Disclaimer: Neal, Peter and June are the wonderful creations of Jeff Eastin.
NOTE: this is for a prompt by florastuart on The Collar Corner and originally appeared on LJ.
The bust was good, the takedown flawless. Everything Peter needed - the forged bonds, the paper and the stack of Blanco Nieves al los Siete Enanos were all in plain sight. Even Hagen and his "lawyer" were present when the FBI stormed into the warehouse for the sole purpose of finding a fugitive (and if more than a score of agents, including a well-armed SWAT team, seemed excessive for just one non-violent felon still wearing a tracking device that gave them his exact location, well, so be it). Peter did have a moment or two of anxiety when they burst in, not knowing if Neal would be okay, because Hagan had already killed at least one person, and a hundred fifty million dollars was more than enough to kill for again. But seeing Neal with that big grin on his face, smoking a cigar while unlocking the bullet-proof glass door, and stepping aside to show him the original bond in a safe he had certainly opened himself during the thunderous noise and vibration, anxiety took a backseat to the thrill of working with a brilliant and daring partner. He sent Neal back to June's to return her Jag; Peter would pick him up as soon as he could.
But somewhere between the docks and June's place anxiety reasserted itself, bringing worry and fear right along with it. He and his team never had any intel on the layout of the warehouse. They didn't know how many people were working inside of it at any given time. There was no indication of the quality and quantity of weaponry they carried. Neal had walked in to what could easily have been his last moments on earth, all with the likely belief that Peter would figure it out and get there in time. The knot in Peter's stomach grew and tightened, his hands started to shake so badly he had to pull onto a side street and double park until he could continue the last mile or so to the mansion on Riverside Drive. The final images of his last CI played in him mind. Jimmy Burger. Cocky, like Neal. Smiling (but his smiles weren't as bright as Neal's). Street-smart (but not as subtle about it as Neal). Shot execution style. That image, both the reality and then with Neal's face superimposed on Jimmy's, was the reason Peter Burke was gripping the steering wheel of his car, oblivious to horns blaring at him.
He was marginally calmer when he arrived at June's. She herself answered the door.
"He's upstairs changing. Would you like coffee while you wait?"
"Thank you, no, June." He shifted from one foot to the other and glanced at the staircase leading to the second floor.
"Neal seemed quite pleased when he returned, yet you seem upset. I'm sensing a disconnect."
"I need to talk to him," he said, getting halfway up the steps when Neal's door opened.
"Hey, Peter, I wasn't expecting you this quickly. Did you get everything you needed?" He was still grinning.
"Yeah, about that, Neal, we need to talk."
"What's wrong? Was someone hurt?" he asked, his open smile disappearing.
"No, nothing like that. Everyone's fine. We'll talk at the office."
Neal's heart rate sped up briefly. This was exactly what he didn't want to happen, exactly why he did what he did, and now it didn't seem to matter at all. He shook his head.
"No, Peter, let's talk here." If he was going back to jail he'd rather leave from June's house than the FBI office.
June couldn't help overhearing their conversation. "I'll send coffee up," she said.
"You don't need - " started Peter.
"Thank you, June, that would be wonderful," Neal said over Peter's objection. If he was going back to prison he would damn well have one last cup of June's glorious coffee. Peter had no choice but to follow Neal back to his loft.
As much as he wanted a few last minutes of fresh air it was too blustery even for Neal to sit on the balcony, so they sat at the table looking out instead. He had been up all night reading Peter's book on warrant law, he was tired, and his earlier adrenaline rush had long since passed. He didn't have the energy to make his imminent arrest easy on Peter, so he sat quietly.
Peter's emotions were finally settling down. He would have preferred to have this conversation at the office. There he could lay out his arguments in a logical sequence, showing Neal what he'd done well (brilliantly, truth be told), what could have gone better, and what should never be repeated. And the reasons for each. Work was work, and he didn't want to discuss this in the man's home. June arrived with a tray of coffee and fruit to an uncomfortable silence. Peter looked unhappy. Neal opted for wide-eyed innocence. June sighed and shook her head. "If you boys want a mediator my door is open," she said as she left.
