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08 March 2014 @ 12:51 pm
FIC: Down in the Dark  
Title: Down in the Dark
Author: pooh_collector
Rating: PG
Pairings: P/E/N
Characters: Neal, Peter, El, Jones, Diana
Word Count: ~4,500
Warnings: None
Spoilers: None
Summary: Based on a picture someone linked to in chat one night. Neal ends up in a pretty foul place and then h/c happens.

Note: Written for the Get Well kanarek13 ‘fest over at whitecollarhc. I hope my torturing of Neal helps you feel better!


Down in the Dark

Neal woke up lying face down in the center of the Burke’s cozy bed. The pillow beneath his head smelled like El’s shampoo, the sheet lying against his back held the warm, musky scent of Peter. Neal was alone in the bed, which was unusual. It wasn’t very often that he was the last to wake. He could hear movement downstairs, the sounds of cabinets opening and closing, dishes clinking together, the soft voices of his lovers. He was missing breakfast.

Neal snuggled down deeper into the pillow under this head. He generally loved mornings, but today he felt weary, somnolent and oddly headachy. So instead of joining his partners he let himself drift on the edges of sleep, safe and comfortable in their bed.

He must have slept again for a while, the feeling that a significant amount of time had passed brought him back from sleep up to comfortable haze. Had he heard something, a voice louder than before?

Neal perked up his ears. At first he heard nothing, not even the usual sounds of Peter and El moving around in the house below him. But then, just on the edges of his hearing, he thought he made out Peter’s voice calling his name. Neal’s partner sounded far away, much further than the kitchen below him.

Neal heard Peter call out to him again. The sound of Peter’s voice was slightly louder, but Neal couldn’t pinpoint where it was coming from. With some effort, Neal pulled himself a little further up from the depths and concentrated on the sound of his lover’s voice.

“Neal!”

Peter sounded angry. No, that wasn’t quite right. He sounded scared. There was a subtle difference between angry Peter and worried Peter. But over the years Neal had learned to recognize it.

Neal sighed and then struggled to sit up on the side of the bed. Despite the sleep he had gotten he still felt lethargic, achy and worn down. Peter called to Neal again. Neal didn’t like the frightened tone. It spurred him up from the bed.

The house was cold, colder than usual Neal realized now that he was no longer surrounded by the warmth of the bedcovers. He grabbed the sapphire blue robe that was draped on the back of the chair near the bed and shrugged it on. It was Peter’s and a bit too big for Neal, but it felt good to wear it, like Peter was with him, watching over him.

“Neal!”

Neal heard Peter call out to him yet again, prompting him to leave the bedroom and make his way to the top of the staircase. Strangely, there was no light coming up from below. As he looked down toward the first floor a wave of vertigo came over him and he swayed dangerously as his knees went weak. Neal slammed his eyes shut as he pressed one hand against the wall and grabbed the stair rail with his other to keep himself from tumbling forward down the steps. He took a deep breath and stood waiting for the world to settle around him again.

It was the sound of Peter’s voice growing hoarse and distressed that finally persuaded Neal to reopen his eyes and make his way slowly down the stairs.

The main floor was dark. Usually, even in the depths of the night, the light from the streetlights outside filtered in through the blinds leaving the living and dining rooms bathed in a shadowy glow. But the rooms were pitch black now. Neal made his way carefully through the living room, feeling his way around the furniture toward the back of the house.

With each step a peculiar sense of anxiety grew in his chest. He shouldn’t be here, alone in the dark. Where was Peter? Neal kept moving, around the dining table and toward the back door. Maybe his partner was in the small yard behind the house.

Just as Neal wrapped his hand around the icy cold knob, he heard Peter call out to him again. It sounded like Peter was indeed calling to him from outside the house. Neal turned the knob and pulled the door open, anxious to leave the darkness, anxious to find Peter and Elizabeth.

***

"Neal!"

Neal sputtered as he regained consciousness. There was water in his mouth, disgusting water. It tasted like dirt, rotten food and oily slime. He coughed and choked as he tried to expel the foulness from his mouth.

When he had done the best he was going to manage without a case of Listerine, Neal opened his eyes and then blinked hard. He was lying face down in the dark. The water he had inhaled came from a small, two-inch deep rivulet that was running under and around him.

