Author's Note: Hey ya'll. I know a lot of you are waiting on Taken and i swear i'm still working on it, but this came into my head. Let me explain, one of you wonderful reviewers asked for me to write a "Neal gets poisoned" fic. and I started this. But along the way i had to do some research and more story lines popped into my head. so...what i'm going to do is write them in one shots and post them all under this story collection, Arsenic and Old Lace. (extra kudos if you are familiar with the movie) I'm going to mark it complete as each story is complete but will update whenever i get the oneshots done. I hope you enjoy them!
Oh, and my apologies to Neal as he is most definitely getting whumped in every story! :}
The laboratory smelled of metal and sweet flowers. Rusted metal tubes and cracked beakers littered the counter tops, but he was not concerned at all with the old equipment. He watched fervently as the leaves and roots boiled. This was the third batch, the final ingredient to his vengeance. Carefully, he strained the foliage from the boiled water and tossed it into the waste basket. Then with the small test tube in his gloved hand, he filled it and capped the opening with the cork. Grinning from ear to ear, he held the clear liquid up to the light.
"Will it work?"
He glanced over her shoulder at his wife, "Don't worry, Elaine. I've never failed at my chemistry. I won't for this."
"I know, Jack," Elaine said sadly, "That's what I'm afraid of."
He looked back at his creation, "Don't start now, Elaine. We've been over this time and again. This has to be done, and it will be."
He took the syringe lying next to the stove and filled it from the test tube. With great delicacy, he injected the entire amount into the chocolate truffle. He placed the chocolate next to the first and second and replaced the lid.
"After all," he said, lifting it gently, "A promise is a promise, even made in silence."
"Don't pick at it."
"Serves you right. I told you not to touch it."
"How was I supposed to know I'd be allergic to it."
Peter rolled his eyes, "You didn't, but it was still evidence. So when I say, don't touch. I mean, don't touch."
Neal glared at his partner as he scratched at his hand, "It was a slipper, Peter. It wasn't like it was a bullet casing."
"Evidence." Peter said again.
Neal sighed, "That will run out."
Peter smirked, "Yeah, about the same time that rash heals. I can't believe you're allergic to micro-fiber."
"I think it was the lotion she put on her feet," Neal shuddered, "I will never look at a woman's foot the same way again."
"I hope El doesn't get that many bunions." Peter muttered.
Neal nodded, trying to shove the memory of the woman's feet back in the recesses of his mind. He followed Peter up the steps to his house. Focused as he was on scratching his itching hand, he didn't notice Peter stop and stoop over. With a loud thud, Peter landed sprawled on his porch and Neal on the top step. He smiled sheepishly at Peter.
"Sorry," he muttered.
Peter sighed, picked up the package, and stood. He ignored Neal's hand and plea for assistance. Instead, he opened the door and greeted Satchmo as he stampeded down the stairs.
"Hey, boy," Peter cooed only to be ignored and bypassed by the dog as he ran between his master's legs to the con man sprawled outside.
Neal laughed and tried to shove the dog away as he licked his face. Peter glared at the pair, hands on hips. He watched as Neal finally got to his feet even as Satchmo jumped on him, shoving his giant paws on Neal's shoulders. Neal looked at him sheepishly.
"Sorry," he said again.
"Hey, mutt, who feeds you?" Peter demanded.
"That would be me," El said, breezing in from the dining room. She planted a kiss on Peter's cheek and took the package from his hand, "What's this?"
"Found it on the doorstep," Peter said, shutting the front door, "What have you been feeding him, Neal?"
Neal raised his hands innocently, "Nothing, I swear."
Peter glared suspiciously, "How was your day, honey?"
"Fine, got another client," El said with a smile, "and it looks like another one is grateful for my services." She rattled the package.
"Thank you gift?" Neal asked.
El nodded as she tore open the end of the package. She tilted the box, allowing the contents to fall into her open palm. She turned the colorful foil wrapped box over in delight, then wrinkled her nose in disgust.
"Ew," she muttered, "I hate this stuff."
Peter took the box from her, "Lindt and Sprungli Chocolate," he looked at his wife, "You love chocolate."
"Yeah, a Snickers or Twix bar," she said, "Not this gourmet stuff."
Neal smirked, "A girl after your own heart, Peter."
"That's why I married her," he agreed. He tore open the box, "Oh well, all the more for me."
"Oh no!" El said as she snatched the box away from her husband, "You are going on a diet, mister."
Neal snorted. Peter glared at him before turning to his wife, pleadingly.
"You promised to go on it with me, Peter. That means no chocolate."
"Why on earth would you go on a diet, El?" Neal asked confused, "You don't need it."
El grinned, "Just for that, you can have the chocolates."
Peter crossed his arms as El handed over the box, "Oh, so he can get fat and I can't?"
"Neal doesn't get fat," El said.
To prove this point, Neal took out one of the truffles and popped it in his mouth. Peter glared at him.
"First the dog and now the chocolates. When are you planning to steal my wife?"
"Next month," Neal said, "She's already warming up to me."
"Why I oughta-"
"Boys, dinner will be ready in a few minutes. Save the bickering until after dessert."
Peter grumbled as he passed Neal, who was devouring another chocolate, and took off his tie. Satchmo sat by Neal's feet, patiently wagging his tail across the hardwood floor.
"Sorry, Satchmo," Neal said as he picked up the last truffle, "but chocolate kills dogs. Can't have my best buddy dieing on me, now can I?"
Satchmo whined and licked his snout. Neal chuckled and crumpled the trash in his hands. Peter sat on the sofa with a loud sigh, stretching out his arms and closing his eyes. Neal tentatively sat on the couch across from him. Satchmo jumped up beside him and rested his head on Neal's lap.
"Mutinous mutt," Peter muttered.
Neal scratched behind the dog's ears, "It's probably my sunny disposition."
"You are a pain," Peter said, "in a place I won't mention."
Neal rolled his eyes at his partner as he scratched his hand.
"Stop that. You'll make it worse."
"Next time I tell you-"
"I know, I know."
"Boys, if you're bickering is over, dinner's ready." El said.
"We don't bicker." Peter said, standing.
"Yes, we do." Neal said.
"We do not."
Peter turned to his wife, raising a finger to her, "Don't you start. It's bad enough the dog is taking his side, I don't need you changing fronts, too."
El just giggled and sat down at her place. Peter grunted as he eased off the couch and took his place beside his wife. Neal scratched Satchmo's ear once more before leading him to the patio and hooking the line to his collar. Humming under his breath, Neal joined the couple for dinner at the table. The chicken and rice casserole smelled delicious and made his stomach gurgle in anticipation. Peter was already digging into his meal by the time Neal heaped a portion on his plate.
"Neal," Elizabeth asked, "what's the matter with your hand?"
Peter smirked, forking another bite into his mouth. Neal glared at him and placed his hand in his lap, out of sight. He smiled at Elizabeth.
"Just our latest case. The suspect dropped her slipper as we were leading her out of her apartment. I picked it up for her and apparently I'm allergic to whatever it was made of or whatever she'd put on her feet."
"It was evidence," Peter said, smugly, "and I told you not to touch it."
"She was 67 years old, Peter, and it's fall. I couldn't let her walk out with only one shoe on."
Elizabeth smiled sweetly and cooed at him, "That's so sweet, Neal." Suddenly, her face turned fierce and she slapped her husband's shoulder.
"Ow," Peter grumbled, "What was that for?"
"For not being sweet," Elizabeth said. She looked at Neal, face softening, "Have you taken anything for it?"
Neal shook his head. He was desperately trying not to laugh at Peter's scolding. He realized it wasn't working when Peter kicked his shin under the table.
"I'll get you some Benadryl," she said, "and I think I have some anti-itch cream in the bathroom."
Peter glared at Neal as his wife left the room, "You're milking this."
Neal gaped at him, "How am I milking this? I didn't even say anything to her. She asked."
Peter pointed his fork at Neal, "That's all part of the plan. First the dog, then the truffles. Now the wife. What's next, the house?"
Neal just shook his head and waited for Elizabeth to return with the drugs. He wondered if maybe his allergic reaction was a bit more serious than he thought. His head pulsed painfully.
"Here you go," Elizabeth said as she held out the two brightly colored pills and a tube of cream.
He smiled at her, "Thanks."
The headache ebbed after he ate and took the pills. Peter's foul mood seemed to disappear when Elizabeth mentioned watching The Fugitive. In fact, it was the FBI agent that insisted Neal stay for the movie. Neal, touched that Peter would be so insistent, accepted. It wasn't until 45 minutes into the movie that he regretted his decision as his stomach began to roll and his headache resurfaced with a vengeance.
"How about dessert?" Elizabeth asked, "There's a cheesecake in the fridge and a fresh pot of coffee."
Peter, interested only in the movie, wavered her off with only a "yeah, sure, whatever."
Elizabeth rolled her eyes, "Neal? How about you?"
His stomach twisted at the thought of food, "No thanks, Elizabeth. I had my dessert before dinner."
She laughed at his joke as Peter grimaced. It was the only acknowledgement they got out of the man. As Elizabeth went to the kitchen, Neal headed for the bathroom. Peter grumbled at him as he passed in front of the television. If he noticed that Neal was nearly doubled over holding his stomach, he didn't let on.
