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Fic - Awake My Soul, Part II
New Yorkers like black, By the Book
doctor_fangeek
See Part I for warnings, summary, and author's note.


I will hold on hope,
and I won’t let you choke
on the noose around your neck.


Peter stands outside Neal’s door. He raises a hand to knock, hesitates, then drops it back to his side. He takes a deep breath. “Cowboy up, Burke,” he says to himself. He raises his hand again, and raps on the door. And waits. He knows Neal is home – he’s pulled up his tracking data. Still, there’s no answer, so he knocks again, a little louder this time.

He’s about to knock again, to call out and announce his presence, when the door swings open. Neal is standing there in the doorway, dressed only in a pair of dark blue sleep pants and a white short-sleeve t-shirt.

“Peter?” he says, looking surprised.

“Neal.”

Neither man moves for several seconds.

“You said the door was open any time,” Peter finally says.

Neal raises an eyebrow at this, but opens the door the rest of the way and steps aside. “I did,” he replies, watching Peter step past him into the apartment, then pushing the door shut. “So, what brings you here on a Sunday morning? Please don’t tell me there’s a new case that’s so important we’re working today.”

“No,” Peter says, shaking his head. “I’m not here on business.”

Neal just looks at him expectantly.

“We need to talk.”

Neal gestures at the table, where there is a carafe of what smells like June’s Italian roast, along with a plate on which sits a croissant and a couple of over easy eggs. Peter sits while Neal moves back to the kitchenette area.

“Croissant?” he asks, before opening the refrigerator and pulling out the butter.

“I’m good,” Peter says, sitting down.

Neal grabs a second mug and comes back to the table, handing the mug to Peter and sitting down.

“I hope you don’t mind,” he says, gesturing at the plate in front of him.

The whole scene is almost frighteningly normal, and Neal is nothing if not polite, despite the underlying tension. Peter drinks his coffee and gives Neal a few minutes to eat in peace. Of course he’s not delaying because of his own uncertainty.

Neal says nothing, just carries on eating his breakfast. He’s not making this any easier. Eventually, however, he breaks the silence with a sigh, pushing his plate away, the food half-eaten.

“You’re not here on a case, and I doubt you came by just to watch me eat. What’s going on, Peter?” Neal’s tone is deliberately casual.

Peter takes a deep breath. He feels like he’s flying blind, not at all sure how to do what he’s come here to do, afraid of a misstep that will make things worse rather than better.

“This path you and Mozzie are on,” he says, “It can only end badly.”

“For whom?” Neal responds, and Peter is somewhat surprised at the lack of denial. Then again, though Neal hasn’t admitted to anything, he’s not professing his innocence either. Perhaps it’s not so surprising after all. “I’ve never lied to you,” Neal had said to him. More than once, actually. And he’s excellent at deflecting. If Peter pushes, asks the right questions this time…. But no. He wants Neal to stay, and backing him into a corner is not going to help with that.

“For anyone,” Peter finally replies. He doesn’t want to have to chase Neal down again, see him go back to prison, and he doesn’t want to think about the alternative.

“For you?” Neal counters.

“This isn’t about me,” Peter says. Sure, it will look bad if Neal takes off, especially if he is allegedly in possession stolen art. But Peter’s career can take the hit. Neal’s done a lot of good work for the white collar unit, Peter’s hardly the only one who sees that, and Hughes will have Peter’s back.

Except it is about him, just not about his career.

He wants to back up and explain that, make Neal understand, but he doesn’t get a chance before Neal’s next words. “You said I deserved some happiness, Peter,” he says, and the implication is that Peter is interfering with his pursuit of that happiness.

Except that Neal doesn’t sound all that sure that leaving with Mozzie and the loot – the elephant in the room they both seem to know they’re talking about – will make him happy. Peter looks at him more closely. He looks…tired, worn around the edges.

“You do,” Peter replies simply, waiting to see where Neal will go with this.

“Then why are you here, Peter?”

