Frith (frith_in_thorns) wrote,

[fic: white collar] Breakdown

Fic! And this one tips me into having posted over 100,000 words in White Collar fandom since I discovered the show last December. It is the best fandom, seriously. *hugs everyone*

Title: Breakdown
Characters/Pairing: Neal, Peter; Gen
Genre/Rating: H/c; PG-13
Word count: 3500
Warnings: None
Notes: For Caffrey-Burke Day! Which was two days ago. Oops. Also for the "poison" square on my hc_bingo card.
Thank you to helle_d for beta-reading!

Summary: Your basic stuck-in-an-elevator fic. With bonus poisoning.

- - -

"We're out of the company offices," Peter said quietly, for the benefit of Diana and Jones in the van. "I think we're out clean."

Neal raised his eyebrows. "Why the caution?" He tapped his watch, but stopped when Peter gave him a pointed look. Okay, that probably caused feedback hell. "We got the evidence we went in for. I'm surprised you didn't arrest Rosen right then."

"There's still not enough to hold him on," Peter said. "But now we can get search warrants for his home and office." He hit the elevator call button. "Speaking of which, I want you back in the office when the warrant's served, just in case anyone tries to destroy any incriminating documents in a hurry."

"Got it. Nick Halden shall continue to perform his work diligently." He beat Peter into the elevator, turning back to grin.

Peter rolled his eyes and followed more sedately. "You know, you could have put some of this effort into making a legitimate career for yourself."

"What, do you think I might have got into the FBI?" He kept smiling, but it came out a little snappy nonetheless.

Peter frowned very slightly. Neal sighed, and prayed he wasn't about to start giving a lecture.

But before Peter could open his mouth, the elevator jolted, jerking to an abrupt halt. Neal staggered, catching himself with a hand against the mirror. He grabbed instinctively for one of the safety rails along the nearest wall, but there was no further movement.

"You okay?" Peter demanded.

"Yeah." Neal glanced up at the LED display, which had frozen to show them stuck partway between the sixth and seventh floors. "You?"

"I'm fine." He pulled his phone out of his pocket. "No signal. If you're hearing this in the van, we appear to be trapped in the elevator at the North corner of the building."

Neal honed in on the most currently-salient part of that sentence. "Why did you say if?"

Peter had the grace to look sheepish. "There's a known bug with these new transmitters. They're less likely to show up on scans, but occasionally they've been disrupted when surrounded by metal."

Neal flicked a finger against the polished wall. "Fantastic."

"We can still call for help," Peter pointed out. He unlatched the emergency panel and beamed as it revealed a telephone behind it, as if he thought he was responsible for summoning it into existence or something. He put the the receiver to his ear and Neal leant back against the wall.

And waited. Until Peter, looking distinctly deflated, returned the phone to its cradle.

"It's not working?" Neal asked. Up until then (and after the initial shock) he had just been mildly annoyed at the turn of events, but now he was alarmed.

"I can hear it ringing, but no one's picking up."

"That sounds like a health and safety violation to me."

"I'll be sure to log an official complaint later," Peter assured him.

Silence fell. Neal checked his watch, and then checked his phone more out of habit than hope.

"Good idea," Peter said, gesturing to it. "You can start typing up your report."

Neal snorted, and opened up a flash game, letting the obnoxious background music play at full volume out of the phone's tinny speakers. He snuck periodic glances over to Peter, checking his reaction. He was bored and fed up, sure, but he still didn't want to go far enough to seriously piss Peter off. Especially when he had no idea how long they'd be stuck together in this very small space.

After a few minutes Peter stopped looking mildly irritated and started surreptitiously rubbing his forehead. Feeling mildly guilty, Neal shut off the sound. "Want to see if you can beat my high score?" he offered.

"Not really, but thanks."

Neal went back to his now-silent game, but he couldn't really concentrate on it anymore. Peter kept frowning slightly, and making little shifting movements of discomfort. "Are you okay?" he asked.

"Fine," Peter said. Neal kept looking straight at him (a trick he had totally stolen from Peter) until he sighed. "Just a headache. It's rather stuffy in here."

"It is?" The ventilation actually seemed to be pretty good, for an elevator. It definitely could have been much worse.

Peter frowned uncertainly. "It's too warm. And the air's kind of thick." He tugged absently at his tie, taking deep breaths.

The sudden shock of alarm Neal felt was every bit as vivid as when the elevator had jolted. By the look on Peter's face, he wasn't the only one to have been struck by an unwanted realisation.

"Something's wrong," Peter said. "I'm not feeling good."

