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11 September 2013 @ 05:18 pm
[fic: white collar] Hold With All You Have | 1/4  
For the 2013 White Collar Big Bang.

Title: Hold With All You Have
Characters/Pairings:Neal, Peter, Diana, others. Gen with mild Peter/Elizabeth, Diana/Christie, and Diana/OFC.
Rating: FRT
Word Count: 32,500
Spoilers: Plot points from early season 4.
Warnings: This is an apocafic, dealing with a pandemic. Quite a few warnings are included in that, including disturbing descriptions, violence, a lot of general background death, and death/implied death of canon characters. (Specifically: Christie's death is described; Satchmo dies off-screen; other characters including June, Jones and Hughes have unresolved fates.)
Author's Note: This fills the "apocalypse" square on my hc_bingo card. It is also very much the longest story I have ever sat down and written. I very much hope you enjoy it!
Beta: sholio, florastuart, and helle_d, who were all wonderful and extremely patient with me. Thank you so much!
Art: The amazing art is by sholio. Please let her know how awesome she is!

Summary: A lethal epidemic rips through New York. In the aftermath, Neal, Peter and Diana must work together to survive, and to search for those who left the city before lock-down. And then they have to keep on surviving.

On LJ: Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 | On DW | On AO3






Fall

"...I repeat, you are absolutely forbidden from sharing this information, even with your immediate families."

Neal shouldered the glass door open in time to catch the tail-end of Hughes’s words. He was returning from a coffee run, the tray of cardboard cups taking up both his hands. He had been gone for barely ten minutes, yet had clearly missed something important. Everyone was standing in the bullpen, listening.

He nudged Diana with an elbow. "What’s going on?" he whispered.

She shook her head mutely, not taking her eyes off Hughes, who was looking down at them grimly.

"To make that even less ambiguous, I’ve been ordered to tell you all that disobeying will be seen as an act of treason, and prosecuted as such. To the fullest extent of the law."

Which was… the death penalty. Neal’s mouth went suddenly very dry.

"More specific orders will follow." Hughes looked for a moment like he was going to say something else, but then shook his head very slightly and stepped back. "Burke!" he snapped, and Peter pushed his way through the shell-shocked throng of agents.

Neal dumped the tray of coffees onto his desk. "Diana," he said, urgently, as a babble of noise rose up. "What the hell?"

"There’s some sort of disease outbreak," she said. She looked and sounded angry, which meant that she was frightened. "All the government agencies have been brought in to try and contain the situation."

"The situation?" Neal echoed.

"Us being told means that lower-order containment levels have failed and we’re looking at an almost-guaranteed epidemic. If there’s a general panic and everyone tries to evacuate the city at once — well, for the sake of the general population of America, we really don’t want that to happen."

Neal stared at her, and almost asked whether she was joking. But at the same time he was going cold. The bald stating of facts was far more terrifying than any level of detail they could have come wrapped up in.

"We can’t even tell anyone?" he asked, wondering if he sounded as numb as he felt.

"You heard," Diana said. "Disobeying that is treason now."

"They can do that?"

"They can," Jones confirmed, grimly. "Situation warranting extraordinary means, etcetera."

"But —"

"Don’t," Diana ordered. "Don’t make me have to argue with you on this. Understand?"

Neal nodded. Around the bullpen, agents had gathered into little groups like theirs, talking urgently. "So what are we expected to do?" he asked, trying for normality in his tone.

Jones shrugged bleakly. "Whatever we’re told to." He took one of the cups of coffee. "I imagine we’re going to need a lot of caffeine."

"Good idea," Diana said, but she also didn’t apparently feel like touching hers. Her desk telephone started ringing at that moment, and she slipped over to answer it as Jones turned in response to some question.

Neal took the opportunity to collapse heavily into his chair. He looked towards the upper level and could see Peter and Hughes in Hughes’s office. Both of them were talking rapidly, and neither of them looked happy.

He slid the plaster bust of Socrates towards him casually, and flipped it on its side. It appeared solid until you knew what to look for, and he made sure he wasn’t being watched before he dug his nails into the underside and pried the small panel open.

There was a burner cell nestled into the small space inside, unused. He slipped it into his pocket and headed for the bathroom, where he sent a text to a similarly unused receiving phone, using phrases set up a long time ago. Take E and J for lunch. As a surprise. Then he took out the SIM card and flushed it.

Done.

He was faintly surprised to find that he was trembling slightly as he re-entered the bullpen, adrenaline replacing shock throughout his system. Peter was just coming down the stairs. He was very pale, his eyes shadowed.

Peter would follow orders. It might eat him from the inside out, but he would obey the order not to warn Elizabeth. Sometimes Neal envied Peter’s clear and unshakable belief in the System, in laws and black and white, but not today. Right now it was simpler when you didn’t particularly care about those things; just about keeping those you loved safe.

As telephones kept ringing and the pitch of noise kept increasing, Neal began to seriously suspect that the last few minutes of the world he was familiar with had slipped by while he had been standing in a Starbucks queue.

- - -

The first symptom, as with many illnesses, was fever.

Diana swiped unthinkingly at the tendrils of hair clinging damply to her face, but her hand was stopped once again by the clear plastic face-panel of the biohazard suit. It was permanently uncomfortable, and far too hot, and yet she kept on forgetting about it.

