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19 February 2014 @ 01:26 am
[fic: white collar] Relentless as the Rain (1/3)  
Title: Relentless as the Rain (1/3)
Characters: Neal, Peter/Elizabeth, Rachel, Bruce, Mozzie
Rating: Teen
Word count: 5,500 (/20,500 total)
Content notes: SPOILERS for all of S5. Warnings for this chapter: Character presumed dead, grief, depression. Deeper levels of angst than I usually write.
Other notes: This was written from an idea of kanarek13's, who also did the AMAZING cover art.
Beta read by sholio. Using for the "stalkers" square on my hc_bingo card.

Summary: Diverges from canon during the S5 finale. The standoff on the roof goes in Rachel's favour, and Peter is left to live with the consequences.



Chapter Two | Chapter Three
Read on AO3

~

The buffeting winds from the helicopter were pushing strands of his hair into Neal's eyes, and rippling through Rebecca's dark bob-cut.

(Rachel. Rebecca had never existed — he hated that he still thought of her that way.)

She flung the lump of brick violently aside, the point of the gun barrel not wavering from Neal's head. "I will shoot you," she warned.

Adrenaline painted everything with crystal clarity. The slight crunch of stone beneath his feet. Rachel's face, eyes wide and furious. New York across the river. The roar of the wind.

And Peter's voice, where it shouldn't have been. "Drop your weapon!"

Rachel's eyes flicked towards the shout, and Neal instinctively turned his head. Peter was there, with a shotgun

— and cold metal slammed into his temple, knocking the world askew. Patches of light splintered across his eyes and he staggered, to be grabbed firmly from behind. Arms wrapped around his chest.

"You want to bet you can avoid shooting him too?"

Blinking desperately, Neal struggled dizzily to focus. Peter wavered into sight, aiming the shotgun square at Neal's chest. The barrel blurred and jumped around, even though Peter's hands stayed steady.

"Now, throw me the diamond." The sensation of Rebecca's voice vibrating against his back finally inspired Neal to try and struggle out of her grip. But she was strong, and it was as if his muscles had turned to water.

"Let Neal go."

"What, do you think I'm stupid? He's what's protecting me. Diamond."

"I don't have it," Peter said. "I left it with the helpful ranger at the gate. Do you want to come down and discuss it there?"

Rebecca let out a snarl of fury. Neal stared at Peter, catching the calm, fear-hiding expression on his face for a moment before it slid out of focus again. He felt certain that he should be thinking, but he was in too much pain.

"I could kill both of you right now," Rebecca said. (Rachel.) "But that wouldn't hurt enough."

She dragged Neal backwards. His rubbery-feeling legs fought to keep pace, and then abruptly there was nothing under his feet and he swung backwards into empty space, Rebecca's arms around him the only thing holding him up. The dizzying spin forced his eyes shut, and he thought his head might be splitting open.

Semi-conscious, he thought, Peter, I'm sorry…

~

Peter stood, helpless, as Rachel was winched up to the helicopter, Neal still held as a shield. He was limp in her grip. It would be so easy for her to let him fall —

"Do not let that helicopter get away," he barked into his radio. He couldn't do anything, not from where he was, but he didn't want to take his eyes off Neal.

"There's a police bird inbound," Jones's voice crackled back.

Would it be fast enough, though? The shotgun was hanging uselessly at his side as Peter scanned the skies for any sign of the police chopper. But there was only Rachel's, and she and Neal were vanishing inside it. After barely a moment it began to turn, rising as it did so.

"It's leaving! North-West bearing."

And then, from the helicopter's still-open door, something fell. Something the shape of —

"Jones!" Peter shouted, unable not to, unable to tear his eyes away as the distant figure fell shockingly fast. "Neal's anklet. Track it!"

The dark shape hit the river; was swallowed by it. No, oh no, no…

"Yeah, I'm already — Uh, Peter?" Jones's voice abruptly changed. "He's not moving like he's on a helicopter. It looks like he's —"

"In the river," Peter finished. It was hard to catch his breath. "She threw him out."

"I'm mobilising a rescue unit right now," Jones said, after a shocked pause. "A boat. They can pick you up."

"No, Neal's the priority. They need to get to him as quickly as possible." The helicopter was still gaining height. How far had Neal fallen? Could he possibly have survived that?

The sharp ringing of a cell phone startled him out of his shock. A moment later he recognised it — that was his own phone…

It was lying where Rachel had stood, right before she had stepped off the fort. The caller ID was Neal's. It made his stomach twist with abrupt, painful hope.

