Exhausted, Neal trailed just slightly behind Peter and his wife, yawning widely as they walked off the elevators onto their floor.
"Let's go my office," Peter told them, heading towards the bullpen without pause.
Elizabeth followed Peter at his side. Neal continued to walk a few steps behind, pausing to glance at his own desk once they entered the room. He was fairly tempted to simply go sit down... His chair was so much closer than Peter's office… He hesitated for a moment as he eyed it, yawning again, but then finally fought the temptation and followed Elizabeth and Peter instead.
It was a strange feeling... as though they hadn't been in this building for ages. Yet it was only a couple days ago that they sat here with the team, making plans for the case and doling out location assignments.
Location assignments… He thought about that now. Obviously the locations had been designed to trap them… But how had Dean guaranteed which location they would choose? Neal was close to the case himself, yet he had barely known where they were going ahead of actually leaving the city.
Each time he thought about Dean's knowledge of them, he felt uneasy. Peter was right; the man had clearly been watching them. The question was, how and for how long?
Leaving the proximity of his desk, walking felt slightly like an out of body experience. His mind felt foggy, and he knew he was sleep deprived. Even though he felt it coming and tried to preemptively stop it, he couldn't help yawning every few minutes. Somehow Peter seemed to still be going strong, maybe on adrenaline. Neal now regretted the coffee he'd had at the Burke's residence. He was fairly certain he felt an impending caffeine crash. Was Peter immune to that? He hadn't seen the man yawn once.
He knew they were short on time and had to come up with a plan, but Neal was starting to doubt how effective he was going to be spending most of his energy just to keep his eyes open.
Hughes was out of his own office before they even made it to Peter's door. It was as though the older man had been waiting for them, watching for their return.
Neal had been deliberating over what Peter might tell Hughes and the others. Beyond the insistence that Dean 'didn't exist,' they really hadn't spoken about any other cover story. What was Peter actually going to say? What would Neal say, if he were in Peter's position? He wasn't sure.
"Peter," Hughes greeted, a rare smile stretching over his lips. He walked towards them, extending his hand for a shake. "Sounds like quite an excursion you've been on. Welcome back."
Peter outstretched his own hand, accepting the gesture. Hughes grip was firm. He squeezed back. "One for the books," he said wryly.
"Well, we're glad to see you back in one piece," Hughes stated. He nodded towards Peter's wife. "Elizabeth. It's always great to see you."
"Hi, Reese," she replied, offering a smile that Neal could tell was slightly forced.
Next, Neal waited for acknowledgement of his presence.
It didn't come.
"How you feeling, Burke?" Hughes continued, directing the question solely to Peter. "Sounds like you got a clean bill of health at the hospital at least."
"Thankfully we did," Peter acknowledged. "We were very lucky."
"Glad to hear it," Hughes replied. He finally looked over at Neal, scrutinizing him. "And you? You're good as well? Or am I going to have to file liability paperwork for injuring a CI while on duty..."
Neal wasn't sure if the comment was serious or in jest. The man's smile was gone. But then again, this was how he always looked. "We're both fine..." he responded slowly.
"Good." Hughes turned his attention back to Peter. "I'd like to debrief with you, Peter," he continued, his expression remaining typically somber. "Whenever you have a chance."
Peter nodded. "Yes. Of course. Just give me a few minutes with them if that's alright."
Hughes nodded. "Sure. Take your time. Just come by when you can, and try to take it easy."
The older man then turned his back to them and walked away.
"Take it easy…" Peter mumbled sarcastically under his breath.
"What's liability paperwork?" Neal asked him.
Peter turned his head to consider Neal. He opened his mouth to respond and then paused, finally conceding with, "Don't worry about it." He then gestured them forward. "Come on." He turned and continued the short distance to his own office. Elizabeth and Neal followed.
"It's been a while since I've been here," Elizabeth noted as they walked.
"Me too," Neal replied. He stifled another yawn and then realized his slip of tongue. "I mean - it feels like it's been a while," he quickly corrected.
She glanced his way with a frown but said nothing.
Once in his office, Peter walked around his desk and sank into his chair. He leaned back into it naturally, surveying the small room, but then winced as his body ached in response. He tried to find a position that alleviated his aching ribs as he watched Elizabeth and Neal enter the room. There seemed to be no such position… "Shut the door," he directed them.
Neal was the last one in. He shut the door behind him and leaned back against it, folding his arms over his chest while Elizabeth took a seat in one the chairs in front of Peter's desk.
Peter eyed Neal when he remained standing. "You don't wanna sit?" he asked.
Neal shook his head. "Nope." That wasn't really the truth. He did want to sit. But he felt if he stood he might have a better chance at staying awake.
Peter held his eye contact briefly, but didn't object. He then shifted his attention to Elizabeth. She was looking at him attentively, as though waiting for him to say something. He started with an audible sigh and said, "Look, Hon, I want to start out by saying that I don't know if it's safe to talk in the house."
"Peter," she began in surprise, voice hitching slightly. Her brows immediately knit into a look of deep concern. "What?"
"I know." He gave her a somber look and shook his head. "Trust me, El. I know. I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize," she replied, perplexed. "Just tell me what we're supposed to do. And what else haven't you told me?"
"I've told you most of it. But what I haven't told both of you is some of the details regarding Dean…"
Neal perked up more at the comment. There was more? Like what?
Peter continued, "I didn't want to discuss those details at the house. In case… Well, in case he was listening."
