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05 March 2012 @ 09:44 pm
Fic: At the Bottom  
Title:  At the Bottom
Rating:  PG-13
Characters/Pairings:  Peter, Neal and Pre-P/E/N
Spoilers:  None
Word Count: ~ 3,500
Summary:  This is a fill for a prompt by rabidchild on the Trapped Fic Bash.  To summarize the prompt, Neal and Peter fall into a basement, one on top of the other.  There is bonding and injuries and side order of angst.


At the Bottom

Neal woke slowly.  His head hurt and he couldn’t really breathe.  As he became more aware he realized that something heavy was pressing down on his chest. 

He tried to move, to bring a hand up to push away whatever was pressing down on him, but he discovered that his right hand was pinned to his side.  His left hand was wedged between his chest and the weight on top of him.  Slowly with some effort, he was able to pull his left hand free.

His hand shook badly as he pushed ineffectually at the thing on top of him.  It didn’t budge.  But whatever it was felt strange, he rubbed his hand down its side.  Fabric, a cotton blend.  Peter? 

Neal forced his unwilling eyes open.  It was dark, too dark to see very clearly, but he was pretty sure that was a shoulder half an inch from his nose.

“Peter,” Neal said in a breathy whisper.

There was no response.  So Neal pushed again on what he assumed was Peter’s right arm with his shaky left hand.  Still nothing.

Neal drew as deep a breath as he could, which wasn’t really deep with Peter’s dead weight on top of him and said Peter’s name again.  It came out just as breathless but slightly louder. 

Peter stirred a little above him, and Neal winced, this must be what it feels like to be sacked without padding, Neal thought.

Hoping that the third time would be the charm, Neal pushed against Peter’s arm with as much strength as he could muster while saying Peter’s name again.

“Peter, wwwake up.”

This time Peter groaned and shifted on top of Neal.  Neal’s breath hitched in his chest.  He saw bright spots dance before his eyes.  The pain was so bad.  For a moment he thought he was surely going to pass out and then he did.

Peter woke with a groan.  What the hell happened, he thought to himself as his mind slowly cleared.  One hundred and twenty first street, condemned building.  They were chasing Leon Pensko, mortgage fraud scammer, when he ran into the building.  He and Neal pursued.  Then something happened, there was a loud crack and then he was falling.  The floor must have given way beneath them.  Them, Neal.

“Neal?”  Peter croaked, hoping against hope that his partner was still somehow up on the floor above. 

There was no response.  So Peter opened his eyes.  He was lying on his stomach, sort of, on top of something.  It was pretty dark and all he could really see was the littered floor beneath him.  But, he knew he wasn’t lying directly on the floor.  Peter painfully turned his head to right to try and see what was underneath him.  Dark hair and one elegant ear, Neal.  Panic gripped him and his heart began to hammer in his chest.

He was lying on top of his partner.  “Neal, please buddy, answer me.” 

Peter pulled his right hand up and groped for Neal’s neck, trying to find his pulse point.  It was hard in the position he was lying in, but eventually he found it, thready and weak but blessedly present.

 “Neal, come on, you need to wake up for me.  We need to get out of here.”  The only response was Neal’s strained breathing.

Maybe if he got himself off of Neal, his partner might have a better chance of waking, Peter thought.  He attempted to shift himself to the left, to slide off of Neal, but his right leg was somehow stuck.  He tugged and pulled, but he was only able to get it to move a few inches.  Thankfully, it didn’t hurt, but it was definitely not going anywhere without some help.  From his current position looking down toward the floor Peter had no chance of being able to see what he was actually hung up on. 

After tugging uselessly for several minutes, he had to stop for a moment to catch his breath. 

“Peter?”  Came a nearly inaudible whisper.

“Neal, buddy?”  Relief flooded Peter at hearing Neal’s voice.

Neal took a short, painful breath and said, “Here.”

“Thank god.”  Peter mumbled. 

“Hhhappened?”

