A/N: Many many thanks from the bottom of my heart to all of you who left me so nice comments. :-)
Chapter Four: The Rescue
A splash. Neal raised his head. Peter had vanished. Panic overwhelmed the young man.
"Peter!" he screamed.
He plunged his hands in the water, trying to find Peter. He had to contort himself to pass through the bars, but the space was too small. He felt clothes and grabbed it. It was heavy. Forcing his body to stretch out and ignoring the astute pain from his shoulder blocked by the half-cut bar, he managed to enforce his hold, and finally got Peter's head out of the water. But the Agent wasn't responding.
"Stay with me, Peter! Stay with me!"
Neal did his best to reposition Peter's unresponsive body against the wall.
"Hold on! You hold on!"
Terrified, Neal grabbed the half cut bar and shook it, pulled it with all his force, leaning his feet against the grille. Finally, forces increased by his rising panic, Neal managed to bend it, just as Peter was slipping again in the dark waters. In no time, Neal had clung a firm grip on his unconscious friend, and pulled him through the grille, not without difficulties. Neal lost his balance and fell on his back. The strong flow of the water flushed him out of the tunnel, into the exterior basin. Disoriented, Neal struggled to regain his senses, but never did he lose his grip on Peter. He hit the bottom, and with a push from the heels, he reached the surface. Gasping for air, Neal was blinded by flashes of light. Paramedics had arrived. It was damn time. Swimming to the shore, he felt hands grabbing and lifting him. Peter was torn away from him. Everything became all fuzzy, spinning. Strong hands forced him to sit. Someone was talking to him, but he couldn't make the words out. All he could see was Peter, lying on a gurney, people around him, checking his vitals, putting a tube in his throat, pulling out a crash cart, hurrying to an ambulance. The doors of the ambulance slammed shut, making Neal jumped.
He felt cold inside, numbed. The scene was uncomfortably familiar.
All swallowed away by an ambulance. But then, each time, even though his world had seemed to fall apart, there had been that hand on his shoulder. Peter's solid hand, anchoring him, keeping him together, telling him he wasn't alone. But today, Peter was in the ambulance, and there was nobody to put a hand on his shoulder.
One had made it. One out of three. That wasn't a very good statistic.
Neal broke into tears. They roll down his cheeks, thick and cold, merging with the drops of rain still falling from the sky.
He had failed. After all Peter had done for him, Neal had not been able to save him. He, Neal Caffrey, escape extraordinaire, had let his friend die being bars…
He thought about Elizabeth. She will be devastated, heartbroken. Neal couldn't imagine Peter without El, or El without Peter. Their relationship was organic. Neal remembered Peter's distress when El had been kidnapped, how he had stayed on the verge of a total breakdown until they were reunited. He remembered El's agony after Peter's car accident, the pain in her eyes. Neal couldn't bear El's distress. Someone had to call her. He should, but he didn't want to. He wasn't strong enough.
"Neal…" A small voice finally took him out of his lethargy. Neal turned around and saw Tommy approaching, escorted by a paramedic. Neal furiously brushed his tears away and attempted a smile.
"Sir," the paramedic said, "You need to let us check you up. We want to take Tommy to the hospital too, simple precaution. Probably nothing serious, but he seems a little feverish. But he refused to come to the hospital before checking on you first. You should come with us too."
Tommy approached Neal and put his hand in Neal's. "Where's Peter?"
Neal had to clear his throat before he could answer. "They took him in the ambulance."
"Is he gonna be all right?"
Neal felt his chest tighten. He pulled Tommy closer and put his hand on the boy's shoulder.
"I hope," he whispered.
"Sir, we need to go," a paramedic called.
Neal looked around him, and for the first time became aware of his surroundings. Two paramedics were standing beside an ambulance, waiting for them.
In the hospital, he asked for Peter, but they forced him into a room. He lost track of Tommy. Someone came in and checked his vitals. Then he was told to wait. A doctor would come and see him shortly. But Neal was in no mood to accept orders. He slipped out of the room and went to look for Peter. It didn't take him long to catch sight of him, behind the glassed entrance doors of a room labeled "Trauma 1". There were a lot of people, doctors and nurses, surrounding Peter's unconscious body lying on a gurney, moving around like a ballet – A frightening ballet. They were sticking things in his body, cutting him open, wrapping him up. Neal had no idea what they were doing but it was plain scary. Neal couldn't bear the sight of his friend, lying there, so pale and lifeless-like. But he just couldn't resign himself to leave.
One of the doctors finally spotted him and pointed him out with a nod to a nurse, who came out.
"How is he?" Neal asked bluntly.
"Sir, you can't stay here," she said as she tried to take him away.
"I can't leave. This is Peter!" Neal protested, freeing himself from her hold.
"What is your name?" the nurse asked gently.
"Neal, you need to calm down. Please follow me."
"No! Peter needs me here! Tell me, how is he…"
"Are you a relative?"
