The Commission

Chapter 23

Peter strode across the restaurant to the table where Neal was sitting. As he sat down they touched hands briefly.

"I hate seeing you this way," he said.

"It's invasive and unconscionable, is what it is," Neal agreed. "If I find out they snuck in audio surveillance I'll sue the FBI for breach of contract."

"Is it wrong that I find your new rich bastard persona very attractive?" Peter asked, moving his leg to touch Neal's under the table.

Several layers of tension fell away from Neal's face at the private contact, and that made Peter smile with the happiness that he could cause that transformation, and then they were grinning stupidly at one another.

"The A/V crew is going to have such a good time with this video, so we might as well have a good time making it," Peter coaxed. "What are you ordering for me?"

"The ceviche here is excellent, and I thought we'd try the chicken with passion fruit sauce, which I've heard is amazing—"

Peter was pleased to let Neal do his foodie thing, and thus forget that the restaurant had been painstakingly set up with small wireless cameras that not even the staff knew about, in hopes of catching someone in the act of being the eyes and ears of Tomas Mendonça at the first official date between Neal and Peter.

"How do they look? You hung them up?" Peter asked after being fed a mouthful of unpronounceable deliciousness from Neal's plate.

"Yes. Marina has had quite a few offers on the portraits by now. I never thought anyone would be interested in my own work."

"People at the bureau think of you as this cocky guy, but you have your share of self-doubt," Peter said fondly, brushing the other man's hand as he reached for a piece of mango from Neal's plate.

"Are you holding back on how terrible it's been for you at the FBI now that they know some version of the truth?"

"No, it just makes me miss you being there because we can't share the awkwardness. I could swear Hughes sent out a memo telling people that anyone caught leaving anything rainbow-colored on my desk will be summarily fired."

Neal frowned.

"Someone got the idea of slipping rainbow-colored pens and pencils in my desk caddy and it eventually overflowed. These are shows of support while not asking invasive questions, Neal. It's not teasing. I've had people stop me in the hall who you wouldn't imagine, telling me personal stories I would never repeat. People like us."

Neal clinked wine glasses with him and then said with quiet force, "I hope you know, I'm not doing this again, Peter. There is no way we're going to be someone's experiment. My feelings are worth more than some poor quality video feed." He gestured around vaguely. "If I didn't think it would put my health in serious danger, I would arrange to be 'accidentally' exposed to a toxin or a drug, and then I'd be out of this agreement."

Peter looked shocked. "You promised not to take any serious steps about other options without telling me," he objected. "If you got sent back to prison, we wouldn't even qualify for conjugal visits."

"If they kept me in New York State, we would," Neal said mischievously, referring to the new marriage law. He laughed so loud the people at the next tables turned towards them. "The look on your face! The bureau folks will have a good time filling in the blanks for those few seconds."

"Does this mean that you refuse to have anything to do with me until we've left the FBI behind?" Peter asked worriedly.

"I never said that," Neal corrected him with an inviting look Peter was coming to know well. "You know what I keep thinking about? I want to sit at my kitchen table with you and eat takeout Chinese. Something really basic that couples do."

He leaned across the table excitedly. "We can pretend we're living in a typical New York flat with drafts and a hot spot near the radiator that makes you sweat, and so one of us will be too hot and the other too cold. I want to argue with you about the heat and complain about the landlord. There's a lot to New York I haven't experienced because I haven't been in a relationship," he finished wistfully and then saw Peter's dubious expression. "I've had affairs, but not someone to have a home with."

His companion was always deeply affected when Neal used the sacred word "home." Rather than saying the wrong thing he made light of the moment. "We do a lot of things that couples do, when we get a chance," Peter observed, looking at Neal until he elicited the blush he was so fond of.

"There's a catch," Neal said. "If you come home with me you'd have to be examined thoroughly for any bugs you might have picked up. That scanner is state of the art, but it's not foolproof."

