Because Peter was trying not to look, not to look like he was looking, he ended up staring.
Through his glass walls, across the bullpen, his eyes landed on Neal's hunched form over his desk, shoulders rounded forward in a diligent pose of a man working hard on reviewing every Medicaid fraud claim. Neal never looked up, his hands cradling the top stack of forms, eyes diligently glued to the page.
In the privacy of his office, Peter pursed his lips as he openly considered Neal. He had hoped the case with the bank robber The Architect would bring a snap back in Neal’s step, the snark back in his words, but it seemed the case depleted whatever it was that made him Caffrey. He sunk back to the weary song and dance of "I'm okay, you're oka—hey, look, a forgery!"
In front of him, Neal glanced up at Jones, who had stopped by his desk. They chatted. Neal faintly smiled. Jones gave him a light punch on the shoulder and Neal was left alone again to hunch over the same report he had been huddled over for the past thirty minutes.
Peter wondered if Neal realized how obvious he was being right now; the more Neal tried to act normal, act like he hadn't been feet away from an explosion that took the love of his life, the more Neal didn't look normal.
The agents drifted by Neal's desk, human flotsam (or were it jetsam), chatting to him about God only knew what. Even Hughes had ambled by, although only briefly, because Neal couldn't completely hide the hunted twitch in his posture. It had been like this ever since Neal had been released. And Neal answered everyone with a modicum of charm, smile and patience.
It was smart; pretending he was fine by acting like he wasn't. Neal dispensed enough faint smiles and half mast eyes to appear like he wasn't fine but getting there. It was enough for everybody to leave him alone after the obligatory "Hey, Caffrey, how's it going, little buddy?"
Alone in a room full of people. The irony wasn't lost to Peter and the chin-up attitude Neal was conveying only made him look more vulnerable, like a small creature out on a field with a flock of vultures circling above.
When Sanchez edged closer to Neal's desk, his broad frame postured deliberately casual, deliberately "look, I'm non-threatening and you can talk to me, good buddy", Peter shot up from his desk. He strode out of his office in three long steps.
"Neal?" Peter crooked a finger at the blinking "Who me?" cast his way.
It hurt to see how wary Neal looked as he stood up, shrugged one shoulder at Sanchez before he dutifully trotted up the stairs to Peter. Something eased in Peter's gut, however, when he noted the faint lines around Neal's mouth eased as he reached Peter.
"Whatever you think I did, I have an alibi. If not, it was Jones."
"Hey!" Jones yelped good-naturedly below. A paper ball bounced off the back of Neal's head.
Peter folded his arms and glowered at Neal. He had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from grinning when Neal squirmed.
"In my office," Peter nodded behind him.
"Really, it was Jones." Neal neatly sidestepped so the next paper ball bounced off the railing instead.
"There's a stack of bank statements I need you to take a look at."
Neal made a good show of his usual regard for bank statements. "I have..." He turned to check over his shoulder.
"They can wait." Peter pointed to his office.
Jones gleefully whistled the 'Funeral March' as Neal sighed and entered Peter's office. The tune stopped though, rather quickly, when Peter cleared his throat.
Without ceremony, Peter deposited the stack of said documents onto Neal's lap.
"But these will take all day," Neal protested, his thumb running through the corners as he considered the pages.
"You're not leaving this office until they're done," Peter told him.
"No lunch break? I think that's in violation of union laws."
"We'll order take out and you don't belong to any union."
Neal blinked at Peter. "What about cigarette breaks?"
"You don't smoke." Peter jabbed a finger at his desk. "Stay. Sit."
Peter ruffled Neal's hair. "Good boy." He pointedly ignored the glare that was sent his way as he eased into his own seat. "Quit wasting time."
Forty minutes of silence went by before Neal cleared his throat. Peter didn't look up but his head cocked, listening.
"Thanks," Neal said quietly, tentatively, and fell back into the comfortable quiet that had settled across his shoulders since Peter had shut the office door and dimmed the lights.
Peter snorted but, behind the December 2003 IT-99s, he smiled.