evening_bat: Bat in flight, silhouetted against the moon. (Default)
[personal profile] evening_bat
Title: Memory Set Smarting
Author: [personal profile] evening_bat
Pairing: none
Rating: R
Word Count: ~ 5200
Warnings: Violence and mook death.
Summary: Peter had learned never to take Neal at face value but even he was surprised at the depth of the secrets behind that conman-perfect smile.
Notes: Response to this prompt over on [livejournal.com profile] comment_fic. Crossover with Chuck. Goes AU sometime late in S1 of White Collar, I think. (Ahahahaha. These things are getting longer.)


Memory Set Smarting

With memory set smarting like a reopened wound, a man's past is not simply a dead history, an outworn preparation of the present: it is not a repented error shaken loose from the life: it is a still quivering part of himself, bringing shudders and bitter flavors and the tinglings of a merited shame.
~ George Eliot, Middlemarch


For all the risks to which his undercover work with the FBI exposed him, Neal rarely balked at any role he was assigned. Peter had always chalked that up to a combination of Neal’s “professional” pride and the awareness that his parole depended on his usefulness. When he got cagey about their latest case, Peter was as surprised as he was suspicious. True to form, Neal couldn’t just come out and tell them what his problem was, he just nitpicked holes in their plans until everyone at the table looked ready to strangle him. Peter put up with it until Neal’s objections ventured beyond useful criticism into obfuscation, then decided that enough was enough.

“Something you’d like to share with the rest of the class, Caffrey?” he asked, pinning Neal with a pointed look.

Peter could practically see Neal shuffling his options before he shrugged lightly and offered up the bare truth for a change.

“I’ve met Melnikov before. He’ll remember me,” Neal finally admitted. “And he promised he’d shoot me if he ever saw me again, so I’m not sure how much good I’ll be to you if you send me in to meet him.”

That wasn’t anywhere in Neal’s file and Peter swore softly to himself. Hazards of doing business with a convicted felon, he supposed, though Neal’s connections were usually more of a benefit than an inconvenience.

“How much of a grudge is he likely to be holding?” Peter asked. Neal was good; if anyone could use a past conflict to manipulate someone...

Neal’s habitual smile twisted. “A shoot first, gloat later caliber grudge.”

Damn. Neal wasn’t that good. Running a con through a chest full of bullet holes was a bit much to expect from even the infamous Caffrey charm.

“Right, so we’ll need a new front man, then,” Peter decided, switching gears.

Hours later, he would still have trouble following the chain of logic that got him nominated as Neal’s stand-in. He was putting the finishing touches on his cover when Neal sidled up to him, running a critical eye over his ensemble.

Peter held his arms out, presenting himself for inspection. “Will I do?”

“Not as well as I would,” Neal answered bluntly. “Are you sure you want to do this?”

“We did manage to close cases before you came along, Neal,” Peter said dryly. “I’m sure we can handle one more without you.”

“Yeah, but are you sure about this one, Peter?” Neal persisted quietly, flicking a finger at the wired watch. “Melnikov has some pretty shady connections.”

“I’m not exactly thrilled about it but this case is important enough to someone that we’re not being given much of a choice,” Peter answered. “Unless you can give me a solid reason for calling this off...?”

“I’m your CI,” Neal protested. “Isn’t my tip that this guy is dangerous - and well connected - reason enough?”

“For me, maybe,” Peter conceded. “But someone upstairs is pushing hard for this one so the rest of us will just have to be careful.”

Neal sighed acceptance but his eyes were troubled. That he let it show was nearly enough to make Peter second-guess the plan but it wasn’t his decision to make.

“So I get to sit this one out in the van?” Neal asked, tone not quite a whine.

Peter narrowed his eyes at the familiar complaint. Neal hated surveillance duty at the best of times. Luckily for him, Peter was inclined to indulge him for once. If Peter shut Neal up in the van with the rest of the team when he was this nervy, Melnikov wouldn’t be the only one threatening to shoot him. (The fact that Peter couldn’t quite shake the image of Neal bleeding out on some dirty warehouse floor had nothing to do with his decision. Really.)

“God, no,” Peter told him, amused at the relief that flickered across Neal’s face. “I wouldn’t do that to Jones and Diana. You can sit this one out at home.”

Peter thought he’d surprised Neal with that one but like the opportunist he was, Neal didn’t waste any time arguing his good fortune. He just bobbed his head in an obedient nod and made himself scarce before Peter could change his mind. Peter made a mental note to get Jones to check Neal’s anklet data later but truth be told, he was just as glad to have Neal safely out of the way at this point. At the moment, he had more pressing concerns than keeping an eye on Neal. This was not an op that Peter wanted to walk into without proper preparation.

