Title: Downhill From There
Summary: A power outage hits the FBI building and traps Neal and Peter in the elevator. As if that wasn't bad enough, it turns out that Neal isn't feeling so great.
Written for: anniehow as a response to the LiveJournal "Running Hot" multi-fandom fever comment fic meme
Prompt/Request: Jeff Eastin (writer) and Tim DeKay (actor) have expressed a wish to make an entire episode of Neal and Peter stuck in an elevator. I say hell yeah, but add that Neal isn't feeling all too well...
Characters/Pairings: Neal, Peter
Author's Note: I think the only way to see this actually happen on the actual show is if they were really low on money and needed to do a low-budget episode. Because these one-set-only episodes usually happen when there's no money for elaborate on-location shoots. Still, I think it could be interesting to see it on TV, even without the Neal whump. :-P
I imagine this to take place some time in season 2, definitely before the season 2 finale.
I owe the wonderful rabidchild67 a big thanks for the beta.
Disclaimer: Bla bla Jeff Eastin, bla bla USA Network. Bla bla not mine, not making any money from this. Bla bla characters should be totally mine, especially Neal, uhm, no, welcome.
"Come on, let's go," Peter said as he passed Neal's desk.
It had been a long day, and they were the last to leave the office on this Friday evening. Peter was already holding the glass doors open when Neal joined him. Peter gave him a quizzical look. Neal didn't quite seem his bouncy self today.
"You okay?" Peter didn't even have to feign the concern.
"Yeah, peachy," came Neal's signature reply, and Peter decided not to push the matter.
Peter didn't think much of it when the elevator jerked a little on the way down. He did, however, grow more worried when it bucked and then stopped completely a few seconds later. The lights went out for a second, then came back on but clearly a notch dimmer. Another jerk, and the elevator started moving again. It seemed like just a few feet, then it stopped with a ding, and the doors opened. Or rather didn't open, because they only slid apart for all of three inches.
"Oh no," Peter muttered, looking up at the display that indicated the floor they were on. It showed lucky number 13, but today maybe not so much. It didn't take long to figure out they were stuck, and no pushing of buttons or tugging at the metal doors would help opening them or get the thing moving again.
Peter exchanged a meaningful look with Neal, whose only remark was, "I think this may be the right time to push that emergency button that you keep hoping you'll never have to use."
"Ha ha, very funny."
"Oh, I wasn't joking."
Still, Peter obediently pushed the metal button next to the red dot that had a bell and a telephone receiver on it. The panel emitted three piercing, electronic beeps, then silence. Ten seconds turned into half an eternity and Peter was about to push the button again when a crackly, male voice filtered through the speaker atop the row of buttons.
"Yes," Peter said, relief audible in his voice. "We're trapped in one of the elevators, on the 13th floor. The doors won't open beyond a crack I can barely fit my fist through."
"How many of you are there? Is anyone injured?"
"No, we're fine. It's just me and my partner."
"I understand, sir. We're currently experiencing a power outage, it looks like the whole block is affected. I'm not sure how long it'll be until we can get things running again."
Peter bristled briefly. "Isn't there a backup generator for this kind of thing?"
"I, uh— I believe there was some compatibility problems with the backup system a few weeks ago. We asked the elevator company to come look at it, but it looks like that never happened. I'm really sorry, sir. You're gonna have to hold out until the power comes back on."
"Great," Peter muttered under his breath.
"So we just wait?"
"'I'm afraid so," the voice came back.
Peter let out a frustrated breath, turning around so he could look at Neal. The latter was uncharacteristically taciturn, and Peter couldn't help himself. "What, don't you have anything to say?"
Neal just shrugged. "What do you want me to say? Just what I've always dreamed of, to be stuck alone in a 4x7 enclosed space with you after hours?"
"Gee, we must be having the same daydream," Peter retorted.
Neal just gave him a disdainful look, leaning his back against the elevator car's wall.
Peter stood for a few, long moments, looking around the inside of the car. Stainless steel walls shone in gleaming silver. The display above the panel mockingly showed them their lucky number 13. The mirrors reflected his slightly annoyed face back at him, and still Neal didn't say a word.