The water smelled as bad as it tasted and Neal struggled to get himself up and away from it. His left arm was trapped under his chest and when he pushed up to try to get it free his head swam and his wrist screamed in agony.

“Ahhh!" He uttered, in a startled expression of pain.

Neal eased himself back down, despite the cold, disgusting water soaking into his clothing and closed his eyes momentarily until the pain and dizziness abated. Then he took as deep a breath as the stench allowed and tried again, this time putting his weight on his right wrist and pulling up his knees slowly.

The dizziness returned, along with a new pounding behind his eyes but Neal kept moving gradually until he managed to maneuver himself into a seated position up against the icy, dank brick wall with this injured wrist held protectively against his chest.

He took a moment to try and figure out where he was. The last thing he remembered was meeting with their suspect in a small one-way street a couple of blocks from Washington Square Park. Peter hadn’t been keen on the location that their fence had chosen. There was no place to park the van nearby with sight lines, but Neal had convinced him that he had two excellent escape route options and that O’Reilly had no history of violence or any reason to suspect Neal, since Neal was going in as himself with the backstop the FBI had created with his release from prison coming after he served out his full sentence on the original bond forgery conviction.

But things hadn’t gone to plan from the outset. When the van arrived on scene they found that the NYPD had set up a no parking zone all along one side of the street which forced them to park the van almost two full blocks away from the meet site. Peter tried for 40 minutes to get through to someone at the NYPD who could clear a space closer for them but he ended up being caught up in a red tape nightmare, transferred six times with no resolution.

Then to complicate matters even further, O’Reilly didn’t show up alone. He had two other men with him. As soon as Neal saw them, he made what he hoped sounded like a lighthearted comment about their presence for Peter to pick up through his wire. He didn’t want Peter to freak out, but he did want him to be aware that there were others at the scene, just in case anything did go wrong.

That was the last thing that Neal clearly remembered.

"Neal?"

Neal startled at the sound of his name loud in his right ear. It took Neal a couple of minutes of leaning up against the wall waiting for his aching head to clear for him to remember that he was in fact still wired. “Peter, can you hear me?”

Neal waited a moment, but there was no response in his earpiece. “Peter?” he tried again.

Nothing. He could hear his partner, but apparently he couldn't be heard in return. He was on his own.

It was still pitch dark wherever he was, but Neal’s eyes had adjusted a bit and he could vaguely make out his surroundings. If the smell and the water hadn’t been enough evidence Neal could now make out the definition in the brick walls around him. Somehow he had been dumped in the sewer. For a brief moment he lamented the end of the pale grey suit he was wearing. It was a favorite, or it had been. His front from lapels to pant cuffs was soaked. Neal could feel the sliminess of the water on his shirt and tie where his left hand lay against them.

That was when he realized what must have happened to his wire. Using his right hand Neal unbuttoned the center of his shirt. The small microphone taped to his chest had been under the water for the minutes Neal had lain in the dirty stream unconscious. It was fried.

Then Neal spied the watch that he wore on his left wrist, the one with his GPS tracker. The face was smashed, obviously from where Neal had fallen on it when he landed down here. It had probably gotten water in it too and would no longer be transmitting a signal.

"Neal!" Neal startled again at the sound of Peter calling him, fruitlessly. Neal pulled the ear bud out and stuffed it into his suit pocket. There was no point in hearing Peter if he couldn’t respond.

He was going to have to find his own out he surmised.

Slowly, using the wall behind him for support Neal levered himself up. It made the pain his head spike miserably and it brought other aches and pains he hadn’t been aware of to the forefront as well. His ribs hurt where his left arm had been under them and his right ankle was tender.

The change in position made him dizzy again, so once he was upright he closed his eyes and breathed as deeply as he could without making himself want to vomit from the stench. Finally he felt stable enough to open his eyes again and try to find an exit.

Neal looked left and right and saw nothing but deeper darkness. Looking up he realized that he was standing just below a closed manhole cover and the tiny bit of light that was present was coming from the two small holes on either side of it.

