He took a step back while the facade covering his face ran down his arms and held them up in surrender. He watched the man's mouth curve into a smile that would have made him shiver if he was anyone else, but Neal Caffrey. It didn't stop him from swallowing hard as he took another step back, though. The man took a step toward him, his victorious demeanor carving a smile into his face and puffing out his chest.
"Come on, Caffrey. We both knew it would come to this."
Neal felt the back of his heel hit the ledge as he tried to take another step back. He couldn't ignore the tug of his eyes to look down. Seven stories was a lot a higher when there was a man in front of you who wanted to kill you. He gulped again and this time felt a shiver run down his spine. Face planting into a New York City sidewalk was more terrifying when you were inches away from doing so rather than playing it out in your head like a scene from Mission Impossible. His eyes shot back to Carlos, head honcho of an underground gambling ring that wasn't afraid to wash their hands in blood if they thought necessary. Apparently, finding out one of their recently hired card dealers was working for the FBI made them think it was more than necessary. The look on Carlos' face had Neal's hands raising in honest surrender.
"It doesn't have to. I know an agent that'll cut you a pretty good deal if you cooperate and tell him what he wants to know, but if you kill me you'll be staring at prison bars for the rest of your life."
Carlos stepped closer in amusement. "Oh really? And what does a guy like you have to do to make them want to protect you?"
"Have a charming smile and a winning personality." Neal grinned and winked dramatically. "It worked for you, well you know, up until the part where the FBI raided the place, arrested most of your guys and you figured out who I really was."
"You know Caffrey, if you'd learn to shut your damn mouth once in awhile you might not find yourself in these situations." Carlos took another step forward leaving only a foot between them and Neal with no where to go but seven stories down to the sidewalk below.
Neal laughed despite the fear swimming around in his chest. "I've heard that a lot. Guess it kind of goes both ways, seeing as how I've gotten out of these types of situations before. Maybe you should learn to-" Neal was cut off by Carlos' hand wrapping around his throat.
"Not this time, Caffrey." He promised while squeezing harder until Neal had no choice but to struggle.
Despite the fact he was mere inches from the ledge, Neal kicked and punched trying desperately to get oxygen through his windpipe. Carlos just held him by the throat unaffected by any of his fight, and pulled him closer until their noses were almost touching. "Where's your charming smile now, kid?"
Black started to seep at the edges of Neal's vision and consciousness was drowning out like quicksand. He tried to pull at Carlos' hand, but his grip kept slipping. He felt his coordination giving out and he knew he was going to die. The thought registered right before voices started yelling, only to him it sounded like he was under water. He blinked furiously and tried to shake his head to keep himself above the murky water that his body felt like he was sinking into. He tried to keep himself alive.
Carlos' face burned in the blackness of his vision and he felt damned if he was going to die with the last image of a guy who wanted to kill him. For a split second, he found himself swaddled in free flowing white sheets that danced in a cool breeze and brushed against his skin. He turned his head and the sheet made a wave, revealing Kate's beautiful face beside him. He reached out to touch her, but the voices that came from above the mirage of water, from above the level of consciousness he was leaving was getting louder. He stopped. He blinked. Kate was gone. The sheets were gone. The white haven was replaced by the dark murky water again. He shook his head, unable to shake it with the same force, but it had the same effect. He blinked, and could see the hazy outlines of two FBI agents surrounding them, their guns were drawn.
He felt safe as he started to slip back into the white haven again, but felt something cold brush between himself and Carlos. He'd felt the barrel of a gun against him too many times to be able to mistake it with anything else. Whether the man was going to shoot him, the agents or himself, Neal didn't know, but the hatred he felt for guns had his hands griping Carlos' arms with what seemed like an impossible strength, before he threw himself backwards over the ledge bringing Carlos with him.
He would have to remind himself to thank the higher power above that gave him such a durable mind that allowed him to remember the emergency ladder scaling down the side of the building in case of fires. His hands frantically searched for the iron railing as gravity pulled him down to the sidewalk. He free fell two stories before his hand wrapped around the first platform of the fire escape. The pain that shot all the way from his fingers to his shoulder had his throat releasing air against what sounded like sandpaper in a harsh scream. He felt his left leg pulling away from his hip in an agonizing pain, but he managed to dangle from the fire escape by his right hand long enough until he reached up with his other and grabbed the platform for more security. The pain in shoulder lessened as weight was distributed a little bit more evenly through the muscles in his arms.
