Disclaimer in part one
The remainder of the night remained uneventful. Peter watched Neal turn his charm on high and aim it all at Sgt. Buehler. What exactly he expected to accomplish by that Peter couldn't discern, but the young woman seemed to deal with him professionally, if she did look a little blinded by the spotlight of Neal's interest from time to time. When dawn's welcome light hit the windows, Peter's body clock began protesting in earnest that something was missing -- something called sleep. He called the desk and asked them if housekeeping could bring up more coffee.
Relaxed by both creeping exhaustion and the relief that came with resignation, Peter sat in the room's other chair, his back to the window, sipping coffee and watching the show. Sgt. Buehler's book was about a serial killer who had killed young women during Chicago's World Fair in 1893. Neal complimented her on her reading tastes -- so well focused in support of her career goals. The woman cautiously allowed that it was assigned reading for a professional development class. She sat in the chair she'd brought inside, her back to the bathroom's opening. Neal stayed seated in the chair he'd bound Peter in, as if it was a penance. Peter was 99% certain that Neal intended to stay. He'd had his chance and hadn't taken it. Neal's own collusion was Peter's safest bond on him, and he didn't even know why he had it.
What did Elle say to him? His thoughts unfettered by anything he had to do, they danced around this question. Sgt. Buehler's presence prevented him from asking Neal about it, so he worried at the thought like it was a sore hangnail. What could Elle threaten that would affect Neal even if he ran? What did Neal want that Elle could offer?
His imagination went to some dark places at that thought, but he reined it in. These were things Elle would never offer, and, to be fair to him, Neal would never ask. Peter excused his disloyal imagination on the grounds that a career in law enforcement had made him vulnerable to cynicism. But he was right back where he started. What on earth did Elle say?
Sgt. Buehler finally cut Neal off, saying she wanted to read her book now. Peter saw Neal bite back his disappointment, but he quit his flirting and looked around for something else to do. Neal did understand boundaries, he just didn't like them. How did he have so much energy? Well, Neal had allegedly gotten some sleep. Neal asked Peter to hand him some paper from the desk, and spent the rest of the time folding origami figures.
What did Elle say?
Even Neal looked a little wilted by the time two Marshals arrived at midmorning with a new tracker. He needed a shave and so did Peter. Peter released Sgt. Buehler and stood behind the Marshal's agent while he removed Neal's old tracker and attached the new one. Neal watched the procedure soberly, with hooded eyes.
When it was done, both Peter and Neal heaved sighs and began gathering their few possessions with a sense, for Peter, of things returning to normal. Neal donned his hat, but, examining himself in the mirror, declared the tie ruined. Peter quirked an eyebrow at him at that, but Neal only gave him a tired smile.
What did Elle say?
They didn't discuss it in the car, either, since the Bureau had to send a car for them, complete with driver. Pulling an all-nighter gave them license to have the day off unless there was some operation that required Peter to work straight through. The driver took them first to June's, where Neal got out, but held the door open to ask, "Is the center of my radius still the same?"
The Marshals had never reprogrammed the center to be June's house. Peter wasn't actually sure he wanted that. He'd have to think about it when his mind wasn't so foggy. "Nothing's different, for now," Peter said. "We can talk about changing it at the office tomorrow. We may talk about restricting your range, too."
"What?" Neal cried.
Peter shook his head wearily. "Neal," he said.
"Oh." Neal looked at his shoes.
What did Elle say?
"It's just talking," Peter said. "We'll all be more rational once we've had some sleep." Neal nodded and started to close the door. "Neal," Peter said. Neal paused, expectant.
Peter glanced uneasily toward their driver. "What did Elle say?"
Neal regarded Peter with a poker face. "I can't tell you," he said. "See you tomorrow."
What did Elle say?
Elizabeth awaited him, dressed for work she'd delayed leaving for. She gave him a deep kiss and a long hug while Satchmo, jealous, circled them, his tail fwapping Peter's legs. It was good to be home. "Elle, I'm all right," Peter murmured into her hair.
"I know," she said, her eyes bright. "It's just better when I can hold you."
His eyes were scratchy with lack of sleep. "Elle, I have to know, what did you say to him?"
She looked so fetching when she blushed. She sucked her lips in between her teeth. "Is it really bothering you not to know?" she asked, eyes wide.
"Yes." A thousand times, yes.
She smiled sympathetically. "Well, that was the idea." She disengaged from him and picked up her voluminous shopping bag full of table centerpieces. She gave him another kiss, one that resembled her good-bye peck, but lingered just a little longer. "I have to run. Get some sleep, Honey. I'll tell you when I get home."
