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24 October 2013 @ 12:13 am
[fic: white collar] Blackout  
For Caffrey-Burke Day! (Which I'm celebrating with a horrible cold. Yay.)

Title: Blackout
Characters/Pairing: Neal, Peter; Gen
Word count: 6500
Warnings: Looooads of angst.
Notes: I wrote most of this a year and a half ago for the "captivity" square on my hc_bingo card. Which, luckily, I have again this year. So. Thank you lots to sholio for the encouragement and helping me figure out the (lack of) plot!

Summary: Neal wakes up, and he's not where he expects to be.

- - -

His head was pounding. Neal lay very still, not opening his eyes, hoping that he could just slip back into painless unconsciousness.

It didn't work. His skull felt too small, and his brain was thudding against it from the inside and trying to smash its way out. It was only getting worse as he rose unstoppably into wakefulness.

Reluctantly, he cracked his eyes open to bright, harsh light.

So far, he hadn't paused to wonder where he was. The intensity of the pain and the background swell of nausea suggested concussion (although he couldn't remember an injury), which was likely to mean hospital. Better still would be in his own bed, with strong painkilllers to hand. He blinked slowly, trying to work it out.

He was in a cell.

Prison. He was in prison, in solitary. Even with his vision still blurring, he recognised it immediately. The grey-painted breezeblock walls, the concrete floor, the hard cot he was lying on and a stainless steel basin and toilet in a corner. The solid, closed door.

He didn't move for long moments, his heart pounding in his throat. This had to all be a bad dream, a hallucination. He shouldn't be in prison. He couldn't remember anything which might have led to it — there were only memories of working with Peter, like normal. Anything else was a blank.

When he eventually lifted a badly-shaking hand to the place on his head where the worst of the pain was radiating from he found a rough dressing taped to his left brow, just under his sweat-matted hair. He ran his fingers along the gauze, probing at the tenderness beneath. And froze as he registered the sight of his arm, clad in orange.

He really was back in prison.

The realisation stunned him, and then his stomach roiled and he pushed himself unsteadily off the cot, reaching the toilet just before he threw up. There was barely anything in his stomach, and he retched miserably.

Finally he slumped back against the nearest grey wall, his head spinning, and closed his eyes against the harsh glare of the florescent light. What had happened? The gap in his memories was terrifying. As were the implications behind him being here. Something must have gone horribly wrong. Peter. Is Peter alright?

He jerked awake at the clanking of the locks on the cell door, blinking dizzily. Falling asleep had been unintentional.

"Food," an uninterested guard with a bad haircut intoned. "And pills. You know the drill — I have to watch you swallow them."

"Why am I in here?" Neal asked. He got to his feet, feeling vulnerable at being on such a lower level, and leaned his back against the wall again once he was upright. His balance wasn't to be trusted.

"What, the crack to your head didn't clue you in? For your protection." The guard didn't seem outright hostile, at least, but nor was he being paid to care about individual prisoners. His uniform was old and slightly too small, probably bought before he'd put on weight.

Neal's hand went up automatically to his injury. "No, I mean why am I in prison? I don't remember…"

The guard's expression slipped from bored to disgusted. "Oh, come on. You're not seriously trying the I have amnesia, I can't be held responsible for my actions game?"

"No!" Neal insisted. He knew that if he wanted to win the man's trust this wasn't the way to go about it, but he was feeling too slow and stupid to think of the right things to say. "I was on a work-release with the FBI. I honestly don't remember anything that happened since then."

The guard rolled his eyes. "Alright, I'll play. What month is it?"

"June?"

No change of expression. "Middle of October."

Neal gaped, and nearly fell as his vision momentarily broke apart like a badly tuned TV. Only the support of the wall stopped him.

Four months. He had lost four months. The walls of the cell were tilting around him.

"They kicked you out of the infirmary," the guard pointed out. "You can't be too badly off." Reminded, he shook the tray he still held. "Pills, Caffrey."

Neal eyed them warily. "What are they?"

"Painkillers? I'm not a doctor. Just take the damn things."

