The Ending Stays The Same

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Title: The Ending Stays The Same
Fandoms: White Collar
Characters/Pairings: Neal Caffrey, Mozzie Havesham, Peter Burke, Elizabeth Burke, Diana Barrigan, Clinton Jones, June Ellington, Kate Moreau, Original Characters
Ratings: PG-15
Word Count: 11,143
Summary: Even when things change they stay the same. Peter and Elizabeth take for granted they have Neal right where they want him until they don’t.
Disclaimer: Except for the work noted as being originally mine, all works of fiction and characters thereof belong to their original creators/studios/producers/publishers. No money is being earned, and they are used without permission. I apologize for any typos I missed.

 

Matthew Burns stood with one foot on the bottom step of the private jet and one foot on the tarmac. His beautiful wife, Gina was already on board as they were starting a new chapter in their life. A shout from the hangar drew Matthew’s attention.

“NEAL!”

He considers ignoring the call. He’s no longer Neal Caffrey, pet thief of Peter Burke. He’s Matthew Burns, retired FBI profiler, independently wealthy, married to Gina. Now that he’s a free man … Perhaps he can be generous. He turns and starts toward the hangar, and  the White Collar Crimes investigator he barely tolerates when the world drops into Hell.

~*~*~*~

He wakes shrouded in pain. Fighting through to a semblance of clarity he sees a beautifully dressed and coiffed black woman. Her skin reflects the color of the finest milk chocolate and shrewd eyes are dark as night. She offers him a straw, which he sips thankfully.

“Gina?” He asks softly, throat too sore to talk normally.

The woman studies him for a moment while pushing the call button.

“Aunt June, please.” He pleads.

Her chest constricts for the man who thinks she’s his aunt. It was a game they played after he got his new identity from Agent Fowler. Uncertain of who Neal thought he was she carried on with their game.

“I’m so very sorry, Matthew. Gina was killed in the explosion.”

“I knew it. My chest feels so empty, I knew she was dead.” He turned his face toward the window. Though the blue eyes filled with tears, none fell. “Were there any remains?”

“A few. The FBI has them.” June answered carefully.

“I may as well buy a plaque now, because I’ll never get them.”

“Why don’t you rest and we’ll worry about all that when you’re feeling better.” June hedged. She was thankful for the nurse’s entrance that kept her from saying anything more. While she waited for the doctors to finish with Neal, June called Mozzie. “He thinks he’s Matthew Burns and the Kate was his wife, Gina.” She kept her voice low.

“Oh that’s rich.” Mozzie’s tone was divisive. “Does the suit know?”

“No. I haven’t called him. I wanted to warn you first.”

“The concussive force from the blast had to shake Neal’s brain pretty good. Think he’ll remember his real self?”

“I think the real question should be does he want to remember his real self?”

“I’ll be there soon.” Mozzie assured her.

The elevator dinged and Agent Peter Burke stepped out.

“It might be best if you wait awhile.” She cautioned.

“Suit?”

“That’s right.” She cut the call.

“June. How’s Neal?”

“He just woke up. The doctor is with him now.”

“Perfect. I can get an update and ask Neal a few questions.” His smile was pleased as he headed for the room.

“Peter! Wait!” But Peter ignored her call.

~*~*~*~

Peter cringed when he saw the three stripes across Neal’s back where flaming pieces of metal had burnt through clothing to skin. The doctor had just finished cleaning the burns leaving them and the cuts on Neal’s freshly shorn head looking raw and fresh.

“How is he, doc?”

The doctor looked up from her work.

“You are?” The gloved hands paused.

“Peter Burke, FBI.” He pulled out his badge.

“I’m sorry, Agent Burke, but I don’t see your name anywhere on Agent Burns’ paperwork.”

“Agent Burns?”

“That’s what his ID said. That’s the name he’s been answering to when we question him. Matthew Burns.”

“Who is right here and aware so you can stop talking about me like I’m a potted plant.” He sat up and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, careful not to aggravate his wounds. “What do you want, Burke?”

Peter was taken aback by the snide tone. He did a fast shuffle of his questions.

“Do you remember anything out of the ordinary before the explosion?”

“Only you calling me into the hangar before the plane blew.” He rubbed a hand over his short cropped hair.

“Our first vacation in two years.” Eyes full of anger and pain looked at Peter.

“What did you have Gina working on that could have gotten her killed?”

“Nothing.” Peter answered truthfully.

“I know I didn’t have any cases that would cause this. I was working up routine profiles.”

“Neal.” Peter said.

“Neal who?” The injured man asked.

“Neal Caffrey.” Peter tried again.

“What’s your tame thief got to do with my wife’s death?”

Peter cringed inwardly at the words. He had to choose his next words very carefully.

“Gina asked Neal if he knew the whereabouts of a music box that belonged to Catherine The Great that was made out of amber.”

“She was an antique dealer and your C.I. … Why would she ask Caffrey?”

“Rumor had it that Neal stole the music box, or if he didn’t steal it he knew who had it.”

“You think whoever blew up the plane has the music box?”

“I don’t know. Did she mention anything to you?”

“No. Why would she lie to me?” Neal’s distress was obvious.

Before Peter could ask anything else, June came in followed closely by Mozzie.

“I think that’s enough for one day, Agent Burke.” June scolded. “Matthew did just wake up.” She grabbed Peter’s arm. “Let me walk you out.”

She exchanged a look with Moz.

~*~*~*~

Peter looked back as the door to Neal’s room closed, watching Neal pull the older man between his legs and into a hug before burying his face into Moz’s shoulder. The slender frame began to shake.

“Why? … What the …” Peter sputtered.

“According to Matthew’s back story he and Moz were best friends with benefits until Matthew met Gina.” June instructed.

“Neal’s bi? What do you mean back story?” Peter looked shocked.

“Matthew is bi-sexual. Neal is … Neal, and the secret to a good con is that your character is three dimensional. That’s why the authorities are so bad at undercover work. Your aliases are flat … One dimensional.” June smiled sweetly.

Peter pulled Neal’s anklet from his pocket.

“What do I do with this? Neal Caffrey wears this. Matthew Burns is a Bureau profiler.”

June sympathized with Peter, but with his sometimes callous treatment of Neal, she felt he was getting his just desserts.

“Hold onto that, Peter. Neal may get his memories back.”

That gave very little comfort to the agent.

~*~*~*~

Neal was released three days later still believing he was Matthew Burns.

Since he and his wife supposedly lived with his Aunt June, he didn’t object to June and Moz’s fussing over him after they got back to the mansion.

Peter ran into him a week later going through any files that mentioned the music box. It shocked Peter badly to see Neal with a badge and gun clipped to his belt like any other agent. Neal in his right mind didn’t like guns. Peter had barely been able to stop Diana and Jones from drawing on the man the first time they saw him after the explosion.

“What do you mean he thinks he’s an agent?” Diana practically squeaked.

“I guess Fowler thought it’d be a joke.” Peter answered. “He figured they’d both be on the plane and he’d kill two birds with one explosion. Neal’s brain took quite a shaking along with pieces of shrapnel they dug out of his skull. He thinks Kate was an antiques dealer named Gina, I used as a C.I.”

