A/N: Well, crap. Crap. Crap. I am soo so insanely sorry. I had no idea how long it had been. Life got away again… Summer months at a summer camp are not as lazy as most. Anyway, I'm not going to sit here yelling out excuses. I can only hope a few of you are still holding on. I've tried to reply personally to reviews, but I don't think I got everyone. Sincere apologies if that includes you. I will definitely get all of you next time. :/ Aye.
Anywho, we're nearing the end of this fanfic. There'll certainly be more to come afterwards, but it's been a wonderful, fantastic time with all of you. I can't believe the support you all have given—its incredible, and I can't thank you enough.
So enough sappy-ness. Here's a little more whump before you go. ;) Much love to you all!
Neal was surprised. He'd imagined dying before—who hadn't?—and had always thought it would be this terrifying, pain-filled experience. But it wasn't. Sure, he was scared. He was falling to his death, for freak's sake. And yeah, it hurt. His entire body was throbbing. But still, it was strangely… peaceful, other than that. He actually had time to think. Actually think… about his life. And strangely, he found it to be pretty fulfilling. If cut a little short. But yeah… surely it could have been worse.
And that was all he got before there was an incredible pressure before total nothingness.
o o o o
If Peter thought he hadn't established some sort of connection with the ex-con before now, all those doubts certainly flew out the window the moment he saw the edge of the rope go over the ride car edge. His vision funneled, and he dove, throwing his entire body over the edge and nearly falling over himself.
But he felt it. Felt the rope in midair, even when he didn't see it through the dots in his vision, and grabbed harder than he ever had before, hardly feeling the burn it created sliding through his palms. When Peter finally dared to look, he thought he'd pass out after the giant sigh of relief that left him.
He'd made it. Neal was safe. Inches from the ground, wrists bleeding everywhere, unmoving… but safe. Peter swore. Violently, breathy, loudly, and in sheer relief, everything crashing down on him and bringing an unbearable weariness with it. He managed to pull back the rope enough to tie it again—though it killed him to do it—and climbed off the ride in record time. He reached Neal and froze for a moment.
"Jeez, Neal…. I'm so sorry…"
He looked even worse up close. Skin nearly translucent, chest hardly moving, red coating his entire arms, running down from where the skinny, tight string had viciously cut through his skin.
At a soft groan from the beaten-down man, Peter leaped into action, grabbing up the knife b y the controls from earlier and cutting Neal down, making quick work of the nylon trapping his sore wrists. Peter reached up to Neal's face, gently tapping it.
"Hey… Caffrey, you with me? Come on, buddy…"
Neal tossed his head, cheek rubbing into the dirt, and Peter winced. He never thought he would see Neal—clean-cut, suit-wearing, always perfect Neal—this dirty. The thought was bizarre, but the agent couldn't help it. Adrenaline and its subsequent drain brought strange musings. Still, Peter snapped to attention when the other man's eyes began to painstakingly flutter open.
"Hey, that's it, Neal… come on back…"
An agonized moan flitted through the still air, and Peter realized quite suddenly what Clemence's last action had been. The rod…
"Crap." Glancing at Neal, Peter made a quick decision and sprinted away from the sprawled form, eyes straining through the shadows strewn by the large wheel for that telltale glint of red.
Another groan, louder and definitely closer to an exhausted cry, signaled Neal's complete return to consciousness. Peter cursed under his breath, torn between finding the root of his partner's suffering or going back to be with said partner. He settled for something in between.
"Hey, Neal! Its Peter, I'm right over here." Eyes still searching everywhere. "E-everything's okay now. Its over, got it? I'll… I'll be right there. You'll be alright." He risked a glance to the fallen man and immediately wished he hadn't. Neal was curled on the ground into a tight fetal position. Peter could see the tremors racking his lean frame even from so far away.
Cursing in agitation, Peter kicked through the dead grass with a renewed vigor. Finally, he spotted the bright red beacon. Picking it up and thanking God it wasn't broken, Peter spun the dial completely down and threw it at a post, smiling grimly at the crack that sounded. With that, he spun back around and sprinted to Neal, hands ghosting over the other man's form, determining what was injured, how he could help what to do. Neal's soft voice brought his sharp gaze up to the consultant's face, and his callous, trained exterior melted.
