The phone was ringing. Neal rolled over in bed and pulled the covers over his head as he ignored the incessant ringing of the device and finally hid his head under a pillow. At some point the phone stopped ringing and Neal smiled in his sleep, pulling his head out of from under the pillow and resuming his last pursuit: sleep.
He had barely started his dream again when he heard the buzz of his cell phone. Peter was calling him. Who else would call this early in the morning? Neal felt around blindly from beneath the warm comforter and grabbed his cell, pulling it underneath the covers.
"Peter... this better be good." He peeked out from under the covers and sat up as he heard a different voice from the other end of the receiver. Neal wiped at his eyes looking a bit red in the cheeks.
"Elizabeth. I'm sorry. I didn't realize... What?" He heard her hysterical voice sobbing on the other end, his eyes widening more as he woke up and everything began to sink in.
"When did this happen? How..." He nodded into the phone again, face sober and serious.
"Have you already called... good. I'll be right there. Just call me if you need anything before I arrive. Not a problem." He hung up the cell and held it in his hands a few minutes staring at it in a strange manner. He didn't even hear or notice that June, his landlady had opened the bedroom door and peeked inside.
"Neal? I heard your phone ringing. Everything OK?" The young man nodded vaguely then shook his head as he pushed the blankets aside and pulled on his robe, cell still in hand. He banged into a nearby chair as he walked distractedly towards her, cursing softly as he hit his shin. June clucked her tongue.
"Not awake yet?" He shook his head as he limped towards her with a chagrined looked on his face.
"Elizabeth just called me upset and crying." Neal spoke softly. June looked at him with an expression of deep concern.
"What happened. Are they ok?" Neal shook his head then nodded as if unsure what to think.
"Elizabeth is but Peter... they took him." June's eyes widened.
"They?" Her expression turned grim. Neal continued.
"A home invasion. She saw them take Peter away." June paled.
"I guess she called for you to meet with her. Get dressed! I'll have a thermos of coffee on the banister for you when you come down." Neal nodded to her with a relieved but serious smile as he made his way to the wardrobe in the corner, and June exited the bedroom.
Neal dug around in the bottom till he found a comfy pair of not so worn jeans, a gray cotton tee and a black button up shirt. He slipped off his pajamas and slid into the jeans and tee, tucking the latter in before throwing the black shirt over it. He grabbed some black socks and comfortable suede loafers. On the way out he pulled on a comfortable black leather jacket from the wardrobe along with his favorite hat.
It took him all of 5 to 10 minutes to dress and walk out the door, cell phone in hand. It began to vibrate as he took the steps 2 at a time. It was El.
"Yes, I'm headed over there now. Jones is with you? Tell him I'm on my way." Neal hung up the cell and stuck it in his jacket pocket noticing a bright shiny thermos on the banister as promised. June was just walking away from him into the dining room. Neal called out to her.
"Thanks June! I'll call you when I know something." She turned and smiled at him with a slightly worried look.
"Please do. Tell Elizabeth I'm thinking of her and Peter." Neal nodded with his characteristic smile, which he wasn't feeling under the circumstance, and made his way out the door. A cab was already waiting for him and he turned back briefly thinking June must have called it for him. She was a sweetheart! He slid into the cab with the thermos and told the driver the address and they were off.
Neal had the driver park a bit further up the street as they came across nothing short of a crime scene. There had to be atleast five cars parked infront of the Burke's place, all Federal vehicles, lights flashing and people swirling around.
Neal paid the cabbie and stepped onto the walk and made the trek back up to the small two-story Peter and Elizabeth shared. Crime scene tape had already been wrapped across the sidewalk blocking the path but Neal just passed under it, flashing his consultant's badge as he was stopped by an agent he didn't know. The agent nodded and let him up the few steps to the Burke's front door.
Inside was not much different than outside with more agents bustling around and dusting for prints and looking for evidence. Neal grabbed some gloves from a nearby bucket of supplies and slipped them on as he glided through the mess of agents and into the kitchen. There he found Jones and Ruiz talking, the former looking up with a slight smile of recognition to the young man.