“So we’re supposed to let him have run of the place?” Jones asked.

“For now. The doctor seems to think his real memory will return as his brain heals.”

Peter thought they would balk at the idea of Neal running loose, but they finally nodded their agreement. Diana came to Peter later.

“How does Neal’s amnesia effect our looking for Fowler?”

“It doesn’t. In fact, it’s better because I won’t have to worry about Neal going off on his own looking for revenge. There’s no mention of a Gina Burns in any of the files. Only Kate’s.”

“What if he remembers?”

“I have June and Mozzie keeping tabs on him away from the office.”

“We’re on a razor’s edge here, Peter.”

“You don’t have to remind me.” Peter said tiredly.

“When’s Elizabeth get home?”

“Next week. Thank goodness.”

“Tired of Satchmo’s company?” She grinned.

“He’s a blanket hog.” Peter smiled back. “Thanks, Diana.”

“Anytime, Boss.” She gave him a wink.

Matthew was at a dead end. None of the files mentioned anything about Gina. Just some woman named Kate that led Caffrey on a merry chase. For such a smart guy he sure was sucker when it came to this Kate. He finally found her picture.

A knife of pain stabbed through his chest. This Kate could be Gina’s twin. He was beginning to think Kate’s enemies had a case of mistaken identity. He was going to have to track down Burke and maybe Caffrey, too. For all that Burke was at work every day he had yet to meet the infamous Neal Caffrey.

Throwing the files in his briefcase, Matthew decided to stop by Agent Burke’s house on the way home. He found it an interesting coincidence that the Burkes lived only a couple miles from his Aunt June. The door opened, but before Matthew could introduce himself Mrs. Burke was off and running.

“Neal!” It’s so good to see you. I was so sorry to hear about Kate’s death.”

Matthew was so shocked that when she grabbed his hand and led him into the living room he didn’t resist.

“Peter’s walking Satchmo, but he should be home soon. How are you? Peter said you’d been hurt in the explosion. I’m glad to see you’re doing better.” She reached out and ran a hand over his short hair. “Peter said they had to cut your hair to stitch your scalp, but it’s starting to grow out rather well.” She set a glass of wine in front of him. “How’s Mozzie. I haven’t seen him since that night he was a stand-in for Peter because Fowler was staking out the house and you and Peter were staking him out.”

“Mozzie’s fine.” A very confused Matthew took a drink of wine just to have something to do. “This is very good. Something you brought back from your trip to California?” He snapped his mouth shut.

*How did he know she was in California? How did he know about wine? He rarely drank.*

He turned his attention back to Mrs. Burke. *Elizabeth. Peter calls her El.*

“In the beginning everyone thought Peter was nuts for letting you out of jail. Even with the anklet they thought you’d run. You and Peter make a really good team, Neal. I’m glad you changed your mind about getting on that plane with Kate.” Elizabeth reached over and took Matthew’s hand. Sparkling blue eyes met confused and hurt blue eyes. “Oh Neal, I’m sorry. Here I am rambling like a school girl and I haven’t asked how you’re doing?”

Before he could answer, Peter and Satchmo came through the door. The yellow lab ran to Matthew, happy to see his friend.

“El, whose bureau car is …” He trailed off when he saw Neal.

The con man’s face was pale … His eyes wide with shock.

“Honey, Neal stopped by and we were just catching up.” Elizabeth stood and gave Peter a kiss. “Shower before dinner. You want to join us, Neal?”

“No, but thank you. I promised Aunt June I’d be her escort to a play this evening a friend of hers is producing.”

“Isn’t the theater district outside the range of your anklet?”

A sneer twisted the handsome face and Peter feared the worst. How could he have forgotten to tell his wife about Neal’s amnesia?

“Peter,” he spat out the word, “has been most gracious to allow me to step out of bounds for the occasion.”

“I’m sure June appreciates it, Peter.” She said breezily heading toward the kitchen.

The men turned to face off.

“Why does she think I’m Neal Caffrey?”

Peter did NOT want to have this conversation.

“Because you are, Matthew Burns was the new identity Fowler gave you to leave with Kate and never come back. Making you an agent was his idea of a sick joke and a way to track you movements.”

“You went along with this after the explosion?”

Peter nodded.

“Why?”

“The doctor said your brain had been bruised and as it healed you would remember. She said it would be less of a shock.”

“Something you forgot to tell your wife?”

He nodded again. He’d hoped that Neal would have remembered who he was by the time El got home.

“That’s why everyone whispered and snickered when they thought I couldn’t see?”

Peter’s eyes went wide.

“Thought I didn’t notice, Agent Burke?”

He stood to leave.

“Neal?” Peter started.

“Neal doesn’t live here anymore, Agent Burke. He died in an airplane explosion. The only one here is Matthew.” His voice was adamant. “Goodnight, Agent Burke.”

Neal’s face and body language was so closed off, Peter simply watched as he left.

~*~*~*~

In a squeal of tires, the car pulled away. He couldn’t remember where his paranoid friend, Moz lived so he went to the safest place he knew, his Aunt June’s. He wondered if she really was his aunt, but decided it didn’t matter. He dashed through the mansion calling her name.

“Sweetheart, what’s wrong?” She asked when Neal threw himself to his knees and buried his face in her lap.

“Why do you never call me by my name? Are you really my aunt?”

June’s heart broke at the pain in Neal’s voice.

“Actually, I think of you more as my black sheep son.” She answered calmly running her hand over the head that had too many scars and not enough of its usual dark, silky hair.

This close she could see silver hair coming in around the scar tissue. He’d soon be a peacock with very distinct coloration.

“Tell me what happened.”

He told her about going to the Burke’s and meeting Elizabeth and how she called him Neal and talked about Kate, then Peter came home and the dog wanted to play, and there were pictures in his mind and Peter said he was Neal and a thief and he felt like his head was in a vice …”

While Neal rambled June sent a quick 911 to Mozzie. She wanted Neal somewhere safe until this episode was sorted.

She was able to get Neal on his feet and to the couch. She had to find the getaway bag he always kept packed so that when Moz arrived they could leave before Agent Burke arrived. As she turned to go upstairs, he grabbed her hand.

“Who am I?”

“You are the bravest person I know.” She placed a kiss on his forehead. “The name I know you by is Neal Caffrey.” She answered softly.

“Thank you.” He closed his eyes.

It was barely a half hour later Mozzie arrived. June explained the situation and that Peter would probably arrive at any moment. Once more running her hand over the bristly hair she left just as she and Matthew had planned. That would establish that she had no knowledge of what happened after Mozzie arrived at the house.

Moz bundled a groggy, but co-operative Neal into the cab, and told the driver to take them to the nearest hospital. He had the driver stop closer to the entrance of the subway than the hospital. Pulling their hoods further forward to hide their features, he led Neal down into the subway.

They rode until Moz’s paranoia was satisfied, Neal dozing quietly against his side. They finally ended in the warehouse district where many of the old buildings had been converted to loft condos during the real estate boom. Now that the bottom had fallen out of the market, many of the condos stood empty.

