I got stuck on some dialogue from Damage Control, so I figured I'd take a break and post one of my old one-shots tonight instead. Hope you like it!
Neal never really did find out exactly how it happened. He supposed it didn't much matter about the how and the why. All that mattered was the way out. The way out that seemed impossible when he first woke up in complete darkness with a splitting headache.
It was the worst headache he had ever experienced, and he could remember quite a few bad ones as a kid with frequent migraines. This one was different. This was pain that stemmed from a tender spot at the back of his head and exploded with shocking force to the rest of his skull.
The headache only remained his top concern for few fleeting seconds, however. His worry quickly shifted when he became aware of the intense darkness that surrounded him. He had never experienced darkness like this. He couldn't even make out the shape of his own hand when he brought it just a few inches from his face.
Even still, he was quickly able to shrug off concerns about the extreme darkness when he finally became aware enough to take account of his location.
And, really, there was no location to speak of. He didn't know where he was, but it sure as hell didn't feel right.
He was cramped in some sort of box. The sides squeezed his shoulders together painfully, making it nearly impossible for him to move. His legs were too long to comfortably fit into the cramped space, and he couldn't lift his head more than a few inches without slamming it into the lid.
First, in his half-conscious haze, Neal was only meeting the situation with curious bewilderment. It took a few moments for reality, and with it panic, to set in, but eventually it did.
Neal's breathing was the first to take account of the situation, as it became more rapid with every moment of growing awareness. So did his heart rate. Then came the sweats. A cold sweat quickly covered his body, soaking through his clothes, and bringing on shivers that already violently racked his body.
Next came his futile escape attempts: pushing ferociously against all sides of the box, kicking every which way, searching the box's sides with his hands in search of a lock or hatch, screaming in the darkness praying that someone—anyone—would hear him. It only took him a few minutes to realize that he really was stuck.
And then the phone rang.
It wasn't his phone, but it had been stashed in his pocket, and Neal jumped in surprise the instant its all-too-happy ring tone sounded. Immediately, Neal clawed it out of his pocket and brought it to his ear with a great deal of difficulty in the cramped space.
"Who is this?" he asked, trying not to let the panic come out in his voice. He was apparently unsuccessful because whoever was on the other line chuckled in amusement.
"I'm afraid there's not much time for introductions, Mr. Caffrey. The way I see it, you've only got a few more hours of air in there before it's too late for your little friends at the FBI to save you."
"Who are you?" Neal insisted, but the only answer he received was another laugh and the dial tone. He swore softly and quickly dialed the first number that came to mind.
Peter didn't sound at all pleased when he picked up on the other line. "This is Burke. Unless someone is dead or dying, I'm not getting out of bed."
"Peter," Neal said, and he guessed his voice sounded terrified enough to pull Peter from his groggy state of anger.
"Neal?" Peter questioned at once. Neal could hear him rushing out of bed and collecting his keys from the bedside table. "What's going on? Are you okay?"
"I don't know," Neal admitted because, honestly, he didn't know what was going on, and he was fairly certain that he wasn't, in fact, okay. "I'm trapped. Peter, I don't know where I am, but you have to get me out of here."
"Neal, slow down," Peter said calmly, even though he felt anything but calm. Neal
sounded downright panicked. He needed to show him some kind of put togetherness. "You're trapped? What happened?"
"I don't know," Neal repeated, this time almost yelling. "I'm in a box or something. I can't move. I can't get out. There was a phone call…"
"A box?" Peter questioned. This wasn't the kind of information he could process at three o'clock in the morning. "What do you mean you're in a box?
"I mean I am trapped in a wooden box, Peter," Neal said, and he almost cried out in frustration. Saying the words made it so much more real. "With nothing but a cell phone. Someone called me…I don't know who…But, Peter, you have to find me. He said I only have hours before…" Neal trailed off. He couldn't bring himself to finish the thought.
"Hours before what?" Peter questioned tentatively, and he could hear Neal's ragged exhale on the other line.
