A/N: I have met my goal! I have only just finished this a few minutes before 10:30, and I must say that I am very pleased with myself. I hope you'll all agree! And, as promised, this one is longer than the other four combined and deals with a tremendous amount of H/C for our favorite con.
And now, dear readers, go on to read the last time Neal falls and how the four before this are all tied together.
5. All of the Above
This is how it was supposed to go:
On Friday, Neal would meet with Kronos, the Russian they'd been investigating for the past three weeks (and who the entire office had seen dancing in a leotard thanks to Neal's smart phone). Neal would be wearing a wire, they'd get what they needed to convict him, and then Peter would be home in time to cook dinner with his wife.
That was the plan. And you do not deviate from the plan.
But Kronos, apparently, didn't get the memo.
On Thursday, he phoned Nathan Palacio, one of Neal's many aliases, and set up an appointment. The buyer for the stolen goods Nathan was fencing through Kronos wanted to move up his schedule, and he really couldn't wait. He had an hour to get to the docks, or Kronos was walking away.
Frustrated, Peter had called his team together the minute he'd hung up with Neal. He didn't like this. It was all too rushed, too sudden, and it stank like day old fish. But his orders were to get Kronos at all costs, so he had the team scramble to the docks where he met them in the Taurus...with Satchmo in the back seat.
He'd taken the afternoon off to take Satchmo to the vet for his shots and a check-up. He was supposed to have time, but when the call came through, he barely had enough time to make it across town. So Satchmo had to come with.
Which is how he'd ended up with his dog panting beside him in the van along with Jones, Diana, and Weeks.
"The rest of the back up is on the way," Diana told him, "They'll stay a couple blocks out so Kronos doesn't get suspicious."
"I don't like this," Peter said for the hundredth time, "It's too soon."
"Boss, I've got Neal's audio up-"
Peter glanced at Weeks as he sniffled and wiped his nose. Weeks nodded to Satchmo.
This day was going downhill fast. Peter grabbed the headphones and jammed them on his head, irritated and annoyed and really wishing he could rewind this day to before it even began.
"-calm down. We can still make the deal."
A small knot of tension released in Peter's back as he heard Neal's voice, steady and calm, come over the feed. Everything was alright as long as Neal kept talking.
"I'm telling you, Palacio, the feds have made us. The deal is bust."
"You promised me a buyer, and I'm not walking away with hot merchandise. We have to go through with it."
Neal suddenly gasped. Peter strained to hear, holding his breath. He heard the sound of a body hitting a wall and Neal's suddenly heavy breathing. This was not good.
"Why are you in such a hurry, Palacio? You've been pushing this deal like it's life or death."
"A deal is a deal, Kronos. You said-"
"I said I'd get your goods sold, but now I'm thinking there are no goods. I'm starting to think that this has all been a set up from the beginning."
"Shit," Peter muttered, turning to Diana, "Get back up on the line. Tell them to move in. Neal's been made."
"-be paranoid, Kronos. Look, if it's that big of a deal, we'll hold off-"
The unmistakable sound of a fist hitting flesh filtered over the waves. Neal grunted in pain, but it quickly turned into a sharp outcry as the fist hit again.
"Shit!" Peter nearly yelled, "Diana, Jones, with me. Weeks, monitor the feeds. Tell back up what's going on."
Peter ran out the door before his agents had even acknowledged his orders. He could hear Satchmo barking as he ran for the building, muffled by the van. As they entered the first floor, Peter plastered himself against the wall.
"Jones, you and Diana sweep this floor. I'm heading up."
"Boss, I don't know if we should split up."
Peter shook his head at Jones, "We don't have time. Back up is five minutes out. Neal can't wait that long."
Jones nodded and led Diana to the back of the building. Peter, satisfied that they had each other's back, ran up the steps, barely remembering to check the layout before entering the rooms. How the hell had things deteriorated so quickly? They'd barely been here ten minutes and suddenly everything was falling apart.
"Burke, they're on the move."
Peter pressed his finger to his mic, "Thanks, Weeks. Any developments?"
"Sounds like Kronos has tied Caffrey up. Caffrey isn't making much noise."
Peter shouted a string of curses in his head, picking up his pace. As he charged up the stairs to the fifth landing, he nearly came face to face with Kronos. Peter had a second to take everything in, barely seeing Neal's face before Kronos was shouting and shoving the conman in front of him like a shield. Not that it did him a heck of a lot of good. The Russian was huge.
