Disclaimer : I still don't own White Collar.

Author's note : This takes place during Home Invasion… which means there are spoilers, so consider yourself warned! It starts off when Pierce and Neal are looking for the elephants in Peter's home, and centers on what could have happened next.

Love it? Hate it? Want more? Let me know!

"Please."

He wasn't sure who he was pleading with, Pierce, or Peter.

Please, don't shoot.

Please, get here in time.

Peter was smart. He'd understand the message if he saw it.

If he saw it.

It was a bigger if than Neal liked to gamble with. No matter how much he trusted the man, there was no guarantee Peter would review the tracking information, no guarantee his little trick with the wiring had even worked.

Like it or not, he was on his own, and his only hope was a long shot.

She raised the gun, and he knew, without a doubt, that she would fire. He had no ace in the hole here. There was no reasoning, only the barrel of a gun and the woman with her finger uncomfortably close to the trigger.

"Please," he said again.

Neal wracked his brain, trying to come up with something, anything to buy some time.

He wasn't prepared for what happened next.

The room exploded in sound and light, the TV and stereo coming to life so suddenly even he jumped in response. He heard voices shouting, the footfall of heavy boots on the floor. The cavalry, he thought, and almost smiled.

Until Pierce reacted exactly how he'd hope she wouldn't.

The sound of the gun firing was deafening, a sharp crack that echoed off the walls and left his ears ringing. White hot pain erupted in his chest, forceful enough that it sent all the air rushing out of his lungs. He staggered, trying to reclaim the oxygen he'd lost, but his throat seized up, making it hard to breathe.

He swayed, then hit his knees, and the world stopped. The army of agents in SWAT gear seemed to move in slow motion as they swarmed inside the house. He heard Peter's voice, shouting above the din, calling for them to hold their fire. Another voice directed at Pierce told her to drop the gun.

She complied, apparently deciding it was useless to fight. She was outnumbered, outgunned, and there was no quick exit this time.

The men grabbing her barely registered. All he could see was Pierce, her hair whipping about her face as they wrenched her arms behind her back. Everything else was out of focus as their eyes locked, hers wild and narrowed. The only regret he saw came when they slammed the cuffs around her wrists. She struggled against them for a brief moment, lunging forward and shouting something he didn't hear. Then they dragged her back, and she was gone.

The strength keeping him upright followed her out. He listed to the side, crashing to the floor, curling in on himself as if it would lessen the pain in his chest.

He heard Peter call his name, questioning.

"He's in here!" a voice he didn't recognized answered.

"Kill that noise!" Peter said, still shouting to be heard.

The stereo clicked off, then the TV, and the silence was so loud his ears rang with it. Or was that was still the gunshot's doing? He didn't know, didn't care. He almost wished it was too loud to hear the exact moment Peter found him.

"Neal!"

Peter rushed forward, falling to his knees beside Neal, hands grabbing at his shoulder.

"Are you hit?" he was asking, still shouting though the room was quiet. "Neal, are you hit?!"

He couldn't answer. The fire in his chest made it impossible to think about anything else.

He was rolled gently onto his back, Peter cursing when he saw the blood staining Neal's shirt.

"Man down!" He turned to the agents. "Somebody call an ambulance!"

Panic bubbled up in his chest. He managed to tamp it down, but Peter's hands were shaking as they hovered over the bloody mess of a chest, uncertain. "Dammit, Neal."

Muttering an apology, he placed his hands over the wound and pressed down-hard.

The world dimmed briefly around the edges, stars exploding before his eyes. He gasped, his hand shooting up to grab Peter by the wrist. His hand was clammy and covered in blood, his grip unrelenting.

"You came."

Peter looked down at him, furrowing his brow. "Of course I did."

"Of course," Neal echoed. "Just in time."

"Yeah, my timing's impeccable," he ground out.

"Wasn't sure you'd get the message."

"I got it," Peter said. "It was clever."

A stab of pain lanced through him, and he cringed away from it.

"Don't try to move!" Peter told him.

"S-she made me cut it," he panted urgently. "I wasn't running."

"I know."

"I wasn't working an angle, either," he added. "Alex is a fence... but she's not my fence. She's just an old friend."

"I know."

Though he didn't come out and say it, Neal could hear a hint of an apology in his voice. Then, it was hard not to be sorry when your hands were covered in another man's blood.

A young agent appeared at the edge of his vision, passing something to Peter. A towel, he realized, recognizing the cheery print from the kitchen. The pressure on his wound disappeared, the pain letting up slightly. He was dismayed to see the blood-his blood- staining Peter's hands soak easily into the clean fabric.

"The ambulance is on the way, sir," the agent said softly, then stepped back as if he was intruding on something.

"Don't, don't," Neal pleaded, watching Peter fold the towel with trepidation. "Please..."

"I'm sorry… I have to," he said, voice cracking.

Neal closed his eyes, forcing himself to breathe as Peter reapplied pressure to the wound. He knew how important it was, knew how heavily he was bleeding, but he couldn't stop the tears that slipped from his closed eyelids as the pain took his breath away again.

"Neal, wake up," Peter ordered loudly, hold on the panic wavering.

"Not… sleeping," he said, his voice sounding small to his own ears.

"Then open your eyes!"

He complied, surprised at how much effort the action took. Peter's face filled his vision, staring down at him with unconcealed concern.

"Is it bad?" he asked.

Hesitation.

"It's bad," he confirmed. He didn't need to hear it, he could read it all over Peter's face.

"Yeah, Neal," he said after a beat. "It's bad."

"Am I…" he couldn't bring himself to finish the thought. Instead he swallowed hard, bit back a shiver, and said, "El's gonna be mad."

Peter didn't answer him, asking over his shoulder, "Where the hell's that bus?"

"Bleeding all over your floor," Neal continued, no longer speaking directly to his partner. His gaze angled upward, watching the ceiling with disinterest.

"Trust me, kid," Peter laughed humorlessly. "That's not going to be what upsets her. You've grown on her."

"She always liked me," Neal argued as the lights flickered.

A pause. Then, "Yeah. She did."

He liked her, too. Elizabeth treated him like a person, not a criminal. She wasn't constantly glancing over her shoulder, wondering if he'd steal something while no one was looking. She welcomed him into her home, invited him to dinner, made him a friend when the rest of the world held him at arm's length.

And Peter… well, if someone had to catch him, he was glad it was Peter. He'd been suspected of countless crimes over the years, but Peter was the only one smart enough, persistent enough, to make even one charge stick.

He liked both of them more than he had a right to. They were good people, genuine, never putting on airs or pretending to be who they weren't. Not like him.

It didn't make them better or worse… just different. They were the kind of people he thought he might have liked to be, in another life. Wake up every morning, kiss the love of your life, eat your cereal, and head off to an honest day's work. It didn't sound so bad just then.

He drifted, thinking about Kate.

So many mornings they'd shared… and so many they'd missed.

Peter turned again, talking in hushed tones to someone Neal didn't have the energy to locate. Neal knew he was trying to be as gentle as he could, but every slight movement, or shift of his hands sent another wave of pain washing over him.

"You cold?"

He tried to say yes, and barely managed a mumble. It felt like the heat was leeching out of him, being sucked from his body into the floor around him.

Something heavy and warm draped over his legs-a jacket maybe, but it did little to ward away the cold seeping into his bones.

"Peter?" he asked softly.

"Yeah, Neal."

He closed his eyes again, dragged in a halting breath.

"Tell Kate…tell her I'm sorry."

"You can tell her yourself," Peter said sharply. "Neal? Neal! Open your eyes, dammit!"

He tried, he really did, but he was already too far gone.