Blood, as all men know, than water's thicker
But water's wider, thank the Lord, than blood.
Aldous Huxley, Ninth Philosopher's Song
"Everything's gonn. . .okay." Peter's voice sounded far away even though Neal could see his hand on his chest. Everything around him was hazy, like a dream, as his eyes fluttered and shut.
He woke to numbness and confusion. He was lying on a cold metal floor, though his head was on something soft.
"Hey." Peter's voice was above him, and Neal struggled to open his eyes. "You with me?"
When he finally got focused, Peter was leaning over him upside down. Neal tried to shift, but Peter pressed down on his chest.
"Don't move. Neal, repeat it back to me. What did I say?"
"Don't move," he echoed.
"Good, that's good."
"What happened?" Neal tried to turn his head to see what was going on, but Peter's hand shifted to his cheek to keep his head still. Panic started to rise from Neal's belly, and the numbness started to fade as his heart picked up speed.
"What do you remember?"
Fragments immediately returned to him. Investigating jewels in a safe deposit box. Alarms blaring. Gunmen entering the vault. Shots. Searing pain in his arm as a bullet tore through muscle and bone. The heavy clang as the vault door closed and locked.
Neal gasped and tried to sit up, but Peter held him down again with the hand on his chest. Able to turn his head now, Neal was horrified to see his bloodied forearm where Peter's fingers were pinched around something.
"Calm down. Neal, you have to calm down." Peter's gentle tone barely registered, and Neal continued to struggle. But Peter's next words cowed. "Stop dammit! Calm the hell down!"
Neal's eyes went wide and he stared at his partner. Peter so rarely raised his voice or cursed that he was startled into submission.
Peter rubbed a hand over his face and took some deep breaths. Neal unconsciously tried to mimic his breathing.
"You're going to be okay," Peter said, quietly, "but you have to stay still. The bullet tore the artery, and I have to keep it closed."
Neal blanched. He knew what that meant. A severed artery was not something to be treated in the field and especially not while locked in a bank vault with no means of communication with the outside world.
Neal gasped, unaware that he'd stopped taking in air.
"You're going to give me a heart attack here. Just lay still and keep breathing."
They were both quiet for a long moment until Neal placed the hand of his uninjured arm on top of Peter's hand on his chest. "How long have we been in here?"
"Not long," Peter said a little too quickly.
Neal closed his eyes and willed himself to not panic.
"Don't go to sleep. Open your eyes."
He followed the command and met Peter's worried brown eyes. "Jones and Diana know where we are. They'll get us out."
"Yes, they will. Any… any minute now."
Neal looked away when Peter pressed his lips together and obviously fought back tears of frustration. He was silent for a few minutes while he tried to think about something other than the pain shooting up and down his arm and into his chest. "Talk to me," he suddenly gasped. "I can't… it hurts. Please."
Peter moved the hand on Neal's chest so that he could squeeze his friend's fingers. Then, he started talking. "When we moved into the house in Brooklyn, I wanted to get a dog. Something like a German Shepherd, but El went with me to the animal shelter and fell in love-at-first-site with Satchmo. He was just a puppy. I'll have to show you pictures later. He was so damn cute. So, we signed the papers and adopted him that day, but we had to pick him up a couple of days later."
Neal shifted, causing Peter to stop talking so that the older man could glare at him for moving. Neal grimaced and asked, "Why?"
"He had to be snipped."
"Ouch," Neal winced and squeezed his legs closer together in sympathy for the poor dog.
"Yeah." Peter agreed. "Anyway, when he finally came home, he promptly peed all over everything. We went through three rugs in the living room those first couple of weeks. But eventually, things settled down."
"Satchmo's a good dog," Neal murmured. His eyelids were suddenly heavy, and his head was starting to spin.
"He tried to eat one of your bonds. We'd just moved in to the house and didn't have a coffee table yet, so I had some files laying on the floor. Those were truly works of art, Neal. Don't tell anyone I said that." He paused and then shook Neal's shoulder. "Neal? Hey. Open your eyes. Neal!"
Neal groaned and forced his eyelids up. "Huh?"
"Stay awake. You have to stay awake."
"'m cold. Hurts. Peter?"
Peter cursed and tried to get his jacket off without jarring Neal or losing his grip on the artery he'd been pinching off for what felt like days. He managed to get it off all but the one arm. Then, he draped the rest of it over Neal's chest. "Just focus on me. Everything's going to be okay. You hear me?"
"Gonna be 'kay," Neal parroted back. He blinked heavily but tried his best to stay alert. His body felt both light as air and heavy as a brick at the same time. It was worrying, and he shifted restlessly.
"Neal." Peter pressed down on his chest. "You have to be still."
"Feel… wrong. Something's wrong."
"What's wrong? Neal, talk to me!"
"I don't…" Neal trailed off as his vision tunneled and everything faded away.
When Neal regained consciousness, he was laying on a hard mattress in a darkened hospital room. The blinds over the windows were drawn, and the only light came from somewhere behind his bed. He slowly rolled his head to the side and found Peter and Elizabeth sitting side by side in visitors' chairs, leaning against each other and sleeping.
He shifted and winced at the sudden flare of pain in his arm. Looking down, he saw that it was splinted and bandaged heavily. Flexing his fingers increased the pain enough to make him groan, and that's what woke Peter.
"Hey. You're okay," were the first words out of Peter's mouth. "Everything's okay."
Neal's brow furrowed, but Peter smiled at him.
"You've been in and out for the last half a day or so. Sometimes you're a little panicked, so I try to head you off before it gets to that point."
"Oh." Neal didn't have any memories of waking earlier, but he trusted Peter to tell him the truth. "What happened?"
"You scared about ten years off my life."
Neal frowned and put his hand over Peter's so he could squeeze the other man's fingers.
"After you passed out, it was about fifteen minutes before Jones and Diana came busting through the vault doors with a team of EMTs. They figured that if you hadn't found a way out of the vault in all the time that we were in there, then something had to be wrong."
Neal chuckled and smiled at their perception of him. He should ask to go back to the vault later and see if he could break out of it. Then again, the mere thought of that place gave him a cold chill bad enough that he shivered.
"You okay?" Peter gently disengaged his hand and pulled the blanket up to Neal's chin. "I should call the nurse and let her know you're awake."
"Peter?" Neal patted his friend's arm in what he hoped was a comforting manner. The drugs were making him foggy and unbalanced. "Thank you. You saved my life and I… Thank you."
Peter's eyes looked watery when Neal locked gazes with him. "You would have done the same for me, so there's no need for any of that. I'll always have your back, Neal. Always."
Neal's own eyes were misty then. He nodded and smiled gently in understanding. Peter was a good man – probably the best that Neal had ever known – and he believed that Peter would always be there as long as Neal was working for the greater good. He intended to keep doing just that.
Thanks for reading!