Unfortunately, all the preparation in the world wasn’t enough to handle some contingencies. Having your contact’s heretofore silent and highly paranoid partner burst into your meeting waving guns and accusations in equal measure definitely counted.

In retrospect, Peter really should have taken Neal’s obvious reluctance as the warning it was. If he’d known Melnikov was in bed with Vasiliev, he’d have kicked this case to Organized Crime so fast it would have left skid marks.

20/20 hindsight and all that, Peter thought as he tightened his grip on the bleeding gash in his upper arm. Live and learn. I hope.

He ignored the argument being waged in front of him - it was all in Russian anyway - and braced his free hand on the floor. The rough concrete of the floor was hell on his knees but the pair of goons with the guns pointed at his head hadn’t taken kindly to his last attempt to catch his balance. Better sore knees than a pistol whip to the face. Or a bullet to the brain, which was looking likelier by the second.

He briefly wondered where his backup was before dismissing the question. They weren’t here and that was all that mattered. They were stationed only a few minutes away. If they hadn’t already stormed the warehouse then Peter couldn’t count on their help to extract him. He spared a moment to hope that whatever had kept them from responding to his predicament wasn’t dangerous - he was in more than enough trouble for all of them.

It looked like Melnikov and Vasiliev had finished arguing but Peter didn’t like the looks they were directing his way. The number of guns pointed at him wasn’t especially reassuring either. He forced himself to calmness, waiting for them to give him something to work with. Vasiliev’s earlier accusations had been a bit on the incoherent side; Peter wasn’t sure if something had tipped them off about the investigation or if they thought he was horning in on their territory.

Someone started clapping before either of them had a chance to speak.

Peter awkwardly shifted himself out of the immediate line of fire as his captors frantically scanned the area for the source of the slow applause, glancing around when he’d put some distance between himself and the barrel of the nearest thug’s gun. It didn’t take long to spot the silhouette of someone lurking in a narrow gap in the nearest wall of crates. The bigger of Melnikov’s mooks broke from the edge of the pack, barking out orders to come forward. He punctuated his demands with short jabs of his weapon but the familiar figure that strolled out into the light in response didn’t seem all that worried.

Peter was fiercely grateful that everyone’s attention was focused on the new arrival, since it meant that no one noticed his expression slip. No one except the newcomer himself, who glanced idly around the circle of criminals and whose blue eyes rested ever so briefly on Peter before returning to the ringleaders. Vasiliev was spitting curses at him in a mishmash of Russian and English and Peter found himself sympathizing.

If they got out of this in one piece, he was going to kill Neal for being this suicidally reckless.

Vasiliev took an aggressive step forward, hurling another incomprehensible torrent of Russian at Neal.

To Peter’s surprise, Neal replied in kind before adding, “but then you always were shortsighted.”

Melnikov intervened when it seemed that Vasiliev would lunge for Neal, catching his shoulder in a tight grip and shaking him until Vasiliev grudgingly subsided. He treated Neal to a long, thoughtful look, eyeing him up and down as his men fanned out around them, waiting anxiously for their cue.

Momentarily forgotten, Peter risked his own, more covert examination. Neal did not look like himself tonight. He’d traded his classic couture for a leather jacket and jeans, something Peter hadn’t even imagined he owned. And while Peter had seen Neal shrug personas on and off as required, most of those had been variations on his usual upper class, charming self. The man whose skin Neal was wearing now was another story altogether. Hard where Neal was slick, contained where Neal was engaging. For all of Neal’s criminal tendencies, Peter had never really felt that he was a dangerous man; seeing him like this was disconcerting.

Peter swallowed his discomfort and stayed watchful, waiting for his chance to act. This was Neal’s show now and Peter just hoped to hell that he knew what he was doing.

Neal remained unfazed by their scrutiny, as relaxed as if he were trading barbs with Diana back at the safety of the office. “I see you haven’t improved your standards much since we last did business.”

“It’s been long enough that I’d started to think the last time was going to be the last time,” Melnikov commented. “Word was that you’d run into some...professional problems.”

I heard you were dead,” Vasiliev said and Peter did not like the eager way he was gripping his gun.

Neal shrugged. “Wouldn’t be the first time people thought that,” he replied offhandedly.

