Written for and flailed over by Lu.
Disclaimer: Neal's collar would be a literal one around his neck instead of an anklet if I was in charge of the show. What? I like collars, okay? We all have our kinks. DON'T JUDGE ME FOR MINE. :P
Peter slid to a stop with a very Hollywood spray of water thanks to the puddles on the cement and his speed in trying to get here. Behind him, the sound of more pounding feet and splashing, sliding stops echoed.
His gun remained steady, his eyes locked on Watts. He'd glanced at Neal, taken in the hands bound behind his back, a glint of silver and scrunched pants at his ankles where cuffs secured them together. The silk tie he'd been wearing had been shifted from his neck up to his mouth as a gag, his wind-ruffled hair and wide eyes giving him a vulnerability that only built on the terror shown by his stiff, trembling posture.
Granted, he could hardly be blamed for his reaction. Not only was there a gun pointed at him—one of the few things in this world that could ruffle the world-class con-man's smooth façade even a little bit—but he was effectively immobilized and about three inches away from falling into the Hudson River.
"Let him go, Watts. We've already got you on the embezzling. There's no way out of that. But that will get you maybe five years of jail in a medium security prison. Attempted murder? That's fifteen to life at Sing Sing. You don't want that."
"I don't want any of it, Agent Burke. And since you don't want your tame convict here dead, I think I'm going to get what I want."
"No. You won't. Even if you get away now, you can't run forever. Neal can tell you. He ran for three years, but in the end I got him. Just like I'll get you. You run for three years, get five inside... that's eight years before you're a free man again, not having to look over your shoulder. Give up now and it's five. Maybe less if you behave yourself in prison."
Neal nodded rapidly as Peter spoke, but that overbalanced him and he started to sway. His shoulders twitched in an attempt to bring his hands forward and he bent at the waist to reset his balance, but it didn't work. His eyes flew wide and a muffled squeak of fear escaped the gag. Peter jerked forward.
And then Watts grabbed at Neal's arm and steadied him, stopping his fall.
Peter's heart thumped painfully against his sternum and Neal was gasping for air in noisy inhalations, muffled by the impeding cloth clenched between his teeth.
That was too close. They needed to end this.
Peter resettled his gun on Watts and hardened his expression. "Surrender, Watts. Now."
Watts looked at the FBI agents arrayed in front of him. He twisted—though not enough to shift his own weapon off of Neal—and looked at the city visible on both sides of the water.
He looked back at Peter. "I guess we both lose," he said and swung his gun around as fear lanced through Peter's entire body.
"NO!" he yelled.
It was smothered under the hail of gunfire as the FBI agents used their training and took down the clear and present danger. Watts jerked with the impact of a dozen or more bullets and toppled backward without ever firing a shot of his own.
Unfortunately, his grip on Neal's arm only tightened in death—or maybe he did that on purpose as the grin on his face suggested—and the captive CI went backward as well into the cold waters of the Hudson.
The last thing Peter saw as he ran forward was the fresh, unbridled panic in Neal's blue eyes as he disappeared over the edge.
Every agent that had accompanied Peter went with him now to see what had happened, a few swearing or glancing at their senior agent with concern/fear/worry.
"Boss—" Diana started, but Peter cut her off as he holstered his gun and then started shucking his outer layers.
"Get me an ambulance here ten minutes ago."
"Peter, you can't—" she started when she saw what he was planning to do.
"I have to," he countered, giving her an implacable look.
"It's April and it's almost night. It's got to be freezing in there," she tried one last time.
"It's Neal," was all Peter said. He yanked off his tie and shook his arms to release the tension, regulating his breathing and bracing himself mentally for the cold, then looked at her one last time. "Get an ambulance. Tell them what to expect."
Then his arms came together, his lungs expanded, and he dove into the water, a sleek missile that pierced the surface and vanished in a heartbeat.
Diana stared for half a second in disbelief before she cursed and pulled out her phone.
"On it," Jones interrupted with a hand on her arm, the other holding his phone to his ear.
