Though I've loved White Collar for a while now, this is my first foray into the fanfic for this fandom, so forgive any trespasses on characterization or plot.
Takes place sometime before the chaos of season 3.
This piece was written as a prompt fill for imbecamiel over on Live Journal, for kriadydragon's "Collar Corner" community. It's an excellent place of wonderful fic, I highly recommend it.
To imbecamiel: I apologize for the horrendous lateness of this fill! I hope that you can still enjoy it!
The original prompt was: "Neal and Jones undercover together. I'd just love to see some good interaction between the two of them - working together, protecting each other, and getting to understand and know each other a little better as they work together in a dangerous situation."
Please enjoy and don't forget to review!
"I don't like this at all," Peter muttered, looking at all the plans and schematics laid out on the large conference table.
"What's not to like, Peter?" Neal grinned, tossing his rubber band ball up and catching it expertly with one hand, "Jones poses as the buyer, I tag along as the helpful assistant, we do our thing and Ramirez is behind bars well before Christmas."
"Caffrey's right boss. We can handle him."
Peter narrowed his eyes at them, scratching absently at the cast on his left arm, the only thing that was keeping him as a supervisor and not a participant in this sting.
Jones was an excellent agent, capable of handling himself. But as far as undercover sting operations went, he was still relatively wet behind the ears. He'd overseen many of Peter's and Neal's undercover operations but keeping watch in the van and actually being in the situation were completely different things.
Later, when he was alone in his office, he realized that Neal would, in essence, be playing the role of senior agent.
He could only hope that the two men would take care of each other like he and Neal always did.
"Please, take a seat."
Jones, warm smile in place, obliged, settling himself at the edge of the comfortable and plush sofa.
Neal had received no such offer and he remained standing behind Jones, taking surreptitious glances around.
The building complex was larger than they'd expected, surrounded by various derelict warehouses and located in a bad area of New York.
While Ramirez had attempted to add a sense of décor to the place, he could do nothing for the dim lighting or the ancient brick walls that gave the place a medieval and dank feel.
A glance of the eyes revealed a set of doors on the far side of the room. Both were open and led to darkness. Neal guessed that they led somewhere underground, as he recalled the old blueprints he'd seen of the place.
"I'm sure you understand why I had to take the precautions that I did. A businessman of your stature must know the value of privacy."
"Of course. In our business, privacy is everything."
Neal kept still, playing the dutiful role of assistant. Jones was performing spectacularly, and the ex-conman found his respect for the agent growing. He'd had few chances to see Jones in action, and despite all of Peter's worries, the dark-skinned agent was keeping up the pretense incredibly well.
"I also appreciate the manners of your assistant. You've trained him well."
Neal gave a small bow of respect, not moving otherwise.
"He understands what's at stake," Jones stated simply, "Now, if we could get to the matter of the art."
Ramirez laughed, "Patience, Mr. Johnson. All good things take time. Why don't you relax and have a drink?"
Jones chuckled, reaching for the glass that had been offered to him and which he'd set on the table.
But Neal noticed it. It was almost insignificant, but it was there. The tightness around Ramirez's smile, the odd glint in his eyes.
The man was suspicious, suspicious enough to try something.
Neal spared a glance at the other men in the room. The pair of bodyguards behind Ramirez made it no secret that they were armed. The tell-tale bulge of a hidden gun was present in both their dark jackets.
Jones was raising the scotch glass to his mouth. He knew the agent didn't intend to take a drink, but even pretending would require him to touch his lips to the glass.
In one of the statement files they had on Ramirez, the man had allegedly boasted about the potent poison an indigenous tribe in his country possessed. And even if the inside of the glass wasn't poisoned, Ramirez was clearly mistrustful. It would be better for things to end now, before anyone got hurt.
He had one chance to act and he took it, stepping forward and saying angrily, loud enough for everyone to hear,
"Mr. Johnson, don't drink that!"
Jones froze and turned to look at him, honest shock written on his face.
Neal! What the hell are you doing?
"Oh it's quite all right Mr. Johnson," Ramirez said, a twisted grin on his face, "I'm sure your...assistant means well."
The way he pronounced assistant, hissing the 's' like a snake, finally attuned Jones to the impending danger.
"That is, if he really is your assistant, Mr. Johnson. And if you are who you say you are of course," Ramirez got to his feet, "Now, how about we have a little chat, starting with who you really are."
"Look, we don't want any trouble," Jones stated carefully, showing his palms in a placating gesture, trying not to jostle the watch that held the bug connecting them to backup "I'm sure there's just a simple misunderstanding between us. We're here to do business and–"
"No me mientas!" Ramirez growled, before translating his slipped Spanish in no less a threatening tone, "Don't you dare lie to me."
"How about we call it a day and reconvene some other time?" Neal offered, displaying a nervous smile as he moved back slowly.
Jones was giving him a confused glare. Was he really backing away and leaving him to deal with the situation that was rapidly spiraling out of control?
"You stay right there, and don't move." Ramirez's menacing words were punctuated by the actions of his two bodyguards, who were taking out their weapons.
