Title: Thin Ice
Characters/Pairing: Neal, Peter, Diana; Gen
Genre/Rating: Hurt/comfort; PG-13
Word count: 3500
Notes: Written for a lovely anon on my drabble meme. I'm… not very good at writing drabbles. (And yes, I'm still working my way through the prompts, I promise!) Beta'd by the always-lovely helle_d.
Summary: Hypothermia!fic. A blizzard during an undercover meet is a recipe for disaster.
- - -
Peter was trying to ignore his gut-feeling of anxiety. It wasn't as if it was unusual not to have eyes on Neal while he was undercover, after all — except usually that was planned ahead of time. When there should have been line-of-sight from the van, and there was until the snow started swirling down in thick clouds, he found it hard not to worry at the scuppering of their preparation.
"He's fine," Diana said, with a flicker of a smile. "You don't want him knowing you were worrying about him."
Peter hadn't realised she could watch him from her current position, but he had known her for too long to be at all surprised. "I'm not worrying," he said.
"Of course you aren't. That's why he won't know."
Peter grinned, and shook his head slightly. Well, it had been Neal who had refused to call off the meet when the bad weather was forecast, citing how long it had taken to set it up. So far it seemed to be going well, the men bonding over shared distaste for having to trek through the snow in the Park. And whose fault is that?
There wasn't much warning before it started to go bad.
Listening, Peter almost didn't realise what was happening until it was too late. Neal and Abbott were having the sort of conversation which was conducted mostly through meaningful silences and skirting around what they were actually talking about, and then Abbott said, "Well, I think this concludes our business, then," and it took a few seconds of Neal's suddenly heavier breathing through the radio before Peter realised that Neal was running.
He was on his feet as he heard Abbott shout, distantly, "Catch him!"
Peter flung open the van's door and was met with a blast of snow. Clearly, conditions had worsened. He pulled his gun out from under his coat, checking that his earpiece was working. Diana was just behind him.
"Peter, I need help," Neal hissed between breaths. "I'm being chased. Don't know which direction —" He cut off.
Peter started running anyway, towards where the meet had been, the already-thick snow on the ground badly hampering him. Visibility was horrendous, the whirling snow half-blinding him.
"See anything?" he barked.
"No," Diana replied instantly. "Can't see you anymore either."
Shit. This was a terrible situation tactically. But Neal's breathing was sounding close to panicked now.
"Neal!" Peter shouted, knowing he wouldn't be heard above the howling wind. He should be about at the meet place by now, but there was no sign of Abbott or his men.
Neal's voice shouted suddenly in his earpiece. "Don't come any closer!"
Peter looked around instinctively, his weapon raised, but no one was in sight.
"It won't take your weight!" Neal called. The mike failed to pick up replies from whoever he was shouting at.
Wait. He didn't mean…
"Diana, he's on the lake," Peter snapped, and increased his speed. That was straight ahead of him, wasn't it?
"On it," Diana responded, having probably worked it out for herself before he had.
The wind buffeted him wildly. He widened his eyes despite the stinging snow, desperate for a glimpse of anyone.
"No!" Neal shouted, and Peter's stomach dropped at the fear in his voice.
A loud, unidentifiable noise; then a hiss of static which abruptly stopped.
There was suddenly ice beneath his feet and Peter was forced to slow down, since his current speed seemed the best way to fall and possibly break a leg or something. Which wouldn't be helpful.
A dark shape blurred through the blizzard. "FBI!" Peter shouted, and the man made a run for it. Peter fired, shots he didn't expect would hit the target.
He let the man go — he wasn't the priority. "Neal!" he yelled, and kept moving forwards as quickly as he could. A sudden lull, only a second or two, let him see the sheeted ice - and the place ahead where it had split, showing dark water.
Peter stowed his pistol hastily and dropped to hands and knees, spreading his weight over the thin ice. He crawled forwards, as fast as he judged he could safely go (possibly slightly faster). "Neal?"
There. Something dark.
Neal had an arm on the ice, the lake water lapping around his sleeve and turning the snow to slush. His head was also on the ice, leaning against his arm so that his face was out of the water. His eyes were half-open, unfocused, his lips blueish.
"Neal," Peter said, urgently. "I'm getting you out of there. Can you hear me?"
