Frith (frith_in_thorns) wrote,

[fic: white collar] The Opposite of Escape Artistry

Title: The Opposite of Escape Artistry
Characters/Pairing: Neal, Peter; Gen
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 3500
Warnings: None
Notes: For aqwt101, as promised aaaages ago. Also fills the "cuddling" square on my hc_bingo card. (I hadn't written completely gratuitous drugged!Neal for a while, and it's very relaxing.)

Summary: Neal maintained the ability to get out of trouble on his own for exactly as long as he needed to.

- - -

Peter had been having a bad feeling about this stage of the operation all day, and it was with a higher than usual level of anxiety that he was sitting in the van adjusting his headset volume. Even Jones, usually patient to a fault, was giving his fidgeting wry glances.

Neal hadn't shared his concern; at any rate, his conversation with the antiquities fence was going smoothly so far and accompanied by the sociable clink of glasses. Diana was also inside the bar, posing as a another patron.

"I'm definitely interested in what you're selling, Halden," their fence said, his voice only slightly muffled by the background noise. Merrick was slippery, and Peter found himself leaning forward as he finally got to it. "Can we discuss specifics?"

"Happy to do so," Neal said, which was according to plan, but Peter frowned. There seemed to be something slightly off about Neal's voice. A moment later there was the noise of a chair being scraped back and, "Uh, would you excuse me for a moment first?"

"Neal, what are you doing?" Peter muttered. Neal was supposed to be pushing here, dangling a tempting deal in front of Merrick. "Do you know what he's up to?" he demanded of Jones, who shook his head.

"Bit much to drink?" Merrick asked, and Peter frowned more deeply as Neal laughed a little unsteadily, promising to be right back.

"Diana, can —" Peter began.

Neal cut across him. "Need Merrick distracted. Two minutes."

"I'm on it," Diana said, before Peter could ask.

He wanted badly to demand an explanation from Neal, but he was only wearing the transmitter in his watch. From Diana's radio he heard her knock into Merrick and start flirting. Jones tweaked the channels to allow Peter to concentrate on Neal.

"Peter," Neal muttered. He was still in the bar — the background noise was loud. "I've been dosed."

Peter checked he wasn't transmitting before letting out an expletive.

"Don't freak out," Neal added. His words were already beginning to sound slurred.

Jones was monitoring Diana. Peter glanced over and Jones nodded — she still had Merrick's attention.

"It'll be fine," Neal mumbled. The noise of the bar abruptly dropped away, and his footsteps echoed slightly. "I, uh, just need a minute. Just. And, um…"

Peter winced at the sound of Neal making himself puke up his stomach contents.

"Should we move in?" Jones asked.

"Wait," Peter said. Neal sounded bad, but he also seemed to have some sort of plan. "Get to the back exit," he ordered, after a moment. "Be ready, but don't move unless I tell you. And call a medic."

"Got it," Jones said, and that just left Peter in the van by himself, listening to Neal in trouble and alone.

"Merrick's moving," Diana broke in. "Heading towards the restroom. His man's with him."

Going after Neal. Who hadn't left the room. Peter had heard the cistern flush, and then some heavy movements of an unsteady body, but the door hadn't opened again. There weren't any windows.

"Don' do anything," Neal mumbled, as if he could hear Peter's thoughts. "Tr'st me…"

Very afraid that he was going to regret it, Peter nonetheless did.

He heard the door open. "Halden?" Merrick called. "Just came to check on you." Then, with actual concern this time, "Halden?"

Peter tensed, waiting for what Neal would say. But there was silence.

"Boss?" Merrick's man queried, nervously.

"He's not here," Merrick said. "Where the hell did he go?"

"He went in here and didn't come out, I swear."

"Obviously you're wrong!" There was a loud bang — Peter guessed Merrick had slammed or kicked a stall door. "Fuck!"

His anger was understandable. He had played his hand too early, losing Halden's trust without gaining anything in return. Peter dreaded to think what that would have been.

But where the hell was Neal? It was his watch which was enabling Peter to hear what was going on, after all.

"We're leaving," Merrick said, tersely, and the door closed on their footfalls.

Peter gave it a few heartbeats after Diana's, "They've left, boss. Car's pulled out," before putting down his headset and moving in. Carefully. If Neal had managed to maintain cover up until now, Peter wasn't about to blow it.

Jones appeared at his elbow. "I saw them before they drove off — they didn't look happy."

"Good," Peter said. "Keep people out of the room while we get Neal."

"Sure thing," Jones said, and took up a guard position outside the door as Peter and Diana entered.

There was clearly no one in the bathroom — there were only two stalls, and both doors were standing open. Nor did there seem to be anywhere to hide. But if Neal's radio had picked up Merrick, he must be close. "Neal?" Peter said, to the empty room.