Peter savored one more moment of sitting at the table in the blue radius cast by those eyes, and then looked at his watch. "We've stayed as long as they asked us to. If someone in our environment was observing us, maybe they'll be able to pick it out from the recording."

"Where are the cameras, Peter?" Neal asked as he paid for the meal.

"Your two o'clock, five o'clock and nine o'clock. Why?"

As they got up, Neal quite naturally gave Peter a quick but significant kiss so that two o'clock would be sure to see it. "Because I want it to be very clear that if you've been playing hard-to-get all this time, I finally won you over. Completely."

"This is supposed to be our first date," Peter protested as they walked out. "They're going to think I'm easy."

Neal hailed them a cab and then whispered in his lover's ear, "You've always been extremely amenable, in my experience. Eager, even."

True to his word, Neal used his bug scanner upon arrival and then gave a very careful inspection to every inch of his guest.

Afterwards they rested in a tangle of sheets. "You're in my bed—I thought that might take a lot longer," Neal said, tracing his hand over his partner's abdomen. "Though last time was very nice."

Peter was gazing at the portraits on the wall. "Do the pictures really look like me? People at work said it was something in my posture, or the shape of my head."

"Every picture has an inside. These feel like you. It's much less lonely here with them to look at from my bed."

Peter looked around at the expensive condo that was barely lived in. "The kitchen looks barely used. You're not happy here."

"I've allowed myself to be pushed around more since I stopped being a CI than ever in my life. It's a great apartment, but someone made me move. You know I hate to be told what to do."

Peter felt around in his clothes and had one of Neal's hands cuffed to the bed frame in a flash. "You'll never be as fast as I am with these things," he smirked, "And you don't mind being pushed around from time to time. Where are they?"

"Where are what?" Neal asked innocently.

"The ones you always kept in your apartment. Unless you want me to toss your place until I find them. And it's 'Agent.'"

"The back of the second drawer, Agent."

In the early morning hours that Saturday, Neal made fresh-squeezed juice for Peter and they sat at his kitchen table admiring the view of the Empire State and the Chrysler.

"God, that's good," Peter said of his drink. He munched on a fresh strawberry.

"Gaspar's idea. He keeps my juicer supplied, and Mozzie has me seeing some Chinese herbalist who operates out of the back of a restaurant in Chinatown. Hence the swampwater tea first thing every morning. Good for the kidneys, not the nose."

"You and Moz have made up?"

"We were never in a fight, he was just uncomfortable with hurting Elizabeth." Neal alternately sipped the foul-smelling Chinese tea and the juice.

"I'm still uncomfortable with it, but if three people who care about each other could ever make something sustainable for the three of us, that time is not now." Peter took one of the stray pomegranate kernels from their plate and ran it across Neal's lips before he kissed the scarlet off. "I only have the attention for you."

"She's actually very relieved." He laughed at Peter's shocked expression. "Didn't I tell you? She and I talk all the time. Now that she's not married to the FBI, she says she's free to do what she likes. I've had her in my studio."

Peter's juice glass clattered on the table.

"Not had her had her, she's taking an art class, and we compared notes about our work. Elizabeth is a remarkable woman, and one thing she doesn't tolerate is being pitied. I say this for completely unselfish reasons—do you need my lawyers to give some discreet help to your lawyers to move the divorce along? Elizabeth is anxious to be out of limbo."

"Whatever I can do to make this less difficult," Peter sighed. "There are those at the FBI who are obviously Team Elizabeth and think she found out about our torrid affair from the newspaper, though we had clearly separated before then."

"Yes, she got a few calls of solidarity she could have done without," Neal said wryly.

Peter looked out at the Chrysler building, trying to master his ambivalence about the conversations Neal and Elizabeth were having behind his back.

His host reached across to put his lover's hand on his thigh. "It may be uncomfortable for you, but Elizabeth will always be one of my inner circle of friends, I hope. For whatever reason, we're closer now that I've turned her husband's head with my manly charms."

