He was shivering but he didn't know why, an odd sensation of sitting in water making him finally open up his eyes and glance around. He was slumped in the passenger seat of a vehicle, the windows taped shut around the edges. His eyes went down slightly to see that the window and door levers were missing as were the pop up part of the lock which was filled in with something he could only describe as a clear and thick resin. All of this seemed a bit odd to him despite the fuzziness of his brain. He shifted his weight and found his arms handcuffed behind him through the head support, a soft clinking of metal when he moved to try and free himself. Now he was really confused, quickly unlocking the cuffs without any problems with help from a hidden pick in one cufflink.
Where the heck... am I?
He wanted to speak but there was something stuffed in his mouth and tape pulled over his lips which he quickly removed and took a deep breath because he could now. His body ached not from being beat up but from whatever they'd given him, whoever THEY were. That's what was really fuzzy, no memories coming back to him as he glanced around and saw the rest of the vehicle was empty but for him and about 2 feet of water pooling and slowly rising up to his knees as he sat in the car seat. Now he knew why he was shivering despite the coolness of the air outside. The windows were slightly fogged over but he could see he was floating in a car just a few yards out of the shoreline. He could easily get free and make a swim to the shore, cold water or not. He shifted his legs to get his blood flowing and warm up but heard a muffled clink of metal, his ankles chafing from something colder than his usual tracker. He peered down and saw they had cuffed his ankles together, Neal finally conscious enough to grasp what was going on at least the danger aspect. Someone had wanted him dead but the car was sinking slow enough he could get out before he was trapped completely. It took him 3 minutes to get the cuffs off his ankles, hands cold and numb from being in the icy water as he held them up to his face and tried to wake himself a bit more. He was going to have to be strong and awake for this swim. It was a good 300 yards to shore but he could do it. Neal splashed cold water on his face and felt conscious enough to get away, using his feet to push out the windshield and crawl out onto the still dry hood. He would have to just dive right in and make a dash for it while he still could. It was getting dark outside and some snow was falling off and on. He had no idea who had put him out here or if Peter knew where he was as he moved up to the roof, the vehicle starting to sink a bit more and wobble as he shifted on top of the slippery metal.
You can do this...
He heard Peter's voice in his thoughts, nodding as he mentally prepared himself for the coldness of the water. He could just make out that the water was up to the bottom of the window now inside the car meaning he would have drowned soon if he hadn't woken up when he had. Good thing whoever put him in the vehicle didn't know he could pick locks or he would have been in trouble. He was about to jump into the water when something made him pause.
Ring... Ring... Ring...
There was a soft muffled sound of a cell phone ringing. He quickly checked all his pockets but found nothing. He couldn't go back into the car but it didn't seem to be inside where he was but further back near the trunk. The rear of the car was only slightly submerged, the top still bobbing out of the water as he moved back to it and slid down to lay on top and listen.
Ring... Ring... Ring...
He could hear it clearly through the trunk hatch. There was a cell phone in there but why was it in the trunk and not in the car with him if the kidnapper meant to call him and gloat? A part of him couldn't let it go despite knowing it would mean going back into the cold water inside the car to pop the trunk. Neal sighed, sliding back up to the roof then over to the open front that once held a windshield, the same one that had sunk into the water and only half floated nearby. The conman would have given up on the phone but the fact it might get him a call out to the mainland made him hopeful as he felt around the now practically submerged interior and opened up the glove-box with numb fingers, his teeth chattering. He felt around in the growing gloom for the trunk button and heard an audible pop but when he looked back the hatch was still shut. He cursed, his kidnapper obviously making this harder than it had to be as he practically swam back into the back seat of the sinking sedan and pulled at the middle of the back seat until it pulled open, water pouring into the now open space into the trunk. He took a deep breath and went under water, pushing into the narrow space as much as he could to get at the phone inside.
Ring... Ring... Ring...
It was still ringing even as the trunk began to fill with water from his actions, his chest squeezed as he tried to fit enough into the trunk to feel around in the dark space for the phone.
