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Satchmo chased its tail twice by Neal's feet in greeting before a nudge from Elizabeth got the Golden Lab out of the way. She stood by the doorway, bundled in her lavender terry robe, her tousled hair messily tied back but her face alert.

Elizabeth looked at Neal up and down, her elegant brow high.

Neal shrugged and shuffled inside because the back of his neck cramped from the wind blowing across his exposed skin.

"That's a new look for you," she said in lieu of a greeting. She settled a hand on Neal's shoulder as she tipped her head to accept a kiss on the cheek from Peter.

"Casual Fridays," Neal offered as he staggered toward the couch. The floor pitched and he tottered, the wall not where he thought it would be. Peter's firm grip on an elbow steadied him enough to finish the journey. Neal gingerly sat down into the nest of pillows.

"Today's Wednesday," Elizabeth pointed out. She arranged a throw pillow under his bad wrist. Neal smiled gratefully as she perched herself on a plump armrest.

"Test run?"

Elizabeth rolled her eyes, swatted at his shoulder and rose. "I made breakfast. Guest room's been made up if you want to sleep, Neal. Oh, and Mozzie already dropped off an overnight bag with some of your clothes."

Neal brightened. Behind him, Peter sputtered.

"How did he know we were coming here?" Peter eyed his living room as if he could see cameras and bugs and all the toys Moz favored.

Neal chuckled drowsily to himself. "He's Moz."

"Uh-huh." Peter didn't sound too impressed by Neal's explanation. He checked over his shoulder toward the kitchen before sitting on the coffee table. He eyed Neal critically.

"What?" Neal asked warily.

"Neal. Why were you at the art gallery anyway?"

The words rolled practiced out of his mouth. "I told you. There was a—"

"A show on neo-expressionism." Peter smirked. "See? I pay attention." He sobered. "What about Docks? Did you know he was going to be there?"

Neal shook his head.

"Did you mention to anyone you were going to be there?"

"No. It was spur of the moment. I saw the article on the paper and—"

"What was in the article?"

Neal shrugged. "Talked about the collection. It was the last remaining part of the Masterson Estate's art collection being sold off. Odds and ends, bits and pieces."

"There wasn't a Monet or a Picasso lurking in there?" Peter drawled.

Neal smirked tiredly. "Picasso is so pedestrian, don't you think?"

Peter sighed.

"They were just paintings. From no one special. Nothing of value, just portraits, landscapes, self-study, vignettes…"

Peter flapped a hand toward him to ward off a potential lecture on the finer qualities of American art. "Were you talking about it with anyone in the office? Bathroom? Outside?"

"No one." Neal had to breathe through his nose and wait for his vision to merge back to only one of everything. The nausea settled. "Only to you. No one else." A thought occurred. "Bugged?"

Peter shook his head. "After finding the bug in my house?" His mouth pulled at the memory. "Been checking my office. Besides, OPR pulled Fowler. No reason to listen in."

Yes, there is, Neal thought. The music box was with the FBI now, beckoning Kate's murderer like a siren. But he bit back what he wanted to say because it would only invite more concerned looks and "Are you okay?" questions.

Neal sank back in his seat. The couch felt unusually plush and deep today, its fat cushions molding to his spine. Neal tipped his head back on the sofa and stared up at the ceiling. Dimly, he thought a plaster relief medallion would do wonders on their ceiling.

"I don't know why he was there," Neal said heavily. "It felt like he was waiting for me, but we didn't talk about anything. He mentioned the grand jury, how he was going into WitSec, how we were both alike."

"You," Peter's voice thinned, "are nothing like Docks."

Neal smiled faintly but didn't look away from the ceiling.

Somewhere in the back, Satchmo barked. Elizabeth shushed him.

There was a pat on his knee. "Why don't you take a nap up in the guest room? You could grab breakfast later."

Neal wanted to decline, but on cue, his eyelids started pulling down. His thoughts were tumbling away from him, leaving him numb.

"Think I'll just sit here," Neal murmured. "Watch the game."

"Uh-huh." Peter rose to his feet.

Neal fought back the knee jerk reaction to look away when Peter towered over him.

Abruptly, Peter sat back down. "You sure you don't want to go upstairs?"

The thought of the room, away from the muted high notes of dishes clinking against each other made his blood pound loud in his ears.