Moz had bought several lofts all over the city through private holding companies he’d established for his and Neal’s money and investments. Not wanting to compromise any of Neal’s safe houses, Moz took them to one of his.

The first floor loft had several escape routes including one through the basement should the need arise. The still silent Neal allowed Moz to strip him out of the oversized hoody and suit he still wore. Leaving on his t-shirt, Moz pulled a pair of sweats out of Neal’s bag. The older man was creeped out by Neal acting like a life sized Ken doll as he started putting the sweats over Neal’s feet.

Neal must have sensed his friend’s confusion and distress because Moz was startled out of his thoughts by the younger man taking the sweats and putting them on. He climbed into bed and curled in on himself as Moz tucked the comforter around the chilled body. Trying to soothe Neal by running his hand over the shorn head, Moz wished he could do more.

“I have to get a message to June. I’ll be back as soon as I can.” He assured Neal.

Getting a nod from Neal, he moved over to the computer. He sat for several minutes considering the best way to make contact without setting off alarm bells for the suits. Making a satisfied noise, his hands moved to the keyboard.

June always read every review for every play no matter how small. Moz logged onto a site where he knew June subscribed. He began to type.

This play was so off Broadway you needed to be acquainted with the cast and crew to find the venue, but it was well worth the trouble. ‘The Narrow Escape’ is more psychological intrigue than action. The actor playing the male lead was an excellent choice. The man owned the role so completely you would have sworn it was his personal story.

Satisfied he posted the review and prayed to all his gods June understood his message. Setting the computer to notify him if anyone posted a comment, he returned to the bed and curled around his friend, hoping his presence gave him some peace of mind.

The feeling of being watched made Moz lie very still … His paranoia meter was so far above its usual ten that he almost stopped breathing until he remember the events of the night before. Not having his glasses on made things hazy, but he’d recognized the pale blue eyes watching him anywhere. He blinked several times clearing the cobwebs of exhaustion from his mind. A long fingered hand reached out and ran gently down his lightly stubbled cheek. Anticipation climbed as he waited for Neal to speak first.

“You know I love you, Moz, but why are we at one of your safe houses?”

Moz’s breath left him in a rush. “Neal?” He reached for his glasses.

Confusion filled the eyes still watching him. “Has something happened that we had to run?”

“This conversation requires massive amounts of caffeine.” Moz rolled away from Neal and headed for the kitchen area.

Neal got up, showered and wondered why his hair was in a buzz cut, and what caused the ridges of scar tissue on his back. He was trying to hold onto his calm, but the more changes he found the higher his anxiety climbed. Only years of being in high stress situations helped him keep the appearance of holding it together, but Moz knew him better than anyone.

“Sit, eat, this conversation requires sustenance and calm.” Moz cajoled.

While they had breakfast, Moz told Neal the events of the past six months.

‘”Kate’s dead?” Neal moved to the window, his throat and chest so tight he could hardly breathe. Pushing his emotions away, he set his sharp mind to work on the problem.

“Has the music box surfaced?” Neal turned back to Moz, game face firmly in place.

Moz’s sharp brown eyes studied the slender man across the room. Neal allowed his friend to see what he wanted him to see.

“I think your suit has it.”

“How do you know?”

“He’s in no rush to find it, which tells me he already has it someplace he trusts it to be safe.” Moz looked between the coffee pot and his supply of tea. Tea seemed the better choice. Neal on a tear needed a calm head.

“What about Alex? Has she surfaced recently?”

“Rumor has it she’s on the run from whoever the puppet master is on this music box situation. It’s obvious Fowler was simply a pawn to flush the box into the open.”

“There’s more going on here than a Russian antiquity. The Russians were infamous for their paranoia and building secrets and puzzles inside their favorite pieces of art. We need access to the box.” Eyes narrowing, Neal tried to put all the pieces together. “Have they released anything about the flight recorder on the plane?”

Moz shook his head.

“How’d I get away with no anklet the past six months?” Neal rubbed his ankle in memory of its weight.

“No way to explain making an agent wear a tracking device. The suit figured you’d stick close to June’s while you were searching for leads to the explosion. It seems a picture of Kate and Mrs. Suit’s not knowing about your amnesia triggered your breakthrough.”

“Does anyone know about my break besides you?” Neal started to pace the loft.

“June, but she carried on like you took her to the theater. It would be simple enough to say you spent the weekend with me after dropping June off Friday night.” Moz blushed deeply. “We have been spending an inordinate amount of time together since your wife’s death.”

“Peter thinks we’ve resumed our relationship a brief six months after my wife’s death?” Neal grinned.

“Not sure. Peter’s not your favorite person right now. You think he somehow put ‘Gina’ in the line of fire, ultimately leading to her death.”

“How close has he been watching me?”

“As much as your animosity allows. He’s looking for signs that you’ve remembered your life as Neal Caffrey instead of Matthew Burns.” Moz didn’t like the play of expressions he saw passing across Neal’s face. “Neal, I don’t think I like what you’re thinking.”

“Where’s your sense of adventure, Moz? This could be our greatest con ever.” Neal turned his toothpaste smile on Moz.

“I don’t know. The suit is smart. He’s caught you twice.”

Neal shrugged. “I was bored.”

Moz blinked owlishly. “You let him catch you because you were bored???!!”

“I proved I could leave prison anytime I wanted.”

“So you let the suit collar and leash you because …?”

“I get to be the hunter instead of the prey.”

“I can’t talk you out of this?”

The expression that crossed Neal’s face was one Moz had never seen before. He wondered if it was Kate’s death or the shaking his brain had taken had changed Neal into the man in front of him. Neal perched on the chair across from Moz.

“Neal?”

Neal paused for a beat, while he closed his eyes, rubbing his temples.

“Matthew.”

“What?!”

“We’re both here.”

“What about the whole gun thing?”

Neal had never told him why he hated guns, and even though he’s was excellent shot with any type gun, he never ever used one on a job to Moz’s knowledge.

“Not a problem. Matthew carries the gun.”

“I want to go on the record right now as saying I think this is a VERY BAD idea.” Moz stressed.

He was surprised when Neal reached over and grabbed Moz’s hand.

“I know you don’t like this. I know it’s a bad idea. I know my brain is scarred and scattered and my psyche probably looks like a puzzle with pieces missing, but I’m doing this. I have nothing to lose. If Peter finds out what’s the worse that happens … I go back to jail … I get my leg iron back. I almost died and Kate is dead. You’re all I have left.”

He placed his cheek in the palm of Moz’s hand, his eyes closed.

People thought Neal was a hedonist. The best wine and food, high thread count sheets, Egyptian cotton and silk, but Mozzie had a theory that it was a lack of those things that made Neal crave the best things in life. Touch was how Neal expressed himself. Words were Neal’s armor against the world … This … This was the real Neal.

“We could leave. June gave us this … This head start. The suits would never find us.” Moz knew his plea was falling on deaf ears, but he had to try.

