This is a sequel to "A Bit Clueless." Hope you enjoy this two part story.
Neal is the most annoying person I know. Frustrating and sneaky and lying and a whole bunch of other things that annoy me.
So yes, I might have whupped him for stealing my car, and even though El nagged me about it, I still don't think I was wrong. She's always too soft on Caffrey, babying him to no end because he gives her those big puppy eyes. Well, those don't work on me.
I expected a bunch of grief from him for paddling him and sticking him in the corner. I admit my temper got the better of me, but he thrives off annoying me which is not nice.
And it's hard sometimes working with someone who you spent years tracking down. If he hadn't been bad in the first place, he wouldn't have been in prison. Of course, we wouldn't be partners, either, but that's no excuse for being bad.
What El and most people don't get is the fact that my job is hard. Every time I track someone down, I have to imagine that person as the enemy. I can't be all nice and kind and think "Oh, they broke the law, but I'm sure they're a good person in spite of it." No, I have to think of them as a ruthless, desperate enemy who wants to evade and hurt me because I'm after them. I thought that about Neal for years so now it's kind of hard to turn it off all the sudden because he's my partner. For the first few weeks we worked together, I thought "Criminal who must be subdued and apprehended immediately" every time he walked up.
But despite that, I had to promise El that I wouldn't get into a habit of using corporal punishment on unruly partners, and then she finally let me leave the house. We joke a lot about who's in charge, but I'm pretty sure she wears the pants in our house so I had to agree to make sure Neal was okay after what I had done to him. The things we do for love.
Neal met me at the office, but he was all stand-back and big eyes, watching me carefully. Rather than follow El's advice, I didn't stay anything about punishing him, and we got right into the case that we had started the day before. Neal seemed a little jumpier than usual, and I swear he kept getting so close I nearly tripped over him every time I turned around. I finally sat him down in a chair and started discussing the case, and he relaxed a little.
He didn't bring up the spanking either, and over the next few days it took us to solve the case, everything went back to normal. He went back to being his annoying self, and I bore him with my usual heroic effort. I think I should get a prize for working with him. It's not like the whole FBI likes having a criminal around, and they keep making it crystal clear that if Neal screws up, I'm going to be held partly responsible. Not exactly fair.
A week later, Neal showed just how annoying he can be. I took a long weekend off to take El to visit some family in upstate New York. Before I left, I told Neal I would be checking on him everyday so no shenanigans. He rolled his eyes and assured me he would be good.
Friday, it poured the whole way there, and El and I got to have a long trip through the rain with Satchmo in the back, both of us talking and listening to music.
Over the weekend, I checked Neal's tracker and he didn't even leave June's. I thought maybe he had settled down finally, and I didn't bother checking in on him when we returned Sunday night.
Monday morning, I went into the office early and was ready to get to work on a new case when I realized it was almost nine-thirty and no Neal.
I called his cell – no answer.
His tracker said he was still at June's house. I considered calling her, but Caffrey was supposed to be renting a room. He wasn't her grandson or anything.
I would handle this myself. I stormed out of the office, promising Lauren I would be back, and drove all the way to June's, fuming.
She met me at the door, smiling. "Oh, hello, Peter. Are you here to see Neal?"
"Yeah, where is he?" I tried not to growl.
"Upstairs. He's barely left his room all weekend. Hasn't gone out since Friday. I thought maybe he had a young lady up there, but I hated to pry."
I stomped up the stairs to Neal's room. I banged on the door once, and then jerked it open. I expected to see one of two things: Neal with some hot girl or an empty room with the tracker hacked into two pieces. I know the tracker's unbreakable, but it's Neal, after all.
What I actually saw surprised me.
In his boxers, tee shirt, and ratty bathrobe, Neal sat on the sofa, surrounded by a pile of used tissues. His face was flushed, his nose looked red-raw, and he had a bottle of water in one hand.
"Oh, hi, Peter," he said through a stuffed-up nose. "Thorry – I was going to call."
"Are you sick?" I demanded though it was rather obvious.
"No," he shook his head and then winced. Grabbing another tissue, he tried to blow his nose, but it was so stuffy he could barely blow. "I'm about to get dressed and come help you."
My mouth twitched with a smile. Gone was the cool, suave con-artist who flirted and smirked and thought he knew it all. He had been replaced by a sniffling, sick guy whose teeth chattered slightly as he sat there with legs bared to the knee. Idiot kid.
"You're sick," I announced. "How'd you get sick?"
"First, I'm not," he assured me, his breathing short since he couldn't get any air through his nose. "And second, getting wet in the rain doesn't make anyone sick."
