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27 February 2012 @ 08:55 pm
Fic: It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn, Part II  
Title: It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn, Part II
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.



Two days later Neal was tucked into bed in the Burke’s guestroom.   Peter thought that Neal looked small and fragile.  Neal still wasn’t eating much, he had actually lost more weight since they had found him and he was still pale.

“Can I get you anything else?” Peter asked as he placed a tumbler of water on the bedside table.

“No, thank you.”  Neal replied looking down at his hands where they rested atop the blankets.  “Peter…”

“Yeah?”

“I appreciate what you and Elizabeth are doing, really, but I think I’d be more comfortable at June’s.”

Peter huffed, grabbed the chair that was in the corner of the room, placed it beside the bed and then sat facing his partner.   He supposed he had waited as long as possible to have this conversation with Neal.

“June’s isn’t an option right now, Neal.”

“Because of the anklet?  Can’t you just get a replacement?”

Peter shook his head.  “You were gone for over three weeks.  I’m sorry, but your probation is under review and you’re technically in custody until the hearing.”

“Hearing?”  The word was said so tentatively that Peter felt even worse than he had two minutes ago about all of this.

“Next Wednesday.”

Neal still hadn’t looked up from staring at his hands.  They sat there together in silence for several minutes.  Peter wanted to give Neal time to process.  But, he didn’t want to leave him before Neal had a chance to ask questions or admit that he might remember something. 

While Neal had been in the hospital, Peter had had Diana and Jones run through every police report in the city for any signs of Neal’s handiwork from the day he disappeared until the day he was found in Central Park.  When nothing turned up he had them do the same for a 150 mile radius outside the city.  They came up empty again.  Then just to be as safe as possible, Peter had them run every report from every major metropolitan area.  There were a couple of scenarios that could have fit Neal’s M.O., but they could have fit ten other guys and a couple of women as well.

Peter was disappointed that nothing turned up.  It would have been good to have a lead, any lead on where Neal had been.  He still wanted to believe that someone had taken Neal, had forced him to act on their behalf and had then dumped him when they were done.  But with nothing to go on the chances of bringing this someone to justice were slim to none.  On the other hand, at least Peter could go into court next week and report that aside from the whole disappearing thing they had nothing on Neal that would support the need to send him back to prison.        

Eventually Neal slid further into the bed.  “I’m tired,” he mumbled.

“Okay, get some rest.”  Peter said as he stood and returned the chair to the corner.  “El, will bring you lunch in an hour or so.”

“Please tell her not to bother, I’m really not hungry.”

“Neal…”  Peter started.  He was geared up to give Neal Dr. Adam’s speech about needing to get more calories so that his body could heal.  But looking at the creases in the pale forehead, Peter relented.  He had just told Neal that it was likely he would be returning to prison in five days, it really wasn’t the time for a lecture on nutrition. 

So instead he nodded his assent and then quietly left the room, pulling the door partially closed on his way out.

Early, very early the next morning El got a call from a very agitated and concerned Mozzie.  He had been incommunicado, out the country.  He had no idea that Neal was missing.  Was Neal still missing?  Elizabeth assured him that Neal was back and was recovering.  She then put Peter on the phone who grilled Mozzie about anything he might know about what Neal might have been planning.  When Moz adamantly replied that Neal was up to nothing, not that he would ever reveal his friend’s plans to a suit, Peter asked if Mozzie knew anyone who might want use Neal, like Wilkes had.  Mozzie replied that knowledge of Neal’s talents was well-known but no one that he knew of would abduct Neal. 

Then Peter reluctantly told Mozzie about the hearing scheduled for Wednesday.  As Neal’s lawyer he should be there.  Mozzie was still out of the country, but he would be back by Tuesday, he would make certain of it.  Then he asked Peter to tell Neal that he would call him later, at a more reasonable time.




Peter heard a thump, bringing him instantly awake.  A moment later it was repeated and Peter was out of the bed and halfway to the guestroom when the thump was repeated again.  He entered the room and flipped on the light switch just as Neal’s back impacted with the headboard another time, with another thump. 

