The Commission

Chapter 15

"There are conditions," Prentiss Scott's voice said into Peter's ear as he stood there in the restroom.

"Of course," he said politely while waving at Terence and mouthing "Scott," while pointing to the telephone. "I'll have one of my own."

"You come alone. No surveillance equipment, cameras, audio, etc.," the billionaire specified. His therapist was watching Peter's face intently.

"I have no problem with that." Naturally. If Scott were to say anything that Neal didn't want public, Peter certainly didn't want some FBI crew poring over it forever.

"And your condition?"

"No drugs."

Scott laughed. He laughed so long Peter began to get uncomfortable.

"Rest assured, Mr. Burke, should you choose to take tea with me, there will be no mother's little helpers in the cream."

After hanging up Peter blocked someone from coming in the bathroom so he could relay the conversation to Terence. "You okay with going back in there?" the latter asked.

"This is our chance to get answers; otherwise he can stonewall us indefinitely."

"All I'm saying is," Terence held him back from running out, "Number one, the man always has a game going."

The agent nodded impatiently. "And number two?"

"Flashbacks are more likely to occur in places where there are reminders of the initial psychedelic experience. So here's some things I do when I'm not sure something is real."

Two minutes later they emerged and pandemonium broke loose when Agent Burke shared the news of where he would be going at six o'clock that evening.

Though he clearly expressed Scott's conditions for the meet-up, he patiently endured the swarm of surveillance experts that were called in to try and slip something past the billionaire.

Then there were the legal experts chattering at him about the statements he needed to elicit in order to get probable cause.

Peter was only really interested in what one person had to say—the medical specialist.

Neal had gone home shortly after the call. Peter saw him briefly in the chaos and his slim friend seemed like a reed floating in a sea of FBI agents. Or one good suit among many bad ones, as Neal would say. Peter found out that Terence told Scott's victim that he had two choices—for the trauma reaction to hit him while he was at the bureau, or when he was somewhere else. Neal dashed out without anyone noticing he was starting to get shaky at the idea of anyone, but especially Peter, being near the madman.

Calmly, Peter pressed the buzzer to Scott's mansion with the tip of his pen. When he was allowed through, he pushed open the door with his shoe.

A maid he had never seen before was there to let him in through the second door, with Scott standing not far inside the corridor.

At the same time that the maid picked up a scanner and his host opened his mouth, Peter held a finger to his lips. He set down his pen and stomped on it. Then he lifted something out of his shoe and did the same. Next he took off his watch and smashed it.

Then he held out his arms and let the maid scan him using equipment he was unfamiliar with. The maid's instructions had been very thorough. She discovered a small audio device that had been attached to his shoelace, and another one that had been slipped in his breast pocket, both without his knowledge.

After these were destroyed, Peter finally spoke. "I wonder when they put those there."

"They seem to have been very determined to listen in," Scott observed.

"I don't think either of us would benefit from that," Peter said drily.

"Now your bag," Scott said brightly.

"You can look inside if you like, but then I'd like it back," the agent said.

The maid discovered the isolation jumpsuit along with a sealed package of latex gloves.

"Oh really!" Scott exclaimed. "Do you mean to put that monstrosity on in my home?"

Peter was already following crime scene protocol and stepping gingerly into the light blue coverall without touching the floor. He'd been careful not to have any skin contact with anything on the way in, and he put on a pair of gloves before zipping up the suit.

His flat gaze gave nothing for Scott to needle at, and his host threw up his hands. "I hardly consider that proper attire, but needs must."

The maid was sweeping up the remains of the bugs the FBI had insisted upon sending him in with, and Scott led the way down the hall to the viewing room.

Peter perched on an uncomfortable futuristic plastic chair he wasn't sure was intended for sitting. "If you don't mind," he said in a tone that said he didn't give a damn what the old man thought of his prudence about contact with porous surfaces.

"Have it your way," Prentiss Scott sniffed. "Since you're being so cautious, would you prefer to call in some members of my staff as chaperones?"

"That won't be necessary," Peter said evenly. "But I would like to know why you called me here today."

