Partners 1

Takes place after "Free Fall"

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Neal snored softly, a book laying face down and open over his bare chest as he slept on the sofa in his room at June's. His eyes flickered beneath closed lids as he dreamed. His lips moved softly in near inaudible tones with what sounded like a name: Kate.

"Why? Kate... please! Who is he? Let me help you..." He saw her staring at him with those deep blue eyes, her hair covering her face slightly as he tried to follow but she disappeared like smoke, a faint sound of her voice following: "I'm sorry, Neal..."

"Kate!" Neal woke up with a start, sitting up and hearing a thud as the book rolled off his chest and onto the hardwood floor of his room. His heart was beating fast with the memory of the dream, his face flushed and stuck in an unhappy frown. He had been dreaming about her a lot lately, wondering who the man was that had her captive. Peter and he were beginning to think there might be a tie with Agent Fowler after their last few run ins with him, but there wasn't enough proof to pinpoint exactly how the agent was involved.

Neal combed his hair back with his hand, sitting up and reaching down to pick up the book he had been reading: "A Dummies Guide to the FBI." Moz had gotten it for him as a joke but it had been something to read while Neal waited for Peter to call him back for some consulting gigs.

Consulting in general had been pretty quiet lately with Peter busy doing some fairly normal cases for a change which meant Neal had to sit around on his thumbs and keep busy with other stuff... like keeping out of trouble and looking for Kate.

He gave a deep sigh and stood up heading over to his bed. He had barely walked two steps when he heard his phone start to buzz on the nightstand. Neal walked over to the table and picked up the phone. It was a text from Peter.

"Neal, sorry I haven't called you in lately. Highers up have been getting on Hughes' case about our using your expertise. The results should outweigh any reservations but you know how politics are.

Elizabeth is out of town till tomorrow and I have a case I'd like to discuss with you if you can come over now. I've reset the GPS so you can drive out here. Come as quickly as you can.

Thanks,

Peter"

Neal glanced at the clock: it was nearly 11 pm. He reread the text again before placing the phone back onto the nightstand. It must be a pretty important case if Peter was calling him out this late. Neal quickly changed into some blue jeans, a white tee tucked in with a black button up shirt over it and a comfy pair of sneakers. He threw one of June's late husband's jackets over it, a nice leather piece Deano himself might have worn, grabbed his hat and his cell as he made his way out of the room.

When Neal reached the bottom floor, June was downstairs sitting at the dining room table drinking tea as he passed by. She smiled and made a motion for him to come over.

"Where does a young man go out so late on a Friday night? Peter know what you're up to?" She winked in jest but he nodded just the same.

"Actually I'm off to meet with him now. He has a case for me... finally!" He sounded a bit excited which made the older woman smile.

"I see... so you like your assignment with him? I think your friend Mr. Honeycutt would think otherwise."

Neal blinked at her, then smiled somewhat shyly, running a hand through his dark hair. "Honeycutt has his own ideas of how things are but I don't really have a choice. Still... It's nice doing something good for a change." He sounded sincere even to himself and she just nodded in a knowing kind of way that he was used to.

"Well don't keep Mr. Burke waiting. That GPS window won't last forever."

He looked down at his anklet a moment and nodded giving her a tip with his hat, making his way out to catch a cab.

It only took around 30 minutes to get from June's to Peter's considering what night of the week it was and traffic. Neal paid the cabbie and walked up the small sidewalk towards the homey little two-story Agent Burke shared with his wife Elizabeth and their dog Satchmo. The young man smiled as he walked up the few steps and knocked on the door. He'd barely tapped it when it creaked open on its own. That was unusual but then Peter was expecting him.

Still... it was after 11 pm why would the door be unlocked much less open? Neal felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end as he pushed the door open and peered inside calling: "Peter? It's Neal..." No reply.

Neal looked around outside, didn't see any signs of forced entry and then went inside, closing the door behind him. He walked quietly through the first floor till he found the Burke's dog in the corner apparently sleeping. He walked over to the huge golden retriever and saw something odd: a small feathered dart sticking out of the dog's side. It had been drugged. Neal removed it as he petted the dog gently and felt it breathing so it was alive but this meant someone else was here. Peter might be in trouble!