"Peter, are we in danger?" Elizabeth asked apprehensively.
"Let me explain," Peter began.
But before Peter could start, there was a knock at his door and then it started to edge open without even waiting for a response. Feeling it push against him, Neal stepped aside, moving further laterally into the office to get out of its way. In this new spot, he leaned against the glass wall behind him tiredly.
As the door opened, Diana and Jones became visible. Diana was clearly leading the way, with Jones standing just behind her.
"Boss," Diana greeted, looking a bit relieved to see her superior in the flesh. "Welcome back. We're glad you're okay. It's been quite a wild ride since you've been gone." She glanced only briefly at Elizabeth and Neal, nodding at them in greeting, but then focused back on Peter. "It's been…. Well, there's a lot going on."
"I know." Peter nodded, giving her a tight smile in return. "Thanks, Diana. And I'm sorry we lost contact, but it was unfortunately unavoidable. I appreciate you holding down the fort."
"Of course," she answered. "And I've got everyone on standby at the moment…" She paused. "When you were out of touch, and then there were a couple incidents, I just felt that it was the right thing to do…" she explained. "I hope you agree. I thought everyone's safety was the priority."
"It was," he affirmed. "It really was. You made the right decision, Diana. I would have done the same thing."
She looked slightly more at ease at his statement. She leaned into the doorway a bit. "So… What should we do now? You want me to keep everyone in position?"
Peter frowned. He cleared his throat, clearly uncertain how to respond.
"Sorry," she added. "I know you've barely settled in. It's just that... people are asking me. Connor's pretty anxious to get outta Newark…And—"
"I understand," he interjected. "Let's catch up in about a half hour, Diana, alright? Meet me at Hughes office then, and we'll go through next steps." He paused. "I just need to discuss a couple things with Neal and my wife first," he explained.
She nodded. "Sure, Boss. Thanks. Sorry we interrupted."
She started to back out of the doorway.
"Hey, Boss?" Jones started from beside Diana. "Before we go – Just one quick thing."
Peter shifted his attention to the other man in his doorway. "What's that?"
"Uh, this came for you," Jones replied, lifting up an envelope in his hand. He raised his eyebrows, awaiting Peter's response.
"What is it?" Peter frowned skeptically at the formal looking rectangular envelope in his agent's hand.
"It's from the Marshals," Jones explained. He stepped into the office a couple feet beyond Diana to hand the envelope over, stretching his arm over Peter's desk to reach him. He sent a glance Neal's way. "I think it's about Caffrey's tracker."
Neal's posture straightened at the sound of his name. The previous anklet was not something he had been thinking about. Before they left for this trip, there had been that very unpleasant conversation that he didn't want to revisit. He purposefully didn't pay attention to the look Jones sent his way. Instead he carefully watched Peter's expression, but to his surprise the man stayed relatively nonchalant.
Peter examined the envelope that was now in his hands. "Well, I guess now I've gotta tell them he's down another one..." Peter responded, nearly a mutter. "Must be a record."
"They already know," Jones replied. "The new one's coming tomorrow."
Peter looked up and gave a slight roll of his eyes. "Of course," he sighed. "Of course they know." He tipped the envelope towards Jones. "Thanks."
"Speaking of that," Neal suddenly spoke up as a thought struck him.
Peter turned his head and eyed Neal carefully at the words, narrowing his eyes slightly. His pressed his lips together, waiting.
Neal knew Peter probably felt it was bold of him to say anything regarding the anklet, particularly since the message within the envelope, which could decide Neal's fate, was still unknown at this point... But Neal ignored that risk at the moment. He cleared his throat and purposefully turned his attention over to Jones. The other agent was giving him an equally skeptical look. "Do you have the last location that my anklet registered?" he asked. "I mean, the location before Gerry found us."
"Yeah," Jones responded. "Of course. The location gets logged all the time. We have everywhere the anklet has been."
"Could we get that?" Neal asked.
Jones shrugged. He looked at Peter. "If Peter asks me for it."
Peter studied Neal for a moment, as though trying to figure out his agenda. But then he simply nodded at Jones. "Yeah. Sure. Let's get a copy of it."
"Will do, Boss," Jones responded.
"Was there anything there?" Diana asked with a frown from behind Jones. "I mean, other than the woods. And who was the other person that was with you?"
A moment of silence passed over them once she asked the question.
Neal watched Peter's expression carefully. He noted it was well masked. His initial look of surprise at the question was so brief that it was unlikely to have been noticed by anyone else. He'd have to tell Peter later he was fairly impressed with his acting abilities.
"Other person?" Peter asked, giving Diana a puzzled look.
"When you called," she explained. "Wasn't there was someone else with you? I heard them in the background."
Peter slowly shook his head. "No... No, it was only me and Neal."
She frowned. "Really?" She paused. "It didn't sound like Neal."
"It must have been a bad connection," Peter responded with a shrug. "It was just us." He cleared his throat again. "Guys, just give us a few minutes, will you? Diana, I'll meet you at Hughes' office at half past, alright?"
She nodded and started to back out of the doorway.
"Actually, now that I think about it," Peter began again before they could leave. He gestured to Elizabeth. "Hon, give Diana that old phone you found." He watched his wife nod and reach into her purse. "Diana, do you think you could get my service running on this phone? I'm going to need a full-time replacement but this'll do in the meantime."
"Sure," Diana replied. She stepped over to take the phone that Elizabeth was now extending towards her. "Shouldn't be an issue."
