(Chapter 3)

Neal remembered very little of what happened to him after he was drugged. He was surprised to wake up to find he was not only alive but bound tightly to some kind of metallic framework. He struggled to free himself but he was bound securely, slumping on his feet, legs jellylike below him as he tried to keep himself upright to ease the pain in his arms at either side of him. He glanced around to see not only that he was tied to the metal frame but it was a shelf of some kind and around him buzzed the quiet sound of hard drives and servers as he started to take note of where he was.

It seemed to be a large server room with lots of boxes, computers, small devices he recognized as being in a data center or computer lab back room. He struggled to free his wrists but they were bound securely to the heavy duty wire shelf that was bolted to the floor and ceiling. He was boxed inside but for the front part. Instead a wall stood there before him that seemed like the kind you have in offices for cubicles. It was between him and whatever was in front of it on the other side. It wasn't a sturdy wall but even if he could make noise to someone on the other side it didn't help with the rags stuffed in his mouth and his lips taped shut.

He remembered Lydia telling the goon with her to kill him but something must have changed if Neal was still alive. He glanced around for something to free himself with and saw a pair of wire cutters carelessly left beside him on an adjoining shelf. If he could just reach through...

()()()

It didn't take Peter long to show up at the building Lydia had describe to him. He had looked it up on the GPS in the Taurus easily. He still had a good 45 minutes when he parked just down the street and carefully grabbed up the copy of the plans Mozz had so carefully drawn in detail and pulled out his cell phone. He stood there outside the car a moment and called up Diana who told him they were headed his way. Jones was getting the search warrant from Hughes for them to move in. He thanked her for calling the senior agent for him. He had been more concerned with his partner's safety than procedure for once. He glanced at his watch and started to walk towards the Alamo, Inc. offices hoping Neal was still ok. He didn't want to think what he'd do if that woman had hurt him. She had sounded colder than anyone he knew could sound over the phone. He had the feeling she wouldn't have a second thought about killing him as well but he had the crew coming and he just had to be patient.

He was at the building, walking down a set of stairs to the actual offices on the basement level of a tall skyscraper and knocking on the door when he saw they were closed today. He heard sounds inside behind the blinds on the door's window. A large tough looking guy with a uni-brow glanced out briefly before the door unlocked and opened. The goon stayed within eye sight as if he knew what was expected as Peter noticed a young woman around Neal's age, brown hair up in a loose bun with brown eyes blinking back at him. She wore warm khaki colored corduroy pants with a long dark blue sweater. Her expression was anything but welcoming, eyes cold and gleaming in the dim light of the offices.

"Thank you for being on time, Peter. If you'll hand us the plans, we'll show you where your friend is."

She held out a hand and he stayed by the door without moving.

"I need to know he's alive and well before you get anything."

Her expression turned harder but a fake smile lit up her face.

"Certainly. You want to see that I'm honest. I understand that. Shall we?"

She started to walk through a small array of cubicles to a back door and opened it up. Peter took up the back for safety reasons as they kept walking till they came to a large set of doors with two way glass on either side. The glass was mirrored so you couldn't see what was inside and there were several warning signs and flashing lights (currently off) around the door. Peter read the warnings and took everything in as the goon pulled out a key and unlocked the doors, Lydia opening them up to reveal an inner hallway with a large panel of glass, some sliding doors and what appeared to be a very expansive data center / server room within. Peter stared at the sight with curiosity realizing this was similar to the thing Mozzie had drawn.

"He's inside there, towards the back. Let me show you."

She nodded to the goon who walked over to a small station there in the outer hallway they stood in. He turned on the monitor and keyed something in till an image of a figure bound in a small metal framework popped up on the screen. Peter moved a bit closer and looked seeing the time on the surveillance camera was only a few minutes ago.

Neal...

"Hand us the copy and you can go get your friend. Our transaction will be completed."

She held out her hand again, Lydia's eyes glittering in the fluorescent lights but he shook his head. Peter didn't trust her.

"I get him first and then you get your plans."

Lydia's face although pretty twisted into an ugly grimace of anger before she nodded, the goon unlocking the sliding door to let Peter inside.

"Find your friend and bring him back, Peter."

