Fandom: White Collar
Characters/Pairings: Peter/Neal (Implied Elizabeth)
Warnings/Enticements/Triggers: Graphic Sex
Word Count: ~7,227
Beta Credit: An author is only as good as their Betas and I had a wonderful trio that helped me make this a better piece. Many thanks go to anodyneer for proofreading my initial draft, hoosierbitch, who IS the Porn Doctor, and elrhiarhodan for helping me fine tune the details.
Summary: When an operation goes sideways and Peter gets hurt, Neal struggles to cope in the aftermath.
A/N: This was written for the lovely embroiderama. E – you are one of my go-to folks whenever I have problems with a fic. It was so hard not to let you know what I was working on because I wanted your input so badly! Hope you like it.
Thanks also go out to the folks in wcwu chat who have encouraged and offered suggestions. Every White Collar fanfic writer should make an effort to stop by the chatroom and meet the folks who hang out there.
I have to also thank kanarek13 for creating such a wonderful cover for me. It's beautiful - thank you so much!
Searing, mind-numbing pain. The slice of the knife was cold. He expected to feel fire, not the icy touch of the blade as it carved into his skin.
He’d been chest to chest with Morgan, their suspect, grappling for dominance, and so he’d failed to spot the switchblade slipping into Morgan’s hand, poised to bite at the soonest opportunity. Peter’s misstep – a stutter in the dance – left his side wide open. Morgan took advantage of that lapse, blade flashing, to stop him.
Blood spattered against the gray wall in a gruesome parody of a Pollack canvas.
He went down on one knee in an attempt to stop the pulsing wetness as Morgan disappeared.
“Diana, I’m down. Need backup,” he hissed into the mic. His hands kept sliding, finding no purchase on the bloody skin. “Hurry…”
Peter’s body slipped to the floor in a sigh. He heard the distant pounding of feet but he couldn’t collect his thoughts enough to care about why people were running. His hand lay in a spreading pool of his blood, the cuff of his shirt slowly turning crimson.
Suddenly there was pressure on his body and the burning pain jolted him back to awareness. He opened his eyes to see Neal pressing his jacket against Peter’s side.
“Peter!” Neal’s voice cut through the haze of pain. “Peter, look at me.”
Peter felt himself slipping again. He tried to turn his head but it felt like he was pushing through Jell-O. Or like he was stoned. But he hadn’t been stoned since college. No, there was that time when he was undercover…and…and he’d…
“Peter! Peter, stay with me.” Neal’s voice took on an urgent tone. Peter felt that he had to look at him for some reason. “Diana, he’s going into shock! Where’s the ambulance!?”
His head rolled slightly and he could see Neal crouched over him. He knew Neal was talking to him, but he couldn’t make out the words as black spots filled the edges of his vision. As he spun down into darkness, the last thing Peter saw was a pair of frightened blue eyes.
“Peter, we need to talk.”
Peter groaned inwardly at Neal’s words. He was enjoying his Saturday morning, stretched out on his stomach in Neal’s bed, one leg tangled up in the sheet, his hand trailing lazy circles on Neal’s thigh. Maybe if he kept his eyes closed, he could pretend that he didn’t hear him. Or maybe he could convince Neal that talking was overrated and they really should just stay in bed all weekend. That thought sent a pleasant jolt of desire through him and he felt his cock stirring.
“Peter.” Neal nudged him.
Peter cracked an eye open and muttered, “Killing the post-coital buzz here, Caffrey.”
“Seriously Peter, focus. I need to talk to you.”
“I am focusing. Focusing on taking a nap. When I’m done, I plan on focusing on the steaks we have in the fridge. After that, it’s even odds whether we make it back to the bed before I get you out of your clothes and have my wicked way with you.” Peter smiled slightly, turning his face towards the pillow. He knew he was yanking Neal’s chain, but sometimes he just couldn’t help himself.
“Really? ‘Wicked way?’” He heard Neal snort and felt the bed shift as Neal got up. “Have you been reading Mozzie’s romance novels again?”
“Mmmm…don’t need Moz’s romance novels to be wicked…” Hearing Neal’s laugh, Peter rolled on his side and propped his head against his hand. He watched Neal walk to the refrigerator.
Neal in clothes was gorgeous. Naked, he was simply magnificent. Long and lean, a body worthy of Michelangelo’s eye. He made Peter’s mouth water whenever he saw him. And Neal knew it.
Peter saw the little bastard pose at the fridge, knowing full well that he had Peter’s complete interest. “Show off.”
Neal chuckled as he grabbed a bottle of water, shut the door, and sauntered back to the bed. Peter scooted back a bit as he climbed in next to him.
He looked up as Neal took a drink. Head tilted back, his long neck exposed, Neal brought out his primal instinct to possess. Even Elizabeth didn’t elicit the same visceral urges that Neal did, simply by being. Elizabeth was soft curves and velvet. Neal was hard angles and danger. And Peter needed both of them.
