Ok, a few things first.
1) The small number of reviews for my last chapter lead me to believe that either my muse went away for so long I lost most of my readers or it wasn't up to par with my previous works.
2) I felt so guilty over not posting for months that I whipped out this chapter as fast as I could and as it's 3:45 a.m. I have no real conception if it's good or not.
3) The writers of White Collar keep stealing all my ideas! When I do introduce a plot line that is similar to the one in the show I will be sure to explain that I had already outlined those scenes many months before so I am not blindly copying what I see on TV.
Thank you for your time. Now enjoy the chapter!
"Remind me again why you're embarking on this insane venture?" Mozzie was fiddling with the chessboard in Neal's loft while his friend dressed. The bald man was struggling to grasp exactly what Neal's technique with the Shrink Suit was supposed to accomplish.
"Because Moz," he started, knotting his tie in front of the mirror, " she's here mostly to keep an eye on me and report my 'progress' and those progress reports, they don't stop at Peter, they go all the way to the top." Neal turned to his friend. "The more the good doctor sings my praises, the more leeway I get. And I could really use some more wriggle room right now."
"Forgive me if I don't understand how jerking her around is getting her to 'sing your praises'," Moz kvetched with air quotes.
"Well I have to break her down first. I've been faced with high security vaults that are easier to break into." Neal finally got his Windsor knot just right and smiled in satisfaction. He did enjoy a nice, Italian tie.
Mozzie rolled his eyes at Neal's silent self-praise. "Fine. Whatever. I still think there are better ways-" he threw up his hands in defense when Neal turned to give him a look, "-but she's your shrink."
The con man returned to his reflection. "Exactly."
Lyn was currently working on a consult for the local PD. There had been a string of burglaries of high-end jewelry stores the last of which had escalated into a rather violent murder. The police had absolutely no suspects as this guy left nothing behind. He was usually quick and efficient- in and out in no time- but in this one the thief had slipped up- he had entered the store when the owner was still in the back room doing his finances.
The psychologist wrinkled her nose at this discrepancy in behavior. Whoever this was wouldn't make such a rookie mistake so late in the game. His burglaries should be improving in skill and competence, not regressing. And the profile of a person who burgles jewelry stores in the dead of night when no one is around and the profile of a person who breaks into a place and bludgeons a man to death were completely different. There were too options. The first was that someone who was familiar with the case used the burglar's M.O. to cover up his tracks. The second was the burglar had a grudge- and a pretty deep-seeded one- against the storeowner, which caused him to alter his behavior. Either way the police should concentrate on looking into the owner's past looking for anyone who might be pissed off enough to kill.
Lyn finished her recommendation and flipped the file closed. She took a minute to rest her brain and take a sip of coffee (Susan's coffee, which was now delivered to her along with delicious pastries every morning as a peace offering). Peter and his team were currently working on a diamond forger case and as Lyn knew nothing about the precious stone forging world she would be of little use until they had an actual suspect.
Naturally her moment of peace was interrupted by Neal Caffrey. Lyn suspected that all future moments of peace where to be interrupted by that man.
"I thought I smelled real coffee."
Lyn pulled her travel mug closer to her body and narrowed her eyes at him. "You can't have any."
Caffrey put his hand to his heart, pretending to be wounded before sitting at her desk (uninvited as usual).
"Why do you dislike con men so much?"
Lyn did her best to not show how thrown she was by the change in topic. "Where did you hear that?"
"Word gets around."
"That is a long story, which we don't have for right now and isn't any of your business."
"Awww, none of my business is my favorite kind. But seriously, if you're so adverse to those in my profession- former profession why did you take Peter up on his offer?" Neal leaned back and smiled. "I must be pretty special."
"Of course, you would make this all about you."
Peter knocked on the glass wall and gestured to his watch. Caffrey sighed dramatically.
"Looks like it's back to the grind for me."
Lyn waved her hand at him. "Shoo, be gone." She saw him smile and couldn't help giving a small one in return before his tipped his hat and followed Peter out of the office. Lyn shook her head and opened another file.
Several files later Lyn looked at her clock and immediately started scrambling for her things. She was supposed to meet Roger and Mrs. Burke- Elizabeth, Lyn reminded herself- for lunch in fifteen minutes.
Lyn was pretty sure that Mrs. Burke had perfected mind control. Lyn didn't even want Peter to meet Roger, let along his wife- which in the end was the same thing. The redhead had no doubt Elizabeth would tell her husband everything. Why couldn't anyone grasp the concept that her personal and professional lives were separate? And yet here she was gathering her coat to go meet her fiancé and her boss' wife. Mind control, Lyn was sure of it.
Elizabeth Burke was a master at small talk. From working in a gallery to hosting parties there were always people you had to handhold through social situations. So when it was just her and Lyn's fiancé at a table for three at an upscale French bistro the event planner wasn't all that perturbed. Roger on the other hand…
He wasn't awkward per say, in fact he was everything a southern gentleman should be, courteous, sweet and called her ma'am without making her sound old. And pretty easy on the eyes too- in that very all-American apple pie kind of way. But Elizabeth often saw him shift uncomfortably in his seat and check his phone when he thought she wasn't looking.