Peter emitted a frustrated grunt. He had never been a patient man, never been good at idle waiting. He tried prying the doors open once more, putting all this strength into it. "Come on, help me with this," he urged Neal.
Neal lifted his head, giving him a look. "Really, Peter? Two men against two tons of metal?"
Peter stopped his vain efforts. "I think you're exaggerating a little. These don't weigh two tons. Maybe they just need a little nudge."
"Oh, I think you've given them more than a little nudge already."
"If I didn't know better, I'd think you actually wanted to stay in here."
"No," Neal's answer was immediate. "Believe me, I really don't."
"Then come and help me."
"Okay, fine," Neal finally sighed, pushing his back away from the elevator wall.
They spent the next five minutes, pulling and prying, this and that way—without even the slightest hint of success. In the end, even Peter had to admit defeat.
Panting, he released the door and let his arms sink to his sides. "Dammit," he said into the silent space.
He looked at Neal, and a frown crept onto his features. Neal was white as a sheet, and he was sweating more than anyone should after tugging at elevator doors. He was reaching out with one hand against the metal wall as if to steady himself.
Peter took a step closer. "Are you all right?"
"Just... a little dizzy."
"Here," Peter carefully took him by one arm. "Sit down for a minute."
Neal obediently sat down in one corner of the car and Peter crouched down next to him, taking in the sheen of sweat on Neal's brow. He carefully reached out and held the back of his hand against Neal's forehead.
"Feels like you're running a fever."
Neal nodded. "Yeah, I had a suspicion I might be."
"You been feeling like this all day? Why didn't you say anything?"
Neal shrugged feebly. "I don't know. Figured it'd pass."
"What other symptoms are there? You think it's a cold?"
"Sore throat, mostly. On and off for the last few days, but it's worse today. Been feeling really tired and kinda achy too. So, yeah, probably just a cold or a throat infection or something."
"Oh no," was Peter's sudden comment.
"What?" Neal asked.
"You were undercover with Agent Langley two weeks ago, right?"
Neal frowned. "Yeah. Why?"
"She's been off sick since last week. Apparently it's mono."
"Mononucleosis? Are you serious?"
"Yeah, she called me just the other day to let me know she's gonna be off for at least another week. She sounded pretty miserable."
Neal groaned. "Great. If this is supposed to make me feel better, it's not working."
"Here, may I?" Peter asked, reaching both hands out towards Neal's neck.
Neal gave him a quick nod and Peter felt beneath the jawbones on both sides. "Your lymph nodes seem swollen."
"Peter, do you have a medical degree I don't know anything about?"
"No, but I have some personal experience."
"You've had it?"
"Yeah. In my early twenties, when I was in college. Threw me for almost three weeks. It sucked."
Neal sighed. "You know, your bedside manner definitely needs improvement."
"You need medical attention before long, mono can affect your spleen and liver. You should definitely get that checked out."
Neal opened his arms, lifting his hands palms-up. "You know, I'd even say I'd love to. But, hm, wait, we're trapped in an elevator. Bummer."
Peter gave him a look. "You know what I mean."
"Yeah, if we ever get out of here..."
"'I've never known the great Neal Caffrey to be overly pessimistic."
"You've never known the great Neal Caffrey to be fever-ridden."
Peter couldn't hide a grin. "I never would've pegged you for a whiner."
There was mock accusation in Neal's gaze. "Now you're hurting my feelings. Also, no matter what you may think, Langley and I didn't kiss."
Peter frowned. "Why would you say that?"
"Well, it's called the 'Kissing Disease', isn't it?"
"Heh. Yeah, I guess it is." Peter sobered for a moment. "Anything I can do? You cold?"
Neal closed his eyes, then opened them again. "No, I'm okay."
Peter nodded, getting up from his crouching position. "I wish we had some water or something."
As if on cue, the voice came through the speakers of the wall panel. "Sir? Are you still there?"
Peter went over to the panel. "Yeah, we're still here."
"I just wanted to let you know I've called the elevator company. They're experiencing several emergencies in the area due to the blackout, but they're sending someone as soon as they can."
"Great," Peter muttered sarcastically under his breath. Out loud he said, "Thank you. And, uhm, could you do me a favor? My partner isn't feeling so well. Is there any way you could get us a bottle of water that could fit through the gap in the door?"
