Pulling Strings, wherein Neal has to work for Sara… and Peter has to deal with his in-laws and El's birthday. I enjoyed the episode, but things happened pretty quickly after this – and I wanted to explore just where everyone stood at this point in the season. I hope you enjoy.


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Pulling Strings: Heart of the Storm

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Rain pattered on the skylights, first with spring-like delicacy, then more loudly before lessening once again; from where he lay in the bed, it sounded almost as if the storm was breathing. Lightning flashed, oddly dimmed by the newspaper covering the rooftop glass, and thunder rumbled off into the night. He stared up into the dark, enjoying the power of nature making itself known here, high in the heart of the city.

Taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly, he allowed himself a smug little grin. The heart of the city… and exactly where I want to be. At least, right now…

Two feet away from his head, his cell phone flashed its silent announcement of a text. Quietly he reached over to the nightstand and picked it up, squinting to read. Only a handful of people knew this number, and any of them calling at this hour could only be bad news –

He read the message and gave a small, ironic noise. Lying back into the pillow, he spoke quietly. "You could have just asked."

The woman next to him didn't say anything, but he would have sworn he could hear a smile in her breathing. He went on.

"And I refuse to put my information out into the ether just to have it land right next to me. The answer is 'yes, I'm awake'."

The easy companionship in her voice was obvious. "You seemed engrossed. I didn't want to bother you if you were meditating."

"And I thank you for that consideration. But I was just listening to the rain."

"And thinking?"

"And thinking."

She shifted onto her side, closer to him, and he lifted his arm so that she could rest her head on his shoulder. "I don't know. That sounds like meditating to me."

"I suppose. Still, you know I never sleep as well away from home."

"One of your homes, anyway."

"Yes. But usually…"

Her fingertips walked idly across his barrel chest. "Usually your energy is less conflicted when you meditate."

He grinned into the night, like a Cheshire cat. She had a way of seeing more of him than he intended… and oddly, he found that he didn't mind. She might be the first woman who he felt like he could trust with his strangest idiosyncrasies. They saw each other only rarely, and it wasn't love - at least, neither of them would call it that - but it was quite satisfying.

"You're right."

"As usual." She let out a rare giggle while she felt his indignant reaction.

"Fine." He subsided in the face of the inevitable, and pulled her a little closer, turning his head to rest his chin on her head. "I admit, I'm feeling oddly conflicted."

"Not really surprising."

He exhaled. "It is for me. It shouldn't be that difficult a decision to make –"

"Don't be silly. This isn't just about you. You're vacillating because you don't know what the other variables are, and you have no control over anyone else's actions. It goes against your Machiavellian puppet master complex. Which is why you have open tickets on three different airlines in three different names."

Outside, the storm had quieted. Dawn struggled through the newsprint on the windows, and his questioning voice was almost a whisper.

"Salli?"

"Yes?"

"If I do go –"

"You mean when you go, I believe."

"I have not made that decision." He paused, sounded a bit more vulnerable, and a bit surprised. "You really think I'm going?"

"Do I have to walk you through it logically? Everything you ever wanted, the dream realized, a life of decadent excess… you could be king of your own kingdom." She chuckled a bit. "You could retire."

Mozzie blustered a bit. "I'll have you know my talents are still in demand here. I would be missed if I left, by some people, anyway. In fact, just today…" He stopped, reluctant to discuss business, even with her. "Well, whichever… would you… be upset if I left?"

She stretched and looked thoughtful. "No, not really."

He jerked his head back to look at her. "Not at all?"

"Well… it only makes sense. If you don't want to be here, why would I want you here?"

He looked at her for a moment, and then lay back into the pillow. "Sometimes your rationality is irritating. Sensible, as always, but irritating." A quiet, thought-laden moment passed before he spoke again. "You know, we've talked about this before, but I've never asked… I mean… would you be interested in, possibly…"

Salli laughed. "Oh, please. You know I'd never come with you. My home is here, and I need a base." She lifted her head. "But I'll admit… I'd miss you occasionally. I'd miss… this." Pushing herself up on her elbows, she leaned in to kiss him. Eventually she pulled back an inch. "Do you really want to keep talking?"

He opened his eyes and looked overly thoughtful. "I don't know."

"You don't know?"

"Well, you seem so critical of my decision making process, I'm not sure if it would –"

"Moz."

"Yes?"

"Shut up."

And she took the decision out of his hands.


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The storm was rumbling its way across New York City, washing down the streets. In the residential neighborhood, not quite so close to the sky, it seemed less intense. At least, to those who didn't have sensitive ears.

A yellow lab whined as the lightning flashed again, and a wide-awake voice called quietly to the dog in the dark. "Come on, Satch."