The field hospital was loud and chaotic, already overfull and with more patients being brought in every few minutes. They had started with proper equipment — beds with enough covers, medical-grade restraints — but now people were being secured to gurneys and army camp beds with zip ties over pads made from bandages and scarves.

"Need help!" someone called, voice muffled by a suit like hers, and Diana hastened over to help someone who might have been a fellow agent, or a member of the police, as he kept tight hold on a very young woman with long blond hair that was streaked with blood where it had brushed against her mouth. There was blood on her fingers, too, embedded in the ridges of her knuckles and under her torn nails.

Diana got hold of the woman’s wrists, allowing the man who’d brought her in to get a firmer grip. Together they wrestled her over to a camp bed that Diana knew had been only recently occupied No matter. She had a bunch of zip ties in a pocket of the utility belt she was wearing and she secured the woman’s ankles first, hoping her jeans would provide enough padding to stop the plastic cutting too much into her skin. "Do you have anything for her wrists?" she asked.

"No, I’m out."

Diana had scissors in another pocket. She cut the sleeves of the woman’s jersey at her elbows; no easy task as the woman kept struggling. At least she wasn’t screaming, just making a low angry, sobbing, painful sound that she kept up near-constantly.

If Diana could bear to stop to think about it she knew she would be horrified at how she was screening out the woman’s moans, and how brusquely she was tying her down to likely die.

Someone medical hurried over, easy to register at a glance because of the large red cross taped onto the chest of her suit (there would be another on the back). It was only after she had injected a sedative into the young woman and straightened up again that there was time to recognise her as Christie.

The woman moaned again, and then her eyes rolled back as the sedative started to take effect. The possible-agent nodded tiredly to both of them, and headed off to the doors.

A brief moment of respite. Diana met Christie's eyes, smiling at her a little tiredly. The last time before today they had seen each other they'd both been icy towards each other, but that felt like a lifetime ago. Now they were just holding on to a familiar face.

"Have you taken a break?" Christie asked.

"We had one not long back, didn’t we?"

"That was four hours ago."

"Was it really?" Diana tried, still unsuccessfully, to make those stupid sticking strands of hair come unstuck from her face. All concept of time had vanished. She had no idea whether it was day or night.

"Come on, you shouldn't get dehydrated."

It was probably too late for that, but Diana allowed herself to be steered into the curtained-off non-civilian area and over to the water station. Exhausted suit-wearing figures were leaning or sitting against the wall, resting or asleep.

They filled their containers quickly. They were flat, sitting against one’s thigh in their own insulted compartment of the suit so that they could be accessed for refilling without compromising the suit's protection, and a valved tube ran up inside the suit to the head-piece. "Can we sit down for a minute?" Diana asked. Now that she was out of the chaos outside, the toll it was taking on her body was catching up.

"Definitely," Christie said, sounding even more exhausted. They found an empty patch of wall and sat down together.

Diana sighed with relief as the weight came off her feet. "Wow. I really needed this."

"It’s all luxury over here," Christie said. "Handcrafted seats, delicious beverages..."

Diana siphoned a mouthful of water. "Do you think the suits add the plastic taste, or was it there all along?"

Christie shook her head. "I can’t even taste it anymore." She leaned against Diana’s shoulder and Diana leaned against her in turn, automatically. But she didn’t see any reason not to, not with what was going on all around them.

She didn’t know whether it was coincidence that she’d ended up being assigned to the same field hospital as Christie after not having seen each other in months, but she was glad of it. And she thought Christie was too.

"I’m so tired," Christie murmured, almost too quietly to hear through the layers of protective plastic. "I can barely think straight."

"It’ll be okay," Diana said, even though she hardly believed it. "When did you last sleep?"

"I don’t remember. How long have we been here?"

Diana chuckled softly. "Come on, lie down." She took Christie’s shoulders and moved her head gently into her lap, the way she used to do when she was working on case files on the bed and Christie began to fall asleep against her.

Christie wriggled slightly, and settled. "Missed you, Di," she murmured.

There was a lump in Diana's throat. Missed you too.

- - -

The city was on lock-down. Not unofficially, as it had been before the news of the epidemic (and no one had been doubting its status as an epidemic for some time) had broken, but an official lock-down enforced by the army. And by the poor fools who worked for the government and now had wound up having to enforce this from the wrong side.

Neal wasn’t quite sure what he’d been expecting. Grim-faced men patrolling with machine guns and dogs, maybe, but Peter had assured him (and Neal couldn’t quite tell if he was joking) that those were on the outside. Here, there was an eerie, ominous silence, and thrown-up fences with DO NOT CROSS signs.

"People are eventually going to realise that they’re being kept inside," Neal said, speaking quietly in deference to the mood of the empty streets and the low grey sky.

"I know," Peter said. "But with the phones down, and the internet, it’ll take a while."

"Just your government propaganda playing on TV," Neal said, and gave a little bark of a laugh. "I sound like Mozzie. Guess he was right all along."

Peter shot a sideways glance at him -- not the easiest thing to accomplish in a biohazard suit. "Did you hear from him at all, before the phones cut off?"

"No," Neal said, which was true.

"Well, wherever he’s holed up, I’m sure he’s feeling vindicated."

Neal almost asked, Have you heard from El? but he realised in time just how cruel that would be, even if Peter wouldn’t. But the worry about her, and Mozzie, and June, was playing loudly in the background of his thoughts. Had they left the city, had they got away in time, were they safe? The fear gnawed at him. At least Sara was all the way across the ocean; she had to be far enough from danger there…

He was resisting looking up at the windows. He had seen too many faces staring down at their suited figures in fear, as if their presence might attract the contagion. It was a very human attitude.

