and smiled one of the soft smiles that only Neal ever saw, and that was enough for the moment.

“Ready,” said Dean, holding the desiccated claw in his hand. Neal looked inside the bowl where the other components were swirled together; somehow, it still looked like something was moving, yet wherever Neal looked, everything was still. It made his head hurt a little and his stomach roil. “Okay, Sam's making the salt circle. Whatever happens, and I mean whatever happens, stay inside that circle!”

Peter and Neal both nodded, stepping inside the almost-completed circle. Sam finished the thick line of salt and stepped inside as well. Only Dean remained outside. “But--” started Peter, gesturing toward Dean. “What about--”

Sam shook his head. “He'll be okay, and I'm watching his back.” Everyone stared at Dean, who took a deep breath and raised the claw over the bowl.

The door erupted in a volley of knocking. Neal had locked it to ensure privacy, but he'd forgotten one thing.

“Neal!” called a nasal voice. “Open up, Neal, this is heavy!”

Neal hopped out of the circle and unlocked the door. Mozzie burst in, his arms full with a large cylinder and a plastic grocery bag. “Oof,” he exhaled, plopping the cylinder down next to Dean's brass bowl. “You owe me big-time, Neal Caffrey!” He slung the plastic bag alongside the cylinder. Neal could see thick gray gloves, rather like large oven mitts, and a metal rod in the bag.

“What's all this?” Dean asked, still clutching the claw in his hand.

Neal smiled. “Sam said that if the summoning angle didn't work, we'd need to destroy the object that the spirit is tied to. So if that's the ring, then we have to melt it down, and to do that, we need a smelter.” He waved a hand at the cylinder. “One smelter, with protective mitts and a poker.”

A slow grin spread across Dean's face. “That's awesome!” He nodded at Mozzie. “Nice work, dude!”

Mozzie preened a moment. “Well, I do--”

“Yes, yes,” interrupted Peter. “Let's get this little show on the road, shall we? I don't fancy getting skewered through the heart here!”

Everyone resumed their places, with Neal pulling Mozzie into the salt circle. Dean took a deep breath and began speaking Latin, although Neal couldn't catch what he was saying. Then the claw was thrown into the bowl, and the sluggish mess inside burst like a Chinese firework, emitting a gout of flame while spraying gold and white sparks all over the room. Dark smoked trickled from the bowl, dripping in a decidedly un-smoke-like way to the floor, where it puddled and eddied.

Silence fell, save for the muffled hissing of the smoke. Neal looked around anxiously unsure whether to anticipate danger or magic or both. In a few heartbeats, his curiosity was answered.

A young man appeared in an rather electric way; as if his figure was shorting in and out while it was manifesting in Neal's apartment, before it finally stabilized into a steady image. He was a slender young man, maybe seventeen, not willowy but not with the full muscles of manhood on his body yet. Long, dark curly hair shook and bobbed around his head as he moved. He was clad in a simple linen shirt, the untied laces at the neck hanging loose so the shirt showed his neck and even some shoulder, as the fabric slipped around. Dark plain breeches and dark shoes finished his wardrobe. Neal knew from his extensive art background how rich and elegant the clothes of an eighteenth century nobleman would be, and this—this was a far cry from that. This was the plain, serviceable clothing of a common man.

“Archie? Archibald?” asked Dean.

The spirit didn't respond at first, staring around the apartment and at the cluster of men. Dean repeated himself, and the spirit looked at him this time. “Yes, I am Archie,” it—he answered in a light tenor voice. “Where am I?”

Mozzie grabbed Neal's arm. “Jesus, Neal—what is that around his throat?”

In the first shock of the young man's appearance, Neal had missed it, but now as he studied the figure more closely, he saw it. An ugly crimson weal ran around the man's throat, like some hideous smile painted in reds and purples. Neal knew what it was, and he answered Mozzie quietly. “That's from the rope. This young man hung himself, according to the info that Sam and Dean shared with us earlier.”

Mozzie looked at him, clearly puzzled, but the light dawned. Neal could almost have laughed at the peculiar expression from Mozzie's mingled pity and horror, but really, there was nothing funny about any of it. Not a damn thing.