He got no response. He laid himself flat on his stomach, pushing himself gingerly forwards, feeling the ice bow slightly beneath him. He stretched out a hand, and his fingers brushed the fabric of Neal's coat, where the snow settled white against the dark wool. It was settling in his hair, too, flakes landing faster than they could melt.
Peter slid just close enough that he could get a tight grip on Neal's lapel, and then he pulled. The ice creaked and shifted. "Come on," he whispered, and at last Neal's sodden weight came free, sliding up and onto the ice with a rush of water. Peter started moving back quickly, dragging Neal with him, trying to get as far away as possible from that unsafe edge before it had the chance to splinter again.
He stopped as soon as he thought it was safe. "Neal," he said, and turned him over. He had been terrified that Neal might not be breathing but now his body was shaking, shaking violently, which surely had to be a good sign even though his eyes were closed and his face was starkly colourless. "We need to get you to shore," he said.
"Boss," Diana said in his ear, low and worried.
"He's alive," Peter told her, and heard her sigh of relief even over the rushing wind. "You've called EMS?"
"Of course. I'm trying to find you."
Peter returned his focus to Neal. He stood, taking hold of his wrists. The lack of friction made Neal easy to pull across the ice, even though Peter had to walk backwards to do so. How much time did he have? He didn't know much about hypothermic shock. Should probably know more.
Beneath his feet ice turned to solid ground packed tight with snow. Peter had no idea now where the van was, and he wouldn't be able to get Neal far in this anyway.
He took off his coat, the chill of the wind an immediate shock, instantly raising gooseflesh on his skin. Laying it flat over the snow he rolled Neal on top of it.
"P-P'ter," Neal muttered, without opening his eyes, his mouth barely moving. His whole body was still shuddering.
"I'm here," Peter said. He unbuttoned Neal's sodden coat and pulled it off him, then quickly stripped him of his sweater. Neal moaned in protest, unable to do more than curl slightly inward. "Neal, it's okay," Peter told him. "Wet clothes will make you colder, don't fight me."
He didn't think it registered, but Neal clearly wasn't capable of resisting as Peter peeled his shirt away where it stuck damply to his skin, before taking off his own dry jacket and wrapping Neal in it.
"Hey." Diana had found them at last. "Paramedics are ten, maybe fifteen minutes away. They're tracking my cell GPS."
"They have to be quicker," Peter insisted. He lay down next to Neal, wrapping his arms around tightly around him and holding him close. He was shivering himself, but he had much more body heat to spare.
"Traffic's a little difficult right now," Diana retorted, unbuttoning her long wool coat. "In case you haven't noticed, there's a blizzard." She spread her coat over the tow of them, and then knelt down to wrap her scarf around Neal's head.
"C-cold," Neal whispered.
"I know," Peter murmured. "It'll be better soon, you'll be okay."
Diana laid herself down on Neal's other side, pulling her coat to cover their heads and upper bodies, dampening the sounds of the storm. Her arms join Peter's to wrap around Neal. "Shit, he's frozen," she said.
Peter tried to press yet more of his warmth into Neal through their contact. Holding him was like hugging a vibrating block of ice. "Neal, talk to me," he demanded.
"H-hurts," Neal moaned. "C-cold."
"You'll be fine, Caffrey," Diana told him, fiercely.
Peter firmly nodded his agreement, rubbing his hand up and down Neal's back. Neal responded by burrowing more tightly against his chest, still barely conscious. It was frightening, especially since the covering of Diana's coat wasn't really that much of a protection from the snowstorm. Gusts of wind and snow lifted the edges up constantly, and all Peter and Diana could do was try to shield Neal from the worst of it.
Neal moaned again, a low, barely-audible sound with no distinguishable words. He probably didn't even realise he was making it. It set Peter's teeth on edge, and made him feel acutely helpless. "It's okay," he said, trying to sound reassuring, knowing full well that if he had been the one to just be pulled out of a half-frozen lake he wouldn't be feeling at all okay.
"I think he's shivering less," Diana said, sounding worried. "Neal, you doing alright?"
"Neal?" Peter asked, when there was no response. He tried to shake his partner slightly. "Neal. Can you hear me?"
He wasn't sure if Neal moved in response or not, but he certainly didn't reply. Shit. "Neal, say something. That's an order."
He felt Diana's hand on his arm, squeezing it gently. She was as worried as he was.
"Peter," she said, suddenly. "Hear that?"
The faint sound of an ambulance siren was beautiful. "Go make sure they can find us," Peter told her, and she slipped away immediately.
