(1) let's unwrite these pages and replace them with our own words
"Good afternoon, Peter."
"Hello, Neal." A chair creaked. Neal imagined Peter leaning back at his desk, glad for a break from whatever the hell it was he did when he wasn't chasing Neal.
"How's the leg?"
"Healing nicely, thank you."
"Still on desk duty?"
"Three more weeks," Peter said.
"One more week," Neal said, "and I know you know I would know that."
The grin was sharp in Peter's voice. "I'm no good with dates."
"Uh huh. And how was your stay at Ospedale Niguarda?"
"The first day was a little awkward," Peter said calmly. "The nursing staff was under the impression that I had broken my leg while attempting an extremely unorthodox sexual position with my art student boyfriend."
Neal gasped. "Why on earth would they think that?"
"I believe it's because that's what you told them."
"Oh, yes, of course," Neal said, as if he'd just remembered. He added, with patent insincerity, "I'm sorry it was uncomfortable."
Peter made a disbelieving sound in his throat. "It all worked out in the end."
"The nurses thought I must have been very wealthy, to interest you."
As Peter spoke, Neal watched the second hand on his watch slide by his appointed hang-up time. Kate, leaning against the outside of the phone booth in a pose so dramatically casual it would have tipped off a blind person, looked up from her newspaper and raised an eyebrow at him. He held up one finger. She rolled her eyes before returning to the sports page.
"That's rude," he sniffed, though he knew as well as anyone that Peter was an acquired taste. At first he had been merely an inconvenient shadow with a dated suit and a federal issue smirk, and ten months later Neal found himself pacing outside an emergency room in Milan, enrapturing a trio of nurses with a story of forbidden love that he realized, belatedly and with a toe-curling thrill, was mostly true. He cleared his throat and tried to refocus. "But didn't you find that the wealthy receive a much higher quality of care?"
"I didn't let them think I was rich, Neal," Peter protested, even as a note of sly humor crept into his voice. It was a sound that had never yet failed to keep Neal on the line long after he should have walked away. "I told them in no uncertain terms you weren't attracted to my money."
Kate rapped on the window and he lifted a shoulder at her. "But...you didn't tell them the truth?"
"Hell," Peter drawled, "they didn't even have cable. I had to entertain myself somehow."
Neal didn't bother keep his smile out of his voice. "So what, according to you, was I attracted to?"
There was a moment of silence, then Peter cleared his throat delicately.
"Peter," Neal said, delighted and scandalized. "I don't believe you."
"They gave me a card when I left, but I don't speak Italian," Peter said plaintively. "What does stallone mean?"
"Oh my god," Neal said, helpless with laughter, then, "I have to go," as Kate opened the phone booth and reached for his phone. "I have to - "
(2) it's wintertime in a summer town
The phone buzzed in his hand. "Where the hell are you?"
"My office," replied a deeply amused voice. "Why, where are you?"
Neal frowned and went reflexively to the front window. The street looked clear. He knew that Peter was, in fact, in New York, or at least had been two hours ago when Neal's snitch had texted him a picture of Peter in the Starbucks across from the FBI building. It was a flattering shot, and Neal half-suspected his snitch would have been taking pictures of Peter whether Neal paid him to or not. "Now is not a good time, Peter. And how did you get this number?"
"Your buddy Paulo used his own credit card to buy the prepaid phones." Peter tsk-tsked. "You need a better class of accomplice."
Neal thought with near-violent longing of Kate, in Berlin, and Alex, in Tokyo. "Where do you suggest I look?"
"I don't know," Peter said. "Maybe Berlin?"
Neal bit his lower lip hard enough to hurt. He counted slowly to three, then said, "Thank you for the advice. I'll keep it in mind."
"You do that. Anyway, Paulo's in custody in Tijuana. He had some passable Clausell forgeries in the trunk of his car. Any thoughts on their origin?"
"I don't know what you're talking about." He knew passable was supposed to wound his pride and prompt an incriminating rebuttal. Normally he would have played along, but now he only scrubbed a hand through his hair and crossed the room to check the back alley again. "But I will say that this - Paulo, did you call him? Doesn't sound like anyone who knows anything about anything."
"Somehow I don't think I'll be taking your word for it," Peter said dryly. Neal heard a door opening. After a murmured exchange of pleasantries, the door clicked shut again. He could hear Peter shuffling papers. "Well, I don't want to keep you."
