The usual disclaimers; I own nothing White Collar related.

This is for my friends, NDKidsMom (whose prompt started this), suebsg9 and Wondo. Hope you like it.

A very special thanks to AliWC, who graciously put her own projects aside to beta this. It is a much better story for her efforts. Any mistakes that slipped through are mine, not hers.

There was nothing like gunfire to spur you along, Neal Caffrey thought as he ran out of the elevator into the underground parking garage. He heard his partner, Peter Burke, pounding along behind him, reloading his gun as he ran. A stray thought crossed Neal's mind; this wasn't the first time Peter was running behind him but this time, at least, the agent was on his side. Or he was on Peter's side. Whatever.

"We're headed for the wrong floor for the car!" Peter yelled.

Neal turned a corner into another vast, low ceilinged area of parked cars. "Yeah, I know but somebody had already hit floor seven. I didn't want to go down there and find out who might be waiting for us," he replied, still running.

"Jones, Diana, we need backup in here, like yesterday," Peter barked through the radio. Dead air answered him. "They must have a signal jammer, dammit!"

"Yeah, I thought that might be it. Especially when I gave the code word three times and nothing happened!" Neal snapped.

"Stop panicking," Peter ordered, running behind Neal, still fiddling with his gun.

Running between the expensive parked cars they heard the second elevator door ding behind them, heralding its arrival.

"Robby, you go that way," a voice called out behind them.

"Robby's going that way," Neal helpfully informed his partner as they ran.

"Then we should go this way," Peter gestured, slowing down and turning toward a darkened corner of the massive structure. He led the way this time and they hit the door to the steps nearly together.

Pushing the bar on the door down, it clanged distressingly loud but it was one of those auto latch jobs that was going to be noisy no matter what they did.

They went down the stairs, chests heaving, faces streaming sweat, and gasping for air. It had been a long sprint from the penthouse office.

"You okay?" Neal asked between gulps.

"Just keep moving," Peter ground out. Neal grinned; Peter's face was a study in determination. He wondered vaguely if he could do a decent job on a sketch of that.

The door they'd just entered opened behind them and they were strafed by gunfire again. The shots were wild but they could hear the sounds of pursuit behind them as well as voices on what sounded like walkie talkies.

Neal glanced at the door on the next level down; level five. More shots peppered the concrete block wall and chips scattered over them, one stinging Neal's cheek. Peter glanced questioningly but Neal nodded and kept moving.

Reaching the sixth floor, Peter and Neal nodded in unspoken agreement. Pausing only a second, Neal shoved open the door and hurriedly got out of the way. Peter waited a second and then went through first, gun at the ready.

Silence greeted them.

They exchanged glances of unspoken relief and then wedged a nearby trash can under the door, Peter, knowing from firsthand experience that would not hold their pursuers for long, hurriedly looked around for something else but nothing appeared.

"I'll get us a car," Neal said confidently, naturally headed for a sleek BMW.

As Neal moved to the car, Peter saw a shadow detach itself from the wall. It was too dark to see clearly but Peter couldn't imagine anyone lurking like that for benevolent purposes.

"Neal! Look out!"

The dark figure suddenly opened fire, hand gun caliber, as Neal dove for cover in between the cars. Peter returned fire, gratified beyond all reason when the figure staggered and ducked down behind cover.

By instinct, they headed back to the door they came out of but the pounding and cursing on the other side soon had them running the opposite direction, away from the door and away from the unknown shooter.

The door burst open behind them and shots now struck the cars around them. Several people are going to be really irritated tonight, Neal noted nonsensically.

To his horror, Peter took up a position behind a car and started firing back.

"Peter, no! We've got to get out of here!" Neal shouted. With the gunfire rattling around in the garage, his own ears were pounding; no need to worry about being overheard.

His partner did not even look away. Peter was still intently firing and had wounded another. "Go, Neal! Find us someplace to hide!"

"I'm not leaving you here!" Neal yelled back.

Peter looked supremely irritated as he fired. "What, do I look like Custer to you? I'm not doing any last stand here! Find us someplace to hold up until Jones and Diana get here!"

"Oh. Sure." Annoyed, Neal looked around. How the hell do you find a hiding place in a parking garage?

Incredibly however, he did spot a door in another darkened corner. Wrong location to be a stairwell. Neal ran over to it; it was locked. Industrial steel doors really weren't his forte (garage doors usually didn't hold anything he really cared about unless it was a pricey car on the other side.) but he had the door open in less than a minute. "Peter! Come on!"

Just then a man came out from the other side of the garage, sighting a rifle. Neal ducked but felt a tremendous kick on his ankle. He fell to the ground, wondering what had happened.