Kronos shouted something in Russian that didn't sound too friendly and pulled out a gun from behind his back. Peter ducked as Kronos squeezed off three shots. He slid down the stairs, covering his head as the bullets richocheted around him like popcorn. Only when he heard the steps retreating did he dare to peek out from his cover. The stairwell was empty.
"Weeks, they're heading to the roof. Tell Jones to get up here and Diana to cover the fire escape."
Gun at the ready, Peter cautiously climbed the stairs to the roof door. The adrenaline and panic screamed at him that he was going too slow. Neal was in trouble; he should be doing something, but running head first into a dangerous situation was not going to help Neal.
Finally, he reached the roof and kicked open the door, gun aimed and his finger on the trigger. But the scene before him made him freeze the moment he stepped out of the stairwell.
Kronos stood at the back of the roof in plain sight, shaved head gleaming in the sunlight. In his left hand was his gun, held limply between lax fingers, aimed at the ground. In his right hand was a green chord that he'd tied around Neal. Peter frowned, trying to see what the Russian had substituted as rope.
Peter swore under his breath. Kronos had used Christmas lights to tie Neal up like a Christmas turkey and was now holding him hostage on the roof top. Kronos had forced Neal onto the roof's edge and pushed him back till only his toes were on the concrete. The only thing keeping Neal suspended in the air was that string of Christmas lights.
"Let him go, Kronos," Peter ordered.
Kronos chuckled, "Bad choice of words, Mr. FBI agent. I let him go, and you'll need a spatula to get him off the pavement."
Peter steadied his gun, "Put him back on the roof, Kronos, or I will shoot."
"You shoot me, and I let go. There's five stories of nothing between him and the ground. He lands just right, he breaks his neck. Lands any other way, and he breaks a lot of bones. You really want that on your conscience?"
Peter clenched his teeth, "This building will be surrounded in three minutes. You've got no where to go. So put an end to this now."
Kronos shook his head, "I've got me a hostage, agent, and in a moment, I'm going to have me another. Put your gun down."
Peter cringed at Neal's slurred voice. He'd been trying desperately not to look at his friend, already noticing the blood pouring from Neal's mouth and the gash on his cheek. Something was broken in his face, there was no doubt about that. The amount of pain written on Neal's face almost physically pained Peter.
"Shut up, you back-stabbing bastard," Kronos ordered, giving the chord a jerk. He turned his coal-black eyes to Peter, "What's it gonna be, agent?"
Peter hesitated. Giving up his weapon when Kronos so obviously had one was a death wish. But if he didn't...
Kronos, tired of waiting, let the chord slip over his fingers several inches. Neal yelped as he teetered backwards and strained to keep his toes on the ledge. He closed his eyes and breathed heavily through his nose, trying to calm his racing heart.
"Alright," Peter shouted, raising his arms up, "Alright, I'm putting it down. Just don't...do that."
Kronos grinned as he watched Peter carefully lay his gun down and kick it several feet away. He brought his own gun up, the barrel trailing Peter's movements as the agent stood upright.
"I did what you asked," Peter said cautiously, "Now, get him down."
A wide, wicked grin split Kronos' face, "Sure thing."
And he let go.
There was a moment when Neal felt like he was flying. Everything melted away. The chains of his mortal existence fell off and there was nothing but him and the air. There was no sound, only a flash of blue sky above him as he flew like a dove through the expanse between heaven and earth.
And then that moment came to an abrupt and shattering end.
Peter didn't know it could hurt so much to watch someone fall. But it did. It hurt like a knife being plunged into his heart, all the way to the hilt, sharp and piercing and deep.
One moment, Neal was there and the next, he was gone. Just like that. Like he'd never been there at all.
Peter surged forward, arm reached out as if that alone could keep Neal from falling into oblivion. He stopped just five feet short of the ledge as Kronos cocked his gun and aimed it at Peter's head.
"Stop right there, agent. I still need you."
Breathing heavily, anger rolling off of him in waves, Peter obeyed. He glared at Kronos, conveying all of his hate into one murderous glare.
Kronos smirked, "I suspect you want to kill me," he shook his head, "You won't."
"I wouldn't be so sure."
"You're a law man, agent. You aren't going to kill a man in cold blood."
"You just threw my best friend off the roof," his voice as cold as ice, "I think I might make an exception."
Kronos steadied the gun, "Too bad you won't get the chance."
Maybe Kronos would have killed him then and there and made a run for it. Maybe he was just trying to intimidate Peter into being a more compliant hostage. Peter would never know because at that moment, Jones came charging onto the roof, gun drawn, shouting for Kronos to drop it.
