Author's Note : Many Many thanks to Last1stnding for the beta work !
Where the Pieces Fall
Part One: The Secret to Longevity.
"James Bennett is nowhere to be found," Callaway announced as she entered the interrogation room.
Peter's heart sank. Up until now, he had hold to the hope that James would testify for him. If not really for him, for Neal at least. But it seemed James thought better. It didn't make much sense, though. If James was gone, did that mean he had abandoned his son? The thought that Neal had run with his father crossed his mind a fraction of second, but Peter discarded it. Neal wouldn't do that, especially with his partner in such a precarious situation. This he was sure of. But James did and now, Peter's future looked gloomier by the minute. With no witness and no forensic evidence to back him up, Peter's story, no matter true, had little chance to stand. It was nothing more than a story, while the prosecution had solid evidence: No other finger prints than his on the murder weapon, and gunshot residue on his hand.
A shiver ran down his spine. Peter had participated in enough trials. He knew how bad it would look to any jury. He wasn't even sure he would have believed himself if he was on the other side of the table.
Callaway took her time to sit opposite to him, on his chair, in his interrogation room. Peter braced himself up for another round of questions. The masquerade of interrogation, Peter had played it so many times himself, he was no fool. It was all about confidence, the confidence that you're the one holding the truth. This was a game he wouldn't let Callaway win.
Peter straightened his position on the chair, sitting tall. His hands were resting flat on the table. He would not give her the satisfaction to watch him break down here. Clenching his jaw, Peter put on his best poker face to show a confidence he wanted to believe but didn't feel.
Callaway looked at him right in the eyes. "Caffrey said his father ran."
He held her gaze. "That's what guilty people tend to do."
"Unless they're caught in time."
"I did not kill Senator Pratt."
"Then, why were you holding the murder weapon?" Callaway asked with an unpleasant smirk.
"I told you. Bennett was holding me at gun point with Senator Pratt's gun that he had grabbed from the floor. I took the first weapon I saw - which was my service gun, that was under your responsibility, and that you left unattended."
Agent Callaway's eyes darted him arrows, and she pinched her lips.
"And what were you doing on the 50th floor, while you were instructed to follow Agent Wilson outside the building."
Peter swallowed the anxiety obstructing his throat. A lot of things were going to be difficult to explain, to say the least. He would have to choose his words very carefully. His only weapon now was his credibility and his own shenanigans today had already undermined it.
"I was looking for you. I know we had no right to play you like this, but our priority was to protect the evidence box. We had to find it before Senator Pratt… And James Bennett. We had to make sure it was safe."
"So where is it now?"
Peter hesitated for a second. He still didn't know which side Callaway was on. But if she was as corrupted as Pratt, he was screwed, no matter what. She was too young to be "in the box" though, and with her Senator friend dead, it was in her best interest to get out of this as clean as she could. So Peter opted for the truth, hoping he wasn't making a big mistake.
"Neal has it." At least, Peter hoped. That was the plan. But things didn't go exactly according to plans today.
"And how can we be sure he didn't destroy it?"
Peter shrugged. "Neal has no reason to destroy whatever is in that box."
"Wouldn't he try to protect his father?"
Peter bent forward. "Neal was only looking for the truth, good or bad. It is not in his interest to destroy any of it."
"Do you trust him?"
"In almost 3 years of work with the Bureau, Neal hasn't shown any reason not to." A small smile brushed Peter's lips. It sounded so much like a Caffrey answer – or non answer. Peter had become pretty good at that game. But he didn't need to play it now. "Yes, I trust him," he stated more clearly.
Callaway's retort was cut off by a knock on the door. Without waiting to be invited in, Diana opened the door.
"Agent Callaway, you need to come and see this."
Callaway was visibly annoyed to be interrupted. "Can't it wait?"
"No, it can't. This is about the case."
Standing up, Callaway sent Peter an unreadable side look and followed Diana outside. Peter caught his young agent's eyes. He read what she couldn't express out loud: trust, determination, concern. Peter gave her a reassuring smile and she smiled back at him before closing the door.
