“What time is it?”
“Quarter to three.”
“They should be here soon.”
“I know, Mozzie.” Peter sighed, resting his head on the window of the car, allowing the coolness of the glass to soothe his growing headache. It wasn’t his car nor Mozzie’s. It was stolen. Borrowed, Mozzie had said. But Peter needed a car and he was desperate, so he let the conman talk him into it.
Mozzie was driving. He refused to let Peter drive him anywhere, on account of Neal’s reviews of Peter’s driving. Peter had sighed and tossed him the keys, too tired to care.
Peter turned the drive in his hand, the moonlight reflecting off the silver casing. He held it gingerly, as if it could have easily been a grenade.
“Did he sound okay?” asked Mozzie after a while. He didn’t look at Peter, just at the road.
“He’s okay.” assured Peter. “They haven’t hurt him; he’s just leverage.”
“They’re going to kill him.” said Mozzie, panic sinking into his eyes. His knuckles were white from his grip on the steering wheel. “They’re going to take the drive and kill him.”
“I’m not going to let that happen.” said Peter firmly, lifting his head from the window. “Mozzie, I will keep him safe, I promise.”
“A little too late for that.”
That stung. Peter’s words died in his throat. His guilt had been eating at him for hours. He put Neal on this case. He put Neal in danger. He was the reason Neal might not be okay.
“Mozzie,” said Peter, trying to find words. “You know I never meant—”
“I know, Suit.” Mozzie sighed, turning down another street. “Two minutes.”
The address Maverick gave Peter was down at the end of the street.
“Mozzie,” said Peter suddenly. “Stop here.” Mozzie obeyed, giving Peter a quizzical look, and Peter said, “I need to go alone. He doesn’t want me bringing friends.”
“Alone?” asked Mozzie incredulously. “Suit, your valiance is noted, but-”
“Mozzie, just trust me.” said Peter.
“I don’t trust anyone!”
“How about faith, then? I’ll be fine.”
“‘Faith means not wanting to believe what is true.’” Mozzie quoted almost robotically.
Peter sighed. “Not entirely,” said Peter, trying to make something up. “Faith means… Well, it means that you trust someone even if you don’t want to.”
“Self-deception, Suit? Stooping so low?”
“Mozzie-” groaned Peter.
“I don’t want you going alone!” said Mozzie, staring at him.
“Look, Mozzie.” said Peter. “If something goes wrong, we shouldn’t both be out there. If something happens, if they try to double-cross us, you’ll be right here. Okay?”
Mozzie was silent. Though, even Peter could tell that Mozzie knew it was stupid for them both to approach the exchange. “I’ll watch from here then,” he said.
“I’ll go get Neal.” Peter and Mozzie shared a quick glance, then Peter got out of the car.
Peter started the short walk down, past the now-closed stores and dark windows. The street was deserted. A street lamp next to him flickered.
Peter approached the store Maverick had mentioned in the text. He stopped walking outside the door. Looking in, nothing moved. Everything was dark. It was an old antique shop. Was this where Maverick wanted to make the exchange?
“Hello, Agent Burke.”
Peter whipped around to see Maverick standing behind him. Before he could react, Maverick lunged at him. Peter stumbled backward as Maverick grabbed him around the chest, crushing his lungs with his grip. Vaguely, Peter heard screeching tires against the pavement to his left.
Peter instinctively switched into his defensive training and hit Maverick hard with his elbow. Maverick cursed and Peter struggled to free himself from Maverick’s grip, but the man didn’t budge. Peter tried to reach for his gun, but Maverick seemed to know what he was thinking, and grabbed it from his holster before he had a chance. Maverick used Peter’s own weapon to hit him across the face. Peter’s head spun.
Peter was roughly shoved into a vehicle and his head hit the side of the van hard and he swore.
Pain erupted in his neck and Peter slowly faded into darkness.
“Get him up.”
Peter felt a sharp kick in his back, and his eyes shot open. He was lying on the ground, a cold, cement floor. He had a dull headache. Looking groggily around, he realized he was in a basement. The ground was gray, stained in places, and hadn’t been cleaned very well. Dust hung in the air. Peter coughed and pulled himself up.
Maverick and Allen were standing over him. Peter pulled himself to his feet. Neither of them made any move to stop him. Peter faced them.
“Where—?” he asked.
“That’s not of your concern.” said Allen, waving away Peter’s words. He held up the drive in his hand. He must have taken it out of Peter’s pocket when Peter was unconscious. Peter kicked himself. He should have left it with Mozzie.
“Where’s Neal?” demanded Peter.
“You’ll see him soon.” said Maverick.
Anger stirred in his chest. “I swear to god, if you hurt him—”
Maverick rolled his eyes. “Relax, Burke, he’s fine. Now, we need to know what the FBI knows. Do they know about the drive?”