Kronos reacted, turning his head and gun towards this new intruder. It was all Peter needed.
With one hand, he grabbed the gun and thrust it upwards, jamming his finger through the trigger hole. The other hand he plowed into the Russian's face.
But he may as well have punched granite because Kronos barely flinched and Peter was certain something in his hand cracked.
Growling deep in his throat, Kronos slammed his fist into Peter's gut, doubling him over in gasping pain. He grabbed Peter's throat and lifted the agent until his toes were barely scraping the ground. Staring Peter down with wide, dilated eyes, Kronos grinned evilly.
"Maybe I should send you over the edge, too," he growled, "I think your friend could use the company."
Gagging from the lack of oxygen, Peter couldn't answer him. Then suddenly Kronos jerked to the side and dropped Peter to the ground. The echo of a gunshot echoed around them. Kronos touched his chest and stared disbelievingly at the blood staining his finger tips. He turned to face Jones.
"You shot me," he wheezed incredulously.
"I'll do it again if you don't drop that weapon," Jones ordered, his voice and gun never wavering.
Kronos looked down at his chest and watched with detatched fascination as a river of red steadily soaked through his shirt. He staggered backwards until the back of his knees hit the concrete ledge, and raised his eyes to Jones.
A small, resigned smile appeared on his face.
Peter reached out, "Wait-"
But Kronos raised the gun and Jones shot him down. Two more bullets entered his chest cavity, forcing him backwards and toppling him over the edge.
Peter watched Kronos disappear with mixed feelings. On the one hand, he didn't want anyone to die, but on the other, he really wished he was the one to pull the trigger.
Jones appeared beside him, one hand on his shoulder and the other holding the gun out in anticipation of another attack, "Peter, you okay?"
Peter coughed harshly, rubbing his throat, "Yeah, I'm fine."
Jones chuckled, relieved as he surveyed the roof. His forehead furrowed as he realized one important element was missing, "Where's Caffrey?"
Peter looked at Jones, not bothering to hide the grief suddenly flowing through him, and then he looked at the ledge.
Jones followed his gaze and closed his eyes, "Shit."
"Barrigan, are you in position?"
"I'm nearing the back of the building. Jones just went up. Any word from Peter?"
"Nothing. Back up is still three minutes out. I'll let you know if-"
Weeks' words were drowned out as Satchmo suddenly went crazy, clawing and barking at the back door of the van.
"Weeks, what's going on?"
"Burke's dog is going nuts," Weeks muttered, stifling a sneeze. He grabbed at Satchmo's collar, ordering him to heel, but the usually mild-tempered dog nipped at his hand, "Jesus, what the hell is wrong with him?"
"Maybe he needs out."
Weeks raised an eyebrow, not sure if Barrigan was kidding or not. He watched the dig at the bottom of the door. If he let the dog out, there was no telling what it would do. It could just run off, but there was also a chance that it would interfere with the arrests. And if Weeks lost the dog, he was certain Burke would kill him.
Satchmo whined loudly.
This is a bad idea, Weeks thought.
But he opened the door anyway.
Satchmo took off like a bullet, barreling out of the van so fast that Weeks nearly falls out of his chair. Grabbing his gun and slamming the door shut behind him, he quickly followed.
"Weeks, what's going on?"
"Nothing good," he panted, "Burke's dog is leading me on a wild goose chase. Something's gotten in to him."
"Something is happening on the roof."
Weeks swore under his breath. He so didn't need this right now.
He rounded the corner of the building, following the yellow blur Satchmo had become. The warehouse sat on the edge of the wharf. A concrete platform only five feet wide ran parallel to the building, separating it from the fifteen foot deep watery expanse beside it. Satchmo stood in the middle of the platform, barking madly at the roof.
Weeks looked up, "Son of a bitch."
He recognized Caffrey's lanky form teetering dangerously on the edge of the warehouse. Something thin and wire-like was wrapped repeatedly around his arms, binding his hands in front of him. He couldn't see who was holding Caffrey by a thread, but Weeks had no doubt it was Kronos, toying with Burke by threatening his partner.
"Barrigan, I see them. It's not good. I think-"
And then Caffrey fell.
"Weeks, what's happening?"
But Weeks couldn't respond. He watched helplessly as Caffrey's body tumbled through the air and cracked against the edge of the concrete before slipping into the water. Paralyzed what he'd just witnessed, Weeks stood still as stone as Caffrey bobbed in the murkey bay and then began to sink.
Satchmo, however, was a little more responsive.
