Target Practice

Neal stumbled into his room at June's, his fedora slightly more askew than usual. He was dressed as usual to the nines, his suit one of those vintage ones that he borrowed from June. He closed the door with a less than elegant kick of his Italian leather loafer and weaved across the room to his bed. He slipped off both shoes with a clumsy kick of his feet, nearly falling on his butt but just catching himself with a quick spin and turn, tumbling back onto his bed. He lay there a moment, staring glassily up at the ceiling before he pushed himself up to a sitting position and began to pull off his jacket, shirt and then his pants, tossing them at the end of the bed in a messy pile. The fedora was still precariously perched on his head as he stood long enough to pull the covers aside and slip inside, curling up with a soft snore escaping his lips.

Neal...

He turned in his sleep, pulling the blanket over his head and ducking underneath as much as he could. Someone poked him slightly, nudging his shoulder through the duvet.

Neal... wake up!

He continued to curl up tighter, hiding under the blanket till someone pulled it aside and the dim light of the morning started to penetrate his closed eye lids. Neal rolled over till his face was buried into the pillow, arms covering his face ever so slightly.

Come on Neal. You promised.

Neal finally opened his eyes, feeling his temple throb from the previous night's drinking with Alex. He peered up blearily and saw a blurry form looking down at him. Slowly his eyes focused and he found himself staring up at Peter Burke. He blinked, rubbing at his eyes and pulling the blanket back up to cover himself as he realized he was in a tee and boxers.

"Peter... What are you doing here? What time is it?" Neal sat up slightly, his back against the headboard as he yawned and stretched. He felt a slight lowering of the bed as Peter sat on the edge and poked him again.

"You forgot, didn't you? Figures... well it was a couple of weeks ago I told you about this and you were fiddling with the GPS on the Taurus..." Peter sighed, rubbing at his eyes tiredly. It was then Neal noticed what his partner was wearing old jeans and a beat up looking, washed out tee. It surprised him even for Peter's usual comfortable style, making him wonder if El had seen what he was wearing.

"El know you look like you're about to dig ditches for a living?" Neal smirked, yawning slightly as he saw Peter roll his eyes.

"If you remembered why I'm here... you'd know why I'm dressed this way. We have the corporate team building session today at the paintball range. So get up, shower and pull on some old clothes... or something that you don't care if it gets dirty." Peter patted him on the shoulder, Neal just blinking at him as if he were dreaming.

"Paintball? As in shooting balls of paint at the other person? You're kidding right? You know I don't..." He paused as Peter held up a hand and shook his head.

"Don't want to hear it... just get dressed and meet me downstairs in a few minutes, ok?" Peter yawned as he said that, obviously not as awake as he seemed to be. Neal smiled sleepily, pointing at the kitchenette.

"Wait on the terrace. I'll put some coffee on for you. Ok?" He watched Peter perk up and nod, moving aside as Neal pulled the blankets aside and grabbed his robe, wrapping it around him as he stood and stretched. He still felt a bit hung over from the night before but if he had to be up, coffee was his best bet and June's Italian roast... nothing like it in the morning. He shuffled over to the kitchen area as Peter went and opened up the terrace French doors and walked out onto the patio, the early morning sunshine still soft behind the early morning clouds. Neal squinted as he passed the opening and reached up over the counter to pull the coffee maker out. He set it up, the little glass pot peculating before he shuffled back over to the bathroom and ducked inside.

It didn't take Neal long before he was out of the bathroom, robe wrapped around him, hair dripping slightly. He was drying his hair with a towel wrapped around his neck like a scarf. He could smell the enticing aroma of coffee filling the room, walking over and pouring a cup for Peter and himself as he walked back into the bedroom area and started through his wardrobe. He really didn't have any 'throwaway' clothes he wanted to ruin but if he had to, one pair of jeans had a small bleach stain he had meant to fix but now was a good time to just use them and throw them out. He found a well used tee and button up he no longer cared for, pulling them on along with some old white tube socks he never used and a set of tennis shoes he'd bought some time ago to help do some work June had him assist her with.

He heard footsteps and saw Peter peer around the corner and blink. The agent walked over and looked the younger man up and down as if he were seeing something odd.

