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27 February 2012 @ 08:43 pm
Fic: It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn  
Title:  It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn, Part I
Rating:  PG-13
Characters:  Neal, Peter and the rest of the gang
Spoilers:  None
Word Count: 8,600
Summary:  Neal disappears.  The aftermath is hard on Peter and Neal.


It was so dark and he was so cold and so tired and he hurt so much.  He knew he should get up, keep moving.  He knew he wasn’t safe.  He knew if he were to give in to his desire to lie down and rest, he would likely never wake up.  But, he couldn’t even muster up enough strength to care.  So he let himself fall sideways into the snow, let his eyes close against the darkness and sleep.

Peter Burke entered his office resolutely to face the pile of insurance fraud case files that sat on his desk.  He hung up his coat, sat with a sign and grabbed the top most folder.  Just as he flipped it open his phone rang and he picked it up hoping for something, anything that would take him away from the tedium of insurance fraud.

“Burke.”

“Agent Burke, Bret Samuelson with the U.S. Marshal’s office.”

Peter’s heart lurched.

“We got a call from NYPD.  They picked up Neal Caffrey a few minutes ago.  Seems like he’s in pretty bad shape, they’re taking him directly to Lenox Hill Hospital.”

“I’m on my way.”

“Right, I’ll meet you there.”

Samuelson disconnected the call and Peter sat for a moment with the phone still to his ear regretting that he had gotten exactly what he had hoped for.

It had been just over three weeks since Peter had gotten the call that Neal’s anklet had gone dark.  One minute he appeared to be walking just a couple of blocks from June’s, the next he was simply gone.  His cell phone was found in a dumpster another block over, but there was no sign of the anklet or anything else that Peter or his team recognized as Neal’s.

Calls to Mozzie from both Peter and El went unanswered.  And, without any sign of foul play, Peter had to assume after a week with no word from him that Neal had run.

The drive to the hospital was excruciating.  The mid-morning traffic was atrocious and Peter couldn’t stop alternating between extreme anger at Neal and worry over his present condition and the reasons for it.  When he finally arrived at the hospital, he had run out of patience and so he parked in the lot reserved for hospital staff and threw his FBI car tag onto the dashboard.

By the time he made his way from the parking lot into the emergency room Peter was running.  His need to see Neal, to know for sure that it was him and he was back was nearly overwhelming. 

As he approached the desk he saw a man dressed in a well tailored black suit that resembled something Neal would wear speaking with the nurse.  They appeared to be having a rather animated discussion. 

“Excuse me,” Peter interrupted as he reached the desk.  “Neal Caffrey?”

The man and the nurse turned to him as soon as he mentioned Neal’s name.

“Burke?” The man asked.

Peter nodded.

“Bret Samuelson.  Ms. Davis and I were just discussing Mr. Caffrey.”

“What’s his condition?”  Peter asked the nurse anxiously.

“Like I was telling this gentleman,” the nurse replied, tossing her head at Marshall Samuelson, “I have NO information on Mr. Caffrey’s condition at this time.”

Peter pulled his badge out and smacked it on the counter.  “He’s my partner and I want to see him now.”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible sir, Mr. Caffrey is being examined.  Once his doctor has an update I’m sure he’ll be out to speak with you.”

“You don’t understand.  He’s been missing for 3 weeks.  I need to see him.  I need to know for sure that it’s Neal.”  Peter didn’t enjoy pleading, but in this case he was willing to make an exception.

The nurse scrutinized him for a moment and then said, “Wait here, I’ll check with his doctor.”  Then she stepped away from the desk and into the bowels of the emergency department.

“That was way further than I got with her.”  Samuelson snorted.

Peter wasn’t interested in Samuelson at the moment, his need to see Neal was too strong. 

They stood silently at the counter for a couple of minutes and then the nurse returned and waved to Peter.  “Dr. Adams said you can come back just long enough to verify the patient’s identity.”

Peter moved around the desk and followed the nurse back into the treatment area.  The room Neal was in was the scene of not-so-controlled chaos.  No less than seven medical personnel were moving around the room yelling out orders and what seemed like random numbers and abbreviations.  As Peter approached the gurney he was shocked by the way his partner looked.  Neal was on a respirator, his face was white and gaunt, dark bruising under both eyes.

“Is this your partner?”  A man dressed in scrubs, with three days worth of stubble on his face asked Peter.

Peter could only nod at the man he assumed was Dr. Adams.  Neal’s appearance had left him at a loss for words.