"Maybe you should sit down," Neal suggested, and his worry didn't at all abate with the speed at which Peter complied, fumbling with his tie and collar. Neal crouched down and tried to help, getting in the way but eventually contributing to the unknotting and unbuttoning, and then helped Peter shuck his jacket off. "What's happening? Do you know?"

Peter shook his head, and then screwed his eyes shut in sudden pain. "I feel awful," he said. "Just came on suddenly."

"Did you eat or drink anything in Rosen's office?" Neal asked, urgently.

"Poison?" Peter asked, looking up.

"I don't know." But it was right at the top of his list of possibilities. He had experience with poisonings, from both sides. And so did Peter. His mind leapt on ahead, reminding him that there had been an elevator involved last time, too, and technically Peter had died

He spotted something and made a grab for Peter's left arm, pushing up the sleeve as far as it would go, ignoring Peter's protesting hiss. "Shit," he said, and swore viciously. The dark rash he had noticed spreading out from underneath the cuff extended red tendrils up along Peter's arm, winding along the paths of his veins.

"That's not a good sign," Peter said, still managing to sound dry even though his paling face was covered in sweat. "Guess I touched against something I shouldn't have in there."

"And just think of all the time you've wasted telling me to keep my hands to myself," Neal said, lightly, although he felt anything but.

Peter smiled at that, but it faded quickly. "You're okay, aren't you?" he asked.

"I'm fine! Stick to worrying about yourself for once." Neal reached up to Peter's neck to check his pulse. Peter batted his hand away and and Neal batted back. "Stop it!" He could feel the edges of panic creeping in, and squashed down on them hard.


"Please," Neal said, quietly, and met Peter's eyes, letting him see how worried he was.

After a moment Peter nodded. Neal was entirely certain that the acquiescence was out of some misplaced desire to look after him, but he had been rather counting on it. Peter tipped his head back against the wall and closed his eyes as Neal touched his fingers gently to the hot skin of Peter's throat where his pulse fluttered, shallow and far too fast.

"I'm going to see if anyone'll answer the phone now, okay?" Neal waited for Peter to nod very slightly in response before he stood up and opened the phone panel, pressing the button that warned of dire consequences should it be used in a non-emergency situation.

The phone eventually rang out. Neal replaced the handset, biting his lip. Surely the building management must have noticed by now that one of their elevators had broken? Unless all this was a setup, of course. "If you guys are hearing this, we really could use some help," he said out loud. "Although hopefully you've been paying attention and have already figured that out for yourselves."

"Neal," Peter whispered, his voice harsh.

Neal dropped back down beside him instantly. "Are you alright? What do you need?"

Peter was swallowing thickly. "Any water?"

"No, I'm sorry."

Peter had to have known that already; he just nodded resignedly. "It's too hot," he said.

Neal helped him get the overshirt off. Peter was panting and trying not to, and his undershirt was damp. Without the sleeve to hide it the ugly rash going up his arm looked even worse.

"Should I try and tie that off?" Neal asked, doubtfully. "Like a tourniquet?" Except he thought general advice now was against that. He couldn't remember.

"Don't know," Peter said, and broke off halfway through a shrug. "Ow. Everything hurts."

"I don't know what to do," Neal muttered, the pitch of his voice rising in sheer frustration.

Peter cracked a laugh.

"What?" Neal snapped.

"Rare to hear you admit that," Peter said. He shifted restlessly, and groaned as he closed his eyes again.

Unable to think of anything useful, Neal continued to hover anxiously in front of Peter, who seemed to have decided sitting motionless against the wall was his best course of action. After maybe a couple of minutes he tried using the emergency phone again and silently swore as it still went unanswered. No communication at all to the outside, although they were cut off by no more than a foot total of metal and concrete. He began to pace anxiously, back and forth across the cramped space.

A wordless sound of misery from Peter dragged his attention back, to see that the last of the colour had drained from his face while he swallowed convulsively. Neal knelt next to him feeling utterly useless as Peter turned away and began to vomit.

"Shit," Neal whispered. He put a hand on Peter's shoulder, hesitant in case it was shrugged off. But Peter did the opposite — he reached up to cling to Neal's wrist like it was keeping him from drowning, and didn't let go of it even when he was finally done retching.

"Sorry," he croaked.

"Why are you apologising?" Neal asked, incredulously. He didn't wait for an answer, noticing the way Peter kept listing, and was having problems keeping his eyes open. "Maybe you'd feel better lying down. You look —" He stopped himself with an effort.