Peter doesn’t answer immediately. He feels like they are teetering on the edge of a precipice. Their mutual silence hangs heavy between them, but Peter doesn’t know what to say, is almost afraid to speak.

“What do you want from me, Peter?” Neal finally asks, sounding pained.

“I want you to do the right thing!” Peter says. It comes out sharper than he intended, and he knows almost as soon as the words are out that it was the wrong thing to say. Not to mention it’s only a very small part of the truth.

“It’s not that simple.” Neal says, his voice overly calm and controlled. Peter can see him closing himself off, the walls coming up.

“Dammit,” Peter thinks to himself. It sounds overly dramatic, even in the privacy of his own head, but Peter is afraid that if he can’t get through to Neal now he will lose him for good.

“Neal,” he says, pleading with the other man to listen. “Look. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”

“I think you did.”

Peter sighs heavily. “Maybe.”

Neal just looks at him, disbelief plain on his face.

“Fine,” Peter says. “It’s the truth. But it’s not really the answer to your question.”

Neal actually hesitates for a moment, looking uncertain, before his expression hardens. “It doesn’t matter,” he says with a shrug.

“Neal?”

“What do you want to hear, Peter? No matter what I do, I’ll never be the man you want me to be. You can force the man away from the con….”

“It wasn’t that long ago, you told me you didn’t want to run anymore,” Peter counters.

“And you once told me I had a life here, people who cared about me.”

“That’s still true, Neal.”

“Until I screw up again,” Neal responds, hanging his head. “Or until you think I’ve screwed up.” Neal sounds sad now, and tired, and there’s something off about that, but Peter can’t quite figure out what it is. “I tried to be a man,” he says, and Peter feels like he’s lost the thread of the conversation. “I told Adler no, and not just because of what happened to Kate. I told you the truth, Peter. I didn’t steal the treasure.”

And it hits Peter, what’s wrong here. The words Neal is saying – there’s no bitterness or anger, only resignation. And how much of that stems from that one moment, after the explosion, when Peter, who has always kept telling Neal that he could change, jumped to the conclusion that he hadn’t? This isn’t going at all as Peter had planned, and he doesn’t know how to fix it. “Give him a reason to stay,” Elizabeth said.

“Neal. Stop.”

Neal raises weary eyes to look at Peter.

“You asked me before, what I want from you.” Peter is willing Neal to listen, really listen. “I want you to stay.”

“Why?” Neal asks, and he seems genuinely uncertain.

“I would miss you.”

“Really?” Neal replies, and he does sound bitter now. “I mean, you’re an FBI agent, and I’m a con, and that’s all I’ll ever be.”

“Neal. We were running a con for a case. It wasn’t real.”

“You’re sure about that?”

“So what, you meant what you said about my wife?”

Neal’s eyes go wide at that, and then he quickly looks away. “Peter. I would never,” he says, sounding uncharacteristically uncertain. “I respect El too much. I respect you too much.”

“I know,” Peter says. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that.” This whole conversation still seems to be spiraling out of control. Peter was supposed to be convincing Neal to stay, not arguing with him or accusing him of wanting to make time with Peter’s wife on the side.

Neal doesn’t say anything, just carries on looking at his feet.

“Neal,” Peter said, quietly.

“Neal,” a little more firmly this time. “Look at me. Please.”

When Neal finally lifts his gaze back to Peter’s, his expression is pure misery.

“Whatever else you may think I’ve done,” he says, sounding just as miserable as he looks. “I wouldn’t…”

“Neal, I know. I believe you. And I’m sorry. I didn’t come here to fight with you.”

Neal doesn’t look entirely convinced.

“I really am terrible at this,” Peter mutters to himself under his breath.

“What?” Neal asks

“I said I’m terrible at this,” Peter replies. He really needs to just cowboy up and tell Neal the truth. “I didn’t come here to argue you with you,” he says.

Neal is looking at him skeptically, but seems to be waiting for the rest of whatever Peter is going to say.

“I came to tell you that I want you to stay. You mean too much to me. I don’t want you to go.”