Neal stumbled at the top step, barely catching himself against the wall. He made it to the bathroom in time to purge his stomach of that night's dinner. He grimaced at the taste of the casserole a second time and rinsed his mouth out over the sink. Glancing up at the mirror, he frowned.
His skin was white, the cheeks flushed red. A light sheen of perspiration on his forehead glowed under the warm lights of the mirror. Neal glanced down at his hand, noting that the rash did seem to be a bit more red. He popped a few more Benadryl pills in his mouth and leaned heavily against the sink. Hating to admit he was sick, and hating it even more that he would have to interrupt Peter's movie, Neal staggered for the stairs.
"El!" Peter called from below, "You're blocking the show!"
"You live this life, Peter, and if you would take the plate I wouldn't be standing here."
Neal chuckled despite how his stomach churned. He took the stairs carefully, leaning fully against the wall as he descended. Stopping midway, he looked down at the scene before him and smiled. Elizabeth was glaring at the back of Peter's head, shoving forkfuls of cheesecake in her mouth. Peter was hunched forward, staring so intently at the movie that a bomb could have gone off and he wouldn't have noticed. Neal really hated to bother them. Maybe he would just excuse himself for the night and take a cab.
He opened his mouth to do just that when a sudden pain flared in his stomach. It was unlike the discomfort of the nausea he'd felt before. His stomach suddenly contracted and released, repeating the process over and over again. The pain of the convulsion stole his breath and what strength he had. Before he completely understood what was happening, he was on his knees on the staircase, toppling down with his momentum. The pain was blinding, nearly intolerable. He reached for his stomach, hands clawing at the pain. He closed his eyes, curling into himself.
Cool hands were on his cheeks, larger ones were on his back. He heard voices, but couldn't understand their words. It was as if he were underwater and they were standing on the shore. His stomach convulsed again and he couldn't stop the cry of pain.
The hands on his face moved to his hair, running slender fingers over his scalp. He could hear a soft voice whispering to him. The words were muffled, but the tone was soothing. The large hands were kneading his back and shoulders. He could hear a gruff voice, urgent and firm, and his body relaxed under it. He suddenly felt safe, and the convulsions eased.
"Neal? Can you hear me? Answer me, buddy."
Neal pressed his head against the floor and opened his eyes, surprised by how weak he felt. He was barely able to turn his head to look at Peter kneeling beside him. He glanced up and found Elizabeth sitting with his head in her lap, tears of empathy pooling in her eyes. Slowly, he turned his gaze back to Peter.
"Peter," he slurred.
Relief washed over his partner's face and mixed with the worry.
"Yeah, Neal. I'm here."
Neal sighed, "I think I'm sick."
The soft laugh held no humor.
Jack tightened his hold on the binoculars as he watched the tall man tumble down the stairs. He watched as Burke and his wife rushed to their friend and slammed his open palm on his dash board. Sitting in the passenger seat, pressed to the door, Elaine jumped.
"What's wrong?" she asked softly.
"She didn't eat them," Jack growled, "That stupid friend of theirs did."
Elaine looked at the house cast in shadows, "What will we do now?"
Jack rubbed his eyes with his fist, "We'll make due. Hopefully they care for the friend enough to do what we want."
Elaine glanced at her husband, "And if they don't?"
He smirked, turning the key in the ignition, "Then we'll just have to try again."
Elaine shuddered and pulled her sweater up over her shoulders. She bowed her head, letting her dark hair fall like a veil over her face. Her long eyelashes cast dark shadows on her pale skin and she hoped it was enough to hide the tears of frustration from her husband.
Silently, she sent up a prayer for the young man she didn't know but had more than likely just killed.
"How is he?"
Peter looked at his wife over his shoulder. From where he sat by the guest bed, he could just make out her frame in the doorway, clad in her pajamas. He was still in his suit minus the tie and jacket. Wearily he wiped his face and pinched the bridge of his nose.
"No better," he sighed, "He just threw up again."
Elizabeth gasped, "Honey, that's the fifth time in an hour."
"I know. And the convulsions seem to be getting worse."
He looked at Neal's face. His hair was matted with sweat against the pale skin. Though his eyes were partially open, they weren't focusing on anything, simply staring forward, glazed and unresponsive. Every few minutes, his arms or legs would spasm and Neal would gasp with pain. What scared Peter the most was how slow Neal seemed to be breathing. Yet when he checked the young man's pulse it was erratic and entirely too fast.
"I don't think this is the flu, Peter," Elizabeth said as she stood behind him and squeezed his shoulder, "It came on much too quickly."
Peter nodded, "I agree."
"What do you think we should do?"
"This is way past what we know, El. I think it's time we take Neal to the hospital."
Elizabeth nodded grimly, "Let me grab my shoes. Do you need help with him?"
Peter shook his head, "No, just get the car ready."
She hurried out of the room, a flurry of panic and silk. Peter leaned over the bed and gently tapped Neal's flushed cheek. He frowned as he touched the cold and clammy skin.
"Neal, it's time to go."
Hazed eyes stared up at him and it took several seconds for them to focus and recognition to set in. Peter swallowed his panic and offered a tight smile to his friend. Neal frowned, obviously confused.
"Peter?" he asked, his voice hoarse and hollow.
"Yeah, buddy. It's me. I need you to stand for me, okay?"
Neal didn't respond and Peter took that as acceptance. Gently, he wrapped Neal's arm over his shoulder and hauled the younger man out of the bed. Once his feet touched the floor, awareness seemed to settle in. Neal stood on shaking legs, leaning heavily on Peter. He slowly turned his head to look up.
"We going somewhere?" he slurred.
"Yeah," Peter huffed, "and Elizabeth says you aren't fat."
"Tell that to my straining back muscles, hefty."
"'m not fat," Neal muttered as they struggled to the door, "You jus' weak."
"I'm the only thing holding you up right now, buddy. I wouldn't be insulting me too much."
Neal's head lolled forward and his knees buckled. Peter stumbled and nearly went down under Neal's 'not fat' weight. He was able to toss his body backwards into the wall and catch himself. Neal sagged toward the floor, listless.
"Hey, give me some warning next time," Peter grumbled.
Peter shifted his partner's weight just as Elizabeth came through the front door. She took one look at Peter and his predicament and rushed up the stairs, taking two at a time. Before Peter could protest, she was under Neal's other arm and taking half of the weight.
"I thought I told you to get the car." Peter said.
"I did, but you were taking too long," she answered.
Neal's head lolled between them.
The stairs were difficult. The three of them couldn't walk down at the same time. Peter was forced to go down first, shuffling sideways to keep hold of Neal. Elizabeth followed after, trying to help her husband as much as possible. When they finally reached the bottom, Peter leaned against the railing as Elizabeth opened the door. Together, they practically dragged Neal out to the car. Elizabeth opted to ride in back with the ailing ex con while Peter drove.
"How far is the hospital?" Elizabeth asked as they drove down the street.
"Ten minutes," Peter answered, inwardly shaving off at least five of those minutes, "I just hope he doesn't puke again until we get there."
Elizabeth held up a small trash can, "Got it covered."
No sooner had she said the words, did Neal begin to vomit. She quickly placed the basket under his face. She rubbed his back soothingly and winced when he began to dry heave. Peter peered at them through the rear view mirror.
"He alright?" he finally asked, knowing it was a stupid question.
"Yeah," Elizabeth said quietly. She eased Neal onto the seat, his head in her lap. As she put the trash can down, the car passed under a street lamp and Elizabeth gasped.
"What is it?" Peter asked.
"How long did you say it was to the hospital?"
"You'd better make it five."
Peter twisted in his seat as she showed him the contents of the trashcan. At first he twisted his nose in disgust at the yellow bile and then his heart nearly stopped as he saw the traces of red.
Peter spun around. They made it to the hospital in four.
Dr. Hess nodded, her red curls bouncing around her glasses, "I believe so, Agent Burke. We ran his blood and found a foreign substance laced with a component we can't identify. It seems to be the cause of Mr. Caffrey's ailments."
Elizabeth wrung her hands nervously, "But you can cure it right? There's something you can give him?"
Dr. Hess sighed and took off her glasses, watching the couple carefully. She noted the way Agent Burke was pacing across the waiting area, one hand on his hip, the other rubbing the back of his neck. Elizabeth had tear stains on her face, her make up running in black rivers down her face. But Dr. Hess also noticed the sheer determination that was set on both their faces, as well as the confidence they seemed to have in her. As if she had all the answers to save their friend.
If only, she thought wearily.
"It's a bit more complicated then that, Mrs. Burke," she said softly.
Peter spun sharply on his heel, "What do you mean?"
"If this were as simple as, say a snake bite, we would be able to administer the proper anti venom to his blood stream. If it were something he simply ate, we would be able to flush his stomach and treat the symptoms. But, it seems to be a combination of both."
"I don't understand," Elizabeth said, frowning, "Neal hasn't been near anything like a snake or-"
"You misunderstand me, Mrs. Burke," Dr. Hess said gently, "I said like a snake bite. Something that was injected into his blood stream."
"Enlighten us, Dr. Hess," Peter ordered.
Dr. Hess inhaled deeply, "From his blood work alone, it is impossible for me to know exactly what poison is in Mr. Caffrey's system. However, from what I can tell, it seems to be two types."
"Two types," Elizabeth whispered and closed her eyes, "Oh my God."