Peter summed up the ghost of a smile, but no more. "Mmm." Neal tried to guide him down to the floor but Peter was already tipping towards him, and somehow he ended up lying on his side with his head pillowed on Neal's thigh. Neal patted his shoulder, a little awkwardly at first (touching people for comfort came much more naturally to Peter than it did to him), but then tightening his grip in sympathy as Peter tried to stifle another moan. He was shivering now, even as he continued to sweat.

"Do you feel cold?" Neal asked.

Peter shook his head slightly, eyes closed.

"You shouldn't fall asleep," Neal said. Maybe he shouldn't have encouraged Peter to lie down.


Neal resisted the worry-born temptation to shake him into greater alertness. If their positions were reversed Peter would be demanding that Neal give him proper answers. But neither of them were always great with following orders.

"Someone, help," Neal whispered. He rubbed his hand up and down Peter's back, which seemed to calm the shivering slightly. Or possibly that was wishful thinking — but in any case, he had to be doing something. He was terrified. Waiting and having to rely on other people was something he hated, particularly when he had not even the illusion of any control over the situation.

Peter was trying to say something, but it came out mumbled and too quiet. Neal leaned down. "What is it?" he asked.

It took him several tries to make it out. "Water," Peter was whispering, barely above a breath.

Neal's chest clenched. "I'm sorry," he said. "Peter, I'm sorry, there isn't any."

Peter gasped in air. "Please," he whispered. "Neal, please." His voice broke on the last word.

"No, Peter, I don't have any," Neal insisted. His eyes were stinging in response to the raw agony in Peter's voice. And at the thought that Peter could believe Neal would eventually stop holding out if he pleaded enough. In that moment Neal would have done anything, anything not to have to hear Peter beg like that ever again in his life. Except for the fact that there was nothing he could do. "You just have to hang on a bit longer, okay?" He put the back of his hand against Peter's forehead, feeling the heat pouring out of his skin.

"Neal," Peter whispered.

"I'm here," Neal said, tightening the grip his other hand had on Peter's shoulder in response. "It's okay, I'm right here." He waited for a reply, but didn't get one. "Peter?"

Peter couldn't die like this. He couldn't be allowed to. He was too — too solid, and vital, and there were too many people dependent on him. The idea of him fading out in Neal's arms (and he did have both his arms around Peter now, as if the contact would help anchor him) was something so unthinkable it was almost absurd.

Except that it was happening. Peter didn't answer, or move, and Neal was powerless to help him.

"You can't die," he said, desperately, stumbling over the words. "Think of El. She'd be devastated. Think of everyone on your team. And me. You remember, when you sprung me from prison, you said, I own you for four years? You aren't going to let me shortchange you, are you?

No response. Even his breathing was getting so shallow and uneven it was hardly noticeable.

"Peter, please," Neal whispered, and then his throat closed up and he was suddenly voiceless. He clung to Peter, digging fingers tightly into his arms, ineffectively blinking back tears.

"Please," he breathed.

Like an answer to a prayer, the elevator shuddered into life, screeching protestingly.

Neal's heart was in his mouth as it juddered downwards, the numbers on the display descending. Four, three, two… He could barely breathe.

They reached the ground floor after an eternity. The doors slid open with a cheerful bell, as if nothing at all had gone wrong.

There was what seemed like an entire sea of faces on the other side. Disorientated, Neal was still staring out blankly when a swarm of medical personnel descended, pulling Peter away, shouting urgent commands. He remained where he was, dazed, still with his eyes locked onto Peter but suddenly unable to claim a part in the scene.

"Sir? Do you need assistance?" a paramedic asked him, and he shook his head stiffly.

"He's been poisoned. Through his skin. He touched something."

"How long has he been non-responsive?" she asked.

Neal could only shake his head again. "I don't know." There — something he actually could have (should have) done, and it hadn't even occurred to him.

"Neal." Diana had slipped around the press of people and gripped his arm, pulling him to his feet. "Neal!" she said, louder. "Don't check out. We need you to answer questions, to help Peter."

"Yeah. Okay." He nodded, and briefly squeezed his eyes shut. This job isn't over yet. He drew up reserves of energy from somewhere, and when he opened his eyes everything somehow seemed more in focus. "I'm okay," he said, far more confidently.

Diana squeezed his arm. "Of course you are," she said. "Now, talk."

He did as he was ordered. Peter was prepped and readied for transport while the paramedic — her name was Jenny — asked him question after question, getting him to retrieve everything that had happened from his memory. They continued in the ambulance, while a tube was snaked down Peter's throat through which air was being forced into his lungs.

And he was still alive, still alive, still alive…

Neal managed to go on holding it together until he found himself at last standing alone in the centre of a tiny waiting room. Then he locked himself into the adjoining bathroom, slid to the floor, and finally allowed himself to fall apart, breathing like he'd run a mile, his whole body shaking violently.

