A/N: Inspired by the recent blizzard warnings for NYC, and ideas started to form…
The table was littered with bottles – a couple of wine bottles, many beer bottles. And all of them had one thing in common – they were empty.
Peter got to his feet and went into the kitchen, coming back with two more bottles of beer. He put one down in front of Neal, and took a swig from the other one himself. Then he gestured toward the paperwork that covered every other square inch of the table. "Anything making sense yet?"
Neal nodded, sorting a few pages. "I understand how the scam is set up," he said slowly. "I'm just not sure yet how we can get in. Hall has covered himself pretty well."
"And if he doesn't get stopped, he's going to bilk people out of millions."
"I know, and we'll figure it out." Neal smiled, holding up the fresh bottle of beer and gesturing at the other. "To be honest, I'm not thinking quite as clearly as earlier tonight."
"Yeah." Peter took another drink, surveying the empty bottles standing like proud soldiers. Elizabeth had helped with some of the wine, but the two men had killed all the other bottles themselves. "I know the Lawlor case took a lot out of all of us, and especially you with that take-down yesterday. I figured some relaxing was due. It's just hard for me to leave work alone…"
Neal grinned. "Really, Peter? You hide it so well."
"Oh yeah, that's what El says too," Peter replied, his voice indicating that she probably said just the opposite.
"What do I say?" Elizabeth said, coming around the corner from the stairs. She'd changed into pajamas and a fluffy robe, and she had an empty coffee cup in one hand.
"That Peter is good at relaxing and leaving work alone," Neal replied.
"Oh, yeah," she said, rolling her eyes and gesturing at the documents all over the table. "That goes without saying."
"The bad guys just always seem to be one step ahead," Peter objected, rather half-heartedly.
Elizabeth started for the kitchen, stopping at the door. "Well, maybe not tonight. Have you guys looked out the window recently?"
Peter shook his head, looking… "Wow." He got to his feet and went to the back door looking out.
Snow was coming down hard, blowing across the porch. As small as the yard was, he couldn't see the back lot line.
Neal walked up by his side. "Maybe I better get a cab now."
"Probably too late," Elizabeth said. "There was a news blurb on just before I came down. They're even pulling buses off the streets." She went into the kitchen.
"Well, there's always walking."
"I think you better just plan on staying here tonight," Elizabeth called out.
"Then we can work on this again in the morning," Peter said. "After the beer wears off a little."
Neal started to answer, but just then Satchmo decided to see what the excitement at the back door was. He pushed between Neal and Peter to stand up against the door, causing Neal to take an awkward step back; he couldn't help but wince.
"Did you get hurt yesterday?" Peter asked.
"My ankle just hurts a little," Neal replied, a little vaguely.
"The bed in the guest room is all made up," Elizabeth said, reappearing with a glass of water in her hand. "And I think you know where everything is."
Neal nodded. "I do. Thank you."
"Well, don't work too long down here," she said, starting for the stairs. "I just have a couple of things to finish up myself, and then I'm calling it a night."
Peter picked up his beer and took a long swallow. "Drink up. We can pick this up in the morning."
Neal leaned against a chair, obviously considering something. "Hey, Peter, since you'll know where I am anyway, is there any chance we could take the tracking anklet off while I'm here?"
"That tracker is as much to protect you as anything else."
"Well, I'm not going anywhere in this storm. If something gets stolen here tonight, you've got a built-in suspect list of one, with or without the tracker."
"It's not a piece of jewelry that you can just decide to wear or take off, Neal."
"I know that, Peter."
"If you recall, you're the one who suggested the anklet in the first place."
"I know that too."
"If I start making exceptions…"
Neal held up his hands in surrender. "You know what, never mind. I'll just see you in the morning." He started for the stairs, limping slightly.
Peter just watched him go. What was that all about?
Neal got to the top of the stairs and started for the guestroom, but then turned back to the master bedroom. The door was open, and Elizabeth was sitting on the bed cross-legged, her laptop open in front of her.