Peter hesitated. Should he tell them the truth, or scare them into thinking the FBI is on the way? Though, if he scares them, they’d probably just kill Neal and himself. “No.” said Peter at last. “The FBI knows nothing. I didn’t tell anyone anything.”
“Why did you have the drive?” asked Allen.
Peter’s mind raced for a lie. “It was in Neal’s stash.”
“His stash?” inquired Allen. “Maybe we should take a look at that sometime.” Allen handed Maverick the drive. “Go. Start now.” Maverick turned and left. Allen held up his gun and aimed it at Peter.
“Walk. Now.” Peter reluctantly turned and walked, Allen’s gun sharply prodding his back. The basement was a narrow hallway, with offices or janitorial closets down the hall. Allen led him to the one, and unlocked the door.
“It was nice doing business with you, Burke.” said Allen. And he shoved Peter forward into the room. Peter fell forward, hitting the ground hard. Allen shut the door with a snap and Peter heard a lock click.
Pulling himself up again, Peter turned around in the small, stone-walled, gray room. It was lit by a slightly flickering fluorescent light in the ceiling, and wasn’t any bigger than eight feet by eight feet. It was cleaned out except for a single chair.
And the chair wasn’t empty.
“Neal!” gasped Peter, taking in the sight of his friend. His heart dropped in his chest; Neal was still, tied to the chair. A gag was tied in Neal’s mouth and his chin rested on his chest. His face was bruised and there were dried blood stains on one cheek. Peter’s heart skipped; Neal was a shade paler than he probably should have been. He was so still, in fact, that Peter was suddenly terrified he was… too still.
Peter rushed to his partner, kneeling at his side, putting a gentle hand on Neal’s shoulder. He removed the gag and shook his shoulder. “Neal?” asked Peter. No, no, no, he thought desperately, searching his friend’s pale face. Don’t be dead, Neal, don’t be dead…
Peter shook him again, a little harder, and to his relief, Neal stirred, letting out a low groan of pain. Peter’s hand froze immediately, relief and concern hitting him at the same time.
“Neal, thank god,” whispered Peter as Neal’s eyes fluttered open. He was just wondering what caused Neal pain when Neal said, “I guess… It’s three to nothing, now, huh?”
Peter’s head whipped up. Neal’s eyes were fully open now, and he was looking at him.
“Neal!” exclaimed Peter, a smile breaking out on his face for the first time all night. Then his eyebrows kneaded. “Three to what?”
“Three to nothing.” said Neal hollowly. “You found me.” His breath seemed shallow, too. He shifted slightly, then sucked in a gasp, losing even more color in his face. His eyes were screwed shut and it seemed to take all of his concentration not to make noise.
Peter’s blood ran cold at the sight. He wanted to grip the younger man’s shoulder but didn’t want to hurt him. He eyed his partner more carefully. “Neal, are you okay? What’s wrong?”
Neal didn’t answer for a long moment. His face was chalk-white and he looked drained. He seemed like a shadow of the conman Peter was used to seeing. Neal shifted in the chair, cringing from the movement. He opened his eyes cautiously, pain written into them. Peter’s heart thudded. Neal took a short breath and gave Peter an apologetic grin. “M’fine,” he said quietly. “Jus’ moved wrong. Mighta… broke some ribs.” He shut his eyes again and breathed shallowly. “An’ some other stuff.” He hissed again. “Damn.”
Peter’s eyes fell to Neal’s abdomen. He swallowed hard. “I’m gonna take a look,” said Peter cautiously, fully expecting the younger man to protest. But Neal didn’t. He just nodded fractionally, then stopped and winced, as if that motion had hurt. Peter’s heart clenched tighter.
Peter’s eyes fell back to Neal’s abdomen. He carefully undid the buttons to Neal’s dress shirt halfway down, and sucked in his own breath. Black and blue painted most of Neal’s waist. Peter didn’t even have to guess if they were broken. Anger and concern swept fiercely through him. Neal was bruised badly but not bleeding, and Peter let out an internal sigh of relief. If Neal had been bleeding, Peter had no idea how long it would take to get him medical attention. And as far as Peter could tell, Neal wasn’t having any problems breathing, other than through the pain. A punctured lung would have been the last thing they needed.
Peter carefully fixed Neal’s shirt back up, doing his best not to jostle him at all. “Did Maverick do this to you?” asked Peter through clenched teeth. At Neal’s minute nod, Peter went on, “I’m going to kill that son of a bitch.” He ran a hand through his hair and stood. He was quiet for a moment, half-seething and half-panicking. “Neal… You told me they didn’t hurt you.” said Peter, his eyes finding Neal’s, surprised that his voice came out angry.
