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Title: The Greatest Secrets are Always Hidden in the Most Unlikely Places
Author: hurinhouse
Fandom: White Collar
Rating: NC-17
Characters: Peter/Neal
Summary: Peter will unearth all of Neal's secrets, if only to keep him close.
Words: 8,543
Disclaimer: Entirely fiction

Notes: title from a quote from the great author Roald Dahl.

Notes: For [livejournal.com profile] theatregirl7299 :) for [livejournal.com profile] wcpairings




"Seriously, Peter? Plenty of Americans are still kidnapped in South America each year. This is the last place I can imagine wanting to get separated from the man sworn to protect me."

"Exactly why you need to wear it. It's like a bodyguard."

Neal's brow raises. "A bodyguard? The marshals can't monitor me down here anyway."

Peter wiggles his phone in his hand. "But I can and it will help me to keep you safe, which is not up for discussion."

Peter can see the dichotomy in Neal's eyes - the defiance wanting to keep arguing, the humbled part of him pleased that Peter cares. But he can't show it or he wouldn't be Caffrey. Peter's okay with that because he doesn't want Neal sassing him in front of Moreno and Rossi. He's sure they've never heard of him down here in Chile but he has a reputation to maintain, if not for his Agent/CI status, then at least for the NYC office.

"You should really think about having your obsession with me looked into, and by the way, I still think this intelligence you received was a poorly disguised prank. Why would anyone hide masterpieces within a cave in South America?" Neal sets his leg up on the chair as Peter locks the anklet back into place. Neal's skin is warm as Peter's fingertips brush it and his shin leans in just slightly when they connect.

"That may be, but it's our job to find out so play nice with the Chilean special agents."

*

When they had arrived at the foot of the mountain days ago, the air had crackled with anticipation. Peter knows Spanish but it's been years since he's used it on a regular basis so he's been relying on Neal, Rossi and Moreno to translate. Today is probably a wild goose chase but since they fly home in the morning it's their last cave system, the rest up to Rossi and Moreno to coordinate. Neal had been acting strange most of the trip, wavering between teasing Peter and complaining about the heat, eager to get a look in each cave, but bored as soon as they'd entered.

The day wears on, cave after cave, and Peter's ready to call it when Neal saunters toward the next cave entrance.

"Neal?"

He stares at the hieroglyphics just inside the entrance as he had all the others, but this time for long moments, as though he knows what he's looking for, before snatching a flashlight and climbing up higher, studying the inside of the threshold, for nothing as far as Peter can see. Just a bunch of bumps and recesses. Then Neal's eyes light up and he takes off into the cave.

"Neal!" Peter follows, of course, angry and worried, Rossi and Moreno and the guides noticing the action from the vehicles and, Peter hopes, following. Not for the first time he wonders if Neal has his own stash here but he's never had reason to believe Neal was ever in South America.

He follows Neal for a good half hour, frequently losing sight of him, only to catch up several minutes later. He carefully sidesteps an underground pool and he can see light coming through a large opening high into a wall. Natural light.

He calls out Neal's name but gets no answer. There is no way to reach the hole from the cave floor but he knows Neal came into this cavern. He quickly searches the walls and finds no other way out. The local agents catch up with him, help him move enough rocks beneath the opening for him to climb up. He just gets his face high enough to peer through and sees just another cavernous space, the rocky ceiling looking to be about twenty feet high. But this time, sunlight floods through a small hole near the top, illuminating a treasure within the cave.

Neal has found it. Peter can only see the top half of the area at his low point, on tip toes at that. Ancient paintings are stacked everywhere, some on the floor, many more up higher on rocky ledges. Frame after frame of masterpieces fill the space. He sees works he remembers have been missing for hundreds of years. So, not Neal's stash.

Peter has no doubt these are real. He only has to look at Neal. The man is mesmerized. He stands just out of the shaft of light gazing at the art, eyes wide with wonder. His legs seem to give out and he falls to his knees, his eyes never leaving the art, his face now illuminated by the shaft of light. Peter can only see the top of him since he's knelt. His skin glows with a flush of excitement, clearly in the throes of some type of enchantment only he can feel. The sight of him kneeling before the art feels sacred to Peter. This is Neal's church, his reverence for the masters shining in his eyes.

When Neal lowers his head, Peter can no longer see him. He doesn't answer when Peter calls out, but Peter can hear an low hum building, coming from inside the space.

"Here, got a ladder." One of the local agents comes through. While they're getting the rocks out of the way of the ladder, they hear a swish and an impact, followed by what aounds like a landslide inside the cavity. Immediately after, Peter's cell starts buzzing. Neal's anklet is offline.

"Hurry!"

Finally the guides hold the ladder while Peter scrambles up. There's no sign of Neal when Peter gets into the cavern. Rossi and Moreno are right behind him.

"There!" Rossi steps toward the back, toward a broad pile of rocks, dust settling around it. There's an odd indentation on the wall above it, like a large curved triangle.

"Oh my God. These just fell?"

"He may have disturbed the area. Be careful."

The three of them set rocks aside, careful not to disturb anything, though there's no sign of any weakness in the walls.

"Neal?"

"Yeah." It's faint, but it spurs them on.

The heap is wider than Peter had anticipated, littered with small pieces of some black metal. The diameter is a good fifteen feet but they find Neal on the edge.