Weeks snapped out of his trance as the dog jumped into the water and bit the collar of Caffrey's jacket. He knelt down and reached for the immobile consultant as the dog tugged him closer. Caffrey was face down, still tied by the chords-Jesus, were those Christmas lights?-and Weeks swore he saw tendrils of red wisping out from around his body.
Finally, his fingers snagged water-logged fabric.
"-you better answer me right now, Weeks! What the hell is going on?"
"Barrigan, I need you on the south side of the warehouse. Now!"
"I'm on my way. What's wrong?"
"Caffrey's down," Weeks said quietly, hefting the other man out of the water, "Call an ambulance."
He laid Caffrey flat, swore at the blood running down his much-too-pale face and the odd angle of his left leg, and pulled at the Christmas lights. His fingers slipped uselessly over the chords. Swearing profusely, he dug in his pockets for the pocket knife his son gave him for Father's day ten years ago.
Barrigan slid to her knees on the other side of Caffrey's prone body, "Is he breathing?"
"He wasn't in the water long," Weeks told her, silently cheering as he pulled out the knife, "Burke's freaking dog saved him."
Barrigan turned to the water, "Oh, Satchmo."
The water-logged dog was whining as he circled the bay, unable to pull himself out. As Weeks quickly sliced through the Christmas lights, Barrigan reached in and grabbed Satchmo by the collar, heaving back to drag him out of the river. Once on dry land, Satchmo shook vigorously, spraying Barrigan and Weeks with rancid fish water.
"I've got a pulse," Barrigan said breathlessly, pressing her shaking fingers to Caffrey's neck.
The last of the chord's snapped, "There!"
"He's not breathing," Barrigan snapped. Without another moment of hesitation, she breathed for him.
"We can't do compression," Weeks said, "He hit the concrete. I have no idea what damage has been done to his chest."
Barrigan seemingly ignored him, breathing once again into Caffrey's mouth. A moment later, water bubbled up from the back of Caffrey's throat and spilled over his lips. Carefully, Weeks turned Caffrey's head to the side, wincing as he thought of neck and spinal injuries. But he couldnt' let the other man choke.
His head snapped up at Barrigan's cry just in time to watch the bullet ridden body of Kronos slam head first into the pavement. Neither of them bothered to get up to check the body.
Weeks turned back to Barrigan, "Get Burke down here."
She looked at Caffrey's still and bloody form. And he knew by the trembling of her lip that he didn't need to explain why. As she moved away and put her fingers to her mic, Weeks bent over Caffrey, placing his hands on his neck to keep it steady.
"Don't die on us now, Caffrey," he ordered softly.
"Peter, we've got to get down."
Peter nodded, but still couldn't force his legs to work. His eyes were transfixed on the spot where he last saw Neal. His friend's bruised and bloody face flashed through his mind, and he hated that the horrific image would be the last he had of his partner. Until he saw the body.
"I'm not sure I can handle it," Peter admitted to Jones, "Seeing him like that-"
"I know," Jones said, nodding, "but we have to go down."
Jones offered him his hand, hauling Peter to his feet and turning him away from the ledge. Neither of them had looked down, unable to willingly see what was once their friend lying crumbled and broken on the unforgiving ground below.
Peter stopped, pressing his fingers to the receiver in his ear, "Diana, where are you?"
"On the ground, Boss, south side by the water. You'd better get down here, Boss. Caffrey's still alive."
Peter didn't hear Jones' curse. He was already running down the stairwell, tripping over his own two feet and bouncing off walls like he was rubber. He heard Jones' heavy breathing and hurried footsteps right behind him, but he only had one thing on his mind.
Getting to Neal.
Before it was too late.
He emerged from the building on the east side and ran as fast as he could around the corner. The sight that greeted him stopped him dead in his tracks.
On the right side of the pavement lay the corpse of Kronos, a bloody and broken mess that would stay would Peter for a long time. Satchmo, soaked to the bone, pranced around anxiously, barking and yipping. Beside the water, Diana and Weeks knelt on the concrete, looking practically destroyed, Diana actually close to tears. And laying deathly still between them was Neal.
"Jesus Christ," Peter muttered, rushing to take Diana's place by his friend.
"Ambulance is on the way," she said, voice choked with tears, "ETA five minutes."
"Back up is here," Jones announced, glancing over his shoulder, "I'll deal with the scene."
Peter wasn't listening. He was looking at Neal, taking in every scrape and bruise and broken limb. Weeks held Neal's neck with both hands and didn't seem willingly to let go anytime soon.