He might be able to think more clearly if there was less pain. Neal swallowed them, and opened his mouth obediently to prove it. "I want to see my attorney," he said. "That's an official request."

Another eye-roll. "Oh, official. Well then."

Neal took the tray and the guard left, shutting the door slightly harder than he could have so that the thud reverberated through Neal's head. The thought of eating any of the unappetising food made him feel ill again. He put the tray down on the floor and dropped heavily back onto the cot, pressing the thin pillow over his eyes to block out the glaring light.

Four months. Four months. Had Peter, after all, been the one to throw him back in here? Surely not. Someone above him? If so, he didn't doubt for a second that Peter would have fought them, but he'd clearly lost.

Or… perhaps his first panicked guess had been right and something had happened to Peter. That was the most frightening thought of all. Something had happened, he had screwed up somehow, and the Bureau had sent him back here.

Eventually he stirred himself enough to drink the water in the plastic tumbler that had been delivered with the meal, and then refill it from the basin tap, trying to avoid looking at himself in the mirror. He still couldn't face the food, though, and pushed it as far away from him as was possible in the tiny room. Then he lay down again, already drained and shaky although he'd been awake hardly any time at all, not that he had any kind of way of marking time.

The light stayed on. He covered his eyes again but he could still feel it, drilling into his skull.

- - -

It was the same guard who brought him his next meal. Neal jerked out of a formless nightmare at the door's rattle, his prison clothes soaked in sweat. The hammering in his head was, if possible, even worse.

"Caffrey, get up."

"Yeah, okay." He pushed himself upright, slowly, and swung his legs down the floor. "If those pills are meant to make me feel better, they're not working."

A blank shrug. "That's not my problem."

"No, I get it, you're just room service. Speaking of which, didn't I order a steak?"

"Funny." The guard was not at all impressed. But Neal's deflective humour was automatic; a defence mechanism.

He took the pills. "So, is my attorney coming?" he asked, hopefully, trying to sound polite.

"I'm not your secretary either."

"But you passed on my request?"

"Oh, sure. It was official." His guard drew the word out sarcastically. "'Course, messages to the outside world might be running a little slow at the moment, seeing as how you're on the Feds' shit list."

"I am?" Neal demanded. He stood up sharply, and then wished he hadn't as the blood rushed from his head and his sight blacked. He groped blindly for the edge of the bed and collapsed onto it, leaning forward and trying to take deep breaths until he no longer felt that he was about to faint.

He cautiously opened his eyes, but the room was empty. The guard was understandably reluctant to let Neal become a personal problem for him — there was nothing, after all, which Neal could offer in return. No money, no connections.

What was it he had done? That was the most important thing to know. He needed a strategy. But to formulate one he needed information, which he didn't have.

Slowly this time, he got to his feet, and began a methodical search of the room. There were no personal effects to help him in his quest for answers, although the fact that no one had bothered to deliver them could indicate that his stint in solitary was to be a brief one. Or maybe they'd been confiscated for whatever (or no) reason.

The doorframe held no handy gaps to let him squint out. The walls and the hard floor were resolutely free of cracks. The door itself had no lock to pick.

By the time he'd finished assuring himself of what he already knew, the drumbeat in his skull was making it intolerable to keep his eyes open, and he staggered back to the cot where he lay as still and flat as possible, almost tripping over the tray on the way. He would have to start eating at some point, he knew, but he still couldn't stand the thought of it.

Maybe he could manage to spend his whole sentence in some kind of concussed haze, sleeping as much as possible. That might not be too bad.

Peter would argue with him about that. Neal felt sure that if he tried he could summon an imaginary Peter into his head to give him a stern lecture, but thinking about Peter caused a horrible, leaden feeling in the pit of his stomach. Peter wouldn't let him stay here in this condition.

The painkillers really weren't doing their job. Possibly he should beg to be taken back to the infirmary and checked over again. He could tell them about the memory loss there.

But surviving in prison came down to not admitting your vulnerabilities. He just had to tough it out for a while. Cowboy up. But a while… how long was that? How long was he going to be in here for? He could feel his heart-rate skyrocket in sudden panic, and it was suddenly hard to take a deep breath.

