Note: For complete heading info, please refer to Chapter 01.
Peter hated leaving Neal behind, but El was at home and he would have to start letting go if he was ever going to return to work. His extended leave was coming to an end and Hughes had been calling more frequently to check-in. He and El had already talked things over and they were going to see how Neal felt about going to work with El for a while. They knew that all of the girls working for El would give Neal the space he needed, but they could also be good listening ears if he needed that.
The other option had been to get in touch with Mozzie and June and let Neal hang out at the studio space he used to love. So far, Neal hadn't mentioned returning to the place he had been taken from and they hadn't brought it up. Peter figured that it would be something Neal would have to initiate. Peter himself hadn't been back since that first day when he had arrived too late only to see Neal's paintings tossed around and Mozzie with a bloody cut on his forehead.
Peter shuddered, reassuring himself that Neal was home safe and belonged to him and El again. He'd never let anyone else take Neal from him. Ultimately, it was that feeling that was leading him to the prison that day. There was some unfinished business and he needed to know the truth.
When Neal had come around at the hospital, he had talked about his father being in the room. Peter and El had never questioned Neal much on his past, but they had learned that he had been a slave since he was three years old. Neal didn't remember why he ended up a slave, but they had all assumed it was because his parents had died or sold him.
After Neal had slipped back into a sleep, Peter and Hughes had called Diana to check in and let her know what Neal had said. Diana confirmed that a man had been cuffed to a chair and they were in the process of trying to ID him. He'd given the name Sam Phelps, but one of Adler's men called him James Bennett giving weight to Neal's story.
It was several days later that Diana came to Neal's room and told them the story of James Bennett was true and that the Marshals were taking him into custody.
The hardest part had been when Neal looked at Diana and asked, "Did he ask about me?"
Diana just shook her head and rested a hand on Neal's shoulder. "You've got enough good people around you that love you, Neal. You don't need him."
Peter wanted to agree with her, but at the same time he could see the hurt in Neal's eyes at the fact his own father didn't care about him. That's what led Peter to request the meeting he was about to have.
"Special Agent Burke," Peter said flashing his badge to the guard at the visitation desk. "Here to see James Bennett."
The guard checked his log and nodded. "They already have him in a room for you," he said as the door buzzed, letting Peter inside.
When he got to the room, Bennett was sitting in his chair with cuffed hands. The man looked up at Peter and smiled. The smile was nothing compared to the ones Neal used to carry all the time and Peter was sure he would carry again. The only similarity Peter could make out was the blue eyes. But where Neal's eyes were open and full of love and mischief, Bennett's were calculating and cold. Peter couldn't believe the man he loved came from this.
"So you're the one that owns my boy? Heard you have a wife too. Guess you like to keep your options open, huh?"
"You don't have the right to call Neal yours," Peter said flatly. "You left your wife and child to fend for themselves all because you got greedy."
"You know how it is. The bad guys were always getting one up on us. Isn't the saying, if you can't beat them, join them."
"My philosophy is, if you can't beat them, try harder. You left Neal twice in his life, first as a kid and then again while Adler was beating him to death. How could you not try to save him? How could you-" Peter stopped, his emotions were threatening to overwhelm him.
"If I'd done anything, Adler would have turned on me," Bennett said calmly. "Plus, the man had me cuffed to a chair."
"My agent told me that you had those cuffs slipped when they went to check on you. You could have stopped it. Could have saved him from being branded. So it was your life for your son's," Peter shook his head. He'd heard enough and he would be at any parole hearing to make sure he never had to hear any more.
As he was walking out, Bennett's voice stopped him. He didn't give the man the satisfaction of turning.
"You think I'm so bad, Agent Burke. Yet, you are the one who's kept my son enslaved for over ten years. What does that make you?"
"A man who listens to the needs of the person he loves," Peter said quietly. "We offered to free him nine years ago and Neal said no. I didn't understand his reason then, but I sure as hell do now."
"What was that?"
"He told me that if he was our slave, he knew we'd never leave him like his parents did."
Peter walked out the door and didn't look back. As much as he hated the man, Bennett helped contribute to make Neal the man that Peter loves. Now he just had to go home and show Neal all the love he'd given him for ten years and hope the next ten would be just as good.