"I wanted to unveil them with you." The FBI man stared. "The portraits, of course, what brought us together."

"By all means," Peter said, trying some of the mental tricks Terence taught him so as not to punch the man for his faux civility.

"Why did you call me in to do what you could have done on your own at any point?" he continued while his host turned away to open the walk-in safe.

Scott grasped two canvases lying flat on the shelf and turned so that he could not see their surfaces while he slid them out, one behind the other. "Because you have been inside me and I have been inside you."

Peter was becoming accustomed to the nausea that house always aroused in him, but for some reason he was suddenly afraid of how Neal had depicted him.

"Yes, I'm a bit concerned, too," Scott agreed. "Young Caffrey really is a genius, you know, and they tend to see things a little too clearly."

He turned around the first painting with a flourish. It was unfinished.

The rendition of Peter and Neal in their tuxedos didn't have any arms, but the rest of them were complete. The look they gave each other could be deep friendship, could be something more. The canvas bore signs of different arm postures being erased.

"It seems to move, like I'm seeing a film on loop," Peter breathed, having completely forgotten why he was there.

"All good pieces of art are like that. Alive." Scott concurred. "He stopped his facial study of men who looked like you some time back, so i have reason to believe he's been debating about the arms for a good while."

"What is that?" Peter was peering at the background. "Is that—gold leaf?"

"No, that's a luminosity most painters only dream of mastering and Neal simply was born knowing how to do. That's why he can forge a Rembrandt."

Peter wasn't sure if he'd been exposed to a drug, or having a flashback, or what, but he felt like he and this lunatic were caught in a peaceful moment there in that room. He saw the man's hesitation.

"Would you like me to turn it around for you?" Peter asked kindly.

"Please," Scott said.

This one was much closer to being finished. Scott was there in an aged version of the younger press photos Peter had seen. One eyelid was drooping slightly, there were creases and fine lines, but he looked –harmonious, as if some atrocity hadn't scrambled whatever had gone awry in the present-day face paralyzed before the canvas.

The man in the picture had his eyes focused just above those of the viewer, as if someone he had thought he would never see again had just come in the room. The luminous quality was in this picture, too, a crack of light from a door that had just been opened falling over part of the face. There were several competing backdrops and chairs, giving the impression that Scott had been sitting there, immobile, while the environment changed around him.

"That's, that's better than I could have hoped," Scott wiped a tear from his assumed face.

"You had to drug him into seeing that in you," Peter observed placidly.

"Yes, quite." Prentiss Lloyd Scott smiled. "There are several substances, you know, the one you experienced on your last visit needing to be injected. But the one that encouraged Neal to stay is airborne."

Peter chose to think it was his FBI training and not the drug that made him take that news in stride.

"Yes, I and my staff partake of the antidote in our food so it doesn't affect us at all. The food here is so good no one relies on anything from outside very often, so even the staff who do not live in get enough to be immune."

Scott's guest nodded slowly.

"You were right about Neal sleepwalking through his work. It has a bit of a calming effect, depending upon the cocktail Tomas is using. it makes one—impressionable-which may lead to paranoia, sometimes slight alteration of the perceptions."

"You had Neal in the field under the influence? You have no idea that people actually risk their lives on a daily basis outside your lair." The insult came out too calmly to have the bite Peter intended.

"He was fine. This is based on a tried and tested calming remedy used in South America. It was a very light dosage that simply makes guests want to keep coming back to where things made sense, or never come back, as I so choose."

Scott's words seemed quite sensible to Peter.

"I know, it sounds petty, but you of all people, Mr. Burke should know about not wanting to let him go. I wanted young Caffrey to stay forever 10 minutes after he'd shown up at my door."

Peter felt his attraction for Neal roll over him and he pushed it to the back of his mind. His feelings were nothing like Scott's.

"Did you notice that this preparation does have a telltale sign? I thought you might have caught on to it. It causes the person to excrete a pleasing odor through the skin after they've taken it."

