A/N: Thanks for sticking with the story to the end!
Peter eased himself down the steps of the auditorium at Quantico, leaning heavily on his cane. At least he had progressed from the crutches he'd been relegated to using until just over a week earlier – that certainly would have made the steps even harder to master.
It was interesting being back in this place, where his career with the FBI had begun – lo these many years ago. Very shortly, the next group of academy hopefuls would come into this room to begin their classroom work, to find out who had what it took to wear the FBI badge.
In some ways, he regretted being here. If he hadn't been shot in the line of duty the previous month, he'd still be in New York, tracking down white collar criminals. But all it took was one case to go wrong, even in a relatively safe unit like white collar. And that had been exactly what had happened.
Fortunately, he was making progress on his recovery. That progress was coming at a much slower pace than what he had hoped for, though the doctors seemed to think the speed of his recovery was just fine. But he still had a ways to go before the medics would sign him off as fit for duty again.
The inactivity was driving him crazy.
Oh, sure, he had physical therapy appointments several times a week, and exercises he was assigned to do in between. El had come up with a variety of projects around the house that didn't involve much walking, and he was working his way through the list. And occasionally Jones or Diana or one of the other agents would call and ask for an opinion.
It just wasn't enough – or at least, not enough of what he needed. He needed to feel useful, needed to solve crimes. He needed the work that made him feel fulfilled; the work that had filled a huge gap in his life that had appeared in January.
Fortunately, Hughes had come up with an answer. There was a new class of recruits at Quantico, and the instructors would love to have a senior agent with Peter's closure record come and do a presentation to the eager recruits. He could also run some seminars on white collar crime – what it was, and how best to capture the perpetrators.
Well, the best way was to find an unexpected ally in a former master thief and con man, get him on your side, and watch that closure rate soar…
That had been the ulterior motive in Hughes' attempts to get Peter installed, on a temporary basis, at the academy. They were both wondering if a certain former master thief and con man, pardon in hand, would accept the slot he had been offered in this class. Had his time as a consultant done the trick and convinced him to join the Bureau in an official capacity – or did the total silence over the last few weeks mean that he had slipped back into a life of crime…
Recruits were starting to file in now, taking seats around the room. Peter stood up a little straighter, looking around – trying not to appear too anxious.
Some of the new people were in suits, dressed to impress. Others were wearing Bureau sweat suits; he'd noticed a number of them already out testing themselves on the obstacle course earlier.
But so far he didn't see the face he was truly hoping to find…
That voice… Peter turned quickly – too quickly on his bad leg, which gave out under him. He started to fall, but strong, familiar hands caught him. "Neal!"
Neal grinned, hanging on until Peter was balanced again. "How's the leg?"
"Getting better. Probably still a few weeks before they let me back in the field."
"See what happens when I leave you alone for a few weeks?"
Peter laughed. "Yeah, that must be it. No one else to watch my back."
"You didn't get shot while I was there."
"True. There might have been a few other contributing factors though."
Neal waived that off. "How did you like the chocolates?"
"Swiss, very nice. And the Red Cross packaging was a nice touch."
"I thought so."
"El had to smuggle them into the hospital past the nurses."
Neal laughed. "I knew Elizabeth had it in her."
"So what happened to you? I mean, January 2, and you were just gone."
"Didn't you get my postcards?"
"Sure, starting the week after you left. Paris, Munich, Prague, Milan, Geneva, Barcelona, Athens, Cairo. It was like a travelogue or something."
"Well, I had a lot of lost time to make up for."
"The card from Cairo was dated almost five weeks ago. No one heard from you since."
"I've been out on an archeological dig site – kind of remote."
Neal nodded. "I was just going to visit for a few days. But then she put me to work…"
"Got wrapped up in it, huh?"
"Oh yeah. I spent most of the last few weeks on my hands and knees, brushing away sand a grain at a time." He paused, grinning. "It never felt so good to hurt so bad."
"I'm sure seeing Gayle again helped with that."
"And now you're here," Peter said, his voice rising to almost make that a question.
"You didn't think I was going to show up, did you?"
Peter shrugged, a little guiltily. "I wasn't sure," he admitted. "You never said anything…"
"I confirmed to the academy."
