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23 September 2012 @ 03:10 pm
[fic: white collar] What You See And What You Get  
I actually finished a Big Bang! This is the first time that's happened, so I feel very proud :) Also, this story actually has plot and stuff! (As well as hurt/comfort. Shockingly.)

Title: What You See And What You Get
Characters/Pairings: Peter, Neal, Elizabeth; Gen with canon Peter/El
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 11,000
Spoilers: None
Warnings: None
Author's Note: Thank you very much to soteriophobe for reading early drafts of this and being extremely helpful and supportive; also to helle_d for excellent beta-ing, listening to me angst endlessly about this fic, bringing me tea, and cheering whenever I took out italics.
This fic counts for the "loss of vision" square on my hc_bingo card.

Summary: Peter's off work, injured in a bad takedown, and worrying about his future. But the case isn't done with him or Neal yet.

The awesome art is by soteriophobe. She did me three pieces! One below, one as a footer, and one you should view as a page on its own.

Photobucket


- - -

Peter couldn't breathe.

He was dropping, knees slamming hard into the concrete floor with no attempt made to break his fall. His hands were clenched in fists against his eyes and he couldn't think, couldn't see, couldn't breathe. A molten flood of pain overwhelmed everything else, radiating from his face and running down his neck.

"Peter…Peter…" Neal's voice sounded very far away, for all that he was gripping Peter's shoulders. "I got you. You're alright. Just — don't open your eyes, okay?"

Peter, his jaw clenched tight, eyes screwed shut, managed a brief nod and sucked in a shallow gulp of air.

"Good, good, you can hear me. Diana, you've got to help!"

"Neal, calm down!" Diana snapped from somewhere behind him. Peter tried to turn his head to follow her voice but the slight movement caused fresh searing pain to bloom again across his face and he cried out involuntarily.

"Here," someone said. Neal's hands left Peter's shoulders and pulled his hands down, holding them tightly. Then cold liquid splashed over him — Peter could only assume that someone had poured a bottle of water down over his face. It was icy, and a wonderful momentary relief before the agony surged back again. His chest felt like it was clamped in a vise.

"Neal," Peter managed to gasp.

Neal's hands tightened their grip. "Right here. No one else is hurt, don't worry."

Of course Neal had known what he had wanted to ask. Peter tipped further forward as his chest constricted again, but Neal's shoulder was there to support his head. It was getting harder and harder to think.

"I thought you called an ambulance?" Neal demanded. The sound of his voice was beginning to fade in and out, like a badly tuned radio.

"I did. They're on their way." Diana's smaller hand rested on his back. "Hold on, Boss."

Peter could do nothing else. Black pain blocked everything else out. "Did we… get Iles?"

"He got away," Diana admitted. "Don't worry about him right now. You shouldn't talk."

She was right. It hurt to speak, and the pain wasn't receding. It felt like his eyes and face were on fire, and it took such a lot of effort to keep raggedly breathing through it.

He must have begun to slide out of consciousness — he startled when Neal moved abruptly away and unfamiliar hands guided him to lie back. A mask clamped over his mouth and suddenly it was easier to take breaths. Voices blurred into each other above him. He caught the word acid and couldn't stop himself from shuddering. That turned into shivers he couldn't stop. He was cold.

"I want to ride with him," Neal demanded.

"Okay." Diana, immediately. "I'll meet you at the hospital."

Then there was jolting movement while Neal held his hand and Peter concentrated on breathing, breathing, and the pain slowly started to fade with whatever painkillers the paramedics had given him. But that let him start to think again, let him remember the vivid frozen image of the clear droplets flung towards his face, glinting in dust-filtered sunlight…

"Peter. Peter!"

"Agent Burke, I need you to try and calm down," one of the paramedics said, but Peter's breaths and heart-rate were ratcheting up and there was nothing he could do. His fingers were clenched around Neal's and even the oxygen seemed to have stopped helping.

"We need to sedate him."

"It's going to be okay," Neal said, desperately. "Peter, it's alright, it's going to be okay," but his voice got more and more distant, and then there was nothing at all.

- - -

He woke to darkness.

His eyes wouldn't work, wouldn't open, and he fumbled a hand to his face to find bandages there. Then another hand caught his, and held it tightly. Warm and small, and he knew its shape.

"El," he mumbled.

"Hey there," she said, and he recognised a smile in her voice. "Welcome back." She guided his hand gently but firmly back down to his side, and held it there.

His face hurt, but it was down to a lingering ache and a feeling of uncomfortable warmth. He remembered now. The acid. "How bad is it?" he asked, his voice hoarse.

"Hon —"

"Please, El, I need to know." He took a deep breath. "My eyes?"

Her thumb was rubbing absent circles over the back of his hand. "The doctors aren't sure yet," she admitted reluctantly. Her breathing hitched a little. "It… They say you were lucky, the physical damage could have been much worse, but they can't tell if… your sight…"

Breathe. Breathe. He couldn't worry El by showing her his fear. "When will they know?"

"You have to keep your eyes bandaged for at least a week, to give them a chance to heal." There was a slight tremor in her voice, but she quickly steadied it. "I've talked to Hughes, and he's giving Neal some time off so one of us can always be at home with you. So that you don't have to be on your own." She didn't say, So you can be looked after, but Peter heard it anyway.

"Okay," he said, because he couldn't think of anything else. This was a sensible plan, a good one, and he would be back at work in no time. Surely.

"We're going to get through this, you hear me?"

He wished that he could see her face, knowing how practised she was at keeping emotions out of her voice. "They're letting me go home?" he asked. Home would be better. Right now, he might as well be lying in a void somewhere, nothing real but El's hand, with the quiet beeping of machines and the sterile hospital smell in the background.

"Later. Try and rest some more." She stroked his hair, softly.

He tried to tell himself it didn't matter that he couldn't see her. She was still there. It should be just the same.

- - -

Neal let himself into the house with the spare key Elizabeth had lent him, and glanced around. "Hello?" he called.

"Oh, Neal." El came bustling out of the kitchen, checking the contents of her purse and frowning slightly. "Sorry, I'm a bit distracted."

"It's a big event, isn't it?"

She flashed him a brief smile. "Yep. Which means there's more things to go wrong. Some of the glasses were left out of the delivery, so I need to pick them up myself — you don't mind if I run on out?"

"Go ahead," Neal said, cheerfully. He hefted the takeout bag he'd brought. "We'll just eat your share."

She gave him a quick hug. "Thanks, sweetie."

Neal grinned as she started muttering distractedly to herself on her way out of the door. Then he dumped the takeout bag on the nearest table and made his way over to the couch.

Peter was sitting upright on the couch listening to the radio but he switched it off at Neal's approach, turning his head to follow the sound of him. "Neal," he said, making it almost-but-not-quite a question.

"Yeah," Neal said. He perched on the couch arm. "How're you doing?"

Peter gave a half-shrug, and a slight grimace. "Bored, mostly," he said. Which Neal didn't believe. Peter had to be freaking out, even though he was good at hiding it — much better than Neal thought he would have been, in the same situation.

"Want to talk?" Neal asked, cautiously. "About… you know."

Peter shook his head slightly, and swallowed. The acid burns on his face had been mild — relatively — but they were still very obvious, pink and raw. "How's the case going?" he asked. He was still moving his head to follow every small movement Neal made, as if he was going to be able to see through the bandages and whatever had been used to stick down his eyelids if he just tried hard enough.

Neal thought for a second, and then slid properly onto the couch, close enough that his hand casually touched Peter's knee. Peter shifted slightly, in a way which incidentally brought him slightly further in contact with Neal. He seemed to relax very slightly. Peter was, after all, the sort of person who liked people, who needed to know what was happening around him all of the time.

