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Little Ransoms

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Peter was just starting to think about heading home, but he hadn't quite finished with the kissing-Elizabeth-in-full-public-view item on his agenda, so he lingered with her in his arms for a long moment. When he finally surfaced, he saw that the hubbub of feds had reduced considerably, and the fleet of official cars had dwindled to four, including the vehicle El had arrived in, and Jones's car. Jones himself was one of a knot of officials intently working out a set of protocols; Jones was particularly good at the Official Bureau Response, and Peter wasn't surprised that they'd left that job in his competent hands.

Closer to hand, Neal was standing with his hands in his pockets, waiting patiently to be noticed. Elizabeth let go of Peter and went over to reach up and peck him on the cheek. "I owe you one," she said.

"Nah, you don't." Neal smiled at her comfortably. "Besides, I've already got everything I want. Well. Except Keller's ass behind bars."

Peter said: "What did he say to you?"

Neal's look said, Thought you were distracted. Peter smiled dryly back.

"Oh, it was the verbal equivalent of sticking his thumbs in his ears and waggling his fingers. Do I have to discuss it?"

"Only if Hughes insists," Peter said.

"Hm, yeah. I may have to tread carefully around Hughes for a while."

"I bet he was pissed at that exchange stunt you pulled."

Neal sucked in his breath and flicked his hand in the gesture of someone touching a hot stove. "However," he added, "I didn't tell him I was more afraid of Elizabeth than him."

"Feel my wrath," she said, in the same tone, and when Peter looked at her, shrugged prettily.

Obviously Neal and El had formed a stronger coalition in his absence. This could be interesting, Peter thought, and by interesting he meant terrifying.

"They wanted him to go home," Elizabeth said, as if that explained everything, which it pretty much did.

Peter was glad he hadn't, but Neal didn't give him the opening to say so.

"Speaking of," he said, "I was thinking I might finally do just that. Unless -- " he gestured at Peter -- "you need me to break you out of any more jail cells."

"No," Peter said, "I think this will be the last one for today."

"Just as well. You need to rest up. Tomorrow I've got a whole list of bank and museum jobs for us to pull."

On another day, Peter would have snorted at the feeble joke. Today, he laughed. "Go home, Neal."

"New York City will never know what hit it," Neal said, with a sidelong grin. He gave them a wave and strode away down the sidewalk. Peter watched him go: the easy weave of his stride carried the same confidence as ever, but Peter thought his shoulders looked weighted.

He reached into his pocket and pulled out the ransom to turn over in his palm with his thumb.

"So that's it, is it?" Elizabeth said, peering at it. After a moment she said, "He intended it for Kate, didn't he?"

Peter had already reached that conclusion. "Yeah," he said.

"It looks too small to be worth that much."

"You'd be surprised," Peter said, and added: "I probably shouldn't ask."

"I heard Diana say it." He felt her looking at him watching Neal disappear into the distance. "Two and a half million."

The ring was suddenly lead-heavy in his hand. Peter caught his breath. "Oh, Neal," he murmured.

In the little silence Elizabeth squeezed his elbow gently. "He's letting go of her," she said, finally.

"Yeah." Neal was out of sight now. Peter put the ring back in his pocket.

Elizabeth seemed to be following her own line of thought. "Is there something we could do for him?" she said.

He looked at her. "It's a little late to send him flowers, don't you think?"

She smiled back. "You can always take him bankrobbing," she said. "I'm sure he'd appreciate the gesture -- "

"Oh, now don't you start." But he was smiling. "Speaking of robbery, I can't go home with two and a half million dollars in my pocket. D'you mind coming into the office with me before we go home?"

"Peter," she said, "I'm not letting you out of my sight for the rest of the day."

He kissed her temple. "I can live with that."

*

When they finally arrived home Peter got no further than the livingroom couch. He collapsed onto it, pulled his tie off, and threw it feebly at the chair. It missed, predictably, and he saw Elizabeth pick it up and drop it on its target just as he let his head fall back with eyes closed.

She fell onto the couch next to him, and he heard her give a short, aching sigh.

"Long day?" he said, not quite deadpan.

"Yeah," she said. "How was your day, honey?"

He nipped his smile in the bud. "Oh, just the usual. Not much to write home about. Traffic was awful."

"Yeah, I heard there was a massive manhunt earlier in the day. That always ruins the commute."

He gave up trying to stop his grin. He turned his head without lifting it and opened his eyes. "I love you."

"I know," she said. They looked at each other for a long minute before she spoke again. "Do we need to talk about it?"

Peter gave a long sigh. "No," he said, "not really. Except for me to thank you for saving my life."

"I saved your life?" Elizabeth looked at him with interest.

He said, with an incipient grin: "Know how I got out of the cuffs?"

She waited. He dug into his pants pocket and pulled out the safety pin, which he'd fixed back onto the drycleaner's tag. She took it from him and examined it, and began to laugh silently. "So I thank you," he concluded, leaning over to kiss her, "for my clean jacket, and my life."

She smiled straight into his eyes, which was definitely the best part of the day. "It was a team effort," she said.

"And I'm very glad we're on the same team," he said.

They came up for air a few minutes later, and Elizabeth said, "Are you hungry?"

It was as if she'd invented hunger by saying the word. "I'm starving," Peter said, and added fretfully, "I missed lunch."

"Chinese?"

"Perfect."

"I'll order it in." She got up, and he shifted his weight on the couch. As he did so he glanced down between the cushions, then reached in and retrieved an object of interest.

"Hey, El?" he said.

She turned back from heading to the kitchen. "Do you -- know -- ?" he said, holding it up.

"Oh," she said briskly, "that's the bug Mozzie gave me to listen in on the FBI while they were looking for you."

Of course that's what it was. "All these things happening while I was gone," he complained. "I feel like Rip Van Winkle."

"Only with a massive manhunt," she said, disappearing.

They finished up the evening still on the couch, with boxes of mooshoo pork and a bottle of wine, watching stupid television, with both their feet on the coffee table and Satchmo where their feet ought to be. It was a strange ending to a strange day, Peter reflected vaguely, as he dozed with his head tucked between her ear and her shoulder. But he'd take it.

She was holding his hand in both hers, stroking the back of it with her fingers, and making the faint humming sound she did when she was content. He closed his eyes.

El said: "You didn't happen to pick up any dog food this morning before getting kidnapped?"

Peter didn't open his eyes. "No," he smiled. "I forgot."