Calm down. Calm down. He forced himself to get up and drink more water, swallowing it in carefully controlled sips. Then he made himself pick at the food after all, knowing that he needed the sustenance. It was long cold, of course, but the soggy green beans were borderline palatable even if nothing on the plate was.

He felt a little more like himself after eating something, although still far too weak and shaky. And he was no more possessed of a plan.

- - -

"You must have really pissed off the Warden," Neal commented, without enough energy to put any particular emotion into it.

His guard grunted non-committally, which Neal took as confirmation. Paying house-calls to the guys in solitary was hardly a favoured duty. "I'm only stuck with you the rest of this week."

Unhelpfully, he didn't mention how many days that would be. Neal had completely lost any sense of time passing, which he knew was one of the purposeful features of solitary confinement. Disorientation, as well as a lack of human interaction. An excellent way to break down morale.

It certainly seemed to be working on him. He had been by turns dozing and lying on his back staring up at the blank ceiling for what had felt like hours upon hours. And he still had no idea of anything he could do.

He took the pills in his hand, but didn't swallow them. Since his guard was supposed to watch him actually take them, they were a tiny piece of temporary leverage. "Attorney," he said.

"You'll have to apply for a court appointed one. You don't have anyone listed."

"What? Yes, I do." Neal stared.

"Maybe you forgot to keep paying his retainer fees."

Neal struggled not to react. Another piece of his surety was dropping away. If even Mozzie had abandoned him, or had been made to abandon him…

"I just want to know what's going on!" he snapped, surprising himself with the vehemency in his voice as he finally vented his frustration and fear. "I don't know why I'm here, and I don't know what's happened to my friends!" His breathing was speeding up, hitching in his chest. "Look, if you can't find my attorney, I want to contact Agent Peter Burke at the FBI. Please."

"Your ex-handler." The guard's expression was distinctly unsympathetic.

"You know that?" Neal demanded, eager to latch onto any straw that might be in the offering. "So you'll pass the message on?"

His second question was ignored. "Oh, we all know that," the guard said, his voice dropping ominously. "The Fed who's still in a coma because of you."

Peter.

No. No.

Neal shoved that unthinkable thought violently away, focusing on that moment instead. There was something in the guard's tone… He found his hand going up to touch the dressing on his temple. "So how exactly did I get this?" he asked. His voice was incompletely under his control, and it shook.

The guard's eyes narrowed slightly, before his face took on an expression of blandness. "You tripped into a wall," he said. "Lots of witnesses can vouch for it. Now take your goddamn pills, Caffrey, so I don't have to look at you any more.

- - -

He was surprised that there even was a mirror, really. Neal squinted into it as he carefully pulled the now-dirty dressing away, trying not to wince as it dragged at the tender skin. He turned his head slightly to get a better look at the bruised flesh around the cut, which ran diagonally from his hairline towards his eyebrow.

An interesting angle for a wall to be.

He hadn't been allowed out to exercise yet, or even to take a shower. He wasn't supposed to be denied those rights, although it would be relatively simple for someone in authority to claim that they could cause harm to him in his injured state. He was under no illusion that, even if he were ever given the opportunity to make a formal complaint, anything would come of it.

Especially not with — with what had happened to Peter.

Neal finally allowed himself to take out that thought and examine it, although it was torture to do so. He strained his memory, as if things would be better once he had some idea what the chain of events had been. It felt offensive that he couldn't at all remember Peter being hurt, not even in flashes.

His imagination kicked in far too soon and began providing him with an endless supply of potential scenarios with coma as an endpoint. Peter shot and bleeding out. Hit by a car. Poisoned. Beaten. And in every one of the scenarios it was Neal's fault. That was the only thing he was allowed to be certain of.

What was Elizabeth doing, just then? Reading to Peter's inert body in a sterile hospital room, or struggling to keep her life, their shared life, running along for him to come back to? Neal shivered at the thought of her hurt and anger focused towards him. Or her not-anger, which would be more painful by far to bear.

