Part and Parcel, Partner
A/N: Written as a response to a request for classic H/C at the LiveJournal Collarkink community. The full request was:
I almost don't care what kind of hurt, except that I want physical and not discipline. (Like discipline but that's a different button for me) I need Neal hurt and Peter comforted. I need Neal feeling helpless and being stunned by his inability to deal with being in pain. I want to see Peter disarmed by Neal in need. I don't need porn esp. I need some classic hurt comfort.
Neal had been through the ventilation shaft six times, twice for each room full of prisoners. No one knew how he fit in there, until one of the escaped museum staff told the tense FBI agents that he was dislocating a shoulder in order to shrink his body's cross-section to a size inhumanly small. Neal had been in the museum and had been taken prisoner with the others. The FBI got an early drop on the situation when Neal failed to return from lunch and they tracked him to where the criminals were still hoping to keep their activities on the down-low.
After the last prisoner was free, Peter led the raid that brought down the thieves. Whatever their intentions had been with respect to the staff and visitors they'd locked in clean conservation rooms, when the criminals had rushed to the rooms they'd found everyone gone.
Hughes orchestrated all sides of the operation from the command van. When it was over, he entered the museum himself, striding into the lobby annex where the jubilant ex-hostages were milling. "Where's Caffrey?" he demanded of one of his agents. When no one knew, he radioed Burke. "Burke, this is Hughes. Is Caffrey with you?"
"No, of course not," Burke answered. "I'm with S.W.A.T. Isn't he with the prisoners?"
"They say he had to free the last group from inside the adjoining locked room, so his only way out was back through an air shaft. That means Caffrey's still loose in the museum somewhere."
Well, that wasn't good. Under Peter's orders, Jones produced a laptop and brought up the database on Neal's tracker. It located him inside the lobby ventilating shaft, not moving. Hughes headed to the nearest free air return before Peter could get there. "Caffrey!" Hughes called. "We know you're in there."
Neal was on his last pass through the shaft. On each one, his shoulder hurt more and more, but adrenaline and excitement had kept him going. He had passed by two branching shafts and did indeed intend to take one of them and see what else he might reach in the museum, once the prisoners were all safe. He hadn't counted on the adrenaline crash, however. It hit him ten feet from the end of the shaft. Exhausted and in agony, he froze and retreated into himself, trying to escape the fiery pain in his shoulder. He was faintly aware of his breathing coming in short gasps. Air, he didn't have enough air. He was hyperventilating; his vision, which was of little use in the shaft anyway, graying out, his hands and feet tingling with pinpricks. He barely noticed any of it for the overwhelming agony in his shoulder. He couldn't move.
"Caffrey!" he heard Hughes call. "We know you're in there."
He couldn't respond, lost in a haze of pain. It wasn't as if he hadn't done this before – dislocated his own shoulder in order to slither in or out of somewhere he needed to be – but before it had always been brief and direct and the adrenaline high had lasted him through it. He'd never had to go back and forth six times, nor had to travel so far. By the time he unlocked the door to the third room, his legs were shaking and he had to fight to keep down his lunch. And now, within ten feet of safety, the pain swelled beyond his ability to cope and all he could do was lie exhausted and still, because the smallest movement made it worse.
"Caffrey!" Hughes sounded angry. "Get out here!"
Angry or not, Hughes represented help. He was in real trouble if he couldn't find enough strength to move. His shoulder could only get worse, and even more scary, Neal suspected he was slipping in and out of consciousness. He summoned the last shreds of his concentration to hold the pain off long enough to answer. "I – can't," he managed.
"If we have to dig you out of the wall, Caffrey, you're going straight back to prison."
Sudden despair washed over him, followed by uncharacteristic anger. Apparently despair and anger were another source of strength. "Fuck you," he gasped. He needed help.
Hughes slammed the wall in frustration, and Burke rushed to join him at the opening. "You get him out of there," Hughes ordered and went to oversee the processing of the ex-prisoners, some of whom were asking after their rescuer.
Peter grabbed a low table and dragged it to the wall. He peered into what seemed an impossibly small shaft and saw only darkness. He hadn't heard what, if anything, Neal had responded to Hughes. "Neal?" he called. When he got no reply he turned to the agents behind him. "Someone get me a flashlight." He stuck his head more fully into the metal tunnel. "Neal? What're you doing?"
"Peter," came a voice from the gloom, and Peter knew at once something was wrong. What had Neal tried now that went bad on him?
"Neal, come out. What is it?"
There was no answer.
"Where's that flashlight?" Someone in the milling behind him put one in his hand. He shone it in and saw the blockage in the shaft that had to be Neal. "Neal, talk to me."
He heard a sound, but no words.
"What?" His unease grew. "Are you all right?"
"No." Pain shimmered in the one word. "Gimme – a minute."