"It seems that one was ingested, and another was absorbed into the skin," Dr. Hess continued, "but without anything to compare his blood to, I don't know how to go forward with Mr. Caffrey's treatment."
"He had an allergic reaction earlier," Peter said, "Could that have caused this?"
"The poison in his blood, perhaps, but not for the poison ingested." Dr. Hess sighed heavily and looked at Peter, "Agent Burke, I'm afraid that this was done deliberately."
Peter clenched his teeth. A cold piece of lead settled in his stomach as his own suspicions were confirmed in the doctor's theory. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands and let the agent take over.
"How long ago would the poison have had to have been administered?"
"Three to five hours," Dr. Hess said quickly, "Both of these poisons are fast acting and similar in toxicity."
"Would they have had to been administered separately?" Peter asked.
She nodded, "Yes, but due to the time frame I'd say they were at the same time. Mr. Caffrey would have had to have touched something for the poison to be absorbed and eaten something then or very soon after."
"We've been together for the past four hours," Elizabeth said glancing at Peter, "and we were at our house."
"And before that?" Dr. Hess asked.
"He was with me," Peter said, "We were at the office, finishing some paperwork. We didn't eat or drink anything, and we would have touched the same things as three dozen other agents."
"That doesn't make sense," Dr. Hess said, shaking her head, "There must have been something that only Mr. Caffrey touched, only he ate."
Elizabeth started to shake her head, when Peter cursed under his breath.
"Peter?" she asked, hesitantly.
"The truffles," he said, "he ate the damn truffles."
"But we all touched the box-"
"The poison could have been on the chocolate," Dr. Hess said quickly, "Did either of you touch the chocolates or eat them?"
Peter shook his head, "No, it was only Neal. Damn it. I should have known something was wrong."
"Agent Burke, the poisons were undetectable. There's no possible-"
"The package was unmarked," Peter nearly shouted, "I should have known something was up. God damn it."
Elizabeth stood and silently slipped her arms around his waist. She placed her cheek against his back and held him tightly. After a few moments in the silence, Peter relaxed and put his hand over his wife's.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Hess. I didn't mean to lose my temper."
"Under the circumstances, Agent Burke," she said, standing, "I think I can find it in my heart to forgive you."
He sighed and turned to her, "What do you need?"
"The package the truffles were in. Whatever poison Mr. Caffrey absorbed will be left on it and we'll be able to test it against his blood."
"What about the ingested poison?" Elizabeth asked.
Dr. Hess frowned, "I hope there will be traces of it on the packaging as well, but I can't be certain."
"I'll get you the packages," Peter said.
Dr. Hess shook her head, "No, have your people run it. Your labs will be faster and time is everything for Mr. Caffrey."
Elizabeth licked her lips, "May we see him?"
Dr. Hess nodded, "Yes, follow me."
Elizabeth walked beside the doctor. Peter followed closely behind, talking rapidly on his cell phone to Jones. As they neared the room, he flipped the phone shut.
"An agent will be here to guard Caffrey," Peter said.
Dr. Hess frowned, "Do you think the person who did this will come back?"
"No, but we can't take that chance," Peter said stiffly.
Dr. Hess nodded, "Let me warn you of a few things before you go in. First of all, Neal is very weak. His body is exhausted from its fight with the toxins. Because of the consistent vomiting, we've had to sedate him. He won't be awake but he may be able to hear you and sense you're there." She paused to let the couple soak in this information before landing the final blow, "Second, the toxins have affected his lungs. His breathing was failing rapidly and as a precaution, we've put him on a ventilator."
Elizabeth gasped, paling visibly while Peter stiffened, his jaw tensing. Dr. Hess reached out for Elizabeth's hand and squeezed it gently.
"We couldn't take the risk that his lungs would shut down completely." she said softly, "You can go in when you're ready, but be prepared. He won't look like the same Neal, you're used to."
"Thank you, Dr. Hess." Peter said roughly.
Dr. Hess nodded and turned away. She walked briskly to the nurses' station around the corner, ignoring the tears of empathy filling her eyes. She'd been in the medical field for ten years, and it still surprised her how a family could bring out emotions in her she thought she'd long suppressed.
Family, she thought, what a strange way to describe them.
She looked over her shoulder as Peter led Elizabeth into the room. Her hands clenched around her clip board.
"Owen," she called sharply to the her personal intern.
The young man hurried over, looking much like a whipped dog. Dr. Hess sighed as he pushed up his thick black frames and refused to meet her eyes. She'd only agreed to be his mentor because of too much bourbon and a bet. She'd lost.
"Yes, Dr. Hess?" Owen asked, timidly.
"Take Mr. Caffrey's blood work to the lab and run it against every known poison we have in our database."
Owen's eyes widened, "But, Dr. Hess, that will take hours. Wouldn't it be a better job for a nurse?"
"I want this done right, Owen. I need my best on this and that's you. It might seem mundane but a man's life is on the line and I can't risk a screw up. Now do as you're told before I reconsider our partnership."
Owen straightened, "Yes, Dr. Hess. Right away."
Dr. Hess watched as he scurried away. It was a long shot given Neal's time frame. She doubted he even had hours, but she wasn't about to let a young man die without doing everything in her power to stop it. She had to help that family no matter what, because that's exactly what they were. A family.
"Get them for me, Elaine," Jack said as he typed on his computer.
Elaine was already standing at the portrait of their family. She scoffed softly at the word and felt bitterness roll through her belly. She tilted the painting to the side, revealing a small safe built into the wall. Turning the dial to her husband's three numbers, she opened the door and pulled out three plastic packages.
"Which one?" she asked, softly.
"The Nokia," he said.
She replaced the other two tracking phones, shut the door and moved the painting back to its place. She crossed the room in front of the fire place and handed the phone to him. Distracted, he took it and put it in his lap without glancing at her. Elaine walked back to the couch and curled up on it, facing the fire place as if crackled and danced.
She heard Jack cut the plastic off the phone and toss the trash away. He was muttering to himself, glee obvious in his voice. Elaine pulled the shawl around her shoulders just a little tighter and stared hard into the fire. She felt trapped in a dream, a nightmare she just couldn't wake up from.
As she heard the phone activate and Jack punch in the numbers, she closed her eyes and let the tears fall.
She just wanted to wake up.
Jones walked down the hall of the hospital with a nervous anger building in his gut. His anger was obviously directed at the jackass that thought it was funny to put poison on chocolate. The nervousness was for Peter. He doubted the agent would be too thrilled with his news or that he would follow the old saying about the messenger.
When he reached the room, both the nervousness and the anger disappeared. The door was slightly ajar, open wide enough that Jones could see Elizabeth's dark head of hair and the white knit blanket covering the feet of the bed. He stepped in cautiously, opening his mouth to let his presence be known. When he caught sight of Caffrey, however, any ability to speak suddenly vanished.
The tube protruding from his mouth was the most appalling and certainly the most haunting. The thought that the man couldn't even breathe on his own made the cold reality of the whole situation settle on Jones like a hard blow. But it was the lifelessness of his friend that shocked him. If he hadn't heard the machines, hadn't seen the ventilator breathing for him, he would have seen the ghostly pale face and the inert form of Neal and known for certain he was dead. And it shook him to his core.
Peter turned from the window, having seen his partner's reflection as he came into the room. Slowly, he crossed the room and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Jones," Peter said gently, "let's talk in the hall."
Jones nodded and let Peter lead him out. He couldn't take his eyes off Caffrey's form until Peter closed the door behind him. It wasn't until Peter pushed him down on the chair by the wall that he realized he was shaking.
They were silent. Peter sat patiently, waiting for Jones to get his bearings. His reaction to Neal's condition hadn't been any better. He'd been afraid to touch him, scared that he would feel cold dead skin under his hand. Elizabeth had been worse. He'd barely caught her in time as she fainted.
"You good?" Peter asked.
Jones nodded, anger flashing in his brown eyes, "I'm gonna put a bullet in this son of a bitch."
"You and every other agent," Peter said, "What have you got for me, Jones?"
The anger died rapidly as anxiety took its place, "It's not good, Peter. Someone broke into the house."
He nodded, "Probably when you were bringing Caffrey in. They didn't touch anything, but they took the package and the wrapping for the chocolates."
"How do you know someone broke in just for that?" Peter asked, feeling very confused.
"The lock was broke," Jones said, "and they left this."
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a clear evidence bag. Inside was a cream index card. Written in black, fountain pen were two words, one on each side of the card.
"Nightshade?" Peter asked, reading the card and then flipping it over, "TI?"
Jones shrugged, "No clue. We're running it against all of your cases, but so far we're coming up empty."
"Damn it." Peter swore as he stood and slammed his hand against the opposite wall, "The traces on that packaging was Neal's best chance."
Jones rose slowly, hating that his knees still shook slightly. He stuffed his hands in his pockets as his boss got his temper under control.
"Have you told Elizabeth yet?" he asked.
Peter shook his head, "No, she's had it rough tonight. Another shock to her system won't be good."
"Don't you think she'll wonder why I'm hanging around here and not working on the case?"
Peter sighed and nodded, "Yeah. You're right."
He crossed the room and stuck his head inside the room, careful to avoid looking at Neal.
"El, honey. Can you come out here for a minute?" he asked.