It took Neal a moment to find his voice again. He shrunk the slightest bit under Peter’s gaze. “Maverick told me to… to tell you that.” He shut his eyes briefly again. “Besides. Wouldn’t wanna worry you. M’fine.”
“Neal,” said Peter, feeling helpless. He didn’t know what to do. “What… what happened? After you were taken, what happened?”
“Interrogation.” Neal said simply, laughing humorlessly, but stopped quickly and winced. “I didn’t cooperate.”
“You never do,” muttered Peter.
“Wait—” Neal’s eyes suddenly widened. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m here to…” started Peter, but he didn’t feel like finishing the sentence.
Neal did for him. He cocked an eyebrow in a deflated expression. “Rescue me?”
Peter smiled grimly. “Trying to.”
“Looks like you’re not off to…” Neal suddenly cringed, as if he was warding off a wave of pain. He shut his eyes, clenching his teeth. “…to the best start.”
Peter sighed, concern gripping his chest. “Neal, I’m going to get us out of here. Do you have anything to cut you loose?” Peter mentally kicked himself. From now on, he was carrying a pocket knife, first aid kit and a backup, Mozzie-proof cell phone.
Neal didn’t respond. Peter looked back down, wondering if he heard him, but Neal’s eyes were shut. Heart picking up in speed, Peter knelt back down and gently shook Neal’s shoulder, and Neal’s eyes slowly opened.
“Neal?” asked Peter cautiously.
Neal’s eyes narrowed in confusion. He was looking at Peter like it was the first time he’d seen him in weeks. “…Peter? What’re you doing here?”
Peter’s heart sped, fear prickling in his veins. There was a slight dazed look in the conman’s eyes that he didn’t notice before. “Neal, did you hit your head?”
Neal looked at him, puzzled. “What? Jus’ now?”
“No,” said Peter, concern clipping his tone. “Earlier tonight.”
Neal thought. For a bit too long. Peter’s grip tightened unconsciously on Neal’s shoulder. Something seemed to dawn in his eyes and Neal finally replied, “Yeah. A few times, I guess.”
Peter sighed, feeling his panic rise. “Neal, you have a concussion.” Peter looked at Neal’s face, moving to the other side of him, and found what he was looking for; right under Neal’s hairline was a small, deep red gash. Peter felt hot anger rising in his veins. “A bad one.”
He was going to kill those bastards.
“Neal,” said Peter gently, but impatience and urgency sharpened his tone. “Do you have anything I can use to cut you loose?” he asked again.
“No.” said Neal, shaking his head, then stopped, seeming to realize that moving his head wasn’t the best idea. “It’s wire. Can’t...” He trailed off, shutting his eyes.
Peter stood, looking around the empty room; it was devoid of anything.
“Do you have your lock picks?” asked Peter.
“Check my jacket pocket.”
Peter turned back to Neal and reached for his jacket, being very careful not to jostle him. Neal’s eyes followed Peter’s hands, watching him. Peter checked both pockets, but they were empty. “They must have taken them.”
“Oh,” said Neal, seeming to remember. “Right.” Then he said quickly, “Not the backup, though.”
“Backup?” asked Peter blankly. “You have backup lock picks?”
Neal lazily rolled his eyes. “Duh.”
“Where do you keep backups?”
Peter bent down again. It only took him a few seconds to find the two metal picks. He pulled them out and grinned up at Neal. “I’ve never admired you more.”
Peter turned back toward the door and bent down to the lock, and then cursed.
“What?” asked Neal, a little delayed.
“It locks from the outside only,” growled Peter. He dropped his hands. The picks were useless. “This will get us nowhere.” He shook his head, massaging the back of his neck, trying to think of what to do.
“Can you… Can you untie me?”
Peter turned. Neal was taking a slow, shaking breath. Just now, Peter saw the angle that his arms were pulled behind him was putting harsh strain on his ribs.
Peter quickly circled Neal and inspected the wire binding his wrists. His breath caught again; Neal’s wrists were rubbed raw and bleeding. It was wire and it was tight. He had to give the bastards credit, though. They knew Neal’s efficiency with handcuffs.
Peter bent down, and reached for Neal’s wrists, hesitant. The wire was wrapped around Neal’s wrists more than once, but it seemed to be able to be unwound.
“This might hurt,” he warned.
“It can’t hurt worse than this,” said Neal in a quiet, strained voice.
Peter gently took hold of Neal’s wrist with one hand, trying to avoid touching where the wire cut him. Peter gripped the wire between two fingers and pulled. He felt Neal immediately tense. The wire didn’t budge. He tried again, pulling slightly harder, and Neal couldn’t hold in a small cry of pain.