"Are we arguing, Peter?"
"No, of course not. I just thought it would be more appropriate to talk in the office."
Neal stood, then began to pace. "I thought you understood - that I hadn't run. You said you got what you needed to arrest Hagen. I thought our agreement was, I help you catch the Dutchman, you see about making our deal permanent. What happened? Are you sending me back?"
"Back? No, what makes you think that?"
"Then, what are we talking about?"
"You. Your behavior. It was reckless and dangerous, and you could have gotten hurt, or worse."
"Everything worked out fine, Peter."
"But you didn't know that it would. You had never seen the inside of the warehouse before this morning, right? Did you have any idea that there would be a bullet-proof office in the middle, because, frankly, it's not a common warehouse feature, in my experience."
"Peter, you must hang out in the wrong warehouses, then." Peter didn't even crack a smile so Neal changed tactics. "Alright, bullet-proof glass was a plus, but I knew there would have to be an office, and that it would have soundproofing of some type because of the noise of the presses. There would have to be a good number of windows, because Hagen would want to watch what was going on. With that much glass and the need for soundproofing, it would be logical to go with bullet-proof. It was just a matter of its location within the building."
"You didn't know how many people were inside."
"Not exactly, but we knew how many presses he had from the recordings you made, and even if I didn't work with a team on the Atlantic bonds, I have an idea of how many people one might conceivably need to make 600 copies of a multi-color two-sided bond, from mixing the inks to removing the papers from the books to printing to drying."
"I just plan for everyone being armed."
"So you had all your bases covered, huh? What if they shot you before we got there?"
"He's careful, Peter, he wouldn't have done anything without finding out whatever I knew about his operation. I knew I could stall him if I had to."
Peter had to admit it sounded logical, that Neal seemed to have given his safety more consideration than Peter expected. Neal seemed less tense, so Peter thought they'd continue this back at the office. Of course, he would wait until they got there before telling Neal that.
"Okay, I'll buy that. Ready to head downtown?"
"Are we good?"
"So far," Peter replied.
They finished their coffee and stood up.
"But we're not finished with this, are we?" Neal asked as he reached for his coat.
Neal understood better than anyone that sometimes no answer was an answer, so he sighed and returned to the table.
"What did I do wrong?" he asked as he poured more coffee for Peter and himself.
"You walked in blind -"
"I understood the risks. I knew the odds were in my favor."
"Yeah, until Hagen decided you had nothing he wanted."
"I knew you'd have to come, or at the very least, the Marshals would have shown up."
"What if we were late? What if there was an accident on the bridge?" Peter was starting to raise his voice.
"Come on, Peter, this time of day, most of you would be coming from home. Did everyone move to Brooklyn or New Jersey?" Neal was getting louder, too.
"These were dangerous people, Neal. Hagan is a killer. You aren't armed, you're not trained for these situations."
"Do you think I survived my alleged past solely on good looks and charm? Do you think I was never in any danger? Remind me someday to tell you about Ryan Wilkes or Edward Riley, or Matthew Keller."
"You were alone."
"I was often alone."
"I'm responsible for your safety. Maybe you'd be better off in prison."
"No. No, I can't go back to prison. I'd rather have been - " Neal stopped speaking and clenched his jaw.
Peter was momentarily stunned, He spoke calmly and quietly.
"You went in without backup. My people have backup."
Neal opened his mouth to respond, then closed it, staring at Peter.
"Neal, when I found you the second time, you gave me an empty wine bottle. You asked me to keep it safe - to take care of it for you. You trusted me with something that was of value to you. Don't you think that your life is far more valuable to me than a piece of glass?"
Neal cocked his head. "Are you saying I'm your people?" he asked quietly.
Peter paused for a moment. "Yes, I am." He sipped his coffee. "Exigent circumstances, huh? When did you come up with that?"
Neal blew out the breath he was holding. "About four-thirty this morning. Chapter summaries would have been really helpful."
Peter stood, smiling. "You know, I don't really need you right now. Get a couple hours of sleep, I'll pick you up for lunch."
Thanks for reading.