Elizabeth glanced at Neal before following her husband out into the hall. Her unease intensified when she saw Jones standing awkwardly in the middle of the hall.
"What's going on?" she asked.
"Jones is going to stay with you, El." Peter said.
"Why? Do you need to go to the office for something?"
"No, I mean, he's going to stay with you and Neal until we find whoever did this."
Elizabeth gaped at him, "You're putting a protection detail on me?"
"El, listen for a minute, okay? Whoever sent that package to the house wasn't intending for Neal to eat it. It was meant for you."
He saw his wife pale and grabbed her arms, stepping closer to her. Instantly, she glared and swatted his hands away.
"Stop it, Peter. I'm not going to faint."
He held up his hands in surrender.
"How do you know it was for me?" she demanded, "It could have been for you."
Peter shook his head, "We were off early, El. I shouldn't have been home for another hour. Remember, I called you when we had a break in the case? That's why we were able to have dinner early. Those chocolates were meant for you, babe."
Peter shook his head, "I don't know, but I can't take the risk that whoever this is will try again. Getting Neal was a fluke and he may want to go after his original target again."
"Me," Elizabeth said breathlessly.
Peter nodded, "Yeah."
"Why is Jones here then? Where are you going?"
"I'm not going anywhere. I'm staying right here, but I'm only one guy. Jones is your protection detail. I'm Neal's."
To his surprise, Elizabeth smiled at him. She stood on her tip toes and kissed his cheek.
"Well, I feel safer already."
With that she went back into the room and shut the door behind her. Jones chuckled and shook his head.
"That's one hell of a woman, Peter."
"Don't I know it."
The sharp ring of his cell phone broke the silence. He quickly pulled it out, waving off the glaring nurse from the room next door.
"How's your pet doing?"
The look on Peter's face had Jones pulling out his own phone and calling for a trace in seconds. The anger rolling of his boss in waves had him stepping back out of firing range.
"You low down, bastard. What in the hell do you want?"
"Temper, temper, Burke. It's very simple. All I want is two little favors and I will give you the names of the poisons."
"Little favors, huh? Why do I get the feeling they aren't so little?"
The man on the other line chuckled, "Very perceptive, agent. Are you willing to bargain?"
"Do I have any other choice?"
"No, you don't or rather, your pet doesn't. I'm very good with my chemistry, agent, and I know for a fact that the two poisons will kill Mr. Caffrey in the next four hours if you don't give me what I want."
Peter gripped the phone tighter, "I'm listening, damn it. Just tell me what you want."
"Very good. You have a friend of mine in a rather unfriendly place, agent. I want him back."
"You want me to release a man from prison?"
"Yes, I do. Release Steven Casing and I will tell you the name of one of the poisons."
"And for the second?"
"First things first, agent. Get me Steven. We'll talk again soon."
Peter raised his arm to throw his cell phone when the man hung up, but pulled back quickly. He had to stay calm. Neal was counting on him.
"Did you get him?"
Jones shook his head, "He's bouncing his signal off of a bunch of towers and routers. They can't lock him, but he's calling from a cell phone, probably a disposable."
"Pull everything we've got on Steven Casing and get me an agent down here."
"You going somewhere?" Jones asked.
"Yeah, to hell," Peter said, stalking down the hall, "once I kill this bastard."
Elaine sat at the kitchen table in the dim light of the lamp. She stared across the room to the trash can by the wall at the wrapper and packaging lying on top. Slowly she raised her hand in front of her face and wondered if some of the poison had gotten in her skin. It would be poetic since she already had blood on her hands.
She glanced at the basement door, at the thin streak of light peaking out from under it. Jack was working again, another chemistry experiment, another part of the puzzle she would have to put into place. She shuddered and wrapped her arms around her middle, nestling her chin in the shawl.
She felt so weak, so helpless. Jack and his stupid drugs, his wonderful, addictive drugs. Why did he have to be so damned good at creating them? Why did she have to be so damned addicted to them?
Elaine glared at the door. Not anymore, damn it. She had poison and blood and chocolate on her hands and it was just too damn much. She was done playing the pawn and the bait. She was done with drugs and addictions.
A tremor ran through her hand and she clutched it to her chest. She closed her eyes and held on tight as the tremor ran through her. She wouldn't give in this time. She wouldn't ask for it. Not this time. Not anymore.
She looked up, pain filling her eyes and mixing with desire. Jack stood before her, the needle in one hand and the vial of her need in the other. She wanted it, wanted it so bad. Jack held them out for her to take.
"You need it," he said with a smile.
She took them and watched her husband disappear back into the basement. She stared down at the vial and needle before putting the needle in the vial. She cried as she filled the syringe.
Dr. Hess tiredly rubbed her temples and pressed her fingertips into her eyes. For hours he'd been pouring over different ingested poisons. Dozens matched Neal's symptoms but none of them matched the anomaly in his blood work. She was running out of options and out of time.
Wearily, she got up from her desk and wandered down the hall. She wondered if Owen had made any progress, but she doubted it. The last time she'd checked on him, he'd only glared at her from behind blood shot eyes and a stack of papers.
Dr. Hess wasn't at all surprised to find that she had ended up outside of Neal's observation window. The curtains were separated, allowing her an unhindered view of the ailing conman and the various tubes and wires keeping him alive.
"Is something wrong, Dr. Hess?"
She turned to the young nurse standing just behind her shoulder, "No, Addie. Everything's fine," she looked back at Neal, "How is he?"
"Nothing's changed. He's still in the medicated coma and his vitals haven't fluctuated."
Dr. Hess sighed softly and leaned heavily against the window pane. Faintly, she heard Addie's footsteps retreating but didn't look up. The coolness of the window did nothing to cool her raging mind.
"Dr. Hess! Dr. Hess!"
Dr. Hess raised her head at Owen's shrill cry. She watched the lanky young man run down the hall, papers in hand and glasses askew. He didn't seem to notice the cleaning crew coming out of the room ahead of him and attempted to jump the mop bucket. Unfortunately, his natural grace didn't cover such a move and he went tumbling down, her name on his lips.
Dr. Hess hurried to Owen's side, "Are you alright?"
Out of breath, glasses drooping off his nose, Owen looked up at her, "I found it."
He handed her the crumbled papers in his fist, "The contact poison affecting Mr. Caffrey. It's thallium."
"Rat poison?" Dr. Hess asked, incredulously.
"Not entirely. Whoever created this is a master, Dr. Hess. They used a compound of thallium from common rat poison and added it to another compound. The result is a poison that won't respond to activated charcoal or other normal treatments."
"That's insane," Dr. Hess said in awe as her eyes roamed the papers. She looked up at Owen, "Then what can we do?"
Owen smiled, a rare commodity Dr. Hess only saw when he was certain of the answer to her training questions, "I figured that out too."
He opened his other fist, revealing a small medicine vial. It was marked only with a torn piece of white paper taped around it. Written in black sharpie was one word.
Owen smirked, "Well, we are praying for a miracle."
Dr. Hess laughed, and spontaneously kissed his forehead. She ignored the red creeping along his cheeks as she got to her feet.
"We have to get this tested," she said, "Run it against Neal's blood work."
"Already did. The thallium compound cleared right up."
"Owen, you're amazing. Remind me to start paying you," Dr. Hess said. She spun around and headed for the door to Neal's room. A sudden thought stopped her and she turned back, "You said that thallium compound cleared. What of the ingested poison?"
Owen looked sheepishly at the tile, "Sorry, Dr. Hess. I'm still working on it."
She raised an eyebrow at him.
He hitched a thumb over his shoulder, "I mean, I'm working on it right now."
He ran down the hall and Dr. Hess, smiling, ran to Neal.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she muttered running into a dark haired girl. The young woman waved her off and continued down the hall. Dr. Hess was so enthused by Owen's discovery that she didn't notice the woman dropping an empty syringe into a nearby waste basket or the shaking in her hands.
Neal was dreaming in black and white.
At the back of his mind, he knew it should be unsettling. Only seeing things in black and white and shades of gray. He always saw colors in his dreams.
And it definitely should have made him uneasy that he was standing in the hall way of a hospital, staring at double doors with the word 'Morgue' printed across them. He'd never dreamed of a morgue before.
The little girl in a lace dress and long black hair didn't help him much.
It was all very unsettling.
"Where am I?" he asked.
His voice sounded very far away and it echoed around him. The little girl smiled at him, revealing two missing teeth. She spun away, hair flying around her and ran through the double doors. They swung back and forth and he could still hear her laughter.
"Hey, wait a minute," he called after her.
He was moving, but wasn't. Then suddenly, he was in front of the doors. He looked behind him but the hall of black and white tile just faded into darkness. He looked through the windows of the doors but all he saw was a blinding white light. Opting to follow the girl, he pushed the doors open.
The little girl was in front of a table, long and steel. She rocked on her heels and twisted back and forth. She grinned at him and beckoned him closer with one finger. Neal walked forward, his steps loud and wrong.
The little girl laughed and ran around the table.
"Hey, kid." he called again.
He was by the table that was empty but wasn't. There was someone lying on it now with a white sheet covering them. Neal found himself pulling the sheet back even as he was screaming at himself not to.
The sheet folded down and he found Peter lying on the table. Eyes closed. Cold. Dead.
The little girl laughed again. Neal looked up, found her standing by another table. Suddenly, the light over it came on and he saw Elizabeth. Another light, another table and there was Mozzie. Then Lauren. Diana, Jones, June, Reese.
