Knockin' on Heaven's Door

El's POV

Why? Why wouldn't this blood come off of my hands? Why did it have to be Neal's blood? What was going on? I couldn't answer any of those questions and yet colleagues of Peter were asking me near the same thing. I just…I didn't have any answers. Someone asked something, probably another one of those why questions and I just couldn't take it anymore. My hands slapped down onto my thighs and I threw myself onto my feet with a puff of air.

"I don't know!" It came out as a half snarled shout, but I was so frustrated, so worried, so…not in control. Everyone stopped, I didn't look at them but I could feel their eyes on my flesh, feel the tension in the air as they stopped and wondered if I was a crazy woman. Lauren came up and slid a hand onto my shoulder.

"Come on Mrs. Burke, let's take a break." She directed me to the kitchen where I half melted against the counter, hands finding my face and blocking out the light as well as the other agents.

"Thank you." It is barely a whisper but I had to tell her, had to let her know I wasn't completely inhuman right now.

"You're welcome. I know it is a lot to take in, it's stressful and you're worried enough as it is. Let's just take a moment, would you like some tea?" I didn't voice an answer but apparently I nodded because she started a kettle. "Alright." She handed me a mug and both of us sat down. "How about we try this differently? Tell me what you know."

I swallowed and held the mug with both hands, the warmth from the tea seemed to fill my body and with it my story just rolled out in a steamy wave. "It started like everything seems to start. Just another day in a long line of days, waking up with Peter, getting ready for work, and having breakfast. You know, the normal. Peter left, but I wasn't feeling too hot so I stayed home. At some point Peter called to tell me that Neal hadn't shown up and was on his way to our house. He told me to lock the doors and wait for him. Later he came through the back and startled me a bit, then we heard what sounded like a knock on the door. It was Neal and he was…he…"

Lauren leaned forward and placed her hand on my arm, giving it a gentle squeeze. "That's good, it's alright. We don't need to talk about that. You…ready to go to the hospital?" I swallowed and offered a nod.

It wasn't a long ride, it was silent, but it wasn't long before the hospital loomed before me. It felt like the hospital always did, a cold reminder that something was wrong. Walking through the glass doors took my breath away, the smell of pure oxygen was mixed with a darker smell. It is hard to describe but you smell it in most healthcare facilities, something not entirely clean yet not entirely human.

Peter was sitting in one of the chairs in the waiting room, his face pressed to his hands and his back arched as if he'd been sobbing. He probably he had, God he looked so pained. He was wearing scrubs and he seemed to have gotten most of the blood off of his arms, but they were bright red as if he'd forced the liquid off. I don't think he was expecting me to touch him, to kneel before him and cup his cheeks in my hands, because he jumped and tried to push me away before he realized who I was.

"Peter?" I must have sounded entirely too worried because he seemed to melt, his hands slid across mine and up my arms. He looked like he had been broken, or beaten but definitely not like he normally did. "Peter? Sweetie, talk to me."

He closed his eyes and his head buried further into my hands. I feared the worst, fearing that Neal hadn't made it to the hospital in time. That he was dead, that he had never held the chance to live once he hit our doorstep.

"Who would do this to him, El?" I let out a breath and leaned forward, pressing a soft kiss to my husband's forehead even as he continued talking. "He was my responsibility, I'm supposed to protect him and this happens…"

I slid my fingers along his cheek, pulling his face up so that our eyes met. "This is not your fault Peter Burke. Do you understand me? You will not blame yourself for this. We'll find out what happened, we'll find out who did this to Neal. And I know that you will do whatever is in your power to bring them to justice, but you will not blame yourself. You can't."

I was going to continue when a doctor came out in surgical scrubs, blood smeared over the sleeves and mask still obscuring their face. "Caffrey?" I let out a breath and stood.

"We're with Neal Caffrey." The doctor nodded and removed the mask.

"We were able to extract as much of the bullet as possible and stop the bleeding. He's in recovery now, but he isn't out of the woods just yet. He took a lot of damage and lost a lot of blood. We'll know more as he recovers but for now he is stable. He'll be moved to the ICU shortly, and until he can take visitors you're welcome to wait in the ICU waiting room. I'll be able to tell you more in a few hours."

I could feel Peter grip my hand like it was going to run off, his grip was tight and near painful but I didn't say anything. I let him pull me against him and bury his head into my neck again, he was crying. I knew without seeing the tears that were silently falling. It wasn't great news, but it was news. News that perhaps Neal still could make it, that perhaps he could still protect his charge and that our friend would be alright. I wrapped my hands around him and pressed my lips to his cheek before he pulled away, still clutching my hand.

"I have to go El," he seemed determined, "I need to talk to Mozzie and get with the team to find out what happened to Neal. Do you think you could stay here?"

"Sweet heart, I wouldn't be caught anywhere else." He slid my hand against his cheek gently then leaned forward to kiss his forehead. "Take care of yourself, I don't need two of you in here."