He wasn't actually surprised to hear an answering groan, but he couldn't locate it. "Neal?" he said, again. "Where are you?"

There was a soft thump. Peter had just time to realise that it came from above him before a ceiling tile half slid back and then fell down instead, landing almost at his feet. Neal’s face appeared in the gap, hair dishevelled. “Heeeey, Peter,” he said, blinking in an unfocused sort of way. There was dust smudged on his face, and he looked like he was having a hard time keeping his eyes open.

Peter sighed in relief. “Are you okay?” he asked.

“I, uh..” Neal frowned, considering, and then apparently lost track. “Shall I get down?”

Can you?” Peter asked. “Without breaking your neck, I mean.”

“Yeah, ‘course.” Neal began to slide out head first — thankfully halting abruptly at the joint exclamations of alarm from Peter and Diana. He retreated, and there was some thumping around before he dropped from the ceiling (feet first this time) in what could only be described as a barely-controlled fall. He hit the floor and said, “Huh,” in a mildly dazed way, right before his knees folded.

Peter, however, was ready for this, and managed to grab Neal in time to keep him from collapsing completely. Diana moved to support Neal on the other side as Peter slung Neal’s unresisting arm over his shoulders. “Okay, let’s get you out of here,” he said.

Neal appeared to have no particular interest in the matter, letting his head loll against his chest as Peter and Diana steered him out past Jones — who had managed to give them privacy without having to show his badge. Good. This was far from the smoothest extraction Peter had ever done, but it was certainly better than some.

To his intense relief, the ambulance which Jones had called had already pulled in just around the corner. The paramedic hopped down to get Neal up the footplate and sitting on a gurney in the back. Peter ended up sitting beside him, it being the easiest way to lower Neal, and was immediately pinned as Neal slumped sideways to sprawl over Peter’s shoulder.

“I’m Dev,” the medic told Peter. “Your agent filled me in — your other guy’s been drugged, right? What’s his name?”

“Neal Caffrey,” Peter said. He shook Neal slightly. “Yeah, he was undercover, and something got slipped into his drink. Come on, Neal, wake up.”

Neal muttered something unintelligible and tried to turn his face further into Peter’s shoulder, away from the light.

“Neal?” Dev said. He got Neal’s jacket off — Peter helped — and wrapped a blood pressure cuff onto his arm. “Neal, can you look at me? I’m a paramedic.”

“Caffrey, open your eyes,” Peter ordered, giving him another, slightly harder, shake.

That seemed to do it -- Neal lifted his head about half an inch, and opened bleary eyes. “Wha’s matter?”

“You’ve been drugged,” Peter said. “How are you feeling?”

“Tired.” Which was obvious from the way he was clearly struggling to keep his eyes open.

Dev took advantage of Neal’s temporary lucidity, making him follow a penlight and asking questions, most of which even he got answers to. “I’m going to take a couple of blood samples,” he said. He got a weak groan from Neal, and a firm nod from Peter.

“Is he okay?” Peter asked. Neal took advantage of the focus being off him to burrow back into Peter’s shoulder. Peter felt he couldn’t complain too much, since he was aware that he was pretty much the only thing keeping Neal in a semi-upright position.

Dev prepared a couple of sample tubes and rolled up Neal’s sleeve above his elbow to find the vein. “I’ll make sure these go for testing -- I expect you’ll find it’s one of the classic roofie drugs, though. Respiratory depression is the thing to watch out for in that case, but his breathing and pulse are both strong.”

“Should he go to the hospital?” Peter asked.

“We can bring him in if you’re worried,” Dev said, “But really, once he’s slept off the sedative effects he should be fine.”

“That’s good to hear,” Peter said, relieved. He had been anxiously rubbing Neal’s back, and now he ruffled his hair. That provoked an aggravated movement of Neal’s shoulders and a grumbled, “Stoppit Pet’r!”

Dev grinned. “Yeah, he’s all right. Your call, though.”

Peter considered it. “He’s not really very good with waking up in strange places,” he said. “If you’re sure it won’t do him any harm, I’ll drive him home and make sure he’s okay.”

Dev nodded. “Like I said, I’ll send his blood samples for testing. I assume you’ll want them for evidence.” He gave Peter a list of things to watch out for if Neal started to go downhill, which had him begin to worry again, until Dev reassured him that if Neal were going to have a dangerous reaction, there would almost certainly be signs of it already due to the speed of metabolism.

Getting Neal to the van was an achievement, even with help from Jones this time. Neal clung determinedly to Peter with far more concern than he was giving to where he put his feet. Peter once again found himself having to sit down, on the floor this time, to get Neal to do the same, and made the executive decision that they could make the drive light that. At least Neal probably wouldn’t remember it, and therefore wouldn’t be able to tease him for flouting traffic laws.

