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26 April 2014 @ 03:34 pm
Fic: Lost Time is Gone Forever - Part 2  
Title: Lost Time is Gone Forever – Part 2
Artist: kanarek13
Author: pooh_collector
Word Count: 13,000
Characters/Pairings: Neal Caffrey, Peter Burke, Clinton Jones, June Ellington, Sara Ellis, P/E/N
Rating: PG
Warnings: might be iffy if you are claustrophobic
Spoilers: the Cape Verde episodes and this story goes AU in S5 Ep 1
Summary: On an ordinary day three years after Neal has left Peter’s life, an unexpected message leaves Peter desperate to find his former partner.




One year, four months and six days ago

Peter wandered the living room waiting for Elizabeth to finish getting ready for their anniversary dinner. They were keeping things simple this year, a corner booth at Donatella's, a good bottle of wine, a romp in the sheets later.

As he passed the bookshelf his eye caught the small silver frame with the 'prom picture' that El had taken of him and Neal. He pulled it down and looked more closely at the image, a smile spreading across his face at the memory. Neal had looked so handsome and Peter had to admit the two of them looked pretty darn good together.

As he stood there, Peter felt his wife's arms wind around his waist from behind. "You two looked good enough to eat that night," El said.

Peter nodded. "I was just thinking the same thing."

“I still miss him," El's voice was wistful.

Peter nodded again. At least while Neal was working for Phil Kramer Peter could keep tabs on him, make sure that he was alright and keeping on the straight and narrow. But, Neal's sentence was set to end in just a few short weeks and then Peter would lose his final connection to the man that he loved and had once seen as a permanent fixture in Elizabeth and his life. "Me, too."

"It's not too late," El suggested.

Peter placed the photo gently back and on the shelf and turned to face his wife. "It is. Ending things with Neal and sending him work with Kramer, it was the right thing to do, for us and for Neal. I still believe that."

"But, his sentence is ending. He'll be free and you won't be responsible for him anymore, at least not as an FBI agent."

"That's right, he'll be free to go wherever he wants, do whatever he wants, be whoever he wants. And, he's earned that, a chance to decide from himself. Would it be fair, after I sent him away, to ask him to come back, to limit his possibilities like that?"

"Is it fair, not to ask, not to find out if what he really wants is another chance with us?" El challenged.

"It's been nearly two years, and he hasn't contacted us once. Isn't that enough of an answer." And, this was the crux of it, Neal had never contacted them. El had been deeply saddened that she had never had a chance to say goodbye to Neal. Peter had ended the relationship for the three of them and Neal was on his way to D.C. two days later. She had left him several voicemails and sent a couple of emails before he had gone, but Neal had never replied.

El frowned up at Peter, nodded and then put her head on his chest, holding him close.


Three

Thankfully everyone in the room, even the few who had never met Neal, were on board to do whatever it took to find him.

Peter assigned Jones to a team that would work on backtracking Neal’s movements. They would start at Sterling Bosch and June’s and see if they could find out exactly where and when Neal had been abducted. A request for any information about possible abduction sightings with the NYPD that Jones had made earlier in the day had turned up nothing. So either no one saw Neal get grabbed or no one was talking. Tracking Neal’s phone had been a bust too. It had been turned off early this morning.

Diana who had been out of the office most of the day at a training was given the unfortunate task of trying to get something, anything from the boxes and clocks even though the preliminary attempts had failed to yield anything but dead ends. Blake was on the now three burner cell numbers, trying to triangulate the locations that the different texts were sent from. The last text message Peter had received right on schedule had been more foreboding than the rest. “Tick, tock, you’re CI’s time is almost up.”

Peter had decided to return to the suspect list and see if he could find any connection at all between the messages, the MO and any of their former cases. But first Peter had a phone call to make, one that he had put off as long as possible.

“Hey hon,” El said brightly when she answered the phone.

“Hey, hon,” Peter replied heavily. “I’m not going to make it home for dinner tonight.”

“That’s fine. What’s going on? You sound upset.”

“I am. I’m not really sure how to tell you what’s going on.”

“Peter, are you okay?” El asked anxiously.

“I’m okay, but El, something’s happened to Neal.”

Peter heard a harsh intake of breath on the other end of the phone. “Is he alright?”

“I don’t know. It looks like he was abducted either last night or early this morning.”

“Abducted from where? How did you find out?”

“He’s been here El, in New York. Someone has been sending me messages over the course of the day intimating that they have Neal and that they’re going to harm him if we don’t stop them.”

