Jones came in with the file Peter wanted. As he dropped it down he noticed the can of 7-Up on the corner of the desk. "You giving up caffeine?"
Peter looked up at him, a question on his face until he saw where Jones was pointing. "It's for Neal. Settle his stomach."
Jones wrinkled his nose. "That bad?"
"And then some. They really did a number on that guy. You and I? We've seen this stuff. Neal…" Peter laughed a little. There was some irony in the fact that it was the guy with a criminal record who had an issue with the sight of blood and dead bodies. "When I was trying to decide if taking him on was a good idea, I read through his prison records. He saw a guy get shanked in the exercise yard and passed dead out. He doesn't do well with bodies."
Jones sat in one of the chairs on the opposite side of Peter's desk. "He's not exactly what we'd call a hardened criminal."
Peter gave Jones a sideways look. "Don't you dare start justifying what he did."
"I'm not justifying. Just saying that from what I've seen in his file, he seems to have gone out of his way to make sure no one got hurt. Yeah, he's a criminal, but he's… mostly harmless."
Peter scowled at his desktop. "Tell that to the managers of that art museum he stole the –"
"I didn't say his crimes were victimless," Jones emphasized. "Just harmless. No one got hurt."
Peter could see Neal come out of the bathroom and stop to lean against the wall. Even from the distance he could see the way Neal still wasn't breathing right.
"I know, I know," Peter answered, wondering if he should go and collect Neal and get him into a chair before he fell over. He didn't want to embarrass the guy, but face-planting in the bullpen would be worse than needing to lean on someone to make it a few dozen yards to a chair. Not for the first time Peter wished his office wasn't made of glass. Getting Neal somewhere private and quiet was starting to look imperative.
"You know, days like this remind me why I keep passing on the bump to run organized crime. It's delightfully rare that we have to be the ones knocking on doors at two a.m. to tell some mother or wife or whoever that someone's never coming home again." Peter scooted his chair back from the computer and laced his hands behind his head and stretched, one eye still on where Neal leaned against the wall by the john.
"There is that," Jones agreed.
Finally, Neal came dragging himself in. His hat was pulled down over his eyes, and his jacket was bunched up and folded over his arm. He was completely pale with a slight green tinge. He fell into the chair next to Jones'.
"How you doin'?" Peter asked quietly.
"Trying to take solace in the idea that no matter how bad I look or feel, I'm still doing better than that nineteen year old kid we just pulled from a trash dumpster." Neal crossed his arms over his chest and tucked his chin into his chest.
Peter looked up at Jones. "What does Hughes say?"
"He says it's up to you. Violent Crimes wants this one now, but he won't give it to them unless you want him to."
Peter studied Neal's posture, the fact that he had his hat over his face trying to hide his eyes. A year ago it would have grated on his nerves to pass over a case he could solve, but this time… this time he really didn't want to subject Neal to any more of this than he just had. Neal was good at helping them solve the cases that were in their baliwick. No need to alienate him, make him worry that they'd end up dealing with the raft of dead bodies other departments had. Peter grimaced to himself, wondering when he'd started making an effort to keep Neal on the team, then wondering if there'd been a time since that first case that he hadn't.
"Let 'em have it," Peter said decisively, pleased when he saw Neal relax fractionally. "Here's what we have," he added, handing a file to Jones. "We're gonna take off early." He came around the desk and put the soda can in Neal's hand. "Let's go, partner," he said quietly, deliberately using the word, even thought he'd told Neal not to. He was gratified to see the small smile it provoked.