He closed his eyes against the pain running through his body like ooze for a moment. He could feel himself dangling, swaying back and forth like he was paper in the wind. The feeling would've been peaceful without the excruciating pain and the sudden jerk his left leg gave. He felt his fingers sliding against the iron and held on tighter. He forced his eyes open and looked down to see Carlos dangling from his left ankle. They swayed dangerously while Carlos jerked trying to get a better grip on Neal's leg so he wouldn't fall. Neal's fingers were slipping again.
He tried to holler at Carlos, but his bruised windpipe made it difficult. His voice was scratchy and barely above a whisper. He took a deep breath, in the process of getting ready to try again, but another voice came down from above.
He looked up and could see the blurry form of Peter and Jones leaning over the ledge he had stood at only a minute ago.
"Jesus." He had heard Jones whisper before disappearing out of sight. Carlos moved again and Neal felt his right arm going numb.
"Hold on, Neal! Don't let go! We're coming!" Peter yelled down before he too disappeared.
Neal wanted to call out for him, tell him to come back. But his throat constricted making it impossible to do more than whisper. But he spoke anyway. The words ghosted across his lips, before his right hand slipped from the rail completely.
He groaned as he dangled only by his left arm and felt Carlos dangling from his ankle. He knew he had to hold the railing with both of his hands but his whole arm reverberated with pain telling him it would be torturous. His left hand was slipping.
He tried to lift his arm, but he could barely feel it and the little feeling he did have left him biting his lip hard enough to make it bleed. A hoarse scream escaped him. Carlos jerked again. Neal hung on by what seemed like fingertips. He felt the iron slide against his skin and prepared for the plunge he knew was coming.
It never came.
He felt a hand wrap around his wrist then another one. He looked up and saw Jones laying on the top platform of the fire escape, his hands around his wrist to keep him from falling. He noticed Jones' face scrunch up against the weight that was pulling down on his own shoulders, but couldn't feel guilty about it because of the selfish relief he felt from not having to hold himself up anymore.
Carlos jerked again, his voice now reaching Neal's ears for the first time despite the fact that he had been yelling since he went over the ledge. He glanced down, tried to tell him to stop moving, but his voice wouldn't carry. He looked back up at Jones, who thankfully yelled down to Carlos.
"Hey! Stop! Moving!" Jones yelled each word separately so Carlos would get it. The man at the bottom seized his frantic movements long enough so that both Neal and himself swayed like a lonely wind chime.
Neal looked back up to Jones, as if silently asking him what to do. He felt Jones' hands close around his wrist tighter. The agent opened his mouth to respond, but suddenly clenched his jaw when he started sliding over the platform. They dropped about three inches, before Jones was able to pull back enough to stop there downfall. The agent yelled against the fire flickering in the muscles of his shoulders and back. They moved back up half an inch and stayed there.
Neal groaned at the stretching feeling his body was blanketed in.
"Hang on, man. Just...hang on." He heard Jones grunt, before saying Peter's name with relief.
"Okay, Neal. I need you to look at me." Jones voiced carried down again and he complied with what little energy and consciousness he had left. He felt himself sag a bit when he noticed Peter leaning over the platform beside Jones. The agent clenched his teeth and Neal tried to compensate for the added weight he had added to Jones by almost becoming deadweight.
"Okay, Neal. You have to give us your other arm." Peter called down this time instructing him.
Neal felt himself freeze when realization sunk in. He shook his head no.
"Neal, you have to. We can't pull you up by just your left. We need your other arm."
Neal shook his head again, more vigorously. "I can't." He croaked, and doubted they heard it.
"Neal. Look. At. Me." He complied with Peter's voice. "I need you to do exactly as I say. I know it hurts, but you have to give me your other arm, okay? On the count of three, I need you to reach up as high as you can."
Neal swallowed thickly against the thought of having to endure so much pain again. He knew he was on the verge of blacking out and wanted nothing more than to do so, but Peter had started counting.
He heard the number he had feared for the past six seconds and with every last ounce of energy, willpower and determination he reached up as high as he could and vaguely felt Peter's hands grasp his wrist. He screamed against the pain and the hoarse cry drowned out Peter's reassuring words from above.
"Okay, Neal we're going to pull you up now."
Neal nodded his head weakly against his arm that it rested on. He was barely conscious and could care less what they were going to do. If they let him fall, he wouldn't exactly be hurt by it.
He felt them tug and a cry broke from his scratchy throat like a fork against a glass plate. He went up an inch and dropped another two. It wasn't going to work.
A few minutes passed with going in and out of that white haven from before, until Peter's voice called down to him again.