Her tone held little emotion but annoyance was evident as he slipped into the large room and started down the various rows and aisles of servers and PCs. The space felt endless and he got turned around a few times when he tried to come back to the sliding doors to get his bearings. It was more than just a maze but utter confusion as he quickly made his way through the rows till he found himself at another dead end. He stopped a moment and ran a hand through his hair tiredly. He had seen Neal on the screen clear as day unless...

There was a sound. It interrupted his thoughts as he tried to listen and find its source. It was nearby but none of the hard drives or servers seemed to be making it and the sounds they made were swallowing it up to some degree. He moved closer to the wall before him pushing his ear to it when he realized where the sound was coming from.

"Neal? Can you hear me? Neal?"

He called out through the wall, trying to move some of the shelves aside without knocking anything over. The tapping got a bit louder and he could finally hear it was code.

P-E-T-E-R-I-M-H-E-R-E

He was ecstatic, ramming at the wall which ended up being nothing but thick particle board when he busted through and saw his friend still bound there in the metal enclosure. He saw the con's eyes widened as Peter reached out to free him, Neal pointing with his head to his left where the wire cutter was. Peter took it and freed the young man as quickly as he could. He had just finished one wrist and was starting the other when he heard a frantic muffled sound from Neal.

"I'm hurrying up, Neal don't ru..."

He didn't finish the sentence as something hard hit him on the back of the head and the agent collapsed to the ground. He saw Neal grasp at him with his free hand and a shadowy form hovering over him just before he passed out.

()()()

Neal was concerned if anything when he heard someone moving around outside the fake wall. He couldn't see who it was but he started in earnest to reach for the wire cutters when he heard a familiar voice.

"Neal?"

The con couldn't have been happier, trying harder to pull loose as he tapped on the wire shelf and tried to let the agent know he was there. Peter broke through the wall a few minutes later a relieved look on his face as he started to free the young man with the wire cutters. The agent had barely gotten one wrist done when Neal saw a looming shadow behind his friend. He tried to give a warning but was still gagged when the goon hit Peter on the back of the head hard. The agent slumped to the floor, wire cutters falling just under his foot as Neal moved to help but was still bound. He reached across to free his other hand but he goon hit him hard across the face, stunning the con as he felt himself freed only to feel his arms bound tightly behind him with a zip tie. He started to come to as he saw the same done with Peter as the goon left them there and walked away. There was something wrong here even if they were tied up he felt something else was obvious that he was missing.

"Emergency! Emergency! There is a fire reported in the south section of the server room. Please evacuate the premises as soon as possible. Emergency Emergency!"

Neal shook his head realizing the voice was a PA system for the fire sprinklers but when he looked up he noted they weren't the typical sprinklers but the kind like Avery had in his room when they were trapped in there. Avery's room had just sucked the air out but this place... it had that option along with gas to extinguish flames. They had little time to get out as Neal turned and found the wire cutters again and started on his bindings. It took a bit of work but he got out and untied Peter as he picked up the unconscious agent and carried him upright towards the front of the room. They had to get out or they were going to die a very horrible death.

"The fire suppression system will commence in 1 minute. Please evacuate the server room immediately!"

Neal hurried as quickly as he could through the stacks of server shelves before he saw the Goon exiting through a sliding door which closed and locked behind him. Lydia turned on the other end and saw him, blinking in surprise but smiling. She walked over to a small computer station and picked up a mic.

"Neal... I'm glad you could be awake for this. You are going to die a very unpleasant death and I have the copy of the plans your friend so willfully denied me."

She smiled coldly at him before continuing.

"I guess well see what happens when someone stays inside one of these 'fire suppression systems' when it's on. I hear it's quite unpleasant. First the air is sucked out of the room while halon gas fills the space causing all sorts of nasty side effects."

She grinned evilly at him as she turned off the mic and stood there watching him safely on the other end. He beat on the glass but it was obviously reinforced and barely moved at his touch as he slammed his body against it. The lock for the door was on the outside so he had nothing to pick as he started to look around for something to keep them both safe. He left Peter by the door as he heard the countdown commence.

"Emergency! Emergency! The fire suppression system will start in 40 seconds. Please evacuate the premises immediately!"