"Got him!" The last few boulders aside they see him, weakly pushing at the stone himself. Filthy and bloody, his clothes are literally torn apart, leaving him in barely concealed glory. He cannot believe Neal's luck. Nothing looks to be broken. Except the anklet, lying in pieces within rocks they'd just chucked away. Peter doesn't remember seeing it in the pile with Neal but it must have been broken in the rockslide. He picks it up, both of them staring at it.

"You were right, Peter. Everyone should have an anklet in a rockslide. Immensely helpful."

Peter laughs, in relief and in astonishment, just happy Neal's still with him. What the hell was he doing?

"Neal, did you kick these rocks or something?"

"You mean, purposely cause my probable death by landslide?"

"Just sounded strange from out there."

"If I ever become suicidal I'll let you know."

Peter reaches down and brushes dust from Neal's hair, his forehead, his face, Neal absently leaning into his touch. Peter catches a look between Rossi and Moreno and pats Neal harder on the shoulder before pulling his arm back. This is why he tries to keep his hands to himself. He won't be the cause of Neal being sent back.

Neal's eyes drift toward the art like they're magnetized. "Peter," his voice is soft and breathy, like speaking louder would be disrespectful. "The world needs to see these."

It doesn't escape Peter that Neal is one of the very people who has taken masterpieces just like these from the world to begin with. But that thought pales in comparison to the sight before him. He's felt many different things for Neal, especially lately, but in this moment Neal is like a devout missionary, no care for his own well being, just a deep need to see the right thing done by something he deems divine. It's a beautiful thing to witness; it's honest and sacred and it puts Neal into a deeper perspective then he already has been in Peter's mind. Gone are any doubts Peter's ever had. Gone are any crimes Neal's ever committed. He would fault Neal for nothing at this moment. That's a dangerous place to be and they need to leave.

*

Neal's fingers tap nervously against the armrest beside Peter on the way back to Santiago. Such a dichotomy from their first night in Chile. They'd spent the night on the outskirts of the Atacama Desert in tents with Rossi and Moreno and the guides they'd hired. Stars Peter had never seen lit up the night sky, the most effective ad against light pollution if people could only see the beauty they were missing. It had been difficult to look away but Peter had started making noise about getting some sleep. Neal'd all but ignored him, asking for a few more minutes while his eyes had never strayed from the sky, an odd somber mood having settled around him.

"The world has become too small." is all he'd uttered in the last half hour.

Peter'd tried to lighten the conversation, assuming Neal was thinking about Kate, but Neal hadn't been interested in anything but whatever had been swirling around in his mind. There had seemed to be a mixture throughout their travel here between excitement and anxiety. But now he'd just seemed melancholy.

"What's wrong, Neal? I thought you'd feel right at home, anywhere but in your two mile radius."

He hadn't answered for a long time, so long that Peter had thought he was being ignored. But after a couple of moments his soft voice had broken the silence, "My home is seven thousand miles northeast of here, Peter. But this is a beautiful view." The words were so wistful that Peter hadn't had the heart to ask where that home had been. He wishes now that he had.

* * * * *

"Peter, have you seen Neal?"

Famous last words. Every time Neal's disappeared in the aftermath of a sting without his anklet, Peter has ended up regretting not keeping better tabs.

"No, I- "

"I told him he could go home, Boss. We'll be here for a couple of more hours and a double undercover job is pretty grueling."

"Thanks, Diana."

Peter thinks nothing more of it, helps oversee the processing of evidence, finally done with this case thanks to Neal's ability to run two stings simultaneously. A forger and a smuggler are now on their way to lockup and Neal didn't complain once about the overreaction of the law. He sends a text to Neal that night, though.

Hey, great job this week.

When he doesn't get a reply after a half hour, he starts to worry. He's just about to dial Neal's number when the text comes through.

Thanks. Looking forward to that lunch at Shushiden you promised.

Of course that's what he'd focus on.

*

It turns out the air of excitement within the office the next morning isn't about their takedown yesterday, but about the news that several stolen artworks were found in the basement of the Guggenheim this morning. Authenticators from around the country had been sent for but the initial belief is that the works are originals, some reported missing since the late 1800s. Some completely new to the world. Seurat, van Gogh, and early Matisse. The art world is abuzz for the second time in a year.

And Neal was off anklet yesterday.

Of course the first thing that comes to Peter's mind is the time frame, again missing since before the 1900s. A couple of the thefts had been documented back then and they looked similar to Neal's MO. Of course, it's impossible for him to have taken them, but it sits there in the back of Peter's brain.

The same was the case several months ago when a shipment of stolen art had been delivered by commercial flight to The Getty Center in L.A. Again, many were so old that they weren't registered. The discovery was mired in exchanges of hands. L.A. harkened back to a Houston shipment company, then back to a semi that'd been registered in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Who knows where before that. All a ploy in misdirection.

Peter had suspected Neal's involvement but Neal had been with Peter at the time, in Atlanta, helping their field office with a local case. Besides, why would Neal return stolen artwork? But now he thinks back to their Atlanta visit with fresh eyes...



This trip has been at the worst possible time for Peter. He's been nursing a cold since they'd gotten here and though he's more than relieved to have the case wrapped up so he can get home to his own bed, he's not looking forward to flying with a heavy head in the morning.