"Peter." Rachel's voice wasn't unexpected, of course not, but it made him feel sick to his stomach nonetheless.

"What did you do?" Peter demanded. It came out barely above a whisper, and horrified. He couldn't look away from the helicopter's fast-retreating shape.

"I've no more use for either of you," Rachel said. She didn't sound calm either. "If you had just given me the diamond, Neal would still be alive now. I didn't want to kill him, but the two of you left me no choice."

"You could have just let him go!"

"If it helps," she said, and her voice faltered just for a second, "he was unconscious when he fell. He didn't know what was happening." Her voice hardened. "Don't come looking for me, Peter. You'll never find me."

The call disconnected. It took long seconds for Peter to realise he still had the phone pressed against his ear. He lowered it slowly. The helicopter was becoming a dot in the distance.

Neal, unconscious, hitting the water and his lungs pulling in a breath…

He's Neal. If anyone could survive that fall, he can.

His radio crackled. "Agent Burke?"

He had to swallow sharply before answering. "Yes?"

"This is Chief Thomason, on the rescue boat. We're above the signal location. It's moving with the current, but we're moving with it."

"Above?" Peter asked, sharply.

"I'm sorry," Thomason said. His voice had dropped, sympathetically. "I'm arranging some divers, for the recovery operation."

"Are you sure —"

"Agent, we're in the middle of the river. If your man were at the surface we'd be able to see him. I'm sorry," he repeated, and Peter fought the urge to smash the radio into the ground, to break it viciously, repeatedly, as if that could make the facts not be true.

A moment later, the call came in that the helicopter had got away. And Peter could do nothing except stand there, staring out over the city, his rage draining away and leaving a terrible, all-permeating emptiness.

~

He didn't remember until he reached the car that Rachel still had his keys, and he had to use the radio again to call for a lift.

He was tossing the blue diamond from hand to hand when one of the Bureau's black cars pulled up and Diana got out, her face shuttered. He'd been expecting a probie, but he was overwhelmingly glad to see her instead. "Jones is at the nearest dock," she said, with no preamble. "He's coordinating with NYPD to get a couple of their divers. They should be ready within the hour. Do you want to go down there?" Her voice was tight, like she'd not been able to take a deep breath in some time.

Peter shook his head. "We should go to the Bureau," he said. Rachel was getting away, and they couldn't afford the start that several hours of him waiting for divers to find… Neal… would give her. And then something else occurred to him, and his heart sank even further, which he hadn't thought possible. "But we need to go via the hospital."

"Oh, god," Diana said, as she realised too. "Mozzie and Elizabeth —"

"Yeah, they don't know yet." Peter strapped himself into the passenger seat, pulling out his phone and staring blankly at the texts El had been sending him, reporting cheerfully that Mozzie was beginning to recover from his poisoning.

Diana nodded brusquely, blinking hard, and she stared straight ahead as she pulled out. They drove in silence. Peter couldn't stop thinking how unreal this all seemed, like a bad dream. This just couldn't happen to Neal.

They parked in front of the hospital, and both stayed sitting inside the car for long moments. "You don't have to come up," Peter offered.

Diana shook her head determinedly. "No, I do."

It was worse than Peter had expected. Of course it was worse. He had barely opened the door before Mozzie, sitting up and looking reassuringly animated, demanded, "Did you get the diamond?" And then, "Hey. Where's Neal?"

Elizabeth read something in Peter's face before Mozzie did, and one of her hands rose towards her mouth.

"Suit?" Mozzie demanded, more sharply. He pushed himself more upright, hands beginning to grip the sheets.

"Rachel," Peter said. "She —"

Mozzie was leaning towards him, eyes very wide in his pale face. "Is he all right?"

Peter began to shake his head. "No," he said.

"He's hurt? How bad is it?" Beside Mozzie, Elizabeth was beginning to get to her feet.

Diana took a step forward, bringing herself level with Peter. "Mozzie, Neal's gone," she said. "Rachel killed him."

"Oh, god," El whispered, and it was Mozzie's hand she reached for, squeezing his fingers so hard that her knuckles went white.

"No," Mozzie said, and began to shake his head. "No, no. He wouldn't…" His eyes met Peter's in a silent plea. But Peter didn't have an answer for him, except the one that he didn't want to hear.