“Sorry, sorry,” said Peter quickly, letting go immediately. “Neal, I’m… I have an idea, but it’s not going to—”
“Peter, please, just do it.” said Neal, his voice barely above a whisper.
Peter swallowed nervously, and looked down at what he was still holding: Neal’s lock picks. If he could fit one of the picks underneath the wire, it would probably loosen it enough to unwind.
Taking a breath, Peter lifted one of the picks and, with a hesitant glance at Neal, he slid the pick underneath the wire. Neal jerked his wrist away involuntarily, but it worked; the pick was between his skin and the wire. Peter twisted the pick, slowly lifting the wire away from Neal’s skin. Peter pulled at the wire hard, and Neal gasped. Fresh blood trickled down his hand.
Peter started to grab the wire, grateful that it started to unwind. Neal was incredibly still as Peter removed it, finally tossing it on the floor. “It’s off.” said Peter, releasing the breath that he’d been holding.
Neal slowly brought his arms around. Peter stood and looked at Neal; his face was even paler than before. He looked at Peter. “Thanks.”
“Neal,” Peter hesitated. “I’m sorry.”
“Peter, I asked you to do it. It’s fine.”
“No,” said Peter, shaking his head. “I’m sorry I put you on the case. I had no idea you were involved.”
Neal looked away. “I was hoping it would stay that way.”
“You should have told me.”
“And then what would have happened?” asked Neal, looking at Peter. “You would have been... been okay with that?”
“Well…” Peter considered. “Alright, no, probably not. But, Neal, this is a killer we’re talking about! Maverick is a killer, Neal! A killer you framed! How could you let yourself get mixed up in this?”
“I didn’t have a choice, Peter.”
Peter’s eyebrows shot up. “What do you mean, you didn’t have a choice?”
“Danger has never stopped the FBI from putting me on a case. I’m just… just a tool in their belt, Peter, you... you know that.”
“Not to me.”
Neal just stared at the floor, looking suddenly exhausted. He blinked heavily, almost looking like it was a chore to keep his eyes open. “What did they want?” asked Neal, almost having to force the words. His breath was shallow. “The drive. What is it?”
Peter sighed, backing up to the wall and sitting in front of it. He clasped his arms across his knees and then briefly relayed to him what Graff had told himself and Mozzie. Neal’s eyes had widened.
“That’s…” began Neal, trailing off.
“I know.” said Peter. “It’s terrible.”
“I was going to say genius.”
Peter sighed. “You sound like Mozzie.”
“Mozzie?” asked Neal, then something seemed to dawn on him. “You were with him?”
“I went to him when I realized that you and Maverick had met before.”
“And he…” Neal paused. “He told you everything?”
“He put up a fight, but yeah, he told me everything.”
“…everything?” asked Neal, quietly.
Peter knew why. “Yeah, Neal.” He was quiet. Then, “Why me? Why call me that night?” It was a question that had been haunting Peter all night: during that heist five years ago, why would Neal have called him? The one man who wanted to catch Neal more than anyone else?
Neal shrugged, then winced, immediately regretting the movement.
“I was hunting you down, Neal.”
“I don’t know, Peter, I panicked.” Neal shifted again, and Peter decided to drop the subject. He stood and walked back to the door, trying the handle again. It still wouldn’t budge.
“We have to get out of here,” said Peter, mostly to himself.
“Do you have your cell phone?” asked Neal quietly.
“No,” said Peter, checking the bottom hinge of the door. “Mozzie threw it out of a window.”
“Well,” said Neal, pressing a hand to his head and wincing. “Jones and Diana are tracking you, right?”
“Peter… The FBI knows we’re here... right?” asked Neal slowly.
Peter turned back to him. Neal looked stricken. “What do you mean they don’t know?”
“I couldn’t tell them! If I told them what Maverick and Allen were after, why they took you—”
“—they’d connect the dots.”
“And the Bureau’d probably send you right back to prison. I wanted to tell them, but...” Peter didn’t want to continue the sentence, but the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. “...Mozzie convinced me not to.”
“Since when have you taken advice from Mozzie?” asked Neal incredulously. “Wait. Where… where is Mozzie?”
“He…” Peter thought. Mozzie stayed in the car when Peter had been attacked. Peter was taken in clear sight. Mozzie saw.
“Oh, god.” Peter rubbed his face. “We didn’t go to the exchange together. He saw Maverick and Allen take me. Our fate rests in Mozzie’s hands.”
“At least someone knows what happened to us.” said Neal weakly.
“Neal, we need the FBI at this point!” exclaimed Peter. “It’s Mozzie! He’s not going anywhere near-”
“Have some faith in him, Peter,” said Neal softly, his eyes falling shut again.
Faith means not wanting to believe what is true.
Those words could never be more appropriate.