Frith (frith_in_thorns) wrote,

[fic: white collar] Hold On Hope

Title: Hold On Hope
Characters/Pairing: Neal, Diana; Gen
Genre/Rating: Angst, hurt/comfort; PG-13
Word count: 3000
Warnings: None
Notes: For the 10tropes challenge, for the trope Getting Hot In Here. Slightly loosely.
Beta'd very kindly by helle_d.

Summary: The metal and earth dampened any noises above them to nothing.

- o -

Afterimages lingered after the metal lid slammed shut, plunging them into darkness. Seeley; his smile apologetic, almost pleasant. "I'm sorry, but I really can't afford for you to disturb my operation." His face in shadow against the brightness of the sky.

Then just the pitch black.

"Don't yell," Diana hissed urgently. "We're lucky they didn't just shoot us."

"I wasn't going to," Neal snapped back. People who locked undercover FBI agents (or thereabouts) in storage chests sunk into the ground didn't often change their minds on being asked. He reached up, finding the narrow slit where the lid had slammed down. The seam was tight. Watertight. He couldn't even get a fingernail beneath it.

The catch and bolt were on the outside, of course.

"What's the plan?" Neal demanded.

"I don't know! You're the expert on getting out of things like this."

"It's not like I have much to work with!" Neal smacked a palm against the closest side out of frustration. The soil beyond deadened the sound.

"Caffrey, shut up! I'm trying to hear if they're still outside."

Neal shut up obediently. There wasn't really anything to hear; the metal was thick, for sure protection against the elements. What were probably voices shouting somewhere. He was tense. There had to be something they could do.

There was a huff of irritation from Diana. She probably felt much the same way.

"We're trapped, aren't we?" he asked, after a couple of minutes, hoping Diana wouldn't shout at him.

She didn't. Her voice, although he could still tell that she simmered with anger underneath, was resigned. "Well, it does seem that way." She huffed again. "I hate having to wait for rescue."

"They know where we are, right?" Neal asked. He found one of the sides and leant against it.

"Of course they do," Diana said. "Peter and Jones will have started moving in when Seeley smashed our transmitters." She sighed. "Sit and wait a few minutes. Then we'll try getting out."

A noise came down from the roof of their prison; a low rumble, like rain, or people stamping on an upper floor. Neal half-rose up, and his head banged against the metal ceiling. He dropped back down with a curse. "That sounds ominous."

Diana made a hissing sound. "This box must have been covered before we got here — they were hiding the artifacts in it, after all. I bet that's the sound of them shovelling the earth back over."

Neal swallowed. He'd been hoping his eyes might have started adjusting to the dark by then, but there was absolutely no glimmer of light for them to adjust to. "Maybe it wasn't."

He could hear Diana moving, the soft sounds of her brushing up against the metal. "Forget waiting. Help me try to push the lid up."

Neal did so. He got to his knees and strained upwards, but although his muscles burned he couldn't feel any give at all. He slammed his fist against the metal. It thudded dully. Somehow he doubted the sound would carry very far at all.

Diana swore, for an impressively long time. "We're stuck," she said flatly.

"You said Peter will be coming for us."

"Well, obviously, but they've got to actually find us. And we're buried, so." He could hear her still running her fingers along the joins at the top of the walls. "How much air do you think we have?"

"A couple of hours, at the very least," Neal said immediately. "Probably more. I think."

"Okay," Diana said. "Okay. That's plenty of time." He noticed she didn't ask how he'd worked it out so quickly. She had an instinct for guessing which subjects he had potentially incriminating knowledge of.

"Yeah." He leaned against the nearest side again. The metal was slightly rough with rust. It would be staining his suit. "I guess we just have to…wait."

"Wonderful," Diana muttered. There was the sound of her knocking against one of the walls. "Where are you?"

"Here," Neal said. The container was only about three meters in length. It didn't take them long to locate each other and shuffle so that they were sitting side by side, just within arms' reach. Neal took his jacket off. It was already becoming warm.

