"Just...damn it." Peter presses the heels of his hands to his eyes. His whole jaw is clenched up with tension, the back of his neck just as stiff with it. Diana sighs and bends her knees, dropping down to pry up the slick photographs from where they've staticked themselves to the Burkes' hardwood floor. She gets them into a neatened pile, then stands to return them to the table.
Peter drops his hands just in time to see what she's done. "You didn't have to--" He sighs again. "Thank you."
She snorts. "It's what I'm here for, Boss."
"No, it's not, and you know it." He shakes his head. "Though I have to admit, you do a damn good job of keeping my shit together."
Diana gives him a small smile, but she doesn't really feel it. It's not true, what he says, not normally anyway. Peter is a fairly neat man, one who makes meticulous notes and keeps orderly files even though he's a master of juggling those facts in his head--all the while dealing with office politics every day. The small kindnesses she does for him, like getting coffee or reminding him that the time to head home is creeping up on him, might be different than those he does for her, but only in type, not in weight.
Lately, though, he's starting to unravel around the edges. Nothing too noticeable unless you know him well. Rolled up cuffs, even during the middle of the day. A coffee cup left sitting half on the edge of a manila folder. An inability to remember where he put his receipts for reimbursement. A constant tightness around his mouth when he thinks nobody's looking.
"We're going around in circles at this point." Diana tucks the picture of their mystery man back into a folder, where he can't mock them with his patchwork face. "Why don't we take a break, see if we can come at it from a different angle?"
Peter's mouth twists, like he can't stand the thought that there's a mystery out there that his will alone can't crack. Diana doesn't wait for him to give in, just slips into his kitchen to grab a pair of beers from the refrigerator. She walks straight past the dining room table, and Peter follows along in her wake. She knows she's taking advantage of his inability to say no to a woman he respects, but just this once she doesn't feel guilty about it.
She tucks herself into the far corner of the couch, drawing her knees up towards the center. Peter hesitates for a moment, then sits down on the opposite side. He takes the beer she offers him and they twist off the caps almost in unison. The brief hiss of air escaping feels like a sigh of release for the whole room--except Peter seems to be too far away to enjoy it.
"I get antsy," she offers up. "When I can't talk to Christie for a while. It's not even that I want her to know anything in particular. My brain just doesn't seem to work right if I don't have that connection. You know what I mean?"
Peter takes a long gulp of his beer. "Yeah," he says after he swallows, and it seems to double for agreement and appreciation of his drink. "Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. It all seems harder when El's not here."
Diana knows that Elizabeth's business is busier than ever, that she's making an out-of-town trip as often as once a week. She also knows exactly how tough that is on a relationship, and how much work it takes to keep it together.
"You guys okay?"
Peter smiles. "Elizabeth is amazing."
It's not really an answer to her question. The way his face lights up when he's thinking about Elizabeth is still as full-wattage as it always has been, though, so Diana's pretty sure she's fishing in the wrong pond. She takes a sip of beer, lets it fill her mouth until the fizz fades away. She and Peter aren't in the habit of long heart-to-hearts. They're both more inside-thinkers when it comes to emotions, but it's not a place they can't go to if necessary. He was certainly there for her, back at the beginning, those times when she thought she'd crack open from the effort of being perfect. He was the one who reminded her that being herself, instead of struggling to be some nebulous ideal, was more of an asset to, well, everyone--but especially her own peace of mind.
(She's still pretty sure those Harvard jokes started for her benefit alone.)
"How long are we going to keep at this?" she finally asks.
Peter sighs. "We could probably call it a night if you're tired. I shouldn't keep you so late, I know that."
Diana shakes her head. "Not what I meant. I want to get Fowler as much as you do, but it might not be possible. And you're driving yourself crazy with this."
Peter's mouth tightens down. "Any time you want out, all you have to do is say."
Diana rolls her eyes. "Does Elizabeth actually hit you when you get like this, or does she have a special talent I don't wanna know about?"
A smile sneaks out on one side. "No, she pretty much looks at me exactly like you are right now."
