Jones was surprised as was Diana when they received a call from Neal to come to a side of town they never expected he could go to. It was out of his radius at best but he was still on the clock even if it was after 5:30 on a weekday. Strangely Peter's phone was going to straight to voicemail making both agents wonder what was going on when they headed out with Blake and Ashton. It took nearly 45 minutes with traffic to get to the scene, a deserted park in the old historic area of town which mainly consisted of buildings nobody lived in but were run by a local co-op that had tours within the area. Jones and Diana took the lead with Blake and Ashton behind them. They heard voices.
The voice sounded oddly familiar to the two agents as they moved closer and pulled out their guns. The scene was not one they would have expected, Caffrey holding a gun on the man who had kidnapped them a month ago. Jaren looked terrified, his arms cuffed behind him as Neal kept spinning the revolver then pulling the trigger which clicked loudly but without a report. Apparently the man could dish out but not take it but the scary part was the look on Neal's face. He seemed to be enjoying the moment much to the agent's surprise.
Jones spoke up, Diana nearby as they watched him turn and look at them blankly. After a moment those blue eyes seemed to come back to the person they knew. Neal moved aside, weapon still in hand before he placed it gingerly on a nearby bench and continued to stay out of their way. Jones was giving him a look, curious if not worried at the still uncharacteristic manner their friend and colleague was acting. Diana moved closer to the cuffed Jaren, touching him on the shoulder to get him to move but the man was terrified, his eyes wild as he glanced up at her then at the figure of Caffrey with a look of fear.
"Keep... him... a... away... from me."
The man's voice was shaking, trembling with terror as Diana nodded and took him away with Ashton as escort. All the while Neal was just standing there staring as if deep in thought, an uncharacteristic quiet falling over them as Jones moved closer, reaching over for the gun and blinking.
"This isn't real. Caffrey..."
Neal glanced at him with a slight nod but that blank look was still there. Something had come over the young man but Jones understood, patting him on the shoulder as he started to lead him back to the car with Blake. The consultant paused, moving away from him.
The con started running away from them, heading towards the street and a dark sedan parked in the shade under a tree. Jones and Blake followed as the agent called to Diana to let her know what was up. He was about to call to Neal when the young man paused finally, holding him back protectively. Two large men were protecting the car, one sitting on the trunk smoking a cigarette when Jones glanced at the consultant curiously.
"What about Peter, Caffrey?"
Neal seemed upset but holding onto the unnatural calm as well as he could.
"In the trunk. Jaren had them take him before I could do anything."
The agent nodded, motioning to Blake and calling Diana back.
"We're going to need some back up. Peter's in trouble. Yeah... I have Blake and Caffrey. Ok... thanks."
Neal looked about ready to run into the fray to rescue Peter but Jones kept a hand on his shoulder, hoping the touch would keep the young man from doing anything stupid. Seemed to work with Peter. The consultant stayed but he was obviously agitated as they waited. It didn't take long before several cop cars swarmed in, the two goons surprised and uncertain what to do as several NYPD held them up before Jones moved in with Ashton. Neal stayed back to some degree but once the two men had been cuffed he moved swiftly over to the trunk.
Neal practically ran to the vehicle when he had the chance, his lock picking kit out as he quickly opened the trunk revealing a beat up Peter Burke. The agent's right eye was swollen up some, the other one black while his lower lip was split and there was a gash to the right side of his head as if someone had pistol whipped him. Something seemed to come over the young man, anger he hadn't felt since he'd almost shot Fowler to revenge Kate. Neal held back enough to make sure Peter was ok, his partner and friend giving a groan as Agent Ashton and one of the officers helped him pull the agent out of the space. There was the sound of an ambulance coming closer as he held his friend close to him and whispered quietly: "I'll make this right, Peter."
Neal waited until the EMTs were taking care of his friend before he approached the two goons still on scene and held in separate vehicles. He was certain which one of the two had done most of the bullying, his target in sight as he brushed up against one of the officers, apologized then kept walking over to the patrol car. He saw the goon glance over at him with a cold confident smirk. Obviously he thought Neal couldn't do anything to him but he was wrong. There were so many things the consultant would do to him but only one was going to satisfy his hatred at the moment as he pulled the item he had lifted from the officer and held it up only for the goon to see. The man's eyes widened and he started to scoot as far away as he could in the closed patrol car. There were no officers around but two who were distracted talking on their radios about what had happened. He might get prison for what he was planning but it would make him feel better.
The voice was quiet compared with the racket around him but somehow he heard it. Neal blinked, hand still holding the item in question as he started to raise it but the voice interrupted him again.
"I need... to talk to... Neal."