Neal put the bottle on the nightstand. “Peter…” he began. Before he could finish, Peter saw his opportunity to stop conversation. Quickly grabbing him, Peter rolled, trapping Neal underneath him and capturing his mouth. Nibbling along his bottom lip, Peter coaxed Neal to open to his tongue.
He could never get enough of Neal’s taste. Coffee, mint and something uniquely Neal. Feeling his burgeoning erection grow, Peter slid his knee between Neal’s thighs and slowly rubbed his cock against Neal’s leg.
Neal was obviously not going to be distracted, however, because he pulled out of Peter’s embrace and sat up. "Really? Are you that much of a sex fiend?" Neal was grinning at him, which took any sting out of the complaint. "Look, I really need to talk to you."
Resigned to the fact that further lovemaking would be delayed until Neal was satisfied, Peter sat up and gave his friend, his partner, his lover, his absolute attention. "What's the matter?"
“This deal with Morgan.” Neal frowned. “There’s just something off about it.”
Peter felt himself click into agent mode. “What do you mean? Did Mozzie get some new information?” He was proud that Neal was taking the initiative on this op.
“No…no…” Neal shook his head. “I can’t put my finger on it. Just a gut feeling.”
“Neal, it’ll be fine.” Peter gestured for Neal’s water. Taking a drink, he passed it back and settled against the pillows. “All the intel we’ve gotten on this guy says he’s a mid-level player, non-violent. It’ll be easy.”
“That’s why you need to let me go in like we planned instead of you,” Neal insisted. Peter sighed. This wasn’t the first time Neal had commented on the fact that Peter was going undercover on this job. Initially they were going to send Neal, but Morgan had gravitated towards Peter, overtly flirting with the agent during their initial meetings.
“Neal, you know perfectly well why I’m going in instead of you.” Neal muttered something that Peter swore sounded like because Morgan likes your ass. “Excuse me? I missed that.”
“Nothing.” Peter saw a blush steal over Neal’s face.
“It didn’t sound like nothing. In fact, it sounded like you said it was because Morgan liked my ass.” Peter grinned as Neal’s eyes flashed. “You wouldn’t be jealous, would you?”
Peter smirked at how quickly Neal denied his remark.
“I’m sure.” Neal crossed his arms. He’d deny it to his last breath, but Neal was the master at pouting. It was one of the things that Peter loved about him.
“Maybe I should take advantage of the fact that Morgan likes my ass.” Peter knew he was baiting Neal again, but sometimes it was just so much fun.
“No!” With that outburst, Peter found himself flat on his back, wrists trapped under Neal’s hands. Neal’s eyes narrowed as he glared at Peter with a promise of retribution.
“That ass is mine, Agent Burke.” Growling in his ear, Neal planted kisses down the length of Peter’s neck. Closing his eyes, Peter felt Neal roll his hips in the patented Caffrey move that was always guaranteed to get his dick hard.
“You sure about that?” He gasped, reveling in the weight of Neal’s body against his. Peter loved it when Neal was on top, taking control. Peter was willing to submit just to see the fire of dominance that Neal only shared with him.
“Yeah, and I don’t like to share.” Neal let go of Peter’s wrists and cupped his face in his hands. He slanted across Peter’s mouth, pressing him back into the pillows.
Neal kissed like a thief. He stole Peter’s lips, nibbling and biting along the corners of Peter’s mouth. He slipped his tongue in, exploring and promising and taking at the same time. Peter groaned and heard Neal chuckle in success. Time to change directions, Peter thought with a smile.
Peter pulled away from Neal’s kisses and quickly rolled him on his back. “But what if it’s for the good of the job?” he said, whispering in Neal’s ear right before he bit him gently. “I mean…we really need to close this case.” He pressed the younger man down as he nuzzled his neck.
Bastard,” Neal gasped, arching up as Peter found that spot right behind his ear that made Neal crazy and began to suck on it.
“I’m sure I’d just need to give up a few kisses,” Peter said as he traced his mouth down Neal’s shoulder. He placed his finger on Neal’s lips and coaxed them open. Neal sucked his finger in and Peter could feel Neal’s tongue curl around it; the wet heat sent a shot of arousal deep into his belly.
“Possibly a touch here or there.” Sliding his finger out of Neal’s mouth, Peter skated his hand down Neal’s chest until he found a nipple. Running the tip of his finger around the edge, he breathed lightly on it, watching the nub tighten and hearing Neal hiss. “What do you think?” Peter asked as he sucked the nipple into his mouth. He heard Neal curse again as he flicked his tongue on the nub.