"Thanks," Peter responded appreciatively. "We'll talk in a half hour."
Diana and Jones both left the office then, closing the door behind them. Neal shifted back over to return to his original spot, leaning against the door, and yawned loudly.
"Why didn't you tell her?" Elizabeth began. Her voice was a bit accusational.
Peter took a deep breath and gave his wife a sympathetic look. "We can't, El. Dean gave me very specific instructions not to involve the Bureau."
"So you're just not telling anyone?" Elizabeth replied, voice rising in disbelief. She gave her husband an incredulous look. "You think our lives are in danger, and yet you're choosing not to tell the people that could help us?"
"I said the same thing…" Neal mentioned slowly.
Peter shot him a look. "Neal," he rebuked.
"Then why did we even come into the office?" Elizabeth persisted. "I thought you were going to tell them what was going on." Her tone sounded frustrated.
"We can't," Peter replied. "I know how it sounds, but Dean explicitly said—"
"So you don't trust them?" Elizabeth interjected. "Reese? Diana? You don't trust that you could confide in them, treat it confidentially, and have their support?"
Peter exhaled, a deep and long breath. "I know, Hon. I know it seems crazy. But Dean is crazy. If you knew what he was capable of…"
"So you're just going to lie to them instead," Elizabeth retorted. Sarcastically she added, "That makes a lot of sense, Peter."
Neal raised his eyebrows at the unexpected exchange. This time he choose to sit, cautiously taking the step forward to slink without a sound around the second chair and lower himself down into it to sit beside Elizabeth. He then watched Peter's expression, curious to see what his response would be to the accusation. The other man's focus was completely on his wife.
For a moment, Elizabeth and Peter simply stared at each other. Neal looked from one to the other and back again.
This would be interesting, Neal thought to himself. He'd never actually seen them argue before. He was on Elizabeth's side for this one as well, though he didn't think voicing that would make any difference judging by Peter's reaction so far. It clearly wasn't a democracy. Everything she had stated was true; Peter had easily just lied to Diana.
Elizabeth broke the silence first.
"Reverse roles with Neal," she said sternly.
"What?" Peter asked, frowning. "What do you mean?"
Neal's brow furrowed as well. So much for trying to remain an impartial third party. "Uh… Should I leave?" he asked. Sitting had been a very poor choice. Now he wasn't as close to the door.
"No, Neal. Stay," she responded stiffly from beside him, though her eyes remained on her husband.
Neal leaned towards her and gave her an imploring look, though she was paying no attention to him. "Elizabeth…" he said softly. "Please don't bring me into this..."
"I'm sorry, Neal. I need to," she replied firmly as she reached over to pat him on the thigh, as though it was any consolation. She gave her husband a pointed look. "If Neal was in your shoes," she persisted, "and had this exact same scenario with Dean, are you saying he shouldn't tell you? That he should even lie to you?"
"El…" Peter rolled his eyes and exhaled. "Honey, please… That is not the same situation."
"Isn't it?" she persisted. "How is it not? Please, enlighten me."
Peter didn't respond. He remained tight-lipped, simply staring at his wife.
"I would tell you, Peter," Neal said as sincerely as he could muster. He had felt the need to fill the silence.
Peter gave him a chastising look, as if to say 'stay out of it.' Neal slouched in response and quickly shifted his own point of view to study something on Peter's desk. Leave me out of this, he thought to himself.
"It's no different," Elizabeth stated.
"It is. But speaking of Neal," Peter began, clearly yearning to change the subject. He pushed the envelope Jones had given him across his desk to its edge. "Here," he told his CI. "Why don't you open this up."
"Me?" Neal asked.
"No, the other Neal. Yes, you," Peter replied curtly, pushing the paper another inch forward.
Neal sighed. Somewhat reluctantly, he leaned forward and slowly reached for the envelope. As his fingers touched the paper, he filled with dread. Opening this was the last thing he wanted to do in this moment.
"Peter," Elizabeth persisted. "Don't change the topic. I'm serious. Why can't you trust Reese? If Neal was in the same situation, you would want him to hide it from you? Is that what you want him to learn from you?"
"Honey," Peter objected. He gave her look. "Come on. He's right there."
"Exactly," she responded firmly. "And he just watched you lie to your agents. Great example you're setting, Peter."
Peter exhaled, shaking his head. "El..."
Neal would have continued to become even more uncomfortable being tossed into the center of the argument, but now his attention was becoming singularly focused on the envelope in his hands. Fear replaced his fatigue. He looked at the return address for the US Marshals. He hated that emblem. Once again the conversation with Peter from before they left revisited his mind again. The suspicion over whether the tracker had been tampered with... That now felt like such a long time ago.
"Reese can only help us," Elizabeth persisted. "And he would want to help. How is Dean going to know?"
Peter was quiet. He was clearly mulling this over. "I've thought about it, El... Trust me. I've been thinking about it a lot. Ever since we got out of there, I've been considering whether that would be the right move. I'd prefer to tell him, but if Dean were to even think we had involved the FBI..."
"How would he know?" Elizabeth insisted. "He doesn't have to know..."
Peter sighed. "He would know…"
"But what else do you plan to do?" she asked. "Without any resources?"
Peter shook his head slowly, feeling conflicted. He looked back over at Neal, who continued simply looking at the still intact envelope in his hands. "Are you opening it or not, Neal?" he asked critically. Feeling frustrated, Peter reached across the desk and pulled it back out of Neal's hands, none too gently. Without waiting for a response, he ripped the top of the envelope off.