He stretched, shirtless, and grinned. "I suspect it's because we both see one thing happened out of many possibilities. And she didn't come in second at all, though some are treating her so. Elizabeth had worked out an equation for the three of us that was perfectly do-able in some reality. It's higher math, whatever calculations put you here with me right now, just the two of us." Neal moved the hand on his thigh up and down. "Mozzie has her studying with some Buddhist guy."

Peter reached over and pulled Neal onto his lap. "I'm not long for the bureau, Neal. Not that I'm going to be fired, necessarily. But I'm learning to pay closer attention to the signs life is trying to give me," he clasped Neal tightly, "And all signs point to the exit. When they let me go."

"Does leaving the FBI work like the army—you either have an honorable or dishonorable discharge?"

"It does in the sense that a psychological ailment, while bad for you while on duty, can help you when you leave. Terence has been coaching me in how to make a play for having lingering trauma from the Scott case."

He leaned his head against Neal's chest so he didn't have to look him in the eye. "I haven't told you, but Hughes has called me on it a couple of times. All an older, white male authority figure has to do is take a certain tone, or especially start telling me what my feelings are or what to do, and I melt into a puddle of paranoia. Hughes and I have an agreement that I don't look at him in meetings, because he says he can't take the way I glare at him like the devil himself."

Neal drew back to look at Peter. "You always had a sort of jocular, man-to-man relationship before. People used to try to figure out your secret for getting on his good side. You're sure it's not the huge pain in the ass our relationship has caused him?"

"No." Peter reached around for his orange juice to get the bitter taste out of his mouth that came from admitting this thing he couldn't seem to get a handle on. "He's been annoyed with me, for sure, but for some reason since the Scott case I feel like Hughes is this evil mastermind. He may have played me a little, keeping some information from me," Neal grimaced, "from us. But you must admit, neither you nor I was particularly objective at the end of that case. He had to have fresh eyes. I would have done the same, Neal. Or similar."

Peter laughed. "Then there's this police officer who's stopped me twice for one of those bogus APBs on my car. He called in to the bureau after the second one, saying that I acted so freaked out he was sure I was up to something. He was the same type: white, fiftiesh, gray hair, forceful manner, kept telling me I didn't work for the FBI when I knew I did. You see the pattern. I've had to change my dentist for the same reason."

Neal had gone very still. "And Terence thinks this is drug-related?"

"Partially. But Scott was a master of manipulation who caught me when I was malleable-I was worried about you for so long, Neal, my emotions were stretched to the limit." He sighed. "I like to think I wouldn't have moved back in with Elizabeth if I hadn't transferred all my fear of Prentiss Scott onto Hughes. Terence says I got stuck in the 'flight' part of fight or flight, but I still feel terrible that I ran to Elizabeth instead of leaving the bureau when I should have."

Neal moved so that he was straddling Peter with his arms loosely about his neck. "I thought I had it bad with my DTs and still feeling less than 100%." He tried to dissemble his concern. "Maybe you dislike authority more than I do now."

"It's only the people who try to tell me what to think, which doesn't help with our very real persecution. But Terence says that the only time most of us think about how we're put together is when we're falling apart, so I'm trying to look at the occasional panic as a learning experience." He rubbed Neal's back. "He also thinks we can make this work for me to get, if not a golden parachute when I leave, at least not a leaden one."

"And what will you do?" Neal asked in a neutral tone.

"Set up a consulting operation to do kind of what you do—use my expertise to help businesses detect threats to their security, based upon techniques I've helped untangle myself. It'll be like the FBI without the red tape. And no one will be shooting at me, hopefully."

He saw Neal looking doubtful. "It is rare but not unheard of for someone with so many years invested in the bureau to leave before retirement. My experience is valuable. I've made a few discreet inquiries to people who have asked me to leave and come work for them over the years."

"If this is what you want to do, then by all means, do it. It just sounds very time-consuming to set up, and there are things I wanted for us too. You'd be perfectly capable of having a crash course in world business practices from Gaspar and we could set up somewhere else, at least part of the time."