Fortunately Trent Hamrick is the leading agent. He'd roomed with Trent in Quantico and had worked with him once before in the field. He trusts him and he's open-minded enough not to hold Neal's past against him, not treating him like a second class citizen as some agents do. In fact, they've gotten along pretty well, their mutual love of Euchre helping, something Peter was surprised to learn about Neal.

"Hey Peter, we're all going out to celebrate."

Behind Trent, Neal's practically bouncing at the idea of getting out on the town in a different city. That look on Neal's face is hard to resist and the last thing Peter wants to do is squash his sense of accomplishment regarding the right side of the law. But Peter's about to drop.

Neal seems to sense this and his demeanor immediately sobers. "I think Peter needs a pillow, and maybe some Nyquil."

"Ah, yeah. You look pretty crappy, Buddy."

"Thanks, Trent."

"Would you mind if Neal goes with us? You'll just be sleeping. I can keep an eye on him."

Peter hates the resigned look Neal's trying to keep from his face. He doesn't normally allow Neal out of his sight when they're out of New York, anklet or no, so Neal knows there's no chance Peter will allow this. But...

"Have him back by eleven? Our flight's pretty early."

"Absolutely. We'll take care of him."

No one else would have been able to tell, but Peter can see the surprised, grateful tone in Neal's face, barely there. "Trent, do you mind if I go back to the hotel first and change?"

Trent looks Neal up and down, trying to figure out what's wrong with what he's wearing. "Sure, we'll pick you up in half an hour."

"Thanks."

*

At the hotel, Neal pushes Peter into the bathroom, instructing him to get ready for bed. Peter doesn't realize how weak he feels till he has to stand through a quick shower. By the time he comes out of the bathroom, Neal has changed, turned down Peter's bed, and has two bottles of water and the Nyquil Peter had brought on the nightstand. Neal's arranging a plate of cheese, crackers and ginger ale on the small table by the window, complimented with a napkin in the shape of a Viking. Peter stamps down the urge to call him Nurse Neal.

"Peter. How are you feeling?"

"Like I'm ready to drop."

"You'd better have something to eat first. And drink some water."

Neal 's like a GQ cover when he walks up to Peter in his causal slacks and button down, and Peter starts to flush at the concern in his eyes. The back of Neal's hand on his forehead is wonderfully cool, until Neal frowns. "You do have a little bit of a fever."

"That's what the Nyquil's for."

"Maybe I should stay here."

"And watch me sleep? I'll be fine. You go. Have fun."

"You sure?"

"Just don't get into any trouble."

"Me? Peter, where's your faith?"

"On that ankle."

*

Peter eats a few bites after Neal had left, drinks half of one of the water bottles and takes the Nyquil. He drops off immediately and when he wakes with the alarm at six he feels much better. The sleep had done him good. He's not one hundred percent, but he thinks he can handle a two hour flight.

Neal, on the other hand, might not. He doesn't wake till Peter shakes his shoulder, squinting at the weak sunlight on his face and pulling the sheet over his head. They've been on enough work trips the last couple of years that Peter knows that's not normal for Neal. He's not necessarily a morning person but once he knows it's time, he gets moving as if he is one. Peter shakes him again and Neal groans, drags himself out of bed and to the bathroom. So, either a hangover from his night out with Trent or he's caught what Peter has.

Peter checks his phone and finds a text at midnight from Trent.

Peter - sorry we got Neal back a little later than we'd promised. Bring the kid back any time - a rematch is demanded!


*



That next week the news had broken about that ancient artwork resurfacing at the Getty in LA. Peter had been so pleased that Neal hadn't caused trouble that he hadn't bothered to check Neal's anklet at the time. He'd been with Trent, after all, and they'd been in Atlanta - not LA or Houston or Iowa. But now...

Checking past dates on the anklet is pretty easy, just a matter of knowing the date and the boredom of sitting through hours of watching. Neal had gone to three bars in Atlanta that night, presumably with Trent. He'd come back to the hotel at 11:54. But at 12:31 he'd left. Peter's anger starts to rear its head as he watches Neal's dot travel a few miles by what was probably a taxi, stopping at a large structure - maybe a warehouse? For three and a half hours Neal is in that building, though moving around within it constantly, then heading straight back to the hotel at just after 5:00am. The whole trip off the reservation was over when he'd arrived back in the room at about 5:30. So not a hangover.

He emails Trent in Atlanta, asks him to check out the address. He gets a call back later that day. It's a warehouse that's sat empty for years.

"Do you need me to research the owner?"

"No. Not for now."

"What's this about, Peter?"

"I'm not sure yet."

"Well let me know if there's anything else I can do. Hey, when are you and Neal passing through again?"

"Hopefully not for a long time."

* * * * *

"So they've all been missing since the 1600s?"

"Yep. They're all original, too. They stayed safe because the opening in the cave was beneath a rocky overhang that stopped the elements from getting in. The sun never directly touched any of the works in all those centuries. Sure they need restored but... Whoever hid them knew art preservation well."

"Thanks, Rossi."

"Something else... those curved black pieces of metal that were buried with Caffrey when we dug him out?"

"Yeah?"

"Organic. Lab has no clue what they are."

* * * * *

Jesus, they're fawning all over him - Neal Caffrey in a tux.