“Peter you have to find him,” El implored.

Peter wanted desperately to promise his wife that he would find Neal and when he did that he would bring Neal home with him. That Neal would be safe and they would be reunited and that they could somehow have the happily ever after that hadn’t worked out the first time. But, they had nothing to work with and Neal’s time was slipping away. “I’m trying, everyone here is trying. We’ll do everything we can.”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“No, but if I think of anything, I’ll call. I’ve got to go. I love you.”

“I love you too. Find him.” El ordered before she hung up.

Peter spent the next half hour crossing names off the list. People who had died, there were a few. People who were in foreign custody who would have a very hard time trying to arrange something like this. People who didn’t have the means, even if they really had the desire. That still left him with more than a dozen. Keller, despite being in a Russian prison was at the top of the list, but Peter had to let that option go. There was no way that he had the time to go through international channels and find out if Keller could have pulled this off.

Something was niggling at the back of Peter’s brain. It had been since he first glanced over the list of names of the people that he and Neal had caught. He stood and stared out the windows behind his desk. The sun was just starting to sink, the lights of the city beginning to glow. There was a clue in all of this somewhere, something he was missing. What did they know? Peter asked himself silently. What had their bad guy given him to work with? There had to be something, or why bother with the messages? What kind of game was Neal’s abductor playing?

Suddenly, something clicked in Peter’s mind. It wasn’t a game. It was a test. And, the alarm clocks were the key.


Two



Neal woke up crying. It had been awhile since a dream had left him with real tears in his eyes upon waking. The last time had been in the first weeks after he’d been sent to D.C., after Peter and El had given up on them, on him. Then, the dream had been more a memory, Peter in his apartment at June’s, telling Neal that he was a criminal and that he was sending Neal to Kramer, for his own good. Of course, it was what wasn’t said that night that had broken Neal’s heart and brought him to tears.

This time he had been dreaming of being trapped in his own grave, not quite dead. His breathing was soft and shallow, his brain slow and uncertain, his body cold and stiffening. The knowledge that his life was ending and that he was helpless to prevent it; it piercing his thoughts like a knife to his skull.

He woke to find his dream was his reality.

He tugged lethargically at the shirt that was still draped over his face, pulling it down toward his neck and off of his nose and mouth. Breathing in his coffin was hard enough without the weight of the fabric blocking his access to the meager available air.

He let his tears continue to fall. It was all he could do now, mourn for a life cut short while he watched and waited helplessly.

He wondered briefly where he was buried and if anyone would ever find him. Maybe some archaeologist in another five hundred years. Maybe some construction crew digging out a basement next month. Either way he was hardly Jimmy Hoffa so he doubted anyone would speculate about his disappearance for long. Maybe Sara, Moz and of course June would wonder for a while what had become of him, but they would never find him here. Truth be told that was probably for the best. Hopefully, they would simply assume that he had changed his mind about staying in New York. That he could no longer live with the idea of being so close to Peter and Elizabeth but still so far from them. That he decided the best course of action was to cut all of his ties and start over somewhere new. It was better to let them think that he was off somewhere finding his happiness, instead of grieving for him.

As for Peter and Elizabeth, now he would never know, never get the chance that he dreaded and secretly hoped for, to find out if there was any possibility they could be friends again, or lovers. And, that too was probably for the best. He had taken the risk once, they all had and despite how wonderful those few months had been, Neal doubted that Peter or Elizabeth would be willing to risk it again after how miserably things had ended that first time.

A sudden overwhelming rush of sorrow overtook him. His breathing hitched and his tears poured out in fresh waves. He didn’t want die, not now and not like this. His captor hadn’t even had the courtesy to give Neal any clue as to what he was dying for. The tick tock and the smiley face on the side of his coffin were nothing more than a horrible taunt. Neal turned his head to look over at the graffiti that mocked him one last time. He couldn’t summon any rage now, not even an iota of anger. He had resigned himself to death, despite a lifelong belief that he would never do such a thing, never give in when the odds were against him. He supposed there was a first time for everything.

Neal turned his head back, stared at the ceiling of his tomb for a final moment and then closed his eyes. There was nothing left to fight for. He would sleep and let his dreams carry him into death.


One year, one month and 26 days ago

Neal sat at the wrought iron table on the deck outside his apartment in June’s home, a glass of wine at his elbow and June herself in the seat across from him. The sun was just beginning to set, the city he has missed so much a beautiful backlit tableau before him.