"You got wet in the rain? On Friday?" I frowned.
He nodded and took a sip of water, most of it dribbling on his shirt. "I didn't want to change because I'd have to come back here to get out of my wet clothes, and I was out with Moz. But I must have been allergic to something that night, because I started sneezing and sneezing and then –"
Neal sneezed hard, his whole body shaking. He gave a groan and leaned his head back.
"Sounds like you got a sinus infection," I commented. "El gets them sometimes. Your mucus green yet?"
"Uh, Peter, that's gross," he made a face.
"Yeah, but that's what happens when you get a sinus infection. You're not coughing so it's not bronchitis, yet. You'll need some antibiotics and cold medicine. What did the doctor say?"
Neal gave a pathetic shake of his head. "No, no doctor. I'll heal eventually. I'm really healthy." He rubbed a tissue over his raw nose.
"Not today," I retorted. "As much as I would like to tell you to suck it up, you need the drugs, buddy. Who's your doctor? – oh, wait, I guess you don't have one since you've been locked up so long."
Neal gave me a mean look. "Brilliant, Sherlock."
"You can use mine," I whipped out my cellphone. "He does favors for the FBI sometimes. A year ago, his youngest daughter got caught stealing drugs from his office and we cut the kid a break when we caught her. She went to college at NYU, and he lets us make last minute appointments. Yes, this is Peter Burke with the FBI."
"No, no," Neal tried to flay his arms in denial, but I angled my body away from him.
"Yeah, I need to make an appointment for a – uh, partner of mine. I'm guessing it's a sinus infection and he's in pretty bad shape . . . Forty-five minutes? See you then."
I shut the phone closed. "All right, get dressed and I'll drop you off."
"No," Neal shook his head, his face serious. "I'm not going. I don't like doctors, and I don't want to go to yours. I'll stay here and be better in a few days."
"Nonsense, we're getting you some medicine," I frowned.
"You can drag me there, but you can't make me see him," Neal pulled his legs in, huddling in a shaky, sniffling ball. "I went years in prison without going to the doctor – if I can stay healthy in prison, I can certainly – certainly – ah-choo!" he sneezed loudly and groaned again. He laid his head on his knee. "Just go away."
"You're my responsibility now," I felt my frustration rising a little. "Get dressed and let's go there. Time is ticking."
When he didn't move, I lowered my voice, "Neal."
"Go away!" he was muffled by his knee.
"Neal, you're going to go get dressed and we're going to the doctor's. This is one time I'm not listening to any arguing."
"One time?" he lifted his anguished face. "You boss me around all the time."
I snapped my fingers at him. "Are you going to get moving or I am going to have to drag you down there in handcuffs and your underwear?"
"But I feel so bad," he stood up dizzily. "Why can't you see that? Why can't you just leave?"
He shuffled into his bedroom and started moaning softly as he searched for something to wear.
"Something warm," I cautioned as I waited impatiently. "No silly suits today – it's still cold and dreary. Jeans and a wool jacket."
"You can't tell me what to wear," he retorted, but he was so stopped up the words didn't sound very serious. "I could get away if I wanted, so why don't you just leave?"
I made no reply and he shuffled out, wearing jeans and a tee shirt.
"You got a coat, right?" I questioned.
He nodded sadly and then whimpered, "Don't take me to the doctor's. We can go by the pharmacy, and we can get stuff there."
"Cowboy up," I smiled. "It's just a doctor's visit. Don't tell me you're scared of shots."
He stepped back, and his blue eyes flew up to my face. "There's going to be shots? No, I'm not going. They are not sticking needles into me."
I blinked. He had a needle phobia. All right, I'm a bit mean, but my first thought was how I could torment him with this new information. Not exactly nice of me, but hey, it's Neal.
"Shots don't hurt that much," I assured him.
"I'm not going, and you can't make me," he grabbed a tissue and rubbed his nose hard with it.
I wanted to disagree with him and remind him that I was bigger, older, and stronger, plus I had a gun on me, but I knew El would have my head if she knew I pushed Neal around when he was sick. So a little maneuvering.
"Okay, we're going to the pharmacy," I shrugged. "Get your coat and some tissues and let's go."
He cast me a suspicious look but then he went along and got a warm coat. I got him downstairs and in my car. His teeth were chattering as he leaned back in the passenger's seat, and I turned the heat on full-blast as I pulled the car onto the road. Neal didn't talk much, and his flushed cheeks and clammy skin worried me a little. From what El had told me about sinus infections, it feels like someone has filled your nasal cavities with cement that hurts when you breathe.