"My air supply's running out," Neal said quietly.
For once, Peter didn't know what to say. For once, he didn't have all the answers. And, for once, he didn't know how to find Neal Caffrey.
But he was sure as hell going to try.
"Okay, Neal," he said in as sure a voice as he could manage. "I'm going to stay on the line with you until we're able to get you out of there, but I don't want you to talk unless it's absolutely necessary. You need to conserve as much air as you can. But I will keep you updated on everything that's happening on my end." He paused for a moment, and then continued in an apologetic tone. "Now, I need to hang up with you, so I can give Jones and Diana a call."
Neal didn't protest, but Peter could hear the worried sigh that escaped his lips.
"Neal, call me back in five minutes. Okay?"
"Yeah," Neal agreed, and then Peter reluctantly hung up.
The terror only increased without having Peter on the line with him. Neal tried to keep his breathing steady and even, but it was beginning to feel as if the walls were getting tighter, and the box was getting colder. He was almost certainly hyperventilating now, and the fact that that was taking up even more of his limited air supply only made his panicked breathing worse.
He was sure it had been less than five minutes, but he took the cell phone in his shaking hands again and called Peter.
"Okay, Neal," Peter answered without missing a beat. "I'm on my way to the office right now." Neal knew that was the best he could offer, but he really had hoped to hear that Peter was on his way to pick him up at that moment. "How're you doing?"
"Fine," Neal said breathlessly.
"Let's keep it that way. I want you to let me know if anything changes, but otherwise, save your strength."
Neal was grateful when Peter placed his phone on speaker and turned the car radio on.
Some sports cast was on, which normally would have bugged the hell out of Neal, but at the moment, it was strangely comforting. He could hear Peter quietly agreeing with the announcer's opinions or angrily writing them off every so often. He could imagine himself sitting beside his partner in an annoyed huff because he wouldn't let him put on something they could both agree on.
The ride into the office was faster than usual without the typical morning traffic, but it felt longer than ever. The instant Peter arrived at the FBI office building, he jumped from his car, with nothing but his cellphone in hand and hurried inside.
"I'm here, Neal," he told his consultant breathlessly. "Hang in there."
When Peter reached the white collar division, he found Jones and Diana already waiting for him in the conference room. Hughes was just making his way out of his own office with a serious look on his face. They joined the others in the conference room without exchanging a word.
"Peter," Diana greeted upon his entry. "How's he doing?"
"Neal?" Peter questioned, sliding his phone onto the table, so everyone had a clear view of it.
"I'm okay," Neal confirmed. "I'll be a lot better when you guys get me out of here."
"We will, Caffrey," Hughes promised. "Just hang in there."
"I'll try," Neal rasped. That was apparently a good enough answer for everyone because they immediately got to work.
"I did some research," Hughes started. "If Caffrey's right, and he doesn't have access to oxygen, he's got two to four hours before asphyxiation. Neal, do you know how long you've been in there for?"
"No," Neal answered, struggling to remember exactly what had happened to land him in this predicament. "Woke up about thirty minutes ago. But I don't know how long I was in here before then…"
"It's okay," Hughes said in a calm voice. Peter made a mental note to thank the man later, when this was all over. He didn't feel nearly as guilty about losing his cool with Hughes seemingly so put together. "Just hold tight."
"Jones, any data on Neal's anklet?" Peter asked, knowing the answer to that question already. They wouldn't have rushed into the office if they had Neal's GPS location.
"I'm not getting a signal," Jones said apologetically.
"It's been cut?" Diana asked.
"No," Jones confirmed, spinning his computer around to show her Neal's tracking data.
"It's just not transmitting a signal."
"Why? Isn't it supposed to be tamper proof…?" Diana questioned thoughtfully, but Peter waved her off.
"It doesn't matter. The mechanics of Neal's tracking anklet are not our top priority right now," he cleared away a portion of the conference room table and pulled forward a large sheet of paper. "Let's set up a timeline. Try to narrow down exactly how far Neal could have gotten."