Peter came running and the man took aim at him as well, firing as he moved. Peter stumbled a little but snapped off a shot that, to the agent's immense surprise, knocked their assailant off his feet and back behind some cars. He gave Neal a hand up and together they both ran inside the darkened, small room that smelled strongly of gasoline. Some sort of floor sweeper machine sat in the darkness nearby and took up most of the tiny room.

Shutting the door as quietly as possible, they both stood in the dark, panting for air. The noise this door made seemed unbearably loud as well but the sounds of shouting did not come any closer and they both exhaled in relief. Neal fumbled for the light switch he'd observed next to the door but flipping it on had no effect. Great.

"Neal, how's your foot?" Peter asked in a strained voice, his breathing still coming in gasps.

Neal started to say it was fine but in truth, it was really stinging. "It hurts," he complained as they stood in complete darkness. Looking down, he realized something was missing. "Peter, my tracker light is off. They must have hit it."

There was a silence in the darkness. "Peter?"

"Yeah. I'm here. Just thinking."

Neal frowned. "Well, think a little louder next time." He wiped the sweat off his brow; the further down they'd had to go, the stuffier the massive garage had become.

They heard hostile voices, seemingly right outside the door. "Are they in there?"

"I don't know for sure, but can't think of where else they would go."

"Door's locked though," the first voice said.

"Well, open it," the second voice suggested casually.

This suggestion was met with scoffing laughter by a third voice. "Yeah, sure, we'll open it and you go in first. In case you hadn't noticed, that muscle guy is a pretty good shot. He got Mike and Big Tom on the way out. And Big Tom might not make it!"

"Well, that little stock broker dude isn't armed. Go get him!"

"If he's in there, he's with the guy with the gun. You go first!"

Neal and Peter waited in the darkness, trying to control their breathing in the muggy, airless room as the argument raged outside.

Neal stood in the suffocating darkness, hating the helpless, trapped feeling. He felt the walls closing in on him and gave a violent start when someone hit the door with what sounded like a gun butt. Silently, Peter's hand closed on his arm, and then slid down to Neal's wrist, giving him an encouraging squeeze. Just the contact was enough to settle Neal's nerves to stand motionless, waiting. Beside him however, Peter's breathing was harsh and unnervingly loud in the stygian darkness. Peter was hyperventilating, something that annoyed and mystified Neal as his partner seemed to be keeping his head in the claustrophobic darkness.

Finally the voices moved away but neither Neal nor Peter moved or said anything. Then, after a few minutes, a solitary set of footsteps moved off.

They waited again; this time however there was no sound. Turning to where he thought Peter's ear might be, Neal hissed angrily, "Peter, could you possibly breathe a bit louder? I don't think they quite heard you yet on the 10th floor!"

"Neal," Peter said in a choked voice that set off alarms in his partner's head.

Risking a light, Neal pulled his small keychain penlight out in time to see Peter's eyes roll up in his head as he collapsed. Neal only just managed to keep his head from striking the cinderblock wall behind him.

He snapped off the light and listened but there was no sound outside. Putting the light back on, Neal, with a sick dread, pulled open Peter's jacket to expose the entire right side of the agent's blue shirt soaked with blood. He propped Peter against the wall, face chalk white and gasping for air but thankfully his eyes were open again. "Were you going to let me continue to chew you out while you heroically bled away?" Neal whispered angrily.

"Only if it would make you feel bad," Peter managed in a hoarse tone.

"I wouldn't feel bad. This is your fault, anyway. If you hadn't gone off script and started coveting that guy's Porsche, we would have strolled out with the evidence and Jones and Diana would have strolled in with the cuffs. But no. You had to blow it over a car," Neal, with shaking hands, stripped off his beloved Devore suit jacket and pressed it against the wound which was still seeping blood.

The pressure Neal applied caused Peter to groan and attempt to swat his hand away. "Stop that. Hurts."

Neal felt panic, a tide rising in the pit of his stomach. He had to keep Peter talking, keep him there. Because if Peter was talking he couldn't die, right? "I'm just saying, this one is on you, partner."

"You're the one who made eyes at the daughter. I'd say this one is on you," Peter rallied, still breathing heavily.

Frowning and more than a little panicked as the blood continued to flow, Neal fought to retain some semblance of what he and Peter called normal. "Nope, not this time. Morrison thought I was just fine for his daughter. He didn't like you ogling the car."

Peter fought for breath. "You are seriously saying that guy values his car more than his daughter? You really mean that?"

"I know what I saw," Neal replied loftily with a jauntiness he definitely didn't feel.

They heard footsteps outside again, so Neal switched off his little light and waited. He fought the impulse to cover Peter's mouth but the agent was battling hard to control his breathing on his own.