“Any medical conditions, allergies we should know about?”

Peter shook his head.  “Nothing that I know about.”

At that moment one of the machines attached to Neal began screaming. 

“He’s crashing.”  Someone yelled.

The chaos in the room instantly doubled.

The doctor who had been speaking to Peter began yelling orders.  “Charge the paddles to 300, give him 10cc’s of epi.”

Oh god, oh god, Peter thought, this can’t be happening.

The nurse who had led Peter to Neal tugged on his arm drawing him back out of the room and away from his partner.  Peter attempted to resist, he needed to be here, to stay with Neal. 

The nurse tugged harder and said “we need to give them room to work.”

Peter nodded, knowing she was right, while wishing he could stay.  Then he allowed himself to be led back to the waiting area.

Samuelson was still standing at the desk.  “Is it Caffrey?” He asked.

Peter nodded as he passed the other man and walked on to sit in the first seat available.

“Good.  I’ll go back and cuff him.”

“Ha,” Peter snapped.  “Even unconscious Neal can slip any cuffs.” 

“Procedure is procedure.”  Samuelson replied as he turned to head into the treatment area.

“No.”  Peter said sharply.

Samuelson turned and looked questioningly at Peter.  “No?”

Peter swallowed hard.  “Neal was crashing when they pulled me out of the room.  He may be … he may be dead already and even if he isn’t, he’s not going anywhere.”

Samuelson nodded and then took the seat next to Peter.

They sat there in silence for nearly an hour before Dr. Adams came out and approached them.  As soon as Peter saw him he jumped up from his seat.  “How is he?”

“Still with us.  He came in with a body temperature of 83.6 degrees, moderately hypothermic, which caused an arrhythmia, which caused him his heart to stop.  We were able to get it going again and now we’re slowly getting him warmed up.  He’s still critical, but it looks like the worst is behind him.  There are some other injuries we’ll need to work on but I wanted to come out and let you know he’s hanging in.”

Peter’s relief was palpable.  He nodded, letting out the breath he had been holding since first spotting the doctor.  “What other injuries?”

“He has a couple of broken ribs, a lot of bruising, possibly some internal injuries, we’ll need to get him thawed out a little more before we can be certain of that.”

“Okay.”  Peter felt a little numb, partially from relief, partially from fear since Neal was still not totally out of the woods, and partially from anger at Neal for making him feel any of this.

“I need to get back in there.  It’s going to be a while before we can move him upstairs and regrettably he may still need surgery if we find any significant internal injuries or bleeding.  I’ll make sure someone keeps you updated.”

“Thank you, doctor.”

 “You’re welcome.”  

Peter turned to Samuelson.  “You might as well go back to your office.  It’s obvious that Neal’s not going anywhere for quite some time.  I’ll stay and I’ll keep you updated.”

Samuelson nodded.  “Alright.”  He started toward the door and then turned back to Peter again.  “I’m sorry about your partner.  I hope he comes through alright.”

“Thank you.”

  

Three days later Peter was still waiting on Neal.  The nurses had taken pity on him somewhere in the middle of day two and had brought a recliner into Neal’s room for Peter.  It was pushed up close to the bed so that when Neal murmured restlessly in his sleep Peter could clasp his hand through the guardrail to soothe him.  

The laundry list of Neal’s injuries outside of the hypothermia had turned out to be pretty long; three  broken ribs, bruising to his spleen and left kidney, minor internal bleeding that thankfully required no surgery, a sprained right knee, dehydration, exhaustion, malnourishment, bruises and minor lacerations covering his body and a grade four concussion.  There was also the badly contused and cut left ankle which was infected and had required stitches.  Neal’s anklet had still been in place when he was brought into the hospital, but it was in worse shape than Neal’s ankle.  It was no wonder the thing had stopped transmitting. 

Neal had woken three times already, but each occasion was brief and he was only semi-coherent.  Peter’s need for answers about where Neal had been and what had happened to him was growing exponentially.  He had already tasked Diana and Jones with finding out what they could.  They had spoken with the patrol officers who had found Neal lying beside the small pond next to Belvedere Castle in the park.  There was no sign that anyone had been there with Neal.  There was only one set of footprints leading off the main path down to the pond.  There had been no sign of a struggle.  They hadn’t done a canvas as it was pretty early in the morning, freezing outside and no one had been in the park near the area at the time. 