They got to work, with some help from Neal, trying to pinpoint the previous day's events.
"Okay, so Neal and I left work at six o'clock last night," Peter started, and he wrote that down on the sheet of paper. "He came over for dinner with Sara after. They probably left around eleven. Neal, what happened on your way home?"
It took Neal a few moments to remember exactly how and when he had gone home. The events of the night were fuzzy even with Peter's recounting. "Nothing out of the ordinary," he finally was able to confirm. "Sara went home cause she had to work in the morning. I took a cab and headed back to June's."
"Okay," Peter nodded. "This is good. What happened when you got back to your apartment?" He knew it wasn't a good idea to keep Neal talking, but otherwise they were flying blind in their search. They needed something.
"I—" Neal started, but he stopped short. "I didn't make it back to my apartment," he said, and the fear in his voice was evident. "I don't even remember getting out of the cab. I think I was knocked out." He winced at the thought. "Head really hurts."
"Okay. Okay. Good. That must have been around eleven thirty, then," Peter said, scribbling that down on his timeline. But this wasn't good at all. Neal had disappeared at eleven thirty. That meant he had been missing for almost four hours. Depending on how far out they had taken him and how long he had been trapped for, he was likely already running extremely low on time. "You don't remember anything after that?"
"No. I'm sorry, Peter," Neal said.
"Don't be. You're doing great. Just relax," Peter said calmly. His voice became more urgent when he addressed his team. "That gives Neal's attackers around one to three hours to get him out of the city. Let's create a radius. See exactly what we're dealing with."
"Jones," Hughes started as Diana got to work on creating a radius. "See if you can get a signal on this phone call. Maybe we can locate him with that."
Jones struggled to get a signal on the phone, but, as they all expected, it came up empty. Peter hardly seemed thrown off.
"Neal, you still there?"
"Don't really have anywhere to go," Neal said.
Peter managed a smile. "I guess not. Do you remember where you were exactly when you got knocked out?"
Neal fell silent for a moment. He fought against the fuzziness. "We'd made it over the bridge. I think we were on Lex. Somewhere in the seventies."
"Okay," Peter nodded along. "We can work with that."
Out of the corner of his eye, Peter caught sight of movement in the bullpen. He turned his head to find that several more of the agents in their department had gathered below them and were heading up the stairs to the conference room. Peter didn't waste any time.
"Diana, take a team out to Lex. Search the seventies. See if there's any evidence of fowl play. Ask around to see if anyone saw something. I don't care if it's three o'clock in the morning. Knock on doors if you have to."
"Got it, boss," Diana said, and she collected two other agents before hurrying to the door. "We'll see you soon, Neal," she promised before leading the way out.
"Jones, get the files from that case we were looking into yesterday. I want to take a look at some of our possible suspects. Someone see if you can find out exactly where Matthew Keller is."
They had a collection of suspects in a matter of minutes. Keller was, as always, at the top of their list, but Neal insisted that it hadn't been him. He would have known if this had been one of Keller's attacks. It wasn't.
The possibility of their latest suspect in an insurance fraud case seemed much more plausible. Neal had been working undercover to get close to the man, and it wasn't entirely impossible that he had figured it out and gone after the consultant.
"Get a team to each of Thomson's listed addresses. I want him in for questioning now."
He began to divide the now crowded room into teams. He had almost forgotten about Neal's presence until his consultant's horrified voice sounded from the center of the table.
"Peter," Neal said plainly, and immediately all eyes turned to the phone. In his box, Neal's blood had turned cold. There wasn't much he could make out in the darkness, but with the light from the cell phone, he had just caught sight of the outline of a single spider crawling up the wall of the box. "Peter," he said desperately.
"What's going on, Neal? Talk to me," Peter abandoned his delegation job and hurried to the table.
Neal stared at the spider with growing fear. He had known all along, whether he wanted to admit it or not, but this tiny arachnid had certainly confirmed it. It needed to be said. Someone needed to acknowledge the fact that simply locating him wasn't
their only issue. "Peter, I'm underground," Neal said, his voice trembling with unimaginable fear.