"The three of us?" Peter joked.

Neal reflected. "Possibly; it might not be a bad idea for a short while. Gaspar has done a lot for me, picking up and relocating when I asked. If we can help each other get on our feet somewhere, it would be a good deal all around."

"You're a very generous person, Neal Caffrey," Peter observed, wrapping his lover more tightly around him. "That's in my profile of you, early on. You have actual friends and tend to maintain those connections, unlike a lot of scoundrels who use people up and move on to the next."

"That doesn't stop me from having ulterior motives." Neal chuckled at Peter's concern and then did something to wipe it away. "In this case, I'll give you anything you ask, so that when you leave here and the FBI security camera outside the door catches you, there will be no doubt at all that you had a very satisfactory debut with me."

Sure enough, when he left Neal's apartment, Peter was sure he was wearing an inane expression, but he didn't care. The grin was sitting like a satisfied cat in the middle of his face, and there was nothing he could do about it. Peter took the elevator down and then treated the concierge and then the doorman to a dose of his happiness. He and Neal were fully out of the closet.

Because it wasn't that cold, Peter decided to walk to Penn Station and avoid the transfer. It was one of those days where the city seemed attuned to his mood. The pedestrians were in on his contentment; the dirt and the trash seemed as though they'd been carefully placed for maximum New York-ness. Pigeons, Peter's brain thought lazily as he began to cross the street. Neal has a pigeon. What was her name?

The bike messenger came out of nowhere. Or that's what it felt like to Peter, who was only focused on his first walk as the man who was openly seeing Neal Caffrey.

Strangely, the first name on his lips when a Good Samaritan roused him from being knocked out cold wasn't Neal.

"Charlene," Peter said. "Charlene."

"Is that your wife? Do you want me to call someone?" the Indian businessman asked while others gathered round. "Don't move, I think you should stay still."

The siren seemed to close in on him from all sides, and when they moved Peter into the ambulance he had a distinctly otherworldly feeling, as if he were in the place where dreams came from.

His FBI badge helped the hospital find someone to call after he'd been diagnosed with a concussion. Later, Peter would be extremely grateful that they called Neal, rather than Elizabeth, who was no doubt still the emergency contact on the forms.

"They say you were airborne, Peter, your legs knocked out from under you," Neal said, taking Peter's hand. "Do I want to know what's under that bandage?"

"A big goose egg, I think," Peter said with a tongue that felt wrongly attached to his mouth. "It's the strangest feeling, like I'm dreaming while awake. Are you really here, Neal? I feel so nauseous I almost hope you aren't."

"I won't leave you. Would you mind telling me why you were saying the name of my pigeon right after you came to?"

"This is a dream," Peter said, beginning to feel uneasy.

"The ambulance people said you were saying the name 'Charlene.' It got the people at the FBI all confused, I'll have you know. They think you're really branching out."

"I'm sorry you have to see me so sick," Peter said a few moments after the nausea made him humiliate himself.

"The idea of infidelity makes you ill—duly noted," Neal said, trying to get a smile out of Peter. "The doctors say you don't remember the bicyclist who knocked you over. Is it coming back at all?"

Peter shook his head and then wished he hadn't. "It was early yet, there weren't a lot of people near Grand Central at that time. That's all I know." He tried a smile. "This is nothing, Neal. Some bruises, a bump on the head. You and I both have taken worse knocks than a bicycle."

"Of course." Neal spent the time by Peter's side telling him amusing stories, and then he brought his lover back to his apartment after a rather ugly telephone exchange with Hughes.

"He's still my agent, and apparently someone isn't happy you spent the night together, Caffrey. Must I let him tempt fate again?"

"Maybe he forgot to update the necessary forms, but I am now the person in Peter's life who cares for him when he is sick, Agent Hughes. He's seeing stars and can hardly walk upright. June is more than competent to care for him if he had to go home, but he does not. And I think he'd rather me see him like this than someone else."