"Good to know." Diana clinks the bottom of her beer bottle against his, where it's resting on his knee. "You're avoiding the question."
"No, I'm avoiding the answer." Peter takes a deep breath. "I mean it, Diana. Having you with me on this makes everything easier, but don't think you have to stick with it. Take care of you, not me."
He shakes his head. "I can't, Diana. Even if it takes the rest of my life, I'm not going to let this go."
It's not a surprise. Her heart fills up anyway, aching for him. She knows the need for justice burns at his bones, just like it does hers, but there's a lot more to Peter Burke than just the righteous man. "Because of Neal?"
Peter nods, then buries whatever else he's thinking with a long drink of beer.
Diana sighs. "Do you really think that this will help him?"
"He broke out of prison for Kate; you think he's really let her death go? He's more obsessive than I am." Peter shakes his head. "Besides. He's not safe until we get to the bottom of this."
That's all true. All true, and they've been over it more times than she can count. Maybe she's not the right person to talk to him about this. Maybe she's too close to the work angle. Elizabeth would be better, probably, except for the part where she's exactly wrong. Peter's never going to take that leap over the edge when he thinks he'd be taking Elizabeth over, too.
"I was eight when I fell for a girl for the first time. First time I can remember, anyway." Diana smiles at the memory. She shifts around against the pillow behind her, snuggling in tighter to the cushions until she feels more like that little girl than an FBI agent trying to circumvent the entire intelligence community. "Her name was Cynthia. She was the daughter of one of the attaches at the consulate. She had long blonde hair, down to her waist, and we used to play in the gardens. All kinds of games of pretend. She'd be the princess--"
"And you'd be the knight in shining armor?"
Diana grins. "You really do know me, don't you?"
"I like to think so, anyway." Peter nudges her hand. "Go on. I didn't mean to interrupt you."
She nods. "So, when my father got transferred, it broke my heart. I really thought I was going to die, it hurt so bad." She snorts. "I was kind of a dramatic child."
Peter's smile is warm. "I bet you were a ball of fire."
For some reason, that makes her blush. "Anyways. I was a mess, crying lots, throwing tantrums, all kinds of stuff. My parents didn't know what to do with me. But Charlie, my bodyguard, he figured out that it was because I was missing Cynthia. Got me to confess to my horribly, horribly broken heart."
Peter's got one fist against his cheek, eyes shining with attention. He lifts his chin slightly. "What did he do?"
"He told me--" Even now, her throat wants to close up with the strength of her emotions, from the bittersweet affection layered on top of pain layered on top of love. She has to cough all of that clear before she goes on. "He told me that my heart hurt so bad because I gave Cynthia a piece of it. And that takes time to heal. But it can never be truly broken, because for every person you give a piece of your heart to, that person gives you a piece back. And so you'll have them with you always."
"That's a nice story," he says softly. "I'm glad you had him in your life."
Diana nods. "He was the first person I ever came out to. I was terrified. But deep down I knew that he'd always love me, no matter what."
Peter sets his beer bottle on the coffee table. "I take it that went better than you thought."
"Mostly. I don't think he ever really understood, but he tried." She smiles ruefully. "He'd always say to me 'well, girl, you always gotta do things the hard way, but that's okay'."
He snorts. "I guess that's one way of looking at it."
"Like I said, he didn't really understand." She takes a deep breath and looks directly at Peter. "That you have to be true to what you feel, no matter what anybody else is gonna think about it."
Peter's smile disappears. His face is completely blank as he stares back at her, but oh, his eyes. She feels the same way she does after scolding her cat for jumping on the table, his poor little sad eyes begging her to explain her betrayal. His throat works once, twice, and then he scoots forward on the cushion like he's making to stand.
"Speaking of doing things the hard way," he says, planting his hands beside him. "I think it's about time to get back to work."
"Peter." She doesn't try to stop him physically; the use of his name is enough. He doesn't look at her, though. "Don't tell me you don't know you're in love with him."
