The Commission

Chapter 16

"What did you say to our boy?" June stopped him on his way out.

Though he trusted her completely, Peter did feel a bit odd coming down the stairs and seeing her in the morning.

"Nothing, I mean nothing bad. Did he say something to you?" Peter asked.

"He seemed—thoughtful—not his usual self, and I wanted to make sure everything was all right. Not that anything has been normal for him for awhile."

Peter must have looked stricken. "Neal has a normal, too, and needs to be shaken out of it occasionally. I was only wondering, not meaning to pry."

Peter dashed down the stairs and rushed to work. When he finally walked into the FBI an hour and a half later, he was hoping to discreetly duck into his office so he could change his suit, since he only had a shirt and tie at Neal's, but- "There he is!"-he was enveloped in the chaos that had been brewing since the early morning hours.

A coffee and a handful of vitamins was handed off to him by Diana on his way into Hughes' office, no doubt supplied by Neal, who was nowhere to be found. "Legal" he thought he saw her mouth before the glass doors closed on him.

"Consider yourself lucky you slept in, Agent; up until a little while ago you were a suspect."

"What?" Peter almost choked on the vitamin. He was more concerned with having to use Neal as his alibi than anything else.

"The security footage was erased and no one saw Scott after you left last night, but the time of death was hours later—they think more like midnight, and the body was discovered around five. Early word has it that the place was like Fort Knox, and only someone with a code could have gotten in, which leaves you out."

It must be the after-effects of the drug, because Peter's brain was absorbing disparate facts unusually well this morning. "I don't think I was in any shape to mastermind a break-in last night, boss." Hughes peered over his spectacles. "Though my testimony still stands."

His supervisor began reciting the facts while the coffee—strong gourmet stuff from down the street, thank you, Neal, did its work.

At 5:45 one of Prentiss Lloyd Scott's live-in servants, Imelda, was starting her shift in the kitchen when she heard a telephone ringing. Since Scott is on the phone at all hours to different time zones, she didn't think anything of it. But it rang and rang, and when she went into his office, he wasn't there.

Knowing he'd had some type of altercation with the FBI ("What altercation? He made sure I was calm?" Peter interjected) the day before, the maid worried that he'd gotten himself too excited. The help were apparently worried about Scott's mental health—more than usual. When Imelda couldn't find her employer anywhere, she woke some of the others. They had long been forbidden to go into the breakfast nook, which the butler took personal charge of, but that was the last logical place, and that's where they found him.

"Where is that butler in all of this?" Peter queried, but his supervisor held up his hand.

"Scott was neatly dressed in a formal suit, sitting with his head on the table. A bottle of strong barbiturates, the kind you can't get easily anymore, was on the table, half-finished, along with some fine champagne and a glass.

"So we can trace all of those pictures!" Peter said excitedly.

"There were no pictures, Burke. None but his," Hughes said placidly. "You sure you didn't hallucinate them?" He edged out a sheet of paper from the stack on his desk. "You must have had quite the trip last night, but you look fresh as a daisy. I'm going to make a note that you can train junior officers about withstanding the effects of involuntary intoxication."

"Sir, what picture did they find?" Peter was too much in a knot to let his boss have his fun.

"Scott's, of course. It had been hung on the wall. A painting that matches Caffrey's description of the one he was working on."

The phrasing seemed odd. "What do you mean, 'it had been hung'? Scott hung it himself, of course. It must be a suicide."

"Now we're leaning in that direction, now that we've managed to get a peep out of his lawyers. At first, with every scrap of video and audio surveillance erased in that house, a whole section of Scott's personal computer files erased or corrupted, and no fingerprints to be found on anything, we naturally looked towards the butler, who was last seen around noon.

"It seemed quite possible that this slippery character, Tomas Maria Mendonça, could have convinced him to do it. He never showed up at that wine auction, so we assume he's already out of the country—agents are going through all international departures looking for someone of his description."

"He could have convinced Scott to kill himself before our meeting," Peter suddenly put into place a comment from last night's conversation. "He was talking about a long balance sheet he was going to make right, although, come to think of it, maybe the last thing Scott did was frame the butler by wiping his prints. Those two had a sick relationship.

"Yes, you mentioned that about the balance sheet in your statement." Hughes flipped to another paper. "Which is what kept NYPD from jumping the gun and knocking on your door with an arrest warrant. Everybody knew you didn't like the guy."

