White Collar: Halfway Gone
Disclaimer: White Collar and all of its characters, locations, etc. belong to their respective owners; I'm just borrowing. No copyright infringement intended!
Author's Note: Special gift for IuvenesCor (on AO3), whose response to "As You Were" was "I wish that there was an alternate-ending tag fic where there was actual whump...". Or some such thing. I don't see how she expected me to hear that and NOT write it, haha. She also read through it for me and gave me a lengthy commentary, which I appreciate. Thank you so much for all of your hard work and endless, unwavering patience! Couldn't have done this without you, girl.
Any mistakes, inconsistencies, or medical inaccuracies (though I tried to keep that a bit vague) are entirely my fault.
Neal Caffrey realized, as he slid across the polished floor and his head slammed into a doorframe, that maybe volunteering to be the front guy on this one had been a really bad idea.
He wondered, as Van Horn took aim, stretched the bowstring taut, if maybe now Peter would reconsider his request for a bulletproof vest. Not that it would do much good against the arrow currently pointed at his heart. But it would be the least that the FBI could do for him, if he survived this whole mess.
Where were they? Not to sound ungrateful or whiny, but didn't Peter and the team normally charge in right about now with guns blazing? But the white hallways were suspiciously lacking in the squeak of FBI footfalls and shouts and "drop your weapon now!" warnings. The space was void of almost all sound, Neal realized; just the noise of his own heavy breathing, of Van Horn's, the creak of the bowstring as he pulled it tight. He tried to crawl backwards, hit the wall again and slipped. His head was pounding, and his vision blurred. Any time you want to get here, guys.
But his mental plea didn't make it to the agents probably scouring the building, at least as far as he could tell. Van Horn drew in a steady breath. And Neal did something that, under other circumstances, he would have been ashamed of. He tried to push himself upright, mouth opened to beg. "Please-"
The arrow left the string. Neal recognized the intent in Van Horn's posture in the instant before he fired, and was in motion as the arrow released, shoving off of the wall and to the side.
It almost worked. Maybe another second and it would have been flawless. But almost didn't quite cut it, and the force of the arrow rammed it clean through his right shoulder and pinned him to the wall. He gasped for air as he slumped, unable to support himself, and agony tugged at his torso. He wondered if the shaft itself could rip through flesh and sinew and bone, sever his arm and shoulder from his body. Watching the red stain rapidly ruining the crisp dress whites - now that was a tragedy - he tried to gather the breath to curse.
Fireworks exploded inside his chest, and his throat ached. Breathing was out of the question, then.
He supposed that there were worse ways to die. He could have been killed in prison, and no one would ever know. He could have been shot by Sara a year ago; hot, but not his first choice. This really was a noble end, as such things went. Didn't matter how far Van Horn ran; Peter was going to catch him now, and he'd go away for life as a murderer. Jones's friend would be saved, the smuggling operation shut down. And he supposed that Mozzie could do whatever he liked with his treasure now. Neal's final act in life would be to do something right, to give his life for someone else. He would be remembered as a hero, maybe, instead of a thief, a felon. He might even get a medal awarded to him for his sacrifice; now wouldn't that be something?
He hoped that Peter would say something nice at his funeral.
Through the roaring that was rapidly filling his ears as his body used up the last of its oxygen, he could hear the muffled shouts of Jones and Diana and Peter - of course, about time - and he gathered that Van Horn was being arrested. Good. He would definitely be remembered as a hero, then. Maybe a martyr, even. That might be nice. Wonder if people will paint pictures of me some day...?
"Neal? He's still got a pulse, but he's not responding. Neal. Neal!"
Neal wished that Peter wouldn't keep shouting; his head was killing him. The whole dying thing was bad enough without his friend making him feel guilty about it. That was just rude. Ruin his big moment.
"Don't you check out on me, Neal. You hear? Hang in there. Dammit, Diana, where the hell are the medics?"
He couldn't quite catch her reply; something about "on their way". Or "you know I'm gay". One of those; it was getting so hard to tell. His eyelids flickered, and for a second he got a blurry, skewed vision of the blinding white hallway and the dark-clad agents running around. He thought he saw Kate in the middle of the chaos, watching him with deep eyes. He reached out to her (thought he did; hard to tell), and tried to whisper her name. Finally get one last chance with her.
Kate, however, didn't smile. She shook her head, drew her arms close around herself, and backed away. "Not yet," she whispered, fading away like dust in the breeze. Disappointed, Neal let his eyes slip closed again. Fate had a funny way of teasing him; he was surprised that it didn't hurt as much as he'd expect to watch her go.
The last thought that made any sense to him as he slipped away was to wonder if he'd meet any of the great artists on the other side.
"Neal. Neal, can you hear me?"
Neal groaned. It wasn't time to wake up yet; he was exhausted, couldn't they let him sleep for just a little longer? Wasn't he supposed to have time to rest in prison?
"Come on, open your eyes. That's an order, Neal."
He'd never been terribly good at following orders. No, he thought, trying to shake his head. The movement sent little shivers of pain radiating sharply through his torso. Neal winced. Didn't remember prison beds being this uncomfortable.
"Oh, now you're just being contrary."
Wasn't that what he was best at? "Sleeping," he muttered, his throat aching and raw. "Go 'way."
"Can't do that, Neal."
The voice was starting to sound familiar, but it didn't belong here. He cracked one eye opened, and was able to make out the well-known shape of the face hovering over him. "Peter?" he mumbled. "Didn't know you were doing in-cell visits, now." He tried to draw a hand over his eyes, but his arm wouldn't move. His shoulder twinged and spasmed. "What's the occasion?" he gasped when the fit subsided. Must have made some enemies he'd forgotten about. Would have to work on that after he'd had a decent night's sleep.
There was a sigh that sounded an awful lot like relief. "You're not in prison, Neal, you're in the hospital."
"Hospital?" Well, that explained the agony.
"Yeah, you're going into week two. Doc said we cut it down to the wire; you gave us quite a scare."
This was definitely something that Neal should remember; but his brain was a fuzzy, disoriented mess. He hated that feeling, hated being at a disadvantage. "What happened?" he managed, his pride stinging.
Peter hestitated, ran a hand through his hair. "Van Horn shot you, point blank, with some sort of fancy bow and arrow. Went right through your shoulder; we thought we'd lost you for a while there. But you stuck it out, and they're saying you're on the mend now."
Ah. The memories were coming back now, in bold, garrish color. Neal liked it better when he couldn't remember. "So there was no funeral?" he tried to joke weakly. "No touching speeches or medals of valor? Please tell me you cried for me, at least."
Peter swore at him, though there was a hint of a grin on his haggard face. When was the last time he'd slept? "Don't make me regret letting them wake you up." He shook his head. "Sometimes, I like it better when you can't talk."
"You did cry, didn't you?" Neal teased, focusing on his friend instead of the memories. It was easier that way. "Aw, Peter, I'm touched."
"You clearly need meds and rest. And possibly a psych evaluation once you're up to it. No man who almost died should be acting this perky and cavilier."
"Shouldn't threaten me," Neal retorted, closing his eyes again. He didn't want to admit it, but rest actually sounded like a pretty good idea right now. "I almost died, 'member?" He took a deep breath, and this one hurt less than the last one. Or maybe Peter had flicked a morphine switch or something. "Should have more...sympathy..."
As he drifted off, he thought he heard Peter say something that sounded almost like, "Welcome back, Neal.". It could also have been "Mozzie looks like a seal", but Neal was pretty sure it was the first one.
He'd have to ask next time he woke up.