Peter had hoped Neal would forget the date, but as he pulled up slowly to the curb, one look at his partner dashed any hope that the day would go unnoticed. Neal opened the door and slid in, his body language speaking volumes.
"Peter." The younger man smiled weakly as he closed the passenger door.
"Are you hungry?" Peter asked. "We can stop for something on the way in."
"No" Neal answered, as he leaned back against the head rest, staring out the window. Peter glanced briefly at him before merging back into traffic. The ride to work was mostly silent, though Peter tried engaging Neal in some form of conversation. But the younger man only managed one word answers and Peter finally gave up. His thoughts turned to Kate and what her death had done to Neal. It had been one month since the plane had blown up and he watched helplessly as Neal went through the normal stages of grief. He did what he could but some days it was hard to get through the anger and moodiness that always simmered on the surface.
"Neal, want to play hooky today?" Peter asked as he pulled into the parking lot.
"I'm fine" Neal mumbled, jumping out of the car before it had come to a complete stop.
"Sure you are" Peter whispered, watching his friend storm off. It was the unanswered questions that haunted both of them. The how and why and who was responsible for Kate's death. They both felt Fowler was behind the explosion but he was too smart and too connected to leave any clues behind. Peter had promised the case would stay open until they found their answers, but as time passed, other cases took priority and Kate's death remained a mystery. Peter worried that Neal couldn't move on until he had his answers and he feared that the answers would never be found.
Peter entered his office to find Neal where he had left him two hours earlier. It had been a slow morning of looking through old cases and the boredom seemed to worsen Neal's mood. Peter had a meeting with a potential client and decided to leave Neal behind, a good move since the meeting turned dicey.
"That was fun" Peter muttered as he took off his holster and placed it carefully on the table. Neal eyed the loose strap and then glanced at Peter.
"Had to use it?" He asked, again staring at the gun.
Peter shrugged, as he plopped into the chair. "Get anywhere here?"
Neal shook his head, lowering his gaze to the file in front of him. "Nothing worth pursuing" he said, tossing the file to the side, and then leaning back in his chair. "Peter, can I take off early today?"
Peter wanted to say yes, but he also wanted to keep an eye on his partner. He heard some commotion behind him and stood to see Fowler walking towards them.
"What the hell is he doing here?" Peter asked. He heard Neal move and turned just in time to see Neal grab his gun and run out of the office.
"Neal!" Peter yelled as he ran after him. "Clear the area" he ordered as others stopped, staring at the scene before them.
"Neal put the gun down." Peter slowly neared them, his eyes trained on his partner. "This isn't going to change anything" he added, as he stopped next to Neal.
"He killed Kate" Neal said, his steady voice belying the shaky arms that held the gun, aimed at Fowler's head.
"You're an idiot" Fowler barked, almost laughing. "I gave you a chance at a new life. Why would I blow the plane up?"
"Fowler shut up." Hughes ordered as he moved closer. "Burke, do something!"
Peter suddenly moved in front of Neal, shielding Fowler from the gun.
"Not that" Hughes muttered, sighing.
"Peter…move. I don't want to …hurt you." Neal's voice wavered, the gun visibly shaking.
"Neal, put the gun down. We both know you don't want to do this." Peter glanced at the barrel of the gun and the hands holding it unsteady, the thumb too close to the trigger. He looked up, making eye contact with Neal. "Neal, you know we have no proof. If we did, he'd be in jail, I promise you."
"Yeah, right!" Fowler snarled.
"Fowler, shut up" Burke ordered, his eyes never leaving Neal's face. "I promise the case will stay open until we solve it. I don't want to lose my partner" he added so softly only Neal could hear him. "Please Neal. Relax your fingers...I'm going to take the gun." Peter hesitated before reaching over and slowly taking the gun with his right hand, his left hand lingering briefly on Neal's hands. "It's going to be ok" Peter said gently as Neal lowered his arms, and stood there, shoulders slumped and eyes gazing at the floor. As he moved to get Neal out of there Hughes spoke up.
"Jones, take Caffrey away. Burke, you stay here."
"I want him in jail" Fowler said, once Neal was gone.
"You!" Hughes approached him, finger pointing. "You were told to stay away from this building until the case was solved.
"I have a job to do" Fowler countered "And I have every right to be here."
"And you have others who can do it" Hughes retorted. "You are not to come back in this building…do you understand me?"
Fowler snorted…yet seemed to shrink under Hughes's scrutiny. "Fowler, if I find out you had anything to do with that girl's death…when I'm done with you…you'll be wishing that Caffrey had pulled the trigger."
Fowler took two steps back, away from Hughes's finger. "This isn't the end of this. You'll be hearing from my superior." Fowler abruptly turned and scampered towards the elevator.
Hughes rubbed his face and took a deep breath before facing Burke.
"Burke, I can protect him this time. But if he ever pulls a stunt like this again, he will go back to jail. Understand?"
"Yes!" Peter answered, a slight smile playing on his face. "Thank you sir" he added, knowing how much his boss put on the line. Peter hurried to the dark room, knowing that was where Jones would take Neal. It was the only room on the floor with no windows, used when privacy was a necessity. He entered the room…Jones glanced up at him.