She nodded and returned her gaze downward. As much as she knew she should probably be coordinating the efforts of the agents around her, she couldn't tear her gaze away from the gently whipped waves of the black water below.
It had hurt to inhale as much oxygen as he had before diving in. He had ignored the pain and did it anyway, knowing that he didn't have time to come up for a second breath. It was too cold to stay down here that long. Neither he nor Neal would survive if they didn't get out ASAP.
What he hadn't expected, though, was the second slap of pain from the cold—or the way his lungs tried even harder to let some of the air out when all of his muscles contracted upon contact with the frigid water. He had to close his eyes and bite his lips and some of it still leaked out in great blinding bubbles, but not all.
Then he got a firm grip on himself and started looking for Neal.
It was too dark to see much, the little light left from the dying day not filtering well through the filthy water of an urban river. He took a moment to just float and feel if the current was moving in any particularly strong direction, then oriented himself away from the surface and started swimming.
It took forever, the cold causing his muscles to paradoxically burn as he fought against the urge to stop moving, to let go. He fought it anyway and focused on the only two things that mattered right now: moving his arms and looking for Neal.
He saw the spots in front of his eyes, but didn't realize how blind he'd become to actual objects in front of him until his left hand struck something and his eyes told him there was nothing there but a rainbow of flashing colors.
His hand groped to figure out what it was and he had the singularly disturbing sensation of poking a finger into a fresh bullet wound. Not that his numb digit could get the full effect of the touch sensation, but it was enough to have him jerking back in startlement. He reached forward again, feeling more cautiously and then got a handful and yanked until he was close enough to see the blank eyes and open mouth of a very dead Gerald Watts.
Peter ignored the revulsion and used his hands to follow the body down the arm to where he hoped the dead hand was still clutching at its last victim.
Saint Michael must have been on the job today, listening to the needs of his charges, because stiff, icy fingers were indeed wrapped around an expensive—and now completely ruined—Devore suit sleeve.
He pried them off and replaced them with his own fingers, then pulled upward. He wanted to check on how Neal was doing, but they didn't have that kind of time. However good or bad things were they could only get better on the surface, not down here.
He thought he might have felt a little bit of help in the form of Neal kicking his own legs, but it could have been—probably was—wishful thinking.
When they broke the surface finally, he shifted around to where he had his arms around his partner. Neal's back was pressed to his chest; his head flopped against Peter's shoulder, mouth slack around the gag, eyes closed, skin an alarming shade of porcelain. It was like hugging a side of beef still in the fridge. Neal had managed to get his arms in front of him, if not uncuffed, which made this less uncomfortable and awkward, but now they were limp, floating just under the surface of the water.
"C-c-come on-n-n, N-n-n-neal. St-st-stay w-w-w-with m-me."
Flashlights blinded him as they pinpointed his location and he was grateful that they weren't that far downstream. It was the next pier over, sure, but still close enough that he could find enough strength to stroke the last few yards to the ladder where Murphy, the biggest agent in the unit, could climb down and help pull the two of them up.
He took Neal first, lifting the skinny, drowned-rat of a consultant up with one hand and a face set in determination, passing him up to the gaggle of agents above waiting to take the limp form.
Then he reached down for Peter who tried to wave him off.
"I can do it," he huffed, gasping for air and trying to keep his eyes open.
"With all due respect, sir, you look like frozen shit," Murphy informed him. "And I don't want your wife mad at me."
Peter huffed and then hacked when water got into his mouth, spitting and choking on the vile tasting stuff. He leaned his head against the cold metal rung of the ladder and sighed. "Yeah, okay."
It took a few more seconds—and a brief lecture from the Elizabeth in his head that ended in a pout and the threat of tears—but he managed to lift his ice-block of an arm up to where Murphy could grab it, then held on with everything his frozen fingers had as he was hauled up out of the water and into the even more chilly gusting wind.
He shivered and shook and thanked his lucky stars that someone had assigned the New York Field Office their own Olympic Weightlifter because he wasn't doing anything but impeding Murphy's efforts to get him up to dry land without dropping him.