Neal saw a small closet off to the side of the glass wall and found a single bio-hazard suit and mask with oxygen canister which appeared to be full. He quickly brought them back and started to place the unconscious Peter in the suit, sealing it up as he put the mask and oxygen canister to his friend's mask and made sure it was all secure before he sat down there and leaned against the glass. There had been an extra set of goggles so he placed those on his face, tying his sweater around his face securely so he could still breath. If he was going to die, fine but Peter had to live. He had El and Neal...

"The Fire Suppression system is now commencing. Please evacuate the area. 10... 9... 8... 7... 6..."

Neal closed his eyes, waiting for the inevitable when he heard a voice over he mic.

"Caffrey? Peter?"

He opened his eyes and turned around to see Diana standing there at the station while several agents held Lydia and her goon at bay, cuffing them. He felt relief but for the fact they were still trapped in the room. He removed the sweater to speak.

"Peter's in a suit. He should be ok but I don't know if there's a fail safe for this. It's too close to going on, Diana. Just... Tell Peter I said good-bye."

She looked like she wanted to cry despite the differences they'd had in the past he could tell she was upset, Jones scrabbling around with other agents as they looked for the emergency shut off. Neal heard the countdown go to 1 as he tied the sweater in place again and waited.

It was a weird sensation as all the air started to be sucked out of the room. He heard the whoosh and felt a kind of sudden coolness as the temperature of the room began to drop. Neal shivered in the sudden coldness but that's not what made him shudder. Just as he felt his breath starting to catch, there was a hissing sound as he looked up through the safety goggles and saw the gas spray out from the piping above. The room filled with a thin silvery haze and it felt even harder to breath as if his lungs were turning to lead and his body was being pushed down against the floor. He gasped, hands reaching for his throat, a terrible pressure in his chest but he stopped, reaching out to take Peter's gloved hand in his just as everything went black.

()()()

Peter heard a hissing sound and his breath sounded louder than it should as he heard someone calling his name as if from a long distance.

PETER! PETER, WAKE UP! PETER!

He slowly came to but found himself dressed oddly in a kind of space suit or such with a mask over his head. The hissing seemed to be from a mask over his face as he slowly sat up and looked around. Something slipped from his gloved hand heavily as he turned to see Neal laying unconscious beside him. The young man was sitting up, eyes staring ahead partially open through thick goggles but he was pale and didn't move. Peter groaned as he moved, feeling the chill in the air and looking to his right to see people moving on the other side of a glass wall. Diana and Jones were there.

"Peter? Can you hear me?"

He nodded vaguely, uncertain what was going on or why he was in this bio suit as he tried to nudge his friend awake. He noticed the haze around the room and looked up to see the piping. Those signs outside. Somehow the fire suppression system had gone off while they were inside and... He nudged Neal harder, wanting to tear off his suit but knowing he couldn't not even to share his oxygen as he saw the slight crystallizing of ice on his friend's skin from the coldness in the room.

"Neal... Neal wake up!"

His voice was muffled but there was no response. He nudged his friend looking out at Diana helplessly.

"I'm sorry Peter. We couldn't find the fail safe and the fire department said all we can do is wait for the room to clear out. They're about to pump oxygen back in and flush the halon gas out. You have to keep that suit on till they give us the all clear."

He nodded despite wanting to scream and yell. His head was killing him where the goon had hit him but he didn't care as he hugged the con to him and felt a few warm tears dripping down his face inside the mask. He rocked back and forth with the still form in his arms till finally someone came and touched his shoulder and he saw they had finally come to get them. Peter didn't know how much time had passed as he was taken outside and Neal was pulled away from him by people in bio suits who dropped him on a stretcher as he followed. Once they were outside in the fresh air, Peter quickly exited the bio suit as paramedics checked him out but his eyes followed the still form of his friend. When he saw them working on the young man he pulled away from the EMTs beside him to check on Neal.

"He was in there too long. I'm sorry..."

Peter shook his head, kneeling beside the young man. Diana came over to offer her condolences but he just snapped at everyone as she asked the EMTs to leave them alone a moment. Peter felt a horrible emptiness which turned to a kind of anger almost.