Peter grunted as he rose to his feet again, but stepping back this time. His disembodied voice surrounded Neal. "Never mind. I'm not looking forward to hauling you up and down the stairs."

"Bad knees?" Neal quipped half-heartedly.

A throw pillow knocked him gently on the head.

* * * * *


"Damn it."

"What?"

"This guy has some kind of GPS tracker." Someone growled by his ear.

He could feel a calloused finger rubbing along the edge of his anklet and an odd feeling of panic beat hard deep in his throat. He kicked feebly but the grip was steady. It tightened around his ankle, jerked his leg up and his pant cuff was pushed back. He pulled his leg away.

"Le' go…" His leg was yanked straighter and he cried out. A hand cuffed him in the mouth, glancing as if an afterthought.

"You little shit…"

Another blow, like a giant paw and he sagged sideways. But still, he twisted feebly to pull his caught ankle free from the hand curled around it.

"I thought you said this stuff lasts." A harder yank and he found himself sliding down what he now realized was a car seat. The unattached seat buckle dug painfully into his lower back. "He's coming out of it."

Whatever was muttered back sounded rude.

Something thin, cold and very sharp glided down to his ankle. He froze. A jerk and the weight around his ankle broke free. A tiny frantic beeping began racing along with his heart.

"Dump it."

He felt a breeze and the beeping went softer as it drifted farther away. A whine of a window and the salty tang of moist air was gone.

Water. Ocean? River? He heard cars honking. East River? Hudson? Either way, he must be out of his radius. The light, untethered sensation around his newly naked ankle was more obvious than the tracker itself. How ironic.

Beneath him, the car rumbled to a stop and up front, an annoyed mutter about traffic. Traffic lights. So they were on West End highway then. The FDR was a path of uninterrupted concrete except on Monday mornings.

"Shit!"

He rolled toward where he thought he heard the window, numb fingers fumbling for where the car handle should be. It gave as his knee knocked into the fleshy part of a gut. Someone swore, another shouted and he felt the heat of car exhaust as the car door yawned wide open.

His collar shrank around him as it was jerked from behind. He gagged as his collar worked like a garrote under his chin, robbing him of oxygen long enough that he couldn't break free of the fingers prying his mouth open. Sweet acid stung as it was poured in to drown him. The car under him rumbled back to life, he kicked at the door as he arched his back, trying to cough out whatever was forced in, but a hand clamped over his nose and mouth, forcing him to swallow and swallow.

He clawed at the hand still smashed over his face as the body over him leaned all his weight on the hand. He thrashed. His nose burned as some of the liquid recoiled. He felt like he was going to vomit.

"Come on, come on," a voice chanted.

He managed to bite down on a bony joint. The hand jerked away and an expletive exploded above him. It was the opening he needed as he gagged, spit out what he didn't swallow, coughed to try and force out what he did.

The car shimmied, fishtailed briefly, as he bucked out from under the weight and lunged for the car door again. Something grabbed him by the hair and slammed him forward. His forehead smacked the icy cool surface of the window. His fingers lost their already fading strength. He was yanked back, mouth pried open and suddenly, he was drowning again.

"Get him to swallow!"

"Son of a—"

His limbs were numbing, the heavy feel of empty pulled at his skin like the hands that sprung out of the car seat to drag him down. He spiraled. No! He threw out an arm; it was blocked easily. His ankle, bare, never felt stranger against him. He tried to keep his eyes open, saw a face he'd never seen before scowling at him, looking starved, pinched and angular like he was drawn wrong. The hand pressed down harder and he whipped his head, but he was going deeper, the buckle now a vague notion of shape under him.

And as he sank, his head lolled to the side.

Michael Docks stared back at him.


Neal woke, gasping, hands flying out to push away the presence breathing hot on his face.

It whined.

Oh. Neal blinked furiously until his eyes cleared. He vaguely made out the sloping head of a Lab who went back to patiently licking his right hand with its tongue.

"Sorry about that, Satchmo," Neal mumbled. He tried to guide his trembling hand over to the furred head. It took a few times, only connecting when Satchmo helped by gently butting his hand with his snout.

"Sorry," Neal breathed, but now he wasn't sure if it was Satchmo he was talking to now. His fingers ran shallow furrows through its soft short fur. Satchmo's quiet panting calmed his own. He squinted, recognizing the rug he was lying on, the sturdy sofa he was backed up against.