“I’m glad,” Melnikov replied, smiling unpleasantly. “This means I’ll get to enjoy killing you myself.”

Neal managed to give the distinct impression that he was rolling his eyes, despite his gaze never wavering. “Because I’ve never heard that before, either.” He even threw in a bored little sigh.

That was it. If the Russians didn’t murder Neal before the night was through, Peter would.

“I’ll make certain that I’m the last to make that claim,” Vasiliev assured him, predictable as any Hollywood villain.

A gesture from Melnikov backed up the threat, every gun in the place snapping up to point straight at Neal.

Neal’s smile sharpened, eyes gone bright and hard as he stared down the four men holding weapons on him. Peter couldn’t help a twinge of uneasiness; he barely recognized Neal right now.

A flick of Neal’s eyes was the only warning Peter got but it was all he needed. Long forgotten by Melnikov and his thugs, Peter was already scrambling backwards when Neal made his move.

It was a good thing Peter was moving on adrenaline-fueled reflexes, otherwise the sight of a gun appearing in Neal’s hands might have tripped him up. Shocked as he was, his window of opportunity was brief enough that Peter didn’t have time to be appalled at the deadly use to which Neal put the weapon. By the time he reached the dubious safety of a nearby stack of crates, one of Melnikov’s thugs was crumpling, head snapped back under the impact of a bullet, eyes wide and already empty as he hit the floor. Melnikov had sunk to his knees, red froth on his lips as he clutched at a bloodied throat. Vasiliev was bellowing something as he pulled the trigger over and over, the remaining enforcer taking shaky aim beside him, arm wrapped around his abdomen. Neal was nowhere to be seen and Peter hoped that meant he’d found some cover, too.

The silence seemed unusually thick in the wake of the explosion of gunfire.

There was a quiet groan and the soft thud of body hitting the floor. Melnikov’s last goon, Peter hoped. He kept still, straining to hear anything of what was going on beyond the crates at his back. Neal was still out there somewhere, and so was Vasiliev. Peter’s gun had been taken away when Vasiliev had charged in earlier, and he cast a hasty glance around him to see if there was anything within reach he could use as a replacement. Nothing presented itself and Peter huffed a soundless sigh of frustration.

He’d gotten turned around in all the confusion and the stacks of crates looming over him weren’t much help in getting his bearings but Peter thought the side door of the warehouse was off to his left. Now that the furor had died down, he might be able to slip out and track down his wayward backup. It would be the sensible thing to do. It would also mean leaving Neal and Vasiliev to play tag in this maze of shipping containers and Peter wasn’t willing to do that, no matter how ruthlessly capable Neal had recently proven himself to be. (And that was a thought best put aside until angry Russians with mob connections were done trying to kill them.)

Sticking his head out into the area where the shootout had lately taken place seemed like a good way to get it blown off so Peter made his way deeper into the labyrinth of boxes. If he could circle around, maybe get a decent vantage point, he might be able to spot where Vasiliev had gone. If he were really lucky, he might find Neal instead and they could get out of this death trap.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one who’d gone looking for a new perspective. Peter heard the scuff of footsteps behind him and turned to face the barrel of a gun for the second time that day. Vasiliev’s grin bared teeth and Peter knew his luck had just run out. After everything that had happened tonight, Vasiliev wouldn’t waste any more time on distracting banter before pulling the trigger.

Vasiliev’s vicious glee faded as his eyes focused over Peter’s shoulder, widening in the brief instant before another gunshot exploded behind him. Peter flinched reflexively, pivoting away from the unseen source of the shot even as Vasiliev dropped to the floor. Neal walked past him, gun trained on Vasiliev’s limp body until he knelt to confirm that the man was dead. He straightened with a sigh, gun dropping to his side as he turned to regard Peter.

A quick glance was sufficient to reassure Peter that Neal had escaped without injury. Neal gave him a similar once-over, eyes lingering briefly over his red-stained sleeve. Once they’d ensured that they’d both survived reasonably unscathed, they were reduced to staring at each other in strained silence. Neal grimaced at whatever he read from Peter’s expression, prompting Peter to scowl at him. After the stunts he’d pulled tonight, Neal had no business making faces at Peter’s distrust.

Neal broke the stalemate, shaking his head ruefully as he tucked the gun away. Some of his tense readiness drained away when the weapon disappeared and his stance shifted into something closer to his usual easy confidence.

“Don’t suppose that you’ll believe me the next time I tell you that you should avoid a particular bad guy?” he asked lightly.