"Iles had a pretty good forgery operation going in that studio," Neal said. "Mostly metals — coins and suchlike. You'd be surprised at how well you can do for yourself with some good antique fake coins."

Peter smiled slightly. "And I'm sure you were surprised, too."

"When I researched it for this case, yes. I wouldn't claim any prior knowledge."

"That isn't the same as not having any."

Neal grinned, relieved by the normality of their banter. Peter was already looking far more animated, even as his body settled more comfortably against the couch. "Anyway, there's an APB out for Iles and the rest of his crew, and Diana and Jones are running down leads."

"What sort of leads?"

"Not very good ones," Neal had to admit. "But when we get better ones, we'll be all ready to run them down. Oh yeah, that reminds me." He paused.

"What?" Peter asked, with no respect for properly dramatic pauses.

"Diana says you're supposed to be resting, not worrying about cases."

Peter chuckled reluctantly. "I can't help it," he said.

"Yeah, I know. You're super-agent Peter Burke. "

Peter bit into his lower lip and went tense again, and Neal mentally kicked himself. Yeah, great thing to remind him of, the fact that he might not be able to continue as an agent. And Peter… well, it was almost impossible to imagine Peter doing anything else. Being part of the FBI was practically his defining personality trait, along with a terrible taste in beer and a ridiculous sports obsession. Neal found himself shying away uncomfortably from trying to imagine Peter invalided out, trying to find a new direction for his life.

"I brought you a present," Neal said, quickly, trying to lift the mood.

Peter smiled, even if it was a little forced. That made Neal's heart break all over again, because Peter was trying so damn hard not to be affected by this. "Let me guess. Dinner?"

"Partly," Neal said. "Speaking of which, you want to move to the table or for me to bring the food here?"

"Table," Peter said, instantly. Neal knew better than to take Peter's arm to guide him as he rose from the couch. It was his own house, after all. He knew where everything was. But it was hard to resist the urge, watching Peter's small cautious steps, one hand held slightly out in front of him to warn him of obstacles.

Neal elected to lay the table instead of standing awkwardly and watching Peter. Elizabeth was better at this than him. Hell, Peter was better at this than him.

"So what's the rest of my present?" Peter asked, proving the point.

Neal forced himself to snap out of his brooding. That wasn't in the least bit helpful to the current situation. He slid a couple of food cartons along the table, making sure they touched Peter's hands so he knew where they were, and pulled the case file he'd smuggled out of the office from the bag with a flourish. "All the case information you've been banned from worrying about."

Peter chuckled, and reached out, suddenly stopping himself. "Would you mind…" he began, diffidently.

"Reading it to you?" Neal asked. "That's what I had in mind for the after-dinner entertainment. It has to be much better than whatever sports thing you were listening to." He reached for some food himself. "I warn you, there really isn't much that's helpful, but maybe you can pick out something we missed."

Peter's smile was slightly wry. "You sound like me when I'm trying to cheer you up."

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

"From you, imitation is usually a felony."

- - -

"Hey," Neal said. He had just arrived; his clothes still held the city-smell. "What are you thinking?" He nudged Peter's foot with his own.

"Just thinking about the office," Peter said, which was mostly true. He was being kept up to date on the progress of the still-active case, despite the token protests made by his team when he asked for information, and had been thinking about it a lot. It was something that it was safe to dwell on, along with things like categorising the exact ways he could distinguish people, by footsteps and the sound of their breathing, and how many steps it took to walk into the kitchen, how many stairs their house had, how the carpet texture changed slightly across the floor. Different ways of learning familiar things by heart. Making these new methods into something normal.

He very badly needed to make his situation normal.

It had been five days now, since he'd been…hurt. Five days for 'day' and 'night' to take on meanings of 'warmer' and 'colder', 'not-quiet' and 'quiet'. Three days re-learning his house, with at least El or Neal always there, although they were being careful to give him his own space when he wanted it, to not treat him as an invalid. And he was sleeping a lot, from the painkillers. Falling away into unconsciousness was a relief.

That was another of the things he was avoiding thinking about. He would deal with it in time, of course, just…not yet.

"We're running down fences," Neal told him. "Everyone we can find who deals in coins. Sooner or later Iles will have to resurface. Jones tracked down his financials, and he's pretty heavily in debt. If he doesn't produce a lot of money soon a lot of people will be very unhappy with him. Making a sale of his forgeries is going to look like his best option right now."

Peter dragged his attention back, focused. "He might decide to just cut his losses and skip town."

"You need money to make a new start, too," Neal pointed out. "And word of mouth spreads fast. It can be harder than you'd think to disappear completely, especially when a lot of people have a stake in you." He paused, considering. "And when the FBI's hunting you at all points. That can make your life, new or old, pretty uncomfortable."

There was a small surge of vindictive pleasure at the thought of that. Peter shook his head slightly, to chase it away. That wasn't what his job was about, and he didn't want it to be who he was. Or became. "Sounds like you're getting on just fine without me," he said, forcing himself to be cheerful.

The couch made a soft noise as Neal leaned forward, and the cushion shifted. "You'll be back soon," he said — insisted, rather. "You know that."

"Neal," Peter said, quietly. "We don't know that."

"We do." Neal's voice became more forceful. "It's only a few more days like this. That's why the bandages are there, so you can heal."

"Please," Peter said. "Neal." He put a hand out, finding Neal's arm. "I have to think about what happens if…" He took a deep breath, but he had to say it sooner or later. "If I've lost my sight." The words hurt, like they were acid themselves, raw in his throat.

"That can't happen." Neal was quiet again now, quiet and desperate. A small part of Peter noted with mingled sadness and wry amusement that Neal had never been good at accepting the reality in front of him. Can't have that, can't go there, can't be that person.

"You know that it can," Peter said, his voice more bleak than he'd intended. In fact, if his eyes were permanently injured, there was no can about it. The damage had already been done, and they were only waiting to know the results. "I can't wait and pin all my hopes on everything being okay; I need to be prepared for whatever happens." He just hoped that his voice remained calm, that Neal couldn't tell how fast his heart was beating.

Neal didn't speak for a minute, and then his voice was low. "I don't want to think about it." He was rigid under Peter's hand. Peter wondered whether Neal's emotions were showing on his face, or whether he was managing to school his expressions, the way he managed to on operations even under intense pressure.

"I don't want to think about it, either," Peter said. "But…that's just making it worse. I have to consider all my options."

Neal made a noncommittal noise, which probably meant that he reluctantly agreed but wished he didn't. "Have you said that to Elizabeth?" he asked.

"Not exactly," Peter admitted. "She's got enough to deal with, looking after me like this. I don't want her to think I've given up, or anything. It would make her worry."

"What about making me worry?"

"That's called payback," Peter retorted.

"It's called hypocrisy."

Peter sighed deeply. "I just mean — well, it wouldn't be what El signed up for, but…I can't imagine us not getting through it. Somehow. But it's not the same with work, and your situation would have to change. We have to think about that. Just in case." He was struggling to put his feelings into words.

"So, what you're trying to say is that you're concerned that you might not get to see me every day?"

He would have rolled his eyes. "Actually, that's the one bright spot," he said, putting all his sarcasm into his voice instead.

"Peter," Neal said, suddenly serious. "You wouldn't be — I mean, we'd still see you. All of us."

"Yeah," Peter said. It wouldn't be the same, of course. Weekend visits, maybe, if he could get Neal transferred to a new handler rather than sent back to jail. Similar for Clinton and Diana, for as long as they stayed in New York. That was the main part of the tightly-suppressed fear (which wasn't fear, not really, he was dealing with it), because it would be his entire life which changed. Not just a part of it. Far more so than when he'd dropped his fledgling baseball career.