It's a slow, almost invisible process, but Peter sort of just...folds in on himself. First, something internal that sucks all of the energy out of his face and body. Then his shoulders curl, his elbows tuck in, and his head bows. Diana hates herself in that moment, but she reminds herself that she's only opened a door on what's going on in his head.
"I can't be," he finally says in pained near-whisper.
"Because he's a man?"
Peter shakes his head.
"Because of Elizabeth?"
He's still for a long second before finally nodding jerkily.
"You want to leave her for Neal?"
That makes him jerk upright. "Of course not!"
Diana smiles at him, gently. "So where's the problem?"
"Where's the problem?" His voice spikes so badly that Satchmo lifts his head, whining a little at them from his spot next to the couch. "The problem," he continues, tightly quiet, "the problem is that I'm emotionally cheating on my wife with an ex-con I don't know if I can trust, a man who also happens to be mourning the love of his life. Oh, not to mention this little thing with Fowler and the fact that some mysterious entity may or may not want Neal dead."
"Oh, is that all?" Diana asks lightly. She's clung to Charlie's story for most of her life, the sweet words seeing her through all kinds of bad times, but he never did tell her what to do when her heart broke for somebody else. She unfolds her legs, moving over so that she's sitting side-by-side with Peter. "That's too much. You need to break it down, look at it one thing at a time."
"Like a case?" He still sounds hollow, but she thinks there's a little amusement in his voice, too. Maybe it's just that she's wanting to hear it. Either way, he seems to be listening.
"Like a case," she agrees. "The thing with Fowler? We'll get him. Don't even think about that. After all, you're the man who caught Neal Caffrey twice, right?"
Peter snorts. "Twice that count."
Diana smirks. "And I wasn't even on the case the first time. They don't have a chance against us."
"No, I guess they don't." Peter's cheek flutters with a smile, but he can't seem to hold it. "So that one's easy. Check that off the list."
"Yep. Don't even think about it." She takes a deep breath. If her deductive skills are wrong here, then she might be sending Peter down a very rough road. But she doesn't think they are; she was trained by the very best, after all. "You really think Elizabeth would want you to keep this to yourself?"
Peter shakes his head. "I think she already knows. I've never been able to hide anything from her." He drops his head again, until he's pressing the length of his thumbs against his third eye. "I keep hoping that it'll go away. That I won't have to look at her and say, 'I'm sorry, honey, I guess I was just blowing smoke when I said you're the only one'."
"You have to talk to her." Diana knocks her shoulder against his. "Not just for her sake, you know."
"I know." He sighs. "Christ, Diana. How the hell did I let this happen? What's wrong with me?"
"Peter," she chides gently. "You can't help who you love."
"Can't I?" He shakes his head. "I got too close. I never should have..."
Diana waits a couple beats, but he never finishes the thought. "Never should have what?" she asks, curious.
Peter snorts. "I never should have gone after his case."
"That long," she says softly, surprised, but then again, not surprised at all.
"It was just infatuation until he came to work for me." Peter stands up. Diana's sure the discussion is over, but before she can follow his lead, he looks down, over his shoulder. "I need another beer. Want one?"
She shakes her head. "I'm good." She takes the opportunity to send Christie a quick text, then tucks her phone back into her pocket and waits. It's taking Peter a lot longer than it should to grab a beer and cross the living room, but she doesn't begrudge him a moment to himself.
When he comes back, it's without a beer. He does have something between his forefingers, some bit of paper that's too small to be anything official. Peter sits down beside her, then passes it over to her with a snort. Diana doesn't understand what she's looking at at first, but turning it about causes the the flattened folds to inflate a little, and the shape becomes clear.
"One of Neal's?" she asks, straightening the crane's neck with a couple careful tugs.
"Yeah." Peter nudges a bent wing with the back of his index finger, but he doesn't move to take it back from her. "I think it's from when he was over for dinner last week. El had it up on the fridge."
Diana smiles. It doesn't take much to coax the crane back to into three dimensions, though it's never going to be as perfect as when it left Neal's hands. She sets it down on the coffee table. "Why didn't you ever say anything?" she asks, unable to hold back her curiosity any longer.
