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On the Waterfront

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The water was damn cold when Neal hit the river. Icy pinpricks stole his breath, and he choked and flailed. His limbs were tangled with the dead antiquities fence that had taken him hostage and pulled him backwards into the drink when the NYPD raided the docks a bit earlier than they should have and shot the man.

It was a long way to the bottom, but when his feet hit something solid, Neal pushed back against it, propelling himself up and away the body. When his head breached the surface, he sucked in as deep a breath as he could before going back under. The cold had already taken his coordination, and he bobbed a few times, taking in his small breaths before going under completely.

~~!!~~

Peter had been listening in the van until Neal had been taken hostage. Then, he'd burst out the back doors and ran for the docks. He knew the conman well enough to know that he'd probably wind up in the river before the day was out. He made it to the waterfront just in time to see Neal and the fence fall backwards, and he didn't hesitate to jump in after them once he made it to the river.

The current tugged Peter downstream, and he let it as he searched for his friend. The water was freezing on this first day of spring, and he worried for Neal when he couldn't see him on the surface. Neal was a good swimmer. Was he hurt? Where was he?

Peter kicked off his shoes and shucked his jacket in an attempt to rid himself of dead weight. He scanned the water once more, catching a glimpse of dark hair out of the corner of his sight before it dropped back under. Peter was there in a heartbeat, and he dove down, reaching for Neal even as he sank further away. The temperature was starting to affect Peter too, but he grasped Neal's collar with all his strength and followed his own air bubbles back up.

The Coast Guard had been dispatched and was there almost as soon as Peter emerged from the depths. He treaded water and begged Neal to be okay, until strong, sure hands reached down and pulled first Neal and then Peter up onto the boat.

Someone wrapped warmed blankets around his shoulders as he watched two of the guards work to resuscitate Neal. One was doing chest compressions while the other used an Ambu bag to force air into the younger man's lungs. Neal's skin was pale and tinged blue. For a man always in motion, it was alarming to see him so still now. Peter's own breath stuttered as he watched the scene in disbelief.

~~!!~~

Neal felt like he was flying. He couldn't see anything but the brightness that surrounded him. He felt almost peaceful, but something was missing. Someone was missing. He looked over his shoulder and squinted into the ether. Abruptly, his whole body shuddered, and then he fell.

He came to with a gurgle and a jerk of arms and legs. Can't breathe! Hands rolled him onto his side, and he heaved water onto the deck for several long moments. When he could finally pull in air, he was panting, on the verge of hyperventilating.

“Neal? Hey, can you open your eyes?” Peter's voice prodded him until he complied, but it wasn't Peter's face in front of him. It was a woman that he didn't recognize. Neal flinched backwards until he ran into something solid.

~~!!~~

Peter wrapped his arms around Neal and pulled him up and against his chest. “It's okay,” he said softly into Neal's ear when his CI protested with uncoordinated hands and a numb tongue. “Calm down. Lean on me. Take a breath.”

The female medic moved toward them, wrapping more warm blankets around them. Neal had recognized Peter's voice and was already relaxing against the other man.

Neal's head fell back against Peter's shoulder, but his face was tilted toward Peter's neck so that the older man could feel each of Neal's breaths against his skin. It was disconcerting. Neal was colder than Peter felt, and his breathing was labored.

~~!!~~

“You're okay.” Peter's voice was soothing, but Neal still startled when he felt something settle over his mouth and nose. His eyes flew open to see the female medic with an oxygen mask. She smiled at him and said something that he couldn't hear over the roar of an engine. Am I on a boat?

His sluggish mind wrapped around that, considering what he last remembered, and he swallowed thickly when he realized the boat was bouncing over the water. His stomach flipped, but Neal was too tired to give in to it. He lay, completely spent, against his handler and focused only on breathing.

He must have made a sound though, because Peter started talking again. “We're almost to shore. They're going to take you to the hospital, Neal, but you can't fight them. You need medical attention. Do you hear me?”

“Umhmm,” he murmured through numb lips.

Peter patted Neal's chest, right over his heart. Cold hands, warm heart. The old adage was pulled from the recesses of his brain. It was something that Ellen used to tell him when he was a small boy and complained about her hands being cold when she refused to let him cross the street without holding on to her.

Time slipped away. When Neal opened his eyes again, he was facing a window where day was giving way to night and snow was lazily drifting by. He was lying under a pile of warm blankets with a nasal cannula itching his nose and an IV needle poking the back of his left hand.

“No, no,” Peter's voice came from his right, and Neal's head lolled in that direction as he dropped his hand away from the tubing. “How are you feeling?”

Neal stared at Peter, taking in the wheelchair the man was sitting in and the blankets wrapped around his shoulder. “You okay?” he asked, voice scratchy and hoarse.

Peter laughed, loud enough for Neal to cringe at the sound. “You look like a half-drowned street urchin, and you're asking if I'm okay? I'm fine. How are you doing?”

“'M cold,” Neal mumbled. “Sore. What happen'd?”

“NYPD almost killed you.”

It was said in such a matter-of-fact tone that Neal tried to laugh and wound up choking and coughing. When he got himself under control, and sipped some water from a cup that Peter held up for him, he was exhausted. “Tell me 'bout it lat'r?”

“Sure will.” Peter smoothed Neal's hair from his forehead, momentarily pressing the back of his hand there too.

Neal wanted to pull away, but it felt good. Safe.

“Sleep well,” Peter whispered as Neal drifted off. “Sweet dreams.”

~Finis

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