~

The Bureau was a rush of activity, faltering as Peter walked in through the doors but resuming a moment later. He strode straight through and up to his office, not making eye contact with anyone, and no one got in his way. Diana wasn't so fortunate — he glanced back as he climbed the stairs to see her at the centre of a knot of agents, having to confirm what the shocked questioners already knew.

Rachel escaped again. Neal's dead.

An APB had already been issued; Peter within minutes was on the telephone with Interpol and then with the FBI's other sister agencies, making sure they were updated. He described her recently-changed appearance as best he could, and found himself thinking, we need Neal to make a sketch.

And he caught himself checking, again and again, Neal's tracking data. Waiting for the moment when it would leave the river, and this would all finally have to become real. They had barely been able to stop Mozzie from climbing out of his hospital bed and running down to join the searchers — it had been Elizabeth who had persuaded him, in the end.

So he was staring at the steady dot when it abruptly cut out.

His cell phone was in his hand before he'd even registered it. "Jones," he said, as soon as the call picked up, "What's going on?"

"Peter, I'm sorry," Jones said. His voice was tight, as if he were grimacing. "You're not going to like this."

"What?" Peter repeated, a tinge of nausea rising. It couldn't be worse news, how could it be…

"A Navy ship's been doing manoeuvres, and the current's been pulling Caffrey along faster than we thought it would. The signal just cut out underneath the ship."

"You mean —" Peter began, horrified, and had to stop to swallow hard. The powerful engines, churning the massive propellers…

"We had the divers ready to go, and we're going to keep searching downstream of the ship. They're not giving up yet on recovering him."

"Right," Peter said, numbly. "Let me know. As soon as you find… anything."

"Yeah." Jones's voice dropped. "Shit, Peter."

"Yeah," Peter agreed, and hung up. He swallowed thickly again, and then abruptly pushed his chair back and tried not to hurry too visibly to the (mercifully empty) restroom. He reached it only just in time to throw up.

I can't tell Elizabeth this, he thought, as he splashed water on his face. He wasn't sure whether he would be able to bring himself to tell Mozzie.

~

The house was full of boxes. Peter manoeuvred through the neat packages of his life to the alcohol cabinet, and found it empty. Obviously.

Elizabeth was curled up on top of the duvet, fully clothed. She turned her head as Peter came in but didn't speak. He climbed onto the bed next to her, and she nestled into his arms.

"Where did Mozzie go?" Peter asked, eventually. Diana had let him know he'd been discharged from the hospital.

El shook her head. "To June's, I think, but he didn't really say. I offered to drive him but he turned me down."

Peter held her tight. She was so warm, and he could feel her heartbeat. Her breathing. His eyes fell on the boxes stacked against the walls. "I never imagined we'd be leaving New York like this."

"I know," El said. "You'll be able to use the resources in Washington to track Rachel, won't you?"

"Damn right." Although he couldn't picture being gone. Even with the evidence of their move all around him, he couldn't now believe it was actually going to happen.

"I just can't believe it," El said, echoing his thoughts. "Neal."

What could he say? He could barely believe it either.

El pressed herself closer to him, and then abruptly rolled away. "Hon, what's that in your pocket?" she asked.

"Huh?" Peter obediently fished in his pocket, and his fingers closed around a small, hard object. "Oh, damn," he said, and pulled out the diamond. "I was going to turn this in, and I forgot all about it."

"It's beautiful," El said, and took it gently from him, rotating it in her fingers. There were tears suddenly pooling in her eyes, overspilling and running down her cheeks. "But it isn't worth it."

"It isn't," Peter agreed. It was such a small thing to have caused all this disaster. For Siegel and Hagen and Neal to have died for. He watched how the light was caught in its blue depths as El tilted it. Nothing would be worth this cost — the diamond didn't even come close.

"I'll drop it off at the Bureau tomorrow morning," he said. "It'll give me a chance to say a proper goodbye to everyone, before we leave. What time are the movers getting here?"

"Eight," El said. She wiped her eyes with her sleeve, and looked at the clock. "We should probably try and sleep."

"I don't think I can," Peter confessed. He lowered his head, pressing his face into her hair.

"Nor me," El said. She bit down on another sob as it escaped from her. "But we need to try."

~

Washington DC felt worlds different from New York. And worlds away, for all that it was only a few hours' drive.

El had house-hunted while she'd been staying with Bruce out of Rachel's way. As a result, they were able to move straight into an airy two-storey place in the suburbs, with good commuting routes for both of them and a park nearby.

