Title: Last Resort
Author: Flora
Rating: PG-13
Characters/Pairings: Neal, Elizabeth, Peter, Mozzie, Keller
Word Count: 2200
Warnings/Spoilers: Spoilers through 4.12 “Brass Tacks”. Mentions of violence.
Summary: The queen protects the king, and her knight moves in crooked lines.
A/N: I don’t even know what this is. I don’t know where this came from. But it’s one of those ideas that would not get out of my head and let me focus on anything else until I finished it. I almost didn’t post it. This is dark, but it’s a thought I couldn’t let go of until I wrote it out.

Keller is back.

Rain washes Neal’s balcony, splashing on the little table and dripping off the railing; he hears muffled engine noises, a taxi horn complaining through a soft grey curtain.

Half a mug of lukewarm coffee sits beside the sink. He gulps it down and ignores the cold twist in his stomach. His face in the mirror is calm.

The mask he shows the world is drilled down to muscle memory, the classic con’s smile coming without thought or effort.


He pulls on jeans and a loose jacket, runs a hand through his hair and leaves the hat on the table. Glances at his phone; 9:45 and three missed calls, two from Moz and one from Peter.

He makes up the bed and sets the mug in the sink, futile gestures against the chaos of the loft, this morning’s crumpled papers and snapped pencils and scattered chess pieces all over the floor.

He retrieves a thick towel from the bathroom, lays it on the floor beside the French doors to soak up the water coming in through the broken pane.

Keller has escaped. Again. As Neal always knew he would.


This morning Moz came over, just after midnight. He gave up trying to convince Neal to go to bed around six.

“You skipped a move.”

Neal took his hand off the bishop; of course Moz remembered the sequence. The carved mahogany chess set was part of that first heist he and Keller pulled in Monaco. They’d fenced everything else and decided to keep it long enough for a game or two.

“You’re not going to beat him like this.”

“I’m fine, Moz.” It was the rook, next; he remembered now. “I just need to figure this out.”

He shifted the rook three spaces left. Made a note on the sketchpad at his elbow and turned to a second board on the chair beside him; this one was antique ivory, pieces arrayed in a different combination.

“Neal.” A beat, and Neal looked up. A gust of wind rattled the balcony doors. “It’s me.

Moz swept his eyes around the loft, at the four chessboards laid out on the table, the one on the chair and two on the floor, the mess of hastily-drawn diagrams beside them. Neal reached out, touched the ivory queen and then took his hand away.

“I’m trying to get inside his head.”

He and Keller never finished their last game; he’d thought it might help to recreate it, somehow, seven chessboards and seven alternate histories, trying to find a different endgame.

“More like letting him get inside yours.” Moz frowned, naked concern in his face. “Look, if he wants the treasure we’ll give it to him.”

“I don’t think that’s it.” Neal moved an ivory pawn two spaces forward, raked a hand through his hair; outside, sleepless lights glittered against a slate-dark cloud layer. “He wants a meeting.”

“With you?” He felt Mozzie’s stare. “Alone? Neal, you’re not going to -”

The third board had the king backed in a corner and most of the pieces gone, casualties carved in heavy green jade lined up on the table. Two pawns and a rook were left in the field, with the king and the queen and her knight.

“I don’t have a choice, Moz.”

He slid the jade knight forward, angled to the left, where it was captured by an opposing pawn; the pieces clicked against the board with a sound like bullets sliding home.

Moz didn’t flinch when Neal hurled the knight through the French doors with a tinkling crash.

He only got up and got the dustpan, swept up the glass shards and said, quietly, “Whatever you’re trying to do, mon frère, I don’t think it’s working.”

Seven boards and a hundred combinations; he’d been at this all night, searching for another way out.

“The Suit knows he’s here.” Mozzie’s voice was calm, though his eyes were alarmed. “There’s a detail on the house. I went over and checked the security yesterday. If Keller tries anything -” He let out a slow breath. “Neal, if he gets too close - look, I know a guy.”

He didn’t go on; he didn’t have to; Neal remembered that ill-advised attempted hit. Mozzie’s look said let me handle this.

Neal looked up; his voice sounded raw and strange in his own ears. “Your guy missed, Moz.”


He turns the anklet key over in his hand as the wet grey wind blows through the gap in the glass, pushing discarded papers across the room. He sets his foot on the chair, slides the key into the lock and waits; the tiny LED turns yellow and then green again. In his hand, empty, the anklet somehow feels lighter.

He tosses it onto the bed.

His phone rings, a sharp grating buzz against the wood of the table; he ignores it.

He remembers the morning after they caught Keller the last time. He can close his eyes and see Peter’s face, bruises around his eyes and a soft, painful hope in his voice, saying you’re willing to give up everything?

Neal said yes, then, and he meant it. He was ready to spend the rest of his life in prison, if that was what it took to keep Peter and Elizabeth safe.

He tells himself this is no different.

If he keeps telling himself that, maybe he’ll start to believe it.


Last night after dinner Neal and Peter sat up together and watched the streetlights come on from the Burkes’ back patio.

They said little, trying to ignore the agents posted on guard, half-hidden by a fringe of lilac hedge. Keller had been out for four days by now and, if their intel was correct, in New York for two.

The moon was nearly full, filtering through the trees, throwing pale silver light and charcoal shadows on the concrete. The sky was clear and the stars held faint but steady; Neal could lean his head back and trace the patterns Ellen taught him.

“Did Keller contact you again?”

Neal shook his head, turning the beer bottle in his hands without drinking; by now it had gone flat and warm. The wind stirred, a branch scraping the side of the house, a whisper of leaves against brick. Keller didn’t; Neal had contacted him a few hours ago.

Best to get the thing over and done; he hadn’t felt like waiting.