“No…Jesus!” Neal moaned as Peter bit down. “No touching!” Peter felt Neal buck up against him as he ran kisses to the other side of his chest. “Oh God….” Peter laved Neal’s other nipple, coaxing it to hardness. Looking up, he saw Neal staring at him, eyes glassy with lust. “Just me….touch…just me,” Neal said hoarsely.
“Hmmmm…just you?” Peter slowly moved down Neal’s chest, enjoying Neal’s moans as he mapped the familiar planes of his body with his lips and tongue. Sucking little bruises into Neal’s sides, Peter stopped at Neal’s belly button.
“You sure? Maybe I should do this.” Dipping his tongue in the cleft, Peter teased Neal, worshipping that spot while Neal whimpered. He could feel Neal’s cock jerk against his thigh, hot and hard and dripping. It was all he could do not to just stop teasing and bury himself in Neal’s body.
“Hate you…” Neal’s hands tangled themselves in Peter’s hair as he tried to push Peter down towards his dick. “So much…”
“Uh huh.” Peter chuckled as he nuzzled Neal’s hip, intentionally avoiding his cock. Neal rocked his body, trying to move Peter into a better position, but Peter was having none of that and held him down. There’d be bruises in the morning, but Peter knew from experience that Neal would wear them like a badge.
“Peter,” Neal whined. Rubbing his face against the inside of Neal’s thigh, Peter bit down and sucked. Neal’s moans rose in volume. “Fuck…Peter…I need…”
Licking the spot to ease the sting, Peter asked in a low voice. “What, Neal? Tell me what you need.”
“Your mouth.” Neal gasped as Peter bit down again. “On me....God…”
Peter took pity on his lover and wrapped his hand around Neal’s cock. He lowered his head and slid the tip in his mouth. Flicking his tongue across the slit, he hollowed his cheeks and sucked. Neal keened as he writhed under Peter’s grip.
Peter stroked his hand slowly down Neal’s length, his mouth following. He could feel Neal’s body shaking. Peter loved this; he loved watching Neal begin to come apart with Peter’s lips around his dick. He pulled back up and ran his tongue on the underside of the head, feeling Neal shudder.
“Mmmmm.” Peter captured Neal’s cock between his lips and slid down the shaft until he had Neal’s entire length in his mouth. Little by little, eyes watering slightly, he coaxed Neal’s dick deeper until the head touched the back of his throat.
Then he swallowed.
“Oh, fuck!” Neal arched up off the bed, his head thrown back. “God, Peter!”
Peter chuckled, the vibrations making Neal’s cock swell even more. Pulling off with a gasp, he wrapped his hand around Neal’s shaft and began pumping him leisurely, adding a twist to keep Neal off balance.
Neal was a wreck, sweat beading down his face, eyes clenched shut, body taut with arousal.
“Are you close?” Peter whispered. “Are you gonna come for me?”
“Not like this,” Neal gasped. “Don’t wanna come like this.”
“How do you want to come, Neal?” Peter asked, tightening his grip. Neal’s eyes flew open, pupils dilated.
“Wanna come with you inside me. Please.”
Peter’s mouth went dry. He had Neal splayed out on the bed, his cock in Peter’s hand, asking for Peter to fuck him. No one else got to see Neal this way – needy and begging. This Neal belonged only to him. Peter’s dick strained against his body as he looked at his lover.
“God, Neal – you’re so fucking beautiful.”
With a moan, Neal pulled Peter down on top of him, his mouth crushing Peter’s. He bit Peter’s lips, causing him to hiss at the pain. Peter flinched, but Neal wouldn’t let him go. He surrounded him, his nails scoring Peter’s back, the friction of their cocks rubbing together starting a feedback loop of want in Peter’s brain.
“Fuck, Neal, I’m not sure how much longer I’m gonna last,” Peter gasped against Neal’s neck. “Need to get you ready for me.”
Peter sat up, reaching for the bottle of lube on the nightstand. Neal followed him, running his hands and his lips down Peter’s biceps and chest until he captured Peter’s nipple in his mouth. Peter arched into the heat of Neal’s mouth and tongue.
Peter shivered as he felt Neal whisper the word into his skin. “No?”
“No. Let me do it.” Tilting his head to look at Peter, Neal held out his hand and Peter squeezed the slick onto his fingers. Eyes glittering, Neal lay back, spread his legs and began stroking his cock. His other hand glistening with lube, he slowly breached himself and pushed one finger inside.
“God, Peter, this feels so good,” he hissed, drawing his finger out and pushing it back in. “But I…I need more.”
With one last pull on his cock, Neal took Peter’s hand and brought it to his lips. Running his tongue around Peter’s fingers, he sucked two of them into his mouth, mimicking the thrusting of his finger.
Peter eyes closed. Moaning at the sensation of Neal’s tongue, he thought, when in the hell did I lose control of this?
Neal startled him by nipping at his fingertips. “Eyes open,” he growled, guiding Peter’s hand to meet the one Neal had between his legs. Locking gazes with him, Peter realized he was on his way to being fully wrecked.