It was perfect, Peter thought, sitting at the kitchen table which he'd owned for years but which now was, like everything else, strangely unfamiliar in its new setting. Everything was perfect.

Except for how it wasn't, at all.

Satchmo whined and sniffed suspiciously at each box, deeply unhappy at the upheaval of his uneventful life. "I know how you feel, buddy," Peter muttered, and scratched his ears.

They didn't have internet in the house yet, but he was able to check his emails on his phone. There was one from Diana, short and to the point. The search for Neal's body had been officially called off. They were well past the stage where they were likely to find anything.

Peter felt like he'd been the one to run away this time.

~

His first full week in his new office was interrupted for Neal's memorial ceremony back in New York. It was a bleak affair, on a dull grey day.

Mozzie made his first reappearance since he'd received the news, he and June holding each others' hands tightly throughout. More people from the White Collar division attended than Peter had expected, and there were some distinctly suspect characters lurking around the edges. Not that he was in any sort of mood to care. He held onto Elizabeth, and envied her the release of being able to cry.

"How's DC?" Diana asked him, afterwards.

"Different," Peter said. "I miss the field. How're you guys doing?"

"We've got a new ASAC," Diana said. "Transferred in from Boston yesterday. She seems okay."

"Glad to hear it," Peter said, feeling a pang of jealousy. "You'll have forgotten all about me in no time."

"Only if you never visit," Diana said. "You're one of Theo's uncles, don't forget."

"I've no intention of losing touch with either of you," Peter assured her.

He didn't know what to say to June, who had heartbreak written across her weary face. Nor to Mozzie, who glared at him when he approached. It was Mozzie's way, Peter reminded himself, to find someone to blame. To need someone to blame. He fumbled his way through platitudes, and June was distantly cordial in return. Mozzie simply nodded.

If he hadn't let Neal go up to confront Rachel…

Elizabeth drove them back to DC. (Back home.) Neither of them was in the mood to talk, so she put on one of her CDs; some lilting music that was quiet and (it seemed) gently mournful. But everything was mournful, down to the darkening skies and the soft patter of rain.

They made love that night, on a bed that seemed to creak in a different way to how it always used to, in a room still mostly empty of themselves. And Peter cried when it was over, the first time he'd managed tears, and Elizabeth held him to her breast and stroked his hair and she was weeping too, but Peter only realised it when he touched his hand against her face.

And the next morning he went back to work.

He had been telling the truth to Diana when he'd said he missed the field, but he was already beginning to be surprised at how much he was enjoying some aspects of the deskwork. He was still doing things that mattered, even though he wasn't personally catching the bad guys any more. There was a whole edifice of bureaucracy that had to be maintained to allow the field agents around the country to do their jobs. Some bits, like the eternal meetings, were hell, but he was good at administration and finance — he always had been.

A week went by, and then a month. He was settling in.

Elizabeth had transitioned easily. She was loving her job at the National Gallery, and already impressing her supervisors. With a sort of fierce determination she had already amassed a network of friends, and made more on each political event she accompanied Peter to.

Peter was finding it harder. He liked the other section chiefs and the general Bureau staff he worked with well enough, but so far he hadn't found anyone he really clicked with. No one like Neal, he thought, with a formless sense of guilt.

And there was enough guilt to be getting on with. It woke him up at night; found him wandering the still-unfamiliar corners of the house to find a calming drink that didn't calm him. It had silently become a part of his schedule: 3 a. m., let Satchmo out into the yard and consider how you failed to save Neal.

If he'd kept a closer eye on what Neal was up to. If he'd forced a confrontation with Rebecca/Rachel when he'd first met her. If he'd forced Neal to stay away from Rachel's case. If he hadn't let Neal go up onto the roof of the fort…

There seemed no limit to the possible self-recriminations. They drifted past him endlessly each night, like a procession of ghosts.

"Hon, I think you should talk to someone," El said one evening, apparently apropos of nothing.

Peter looked up from the report he had been reading. "What do you mean?"

She pursed her lips slightly as she looked at him. "I think you should consider talking to a councillor. About Neal, and everything that's happened."

"I don't need to talk to a shrink," Peter said, automatically. "I'm fine."

She pushed aside her laptop and got up, smoothing the hair down on his head. "Sweetheart, you're not fine. This is eating you up. I've been worrying about you."

Peter shook his head, which dislodged her hand. He slipped his arm around her waist instead, and she leaned into him. "Talking to a stranger wouldn't help. I'll deal with it on my own." He felt a fierce surge of protectiveness — Neal was his. His memories weren't about to be poured over and dissected by someone who had never known him.