“Are you sure dear, that this is what you want?” June asked, her concern for him vibrating in her voice.

He turned and smiled at her. Not his full wattage smile, but the softer, more honest one that had rarely seen the light of day while he was living in D.C far from everything and everyone that he loved. He nodded, “Yes. This is where I belong.”

“Then you’re welcome to live here for as long as you wish.”

“Thank you June, for everything.”

“Of course dear. This old house has missed you, you know. It needs a little excitement in its life every now and again.”

Neal laughed. “Well, I don’t know how much of that I’m bringing back with me this time around. I have a legitimate job, with health insurance, a 401k and stock options even.”

“Oh, I think you’ll manage to bring some adventure and lust for life into this old house again.” June replied with a bright smile.

“I’ll do my best.”

They spent several minutes then enjoying the evening, the wine and the fact that they could once again sit together on the balcony in companionable silence.

Finally June asked the question that had been on her mind since Neal first let her know of his intent to return to the city several months ago. “Do you plan to let Peter and Elizabeth know you’re back?”

Neal didn’t respond right away. Then he turned and looked at her, a sadness in his eyes that she wished she could erase for him. “No. I don’t want them to feel like they need to be my friends. I don’t want any awkward reunions or false promises.”

“But, dear there is a possibility that’ll you’ll run into them eventually. Especially Peter through your work.”

“Maybe, if and when that happens, I’ll figure it out. For now, I think it’s best if I let things stay as they are. You know they never contacted me while I was in D.C. I think that was a pretty clear message. They don’t want me in their life and I’ve accepted that.”

The hurt that the Burkes had caused him still shone so plainly on his face. “Are you certain of that dear?”

Neal had forgotten that June knew him better than he knew himself in some ways. He let out a rueful huff. “Which, that they don’t want me in their life or that I’ve accepted it?”

“Either.”

Neal shrugged. “Probably to the first, maybe to the second, but it if I keep looking for them on the other side of every coffee shop door, I’ll never figure out how to move on.” It was a dream he had had more times than he could count since he had left New York, randomly bumping into Peter and Elizabeth in a corner Starbucks or a quaint bistro somewhere. He had imagined how that reunion would go, the words spoken, the looks that would pass between them, the feelings that would be rekindled. Silently Neal chided himself once again for wanting something back that was gone forever.

He ran a hand through his hair and then looked into June’s eyes. “Promise me that you won’t tell them I’ve come back. The more time that passes, the less it will hurt all of us if we do meet again.”

June frowned. “I’m not sure that’s true, but I promise I won’t tell them anything you don’t want me too.”

Neal reached across the table and took June’s hand in his. “Thank you. I know that it seems antithetical but I came back to New York to get a fresh start.”

“A brand new start of it?” June asked with a cunning smile.

Neal laughed again, this time June could hear a hint of happiness in the sound. “In old New York, exactly.”


One



It took far longer than Peter wanted it to and far more smooth talking than Peter felt was necessary under the circumstances, but finally he had gotten through to the warden at Allenwood Federal Penitentiary and convinced the man that he needed to speak to a particular prisoner, that a life was on the line.

And, now Peter was waiting for the man who had had the audacity to tell Neal once upon a time, “A suggestion for the next time you commit a crime, don’t get caught,” to be brought from his own prison cell and put on the line.

Peter looked at his watch for probably the twentieth time since the warden had transferred the call to the guardroom on the correct prison wing. Peter had less than an hour according to the text he had received just over ten minutes ago to find his missing former partner. The text had been ominous in its curt way, “One and done.”

There was the sound of someone picking up the receiver on the other end of the line and then a voice Peter hadn’t heard since the man's trial almost four years ago said “Agent Peter Burke, I presume.”

Peter was in no mood to take any tests or keep up any facades, so he got right to the point, “Where is he, Walker?”

“Oh now Agent Burke, there’s no need to be rude. We have a moment to catch up surely.” Edward Walker's voice still had that lilting, supercilious quality to it, even after four years in prison.

“I’m not playing games with you now. I know you took him. Where. Is. Neal?”

“I’m sure I have no idea what you’re talking about. But, it’s so nice of you to call.”

“It was the alarm clocks that gave you away, just like the one you left in the safety deposit box that day. You did this.”

“If I did, you have no evidence, no way of tying anything back to me. I have the perfect alibi. I’m in prison after all.”

“Tell me where to find him.”

“I don’t think I will. Not today at least. Call me back sometime next week and maybe I’ll have unearthed some information for you then.”

“You son of a bitch,” Peter seethed.