The silence stretched awkwardly, until Neal suddenly said, evidently relieved, "Dinner should be ready now."

"I'll lay the table," Peter said.

"No, it's okay," Neal said, quickly. "I'll be in the kitchen anyway."

"Neal, I think I can lay a table." It came out sharper than he had meant it to.

Neal stilled. "Sorry. I didn't mean —"

"I'll follow you," Peter said, and waited until Neal had got up and started walking before he followed. He was confident on this route, and his walking speed was close to normal.

Normal. Normal was relative, really.

Neal was clattering around busily. Peter could feel the imagined weight of his gaze as he found the cutlery drawer and got out three sets, a little self-consciously. "Are you serving out here or on the table?" he asked.

"Out here," Neal said, so Peter didn't reach up to the cupboard for plates. He poured himself a glass of water, using his thumb to find the head of the tap and position the glass underneath until it sounded full. Then he carried everything through to the dining table, his elbow held slightly in front of him to check for obstructions and to let him know when he'd reached it.

The front door opened and closed as he was carefully placing the third cutlery set in front of its chair. "Hey, hon," he called.

"Hey yourself," she replied, and there was a rustle as she took off her coat before she crossed the floor with light footsteps, reaching up to kiss his cheek. "Did you and Neal have a good afternoon? Dinner smells wonderful."

"We did," he said, and ran his hand through her hair and down her arm.

"I'm glad," El said, and lifted his fingers to her face so he could feel her cheek crinkle as she smiled.

It turned into a good evening; certainly the best part of the last few days. They talked about nothing important, ate slowly, smuggled Satchmo scraps of food beneath the table. (While El and Neal were perfectly subtle about doing so, the soft whuff of delight Satch made each time he received a treat made their stealth moot.)

Then they did the dishes between them, at El's suggestion. She washed, and Peter took the clean items from the draining board and dried them carefully, handing them to Neal to put away.

El finished her task first. "I'll wipe the table down while you boys finish up in here," she said, and touched Peter lightly on the arm as she walked past him.

About a minute later, the doorbell rang. "Hon?" El called, questioningly.

"Someone from the office?" Peter asked Neal.

"I don't know," Neal said. He put the glass Peter had just passed to him down on the counter and began to move. From the other room came the sound of the front door opening, with the reassuring rattle of the chain, which would only let it open a few inches.

El screamed. Loudly. It was a purposefully-loud, attention-grabbing, look-out-of-your-window-and-call-911 scream, and Peter dashed towards it as quickly as he dared (which was painfully, painfully slow), his hand sliding along the counter and then the wall to guide him.

There was a splintering crash — the chain being kicked free of the wooden frame. And then the door burst inwards, slamming against the wall, and there were men shouting and booted feet pounding on the floor.

"El!" Peter shouted, and Neal shouted something else, and then someone grabbed him. He fought back automatically, twisting back the arm of the attacker, but someone else kicked his legs out from under him and followed it with a kick to his stomach which knocked all the air out of him, leaving him gasping and wheezing against the carpet.

"Peter!" Neal was terrified.

El screamed again, raw pain and fear this time, and Peter struggled to get up, to reach her, but a blow to his head knocked him back to the floor, dazed.

Too much noise, from too many people, for him to know where anyone was. Neal was shouting still, any individual words incoherent, and Satch was barking wildly, and El screamed his name, and a loud male voice was shouting Shut up, shut up!, and then there was a gunshot.

Everything seemed to freeze.

Satch whined anxiously in the sudden quiet.

"First one to talk gets shot in the head," a man's voice snapped. He was breathing heavily. Everyone was.

Peter tried to guess how many of them there were. Maybe four. His thoughts were glacially slow. El, El!

"But that one's the Fed that Jay got with the acid," one of the other men said, his voice rising anxiously. "He's not supposed to be here!"

You're in my house! Peter wanted to shout, but he didn't dare. He'd been taught reliance on body language cues to tell whether someone was likely to go through with a threat. He couldn't trust his guesses without his sight. He couldn't risk it.

"This is his place," a new voice snapped. "Look at the pictures." He swore viciously.

"It's where Caffrey's come every day! You should have checked!"

"Shut up!" the first man snapped. "Everyone, shut up!"

"We're just here for Caffrey, though!"

"We can't leave a Fed! And what about her?"

"She's not going to be doing anything." The dismissive voice stole Peter's breath a second time. El…please…

The first man swore. His footsteps moved closer, and then soft cloth pressed against Peter's face. He held his breath for as long as he could, but in the end his body forced him to inhale. He briefly tasted the sharp-sweet vapour in his throat, before it blotted everything out.

- - -

There was a bag over his head.

It was so completely pointless that Peter, still hazy and not-quite-awake, almost laughed. Then the memory of his last conscious moments rushed back and he had to bite into his lip to keep from shouting, moving, doing something.

First, he needed to get a handle on the current situation.

There was a bag over his head, and his hands were bound behind his back. He flexed them a tiny amount. Duct tape, it felt like, around his wrists. More cautious testing suggested that his ankles had been treated in the same way. He was on his side, and there was rough, thin carpet beneath his hands.

Peter continued to lie still, straining his ears. He could hear nothing at all, not even when he held his breath. No other breathing, even.

"Neal?" he whispered, and then repeated it a little louder. There was no response, either from Neal or anyone else. "Hello? Anyone there?"

Nothing.

At least he didn't seem to have acquired any more injuries, beyond fading aches where he'd been kicked.

El.

He sat up with a jerk. El. She had screamed in pain, and then there had been a gunshot. She's not going to be doing anything. His breaths were suddenly coming desperately fast. He had been in the same room as her, he had heard everything, and yet he didn't know what had happened to her. If she was alright.

And Neal, who had apparently been tailed to his house. The target. It was Iles who was behind this, judging by the remark one of the men had made about the acid.

After some wriggling, Peter managed to get his hands in front of him and pulled the bag off his head. No one stopped him, which meant that he was probably unobserved. And the fact that he'd been bound with tape, rather than something more resistant to the determined action of teeth and fingers, suggested that Iles (or whoever had tossed him in here) didn't much care if he managed to free his hands and feet. The bindings had probably been primarily to keep him secured in transit to wherever here was.

One of the things he still hadn't developed a knack for was judging the passage of time without the external cues he was used to. It certainly felt like a long time had passed before he heard a key turning in a lock — he had just succeeded in freeing his hands, and was picking at the tape around his ankles with his fingernails. At the sound he froze, and quickly lay down on his side, hiding his hands behind his back. No time to try and locate the hood, but if one of the motivations for leaving him in escapable bindings was because he wasn't considered a threat, he didn't want to discourage that impression. Even if the truth in it galled more than he wanted to admit.

The door opened, and someone stumbled though it before it was slammed again. The lock clicked.

"Hey, Peter," Neal said. He sounded drained, exhausted. There was the sound of him sitting down heavily, also on the floor.

Peter sat up sharply. "Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yeah," Neal said. "Are you?"

"They didn't hurt me," Peter said. "Where are we?"

"Storage closet," Neal said. "No windows, one strip-light. I don't think much of the colour scheme."

Peter huffed impatiently. "Beyond that."

"There's a corridor and a room. All the blinds were down, and there was a guy with a gun preventing me from sneaking a glance outside. Iles is here, if you hadn't figured that out."

"I got that far," Peter said. He shuffled across the carpet until he found a wall to lean against. "Where are you?"

"Here," Neal said, and apparently felt like taking a circular route across the floor because when he jogged a shoulder against Peter's it was on his left; his voice had previously been to Peter's right.

And Neal couldn't control his breathing entirely, no matter how much he was obviously trying to do so. "You're hurt," Peter said.