“Two fingers, Peter.” Before he knew what was happening, Neal slid Peter’s index finger past the ridge of muscle and nestled it next to the one already buried inside him. Encased in Neal’s tight hole, their two hands linked, Neal writhed on the bed every time they brushed his prostate.
Peter couldn’t tear his eyes away from what Neal was doing. He’d seen Neal prep himself before, but never this way – never the two of them like this. Unconsciously his other hand went to his cock, stroking it in time with their movements.
“God, Peter…so good.” Neal stretched himself, scissoring their fingers to get himself ready. “Do you think two is enough?” he panted.
Peter’s mouth was so dry that he couldn’t speak. He shook his head. “I can’t hear you, Peter.”
“No,” he whispered.
“Why not?” Neal’s voice demanded an answer.
“Because…because I’m bigger than that.”
“That’s right. You are.” Peter slid another finger inside and the two of them slowly fucked Neal open. Peter heard a moan and realized it had come from him. Watching Neal use both their hands to take himself apart for Peter almost made him come on the spot.
“God, Peter, can’t wait anymore. Need you.” Neal was open and ready and Peter needed to be inside him. Peter moved to line himself up with Neal’s hole but suddenly found himself on his back.
“No.” Neal climbed on him and ground himself onto Peter. He could feel his cock slip between Neal’s asscheeks, slick with lube, seeking entrance into Neal’s body.
“Like this,” Neal growled. “Want to fuck you like this.”
“Yeah…” Peter breathed, all teasing gone. Neal was in control, and all Peter could do was hang on.
Eyes locked on to each other, Peter felt Neal position himself and he was suddenly engulfed in hot and wet and tight.
Peter almost blacked out as all the blood in his body went right to his dick. Instinctively he thrust up, wanting, seeking more.
Neal rose up, thighs clenching, and lowered himself slowly down. He threw his head back and Peter heard him moan as Peter’s cock brushed his prostate. “So good…”
“God…Neal.” Peter pulled him down and plunged his tongue into Neal’s mouth. He felt Neal rock forward and back again, Peter’s cock being squeezed by Neal’s muscles. Breaking apart, Peter gasped for air. He was so wrapped up in Neal - Neal’s taste, Neal’s cock trapped between them, that he didn’t realize Neal was whispering.
“Not sharing you,” Neal was saying. “You belong to me.” Raising up, Neal lifted himself off Peter until just the head of his cock was still inside. Then he slammed down, moaning as Peter hit his prostate. Claiming Peter.
Again and again.
Neal fucked down on Peter faster and faster. He growled, “Mine. Say it.”
Peter couldn’t breathe. The feeling of being completely surrounded by Neal, his heat, the tightness, sent Peter barreling toward the cliff.
“Say it!” Neal shouted.
“Yours. God, yes!” Peter gasped and felt Neal come, ropes of semen splattering across their bodies. Neal’s muscles clenched, and the edges of Peter’s vision became white as his cock spasmed, shooting deep into Neal’s body, filling him.
When Peter finally regained consciousness, he found Neal sprawled across him, sweaty, sated and sleeping. Easing himself out of his lover’s body, he ran his hand through Neal’s hair and kissed his forehead. Shifting him to curl up at his side, Peter whispered “Yours…always.”
“Why am I still in here?” Peter’s grumbling didn’t faze Neal in the least. He knew Peter hated being in the hospital with an almost unholy passion. Neal couldn’t blame him – he wasn’t a fan of them either. But as close as Peter had come to dying, Neal was going to make damn sure he stayed until the doctors said he was out of danger.
Besides, El would damage the both of them if he checked Peter out AMA. Neal paged through the Sunday Times Magazine section while Peter irritably flipped through the channels on the remote. “I’m fine,” Peter groused. “I am perfectly capable of recuperating at home.”
Neal sighed. While he loved Peter the man, Neal really wasn’t fond of Peter the patient. “The doctor says they need to keep you one more night for observation.” He flipped to the book reviews. And here it comes, he thought.
“To observe what? That I can sit on my ass in a hospital bed, bored out of my skull?” Peter looked like a six-year-old who’d been put into time out. “I got cut. It got stitched up. What else is there to observe?” Neal could see that Peter was gearing up for a full-blown outburst. He put down the magazine and moved to sit on the side of the bed.
Checking to see that the door was closed, he took Peter’s face in his hands and kissed him. Nipping at his bottom lip, Neal pressed closer, wrapping his hand around the back of Peter’s neck and playing with Peter’s hair in the way that he knew he liked. Neal could feel the tension start to spiral down as Peter relaxed and leaned in to the kiss. Running the tip of his tongue across Peter’s lip, he kissed him again and then pulled away, resting his forehead against Peter’s.
