(Chapter 8)

Peter had done the only thing he could do when he realized what was going on outside Neal's room. He took the unconscious young man from his bed, removing all the IVs and such and placed him as gently as he could in the wheelchair. It had taken a bit of effort but he managed to wheeled the young man through the adjoining doors to his own room. He locked the side passage as well as the one to his room and called Jones immediately. The agent said he would send backup and a negotiator.

After all of that, Peter called his wife's cell phone. Jared picked up as he expected. El sounded terrified which made him angry but he did what he could to control his feelings for her sake and kept his voice low so that the crook wouldn't realize they were in the next room. It was all he could do to not break through the adjoining doors again and go to her side. Neal now lay on the sofa by the window, a blanket over him and a pillow under his head. He was oblivious to everything which was probably best.

Peter paced the room when Jared hung up on him and bit at his lip angrily. This man had to be stopped and he hoped when Jones and company showed up something could be figured out. He had called the agent back to let him know about the new situation and all the details. They had regained the money for his ransom back from Mozzie, the little guy happy to help when he realized El was the target. The agent was happy for that. He heard a soft knock at his door and voice.

"Boss... it's Jones." Peter opened up the door and hurried the agent in.

"Clinton... El's inside there with that psychopath! I don't want to think about what could go wrong." Peter ran his fingers through his hair tensely, looking back at the unconscious young man. Jones glanced over and gave a little sigh of his own.

"If this is anything like the former exchange, he won't keep his promise. Not sure how good a negotiator will do but she's outside waiting for orders." He put a comforting hand on his boss' back and Peter nodded absently. He was thinking about his wife in danger and everything that could go wrong. They had to stop this guy here and now or at least get him down long enough to lock him up. The situation wasn't looking good. He turned to the younger agent and sighed deeply.

"Get that negotiator in there. See what we can do to get my wife out of there. If I have to go in... I will but let's see what she can get Jared to do." Jones nodded back and left the room, Peter locking it again. He wasn't taking any chances. He glanced at the adjoining doors, wanting nothing more than to burst in through them and take the man down.

His thoughts darkened. Jared had managed in the course of a week to break into June's, cause Neal to have to shoot Peter (as a ruse), hit Neal with a car, kidnap and drug the agent and then take his wife hostage. If he didn't feel like going vigilante before, he was definitely feeling it now. He heard the buzz of the cell phone he was using and grabbed it.

"Burke." Jared was on the other end, voice full of conceit.

"You sent a negotiator? You realize I'm well past the state of arguments. I thought you wanted your wife back alive." Peter tensed at the last sentence, licking at his lips and trying not to curse.

"If you hurt her... you're a dead man! I don't care who knows it!" Peter's voice was menacing even to himself but he was too far gone to think about the consequences of what he said. He heard a nervous laugh from the crook. Maybe that had been enough to scare the man.

"An eye for an eye... sounds good. Still... you know if you don't give me what I want, she's as good as dead..." He paused a moment and then whispered into the phone.

"I may just do the deed regardless. I could care less one way or the other." Jared's voice was cold and despite all of Peter's rage and anger he shivered at the lack of emotion in the man's voice. Something was wrong with this person in more ways than one.

"You'll get your money..." Peter hung up on the man. He probably shouldn't have been so hasty but he was angry beyond words. He walked over and opened up the room door peering out for Jones. He motioned the agent over.

"Give me the cash! I'm going to do this myself." Jones blinked at his boss.

"Peter, I don't think..." Peter growled at the young man, his eyes flashing angrily.

"Just give me the damn money! This has to end here!" His voice was vicious and at this point he didn't care anymore if Jared knew he was in the next room. He would get his wife back and get rid of this guy. He pointed at Jones' piece.

"I'm going to need that." Jones moved back a step but then handed over his weapon, face paling some.

"Peter... think about this." The agent walked back into the hospital room and locked the door. He picked up the cell phone and called his wife's again.

"I have your money... let me hear my wife's voice." He wasn't trying to be nice anymore, practically growling into the phone. He thought he heard the crook's tone turn a bit nervous.

"How sensible of you... and Caffrey?" Peter growled again.

