Summary: Peter knows Neal's going to leave. The question is whether he'll come back.
A/N: Originally comment fic. The original prompt is there, if you want to see it, but beware of spoilers. Posting while supposed to be working... I'm bored and feel like flouting rules. ;)
Disclaimer: I don't own, I don't make any money for this, etc. Don't sue.
Beta: Thank you again, Shirley!
"You're going to run, aren't you."
It's not a question; it's a statement, however much he might wish it were otherwise.
Got key from Marshals. Can't believe this is finally happening. Aren't you proud of him? - D
IT WASN'T A CEREMONY or anything. It was Neal Caffrey, walking into the FBI building with a swagger and a grin to eclipse a blue star, wearing a Devore and that infamous hat. Smiling at everybody widely, greeting them all by name. He's had years to get to know each and every one of them, after all.
Up to the twenty-first floor, past the glass doors - Peter, trailing behind him with something resembling a smile on his lips. If nothing else, it was great to see Neal like this. When Neal was happy, truly happy, he lit up the room and stole the show. It was infectious and wonderful just being nearby, and seeing Neal happy was almost enough to make him happy.
But not quite.
"You know why, or you wouldn't be asking that question."
Of course he knows why: it's because he has to. It's what he does, instinctively. He runs everywhere, finding his little bit of fun and adventure before he takes off for another place, all shiny and bright and ripe for the taking. Four years cooped up in the same city - even excluding that one trip out to Quantico - it wasn't right. It wasn't enough.
He was going to leave. It boiled in his blood and showed in every little twitch, proved itself with every slip of the handcuffs and little-not-little misstep towards the shadier side of life.
He has to run. It's natural. It's necessary.
It doesn't make it any less difficult for the people he always leaves behind.
To: Peter, Elizabeth
You have no idea how long I have wanted to do this.
He's wanted to stand on the top of the Empire State Building since he first saw the movie Spiderman with Kate, before he was caught.
It's adorable how you stalk the people you care about, you know. xxx
IT WAS AS SIMPLE as this: Hughes said thanks, and took the key from Diana. He shook Neal's hand, as an equal. It was the kind of respect that only comes from long-time comradeship, and it showed Neal's place in the bureau. He hadn't been the low-class CI for a long, long time. He was loved. He was one of the team.
And now, Hughes was free to show that, and did so with a simple and firm handshake.
Neal was shaking a little. It might have been because he wanted to go, move-move-move, get out already. Peter thought it wasn't. Peter thought that Neal was amazed and completely floored by Hughes, who always seemed to tolerate Neal rather than like him.
Hughes bent over, and within moments, Neal Caffrey was free - legitimately free. Free for the first time in almost a decade.
He grinned at Diana - stepped forward, kissed her cheek in that charming way she hated/loved so much. He gave Jones a manly, back-slapping hug. He shook Hughes' hand, this time in a manner more comic and far more befitting of Neal's playful nature.
Then Neal swung around. His ever-so-quick arms darted out and yanked Peter forward by the collar of his shirt, and then their lips connected. Peter was too stunned to do much of anything but enjoy it, and it only lasted a moment or two - but Neal was passionate, and it was very, very obvious that his intentions here were less than discreet.
Normally Peter would have given that kiss right back, but frankly, his mind was rather frozen on the fact that Diana, Jones, and Hughes were in the room. Oh, and the rest of the office could see through the glass.
It ended. Neal grinned, obviously enjoying the fact that he had rendered Peter Burke speechless. "Bye," he said. He did that annoying little hat-flip, winked, and left with chaos in his wake.
Diana asked something ("What the hell-") but Peter didn't particularly hear that, nor did he notice the amused quirk of Hughes' right eyebrow or the unrestrained guffaws coming from Jones.
He walked out of the room, went to his office, shut the door, and buried himself in paperwork.
Neal was gone, and while he hoped, really hoped... He knew Neal better than anybody. And he knew that Neal might not be coming back.
"You'll break El's heart."
"I know. But she'll be okay."
The implication is that he won't. Which is true, of course. Yes, there is El, and yes, they love her, and she loves them, but their relationship to each other is different. They have this awkward, powerful co-dependency that can't possibly be healthy for either. One of them can handle it, but the other is afraid, no, terrified. What will life be like without this constant, consuming chase?
He has his wife to hold him, but she'll be nursing her own wounds, too. And the other will be stuck on his own. Must be stuck on his own.
"You don't mean that."
"I wish I did, though."
Picked up Thai. You okay? xxx
Thanks. On my way. Love you.
AS PROMISED, WHEN PETER walked in that evening, El was waiting at the kitchen table with the Thai already arranged.
Peter dropped his coat over the couch and sat down at the table, allowing his shoulders to slump and his head to droop.
"Oh, honey..." Peter said nothing, so El sighed. She pulled one of the boxes forward and opened it. "Here. Just eat. You don't have to talk, just eat."
His wife was brilliant. Peter gave her the tiniest hint of a smile, and slowly began to do as he was told. Convinced he was going to eat, El grabbed a box for herself.
There was a comfortable silence, but as Peter was finishing his meal, El broke it. "He'll come back," El said.
Peter suddenly pushed his chair away from the table. "Don't," he said firmly.
"He will," El said more firmly, putting her hand on Peter's shoulder. "Peter, look at me."
