"I can take it."

Peter's stomach churned and clenched as he heard the words muttered through gritted teeth. Neal's voice was tight, winded, yet determined. He was talking to Peter, to the van, telling them not to come in, that somehow, this was going to work.

"That right? Let's hear some more of that silver tongue. Indulge us."

Peter heard the sharp intake of air, interrupted by a painful slew of wheezing coughs. He thought he heard another voice in the background, though before he could decipher it, a muted whimper filled his ear.

Peter, frustrated and anxious, pushed himself out of his chair and ran his fingers through his hair. Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out.

"Boss, should we-" Diana's brown eyes betrayed little of her worry. She motioned towards the sound system and towards the building.

They could hear Neal over the comm system getting the shit beat out of him. About ten minutes into the operation, Neal had been made. "YOU!" Williamson had sputtered. Everyone in the van had heard what sounded like a tazer, followed by a sharp intake of breath, and lastly, a thud. They'd lost signal shortly after that; those silent minutes had been the most agonizing fifteen minutes that the special agent could recall. Just as they'd been about to storm into the building, communication had gone back up.

Peter felt sick. But if Neal was telling them not to come in… well, he had to trust there was a reason for it. But that didn't mean he had to like it. And honestly, if things continued at this rate… well, screw it, he was going in and tearing those bastards off of Neal himself.

The van was silent, the tension palpable. The discerning sound of flesh hitting flesh bounced off the walls. Neal, for the most part, was silent. Peter chalked this up to Neal trying to spare everyone in the van. At least it means that Neal is still in control, Peter thought bitterly.

"Hmmmph- a-ahhh," Neal grunted, panted, wheezed. A snap was heard, another choked gasp, and a shaky exhalation. Peter swore he heard someone laughing.

"Pick him up. Yeah, like that. Keep him up, hold him up." Slap.
"You don't look so good."
Crunch. Knuckles hitting flesh.
"Anyone ever….teach you not to punch with your knuckles…."
Neal whispered/asked. Even with his voice clear in the van, Peter had never heard the man sound so depleted, his voice so winded, so rough.

Peter was pacing now. Diana was still as a statue, her arms crossed, poised by the door. She and Jones were exchanging worried looks; both looked ready to bolt out the door and to Caffrey's aid.
Each punch, each breath, each slow tick of the clock…
What was the most discerning was that the thugs didn't seem to want anything from Neal other than to hurt him. Trust Neal, trust Neal. There's a reason, there's a reason he's holding us off… Neal was stubborn and hard-headed, but he wasn't a fool, and he wouldn't endanger himself just for the sake of playing hero. He's doing this for a reason.

Reason went to hell when Neal screamed, an animalistic growl followed by a series of unrelenting sobs. He could hear Neal dry heaving, coughing, muttering unintelligible pleas. "Please, please stop… God." His voice was laced with pain. A sound that Peter didn't recognize could be faintly heard, followed by another scream from Neal. Before today, Peter had never heard such a sound of unadulterated pain. To hear it from Neal, to hear Neal begging for his agony to end… Peter swallowed his growing nausea.

"That's it—we're going in. We're going in now!" Peter darkly commanded.

"I can take it." Neal faintly whispered.

"That so, Halden?"

So that's it, Peter thought. Neal's "Jacob Lafferty" alias was made, but Neal himself wasn't. Williamson called him out as Nick Halden. But if so, why was he doing this?

"You think I can let you walk away from here after trying to last time? You want in on this operation, you pay your dues. Today, you learn what happens when you double cross me."

Neal gasped oncemore as fist connected with flesh.

"You can let him down now." Thud.

"Take a breath, relax, Nick. We'll be back in a few minutes. Hey, you! Guard the door. He tries to leave, stop him, and feel free to be creative."

The slam of a door could be heard.

Neal's wheezing, rasping breaths filled the van.

"Peter… Peter, it's Williamson. It's an alias. Samson Allistar… The charity is a front. Allistar's pissed about…"

Neal was interrupted by a series of painful-sounding coughs.

"He's pissed about a job a few years back. He and I were… s'posed to… hmmmghh ahh, ahhh," Neal fought back a groan.

"Supposed to… fence a painting I did. Found out he was fencing it to a buddy, gonna re-fence it to someone else, cut me out of m-my share. So I t-took the painting, left him." Neal swallowed a few times.

"The charity's a front for h-human trafficking. I'd heard Allistar was into it, but I didn't realize he was going by Williamson now. He-He won't kill me. He's just upset, wants to send a… a message. Once he's done, he'll offer me an in. I-I can get the… get the location of where's he's, where he's…."

Peter held his breath, waiting for Neal to resume. His heart was pounding in his throat.

Peter didn't realize he was biting the inside of his cheek until he tasted blood. Breathe in, breathe out.

"I'm fine, okay? Allistar… he like the theatrics. I-I'll try not to react, try to keep strong… s'not as bad as it sounds, okay? I'm okay." Neal's ragged breaths could, again, be heard. "Just promise me… promise me you'll stay in the van. You come in here, I don't know what will happen… what he'll do. There are two guards, both armed. And security by the gate. Just promise…promise that…"

Neal vomited, the painful wrenching sound reverberating through the van. "Shit. P-Peter… I'm okay, b-but I… please have EMS ready. I'm okay, I swear. I just-"

The door clicked opened, and Williamson/Allistar's voice could be heard.
"So, Nick. Ready to learn the rest of that lesson?"

I'll be updating my other stories this upcoming week!