"I've never seen you in anything that wasn't designer and even in this you look like a runway model." Peter seemed impressed, his brown eyes glittering in a teasing kind of way that made Neal blush.

"Stop it already... all I had to throw away like you said. The coffee's ready if you're up to some." He walked over to the pot and grabbed one cup and let Peter take the other, both men going out on the terrace to sit and drink a moment. June popped in, a tray of food in her hands. Neal got up to help her with it, Peter standing politely. She made a face for them not to fuss but Neal took the tray and kissed her lightly on the cheek with a smile as he thanked her, walking back to the table. She followed him, nodding to Peter.

"So what are you boys doing so early on Saturday? A case?" June's voice sounded coyly interested, her eyes bright. Peter smiled but shook his head.

"Corporate team building exercise. Hughes thought it would be good for our team to get together and do some paint-balling." Peter grinned looking over as Neal rolled his eyes.

"We couldn't have done a corporate wine tasting instead? That's team building and taste building." Neal smirked a bit at Peter's expression.

"But wine tasting doesn't prepare you for the field. Today you can practice some of your stealth moves, Bond." Neal rolled his eyes at Peter this time as they finished eating, thanked June and took off for the paintball field. Neal sank back into the seat, yawning slightly as he pushed his sunglasses on. He hadn't brought his fedora since it would get ruined so he put an arm over his face to shade the early morning sun.

After a bit he felt a nudge, looking up groggily to see Peter waking him up.

"Hey sleeping beauty, we're here." Peter sounded way too chipper even with the coffee they'd had. Neal nodded with a tired yawn, sitting up and removing his seat-belt as he opened the door and stepped out into the sunlight. Peter made a noise, Neal turned and caught something the agent threw him. It was a beat up but clean Yankees cap. Neal stared at it as if it were going to bite him, Peter chuckling.

"Don't want your hair to get all mussed up do we? And it will keep the sun out of your eyes." Peter pulled a similar cap over his head, smiling way too happily for a Saturday morning. Neal nodded as he pulled the cap over his hair and glanced at himself in the side mirror of the Taurus. He crinkled his nose a bit but shrugged, following Peter when he saw him leave towards the entrance to the paintball field. They had driven out to Long Island to a nearby establishment full of woods and brush perfect for commando training Neal thought. Not something he was fond of but if he had to...

"BURKE!" Hughes' voice reached across the small space before they entered the grounds. The director was smiling happily, Jones, Diana and three other agents already gathered around him. Everyone was dressed down with worn out jeans and tees. Diana gave Neal a look of concern.

"Peter, you did tell him we're getting dirty, right?" She was smirking slightly. Neal smirked back thinking she didn't look half bad in her form fitted yet faded black tee and torn up jeans.

"This is all I had to throw away. I don't make a habit of getting dirty." He winked slightly making Jones chuckle. Peter sighed about to make a comment when Hughes interceded.

"If he wants to look like a runway model maybe it will distract the enemy. Let's stop lolly-gagging and get this game started!" Everyone nodded in agreement, following Hughes past a small entrance shed where a perky co-ed, yet fit looking girl and muscular guy greeted them.

"Hi and welcome to X-Treme Paintball! My name is Karen. I'll be one of your hosts for this game." She paused, her voice more cheery than any of the FBI agents were feeling for an early Saturday morning, looking briefly at her coworker who looked like he could easily pose for a weightlifting magazine. She wore a tight-fitting camouflage tee tucked into torn jeans while her coworker wore a similar outfit.

"And my name is Curtis. I'll be putting you through the drills to get started and equipping you. We just need everyone to sign the wavers and well get started. Karen, if you'll do the honors?" He smiled with perfect white teeth and raven black hair, his tan skin glowing in the early morning sunlight. Neal wondered if people looked at him like that and wanted to vomit from the charm but he pushed the thought aside along with his reluctance to be there as he followed the cute blond girl with the others. She winked at him when they sat inside the green room and passed them forms. He gave his best smile back, Peter looking at him sideways with a smirk.

"Looks like you're all legal now. Curtis will get you equipped with armor, helmets and guns." She smiled, seemingly flashing her green eyes at Neal a moment before leaving the room. Curtis made a wave for them to follow into the next space where they found hangers of armor in camouflage colors, shin guards and matching helmets. Neal watched his colleagues gearing up and grabbed a suit of his own. Everything seemed like it was way too big for him, a hand grasping his shoulder at one point. He turned to see Curtis there, hazel eyes bright with excitement. Neal blinked, looking at the fit young man who was probably only a few years younger than himself and looked like ex-military with the short cropped hair.