The doorman helped get Peter out of the cab and the concierge got him up to Neal's apartment.

"I'm not hungry," Peter said.

"I am cooking for me as much as for you," Neal said from his still-pristine kitchen. He needed to do something to help him think. But there was really only one thought that was still there after everything had been chopped. He left the soup simmering in the pot and closed the door to his bedroom. "Moz? This is war."

Gaspar went out to the storage facility in Queens and went through the complicated security protocol to get in to the correct unit.

"You made it! Thanks for coming to my turf for this meeting," Mozzie said, flipping up the visor on his protective suit. "I have a time-sensitive job."

"Oh, it's been years since I've made a jewel," Gaspar said in the usual mix of German and English he employed with Mozzie, stripping down to his undershirt due to the extreme heat.

"You're a craftsman? I had no idea," Mozzie said. "I always took you for strictly financial, the occasional gambling con."

"Mother sent me to school specifically so I could learn a trade, as she called manufacturing gems. Humans will always be captivated by jewels, she said, and thus meeting that eternal demand is always good business, if on the wrong side of the law."

"This endeavor is not strictly illegal," Mozzie said, pulling out the ice chest where he had two bottles of wine chilling. "A society lady is down on her luck, but doesn't want to make it public that she needs to hock her jewels. If she quickly suffers a robbery in which the new jewelry is lost, and then chooses to file an insurance claim anyway, I can't be held responsible."

"Naturally. Ah, you remembered my favorite wine," Gaspar crowed.

"Yes, you can have that whole bottle of muscatel. I have a nice vino verde for me." He checked his timer for the chemical process and poured wine for the both of them.

"Neal wanted me to come talk with you because he's not content with our conservative strategy up until now. And I have been having… thoughts."

"Oh?" the small criminal said to the larger one.

"It simply does not make sense. This mysterious butler, who has to be fabulously well-connected in most sectors of New York society—you've never crossed paths with him, Mozzie. And you are also fabulously well-connected."

"With society folks, not so much. This gem commission came my way because there are not too many people who will accept such a job on short notice. But servants of the ultra-rich—can't say I know any. Or any career servants—I've posed as a butler myself on occasion."

"We all have, my friend," Gaspar raised his glass. "You say you've never seen him, based on the driver's license photo and passport photo, as well as the security footage from a dozen wine auctions and other such events. But how many of your contacts have you circulated the photo to?"

Mozzie shrugged. "After what happened when Neal went missing, and it turned out that people were too afraid I would put a hit on them to share the information, both Neal and I have been loath to send around a picture of this guy with the understanding that we hate his guts, thereby making everyone clam up. It's a provocation, you have to admit, sending a photo around the underworld looking to flush out someone who has your Nüsse and those of your partner in his grip."

"Perhaps yes, I am sure you are right," Gaspar agreed. "How did you develop such a network in New York? The things I've seen you arrange are phenomenal. That balloon chase for the Coach bag made the news."

The little man wiped his brow. "It's really cheating to have Neal's money at my disposal. He and I have done many things together with just the power of connections." He took a sip of wine. "I have my theories about what makes New York City special for crime. At the turn of the century, especially, but really all along, New York has been a collection of villages. Little slivers of the old country, transplanted and nurtured in what little scrap of the city each immigrant group could find. And what was also transplanted was a smaller version of the home country's leadership."

"Like the Mafia." Gaspar mopped his own brow with his voluminous handkerchief.

"Yes, but it could have been anything. An influential rabbi at the synagogue that was central to a Polish Jewish community. A Catholic church somewhere else. A little old lady who knew all the traditional folk songs from back home. And by virtue of little cultural signals—language, dress, more subtle things—basically anyone who belonged to this group could hope for at least a little kindness from the head honcho, but also from the villagers, who had benefited from this loose connection themselves."