The cover was a good three feet above him and with his one arm useless there was no way he could push it up and away and then somehow manage to pull himself out. He spent a couple minutes calling out for help, until it made his headache escalate too much to bear. But there didn’t seem to be anyone above him. He heard no traffic sounds, nor the sounds of any people walking or talking.

Neal sighed, and in his hazy concussed state he decided that his best bet was to try moving down the tunnel to look for a better exit point. Left or right? Darker or darker?

After a moment’s indecision Neal turned left and started down the tunnel, bracing himself with his good hand against the dank and disgusting wall as he went.

He hadn’t gone far, maybe 300 feet when he thought he heard something from behind him. He stopped and strained his ears, listening.

After a moment the sound came again, it was definitely a voice. Calling his name, maybe? Or maybe that part was just wishful thinking.

Still he started to turn, to go back toward the sound he assumed from coming from above the manhole cover. But, he moved too quickly and the dizziness returned with a vengeance just as he tried to put his weight down on his right ankle. His vision already tunneling from the dizziness, diminished completely and Neal felt himself crumpling back into the stream of water beneath him.

“Shit,” he muttered when his body collided with the floor of the sewer. The jolt was too much for him and the nausea that was created by his head injury and the sewer stench overwhelmed him. He leaned over onto his good arm and threw up and threw up again and then he dry heaved for another couple of minutes since he couldn’t get the sewer smell out of his sinuses.

Finally, he stomach settled somewhat and Neal straightened out his legs and pushed himself gently back until he was leaning up against the wall once again.

When his breathing evened out, he tried to concentrate on the sounds around him once more, hoping that the voice he had heard was still within earshot.

After a couple of minutes his patience was rewarded when Neal heard a voice calling out. This time he was certain it was his name he was hearing. “Here, I’m here!” He yelled back with as much volume as he could muster.

When he heard the voice again it sounded closer, more distinct. “Neal?”

Neal breathed a sigh of relief. It was Peter. “Peter, I’m down here.”

“Neal?” Peter’s voice was louder again.

“Yeah, I’m down here.” The yelling was making Neal’s headache indescribably worse and his empty stomach was rolling again.

“Neal, where are you?”

“Here Peter, in the sewer.”

“How the hell?” Peter replied.

“That’s doesn’t matter,” Neal called out, his voice cracking. “Just get me out, okay.”

“We’re coming, I sent Jones to get a crowbar so we can get this cover off. You okay?”

Neal thought about it for a moment. Deflection was always his first instinct and he didn’t want Peter to worry, but on the other hand, he really wasn’t okay.

“Not really,” he finally replied.

There was a pause before Peter answered. Neal imagined that look that Peter got on his face when he was angry or worried, his brows furrowed, his lips drawn into a thin line. “What’s wrong?”

“My ribs, my wrist, maybe a concussion,” Neal replied hesitantly.

Neal didn’t hear Peter’s muffled response thanks to the sewer lid and the distance down the tunnel.

There was silence again for a long moment and Neal suddenly felt very alone and strangely frightened. “Peter?”

“Neal, it’s okay, we’re here. I was just calling for an ambulance, okay?”

“kay,” Neal replied. He was shivering now. When had that started, he wondered.

A moment later Neal heard metal clanking against metal and then the scrape of the manhole cover shifting away. Not long after there was a small splash and then Neal could make out the beam of a flashlight in the distance.

“Neal?”

“Down here Peter.”

There was more splashing and Neal could see the beam of the mag light bouncing as Peter jogged down the short distance to where he sat. The intensity hurt his head and the bouncing pumped up his nausea, so Neal closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall.

Peter’s first look at Neal frightened him. Neal was trussed up against the brick wall, his legs splayed out in front of him, his left arm held up against his chest. His clothing was soaked through, stained and disheveled. He looked horribly pale in the white beam of the flashlight. There was a nasty scrape on his forehead that was already swollen. A puddle of fresh vomit sat on ground next to him.
Peter squatted down in front of Neal and placed a hand gently on the younger man’s shoulder. “Hey buddy, how you doing?”

Neal’s eyes opened sluggishly. They looked glassy in the dim light. “Cold. Can we go home now?”

Peter nodded. “Yeah, let’s get out of here.”