So Peter still had no answers. He showered and shaved and then he and Satchmo climbed into bed. Worn out and finally in his own comfy bed, Peter nonetheless had trouble falling asleep.
What did Elle say?
He woke mid-afternoon. He had the bed to himself and heard Elizabeth in the kitchen, talking to Satchmo. He threw on some sweats and padded downstairs. He found her at the dining room table, seated at her laptop. She looked up with a smile as he leaned over and put his arms around her. "Tell me," he said to her earlobe.
She twisted, her smile broadening. "Okay." She stood. "I want you over on the couch, though." Peter led her to the couch, where she kicked off her high heels and cuddled into his chest. "I was trying to think of anything. I babbled something about how even if he hadn't hurt you, he'd hurt your career, and me, and –" She sat up. "He said something about your left hand, let me see it."
"It's fine, Elle," he said. "Go on." But he reached his hand across so she could inspect it. Satisfied, she laid back down against him.
"Well, I could tell I wasn't saying anything new to him. He'd probably already thought of all those things. I remembered what you'd said about you didn't think he really wanted to run, on some level, so he needed an excuse."
"I said that?"
"Something like that, yes." Her dark head nodded just below his chin. "You said he liked being smarter than other people and running cons, so I just – told him it would be fun to con you."
"I really wanted to think of something better, but it was all I could come up with. I said, let him go and you stay, and pretend it's because I talked you into it, and then we'll both refuse to tell him what I said."
She tipped her head up and gave him an apologetic look. "That's it?" Peter blinked.
"I know. It wasn't very good. I said it would drive you nuts not knowing, and wouldn't that be fun? It would be our secret. I almost can't believe he went for it."
Peter found that his mouth was open. He closed it. "I can't either." He squinted at her sidelong. "You promised to keep a secret from me. With him."
She shrugged. "I guess he liked the idea."
"But you're telling me now."
Her face smoothed into the expression she used when she was trying not to tell him she thought he was being a dunce. "Well I hope you don't have any question about where my loyalties lie, Agent Burke," she said.
"No." He took her hands and kissed them. "I married the most brilliant woman in the world."
"Well," she melted. "It really wasn't very clever. He probably knows I won't keep the secret."
Still holding her hands, he looped his right arm over her head and pulled her in close. She giggled. "He knows," he said. "Thank God you called when you did. You gave him an excuse, Elle. I hadn't given him one."
"Are you going to pretend to him that you don't know?"
"No. Never con a con. He's embarrassed me enough."
"What will you do?"
"To him? I'm going to cut his radius in half. I can't let him get away with this."
"But he didn't get away."
"Don't tell me you're soft on him, now. Where's all that worry about your husband you had going?"
"My husband looks fine."
"My hand could have been amputated, I'll have you know. He'd cut off the circulation."
"I bet you pulled it too tight." How did she know that? It was scary. "You did, didn't you?" She grinned at him for a second, then turned serious. "I was mad at Neal, too, Honey. I know you have to do something."
"Oh, but you're not mad at him anymore?"
She dropped against his chest again. "He let you go. He let me talk him out of it with a stupid, weak idea for con, of all things. I'm not mad."
"There could have been gangrene," he said plaintively, holding up his hand.
She seized it and kissed it. All this snuggling and kissing and concern was going one place, Peter was sure. It had been a long time since they'd been inspired to some afternoon delight. He kissed her cheek and when she turned her smile toward him, he caught it with his mouth.
Coming up for air, he said, "You think I should try the carrot more than the stick."
"I don't think anything," she said, nuzzling his neck. "But it might drive him crazy wondering why you've changed tactics."
"Oh, now you're going to try the con on me." Peter kissed her ear and worked his way down to her neck. "You really think he should be rewarded for not running instead of punished for – you know?"
Elle lifted her head, looking like beautiful sin. "Honey," she laughed. "I haven't said anything. You're having this conversation with yourself. Besides, I told you, you can't give him what he really wants."
"No, but he asks me for things, all the time."
"Lots of things." He had a sudden thought, and Elle felt his slight stiffening. She set her chin on his chest and raised a curious eyebrow. He looked at her. "When his tracker first broke, he wanted me to bring him home for dinner."
Elle blinked, then smiled slowly.
"Oh, really?" Peter asked her.
"What's his favorite food?"
Peter shook his head. "How would I know?" Elle shook her head, holding his gaze.
"Oh, right." He thought for a moment. "Lobster."
Elle chuckled. "Why am I not surprised? Lobster bisque it is, then." Then she led him upstairs.