Summary: "He did have that plane ready awfully fast…" When faced with life's greatest trials, what would you do for a friend? Peter, Neal, Mozzie, Diana and Hughes must find their own answers to this question as the knowledge of the U-Boat treasure surviving the fire comes to light. AU to On Guard, earlier posted on collarkink as a response to a prompt.
Warning: there are some very tiny spoilers for Judgment Day.
Six months later…
Every time it happens, Neal thinks he hates waking up in a cell a little more than the last time.
This is (partially) his own fault. He didn't have to be a part of this mess. He could have refused. Still, he thinks that by now, he has earned the right to be upset about being locked up once again.
The breakfast is the same as always – that means, tasteless and awful.
Neal spends the better part of the morning creating animals and flowers from the same piece of paper; folding and unfolding it over and over until it completely loses the ability to hold some sort of shape. When he's done with origami, he daydreams for a while, before he tries to read a book that he has borrowed yesterday.
Apparently, a medieval girl fell in love, but had to marry someone else. And she hated him and feared him, except then she fell in love with him. And then her husband was falsely accused and executed, and she had to leave their home and seek justice through the underworld, where she met her childhood friend, who fell in love with her as well…
With a sigh of disgust, Neal almost puts the book away – except right now, it's his only mean that's keeping him from becoming bored out of his mind.
That, and waiting for his rescue to get him out of here.
This is starting to feel old and annoying very fast. Not to mention, it makes him think too much. Think about what could have been…
o – o – o
The official interview between Neal and Hughes felt like a very careful dance. Together, they began to create a web of half-truths and a few unavoidable lies.
– "Caffrey, did you steal the Nazi treasure?"
– "No sir. I didn't steal it."
– "Did your friend tell you beforehand what he planned to do?"
– "No, I had no idea that he intended to do that. He used my paintings without my knowledge."
– "And when you found out…?"
– "We had a difference of opinions. … I asked him to return the treasure. I wanted to make things right."
– "Did Mozzie Haversham persuade you to break into the Dearmitt Gallery?"
– "He told me we needed to get rid of the painting scrap."
– "He told us that he coerced you."
– "… He was my friend."
– "You didn't attempt to run with him."
– "Well, as you can see, I'm still here."
– "Why didn't you run?"
– "Why should I want to become a fugitive for the rest of my life? I like this life. My home is here now."
– "Eventually, you reported the treasure location to the FBI."
– "Yes sir. In the end, it seemed like the only thing I could do."
Finally, Hughes turned off the recording, and he and Neal stared at each other.
It was Hughes who spoke first. "I don't know what exactly your involvement with the treasure was. Because of Peter, I'm not going to open this can of worms, and I'll fully support your friend's fairytale." Neal literally breathed out in relief. Then Hughes's expression hardened. "But I am still very tempted to report at least your "official" involvement as parole violation, which would most likely result in you being send back to prison for the rest of your sentence. So, now would be a good time for you to persuade me why I don't want to do that."
o – o – o
"Hey, you!" says a guard who arrives at his cell. "You have a visitor. Your lawyer's here."
Neal's face lightens up. "Finally!" This is the best news he has heard in, like, forever.
He allows the guard to cuff him and then follows him to the room where the prisoners meet with their lawyers and law enforcement.
His visitor is already here. "Good morning. My name is Jonathan Gordon," he says and puts his briefcase on the table. Then he turns to the guard. "Would you excuse us? I'd like to speak to my client now, privately."
"Of course," says the guard and leaves.
The moment they're alone, Neal almost jumps on his feet and starts to say something. However, a warning signal from his "lawyer" stops him.
He sits back and waits in silence.
Finally, the man opposite him pulls a stack of papers out of his briefcase and spreads them over the paper.
"They can't hear us," he speaks, barely moving his lips. "However, they can still watch us, so just in case, we can't give them any obvious signals."
"Got it," replies Neal, silently berating himself for not realizing that earlier. He makes a pause. "So, how soon are you getting me out of here?"
o – o – o
Hughes stared at him, waiting.
Neal took his time to give him a well-thought answer. Eventually, he spoke.
"When Peter thought I stole the treasure, I wanted to give up," he started honestly. "I thought I've lost his trust, his friendship, my team – everything. And I realized how much that all meant to me, but I couldn't take back what happened earlier. I could tell you how sorry I am, but I'm not sure if you'll believe me. … I am sorry for messing up."
He made a pause. "I honestly don't know what else you expect me to say, sir," he said plainly. "I've mostly tried my best to fulfill my part of this arrangement, but I know I've toyed with my deal several times in the past, recently more than ever. I didn't expect you to accept the official version of the events… and I'm grateful."
Hughes just watched him, without saying a word.