He could hardly feel the hands that took him from Murphy, just tiny prickly bursts of sensation that came and went until the solidity of the pier was under his butt again. He was half carried/half dragged away from the edge and then wrapped up in something that blessedly dulled the sharp knives of wind trying to fillet his frozen ass like a fresh fish.
That analogy was a little too close to home right this moment so he mumbled the one thing he really needed to know right now: "Neal?"
"He's with the paramedics, boss," he heard Diana say. "He's still alive. He's gonna be okay. You got him."
Peter wasn't sure if he nodded before he surrendered to the darkness.
Neal's first sensation was of warmth. Well, of heat, actually. Stifling, smothering, raging-inferno-possibly-in-Hell heat.
But Hell didn't have annoying beeping machines that measured your heartbeat—he hoped anyway, though an eternity in a hospital bed would indeed be hell, he supposed, paper gowns, bed pans, catheters, jello mush and all—so he assumed he was alive.
And since the last sensation he could remember before the heat was cold so deep that he thought he was going to shiver himself apart, he wasn't going to complain about the switch. Yet.
He thought about opening his eyes, but wasn't sure he was quite ready to face reality if he actually was dead, so he let the beckoning darkness pull him back under once more.
Peter could hear the sound of voices, Elle's and Diana's he thought, and that was a comforting sensation. If he was in heaven, he'd be hearing his grandfather and Aunt Eileen more than likely, so he'd probably survived.
A jolt shook him and the voices stopped and he heard Elle's voice closer. "Peter? I think he's waking up!"
"I'll get a nurse," Diana said, footsteps already moving away.
"Neal?" he croaked through lips so chapped he could feel them start to bleed, the warmth sliding into his mouth and down his throat. He thought he might be sick, but he couldn't distract them until he knew so he forced the sensation down.
Hands he recognized from many previous such gestures combed through his hair, soothing him. He fought the tug of sleep with the desperation of needing to know.
"He's okay, Peter," she said, taking mercy on him, though she probably hadn't actually understood his question through the warm-oxygen mask over his face. "You got him out and they warmed him up here at the hospital. You're both okay."
Then tension melted away and he faintly felt her lips brush his forehead before he sank back into the void.
The next time consciousness came calling Neal was cold again and not nearly coherent enough to smother the whimper that instinctively caused. He shifted and writhed on the bed in a vain effort to coordinate his limbs into seeking a solution to this problem, but they all felt like chilled calamari strips, floppy and useless. The only good thing was that between the noise and movement he made, he attracted attention.
Elizabeth, he wanted to say. Cold. So cold. Please. Help.
She might have gained the ability to read minds while he was out of it because a blanket was laid over him and tucked in at the edges. It wasn't quite enough to banish the chill immediately, but it would help.
Then a hot hand was laid on his forehead and he whimpered again and arched his neck to press closer to it, seeking the warmth it brought and wishing for more.
"I'll get the doctor," he though he heard Jones say before the sound of retreating footsteps.
"Thanks," Elizabeth said, but she didn't move away. In fact, she leaned down and her warm breath ghosted over his face, warming it and relaxing the muscles.
He turned his head toward her and she brushed a kiss against his forehead, her lips like hot branding irons, but he didn't care. He wasn't a violent man, but he would honestly consider killing to get more heat on his skin, whatever the source.
"The doctor said your internal thermostat is going to be wonky for a little while until it recalibrates itself, but you're going to be okay."
He could hear the tears in her voice and wanted to apologize. He hadn't meant to get caught, hadn't meant to let Watts get the drop on him and knock him out. And he'd been trying to pick the locks on those handcuffs as fast as he could, but it all went to hell so fast...
The best he could do was whimper again and she bestowed one more kiss on his forehead, her hand staying in his hair and sharing more of that beautiful heat.
"It's okay. You're going to be okay. Both of you are going to be okay."
His brow furrowed as he wondered at that. Both of who? Him and... Watts?
