Title: Distracted When I Spike The Punch
Author: TeeJay
Genre: Gen
Characters/Pairings: Neal, Peter, Elizabeth
Written for: nefhiriel for the LiveJournal collarcorner Prompt Fest Round 6
Prompt/Request: Pre-Whumped Neal & Spiked Punch
Would like: Essentially, something along the lines of kriadydragon's "Didn't See This Coming" done in the WC 'verse, with Neal in Sheppard's place. So, in a nutshell: Neal's on pain meds (for whatever reason you like, so long as it's minor enough for him to be up and about), but manages to drag himself to a party, and winds up drinking punch that's been secretly spiked by a party-goer as a prank. Neal has a major reaction to the alcohol due to the drugs he's on. Cue life-saving measures, and then H/C (pretty please). Huge bonus points for outraged, angry Peter giving the culprit(s) a thorough chewing out. Elizabeth also being present, and going all "mama bear," would also be MUCH love. :D
Don't Want: The story to be predominantly humorous (apart from the obvious irony for poor Neal in going to a party to relax, and nearly getting killed by the punch instead). I.e., no Neal just getting dopey on the spiked punch and doing/saying embarrassing things.
Rating: PG-13
Warning: You might not want to read this if you have a problem with medical squick. And, uhm, yes, there will be Neal!Whump.
Summary: A migraine, a reception, punch that was spiked. A potentially hazardous combination for some, certainly a dangerous combination for Neal Caffrey.
Author's Note: First off, I didn't read kriadydragon's story before I wrote this one. (I've never even watched SGA, so...) Any similarities beyond the basic premise as given by nefhiriel above are strictly coincidental.
The title of this story is a snippet from a Panic! At The Disco song that I happen to like very much. There's more Panic! At The Disco lyrics interspersed throughout the story, but they're not essential because this isn't strictly a songfic. (Also, thanks for making me listen to that album again, I had forgotten how much I liked it.)
So, yeah, another Neal!Whump story. I'm starting to feel a little self-conscious about this. The compulsion to put the poor man through physical ailments time and again is slightly disconcerting. But let's face it. I'm a Neal!Whump and h/c junkie, ain't no way denying that. And if I could, I would sincerely apologize to the man. And maybe this is my twisted, yet productive way of voodoo-dolling. (Maybe I'm overanalyzing this, too.)
I know squat about the American justice system, so I hope what I wrote isn't too bogus. I mean, I know, Google is your friend, but there's only so much time I wanna spend on nailbitingly boring law stuff.
Thanks go out to the amazingly fast, encouraging and awesome rabidchild67 for the beta read.
White Collar, its characters and its settings belong to Jeff Eastin and USA Network. And, guys? Your characters are not only welcome, they're wonderful. I'm just borrowing, I promise.

Please leave all overcoats, canes and top hats with the doorman.
From that moment you'll be out of place and underdressed.
I'm wrecking this evening already and loving every minute of it.
Ruining this banquet for the mildly inspiring and...

There were few things Neal hated more than mortgage fraud cases. One of them was migraines.

He'd already known it was going to hit when he got up that morning. He couldn't even really say why. There was just... something, a foreboding he knew not to ignore. So he'd downed some aspirin and waited for the onslaught.

The painkillers helped, but didn't prevent. The impaired visual field was the first messenger. The pain soon followed. At least this one was bearable, and he'd made it through the day by taking more aspirin (the maximum recommended dose), chasing them first with Coke, then later, coffee. Sometimes caffeine had a beneficial effect.

Neal wasn't sure if Peter had noticed, but there was little that got by Peter. So Neal was quietly thankful that Peter had taken it easy on him, even sent him home early with the vague excuse that everything had been wrapped up for the day and there was no reason for Neal to stick around.

Neal hadn't said no. At home he'd curled up in bed and just endured, drifting in and out of sleep.

The next morning, the dull ache that seemed to reverberate through his head still persisted, though noticeably less in intensity. Not unusual, so Neal didn't worry and took more aspirin. This, too, would pass.

In the office, he had to undergo Peter's scrutiny (because, yes, of course he had noticed), so Neal smiled and faked it, as he was wont to do. He wasn't sure if it worked, but if it didn't, Peter wasn't letting on.

