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09 November 2012 @ 12:56 am
[fic: white collar] The Weight of Water  
Title: The Weight of Water
Characters/Pairing: Diana, Neal
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 3400
Warnings: None
Notes: Written for an excellent prompt by winterstar95 in the current fest on whitecollarhc. And helle_d was a lovely beta, as always, even though I made her read this in 500 word instalments.
If you squint a bit this can totally go in the "accidents" square on my hc_bingo card.

Summary: Diana and Neal have to swim for their lives. Or tread water, if that's all that's possible.

- - -

"Is it clear?" Neal hissed.

Diana didn't speak her answer, just signalled quickly with her hand. She only glanced briefly behind her to make sure he was following before she stepped out of shelter and onto the deck.

Rain was lashed down and she was very nearly knocked backwards by the sheer force of the wind, but she kept her footing on the slippery planks even as she wished Darrah had shelled out on a non-slip treatment for his yacht.

Neal shut the door behind them and also took a moment to steady himself against the fierce gusts. Then he turned to her with a wide-eyed what now? look.

She wished she had a good answer. Peter was probably scrambling right at that moment to find someone who would give him a boat, but they were cruising at speed (and with the wind) down the Hudson when they hadn't even been supposed to leave dock. Darrah might still be under the impression that herself and Neal were business associates he had decided to double-cross, rather than FBI, but if they didn't come up with something in the next few seconds the end result would be exactly the same.

Neal pointed at the orange lifebelt hooked near the stern and she nodded grimly. It was a really, really bad option, but Darrah wanted them dead and there was nowhere on the boat to hide.

The screaming gale hid the sound of the cabin door opened, focused as she was on keeping her balance on the slick decking. She had nearly reached their target when Neal slammed heavily into her from behind, knocking the breath from her and smashing her sideways into the metal railing as she fell.

It was her arm which hit. She felt the bone crack with a sickening jolt and would have cried out reflexively if she wasn't winded. As it was she could only wheeze for long, shocked, seconds.

"Go! Go!" Neal was screaming in her ear, pushing at her frantically. She half turned towards the lifebelt, and only then saw Darrah and his friend, also struggling for purchase on the slippery wood.

Neal reached past her to pull down the lifebelt and she flung herself under the stern rail. For one horrible second she could see the rough water below and think this is going to hurt, but frozen like a snapshot she could also see the fury on Darrah's face and the orange ring spinning through the air and the bright blood trail Neal was leaving.

Then she hit the river, the impact punching through her and through her broken arm. She opened her mouth to scream but it was full of water instead and then at last she broke through the surface, choking and coughing as she trod water. She had enough presence of mind to kick off her shoes while she was still recovering.

She looked for the boat first but it was still moving and would until Darrah made it back up front to demand the guy driving it to stop. And by that time the two of them would be far astern and lost in the heavy sheets of rain. It wasn't a concern anymore.

What was a very real concern — "Neal!" she called, turning herself with her good arm. If he were still on board…

But he was close by, also engaged in coughing river out of his lungs. The driving rain plastered his hair against his white face. Which, incongruously, wore a grin, even if it was one which was wan and fading. "Told you Darrah was a terrible shot."

"He hit you!" she accused, an echo of the flash of terror she had felt on seeing the blood becoming fury burning through her.

"Yeah, but I'm pretty sure he wanted me dead. And I'm not." He frowned as he looked at her. "Di, are you hurt?"

"My arm's broken," she told him bluntly. "Where did he get you?"

"Thigh," Neal said. "Which has already gotten old, let me tell you." He was having to speak loudly, to stand a chance of being heard above the weather. His teeth were already chattering from the cold of the water, and so were hers. She had to keep blinking water out of her eyes.

The rain chose that moment to redouble its downpour, tumbling out of the sky in great grey sheets. Visibility instantly dropped to yards.

"We need to get to shore!" She had to shout to be sure Neal could hear her.

"Which way?" he called back.

She turned awkwardly, but between the chop of the river and the rain there were no landmarks visible. From her perspective it wasn't even easy to tell the general direction of the current.

"Hey!" Neal shouted. He pointed, and she caught a flash of orange. The lifebelt he had managed to toss overboard.

"I'll get it!" She pushed against the water with her legs and her one working arm. The other trailed uselessly, but the cold had numbed the pain down to a dull ache as long as she didn't try to move it. Swimming like that was hard work, and it had never been a particular strength of hers to start with. Waves slapped against her face and she gritted her teeth.

The ring didn't seem to be getting any closer.