He tried to hug Neal tighter, to make up for losing Diana's warmth. "Come on," he murmured. "Stay with me. Help's here, Neal."
Neal didn't respond, although Peter kept trying right up until the paramedics finally arrived. Peter stepped away from Neal only reluctantly so that they could move him to a gurney, and was relieved that they began moving towards the ambulance immediately. He remembered to retrieve his coat, and Neal's discarded clothes - they probably cost some ridiculous sum, and Neal would kill him if he left them there.
He and Diana ignored the van — someone from the Bureau could pick it up when the weather cleared. And unlike the ambulance, it didn't have a flashing beacon signalling its location through the driving snow.
When the ambulance doors slammed, the sudden silence was shocking. Peter wiped melting snow from his face, and it wasn't until one of the paramedics draped a blanket around his shoulders that he realised how cold he was. He clutched it tightly, Diana smiling wanly at him as she did the same. She sat down next to him, out of the way of the bustle around Neal. Her teeth were chattering fiercely. Peter was concerned about that, and tried to say something, and realised that his teeth were chattering, too.
Under the bright lights Neal looked even paler, a blueish cast to his skin. Peter bit his lip as the medics piled him with blankets and heating packs and started an IV. He wanted to ask, Is he going to be okay? but Neal wasn't responding and looked so far from okay that he was afraid to.
Neal looked — he hardly looked alive at all.
Diana's hand reached for his, and Peter squeezed her cold fingers tightly.
- - -
The time waiting — in the ambulance, at the hospital — blurred together in a mix of noise and bustle and worry. It was only when Peter finally got to see Neal, got to talk to him, that he could relax.
Neal was groggy, but he seemed determined to keep appearances up by staying awake as long as he possibly could. He was still shivering. Peter had very firmly been told that that was normal, by several different medical personnel.
Peter was in dry clothes now, which El had brought him. He was mildly perturbed that he still needed the warmth of a blanket around him. Diana, wearing a shirt and pair of jeans belonging to Elizabeth, clearly felt the same way. She had laid claim to the more comfortable of the two chairs in the room and was curled up in it. Christie was going to take her home when her shift ended — Diana had been fiercely opposed to disrupting her schedule.
"You doing okay there?" Peter asked Neal, who took a moment to sluggishly register the question.
"Still really cold," he complained. He was curled into a tight ball under his blankets.
Peter sympathetically patted where he guessed Neal's shoulder to be. "You'll feel better soon."
"I'd rather feel better now," Neal said. He unsuccessfully tried to curl up even tighter.
"Be patient. You were an icicle a couple of hours ago."
"Thanks for the reminder," Neal muttered. He looked around some more, and frowned in sudden confusion. "El's gone?"
"Coffee run," Peter said. "And no, you don't get any."
Neal huffed slightly indignantly, and closed his eyes. Peter watched him fondly, and turned his head to encompass Diana in his gaze, who was apparently dozing. He suppressed a shudder as he thought of just how much worse the day could have turned out, for everyone. The blizzard, and the lake, and Neal's skin as cold as the ice…
"Peter, stop worrying," Diana said, without opening her eyes.
Peter started. "I'm not."
"Are so," Neal murmured. "Stop it."
Peter couldn't help smiling. He really did have good people.
El returned with coffees and perched on his lap once she'd handed them out. Peter wrapped an arm around her waist, relaxing in her warmth. She put a hand out to stroke Neal's hair gently, leaving her palm resting against the top of his head, like she was warming Neal too. Peter hoped she was.
- - -
Apparently a CI having a narrow brush with death generated a lot of paperwork. Peter had been trying to leave early, but in the end it wasn't long before his usual time that he managed to let himself into his house. El had left for her event not half an hour ago (she'd sent him a text at the time), so Peter tossed his jacket over a chair and headed upstairs to check on Neal. El had been insistent that they couldn't let him go home on his own, and Peter had very quickly been persuaded to agree with her. Neal could undoubtedly get up to a lot of trouble while convalescing and bored.
"Neal?" he asked, quietly, pushing the door open cautiously. The room was dim. "You awake?"
Neal's fast breathing was the first thing Peter made out, and then he saw Neal tangled in the covers, shuddering. He flicked on the light and was next to him instantly, shaking his shoulder. "Neal! Hey, wake up. You're okay."
Neal's eyes flicked open, staring wildly for a moment, before he visibly brought himself under control, slamming down shutters. "Peter," he said, a little warily, and sat up.