"Pity we can't exactly order room service today to pass the time," Diana said, wryly.

"Oh, I'm sure we can come up with other ideas." Neal grinned. "I spy, with my little eye, something beginning with D."

Diana smacked his arm. "Funny."

"Killjoy," Neal said. He strained his ears for any sound from above, but even if there was anyone there the metal and earth dampened any noises above them to nothing. He wondered how much earth actually was packed on top of them. Whether it was enough to hide them beyond hope of being found in time.

He had suffocated before, after all. The gasping, desperate, overwhelming need for air, every cell in his body screaming out for oxygen, the terror as he fell into nothing… Neal swallowed hard and bit into his lower lip, the sharp pain pulling him out of the spiral of memory. This is different. This is going to be different.

He was briefly glad for the dark. It gave him the privacy to push his fear down inside himself and arrange a mask of composure on top. He could play a part where he wasn't afraid. That was just a matter of practice, and his life had given him the opportunity for plenty of that.

"So," Neal asked lightly, once he was sure of his voice, "Do you have any brilliant ideas to keep us entertained?"

"I'm more concerned about getting out of here than about being entertained," Diana said shortly. She banged what had to be her fist against the lid again, over and over.

"I don't think anyone can hear us," Neal felt the need to say, eventually.

"It's worth trying."

Still, after a few more blows she stopped. "I guess doing that is just using up the air faster," she said.

"We're going to be found before we run out of air," Neal reminded her.

"Of course we are," Diana agreed.

They sat in silence for some time. It kept getting warmer, which was something Neal hadn't even thought of when they'd been locked in. Of course, the earth all around them made a great insulator. He removed his tie and rolled up his sleeves.

It took a while for him to notice that Diana's breathing sounded slightly strange. It was too regular, like she was forcing it to stay that way. "Are you alright?" he asked, cautiously.

"I'm fine," she said.

Now that Neal was listening for it he could hear the slight catch in her voice. "Hey," he said. "I'm scared too. You can admit it."

She sighed. But she had always been able to tell when the game was up. "Okay, I am a little," she admitted, unwillingly.

Neal edged closer to her, and felt for her hand, interlocking his fingers with hers. She didn't try to pull away, and he could feel the tension in her. "I won't tell anyone," he promised.

She gave a shaky laugh. "You wouldn't dare."

"I wouldn't," he agreed. "You'd hunt me down."

"Too damn right I would." Diana squeezed his hand. "Thanks."

Neal wished very hard for a bit of light, anything. "Want to talk about it?"

She shrugged — he could feel the movement though his arm. "What, do I have some childhood trauma I can blame? Nah, I don't have an exciting story like that. I just don't like being trapped, which is perfectly rational. The dark doesn't exactly help."

"Fair enough," Neal said. He was impressed with her level of control. Her palm was clammy, and her breathing was still being forced to keep its regular pattern. Oddly, it helped with his own fear, knowing that he wasn't the only one. "Hey," he said. "Have you decided what you're going to wear for your wedding?"

He knew that she was rolling her eyes. "Seriously?" she demanded. "This is what you want to talk about?"

He shrugged. "Why not? Anyway, I need to make sure I don't wear anything that would clash."

"You're impossible," she said. "What, you think I'm going to let you in the pictures with me?"

Neal grinned. "I'm very photogenic."

Diana groaned. "No, I haven't decided yet. It's pretty low down on my list of worries, a bit below how many members of my family are actually going to acknowledge the event at all."

Neal winced. "Ouch."

"Yeah." She paused. "Hey, do you hear something?"

Neal strained his ears. He could hear his heartbeat, and their two sets of breathing, but nothing else. "I don't think so," he said, but he started banging against the metal anyway, Diana joining in. By the time they gave up they were both breathing hard.

"It's getting too warm," Diana complained.