"Jeez, Neal…. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
Sighing, Neal shut his eyes and gripped the grass beneath him with one hand. "Not your fault, Peter…" Catching the agent's guilty glance, he emphasized his point. "For real. Clemence was crazy… nothing you could do about it."
Nodding silently, Peter went back to assessing his broken friend. "What hurts?"
Neal snorted. "What doesn't?" He sighed again, seeming to melt against the ground. "Chest. Wrists. Head."
Peter gave another curt nod, turning to the most immediate wound he could fix—Neal's wrists, cut clean through from the harsh nylon rope. Peter winced in sympathy, quickly undoing his tie and gently picking up Neal's left arm. Spying a water spout nearby, Peter gently tugged his partner the few extra inches over he needed to reach it, still holding Neal's wrist. He took a breath.
"Sorry." Peter apologized in advance.
With that, Peter turned the spout on—just barely—and pulled Neal's wrist over, letting the freezing cold and thankfully still running water spill over the deep penetration. Neal gasped and instinctively twisted away, whimpering softly. Peter bit his lip but kept his hold firm, waiting until he was sure the risk of infection had lessened. On autopilot again, Peter pulled out his cell and dialed 9-1-1 even while he was tying up Neal's battered left wrist, trying and failing to filter out the man's soft, pained gasps.
At an annoying alert sound in his ear, Peter pulled the phone away in frustration, a muttered 'crap' escaping his lips as he found a simple yet devastatingly disheartening message on screen.
SERVICE UNAVAILABLE IN THIS AREA.
Peter looked down at Neal, frowning. He figured he might as well come right out and say it. No use hiding the somewhat obvious. "No service."
"Ah…. Crap is right."
Peter managed a chuckle, moving his sketchy first aid to Neal's right wrist. The penetrations were much deeper here, and the agent was certainly not looking forward to treating them. But it had to be done. So, with a wince of sympathy and a hand on Neal's shoulder, Peter brought the bloodied limb forward and under the steady stream of clear liquid.
Neal actually cried out this time, a short, harsh sound, before turning away again. Peter cursed Clemence, cursed him and everyone who'd ever associated with him after he'd gone haywire. Neal was still writhing, battling against all his instincts to pull away from the pain. A shimmer appeared on his cheeks, and Peter finally stopped, pulling back and taking a deep breath before he lost it completely. After removing his jacket, Peter tore his shirt sleeve off without hesitation and wrapped it carefully around Caffrey's shaking hand and wrist.
"Yeah, Neal?" Peter replied quickly, unbuttoning Neal's top layer to see if any damage had been done.
"I don't… feel so good."
Peter froze for a moment, then continued his examination. "Yeah? Funny, you don't look so good, either."
A sound suspiciously like a pffft came from the ex-con. "Who're you kidding? I look amazing…. Always do…"
Peter, finding nothing too out of place, started to button the shirt back up. "Right, sorry, let me take it back. Forgot you're mister perfect." He moved back up, closer to Neal's face. "How you doin'?"
Neal almost chuckled. "Well, let's see… Kidnapped by a psychopath, lowered from a Ferris Wheel, loaded up with nanobots, almost died ten minutes ago… Never been better."
Peter shook his head. Even now, same ol' Neal. "Right. Well, all things considered, you could've gotten off much worse." He slid a hand under Neal's back, not even commenting on the sweat he discovered. "Think you can make it back outside if I help you? We need to get to that van."
Neal said nothing, merely nodding and taking deep breaths. Hitching an arm around his shoulders, Peter stood slowly, keeping still for a moment after becoming vertical for Neal to catch his bearings. After the wait, he started off at a slow pace, allowing Neal to bear at least some of his own weight, knowing he'd feel obligated—the stubborn idiot.
After what seemed an eternity, they made it back to the van. Neal decided that seemed a good time to fall completely unconscious.
"Whoa!" Peter exclaimed as Neal just dropped out of the blue.
He caught him, though, and manhandled the limp body into the passenger seat, quickly buckling him in and patting his knee before sliding over the hood to the driver's side. He buckled, found the key and sped off in record time. Considering he had no idea where they were and couldn't tell an ambulance where they were, he figured this was the better option.
Beside him, Neal didn't stir, skin unnaturally transparent. Peter grimaced and pushed the pedal down further. They needed to get to a hospital like, ten minutes ago.
Why does the hearing always come first?
That was Neal's first thought upon entering yet again the land of the living, only to find a stupid, annoying beeping right by his ear.