That’s the best Peter can do at the moment, and he wills Neal to understand him, to hear what he's not quite able to say. And somehow, whether it’s something in Peter’s eyes or maybe in his voice, or whether it’s just Neal being Neal, it seems that he does. There is confusion on Neal’s face at first, then dawning understanding. And then he is looking at Peter with something akin to wonder, a smile starting to form. Peter feels like a weight has been lifted from his chest. He takes a step forward, closing the distance between them, but it’s like a spell has been broken. The smile slips from Neal’s face and he backs up, one step, then two.

“Neal?” Peter says, feeling lost again.

“Peter. I. This is….” Neal pauses, frowning, looks at floor, then looks back up at Peter. “You should go.”

“Neal?” Peter wishes – and not for the first time – that he could get a look inside Neal’s head. He can see the wheels turning, knows something has stolen the smile from Neal’s face, but he doesn’t know what, and he has the sinking feeling that Neal isn’t about to tell him.

The elation of a moment ago, when this conversation they’ve been having finally seemed to be going the way he’d meant it to from the start, is gone. At first Neal looks like he’s going to shut down completely. Peter feels a little desperate, but he doesn’t know what to do or say to make this better. After a moment, though, Neal’s expression softens somewhat.

“It’s not that I don’t want this,” he says, though it sounds like every word is an effort. “That I don’t want you. But you have to know it’s a bad idea. For so many reasons.”

Peter knows he can’t really argue that point, but even as he casts about for a response he realizes that his gut is telling him that something seems off about the turn the conversation has just taken.

“And?” he asks, as if all the many ways in which a relationship between Peter Burke, FBI agent, and Neal Caffrey, Criminal Informant is a bad idea are not reason enough.

Neal looks surprised, as if he didn’t expect Peter to press the point. Then a pained look appears on his face. Neal stays silent, perhaps waiting for Peter to give in. For a long moment they just look at each other and neither of them speaks. Finally, Neal breaks eye contact.

“There are things you don’t know, Peter,” he says, and if anything he sounds more miserable than before.

“Then talk to me, Neal. We can figure this out.”

“You don’t know that.” There’s another long pause. “Look, Peter, I…I can’t do this right now.”

Peter closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He’s worried that pushing Neal right now will only make things worse, but he’s almost as afraid that if he does nothing his attempt to convince Neal to stay will end up backfiring, and Neal will be gone in the morning.

“I’m not leaving Peter,” Neal says, as if Peter had spoken his thoughts aloud. “I just need some time to think.”

As upset as Peter is, it’s not an unreasonable request. “You’ll be at the office in the morning?”

Neal doesn’t speak, but nods his head yes.

Peter wants nothing more than to drag Neal back to Brooklyn with him, or at the very least to force Neal to say the words, to promise to stay, if only for now. But he thinks back to that day on the docks, to the accusations he wishes he could take back, and he takes a deep breath and says, “Okay.”

Neal looks up at that, clearly surprised. And relieved.

“Thanks,” Neal says, and he sounds genuinely grateful. Peter thinks that he has perhaps finally done something right in this conversation.

And after he’s made his way to the door and is about to leave, he wants badly to ask Neal one more time, to confirm that the other man isn’t going anywhere.

“My door is open any time,” he says instead. “When you’re ready.”


Love, it will not betray you,
dismay or enslave you.
It will set you free.
Be more like the man
you were made to be.


Peter is sure – mostly – that he did the right thing, backing off, giving Neal the time he’d asked for. Elizabeth had agreed when he told her what had happened, and she is usually right about these things. But that doesn’t make the waiting any easier. When Peter had gotten home, Elizabeth had been disappointed that Neal wasn’t with him, but she had understood, and had listened patiently to Peter’s recounting of his morning’s misadventures. She’d only sighed, “Oh, hon,” once or twice, so Peter decided things were maybe not quite as bad as he’d thought.

