Neal was still in Dmitri's room when he came to, rubbing at his head which was throbbing painfully. There was something wet and slightly reddish on his hand as he glanced down at his fingers. Suddenly he remembered what happened: the domovoi had attacked him. His left arm throbbed too, eyes glancing down and seeing a large red mark by his wrist in the form of a circle that seemed to match a bite pattern. He was still in a daze, eyes looking up to find himself staring into dark empty orbs as he eased up into a sitting position. It blinked back at him.
It is as you deserved for lying to me. You are not to be trusted and I will make sure my master knows.
The thing was there, perched on the end of a chair like some kind of ugly bird of prey only it was the same gnarled old man, dark eyes glaring at him without emotion. Neal sat up straighter his gaze never leaving the domovoi. Something changed in its demeanor as he slowly pulled himself to his feet. It hissed like a frightened animal as he stood up straight and stayed his ground. It was unhappy with him, frowning back with an almost thoughtful expression it had never shown before. It suddenly occurred to him why. In some odd fashion it missed Korsa, the man who had commanded, owned and enslaved it. Without a master, it was unable to survive or know what to do.
Dmitri is in prison and will be for a very long time. You no longer have a master. All of this will be confiscated, sold and otherwise dispersed. Will you haunt all of those people too?
Neal was being mean now because he could. He had power over it with knowledge behind its very actions. Without a master, it was helpless and it knew that as he did. A growl in his voice pushed the point through, the creature blinking back almost curiously at him. He was angry, thinking about Peter in the hospital, this thing the reason behind it. It looked at him a moment blankly, then a frown again touched its lips as it hopped off the chair and moved closer but still out of arm's reach, head cocked to one side like a deformed parrot before straightening out again. It was eerie to watch but Neal knew he had the upperhand as he continued to stare coldly back. Fear was not an option.
More intruders touching my... my master's things? No! It's not true! He will be back for me!
The thing sounded angry, upset, childishly impudent, but in some ways Neal thought it reminded him of Mozzie when people messed with this stuff. This thing was like a beaten dog blindly following its master's orders to guard the junkyard but suddenly realizing it would never be able to do so. It was used to being shut in, comfortable behind the scenes and taken care of to some degree. For a moment he almost felt pity for the creature but seeing the red mark on his arm brought back why he was angry with it. It had hurt Peter and tried to hurt him. He had to send it away for good and end this curse once and for all.
He won't be back... ever! Whatever you are, you're alone now. Nobody will ever come here again for you to keep house for. I will make sure this place is razed to the ground! You are no longer necessary without a master.
Neal spit out the words with as much venom as he could muster. He watched its dark eyes dull and grow dimmer, a sad almost anguished glint to its features now. He jumped slightly when it started to cry. The domovoi looked less threatening now, the sound it made more a pained wail or moaning which was eerie as a wolf's howl. Neal watched the thing impassionately as it looked away and stared opposite him at the rest of the room.
None of them ever came back for me. The time has finally come. I will serve no new master...
The voice faded away as did the creature, Neal feeling a sense of release as it vanished. He glanced around the now empty room. He was still in Dmitri's, limping from the room and out into the hallway towards the stairs. The house was silent but more than that, he couldn't hear anything from outside. The city couldn't be this muffled even with these old stone walls, could it? He fought to hear something other than his own heartbeat in the quiet brownstone. Even his breathing seemed way too audible, the room quiet as a grave.
Beep... Beep... Beep...
The sound came quietly from the door below, the one he had entered through. It sounded strangely familiar but he couldn't understand why he was hearing it here or now. Neal moved towards the door he had entered the house through, free now of the curse and hopeful that Peter was ok. He reached for the door, turned the knob and suddenly found himself staring upwards, eyes squinting at something blurry and white overhead. His mouth was wrapped around something, a gurgling sound coming from close by as he tried to figure out where he was and what had happened.
"If he doesn't wake up soon we may have to call in an expert from the next county. His body is fighting the poisons from the ledger's cover. Still uncertain how contact caused this reaction but your husband's coworkers gave us much to work on with that forensics report."
There was a pause, the voices quieter for a moment, almost a murmur before he heard more.
"He seems to have absorbed a larger dose than your husband, the mercury the main element in his blood work. We are no longer medically inducing a coma so there are only a few other reasons why your friend hasn't woken up. His seizures stopped thankfully but until he wakes up, I have no other explanation for his condition at this time. This is up to him."