He feared Neal losing himself in the game … Losing the things that made him distinctly Neal … Losing himself in his scars and revenge.

“I have to know Moz. I have to know who killed Kate and tried to kill me. Was it Fowler or is he the fall guy? I can’t see him being the brains behind whatever this is.” He placed his fingers on lips to stop whatever Mozzie was going to say. “I could go to Peter and tell him I have most of my memory back. He puts me back in the cuff and I’m limited to what I can do. As Matthew I’m free to move, to search, to dig where I can’t as Neal Caffrey.”

Moz knew he’d lost. This would be one of the most dangerous game they’d ever run. The suit was smart. Moz would have to be ever vigilant about covering Neal’s tracks. He shivered as he felt a goose walk over his grave causing him to throw prayers out to all the gods.

~*~*~*~

Once Peter threw off the stupor of all the things Neal had thrown at him, he turned to find Elizabeth staring wide-eyed from the kitchen.

“Did I cause all that?” Tears welled spilling down her cheeks. “I never meant to hurt him.” She whispered as Peter pulled her against his chest.

“You didn’t know. I didn’t tell you. I hoped he’d be back to himself by the time you got home. Now I’m afraid we may never get our Neal back.”

“Why don’t you fill me in on the things you hoped to not have to tell me?” Elizabeth suggested.

While they made dinner, Peter told Elizabeth everything. Elizabeth set her fork down.

“I think you should go talk to him.” She nodded as though agreeing with herself.

“El …”

“Maybe if you talk to Matthew the way you do Neal, it would help Neal come to the forefront of his brain.”

Peter’s face flushed at the suggestion. “I don’t think that will work?”

“Why not?”

“I can’t talk to someone who thinks they’re an agent the way I walk to Neal.”

“Is there something wrong with the way you talk to Neal?”

“It’s complicated.” Peter hedged.

“Peter …”

He mentally braced himself. “Sometimes Neal sees too much. It irritates me, so I only tell him what I think he needs to know and it’s led to … Situations that…show I don’t trust him, which leads him to do things that could get him killed trying to prove himself. Then, when I point out how I knew all these things all along, and that I based my plan on knowing Neal and how he thinks …” Peter rushed on before he lost his nerve. “I play him, and I tell him I played him.” He was right. When put into words it sounded terrible, and there was that little line between El’s eyebrows that showed her disapproval.

“Peter.” Her tone was sad. “That’s probably why he doesn’t want to remember being Neal.” She said more to herself than to Peter.

Peter sucked in a breath in surprise.

“You know I always wondered about that.” She stood to clear the table.

“What?”

“Neal and I would talk … You know he has exquisite taste? He gave me some suggestions that have really helped me move into the upper echelon of events …” She carried the dishes to the kitchen.

Once they were put in the dishwasher, she picked up her wine glass and moved to the living room.

“His eyes would be so clear and relaxed … Almost like a little boy that was in wonder of everything. He would hear you come in and his expression would light up then change to guilt, then there wouldn’t be any expression at all.”

She nodded agreeing with her own conclusion. “Neal doesn’t want to be Neal, because nobody respects Neal. Neal is a tool you bring out and use then put back in his two mile prison cell until the next time. I wouldn’t want to remember being Neal either.” She wrapped her arms around her middle.

“El, honey, I don’t think it’s that simple.” Peter cringed at the condescending tone in his voice.

“Well I do. I think you ask some of your hotshot psychologist buddies they’ll tell you the same thing.”

“You do remember Neal is a con man and a thief?” Peter reminded. He didn’t like feeling like the bad guy.

“Of course I do.” The look she gave him could have blistered paint. “He cared enough for you to try and change. He kept walking away from Kate and his old way of life because you ask him. Did you give him credit for anything?”

Peter felt that flush climbing up his face again.

“El … This might all be moot. After this evening I don’t know who’ll be coming to the office Monday or even if he’ll be coming to the office.”

“Think we should go to June’s and check on him?”

“I’m not sure Matthew would appreciate us dropping by unannounced.”

“Please, Peter. I feel responsible for what happened earlier. I’d feel better if I knew if he’s okay.”

“Fine. I’ll call June since I doubt Neal would pick-up if he saw my number.” He dialed June’s number.

“Hello.”

“June, it’s Peter Burke.”

“What I can I do for you Agent Burke.” June’s voice turned cool.

“I’m calling to see how Neal’s doing.”

“Elizabeth worried?”

Peter felt himself flushing again. “We both are.” He insisted.

“As far as I know he’s fine. He’s spending the weekend with Mozzie.”

Peter cringed. “I thought he was taking you to the theater?”

“Oh he did, but I sent him home after an old acquaintance offered to take me home. So I released him from his escort duties.” Peter could hear the mischievous smile in her voice.

“Sorry to interrupt your evening. Elizabeth and I appreciate knowing Neal is fine.” He disconnected.

“There feel better? He’s spending the weekend with Mozzie.”

Elizabeth eyes widened. “As in together together?”

Peter shrugged. If Neal still believes he’s Matthew, he’s bi-sexual. I think Neal probably is too or he wouldn’t have made it part of Matthew’s profile.”

“Good to know.” Elizabeth smirked.

“El!” Peter watched her sashay up the stairs before following shaking his head.

~*~*~*~

When Peter walked into the bullpen Monday morning, he was surprised to see Neal sitting at a desk busily scanning files and taking notes.

“Ne … Matthew?” Peter spit out before he could stop himself.

“Agent Burke. Good morning.”

“Why are you here?”

“I presented my case to Agent Hughes, he is in agreement that since we are working to the same ends, and since the explosion has deprived you of Caffrey’s expertise in all matters larcenous, that it only made sense to assign me to work with your squad. I have studied all your files and notes on Caffrey and believe I can provide you with the expertise you require.”

Peter could only stare open mouthed at Matthew’s speech.

“You believe you can think like Neal Caffrey?”

“If you could mange, I don’t see there being any problem since apparently he resides in my psyche somewhere.”

Peter thought he’d just been insulted, but he wasn’t quite sure how.

“I’m willing to give it a try.”

After a rocky start, it appeared that Matthew had picked up enough information from the files to emulate Neal. Sometimes Peter would turn to make some quip to Neal to find Matthew’s stoic face looking back. There was never any after work dinners when El was out of town, nor did he ever come home to find Matthew having a glass of wine with El, making her laugh. Matthew didn’t laugh, or do magic tricks in the office or any of the other things that Neal did in the past. The only trait he and Neal shared was a love of art. Where Neal drew and doodled for fun, there was no fun in Matthew Burns. It made Peter realize how much he missed Neal.

Elizabeth would sometimes stop by June’s. It was hard at first, and felt like a bad blind date. Where Neal made everyone feel comfortable, and could talk about anything to anyone, Matthew was more reticent … Almost shy. She was careful not to mention Kate/Gina or compare him to Neal, and they found their footing with each other, and Matthew no longer frowned when she stopped by, though he did rub his temples a lot and complain of headaches.

She mentioned this to Peter one night.

“Maybe his brain is finally healing.” He looked up from the television.