Ring... Ring... Ring...
He went by sound alone, his eyes closed due to the coldness of the water. His left hand was at his side while his right felt around in the trunk for the cell. He flinched when his hand touched something he didn't expect and he eased back out into the backseat of the car, the cab still a good foot or two empty so he could take a breather and figure out what it was he touched. It had felt like skin only cold. Was someone else in the trunk? Maybe... maybe a dead body? He shivered for other reasons as he went back into the water. He had to know if someone else needed help. The trunk was full of water though and it had been a few minutes already. Would they even be alive? He slipped back a bit more so both of his hands were in the trunk now, feeling around for the person he thought he'd felt and finding the cell phone in the pocket of their jacket. He quickly threw it back into the backseat then grabbed the person and pulled them into the main part of the car with him. It took some effort but finally he had them through, the figure a bit larger than himself but Neal had pulled the seat apart enough to fit them in.
Ring... Ring... Ring...
The phone kept blaring out over and over again as he worked on waking the other person. They had a plastic bag over their head which had kept out the water but they were out cold and not breathing as he tore it away and tried to revive them.
The agent's face was ashen, eyes shut as if he were sleeping, lips grayish blue as Neal fought to bring his friend back.
"Peter... wake up... Peter..."
The agent didn't move, his body limp as Neal uncuffed his partner and friend and eased both of them out onto the still visible car hood. It was starting to sink more as the car filled slowly with water. Neal noticed they had drifted out quite a bit more from the shoreline, the distance closer to a football field now as he tried to figure out how to wake his friend and get them both back to shore.
Ring... Ring... Ring...
Neal was desperate, continuing to work on his friend until he finally heard a weak gasp of breath as Peter came back, a slight pinkish hue coming to his lips and cheeks. The agent shivered in his arms but remained unconscious the cell phone ringing like some kind of snake hissing for attention as the con pulled it from his friend's pocket and answered it.
"Who is this?"
His voice was quieter than it should be but the anger and frustration was evident despite his exhaustion. There was silence on the line then a voice he thought he'd never hear again.
"You're quite more resourceful than I thought but I think you'll find that our next meeting won't be as... friendly."
Neal blinked as recognition hit him and so did everything he'd forgotten up until he'd awaken here in the car.
Peter had texted him to meet at the site where they thought their latest case file would be. The man was a notorious kidnapper who extorted wealthy families for millions then sent them their relations in body bags. Normally this would be a case for Violent Crimes but they were helping Ruiz on the case because of the money angle. Their prime suspect was thought to be an associate of Keller's but Neal knew very little about the man beyond having heard his voice in the past. He had taken a cab to the meeting site and that's when he'd been taken, someone getting the jump on him as a sickly sweet scent filled his nose as a hand pressed a rag to his face and held him tight.
He heard a slight chuckle, dark and emotionless from the man.
"You remember my voice? Keller thought you'd have forgotten on such little acquaintance. Good to know you have a good memory."
Neal heard the smugness of the man's voice, something akin to what Keller had but colder. He had never met Eric Conners but he was familiar with his rep.
"Did Keller set this up?"
He knew Matthew hated him and Peter but this seemed more than the criminal would normally do, not that he wouldn't get his hands dirty or bloodied for that matter. A cold humorless laugh replied in his ears.
"I'm guessing you were able to save the agent? ... The water's cold this time of year so I hope you're up to swimming for two. For every path you choose, there is another you must abandon, usually forever (Joan D. Vinge.) TaTa..."
The line went dead, Neal confused a moment because of his exhaustion and how cold he was. Peter coughed, shivering where he leaned against him as the con realized he had to do what he could to get them to safety. Eric had made certain things wouldn't be easy as he dialed another number and waited for them to pick up.
Neal heard the agent speak, his mind suddenly afraid of what could happen if help didn't come soon.
"It's... me. We need help."
He felt a bit breathless suddenly, not certain why as he spoke into the phone to their colleague. He heard a bit of background noises, people talking in the background, an office chair squeaking and the click of a keyboard. Finally Jones spoke again.