"He can't be dead... he... Neal, Dammit! You owe me 2 more years! You think you're going to get out of your sentence this easily? I'll tell St. Peter to send your butt back here..."

Neal didn't react as he touched the cool skin and hugged the still form to his chest. Someone touched his shoulder gently.

"Boss..."

Peter didn't turn to look at her, staring down at the face of his friend. He noticed Neal's eyes were still slightly open as they had been in the server room. He wondered why the EMTs hadn't closed them as he gently lay his friend back on the gurney and started to close one lid then the other. He felt a kind of resistance as one eye slowly opened up again and he thought he saw the pupil shrink a bit.

Neal?

The agent wasn't sure if he had seen what he did as he turned back to Diana.

"Did his eyes move? Diana?"

She moved closer concerned for him he thought but then her face brightened a bit as she nodded, seeing a slight movement of the eye just before she stood to call the EMT's back. Peter felt for a pulse and breath but felt neither as he started to press his lips to Neal's and force air into his lungs.

"Come on Neal... breath!"

He watched those blue eyes shut finally, worried the young man had given up when he felt a hand grasp his arm. Suddenly Neal gave a small gasp of breath, eyes fluttering beneath closed lids as his chest began to slowly rise and fall. Peter could feel a pulse now when he took the young man's wrist in his own. The EMT's had come back and were shocked to see a dead man breathing.

"Bring some blankets and an IV!"

Peter had to move as the EMTs worked on keeping Neal warm, his skin still very icy. He moved forward to follow them in the ambulance, one medic shaking his head but another who seemed to be in charge finally agreeing when they realized he needed to be checked out too. The medic wrapped Peter in a blanket and they let him on board. Diana stood to the side as Peter told her to tell his wife where he was.

()()()

Neal remembered little after he passed out in the server room other than feeling cold. If anything it had felt as if he were frozen in a huge block of ice that not only encased his body but had entered his lungs to freeze them solid. His body went numb as did his mind as he lay in the cold darkness feeling nothing but an icy chill.

You think you're going to get out of your sentence this easily?

A voice broke through the silence and then as if someone had taken a sledge hammer to the ice, he started to feel something. A hand touched his and then warm lips pressed on his and he thought his lungs were thawing out as he gave a little gasp of breath and his body began to come back from beneath the ice berg he'd been trapped within. Neal continued to hear the voice talking to him, other sounds in the background but the main voice was what he focused on as he lay in the darkness hoping to return to the light.

()()()

Peter had to go through a minor scrubbing at the hospital to wash off any residue he might have been exposed to from the halon gas. They did the same with Neal despite his being unconscious. June and Elizabeth had come by then and had a change of clothes for both of them as Peter was let go with a minor concussion and Neal was put in a room under further observation. It would be a few days before they'd know for certain if he had any side effects from the contents of the fire suppression system. They also needed him conscious to see if he was ok after being unconscious and without oxygen for so long.

The agent sighed as they placed a respirator on the young man and various other monitors and IVs. Peter had been lucky the suit protected him from the worse of the chemicals and coldness while Neal had gotten more exposure. They said he was smart to have put on the goggles as well as having wrapped the sweater around his nose and mouth. Neal had managed to protect his eyes and face from the worse of the gas' effects but he had sustained some hypothermia and mild frost bite mostly on his hands and around his neck and face. They had him under a few blankets including one that warmed to help bring his core up. Once he had been set up Peter had been allowed inside the room. It wasn't ICU but they still had someone watching him till they knew he was well.

Neal didn't move for a week, Peter and El visiting him every day. Hughes had taken Peter's statement as well at June's. Apparently the data center that Mozzie had drawn was the one her son in law was working on for the government. One of the backers who had come to her daughter for her business had known her husband's background and stolen the information without her knowledge. They were a co-conspirator of Lydia's, the young woman revealed to be a renown corporate thief by the name of Lydia Van Cleft. Hughes said that this had been a big catch for their department and the FBI in general. He came to visit Neal while they spoke of the case and how Neal had come into it.

"Only Caffrey could find intrigue on his day off without trying. I'll keep him in my thoughts. Get some rest, Peter."

The agent nodded at his boss as the older man patted him on the shoulder then left. El came in a few minutes later with some coffee, handing one to Peter as he ran his free hand through his hair and sighed heavily.