Other senses filtered in quite quickly after that, the coarse sheets against his hands, antiseptic in the air, bright light shining through even closed lids. He licked his lips, trying to determine how long he'd been out.
Beside him, something shifted, and Neal knew almost immediately Peter was there. Confirming his guess, a warm hand settled over his arm, just above the thick bandages encompassing his wrist.
"Hey. Back with me yet?"
Neal squirmed uncomfortably, trying with incredible effort to open his eyes. Finally, they obeyed his minds commands, and fluttered open, allowing a bright light to scorch his retinas. Grimacing, he blinked hard a few times until they were more adjusted. He then turned left to see Peter sitting in a hard white chair, coffee in hand.
"… Hi." Neal was surprised at the quality of his voice. It was hoarse, scratchy, and not at all like him. He smiled gratefully at the cup of water Peter held out to him, straw just by his mouth. While he drank, Peter spoke.
"You've only been out a few hours. They gave you some stuff for pain and against infection, mainly for your wrists. You've strained both your shoulders, but a little time and they'll be fine. They were a little worried about your lungs for awhile, because they were taxed so much during the… the time, but that blew over. All in all, you'll be fit to go in two days at the very most."
Neal smiled softly, letting the words wash over him. "Great."
Peter frowned, sitting back in his chair and twiddling his thumbs the way he did when nervousness snuck up on him. Neal matched his sullen expression.
"Hey. Everything okay? What's bothering you?" He asked, voice a little better since the water.
Peter waved him off, as Neal expected. "Nothing."
Neal sat up a little now, shaking his head slightly. "Oh, no way are you getting off like that. Come on, I'm drugged up to here right now and probably won't even remember what you say later. So spill."
Reluctantly, and with much metaphorical foot-dragging, Peter did. "Its just… before… all this, with the book in my office…" Realization triggered for Neal even before Peter said the next words. "You said you didn't want to do this anymore, and now… with all this," the frustrated agent gestured vaguely to Neal and the hospital room, "I figure you're twice less likely to stay on with us now." He sat back, then continued quickly, face somewhat alarmed. "Not that I don't understand. I mean, anyone would freak after that, heck, you're taking it better than most people, better than I would, but I just don't thi-"
The softly spoken name had the rambling halted on its tracks. Neal smiled, eyebrow cocked.
"Don't worry about that. I'm here to stay." At that, he raised his hands slightly, grin growing ever wider. Peter stared at him, somewhat disbelievingly.
"Wait… seriously? You're not… I don't know, worried?"
Neal psshed. "Well, of course I'm worried. Scared to death, to be honest. But that's exactly why I'm not quitting. I mean, who's safer than the FBI?"
Peter stared just a moment longer, then broke out into a smile of his own. He'd read the hidden meaning underneath Neal's words, and returned the gesture with one of his own.
"You're right. Safest place in the world. Nothing can happen to you there."
Neal's face scrunched up for a moment in mock confusion. "Funny. I seem to recall you saying something along the lines of that right before we ran into the man who started all this."
Peter's jaw dropped, and he took a breath to reply, but before the retort could fly through his open mouth, Elizabeth sashayed into the room, drink tray in her hand. At the sight of Neal awake and aware, she beamed, bright and beautiful.
While she babbled on at him, as mother hen-ish as ever, Neal couldn't help but think, this was his family.
And he couldn't possibly have found a better one.
o o o o
Two weeks later found Neal and Peter fully recouped and restless to get out and go. Walking into the elevator to leave for what was hopefully the bust on their newest case, Peter turned to Neal and found an unpromising grin on his face. Suspiciously, Peter cast him a sidelong glance and sighed.
"Nothing," Neal insisted, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet as they waited for the elevator to open.
"Oh, yeah right." Peter turned full-on to Neal now. "Come on, tell me. What is it?"
As the doors opened, Neal stepped in smoothly, commenting in an infuriatingly casual manner, "Safest place in the world, huh?"
It took a moment to register, but when it did, Peter froze in his tracks, foot paused mid-step into the elevator.
As the doors began moving, Neal leaned back. "Better hope this paper cut I got from that file earlier doesn't get infected, or I'm suing for false advertising."
Peter could do nothing but stare as the doors closed completely on Neal's huge, mischievous grin. The last thing the agent saw before they closed was his amused wink, followed by laughter that could be heard even through the doors, fading as the machine moved away. Finally, Peter found his voice.