Chapter 1: I Put a Spell on You
At two-thirty that Tuesday afternoon, Peter Burke replaced the ancient, off-white phone on his desk in its cradle and called out, “Okay, listen up, everybody! Call just came in - suspected magical artifact tampering at 49th and Lex.” Peter was always surprised at how easily his voice could fill the small space of the Paranormal Crimes Division office - he would have to remember to speak to Hughes about getting an expansion at the next budget meeting.
“Man, another magical artifact?” Jones grumbled as he stuffed a wide variety of strange, multi-colored objects into his pack and got ready to leave. “That’s the third one this week. Seems like that’s all we ever do anymore.”
“Hey, you want excitement, go back to the Vampire Hunting Squad,” Diana countered with a short laugh, swinging her own pack over her shoulder.
“Those cowboys?” Jones asked with a derisive snort. “No, thanks. I’ve had enough fake teeth jammed in my locker to last me a lifetime.”
“Me, I like life here in the quiet lane,” Diana continued contemplatively. “Nobody jumping out at you from behind a tomb or putting a hex on your car if they don’t like your line of questioning. The GPS in my Ford Fusion still switches to Russian when it rains for long enough.”
"Complain, complain, complain," came a voice from behind them, which Peter knew could only have belonged to Neal Caffrey. Emerging from the back of the office, he draped an arm over each of his co-workers' shoulders and continued with a grin, "That's all I ever hear around here. Don't tell me the exciting world of supernatural crime fighting has lost its appeal for two of its finest agents."
"Keeping cons like you from taking advantage of people is still quite enough appeal for me, thank you very much,” Diana insisted, ducking under his arm, though the affectionate smile lurking at the corners of her mouth contradicted the content of her words.
“Now, Diana, you know the only conning I’m doing these days is con-sulting,” Neal said, breaking out his patented 'You can trust me' grin.
"You believe me, don't you, Jones?" he continued pleadingly, turning his attention to the other agent.
"Not since you convinced me that umbrella was enchanted, I don't," Jones said firmly, forcibly removing Neal's other arm from his shoulders.
"Well, you didn't get wet!" Neal protested, still grinning, "That has to count for something, right?"
Peter regretted having to interrupt what was clearly a pleasant exchange for all involved, but, after all, he reminded himself, they did have a case. “Neal,” he called out, extending his hand in a perfect, two-fingered FBI summons, "Stop pestering Diana and Jones - you're with me on this one."
"Oh, yes, sir," Neal said, his voice tinged with sarcasm, grin turned suddenly sharp. "Right away."
Peter sighed as he once again banished the faint hope that maybe Neal would have woken up that morning and decided not to be mad at him anymore. He vaguely registered the worried looks that Diana and Jones exchanged as they watched Neal brush roughly past him and out the door but knew they would have to wait until things with Neal had been sorted out.
"How long are you going to keep this up, huh, Neal?" he finally asked, frustrated, as they neared his car.
"I don’t know, Peter," Neal said, whirling on him, his normally cool blue eyes blazing, "How long are you going to keep me in the dark about why you ended things?”
Peter had wanted to tell him the truth, so much so that he had almost broken a solemn vow in order to do so. But, in the end, he had forcibly parted them with a lie, one which he repeated now.
"Neal, I told you," Peter said, lowering his voice as he moved in closer, "I can't; I'm - I’m married."
"And I told you," Neal shot back, his voice snapping with temper, "that as you are the worst liar I've ever encountered, I would appreciate it if you didn’t insult me by trying."
"Come on, Neal," Peter began cajolingly, though he knew the undeniable truth of the statement made any protest on his part seem utterly empty.
“Oh, just...forget it, okay?” Neal exclaimed in frustration, “It’s over, done, and me holding a grudge isn’t fair to Jones and Diana.” He took a deep breath before adding slowly, “I suppose the only thing to do is forget it ever happened and go back to being colleagues.”
Peter was about to say that he’d like that, but as Neal had already reprimanded him once for lying, he settled for a quiet, “That’s probably for the best,” before swinging into the driver’s seat of the Taurus.
They spent most of the ride in silence, and Peter found he wasn't sure whether he actually preferred it to Neal biting his head off at every opportunity. After all, he thought gloomily, argument was at least communication.
After spending twenty minutes sneaking miserable glances at his partner, who was in turn making a concentrated effort not to look at him, for the first time in his life, Peter actually found himself glad to be arriving at what looked like yet another false alarm.
“Crystal Goddess Emporium?” Peter asked with a groan, stepping out of the car. “If I see one more Wicca shop with goddess in the name...I thought witches were supposed to be creative!"
"Why, what would you call one?" Neal said, sending him a small, amused smile, "I Put a Spell on You?"
"Well, it'd be an improvement," Peter insisted, disproportionately pleased that in spite of everything, he could still make his partner smile.
"Excuse me,” a melodious, female voice called out from behind them, "are you the artifact investigators?"
"Peter Burke, ma'am," Peter said, spinning around to show her his badge, "FBI - Paranormal Crimes Division, Subsection White Collar. This is my...partner, Neal Caffrey."