"Clinton, Diana, heads up... dance over."

"Copy.

Neal drops his latest dance partner at her table, making eyes with the next.

"Scratch that. Christ, Neal. Do you have to dance with every woman at the party?"

"He's got to keep up his cover."

One of the male patrons that's been watching Neal sidles up to him, wraps a possessive arm around him. Peter watches the man slowly lower his hand till it's just below the small of Neal's back. Neal just barely tenses, easily smoothing into pleased surprise as he turns to face the man.

"Jealous, Boss?"

He blinks, startled from his reverie. "Of?"

"That you can't do the same."

"Excuse me?"

"I'm sure any one of those ladies would love to dance with you, Peter."

"Thanks, Jones."

The groper gives Neal the signal they've been waiting for, gestures to the elevator and leads the way. This must be Shafer, ready to deal with Gary Rydell, high class fence.

"Eyes at every exit, People. We've got our suspect."

"Show time."

*

Peter's having trouble hearing Diana through the earpiece with his panting. He assumes it was Shafer that cut the elevators.

"Diana?"

"They just came out the penthouse door. Neal's chasing Shafer over the roof but it's too dark to see them this far."

"Clinton, keep an eye on them below."

"On it."

"How did Shafer make Neal?"

"Don't know, but at least Neal got him on tape first."

"That's the least of our worries now."

"They're jumping to the next building!"

"Clinton, call the fire department. And get a chopper."

"They both made it."

Peter reaches the penthouse, bursts out onto the roof. He rounds the electrical equipment but by that time Shafer is two buildings over, Neal right behind him.

"Neal!" Peter can't see Neal's face, but Manhattan's lights show him Shafer is panicked, keeps looking back to check Neal's progress as he tries to get away from him.

Peter picks up Neal's tux jacket, discarded on the roof floor, heads back down.

"Those elevators better be fixed!"

On the way down he listens to the chatter through occasional static. Roof after roof and no chopper anywhere near.

*

His heart flies up to his throat as he watches Neal jump the next roof from below, closing in on Shafer.

"Neal, no!"

It's a zig-zag through Manhattan, no one knowing which direction they'll go. Some NYPD officers have joined his team in running through the streets after them. The cramps in Peter's side are slowing him down but he keeps pushing.

"Where's my damned chopper?"

"They had to assist with an accident in Queens, Boss."

"Damn it. What about Neal?"

"They're headed toward the construction site on 17th."

Across the street from the dry cleaners. Peter had just dropped off a couple of suits at lunch and he always checks out the progress as he heads back to his car. The buildings have no walls on most sides, and there's a small lot between them filled with cranes and backhoes and all kinds of hard sharp equipment a body can bang against when falling from several stories.

"No! Stop them!"

As Peter gets closer to the construction site, he catches glimpses through the unfinished sections of the building. His stomach jumps when he sees one of them swing over to the next building from a cable that must stretch across from the taller floors. The next open section grants him a peek of a larger figure, almost shooting straight over. Then Peter sees a flash of white fall to the ground. Neal had been wearing a white shirt. He hears a scraping of metal clattering to a smash that rivals New York City's worst pile-ups.

"Building lot - send an ambulance!"

As he finally rounds the corner he sees Shafer hanging with a death grip to the cable he'd used to swing over from the north building, not close enough to any floors to make it the rest of the way. There's not a second cable anywhere.

He scrambles into the lot, all manner of unforgiving concrete and sharp rods of rebar rising up in the relative dark like a graveyard. Climbing over a coil of wire he finds a black dress shoe. His mind keeps throwing things at him, things he wished he'd said to Neal, done to Neal. The white shirt flaps in the small breeze, pierced through with tall sharp rods of rebar. He registers that Blake is searching with him, and NYPD officers head their way to help.

"Peter, I've got Neal."

"What? Where?"

"South building. I think fifth floor."

Peter climbs back out of the metal graveyard and runs into the building, taking the stairs two at a time. He barely acknowledges the agents trying to pull Shafer into the safety of the building on the fourth floor. Stepping out on the fifth he runs into Clinton heading toward him.

"Southeast corner. I'm going down to meet the ambulance."

Peter can hear the sirens getting closer now. "Where's your jacket?"

"Neal needs it more than I do."

Peter sprints over to the corner and finds Neal, shivering against an I-beam, wrapped in Clinton's FBI jacket with the open part to the back. His pants are hanging off of him in torn pieces, oddly similar to the aftermath in Chile.

Peter runs his hands all over Neal, checking for injuries, crossing lines be damned. When he gets to his back Neal hisses, flinching away. Peter can't find any cuts there in the dark but it looks bruised. He's suddenly furious and grabs hold of Neal and shakes him, Neal's eyes widening in shock. "Christ, what were you thinking?"

Neal shakes off his surprise, and Peter, and tries to stand on his own. "I was thinking I'd stop our mark."

"Suspect." Peter reaches out to help him and Neal dodges him, stumbling in the process.

"Is he alive?"

"More so than you."

Neal sways and Peter just catches him before he falls past the I-beam and down five stories. A couple familiar pieces of curved black metal do flitter down. Peter makes a mental note to try to find them later. He pulls Neal to the middle of the floor and sits him on his ass. The man doesn't fight it, his energy gone. Peter checks his ringing phone. The marshals. Neal's ankle is bare.

