A Closer Eye
by J. Rosemary Moss
Neal stared across the desk at Peter, not quite believing his ears. "Excuse me?"
"You heard me, Caffrey. Apart from the time you spend working with me, you're grounded."
Neal continued to stare at him. He must have misunderstood—he was too much on edge from seeing Kate to be thinking clearly. One more look into the agent's eyes, though, convinced Neal that the guy was serious.
"Peter, last time I checked, I wasn't a ten-year-old."
"Last time I checked, you were snatching a portrait and risking your probation."
Neal opened his mouth to defend himself, but thought better of it. Peter could have sent him back to prison for that little 'shenanigan.' Instead, the agent had helped Neal ensure a more-or-less happy ending. Two bad guys ended up in jail and the museum claimed to be satisfied with its 'recovered' Haustenberg. As a result, Neal's probation was a little less tenuous.
Given all that, Neal managed a contrite expression. "Ok," he said. "So I'm confined to June's for the weekend?"
Peter shook his head. "You're not staying at June's. You're coming home with me—I'll have the Bureau restrict your anklet to my house for a week."
Neal's mouth fell open this time. "A week!"
"One week. Cowboy up, kid."
Neal glared at him. Could Peter really have his monitor restricted like that? Would he? Maybe he was bluffing. Not that Neal wanted to find out.
One thing was certain: Peter wouldn't bring Neal home just to punish him. As a rule, he barely tolerated Neal's presence in his house. If he wanted Neal there for an entire week, it could only be to keep a closer eye on him.
Neal took a deep breath and decided on a new strategy. "You'll only end up throwing me out," he warned Peter. "You don't like having me in your home."
"I like the thought of you screwing up your probation even less."
"I won't screw it up. How can I convince you of that?"
Peter leaned back in his chair and studied him. "You can tell me why you were back at Grand Central Station on your lunch hour."
Neal pulled off a nonchalant shrug. "Best oysters in town, remember?"
"When you came back from lunch," Peter said slowly, "you looked as hollow and destroyed as when I found you with the bottle in that empty apartment. You disappeared into the men's room and came out a couple of minutes later as if nothing was wrong. Which one was the act, Neal? I'm putting my money on the carefree face."
Neal said nothing, but he found himself looking away. Score one point for Agent Burke.
Peter folded his hands on his desk and leaned forward. "What happened at Grand Central Station, Neal?"
"Nothing. I just like oysters."
There was a long moment of silence. "Fine," Peter said at last. "I'll ask El to pick some up for you, since you'll be dining at our place this week." The agent paused and looked Neal over again. "Cheer up. If you behave, I'll even let you sit on the couch."
"Don't smother me with kindness," Neal said, looking the agent in the face again.
Peter appeared unmoved. He peered down at his desk, ignoring one of Neal's best sarcastic-yet-charming expressions and started sorting his papers. Neal put his hand on top of the agent's to get the man's attention back where it belonged.
It worked; Peter looked up at Neal's face with a raised eyebrow. "Problem?"
"How about three days? Won't that be torture enough for both of us?"
He shook his head. "Sorry, kid. A week's grounding is the least you deserve."
Neal narrowed his eyes at the man, even as he leaned in closer. "Would you like to spank me, Daddy, while you're at it?"
He had intended to fluster the agent—but Peter didn't seem the least bit flustered. On the contrary, he was giving Neal a judicious look. "It's tempting," he said. "I'll wait and see if you act up."
Neal rolled his eyes, but smiled despite himself. One more point for Peter.
Peter must have liked something about that smile—or maybe he was starting to feel sorry for him. He sighed and said, "Tell you what. I won't have your anklet restricted. If you stay put on your own for the week, it'll go a long way toward earning my trust."
Hmmm—maybe Peter didn't have the power to restrict his monitor that much. Maybe it was just a bluff. Maybe. Somehow Neal wasn't counting on it.
"Meaning you'll stop checking where I've been?" Neal asked.
"I won't stop—but I'll ease up."