Once again, Peter was left on his own in the interrogation room, and once again, his mind wandered. Between all the thoughts assaulting him, one kept coming back: He was going to miss his sushi night with El and that he felt guilty about. Terribly guilty. After all she'd been through, Elizabeth didn't deserve this, on top of it all. And what if he was charged for Pratt's murder? What if he had to spend the next 20 years in prison? He would certainly miss more than one date night with El.
Peter cupped his face in his hands. He didn't want to think about this. It couldn't happen. It will not happen. He was innocent, and he would be cleared. He had to trust that the System worked, because the consequences would otherwise be overwhelming. Not just for himself, but also for the hundreds of men and women he caught and who were sent to prison. If the System failed him, how many others could have it failed too?
Peter shook himself. He nervously passed his hand through his hair and took a couple of deep breaths to force himself to calm down. This will not happen. His team will get him out of here. He had to keep faith. Whoever was in the box will be taken down. Someone had to go down, because Peter didn't want to believe that all that happened, everything they went through, was for nothing. Pratt was dead, and Peter didn't have the satisfaction of cuffing him. Instead, he had been the one walking out on cuffs.
Peter absentmindedly looked at his wrists. He tried to wipe away the phantom sensation of the cold metal on his skin.
He loosened his tie a little – just a little. He felt hungry.
Peter forced himself to stop thinking about prison, but it only succeeded to replace his underlying fear with the unsettling feeling of treason. James Bennett is nowhere to be found. James had run. Why would he do that? The only explanation Peter could think of was that James had lied to them. He wasn't innocent. Ellen's evidence box wouldn't clear him, it would charge him. James was only looking for it to destroy it. So as soon as he got hands on the box, he disappeared into the wind once again. He had been playing them all along. He had been playing Neal all along.
What if they didn't recover the box and all had been for nothing?
Peter glanced at the one-way mirror, as if looking for his friend's presence, even though he couldn't see him and didn't even know where he was.
Peter could only guess what state of mind Neal could be in at the moment. The young man had been looking for the truth for so long and, despite himself, had placed so much hope in a possible reconnection with his long lost father. James had played his part so damn well. Using Neal's vulnerability to reach him, use him, and in the end, toss him away. What a waste. The more he thought about it, the angrier Peter felt. If he ever made it out of there, he would go after James Bennett. He would find him, that was a promise. And he would punch him in the face.
After what seemed an eternity, Agent Watson came in, a blank expression on her face.
"Agent Burke, please write your statement." She put a sheet of paper and a pen on the table in front of Peter and left without adding a word.
Peter looked at the blank paper in front of him, his thoughts spinning in his head. Then, firmly, he took the pen, and wrote. When he was done, he pushed the paper away and crossed his arms.
He was waiting, waiting for his life to go to hell, his world to collapse. Images of Kate visiting Neal in prison once a week assaulted him. His own words came back. Real love is fighting like hell to hold on to every moment you have with her. It's making a life together, and making it work no matter what happens. No matter what happens. But he never meant this to happen to El.
Peter swallowed the ball in his throat. He closed his eyes.
The door opening made him startle. It was Callaway. She entered and took her time to sit in front of him.
"You seem to have unexpected friends, Agent Burke."
Peter frowned. What could she mean?
Callaway continued. "A flash drive was dropped at the office. It contained surveillance footages from a camera installed on the 50th floor and filming the room where the box was. There is no audio, and the angle of the camera is rather odd. But it did film the entire scene between you, Senator Pratt and James Bennett. Our experts analyzed it, there is no sign of tampering. Though the provenance of the video remains unclear, it seems to be authentic."
For a moment, Peter remained still. Slowly, the meaning sank in, and relief washed all over him.
"This camera isn't from the Empire State Building surveillance. That room was under renovation and wasn't rented. Any idea who could have an interest in watching the room?"
It did sound like someone he knew, but Peter shook his head. "No, no idea, sorry." He shrugged, doing his best to keep his expression neutral. "Someone else from Pratt's circle might have heard we were closing in on the box and wanted to keep an eye on whoever would find it first? We should probably start with those who are 'in the box'."