He heard the voice once more, turning his head to see two brown eyes meet his as they were carried away on a stretcher. The weight of the item in his hand felt so much heavier suddenly as he felt a warm wetness in his eyes and sighed heavily. An officer passed by as he move away from the frightened goon in the cruiser and gently coughed to get their attention.
"Someone dropped this."
Neal handed them the gun, the officer glancing at him then the goon in the cruiser curiously as he walked towards his friend. Peter was still now, eyes shut as he gave a quiet groan. The EMTs were about to close the vehicle doors when Neal stopped them, getting up into the vehicle with them as Jones gave them a nod and the doors shut. The medics shrugged, letting him sit beside the barely conscious Peter who was moving a bit more now as his hand grasped the agent's.
The agent's voice was raspy but strong enough to tell him he knew what was going on. Peter seemed out of breath but Neal just nodded, sandwiching his hand in his.
"It's ok, Peter."
His partner looked up at him with a look he knew all too well but there was a satisfaction there. Peter knew he hadn't gone through with it. The man knew him all too well even now and as much as it had bugged Neal in the past, now it made him feel secure that he had someone who cared what happened to him. He wasn't just some con anymore.
"Good... orange doesn't suit you."
Peter's voice faded, brown eyes rolling back to closed as Neal glanced down at him and realized what just happened. He leaned over and hugged his friend, one of Peter's arms wrapping around him weakly before slumping to his side as the agent passed out. Neal wasn't sure what to think, anger still steeped but Peter was ok. Maybe later. He could get back at those men later once he knew Peter was ok. Jaren wasn't going to getting out of prison any time soon.
With Jaren and his men in jail on legitimate charges, although not for wanting the Degas, everything seemed to be going back to normal. Neal stayed with Peter at the hospital, waiting outside as they took him behind the swinging doors to check on his condition. The agent looked bad but he was alive which was more than Neal had expected when he opened the trunk. Jaren had made it sound like they were going to kill him, his blood running icy at the thought. He was distracted from his internal dialogue when a familiar voice broke through.
"We're looking for my husband... Agent Peter Burke. They said he was brought here."
His eyes turned to see Elizabeth just across the hallway outside of the waiting area with Diana as an escort and Hughes. The doctor was talking to them quietly, only a word or two getting through before he pointed towards the waiting area and Neal. He stood up as they finished talking to the doctor and moved towards him. There was a bit of trepidation there, his guilt only increasing when El hugged him.
"Thank you Neal..."
Her arms wrapped warmly around him but he only felt coldness, wanting to pull away from her loving grasp desperately as he tried not to think of the reason why Peter was hurt. She shouldn't be kind to him. Nobody should. El finally pulled away, pulling him aside for a moment to talk quietly.
"What's wrong, Neal. The doctor said Peter was going to be ok..."
She looked worried but he just shrugged slightly.
"He's fine. I just..."
His eyes moved to Hughes and Diana standing off to the side giving them space. He felt like turning himself in or running. He wasn't sure which but he knew Peter was hurting because he'd been pigheaded. Elizabeth moved closer, squeezing his hand in hers.
"Neal... what's the matter?"
She looked at him worriedly but he wasn't sure for once how to fake anyone out. Maybe Mozzie was right: he'd become too honest for his own good. He wasn't sure where he belonged anymore sometimes although he knew this was where he wanted to be. His past always seemed to get in his way at the worst possible time and hurt the people he considered friends and family.
"This is... it's my fault, El. Everything's my..."
Neal walked over to Diana and Hughes, letting go of Elizabeth's hand as he moved away from her. He didn't even get revenge like he wanted. Peter had been in danger and knew what he did and now everyone else would. The agents looked curiously at him.
"Caffrey... something wrong?"
Reese spoke first although Diana was giving him a bit of the crook eye as if she thought he might be guilty of something or maybe it was his imagination. Neal felt like he didn't belong suddenly, his chest tightening up in panic. He could run but he didn't have Mozzie to talk to. The little guy hadn't been answering his calls lately.
He was about to admit everything when someone coughed and interrupted them. They all turned to see the doctor from earlier there, a relieved look on his face and a somewhat curious glance at their serious expressions.
"I'm sorry to interrupt your conversation... Agent Burke is out of surgery. Mrs. Burke... your husband should be fine. He was mostly bruised and we only had to wrap a few ribs (nothing broken) and sew up the gash on his temple. Otherwise he should be able to go home tomorrow."
It was already past 8 PM now as everyone nodded in relief, Neal's near admission of guilt postponed for now as they were informed a nurse would arrive shortly to lead them all to Peter's room. The agent was currently resting but a quick visit by all of them would be fine and they could make arrangements for El to stay the night if she wanted. To some degree, Neal was relieved but he wanted to say what happened. Call it conscience but he had to tell the truth about what had occurred and why. He felt a gentle hand on his arm and saw El there smiling softly.
