A/N: This story is set after Point Blank, but it was written before the second half of Season Two airs, so all of the questions about Julian Larrsen and the mystery man behind him are still open.
Mornings in New York City could be magical. The sun, on its early rise, would appear, as if by magic, from beyond the man-made mountains of metal and glass that were Manhattan's skyscrapers. The glow would warm the buildings, the rays making the windows gleam like precious gems, creating a rainbow of hues from all of the multi-colored glass.
The city had a different look and feel to it in the morning. Maybe it just seemed new, and fresh, even though, as the song said, New York was truly the city that never slept. But the city crews did a good job of cleaning up, and in the early hours of the day the smog hadn't yet taken over.
Traffic was still light – well, at least what passed for light in Manhattan. That meant that if you were driving, you might get through a light in fewer than three cycles. And a driver might even have a chance to score a coveted parking place near his or her destination. Assuming, that is, that one had the financial resources to pay for it.
For most people, of course, that meant they would find other means of transportation. The closest subway stop was already teeming with activity, people jostling for position as they moved into or out of the station. The buses were already thick on the streets, resembling nothing so much as moving billboards with their brightly colored ads. You could find the latest on clothing, personal hygiene, Broadway, movies, and television. The bus directly below had an ad for a new television show, something about a paroled convict working for the government.
Reese Hughes shook his head and raised his coffee cup to his lips. The things these television people would come up with! Still, maybe he'd check it out when the show debuted. After all, he had a little experience in a similar situation. It might be interesting to see how real life compared to the fantasy sold on the tube.
The cold coffee hitting his tongue made him grimace. It wasn't just the bitter taste; no, it was also a reminder of how long he had already been in the office.
Reese took one more look out the window. This view from his corner office on the 21st floor of the federal building was usually one of his favorite things in the world, especially early in the morning. The world seemed to hold infinite possibilities when he looked out over the cityscape below him. So many people, so many hopes, so many stories to tell, so many secrets.
So many problems.
With a sigh he turned away from his window view and sat down at his desk. He had enough of his own problems today, and even the glorious view was not going to resolve a single one.
Even a fresh cup of coffee wasn't going to help, so he didn't head out to look for one. Besides, that would take him away from the phone, and the call he hoped would be coming.
With a sigh, he turned his attention to the files on top of his desk. Budget reports - another reason this was not promising to be a good day. No one enjoyed budget meetings. He didn't enjoy budget meetings. Really, how could he, in good conscience, tell his people to keep on going out there, risking their lives to protect others – oh, but do it with less equipment, fewer resources, no overtime. So yes, please make sure the bad guys confined their relevant activities to a standard forty hour week.
This budget meeting, however, showed every promise of being even worse than others in recent memory. The economy was bad. Yes, that was actually the opening line in the memo from headquarters last week. Well, yes, everyone knew the economy was bad. Every day the headlines screamed from the newspapers, the radio, the television, the internet. Hell, it showed up on his smart phone now that his granddaughter had shown him how to program it. Unemployment was up, inflation was up, retail sales were down, consumer confidence was down, the national debt had spiraled into an astronomical figure he could barely even comprehend.
Yes, that was the setting he had to contend with to go in and discuss the coming year's budget with his senior agents.
It was enough to make him question why he was even still there, reaching for the antacids before the day had even really begun. He'd reached retirement age, been offered his severance package – and then had been asked back, courtesy of a loophole in the federal employment law.
He'd said yes, for a variety of reasons. His wife was gone, lost to cancer some three years before, their plans to travel thus quashed before they even began. His children were all grown, independent, on their own. And while he loved his grandchildren, doted on them when they were together, he couldn't imagine making that the sole focus of his life; he was pretty sure his children wouldn't appreciate it either.
Plus, he was good at what he did – he liked what he did. He'd started under the Hoover regime – a different world, a very different time. The paranoia of the Nixon years, giving way to promises of change, and star wars defenses. Wars in the Gulf, contras. Promises of hope, dark realities of war, more hope.