"Surely you mean ex-partner?" the woman inquired off-handedly.
Upon seeing the look of shock on Peter's face, she added quickly, "Oh, do forgive me - I've overstepped. Bad habit of mine, I'm afraid - well, of most in my line of work, so I'm told."
"What, shopkeepers?" Peter asked automatically, shooting a confused glance at the brightly painted piece of real estate behind them.
“Psychics, I think you’ll find,” Neal corrected, nearly successful in hiding his laugh.
“The shop actually belongs to a friend of mine, Ruth,” the woman explained, “but I promised I’d look after it for her for a couple of weeks. She’s at a spiritual retreat in Hoboken. I’m Annabelle.”
“Well, Annabelle,” Peter said, attempting to steer the conversation back to matters of business. “What is this you told us about a falsified artifact?”
“Of course,” she said smoothly, “Right this way.” She led them through a bead curtain into a surprisingly large room, every surface of which was covered with strange objects of every conceivable design and color.
Annabelle extended a graceful hand and picked up a crimson pendant on a silver chain from the top of a polished chest of drawers. “Here it is.”
Peter slipped on a pair of latex gloves and signaled to Neal to do the same before carefully taking the necklace from Annabelle.
After a cursory examination revealed nothing of significance, Peter relinquished it to his partner before inquiring, “What exactly is it supposed to be?”
“The note in Ruth’s inventory has it listed as some sort of Romanian love charm,” Annabelle explained thoughtfully. “Antique, turn-of-the-century in fact, a star garnet on its original twelve karat silver chain. One of the most valuable items in the place.”
“And what made you think it wasn’t the real thing?” Neal asked, holding it up to the light.
“Actually, it was the customer expressing interest in a purchase who first brought it to my attention,” Annabelle explained. “I wouldn't have noticed anything amiss unless she’d directed my attention to it.”
“We’ll want to speak to this customer ourselves,” Peter said authoritatively.
“Of course,” Annabelle replied, “she’s right over there.” She pointed to the corner of the store where an elegant woman dressed entirely in black was browsing a display of gemstones and furtively sneaking glances at them.
“Oh, I can take this one, Peter,” Neal volunteered, gazing at the woman with obvious interest. “I know how jewelry talk always bores you to tears.”
Peter couldn’t think of a good reason to object to Neal’s suggestion, other than the strange sense of foreboding which had swept over him the second he had laid eyes on the woman. Knowing full well that Neal would wave this off as jealousy and probably take it as an excuse to flirt even more aggressively, he said, "Fine, go ahead. I'll join you when Jones and Diana get here."
Neal grinned and strolled languidly toward where the woman was standing. Peter watched as she shifted her sunglasses to the top of her head and extended a exceptionally well-manicured hand in Neal's direction. "Oh come on," he muttered to himself, "Who wears sunglasses indoors, anyway?"
The soft sound of a skirt rustling beside him reminded Peter that he was not actually alone. “Er...sorry,” he said a bit bashfully to Annabelle, “I was only...”
“She bothers you, that woman?” Annabelle asked, her expression surprisingly earnest.
“I’m probably just being silly,” Peter said dismissively, but the seriousness of her manner, so light and friendly moments before, prompted him to elaborate, “There’s just something about her that seems somehow...”
“Dark?” Annabelle supplied, glancing briefly in the woman’s direction.
“Yes,” Peter agreed, nodding his head slowly. The foreboding he was feeling only increased when he remembered Annabelle’s gift, leading him to inquire, “Wait, did you sense something? When you were waiting on her, I mean?”
“It’s not so much what I sensed,” Annabelle began, frowning, “as what I didn’t sense. Most people, I get these glimpses when I meet them. Just little things - places they’ve been, people they’ve loved. But with her there was nothing, only an endless stretch of blackness where memory and feeling should have been.”
Peter subconsciously ran his hands over his forearms, warding off the phantom wind which had caused him to shiver. Though he knew he should continue this line of inquiry, curiosity prompted him to ask instead, “What did you see when you met me?”
Annabelle’s expression softened as she recalled, “I remember how surprised I was - most people are a jumble of disparate things, but you - you were broadcasting a scene.”
“A scene?” Peter asked, suddenly full of trepidation.
“It’s faded now, but I know you were there, and your partner. I can see him cooking something in a saucepan, and then you...you kissed him. Yes, definitely a kiss there.”
The memory flashed into the forefront of Peter’s mind, and he watched it unfold as Annabelle must have. Sure enough, there was Neal, standing at the modest stove in his corner of June’s beautiful brownstone, carefully stirring the bechamel sauce intended for the celebratory dinner he had insisted on making Peter in honor of their first year working together.
To this day, Peter didn’t know what about that evening had made him finally snap. Maybe it was the glass of scotch he had allowed himself while watching Neal cook. Maybe it was the sexy way Neal sang to himself while he cooked, like nobody was watching. Maybe a year had suddenly seemed like quite long enough to want someone without doing anything about it.