As much as Neal gets on my nerves, I didn't want him to feel bad so I drove a little faster than I had to. He looked kind of glazed over, and he didn't really pay attention until we pulled into the parking lot.
"This isn't the pharmacy," he realized as he stared at the tall building.
"No, it's the doctor's," I parked the car.
"Peter," big blue eyes full of hurt and betrayal.
"We'll go to the pharmacy afterward."
He reached for the door handle and I lunged out of my seat. I caught him fifteen feet from the car, snagging his arm as he started sneezing and wheezing and begging me to let him go.
"Peter, don't. Not here. I swear I'll take the medicine, anything you want. I don't need the doctor's. I haven't had a check-up since I was seventeen. I don't need a doctor."
"Seventeen?" I barked at him as I herded him back to the car to shut the doors and head towards the building. "You've been lucky you haven't come down with something. Don't push against me, Neal. I'm not letting you go. This is for your own good, and you know it."
He kept moaning about how he would be fine if I would just let him go, but I got him in the building, in the elevator to the fourth floor, and into the waiting room with minimal fuss. Sometimes it's better to let Neal get some of his energy out before we go anywhere important, and I could put up with squirming in the elevator as long as he didn't pitch a fit in the waiting room.
I took Neal with me to the check-in desk and smiled at the receptionist. "Peter Burke here, signing in one Mr. Neal Caffrey."
"Please fill out the chart and return it," she gave me the standard chart on a clipboard with a pen. "We'll get you back as soon as you fill this out."
"Sure," I got Neal to sit down with me.
He was breathing shortly and glancing around the room as if he expected needles to jump out of nowhere else.
"Am I going to have to fill this out for you?" I asked, holding out the clipboard.
"I'm not filling it out because we're not staying," he threatened. "We're leaving right now."
"Look around," I whispered to him. "It's a family physician. We got little kids playing in the corner with mom, grandma and daughter over there, regular people just going to the doctor. Nothing bad is going to happen to you. So fill out the chart and stop sulking."
He took the chart with a hateful look and wrote Nicholas Halden in the name slot.
"Neal," I warned.
"You didn't say I had to put in the right information," he complained.
"Do you really want to have this conversation here?" my voice was low, but it held the same sternness I had used the afternoon I disciplined him.
He looked up with that same expression he always wore when I backed him into a corner. That's the thing that most people don't get about Neal. They think he should be bullied and threatened to keep him in line, but I've found that calling him on his nonsense and not letting him get away with foolishness helps the most. I don't know what Neal's father was like or if he even had one, but Neal responds to parental guidance like no one I have ever seen before – a mixture of guilt and eagerness to please.
The guy is a mess.
He tried to sniff, but he could no longer breathe through his nose, and he looked sicker than ever.
I took the chart from him and scratched out the name. I quickly wrote down the relevant information.
"You remember my address?" Neal looked surprised as he watched me jot down June's address.
"Yes, I do," I smiled with satisfaction. Neal always thinks I'm dumb; he needs constant reminders that I'm the one who caught him twice and that I'm checking up on him all the time. "Okay, medical history? What family illnesses do you remember?"
"I don't know," he confessed. "Can we just skip that part?"
I wondered what type of family history he had at all, but I obliged him by turning the sheet over and filling in the blanks about his reason for the doctor's visit. When I wrote sinus infection, he protested,
"Shouldn't the doctor diagnose me?"
"Maybe," I held the pen out to him. "Sign and date and let's get this show on the road."
"I hate your euphemisms," he mumbled as he took the pen and signed.
We had to wait a total of three minutes before they called us back. I wondered if anyone thought it was strange that two grown men were going back together, but I wasn't letting Neal go alone. He would charm the nurses and walk out five minutes later without any examination at all.
"Peter," he pleaded as we followed the nurse down the hallway, "I'm fine."
Fine came out sounding more like find, and I gave into an impulse and told him, "Be a good boy, and we'll get you a lollypop at the end."
"I'm not a child," he growled though it was not scary due to his garbled words.
The nurse grinned at us as she opened the door. "It's okay. A lot of people don't like coming to the doctor. Mr. Caffrey, if you'll slip off your shoes and coat, I'll weigh you down the hall."
"I'll wait here," I sat down on one of the chairs in the room. "You better come back." I pointed a finger at him.
Neal slowly bent to slip off his shoes. I knew from his lethargic movements that his head was killing him when he leaned down. Not sick, my eye!