A man was talking, his eyes moving to see where and finally getting a vision of a blurry figure in a white lab coat with blue scrubs underneath standing outside a large window with another figure in a beige shirt and dark pants. The gurgling continued and he felt a pressure in his throat. His eyes focused on a large tube sticking out of his mouth, Neal fighting to keep calm but the tubing started to bother him, his gag reflex starting to kick in.
"Thank you doctor. Peter is feeling better so much so he's asking when he can come see Neal. He's also restless about going home but I know you wanted to be sure his strep and any other symptoms were completely gone. He no longer has a fever."
Elizabeth Burke was smiling, his vision clearing up enough to realize that as she replied to the doctor. He wanted to yell out, get someone's attention when blue eyes finally met his and gawked, pointing at him.
They were both looking at him through the glass now, Neal blinking to clear the crust from his eyes. Why was he so tired? He had just been somewhere hadn't he? He felt like he'd been sleeping for a while, the glass he thought was a window sliding open as they entered the room and the man in blue scrubs and a white lab coat approached first.
"Is he awake?"
El asked, watching from behind with her own hopeful glance, the doctor looking curiously down at him.
"Mr. Caffrey, nod your head up and down if you can hear me."
Neal felt tired but he did as asked, nodding his head which made El and the doctor smile. A few nurses and orderlies came in after that, El moving aside as the doctor checked his pulse, listened to his respiration with a stethoscope and finally nodded as if satisfied with something.
"We're going to remove the tubing from your throat. I need you to do some hard coughs to help us remove it. If you need us to stop, just grab my arm, ok?"
The doctor was looking right at him as he nodded back, Neal still too tired to argue. He just wanted this stuff out of his throat, that feeling of fullness and other pains getting more uncomfortable by the minute. He looked at El a little panicked as the tube was removed but saw her smiling at him with a comforting look as the process continued and he gave a gurgling cough, the breathing tube finally sliding out of his throat. He coughed and hacked like he had been smoking too much but the nurses helped him as tubing was put in his nose to help him settle into a more comfortable breathing pattern. After a moment he finally lay back exhausted, only a slight wheeze still evident. His eyes were shut but he wasn't sleeping, the murmuring of the staff around him more than obvious as he fought for consciousness. He felt the stethoscope back on his chest and then on his back as they rolled him over gently, listening to his lungs and asking him to cough for them. The doctor sounded happy.
"Your lungs sound good. We'll keep a mask nearby just in case but I think you're finally out of the woods, Mr. Caffrey. Don't make him speak too much yet, Mrs. Burke. His throat and lungs will feel a bit rough for the next day or so until he recovers completely. There should be very little scarring."
He heard them speaking, the last part lower and more to Elizabeth than himself as he opened up his eyes and glanced around. The nurses had all left but one who was taking further orders from the doctor but he couldn't hear about what. She walked over after a few minutes, a cup in hand full of ice chips.
"I'll bring you some food later if you're hungry. My name is Irene. Just use the nurse call and I'll come bring you something to eat."
She gave him a soft smile, fluffing up his pillows as he nodded back, slipping a few pieces of ice into his throat and letting the coolness ease the tenderness from the breathing tube. He gave a little cough at first but finally his throat settled down and he was able to eat a bit more of the ice. He could breath better but something crinkled around his throat which made him reach up. Why was there gauze around his neck? He looked at Elizabeth curiously. The doctor finally answered, telling him about being trached. Neal felt his eyes widen but he nodded back, the doctor answering any further questions before finishing up and leaving them alone again. El moved to the chair beside his bed, now that everyone was gone, taking his hand in hers and squeezing it gently.
"Peter's been asking about you. He'll be happy to know you're awake."
She pulled out a pad of paper from her purse and handed it to him when he made it clear he couldn't speak but wanted to. Neal's need to communicate one of his many talents but right now his throat and chest were too tight and sore to think about making anything more than a cough or a sigh. He quickly scribbled a note over the page and handed it back, El taking a moment before she answered.
"Peter's good. They're going to let him out soon. It was the strep mixed with whatever was on that book that made him sick. They finally analyzed the cover and that brand as the possible culprit."
She paused, giving him a gentle hug and squeeze of his hand before saying something more, a wry smile on her lips.