The footsteps came closer; this time Neal did cover Peter's mouth. They waited in breathless silence as somebody pressed on the door and then must have kicked it, judging by the curse words used. Peter stirred briefly; Neal tensed up but realized the agent was trying hard not to laugh. Neal shook his head and rolled his eyes. Leave it to Peter to find some humor in this. However, as the tirade went on and on outside the door along with a few more kicks, Neal couldn't help but grin. Neanderthal. Keep on kicking the steel.

Finally, after one last shove on the door, the footsteps moved away. Neal exhaled in relief and, after another minute, switched the light back on.

Peter leaned against the wall but he was drenched in sweat and shaking. Neal shook his head when he observed the Glock still in his partner's hand. "Hey, don't shoot us."

"What?" Peter's eyes looked a bit unfocused.

"Your gun. You want me to hang onto it?"

Neal was pleased to see the fire return to Peter's eyes. "No, I do not."

Chuckling, Neal placed Peter's left hand on the suit jacket over his wound. "Hold that there."

"I can't believe you're sacrificing your suit jacket for me; I'm touched," Peter muttered.

"No, I'm touched - in the head. That was one of Byron's; can't be replaced."

Peter said something Neal didn't quite understand as he stood up to see about getting the door open. God, he needed some fresh air! The diesel fumes were giving him a headache and Peter needed medical attention, as in now.

That was when he made a very unpleasant discovery.

There had been a push bar on the inside of the door but now there was only a strip of unpainted metal where the bar had been and a crudely hand lettered painted reminder.


This time, it was Neal who cursed and started fiddling with the door only to discover he had nothing to work with.

"What is it?" Peter asked quietly behind him.

"I can't get this door open," Neal replied in a stricken voice.

His partner was silent for a moment, then said, "Any other time, I might have relished that, just a little bit." Peter exhaled a ragged breath. "I'm not amused right now, though."

Fear and frustration suddenly engulfed Neal and he flung himself on the door, repeatedly in frenzy. Peter tried to get up and nearly passed out. He had to settle for trying to yell. "Neal! Neal, stop it"

Peter's voice, which rang through the halls of the FBI and various takedowns effortlessly, was barely audible to Neal, who gave one final whack at the unmoving door, before turning back and sinking down next to his partner, who gave him a curious but very weary look. "Feel better?"

"No," Neal replied in a small voice. He felt torn; to be trapped in here by a stupid, broken door. He was angry; yet he was so afraid.

They heard noises outside again and very close. Neal switched off his small light but kept hold of Peter's hand.

"Anybody back here?" A gruff voice asked.

Another voice, sounding a lot like the door kicker earlier, answered. "Naw. Door is locked."

"It doesn't matter anyway," A third voice interjected, obviously panicked. "This whole job has gone sour. Let's just get out while we can!"

The other two voices joined in scornful laughter. "Ain't no get out now, rookie. There are cops and feds all over the place. And stupid here thinks he'll just walk out."

The first voice hardened. "We go down, let's go down hard and take a few of them with us. Starting with those two fakes!"

A fourth voice said something; at first Neal and Peter couldn't make it out. They soon recognized it though. It was their target, Robert Morrison, who had been busily occupied selling shares of a fake tech company over and over. "You'd better find those two. They have enough on us to send all of us away for a long time. And my daughter admitted she knew Jennifer Grainger is dead to the young one. Won't take the cops long to find out what happened there, after she lost all her money and started squealing to the SEC."

Neal sat absolutely still; he knew it! Morrison was a murderer. He could feel Peter beside him, laboring for breath but trying to keep as quiet as possible. And probably mentally adding the murder charge to everything else they had on Morrison.

"You think they are in there?" Morrison inquired.

Door Kicker answered. "They could be. I think Big Tom might have gotten the bodyguard guy. He paid for it, though. Robby doesn't know if he'll make it or not."

Morrison's voice was tightly controlled and, Neal suspected, rigid with anger. "Well, I suspect that was a Fed, not a bodyguard. Just shoot a few rounds in there and let's head for the roof. It may be too late already but if they are not in there and we find them on up top, they might be valuable hostages."

Neal's eyes were wide; if the rounds came through the metal of the door, they might hit the fuel tank of the sweeper. Whoever was out there was close enough for them to hear the gun cock. Neal flung himself on Peter and pulled him down on the floor, lying on top of him.

The noise when the rounds struck metal was hideously loud. It was like being in a tin roofed room with rain, hail and baseball bats, Neal thought as he held onto Peter. Finally it stopped; Neal cautiously looked up to find only a few had come through the door however. One of them was lodged in the front grill of the sweeper, about eight inches above their heads. His breath caught in his throat. None of the holes were big enough to see through in the darkness at least, judging by the fact that no one started yelling on the other side of the steel.

