He really didn't want to let go of Elizabeth – ever – but the FBI agent in him was hard to overcome. And when he did step back, just a little, his eyes naturally searched out his partner.
Neal was standing not far away, just lowering his phone from his ear. And from the look on his face, it had not been a pleasant conversation.
Taking Elizabeth's hand, Peter led her toward the younger man. "Was that Keller?"
Neal nodded, his jaw tight. "Yeah, it was."
"What did he say?"
"That he considers this round a draw. And that he's already beyond my radius, so I won't be able to find him."
"Well, he's wrong about that. We will find him."
Neal just nodded.
"Hey, I found you," Peter said, placing a gentle hand on the younger man's shoulder. And although at times he had made a similar statement to taunt his partner, this time there was only a calm assurance in his voice. "And you're a hell of a lot better than Keller."
"You knew what I wanted," Neal pointed out.
"So, we'll figure out what Keller wants."
"And I'm sure you will," Elizabeth said, cutting in. "But not right this moment." She wrapped her arms around Neal in a tight hug and kissed his cheek. "Thank you."
"Hey, I was just doing what you told me to do," he replied, offering her a small, genuine smile.
"And what was that?" Peter asked.
"I asked him to do whatever it took to bring you back to me," she said, moving back to her husband's arms.
"I wouldn't dare disappoint your wife," Neal said.
"Good plan," Peter agreed. "I'm going to try and be better about not disappointing her too."
"Oh, getting you home each night is all I need," Elizabeth replied.
Peter hugged her close. "I'm just glad the agents got you down here so fast."
She shrugged against his chest. "They didn't have a choice. When I heard them say they had an address…"
"They actually told you that?"
"Oh, I was listening. I heard the whole thing while thing while Neal was talking you through the jail break."
Neal was smiling. "Mozzie?"
"He was envisioning your house as 'suit central,' as he put it. I think you might be the only one he would have walked into that for."
"Do I want to know what Mozzie did?" Peter asked, somewhat wary.
Elizabeth smiled. "He bugged the listening equipment the agents were using."
"He made it possible for me to hear what was going on," she replied. "And he promised me you'd be home for dinner."
"Speaking of which, you should really take your wife home, Peter," Neal suggested. "Have that dinner."
"Yeah, good idea," Peter agreed. "Neal…"
"I know, Peter." Neal took his partner's shoulders and turned him toward the car that had delivered Elizabeth. "Go. I'll see you later."
They looked so happy together, so… right.
What he had always envisioned for himself with Kate…
But Kate was gone, and he needed to really move on, not just tell Mozzie that he had. And, well, giving up the ring he'd envisioned slipping onto her finger might be a big step toward doing that.
Neal watched as Peter helped his wife into the car and then climbed in beside her. The agent in front pulled away, driving down the street and then around the corner, out of sight.
"Need a ride?"
Neal turned as Diana came up next to him. "I don't know. One ride with you a day might be all I can handle."
"What if I promise to drive green this time?"
"We can re-grow the tree?"
"No promises, but we can try."
"Then I'd love a ride. Thanks."
Diana led the way down the block to where her car was parked. As she got in behind the wheel, Neal walked around to the other side.
"I hope you won't be in too much trouble for helping me earlier," he said, pulling on the seatbelt.
"Nothing I can't handle. Hughes can be tough, but he's fair." She looked over at Neal. "Besides, it's not like I don't owe Peter Burke a few favors too."
"And we were right," Neal pointed out.
"Have you noticed that that doesn't always count for much?"
"Yeah, might have come up – once or twice."
"Once or twice a day with you," Diana muttered, starting the car.
Neal glanced over at her, allowing himself a small smile to match the one on her face. "Maybe," he conceded.
Diana drove in silence for a few minutes as they cleared the maze of emergency vehicles around the site. "So, was it worth it?" she finally asked. "Giving up that ring?"
"Did you see them?" Neal asked softly. "Peter and Elizabeth." Diana nodded, and he continued. "Yeah, it was worth it."
"Want to tell me about the ring?"
"Is that Agent Barrigan asking, or Diana?"
"Does it make a difference?"