El shook her head doubtfully. "You aren't talking to anyone, though. Not even me."

That made Peter look up sharply. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm not trying to shut you out…"

"I know," she said, with a sigh.

"I've been talking to Diana," Peter said. They had been emailing back and forth, exchanging a few paragraphs every couple of days. She sent photos of Theo, and told him about cases she was working on. In return… well, he mostly responded to her news, really.

Still, it made Elizabeth look happier. "I'm glad," she said, and kissed him. She glanced at the report he was still holding. "Have you nearly finished your work for tonight?"

"Shouldn't be long," Peter said.

His phone gave him an email alert then, and he opened his own laptop to look, while El went back to hers. He had expected it to be another missive from Diana, but the message in his inbox was from a free webmail service, with the user name 'dantehaversham937624' and no subject line.

Peter frowned in surprise. He'd had no contact at all with Mozzie since the funeral, although he suspected Elizabeth to be in touch (and probably sworn to secrecy about it). He opened the email.

Do you think Neal might be alive?

Peter caught his breath, only just managing to keep himself from making a noise which would alert El. Please don't let Mozzie have been trying to feed false hope to her too… He shouldn't be surprised, of course, that Mozzie would want to turn to conspiracies. But, oh god, it was just too much to handle.

He sent back one word: No. He felt nauseous. He was trying to deal, trying to come to terms, and then…

He retreated hastily to the bathroom on the other side of the house, and sat on the edge of the tub breathing slowly until he was sure he wasn't going to be sick. Not that there was all that much in his stomach — he didn't have much of an appetite these days. (It was to be expected, though, now that he was behind a desk all day and getting less exercise.)

When he looked in the mirror, he was shocked by how pale his face was. No wonder El was worrying about him, if he was usually looking even half this bad. Get a grip, Burke, he told himself, sternly.

He refused that night to get up and wander the house when he woke in the dark early hours. But sleep wouldn't take him, no matter how long he lay still with his eyes firmly closed, grief and guilt knotting into a physical ache deep inside him.

~

"Peter, you don't look too well," Bruce said, eyeing him critically over his desk.

Peter shrugged slightly, feeling self-conscious. "I didn't get a lot of sleep last night." Hadn't for a while, really. Certainly not since Mozzie's email had sparked off something dangerous and painful — there hadn't been any further communication from him in the days since, but Peter couldn't forget it.

"You know, most people find working here less stressful than running a field office."

Peter snorted, momentarily diverted. "I don't believe you. I had four budget meetings this week with people who all wanted completely different answers to the same question. I never had to do that in New York."

Bruce laughed. "Well, maybe. Don't go spreading that around, though, or we'll never be able to recruit anyone to DC at all."

Peter smiled. "Somehow, I don't think you'll have a problem there —" He broke off sharply at a twanging pain from his stomach.

"Peter?" Bruce was suddenly in front of him, hands hovering awkwardly.

It was a moment before he could speak — he could do nothing until he'd rode out the wave of agony. "Sorry," he gasped. "Be okay."

Bruce guided him down into the visitor's chair. "I'm calling a medic," he said, and left without giving Peter a choice in the matter. Not that he could have really argued — he wasn't even sure he'd be able to stand. He was abruptly nauseous, and shivering hard.

The FBI medic took a quick look at him and told him to go to the ER. "I can drive you," she said, and Bruce nodded his agreement.

At least it was possible for Peter to move under his own power, although the residual pain made him slow. The medic walked next to him, not trying to force support on him. He was grateful for that. "What's your name?"

"Mikaela," she said. "You're Peter, yes?"

He nodded. "Thanks for doing this."

"It's my job," she told him calmly, which somehow made it slightly less humiliating.

At Mikaela's insistence, he phoned Elizabeth on the way to the hospital, despite not wanting to disrupt her day. She arrived not long after they'd taken seats in the waiting room, just as Peter was called back.

The doctor he saw was brisk, but gentle. She took his temperature and then asked Peter a long series of questions about his diet and lifestyle habits, which he answered as honestly as he could. When she'd finished she wrote something on his chart and then frowned slightly, tapping her pen against it.

"You've got classic signs of an early-stage peptic ulcer," she said. "I'm going to prescribe some antibiotics as a treatment, but if your symptoms don't improve within a week you need to come back here. You should also check in with your primary physician anyway, just for monitoring in case this is something more serious." She scribbled down some more things on his chart. "You're also going to have to restrict your diet for a little while, to help yourself heal. I'll write a note on your scrip so you get given the information at the pharmacy."