Callaway didn't seem convinced. "Maybe. In any case, this clears you from Pratt's murder."
She stood and opened the door. "You're free to go, Agent Burke," she said as she stepped aside. "I'll ask you to remain available for further questioning. You still have a lot of to answer to regarding your behavior today."
Peter's head felt light as he stood and he took a moment to regain his composure before passing in front of Agent Callaway and step outside the conference room.
As he walked down the corridor to the bullpen, Peter felt numbed. The after-effect of the adrenaline spike was crashing on him. He had not realized how tensed he had been for the last hours. And now he was left totally exhausted.
He looked by a window. It was pitch dark outside. Definitely too late for his date with El. Peter sighed. He should stop making El promises he couldn't keep.
Peter felt like he was suffocating. He needed some fresh air. About to enter the bullpen, he suddenly turned around and slipped into the elevators, unnoticed. His hand was shaking when he hit the "ground floor" button, and the doors were barely closed when the tears ran down his back against the wall opposite the door, Peter rested his head against the cold aluminum, closing his eyes. In the privacy of the small elevator, he simply let the tears flow and released the pressure. It didn't last long and by the time the elevator reached the ground floor, he was feeling much better. He brushed the tears away and felt more like himself again. There was still a little uneasiness weighting in his chest, but he felt he was going back into his own shoes. He readjusted his tie before stepping out of the elevator.
As he walked out of the building, he was aware of the heads turning to him, and people whispering. News travel fast…
"Hey, Agent Burke, glad to see you walking free!" That was Ochoa, one of the security agents keeping the doors.
Peter smiled. "Yeah, me too, believe me."
Pushing the door, Peter stepped on the pavement, and took a deep breath of fresh air. Barely the cleaner air on the planet, but at the moment, the most delicious air of liberty. Standing in the cool night, hands in pockets, Peter breathed, for what seemed the first time in a long long time. He was still far from the end of the road, but now he felt a little more confident he would eventually reach it. Hopefully, that residual uneasiness will go away.
He had to admit, the recent events had shaken him up pretty hard. For sure, there was the fear of being charged for Pratt's murder. And the associated fear of being sent to prison for a long, long time. But there was something more. Something new to him. He, Special Agent Burke, who had always believed so hard in doing the right thing. You do what's right and you let the pieces fall where they fall. Well, things had been pretty damn close to falling really bad, taking Peter down with them. How could this have happened? How could he have been that close to lose everything while being so convinced to be doing the right thing? Had his compass shifted that much that he hadn't realized the wrong path he had engaged himself into? What should have been the right thing to do then?
Peter felt lost, and tired.
He wondered where Elizabeth was. He needed his wife, needed to see her, hold her. Mechanically, he reached for his left pocket, but his phone had been taken from him when he was first brought in. Peter was about to go back inside when he heard a familiar voice on his right.
"Special sales on pistachio gelati!"
Turning around, Peter spotted an ice-cream cart, whose owner was no other than…
The little guy rolled his eyes at Peter's lack of discretion but his protest was muffled in the Agent's giant hug.
"Thank you, Moz'," Peter said as he patted his unconventional friend in the back.
"Suit!" Mozzie protested vehemently, and Peter released him. Mozzie seemed positively petrified. He looked around frantically before turning back to Peter.
"Never. Do that. Again," he said menacingly, an accusing finger pointed toward the Suit. Then, with a softer tone he added, "I take it they released you."
"Yes. And whatever the reason you set that camera, for once, I'm grateful of your paranoia."
"I have no idea what you're talking about, Suit," Mozzie said, "But let this be your lesson for today."
It was Peter's turn to roll his eyes. "And what is that?"
"Paranoia is the secret to longevity, my friend."
Peter smirked. "Right, I'll have this engraved on my Rai stone."
Mozzie stared at Peter, not sure if he should be offended or pleased. Finally, he simply shrugged.
Raising his wrist he talked through a mike. "Suit's clean. Laundry's aborted. I repeat, laundry's cancelled."
"What the –" Peter gasped.