"Well, offhand, I'm not real sure what the statute of limitations is in Scotland."
"I think that's a little out of my jurisdiction anyway."
Neal considered that for a moment. "Ever been to Edinburgh? Great city. Big castle, a palace, even a museum on the history of Scotch whiskey – with samples. And the Royal Scottish Museum…"
Peter leaned forward, speaking to the agent driving the car. "Hey, Jordan, I just realized we need to make a quick stop at the office."
"Sure thing, Peter."
Elizabeth looked over at him, puzzled. "Peter? You can't seriously be thinking of working."
"No, just need to drop something off." He fished in his pocket and pulled out the ring. "I want to get this logged in."
"Wow, that's beautiful. It was part of the case?"
Peter rolled the ring in his fingers for a moment before answering. "It's what Neal traded to make sure I was all right."
"Really?" She reached for the ring and looked at it more closely. "Is that a real emerald?"
"I'm pretty sure it is, yeah."
"And the diamonds…"
"Pretty sure those are real too."
"So this is worth a lot of money."
He nodded. "If I'm right, it's worth one hell of a lot of money."
"And Neal exchanged it just for information?"
"Yeah, he did."
"Is it… is it stolen?" Elizabeth asked softly.
"I asked him about that," Peter replied. "He said it was never reported as stolen – but that I should check with the Royal Scottish Museum." He paused, sighing and taking the ring back. "I'm pretty sure it'll turn out that the museum has a perfect replica in its collection."
"Will he be in trouble for this?"
Peter shrugged. "He certainly hasn't been to Europe since I arrested him the first time, so it can't be from any recent job. Hopefully the museum will just be happy to have the ring returned."
"Not my job to investigate crime in Scotland," he said, with a reassuring smile. "I have enough on my hands with New York."
Neal walked into the bullpen area, his eyes immediately tracking up to Peter's office. But the door was closed, lights off.
He tossed his hat on his desk – which someone had considerately moved back to its original position. In fact, all traces of the mock cell had been removed.
It was fairly early, with only a few agents at their desks. Diana was one of them, her head down, concentrating on something. He walked over, stopping near the desk. "Have you heard from Peter?"
She shook her head. "Hughes told him to stay home today."
"So you've talked to Hughes?"
"How much trouble are you in for helping me?"
Before Diana could answer, a new voice rang out. "Caffrey!"
Neal looked up to see the infamous double-finger-point aimed in his direction by Hughes. "Guess I'll find out how much trouble I'm in first."
He walked toward the stairs, his stride portraying a confidence he didn't quite feel. It was hard to figure Hughes sometimes. Though recently the older man had actually called him 'Neal' on occasion, not just Caffrey. And the hand on his shoulder after he'd walked Peter through opening the cell had certainly seemed genuine…
He stepped into the office as Hughes was seating himself behind his desk.
"Close the door."
Neal complied, and then stepped up closer to the desk.
Hughes waved at a chair. "Take a seat."
Neal sat as directed - that might be the first time Hughes had ever asked him to sit. So did that mean that this would be more a conversation, and not a one-sided recitation of his flaws? Or had Hughes already decided on a punishment so severe that he figured Neal should be sitting down to hear it?
Just in case, he looked over his shoulder, but there was no army of marshals coming through the bullpen, manacles at the ready…
"That was good work yesterday, Neal, talking Peter out of that cell."
That definitely sounded like Hughes' voice, and the older man's lips had moved – but really, a compliment?
"Thank you, sir."
Hughes nodded, shifting uncomfortably in his chair. "That does not, of course, excuse your actions in engaging Keller and Lang against Bureau policy."
"Of course not."
"You and Agent Barrigan were way out of line."
"Sir, it was my fault. Whatever you want to do to me, that's fine. But Diana's not to blame."
"She's the agent, Caffrey. It was her responsibility."
Hughes held up a hand. "So if you were me, what would you do about you?"
Tough question… "I don't know," he admitted. "My life revolves around thinking outside of the box."
"And this time going outside of the box totally trampled years of Bureau policy." Hughes sighed and shook his head. "I've had several people advise me to send you back to prison."