Whatever the reason, his past self had chosen this moment to act on the feelings which had been simmering for so long beneath the surface. Peter watched himself tap Neal on the shoulder. He watched Neal whirl to face him, a wooden spoon covered in sauce in his hand. And he watched himself cut Neal off mid-sentence by swiftly lowering his lips to his, which, he remembered now, tasted of what surely would have been an excellent bechamel sauce had Peter allowed him to finish making it.
The last glimpse he was allowed before the picture faded once more to black was Neal wrapping his arms around his neck, himself maneuvering Neal onto the counter, and the spoon clattering to the floor, forgotten. It was a memory Peter treasured, and one he thought of often, especially since his relationship with the Neal of the present had become so frosty as of late. It did not surprise him that Annabelle had picked up on it. Yet as much as this explanation answered, it also brought forth another question.
“I see now how you knew we were together,” Peter said slowly, “but how did you know we had broken up?”
“There was a pall over the memory,” Annabelle explained, “a wistfulness which wouldn’t have been present had you still been together.”
This caused Peter to glance instinctively in Neal’s direction, which reminded him in a flash why he had been asking Annabelle about her powers in the first place: the mystery woman whose mere presence still sent a chill down his spine.
Luckily, Diana and Jones chose this moment to burst through the door, arguing good-naturedly about whose fault it was they had gotten lost. Peter motioned them quickly in Annabelle’s direction and just as quickly made his way toward where Neal and the woman appeared to be deep in conversation.
“Now, you see how the garnet catches the light?” Neal was saying, hovering over the woman’s shoulder so she could see the necklace silhouetted against the store’s hanging lamp. “You were quite right to suspect it as a forgery - there’s a discoloration always present in Eastern European garnets which is conspicuously absent here.”
“How interesting,” the woman said. Though her English was perfect, her voice was tinged with an accent Peter could not quite place. “You certainly know much about jewelry.”
“Oh, well,” Neal said with his version of modesty, “It’s a bit of a hobby of mine. Perhaps we could discuss it some time over -”
He was interrupted at this point by Peter’s abrupt arrival, which he signaled by announcing his presence with a rather too loud, “Hello! What are we talking about over here, then?”
“Your charming friend here was just telling me about the flaws in this necklace,” the woman said, turning to Peter for the first time, “He is very knowledgeable.” He was struck first by the intense way she looked at him as she said, “But perhaps you are not finished interviewing the sales associate?” and, following that, by the brief flash of surprise that passed over her features as he replied, “I’m sure my colleagues can handle it. I thought, as the agent in charge, I should be interviewing you myself.”
“Of course,” the woman said, giving him a quick flash of smile which somehow only served to make her more unnerving, “You are quite right.”
“Peter, can I talk to you for a second?” Neal asked, the pleasant tone in his voice edged with something distinctly sharper as he pulled Peter to the side and whispered, “What are you doing?”
“What?” Peter asked innocently, “I’m investigating. In case you have forgotten, Neal, that is my job.”
“Well, you preventing me from asking out attractive women is not your job...despite how often you seem to think it is,” Neal countered, throwing a meaningful glance at the woman.
“Neal, I really wish you wouldn’t...” Peter began, trailing off when he remembered that he had no explainable reasons as to why he wished Neal wouldn’t have further contact with the mystery woman.
“You don’t get to tell me who I can be with, Peter,” Neal snapped. “You lost that right two weeks ago. Now, I am going to ask Katrina to have dinner with me, and if you don’t like it, then you’re just going to have to deal.”
Neal spun round and walked back to Katrina before Peter could say anything more on the subject. He watched her laugh and run a hand slowly up Neal’s hand, and even he told himself that the sick feeling in the pit of his stomach was just jealousy, that he and Annabelle were working themselves up over nothing, he knew he didn’t really believe that for a moment.
Chapter 2: I Fought the Law
Peter is furious when Neal comes to work, seemingly hungover. But as the day wears on, he begins to worry something more sinister is going on.
Three weeks later.
The jangling of his cell phone alarm promptly at seven-thirty grated heavily on Neal's nerves, and he found he could barely muster the strength to roll over and turn it off. When the sunlight forced him to awaken two hours later, he was surprised to find his lethargy had not been improved.
A quick glance at his watch revealed the new time to be nine-thirty - he was already an hour and a half late. Peter was going to kill him.
As if on cue, his cell phone began buzzing and blaring out "I Fought the Law." Although the ringtone he had assigned to Peter normally brought at least a small smile to his face, all he could think now was that it was far too early for The Clash.
When he grabbed for the phone, he saw that he had somehow slept through fifteen missed calls. Oh yes, he thought ruefully, Peter was definitely going to kill him. He wasted no more time in flipping the phone open and bringing it to his ear with a still somewhat garbled, "Hello?"
"Where the hell are you?" Peter's voice snapped out from the other end.
Neal mumbled out something to the effect of, "Tired...headache...bad morning," as he stumbled out of bed and began rummaging for something to wear.
"I don't want to hear it," Peter's voice said brusquely. "Be here in twenty minutes or there will be serious consequences."