“You're in another year, another time,” said Sam, his voice measured. “Do you know what you are?”

“A spirit, a ghost—an ethereal being, yet anchored to the mortal plane.” The young man looked at the each in turn. “You all look passing strange, but that is nothing to me. I want one thing, and one thing only.”

“What thing? Tell us what you want and let us see if we can settle your score.”

“I want my heart's desire. If I can't have my own, then I must have others'.” The young man's face darkened. “If I am denied this, then there must be recompense.”

Dean asked gruffly, “What kind of 'recompense' do you want?”

Archie smiled, showing all of his ghostly teeth, and Dean felt the air in the room drop ten degrees.

“Hearts, of course. I want hearts.”

ring divider

Archie looked over at Peter. “Hearts lanced through, so that the owner may know the pain his falseness or denial has wrought. If the heart is stifled, then let the heart die.”

Neal shivered. Archie's tone was so cold. so...implacable. The memory of the earlier victims' forensic photos flashed into his head. The knitting needle, the skewer, the...

“The poker!” Neal hissed to Dean. “Watch out for the poker!”

Indeed, the poker Mozzie had brought with the smelter was the perfect weapon: a slim metal rod, meant to stir the melting metals. Neal was pretty sure that at the right velocity, it would punch right through someone's chest.

Like Peter's.

ring divider

Dean could almost see Neal's worry like a palpable fog. He wished he could reassure the man, but all cards were still in play at the moment and the bets were off.

“What would release you? What binds you to this ring?” Dean asked.

“The yearning that I feel, so painful, which is echoed in others until I cannot bear it. I must end it.” Archie sounded mournful, despite his macabre words.

“Can't you just leave? Must you kill?” The words burst out of Neal, and Dean cursed. He completely empathized with Neal's fears, his love, but goddammit, he didn't know how volatile a spirit could be.

And now they were going to find out; Archie looked furious, fists clenched, while papers started whirling around on the table and glassware chittered on the shelves. The air felt electrified, as if a thunderstorm was approaching. Dean figured it was about the same thing.

“You don't know! You don't know how I suffered! What I lost!” Archie's hair was floating in the air now. His eyes were angry sparks. “He denied me! He refuted me! He broke my heart, and it was all for naught! His wife was barren, and his line still ended, so I suffered for nothing!” His words ended in a screech.

“Shit!” Sam cursed, his eyes on the floor. Dean saw the swirling air was beginning to fray the line of the salt circle.

“Neal! Fire it up!” Dean yelled. Neal's little bald friend was already huddled over the smelter. Peter was staring with horror at Archie, and Neal was right beside him. Dean knew that Neal would throw himself in front of Peter without a second thought, if that poker took to the air.

After all, it's what he and Sam would do for each other.

“So how did you get free?” Dean asked, still trying to distract Archie.

“The touch of a human hand—I was locked away for so long, but when the thieves freed me, the touch of their hands, their warmth, released me.” He frowned. “But then they denied each others' desires. One wanted to leave behind the stealing and chicanery. Then later the man who found my ring—he would not proclaim his love for his paramour.”

“Why do you want Peter's heart?” asked Neal, facing Archie boldly. Peter tried to tug him back, but Neal shook him off. “Why him? I love him, and he loves me!”

“Because he is afraid. Because he won't admit his love to the world. Because he won't honor your love and make you his own.” Archie stamped his foot, and the salt swirled around the floor.

Mozzie turned around, keeping the smelter on the table behind his back. He addressed Archie, gesturing to Sam and Dean. “What about those two? Aren't they hiding and pretending?”

Dean and Sam looked at each other, shocked. How had Mozzie guessed? Dean knew the man was desperate to buy them the last few minutes while the smelter got up to temperature, but he still felt a flash of protective anger at Mozzie putting Sam in potential harm's way.

“We hide to the world when we have to,” Sam said levelly. “We don't hide to each other. Everything we have, we give to each other, and we know that is all we can do, according to our world. There's no guilt. No fear. We have our hearts' desire. That's why he's not coming after us.”

Dean smiled at his brother, the person who knew him best in the whole world, who he loved the most. Sam smiled back, and for a millisecond, it was just the two of them in the room.