Not possible. It had been a bit of a blurry rush, but one of the things he clearly remembered was the FBI team that came for him, led by Peter of course, had made a pincushion of the embezzler.
Then he realized what must have happened.
He'd gone under, had been bound and gagged and completely unable to save himself and yet he hadn't drowned. No other emergency personnel had been on scene so one of the agents had had to go in after him. And, of course, it had been Peter.
It was always Peter that came after him and found him, even when he didn't want to be found and even when every other person would have said that it was crazy and to abandon Neal to his self-appointed fate.
(Getting himself pulled into an icy Hudson River definitely counted on those last points.)
Neal felt the tendrils of fear and panic starting to creep over him at the thought of what it had been like in that cold, filthy river. The despair and terror that had closed over him with the water and tried to drag him down like the current. He felt his heart rate pick up and heard the accompanying pulse of the monitor, but he couldn't stop it. He'd never been that close to death before and even if it had been sort of peaceful there at the end as the hypoxia muddled his thoughts, now it was not so much.
He was gasping, unable to take in air despite the fact that it was being steadily supplied through his mask and the chills wracked his body with ever increasing strength as the memory of the cold returned. His vision started to darken and an inarticulate cry escaped his throat with a grating roughness against his already painful vocal cords.
He groped for anything, flailing through air that felt more like water with every passing second, his weakened limbs reminding him what it had been like to struggle against the water and the handcuffs—
And then he was being smothered by heat and softness and, despite the restraint that came with it, the rest of it was so dichotomous to his memories that he stopped short in his panic.
The rushing in his ears was replaced by the soft sounds of Elizabeth shushing him and murmuring that he was okay and that she was here and that he was safe now. He felt her cheek on his forehead and flattening his hair to his scalp, her arms wrapped around his shoulders. Everywhere her soft curves touched they brought warmth, cradling him in gentleness and security.
When he was more aware, he'd be slightly embarrassed to have been cuddling with his partner's wife, but right now it was simply soothing and comforting and he never wanted it to end. There was nothing sexual about it and, in fact, he had the vague notion that this is what mothers were supposed to do for their children.
But that was a line of thinking that was far too deep for this moment and so he just turned into her and accepted what she offered.
Hot tears fell from his eyes and soaked into her shirt and she just held on, rocking and murmuring and hugging him until exhaustion reclaimed his weary mind.
Peter finally opened his eyes and found himself alone. His brow furrowed for a moment because something about that seemed wrong. Then he heard Elle's voice and turned his head to see her propped up on the hospital bed next to his.
Panic flared briefly as he wondered what was wrong and his heart monitor gave him away before he could process the fact that it wasn't her hospital bed she was in. Neal was the one dressed in the blue-spotted gown, tucked under the blankets with tubing trailing out at various points like the roots of an odd tree made of medical equipment.
Elle was just sitting with the apparently sleeping consultant, petting his head and talking with doctor about a panic attack that had, thankfully, subsided without needing medical intervention.
Or, she had been anyway. At the sound of Peter's heart monitor spiking she and the doctor—and Jones who stood over by the wall where he could hear and see but wasn't interfering—all looked Peter's way.
Elle's eyes lit up and she beamed at him, moving slowly only so as to not wake Neal as she extricated herself.
Jones and the doctor made it over much sooner, the former still staying back and silent, the latter asking him how he felt and checking on various readouts and displays that were all connected to Peter at the moment.
"Terrible," Peter said honestly, any further clarification cut off by a hacking cough that doubled him over and left him gasping for breath.
Any jealously he might have felt upon seeing his partner being snuggled by his wife was banished when she lavished the same attention on him, supporting him as he curled around his lungs as they splintered with pain during the coughing fit.
"That would be the pneumonia," the doctor said as he scribbled on the chart he'd retrieved from the foot of Peter's bed. "The cold didn't help, but inhaling the sludge they call water in the Hudson brought in the bacteria. We gave both of you a full battery of shots to counter infections and other things you very likely ingested with the water, but getting out of this experience without some kind of infection as a greater miracle than even I will hope for. Those shots—and the continuing treatments—however, should do the trick. You'll recover, Agent Burke, in time."