Peter nodded. "Thanks," he said.

"And I'll write you a sick note for the rest of the week."

"That's not necessary," Peter protested. "I just sit at a desk. I'll be fine."

She didn't look impressed. "My medical recommendation is that you spend the rest of the week at home. From what you've told me, you've experienced a lot of stress over the last couple of months, which has probably contributed to making you ill now." She sighed slightly, as if already bracing herself for an argument. "I also recommend a psych consult. You're displaying strong symptoms of depression."

"No," Peter said, immediately. "No, I don't need that."

She raised an eyebrow at him. "Agree to spend the next few days resting, and that recommendation stays off-the-record."

Peter decided, grudgingly, that he liked her. "Done," he said.

~

Elizabeth was waiting for him out in the main area. "I said I'd take you home, so Mikaela's gone back to the Bureau," she said. "I like her. We should invite her and her wife over for dinner sometime."

"That sounds nice," Peter agreed. They'd barely done any hosting since the move, although he suspected that Elizabeth must have wanted to but had held back because of the knowledge that Peter didn't. He felt grateful for her all over again.

El let him kiss her as she stood up. "What did the doctor say?" she asked.

Peter grimaced. "Early-stage stomach ulcer," he admitted. "I've got a prescription and a diet plan, and I'm not supposed to go to work until Monday."

"I should think not," El said. Her lips pressed together into a sharp line. "Hon…"

"I didn't know," Peter said, quickly. "I wasn't really ignoring anything. I didn't realise —"

"Yes, I know," El said. She sighed. "That's sort of the problem, really. You've been so wrapped up inside your head, not letting anyone else in… Did you really think I haven't noticed you getting up in the night, or that you're throwing away half your food?"

Peter didn't know what to say. "I'm sorry," he hazarded.

She folded her hands around his. "Sit down. I'll get your prescription." Her voice was gentle.

She was gentle with him as she took him home, too, installing him on the couch while she brewed ginger tea. Then she sat down beside him, holding her own mug.

"There's no time limit on grief," she said.

"I know," Peter said. He looked down at his mug. "And I know I'm not the only one who misses him. I just… I don't know how to talk about it. I don't even think I want to."

El shifted up to nestle against him. "You don't have to talk, if that wouldn't help you," she said. "But you do need to take better care of yourself."

Peter felt a stab of guilt. She had told him before, explicitly, that she was worrying about him. He had hardly made things any easier for her since then. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'll try. I really will."

She smiled at him, hopefully. "I love you," she said. Then, more briskly, "I'll take a look at what you are and aren't allowed to eat, and see what we've got in the kitchen. No working while I'm gone."

"I promise not to," Peter said, smiling back. "I just need to make a few calls and let people know they won't be seeing me until Monday. Then I'm all yours."

They didn't do anything particularly special with their unexpected weekday together, but it was… relaxing. El balanced her laptop on her knees to at least keep on top of her emails, and Peter leaned against her and read his way through a novel he'd been given for his birthday and had never found time to start. They ate a slightly bland dinner and watched a movie, and Peter was surprised to realise just how much stress he'd been carrying around — he could feel the difference just one evening away from it made.

For the first time in weeks, he slept through the night.

He had the house to himself the next day, as El had to be back at the Gallery. It felt strange to have nothing urgent clamouring for his attention.

About mid-morning though, he gave in to temptation and checked his personal email. (It wasn't technically off-limits, but he still felt mildly guilty about it.) Diana had sent him a photo of Theo covered in strawberry ice cream and looking delighted about it, which made him grin.

And there was another message from dantehaversham937624. This one had the subject line, Proof.

With a sinking feeling, Peter opened it, ready for a knee-jerk reaction to whatever conspiracy Mozzie had come up with.

The email started with pictures of five paintings and one stock certificate, with the annotation that they had all come up on various markets around the States within the last month and a half. Below were close-ups from each, at least one featuring the sort of lighting effect that suggested someone who had just broken in to where it was being stored was illuminating it with a flashlight for the camera.

Each close-up featured small, subtle, almost imperceptible symbols. Peter stared at them, feeling a nagging familiarity, until he abruptly realised where he had seen them before. Each one had been a symbol used to hide the coordinates of the diamond in Mosconi's codex.

Someone who was familiar with the codex had added these into forgeries.

