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Ice Breaker (with a Twist)

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Neal knew when he heard the shouts of "FBI!" above him that he was screwed. Nikolai grabbed him and shoved him into the closest room, and then the punches started to fly. Neal tried to get some in too, but Nikolai was a far more experienced fighter.

Blows to his ribs were painful, but the ones to his head were the most troublesome. Phosphene exploded behind his closed eyelids, and he lost his sense of equilibrium. A nasty upper cut to the jaw sent him to the floor, which was just where he didn't want to be. He tried to scramble back to his feet, but Nikolai stomped on his hand and then kicked him, hard, in the chest.

On a painful inhale, the piece of gum that he'd been chewing and had all but forgotten got sucked in his throat, and then he was choking.

He barely heard Jones' voice when he found them and arrested Nikolai. Ignoring the aches and pains of his battered body, Neal clawed at his throat, desperate for air.

"Neal? Are you okay?" Jones' voice was far away as he slumped and the spots dancing across his vision engulfed him.

~~!!~~

"Shit!" Jones grabbed Neal's shoulders and pulled him so that he was laying flat on the ground. He took a moment to radio for medics before he ripped off Neal's tie and tore his shirt open.

There were red marks that promised to turn into impressive bruising, but the most distressing thing was that Neal's chest wasn't moving. He wasn't breathing.

Jones tilted his head back and tried mouth-to-mouth but Neal's chest didn't rise like it should have. He remembered Neal grabbing for his throat, and he sincerely hoped that the Russian hadn't gotten in a punch that collapsed Neal's trachea, but there weren't any marks on his skin to indicate that.

Fearing broken ribs, he didn't go for the Heimlich. Instead, he eased his fingers into Neal's mouth and fished a lump of chewing gum out of his throat. Jones made a face as he flicked the wad away. He'd expected Neal to start breathing again immediately, but when that didn't happen, he checked for a pulse and tried mouth-to-mouth again.

Neal's whole body convulsed when his lungs started working again, and he inhaled a huge gasp of air. Jones put a hand on his shoulder and said, "Easy, Neal. Take it easy. Just breathe."

He took a minute to assess the CI's injuries and was concerned by the amount of trauma to his chest and face. Neal's eye, cheekbone and jaw were starting to swell, and when Jones ran light fingers down his ribcage, he moaned and tried to move away.

The medics arrived before Jones could do anything more, though there wasn't much that he could do. Neal hadn't seemed conscious – he hadn't opened his eyes – but he reached out and grabbed Jones' hand when the medics started working on him.

Jones squeezed back and stayed beside him while he was examined and shifted onto a backboard.

~~!!~~

Peter was shocked when he saw the EMTs carrying Neal out on a backboard. He'd heard Jones on the radio, but he was too focused on making sure that Katya was safe to think that the call was about Neal.

Now, he hurried across the room to Jones and pointed at Neal. "What the hell happened?"

Jones frowned and shook his head. "Nikolai tossed him in an office and used him as a punching bag before I found them. He must have heard us when we busted in."

Peter hadn't considered that Neal didn't have back-up with him when he'd announced that everyone was under arrest. Everything had moved very quickly, and he had expected Neal to have returned with Nikolai before the actual arrests happened.

"I'm going with him."

Jones nodded. "I'll take care of things here. Let me know when you hear anything."

When he got out to the ambulance, the EMTs wouldn't let him ride along. They needed access to Neal without anyone in the way, so Peter followed them, easily keeping up with them in the BMW.

He slid into a space outside the ER, slapped his FBI placard on the dash, and ran in right behind the stretcher. Neal had an oxygen mask over his face and looked as pale as the sheet he was laying on. A nurse stepped in his way and despite him flashing his badge, she steered him out to the waiting room and told him that she would update him as soon as she could.

Peter paced the waiting room until he calmed down enough to call Elizabeth.

"Hey hon," she greeted. "I'll probably get home early tonight, and I was thinking of making your favorite soup. How does that sound?"

"That's great, but um…"

She picked up on his mood immediately. "What is it? What's wrong?"

"Neal's been hurt. He's in the ER right now, and I'm not sure what time I'll get home."

She gasped, and he heard the sound of her heels against the hardwood floor of her office as she hurried about. "What hospital? I'll be right there. Yvonne can cancel the rest of my appointments."

"Hon, you don't need to come. I just wanted you to know that I would probably be running late." And he'd wanted to hear her voice. Peter knew that Elizabeth still cared about Neal's well-being, but she was still unsure of his place in their lives after everything that they'd been through in the last year.

"Hon, which hospital?"

Peter hesitated, but he knew he would feel better if she were nearby. "Bellevue."

The nurse hadn't come to update him by the time that Elizabeth arrived, but he told her everything he knew, within reason. She got them both cups of coffee and held his hand while they waited quietly.

When someone finally called for Neal's family, it was a doctor instead of a nurse, and Peter's heart stuttered in his chest.

"That's us. What can you tell us?"

"Are you family, Sir?"

Peter showed his badge. "Neal's my partner. How is he?"

"He's going to be sore for a while, but I expect him to make a full recovery. He has a concussion, several broken ribs, and there's some damage to his left hand. We're still evaluating it. Other than that, it's just a lot of bruising. We're going to keep him tonight for observation because of the respiratory distress."