“Next time?” Peter repeated incredulously. “Are you telling me I should expect more of - of this?” He pointed at Vasiliev’s body.

Neal shrugged noncommittally. “It’s not something I make a habit of,” he replied evasively.

“Neal...” Peter didn’t know what to say. “How did you even-”

“Now’s not the best time to talk about it,” Neal interrupted. “Diana and Jones can’t have missed all of this. They’ll be here any second.”

As if in fulfillment of Neal’s prediction came the welcome sound of backup pouring into the warehouse, noise echoing from the rafters. Disoriented by the clamour, Peter swivelled in place and called out his location and status. Jones’ shout of reply was a relief, answering Peter’s worry that someone had gone after the surveillance team. But as good as it was to hear confirmation that his people were okay, the sudden flood of law enforcement personnel presented one little problem.

Neal’s presence was going to raise some very uncomfortable questions. Not only was he was miles outside of his radius, he was completely out of character, and had a recently discharged firearm under that jacket.

Peter hissed a sharp breath between his teeth. “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do,” he began, turning back to look at Neal.

There was no one there. Peter stared in blank incomprehension before it sank in. Neal had vanished, leaving him with four bodies to explain and a whole lot of unanswered questions.

“Damn it, Neal,” Peter whispered as Jones hustled into view.

What the hell was Neal thinking? Had he run? Was he expecting Peter to cover his escape? Or just hoping Peter would lie to protect him? Peter couldn’t even venture a guess. He owed Neal his life, no question, but the man who’d saved him tonight wasn’t the same Neal who’d entrenched himself in Peter’s life over the last year and some.

Peter was better at figuring Neal out than most but he’d never flattered himself that he really understood him. He wasn’t sure anyone did. Neal was hard to pin down on a good day but for the first time in years, Peter found himself at a complete loss with regards to what was going through Neal Caffrey’s head. What he’d seen tonight had shattered everything he thought he knew about Neal and left him trying to make a recognizable picture out of the unfamiliar pieces.

“Boss!” Jones greeted him, holstering his gun when he saw that Peter was safe. “Good to see you in one piece. We weren’t sure what to expect when we saw the mess out there. What the hell happened?”

Peter hesitated for a moment, then took a deep breath as he mentally organized the details of the night’s events. This wasn’t a story he could afford to mix up.

* * *

Much later that night, Peter woke from an uneasy doze when Satchmo heaved himself off the end of the bed and padded out of the room. Sleep hadn’t come easily that night, though he was relieved to note that El’s rest wasn’t disturbed but his wakefulness. He stared at the dark ceiling, idly listening for any hint as to what had roused Satchmo. It didn’t seem to be any cause for worry, given the lack of barking, but neither did Satchmo show any inclination to come back to bed. Finally conceding that he was too awake to get back to sleep anyway, Peter decided he might as well give in to the lingering paranoia and go see what was so fascinating at this godawful hour of the morning.

He slid carefully out of bed, sitting on the edge long enough to soothe El back to sleep when she murmured a bleary protest, instinctively following his movement. She’d known from the moment he’d walked through the door tonight that something had gone wrong and Peter’s halting (and heavily edited) explanation of what had happened had left the both of them feeling a bit clingy. He smiled, affection easing some of the tightness in his chest at the thoughtless turn of her cheek into his hand. Maybe he’d wake her up after checking out the situation downstairs. El wouldn’t mind and Peter couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate another night of making it home safely. Pleasantly preoccupied, it wasn’t until he was halfway down the stairs that the light in the living room registered and he realized that there was someone sitting on the couch.

It was less surprising than it should have been, finding Neal in his living room, Satchmo leaning adoringly against his legs.

“Hello, Neal,” Peter said, as casually as though Neal appearing in his home in the middle of the night were an everyday event. “In the neighbourhood?”

“Hi, Peter,” Neal replied, glancing up only briefly from ruffling Satchmo’s ears. “And that depends on who you ask.”

“Seems pretty obvious to me that you’re here,” Peter pointed out as he sat on the arm of the couch.

“You’d think,” Neal agreed blithely. “But the marshals, for example, would tell you that I’m at home. And have been all night.”

Well. That answered the question of how Neal had managed to put in his appearance earlier today without setting off alarms across the board. And confirmed Peter’s long-standing suspicion that the anklet was only a successful restraint because Neal allowed it to be. Peter swallowed a fierce rush of gratitude that Neal was still here at all, that he’d materialized for a late-night chat instead of just disappearing.