His words created a nauseating silence in the room. Peter's face drained of color, and he pinched the bridge of his nose to keep himself from losing all of his composure. He had known too. Everyone had, but the fact that they hadn't been talking about it seemed to make it an unnecessary concern.
"You're sure?" Peter questioned, hoping that it wasn't the truth.
"Yes, I'm sure," Neal confirmed. "Of course I'm sure." His impatience and frustration was not at all masked over the phone. "Jesus, Peter. I'm in a coffin." Suddenly, the fact that everyone in the office was no doubt listening in on this conversation didn't matter. He was terrified, and if anyone had anything to say against him then they could just go to hell.
"We're coming, Neal," Peter tried desperately to comfort him, but he knew these were empty promises. "Why aren't you moving?" Peter asked the room, turning hotly on his team. Without further instruction, everyone hurried from the room in search of their suspect.
Peter turned back to his phone. "It's going to be okay. We're going to track this guy down and find you." Neal didn't say anything. "Do you hear me?"
"Yeah, Peter," Neal finally said in a quiet voice.
They all remained quiet for a long time. Peter found himself alone with Jones in the conference room. The rest of their agents had headed on in search of Thompson. Hughes had disappeared into his office to do more research. Peter and Jones were left to wait.
As much as Peter wanted to be out in the field, he knew it was out of the question. No one had outwardly said it, but he was far too close to this case to be of any help in the field. So, he was left to wait in the conference room. Jones had, unofficially, volunteered to accompany him, and Peter didn't know how to even begin to thank him for that.
They were silent for so long that Neal's sudden voice made both of them jump.
"Peter," he said in a whispered voice.
"We're still here," Peter confirmed. "How are you doing?"
"Not good," Neal said, and Peter knew that this had been the truth for a long time. Neal wouldn't have admitted it right away though. It would have been several minutes before he finally faced the truth.
"What's going on?" Peter questioned in fear.
"I think I'm having a panic attack," Neal said, and he sounded extremely out of breath.
Peter swallowed hard. That definitely wasn't good for Neal's limited air supply. "Just try to breathe," Peter said calmly. "We're going to get you out of there soon."
"It's not that I'm worried about," Neal protested. He knew that, whether it was too late or just in time, Peter would find him. "I'm claustrophobic, Peter."
It was amazing the number of tight places Neal Caffrey had landed himself in over the years. Air ducts, sewage systems, chimneys, any narrow means of escape, he had wiggled his way through. And he had never felt claustrophobic before. Not until the minute he set foot in prison, did he find himself with an alarming onset of the phobia. It had nothing to do with the tightness of his quarters. It had everything to do with the fact that there was no escape. He was trapped. Just like he was now. Only now he was trapped with a very possible outcome of his imprisonment being death.
"Try not to think about it," Peter offered as what he knew to be flimsy advice.
"I can't not think about it," Neal said through gritted teeth.
"Close your eyes."
"It's really cold, Peter."
It was the first Peter was hearing of this problem, but judging by the sound of Neal's voice, it was pretty serious. It would have been easy for Peter to lose his cool and snap at his consultant. He was, after all, doing everything he could to save him, and there really was nothing he could do about the cold. But he didn't get mad. His throat tightened at his partner's words.
"I know, Neal. Please, just hang in there."
"Mhm," Neal mumbled, and he sounded exhausted.
"Come on, Caffrey," Jones said sternly. "Stay with us."
Before any of them had time to worry too much, Jones's cell phone rang loudly. Jones answered it at once.
"Diana," he greeted. "What did you find?"
"I got the cab number Neal was taken in. I just got off the phone with the cab company, and they said their driver reported it stolen last night at ten o'clock."
"Has it turned up yet?"
"They were able to track it down this morning. It was installed with a GPS tracker." God bless untrusting New Yorkers. "They found it about an hour outside of the city in Jersey. I'll send you the address."