"Neal... let's go see Peter."
Peter wasn't sure where Neal had gone until he caught him heading down the back street from the heritage home the younger man had entered. The agent followed, moving around the outside hoping to cut him off when a fist caught him.
"What have we here?"
The voice sounded familiar but not in a good way as he felt his head ring with the pain of the blow. Someone kicked him hard then pulled him up by the collar to his feet, arms pinned behind him.
"I think it's that Fed we caught... yeah. I think Jaren would be interested in seeing him again."
Peter remembered little after that, the men taking him to their boss who was in a small park nearby. Where was Neal? He worried about the con doing something stupid to get back at the man who had taken them when he realized how much danger he was in. They took him back to a dark sedan, hitting him hard but not enough to do more than make him feel like he'd been put through a rock tumbler on low speed. Then he had been stuffed in the trunk as he felt near unconsciousness, the slam of the panel closing not enough to keep him from giving into the darkness. He was conscious but not enough to be aware of more than passing sounds, face twitching some before there was light again and he saw Neal standing there looking both worried and guilty. He wanted to say more but he was too tired to move muchless react as he said what he could and then passed out.
For all he knew he just groaned, Peter exhausted as he felt himself removed from the car trunk and someone held him. The scent of cologne was one he knew well, a thin smile on his lips as they held him protectively for a bit then moved away. Something felt wrong, his eyes opening as he looked for his friend. Neal was in trouble and he had to do something but he was too tired to do more than give a weak groan. He must have said words, someone was replying to him and then across the park he saw Neal there looking back at him with those bright blue eyes. There was guilt there but the agent couldn't think why as he started to feel his second wind give out. Neal seemed hesitant, their eyes meeting before Neal moved back towards him. The younger man didn't speak, a tenseness there Peter thought he should understand but in his slowly deteriorating state it was hard to comprehend as he started to pass out again. He was so tired, his body aching from the injuries as someone gently held his hand in theirs then hugged him tightly. He ached but it felt comforting as he hugged back just before he passed out.
Hun... we're here. The doctor says you'll be ok.
He felt soft familiar lips on his forehead, a fragrance making Peter start to wake up, eyes fluttering. He sensed others around, quiet voices in the background as he became more awake and clasped his wife's hand in his own, eyes opening to see her blurry face hovering above him. She was smiling softly as his vision cleared.
Peter smiled back up, kissing her back.
Elizabeth's face came into focus as she smiled down at him. There was a worried relief there as his eyes roamed just beyond her to see two more figures he recognized as Reese Hughes and Diana Barrigan. Now he knew where he was, his mind trying to go back to what had happened. He had been following Neal and then... He saw Reese move closer, the older agent smiling at him with concern.
"Peter... good to see you're doing better."
There was a slight hesitation as Elizabeth perked up at the undertone in the agent's voice. Reese was angry about what happened with protocol being broken but more likely upset that Peter had been hurt. His boss gently squeezed his shoulder and smiled in a fatherly manner.
"We'll have to discuss what happened later but I'm glad we caught Morrison and his gang. Rest. I'm giving you the rest of the week off. (Make sure he relaxes.)"
Reese said a few more words before he left to help out with the details involving Jaren and his men. Jones had been caught up in the case but was headed this way to visit according to Diana as she told him how happy she was Peter was ok. Her words were brief before she too left and there was only himself and his wife alone in the room. Something was missing he thought but he was pretty exhausted from his ordeal to think what as Elizabeth glanced back at the now shut door and sighed.
"Neal feels guilty for what happened, Peter."
Her voice was soft, her words just registering in his mind as he sat up as best he could and sighed in response. Neal. That's who he had forgotten about.
"Guilty? I don't understand."
Peter was a bit foggy on some of the details, his head still aching from the beating but then it came back to him. He had been following Neal but why? Elizabeth hugged him, kissing him on the lips as he held her back and she leaned gently against him.
"Me either but maybe it's because of all of the stuff involving that Degas. He thinks everything is his fault now."
His wife sounded worried about his partner and as he thought back to the day's events he was feeling a bit concerned why Neal wasn't here now. El seemed to read him as usual.
"Neal said he needed to get something to drink before he came up. He was so tense. Maybe I should go check on him."
El sounded worried about the young man but also torn between staying with him and finding his partner. Peter wanted to talk to his friend as well when the door opened quietly and there was Neal.
Neal followed the group upstairs when the nurse came to show them to Peter's room. It sounded by the way she spoke and what the doctor had said that Peter wasn't in critical condition if he was going home in the morning. They were mostly keeping him overnight to take care of the few stitches and his head injury. Elizabeth kept looking back at him off and on as she spoke with Diana and Hughes, Neal shadowing the group almost as if he didn't belong. He felt less than happy about what had happened and guilt continued to bother him the closer they got to the floor with Peter's room.