"I didn't believe him but I knew if anything that ass of a Marshall Dixon was lying when he said Neal was working with Gregori. I got the story out of him later but he was determined to say that Neal was in the wrong when he wasn't."

She wrapped her arms around them as they waited for their friend to wake up. The doctor's said so far he was healing fine, the minor frost bite nearly gone in the week he'd been here, his lungs were looking healthier as were all his vitals but they just needed him awake. His EEG was good too so they figured it was up to Neal if he woke up or not at this point. They gave him some minor pain meds but nothing that would keep him under.

It was almost another three days into the next week when Peter heard the monitor alarms go off. He woke up with a start from the sofa looking up to see Neal sitting up in bed and pulling off the monitors which had caused the alarm to sound. The agent got up as quickly as he could and walked over to calm his friend down.

"Neal... you're in the hospital."

The con looked at him a moment as if he were in some kind of trance before his lips moved ever so slightly. He had removed the oxygen mask, a slight wheeze from his throat as he tried to speak.

"Pe... ter..."

"I'm ok, Neal. You're ok. Rest."

He saw the young man finally focus on him and nod before his eyes rolled back and he fell back against the bed. Peter checked his pulse and breath but he was still good as he reattached the monitor. The door opened a few minutes later, a nurse standing there looking a bit red in the face.

"What happened?"

She moved closer to the bed as he told her how he'd waken up to the alarm and Neal removing the monitor. She listened as she check Neal's vitals then seemed satisfied he was doing well.

"I'll leave the mask off. He's breathing fine on his own now and it was just a precaution. Push the nurse call if anything else happens or he wakes up."

Peter nodded as the nurse left the room and he sighed again as he sat beside his partner and gently brushed the young man's hair. He thought he heard a low sound from Neal's throat and then his eye lids fluttered slightly and the agent found himself peering into two glassy blue eyes.

"Neal?"

The young man didn't move, eyes just looking ahead blankly before the pupils shifted a bit and so did the eyes to look directly at him. The young man blinked a couple of times before relaxing once more as his eyes shut again. Peter patted him on the shoulder and smiled.

"It's ok. Rest if you need to."

()()()

It was at the end of that initial two weeks before Neal finally woke up long enough to actually be considered awake. The young man seemed ok but tired as he sat up and took some food in, mostly things June and Elizabeth snuck him, while Peter tried to engage him in some conversation to keep him conscious while he was able. It was another three days before he could stay conscious longer periods of time, something they blamed on the after effects of the gas in the room. It had affected his body and would take some time to leave before he would feel 100% again.

He was in the hospital nearly a month before they let him out. They determined he had no obvious ill effects from the gas and most of that was due to the fact he had been wearing long sleeves, tied the sweater over his nose and mouth and had put on the goggles to protect his eyes. He still had some small minor burns on his hands where the frost bite had taken root but with time it would heal so he had to keep his hands bandaged for a bit longer. Neal didn't seem upset by anything, quieter than he had been or so the agent thought as they took him to their home. Elizabeth had wanted to have him come for dinner and stay the night since June was out of town till tomorrow. Neal agreed unusually thoughtful as he went upstairs to the guestroom with Peter who placed the bag June had given him with clothes when they were admitted in the corner. Neal had immediately curled up on the bed which Peter took as a cue to leave although he really wanted to talk to his friend but for once he let the young man be as he quietly closed the door.

Neal really didn't know what to think. Things felt strange now that he was out of the hospital. They were strange in the hospital but he had been out of it most of the time. It had been a very big moment for him when he decided to do what he had in the server room. He hadn't thought he'd see tomorrow and here he was alive and well. Not that Neal had wanted to die but he didn't want Elizabeth to go through what he had with Kate. He had never imagined Peter would have felt so strongly about him or maybe he was seeing too much. It had been a very long month to say the least from that first 'accidental' meeting with Lydia. He really wasn't sure what to think so he curled up on the bed in a ball and closed his eyes. Neal wasn't sleepy but he wanted to hide from the awkwardness. Peter had been different since he'd waken up. He knew why and it was a strain as he tried to be kind and not respond directly but even so, Peter was acting oddly since he knew what had happened. Neither of them knew how to respond to the obvious awkwardness.