With a slight feeling of dread, he thought of the evening ahead. The reception. It wasn't an undercover thing, it was a favor to Elizabeth he'd agreed to. Not grudgingly at the time, of course. The chance to excel, fraternize, impress—it was Neal's element, and he rarely turned down the opportunity. Plus, it was outside his radius, and he'd always wanted to see Fox Hall Manor from the inside.

Now, however, he kinda wished he'd declined. Judging from experience, the migraine's aftershock would rear its ugly head. It sometimes came with nausea, if he was lucky, just more pain. With apprehension, he swallowed more painkillers and hoped for the best. He had rummaged around his medication drawer, but hadn't found any antacids. Aspirin had a way of wreaking havoc on his stomach, but he figured he had to make do with what he had.

Come evening, he chose a particularly elegant Devore, the one that went best with the dark purple dress shirt and black, skinny tie. They'd arranged for limousine pickup, and Neal leaned back in the dark leather seat, silently thanking the universe for a receding headache and the invention of analgesics.

And I know, and I know, it just doesn't feel like a night out with no one sizing you up.
I've never been so surreptitious, so of course you'll be distracted when I spike the punch.

The reception was marvelous. Elizabeth, in a shiny, burgundy dress Neal knew her friend Constance had designed, looked glamorous and positively glowed with energy. Even Peter was there, which surprised Neal, but Elizabeth could still persuade him on rare occasions to join her for these kinds of events, especially the important ones.

Neal knew the competition for the event had been fierce. Elizabeth was up against the most prestigious event planners in town, but it had partly been her luck that the host had wanted a planning company with a more personal, familial touch. Another part were good references and recommendations. Word of mouth had a lot of power in this business.

Neal couldn't help but marvel at what Elizabeth and her team had done with the place. Everything seemed perfect, and the guests radiated happiness and mirth. Neal declined the champagne because while you could argue his recklessness radar was off sometimes, he wasn't stupid. Mixing alcohol and painkillers was never a good idea.

A server whisked by with a tray of canapés, and Neal indicated for him to stop so he could pick one or two to sample. More than ever, he wished he would have remembered to stock up on antacids, because the sudden bouts of heartburn were now almost as bad as the migraine.

Still, he put on his best smile and pushed through. It would take more than a little stomach trouble to ruin this night—Elizabeth's night.

Speaking of the devil, she sidled up to him. "Neal, glad you're here."

"Elizabeth," he greeted her brightly. "This is magnificent."

"Thank you," she beamed. "You need to try the champagne, it's exquisite."

He declined with a wave of his hand. "No, thanks."

She looked at him questioningly. Neal Caffrey rarely turned down an alcoholic beverage, let alone one so tasteful. "Something wrong with the champagne?"

"No, no. I'm just not... in the mood for alcohol tonight."

Elizabeth frowned, but let it go. "Well, in that case, why don't you try the punch. No alcohol, but still delicious. The caterer's special recipe."

"Sounds excellent, I will definitely sample it."

One of the guests called Elizabeth's name and took her aside, and Neal was left on his own again. He looked around for Peter, who was engrossed in conversation with a couple Neal didn't know. And since he actually looked comfortable, Neal decided not to interrupt.

He strode over to one of the three bar booths they had set up for the guests to get their drinks and asked the bar tender for the punch. Elizabeth had been right, the sparkling punch was indeed good. And whatever they had used in lieu of alcohol, it still had a certain kick to it. Some recipe indeed.

The evening went by in a blur of pleasant conversations, genuine smiles and gentle laughs. The waiters were attentive and easy on the refills. After two glasses of punch, Neal started to enjoy himself even more, because his headache had all but died down to barely noticeable background noise in the confines of his skull.

The acid reflux still persisted, but he ignored it as best as he could. He didn't worry too much that was he starting to feel a little lightheaded, which he attributed to the fact that, save for the two or three bites of finger food before, he'd not had any real food since breakfast. Migraines had a way of messing with his appetite.

It was when he strolled up to join Peter, praising Elizabeth's event planning skills and engaging in their usual jocular banter, that another wave of heartburn hit—this time accompanied with a pang of pain so sharp that Neal actually flinched.