Which promise of hope were they on by now anyway?
And, of course, the growth of terrorism factored in there as well. It had seemed so distant, so foreign at first. It was bombs and rifle attacks in Belfast; with half of his heritage on the Irish side, it was painful, but not personal. Suicide attacks in Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia. Again, sad, but not personal.
That day in September 2001 had made it personal.
Terrorism had come to America with a bang, quite literally. He remembered the day so clearly, the plumes of dark smoke visible from the offices, the sirens overwhelming everything else in the city. The haze, the smoke and debris turning the day – days – a dark gray.
That had been right around the first time he'd considered retiring. But how could he walk away then, when the country – his country – needed help so desperately. Rachel had been disappointed, but she had agreed that he still had work to do.
So many people made sacrifices, in so many ways.
And so he'd worked counter-terrorism for a while, before making his way back to his first, and best, calling. White collar. He'd cut his teeth on white collar crimes, made his mark taking down the embezzlers and swindlers and forgers of the world – or at least those who were foolish enough to ply their trade in New York. And even though his duties now were mostly administrative, he liked to think he still had something to offer.
Something more than running budget meetings.
Reese's eyes moved to a blue folder on the edge of his desk. That, more than anything, had brought him in so early this morning. It had been messengered to his house at 11:00 last night. Eyes Only, highly private, urgent.
And it made him even less anxious than usual to head into this meeting. There had to be some mistake.
He stared at the phone – the silent phone – again, willing it to ring. But it remained stubbornly, mockingly silent.
And yes, he knew it was early in Washington too, but if someone had been up late to produce that memo, it seemed like someone should be up early as well to answer questions.
He had lots of questions.
And if the answers weren't forthcoming, or if they weren't the answers he wanted – needed…
Well, he didn't even want to think about it.
Neal wrapped the tie around his neck as he moved to answer the knock on his door. He wasn't surprised to find Peter standing there, hand upraised in preparation for knocking again. Actually, if it had been anyone other than Peter, that would have been the surprise.
"Morning, Peter." He stepped aside, letting the other man in.
Peter's face held an amused expression as he contemplated his partner. "Looking a little rough this morning, aren't you?" The younger man's feet were bare, his hair looking windswept – or maybe just sleep swept.
Neal tapped the watch on his wrist. "You're seventeen minutes early."
"And what, you can't rush perfection."
Neal flashed his fanciest grin. "Absolutely not." He gestured toward the patio. "I suppose since you're here, you could have a cup of coffee while I get ready."
Peter smiled – a look of pure innocence and discovery. "Why, that's a marvelous idea!"
"Yeah, so glad I thought of it," Neal intoned dryly, watching as the agent made his way out to the patio and the promised coffee.
As if Peter didn't show up at least a few minutes early nearly every day. And if, by chance, he didn't, Neal took a cup for him to go.
While Peter settled in at the table, inhaling deeply over a steaming mug, Neal buttoned his collar and finished a neat knot in his tie. Then he sat down on the bed and reached for his socks. The right one slipped on easily; the left one, not so much. He had to work it under the tracking anklet, a maneuver that still took a bit of time, even after all the experience he'd had. But he had discovered that if he didn't get the sock positioned just right, with no wrinkles, he would wind up with chafing on his ankle later. He went through enough lotion down there anyway without asking for more trouble.
With the sock finally positioned, he pulled his shoes on and glanced at his watch. Still a few minutes to go, and time for another cup of coffee.
He wandered out to the patio, shrugging his innocence as he found Peter staring at him. "What? Is my fly open?" He knew it wasn't, so he didn't even bother to look.
Peter shook his head. "No, no. You're impeccably dressed, as always."
"Then what's that smile for?"
"Just amazement, Caffrey. Doesn't matter how long you've been here, I just can't quite make it work in my mind. How you go from prison to a mansion, with servants…"
"The servants are June's."