She glanced behind her, and for a horrified moment thought that Neal had vanished beneath the river's surface. But then she spotted him, dark hair against the dark water and made indistinct by distance, nearly far enough away to be completely lost from sight.

She couldn't risk losing him. The life preserver bobbed away into the distance as she struck out against the current. It tugged her broken arm back, and it was a struggle to keep lifting her head enough to take water-free breaths.

Her gasps were ragged and painful by the time she finally reached him. She tried to tread water and choked on a mouthful of river and rain.

"Hang on to me," Neal offered. "Grab a rest."

She shook her head stubbornly, still coughing and unable to speak.

"I'm not even using my legs, and both my arms work fine. I'm a stronger swimmer than you.

Just for a minute… Diana didn't want to, but she knew he was right. She was already exhausted, her muscles aching from exertion and the core of her body aching from the leaden cold. She found Neal's waist and put her arm around him, resting her head on his shoulder. His face was tipped back, tilted away from the splashes of the river but into the rain. His eyes were closed.

"How bad is your leg?" she asked.

"I can't feel it," he admitted, without opening his eyes. He kept his arms moving rhythmically in slow circling motions, keeping them both afload. "Wasn't time to get a good look at it."

Probably he was still losing blood. But there wasn't anything they could do about it, so there didn't seem a point to speaking that thought aloud. It wasn't as if it wouldn't have occurred to him.

"Maybe we should take turns resting and treading water," she suggested. "To conserve energy."

To his credit, Neal didn't ask her if she was sure she'd be able to manage. Although that was in some ways a disappointment. She would have felt much more reassured about their situation if either of them had the energy to maintain their usual sniping.

"I'd like a break," Neal admitted, eventually.

"Sure. I'm less tired now." Only fractionally true, but it made her feel better to say it out loud. And Neal didn't object.

It took some clumsy manoeuvring to get them into a position where Diana could support Neal, but her broken arm wasn't in danger of being jarred too often. He had his head tipped back again, the crown of his head up against her shoulder, and he closed his eyes almost instantly. His face was frighteningly colourless.

Diana kept her legs and arms moving, much more clumsily than Neal had done. The rain gusted in billowing curtains, slackening every now and then only to thicken as a new squall moved in. Sky or river, everything in sight was grey water.

"Neal," she said, finally. Her limbs were becoming heavier, and hard to move. "Your turn again."

He didn't answer, and she shook him as best she could, heart in her mouth. "Caffrey!"

He jerked. The motion slopped water into his mouth and he coughed violently for long seconds, but at least his eyes were open. "Huh?"

"Stay awake!" she ordered, sharply.

"I fell asleep?"

"Apparently." Or, more likely, he'd passed out. One more thing it wasn't worth saying aloud.

"Sorry." He was breathing heavily, his speech slurred. Diana was close to exhaustion, but any thought of suggesting he take a turn at supporting her had vanished with the effort it had taken to rouse him.

They were still holding on to each other. She wasn't sure if it actually did help them in staying afloat, but it made her feel as if it did. She felt she should be allowed that.

"How's your leg?"

He chuckled mirthlessly. "Not convinced it's even still there. Your arm?"

"Same." She was so cold that it was overwhelming all pain signals, her body registering only a non-specific bone deep ache. And everything was stiff, even her face. The numbness of her lips blurred her words when she spoke.

"So tired." Neal managed not to stop the motion of his arms in the water, though, for which she was thankful beyond words. Keeping them both afloat would have been beyond her. She was having grave doubts about being able to even keep herself above the surface for too much longer.

As if in recognition of how close they both were to the end of their endurance, the rain was finally beginning to slacken, although with no signs of actually stopping. The wind was also beginning to drop. For the first time since hitting the river Diana could see the banks, dark grey smears against the lighter sky. Far too far away to be of any use, though. The idea of swimming that distance was impossible.

They would be nearing the estuary mouth soon. They could easily be swept out to sea.

"Hey," Neal said, with quiet urgency. "What's that?"

He apparently didn't have the energy to gesture, so it took her several moments before she worked out which direction he was trying to indicate. But then she saw a tiny red light in the river ahead of them, blinking on and off. "A buoy?"

"If we're lucky."

He didn't need to say anything else. The light from the buoy was a ready-made beacon. If only they could reach it…

"Keep close to me," she said. She wasn't going to risk almost losing him again.

Swimming — actual swimming, with a destination, rather than just treading water — was torturous. Almost immediately she was wheezing, panting for air, and the water seemed viscous as treacle as she fought to drag her limbs through it. With one arm useless she was off-balance to begin with, and it only got worse as she kept going. Her face kept trying to slip under the river's surface and it took a huge amount of effort each time to lift her head enough to breath.

