It wasn't every day that you had a gun pointed your way. That the person doing the pointing was a disconcertingly calm lunatic murderess added a certain je ne sais quoi to the whole incredible adventure. Neal Caffrey didn't think of himself as especially brave, so when the power came on, shooting lights and electronics like fireworks throughout the house, he knew his best chance at getting out of this mess unscathed was to dive for cover.
As it so happened, his best chance of survival turned out to be his only chance: the knowledge that one very special F.B.I. Special Agent in Charge Peter Burke was as swift and sure as he knew him to be. The couch and the potted plant that Neal had found for protection wouldn't have shielded him for long from the deranged, gun-wielding blonde. But the timing and intelligence of his 'partner' thankfully made the need for such shielding moot.
Caffrey stood up as the Burke home fast was inundated with law enforcement personnel. The relief he felt upon seeing Peter heading towards him barely stilled the faint shiver that threatened to morph into a full-blown panic attack. Or maybe it was simply shock, though he'd never been in a position before to really know what that felt like. Neal Caffrey could honestly say that he'd never been more frightened. He had the wherewithal to recognize that the 'Welcome home' comment was a simple statement to help ease the tension, but his head was spinning so much with the what-ifs of the situation that he'd be hard-pressed to identify whether it had been he or Peter who had said it.
Peter came nearer as he recognized the look on Neal's face wasn't the blithe, confident face of the con artist that he knew so well and had come to like and admire. Caffrey's eyes seemed wider, brighter than usual, though come to think of it, Burke was finding that thought nearly impossible to believe. In the many times Neal had tried to con him he'd been presented with said same, innocent, wide eyes. But there was something different this time. This time, Peter felt far more worry toward his young friend and far less reluctant admiration for a con well played.
"Are you okay?" Burke asked as he stepped in front of his favorite – and only – consultant.
"S. . .Sure," Neal stuttered. Right. That answer oozed confidence. Peter put his hand on Neal's arm and felt the shaking that Caffrey, no matter how much he wanted to, found unable to control. He liked to see himself as a master of his own command, of presenting the right façade for the right occasion. Today's façade seemed to be crumbling fast.
"Hey," Burke said quietly, only loud enough for the ex-con to hear. "Sit," he ordered, leading him back to the sofa just a couple of steps behind Caffrey.
"No, Peter," Neal said in a near-whisper. "Not here," he added as his eyes jumped from one person to the next in the room. Burke followed Caffrey's not-so-furtive glances and understood that Neal didn't want – and could ill-afford, considering his current line of work – law enforcement to have any reason to think him weak.
"Sit for a minute. I'll be right back."
"I'll stand," Neal replied shakily. Peter smiled fondly at his charge, shook his head and started toward the assault team leader. Caffrey watched as Jones joined the conversation, nodded his head when the young black agent acknowledged him from afar, and then felt relief once again as Peter headed back his way.
"Come with me," Burke directed.
"Where're we goin'?" Neal asked, his enunciation, usually impeccable, slipping into just a little bit of a slur. His eyes seemed surprisingly heavy-lidded.
"Okay." Peter's worry quotient rose at the easy acquiescence.
"So, did you and Pierce make your way to other parts of the house?" Peter asked casually as he passed Jones, who held his place in order to hear what followed.
"N. . .No. Just here. An. . .And the dining r. . .room. Damn it." Jones returned a worried frown to his boss, who nodded his head toward the other agents. Jones left the two men alone as they continued into the den. Neal looked to Peter questioningly, hoping the F.B.I. man could give him insight on the stuttering and the cold. He refused to take any action to warm himself in front of everyone gathered in Peter's house. He was freezing. He thought he'd be better at handling the situation.
"Happens to the best of us, Neal," Burke allowed. He positioned Caffrey in front of the sofa, the same one Neal had spent time recuperating on after he'd been drugged at the Howser Clinic. He took Neal's hand, which felt icy cold, and checked his pulse. He frowned as he ordered, "Take off your jacket."
"Why?" Neal asked as he readily complied with what he'd been told.
"Because you're going to sit, and then lay down for a while."
"Peter, I can't," Neal pleaded as he looked back toward the living room.