"I'm his partner – I mean, we work together. I have to call his wife, Elizabeth."
"No… I think I should do it myself."
"Okay then, let me lead you to the reception desk."
Neal nodded but didn't move. He couldn't detach his look from Peter.
Inside, the doctor gestured to the nurse to come back.
"I'll be right back," she told Neal. "Don't go anywhere."
The doctor and the nurse had a short discussion before she headed back to Neal.
"The doctor needs a few specifications, while you are here," she explained. "You're Peter's friend?"
"Yes, Peter Burke, he is an FBI Agent."
"It is my understanding that he was in the waters?"
"I – I don't know." Neal looked at his wrist, looking for a watch that wasn't there. He realized he had no idea what time it was. He shook his head. "What time is it? I – it happened at dusk. Night was just falling."
The nurse noted something on a clipboard.
"Good. And how long was he unconscious?"
Neal fought back the anxiety climbing into his throat.
"Not long. A few minutes, right before I took him out."
The nurse raised an eyebrow and noted something else. "Good. Does he have any conditions, is he on any medication that we should know about?"
"I don't think so."
"You're not sure?"
"Actually, I'm pretty sure I would know." How ironical that he knew Peter's medical record because a long time ago, in another life, Mozzie had taught him; know your enemy.
"Was he is general good shape before the accident?"
"Yes, he was."
"Okay. Thank you, Neal. That's it for now. Please, come with me to the reception desk."
Neal followed the nurse. His heart was weighting heavily in his chest. He had to call El. Someone handed him a phone. His hands were shaking as he dialled El's number.
"Elizabeth Burke?" El's voice was as joyfull as always. Neal didn't know how to break the news, break her heart."Hello?" El called from the other side of the line.
"Elizabeth…" Neal couldn't suppress the tremor in his voice, which, of course, El caught immediately.
"Neal?" She asked, alarmed. "What happened?"
"Peter fell in the sewer. He... We're at Bellevue."
El remained silent. Neal could hear muffled sounds, a harsh breath.
"How bad is he?" El finally asked with a faded voice.
"He's unconscious, but…" Neal didn't know if he should be optimistically reassuring or pessimistically prudent. But he just wasn't strong enough for the later. "He'll be fine." Because he had to.
More muffled sounds, and a door slammed shut.
"Thanks Neal," El said hastily. "Be right there." And she hung up.
"You should let me take care of you, now," the nurse said gently as she took the phone from his hands.
Neal shook his head, stubborn. But she was persistent.
"Neal, listen. You're all wet and you're shaking. Let me take care of you. Your friend will need you, but for now we are taking care of him. You have to take care of yourself. Do you understand?"
Neal nodded slowly, finally accepting and then followed the nurse. She led him to the same room he had been told to wait in when he first came in. It was not until the nurse invited him to sit on the exam bed that Neal realized how exhausted he was. His legs could barely hold him anymore and he crashed more than he sat on the bed. His hands hurt. He looked at them and noticed for the first time they were scratched and bleeding.
The nurse sat on a stool in front of him, and cleaned his injured hands before bandaging them.
"There is a small bathroom down the hall. You can have a shower, warm up and change," she said as she handed him blue scrubs and a towel. "But don't wonder off, I'm keeping an eye on you."
Neal smiled. "Thank you…"
"Thank you, Carol."
As the nurse was about to leave the room, he called her back. "Wait!" The nurse stopped, and turned around. "What – How is he?"
The nurse gave Neal a sympathetic smile. "It's a bit soon to tell. We'll get back to you when we'll know more."
When Neal returned from the bathroom, Carol was waiting for him with a blanket.
"Here, keep warm," she said as she handed it to him. "The doctor wants to talk to you."
Neal followed her back to the reception desk where the doctor was filling paperwork.
"Hi, I'm Doctor Ross. I'm the doctor who took care of your friend. Has his wife arrived?"
Neal shook his head. "Not yet."
Neal thought his head was about to explode. His ears were buzzing. His heart was beating so hard in his chest that it felt like it wanted to run. Not that Neal could blame it. A part of him wanted to run too. He didn't want to listen. He couldn't ear. He made out a few words: fibrillation, hypothermia, external blood circulation.
"… Given his good shape, I'm rather optimistic for a full recovery."
Neal's heart missed a beat and he felt the room spinning.
"We warmed up his blood by external bypass. His temp was critical, but is now slowly raising. We need to remain cautious of course, he is not out of the woods yet, but save for any complications – which is unlikely, he should recover."
Silent, Neal looked up at the doctor. The room stopped moving. Neal let go a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.
"Your friend is just out of ICU. We moved him to a private room. He is still unconscious, but you can go and see him."
It was hard, seeing Peter lying on the hospital bed, looking vulnerable, hooked to a beeping monitor. He was still extremely pale, buried under giant blankets. Neal sat on a chair next to the bed. He curled himself under his own blanket and waited.
To Be Continued…