Neal had spent most of the day napping on and off, while Peter, Jones and Diana huddled around the kitchen table like it was a war room. It was strange, though; it was Wednesday, but no one seemed to be rushing off to work.

Elizabeth recruited Neal into taking Satchmo for a walk; only around the backyard though, with someone peering surreptitiously through the little side window.

Then, Neal was volunteered (too enthusiastically by Peter) into tasting and vetoing pates and terrines—it was terrifying how many bad ones were out there.

Neal's list of duties ended with a roasted chicken dinner Neal had tried really hard to finish under Elizabeth's watchful eye. He couldn't; his throat felt like it had clamped shut and swallowing brought up vague sensations of a cool band squeezing tight around his throat.

Neal tried to compensate for his lack of appetite by drying the dishes. But after dropping too many since the sink was never where he thought it would be, Peter took over. He ended up back in the dining room, poking a fork listlessly into a bowl of melting pistachio gelato. He pretended not to notice the looks Jones and Diana kept exchanging over his head.

It was exhausting trying to ignore what was right in front of him. The urge, the need to find a dark corner somewhere to think or not think was making his hands shake again. Neal wanted to get up and leave. But when he tried, he ended up crashing into the hallway bookcase. He snapped unfairly at Jones and Diana when they tried to help him up from the mess of books and broken CDs on the floor before Peter wordlessly prodded him up the stairs into the guest room.

Peter didn't comment when Neal wove straight (sort of) for the shower. He stayed until the tackiness of blood washed down the drain and when he emerged, Peter was gone. There was an old SUNY sweatshirt and drawstring sweatpants folded on top of his duffel bag on the bed. The sweats were still warm from the dryer. The pants were a little too long and covered his feet.

After waking up twice huddled by the bed, not on it, Neal knew it was a lost cause. When he unsteadily made for the stairs, Peter was again there, bedraggled but alert, arms full of bedding.

Thankfully, Peter decided silence was the best option as he steered Neal toward the couch. He unceremoniously threw the blankets on top of Neal, then planted himself on a dining chair to skim through foreclosure scam files with light flickering from the television. Sure enough, Peter found a game somewhere.

Neal fell asleep to the sound of papers crinkling quietly and to the sensation of Satchmo, who had ambled over despite Peter's hissed, "Bad dog," and dropped its regal head on Neal's knee.

Satchmo looked at Neal solemnly as Neal debated if trying to get up off the floor was worth the effort. Neal pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes and breathed slowly. He took a deeper breath because he needed to know he could.

A creak above him made Neal look up. Great. He woke up Peter and now they were once more going to go through the painful progress of talking without really talking.

"You okay, sweetie?" Elizabeth stepped out of the kitchen, bundled in her lavender terry robe, hair hastily clipped into a messy ponytail, a glass of water in her hand. She made no comment about Neal on the floor as she came over and set the drink on the coffee table. She sat on the couch and tilted her head to peer down at him.

"Satchmo snores," Neal joked weakly.

Elizabeth chuckled. "He gets that from his father."

"El?" Peter called out worriedly from upstairs.

"We're fine," Elizabeth returned. She watched Neal drain the glass.

"Thank you." Neal rolled the glass between his hands, wincing as his tender wrist twinged.

"Better?"

Neal decided to put the glass down before he accidentally broke it. He took his time setting it down before it was safe enough to reply, "Yes." He shrugged one shoulder. "Tired."

"Not surprising," Elizabeth murmured. "It's been quite an interesting few days."

"Few months actually," Neal muttered. Satchmo poked him in the ribs with his muzzle until Neal gave the Lab a light scratch behind its ear. Satchmo made a soft snorting sound and dropped to lie beside Neal.

"Satchmo," Elizabeth chided.

Neal gave Satchmo's paw a rub. "It's fine," he assured her. "I don't mind."

"If he's bothering you…"

"He's not," Neal said quickly. Dogs did not ask questions, not verbal ones at least.

Satchmo abruptly sat up and shook his head, floppy ears pulling back as it straightened to all fours. He stared intently at the front door.

"What is it?" Elizabeth glanced at the door as well.

"Maybe Timmy fell down a well?" Neal joked lightly. His stomach flip-flopped though.

Satchmo began to growl low in his throat.

The length of his arms prickling, Neal struggled to his feet. Satchmo's shaking body pressed against his calf.

