He ran through the darkened streets, mindless of the light rain slowly soaking his shirt. He and his friend had separated blocks ago, almost immediately after rushing from the warehouse—standard procedure, increasing the odds that at least one of them would get away. Of course, if only one of them escaped this time, he knew it would definitely be Mozzie. Peter Burke was really only interested in catching Neal Caffrey.
The hundred-dollar bill printing plate Neal had secreted away for a rainy day—an irony not lost on him, even now—had been untouched for months, though Moz had discreetly gathered all the necessary supplies to put it to use if and when the time was right. After Adler and the treasure and Elizabeth’s kidnapping, it seemed like the time had finally come. Neal would’ve liked to believe he could put his faith in a possible commutation, but he couldn’t. Too much had happened, too much had changed.
But one thing that hadn’t changed, the one constant Neal should have prepared himself for, was Peter’s uncanny ability to ferret out his wrongdoings. When Peter and his team had descended on the warehouse and interrupted their printing, Neal and Mozzie were seconds away from being caught red-handed, barely making it out of a hidden exit just before the feds burst in.
Now, Neal ran blindly through the rain, heart pounding with every step, wishing he’d never laid eyes on that damned printing plate. His breath was growing more ragged, his legs burning, his entire body screaming out the need to stop. Just. Stop. Running.
If only that were an option now.
He could hear Peter’s footsteps behind him, too close for comfort. He’d been prepared to leave this life behind, even knowing it would hurt Peter, but he had not been prepared for this, not face to face. Even more than he wanted to avoid prison, he wanted to avoid the disappointment that would be in Peter’s eyes. So, he ran.
Neal didn’t realize his mistake until it was too late. The last corner he turned didn’t lead him closer to freedom but into a blind alley. Solid brick walls surrounded him on three sides—no doors or windows to break into, no fire escapes or pipes to climb up, no vents or sewers to climb down. There was no way out, except for the way he’d come, the way that would lead him right back to Peter. The agent was too close behind for Neal to hope that he could correct course, sneak out of this alley unobserved, uncaught. He pounded fists against the back wall in sheer frustration, biting back a scream on the outside chance that Peter didn’t actually know where he was.
But as he turned around, ready to make a dash back into the street, any hope for a miracle was lost, and Peter was there. Their eyes met, and the disappointment Neal had feared was worse than he had ever imagined; the brown eyes usually so vibrant and engaging now dull and clouded with the pain of betrayal. Peter had his hand resting on his weapon, though he hadn’t gone so far as to pull it from its holster. Neal thought it unlikely the man would ever actually shoot him, but he knew without a doubt that he would never force Peter to make that choice because either decision would surely haunt the man forever. Not trusting himself to speak, Neal simply turned around slowly, dropped to his knees, and clasped his hands behind his head.
He knelt there for almost two minutes, lost in his despair, before he heard Peter finally approaching. The slow shuffle of the agent’s steps broadcast his anguish. And then Peter was right there—close enough to feel the warmth of his body even through the chill of the rain, to hear the stutter of his breath and the jangle of the handcuffs.
Peter was trembling; Neal could feel the shaking as the agent clasped his wrist and uttered only a single, broken word. “Neal . . .”
Neal closed his eyes to block out the pain, trying to ignore the constant refrain in his mind. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
But still, he couldn’t speak. And as the first bracelet, still shaking in Peter’s hand, clicked around his wrist, he wished he could say something, do something, anything at all that would save them both this heartache.
“Neal!” Peter tugged on his arm. “You with me?”
Caffrey opened his eyes, blinked, looked around, blinked again. This was not the alley; this was . . .
One nightmare to another, he thought ruefully, somehow managing to quash the relieved laughter threatening to bubble up.
Peter was giving him that look, the one that was supposed to mean he was annoyed but really looked like he was just trying not to be amused. “I know it’s boring, but do me a favor and at least stay awake.”
Neal forced an easy smile. “Sorry.” The word twisted in his heart. “I guess the rain kind of got to me.”
He turned quickly to face the monitor in front of him, eager to avoid Peter’s gaze. His heart was still racing, and he could still feel the weight of guilt settled over him.
But, underneath the guilt, there was a tickle of hope. He still had time; it wasn’t too late.
Tonight he would tell Mozzie to put the printing plate back in storage. Maybe it wasn’t raining much, after all.