"Neal, glad you could make it. Elizabeth was asking for you. She's upstairs." Neal nodded, giving a nod of hello to both agents before he wandered out of the kitchen and up the stairs to the second floor. He removed the gloves along the way and left them on a small table in the hallway as he made his way across the second level. There was a door at the end of the hallway he knew was the Burke's bedroom and he gave a little knock before opening it slowly. The room was all Elizabeth with a few items obviously of a manly persuasion indicating Peter's involvement with living there. The young woman lay in bed with the covers pulled over her, her long dark hair pulled up in a small ponytail as she stared out the window. He heard a faint whisper from her, her voice barely audible.
"Who is it?" There was little emotion in the voice, a mild crack to it as she sniffled, indicating she'd been crying or still was. Neal stayed by the door, half in, half out and knocked again quietly.
"It's me..." He saw her perk up and turn, showing her tear-streaked face and flushed cheeks. Her normally bright eyes were pink and tired looking. She had been crying and he didn't blame her after what had happened.
"Thank goodness... Neal!" She practically leaped out of the bed and ran towards the young man, her arms wrapping around him tightly. He put his arms gently around her and patted Elizabeth gently. He could feel her trembling against him as she cried into his shoulder. He let her get her emotions out before pushing her gently to arms length and staring into her eyes. She reached up to dry her eyes with a wad of tissue in her hand, nose red and runny. He pulled out a handkerchief and handed it to her.
"Take this; let's sit down." He put an arm around her and led her back to a small sitting area in the room and sat her down, then took the chair across from her, holding her hands in his. Her breath was ragged and wheezy, her lips trembling in fear if not worry. Neal didn't want to rush her but he had to know what had happened to turn a normally calm collected woman into an emotional wreck. She dabbed at her eyes with the handkerchief he had given her and looked up at him after a moment.
"Ne...al... They... they took him!" Her voice trembled, shaking with so much emotion she could barely speak. He squeezed her hands gently in his and smiled in a comforting manner.
"Just take your time. Tell me what happened." She nodded with a small bob of her head and blew her nose before collecting herself a bit more, her glance roving around the room distractedly.
"I... we were sleeping when it happened. I heard a noise and woke him up." She paused to give a little sniffle and dab at her eyes again before continuing.
"Peter got up and went to check the noise once he heard it too. I stayed up here of course but when he didn't come back after a few minutes..." She looked at the young man with a tragic expression.
"I went to look for him. That's when I felt a hand around my mouth and another around my arms at the bottom of the stairs." Elizabeth's face paled and she looked about to fall into hysterics again but she didn't, Neal continuing to hold her hands gently in his.
"Take your time... I'm here. I'm going to be here for you. I promise." She nodded again looking a bit more secure as she took control of her emotions and continued her story.
"It was all so fast! I saw Peter laying on the floor in a small puddle of ... blo...od!" Her voice squeaked in terror, nearly hoarse. Neal moved over and hugged her tight from behind. She let him and cried into his arm. There was a knock on the door and Jones stepped into the room.
"Neal... can I talk to you?" Elizabeth clung to his arm a moment as if she didn't want him to leave but Neal crouched beside her and smiled, wiping a tear from her face.
"Just give me a moment and I'll be right back. Ok?" She nodded with a little wheeze of breath and let go reluctantly as he stood and walked over to Jones, closing the door behind him as they left. The agent's expression was pretty serious.
"What's going on? Elizabeth is telling me she saw Peter in a pool of blood? What happened here, Jones?" Neal's voice sounded more intense than he meant it to but he was upset. His friend and mentor was missing and he had no idea where or by whom. Jones nodded in an understanding manner, his own nerves looking rather tense.
"From what Mrs. Burke told us, Peter went down to investigate a sound she heard. She went down soon after to find him and one of them grabbed her and held her. She saw her husband on the floor in a puddle of blood unmoving. They took him away and left her tied up in the bathroom. She managed to free herself and call us and I guess you too if you're here. Hughes was telling us not to alert you but if Elizabeth called you, I won't say anything." Neal nodded feeling a bit of anger at the situation and for Hughes continued refusal to let him in on things while he risked his life to help the Agency out on cases. Still this was for Peter. He would risk his life regardless in this case. He owed so much to the Burkes.
