His first instinct was to run.
Okay, that was always his basest, most innate instinct. But this time, he paused to consider it instead of just dismissing the fight-or-flight notion out of hand.
Peter had played a lot of roles in his life over the years. Stern handler, caring friend, loyal partner, fondly-exasperated father (sort of). He thought they’d settled pretty nicely into a groove of senior partner/mentor and junior partner/mentee, but something had changed. Peter was suspicious, and he was pushing Neal out.
Peter was the reason he’d stayed so long. Why shouldn’t Neal run?
Sure, Diana and Jones were his friends, and he loved living with June and cooking with Elizabeth, but it was Peter who he trusted implicitly. How was he going to work with a fed if it was someone other than Peter? If it were Jones or Diana, he could probably tolerate them until the end of his sentence, but with a random?
Neal knew how many concessions Peter had fought for him to have. A radius of two miles, the ability to drink alcohol, own a cell phone, access the internet. Many work release agreements allowed the prisoner out of prison only during working hours. For a CI, he had it pretty good.
Peter could make all the promises he wanted, but the truth was that if Neal was transferred to a different handler, he wasn’t guaranteed most of those things. The work agreement held the vague caveat that the terms could be renegotiated by the releasee and the handler based on need– which Neal fairly assumed meant they could change the rules on him whenever they wanted.
Peter wouldn’t do that. But someone else might.
He shuddered a little, remembering the week he’d been assigned to Rice. She’d made him wait in the car like a misbehaving child– or a dog. She wasn’t the only one who felt he deserved that type of treatment. To a lot of FBI agents, usually the older, more traditional type, Neal had conned his way out of prison and was cheating the system. He figured it was more likely than not that his next handler wouldn’t be as kind to him as Peter was.
So, the question. To run, or not to run?
Neal was embarrassed that it took him so long to work out the next part, but he realized that other than losing Peter’s friendship, this new arrangement was going to risk his deal with Hagen. He couldn’t get those documents unless he was in the White Collar office.
Which meant that the video of him stealing the gold would go to the FBI, and he would be sent back to prison.
And so would Peter.
Should he and Mozzie just run together? But no, that would still leave Peter probably ending up in prison. And even if his feelings were hurt, Neal could never knowingly cause that. Not again.
Okay, so he would have to get those documents for the Curtis. Then, he could re-evaluate once he was certain the trail of evidence involving the false confession of Neal’s dad was eliminated.
And then… leave the city with Mozzie? Neal loved June, but he wasn’t sure he could stand to go to work for the FBI every day for the next two years if it wasn’t with Peter. Or if they relocated him somewhere else. He’d seen firsthand the kind of rathole the meager FBI stipend would earn him, and he’d had enough of rats and bedbugs to last a lifetime.
He could track down Sarah, maybe. They had parted on good terms, although Neal had a funny feeling that their relationship was never one meant to last.
He sighed. Mozzie was right; long ago he’d told Neal this arrangement couldn’t last. This was just another in a long line of proofs in Neal’s theory that everybody would leave eventually.
First his dad, then his mom shortly after. Sure, she’d been physically present, but she’d spent most of Neal’s childhood drugged to a stupor.
Then Adler, then Kate, and Alex, then Kate again, and Sarah, and Ellen. No wonder Peter wanted to distance himself. He’d realized that Neal was just no-good. Everyone who stayed around him ended up a criminal or dead.
Neal sighed, picking up the paintbrush again. Somehow, he didn’t think he’d be able to paint his feelings away this time.