"Neal! Jones is going to let go, but I'm going to take over, okay? He's going to get Carlos, first. We have to get him off first, before we can pull you up. It's too much weight. But...just stay with me okay?"
Neal nodded in response, too exhausted to do anything else. He felt one of Peter's hands leave his right wrist and grasp his left before Jones let go.
A minute passed and he swayed lazily. He heard Jones' voice from below now. "If it were up to me, I'd let this scumbag fall, but it'd be too much paperwork."
He felt Carlos move again this time a bit more frantically and bit back the urge to scream. At least he thought he had, but when Peter called down to him again, he realized he must have at least groaned.
"It's alright Neal. Just hang on, buddy. Just a little bit longer. Hang in there."
"Cowb'y up." Neal mumbled with a small chuckle.
"Yeah. See, now you're getting it." Peter replied, with a soft laugh of his own.
Suddenly, the weight on his leg disappeared leaving him with only the pain as a reminder of Carlos being there after Jones had went down to the next platform and pulled Carlos to safety then put him in handcuffs.
"Okay, buddy. I'm going to pull you up, do what you can to help me. If it's too much just..."
"Hang in there." Neal replied, somewhat mindlessly. "In case...you haven't noticed...I'm...already hangin` ,Peter."
Peter chuckled, despite the concern he felt growing. "I know. Okay on the count of three again."
Three seconds later, Neal felt himself being pulled up, the pain in his arm becoming unbearable. The white haven didn't return. Just black. Pure black.
Neal woke up in the white again. It was bright and heaven like, yet it hurt and it was scratchy. There were no free flowing soft sheets that danced with the wind and brushed against his skin, or Kate's. Kate wasn't there either. He blinked and reached out. At least tried to, but he couldn't move his arm. He tried his left. It was stiff, but possible. He felt around, something beneath his hands felt rough against his skin before he realized he was underneath whatever it was. His hand wandered to his face and he felt something plastic under his nose. He tugged at it, but a hand wrapped around his and stopped him.
"Hey," The voice was soft but gruff. "Leave that in. It's there to help you."
"Don'...need help." His voice sounded so scratchy and different he wondered briefly if he had actually been the one to say it. That was, until the man responded with a soft chuckle. "Sure, you don't."
Neal blinked sluggishly and licked his dry lips. It took a moment to realize he was in a hospital with Peter sitting beside him in a plastic chair. The agent looked haggard but offered a plastic cup of water with a straw with grace. "Here, drink slow and small sips. Your throat is still healing from the bruising." He noticed the man's gaze lock on his throat for second with a haunting look rolling around like waves, before Peter blinked and shook his head. The older man gave a smile that didn't reach his eyes. Neal drank the water.
Neal surveyed himself, noticing his right arm resting in a sling. He raised an eyebrow at Peter.
"Dislocated." Peter responded. "You have to have it in there for three weeks. Then therapy for at least two weeks after that."
It all came back to Neal.
"Anything else?" Neal asked, feeling the drugs still in his system trying to pull him back to sleep.
"Bruised neck and a little soreness in your windpipe. Strained muscles in your left leg." Peter supplied with a shrug and sip from his coffee.
"And?" Neal asked, with a curious yet cautious glance.
Peter's brow furrowed. "Nothing. That's it."
"Are you sure?"
"Because you look like I'm going to shatter like glass if I move the wrong way." Neal replied with a smirk that he didn't quite feel.
Peter offered a quick smile and shook his head. "Nah." He took a sip of his coffee again.
"Peter." Neal deadpanned. "What...is it?" He shook himself to stay awake.
Peter patted his uninjured leg. "Nothing, Neal. Just got to sleep. I'll be here when you wake up."
Neal felt his eyes close regardless of the fact he wanted to stay awake. "P'ter?"
"Hmm?" He heard Peter respond and felt the agent's hand pat his leg some more before resting there just above his knee.
"I did...it. I...hung...hung in there. I did what you... asked, what you told..me to." Neal wanted to make sure Peter knew it. He didn't want the man to be disappointed or mad at him. Not now.
"I know you did, Neal. I know."
"Then why?...Why are you mad?"
He heard Peter sigh, but didn't open his eyes against the exhaustion pulling at him.
"Because it's always you who has to hang on, Neal."
"Why are you laughing?"
"Because it's always you who's making me." Neal felt Peter's hand leave his leg. He opened his eyes. The agent was just staring at him. "And having something to hang on for is a whole lot better than letting go for nothing."
He stared at Peter until the agent realized what he meant. Only when Peter's hand rest on his leg again did Neal give into sleep.
AN: Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think!