Something wet splattered on Neal's hand. He looked down and saw a red drop in this black and white world. Beneath his hand, he saw more red pooling on Peter's table. Looking up, he saw it on every other table.
The little girl laughed behind him. Neal spun around and there was red on her lips. Neal couldn't breath. His chest tightened.
"They're gonna die," she whispered, red running down her chin, "cause of you."
Neal fell to his knees, hand against his chest as he tried to draw a breath. There was red all around him in a circle, never touching him but always there. He looked up at the little girl that stood at the edge of the circle. Her face was hard, the red still there.
"Save me," she whispered.
A face flashed over hers, this one older. The eyes were tired and worn, the face haggard, but still beautiful. The long black hair was clumped and tangled, and there were tears running down the face. Then he was looking at the little girl again.
"Please," she whispered.
It was all very unsettling.
Steven Casing wasn't what Peter had expected. He watched the young man walk into the room, cuffed and shackled and the wrists and ankles, wearing his orange jumpsuit with too much pride. His hair was cropped and his face was unremarkable. Peter barely remembered him much less the case he'd been involved with. But he did remember the cockiness, that damn smirk the kid always wore.
Peter glared at him as he sat across the tiny metal table in the tiny concrete room. Nervously, Steven bounced his left leg up and down, wearing the cocky smirk the entire time. Peter very much wanted to pummel him until he wasn't even able to breathe. But he had Neal and Elizabeth to think about.
He could kill the kid and his damn partner later.
"What's up, Burke?" Steven asked, "Haven't seen you in a long time. Good to see you."
"Not hardly," Peter said, "You are here to give me information and then you are going right back to your cozy cell."
Steven laughed, "The hell I am."
Peter raised an eyebrow at him, "Excuse me?"
"You need me," Steven said, "Why else would you drive thirty minutes just to see me? You want something from me and I want something in return."
Peter slammed his hand on the table, eliciting a slight jump from Steven, "That isn't the way this works."
Steven grinned, "Listen, pops, if you want me to tell you whatever it is you need to know, you gotta be willing to listen to reason. You want information, I want out. Deal?"
Peter growled low in his throat, "No."
Steven sat back in his chair, hands in his lap, "Then I'm not singing."
Peter was across the room in a flash, hands fisted in Steven's jumpsuit just below his chin. He had the kid slammed up against the concrete bricks before Steven could take a breath.
"No, you listen you little bastard, if I have to, I will beat what I need out of you. I will pummel you so hard even the best doctors won't be able to put you back together again. You got me?"
For the first time, real fear settled on the kid's face.
"You can't," he stuttered, "There are witnesses-"
Peter shook his head, "Look around, kid. You're in a room with my friends for protection, because one of yours decided to poison one of ours. Do you really think they are gonna rat on me with one of ours on the line?"
Steven breathed hard, his rapid breaths fogging the glass, "But I didn't do anything."
"You're the reason," Peter hissed in his ear, "and that's good enough."
He pulled back and dropped Steven in his seat. Peter rounded the table placing as much distance between him and Steven as possible.
"Now, you are going to tell me what I need to know."
Steven nodded, looking ready to pee his pants. The cocky twenty-five year old suddenly looked fifteen and Peter felt a small pang of guilt. He shoved it away.
"Good," he said and sat down, "Now, I want to know who's behind this."
Steven glanced up at him, "I can't…I mean, I can't do that to him."
Peter clenched his fists and Steven instantly raised his shackled hands in defense, "No man, I mean. Just let me explain."
Peter forced himself to relax, "I'm listening."
Steven turned red, "I'm…I, well, he's my partner."
Peter frowned, "I thought you worked the blackmail alone."
"I did. Well, sort of, but that isn't the kind of partner I meant."
Suddenly, Peter felt a little awkward as well. He was pretty certain this wasn't how Steven meant to come out of the closet.
"Alright," Peter said quietly, "Anyone else know about…" he waved his hand at Steven, "your partnership?"
Steven shook his head, "No, just my sister. Our parents died when we were young. My sister met him when we were running the streets. He and her got together, got married even, but it was all a cover."
Peter stared at him, "You were having an affair with your sister's husband?"
The red deepened, "It wasn't like that, man. She knew, but he had to keep a cover or his contacts wouldn't have taken him seriously."
"He had a drug ring. Made his own stuff that was so potent you were addicted after one injection. He called it his chemistry. We came up with the blackmail scheme together. He got high breed guys addicted to it and I hit them with it. When that CEO ratted on me, I kept quiet about his part."
"Blackmail's a lighter sentence," Peter said.
Steven nodded, "He'd be gone for years for his part. And the CEO didn't exactly want it to be known about his problem, so we fibbed on what I was blackmailing him for."
Peter nodded, "So he's doing all of this just so you don't have to spend two more years in prison?"
Steven sighed, "Sort of."
"What do you mean sort of?"
Peter was caught off guard by the sudden tears in Steven's eyes, "He's dying. All the chemicals he works with are catching up with him. He's only got a year, maybe two left. We just wanted to be with each other until then. You know, do all the old things again. Take that trip to Spain we never took, or go to our lookout again."
"You did all this for love?"
Steven looked up at him, "Wouldn't you?"
For a moment, Peter saw a part of Neal in the boy and it only made his heart contract. He rubbed his hands over his face and fought off the conflicting feelings. It wasn't fair that they had to be separated but they had made their choices, most of them bad. And it sure as hell didn't give them the right to poison someone over it.
"I want his name."
Steven looked away, "I can't."
"Look, you've given me more than enough information to go by. I could have his name in half an hour, but my friend doesn't have that much time."
Steven looked up at him, "What do you mean?"
"Your partner poisoned him and now he's dying. If I don't get the names of the poisons he used, my friend will be dead in four hours. That's a lot shorter then what your guy's got."
Steven shook his head, "He wouldn't…I didn't know he was going to poison somebody. He said he was going to kidnap her, get leverage. No one was supposed to get hurt."
Peter's blood turned to ice, "Her?"
So he was right, damn it.
"So what happened to go from kidnapping to attempted murder?"
Steven shrugged, "Look, he's always been a little…crazy. The chemicals are affecting his brain, kind of like a brain tumor. They're making behaviors come out that he doesn't normally display. Maybe they…" he shrugged again.
Peter nodded, mulling it over. He tapped his fingers on the table and looked at Steven.
It was a simple question but it held all of his fears in two little words.
"To show you how it feels," Steven said, "when someone takes the person you love away from you."
"Well, he didn't get her, but he got someone else I love," Peter said, "my partner."
Steven's eyes widened. Peter nearly choked on his own saliva.
"Not like that!" he nearly shouted, "My work partner, my friend."
"But you said you love him-"
"Like a brother, geez." Peter said.
Steven smirked, "That's how it started with us."
Peter glared, "Watch it, punk. I'm not like that."
"I'm sorry," Steven said, suddenly sober, "about your friend."
Peter, knowing he wasn't going to get the name he needed, nodded at the kid and waved the guard in. Steven avoided his eyes as he was led to the door. His chains rattling seemed to be the only sound in the room. At the door, he suddenly jerked from his guard and turned to Peter.
Peter lifted his head and turned in his chair, "What?"
"His name," Steven said through his tears, "it's Jack Kava."
Peter smiled and crossed the room. He shook Steven's hand, clapping the boy on the shoulder.
Steven nodded, "Just promise me you won't hurt him."
Peter tightened his hand on Steven's shoulder, "I'll do my best."
The sad thing was, he meant it.
Elaine sat in the cab of the truck, hands gripped so tightly around the steering wheel that the knuckles were white. Her wide blue eyes were glazed as she stared off into the distance. She didn't see her house sitting in the quiet night with Jack waiting impatiently for her to come home. She didn't see the tear splatters on her jeans.
She only saw that man's deadly pale face as she inserted the needle into the I.V.
Her heart clenched and she shut her eyes against the image. He'd looked dead to her, connected to all those noisy machines, skin so pale, body so limp. And to think she'd had a hand in doing that to him. It had been just a thought of guilt before, nothing tangible to hold onto. But staring at him in that cold room, touching his hand with shaking fingers. It all became so real.
Elaine bolted from the car and fell to her knees in the gravel. Her stomach clenched as it revolted and what little she had eaten that day came back up. Vaguely, she was aware of gentle hands pulling back her hair and rubbing her back. As the wave of sickness abated, Elaine sat back against the hub cap and looked up at Jack.
He smiled fondly at her, "You always did have a weak stomach."
She nodded, tears running down her face, but said nothing.
"I'm sorry, babe," he said, thumbing away her tears, "I'm sorry you had to do it. But it's almost done. We're almost there."
Again, she nodded.
"Is it done, then?"
Elaine choked on the sob caught in her throat as she fell against Jack's chest, nodding her head vigorously. As he rubbed her back and soothed her, she thought of the irony.
Because she wasn't crying over the man that would be dead by morning, but for the man she'd watched die slowly for the past year. And she wondered why she wasn't able to save either of them.
"Got him," Diana said from the other end of the prison line, "Jack Kava, twenty-eight, married to Elaine Casing-Kava. He was a prodigy, Peter. He was at Harvard Med before he was seventeen, majored in everything that gave me a headache in high school."