"Yes, of course, sir. 13th floor, you said?"
"Do you need anything else?"
Peter looked at Neal, who shook his head, but Peter thought quickly on his feet. "If you could get us some Tylenol or ibuprofen, that would be great."
"Okay, sir, I'll get right on that."
Neal had drawn up his knees and was resting his forehead on his folded arms. Peter had the sudden urge to put a comforting hand on the young man's head, but thought the better of it.
He listened for any activity outside the elevator doors and tried to remember what was actually on the 13th floor of the building. Homeland Security? FBI Cyber Crime? Obviously offices where either no one was working late or leaving the premises after hours. Just their luck.
He looked at his watch, restlessness washing over him. They'd been trapped here for something approaching 20 minutes, and he was getting antsy. For the first time since they'd been held captive by their steel enclosure, he checked his cell phone. Of course there was no reception. He knew he should get a message to Elizabeth, she would soon be waiting with dinner and getting nervous if he didn't show.
He wandered around the cabin, holding the phone up in different ways, but it looked like the metal around them was a very effective shield.
Neal briefly looked up at Peter so see what the pacing was all about. "No luck, huh?"
"Nope," Peter sighed. "Figures."
Neal put his head back on his arms and mumbled into his knees, "Why don't you type up a message and hold the phone out the door to send it?"
Leave it to Caffrey to come up with the most brilliant ideas, even with a fever-muddled mind. Peter tried the very same thing, but the 13th floor was certainly living up to its reputation. The attempt of getting a message out wasn't exactly a crowning success.
What seemed like half an eternity later but couldn't have been more than a few minutes, Peter heard commotion outside. Part of a face appeared in front of the crack in the doors. "Hello?"
"You the guy I spoke to?" Peter asked.
"Yep, that's me. I've got your water and the medication." He squeezed them through the doors and Peter took the two water bottles and the plastic containers with the pills. Advil and Tylenol, the guy was good!
"Thanks," Peter told him.
"You all right?"
"Yeah, I'm good, but it looks like Neal here has come down with something."
"Neal? Neal Caffrey?"
Peter frowned. "Yes. You know him?"
"He always makes it a point to say good morning when he comes in. Brings me a latte sometimes."
Peter couldn't help but smile. Yes, that seemed like a very Caffrey thing to do—probably not without some kind of ulterior motive, just in case Neal needed a favor at some point.
"Is it serious? Do I need to call an ambulance?" the man asked.
"No, no," Peter reassured him. "Could be the 'flu. We'll be all right, the meds should help."
"Okay," the guy said, not sounding entirely convinced. "What's your name, if I may ask."
"Peter. Burke. Yours?"
"Just call me Malcolm. You with the White Collar guys?"
"Yeah, one of the agents."
"Right. You need me to call anyone for you?"
"Actually, I already tried calling my wife, but there's no reception in here. Would you mind giving her a call, explaining the situation?"
Peter gave Malcolm the number and asked him to tell Elizabeth not to worry.
"You need anything else?" Malcolm asked, but Peter assured him they'd be fine for now. Malcolm told Peter he could call any time if he needed anything before he left again.
Peter turned around. It looked like Neal hadn't moved, and Peter wasn't sure if maybe he had dozed off. He lightly touched his shoulder. "Neal?"
"Hm?" came the groggy reply.
Peter shook two pills out of the Tylenol bottle and held them out to Neal. "Here, take these. They should help with the fever."
Neal took them dutifully, washing them down with a few gulps from the proffered bottle of water. "Thanks," he finally mumbled.
It became very quiet in the cabin after that. Seconds turned into minutes, minutes turned into what felt like eternities void of meaning.
Peter tried a few times to engage Neal in conversation, but all he got was monosyllabic responses. In the end, all attempts were quelled by Neal actually asking Peter to—no offense—but please leave him alone. Maybe Neal wasn't a whiner after all.
Peter pulled his cell phone back out and leafed through the games section. Playing solitaire quickly lost its appeal and Peter's fingers were too clumsy to play pinball the way it was supposed to be played.
It was halfway through a game of Sudoku that Peter's attention was captured by a low moan escaping Neal's throat. Peter looked up to see him clutching his stomach, his torso angled forward.