Neal took a deep breath. "If you think it's best for everyone, then send me back. If you think that Peter and I shouldn't be partners anymore, if Diana, Jones, Blake and the others are better off without me – "
Sara, El and June, thought Neal. The people he'd leave behind. He tried to ignore his feelings towards them when he had the treasure, but now –
"I'm not a liability, sir," stated Neal firmly, trying hard not to blink as his emotion almost got the better of him. "I won't let you down. Nor my partner."
o – o – o
"So, how soon are you getting me out of here?" asks Neal.
"A day, two days at most," replies his visitor. He turns over one sheet of the documents and picks it up as if he was reading it, carefully avoiding Neal's gaze. "Everything's almost sorted out by now. … So, how are you? Is everything okay?"
Only the knowledge that they're being watched keeps Neal from rolling his eyes. "Well of course, Peter! Why do you ask? Being in jail is almost like vacation. You know, all that free time, food right into your room, plus all these people that take care of you… Everything's just fantastic." He makes a pause. "Nice suit, by the way. Did Elizabeth help you pick it up?"
"Actually, Diana did, after I insisted on visiting you," says Peter. "I told Hughes that I'm going to see you, whether he likes it or not. When he realized I won't change my mind, they made me your attorney."
"Good for them," says Neal dryly. "I already started to think that I'd have to escape if you intended to leave me to rot here forever."
"Yes, I truly feel for your suffering," says Peter deadpanned. "You're right – four days in jail is absolutely horrible. It's almost eternity."
"It was five days," corrects him Neal firmly. "And I missed my date with Sara. Do you know what she'll do to me when I get out?"
"Okay, that gives you the right to be somewhat upset," admits Peter. "The last time I forgot El's birthday, I spent the next two weeks trying to make it up to her… but I have to say, I've never tried the 'I was in jail' excuse yet."
"Hey, I was just trying to keep my and Andy's cover," objects Neal affrontedly. "I don't know who screwed up that I was caught up in the arrest as well, but it definitely wasn't me! I just went along with it, since I didn't want to blow the rest of the operation in case it wasn't over yet."
"And it was the right decision," assures him Peter seriously. "Thanks to that, Hailey's crew didn't become suspicious – as far as they know, the bust was just a freaky accident. Because of that, Andy was able to get more information. We now have foolproof evidence against them. Hopefully, we'll be making an arrest tomorrow, and then we can get you back home."
"Sounds good," says Neal, not bothering to hide his relief. "I'll be so glad when this is all over. Not that I don't like undercover assignments, but this one took a lot out of me."
"Hey. You've done great work," says Peter, and his hand twitches as he wants to lean forward and pat Neal's arm. "It's not every day that we take down a mob boss together with a group of corrupted police officials."
"You know, I thought that the point of me working for the FBI was that my "great work" didn't end with me in cuffs," says Neal conversationally.
"Really?" asks Peter blankly. "I'll have to review your paperwork and check for that clause."
Neal barely suppresses a chuckle.
Then Peter turns serious. "You know that we would have gotten you out of here the minute you were arrested, right? If you want me to pull you out now, just say the word. But with a big operation like this..."
"I understand," interrupts him Neal. He sighs. "And I suppose I can handle the state-sanctioned poisoned meals for another day or two." He makes a pause. "Besides, this should make the higher-ups happy, right? Who knows, maybe this will finally get them off our backs…"
Peter frowns. "Neal, you do realize you didn't have to do this – right?"
Neal sighs. "Peter…"
"This sting was dangerous from the beginning," says Peter. "Nobody would have said a word if you hadn't volunteered – "
"But they'd all think it," says Neal tiredly.
"The DOJ can think what they want, but they can't force you to risk your life, and they can't throw you back in prison when you refuse to do that," stated Peter firmly.
"I think they can," opposes Neal calmly. "Besides, it's not just the DOJ." When it looks like Peter is about to protest, Neal stops him. "I knew I could do this, Peter. I'm not about to get suicidal to earn goodwill of some people I've never even met." He makes a pause. "Will this get them of our backs?" he asked curiously.
"This, and the Van Horn case. Not to mention catching Hansen – or Brauer, when we're at it."
Neal lifts his eyebrows. "I thought the DOJ were pissed off when they learned about my plan to steal Brauer's money to lure him out – "
"Hughes and I approved it, and we recovered the 150 million," says Peter. "I think that with that much money, this eventually mattered more than you suggesting an unorthodox scheme." When Neal doesn't answer, Peter glowers. "The DOJ and OPR can think what the hell they want. I'm not letting them touch my partner, and Hughes and Bancroft are both backing me up. So if you have any ideas about getting yourself in danger to prove yourself to them, forget it." He makes a pause. "That's an order, Neal."
"Yes, sir! Wouldn't dream of it!" says Neal with wide eyes and mocking obedience, trying to hide that he's more than a little touched.