A concerned frown momentarily flitted across Peter's brow. "You okay?"

Neal quickly recovered, putting on one of his best concealing smiles. "Yeah, I'm having a great time. You're uncharacteristically chipper, in spite of the fact that you hate these functions."

"I hate to break it to you, but you're not the only one who can feign interest and engage in small talk."

Neal flashed a grin. "Peter, I've underestimated you."

"A mistake that landed you in prison, if I recall correctly. I didn't think you'd make it again so soon."

"Well, that is certainly—" Neal could barely hide the next onslaught of acid reflux behind a sudden cough. It was less than graceful, but he hoped inconspicuous enough.

It earned him another questioning look from Peter. "Are you sure you're feeling all right?"

"Yeah, fine." He forced another smile. "Excuse me a moment," he muttered, then made a beeline for the restroom. He was sure Peter was watching him escape. He desperately needed to get his rebelling stomach under control, because a worried Peter was never a good thing.

Inside the restroom, Neal just barely made it to the sink, doing his best not to double over. He grabbed the rim with one hand for support, holding the other to his stomach. This was not good.

He panted, waiting for the stomach cramp to pass. It finally did, and he straightened up, too frayed to care about how pallid his face appeared looking back at him in the mirror.

A minute longer, and he was fairly confident that this had been the worst of it. He splashed cold water on his face, drying it off with a towel. A sigh of relief had barely left his lips when another wave of pain shot through his intestines, this one so sharp that he couldn't suppress a moan. Shit, it had never been this bad.

He felt his knees go weak, stars started to dance in front of his eyes. He couldn't help but sink to the floor, his back against the wood-paneled wall. His breath came out in panting gasps and he bent forward with one hand clasped to his stomach.

It was like this that Peter found him a few minutes later, deeply rooted concern written all over his face. For a fleeting moment, Neal thought that maybe a worrying Peter wasn't such a bad thing after all.


He barely heard his name over the whooshing in his ears.

"Neal," Peter repeated. "What's wrong? Are you hurt?"

"Stomach cramps," Neal managed to say through clenched teeth.

Peter crouched down next to him, a warm hand on his cheek lifting his chin up just a little. "Jesus," Peter half whispered. "What can I do? What do you need?"

"Pepto Bismol. Or antacids."

"Are you sure you don't want me to call an ambulance? You look bad."

"No," Neal quickly said. "No ambulance."

Peter looked skeptical, but Neal added a pleading, "Please," for good measure.

"Okay," Peter relented. "I'll be right back."

The half an eternity it felt for Peter to come back was in reality just a few minutes. And the pink bottle in his hands was a lifeline. Neal took a few mouthfuls and closed his eyes, waiting for relief.

Peter crouched next to him, watchful, worried eyes never leaving him. "What did you eat? You think it was the appetizers?"

Neal shook his head. "No. Probably the aspirin. It messes with my stomach."

"You get like this after a couple of aspirin?"

"More than a couple," Neal volunteered in between more cramps. "Migraine. Since yesterday morning."

"You came into the office with a migraine? You should have said something."

Neal managed a small smile. "It was manageable. Plus, you sent me home early, remember?"

It was then that Neal doubled over again, moaning in pain as he did so. He barely managed to lean sideways as he felt his stomach constrict. Peter was by his side in seconds, grabbing a hold of his upper arm as Neal spat the pink liquid he'd just ingested out onto the tiled floor.

"Shit," he muttered under his breath.

"That's it, I'm calling 911," Peter said.

Neal could barely croak another no, trying to scramble to his feet to show Peter it wasn't as bad as it looked. He failed miserably, feeling strong hands steadying him and gently pushing him to sit back against the wall. "Neal, stop. You just spat out what looks a lot like blood. I'm calling an ambulance."

Blood? He tried to focus, tried to fathom what Peter was saying. He could feel his strength leaving him, darkness tugging at the edge of his vision. Peter's hand wrapped around his jaw line, and it felt good, comforting.

"I'll be right back, okay, buddy?"

Neal just nodded feebly, trying to hang on to consciousness.