"Neal? What is it?"
"I think I'm going to be sick."
"Shit," Peter hissed. He desperately tried to think of something that could prevent a bad situation from getting worse. He tried to get Malcolm on the intercom. "Malcolm, can you get me a plastic bag or something like that? One that's leak-proof? Fast?"
Malcolm caught on quickly. "Like a barf bag?"
"Yeah, like a barf bag."
"I'll be right there."
Peter crouched back down by Neal's side. "You think you can hang in there until Malcolm gets here?"
"I'll try," came the feeble reply.
Peter's palm went to Neal's forehead that was still too hot. It then went to his shoulder where he squeezed a little in a clumsy attempt at comfort.
Malcolm was there in record speed, panting, handing Peter a handful of garbage bags. "This is the best I could do."
"They're great, thanks so much."
Peter gave them to Neal who, despite his obvious misery, still looked like he wanted to ask Peter if there was any way this could be handled in a manner that was halfway dignified.
"You want me to stick around?" Malcolm asked through the door.
"Don't you need to go back down?"
"No, Mike's there for backup."
"Oh. Well, if you don't mind..."
"Sure," Malcolm replied, and Peter was more than grateful.
"Oh God," Neal suddenly groaned, and Peter turned his attention back to his partner. Neal doubled over and held the plastic bag under his mouth as his stomach lurched and expelled its contents. Peter watched helplessly from two feet away, unsure what to do.
This went on for an agonizing couple of minutes, and Peter cursed himself and the universe along with it. This was Murphy's Law at its best and he could think of about two and a half million places where he'd rather be right now.
Neal finally stopped and sniffled his nose, looking utterly miserable—a kind of miserable Peter had never seen on him. Peter withdrew a clean tissue from his suit jacket and held it out to Neal. "You done?"
Great, Peter thought.
"Everything okay in there?" Malcolm's voice filtered through the door.
"I think okay might be overstating it a little, but it's nothing we can't deal with," Peter told him.
"I'll, uh... I'll just wait out here, okay?"
"Yeah," Peter confirmed.
A minute later, Neal's stomach started rebelling again, and this time Peter crouched down next to him. Neal ended up dry-heaving a few times, and the sounds accompanying it were enough to make Peter wish he could do more, do anything. He felt suddenly helpless, and he desperately searched for the answer to the question, 'What would El do?'
It came from somewhere—a part of his brain steered half by instinct, half by empathy—but he suddenly found himself softly stroking Neal's back in a vain attempt at comfort that he wasn't even sure was registering.
Neal finally finished, panting, his face sweaty, his eyes red-rimmed and watery. He leaned his head back against the wall in what looked like a desperate attempt to hold on to his last shreds of dignity.
Peter watched him warily, relieved when Neal finally met his gaze. There was humiliation in them, and Peter preempted the 'Shit, what now?' that must have been on Neal's mind.
"Here, give me that," he told Neal.
"Peter, you don't have to..."
"Yes, I do. It's okay."
Neal gave him a look that was barely reminiscent of the real Neal Caffrey. "I'm trying to find the tiniest nuance of 'okay' that could possibly cover this, but I'm coming up empty."
Peter couldn't hide a small smirk. "Just... Just don't worry about it, okay?"
The plastic bag was quickly disposed of through the crack in the door, and Peter knew he could never thank Malcolm enough. He would need to start bringing the guy lattes every morning for at least the next month.
Peter drew a hand through his hair, his eyes trained back on Neal. The latter looked more miserable now, if that was even possible. He could see tiny tremors running through the young man's body and Neal hugged his arms around his torso. Peter knew what he had to do.
He took off his jacket and draped it around Neal's shoulders. "Here, you'll need this more than I do."
"Thanks," Neal muttered, drawing it closer around him. "It's so cold in here," he said absently, and it was the first time that Peter was starting to really worry. They needed to get Neal to a doctor, then into bed.
He gave Neal a friendly pat on the shoulder. "Just hang in there. We're gonna get out of here real soon."
Moving closer to the door, Peter asked Malcolm how much longer the maintenance company was going to be. Malcolm said he'd call to find out, and five minutes later told Peter that they were just wrapping up three blocks away and they'd be there in maybe half an hour.
