A/N: This is the end! Thank you all for your wonderful support. I hope you enjoyed the ride. :-)
Chapter Five: The Waking
He had to hold on. Hold on on what? What for?
He was confused.
Something terrible was going to happen. He had to prevent it.
Something was going to happen to Elizabeth.
He felt guilty. It was his fault. How could it be his fault?
He was cold.
But he had to stay awake.
Did he? Didn't he just fall asleep?
Had he failed, then?
What about Elizabeth? He couldn't let anything happen to her. He wouldn't.
He had to hold on.
He felt numbed. Dizzy.
Was it a blanket on top of him? It was warm, comfortable. He seemed to be in a bed.
He started distinguished voices, whispers. Was it El? Oh yes it was El…
She sounded worried, sad. He must have failed. Damn.
No he couldn't. He wouldn't have done this to El.
But done what?
Something deliciously warm was enveloping his hand. It was another hand. El's fingers. She was here. He squeezed her hand.
"Peter?" There was delight in her voice. So maybe he hadn't failed after all. He had to see her, make sure she was safe.
Finally Peter managed to open his eyes. He blinked repeatedly but refused to close his eyes. She was here, by his side. Peter felt a wave of relief washing over his body. She was smiling. She was as beautiful as ever. She seemed tired though.
"Hey Hon," she said softly. "Welcome back."
Peter frowned. Back from where? He tried to talk but his throat was dry and no sounds came out.
El brushed his hair. "Don't try and talk, honey. You're at the hospital. I'm calling the doctor." The hand touching his head disappeared for a moment but came back, caressing his forehead, his cheek.
"Do you remember what happened?"
Peter shook his head.
"You were trapped in a tunnel."
Peter thought hard, and finally, it all came back. The tunnel, the grille, he was trapped. Neal came to try and get him out. Where was Neal now? Peter looked around and caught sight of his friend on the other side of his bed. Neal smiled at him. "You did it, buddy."
Peter was so tired… But he couldn't let go. He had a hard time focusing on what was going on around him. Someone – a doctor? – came in. The doctor talked to him but he couldn't register what he was talking about. All that mattered was that El was right there. He wouldn't release his hold on her hand. He kept looking at her, and she was looking back at him.
"You should rest now, Peter. You did good."
But Peter couldn't get rid of the feeling of anxiety that he shouldn't let go. "No," he said in a hoarse voice, shaking his head.
El smiled at him tenderly, and she came to lie down next to him in the bed. She lifted up the cover and slipped under it to huddle against him. Her body was warm and soft.
"I'm safe Honey," she whispered in his ear, as if she was reading his mind. "You can sleep now."
Peter didn't need to be told twice. He closed his eyes and fell back asleep.
When he woke up again, Peter's mind was much clearer. He still felt cold but much more relaxed. El was sleeping by his side, her head resting on his shoulder. Her breathing had the peaceful steadiness of sleep.
He was in a small bedroom, surrounded by monitors. An IV line was stuck in his hand.
His broken leg was trapped in a cast. It was sore, but nothing unbearable. It was a little annoying that it would keep him off-duty for a while. But he thought again about what had just happened, how he felt, trapped and freezing in the dark, desperate that he wouldn't be able to stay awake long enough… He had to admit it could have been really worse.
The door opened slowly and Neal's head appeared. His gaze went directly to Peter and a warm grin illuminated his face as he noticed Peter was awake. He entered the room, a cup of coffee in the hand. He was wearing scrubs – definitely not his usual standard.
"Good morning, Peter."
"Good morning." His voice was croaky.
El looked up, awakened and kissed him. "Hi, Sweetheart," she said.
Peter looked at his wife and smiled. "Hi, Hon," he whispered.
"How do you feel?" El asked.
She handed him a glass of water. Peter sat up in his bed and took his hand out to grab the glass and drank a little.
"Not too bad. I just feel cold," he answered as he quickly slipped his hand back inside the blanket.