"Would you by any chance have some lotion I could use?"
"Got some chapped skin?"
Neal gave a little half nod in reply. "My skin's a little dry in this weather, and the tracker is kind of rubbing my ankle. I don't have anything with me."
She pushed the laptop away and got to her feet. "Well, you have come to the right place. Let me see what I can find."
He stayed in the doorway, watching as she disappeared into the master bathroom. He could hear her rummaging through some things, and then she came back, holding a bottle out.
"It'll make you smell like lavender, but try this."
"Thanks. Good night."
He walked into the guestroom, giving the door a push behind him. It rubbed on the carpet, so it didn't close completely, but he let it go for the time being as he sat down on the edge of the bed. He slipped his left shoe off, and then worked on the sock, gritting his teeth as he tried to gently free the material from his leg.
His ankle had apparently been bleeding again, making it hard to get the knit material of the sock free. Good thing this model of the tracker was guaranteed to chafe less than the old one…
Finally, taking a little more skin with it, he slipped the sock free. He rolled his pants leg up and then stood, reaching over to grab some tissues from the bedside box. With his left foot up on the bed, he bent over, dabbing at the spots that had started bleeding again.
"Hey, Neal, I found a lotion that's medicated. If your ankle is really chapped…"
He turned just as Elizabeth walked in the partially open door and stopped short, her eyes wide and fixed on his ankle. "Elizabeth…"
"Oh, Neal." She stepped closer, looking at the bloody wound.
"It's not that bad."
"Neal, that's getting infected. I'll get the first aid kit," she said, heading for the hallway again. "Peter!"
"No, don't…" He sighed, knowing he hadn't stopped her in time. And there was a muffled response from downstairs.
"Get up here," Elizabeth called. She was back a moment later, carrying a plastic kit as well as a bottle of peroxide and a bag of cotton balls. "Sit," she commanded, with a hand to Neal's chest that pushed him onto the bed.
"Elizabeth, really, it's not that bad," he protested, as she knelt by his leg and uncapped the peroxide. He could hear footsteps coming up the stairs.
"Right, it's just red, and raw, and bleeding," she said, moistening a cotton ball. She pressed it against his ankle, ignoring his sharp intake of breath as it stung. "This needs to be cleaned."
"Well, I can do that," Neal said, reaching down.
"El? Is something wrong?"
"In here, Peter."
Neal looked up as Peter appeared in the doorway, his eyes quickly taking in the scene.
Elizabeth looked up as her husband walked in. "Did you know about this?"
Peter slowly shook his head. "No, I didn't. What happened, Neal?"
Neal sighed. "My skin just gets really dry in the winter," he admitted. "And even though this one is better than the old model, the anklet still chafes. I was doing all right keeping lotion on it until a couple of weeks ago, when I ran out. And then we caught the Lawlor case and I barely had time to even get home and change, much less get to a drug store, so it just got worse." He shrugged and reached his hand down again. "Really, Elizabeth, I can do that. I'm used to working around the anklet."
She brushed his hand away. "I'm almost done. And then I'll bandage it."
"I tried that," Neal said. "But between the anklet moving, and the sock rubbing against it, the bandages just bunched up. That actually made it worse."
"Why didn't you say something?" Peter asked.
"Well, we were kind of busy," Neal replied. "Besides, whenever I say anything about the anklet bothering me, you just go into über-FBI agent mode and tell me it's part of the deal and I should cowboy up." He paused, looking up at Peter. "Look what just happened downstairs," he said softly. "I didn't ask about taking it off forever, just while I was here. If you had asked why, I would have told you. But you just started in on the lecture."
Peter sighed and looked down at the floor. "Neal…"
Elizabeth cut him off with a look. "Peter?"
The look on Peter's face clearly showed that he had no defense to what Neal had said. With a sigh, he turned and walked out the door.
Neal got to his feet and pulled Elizabeth up, taking the gauze from her hand. "Elizabeth, thank you. But really, I'll be fine. I didn't mean to cause any trouble."