The next thing he knew, he was lying on his side, something soft underneath his head. A familiar voice soothingly said his name. His eyes fluttered open, the face of Elizabeth coming into focus.

"Neal, honey, Peter's called 911. Just hang in there."

"El," he rasped. "I'm sorry."

Her smile was assuasive. "Don't be silly. You have nothing to apologize for."

Another wave of pain washed over him and Elizabeth cradled his hand in hers as he rode it out, her other hand gently stroking his hair. It was all he could do not to cry out in pain.

The EMTs arrived shortly thereafter. Neal didn't remember much about the ride to the hospital, just that it was unpleasant and bumpy and that he was too out of it to care about any kind of humiliation. They let Elizabeth ride with him. She held his hand all the way there.

Well, she's not bleeding on the ballroom floor just for the attention
Cause that's just ridiculous...ly on

Neal didn't know how much time had passed, the next time he came to. He must have made a noise or moved around, because suddenly someone stirred by his side.

"Neal," he heard Peter's voice.

He tried to get his bearings and realized he was in a hospital bed. Peter stood next to him in the dim light, the familiar, troubled frown on his forehead. "Hey, glad you're back."

Neal swallowed, his throat was painfully dry, scratchy and sore. His voice came out in barely a croak. "What happened?"

"You had a severe stomach bleed that you had to have endoscopic surgery for. Do you remember the reception?"

"Yeah. Vaguely. I was... I was in the bathroom."

"Hacking up blood."

Neal's hand came up to his face, rubbing it wearily. "How long was I out?"

"A few hours. It's, uhm," Peter looked at his watch. "It's just past 1 AM."

Neal nodded, but it was like his brain wasn't processing things quickly enough. Probably the sedatives they'd given him. "Do I have to stay here?"

"Oh yeah. They wanna keep you for observation."

Neal lifted his head, ready to protest, but Peter cut him off. "No discussion."

Truth was, he was much too groggy to engage in any kind of argument, so he let his head sink back and drew in a long breath, falling into a restless slumber. He drifted in and out of sleep for the next two hours, and around 3 AM, he finally managed to persuade Peter to go home.

The IV and your hospital bed
This was no accident
This was a therapeutic chain of events

In the morning, even though he couldn't say he was well rested, Neal finally felt fully aware of his surroundings.

The details about his condition and the emergency endoscopic procedure they'd performed the night before were explained to him. Much to his dismay, the whole escapade would earn him at least five days in the hospital. There was a risk of rebleeding, infection and other equally undesirable complications. IVs were hooked up to his arm, and once he'd be allowed to ingest food again, there would be rather complicated dietary requirements. Neal already hated it.

Around mid-morning, Peter was back, looking possibly just as frayed and tired as Neal himself.

"Neal," he said, trying to sound cheerful. "How are you feeling?"

"Nothing like a night in a hospital bed to make you really appreciate your own bed."

"And the stomach?"

The truth was, his stomach still felt weird. Not exactly painful, but somehow... strange. Not quite right. "Stomach's fine."

Peter studied Neal for a long moment, not sure whether to buy the lily white lie or not. "Neal, Elizabeth said you drank the punch last night. Did you?"

"Yeah," he confirmed.

"Did you realize there was alcohol in it?"

"No, I had no idea. I avoided the champagne on purpose. Elizabeth specifically said the punch was non-alcoholic. That's why I went for it."

"Okay, so let me make sure I have this straight. You specifically avoided anything alcoholic because...?"

"I was on painkillers."

"Because you had a migraine."


"Dammit," he hissed.

Neal looked at Peter questioningly. "Peter, what's going on?"

"We think someone spiked the punch."

"Spiked it? With what?"

"We're not sure yet. Something strong, probably vodka."

Neal shifted his position in his bed, wincing a little as he did so. "Let me ask the obvious question: Why?"

"The most plausible explanation is that it was someone from the competition. One of the event planners who bid for the event but didn't get it. It was quite a high profile thing, and they wanted to make Burke Premiere Events look bad."

"By spiking the punch? Come on, it wasn't exactly a frat house party."