Since then, Peter has walked Satchmo – twice, much to the Lab’s delight – worked on the leaky faucet in the kitchen, and gone to the grocery story. Elizabeth spent much of the afternoon on the sofa with her laptop, doing research for a client she is meeting with Monday afternoon, though Peter suspects that she hasn’t been quite as productive as she normally would. Maybe it was the unusual number of trips to the kitchen for beverages. Or possibly how eager she was to volunteer to go pick up the takeout they decided to order for dinner.

Now the plates have been cleaned up and put away, the laundry is in the dryer, and Peter is sitting with his wife on the sofa, watching the Yankees beat the Red Sox. Normally this would be cause for at least some measure of excitement, but Peter is more than a little distracted. He tries not to think too much about Neal, or about where he is or what he is doing. He said that he wasn’t leaving, and Peter wants to believe him. Elizabeth does her best to keep him occupied. They watch the game, and she tells him stories about some of her latest clients and asks him about his various co-workers not named Neal Caffrey. It’s about 9 o’clock, and Elizabeth has just gotten up to make them some tea, when there is a knock at the door. She turns back to Peter, “Are you expecting anyone?” the unspoken question on her face. Peter shrugs, at just as much of a loss as his wife, and watches as Elizabeth heads to the front door, pulls the curtain aside to look out, and opens the door.

“Neal?” she says, surprised, and Peter’s head whips around.

“Elizabeth,” Neal says. He sounds nervous. “I…um…I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

“Not at all.”

“If this isn’t a good time,” Neal says before El can say anything more, “I can come back later. I mean, tomorrow?”

“It’s fine, Neal,” Elizabeth says, reaching out to take his hand. Her voice is quiet, and she’s moving slowly, as if she’s trying to coax along a skittish horse, or maybe a wounded animal. “Come in.” Peter gets up from the sofa, but otherwise stays where he is, waiting, until Neal allows himself to be guided into the house. Elizabeth starts to lead him over to the dining table, but Neal stops short about halfway there.

“Neal?” she asks, turning back to look at him.

Neal takes a deep breath. “I’m guessing you know that Peter came to talk to me this morning.”

El smiles and nods. “That’s right.”

“And you’re really okay with all of this?”

“Oh, sweetie,” Elizabeth replies. “Do you really think Peter would have done that if I wasn’t?”

“No. I guess not,” Neal says, but from what Peter can see of his face he looks far from certain.

“Do you want to talk to Peter?” El asks. Despite her encouraging tone, Neal still looks lost.

“Neal?” Peter says, taking a tentative step toward where Neal and El are standing.

“I,” Neal starts, then stops, looks down at his feet. He takes a deep breath and lifts his head to look first Peter, then Elizabeth in the eye. “You both need to hear this,” he says, sounding determined.

Elizabeth catches Peter’s eye, gives him a questioning look. Peter just shrugs in response. He’s honestly not sure where this is going. El turns back to give Neal an encouraging smile. “I was just about to make some tea, and then we can all sit down and talk.”

For the moment Neal seems content to follow her lead. He trails along and takes a seat at the dining table. Peter sits down across from him and they wait in silence for Elizabeth to return. Neal appears to be intently studying the tablecloth. Peter is studying Neal, who is uncharacteristically subdued, although there seems to be some sort of nervous energy thrumming just underneath that quiet exterior. Peter isn’t sure whether to be hopeful – Neal has come to them, after all – or worried. Neal’s nervous about something, and that doesn’t usually bode well – for Neal or for Peter.

After a few minutes, Peter excuses himself to help El in the kitchen. Neal isn’t the only one dealing with nerves at the moment, it seems. Soon enough, however, the three of them are seated around the table. Neal has his hands wrapped around a steaming mug of tea and he’s peering into it as if it might hold the answers to whatever it is he’s struggling with.

“Neal?” Peter says eventually. He’s trying to give Neal space, let him take the lead here, but maybe he needs a bit of encouragement. Neal looks up with a start. Probably he’d been lost in his own thoughts.

“I’m sorry,” Neal says. “I guess I don’t know where to start.”