"Let me hear her voice." He heard movement on the other end and Elizabeth spoke though she was barely audible through her sobbing.

"Is that good enough for you? Now bring the money over... the adjoining doors should do fine." He heard the phone go click and realized the man had already known how he had gotten out.

Butterflies filled his stomach but Peter was ready to do this. He looked over at the young man sleeping in the sofa and sighed before he opened up the first door and started through.

"Break down the door now!" Jones and the rest of the team started on the door to Neal Caffrey's room as they heard a ruckus inside. There were gunshots and then silence. Finally the door burst off it's hinges and they were able to see the damage.

Elizabeth Burke lay curled up under the hospital bed crying, Peter beside her holding her closely. Both of them appeared to be unhurt, but in the middle of the floor lay a figure in a small pool of blood... Jared. Even in death, his eyes stared up conceitedly as if he was daring someone to come after him. His hands were still holding a small pistol and an open briefcase with scattered bills beside him. Standing over it all was Neal Caffrey, Jones' gun held loosely in his hands as he gazed down with a blank expression. Peter was staring up at the young man, watching him as were the other agents.

The young con continued to stand there, gun in hand, face pale and drawn. His hand shook ever so slightly and it seemed to move up his arm to the rest of his body. Peter scooted over and reached to touch the young man on the arm but moved back when the gun was pointed at him. Neal was staring without seeing, obviously still in shock and not aware of his actions.

"Neal... it's Peter. You're ok... El's ok. Give me the gun." His voice was quiet but firm. After a moment, the young man just collapsed to his knees, expression still blank. Peter continued to speak softly.

"Neal... give me the gun. Please." Neal finally looked at the agent and seemed to be seeing him for the first time. He looked down at the gun and where it was pointed and dropped it as if it had bit him. Peter made a motion to Jones who picked up the weapon. Neal swayed slightly, looking not just pale but ill. He stood up quickly and made his way to a nearby wastebasket and started to throw up. Peter moved over and rubbed the young man's back, El following him. She looked concerned but she also still looked afraid.

Neal collapsed on the floor near the trashcan, face still pale and withdrawn, his body curled up into a ball. Peter touched the young man's shoulder gently and felt a shuddering from him. He tried again and this time the young man just lay there staring ahead at nothing. He was still in shock.

"Neal..." Peter paused his own face pale with the horror of everything that had just occurred. If he hadn't been witness, it may have been slightly less devastating but he doubted it. He saw El reach across and brushed a few strands of hair from the young man's face.

"Neal... thank you." She bent over and put her cheek against the young man's face and hugged him gently.

()()()

Neal woke up to the sound of a door opening. He turned his head and found himself watching the back of someone step through the adjoining door, briefcase in hand. He knew that briefcase. It was the one he was supposed to have given to Jared for Peter's safe return. He blinked back the weariness and realized who the figure was that had just exited. It was Peter Burke.

The young man pushed himself up into an awkward sitting position wondering why he was on a sofa and not in the bed a few feet away. He didn't ponder this long as he heard a scuffle from the other side and sat up with a start. He heard a gunshot and more scuffling and then something else... Elizabeth's voice crying out.

Neal stumbled to his feet and limped across the room to the opening he saw Peter pass through. He stopped at the side and peered through cautiously. He could hear voices but one in particular caught his attention. Jared.

"Well now... one big happy family here. So, where is Caffrey so we can make it a picnic?" He couldn't see Jared but he could see Peter knelt on the floor looking up at one figure, hands up but looking occasionally to his right where he guessed Elizabeth was. If the room was set up anything like this one, the bed was to Peter's right and Jared was not too far from where Neal stood now give or take a few feet. He moved a bit closer to the entrance and his bare foot hit something that slid quietly from him. It was a pistol.

"It's a shame it has to end this way but, hey... at least no one will be left behind." Jared's voice held no humor, the sound of a gun cocking obvious. Neal didn't know how, but suddenly he was in the next room standing some feet behind and just to the left of Peter. He was able to see the whole room as if from someone else's perspective.