He held his face in his hands and waited it out. Eventually his breathing steadied and he felt like he could get up.

Diana was in the waiting room when he unlocked the door. He braced for more questions, or for sympathy, but she just nodded at him. "Here, I got us coffee."

"Thanks." He took the proffered cup gratefully. "Any news?"

"Not yet."

He wanted to start pacing again, but quashed the urge. "Did you get anything over the radio?"

"Bits. Enough to work out Peter was in trouble, and to have an ambulance standing by for when the engineers were done."

"Thanks," Neal repeated, more fervently this time. "They work out what happened?"

"Sit down," she ordered, and waited until he did so. "Yeah. Wiring fault which also shorted out the emergency phone. I know it sounded from your end like it was ringing, but the calls weren't actually getting through."

"Just bad luck, then?" Neal asked.

"Seems so. Really bad luck."

"You can say that again." He took a swallow of coffee, suddenly feeling absolutely drained.

Elizabeth arrived soon after. Neal put on his best face for her, and lied smoothly. Yes, he was sure Peter was going to be fine. No, really. Diana's eyes were on him but she didn't say anything.

"Thank you for being there for him," Elizabeth said when he was done. Her eyes were red but she wasn't crying. "I know you looking after him helped."

"You can't know that," Neal objected, and winced at the unintentional vehemence in his voice.

"I can," Elizabeth said, with certainty, and Neal knew thought better of continuing to argue. Besides, all he could think was, I wasn't even sure he was still alive, at the end, and that was something he knew he would never share with anyone.

They seemed to wait an entire lifetime for news. But at last the doctor was there. Neal registered her words but couldn't parse them at first — not until Elizabeth was suddenly crying, crying properly for the first time. She wrapped her arms tightly around Neal and he hugged her back, almost breaking down himself in his relief.

"Can we see him?" Diana asked.

"What, all three of you?" the doctor asked, doubtfully. But after a moment her face softened. "All right. As long as you remember he's still very ill, and he needs rest."

For a moment in the doorway, the sight of Peter's slack pale face sent a spasm of panic through Neal. He had to force himself not to outwardly react, to keep walking forwards, taking slow measured breaths.

"Hon?" El murmured. She touched a hand tenderly to the crown of Peter's head.

Peter stirred, and his eyes opened slowly. Neal found that he could breathe properly again.

"Hon?" El prompted. "Can you hear me?"

"Yeah," Peter mumbled. Neal approached the bed on the other side as Peter's eyes flicked around the room. "What happened?"

"You were poisoned," El told him. "Do you remember?"

Peter thought about it. "Some," he said, eventually. He turned his head to look at Neal, making him shift uncomfortably.

"How are you feeling?" Diana asked.

"Awful." He managed a smile. "Not dead, though."

"Always a plus," Diana said, grinning. She patted his knee. "Now that I've reassured myself on that point, I guess I should go take care of all the paperwork you've generated for me."

"Sorry," Peter said, smiling again. His eyes drifted questioningly to El.

She bent down to kiss his cheek. "I'm not planning on going anywhere, don't worry."

Peter made a soft sound of approval.

"Guess I'd better get going too," Neal said, as Diana slid the door closed behind her. He was loath to actually do so, though. What if Peter took a turn for the worse in the night?

"Neal," Peter said. His voice was already growing hoarse, whatever drugs he was on trying to pull him back under. "Thank you." He reached out a hand.

It was apparent he wasn't planning on getting the sleep he needed until Neal took it. "I didn't exactly do anything," Neal said, clasping Peter's hand tightly. The lack of strength in Peter's usually solid grip was unnerving. "I was just sort of… there."

"Yeah," Peter agreed, looking happy and as if that made perfect sense.

Neal wasn't quite sure what to say in response, and was made even less so when El caught his eye and winked at him. "You should get some rest," he settled for in the end.

"Mmm." It only took a few moments for Peter to fall back into unconscious, his body stilling. But his chest was rising and falling steadily as he breathed.

Neal sighed, and took a step back. "I'll go home now," he said.

"You don't have to," El said. "You could stay."

Neal blinked at her. "But don't you want —"

"I could use the company," she said. "And I know Peter would like you to."

"If you're sure…" In truth, Neal desperately wanted to accept, but he didn't want to be intruding.

El pointed firmly to the other chair. "Of course I'm sure," she said. "Stay. We'll look after him together."

- - -

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Tags: fanfic, fic: white collar, hc, hc_bingo, white collar
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