Peter abandoned the flashlight on the ground and moved around and got under Neal’s right side wrapping his arm around Neal’s damp back. “Up we go,” Peter encouraged, as he got to his feet guiding Neal up with him, taking most of his partner's weight.

Neal swayed, despite Peter’s support. Peter tightened his grip and waited until Neal steadied. “Okay, here we go, one step at a time.” Once they were moving Neal was steadier than Peter thought he would be, alleviating just a bit of his worry.

Daylight was streaming in from the now open manhole and Peter and Neal made their way under it. Jones and Diana were waiting there above them on the street. “Hey Caffrey, nice disappearing act,” Jones said as they came into view.

Neal shivered, swallowed hard and then looked at Peter uncertainly. “I don’t know how we got here.”

Peter rubbed his hand up and down Neal’s back. “It doesn’t matter. We’ll be out of here in a couple of minutes and then we’ll get you dry and warm.

Neal nodded and shivered again under Peter’s hand.

Moments later the sound of a distant wailing siren could be heard coming toward them. They stood there for several moments as the ambulance got closer until Neal said, “I need to sit down.”

Peter started to turn, to lead them over to the wall so that Neal could sit and lean against it, but Neal’s knees folded under him where he stood. Peter was barely able to keep Neal from dropping like a stone, getting a hold of him just in time to help ease Neal down the final couple of inches.

Peter knelt in front of Neal again, looking closely at his wan face in the shaft of light coming down from above. “Neal, can you tell me what’s going on?” Neal was clearly concussed and hurting. It made Peter’s own heart ache.

Neal looked up at Peter blankly. “I don’t remember.”

“Don’t worry about that now, okay?” Peter said trying to reassure Neal while wondering who was going to start reassuring him.

“Okay,” Neal replied softly.

"Are you feeling any worse?" Peter pressed.

"I don’t think so," Neal responded vaguely.

There was movement from above and then an EMT dropped down into the sewer with them.

He spent several minutes assessing Neal and stabilizing his injured wrist and ankle and then with the help of a collapsible ladder and some careful maneuvering the EMTs got Neal back up to street level, onto a gurney and loaded into the ambulance.

“Peter?” Neal called out after they had the gurney secured, his voice uncertain and hollow.

Peter looked over at the attendant sitting on the bench next to Neal expectantly.

“Hop on up,” he said with a wave.

Peter didn’t hesitate. He jumped in and sat beside the EMT. “I’m right here, buddy.”

Neal reached out with his right hand and Peter took it in both of his, gripping it warmly.

***

Two hours later Peter was sitting in a hard, molded plastic chair at Neal’s bedside in the ER while the younger man shifted uncomfortably on the thin mattress.

“Why can’t I just go home?” He whined.

Peter sighed, this was the fourth time Neal had asked the same question in the last half hour. He wasn’t sure whether it was the concussion or Neal’s frustration asking again. “You have a concussion and you breathed in some of that sewer water and the docs want to keep an eye out for secondary drowning.”

“But I can still smell myself,” Neal complained, running his uncasted hand through his still damp, tangled hair. When he had arrived in the ER the staff had stripped and sponge bathed him, it had been perfunctory and efficient but not as complete as Neal clearly would have liked.

Peter stood and leaned over his partner taking Neal's unsettled hand in his own. "I know buddy. And, I know you're uncomfortable, but we need to let them keep an eye on you tonight and in the morning I'll take you home and I promise we'll get you clean and comfortable.

Neal sighed and fidgeted some more before asking, “Where’s El?”

“She’s in San Francisco, remember? But, she’s taking the redeye home and we’ll see her tomorrow, okay?”

Neal nodded.

"Hey, why don't you close your eyes and try to sleep until they come to take you to your room."

Neal frowned. "It's dark when I close my eyes."

Peter wasn't sure where that comment had come from. "Yes, it's supposed to be."

"I don't like it," Neal replied as if that was the only explanation necessary.

Peter took a deep breath and reminded himself that his partner had a concussion. "If you want to be able to go home tomorrow, you need to rest."

"I can rest with my eyes open," Neal argued.

Peter put Neal's hand down on the bed and brushed Neal's fringe away from his forehead being careful not to actually touch the large scrape there or the swelling around it. "Neal, you're exhausted and I know you're in pain and you need to rest so that you can feel better. Please, close your eyes."