Neal was actually very impressed that he managed to keep his expression neutral – even though he could feel his pulse quicken. "Peter's safe, that's all that matters," he said softly. "If you think putting me in prison is the best response, I'll go quietly."
"Yeah, well, if I did that, I imagine Burke would use his new-found escape prowess to break you out anyway," Hughes said. "Then I'd be down a consultant and an agent." He stood up and turned to look out the window. "For the record, Barrigan said she'd accept full responsibility, and I should leave you out of it. Is that the way you see it?"
"No, sir. I…"
Hughes held up a hand again. "Let's pretend that I'm actually in control here for a moment, shall we?" When Neal kept his mouth shut and just nodded, the agent continued. "This office is awash in delinquent paperwork. Agent Barrigan will be working on reducing that backlog this weekend. I imagine the work would go faster if there were two of you on it."
Paperwork? "Yes, sir. I'm sure it would."
"You can work out the details with her. I'll have everything in the conference room by the end of the day."
The senior agent's tone indicated an end of the conversation and Neal stood up, nodding. "I'll do that."
Hughes just nodded and turned back to the window, so Neal took that as his cue to leave. He made his way down the stairs, stopping by Diana's desk.
"I don't see any obvious bruising or blood," she commented.
"No," he agreed. "Though apparently there's quite a contingent voting to send me back to prison."
"Oh, Neal, they can't…"
"No, Hughes isn't doing that," Neal said quickly. "But you're stuck with me this weekend."
"He assigned you to the paperwork too?"
"Yup." He rested a hip on the desk and leaned closer, lowering his voice. "Diana, it was my fault. I'll do the work."
"Noble, but wrong. Neal, I knew what I was doing."
"So I guess we'll both wade in."
"Probably safer that way," Diana said, grinning. "Just in case there's a landslide and all the paper buries one of us."
Neal returned the grin. "Yeah, could be. So, what time do you want to start?"
"I was thinking early, get going and get it over with. Maybe six thirty?"
"Want me to pick you up?"
"Sure, that'd be great." Neal stood up and straightened his jacket. "I know this good bakery down by the courthouse. I'll buy the donuts."
"I'll bring the coffee."
"Sounds like a plan."
Peter stretched and adjusted the pillows behind his back. It had been a long time since he and Elizabeth had just been able to stay in bed and relax. In fact, other than the occasional federal holiday, he couldn't remember it happening on a weekday. And even then, she often had events to plan or attend.
Of course, he really didn't understand why he couldn't be at work. It wasn't as though he'd been injured in any way. Oh, a few scrapes and bruises here and there. And his wrists were a bit sore from the cuffs rubbing on them so long. He really needed to have Neal show him a few pointers. The con man would, undoubtedly, have had the locks open much, much sooner than Peter had…
Hughes' call, however, had not contained a suggestion to stay home. No, it had definitely been a directive.
Not that it had really been such a terrible idea. No, the whole kidnapping experience – combined with the fact that his last words to El yesterday had been part of a quarrel – made him realize more than ever what a lucky man he was.
El had turned over her day's schedule to her assistant once she found out that Peter would be staying home, and he found that he was excited about being able to spend the day with her. A shame that it had taken a kidnapping for them to admit that their lives had gotten too busy, and they needed time just for them.
She was in the shower now, after they'd finally given in and admitted they were awake. He'd get his own shower when she was done, and then they'd see what else they wanted to do with their day.
Yes, it was good to have a day off…
He couldn't quite help himself, reaching for his cell phone. The shower was still running as he powered the device on.
Hmmmm… a text message from John Raines, the on-call appraiser for the Bureau…
He looked up, surprised, and not really sure how long he'd been staring at the message on his phone. "Hey, hon." And he'd be saying that a LOT more often now.
"Is it bad news?"
She pointed at the phone. "You were just staring at the screen, like you didn't even know I was here. I was just wondering if it was bad news."
"No, not bad, just…" His voice trailed off, unsure of the word he wanted to use. Instead of speaking, he held out the phone.
She took the device and sat down on the bed, reading. "Oh, Peter."