Neal made his way quietly up the staircase to the second level, careful of the steps he had notice that creaked and groaned loudly from his previous visits. Once upstairs he saw only one door partially open with light under it and tiptoed forward, pushing it open.

"OH MY GOD... Peter!" He saw the back of the agent's head where lay unconscious on the floor of the bedroom. Neal crouched down beside his friend and nudged the agent gently towards him.

"Peter... wake u..." His voice trailed off as he saw the person on the floor wasn't Peter but someone who only looked like him from the back. The person's eyes opened and before the young man could do anything, he felt a shock of electricity in his side and slumped to the floor.

The stranger that he had mistaken for Peter knelt beside the young con and smiled curiously before calling out.

"All Clear!" Neal's vision blurred a bit as he tried to focus on the man and other figures who suddenly appeared from the closet and hallway. One of them was Fowler.

"Yo...u...!" Neal hissed trying to sit up but he was tased again and fell back against the wooden floor with a thud, panting. The man who he thought was Peter pulled Neal's wrists in front of him and started to bind them securely with a plastic tie. He did the same with the young man's ankles and pulled him up forcibly by the wrists. Neal winced, the man hooking the young man's arms on a small decorative yet sturdy hook on the wall just out of view of but beside the bedroom door.

Fowler walked over and smiled evilly at the young con, his gloved hands holding a small silver automatic. "Kate sends her love..." The agent smiled more as Neal wiggled to get at him, his pale blue eyes flashing angrily.

"Damn you, Fowler! Let her go!" He spat at the agent who wiped at his face before smacking the young man hard across the chin. Neal slumped against his bonds, face slack. Fowler grimaced making a motion to one of the other men who came over and stuffed a scarf into the young man's mouth, pulling a piece of duct tape off a small roll and sticking it over Neal's lips.

"That will keep him quiet until this is over. Is Burke here yet?" Fowler looked at one of the others who stood by the window peering outside.

"I see a car pulling up. Looks like he's here." One of the men said. Fowler nodded with a smile, motioning for everyone to hide.

"Do it now...!" Fowler hissed, as a man crouched by Neal and cut the anklet loose, just as the sound of the front door opening below was heard. A curse reached up from below.

"This is Burke... Dammit... He did? Let me grab a few things. I'll be right there." Burke hung up the phone as he ran up the stairs to the second floor of his home and walked down the darkened hallway to the one room that was showing light beneath it. He walked up and pushed the door open to the bedroom he shared with his beautiful wife Elizabeth. She was coming back tomorrow tonight so he had been out doing some last minute errands in anticipation.

He entered the room to grab his service revolver and ID, before he took off after Neal, wondering why the young man would have cut his GPS anklet. As he entered the room, Peter heard the cocking of a gun, freezing for an instant before turning towards the sound.

A masked figure with black gloves stood there with a silver automatic pointed at his head. Peter's eyes widened in sudden fear but something pushed him to the ground as the gun went off and he heard a muffled groan from whoever had pushed him out of the way. It was Neal!

The young man collapsed to the floor, a red stain appearing on the white tee under his black shirt. Peter gasped, holding the young man gently.

"Neal? What are you doing here?" He saw the young man's eyes flutter open, noticing the gag and bindings, before returning his attention back to the gunman. Peter turned too late as the shooter used the butt of the gun to knock him out. Peter slumped to the floor beside Neal who looked up through blurry eyes at the gunman and Fowler. Neal felt his expression darken, nudging at his friend and making muffled groans of pain as his shoulder ached from the gunshot wound.

Fowler cursed. "Damn it! You hit the wrong man... we can't blame this on Caffrey if he's shot with the same gun! Idiot!"

The masked man shook a little at the other man's voice, handing the gun back to Fowler.

"But... we'll make it work." Fowler flipped Peter onto his back, smirking at Neal as he pointed the pistol down and shot once. He shot the agent in the right upper chest, the unconscious agent shuddering slightly from the pain then going limp. Fowler bent over afterwards to wrap Peter's hands around the gun and then Neal's.