"He hit the pavement," the agent said, "I can't let go. There might be damage."
Peter nodded, carefully brushing Neal's wet curls away from his forehead, revealing an ugly and open head wound, "Neal? Can you hear me?"
Neal moaned and swallowed convulsively. His lips moved soundlessly, no words coming out.
"Easy, Neal," Peter encouraged softly, "Just breathe. We're gonna get you fixed up. You're gonna be fine."
"His leg is broken," Weeks said, "and there's internal damage. There was blood in the water he coughed up."
Peter hung his head briefly, sucking in a deep breath to fight off the gathering tears. Neal fell five stories and hit pavement. He wasn't just walking away from this one.
"Neal, buddy. I need you to wake up. Just for a minute. Give me something here, Caffrey."
Neal's eye lashes fluttered and slowly, painfully, he opened his eyes. His normally observant and perceptive gaze was unfocused and clouded with pain. He choked, arching his back and neck as the pain came alive.
"Don't," Weeks said urgently, "Don't move. You've got to stay still."
"I'm here, Neal," Peter grabbed his hand, "I've got you. Just concentrate on my voice, alright?"
Neal flicked his eyes towards Peter's voice and slowly focused on his friend's face, his mouth trying to say Peter's name.
"Don't talk. Just stay awake, okay? The ambulance will be here any second. You're gonna be fine."
Neal groaned, nearly crying out as a fresh wave of pain stabbed through his chest. Tears leaked from his eyes as he clenched them shut. Peter watched with bated breath, nearly losing his fight with his own tears.
"Jesus, Neal. I'm so sorry. God, look at you."
"S'not that...bad," Neal slurred weakly.
Peter gave a strained smile, "Sorry to disappoint you, kid, but I think someone ruined your pretty."
"Chicks," Neal coughed and swallowed hard, "Chicks...dig scars."
"You're gonna be alright, Neal. We're going to get you to the hospital and you'll be flirting with the nurses in no time. Alright?"
Neal dragged in a harsh, broken breath, "Peter, I...can't..."
"You can, Neal," Peter said forcefully, "Listen to me, Neal. You can do this. You're strong. I know you can do this."
Too weak to respond, Neal locked eyes with Peter and tightened his grip on his hand. He coughed brutally, flecks of bright blood spattering his lips and tinting his teeth pink.
"I'm sorry, Neal," Peter whispered, "I'm sorry I let you fall. I'm sorry I didn't catch you."
Neal choked and smiled faintly, "We all...fall...do-"
Peter held his breath as Neal stilled and his hand went limp, "Neal?"
Weeks turned and yelled with all of his might, "Get the paramedics over here now!"
"Neal. Open your eyes, Neal. Don't do this, not now..."
"God damn it, hurry up!"
"Please, kid, don't you check out on me now..."
Weeks watched as the medics ran towards them, kits in hand and panicked looks on their faces, "Come on!"
Weeks held Neal's neck until the brace was put on and then his job became pulling Peter out of the way. The older agent wrenched his arms away and spun towards the building, wiping his hand over his mouth in an attempt to hide the fact that his chin was trembling. Weeks wisely stepped away, giving Peter his space. With his heart in his throat, Weeks watched as the paramedics shocked Neal's body again and again, Neal's final words haunting him like an eerie lullaby.
We all fall down.
When Elizabeth got the call, she was with a client, a high priority, high paying client. They'd been scoping a venue, a beautiful ballroom that led to an open, gorgeous garden. It was as they'd been admiring the marble statues in the center of the garden that the call came. Elizabeth had meant to silence it, apologizing to her client profusely for the interruption, but then she'd seen Peter's number and knew instantly deep in her gut that something was wrong.
Her first thought had been Satchmo. He'd had a check up that afternoon, and she worried that they'd found something bad. Then she heard Peter's voice and she knew. She just knew. The degree of sadness that hollowed out his voice, the way he stumbled over the words, never making a full sentence, she just knew.
And in that garden, surrounded by white statues of simple maidens and bright blossoms of vibrant colors, Elizabeth fell to her knees, choked by her own tears, and listened to the silence of her husband telling her that their worst nightmares had come true.
Peter sat in the waiting chairs, clutching Elizabeth's hand to his chest, neither of them saying anything. What was there to say? They'd been waiting for four hours, waiting to hear from the doctors if Neal would live or succumb to his injuries. He'd died once on the docks and another time in the ambulance. Peter had watched each time as they brought him back, praying that it would be enough, that they weren't already too late. But Peter knew.
Neal was damaged, he was broken, he was dying.