"Twenty minutes?" Neal asked incredulously, "But that's barely enough time to..."
"Should I make it fifteen?" Peter threatened.
"No," Neal said quickly, glancing anxiously at his watch. "I'll be there."
After being signaled by a dial tone that Peter had hung up, Neal threw on a basic white shirt, patterned blue silk tie, and classic black suit jacket and matching pants.
Unfortunately, a quick glance in the mirror confirmed his hypothesis that he looked like a smartly attired complete mess. The reflection staring back at him was insanely pale, with bloodshot eyes and hair veering dangerously past "just rolled out of bed" straight into "just survived a bear attack."
Neal let out a sigh, tried and failed to make his hair look even a little more presentable, threw on a pair of dark glasses, and staggered out the door.
Ten minutes, two blocks of running, and one seemingly endless elevator ride later, Neal arrived at Peter's office, one minute early and very out-of-breath.
"Okay, I'm here," he announced, far more cheerfully than he felt, before resting his hands on his knees in an attempt to catch his breath and dispel the sudden wave of dizziness which had just washed over him.
"Only an hour and fifty-nine minutes late," Peter deadpanned, "that's a hell of an achievement."
"Come on, Peter," Neal pleaded, still recovering his breath, "give me a break. It's been a rough morning."
"And a rough night, from the looks of it," Peter shot back, crossing the room to rip the sunglasses from Neal's face.
Neal winced instinctively at the light that now flooded his vision and grasped in vain for the glasses.
"You're hungover," Peter said matter-of-factly, his voice hard.
"No, I-" Neal began, quite sure that he hadn't had more than a single glass of wine the night before, "I'm not...Peter, I wouldn't -"
"I know you were out with Katrina last night," Peter snapped. "It doesn't take a master investigator to put two and two together."
"Peter, I swear to you, I am not hungover," Neal insisted, forcefully enough to cause a shooting pain to explode in the back of his head.
"Save it, Neal," Peter shot back, "I'm not in the mood to be lied to this morning. Just...go ask Jones for some files to annotate. I don't want to look at you like this."
"Peter..." Neal began once more, but he trailed off when the look on Peter's face made it obvious that nothing he said was going to help.
"Fine," he shouted, throwing his hands up, "Don't believe me. See if I care." With that, he rushed from the office as quickly as his pounding head would let him in search of Jones and a quiet, dark place to spend the day.
He made it barely a few feet before he felt a hand on his arm and was relieved when it was accompanied by Diana's voice asking, "Hey, are you okay? You look like hell."
The look on his face must have been enough to convince Diana that he was very far from okay, as she tightened her grip on his arm and said, "Come on, let's find you someplace to sit down."
"I don't know what's wrong with me," Neal explained helplessly, allowing Diana to lead him to a chair in the empty conference room, "I just woke up this morning and felt like I'd been hit by a truck while I was asleep. My head is pounding, the sunlight feels like it's stabbing me, and even a short walk leaves me out of breath."
Diana quickly drew the shades and switched off the overhead light before pulling up a chair beside Neal. Worry flicked over her face as she gave him a careful once-over and asked, "Have you done anything remotely out of the ordinary in the past twenty-four hours?"
"What, you're not going to ask me if I'm hungover?" Neal asked a little bitterly.
"I heard you tell Peter you weren't," Diana said matter-of-factly, "That's good enough for me."
Neal gave her the biggest smile he could manage under the circumstances and added sorrowfully, "I wish it were good enough for Peter."
"We can worry about him later," Diana said firmly. "Right now, it's you I'm concerned about. Now, can you think of anything that could have caused this?"
"No," Neal exclaimed, throwing his hands up in defeat, "Nothing at all. I was out with Katrina last night, but all we did was go to a restaurant for dinner, then back to her place for a glass of wine before I went home alone at eleven thirty. Nothing more to it than that."
"You're sure?" Diana asked doubtfully.
"Yes," Neal insisted, "I can remember the whole night perfectly clearly."
"Hmmm," Diana said, her expression deeply contemplative. "Well, until we figure this out, you are under my orders to take it easy in here."
"But Peter said I need to - " Neal began.
"Peter is not as important as you not killing yourself today," Diana insisted, cutting him off.
"Please, Diana, at least bring me a couple of files," Neal begged, looking panicky. "He's mad enough at me already."
Diana looked out him doubtfully for a few seconds, then gave in with reluctance. "Fine, but only a couple. You stay here and rest; I'll track down Jones."
As she turned to go, Neal called out, "Diana?"
"Yes, Neal?" she asked, spinning to look at him.
He paused for just a moment before uttering, "Thanks," intense gratitude written all over his face.
She sent him a warm smile and a sincere, "You're welcome," before heading off to find her partner.
Luckily for her, he had been watching the whole scene unfold, and no sooner had she emerged from the conference room than Jones was there, asking, "Hey, what's going on with Caffrey?"
"I don't know," Diana said, looking around with concern, "but whatever it is, I don't like it."
"Peter didn't look too happy about it, either," Jones observed, glancing in the direction of Peter's corner office.
