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Hypnosis

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Peter Burke finds himself falling into a very comfortable lull. During work. During the writing of his staff evaluation reports. Which will be due in, oh, about three hours and twenty minutes.

It isn't intentional.

It's just that he sees how Neal Caffrey seems less rigid, more open, relaxed. The former con is smiling at something Diana just said; the smile is slightly self-deprecating, but still chock-full of charm. The blue in Neal's eyes are bright under the harsh fluorescent light, even if there are still shadows beneath them.

Perhaps Peter's scrutiny has been sensed; Neal looks up, through the glass, right into Peter's eyes. The dark-haired younger male nods and winks, acknowledging the Fed's concern and attention. Though he doesn't voice it aloud, Peter is worried about Neal.

Has been since the... incident. Probably always will be.

Sometimes, when he's in bed with El, and her warmth embraces him, he thinks about Neal and how cold it has to be for the younger man. Neal Caffrey might have the power to charm and seduce practically any beautiful heterosexual woman into bed, but he doesn't. Neal is a romantic, always has been.

After all, he did break out of jail four months before his sentence was up for love.

Peter smiles to himself. He has thought before that it is Neal's romantic streak that resonated with himself and El. They too believe in true love – after all, they found each other.

But the thing is Neal is alone, and lonely. Peter, under the guise of checking on some files, emerges from his office and half-runs into the bullpen and to the filing cabinet. Along the way he spies – no, not spies, glances – at Neal. Okay, fine. Spying.

Yep. That look is back.

It hurts Peter to know that Neal is trying to seem as exuberant as before. The agent understands Neal's reasoning for trying; Peter feels compassion for Neal's efforts.

Right now Neal's smile has disappeared. A small frown mars the chiseled features. Neal is resting his cheek on his left hand, the slender fingers of his right drawing aimlessly on the surface of the table. Peter can tell that Neal isn't even looking at anything in the room now.

The fingers still; the hand clenches. Neal's jaw tightens and the frown deepens. He is probably back on that tarmac, Peter thinks, and intentionally drops the file he is holding.

The noise startles most people near the cabinets. Neal almost jumps off his seat.

“Not like you to have butterfingers,” teases the younger man as he watches Diana help Peter pick up the scattered papers.

Peter shrugs. “Everyone has an off day.” He stands and thanks Diana. “If you aren't too busy, help Diana out with the Tang dynasty painting case. The Wen family seems rather edgy and evasive about their kind donation.”

“Sure.” Neal shrugs also, a fair imitation of Peter. As the older male passes by Neal, the ex-con touches his arm and murmurs, too softly for others to hear, “Thanks.”

Peter flashes a brief smile and pats Neal's fingers equally briefly. “Get to work.”