Peter thanked the universe that NYPD didn't knock on Elizabeth's door and not find him there, and then subsequently not find him in his studio and keep following the clues until he tracked down Peter, wound naked in Neal's sheets.

"You see, there was one other thing in the room. This." The old agent had been searching through the mess on his desk and pushed across a thick sheaf of papers. "Photocopies are also with Legal. The dates on all these documents are weeks ago, around the time we found Caffrey in the hospital. They all seem perfectly rational, and they leave Neal Caffrey the bulk of Prentiss Lloyd Scott's fortune." Peter just missed spitting coffee on himself. "It may take months to sort out the complications, but preliminary opinion down in Legal is that the money may eventually reach your CI."

Self-preservation was still nagging at him. "At the very least this proves premeditated suicide?"

"The lawyers for the deceased won't say much to us, but they will say that the dates on the documents are correct and they swear by his mental state. There's one section we're most interested in." He handed some pages over. "A 501c 3 foundation, set up with all its I's dotted and t's crossed around the same time, with its purpose—"

"'To assure the wellbeing of anonymous worthy causes,'" Peter read. "The word 'anonymous' appears all over the articles of incorporation. This is his correction on his personal balance sheet. These are his victims."

"With nothing but ashes to sort through from his incinerator, and that looking like melted surveillance footage, we believe this is our best shot at making the connection. But Scott's legal team appears disposed to fight us tooth and nail if we try to make them divulge the identities. Caffrey has a better hope of becoming a billionaire. It's a huge pot of money, but Neal could stand to end up with a couple of billion himself if the state doesn't garnish it."

"Did the state nearly die from leptospirosis? Was the state used as a guinea pig for drug experiments?" Peter took a deep breath and concentrated on one of his other axes to grind. "If law enforcement has been inside, they had to have found drugs."

Hughes shrugged. "It's complicated. Everything that they have found in the first sweep is too obscure to be illegal. Not that that wouldn't hurt your statement from last night Burke, but there is nothing like prepared DMT so far that would complicate the legal standing of Scott's assets with a drug charge. The staff is being tested for the bacteria, but medical says they would have it by now. The help seemed totally shocked by the appearance of DEA when they called 911."

Under a carefully blank façade, Peter's mind was threatening to go to pieces again. "You mean, he's probably going to be remembered as a slightly eccentric billionaire philanthropist, and not a bored sadist?"

Hughes turned his monitor around so Peter could see. CNN had its ticker at the bottom of its news screen, and it said "PRENTISS LLOYD SCOTT, BILLIONAIRE PHILANTHROPIST FOUND DEAD, SUICIDE SUSPECTED, GLOBAL EMPIRE SHAKEN."

"One thing that White Collar does have good intelligence on is Scott's business assets. He's been gradually handing the daily handling of his business over to assistants for years now. The conferences and activities Caffrey said he witnessed don't at all correspond to what we've found out about Scott's involvement. He must have been doing something else with his time." Hughes attempted a smile. "I believe you, Burke. Somewhere in his travel patterns, we'll find a link to this gaming group you described."

"You didn't tell me you found that," Peter looked up. "Why didn't you tell me you found something to substantiate my claims?" Hughes returned his gaze evenly. "You wanted Neal to go back in there. You knew that he was the only bargaining chip the bureau had, and you were waiting for him to recuperate enough to send him in that madhouse, and you didn't want my team to object on safety reasons," he said calmly.

"Well, it didn't turn out to be necessary, so all our investigations into Scott have converged," his supervisor said with emphasis.

"Did you really think I left him dead last night?" Peter asked, his trust level with the FBI having taken a bettering during this conversation.

"Me? No. If you wanted to kill the bastard, you would have shot him,," Hughes replied.

"Thank you sir, I think," Peter muttered as he was ushered out. He was still standing outside the glass, stunned, when Hughes poked his head out.

"Where's that profiler of yours? Brass is pleased by the job he did and has other work for him."

"I'll find out," Peter said. Only after he got back to his office, which took fighting through several rapid-fire conversations, could he check all of his messages.

"My apologies, Agent Burke, but I have a patient here at Bellevue who simply won't let me rest until I call his emergency contact, which he says is you. If this isn't some sort of mistake, please give me a call, Amelia Burroughs, head nurse, Psychiatric Department."

All through last night's ordeal, Peter had been dying to tell Terence how right he'd been about Scott's manipulation, the drugs and the effectiveness of his calming techniques. How selfish he'd been through all of this! Peter was so focused on Neal and the investigation, he'd apparently missed his therapist having his own psychiatric crisis under his nose.