It was now or never and Neal once more made the choice. With a final step back, he turned quickly and pulled the large industrial switch he'd spotted upon entering the room.
Ramirez shouted and there were shots in the dark and Neal just lunged forward and grabbed onto what he hoped was Jones's arm, pulling him in the direction of the open doors he'd seen earlier.
Left or right?
Jones made the choice this time and moved left. They'd lost contact on the way there and the agent was now the one to pull Neal into safety.
Both men had expected to have to run and were surprised when they felt a wall in front of them.
"We must be in an old lift," Neal guessed out loud, turning quickly once more and hitting the first button that his fingers came across.
The grated doors of the lift closed and they began to descend just as light flooded the room.
Jones and Neal caught one last glimpse of Ramirez's furious face before they were enveloped in darkness once more.
"You realize that this thing is so old we're probably going to get stuck at the bottom right?"
"I didn't know you were so anxious to catch a ride back up, James," Jones returned, trying to check the watch to see if it still worked.
"Hey, you picked this door. And we're probably too far down for reception."
"A warning would have been nice by the way."
"Yeah, well, it had to be a surprise."
Jones sighed heavily, leaning against one of the lift's walls and sliding down to a sitting position. His foot touched something soft and a murmured 'watch it' told him that he had nearly kicked Neal.
"This lift is kind of small isn't it?"
"Maybe if you'd keep your legs on your side of the floor space…" Neal trailed off and Jones laughed.
"How long do you think until the cavalry arrives?"
"Don't know. But they'll have a good time getting us up," Neal answered.
Silence overcame them and Jones frowned. It wasn't like Neal to fall quiet.
Jones hesitated. "You okay?"
Quiet greeted his question for a few minutes before Neal replied.
Jones remembered with sudden and freezing realization that Ramirez's two bodyguards had fired shots into the darkness.
In the moments of high adrenaline, he had assumed that Neal was all right.
The con-man had never answered him and panic was slowly rising inside Jones's chest.
The response was soft.
"Where'd they get you?"
For a moment, Neal contemplated continuing in his evasive answers. Or his silence. But he could hear the vague undertones of worry in Jones's voice and he didn't want to upset the agent.
"Side…it's a through-and-through I think…"
"You're supposed to tell me these things!"
"Sorry Jones. Got caught up in the moment I guess."
Jones was about to reply when the lift lurched and began to rise slowly.
"I hope that's the backup," Neal voiced.
Jones made a noise of agreement.
Peter had been sitting in the van, trying to scratch an itch inside his cast with a pen.
Diana had cast him a disapproving look but he'd ignored it, too focused on the audio coming in from Jones's and Neal's meeting with Ramirez.
He was impressed by their teamwork. So far they were both performing admirably and he felt warm pride rise in his chest.
"They're doing a good job, huh boss?" Diana asked with a smile.
Peter nodded with a matching grin of his own.
And then everything had taken a turn for the worse. He'd heard it in Ramirez's voice before Jones ever did.
He'd told Diana in tense, clipped words to prepare to storm the place and to tell the rest of the FBI units standing by the same.
He'd heard shouting and gun fire before everything turned to static.
The lift moved up at a snail's pace and even then its two occupants could hear the screeching of the metal as the old, probably rusted, gears struggled to perform their job.
Jones had stood in front of Neal, preparing for a confrontation.
The lift never made it up.
The cable groaned and stalled and Jones dropped to a crouch, clutching at the grating in case the lift cable snapped and sent them back down.
Neal had tensed behind him, no doubt thinking about the same scenario.
A sliver of light taunted them with how close they'd been to getting out.
There was silence followed by a multitude of unintelligible voices.
And then someone called to them.
Jones let out the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding.
Neal relaxed behind him.
"Took you long enough Peter… Were you finishing your deviled ham?"
Peter's laugh floated down to them dimly.
"Are you two all right?"
At the question, Jones turned sharply. The sliver of light filtering through finally allowed him to see Neal properly for the first time.
The CI's face was pale and the smile on his face was wan.
But what troubled Jones was the arm that the ex-con was holding around his middle, hand latched firmly against his side, stained by the crimson that was steadily blooming across his jacket.
He swallowed thickly, suddenly feeling like there was too little air in the small space.
"Jesus…" he exhaled.
"Jones?" Peter called down again, concern evident in his voice, as muffled as it was.
"Boss, you're going to need to hurry up…Neal's not doing too well."
There was a pause.
Neal blocked Jones's advancing hand.
"Jones, what's wrong with him? Neal?"
The two men shared a look.
Neal nodded slowly and Jones moved again, gently peeling the flap of Neal's jacket away.
The right side of Neal's once blue shirt was a pale, dark red.
"Who knew they were good shots in the dark…well, at least one of them anyway…" Neal mentioned, trying to lighten the mood.
Jones just continued with what he was doing. He wanted to check for an exit wound but Neal was leaning heavily against the grating behind him, clearly supporting himself.