"I guess you guys had a shoot out with the same gun... while you were attempting to run. Untie him and leave him for the cops to find." Fowler left as Neal was held at gun point with the same weapon had wounded them, and his bonds removed except for the gag. Fowler's men exited the house leaving Neal as the patsy and Peter for dead.

The young man managed to push himself up after a moment and pulled the tape and rags from his mouth, his face taut in pain. His shirt was nearly soaked through with blood from the shoulder wound but Peter was far worse, his chest completely covered in red across his white polo shirt and through his beige jacket. The agent looked like death, chest barely moving. Neal moved closer checking to be sure his friend was alive and Peter was, although just so.

Neal carefully pulled off his jacket, folded it up and placed it under Pete's head, then tore at his shirt sleeves and started to dress his friend's wound as best he could. Neal wasn't sure what to do, his choices limited.

If he called an ambulance they'd take him in as an accessory once they found out who he was.

If he waited around for the cops Fowler had called, he'd be arrested regardless, so he made a tough choice.

"Come on Pete..." He hefted the man onto his back despite his shoulder and carried him down the stairs, past the sleeping dog and out the back door.

(hiding out...)

"Neal... Neal..." He opened his eyes and saw Kate looking down at him, her lips forming a smile.

"Ka...te?" He reached out to touch her face and suddenly Moz stood there looking down at him. Neal blinked, turning his head and trying to sit up but his friend pushed him down gently against the cot he was laying on.

"You're awake! I was getting a bit concerned you weren't going to make it. You were outside of my door when I showed up tonight and you scared the begeezus out of me!" His voice sounded its usual nasally snarky tone but there was a hint of concern underneath.

Neal glanced around at the room he was in and saw lots of boxes and shelving.

"Moz... don't tell me I'm in your storage unit..."

Moz watched him with interest.

"It wasn't my idea for you to show up here with the Suit but I came home and there you were! I take the fifth on how you got here and what kind of steroids you were on to carry him on your back."

Moz pointed. Neal saw another figure lying on a pile of blankets on the opposite side of the unit. It was Peter, his face pale, chest moving up and down just enough to convince the young man the agent was alive.

"So what happened, Neal? Did you guys have a falling out? I noticed the anklet was missing." Neal shook his head as he pushed himself up enough to look down at his naked ankle under his jeans and frowned as he fell back with an audible sigh of frustration.

"No Moz. Fowler happened. He jumped me at Peter's then tried to kill him." He glanced down at his shoulder which he noticed had been dressed and bandaged.

"And I got this pushing Peter out of the way but it didn't matter: Fowler shot him anyhow!" The young man's voice was filled with a combination of anger and sadness, his eyes looking over at the unconscious agent guiltily.

"Elizabeth comes home tomorrow. She's going to think I did this! The gun... Fowler had us both touch it so it looked like it was a falling out... Moz... I don't want to go back because of this. Peter's... "

He stopped, wiping at his cheek and trying to hide his feelings. The little man gazed at him curiously, removing his glasses and cleaning them.

"This room is a bit stuffy. Makes my eyes water and nose run." Moz looked over at Neal and sniffed a bit, pushing his glasses back onto his face. His tone changed slightly.

"Well, you were a lucky man, Neal. So was your FBI buddy. My medic friend stopped by today on his rounds and hooked me up with a few things so that's why you guys are still here. You know how I am about hospitals much less blood." His nasally voice cracked a bit at the mention of the last word. Neal nodded in agreement, his own past experience keeping him as far as possible from hospitals aswell as guns.

The young man pushed himself up regardless of any discomfort and Moz's reservations and stumbled over to the unconscious FBI agent. Peter didn't move, his face pale, cheeks flushed in a faint pinkish hue, shallow ragged breaths escaping his grayish lips. Neal knelt down beside the agent and grasped the man's right hand gently in his left.

"Peter? It's Neal... can you hear me?" The young man sighed, gingerly sliding himself down to a sitting position on the floor beside the unconscious man and leaned back against some boxes.

"I'm sorry for everything... maybe if I had stayed in prison and served my term... none of this would have happened."