"Neal, the only trouble is that your ankle is like that."
"Well, I think it's more than that," he replied. "And I'm sorry. If you want me to leave…"
"In this storm? Don't even think about it! I'll lock you in the room."
"I have escaped from maximum security, you know."
"I'm sending Satchmo in to sleep on top of you."
That actually made him laugh. "Wow, you play it tough! I give up – I will not attempt to flee the premises tonight."
"Are you sure you don't want me to help bandage that?"
"Thanks, but I can do it." He steered her gently toward the door. "I'll see you in the morning."
"All right. Good night."
This time he made sure the door closed all the way.
"Right. No, I don't have the key with me; it's in the office. Yeah, well, I wasn't expecting a blizzard. Look, just make a note that I'm cutting the anklet, my responsibility, and have a new one sent over to the FBI office on Monday. Yes, charge the same account."
Peter hung up the phone and grabbed the kitchen shears. The new monitoring anklet was designed with a key, and the material was more difficult to cut. But according to the TV infomercial, these shears could cut through just about anything.
He turned off the downstairs lights and slowly climbed to the second floor.
The door to the master bedroom was partially open but the lights were off, so El had apparently gone to bed. And the door to the guestroom was closed, not inviting visitors.
He knocked anyway. "Neal?" There was no answer so he knocked again. "Neal? I know you're in there."
"Go to bed, Peter, it's late."
"Neal, is it all right if I come in?"
"There's no need. I promised Elizabeth I'd be good and stay put."
"I'm in bed, Peter. Naked."
Oh, hell, this was his house… He reached out and opened the door, stepping inside.
Neal looked up from the edge of the bed where he was just finishing the bandaging.
"You're wearing a lot of clothes for someone who's naked," Peter observed.
Neal looked down, seemingly considering his fully clothed state, and then back up at Peter. "Still, kind of interesting that I told you I was naked and you just walked in anyway."
Peter shrugged. "Calculated risk. And so much for you never lying to me."
Neal rolled his eyes as he finished taping the bandage. "Fine, I lied. Stop the presses and all." He set the supplies aside and looked up at Peter. "I never lied to you about anything important – not the way either of us would define important."
"You didn't tell me about that," Peter said, pointing at the bandaged ankle.
"That's an omission, not a lie," Neal countered. "And it'll be fine, no lie."
"Neal, you could have told me. You always manage to press your point when we're working on a case."
"When we're talking about a case you tend to listen to me. But about the tracker… not so much." Neal sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. "Honestly, Peter, I'm a reasonably intelligent guy, and I understand the anklet is part of the deal. This just got away from me. I know what to be careful of now."
"But it's not going to get better with the constant rubbing."
"I won't be moving around so much until the weather clears. That'll help."
Peter stepped forward, holding out the shears. "We're going to cut it and make sure your ankle heals."
"I thought you had a key for this one."
"Left it at the office."
"The marshals won't like it being cut."
"Only way to get it off tonight."
Neal shook his head. "Really, Peter, it'll be all right. I didn't mean to cause all this trouble."
"I already told the marshals I was cutting it, so get your foot up," Peter replied, gesturing. "Don't make me into a liar," he added when Neal still hesitated.
Neal slowly pulled his left foot up onto the bed, watching as Peter grasped the anklet and worked the shears in to cut the band.
Peter held the cut band in his hand for a moment, and then handed it to the younger man. "Neal, I'm sorry you didn't feel you could tell me something like this."
For a long moment Neal didn't say anything, and when he did reply his voice was very soft. "What do you think it will take for you to trust me, Peter? To believe that not everything I do is to work some angle?"
"I trust you to have my back at work, Neal. That's huge in my book."
"But outside of work you think everything is part of a con? Nothing I can do to change that?"
Peter considered his answer for a moment. "No more guns would be a good start," he finally said. "No more trying to shoot ex-OPR agents."