Her world narrowed to that small flashing light and Neal struggling along beside her. Grim endurance left no room for anything else.

"Di. Di!"

She had still been blindly trying to swim forwards, not registering that they had reached their target.

The buoy was a basic rough cone of aluminium and fibreglass. It had a raised bar circling it a couple of handspans above the water, presumably for ease of moving it when on land. Right now, it was their lifeline.

"Guess we hang on now," Neal panted.

"Guess so." The metal bar was even colder than the river, which didn't seem like it should be possible. Diana squeezed her numb hand around it. "Don't let go."

"But I wanted to reach the ocean," Neal deadpanned.

She frowned. Even as she had said it, she had realised that the instruction was far less rhetorical than it seemed. "Neal —"

"Don't pass out. I get it." Exhaustion flattened his voice. "I'll try my best."

She was worried that might not be enough. The lack of feeling in the hand she was holding on with kept making her tighten her fingers reflexively, afraid that her grip might slacken. And she wasn't contending with the effects of blood loss. "If you let go I will make your life such a misery."

"Counting on it."

"I'm serious, Caffrey. I will chain —"

She broke off mid-sentence. "What?" Neal prompted.

"My handcuffs. Got them in my pocket." They hadn't been suspicious enough to risk her cover, and she hated going into situations entirely unarmed.

He grinned. Despite everything, it was as wide and infectious as ever, his whole face lighting up. "Clever."

"It's what they pay me for," she agreed. Thinking about the op reminded her to scan the river again, but there was still no sign of a boat, friendly or otherwise. "Can you get them out?"

"Yup," Neal said, and jangled the handcuffs in front of her.

She narrowed her eyes, fighting the urge to let go of the buoy and check the contents of her pockets. "Not funny."

"I disagree. Want me to do the honours?"

At least this burst of hope had served to revive him. He was still talking at about half his usual speed, but she'd take what she could get. "Like I can do anything needing a free hand right now. Go ahead."

"There's that," he agreed. He locked one of the handcuffs around her wrist, then looped the chain over the bar and repeated the action on his right hand. That meant his left arm, between them, was left free, and he put it around her carefully. "Figure we should try to conserve heat," he said, by way of a slightly embarrassed explanation, like he was worried she'd be offended.

"Good thinking." More than that, the contact was comforting, and she relaxed against him. The sharp metal edge of the cuff was already biting into her wrist in a way that was going to be painful very shortly, but it was also a reminder that they were secure. And that was the important thing. "So. Now we wait."

That had an unintended sobering effect. She had felt, for a few minutes, that they were finally doing something, but they hadn't really got themselves any closer to being rescued.

"When you told me not to pass out…" Neal said, quietly. His face was the same white-grey as the sky.

"You think you're going to?" Stupid question.

"Putting on handcuffs takes lots 'f effort. Who knew?" He was beginning to slur again.

"You're doing it wrong. No Quantico training."

He cracked a laugh at that. She would have shaken him, or put an arm tightly around him — except she was effectively immobilised and could do neither of those things. She put her head on his shoulder, instead, since it was the only tenuous means she had of anchoring him.

It was so cold. She could feel it gnawing at her, tugging like the current's pull. It was all-consuming, and before long it was blotting out all other thought. Her eyes were closed and all she could feel was deep misery and cold

She jerked abruptly awake, choking and spluttering, disorientated. She was in water, she was drowning, and she couldn't move

It took until she had coughed all the water out of her mouth for her to remember where she was. In the Hudson, with rain drumming on her face. The skin on her tethered wrist was torn ragged and bleeding sluggishly, blood diluting into the rain and running down her arm. She tried moving her purplish fingers, but couldn't.

"Neal?" she croaked. Her face was so stiff with cold that it hurt to speak.

He was floating on his back, as she had been. The current had tugged them steadily around so that they were now in the lee of the buoy, bodies trailing out downstream.

"Neal?" There was nothing she could do to reach him. She tried kicking weakly beneath the river, but to no apparent effect.

His lips were blue.

She tried turning her head, but everything beyond the buoy and Neal was grey and out of focus. Even he was blurring.

"Stay awake," she whispered to herself, but she lacked the energy to stop her eyelids from slowly falling closed.

More water sloshed into her face, and her ears were suddenly registering an increase in the droning hum which had until then just been a part of the greyness surrounding her. It was like an engine…

She was unprepared for suddenly being grabbed around the waist and she thrashed instinctively, opening her mouth to scream but filling it with water instead.

"I've got you. It's okay." There was a voice there with her but she couldn't breath, coughing and wheezing. She was still fighting to break free when the tension in her cuffed arm was abruptly snapped.


