I. The Crossover Calculation
He just wished Neal would stop flirting with Penny. And that Sheldon would stop fawning on him (seriously, Sheldon never fawned, but he was convinced Neal was really Batman).
"Don't worry so much," Neal told him, sitting down next to where Leonard was sulking on the couch. "They still love you best, I promise. Well, Sheldon will after he finds out I took his first-edition First Doctor out of the box and played with it."
"You did what?"
"You know I love Doctor Who," Neal said reproachfully. It did make Leonard feel a little better.
"What about Penny?" he asked suspiciously.
Neal patted his leg. "You're my little brother. I'll leave the heartbreaking to you."
II. The Alternate History
Peter got the call four months after Vincent Adler disappeared.
"Are you the agent investigating the counterfeit bonds?" the voice asked.
"Can I ask who's calling?" Peter said warily.
"My name is Neal Caffrey. It won't mean anything to you. We met outside a bank once. I gave you a sucker?"
Peter went still. "I remember."
"I'm with Vincent Adler. He took me with him when he ran. I can give him to you."
"Tell me where you are," Peter said.
"I need you to promise me you'll get me out before you go after him. I didn't know what he was really like, I swear -- "
"Mr. Caffrey -- Neal -- just tell me where you are. If you can get us Adler, we can make a deal," Peter said. There was a long silence on the other end of the line.
"We're in Argentina. It's hard to get away from him, I can't talk for long."
"That's okay. Tell me where you are, we can get you out of there, we'll worry about the rest later."
When he came off the plane in New York, Neal Caffrey was pale, frightened, and so young-looking that Peter felt an oddly paternal urge to hug him. Instead, he led him to the car the Marshals had waiting, and rode with him back to the FBI for his debriefing.
"Thank you," Neal said to him in the car, well-mannered, cool despite his visible fear and handcuffed wrists. "You'll make sure he can't find me?"
"It'll be okay, Neal," Peter said, hoping it was true.
III. The Literary Inspiration
On the way to St Louis he hired a bodyguard. There were good reasons to do so....there was also a certain prestige to traveling with a hired man. -- Titanic Thompson, The Man Who Bet On Everything
After the thing with the stuff in Memphis, Neal hired a bodyguard. Peter Burke looked slightly too old to be a fighter, but Neal had seen him in a bar brawl in a seedy little place in Greenwich Village, and he knew Peter's haymaker was solid. Plus he could shoot like a sniper.
"Your job is to look after the luggage, make sure I don't get shot, and play straight man for me when I need you," Neal told him, on the long drive from New York to Chicago, where there was a job waiting for him.
"You're the boss," Peter said. He didn't talk much. Neal knew he was an ex-FBI agent, and had a pretty flexible morality for a former cop. He knew that Peter wasn't leaving anything much behind him in New York that he'd regret. Beyond that, he didn't know anything, really.
Peter was a damn fine bodyguard, though, and he seemed to like to look after Neal; when he was hurt during a heist in Utah, Peter poured out half a bottle of vodka into a bowl to use as disinfectant while he stitched Neal up, and gave him the rest of the bottle to drink, to dull the pain. In California, Peter started helping him dress, knotting his tie and making sure his hair looked tidy. When they went back to Chicago (now that the heat had died down) Peter took the opportunity to unpack them thoroughly and reorganize, making sure everything was clean and in its proper place, while Neal ran around stealing gemstones. Neal began to wonder how he'd lived without him.
They got called back to New York for a job; an art restorer at the Met knew of a couple of gorgeous statues coming in and a buyer who'd like them to be quietly diverted, money no object. Neal met up with her in a little cafe in midtown, and of course he brought Peter along.
"Don't mind him," he told the gorgeous brunette who slid into the booth across from them. "He doesn't talk much."
"He'd better not," Liz said, but she gave Peter a flirtatious smile. Peter was wearing sunglasses and a cool expression, but Neal saw the tips of his ears turn red. The mighty Peter Burke hath fallen, he thought.
Well, he was either going to have to give up his best partner, or take Elizabeth with them when they blew out of town.
Could be fun.
IV. The Comic Book Caper
Peter began to suspect Neal was somewhere on the scale when a bad guy tried to shoot him and a bird flew in front of Neal just in time to take the bullet. Neal looked startled but not surprised; Peter narrowed his eyes thoughtfully.
He noticed Neal cheated at cards, but not to win; without the cheating, Neal always won naturally. People remarked sometimes on Neal having pretty good luck. There were other things, small things, but they amounted to something bigger, and Peter wasn't the fastest man in the FBI (literally and metaphorically) for nothing.
"You're on the scale," he said to Neal one morning, as they strolled from Neal's favorite cafe to the Federal Building.
"The what?" Neal asked, but he looked just a little too innocent.
"Have you ever been tested for the Xavier gene?"
The Xavier Gene, which had been discovered in the nineties, was named after the comic book character, and Peter always felt a little silly saying it. "I'm Xavier-positive, five of five" was something he had to tell a doctor any time he had a checkup or an injury, and it just sounded stupid. But it was best to warn that his reflexes were...a little faster than most. It had kept him out of the major leagues; he'd manifested when he was nineteen and Xavier-positives weren't allowed in pro sports, even if they had the exceptional control over their abilities that Peter did. Fortunately, law enforcement really liked Xavier-positives.
"Never been tested," Neal said, and grinned at him. "I'm just an ordinary guy, Peter."
The next time Neal was hurt, Peter had the doctors quietly draw a little blood and run the test. After all, Neal was in his custody; that was legal.
"Yep," said the technician who came around later that day. "He's positive. But you're a Fed, right? You're qualified legally to provide an appraisal of his skills. You think he's dangerous?"
"Not genetically," Peter said.
"What's his skill?"
"I believe," he said, and God, it still felt so stupid to say stuff like this, "he's supremely lucky. Probably about a four on the scale, maybe a five."
The tech laughed. "Good skill. Okay, I'll get that noted on his chart and have some informational literature sent down. Congratulations, Agent Burke, your criminal's a superhero."
V. The Undercover Misadventure
Nick Halden's first day with Adler Financial Management was a whirlwind of contracts, nondisclosure agreements, HR babblespeak, and a grand tour of the company, conducted by Adler personally. They ended up outside Adler's office, where Kate sat enthroned at the reception desk. Nick was affable and friendly; inside, Neal was entranced by her, unfathomably, wholeheartedly.
"Kate will get you set up with a login and everything you need," Adler said, clapping Nick on the back. "She has your assignments. I want a report tomorrow morning."
It was just coming up on lunch. Nick eyed the stack of folders in her outbox, obviously intended for him.
"Oh! And here's Peter," Adler said, waving at a man who was coming down the hallway, a leather folio in one hand. "I was wondering where you were, didn't see you while I was giving our new boy the grand tour. Nick Halden, Peter Burke, my head of portfolio accounting."
Peter was a tall man, broad and imposing, not Nick's idea of an accountant at all. He had worry lines and wore a very expensive suit.
"Nick's my new errand boy," Adler said, as Nick and Burke shook hands. "Peter knows everyone and everything, and he'll be a valuable resource for you," he added to Nick.
"I look forward to working with you," Nick said.
"Likewise," Burke replied. "Mr. Adler, if I could have a moment..."
"Of course. Kate, look after Nick," Adler told her, and the two men disappeared into his enormous office.
"Watch out for him," Kate murmured, as the door shut behind them.
"The accountant?" Nick asked.
"He's got a mind like an ice pick and he has no purpose in life except work. You better be as good as Mr. Adler thinks you are, or Peter Burke's going to be your first and last problem here," she said. "Come on, I'll show you your desk."