Peter's look was stern. "Oh, it went a little beyond that. They tipped off the NYPD to do random alcohol tests on people leaving the event in their own cars. There was also another incident where someone fainted and hit their head. For all we know, it could have been staged to fabricate a damages lawsuit, but of course that's going to be hard to prove."

Neal smiled a small smile. "That's actually kinda genius."

"Neal. We shouldn't be taking this lightly. You had to be hospitalized. You could have died, for all we know. NYPD has started a full-blown investigation."

"Are you serious?"



"Yeah." Peter drew a weary hand through his uncharacteristically disheveled hair.

"So what happens now?"

"With the investigation?"

"Yeah," Neal confirmed. "Do they have any suspects?"

"I'm not sure. This is PD's baby now. Someone's probably gonna want to talk to you, get your statement."

Something suddenly occurred to Neal. "You mentioned a lawsuit. Assuming they find who did this, should I be suing them?"

Peter looked at him, mulling the idea over. "I... don't know. Do you want to?"

"Only if it'll help Elizabeth's cause."

"Well, you'll have to discuss that with her. Besides, I'm not even sure you can. You're a convicted felon out on probation."

"I still have rights, you know?"

"Yeah, and I'm sure the Little Guy can help you find just the right loopholes," Peter sighed. He looked at his watch, then apologetically at Neal. "Listen, I gotta go. Meeting with Hughes in an hour. Is there anything I can get you? Clothes, something to read? I can swing by again later. El also wanted to visit."

Neal started to write down a list for Peter, grateful for the helping hands.

Oh now I do recall, we just were getting to the part...
Where the shock sets in
And the stomach acid finds a new way to make you get sick

Elizabeth visited that afternoon, bringing with her a duffel bag with the items on Neal's list, today's newspaper, the books he'd requested and a few magazines.

She gave him a bright, encouraging smile. "Neal, how are you doing?" she inquired, the worry evident in her voice.

"Oh, you know... kinda tired," he tried to evade. It was harder to lie to Elizabeth than to anyone else.

"That uncomfortable, huh?"

"No," he quickly shook his head. "It's okay. Really."

"Oh, honey, you gave us quite a scare."

He started feeling a little uncomfortable, because what could he say? I didn't plan on ruining your event? "Yeah, I'm sorry about that."

"Oh no, please don't apologize. This wasn't your fault. I mean, look at the mess. Two people in the hospital, and all just because..." she trailed off.

"Yeah, Peter told me someone else got hurt. Are they okay?"

"I heard it was just a mild concussion. And the whole event, it was going so well. I mean, spiked punch? Never in a million years would I have thought of that."

"You know, when it comes down to it, people are malicious and competitive at heart."

She looked at him, curiously. This sounded more like something she'd expect to be coming from Mozzie. Her mouth curved into a hint of a mischievous smile. "You would know, huh?"

He smiled back. "Have you known me to spike any punch?"

"No, but I think you've been known to do things one may consider competitive. Maybe even malicious."

"Elizabeth, you insult me. But joking aside, Peter said something about a lawsuit."

"Lawsuit? Oh, you mean that they were theorizing that someone may have staged this to sue Burke Premiere Events. Nothing official has come through yet. Let's hope it won't come to that."

"Right. But it made me think... What if—theoretically—I sued whoever spiked the drinks?"

"Hm," she mused for a moment. "Kind of a bold thing to do."

"Would it help your reputation?"

"Oh no, Neal. I don't want you to do this for me."

"Okay, let me rephrase that. Would it be detrimental to your reputation if I sued?"

"That's a good question. I guess it'll depend on whether they catch who did this. And who it turns out to be."

"Okay," Neal conceded. "Then let's wait what the investigation yields."

Elizabeth remembered something. "Oh, I have something for you." She roamed around in her purse and produced an envelope, which she gave to Neal. "It's from Mozzie. You know, I think he really wants to visit, but..."

"He hates hospitals. I know."

He opened the envelope and withdrew a card. In neat handwriting it said on expensive cardstock, 'Illness strikes men when they are exposed to change.' On the inside, there was more. 'Neal, I hope they're treating you well. See you on the outside.' It was not signed.

"Always the charmer." He looked at Elizabeth. "Tell him I appreciate the sentiment."