Peter sighed a heartfelt sigh. Another look at Neal, and he knew it would be a long 30 minutes. But maybe there was something he could do to make it easier. He went back to Malcolm with another request that was quickly filled.
Peter put the new equipment down on the floor and lightly touched Neal's upper arm. Poor kid, he seemed pretty out of it. "Neal? I know this'll be awkward, but you should lie down."
Neal just grunted something unintelligible, and Peter sat himself down on the floor, giving Neal a gentle nudge. "Here, lay your head on my thigh."
"Why?" Neal asked, seemingly disoriented.
"Don't ask, just do it. Come on, dignity's long out the window."
Neal finally relented and Peter turned his attention to the dish towel that Malcolm had organized from God only knew where. He dipped it into the mug with cold water and wrung it out, trying not to spill too much.
Gently pushing aside the damp hair on Neal's forehead, he placed the cool cloth on his brow, which elicited something akin to a relieved whimper from Neal. It was so utterly un-Neal-like that it made Peter's throat constrict.
"Better?" Peter asked.
"Much," Neal replied in a low voice. After a few minutes' silence, Neal spoke up again, his voice more composed. "Peter?"
"Promise me you won't mention this to anyone."
A smile spread over Peter's lips as he reveled in the mental image of their team imagining this bizarre situation they currently found themselves in.
Neal shifted his position slightly, pushing the cloth from over his eyes to get a better look at the man at whose complete mercy he was. "Peter...?"
Peter smirked at him, lifting his arms in a mock defensive gesture. "All right. I promise."
Neal closed his eyes, succumbing to the misery. "Thank you," he said just above a whisper.
It was less than twenty minutes later that the maintenance guys arrived and got the elevator doors to fully open. It took almost as long to maneuver a wobbly-legged Neal down 13 flights of stairs, and another two hours to get him checked at one of the local emergency clinics with instructions to take analgesics for the fever and pain, and check back for the blood tests in the next few days.
Peter called Elizabeth, and it didn't take a genius to figure out Neal's best option would be to stay with the Burkes until he was halfway back on his feet. Peter didn't even have to try to persuade his wife. Of course there were protests from Neal, but Peter suspected deep down, Neal was actually grateful.
Back home, Peter left El to tend to Neal and settled on the couch with a cold beer and Satchmo by his feet.
When El joined him downstairs a while later, she gave him one of her admiring, satisfied smiles.
"I take it he's all tucked in," Peter asked her.
"Yep. And out cold."
"Let's hope the meds stay down this time."
"The poor thing. I can't wait to hear the whole story."
"I'll bet, but, Honey, I made a promise."
He nodded, and Elizabeth understood. "Just tell me you weren't a total klutz."
"Uh-uh," he negated. "I think you would have been proud of me."
She met his eyes and gave him a soft kiss on the lips. "That's all I need to know."
The next Monday, Peter got into the office late after running several Neal and a few non-Neal related errands. When he went down to get his first cup of coffee, Jones joined him in the office kitchenette. There was a definite smirk on Jones's face.
"So, I heard you and Caffrey got stuck in the elevator on Friday."
"Gossip travels fast, I see."
"Is it true?"
"Yes, it's true."
"And nothing. We got stuck for a while, then the maintenance guys came and we were released."
"Come on, Peter. Being stuck with Caffrey in a small space for an extended period of time must have been interesting."
"Oh, you have no idea," Peter said.
"Where is Caffrey anyway?"
"He's out sick."
"Sick? Are you serious? Don't tell me you two got physical."
"No. They think it might be mono."
"Ouch. So that's the reason why Caffrey was so cranky last week?"
Peter stirred the brown liquid in his mug, adding some creamer. "I'd say that's a pretty safe bet."
"Wait. So you got stuck in the elevator with a sick Caffrey?"
"Do I wanna know what that was like?" Jones asked curiously.
"No. No, you don't."
Jones looked at him for a long moment. "That's all you're gonna say?"
Peter nodded. "That's all I'm gonna say."
Jones pursed his lips, then shrugged and went back to his desk. They both knew that Jones would do well not to bring up the subject again and do even better not to mention it to anyone else.