“Speaking of the marshals,” Neal continued, tone convincingly light despite the sharp look he slanted at Peter, “I couldn’t help but notice a certain lack of law enforcement officers falling over themselves to drag me back to prison.”

The comment was like a blow to the stomach, churning up the twisting uncertainty that had been plaguing Peter all night. He cleared his throat, forcing his tone into something close to the carefree manner Neal had adopted. “Why so surprised? Have you done anything recently to warrant getting tossed back into supermax?”

Neal looked directly at him this time, eyes intent and measuring. “You didn’t tell them what happened with Melnikov and Vasiliev.”

Peter snorted at the faint surprise in Neal’s voice. “And turn you in? You saved my life. Getting you thrown back in prison would be pretty poor thanks.”

“Especially before you got an explanation?” Neal suggested slyly but there was something pleased, maybe even grateful, in the curve of his mouth.

“That too,” Peter admitted grudgingly.

Peter had devoted years to figuring out what made Neal Caffrey tick. He’d tracked down information about him almost as assiduously as he’d hunted the man himself. In addition to making him question everything he thought he knew about Neal, not understanding the truth about tonight’s events was driving him crazy. But his curiosity wasn’t the reason he’d compromised himself and lied for Neal and they both knew it.

Which didn’t mean he wasn’t desperate to hear Neal explain what the hell had happened. He hadn’t thought Neal was capable of killing, much less that he might be so good at it. “So maybe you could enlighten me as just how you did what you did tonight.”

Neal’s one shouldered shrug only looked casual. “I wasn’t always a ‘nonviolent white collar offender,’ Peter. I used to be a spy.”

Peter eyed him skeptically. Even coming from Neal, the line came off like the opening to a bad joke and Neal’s quirked smile said that he knew how ridiculous it sounded.

“A spy,” Peter echoed flatly.

Neal nodded helpfully.

Peter wanted to call him out on the absurd story but God help him, he found himself actually believing it. Neal was the best liar Peter had ever met but Peter knew his tells and right now all of them were pointing to the unvarnished truth, something Peter had seen only rarely and only when Neal meant it. Peter swore softly to himself as the facts lined up in his head. It all made an awful kind of sense; spies and con men had overlapping skill sets and Neal always had been an overachiever.

Only with Neal could the truth be more outrageous than the fiction he’d apparently made his life.

“You asked,” Neal reminded him, almost apologetically.

“I did,” Peter agreed, wondering why Neal had actually decided to tell him. There had to be some more believable lie that Neal could have spun to explain his actions in the warehouse, some story that would have kept Peter a willing accomplice in covering up Neal’s part in the four deaths. Especially since...

“Used to be, you said,” Peter checked and Neal nodded again, more cautiously this time. “You what - retired?”

“Not retired, per se,” Neal replied. “I died.”

“You what?” Peter couldn’t help the reflexive once-over he gave Neal at that mild declaration.

“Died,” Neal repeated. “Killed in action.”

“Must have been pretty convincing,” Peter commented, almost afraid to wonder what kind of death scene it would take to convince the CIA to stop looking for you.

“Being gut shot at the time probably helped,” Neal conceded.

Peter couldn’t find a flip answer to that one.

“My best friend and my ex-partner being the witnesses probably made it more believable too,” Neal added thoughtlessly, eyes distant.

“Jesus, Neal,” Peter said, shaken.

That seemed to snap Neal out of his reverie and he grinned suddenly. “Don’t worry about them. They’re doing great.”

“Doing great?” Peter asked dubiously. He and Neal had had enough close calls in their partnership for Peter to know that he’d be doing anything but great if he watched Neal die.

“They are,” Neal insisted, smiling fondly at the thought of his absent friends. “I kept an eye on them after I bowed out and they’re fine. Having me around was getting in their way and there were a lot of people who wanted me dead. It was just better for everyone if I was.”

Peter doubted that but let it go for now. He had more pressing questions. “You also said you don’t make a habit of this sort of thing any more.”

“I don’t,” Neal assured him, eyes darkening briefly before he gave Peter a brilliant smile. “Wouldn’t help my cover much if I went around shooting people all the time, would it?”

Peter read something other than pragmatism in the shadow that had crossed Neal’s face. Whatever he’d done in the past, it had left a mark on the man he was now. But unpleasant memories aside, Neal didn’t seem terribly broken up about the men he’d shot and while Peter wasn’t hypocritical enough to claim much regret over their deaths either, he didn’t want Neal taking his complicity as tacit approval to continue on in the same vein.