Jones, Diana — they would be carrying on with their work at the Bureau. He felt certain they would be quietly furious at him, and, oddly, the certainty of that brought him some relief. Mozzie would probably have vanished, slipping away in the chaos. Neal could understand that, too, and not begrudge it.

He wished briefly that there had at least been goodbyes. Then it occurred to him that there might well have been, but he had forgotten. If he could only remember… think clearly…

Turning his head away from the light did nothing to help. He kept seeing flashes and half-glimpses of shapes in the corners of his eyes, instinctively turning his head towards them to find nothing there.

- - -

"I don't feel so good," he admitted. The room was swaying, tilting, even though he had done his best to sit up carefully.

He hadn't expected sympathy, and he didn't get it. "What are you expecting me to do about it?"

"Are you even passing on any of my messages?"

"Of course I am. What, you want to file a complaint now?"

Neal shook his head, and then had to dizzily hold it in his hands until the door closed. But the vertigo and nausea continued to build rather than fade away. His stomach flipped and he lurched forward, tripping over nothing and landing hard on his hands and knees. He vomited onto the concrete floor until he had nothing left in him and followed it with dry heaves, shivering violently as he retched. There hadn't been much in him, anyway, just bile and water and the still-undissolved pills. Not that they had seemed to do anything.

He crawled back to the bed, the walls sliding around crazily. Too dizzy to want to move away from the floor, he pulled the blanket down to him and pillowed it under his head. A voice which sounded like Peter was telling him not to fall asleep. Neal, come on, can you hear me?

- - -

Waking was slow and painful. Neal eventually opened his eyes and instantly regretted it. Hallucinatory fragments were flickering in the corners of his vision, falling like static. Not good.

"Neal?"

Oh, not Caffrey this time? But when he looked up there wasn't anyone there. He rubbed his eyes in a futile attempt to make things make sense.

"Neal."

"Go away," he muttered. Futile to be talking to himself, too, probably. He pressed his hands against his head, pain squeezing Peter's voice out of his awareness. He felt no particular surprise that it was Peter's voice he was imagining. "Need to get out," he whispered, his own voice cracking dryly in his throat, and felt a sense of agreement from imaginary-Peter. Although for a jailbreak he should really be trying to channel Mozzie instead.

Things splintered as he moved, a dizzying firework whirl which forced him to shut his eyes and stumble unsteadily forwards with an arm outstretched to feel his way. But eventually there was the solid obstacle of the wall for him to bang and graze his knuckles against. It was rougher than it looked.

"Come on, I know you can hear me."

"Can't," he lied, contrarily. Oh, there was the door. He rested his forehead against the cool metal.

"It's not real."

"You're one to talk." Neal pointed out, and chuckled. He tapped weakly at the door. "Look. Real." He rested his head in his arms.

"Neal, don't do that. Stay with me."

"You aren't here," Neal insisted, frustrated. Still, he looked up and stared around the room, as if he expected to suddenly see Peter standing in a corner or hiding under the bed. The mirror bounced the reflection of the light bulb directly into his eyes, and he winced.

He had noticed before… that wasn't quite right. There shouldn't be a mirror. Mirrors were far too easy to break into weapons.

He stood, swaying slightly, and took unsteady steps until he could grasp the edge of the basin with relief.

"That's great. You're doing great. You can see me, right?"

"Are you in the mirror?" Neal mumbled.

"It's a mirror?" Peter's voice swore, unexpectedly. "Oh, of course it's a mirror. God, I should have guessed. Neal?"

The words didn't make sense, so Neal shut them out and examined the mirror instead. Oddly, it was framed, and the frame was flush against the wall. No, the frame went into the wall.

It was wrong.

It was the only thing he could tell, for certain, was wrong.

The shock of that realisation spiked through the fog in his brain. Suddenly carried on a wave of momentum he retrieved the blanket from the floor by the cot, wrapped it several times around his right fist, and punched. The mirror shattered, smashing apart into fragments which — were not silvered. And there was no wall behind to meet his hand.

It was a two-way mirror. A small and more dimly-lit room lay beyond it.