“And what was that for? Not that I mind…” Peter ducked his head, and Neal saw a blush steal over his face.
Neal sat back and looked at Peter. He loved the fact that Peter still acted shy occasionally. “To forestall the inevitable,” he grinned.
“Inevitable?” Peter frowned at him.
“Yeah. You know what I mean,” Neal replied, watching the exasperation play across Peter’s face.
“…bitch session that you were ramping yourself up for. Peter, you were stabbed. You were bleeding out. It wasn’t ‘just a cut.’” Neal let his irritation show as he got up and started pacing. “It was touch and go in the ambulance.” He stopped and looked at Peter. “We almost lost you. I almost lost you.” The thought of Peter…gone…chilled his blood; made it hard to breathe.
Neal saw his own fears reflected on Peter’s face.
“Hey, come here.” Peter held his hand out and Neal returned to the bed. Peter placed his hand against Neal’s cheek and Neal took a deep breath. Even though he could smell the hospital aromas of antibacterial soap and rubbing alcohol on Peter’s skin, there was still the scent of Peter underneath, warm and comforting, and that steadied him.
“It should have been me on this op, Peter,” he said quietly, taking Peter’s hand in his. “I told you it should have been me.”
“You think it would have turned out any differently?” Peter gave him that soft smile, the one that Neal knew was only for him and Elizabeth.. “You really think if you had been in my place, Morgan wouldn’t have had a switchblade in his pocket?”
“Yes. No. Maybe. I don’t know. It just shouldn’t have been you.” Neal ran his hands through his hair in frustration.
“Neal, look at me.” Neal met Peter’s steady gaze. “I’m okay. Yes, it was a close call. I’m not going to lie to you, it was scary. But I’m here and I’m fine and nothing else is going to happen.” This time, it was Peter drawing him in for a kiss. His lips were warm and confident, sending a thrill through Neal.
“Promise?” Neal knew he sounded like a child, but he couldn’t help himself.
“Promise,” Peter replied with a grin. Neal knew he didn’t look convinced. “Ok, what can I do to make it better?”
“Don’t complain about being here. Please?” Neal replied. “El and I would rather you be in the hospital than in the morgue.”
“Fair enough. I won’t complain about being stuck in the hospital one more day on one condition.” Peter shifted a bit to one side of the bed.
“This.” Peter gently pulled Neal to lie against him, tucking Neal’s head under his chin. “I’ll relax if you relax.” Neal settled into his shoulder as he felt Peter begin to rub circles on his back. “Missed this,” Peter said. “Missed you and El. That’s why I want to be at home.”
“I know.” Neal sighed. “And I know things are going to happen. Hell, I’ve gotten shot at more times since I’ve been with you than I ever did while you were chasing me.” The rumble of Peter’s low chuckle vibrated through him. “Doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“Doesn’t mean I like it any better when you and Mozzie run off on some hare-brained scheme either, but I’ve learned to live with it...for the most part.” Neal could hear the smile in Peter’s voice. They lay quietly for a while, Peter still rubbing his thumb across Neal’s back.
“I’ll make a deal with you.” Neal looked up to see Peter smiling down at him. “I promise not to intentionally get myself injured if you promise not to blame yourself if I get hurt on the job.”
“I think I can live with that.”
“Good.” Peter brushed a kiss on the top of Neal’s head and picked up the remote. “Now let’s see what’s on TV. I think there’s a Yankees game on.”
“Baseball? C’mon, Peter. PBS is running this great special on the life of Picasso tonight.”
“When you’re the invalid, you can pick the programming.”
Neal smiled. It felt right to spar like this. Normal. “Fine, but no discussions on the benefits of the designated hitter….”
When Elizabeth arrived an hour later, she found the two of them asleep on the bed, Yankees game playing on the TV. With a smile, she kissed them both softly, covered them with the spare blanket and settled herself with her book.
Being on medical leave sucks.
Peter hobbled into the kitchen to make something to eat. The doctors wouldn’t release him to active duty for at least two weeks, and Hughes hadn’t allowed him to so much as sit at a desk even though Peter swore he was fine. His boss had said something about a forced vacation. Peter snorted at the thought. He was going stir crazy, and he didn’t even have Neal to annoy him.
His partner was wrapping up the Morgan case. They’d found him trying to escape the city in a food services truck. Neal had mentioned something about broken ribs and a black eye, but Peter thought it would be best if he didn’t know all the specifics.
Everyone had been sympathetic. His team had brought him cold cases to look through (in between bandage changes), and Elizabeth made sure he had a good supply of deviled ham in the fridge. Even Mozzie came by to keep him company (until the thought of germs finally got the best of him and he exited, spouting conspiracy theories about hospitals being the tools of the establishment in order to keep track of the masses).
But right now Peter was bored and cranky. He’d woken up feeling out of sorts and achy. Chalking it up to staying up late the night before, he took one of the pain pills the hospital had given him.