“I hope you’re right.” But she really didn’t think it was a good thing.

~*~*~*~

Moz and June both noticed when Neal was with people he trusted, he sounded and acted like Neal, when he was at the office, he was a strange combination of Matthew and Neal. Neal came out to play when he was in the ‘game’. The minute the ‘game’ was over, so was Neal.

Peter was tempted to look for a switch the two personalities came and went so fast. He would look at Neal and the confusion would be so thick around the man you could almost touch it.

Moz continued to watch over him and would often call him on his personality switches. Walking through the door of the apartment, he quipped,

“Who are you tonight?”

Neal looked up from his dinner preparations.

“What do you mean, Moz?”

“You’re becoming more like Sybil than Neal Caffrey.”

At Neal’s frown, Moz dropped the subject, but noticed Neal rubbing his eyes.

“I keep reading all that government fine print I’m going to soon need glasses.” He chuckled.

Moz pointed to his glasses, “They have very stylish frames these days.” He teased.

His concern had eased until Neal begged off their chess game complaining of a headache. Worry caused him to kick off his shoes, and stretch out on the bed until Neal quieted, his head pillowed on Moz’s chest.

It really came home to the White Collar unit that Neal was gone when Sara Ellis breezed through demanding Neal Caffrey be arrested for bond theft. Matthew simply stared at the insurance investigator as she went through her tirade like she was an exotic bug that had crawled out of the woodwork. By the time she was finished, Matthew had grown bored and returned to his work.

After Halbridge and his shooter were arrested, Matthew eavesdropped shamelessly on Sara and Peter.

“I thought maybe Caffrey was running a scam with this whole amnesia thing, but I guess he really is Matthew Burns. He didn’t flirt or try to seduce me once.” She complained.

“You sound disappointed, Sara. I think Matthew has sworn off women for a while. He was heartbroken over his wife’s death.”

“Wife! I didn’t know Caffrey was married.”

“Neal wasn’t, but Kate’s identity as his wife, Gina stuck with Matthew.”

“It’s hard to imagine Neal grieving over anything.” Sara said snidely as she walked out the door.

Peter stared hard after the workaholic woman. Did people really think Neal was that shallow? Did they never look beneath the smile to the real man? Peter paused. Wasn’t he just as guilty of that as Sara Ellis?

It was an exhausted Neal that Moz found when he went up to the apartment after stopping to talk with June as she got ready to leave for a dinner date. They had both tried to talk Neal into telling Peter, but the younger man would not be moved.

Neal sat at the table, his head on his arms.

“Did something happen?” Moz perched on the edge of the chair in case he needed to move.

“Sara Ellis.”

“Ah your lady investigator.” Moz watched the bowed head.

“They’re all believers.” Neal never lifted his head. He reached out a hand to Moz. “You, June and Elizabeth seem to be the only ones who ever see me.”

The sadness in Neal’s voice tore at Moz. He didn’t know how to comfort the younger man. He leaned forward and rested his head next to Neal’s.

“Give this up, Neal. It’s sucking you dry. The suits don’t deserve to get this much of you.” Moz begged quietly.

“I’m almost there, Moz.” He rubbed his cheek against Moz’s smooth scalp. “But maybe you and Aunt June are right. I miss me.”

“We miss you, too. Please, Neal.”

“My head hurts, Moz.” Neal complained.

Moz’s heart started to race. “How long has your head hurt?

“It never stops.” Neal’s voice was faint.

“Oh this is so not good.” Moz mumbled as he got to his feet. He pulled Neal to his feet.

“I think I wanna lie down.” Neal slurred.

“No, No, No, you have to listen. We have to get you checked out.”

Moz called down to see if June’s driver was available. Soon they were headed toward the hospital, Neal’s head cradled against the smaller man’s chest. Lady Luck seemed to finally shine on her favored child for Neal’s neurologist, Dr. Royce, was on duty when they got to the hospital.

“What’s happened?”

“Says he has a headache that never stops.”

“Has he complained before?”

“No, but he was never one to complain. He rubs his temples and eyes … A lot.”

They quickly started getting vitals. Next thing Moz knew he was filling out forms, and watching as they wheeled Neal into the elevator.

The next time he looked up June was sitting next to him, and they were in the surgical waiting room.

“June?”

“It’s alright, Mozzie.” She soothed. “They found a piece of shrapnel they missed the first time.”

“Who’s he going to be when he wakes up this time?”

“Hopefully Neal will be back to himself when he recovers.” Dr. Royce walked into the end of their conversation.

“But as Neal or Matthew?” Moz asked.

“I can’t predict that. Has he been going back and forth between the two?”

Moz started to speak, but June placed a hand on his arm. He looked around to see Peter and Elizabeth coming into the room.

“Who called the suits?” He hissed at June.

“That would be me.” The doctor volunteered. “Because Agent Burke is responsible for Neal while he’s out of prison, I’m obligated to call him though he cannot make the decisions for Neal’s care.” She tried to soothe Mozzie’s temper.

“He doesn’t care about Neal or have any say in his treatment.” All the worry and paranoia since the explosion spewed out.

“That’s not the point.” The doctor was firm. “He still had to be informed.”

Moz started to stand, but June laid a hand on his arm.

“Moz.”

He deflated.

“You might not think Peter cares, but Elizabeth does, and they come as a set.” She reminded him.

The Burkes had shamelessly eavesdropped for Moz rarely showed temper. Usually he was just cuttingly sarcastic.

“Doctor, can I ask you a question?” Peter interrupted.

“That depends. Some information I can give, but most requires permission from whoever he named to speak for him.”

“Let’s make it hypothetical than. In an instance such as this could it have caused a person to change personalities like flipping a light switch—say be Neal Caffrey one minute then Matthew Burns the next depending on the situation?”

“Quite conceivably.” The doctor confirmed.

“You thought he was faking!? You saw the eye rubbing and rubbing the temples and thought it was a con!?” Moz’s voice started got louder.

Just because it had been a con, the headaches and the personality swapping had been real.

“Peter?” Elizabeth asked.

“Yes. I thought it was probable that he was doing it to stay out of the anklet and have access to the bombing investigation files. So I dismissed the signs as part of his game.”

“If Moz hadn’t brought him in tonight you may well have been planning his funeral soon.” The doctor added to the mix.

“What do you mean, doctor?” June asked.

She still held on to Moz for he had grown very protective of Neal, and she didn’t want him going after Peter.

“The shrapnel was pressing on one the arteries that supplies blood to the brain. If one or both of those arteries had collapsed he would have suffered a stroke causing any number of problems including blindness and possibly death. If it had severed the artery, Neal would have bled to death, internally…hypothetically.”

Everyone deflated at the doctor’s pronouncement, Peter turned pale as Elizabeth hid her face in his shirt. Moz once again stepped forward though he wanted to bolt and wait for Neal to call and say everything was alright.

“What’s his prognosis?” He was amazed at how steady his voice sounded and how much time he spent praying these days.

“There was no damage to the arteries and now that circulation is restored he should be fine.”

