Alright, so for this chapter, I have four very important people to thank who helped me with it through (PM)s, and you should all really thank them for this, because without them, it would've been several more days before I got this chapter up! So, thank you SO MUCH to…
They ALL provided great ideas, and a couple of the ideas that they gave aren't in this chapter, but they will most likely be in a future chapter, so not to worry, guys! I take ALL suggestions and insights into account, and I'll usually try and get EVERY suggestion into the fic at some point or another…
So this chapter is pretty much dedicated to these four insightful authors…thank you, guys! And enjoy the chapter! ;)
When Neal went in to the kitchen a few hours later, he saw that the Burkes were gone. The house was silent.
Scratch that. He could hear Mario's – Satchmo's – nails clacking against the wood floor as he came in with a happy bark to Neal. Neal smiled down at the dog and knelt down, scratching his ears.
"Hey, Mario," he said softly, as though afraid someone would hear him. The dog panted, his tongue lolling out of his mouth in a too-familiar way. "You hungry?"
The dog yipped, and Neal stood up, going to the fridge. He paused, seeing a note sticking there. He pulled it off and read it.
Sorry we weren't here when you woke up and came downstairs, but Peter had to go to the office to help with something for one of his agents. I'm going to the grocery store to pick up a few things for Mrs. Perry down the street because she just hurt her wrist and can't make dinner. I should be back around noon, but Peter should be here before me. If you need anything, mine and Peter's cell numbers are taped to the side of the fridge. Help yourself to anything in the fridge or the pantry. I'll see you in a bit. J
Neal glanced at the clock over the stove and saw that it was ten-thirty. No wonder he was so hungry. Satchmo gave a soft yip, reminding him he was there, so Neal opened the fridge, looking for something to feed both of them. He found a leftover casserole and took it out, eating half of it cold and giving the other half to Satch. He washed out the dish and tried looking for the cabinet where it was supposed to be put away, but he couldn't find it, so he simply set it down on the counter and went in to the living room, sitting down on the couch and resting his neck on the back.
A little while later, Neal's eyes snapped open when he heard a soft knocking at the door. He looked at the clock and saw that it was a little past eleven-thirty, and realized that he must've fallen asleep. A bit blearily, he stumbled to his feet, rubbing the sleep from his eyes as he went to answer the door.
When he opened the door, he found a man there in a UPS uniform and holding a clipboard in one hand and a box about the size of a shoebox in the other. He was probably about forty years old with closely-cropped brown hair and probing brown eyes. There seemed something vaguely familiar about him to Neal, but he was sure he'd never seen the man before.
The man gave him a smile and said, "Hey, kid. Are your parents home?"
There seemed to be something slightly off about this man, so Neal simply said, "They're busy upstairs."
"Well, I need a Peter or Elizabeth Burke to sign for this package," the man said, staring at Neal in a way that made him slightly uneasy. "You think you could get one of them?"
The phone in the kitchen started ringing, so Neal said, "I've gotta get that. I'll be right back."
"I need this signed, Caffrey. Could you get one of your parents now?"
Neal paused in turning, forgetting the ringing phone for a moment. He stared at the man and said slowly, deliberately, "How did you know my last name was Caffrey?"
Before the man could react, the phone stopped ringing, going to voicemail, and then El's voice rang through the house.
"Hey, Neal. I just called to check up on you, but I guess you're still asleep. I'm going to take a bit longer than expected - I have to go to another store for noodles, because the brand I normally use is out over here. Anyway, I'll see you in a couple of hours. Bye."
At these words, the man's face seemed to transform into something much more menacing as he realized that Neal was home alone.
"Busy upstairs, huh?" he said sarcastically, taking a step closer.
Neal quickly tried to close the door, but the man pushed against it with the palm of his hand, pushing it open even farther. So Neal tried to dash up the stairs, but even that was futile. The man dropped the package and the clipboard and grabbed Neal's hair, yanking back so that Neal stumbled right into him. He closed the front door behind him and said to Neal:
"Where do you think you're goin'?" his voice now seemed to have a slight Cockney accent to it.
Neal gasped as the man yanked his hair again to bring him up and pain radiated again through his scalp.
"What do you want from me?" he demanded, unable to hide the growing fear in his voice.
The man pulled Neal up so that he was face-to-face with him and said, "Honestly? I just want you out of my life so that I can just forget about you."
Before Neal could respond, the man slammed him down onto the stairs with a force that made Neal see stars. He winced as the stairs dug into his back and the side of his head bounced on the edge of one of the stairs.
"Out of your life?" Neal said incredulously, his words a bit slurred. "Who are you?"
The man didn't respond, simply grabbing his hair again. Neal was so dazed he didn't even fight back as the man banged his head on the stairs once, twice, three times before he finally let go. Neal let his head loll back, resting against the stairs as he fought to remain conscious. Black was already swirling against his vision, and he was feeling sick, but he fought through the nausea.
Stay awake, stay awake, stay awake, he chanted mentally.
Then, suddenly, the doorbell rang, and the man paused in his attacks.
"Stay quiet, or I'll kill whoever's at the door, too."
