Neal stepped out of the elevator and pushed the glass doors to the White Collar unit of the FBI open. The whole office was a buzz of activity. Agents ran around looking for files and phones were buzzing off the hook. Neal dodged out of the way of a secretary running straight at him with a mountain of files in her hands. He peered into Peter's office. It was empty. That's when he started feeling uneasy.
"Hey Agent Smith, what's going on? Where's Peter?" he asked the burly man walking past him speaking into a cell phone.
"Agent Burke, Caffrey, is in the hospital." Hughes' voice came from above him. A hush fell over the office.
Neal gasped. "Peter? Why? What happened?" He asked desperately searching for answers.
"He was found beaten to a pulp outside your apartment and was rushed to the hospital." Hughes came down the stairs and kept walking towards him.
Neal took in a sharp breath. Outside his apartment? But Peter had told him that he wouldn't be picking him up today. And who had beaten him up? "Sir, I don't understand…"
"Exactly my point, Caffrey." Hughes cut him off. "You do NOT understand. This is the third time my best agent is in peril because of you!"
Neal reeled back as if he had been hit. But Hughes wasn't done yet. "First Keller, then Adler… Care to tell me who it was that you pissed off this time, Caffrey?"
"Sir I…" Neal trailed off mid-sentence as Hughes raised his palm.
"I don't want to hear it." Hughes growled, "right now all my agents are trying to search for the reason Agent Burke is lying on a hospital bed and I don't want you around to cause any more hindrance, got it Caffrey?"
"But Sir, Peter…"
"…would have been better off without you in his life. Door's that way. You can take the rest of the day off." Hughes turned around and walked away leaving Neal standing in the middle of the office, speechless. Neal grew aware that it was completely silent and every pair of eyes on the floor was looking at him. The whispers and murmurs had already started by the time Neal walked out of the doors.
Neal hailed down a cab without thinking about it. It wasn't until he had gotten in that Neal realized that in his anger, Hughes had failed to specify which hospital it was that Peter had been taken to.
But what had gotten Hughes said? Peter had been found hurt near his apartment? Taking an educated guess Neal gave the cab driver, who was squinting at him through the review mirror, the address to the hospital closest to June's place.
A short drive later, Neal was rushing into the hospital and asking the nurse at the reception where he could find Peter Burke. The nurse gave him a room number and directed him towards a corridor to his left.
Neal ran down the corridor, his mind somewhat relived to find out that Peter was in a room. He wasn't in surgery or in ICU, he was in a room. That meant that he was alright, right? Then why had Hughes been so angry at him earlier?
Coming to a halt outside room 704, Neal took a deep breath to calm himself then pushed open the door quietly. His eyes were immediately drawn to Peter's still form lying on the bed. He appeared to be asleep; his eyes, one of them turning an ugly shade of purple, were closed shut and he was taking deep breathes. Neal's gaze shifted to the Nurse setting up the IV tube but she motioned for him to keep quite and follow her outside.
"Sir, the patient has just gone to sleep after being given a heavy dosage of pain meds." She explained once they were outside. "I wanted to avoid waking him up."
"How bad is he? What happened? Is he going to be OK?" Neal bombarded her with questions hoping to finally get some answers.
"Well it seems like he has been in a violent fight. Someone beat him up pretty badly. He has bruises all over his body, a couple of broken body, and a shiny black eye." The brunette nurse, whose name tag indicated that her name was Alice, told him. "But don't worry, it's nothing that a day of bed rest won't cure." She added on hastily, noting the wide array of emotions flitting on the young man's face.
"Can I go in and be with him?" Neal asked her, hoping to be there when Peter woke up.
"Sure, just try not to wake him up." She smiled at him. 'Obviously he is quite devastated for his father.' She mused to herself as she watched him make his way inside.
Neal sat in an uncomfortable chair positioned besides the bed and stared at Peter sleeping.
This was the man who was his keeper, the reason why he wasn't rotting in prison right now. But over time, Peter had become much more than just Neal's keeper. He was his intellectual equal, his friend, the person he turned to when he had doubts and questions, the person whom he trusted more than anyone else to have his back. Peter Burke had become like the father that Neal never had.
For all that Peter had done for him, what he done for Peter? He had made Peter's life miserable by constantly putting him in life threatening situations. Hughes was right. Peter's life would have been much easier if Neal had never barged his way into it. Peter deserved better than what he had to offer. A family, a wife, a whole office depended on him and because of Neal he had been harmed; again. Maybe it would really be for the best if he served the remainder of his sentence behind bars, locked up, where he couldn't be able to cause any harm to those whom he cared about. He'll call in Hughes later and tell him to break off the deal. He wouldn't exactly be given a warm welcome back at prison, but at least Peter would be safe. And he was a criminal right? He deserved to be behind bars so he would not tarnish the perfect lives of those around him with his foul presence.
"Neal…?" He was startled out of his dark musings by a soft whisper. Peter had woken up and was staring at him. "Neal are you alright?" At that Neal let out a bitter laugh.
"Shouldn't I be asking you that?" he said softly gazing at the man lying in front of him.