"Thanks." Jones hung up and relayed the information to Peter and Neal, finishing just as Diana sent over the address.
"Let's get moving," Peter said, grabbing his phone from the table and rushing towards door.
"Peter," Jones stopped him. "We can't just dig up the whole town. We need something more than this. We don't even know that this is where Neal is. For all we know, they switched cars and kept moving from there."
"I don't care," Peter said. "This is the first thing we've got on this guy, and I'm moving. Are you coming or not?"
Jones nodded and followed him out the door.
It took them a little less than an hour to reach their location. Peter checked on Neal frequently along the way, making sure he hadn't drifted off. Halfway there, Diana had called Jones's phone once again. Peter had answered quickly
"Boss, we've got Thompson in the conference room. What do you want us to do with him?"
"Question him. Get Neal's exact location," Peter said. He lowered his voice as he continued. "We're running out of time, Diana."
It was true. He didn't want to think about how long Neal had been trapped before he had woken up, but so far, they were coming up on at least two hours of contact with him. The danger was becoming more and more real with each passing minute.
"I can hear you, you know," Neal mumbled from Peter's phone.
"Let's keep it that way. Find out where he is Diana."
When Jones and Peter pulled up at the location the cab had been dropped, Peter didn't waste a second. He sprang out of the passenger side door with his phone in hand.
"Neal!" he called in the lightening morning. "Neal!"
Jones followed. He pulled out the shovels they had stowed in the trunk and hurried into the park after Peter.
Back in the office, Diana was burning with anger as she threatened their apathetic suspect.
"Where is he?"
"I'm afraid I don't know what you're talking about."
It had been going on like that for minutes, and, as every second counted, that time was beginning to add up.
When an intern poked her head into the conference room, holding up Thompson's cell phone, Diana jumped up to retrieve it. She immediately searched through the outgoing calls and called the first number on the list.
At first, Neal didn't notice the incoming call attempting to come in on the other line.
When he did, he stared at the number in confusion for a moment, and then addressed Peter.
"I'm getting another call," he said. It had been a while since he had said anything, and Peter was hardly comforted by his weakening voice. "I'll call you right back," he promised. He didn't wait for Peter to respond before cutting him off and answering the other line.
"Who is this?" he asked, his voice shaking in exhaustion.
"Neal?" Diana's voice greeted him. There was a moment of confusion and then realization hit. "It's okay, Caffrey. We've got him." With that, she hung up, leaving Neal alone with his thoughts in his coffin for the first time in almost two hours.
A part of him wanted to give up right then. It was easy without Peter's constant reassurance. He could just close his eyes, give in to the pain, cold and nausea, and it would all be over. But the thought of Peter finding his corpse was unbearable.
He quickly picked the phone back up and called Peter once again.
"That was Diana," he said. Each word was now causing him physical pain. "She said they've got him."
And she did have him. Diana turned back on Thompson the instant she got off the phone with Neal.
"Look, Thompson," she said with hostility. "We know it was you. We've got more than enough evidence to nail your ass. So, you can either tell us where he is and face kidnapping charges, or you can stay quiet, and we've got you on murder. Either way, I get to take you down."
Thompson glared back at her in anger.
Jones's phone rang a minute later.
"Diana," Jones greeted hopefully.
"He's in the graveyard, Jones. It's just up the road, to the left of the park. He's underneath the tree in the center."
"We're on it," Jones breathed, and he slipped his phone into his pocket. "Peter! We've got him!"
They were under the tree in minutes with their collection of shovels. "We're here, Neal. Just a little longer. How are you doing?"
There was a long pause on the other line.
"Neal?" Peter coaxed.
"Peter, I can't breath," Neal said desperately.
"Dammit," Peter mumbled as he began digging at the recently upturned dirt. "Jones, call for a bus."
"We're so close, Neal. Don't give up on me now."
"Mmmm," Neal hummed absentmindedly.