Still, he and Diana managed to do a partial debrief (Jones was driving), even though he had to crane his neck to see her properly. She, in her turn, was clearly fighting a smile at the image he and Neal made. “I’m impressed he managed to get into the ceiling in this state without killing himself,” she commented.

Peter shuddered. “Still less of a risk than finding out what Merrick’s plan for him was.”

“That’s true,” she agreed, sombrely. Then she grinned. “He’s pretty adorable when he’s drugged, you know. But don’t tell him I said that.”

Peter laughed. Neal huffed a protest at the sudden motion. “I agree. And my lips are sealed.”

- - -

The house, when they finally made it that far, was dark. El would be in Boston for another two days.

Peter unclipped his seatbelt and leaned across to give Neal a shake. “Hey. Last leg, I promise, and then I’ll let you stay asleep.”

Neal just drew in his shoulders, face scrunching up, so Peter shook him again. “Neal!”

That got a whimper of protest. Peter rolled his eyes and got out of the car, walking round to open the passenger door. “Caffrey!” he barked.

The forlorn noise Neal made in response to that was so pitiful that Peter raised his eyebrows, both amused and exasperated. “For goodness’ sake, I’m not trying to torture you,” he said. “Come on. Up.” He punctuated his words this time by putting his arm around Neal and bodily pulling him out of the car, forcing him to get his feet under himself.

“No, don’t wanna,” Neal muttered. His eyes were still squeezed tightly shut.

“I don’t care.” Peter was attempting not to feel heartless, and didn’t quite succeed. But he managed to half coax, half drag Neal up the steps to the front door. Unlocking it was rather difficult with an armful of his apparently-boneless CI, and it was with a distinct sense of relief that he finally pulled Neal into the house.

For Neal to decide that now was a great time to stop taking his weight altogether. He caught Peter off-balance, and somehow the two of them ended up in a pile on the carpet.

“Seriously?” Peter groaned. Neal was already curling into himself, looking to be only too happy to stay put. “This is ridiculous.”

“Shhh,” Neal murmured.

“I’m not going to shush!” Peter retorted, incredulous. “This is my house, you know, and I’m not going to just let you pass out on my living room floor.” Even if it would make his life much easier.

He really wished El was there. She would know what to do.

“Right,” Peter said, determinedly. He hooked his arm under Neal’s and dragged him, protesting under his breath, to his feet.

Getting him up the stairs and along the corridor was something of an act of will. It wasn’t until Peter had finally let Neal collapse onto the mattress that he realised, with an internal groan, that he had been concentrating so hard on keeping Neal upright that he had let his feet move on autopilot, taking them into his bedroom.

Neal didn’t seem to have noticed. He rolled over onto his front, with his face pressed into the duvet. Peter surveyed him, hands on hips, feeling his expression soften. There was something strange about seeing Neal in such an unguarded state, slack and still. Knowing how fiercely Neal maintained his defences, it felt rather like intruding.

Partly to buy himself time to decide on what the hell to do, Peter took his pyjamas with him to the bathroom and changed there.

Neal hadn’t moved at all during the time Peter had been out of the room, but as Peter sighed and sat down on the edge of the mattress he rolled over and clumsily caught a fistful of Peter’s loose teeshirt. “You came back,” he mumbled.

“Of course I did,” Peter said, trying both to not be amused and also to dislodge Neal’s grip. “This is my house, remember? To say nothing of my room. And my bed.”

Neal gave a contented-sounding hum. It was hard to believe that he could look so relaxed while his fingers still had a death grip on Peter’s shirt.

“Are you ready to move into the guest room?” Peter asked.

Neal made an unhappy noise and shook his head, sending it lolling from side to side. He managed somehow to bunch up even more of the fabric into his hand.

Peter groaned, and would have rolled his eyes if he hadn’t cut himself off by yawning widely instead. It was after 1 a.m. and he was seriously too tired for this. “All right,” he sighed. “Let go of me and I won’t kick you into the other room. You’ll have to just deal with me sleeping here too.”

The alacrity with which Neal nodded and let go of his shirt made Peter certain that the condition he had added wasn’t anything near as much of a disincentive as he’d hoped. This was further proved when he stood up and Neal tried to lunge for him again, mumbling something which sounded very much like, Don’t go.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Peter protested. He was tempted to start rolling his eyes again, but couldn’t quite manage it. Neal was just being too flat-out adorable. And there was something fragile and anxious behind the way he was reaching out desperately for something to cling to. Don’t leave me. “Neal, stop freaking out. I’m just trying to get you more comfortable.”

