A Tale of Two Partners
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It was the best of times...

Neal Caffrey was glad he wasn't stuck in the meeting Peter was currently at.

It was the worst of times...

Then again, the meeting was about his future working as a consultant. If things went well, he could stay, but if things went bad, he might return to prison or be moved to another work release program. Neal was nervous thinking about it but his attention was currently split between his worries and the mountain of case files Peter had left him to look over when he had been asked to attend the meeting.

Neal sighed, skimming another case file in the pile and writing down some quick notes on a yellow legal pad as he sat in Peter's office. As much as he was worried about the meeting's outcome, these case files were slowly driving him mad with boredom.

Buzz Buzz Buzz...

Neal perked up at the sound of a cell phone going off and looked down at his own on the desk. He had left it out with hopes Peter would page him and let him know what was going on. His cell remained still, the screen in sleep mode, a picture of Peter, El and himself as the screensaver faded in the background. He looked at it a moment before he perked up again.

Buzz Buzz Buzz...

Neal stood up and stretched, walking around the desk till he found the source of the sound. Peter had left his coat draped over his chair. Neal reached around in the pockets till he felt it and pulled out his partner's cell. Now he knew why he hadn't received a call yet. It was still buzzing lightly as Neal looked to see who was calling. It was Elizabeth. The young man smiled, sitting in Peter's chair and propping his feet up on the desk as he answered the call.

"Hey El. What's up?" He heard silence on the other end with only the slightest hint of movement and breath. After a moment he wondered if the call had dropped when he heard someone speak.

"I'm so glad I caught you... Peter." Elizabeth sounded strange, her emphasis on the last word making Neal curious.

"Neal's in a meeting at the moment so I'm just reading some case files while I wait for him. Are you ok, honey?" Neal suspected something was up so he kept up with the ruse. Elizabeth sounded scared though she was doing a great job of sounding normal.

"Yes, but I need you to come home for lunch. I have your favorite, deviled ham." Elizabeth's voice cracked ever so slightly, Neal knowing now something was definitely wrong. She sounded like she was under duress. Neal felt a chill wash over him as he tried to think what to do. Peter's meeting was off site so he didn't even know where it was and when he tried to pry the information out of Jones, the agent was just as in the dark as he was with only a contact number. Didn't help that Peter had accidentally left his cell behind.

"Honey? Are you still there?" El's voice sounded desperate and Neal decided on a course of action.

"I'm sorry, someone came into the office. Yes, I can go home for lunch. It's almost noon..." He was interrupted by her voice, a hint of desperation in it.

"Can you come now? I don't want these sandwiches to go bad." El's voice continued to sound slightly fearful so Neal nodded as he looked at the clock and made his choice.

"No problem, El. These case files can wait. Be right there." Neal hoped he had sounded convincing enough for whomever was on the other side. He heard El give out a loud intake of breath as if relieved.

"Thank you, Peter. Tell Neal... I'm sorry I missed him." Her voice sounded hollow. Neal was still curious as to what was going on so he did the only thing he could think of.

"Mind if I bring Jones? I promised him we'd go to lunch today." Neal waited to see what she'd say, the sound of movement and hissing voices in the background. Someone else was there! Dammit! Neal waited till he heard her breath on the receiver.

"I'm sorry, Peter. I only have enough sandwiches for the two of us. Please hurry." Her voice was still hollow so he knew the person on the other side with her was probably threatening her to speak with less emotion. Neal ground his teeth in unspoken anger but he held back and spoke again.

"No problem, dear. I'm on my way. See you soon." He waited for El to say something else but the phone just clicked to a dial tone which made him suspicious and even more worried.

Neal pulled his feet off the desk, hanging up the cell and pushed it into his pocket. He grabbed up a small piece of red paper from his pocket and a pen and started to write a note on the white side of the paper. Once he was done he started to fold it into an intricate origami flower laying it and his phone on Peter's side of the desk with the words: OPEN on one petal of the flower. Neal sighed hoping the meeting would end soon and Peter would show up before he walked out the door of the office but it didn't happen. Neal made his way down the few stairs to the lobby and passed Jones, stopping briefly.