Neal instinctively leaned into Peter's touch, his bright blue eyes shining up at Peter with trust and love. "You won't leave?" He asked.

"Wild horses couldn't drag me away."

Neal blinked up at him once, twice and then his eyes finally closed. Moments later his breathing slowed and settled into the rhythm of sleep.

***

It was a long night, with the nursing staff waking Neal every few hours to assess Neal’s breathing and check for fluid in his lungs. Peter slept in snatches in the chair next to his partner’s bed, but every time they woke Neal it took him some time and gentle coaxing to get Neal back to sleep.

In the morning it took far longer than either Neal or Peter cared for to get Neal examined a final time, his prescriptions and discharge instructions written and his discharge paperwork finalized.

By the time they were finally allowed to leave, all Neal wanted to do was curl back up on the bed and return to sleep. His head hurt, his wrist ached inside his cast and his ribs were more sore than he was willing to admit, since they were merely bruised and not cracked, and he was still nauseated although it was probably from the antibiotics they had him on now just in case there had been something nasty in the sewer water and not from the sewer water itself.

He was sitting on the bed dressed in the sweats and sneakers that Peter usually kept in the trunk of his car, which Diana and Jones had driven over to the hospital for them last night, with his eyes closed when the nurse came in with a wheelchair.

He sighed in relief and let Peter help him from the bed into the chair before closing his eyes again.

"Neal, you okay, buddy?" Peter asked leaning over to get a good look at his partner.

"Just tired," Neal replied without opening his eyes.

"We'll been home soon," Peter assured him, patting him gently on the shoulder.

They were greeted at the door on DeKalb Avenue by a very anxious El and a very excited Satchmo. Peter stepped around his partner to keep the dog from knocking into Neal and throwing off his balance while El took Neal by the arm and guided him into the house.

“Upstairs or the couch, sweetie?”

“Upstairs, please.”

It was slow going, Neal took one step at a time, his mildly sprained ankle hurting when he had to put his full weight on it. He gripped the handrail tightly as he went, holding his casted wrist protectively against his chest. When he reached their bedroom he sat on the end of the bed carefully, thankful to be off his feet.

El and Peter followed him in. “Let’s get you comfortable and into bed,” Peter said, kneeling down to take off the sneakers Neal was wearing.

“No, shower first.”

“Neal, you barely made it up the stairs. You need to rest first.”

“Please Peter, I still smell like the sewer. You can help.” Neal added suggestively, waggling a tired eyebrow.

Peter snorted a laugh. “Okay. A quick shower and then straight to bed, for both of us.”

“Deal.”

“I’ll go get something to wrap your cast with,” El offered as she stepped back out of the room.

While she was gone, Peter helped Neal get undressed. Then Peter and El wrapped Neal’s left hand and arm in plastic bags and tape.

El started the shower while Peter got undressed and then grabbed clean towels and sleepwear for her men while they stepped into the steaming water.

“Let’s get you clean, babe,” Peter said grabbing Neal’s ridiculously expensive shampoo.

Neal gave himself over to Peter as the older man’s shampoo-slick fingers slid into his wet locks. Peter worked the shampoo in gently, so careful of Neal’s concussion, so careful of Neal. Neal could never have asked for more than partners who would love him and care for him the way that Peter and El so obviously did. Thankfully the water coming down from the rain showerhead above them hid the sentimental tears that fell from Neal’s eyes as Peter rinsed the shampoo from Neal’s hair.

“Conditioner?”

“Please,” Neal answered gratefully.

Peter took up the bottle of conditioner and repeated the process he had started with the shampoo. When the conditioner was rinsed clean, Peter grabbed the body wash and a cloth and softly but thoroughly washed his partner. Peter’s lips following the cloth across Neal’s body, planting warm kisses on Neal’s skin. Peter couldn’t help but revel in having his lover safe and back in his arms.

As Peter hung the washcloth back on the rail, he felt Neal’s hard, plastic-coated cast press around his waist as Neal wrapped Peter in his arms. “Thank you,” Neal whispered into Peter’s shoulder.

“You’re welcome.”

“I heard you, you know, when I was unconscious.”