Neal subsided at the sound of his voice, and Peter again felt a swell of fondness for him. That lasted until Neal tried to help in the process of getting his own shoes off, and accidentally kicked Peter in the chest.

Eventually, though, Neal had his shoes and shirt off and that seemed good enough in the circumstances. With a slight groan, Peter finally allowed himself to flop down onto his side of the bed and turned off the light.

Neal made a high, anxious sound.

"I'm right here," Peter said, trying to sound reassuring even though he was so tired he suspected he was beginning to mumble himself. "Go to sleep." He reached out to find Neal's arm and give it a clumsy pat.

He wasn't even a little surprised when Neal immediately rolled over to latch onto him again, and didn't let go.

- - -

It was later than usual when Peter woke, and eased himself carefully out of the bed so as not to wake Neal, who was still deeply asleep. He paused a moment to check that Neal did seem to be breathing all right, but it seemed that last night's worry had indeed been unfounded. Neal's expression was relaxed as he sprawled across his side of the bed, well encroaching onto Peter's.

Peter shook his head slightly, but he was smiling. He dug out a teeshirt and some sweat pants he thought would probably fit Neal, and left them at the foot of the bed before heading downstairs.

He had eaten some toast and was just putting a new pot of coffee on when he heard movement upstairs. Shortly, Neal appeared, rumpled and bleary-eyed and dressed in Peter's too-large clothes.

"Coffee?" Peter asked, and pressed the mug he'd just poured out into Neal's hands without waiting for an answer. "Go sit down on the couch, you still look half-asleep."

Neal complied with what would usually have been suspicious obedience, and Peter followed him into the living room to claim his favourite armchair. Neal took several large gulps of coffee, rubbing his eyes hard with the knuckles of his other hand. "Huh," he said, eventually, staring down at the mug as if he wasn't sure where it had come from.

"How are you feeling this morning?" Peter asked.

Neal rubbed at his eyes again, and cleared his throat before attempting an answer. "Kind of, uh…" He trailed away, frowning. "Peter, why am I in your house?"

Peter, watching him, suddenly realised that Neal was anxious and trying to hide it. "What do you remember from last night?" he asked.

Neal frowned again. "I… There was a bar? No, wait. I was supposed to meet Merrick. What happened?"

"Merrick slipped something in your drink," Peter said, and watched a quick mix of emotions flick across Neal's face — including fear, quickly smoothed away. "You were checked out by EMTs, and then I brought you here. You were pretty out of it."

"He drugged me?"


"Ah." Neal looked more relieved than anything to have a clear-cut explanation. He seemed about to say something and then changed his mind, his tone becoming lighter. "Well, that explains the blackout. Did I miss anything exciting?"

Peter knew better than to believe Neal was as blase about his non-existent memory of events as he seemed, but he played along. "Merrick was aiming to grab you, but you hid by doing a pretty impressive spider-man act. Not sure how, since you could barely stand upright."

"I don't reveal my secrets," Neal said, with a theatrically enigmatic smile. He gulped down another mouthful of coffee.

"So, how are you feeling?" Peter asked, not having forgotten that Neal hadn't yet given him a answer.

"Tired, and also kinda spacey," Neal admitted. "I'm fine really, though. Thanks for letting me crash here." His expression conveyed more than his words as he met Peter's eyes.

Peter returned his smile. "You aren't going anywhere today. Tomorrow we'll be back in the office, so if you get bored you can start thinking about what's likely to be Merrick's next move."

"You didn't bring him in?"

"No, he stormed off when he couldn't find you. Your cover's still intact."

"Hah," Neal said, looking pleased. "Can Halden try to blackmail him?"

Peter stood up, remembering that he was still in pyjamas. "Write it up as an official suggestion, along with your statement. Do you want more coffee?"

"I have to write a statement?" Neal asked, indignantly. He sat up straighter, glaring.

Peter raised his eyebrows, knowing what was coming. "Of course you do. Fieldwork equals report. You know it always does."

"I was drugged!" Neal abruptly fell back into the cushions, suddenly becoming the picture of ailing health. His expression was deeply wounded. "I'm a victim. I can't even remember anything that happened."

Peter could feel his stern expression cracking in the face of so much provocation. "So it shouldn't take you long, should it?"

Neal crossed his arms sulkily. "Peter…"

It was even harder now not to laugh. "Once you've done that, I'll make you lunch and fill in the blanks for you," Peter said. He couldn't resist adding, "Especially the bits where you wouldn't stop cuddling me."

The fact that Neal managed to glower even more was a notable achievement.

- - -

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Tags: fanfic, fic: white collar, gen, hc, hc_bingo, white collar
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