"Okay, Caffrey!" Diana said with relish. "This is the point of no return. You welsh on this and you pay us back double!"
Neal snorted in disgust. "Diana, you offend me. I am a man of my word!" He placed his hand on his heart, nursing his wounded honor.
Diana threw her head back and laughed. "May God have mercy on you, Neal Caffrey!"
The elevator doors opened and out walked Peter and his boss, Assistant Director Hughes, deep in conversation. Laughter broke out in the Unit and both men looked up shocked to find everyone staring at them. They had just recovered their composure when the other elevator dinged and a collective gasp went up as all the agents now stared at the other doors. Unable to ignore what was going on, Peter and Hughes looked around to see who was exiting the other elevator. OPR Agent Nancy Lindeman emerged, starting in surprise at the department gathering that was now fully focused on her.
She heard a communal groan and then all was hushed as everyone fixed their attention on Neal. Peter and Hughes also turned toward the hapless con man, who resembled a very pitiful deer caught in headlights. Neal's eyes widened in unconcealed horror and his mouth fell open. Panicked, he cast a glance around the room at his colleagues who, as a one, dropped their gaze to the floor. An awkward silence ensued. "Diana …" Neal stumbled, "... please…?"
Agent Lindeman was universally disliked by the White Collar agents. She loathed Neal and he had never been able to win her over with his charm, no matter how hard he tried. If anything, their mutual antagonism had escalated whenever they crossed paths, and was currently at an all-time high. She had been a thorn in his side for the past three years. She was exceptionally jealous of the ever-growing approval rating the White Collar Crime Unit was receiving throughout the FBI since Neal had joined them and sent their already admirable case-closure rate soaring. Whenever possible she had thrown up roadblocks for Neal, interviewing him excessively for any hint of recidivism. She was a common bully, and like all bullies, she abused her power over those lower down the ladder and brown-nosed those above. The last time she was involved in an altercation with Neal, Peter had had to physically intervene when he thought that they might actually come to blows.
Peter watched Neal pleading with Diana, who was looking similarly shocked. Neal's face had gotten so pale, and he swayed unsteadily for a moment. Jones moved beside him and clasped his arm to steady him. Just as it crossed Peter's mind that perhaps Neal was about to faint, he heard Hughes' authoritative voice cut through the silence. "What the hell is going on here?" It was clear that Agent Lindeman's appearance had upset everyone, but he was baffled as to why. He was well aware of their general dislike of her—indeed he shared it—but this reaction seemed excessive. The OPR agent huffed beside him and he turned to her questioningly. "Are you here to see me, Agent Lindeman?" he asked courteously.
"As a matter of fact I am. Reese. I had some questions regarding the Walker case."
"Well, be my guest," he replied and, always the gentleman, he opened the door for her and stepped back to allow her to enter ahead of him. She swept through the entrance to the White Collar Crime Unit and proceeded toward Hughes' office, as he followed with a scowl, in her wake.
A clearly audible sigh went through the entire gathering as they walked through the bullpen. Hughes shook his head, as he turned back look at Peter. He had realized, too late, that he had inadvertently let the door fall behind him and he checked to see that he hadn't clocked Peter in the face with it. Peter was still standing in the hall looking completely bewildered.
Now that Agent Lindeman and Hughes were ascending the stairs to Hughes' office there was a marked change in the atmosphere. The relief was palpable. Neal started to laugh, followed by Diana, who swung the door open for Peter with a wide grin spreading across her face. "Boss, welcome. I am SO glad to see you; please, allow me," as she gestured for him to come in. Peter gave her a puzzled look as he cautiously stepped through the door, backing away from her and into Neal who had moved behind him. As he turned around to see who he had bumped into, Neal shot him a grin that looked positively evil. As applause rang out from the other agents in the room, Neal literally swept the Special Agent into his arms. He clasped one arm around Peter's waist and put his other hand behind his neck, pulling him into a passionate kiss.
Peter stumbled backward, aghast, flinging his arms out in surprise. Neal kept him firmly in his grip while Peter helplessly waved his hands back and forth in a "No, no, no" gesture. The clapping, now with much cheering and whistling added, continued until Neal finally let him go. Peter stared at Neal, horrified, and then around the room at the jubilant agents. He looked up at Hughes who was shaking his head in amusement. Amid the ruckus Hughes had noticed the mistletoe and put two and two together. He felt sorry for Peter but realized things could have turned out far worse for Neal. Agent Lindeman stood beside him, her face like thunder. Hughes simply shrugged and gestured her into his office, closing the door behind them.
As the laughter subsided, Neal sat down at his desk, the other agents following suit. Peter was vigorously wiping his mouth with his handkerchief. While doing so he caught sight of the mistletoe. Sighing loudly he turned and walked up to his office. As he reached the top of the stairs, he leaned over the balcony and gave Neal the two-fingered 'come here' wave. "Neal, a word in my office, now!" He went into his office and sat behind his desk watching Neal as he walked through the bullpen smirking. Diana whistled at him as he passed, noticing that Neal casually dropped a twenty dollar bill on Jones' desk as he went by.
Once in Peter's office, his confidence wavered somewhat and Neal quietly sat down, tucking his hands neatly under his crossed legs, looking at Peter sheepishly. Peter, in stark contrast, put his hands on the desk, leaning forward for emphasis and fixed Neal with a stern glare. "So exactly how much did you make with your shenanigans?"
Neal's expression brightened, and he shot Peter his best smile. "Eight hundred!" he announced proudly.
Peter gasped, askance. It was an impressive haul for one kiss. "And tell me, Neal, what do I get out of this, now that you have sexually exploited me in front of all of my co-workers?" he asked, a smile starting to play on his lips.
"A beer?" Neal tried hopefully.
"Out!" Peter ordered as he pointed to the door.
Neal got up and walked toward the door. Hearing the snickering from downstairs, he spun on his heels to face Peter. "I forgot to ask," he added with a smug grin, "Domestic or imported?"
"Go!" bellowed Peter as Neal hightailed it out of the office.
THE END – Happy Holidays!