Neal sat back in his chair. He swallowed, watching. "You don't have to open it now, Peter," he told the other man. He really didn't. Didn't they have enough going on?
"No?" Peter replied. "Why – am I not gonna like what it says?"
"That's not what I mean," Neal responded. He had no idea what it would say. He knew with conviction that in his presence nothing had been done to interfere with the tracker. The ice he'd used on his ankle couldn't truly be a crime. Peter was the one who had done the forbidden and actually cut the tracker. But after that, once he'd left it with Mozzie, he really couldn't say…
His stomach flip-flopped with anxiety. "Do we even have time for this?" he persisted.
Peter didn't reply as he unfolded the single piece of paper that had been in the envelope. His eyes scanned the page.
Neal watched, waiting. He felt a lump in his throat. Why did they have to do this now? Peter hadn't answered him, but where was the 'we have no time to waste' from him moments ago?
Elizabeth looked between the two of them, noting their expressions. "What kind of letter is that?" she asked quizzically.
"The kind that determines if I kill him or not..." Peter muttered sarcastically as he continued to read the page.
"Peter," she admonished.
"Fine," he replied. "The kind the determines if I put him back in prison. Better?" He continued to read.
Elizabeth sent a concerned look Neal's way. Neal did nothing but stare at the blank back of the sheet Peter held in his hands.
"… But at least based on what it says here, it looks like as now he's in the clear..." Peter replied as he finished the page. He looked up at Neal. "You want to read it?"
Neal exhaled the breath he didn't know he had been holding. "No," he replied quietly. For some reason, the good outcome didn't resolve the anxiety he was feeling.
"Suit yourself." Peter folded the paper in half and discarded it, tossing it to the side of his desk on top of some other paperwork. "That's one good thing, considering I did not have time to deal with that today on top of everything else."
Neal considered Peter's comment. Deal with 'that.' If the letter had contained a different message, what would happen? What would Peter do? Would it be up to him to deal with him, or the Marshals?
"But you already knew that, right, Neal?" Peter asked him, interrupting his reverie.
Neal pressed his lips together as he nodded. "Of course," he vocalized, exuding forced confidence.
Peter gave him a knowing look and then returned his focus to his wife, who still looked concerned. "It's nothing," he told her. "And it's completely off topic." He paused. "Back to our discussion, I don't want to argue with you, Hon. But we can't tell Reese. At least not today. Give it one more day, and then we'll see where we are."
She looked displeased but didn't respond right away. When she did, it wasn't to push on the issue. "You said there was something else about Dean," she stated. "Some other details."
Exhausted, Peter nodded. "Yes…. Back on topic." He seemed slightly relieved. "So you both know he worked for us. A similar deal to Neal's." He briefly glanced at his CI, given his earlier sensitivity on learning Dean had also been an informant, but Neal looked indifferent, maybe a bit distracted. He turned back to his wife. "It lasted about six months... And it ended with the case that he's now trying to resurrect."
"Samantha," Neal said.
Peter nodded. He closed his eyes briefly as he thought back on the case. "Yes, Samantha."
"What happened to her?" Elizabeth asked.
"I only partially know," Peter admitted slowly. His eyes lifted to meet hers. "And of what I do know, it's not a happy ending."
"Why does he want to meet her?" Neal asked.
"Love," Peter responded bluntly, turning his eyes back to him. "Sound familiar? Makes people do some pretty stupid things."
Neal tilted his head to the side. He didn't react directly to the comment. Instead, after a moment, he responded, "And now she's in WitSec."
"Yes," Peter affirmed.
"You'll never find her then," Neal said.
"No," Neal responded, voice adamant. "You can't."
"I'm not going to disagree with you on concept, Neal. Theoretically you're correct." Peter noted Neal's expression appeared perturbed at his response. "You're two hundred percent correct," he said appeasingly. "But this is a bit different."
"Well, Sam and I kept in touch."
Neal's brow furrowed. He turned his head over to view Elizabeth. She looked equally confused. He then turned back to Peter. "Why?"
"Why?" Peter echoed. "I don't know. I realize it's a bit unorthodox."
"So you already know where she is?" Elizabeth asked.
"No. Not exactly. I just possibly have a head start on contacting her…." Peter's head hurt. Both Neal and Elizabeth were looking at him inquisitively. He wished in this moment he could let them into his mind. It would help explain a lot of questions. Questions he was too tired to get into. "I say possibly because I'm not even sure if the information I have is still current."
"Why would she do that?" Neal asked. "It undermines the whole purpose of the program."
"It's complicated," Peter replied.
"Why is everything 'complicated'?" Neal replied, slightly exasperated. "Witsec should be safe."
"It is," Peter replied. "It's very safe."
"Not when you don't follow the rules."
"You suddenly see merit in rules, Neal?" Peter raised his eyebrows.
"It's suppose to be safe," Neal persisted, stressing the word.
"It is," Peter told him in response. "You know that."
"Is it? You're about to use her."
"Did I say that?"
"You inferred," Peter replied stiffly.
Neal narrowed his eyes.
"Witsec is secure," Peter said. He gave the other man an appeasing look. "You are right about that, Neal." He paused as he watched Neal's unusually unguarded expression, which showed his discontent for the discussion. "Hey. Why are you so bothered by this?"
Neal didn't answer. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
"So where is she?" Elizabeth asked. "How are you going to get in touch with her?"