Even though both Peter’s team and the Marshall service had canvassed the area that Neal originally disappeared from, Diana and Jones went back again, armed with the new thought that Neal had been taken by persons unknown.  But, they came away empty this time too.

“What happened to you Neal?”  Peter mumbled into his hands as he scrubbed them over his face.  The hours sitting by Neal’s bedside were really taking a toll.  He had only left twice, very reluctantly, to go home briefly to shower, change and catch a couple of hours sleep.  Both times Jones had stayed with Neal.  Diana and Christy were dog sitting for Satchmo since Elizabeth was working in San Francisco.  Peter was missing her desperately and thankfully she ad been able to cut the trip short and would be back in New York the next day. 

While Peter was lost in thought about how he would manage getting Elizabeth from the airport, Neal stirred.  “Mmm,” he murmured as he shifted.

Peter stood and hit the call button and then took Neal’s hand.  Neal had been disoriented and frightened each time he woke, so Peter was taking a pre-emptive approach.  “Hey buddy, you’re okay, you’re in the hospital, but you’re doing okay and you’re going to be fine.”  He said in a soothing voice while he gently squeezed Neal’s hand. 

Neal murmured again and then his eyes began to flutter.  “That’s it Neal.  Can you open your eyes for me?” 

The duty nurse poked her head in the room, saw that Neal was waking and said “I’ll page Dr. Adams.”

Eventually Neal’s eyes opened, filled with confusion and fear as they had been every time before.  “Hey, Neal, it’s Peter, I’m right here, everything’s okay.”

For a long moment Neal simply stared up at his partner, and then he seemed to gain some focus.  “Peter?” he asked in a breathy whisper.

“Yeah Neal, I’m here.”

“Where…”

“At Lenox Hill Hospital,” Peter replied. 

The look of confusion on Neal’s face, turned to one of panic, his breathing started to speed up and he looked like any moment he was going to make an attempt to leap from his hospital bed.

Peter squeezed Neal’s hand a little more tightly and said “its okay, you’re safe and you’re going to be fine.”

Neal didn’t appear to have heard Peter, his eyes were darting around the room frantically and he was breathing heavily despite his broken ribs and the oxygen cannula under his nose.

Dr. Adams picked that moment to enter the room which made Neal’s panic escalate even further.  He started to lift himself into a seated position as a precursor to getting out the bed entirely. 

His ribs had other ideas however, and Neal fell back against the pillow with a strangled groan. 

Peter placed his hand on Neal’s head brushing his bangs out of his eyes.  “Ssshhhh, it’s okay, I promise everything’s okay.”

Dr. Adams walked around the bed to stand on Neal’s other side.         

Neal’s eyes darted from Peter to Dr. Adams and back to Peter again.  “Peter?”

“This is Dr. Adams, Neal.  He’s been taking care of you since we found you.”

“I don’t… what happened?”  Despite his continued confusion, Neal’s breathing started to settle back to normal.  

Peter didn’t know how to answer that question, but thankfully Dr. Adams stepped in.

“I can’t tell you how it started Neal, but I can tell you how it ended.  The NYPD found you lying in the snow in Central Park.  You were hypothermic and you have quite a few injuries, the ribs which I think you know about and a nasty concussion are the worst of it.  But, with rest and time you’ll heal.”

“Central Park?”  Neal was definitely still very uncertain.  It was clear from the look in his eyes and the tentative way he spoke.  It was also clear that he was tiring quickly.   

“Neal, I’m going to take a quick listen to your chest and then we’ll let you get some more rest.”  Dr. Adams said as he pulled the stethoscope from around his neck and put it in place.  He used the bed control to move Neal up into a more seated position. 

He listened to Neal’s chest, and then asked Peter to help hold Neal steady while he listened from his back. 

By the time Peter settled Neal back against the bed, his eyes were closed and he was nearly asleep again. 

He made one attempt to open them and say something, but it came out an undecipherable moan.     


Late the next afternoon Peter was still seated by Neal’s bedside.  El’s flight had landed almost two hours ago, but despite his strong desire to see her, he couldn’t leave Neal.  He couldn’t shake the feeling that whoever had hurt him, might return for a second try. 

Peter had spent the last four days struggling between anger at Neal for running off and getting himself into whatever mess he was in and concern for a potentially innocent Neal who had somehow managed to get kidnapped and tortured.   