"Hmmm... You're a skinny guy, let me get you a suit that fits better." Curtis smiled that smile, making Neal want to punch his lights out from annoyance more than anything. The skinny remark had brought a few chuckles from the others with only Peter and Diana looking a bit annoyed at the man. Curtis came back with a slightly smaller set of armor that looked like it would fit.

"It's not quite so bulky but it should fit your frame better." Curtis left it at that and walked away to help the others. Neal fumbled with the armor, never having had to dress up like gladiator before. He felt another hand on his shoulder, a silent sigh as he turned and blinked seeing Peter rather than Curtis there.

"Got it?" Peter asked, surreptitiously helping Neal with the protective gear when the others had already taken off outside.

"Thanks. Never had to dress up for Armageddon before. So... what exactly are we going to be doing besides shooting paint balls at targets?" Neal was still reluctant to go out there but for Peter and his colleague's sake he'd give it a go. Peter grinned and shook his head.

"Oh this is beyond just shooting targets. It's an obstacle course. I was talking to Curtis about it. Apparently we're all on the same team but broken up into buddy pairs. You have to get your buddy and yourself through the course without getting splattered with paint from the automatic guns. Fun right?" Peter sounded enthused not noticing the gulp Neal made as he nodded with feigned intrigue.

"Yeah... fun. So uhm... let's get going already." Neal shuffled forward, Peter smacking him on the back ever so friendly.

"It's not as bad as it sounds. I know you don't like violence but think of this as a giant Nerf battle but when the paint ball hits, you'll feel it." Peter was still grinning broadly, a side of his friend he hadn't really seen before.

"Wow... you really like your competition and sports, Peter. Nerf battle? Isn't that a little childish?" Neal squinted, pushing his sunglasses back over his eyes as they exited outside. Curtis was handing guns out to everyone, dressed up in his own special armor that stuck out from the rest of the group. Karen had on a nice black set of armor that made him think of something a little less than juvenile, till he saw the gun in her hand and felt a bit turned off.

"Everyone have a gun?" Curt called out looking at Peter and Neal as he passed a gun to Karen who carried it over to Neal and another one for Peter. Again, she smiled ever so slightly at Neal brushing his arm as she handed him the weapon. He was distracted by her sauntering away till Peter poked him and whispered.

"Get your head in the game, Caffrey! Hughes is going to be watching. You and I are partnered up. Jones and Diana. Hughes and Jeffries and then Karnes and Baker. Everyone runs the course separate with their team member." Peter sounded somewhat serious, Neal nodding as he weighed the weapon in his hands. It was pretty heavy for a toy gun he thought, looking at the trigger and ammo belt which was full of small but apparently rubbery balls of paint.

"Ok everyone. Let's get this game started. The first two through the gauntlet will be..." Curtis was waiting for someone to volunteer, Diana holding up her hand.

"Jones and I will show everyone how it's done." She sounded cocky if not confident, Jones blinking but nodding with a 'let's get it on' kind of look.

"Sounds good to me." Jones grinned, following Diana to the front of the group as Curtis waved them forward and walked off a few yards out of sight. Karen smiled at the rest of them, pointing at a nearby monitor on a small kiosk.

"You can watch your colleagues' progress from here." Karen stepped aside, letting them view the screen. Everyone was watching intently as they saw the course for the first time in real-time. It was pretty intense, Jones and Diana ducking and rolling through the obstacles with ease it seemed. Jones got hit once with a paint ball from the automatic guns around the course but Diana blew through the course like she was the wind. Nothing seemed to hit her and her aim was dead on. Neal was impressed if nothing else. He knew he had no way of doing that well even with the little gun skills he had.

"If no one has any questions, can I ask which group wants to go next?" Hughes raised his hand. Karen smiled.

"Ok then!" Karen was still smiling, looking at Neal off and on with a coy little wink when she addressed the group. Hughes and Jeffries ran through the course, everyone watching. Hughes did pretty well for an old guy but he did get hit a couple of times as did Jeffries.