"Satchmo?" Elizabeth leaned toward the dog. She started when Neal grabbed her hand.

"Get Peter," Neal whispered to Elizabeth. He blindly reached behind him, searching for the iron poker he'd seen many times before. "Get Peter and then stay in the bedr—"

The front door splintered open. An alarm wailed.

Elizabeth screamed.

"El!"

"Peter!"

Barking furiously and snarling, Satchmo lunged at the first of the two men. The intruder shrieked when Satchmo's jaws crunched around the wrist holding a gun.

Elizabeth grabbed a statue from the mantel and threw it at the second. An empty thunk. The intruder cursed, crashing onto the coffee table. He got up drunkenly, a hand deep into his pockets. Neal swung the poker he'd finally snatched like a sword. The gun in the intruder's grip clattered to the floor where it spun and slid under the sofa.

Peter could be heard shouting, running. Neal felt a fist on the back of his t-shirt just as he reached for the man still screaming and trying to shake Satchmo off. His other hand pointing his gun wildly.

The gun went off.

A thread of heat zipped past Neal's cheek. He jolted.

"El! Neal!"

"Run!" Neal shouted toward Elizabeth's direction.

Coffee table guy was back on his feet. Even unarmed, he stood broad as an oak tree, massive limbs whipping out to snag Elizabeth by the wrist.

Neal tackled him around his middle. It looked easier on TV. Coffee table guy didn't go down, but he did release Elizabeth. Neal hopped away, nearly tripping over his own feet from a ham-sized fist swung his way.

Satchmo yelped. Neal spun around in time to see a kick had finally knocked the Lab off the arm he was mangling. Satchmo didn't get up. Neal threw the poker before the man could connect with a second kick. It struck him in the knee. The man howled, which cut off abruptly when Peter launched off the last few steps of his staircase and landed onto his back.

Neal crashed into Elizabeth as she tried to turn back. The room reeled but Neal kept moving, shoving and pushing her through the back door.

"Neal, wait, Peter's—"

"Neal, get her out of here!" Peter bellowed.

"No!" Elizabeth protested.

Neal muttered an apology as he wrapped his arms around her waist, picked her up and manhandled her out the door.

There were two more waiting outside.

Neal felt Elizabeth pulled from his grasp. He twisted, reaching, but an arm wrapped around his throat and jerked him back. Elizabeth blurred in front of him.

"Okay, Caffrey, enough of this hide and seek shit. Giraldi doesn't think this is cute anymore," a voice hissed by his ear. "Where the fuck is the list?"

Neal clawed at the iron band choking him. He stumbled back into the porch railing. His attacker grunted, falling back and pulling Neal with him. They both toppled over. Neal fought free and ran to Elizabeth. Her attacker yelped after a strategic kick that almost made Neal felt sorry for him.

But then a fist snatched her by the arm and she cried out.

Neal thought he smelled burning fuel, smoke and his chest seized. Neal took off, crashing into the man.

"Neal!"

"Grab her!"

"Run!" Neal shouted as an elbow knocked into his chin. His head snapped back. Everything dimmed for a breath. He saw her frozen there, in the middle of the yard, dark hair tumbled out around her white face.

Fire flared in his gut and welled up his throat.

"Kate, run!"

There was a flash, light striking a blade like a diamond sparkle. Neal made a grab at it. A face with a blunt jaw hovered.

I know this face…

The knife edged closer to him. Neal's left wrist burned as it rallied to force back a thick wrist. Someone screamed his name. A loud bang…

"No, wait!"

A scream aborted into a gurgle. Warm blood sprayed against his face. The reed thin sound of something fragile tearing filled his ears. There was another scream.

The surface he laid on grew damp, hot and tacky, coppery film that stuck the shirt to his back. He tried to move, his legs kicking feebly. Next to them, he thought he could feel a body bucking, arms flailing as the surface he was on bounced and heaved.

"He's waking up!"

"Shit, again?"

Silver glinted high above him, lashing down out of the corner of his eye. He tried to turn his head, choked at the thick taste that collected and congealed around him. A face blocked the light, claws on his jaw and he felt like he was being held underwater. Everything rippled as he saw red rain fly across his view, a hand with a flash of steel stretched out high, before dropping out of sight.


A hand caught the fist he threw, pulled it to his chest and held it there. He swung his other hand but that one was easily captured, too and crushed to his chest with the other. He bucked.