Peter sat down on the end of the bed. "Are you alright?" he asked.
"Fine," Neal said, reaching for the glass of water Elizabeth had left him, and finding it empty.
"I'll get you some more," Peter said, making to take it off him.
Neal frowned, and pulled it away. "I'm not an invalid," He proved it by pushing himself out of bed and determinedly heading across the hall to the bathroom with the glass. He closed the door firmly.
Peter sighed, and took the opportunity to go and change into more comfortable clothing, keeping an ear open. After a couple of minutes he heard Neal make his way back to the guest room, and close that door sharply too. Peter rolled his eyes and went downstairs to make coffee and fetch some case files.
With offerings in hand, Neal seemed considerably more pleased to see him. He'd also had more time to recover himself from how he'd been when Peter had found him, which was probably the major cause of his improved mood. He was sitting up in bed, seemingly at ease, although he did still have the duvet and spare blanket pulled tightly around him. "Are you still cold?" Peter asked.
Neal wrapped both hands around his coffee. "A bit. Mostly I'm just tired. I was told to expect that, though — I'm fine, really."
"Uh huh," Peter said, far from being convinced by Neal's I'm fine facade. Hell, he wasn't fine yet himself. Writing up the paperwork, he had continued to be distracted by images of how Neal had looked in the snow, frozen and still, unresponsive. It would have been so easy for help not to have reached them in time, for the three of them to have continued to huddle together in the blizzard until it was too late.
"Good day at the office?" Neal asked, once the silence had begun to get awkward.
"Oh, you know," Peter said, attempting to keep his tone light. "My partner feels like a day off, so he jumps in a lake and leaves me to handle everything."
Neal made a small, convulsive movement, which he immediately stifled.
Right. That was it. Peter put his mostly-empty mug down on the nightstand, slightly harder than he'd intended. "Neal," he said.
"Peter," Neal replied, exactly mimicking his tone. Slick as ever.
Peter sighed. "Neal, stop it."
"You know what." Peter met his eyes. "I need you to tell me how you are, and please don't say 'fine'. Remember that I'm in charge of clearing you to come back to work."
Neal also sighed, although his was more tired. He looked down at the surface of his coffee. "I keep dreaming, okay?" His voice was defensive. "I can't get warm, and I feel like crap, and I can't even stay asleep."
Peter scooted so that he was sitting beside Neal, leaning against the headboard. "What are you dreaming about?" he asked, as gently as possible.
The liquid in Neal's mug was beginning to ripple. He put it down quickly. "I was under the ice," he said, quietly. "When it broke — when I fell in — I tried to get to the surface and there was ice there, holding me down." He took a deep breath, the edges of it ragged. "I thought — well, I was already too cold to really think properly, and it all happened so fast. But I was sure I was going to die, trapped like that." He had a piece of the duvet between his fingers, twisting it tightly. "I don't really want to think about it."
"Jesus," Peter said, heavily. "I didn't realise."
Neal gave a slight smile, which clearly said, You weren't supposed to. "I'll get over it," he said.
"Uh huh," Peter said, again, but this obviously wasn't the time to push — he knew from experience that Neal would just shut down. "You got out, though. Pretty impressive."
The smile that Neal gave him was genuine this time. "Well, I am good at getting out of places where I'm not supposed to be."
"And into them."
Peter chuckled. "Look," he said, becoming serious again. "You don't want to talk about it right now, fine. But when you want to, I'm here. Or Elizabeth'll be here, she's better at this stuff than I am. Anyway, it's up to you."
Neal relaxed slightly. "Sounds good," he said. He met Peter's eye. "Thank you," he said. Quietly. Seriously.
"Like I'd do anything else," Peter said, and was rewarded with a grin. He cleared his throat. "Now, want to help me go through these files?"
"You brought some interesting ones, right?" Neal asked, and picked one at random, probably eager both to have something to relieve the boredom of being stuck in bed, and to end the conversation.
Peter began to work through his own file, but he kept sneaking glances out of the corner of his eye. Neal nestled lower and lower into the covers as he was reading, and by the time he was half-way through the file was drooping from his hand, his head on the pillow and his eyes closed. Peter took it away from him and patted his shoulder gently. "Try and get some rest," he said, quietly. "I'll stay here, okay?" You're safe now.
This time, Neal slept peacefully.
- - -
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