Neal's smell. Peter was crushed. He hadn't even been drawn in by a real smell. At some point he had started imagining Terence sitting in a nearby chair, and his therapist was shaking his head at him, telling him not to fall for his host's tricks.

Prentiss' voice was still talking. "The last time you were here you got a quick-acting LSD. With my suggestions you saw something horrifying in a rather dull video of you watching a video. I'm curious that you didn't do something rash at that point. It's a rather strong drug. Your wife didn't find you talking to the wall or anything?"

"No, it just so happens I was given something sedating by a-friend- and that must have taken the edge off it, but I was nauseous and knocked out for a good day."

"You were very fortunate. I didn't rule out anything that might happen at that moment."

Peter caught the emphasis. "You were that angry that I pretended to be you? Or you didn't like that I was on to you?"

"Perhaps a little of the second, but that you could swan about on the arm of Neal Caffrey, not even on your own power, but as me, whose identity is already fractured enough, and who wanted—" Scott caught himself. "Unforgivable. I even went after your wife, and I have a soft spot for wives."

Peter leaned forward and confided, "When I met you, Scott, I already hated you. Certainly I feared that you wanted a relationship with him. But you had given Neal what he most wanted-a home."

"You have it backwards, Agent Burke." His host looked around. "This mausoleum isn't a real home; it's a sanitarium with Rembrandts. You were the one but you gave him a home at the FBI, and the respect you always gave him, even as a criminal. You are sickeningly good, Peter Burke, and thus someone i might have targeted anyway. But even worse, but you are something I probably never was and certainly never will be again-a fertile environment that makes rare flowers such as Neal Caffrey flourish, with all the sun and air he requires. Even the conflicts and the suspicion are rare minerals he needs."

A pleased smile stretched across Peter's face without his being able to prevent it. He felt so happy he wanted to share it. "He really enjoyed his conversations with you Scott. I know nothing about art," he said generously,

Scott held up a hand. "Cunningly engineered."

"If you stopped playing these games you might find that people really care for you anyway, and stop punishing those who do care. That's something I suspected right off. Which is why I wanted to show you that Neal cared for me and was untouchable."

"It was a good move," the billionaire agreed. "You see, this is why i was very cautious of you, agent. From Neal's description he said you're very 'hail fellow well met' and underneath you have the mind and the will of a steel trap."

Another ripple of contentment about his relationship passed over Peter.

"But the two of you were so ridiculously unaware of each other sometimes it takes a jolt to wake you up," Scott was going on.

Peter sat up straight. This was similar to the conversation they'd had during his bad trip. "There's no way you could have engineered a runaway taxi and all of those factors," he cried. Terence nodded agreement.

"Ask yourself, have you ever seen our Neal drunk?"

It was another one of those moments where he felt his reality coming apart. Peter's mind reached for something to hold onto and thought about pineapple. He couldn't remember why it was significant, but it did the trick.

"Oh your face! How precious," the older man said. "Neal told me the story and I couldn't have planned it better, but all I had in mind was that the roofie I'd placed in your date's drink might get you two over some crucial barriers."

"Soldier, the moment you fell in love with Neal Caffrey may have been engineered by a psychopath and it may not! Are you going to let the squadron down?" a voice said in Peter's head.

"Anyone could see you were made for each other," Scott was saying. "What will become of you and Caffrey?"

"I have no idea. I'm fortunate to have been under very competent care and have made some decisions about what I choose to believe was real and what I do not, which I will not share with you."

Peter sent an apologetic glance in Terence's direction at his host's skepticism. "Don't give me that look. My therapist, whom you tried to frighten out of his wits, is one of the sanest men I've ever met most of the time. I would never let you speak to him for fear of what you could do to his equilibrium, but he might actually be able to help you see yourself."

"What school is he?"

Peter consulted with Terence. "Some classic psychoanalysis, with some cognitive behavioral techniques. He's a genius and if I ever hear of you harassing him or his other clients i will come down on you with the full force of the law."

"You remember your friends and pay your debts, Agent Burke. But believe it or not, though the balance sheet is long, so do I."

Peter felt the thrum of an engine kicking in but he wasn't able to understand what it was.