"Let's go, Caffrey," Jones ordered. "No one said you were allowed to duck out early. You've still got two years of your sentence left, and you sure as hell don't get to quit. We'll tell you when you're done." Jones turned his back on Peter while he quickly called for help. Then, he got to work beside his boss digging into the ground.
"Keep breathing, Neal," Peter ordered, but there was no response. "Dammit, Caffrey. I am not digging you up just to have to bury you again."
Neal didn't say anything, but a loud cough sounded from the phone, followed by unsteady wheezing. It wasn't exactly comforting, but it was a sign of life.
"That's it, buddy. Stay with us."
When the EMTs and police officers finally arrived, someone grabbed a shovel from Peter's hands and continued digging for him. Peter dusted his blistered hands on his pants and took up his phone.
"Help's here, Neal," he told his partner hopefully. "We're so close. How are you doing?"
"Don' think 'm gonna make it," Neal said so quietly that Peter was sure he was the only one who heard. Peter desperately looked to the hole that Jones and the police officer were working on. It was about three feet deep. Surely they were getting close.
"Don't say that," Peter said sternly. "Neal, we're close. We're so close."
"'m sorry, P'ter," Neal said with a trembling voice.
"No you're not," Peter shot angrily. "You don't get to apologize. And you don't get to give up." He turned around in time to see that several firemen had arrived at the scene with more shovels. He went to try to help, but someone was pushing him back, keeping him away from the rapidly growing hole. It took a few moments for Peter to realize that it was Jones. He looked as exhausted and worried as Peter felt. His hands were bleeding and his shirt was soaked with sweat.
"How's he doing?" he asked quietly.
"Not good," Peter admitted in a low voice. "He's down to a few more breaths, I think."
"Can still here you," Neal slurred.
There was silence again and then Neal's voice came through weaker than ever.
"P'ter," he started with a raspy cough.
"Yeah, Neal. We've almost got you," Peter told him, watching the chaos before him. Firemen, police officers, paramedics, and even a few volunteer onlookers were all scrambling to help in Neal's rescue. They were so close.
"Jus' wanted t' say thanks," Neal mumbled. Peter's eyes flew from the crowd of helpers to his phone. What was Neal saying? He couldn't possibly be giving up. Not now, when they were this close. "For ev'rything."
"Shut up, Neal," Peter ordered in frustration. "Now's not the time for sappy goodbyes. We're going to get you out of here, and then you're stuck with me for another two years."
"S'okay, P'ter," Neal said. His voice was barely audible anymore. Peter looked up to meet Jones's panicked eyes for a moment before turning back to his phone. "I know you tried."
Peter looked around desperately. This wasn't happening. This wasn't how his and Neal's partnership was supposed to end. Surely, Neal could hang on just a little longer.
Neal's weak, wheezing cough told him otherwise. At first, it was a deep, trembling cough that sounded like it was racking Neal's whole body. Then it became quieter and more ragged. Each cough was separated by a sharp, shaking intake of breath.
"Neal!" Peter tried helplessly, but the rasping continued. "Come on, Neal. Don't give up on me…"
Peter was cut off, however. The call was cut short, and the line went dead. "Dammit!" Peter cried, carelessly throwing his phone to the ground. Only Neal could infuriate him in his last, dying moments. In a clearer mindset, Peter would have understood that Neal had cut the call short to spare him from having to listen to his partner's death. But Peter wasn't thinking clearly. "Neal, you son of a bitch."
"Agent Burke," a loud voice called Peter over to the hole, immediately interrupting the agent from his fury and sending him back into panic mode.
Peter sprang forward at once, leaving his forgotten phone in the dirt. He reached the police sergeant in seconds and, ignoring the man completely, sprang down into the hole. It was about six feet deep and four feet wide. The top of a box that couldn't have been more than two feet wide was just visible underneath the dirt. Several firemen were already in the hole, attacking the top of the coffin with the edges of their shovels. Peter set out to help them at once.