"Neal? Are you awake?"

It was El, her voice soft as he heard her start to go and sat up and nodded.

"Yeah, sorry."

She was smiling at him, that smile he'd seen on her face since finding out what had happened. It was a grateful smile but she wasn't pushing the fact on him or acting any different. Maybe it was a guy thing. He stood up and smoothed out his shirt and pants as he slipped his feet back into his loafers and walked towards her.

"Dinner's ready if you're hungry. I could bring it up..."

He shook his head knowing he had to go downstairs and deal with the emotions he felt at what he had done and how Peter was responding to it. He had meant it when he did what he did but having to be there to see how much Peter reacted. Peter had done so much for him in the past and he had only been repaying that kindness. Plus if anyone was going to survive, why not Peter? He had a wife and people who cared about him. Neal didn't think he had nothing but in the long run he was just a con man at best and Mozzie would survive without him. Nobody depended on him like people depended on Peter. It had just be the best choice. He told himself that as he put on his facade and they walked downstairs. El put her arm in his gently and hugged him.

"He's just as freaked out as you are..."

She whispered and left it at that as they separated at the bottom of the stairs. Neal blinked after her as El headed for the kitchen. Peter was off to the right on the sofa sleeping, the remote loosely in his hand as it threatened to fall to the floor. Neal tiptoed over and caught it before it could fall, Peter coming to and looked up at him as he sat up.

"Hey..."

His voice sounded a bit off but then he was still waking up as he wiped the sleep from his eyes and moved aside so Neal could join him. The young man sat a bit stiffly but after a moment he relaxed and leaned back a bit. Peter seemed to notice as he took the remote back and changed the channel to the news, muting the volume.

"I... Thank you Neal. I never got to tell you that."

The agent was looking at him with a curious expression that made the con want to run out the door. He was terrible with emotional stuff especially between friends. He nodded back, uncertain what else to say as he swallowed hard and tried to act normal.

"I... I didn't want to tell El the bad news. Easier if you just lived. Paperwork and all."

He was trying to make light of it the way Peter often did when he was worried about him and didn't want to say so. The agent nodded quietly back but there was still that tension between them. Neal had sacrificed himself for Peter which made him uncertain of how to broach things. Neal was by nature selfish but he had made sure Peter would live.

"Paperwork is the worse. So many forms to fill... out."

Peter's voice had trailed off some. They both looked elsewhere a moment as the agent channel surfed before turning the TV off and looking at him.

"So what exactly were you thinking, Neal? Did you think I wouldn't be upset?"

Neal blinked back at the question as if uncertain what to say, licking at his lips a bit nervously. He ran a hand through his hair and stood as if unable to think of the right words before he finally spoke.

"What was I thinking? I was thinking Elizabeth would be heartbroken without you..."

He felt something warm and wet threaten to drip down his cheeks as he quickly excused himself, running up the stairs a little too quickly and ducking into the bathroom. He locked the door and stared at himself in the mirror, turning on the cold water and washing his face as he tried to think of something other than Kate. He had been all but broken after Kate's death and to think of Elizabeth losing Peter... he had gladly put his life in danger to prevent that. Neal didn't feel insulted Peter had asked him that question but he must have understood why.

"Neal?"

Peter's voice broke through his thoughts as he turned off the water and dried his hands and face. He opened the door and saw his friend looking at him curiously a moment, a look that spoke volumes. Then as if he had no other way to say it the agent grabbed him in a hug and pulled him close.

"Thank you."

They only stood that way a moment as Neal hugged the agent back. He could tell that he wasn't just thanking him for what he had done but for being there. They pulled apart and Neal leaned back against the wall, Peter pulling away, both looking a bit uncertain till they heard El calling them down to eat.

"Sounds like El's rung the chow bell."

Neal blinked.

"Chow bell? Are we in a bad western now? Will I have to wear boots with spurs and chaps?"

Peter gave a mock scowl then smiled.

"And a big 10 gallon hat. You like hats don't you?"

(The End)

oOoOoOo

Author's Note: Expanded the One Shot cause I had more to write but it took a while and I wanted to finish it off before posting so here it is in all it's glory! :)