Fic: Field Day

Title: Field Day

Rating: PG

Characters: Hughes, Neal, Peter

Spoilers: None

Word count: 2900

Summary: In order to complete an operation, Hughes must step outside of the office and into the van. Then he has to step outside of the van and break a rule or two.

If these were my creations it wouldn't be fan fiction, would it. Thank you, Jeff Eastin.

A/N: This is in response to a prompt on Collar Corner for an anonymous requester. Originally posted on live journal.

It wasn't often that Reese Hughes spent time in the van. Rank (not to mention seniority) has its privileges, after all, and he certainly had put in his share of surveillance shifts over the years. He didn't especially miss the all-nighters and endless hours of tedium, broken only by minutes of frenetic activity. But he had to admit, if only to himself, that he actually enjoyed putting in a few hours with his field agents in their sandbox instead of in his domain at headquarters.

Today was the day his white collar division was going to take down a key supplier of forged prescription pads. So far the pads that were already in circulation were good enough to get past several major pharmacy chains and would facilitate the purchase and sale of black market narcotics and pharmaceuticals. The two-person team that would meet the sellers consisted of one agent and one ex-forger. Today, though, with almost a quarter of the staff out with the flu (and why the hell didn't they get their flu shots?), he could either monitor the headset or call off the operation until the next time these pads were made available. Since that could be months away he opted to run point for communications in the van.

So then why, he asked himself, was he outside, crouched against a pile of dirty, ice-covered, rock hard compacted snow, offering aid and comfort to Peter Burke's CI?

Thirty minutes earlier

Everything was going well. This meeting, as the three previous ones, was taking place in a corner of a former meatpacking plant, accessible only on foot through a snow-covered narrow driveway. Neal had looked through a stack of prescription pads, tossing aside the ones that were stolen (because those WOULD be flagged) and indicating his admiration for the quality of the forged ones. Probationary Agent Jeffrey Monroe was behind him acting as his bodyguard. The one foreseeable problem was that Clinton Jones had already been introduced in that role; regrettably, he was one of three members of this particular team of agents out sick. Neal was even able to use Jones's illness by commenting that, if they'd had the 'script pads earlier, he could have gotten supplies of zanaivir* and not had to rely on his more youthful backup. He offered to purchase 600 packs of pads, "six-hundred" being the code for "any time, now," when one of the seller's hired help recognized Neal and yelled "Caffrey, what are you doing here?" Unfortunately, the seller knew Neal as George Devore, an issue that could have been resolved amicably, although it made both the young agent behind Neal and the seller a bit nervous. The seller recognized the name, if not the face, of Neal Caffrey, and wanted to know just why such a well-known forger would want to purchase his goods. Neal informed him that sometimes he was asked for something he didn't have the time to make himself, hence the need for an alias, but as a sign of good faith he would buy 1,000 packs instead. "One thousand," unlike six-hundred, meant the operation was going badly, and the take-down team should be forewarned.

Hughes passed all pertinent information along to the agents who were staking out the building's many entrances. The city's building plans showed more than a dozen access points from this corner of the massive structure to the street, but at least it was completely separate from the other three-quarters of the building. It turned out that there was one more exit - a ladder leading to a hole in the second floor roof, which, of course, would not appear on any building plans. One of the seller's help took off through that route, followed by Neal, just as agents swarmed the building. The original plan was for Neal and Monroe to be arrested with everyone else, so it looked as if George Devore was just attempting to "escape" from the FBI, as well. They both got to the ground outside and took off running, bad guy in the lead, Neal close behind.

Up until the time that the FBI entered the building there had been no indication that anyone was armed. All previous meetings with this particular forger and his team were low key and decidedly non-confrontational. Apparently, though, the forgers decided that with such a valuable commodity they should bring in their own muscle - not because they thought they might be raided by any law enforcement agency, but as protection against common street thugs. Over the com Hughes heard "FBI - freeze!" multiple times, followed by gun shots, followed by Peter yelling, "fall back." Being outgunned and outmanned the FBI made a tactical retreat back outside to prevent any egress from the building, while Hughes called for SWAT back-up. Monroe was still inside, but since he was thought to be in league with the forgers, he was at least safe.

With the plan totally shot to hell Hughes had every member of the team check in. Those who were in a position to speak freely gave their names and locations; fortunately every agent was unhurt. Hughes then asked Monroe to tap his com signal once if he was okay - one tap. Once again to indicate if he was still inside. One tap. That left one person unaccounted for -

"Caffrey - tap your com if you can hear me." No response.

"Caffrey, answer me." Still nothing.

