Can you imagine your life without him? It was a simple question posed by the smartest woman Peter knows, the morning they left town for a week at the Jersey shore.
For Elizabeth it was a week to forget about Keller and feel protected by the closeness of her husband and her dog.
For Peter, it was all that and more. It was a week for him to contemplate his future and the future of one charming ex-con that Peter wasn't afraid to admit had become more than a partner to him.
Keller was dead and the treasure confiscated and somehow Neal and Mozzie had walked away free. Peter didn't know how because he was excused, forcibly, from the case once Elizabeth had been found. Hughes had told him to go home and take care of his wife and he would deal with the rest.
Diana had phoned him later to let him know that Neal was fine.
Hughes had called to tell him to take a week off to think about Neal's future. It was Peter's call; Neal would continue to be his partner or spend the rest of his sentence in jail.
Neal hadn't called. Not surprising considering how angry Peter had been.
Several times during the week Elizabeth had asked him if he had an answer and Peter always said no. Not that Elizabeth believed him. She would walk away with that knowing smirk; the one that said I've been married to you for a long time and you're lying.
Peter knew the answer and it was a simple no but he also knew it wasn't just up to him.
And so he sat and he wondered if he was about to make a mistake; yet he knew the alternative was not something he could live with.
Slowly Peter exited his car and stared up at the house that Neal called home. At the door June let him in with a warm smile and an encouraging pat on his shoulder. Of course she knew what was going on, Neal needed someone to confide in and Mozzie had disappeared once Elizabeth was safe.
Neal answered after one knock and didn't seem surprised to see Peter standing there so early on a Sunday morning.
"I saw your car" Neal said before Peter could pose the question. "Am I going back to jail?"
"Hughes told me" Neal admitted with a shrug.
"And you're still here." Peter didn't hide his disbelief.
"Nowhere to go" Neal said as he offered the agent a cup of coffee. "I meant what I said Peter...I don't want to leave New York."
And so they stood, staring at each other...Neal seemed so calm as if he already knew the answer. For some reason this angered Peter and he turned and he walked away.
"Peter, if I'm going back to jail, just say it." There was an uncertainty in Neal's voice...so maybe he wasn't so sure of Peter's answer. He was a con after all and hid his emotions very well.
"I'm not sure it's up to me..."
"But Hughes said..."
"Neal." Peter neared him. "There were words said that I can't take back."
"And I did things that I wish I hadn't" Neal put forth. "Peter, I don't want to go back to jail."
"But can we still be partners?" Peter asked. "Can we work together after everything that has happened?"
"We can try" Neal whispered with a hint of desperation. Peter looked away.
"Doing OK" Peter responded as he kept his eyes on the New York skyline. "Acting brave for my sake" he added as an afterthought.
"Peter I'm sorry. If I had any idea Elizabeth..."
"Don't." Peter turned with a warning finger pointed at Neal. "If I thought for a second that you'd knowlingly put my wife in danger I wouldn't be here." He took a deep breath, lowering his hand in the process. "Neal, this isn't about what happened. It's about us."
"What about us?" Neal took two steps closer. "Peter, we make a great team and you know it."
"We do" Peter agreed with a wary smile. "But lately, we haven't been on the same team have we?"
It was Neal's turn to look away.
"Neal, Elizabeth asked me if I could imagine my life without you in it."
"And you said no" Neal remarked hopefully, eyeing the agent.
"I didn't answer" Peter responded, noting the crestfallen look that briefly crossed Neal's face. "But if I had the answer would be no."
Neal looked up with the first genuine smile Peter had seen in ages; well he assumed it was real...with Neal you never knew.
"Neal, we will try this again, starting tomorrow. You ever pull this crap on me again and I will toss you back in jail...that I promise."
Neal tried unsuccessfully to hide his smile. "You'd miss me."
"Stop smirking" Peter ordered.
"OK." Neal's smile vanished. "I'd miss you too."
Peter shook his head with an awkward chuckle. "I'll see you at work tomorrow, don't be late."
"Peter" Neal called out before the agent reached the door. With his hand held out Neal approached his partner.
Peter eyed him suspiciously before tightly grasping the younger man's hand.
"Thank you" Neal whispered as he pulled a surprised Peter into a bear hug.
Peter stood stiffly, awkwardly until he realized how tight Neal was holding him and the sudden realization that he meant something to the ex con and just maybe, things were heading in the right direction. Peter relaxed and enclosed Neal with his own arms, resting his chin on the shorter man's shoulder...the hug, a silent pact that neither wanted to break.