"Is that why you called me here today?" Peter asked as if it was of no importance. He'd forgotten why he was there, to be honest, and was looking for clues.

"Yes, actually. But first let me tell you a story." His listener sat back and made himself comfortable.

"When I first had my face done I was so depressed that Tomas was about to see me admitted to hospital. In order to distract me, he told me what servants did to entertain themselves, prisoners as they were within the lives of others. Nowadays it lends more towards steering employers into investments, but marriages have always been made and destroyed with servant help. Blackmailers have found their fodder. And servants talk from house to house, so several households at once could be made to fall prey to a confidence man who cut the servants in on the profits. All because these unseen people see and hear so much.

"This fascinated me, but I was still in a bad way. So Tomas started making little wagers with me. That he could make someone tell me that they were having an affair, the next time they visited. Or admit that her jewelry was mostly paste. And then he would do it. People began talking about the most astonishing things when they came to see me, and what made it even more interesting was hearing the long string of contacts and innuendos Tomas had expertly manipulated.

"Ever the systematizer, I wanted to learn this trick, and then when I learned it, to improve it."

"And that's when you thought of the drugs," Peter said, floating along on the effects of one.

"We thought of it together," Scott said eagerly. "Do you know that Tomas speaks five languages—his French is a dream—but he's such a naturally quiet man I didn't really know him. But our new enterprise had him opening up. He was telling me about the traditions passed along in his culture. You can't imagine the horrors people experienced under slavery, and I said something to the effect that I would have had a hard time not murdering the bitch who screamed at me every night to draw her bath."

"And he told you about the tradition of drugging their masters to make them less difficult," Peter filled in with a nod to Terence's chair.

"Yes, how did you ever know that?" Scott seemed genuinely thrown. "You are a force to be reckoned with. Well, that's what got me thinking about ways to more directly influence people, to really make it interesting. Otherwise all of the good bits take place offstage, as it were."

Peter opened his mouth and paused.

"By this time my network of influence naturally bumped up against that of others who were students of human behavior, as we call ourselves. As I recall, the news of a very well-concealed adultery broke just before I was going to reveal it, and it was only known to servants.

"And after some initial distrust, it occurred to us how splendid it would be to create rules, to compete, and most of all, to share how we managed to make the blowhard afraid to open his mouth, or the ultra-right wing man be exposed for his affinity with male prostitutes. There is a sort of justice at work you see."

Peter was fighting hard to hold on to the question he'd come in there with and lost during this long conversation. Damn. There it went again.

"Our little network started in the city, and in some places I traveled frequently. But to centralize something so subtle, to build the trust that there would be no reprisal. It took years. Seven years, specifically to have the world cup in our little sport."

"Why? Why did you do it to Neal?" Peter demanded. "Why nearly kill him? If the bacterial infection didn't get him, the long drug exposure and psychological manipulation might have! Was that the masterpiece you were going to submit?"

He sat back, breathing heavily. Those words had been slipping like an eel through his fingers for ages.

Scott's face caved in. "No, I should have ended it months ago, moved on to the next phase. Tomas has been telling me so: no one else has ever slept here, spent so much time exposed. Every day I told myself that if I saw the slightest effect from the drugs on him, I would stop, Never did I want to harm Neal, my gentleman caller."

Though he didn't get the Tennessee Williams reference, Peter was able to see a clear indication of an unbalanced mind in Scott's self-focused foppery. It brought him down a little.

"But that's just it. I couldn't let him go. He was my drug. I was utterly at the mercy of his showing up at my door. Aren't you?"

"Where is your butler, anyway?" Peter's mind had reassembled itself well enough to ask. "You're Tomas' employer, how do you know he isn't doing the same to you?"

"He's gone out to personally select some wines from an auction, as he does from time to time. And I don't know. I've considered it, naturally, but I've developed such respect for Tomas that I'm more than happy to be one of his works of art. He, for one, is not going to make me a luminous lie like Caffrey did."

"Neal is such a good liar because he hates dishonesty," Peter objected. "You should have turned him away when you saw what a special person had landed on your doorstep."