Peter sighed. He could tell Neal was increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of contacting someone in Witness Security. He looked uneasy and suddenly deep in thought, but Peter had no time to get into that and counsel him. "I have an old number," he explained. "I would call it and eventually she'd call me back from another line. I don't actually know her location."
"Well, hopefully you wrote the number down somewhere," Neal noted dryly.
Peter tilted his head to the side, giving a questioning look.
"Because your phone is now a paperweight," Neal explained.
"True," Peter acknowledged. "And, yes. It's written down. But I haven't spoken to her in several years. I don't know if the number even works anymore."
"What if it doesn't?" Elizabeth asked.
"Well, then we're in trouble and back to square one," Peter replied with a sigh. "So let's hope it works. I'm also going to start by pulling her old case files." He looked back to Neal. "You can help me with that, Neal."
"Isn't it classified?"
"We shouldn't have any issues getting those original case files," Peter replied. "Anything after that is a different story. I'll call the records room and let them know what to pull for you."
"And what's the old case going to tell us?" Neal persisted.
"You wanted to know about Dean. Well, that case will tell you all you need to know about him. Probably more than you'll ever wish you knew."
Neal frowned at the cryptic response. He then yawned.
"What does he want with this woman, Peter?" Elizabeth asked, frowning. "After all these years, why does he want to meet her?"
Peter hesitated. He then replied slowly, "He likely wants another chance. He was obsessed with her. Irrationally obsessed. I guess time hasn't changed that."
Neal's phone buzzed with the indication of a received text message. He yawned again as he reached into his pocket.
"But you can't actually have them meet," Elizabeth persisted. "You're not proposing that…"
"Of course not," Peter replied. "But he doesn't need to know that."
"But once you contact her," she persisted. "Then what?"
"That's the million dollar question…" he admitted. "I don't know yet."
"Peter," Neal began, looking up from his phone. He had a concerned look on his face.
"What?" Peter looked at him expectedly.
Neal outstretched his hand, offering Peter the device.
Peter took it, confused, and looked at the screen.
There was a text message from a blocked number that appeared as 'Unknown.' The message read, I've found you. Tell Peter he has 60 hours.
"Is it him?" Neal asked.
Peter reread the message, brow furrowing. "It certainly looks like it..."
"How would he get my number?" Neal asked, voice hesitant.
Peter shook his head, shrugging. "I really don't know, Neal."
Elizabeth's phone went off next from within her purse. She froze at first, startled, before looking up to meet her husband's eye. Then she fumbled with her purse, a bit unnerved as she reached in to gain access to the phone. She withdrew it and looked at the screen.
"Found you," she read out loud. She gave Peter a frightened look. "Peter, this is ridiculous. You really need to tell Reese."
Peter felt a chill go down his spine. He extended his arm to return Neal's phone to him. Neal took the phone and stared at the screen, at the message, once again.
"If he sends you anything else, Neal," Peter began, pointing a finger at him, "then you tell me immediately. You understand?"
Neal nodded, eyes remaining locked on the screen.
Peter shifted his chair back and pulled open his desk drawer. "Let me find that number."
In Hughes' office sitting beside her boss, Diana couldn't help but notice for the second time how completely exhausted Peter looked. Gerry had reported back to them after locating Peter and Neal, and had noted that they appeared disheveled but 'largely unharmed'. She'd been relieved at that, but now felt a bit concerned at the dark circles under his eyes and his stiff, almost pained movements.
"Have you even slept in the last twenty-four hours?" she asked.
"No," Peter admitted. He gave her a tight smile. "But I'm fine, Diana. Really."
"Are you sure?" she asked, paired with a skeptical look. "We don't have to catch-up today."
"I'm sure. Trust me, Elizabeth has asked me the same thing a hundred times already."
"She's right… You ought to get some rest," Hughes told him, giving him a serious look from across his desk. He leaned back, folding his arms over his chest. "I appreciate you coming in so soon to check-in, Peter, but you know your personal wellness is a priority."
"I'm really fine," Peter replied. "There's too much to do."
"There's always going to be too much to do," Hughes told him dryly. "Including paperwork. This little incident is going to have us buried in paperwork. But all of it can wait."
"We'll take care of it," Peter told him.
"You were in a helicopter crash," Diana told him. "Most people don't just walk away from that. Or just show up back at work a couple days later."
Peter eyed her carefully. This wasn't the conversation he was intending to have with her. Or Hughes. "We're very fortunate," he replied. "It could have been a lot more serious."
"And then stranded overnight in the woods," she persisted. "Most people wouldn't be okay after that, Peter."
He shrugged. "I know," he replied. "I know. It wasn't easy. You don't have to remind me what happened, Diana."
She scrutinized him. "And when you called me," she began. "I swear I heard another voice. I know you said no one else was there other than Neal…. But maybe it the pilot?"
"No," he replied, shaking his head. "No, it was just Neal and me… The pilot was unfortunately gone on impact." He reflected on his honest statement. Maybe he should have altered that in order to address her question quickly. But then again, it was going to be pretty clear in the autopsy when they examined the body that he had died on impact...
"Jesus," she answered, cringing a bit. "I'm sorry, Peter. We tried to get you out of there as soon as we could."
"I know that," he said emphatically. "I appreciate it. It's certainly not something I want to repeat again any time soon…" he replied.
"So, Peter," Hughes began, clearing his throat. "Tell us what happened."
