Some days, Peter really wished he could tell something to stop happening and actually have it stop. This was definitely one of those days, because this… This…
What the hell was this?
Until ten minutes ago (oh, how he missed the world of ten minutes ago), the definition of Neal-related madness, as exasperating as it was, remained within a realistic plane that could eventually be explained on scientific terms.
What had just strolled through his door couldn’t be. Not even by a mad scientist going through a particularly wacky phase.
See, the problem was that ten minutes ago, a fox had slipped into his backyard, prompting Satchmo to bark his head off until Elizabeth opened the back door so he could go scare the fox away as she and Peter wondered what a fox was doing wandering around New York City, anyway, yet lo and behold, instead of running away, the fox sat on the grass, looking up at Satchmo. And what did Satchmo do? Bark again? Bite the fox? Nope. He sniffed at its face, nose to nose as if they were old friends. Then he led the fox to the patio door, staring up at them when they bared the fox’s way as if they were missing something perfectly obvious.
Then it happened. The fox stopped being a fox. And became Neal Caffrey.
It was at this point that Peter decided he was dreaming and started telling himself to wake up.
It wasn’t happening. Maybe someone had snuck past their security and slipped him a hallucinogenic in his coffee at the office. But then, how could Elizabeth could see Neal, too, for she could, given the bewilderment on her face, though she recovered much faster than Peter did.
“Neal?” she asked, gaping at the Neal apparition.. “How? What just happened?”
“I can explain,” Neal said, clearly a lie, because this was so beyond explanation that the quarter of a million words in the English language weren’t enough to come up with something reasonable.
“Can I please come in first?” Neal continued. “It’s a little cold out here.”
Of course the Neal apparition was cold. It was, after all, completely naked.
“Of course,” Elizabeth said, standing aside, then tugging Peter away from the door when he still wouldn’t (couldn’t) look away from the madness.
The promised explanation made just as little sense.
“I’m a Fuchsbau,” Neal said, now seated on the couch and properly attired in one of Peter’s bathrobes, which was a little too big for him, but Peter was too freaked out to find it endearing. Meanwhile, Satchmo sat at Neal’s feet, allowing him to pet him, because, clearly, for him, Neal being a fox creature was completely normal.
“You’re a what?” Peter asked.
“A Fuchsbau,” Neal repeated. “I’m a fox. Well, not a regular kind of fox. Those are different. See, it’s like in fairy tales where the animals talk and interact with humans. Those aren’t exactly fiction. There are people who have both animal and human form and nature. I’m one of them.”
“Okay,” Elizabeth said, leaning forward in her chair. “You’re saying that fairy tale creatures are real? And you’re one of them?”
“That’s it in a nutshell.”
Neal smiled. As if this was all perfectly logical.
“That’s… incredible. I can’t really wrap my head around it.”
No sane person could.
“Wait,” Peter said, holding his hands out in front of him in a manner too reminiscent of prayer (not that anyone seemed to be listening, because he was still stuck in the Twilight Zone). “You’re a fairy tale creature? I’ve spent the last year working with a fairy tale creature?”
“Pretty much. I mean, no fairy tales have been written about me. Well, not per se…”
Neal trailed off at Peter’s withering glare.
“And why exactly are we only learning about this now in this dramatic fashion?”
“Well.” Neal shifted in his seat, discomfort crossing his eyes. “I ran across a Jagerbar. A bear.”
“There are bears in the city?” Elizabeth asked.
“There’s everything, really. Wolves, owls, snakes. Rats, obviously. There’s a squirrel in the office.”
“Isn’t he the one who doesn’t like you?” Peter asked.
“That’s why he doesn’t like me. Having a fox around makes him nervous.”
“I thought he just had common sense. But a squirrel? You’re making this up.”
Diana had called the guy “squirrely” once, but come on. For him to be an actual squirrel… It was insane. Then again, Neal had been a little, red fox ten minutes ago.
“I’m not. You just saw me.”
“Yes. I remember that. Honey, are you sure I’m not dreaming?” Peter added, turning to Elizabeth, who looked more put together than him, wonderful woman that she was, though still reasonably perplexed.
“Unless we’re sharing the same weird dream,” she said, “yes, I’m pretty sure.”
So much for clinging to that hope.
“Can we get back to the part where you met a bear?” she asked Neal.
“I don’t run into bears that much,” Neal said. “They prefer living in wooded areas. But it happens. This one started following me down the street. Big guy. Sort of like Vin Diesel. I started getting nervous, so I ducked into an alley, transformed into fox form and ran away. Four legs are faster than two. And I’m small, so I could sneak around, while he wasn’t going to turn into a bear in the middle of the city. Your place was the closest, so I came here.”
“Wait,” Elizabeth said. “Was the bear going to attack you?”
“He looked like he might. I didn’t want to take the chance.”
“Oh my God. Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Just another day in the creature world.”
Peter knew he should be saying something. He was almost positive. Yet, somehow, his tongue had forgotten how to function. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
“Peter, are you alright?” Elizabeth asked, touching his knee. “You look pale.”
“I’m alright,” he said.
Like hell he was. But look at him. Neal was almost assaulted by a bear (did the bear want to eat him? Oh God, Neal had almost being eaten by a bear in the middle of New York City), yet Peter was the one having a nervous breakdown. He could handle this. This was merely another wrinkle in the apocalyptic puzzle that was Neal Caffrey.
“I know it’s a lot to take in,” Neal said. “That’s why I haven’t told anyone except Mozzie.”
“Is Mozzie human?”
“Good. I don’t think I can handle anyone else being a fairy tale character right now.”
Neal got that ‘there’s something I don’t want to tell you’ look on his face. Peter slumped into his chair.
“Who?” he asked miserably.
“Fowler’s a snake.”
“Oh, come on. That’s too much.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
That denial sounded too evasive.
“He isn’t a snake, right?” Peter asked.
Neal looked down at his lap, picking at the cotton covering his knee.