"I trust you."
Neal had said those three words just before the air had been sucked out of the comic-book vault. It had seemed important to him to say them, just as it had been important to him that Peter take the breathing device. Peter had offered to share it, but Neal had refused.
In fact, Neal had been saying those words a fair bit lately, almost as if he were trying to communicate some hidden meaning or something. Or maybe he was hoping to hear Peter say the words in return. Admittedly, Peter did have some qualms about trusting the former con man/thief when they first started working together, but he had grown to trust his partner more and more.
Not long after the boiler room operation, Neal had been sent on another undercover assignment, this time to infiltrate a group of art forgers who were passing off their own original paintings as undiscovered masterpieces by deceased artists. Unfortunately, for some reason the the FBI agents couldn't get a bug to transmit inside the building where Neal would be meeting with the forgers, which meant that Neal would not be able to signal them if anything went wrong.
"You don't have to do this, Neal," Peter told him. "You can say no. It's too dangerous."
"It's okay, Peter. I'll do it. I trust you."
Fortunately, the operation went off without a hitch. But there were those words again. Why did Neal keep saying them?
Peter brought up the subject to Elizabeth that night. "I don't know why he keeps saying it," he told her. "Every time he's in danger, every time we have to send him into an unknown situation, he always tells me he trusts me."
"Maybe he's trying to tell you something," Elizabeth suggested.
"But what?" Peter asked.
"Have you ever seen The Princess Bride?"
"No, I haven't. It's a chick flick. I don't do chick flicks."
"It's not a chick flick!" Elizabeth protested.
"Does it have car chases? Gun fights?"
"No, it has sword fights, a giant, and pirates. But most of all, it has a beautiful love story."
"What does the movie have to do with me and Neal?" Peter wanted to know.
"Well, you see, Westley the farm boy is in love with the beautiful Buttercup, and...."
"There's a girl named Buttercup? What kind of name is Buttercup?"
"Shut up and listen. Anyway, anytime Buttercup asks Westley to do something for her, he says, 'As you wish.' It turns out that when Westley says 'As you wish,' what he's really saying is 'I love you.'"
"So what you're saying is that when Neal says he trusts me, what he's really saying is...."
"He's saying 'I love you,' Peter."
After thinking about that for a few minutes, Peter realized that his wife could very well be right. Neal's behaviour could very easily be explained that way — the fact that he'd insisted on Peter taking the breathing device in the airless vault, for example, or his willingness to go into potentially risky and even downright dangerous situations, possibly in an attempt to prove his love to Peter.
"But Neal loves Kate," Peter pointed out.
"So who says he can't love more than one person? After all, you love me, and you love him, too."
"You think I love Neal?"
"I know you love Neal."
"And you're okay with that?" Peter asked.
"Yes, I'm okay with that. There's nothing wrong with loving more than one person. Like I told Neal, you're the best thing that ever happened to him, and he's one of the best things that ever happened to you."
"After marrying you, of course."
Peter decided that for the time being, he wouldn't change anything about the way he interacted with Neal. If Neal really did love him, then he must have a good reason for not actually saying the words. Maybe he was afraid of Peter's reaction. Maybe he'd been hurt too often in the past to be able to say those words easily.
A few weeks went by, and then Peter heard from Kate. She wanted the music box, she reminded him, and she wanted it now. She hinted that Neal could be in danger if he didn't give it to her.
Peter conveyed the news to Neal. "Do you have the music box?" he asked. "Because if you do, I think we should set up a meeting with Kate to find out if we can tie her to Fowler. If she really is being held against her will, then we hopefully we can get her away from him."
Neal didn't say whether or not he actually had the music box in his possession, but he said that he could "get it," and the meeting was set up.
They met at the same hotel where Peter had previously met with Kate. Neal delivered the music box as promised. Peter was a bit nervous about having Neal and Kate together in the same room, but he knew that he'd never be able to keep Neal away once he actually knew where his girlfriend was.
The music box was beautiful. Neither of them knew for certain what was so special about it, but Neal was willing to give it up to get Kate back.
"Where did you get it?" Peter asked.
Neal frowned. "Peter, do you trust me?" he asked.
Surprised, Peter answered, "Yes, Neal. I do. I trust you."
He was rewarded with a relieved smile from his partner. "If you trust me, then don't ask me where I got the music box."
Neal was literally on the edge of his seat as he waited for Kate to arrive, and when she did, he jumped up and ran to her, ready to throw his arms around her. To his surprise, however, she didn't welcome him with open arms.