He sat in his office, taking a breath. People were lining up outside his door but he gave the "give me five" signal. He picked up his landline. "Hello, can I speak with Nurse Burroughs, please? Yes, this is Agent Peter Burke with the FBI."

While he listened to some technical explanation of the patient's condition he couldn't follow, Peter was texting Neal. "I remember everything, but unfortunately Terence can't back me up because he's in the hospital. Are you okay?"

The frenetic energy he'd been trying to avoid finally spilled into his office and engulfed Peter Burke, so not until several hours, a polygraph, and a detailed psychological and physical evaluation later did he check his messages again. "I'm either a billionaire or the state is considering confiscating all my goods down to my hat, but the good news is you didn't fail."

It was something less than a pass, Peter thought all day. Late that evening he went to Bellevue. A flash of the badge at every juncture soon had him in the psych ward. "It's after visiting hours," the nurse peeked through the locked door even after she saw his badge, with a tone as if he'd committed a mortal sin.

"Terence has been a key person in an investigation we've been leading. I'd like to confer with him on recent developments."

Finally the nurse relented and he was buzzed through. "We'll bring him into the visiting room, but I have to warn you—" The nurse gave them a more comprehensible summary of Terence's condition than the head nurse had. Apparently October was a bad month for him, and he was often hospitalized at that time of year, something about change of seasons. "He probably won't be making much sense until we can get him back under control."

Feeling the dismal atmosphere beginning to affect him, the FBI agent sat where indicated in a cheerless room with outdated magazines and furniture that was bolted to the floor.

"Excuse me, while I kiss the sky!" Terence bellowed out the Jimi Hendrix verse with an illustrative jump reaching into the sky by way of greeting.

"Hey, Terence," Peter said, slapping him on the back.

"What's goin' on?" Terence sang like Al Green.

"The FBI wants to hire you again but we've got get you out of here first—" Neal began.

"You're going to turn my brown eyes blue," the patient switched gears unexpectedly into the Crystal Gale song.

The nurse had told him earlier this was how his friend communicated when he's manic—everything was a song lyric.

He stayed a few minutes, sharing the very basics of what had transpired in the last 24 hours, with Terence responding in song. Peter began to thank his therapist for all the techniques that stood him so well during his conversation with Scott, but Terence kept interrupting by singing "Are You Experienced?"

"They sing that at the bureau everywhere I go now," Peter laughed. "Listen, Terence, there's something I want to discuss with you."

"Stop, listen, what's that sound, everybody look what's going 'round."

"You're not in any state to sign it today, but I left something with the nurse. It's power of attorney, so I can try and set something up for you besides that group home to go back to. You don't need hygiene class and people taking care of your money, you just need a little help. Will you think about it, when you're well enough, and sign the temporary order? Once we get you sorted out, you can tear it up and tell me to go to hell if you want to."

"Always on my mind," Terence sang like Willie Nelson.

His visitor reached in his pocket and produced a paper bag. "Nurse Ratchet in there took the rest for safekeeping, but she let you have one for now."

Terence jumped up and did an improvised dance to the Jimmy Buffet song about pina coladas, and then needed help before his shaking hands could open the plastic cup of pineapple with a plastic spoon.

Peter smiled at the happiness the gift brought his friend in the blank institutional setting. When he was done, the nurse appeared at the doorway. As he was let out of the ward the woman said, "Sad, isn't it? The ones who were institutionalized often seem to have picked up the songs they heard piped in over the radio, or else they quote commercials they saw on TV."

"Just please make sure you don't lose those papers. You have my number if anything comes up," Peter said brusquely so he didn't give the woman a tirade. It had been a long day, and she'd never believe how Terence was usually able to use his experiences to help others. Peter wasn't sure he could say the same about his own lack of mental clarity some days.

Peter went back to his place and gave a brief update to Elizabeth before falling asleep early. He dreamt that Neal had to give away the money and then steal it back before he felt good about it.

The news that NYPD had jumped on Peter as a suspect was cause for a sobering conversation between the men. "I may never get this money, Peter, and I sure as hell don't want some of these humorless pricks running me ragged for the next two years," Neal said with his hands in Peter's hair while they were in bed that Saturday morning.

"Then being known as so invested in you I'd murder for you is not the way to keep you on my team," Peter said. "You're the expert in subterfuge. You tell me what to do."