"Hey Jones. I'm headed for the Deli. Can you tell Peter I'll be back soon?" Neal saw Jones nod, his attention on his phone call.

"Just hurry back. I'm supposed to be keeping an eye on you while the meeting is going on but you know how lax we are around here." Jones winked slightly before taking his hand off the receiver and getting back to his call. Neal smiled in relief and headed towards the elevators. Last minute he walked around the huge potted plant in the lobby and took the stairs, making his way down them two at a time till he hit the ground level. He was just about to push the door open when he saw Peter and Hughes coming in through the front doors. Neal stepped back where he could see them but not be seen. Peter turned briefly to look at the door then shook his head and kept talking with Hughes as they headed for the elevators and disappeared inside. Neal started out as the elevator doors shut and ducked across the lobby quickly and out onto the street. He should have grabbed Peter right then and there but with Hughes around it would have been difficult to explain why he as out of the office.

Neal was having problems waving down a cab and he'd already wasted a good 15 minutes trying, when he felt the phone vibrate in his pocket and took it out. It was as a text from El.

"Where are you?"

Neal felt a pang of guilt wash over him. He didn't have a car but he knew where he could get one. Neal texted back quickly as he could as he walked to the FBI parking garage.

"Headed your way."

Neal crossed the garage till he found Peter's blue Taurus and pushed the code in on the door. The car clicked open. He smiled thankful for the fact that Peter rarely changed his codes and slipped inside. He felt around under the seat till he found the spare key and started the car up.

"Sorry Peter." He whispered to himself as he peered into the rear-view mirror and took off.

()()()

Peter Burke was exhausted. The meeting had not been fun even with Hughes there for support but in the end they had won. Neal could stay with them. He felt a sense of achievement if nothing else after the grueling interrogation although it was supposed to be no more than mediation due to the events of the last few months. They asked him about his suspension and the deal Fowler had offered to Caffrey but in the end everything had worked out to Peter and Neal's advantage. The young man would stay with him, anklet and all but he would be safe and not go back to prison or be reassigned. It was a small victory.

"Burke... did you hear what I said?" Peter had turned thinking he saw movement behind the window of the door to the stairs but shook his head thinking it had to be a reflection and turned back to his boss.

"I'm sorry, still thinking about everything in the meeting. Was quite a bit to deal with under the circumstances. I'm just glad we won. Neal deserves that much after all he's been through." Peter pushed the elevator button and heard an immediate 'ding' as the doors opened up and he and Reese stepped inside.

"Yes, I feel for Caffrey more than I thought I would. He's a good man and you were right about choosing him as a consultant, Burke." Hughes patted Peter on the shoulder and smiled one of the few smiles the man ever gave. It made Peter feel good. He glanced up as the doors shut and thought he saw someone dart past but it was too quick to be sure so he just shrugged it off.

"June says he can stay with her as long as he needs to. I think she misses her own children and husband and he's sort of a surrogate son. I know El would have missed him if we'd lost. Thanks for standing up with me in the meeting. I can't express how much I appreciate your support, Reese." Peter gave the man a friendly hug and Hughes did the same.

"Well, I think your partner will be happy to hear what happened. You can take the rest of the day off and go celebrate. I'll find someone to finish those case files. I'm sure Caffrey's bored out of his mind by now." Hughes sounded rather chipper which made Peter smirk.

"Yes, those case files. I've been surprised how quickly he can get through a pile when he's encouraged. He's a fast reader. And thanks for the time. I'm sure El and June will want to come along. I'll have to... damn!" Peter was feeling around in his pockets but not finding what he wanted. Hughes looked at him curiously.

"Something missing, Peter?" The man looked concerned but Peter shook his head.

"Just realized I left my phone on the way to the meeting in the office with Neal. He was expecting my call and I forgot all about it in the excitement. I'll have to call El once I get upstairs." Peter stepped out of the elevator as the doors opened, followed by his boss who patted him on the shoulder again.