"Not much," Neal said. "Peter, was Elizabeth okay?"

Peter's stomach dropped. "You didn't see?"

"They got me on the ground and knocked me out with something on a rag. She was trying to hit one of them with a vase… I don't remember anything after that."

"There was a gunshot," Peter said, bleakly. Reluctantly. Saying it aloud made it more real.

Neal went very still. "Maybe it was just a warning. To make her cooperate."

"Yeah," Peter said, knowing, knowing that it hadn't been.

"She'll be okay. She's Elizabeth."

Peter could remember chiding Neal for his blind optimism. Now he wished, instead, that he could share it. But El had to be okay, because her not being so was something which he couldn't even begin to imagine. "We need to find a way out of here," he said, determinedly. "Can you pick the lock on the door?"

Neal made a very small noise. "No."

Peter actually spun his head to face him. "No? You? Don't tell me Iles found every single pick-like item on you?"

"No," Neal said, more frustrated this time. "They broke my wrist, okay?"

Peter swore. "And you didn't tell me?"

"It didn't seem pertinent."

"You mean, you had some stupid idea about not wanting me to worry."

"Like you wouldn't do that."

Privately, Peter thought Neal also hadn't wanted to say out of pride, reluctant to admit that his skills, too, had been impaired. "Which wrist?"

"The left one. The guy who knocked me to the floor stamped on it."

Confirming his guess. "Give me your picks," Peter said. "I'll get the door open."

"Not yet," Neal said. "There won't be time. Iles has me working on the coins he's trying to make, since I'm the one who gave everyone tips on what to look for with his. I'm just back here for a break between stages, but the next break will be much longer."

"You're sure?"

He suspected Neal was wasting a particularly withering glare. "Yes, I'm sure." He paused. "You really think you can do the lock?"

Peter couldn't help grinning. "I've been practising," he said.

"Practising. At picking locks you couldn't see."

"I know you may find this hard to believe, but I do get bored of listening to sports radio."

"Oh," Neal said, sounding both slightly sheepish and rather impressed.

Appropriately, just then the door was unlocked and opened. "Caffrey," someone demanded. Peter recognised the voice as the man who had been in charge, the man with the gun, and a surge of hate boiled up inside him.

"Don't," Neal whispered, urgently. "You can't. Not now."

With an effort, Peter swallowed down his rage. He reached for Neal's shoulder and squeezed it, brushed his fingers across the knot of what must be a makeshift sling. "Be careful," he whispered back.

"You too," Neal murmured back, and stood as ordered. "I'm coming, I'm coming," he snapped, presumably to his escort.

The door was locked behind him, and Peter was alone again.

- - -

"So, what's your name?" Neal asked, lightly, as the man with the gun gestured him forwards. He caught a last glance of Peter sitting motionless against the wall before the door shut.

"Just keep walking," the man ordered.

"Mind if I call you Marvin? You look a little like a Marvin to me."

The newly-christened Marvin scowled, but had presumably been ordered not to engage in conversation. He walked faster instead, a pace which jogged Neal's broken wrist in its sling and made him grit his teeth.

Iles was waiting for him in the same room as before. Neal was pretty sure that they were in a studio apartment, a big one, but the blinds were still drawn and he had no idea where it might be, or whom it belonged to. Maybe it actually was Iles's, and he had managed to hide it when the FBI had seized the rest of his assets.

"Caffrey," Iles said shortly. He was an unremarkable-looking middle aged man, with short blond hair and a face somewhat in need of a shave. He gestured at the workbench. "You know what to do."

"Do you know how much easier this would be if I had two working hands?" Neal enquired. He sat down, though. It had already been made very clear to him exactly what would happen to Peter if he didn't comply. Peter, sitting sightless, waiting for him to return.

Iles rolled his eyes. "Stop whining," he said. "I already told you I hadn't wanted that to happen. Look, I got you water and painkillers."

Tylenol. For a broken bone. "Thanks," Neal muttered, annoyed that he actually felt grateful.

While Iles watched over his shoulder, Neal set about the delicate process of ageing the coins which he and Iles had cast. This wasn't his area of expertise, but he would be able to pass cursory inspections with them — and he was the one who had told everyone what signs to watch out for in Iles's particular style of forging.

Between the continuous throbbing pain and the delicacy of the work, Neal lost himself for a while, deep in concentration. But he couldn't shut out all thoughts. He hoped Peter was still unhurt, as had been promised. He hoped Elizabeth — no, he couldn't think about that and still keep his hand steady. Neither he nor Peter had seen anything happen to her. She was probably perfectly safe.

Almost certainly. She had to be.

"Focus, Caffrey," Iles snapped, and Neal realised that he had fallen still.

By the time he had finished, hours later, he was lightheaded from exhaustion. His head was pounding along with his entire left arm and his eyes were dry and aching.

Iles piled the coins together to be soaked in the discolouring agent. "If I can sell these, I'll give the FBI a call as soon as I'm out of the city and tell them where to find you," he promised.

Neal was too tired to bother asking what would happen if they didn't pass muster. It was pretty obvious, really. "You should have found a coin specialist," he said.

"I was in a hurry. Besides, since you turned snitch, this is killing two birds with one stone." His smile promised that the killing part could stop being theoretical at any time, and Neal shut up.

Iles gestured to Marvin, who had stood guard by the door all the time they had been there. "Lock him up again."

Neal followed wearily without waiting to be ordered.

Peter lifted his head sharply as he entered, but didn't speak. He had got the duct tape off his ankles sometime in the intervening hours.

"It's me," Neal said, once the door had closed.

Peter made a relieved noise. "Are you okay?"

"Fine." He sat down heavily and tipped his head back against a wall. "Did anyone else come in?"

"Yeah. One of the other men who was in my house. He gave me some water and a candy bar, and let me use the bathroom."

"You got candy? Huh." Neal spoke lightly, to match Peter's tone. He doubted Peter had been allowed to walk slowly down the hall at the pace he needed, following the unfamiliar wall, but there wasn't really anything he could ask without sounding patronising, or, worse, pitying. "They only gave me water."

"Did you find out anything else?"

Neal shrugged, then caught himself. "Nothing we didn't know already, really. Iles says if he can pass the coins off as genuine he'll let us go."

Peter, too, immediately caught the implied threat. "Will he be able to?"

"I don't know," Neal said. It rankled, admitting to his craftsmanship being less-than-perfect. "Coins have never been my thing. And it's harder with only one hand."

Peter nodded. His expression was firm. "So we should probably still be thinking about how to break out of here. Any idea how long we have before Iles wants you again? Or are you done?"

"Not done yet," Neal said. He had closed his eyes — he really was exhausted — and since Peter couldn't see him, he kept them closed. "But it'll be a few hours. Lots of time."

"Don't go to sleep," Peter commanded. Neal scowled. How could he tell? "How's your wrist?" Peter continued.

"It hurts," Neal said. He peeked inside the sling and grimaced. His forearm was badly swollen, and angrily discoloured in red and purple.

"I know," Peter said, gently, a wealth of sympathy in his voice. He cautiously patted Neal's knee (and, dammit, since being here Neal had forgotten about how Peter these past days seemed to need contact, to prove to himself that he wasn't, in fact, alone. Peter would have thought he was shying away from touch on purpose right now, and respected that). "Take it easy for a few minutes. The others will probably be moving around, getting food and stuff."

"Yeah," Neal agreed. His stomach audibly rumbled, and he chuckled slightly, before leaning his head back again against the hard wall. And then leaned onto Peter's shoulder instead, without thinking about it. But Peter didn't seem to mind.

He hadn't intended to fall asleep, but suddenly Peter was shaking him, and he sat up with a jolt.

"You awake?" Peter asked, sounding amused.