"I woke up thrice in the past few hours and saw you sitting in the exact same position every time." Peter explained, ignoring Neal's question. He sat up slowly with a little help from his CI. "I know a still Neal Caffrey could never mean anything good." He smirked at the young man.
"Peter… I'm sorry." Neal said looking away. After getting beaten up so badly by someone wanting to get back at Neal, Peter woke up asking if he was alright. This man seriously did not deserve the miserable excuse for a human being that was Neil Caffrey.
"You're sorry? That's new." Peter said, smiling. But when the ex-con remained serious Peter got confused. "For what?"
"For being the reason you're lying on a hospital bed. For making your life miserable by my very existence. For putting you in harm's way again and again. For not being good enough…" Neal broke off, his face flushed and his blue eyes sparkling with repentant tears. He turned away from the man who had given him a new life, unable to look him in the eye.
"Neal…" Peter said softly. He took his hand in his and waited until the ex-con looked at him. "Buddy you aren't the reason I'm lying here. The person who beat me up wasn't anyone you knew. It was this smuggler called Mariate, whom I had sent to prison a few years ago. Peter explained slowly to the man in front of him, realizing that he must have been berating himself for landing Peter in the hospital.
"It wasn't anyone I pissed off?" Neal whispered the question quietly, his blue eyes wide with surprise.
"I hate to break it to you son, but not everything is about you." Peter grinned at his friend, and then quickly stopped, wincing at the pain that had caused him.
Neal's reply was cut short by Elizabeth who chose that moment to burst through the door and went straight to her husband's side. Wanting to give them some privacy, Neal turned around and left.
Peter stepped out of the elevator early the next morning. He hadn't been able to sleep last night after getting discharged from the hospital, having slept most of the previous day. He had decided that going to the office and getting some work done was better than tossing and turning in bed.
The first thing he noticed as soon as he stepped through in the office was the two Marshals stationed right outside the door. Assuming immediately that Neal's anklet had been cut and he was in trouble, Peter quickened his pace and burst through the glass door of the office only to find Neal quietly standing by his desk emptying out drawers.
"Neal? Why are the marshals here?" Peter asked the young man, confused.
"Caffrey gave in his letter of resignation last night." Hughes voice cut in and Peter turned around to see his boss walking down the stairs. "The Marshals are here to escort him back to prison."
"Resignation? Prison? Neal what is going on?" Peter asked, turning back to the ex-con hoping to get some answers, but Neal wasn't looking at him.
"It's for the best Peter. Once he's behind bars all of Caffrey's friends would know where to find him and my agents would stop getting hurt because of him." Hughes answered for Neal again laying a hand on Peter's shoulder.
Peter turned to face Hughes. It suddenly dawned on him. Neal blaming himself yesterday then quietly walking away, Hughes' cold attitude; all of them must think that he had gotten in the hands of one of Neal's rivals.
"With all due respect, sir", Peter shook the hand away from his shoulder and looked him in the eye. "The people who landed me in a hospital yesterday were Mariate's men."
"You mean it wasn't Caffrey's fault?" Hughes was looking uncomfortable.
"Firstly, no it wasn't. And secondly, all the times that it HAS been Neal's fault, let me remind you sir, it had been him only in the end who had managed to get me out of trouble as well."
"Peter…" Neal finally looked at him but Peter raised a palm stopping him mid- sentence, not taking his eyes off Hughes.
"I would also like to remind you that I was aware of the dangers involved when I signed up for this job, and that I've been handling messy situations long before Neal arrived and since then said job had also gotten a lot easier with him around." By the time Peter had finished, Hughes was looking away.
"Peter I really think…" Neal started softly.
"I'm not asking you what you think. I own you for another three years and I don't remember giving you permission to resign." Peter cut in, his tone harsher than he had intended. He stopped to take a breath and continued in a much softer tone: "Neal, I'm a grown man. I can protect myself. Can you trust me enough to do that?"
"Peter I just don't want anything to happen to you…" Neal said looking down.
"Hey", Peter laid a hand on the young man's shoulder and squeezed it gently, "nothing will happen to me."
"But if you don't unpack and get your ass in my office in 5 minutes I can say the same about you." Peter said in a mock stern voice, making the ex-con smile. "There's this case I want you to look at."
"Oh the Mr. Anderson one?" Neal piped up, picking up a file and giving it to Peter. "Already solved that one. Embezzlement scam." He said giving him the trademark Caffrey grin.
"An embezzlement scam… You seem to smell these out quite quickly. Is it because of experience?" Peter teased his CI walking towards his office.
"Aww Peter, you wound me… right here." Neal followed him clutching his heart.
Both men continued to bicker as they made their way up the stairs. Hughes shook his head as he watched them go. He had been wrong to think that Neal wasn't good for Peter, he mused to himself as he signaled the marshals to leave. The way they worked together, understanding and complementing each others talents, completing each others thought and sentences, Hughes couldn't help but agree that this partnership was worth a few risks.
Author's Note: Tell me what you think people... Pretty please? :)
A huge thank you to SuzieWinter'sEvilTwin for pointing out those stupid mistakes. You can blame them on my laziness for not letting me proof read anything I write, will try to make less of them in the future. :)
Review people it's great encouragement! :D