Neal tries not to enjoy the warm feeling too much, not to assign it too much importance – but… but. Peter's called him his partner again.
It's not the first time since the U-Boat treasure fiasco… but never before has he said it so casually.
That was one of the prices Neal had paid for his actions…
o – o – o
Hughes's silence lasted so long that Neal already accepted his defeat and started preparing himself for spending the following two and half years back in Supermax, when Hughes finally spoke.
"You say you're not a liability," he said flatly. "After the events of the past few days, some might find it hard to believe. I, myself, believe that actions speak louder than words."
Neal swallowed. "Sir – "
"I've deeply considered your actions," said Hughes firmly. "And I came to a realization. Whatever your agenda was, you still put Jones first when his life was at stake."
Neal was left speechless. That wasn't what he expected the agent to say.
"Peter vouched for you that despite your extremely poor judgment in other related matters, you had no part in the actual treasure theft," continued Hughes crisply. "I also took in account the friendship between you and "Haversham", and the influence he had on you."
Almost breathless, Neal listened; he couldn't – he couldn't allow himself to become hopeful –
"Peter's team is one of the best in the country, and I've yet to see partners who work as well together as the two of you," said Hughes. "I'm not about to break that up – this time."
Neal noted the subtle warning in Hughes's words. Did that mean…
Did that mean what he thought?
"You will spend the next three months on house arrest, except for the time when you're working cases," said Hughes. "That should be enough to satisfy the parole board that we have dealt with the matter accordingly and that they don't need to intervene or investigate it further. As far as they know, the "sin" of you breaking into the gallery was strongly mitigated by you turning in the treasure, and that will be the end of the matter."
The end of the matter…
And that was when Neal's incredulousness was replaced with understanding; because despite Hughes's earlier words, it was only after he issued the house-arrest that Neal could finally believe it fully.
"Than you," he breathed quietly, not trying to hide his relief or gratefulness. "You won't regret this, I swear."
Hughes gave him a long look before he nodded. "I better not."
He wasn't going back to prison.
"You have to know we will be searching for your friend," said Hughes. "Some of our best agents – not Peter," he clarified when Neal was about to ask, "are working on his case. You will not, under any circumstances, try to interfere with the investigation."
"I understand, sir," replied Neal carefully.
It wouldn't be his fault if he accidentally got his hands on some information, right? Interfering was such a vague term…
But if he got caught –
He couldn't, realized Neal painfully. He felt like a traitor, and he hoped Moz would be able to forgive him one day – but he couldn't go messing with the investigation. Right now, he simply couldn't break Peter's trust again.
Maybe Moz would understand, hoped Neal wistfully. He gave up his anonymity for Neal, and Neal wanted to make the most of his friend's sacrifice.
If he stumbled upon something – truly stumbled – then of course he would warn Moz to the best of his abilities. But if he wanted to serve the rest of his sentence with the FBI, then this was where his involvement had to end.
He had made his choice, at least for the next two and half years. Neal wasn't yet sure where his life would lead him afterwards – but for now, he was Peter's partner.
He had chosen to stay.
o – o – o
It had been a long and painful way for them before they could get back what they lost.
Neal had told Peter the whole truth about his part in the heist, and afterwards, Peter backed Neal up during the OPR investigation. But he also remembered that Neal had intended to run, and that the only thing that had prevented it was Jones's cover being blown.
It was like if they suddenly found themselves at the beginning of their partnership again – and yet it was different, because they now shared a history.
They cared for each other. They understood each other - and when they worked together, something just seemed to click.
Neal wanted that back. Peter wanted that back. But the trust between them had been broken, and Neal could tell the way Peter sometimes wondered when he looked at him: had Neal stayed because he had been busted and had his options taken away? Or would he have done the right thing either way?
It was the hardest thing yet for them to come back from, and even months later, Neal thought he could still feel the rift that his betrayal (and Peter's distrust and accusations) have caused between them. But the rift has started to heal – and day by day, Neal tries to prove to Peter that it doesn't matter why he stayed, just that he did – and Peter shows him again and again that he has made the right choice.
"So, how do you plan to escape Sara's wrath for missing your "four months and going" anniversary?" asks Peter with a smirk.
"I'm pretty sure she will be understanding when I tell her what happened," says Neal calmly. Then he shoots Peter the briefest devious grin. "Besides, I have a perfect present for her."
"A present? Enlighten me," says Peter.
Neal wants so much to give Peter a huge smile – but he stops himself when he realizes that Peter's supposed to be his attorney. While the chances that someone is watching them are not really high, he still refrains from acting too much carefree and at ease with the situation and piquing someone's interest.