"Yeah." Neal rubbed his eyes in an attempt to convince himself of that fact. "Time for our jailbreak, then?"

Peter stood up determinedly. "Give me your picks," he said.

Neal was wearing casual clothing (by his perfectly objective standards, if not by Peter's), so had fewer on him than could be concealed in Byron's suits. Still, he had enough that Peter was probably wanting to roll his eyes at him. "Here," he said, folding them into Peter's hand. "Should I show you where the door is?"

"No need," Peter said, and walked straight across to it. He had clearly mapped the tiny room while Neal had been gone. "I'm not entirely helpless."

"Never said you were," Neal replied, feeling slightly guilty.

Peter bent to locate the lock, and pressed his lips together as he concentrated on it. It clicked open in short order, proving that he clearly had been practising. He was grinning as he straightened up again, obviously having anticipated the entirety of Neal's reaction.

"Nice job," Neal said, and Peter looked briefly proud.

"Your turn now," he said. "Still think you can get us out of here?"

Neal almost said, Just watch me, but caught himself in time. "Sure I can," he said, and bumped his forearm against Peter's hand.

Peter took hold of him. "Let's go."

- - -

The sound of the lock tumbling open sounded very loud to him, with all his nerves on edge, but the actual opening of the door was louder still. Peter caught his breath. If Iles had left a guard outside, they would very quickly be in an even worse position than they had started from.

But there was no one there, and after a pause Neal pulled him out into the corridor he had said was outside. Another pause, and they started walking, very quietly.

Peter knew that he was completely dependent on Neal now. Oh, he had enjoyed reminding Neal a moment before that he could still act in his own right, but he knew just how limited his usefulness was. In unfamiliar territory, all he could do was cling to Neal's arm and trust him to lead them out.

The corridor seemed to go on for an exceptionally long time. Their breathing rasped very loud in the silence, and their footsteps thumped despite the carpeting on the floor.

"This looks like a way out," Neal whispered into Peter's ear.

Peter nodded, and Neal let go of him. He stood very still, feeling completely disconnected, with no idea at all about his surroundings.

There was the soft sound of a bolt sliding back, and then another. A door handle squeaked gently. "I need you to do the lock," Neal whispered.

Peter nodded again. He let Neal take his hand and guide it down to the lock. Peter pulled Neal's picks out of his pocket and got to work. In some ways, it was actually easier without his sight — free of distraction, he could fully concentrate on the delicate movements needed.

As soon as it was done he straightened up and backed out of the way, without speaking. He felt the small movement in the air as Neal slipped past him and tried the door again. This time it opened.

"Stairwell," Neal whispered. He guided Peter along for a few paces, and waited.

Peter extended a hand and found the banister, a bar of cold metal. As soon as he had it Neal began moving again, tense with the unvoiced urge to be going faster. Peter tried to increase his speed, but there was a sharp limit on how much he felt it was safe to do so.

Still, they made progress. Peter kept waiting for a shout from behind, running feet easily gaining on them — the tension was almost unbearable.

Neal was hissing quietly with each downward step he took, seemingly not aware that he was doing so. His arm would be being jogged each time. Peter didn't even know how bad the break was, or if Neal had been lying when he said he had no other injury.

Well, that one was doubtless bad enough.

"Nearly there," Neal whispered at last.

Peter could tell immediately that the next door Neal opened led outside — traffic noise rushed in with the draught to greet them, as did the sharp tang of cigarette smoke. Neal, beside him, drew in a quick, delighted breath.

And froze.

"Run," Neal snapped, and tugged at Peter's arm. Peter stumbled forwards instantly, his senses sharp with spiking fear, shoes sliding over gravel as he tried to match Neal's pace.

"Stop!" someone shouted, behind them.

Peter ran — and then something turned beneath his feet and he tripped, Neal's hand ripped away, the impact jarring through his arms which he had thrown out in front of him just in time to break his fall. "Go!" he yelled, even before he had hit the ground. "Go!" Neal could get away, at least —

"No!" Neal grabbed at him, trying to pull him up. "Come on!"

"Don't move." This other voice was hard and angry.

"Marvin," Neal said, flatly. He was breathing heavily. "Nice of you to —"

There was a crack of impact, and then the sound of Neal's body hitting the ground hard.

"You," Marvin commanded instantly, presumably to Peter. "Don't try anything."

Peter sat back onto his heels. He cautiously stretched his hand out as far as he could, trying to locate Neal, but he was out of reach. And presumably unconscious. It didn't sound as if he had even attempted to break his fall.

The boot slamming painfully into his stomach knocked out all the breath from him, and toppled him down hard onto the gravel.

"I said, don't move!"

Peter fought against gulping for air, against making any sound to betray that he was hurt.

"Boss," Marvin said. "Your prisoners tried to get away. I'm with them out back."

Iles's voice came tinnily from a cell phone speaker. Peter couldn't make out the words.

"Yeah, sure. Oh, Caffrey needs to be dragged."

Peter wanted not to give Marvin the satisfaction of reacting to that, but he couldn't quite manage it.

- - -

They didn't remember to tie him up. The lack of threat they clearly felt from him was almost insulting, except that it was also true. Iles just shoved Peter down onto an upright wooden chair and told him to stay still (or else) while Neal was dealt with. There was the ripping sound of duct tape being wound around something — Neal, clearly. Peter, hoping desperately, hid his hands behind his back.

By the time they'd finished securing Neal, Peter's lack of restraints had apparently been forgotten about. Unsurprising, in some ways. Neal was clearly the criminal, the escape artist, the one who had got them out. Peter was blind, and needed to be led. Not someone to worry about when Neal was there to be the focus.

He sat very still, and hoped to maintain that impression.

More than one pair of feet (there had been three men at most in the room; Peter was sure of that) crossed the floor and left through the door, which was closed firmly.

Silence, except for soft breathing.

Peter doubted that the two of them had been left on their own again, but he had to at least try. "Neal?" he whispered. And again, when he received no response. "Neal?"

"I don't think he's feeling very talkative," Iles said.

Peter, this time, managed not to react. "What do you want from us?" he asked, steadily. "If you're still trying to use Neal's skills you might want to take better care of him."

"I think I'm rather past that point." Peter thought that Iles must be standing over by Neal. It occurred to him, with sudden horror, than when Neal had been bound up his broken arm had probably not been spared. "So," Iles continued, "I need to know what resources the FBI has out looking for me. Which of my bank accounts you're watching. How it's safe for me to leave the city."

"I can't give you that information," Peter said.

There was the sharp smack of flesh striking flesh. Peter bit into his lip.

"Caffrey, I know you're awake," Iles snapped.

Peter, for his part, now hoped that Neal would remain unconscious for a while longer. Or at least, if he actually was already awake, that he could continue to hide that fact. Anything to stop Iles using Neal against him.

Then Neal screamed.

"Stop it!" Peter shouted, not knowing what exactly Iles was doing but his imagination providing him with far too many possibilities. "Stop!"

Neal's scream subsided into rapid, panting breaths.

"Right," Iles said. "Tell me what I want to know."

"I don't know what the FBI have been doing," Peter insisted. "Neither of us do. Neal isn't an agent, he's a CI — you know that! And thanks to your men I've been on sick leave. I have no idea at all what's been happening with your case."

"That's true," Neal said, his voice hoarse. "Maybe if you didn't employ idiots none of us would be in this situation." He cut off suddenly with another high, gasping noise of pain.

"Stop hurting him!" Peter demanded, desperately. "He doesn't know anything!"

"Give me something, and I will."

Peter swallowed hard. "I don't know any specific details," he said. "But I can guess what the FBI's most likely to do."

"No," Neal pleaded. "No, Peter, don't."