As if in response to his thoughts, Peter’s radio buzzed. "Burke," he answered. "Sweep duty."

"Contagion report, one male." The address that followed was less than half a block away.

"We’re on our way," Peter said, and replaced the radio. "You ready?" he asked Neal.

"Ugh, no," Neal said, with distaste. "I’m beginning to wish I’d been thrown back into a cell until this is all over."

Peter looked at him seriously. "Believe me, you wouldn’t have wanted that."

Neal laughed dryly, his mouth twisting. "Yeah, I don’t imagine prisoners are a very high priority right now. I’m sure the deaths are being written off as nature’s justice."

"It’s not something I’m happy about," Peter said. "People shouldn't lose their worth just because they’re in prison."

"How very unpatriotic of you. Next you’ll be objecting to your agencies purposely jamming all phone calls except the emergency numbers." He was trying not to sound bitter, he was.

Peter sighed — tired, unhappy. "I don’t think this is really the time to argue. We’ve got a sweep to make."

A sweep. It was a nice euphemism. It sounded so simple, and clean, and tidy. When Peter kicked in the door of apartment 284 (no one having responded to the bell, and the building manager presumably locked inside his own apartment like a good little citizen), Neal had time to appreciate the irony right before a couple of hundred pounds of mindlessly aggressive infected male human slammed him into a wall.

The impact knocked all the breath out of him, and he did nothing but gasp in shock as he took a punch to the ribs, and another to his stomach. Then Peter was hauling the man off of him, forcing him to the ground where he continued to struggle as he was cuffed. Peter dragged him up and out of the room and secured him to one of the metal stairwell railings before running back in.

"Neal? Are you okay?"

Neal groaned, and pushed himself up, wincing. "Fist-fights have never really been my thing."

Peter looked him anxiously up and down.

"I’m fine," Neal reassured him. He was a bit shaken up, but did his best to hide it. "Who called 911? It can’t have been him."

Between them they did a quick survey of the apartment. "Is there anyone there?" Peter called. "We’re the FBI."

A closet door cautiously began to open. "Don’t shoot!"

"We’re not going to," Peter promised, and the door opened the rest of the way.

The woman was maybe in her 40s, and had a blue silk scarf tied around the lower half of her face as a mask. "Robert?" she asked. "Is he..."

"Neal, can you do this?" Peter asked, in a low voice, and Neal approached her as Peter went out to check that Robert was still secured.

"My name’s Neal," he said. "We’re going to take Robert to a hospital, where he can get treatment. What’s your name?"

"Emma," she said, and made a gesture as if to reach for his arm, stopping herself at the last second. "He’s going to be okay, isn’t he?"

"We're going to get him medical attention," Neal said. "How about you, are you alright?"

She nodded. "I... Yes, I'm fine."

She was showing none of the confusion which was one of the symptoms of infection, and nor did her breathing sound constricted. Which meant that they would leave her behind. Neal had several hours ago decided that if it was him calling help for a partner, he would fake infection himself to be allowed to go along too. But then he had the benefit of knowing how unlikely it was that Emma would ever get to see Robert again. Perhaps in a few hours one of her neighbours would call a different sweep team to pick her up.

There were too many things he wasn’t allowed to tell the people they were supposedly helping. He was good at keeping secrets usually, but these were lying in his stomach like acid.

"We need to go," he said. "Robert needs medical help."

"Yes, of course." She was clearly trying very hard not to cry, but wasn’t at all succeeding.

Neal left her like that, hating himself for it. But there wasn’t anything he could do.

Robert was moaning as he twisted to try and get free, the metal of the handcuffs biting into his arms. He thrashed viciously every now and then. "Ready for round two?" Peter asked.

"I suppose so," Neal said, unenthusiastically. "Don’t let him kill us on the stairs."

"I’ll do my best," Peter said. "There should be transport waiting by the time we get him onto the street."

There was, and despite Neal’s fears and the infected man’s best efforts, the two of them got him to it in relative safety. The ambulance had had most of its breakable gear stripped out, and wasn’t bothering to run either lights or sirens.

Neal leaned heavily against the nearest wall once it had gone. "I hate this," he said.

"I know," Peter agreed, equally unhappy. "I hate it too. But we just have to keep trusting the authorities."

What if we don’t, though? Neal didn’t say it, because he doubted Peter would have an answer and they had been having iterations of this tired argument for too long already. Long enough for even Peter to begin to lose faith.

Peter put a hand on his shoulder, and leaned against the wall beside him. Neither of them spoke.

- - -

In the unnatural hush of the empty streets, the distant sound of shouting travelled a long way. Neal was the first one to notice, and he tapped Peter's arm to get his attention. They headed towards the noise without discussion. It was further away than it seemed.

Neal hadn't been sure what he had expected but it wasn't this: a group of young men, bloody and scared, hemming another man who was crouched into a corner. One of the standing ones was holding a crowbar down by his side, momentarily forgotten. There was blood on it.

"What's going on?" Peter demanded, pushing forward.

There was a visible jerk of shock as the group noticed their arrival. They were only in their early 20s.

"It's the government!" one of the others said, looking relieved.