Neal combed a hand through his hair, slumping back tiredly as he pulled his left hand from Peter's. He felt a sudden tug at his hand and looked down to see Peter looking up at him through half-opened eyes. The agent was smiling slightly, his head shaking a bit.

Neal grasped his friend's hand back with both of his and smiled.

"Peter, you're awake! How are you feeling?" Neal felt a guilty nausea sweep over him to see the agent hurting because of him. As if he could read minds, Peter made a slight smile as he spoke.

"Don't... blame your...self, Neal." There was a short pause before he quipped. "and I feel like I got run over by a train!" Peter wheezed slightly then continued, the smile replaced with a pained grimace.

"Your anklet... it's gone?" Neal pulled up his jean and nodded.

"Fowler. He had his men cut if off to get to you. He made sure both of our prints were on the gun. Everyone's going to think I shot you, hid the body and ran!" The young man turned his face away, flushed with anger and maybe shame at not being able to do more. Peter patted him on the arm and coughed a moment before speaking again.

"I know you, Neal. You'll do the right thing. I trust you." Peter smiled at the young man confidently before his face went slack, eyes closing and he fell back into unconsciousness. Neal looked down at the agent concerned, checking the man's pulse and breath. He gave a relieved sigh as he realized Peter was just sleeping.

Moz walked over after a moment, having kept out of the way, his nose twitching nervously.

"Neal, he really needs a hospital... much as I hate them I can admit when I'm wrong. You need one too. You're looking kind of ashy."

Neal shook his head at his mousy friend and curled up beside Peter on the floor.

"Moz, As soon as I get anywhere near a hospital, if the staff aren't suspicious of the gun shot wounds, Fowler will be waiting. He'll take me in or find a way to kill me if not Peter and make it look like I was escaping."

His voice was faint, fading away as he slumped on his side against the floor. "I can't go back..." his face relaxed and went slack, one last phrase exiting his lips. "... not like this..." Neal passed out.

Moz walked over to the cot and pulled a blanket off of there, throwing it over the young con man and sighing to himself.

"Dammit, Neal! You had better get well soon!"

(meanwhile...)

Elizabeth stared at the crowd of squad cars in front of the two-story home she shared with her husband, Peter. It was Saturday morning and she had expected to be picked up by her husband at the airport. Instead Jones and another agent had showed up to give her a secure ride to her home and then to a safe house. She had tried to ask them about her husband or why they were putting her into protective custody, but nobody seemed willing or able to give her an answer. Everyone looked so nervous it made her want to talk to Neal but he was nowhere to be seen and wasn't picking up on his cell. A phone call to June let her know she hadn't seen him since last evening late but said he had mentioned seeing Peter on a case. Elizabeth had thanked her and hung up feeling more nervous than usual. If something had happened to her husband and Neal had been with him, it must have been something serious from the look on everyone's face. Even Jones, who normally thought well of her hubby and considered Neal to be a pretty cool guy looked like someone who just found out the truth about Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy.

Elizabeth forced her way out of the car, once they parked across the street from her home, and stormed out. Agent Jones followed close behind, piece showing, grabbing at her arm gently but firmly as she pulled away and glared at him aswell as the rest of the agents blocking the entrance. They moved aside as she made her way briskly up the small set of steps and into her home. An agent she wasn't familiar with, with light almost white blond hair, kind of bloated looking, pale and stout like an out of shape athlete stood talking to Peter's boss Reese Hughes. She pulled her arm from Jones' once again and walked up to Hughes, eyes flashing with worry if not frustration.

"Reese, what's going on here? Where's Peter?" She tried to keep her voice even but it was hard as she tried to imagine what could have initiated so many agents upon her house. The older agent opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted by the stout agent who flashed his badge and smiled with a false confidence.

"Mrs. Burke, my name is agent Fowler of OPR. You really shouldn't be here. It's not safe." He gave a little nod to Jones as if to say "Get her out of here!" which Elizabeth ignored, pulling her arm again from Agent Jones' hand and standing up to Agent Fowler with a flash of anger.