"Yeah, well, he's going to like it even less after I have a words with him on the matter," Diana said ominously, following Jones's gaze.
"Hey," she said, shifting her focus back to him, "Can you bring me a couple of files for Caffrey to work on? I told him he should take it easy, but Peter's got him running scared."
"Sure," Jones acquiesced with a nod. "I'll find him a couple slam-dunks. Just enough to keep his mind off things."
"Thanks," Diana said gratefully. "I guess that means it's time for me to have a word with Peter."
As he watched Diana make her way across the office, Jones found himself thinking that he really wouldn't want to be Peter Burke right about now.
The knock on his door startled Peter enough that he glanced up from the file he had been poring over all morning, and in which he now realized, looking down again, he had been re-reading the same page for the past forty-five minutes.
"Come in," he said wearily, shoving the file towards the middle of the desk.
As the door opened, he said, "Oh, good, Diana, I could use a second opinion on this. I have not been having the best morning."
"You're not the only one," she said, closing the door behind her, and Peter was surprised to see that she was not smiling.
"Ah," he said after a few seconds, understanding dawning. "Look, Diana, if this is about Neal..."
"Oh, you mean the guy in the conference room who looks half-dead and is insisting on killing himself with pointless paperwork because he's terrified of disappointing you again?" Diana asked, crossing her arms expectantly.
"He came to work hungover, Diana," Peter objected, standing so they were on the same level, "That is both completely unprofessional and not my fault."
"Even if that were true," Diana insisted, "which I, for one, don't believe for a second, that does not excuse you using him as your personal punching bag."
"Do you have any idea how worried I was when he didn't show up this morning, Diana?" Peter shouted, running a hand agitatedly through his hair. "I spent two hours watching the clock and just waiting for a call from the police or a hospital telling me something had happened, only to find out he just spent the night partying a little too hard with his new girlfriend."
"Why would you assume that something bad had happened?" Diana asked, the anger in her voice replaced with unease.
Figuring he couldn't tell her his worries about Katrina without sound either jealous or completely paranoid, Peter settled for, "No reason, I suppose. Just a feeling."
Diana sighed and said, "Well, blinded by concern as you might have been, you were still too hard on him this morning. I know things between you and Neal have been...less than ideal lately, but if you can't figure out a way to work with him without flying off the handle, then this team is in real trouble."
With that, she pivoted on her heel and strode out back out the door toward the lobby. Realizing she was probably right, Peter caught up with her just outside his door and grabbed her wrist, saying, "I'm sorry, Diana. You're right. I'll give us both the rest of the day to cool off, and then I'll try to talk to him. Okay?"
Diana gave him a little nod, adding, "Well, since your cooperation makes more extreme methods of coercion unnecessary, I suppose that leaves me time to look over these files for you." She gave Peter a wicked grin and grabbed the files from his hands before heading back toward her own work area.
Peter retreated back inside his office and watched from the safety of his window as Diana dropped those files onto her desk, picked up a few others from Jones, and brought them, along with a sandwich she had quite mysteriously procured, into the darkened conference room, only to leave a few minutes later empty-handed.
Peter let out a sigh and returned to his desk, in the vain hope that he might be able to get at least a little bit of work done, considering he had, indeed, wasted an entire morning alternating between worrying about Neal and being angry at Neal.
Unfortunately for both him and his caseload, the rest of the day went much the same as the morning had. Knowing that Neal was just downstairs in the conference room resulted in Peter making rather more trips to the break room for coffee than some would have deemed strictly necessary, although he personally thought that ten cups of decaf was a perfectly reasonable amount to consume over the course of a tough work day.
Finally, though, as one by one he bid goodnight to Jones, Diana, and two or three of the other agents who sometimes spent their days in the Paranormal Crimes Division office, Peter was forced to face the truth: it was time for him and Neal to have a long-overdue chat.
Chapter 3: Lean on Me
Peter feels horrible for doubting Neal when his partner collapses during an argument, causing him to discover the truth about Katrina. But when taking care of Neal reawakens Peter's barely dormant feelings for him, Peter must ask himself once again how much his secret is really worth.
Crossing the darkened office before he could change his mind, Peter rapped twice on the door to the conference room and waited.
When it finally swung open, Peter was dismayed to see Neal looking even more haggard than he had that morning. There were pronounced dark circles under his eyes, his tie was utterly askew from where he had been tugging on it, and the way he was leaning on the door frame implied that he probably wouldn't be standing without it.
"Checking up on me?" Neal asked bitterly, pushing back from the door toward the conference table.
"No, I -" Peter began, but Neal quickly cut him off.
"Don't worry," he barreled on, his tone biting, "I finished your precious files." He shoved them at Peter with as much force as he could muster, which, in this case, would not have been enough to even register as aggressive had it not been for the tremor in his voice.
"Hey," Peter objected, feeling his temper rise once more, "You don't have to be like that."
"Really, Peter?" Neal shouted, whirling on him, "How should I be? Should I be groveling because I had the bad manners not to waste all my time pining after you broke up with me?"