Scott poured himself a drink and sat back smiling over the tumbler. "You already made him a caged bird, Agent, I just transferred him to my cage. You understood me too well to be able to take the high road now."

"I kept him out of prison, an 8 by 12 cell and a yard full of sex-starved men wanting to rape him." A new idea came through the watery texture of Peter's brain. "And Neal put himself there, not me."

He never put it to himself so clearly. All along he'd been feeling guilty about the anklet. He relaxed a little and had to check his slow slide down the chair.

"Can I tell you a secret?" Scott said in a confidential tone.

Peter nodded eagerly.

"There really aren't any airborne drugs. What an idea! As you discovered, Neal did receive regular doses of all kinds of things, but you successfully evaded them this evening."

The FBI agent cocked his head, trying to grasp what he was being told. "You mean I'm not under the influence right now?"

"No! Whoever heard of some mysterious airborne compound with an equally mysterious antidote? You're having a pleasant conversation with your lover's tormentor only because we have so much to talk about."

"Soldier! You look neither the right nor the left, because Al Qaeda wants you to doubt yourself and stumble."

"Have you no soul? Go ahead, make my day."

"That man is going to tell you up is down and black is white, and when he does, remember me telling you this," Peter heard Terence's voice say while he began to fall down the rabbit hole once again after a little push from Scott.

"All it takes is one little push sometimes."

"Fine, have it your way," Peter said in something close to his normal voice. He was abruptly much closer to sober. "I'd like to see the breakfast nook."

"All right; it's a bit of a mess at the moment," Scott agreed, getting up and leading the way down to an unfamiliar wing. At one time, Peter's mind told him, it must have been a rather nice, older section of the house where you could have a coffee and your paper on a leisurely Sunday morning.

The rest of his awareness was screaming to run away.

Every surface was covered with photographs of people. And newspaper clippings. He could make out a termination letter for an employee. Several wedding rings. Foreclosure notices. Even a wanted poster.

Hundreds and hundreds of people covered every square inch of the space, and in his altered state—yes he was sure he'd been drugged—they looked at him imploringly.

It was a shrine to madness. Peter could think of nothing to compare it to besides his visit to the Holocaust museum. There was something similar in the depraved urge to collect others' misfortunes, to enumerate things that should never be treated as numbers. Peter saw graphs and charts and he couldn't be sure if they actually corresponded to some insane data system or if they were merely the scrawls of a madman.

In the middle was a large place cleared with its own gilt shelf, waiting.

Peter was sorry for the other lives, the ones he couldn't imagine how they were destroyed.

But to see the empty space where the life he loved was meant to hang like a shot buck-

"The world championship comes with a lovely trophy, you know. I had to make the space, so unfortunately I had to continue layering over people. They're several men deep in most places."

Peter felt the bile rising in his throat and told himself it was the drug.

"You're not looking well, Agent Burke. Are you sure you won't chance some tea if I drink some first?"

"I don't think we're made of the same stuff, so that would be irrelevant," Peter said.

"Metaphysical questions have always bored me," Scott pouted.

"You will never hang a photograph, a lock of hair, a piece of clothing, none of Neal, on that wall," the FBI man began reciting as if someone had told him this lesson long ago in preparation for this impossible moment. "If you do, rest assured, there is such a thing as justice in the universe, even for people like you. It works both ways, Scott—you pull a little string and someone loses their reputation. But the butterfly effect can also backfire on you. Inexplicable accidents can befall billionaire shut-ins, just like the rest of us."

Peter was talking in a monotone, almost bored, while unable to look away from the blank spot on the wall.

"He was on dialysis for two weeks. He had hallucinations for longer. They had his eyes bound and his arms tied. You may have robbed him of his mental and physical health, but worse, you stole his smile. You decided that just because you couldn't have that light as your own, no one could have it."

He towered over the old man in a young face as if the billionaire were shrinking with the confidence he was regaining.

"Mark my words, Prentiss Lloyd Scott, I will bring that light back, wherever it has hidden itself in him, I don't much care if he ends up with me, another man, a woman, or no one at all. This is one game you will not win."