Peter looked around, feeling abruptly cold. The person who'd handed him the flashlight was Jones. "He's hurt. Get some of those paramedics in here. And someone find me something like a rope. Neal, what's the matter? Where are you hurt?"
A long pause. Peter put down the flashlight; it wasn't doing him any good. He judged the size of the shaft, wondering if Cruz could fit in it and what she could do if she could.
"Shoulder," came Neal's voice, breathy.
"You dislocated it," Peter said.
"Hurts," gasped Neal. "Can't move."
Neal was sinking in his quicksand of pain, but it was Peter on the other end of his lifeline, so he held on to hope that this ordeal would have an end. When he could think at all, he concentrated on breathing and gathering his strength.
"Neal," came Peter's voice, "can you move your other arm?"
"I could before," Neal bit out from between clenched teeth. "Now it's all – Peter, moving anything is – can't." That was all he could say. He thought he blacked out for a minute.
He came back to Peter's worried voice and a flashlight beam harassing him. "Neal, Neal, Neal talk to me. Talk to me, Neal."
"Wha -- ?" Neal said, wishing he could return to unconsciousness as more pain than he could ever remember enduring flared, not only in both shoulders, but across his back, chest and down both arms.
"Push with your feet," Peter called. "You've got to do it, Neal. We don't want to pull you out."
The idea of anyone even touching him anywhere near his shoulders, let alone pulling was unthinkable. Fear gave Neal another surge of strength. "My legs shake," he said.
"You can push with them anyway. C'mon Neal, get out here. You've got to. I can't help you in there. Now, push."
Neal tried. He really did. His shaking legs would work, but any movement against the hard metal shaft doubled his agony. He pushed and paused, nearly fainting from pain, but Peter's voice always called him back and he would push again. But before long he reached the end of any ability to inflict further agony on himself. He fell out of consciousness.
When Neal stopped moving and stopped responding, Peter clamped down hard on his panic and went into full professional mode. Cruz had joined Jones by then, and they helped stack another small table on the one Peter was standing on, so he could reach farther into the shaft. They turned up some sofa cushions from the lounge area to place around the floor. Peter could only reach his head and one arm in at a time, but he reached Neal and felt around his head and shoulders, searching for a grip. "Neal, talk to me," he pleaded. He found the shoulder folded bizarrely inward like a wing, and switched to the other, gripping Neal's underarm. He pulled, but the tables beneath him trembled.
"I've got him, hold me and the tables so I can pull," he said.
The next heave brought Neal's head to the opening, dust layered over his dark head. To Peter's relief and dismay, Neal gasped and opened his eyes which instantly fogged over with pain.
"Jones, get something to stand on and help me pull him out of here."
Neal made an agonized sound of protest, but Peter dutifully ignored it. Jones and Cruz found more furniture to stand on, so Jones could be at Peter's level while Cruz readied their landing position. Neal, Peter saw, was out of his head with the pain. His breathing came in gasps, punctuated by small sounds of smothered agony.
Jones and Peter grasped Neal where they could, their touches drawing a faint moan from him. The sound went straight to Peter's gut. Twenty-two potential hostages were going home safe to their families because of Neal. What had been a moment of jubilation abruptly had its dark side; the bottom fell out of Peter's day.
He met Jones's eyes, matching him in apprehension. Neal wasn't capable of helping himself, and the movement they'd be forced to do to him would be excruciating. Peter shoved aside a feeling like panic and nodded to Jones. "Neal, we're going to do this on three."
Neal's response was wordless and had a whimper at the edge, but Peter was sure he knew what he'd been told. Peter fought the horror that was growing in his mind at the mounting evidence of the intense level of Neal's pain. Normally he could distance himself from things like this, but he'd spent too much time trying to think like the elusive Neal Caffrey; now he couldn't stop identifying with him. Neal's agony was playing havoc with Peter.
They counted and pulled, and Neal came out of the ventilation shaft with a cry he didn't try to contain. Peter and Jones couldn't catch him or hold him without putting unbearable pressure in his shoulder area, so Peter ducked beneath him and tried to protect Neal as they both toppled off of the furniture and onto the cushions.
The fall frightened Peter. Holding Neal he couldn't break his own fall; all his concentration went in to bracing Neal and adjusting to whatever was under him. Under him, as it turned out was Cruz grasping his back and Jones doing his best from the side. All four of them collapsed into a ruin of chairs, tables and cushions. Peter landed without much harm; he was aware of hard knocks to an elbow and to the back of his head, but his focus was on the man in his arms. Neal's landing, while much softer than anyone else's, drained the blood from his already dusty face and drove him into unconsciousness. Peter could feel the tension die in the body on top of him.
The moment he was sure they were all down without serious harm, Peter adjusted his grip so he wasn't putting pressure on Neal's injured arm. He had no trouble sorting out which one it was; it was the one twisted hideously forward as if Neal had someone else's arm resting on the front of his chest.
