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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

White Collar fic: Playing the Odds (1/1)

December 28th, 2013 (09:24 pm)
curious

feeling: curious

Title: Playing the Odds

Disclaimer: I do not own White Collar.

A/N: Random whump, set vaguely in earlier seasons. Beta by lena7142. Fills my laceration prompt for hc_bingo.

Summary: At least it’s not a gun.



-o-

Neal has this thing about guns. He doesn’t like him. At all. They’re dangerous, and they’re crude. One pull of a trigger, and that’s it -- the ultimate endgame. Neal knows what he does -- on the con or on the job, the danger hasn’t changed it seems -- but he likes to think of white collar crime as refined. It’s not really hurting people. At least not people who can’t afford to lose something.

A gun just doesn’t fit. Not in a world of art and high paychecks. Neal likes to go to museums and operas -- places where guns don’t belong.

They’re cold and mechanical. They’re completely impersonal and industrialized. There’s no finesse.

Guns.

Neal doesn’t like guns.

So when the cold metal blade slides into his stomach, his first thought is at least it’s not a gun.

But as he looks down and sees the blood spill over his stomach as the knife is pulled away he realizes that maybe knives are just as bad.

-o-

It’s Peter’s fault.

Not really. No one will find him responsible. No one at the Bureau will blame him. He’s just one agent, after all. There’s only so much that can be done when it comes to procedure. Sometimes the work they do is just dangerous. That’s a necessary and inevitable given when fighting crime.

El will chastise him about this. She’ll remind him that he has to learn to accept the things he can’t control. He’s good, but he’s not a superman. Sometimes bad things just happen. That’s not just crime; that’s life.

And Neal won’t blame him. Neal wouldn’t even come close.

But that doesn’t make it any less his fault.

Because Peter’s the agent. Neal’s the consultant. Neal is literally his charge. Usually he makes a fuss about how that means keeping Neal from doing something illegal.

He hasn’t spent enough time thinking about keeping something illegal from happening to Neal.

They’re just looking over a crime scene, and the junkie camped out there is of no particular concern of Peter’s until he pulls the knife and starts to run.

Peter’s in hot pursuit, but the guy has a head start. The clatter is loud enough that Neal turns from where he’s looking at one of the stored paintings, rounding a corner just in time to catch the guy full on.

That’s the kind of luck Neal has. His timing is impeccable in a way that no one else could pull off. Peter’s almost relieved as the guy tumbles to the floor, and Neal sprawls with him.

He expects a quip as he manhandles the junkie, slapping on a pair of cuffs while the man writhes.

Breathless, he looks over to Neal, who stares back with his eyes wide.

Peter frowns.

Neal looks down in shock.

Then Peter sees the blood.

-o-

It’s everywhere. Neal blinks rapidly and tries to catch his breath. It’s everywhere.

He’s seen blood before, but not like this. He can smell it, and he can feel it. It’s slick on his fingers and hot and slippery down his stomach. His shirt is soaked and his pants feel tacky. The pool on the ground grows steadily, catching the sunlight and glinting. The metallic scent is heavy in his nose and he can taste it, and acrid bile burns up his throat as hot tears slip from his eyes.

Then Peter is there, on his hands and knees. “Neal,” he says, seriously and urgently, without trying to be either. “Neal, look at me.”

Neal blinks again, lifting his head imperceptibly to make eye contact. The world looks different suddenly. The lights are brighter, the sounds distant. He’s fading.

“Neal,” Peter says again, sharply this time as he reaches out and grabs Neal’s chin. “Stay with me.”

Neal startles, and he’s mustering his strength for a reply when Peter presses down on his stomach and the world explodes.

The pain is intense, ripping through him forcefully. His vision dims and his ears roar. He can feel his heart thundering in his chest as his breath catches painfully in his chest. He can’t breathe; he can’t think; he can’t....

Peter’s hand tightens, jostling him again. “Neal,” he says. “Please.

At that, Neal squints, inhaling tremulously. “Please?” he repeats.

Peter’s mouth thins into a smile. “You like when things are done right, don’t you?”

Neal shifts, wincing under the pressure. “Just didn’t think it was that bad,” he muses, even though that’s a lie. This is that bad. This is...

This is the worst he’s felt. All the risks he’s taken; all the times he’s cheated. He can charm anyone, but maybe he can’t cheat death.

Maybe this is all there is.

Maybe it’s one con too many. Maybe it’s karma finally catching up with him. Maybe it’s just bad luck.