Neal heard the voices again but his ears were ringing so loud he couldn't make it out. He moved off Peter and waited again; this time the silence stretched on for a while before he cautiously got out the penlight and switched it on again.

Peter lay on the ground, not moving. When Neal propped him up against the wall again, he was sickened to see Peter's blood on the cement floor, long since saturating Byron's Devore jacket. Peter's eyes did not open; he was beginning to shiver now, despite the stale air and sweat.

"Peter? Peter, wake up!"

Neal's voice was not having a beneficial effect, judging by Peter's expression. He looked like he wished Neal would go away – and said so.

"No," Neal said urgently. "I'm not leaving. We'll leave together or not at all."

"Okay," Peter said reasonably, eyes still closed. "We won't leave then."

Neal was terrified. He needed to do something but what? Only a few times in his life had he been absolutely powerless to act but each time was seared into his memory. There had to be an alternative, a way out. He just had to think, had to keep Peter talking. Because if he was talking….

"Peter, you need to listen to me. Remember when I told you about Paris?"

Predictably, the agent's brow furrowed. "You never told me about Paris," he mumbled.

"Well, I'm going to now," Neal insisted, stripping off his vest and placing it on Peter's wound, causing him to groan. "You want to hear?"

"Not particularly," Peter said thickly.

"Oh come on," Neal said desperately. "Any other time you'd be beside yourself to hear a confession." Grabbing Peter's hand, Neal was disconcerted to find it icy to the touch. "Are you listening?"

Finally, Peter's eyes opened; a laborious effort, it seemed. "Are you planning on annoying me to death?"

Neal froze. "Don't say that!"

Peter grimaced. "Yeah. I guess it is a bad choice of words."


"Where the hell are they?" Diana Berrigan hissed angrily. She moved away from the van, listening to the radio reports.

Clinton Jones was more outwardly placid but no less worried. "They're still inside. They have to be. There's no place else for them to go."

Diana scowled and spoke into the radio. "Team Two, where are you?"

"Third floor is secure. We are proceeding to the fourth floor. There have been shots fired but we're not sure where."

"Great," Diana muttered. Turning to another FBI agent, she snapped, "Is that ambulance over here." The young probie nodded a nervous yes. Diana paused for a moment and turned to Jones. "We are going down to five," she said firmly.

"One of us should run point," Jones pointed out.

Diana glared at him. "You want to stay here?"

Jones snorted. "Hell, no. Shots fired might mean that Morrison and his crew are still after them. But we need somebody to run the search."

A black car roared up and stopped. Phil Ruiz, with one of his Organized Crime team, got out. "I heard the call; happened to be in the neighborhood. What's the situation?"

Jones shoved the radio at him. "You're on point until SWAT gets here. Shots have been fired in the parking garage but we don't know the location yet. Berrigan and I are off to find Burke and Caffrey." He and Diana left on the run.

Phil Ruiz looked at the radio in his hands; NYPD vehicles were arriving in droves. He shrugged. "Okay. Thanks for the info." He spoke to the empty air, frowning. "Damn White Collar hotshots."


Neal Caffrey leaned next to Peter Burke, in barely controlled panic; he'd just confessed to stealing the Mona Lisa but hadn't gotten a response from Peter. The blood loss had slowed a bit but Peter had already lost so much. Neal had sacrificed his vest and his pin striped shirt. The tee shirt would be next.

Peter would have been on the filthy floor if Neal had relaxed his hold; he was cold and clammy and still laboring for breath. Neal had been able to cajole/annoy his partner for several minutes but this latest lapse was proving very hard to wake Peter up from.

Neal jostled him again, hating to do it but even a groan from Peter signaled there was still life and that meant everything to Neal Caffrey at this moment. "Did I tell you about the time Moz and I conned this hotel magnate out of his Rolls for a week?"

Peter turned his head ever so slightly, like he was trying to escape. "Stay with me, buddy. You'll be angry later that you didn't get all of this down."

As Neal launched into a detailed recitation of a highly embroidered tale, he saw with a sinking heart that Peter was slipping further away from him. Eyes shut, shivering and as limp as a rag, the agent gave no sign that he was even hearing Neal.

Cold fear clutched at Neal's heart; his blood turning to ice. This was completely unacceptable. The great Neal Caffrey stymied by a defective door and an amateur like Robert Morrison. He, the thief, was being stolen from. Time was stealing his partner away from him, right before his eyes. And fear held him prisoner as no prison cell had ever done.

This was so damn unfair. And, just like Kate, it was happening right in front of his eyes.

