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Vigil

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Neal sat in the darkest corner, head bent and resting in his hands. It had been a long day, but the night felt like it would last forever.

Peter had made it through surgery to repair the damage left by two bullets, one to the chest and one to the abdomen. They'd been working a corporate blackmail case when their suspect had shown up unexpectedly at his former place of employment with an illegal concealed weapon. He'd panicked and started shooting when Peter had identified himself, taking down a handful of employees and Peter before Jones had arrived on the scene. One shot to the suspect's head, and it was all over.

Neal had crawled out from behind the desk where he'd taken cover and pushed his suit coat to Peter's wounds with as much pressure as he could summon. Even though Jones had tried to take over, Neal had refused to move until the EMTs arrived and three agents manhandled him away from Peter's unconscious body.

The doctors didn't sound optimistic when they briefed Elizabeth and the White Collar team, who refused to leave the waiting room. One of the bullets had nicked the aorta, causing a massive hemorrhage that they almost hadn't been able to stop. The other had hit his spleen, causing more bleeding and forcing the surgeon to remove the damaged organ.

It was nearing two in the morning when the nurses came to say that Peter had been moved to his room in the ICU. The rules stated that there could only be two visitors for a maximum of thirty minutes at a time. Neal had always believed that rules were made to be broken, and when the nurse had come to kick him and Elizabeth out after their allotted half hour, he'd calmly insisted that she leave them be. She'd threatened to call security, and he'd taken her aside and suggested very strongly that both Peter and Elizabeth were in danger and that he, as an employee of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, needed to keep both of them in his sight at all times until such time as he determined that the threat had passed. That had shut her up and sent her scurrying back to the nurses' desk.

For hours, Neal and Elizabeth sat in silence, and neither slept nor ate nor moved. There was nothing to say. Empty platitudes were beyond their level of friendship.

A different nurse checked on Peter regularly, but she didn't speak to Neal. However, she softly assured Elizabeth that Peter's vitals were steady, and that he was comfortable.

When the night gave way to a new day, and the nurses changed shift, Peter remained stable but unresponsive. He was on some powerful medication and his body was trying to heal, but every minute that he didn't wake was another minute that both Neal and Elizabeth feared would be their last with him. Diana and Jones, Mozzie and Sara, all came by the hospital. They coaxed first Elizabeth and later Neal out of the room for a breather and a little bite to eat, but neither could stay away for very long.

As the evening slipped toward a second night in the ICU, Neal excused himself and headed up to the roof. It was the only place in the hospital where he knew he'd have privacy. Once he was there, he squeezed his eyes shut and prayed to anyone or anything that would listen to his silent bargaining. Peter was his partner, his friend, his family. He couldn't do this job without him, couldn't imagine his life without him. He would do anything to change Peter's fate or to go back to two days ago when they'd been joking about an allegedly forged Picasso in the conference room.

After a few minutes, Neal opened his eyes and watched as the sun set over the city. It was a gorgeous, full of ochres and auburns and burnt sienna. The painter in him wished for a brush and canvas, but the man in him only wanted to get back inside to check on his friend.

Elizabeth met him just inside the door with bright eyes and a big smile. “He's waking up.”

Casting his eyes upward, Neal willed a silent thanks to whoever had been listening.

~Finis