"The doctor said it was to be expected," Neal said sitting down on a chair beside the bed.
The smell of his coffee was filling the room. It smelled so good and would be so much hotter than that glass of water.
"Any coffee for me?" Peter asked, hopefully.
"I think we should ask the doctor first. I'm going to get him, tell him you're awake."
Shortly after, Neal came back with the doctor. Peter remembered confusedly seeing him before, when he first woke up. His name tag noted "Dr. Ross".
"Agent Burke, glad to see you're awake. How do you feel?"
"I'm cold. Otherwise, I think I'm fine."
The doctor nodded and checked the monitor Peter was hooked to.
"Your temperature is still a bit low, you might feel cold for a couple of days. Mostly, you need to stay warm and get some rest."
"Can I have a coffee? And maybe something to eat, too."
The doctor laughed lightly. "I'd advise to wait a little for the coffee. It's not the easiest drink on an empty stomach. And you're just recovering from a severe hypothermia that required a serious procedure to warm you up. But appetite is a good sign. You can try and see if you can eat some soup. I'll see with the nurse."
Peter made a face. Though… On a second thought, a hot soup sounded strangely attractive.
"How is your leg?" the doctor asked.
Peter shrugged. "I don't really feel it."
"You don't have to play tough with me, Agent Burke," the doctor grinned.
"Okay, it hurts a little," Peter admitted. "How bad is it?"
The doctor nodded. "I'll increase the painkiller dosage. Your tibia is fractured. But it was a net break, it should heal properly."
Peter winced a bit at the thought of his fractured bone.
"Another reason to take it easy," the doctor pointed out. "You also have a few superficial lacerations on your left side. All in all, you've been very lucky."
"From what I've heard, if it hadn't been for your friend here, things might have been much more complicated."
Peter felt El tense against his body. He looked at Neal, who simply shrugged and smiled apologetically.
"He probably saved your life," the doctor went on. "He took you out of the water just in time. Right before the paramedics arrived on the scene, from what I've heard. With water that cold, every minute counts, you know. It's incredible you stayed conscious for so long."
Peter and Neal exchanged a meaningful look.
"When will I be able to go home?" Peter asked the doctor.
"I want to keep you until your temperature is back to normal and properly regulated, to make sure you do not develop any complications. If everything goes fine, you'll be released tomorrow, with the strict order to get some rest."
"I'll make sure he will, doctor," El said.
The doctor tilted his head and smiled at her. "Perfect. I'll come back later. Now, get some rest, Agent Burke."
The doctor left. Elizabeth, finally reassured for her husband's sake, went to fresh up a little in the bathroom. Peter looked more closely at his friend seated by his side. In all honesty, he looked like hell. He had dark shadows around his eyes, and his expert two days stubble looked definitely more like three day shag. His hair was all scruffy and there was something a little off in his attitude. He was avoiding eye contact with Peter and was instead focusing on his bandaged hands.
"What happened to your hands?"
Neal shrugged. "That's from handling the saw." He grinned. "This kind of crude manual work is definitely not my forte."
Peter chuckled. "Well, you did get me out of there after all. So you must have been good enough at that crude work."
"Thank you, Neal."
The young man simply shrugged and looked down.
"No I mean it. You saved my life – again. I would hug you but it's way too warm under these blankets to get out."
Neal smiled, but still there seemed to be something bothering him.
"What's wrong?" Peter asked.
Neal waved it off. "Nothing."
"Neal. I know you. I can see there is something bothering you."
Neal shook his head. "No really, Peter, it's foolish, it'll go away. I'm just glad you're alive."
Peter grinned. "Me too. Really, thank you."
Suddenly something popped in his mind. "Oh I know… You hoped I wouldn't remember – And I gotta say, my memory is really blurry. But… Didn't you say you'd promise me to be good?"
Neal laughed. "No, I didn't."
"I didn't. I said you'll have to live to see it. Didn't say how long…"
"Damn. I should be more specific next time…"
Neal unvolutarily squeezed his coffee cup in his hand and spilled some coffee on his lap.