Peter ignored him. He would be taking a risk, but Diana and Jones were entirely up to the task of catching up with Iles, once he was running and no longer holed up here. Giving Iles some limited information would give him an edge, but hopefully not too much of one.

And he was not willing to listen to Neal being hurt because of his silence.

- - -

Neal found himself unable to look away from Iles as Peter laid out basic FBI tactics — leaving out several key pieces of information, he noted. Iles's attention was rigidly focused on Peter, soaking up every word. He was very frightened, and very desperate.

Which made him very dangerous.

Neal was frightened himself, not least at Iles's concentrated focus. Get away from Peter! he wanted to shout. His thoughts were too blunted by the after-echoes of the excruciating agony of Iles tightening his fingers over the broken bone to come up with any sort of plan.

"I do hope your information is accurate," Iles commented to Peter.

"It is," Neal said.

Iles had begun stalking across the room to Peter's chair, but he stopped and looked back at Neal. "As it happens, I'm wondering how I can be certain of that."

Peter's head lifted, and Neal knew exactly what he was going to say, knew that he had to get there first. "Let Peter go," he said. "Keep me as a hostage."

Peter began shaking his head — No, don't! — but Neal made himself look away from the gesture Peter couldn't be sure he'd seen. This was the sensible course of action. Neal was the one who was used to getting out of tighter corners than this. He had more of a chance of getting out of here, too.

And he could, most importantly, see — see things such as the gun which had just appeared in Iles's hand. Iles pointed to it, and then pressed a finger against his lips.

Neal swallowed. But he didn't say anything, not even as Iles advanced towards Peter. What could he say? Nothing at all to help Peter to dodge a bullet.

"You ruined everything, Caffrey," Iles said. Quietly, almost casually. But his hand was shaking slightly as he pointed the gun at Peter. "I just needed this score to pay of my debts, get out of the city. I wouldn't have been your problem anymore."

"A last score?" Neal asked, a trace of irony creeping into his voice.

He noticed, then, that the safety catch was already off. All Iles had to do was pull the trigger…

"A new start, at least," Iles said. He passed the barrel of the gun back and forth in front of Peter's bandaged eyes, bare inches from touching his face. Neal hardly dared to breathe.

"We'd have caught up to you eventually," Peter said, steadily. Unaware of the danger he was in.

"Sure of that, are you?"

"Oh, yes."

"Let him go," Neal pleaded. "He can't do anything. You know that. He isn't even part of the investigation."

He wasn't watching Iles's face anymore. He knew that was what he should be doing — getting a read on him, predicting how he would act — but his gaze could hardly move from that gun. He had no ideas. No clever tricks. And Peter was sitting completely, utterly still, having abandoned even the habit he'd quickly picked up of turning his head constantly to track others' movements. He just faced straight ahead.

As if… he was aware of precisely where the threat to him was.

"Iles!" Neal snapped, suddenly. Urgently. "There's something you don't know."

Iles reflexively half-turned toward him. "What?" he demanded.

Peter moved.

He swept his arm up, striking Iles's hand and forcing that upwards as well, so that the gun discharged harmlessly into the ceiling, even as Peter grabbed Iles's wrist and twisted it backwards so that the gun dropped away, before lashing out with a sharp kick and throwing himself forwards to bear Iles down to the floor.

"To your left, your left!" Neal called, as Peter's hand scrabbled across the floor, searching for the gun. Iles tried to twist away, but Peter's fingers closed over the gun's barrel and he snapped the safety on and slammed it sharply into Iles's skull, with impeccable aim. Although, the blow had been hard enough to have caused damage wherever it might have connected.

"I can still hear," Peter snarled. "Still smell gunpowder, you arrogant bastard."

Iles was slumped limply. "He looks unconscious," Neal said. "But I'd hit him again, in case he's faking."

"Just to be sure," Peter agreed, breathing heavily, and did so. He turned his head towards Neal. "Sorry, buddy, but I need to secure him before I can get you loose."

"I know," Neal said. "If you want the rest of the duct tape, it's over by the wall."

"I'm going to need more precise directions than that," Peter said, wryly, still panting slightly.

"Sorry." Neal directed Peter as patiently as he could — turn right a bit, about three feet forwards — despite being tensed with urgency. Iles might wake up at any moment, and fight back.

But he didn't, and Peter was able to find his way back. He pulled Iles's arms together behind his back and bound them up to his elbows with the tape, repeating the procedure on Iles's lower legs. Then he went through Iles's pockets and came up with a cell phone and a pocket knife.

Neal sat there patiently as Peter dialled Jones, and ordered him to get on and trace the call. "I hope you haven't forgotten about me," he said at last, a trifle petulantly.

Peter grinned. "Okay. Let's get you free."

Neal felt a little anxious at the thought of Peter wielding a blade he couldn't see, but decided it would be extremely tactless to say so. He just tried not to move at all as Peter cut through the tape to free his legs, and then his uninjured arm.

He paused at the other. "This is probably going to hurt you."

"I know." Neal gritted his teeth. "Get it over with."

He was steeled, but it did hurt. His arm had been bound firmly along the arm of the chair, and the pain was bad enough as Peter carefully cut through the tape near his elbow. Then, once he had an end, he began unwinding it. It tugged stickily at the skin beneath.

"Sorry, buddy," he said, quietly.

"Mmm," Neal acknowledged, through his clenched jaw. Then Peter's hands touched the tortuously agonising section and Neal began hyperventilating, his eyes screwed shut, and when the tape began pulling too he lost track of his surroundings altogether.

He came to lying on the floor, a gentle pressure on his chest. He blinked his eyes open with a groan. When things came back into focus he realised that it was Peter's hand, resting there to immediately alert him to Neal's waking.

"Back with me?" Peter asked, his voice gentle and very worried.

"Yeah." Neal didn't feel inclined to try sitting up. He turned his head to see that Peter had propped Iles (conscious; glaring) up against the door. "Nice barricade."

"I thought Iles would be less keen for his men to try and break in here if it's likely to result in him getting shot." Peter had the gun in his other hand, resting on his knee. "After all, my aim's not very good right now. He can't even gamble on me not wanting to kill him."

Neal chuckled tiredly. "Looks like you didn't need me at all."

"Oh, I don't know," Peter said, also smiling. "You were a pretty good distraction."

Sounds were beginning to filter in from a distance. Slamming doors, heavy booted footsteps, shouting.

"Peter!" Diana's voice called. "Neal!"

"In here!" Peter shouted back. "Iles, you can roll away from the door now."

Iles glared some more, but apparently accepted that he had very little choice in the matter. Just in time, too — Diana kicked the door in a moment later.

"Neal's hurt," Peter said immediately. "He needs an ambulance."

"I can walk," Neal protested, struggling to sit up.

Peter pressed down firmly on his chest, holding him still. "Well, you're not going to. Stop moving."

Neal subsided, not all that reluctantly.

Peter turned back to Diana. "Elizabeth," he said, urgently. "Is she —"

"She's fine," Diana said. "Very worried about you, of course, but she's fine." She paused. "Boss? You might want to put the gun down now."

- - -

Peter had very little warning, guided by Jones through the noisy hospital corridor, before he was suddenly enveloped by familiar arms. He pressed his face down into the familiar, so-safe scent of El's hair, hugging her back fiercely.

"Oh," she murmured. "Oh, hon. I was so scared…"

"I'm okay," he promised her. "I'm right here." He pulled back slightly, cupping her face in his hands before running them down her arms. He froze abruptly as he felt the bulk of a bandage there. "Hon?"

"Just a graze," she said, firmly. "How's Neal?"

"They took him into surgery to fix his wrist — it was broken." Badly, he'd surmised. He hoped that he hadn't managed to make it too much worse.