"Caffrey? Where are you?"
His voice sounded a bit off, almost suspicious and he suspected the agent was probably tracing his call, something that would have shocked him in the past but now he was glad for any means to find them. Maybe they thought he'd run and without Peter to say otherwise...
"We're... in the middle of the water... on a sinking car. The shore is about 500 yards away. Not sure how much longer this vehicle will stay afloat."
His teeth were chattering now but he fought it, clenching his jaws a bit as he tried to keep himself and Peter up and out of the water. He finally moved them up to the roof which was still dry but getting closer to sinking like the trunk and hood were.
"Who's with you, Neal? Your anklet went offline 18 hours ago. The Marshals are looking for you... Peter texted that you had run."
Neal heard the agent's words and froze more than the water could have made him. Peter had... had texted him? It didn't make sense until he recalled that he had gotten the message from Peter but his friend hadn't been there. The wheels although a bit cold and slow started to turn in his head. Eric... he'd had done this.
"I... didn't run, Jones. Peter's here with me. I think someone was trying to frame me and used Peter to make it stick."
He was feeling a bit of anger now, wondering what El would have thought or June and Mozzie. He had run before but that was nearly a year ago. He was back for good now and Mozzie and Peter understood that despite all the drama with his family's past. There was a sigh on the other side and he knew Jones believed him.
"Well it did seem a bit odd for him to text and then not come in to discuss it with me and Diana. Elizabeth called me to ask if Peter was here. How is he?"
Neal noticed the car had sunk a bit more as he held Peter close to him and still kept the phone to his ear.
"Unconscious. I think he must have been drugged. I... don't know if I can swim that far with him in my arms, Jones. How soon can you get out here?"
The car seemed to be sinking a bit faster now but slow enough they might still have some time before they'd be underwater for certain. It was dark now and the squeak on the other side made him realize Jones had stood up out of his chair.
"I'm tracing this call but I'm sure you knew that. It looks like you're... approximately 3 hours away. I'll let Hughes know and get Diana and our team out there before the Marshals. Hold on, Neal."
Peter was entombed in darkness, a cold icy feeling around him as if he'd been frozen solid. There was a pressure around his face and lungs, a low tick ever so often let him think of the slowest metronome ever as he floated in the gloom.
Neal: Clue on the case. Meet me at The Palace.
The agent glanced down at his phone as it buzzed, reading the text and wondering why Neal was up so early. It was barely 6 AM but if he had a clue to their current case, they needed what they could to figure out who was threatening a client's family. They only knew the M.O. had show up in a previous case and the consequences had been bad. Neal seemed to know something while they were looking at the case files of past kidnappings they thought might also be part of this serial criminal's work.
"Why are you up so early, hun? Who was that?"
El rolled over and hugged him as he sat up slightly in bed, hugging his wife back as he glanced at his cell screen. The dim blue light illuminated both their faces with pale ashy expressions that made him shiver more than the slightly cool air in their home. His eyes looked at the bedroom window to see it was frosty with ice. It must have snowed last night.
"Neal... we're working on a case and he wants to go over some details."
He found that statement a bit odd as did his wife, El sitting up with him and leaning sleepily on his shoulder.
"Neal? He must be taking this seriously if he's calling you at... 5:45 AM. I would take advantage of his interest while it's active."
She was teasing him now but Neal hadn't always been so forthcoming or interested in a case before but he was getting there. It was times like this he knew Neal was sincere when he said he wasn't running again.
"I guess so. I should get dressed."
He wrote a quick reply back to say he was headed that way, the message disappearing into the ether that was a cellular text. Neal didn't reply back, something that irked him but his intuition kicked him in the gut a bit making him curious why his friend hadn't replied back much more called rather than texted. This was not like Neal unless he was in trouble. He squinted a moment as his wife turned on the bedside lamp.
"Your brow is furrowed. What's wrong?"
El was observant as ever but he wasn't even sure something was wrong as he shrugged.