"Well, after all I've done for you, you could at least pretend to be sorry for letting your personal life sabotage our work together!" Peter shot back angrily.
"After all you've done for me?" Neal yelled incredulously, his hands beginning to shake. "Sorry, do you mean lying to me? Or just berating me? Or maybe you mean acting like a jealous schoolboy since the second I first asked out Katrina?"
"Oh yes, Katrina," Peter said sarcastically, "Since we're on the subject, you don't find anything a little funny about that? One minute she's a person of interest on a case, the next she's suddenly your girlfriend? You mean to tell me you don't find that even a tiny bit suspicious?"
"She was the one who reported the crime, if you remember!" Neal objected. "We would never have found that forged necklace if it weren't for her!"
"And besides," he continued, gripping the nearest chair with bone-white fingers, "Even if she turned out to be a master forger, it's none of your business, is it? You have no right to say whom I can and cannot date, Peter. No...right..." Neal's voice suddenly sounded very far away, as his grip on the chair slipped and his legs suddenly buckled beneath him.
Peter's eyes flashed with alarm as he shouted, "Neal!" and rushed forward, only just managing to catch the other man in time to keep him from hitting the floor.
Peter used his body as a support as he brought his hands to either sides of Neal's face and demanded, "Neal, can you hear me?"
He was distressed to see upon further examination that Neal's eyes were glassy, able to hold his gaze for only a few seconds before losing focus again. Neal mumbled out something that sounded like, "Peter...dizzy..." before his eyes closed and his head lolled against Peter's shoulder.
After shaking his partner forcefully to no avail, Peter finally swung one hand under Neal's knees, kept the other at his back, and frantically carried him out of the conference room and down the hallway, finally depositing him on the small, leather couch in the corner of his own office.
"Come on, Neal, don't do this to me," he muttered to himself, kneeling beside the barely conscious man. But it was only when he swiftly undid the top few buttons of Neal's impeccably pressed shirt in the hopes that it would ease his breathing that his worst fears were truly realized: clearly visible, on the side of his neck, were two small, but unmistakable puncture wounds.
Peter let out a low stream of curses, sprinted for his desk, and grabbed a large black bag out of the bottom drawer before returning to sit beside Neal.
Rooting around in the bag, he swiftly pulled out a syringe and jabbed it into Neal's arm. The man on the couch twitched and let out a low groan, but did not awaken.
How could he have been so stupid? Peter realized now just how obvious the signs were; he had just been too blinded by jealousy to notice them, and Neal had paid the price.
Trapped in the knowledge that there was nothing he could do now but wait, Peter shrugged off his suit jacket, laid it gently over Neal's prone form, and did exactly that.
It was two hours later when Neal finally stirred, and in that moment, Peter couldn't remember ever seeing a sight more welcome than those two, tired blue eyes blinking their way into consciousness.
"Hey," Peter said quietly, unable to resist running a hand lightly over Neal's hair.
Neal's gaze flitted confusedly around the room before finally coming to rest on Peter. "Hey," Neal whispered back.
"Boy, when you're determined to win an argument, you just go for it, huh?" Peter said, trying to keep the mood light.
"What can I say?" Neal said, giving him a weak smile, "When I commit, I commit." His subsequent attempt to lift himself into a sitting position only resulted in him falling back onto the couch with a resounding thud.
"Oh God, Neal, I'm so sorry," Peter blurted out, absently sliding his hand down from Neal's hair to lay it gently on his cheek. "You tried to tell me that you were in trouble, and I wouldn't listen. I was a bad boss today, and a worse friend, and I am so sorry."
Neal closed his eyes and leaned into the touch for a few seconds, Peter hoped in tacit acceptance of his apology, and said, "I don't know what's wrong with me, Peter. When I woke up this morning, I just felt completely...drained."
"You're sure it was nothing you did last night?" Peter prompted him, hoping that perhaps she had not glamoured him completely, "Nothing to do with Katrina?"
"You aren't going to start that again, are you?" Neal asked, giving Peter a pointed look. "For the last time, no - all we did was have a nice dinner and an even nicer conversation. Nothing remotely strenuous or dangerous about it."
"All right, all right," Peter said, holding up hands in a gesture of surrender. "I won't ask you about Katrina anymore, I promise," he continued, adding as casually as he could, "Although, come to think of it, perhaps we should give her a call - if you caught something last night, she could be susceptible."
"She said she was going upstate for a few days to visit her parents," Neal said vaguely, "I don't know how to reach her."
"Never mind, then," Peter said, trying his hardest to conceal his relief that Katrina was at least momentarily out of the picture, "I'm sure if anything's wrong, her folks will take good care of her."
"Now," he continued, ruffling Neal's hair affectionately, "There does remain the small matter of who's going to take good care of you."
"I'm fine, Peter," Neal insisted, "Really, I'm sure it's just the flu or something. I'll be perfectly all right in a couple days."
"I'm not letting you go home alone," Peter maintained, adding quietly, "Not after the scare you gave me tonight."
Neal sighed as he unconsciously threaded his fingers through Peter's and observed, "Guilt. You always were good at that."