“What about the Neal/Matthew switches?” Peter asked.

“We’ll just have to wait and see how that matter resolves itself.” She started to walk away. “For now he is in the recovery room. I’ll have the nurse come for you once he’s settled.”

His head and his mouth felt stuffed with cotton. He tried to search his memory for what might be the cause.

Gina … No … Kate … Who was Gina? … And Kate …Fire … Pain … He tried to get to her, but heat and flames and a voice … A voice saying … Saying … What was it saying? …

“Stay still! Neal don’t move. It’s too late … You can’t save her. Please Neal! You have to stay still!”

He didn’t listen he had to get to Kate. He tried to stand and there was pain everywhere and then it went dark.

The sound of Neal’s heart monitor picking up tempo woke Moz from his light doze. There were no other signs of consciousness, but Moz knew Neal was playing possum. The monitor leveled off, but the blue eyes remained closed and his breathing was slow and steady. He had to convince Neal it was safe to wake up. He stole a glance at Mr. and Mrs. Suit leaning against each other before moving closer to whisper in the thief’s ear.

“You’re in the hospital, Neal. It’s safe to wake up. Mr. and Mrs. Suit are here. I sent June home, but she’ll be back in the morning.” Moz took hold of Neal’s hand. “Dr. Royce found a piece of shrapnel they missed after the explosion. That’s why you’ve been Mr. Split Personality the past six months.”

*Six months! It was six months since Kate died!?*

Like a bizarre movie trailer images flowed through his mind. *Who was Matthew Burns and Gina and where had Peter been?* The feelings of distrust for everyone except Moz and June were strong enough to trigger his flight response. *He had to wake up. There was danger. He needed to grab Mozzie and run.*

Need and adrenaline were so strong Neal regained consciousness and pulled Mozzie half way to the door before his legs went out from under him landing both men in a heap. Machines were shrieking, waking Peter and Elizabeth and bringing every nurse and doctor on the floor to the room.

Disoriented, seeing hands coming toward him with loud voices triggered older, buried memories … He scrabbled backwards best as his uncoordinated arms and legs would move, keeping his body between Moz and the hands.

He had to stop. They had him trapped against the wall. Hands and feet blocked the door and safety. Neal did the only thing he could … He rolled. When he got turned, he grabbed Mozzie, pulled the smaller man against his chest and curled around him hoping his body would protect his friend from the hands and feet.

“Everyone STOP!” Neal’s doctor and Peter shouted.

The room went silent.

“You can all go back to your stations. Mr. Caffrey’s fine just a little disoriented.” Dr. Royce instructed quietly. “We’ll take care of getting him back to bed.”

Soon the room held Dr. Royce, the Burkes, Neal and Moz.

“Neal.” Dr. Royce tried to keep her voice soothing. “Let me help you back to bed.”

Neal’s only reaction was to curl tighter.

Peter tried a different tact. “Moz, can you get Neal to let you go?”

“Not ‘til he’s ready.” Moz’s voice was muffled under Neal.

“What’s that mean?”

At the irritation in Peter’s voice Neal tucked his head under his arm.

Elizabeth touched Peter’s arm signaling him to back away. She kneeled down next to the men.

“Neal, sweetie, it’s Elizabeth.” She touched his shoulder lightly. Encouraged that Neal merely shuddered she kept talking. “You know, El? You help me with my wine list and food suggestions for the New York high brows, and then we have a glass of wine and tell stories about Peter.” She continued gently rubbing his arm and shoulder.

She felt Neal relax slightly. Peter shifted restlessly impatient to talk to Neal now that he was awake. A scathing look from his wife had him in his chair, giving her room to work with Neal.

“Mrs. Suit, Neal.” Moz softly added his reassurances to El’s.

When the expected pain didn’t come, Neal tried to get his brain to make sense. *El, Peter’s wife. He liked her. She was always honest with him.* 

“Peter …Suit. Peter doesn’t like me.” Peter and El both gasped. Neal tensed. Still no pain.

“Of course Peter likes you, Neal.” Elizabeth turned blue daggers on Peter who shrugged. “He’s your friend.”

A bark of bitter laughter left the con man as he started to uncurl though he kept Moz between him and wall.

“Lies … Bait … My C.I. smarter than yours … Jealous of Kate … Alex … Pet con … Tame thief … Thinks smarter … Always looks down.” Neal’s eyes started to close as the adrenaline wore off and silence filled the room over the disjointed thoughts out of control.

Moz had almost slipped free when Dr. Royce moved toward them bringing Neal alert, pulling Moz into his lap. The smaller man flushed at Neal’s manhandling, but relaxed and let him have his way. The position had the advantage of allowing Moz to whisper reassurances in his ear. His slipped into Gaelic, a tongue twisting language the fixer and thief had learned for a con and kept for private conversations in a crowd.

With Peter and Moz’s help they got Neal back into bed. After a quick check of his vitals, Dr. Royce left to set up a battery of tests. Watching Neal fight sleep because he was he the room, Peter and Elizabeth said goodnight, with a promise to return the next day. Knowing it would do no good to protest, Neal nodded before allowing his eyes to drift closed.

~*~*~*~

Once the door of the hospital closed behind them, Peter waited for his wife’s wrath. He knew she would never embarrass him in public, but once they were in the car he figured the gloves would come off. She surprised him by not saying a single word until he locked the door after walking Satchmo.

“You better have an explanation as to why a man you profess to care enough about to consider bringing into our lives …” She turned to glare at her husband. “Believes you think he’s less than you. Why do you isolate him? I thought you didn’t like Kate because she always hurt Neal, but it seems you’ve managed to hurt him just as much.”

She paled as a thought struck her. “Is there something going on at work that makes you treat him like that? My God, Peter, Neal’s a master thief. I know you’re highly intelligent, but you don’t use someone you love as bait and not tell them, then lord your ‘master plan’ over them. You don’t treat Diana and Jones like that do you?”

“God no. Diana’d have my nuts in a vice.” Peter paled.

“Is it because Neal won’t retaliate?” Elizabeth’s got wide. “You’re afraid … Afraid if you admit to wanting Neal to be the alpha at home he won’t let you be in control at work.”

Peter opened his mouth to refute her words, but they were always honest with each other and he wouldn’t start lying now.

“You’ll need to tell Neal this when you talk.” Elizabeth narrowed her eyes at Peter’s expression. “Peter …” Then another thought made her stop. “Unless you’ve changed your mind.”

‘No I haven’t changed my mind.” Peter answered solemnly. “I promise I’ll explain and hopefully Neal will forgive me.”

They both breathed a sigh of relief when after a day of wires and machines Neal was given a clean bill of health. Dr. Royce told Neal he could go home the next day, the stitches would dissolve over time, but to take a few extra days before going back to work She reminded him if he had any problems with headaches, blurry vision, or dizziness he was to call her immediately.

Peter and Elizabeth offered to take Neal home, but the thief declined politely while watching Peter out of the corner of his eye. June was sending her driver for him.

Neal got quiet after Dr. Royce left, but he watched Peter closely. Elizabeth watched the silent dance going on between the two men. She finally threw her hands in the air.