“Jesus, Neal,” Peter muttered as he made his way to the bed, sat and put his own body between Neal’s and the headboard.  Neal rocked back into him and Peter wrapped his arms around him.

“Hey, stop, it’s okay.”  Peter said soothingly into Neal’s ear.

Neal made a low mewling noise and continued to attempt his rocking.  Peter shifted slightly to try and get a look at Neal’s face.  What he saw frightened him.  Neal’s eyes were glassy, his pupils huge.  Sweat ran in streaks down the side of his pale, sunken face.  It was clear he had had a nightmare and that he was still in its throws.    

“Neal,” Peter said more forcefully.  “Neal, it’s okay, it’s time to wake up.  Come on buddy, you’re safe now.”  Peter tightened his hold on Neal hoping to ground him.

Eventually, the tension seemed to ease from Neal’s body and he came back to himself.  “Peter?”

“Yeah, I’m here.  It’s okay.”

Neal shivered violently for moment as if shaking loose a lingering demon from his nightmare.  Then he relaxed back into Peter’s embrace.   

“Sorry, I’m sorry.”  Neal whispered.

“Don’t be, just let me help you.”

Neal sighed heavily and shifted so that he could rest his head on Peter’s shoulder.  “I don’t know how.” 

“Tell me about the nightmare.”

Neal was quiet for long enough that Peter thought he wasn’t going to answer.  But then he said “I don’t remember much.  It was dark and really cold.  I could barely feel my fingers.  There were loud clanking sounds.  I didn’t know where I was or how I got there or why I was there.  But, I was so scared.  I’m not sure why, but I knew this was not a good place and that I did not want to be there.”

“Were you alone?”  Peter asked, urging Neal to give him as much detail as he could.

“I’m not sure.  I didn’t see anyone, I really couldn’t see anything, but it was almost as if I could sense someone else’s presence.”  Neal shivered again.  “I was scared.”  He repeated.  “The clanking started getting louder, it hurt my head it was so loud.  I wanted to run, but I couldn’t see enough to know where to go, if there was anywhere to go, and then it seemed to get colder and darker and louder and then I was here with you.”

Neal buried his head a little more deeply into Peter’s shoulder.  Peter hung onto him until his body completely relaxed and his breathing evened out into sleep.  Then Peter gently extricated himself and laid Neal back into the bed.


Peter stood there for a few minutes watching Neal’s chest rise and fall.  The kid was a mess, and there was nothing Peter could do.  Oh, he could and would come to the hearing, report on all the positive things Neal had done since he started working for him.  He could and would make a full statement about the investigation into Neal’s disappearance.  And he could and would ask/recommend/beg for Neal to remain on probation, but it wouldn’t be enough.  Whatever had happened to Neal was eating him away from the inside out and there was nothing Peter could do to stop it, especially if Neal went back inside.

Peter went into work on Monday and left Jones in charge of Neal sitting in part to comply with the custody mandate, in part to make sure he wasn’t alone and in part to make sure he was safe.  When he returned in the early evening, El was in the kitchen cooking, Jones was at his computer at the dining room table and Neal was lying on the couch staring dazedly at what appeared to be an episode of Housewives of Someplace or Other on TV.

Peter greeted Neal, who didn’t respond and then made his way over to Jones.  “Hey Jones, good day?”

“Sure, Peter.  Can we talk in the kitchen?”  Peter nodded, suddenly very concerned and followed Jones into the far corner of the kitchen where El joined them.  Peter’s unease grew; it looked like they were having some sort of a cabal. 

“What’s going on?”  He asked cautiously.

“Neal came down here about an hour after you and Elizabeth left this morning.  Didn’t say word, just laid down there on the couch and turned on the TV.  Since then he hasn’t moved.”

“Well, he’s pretty out of it still.” Peter said in an attempt to mitigate what he was hearing.

“No honey, I came home at lunch time to get Neal to eat something.  Not only didn’t he eat, he didn’t move, didn’t speak.  I don’t even think he’s changed position all day.”