“We fell through the floor into the basement.”  Peter really didn’t like the breathiness of Neal’s voice.  Things had been weird between them lately.  Neal had been distant, subdued and strangely contrary.  And now he was obviously hurt, badly hurt. 

“Hhhelp?”

“I’m trying Neal, but I’m stuck myself.”  Peter replied frustrated that there was nothing he could do to help his partner.

“No, no call for help?”

“Damn it, no.  Obviously I’m not thinking to clearly over here.”  Peter shifted to try and get to his cell phone eliciting a moan from Neal.  “Sorry, sorry, I’ve got to get to my pocket.”

It took some careful maneuvering but eventually Peter was able to get his cell out.  Thankfully, it didn’t appear to have been damaged in the fall.

He keyed it on and pushed the speed dial for Diana’s number.

“Berrigan.”

“Diana, Neal and I are in a bit of trouble.”  Peter decided now was the time for understatement.  He wanted to stay as calm as possible, for Neal and for himself.

“What’s going on, Boss?” 

 “We’re on 121 st Street. We were following Pensko.  We fell through the floor in an abandoned building  We're stuck.  I'm not sure of the address."

“We’re on our way.  We’ll get the address from Neal’s tracker.  Are you okay?”

Neal picked that moment to cough, wet and strangled. 

“I’ll take that as a no.”  Diana added when Neal’s hacking died down. 

“Diana, you’re going to need to get fire rescue.”

“On it boss.  We’ll call them and send them on ahead.  Jones and I will be there as soon as we can.  Hang in there.”

“Yeah, okay.”

Peter disconnected the call.  “They’re coming Neal, help’s coming.”  Peter silently hoped that it would be very soon.

“That’s good.”  Neal replied sounding somewhat steadier than he had a moment ago.

“Peter?”

“Yeah?”

“Can you get off of me now?” Neal replied.  He was desperate to be able to take a real breath.  The longer Peter remained on top of him, the more the pain seemed to deepen and spread.

“I tried to shift over your right side when you were unconscious.  My leg is pinned.  Can you slip out from beneath me?”

“Don’t think so.”

“You should try.” Peter said encouragingly.

 Peter could just make out Neal’s ear shifting up and down as he shook his head.  “Nope.”

And there again was the attitude that Neal had been displaying more and more over the past few weeks.   Peter’s frustration boiled up.  Now was clearly this was not the time for Neal to be uncooperative.

“Fine.”  Peter grumped.  “I’ll see if I can shift the other way.”  Peter could tell from the bend of his pinned leg that if he made it off of Neal it would end up twisted like a pretzel and probably hurt like hell.  But, Neal’s breathing was definitely getting worse. 

Peter put his right hand down on the ground beside Neal for leverage.  He pushed and tried to drag himself across Neal.  He only made it a couple of inches, his chin now resting on Neal’s right shoulder when he heard Neal beg him to stop.

“Please, stop.”  Agony unlike anything Neal had ever felt before raged in his chest. 

“Okay, okay.  Tell me what’s going on.” 

“Can’t breathe, hurts.  Please don’t move.” Neal was begging, but the change in the placement and the amount of pressure on his chest made him feel like someone had thrown a burning cannonball down on him. 

“Okay.  I’ll stay put.”

Peter could feel Neal attempting to suck in small increments of air.  He could feel Neal’s heart banging against his own chest.  He laid there unmoving waiting for Neal’s heart rate to slow and hoping that Neal’s breathing would improve.  Eventually it did, if only a little.

“You okay?”  Peter asked when he thought Neal was as recovered as he was going to get.

“Peachy.”  Neal replied sourly.

“Hey, don’t let my concern trouble you in any way.”  Peter snapped back his frustration growing again.

“It doesn’t.”  Neal’s voice was flat, devoid of affect. 

“Really Neal, that’s just great.  You’ve been acting like a spoiled brat for weeks now and you know what?  I’m done.  You want to treat someone like crap, pick someone else, because I’m over it.”  Peter’s anger made him momentarily forget their circumstances and Peter shifted from the momentum of his anger.