"Nothing... Worrying about the weather. Looks a bit icy out there."
He watched his wife move to the window and glance out with a nod of her head.
"Put the chains on honey. I think you're going to need them."
It was about half an hour later with the ice and traffic that he made it to The Palace, an abandoned building soon to be apt or shopping complex, he couldn't remember which. They had been here before to catch Keller but the man had gotten loose despite getting shot in the leg by a rival thief. Neal had been close to getting shot himself here but for that incident, the memory of it making the agent cringe. It had been sometime after that El had been kidnapped and their partnership had almost ended. It was not something he wanted to recall, hoping beyond hope this had nothing to do with Keller. He heard the car dash beep, a voice letting him know he had a message.
The car responded in it's odd mechanical voice.
"Neal: I'm on the basement level."
Peter blinked at the voice not just because of what it had said but why his partner was being so cloak and dagger about everything. His gut was telling him something wasn't right here but he had to see if Neal was in danger or maybe trouble much as it frustrated him. The guy was his friend and he wasn't going to leave him out to dry.
"Send Message: I'm outside. Be right there."
He parked and headed out in the light snow and cold wind. He shivered despite his warm coat and gloves. El had made sure he had coffee but something else kept him feeling cold as if he sensed something was wrong. Peter shook his head slightly knowing it was Neal but maybe he was hiding so he wasn't being as "talkative" as he might be even with texts. He hoped that was it and not this intuition. The agent sighed, moving into the building through a broken window and making his way through the dusty decrepit space towards a set of stairs near the back. He'd been here before so he knew this place enough to be familiar with the basic layout as he headed down into the gloom of the basement below. Peter pulled out a flashlight and shone it around when he reached the bottom.
He called out, curious where his friend was as he moved farther into the darkness, something lying on the ground ahead of him. It looked like a figure lying prone, the agent running forward.
He had barely crouched down beside the shape only to find out it was a coat similar to his friend's with nothing underneath but rags and debris made to look like a person.
It was too fast, someone grabbing him as the flashlight fell from his gloved fingers and he was dragged backwards, something sharp and thin stuck into the base of his neck. Peter fought, getting a good punch in as the person umphed and he pulled himself away in the dim light of the flashlight some feet away. Things were getting fuzzy, the room swaying but he could see the stairs going up, heading that way. He just had to make it out...
Peter tried to scream, something plastic pulled over his head and face as he fought to breathe, vision graying as he gave into the lack of air along with whatever he'd been drugged with and finally passed out into darkness.
He twitched in the darkness, feeling something cool around him and then a breeze, his body cold but he couldn't move. Cool but warmer lips touched his own, trembling as they pushed air into his empty lungs and finally he felt himself gasp for breath. They were talking to him, nudging him but he was still too tired, exhausted or drugged to react as they held him close, both shivering in the cold and wet. He was only just aware of what was happening, the same person talking but he only heard one side of the chat.
They'll be here ssssoon, Peter. I'm cowboying up fffor your ssssake.
The voice stuttered a bit but it sounded like they were cold rather than had a speech issue. He recognized the voice but he was too tired to really think who, shifting slightly as he felt them adjust their hold on him. Whatever they were on was bobbing around more than he liked, a slight sense of sea sickness coming over him despite being only partially conscious. A memory from his youth came back to him of being on a sailboat and feeling ill. He didn't often have motion sickness but this was too much motion for him to deal with along with the after effects of whatever he'd been given.
His lips spilled those words quietly but urgently, the person holding him shifting enough he felt he was being held over something, a sense of space there as he felt his eyes open and he threw up. It was only clear stuff but it dribbled from his lips to the water below, burning his mouth a bit but finally it was over with and he slid back, looking up with bleary eyes at the person holding him. They were dark haired, pale chiseled features and blue eyes.
"Ne... Nee al? Wha... at's gggo... ing onnn?"
He felt sluggish, the cold not helping his sense of weakness. He wanted to sleep, just curl up but something told him they were in a bad way, eyes wandering around until he realized he had been right to think something was up. There was water all around, the sun setting off to his left across the lake they were in.