Jones shook his head in agreement.  “It’s almost as if he’s catatonic.”

Peter hadn’t thought that things could get worse, they were already completely in the crapper, but leave it to Neal.  “Jones go home, thanks but go home.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Okay Peter.”  He left the kitchen, gathered up his stuff and then headed toward the front door saying good night to Neal on his way out.

Peter gathered his wife in his arms and held her for a long moment, dreading what was to come.  She hugged him back with equal fervor.  “Go talk to him honey.  He trusts you.”

“That’s what worries me.”  He replied giving her one last squeeze for luck.

Back in the living room, Peter turned off the TV and sat down on the coffee table in Neal’s line of vision.  He sat there for a long moment hoping Neal would respond to his presence.   But Neal never looked at him, just through him, as if he were still somehow watching ghost images coming through the television.

Eventually, Peter decided to make the first move.  “Neal.”  He waited a moment and then continued.  “Hey, look at me.”

And, yet again Neal surprised Peter by turning his head slightly and focusing his gaze on his partner.

“What’s going on?”  Peter asked carefully.

Neal only shrugged.

Peter pressed.  “Jones said you’ve been lying here all day staring at nothing.”

“Not nothing, the TV.”  Neal replied in a voice so soft Peter almost missed it.

“Ohhhkaaayy.  Neal even for you that’s pretty strange, actually especially for you.  Talk to me.”

“About what?”

“About why you’ve spent your day, lying on the sofa staring at the jewel-encrusted, rich and senseless. “

Neal’s only response was another shrug.

Peter’s patience was reaching the end of the line.  “Come on Neal.  I can’t help you if you don’t talk to me.”

And, then Neal did it, spoke out loud Peter’s current greatest fear.  “YOU can’t help me Peter.  No one can help me.”

“We want to Neal, all of us want to.  But you have to give us something to go on, buddy.”

And just like that Neal was off the sofa and halfway across the room, his frustration and his anger like a cloak trailing behind him.  “Don’t you think I would if I could?  Don’t you think I want to remember?  Do you think I want to go back to prison?  Do you think I’m enjoying this?”

Before Peter could respond Neal had spun back around and was standing right in front of him.  “You probably think this is some big con, some scheme.  What could I possibly have to gain from this Peter?  Why would I do this to myself?”  Neal yelled as he pulled his tee shirt away from his chest to reveal the ugly yellow and green bruising that still decorated the ribs that protruded so starkly from his body. 

Neal began to collapse in on himself, his outburst stealing what little energy he possessed.  Peter reached out and had him in his arms in moments, gently guiding him back to sit on the sofa. 

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Neal mumbled into Peter’s shoulder. 

“Don’t be.”  Peter said as he rubbed his hand soothingly up and down Neal’s back. 

Later that night after El had mothered Neal for a couple of hours, plying him with homemade soup and fresh baked bread and cookies followed by lying next to him in the bed until he fell into an exhausted sleep, she laid in bed next to her husband waiting for him to fall into an exhausted sleep. 

But, Peter couldn’t sleep, despite the toll the last few weeks had taken on him.  “I’m failing him El, I’m failing him.”

Elizabeth picked up Peter’s hand, brought it to her lips and kissed it gently.  “Peter, you’re the only person who has never failed him.”

Peter shook his head.  “Maybe not before, but now… I don’t know to help him.  Whatever happened to him is eating him alive and if, when they send him back to prison…”  Peter couldn’t finish the sentence.  It was too hard to think about, let alone voice.

“I know you’re doing everything you can to keep him out and Neal knows it too.”

“What will that matter if I fail?  Good intentions aren’t enough.”

“Maybe not, but they’re a really good start.” 

  

Early the next morning Peter strode purposefully into the white collar offices.  “Diana find me the file on Neal’s recovery.”  He requested on his way past her desk.

“Sure boss.”

Five minutes later she was standing before his desk holding the file out to him.  “Have you got a new lead?”  She asked hopefully.

“Not yet.  But Neal said something to me yesterday that got me thinking and I want to see if his clothing was checked for trace.”