“Now, now Agent Burke, that temper isn’t going to help you any. You know you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

“I’m not trying to catch a fly Walker, but I will catch you. I’ll find a way, if it takes the rest of my life to prove that you did this and you will never see the outside of Allenwood again.

“I’m sorry to hear you feel that way Agent Burke. It’s a shame, what happened to your CI. I hope you find him. I really do. It’s terrible that time is always against us and that clocks are a constant reminder of that. Goodbye, Agent Burke. Perhaps we’ll speak again.”

Walker hung up then, Peter heard the click as the line went dead. Walker had all but confessed though Peter didn’t really need him to. It wasn’t a confession that he had been calling to gain, it was a clue. And, now he had one.

Peter spent the next ten minutes on the internet searching for clocks in the New York metro area. There was the Clock Tower building on Broadway, the Clock Tower Triplex apartments in DUMBO and the old Colgate Clock that stood where the former Colgate Building used to be across the river in Jersey City.


Zero

Peter had left Blake to take the Clock Tower building with one team and Diana went out to DUMBO with a second team. Peter took Jones with him to Jersey City. His gut was telling him that Neal was there, somewhere at the clock that stood on the shore of the Hudson River. It was only just over a four mile drive from Federal Plaza, but they had to divert north to the Holland Tunnel and then back south again once they reached the Jersey side. It seemed to Peter like a fruitless waste of precious time.

When they finally arrived on site, the sky was fully dark. The only direct lighting came from the illuminated clock above them. There was, as Peter expected no one around, at least not visibly. The site was too open. If Neal was here, he was hidden somewhere. The clock was surrounded by a three-foot chain-link fence and a small, but empty guard booth sat just inside of it. There was a chain and padlock on the gate securing the grounds.

Peter opened the trunk of the BMW and pulled out an emergency kit that he kept there. Inside among other things was a bolt cutter, two Maglights and a small collapsible shovel. He pulled all four items out and handed the cutter to Jones who made short work of the lock and got the gate open.

Once inside, Peter and Jones separated to cover the grounds as quickly as possible. Peter started by breaking into the booth, just to be certain that Neal wasn’t hidden on the floor inside the small space, while Jones made his way around the fence perimeter.

“Jones, anything? Peter yelled out after he finished with the booth and made a quick sweep of the area with the Maglight.

“There’s no place to hide anything or anyone around here.” Jones answered as he came back around to the rear of the five-story tall clock.

“The mechanical booth,” Peter replied, as he quickly made his way over to the ladder leading up the center of the back of the structure.

Jones was right on Peter’s heels as he reached the small ledge outside of the room where the system that ran the clock was housed.

The small door was locked, but gave easily when Peter threw his shoulder against it. The door slammed into the room and Peter heard the whir of machinery. It was loud against the stillness of the night around them. When Peter waved the beam of the flashlight through the room he saw nothing but the clockwork and a small bench lining the wall on the far side.

“Nothing,” he ground out in frustration to Jones.

But Jones wasn’t behind him as Peter had assumed. Instead he was standing on the far end of the platform, his own flashlight pointed down toward the ground below them.

“Peter come look at this,” he said distractedly, waving Peter over.

“What have you got Jones?” Peter asked as he carefully made his way over to the other man’s side.

Jones flicked his flashlight’s beam over a spot on the ground. “Does that look like what I think it looks like?”

Peter looked down to where Jones indicated. Most of the earth at the base of the clock was hard packed and smooth, but here the dirt looked like it was slightly mounded in a long, narrow patch. It resembled nothing like the sight of a just filled grave.

“Oh God,” Peter breathed. He was on the ground and running toward the area Jones had highlighted before his brain even had the chance to process his climb back down the ladder. The collapsible shovel he had left on the ground leaning against the clock's supporting structure in his hand.

As soon as he reached the spot, it was even more obvious what it was and Peter began desperately shoveling the loose dirt away.

Jones ran up beside him. “Peter give me your keys,” he urged.

Peter fumbled for them in his pocket and then tossed them over, not asking what Jones wanted them for. The only thing that mattered to him was reaching Neal.

Jones ran off as soon as the keys were in his hand, but returned just a minute later with the snow shovel that Peter kept in the trunk of his car gripped in his hands. They made short work of the mound and then began digging down in earnest. The dirt was still loosely packed; it had obviously been recently dug up.