The man on the ground was shuddering and coughing, blood spattering from his lips. It was streaked and speckled down his chin and clothes. He was bleeding also from a deep gash along one temple. He stared at nothing, occasionally gasping hoarsely.

"He's sick," the crowbar-carrying one said, needlessly. He carried on talking, words rushing out of his mouth. "This plague. We were right, weren't we? They're zombies." He stared at Neal and Peter, in their biohaz suits, with an expression that was partly hope, but mostly terror.

"Zombies?" Peter demanded. "What the hell are you talking about?"

"We —" The speaker trailed off, glancing to the others for support.

The sick man made a spasming motion, and everyone jerked back. Crowbar-guy had his crowbar up wardingly in front of him.

"You attacked him?" Neal asked, suddenly realising exactly what they had interrupted. "You were trying to kill him!"

"He attacked us!" It was the youngest-looking one who spoke. He was wearing a superhero hoodie. "We were holed up together with everyone's talking about a plague, and then he went crazy. People on reddit before it went down said they were zombies. You're here to help, aren't you?"

"Why didn't you call 911?" Peter demanded.

"Because we could see what was happening!" Everyone was getting louder, more hysterical.

"You're trying to cover it up! We can't listen to —"

The sick man lunged forward, eyes unfocused, choking for air. His fingers caught at the hem of the closest guy's shirt, clutching desperately, and the guy's screams tore apart the tension which had been building to pressure-cooker levels. Peter tried to intervene, but the sick man had already been knocked back by a panicked flailing of fists and feet and metal, everyone shouting at once. "Hey!" Neal found himself yelling. "Hey!" But no one was listening.

There was the crunch of metal striking bone. Other sounds abruptly stopped.

"Don't move," Peter ordered, in the sudden silence. He had trained his gun on crowbar-guy, who stood frozen. Then he dropped the crowbar. It rang loudly as it bounced against the concrete.

"You just murdered your friend," Peter said. Neal, watching, could see the realisation and horror bleed into the frozen faces. "Wherever you came from, go back there. Now. Don't come outside again."

They left, still in a shocked silence. Peter waited a while to re-holster his gun.

"They'll already be justifying it to themselves," Neal said, quietly. "About how he really was a zombie, and we're part of the cover-up." He forced himself to glance down at the body, and had to look away again almost immediately.

"As long as they're not running around outside," Peter said. "That's what's important right now."

"You don't believe that," Neal said.

Peter looked at him, mouth twisting in distaste. No. Of course he didn't. Those stupid, dumb, terrified kids weren't the only ones trying to justify things to themselves.

When this is all over… But Neal realised that he had stopped being able to picture a swift return to the way everything had been. The city had been locked down using Federal powers without precedent, and now people were killing each other out of terror of infection. He had no idea how they would be able to go back to normal.

- - -

Diana hadn’t meant to fall sleep, but she had been so tired that it had been all but inevitable.

Waking abruptly was disorientating. Her muscles were cramped and her head and throat ached and her eyes were hard to peel open. Her immediate wish was to curl up and go back to sleep, but she was too uncomfortable, and there was something jarring sharply against her.

As she blinked her surroundings blearily into focus, wincing at the harsh overhead lights, she realised that the sound and motion which had shaken her awake was Christie, still lying on her side with her head in Diana’s lap, coughing jaggedly.

"Christie, are you okay?" she asked. "Chris?"

Christie sounded now like she was choking. She inhaled enough air to moan painfully.

"Christie?" Diana said, anxiously. She put her arms around Christie’s torso, lifting her to clear her airway. Christie grabbed onto Diana’s wrist, clinging desperately as she continued to cough and choke.

The inside of her clear mask was spattered with blood. It was mixed with mucus and air bubbles, and Christie was coughing up more of it every second.

Diana jerked back in shock, unable to breathe. The blood was horrifically vivid, and there was so much of it. Not like the other patients, who all began to cough up small amounts after a while. The comparison was like the difference between a pinprick and a knife wound.

"Help!" she shouted, the shocked paralysis breaking. "I need help here!"

There was a frenzy of motion around her almost immediately, but Diana kept her eyes and hands on Christie. Christie was clinging to her, struggling to breathe, her whole body jerking and spasming as she choked on the blood that was from the lining of her lungs breaking down.

"Get her secured!" someone shouted.

Someone dropped to their knees on the floor behind Christie, prying her gloved fingers free from Diana’s arm and pulling her wrists together behind her back. Christie was hardly fighting him, though, not like most of the other victims who attacked anything in sight. She was just spasming helplessly. And she was still staring at Diana, eyes stretched wide and round in panic.

"Christie!" Diana pleaded. "Christie, stay with me I’m here, I’m so sorry I left you. I love you, I love you —"

Another man crouched down beside Diana, and she recognised him as one of Christie’s friends, another doctor. "Chris? Oh god, no."

"This can’t be the same thing," Diana said, half-begging, desperately wanting him to tell him that it wasn’t. "It’s too fast, I haven’t seen anyone else like this..."

"I have," he said. He leaned close to her ear. "There’s nothing we can do."

"That can’t be true," she pleaded. Christie was choking for breath, her eyes unfocused. "Please, Eric, there must be something!"

"Her lungs are hemorrhaging," Eric said. "Even in a proper hospital, with the best surgical team..."

Diana’s vision was blurring. It took a moment for her to recognise that she was crying; she did it so rarely. She tried to swipe the tears away with a hand, forgetting again about the suit-mask blocking her face.