“Would you two get on with whatever it is you’re not talking about?” She stood with her hands on her hips.

Peter licked his lips trying to wet his mouth. He reached in his pocket. “Neal, now that you’re back to yourself, you need to put the anklet back on.”

“Yes, well … All good things must come to an end.” Neal sighed as he set his foot on the bed for Peter to fasten the electronic tracker. He tried to mask it, but Peter and Elizabeth both caught the minute flinch when the lock snapped. “I’ll see you at the office in a few days.” Neal looked away, embarrassed.

The tracker was usually covered by his pants, and could be relegated to a back corner of his mind, but this … This reminded him that he was not his own person, and this man who managed to keep him off kilter, held the end of a very short leash.

Peter and Elizabeth exchanged a look, but didn’t know how to comfort the younger man. It was Elizabeth that brushed Neal’s arm with gentle fingers while giving him a soft smile before moving to Peter’s side. Blue eyes wide, they flew to Peter, whose expression was just as soft as Elizabeth’s. Not able to deal with the added weight of their emotions with the turmoil in his re-awakened memory, he dropped his eyes.

By his third day home, Neal’s headaches had subsided, his natural exuberance beginning to return. He tried working on his art, but his mind was full of jumbled images that transmitted themselves to the page. Calling Hughes, he got two things … An appointment, and the fact that Peter was in court. Neal changed and was soon sitting in the Agent In Charge’s office, a small attaché case sitting in front of Hughes.

“You’re voluntarily giving this stuff back?”

Neal wore his customary smirk. “You know I don’t do guns … That ID probably has more red flags than the running of the bulls, and between you and me … Handcuffs just aren’t my ‘thing’.”

He older man flushed. “And in return for this good deed?”

The humor fled from the handsome face. “I need to go over the files I … We … To help settle the memories and images floating to the surface.”

“Your idea?” Hughes seemed skeptical.

“Dr. Royce actually.” Neal pulled a letter out of his pocket.

Hughes studied Neal for a few seconds after reading the letter. Then seeming to make a decision, he moved to a locked cabinet. He paused before handing Neal two accordion folders.

“I don’t suppose it would do any good to have you talk to a Bureau psychologist?”

Neal chuckled. “And people say you don’t have a sense of humor … Sir.”

Hughes signed at the thief’s impertinence.

“You can read them over there.” He indicated a table and chair in to the corner. “Those don’t leave this room and you don’t talk about what you read.” His tone brooked no argument.

Neal absorbed all the ramifications of that order then simply nodded his face devoid of its usual cockiness.

It was close to the end of the day when Peter returned from court. He was making notations in his case files when he noticed Jones and Diana stealing furtive glances towards Hughes’ office.

“Alright you two.” The junior agents swiveled around to face their boss. “What’s so fascinating about Hughes’ office?” He grinned at their guilty expressions.

They looked at each other, the door, then back at Peter.

“You got seniority.” Jones shrugged at Diana’s glare.

“I’m sure it’s nothing.” Diana hurried on seeing Peter’s raised eyebrows at the statement. “Neal went in Hughes’ office about ten with an attaché case and Hughes’ she dragon of an admin hasn’t let anyone in since.”

Peter looked at his watch. “That was six hours ago.”

The agents nodded. “We’ve all tried, but no one gets by her.”

They looked at Peter expectantly.

“Oh no. That woman knows more dirt and dirty tricks than all the agencies combined, besides she’s always had a soft spot for Neal … But … Maybe …” He moved towards Hughes’ office.

“Can I help you, Agent Burke?”

“Ah yes, Mrs. Stanton. I was just getting ready to leave and wanted to offer Neal a ride home.”

The admin’s smile was wicked. “Neal and Agent Hughes left hours ago, Agent Burke.” She looked over the top of her glasses and smiled like the cat in the cream.

“Thank you, Mrs. Stanton.” Peter ground out.

He went by June’s on the way home only to be turned away by her majordomo who informed him Master Caffrey had retired after a dose of pain medication.

The next morning Neal was already sorting through the morning’s printouts of chatter and alerts on BOLOs and APBs when the rest of the White Collar division agents arrived. He hung up the phone when Peter stopped at his desk.

“Good morning, Peter.” Neal’s tone was wary.

“Neal. Who was on the phone?” Peter’s tone was more sharp than curious.

Neal’s face cleared of any expression. Peter flinched at the handsome face devoid of emotion. It reminded him of Neal when he thought he was Matthew Burns. Not one to back down voluntarily in a roomful of junior agents, he continued as though nothing happened.

“Well?”

“Mrs. Stanton.” The bland voice made Peter’s skin crawl.

“About?” He let his irritation show.

“Agent Burke.” Mrs. Stanton called across the bull pen that became strangely silent.

Peter sincerely wished for a large crack to open in the earth for him to hide … But alas.

“If you’re finished dawdling, I have your morning bulletins.”

Peter flushed as he walked across the room.

“Of course, Mrs. Stanton. Thank you.” Peter headed for the sanctuary of his office.

When he looked out the wall of glass, Neal had turned his attention back to his printouts.

~*~*~*~

Neal spent a lot of time coming up with and rejecting plans for getting the music box from Diana while at the same time convincing himself that the looks and emotions he thought he saw from Peter and Elizabeth at the hospital, and afterward were simply drug induced fantasies or flights of fancy on his part until Peter had gone undercover as an auditing CPA at that tech company and got his fool self poisoned.

He had been terrified as he’d raced through all the checkpoints ahead of the paramedics. He petitioned St. Nickolas, the patron saint of thieves that he wasn’t too late. He’d sat with Elizabeth curled in his arms as they waited for word from the doctors that they had gotten the antidote to Peter in time.

Once Elizabeth was allowed in Peter’s room, Neal had stood at the door and watched the couple. He’d wanted to walk over to the bed with her, but their love for each other was such a palatable thing he felt like a voyeur standing at the door watching them. Elizabeth had turned to pull Neal to them to find the door closing silently.

~*~*~*~

On bad days, Neal would think about using the key to his tracker he’d lifted off the crooked Marshall, and steal the music box himself. He wanted to save his one ace in the hole. He had a feeling that whatever had Diana and Jones acting like hounds on a scent could prove to be more important.

He sat in his darkened apartment watching the city lights glint off the cherub Alex had given him. It was the most important piece to the puzzle of the music box that was frustrating Peter. All Neal had to do was watch and be patient. Peter lied repeatedly to him, than would tell him he’d lied. Like the grifter didn’t know when he was being played, but away from the office, Peter and Elizabeth acted like they were courting him. If he hadn’t already spent half the year with his memory skewed, this would be a mind fuck. What was happening now was nearly intolerable to Neal. His heart and head were in constant turmoil. He knew Moz constantly worried about his choices and actions. He was still sitting in front of the large windows when dawn lit the sky, the cherub resting over his heart.

Peter was combing through Garrett Fowler’s files when Diana hurried into his office, careful to close the door.

“We got a hit on Fowler.”

“Where?”