They kept going through first one foot of soil, then two, then on to the third. It was awkward with only Peter’s small hand shovel and Jones’ oversized, plastic snow shovel for the task, but they didn't let that slow them down. Peter could smell his own sweat mixed with the loamy scent of the earth. He could hear his harsh breathing in sharp counterpoint to Jones’ as they worked together without saying a word. Without voicing the fear that Peter knew they both felt - Neal had been buried alive and their time had run out more than a half ago. Neal's air had run out.

They were five feet down when Peter's shovel thunked against the solid lid of the box Neal had been buried in. The finality of the sound quickened their pace and within a couple of minutes they were standing atop the slab of oak that separated them from Neal, brushing away the remnants of the dirt.

Then Jones pulled himself back up out of the hole while Peter wedged himself against the dirt wall, shoving one foot between the box and the soil and leaving the other on top of the lid for leverage as he used the edge of the shovel to try and pry the nails up. From above, Jones aimed the beam of the Maglight where Peter was working.

As the first nails began to give, Peter called up "Jones, get an ambulance." The light never wavered, but after a few moments Peter could hear Jones on his cell, calmly speaking to a dispatcher.

Once he finally had one corner of the lid wedged up an inch Peter tried calling out to his former partner. "Neal, it's Peter, we're here and we're going to have you out in a minute. Just hang on, okay?"

Peter waited a moment, listening, hoping against hope that Neal would reply. Even if the words Neal spoke were ones of recrimination, 'go away you bastard,' Peter just needed desperately to know that the man he still loved, still lived. But, there was nothing, just the harsh sounds of his own ragged breathing.

"Neal, buddy can you answer me?" Peter asked, redoubling his effort to pry the stubborn lid up and away from the box. There was still no reply and Peter's heart began to beat wildly in his chest. "Please Neal, please," he silently begged.

It took a couple more minutes before Peter had enough of the nails pried up to grab the lid in both hands and start pulling it up. At that point Jones joined Peter again, doing his best to wedge himself into the meager space around the box to help Peter wrench the lid away.

With a resounding crack the wood finally gave way and together Peter and Jones tossed the lid up and out of the pit. That was when they finally got their first look at Neal. In the minimal light that filtered down from the clock above them, Neal looked dead but not reposeful. Signs that he had struggled where everywhere. His hair was curled around him in disarray. He had shrugged off his suit jacket, which lay rumpled beneath him. Neal's chest was bare save his undershirt, his once light blue dress shirt streaked with dirt, sweat and tears lay wrapped incongruously around his neck and head. One hand was resting on his chest, the other was gripped around a fading light stick that lay next to him.

Peter didn't have time to think about the likelihood that Neal was in fact dead, so he pushed the thought aside roughly and focused on what he needed to do. "Jones, let's get him out of here." He picked Neal up by the shoulders, noticing briefly how cold Neal's skin was while Jones got his hands under Neal's knees. It was unwieldy trying to lift Neal's limp weight over their shoulders and onto the solid ground above them, but they managed and moments later Peter was kneeling beside him.

In the slightly better light, Peter could see that Neal's lips were the same color that his dress shirt had once been, a dusky blue, and the skin on his face had a slightly bluish hue as well. Peter put one hand up to Neal's nose and mouth to see if he was breathing at all while using his other hand to check for a carotid pulse. Peter didn't feel any movement of air against his hand, but he breathed his own sigh of relief when he felt a slow, weak beat against his fingertips.

Peter ran his hand through Neal's hair and whispered "You're safe now Neal. I found you. You're going to be okay. Just stay with us."

He was so focused on Neal that he hadn't realized the ambulance had arrived until Jones put a hand on Peter's shoulder to guide him out the way to give the EMTs room to work.

Peter stood by feeling helpless for the millionth time that day during the frenetic few minutes the two medics checked Neal's vitals, bagged him, started an IV and then efficiently loaded him into the ambulance.

As the ambulance sped away on the short drive to Jersey City Medical Center, Peter watched the flashing lights on the van blurring through his tears, his heart breaking from failing his partner, his lover again.


Epilogue



One month later

Peter knocked a quick rap on the door to Neal’s apartment and then let himself in. Neal was standing in the threshold of the French doors, silhouetted by the setting sun. Peter stopped for a moment and reveled in the beauty of the man before him. Neal was dressed in khaki slacks and a blue button down shirt that fit him like a second skin. The light of the closing day highlighted the perfect curves of Neal’s body, the exquisite lines of his chiseled features. Adonis brought back to life. The analogy hit too close to home and a sudden shudder wracked through Peter’s body.