In desperation, Neal asked a question that had begun to bother him for some time. It might be the only thing that would keep Peter here. Placing his mouth right next to the agent's ear, he asked, "Peter, why do care about me? "

At first, he thought he was not going to get an answer. But, to his immense surprise, Peter opened his eyes. "Because, in my weak minded moments, I think you're worth it." After a pause, he added in a nearly in inaudible voice, "But then you go and do something stupid."

Neal couldn't help it; he smiled. "Well, thank you for that heartwarming recommendation. I'm glad you're still in there; I was beginning to worry."

Peter's head slightly turned to him, but his eyes seemed unfocussed. "Neal, I don't want you to go straight for me; I want you to do it for you. You deserve a good life and I don't want you to give up on the idea of settling down some time. You're smart; you can have a good life without stealing."

Neal frowned; that disturbing sense of panic returning tenfold. This was sounding way too much like farewell. "Well, if you want me to go straight, you have to be there. Every step of the way."

"I don't want to leave," Peter replied softly. "Gotta take care of El. And my team."

"Don't forget Satchmo," Neal gently teased, tightening his grip on Peter's arm. "Oh yeah. And Moz."

Peter frowned. "Moz is your problem, not mine."

Suddenly, gunfire erupted outside. They heard shooting and some yelling. The door exploded as bullets poured through, creating more jagged, twisted, tiny little holes. Neal threw himself on top of Peter, head splitting as the noise was nearly unbearable.

After what seemed to be an eternity, it stopped. There were different voices outside now.

"This is your last warning! Lay down your weapons and come out with your hands raised! Now!"

Ears ringing, Neal scrambled to his feet. The holes in the door, even combined with the previous ones, did not shed much light but he wasn't sure he should risk more yet. There was no further shooting however and finally, to his profound relief, Neal heard a voice he recognized.

"Jones? Jones, we're in here! We can't get the door open!"

He could hear the disbelief in Jones' voice. "Caffrey! Are you in there? Is Peter with you?"

"Yes!" Neal did not bother to disguise his desperation. "Peter's been hit and he's lost a lot of blood. We've got to get him out of here now! Hurry!"

"All right, we're on it."

Neal went back over to Peter and knelt down, shaking his shoulder gently. "They're here. We're going to get out of here."

Peter opened his eyes and smiled weakly. "I knew they would find us. Good team."

Neal studied him, worry darkening his eyes. "You hang in there, okay? They just have to get the door open." God, he never thought he'd hear himself saying those words; they have to get the door open.

Peter blinked but then his head lolled to the side and his eyes closed. Neal felt the panic rising like bile in his throat. "Dammit, hurry up out there!"

Jones yelled, "Brace yourselves!"

The door slammed inward again and again. Neal jumped but Peter made no move, eyes still closed.

Twice more something slammed into the door; Neal was eyeing the floor sweeper, wondering if he could drag Peter behind it and just drive the damn thing through the door when it finally burst open, with two firemen with their equipment on the other side.

Paramedics rushed inside and shoved their way into the small, stifling room. Neal was pushed outside to stand beside a worried looking Diana. He nodded a silent yes to her unspoken question. They stood watching but they could not see Peter as the paramedics blocked their view. Neal's alarm factor shot upwards as he watched the EMTS move with greater urgency. They rapped out medical words as they worked on Peter, which judging by their reactions, did not help.

Suddenly the EMTS grabbed their equipment and an ambulance backed up as close as possible. After another minute, they carried Peter out with frantic haste. "His pressure's dropping!" one of them yelled. Moving quickly, Jones asked something of the driver as he ran to jump in behind the wheel. After they loaded Peter up, the ambulance roared off, leaving a stunned Neal, Diana and Jones behind.

Jones recovered first. "Are you all right?" he addressed Neal.

"Yeah," Neal said dully. He could hardly get a glimpse of Peter when they brought him out; he was unsettled and deep down, so scared.

"What happened to your anklet?" Diana asked gently.

Neal held up his foot and Jones whistled. "Damn, Caffrey, you are lucky. If that slug had hit your ankle, it would have shattered it."

"Yeah, lucky." With anguish in his eyes, Neal turned to the other two. "Where are they taking him?"

"I'll drive," Jones said simply.


Neal Caffrey sat silent, the world a distorted place of faces revolving around him, some of them asking him if he was all right. But nothing registered with him; just a roaring silence in his ears where Peter's voice used to be.

He still could not believe. He couldn't get a damned door open.