“It’s not too much, is it?” Elizabeth asks suddenly, reaching out to take one of Neal’s hands in hers, and both Peter and Neal turn to look at her. “We care about you, Neal, and we want you to stay. We both do. But I imagine this seems, I don’t know, sudden? And if it’s too much to take in, or if you don’t want….” Even Elizabeth, who’s good at talking about these kinds of things, is struggling a bit.

Neal comes to her rescue. “It’s not that,” he says. “I mean, no, I wasn’t expecting it. But the problem isn’t what I want or don’t want. I want. Believe me.”

“But?” Elizabeth asks, her tone gentle, coaxing.

“Like I told Peter,” Neal says, and he’s looking Elizabeth in the eye, his gaze steady though Peter can hear the uncharacteristic nervousness in his voice, “There are things you don’t know.”

“I’m sure there are a lot of things about you we don’t know,” Elizabeth says.

“And I told you we could work it out, whatever it is,” Peter adds. He figures it has something to do with the treasure, and even though he’s not sure yet just how they’ll “work it out,” he’s confident that they can find a way. “Look,” he continues, “I know I haven’t always been willing to listen, especially lately. I jumped to conclusions that day at the dock. I should have talked to you instead of just accusing you, and I’m sorry.”

“Stop, Peter,” Neal says, looking utterly miserable.

“Neal. Please. Just talk to me.”

Neal sighs heavily, looks down at his long-since abandoned mug, then back up. “I broke into your house,” he blurts out.

Peter thought he was prepared for whatever Neal might tell him, but this, this sudden and unexpected revelation hits him like a punch to the gut. Elizabeth, who had still been holding Neal’s hand, pulls away from him, looking confused. And that, more than anything, has Peter surging to his feet, glaring down at Neal, wondering how it is that he keeps letting himself get taken in by this man. Well no more. Neal’s just earned himself a one-way ticket back to maximum security. As soon as Peter’s done reading him the riot act.

Except that Peter doesn’t get that far. First there is Elizabeth, who gets up as well and puts a calming hand on his arm. Despite her initial shock, she doesn’t seem angry. “Peter, Hon,” she says. “Maybe you should give him a chance to explain.” And then there is Neal, who actually looks guilty. Neal rarely, if ever, expresses remorse for his “alleged” crimes. And finally there is Peter himself. Hadn’t he just apologized to Neal for jumping to conclusions about the stolen treasure all those months ago, for not being willing to listen? Hadn’t he assured the other man that they would find a way through whatever it was that was weighing on him?

Peter spares a smile for his wife before pulling in a deep breath and sitting back down. After a moment’s thought he realizes first that he thinks he has a pretty good idea why Neal broke into his home, and second, and perhaps more importantly, that Neal didn’t have to tell them about it. And he decides to focus on that. Neal doesn’t confess. Peter knows this well. Something important is happening here, Peter realizes.

“Neal,” he says. “Neal, look at me.” It’s not really a request, but his tone is deliberately mild.

Neal looks up, confusion plain on his face. “Peter?”

“Tell me something, Neal. I know you. You don’t confess. Why are you telling us this?”

“I just told you I broke into your house, and that’s what you want to know?”

“I’m asking, aren’t I?”

“So you’re not mad?”

“Oh, I’m mad. But we can figure that out later. And you’re deflecting. Answer the question, Neal. Why are you telling me this?”

“I don’t know.”

“I think you do. Tell me.”

“I don’t know,” Neal says again, voice rising.

“Why?” Peter says one more time, trying to keep his voice level.

Neal breaks eye contact and says, barely audible, “Happily ever after isn’t for guys like me.”

“Oh, Neal,” El says and sits down beside him again.

Peter’s not sure where Neal is going with this – he doesn’t think it’s the answer to his question, but he senses the honest emotion in it. It’s progress, of a sort, and so rather than ask again he waits for Neal to continue. El takes Neal’s hand again and for a long moment they all just sit there, no one moving. Peter is close to prodding Neal again when the other man speaks.

“I couldn’t not do it,” he said. “I conned Elizabeth. I had Mozzie con Elizabeth. I broke into your house. I cracked your safe. But however much I want this, however much I want you,” Neal says with a shrug, looking resigned, “somehow I couldn’t not tell you.”