Neal made a noise that was something between a scream and whimper.    

Peter stilled instantly.  “Sorry,” he mumbled.

Tears were running from Neal’s eyes down into his hair.  The pain in his chest was unbearable, but the pain of Peter’s anger was even worse.  This wasn’t what he wanted.

“Me too.” He said shakily.

Peter was about to ask Neal what for, to see if he could finally find out what was going on with his partner, but a noise overhead stole his attention.

“Agent Burke?”  Someone yelled.

“Down here,” he replied relief flooding his chest.  “We’re down here.”

Neal could see the beams of flashlights overhead and then the helmet and face of a firefighter appeared at the edge of the hole he and Peter had created in the floor above.

“Anyone seriously injured?”  The face asked.

“Let’s just say the sooner you get us out of here the better.”  Peter replied.

“Hang on we’re working on getting down there to you.  The stairs are collapsed so we’re going to have to rig a harness and pulley.”

“Yeah, okay.”  Peter turned his head so that he could look at Neal’s ear again.  “You good for a little while longer?”

Despite the tightness and the deep pain in his chest, Neal nodded slowly.  “Yeah,” he whispered.

Regardless of the noise and the commotion coming from above, Peter still wanted to try and talk to Neal and try to find out why his partner had been acting the way he had these past few weeks.  “Neal, I would really appreciate it if you would tell me what’s been going on with you.”

Neal stared up at the shadows and the flashes of light from above.  Tell Peter what was going on and watch his world crumble away, or keep hiding it and watch himself crumble away.  Not much of a choice really.

“Neal?”  Peter asked gently, concern for Neal evident in his voice.

Neal could feel tears streaming from his eyes again.  He lifted his shaky left hand and tried to brush them away.  The motion made the pain flare in his chest and for a moment Neal couldn’t get in any air at all.  For a moment he was truly afraid that he was done, that he had taken his last breath.  But, then he managed to drag in just a little bit of air. 

Peter could hear Neal’s struggles, the one going on in his lungs and the one in his mind.  Blindly he reached up to Neal’s face with his right hand.  He found Neal’s cheek, felt the wetness of Neal’s tears.

“Neal, please let me help you.”  Peter begged.  It was obvious to him now that Neal was struggling with something deeply painful.  And Peter knew he would move heaven and earth, if only he could take Neal’s pain away.

The sadness in Peter’s voice helped Neal find his own.  “I’m sorry Peter, I didn’t mean for it to happen.  I never want to hurt you or Elizabeth.”  Despite how hard it was to breathe Neal couldn’t help the small sob that escaped him.

Peter was dumbstruck. This was about him and Elizabeth?  “I know you would never intentionally hurt either of us.  Tell me what happened and we’ll work through it together.”

“I…..”  Neal didn’t know how to the say the words aloud.  This confession would be the most terrifying and simultaneously the most liberating of his life.   

Peter smoothed his hand down Neal’s cheek so carefully and caringly.  Would Peter still care once Neal confessed the truth?  Either way Neal knew that he had to tell Peter.  The knowledge of what he was feeling was eating him up inside and slowly eating away at his friendship with the most important person in his life. 

“I love you, and Elizabeth.  I love you both so much.”  Neal sobbed again, the tears running faster down his face.

Peter had to take a moment to process Neal’s words.  Neal loved him and Elizabeth.  He loved them. 

Suddenly, Peter felt lighter, warmer, and happier than he had felt in a long time.  He brushed his hand along Neal’s cheek again.  “Oh, Neal, it’s going to be okay, I promise.  When we get out this you and El and I are going to have a long talk, okay buddy?

Peter could feel Neal nodding, shaking under his hand. 

Peter continued to stoke Neal’s cheek and murmur soothing words while the firemen worked above them.  Neal had gone quiet and his breaths had become shorter and less regular, Peter’s worry increasing with each pause. 

“Hey!” He called up to the rescue workers, “My partner’s not doing so good.  We need you to get down here, now.”