"But you're —" Neal began.

"I'm right here," Peter said, fiercely. "Neal, listen to me, you've been drugged and lied to. No prison, no coma."

Peter was chained to the opposite wall. He had a clear view through the mirror/window, but couldn't reach it. There was several days' growth of stubble on his chin and jaw, just as there was on Neal's, and his eyes were darkened and red-rimmed with exhaustion.

"Peter," Neal whispered, more of a desperate prayer than anything, and used his cloth-wrapped hand to smash as many shards of glass away from the mirror frame as he could. Then he unwrapped the blanket and folded it over the bottom sill. He was moving almost on autopilot, the need to get to Peter driving him more than conscious thought.

"You can fit through there?" Peter didn't sound like he believed it.

"Should do," Neal said. He pulled himself up onto the basin, shutting his eyes against a rush of dizziness, and forced his head and arm through the opening, twisting his shoulders to make them fit. Bits of glass scraped and crunched against his clothes, and he hoped not too many of them would get through to his skin. Perhaps luckily, he had pushed forward too eagerly to stop and think about what the short drop would be like on the other side, and by the time that occurred to him it was too late to turn back.

He hadn't been at all prepared for the lurching, spinning feeling as he fell, or the way that when he hit the cement floor that his brain splattered against the front of his skull, blotting everything out in a wave of pain and nausea so intense that for a moment he couldn't breathe, or see.

"Neal?" Peter was demanding, frantically. "Neal, can you hear me?"

Feeling returned to the outlying bits of himself first; he scrabbled with his fingers and feet, and then was able to get his arms under himself, pushing his body up slowly but with his pounding head lolling forward.

"Easy, go easy," Peter said. "There you are — you can do it."

Neal got as far as his knees and forced his eyes open, wincing in the bright, blurring light. Peter was just a blurring figure now, his face a pale, indistinct shape with darker smudges for features.

"You're doing good," Peter encouraged him. "You need to get me unlocked. Can you do that?"

"Yeah," Neal croaked. He was blinking rapidly but it didn't clear his vision.

Moving was a nightmare. Everything jostled his head, each tiny movement reverberating all the way through him. He could barely breathe. But Peter kept talking, kept encouraging him, and his voice was like a physical rope which Neal could cling to as it pulled him forwards. At last his hand met Peter's sleeve rather than the floor and it took him several seconds to realise that this meant he could stop.

"They're easy to undo," Peter said. "It's a catch, that's all, on each wrist. I just can't reach it."

Nor could Neal, not from his position on the floor.

"I'm sorry," Peter said, as Neal tentatively put a hand against the wall.

Too much effort to respond. Neal braced, and leaned his shoulder to the wall so that he could slide up it.

He needed its support. His sense of balance was completely gone and he had his eyes squeezed shut within a second, but that couldn't stop the sensation that the floor was tilting steeply, the wall bending away from him. "Peter?" he whispered, lost.

"I'm right here," Peter said, his voice gentle and close. "Move your hand along a bit — that's right, a bit more."

Skin. Neal followed the line of Peter's arm until he found metal, letting his hands see for him. Little enough reason to rely on his eyes right now.

It was, as Peter had said, a simple enough catch — but one impossible to undo when locked in by it. Neal pulled at the metal, and the breath came out of him in a gasp as it finally clicked open.

Peter stifled groans as he moved, metal squeaking as he freed his other hand. Then his arms were around Neal, squeezing his shoulders tightly and holding him up. "Neal?" he said. "Come on, open your eyes. We need to get moving."

Neal moaned weakly, because hadn't he just done enough moving? But no, Peter was pulling him forward and Neal stumbled unsteadily as he tried to keep up. "Is't safe?"

"I don't know," Peter said, grimly. "But we won't get another chance, so we need to go whether it's safe or not. Can you do that?"

"Course," Neal said, trying to sound like he was sure.

He clung to Peter and shuffled along, for the most part keeping his eyes closed. If it wasn't for Peter he would just slump down to the floor and stop moving, consequences be dammed.

"I think we're nearly out," Peter whispered.