Christie was drowning.

Diana reached out, cradling Christie’s covered head gently in her gloved hands. "I’m here," she said. "I’m not leaving you again, I promise." She couldn’t tell whether Christie recognised her face or voice, or whether she was even registering anything at all apart from agony.

Christie was hardly managing to breathe now, and the breaths she took bubbled horribly with fluid from her flooded lungs. Her eyes were rolling back, lids falling.

"I love you," Diana whispered. "You aren’t alone. I promise you, you aren’t alone. I’m here."

Even in the babble of noise permeating the building, the sudden silence where Christie’s breathing had been was enormous.

"I’m sorry," Eric said, quietly, as the absence lengthened. A void.

There was another area, curtained-off, where they laid the dead in neat rows. Without even the dignity of coverings or body bags now — they had run out. Diana had stopped crying in the time it took for her and Eric to move Christie’s body, and she couldn’t summon anything but a deep, shocked numbness as she stepped back in the temporary morgue.

The blood was still smeared on Christie's face, and on the inside of her suit’s mask. Darkening now as it dried. Protocol prevented breaching the containment around her body, and there just wasn’t the time. Too much work. Too many more patients.

Diana wanted to say goodbye, staring down at her, but her throat was too tight and she was too numb to find any words. She turned around after a moment, and went back out into the main area.

Keep going, she told herself. Keep going. It was all she could do.

- - -

The breakdown happened very fast. But the momentum had been building and building all the while, until the crash had become inevitable. They had known all along that the containment measures were limited by time. By how long it would take until the food in people's apartments ran out, and hunger overcame fear and the placating messages being broadcast over the television from studios in other cities.

Neal had been snatching a couple of hours’ sleep in one of the med centres, and even as Peter shook him awake he became aware the the quality of the background noise had changed. "What’s happened?" he asked.

"People have started panicking," Peter said, grimly. "There’s looting, people shooting looters..."

"Looters shooting back," Neal supplied, and Peter nodded. "Are we still in lock-down?"

"Now more than ever."

"Shit." It was terrifying, the extent to which the world had upheaved in such a short space of time. When Neal listened, he realised that not all the noise he heard was from the main room of the field hospital. It was from outside, too, where before there had been only silence. "So what are the orders now?" he asked. "We carry on suicidally trying to uphold the system?"

He had been half-joking, but the look on Peter’s face was bleak. "There haven't been any orders," he said. "There's nothing."

Neal was exhausted, and his head was still clogged with sleep. "I don’t understand. What does that mean?"

Peter glanced around, and dropped his voice. "It means that the authorities have given up. Whatever this virus is, it’s been judged dangerous enough that it has to be contained at all cost, and that’s a higher priority than trying to help people who’ve been infected."

"But that’s what we’re already doing, isn’t it?" Neal asked. "Containing people..."

Peter looked mildly exasperated at how uncharacteristically slow Neal was catching on.. "Neal, the city is now a containment zone. No one’s going to be getting out, and no help will be coming in."

Neal stared. "That can’t be a thing," he said.

"It already is. And it’s chaos out there, from what I hear." He bit his lip. "Look, the field hospitals are probably pretty safe for now. Everything’s stored securely, for one thing."

"You sound like you’re going somewhere."

"I am. I’m going back to my house. I need to — to see —" His voice caught, and for an instant Neal could see on his face a little of how much it had been killing Peter to have no contact with Elizabeth since this whole thing started. Then he locked his expression down again determinedly.

And Neal had no idea sure what to say. He could confess now about the warning he’d sent, but what if Mozzie hadn’t got to Elizabeth in time? Giving Peter false hope and then tearing it down seemed crueler than continuing to lie by omission.

"I’ll go with you, then," he said.

Peter shook his head. "It’s dangerous."

"Peter, don’t be ridiculous. I know it’s dangerous; that’s why I’m not letting you go alone."

"Neal..."

"You can argue all you want, but you’ll just waste more time."

Peter met his eyes for several seconds, and then sighed. "Fine. If you’re sure I can’t talk you out of it."

"You can’t."

In truth, Neal was desperately afraid that if he let Peter walk out on his own, he might never see him again. After the last couple few days it was a fear that seemed only too plausible, and he had no intention of taking that chance.

- - -

It began to rain heavily as they drove across the city in one of the government vehicles which Peter had commandeered. As they weren’t using it for official purposes Neal supposed that it was technically being stolen, but he doubted that Peter would look kindly on that interpretation.

The closer they got to Brooklyn, the more anxious Neal was becoming, although he was trying his hardest to hide it. There were people in the streets now, makeshift masks tied over their faces, taking supplies from shops with smashed windows. And there were other people, bent over and coughing up blood, or attacking fellow humans and shop mannequins and brick walls with equal indiscrimination.

The rain was a relief. It hid some of the chaos, and drove people inside — the ones who hadn’t been driven out of their minds by viral infection.

Peter was mostly silent. The opaque suit-material hid his face from Neal while he was looking straight ahead. "She’ll be okay," he said, a couple of times, as if that would make it true.

Neal made little noises of agreement, but couldn’t bring himself to actually speak.

The house was dark. They could see that from the car. It took Peter an eternity to find his house keys in the pocket of the utility belt he’d put them in, and the key skittered wildly over the plate of the lock before he managed to slide it in.

"El?" he called, even before the door was properly open. "El, are you here?"

Silence. And the door had been locked — that boded well for her not having been collected in a sweep.