"What happened," Peter echoed. He nodded. "Where to start." He'd been rehearsing this bit in his mind, and had known the question was inevitably coming. For a moment, Elizabeth's insistence that he tell Hughes everything crossed his mind. Perhaps that could work. He trusted Hughes immensely. He knew that he could have his support. They could be discreet, and Dean would never know, but it would give Peter far more resources.
But then Peter thought of Dean's own power. His ability to find Neal and Elizabeth's private cell phone numbers. His ability to orchestrate this whole plan thus far. If he suspected Peter was breaking any part of their agreement, he had no doubt he would take action to show them he was serious.
"The weather was pretty bad," Peter began. The story he had rehearsed in his head was coming naturally. He was glad Neal wasn't here to watch him twist the truth.
With that, he started to describe what had happened. Similar to when he'd described it to Elizabeth earlier in the day, but it was a more curtailed version. It eliminated certain elements of the experience, most notably any reference to Dean. For all Diana and Hughes knew, Peter and Neal had braved the elements in the woods all night, just the two of them. He didn't say imply otherwise.
He tried to keep the story limited in detail. And he attempted to keep it factual as well, simply by eliminating certain content and locations and focusing more on the other parts of what had happened. Their attempt to get to the radio. The consideration for flares. And so on.
In his approach he left out entirely what had actually happened. No mention of the bunker. No mention of Dean. He considered Elizabeth's earlier ask to 'reverse' roles with Neal. It left him uneasy to think about that. If he ever found out Neal had omitted such a large amount of relevant details from an account, Peter would throttle him. Yet here he was, doing the exact same thing to Hughes and Diana.
Their response was sympathetic which made Peter feel even worse. Hughes insisted again that it was important they recuperate. Said it was a 'direct order' that Peter leave the office by the early afternoon. Peter nodded and didn't argue, though felt even more uneasy. They also hadn't asked about Elizabeth's presence. It was unusual for her to be here, though they seemed to overlook it. Perhaps they thought in light of everything that had happened that she was here out of concern.
They both were looking at him with solemn expressions. He wasn't certain what to make of that. He wasn't sure if it was a manifestation of pity, sympathy, or something else. Whatever it was, he wanted to move on from it.
"But fortunately, we're fine… And it's better we focus our attention back on the case," he said. "Let's be forward looking."
Diana gave him an uncertain look but then nodded. "Sure, Boss."
"I appreciate that," Peter said. "So tell me what happened while I was gone."
"Diana did a damn fine job," Hughes noted.
"I don't doubt it," Peter replied, nodding at his boss and then turning his head to give her a smile. "I knew I was leaving the right person in charge."
She shrugged and gave a slightly abashed smile back. "No problem. I just did what I could… And everyone is kind of in limbo now. Waiting to see what we want them to do."
"Let's keep everyone holding at this point," Peter began. "If you both agree, I think it's important that we take a day or two to reconvene…" He was hoping they would go for this… He needed that time. "You know, before we have everyone active in the field. This case isn't time sensitive." But something else is… he thought to himself.
"I agree…" Diana replied. "Though I was thinking a bit about the original suspect," Diana began. "I was going to suggest that we should talk to him again, maybe even today."
Peter frowned. "You think there's more to get out of him?"
"We need to know if he knew these things would happen," she began. "Jeff and the small explosion. The brakes on Beth's rental car. The chopper that you and Neal were on..."
"What makes you think he would know about those things?" Peter asked. At the same time he was thinking in alarm at her references - Explosion? Brakes? What the hell had happened? These were the so-called 'incidents' she had referred to?
"You don't think it all could have been orchestrated? Peter, those are a lot of mishaps to have happen randomly."
"Orchestrated? For what reason?" Peter pushed back. He felt guilty in doing so. Diana's instincts were spot on. It pained him to have her doubt herself.
"I don't know," Diana admitted. "But doesn't it seem too much for it to all be coincidental?"
"I know what you mean. But honestly, it's a lot of really bad luck," Peter replied. "Seriously, we're going to be calling this the calamity case for a while."
"Bad luck?" Diana echoed.
He nodded, shifting his look from Diana to Hughes, who was observing the conversation silently. "Terrible luck," he replied.
"Might still be worth talking to him again," she replied.
"Sure," he replied with a shrug. "Can't hurt." He didn't know what would come of that. Dean had acknowledged that this person was a 'colleague' of his. He still wasn't sure what that meant, and why someone would sacrifice their own potential freedom for Dean. There had to be some sort of compensation involved….
He was exhausted by the time their debrief was over. Exhausted even further by the thought of having to formalize this – to eventually make an official report. Hughes was right about the paperwork. There was a fatality involved. Bodily injury to him and to Neal. Yet another anklet. The list went on. He was hoping he wouldn't have to address any officialpaperwork until this ordeal with Dean was over with...
Hughes hadn't asked many questions, and for that Peter was thankful.
When he left Hughes' office, he was mentally and physically drained. The lack of sleep was wearing on him, and he was also starting to realize the hospital's offer of painkillers weren't such a bad idea. Then again, perhaps the aches and pains he felt would actually help him to stay lucid.
Diana walked with him out of Hughes office. She was offering to interview their original suspect again, considering he was still in custody. Peter yearned to do the same with his own set of private questions but knew he couldn't. Not yet. His questions would be too telling – how did this person know Dean, and how had Dean convinced them to be part of this elaborate scheme? Did he know about Samantha?
"Why don't you go ahead and try to arrange that?" Peter responded. It wouldn't hurt, and convincing her otherwise might get her suspicious. There was no reason why they wouldn't want to question him again, despite Peter's insistence that the last sequence of events had been a series of bad luck.