"I knew it was valuable, El. But that much? And he just gave it up?"
"Maybe he didn't know…"
"Honey, it's Neal. He knew."
She handed the phone back and leaned her head against his shoulder. They were silent for a long moment before she spoke again. "Would you mind terribly sharing part of our day?"
He looked at her, smiling. "What did you have in mind?"
She turned her eyes up to him, returning the smile. "I'm thinking maybe we should invite Neal to dinner."
Peter leaned in and kissed his wife. "Great idea," he said. "I'll give him a call."
"Elizabeth, that was excellent," Neal said. He set the dishes he had carried down on the counter and moved to the other side, taking the items she rinsed and starting to load the dishwasher. "Thanks for inviting me."
"Oh, Neal, it's our pleasure." She dried her hands and stepped in front of him, wrapping him in a tight hug. "We owe you way more than dinner."
Neal returned the hug, a little awkwardly as he tried to keep his wet hands away from her back. "It wasn't just me, you know."
"I know, but I know what you did to bring Peter home."
"Hey, trying to seduce my wife, Caffrey?" Peter demanded as he walked into the kitchen, balancing a load of dirty dishes.
Neal smiled and kissed Elizabeth's cheek, then stepped back. "I wouldn't stand a chance," he said softly.
"Yes, I'm afraid you're stuck with me, Peter."
The agent smiled at his wife and employed a hug of his own. "I accept the challenge."
Elizabeth gave him a quick kiss and then turned to a cupboard, pulling out three mugs. "Why don't you take these out to the table," she suggested, handing them to Neal. "I'll send Peter out with the coffee."
"I can help you clean up first," Neal offered as he took the mugs.
"I think I'll just put the leftover food away real quick. The rest can wait. And I have dessert to serve."
Neal held one hand against his stomach. "I'm not sure I can eat another bite."
"It's your favorite, apple crisp."
"A la mode?"
Neal grinned and shook his head. "You don't play fair, lady."
She returned the grin. "What are you going to do about it?"
"I'm going to take the mugs out to the dining room," he replied, shrugging in defeat. "And then I'm going to eat apple crisp."
"Good plan!" She turned his shoulders toward the door and gave him a push.
Peter took the pot from the coffee maker. "Sure you don't want help?"
"You go ahead. I'll be there in a few minutes."
Peter walked back into the dining room and found Neal standing at the back door, looking out. "Are the aliens invading?"
Neal turned back with a smile. "Nope. All is quiet." He sat down again at the table and nodded his thanks as Peter poured the coffee into mugs.
Before he sat down again, Peter grabbed his cell phone from the shelf and pulled up his text messages. Without saying anything, he keyed up one message in particular and slid the phone across to Neal.
A slight rise of one eyebrow was the only physical reaction Neal allowed. "It went up a bit from the last appraisal," he said quietly.
"So that's what Keller owed the Russian mob?"
"Roughly. At least, that's what he said."
"But he didn't get the ring."
"No. I'm sure the Russians won't like that."
Peter paused, taking a deep breath. "Neal, a ring like that…"
Both men looked up as Elizabeth came in, three plates heaped with apple crisp and ice cream in her hands. They each eagerly accepted one of the plates.
Neal set his plate down on the table and picked up his fork, but then looked over to find Peter still staring at him. "Just a ring," he said, shrugging.
"There's nothing 'just' about something like that," Peter argued. "A ring like that could have set you up in pretty good style."
"That ring was never about the money," Neal said softly. He loaded some crisp and ice cream on his fork, but then set the utensil back on the plate.
"It was for Kate, wasn't it?" Elizabeth guessed.
Neal nodded, studying his plate. "Obviously, the original purpose was no longer there. But it went for a good cause," he finished, looking across at Peter.
"It's just way more than I thought about when I asked you to do whatever it took," Elizabeth said.
"But you did ask," Neal said. "And I promised." He looked across at her. "I knew what I was doing. And I can never forget what I owe you."
She looked confused. "Owe me?"
Neal nodded, looking back at Peter. "Do you remember that day at the prison, the second time you came? You brought the wine bottle, and told me you were accepting the deal I offered."