Neal wanted to lash out, to blame somebody. He and Peter should never have been running for their lives in the first place. Jones and Diana were too far away. The NYPD was more of a hindrance than a help. And what had happened to their Intel? They had been told that Morrison himself would be out of town until this evening; plenty of time to get the evidence and arrest his goons before his arrival. Instead he shows up, smokes them out immediately, and his goons start taking pot shots at them. And one of them hit Peter when Neal wasn't looking. Then they sat in a dirty little utility closet with a broken door while Peter bled his life away.

It was unforgivable. Mostly of himself.

Jones had tried earlier to give him the 'it's not your fault, Caffrey' speech but Neal wasn't in the mood. Jones looked at Diana, who shrugged and resumed her own round of worrying. Jones did make Neal wash the blood off his hands and try to clean up a little. Somebody shoved an FBI windbreaker at him as well, as the air conditioning vent was right overhead in the waiting room.

Technically, Neal knew it was not his fault. He could hear Peter's voice in his head reassuring him of that fact. But somehow, it just seemed easier to blame himself rather than admit he'd been stymied by a broken door.

Being Neal though, he retreated to his first line of operation. He should run.

There would never be a better chance than this. His anklet was off – his ankle a sore, throbbing violent purple. A quick call to Moz could set things in motion. And it wouldn't be like he had run out on Peter; he would find ways to keep tabs on the agent and monitor the situation. If Peter truly needed him, Neal would be there. He would find a way. But he would be out of this life, away from these tiresome do the right thing edicts, gun fire and unnecessary rules and regulations.

He would also be spared the sight of Peter bleeding out beside him in a crummy storage area in a dark, stale parking garage.

Yes. This was indeed the time. Jones and Diana were distracted, anxiously awaiting word about Peter. Hughes wasn't here; probably off collecting Elizabeth.


Peter, he might have understood why Neal had run. Wouldn't approve of course, but he would know why. He would know it wasn't personal. Elizabeth however, would not. And somehow, Neal could not abide the thought of abandoning his most loyal defender. She would hate him forever. Doubly so if Peter….

No. That would not, could not, happen. And when it came down to it, could he really leave Peter like this?

Moz always preached leaving everyone and everything behind in their way of life. For Neal, up until now, that was usually the easiest way as well. No strings. But he'd left Kate to go adventuring in Europe with Alex, and then never got her back. What if he left Peter, with the same results?

It was impossible to describe the relationship between himself and Peter. At first it was daredevil fun to tweak the government man. Somewhere it changed to respect – mutual respect, even when Peter had caught him. Then Neal had proposed this marriage of convenience; Neal would get out of prison to search for Kate, Peter would nail the elusive Dutchman. After that, it changed to an unlikely friendship, then something deeper. They were brothers; they delighted in their ability to outthink all others. Oh, there were times when Peter supremely annoyed Neal; there were times when Neal irritated and angered Peter. But they always pushed through the hard, sharp times and came out together.

Breaking into his thoughts, Ruiz showed up, uncharacteristically subdued. The tip off had been a building janitor who, making a nice bit of cash from Morrison to keep his eyes open, spotted an NYPD patrol car parked nearby and assumed the worst. The irony was the two patrolmen were taking an early break and had nothing to do with the operation. Jones had shaken his head angrily and placed his hands on his hips as he scowled. Neal's breath caught; Jones looked so much like Peter at that moment.

Diana muttered a blistering, unrepeatable comment and walked away. Ruiz promised he would inform Hughes of everything and the head of White Collar would probably be chatting with that precinct captain personally regarding memos about FBI operations in the area. In the meantime, they had corralled Morrison and one of his goons on the roof of the nearby office building, while Jones and Diana had nailed the frustrated door kicker and two gun firing enthusiasts outside their door. Neal heard without interest that 'Big Tom' would probably live after all.

None of it meant anything to Neal. Who cared now? No amount of punishment would be enough for what Peter and he had gone through in that hellish room.

Later, someone sat down beside him. He finally raised his eyes from his shoes.


His mouth moved but the suave and glib Neal Caffrey had no words. El smiled, a sad smile tinged with worry and fear. Her eyes glittered with unshed tears. "Are you okay, Neal?" She asked gently, squeezing his arm.

He nodded yes silently. Why did she care about him? She was as bad as her husband. Both of them easy marks. And with hearts filled with compassion.

El seemed to accept that non answer. She looked up when a tired looking Reese Hughes came over to stand beside Diana and Jones. "Peter is still in surgery," he announced gruffly. "Although they are not very forthcoming with their information around here," he added irritably.

Neal knew he should say something to Elizabeth; something that would make her feel better, give her hope. God knew words came to him easily enough when conning someone. But this; it was so different. So raw; so real. Neal had lived in his fantasy world of beautiful things, beautiful women and someone else's money for so long, he often despaired of ever changing. Or did he even want to? Or could he, really?

