Rule One of the List According to Special Agent Clinton W. Jones IV:
"What happens in the van, stays in the van."
Well, most of the time. There is Corollary Alpha: But not if Neal Caffrey gets involved.
And right now, sitting in the Lenox Hill Surgical Waiting Room, Jones was kind of glad for Corollary Alpha. In fact, if he was being honest about it, he had exploited Corollary Alpha this time.
The case had been run of the mill: Medicare fraud at one of the big midtown clinics. Not dangerous surveillance, but certainly longer term than some.
Peter usually lived for days like this. Jones suspected that his boss did somewhat glory in the opportunity to hold court among his subordinates. And he could multi-task like nobody Clinton had ever met. Telling an involved shaggy dog story while keeping one hawk's eye on the monitors was nothing to Peter.
But today...today had been different. Peter had shown up on-time, which for him was late. He'd rallied the troops, certainly, but even in the bright sunlight of Federal Plaza, he'd seemed pale, and wan. Jones was pretty sure he'd caught Peter wincing, once or twice, when he thought no one else was looking.
Then lunch time had rolled around; the short straw had fallen to Diana to go quest for some reasonably inconspicuous food. Peter, while he offered to treat for everybody, had subtly not ordered anything.
At a lull in the conversation, Jones glanced towards the monitors. Nothing there yet. Then he looked back towards his boss, and damn, now he knew something was wrong. While one of Peter's hands was too casually tapping staccato on his knee, the other was holding white-knuckled on to the table for dear life. His eyes were squeezed shut, and even in the low light of the van, Jones could see him panting like a sheepdog.
"Yeah, Jones, what is it?"
"You all right? You don't look so good."
Peter's eyebrows flared, and he looked over with unexpected anger.
"Hey, Jones? You don't get paid to stare at me. So stare at the clinic, awright?"
Peter didn't snap...all right, he did snap, but not like this.
Fortunately or unfortunately, Diana arrived back that moment with the lunch.
"Okay boys, I'm back, and who had....oh, the manly man sandwich, corned beef and horseradish?"
She raised and waved the wrapped trophy. Jones watched Peter change color, from stark white to pale green, as if he was going to be sick. Diana only spared a subtle glance, but Jones was pretty sure she'd seen it too.
Jones waved, expansively. "That one's mine, hand it over!" And hoped that the ensuing shuffle was enough to hide his hand fumbling in-pocket for his cell phone. But Peter seemed too sick to even notice that.
TO: N. CAFFREY
FROM: C. JONES
AT 63rd AND LEX; PETER NOT DOING WELL. NEED ASSISTANCE. -CWJ
Like the elfin creature he so often resembled, Neal appeared in an impossibly short amount of time. Bearing, as a pretty sad pretext, a fruit basket, he knocked on the passenger side door.
Peter's face flushed; it was the first normal color Jones had seen on him all day.
"Caff-Neal-what the HELL is he doing here? Let him in."
Neal's broad grin immediately brightened the van.
"What, a man can't randomly visit his colleagues and friends with a fruit basket?"
Instead of answering, Peter simply buried his face in his hands, making the universally recognized "Neal..." groan. But Caffrey's keen eyes had taken in Peter's poor condition, and he exchanged a worried glance with Jones. And then Jones recognized something else: Neal, about to take the plunge.
"C'mon, Peter, I made sure they put in some Bartlet pears, El said they were your favorite."
Peter rose from his seat, attempting to start a lecture:
"Oh she did, did she-"
However, he wasn't going to finish it, as the mere act of standing up sent him doubling over again in pain, clutching his right side. All three of the van's other occupants moved as one to ease him back to his seat. His skin was burning hot, and slick with sweat.
"Ow, ow, ow, FUCK, ow."
Neal knelt by Peter's side, grabbing his arm firmly.
"Since last night. After dinner. Thought it was my bad cooking. OWWWW."
That last exclamation had been resentfully directed at Neal and Jones, who were attempting to support him to his feet.
"Peter, it's probably your appendix."
"I don't recall an MD on your list of forged degrees."
"I pick up stuff. And even if it's not the appendix, you are going to the hospital right now. Elizabeth would never forgive me if I let you die while she was out of town. You guys can handle things here?"
"Oh, you're giving orders to my team now?"
"Peter Burke, for once in your life, you are going to let somebody else do the bossing around. All right?"
That had been said with an angry authority Jones had never seen out of Neal. Peter had apparently never seen it, either. So as meekly as he possibly could, leaning on Neal's shoulder, Peter let himself be helped towards the car.
"I've never seen him like that. Seriously, Caffrey, that was pretty amazing."
Jones looked over at one of his hospital seat-mates. The moment second shift had arrived, he and Diana had raced over to the hospital. So here they waited.
"Nah, wasn't much."
Neal's eyes, usually twinkling with mischief, just seemed exhausted. But they immediately perked up as he spotted a female surgeon in peach scrubs heading towards them. Diana, Jones and Neal all stood.
"It was pretty close, but we managed to get it out safely before it burst."
The three agents (two agents and one consultant) let out a sight of relief in unison, and collapsed back onto the seats. And then Neal glanced over to Jones.
"So you had to break Rule 1 this time, huh?"
Jones smirked, and looked over to Diana.
She smiled back.
"Corollary Alpha, indeed."
Neal looked thoroughly confused.
The two agents merely sat smiling in silence.
"Guys? What the hell is Corollary Alpha?"