"Mozzie says hi."
Mozzie! He had a faint memory of talking to his friend before he had passed out. There were other memories but they were vague, something to do with an old man and Dmitri's former brownstone. He'd been there hadn't he? It was starting to come back to him when he noticed El was looking at him curiously. He smiled back, letting her baby him, fluff his pillows more and help him with the cup of ice chips when he was feeling too tired to hold it up on his own. His body felt weak, Neal wanting to be up and about instead of in the hospital but he knew his limits even if he didn't want to admit it. Most of all he wanted to see Peter.
"I'm sure you'll be out of here soon, Neal. Peter's been restless. Why do men make such terrible patients?"
She muttered the last part to herself, Neal taking up the pad again and handing her a message back. He watched her eyes blink at what he'd written before a big grin brighten her face. She rolled her eyes at him, gently punched his shoulder and laughed.
"Of course you'd say that..."
They laughed, his laugh more implied before he scribbled the next part and handed it over. He saw the frown form immediately, Elizabeth flushing slightly before she answered.
"Mozzie found you at that crime scene. You weren't breathing so the paramedics had to... do a trach. The doctor said there'd be very little scarring. Mozz has been worrying about you but now I can tell him you're ok. He was practically camped outside the first two days. He might be outside now if I go looking for him."
They both smiled and nodded at that, continuing their little chat as El spoke quietly to him and Neal scribbled his replies back. He was glad to see her happy again now that Peter was ok. Knowing his friend was well was the reason he had stolen the ledger for. He would do it again in a heartbeat.
It was a month later the trial for Dmitri Korsa was held. Peter went to the trial as a witness but Neal stayed away mostly due to continuing health issues after the incident. When Dmitri was being escorted away from the courtroom, Peter was asked to come talk to him. His gut told him it wasn't a good idea but something about the request made him want to know what the gangster had to say. Dmitri was a well groomed man, something like Neal in style but without the good looks. The man wasn't ugly but he had a more sinister heavy set face and body that made it hard not to shiver in his presence. White teeth with a slight crookedness to them grinned coldly back as they stared at him from only a few feet away in cuffs. He wore a nice suit, possibly Armani or some other expensive brand Caffrey could ID. It just reminded him of his worries over Neal.
"Agent Burke, I'm glad you're doing better. I would have sent a card but... well, you know how it is."
The man was cool, cucumber cool he thought if Peter was going to be silly about it but it was more than that. The man knew he had gotten to the agent, the smirk on his face more than telling.
"It's the thought that counts... So, why the chat, Dmitri? If you're trying to cop a plea..."
He would have said more but Peter was interrupted by the lawyer holding up a hand.
"A peace offering. My client knows he's going away for a very long time but he appreciates the pain and suffering you went through to catch him. Just a small token of his admiration for getting past his defenses..."
Peter heard the last words and blinked slightly, taken off guard only a moment when he realized the gift wasn't for him so much as for Neal. Dmitri knew about him. He tried to hide that realization but the gangster smiled knowingly, the lawyer handing Peter a small gold leaf cardboard box like you get from Tiffany's only it was dyed red, almost bloody with contrasting gold ribbon tying it closed. Whatever it was, the item was expensive but it was small, about the size of a wallet or finely folded tie. Peter held up a hand but the lawyer shook his head, pushing the box in his hands as they started to take Dmitri away down the hallway.
"Leave it if you want but it is for you. No tricks..."
The lawyer nodded politely before going, following the cops and his client out as Peter watched uncertain what to think before his eyes moved back to the box. He wasn't sure he wanted to touch anything from Dmitri at this point but maybe forensics could look at it for him. It was worth a shot. He used a handkerchief to handle the item and left, pulling out his cell to call his wife.
"The trial's over... yes. I'll be home soon, hun. Love you more."
He hung up, walking over to his car and dropping the box on the front passenger seat still covered with his handkerchief. The idea of what could be inside made him cold, something in his gut still actively telling him this was a very bad idea as he drove to the Bureau and took it to forensics. Afterwards he went back to his own floor to touch base with Hughes, Jones and Diana.
"Hey boss, how was the trial?"
Diana was standing by his door when he turned and smiled. At least they could relax now. Dmitri was behind bars and everyone was safe. He draped his jacket around his chair and shrugged.
"Always good to see justice prevail. Where's Hughes?"