"Where is it?"

Neal shrugs, winces. "Must be here somewhere. I think it broke off."

"Again?"

Peter slips his own shirt off. Neal had chosen it for him on his birthday when the whole office had thrown a party, the softest silk Peter has ever felt. Neal groans in protest when Peter drapes it lightly over his back. "Peeeeter. Do you know how much that cost?"

"A ridiculous amount of money that you could only afford with ill-gotten gains. It'll wash." Neal rolls his eyes and mimes "ill-gotten gains" but Peter sees him sneaking a peek at his abs before he slips his suit jacket back on. He can hear the EMTs trotting up the stairs.

"How did you make that jump without a cable?"

"Must have broke."

"How did your shirt come off?"

"Got caught on something when I was chasing Shafer. Had to pull it off."

"And your shoes?"

"Peter. I just stopped the man who's been scamming money out of every charity in Manhattan and all you care about is your expense report?"

"The FBI can't afford silk shirts."

*

"Neal?"

Silence greets Peter when he peeks in. Neal's on the bed, so Peter closes the door softly, sets a bag with food on the table.

Neal had insisted he was fine and expressly did not want to stay overnight in the hospital or go to Peter's. He claimed he was tired and a bit embarrassed that he hadn't landed more gracefully and just wanted to be alone to lick his wounds and sleep. Peter had agreed to leave him alone as long as he took the pain meds the nurse had given him. He'd watched Neal take them, had even insisted on looking in his mouth with a flashlight to be sure.

Still, Peter just has to see he's okay for himself.

He slips off his shoes and steps over to the bed. Neal's on his stomach again, shirt off and breathing deeply enough that Peter's pretty sure he's out. He watches Neal's body rise and fall within the sheets.

His back is a mess of bruised abraded flesh, like a standard case of very painful road burn. The lights coming through the skylight throw patterns over the random colors on his skin. Peter usually scoffs at Pollock but he can't stop staring at this abstraction. High up on either side of Neal's back are scars, right at his shoulder blades. Old and smooth. No wonder Neal usually throws a shirt on when Peter comes in.

He sits up higher on the bad, leaning against Neal's side. The scars are identical. An accidental injury would have been jagged, not these perfectly symmetrical scars on either side. It's as though these were placed here on purpose. Bile rises up in Peter's throat. And anger. Who could have done this? He runs his finger softly down one of the long perfect wounds and Neal shudders, a low hum building in his throat, something Peter's heard before but can't place. As Neal rumbles like a large cat, he murmurs in his sleep, lithely arching his back against Peter's hand.

"P'tr."

Peter gasps at the rush it sends through him, backing away from the bed and throwing a soft sheet over Neal's body before he leaves.

* * * * *

Glen Sawyer is in a cell at the 12th precinct for the night, awaiting arraignment for mortgage fraud after Peter's team spent six days combing through financial records. Hughes signed off on a three day weekend. It's been months since he's had to fill out paperwork for an injured agent (or C.I.). And Peter is showing off his favorite hole in the wall. All is right with the world.

"Peter when's the last time you saw your cardiologist?"

"I don't have one."

"That explains the chimichanga bites."

Peter quickly swallows a glob of cheese and defends himself, pushing his plate toward Neal, "Come on. It's just an appetizer and it's a Mexican classic."

"No, actually it's American, created by accident when an overworked chef in Arizona dropped a burrito in a deep fryer."

Peter stares at Neal, trying to figure out where these things come from. "Do you and Mozzie conduct random research sessions when you're not at the office to throw everyone else off?"

"You don't give me enough time off for that. Now try this. It's the only thing on the starters menu not loaded with grease." Neal dips a shrimp in some kind of red sauce, holding it up to Peter's mouth. Peter feels his face heat up and he smiles, wishing he had the nerve to take a bite as he shakes his head.

"You can't go your entire life without trying just one bite."

"It's like a seahorse embryo."

Neal lowers his hand and sighs. "I'll finish the Sawyer report for you."

"So I'll try shrimp?"

"Just expanding your palate. Or in your case, creating one." He holds the nasty piece of fish back up to Peter's lips as Peter squeezes his eyes shut and opens his mouth.

Neal pops it in, the pad of his thumb brushing sauce off Peter's lips as he pulls back. The shrimp actually tastes good but the new taste on his lips is better. When he opens his eyes, it might look like Neal's blushing. It might be a trick of the light. He's saved from contemplating more when his cell buzzes...

"Boss, two things. One, the lab came back with results on those pieces of metal you found at the building site downtown."

"And?"

"Just like in Chile - organic, but no idea what they are."

"Okay."

"Also, another crate of recovered jewels and artwork showed up. This time in The Netherlands."

He sends a side glance Neal's way as reaches for a napkin. "Same M.O.?"

"Mostly, but it looks like the work of someone else, like an associate. And this time frame's within the last ten years."

"Thanks, Di."

It's not two seconds after he hangs up that Neal starts questioning him. "What's up?"

"Our Good Samaritan strikes again."

"This guy ought to get a medal for biggest attention getter."

"He definitely has mine. Where's Mozzie been? I haven't heard you mention him in a while."

"You know Moz; never in one place for too long."

"Yeah, a globetrotter, that guy. So, you never told me how you got into that cavern in Chile without the ladder."