He scanned the area, looking for any possible suspicious guy. Not seeing anyone, he turned back to Mozzie, but the little guy was gone. Even more impressively, there was no sign of the ice-cream cart either.
Shaking his head in disbelief, Peter headed back inside the FBI building.
As he entered the bullpen, Peter was surprised to see how busy it still was at this time of day. Out of habit, he looked over Neal's desk. His friend wasn't there. Nor were Jones or Diana. Looking up, he caught sight of them in the conference room, with Elizabeth.
He walked through the bullpen. A couple of agents turned around and gave him a smile, or a nod. He vaguely nodded in return. He was looking at his team, friends, family, up there in the conference room. Diana and Jones were standing close to the flat screen. El and Neal, side by side were sat at the far end of the table. They were all looking at the screen. All but Neal, who seemed fascinated by his own hands.
El turned her head. She saw him, and a smile illuminated her beautiful face. She stood up as he climbed the stairs to the conference room. They met at the door. She threw herself into his arms, and he buried his face into her hairs. He held her close and strong, breathing her scent, her presence.
Peter finally stepped back, keeping her hands in his. He looked at his wife. Her eyes were red. She had been crying, and her make-up had leaked. She was wearing one of his favorite dresses. She had obviously prepped herself for their date night. Peter felt a knot of guilt compressing his stomach.
"El –" he started. But she gently put a finger on his lips to cut him off and shook her head.
"Don't be," she whispered. "I'm just happy to have you back."
"What are you doing here?" Peter asked as he delicately caressed her cheek.
"I –" Elizabeth started. But she stopped. Peter wondered what she wanted to say. I was scared to death. I wanted to stay close in case I had to break you free. I wanted to see you one last time before they took you away. The truth was, she probably needed to feel as close to her husband as she could, even if she couldn't actually see him.
"I needed some company," El simply admitted finally, "and they let me stay here." El gestured toward the other people in the room.
Diana stepped forward. "We were instructed to stay away from your office," she said with an apologetic look. "And since Callaway's team didn't seem to appreciate our help on the case, we left them the bullpen and commandeered the conference room for ourselves."
Following her gaze, Peter noted all the papers, reports, scribbled notepads, and computers on the large table.
"Anyway, we're so happy to see you, Boss," Diana cheered. "How do you feel?"
"Relieved," Peter smiled at his agents.
Jones patted him on the back. "We dodged quite a bullet, huh?"
Peter turned toward Neal, and his smile faded away. His young friend was standing in front of him, slightly swaying on his feet. He seemed to be purposely staying a little aside from the group surrounding Peter.
He frowned and studied Neal closely. He didn't look right at all. He was chalk white, had a large bruise on his cheek, and lacerations on his right hand.
"Eh, buddy, what happened to you?"
Neal suddenly threw himself at Peter's neck. Peter felt him shaking against his body. Neal was falling apart, sobbing against Peter's shoulder. Peter gently rubbed Neal's back with his hands.
"Peter, I'm sorry! I ran after him. I tried to stop him. I really did. But he hit me. He disappeared. Peter, I'm sorry. I'm really sorry."
"Neal. You have no reason to be sorry," he whispered in his friend's ear.
Neal violently parted himself from the embrace. "Yes! It' all my fault! He's my dad!"
"Neal, sit down," Peter asked gently. Neal fell back into his chair.
Peter took a chair, and sat in front of his friend. He reached out for his hand.
"Neal, look at me. It's not your fault. None of it is. You're only responsible for your own actions, Neal, not for other's. You're not responsible for anything James, or I, did today."
Neal glanced sideway to the flat screen, making Peter turn around and see what was on. It was a frozen image from what seemed video footage. Peter felt a slight shiver run down his spine as he recognized the scene. He saw himself, facing James Bennett. They were holding each other at gun point. That was right before Bennett disappeared, leaving Peter with a smoking gun and a dead body.
Peter remembered Callaway's remark that there was no audio. He suddenly felt a little uncomfortable. "Neal, I din't…"
But Neal cut him off. "It's okay, Peter. We can't see what you are saying, but the body language is clear enough."