He shook it off and moved to the table to lean on the back of one of the chairs. “Good day?” He asked, with feigned casualness.

Neal turned toward Peter slowly. “It was okay.”

It had been Neal’s first day back at work at Sterling Bosch and Peter had wanted to call him numerous times to check and see how the younger man was holding up, to make sure that the stress of being back wasn’t too much for him; but Peter had held himself back. It had been a personal exercise in masochistic torture. But he didn’t want to add any more pressure to Neal or make him believe there was a real reason that Peter needed to check up on him, like he wasn’t capable of handling his life on his own any longer.

“Just okay?”

“Just okay,” Neal confirmed with a nod.

“It’s a start right?” Peter added, trying to put a positive spin on Neal’s answer.

Neal nodded again and turned back to look out across the balcony at the cityscape once more.

Peter stood there uncertain of how to continue the conversation or if he even should. Since Neal’s imprisonment, which was the only word Peter could allow himself to use to describe what he and Neal had endured that day a month ago, Neal had been distant. At first Peter believed wholeheartedly that Neal’s behavior was the result of their breakup and having sent Neal to D.C. But, eventually Peter was able to look beyond how Neal seemed to be acting toward him and El, and he realized that the distance was something that Neal had placed between himself and everyone, even June. As if the six feet of dirt that had covered him and separated him from everyone he knew and loved was still there surrounding him, suffocating him.

Peter had tried, was still trying to dig the soil away like he had that night. He had seen Neal almost every day since, sitting by his beside at the hospital, sitting by his bedside here at June’s, taking walks together in the brisk early spring air while Neal attempted to recover both physically and psychologically from what had happened.

And, Neal was making progress, Peter hoped that they both were. It was only a few days ago that Neal had finally told Peter his side of the story, what his thoughts were when he first woke up in that box, how he had tried futilely to save himself, how he had despaired knowing that this time Peter wasn’t going to find him, or even look for him. They had both cried that afternoon, Neal for the terror that the memories brought back and Peter in grief for having ever let Neal believe he deserved to be abandoned.

Peter had held Neal as the younger man cried and he shed his own tears. It was the first time that Neal had allowed Peter that close physically and while it was a moment filled with pain there was also a deep sense of contentment in Peter at being able to hold Neal in his arms again.

But despite the progress there was still something holding Neal apart from him and El. The only logical explanation was that Neal no longer loved them. That the separation that Peter had forced upon them had killed Neal’s feelings for them.

But Peter wasn’t ready to give up on the idea of a reunion. Just like he couldn’t give up on Neal even after they had passed the zero hour a month ago. He couldn’t bring himself to believe that Neal was lost to him then, and he wasn’t prepared to do it now.

Peter gathered his resolve, cleared his throat and jumped in feet first. “Neal, I’ve waited to talk to you about this until I thought you were ready.”

“Talk about what?” Neal replied keeping his eyes glued to the view.

“Us, you, me and El. We want you back in our life.”

Neal didn’t respond right away. Instead he turned back into his apartment and sat at the dining room table. “Are you sure, that’s what you both want, Peter?”

Peter took a seat across from the younger man, so that he could look him in the eye when he replied, “It is.”

Neal shook his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“Why? If you’re not ready, we can wait as long as you need.”

“Truthfully, I’m not. But that’s not the issue,” Neal replied looking down at the wood grain of the table.

Peter’s heart sank. It was what he feared. Neal had fallen out of love with them. He nodded. “I understand. It’s been a long time, of course you’re feelings have changed.”

Neal barked out a mirthlessly laugh. “How I wish that was true.”

Peter’s brow furrowed, confusion marring his features.

Neal looked up again, meeting Peter’s eyes. “Peter, I could no more stop loving you and Elizabeth than I could stop planning cons that I’ll never pull.”

“Then what is the issue?” Peter asked carefully, afraid once again of pushing Neal too far, too fast.

Neal looked down at the tabletop again. “You hurt me Peter.” Neal’s voice was shaking as he continued. “I can’t go through that again.”

Peter closed his eyes and silently chastised himself for the hundredth time for the way he handled things after he was released from prison. “I know I hurt you.” Peter took a deep breath before continuing. “I’ve made a few mistakes in my life, Neal, Connie Nussbaum in the fifth grade, my first bedbug-ridden apartment when I came to New York, not figuring out you were James Bonds the day you gave me that green sucker. But, the worst mistake I’ve ever made was sending you away.”

Neal glanced up, gracing Peter with an unreadable expression and then he looked away again.