God knew, if this was the honest, hard working life, Neal really didn't want any part of it. Playing mind games with marks and then leaving the city to play in paradise was a lot more appealing.

Elizabeth jumped up and walked around, twisting her wedding ring on her finger. Neal winced; say something to her! But what? Elizabeth Burke was no fool; mindless platitudes and false assurances would not console her.

Jones and Diana watched in silence as well. Oddly enough, it was gruff Reese Hughes who walked over to her, placed his arm around her shoulders and murmured something like, 'Peter is strong' and 'you know he'll fight'. Elizabeth nodded but her body was rigid with tension and worry.

They sat and waited. And waited.

Neal finally did stand up and walk over to Elizabeth when Hughes moved off to take a phone call. Again, he tried to speak but Elizabeth just shook her head. "He will be all right," she said firmly.

"I know," Neal replied but the words seemed hollow. Spontaneously, they embraced.

Finally a middle aged man in surgical scrubs showed up. Neal felt almost faint with dread.

"It was close," the doctor was saying, "but I think we got to Agent Burke in time. Another twenty minutes, I don't know that we would have been able to save him. But, barring any unforeseen complications, he should recover. I will feel better if tonight passes quietly but I tend to be cautious on principle if nothing else."

Elizabeth looked like a puppet whose strings had been cut. "Thank you, Doctor. When I can I see him?"

"You can see him now, but only for a minute. We've got him heavily sedated; we don't want him moving around." The Doctor looked around to the anxious group. "I'd prefer the only visitor be Agent Burke's wife for now."

Everybody nodded their assent and Elizabeth moved away with the Doctor. Hughes addressed the group. "I suggest everybody go home tonight and get some rest. I'll stay with Elizabeth. It sounds like it will be morning before we will be able to talk with him."

Neal frowned, just a little. That was certainly the FBI way, all right. They will it done, therefore it will be done. For himself, he could not quite get over the ominous 'if tonight passes quietly' part.

He wanted to stay; he steadied enough to put up a fuss. But Jones and Diana carried the day and an hour later he was back at Riverside Drive telling a horrified June the tale.

Neal was so tired he took a shower and lay down on his bed, intending only to close his eyes for a few minutes. His cell rang; it was Moz. Neal ignored it and fell asleep.


To his surprise, Neal did sleep for a while but it was a restless kind haunted with dreams of Peter slipping away from him in a dense fog. Neal could hear his voice but couldn't find him. The last dream was so vivid and so real he got up, dressed and left without eating. His ankle was swollen and very sore but he hardly noticed the discomfort. He took a cab to the hospital before dawn.

Neal obtained the room number from a tired night nurse. He froze meeting Elizabeth at the door but she smiled. El looked exhausted and obviously had stayed the entire night but there was a sereneness around her that made him relax, just a little. "He's awake but really groggy. He's going to be all right, Neal," she added in a tremulous voice.

That weight of fear, that nearly suffocated him in the closet, finally lifted and Neal felt curiously light headed. But there was still something that needed to be said. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I couldn't get the door opened." There. It was out now. He waited in fatalist judgment.

Elizabeth's vivid blue eyes widened. "Neal, that wasn't your fault. From what Jones has told me, you had nothing to work with. And Diana has already been planning to make some calls to report the building's shoddy maintenance to the city authorities, according to Hughes." Elizabeth smiled. "I think she'll have some heads rolling by tonight." Giving him a gentle shove, El said, "Peter's been asking for you. Go."

Cautiously entering the room, he saw Peter lying in the bed, eyes closed and hooked up to an IV. At first glance, Neal thought Peter didn't look too bad. He stepped closer and for a moment, just drank in the sight of Peter breathing and not bleeding.

Alerted by some sixth FBI sense, Peter opened his eyes.

For a moment, Neal and Peter just stared at each other, until Peter finally said, "Sit down. I hate looking up to people."

Neal smiled and sat. Taking a closer look, he could see Peter looked drawn and weak. His eyes were dull and his voice was slurred. But at that moment, Neal couldn't have cared less. Peter was alive.

"How's your ankle?" Peter asked.

Neal settled in the chair Elizabeth had vacated; it was still warm. "It's sore. But somehow I don't think I'm going to get much sympathy from you right now."

Peter didn't rise to the bait and for a moment, Neal was tempted to run for a doctor. "Hey," he touched Peter's arm gently, mindful of the IV line. "You in there?"

With an effort, Peter focused on him. "Sorry. I can't seem to concentrate." He seemed annoyed. "How bad is your ankle?

With an effort, Neal lifted his foot and Peter grimaced at the sight of it. "Lot of pain?"

