I'm glad Peter's not here, Elizabeth remembers thinking, just before the doorbell sounds.
She's been working on the proposal that will not die for the past two days. She's frazzled and annoyed; she keeps sticking pens into her messy bun and then forgetting where she put them; and she's glad, so glad, that Peter's in DC for a court case. She can't wait for him to get home – so he can complain about sitting in a stuffy courtroom for days in a pissing match with a bunch of mob lawyers, and she can complain about florists who don't know canna lilies from calla lilies, hopefully over a bottle of very nice wine, preferably in bed - but Thank god Peter's away all week, she thinks, tossing a pencil at her laptop in annoyance, and then the doorbell rings.
Satchmo beats her to the door and she has to hipcheck him out of the way to open it. Neal's on the doorstep, hat literally in hand, and usually she'd be happy to see him but she can't, she just cannot spare the kind of time and attention Neal requires by his very presence.
"Oh, Neal," she sighs, blocking the door with her body so Satchmo can't bound out to see his third-favourite human. "Now is just not a good time, I'm right in the middle of a project, can you come back later?" Maybe the promise of dinner with Neal will get her through this workday from hell. Before she can make the suggestion, though, Neal steps closer, and she registers the lack of his usual easy smile. "Neal?" she asks, gripping the doorframe.
"Elizabeth, it's about Peter," he says slowly, and oh god, the mob put a hit out or terrorists bombed the courthouse or he got run over crossing the street and he's dead, Peter's dead, and she was just happy that he wasn't here –
She must look just like she suddenly feels, because Neal drops his hat and wraps warm hands around her upper arms, stabilizing her. "He's not – he's not dead, Elizabeth, he's not dead," Neal says, and it takes a couple of repetitions to dial the panic in Elizabeth's head down to a manageable level. Neal's watching her closely; when her eyes focus on him again, he takes a deep breath, but doesn't let her go. "We think he's been kidnapped," he says gently.
She swallows. "I think you'd better come in," she says, and lets him keep an arm around her all the way to the couch.
"Okay," she says, sitting down, calmer now. "Talk."
"I don't know a lot," Neal says, squeezing her hand. "Peter was due in court this morning and didn't show. They checked his hotel room; it looks like it's been tossed, maybe there was a bit of a fight. Hughes figures they want to keep him from testifying, so they'll hold him till after the trial. They have absolutely no reason to hurt him, Elizabeth," he finishes, holding her gaze so earnestly that she immediately figures he's lying through his teeth.
"Okay," she says again, trying to reassure herself more than anything else. "What's the plan?"
"Well." Neal hesitates, and Elizabeth glares at him. "Hughes' plan is to send a handful of agents down on the three o'clock train to liaise with the Washington office. I'm supposed to tell you to join them if you want." His expression plainly says he knows she'd be there invite or no invite. "And then I go home like a good little consultant," he adds, clearly disgusted.
"That's Hughes' plan," Elizabeth notes. "What's yours?"
"My plan is to make myself so indispensable that you'll insist I come along?" he says, as close to uncertain as El has ever seen him.
It's her turn to squeeze his hands. "You could have just asked," she says. He grimaces, and his uncertainty tugs at his heart, but now is not the time to reassure Neal about his place in their lives.
She stands up, pleased that her knees don't wobble. Neal stands with her. "I'm going to go pack a bag," she tells him. "You – "
He interrupts her by reaching up and plucking three pens out of her hair, so gently she doesn't even feel a tug. "I'll walk the dog," he says smoothly, handing them to her. "Don't worry, Elizabeth. It'll all work out."
She almost lets herself believe him.
To Elizabeth's surprise, things do work out, at least to begin with. She emails the proposal and a request to look after Satchmo to Yvonne, packs an overnight bag at top speed, and shows up at the station with Neal in tow and time to spare.
Hughes rolls his eyes when he sees Neal and seems on the verge of saying something. Elizabeth is clinging to Neal's arm for – not entirely unnecessary – support and refuses to let go as they board, though, and no one is about to tell her what not to do right now.
Jones leads them into first class, which has been cleared by a combination of intimidation and planning ahead. The agents hold a heated conference in one compartment. Elizabeth shuts herself and Neal into the other and sits curled into Neal's side the entire trip.
In Washington they're ushered into a dark car by dark-suited men and whisked to the hotel where Peter was staying. It has been turned into a base of operations by the Bureau and the sight of agents pawing through Peter's abandoned room, even his shaving kit, nearly undoes Elizabeth. She has to hide her face against Neal's jacket for a long minute, breathing deeply.
She's surprisingly glad he's there. The Washington agents have heard all about his arrangement with Peter, and opinion is clearly divided. Half of them seem to think he has something to do with Peter's disappearance and interrogate him none too subtly. Half of them are clearly fascinated by him and answer all his questions in return for a few questions of their own. Either way, whatever information he gathers he brings back to her, sparing her the pitied or harried looks of the agents who are so far failing spectacularly to find her husband.
Occasionally his phone rings and he excuses himself from the room that's set aside for them, and she can hear snatches of conversation from the hall. June calls – he relays her sympathies and "She says she's been there" with a wry lift of his eyebrow. Mozzie calls several times, and those conversations are quieter and more frantic. Other calls came through from blocked numbers, and with them Neal's voice and even his face change; he's slick and brash and practically a caricature of the con artist she knows he is. After these calls he disappears to talk to the agents running the search, then comes back with a brittle smile and whatever tidbits of info he's been able to gather.
In between they play poker. Neal teaches Elizabeth five new ways to cheat and one she already knows. Elizabeth teaches Neal to fear her ability to bluff.