El was out of town catering a fundraising event that the buyer insisted she attend, claiming she was his “good luck charm.” She was concerned about leaving him at home, worried that he didn’t look well, but he’d convinced her to go by promising to have Neal check on him while she was gone.
Peter sighed as he opened the refrigerator door to see what leftovers might pique his interest. Deciding on breakfast for lunch, he pulled out the fixings for an omelet. Setting the milk, eggs and cheese on the counter, he bent to get a skillet from the cupboard. As he closed the cabinet door and straightened up, he felt a wave of dizziness.
Gripping the counter, he waited for it to subside. Must’ve stood up too quickly, he thought, putting the skillet on the stove. As he turned back to the refrigerator to grab some ham, his head began to spin, and black pinpricks started to blur his vision.
Need to sit down… Peter’s head felt light as he slumped against the counter. All he could think was, Have to call Neal. Reaching into his pocket, his hand curled around his phone. Hands shaking, he pulled it out, only to have it fall to the floor as his fingers lost their grip.
Peter felt his heart race and beads of sweat broke out across his forehead. Wrong….feel…..wrong. His knees gave out from under him and he crashed to the floor.
“You’ve reached Special Agent Peter Burke. I’m sorry I’ve missed your call. Please leave your name, number, and a brief message, and I’ll return your call as soon as possible”
Damn it Peter, pick up! Neal clicked the phone off and headed into the conference room where Jones and Diana were closing out the Morgan case. He’d been trying to reach Peter for the last half hour to get clarification some points they needed to wrap up the report. Texts and calls had gone unanswered, and Neal was getting worried.
Diana looked up from the computer as he entered the conference room. “Any luck?” she asked.
“No, and I’m getting worried,” Neal said as he walked around the table to look over her shoulder. “You know he’d have called us at least three times by now.” His brow furrowed. “Elizabeth said she thought he looked kind of off when she left this morning, but he insisted that she still go.”
“Try calling him back,” Jones suggested. “They gave him pretty strong pain meds. Maybe he took one and crashed.”
Neal leaned over and pressed the button for the outside line on the conference room phone. Once he heard the dial tone, he quickly punched in Peter’s number. As he waited for the phone to ring, a cold chill passed over him and he shivered. C’mon Peter…
“You’ve reached Special Agent Peter Burke…”
Neal disconnected the phone. “I’m going over there. Something’s not right.” He started to leave the conference room.
“Wait.” Diana closed the lid of the laptop. “I’ll drive you. It’s faster than catching a cab. Jones -.”
“I’ll let Hughes know where you are if he asks.” Jones grinned at her.
“Thanks,” Diana smiled as they hurried out to the elevator.
Neal fidgeted, pushing the down button repeatedly. He caught Diana watching him. “I’m just worried,” he replied by way of an answer.
“I know you are,” she said, putting her hand on his arm. “He’s fine, Neal. He’s probably just sleeping and turned the phone off.” Neal knew her smile was meant to be reassuring, but until he saw that Peter was ok, Neal couldn’t relax.
The ride to Peter’s house was tense. Neal’s calls kept going to voicemail, and he knew that, with every attempt he was raising the stress level in the car. Diana drove as fast as traffic would allow, weaving in and out of the cars like a Formula One driver.
As they pulled up to the Burke’s, Neal jumped out of the car before Diana had a chance to stop. Bounding up the front stoop, he pounded on the door, shouting Peter’s name. There was no response.
Neal could hear Satchmo barking frantically and scratching at the door. He reached into his pocket to pull out his lock pick set, and his heart sank into his stomach. His pocket was empty. Shit! His set was in his overcoat…which was sitting back at the office. </i>Stupid. Stupid! </i>
“He’s not answering, Diana.” he said as she hurried up the steps. His voice was rough with worry. “You know Peter would have heard me pounding, even from upstairs.”
“So pick the lock,” she said, gesturing to the door.
“I can’t! My set’s in my coat at the office!” Neal slammed his hand against the door in frustration. “Damn it!” Thinking quickly, he grabbed Diana’s hand and hurried down the steps. “Elizabeth keeps a spare key around back.”
They made their way around the house to the gate at the back. Neal pushed at the gate but it didn’t budge. “Great! It’s locked.”
“Hang on,” Diana said. Before he could ask her what she was doing, she took several steps back, and then ran toward the fence. She leaped and was able to pull herself over to the other side where she unlatched the door and opened it to let Neal in.
Neal gave a low whistle. “I’m impressed. Quantico?”
“Nope,” Diana grinned. “Avoiding the nanny.”
They hurried to the deck, where Elizabeth had several pots of flowers strategically placed. “Where is it…?” Neal murmured as he bent down and began to lift the pots.
“Neal,” Diana’s voice had a strange sound to it. “You need to hurry.”