Diana looked at him quizzically.  “What do you think you’ll find.”

“Neal said that whatever happened to him, he didn’t self-inflict the damage done to his body.  Someone hurt him Diana, and maybe that someone left something behind on Neal’s clothing.”

Peter took the folder from her and scanned though the contents, looking for any information on what testing had been done.  The answer was very little it seemed.   “Okay, Diana grab Neal’s stuff out of evidence and get it down to the lab.  I want them to go over every inch for DNA, fibers, whatever.”

 “On it.”  Diana replied as she headed out the door.

 Two hours later Diana walked back into Peter’s office smiling.  “They’re not finished going over everything yet but, you were right.  There were blonde hairs on Neal’s coat.”

“Let’s not jump the gun, they could be Satchmo’s for all we know right now.”

Diana shook her head.  “Not unless Satchmo’s got any 6-inch strands on him.  They’re still examining his clothes and they’re starting to the run the DNA on the hair.”

“Good, I need it by tomorrow’s hearing Di.  I don’t care if they have to work all night.”      

The next morning Neal was sitting on the bed struggling to get his shirt on when Peter stepped into the room.

“Hey, let me help you with that.”

Neal nodded, relieved.  He was exhausted just from showering and getting his underwear and his pants on.  “Thanks.”

Peter came over and gently tugged Neal’s shirt up over his shoulder and then buttoned up the front.

“Remind me to thank Elizabeth for picking this up for me.”  Neal said indicating the dark grey suit. 

“You thanked her last night.”

“I did?” 

“Yeah, you did.” 

“I don’t remember.”

“It’s okay, you were pretty tired.”   Peter was wishing once again that there was some way they could put this off another week or two.  Neal was so far from okay.  He was still experiencing bad headaches, he sometimes became confused.  He still wasn’t eating normally; Peter thought he might actually still be losing weight, instead of regaining.  He tired easily and still looked drawn and pale. 

But unfortunately, Peter had had no say in the matter, neither had Dr. Adams who had made the attempt.  He would be there today to talk about the severity of Neal’s injuries and the probable causes of them.

Peter helped Neal stand, tucked his shirt tails in and then allowed Neal the dignity of zipping himself up. 

“Want some help with your tie?”

“I’ve got it, thanks though.  I’ll meet you downstairs in a minute.”

El had made crepes and fruit salad for breakfast in hopes of tempting Neal to eat.  And, he tried, if this was to be his last meal before returning to prison he wanted to enjoy it, but he just didn’t have any appetite.  Too many butterflies were already taking up all the space in his stomach. 

Peter was saying something to Elizabeth about trying to get the court to reschedule, to give Neal more time to heal, but Neal didn’t want to prolong this any longer.  He was going back, and the sooner he did the less painful anticipation he would have to endure. 

At least everyone had promised to be there, Mozzie, June, Jones, Diana.  Even Sarah was going to be there.  He would have the chance to say goodbye.

In the car on the way to the courthouse Neal opened his window despite the cold winter morning air.  It felt good on his face and he wanted to remember how it felt, speeding down the road with the wind on his face.  He wasn’t sure when, if ever he would feel this again.  Peter had said he was sure they would send him back only for the remainder of his sentence, but Neal knew better.  He knew the terms of his parole contract.  The court could send him back for life if they wanted to and why wouldn’t they want to.

Neal couldn’t seem to keep up with what was going on in the courtroom.  People, including his friends, kept talking about him like he wasn’t there.  Some were saying things that he liked, Neal was loyal, Neal worked hard, he was a real asset to the unit.  Others said things he didn’t like so much, Caffrey was untrustworthy, Caffrey was a con artist, he ran to pull some job that went south on him. 

It was taking forever and he really just wanted it to be over so he could go lie down somewhere.   He was sitting, but it didn’t seem to matter, staying upright was becoming a real problem.   