He went with the nurse and came back. She had him sit up on the padded table and she went about gathering his vitals. Neal looked like he was about to be tortured. He got scared when she placed the thermometer in his ear and clicked it take his temperature. He jumped like someone had held a gun to his head and cocked the trigger. He freaked out slightly when she put the blood pressure cuff around his arm, and when the nurse pumped it, he protested,
"You're squeezing it off!"
"Shh," she frowned at him as she listened to the stethoscope.
He relaxed once she loosened the cuff and put it away, but the otoscope with the plastic caps and shining light looked too much like a shot and he nearly leaped off the table.
"What are you doing? What are you doing?" he demanded as she placed it in his right ear to look in, her free hand tilting his jaw.
"Just a routine examination," the nurse's voice was soothing. "Turn your head to the other side. Good. A lot of fluid in your ears."
She looked in his nose and mouth and reported that everything was inflamed. She jotted everything in Neal's chart and then promised us the doctor would be in shortly.
"Well," Neal sounded rather shaky, "I survived that. Can we leave now?"
"The doctor has to come see you," I tried to hide my smile. "Relax, nothing has been too horrid yet, right?"
"What do you think is in the cabinets?" he looked over at the closed cabinets over the sink.
"Supplies," I reached for a magazine to flip through.
"What do you think is in the jars? Oh, jeez, are those eyeballs?"
I looked at the jars. "Cotton balls."
"Are those white bones?"
"And the stick things?"
"They press your tongue down so the doctor can look in your mouth. Really, Neal, I know it's been over a decade, but don't you remember going to the doctor as a kid?"
"No, this place is terrifying. I'm telling Elizabeth you dragged me against my will."
"Go right ahead," I tossed the magazine aside and grabbed another one. "El doesn't play around when it comes to being sick. You want to know how many times she made me come to the doctor even though I protested I was fine?"
Neal did not have to answer because the next moment Dr. Howards came in, holding the chart. "Ah, Peter."
I stood up and we shook hands.
"What have we here?" Howards looked over Neal and then at the chart.
"Partner's got himself a sinus infection."
"Peter's not a doctor," Neal said stuffily.
"Doesn't sound good," Howards put the chart on the counter and washed his hands as I took a seat again. "Other than that, this young fellow looks in pretty good shape."
"I'm fine," Neal scooted back on the table a few inches as Howards came at him with the stethoscope.
I gave Neal my sternest look, and he managed to hold himself still long enough to let Howards listen to his heart and breathing. Neal was definitely uncomfortable while the doctor tapped on his sinuses and felt around his throat for swelling. I didn't mind. A little discomfort is good for Neal as it usually keeps him out of trouble; it helps him remember just how uncomfortable prison can be.
Howards asked no questions about why I was back there in the room or why Neal was so skittish. After the trouble his daughter got into, Howards figured the less he knew the better. I didn't try to tell him how to do his job and he didn't tell me how to do mine.
"Definitely a sinus infection," Dr. Howards reported at the end of the examination.
I tried not to look too satisfied with myself while Neal shot me death glares.
"I'm proscribing antibiotics and a decongestant and a steroid shot," Howards began scribbling down on the prescription pad.
"Whoa, whoa," Neal put both hands up, "back up. Steroid shot? Isn't that illegal?"
"For athletes, not sinus infections," I told him.
"I believe I was asking the doctor," Neal retorted.
"Nurse Reeves will give you the shot," Howards announced, "and I'm give you samples to last for two days, and a prescription for a week after that."
I put my hand out for the prescription and he handed it to me and shook my hand. Then he turned and grabbed Neal's hand in a warm shake. "Nice to meet you. Peter, great to see you, too. Take care of yourselves."
"I am not getting a shot," Neal declared after the doctor left. "You dragged me here to be poked and prodded and dehumanized, but I'm not letting anyone stick a needle in me."
"You'll feel better after the steroid shot," I told him.
He shook his head, and I saw the trapped, frantic look in his eyes. He was getting himself worked up.
"Hey, hey," I cut through his panic. "I wouldn't ask you to do something if I thought it would really hurt you. Yes, the shot will hurt for a moment, but it's going to make you feel better, and the rest of the medicine will help you heal. In a few days, you'll be back to normal, and you'll come back to work."
He gave me a worried, nervous look, his blue eyes still darting around as if looking for an escape.
"Would it help if I got a shot, too?" I asked.
"You're not sick!"
"No, but they could stick me with a needle just so you can see that it's not that bad," I offered. I didn't enjoy getting stuck, but I thought it might help calm Neal.
"I don't want to watch them stick you with needles," Neal gripped the edge of the table. "Please, can't we –"
The nurse came in with the tray. The tray held a vial of medicine and a sharp syringe covered in plastic.