"Well, I learned from the best," Peter said with a little grin, which Neal mirrored with one of his own.
"It can't be you, Peter," Neal murmured after a minute, his expression full of regret. "Not if we're making a clean break of it - you can't be the one to take care of me anymore."
"Yeah, I know," Peter agreed reluctantly, "but that doesn't stop me wanting to make sure someone does."
Neal gave him a warm smile before saying, "All right, fine. How about I call Moz, tell him to come crash at June's for the next couple days? Does that satisfy the Peter Burke Code for Recuperating Patients?"
"I can think of better nurses than a conspiracy-mad potions man," Peter scoffed, though privately he was glad of the choice, all things considered, "but I suppose he'll have to do."
"Now," Peter said, getting slowly to his feet, "Can you walk, or will I be carrying you down to the car?"
"As fun as that sounds, I think I can make it," Neal said, gingerly bringing himself to a sitting position, before getting shakily to his feet. "See?" he added with a grin, but only got out a further "Nothing to i-" before stumbling to the side.
Peter dashed forward and caught Neal round the waist, murmuring, "Come on, I've got you. Just lean on me."
Neal let out a sigh - whether from annoyance or weariness, Peter wasn't sure - and laid his head on Peter's shoulder, noting, "I seem to be doing that a lot today."
"And you'll always be able to," Peter said sincerely, flushing slightly at the intent, surprised look Neal shot him in response. "Come on," he said quickly, "Let's get you home."
As he led Neal out through the building and down to his car, Peter made sure to keep him conscious and talking. Though he was pretty sure the warnings for concussions were not applicable to vampire attacks, Peter was taking no chances.
Consequently, by the time Peter was helping Neal through the doorway to his corner of June's beautiful brownstone, they had discussed the procedural inaccuracies in Hollywood's latest zombie flick, the unfortunate side effects of Mozzie's latest miracle cure, and when Jones would realize that the gorgeous blonde he met at a bar last weekend was one of the boys from the Sorcery Squad playing a practical joke.
"Now," Peter said, depositing Neal on the couch, "I want you to stay there and relax; I'll make you something to eat."
"I hardly think that you burning down my apartment will be very relaxing," Neal called out as he made himself comfortable on the couch.
"Even I can manage to boil water without the fire department showing up," Peter retorted, disproportionately happy that Neal felt at least well enough to mock him again.
"I'll believe that when I see it," Neal said skeptically, though he was smiling.
Thirty minutes, two boxes of pasta, and only one near-activation of the smoke alarm later, Peter was depositing a steaming bowl of penne in front of Neal with no small amount of pride.
Whatever droll remark Neal's smile indicated to Peter he had been preparing was clearly forgotten the second he took the first bite. He attacked the pasta like a starving man, which, Peter thought angrily, was a far more accurate analogy than it should have been, thanks to Katrina.
"Thanks, Peter," Neal mumbled, looking sated, but just about ready to drop, "That was really...really..."
Peter lunged forward just in time to keep his partner from falling face-first into the empty bowl in front of him. "All right," Peter said, hauling a drowsy Neal to his feet, "that's it - time for bed."
Neal mumbled something mostly which sounded distinctly like a come on while Peter was dragging him toward the bedroom, but Peter put it down to Neal's instinctual reaction to the word "bed."
While Peter was pondering this, his grip on Neal loosened enough that the other man fell over face-first, luckily onto the bed. One glance at Neal's unmoving form gave Peter the sinking feeling that without his assistance, his partner would be going to bed fully clothed and face down on the duvet.
Letting out a little sigh, Peter rolled Neal over began to undress him carefully, beginning by unwrapping the still-askew tie from Neal's neck and throwing it over a nearby chair. He had just began work on the shirt when the man on the bed let out a low groan.
"Neal?" Peter asked, concerned. "What is it? What hurts?"
"Mmmm, my tie," Neal mumbled, showing no signs of being facetious. "You can't just crumple up Hugo Boss, Peter."
Peter rolled his eyes and said, "Well, if I ever meet Mr. Boss, I'll apologize to him, all right?" When Neal groaned again, however, Peter reluctantly got up and hung the tie carefully in the closet, muttering all the while.
"I'm supposing the shirt is Hugo Boss as well?" Peter asked as he began to unbutton it.
"Armani," Neal muttered, as if it should have been obvious.
"Oh, of course, silly me," Peter shot back with gentle sarcasm. He was about to make a more detailed retort when Neal's head fell to the side and he got another look at the two red marks on the side of his neck, standing out angrily against his now pale skin.
Peter was immediately filled with another wave of rage at Katrina for hurting him like this, but he reluctantly pushed it down again; anger wouldn't do Neal any good tonight.
As he slipped the shirt from Neal's shoulders, Peter was struck by how much the increased pallor of his skin made him look even more like one of those Greek statues he was so fond of sculpting.
This impression was only heightened by how startlingly cold he felt to the touch; it was all Peter could do not to wrap his arms around his partner as he had once done so often and share with him whatever warmth he had to give.