"Agent Fowler, I want to know what happened to my husband and where I can find him. I'm not leaving till I do." She turned to Hughes and toned her temper down enough to give him a more friendly expression asking for help. He shrugged at her speaking softly.

"I'm sorry, Elizabeth. I don't know much more than you do. Jones, can you take Mrs. Burke to the kitchen and let her know what's going on?" He turned to glare at Fowler who had started to say something else but shut up when the older man gave him that look. Jones nodded with an almost relieved look and lead the woman to her own kitchen where a bunch of agents were checking around the dog's bowls and back door. She sat down with Jones who looked a little afraid suddenly or perhaps nervous. She suddenly notice their dog was missing. Elizabeth looked around for their golden retriever when Jones began to speak.

"Mrs. Burke... I know your husband and Neal Caffrey have been working with one another quite frequently. Neal is a real easy guy to get to know." She nodded with a tight smile trying to figure out where he was going with this.

"Agent Jones, I don't mean to be pert with you but I need to know... where is my husband? Where is Peter? I can't even contact Neal..." He interrupted her with his hand held up and an expression seen on someone giving the worse news they could to a person.

"Mrs. Burke... We believe that Neal came here to visit with your husband and they... may have had some kind of an argument." Her eyes widened as he continued to speak.

"We found signs of a struggle upstairs. There was blood and a pistol with both Agent Burke's and Neal Caffrey's prints." Her face went pale and she held a hand over her mouth to avoid making any sound, nodding for him to continue. Jones looked a bit pale himself.

"We also found the GPS unit on the floor. The working theory is that Neal may have shot your husband and Peter shot him back in the struggle. Neal removed his anklet and then... I'm sorry..." Jones looked like he wanted to run away himself as Elizabeth's expression changed to horror.

"Is Peter..." She asked without finishing her sentence and he shook his head replying.

"We don't know where Peter or Neal are."

She looked at him, eyes staring through him more than anything as she tried to comprehend the story he told her. Neal shot Peter and ran? It couldn't be true! Neal wasn't dangerous... he might be a con but he wasn't a killer!

"I don't believe it..." She stood up and slammed her hand on the table scaring the agent and bringing stares from other agents around the corner.

"Neal wouldn't do this!" Elizabeth wiped at her face, walking out of the room and past Fowler and Hughes going upstairs. Both agents started to follow her, Jones standing in the kitchen doorway with a sad expression on his face.

Elizabeth made her way past several agents and into the bedroom she shared with her husband and gasped. They hadn't finished cleaning the scene up yet so there was still plenty of blood on the wooden floor boards as she pushed into the room. Many of the agents paused looking at her confused and trying to figure out what to do. Some of them who knew her and her husband moved aside, whispering quietly, as she knelt down and looked at the blood stains and started to cry. Peter... where are you? What happened between you and Neal?

She saw an evidence bag with the anklet in it sitting on the bed. She saw a gun, a small silver automatic, in another bag and next to that something else... She turned to see Hughes and Fowler in the door way, the older man walking up and helping her back to her feet. Elizabeth pointed at the third evidence bag filled with what appeared to be the remnants of a gag. Hughes shrugged helplessly.

"We aren't sure what that is from. The lab is going to analyze it along with some ties we found." She nodded almost dumbly, her expression hopeless as her anger faded into sadness. Hughes lead her out of the room and back to Jones who had made his way to the second floor.

"Jones, make sure Mrs. Burke has everything she needs and then take her to the safe house." Jones nodded and lead Elizabeth down the hallway to another room.

"Jones..." Elizabeth spoke without turning to look at the young man, her face pale. "What do you think happened?" She turned to him when he didn't speak right away. The agent looked wide-eyed at her, unsure of what to say, closing the door to the room they entered and spoke softly.

"Honestly..." She nodded back at him as he spoke to her confidentially. "... this smells like a set-up but you didn't hear that from me."

He walked back to the door and opened it up. "Let me know when you're ready." He nodded at her stiffly and left the room closing the door behind him.

Elizabeth walked over to the guestroom bed and sat down trying to absorb everything she heard today and what the agent had just told her, then she started to pack.