Neal darts out for coffee just as the weariness of waiting is beginning to grind down the edge of tension in Elizabeth's system, and she thanks him and clutches the cup in cold fingers. She falls asleep while hoping the caffeine will kick in.
She wakes up once to find herself curled up in the hotel bed. Instinctively turning to reach for Peter, instead she sees Neal, sitting at the table across the room. He's playing solitaire, flipping the cards out with his long, nimble fingers, his cell phone lying beside the deck. That bastard bought me decaf, Elizabeth thinks as she slides back into an uneasy doze, obscurely comforted by Neal's vigil.
"Elizabeth, wake up."
There's a gentle hand brushing her hair back from her face and a soft voice in her ear, and Elizabeth swims slowly up towards waking. She stretches, pushing into the warm touch, before suddenly remembering where she is and why. She bolts upright so fast she nearly headbutts Neal, who is seated on the bed next to her, coaxing her awake.
She reaches out and grabs his hands, clutching them desperately. "Tell me what's happening," she demands, her voice almost steady.
Neal returns her grip almost as strongly. "We found him and he's fine," he says all in a rush, before she can start to panic again. She gasps in relief and starts breathing, and she and Neal sit like that for a minute, holding on to each other.
"Okay," she says. "Now tell me the rest." Her tone dares Neal to sugar-coat anything.
Neal winces. "He's a little beat up," he admits. "Nothing serious, apparently, they just messed up his face a bit – but you should see the other guy?" he adds in a painfully transparent attempt at lightening the mood. Elizabeth just looks at him. "He's at GW, just for a quick check. They'll have a car here for you in maybe ten minutes."
Elizabeth grabs Neal's face between her hands and plants a kiss on his forehead, then climbs out of bed and heads for the bathroom. "Well, don't just sit there," she says over her shoulder, "get your stuff together." Neal blinks at her, and she rolls her eyes. "If you don't come, he'll just worry about what you're getting up to unsupervised," she points out, and closes the door so that she doesn't have to watch the smile that spreads over Neal's face.
Alone in the bathroom, Elizabeth braces her hands on the counter and takes a deep breath. Then she turns the water on and starts washing her face.
Elizabeth changes in record time, thankful she managed to pack deodorant and toothbrush, annoyed that she forgot hose and toothpaste. She gets through the ride to the hospital, goosebumps prickling all over her body, not just from the chill on her bare legs. She holds it together when they finally see Peter, sitting half-dressed on an examination table, face and torso mottled with bruises. She makes it back to the train station, even laughs as Neal overrides Peter's protests to charm them into getting a first-class car to themselves. It's not until Neal excuses himself from the compartment to make some phone calls – "June was worried," he says, "and so was Havisham," and Peter snorts – that she lets herself break down a little.
"Don't you ever do that to me again," she says, turning to Peter with tears in her eyes.
"I won't, he says, holding her gaze. They both know it's an impossible promise.
Elizabeth chokes back a sob, grabs a handful of Peter's hair, and yanks his head down to her level.
She kisses him roughly, ignoring his bruises, biting at his lips and wondering whether the salt she tastes is tears or blood. He swears into her mouth, wraps his hands around her waist, and lifts her, dragging her across to straddle his lap.
He slides his hands down to cup her ass and pulls her into him, flush against him, and she runs her hands over his face and chest and arms, making sure he's all in one piece. Her skirt is rucked up around her waist and her heels are digging into her thighs but she doesn't care, because the pain is more than worth it for the feel of him hardening against her.
She pulls back and rolls her hips, savouring the way his eyes narrow and his lips tighten, all the little changes in his face that she knows so intimately and loves so much and came so close to losing. That thought sends a shiver through her and she kisses him again, frantically, trying to erase the past twenty-four hours, block them completely out of her mind.
It's easy to lose herself in him, to want all of him, just to reassure herself that he did make it back. He's okay, they're both okay, and she'd better make the most of it while she can. She reaches down and unfastens his pants, slipping her hand into his fly to cup him through his underwear.
"El, what," Peter says, breaking the kiss to look scandalized, and she looks him straight in the eye and says "Shut up and take off your pants."
He shuts up. And then it's a simple thing, to shove his pants and boxers down and take him in her hand, to jack him slowly and watch his eyes flutter shut, and to tug her panties aside and sink down on him.
They both moan, settling into each other, barely moving. "God, Peter," El whispers. I love you so much, she means. She clenches around him and Peter grabs her by the hips, lifting her up so he can drive into her fast and hard. She swallows against the burn.
"El, I can't," Peter says, jaw set with effort.
"I know, honey," she replies, reaching under her skirt to rub her clit. The buzz of adrenaline, their exposed situation, and most of all the fierce victory of having Peter safe have her on the edge too. We won this one, she thinks. You can't have him yet. He's mine.
Peter falters after a few more thrusts and his hands clench on her hip as he comes inside her. She's going to have bruises tomorrow, fingerprints on her skin saying 'Peter Burke was here,' and as he relaxes his grip she comes too, quick jerking shudders that drain all the tension of the last horrible day away.
She slumps forward against his chest, trying to get her breath back. She's flying on endorphins and Peter's heart is thundering under her palm, proof that he's alive. She's going to have to move in a minute, to clean them up before they pull into New York, but for right now she just wants her husband to hold her.
She turns her head to nestle under Peter's chin. A flicker of movement catches her eye and she looks up.
Neal is standing outside the compartment, his eyes dark, his expression hungry and somehow, Elizabeth thinks, naked. They hold their positions a moment longer, all three of them caught in a tableau of desire and longing and belonging, until Elizabeth reaches out.