Cruz and Jones rolled easily free, getting to their feet. Peter stayed where he was, cradling the injured man. Neal's head lolled back alarmingly, his eyelids fluttering. He came back to himself with a gasp and Peter felt all that lost tension return. Neal groaned and then his breaths came quickly, pants he tried to use to disperse the pain.
Hughes and some other agents came in. Peter was distantly aware of Hughes demanding to know why they hadn't got any paramedics in there yet.
Watching Neal's pinched face, feeling most of Neal's tortured upper back, something in Peter connected. Not sure quite what he was doing, he slid the knuckles of one fist along a meridian of muscle between spine and shoulder blade. When he reached only a few inches down, Neal arched in his arms and caught his breath, eyes flying open. Peter froze, not sure if he'd hurt – but Neal shifted, shaking, trying to hold his position against Peter's hand. Encouraged, Peter pressed harder and was gratified to see color flood back into Neal's face. Comprehension returned to his eyes and he looked around at Peter. "Good?" Peter murmured.
"Yeah," Neal panted. He slapped the floor with his good hand, one leg twitching reflexively. Peter realized he'd shifted slightly away from the sweet spot he'd found and Neal was flinching with renewed pain. He moved his fist. "Here?"
"More," Neal gasped. "There, stop." Peter nailed the spot and put increasing pressure, lifting Neal's rib cage to an unnatural degree, but Neal's nods and breathy encouragement kept him going. At the farthest extent that Peter could lift, he stopped and shifted his own legs to where he could use his knee to hold his fist in place. Then he needed to balance Neal in place with his other arm across Neal's chest. He felt like he was hugging him.
"Is this okay?" he asked.
Tension lines in Neal's face were easing. "Better. Peter, don't – don't stop, please."
"I won't." Peter dared to glance around. The lobby was filling and draining with people as police, agents and museum staff moved through, many of the staff and other civilians watching Neal and Peter with worried expressions. Word was traveling fast that the only injury in the whole operation was to their rescuer.
Jones approached him, eyeing the difficult position Peter had to hold Neal in. "Do you want me to set up the cushions so you can put him down on them?" he asked.
Neal made a sound of protest. "We're all right," Peter said. Jones nodded.
"Have to – put it back." The almost sob at the end of the statement spoke of Neal's own reluctance to do the deed.
"Your shoulder? No, Neal, we wait for the paramedics. For one thing, they'll have some pain medication."
Neal nodded, biting his lip. He shifted position against Peter, moving a leg that was twisted awkwardly. Wary of losing the leverage that was giving Neal some relief, Peter tried to stay with him.
"Don't – don't leave." Neal's voice sounded stronger.
"I'm not going anywhere. I can stay like this as long as it takes." In fact, Peter's arm was tingling and threatening numbness from where his knee pushed against his wrist and much of Neal's upper body weight pushed against his wrist. He wondered if his knee alone could do the job, freeing his arm.
"Hughes," Neal said. A few feet beyond him, out of Neal's view, Peter saw Hughes look back at them.
"What?" Peter asked.
"I swore at him. Peter. I didn't mean it."
Peter looked to where he knew Hughes was listening. Hughes rolled his eyes. "Well, don't worry about that now." But of course Neal had to worry about antagonizing anyone with Hughes's power.
"I didn't – I was just … hurt." Neal paused to find breath for more speech. "He said he would …"
"I can imagine what he said," Peter soothed, giving Hughes a look just short of insubordinate. Hughes returned a look that said, funny how Caffrey knew his way around the museum ventilation shafts, so don't blame me for being suspicious.
"Is everyone out?" Neal asked. Peter was fiercely glad that Neal could talk so much. His aching arm was clearly holding him just right.
"Yes, Neal, you got them all out. You're a big damn hero if …" he gave it a second's thought, then decided it was good to keep Neal talking and made it sound like he was teasing, " you didn't also steal something from the museum."
The quirk of Neal's mouth would have been at least a smile under other circumstances. "You – pressing some charges?" he breathed.
Peter kept his tone fond, knowing Neal liked this kind of banter."You go to lunch without me and decide to eat at an art museum coffee shop?"
"They – have a new wing. French Impressionists."
"And we all know how you like paintings." Finally two paramedics approached with a stretcher and other gear. "What were you doing in the conservation offices?"
"Some of the best stuff is there."
"Uh huh. Not open to the public." The paramedics started setting up beside them. Neal eyed them, knowing the return to pain they would bring.
"Details. You – want me for my skills, Peter. I have to keep them up."
"Skills like crawling through ventilation shafts?"
Now Neal did smile. "Part and parcel. Partner."
It took all the strength Peter had to relinquish his charge to the paramedics, but he managed to do it. He must have betrayed something in his face, something recognizable to Neal anyway. "I'll be all right, you know," Neal said as they lifted the stretcher.
"Of course," said Peter, standing stiffly. "I know that." And he did.