Neal considered that. Even a bit more leeway would help when it came to Kate. Not that he was giving into Burke's punishment. Kate needed him. He had to figure out how much trouble—and how much danger—she was in. For that, he needed to be able to move about the city.
"Hypothetically, what happens if I don't stay put?" Neal asked. "I'm not talking about running away," he added quickly, noting the alarm in Peter's eyes. "What happens if you catch me outside your house, but not outside my radius?"
Peter leaned forward, giving Neal his classic intimidating-agent look. "I'll have your ankle monitor reprogrammed to my house for a month . . .at least."
Neal risked a tentative smile. "You'd strangle me if you had to live with me for a month."
"Probably," Peter agreed. "So just accept your punishment for the week."
Neal sulked on the way back to Peter's house. He was quite good at sulking. It was a specialty of his. Peter took no notice, however. He was keeping his eyes on the road for a change.
Neal sighed. "My sulking is wasted on you tonight, isn't it?"
Peter nodded. "I've hardened myself to it."
Neal sighed again. The sighs went well with the sulks.
Well, at least Peter hadn't embarrassed him in front of June. When Neal picked up his clothes, he told June that he and Peter were going to be spending some late nights on a case, so it was just as easy to crash at his place. Peter went along with the story.
Neal nestled into his seat, considering his situation. He flirted with the idea of confiding in Peter—of telling him he had seen Kate, only to lose her again. Of telling him she was in over her head. But how could he involve an FBI agent when he didn't know what Kate was up to? Worse, in Peter's mind, Kate meant nothing but trouble. He might do everything in his power to keep Neal away from her, out of a misguided desire to protect him. Even if he didn't go that far, he wouldn't let Neal bend any rules to find her.
No, he couldn't tell Peter. Not yet. Peter would remain his last resort.
"What's on your mind, Neal?" Peter asked, breaking the silence that had fallen between them.
Neal grimaced. Trust Peter to sense whenever his thoughts drifted toward Kate.
"I was thinking that this is kind of sweet of you—in a stalker sort of way."
Peter gave him a look. "I have good reason for stalking you. You were released into my custody, remember? If you screw up your probation, I get screwed."
"You're not worried about getting screwed."
"Well, maybe a little. But you're mostly trying to protect your pet convict."
Peter looked almost guilty at that phrase. Neal wanted to pat himself on the back for successfully redirecting the conversation away from Kate and away from his probation, but he resisted the urge.
"I've never called you that," Peter said quietly.
"Pet convict? I know, but others have." Neal paused to shrug. "I just hope Elizabeth doesn't look at me that way."
To Neal's surprise, Peter smiled. "Elizabeth thinks of you as my other spouse."
Neal's eyes widened, but then he laughed. "I think I love your wife. Well, I am your office spouse, I guess."
"My office spouse?"
"Yeah. That's the person you're closest too at work. The person you share inside jokes with—the person who understands all your gripes about the job." He paused, considering. "Moz used to be mine, but it's more you now."
"I see," Peter said. "An office spouse gives you a close but innocent relationship?"
"Usually—but from what I've heard, if you were going to have an affair, your office spouse would be the first candidate."
Peter glanced at him with raised eyebrows.
"Don't worry," Neal said in a reassuring voice. "We don't have to have an affair if you don't want to. Moz and I never did."
Peter rolled his eyes this time. "I wasn't worried."
Neal grinned. "God, you're a lucky bastard."
"For having such a wonderful wife?"
"For having two such gorgeous spouses," Neal corrected. "Elizabeth is almost as pretty as I am."
That drew a laugh from Peter, even as he slugged Neal in the arm. Neal grimaced in mock pain, causing more chuckles from the pair of them. Once they settled down, they maintained a comfortable, companionable silence until Peter parked in front of the home.
Neal stared at the house—his new prison. Then he managed a small smile. As prisons went, it could have been worse. This one had Elizabeth waiting inside . . . and Elizabeth was just the person to talk some sense into Peter.