Peter said, “So if I admit my feelings for Neal, that's all it would take? This would be over?”

“No!” Archie stamped again, his face curling in an ugly grimace. “It's too late! You had time, all the time, just like Lester did, and you squandered it! My pain is as your lover's pain, and all of it must be ameliorated! Now you must suffer and die!”

The poker levitated off the table, quivering in the air. Sam yelled “Now!” and Peter tossed the ring to him. Sam threw it into the smelter; the instant it touched the heat, the edges of the metal began to visibly soften.

“Watch out!” cried Mozzie; he'd been staring at the poker in astonishment, and was the first to notice it moving. It arced through the air, circling the ceiling and then zoomed straight--

“Peter!” An anguished yell from Neal, diving at Peter and knocking them both to the floor. The poker vibrated wildly from where it had pierced the wall.

Archie screamed in frustration, flashing in and out of sight, then appearing directly in front of Peter and Neal. “He won't save you! It's too late!” Archie reached down, his hands on Peter's chest. Peter gasped, Neal cried out, and Archie--

Flames erupted from his feet, racing up his body and down his arms; his clothes and flesh fell away until they could see his very bones incinerating, all amid terrible screams. The tower of ash that had been Archie fell to the floor in a smoking heap. The air rang with the sudden silence, except for everyone's harsh breathing.

Dean ran over to the smelter. The ring was a liquid pool of metal, with the emerald swimming in the middle. “Damn,” he said gruffly. “Good job there, Mozzie.”

“Yeah,” agreed Sam, looking over his shoulder. “Nice work.”

“Thanks. Contrary to popular belief, I enjoy being a team player at times.” Mozzie smirked. “How's the Suit?”

They all turned to look at Peter and Neal, still on the floor. Neal's arms were around Peter's neck, his face buried in Peter's neck, while Peter held him, kissing his hair and rubbing his back. Peter looked up at them. “We're good.”

They disengaged and stood up. Dean could see traces of tears on Neal's face, but ignored them as they all shook hands and clapped each other on the shoulder.

“What about the emerald? Do we need to destroy that too?” Mozzie looked at the gem longingly. Dean understood his avarice; between the untold worth and the intrinsic beauty, it was a temptation.

“Yeah, just to be on the safe side, the emerald's gotta go too.” Sam picked up the tongs and fished the emerald out, putting it on a protective pad. He retrieved a geologist's hammer out of a jacket pocket and struck the emerald forcefully. It shattered into irregular bits, the rich green brilliance disappearing into dark shards. Sam struck it again, breaking up a larger piece, but when he raised his hand for another blow, Peter stopped him.

“Can I?”

Sam nodded, handing the hammer to Peter and stepping back. Dean and the others watched as Peter struck the broken stone another three or four times, until there was nothing but a heap of glittery bits and powder. Dean nodded to himself in satisfaction as he saw the tension drain from Peter's face, his jaw unclenching. He knew what that relief felt like, his gaze shifting to where Sam stood, Sam's eyes still fixed on Peter and the demolished stone.

Peter let the hammer fall from his hand and turned to Neal; his arms didn't open wide, but it was clear what he was offering. Dean coughed at the lump in his throat. The whole dust and smoke thing must have clogged it...

Neal accepted, moving quickly into Peter's arms, holding him tightly and burying his face into Peter's neck. Dean could hear his voice, but it was too muffled in Peter's jacket to be understandable. Not wanting to hear what wasn't meant for him, Dean joined Sam, nudging the pile of emerald debris with the toe of his boot.

“How did you know it would shatter like that?” Dean asked casually. What he really wanted to do was grab Sam, kiss him, maybe rip some clothes off...but that would have to wait.

“I looked it up ahead of time. Emeralds can be fairly hard, but they have a lot of inclusions, tiny flaws inside that makes them fragile. They're not recommended for engagement rings because of that. Plus when they're really old like this one, they dry out and can be even more brittle.” Sam shrugged. “I figured this would probably break pretty easily.”

Dean reached over and took Sam's hand, squeezing it hard. Sam's eyes met his, and Dean felt like no one existed but them for a moment. Sam finally squeezed back, looking pointedly at Peter and Neal and back to Dean with raised eyebrows.