Because it’s never been guns, he realizes dimly. Not really. It’s the risk involved. It’s the high stakes. Neal can play the criminal, but if push comes to shove, he could never be the bad guy. He couldn’t pull a trigger; he couldn’t slice open flesh. That doesn’t make everything he’s done right, but it doesn’t make him wrong either.

And none of it matters because the truth cuts to the chase.

It cuts deep, getting to the heart of the matter.

The fact is, Neal doesn’t like guns or knives because he doesn’t want to die. He doesn’t want to die because he’s still like a little kid playing make believe, dressing up in Daddy’s clothes, trying to see what works and what doesn’t. He ran out of energy on the con.

Now he’s just out of time with the FBI.

He’s just out of everything.

“Neal,” Peter says again, almost frantic now. “Neal!

There’s nothing left, though. Just the blood and the growing truth that none of this is what Neal thought it would be and for the first time in his life, Neal doesn’t have any ideas how to fix it.

-o-

It takes ten minutes for help to arrive.

Neal passes out after three minutes, which leaves seven agonizing minutes. The junkie cries out, howling from where he’s chained to a pipe, but Peter hardly pays any attention. When Neal passes out, he shifts all his attention to the wound, positioning himself for the best leverage as he pushes his suit jacket down on the injury.

It’s textbook; he does everything right.

Neal keeps bleeding.

The blood is warm as it seeps up through the jacket, and Peter’s knees are soaked with it. Neal’s face goes colorless, milky white against the smudges of red that seem to be everywhere. His body is limp under his touch, his face expressionless no matter how much Peter tries otherwise.

Seven minutes, and Neal is slipping away. It’s like when Neal was on the run, before he ended up in prison. He’d been so elusive then, slipping through Peter’s fingers. No matter how close he got, he could never hold onto Neal. He doesn’t like to think about it this way -- and he’d certainly never admit it -- but sometimes he knows the only reason he caught Neal is because Neal stopped trying.

He gave up.

Peter clenches his teeth, and hopes it’s not like that now.

It can’t be.

Neal’s still alive when the ambulance arrives, but it doesn’t seem like enough. The medics seem competent and thorough, but Neal’s still unresponsive and bleeding, and Peter’s left with blood on his hands and nothing to do.

Backup is next, and Peter hands off the case wordlessly as he climbs into the ambulance with Neal. The ride is just as long as the wait, and Neal braces himself as the ambulance bumps and turns, watching as the medic frowns while Neal’s vitals fluctuate and falter precipitously.

Peter’s thought a lot about whether or not he made the right choice in getting Neal out of prison. Usually, though, it’s not because Neal would be safer in prison. He has to consider it now. He’d always thought that he’d given Neal a second chance at life.

Now he just wonders if he’s gotten Neal killed.

At the hospital, Peter goes as far as they’ll let him. In the examination room, he answers all the questions he can while they transfer Neal over. He’s explaining who Neal is when suddenly an alarm wails. The doctors move with new urgency, and Peter sees them press paddles to Neal’s chest as he’s escorted from the room.

On the outside, Peter stares at the doors. He’s spent so much of his life chasing Neal. It’s habit; it’s routine. It’s part of who he is.

He doesn’t know how to stop now -- not even if he wanted to.

-o-

Neal’s good at getting what he wants. But it’s not so much that he never loses; he just knows when to cut his losses. Some fights aren’t worth it. Some bets aren’t going to pan out.

Sometimes, the only choice is to walk away.

Sometimes, you have to fold.

There’s no shame in that. In fact, it’s an underappreciated trick. Something that Neal’s always clung to as his last resort.

The stakes are too high, now. It’s easier to walk away, but Neal’s scared. He feels like he’s been flayed, like he’s been laid entirely bare, and he’s not sure he likes what he sees. He’s not sure if any of it is worth the fight.

Walking away is easier.

But somewhere, he hears Peter’s voice. The only thing left to listen to. “Don’t give up this time,” he says. “Don’t you dare.”

Trust is a precarious thing. Neal doesn’t like to gamble with his life in someone else’s hands. But he trusts Peter. And if anyone is worth fighting for, it’s him.

It’s easier to walk away, but maybe it’s not better. Maybe this is why he knows what he has now -- what his life is now -- is worth something. Because it’s the first time he doesn’t want to walk away.

He won’t walk away.

He’s pulled out every other time.

This time, however.

This time, he’s going to see it through.

-o-

Neal spends five hours in surgery. He spends a week in the ICU. The doctors keep him intubated and sedated for nearly five days of that, and his fever stays high for another two. It takes three more days until he’s conscious, and another two after that until he’s coherent. The doctors talk about months of recovery, and Peter knows it’ll be hard. Neal will be a difficult patient, and there’s no doubt going to be more hardship before this is over.