The confusion and fear that Neal was exhibiting were only adding to Peter’s concern that someone might attempt to hurt him further, or worse.  So, there he sat in the recliner next to his partner when he should have been with his wife who he had not seen for two weeks.

The door to the room opened breaking Peter out of his thoughts.  And, there she was, as beautiful as ever.  He had her in his arms moments later, so very glad to be holding her again. 

“Hey hon,” she said with a smile as she reached up to kiss him.

“Hey hon,” he replied just before their lips met in a warm and fond re-acquaintance. 

“I’m so glad you’re home.”  He breathed into her hair as he hugged her even more tightly to him.

“I’m so glad to be home.  How is Neal?”  El asked turning her head in the direction of the bed.

“Getting better, slowly.  He’s still pretty out of it.  He’s only been awake for a few minutes at a time.  But, Dr. Adams seems to be happy with his progress.”  Peter stated as they both moved to stand next to the bed.

Despite her conversations with Peter about Neal’s injuries Elizabeth was shocked by what she saw.  Neal looked so different from the last time she had seen him.  It was just two days before he disappeared.  He had been at the Burke’s for dinner dressed to the nines from fedora, to tie bar to Italian leather shoes.  They had all had such fun that night, laughing and chatting amiably about capers at the office, and art and El’s plans for San Francisco. 

Now, he was so gaunt his cheeks had taken on a skeletal quality, his eyes were deeply bruised, and his skin was a chalky white. 

El’s hand went immediately to his head, stroking his hair back gently.

As if he could sense her presence Neal began to wake.  His head moved into her touch and he sighed deeply before opening his eyes. 

“Hey, sweetie,” she said gently.

“El?”  His voice was still breathy though they had removed the oxygen cannula early that morning. 

“How are you feeling?  Can I get you anything?”

“I’m fine.”  El just shook her head.  Clearly Neal was anything but fine.  Then she started fussing over him.  First was a cup of water, then it was asking the nurses to bring him something to eat, followed by helping him eat the few mouthfuls that he managed, tsking the whole time, followed by the dropping the of guardrail and El scrunching up next to him on the bed, holding his hand.  

Moments later he was fast asleep again, and more calm and relaxed than Peter had seen him since this whole thing had begun. 

Peter was back in the recliner, watching his wife snuggle with his partner when his phone buzzed softly in his pocket. 

He grabbed it and headed out of the room so as not to disturb Neal.

“Burke.”

“Burke, its Samuelson.  I’m sorry I have to tell you this, but I thought I should give you a head’s up.”

 “I appreciate that, what’s going on?”

 “My director ordered me to file on Caffrey.  The papers will be in the court’s hands come tomorrow morning.”

Peter couldn’t help the sigh that escaped him.  “Are you recommending revocation of his probation?”

“No.   But, it may not matter.  He was gone a long time and without a solid, verifiable explanation of where he was all that time.”  Samuelson let it hang there.

“Yeah.”  Peter replied resignedly.

“How’s he doing?”

“Better, but I haven’t really been able to get any information from him.  The concussion and the hypothermia really took it out of him.  I’m hopeful that when he’s a little stronger he’ll be able to give me that solid, verifiable explanation.”

“Well, I was clear in the paperwork that Caffrey’s still in the hospital and that his recovery will take some time.  Hopefully, they’ll put off scheduling the hearing for at least a week or two.”

“Thank you, for that and for the head’s up.”

Peter hung up the call, went down the hall to the vending machine for his fiftieth crappy cup of coffee for the day and then went back to Neal’s room.

El knew that something was wrong the moment her husband walked through the door.  “Hon, what is it?”

Peter shook his head.  He had no intention of letting Elizabeth or Neal know about this for the moment.  “Nothing, just work stuff.”

“Do you need to go into the office?”

“No, not right now.”

Elizabeth disentangled herself from a soundly sleeping Neal and sat down in her husband’s lap.  “I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with this on your own.”

“I don’t know what to feel, El.  I’m so sorry that he was hurt so badly, but I’m so angry that he allowed it to happen, that he ran.  I want to protect him, help him, but I don’t know if the best thing for him is to put him back in prison, where he can’t get into this kind of trouble anymore.”

“Talk to him, hon.  You’ll do the right thing.  You always do.”

An hour later, Elizabeth had gone to get them something decent to eat for dinner while Peter continued his vigil.  Neal had become restless and was scrunching his forehead as if he was in pain.  Peter pressed the call button and a minute later, Darcy Neal’s evening shift nurse, entered the room.