Neal followed Peter inside, and shut the door behind them. "I don’t think she’s here," he said.

"No," Peter said. "She isn't." His voice was calm, more than Neal would have expected, as he unzipped the top of the biohaz suit to pull his head free and let the hood hang down his back.

Neal copied him. "Peter —" he began.

"She went with Mozzie," Peter said. He turned to look straight at Neal. "That was you, wasn't it? You told him."

Neal opened his mouth to begin an automatic denial, but then Peter's words caught up with him. "You… knew?"

Peter gave a little huff. "She's not the sort of person to just run off into the blue without checking in, you know. She called me. We didn't — we couldn't say much, but…"

Neal was torn between indignation at the counter-deception, and being impressed at Peter's acting skills. "So you know where they went?" he settled for asking.

"To her parents," Peter said. He glanced distractedly around the kitchen, until he spotted a piece of paper that had been on the counter. "She left a note. She said she would…"

Neal watched him unfold it, and then he awkwardly looked away. Whatever it said, Peter didn't read it aloud, and Neal would never dream of asking.

"Neal," Peter said, quietly, and he looked around. "El says they couldn't get hold of June."

He turned away with his whole body this time, needing a moment just for himself before he could re-fix the mask that the situation demanded. He had hoped she had got away too. He had wished it so badly that he had almost taken it for granted…

Peter waited for him.

"We should get out of here," Neal said, his voice determinedly business-like. "This isn't a good place to hole up. You should go find the stuff you can't live without."

That would take a while; much longer than both of them would like, it was guaranteed. Peter had never had to consider leaving in a hurry with no promise of return — whereas Neal couldn't remember when he last had not had a bag of the essentials packed and ready to go.

He was already sinking himself into planning the next few steps ahead of him. So it was a shock when he suddenly found himself crushed by Peter's arms in an almost painfully tight hug, the suit material making crinkling sounds. "Thank you," Peter whispered, fervently, and as his breathing hitched Neal realised with a shock that he was crying. "You got her out. Thank you, thank you…"

- - -

Diana hardly paid attention at first to the new shouts. Too many people were shouting already for them to stand out as unusual.

But it was different.

She looked up finally, when the background noise dropped, allowing individual words to penetrate. There was a bullish man in civilian clothes trying to shove his way through several suited people who were trying to hold him back. He had pushed his way in from outside, leaving the door open behind him. "Where is she?" he was yelling. "I want to see her! You can’t keep me out!"

One of the medical staff was trying to talk to him but the man was shaking his head angrily. "What do you mean, you don’t know? I’m her family, you can’t do this!"

More people shoved their way in from outside, eager to follow the path the first man was carving. "Now we’re in for trouble," someone from behind Diana muttered.

"What are you hiding in there?" a new voice demanded.

"Please, calm down!"

The first man raised his fist and punched the speaker, who fell with a cry of pain.

For just a moment everything seemed to freeze. But the civilians trying to shove their way in reacted before the medical staff did, and the dam broke. Suddenly people were pouring in, loud and desperate.

Diana for a moment saw the interior of the field hospital through their eyes. Individuals with no name-tags or records tied down to any available beds; blood on the concrete floor; corpses not yet moved to the morgue lying uncovered, without dignity. It was like a scene from a nightmare. Would she listen to reason, if she’d broken through to find Christie in such a place — not even being treated, but simply strapped down to die?

No. I wouldn’t.

"Get out of here," she said, urgently, to those around her. "They’re a mob."

Her fellows halted uncertainly, but then those who had led the charge inside started tugging at and cutting through patients’ bonds, and suddenly (predictably, horribly,) the pandemonium became even worse.

She wanted to do something. But in the face of an enraged mob, all she could do was run.

She pushed her way through the curtains. "Get out," she ordered everyone who’d been grabbing a sliver of rest. "There’s a crowd here out for blood." She stripped off her suit as she spoke, flinching instinctively as her skin was bared. But its protection hadn’t saved Christie...

Her clothes underneath were damp and sticky with sweat, and she had nothing that would work as a mask. Other people were following her lead -- several of them she knew by sight from law enforcement. That was good. Hopefully they’d be okay.

She shouldered open the fire door, and escaped into a torrent of rain, stumbling for a second as her eyes adjusted to the dim light. It was early evening.

With ugly shouts and yells behind her, she broke into a jog. The cold rain was through her clothes in moments and she was already shivering, but it was the cleanest and most awake she’d felt in days.

Once she’d put a few streets between her and the hospital she slowed to a walk, chilly reality settling over her. She’d heard that the city was utterly locked down; it hadn’t seemed all that important then, but now she kicked her earlier self for not paying more attention. She was already cold, wrapping her arms around herself to try to compensate for the lack of warmer, more waterproof clothes. Even a jacket would do.

She was only partially sure of where in the city she was. Worse, she didn’t know where she was going. Her apartment was too far, and she didn’t have supplies laid in to wait out this kind of thing. The Bureau offices were a possibility, but only if other agents were there — which she couldn’t be sure of. It felt like she couldn't be sure of anything.

Shivering, she kept on walking. Anything seemed preferable to the alternative, which was stopping. As long as she kept moving, her grief and fear could follow her like a billowing cloak, but they couldn’t catch up to her. She thought maybe she was in shock. It didn't seem important.

