Disclaimer: I have nothing to do with the creation of USA's White Collar
A/N: This was a response to a prompt to see Neal exhausted by the aftermath of Elizabeth's kidnapping. Obviously, I don't know what the show will do with that storyline, so what exactly happened to her and how she was rescued are deliberately vague here.
Thank you, canon_is_relative, for beta and Kriadydragon for the prompt.
Neal raced into the underground parking lot and stopped short as he saw Elizabeth in Peter's arms. The relief settled in his knees; he slumped abruptly against an SUV, his gaze darting between the agents hauling Keller away and Peter and El. Few of the excited, milling agents noticed him at first, but Diana trotted over to him, a tight smile on her lips. "You okay?" she asked. She held out a hand but Neal waved it away with a weak nod to keep her from worrying about him.
El was safe. El was safe. Neal had saved her. Okay, he and half the FBI agents of the New York office, but the plan was his, the con was his, and most of all, the spectacular bluff that saved them all when the plan collapsed was his. But it could have gone so badly. Neal hugged himself as the shakes spread out from his stomach.
Diana joined the backslapping crowd of agents. Neal would have to get to his feet soon; people were starting to look around for him. Not Peter, though. Peter only had eyes for Elizabeth and whomever he needed to order around to get her out of there. Neal felt almost resentful that he wasn't included in Peter's concern—what he had just pulled off was dangerous, and without comm the team wouldn't have known he was all right until he appeared moments ago—but he talked himself out of it with some shame. He was fine, if deeply exhausted, and Peter knew Diana and the others would account for him as the operation disbanded. El was safe. The world was right again.
Except it wasn't. Neal had tried everything he knew to reach Moz,but he hadn't found him, and, though his messages might get through eventually, there hadn't been time to wait. Meanwhile, Peter thought Neal had the art and wouldn't give it up to save Elizabeth. As if. There was no repairing that kind of betrayal in Peter's eyes, and to clear Neal of that accusation would take incriminating Mozzie. It hurt. Neal hurt, and he was so tired of it all.
He made it to Diana's car, forcing a smile and acknowledging those agents who spotted him, but he felt like he was walking through a tar pit. His head throbbed, and he couldn't fake his usual level of cockiness. Neal had thought he liked to play for high stakes, but now he realized every time he'd risked something that made other people gasp, it had been because he either knew for certain he would win, or he hadn't cared about losing. This time he cared. A lot. And he hadn't been certain he could win. He really, really disliked the feeling.
But El was safe.
He sat in the passenger seat of the car, waiting, feeling none of his usual energy and delight at a successful operation. He hadn't slept well in days, and the headache would not let up. He leaned his head against the window and hoped no one would notice his eyes were closed.
He struggled to keep up with the conversation as they drove—Jones and Blake in the back seat, all of them rehashing the more frightening moments of the operation. Neal managed a glimmer of satisfaction that they couldn't discuss the rescue without acknowledging his own pivotal role. He hoped his failure to be smug would be seen as modesty; he just wanted to know Elizabeth was all right and then have the day be over. Belatedly, he realized they weren't driving to the office. They were going to the urgent care where Peter had taken El.
They found Peter with Hughes and two section chiefs filling a waiting room with their authority and anxiety. Elizabeth wasn't there. The arrival of Peter's team followed closely by other agents from the operation stuffed the room to bursting. There weren't enough chairs.
"They're checking her out," Peter repeated as people arrived. "She seems okay." He spoke to Diana and to Jones, his gaze lingering on Neal as he reported for only a moment before taking in the rest of the agents. He added something to Hughes.
"All right, everyone," Hughes said. "Let's clear out. If you have a report to make, back to the office. If not, you can knock off for the day early. Good job, everyone. I'm sure Mrs. Burke appreciates everyone's concern, but we'll keep you informed without crowding her." As the agents began to drift toward the door, he added, "Caffrey."
"Present," said Neal.
Hughes looked him up and down for a moment, and frowned. "We'll get a report from you tomorrow. Go on home."
This wasn't what Neal had been expecting, and he suspected it wasn't what Hughes had originally intended to say. While he wanted to crawl into bed more than almost anything, Neal couldn't rest until he knew how badly Keller had treated Elizabeth. It was a difficult thing to ask, and Neal looked imploringly to Peter.
Peter, however, was content to let Hughes give orders. His eyes were on the door someone had taken El through. There was no denying that whatever recovery Elizabeth would need, Peter's attention belonged entirely with her. Neal felt like a kid looking in the window of the closed candy shop.
"Right," he said, and forced his legs to carry him out of the waiting room. Diana waited for him beyond the doors.
"Need a ride?" she asked.
"No, thanks," he answered. "I'll walk."
"You've got to be kidding me," said Diana with a skeptical look. "You look beat. Are you all right?"
"A walk is what I need," Neal lied. He hated showing weakness to the feds; even the ones he considered friends. "I'll see you tomorrow."
Diana left him with a shrug and a hint of suspicion. Of course, suspicion. Neal suppressed a sigh and went in search of a cup of coffee. It was pathetic for the kid to camp out on the candy shop's door, but that's what he was going to do.