Something Peter, admittedly, had never thought to check. "I just figured you'd tell me. And you have a clean slate with the pardon. You could have done anything."
"You were injured," Neal explained. "I figured you had enough on your mind. And, out on the site, even satellite phone coverage was kind of limited."
"No daily mail service either, I guess."
"The camels were kind of busy with other things."
"Well, you're here now," Peter said, reaching over to tug on the sleeve of the sweatshirt Neal was wearing – gray, with 'FBI' stenciled in big, black letters. "And looking good."
"Pretty stylish, huh?" Neal replied, holding his arms out.
"Well, not exactly a Devore, but it suits you. Obstacle course?"
"Yeah, figured I should give it a test run." Neal pointed out at the growing group of recruits. "I mean, I have five years on most of them." Seeing Peter's raised eyebrow, he corrected himself. "All right, ten years. Twelve."
"So how'd it go?"
"I held my own."
Neal grinned. "How many of them do you think have experience being chased across rooftops?"
"Probably not many," Peter admitted with a smile. "What about the classroom part?"
"You mean am I worried?" Neal shook his head. "I've already read most of the manuals. And I've done a lot of what they're going to teach."
"But you have to actually abide by the manuals as an agent," Peter pointed out.
"I guess I'll have to adapt."
"Yeah, you will," Peter said. "And, uh, what about the guns?"
"Do you like carrying a gun, Peter?" Neal asked, quite seriously, answering the question with one of his own.
"Not really. I wish I didn't have to," Peter replied. Then he pointed down at his injured leg. "But as long as the bad guys do, I guess it's part of the job."
"Well, I never carried a gun as a bad guy," Neal said. "But as one of the good guys, I guess that's something else I'll have to adapt to. You know I can use a gun if I have to."
"You never did explain that one. How someone who dislikes guns so much still knows them so well."
"No, I didn't."
Peter waited a moment, but it was obvious the explanation wasn't going to be forthcoming then either. Neal would explain in his own good time, like everything else. "So have you met some of your fellow recruits?"
"Probably about half. Seems like a good group overall." He grinned again. "Some of them are a little curious about how I already have an office assignment, even before classes start."
"Do you have a problem with that assignment?"
"New York, working with you?" Neal shook his head. "You're right, with the pardon I could have done anything. But there's no place else I'd rather be, and no one else I'd rather be working with," he answered honestly. "Unless you have a problem with it, of course."
Peter shook his head. "Nope, I'm looking forward to having my partner back." He paused, offering a grin of his own. "Of course, you'll be a probie."
Neal's eyes narrowed. "I already know how to get coffee, Peter."
"Oh, that only scratches the surface of a probie's duties!"
"I can still ask for reassignment," Neal warned.
"June's holding the guest room for you," Peter said. "Same rate as before." Kind of like dangling the proverbial carrot…
"Well, maybe I'll give it a shot working with you then." Neal's smile was soft, his gaze focused on something far away when he continued. "Gayle and I were talking about finding someplace in between Ithaca and New York, where we could meet on weekends."
"You're a goner, buddy."
"Yeah," Neal admitted softly. "So how is Elizabeth?"
"Good, she's good. Getting big," Peter said, holding his hands in front of his stomach. "But everything looks good with the baby, and she's due next month."
"El's coming to DC this weekend. She's going to be so happy to see you – if you can work us into your busy social schedule, that is."
"I don't know – am I allowed to socialize with the teachers?"
"This isn't high school," Peter said, trying to sound stern, but unable to keep the smile off his face and out of his voice. "Anyway, I'm more of a guest lecturer."
"Then I'll pencil you in on my calendar," Neal promised.
There were still so many things Peter wanted to say, to ask – but the academy leader was calling the class to order. "Can we have dinner tonight?"
Neal nodded. "Sure. I'll meet you at your hotel at 7:00? The restaurant there is good."
"Yeah, it is… Wait, how do you know where…" Peter paused, shaking his head. Of course Neal would already know where he was staying. "Never mind – 7:00 it is."
Neal just smiled. "See you, Peter," he said, heading for a seat.
"Yeah, see you," Peter whispered, smiling. He couldn't wait for a break so he could call El. And he knew he'd be smiling the rest of the day…