Moving would only hurt him.
Peter's panicked voice brought him back immediately.
"Boss, one of Ramirez's men got him in the side…He's bleeding pretty heavily."
"Hang on, the both of you. We're working on getting you out."
For a moment, Peter was thankful that everything had managed to work out.
Sure, two of his men were trapped in an ancient lift, but the technicians and mechanics that the FBI had called in were working quickly. The leader of the team had informed him that they'd have them out within two hours, three hours at the most. They had to work slowly, careful not to do something to the gears that could snap the old cables that held the lift.
He'd thought that the two would at worst be dealing with thirst and hunger.
He had certainly not expected that Neal would be bleeding out on the floor of the old lift.
Peter turned to the team leader, locking his most serious gaze with the man's green eyes.
"We need to get them out faster. One of the men is injured, a gunshot wound to the side."
The man's green eyes widened and he nodded quickly.
"We'll work as fast as we can."
Jones shrugged off his jacket and draped it around Neal. The consultant had gone back to his old position, holding onto his side, this time with his suit jacket balled up as a makeshift bandage.
"You didn't have to do that you know."
Jones shook his head, "It's getting kinda hot in here actually."
"Yeah," Neal agreed, though his body gave another violent shiver.
They were about twenty-five minutes into the rescue. Jones was keeping track.
Neal's eyes fluttered closed and Jones kicked him lightly.
"Hey, Neal, let's play a game."
"You want… to play a game?" Neal was grinning at him like a child, despite the breathiness of his voice, "What kind of game?"
"A question game."
"Hypothetical questions or actual questions… or both?"
Jones chuckled. "How about I ask and you can decide whether the answer is hypothetical or not."
"Why do you get to go first?"
"Because I'm the agent. And because I suggested it."
"Fine…but no tricks."
"Said the kettle to the pot."
Neal laughed, out of breath, but Jones warmed just the same.
When they'd reached the hour mark, Jones had learned several things about Neal.
The young consultant had wanted to be an astronaut or a doctor when he'd been a boy. He'd spent a Christmas in the hospital (though he'd never said why) and spoke several languages (he'd refused to answer just how many or which ones). He was an expert on purebred dogs (the why behind that was lost as well) and had once allegedly judged a Eukanuba dog show.
He didn't know whether Peter could hear them or not, but he guessed that he might, from the way even the smallest cough seemed to reverberate in the small space. He shared things about himself anyway, like how he'd shoplifted a set of collectible cards from a store at the age of twelve and been so wracked by guilt he'd returned it the next day. He had wanted to be a pilot when he'd been a boy but had switched to the Marines when he was in his second year of high school. He also told Neal that he'd once tried to learn Italian to impress a girl but had failed miserably.
Neal got a kick out of that one, muttering, "questa è la vita."
After much prodding, the ex-con finally told him that he'd said "that's life."
But there were other lessons there, between the lines and outside of the scope of what was and wasn't said.
Like the determined set of Neal's jaw, betraying no pain. Strength.
Like the way Jones refused to leave his friend's side, offering warmth and letting the CI lean on him. Loyalty.
By the hour and a half mark, Neal was slurring his sentences noticeably, choosing one-word responses over anything more elaborate. The shivers that shook his slim frame continued.
Within fifteen minutes of that mark, the lead technician announced that they'd have them out in twenty. And Neal was barely responding, half-lidded blue eyes falling closed more often than they focused.
Jones kept asking questions, kept talking, kept holding him even through the pinpricks on his arms and legs from sitting in that position for so long.
"Come on Neal, you're losing the game."
"I won't leave you Neal."
"That means you can't leave me either."
It was five minutes until the two hour mark when the lift was finally raised enough to get the two of them out.
He helped them maneuver Neal's nearly pliant body out first, before climbing out last.
He said nothing when Peter handed him a small towel to wipe the red off his hands.
"We caught him."
"That's always good to know," Neal smiled, playing absently with the pulse ox attached to his index finger, "How's the office?"
"Peter's grouchy and the sludge coffee isn't helping."
Neal's mouth crinkled in a megawatt grin.
"You guys miss me?"
Jones laughed, resting a hand on Neal's shoulder.
"Let's just say things aren't the same without you."
"Jones I'm flattered."
"Yeah, yeah, whatever Caffrey…Say, Peter was very interested in that story about the dog show."
"You mean the alleged dog show."
"The hypothetical one, yes."
"Well there's a case…"
Jones hesitated. He couldn't read Neal as well as Peter could, though he was slowly making his way up that mountain.
Neal let him off the hook.
"Relax Jones. I like working with you."
"Even when you get shot?"
"Especially when I get shot…You never left me."
Neal looked away.
"Neither did you," Jones admitted.
"I guess we're pretty stubborn in that way then."
"I guess we are."
By the way, there are several little instances in this story where I make a reference to other prompts on Collar Corner that I intend to fill (eventually). The last one for example, will serve as a sequel to this one :)
Drop a writer a review for the holidays, in the spirit of giving and good Christmas cheer!