Peter smiled, as he rested a protective hand on his friend's shoulder. He let it lingered a second there. A comfort gesture meant as much for the young man as for himself – The reassurance that all the people he loved were still at reach. He was pleased to see a smile appear on Neal's face too.
There was a lot Peter wanted to ask Neal, a lot to talk about. But the office, with everyone around didn't seem the right place. Instead, he stuck to the essential. "Did you recover the box?"
Neal nodded. "We did."
Jones pointed a thumb toward the bullpen and the busy agents. "They're all working on it as we speak. Double checking the content, following leads, digging up all reports…"
That was good news. Peter nodded, pleased.
"And nobody tried to ditch it away?" he asked.
"Oh Callaway tried," Diana said, "but Neal made sure it would fall in the right hands first."
Peter turned to Neal, who gave him his pride smile. "I went to Bancroft."
Peter was incredulous. "Bancroft?!"
"Oh, actually, I went to see Reese, first. Hey, he likes me," Neal added as Peter raised an eyebrow.
"Anyway, I thought he would give me some credibility with Bancroft."
"Smartass," Peter said. "And how did you know you could trust him?"
"I read the content of the box first." A furtive shadow passed through Neal's gaze, quickly replaced by the usual mask smile as Neal went on with the story. "I told him everything. He wasn't pleased to learn about our off-the-book investigation and how much we kept from the Bureau. But the content of the box spoke for itself. And Reese had his own ammunitions. He spoke for you, too. For us. A good man Agent Hughes. Did you know the NSA was investigating Callaway?" Peter nodded. "The NSA!"
Everyone around Peter seemed really excited, even El was smiling as she was standing by his side, an arm around his waist.
"This is big, Boss," Diana said. "Heads are gonna fall."
The sweet feeling of accomplishment finally settled, just a little, slightly lifting the weight in Peter's chest. Maybe it wasn't a whole waste then.
"So, we did the right thing after all?" he said in a low voice.
"Mostly," someone answered from the door of the conference room.
Peter looked over his shoulder. It was Kyle Bancroft. Instinctively, Peter strengthened up.
"Agent Burke," the Assistant Director said as he entered the room.
"Sir." Peter wasn't sure what to expect from the "boss's boss" as they called him. He tried to read some signs – good or bad – in Bancroft's attitude, but the Senior Agent was his usual stern self.
Bancroft scrutinized Peter for a moment before speaking. "As your boss, I cannot encourage off-book investigations. It's the open door to anarchy in law enforcement."
"I understand, sir."
"And you should be careful, Peter, not to let yourself too vulnerable to criticisms from higher-ups."
Peter looked down.
"As your boss, I cannot approve your behavior," Bancroft went on. "But from one Special Agent to another, and absolutely off-record of course, I admire your courage."
Peter looked up. Bancroft was holding out his hand, a discreet smile on his lips. Peter took the hand and shook it wholeheartedly.
"Thank you, sir," he said, touched.
Bancroft took something out of his pocket and handed it to Peter. It was his badge. Peter took it and brushed a finger on the shield.
"Finish the job, Agent Burke. Take them down, and close the case."
"I will," Peter nodded.
"I have no doubt, Agent Burke, but not until tomorrow. Go home, Peter. Take some rest tonight." Bancroft looked at Neal, Diana and Jones. "All of you. Go home. You did good today."
In sync, they all nodded.
After he left, Peter wrapped his arm around El's shoulders. She leaned into his hold. Delicately, Peter moved a curl of hair away from her face. She looked up at him, smiling.
"Is there something on your mind, Hon?"
Peter chuckled. "Actually there's quite a lot. But I was wondering if you would mind, given how ruined our date night is already, if I invited a few friends? Just a quick Japanese take-away, maybe?"
Elisabeth gave Peter a quick and soft kiss. "Sure," she agreed, smiling.
Peter smiled back and turned to his partner. "Neal, could you call Mozzie? Tell him he's invited and to bring his pistachio ice-cream, which I hope he didn't throw away with his laundry."
To be Continued…