"What distress?" Peter hadn’t heard anything about that until now.

"Mr. Caffrey stopped breathing before the EMTs arrived. They reported that a piece of gum had lodged in his airway but an agent had performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and he didn't have any further problems while en route."

Peter couldn't believe that Jones had neglected to tell him that Neal had stopped breathing. He was going to demote the other agent to Bank Fraud immediately. Or give him the Medal for Meritorious Achievement and throw him a party for saving Neal's life.

~~!!~~

It took about an hour for a nurse to get them and show them to Neal's room. He looked terrible with half his face bruised and swollen. His left hand was bandaged heavily and elevated on a pillow at his side.

When Elizabeth and Peter stepped into the dimly lit room, his one un-swollen eye fluttered and opened slowly. "Hey," he murmured as he self-consciously fingered the nasal cannula tubing taped to his face.

"Leave that alone," Elizabeth chided. She pulled a chair closer to the bed on his right side, sat, and squeezed his fingers. "How are you feeling?"

"Pretty drugged up, honestly." He rolled his head on the pillow so that he could locate Peter, who was standing by his feet with one hand on Neal's ankle where the anklet was usually attached. "Did you get them?"

"The Russians?"

Neal nodded, then paled further and swallowed thickly. He took a shuddering breath and moaned in pain.

"Oh, sweetie." Elizabeth smoothed the hair away from Neal's forehead and gave Peter a heartsick look. She wished she could take Neal's pain away, but all she could do was try to help him ride it out.

"Should I get a nurse?" Peter asked anxiously. Elizabeth shook her head when she felt Neal relax a little against his pillow. He turned his face into her hand and sighed softly.

"You should rest," she told the patient softly.

Neal forced his eye open and looked toward Peter. "The Russians? You got them right?"

Peter frowned and patted Neal's leg. "Yeah, we got them, buddy. Get some sleep."

Though he clearly fought it as hard as he could, it was only a couple of minutes before Neal's eye slid shut and his breathing slowed. Elizabeth continued to stroke his hair to soothe both him and herself.

"He's confused," she whispered.

"It's the concussion. You remember how I was, after that Rodriguez bust in '08." Peter moved to her side and rubbed his hand between her shoulder blades, where she carried her tension. He knew exactly how to ease the ache there.

"That doesn't make me feel any better." Peter had been concussed badly enough to ask her repeatedly when they'd gotten a dog after she'd gotten him home. She had been very close to packing him up and taking him back to the ER, but she called his doctor instead and learned that it was a common side effect of head injuries.

He leaned down and gave her a peck on the lips. "I'm fine, and Neal will be too. Let's let him sleep. I'll check on him on my way to work tomorrow."

"I think we should stay. I don't want him to wake up alone and confused and in pain."

"Hon-"

"Don't 'hon' me, Peter Burke."

He sighed but backed down just as she knew he would. "Fine. I'm going to check in with the team and get us some coffees. I'll be back."

She nodded and turned her attention back to Neal while Peter left. He looked impossibly young and fragile with his bruised and swollen face and the oxygen tube in his nose. She kissed his forehead and sat back in her chair to watch over him.

~~!!~~

Peter walked down to the cafeteria to get the coffees and some snacks. He took the stairs and dialed Jones on the way down.

"Hey, Peter," the other agent greeted. "How's Neal?"

"Why didn't you tell me that he stopped breathing?" He hadn't meant to blurt it out quite like that, but it was out there now.

"There wasn't any time, and the medics were taking care of him." Jones sighed. "I would have told you if you'd given me the chance, Peter. I promise you that."

Peter took a deep breath and ran his fingers through his hair. "Sorry. I'm sorry. The last couple of hours have been tense."

"How's he doing?"

"He'll be okay, but they admitted him for the night to monitor his breathing. He's in a lot of pain."

"Yeah, Nikolai wasn't pulling any punches. He had him on the ground when I got to them, Peter." Jones paused to clear his throat. "It'll all be in my report."

Peter nodded to himself and decided it was best to change the subject. "Did you get the scene processed?"

"Yes. Everyone has been taken into custody, and the passports have been logged into evidence. Everything's been taken care of."

"Good, that's good. Thanks, Clinton." Peter made sure to use the agent's first name. He wasn't really mad at Jones about withholding information about Neal's condition, and he'd really had no right to blow up at him, but it still stung that something like that had happened to his friend without his knowledge.

"Keep me updated on Caffrey."

"I will, but it looks like it's going to be a quiet night. I'll see you in the office tomorrow."

Jones disconnected the call, and Peter stopped at the foot of the stairs to glance back up toward the fifth floor where Neal was resting. He could have lost his best friend tonight, and he really had no one to blame but himself. He hadn't seen Neal return before he'd started making his toast, but he'd never thought that Nikolai would turn so violent so quickly. He'd sent his CI into a dangerous situation with no immediate backup, knowing that Neal had no weapon and no hand-to-hand training. It was pure luck that Jones had been sweeping the lower floor when he'd found Nikolai and Neal.

He would have to be more careful in the future, he told himself. Much more careful.

~End

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