"Anybody got eyes on Caffrey?" For all the frenzy that had been going on just a few moments before, there was now silence over the communication network. All Hughes could hear was someone breathing heavily, and then a gasp.

"Caffrey," he said quietly, "are you hurt?"

"Umm," another gasp, "have to - catch my breath."

"Anything else?"

He waited a full fifteen seconds without an answer.

"Neal, where are you?"

Slowly, very slowly, Neal responded. "Next to a snow pile."

Jeez, thought Hughes, that was not the answer he was looking for.

"What street are you on?"

"More of a sidewalk," he said softly.

"Caffrey, what happened to you," he asked as he pulled up Neal's tracking data. He didn't expect an answer. Neal was on the opposite side of the building from the rest of Peter's team. "Alright, I'm coming to you. The rest of you, hold your positions until SWAT arrives. I'm leaving the van until I get Caffrey back here."

Hughes regretted leaving the communications post unattended, but he had a man down, even if that man was a convicted felon with a bit less than two years left on his work release. Even if that man was occasionally a thorn in his side, Hughes had come to respect and admire his brilliance and his loyalty to Peter and his team - well, when it counted. So he stepped onto the snowy street and locked the van behind him. In the distance he heard gunshots again. Marvelous, he muttered.

About a block and a half away he found Neal sitting on a sidewalk, back pressed against a mound of compacted, graying snow left by street and sidewalk plows. There was blood smeared on his right temple. His eyes were glazed but he did respond to Hughes when Hughes called his name and squatted beside him.

"You shouldn't be out here," Neal said carefully.

"And you shouldn't be propped up against a pile of tomorrow's slush, but here we sit. Can you tell me what happened, Caffrey?" Hughes took off his scarf and slid it behind Neal's head while he gently ran his fingers through Neal's hair to look for lumps or the source of the bleeding. He found neither.

"Neal, can you tell me where this blood on your face is coming from?" he asked gently.

Neal's left hand was on the sidewalk, as he tried to keep himself from sliding further to his side. His right was on his thigh. He lifted it and looked from his bloody palm to Hughes.

"I guess he did shoot me, after all," Neal said, sounding surprised.

It was then that Hughes noticed the blood pooling inside Neal's dark coat. That explained a lot.

Hughes fully understood the ramifications of leaving no one at the com post (that back-up would have been the position of the third absentee agent). At first he'd expected to see Caffrey strolling up to the back of the van with his characteristic swagger. Since that expectation was not met he thought - hoped - that by the time he got to Caffrey all he would need to do was to help him back on his feet and return to the van. That clearly was not going to happen, either. Worse, Hughes struggled with a decision about leaving Neal on his own. He knew that he should - for the good of the order - but found that he couldn't.

Well, he could at least call an ambulance, even though they wouldn't be able to approach Neal until the area was safe. NYPD was already en route to control access, SWAT was still several minutes out. He let out a sigh and looked at Neal. Blue eyes looked back at him.

"Caffrey, you're going to force me into retirement again."

"Might like it better this time," Neal murmured back.

Neal was sliding further to the side and his eyes were drooping.

"Alright, stay awake. I need to see if this is a through and through, so I'm going to lift your leg, okay?"

Neal nodded slightly. He gasped when Hughes bent his knee enough to slide a hand beneath his thigh. His pant leg was soaked but Hughes didn't feel any tears in the fabric. The pain was intense, although it did make Neal more alert.

"Sorry, Caffrey, I know that hurt," Hughes said.

"S'okay. You don't have to stay here. Who's running com?" Neal asked slowly.

"No one. And if any of my agents did something so stupid as leaving communications unattended I would be chewing them a new one. The irony is not lost."

Neal gave a glimmer of a smirk.

"I have to put pressure on this. It won't be pleasant."

He pulled out a handkerchief - all he had left to use. Neal fumbled with his own scarf which Hughes deftly removed from around the collar of Neal's coat. He folded it and pressed it hard against the bullet would. Blood saturated the scarf almost immediately.

"Ah, damn," muttered Hughes. Neal sucked in a breath and closed his eyes tightly against the pain. Keeping the pressure on with one hand, Hughes put his other arm behind Neal's back and, grasping him under the arm, pulled Neal down to the ground. "Stay with me, Caffrey," he said, almost gently, while pressing the scarf as hard as he could with both hands. It wasn't until he had moved Neal that he realized just how much blood his wool coat had absorbed.

Neal let out the breath he was holding but started to hyperventilate. Hughes removed one hand from the blood soaked scarf and placed it lightly on Neal's chest.