But it’ll be worth it, Peter knows.

Because Peter makes a big deal out of what he’s done for Neal, but he knows Neal has done just as much for him. It doesn’t have to be the same to still be important. The knife didn’t just slice open Neal’s abdomen -- it cut between them to the truth of it all. That it’s not just a CI and an Agent. It’s not just a convict and a cop.

It’s friendship, with a mutuality all its own.

So when Neal wakes up, Peter’s there. Because it’s just as true now as it ever has been: there’s nowhere Neal will go that Peter won’t follow.

Nowhere at all.

-o-

Neal’s going to be okay.

After the initial relief wears off, Neal finds that prognosis lacking. It doesn’t account for the recovery. It doesn’t account for the pain. It doesn’t account for the weakness and the pervasive exhaustion that leaves him only marginally functional in short bursts.

Mozzie visits often, but never when he’s supposed to. El comes by more than she probably should and dotes on him pleasantly. Even June takes the time to stop by, and Diana and Jones come by often enough to make Neal realize they care, too.

It’s all rather impressive, but none more so than Peter.

As far as Neal can tell, the man has barely left, and after a week has passed, Neal does the math and realizes Peter’s either burning through vacation or sick days, which is nice but isn’t going to be helpful to either of them in the long run.

“So you’re planning a career change?” Neal asks finally when he’s feeling particularly energetic. Which is to say, he doesn’t want to curl up and sleep for the next five years.

Peter blinks at him. “What?”

Neal smiles. “Well, I just figured since you’ve been spending all your time at the hospital, you had to be giving up on your job at the FBI.”

Peter shakes his head. “I’m just doing what’s needed--”

Neal sighs. “You feel guilty,” he says simply. “And the gesture is appreciated, but it’s unnecessary now.”

Peter’s face tightens. “Neal, you’re my responsibility--”

“So it is guilt,” Neal concludes, feeling a little triumphant.

Peter makes a face. “This isn’t a contest.”

“No,” Neal agrees. “It’s about you feeling guilty for something that isn’t your fault.”

“Look, it’s not that simple--”

“Yes, it is,” Neal said. “What, you think you’re the only one who doesn’t make mistakes? Who can control everything?”

Peter purses his lips together. “Neal--”

“Things happen, Peter,” he says. “The odds--”

“It’s not about the damn odds!” Peter snaps with more intensity that Neal expects. He quickly hems back his anger and he takes a breath. “When I saw all the blood -- when you passed out -- I realized I was scared.”

Neal opens his mouth, but Peter gives him a look that shuts him back up.

“Not because you’re my responsibility,” he says. He shrugs awkwardly. “But...because you’re more than that.”

Neal stares at him, surprised. He’s known that, in a way. But he’s had his doubts. Neal’s always played to Peter’s affections to his own gain, partly because he’s always believed that’s how it’s done. Friendship is a carefully balanced game of risk and possibility.

Or it had been.

Neal’s always thought that what he could do is the most important thing. But maybe it’s more than that. In a life where truths are variable and constant are fleeting, it’s suddenly reassuring -- and a little terrifying -- to think of friendship as an actual absolute.

The one thing he can bet the house on -- and never lose.

Finally, Neal smiles. “Well, I have to say, I wouldn’t willingly get stabbed for many people, but for you? I think I’ll make an exception.”

The tension loosens from Peter’s face and he chuckles, shaking his head. “And I’m supposed to say thank you?”

“I think so,” Neal says. “It’s a rather magnanimous offer.”

Peter rolls his eyes. “How about we try to avoid stabbings again.”

Neal shifts in his bed, wincing as his stitches pull. “I can agree to that,” he says. “I always thought guns were bad--”

“They are,” Peter says flatly. “Let’s just work on avoiding all types of peril that results in hospital stays, okay?”

“Because you care about me?” Neal asks.

Peter glares. “Because I’m running out of vacation days.”

Neal laughs. “Spoken like a true friend.”

Peter smiles back. “You better believe it.”

Without a doubt, this time, Neal does.

Comments

Posted by: a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf (embroiderama)
Posted at: December 29th, 2013 03:20 pm (UTC)

I love that this is both intense/scary and schmoopy at the same time. ♥

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 16th, 2014 02:00 am (UTC)
neal peter bw

LOL, I think 90 percent of what I write ends up being schmoopy. It's sort of inevitable :)

Thanks!