He had barely said that when Jones stopped by, smiling at them as they chatted a bit.
"He's at a meeting. Why don't you go home, Peter. I can run interference if anyone asks where you went. Besides, someone has to keep an eye on Caffrey."
She winked at him, Jones holding back a smile as they both nodded for him to go. Reese hadn't said to come back today and technically he was still off duty for a few more days. The cocktail on that book cover had made him have dizzy spells off and on since the incident, the doctors saying it was a normal side effect as the drugs left his system. Both he and Neal had gotten a fairly large dosage through their skin meaning they would have symptoms like weakness and dizzy spells until it was completely out of their system. Peter finally nodded, grabbing up his jacket. He wanted to take his wife out for dinner as a celebration and check on Neal who had been housebound at June's. His partner had gotten a larger dose of the toxins than him so Neal was still prone to dizzy and coughing spells more than Peter had been.
"Thanks. See you both later."
Another week past, Peter was back at work and Neal was visiting, feet propped up cockily on the desk as he walked in and pushed them off.
"Don't... what are you doing here? You don't come back for another week. And don't tell me you're bored..."
Peter walked past the younger man, draping his jacket onto his chair and sitting down but Neal hadn't moved but to sit up a bit straighter and lean over the desk smiling at him. There was a hint of tiredness around his partner's eyes but otherwise the old Neal Caffrey was shining through. The scar where they had trached him was barely noticeable now.
"It's not just that... I am bored but I heard Dmitri gave you a gift? Ericka in Forensics dropped something on your desk while you were at that meeting..."
His voice trailed off coyly, Peter scowling slight as the report file appeared from under Neal's arm and he handed it over, the agent taking it gruffly.
"You're not on duty means you don't look at files and don't hide things from me like this without consulting me first."
He paused a moment seeing a hint of hurt in his friend's eyes. Neal liked knowing things and he obviously wanted to help so he sighed, smiled and dropped the file on his desk without opening it.
"I'm guessing you read it already. Tell me what it says. I can only imagine what he got me (other than more poison or a bomb)..."
He was watching his friend smiling brighter, leaning over closer to open up the folder and point at a glossy color picture.
"A tie bar. Classic retro art deco style from the 30s. Even Byron didn't have one of these in his collection but they are hard to come by. I think Dmitri liked you Peter if he gave you this. And no signs of poison or other danger from it. Are you sure it was for you?"
He was grinning from ear to ear now, Caffrey back in his game which made the agent happy but he wasn't about to say that as he put on a show, his manner calm. He knew that annoyed his partner and it was showing already.
"A tie bar? I don't have a need for it. Probably sell it or give it away... know anyone who would like something foofy like this? Do they sell on Ebay?"
There was a tragic look in his partner's eyes for an instant then it vanished, the con man coming out to hide his disappointment.
"I'm sure you could uh sell it on Ebay for a pretty penny to some collector who lives in his mother's basement... if that's the route you want to go."
Neal was piling it on, disappointment hard to hide as Peter went on with the charade and nodded.
"I just might. Some poor schlub in Poughkeepsie with a few bucks to burn and an eye for shiny objects might give me a good penny for it. Thanks for the idea Neal. Now... go home. I have work to do."
He watched the con man's face hold back the disappointment momentarily glittering behind those blue eyes. Neal nodded, acting his usual witty self to hide his real feelings as he left. Peter watched his friend look back but only for a moment, waving nonchalantly before exiting to the elevators. Peter sighed, smiling some but then frowning. He wasn't sure what to think of Dmitri's gift. It had been hinted it was for him but he felt it was probably pushed more towards Neal when he realized the gangster had been aware of their ruse. Neal had that effect on people, even the ones who hated him. He opened up the report and glanced at the details seeing the box was still in Agent Ericka Fletcher's offices in a lock box. Once Neal was gone he called the tech up.
"This is Agent Burke. Yes... I'm sure he did. Oh? Well I'm glad you were able to fight his charms, Agent Fletcher... I see. Yes, but you'd have to talk to him about that. Thanks again. I appreciate it."
She was sending another tech down with the package, Peter already thinking about what he was going to do with it.