"J... ones will bbee hhere sssoon, Pppetter."
Neal didn't sound any better than he felt, the younger man shivering more as he became more aware of himself and their situation. He'd followed up a lead from Neal but it had been a trap. Someone kidnapping him and then... it looked like Neal had found him.
"You... fffounnd me?"
He sat up a bit more now that he could, Neal shrugging at him, those blue eyes looking a bit less bright than normal.
"You cccould sssaay thaaat. We wwwwere tttakkkkenn."
Neal was shivering and tired looking but his eyes were still looking out across the water in a manner the agent knew well. He was well aware that his charge and partner did swimming as a means of exercise at the gym but in these conditions even the best swimmer would be compromised.
"Ddddon't. Wwaaait fffor Jjones. Ooookkkaaay?"
Those blue eyes glanced back at him, a head nod indicating he wouldn't as they remained sitting on the roof of the slowly sinking vehicle. The snow was falling a bit harder now but was still very thin and fine but the wind was beginning to gust, their meager raft buffeting in the breeze. They started to slide around the still slippery metal roof of the car, both men holding onto the other for support as they tried to remain on top.
Much as he stuttered, he could barely catch his breath to speak as they both fell into the freezing water of the lake. He was plunged under for a moment, flailing helplessly before he bobbed up again and caught his breath spitting up cold water as he wheezed and coughed. For a moment he thought he was alone, seeing the car slowly inching down into the water as the roof started to disappear and he saw large bubbles starting to ooze up from the dark water he was treading within.
He cried out as much as he could, moving in a slow circle but feeling the pull as the car sank and a kind of undertow began to form around it. He swam a few yards away still looking for his friend and partner before he saw the pale hand just breaking the surface nearby. Peter moved as quickly as he could in the freezing water, grabbing the hand and pulling them away from the gurgling, hissing bubbles as the vehicle began to sink in earnest. Whoever was responsible for this had wanted to be sure they would die a slow death. Neal didn't move when he finally got them far enough away he could hold his friend's head out of the water as it lay heavily against his shoulder.
"Wwwwwake uuup, Nnnneeeaall."
He nudged his friend, clearing his airways as best he could as he kept them both afloat in the icy river.
His friend finally coughed, sputtering and spitting out water as he started to come to, eyes still closed but slowly fluttering open. Their eyes met a moment before Neal pulled away a bit, one hand still clinging to his friend as the con started to tread water on his own.
"Ppppeter... We have tto get tto shshshore."
The agent nodded back, both men doing what they could to stay afloat as they eased their way towards the shoreline.
Peter found himself back at home, his body cold despite the warm interior as he glanced around his house and heard the sound of his wife humming in their kitchen. He walked over there but she didn't turn around, her soft humming continuing.
His wife turned, looking right through him as she reached for some spice on the kitchen island before turning back to the stove top. Peter moved closer, placing a hand on her shoulder but it went through her like he was a ghost as she continued to hum and he could see her a bit closer now. She was older, her hair graying some and her eyes, the blue had dulled and her expression seemed less than happy. There was a sadness there, her eyes falling upon something on the kitchen island as he turned and saw the picture of himself and Neal in tuxes. She sniffled slightly, turning the picture face down before moving back to cook with less enthusiasm as the scenery faded and he felt someone shaking him.
Someone was holding him up, his lips coughing up water as he came to in the frozen lake again. The shore looked somewhat closer but they were still too far out to get there quickly at the rate they were swimming.
The con was shivering but nodded tiredly back, both men watching the other as they did their best to swim in the cold water. If they didn't already have hypothermia. He glanced out towards the shore blinking as he thought he saw some motion there. Neal was still swimming along side him, keeping close as they drew closer to the shore but were still pretty far with their slow stumbling pace. The agent watched what he thought he saw on the shoreline, figures like ants moving around and the faint sounds of sirens. He felt himself fading again but Neal poked at him, the agent doing his best to stay alert but feeling tired.
