Title: Seven Stages

Author: BuffyAngel68

Rating: FRT language, discussion of mildly dark subjects

Summary: Peter pushes a sensitive button with his next choice, but only because he feels he has to.

Disclaimer: Blah-blah bliddity-blah... made no money, no intention to step on the owners toes... blahddy-blah. And just for good measure: Yadda-Yadda.

Neal strolled into Peter's office as usual and settled into his favorite chair, seemingly the picture of casual coolness. His handler and second-best buddy instantly knew different and wasted no time calling him on it.

"What's wrong?"

"You don't even say hello anymore? Etiquette is just a lost art these days..."

"Hi, Neal. What's wrong?"

"Nothing."

"Right. You're playing me. Spit it out, kid. Now."

"Peter..."

"Neal."

"I'm not in trouble, okay? Not like you're thinking..."

Peter's face softened and his tone of voice followed.

"You know talking it out helps. Haven't we proved that these last few weeks?"

Neal slumped just a little in his seat and he began to study his fingernails.

"It's Mozzie. I told him I asked for your help digging up my childhood... and he went ballistic. I've never seen him like this. He won't tell me why, but he's adamant that I have to stop... have to make you stop. I said give me a legitimate reason. He stared at me for a while... then he stormed out. I haven't seen him since and he won't answer his phone."

"Sounds like maybe he knows what you don't. Also sounds like what you're looking for could be dangerous."

Neal's head lifted.

"Yeah? Hmmmph. I guess. Doesn't change anything, though. I have to find out. For my own peace of mind, I have to. Have you gotten anywhere?"

"Dribs and drabs, so far. Nothing significant. I almost get the feeling..."

"... you're being stonewalled?"

"Mildly."

"But..."

"You know I will. Anything big comes in, I promise I won't hold out on you."

"Even if it's bad?"

"That depends how bad."

"Peter, c'mon..."

"No, you have to trust me. If I tell you that continuing the search would put your life at risk and I have to quit... *you* need to promise *me* you'll accept that and try to let it go."

"Just try?"

"Really, *really* hard."

Peter extended his hand across the desk. Neal eventually leaned forward and shook it.

"So... what's the Burke Book Club selection of the week?"

"One of my favorites. Novel and author." Peter replied, sliding a thick paperback forward so Neal could see. The younger man studied the cover carefully.

"Dick Francis? I've skimmed a couple of his older stories. They looked intriguing. Never picked one up to actually read, though. ' Proof '. Multiple meanings there..."

"The lead character's a wine merchant. It goes into some fairly deep detail about the process of creating it and why he loves it so much. I saw it in the downstairs bookcase last night... thought of you."

"Huh. Okay. It looks heavy on the page count. Might take me a little longer this time."

"If you need a couple more days, just let me know."

Neal rose slowly, his eyes still on the book, and moved back out into the bullpen. Peter watched him go with an intense, almost concerned expression. He was saved from dark contemplations, however, when the phone rang a moment later.

"Hey, honey. Yeah, just now. I know it could backfire...we worked through the Pratchett blow-up, didn't we? I know... the same reason as all the others. He needs another perspective on... I'm aware sore subject doesn't even half cover it... okay. Just in case it goes sideways, you can be here..."

TBC...