"I'm pretty sure that was a one-time thing," Neal replied. "I probably scared myself more than I scared Fowler."
"Where we get into trouble, Neal, is when we keep secrets."
"You've kept a few yourself, Peter."
"I know. It's something we both need to work on."
Peter reached over and put a hand gently on the younger man's shoulder. "Get some sleep," he said. "I'll see you in the morning," he added, starting for the door.
Peter turned back, watching as Neal turned the anklet over in his hands. "Yeah?"
Neal held the band up. "If I had ever really wanted to run, do you actually think this would have stopped me?"
Peter could only shake his head slowly. "No," he admitted. "Good night, Neal."
The first thing Peter noticed when he woke up on Saturday morning was that El had managed to appropriate most of the comforter during the night.
The second thing he noticed was that he was cold.
The third thing he noticed was that he hadn't had his slippers on the night before, and so they weren't sitting by the bedside.
The fourth thing he noticed, as he walked with cold toes out to check the thermostat, was that the door to the guestroom was open.
He bumped the temperature setting up a bit, justifying the extra bit on the utility bill because blizzards didn't show up in New York all that often. Then he walked down to the guestroom and looked in.
The room was empty, a neat pile of bedding clumped by the side of the bed.
Curious now, Peter went back to the bedroom, finding his slippers and pulling on a sweatshirt over the t-shirt he had slept in. Satchmo met him halfway down the stairs, tail wagging, and he paused to ruffle the dog's neck fur before finishing the steps.
The living room was empty, same for the dining room, but there was definitely the aroma of coffee coming from the kitchen so he walked in there, expecting to find Neal…
The room was empty. Satchmo's food bowl was filled, and there was a fresh pot of liquid black gold in the coffee maker.
And no Neal.
Just out of curiosity he opened the door that led down to the basement. There was nothing down there except the furnace, water heater, and storage – and Neal knew that. And, in fact, the lights were all off, which made it highly unlikely that anyone had dared try to traverse the maze of boxes.
There was nowhere else in the house…
No. No, surely not. Had last night all been a ploy to get the anklet off, to use the storm as cover…
Satchmo's ears perked up, and the dog ran out of the kitchen. A moment later, Peter's ears were able to pick up the sound of the inner door opening in the living room.
By the time Peter got out into the front room, Satchmo was in doggie heaven, pressing against Neal as the younger man scratched his ears. At least, Peter assumed it was Neal. The figure was bundled up in a parka that Peter recognized as his own, one of El's knit scarves wrapped over his face, Peter's boots on his feet. Snow and frost helped obscure his features.
"Morning, Peter," the figure greeted, straightening up and starting to unwrap the scarf.
"Neal." Peter only managed the one word, but he did find he was able to breathe again. Okay, so maybe he shouldn't have assumed Neal ran… "What were you doing?"
"I shoveled the front walk, and most of the sidewalk," Neal replied, shedding the parka. "I hope you don't mind, I borrowed your jacket and boots."
Peter shrugged and shook his head. "Thought the idea was to take it easy on your ankle."
"I figured I should do my part. Besides," Neal continued, toeing the right boot off. "Your boots are a little big for me, so I was able to add padding." He pulled the left boot off, revealing a towel wrapped protectively around his ankle. He blew out a deep breath and shivered. "It's a little cold out there."
"Yeah, blizzards have a way of doing that."
"I've noticed. Anyway, I told Mrs. Perkins next door that I'd shovel her walk. I just needed to warm up a little first."
"A real Samaritan." The words came out a little too sharp. Even as he said the words, Peter regretted his tone…
Neal had started for the kitchen, but he turned back. "Is something wrong?" He paused, shaking his head. "You thought I ran," he said softly.
"No." The denial came out a little too fast, and Peter knew Neal had caught that. "All right, yes, the thought crossed my mind when I couldn't find you anywhere."
"Morning, guys." Elizabeth's greeting cut any further exchange off.
But it wasn't exactly hard to pick up on the awkwardness of the moment between the two men, Peter guessed.