"Need an address, Diana," Peter said.
The sound of Peter's cell cut her off. Peter pulled it out of his pocket and twirled his finger at Mills sitting at a desk across the hall. He got the message and began the trace. Peter hung up with Diana, and hesitantly answered the call.
"I hope for your pet's sake that Steven is there with you."
"He's here," Peter said looking down the hall lined with cells, "give me the name."
"I want to talk with him."
"That wasn't part of the deal. Give me the name of the poison."
"Not until I talk to Steven."
Peter swore in his head. He wasn't sure how stable Kava was and how the news that Steven was still in jail would affect him. Given what little experience he had with the man, he was willing to bet that the reaction wouldn't be a good one.
"I can't let you talk to him, but he does have a message for you."
"Give it to me."
Peter ignored Mill's shocked face and said, "He said he can't wait to be partner's again."
There was a long pause on the other line and Peter held his breath.
Peter clenched his hands, "I just told you, he's right here-"
"Don't lie to me, Agent Burke. Steven never would have ratted me out. Where the hell is he?"
"Look, Kava, I can't-"
"Don't you tell me anything else. Just tell me where he is, damn it!"
Peter sighed, "I can't let you talk to him because the guards just took him back to his cell."
"You son of a bitch, you said you'd release him! Why the hell is he still in prison?"
"I never agreed to that, Kava. Look, he told me your story. I can help-"
"He wouldn't do that! He wouldn't betray me like that. What did you do to him, Burke?"
"Bull! You forced it out of him. You son of a bitch! I gave you the chance, Burke. And you blew it. No way you're getting that name. Your partner's gonna die and so is everyone else you love. Everyone that's ever known you, I'm gonna kill them all."
"We know who you are, Kava-"
"You think you can stop me! You think knowing my name gets you crap? I'll kill them all! Starting with your damn wife."
Peter cursed as Kava hung up, "Get Jones on the phone, now. Kava's going after El."
He left Mills fumbling for his phone and ran for the stairs, praying he would be in time.
Dr. Hess was dumbfounded.
"I don't understand it."
Elizabeth looked from Neal to her, "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," Dr. Hess said, "that's the problem."
"Neal's medicine should be wearing off," Dr. Hess said, "I should have to administer another dose to control the convulsions and vomiting, but his vitals are normal."
Elizabeth stood up, "But you said you had the antidote to the poison."
Dr. Hess shook her head, "To one of the poisons. The other should still be corrupting Neal's system," Dr. Hess looked at her, "I can't explain it. He should be in pain, nearly dead."
Elizabeth glared, "Well, don't sound too disappointed."
"I don't mean to sound so unfeeling," Dr. Hess said, "but it's true. He shouldn't be-"
Neal's heart rate suddenly spiked. Elizabeth glared at Dr. Hess over the loud machine.
"Happy now?" she demanded.
"He's fighting the ventilator," Dr. Hess said then yelled over her shoulder, "Miranda, get your ass in here!"
Seconds later, a young nurse rushed into the room and pushed Elizabeth out. A second nurse pulled her out of the room and shut the door. Before Elizabeth could go back in, Jones was suddenly by her side.
"We need to go."
"What?" Elizabeth said, "but Neal-"
"Agent Decker will stay here with Neal. You and I need to leave, now."
Jones grabbed her hand and pulled her down the hall, leaving Agent Decker to stand guard by the door.
And Neal to fight by himself.
Neal felt the pain first. It was as if every fiber of his body was on fire, but it was nothing like the pain he'd felt before. He was grateful. At most, this pain was only uncomfortable.
Then he heard the silence.
It was a strange concept, to hear silence. But he swore he could. He knew he was in a hospital. He remembered Peter helping him down the stairs and Elizabeth holding his hand in the car. And he remembered that red headed doctor telling him about the coma. He shivered slightly at that memory. Given all of those memories, it was logical to assume there should be machines beeping around him, annoying little screens monitoring his every breath. But he heard none of them, just the silence.
And then he opened his eyes…
…and was greeted with a crazy eyed man holding a gun to the red headed doctor.
He desperately wished for the coma to come back.
Peter would have loved that, the usually eloquent Neal Caffrey suddenly speechless. But given the circumstances and what Neal had been through, even Peter had to cut him a break.
"Mr. Caffrey," the crazy man said, "would you be so kind as to get up? I'd hate for Dr.," he looked thoughtful and asked the woman, "What was your name again?"
"Hess," she whispered, eyeing the gun, "Dr. Hess."
"Ah, yes. Anyway, I would hate to have to harm Dr. Hess. She's taken such good care of you and all. She somehow managed to cure you even when my poisons were so perfectly made."
Neal looked from the crazy man to the doctor. He noticed the slight tremor in her body and the way she couldn't look away from the gun. Slowly, his eyes slid to the call button.
"I wouldn't," the captor said, "Your guard is taking a very long nap over there in the corner and Dr. Hess's brains would be splattered all over the wall before any of those nurses came in. You wouldn't want that to happen, would you?"
No, he wouldn't. Violence was nothing he wanted a part of and death even more so. Slowly, Neal sat up and weakly slid his legs off the bed. It took so much energy that he was forced to rest there.
"Mind telling me what this is about?" he asked breathlessly.
"Your partner pissed me off."
"Ah, yeah, he does that."
Neal slid off the bed and stood. He tilted to the side, heard the doctor gasp, but quickly regained his balance. He looked up at the crazy man.
"Get in the wheel chair."
Neal eyed the wheel chair beside the man, at least five feet from him. Taking a deep breath he pushed off the bed and shuffled forward. His body was betraying him. His brain sent messages but the limbs, weak and exhausted, refused to work as normal. His knees shook and two feet from the chair, they gave out. Luckily, he caught the handles before he did an ungraceful face plant and eased himself into it.
"Now, I'm going to release Dr. Hess and she isn't going to follow us. Are you, Dr. Hess?"
The woman set her mouth and refused to answer. Impatient, the gunman jabbed the barrel of the gun into her temple, eliciting a soft gasp from her. Neal leaned forward in the chair, tense with anger.
"Dr. Hess," he said as calmly as he could, "please, do as he says."
Surprised, she looked at him with wide eyes and mouth agape. He smiled back at her.
"I don't think you should risk it," he said casually, "Besides, I think that agent will need you care."
To his shock, he saw tears well in her eyes, but she nodded. Satisfied, the gunman tossed her to the bed and tucked the gun into the waistband of his jeans. He grabbed the back of the chair and wheeled Neal out of the room.
"If you even think about signaling anyone," he whispered in Neal's ear as the approached the elevator, "I'll shoot as many as I can. I've got ten rounds. You do the math."
Neal had always hated math class.
"Where are we going?"
"Parking garage," he said, pressing the appropriate button, "Any more questions?"
"A name would be nice."
The man glanced down at him, "Kava. Jack Kava and you're Neal Caffrey. Want to trade life stories?"
Neal shook his head, "No, I think I'll pass."
Kava snorted, some cross between disgust and amusement, "You're a riot, Caffrey. It's no wonder Burke keeps you around."
"Speaking of," Neal said, "What did Peter do that pissed you off so badly?"
The elevator dinged and the doors slid open. Kava took the handles and leaned down to Neal's ear.
"He refuses to let my partner go," he whispered, "so I thought I'd take his."
"Wonderful." Neal muttered.
Kava wheeled him across the parking garage to a tan SUV. Unlocking it, he helped Neal into the back and then tossed the wheel chair into the trunk. Neal watched him, wondering if he had even an inkling of a chance of escape.
Neal turned around at the soft voice. He saw a dark head of curly hair in the driver's seat. He met the eyes staring at him from the rear view mirror. They seemed haunted.
"You can never get away."
The words were spoken as fact, not as a threat or even a warning. They were certain, as if tested. He watched her hands shake against the steering wheel and her eyes dart to the passenger side as Kava climbed in and knew she was right.
"Where's the wife?" she asked, quietly.
Neal tensed. Had they gone after Elizabeth? Was she hurt?
"Burke must have called his lackey and gotten her to a safe house," Kava said, "I only found the partner in the room. But he'll do. I'll bide my time with the wife. Maybe I'll even save her for last."
"You won't touch her."
Neal didn't even recognize his own voice as he said the threat. Even if he meant it with all of his heart.
Kava turned in his seat, "Yeah?"
In the next second, Kava was over the seat, grabbing the color of his white scrubs and shoving a gun barrel in his face.
"You gonna stop me?"
His heart told him to act, to defy the crazy gun man, but his head knew better. His body was too weak and it certainly wasn't bullet proof. Despite his deep desire to give in to the violence, Neal heeded his instincts and for once, kept his mouth shut. Wouldn't Peter be proud.
"Didn't think so." Kava said and turned back in his seat, "Elaine, take me to the look out."
Elaine nodded and put the car in reverse. She wrapped her hand around Kava's head rest, turned to look out the back window, and looked at Neal. He was shocked to see the tears in her eyes and to see her mouth the word 'sorry'. But what shocked him most was that her face was the same from his dream.
He looked up at the little girl that stood at the edge of the circle.
"Save me," she whispered.
A face flashed over hers, this one older. The eyes were tired and worn, the face haggard, but still beautiful. The long black hair was clumped and tangled, and there were tears running down the face. Then he was looking at the little girl again.
"Please," she whispered.