He saw clear signs that this interested Neal very much. "We're playing a con together!" he said excitedly, and outlined a seemingly random schedule that would keep Neal's tracking data looking like he was doing innocuous things like going to museums with part of his spare time, and thus take the focus off the time he spent at home.

"You're kind of into being on the same side with me on this," Neal observed.

"I want to be able to see you occasionally at work, though you're right about volunteering to get off this Scott case 24-7. Maybe we can still go out to dinner with Diana and Suzette as an alibi."

"That's actually a good bet with the wedding coming up. Hopefully they're the only ones who know for sure."

Neal was dismayed to receive a reminder that someone else knew about his relationship. Elizabeth asked him to come by during the day whenever he could get away that week, and he couldn't think of a reason to say no.

"Thanks for bringing it by, Neal. I wanted to have everything ready for Peter's birthday, and you know I overplan—force of habit from my business," Elizabeth said, taking his coat. "You look frozen. Have some tea," she suggested as he followed her into the kitchen with a flat box in his hand.

"Elizabeth, we haven't—"

"No, we haven't, and now is the time." She set the kettle on to boil and laughed. "You look like you're about to make one of your getaways."

"I don't think I've ever wanted to more than this moment," he admitted, standing awkwardly.

"Let's put this right here," she set the painting against its own chair at the table, "Because that's what started it all. I did this, Neal, not you."

Her guest sank into a chair, looking dazed.

"Here, have a cookie."

He had a cookie, eyes watchful.

"You know that I was an art student and often speak fondly of that time in my life, but you don't know the full reason why," she began.

"My last year of college I dated two men. Brian and Sam. I dated them at the same time."

Neal nodded. The kettle shrieked and she prepared the tea.

"It worked out very well. People thought only Sam and I were together, and only the three of us knew about our unique arrangement." She shrugged. "We went our separate ways after graduation. It was one of those things that happens once in your life, if you let it happen, but doesn't exist outside of college.

"There have always been three people in my marriage. Me, Peter, and the FBI. And the FBI gradually became Neal Caffrey. I'm someone who needs her own mental space, so that was always fine. Peter has his cases, I have my business, we both need to feel needed by our job, and then our home life together is a sanctuary."

"I've told you before that I'd like to paint your breakfast table, because the collection of things is always a perfectly balanced still life," Neal said to say something.

"You see, Neal, we'e had this conversation before without having it aloud. When you and Peter were playing your games and you sent him birthday cards while on the run, you knew you had captured his attention. And you were letting him know he had your curiosity as well. We have an understanding. You have your part of Peter and I have mine. We've coexisted."

Neal began, "I'm so sorry—"

She waved off the apology. "I don't know at what point I started to see leakage. When Peter talked not only about the crimes you solved together, but who you were? The hurt when you betrayed him? But when I started hearing your name in his sleep. That was hard to ignore."

Neal winced. "He's a regular chatterbox, isn't he? I'm listening for what he's got on his Christmas list."

"And Peter hates lies. But he's helpless, you know, a brave man and also a timid one in some ways. He had no idea that your relationship had grown outside its assigned area, and he had no tools for confronting it."

Neal looked at the painting in the chair. "And the portrait was your attempt to show him what he couldn't see?"

"That, and I thought it would be a chance for you to spend some time together without being face-to-face. Peter is one of those men who talks best when you don't corner him. I thought he could sit for you a few times."

"Like a date?"

"Not exactly, but without your normal distractions like bullets and people listening in." She looked up coyly. "As you may have experienced, Peter has a coil of fire inside of him but it's not easy to access."

"I now understand why you seemed so contented for several reasons," Neal smirked back.

She giggled. "He builds up long and slow before he trusts you, but once that connection is made, he just keeps on giving. I knew he had reached the point of no return about you a ways back, and I would lose my marriage to it if I stood in his way or let him lie to me about it.

"When you ended up getting so obsessed about the portrait, and then Peter was consuming himself over that awful man, I felt like I released a monster instead. The more Peter told me about his suspicions that Scott was manipulating you, the worse I felt about what I thought was a gentle nudge towards the inevitable.

"It's nothing like what you've been through, Neal, but I've spent my own little bad time feeling responsible for all of this." She released a small sob. "I didn't know how to take it back, and no one could understand my selfish plan to recapture a setup that couldn't ever happen outside of art school."

For a moment Neal looked thrown and then recovered. "There, now, Elizabeth. If you put Spanish fly into cookies and served them to me and Peter with the intention of forcing a ménage a trios, that would be one thing. You wanted the two of us to re-evaluate our relationship because the swallowed subtext was so deafening it was literally keeping you up."