He glanced up at her and saw that she was looking through the glass in the door. Her face was pale. Standing up, he followed her gaze.
With the curtain obscuring his view, for a moment he wasn’t sure what he was looking at. He saw Satchmo nosing at something on the floor. His gut clenched when he realized it was a hand. Peter’s hand.
“Shit!” Neal grabbed a small clay pot and swung it at the door, shattering the glass. Reaching in, he flipped the lock and pushed open the door, Diana right behind him.
Peter was lying on the kitchen floor, a carton of eggs broken at his side. Satchmo was licking his hand and whining pitifully. Neal knelt down next to Peter and felt for a pulse. It was weak and thready. Neal could hear that Peter’s breathing was shallow and raspy, and he could feel the heat radiating off of his partner’s body. Diana was already on the phone to 9-1-1.
“He’s got a pulse,” he said. “Tell them he’s burning up.” Gently he shook Peter. “C’mon buddy, wake up.” Peter stirred and moaned a bit, but didn’t regain consciousness.
“Paramedics are on their way, Neal.” Diana’s hand briefly squeezed his shoulder. “You stay with him. I’m going to wait at the front to let them in.”
Neal slumped to the floor next to Peter. He felt helpless. None of his skills as a con man or forger could fix this. All he could think about was that he should have been here. He didn’t even want to imagine how long Peter had been lying on the kitchen floor, no one realizing that he’d collapsed.
Afraid he’d make things worse if he moved him, Neal put his hand on Peter’s head and gently began stroking his hair. Closing his eyes, Neal began to pray to whatever gods that would listen that Peter would pull through.
Neal was waiting for Elizabeth when she blew through the doors of the emergency room like a hurricane. He’d called her while the ambulance was on its way to the hospital, trying his best to be calm so she wouldn’t worry. She saw right through him, called bullshit, and told him she would be there in an hour. Watching her rush towards him, heels clicking on the tile floor, power suit molded to her curves, he felt like he could finally let his composure slip.
Ignoring whoever might be watching, Neal pulled her into his arms. Having seen her in action, calmly orchestrating corporate events for a thousand people, it always amazed him how petite she felt when he held her. She wrapped her arms around him and they stood there for a moment, breathing each other in. Elizabeth leaned back and looked up. “Peter?” she asked. Neal could see the worry in her eyes.
“He’s stable,” he said. “That’s all they would tell me.” She sobbed quietly in relief. “C’mon. Let’s sit.” Taking her hand, he led her to a waiting area and they sat next to each other. Neal's hands were shaking. El took them in hers, linking their fingers. Neal heard her take a deep breath.
“Ok,” she said. “Tell me what happened.”
“El...." Neal couldn't get the words out past the tightness in his throat.
"Neal, look at me." He felt El's eyes on him as he took a deep breath and met her gaze. "From the beginning."
"I'd been trying to call him all morning. We...we had questions about the report. He wasn't answering my texts or calls." Neal stood up and began to pace.
“Diana and I drove over to the house.” He stopped and looked at her. “We had to break in…I broke the window in the back door - I’m sorry.”
Elizabeth smiled and held out her hand. “It’s okay. Come sit back down, Neal.” He took her hand and sat next to her. She put her arm around him and caressed his temple. Neal took several more deep breaths, trying not to break down, but it was a futile gesture.
“El…he was on the floor.” The tears that he had been trying to avoid finally began spilling down his cheeks. “He was passed out on the floor. I don’t…I don’t even know how long he’d been there.” He turned to her and buried his face in her neck. Neal felt her hold him; heard her gentle words of comfort wash over him like a summer rainstorm.
Regaining some self-control, he sat back and wiped his eyes. “I’m sorry…” She shushed him with a finger to his lips.
“No apologies, Neal.” Elizabeth pressed a kiss to his forehead. “You did nothing wrong.”
“But I wasn’t there, El!” His eyes locked with hers. “I should have been. This wouldn’t have happened if I had been there.”
He saw Elizabeth’s eyes narrow like she was struck with a thought. “This isn’t about today, is it?”
“This isn’t about Peter being in the hospital this time. This is about Peter getting stabbed. This is about you not being there when he got hurt.”
“What would you have done?” Her words were an echo of what Peter had said to him the last time they were in the hospital. “Gotten yourself stabbed instead?”
“I could have done something!” Neal could feel the anger and helplessness well up inside of him like a cold fire.
“You did, Neal. You saved him. If you hadn’t gotten to him when you did, he’d have died. Then and now.”
“But it wasn’t enough, El. He’s back here. If I’d just gotten there sooner...”
“Neal,” Elizabeth interrupted him. “You can’t always protect him.”
“Why not? Why can’t I?”
“How would you go about doing that? Would you wrap him up in a box and put him in a closet for safe keeping?”
“If I had to!” Neal knew he sounded petulant.