"He just fell."
Elizabeth raised her head as Peter whispered the words. She'd stopped trying to wipe away the tear tracks an hour ago. All of her make-up had been rubbed off. Only remnants of the mascara remained, circling her eyes with black.
"He just fell away," Peter whispered, staring at the bleached tile, "Like he was never there. And I couldn't do anything to stop it."
"Oh, Peter," Elizabeth whispered, running her fingers through his short hair, "Sweetie, there was nothing you could have done."
"I should have caught him," Peter said, "I always catch him."
Elizabeth raised his hand to her lips, kissing his fingers tenderly and pressing his hand over her heart, "You can't catch him every time. Sometimes," she swallowed hard, "sometimes gravity wins."
Closing his eyes, Peter pressed his forehead against hers, "Gravity's a bitch."
She chuckled, but sobered quickly, "He's going to be okay, Peter."
Peter sighed and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, kissing her temple. He wanted to believe her. He wanted to have hope, but she hadn't seen the way Neal had bled. She hadn't seen the way he'd stopped moving, stopped breathing. He wanted to believe that he'd be alright, but he didn't know how.
Peter looked up as Weeks stepped into the waiting room. The younger agent stood in front of them in rumbled clothes, tiny blood stains littering his shirt sleeve. His eyes were red-rimmed and blood shot, and he seemed unable to meet their eyes.
"Weeks, what is it?" Peter asked.
"Jones sent me to give you an update," Weeks said, "They've contained the scene and recovered the merchandise. Kronos had some files at the warehouse. They've given us a lead on the buyer so the case might still be salvageable."
"Thanks, Weeks," Peter said.
Weeks nodded towards the double doors, "Any word?"
"Nothing yet," Elizabeth said softly.
Weeks nodded and swallowed, "Um, I have Satchmo in the car. I was going to take him to your house, but I can't get in."
"Yeah, sure," Peter said, quickly standing and handing him the house keys, "Thank you," As Weeks reached for the keys Peter caught his hand, "I mean it, Tom. Thank you for everything."
"I only did what I could," Weeks said with a small smile, "It's Satchmo you should thank. He jumped in and pulled Caffrey to the edge. Even led me right to him. Without him, I wouldn't have been there in time."
"I'll be sure to give him an extra biscuit," Peter smirked, "and I'll let you know when we hear anything about Neal."
"Right," Weeks nodded and quietly took his leave, throwing one last worried glance over his shoulder.
"He's a good man," Elizabeth said.
Peter nodded, "I don't care what he says, he saved Neal's life," he hung his head, "for however long it lasts."
Elizabeth stood and wrapped her arms around her husband's waist, resting her head on his chest, "He'll make it."
"I think you should listen to your wife."
The couple spun around, coming face to face with a middle aged doctor holding a clip board. He smiled at them from under his full beard and held out his hand.
"I'm Doctor Benson," he said, "I'm Mr. Caffrey's trauma surgeon. If you'll have a seat, I'll fill you in on what's been happening."
Anxiously, Peter and Elizabeth obeyed.
"Right," Dr. Benson said, taking a seat beside them, "Mr. Caffrey came in with several broken ribs, a ruptured spleen, a collapsed lung, and heavy internal bleeding. We re-inflated the lung and removed the spleen. The hemorrhaging took a while to repair, but barring any unforeseen problems, he should be fine."
"Thank God," Elizabeth breathed, leaning heavily against her husband.
"His left fibula is broken. It will be in a cast for several weeks. At the moment, his head injury is the most concerning. There was some localized swelling on the right frontal lobe. It's gone down, but with the concussion it could be problematic."
"How so?" Peter asked, heart rate rising.
"We won't know anything until he wakes up," Dr. Benson said quickly, "but there could be brain damage. We lost him twice on the table. With the lack of oxygen coupled with the swelling and concussion, there is a chance."
"How big of a chance?" Peter asked, near breathless. It felt like he'd taken a pile driver to the stomach and all of the air had been knocked from his lungs.
"About 7 percent," Benson admitted reluctantly, "but we can't know for certain until he wakes up."
"Can we see him?"
Benson nodded, "I'll take you to his room. I want to warn you, though, it might be a bit of a shock. He's hooked up to a lot of machines. But they're necessary."
Peter nodded and held Elizabeth's hand tightly as they followed the doctor down the hall to the ICU room. Neal's bed was positioned in the middle and, as Benson had promised, it was surrounded by beeping machines. His leg was in a cast and raised off the bed and his head was wrapped tightly with a white bandage. Perhaps the most shocking element of the scene was the oxygen mask attached to his face because if meant that Neal couldn't breathe on his own.