Peter nodded. "I remember."
"When we were getting into the car, I asked you why you were doing it, what changed your mind." Neal looked back at Elizabeth. "He said it was because you thought I was a romantic." He shrugged and smiled. "If it wasn't for you, I'd still be sitting in a prison cell."
"Or Fowler would have gotten you with Operation Mentor," Peter pointed out.
"True. And then, with Adler behind it, I'd most likely be dead." Neal's smile grew. "Instead, I'm sitting here, with you, and apple crisp."
"I kind of like the way that turned out," Elizabeth said.
"Me too," Neal agreed. "But remember that first morning I showed up here?"
"I do," Peter said. "You set off the tracking alarm."
Neal just shrugged. "The point is, I could have waited until the office to tell you I'd figured out who the Dutchman was. But once I gave you Curtis Hagen's name, I didn't know how long it would take to find him. Our original deal was only for that one case, and I had no idea if it would be extended. I could have been wearing orange again by that night." He smiled at Elizabeth again. "I just had to meet you."
"After hearing so much about you, I was glad you came," she admitted.
Neal grinned at Peter. "Except you almost sent me back to prison for sitting on your couch."
"It wasn't so much for sitting on the couch," Peter argued. "You were playing with my dog!"
As if he knew he was being discussed, Satchmo took that opportunity to pad over to Neal's side, sitting by the chair with his head resting on the younger man's thigh. Neal laughed and reached down to scratch the dog's ears. "Satch and I bonded that day, didn't we, boy?"
Peter threw his hands up with a long-suffering sigh, but Elizabeth just laughed.
"So, is that enough soul-baring for the night?" Neal asked. "Because my ice cream is melting." He picked up his fork again and popped the food into his mouth.
"Yes, I think we can eat now," Elizabeth agreed. "Hey, when we're done, maybe we can watch a movie or something. You're welcome to stay over."
Neal shook his head, chewing another bite. "Can't. Some of us have to work tomorrow, and Diana's picking me up at six thirty."
"What are you doing on a Saturday?" Peter asked.
"Well, it seems the New York FBI office is quite delinquent in a lot of paperwork," Neal explained. "Since I may have bent a guideline or two…" He ignored Peter's skeptical cough at that description and continued. "Diana helped me, so we have been given weekend duty."
"That hardly seems fair," Elizabeth objected. "You're the one who found out Peter was alive. And you talked him out of that cell."
"As I was reminded," Neal said. "It's not always enough to be right. Anyway, compared to some other options that were suggested, paperwork isn't so bad."
The elevator doors opened on the twenty-first floor and Reese Hughes stepped out, grumbling to himself. Why couldn't the higher-ups in Washington decide anything other than at the last minute? But no, he had to get the call at home on a Saturday morning saying that Quantico needed certain files right away…
He stopped just as he stepped into the bullpen area, his attention caught by activity in the conference room. Right, Barrigan and Caffrey were doing paperwork…
Except not only did he see Barrigan and Caffrey, but Burke and Jones as well.
He started up the stairs, listening to the sound of laughter coming from the room. As he reached the landing he watched as Caffrey gave an exaggerated shrug and turned around, allowing Jones to cuff his hands behind his back.
Upon closer inspection, Burke's hands were handcuffed as well.
"I realize some people think the amount of paperwork we generate is a crime," Hughes remarked as he walked in. "But I didn't realize it was this bad."
"Neal's trying to teach us how to open the cuffs," Peter explained. "Took me forever the other day."
"Well, a safety pin isn't the best tool for it," Neal offered.
"Gotta work with what you have," Diana said.
"Just slide the probe in at the bottom and work it up slowly until you feel the resistance," Neal said. He concentrated for a moment, and then there was a click. He pulled his left hand free and then went to work on opening the other cuff.
Diana stood up from where she was perched on the corner of the table. "All right, let me try again," she said, turning around so that Neal could put the cuffs on her.
"Well, I'm glad to see that you're all being so industrious," Hughes said. "But I thought I only assigned Barrigan and Caffrey to the paperwork project."
Peter just shrugged. "It's my life they saved."
"And my team," Jones added simply.