That was Peter's voice, calling from a distance, and she tried to lift her head enough to locate him. But she still hadn't managed it when she was suddenly being hauled upwards, the river clutching at her clothes and only reluctantly releasing her.

A few moments later she was lying on a solid surface she belatedly recognised as the deck of a boat, with Peter kneeling next to her. She couldn't feel her body at all, let alone move. "Neal's shot," she got out between gasps of air.

"What about you?" He grimaced as his eyes swept over her. "What happened to your arm?"

"Broken." Her voice sounded strange, hoarse and weak.

A shout, and suddenly Neal was being laid down beside her. He was ice-pale and unmoving, and Diana's breath stuttered.

"He's alive," someone said, talking to her and Peter both. "We need to get them warm."

She still couldn't move. Everything was too heavy, or else it was her who was too exhausted. As if he knew her thoughts, Peter slid his hand into hers. She could see it, and after a moment could feel its warmth beginning to thaw her skin. "You're both going to be fine," he promised, with a conviction his eyes belied as he glanced at Neal.

"Agent Burke, you need to step back."

"Her arm's broken," Peter said.

"We see it, don't worry."

"And Neal —"

"Peter," Diana managed to chide.

He smiled weakly at her and moved out of the way of the rescue crew.

She hardly felt a thing as they stripped her out of her wet clothes, but once she was bundled up in blankets she began to shake violently, uncontrollably, and every part of her body started to scream in pain. She squeezed her eyes shut and moaned, unable to help it.

"Shh, shh, you're okay." Peter's hand comforting against her head.

She hurt to much to speak, and moaned again instead.

"You don't hear Caffrey complaining, do you? Which proves there's a first time for everything."

She chuckled unsteadily. Someone was extracting her arm from the deepest layers of blankets. There was a sharp prick at her elbow, and the overwhelming ache began to fade into the background as Peter continued to stroke her hair.

A tired whisper, still managing to sound indignant. "Take… that back."

"Neal!" Peter exclaimed. She felt the movement though him as he turned.

"M'here. Di?"

It was enough to persuade her to try and open her eyes again. The lids seemed impossibly heavy, but she eventually managed it. They were in a small hold now, Neal lying next to her and hardly visible within his own cocoon of blankets. His eyes were only open halfway, but it was enough to allow her to breathe freely. Peter was crouched between them, smiling stupidly fondly at them both.

"See," she said, working hard against the pull of utter exhaustion to get the words out. "Knew we'd be okay."

- - -

Posted at http://frith-in-thorns.dreamwidth.org/77852.html with comment count unavailable comments.
florastuart: teamworkflorastuart on November 9th, 2012 01:36 am (UTC)
Eeeeeeeee!!! I'm shivering just reading this - the descriptions of the rain and the wind and the water and the cold are just amazing. And I love Neal and Diana working together, and taking turns supporting each other, and being clever with the handcuffs. And awwwwwwwwwwwwww at them bundled up together at the end, and Peter being there. ♥♥♥ I love it!
Frithfrith_in_thorns on November 11th, 2012 08:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! :D I love Neal and Diana working together. They are both so fun and lovely! And I'm really glad that you liked this story :)
kriadydragon: Beastkriadydragon on November 9th, 2012 01:56 am (UTC)
That's the good stuff right there :D
Frithfrith_in_thorns on November 11th, 2012 08:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you! :)
Winterwinterstar95 on November 9th, 2012 03:46 am (UTC)
I love this and can I say your Diana is actually my canon Diana. You have her voice so perfectly and so right. I know NO ONE else in the entire fandom who can write her so well. You are a master.

Plus the hurt/comfort was perfect. I literally felt my stomach drop when Diana had to wake Neal up and his words were slurring. Well done, well done!
Frith: White Collar - Diana - smile headphonesfrith_in_thorns on November 11th, 2012 08:57 pm (UTC)
Eee! Thank you so much ♥ That's so lovely of you to say :D

And I loved this prompt, it was so much fun to write! I'm really happy you enjoyed reading this fic :)
aqwt101aqwt101 on November 9th, 2012 04:35 am (UTC)
Ooh, I felt chilly just reading it! Awesome h/c, and I loved your Diana voice!
Frith: White Collar - Diana - mugfrith_in_thorns on November 11th, 2012 08:58 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I love writing Diana :)
The world according to Melles: walkingmelles76 on November 9th, 2012 10:16 am (UTC)
Well done! Man, I need a blanket myself right now after reading this! You captured everything nicely and the characters are totally in canon. Looking forward to read more from you and thanks for sharing!
Frith: White Collar - Neal - worried shirtfrith_in_thorns on November 11th, 2012 08:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! I really enjoy writing these two, and I'm glad you enjoyed this!
kanarek13: minekanarek13 on November 9th, 2012 11:02 am (UTC)
Wheeee \o/ What a treat *hugs* Thank you, thank you, exactly what I've been craving for a while, some quality whump and awww moments :D And man, I need an extra blanket myself, I could almost feel the ice cold water.

