A/N: Thanks so much to everyone who reviewed last chapter. In the beginning, as posted, I was planning on it being just a oneshot. But once I uploaded it, it felt sort of incomplete. A bunch of you guys agreed, so we got this. It isn't as long, but I hope you like it!
Neal protested as Peter led him out of the building. They'd finished the interview and found one more thing they could go check, but Peter said they weren't going to. "Peter, I've waited this long, can't we just check out this last lead?"
"Nope," Peter said, holding Neal's elbow gently but firmly. "We're taking you to the clinic."
"I don't need-"
"Fine." Neal quietly sulked for appearances' sake, but inwardly he was grateful. He nodded to Peter slightly as they got back into the Taurus, hoping some of the gratitude showed through.
"So is there anything other than your arms and ribs?" Peter asked nonchalantly. Neal picked up a hint of concern and nodded reluctantly.
"My back, where they shoved me against the wall. That's it though."
"We'll get it checked out."
"Right..." Neal nodded slightly and looked out the window silently as they drove.
It took a while, but they got in to see a doctor. In spite of the slight difficulty Neal had breathing, it was concluded he just had severe bruising on his ribs.
"That's a relief," Neal muttered half-sarcastically as the doctor left them back in the waiting room with the directions to put ice on them and be careful not to let them get any more damaged.
"It is," Peter said sternly, looking a little miffed. "They could have just as easily been broken, Neal, you should consider yourself lucky your recklessness didn't get you something worse than bruises."
"I know," Neal said with a quiet nod.
Peter let out a sigh. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to snap." He shrugged very slightly. "I'm just... Never mind." Neal looked up. Worried. Peter's eyes couldn't hide the word from Neal. He nodded, understanding that it was hard for Peter to say something like that out loud but feeling the strange but welcome warm feeling of being cared for sweep over him.
"It's okay," Neal said with a slight smile. Peter smiled back and put one hand on Neal's shoulder.
He seemed to hesitate before speaking. "I don't want you getting too... involved with the rest of this, if we can help it. It's not safe."
"I just want to get them," Neal said. Peter looked mulish but nodded and removed his hand from Neal's shoulder getting into his car. Neal felt the absence of the grounding force sharply, but he got in as well.
"Where are we going?" Neal inquired after a moment.
"You're going to my house. El will be glad for your company." Peter hadn't seemed to mention himself.
"Where are you going?"
"Back to the Headquarters."
Neal felt a flash of alarm. "Peter, you don't have t-"
Peter shook his head. "I'm going to."
"Be careful," Neal said in an impossibly quiet voice. Peter heard it anyway and nodded, brown gaze softening slightly as he did so.
"Feel any better?" Elizabeth asked gently, handing Neal a glass of water.
"Yeah," he said, nodding appreciatively and suppressing a wince. He hated being fussed over, but Elizabeth's kind nature made it more bearable. Peter had stalked off almost immediately after dropping Neal off. Neal watched him go, worried.
Neal was touched; he really, truly was. But he didn't want Peter to get in trouble for trying to help him. It was as Neal had noted before. Who would take his word over theirs? Even with Peter on his side it would be less than compelling. Apparently some agents already thought Peter's judgement was compromised.
"Thank you, El," Neal said, smiling slightly at her as she sat down next to him.
"It's no trouble," she promised, smiling back. Her eyes held worry. "I'm just glad you're alright." Anger clouded her gaze. "Four on one is just cowardly. Peter will get them, Neal, don't worry."
"I'm not," he lied. It wasn't that he didn't trust Peter, he just didn't trust the other parties involved. At all. He leaned back against the couch gingerly and sipped the water, smiling reassuringly at Elizabeth.
A few moments later, Peter walked back into the door. There was a grimly pleased air about him, and he sat down in the chair across from Neal and Elizabeth.
"How're you feeling?" He asked Neal, concern creeping into his determined brown eyes.
"Better," Neal said with a quiet, grateful look.
"So? What happened?" Elizabeth asked curiously, sounding slightly apprehensive.
"I talked to Jones and Diana," Peter said. "They want to help." Immense gratitude swept through Neal and he nodded.
"Do we have a plan?" He asked.
"We do," Peter said, almost reluctantly. "But I don't know if you'll like it."
"I trust you," Neal said. Peter nodded slowly. "So go ahead, tell me."
"Alright." Peter shook off whatever thoughts had been floating around his mind and focused on Neal. "First off, we've got to meet them out in the van..."
Peter shifted in the surveillance van, still not in love with the plan. He looked over at Neal, who was sitting in the back with Jones and Diana.
"You're sure you want to do this?" He asked. He studied Neal's expression, trying to guess the feelings behind the facade, and his eyes fell upon the sharp bruise. Anger flooded through him again, followed by worry. It was a bad idea, sending Neal back in. He'd not been completely sold on it himself, but they hadn't been able to come up with a better alternative. And Neal had jumped on it when he was brought up to speed. So they were going to go for it.
"Positive," Neal said firmly. Peter knew there must be traces of hesitation in there somewhere, but he couldn't detect them.
"Then good luck," Jones said sincerely.
"You've got the wire switched on?" Diana asked. Neal nodded.
"Yeah. Are you getting the transmission?" He inquired, letting out a breath that betrayed nervousness.
"We're getting it," Peter confirmed. He saw Diana gently squeezed Neal's hand as she pressed a backup transmitter into it.
"You can do this," she murmured. Neal nodded again and gave them a mock salute.
"See you in a few," he said.
"Good luck," Peter called after him. The van door closed and Peter let out a breath.
"He'll be okay, boss," Jones said.
"I hope so," Peter murmured.