Diana nodded. "Will do, Boss." As they approached his office, she gave him a further look of concern. "If you need anything, let me know. I do think you should take it easy the next few days."
Peter nodded while internally resisting the suggestion. The next few days were absolutely critical and not a time to be taking it easy…
"Thanks, Diana," he replied despite his internal conflict. "It's good to be back."
She gave him a brief smile, glancing towards Peter's office where Elizabeth was still seated inside. "She's probably worried about you."
Peter forced a chuckle. "Well, what can I say… We look a little worse for the wear, that's for sure."
"Even more of a reason to take it easy," she replied. "You know where to find me."
As she walked away, back towards the bullpen, Peter continued towards his office. Elizabeth looked up at his return, her phone in her hands. She'd been reading something on the screen. He hoped there were no further messages.
"Where's Neal?" Peter asked, glancing at the empty seat beside her.
"He went back to his desk," she replied.
"Did he get the files?
"I'm not sure," she replied. "You know, I think he's exhausted, Peter. Aren't you, as well?"
"Yeah, well… He's supposed to be getting me those files."
"Have you talked to him?"
"About what?" Peter responded with a frown.
She gave him a look. The look that implied he should know what she meant.
"Talk to him about what?" he persisted, feeling clueless.
She frowned but then just sighed. "Peter."
"I'm not a mind-reader, Hon."
"Exactly. Which is why actually talking is needed."
Peter shook his head, growing slightly frustrated. He then turned to look back towards the bullpen, craning his neck to look down towards Neal's desk. Sure enough, there he was, head down, focused on something. He watched him for a moment. What the hell did Elizabeth want him to talk about with him?
Elizabeth spoke up again. "Peter, what's the plan here?"
He turned back to his wife. "First plan is that number I found." He moved further into his office, walking around his desk to return his attention to an address book that had been buried deep within his desk drawer. He'd located it right before heading to Hughes' office to talk. Leather bound, edges worn, it was a book he hadn't opened in years. In the shift to a digital era, it had been a long time since he'd relied on a handwritten ledger of phone numbers and addresses.
He flipped open the book, looking for the page where her information would be.
"Amazing you still have that," Elizabeth noted.
"You're in here too," he told her as he flipped pages.
"Mm-hm…" he answered. He stopped flipping, finding the page he was looking for. There it was, in bold ink lettering. 'Sam' with a phone number. No other information. "Found it."
"So you call this number, and then what?"
"Leave a message. And then wait," he replied.
"Wait for how long?"
"Hopefully less than three days," he said with a sigh.
She looked at him skeptically. "And say she calls you back. What are you going to tell her?"
"The truth… Honey, if I were her and someone called me out of the blue to say a psychopath wanted to meet with me again…"
"I'm not sure she views him as a psychopath."
She frowned. "What?" She shook her head, confused. "How could that be? Everything you've told me about him, everything that's going on – "
"It's complicated," Peter responded.
"There's that word again. This guy just held you and Neal hostage, threatened your lives, and now there's another side to him?" she persisted, flabbergasted. "How could that be?"
He sighed, giving her a tired look in response.
"Let me guess," she continued. "It's complicated?"
"Very complicated," he replied. "And sorry, Hon, but my brain is starting to feel like mud…"
"Start with the phone call," she replied. "If you refuse to let Reese in on this, then a phone call is all you can do at this point."
The phone call. A lot was weighing on this phone call.
He picked up the receiver of his phone, holding it in his hand as he reread the phone number he'd written down so many years ago. What if the number was disconnected? What if it belonged to someone else?
He dialed it slowly, pressing each individual number firmly, afraid to misdial. When he got to the final digit, he glanced at his wife, and then held the phone's headset up to his ear.
At the first ring, he tried to remember the last time they had spoken. The last time he had dialed this number. He couldn't remember specifically. It had been so long ago.
At the second ring, he felt relieved that there was was a connection. He'd been concerned he wouldn't get more than a busy signal or a disconnection message. Still, a stage further ahead, he was now nervous that it would lead to someone else answering, or an unfamiliar voicemail message.
The voicemail clicked on.
He felt a surge of relief when it was the same as it used to be. Not personalized. Just a repeat of the number that had been reached, voice a mechanical one and not belonging to Samantha, followed by a prompt to leave a message.
The message he left was consistent with their old routine. He kept it brief. His name. A quick reference that it had been a while, and a callback number. The number he gave was Elizabeth's.
Elizabeth frowned at him as he hung up. "My number?" she asked.
"I'm not sure when Diana will get my number back online, so it was either yours or Neal's," Peter explained, shrugging apologetically. "I figured you'd fight me less than he would."
She sighed but didn't respond.
"Not like we'll be far from each other during this whole thing," Peter continued. He couldn't help but note her expression was a mix of worry and skepticism. "Hopefully we hear back soon." He pushed himself up from his desk, suddenly feeling restless. "Let me see how he's doing with getting those files."
She didn't answer, instead simply placing her phone on the desk and eyeing it solemnly.
Peter cast her one last look before heading down to the bullpen. It wasn't fair to her, he knew that. Having her here, sitting idly, while everything else was on hold trying to figure out next steps for this mess with Dean. He could tell she was unnerved by the whole thing, and likely frustrated, but he didn't know what else to do. His ultimate priority while figuring this whole thing out was her safety.