“Why not, Neal?” Peter asks, as gently as he can.

“If I was going to have this,” he says, gesturing vaguely to encompass Peter, El, the room, “I wanted it to be real.”

Peter catches the wistful tone of Neal’s voice, and he realizes with sudden clarity that that Neal has already resigned himself to losing them – before he’s even had a chance to have them. He watches as Neal pastes a pleasantly blank look on his face, apparently bracing himself for the inevitable.

“I should go,” Neal says, nodding emphatically before gently disengaging his hand from Elizabeth’s and getting to his feet. He pauses for a moment when Peter doesn't reply, then his brow furrows in thought, and his next words are less assured. “Unless,” he says, hesitantly, “I mean I did confess.” Neal looks worried now. “Peter? Am I under arrest?” he asks, watching Peter warily for a moment before dropping his gaze.

Peter takes a deep breath then gets up and steps around the table. He hesitates for a moment, then reaches a hand out to lightly cup Neal’s chin. A bit of gentle pressure, and Neal is raising his head to look at Peter. He looks lost and more than a little vulnerable right now, and it just about breaks Peter’s heart.

“Neal,” Peter says, and he wants to tell Neal that he’s proud of him, and he is, but somehow that doesn’t seem like the right thing to say right now. “Thank you,” comes out of his mouth instead, almost before he realizes he’s saying it, and he finds himself feeling almost as surprised as Neal looks right now.

“Peter?”

Peter strokes Neal’s cheek gently with the pad of his thumb. He’s not at all sure what he’s doing here, is pretty much going on instinct, but Neal leans ever so slightly into Peter’s touch and seems to relax a fraction. “As a very wise woman recently said to me,” Peter continues, “People don’t change overnight. I know it’s hard, and well...I…just…thanks,” Peter trails off. He really isn’t very good at this sort of thing, he knows, but he is rewarded with a rare genuine smile, and for the second time that day he gets the feeling that Neal understands, and he is grateful for that.

A moment later Peter lets his hand drop and takes a step back. He is humbled by this gesture of Neal’s, by the thought that he and Elizabeth are that important to him. Unfortunately, however, they still have things to talk about.

“I don’t want you to go,” Peter says, then looks to Elizabeth, who smiles and nods her encouragement. “We don’t want you to go,” he amends. “I also really don’t want to arrest you if I don’t have to. I have my ideas about what’s going on, but I can’t help you if you won’t talk to me. Please, Neal, we will figure this out, whatever it is. Talk to me?”

Neal looks Peter in the eye. “I want to Peter,” he says with a conviction that Peter finds he believes is genuine, despite the disappointment he feels as he hears the words. “I do.” Neal pauses for a moment. “I will,” he says. “But there’s something I have to do first. I’m sorry I can’t say more. I just need some time. Please?”

Peter sighs heavily, but he’s not angry. He suspects – has done for a while now – that Mozzie is knee deep in this thing as well. Neal is nothing if not loyal, even when it’s not in his own best interest, and Peter can’t – won’t – begrudge him that. He looks at Neal, who looks determined, though Peter thinks he senses the uncertainty underneath. “Do what you need to do,” he says, and Neal’s relief is palpable. “But please, don’t let things go on too long.” Peter worries that the longer this thing – whatever it is – goes on, the more likely it is to blow up in someone’s face, and he’s very afraid that that someone will be Neal.

“I won’t,” Neal replies. “I promise.” He sounds unusually solemn, and it occurs to Peter that promising is something Neal doesn’t usually do either. He and Neal share a look, and Peter nods his acceptance. Neal turns back to Elizabeth. “I have to go,” he says, bending down to kiss her lightly on the cheek. “Thank you,” he tells her and graces her with a warm smile.

“Take care of yourself,” Elizabeth says as he pulls away, and with another nod to Peter, Neal is gone.


On to Part III

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Oh, a good part! You weren't tied down by canon so much here, and it's nice. I love Neal's vulnerability and innocence. He's so Neal!! Him my sweety, him is!

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