Barely breathing, Peter typed back, You think Neal did these?

He refreshed the inbox until he got a reply. It only took a few minutes. The only people to see these were me, you, Hagan, and Neal. It's proof! Neal's alive, and he's sending us messages!

He would do that. Neal was more than clever enough to find a way. How did you find these? Do you have more intel?

I've been watching every forged piece in Neal's style that's gone up for sale, of course. I TOLD you he's still alive!

Peter stared at the screen, his emotions in turmoil. Part of him wanted to be sceptical, but the rest of him shouted it down. He believed Mozzie. Neal was alive.

Neal was alive, and was sending up distress flares.

Neal was alive, and Peter hadn't even been looking for him.

~

Chapter Two | Chapter Three

~

Posted at http://frith-in-thorns.dreamwidth.org/117753.html with comment count unavailable comments.
 
 
 
sinkwriter: WC - Caffrey & Burkesinkwriter on February 19th, 2014 02:16 am (UTC)
You can't stop there! I need to read the rest!!

:D
Frith: Neal 1frith_in_thorns on February 19th, 2014 02:37 am (UTC)
Next chapter on Thursday :D I'm glad you're enjoying it so far!
calis_1stcalis_1st on February 19th, 2014 02:31 am (UTC)
I knew he couldn't be dead. Please please please, with cherries and whipped cream and sprinkles, give us the next two chapters.

It makes sense that Mozzie wouldn't believe that Neal was dead, and that he would track forgeries and search for Neal's signature. (And I think it will be Mozzie who figures out (and has to prove) that Neal's been kidnapped, too.)

I so look forward to more of this story.
Frith: Neal 2frith_in_thorns on February 19th, 2014 02:41 am (UTC)
In an alternate universe Mozzie never gives up and tracks forgeries for any sign of Neal for years, but he's been dead the whole time. (I'M SORRY.)

I'm really happy you're enjoying this -- thank you!! More Thursday :D
(no subject) - calis_1st on February 19th, 2014 03:21 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - hurinhouse on February 19th, 2014 03:37 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - frith_in_thorns on February 19th, 2014 01:17 pm (UTC) (Expand)
hurinhousehurinhouse on February 19th, 2014 03:05 am (UTC)
I love how well you're getting into peter's head here, how devoted he is to neal and how much it's affected him. and mozzie - I think that it would be almost impossible for moz to actually deal with neal's death. I could see him in perpetual denial rather than have to deal with the emotions, the heartbreak.

can't wait to read the rest.
Frith: Seasonalfrith_in_thorns on February 19th, 2014 03:15 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I actually feel kind of bad about how mean I'm being to everyone in this fic :P But I'm really glad that you're enjoying reading!

I definitely think that Mozzie would have such a hard time ever accepting this. And it would mess Peter up so much. *hugs them both*
what are thissfruof on February 19th, 2014 04:35 am (UTC)
Eeek! This was great. I'm excited to hear you already have plans to post the next chapter on Thursday.
Frith: Neal 1frith_in_thorns on February 19th, 2014 01:17 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! Really happy you're enjoying this :)
caseyf123 on February 19th, 2014 04:56 am (UTC)
Great story. From heartbreaking to hopeful. Can't wait to find out where Neal is and why he's being so mysterious about letting people know he's alive. Looking forward to the next chapter.
Frith: Neal+Peter 2frith_in_thorns on February 19th, 2014 01:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! ♥
Cynthiadaniel_shadow on February 19th, 2014 06:00 am (UTC)
Great start. Love it. Now need the rest of the story. :)

Edited at 2014-02-19 06:01 am (UTC)
Frith: Diana 1frith_in_thorns on February 19th, 2014 01:29 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! :D
pipiljpipilj on February 19th, 2014 09:59 am (UTC)
Lovely story, like the different ways people are dealing with Neal's "death", Peter brooding and blaming himself and eventually getting sick. Mozzie looking for signs that Neal is alive. Little details like Diana sending mails to Peter with Theo's pic, Peter quite enjoying his work in DC made your story an enjoyable read. Looking fwd to the next update.
Frith: Neal+Peter 1frith_in_thorns on February 19th, 2014 01:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! Yeah, I thought Peter probably *would* enjoy DC -- it's what he was specifically working towards, after all. But I think both he and Mozzie would, in different ways, find it almost impossible to move on from Neal's death for a very long time. I'm really glad you're enjoying reading!
kanarek13kanarek13 on February 19th, 2014 12:23 pm (UTC)
I can't even begin to describe the level of squee this story provides \o/ Which is why my comment will probably be very incoherent (heee)