"But that's not why I called you out here. We just got a call from the people who took Peter." Neal blinked with wide eyes at the agent and pushed him a little ways down the hall.
"Peter's alive? You're sure? I don't want to give any false hope to El if I can help it." Their voices were harsh whispers but quiet enough to be hidden. Jones nodded.
"They called with a list of demands, one of which I think you might find interesting." Neal blinked again at the agent not liking what he was about to hear.
"Interesting good or interesting bad? I'm already feeling my skin crawl at the way you worded that." Jones glanced around moving the young con further down the hall out of earshot.
"Nobody can know I told you this... but I knew I had to." Neal nodded, moving his head closer to hear the agent's words.
"There was one demand for money but if that could not be met... they wanted you." The agent's face had reddened as he said that, seeing Neal's reaction as the young man leaned back against the wall in shock.
"Me? Did they say why?" Jones shook his head.
"No. They just said if they couldn't have the money, they wanted Burke's pet con as collateral for his safe return. Those were their exact words." Neal looked sick, his face pale and beads of sweat on his brow. Him... they wanted him. Of course he would give himself up... He owed it to Peter but to whom was he giving himself up to? Was this something to do with Kate and the music box? The man with the ring perhaps? Fowler? Maybe someone he wronged in the past. He started to feel sicker, moving over to the bathroom door and closing it. He threw up in the toilet, but since he hadn't eaten, it was more the dry heaves than anything. He was still sick though. He heard Jones on the other side.
"Neal, you ok?" Neal nodded at the door, flushing the toilet and rinsing his hands, face and mouth. He opened the door a few minutes later and nodded again at the agent.
"Yeah... just glad I didn't eat anything this morning." He brushed past the agent shakily, stopping half way down the hallway as he saw Elizabeth peering out of her bedroom door in her sweats. It was as if she could read his face. He turned and went back to the bathroom and closed the door, his back against the frame. He couldn't tell her... he wasn't supposed to know. Neal felt a cold feeling creep over him. He didn't mind giving himself up for Peter but something felt wrong here. Whoever had sent the demands knew about Peter's relationship with Neal.
After a few minutes, he opened up the door and came face to face with Elizabeth and Jones. The agent looked apologetic, while El's face was pale and flushed.
"Neal?" Her voice sounded desperate. He looked at her devastated face not knowing what to say as he looked across to Jones who shrugged helplessly.
Neal couldn't tell her about the demands yet, his mouth in a half-open gape as if he were going to speak when Jones coughed. Elizabeth turned towards the young agent, sniffling. He took her arm gently, making a motion for Neal to come along as he led her back to her room. Jones motioned for Elizabeth to sit, Neal next to her and Jones sitting across. The agent looked nervous.
"Mrs. Burke... We heard from your husband's captors." Her breath came in a little cry, her face turning to Neal, hands gripping his arm as he moved to hug her gently. Jones looked nervous.
"They had only two demands." Elizabeth gripped Neal's arm till he winced silently. Her voice came in a small whisper.
"Demands? What do they want?" Jones gave a quick glance up at Neal then back to Mrs. Burke.
"Their first demand was for money. Two million to be exact." She gawked at him, red eyes blinking in disbelief.
"We don't have that kind of money..." She looked confused, her face looking between the agent and Neal. He reddened a bit knowing what Jones was going to say next and dreading it. He didn't want her to know but if Jones had been sent to tell her... he could do nothing about it. Elizabeth sniffed and blew at her nose with Neal's handkerchief as she looked expectantly at Jones.
"What was their second demand?" Elizabeth's voice was a bit less soft, her manner nervous as she watched the agent shift in his chair nervously. Jones glanced at Neal again before he spoke.
"Their second demand was... Neal Caffrey." Elizabeth didn't say anything, staring at the agent incredulously before she turned and looked at Neal.
"They want Neal? Why?" She looked at the young man inquisitively, her face confused. Neal closed his eyes, moving away but she held onto his arm.
"Neal... why would they want you for Peter? Is there something you're not telling me?" She looked between him and Jones, her manner hurt and upset. Neal pulled his arm from her hand and stood a few feet away.