“Yeah?”

Peter could feel Neal nod. “I was alone, in the cold and the dark, but I heard your voice and I knew that if I found you everything would be okay.”

Peter kissed the top of Neal’s head. His clean hair smelled like sandalwood. “I’ll always find you. It’s my life’s work, apparently.”

Neal chuckled into Peter’s shoulder. “Owwww. Don’t make me laugh.”

“Sorry. Let’s get out of here and get to bed.”

They climbed out of the shower, and Peter helped Neal take the plastic wrapping off his cast, dry off and slip into the pajama bottoms that El had left for them. Then he quickly got himself dry and dressed.

In the bedroom El was waiting for them, lying in the bed reading. When they came in the room she closed her book and set it on the nightstand next to her, smiling at them in invitation. Peter guided Neal into the center of the bed and then climbed in behind him.

It took Neal a couple of minutes to maneuver himself into a comfortable position. Once he was settled Peter and El wrapped themselves carefully around him, fitting themselves to his body, the same way they had already fit themselves to his heart.

Neal sighed, content, warm, at peace. Then he closed his eyes and fell asleep to the melody of El’s soft breathing and Peter’s muffled snores.

 
 
 
ascendmeplzascendmeplz on March 8th, 2014 08:30 pm (UTC)
So lovely. Thanks for writing this gem.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on March 13th, 2014 09:26 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you liked it.

Thanks for reading and commenting.
caseyf123 on March 8th, 2014 08:34 pm (UTC)
I don't know if this made kanareck 13 feel better, but it sure did me. Great story as usual. Thanks for sharing. I truly hope kanareck 13 feels better soon.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on March 13th, 2014 09:26 pm (UTC)
So glad I could make you feel better (by hurting poor Neal.)

Thanks for reading and commenting.
Sholio: WhiteCollar-Hard Sell Peter Nealsholio on March 8th, 2014 09:10 pm (UTC)
Awwwww! This is so sweet. ♥
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on March 13th, 2014 09:39 pm (UTC)
Thanks sholio!
Stacysahiya on March 8th, 2014 10:28 pm (UTC)
D'awwwww. This was wonderful. Poor Neal - "foul" place indeed! How incredibly unpleasant. But of course Peter will always find him. And the comfort at the end was exquisite! I love comfort!showers.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on March 13th, 2014 09:39 pm (UTC)
"I love comfort!showers."

Me too!

Thanks for reading and commenting, sahiya!
citrinesunsetcitrinesunset on March 9th, 2014 04:17 am (UTC)
Very nice! What a terrible place to find himself in. I don't blame Neal for wanting a shower, and the bathing scene is very nice.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on March 13th, 2014 09:40 pm (UTC)
Glad you enjoyed it citrine!
joy2190joy2190 on March 9th, 2014 04:55 am (UTC)
Peter kissed the top of Neal’s head. His clean hair smelled like sandalwood. “I’ll always find you. It’s my life’s work, apparently.”

Thank goodness!
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on March 13th, 2014 09:40 pm (UTC)
Thanks goodness, indeed!

Thanks for reading joy!
sapphire2309sapphire2309 on March 9th, 2014 11:08 am (UTC)
Awww this was adorable!!! I especially loved this line-

Peter worked the shampoo in gently, so careful of Neal’s concussion, so careful of Neal.

Loved it! :D
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on March 13th, 2014 09:41 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I love it when people point out specific bits they liked.
love_82 on March 9th, 2014 11:19 am (UTC)
This was lovely! Perfect h/c. I loved the bathing scene. <3
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on March 13th, 2014 09:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I'm glad you liked it!

And, I always appreciate comments!
kanarek13kanarek13 on March 9th, 2014 12:18 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is absolutely perfect ♥ Thank you so much for writing this for me, I can't stop shedding a few tears of my own ♥

Such a beautiful story, just the right amount of whump and so much comfort afterwards. They are so perfect together. I love reading about Peter taking care of Neal with so much love, it melts me on the spot and definitely makes me feel a lot better.

Thank you so much ♥
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on March 13th, 2014 09:43 pm (UTC)
So glad I could make you feel better!

You truly deserve all the stories! You are the most amazing cheerleader for all of us writers on the comm!