Neal couldn't summon up the willpower to speak, but Peter squeezed his arm reassuring, like he understood all the same. "Guards," he remembered. "Need — code."

"What?"

"Code. For door." He hoped Peter knew it. Couldn't Peter have asked the Warden? He was FBI, after all.

"Neal." Peter shook him slightly. "We're not in a prison. Remember?"

Neal squinted his eyes open, and got a blur of orange from his body. "Are." But Peter was getting him out. From one prison to another, that's what Mozzie had thought at first, but it wasn't true. Or, at least, it was worth it. A good deal.

"Shh," Peter whispered, although Neal didn't think he'd been speaking. "Neal, I know you're confused right now, but you need to trust me. Okay?"

"Kay," Neal whispered. He kept a tight hold on Peter's shoulder, shuffling along with his eyes closed, the sensation of spinning very fast impossible to shake off.

Peter was talking to him, but the sound of his voice was just a distant wash. Neal had forgotten where they were going but he was relieved when they stopped. He leaned on Peter more heavily. There was an argument going on. But Peter would get past the guards. He could just show his badge; they let people like Peter in and out of places like this. Not like him. He must be the problem, but Peter could explain about the deal and it would be all right.

"But you never let me talk to my lawyer," he found himself mumbling.

The two voices abruptly stopped.

Neal forced his eyes open, painfully. "You said you did."

The guard wasn't in uniform. Odd. He had his weapon out, so he couldn't know that Peter was FBI. There was something wrong here.

"I don't understand," he said.

The guard gave an ugly laugh, which scraped the inside of Neal's skull. "Bit slow, aren't you, Caffrey? Keller said you were, sometimes."

"I'm allowed to leave," Neal insisted. "Work w'Bureau. Official." Then the words penetrated. "Keller?"

"Neal, shush," Peter said.

"But —"

"Neal."

Neal quieted. His head was pounding, and he really, really wanted to sit down. He didn't understand what was going on, although he was certain that he was supposed to.

Peter's arm was still firmly around him, but his grip abruptly shifted. The directing of it, no longer holding protectively close but tensing, as for a throw.

"I don't want to move," Neal whispered.

Peter shoved him away.

Neal stumbled the couple of steps to the nearest wall and slammed against it, sliding down its support to crumple on the floor. He tried to keep his eyes open but they were moving too fast, Peter and the guard, fighting, and then there was a gunshot, the sound of it blotting out his vision. The floor was cold against his cheek.

Another shot.

Flickering movement of a single body. Neal's eyes were dimming rapidly, but he could still recognise the contrasts of dark blood pooling on the concrete.

"Peter?" he whispered.

Hurried footsteps. "Neal. Neal, stay with me…"

- - -

He didn't know where he was. He was tired, so tired, but he floundered reluctantly up out of the dragging depths of sleep, his thoughts and memories all fragmented.

"What —"

"Neal." A blurry shape leaned close, and warm fingers squeezed his hand. "It's Diana. You're safe; you're in the hospital. Peter's safe too." Her tone was low and steady, almost a recital.

He fought hard to struggle up towards her, out of the morass. "Di?"

"Yeah, that's right." She sounded pleased. "When's my birthday?"

"September," Neal said, after a long pause. His memories were thick with treacle. "Eighth — no, eighteenth."

He hadn't yet quite managed to focus on her properly, but there was no mistaking the breath of relief. She blew out. "You're with me, then?"

"I… think so?" He tried moving for the first time, reaching up to rub his eyes. His arms were leaden. "Peter —" he began, and then stopped, remembering she'd already told him that. "He's not —"

"In a coma?" she asked, and pressed his hand gently. "No, and he never was. It's actually you who's been circling one for the last couple of days."

"Oh." He reached up towards his head, but she pulled his fingers down again.

"Do you remember what happened?" she asked.

In prison, except then not, and Peter… He closed his eyes with the effort of remembering, and then couldn't seem to open them again.

"Neal?" Diana asked, and he thought about answering her, but he was too tired.

- - -

The next time he woke, it was easier. Mozzie was there, lowering his book quickly. "Neal?" he said. "You're in the hospital, it's okay. You and Peter are both safe."