He pushed past everyone, ignoring the calm protests, and pried the box open with his bare hands. One of the firemen helped him shove the lid to the side. About a dozen flashlights shone into the box, hardly visible in the soft morning light.
Peter could just make out Neal's form. His hands instantly reached for his partner, along with several others, and, against Peter's wishes, Neal's motionless body was hauled out of the box and lifted to the paramedics waiting above them.
"Neal?" Peter questioned breathlessly.
With help from Jones, he scrambled out of the hole and collapsed on the ground beside Neal's body where a paramedic was already performing CPR on his consultant. "Come on, Neal," Peter coaxed breathlessly.
The chaos of the scene vanished. Everyone fell silent, and all eyes remained fixed on Neal's unmoving body and the paramedic busily at work on him. It seemed like hours passed. Peter gave up on his coaxing and simply watched in fear.
Finally, it hit him. There was a very possible chance that Neal wasn't making it out of this one alive.
He had gotten so used to the consultant's knack for getting himself out of sticky situations that the thought of his partner's death had never really crossed his mind. Neal was supposed to be invincible. He was supposed to be stubborn. He was supposed to be alive.
Peter wasn't sure he could live with himself if Neal didn't make it. He was supposed to be more than Neal's handler. He was his partner, his friend. He was supposed to protect him from situations like this. And he was supposed to track him down and rescue him when these situations inevitably did happen.
But he hadn't saved him. Not this time. Neal's body remained unmoving, and Peter could see that the EMT was beginning to slow down his CPR. The crowd was getting restless, becoming aware of the failure of their efforts. Jones was close by, a hand over his mouth, unable to hide his shock.
And there was Peter, kneeling beside his partner, watching with false hope as the EMT tried to force life into his lifeless patient. Peter bowed his head and wiped his hand across his mouth. Was that really it? After all of their efforts. Was Neal really gone?
But then, in typical Neal Caffrey fashion, he surprised everyone with a sudden intake of breath and a heavy cough. His eyes snapped open and wandered wildly around the chaotic scene that surrounded him.
His breathing was labored and shaky and soon his body was overcome with a deep coughing fit. Peter shot forward immediately, letting out a long breath as he pushed Neal into a sitting position and held his hand firmly on his partner's shoulders.
"That's it, Neal. Breathe," Peter coaxed. The crease in his brow was slowly beginning to fade.
It took a few minutes, but Neal's coughing slowed, and he gradually became aware of his surroundings. Somehow he managed to ignore the flashing lights, the blaring sirens, and the gaping hole beside him. Instead, he turned to Peter, panting and shivering in his dripping wet clothes.
"I told you I'd get you out of there," Peter said with a relieved grin.
Neal blinked back at him for a moment, relishing in the realization that he had, in fact, made it out alive. A small, tired smile spread across his face. "Knew you would," he said quietly before giving into exhaustion and passing out.
Peter caught his head before it hit the ground and rested it gently down underneath his own suit jacket.
The paramedics moved in at once, all the while assuring Peter that Neal was going to be fine. And that was all he needed to hear.
Neal stopped taking the elevator after the incident. Every morning, he climbed the stairs to the twenty-first floor of the FBI office building, and every evening, he descended back down to the lobby.
Peter never said anything when they had to make the trek up together. He never complained about the long climb or questioned its inconvenience. He didn't need to ask to know that elevators were a little too cramped for Neal's liking.
It took a little while for Peter to notice, but ever since he had become trapped, Neal had developed a fear of closing doors. He flinched every time a car door closed after him. He made sure to step widely away from his apartment door before kicking it shut.
Peter didn't mention that either, but he was sure to always close the car door gently behind his partner.
And sometimes, late at night, when Neal was up late working or he couldn't sleep, he took out his phone to call Peter. He wouldn't say anything. He would call, wait to hear Peter's voice, and, once he did, he would hang up. He needed to know. He needed to be sure that if he ever did get trapped again and needed help, Peter would be there to answer the phone just like he had been the first time.
He always was.
Thanks for reading!