"We can make a deal! There's money! Don't do this!"

A body straddled his legs, pinned him. He thrashed. A fist yanked at his tie. Buttons flew. Hands slammed down on his shoulders. Trapped him. Choked him. More fingers wrapped around his throat and squeezed. He shouted soundlessly, angrily for air. Next to him, a shrill voice screamed then abruptly cut off.


A low rumble thrummed in his ear, repeating a sound over and over again until it formed definition.

"...Neal…okay, big guy, snap out of it. Neal…come on…"

Neal blinked and the litany in his ear stopped. The grip around his fists loosened. He felt another hand on his knee and saw Elizabeth hugging her robe tight around herself with one arm, smiling watery at him. And just like that, Neal slumped. He suddenly felt exhausted, depleted. The grass felt cool and damp under his sweats and he shivered.

"Neal?" Elizabeth looked at him wide-eyed.

Neal nodded as he tried to catch his breath. The ground underneath him staggered and reeled briefly. When it righted, he found his voice.

"Okay?" Neal slurred.

Elizabeth nodded. She used a dirt-smudged hand to push back an errant strand of hair. She looked like she'd stood under the gusts of a nor'easter and the clip that held up her ponytail was gone. She looked scared, furious and her mouth was pressed into a thin white line, but she was alive. They both were.

Immediately, Neal remembered the yelp. "Satchmo?"

Elizabeth hesitated; Neal struggled to sit up from whatever he was slumped against.

Peter's voice, deep and rock steady, was gruff in his ear. "He's going to be fine."

Hands bracing him told Neal that Peter was the one playing furniture. His grip curled tighter around Neal's biceps when footsteps could be heard filling the house, "FBI!" and "NYPD!" bouncing on and off the walls.

"I'm fine, by the way," Peter groused good-naturedly. Neal chuckled wearily. Elizabeth hugged Peter then him.

"Peter!" Jones, swathed in Kevlar, skidded to a halt by the back door. "You guys okay?"

"They broke my door, kicked my dog and are now bleeding all over my newly mowed yard. What do you think?" Peter ground out as he released Neal.

Neal smiled at Elizabeth as she rested her forehead on Peter's shoulder.

"I think that was no," Neal volunteered aimlessly. He took a good look around the small yard, lit up by police flashlights and the lights flooding out of now awakened neighbors' windows.

"NYPD had air support up immediately after you made the 911 call, Peter," Jones reported as he holstered his gun. "Do we know who are they?"

"One of them." Peter nodded brusquely at the man groaning as both paramedics and police hauled him up.

"Mr. Bonelli," Jones greeted cheerfully, "we've been looking for you!" He trailed the procession, serenading Bonelli with his Miranda rights as he was led away.

Neal absently rubbed at his ear. It felt like the skin was sunburned. "He asked about a list."

Peter's head whipped back toward him. "Docks' list?"

"He didn't say Docks, specifically, but he did mention Giraldi."

Peter muttered something under his breath. Neal wasn't too keen in finding out what it was.

Jones whistled when he returned. He considered the remaining attacker as he was hauled up and cuffed.

"Two dead in the house, two out here?" Jones looked at Peter, amazed.

"What makes you think it was all Peter?" Neal grumbled as he rubbed a spot where an elbow had poked him. He coughed. At Jones' look, Neal acquiesced, "All right, but we helped. She kicked him." He pointed at the one walking away bow-legged.

As Jones chuckled, Neal watched Elizabeth tug her robe tighter around herself, Peter grimacing as she experimentally dabbed at his cut lip with her robe sleeve. Neal swallowed. He dropped his head in his hand but the ground still rolled under him.

"You hanging in there?" Peter asked quietly. Elizabeth had left with the paramedic, assuring everyone she was all right.

"Sure," Neal answered immediately.

Peter scoffed.

Neal stared at the grass as Jones picked up a switchblade with a latex glove. He tasted blood in the back of his throat. His ears rung.

"Neal?"

Neal turned a heavy head toward Peter when he felt a hand on his back; it fortified him as he swayed.

Peter's frown deepened. "What is it?"

Neal ran the tip of his tongue across his lower lip. He opened his mouth, but the words tasted funny on his tongue, so he snapped it shut. But then he heard the screaming again. Neal squeezed his eyes closed, took a deep breath before opening them again and found Peter crouched beside him, waiting.

"I didn't kill Docks."



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