"He loves us. I know you two are too emotion-phobic to ever say it, but you know he does."
"So what? He loved his family."
"That doesn't mean his family loved him back. Not unconditionally, the way we do." El read the files, of course. She would know.
"I know," Peter replied. "I can't help it. I'm sorry, El, but I can't help but worry. I don't want this to be goodbye. I don't want him to go."
And it was obvious that he had been holding himself together all day, and now he was falling apart.
It was like a daze. It was like he was mourning Neal, rather than missing him. And El was heartbroken too, of course, but she had hope and faith that Neal would return. Peter was too practical for that. He envied her, dearly.
She cleaned the dishes, and set him to the task of putting them in the dishwasher - mindless, pleasant. They watched some television - he held her, and they snuggled into the couch, and it was nice, but there was that extra piece missing. It was too quiet. He'd never before noticed just how much space Neal seemed to take.
They went to bed early. El reached over and took his phone, shutting it off. She clicked a button, and then turned hers off.
She kissed him, sweetly, and oh, how he loved this woman.
They fell asleep, clinging to each other like drowning swimmers to lifeboats. Desperately.
From: Mrs. Suit
Do you know where he is?
To: Mrs. Suit
He hasn't contacted me. I have guesses. None of them good. Crossing my fingers for you, though.
INITIALLY, EL THOUGHT IT was a raccoon, or some other invasive and unwanted rodent infiltrating their home.
There was a thump-thumpity-thump from downstairs. It woke El up, who woke Peter up, who was already half-awake and trying feign sleep.
"I know, I hear it."
"No, I'll go look. You stay. It's two in the morning. Get some sleep."
"I'll look with you," Peter mumbled, ignoring her protests. "Just - give me a moment..."
Peter blinked and swung himself out of bed, while El stretched out a little, yawning. Wary, Peter took hold of the bat he kept in the corner of the closet and was first out the door, with El close behind.
He crept down the stairs, blinking as his vision tried to adjust to the darkness. He couldn't see. Nothing seemed strange - no - there, a shape in the kitchen.
El turned, flicked the lights on, and Peter raised the bat just in case -
Eating a sandwich.
He stared at them, and then gave a sheepish little grin. "I got hungry," he explained. It really wasn't an explanation at all.
El, of course, reacted first. She grinned and jumped forward, hugging him from around the chair. "Neal!"
"El!" he cheered back, beaming, and he gave her a quick peck on the lips that made her giggle. It amused Peter, sometimes, how Neal and El were like teenagers, like it was their first time in love, and didn't even realize it.
"We thought you were a rat or a burglar or something!"
"Sorry! But I was really feeling like a turkey sandwich, and it was two am..."
He sighed. "I know. I know!"
Peter stayed back, content to let El handle this while he fought himself for please, just a bit of self-control.
"I ran," he said, and Peter heard the guilt. "I went all around the city - you got my picture, right?"
"Yes. Cute, Neal."
"I thought so, too!" He said, grinning again - and then, mercurial as ever, he was once again serious. "I ran across the city, going to all these places I hadn't been because it was out of my radius. I went to the suburbs, drove around a while -"
"Did you hot-wire a car?" Peter asked, accusing, but he didn't really mean it.
"No, and I'm hurt you think that," Neal proclaimed, pouting theatrically. "I'm a reformed and free man. I borrowed one." Which meant he probably took one of June's cars, but as part of his little game with Peter he was keeping his wording vague as though he had, in fact, committed a crime.
"Go on, dear," El said to Neal, shooting a less than subtle glare at her husband.
"Right, well. I kept going around, and then I just realized I wanted a turkey sandwich. I didn't really want all the ritzy restaurants I could find in Chicago, or maybe Las Vegas. That's where I thought I was going. But I ended up back here."
That sounded like it could be a deep metaphor for Neal Caffrey's life, but Peter didn't feel like dwelling too much on that subject.
Neal looked up, shy beneath his lashes. "I don't want to leave. Can I just stay with you?"
He said it earnestly, hopefully. As if he thought he might be turned down. The very idea that Peter or El might say no was silly, but that had been Neal's lot in life so far. Not everybody wanted him, no matter how hard he tried to charm them. Neal didn't need charm for Peter and El, though.
El hugged Neal warmly. "Of course," she said, but that was only half of the answer.
Peter stepped forward, feeling the anger and guilt and misery of the day just melt away, even at two am, even wearing only his boxers and knowing Neal's mouth probably smelled and tasted of cold lunch meat.
He cupped Neal's chin, and looked at Neal's impossibly wide blue eyes, smiling. A kiss, short, but unlike their usual fare. It wasn't passionate so much as it was emotional, for once. There was no urgency - just slow, burning love and care, tongues and lips wrapped up in each other almost inextricably.
Peter rested his forehead against Neal's and smiled.
"I'm still going to run."
"But I'll come back."
"You can't promise me that and you know it."
"Can I promise I'll try, at least?"
"Peter. Please. Trust me."
He sighs, and gives in, just a little. He lets himself lean against Neal, curling himself around the crook of Neal's sculpture worthy neck, sighing.
"Okay," he says. "I trust you."
Neal combs a hand through Peter's hair, and kisses Peter's curved ear, and holds on as though he'll never let go.