“Agent Burke?”

“I think he’s in pain.”

Darcy nodded and approached the bed.  She observed Neal for a moment and then appeared to come to the same conclusion.  She shook Neal’s shoulder gently while calling his name.

“Hey Neal, it’s Darcy, can you wake up for me?” 

After a moment Neal opened his eyes and looked up at Darcy.

“How are you feeling?” She asked him once he seemed to be mostly awake.

“I’m fine,” he replied looking away from her.

"Neal, we talked about this.  I can’t help you if I don’t know what’s going on.  Fess up.”

Neal squirmed a little and then quietly said, “my back hurts.”

“Well see, that’s something I can help you with.  I’ll be right back.”

Neal closed his eyes as Darcy left the room.  Peter just stood there feeling helpless.

It wasn’t long before Darcy was back with a long wedge shaped piece of foam. 

“Agent Burke can you help me for a moment?  Neal, we’re going to get you up on you right side and then I’ll put this wedge behind your back.  It should make you feel better being in a different position for awhile, okay?”

Neal nodded.

Peter came over to stand by Darcy and helped her maneuver Neal onto his side, holding him in place while Darcy slid the wedge behind him.

Neal sighed in evident relief once they were done.

Darcy moved the call button next to Neal’s hand and said “just push when you need something Neal, please.”

Then she left leaving Neal and Peter in silence.

Peter sat back in his recliner and took Neal’s hand briefly to get his attention.  “Neal, we need to talk.  I need you to tell me where you’ve been and what happened.  I want to help you, but I can’t until I know what we’re up against.”

Neal closed his eyes again.  Peter was not really a patient man, but he knew he needed to give Neal a moment.

When Neal’s eyes opened all Peter could read in them was sadness and hurt.  “I really wish I knew Peter, but I don’t.  I don’t remember.”

Peter tried hard not to let his frustration show.  “What’s the last thing you do remember?”

Neal’s expression spaced out for a moment and then he replied, “dinner with you and Elizabeth.”

“Neal that was two days before you disappeared.  You don’t remember anything from the next two day at all, being at the office, going to lunch at the deli Wednesday, forcing me to eat Indian food Thursday?”

“No.”  The fear in Neal’s voice was clear as a bell.

“Okay, how about the park, do you remember being in the park?”

“When was I in the park?”

“That’s where NYPD found you remember?”

Neal shook his head.  “I’m sorry Peter.”

“Okay, it’s okay.”

Now Peter needed a moment.  He knew he had to ask, but after Adler, after accusing Neal of stealing the treasure, it was hard to make Neal think he had no trust in him.  “Were you planning something, Neal?  Were you planning to run, to pull some heist?

Neal looked up at Peter for the first time since the conversation began.  His eyes were hard, determined.  “No, I was not.”

“Are you sure, Mozzie didn’t pull you into something, or Alex?”

“If they did, it was that day, at the last minute.  I wasn’t planning anything.”

Peter nodded.  He wanted to believe his partner, he really did, but the memory loss was rather convenient. 

“Peter, I know you and the Marshall’s ran an investigation.  What did you find out?”

Peter briefly thought about lying to Neal, telling him they had something in order to gauge his response, to see if he could get Neal to confess to something, even inadvertently.  But, he opted for the truth instead.

“Nothing, there were no witnesses to your disappearance, there was no evidence found on the scene except your cell phone and we found nothing in the park besides you.”

“I’m sorry, Peter.”

Later that evening Peter cornered Dr. Adams in the hallway outside of Neal’s room.

“He claims he doesn’t remember anything from two days before he went missing until he woke up here.”

“I’m afraid that’s entirely possible, Agent Burke.  Neal suffered hypothermia, a serious concussion and other physical and probably emotional trauma.  Any one of these could cause memory loss.  The combination, I’m not surprised at all that Neal has no memory of these events.”

“Will his memory return?”

“Possibly, but there’s no way to know when or how much he could get back.”

“It could be the difference between Neal’s freedom and a lifetime in prison.”

“I’m sorry, but unfortunately, there are no rules for this sort of thing.”

Peter nodded.  “Thank you, Dr. Adams.”


Part II


 
 
 
dramajunkie3066: kittendramajunkie3066 on June 29th, 2013 09:30 pm (UTC)
this was rally good i loved the whole thing and especially how you ended it thank you for writing :)
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on June 29th, 2013 11:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading!

I'm glad you enjoyed it.