Prologue

"What's the point of having you around if I can't send you in to do the undercover jobs?" Peter complained, fastening the watch around his wrist and turning it on.

Neal shrugged. "Eventually, we were going to come across someone who didn't like me, Peter. I'm surprised it hasn't happened sooner. Besides me, you're the only one who knows how to pick pockets, which makes you perfect for the job."

"Yes." Peter replied through gritted teeth. "Which is why I'm doing it. Alright, be ready on my signal."

"Do you remember your code word?" Neal asked suddenly. The question was enough to stop Peter in his tracks. He stood there, staring at Neal for a long moment. For the first time since Peter had met him, he saw Neal's face turn red in a blush. The young con shrugged again. "I'm just making sure. Playing Peter, as it were."

"That's not why you asked."

"Peter, remember, Banes tried to have me killed last time we worked together. I've got the scar to prove it." Neal reminded him, his hand brushing over the scar on his thigh. "It was only through luck that I lived, really."

"Yes, Neal, I know, but he's not going to try and kill me when he has another job for me. I'll be fine, and I know my word. It's 'mark,' okay?"

"Alright... Be careful, Peter."

"I will." Peter climbed out of the van and strode into the building, leaving Neal alone with Diana and Jones. Neal sat down, then stood up again and started pacing.

"Neal, if you don't sit down, I will arrest you." Diana snapped, her patience with him highly limited.

"I'm worried, okay?" Neal replied, sitting down anyway.

"We noticed."

Neal fell silent, pouting. This case had gotten ridiculous. It had started out as a simple mortgage fraud case: something cut and dry and overwhelmingly boring. That is, until they had brought their suspect in. When Peter shook him down, a name was dropped; Derek Banes. Things had quickly become interesting. Mozzie had done some digging and realized that Banes was running a two man con, and that he didn't trust his partner. He was looking for a thief, someone to go in and do some digging. Peter had stepped up for the job when Neal admitted that he and Banes had a past, one that had resulted in an attempt on Neal's life that he had narrowly escaped. When Peter had finished the job, Banes had commissioned him for a second. He was going in now for a briefing about what that second job was. They had speculated, but no one could figure out what it was. Now that Banes knew that his partner had nothing to hold against him, they couldn't figure out what else Banes needed Peter for. At that precise moment, it hit Neal: he didn't. "Peter's in trouble!" He threw himself out of the van, sprinting into the building. Peter was standing there, alone.

"Neal, what the hell are you doing in here? You're going to blow the whole sting!" Peter said angrily. Neal grabbed his arm, dragging him towards the exit.

"Banes doesn't leave witnesses, Peter. That's why he tried to have me killed. This is a hit." Neal said in a rush.

"Dammit! Clear the area!" Peter barked. "There may be armed suspects nearby!" He started running in earnest, Neal hot on his heels. A clock started running, and running fast.

"The building's rigged to explode! Peter, run!" Neal shouted, adrenaline giving him a burst of speed. Peter matched his pace, and they tore out of the warehouse together. Neal heard the telltale click, and with speed he didn't know he had, shoved Peter to the ground as the warehouse exploded behind them. The explosion sent Neal flying into the wall of an adjacent building, and he experienced a moment of blinding pain, and then nothing.

Peter struggled to his feet, the heat from the fire at his back, and the crumpled figure of his partner before him. "Neal! Someone call an ambulance! Neal!" He knelt by Neal's head, taking in the sight. Neal's left leg was bent at an unnatural angle, his clothes were smoldering, and, most terrifying of all, he was laying in a rapidly growing pool of his blood, seeping out from an injury to the back of his head. Peter patted out the flames from the young con's body and leaned down, listening for Neal's breath. It was slow and ragged, but it was there. Barely. "Neal, you idiot. Why did you do that? Dammit, Caffrey, if you die, I'll kill you." Peter choked out, gently brushing a matted, bloody curl out of Neal's face. Neal had taken those precious few seconds to save Peter's life, at the risk of his own, which spoke volumes about how Neal felt about him. Now, Neal appeared to be dying. Peter was terrified to touch him, afraid that Neal's neck might be broken.

"Peter... There's an ambulance on the way." Peter felt Diana's hand on his shoulder, but he didn't look up from Neal's face.

"Diana... if he dies, I... Jesus, Neal..." He was crumbling.

"He's going to be alright, Peter." Diana assured him with a gentleness that she rarely used where Neal was concerned.

"What if his neck is broken? What if Neal dies?"

"He's not going to die, and what if isn't going to help anyone right now Boss." She dropped into a more professional manner, which helped him to maintain his. They stayed like that, Peter stroking Neal's hair with shaking hands, Diana standing stoically at his side, until the ambulance arrived, and Neal was loaded on. Peter rode with him to the hospital, holding the limp hand like it was his last tie to this life. After that he was confined to the waiting room, which he paced until Elizabeth arrived and made him sit down, talking him down from the mind-numbing terror in the way that only El was capable of.

Husband and wife sat together through the entire night and well into the morning before someone finally came to talk to them about Neal. He would live, but until he woke up, they couldn't account for his mental state. Brain injuries were unpredictable, and Neal had been badly wounded. Peter could go sit with him in the ICU if he wanted to.

He wanted to.

El went in with him for a few minutes, wanting to see for herself that Neal was alive. He was bruised and bandaged and hooked up to countless machines, but he was alive. "El, go home and get some sleep." Peter said quietly, squeezing his wife's hand. "It's been a long night."

"Are you sure you'll be okay?" Elizabeth asked.

"Now that I know that he will." Peter assured her. El nodded.

"Bye Hon."

"Bye, Hon." Peter gave her a weak smile at the name, and she kissed him and left. Peter sat down in a chair beside Neal's bed and took his hand. His wrist was swollen, but it was just a sprain, and splinted accordingly. While he waited, Peter categorized his partner's injuries. His leg had obviously been broken, and it was in a cast, anklet-less, (not that Neal could walk with that leg anyway) numerous burns marred Neal's body, none of them very severe. Two of his ribs were broken, one was cracked, and of course, the head injury. The rest were just cuts and bruises, stitched shut and bandaged. It was bad, but it could have been so much worse.

Peter was nodding off, his head on the edge of Neal's bed when the young con groaned and his eyelids flickered open. "Neal! Neal, thank God." Peter squeezed his hand, and Neal winced, pulling it away. "Sorry. Are you feeling alright? I mean, alright being relative, but... Neal?"

Neal, having categorized his location, was staring at Peter warily. "Who are you?"