Elizabeth looked between the two. "Something wrong?"
Neal ran a hand through his snow-dampened hair and sighed. "Peter couldn't find me this morning, so he assumed I ran off."
Elizabeth looked at her husband. "Peter?"
"It's a hard habit to break," Peter admitted.
"Well, maybe someday," Neal said softly. "Look, I let Satch out once already, and fed him. There's coffee ready too." He started for the stairs. "Oh, Peter, if I'm not allowed outside, you'll need to go shovel the walk for Mrs. Perkins."
The younger man didn't stop, disappearing up the stairs.
"Peter, why would you think Neal ran?"
"We cut the anklet off last night, El. If he ran now…"
She cut him off. "That's not an answer, Peter. Why do you think he would?"
"El, it wasn't all that long ago that he slipped the tracker, got a gun, and took a shot at Fowler."
"But he didn't actually shoot anyone."
"No, he didn't."
"And didn't you say he literally got sick about it later, and apologized – even to… Fowler."
The distaste in his wife's voice as she said the name didn't escape Peter's notice. El had never forgiven the ex-OPR agent for what had happened at her business – not that he blamed her. "He did."
"The problem with his ankle is real, Peter."
"You don't really think he'd go through that pain just to run, do you?"
"No." Damn, maybe El should do interrogations. She could cut through to the heart of an issue like no one he'd ever known…
"So why did you think he was running?"
"I'm a FBI agent. Neal's an ex-con, he's…"
"He's what?" El prodded gently.
Peter sighed. "He's my partner. My friend." He looked at her, shaking his head. "I blew it, didn't I."
To her credit, El just nodded instead of rubbing in his failure with words.
"I'll go talk to him."
She put a hand on his arm. "Maybe I should talk to him first. Give him a little time."
Peter nodded, wrapping his brilliant wife into a hug. "I guess I have a walk to shovel anyway."
He tried to ignore the knocking on the door, but Elizabeth's voice was something else.
"Neal, can I come in?"
"Sure, it's not locked."
The door opened and she stepped in, balancing two cups of coffee in one hand. He got to his feet, leaving the window seat that overlooked the backyard.
"Oh, I like that seat too," Elizabeth said, handing over one of the cups. "Especially after a storm. It's so white and fresh."
"It is. Just a few prints from Satchmo out there."
"He loves to play in the snow."
"I noticed. A regular snow dog."
Elizabeth smiled and sat down on the edge of the bed, nudging the pile of bedding on the floor. "You didn't have to strip the bed."
Neal sat down again, cradling the mug between his hands. "Actually, I did." He lifted the leg of his pants, revealing a fresh bandage. "I'm afraid it soaked through a little overnight. I owe you a new set of sheets."
"I'm pretty good at getting stains out. Let me give it a try first."
"If you want. But if you need new ones…"
"I'll let you know."
He managed a small smile in her direction. "Thank you," he said, lifting the cup to his lips.
They sipped in companionable silence for a few moments before Neal finally set his cup aside and sighed. "Do you think he'll ever trust me?" he asked softly.
"He wants to, Neal."
"I'm really trying, Elizabeth."
She got up and walked over to stand next to him, a hand resting gently on his shoulder. "I know."
It took a while to finish shoveling. He made sure to do an extra good job for Mrs. Perkins, scraping carefully down to the bare concrete. The plow came through on its first pass, pushing up a new ridge of clumpy snow that needed to be cleared down by the street, and then he dug out the car, finally managing to get it clear enough to move just before the plow came back through to bury it again. He found a semi-clear spot a block or so down and then he walked back home.
He was long past the point of being cold and shivering – but he guessed he deserved a little discomfort.
So why did you think he was running?
El's question kept running through his mind, and he still had no good answer. Neal had given him no cause to believe the younger man would, in fact, take advantage of being without the tracker to take off. In fact, by words and actions, he had, of late, indicated he was quite satisfied with where he was and what he was doing. At least, as satisfied as someone on a two mile leash could be. And his contributions at work had been as impressive as anyone could have asked for.