As the SUV back out of the parking garage and Elaine turned back around, Neal found himself promising he would.
But first he had to save himself.
Peter drove like a mad man down the dark highway. Traffic was minimal, but that didn't stop him from passing every car he came upon. He jumped when his phone went off, hitting his head on the roof of the car. Swearing, he scooped the blaring thing off his passenger seat.
"It's Diana. Elizabeth is safe at headquarters."
Peter breathed out, "Thank God."
"But we've got a problem."
"Elizabeth said that when Jones pulled her out of the hospital, Neal was coming out of his coma so I went to check on him."
"That's a good thing right?"
"It would be, if he was still here."
"Decker's been knocked out with something powerful and Dr. Hess was held hostage. She says that Kava held her a gunpoint until Neal agreed to go with him."
"Damn it!" Peter hit the steering wheel with his fist and nearly veered off the road, "Did he say where they were going?"
"He never mentioned it. Dr. Hess needs to talk to you."
"Yeah, put her on."
He heard the phone shift hands.
"Yes, Dr. Hess."
"I thought you should know that Neal was walking on his own accord but his body is still very weak. Too much exertion could cause it to go into shock. If not taken care of, the shock could kill him."
"God-" Peter cut him off mid swear, "Anything else?"
"Yes, that young man saved my life when he didn't have to," she said and he noted a sense of protectiveness in her voice, "I want him back in one piece, Agent Burke. I need to thank him for that."
"Believe me, Dr. Hess. I plan to do just that. Put Diana back on, would you."
As the phone shifted hands once more, Peter narrowly missed a red car as he passed it. He ignored the blare of the horn as Diana came over the phone.
"They took off about twenty minutes ago. Parking garage guard said they went left, but that doesn't help much."
"He's making this personal, Diana. He wants me to find him so he'll make it obvious. Is there anywhere in the file that Kava would have gone? A special place, somewhere only he and Steven shared."
"What about Neal's tracker?"
"No good. They cut when he went into the hospital. It interfered with the machines."
"I'm gonna have to go back to the office for the file. You think Steven is a part of this?"
"Only in Kava's thought process. He's completely obsessed with Steven and-"
But Peter was staring at the green sign illuminated by his headlights. All of his attention was focused on its simple message.
Nightshade Lookout 10miles
"Diana, I know where they went. I need every team we've got."
Neal couldn't breathe.
There was a chain wrapped around his chest and it tightened with every step, every stumble. He felt Kava at his back, that blasted gun in his hand and aimed at his back. Elaine, bless her, had tucked herself under his arm after he stumbled the second time. But the chain was still there and he couldn't breathe.
Where the hell was Peter?
Neal dropped against the nearest tree, Elaine beside him. Her slender hand was still on his shoulder, but the tremors that shook her whole body seemed to be subsiding. Weakly, he reached up and squeezed her fingers. She squeezed back but didn't look away from Kava.
The crazy gunman was walking to the edge of the cliff. He held the gun loosely in his right hand at his hip, head tilted back to gaze at the stars. Neal knew he wasn't admiring God's handy work, though. The wild look on his face was proof enough of that.
"This was it," Kava said, "right here. Steven always loved it here."
It wasn't the first time Kava had mentioned Steven and Neal could only assume he was the partner Kava had mentioned. Elaine turned her head and shut her eyes. Steven meant something to her too. Neal just wasn't sure what.
Kava turned to Neal, "It was your partner, you know."
"What did Peter do now?"
"He took Steven away from me!" Kava yelled fiercely.
Neal jumped and Elaine shrank back.
"Steven was everything to me and Burke just takes him away like he's nothing," Kava said calmly, pressing the hand with the gun against his skull, "like he was nothing."
Kava spun around completely and pointed the gun at Neal's chest, "I wonder if he'll think it's nothing when I take you away from him."
Neal fumbled for a plan or a line of distraction. But his tongue was in knots and his mouth was dry. All he could do was stare at the barrel of the gun that held ten rounds and wonder how many of those bullets would be lodged in his body before the end of the night.
The soft declaration was enough to distract Kava. His wild eyes turned to her and confusion knitted his brow.
Elaine stood, tremors rocking her body, shaking her hands and every other part of her body. But her voice was steady and her eyes never wavered from his face.
"You heard me," she said, "It's enough. This madness needs to end."
"Elaine," Kava stared at her as if she'd grown a second head, "what are you talking about? We were in this together, for Steven."
"I never wanted this, Jack. Look at him," she waved to Neal, "He's dying for nothing! Steven is still in jail and he's not getting out. This has to stop."
"No," Kava shook his head, "No, Elaine. I have to do this. I have to show Burke that I mean it. I want Steven back and I will do anything to do it."
"I know you will, but what about Steven?"
Kava stared at her, "What?"
"I know my brother, Jack, and he would never want this. He hates violence. He would never want an innocent man to die for his freedom."
So that was the connection. Neal glanced at Elaine as he slowly used the tree to stand. Elaine stood beside him, hands clenched at her sides as she stared down Kava. For a moment, Neal thought she was getting through to him.
"But…I have to…" Kava pressed the gun to his skull again and yelled something primal and angry.
And the moment died.
He thrust the gun out again and moved forward, determined. The gun never wavered as he pointed it first at Neal's chest and then Elaine's. She stared at the gun less than a foot from her heart like she'd never seen it before.
"If you won't help me get Steven back, then you're just in the way."
Neal was moving before the words even registered in his mind. He surged forward, wrapping his arms around Kava's waist. What little strength he had went into the tackle and it was enough to take Kava to the ground and throw off the trajectory of the bullet. Elaine screamed as the bullet lodged in the tree beside her, right where Neal had been second before. She stared at the two men wrestling on the forest floor.
Neal somehow managed to pin Kava down and knock the gun away. Desperately, he looked up to find Elaine just standing there with wide eyes. He knew his strength was waning and his energy was spent. His only thought was to keep his promise to Elaine.
"Go!" he yelled.
Elaine jumped, but took a hesitant step back. Kava suddenly flipped him over, greedy hands going for Neal's throat. Neal kicked at him and wriggled backwards. He looked to Elaine again.
"GO!" he screamed.
And to his relief, Elaine ran.
Peter knew he should wait for back up. He knew it was stupid and dangerous to go into the dark forest alone with a known fugitive at large and armed. But all of his logical thinking had been left at the prison gate when he sped away in a panic. At the time, he'd been a worried husband. As he left his car next to the tan SUV, he was a worried friend.
Back up was too far away. He didn't have time to wait. Neal didn't have time.
So with his gun drawn and his flashlight on, Peter went into the dark woods. Alone. Without back up.
Wasn't this shaping up to be a wonderful day?
He was twenty feet in when he heard the gunshot and it sent his heart beating wildly. He took off as fast as he dared over the fallen limbs and dead leaves to the direction of the shot. His head was telling him to slow down, but his heart was screaming at him to hurry up.
It was all very confusing.
He'd been running for nearly a minute when he saw the woman running towards him.
She slid to a stop, hands in the air and chest heaving. Tears ran down her face as she stared into the light.
"Who are you?" Peter asked.
Peter squinted at her, "Kava's wife?"
He saw her glare at him, "Ex, if I have m-my way."
She pointed behind her, "He's fighting Jack. You have to help him. Please."
Peter was so very confused. Wasn't the wife supposed to be helping the crazy husband? Wasn't she supposed to be running away from the FBI, not to them?
Peter figured he'd figure it all out later. At the moment, he had a partner to save.
He expected her to protest, start crying maybe, but she turned on her heel and started running back the way she'd come. Peter followed, wondering what he'd done with all of his sense.
Neal was on his back.
And not in a good way.
The person on top of him definitely wasn't a beautiful brunette, and he was most certainly trying to kill him. The chain that had been around his chest earlier was now around his throat and it was tightening.
He pushed against Kava, kicked at his stomach, moved his shoulders back, anything to get away from the man with such a murderous look in his eyes. If Neal didn't get oxygen into his lungs soon, it really would be murder.
As the darkness at the edges of his vision began to close in, Neal looked past Kava's face and to the stars above him. Suddenly, he was back in his childhood, wrapped in his mother's arm as his father adjusted the telescope. He'd forgotten what the stars looked like with out the lights of the city drowning them out.
He thought it was fitting, a beautiful last image before he died.
Peter aimed the gun with steady hands at the man choking Neal. Kava didn't flinch; he had eyes only for Neal as he strangled him. Beside Peter, Elaine leaned against the tree.
Kava pressed down harder. Peter had the shot. He knew he was justified, but he couldn't help remembering his promise to Steven. He didn't want to kill him, didn't want to take a life. But Kava was killing Neal.
"Kava, damn it!"
Neal's hands slipped from their hold on Kava's jacket as the life left him. All the fight drained from his prone body. Peter watched as Neal's hands slid down to the ground, palm upturned, fingers curled in.
The gun shot rang out through the quiet forest. Kava slid ,boneless, to the ground beside Neal. Peter heard Elaine sob and fall to the ground, but he didn't care. He didn't care that he dropped his gun to the ground or that he pushed the dead body away, the body he'd killed. He only saw Neal, lying dead on the ground.
"Neal?" Peter asked, voice cracking.
He pressed two shaking fingers to his partner's neck and waited with bated breath. One second passed, a second, a third…and then…
"What took you so long?"