Neal smiles, smooth and charming and flirtatious. "I have to keep some secrets, Peter."

* * * * *

Peter's let several chances off anklet go because he knows Neal plays it safe when Peter's on alert. He waits a couple of months, till they're running a case where they know Neal will be patted down. He always leaves his phone at home those days, taking a burner Peter had approved for this very purpose.

As soon as Neal enters the suspect's workplace, Peter obtains promises from Diana and Clinton not to tell Neal he'd left the van, as well as to call him at any signs of trouble, and he heads to June's. He's nervous about this. If something goes wrong he won't be there to help Neal. But he's waited this long so they'd be encountering a non-violent suspect. It's the best chance he's going to get.

It's Wednesday so the staff has the day off and he knows June has a weekly hair appointment. Neal's phone isn't hard to find - in the nightstand. Peter takes photos of all sides of the cell before popping the cover and planting the tiny GPS beneath the battery. He studies the photos he'd taken before popping it back together, making sure the tiny marks Neal had created on the case line up the way Neal had had them. He's back in the van long before Neal comes back out of the building.

*

The first night off anklet, nothing happens. Or at least, Neal's phone stays fairly close to his radius even if he doesn't, maybe a half mile out of it, first at a handful of small art galleries, then a four star restaurant. Peter's pretty sure Neal is testing whether Peter's watching him in some way, whether he'll come running since Neal has crossed his boundary. Peter suspects he does this every time he's off anklet. He's tempted to go to Le Bernardin to make sure Neal's actually there, but he reins it in and tries to get some sleep for a change.

He'd chosen this time also because Neal had become restless lately, pacing like a caged tiger while he doesn't think Peter is watching. He wants to grab Neal, push him down and make him confess. But he has to play Neal's game.

The second night is the home run. Neal must be driving, and it looks to be at an alarming speed. He must have borrowed, or stolen, some type of jeep so he could go off road as the map shows he's not following one. Peter gets in his car and follows, hindered by the necessity to keep his Taurus on the pavement, and not knowing where he's going. Eventually Neal stops seemingly in the middle of nowhere in upstate New York. It had taken him an hour fifteen to get there. It takes Peter almost three. He parks half a mile down the road and walks in, following the GPS on his phone.

Ten minutes later he stumbles upon a shack, no windows. No sign of a car. Peter scouts the perimeter for another half hour before sidling up to the double doors. He's careful to take his time, keeping silent as he slowly opens one of the doors. A faint light flickering somewhere deep within. He steps farther in and finds the place completely empty barring a wide set of stairs leading to a basement, the source of the light. He takes one step at a time, but the stairs are encased in wood so he can't see anything until he reaches the bottom step. And there he stops.

It's like a repeat of the cave - the space is cavernous, easily ten times the size of the shack above. And it's filled with art and beauty. Luminous paintings and gilded sculptures sit about the space randomly. Jewels hang low from the ceiling glittering in the candlelight. The floor is made of gold coins, varying in depth so that there are shining hills and valleys. If ever he'd believed in the Mason's hidden treasure, it would be now.

As he hears that now familiar hum, Peter catches movement to his left and his heart stops in his throat. Slithering through the coins on the floor is... Peter's not sure what it is. His first thought is that it's an enormous snake. But the slithering is slightly staccato. Then he sees a scaled leg lift smoothly and come back down into a pile of coins and Peter bolts. He takes the stairs two at a time, letting the door slam as he runs out into the night. He's ten yards to the car before he remembers he'd come here for Neal and he panics, worried something's happened to him. He stops behind a tree, no sign of anything behind him, and pulls out his phone, checking Neal's cell. Still in the cabin. Shit. He can't leave Neal in there.

A displacement of air rushes past the trunk and Peter pushes off and turns toward the cabin, running smack into Neal face to face.

"Peter?"

"Neal, oh my God." Peter grabs Neal, and the embrace is returned, if in a somewhat confused nature. Neal has no shirt or shoes, just pants. "Are you alright? Where were you?"

"I'm fine. What are you doing here?"

"Rescuing you, apparently."

"How did you know I was here? Did you follow me?"

He borrows from Neal's playbook, "That's hardly important right now. Were you in there?"

Neal hesitates, but seems to realize it's pointless to put Peter off. "Yes."

"What was that thing?"

The hesitation is even longer this time.

"Neal?"

"I am that thing."

"What?"

"Let's go back."

"No," Peter tries to pull Neal toward the car but Neal resists.

"Peter. Trust me."

Peter looks into Neal's eyes, sees the hope there that Peter will trust him for once. "Okay. Let's take the car and give your feet a break."

They're silent on the drive back, and again after Peter parks, they walk the few feet to the cabin, side by side. Peter's heart rate picks up as they near the doors but Neal stops them just outside, a light now helping the moon to illuminate the porch. "We'll stay out here."

"Why, so I can't see your stash?"

"So I can make sure you're safe."

"Jesus, Neal. From what?"

Neal doesn't answer, just takes a breath. There's another rush of air and a short sharp rap like sails being unfurled on a boat, as two wings snap open behind Neal. Wings. Peter knows his eyes are wide and probably comical, but what the hell? He stares at Neal and Neal just returns it, resigned.