Elizabeth gave Roger her best friendly smile. "You don't have to be so nervous. It could be worse. My husband could be hear and strapping you to a polygraph."
That got a smile and a good chuckle from the blonde. "Somehow I think you're still the more intimidating spouse."
"Mmmm. Smart man."
Roger shifted a little and checked the restaurant before making eye contact with Elizabeth once more. "You're husband works closely with Neal Caffrey, correct?" He was obviously not comfortable with this line of questioning but he couldn't seem to stop himself.
"Do you know him well? I'm not trying to pry or anything-"
Elizabeth waved him off with a smile. She understood why he would be concerned ("Hey El, honey, is there any significance to a man giving a woman a horse figurine?") but never fear, the event planner was more than willing to defend Neal's honor and set the record straight. "You have nothing to worry about. I know Neal's reputation precedes him but he's really a good man at heart."
She was about to continue when she saw Roger light up at something over her left shoulder and before the woman could turn around a blur of strawberry blonde hair and Dior descended upon the table.
"I'm so sorry I'm late. I got caught up at work," their late lunch guest breathlessly gushed.
"Hey, that's my husband's line."
Lyn laughed and leaned over to give her fiancé a quick peck hello.
"Don't worry, we didn't order yet," Roger assured his future bride.
"Oh, good." Their waiter seeing that their full party had arrived immediately swooped down on them. Once he left with a full note pad Elizabeth turned to her companions to keep the conversation flowing.
"So Lyn, how did Roger propose?" She figured Roger didn't want Lyn knowing he was inquiring about Neal and by the tension that just drained from his shoulders El knew she figured right.
"Oh." Lyn's head ducked down and a kind of bashful smile flashed over her face. "Well… we were in the kitchen and just talking, laughing and we looked at each other and knew. We wanted to spend the rest of our lives like this. So he asked his parents for the family ring… and we were engaged." Roger reached over to grasp Lyn's hand and they took a moment to smile softly at each other. Roger turned back to El.
"I know it's not the most traditionally romantic story but hey," he turned back to Lyn, "I got what I wanted." The redhead just rolled her eyes.
"He's so gallant, don't you think?" she said in a false swoon to El who giggled in response.
"So, do you know where you want to get married?"
"In the city, definitely," Lyn responded. "There's really no such thing as neutral ground with our families so we figured if they're going to bring the bayonets and rifles we're going to make them travel a little." The wedding talk continued with Lyn venting how her mother was driving her crazy with emails and voice mails saying she wanted to get with the planning already and how the dead silence from her grandmother was rather foreboding. El wasn't quite sure what the family history was there but it didn't appear to be good. Roger chimed in once and a while just like a groom to be should. It was all so… picture perfect. Norman Rockwell couldn't have painted them cuter.
The waiter came back to serve their food in the middle of their conversation. El glanced over at her husband's newest team member and it seemed Lyn had become distracted by something out the window enough to lean over to the side to look around the man setting down her plate.
"Is that…?" Lyn's eyebrows furrowed. "Excuse me for a second." She stood from the table and quickly exited the restaurant, completely baffling Roger.
"She usually doesn't do that."
But El was too busy searching for whatever had caught Lyn's attention so entirely to respond. Then she saw it. It was- Oh!
The hardest part about becoming an FBI agent is finding the right shoes. You needed something that was professional enough for the office but still appropriate for sprinting down streets and scaling fences. Half the time Jones wanted to say screw it and just wear track shoes all the time.
This was one of those times he wished he had worn more athletic shoes. Chasing down a suspect in loafers was not going to do him any favors later. But as the FBI agent was currently in pursuit of a suspect he didn't have a whole lot of excess energy to worry about what his joints would be like in ten years.
Damn this guy could run. It had seemed so routine, so simple at the beginning. Knock on the door, ask a few questions, look for anything suspicious and then the guy- Martin Langer- just takes off prompting this multi-block chase. At least he was gaining ground.
Wait. Was that Lyn?
In the movies the next few seconds should have happened in slow motion. The redhead was so distracted with trying to figure out what Peter and Neal (who were a bit behind him, that track scholarship really did pay off) were doing that she didn't even notice him or Langer coming right at her. Langer did notice her however and saw fit to shove her out of his way and directly into a wall. The FBI agent was close enough to hear bone crack against brick over the New York traffic and the sound sparked something in Jones to push those last few feet and tackle the scumbag. Hard.
In the background he heard his boss yell out Lyn's name and he knew she'd be taken care of. "Martin Langer," he started, yanking the suspect's arms behind his back roughly, "you're under arrest." This was definitely going on his top ten most satisfying arrests list. What kind of cowardly bastard shoves a tiny thing like Marrow in to a brick wall?