“We’re almost there Agent Burke.  Just another five minutes.” 

“Did you hear that Neal, I need you to hang on for five more minutes, okay?

Neal nodded slightly again under Peter’s hand.  He could see the progress above them.  The rescue workers were rigging the harness in place now.  But, it had gotten so hard to breath, and he was cold and really tired.  He wanted to close his eyes and just let sleep take him, but he was pretty sure that if he did that, if he stopped working so hard to draw each breath, that he would stop breathing altogether.  And, if he did that he would never get the chance to have that talk with Elizabeth and Peter.  So he kept his eyes open and he kept breathing. 

Not long after a man was being lowered down to them.  He managed to settle himself on the ground somehow without stepping on either Peter or Neal.

“Agent Burke?”

“Yeah,” Peter replied. 

“I’m Dave.  Any injuries, pain that I should know about?”  The fireman asked as he started to assess the situation.

“No, just a whopper of a headache, but my leg’s pinned.  And, Neal’s not doing so good.  His chest.”

“Neal, can you tell me what you’re feeling?”  Dave was leaning over Neal as best he could around the debris and Peter.

Neal was finding it harder and harder to focus.  “Ccchest hurts,” he managed to whisper.

The fireman nodded at him.  Then he called up to those above, “I need an oxygen tank down here, pronto.”

Dave turned back toward Peter’s pinned leg as the harness was pulled back up.  “Let’s see if I can get you unstuck.”  Peter could hear Dave moving things around and then he felt a sharp tug on his leg, then another and then suddenly his leg was free.

“Well, that’s that.”  Dave said.  “I want you to stay still for a moment agent while I get your partner set up on the oxygen that’s coming down.”

“Okay.”  Peter replied.  The desire to get up and out the basement now that he was free was powerful, but Peter needed to be sure that Neal was taken care of first.

Dave grabbed the oxygen off the now descended harness and gingerly moved over to Neal’s head.  He put the mask over Neal’s face and turned it on.  “This will help a bit, Neal.  I want you to breathe as slowly and as deeply as you can, okay?” 

Neal nodded.

“Neal, we’re going to move Peter off of you.  It’s going to hurt, but keep breathing.  Focus on taking one slow, deep breath after another.  We’ll have you out of here in no time.”  Neal nodded again.

Dave repositioned himself so that he could help Peter up and off of Neal as quickly and carefully as possible.

“Okay Agent Burke.  I’m going to help you lift up and off of Neal.  Then I’m going to get him in the harness and out of here as quickly as possible.  You ready?”

“Yeah,” Peter replied, his worry for Neal escalating again.

Dave was true to his word.  With his help Peter was up and off of Neal smoothly and quickly.  Unfortunately, it was not without agony for Neal who moaned and choked. 

Dave was moving again almost before Peter registered that he was standing on his own.  The fireman had grabbed the harness and was kneeling next to Neal.

“Neal, I’m going to lift you up into a seated position, it will hurt, but I promise it will help you breathe easier.  Then I’m going to get this harness on you, one, two, three and you’ll be out here.”

Now that Peter could finally see Neal, he wished he couldn’t.  His partner’s face was sweaty and tinged blue.  His eyes were glassy and barely focused.  Dave lifted him up easily and started strapping the harness to his body.   He was almost finished when Neal went completely slack in his hands.  “Neal, Neal are you with me?”

Dave got no response.  He finished and yelled up to the rest of his team.  “Bring him up.  Careful, he’s got a probable pneumothorax.”

Then Neal was being lifted up and out of the basement and Peter’s heart went with him.

Neal ended up with a cracked sternum, three broken ribs, a punctured lung and a chest tube that needed to remain in place for two and half days while his lung slowly re-inflated.   He spent most of that time pretty of out if due to the combination of pain medication and the weakness brought on by the oxygen deprivation he suffered while stuck under Peter in the basement.