"Nothing I can't handle." Neal smiled. "I'm just glad we're here and out of that room."

"Yeah," Peter agreed with muzzy affability. "It was …." He stopped; stuck for a word, it seemed.

"Close," Neal supplied.

"Yeah, close."

For a while they sat in companionable silence. Then they both spoke at once.

"You're all right?"

"You're sure you're okay?

They both started to laugh but Peter stopped and grimaced. "That hurt; don't do that again." Smiling, Neal held up his hands in a 'not me' gesture. After a moment, Peter continued. "El mentioned she heard you were feeling guilty. Don't. There was nothing you could do."

Neal swallowed. "I never thought I'd ever be in that type of situation. And I'm never going to look at parking garages the same again."

Peter sighed. "Me either."

Neal gave him a quick glance, and then took the plunge. "I am glad you think I'm worth it, Peter." He smiled. "Of course, you're getting my expertise on crime so it all works out."

Peter frowned. "Worth it?"

Irritated, Neal said waspishly, "You. Told. Me. I was worth it."

Peter tried to make a dismissive gesture. "I don't remember that."

Neal drew back, a superior grin on his face. "You can't lie to me, Peter. Don't even try."

Peter gave him a sideways look. "I was pretty feverish, Neal. "

"Ha, ha," Neal wasn't buying that at all. "I was happy to hear it though; whether you're admitting it or not," he added earnestly.

Peter gave him an undisguised fond look. "I did mean it." After a moment though, he added, "I wish you wouldn't take it to such extremes though."

Neal threw up his hands. "Well, thank you for spoiling the moment, Mr. Grinch!"

Peter just smiled.

Clinton Jones appeared at the door. "Peter! It is good to see you. I'd ask how you feel but-" He trailed off as he came on in the room.

"Please don't," Peter replied. He looked tired and drained.

"He's trying to tell me he doesn't remember that much from yesterday," Neal said tartly.

Eyes now closed, Peter replied, "I do remember that Neal needs a new anklet."

"It figures he'd remember that," Neal muttered.

A smiling Jones came forward to put the anklet on Neal, who put his foot up on the chair with a resigned sigh. Jones frowned at the size of the swelling. "Think we'll have to put it on the other ankle for now."

They both glanced at Peter, who seemed to have dozed off. "Maybe we'd better go and let him rest," Jones whispered, after fastening the anklet on.

"Yeah, I guess so," Neal said softly. He lingered for a last look at a gloriously alive Peter Burke though.

Peter's voice stopped them at the door. "What happened in Paris?" he asked, eyes still closed.

Jones laughed and Neal snorted. "Nope. Not telling now. That was a one day deal."

Peter smiled weakly. "Neal, stay out of trouble. Don't make me regret what I told you yesterday."

Neal paused. "I won't. Make you regret, that is. I will stay out of trouble. For today," he added as an afterthought.

Peter nodded but it seemed like he was fighting a losing battle to stay awake. "Somebody take El home," he added vaguely. His eyes stayed closed this time and his breathing evened out.

Neal and Jones exchanged fond glances. "Um, Hughes said you don't have to come in to the office today if you want, provided you stay out of the way of the medical staff. But the marshals will be monitoring the anklet."

Neal sighed. "Naturally." He added softly, "I'm not going anywhere."

The door opened and Diana peeked in. Both Jones and Neal made shh noises at her.

"Hey, you're early, Caffrey," Diana said easily, the light back in her eyes now. Evidently she had heard the good news. "How is he?" She asked softly, nodding to Peter, who was sleeping peacefully.

"He was awake enough to give Caffrey some grief a moment ago," Jones said with a grin.

Neal frowned but his heart wasn't in it. "He will always have strength for that."

For a moment, Diana's breeziness evaporated. "Thank God," she said simply.

Neal sighed internally; between his wife and his right hand 'got your back coworker', Peter Burke had two beautiful women who would do anything for him. And he doesn't even con his way into their affections. Incredible.

While Jones and Diana discussed the day, (it turned out Hughes was still here, Neal had just missed him, and he would be taking Elizabeth home, but only for a short while, knowing her) Neal settled back into the chair beside Peter's bed. It was kind of silly, sitting here watching Peter sleep; um, maybe that was creepy, he wasn't sure, but Neal knew he did not want to be at work today. He would only stare up at the darkened office and wonder what it would have been like if the unthinkable had occurred. Staying here was much more reassuring. Besides, Peter would wake up eventually and in the meantime, Neal would find something to entertain himself. That wouldn't lead to trouble, of course.

For today, that promise was sacred.

Thank you for reading and for all the reviews and favorites on my previous stories. They are appreciated.