Knowing that would only make things more difficult in the long run, Peter instead contented himself with hanging Neal's shirt in the closet and searching for something soft and warm to do what he could not.
"God, do you own anything comfortable?" Peter asked in amazement, flipping through a seemingly endless line of dress shirts, suits, and what could only be classified as "disguises."
"Top shelf, back corner," Neal murmured distractedly.
Once Peter moved the boxes obstructing his view to the specified area, it did not take him long to find what he had been looking for...or realize why it had been carefully hidden.
"How long have you had this?" he asked, turning around to face Neal, a black sweatshirt emblazoned with F.B.I. in crisp, white letters in his hand.
"Since you left," Neal said, sounding weary, but not embarrassed. "Not ready to let go."
Peter let the ambiguity implicit in Neal's reply hang in the air as he helped the other man on with the sweatshirt. "Keep it," Peter said after a minute, taking in the sight of Neal in his sweatshirt with a smile, "It suits you."
Neal drew the sweatshirt closer and opened his eyes fully to look at Peter. In that moment, Peter understood fully how Neal had successfully persuaded countless people to purchase non-functioning magic wands and supposedly authentic Roman curse tablets. It was that look he got in his eyes - a sheen of pure charm covering deep recesses of absolute vulnerability, a look that demanded trust by giving it completely.
Knowing there was nothing he could refuse Neal while he was looking at him like that, Peter started awkwardly, "Well, I should probably..."
"Yeah," Neal replied, his tone regretful, "El will probably be wondering what happened to you. I should call Mozzie..."
"Oh, I'll call him," Peter said quickly. "You just get some rest, okay?"
"Yeah, okay," Neal mumbled, and Peter could hear the weariness in his voice.
Peter had just begun turning to go when Neal grabbed his sleeve and said, "Peter?"
"Yeah, Neal?" Peter said, turning to look at him.
Neal paused for a moment before murmuring, "Thanks for 'not taking care of me'."
Peter smiled as he replied, "Any time, Neal. I mean it." On impulse, he leaned down to brush a kiss over his partner's forehead, then strode quickly from the room before either could say anything about it.
Once safely in the hallway, Peter whipped out his cell phone, punched in a few numbers, and waited.
He did not have to wait long before a voice on the other end whispered cryptically, "When shall the ebony bird speak again?"
"I don't have time for this, Mozzie," Peter said irritably into the phone, "Neal's..."
"Just tell me what his lordly name is...on the night's Plutonian shore," Mozzie insisted.
Peter let out an annoyed grumble and yelled, "Nevermore!" before continuing, "Damn it, Moz, it's a Code Red!"
There was a pause on the other end of the line before Mozzie asked gravely, "What do you need me to do?"
"Can you stay with Neal for a few days? I would do it, but things are a bit...complicated at the moment," Peter said.
Mozzie kindly ignored the last part and shouted, "I'm packing as we speak."
Peter let out a sigh of relief as Mozzie continued, "Is Neal all right?"
"He is now," Peter said, his voice sounding more confident than he felt, "and in order for him to stay that way, I need you to keep a constant eye on him for the next few days."
"So what was it?" Mozzie asked, excitement and worry battling for control in his voice, "Zombie bite? Succubus attack? Ooh, dragon attack?"
"Moz," Peter said through gritted teeth, "For the hundredth and final time, there...are...no...dragons."
"Sure, sure," Mozzie said disbelievingly. "You're lucky they're not like fairies - you'd have killed at least fifty of them by now."
Peter let out a groan before continuing, "Just promise me that you'll make sure he's okay for the next couple days, Moz."
"I promise, Suit," Mozzie said, adding with a sniff, "and a thank you wouldn't go amiss."
"Thank you, Mozzie," Peter said, only a little begrudgingly. "I'll call you for an update first thing tomorrow."
"You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today," Mozzie said obliquely.
"Good-bye, Moz," Peter said insistently, hanging up the phone before the potions man could throw any more quotes at him.
As he made his way down the stairs and into his car, Peter was surprised to find that the weight of his worry over Neal had lifted slightly, and it was clear he had Mozzie to thank. Despite the enigmatic manner he tried so hard to cultivate, Peter knew that Mozzie cared for Neal as much as he did; it was this knowledge that prevented him from spending the night keeping watch in a parked car outside June's place.
Instead, he directed the Taurus toward home, where Elizabeth would surely be wondering where he had gone.
"El?" he called out, swinging open the door to their Brooklyn town house, "I'm finally home."
"There you are," she said, appearing suddenly in the doorway, a glass of red liquid in her hand, "I was wondering what had happened to you. Is everything all right?"
Peter shook his head slowly, the concern in El's face stirring up his own anxiety once more. "It's Neal. He collapsed at work today, and I had to make sure he was all right. I'm pretty sure his new girlfriend had something to do with it."
Elizabeth's fangs slid in a subtle, but very threatening manner from their sheaths as she said in a calm, deadly voice, "We should pay her a visit, then."
"I wish it were that simple, El," Peter said gravely, taking a sip of the glass El handed him. "She's one of us."