He circles Neal and stares at the wings coming out of Neal's back. Black and gray tipped with white. He knows this isn't a joke. The scars along Neal's shoulder blades aren't scars at all, but slits, the wings jutting out as if they'd always belonged there. He runs his finger down the left crevice slowly and Neal shivers. The touch is powerful and intimate and Peter's been holding them both back for two years. He aches to touch him and he can't pull his hand away. "No wonder you didn't want to talk about these." He repeats the gesture on the opposite side, this time his palm caressing the soft skin, brushing up against the feathers. Neal gasps at the contact, shaking Peter out of his reverie.

He comes back around to Neal's front, sees a mix of emotions in Neal's eyes. Fear, pride, determination. "Neal, what are you?"

"You know what I am, Peter."

"That was your hoard? In the basement?"

Neal nods. "I can only fly for a short space when I'm human."

"The roof. At the gala. You flew then."

"Only that last roof. My landing suffered because I had to carry my pants across while I was flying, all while not letting anyone see me."

"May I see you? The other way?"

"Too dangerous."

"Neal, I trust you. Please. You can't tell me this and not let me see."

"Did you bring your gun?"

"Of course."

"Will you promise to use it?"

"No."

"Then no."

"Neal."

"Peter, if you can't promise to protect yourself- "

"Okay."

"Okay?"

"Yes."

Neal studies him a while, judging his sincerity. When he seems sure Peter is genuine, his face opens up, hopeful. He nods, "Stay on the stairs."

He tucks his wings back in and leads them down to the basement. Peter can see his entire body tense in front of him, worsening the farther they descend, his body shaking, with what Peter assumes is the effort to stay human. When he reaches the bottom step, he turns and looks back at Peter. He face is tight with strain, but he looks into Peter's eyes, into Peter's soul. He leans forward, his palm on Peter's chest, and kisses Peter on the lips. It's soft and chaste, like a benediction. Peter wants so much more.

Neal pulls away and turns toward the basement. He pulls down the soft pants he's wearing, dropping them on the steps. Peter knows he should look away but he can't, finally able to gaze his fill at that gorgeous hard body, wishing Neal would turn back around. But all too soon, Neal steps down into the coins, exhaling with what sounds like relief, his body relaxing as he sinks down into the shifting metal carpet.

His body stretches within the coins as it changes shape. Peter assumes it will be a distorted grisly strangulation of skin and bones but it's seamless and mesmerizing, scales slowly growing out of Neal's skin as his body lengthens. It's not so much that Neal features are replaced, but that a pelt of armor grows out of him, covering him. Peter is so transfixed that it takes him a moment to hear the agonized moans coming from Neal. Of course this transformation would be painful. Peter shouldn't have asked.

"Neal."

But Neal is not listening, or... he's no longer Neal. He's larger and longer. Not as massive as Peter had imagined. Maybe ten feet long; certainly large enough to easily snap Peter in half with his massive jaws. The alteration seems to be complete as Neal glides through the sea of metal, now focused on his hoard and apparently having forgotten Peter altogether. His scales are like his feathers, black with gray and white at the tips. He's sleek and lean, but muscular, his eyes as piercing blue as they've ever been.

He crawls through the stash, rubbing up against canvas and frame like a cat, purring, eyes closed in bliss. This was the hum he'd heard in the cave, in Neal's bed. Neal rears up, pushing his head through a diamond necklace hanging low, then pulling it with him as he wraps around a classic Greek sculpture.

The sculpture pulls Peter's thoughts to the hoard. He takes in the beauty of the individual pieces - colors radiant in the paintings, details vivid on the sculptures. Old scrolls. A Caravaggio, a Van Dyke. A Leonadro.

He looks back at Neal, who has stopped moving. His bright eyes are staring at Peter. Hungry. This is what Neal warned him of, but he knows he won't pull his gun.

As Neal slinks toward him, foot after webbed foot, a long pink tongue poking out and back in, Peter slips on Neal's slacks and falls on his ass. Scrambling up, he backs away up the stairs, speed gaining as he climbs, not taking his eyes off the bottom. Just as he reaches the top, Neal's snout comes into view and he rushes the stairs. Peter darts out the cabin doors for the second time that night. He runs twenty yards from the cabin into a clearing, sits down in the soft grass and waits.

He doesn't wait long. Neal steps out the cabin doors, a blanket wrapped around his waist, human again. He steps through the grass with purpose, without aggression. Peter stands when Neal reaches him.

"A dragon."

Neal shrugs. "Labels are so pedestrian, Peter."

"Your pants?"

"You kicked them into the coins somewhere - thanks for that."

"Sorry."

He's not. He pulls the blanket down and steps back. Jesus, but he's like a Greek god. After that display of Neal's power in the basement, a rush of Peter's own power thrums through him - being clothed while Neal is not.

Peter snaps the blanket out onto the grass, the sound reminding him of Neal's wings, and he steps forward.

He leaves half a foot between them, resting his palm on Neal's cheek and Neal closes his eyes, breathes in. Peter takes that for encouragement and leans in. He kisses slowly, softly at first, but then he just wants to take what he's wanted for so long. Neal's hair wraps around his other hand at the back of his head and Peter plunges in, tongue demanding entrance, being granted. Neal gives it back to him, arms wrapping around Peter's waist, bringing their bodies flush, Neal's cock trapped between his own skin and Peter's jeans. Peter moans at the contact and ends the kiss, running his hands all over Neal's body. He sucks on Neal's neck while Neal licks down Peter's chest.