Instead, she pulled a gun. "Give me the music box," she demanded.
Kate had to know how much Neal hated and feared guns. She obviously didn't care. Either that, or she liked the power the gun gave her over him.
"Kate, we can help you," Neal said as he backed away from her. "If Fowler is hurting you, if he's keeping you somehow, then help us catch him. Then you can come home. We can be together. You don't have to do this."
Kate then moved the gun so that it was pointing at Peter. "Whichever one of you has the music box, give it to me, or I'll shoot both of you."
Peter wasn't concerned. "Put the gun down, Kate. Let's talk about how we can catch Fowler. Then you and Neal can find somewhere within his two-mile radius to settle down and live happily ever after or whatever you want."
Kate removed something from her pocket. "This is a key, Neal. Fowler gave it to me. It can unfasten your tracking bracelet. You'll be free to come with me. We can run away together. Once I give him the music box, Fowler will leave us alone. It'll be like the old days, before you went to prison." She levelled the gun at Peter. "And this time, he won't catch you. I'll make sure of that."
"Don't worry. I won't kill him," Kate continued. "I realize he's your friend. But I'll hurt him enough that he won't be able to stop us getting to the airport and leaving the country."
Before Peter could react, Kate pulled the trigger. But Neal jumped on her and pushed her to the ground. Her shot went wild. Peter was then able to get handcuffs on her.
"Are you all right?" Neal asked Peter.
"I'm fine, thanks to you. Are you all right?"
Neal looked at Kate. "Not really," he said. "But I will be."
A few days later....
This time it was Neal visiting Kate in prison. She was being held without bail due to her being a flight risk. She'd agreed to testify against Fowler in exchange for a reduced sentence, and Neal had been offered immunity for stealing the music box if he testified against Kate. It was obvious to Peter that Neal was torn. On the one hand, he didn't want to go back to prison; on the other, he also didn't want to testify against the woman he loved.
Neal walked into the prison visitors room, with Peter standing at the door — close enough to watch their interaction and make sure neither of them had any tricks up their sleeve, but far enough away not to eavesdrop on their conversation. The talk didn't take long. After it was over, Neal and Peter got into the car, but Peter didn't start it right away.
"Want to talk about it?" Peter asked gently.
"She never loved me," Neal said. "All the years we were together, she was just using me. Even back then, she was working for Fowler. In fact, not only was she working with him, she was sleeping with him, too."
Peter put an arm around Neal's shoulders. "I'm sorry, Neal. Is there anything I can do?"
"Can we go to your house? I don't really feel like going back to the office right now. And besides, you have..."
"...better coffee. I know." Peter called Elizabeth on his cell phone to tell her to expect them.
When they arrived at the Burke house Elizabeth was there, ready with tea (or, actually, coffee) and sympathy. She offered him food, which he refused, and a listening ear, which he accepted. Even Satchmo seemed to want to help; he came over, put his head on Neal's knee and looked at him with sad doggy eyes until Neal gave in and petted him.
A little while later Elizabeth took her husband aside. "I'm going to leave you two boys alone now," she said. "I think you and he need to have a talk."
Peter kissed her. "All right. Thanks, honey."
Elizabeth turned to Neal. "I have an appointment I need to keep. I'll see you later — not too much later, okay?"
Neal took her hands and kissed her chastely on the cheek. "Thank you," he said, "for everything."
When El had gone, Neal turned back to Peter. "I have the feeling she left us alone for a reason."
"We need to talk about what happened in the hotel room," Peter said.
"Why?" Neal groaned. "I already answered two million questions from the FBI. So did you. So did Kate. What's left to talk about?"
"You and me," was Peter's reply. "You could have run away with Kate. You could have had her and your freedom. No more ankle bracelet. No more FBI. But you didn't. Why not?"
"Because she was going to shoot you, Peter! I couldn't let her do that!"
"She said she wouldn't kill me," Peter pointed out.
"I don't care what she said. I couldn't take the chance. I couldn't let her hurt you."
"Because you trust me?" Peter asked.
"Because...." Neal took a deep breath. "Because I love you, Peter. Even if she hadn't threatened to hurt you, I couldn't go with her. I couldn't.... I can't leave you. I won't leave you."
Peter knew that it was a big risk for Neal to reveal his feelings like that. Even if Neal hadn't made a point of saying several times how much he trusted Peter, this proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt.
He realized that Neal was very anxious, and that he appeared to be waiting for a reply. He wrapped his arms around his partner and gave him a hug, then kissed him gently on the lips. "I love you too, Neal."