Posted by: a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf (embroiderama)
Posted at: January 16th, 2014 02:47 am (UTC)

Oh hey, your reply reminded me--you should post this on whitecollarfic and/or whitecollarhc. I know more people would like to find it. :)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 16th, 2014 02:49 am (UTC)
neal peter bw

I will think about that! I'm not really in the fandom, so I always feel a bit awkward posting stuff. But I also probably shouldn't write fics that no one reads...

Posted by: a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf (embroiderama)
Posted at: January 16th, 2014 02:52 am (UTC)

The WC fandom is, by and large, very kind and welcoming and good about commenting.

Posted by: caseyf123 (caseyf123)
Posted at: January 18th, 2014 04:31 am (UTC)
Playing the odds

What a great little story. Really loved the banter between Peter and Neal. I love it when they get all awkward trying to express how they feel. Nice job.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 6th, 2014 02:55 am (UTC)
Re: Playing the odds
neal peter bw

Thank you so much! I do like the dynamic between these two in the show, and a little peril always draws it out :)

Thanks!

Posted by: Frith (frith_in_thorns)
Posted at: January 18th, 2014 04:41 am (UTC)
Neal+Peter 2

I really enjoyed this! Loved the urgency, and Peter's concern, and also the insight into Neal's head :)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 6th, 2014 02:56 am (UTC)
neal smile

I'm very glad you enjoyed it! Thank you :)

Posted by: pipilj (pipilj)
Posted at: January 18th, 2014 06:50 am (UTC)

Loved how the duo conveyed a depth of emotions with their banter.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 6th, 2014 02:57 am (UTC)
neal peter bw

I do like using h/c to show the emotions beneath the banter. I'm glad it worked. Thanks!

Posted by: Turtlebaby (turtlebaby_02)
Posted at: January 18th, 2014 07:43 am (UTC)

Oh yay! This was terrific! I always love Neal!whump and schmoop and when the two coexist, I'm a happy reader! Thanks so much for sharing this!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 6th, 2014 02:57 am (UTC)
neal peter bw

Schmoopy h/c is my favorite. Thank you for reviewing :)

Posted by: Kim (love_82)
Posted at: January 18th, 2014 08:53 am (UTC)

This was wonderful! Scary and sweet. I love Peter and Neal's awkward conversation at the end when they are trying to express how they feel. <3 They show so much with their banter.

Loved this line: The fact is, Neal doesn’t like guns or knives because he doesn’t want to die. He doesn’t want to die because he’s still like a little kid playing make believe, dressing up in Daddy’s clothes, trying to see what works and what doesn’t. He ran out of energy on the con.

It fits early seasons Neal so well.

Thanks for sharing.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 6th, 2014 02:58 am (UTC)
neal smile

I am a sucker for the early seasons of this show in particular. I'm really glad you liked it :)

Thanks!

Posted by: calis_1st (calis_1st)
Posted at: January 18th, 2014 01:07 pm (UTC)

Aww, man, I love this story. Their thoughts feel so real, I could hear the conversation at the end, and I especially love the line, "Because I'm running out of vacation days." Thanks for posting this!

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 6th, 2014 02:58 am (UTC)
neal peter bw

I'm really glad it seemed to be in character. Thank you :)

Posted by: kanarek13 (kanarek13)
Posted at: January 18th, 2014 09:39 pm (UTC)

Hmmmm, soooo good. A mixture of schmoop and angst, with just the right amount of banter to show how much they care about each other :D

Awesome, thank you :D

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 6th, 2014 02:59 am (UTC)
neal smile

I always enjoy writing schmoopy h/c so I'm glad there are readers for it.

Thanks for reading!

Posted by: scarym1 (scarym1)
Posted at: January 18th, 2014 09:50 pm (UTC)

Love your random Whumping. : ) Great insight into Neal & his thoughts on his friendship with Peter.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 6th, 2014 03:00 am (UTC)
neal peter bw

LOL, I'm glad you enjoy the random whumping. I tend to do that sometimes.

Thanks :)

Posted by: bluegreen_17 (bluegreen_17)
Posted at: January 27th, 2014 12:35 am (UTC)

I really enjoyed this! Thank you so much for posting it. I hope you write more :)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 6th, 2014 03:01 am (UTC)
neal peter bw

I get talked into writing Neal and Peter from time to time. So glad you liked :)

Thanks!

Posted by: leesa_perrie (leesa_perrie)
Posted at: January 28th, 2014 07:30 pm (UTC)
Peter Neal S4

Excellent fic! Very well written, it grabbed me and wouldn't let me go - lovely! :)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: February 6th, 2014 03:01 am (UTC)
neal smile

Thanks so much :)

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