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Ten-Story Interlude

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"Stop kicking," Peter said.

"Kinda can't help it, Peter," Neal said.

"You're going to make me drop you," Peter said through gritted teeth. "Just relax."

"Okay -- " Neal was getting breathless -- "sure, no prob -- Aaah!"

They both froze, gazes locked, eyes wide. Peter set his feet and doubled his grip on Neal's arm.

"I'm not pulling you over?" Neal said.

"No," Peter grunted. "Can you get a foot against the building?"

"Can't -- wait -- no, can't -- there!" Neal's shoe scraped miraculously against brick, and Peter's grip steadied.

Below, ten stories down, there was a volley of shouts and some gunfire: the action swirling away from them. Neal flailed with his free hand and found purchase on the elbow of Peter's jacket where he reached with both hands to grip his arm. "Can you pull?"

"Tell me when."

"Now, now would be good," Neal said.

Inch by scrabbling inch, they worked together to drag Neal over the parapet and onto the gravelled roof. When both his feet hit solid ground, Neal fell against Peter, who held him up, and they stood like that panting for a long minute.

Gradually, Neal became aware that it was not primarily he who was shaking. He stirred in their embrace. "Did I scare you?" he said, curiously.

Peter's only response was an exasperated snort.

"I scared you," Neal said. "That's novel."

Peter finally found words. "No," he said, "it is not novel. You scare me on a regular basis. Like, daily."

"Good to know," Neal said. It was, in fact, a very gratifying piece of information. Neal knew that Peter worried about him, certainly, but he always took these things in stride, it seemed; he was not likely to be in a visible panic if Neal were, to take a random example, poisoned with digitalis in an unreachable tower room.

As if reading his thoughts, Peter said, "You bastard. You're not even sorry."

"Sorry," Neal said; and they laughed, and pulled apart. Neal was relieved to find he could stand up on his own.

"Let's go work on this from a slightly safer vantage point," Peter said, sourly, and they headed back for the roof access.

They reached the street and started back up the block to Peter's car; and at once Peter held out his hand insistently as they walked along.

Neal gave him a questioning shrug.

Peter wiggled his fingers impatiently at him, and Neal sighed and produced Peter's wallet. Peter put the wallet away and then held out his hand again. Neal held up his empty hands, protesting, but Peter kept his hand out. Neal gave in, pulled out Peter's badge, and slapped it into his hand.

"And what were your plans for this?" Peter said, gesturing with his badge before putting it away.

"What plans could I have for it?"

"Oh, I don't know. Impersonating an FBI agent?"

Neal's real idea had been to discomfit Peter the next time he reached for his badge, and he suspected Peter knew it. "Boring," Neal said. "I could do that anytime."

"You'd prefer to dangle ten stories up?"

"There's a happy medium to these things," Neal said, "I feel."

"Right," Peter growled. "You and your high-wire act."

"Okay, Oscar. We need some mood-altering fast food, stat."

Peter glanced Neal's way. "Ice cream?"

"Your call. You're the one buying."

"I'm buying?" Peter said, indignant. "I just saved your life!"

"And I'd think you'd want to celebrate your good work," Neal said. "And I just gave you back your wallet."

"Unbelievable," Peter said.