“Neal, I can’t promise that I’ll never hurt you again. I wish I could.”

“I’m well aware of that, Peter.”

Peter nodded, acknowledging Neal’s words and his tone. “But, we love you and we want you back in our lives, in whatever way we can have you.”

They sat in silence for a moment and then Neal said, “I appreciate what you and El have done since my kidnapping. I do.”

Neal paused and when he began speaking again Peter could hear the hurt ringing in Neal’s voice. “Do you have any idea how many times I dreamed about a chance encounter with you and El, where you would look at me like I was something precious that you had lost and suddenly found again. How many times I played that first conversation over in my head. The one where you tell me that you were wrong to send me away and that you’ve missed me and longed for me every day since?

“I’m not some toy you can play with until you get bored and toss aside, only to rediscover sitting on a shelf three years later.” Neal's voice cracked. “You can’t box me up and forget about me.”

Tears were flowing down Neal’s face and Peter’s heart was lying in ruins on the hardwood floor. Neal had been right, he wasn’t ready. Part of him was still buried six feet under the Colgate Clock.

"We never forgot about you,” Peter replied. “We never stopped loving you and we never will. We’ve been here for you this past month because we want to be and that’s not going to change, Neal, never again, whether you decide you want to be with us again or not. We’ll still be here, for whatever you need.”

Neal wiped his hand clumsily across his cheeks smearing his tears more than drying them.

“I’ve been dreaming about that chance encounter too,” Peter continued. “Seeing you walk into a coffee shop or a restaurant. El and I at the table together, secretly wishing you were with us and then suddenly in you walk, the sun following you in reminding us of how bright our lives were when you were in it.”

Neal looked up into Peter’s eyes again, some of the pain replaced with curiosity.

“We would stand and I would call out to you. You would look our way, confused at first, but then a small smile would spread across your face. You walk over to our table, and when you take my hand to shake it in a friendly gesture a shiver would run through me, warming me, reminding me again of what I had so willingly given up. Then you would kiss El’s cheek and put your hand on the small of her back. And I would do anything, say anything in that moment to bring you back where you belong, in the center of our lives.”

Neal swallowed hard and a new swell of tears fell from his eyes. “You really dreamed about that?”

Peter nodded, “More times than I can count.”

There was a long pause during which Neal futilely tried to dry his eyes again. “I wish that was how it happened,” he whispered finally.

“Me too, buddy. We can’t go back and change what happened, but we can go forward.”

“Together?” Neal asked, meeting Peter’s eyes again.

“Together, always.”



Part 1
 
 
 
kanarek13kanarek13 on April 27th, 2014 10:11 am (UTC)
Wheee \o/ I am so thrilled to see this posted ♥

I read it again just now and it's the most perfect fill for my art prompt, it's like you have hacked my brain or something :D

Counting down from 10 to 0, Neal's gradually increasing grief and despair and Peter's growing fear and determination in finding Neal, and all that combined with glimpses of past mistakes and regrets and current hopes and desires - it creates such an amazing feel to the entire story, from the very beginning to the very end :D ♥

Awww, the epilogue made my heart break a little :P It was such a difficult talk between Peter and Neal, but I wouldn't want it any other way, they can't move forward without dealing with the past, however painful that is. I actually have no doubt that after making that first difficult step, they will work it out and have their happily ever after ♥

THANK YOU so much for writing this, I was so ridiculously excited when you claimed that prompt and now my squee is infinite :D Heee :D Thank you :D
pooh_collector: RBB2pooh_collector on May 2nd, 2014 04:05 am (UTC)
Yay! for infinite squee! I was thrilled when I found out it was your art I had chosen. And, then of course you were the perfect partner in crime adding so much more beautiful art to this piece. AND A GIF EVEN!!!!!

Thank you for all your wonderful support through this process. I couldn't have done it without you!

Edited at 2014-05-02 04:06 am (UTC)
sapphire2309sapphire2309 on April 27th, 2014 10:45 am (UTC)
damn you. you've always been the best at making me cry. and you've done it again.

awesome fic, btw. broke my heart.
pooh_collector: RBB1pooh_collector on May 2nd, 2014 04:06 am (UTC)
Aaaawwww!

I'm sorry I made you cry. But, I'm glad you 'enjoyed' the fic.
Frith: Neal 2frith_in_thorns on April 27th, 2014 03:09 pm (UTC)
This was really fun! I liked the counting-down structure of it especially, and the sections from Neal's POV where he was trapped and running out of air were my favourite.
pooh_collector: RBB2pooh_collector on May 2nd, 2014 04:08 am (UTC)
Thanks frith!