Which was what made this team the best, Hughes reflected. "Well, while I applaud your pursuit of new skills, you are going to get some of this paperwork cleared, right?" he asked, indicating the stacks of boxes around the room.
Jones grinned and pointed at the largest collection. "That part's already done," he said. "We just have that stack over there left."
A stack that probably represented a quarter or less of the total… "That's impressive," Hughes allowed.
"That's teamwork," Peter said – and then he grinned, pulling his wrist free. "Got it!"
"Better," Neal allowed. "Only twenty eight minutes that time."
Peter sighed and reached for the keys on the table, unlocking the other cuff. "Only," he said, rolling his eyes.
"You've cut your time by over half," Neal pointed out. "It's just a matter of getting a feel for it."
"Let me see what you've got, Caffrey," Hughes said, pointing at the handcuffs.
Neal shrugged and picked the cuffs up. "You better not be recording this," he warned all of them, clicking one ring around his wrist. "Being cuffed this many times in one day would be bad for my reputation." He walked over to Hughes, allowing the older man to fasten the other cuff behind his back.
"But you're getting out of the cuffs just as many times," Jones pointed out.
Neal grinned. "True." He twirled the pick in his fingers and inserted it into the keyhole. "All right, probe goes in at the bottom," he said, looking across at Diana, who was still struggling with her cuffs. "Slide it up slowly until you feel resistance…"
Hughes watched as Neal's practiced fingers worked the pick, releasing the lock – in far less than twenty eight minutes. As Neal moved over to work with Diana, Hughes motioned for Peter to join him outside.
"You doing all right?" Hughes asked.
"Caffrey did good work. Broke a bunch of rules, but watching him figure out that jail break…" Hughes paused, shaking his head. "I don't get to see him in action very often. That was something."
"Yeah. And Lang was waking up, so I was out of time." Peter looked into the conference room, where Neal and Jones were urging Diana on, and then back to Hughes. "You know about the ring?"
"Reese, I can't let that come back on Neal."
"Well, I don't relish the idea of you winding up in a Scottish prison with him if your jail break attempt fails." Hughes sighed and shook his head. "As far as I'm concerned, that ring was confiscated from Jason Lang, who's going down hard for kidnapping, attempted murder, forgery, and whatever else we can throw at him. That should be good enough for the Scots."
"Any ideas how to return the ring quietly?"
"Neal and I just did a pretty big favor for Adam Wilson over at State. I thought he might be able to help with a contact to deal with."
Hughes nodded. "Good idea."
"I'll call him on Monday."
There was a whoop of glee from inside the conference room, and the two men turned to see Diana pull one wrist free. Neal and Jones cheered her on as she set to work on the second cuff.
"She beat my time," Peter said, a scowl on his face, but pride in his voice.
"I guess you need more practice," Hughes said, clapping his agent on the shoulder. "Look, it's all right if you don't finish the rest of the paperwork."
"No, we'll finish," Peter promised. "I told them Elizabeth promised dinner if we got it all done."
"You're welcome to join us."
Hughes shook his head. "My granddaughter Sally's eighth birthday party tonight," he said. "Maybe a rain check."
Hughes looked into the conference room, where a tussle seemed to have erupted over a file. "Maybe you'd best get back to your team," he suggested, pointing.
Peter sighed, shaking his head. "I guess I'd better."
Hughes watched as the agent walked back into the room, admonishing the 'children' over their behavior. That led to some kind of protest from Diana, followed by a counter from Caffrey. He couldn't hear the actual words, but it really wasn't necessary – within a few seconds the four people were engulfed in laughter.
He almost wished he could join them…
Such was not to be, however. He had other duties – but at least he could tackle them with the secure knowledge that his top team was back intact.
Even if they were now threatening each other with highlighters.
He didn't even want to know…
A/N: There are references here to a couple of "deleted scenes" from the pilot. In one, Peter takes the Bordeaux bottle to the prison when he goes to pick Neal up. And the other is when Peter admits that Elizabeth is the one who changed his mind about giving Neal a chance. Fun to see those kinds of scenes, even if they wound up on the cutting room floor!