...And I Told You to be Patient... ~ ”Skinny Love”, Bon Iver
Minutes turned to hours. Hours turned to days. Days turned to weeks.
When Peter and the cavalry finally appeared, pulling open the heavy iron door and letting light flood their small cell, Neal and Diana were curled up on the single cot together, eyes closed and bodies tensed as they waited for the next round of torture. They were filthy, stained with dirt and blood on their skin and what was left of their clothing.
While their vision was adjusting, and they were starting to realize that it was friend not foe crowding the doorway, Peter and Jones took charge and assigned the probies and other agents jobs that took them away from this prison at this moment. As Neal and Diana struggled to sit up, Peter and Jones stepped forward slowly, holding up their hands to show their harmlessness, until they were close enough to drape their own coats over the trembling bodies of their partners.
“Peter?” Neal croaked, squinting through the long, greasy hair falling in his eyes.
Peter choked back his emotions and simply replied, “I'm here.” His hand was a millimeter from resting on Neal's shoulder when the younger man shifted, melting into Diana's side. She whispered something inaudible but comforting and slid her arm around to place her hand on the back of his neck.
Jones shared a distressed look over their heads with Peter while Neal slipped one arm around Diana's waist and used the other hand to pull the sides of the jacket closed over her chest. He murmured what sounded like “Warm?”, and she nodded.
The medics arrived less than two minutes later to find the two so tangled together that they wound up transporting them to the ambulance and the hospital on a single stretcher.
When Diana and Neal returned to work, after three months of physical and emotional therapy, they were welcomed with smiles and shoulder pats and hugs from their colleagues. As agents dispersed back to the desks, everyone noticed, but were kind enough not to mention, how Neal sidled over to Diana's side and silently slipped his hand into hers while they talked to Jones about all the cases and undercover ops that they'd missed.
Peter retired to his office but kept a close eye on his newly returned agent and consultant. He'd gotten the reports from their therapists about the bond they'd formed in captivity, which was only natural given the conditions they'd had to endure – beatings, starvation, and sensory deprivation, to name a few. They had both made progress in regaining their independence, but today's return to work was stressful, and they'd reverted a bit to calm themselves and each other.
Their physical reports had been stomach-churning. Burns, half-healed broken bones, infected cuts, and internal injuries plagued both of them. Neal had nearly lost a kidney, and Diana's spleen had been removed. The captors had been careful not to mar their faces though, which Peter worried about more than most anything else.
Down in the bullpen, it had taken Neal twenty minutes to sit down at his own desk. He glanced over his shoulder at Diana, making sure that she was okay and that she was still there at her own desk, before he turned on his computer monitor and stared at the blank screen. Peter hadn't given them a new case yet, and he rarely got emails at his Bureau account, so he found himself with little to do. He looked around the office for a moment before getting up and heading toward the break area. Surreptitiously, he checked on Diana again as he got a mug and poured himself some coffee.
When he reached for the sugar, she was standing beside him, getting her own cup. Their hands touched when they both went for stirring straws, and it was Diana who took the half step necessary to press her right side to his left.
“Everything okay?” he asked, unconsciously pressing his free hand to her back, tapping out an aimless rhythm with nervous fingers.
“You tell me,” she replied, giving him a look that said she hadn't missed all his not-so-covert attention.
He shrugged. “I'm good. Thirsty.”
In response, she nodded. “Me too.”
Neal gave her a soft smile as he moved away, taking his drink with him. They both shivered minutely at the separation.
After two hours of making every excuse in the book to stay within sight, and often touching distance, of each other, Peter finally decided to take some action to give Neal and Diana, not to mention the rest of his team, something to do. He called a meeting in the conference room to discuss the department's new case – a health care fraud that looked pretty cut and dry. He was pretty sure that the doctor was adding services to charts that he wasn't actually performing but was billing for, and that was in addition to duplicating claims on women, using both their maiden and married names.
Jones took the lead on coming up with a plan that involved a two-man team going undercover to see what kind of upcharges the doctor would add on for a visit. One person would need to go undercover as the patient, which Jones volunteered himself for, and the other would need to go undercover as a doctor or nurse to gain access to the charts.
Peter gave everyone the opportunity to speak up for the other half of the undercover team before assigning the job to one of the probies. He'd wanted to see if Neal or Diana would try to volunteer and was both pleased and disappointed when neither went for it. They weren't close to being cleared for field work, and based on what he'd seen this morning, they weren't ready, but they had both been the type, before the kidnapping, to jump at the opportunity whether they were physically able or not. Clearly, there was a lot of healing left to do here.
(To Be Continued)
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