When the next group was asked to go, Karnes and Baker stepped up. Neal was kind of glad Peter hadn't opened his mouth to volunteer but now they were going to be last and it would be more pressure on his partner even if he felt better at not going for a few more minutes. He wasn't anxious to do this and he figured Peter was aware of that.

"We're next, Neal. I hope you've been psyching yourself up for this. I didn't want to go last but I know you don't want to do this." He sounded a bit disappointed although he tried hard to hide it with his outward expression. Neal blinked, a feeling of guilt making him sigh.

"Yeah... I'm ready. Thanks for the delay." Neal was honest at least on the last bit. Peter nodded, glancing sideways at Karen. Neal saw the look as they both took a moment to stretch and prepare.

"I notice she was giving you the eye. She's pretty." Peter didn't make much more than a matter of fact comment, Neal blinking back as he gave a little glance at the blond. He blushed slightly despite himself.

"She's ok. I tend to like dark hair." He left it at that, Peter nudging him with a little smirk.

"Uh huh... come on Casanova. We need to get ready." They saw Karen smiled at and motion for them to come forward.

"It's your turn." Her eyes seemed to flash coyly at Neal before she stepped back and pointed the way.

"Curtis will meet you at the end there to tell you what's up. You'll see your friends on the other side. Ready?" She kept looking at Neal who smiled charmingly back, distracted by her attentions as Peter nodded and sighed.

"Come on, Neal." He had to pull the younger man away, Neal shrugging at Karen as they turned and left down the trail.

The trail was fenced naturally with tall oak, ash and pine with a good couple of feet or more of natural brush along the bottom. The path was rather rough but they made it to a small red flagged area that marked the starting area. Curtis was waiting for them there.

"You're the last ones. Make it count." He grinned that shiny smile that made both men look at each other and groan inwardly. They waited for Curtis to prompt them and when he started the clock they were off.

Peter sprinted ahead, Neal not too far behind, looking sideways and behind as they traversed the path. The trail was littered with fallen trees, holes and other natural pitfalls like small streams and such. Nothing shot at them or jumped out so they were just running along trying to make time. Neal paused just before they came up to a fallen log and what appeared to be an unconscious person. Peter was snickering, looking at the figure despite Neal's curious look.

"It's a dummy. You pull it and something pops out and shoots you with paint. Oldest trick. Come on, let's climb over the log and get moving." Peter pulled the gun over his shoulder and started over the log when Neal noticed something odd. He pulled closer to the supposed dummy, Peter hissing at him.

"Neal! I told you don't... Did it just move?" Peter paled slightly, pulling himself down from the log and dropping down beside his partner. Neal was crouched beside the figure, removing the supposed cloth covering over the face that should have been filled with straw or sawdust but contained a real live person. The man looked to be around 50 years of age with cropped salt and peppery hair, tanned skin and was fit. The man was gagged with duct tape and unconscious with a large goose egg at the base of his skull. Peter crouched down beside Neal and felt the man's pulse: it was rapid, the man's breath shallow when they removed the tape and rags from his mouth. They removed the dummy outfit to reveal a uniform similar to what Curtis had been wearing: a tight camouflage tee with worn jeans and a name tag that read X-Treme Paintball - Jon.

"I don't think Curtis is who we think he is. Dammit!" Peter cursed, gently removing his armor to take off his jacket and push it under the man's head. Neal turned hearing something in the background, his intuition kicking in suddenly. He heard the snap of a twig from nearby and turned around to see a shadow over Peter.

"WATCH OUT!" Neal screamed but Peter turned too late as the sound of something blunt hit the agent on the back of the head, someone in black standing there like some sort of ninja. Neal made a move forward to help Peter but froze in fear when he heard the cock of a gun and saw metal glinting in the figure's hand. They chuckled slightly, pointing the weapon at Peter, a quiet 'pop' making Neal realize they were using a silencer. He saw his friend shudder ever so slightly before a red stain grew where the bullet hit Peter in the shoulder. Neal finally broke out of his trance and moved forward to attack the person when he felt horrible pain from behind as something touched his neck. He collapsed, moving to raise his head to see how Peter was when he heard that dark humorless chuckle again and something blunt hit him on the back of the head plunging him into darkness.