"Yes, this is the way that things are in Europe, too. What you are talking about reminds me of gypsies. There is no real organization, but they can recognize each other instantly, help each other out with the sense that they are all part of the same phenomenon. And the aristocracy is just a bunch of vagabonds who decided to stay put, Mother always used to say."

"Are you really-?" Mozzie asked curiously.

"Well, yes, technically Mother had the right to use the title baroness, according to certain disputed records. And a few other titles, as well. She was raised in that world, though, so that people 'read' her as nobility. She had all the little signs—knowing the right flowers for a certain occasion, or the correct amount of petticoat to show under a dress. All of these minutiae came in very useful when she used her skills on the vieux riches and the nouveaux riches alike. She played on the nostalgia of the old money clans and represented everything that new money knew it couldn't buy."

"To your mother," Mozzie raised his glass. They toasted and an alarm went off. "Care to see the next stage?'

Once the work was done, they sat down and refilled their glasses with the cold vodka that was still defrosting from having been stored in the freezer. "I don't think I quite followed how your idea of the many villages in New York helps out criminals today," Gaspar resumed.

"Oh, well, New York still has this village mentality. It's like it's imbued in the concrete, or something, and everyone gets into it sooner or later. Criminals here have to have some form of civility, because the place is crowded to begin with and it's lousy with thieves. But it's not just the underworld. I have this idea that the city is this big thing that everybody is united in hating. You've heard it. Everyone complains about the rent, the noise, the pollution, the subway, the traffic. The rich complain about the unwashed masses, and vice versa. Which makes people yearn for protection, for a village."

Mozzie could tell he wasn't getting through. "This one time, there was a blizzard. Which to me, seemed like the perfect time to move some very hot items that were also sort of unwieldy, and thus I'd been nervous about loading them in a van in plain sight. I'd procrastinated so long that this buyer gave me a very pointed ultimatum.

"It was a great idea. I loaded everything with nothing but the snow as a witness. But I took too long, and the van wasn't going to budge out of the snowdrift, not loaded down like that.

"The vehicle was illegally parked, which meant as soon as the parking police could dig out, and they're always the first, they would ticket me, if not tow my rented van, setting off a chain of events I didn't even want to think about. Picture me, standing there with buckets of snow pouring down, scratching my head and wishing to god I didn't have to lug everything back up a now icy stairway. When lo and behold, a tow truck comes by.

"Now, there is no sane or legitimate reason why I had to get going into that blizzard. The guy looked at me and knew that. But he asks me, 'You need to get somewhere in a hurry?'

"This was a Latino fellow, but I figured everyone in New York is just a little bit Jewish at heart, so I tell him, 'I'm delivering kosher meals to shut ins who keep to the strictest kashrut. If I don't reach them, they'll be forced to rely on whatever is brought around by the Salvation Army, and thus, choose between violating their religious conscience or going hungry, the poor old souls.'"

"Are you Jewish?" Gaspar asked.

"Who knows? But with the back of the van weighted down the way it was, it was unlikely that I was carrying that much matzo ball soup, especially since there wasn't a kosher restaurant for miles. It's snowing so much we can barely see each other and he says, 'Let me see what I can do.'"

"The guy works a miracle and yanks me out, pulls the van to the nearest plowed street, and then he won't even take any money. He only shakes his head and laughs at the absurdity of anyone trying to commit a crime in that weather. He must have figured that my situation was so desperate that he didn't want to add to my troubles.

"'Vaya con dios,' he says to me. 'Mazel tov,' I say back, and we wave goodbye.

"And that, dear Gaspar, is the type of connection I've spent the last ten years cultivating. Not just with people I know, but with people I don't know but understand." Mozzie wagged a finger. "There's not enough money in the world to buy the complicity of an entire city's Yellow cab network. But if I explain it in such a way that it will help 'stick it to the man'-whatever that means to someone, and everyone has a 'man' they hate—dispatchers are more than willing to spread the word that a certain rich bastard is persona non grata on one rainy day. It gives them a warm feeling inside. Like New York is still a village."