"Mr. Burke," the little man said, "If there ever was a moment when I won, as you so crudely put it, it was long ago, the first time I met you, when you were clearly consumed by protectiveness and—jealousy. I am correct?"

"Yes." The word boomed out. There was no reason to hide it.

"You, with your long, complicated passionate tale with Neal, you who get to psychosexually torment each other at work and use your combined intelligence to accomplish things. You were jealous of me, the dowager spider in the gilded web, waiting for the next fly."

Peter wrested the control of the conversation back into his hands. This was important, they told you, don't forget.

"Why infect him with that horrible disease if you wanted him for yourself?"

This time Scott really did crumble. He hung onto one of the chairs stacked with clippings. "I didn't. I truly didn't know. It was an accident! I swear, such a gifted soul, a true artist, an aesthete! Bandaged and bound, what a tragedy."

The man sobbed as if he had suddenly relearned what the word meant.

Peter looked at him coldly. "I know for a fact you drugged me tonight, Mr. Scott, and I know why you made sure it was a strong dose. You were dying to tell someone about the art behind your little 'entry' but you're too cautious to tell your network you poisoned the well and the CDC and DEA are on to you—none of whom happen to be in love with Neal Caffrey, as far as I know, and thus not vulnerable to your games. Are you going to tell the chemists in your group, because there must be at least one, are you going to tell them the feds are all over the ingredients for DMT?"

"He wouldn't—I know Tomas wouldn't on purpose," the old man was repeating over and over.

"You don't know, do you? Are you the puppet or the puppeteer? Perhaps your butler is collecting the world cup right now for having given you your toy and taken it away."

He left Prentiss Lloyd Scott in that infernal breakfast nook, saying over his shoulder, "There is a precedent for allowing the testimony of someone under the influence into a court of law, I'll have you know! The earlier trip you sponsored actually works in my favor!"

On the way out Scott looked into the eyes of the maid and he was sure he could see the fear. He'd stalked half a block down the street before the FBI van pulled up. "Nice outfit," Diana pointed. He was still wearing his jumpsuit.

"Quick, quick, take my statement on the way to the lab to get blood drawn!" Peter exclaimed, extricating himself from the jumpsuit with some difficulty.

"Boss, I just have one question to ask you first," Jones said deadpan.

The strains of Jimi Hendrix's "Are You Experienced?" filled the van along with all the agents' giggles.

"Look at your pupils, look!" Someone passed Peter a mirror and then had to take it away because his appearance was so fascinating for a moment.

"All right now, I'm still your superior officer, and I command you, take my statement now, so it can be compared to the one I make tomorrow when I'm, er, more composed."

The agents stopped joking when he described the extent of this "hobby" of Scott's. "We've got to get a warrant and trace all of those faces," Jones said.

But it wasn't going to be that simple, and Peter, even in his half-altered state, knew it. The first trials were having to give his statement and then be looked over by the bureau doctor, who wanted to admit him to the hospital.

"I passed all your psych questions, doc, please don't put this on my record," Agent Burke begged.

"Well, if you understand the ramifications of an admission right now, I suppose I shouldn't force you to go," she said. "But depending on these lab results we might be having this conversation again tomorrow."

It was past midnight when Peter called Neal from the taxi. "I'm coming over," he said.

"What? Peter? Are you all right?"

"Absolutely fine, tip top, ship shape," he said. "But I don't think I should be alone right now."

The cabbie shot an anxious glance into the rearview mirror.

"I don't think I should either; I've been so on edge waiting to hear that you're all right," the most wonderful voice in the world sang in his ear for a long moment.

"Oh-that was-very nice Neal." He caught another type of look in the mirror. "I should hang up. I'll see you in 20 minutes."

Some time went by, and then Peter's phone rang.

"Peter? Are you still in the cab?"

"No, Neal."

"Where are you?"

"Outside your door."

"Did you think of ringing the doorbell?"

"I couldn't remember where it was," a shamefaced Peter said as he was let inside.