Everyone was about where he had guessed: Elizabeth under the bed crying and reaching out for Peter who stood off to her left and looked absolutely terrified despite trying to hide it.

As if he were moving fast and everyone else slow, Neal pulled the pistol from behind him and heard a single report. Jared's face was stuck in it's usual conceited smug smile but slowly it changed to a surprised gaze, looking down at a huge red stain forming on his chest. The crook had had no time to pull his trigger when Neal had surprised him, dropping to the ground with a thud. Jared looked up one last time and smiled again as if nothing had happened and then his stare went blank.

Neal just stood there staring at the dead man. He had just shot a man. Him... Neal Caffrey who hated guns. It was as if he was frozen in time, body stiffening slowly as if encapsulated in ice. His hand didn't seem his own and he felt a shuddering coming from it that moved up his arm and throughout his whole body. His mind just shut down and he was only there in spirit as he fell into a state of shock. Something touched his hand and he turned as if on autopilot and pointed the gun at it. He wasn't seeing. He wasn't aware of his actions but he moved quickly and heard a faint gasp of breath followed by a familiar voice.

"Neal... it's Peter. You're ok... El's ok. Give me the gun." The voice was quiet but firm. After a moment, the young man felt his legs give out on him and he collapsed to his knees, still not all there. The voice continued to speak softly.

"Neal... give me the gun. Please." Neal finally realized who was speaking. It was Peter. He looked down at his hand, saw the gun and where it was pointed and dropped it as if it had bit him. Neal swayed slightly, feeling a wave of nausea come over him. He stood up quickly and made his way to a nearby wastebasket and started to throw up. Someone was rubbing at his back gently.

After a few minutes he collapsed on the floor near the trashcan, face still pale and withdrawn, curling up into a ball. He was vaguely aware that someone touched his shoulder gently but he was feeling hypersensitive and shuddered at the touch as if it were burning him. The same someone touched him gently on the shoulder again but this time he was too far gone to react and just lay there staring ahead at nothing. He was deep in shock.

"Neal..." The voice paused. Someone else brushed a few strands of hair from the young man's face. A familiar scent of flowers seemed to pass through his haze and calm him. A new voice spoke and he felt his eyes grow warm and wet with tears.

"Neal... thank you." This new voice was soft yet familiar. He felt someone bend over him and gently press their cheek against his face and hugged him gently. He started to cry softly despite himself, listening as someone spoke softly to him and held him close.

()()()

A couple of weeks had passed and although everything seemed to be back to normal, it was nothing like it.

Peter had finally been able to get Elizabeth and himself a brand new car. He had been on leave for what had happened and been glad for it to spend time evaluating things and comforting both his wife and himself. He had tried to see Neal but the young man had been cooped up in June's for the duration of the two weeks and had barely spoken two words to anyone, much less June. She left him food outside his door at his request and saw little of him except when he slept. She would sneak in and clean up for him and then leave before he was aware of her visit.

After 12 days had passed everyone decided they had to have an intervention. Even Mozzie had gotten upset with the way the young con was acting and had confronted the Burkes and June about it openly.

June knocked on the door to Neal's room and called out: "Neal, there's some breakfast for you." She heard a quiet shifting of movement as she moved away from the door. After a few minutes there was a quiet shifting of a chair or something and the knob turned, the door opening slowly. Neal peered out still dressed in the same pajamas he had been in for a good 12 days, a bit of growth on his face from not shaving and his hair looked scruffy and mussed up. He finally opened up the door enough to grab the tray of food, pausing when he became aware of two feet standing on the opposite side of the same tray. He looked up slowly and saw Peter standing there.

Neal didn't say anything, looking down at the tray and lifting it up as if Peter weren't there. He started to turn and close the door but a hand grasped his arm and stopped him. The young man just stood there without moving or resisting, his back to the door.

"Neal... this has to stop." Peter let go of the young man's arm and watched Neal walk inside, tray in hand without even looking back. Peter followed his friend inside and looked around the room. It was clean and neat for the most part, he figured due to June cleaning for the young man when he was asleep. A few bottles of wine sat in the sink empty along with several wine-stained glasses. Neal shuffled over to his bed and placed the tray on the edge. There were a few stains there from previous meals and some red stains that were obviously from wine. Peter watched his friend curl up on the floor beside the bed and lean against the bedpost.

