He's dreading having to tell Elizabeth.
The lights are on and the curtains closed when he comes home. Satchmo doesn't greet him at the door, because Satchmo is curled on the floor on top of El's feet, watching his wife cry with sad Labrador eyes.
Peter doesn't know what to say, and for a horrible moment he wonders if something else has happened, a parent or her sister and he's just going to have to make it even worse by telling her that Neal's--
She looks up, sees him, and takes a deep breath, wiping her eyes. Her cell phone is on the coffee table, and she waves one hand at it while gesturing come here with the other. "June called," she explains, her voice raw. "He left his anklet on the table."
At the words her face collapses again, and Peter moves to her without thinking. He pulls her against him and she clutches at his shirt, presses her face into his chest and just holds him. Her shoulders shake and Peter buries his face in her hair, arms tight around her.
"Why?" she asks, and he's never heard her sound this way before, like her heart's broken (and for a burning second he hates Neal for doing this to her, hates Kramer for giving them no choice). "He was so close, Peter."
"No," Peter says, thinking back to the steps, to Neal's face in the crowd. "No, he wasn't."
There's something in his voice that makes El look at him, her tear-streaked face confused. "Honey?"
It's all crashing down on him now, roaring in his ears--consequences, there will be consequences, this is his fault and the Bureau will know it.
But he couldn't bear it, couldn't stand to see them do that to his partner, to his friend. Neal can't be trapped like this, he doesn't deserve it; Neal doesn't deserve a cage, Neal is too beautiful and too wild to have his wings clipped and his tether held by someone who doesn't like him, who doesn't understand him, who doesn't love him the way Peter--
Scalding emotion burns the back of his throat and Peter feels his wife's cool hands on his face, grounding him, pulling him back. "Peter?"
"I told him to go," Peter says, looking at her, his voice distant even to his own ears. "They were going to take him, and I couldn't let them."
It's strange saying it out loud, hearing the starkness of it hang in the air. He's confessing to a crime, the agent inside him says; he's aided and abetted, but--but he doesn't care, this is what Neal's done to him, taken black and white and made it gray.
He watches El's feelings chase themselves around her face, sees her surprise war with her grief, with her anger, with the inevitable disappointment (in him, or in Neal, or in the whole sorry set of circumstances, he's not sure).
But then, like grace, he sees her acceptance, her understanding.
"Good for you," she says firmly, her voice unwavering, and he reaches up to wipe away her tears.
"I'm sorry, El," he says, not sure if he's apologizing on Neal's behalf, or for the inevitable hellish backlash from what he did today, or for not being the one to tell her, even--he just knows he needs to apologize for something.
She nods, accepting it, and sighs. She closes her eyes and a few more tears trickle out. He wipes those away, too. "I miss them already," she says quietly.
"Me, too," he echoes. It's not quite a truth, not quite a lie, because he can't feel anything right now. He probably will eventually, he knows, but right now he's just...numb. He's beginning to feel the edges of it, an empty void just under his skin where Neal usually lives, gone now and aching with it, and it's already overwhelming.
El sees it in his face and kisses him, short and sharp, and wraps him in her arms. "We'll be okay, honey," she tells him, and if he hadn't seen her crying, he wouldn't be able to tell from her voice, warm, confident, strong for the both of them. "It's going to be okay."
Peter believes her. She's always right.