She nodded and blew her nose into a tissue.

Neal took her hand. "You did a good thing. If fate hadn't intervened, I would have merely done a long-overdue soul-searching about myself as an artist, and then hopefully gotten to Peter next. I hadn't painted seriously in years before you commissioned me. You knew I needed more than being just the FBI's trick pony."

"See, Neal, we've always understood each other. You've never seen me as just Peter's wife. We had our own friendship, I thought, and I hope however this turns out we'll always have a version of that."

He fidgeted and tried to change the subject slightly. "I'm glad we're having this talk because Moz cares for both of us and has stopped talking to either of us for fear of taking sides."

"Is it good? Something you'd invest in if I weren't in the picture?" she pursued.

"Elizabeth, I, yes. It's that combination of excitement and trust that keeps getting better and better. There is so much more to Peter than what meets the eyes." She laughed naughtily. "I didn't just mean in that respect although, let's be honest. He has no idea what he has there, does he?"

Elizabeth shook her head no. "I've had friends that don't understand why I put up with the crazy schedule and the danger. My father thinks Peter must have slipped through some IQ standard at the FBI. If nothing else, I'm so glad to have someone else who understands."

Neal snorted. "A mind like that? There are strangely more ways to miss the real Peter Burke than there are ways to miss me, the man of a thousand faces, or you, Elizabeth, much more than a wife Burke. You see everything and keep quiet about it." He laughed shortly. "It's hard to be here because of it."

"And sometimes I regret it." She dabbed at her eyes. "The one time I act on what I see—well, let's just say I've been to six therapists and have had to fire them all when the subject of a nontraditional arrangement came up."

"Are we talking about arrangements now?" Neal lost all his relaxation. "You get Thursdays, I get Tuesdays?"

"No!" she protested.

"You mean we can do whatever we like as long as it's up there," he pointed to the bedroom," all three of us? I don't work well with rules, Elizabeth, especially in my intimate life. "

"I'm not saying it will be exactly the same. But when I was in school, things flowed. Sometimes it was two of us, sometimes three. There was no counting the number of days, no ganging up on each other. We were in a relationship but there were three of us. There was trust, just as already exists between the three of us, or else we wouldn't have been existing politely these past couple months."

Neal tensed. "You and Peter have been—?"

"No, no, sorry, I didn't mean to give you that impression. I only meant that I didn't hit you on the head with a frying pan when you walked in the door, and I hope we can continue to be civil with our separate residences and no one the wiser."

"Phew, good. Because I'd hate to have to choose between giving up Peter and my apartment," he said, trying to hide the true reason for his relief.

"No, and if I may speak plainly, there's another reason you might want to consider trying to coexist, the three of us in some fashion."

"I thought we were already speaking plainly," Neal said, unnerved at what might be next.

"They'll find out. The FBI, they always do. Up until now, everyone's been concerned about you and Peter naturally stepped up as the one to look after you."

"The FBI doesn't allow dating on the same team, not even in the same division," Neal said. "Yes, we have an excuse for why I'm at his place, and I don't stay long—always some redecorating project or something. I never spend the night with him because of this"—he showed her the GPS. "Someone must check it."

"Peter spends the night at your place. The chances are slim that someone could know right now, but the point is, you would no longer have your arrangement. And right now the FBI is trying very hard not to think of you subtly changing status, because the prison system still thinks of you as—"

"A no-good grifter. Yes, we've talked about all this. They're only keeping me around and playing nice because they'll want me to go undercover to bust these gaming rings."

Elizabeth was aghast. "They wouldn't After all you've been through?"

"We're hoping to make a deal. One last time and I'm free. Then when my dirty money comes through from that bastard, I can paint all day, and see Peter as often as he wants at night. Gradually we'll go public.

"Neal, I don't want you going undercover," Elizabeth persisted.

Her guest seemed touched. "Don't worry. The new almost-billionaire me has lawyers on spec. A whole team of them trying to figure out a way to say that the FBI screwed up by not monitoring the company I kept, getting me sick, but in a way that doesn't fall back on Peter. You see the rub. There's a good chance that no one will do anything and the two years will run out on my sentence with no one but Diana any worse for wear as she fights to ignore the nearly fatal levels of sexual tension between us."

"You worry. I know you do. Somewhere. Now that you have a sort of anchor in your life I can see it more. A near-death experience sometimes helps," Elizabeth said, peering into his eyes.