He yanked Langer to his feet and turned to check on the scene behind him. Peter was switching back and forth between Lyn and looking at Jones with pride. The psychologist was crumpled on the ground against the wall, hand on her head, blood running down the side of her pretty face. Jones really wasn't surprised to see Neal crouched over her.
Caffrey was asking Lyn to repeat the last five words he said which Jones recognized as a field test for a concussion. Apparently Lyn recognized it too.
"Are you serious, Neal?"
"Hey, you just called me Neal!"
"Yeah well I was just hit over the head with a brick wall, my cognitive skills are not at their sharpest."
"Just repeat the words, Lyn."
"We'll deal with name calling later."
Jones was amazed that even with the head wound and the copious amounts of adrenaline probably still pumping through Neal, the two of them were still able to keep up their banter.
"Cat, Butterfly, Spoon, Car, Chap stick- which is two words, by the way. Satisfied?"
"Not really. That's a lot of blood."
"Head wounds bleed a lot, Mr. Caffrey. What the hell happened?"
"This guy," Jones answered, shaking Langer for good measure "was fleeing the FBI and decided to add assault to his charges."
Lyn snorted. "Smart guy."
"I called the EMTs," Peter said gravely, the sound of sirens in the distance.
"I don't need-"
"Yes you do, Lyn. Don't argue with me." That was his stern, end-of-discussion voice and no one defied that particular tone. "Jones, get this guy to booking." He leveled a glare at Langer and the man appropriately cowered.
Peter watched Jones frog-marched Langer away with satisfaction. The EMTs were just down the street now and Peter turned to Neal to tell him he had to move out of the way when the FBI agent swore he heard some guy with an accent yell Lyn's name. And then he heard his wife's voice.
"El?" he asked the ether, bewildered as to what his wife would be doing here. He heard the EMTs in the back ground coaxing Lyn to stand and Neal arguing that he already gave her a field concussion test but he was too distracted with El running up to him a tall blonde man right on her heels.
"We were at lunch and we saw-" his wife was out of breath, her face flushed. The man strode right past them and directly to the wounded psychologist.
"It's fine," he assured her, his hands comfortingly on her shoulders, "we got the guy and the EMTs are looking over Lyn now." Peter glanced over his shoulder at the ambulance only to see Lyn blocked by Neal and the mysterious new guy posturing at each other. "El, who is that?"
Neal didn't want to admit it but he was freaked. His brain was kind of stuck on a loop of Lyn jogging towards them, Langer shoving her into that wall, Lyn crumpling to the ground, Lyn with blood all over her face. Luckily years of working under pressure kept him from showing obvious signs and have enough presence of mind to check for any serious brain damage.
When the pair of EMTs got there they told him he had to move and he vaguely recalled Peter saying something to that effect earlier. The con man hadn't really been paying attention. He got out of the way but followed the trio to the ambulance reporting on her condition as he had assessed so far.
Neal was hovering, the EMTs were dabbing at her head wound and Lyn was insisting that she was fine- it was a well oiled machine of chaos until a new player arrived and threw off Neal's precarious new balance.
"Roger!" Lyn practically jumped out of her skin.
"Excuse me sir, you're going to have to back off," the burlier of the EMTs said. Roger was not pleased with this response.
"I'm her fiancé!"
The emergency worker looked surprised. "Oh, I thought he…" The man glanced at Lyn's ring and then at Neal.
"He is not her fiancé."
And Neal did not like the way he said that. Like it the very idea was offensive. Neal shifted to stand a little taller and a little closer to the southerner, and the other man puffed out his chest in response.
"Oh would the two of you zip up already?" Lyn snapped. "You can measure later." Roger's face tightened with unhappiness. Neal didn't understand; he thought Lyn's comment was funny.
I'm totally the better fiancé.
The female EMT attending to Lyn's head paid no attention to him or Roger. "You're lucky."
"Oh, so that's the pounding sensation in my skull." Lyn raised an eyebrow. "I was wondering what that was." Only Neal laughed and only Neal was rewarded with a smile.
"You don't even need a stitches. I know it seems worse but head wounds can be deceptive."
"That's what I told him!" Neal took offense to the hand being waved in his direction.
"Still, we'd like to take you to the hospital just to make sure there isn't more serious damage."
Lyn sighed loudly. "Fine." This eased a little of the tension in Neal's gut.
"I'm going with you," a southern accent said over his shoulder. And there's that tension again.
But Lyn didn't seem to have a problem with that so Neal forced his feet to remain planted and his mouth shut. It was much harder than he anticipated.
Before the ambulance doors closed Lyn leaned forward. "Tell Peter and Elizabeth that I'm fine." Neal nodded. "Oh, and thank you, Mr. Caffrey." That smile of hers even managed to make the blood seem less serious.
Neal watched the ambulance drive away. Was it just the adrenaline messing with his sense or did that last "Mr. Caffrey" sounded an awful like "Neal"?