After she left with Jones to check the bank’s video footage, Peter sat watching Neal as his mind turned over different scenarios. What would happen if they found Fowler, and the impact on the younger man. He and El weren’t any closer to getting Neal to come to them. Part of that was his fault. His plans against Neal machinations constantly damaged any trust he built with the thief. This newest lead on Fowler had the potential to drive Neal into doing something foolish. Tasking Mozzie with letting him know if Neal started to break eased some of his worry, but not by much.

Though it took everything to not slip his leash, Neal helped Peter orchestrate a con to flush Fowler into the open. When Peter forbade him from being in on bust, Neal stood without a word and left. With a look Peter kept Diana in her chair until Jones left his office.

“I need you to bring me the box.”

“Are you sure?”

“We have to tell him or we’ll lose him.” He rubbed his hands over his face. “We may lose him anyway.”

Diana squeezed his shoulder in sympathy as she went out the door.

Neal was looking for his corkscrew when someone knocked on his door. He was shocked to find Peter standing at the door with a satchel in his hand. Neal cocked his head quizzically when Peter simply waited. He never waited to be invited inside. Peter felt he was entitled to barge into any aspect of Neal’s life without regard to his wishes.

Neal moved back to the table and his bottle of wine.

“What do you want, Peter?” He never looked back as the door closed.

“To give you something.” Peter stated simply. When he finally had Neal’s attention, he set the satchel on the table. Opening the clasp, he pulled the amber music box out of the satchel.

“Couldn’t figure it out by yourselves?” The thief’s tone was bitter.

Peter had the good grace to flush. “No. There seems to be a piece missing … Here.”

Neal reached into his breast pocket and pulled out the cherub and inserted it into place. Finding the hidden comb he inserted it into the music box. The melody wasn’t familiar to either man. Neal was on the phone with Mozzie before Peter could even think to ask. The two men were so absorbed in their puzzle, Peter felt invisible. He left hoping Neal would call him if they found anything, but part of him was afraid.

Excited Moz pulled Neal out of the mansion into a cab. “Do I need to call Peter so he doesn’t think I’m going off the farm?” Neal smiled at Mozzie’s excitement.

Moz frowned. “If you have to.” He pouted.

Neal smiled softly at the man who had stuck with him through the best and the worst of his life. He made a quick call to Peter then turned his attention back to Moz.

“Mozzie,” the older man turned at the seriousness in Neal’s voice, “Thank you, old friend.” He pulled Moz against his chest and placed a gentle kiss on the bald head.

The expression on Neal’s face frightened Moz. As well as Neal read him, he could read Neal. His face said that he had made a decision and made his peace with the consequences of that decision.

“Neal?”

“We’re here.” Neal’s smile would have made angels weep.

Moz kept his own counsel as Peter pulled up to the curb as they exited the cab. Then he got lost in talk of codes and ciphers and past triumphs with Akihiro while Peter watched and Neal poked through the shop like a curious cat. Everyone was in the back of the shop when Neal surreptitiously checked camera angles. When he moved a silver revolver had disappeared from the display case.

Peter picked up his ringing phone not taking his eyes off the file he was reading.

“You know how you wanted me to call you when I thought Neal was going to do something crazy?” A familiar voice came down the line.

“Moz?”

“Neal’s going to the museum …” he paused as if forcing himself to confide in the suits. “… He has a gun.”

Peter’s blood ran cold as he ran from the office yelling for Diana and Jones.

It was done. All the planning, speculating, preparing himself mentally to once again have blood on his hands, and when it came down to brass tacks he couldn’t shoot Fowler. The former agent was just a pathetic pawn in a much more elaborate game.

He stood quietly waiting for whatever was going to happen next. Probably back to prison. At the moment he couldn’t bring himself to care. He came out of stupor when Peter told him to go home.

He’d just poured a glass of wine and was starting to run through the options of where they go from here when there was pounding on his door. When he turned the lock, Peter burst through the door.

“Thank God.” Peter said, acting like he was about to hug Neal.

“What’s going on, Peter?” Neal stood very still.

“Someone shot Tanaka. They had a still of the store’s video on the screen. It was showing you. I thought maybe the shooter had come here.”

“Was anything taken?”

“His clothes were disarranged like someone was searching for something.”

“The code.” Neal’s eyes got wide. “Peter, I wasn’t the only one in the video.”

“Mozzie!” They said together running out the door.

“He was going back to Akihiro’s to compare notes and have dinner.” Neal cursed the evening traffic. “He likes to take the bus. He thinks it makes it harder to track him, so check the bus stop closest to Tavern on The Green.”

Neal was out of the car before Peter stopped running for the group of people starting to gather around a bench.

“Did someone call 911!?” Neal yelled as he landed on his knees next to his friend.

“I did,” an older woman answered, “but I didn’t know what else to do for him.”

“Thank you.” Neal’s tone was sincere.

He heard Peter barking orders into his phone as Neal opened Moz’s jacket and saw the bullet wound near his heart and Moz’s unseeing eyes.

There was a pulse, but it was weak and he was barely breathing.

“Oh God, Moz, don’t you leave me, too.” Neal whispered frantically as he propped the smaller man against his chest hoping to make it easier for him to breathe.

The only indication Mozzie made that he heard was a small whimper of pain.

“Please hold on.” Neal put pressure on the wound trying to staunch the blood.

“The ambulance is close. We got here in time.”

The arctic colored eyes were frigid when they met Peter’s. “Getting here in time would mean he never got shot and we got the bastard who did this.” Neal hissed low.

Peter sat back on his heels at the venom in Neal’s voice. “Neal, there was no way to know …”

“Did you know about Fowler when you made me the deal?” Neal’s voice was devoid of any emotion.

“We knew something wasn’t right, but we didn’t know what until we traced one of his calls to Kate’s cell phone.”

“So I’m the only one this little plan of yours hasn’t gotten killed?” Neal’s tone was bitter.

Paramedics started pushing through the crowd. Neal’s arms tightened around Mozzie.

“Neal.” Peter’s tone was begging.

“Bait.” Neal shook his head. “Always the bait.”

“Neal, no.”

“Sir, you have to let us have your friend now.” A no nonsense female EMT touched Neal’s shoulder lightly.

“He’s all I have left.” Neal’s eyes were begging as he slid from behind Moz.

“I promise we’ll take real good care of him. What’s his name?”

“Mozzie. I’ll be coming to the hospital to take care of the details.” He said calmly.

“Neal, your tracker …” Peter started.

“Fuck my tracker, and your deal. You and your band of merry men who think because we’re thieves … We’re expendable. YOU …” Neal made sure Peter knew he meant him. “Have cost me everything.” the tone was hard. “Everything.” His voice was quiet. “Tell Elizabeth it would have been great.”

A chill ran down Peter’s spine.

“Neal … Please don’t do anything foolish … El and I … We …”

“Oh I’m not going to do anything foolish, Peter.” Neal’s tone was almost sinister.

That didn’t guarantee what Nick Halden was going to do.

Neal climbed into the ambulance and slammed the door.

~ Finis ~

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