The air was definitely getting thick, as well. Neal used his shirt sleeve to wipe sweat away from his forehead, and then stripped down to his tank top. "How long do you think we've been in here?" he asked.

"I don't know. Maybe an hour?"

Neal nodded. His head was beginning to ache. Helpfully, his memory pointed out that it was a symptom of anoxia as well as dehydration. "Can't be long now until they find us," he said, deciding it was his turn at being relentlessly optimistic.

"Maybe we shouldn't talk," Diana said, her tone reluctant. "We're using up the air faster."

"Okay," Neal said. She was right, he knew she was right, but he still didn't like the idea of sitting in the dark in silence. He squeezed her fingers, and she pressed back.

The darkness seemed to be getting heavier. No longer just a passive thing, it actively pressed down, heavy and suffocating. Neal swallowed, and swiped his free hand through it, just to prove to himself that there was no resistance. Sweat trickled down his back.

And the silence, too, was threatening. There were the small sounds the two of them made, and beyond that, nothing. Silent as the grave, was the phrase that rose up unbidden in Neal's thoughts. A dead silence, heavy with the weight of the smothering earth packed tight above and around them.

Neal closed his eyes, in the hope that it would make the darkness less complete. But he was just as aware of it, hot and thick. And now he could hear a different noise, for the first time. It wasn't coming from above, wasn't the noise of the rescue he'd been waiting for — this noise came out of the darkness within the container. They hadn't been alone after all.

He could only sit there, paralysed, as it crept or slithered closer. He jerked violently as it touched his leg, smooth and clammy and wrong

"Neal!" He was being shaken. "Neal, snap out of it!"

He shot upright, gasping for breath. There wasn't enough air. His lungs fought to pull more in and he tilted dizzily.

Diana was holding him. "Calm down! You can breathe if you go slower."

Neal tried. Diana's hands on his shoulders pressed him down to the floor. Lying there made him feel marginally better. "What —"

"Don't talk yet," she said. He could hear that her breaths, too, were faster now. "I don't need you fainting on me."

The darkness-creature was gone. Of course it was. "Sorry," Neal panted.

"Don't do that again," Diana ordered. "Although I guess you woke me up, so thanks." She had to stop to get her breath back.

"You're welcome," Neal said. He felt exhausted. Breathing required effort, and and the air was stifling. Mostly he just wanted to go back to sleep, even if it meant more oxygen-deprivation induced nightmares.

Diana slammed against the ceiling again, each blow coming slower. Then she slumped down next to him, panting. Neal could feel heat coming off her body.

He found her hand and clasped it. She reciprocated. "Peter," she whispered.

"Yeah," Neal murmured back. "He's coming."


He lay still, and wasn't sure if he was awake or not, and after a while he was sure he heard sounds. "Diana," he whispered, but she didn't respond. He tried to sit up so that he could make some noise, but he passed out before he managed to get upright.

And it was still dark, but there was the sound of the ocean above him, waves rolling stones across the seabed, rumbling like thunder.


Coolness came crashing down like surf, a wave of it flowing over him.

Pressure against his neck.

Voices. Words.

"I've got a pulse, he's breathing. Help me get him out."

Neal felt hands grasp and lift him. He struggled, but he was so lethargic, his limbs were so heavy. He could feel his pulse thudding.

"Hey, Neal, easy now." It was Peter's voice, as he was laid down on the ground. He cracked his eyes open and Peter was there, wavering in his vision.

"Di," he managed to croak.

"We've got her too, don't worry. Just relax, don't try to move."

He couldn't have if he tried. Even keeping his eyes open was making him dizzy, so he let them fall shut. A few seconds later someone put what felt like a water-sodden pad of cloth on his forehead and another across his throat. They were cool and wonderful.

The paramedics arrived while he was still summoning up the energy to try and open his eyes again. An oxygen mask was slipped over his face and he sucked down lungfuls of the sterile-tasting air greedily.