The last DOJ visit brought along a couple people who asked too many questions about Neal's past. With that in mind, Neal decided that it was time to tie up a few loose ends. It took some extremely careful planning to contact Ellen without blowing her cover and to get the painting back, and even more effort to make sure that nobody would be able to tie it back to him. Curiously, and in a way Neal hasn't planned, the fact that he is in jail now might eventually play in his favor – because how could he possibly have had something to do with the Raphael's reappearance from behind bars?
He wonders what Sara will think when she finds the painting on her work desk, and he hopes it will help clear some issues of their tentative, brittle and still very new relationship.
Sara has been less than happy with his "lapse of judgment" as well…
Oh, right. Peter asked him a question.
"No, I don't think I want to spoil the surprise," he says. He pauses. "Maybe you should turn around a few pages, you know, since you're apparently giving me legal advice," he says to Peter and glances at the documents on the table.
"Right," says Peter.
"So, what are they charging me with?" asks Neal curiously.
"Just a couple things; conspiracy to money-laundering, racketeering and conspiracy to commit fraud," says Peter.
Neal shakes his head in disbelief. "What does everyone have with this racketeering business? I admit I might have overstepped the line a few times – "
" – but racketeering? Seriously? That completely lacks imagination and finesse."
"It "lacks imagination"," repeats Peter flatly. "Of course that would be the thing that would bother you."
"Of course," says Neal smugly. "I have a reputation to maintain."
"Unbelievable," shakes his head Peter, apparently barely restraining himself from throwing up his hands in frustration.
"Admit it, your life would be boring without me," says Neal mischievously.
"Oh, I think I managed just fine," says Peter. "No crazy schemes, less grey hair, nobody questioning my wardrobe or food… Sounds like a long forgotten dream."
Neal gives him a hurt expression.
A very hurt, puppy-like expression.
Peter holds up for almost ten seconds before he breaks. "Okay, damn it! My life is much crazier with you in it, and it's not entirely unpleasant. Happy now?"
Despite his harsh words, Peter can't mask the affection in his eyes and voice.
"Absolutely," says Neal cheerfully. "And I like you too."
Peter shakes his head and surrenders.
They share an amused look of deep understanding.
That rift between them?
Partners and friends.
Not that everything is rosy and perfect. Some people in the office still view Neal with more suspicion than before. The DOJ and OPR are giving them trouble. Despite their relationship, Sara is still wary of him – and Neal still has a lot of secrets. One of those that could potentially be very damaging are the messages that Neal has – very discreetly – managed to send to five different webpages, each time under a new nickname and from a different computer. In his paranoia, Mozzie has replied to him only twice, although Neal suspects that the new pattern on one of the webpages contains a code – but he simply hasn't been able to crack it yet.
Maybe he can do that once he gets home…
Neal misses Moz. He longs for his partner in crime, and he wishes he could tell him how much Mozzie's selflessness means to him. Every time he walks around Mozzie's wanted poster at the FBI, he has to hide a cringe – because it's partially thanks to Moz that his face isn't hanging there as well, and especially given Neal's part in losing the treasure and them being caught, that means a damn lot.
Maybe, once his sentence is up, he can find him. Or maybe not – Moz is now a wanted man, and New York, or the whole US for the matter, is a forbidden land for him.
Only time will tell.
Peter discreetly looks at his watch. "I have to leave now, or this will become suspicious," he says.
"So – tomorrow?" asks Neal for confirmation.
"Or the day after that," says Peter. "I won't leave you here for long, I promise."
"That's okay, Peter," says Neal. "I trust you."
He does trust Peter, realizes Neal as he lets the guards take him back to his temporary cell. And what's more – he thinks Peter trusts him as well. Not completely, no – just like there are things that Neal will probably always keep from Peter, there will always be moments when Peter will have some doubts about Neal.
But they can depend on each other. They have each other's back.
And they know it.
Real Life has been difficult lately. I am SO completely exhausted right now!
How Far is now complete. I've genuinely hated the story at times, yet I couldn't bear to leave unfinished. Thank you all for staying till the end, and especially for your reviews that helped me reconcile myself with this fic!
I also have to thank my wonderful beta and good friend November Leaving, as this story probably wouldn't be posted without her encouragement.
For anyone interested, this was the original prompt back at Collarkink (posted in July 2011, before Countdown and Checkmate):
"Friendship: Peter finds out about Neal stealing the art, and reacts with predictable anger at Neal, ripping him a new one, declaring that he's going back to jail, you're a criminal and you'll never be anything but, etc. But later Diana finds Peter in his office, crying his eyes out, and comforts him. Bonus points for Diana then smacking Neal around for hurting Peter so badly."
Obviously, prompt became somewhat expanded and mangled.
(I blame Neal and Mozzie. They stole away the focus of my story. Never trust thieves and conmen!
I love them both to pieces :) )
Feedbacks are appreciated, and thank you for your time!