"I will." She looked at Neal, trying to gauge whether he wanted her to stay. She had a suspicion he was more tired than he let on. "Hey, I should go. I'll be back tomorrow, okay?"

He just nodded and she asked, "Do you need anything else?"

"Yeah, uhm, my iPod? You didn't bring it by any chance, did you?"

She roamed around in the duffel bag, holding it up for him to see. "It wasn't on the list, but I saw it on your nightstand."

He gave her as charming a Caffrey smile as he could muster. "Elizabeth Burke, you are ingenious."

She laughed a soft laugh. "Yeah, well, sometimes I wish my husband would think so too, but thanks." She bent down to plant a gentle kiss on Neal's forehead. "Take care. See you tomorrow."

"See you tomorrow," he echoed, watching her leave the room.

A brief feeling of gratefulness washed over him before he succumbed to the exhaustion and let his head sink back against the pillows.

Good, good, now we're making some progress
Come on, just tap tap tap your toes to the beat

Four days later, Neal was released from the hospital with a prescription for a proton pump inhibitor, an alginate and instructions on the kind of diet he was supposed to keep until the stomach ulcer was fully healed.

The week he spent in his apartment was taxing, with the reluctant self-admission of the fact that he was weak, exhausted and just generally sub-par. Elizabeth, Peter and June dropped in often, making sure he had everything he needed. Even Mozzie was uncharacteristically mother-hennish when he came by—of course always unannounced.

Neal felt his strength and energy slowly returning as the week progressed, and by Monday he was glad to be back at work and have something productive to do. He knew Peter was keeping a watchful eye on him, mostly evident in the inconspicuous glances (that really weren't all that inconspicuous) through the glass wall down into the bullpen, straight at Neal's desk.

The NYPD investigation had been surprisingly straightforward. The week Neal was off work, Peter showed up one evening with a light brown file and a photo. The suspect list had been narrow to start with, and even though the culprit had made a half-hearted attempt at disabling the security cameras, he'd missed one of them. ('Amateur,' Neal had quietly thought but not said out loud.) The man confessed to the crime the first time NYPD interrogated him.

It turned out to indeed have been one of the more prestigious caterers in the area. Peter and Elizabeth were glad they found the perpetrators as quickly as that, but big business also meant big money, so the caterer had lawyered up faster than anyone could say prosecution.

Burke Premiere Events had been cleared of all charges. Elizabeth wasn't sure yet if the whole incident had done any damage to her reputation, but business was still going well, so she hoped for the best.

Still, the case was going to trial, and Neal, Elizabeth and Peter were all called as witnesses. Neal had decided not to press charges for aggravated battery, mainly because the odds were less than even and they all realized their chances of coming out with a ruling in favor of Neal were slim at best.

The day of the trial, rain pelted down like fire on high, turning the gutters into torrential riverbeds made of concrete. Peter shook the rain off his jacket while Neal looked characteristically dignified, even in a trenchcoat whose shoulders were soaking wet. Elizabeth tried to rearrange her blouse and a few wet strands of hair before the proceedings began.

Neal could see Peter bristle with every new witness that was called. Preston Lang, the big-bellied defendant, looked smug and much too poised. His lawyer was as smarmy as expected. The prosecutor was crushed down from the start with little hope of redemption.

Peter, Elizabeth and Neal's testimony was easily discredited, even ridiculed. In the end, it was probably just as well, since none of them had really seen or noticed anything suspicious. They hoped Neal's witness account would add some weight, seeing how he had gotten physically hurt, but Mr. Smarmy was too good not to find ways of making it sound incidental. After all, who was to say Neal hadn't sampled other alcoholic beverages that night, even though he asserted otherwise?

Elizabeth was disappointed, Neal strangely dispassionate, but Peter was livid on the inside. Neal could see it in the flushed cheeks, the deliberate, slow breathing. After the witness account sessions, they were asked to leave the courtroom.

The three of them gathered outside the courtroom on a bench, lamenting what they had just lived through. To say it didn't look good would paint a rather optimistic picture. Still, hope springs eternal, so they tried to focus on the positive aspects, praying for a small miracle.