Neal ran his hand through his hair. "Yes, I worry that now that I have something I'll lose it, like I always do. Or that Peter will get tired of art lectures and-the other things we do together." He suddenly seemed to realize how openly he was talking about his emotional and sexual bond with Elizabeth's husband, and retreated into himself.

"I wouldn't worry about that," Elizabeth laughed and arranged his hair.

She drew him into a hug, and despite himself, Neal found himself saying into her hair, "I need him so much Elizabeth. I've seen the worst side of human nature, and then there he is, sort of hulking there, brooking no resistance, being Peter. I don't want to need anybody like that."

"I know, but you and I, we know that life can't be controlled, merely directed sometimes."

"Peter knows about all of this?" he asked suddenly, extricating himself.

"Yes, we had a talk sometime back when you were in Chicago. You should have seen him trying to put three and three together when I told him the real story about art school!"

They laughed. It was becoming easier.

"Consider this drink and hors d'oeuvres on Saturday for Peter's birthday to be one hour, no expectations. We spend sixty minutes eating crudités, the three of us. If it's hideously awkward, you two run away and we never have to do it again. You can salvage the evening by doing anything you like for his day—I'll have discharged my birthday duty."

"Peter doesn't want to go out. We were going to spend the rest of the time at my place."

"Mm. Hmm.' Elizabeth said.

It was Neal's turn to fix his host with his piercing eyes. "Do you miss him?"

"Yes, but the old Peter Burke is gone. This is a game changer, being with you Neal. I'm looking forward to meeting the new Peter Burke-in-progress on Saturday. I don't think change is necessarily bad."

She stood up and opened up the box. Neal helped her slide out the framed painting.

Peter and Neal stood there in a finished version of what he had labored over at Prentiss Scott's place. Their arms were around each other loosely as if they were just separating after a hug. The electricity was there, and the solidity he was discovering together with the FBI agent.

"Where's the other one?" Elizabeth asked sagely. "There's more that didn't make this picture."

"That one was for Peter only," Neal said tensely, blushing. "He'd have to decide to show you." He took the opportunity to head to the coat closet. "Thank you for forcing me to get over my fear of talking with you Elizabeth. I can only hope to deal with Saturday as gracefully as you will."

"You're doing fine," she said. "Maybe because I never kept a file on you, it was never news to me that you're an actual human."

She helped him on with his coat. "Speaking of, the role playing must be out of this world."

"Cops and robbers doesn't begin to describe the extent of it," he said lightly.

But when he went over to Peter's that evening, he had the FBI agent cuffed and on the floor in a second. "I'm arresting you for breaking statute 100-45-R3 of our relationship, which says you never discuss intimate details like role-playing with someone else."

Peter launched the full weight of his body against his smaller partner. "I didn't, officer," he protested, not sure if he wanted to resist this arrest or not.

"That's 'agent' to you, scumbag, and how did Elizabeth know then?"

"Elizabeth, I—didn't tell her." That was the last talking Peter did for some time.

One day, as a joke, Neal had picked Peter's pocket of his handcuffs and ambushed him as soon as he came in the door. It was bound to happen, given their history, but neither of them could be prepared for the engrossing urgency with which they pursued each other, switching roles fluidly, knocking over furniture in pursuit.

Peter's bachelor pad was now literally padded on every surface so as to minimize the complaints from the neighbors. "Were we feeling this on some level the whole time we were working together?" Neal asked breathlessly some time later. "Because it scares me how much I enjoy this." He grinned. "If I could only find a fetish supplier that stocks fake tracking anklets…"

"This isn't the only side to us," Peter said seriously, thinking of the brief conversation he had with June. "Are you ready to be the strong one tomorrow at my birthday event with Elizabeth?"

"I'm terrified. At least I can hang on to you the whole time for support." Neal winced. "That might be awkward."

"She's been amazing through all this, we need to be big boys about this birthday thing," Peter said, engulfing Neal in an embrace. "She could have burst into the FBI in a housecoat, screaming about you being a homewrecking slut."

They had a good laugh over that incongruous image. "You have quite the imagination, Peter Burke. I never realized." Then Neal turned serious. "My mind tends more towards thinking that Elizabeth is going to put some paralytic in the dip and give us the ol' stock and pillory treatment."

"You do realize that those were two separate implements of punishment," Peter droned, and they forgot the impending meet-up for a little while longer by switching roles.

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