“They're busy with each other,” Dean murmured.

“Yeah, but Mozzie isn't.” Sam nodded in Mozzie's direction. Mozzie's back was to them while he checked on the smelter with one thick mitt, but Dean wasn't fooled. He knew Mozzie had his eyes and ears peeled at all times.

Dean sighed. “Later...” Sam licked his lips and nodded.

“Okay, Suit! I think we're all done here!” Mozzie said loudly. Neal and Peter separated, and Dean was astonished at just how soft Peter's face could look, when he was looking at Neal.

“What do we need to do for clean-up?” asked Neal, his eyes sliding back to Peter.

“I'm out of here,” announced Mozzie, his smelter and equipment now packed up. “I can feel the sappiness quotient building already.”

The other four men all laughed, the humor providing a release for the last of their nervous energy. Dean caught his breath, still smiling, and found himself watching Sam sweeping up the shattered emerald with deft movements. He pictured those long fingers, those capable hands, doing something far more enjoyable--

“Dean?” Peter and Neal looked at him, their expressions quizzical. Dean cleared his throat and straightened up, attempting to look calm, cool, and collected. “Everything okay?” Peter asked.

“Yeah, we should be all set.” Sam joined them, wiping his hands off on his jeans. “No more murders.”

“Now we just have to figure out how to explain the ring's disappearance.” Neal grimaced. “I'm sure they'll think it was me. Again.”

Sam and Dean exchanged a look, and Dean winked at Neal. Sam smiled while he said, “I think we can help with that...”

ring divider

Peter's office phone buzzed. Neal was hovering by his shoulder, and they both heard Diana say “Agents Copeland and Sumner are here.”

“Send them up,” answered Peter, frowning at Neal when he smirked at the fake names. “Behave, you!”

Neal smothered a laugh just as Sam and Dean walked into the office, tall and official-looking in their dark Fed suits. “Agent Burke, Mr. Caffrey,” Sam said crisply, elbowing Dean who was laughing along with Neal. “We're here to close the Channing robbery case along with the subsequent murders.”

Peter nodded, giving Neal a little kick to sober him up. “Yes, agents, of course.”

Dean's face was now appropriately serious. “We're satisfied that the murderer in question was himself killed by his own weapon. As far as the ring, there are more inquiries regarding it still open in Europe, so we're taking custody of it as material evidence. As far as the Bureau and the White Collar team is concerned, the case is now closed.”

Sam added, “The White Collar team played a significant role in the apprehension and regaining of the ring, as well as addressing the murders, so please know that Interpol will have high praise for it in the report.” He winked.

“Excellent, ah, just excellent,” Peter intoned, trying to resist the giggles that Neal's eye rolling and smirking were provoking in him. “Thank you, Agents. It was a pleasure working with you.”

“Yes,” Neal interjected. “Extremely...professional!”

Peter could see that Dean and Sam were biting their lips not to laugh, but they all shook hands very properly. Peter ushered them out of his office, Neal on his heels, and they watched the Winchesters go down the steps and exit the bull pen.

“Think we'll see them again?” murmured Neal.

“I don't know,” answered Peter, watching the bull pen hum quietly. “I know this, though.” He half-turned and grabbed Neal's wrist, pulling him up to the rail next to Peter. Wrapping one arm around Neal's waist and the other around his shoulders, with his fingers slid into Neal's soft hair, Peter kissed Neal in full view of the bull pen.

Peter felt the momentary stiffness of Neal's shocked reaction, but then Neal melted into him, hugging and kissing him back. The bull pen's hum quieted; Peter held his breath a moment before breaking the kiss. Staring into Neal's brilliant blue eyes, Peter whispered, “I'll never deny us again.”

Neal opened his mouth to respond, but the quiet was broken by a storm of applause. Looking down, Peter saw the entire bull pen looking at them and applauding. He checked on Neal, and was almost blinded by Neal's joyous smile. Peter caught sight of Diana, and she gave them a double thumbs' up with a radiant grin.

“Well, Mr. Caffrey, perhaps we could talk about trading in that ankle bracelet for a ring.” Peter waggled his eyebrows.

“I'd love to, Mr. Burke. emeralds please!”

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