Peter was currently on the witness stand being interviewed by Mozzie who was playing the role of Neal’s lawyer, complete with bow tie.  Diana had yet to show up with the test results from Neal’s clothing so he was doing his best to stall without looking obvious about it.  He glanced over at Neal, and didn’t like what he saw.  Neal seemed to be staring at nothing, his face blank, his features slack despite the seriousness of the situation.  As Peter watched Neal started to slowly slide out of his chair. 

“Neal!”  He yelled as he ran toward his partner.  Neal kept sliding and Peter barely managed to reach him before his head hit the floor.  Peter cradled Neal’s head in his lap.  “Neal?”

“Peter, I don’t feel so good.”  Neal whispered. 

Dr. Adams had knelt down on Neal’s other side.  “Neal can you tell me what you’re feeling?”

“Tired, kind of shaky.”

Dr. Adams was checking Neal’s pulse.  “Peter, call an ambulance.”

Neal woke up slowly.  He wasn’t in the courtroom anymore, he was in a bed, a lumpy bed and he was pretty sure there was a needle stuck in the back of his hand.

“Hey, are you awake, Neal?”

Peter was here.  That meant he was probably not in a prison infirmary then.

“Sort of.”  He replied groggily.  Maybe if he tried opening his eyes, he’d feel more with it.

“Uh.”  It was bright, too bright and his head hurt suddenly.

“Don’t rush it, okay.”  Peter said as he patted Neal’s shoulder.

“You’re back at Lennox Hill.  You passed out in court.  Dr. Adams was there so we brought you back here.  You’re going to be okay.”

Neal nodded slightly to indicate to Peter he understood.  Then he heard Peter say something to someone about getting Dr. Adams.

After a minute the level of pain in his head leveled off and he tried opening his eyes again.  It was better this time.  He was squinting, but he managed to keep them open.

“Dr. Adams will be here in a minute.”

Neal gave another slight nod; it was all he felt capable of.

Dr. Adams joined them a minute later.  “How are you feeling Neal?

“Kind of washed out and my head hurts.”

Dr. Adams nodded.  “That will improve soon, once you’ve sucked in a bit more of the IV.  So here’s the deal.  In court this morning you became hypotensive.  Your blood pressure dropped dramatically which is why you began to feel dizzy and weak and why you passed out.

“Right now, we’re giving you fluids and pumping you up with some nutrients and vitamins.  It looks like there was a combination of factors here.  The first was stress, unavoidable under the circumstances.  The second and third, you had a hand in.  You were dehydrated and you’re somewhat anemic.  Clearly, you have not been eating properly since I released you.

 “I’m going to give you two choices, one I admit you for a day or two to ensure that you are eating properly.  Two, once the IV is done and your blood pressure is stable, I let you go home with Agent Burke and he gets to ensure that you are eating properly.”

Neal looked over at Peter.  He had his stern look on.  For half a second Neal actually considered staying in the hospital.  Then he remembered the enormous difference between the taste of hospital food and Elizabeth’s cooking and decided to go with option two.

“I’ll take door number two, Monty.”

Three hours later Neal was ensconced on the Burke’s sofa, fluffed pillows behind his back, a blanket draped across his legs and a hot bowl of soup in his hands.  Elizabeth was sitting next to him encouraging him to eat every mouthful.  Unfortunately, despite Elizabeth’s urging and the lectures he’d received from both Dr. Adams and Peter, he wasn’t having an easy time of it.  Peter and Diana had been out on the back porch for the last twenty minutes.  He knew they were talking about him, about what happened to him while he was missing and about what happened at court today. 

“Neal, sweetie, eat.”  Neal refocused his attention on Elizabeth smiling thinly at her.

“Honey, Dr. Adams said no stress, remember?”

Neal nodded.  “I’m just not sure whether it would be more stressful to be out there with them, than it is in here wondering what they’re talking about.”

Elizabeth patted his arm sympathetically and said, “Eat.”

Neal was finishing the bowl just as Diana and Peter came back inside.  Diana went straight from the back door to the front.  “Goodnight Peter, Elizabeth.  Neal, take care okay?”

Peter sat down in front of Neal. 

