It's come down to this.
Nearly four years, dozens of life-threatening scenarios and tests of trust and rare moments of openness and vulnerability - and still Peter hasn't said what he wants to say, what he needs Neal to know before it's too late.
And he has 42 seconds left. 42 seconds before the work day ends, and Neal is officially free to live his own life, outside of the confines of the white collar office - outside of the anklet that's controlled his movements for the past 4 years - outside of Peter's life, if he so chooses.
Peter doesn't want him to choose that.
But he still hasn't told him.
His team give him pointed looks, and each other worried ones, but Peter ignores them, his heart racing, his stomach in knots, as he tries to think of what he should do.
He's running out of time more swiftly than he can think.
Neal's dazzling smile doesn't help as he props his foot up on the chair beside Peter's, holding out a pair of wire cutters in his hand expectantly. Peter forces a smile as he meets his eyes, taking them and rising to his feet before leaning down to clip the anklet off of Neal's leg.
"Free and clear," Neal announces, letting out a shaky breath of relief, almost as if he wasn't sure this day would actually come.
"Free and clear," Peter echoes, clearing his throat as he stands up straight again. "Free to live your own life - make your own choices."
Neal raises an eyebrow, eying Peter warily. "Yes," he agrees. "That's what I just said..."
Peter swallows back his nerves and steps forward before he can think himself out of this - takes Neal's arm in a firm grasp and pulls him closer, off balance a little, relishing the faint flicker of alarm that passes through the younger man's eyes, the way he gazes up at Peter with a soft, uncertain question on his face that makes him look so young, so unusually vulnerable.
"Free to - to say no, if you want."
"To - to what?" Neal's voice is a little breathless, a little - hopeful.
And it's just enough to strengthen Peter's courage, and he pulls Neal in a little closer, closing the rest of the distance himself to press a firm, decisive kiss against Neal's warm lips, parted in surprise - and then responding under Peter's, returning the kiss as Neal's hand slides up Peter's back, drawing him closer, encouraging.
As they draw apart amidst the cheers and laughter of their friends and colleagues, Neal leans his forehead against Peter's with a heady, almost delirious little laugh, his muttered words drawing another peal of laughter from their audience.
"Well, it's about time!"