"Neal, son, try to slow down. Breathe slower - that's it, in - out - in - ." Neal reached for Hughes's arm and opened his eyes. He let out a deep breath and nodded slightly before dropping his arm again.

"Really - not - pleasant." Now Hughes's lips turned up slightly.

Neal looked to be drifting off again. "Caffrey, stay awake. No sleeping."

"Question, then?" Neal asked softly.

"For me? Sure."

"What did you think - when Peter asked - about me."

Hughes looked into the distance for a moment. "What did I think about your deal? Well, I thought it was a lot of paperwork for something that was never going to work. But Burke understood the ramifications, I respect Burke, so I overlooked the potential for career catastrophe. He was the one entering the minefield, but I still had enough pull that I could at least keep him employed if - when - you took off again." He paused to see that Neal was still attentive. "I - "

Hughes hadn't realized SWAT teams were in position and entering the building until he felt someone kneeling beside him, and he turned to see Peter Burke. Peter took over for Hughes. Hughes just looked at his hands, covered with Caffrey's blood, then looked at Peter. "I should get back to the van."

Before he had a chance to respond, they heard Diana's voice came over the com asking for everyone's status and position.

"We've got everything under control now," Peter said to Hughes. "Well, almost everything. The one guy without a gun is the one guy to get shot." He looked at Neal's face, which alternated between a smirk and a grimace. "The ambulance is around the corner. Diana's going to give then the go-ahead as soon as she's sure everyone with a gun is in custody. Hang in there, buddy."

Seconds later the ambulance pulled up and EMTs jumped out. As they were bringing Neal's gurney into the ambulance his eyes sought out and found Hughes. Neal tried to speak, but couldn't move his lips as he finally passed out.

"Next person who gets the flu because they didn't get vaccinated is fired. And when norovirus or some other creeping crud finds your crew in the middle of an op, remind me of this day so I can make Organized Crime help out," Hughes said to Peter.

The following evening found Neal sitting semi-upright in a hospital bed with Peter and Elizabeth at his side. His pallor of the day before was replaced by a much healthier pink, as several pints of fresh blood replaced that which was left in his coat and on a New York sidewalk. His eyes still looked tired, and it was obvious, at least to Peter, that the pain killers were not quite doing the job. A large part of that was Neal not wanting to hit the morphine pump until he really needed it, because he wanted to be awake, and more lucid than he had been 30 hours ago. They were laughing softly about some antic of Satchmo when Hughes poked his head in the doorway.

"Reese, it's so nice to see you again," said Elizabeth. "I was just about to get coffee from the cafeteria, can I get anyone a cup?" she asked as she slipped toward the door.

"Wait, Elizabeth. Peter, could you help me up a little before you join your lovely wife?" asked Neal. Neal looked nervous, Peter realized. Neal pushed with his good leg while Peter pulled him up a few inches. Just that effort left Neal drained.

"You good?"

"Yeah, thanks." Peter and Elizabeth left.

"So, Caffrey, how are you doing?" asked Hughes, somewhat pointlessly because he knew exactly how Neal was doing.

"Grateful to be alive, sir."

Caffrey could still surprise.

"I would have bled to death if you weren't there. I - don't know how to thank you."

Hughes was certain he would never forget the feel of Caffrey's blood, too warm against his cold, ungloved hands, as it pumped in rhythm with his racing heart. That was when he knew that the bullet nicked an artery - the femoral, if he recalled correctly, and simultaneously knew that Neal would die, soon, if he couldn't stop the bleeding. He also recalled how closely Neal's skin color matched the graying snow. He had to come to the hospital, he had to see Neal looking better, with the hope that he wouldn't dream about it again tonight, as he did last night.

"Yesterday you asked me what I thought about your deal with us. I gave you my thoughts at the time when Peter first asked. I didn't get a chance to tell you the rest. I don't mind at all that I was proven wrong on this one. You can thank me by keeping me wrong. Peter Burke is my best agent, probably the best agent I ever had. I don't want to have to pull him out of some fire that you start. That said, I know you won't do anything deliberately to screw this up. You've done good work for us, Neal, you've helped a lot of people. Just keep doing that, that's the thanks I want."

Neal could only nod and swallow hard.

"Enough reminiscing," Hughes said. "Get some rest, we need you back. We're still a little short-handed. Burke," he said a little louder to the agent he knew to be just outside the door, "make sure your CI has his flu shot before he comes back." He winked at Neal and left.

Thanks so much for reading.

* generic version of Relenza, FDA approved to prevent and treat the flu