"Neal, are you gonna tell me what is wrong with you?"
"You won't let it go, will you?"
Peter shrugged. "You're the one who kept telling me not too…"
"It's just that… I was afraid you'd give up on me."
Peter frowned. "I don't follow you. Did you do something?"
"No, it's not that. But what you said – about working with me, about taking care of Elizabeth. I was scared. Scared that you were going to die. And I… At some point I almost felt angry at you. Because you have no right to take my old life away and then just disappear. You're responsible for me…" Neal looked up at Peter, contrite. "Told you it was foolish. But the truth is, I just don't know what I would do, without you. I need you to stay by my side. I don't feel strong enough to walk that new path on my own. Not just yet. And I already lost too many people in my life, Peter. I can't lose you too."
Peter felt a knot in his throat. It wasn't often that Neal was so open and simply honest with his feelings. If there had been times when Peter had doubt he had really reached out to his unconventional partner, all reservations were wiped away by Neal's confession. It was heartwarming and deeply touching. A little intimidating too, to realize how important Peter was for his friend.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
"Don't be," Neal said more lightly. "I'm just glad you're alive. But promise me it won't happen again."
"You'll promise me to stay out of trouble?"
Neal couldn't help a grin. "Touché."
Peter looked away, at some invisible point in front of him. "I was scared too," he said in a low voice. "I felt so helpless. I didn't want to give up, but… I really thought for a moment that I wouldn't make it. If it weren't for you…"
"Don't cut yourself short, you're the one who held on long enough."
"I wouldn't have without you. See, it's moments like these that I'm glad I took your deal."
Neal laughed. "My laywer should have read the papers more carefully…"
After a moment, Peter looked up at his friend, and locked his gaze in his. "Neal, I'll stay by your side as long as you need me there. I won't give up on you."
Neal nodded, an embarrassed smile appearing on his lips. In a fraction of second, he flashed his boyish grin and deflected. "I guess I can tell you the truth about those scratches on your left side then…"
Peter raised en eyebrow.
"That's when I took you out. I wasn't very careful, you rubbed against the grille…"
Peter chuckled. "You weren't careful… Jeez Neal…"
"Does it tickle?"
"You have no idea!"
It was early in the afternoon when they heard a knock on the door, and Dr Ross came in. He checked Peter's temperature and heart rate and looked satisfied.
"You have a visitor, Agent Burke," the doctor announced as he opened the door and gestured to someone outside to come in.
Peter raised an eyebrow, surprised. Reese, Diana and Jones weren't supposed to visit him until tonight, after work. But it wasn't one of his co-workers who entered the room. It was Tommy, followed by his parents. The kid seemed intimidated and he glanced Peter with a questioning look.
"Hey Tommy!" Peter greeted the kid happily. "How are you?"
Tommy smiled timidly. "I'm fine," he said with a small voice. He was fidgeting with a piece of paper he was holding. He looked up at his parents.
"We wanted to thank you and make sure you were okay, Agent Burke," the father said. "Tommy was released last night, but he didn't want to leave the hospital without seeing you and your friend. As you were still resting, I promised to come back when you were better."
Peter gave Tommy a warm smile. "This is really sweet of you, kiddo. I'm glad to see you're okay. I'm fine too. I should go home tomorrow."
Tommy nodded. Finally, he stepped closer to Peter.
"Thank you, Peter, for rescuing me," he said as he handed Peter the piece of paper. It was a drawing, the typical kind of drawing kids do, with awkward shapes and bright colors. It represented what Peter assumed was him, rescuing Tommy, holding the kid high, while a giant wave was menacing to swallow them. On top of it, in big letters, was written "Get well Super Agent Peter".
It was a wave of warm emotion that was now threatening to overwhelm Peter. He swallowed hard and cleared his throat. He put his hand on Tommy's head, then drew him close and gave him a hug.
"Thank you, buddy," Peter said with a fond smile.