As Peter walked across the floor towards Neal's desk, it became apparent to him that his CI didn't appear to have made any progress whatsoever with getting those old case files. His desk appeared relatively clean. He was focused on something else, leaning forward with his elbows on the desk, head down, one of his hands moving methodically across a sheet of paper. Like he was…. Drawing something?
"Hey," Peter said when he got close enough.
Neal didn't even seem to notice him there. His head remained down, a somber almost pensive expression on his face, focused entirely on whatever was on that piece of paper.
"Hey," Peter repeated, more loudly this time. It wasn't that noisy in the bullpen, but maybe Neal simply hadn't heard him. At again no response, he moved closer, reaching for the mysterious piece of paper that seemed to have Neal's full and undivided attention.
It was when Peter's hand crossed over the threshold of the desk that Neal jerked back in his chair and dropped his pencil, as if startled by the trespass into his space. He recovered quickly as his surprise quickly evolved into annoyance, and his hand shot out in an attempt to block the paper from becoming confiscated.
"Hey," Neal echoed Peter's earlier greeting unintentionally, but his tone was one of protest as Peter successfully pulled the page out of his reach.
"Didn't you hear me?" Peter asked. "What's got all your attention anyway?" He gently swatted Neal's reaching hand away as he raised the piece of paper to view it.
He was a bit taken aback by the image. On the page, a simple lined sheet ripped from a notebook, was a half complete pencil sketched image of a familiar face.
It was drawn in careful, meticulous detail. While unfinished, the resemblance was remarkable. He couldn't help but study it for a moment.
He looked up and frowned at Neal, holding the page between his fingertips… Creating this is what had his CI so enthralled?
Neal wouldn't look at him but reached out again and yanked the page out of Peter's hand with an irritable look. With no words spoken, he then immediately crumpled the paper within his hands into a small ball and tossed it away to the corner of his desk. It rolled too far, overshooting the edge of the desk and falling silently to the ground.
"Why'd you do that?" Peter asked him.
Neal didn't respond.
"I thought you were getting those files," Peter told him. He walked around the desk and leaned down to retrieve the discarded balled up paper from the floor.
"I did go. And they told me they'd call me when they're ready," Neal responded, a bit defensively. "They were busy. Besides, it's an old case- they probably didn't sense the urgency, Peter."
Peter tossed the paper ball back onto Neal's desk. "So you're doodling instead?"
Neal narrowed his eyes slightly as he watched the crumpled paper roll a few inches on his desk. "No," he replied.
"Looks just like him," Peter said, nodding towards the paper. "The pilot. Pretty remarkable considering you only met him once."
Peter waited a moment, and then asked, "You thinking about him?"
"No," Neal repeated, tone guarded. He continued to stare at the crumpled paper. "I mean, not really," he rectified his statement. "I was trying to think of what he looked like before."
"You know…" Neal continued. "Before…" He gestured his hand at his own face, grimacing slightly. "… Before he didn't quite look like that anymore."
"Well, don't think about that," Peter told him. "The before or after."
Neal made a face and shook his head. He didn't respond at first, but then he looked back up at Peter. "What'd you tell them?" he asked.
"Hughes?" Peter asked. He shifted his weight, slowly crossing his arms over his chest. He winced and abandoned the position to drop his hands to his side – the once familiar stance was a killer on his ribs. He considered his response before replying, "I told him what I needed to tell him."
"So... you didn't change your mind?"
"Telling him the truth."
"I told him the truth, Neal," Peter replied stiffly, shaking his head a bit.
"Half truth, maybe," Neal replied.
"Don't start," Peter warned. The earlier conversation in his office instigated by Elizabeth replayed in his mind. Was he happy to have to omit half of his account of what happened to Hughes? Absolutely not. Was Neal likely to try to use this precedent against him at some point in the future to fight his own technicality of truthfulness? Unfortunately yes. Peter had just undermined so many of the lessons he had tried to instill in Neal about being honest. But trumping all of that was the actual safety of Elizabeth and Neal. Dean had already proven he had resources to get to them. Peter wasn't going to risk letting him take that a step further.
Neal didn't respond, but he continued to look a bit doubtful. His hand rose to rub at the side of his head, near where his temple was bruised. The palm and wrist of his hand were both darkened from the graphite of the pencil he had used to draw the pilot.
Peter looked from Neal's hand towards his discarded pencil, thoughtful. "You want to draw something for me?"
Neal gave him a look, a bit incredulous. "Huh?"
"Do you think you could draw Dean?" Peter asked.
Neal appeared surprised at the question. "What?" he asked. He looked up at Peter with a frown. His dirtied hand dropped to rest against the desk. "Dean? Why?"
"We don't have any current images of him," Peter replied.
"Yeah, but I thought we weren't telling anyone about him."
"Yet," Peter replied. "Still, it would be good to have a recent depiction of him." He paused. "I wouldn't mind having something to show to Elizabeth as well."
"To show her? Why?"
"So she can also keep an eye out."
Neal continued to frown. He glanced towards the thrown-away, crumpled ball of paper that had once been a detailed sketch of the pilot. He seemed deep in thought.
"You don't have to," Peter began.
"No, it's fine," Neal replied. "I'll do it if you want me to."
While Neal had agreed, Peter readily picked up on the underlying hesitancy in the response. He was about to question that when the phone at Neal's desk began to ring.
Neal looked over at the phone, at the caller ID. "It's the Records Department," he stated.
"Perfect," Peter responded. He began to walk away as Neal reached for the phone. "Come to my office when you have the files."