Note: For complete heading info, please refer to Chapter 01.
Peter hated being relegated to the back of the strike team. The paperwork was still pending on him getting his gun back, but there was no way in hell that he wouldn't be there to get Neal. The lower floors of Adler's building had been secured and they had learned that the man was in a private meeting in his penthouse.
It took another thirty minutes to secure all the exit points, including the roof, and Peter felt that they didn't have a minute left to spare. Diana and Jones tried to calm him, but nothing was working at this point.
Finally, Diana led the way as the supporting agents busted the door down. He heard Diana order Adler to drop his weapon and when the man didn't she fired. But Peter cared nothing about what happened to him or the others in the room. He was focused solely on Neal's body where it hung in the center of the room from chains.
His hand was shaky as he reached out to check for Neal's pulse. He wasn't moving and his body was a mass of bruises, cuts and reddened welts. When he put his fingers to Neal's neck, he was elated to feel a strong pulse through the warm skin. As long as Neal was alive he would get him through whatever had happened.
Jones helped him undo the chains and get Neal lowered to the floor as they awaited the paramedics they had on standby outside the building. He cradled Neal's head in his lap and let his fingers card through the dark hair.
"Boss?" Diana's questioning voice made him look up.
"Yeah?" he asked, feeling so tired now that he had Neal with him.
"We found this on the floor. It was still hot."
Peter looked at the metal item, unable to comprehend at first what it was. The end that was still glowing with residual heat had a circle framing an overlapping V and A, the same stylized lettering that Adler used for his corporate logo. Peter felt like he had received a punch to the gut when his mind connected the pieces.
Gently, he rolled Neal's body, trying not jostle the injured man too much. His fears were confirmed when he saw the branded skin on his lover. Adler had marked Neal forever.
Then the paramedics arrived and Neal was moved to the stretcher. Peter followed, needing to be with Neal and trusting that Diana and Jones would handle everything. Peter thought that everything would be okay, but his next set of troubles began when they wheeled Neal through the doors of the hospital and the scanner registered his slave chip.
"Nobody said we had a slave," a nurse grumbled. "But should have figured it from the injuries. Get his data."
"He's mine," Peter found himself saying, but was halted at the door they had taken Neal through.
"Records indicate he belongs to a Vincent Adler. Do you have ID on you?"
"I'm Peter Burke with the FBI. Adler acquired Neal illegally and was able to modify the records. We haven't had a chance to sort the records out. Now let me see Neal!"
"I need to see your ID, Sir," the nurse demanded.
Peter reached for his badge and stopped. His badge wasn't there. It was with his gun, which was currently locked in Hughes' office. Red tape was keeping him from Neal and it was killing him.
"I don't have my badge with me," he admitted and watched as the nurse's face hardened.
"Then you have no say over his treatment. As it is, since he's a slave without an owner present, it's policy that he'll be transferred to a slave facility for determination of his viability."
"No!" Peter shouted, unable to hold back his panic. "Call the FBI headquarters and ask for Reese Hughes. He-"
"Is right here, Peter," Hughes finished in a brisk tone, flipping his badge open for the nurse. "And this belongs to you," he added, handing Peter his badge.
"The slave designated DC80-456 and also known as Neal was involved in an illegal transaction of ownership. Here is the documentation you need to confirm that Agent Burke and his wife are Neal's owners. Also, your database listing for him should be updated within the hour."
A mollified nurse led Peter and Hughes back to the room where they found Neal unattended and cuffed to a bed. In all the time that Neal had been with them, he'd rarely been sick and never enough to warrant a visit to the hospital. Seeing Neal in desperate need of medical attention and treated like trash made Peter wish Neal had agreed to being freed all those years ago. If he had, maybe this wouldn't have happened to his lover.
It didn't take long with both Peter and Hughes making demands for Neal to start receiving treatment. When they had him on his stomach, Peter blanched at the sight of the open wounds and the angry red brand mark. Neal was always proud of his body, even if him and El had taken years to convince him that they didn't love him because of it.
El joined him about thirty minutes later and Hughes left saying that he would be in touch later for Peter's statement and to follow up on Neal's condition. El's calming yet strong presence managed to go a long way in endearing the hospital staff to them and in turn to Neal. The doctors assured them that Neal would be fine physically save for the scarring and they provided the name of a plastic surgeon for a consult about those.
It was hours before they finally noticed Neal's eyes blink open. El tightened her grip on Neal's hand while Peter let his fingers keep petting through his hair.
"You're safe now, Neal," El said softly. "We've got you."
Peter was never more thankful in his life than when Neal's blue eyes latched on to his own. He watched as Neal's tongue darted out to wet his parched lips.
"Master? Mistress?" Neal's raspy voice questioned as he tilted his head to look at El.
"We're here," Peter confirmed, unable to control the break in his voice. It had been years since Neal had addressed them that way in private.
"Dead. You can thank Diana later."
Peter's eyes widened and his hand stilled. "Who?"
"The man in the chair. Adler said he was my dad," and Neal started showing signs of agitation, like he wanted to get out of the bed.
"Don't worry about it, Neal. We'll figure it out. Just rest."
"But-" then Neal cut himself off as he twisted his body enough to irritate all the wounds. "I remember… It was burning. Did he-?"
Peter didn't have to say anything. His silence confirmed what Neal had remembered.
"It doesn't matter, Neal," El said. "There's a doctor that's going to check it out. But even with it there, we still love you. It doesn't change anything."
Neal didn't say anything and Peter just bent down and pressed a kiss to his forehead. El moved too and soon they were both balanced precariously on the edges of the bed with Neal sandwiched between them. They were never losing him again.