"What are you - " Neal caught himself. He did not care what Peter was doing. He did not consider whether it might be nice to be sitting in a bright, busy office in midtown, fresh coffee in a paper cup on the corner of the desk, pretty young clerks bringing stacks of folders from which Peter will somehow divine the inner workings of the most brilliant criminal minds in the world. He did not wonder, not even for a second, whether it might at least be nicer than pacing this rat-infested nightmare of a motel room, hoping like hell Wilkes won't find him before Neal's erstwhile getaway driver arrives. "Yeah, I've got to go."
"So go," Peter said, after Neal didn't hang up.
"Peter - "
Even over the phone he could sense Peter's full attention coming to bear on him, a sensation no less disconcerting for its familiarity. He could practically hear Peter's eyes narrowing. "Neal."
"Tell the federales to put Paulo in solitary," Neal said quickly. "The guy he works for doesn't like loose ends."
"What the hell - " Peter sounded like he just sat up very straight.
"I really have to go. And apparently I have to ditch this phone." Neal held up a placating hand to the empty room. "I'll call again when I can."
Peter took an argumentative breath, then thought better of it. "Take care of yourself," he said in a tone that managed to be annoyed and worried and disappointed all at once, and hung up.
Neal sighed into dead air. "I'm working on it."
(3) all wrapped up with my head in the clouds
Neal watched as Peter crossed his hotel room, frowning in confusion at the boxy beige phone currently ringing on the bedside table. Neal knew as well as Peter that anyone who needed to reach him would certainly have called his cell phone before calling the hotel. Peter reached the phone and picked up the receiver. "Yes?"
"Hello, have I reached McGruff the Crime Dog?" Neal chirped, and was gratified to see Peter's head drop back in annoyance.
He would never have known he had interrupted Peter in the middle of dressing if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes. Peter certainly didn't sound like someone wearing nothing but a pair of slacks; when he spoke, his voice was as measured as always. "Good morning, Neal. If it is morning, wherever you are."
"It is." Neal shifted as the raised edge of the roof started to bite into his forearms. Damn heavy binoculars. "Seriously, Peter. I have a crime to report."
Peter tucked the receiver in between his ear and shoulder, apparently for the sole purpose of crossing his arms. Neal suppressed a laugh. "This should be good."
"Apparently, you've been hiding a killer body under those tragic suits." He watched carefully. Peter stiffened, but didn't give Neal the satisfaction of so much as a glance at the window. "That can't be legal."
Peter gave a long-suffering sigh and let his fingers ghost over the cell phone resting next to his gun and badge on the neatly made bed. He didn't pick it up. "I suppose I could turn myself in for failing to register a concealed weapon."
Neal grinned. "Peter, you are my very favorite federal agent." He adjusted the focus on his binoculars and raised them back to his eyes, but fumbled them when the first thing they revealed was Peter's face at his hotel room window, looking straight at Neal's location. They jerked to a halt at the end of the strap, yanking hard on his wrist. "Ouch."
"You dropped your binoculars, there, buddy."
"Thanks," Neal muttered. He drew them back up and re-adjusted them, but Peter had already turned away and was pulling on a shirt, passing the receiver from hand to hand as he did to keep it within hearing distance. "Oh, boo."
Peter huffed an annoyed breath. "Please. Stalking does not become you."
"I can't apologize for having eyes. And an appreciation for - "
"Yeah, I'm gonna stop you right there."
"Probably for the best."
As Peter perched on the edge of the bed and pulled on his shoes, Neal rested the binoculars on the roof and tried to rub normal sensation back into his tingling wrist. When he looked back, Peter had crossed back to the window and put his left hand on his hip. "You know I have two agents downstairs."
"The ones you sent for coffee five minutes ago?" Neal asked innocently.
Peter closed his eyes as if in pain. "Dammit."
"Aw, Jones didn't seem half bad. He looked very suspicious when the hotel clerk relayed your message."
"And yet he went."
"I'm good," Neal said cheerfully. "Which is why you remain a half-step behind, my friend."
"That's generous. I'm at least a full step behind you."
Neal frowned. "You seem surprisingly okay with that."
"Are you kidding? I'm thrilled." Peter lifted his chin and Neal sat up almost without volition. It wasn't as if Peter didn't know where he was. "Because two years ago, I was a hundred steps behind. One year ago, I was ten steps behind. And now I'm looking right at you and we both know how this ends."
Tension crept up Neal's spine. He couldn't think of a single witty rejoinder so he said, as lightly as he could, "But not today."
Peter cocked his head and raised his right hand from beneath the window sill. "We'll see."
That's when Neal saw that he'd picked up the cell phone after all. Sneaky bastard. Neal said as much before abandoning his position with undignified haste, and Peter's chuckle echoed in his ears all the way to the helipad.