Peter nodded, too winded to be able to speak.
"Thank you, Doctor," Elle said, speaking for him as she so often did when he couldn't.
The doctor nodded and said, "We'll keep you here for at least another night until I'm sure you're well on your way down that path of recovery, then you'll be spending a week or two at home—minimum. I won't pretend that you'll actually take that much time off so I don't care if you do paperwork, but you will not go out and do any actual investigating or questioning of witnesses or... whatever else you do. Anything you can do without leaving the house is acceptable. Anything else is not. The same goes for Mr. Caffrey."
"How—" Peter said, then started coughing again.
The doctor adjusted one of the drips as he waited for the coughing to end—Peter guiltily hoped it was the one with painkillers—then said, "Mr. Caffrey is in much the same boat as you pneumonia-wise, though his is slightly more widespread in his lungs. He will be staying through tomorrow night, however, as I'm still worried about his oxygen levels and his temperature-regulation difficulties. But that is to be expected since he had longer exposure and a greater intake of chilled water." He shook his head. "Frankly, you're both already going on our Miracle Board in the staff room. How either of you survived, let alone both of you is something I can't explain with medical science."
"Thank you," Elizabeth said again, then turned and pressed a kiss to Peter's hair that held just a hint of desperation and sincere gratitude for this miracle that let her keep him.
Peter nodded his thanks and managed to free an arm to wrap around his wife, holding her close.
Jones coughed and made a lame excuse about needing coffee, then hurried out the door in the doctor's wake.
There was a moment filled only with the beeping and hissing and other expected sounds of a hospital room, then Elizabeth said in a barely-controlled voice, "I won't tell you not to do that again. I can't. I don't want to lose Neal either. But I won't lie and say you didn't scare the hell out of me."
"I'm sorry," he breathed.
She shook her head and adjusted her grip so she could hold him closer. "Don't be sorry. Just be as careful as you can be. And when you can't, you do what you have to to come home to me."
He nodded and held onto her, thanking God for his miracles—both today and that moment a decade before when He put Elizabeth in the path of a young FBI agent on a stakeout of an art gallery.
A week later found Neal and Peter curled up on the couch in the living room, miserable and restless, the former still wrapped in layers upon layers that would come and go in ever-shortening cycles. He was staring at the TV where an old basketball game played, the casefile on his lap forgotten—or, more likely—deliberately ignored; the latter at least pretending to be more diligent, his eyes actually on his paperwork, even if he wasn't really reading it.
Satchmo lay at their feet—or on top of in Neal's case—and slept, a trashcan next to him for the mountain of tissues they created between them from hacking up all the crud still lingering in their lungs.
Elizabeth had refused to even entertain the notion of Neal going to his own apartment and June had supported her by telling Neal that she was having work done on the staircase and he couldn't get up there right now anyway.
Not that June wouldn't have happily arranged for Neal to be taken care of, but since both of them were down and would worry about the other it was just easier on everyone if they were kept in the same place—in terms of logistics as well as peace of mind. June did still help, having her staff cook up extra food and delivering it to the Burke residence so Elizabeth didn't run herself completely ragged.
As for the Burke matriarch, she worked from home as much as possible to be there for her boys, and called Mozzie when she absolutely had to go out.
Jones and Diana did regular runs from the office to bring new paperwork and take old stuff away—including progress reports for Hughes and get well cards from the rest of the office.
The whole thing ran pretty smoothly—except for in the attitudes of the two sick men, but they were outnumbered and outgunned and just plain outmaneuvered at every turn.
It was entirely unfair.
But, Peter thought as he looked over at Neal—who still looked like crap, but who looked a far sight better than he had that night in the water when Peter first pulled him up into the cold air—Watts had been wrong. He'd gambled and he'd lost.
Peter could live with that.
Love any comments you guys have, if you would be so kind as to share! :)