Great one :D \o/
Frith: White Collar - Neal - purple shirtfrith_in_thorns on November 11th, 2012 09:02 pm (UTC)
Aww, thank you so much! There is something irresistible about writing hypothermia!fic, I find :P I'm really glad you enjoyed this!
shadowfireflame: White Collarshadowfireflame on November 9th, 2012 12:27 pm (UTC)
Wow, oh wow, this was so awesome. How they're both hurt even before they get into this insane situation and have to compensate for those injuries and rely on each other and the handcuffs!! OMG, really cool. Loved it.
Frith: White Collar - Neal - knightfrith_in_thorns on November 11th, 2012 09:03 pm (UTC)
:D Thank you! This really was extremely fun to write, and I'm very glad you enjoyed it!
leesa_perrie: Diana Berriganleesa_perrie on November 9th, 2012 12:37 pm (UTC)
Oh, this was wonderful! The descriptions were awesome, and I love Neal and Diana working together - and Diana's concern for Neal! I love how Neal's already got the handcuffs before Diana tells him to get them - lol, so like Neal!! :D

Great ending too, with Peter and Neal's indignant reply to Peter's 'insult'!! :)
Frithfrith_in_thorns on November 11th, 2012 09:05 pm (UTC)
Diana and Neal are way too much fun to write together :D I'm really glad you enjoyed reading, thank you ♥
a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf: Ocean waves stormyembroiderama on November 9th, 2012 06:50 pm (UTC)
I love this so much! The details are so vivid, and you made the way they relied on each other and then their deteriorating conditions feel very real. And Peter with his "stupidly fond" smile! ♥
Frithfrith_in_thorns on November 11th, 2012 09:06 pm (UTC)
That is a really gorgeous icon, btw!

And thank you :) I had fun writing this. And of course Peter would have been worrying so much, and would be really relieved to have them back :) :)
Sholio: WhiteCollar-Dianasholio on November 9th, 2012 08:47 pm (UTC)
Oh, this was really lovely -- just the perfect blend of friendship, worry, badassitude, and comfort! ♥
Frith: White Collar - Neal - hat greenfrith_in_thorns on November 11th, 2012 09:07 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! ♥
Laura: Neal approvescookielaura on November 10th, 2012 05:24 am (UTC)
This is great! I love the visceral descriptions of the conditions, they were really powerful. And you kept making me laugh with Neal's quips - lol at him wanting to reach the ocean! :D

I am sad that I do not have a Diana icon to accompany this comment with!
Frithfrith_in_thorns on November 11th, 2012 09:10 pm (UTC)
I'm very bad at writing *entirely* serious stories - I always have the need to put in some bits of characters being sarcastic, or something. I'm glad you liked those things :)

And thank you very much! :)
angelita26: NealShadowangelita26 on November 11th, 2012 02:28 am (UTC)
This was really great. I am all sorts of cold now, but I'm so glad that Peter tracked them down. I was so concerned! Poor Diana and Neal! Very well done! Thanks for sharing :)
Frith: White Collar - Diana+Peter - benchfrith_in_thorns on November 11th, 2012 09:10 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! I have been very cold this week, and felt like sharing :P I'm happy that you enjoyed reading!
MeeniMeenakshi Singla on November 11th, 2012 07:40 pm (UTC)
that was downright chilly...
just love Diana and Neal's friendship
Frithfrith_in_thorns on November 11th, 2012 09:11 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! I really love those two :)
theatregirl7299theatregirl7299 on November 11th, 2012 11:55 pm (UTC)

This was so good. I love the relationship between Neal and Diana and you added wonderful layers to that with this piece. It will definitely be on my read-again list.
Frith: White Collar - Diana - mugfrith_in_thorns on November 12th, 2012 11:21 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! ♥ I really love the two of them.
imbecamiel on November 13th, 2012 12:46 am (UTC)
Oh, this is so good! Really sweet and heartwarming, as well as intense and angsty. I love Neal and Diana interaction, and this was just perfect. So - them. :D
Frithfrith_in_thorns on November 13th, 2012 01:35 pm (UTC)
Aww, thank you so much! iI could write the two of them forever, seriously :)