"Mrs. Burke, your husband is in here. He was resting when I left him but he might have woken up again. Let me know if you need anything."
The nurse smiled softly at them all, leaving them to enter the room on their own as Neal stayed behind on the premise he had to get coffee. He walked down the hallway ready to run into the elevator and escape but passed it to the nearest men's room where he sat on the seat to the side and tried to collect himself. His anger had almost cost him his friend's life and nothing could have saved him if Peter had been hurt more critically or killed. The thought did nothing to comfort him as he sighed heavily, face in his hands as he leaned over and stayed that way. There was a hint of something wet dripping through his fingers and a muffled sniffling sound like he might be crying. His body was shivering slightly and then he sat up, blue eyes blinking back shinily as he wiped at them and stood. Neal moved to the sink and washed his hands, throwing some water on his face and smoothing back his hair as he glanced tiredly at his reflection. Even his reflection seemed unhappy with him as he sighed and moved back out of the bathroom and into the hallway. He walked slowly, taking his time to think calmly and try not to show too much anxiety. It was just Peter, El... Diana and Hughes. His breath hitched and he paused, sitting down along the way to relax again before he finally stood up and head to the room. He saw Diana and Hughes leaving as he walked up to the door and quietly turned the knob.
"Neal said he needed to get something to drink before he came up. He was so tense. Maybe I should go check on him."
He could hear Elizabeth's voice soft yet worried. She was worrying about him when her husband was there in the hospital because of him. She didn't know that but it was his fault. He was to blame and much as he would just like to lie and worm his way out of it, he couldn't. Not with Peter or El. He had to cowboy up.
His voice sounded alien to him, unlike his usual confident self and it seemed that Elizabeth and Peter noticed but nobody said anything to indicate they noticed.
"Neal... we were waiting for you. Peter's awake."
She sounded happy, moving to let him sit by Peter's side although he would have been happier that the agent was sleeping. Those brown eyes were looking at him curiously or was it with judgment?
"I'm going to get me something to drink. I'll be right back, hun."
El kissed Peter on the forehead before she moved away, gently squeezing Neal's shoulder before she left the room. He wanted to follow her but he was stuck, Peter's hand grasping his.
Peter sounded sincere which made what he wanted to say feel worse.
"Don't... This was my fault."
Neal pulled his hand away, standing up and pacing the room towards the window at the far end, his back to the agent. He heard the sound of Peter moving and turned to see his friend sitting up and staring at him.
"Neal, whatever you think you did, this wasn't your fault. I should have been more careful."
He saw a flush on his friend's cheeks as he moved back and shook his head.
"If you hadn't followed me..."
Peter held up a hand for him to be silent.
"Don't. Jaren is in custody now thanks to you. I heard from Diana you really got to him."
Neal saw that look of curiosity on the agent's face and felt his cheeks warm. Peter would not be happy to know he had pulled a gun on someone, fake or not. He regained his composure and shrugged.
"He's not used to being on the receiving end of threats."
They left it at that as there was a knock on the door and Jones peeked inside.
"Hope I'm not interrupting. I just wanted to see how everyone was. Sir?"
He was addressing Peter as Neal moved aside for the two to talk. He felt somewhat better but there was still that guilty feeling floating around and making his stomach churn. Jones left after a few minutes leaving the two men alone again.
"Neal... don't do that again. You have backup... and me. Remember that."
Peter's voice was less fatherly and more brotherly as he spoke, one hand reaching up to muss his hair as the con sighed but let him.
He leaned back in the chair, watching his friend lay back against the hospital bed and relax. Peter looked tired, eyes starting to close.
"Whatever is in your past... I'll help you with it. We'll work through it."
Peter's voice faded away as his breathing softened to that of someone sleeping. Neal gazed down at his friend wishing to talk more but understanding why not. The door opened quietly as Elizabeth returned, placing her hand gently on his shoulder and handing him a cup of coffee.
"Go home, Neal. He's going to be ok."
She spoke quietly but he gently shook his head back.
"I want to stay, if that's alright."
El nodded, smiling at him as she took the seat and he went to sit on the sofa. This was his family, his eyes watching as Peter slept and Elizabeth worried over him. He never wanted to lose them... ever.
Author's Note: Sorry this ending took so long. I have been distracted by my trip to NYC in less than 2 days and other stuff like work. I hope you enjoyed this story. Thanks again for keeping up with it. :) I'll leave it as uncompleted although this is pretty much the end. I could have an epilogue or if I don't think of one, I'll update the status.