"Ssswim aheaddd, Nnnneal."
The con shook his head, looking worn out himself and pale, lips turning grayish like his skin from the temperature. Snowflakes were coating them as they kept on but the agent wasn't feeling his body anymore.
"Cccccowbbboy uppp Ppppeeettteerrr."
The agent rolled his eyes as much as he could, but he was exhausted and could no longer keep up as he started to sink into the icy water despite Neal trying to keep him up. He was only vaguely aware of his friend calling to him, holding on as they both went under the dark water and his mind started to go back to other places it would rather be.
"Hon, is that you?"
El was talking to him as he entered his home and nodded, smiling as he hung up his jacket and smelled something good cooking in the background. Satchmo came up for attention as his wife moved from kitchen to the entranceway to hug and kiss him.
"Home early. Just us tonight."
El smiled at him, wrapping her arms around him as she moved him over to the sofa.
"Sounds like a plan. I have a roast in the oven and rice cooking on the stove top."
She kissed him again and he smiled as she grinned back at him.
"Neal's having dinner with Sara so no interruptions tonight."
There was a twinkle in his wife's eye as he said that and she kissed him again a bit more provocatively.
Neal couldn't keep his friend out of the water, tired and exhausted from the cold. His body was numb and he couldn't feel his limbs as he tried to pull the agent from the lake but felt himself sinking down as he lost any ability to even drag himself up but he wasn't letting go of Peter. That was his final thought as he watched the surface and what little light there was fading away as they sunk further down and he felt himself disappearing along with the agent into the dark depths.
I always told you he would get you killed one day.
His eyes turned, head slowly following as he found himself back at June's only the room was covered with white sheets over all the furniture and appliances. The con was confused, looking for who had spoken but seeing nobody until the main door opened up and Mozzie walked in.
The Suit meant enough that you went and got yourself killed over him. Where am I supposed to find another front man like you?
Mozzie sounded annoyed but under it all he could see sadness there, the little guy wiping at his eyes under his glasses before removing them to wipe the lenses with a soft sniffle. The little guy was wearing a dark suit like you would for a funeral but he wasn't sure who had died.
"Mozzie... what's with the dark suit?"
He waited for a reply but his friend never looked at him as Mozzie continued to mumble to himself but was really talking to Neal who felt like some kind of a ghost.
Someone else spoke, both men turning to see June there in her own nice but respectable black dress as if she were also in mourning. The little guy blushed some as he moved to greet her but paused half way to look around the obviously abandoned room.
I miss him too. Come along. Everyone's downstairs for the memorial.
Neal moved to follow suddenly finding himself and the others downstairs in the large foyer / living room of June's home, a warm fire in the huge hearth. Everyone was there including Elizabeth but there was no Peter, the con looking for his friend before he noticed the picture. It was the one they'd taken with tuxes. There was a wreath like you see at a funeral around it.
"No... I'm here! We're not dead! Everyone... look at me! Look..."
He was struggling to breath, unable to speak further, something cool and wet filling his mouth. Neal was choking, eyes shut, darkness covering him before a hand grasped him from the water. He coughed and spit up water, someone binding his arms behind him as he opened up his eyes and blinked to see why. A man in a ski mask with gloves and a large knife hovered over him in a row boat. He sensed motion despite himself and this man who obviously wasn't there to rescue them. His eyes moved to see why and saw Peter bound and gagged at the end of the boat shifting slightly but unconscious. The masked figure laughed and suddenly Neal was cold for so many other reasons.
The name came out soft but it wasn't meant as reverence but fear, the con feeling an icy chill unassociated with their dunk in the water and weather. The man nodded.
"Your cop friends are on the other end of the shore out of sight. I told them as a helpful citizen who was just doing their duty that I saw a car sinking out that way. Too bad they won't figure out what's going on until they find your bodies floating in the river."
Author's Note:Uh oh... the boys are in trouble and apparently someone from Neal's past is involved. How will they get of this alive with help so close?