"I'm in the elevator," Neal said over the wire. "Here goes nothing." Peter half-wanted to just tell Neal to get out of there. More than half, if he was honest with himself. It was unlikely they'd get enough usable evidence without some further injury being dealt to his consultant. He didn't like that, not at all.
"Be careful, Caffrey," Peter muttered.
"What are you doing here?" He heard a voice he recognized as Ian Jensen's demand.
"I'm just here for a little meeting," Neal replied smoothly. Jensen cursed at him.
"You set the memo up?"
"Me? No, I got one too." Neal still sounded so calm, in spite of everything. Peter found himself gripping the arms of his chair as the confrontation continued.
"Liar," Agent Rolland said, and there was a slight thud. Peter didn't know if it had been Neal or a chair, or something else entirely. His finger dug further into the chair as he waited.
"We've been waiting here for two hours, Caffrey," Jensen said, spitting Neal's name in a way that made Peter want to throttle him more than he already had.
"That's... unfortunate," Neal replied. From the slight breathless quality to his voice, Peter guessed it hadn't been a chair that had hit the wall.
"So you still haven't learned your place, I see," Agent Hall said disdainfully.
"It's a shame," Jensen agreed. "I thought you would've from last time."
"Come on, keep going," Peter muttered.
"I guess we'll just have to beat it into you more thoroughly," the agent he'd discovered to be Bryce Weber.
"That's it. Jones, you wait here and make sure it keeps recording. Diana, you're with me."
"Alright," Diana said. There was a sudden creaking noise from the outside of the van and Peter opened the door with alarm to see a tow truck starting on it.
"Hey!" He protested, pulling out his badge. "FBI, we need to be here." He hadn't realized they'd parked in a restricted zone.
From the speakers in the corner of the van, Peter heard the agents continuing to taunt Neal, and a muffled noise of pain filtered through.
"Just leave the van there!" Peter ordered, running toward the building. Jones could take care of it. He had bigger things to worry about.
"What are you doing here?" Agent Jensen demanded the moment Neal stepped into the conference room, all nervousness hidden safely away behind an even smile.
"I'm just here for a little meeting," Neal replied in a tone that matched his expression flawlessly. Jensen clenched one fist and swore.
"You set the memo up?"
"Me?" Neal feigned confusion. "No, I got one too." He shrugged slightly, hands in pockets carelessly.
"Liar," Agent Rolland said through gritted teeth. He shoved Neal backward against the wall and Neal collided with a thud.
"We've been waiting here for two hours, Caffrey," Jensen hissed dangerously.
"That's... unfortunate," Neal replied, trying to remain unruffled in spite of the increasingly sharp pain in his ribs.
"So you still haven't learned your place, I see," Agent Hall said, narrowing his eyes.
"It's a shame," Jensen agreed, taking a slow step forward. "I thought you would've from last time."
"I guess we'll just have to beat it into you more thoroughly." The man Peter had told Neal was Agent Weber stepped forward and Neal clenched his teeth slightly.
Alright, that should be what Peter needs. He should get up here any minute.
But Peter didn't come still as Neal was pinned to the wall again. As he struggled slightly, he unhappily noted that they'd compensated to prevent any escapes.
"You should've stayed up with your non-violent crimes friends," Weber said, eyes flashing. A fist sank into his stomach and he winced as the pain reverberated back into his previous injuries.
Peter is coming. The mantra was repeated in his head over the next agonizingly slow moments. Peter is coming.
Finally, just as Jensen lifted a clenched fist to hit Neal again, the door burst open.
"Stop right there," Peter said, gun out. Relief poured through Neal as the four agents stepped back from him. With their hands no longer holding him forcibly up, he sank down slightly against the wall, breathing irregular.
Diana came in a few seconds behind Peter, looking furious.
"You four are under arrest for assault charges against a member of the bureau," Peter said, pulling out his cuffs.
"He's a consultant," Hall protested with open mockery.
"He's our consultant," Peter said icily, glancing at Diana. She nodded.
"NYPD is on their way," she murmured. Within a few minutes there were several cops in the room, cuffing the remaining two agents and escorting them down to waiting patrol cars, Diana following along to make sure it went smoothly. Neal pushed himself away from the wall.
"Did you get enough?" He quietly inquired of Peter, his hands shaking slightly as he put them in his pockets to hide it. His ribs were on fire, and his arms were an unpleasant mix of numbness and pain. Not to mention his cheekbone and back. But he just gave a smile, which he hoped was only slightly strained. Peter nodded.
"Yeah, we got enough." There was a split second of silence, then Peter wrapped one arm gently around Neal's shoulder and gave him a steadying, sideways hug. Neal felt the sensation of being grounded again, of being safe. His breathing evened out slightly and he glanced up at Peter.
"Thank you for doing this," he said sincerely. Peter nodded, eyes holding a mix of accomplishment and concern.
"I'm just sorry I had to put you at risk again to accomplish it." The sideways hug shifted into Peter supporting Neal discreetly as they walked. Neal was grateful for it in spite of his need to feel independent. The pain and lingering tiredness didn't help with coordination.
"I knew you would come in time, though," Neal said.
"I almost didn't," Peter countered.
"The almost doesn't matter." Neal shrugged slightly. He winced as he sat down in the front seat of the surveillance van, which, for some reason, had been moved forward roughly a dozen feet.
"Hm." Peter eyed Neal critically and Neal turned on the pleading charm.
"I'm alright, Peter, I just need rest," Neal said with a smile, knowing Peter was contemplating the doctor.
"Okay," Peter said reluctantly. Then he raised an eyebrow. "But from now on, keep your pranks contained in the White Collar Unit only. The other divisions don't have the same gracious sense of humor we do."
Neal laughed genuinely for the first time in over twenty-four hours. "That I can do."