The hoarse, raw scrape was hardly the voice he was familiar with, but he recognized it. Peter looked up and smiled at the blue eyes glaring at him.
"Had some hang ups," Peter said.
Neal rolled his eyes, "Right. Like it's so hard to find the bad guy."
Peter grunted, "Hey, I'd trade place with you in a second, pal."
Neal smiled fondly at him. Even with his ears ringing and his head spinning and with all the crap he'd been through that night, even he could hear the certain truth behind Peter's words.
Peter just smiled, "Whatever, Sundance. What do you say we blow this place?"
Neal took Peter's proffered hand and heaved himself to his feet. If he held onto Peter's hand a little longer as he gathered his bearings, it wouldn't be mentioned.
"Can you walk?"
Neal raised an eyebrow at him, "You gonna carry me?"
Peter just snorted.
Neal stepped forward and abruptly fell face first.
"Crap," he muttered into a dead leaf.
"Little cocky there, aren't you?"
"Shut up, Butch," Neal said, "You wanna help me up? There's a worm down here trying to make kissy face with me."
The feeling that hit Peter at that moment was overwhelming. The relief was palpable, but the thought of losing him still lingered. The torrent of emotions rolled together as Peter bent down and helped Neal to his feet once more. As Neal tried to pull away and try walking by himself again, Peter refused to let go of his arm.
"Peter, I'm good. Really," Neal said.
"I know," Peter said, "It's just…I…"
He didn't know how to make Neal understand that it wasn't for Neal that he wasn't letting go. It was suddenly, completely necessary that he had a tangible hold on Neal. It was foolish, he knew. Neal wasn't going to disappear right before his eyes, despite the man's insistence that he was magic. It was just…he had to.
"I got it, Peter," Neal said softly, leaning against Peter's shoulder, "I probably need the help anyway."
Peter nodded, glad he didn't have to explain himself.
Glad he had his partner back.
Dr. Hess had a nasty glare.
And, unfortunately, Neal was on the receiving end.
"Forget it, Mr. Caffrey, and it's Dr. Hess to you. I am not releasing you two days after you were kidnapped."
"I'd like to see the medical degree that proves you can declare that."
Neal raised an eyebrow. Peter snorted in amusement from his chair.
"Never mind," Dr. Hess sighed, "I forgot who I was talking to."
"No, you aren't going any where until I'm certain all of the toxins are out of your blood."
Neal sighed and leaned heavily against the pillow behind him. Dr. Hess was a drill sergeant in a doctor's lab coat.
"Have you figured out how the second poison cleared?" Peter asked in hopes the change of subject would distract the two.
Dr. Hess only shook her head, "No, Owen is certain it wasn't his serum. The Thallium compound cleared with its effects, but the Nightshade is a complete mystery."
Neal lifted his head, "Nightshade?"
"That was the second poison," Dr. Hess said as she checked his vitals, "It was derived from a plant called pokeweed. It's very toxic, but Kava had integrated it with another compound, like he'd done with the thallium. The normal procedures didn't work for them."
"He was very good at his chemistry."
Peter, Neal, and Dr. Hess turned to the door way. Elaine stood in the door way, a white robe wrapped around her slim body and slippers on her feet. The orderly behind her nodded at Peter and shut the door behind her. Peter jumped out of his chair and helped the young woman to it. Neal smiled at her.
"Look who's up and about," he said, "I take it the withdrawals aren't as bad today?"
Elaine smiled, "I'm getting used to it."
Dr. Hess shook her head in amazement, "I'm in awe at you, Elaine. How you were able to deny yourself Kava's drug is beyond me. Weaker men have given in to their demons under weaker drugs."
"Dr. Cameron says its nearly out of my system," Elaine said brightly, "Another week and I should be free of it."
Peter squeezed her shoulder, "That's wonderful, Elaine."
She smiled at the agent before looking soberly at Neal, "I have a confession to make."
Peter frowned, "Should I leave the room?"
After all the young woman had done to help Neal and been through herself, he'd hate to have to arrest her. But Elaine shook her head.
"No, I didn't do it," she took a deep breath and plowed on, "Jack sent me here that night. I was supposed to give you a stronger dose of the nightshade. I was…it was supposed to kill you."
Neal stared at her in shock. Elaine fiddled with the tie of her robe, fighting back tears. To her surprise it was Dr. Hess that broke the silence.
"It was you," she said, "It was you I ran into that night. You were leaving Neal's room."
"But Neal's still here," Peter said, "So you didn't give him the dose."
Elaine shook her head and looked up at Neal, "I was…I didn't want to. I saw you and…I couldn't. So I gave you this instead."
She pulled an empty medicine vial from her robe pocket and held it up. Peter took it from her and squinted at the label.
"It was the antidote," Elaine said.
Neal smiled at her, "So that's how I saw you."
Peter looked away from the bottle to Neal, "What? What are you talking about?"
"I had the weirdest dream when I was in the coma," Neal said, still smiling at Elaine, "There was this little girl, but then I saw your face. You asked me to save you."
Elaine blushed, but nodded.
Peter smirked, "You left the card at my house didn't you?"
Elaine nodded, "I was hopping you would understand what it meant. I didn't have enough time to write much. So I just put the names of the poisons."
"Well," Dr. Hess said, "That explains how the nightshade cleared."
"But how did it clear so fast?" Elaine asked, "Jack said the antidote would take a few hours to rid the body of the symptoms. Neal was fine within an hour."
"Are you really going to question a miracle?" Peter asked.
Neal snorted at him.
"Your hand!" Dr. Hess suddenly exclaimed.
Neal jumped as she picked up his left hand. He could barely see the red rash that had covered it just a few days earlier.
"What about his hand?" Peter asked.
"The allergic reaction," Dr. Hess said happily, "The histamine created by it put Neal's immune system on overdrive. That coupled with the antidote, the toxins didn't have a chance."
Neal took his hand back and eyed it curiously, "I completely forgot about this."
Simultaneously, Peter's cell and Dr. Hess' pager went off. They both excused themselves, hurrying to answer their calls. Neal smiled at Elaine.
"I never got to thank you," she said, "for saving me."
"Elaine, you never needed any help," Neal said, "You were saving yourself long before I came into the picture."
She smiled, "Modesty doesn't become you, Mr. Caffrey."
Neal laughed, "Alright, maybe I helped out a little, but I wouldn't have been able to if you hadn't saved my life."
Elaine blushed again and tucked a black curl behind her ear. Neal offered her a genuine smile.
"Thank you, Elaine," he regarded her thoughtfully, "You really are stronger than you give yourself credit for."
"Can I ask you something?" Elaine asked timidly, "Why were you so determined to save me in the forest? You didn't even know me."
Neal regarded her thoughtfully, "I promised you I'd help you when I realized who you were. Of course, I never said it out loud. Guess it wasn't really a promise, huh?"
Elaine shook her head, a strange smile on her face, "Nah, a promise is a promise, even made in silence."
Just then, Peter came back into the room, closing his cell phone and looking forlorn.
"Peter," Neal asked nervously, "what's wrong?"
"I don't know how to tell you this," Peter said, addressing Elaine, "but Steven died this morning."
If they expected tears, they were disappointed. Elaine only dipped her head and blinked back tears. She looked back at Peter and smiled softly.
"I know," she said quietly.
"You do?" the men asked together.
She nodded, "It was only a matter of time." she looked back at Peter, "How did he die?"
"Anaphylactic shock. He ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and died in his cell."
"Figures," she said, "It was the easiest way. He always had a horrible allergy to peanuts."
"How'd you know?" Neal asked.
She smiled sadly at him, "Because true love never dies. Only the lovers do. So what's to stop the lovers to continue loving in the after life?"
"Oy vey," Peter groaned, "Just what I need. Another romantic."
Elaine laughed, "I should probably get back to my room. Thanks again, Neal."
He smiled and watched her go to the door.
"Just one more question," Peter said. Elaine stopped at the door way and looked at him, "The antidote. If Kava planned on letting Neal die, why would he make one?"
"He didn't," Elaine said.
She smirked, "Jack wasn't the only one good at chemistry."
She walked out of the room before Peter could respond. Slowly, Peter turned around and looked at Neal.
"I think I might have to keep an eye on her."
Neal smirked, "Really? You think?"
"Alright, smart ass, I think it's time you had your rest. El and I will be back tonight."
"Hey, Peter, wait."
Peter turned back and shoved his hands in his pockets, "Yeah."
"Thanks," Neal said, "for not giving up on me."
"What are partners for," Peter said with a shrug. He leaned forward and ruffled Neal's hair, "Can't have my best buddy dieing on me, now can I?"
Neal smacked his hand away as he thought back to when he'd said the same words. His smile quickly fell.
"Peter, are you comparing me to a dog?"
Peter headed for the door without looking back.
He turned in the door way, grinning, "By the way, chocolate is deadly to your kind."
Peter ducked away, narrowly missing pillow missile aimed at his head. Sighing, Neal leaned back in his bed and absentmindedly itched his left hand.
"Don't itch it!"
"Oh come on!"
Alright, so i'm pretty sure i wrapped everything up. If not, let me know in your awesome reviews!
P.S. I tried to find Neal's last name and fix it cause i've been spelling it wrong THIS ENTIRE TIME. if i didn't i'm really, really sorry.