Even given his tolerance, Mozzie was evidently not able to match cup for cup with someone over a foot taller than him. "All of this is being threatened by the Disneyfication of the city, don't get me started."

"My friend. My friend, it is time to do the next stage," Gaspar said gently, pointing to the alarm.

"It all started with Giuliani. I did have fun tormenting him though. City Hall had a persistent bat infestation while he was in office," Mozzie kept on.

The visitor had great fun dusting off his training and complete the rubies Mozzie had started. It would take a good deal more alcohol to make him drunk, and he wasn't in the mood for celebrating.

When his task was complete, the big man saw the small one dozing in a folding chair with sweat pouring down his brow. He thought it an opportune moment to make a phone call.

"Neal? Yes, we've talked. Mozzie had perhaps a bit too much to drink in the name of cooling off in this inferno. He's expressed his opinion, but I'm not convinced that we have any choice but to call on every corner of the underworld where you have a friend, and figure out how this Tomas has been operating all these years."

He pulled out his third and last handkerchief while he listened.

"No, I don't want to start turning over rocks in the drug world, but the man lived in New York for some years, did he not? If he so much as bought the services of a discreet courier, we should be able to find out. And there's a good chance that he's still here. This is a gentleman of a certain age. Imagine someone like that, so meticulous, so connected, uprooting himself."

He held the vodka bottle against his forehead. "I know it's a risk, but you said you wanted to step up the game, and my position has been for some time that there's little we can do without knowing more about this Senhor Tomas Mendonça."

Gaspar listened to various ideas from Neal. "My dear friend, I don't want to influence you to do something you don't feel is right. All I'm saying is that there is something wrong with this whole scenario that I feel is staring me in the face but I can't put my finger on it. And as a newcomer, I feel like if anyone would see it, it would be me, who is not worried about someone close to me. How is Peter?"

Neal's old friend smiled at the great affection that lay underneath the worry in the voice coming to his ear. "I'm sure he will be fine. As will Mozzie as soon as I remove him from this sweltering place. Yes, I am almost done. It's nice to know I could still have a career as a counterfeit gem-maker."

Neal had Peter set up watching a movie on his laptop because he'd never bothered to buy a television. Peter had downloaded one of the Batman films, Neal could never keep them straight, and was lost in a tale of a metropolis full of corruption being redeemed by an anonymous savior.

He curled up under the blanket beside his companion. "These movies always bother me because I root for the wrong side," Neal said. "Except they make the criminals look so bumbling, I don't really identify with them either."

"The caped crusader is an antihero, so it's okay to like him," Peter said with less trouble than earlier.

"I suppose you're right. Everybody likes a good underdog, even if he is filthy rich."

"You're filthy rich," Peter pointed out.

"That's beside the point." He looked down at Peter tracing the fading tattoo on his arm with heavy eyelids.

"My billionaire playboy act was a bust." Against his better judgment, Neal let out his frustration. "Everything we've tried so far hasn't worked."

"Maybe we need an antihero," came the sleepy voice. "You'd look better in tights."

Neal watched Peter sleep, the bandage still wound around his head. This was stupid. He'd not been reasoning clearly all this time. Neal Caffrey does not sit around and let someone take shots at him, or the person he cared about. The doctor had confirmed what the passersby had reported—the biker had to have been pedaling full throttle, and hit Peter in such a way to produce maximum damage. What was next—a cab?

He was going to call his lawyers in the morning and start them working on getting out of this agreement with the FBI. Not a thing Neal had done for the bureau had borne fruit, and now he and Peter were in danger. There had to be a way for them to move on grounds that their lives were being threatened.

He tried to curl up next to Peter but couldn't sleep. Once he'd decided something, Neal wanted to act on it. Law offices were annoyingly closed at night. But criminals never sleep. He called down to Gaspar. "You're awake? Good. Let's talk underworld strategy."

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