He wants to kill me, Neal thought as the man turned away from him to answer the door. And somehow, this gave him enough strength to get to his feet and go silently up the stairs. He had to get the extension in the Burkes' room - he had to call someone.
But just as he reached the top of the stairs, the man turned to check on him and saw that he was gone. Without a word to alert the person at the door, he ran up the stairs. And Neal, though stronger than before, was still disoriented, and knew that he couldn't make it to the Burkes' room in time. His room was just around the corner - he'd go there.
So he ran to his room as fast as his legs would carry him, which, in his condition, was about twice as slow as the other man's. Just as he stepped foot in the room, he felt his hair yanked again, and he fell back to the ground. The man kicked his side sharply, and Neal rolled himself into the room farther, not fully realizing that he was doing so. He stopped once he was in the middle of the room, and got up on his hands and knees. Trying to regain his bearings, he took a deep breath.
"You've got nerve, I'll give ya that," he heard the man say as though from a distance. "But you're still a son of a bitch."
And then something came down hard on his back, and his elbows and knees buckled. He fell hard on the ground, and felt his nose slam into the hard wood floor, blood beginning to gush out. Still, he remained consciousness, and heard something bang into metal. He felt something cold and wet pool at his head and briefly wondered what it was as he distantly heard the man swear several times. He tried to turn his face toward the sound, but he was just so tired that he couldn't. He just wanted to go to sleep...his eyelids were already pulling themselves down over his eyes. He knew he shouldn't go to sleep, he couldn't, he wouldn't...
Something sharp kicked him again against his ribs, and Neal fought to stay awake.
Peter pulled his car up to his town house, sighing. Neal was probably upset that he hadn't been there to help him paint the rest of the room, but Jones had absolutely needed his help, and it hadn't looked like he was going to wake up any time soon, so he'd decided to go. But he hadn't expected it to last so long. Now it was a little after noon.
Maybe Neal had begun to paint the rest of the room like how he'd painted the other wall. That was good, he supposed, but it was a little difficult to accept someone into his home that wasn't accepting him. And he knew that that was part of the reason that Neal had painted that wall - while Peter was asleep. It might as well have been a clear message to him saying, I DON'T WANT OR NEED YOUR HELP SO GET OFF MY ASS WITH THE FATHER-SON ACT.
Peter sighed and shut off the car, pausing a moment as he thought about what to say to Neal - how to apologize. Then, after a few minutes of not coming up with anything, he sighed again and got out of the car, locking the door behind him. He found a manila envelope under the doormat on the porch, and pulled it out. He saw that there was a note on the front that said "Peter Burke" in a quick scrawl.
Curiosity piqued, Peter opened up the folded lined paper to read what was inside.
Sorry I couldn't give this to you in person, but when I dropped by, no one answered, and I was in a hurry. These are the stills that you asked for from the surveillance videos from the bank from the James Bonds case. It doesn't look like there are any clues here, but maybe you'll pick up something that none of us did. I'll see you Monday at work unless you need my help.
Peter smiled and tucked the folder under his arm, pulling out his phone to text Diana.
Thanks. I just got the surveillance pics. Have fun with Christie. J
After the message was sent, Peter pulled out his key and unlocked the front door, locking it again behind him.
"I'm home, Neal!" he called, setting his keys down on the coffee table and using his toes to push his shoes off. "Is El home yet?"
He heard a bit of movement upstairs and what sounded like a window opening, but no response from Neal. Sighing, Peter went to the stairs. Really, the kid was –
Then he saw a small pool of red liquid on one of the lower stairs. "Neal," he called up as he began to walk to Neal's room, "You spilled some of your paint on the…stairs."
He had reached Neal's room, and for a moment, he was confused. Neal was lying, face-down on the ground with blue paint pooled at his hair, matting it as the paint dried. Some red paint was mixed with the blue near his temple, making a bit of a purple-ish color that dripped down his neck. His T-shirt was splattered with blue and red. All over the ground was other paint, blue and red alike. There was a particularly large pool of red paint near Neal's head.
That's not paint, Peter realized suddenly.
In an instant, Peter was over next to Neal, not caring about kneeling in the paint and blood. He carefully rolled Neal over, and saw that Neal was still conscious, eyes wandering about aimlessly, fearfully. His eyes finally settled on Peter, and for a moment, panic flashed across his features before he realized that it was Peter. In an instant, he relaxed.
"God, Neal," Peter breathed. "What the hell happened?"
Neal's eyes fluttered, but it was clear that he was fighting to stay awake. After a moment, he mumbled, "Musta' been…sleepwalking."
Sleepwalking? My ass. Peter thought, and noticed that Neal's eyelids were drooping more than before.
"Neal. Buddy," Peter said, worry rising inside of him even faster than before. "I need you to stay awake for me." He fumbled to get his cell phone out of his jacket, fingers quickly dialing 9-1-1. "Cowboy up, Neal! Please stay awake…"
But it was too late, because Neal had already yielded to unconsciousness.
So...yes, this chapter took FOREVER, but I made up for it, didn't I? It was a longer chapter than I normally have, for ANY of my fics...so...review? Please? :)