"I don't know...honestly." He turned and looked at her with sad eyes wishing he had some way to comfort her but knowing he had no answers. His glance went to Jones who nodded.
"Mrs. Burke, they didn't say why they wanted Caffrey, just that if they couldn't get the money..." His voice trailed off as Elizabeth stood and looked around the room without giving them a direct glance. She walked over to the bed and sat down, eyes staring at the floor and then back at the window.
"I want to be alone..." Jones nodded, looking at Neal and they both started to leave when Elizabeth looked back with bright, almost angry eyes and caught the young con's glance in them.
"Except for Neal." Jones blinked looking between them, nodded and closed the door leaving Caffrey with Mrs. Burke. The young man faced the door, his back to El as he tried to dab at his eyes without looking obvious.
"Neal... look at me. Tell me the truth." Her voice sounded tired, too tired to chide him. He wasn't hiding anything so why did he feel so guilty? Neal finally turned, eyes lowered. He was in the dark as much as she was but he felt like this was somehow his fault. He didn't want to face her without some kind of insight but he had to, his blue eyes flashing up at her in a guilty manner despite himself. She motioned for him to sit beside her and he obeyed.
They sat there in silence, neither one looking at the other, for just a little while before she finally grasped his arm and drew his attention to her again.
"Neal, if you know anything... Please... I just want Peter back home safe and I know you want that too." He nodded at her without meeting her eyes. Why did he feel this way? Why couldn't he just look at her and let her know how he felt? Elizabeth seemed to feel his turmoil and squeezed his arm gently, leaning her head on his shoulder.
"I know this isn't your fault. I don't blame you but I need to know the truth, Neal. Please. For Peter's sake. Who took him?" She looked up at him and he finally met her eyes reluctantly. There was so much emotion in her stare, so much honesty, it was almost too much for him to take but he faced her.
"I don't know... I was as surprised as everyone else that someone would ask for me. I..." He paused.
How much did she know about him and Kate? Had Peter told her about his search for the music box? If this involved the man with the ring, was Elizabeth aware of all of it? Every last dirty detail? She had shown she knew some information about his past but he wasn't sure how much Peter had shared. Neal sighed to himself, his emotions getting the better of him as he fought to do the right thing.
"Neal, I didn't want to ask but I can sense it... do you think this is about Kate?" Her comment made him turn and blink at her with surprise. He didn't know what to think or what to say, his throat dry, his tongue thick in his mouth.
"El... The people who have Kate, they want a certain item they think I have." She looked at him curiously, still holding his arm firmly but gently.
"Go on..." She said softly. He swallowed hard before continuing, his stomach feeling sick again but he didn't have time to acknowledge it.
"I don't have it but I know someone who might be able to help me find it only... Peter scared her away. I... I don't know if she'll talk to me again but if that's why they want me, I need to find her and see if she can get it for me." He paused.
"I don't know if these people who have Peter are the same ones who have Kate. If they are... I'll..." He dabbed at his eyes with his sleeve and started to stand.
"Elizabeth, if this is my fault, I'm willing to give myself up for your husband. Don't think..." She stood and hugged him again, turning him towards her.
"Neal, I want Peter back safe and sound but you shouldn't have to do this. I would never want that." She wiped a tear from his cheek with a wistful smile.
"I don't want to lose you either. Peter would never forgive himself and neither would I if we lost you." Neal smiled back at her trying to hold back his emotions but a few tears rolled down his cheek and he sniffed. She smiled at him and handed him a tissue.
"Neal, tell Jones I'll be downstairs in a moment. I'm going to change." He nodded at her, giving her a brief hug as she embraced him and whispered.
"Thank you for being there for me... and telling me the truth." He nodded and left the room. He dabbed at his eyes a bit turning to find Jones standing at the top of the stairs. Neal composed himself and walked over to the agent.
"Elizabeth says, she'll be down in a few. She's just going to change." Jones nodded, blocking Neal a moment and putting a hand on his shoulder.
"Is there something I should know?" Neal shook his head without hesitation.
"Nothing Peter and Elizabeth don't already know. She'll fill you in. I need something to eat." The agent nodded, letting him pass.