I'm just so glad I shared that idea with you :D

This chapter is so heartbreaking, Peter's grief and slowly developing depression, the constant feeling of guilt - it's all so palpable here, I just want to hug him and never let go *squish*

I also very much enjoy the fact, that Peter actually likes his new job in DC and he is getting used to living in a new place. But it's also clear it will never be perfect without Neal in his life *hugs him*

Oh, Peter and El talking about the diamond is also a beautiful scene, a ton of such diamonds still wouldn't be worth even a fraction of Neal's life ♥

And then Mozzie. He is so wonderfully in-character here, the fact that he refuses to believe that Neal is gone and just continues to look for clues - this is 100% Moz. I perfectly understand Peter's feelings here, on one hand Moz keeps the very dim light of hope still glowing, but on the other hand, if it turns out it was false, it would be like losing Neal all over again. Poor Peter, really *hugs him more*

Already looking forward to the next chapter \o/

Thank you so much for writing this, it's epic *tacklehugs*
Frith: Lovefrith_in_thorns on February 19th, 2014 02:40 pm (UTC)
I'm really thrilled that you like what I did with your idea! And I'm still not over the GORGEOUS graphics you made me for this! ♥

I both enjoyed and felt incredibly mean about breaking Peter like this XD But I think he *would* enjoy his work in DC -- it was his ambition to go there, after all. And yeah, he knows how dangerous it would be to follow Mozzie down a rabbit-hole of blindly wishing Neal's alive and refusing to accept it. (As I said in a comment above, in an alternate universe Neal really *is* dead and Mozzie still keeps going like this...)

Again, thank you so much for this comment! ♥
lov_pb on February 19th, 2014 01:32 pm (UTC)
"I've no more use for either of you," Rachel said. She didn't sound calm either. "If you had just given me the diamond, Neal would still be alive now. I didn't want to kill him, but the two of you left me no choice."

Oh ... incredibly cold and efficient. She destroys both men equally. One to death and one to endless remorse. Ah Rachel/Rebecca!

So relieved Neal is alive; anxiously awaiting the next chapter.
Fantastic visual story poster.
Frith: Diana 1frith_in_thorns on February 19th, 2014 02:42 pm (UTC)
I loved Rachel as a villain character! :D And she's a huge amount of fun to write. She definitely knows what she's doing to Peter. I'm really happy you enjoyed this!
(Deleted comment)
Frith: Neal 1frith_in_thorns on February 20th, 2014 01:40 am (UTC)
Thank you very much! I do hope you enjoy where I'm taking it :D
joy2190joy2190 on February 21st, 2014 02:26 am (UTC)
WOW, great story, you've got me completely hooked!
Frith: Neal+Peter 2frith_in_thorns on February 21st, 2014 02:39 am (UTC)
Thank you very much! :D
eldoraheldorah on February 21st, 2014 02:49 am (UTC)
Stowing this away safely on my "to read" list! I can't wait to read this - as soon as this round of exams goes away I am going to kick back and relax with this fic... =)
Frith: Booksfrith_in_thorns on February 23rd, 2014 01:47 am (UTC)
Good luck with your exams! <3
(no subject) - eldorah on February 25th, 2014 05:21 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - eldorah on March 1st, 2014 06:20 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - frith_in_thorns on March 4th, 2014 01:29 am (UTC) (Expand)
Jasmine: Neal in shadowreve_silencieux on February 22nd, 2014 11:13 pm (UTC)
I'm coming back to comment because I had to sneak this in during work the other day - I really needed the pick-me-up then. And even though I knew it was going to be angsty, I loved it. It hurts to see how much it's affecting Peter. And of course Mozzie is still trying to deny it and find Neal.

For storytelling purposes, I'm glad you were able to pull off the whole 'Neal is presumed dead' plotline without the FBI being skeptical. It really makes it hit harder and feel all the more real and painful. I'm not sure if I'm glad I knew before reading or not. But I'm thoroughly enjoying it!
Frith: Diana 1frith_in_thorns on March 4th, 2014 01:28 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm especially glad that you liked how I did the presumed dead bit -- it took me a while to come up with a scenario everyone would believe (especially with Neal's record!).
I do think Mozzie especially, with his love of conspiracies, would have a really hard time accepting Neal's death, however much evidence there was. I'm happy the character reactions felt real to you!