"I'll leave you alone," Benson said, "Call the nurses if you need anything."
Peter and Elizabeth barely acknowledged his departure. Peter helped Elizabeth sit beside Neal, resting his hand on her shoulder as she took Neal's limp hand in both of hers and placing his other hand on Neal's shoulder. They were connected now, and they would stay that way until Neal woke up because Neal had to know.
He had to know that he wasn't alone.
This is how it was supposed to go:
In a few hours, Neal would wake up and pass the tests the doctors would run, proving that he didn't have brain damage. After a night in ICU, they would move him to general admission where he would stay for over a week with Peter and Elizabeth by his side every step of the way. Eventually, he would be released into the watchful and loving care of the Burkes, making use of the guest room they'd painted a week before the fall. And then when he was healed, things would go back to the way they were and they would live happily ever after.
Except that's not how it went.
Neal didn't wake up for two days. While Elizabeth and Peter stayed by his side, he slept on, causing his doctor to grow increasingly worried each day. The longer Neal stayed unconscious, he warned, the more likely brain damage would be.
When Neal finally did wake, it wasn't what Peter and Elizabeth had been hoping for. The machines wailed and alarms sounded. Neal opened his eyes and screamed in pain. They were ushered out of the room and made to wait for two hours before they were seen by Benson. An infection and pneumonia had set in and Neal's lungs were working over time to play catch up. They'd had to put him on a ventilator. He was still unconscious, and they had no idea if any brain damage had been done.
For three more days, they waited for the drugs to work. They waited for the infection to fade. They waited for Neal to wake up.
On the third day after they'd finally taken Neal off the ventilator, Peter sent Elizabeth home to rest and see to Satchmo. He was certain the dog had grown so restless that he'd eaten all of their furniture. Reluctantly, Elizabeth agreed, too tired to put up much of an argument.
Peter himself was exhausted. He'd barely slept the last five days, and what rest he did get wasn't very comfortable as the waiting room chairs may as well have been rocks. But even the bare, plastic chair he sat in by the bed was comfortable enough to doze in.
As he dozed, his third problem in getting sleep arose. The nightmares, or more accurately, memories, assaulted him the moment his eyes closed. He saw Neal standing on the edge of a roof, a roof so much higher than the warehouse, and he was standing only inches from his friend. Neal teetered and Peter tried to reach out, but his arms wouldn't work and he watched with wide eyes as Neal tumbled backwards into a pitch black abyss.
Peter jolted awake, nearly falling out of his plastic chair. God damn nightmares.
"If you'd fallen out of that chair, I'd probably die laughing."
Peter jerked up, "Neal?"
His face pale and eyes barely open, Neal watched Peter straighten in his chair, an impossibly wide smile on his face, "Hi."
"Hey yourself," Peter muttered, "You sure took your time waking up."
"How long?" Neal asked, his voice scratching painfully in his throat.
"Going on six days. You had us all really worried."
"No, Neal," Peter shook his head forcefully, "No, you have nothing to be sorry for. You did everything you were supposed to. It just...Jesus, I'm sorry."
"Why are you sorry?" Neal asked, confused.
"I should have been there. I should have gotten there sooner or shot Kronos on the spot. None of this would have happened. Damn it, I should have caught you."
Neal furrowed his forehead, "What are you-"
A nurse, coming to check Neal's vitals, interrupted them, "Well, look who's awake. Just in time too. Dr. Benson will be making his rounds shortly," she turned to Peter, "I'm afraid you're going to have to wait outside while he examines your friend."
"Sure, I need to call my wife anyway," Peter clasped Neal on the shoulder, "Don't flirt to much with the nurses, alright?"
"I'll be right outside," Peter assured him, "I'm not going anywhere."
Neal swallowed the dryness in his throat and nodded, allowing the nurse to check his vitals. Peter stepped outside the door, walked down the hall to the waiting room, and promptly started crying. He blamed it on the exahaustion, on the building stress from the last six days and the worry that had been plaguing him since the moment he saw Neal fall. Maybe it was the combination of everything and the relief of seeing Neal awake.
Whatever the reason, Peter was crying like a little baby in a 5 by 6 waiting room while people passed by the open door.
It took him several minutes to compose himself. He wanted to call Elizabeth to let her know Neal had finally come back to the living, but decided to wait until he had something conclusive to tell her. He'd probably catch hell for not phoning her the second Neal opened his eyes, but he'd have to take that chance. If he called her now, he'd only end up sobbing again.