"Well, go talk to your partner and tell him the good news while I tell Jones he has some new case files to work on." He winked at Peter who smiled slightly and entered the main lobby of the FBI offices. Jones gave a small wave before being approached by Hughes and suddenly frowning in Peter's direction. The agent shrugged helplessly, walking up the few stairs to his office and ducking inside.

"Neal, I... Neal?" He looked around the office and found it empty. The case files were divided into two piles on his desk with a yellow notepad in the middle full of notes. The young man had been busy. Peter saw the slight scuffing on his side indicating Neal had been sitting there with his feet on the desk. Peter frowned slightly till he saw the red origami flower and Neal's phone on his side of the desk. He saw his jacket on the chair and started rifling through the pockets but his phone was gone. That's when he looked at the flower again and noticed the words OPEN on the top petal in permanent marker. Neal had left him a clue to whatever mischief he had entered into and Peter was going to have to solve it before Hughes came up.

Peter opened up the flower carefully and saw his partner's semi-cursive scrawl neatly written within the white part of the paper.

Dear Peter,

I don't know what's going on but you received a call from Elizabeth while you were at the meeting.
She sounded scared and it seemed quite urgent so I went ahead and headed towards your house at 11:25 am. By the time you read this, I should already be there so please hurry.

Neal

Peter reread the note again before he stuffed it into his pocket and picked up Neal's phone. He saw a waiting text on it as he woke it up.

"I had to borrow the Taurus when El called me in the lobby. Sorry..."

Peter would have cursed but under the circumstances he could let it go. If El was in trouble, at least she was able to contact Neal if nobody else. He felt a sense of relief as he stepped out of his office with the phone and note and headed back down the stairs. Hughes looked at him curiously.

"Where's Caffrey?" Hughes sounded curious, Peter trying to come up with a logical explanation, his eyes looking at Jones for help. The younger agent broke in.

"I forgot to tell you that Neal headed for the Deli just before you left. I figured it was ok since he's done it before." Jones gave Peter a "You owe me" glance which Peter replied with his own: "No problem." Hughes looked between the two men, shrugged and headed towards his office.

"Tell Caffrey I said Hi, Burke." His voice trailed off as he entered his office. Both Jones and Peter looked more than relieved once Hughes was gone. Peter smiled at his subordinate, glancing at the door. He had to go and soon.

"Jones, thanks. I'm about to go meet with Neal. Some thing's come up." Peter saw Jones look at him with a knowing nod.

"I figured he wasn't going to the Deli but he's on the anklet so I was keeping track. He's at your house already." Jones kept his sentence open as if expecting Peter to answer why but he didn't.

"Not sure what's going on but he took the Taurus. Can I borrow your vehicle?" Peter watched Jones pull out his keys and toss them to him.

"Thanks. I'll call you if something comes up and it might." He saw Jones perk up at that but nod as Peter headed for the door and out to the elevator.

()()()

Neal parked the Taurus in front of the Burke's two-story home along the curb. He stepped out of the vehicle, hat firmly planted on his head and slightly over his eyes. He wasn't sure what was going on but he was going to be as cool as he could and hopefully figure out a way to help El. Neal started up the few stairs to the Burke's door when he heard a slight sound from within. It was several short tapping noises which he immediately recognized. He drew on a mask of blandness hoping they didn't know he heard it, drawing out the spare key Elizabeth had given him a while back. He never used it but this once, he figured if he was pretending to be Peter, he'd have to use a key.

"Honey, I'm home!" He pushed the door open and started inside when it slammed shut behind him and someone pulled a bag or something over his face. He struggled to breath but the plastic filled his nose and mouth like a second skin. He could hear a muffled cry of someone nearby and figured it had to be El but he couldn't see through the dark plastic, his chest tightening as his breath grew harder to draw. His arms were pinned at his sides and he was struggling but whoever was holding him was strong. It didn't take but a moment before everything grew hazy and Neal felt his lungs seize up from lack of oxygen, eyes bugging out as they rolled back and he passed out.