Neal had to clear his throat before he could make a sound, but his voice still came out cracked and weak. “Diana said that too.”

Mozzie looked surprised, and then extremely pleased. “You remember that?”

He started to nod, but his head felt too heavy and not really connected to the rest of him. “She was here.”

“The first couple of times that you woke up you started freaking about the Suit immediately,” Mozzie said. “We all figured it would save your fragile brain some stress if we opened with some reassurance. So. You're both okay, having made it out of what was probably Keller's idea of light entertainment.”

Neal frowned. Mozzie was talking too fast. “I was awake before?”

“A few times,” Mozzie said. “Although I’m not sure how well ‘awake’ describes it. This is the first time you’ve remembered.”

“Huh.” Neal tried to think of something else to say, but then simply closed his eyes again.

“Hey.” Mozzie tapped his arm lightly; Neal opened his eyes again. “You can’t check out on me already. I’ve been enduring this place for your sake, so you can at least stay awake.”

“Not feeling too good,” Neal admitted. He was alert enough to note the fogging effects of painkillers, and to be aware of the bloom of pain lurking behind them. Checking out again sounded great.

"Yeah, I know," Mozzie said. "But June'll be here soon, and she'd like to see you awake."

"June was here?" Neal asked, muzzily.

Mozzie rolled his eyes. "Well, obviously. The Suit's been hovering around as well. It's like everyone thought you were dying or something."

Neal smiled; something that took a surprising amount of energy. "Glad you didn't think that."

"Of course not!" Mozzie gave a theatrical huff. It would be convincing, possibly, to someone not watching his face.

"Good." Neal really was trying to fight it, but the drowsy pull of sleep was too strong. "Moz?" he murmured.

"Yeah?"

"Peter really is okay?"

Mozzie sighed deeply. "While your concern for him speaks deeply for your character, yes. For the hundredth time. Yes."

"Good," Neal murmured, again, and fell asleep over Mozzie's protests.

- - -

It was a couple of days before Neal was released from hospital — he was fuzzy on the exact period of time since he had spent most of it either asleep or dozing, waking in snatches to always find people by his bedside. June, Mozzie, Elizabeth, Peter. Peter. He was mostly convinced now that Peter was okay, was really there, but he couldn't stop the momentary jolt of relief every time he had it confirmed.

He had also had the opportunity to find out far more about how much danger he'd been in than he'd really wanted to know. Apparently there had been a slow bleed inside his skull, and he'd had to have surgery. That was something he was glad not to remember. (Diana assured him that the scar wouldn't show.)

The first day back in his apartment was similarly spent in a haze of exhaustion, headache and nausea, but it was finally receding. The fatigue was the worst part. Not so much in itself, but it kept pulling him downwards into sleep, and each waking was accompanied by a surge of disorientation and anxiety. The fear that he would open his eyes to find himself somewhere other than when he had fallen asleep. The fear that this was the concussion-induced hallucination.

But his surroundings persisted. Reality persisted, the every-time jolt of disorientation beginning to lessen as his facilities pieced themselves back together. He was more grateful than ever that his friends hadn't allowed him to wake up alone while in the hospital.

By the next mid-morning he was contemplating the trek from his bed to the couch when there was a cursory knock on the door and Peter appeared around it.

"June said you were probably feeling up for visitors," he said. "Mind if I come in?"

"Please," Neal said, pushing himself further up the mound of pillows. Peter didn't move immediately, and Neal resisted the urge to squirm self-consciously as he was studied, wishing now that he had made the effort to move to the couch after all.

"You're looking a lot better," Peter said, at last, and came over to take the chair next to the bed. He wasn't in work clothes, since he was also still technically on medical leave, but Neal was willing to bet that he'd just come from the office.

"I feel better," Neal said. "I can even stay upright by myself now, and I haven't been hallucinating at all."

"That isn't funny," Peter said, his mouth tightening, and Neal winced guiltily. It hadn't been a very good joke. He kept forgetting that Peter had been there for all the time he had been in the cell, and had seen the whole thing. It was hard to reconcile with his own memories of isolation.