It was with a dull sense of surprise that she came to the realisation that her feet had picked a destination for her without any input from her brain. She thought briefly about turning around and fading back into the darkening city when she saw that the lower windows were boarded up, but there was no sense in that.

She climbed the steps and knocked on the door. There was no answer, and she knocked again, this time pressing her ear to the wood. "It’s Diana Barrigan," she called. "Neal’s friend."

She hadn’t really expected that to work. But a moment later the door opened. "Come in quickly," June said.

- - -

Neal was only just ahead of Peter as they came jogging down the stairs, presumably towards the threat of someone trying to get into the house. They both stopped short.

"Diana?" Peter asked, incredulously.

She gave him a slight smile. "Hi, boss." She felt it slide away again as she turned to June. It was just too much effort to maintain for more than a moment. "I hope you don’t mind me coming here. I just thought —"

"Not one bit," June said. "These two have been worrying about you. I’m glad to see you safe." She glanced quickly at Neal and Peter in a way that might have been a hint to do something. "You look worn out."

"I'm okay," she said automatically, not yet having stopped to categorise her feelings, and not wanting to do it now. "I guess you know everything’s broken down out there."

"Get warmed up and then we’ll talk about it, and what to do," Peter said. He was looking her up and down worriedly. She thought for a moment he was going to try to hug her, but he didn't.

June nodded at him approvingly. "Why don’t you make us some hot drinks? I’ll take Diana and we’ll see if any of Cindy’s clothes fit her. She’s managed to abandon an entire wardrobe here over the years."

Diana had never had much of an opportunity to talk to June before. She had recognised her as being kin to Neal, charm hiding dangerous edges underneath, but now it was June’s warmth and kindness which enveloped her. She felt dazed, in a way she definitely now recognised as shock, and June didn’t push her.

By the time the two of them came back downstairs, Diana in a t-shirt, jersey and jeans from Cindy’s closet, she was beginning to feel more human. June steered her onto a couch in the sitting room where Neal had been piling blankets, and Peter pressed a mug of hot tea into her hands.

"What do you know about the situation?" he asked.

"Peter," Neal said, frowning.

She shook her head. "No, it’s all right. Well, it isn’t, but you know what I mean. Everything’s just collapsed. If anyone’s any closer to a cure then I don’t know about that either." All those people, dead and dying. "What can we do?"

"Here, not much," June said, sitting in an armchair near the fire. "You need to get out of the city."

"We can’t," Peter objected.

"Of course we can," Neal said. "There’s always a way. Come on, Peter, you know how good I am at getting out of tight corners."

Peter, though, didn’t smile. He looked down at his hands instead, away from everyone else. "No, I mean that we shouldn’t. And we’re not going to."

"But we need to find Elizabeth and Mozzie!" Neal's face was confused, and hurt. Like this from Peter was an unexpected betrayal.

Peter looked up at last. "Neal, the lock-down is for a reason. It’s to protect the people outside of it. That’s why we weren’t allowed to warn anyone. We’ve got no right to break the quarantine and possibly bring this virus with us." He spoke like a man who’d already argued this point to death. With himself, presumably, given how incredulous Neal still looked.

"But Peter... Elizabeth. She’s waiting for you."

"Of course I know that!" Peter snapped. "How could I not?" He took a breath, looking ill. "But we’ve got no right to... to do that."

"So you’re saying we should just sit here and wait to die?" Neal demanded. His face had flushed with anger. "For some stupid principle?"

Peter looked away again, his answer clear in the silence.

"You’re assuming it hasn’t already spread," June said, quietly. Diana turned towards her at once, as did Neal and Peter. "How many people do you think left New York before the lock-down, before they knew about the virus at all?"

"It couldn’t have evolved in New York," Diana said. The discussion had been passed around over and over in the field hospital. "It probably came from a forest somewhere and then jumped the species barrier. All you need is one person on a plane to bring it here. And anywhere else."

June nodded, leaning forwards as if that settled it. "You have to go, while you still can. All of you. And I know a way out."

Neal smiled conspiratorially. "Of course you do."

"This house has a tunnel to the river," June said. "For... discreet movement of goods."

"Smuggling," Peter said.

She raised an eyebrow at him. "There’s still a boat down there. It’s old, and small, but it’ll get you far enough along the coast."

"Peter, please," Neal begged.

"It feels wrong," Peter said, stubbornly. "It's selfish."

"You know what’s selfish?" Neal demanded. "Sacrificing yourself for some noble idea of how the world should work. Who do you think you’re helping? And what would El say?"

Peter glared at him, enough that even Neal flinched a little at the strength of it — but he didn't break eye contact. "Fine," Peter ground out, eventually. "You win. We'll go."

Diana felt herself sag a little with relief. She was desperately afraid that Peter was right and Neal was wrong, but... she was human, and as selfish as Peter was afraid of being. She wanted to get out.

June sat up straight. "You’ll leave tomorrow night, then."

"Why not now, if we’re going?" Peter asked. His voice was brusque, and hurt.

"Because by the time you’re ready, half the night will be over. And you all need sleep first. You’re exhausted."

Neal leaned forward towards her, with a worried frown. "June, you’re talking as if you aren’t coming."

She smiled a little, sadly. "I’m not." She raised a hand as he opened his mouth. "Neal,I've already made my decision. I’m too old. And besides, this is my land, here. There’s too much of me in this house to be able to leave it."

"June..." There was real pain in his voice, and in his eyes.