"Mr Caffrey?" The medic, a small Asian woman, blurred above him, gradually focusing. "We need to get your body temperature down, so I'm going to use some ice packs on you."

He nodded slightly, and sighed as beautiful coldness bloomed against his skin. A needle pricked into the back of his hand as he stared up at the cloudless blue sky through half-open eyes.

"Neal, are you with me?"

"Mmm," Neal said. He reached up to the mask, but Peter stopped him.

"Leave that alone! You need it."

It was hard to talk through it, though, especially when he couldn't really turn his head without dislodging several of the ice packs lying across his body. He gave Peter a beseeching look.

Fortunately, Peter seemed to understand it. "You and Diana are both going to be fine," he said. "She's just over there, also worrying about you and trying to sit up when she shouldn't. I expect it's your influence rubbing off."

Neal grinned, which made Peter roll his eyes.

"We're ready to go now," the medic said.

Peter patted Neal's arm. "I have to help wrap up here," he said. "I'll follow you to the hospital as quickly as I can."

Neal managed a shaky thumbs-up.

- o -

His eyes flew open and he sat up with a loud gasp.

To dark… No. Dimness.

"Some of us are trying to sleep," Diana said, from her bed across the room. There was no hint of drowsiness in her voice.

Neal ran his fingers over the IV port in his hand. Something that solidly separated now from the before of his nightmare. "Sorry," he said.

"Well, you didn't actually wake me," she admitted. "Hospitals are really hard to sleep in."

"They are," Neal agreed, not pressing, just as she hadn't asked him why he'd woken. He sat back against the pillows and wondered how long it was until morning.

The hours of the late afternoon and evening had been a blur of worried faces and feeling like he was burning up and slow re-hydration, and, most of all, a bone-deep exhaustion weighting every inch of him. He'd dozed a lot, surfacing to answer most of Peter's questions. (He'd been fully awake at the point where he got his tracker put back on him.) He'd learned that Peter and Jones had assumed Seeley had taken them with him, and had only realised their mistake when they caught up to him, and then checked all the traffic cam footage available.

Neal supposed that what they should be most thankful for was the weather. If it hadn't been so dry lately the patch of freshly-turned earth might not have been noticed in time. Peter had known it too. The worry hadn't quite faded from his face even while he and Jones and Christie and Elizabeth had wandered in and out, seemingly needing to check that he and Diana were still actually all right.

And now it was just the two of them, left to keep each other company while everyone else went home to get some well-deserved sleep. Which they were supposed to be getting, too.

Diana wasn't even trying. She was leaning forward slightly, her arms wrapped around her knees. The lights were down too low for Neal to be able to make out her expression.

"You okay?" he asked, eventually.

She looked up, got partway through a nod, and then shrugged. "I keep thinking about how we nearly died. We wouldn't have lasted much longer. Every time I start drifting off I keep thinking I'm back in that damn box." She shook herself slightly. "You?"

"The same," Neal said, overriding his instinctive I'm fine. Diana seemed happy enough to be sharing, after all. And it wasn't like she'd be in any way fooled. "I guess we should just be grateful for how things turned out."

"Hmm," Diana said, slightly sceptically, which was about the same response Neal would have given if she'd been the one tossing that platitude to him.

It was probably better not to be contemplating alternative ways that the day could have turned out. "I don't really feel like going back to sleep," Neal admitted. "You want to talk for a bit?"

Diana made a noise which might have been relief. "Sure," she said. "Although, didn't we exhaust our conversation topics once today already?"

Neal cast around for a few seconds, and then grinned. "Not all."

She sighed theatrically. "I'm going to regret this, aren't I."

Neal sat up and twisted so that he could watch her reaction. "I spy, with my little eye —"

Diana threw a pillow at him.

They played until sunrise.

- o -

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Tags: angst, challenges, fanfic, fic: white collar, gen, hc, white collar

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