"About origami?" Peter asks, and Diana has to laugh at the unfaked confusion in his voice. He might be one of the smartest people she's ever met, but that doesn't mean he's not befuddled by simplest things at times.
"That you like guys," she explains gently.
"Oh. That." He grimaces and rolls one shoulder around like he can't decide whether to shrug or not. "Yeah."
She arches an eyebrow. "Unless it's something you were keeping from yourself, too?"
"Nah, it wasn't like that," Peter says, shaking his head. "I don't know. I guess, at the time, I didn't want to make it about me instead of you. And, well. I've got Elizabeth."
Diana sighs. "It still would have been nice to know. You know?"
"I know. I thought about telling you later, but." Peter's lips twitch. "I couldn't go with my usual routine. You never notice hot guys."
Diana laughs. "Is that what you did with Elizabeth?"
"More or less." Peter's gaze goes distant, his smile fond. "It's kind of a thing for us now. She gets a kick out of it."
Elizabeth would. Diana's always thought she's got plenty of free spirit to go along with all of her efficient business sense. "So what's her opinion on Neal, then?"
Peter shrugs, but his gaze has dropped to somewhere between his knees and the edge of the coffee table. "She thinks he's a good looking guy. Who doesn't?"
Diana holds her tongue, waiting. Peter finally looks up again, rolling his eyes at her expectant look.
"She's tried to feel me out about him a few times, but I can't make it a game. Not with Neal." He shakes his head. "I can't let myself pretend, not for an instant, that there could be something more. We've got too many issues between us as it is."
"You should tell him." She doesn't need to see the panic filling Peter's eyes to know she's misspoke. "About the music box, I mean."
"Oh. I thought you meant--" Peter heaves out a huge sigh of relief, but he hasn't even finished breathing in again before he's shaking his head. "I want to. I do. But I can't risk it yet. Not until I know he's not going to do something stupid."
Diana sighs. She wants to push him on this, because she has a feeling that trying to keep something this big from Neal will only lead to bad things later on. But Peter knows Neal much better than she does, in ways that have nothing to do with facts in a case file. That's the reason she's not about to urge him to confess his feelings to Neal. Diana might not be one hundred percent positive about how Elizabeth will react, but she has no doubt Elizabeth loves Peter like crazy. Neal's a much harder nut to crack.
"Okay, Boss," she says quietly, and Peter thanks her with a smile. She's about to suggest that they get back to work when her phone vibrates against her hip.
"Christie?" Peter asks as she reads the text.
Diana nods. "She's going on break early tonight. I'll miss her if I don't leave now."
Peter stands up. "You okay to drive?"
She picks up her mostly full bottle and sloshes the contents around hard enough they can both hear. "Yeah, I'm good," she says, setting it back down. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, actually." He walks her to the door, holding it open for her as he smiles wryly. "Better than before. Thank you. I don't think I say that enough. Do I?"
Diana rolls her eyes. "You say it every day, Boss."
"Oh. Well, good." He frowns. "Is every day enough?"
"Tell you what," she says, keeping a tight rein on her amusement. "You talk to Elizabeth about Neal, and I'll give you a free pass on any time you forget the niceties."
"You're evil," Peter says immediately.
"Trained by the best, remember?"
That gets her a goofy grin. "Damn, I'm good."
"Uh huh." Diana steps down onto the landing. "That mean you're going to talk to her?"
Peter stops grinning. He nods slowly. "Yeah. Yeah, it does."
"Good. You know where to find me if you need to." Peter starts to nod, but Diana stops him with a pointed look. "I don't just mean about work. You know that, right?"
"Yeah, I do," he says. "Tell Christie hi for me."
"I will." She waves good night, then makes a quick survey the street around her before she walks to her car. She locks up and buckles in, then checks her watch. She's got just enough time to grab a couple of lattes on her way. Maybe later she'll be able to figure out some better advice for Peter, or inspiration will hit about the music box, but right now, there's only one person on her mind.