On the morning of day three Neal woke up feeling clear headed and thirsty.  When he opened his eyes he discovered that he was alone in his hospital room.  He thought he remembered visitors before, June, Jones and Diana and even Mozzie at one point.  Mostly he remembered, or thought he did, Peter and Elizabeth, murmuring soothing words, brushing his hair back from his forehead, holding his hand.  Perhaps he had dreamed it; his longing for them was so strong.  And, after what he had confessed to Peter while trapped in the basement, he wouldn’t have blamed them for staying away.

Neal’s thirst made itself apparent again.  He spied a cup with a straw in it sitting on the nightstand.  His right arm was in a sling, to protect his ribs and healing lung so Neal had to reach over his chest with his left hand in order to get to the cup.  Halfway there a bolt of pain shot through his chest, stealing his breath despite the oxygen cannula under his nose. 

He couldn’t help the exclamation of pain that he uttered.   The door to his room opened an instant later and Peter and Elizabeth ran in. 

“Neal what were you trying do?”  Peter asked seeing Neal’s left arm stretched across his body.

“Wanted some water.”  He mumbled as he slowly returned his arm to his side.

“Well, here sweetie,” El said as she picked the cup up off of the nightstand the placed the straw under his lips.

He sucked at it greedily, as Peter put the guardrail down and sat on the bed next to him. 

“Thank you.”  Neal whispered when he was finished. 

“You’re welcome.”  El replied softly. 

Then she put the cup back down and took Neal’s hand in both of hers.  Peter was rubbed his hand up and down Neal’s knee though the blanket.  Neal really wasn’t sure what was going on.

“Um, Peter about what I said when we were stuck in the basement…”

“Don’t worry about that now Neal, once we get you home and you’re feeling better, I promise we’ll have that long talk.  In the meantime rest, okay?”

El squeezed his hand encouragingly and Peter patted his knee.  Neal was still confused.  When they got him home?

Neal felt it necessary to let them both know that he had no expectations, that all he really wanted was to hang on to their friendship.  “I just need you to know that I understand.  I know that you don’t feel the same way I do…”

Peter’s face crinkled up in a frown.  “Stop.”

Peter’s vehemence startled Neal.  “But, Peter I would never want to jeopardize our…”

“Neal, I said stop, please.”  Peter said more gently this time.  

And then the strangest thing happened.  Peter carefully leaned forward over Neal and kissed him, right there in the hospital.  And, once Peter pulled away, El replaced him, her lips warm and soft against Neal’s.  

Maybe, it really was going to be okay.


 
 
 
oh these heroes come and go;: [wc] el & neal & peter;;micheleeeex on March 6th, 2012 12:53 pm (UTC)
I love this!
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on March 7th, 2012 03:39 am (UTC)
Thank you!
flynn_boyant: White Collar - the familyflynn_boyant on March 6th, 2012 02:55 pm (UTC)
This is amazing! I'm definitely adding it to my list of favorites.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on March 7th, 2012 03:39 am (UTC)
Thank you! That's an amazing compliment.
RabidChild's Ficrabidchild on March 6th, 2012 04:10 pm (UTC)
Aww, so lovely. Thanks for filling my prompt. You hit on all my favorite h/c buttons too - serious injury, the drama, the closeness. Absolutely love this!
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on March 7th, 2012 03:40 am (UTC)
Thank you! I loved the prompt the minute I read it. Such potential.
a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf: White Collar - Neal b&wembroiderama on March 7th, 2012 04:11 am (UTC)
I like this a lot! Very nice h/c. :)
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on March 7th, 2012 05:11 am (UTC)
Thank you. I do appear to enjoy the whumping of Neal, poor Neal.
Frith: White Collar - Neal - worried shirtfrith_in_thorns on March 7th, 2012 11:29 pm (UTC)
Aww, lovely! Poor Neal, he suffers so wonderfully :D Great hurt and adorable ending.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on March 7th, 2012 11:44 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

He does doesn't he. And, oddly it's really fun to make him do it.
Winterwinterstar95 on March 9th, 2012 11:11 pm (UTC)
Very lovely end and very visceral story. Thanks so much!