She chuckled and took his hands again. “Oh, Neal, I know how you feel. I know you love him. But do you think that’s what Peter would want?”
“No...No,” he grudgingly admitted.
He remembered the conversation they’d had about how different Peter’s life would have been if he’d taken a corporate job. He sighed and pulled Elizabeth closer to him so he could rest his chin on her head. “How do you deal with it? Is it always going to be this way?”
“Oh sweetie, I wish I could tell you it gets easier. It doesn’t. I worry about the both of you constantly.” She turned to look at him. He saw the concern in her eyes – the anxiety that Peter’s condition was serious.
Elizabeth spoke, her voice trembling. “Do I get scared? Yes. But I know that no matter what, you both will do whatever needs to be done to come home safe to me. And that faith gives me the strength to let you both walk out that door every day.”
“Mrs. Burke, has anyone told you lately that you are the most amazing woman who ever lived?” Neal took her hand, gently kissed her palm and folded it over like a gift.
They were interrupted by the doctor. “Mrs. Burke? I’m Dr. Fredricks. I have an update on your husband.” The doctor sat down and flipped through Peter’s chart. “We’ve gotten the lab results back. Agent Burke contracted a staph infection, most likely due to his knife wound. If left untreated, staph can morph into sepsis, which is what happened with your husband.”
Neal saw Elizabeth pale. “That’s bad, right?” She grabbed Neal’s hand. His stomach lurched.
“It can be,” the doctor said. “But we caught it before it became septicemia. We’ve placed Agent Burke on some heavy duty antibiotics to take care of the infection. He’ll have to stay in intensive care as a precaution, but the regimen we’ve got him on should clear up the infection quickly.”
“Why wasn’t this caught when he was in the hospital before?” Neal asked angrily.
“Caffrey,” Neal growled. “I’m his partner.”
“Mr. Caffrey, dormant staph bacteria is commonly found in most people. It’s entirely possible that Agent Burke didn’t develop his infection until he got home, or else didn’t show symptoms before he got discharged,” Dr. Fredricks explained. “Given the fact that his body experienced the trauma of being stabbed, having that open wound, in addition to the blood loss, could have weakened him enough for the infection to take hold.”
The doctor stood up to leave. “Don’t worry, Mr. Caffrey, we’ll take good care of your partner.” He paused and looked at Neal and Elizabeth. “Agent Burke’s a lucky man. If you hadn’t found him when you did, things could have been a lot worse. Give us another half hour to get him settled and then you can go up to his room.”
After a cup of what Neal swore was the world’s worst coffee, and a forty-five minute wait, they were finally allowed to see Peter.
The lights in Peter’s hospital room were dim, casting a shadow over the sleeping man. Neal was shocked at how pale he looked. Elizabeth’s gasp mirrored his own dismay.
“Remember, they said he’s going to be fine,” he said softly to her. “Big, bad Peter Burke would never let a pesky infection get the better of him. It’s who he is. You told me that.” Neal knew he sounded off-hand, and he could tell by Elizabeth’s chuckle that he’d hit the right tone with his words.
Peter’s eyes opened at her laugh. “Hey, you two,” he whispered. “Where...”
“You’re back in the hospital,” Elizabeth said.
“Guess you didn’t get enough of the institutional pudding the first time around,” Neal added.
Peter laughed weakly. “Guess not. What happened?”
“You contracted a staph infection that turned into sepsis, and I…I found you passed out on your kitchen floor.”
“Yeah….I remember….feeling really bad.” Peter closed his eyes for a moment. Neal saw him lick his lips.
“You look thirsty,” he said. Peter raised an eyebrow and smiled at the cheesy line. That smile was the best thing Neal had seen all day.
“Cute. But yeah, I could use some water.” Neal raised the head of the bed so Peter could sit up while Elizabeth filled a glass with water, put a straw in it and guided it to Peter’s lips.
“You’re going have to be here for a while,” Neal said as Peter drank.
Peter waved off the cup eventually and closed his eyes again. “Yeah, I figured as much.”
“You’re not going to argue, are you?” Elizabeth was wearing her no-nonsense face that Neal knew scared grown men on a regular basis.
“No, hon. I feel too crappy to argue.” Peter sighed. “In fact, Neal, could you lower the bed? I think I need to catch some shut-eye.”
“Sure.” Neal lowered the head of the bed back down as Elizabeth got Peter settled. The charge nurse appeared at that moment to let them know that visiting hours were over.
“We’ll be back in the morning, hon.” Elizabeth blew Peter a kiss. Neal began to do the same thing, but the glare on Peter’s face stopped him.
“What, no kiss?” Peter snorted. Neal grinned. As he turned to go, he heard Peter softly call his name. “Yeah?”
“For always being there.” Peter’s voice was rough. “For me. When it counts.”
Neal looked at Peter and saw the love shining in his eyes.