"I..." Neal's voice was quiet, hesitant. Peter crouched beside his friend and touched his shoulder gently.

"...shot him." The young man looked up at his friend, eyes wide and horrified. Peter continued to squeeze the young man's shoulder gently.

"But you saved Elizabeth and me." Peter's voice was soft but firm.

"Neal, it never gets easier." Peter sat beside the young man, his own face tired and wan looking. He saw Neal look at him finally.

"I haven't had to shoot many people in the line of duty but when I've had to or seen it happen... it's never easy to deal with. I wish I could tell you otherwise." He mussed the young man's hair and thought he saw Neal almost smile slightly at him.

"All you can do is remember this: You protected innocents. El and I owe our lives to you." Peter gave the young man a light hug and he felt Neal hug him back. It was only a moment and then Peter sat next to the young man, smiling warmly.

"Peter, thanks." Neal didn't say much more, his eyes looking past the agent towards the door. June was standing there peeking in and beside her another face, Elizabeth Burke. The young man tried to smooth back his hair and wipe his eyes a bit. Peter stood and helped the young man to his feet. Neal looked a bit self-conscious suddenly, pulling his wrinkled robe around him. Elizabeth walked in first followed by June.

"Neal, I'm glad you're feeling better?" Her voice sounded hopeful and he nodded back with a slight flush of his cheeks.

"Yeah, I... guess I haven't been very social lately." He rubbed at the back of his neck and gave a sheepish smile. Peter patted him on the arm and moved over to his wife, placing a protective arm around her.

"I don't think any of us have felt very social lately. It's just been one of those weeks." Everyone got quiet a second and then June cleared her throat drawing everyone's attention.

"Maggie was making some lunch if everyone's interested in some drinks and snacks." There was a unanimous round of quiet "yeahs" as if that was enough to get them to avoid what was really bothering them. June nodded and left the room. Neal rubbed at his chin and frowned.

"If you don't mind, I think I should probably go clean up and maybe change." He gave a chagrined look and grabbed up a few things from the wardrobe before disappearing into the bathroom. Peter and El sat down on the sofa, arms around each other.

"You think he's going to be ok, Peter? I don't think I've ever seen him so upset." El nestled in her husbands arms as he kissed her on the forehead.

"I think it's going to be a while for all of us to get over this. How are you feeling?" He glanced into her eyes and she smiled up at him.

"Better... I'm just glad you and Neal were there." She hugged him closer, looking briefly at the bathroom door. They heard the water turn off and Neal moving around inside. A few minutes later he came out of a steamy bathroom dressed in a comfortable pair of black knit sleep pants and a white tee. He had apparently shaved so his face was smooth again but his hair was still a bit of a mop from not having been trimmed lately. It stuck damply to his head in small wavy curls. He looked a bit more like his old self.

"Am I interrupting anything?" Mozzie said as he entered the room. He looked at Neal standing up and the couple on the sofa hugging, a blush on Peter's face and a quirky little smile on El's as she pinched her husband's cheek.

"No, just what any married couple does when left alone for any amount of time." Neal's face quirked into a little smile of his own as he moved to a chair across from them and motioned for Mozzie to sit.

"Thanks... for coming, all of you. I guess, I just wasn't ready to talk but thanks." He smiled at them for the first time like his old self. He only turned to look over them as June entered the room again with a tray of food. She walked it over to the open terrace and laid the food out on the table.

"Who's hungry?" Her voice was calm and collected as always despite her own moment of trauma that started the story. Neal stood up and quickly crossed the room. She looked at him curiously as he gave her a big hug. June squeezed him back whispering:

"I'm glad you're back." He looked down at her and smiled like a little boy, her hand brushing at his still damp hair.

"Just remember this, Neal... you're the reason we're all here. And we'll always be there for you... Ok?" She grabbed his chin in her hand and pulled his head down to kiss his cheek.

"Now... shall we all sit down and eat?"

The End