“Would you tell me if he did?”

Neal breathed in the smell of rain and lilacs; he heard distant thunder muttering as the neighbor’s air conditioning unit shut off. “I wouldn’t hide anything that might put Elizabeth in danger.”

Fervent and sincere, it was also a transparent dodge, one he knew Peter would recognize.

“That’s not what I asked,” Peter said with a soft sigh, weary and barely heard. “Whatever deal you’re planning to make with him, Neal - don’t.” It was a plea, one without much hope behind it; Peter knew him too well. “We can catch him. Together.”

The kitchen door opened and closed again; Neal blinked as sudden light washed over him and retreated, pulling back like the tide. Elizabeth wrapped her arms around Peter from behind.

“You forgot your sling again,” she said, dropping a kiss on Peter’s neck as he made some sound of fond apology. “Don’t stay up too late. You know you’re supposed to be resting.”

“I’ll be in soon.” Neal heard the smile in Peter’s voice.

She pulled away, then, turning to Neal and squeezing his shoulder; her other hand slipped something into his pocket. “’Night, Neal.”

Neal’s fingers recognized the hard outline of the anklet key.

When she was gone, Peter said quietly, “You don’t have to do this alone.”

Neal looked up and do what? died on his lips. Peter’s eyes were worn and hurt, frustrated and concerned, and Neal was exhausted and sick of lying.

But the truth, as always, would cost too much.

“Yes,” he said, and it hurt, a sharp ache behind his sternum, cold and spreading. “I do.”


Moz thinks Neal is meeting with Keller tomorrow.

The meeting is today, in half an hour; flat-out lies, like anything else, get easier with practice.

Neal takes the 9mm Beretta from the bookshelf; he can’t feel his fingers but his hands know the motions, sliding home the magazine.

He’s pointed a gun at a man exactly twice; the first time all other thoughts were blanked by rage, the second time by fear. Today he has neither to cling to, only a dull cold dread blurring into welcome numbness.

He wonders if he’s already going into shock.

It doesn’t matter. He only has to hold it together for a little while longer. If there’s one thing Keller won’t expect -

He stares at the water soaking into the towel by the door, the cracked jade chessboard overturned on the flagstones before the fireplace. He remembers the sound it made, hitting the floor.

Pis aller, he thinks; he can close his eyes and see the pieces flying, falling in the fireplace and rolling into corners.

The move of last resort.


Yesterday morning Elizabeth stopped by the office, bringing Peter’s sling.

“He left it at home. Again.” She shook her head. Peter was in a meeting, Neal told her, and she smiled and patted his arm. “That’s all right,” she said. “I wanted to talk to you.”

Neal’s eyebrows went up but he let her draw him toward the counter and the coffee machine. He poured two cups and dumped three sugars into his, stirring carefully. “Is everything all right?”

The look she gave him said she’d heard the news. “You know Keller’s back in town.”

“Whatever he’s planning, we’re going to stop him,” Neal said, putting all the sincerity he could into it. “He’s not going to hurt anyone.”

“He’s here because of you.” The words were quiet and firm, no accusation, only a simple statement of fact. Neal closed his eyes; he couldn’t argue. “I don’t know what he thinks you have, or what he thinks you can help him get. I don’t care. Maybe he just likes messing with your head, but he’s here for you and he’s figured out he can use us to get to you.”

“I won’t let him hurt Peter.” Neal stared at the sling on the counter. “Or you. Or anyone.”

“Damn right you won’t. This is your mess.” Her eyes were red but she was past crying; he recognized fear and desperation behind the steel in her voice. “You’re the one who brought him into our lives. It’s your job to remove him.”

“We’ll catch him -”

“He’s escaped twice, now.” She glanced up toward the conference room. Peter’s back was turned, a shadow behind glass. Her hand, holding the coffee cup, shook slightly; Neal watched concentric ripples spreading.

He didn’t want to ask the question: “What do you want me to do?”

“You took him down while you were lying on the ground, through Peter’s pants leg, while both of them were moving.” Her voice dropped. “Are you telling me you can’t finish this?”

The little alcove was silent except for the ticking of the coffee machine and the faint murmur of conversation from the bullpen. Neal licked dry lips and tried, twice, to swallow. “Can we talk to Peter about - ?”

She cut him off with a headshake and a fierce glare. Neal looked up and saw Peter turn toward him, a dim shape through dark water, overlaid with blurred reflections.

“I’ll need -” The words trailed off, squeezed flat and strangled; all the air might have been sucked out of the room.

“Tell me what you need. I’ll get it for you.” Her chin lifted and her eyes held his, steady. “I want Keller gone.”


Neal’s phone rings again as he shoves the gun in the back of his pants.

He shouldn’t look back but he does, once, and sees Peter’s name on the caller ID; he lets it ring, vibrating across the table’s surface, until it drops off the edge and onto the floor.

Peter will find him. Peter always does, but by then it won’t matter. Peter will win the marathon but Neal commands the sprint, and he only needs to stay ahead for a little while.

He can’t breathe.

Black spots hover at the edges of his vision; he blinks, shaking his head, but he knows it means nothing. Those spots could crowd out all but Keller’s face and he can still hit the target.

His mind might be paralyzed - and most likely will be - but his hands know what to do.

The queen protects the king, and her knight moves in crooked lines.

Keller is waiting for his next move.

( Post a new comment )
zeborah[personal profile] zeborah on February 12th, 2013 09:58 am (UTC)
I am so glad you posted it. Dark, and they'll never go there, but that's exactly what fanfic's for, and this is a fantastic piece.
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florafic[personal profile] florafic on April 2nd, 2013 08:04 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I wasn't sure how it would turn out. I'm really glad you liked it!
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