Elizabeth took that as her cue, took the empty bowl from Neal’s hands and said “I’ll just go clean up a little,” as she headed toward the kitchen.

“Peter...”

“Neal, just give me a minute, okay.  It’s gonna be okay.”

Neal nodded, wishing he hadn’t eaten the whole bowl of soup before this conversation.

“Do you know a guy named Lester Lange?”  He began.

Neal shook his head.  “No.”

“He has a rather peculiar M.O.  He pulls a lot second-story stuff, jewelry mostly.  But the trick is that he also manages to get someone else to the do the actual breaking and entering.  He started off paying for the work, then he moved on to threatening people to do it for him.  Now, it appears that he’s giving kidnapping a go.”

“I’m not sure I understand.”

“I had Diana work with the crime lab to check out the clothing you were wearing when we found you.  There was trace evidence, blonde hair and two drops of blood.  They belonged to Lange.  He’s in custody.  Diana did the interrogation.  He admitted to taking you.  Apparently, you refused to cooperate despite drugs, beatings and withholding food and water.  And, then to make matters worse you escaped.” 

Neal was silent, blinking at Peter.

“Neal?”

“I escaped.”

“Yeah.”

“And, my probation?”

“You didn’t do anything wrong, Neal.  Diana gave her report to the court this afternoon.  They dismissed the case.  You’re still mine for the next two years.”

“Peter.”

“Yeah?”

“I think you should let Diana handle all of the interrogations from now on.”

“Probably.”


Neal stayed with the Burke’s through the weekend.  His memory still remained a blank, even after Peter showed him a picture of Lange and filled him in on more of the details of his kidnapping.  But, with the stress of not knowing what had happened and the stress of not knowing what was going to happen alleviated, Neal was finally able to rest and start eating properly.  He still had a long way to go before he was 100 percent, but by Monday Peter was certain that given time Neal would get there.



 
 
 
that which cannot be seen: dear ljtresa_cho on February 28th, 2012 04:00 pm (UTC)
Wonderful!
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on February 28th, 2012 09:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
Winterwinterstar95 on February 28th, 2012 09:13 pm (UTC)
You must write more WC. And lots of it. I love your take on the characters and how the interact and care of one another. Bravo!
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on February 29th, 2012 02:11 am (UTC)
Thank you! I love how complicated Neal and Peter's relationship is, and I try really hard to do it justice.

I plan on writing more.
olson13olson13 on February 29th, 2012 12:20 am (UTC)
perfect, you write a great Neal and Peter! Thanks I really enjoyed this :)
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on February 29th, 2012 02:13 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm so glad you enjoyed it.
pingback_botpingback_bot on February 29th, 2012 05:12 am (UTC)
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
User coolceruleanblu referenced to your post from Tuesday, February 28, 2012 saying: [...] Character(s): Neal, Peter, and the rest. Rating: PG-13. By: . - It's Always Darkest Before the Dawn [...]
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - tramfrith_in_thorns on March 3rd, 2012 07:33 pm (UTC)
I really liked this! Aftermath fics are great :) Peter's worry about Neal came across very well, and I also liked your disorientated!Neal POV :)
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on March 3rd, 2012 08:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for reading. I'm fond of aftermath fics as well.

Neal wasn't actually supposed to collapse in the courtroom, he did that all on his own, without informing me until he started to slide off his seat. I'm always amazed when characters in my stories go off and do their own thing.
Ferryboat GeorgeFerryboat George on April 6th, 2012 05:20 am (UTC)
Nice H/C
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on April 7th, 2012 05:07 am (UTC)
Thank you!
dragonfly_sg1dragonfly_sg1 on July 28th, 2012 08:21 pm (UTC)
Really enjoyed this! Thank you!
pooh_collector: pooh2pooh_collector on July 29th, 2012 04:23 am (UTC)
Thank you!

I'm glad you enjoyed it.
bluegreen_17bluegreen_17 on November 5th, 2013 06:19 pm (UTC)
This has even more delicious hurt/comfort than I remembered! I'm so glad to read it again. And again. It was great meeting you this weekend :-)