He's my partner. My friend.
Those words came back to him too. Maybe he needed to start acting less like the strict FBI overseer, and more like a friend.
Peter slid the snow shovel in next to the steps and climbed up to the door. He knocked as much snow as he could off his boots and over the side of the small landing and let himself inside.
The warmth of the house was a welcome change as he hung up the parka and divested himself of his boots and scarf.
The smell of coffee made him turn around, and he smiled as Elizabeth appeared with a steaming mug in her hand. "Ah, you've come to save me," he said, accepting the mug.
"You are looking a little frosty."
Frosty… which rather well described the situation before he'd gone out to shovel. "Is Neal still upstairs?"
"He came down and got a few files a little while ago and then went back up." Elizabeth reached for his hand and offered a small smile. "Want some breakfast before you go up there?"
"Sustenance would be good," he admitted, following her to the dining table where a box of his favorite cereal already waited. Elizabeth disappeared into the kitchen, reappearing a moment later with a bowl and a jug of milk. "You and Neal already eat?"
"Well, I did. Neal claimed he wasn't hungry."
Peter sighed and sat down at the table, pouring cereal into the bowl. "Any advice?" he asked as he added milk.
Elizabeth sat down across the table, reaching over for his hand. "Just be honest. He's a little hurt, but not angry. He wants to know how to earn your trust, Peter."
"Have I told you recently how brilliant you are?"
"Yes – but it's always good to hear!"
"I'll remind you more often," he promised as he dug into his cereal.
The guestroom door was ajar, and Peter paused in the hallway. Neal was sitting barefoot on the bed, one leg curled up, the other – his left – stretched out, the bandaged ankle clear. There were files spread out in front of him, and his head was bent low over something.
He reached in and knocked on the door. "Neal?"
"Are you naked?"
"Not this time."
Peter stifled a sigh as he walked in – the retort had come easily enough from the younger man, but it contained none of the humor he would normally have expected. "Find the smoking gun yet?" he asked, pointing at the files.
Neal shook his head. "A couple of theories, maybe. Nothing real clear yet."
"Nothing but dead ends."
"I'm sorry, Peter. I'm trying…"
Peter was shaking his head. "Neal, I didn't mean to suggest you weren't trying." He sat down at the foot of the bed. "Some cases are just a lot harder to crack than others."
"Yeah. It's just…" Neal paused, sighing. "I'm really trying not to let you down, Peter."
"I know." Peter paused for a sigh of his own. "And I know I let you down by suspecting that you ran this morning."
A hand held high stopped Neal's protest. "Please, let me finish. It's a hard habit to break. I'm a federal law enforcement agent. I spent three years chasing you. And even you would have to admit you pulled a few fast ones after you started working for the Bureau."
"Like you said, some habits are hard to break."
"Trust isn't something I give away lightly, Neal."
"And I lie for a living. Or, at least, I did."
Peter recalled throwing those words at Neal himself – when, in fact, he'd been the one lying to Neal at the time… "When El asked me this morning why I suspected you ran, I fell back on the excuse that you're an ex-con," Peter admitted. "Then she asked me again what you were to me, and I told her you were my partner, and my friend. I'm going to try and act more like that."
"I'm going to try and live up to it."
"I might not be perfect at it."
"I might slip up sometimes too. All those old habits."
"Partners keep each other on track," Peter said. "It's part of the job."
"A lot of my attempts to work with partners haven't worked out so well," Neal admitted.
"How about attempts at being a friend?"
"Yeah, I'm working on getting my average up there too." Peter paused, waiting until Neal's eyes met his before continuing. "Neal, I'm sorry."
"I could have handled it better too," Neal admitted. "I'll work on it."
"We'll both work on it."
"So, when does the new anklet come?"
Neal nodded, then tugged at his shirt collar. "I don't have any other clothes."