I appreciate knowing that the structure of the story worked.

Poor Neal, I just couldn't help torturing him. But, I'm glad you liked it.
joy2190joy2190 on April 27th, 2014 07:00 pm (UTC)
"Tears were flowing down Neal’s face and Peter’s heart was lying in ruins on the hardwood floor." You're wiping me out, Bear.
pooh_collector: RBB1pooh_collector on May 2nd, 2014 04:09 am (UTC)
Aaaawwwww! You can take it joy!

Thanks for reading!
a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf: White Collar - OT3embroiderama on April 28th, 2014 12:56 am (UTC)
Awwwwwwwwww, I love this! You made it really awful for Neal, both when he was sent away and then with being buried alive, and the angst was spread around nicely as well.

“I’m not some toy you can play with until you get bored and toss aside, only to rediscover sitting on a shelf three years later.” Neal voice cracked. “You can’t box me up and forget about me.”

Ooooh, NEAL BABY! Beautiful story. Thank you!
pooh_collector: RBB1pooh_collector on May 2nd, 2014 04:11 am (UTC)
Yeah, I couldn't help making Neal take the brunt of all sorts of bad in this one.

I'm glad you liked it. Thanks for reading and commenting e!
wise_old_cronewise_old_crone on April 28th, 2014 04:48 am (UTC)
Very sweet and touching resolution. And very fine use of the English language, too, if I may say so. :-)
pooh_collector: RBB2pooh_collector on May 2nd, 2014 04:12 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

I knew I needed to bring Neal and Peter back together in the end.
Sally M: white collar 8sallymn on April 28th, 2014 09:51 am (UTC)
Oh, well done - the suspense was palpable (even though I did 'know' you wouldn't kill him... both Neal's and Peter's terror came through strongly and carried me along with them).
pooh_collector: RBB1pooh_collector on May 2nd, 2014 04:15 am (UTC)
Yay! I'm really glad to hear that the suspense felt real.

Thanks for reading and commenting!
ladyrose42ladyrose42 on April 29th, 2014 09:48 pm (UTC)
Enjoyed the pacing and POVs of story telling. Sad how Neal distanced himself, Old villain, one rarely used in fic, good job
pooh_collector: RBB2pooh_collector on May 2nd, 2014 04:17 am (UTC)
Thanks!

It's always good to know what worked and what didn't.

As soon as I saw the art with the tick tock I thought of Walker because of the clock they find in the bank during the ep. And, he has been underused so I thought it would be a good way to go.

I'm glad you enjoyed it!
caseyf123 on April 30th, 2014 03:08 am (UTC)
"Together always"--OK, I'm a happy camper. Was getting a little nervous as my cursor got closer to the end of the story. Couldn't bear the thought of Peter saving Neal only to lose him again. Well done!
pooh_collector: RBB1pooh_collector on May 2nd, 2014 04:20 am (UTC)
I wouldn't want to leave our boys without a hopeful ending!

I'm glad you liked it!

Thanks for reading and commenting!
scarym1: Peter & Nealscarym1 on May 3rd, 2014 02:22 am (UTC)
Oh that was intense and Claustrophobic!! It was so hard to see Neal so scared. I loved seeing Peter so determined to save him.

I liked how the ending didn't have them all happily back together but at least they were talking and that there was hope. : )
pooh_collector: RBB1pooh_collector on May 6th, 2014 05:05 am (UTC)
Thank you!

I wanted the ending to be realistic. They still have a lot of things to work, but I think love will win in the end.

Edited at 2014-05-06 05:07 am (UTC)
Stacysahiya on May 4th, 2014 08:04 pm (UTC)
Oh. This was heartbreaking and terrifying by turns, but I loved the note of hope at the end, that the three of them might have a second chance together. It was beautiful.
pooh_collector: RBB2pooh_collector on May 6th, 2014 05:07 am (UTC)
Thank you!!!

I'm glad the tension came through. Strangely the epilogue was the hardest part to write, but I definitely wanted it to be hopeful, despite the piles of stuff that they all needed to work through.
where the paper flowers meets purple skymarissaangell on May 19th, 2014 12:18 pm (UTC)
Amazing!
I have no words left at this hour after such emotional story.
Awesome!
Everything was great and wonderful, art and story.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on May 19th, 2014 07:04 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm so glad that you enjoyed it.

Sorry to have made you speechless.