"So they didn't bring the coffee and rolls up here for you?"
"Of course they did." In fact, he had a theory that the staff had been told to listen for the sound of his shower starting, and then bring up the morning's refreshments. One of these days maybe he'd check that out. Start the shower, but not actually get in, just watch…
Then again, it didn't really matter as long as the excellent brew continued to show up. And there was no sense tempting fate.
"I think that makes my point," Peter replied.
"I'd say I earn my keep," Neal replied, pouring his coffee. "I keep the Jag and the Bentley polished."
"And maybe test drive them now and then?"
"No law against that."
"There is if you don't have a license."
"I have a license."
"A legal license, Neal."
Neal scowled at him, sipping at his coffee. Then his scowl turned to a grin. "As a matter of fact, I have a legal license. Tested for it last month."
Peter coughed, spitting coffee off to one side. "What? How did you do that?"
Neal wrinkled his nose and grabbed a napkin to brush a few drops off his pants leg. "Jones took me. That day you and Diana had to go to Albany to testify on something."
"Something? You mean that domestic terrorism case we helped bust open?"
"Before my time, Peter," Neal replied. "And you won't talk about it much."
Deflecting that, Peter pressed his previous point. "So, this license. It's in your real name?"
"Really, Peter, what's in a name?" Neal raised his hands in mock surrender at the look on the other man's face. "Yes, my real name. I took the written test and the road test. Got 100% too. You see, I happen to be a very good driver, unlike some people…"
"I'm a good driver."
"You tend to take your eyes off the road."
"I do not."
"And your hands off the wheel."
"I…" Peter's denial caught in his throat. "Only when you're in the car."
"I'm not sure it's comforting to know that I'm the only one you're trying to kill."
"Anyway," Neal cut in. "I do other things around here, like watch June's granddaughter."
"Which one? Cindy, the… art student?" Peter's hands made a curvy figure in the air.
"I help her with her technique."
Peter choked on the roll he had just taken a bite of. "What technique?"
"Brush strokes," Neal said simply. "But Samantha is also here a lot when her parents have to work. She's still limited in what she can do after the surgery, so if June has to go out, I watch movies with her, or play games." Neal held up a finger, stopping Peter's next question. "Board games, Peter. Appropriate for pre-teens."
"How's she doing?"
"Really well. No sign of rejection of the kidney yet."
"Well, that's good."
"Yeah, a good outcome." Neal took another sip of coffee, studying Peter over the rim of the cup. "Maybe I can find another case to run with."
"Run? Oh, no. You could have died at that clinic, Neal."
"I knew you had my back."
That deflated Peter's objections, at least for the moment. Neal always had a way of cutting though his defenses. "Yeah, well, what I've got right now is a need to get to the office. Drink up and let's go."
Neal did as requested, draining his cup. "I don't know why you even need me there today, if you're just going to be in a budget meeting all day."
"Oh, I have something special in mind for you."
Oh, that didn't sound good. "Peter, if you're planning to dump a stack of cold case mortgage fraud cases on my desk…"
"No, no mortgage fraud."
The look on Peter's face was a little too smug for Neal's liking. "Then what?" he asked cautiously.
"A stakeout, with Jones and Diana."
"The van? Peter…"
"Want the cold case files instead?"
That was actually something of a close call. "I'll take the stakeout. At least Jones hates deviled ham as much as I do, and Diana…"
"No flirting with her."
"She doesn't like it when you flirt with her." He held Neal's jacket out.
Neal took the jacket and shrugged into it. "She likes the flirting just fine."
"Neal, you know she's…"
"A lesbian. Yeah, I know. It doesn't mean she hates the flirting."
"She says she does."
"Peter, this is Diana we're talking about." Neal grinned and rolled his hat onto his head. "If she really didn't like it, she would have hurt me by now."
With no reasonable reply to counter that argument, Peter just shrugged in a sign of reluctant acceptance. He opened the door and the two men made their way out.