El sighed in relief, and took a tight hold of his hand. "What about you?"

"I'm fine. Got checked out and everything. Look, I got shiny new bandages."

"Hmm." El didn't sound particularly convinced. "Well, you look like you need to sleep for a year, but I know that's not going to happen right now. At least you can sit down and have something to eat."

"No, we should —"

"Peter," she said, very firmly. "There's plenty of time for you to eat something before Neal will be out of surgery and awake. You're not going to argue about this."

"I'm not?" he asked, smiling slightly.

"No. You're not." He could hear all the suppressed worry from the past few days in her voice, lending her statement all the force of an order.

He stopped protesting. And a sandwich, hot drink, and a change of clothes later he felt much calmer, and much more like himself. There was indeed still plenty of time after that in which to sit and wait for news of the surgery, El nestled into his lap with their arms around each other.

Eventually they were allowed to sit with Neal while they waited some more for him to wake up. Peter followed the line of the bed to find Neal's right shoulder and let his hand rest there, where he could feel the gentle rise and fall of Neal's chest as he breathed. El still claimed his other hand, in a chair beside his with her head leaning against his arm, and Peter finally began to feel the tension, the fear, the feeling of utter helplessness ease out of him.

A short while later, Neal stirred. Peter felt it in the shift of muscles beneath his palm, and sat forward. "Neal? Can you hear me?"

"Hey," Neal mumbled, groggily, and Peter let out a deep, relieved breath. Despite assurances, he hadn't until that moment quite been able to believe that their ordeal was over.

"Hello, Neal," El greeted him. "Good to see you."

Peter cleared his throat. "Are you feeling better?"

"I…think so?" Neal hazarded, and Peter chuckled, rubbing his thumb gently against Neal's shoulder.

"Hey," Neal said, after a moment. "Peter. Wouldn't have made it out on my own. You were awesome."

"I was about to say much the same thing," Peter said. "Possibly with less slurring. Thank you."

"Why don't you put it down to teamwork?" El suggested, and kissed Peter's cheek lightly. "You are partners, after all."

Neal made an immediate noise of agreement. "Peter?" he asked, when Peter remained silent. "Partners."

"I might still have to leave the Bureau," Peter reminded him. His elation had abruptly drained away.

Neal pushed himself up. Peter began to take his hand away, but Neal's fingers closed over his forearm with a surprisingly strong grip. "You could still consult or something, couldn't you? Wouldn't have t' leave the FBI completely." He pronounced the last word carefully, hesitating over the syllables.

"I suppose I could do that," Peter said, slowly, wondering why that had never really occurred to him before. It had been mentioned, but he hadn't given it more consideration than a pipe dream. But he was, after all, still capable. Still had all the knowledge he'd accumulated over a career. Still possessed his skills. If nothing else, the past couple of days had proved that.

Odd, the things it could take to give one a new perspective. And equally odd, how quickly and completely that new perspective could colour everything with optimism.

"And," Neal continued, cheerfully, "I've been a consultant for longer. Would I get to be your superior?"

"Don't talk when you're doped up, Caffrey," Peter growled, as El tried, not particularly hard, to smother her laughter.

- - -

"I brought you some more exciting case files," Neal called, tossing them down on the coffee table before going to hang his coat on the rack. "For a given value of exciting, that is. You want me to read them to you?"

"Later," Peter said. He waved in belated greeting, since Neal had apparently seen no reason he should break his new habit of letting himself in. "El keeps reminding me that I'm still on sick leave."

"I'd have thought she'd be less pleased about you working after dinner than before."

"She's running an event then," Peter explained, grinning. "She won't be here to stop me."

"She can hear you," El called from the kitchen, where she was working on her laptop.

"I know," Peter called back to her, as Neal flopped down onto the couch next to him. "Long day?" he asked.

Neal glared at him. "You know I'm stuck on mortgage fraud cases. Still. I can't wait for you to get back to the office."

"You look like you've found a way to keep yourself occupied," Peter said, with a pointed nod towards Neal's cast. Originally plain white, it was now decorated with a complicated geometric mosaic, the shapes comprising it becoming filled in with the various colours of FBI ballpoint pens.

"I need to keep my artistic talents sharp," Neal said, airily and not at all guiltily. He frowned suddenly at Peter. "Seriously. You're coming back soon, right?"

"In about a week," Peter told him, unable to keep from smiling broadly in anticipation. "I just have to rest and not strain my eyes for a few more days, and the doctor says he'll clear me."

El poked her head around the door. "I don't think he meant you to interpret that as making Neal read all your files to you." She didn't seem particularly disapproving, and Peter felt a rush of happiness seeing the smile on her face. "Coffee? Since you both seem determined to have a late night."

Peter grinned a little sheepishly, and relaxed back against the couch. His hand went up to lightly touch the lingering marks the acid had left on his face, which had faded almost completely now. The memory of the terror he had felt about never seeing again had faded too.

There would be some scars, of course. But that was to be expected.

"You alright?" Neal asked.

The worst moment, the very worst, had been at the hospital, back again two days after Neal had been discharged, when the nurse had begun to take the dressing off his eyes with slow and careful fingers. Peter vividly remembered sitting there unmoving, barely breathing, as he waited. He had clutched El's hand so tightly that it must have hurt, although she hadn't said a word.

Whether or not his eyes would recover had been fixed days beforehand, almost at the very instant of the attack. Rationally, he had known that all along. But Peter had almost been driven to beg the nurse to wait, to leave his eyes safely closed just a little longer, because suddenly an eternity of uncertain limbo seemed infinitely preferable to the permanent blindness he had suddenly and sharply been convinced awaited him.

Except that it hadn't. The doctor had been in front of him in the dimly lit room when he finally forced himself to crack his eyes open, but even in the first startled shock of realisation his gaze immediately sought out El. Who was waiting for just that, and who caught the small movement and was beaming delightedly even before he had quite registered it for himself.

Peter shook himself out of the memory. Now, everything was normal again, already feeling as if it had never been any other way. Outside the windows the sun was setting over the buildings, streaking the low clouds red, and Satch was nosing at Neal's meticulously polished shoe, and El was bringing out three matching mugs of coffee with a pen tucked behind her ear, and Peter could see all those things. All the little things that made up his world.

"I'm just fine," he said.

He would have been able to cope. If his fears had come true, if his life had changed, for ever, he would have been able to cope. He was certain of that now.

Finding the couch fully occupied, El perched on his knee, and kissed him once she'd handed out the mugs.

"You look preoccupied," she said. "What are you thinking about?"

Peter shrugged, and then smiled at them both. "Nothing in particular," he said. "Just… feeling happy with life. You know."

Photobucket


- - -

Posted at http://frith-in-thorns.dreamwidth.org/73607.html with comment count unavailable comments.
 
 
 
Varda ☆: Neal and Peter Badgesx_varda_x on September 23rd, 2012 03:37 pm (UTC)
Aw, I really liked this! This bit made me LOL

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."
"From you, imitation is usually a felony."
Frith: White Collar - Diana+Peter - benchfrith_in_thorns on September 23rd, 2012 11:19 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
shadowfireflame: White Collarshadowfireflame on September 23rd, 2012 04:50 pm (UTC)
Oh, yay, I'm so glad Peter was okay in the end. This was such a roller coaster ride! I'm really impressed with your writing on Peter's perspective in particular since he has to process everything through his other senses. And yet he still manages to be a badass--this was one of my favorite lines:

"I can still,/i> hear," Peter snarled. "Still smell gunpowder, you arrogant bastard."

