The case was pretty cut and dry. Colin Manning, an art student at Columbia, had denied any involvement in the East Asian still life forgeries that were making the rounds in museums and private collections throughout New York. He'd been nervous and shifty when he'd been questioned though, so he'd shot to the top of the suspect list immediately.
ERT found a print on one of the more recent forgeries, and then it took them only a few hours to obtain a warrant to search Manning's fancy, newly rented apartment. Peter and Jones had gone in to do the actual searching while leaving Neal and Diana in the van for surveillance.
They had no reason to believe that Manning was a threat. Not even when he caught sight of them and ran.
Peter saw the glint of a gun while he was reaching for his own weapon but had no chance to dive for cover. The impact was jarring, and he wavered on his feet for a moment, still in the process of releasing his Glock from his holster. The crack of the shot barely registered as his clumsy fingers dropped to his side, and his knees buckled.
Pain surprised him, spreading from the right side of his chest, below his collarbone, with each breath. He laid there, eyes closed, concentrating on each inhale and exhale.
Twin voices of worry roused him, but when he opened his eyes, he couldn't see anyone.
“Peter! Are you okay?” Neal, using a frantic tone he'd never heard before, was right in his ear, and Peter suddenly remembered his earwig. He was ridiculously grateful that he'd left Neal in the van with Diana, the one agent who could keep him there and out of the line of fire.
“Peter?” Jones dropped to his knees beside him and called for an ambulance while reaching his free hand toward Peter's chest.
He tried to move then, and agony overwhelmed his very being. Everything was on fire, everything hurt, and then everything was gone.
Peter groaned as he returned to the land of the living and found that the happy juice in his IV had started to wear off. A hand touched his shoulder, and he startled, moaning as pain exploded across his chest.
“Sorry, sorry,” Neal said softly, rubbing a hand up and down his arm until Peter settled. He didn't want to open his eyes; he was so tired.
“Where... what... El?” Peter slurred, murmuring the words, until he could feel Neal's warm breath on his cheek as his partner leaned close enough to hear him. He smelled like wintergreen gum over what must have been ten cups of coffee.
“I finally talked her into going home and taking a shower and a nap.”
Peter fidgeted, clearly uncomfortable, and Neal's grip changed to squeezing Peter's hand. A frantic beeping started up behind him and to his left. His heart felt like it was going to beat out of his chest as the pain moved steadily up the scale toward unbearable.
“Hurts,” he whispered.
A moment later, there was a flurry of activity around the bed. Peter didn't force his eyes open until Neal's hand slipped away from his. He blinked, trying to focus as nurses checked monitors and adjusted tubes and injected syringes into his IV port. Neal was surely somewhere nearby, but Peter couldn't see him.
“I'm here,” Neal called out, pushing passed the medical personnel to lean over Peter, making sure that his face was right in Peter's line of sight. “You okay?”
The warm rush of drugs hit his system and caused his vision to waver, so he reached out for Neal, needing to keep him close for reasons he couldn't explain right then.
“Peter?” Neal looked concerned.
“'M okay,” Peter replied, frowning at his consultant. Neal's face was drawn, and his eyes looked exhausted. “You okay?”
Neal grinned at that and pulled his chair back up to the bed so that he could sit down again. “As long as you're okay, I'm okay.”
“'M okay,” he repeated. His eyes drifted shut; the drugs were finally pulling him under again. He forced them back open a second later, making sure that his friend hadn't moved.
Neal stretched out in the chair, proving that he wasn't going anywhere. “Get some rest.”
Peter steadfastly ignored him. “The others? The case?”
“Jones and Diana are fine.” Neal sighed and shrugged. “Manning got away, but they'll find him. All the airports, train and bus stations are on alert.”
His eyelids were heavy, but Peter forced them open again when Neal slid his hand back into Peter's.
“Sleep. I'm not going anywhere, and Elizabeth will be back in a minute.”
He thought he heard the door open, followed by his wife's soft voice, as he drifted off. Everyone was okay; everything was okay.
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