"Agent Burke?" A young nurse appeared in the doorway, "Dr. Benson is done examining Mr. Caffrey. You can come back to the room now."
Silently, he followed her to the ICU room, hastily wiping at his eyes. Benson met him at the door.
"He's going to be fine, Peter," he said, smiling, "There is no brain damage, the infection is gone, and the pneumonia is clearing up nicely. With time and rest, he'll make a full recovery."
"Thank you, Robby," Peter sighed heavily. It still unnerved him that he was on a first name basis with Neal's doctor. No one should be that familiar with a trauma surgeon.
"We'll keep him overnight, and move him to a regular room tomorrow," Benson slapped Peter's shoulder, "Now, go give him a hard time for making you and your lovely wife worry so much."
Peter thanked him again and stepped back into Neal's room. Half of the machines were removed and Neal was now propped upright. He smiled softly as Peter took his designated seat beside him.
"You're looking better," Peter said.
"Feeling it," Neal answered, "They've given me some pretty good drugs."
"I'm glad. The doctor gave a good prognosis. If you don't give us any other surprises, you should be out of the hospital some time next week."
Neal groaned, "Yeah, that sounds promising."
"Don't push yourself, Neal," Peter admonished, "You've been through hell."
"So I've heard," Neal licked his lips and watched Peter carefully, "What happened?"
"You don't remember?"
"I remember falling," Neal said, "but I meant after that. What happened to your hand?"
Peter glanced at the black brace covering his right wrist and hand. He'd completely forgotten about the cracked knuckle and sprained wrist he'd gotten when he'd punched Kronos in the face.
"It's nothing," Peter said, waving away Neal's concern, "I tried punching a wall and it didn't give."
"This wall...it wouldn't have been Russian, would it?"
Peter chuckled, "Yeah, maybe. But we don't have to worry about the Russian wall any more. He's dead."
Neal nodded, "I'm not sure if I should feel relieved or not."
"He threw you off a roof, Neal," Peter said bitterly, "I think you're allowed to feel some relief."
"Yeah, I guess," Neal paused, swallowing hard, "Peter, about what you said before, about how you should have caught me. You know that's not right, don't you?"
Peter turned away, rubbing his temple, "I should call Elizabeth. She'll kill me when she finds out how long you've been awake."
"Don't change the subject, Peter," Neal ordered, "I want to talk about this."
Peter sighed, turning back to Neal, "Alright. Go ahead."
"Don't sound so thrilled."
"Neal, you don't understand," Peter shook his head, "I always catch you, but I let you down this time. I let you fall."
"The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall."
Peter raised an eyebrow, "Did you just quote Vince Lombardi?"
Neal laughed, "Figures you would go for the football player. I was thinking more along the lines of Ralph Waldo Emerson."
"So who ripped off who?"
"It doesn't matter who said it, Peter. What matters is what it means."
"Yeah, well what does it mean?"
"It means that we all fall sometimes," Neal told him emphatically, "It means that no matter what we or anyone does, we can't always stay on our feet. Sometimes we fall down, but that doesn't matter. What matters is getting back up again."
Peter looked away, "Neal-"
"You always catch me, Peter, but even you can't catch me every time I fall. But it doesn't matter because I know that no matter how far or how hard I fall, you will always be there to help me get back up again," Neal smiled, "and that's what really matters."
Peter hung his head between his hands, laughing ruefully, "How is it that I can hold onto this guilt for six days and you can wipe it away with a few poetic words in only a few minutes?"
"Because I'm just that good."
"Yeah. Maybe you are."
Peter stood and squeezed Neal's shoulder carefully, "I'm going to call Elizabeth. So prepare yourself to be smothered."
"Oh, I'll be looking forward to it," Neal clasped Peter's hand with his own, wary of the I.V., "Thank you, Peter, for picking me back up again."
"Any time," Peter said, "but for the record, I'd rather catch you."
Neal laughed, "Me, too."
This is how it goes:
As in all lives, Neal will fall. Whether it be literally or emotionally, big or small, he will eventually fall.
But when he does, Peter will be there to catch him.
And if he can't do that, well, then he'll be there to pick him back up again.
A/N: And that, dear readers, is the startling conclusion to my five-day fic-a-thon. I do hope you've enjoyed reading. And as I seem to be on a roll with writing, look for my next fic Flatline to be coming within the next couple of days. If you haven't already guessed, it will be...drum roll, please,...another hurt/comfort fic. Read ya later!