He's so sexy when he's angry and being awesome. :)
Frith: White Collar - Peter - smile framefrith_in_thorns on September 23rd, 2012 11:40 pm (UTC)
I did really love writing angry!Peter there :D And I'm really glad you liked how I did Peter's POV - that was a really interesting writing challenge. Thank you very much!
Winter: savemewinterstar95 on September 23rd, 2012 04:56 pm (UTC)
Oh you know I think you said at some point you thought your bb was going to be whumping for Peter, but really you hit hard with both of our boys here. The part with Peter blinded and listening to what is happening to Neal is terrifying! Well done. Thanks so much for a great Sunday read.
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - shirtsfrith_in_thorns on September 23rd, 2012 11:44 pm (UTC)
It occurred to me that having Neal being hurt with Peter unable to stop it would be a very effective way of hurting Peter (wow, that sentence makes me sound like a terrible person!) :P I'm really glad you enjoyed reading this - thank you very much! :)
okmewritingokmewriting on September 23rd, 2012 05:21 pm (UTC)
Aww this is a really lovely story.
Frith: White Collar - Neal - blue shirtfrith_in_thorns on September 23rd, 2012 11:44 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much!
(Anonymous) on September 23rd, 2012 06:11 pm (UTC)
Good stuff, Maynard!
This is wonderful! Peter, Neal, and El were all perfectly true-to-character, and the excitement in the first scene not only established the action but also provided a break for the quieter parts that you expect in a blind fic. Great work!
Frith: White Collar - Neal - purple shirtfrith_in_thorns on September 23rd, 2012 11:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Good stuff, Maynard!
Thank you very much! :D I'm very happy that you enjoyed reading, and especially that you liked how I wrote the characters :)
leesa_perrie: Neal & Peterleesa_perrie on September 23rd, 2012 06:58 pm (UTC)
Fantastic! Loved this sooo much!! Lots of lovely lines in it - like the imitation is felony bit, the not-so-secret feeding tablescraps to Satchmo (who whuffs each time!) bit, the angry Peter who can still smell gunpowder and take down the bad guy bit (go Peter!), to this bit:

"And," Neal continued, cheerfully, "I've been a consultant for longer. Would I get to be your superior?"

"Don't talk when you're doped up, Caffrey," Peter growled, as El tried, not particularly hard, to smother her laughter.


LOL!! And then all that lovely action and angst and the most wonderful plot! Thank you, this is just what I needed today! :)

Edited at 2012-09-23 06:58 pm (UTC)
Frith: White Collar - Neal - smile hatfrith_in_thorns on September 24th, 2012 09:19 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!! I'm really happy you enjoyed this, I'm really pleased with it! :D And angry!Peter was my favourite bit to write, I love him being excellent and capable. I had a lot of fun writing angst for him, too!
Saphira: White Collar2saphirablue on September 23rd, 2012 07:07 pm (UTC)
I'm in love with this fic!

blind!Peter FTW!!!!!!!! So, so, so awesome! Peter having to deal with his blindness, thinking about what he'll do should this be permanent and saving the day while being blind! \o/

And the Neal whump? ♥ I love that he always got whumped when it's been Peter's POV - that's a great way to keep the suspense up! =)

I could see the scenes in the storage closet, when Peter and Neal are talking, right before my eyes. ♥ Also, I love how you have their banter down to pat - as if I'd watch an episode!

Thank you very much for this fic! :)
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - tablefrith_in_thorns on September 24th, 2012 09:22 pm (UTC)
Awww, thank you so much! And thank you for the lovely rec, too! ♥

I really love writing Neal and Peter just bantering with each other, it's a lot of fun. And I thought right away with this that a good way to give Peter a load of angst was to have Neal being hurt while he couldn't see what was going on, so I'm really glad you liked that. And, just, I really enjoyed writing Peter here, it was a challenge and really fun :) Thank you again!
izzie7izzie7 on September 23rd, 2012 07:19 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed this a lot. You captured Peter's fears and determination, and gave a great Neal from Peter's perspective, all tied in with a case story. What more could anyone want!
Frith: White Collar - Peter - smile framefrith_in_thorns on September 24th, 2012 09:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! I'm really glad you liked this - I very much enjoyed writing Peter here :)
kanarek13: inkedkanarek13 on September 23rd, 2012 08:36 pm (UTC)
Awwww... Peter!whump \o/ I can always count on you in that department... heee... What a wonderful story! Everything is just so well-written and everyone is 100% in character - the uncertainty and fear in both Peter and Neal, their friendship, their kickass skills even in a whumpy situation - it's all LOVE \o/

I want this made into an episode :P I'm ready to bribe whoever I need to :P

Thank you for this wonderful story *hugs*
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - shirtsfrith_in_thorns on September 24th, 2012 11:17 pm (UTC)
Hee! :D I'm really happy you enjoyed this, and especially glad that you felt they were all in-character in this situation. I was also trying for something that felt at least a little like an episode (although with quite a lot more h/c *gg*), so your comment is making me grin wildly here :D :D :D Thank you so much!
Sholio: WhiteCollar-Peter Neal soft filtersholio on September 23rd, 2012 09:30 pm (UTC)
EEEEEE! Oh, this was awesome. I've really been looking forward to this ever since you started talking about your Big Bang, and it more than lived up to expectations! Everything was just perfect: the banter, the teamwork, the mutual worry. You did a great job of depicting Peter's POV and cranking up the tension with his inability to see what was happening around him (the attack at his house and the scene in which Neal was being tortured were especially effective for that) and I loved how both Peter and Neal were so competent and clever and so concerned for each other's welfare. Awesome, awesome story. \o/
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - boysfrith_in_thorns on September 24th, 2012 11:28 pm (UTC)
:D :D :D Thank you so much!! I had ridiculous angst over this while working on it, but I'm really happy with the final version. And I'm so glad it lived up to your expectations! *does a happy dance*

It was really interesting writing Peter in that sort of situation - he is just so practical and competent, though. And I did know right away that what I was going to be doing was hurting El and Neal while Peter could hear but not see it *gg* Because I'm cruel. And I also really love writing Neal and Peter caring for and being concerned about each other - they do it so well! :D
Sally M: white collar 6sallymn on September 23rd, 2012 09:33 pm (UTC)
Absolutely wonderful! Peter is so... Peter, brave and brilliant even when most people would be helpless - and Neal panics/frets so beautifully, doesn't he?

El was right - they were both awesome :)
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - walk wallsfrith_in_thorns on September 24th, 2012 11:30 pm (UTC)
Neal does indeed :D And Peter is such a wonderfully clever and competent character, I love trying to show that in my fic.

I'm very happy you enjoyed this. Thank you! :D
devra_01: charleydevra_01 on September 24th, 2012 12:38 am (UTC)
True partners, through thick and thin, no matter what obstacles were in their way. Great story!
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - shirtsfrith_in_thorns on September 24th, 2012 11:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! And they totally are :)
oh these heroes come and go;: [mt] wc promo;;micheleeeex on September 24th, 2012 02:13 am (UTC)
I loved this!
Frith: White Collar - Neal - purple shirtfrith_in_thorns on September 24th, 2012 11:31 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much!
a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf: White Collar - Peterembroiderama on September 24th, 2012 02:29 am (UTC)
I really love this! It's a fantastic combination of h/c for them both, and I also really like that Peter was persistent about exploring his world while blind and that we saw how capable he was.
Frith: White Collar - Peter - smile framefrith_in_thorns on October 7th, 2012 04:52 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! It was really fascinating writing from Peter's perspective here :)
lauracollaredlauracollared on September 24th, 2012 04:03 am (UTC)
This is fantastic. I really really loved the bond between Peter & Neal in this. The touching of each other. The understanding. The banter. The love. The trust.

Absolutely wonderful! <3
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - shirtsfrith_in_thorns on October 7th, 2012 04:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I absolutely adore writing those two :)