They've danced around this for two years. Never safe, always wanting. They could be careful at the office.

"Please, Neal."

Neal's tongue freezes on Peter's nipple. He pulls back and searches Peter's face. But Peter can only repeat himself, hope that Neal understands. "Please."

Neal nods and Peter's whole world opens up. He can't contain his smile and takes Neal's hands and kisses him once more. "Stay here?"

Peter echoes Neal's smile and jogs over to the car, grabbing the hand lotion from his glove compartment, and running back. Neal laughs at him, joyous, but his brows add disapproval as he recognizes what's in Peter's hand.

"Coconut, Peter? I'm going to smell like a tanning bed."

"Better than tasting like Diana's lilacs," Peter replies.

Neal doesn't stop him when he pushes him into the blanket, just leans back on his elbows and watches. He sheds his shoes and clothes quickly, Neal watching him from below.

Peter's knees between Neal's legs feels amazing. He spreads Neal's thighs and rubs up and down, reveling in the soft skin and hair. The lotion is cold enough to make Neal hiss, but he's soon writhing with Peter's finger circling his entrance. Slowly round and round till he pushes in just slightly, Neal's breathing picking up, his hands gripping the blanket. He watches Neal's face, listens to his moans. In and out, Peter uses three fingers to rub and push and massage till the onslaught to Neal's prostate has him panting.

"God, Peter, you have to stop."

Peter takes mercy and throws the lotion aside and lines up. His cock sinks in just as slowly as his fingers had, Neal so tight that Peter wonders if he's his first. The though fills his cock more, but he finally hits home and Neal writhes on the blanket. "Peeeter."

Peter wants to hear that again and again.

He touches Neal everywhere he can reach, pistons in and out, quickly losing control as Neal groans and twists, his hands gripping Peter's side, pulling him in.

"Neal. I love you. I've loved you for so long."

Neal's gone, doesn't even register, whispering Peter's name in some blissful space Peter can't reach but with his body. He's losing it when he looks at Neal's gorgeous flush face. He pumps Neal's cock, tries to time it with his thrusts but Neal comes after the third stroke, clamping down and Peter follows, shooting hard and deep into him, feels like coming home.


*

When Peter wakes, it's to a chest full of soft feathers. He's lying on his back, Neal asleep on his chest. He must have let his wings out in their post-orgasmic bliss. He kisses Neal's cheek, reveling in the stubble, and runs his fingers over the down above him. Neal purrs in his sleep, sending a jolt right through Peter's groin. Most of each feather is soft fluff, but closer to each shaft they get thinner and more defined. Thousands of them, all covering the muscle and bone of this man he's been through so much with. Neal pulls in a breath when Peter runs his fingers through the feathers, cracks an eye open.

He slides his thumb over Neal's cheek. "Hey You."

"Hey yourself. Having fun?"

"Just playing."

Neal stretches, rolls to his side, careful with his wings, "Enjoy it while you can."

"What does that mean?"

He shrugs. "I can't do this in Manhattan."

"It's why you were pacing like a caged animal the other night?"

"It's been a long time."

"Neal, the art in the basement."

Neal pulls his wings in and sits up. Peter feels it like a loss. "It's all over the world, Peter. I can't get to all of it."

"I knew it was you in Atlanta. And LA. Chile. Who knows where else."

Neal laughs, tumbles back down on top of him, kissing his jaw. "Can't fool the Archeologist."

"What about these?"

Neal sighs, abandons his quest to pull him away from the topic. "Peter, I need them. When I'm done with the anklet, I can get to different stuff but... I can't live without knowing I have this. At least some of it."

"What different stuff?"

"My stuff. Originals."

"Not forgeries?"

"No."

"Christ, Neal. I want to see them. They must be amazing."

"I don't know about that. Many are centuries old. But they're in Ireland. My home."

Peter sits up, studies Neal's face. He hasn't aged at all in the ten years Peter's known him. He runs his fingers over Neal's cheeks, feeling the stubble. "How old are you?"

Neal laughs. "You wouldn't believe me."

"Neal."

"I was born in the 1400s."

"I want to watch you fly."

"Maybe. Like this, I can write it off as a wingsuit if someone sees me." He looks into the sky, wistful and mourning, like he'd been that night outside the caves in Chile. "I haven't flown in my real body.... at least ten years. There aren't many places that are safe anymore."

"That's why you didn't want the anklet in Chile. You could have flown there."

Neal shrugs, but doesn't elaborate.

"Are there others like you?"

"Not for a long time." His eyes still watch the sky, as though he could see 1400s Ireland from here.

"You've been hiding all of this time? No one knows?"

Neal shakes his head.

"So, you're counting the days?"

"Yes."

A sadness overcomes Peter. He can't look at Neal anymore and he pulls away.

"Hey." Neal pulls his head back, looks him in the eye. "I can't explain how hard it is not to be able to fly. But the thing about flying is... I can fly back. Right into the FBI's jurisdiction."

He kisses Peter, a promise. Peter intends to hold him to it.

"I'm coming to Ireland with you when the time comes. I want to see those Neal Caffrey originals."

"Excellent idea. They have plenty of seafood there."


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