Neal wasn't mad, he was just annoyed. Peter knew he wanted what was in the box from Dmitri and for all he could tell, it had to be for him. Since when did the agent wear anything beyond that old beat up watch of his and his wedding ring? Never! Dmitri must have not been thinking straight to gift it on Peter. Neal had admired the item everyday he worked with the gangster but kept his hands to himself knowing it would be missed. He only knew the gangster wore it almost as religiously as the cross around his neck. He figured it was some kind of family heirloom but the item was vintage tie wear and if Neal could get it for himself...
He paused in his thoughts when he heard a knock at the door. It wasn't the usual iambic pentameter so it must be June or some other guest.
"Neal, are you there?"
He glanced at the clock when he heard Peter's voice realizing it was nearly 6 PM and his partner was outside the door. The con man sat up, a wave of dizziness still present but he was feeling better than he had a month back as he let it wash away and moved to the door with ease. He pulled it open and smiled brightly, hiding any disappointment he might have been feeling.
"Hey Peter, what brings you to my humble abode? Can I go back to work tomorrow?"
Neal was hopeful, trying to act like he was kidding but he was seriously bored and wanting to go back to work even for the Feds. He liked his job but he liked working with Peter and the rest of the White Collar department best and Mozzie had been without any leads on good cons not that he was considering any but any ship in a storm. He was getting antsy being homebound but he knew it was for his own good as he felt a slight wave of dizziness again and motioned for Peter to come in so he could hide it as he leaned on the door a bit more heavily than he liked.
"I'm just passing through and no, you're still off for a few days more. No arguments. Got anything to drink?"
The agent went right for the gist of things, Neal nodding as he closed the door and they moved to the kitchenette, Peter grabbing a beer from the fridge as if it were his own house and Neal taking one for himself to fit in. It was that kind of day and he wanted to just deal as they clinked bottles and sat down outside. The sky was slightly hazy, a storm getting ready to blow in as the air grew humid and they talked quietly about this and that. Peter had slung his Columboesque coat over the patio chair and Neal immediately noticed that one pocket was heavier than the other but he said nothing, their chat moving from work to Mozzie and then to nothing more than the usual subjects until Peter gave a little laugh, sighed and reached for the heavier of the coat pockets.
"I know you saw it and because you were such a good host and didn't bug me about this, here... take it. I could feel that child-like curiosity of yours tearing at the packaging behind your smile."
Peter was smirking slightly as Neal rolled his eyes at him, taking the small reddish box with gold trim. This was handmade from overseas, European he knew from a certain boutique. Dmitri had taste. He opened up the box and smiled, a wistful expression on his face as he glanced up at his friend and grinned.
"Thanks Peter. I thought this was evidence... besides the fact it's a gift from a gangster."
Two could play this game, the agent giving him a fatherly scowl then shrugging.
"Well I could take it back and sell it on Ebay..."
Touche'. The agent read him well as he shook his head and held the pretty gold tie bar in his hands. It felt cool, a chill running through him but that was probably the excitement from getting the item he wanted. He noticed that the design was Eastern European with definite hints of art deco and Ertesque design elements. Maybe it was by the artist himself but at this moment Neal was just happy to have it, grinning at Peter coyly.
"That so-called schlub can buy his own. Thanks, Peter. I mean it. This is... this was one of Dmitri's prize possessions. You can't believe how many times I... uhm admired it while undercover."
He saw Peter stare at him curiously then shrug as he stood and smiled, patting him on the shoulder.
"I don't normally take things from gangsters but they were just going to destroy it..."
Peter was making excuses, walking towards the door as Neal followed still holding onto the small tie bar lovingly.
"Destroy such a masterpiece? Blasphemy! Thanks for saving it Peter. Tell El I said hi."
The agent nodded back at him with few words as he left, Neal alone now as he closed the door and continued to glance at the pretty gold pin. He went to the mirror by his bed, holding the tie bar up with a blue green tie nearby, an expensive silk one from Byron's collection. It was a beautiful piece, distracting one's eye away from the slight scarring at his neck. Still he needed to wear it with an actual tie to be sure how well it fit with his wardrobe as he put it on and took another look.
It was a match to his already growing collection of tie paraphernalia but this one was special. A trophy of sorts. He noticed some writing on the edge, small but hidden well into the design. It looked familiar as he thought back to the brand on the journal.
Master must like you if he gave you that one... but then, he's no longer my master... Master.
Author's Note: So... did you guess that was how it would end? BWAHAHAHAHA! Surprise! Thanks for reading!