Neal had to drag him upstairs with his hands over his guest's mouth to quiet the laughter. "What's gotten into you?" His host began and then stopped to look into his eyes. "Are you—tripping?"

The drug seemed to be getting a second wind in Peter's system now that he was with someone he knew well, and he collapsed on the couch to laugh until he cried. "This is an illegal substance!" he said, finally, sitting up. "And I work for the FBI!"

Neal had taken him by the hand and was taking off his clothes "Wow, that's exciting," Peter said, but Neal's expression was serious. The larger man let the smaller one scrub him thoroughly in the bath. "We used to do this to my dog Otis when he got into a skunk," he laughed.

Neal didn't crack a smile until he seemed convinced that some essence of the man and the mansion had been removed.

Peter escaped from the towel and started pawing through Neal's art. "Where is it, where did you put it? This is the one!" He produced a small abstract that Neal had showed him several days ago. "I like this blue. It reminds me of your eyes. Before I left, Terence told me to go in there with some things I liked and could trust in mind, and I thought of this painting, and you."

Neal made a show of giving up about the towel, about everything. "All right, Mr. Naked Art Critic, what else do your altered senses see in my artwork?"

They proceeded to argue and laugh while going through all of Neal's artwork for the next hour. But mostly laugh. Peter couldn't remember why it was so special that Neal was laughing, but he looked shyly at the man who was posing him for a sketch.

"I need to capture this facial expression for posterity," Neal was saying. "What? What's the matter?"

"Neal, Neal, Neal," Peter said, inching forward on his naked knees towards his companion. "You're so, I mean to say, that you're very—"

"This is going to be good," Neal paused with the charcoal between his fingers. "I'm what, exactly?"

"You're a gift," Peter settled on. Before the unconvinced expression from Neal, he continued, "You're like the Swiss Army Knife of gifts. You know about art, and about wine, about food, about all nice things." There was little left to the imagination of what Peter meant as he rubbed against Neal like a cat.

"You don't know what you're saying. You're stoned out of your gourd. You can't know what you want right now. I'll bet you don't even remember this conversation tomorrow—which is very soon, by the way."

Peter drew back, offended. "That is not true! Terence says that nobody can drug somebody into thinking they're in love."

He studied the rapid change in the blue eyes. "Did I say something wrong? No, I'm sure that's what he's said. Let's ask him tomorrow. I bet you he'll say he did, and I raise you that I'll remember this conversation. You can test me on it."

Neal was taking off his own clothes. "Shut up."

He attempted to bring Peter's heightened senses to the brink, and it would have been very easy to succumb to those artistic fingers and gentle suggestions. But Peter hadn't let both feet off of reality all night, and he wasn't about to start.

"Together," he said. And he was sure it wasn't the drug that made him melt into Neal. Because Neal was taking the same unselfconscious pleasure from their motions. "Oh, Neal," came the long moan before the long, long descent from the precipice. He could scarcely believe how lucky he was to have this person in his arms, to be about to hurtle down the hill with him.

"Peter."

They threw themselves into the gravity together. It was the first time Neal had said his name while making love, and they were both exhilarated by a taboo crossed.

Neal let Peter sleep in, or perhaps he wasn't able to rouse him, because Peter woke up at 10:30 to the repeated, insistent tone from his telephone.

"Damn it, I'm coming in today, I told you. Can't I be late for once in my career?" he grumbled.

"Who? He's dead?" Peter sat up. "I'll be there in—" he had the presence of mind not to give the estimate of how long it would take from Neal's apartment. "I'll be there. Right away."

Peter stopped to savor last night for a moment before he had to become an FBI agent who deals almost exclusively with the non-beautiful parts of life. He took a shower whistling, and wasn't sure if it was because Neal said his name last night, or because he really laughed, or because Prentiss Lloyd Scott was dead.

There was a note on the table by the door. "Consider this a test."

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Inkitt is the world’s first reader-powered publisher, providing a platform to discover hidden talents and turn them into globally successful authors. Write captivating stories, read enchanting novels, and we’ll publish the books our readers love most on our sister app, GALATEA and other formats.