"Yes you can. They won't be coming back here. All their work is in the front of the house. Jones'll be their liaison with us. Sit."
"I'm not Satch, you know."
"I know. I don't have to tell him to do something twice."
"Seriously, Neal, you're showing signs of mild shock. Mild can become something worse if we don't take some time to address it. We can likely nip it in the bud if you just lay down and rest for a while."
"Feel like an idiot," Caffrey admitted as he sat and then leaned over on his side. "'s not like I g. . .got shot." Burke quickly slipped a pillow under Neal's head, and then pulled the throw from the back of the couch and placed it over the young man's shoulders and chest.
"No, but you thought she was going to shoot. She's killed before. No reason to think she wouldn't have gone through with it," Peter said as he loosened Neal's tie.
Caffrey trembled noticeably. "Oh, 'm sure she would've. Close call."
Peter knew that it had to have been. He knew that it was. He could tell as he walked in that it had been a near miss. He closed his eyes and shook his head to get the picture out of his mind of what might have been. He watched closer as Caffrey stilled, except for the shivering, which itself was easing. Somehow, Neal was having a harder time than expected getting his legs up on the couch. He stopped trying, closed his eyes, and rested his head heavily into the softness of the pillow.
"That's close, but no cigar, tiger," Peter said as he removed Caffrey's shoes and lifted Neal's legs up onto the couch. "Lay on your back, you're all twisted up."
"Yes, Doct'r Tann'baum," Neal slurred, a reference to Peter's last undercover assignment.
Burke snorted a laugh at the reference, and that Caffrey so readily followed the order. "Why can't it be this easy to get you to listen when we're on a case?"
"We're on a case," Neal noted sleepily.
"Yeah, and you didn't listen and it could have gotten you killed."
"Hate guns, Pet'r," Neal mumbled just before he nodded off.
"No, no, not yet," Peter said as he kneeled in front of his shocky partner. "Talk to me some more," he insisted as he pulled a hand-knitted afghan from a nearby chest and laid it over Neal. He sat on the coffee table, watching his partner, remembering the ex-con struggle to come awake from the sedative weeks earlier. Two close calls. Peter would have to be more careful. Neal's welfare was as important as Caffrey's great mind, and other talents, in helping him to solve cases. Burke wondered if he was taking that enough into consideration with end results like these. Sure, Neal would be fine this time, as he had been the last time. But what about the next time?
"Tired," Neal said.
"I know. Just stay awake another minute."
"How about because I said so?" Peter asked.
"Mm. If you wanna talk, pick a topic. I can't think."
"Oh, I don't know."
"Oh, I've got one. How 'bout how I'm the 'Ambass'dor of Awesome?" Neal said with a wry, tired smile.
"Well, no, I don't think we'll talk about that, since it's not true."
"Sure it is." Peter smiled as he checked Neal's pulse once more. Better. He felt his friend's extremities, his face, and found the skin coming back to a more normal temperature. He'd be fine. "What's wrong?"
Peter looked up to see Neal staring at him. "Nothing. You're fine."
"I was askin' 'bout you."
"I'm fine. Just worried about you."
"Then we're both fine," Neal said. He still saw worry on Burke's face. "We are fine, aren't we Peter?"
"Sure we are."
"So you trust me?" Neal asked, eyes still wide, still bright.
"I do," Peter responded, "but we need to talk about Alex. Not Alex specifically, but people like Alex."
"You do?" the F.B.I. man asked, but as he looked at Caffrey he knew that this was a conversation for later. Maybe today they'd talk about it, maybe not until tomorrow. But definitely not now. Now he needed to remember his first aid training and make sure Neal didn't stress himself and was on the road to recovery.
"Sleep. I'll wake you when we're ready to head out of here."
Peter Burke sat watching as Neal Caffrey dozed. He listened as his team and others cleared up what they needed to and slowly but surely silence met him from the other room. Jones came in to tell him they were all leaving. Peter thanked him, told him that he and Neal would take a taxi back in later, and watched as Jones left the den, and heard as the front door closed shut behind him. And he kept quiet vigil.
Continue to Part 2