"Tell you what," Peter said, reaching over to gather up the files. "Let's go downstairs and put in a couple of hours on this. Then we'll have lunch, and I'll drive you home."
Peter pulled the car up close to the neatly shoveled walk in front of the house. "I'm going to guess that June doesn't do her own shoveling."
"Probably not," Neal agreed. "I guess you could ask her while I pack a few things."
"I'll just go with my guess," Peter replied. "And there's no need to pack. I said I'd bring you home."
There was a moment of silence as the words sank in. "You're not taking me back to your place?"
"Well, you're welcome, if you really want to. But I hadn't planned on it. In fact, I was thinking about enjoying a snow day with my wife."
"So even without the anklet..."
"You planning to run?"
"Then consider this a sign of the new, more trusting me."
"Neal, you should probably get out of the car now," Peter said. "Before the old me takes over again."
Neal nodded and reached for the door handle. "Right." He got out of the car and started to shut the door, pausing only when Peter spoke again.
"And Neal? I'll see you in the office Monday morning, 8:00."
"I'll be there."
The traffic showed no sign of moving – damn accident! At least it didn't look like anyone was hurt...
Dropping cash for the fare over the seat, Neal opened the door and got out. He'd left in plenty of time – at least what would normally have been plenty of time. Of all the mornings for an accident to tie everything up! But he could still make it close...
The digital clock flipped over to 8:00 and Peter fought the urge to pick up the phone and call Neal. The younger man was usually quite punctual, but a couple of minutes late did not mean he was running...
Breathing hard, he slid through the front door and came to a stop at the elevators, punching the button repeatedly. It seemed like the doors would never open, but running up twenty one flights of stairs wouldn't exactly be fast either.
The doors opened, and fortunately he didn't have to wait for anyone getting off. He stepped into the car, simultaneously pushing the button for the office floor and the button to close the doors.
It still seemed to take forever until the doors actually did close and the car began to move.
Since when did the elevators move so slowly...
He took a quick glance at his watch as the floor indicator reached nineteen.
Sprinting was frowned upon inside the office, but he moved as quickly as he could while keeping proper decorum in mind. Tossing the fedora onto his desk, he didn't even break stride as he headed for the stairs.
Peter looked up as a shadow covered his doorway, watching as Neal all but ran into the office.
"Peter, I'm sorry. There was an accident, the cab got caught in traffic, I ran the last four blocks..."
"Neal, sit down and breathe," Peter said, trying not to laugh. Neal was actually sweating, something one simply didn't see very often, especially when he was wearing a Devore.
Neal nodded and dropped into a chair. "I know you said 8:00. I thought I left in plenty of time."
"Well, in the spirit of our trusting relationship, I'll let the eight minutes slide."
"I just... I didn't want you thinking that I ran."
"You just said you did run," Peter pointed out.
Neal rolled his eyes. "Not that kind of running."
"Relax, Neal. Even I understand that delays happen. I was giving you fifteen minutes before I called out the troops."
"Wow, so I had seven minutes to spare? I wouldn't have had to jaywalk."
"People get tickets for that, Neal."
Neal finally smiled. "The cops never would have caught me."
"Right, because you're a world class sprinter." Peter tried to keep his tone gruff, but he didn't think he was succeeding – it was just feeling too good to get back to the easy banter with Neal. Then his eyes strayed to the corner of his desk, where the new tracking anklet was waiting. "How's the ankle?"
"It's better – not bleeding anymore. Thanks."
"It has to go back on, Neal. It's part of the deal."
Neal nodded. "I know," he said, reaching for the anklet – until Peter's hand stopped him.
"But I think we can give you a few more hours without the rubbing," Peter said, starting to smile. "I'm going to keep you way too busy today for you to have time to even think about running."
"I'm okay with that," Neal replied, returning a smile of his own.
"Good, because today's the day that we're going to figure out how to take down Hall." Peter got up, grabbing his empty mug. "Let's get some coffee, and round up Jones and Diana, and get to work."