"I’ve no intention of going anywhere," she repeated. She put on a smile, and her eyes twinkled suddenly. "I can take care of myself, you know. Apart from anything else, I’ve got enough supplies laid in to last me for quite a while."

Neal looked painfully torn. It was clear that only the fight he’d just had to persuade Peter to leave was stopping him from now saying that he would stay, too. From Peter's expression, he realised that.

Diana stood up, decisively. "June’s right," she said. "We all need to get some rest."

That broke up the discussion, as June also stood. "Diana, you can sleep in Cindy’s room," she said. "There’s a guest room on the same floor that Peter can use."

Peter and Neal exchanged a look. "I’ll clear up down here," Neal said, and hung back until they had left the room.

June showed them where Peter could sleep, and then left them, the sound of her footsteps dying away as she descended the stairs.

"Have you heard anything from Jones?" Diana asked, once they were alone. She dreaded having to ask the questions, but she couldn’t escape it. "Hughes?"

Peter shook his head, and leaned against the wall. "Nothing. I haven’t heard from anyone I know since this whole nightmare started. The only reason I kept track of Neal is because we were assigned together. Presumably so I could keep an eye on him."

She sighed. She had expected that answer, of course, but still...

"What made you come here?" Peter asked.

She chuckled unexpectedly. "Would you believe, I didn’t even mean to? I guess I thought that if anyone would be still alive, it would be Caffrey."

Peter laughed. It was the first time that evening that he had done so.

After the last few days, it felt strange to be lying in a real bed, wearing borrowed pyjamas. The silence, especially, was bizarre, and seemed to press against her ears. She tried to get to sleep, knowing how much she needed some rest to store up against the days coming, but it was elusive.

She hadn’t told anyone about Christie. All the news was so painful that this extra piece would just be swallowed up in it, and she couldn’t bear that. So she kept it private, holding it close in the dark.

- - -

The wine that June poured was worth hundreds of dollars a glass. It glowed ruby-red in the firelight.

They had packs ready by the door. Clothes, blankets, supplies... June hadn’t been joking when she had claimed to be prepared for anything. Not that Neal would have ever doubted that.

He still couldn’t quite believe that she wouldn’t come with them, after living a life like his where you were always ready, in the end, to leave. Now, with Diana and Peter conferring upstairs, would be his last chance to try. "June —"

She silenced him with a wave of her hand. "Please, Neal, don't. You’re not going to change my mind. I’m not staying out of idealism, I assure you."

Neal couldn’t help it — his eyes flicked up towards the rooms above. June caught it, and laughed. "I’d never accuse you of that," he said, quickly. "But you’re staying for ghosts."

"I’m staying for common sense," she said, and took a slow, measured sip of her wine. "I don’t like the realities of being old, but I’d be a fool to ignore them. And I’m too old for midnight boat journeys in a storm, and for making my way cross-country in the sort of state I think you’ll find the country’s in. Think hard, and then tell me who’s being idealistic here."

That stung, as had no doubt been intended. "I don’t want to leave you, though," Neal protested, his voice sounding lost and lonely to his own ears. "You’re family."

"That will never change," June promised. "You know what I’m going to say, though."

Neal sighed. "That so are Peter, and Moz, and El, and Diana. I know."

"There you are, then," June said, simply.

"It’s not fair."

"Life isn’t fair."

"I’m not a child."

June smothered a smile — that had come out too petulant. "No, but you’re my son; as good as. And you’ll do what’s right."

Peter didn’t see what they were doing in that way. Peter saw it as a betrayal. But Neal knew that that was just another thing he would have to live with.

Peter and Diana entered then. "Are we ready?" Peter asked.

"Nearly," June said. "Sit and have a drink first. For luck."

They didn’t speak much; all the plans had already been made. But it was good to... sit, and create a memory of the four of them together in the firelit room. I’ll be all right, June had promised earlier, and right now it felt like she was right, like these walls were strong enough to keep out any storm.

But it couldn’t last. They drained their glasses, and Diana said, "Should we go?"

"One thing," Peter said. "I was forgetting." He pulled something small out of his pocket — Neal's anklet key. "I don't think you'll exactly be needing it for now," he said. "Here."

Neal unlocked the anklet. It felt strange in his hand. "I didn't know there was an end-of-the-world clause in my release terms," he said.

"There isn't," Peter said, with the glimmer of a smile. "I thought June could look after it for you. When things return to normal you can have it back."

"Now there's something to look forward to," Neal said. He laid it and the key down on the table, and raised an eyebrow at June. "Well, it's certainly a fitting thing to remember me by."

"I’ll show you out," June said, like any graceful host, and led them down to the wine cellar. She pressed against an empty rack until it slid apart on hidden hinges.

"I never knew this was here," Neal said, delighted in spite of everything. "Mozzie would love this."

"I never give away all my secrets," June said. She reached out her arms and Neal stepped into them, hugging her tight. "Be safe," she murmured, and he felt safe, with her enveloping him, but he couldn't stay like that.

"I’ll miss you," he whispered back, but was too choked to say more. Thank you. Thank you for everything. He knew she understood.

June hugged Diana too, and finally a slightly surprised Peter. "I hope you find them," she said. "Send them my love."

And then there was nothing to do but turn their flashlights on and head into the tunnel. Peter led the way.

Neal only looked back once, as he turned the first corner. June was still standing at the tunnel’s mouth watching them walk away; only a silhouette against the light.

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

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