"Thank you" Peter whispered, than nodded towards the door, watching Jones as he left. Neal sat at the end of the table, his head resting on his hands. Peter pulled a chair over and sat down. Unsure of what to say, he rested his hand on Neal's head, offering a little comfort.
"I'm sorry" Neal quietly said, after a few minutes of silence. "I didn't mean to let you down" he added as he lifted his head and briefly stared at Peter.
"You didn't let me down" Peter stated firmly as his hand shifted to Neal's shoulder. "Neal, he's not worth going back to jail."
"Now you tell me." Neal chuckled. "Are you here to take me back?"
"You're not going to jail…unless you do something this stupid again." Peter stood suddenly. "You should have seen Hughes giving it to Fowler." Peter's arms flailed excitedly.
"Really?" Neal's mood seemed to brighten.
"Really!" Peter sat back down. "I told you before, you have a place here. You belong here around people who truly care about you."
"I know." Neal took a deep breath. "It's just so hard…" The door opened and they both glanced that way. Jones walked in with their coats and Peter's briefcase.
"Hughes is giving you an extended weekend. He doesn't want to see you until Monday." Jones tossed their stuff on the table. "He said you're not in trouble but I did hear him yelling on the phone and I'm guessing it was Fowler's boss. So you better get out while you can." Jones took a step before turning. "Neal, I'm not saying what you did was right but it was almost worth it to see Fowler ready to shit in his pants." He started laughing until Peter waved him out of the room.
"Let's go." Peter stood and grabbed his stuff. "We'll take the back stairs." Another thing about this room, it led to the back of the building and they could leave without anyone seeing them.
"Peter, can we make a stop first?"
"Sure" Peter said as they left the building and headed towards the car.
Peter leaned against the gate, glancing at his watch. Neal had asked to stop at the cemetery to see Kate's grave and he made it clear he wanted to go alone. The longer Neal was gone, the wearier Peter grew. He knew Neal was a romantic and he couldn't help but picture the younger man laying dead at his girlfriend's grave.
"Stop it" Peter said out loud and then checked his watch again. "OK Neal, thirty minutes is long enough" he muttered before heading into the cemetery. It took five minutes to find Kate's grave and Peter wasn't sure he took a breath until he saw Neal sitting there, Indian style, in front of the grave.
"Neal are you ok?" Peter spoke loudly to announce his arrival.
"Yeah." Neal smiled though his eyes were red and fresh tears rowed down his cheeks.
"Are you sure?" Peter knelt down next to him.
"Kate and I were having a discussion" Neal said as he wiped his face. "Peter what happened today, that's not me and I can't keep living like this." Neal pulled his knees up, and wrapped his arms around his legs. "I told her I would never forget her and someday we would figure out who killed her…but I have to be me…." He shrugged. "I promised her I would stop feeling sorry for myself and move on and we came up with a plan." He looked at Peter who was regarding him rather strangely. "Peter I'm not crazy and no I can't hear Kate…I just know what she would say."
"OK." Peter rubbed at his chin, clearly uncomfortable with this conversation.
"Do you want to know the plan?" Neal was rather amused at his friend's reaction.
"Sure" Peter answered. "What's the plan?"
"Talk a friend into going out and getting drunk tonight, spend tomorrow with a hangover and go in Monday and apologize."
"Sounds like a plan" Peter said as he stood.
"Will you go with me?" Neal looked up, eyes bright. "I trust you to make sure I don't do anything stupid."
"I'm not sure…" Peter started, seemingly oblivious to Neal's crestfallen look. "Do you think New York can handle the two of us getting drunk?" Peter smiled. "Of course I'll go with you." He reached his hand out and helped Neal to his feet. "First, you're eating dinner at my place." Peter briefly cupped Neal's neck, guiding him towards the exit. "I sort of told Elizabeth what happened today and she wants to see for herself that you're ok. We eat, I pack a few things; we'll go back to June's place and then work on that plan of yours, OK?"
Neal stopped suddenly near the exit.
Neal looked at him…his eyes were tearing up again and he bit down on his lower lip to keep it from trembling. "Neal, it's a good plan and it won't be easy but you have friends here." Peter briefly grasped his shoulder.
"I know…" Neal took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Peter…thank you…" He paused and wiped at the escaping tears. Neal smiled weakly at his confused partner. "I never really thanked you for…for everything you've done since Kate died…" Peter shook his head and started to turn, hoping this conversation was over.
"Don't!" Neal said loudly, his voice stronger. "Don't dismiss what I'm trying to say." Peter turned, throwing his arms up in the air. "You thanked me, that's enough. Let's go."
Neal refused to move, forcing Peter to stop and turn back.
"What I'm trying to say is thank you for being my friend. I know it hasn't been easy and I'm glad you didn't give up on me." Neal approached Peter. "I'm hungry. Let's go." He walked past Peter, a little spring back in his step. Peter watched him walk away, shaking his head and ignoring the tears welling up in his own eyes. When it became apparent that Neal wasn't stopping, Peter ran to catch up to him.