Elizabeth excused herself to go to the restroom. While Peter and Neal waited, the courtroom doors opened and people spilled out. Neal and Peter froze. Deer-in-the-headlights-like, Neal could only watch while Peter got to his feet.

He walked straight up to Lang, and a warning uh-oh formed in Neal's head.

Peter planted himself firmly in front of Lang, confronting him. "Lang, they'll get you for this."

Lang's smile was complacent. "Oh yeah, Agent Burke? From what I've seen today, I wouldn't count on it."

"There is no way you're walking away on a misdemeanor. I won't let that happen."

"I hate to break it to you, but I don't see how there is anything you can do here. Do you have any compelling evidence? Hm? No, I don't think so, otherwise we would have seen it already. I mean, what is it that you're accusing me of again? Spiking the punch at a party? Really? These charges are so ridiculous that I can't even believe they're dragging this in front of a judge."

"Ridiculous?" Peter raised his voice. "Ridiculous? You almost killed a man!"

Neal realized this might get out of hand very fast, so he edged closer.

Lang still looked smug. "What—are you accusing me of attempted murder now? This is getting more and more ridiculous."

"You had that punch spiked by one of your minions, and you know it! You're an unscrupulous bastard if I've ever seen one."

"I could press charges against you for slander."

"Feel free," Peter invited him angrily. "And while you're at it, why don't you add assault to the list?"

Peter was just about to strike out with his fist when Neal intervened, grabbing Peter's arm before it could do any harm. "Peter," he urged. "Don't. He's not worth it."

Peter squirmed, his adrenaline still skyrocketing, but Neal dragged him away a few steps. "Think about it, Peter. Think for a moment what you're about to do."

Peter calmed down just a little, his muscles less tense. Neal relaxed his grip on Peter's arm. Their eyes met, and the unbridled wrath in them scared Neal a little.

Then, it fell away and Peter's shoulders sagged. "Shit," he muttered.

"Yeah," Neal affirmed.

"The smug bastard, I can't believe he's getting away with it." The fire came back to Peter's voice. "Do you really want to let him walk?"

Neal shrugged. "What choice do I have?"

Peter shook his head. "I can't believe you're this... lackadaisical about the whole thing. Neal, the guy almost had you killed!"

"I think you're overstating this a little. I'm still alive, aren't I?"


"Come on, Peter. Now you're flat-out exaggerating. We don't know for sure that it was the alcohol. For all we know, it could have happened anyway."

Peter shook himself free of Neal's grasp, turning away with a resigned sigh. "Fine. Believe that if you will."

Neal sighed a sigh of his own. He considered Peter's sense of justice one of his strengths, but sometimes it could get in the way and complicate things. It was then that Elizabeth returned, walking straight up to Neal and Peter.

"What's going on?"

Neal looked at her. "Your husband almost hit Lang in the face."

Surprise and alarm flashed in her eyes. "Peter?"

"What?" he said defensively. "The egotistical prick is gonna walk without even a blink of an eye. This is all a joke to him. I mean, look at him. He's laughing at us as we speak. He landed Neal in the hospital. I'm supposed to just nod and be okay with it?"

"Maybe not, but we've done our best."

"Have we?" he challenged.

"And what makes you think we haven't?"

Peter let out a long breath. "I... don't know. Shit. It isn't supposed to go like this."

Elizabeth looked him in the eyes. "No, it's not. But that's life. You don't always get a fair deal."

"I know," Peter muttered. "I just hate to see Neal at the receiving end without even the satisfaction of seeing the guy locked up."

Neal gave Peter an encouraging look. "That's very noble of you, Peter, but I'm okay with it. Really."

Peter lifted his arms in a resigned gesture, letting them fall back at his sides. "Then my deed is done. Lang walks and life goes on. Is that it?"

"That's basically it," Neal attested.

Elizabeth made the first move and urged them to go. They could all use a nice lunch to calm down emotions that were running high.

Outside the impressive, marble-columned building, Neal stopped and turned to Peter. "You know I don't condone violence, but let me just say... thank you."

A small, reconciliatory smile played at Peter's lips.

"Any time," he said.

And it's not so pleasant and it's not so conventional
It sure as hell ain't normal, but we deal, we deal