“It won’t help with your work release agreement either,” Peter warned him. He did appreciate the rescue but that didn’t mean he was going to turn a blind eye to Neal regularly carrying a gun - forget using one - no matter how good he was with them.

“Don’t worry about that, Peter,” Neal said firmly. “I told you, I don’t like guns.”

It wasn’t a promise not to do it again, Peter noted, but it was probably the best assurance of good behaviour he could hope for.

“Okay,” he accepted before opting for a slight change of subject. “So, Neal Caffrey?”

Neal spread his hands wide with a flourish. “Ta-da.”

“Let me rephrase that,” Peter said, rolling his eyes at the display. “Why Neal Caffrey?”

Neal shrugged. “Part retirement, part hiding place. And assuming that any of my old bosses do know where I disappeared to, part reward for past services.”

“You think there’s a chance they know where you are?” Peter asked, immediately concerned. He still hadn’t sorted out how he felt about all of this but that didn’t mean he was going to let anyone else go after Neal in the meantime.

Neal hesitated briefly before answering. “I don’t think so. I made sure that Neal exists independently of - of who I used to be. I thought being part of the system might cause problems but the only thing connecting me to who I was before is my face.” He shrugged. “It doesn’t seem to have tipped anyone off yet.”

“Yet, he says,” Peter said, shaking his head slowly as he tried to assimilate what Neal had told him. He’d passed more than a few nights wondering what made a man like Neal. He couldn’t have guessed anything like this if he’d speculated for another ten years.

“You’re taking this a lot better than I expected you would,” Neal commented lightly. “I have to admit, I’m kind of surprised you haven’t started with the furious barrage of questions yet.”

Peter snorted. He had plenty of questions but Neal hadn’t made a habit of answering them even before he’d revealed that his entire identity was a fabrication and his history was classified. “I don’t think my clearance is high enough for questions.”

“It’s not,” Neal confirmed wryly.

Surprise, surprise. Well, why should things start being easy now?

“Clearance or not, I do have a favour to ask,” Peter said.

“Sure, Peter,” Neal agreed easily. “What’s that?”

Peter reached across the space between them and gripped Neal’s shoulder. The muscles under his hand drew tight with sudden tension but Peter held on until a genuine expression flickered across Neal’s facade of breezy cooperation.

“What do you want?” Neal finally asked quietly.

“Just this,” Peter said. “Run if you have to. If what happened tonight is any indication, you may have good reason one of these days and I’d rather see you gone than dead. But don’t run unless you need to. And don’t let us think you’re dead if you do.”

Neal sucked in a sharp breath. “Peter...”

Peter shook his head, squeezing Neal’s shoulder tightly. “I can’t speak for those other friends of yours but for us? There isn’t any scenario where thinking you’re dead is the better ending.”

Neal’s soft laughter held very little humour. “You don’t want much, do you?”

“You’ve haven’t let me down yet,” Peter replied confidently. “I trust you not to start now.”

Neal’s eyes snapped up to Peter’s face, wide and surprised. Trust wasn’t a commodity Peter traded lightly when it came to Neal. But whatever he'd been before, Neal had proven tonight that he was here now by choice. Peter didn’t want him second-guessing that decision. Neal was his friend and a better man than he gave himself credit for, even if he still needed to work on his little problem with obeying the law. Regardless of the secrets he was hiding under those gleaming smiles, Peter didn’t want to lose him.

Neal eventually tugged himself out from under Peter’s hand, sighing as he stood up. Peter followed suit, anxiety tightening his nerves as Neal grinned ruefully.

“Go back to bed, Peter,” he said, smiled widening at Peter’s startled blink. “It’s late and you’ll need at least a few hours of sleep if you don’t want to terrorize the office tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?” Peter asked cautiously, trailing after Neal as he headed for the door.

“We’ve got work tomorrow,” Neal reminded him, leaning down to pat Satchmo goodbye.

“That’s right, we do,” Peter confirmed, certain he was grinning like a loon in relief. “I’ll be by to pick you up in the morning at the usual time.”

“I’ll be waiting,” Neal tossed over his shoulder as he strolled off into the night.

“You’d better be,” Peter whispered as he watched him leave, holding tight to that last promise and hoping that Neal had meant it.

Fin


...Okay, okay. So I’ll get back to working on the Star Trek BB after just a bit more White Collar/Chuck fic. This one's been in the works for weeks, the stubborn bastard. (And I’ve already picked out a new prompt for the sequel, OMG.)

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