Elizabeth stirred sleepily as the dog jumped up to the bottom of the bed. She blinked at the animal, and slowly realized that her husband was sitting up, scratching Satch behind the ears to comfort him. She heard him murmur. "It's okay, boy. It's okay." Smiling first at his compassion, she frowned slowly as he remained sitting up, watching as he pulled a blanket over Satch and distractedly rubbed the dog's head.

"Sweetheart?

He turned in the dark, his voice apologetic. "I'm sorry, Hon. Did I wake you? I just let Satch up here because of the storm… you know how he gets with thunder –"

She sat up, and reached out to rest a hand on his shoulder. "No, no. It's fine, he can sleep with us… are you okay?"

Peter took her hand and kissed it. "I'm fine. Must be the storm. My brain won't stop."

"Ah. 'Storm within and storm without', as Dad would say." She rubbed her hand over his back, and her voice was as gentle as her smile. "What's going on?"

He grumbled a sigh, which made the dog look at him nervously. "I don't want to keep you up –"

"Peter…" She grinned at him. "You want me to guess?" He remained silent in the dark. "Okay. I'm guessing… that Neal is involved."

Peter chuckled, pushing his hands back through his hair. "Now you're psychic, as well as beautiful."

She leaned in to kiss him. "Right. Couldn't be that almost every time you lose sleep, it's because of Neal…" They kissed again. "So. You're trying to figure out what you're going to say at the hearing?"

He exhaled. "Oh, I know what I'm going to say… I just don't know when I'll stop talking." He paused, looking over in her direction. "What's that line Mozzie uses? A happy ending depends on where you stop the story?" The thunder gave a last, soft rumble as the rain softened its pace. "I just don't know, El."

"Well," she said, shrugging a bit, "You know how I feel. But that's not important."

He reached over and took her hand. "It's important to me."

"Oh, hon, I don't mean that in a bad way. I truly believe that if it was only up to you, you'd know exactly what you want to happen… but I know you have other people to answer to."

He nodded, flopping back onto his pillow, and she cuddled into his side. "I wish things could just keep going the way they are. Neal seems to really be stepping up… I feel like he wants to be here, wants to work with us. I don't know how he'll do on his own."

"Can't he work for the FBI as a free man?"

"It depends… budgetary concerns, politics…" He exhaled heavily. "And who knows? Neal's good enough that someone higher up might want him…"

"But you two are doing so well! You deserve to keep working together."

He leaned over to kiss her. "If only you were my boss, sweetheart, I'd be a happy man. Or happier."

"Hmh." She moved closer to him, and ran her finger down his cheek. "Then you'd have to do… anything I asked?"

Peter grinned and kissed her again. "Anything."


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Lightning crackled the sky over the New York skyline, illuminating with an electric blue-white flash the face of a man standing at the glass doors of his rooftop balcony. He smiled into the heart of the storm as the thunder rumbled, almost as if he was most comfortable when surrounded by chaos. In the storm, but not part of the storm.

It flashed again as the clouds moved on spidery legs of light, catching the blue of his eyes, making them sparkle like sapphires. He held up his glass and waited; watching the next strike through the deep red of the wine, and a quietly delighted laugh escaped into the night.

Here he was, alone in the night… but I don't feel alone. In fact, he felt more alive than he had in ages. Gone was the guilt of Peter not knowing about the treasure. Gone was the burden of Mozzie pressuring him to leave. Gone was the almost painful silence between him and Sara Ellis.

And, possibly, gone was the anklet that tethered him. Although clearly the thought of that change was somewhat bittersweet. Freedom always came with a price… and if he couldn't still work with Peter, doing what he did best… nah. They'll hire me in a hot minute. I'm too good.

He grinned into the rain that now coated the glass in a solid, wavering sheet, blurring his view of the outside world.

He and Sara had worked well together – and she practically invited him to call her when it was over. Peter had trusted him enough to take on the case - essentially as the lead agent, if he had to admit it to himself – with Diana backing him up… and she seemed to trust his judgment as well. There was a time he would say he was pulling the wool over their eyes, and doing it well, but now… now it was different. Now he wanted them to trust him, because… well, he just did.

Face it, Caffrey. Life is good. You have a place here. Right here in New York, surrounded by friends, doing work you love… it can't get much better than this. Do you remember how miserable you were, chasing after Kate, even when you thought you were happy?

His thoughts followed the daisy-chain of events back to the beginning of his life now, and he lifted his glass out toward the stormy city before he sipped his drink. "To you, Peter Burke. Thanks for believing in me." He finished the wine, and whispered quietly to his reflection in the glass. "I promise, I won't disappoint you."


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