He cleared his throat. "So, did you get anything from the —" guard, he nearly said — "from Keller's guy?"

Peter shook his head. "Just that Keller paid him an ungodly amount of money to go through that whole charade for your benefit. When we get our hands on him again we'll nail him to the wall, but…"

"But you need to actually find him first," Neal finished, and Peter nodded reluctantly.

It was no more than he'd expected, really. The whole experience was nightmare-tinged, barely feeling real. It seemed only appropriate that the man behind it was managing to slither away once again.

"We will," Peter said, and put a hand on Neal's arm. He didn't take it away immediately, which Neal was grateful for. He only belatedly realised that Peter was probably reassuring himself as well with the contact.

"Peter, are you all right?" he asked.

To Neal's surprise, Peter hesitated. "I'm talking to someone," he said, finally. "One of the Bureau counsellors. I think you should, too, before you go back."

"Is that an order?" Neal asked.

"No," Peter said. "Just a… strong suggestion."

Neal raised his eyebrows. "Did Elizabeth make you go?"

The corners of Peter's mouth lifted in a wry smile. "Maybe. She also suggested I pass the advice along."

"Ah. So it's actually Elizabeth's strong suggestions I have to be afraid of."

"They're probably more threatening than mine," Peter agreed. "Think about it, okay?"

Neal half-shrugged, in a way which refused to commit to anything but didn't entirely discount it either.

"So," Peter said, after the silence had stretched out for a while, "Did you have any plans for the rest of the day?"

"Not really. Except for the excitement of June or Moz showing up to check my concussion symptoms."

Peter raised an eyebrow. "Sounds like fun. I don't have anywhere to be, though — I can keep you company for a while. We could watch a movie or something."

"Yes," Neal said, probably too quickly. But Peter didn't seem to notice. And his own nonchalance had been a bit forced. "Uh, you'll probably have to help me to the couch. I miss being able to balance."

"No ridiculous stunts for you for a while," Peter said, and Neal rolled his eyes. "You look like you're more comfortable there in bed, though. How about we watch something on your laptop? I promise not to go through your files while you're asleep."

"Funny."

Peter fetched the laptop and didn't even try to argue for anything sports-related as he toed off his shoes and climbed up onto the bed beside Neal, trying not to jostle him too much as he dipped the mattress.

They settled on a movie, but Neal had lost track of the plot after barely ten minutes. Too tired, again. He let himself settle very slowly against Peter, reassuringly solid.

"Do you want me to let you sleep?" Peter asked, rousing him from his doze.

Neal's hand tightened around Peter's wrist before he knew he was going to do that. "No, stay," he pleaded.

"I'm not going anywhere," Peter promised, sounding slightly exasperated. He put his hand over Neal's for a moment, squeezing it tight, and then put his arm behind Neal's shoulders to lower him down. Because he was only half-awake, and therefore could plausibly deny any intent, Neal rolled over and nestled closer to Peter.

Peter settled a hand on Neal's shoulder, and kept it there. He needed the physical reassurance too. Not really a surprise. "I'll be here when you wake up," Peter said.

Neal believed him.

- - -

Posted at http://frith-in-thorns.dreamwidth.org/106124.html with comment count unavailable comments.
 
 
 
kanarek13kanarek13 on October 23rd, 2013 11:38 pm (UTC)
Oh, so deliciously whumpy ♥ Poor Neal... and Peter, too. Keller sure knows how to put them through hell. But whump and troubles are always the perfect excuse for the best bromance moments :D I absolutely adore the last part, with Neal sleeping safe and sound next to Peter, and Peter keeping a protective hand on Neal - d'awwwwwww, I am officially melting here :D

Wonderful treat \o/ Thank you for posting :D And happy Caffrey-Burke Day :D
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - boysfrith_in_thorns on October 24th, 2013 12:09 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! :D Wow, it's actually ages since I last posted fic :S I'm really glad that you enjoyed this -- as the note at the top I actually wrote most of this last year and stalled because I was worried about the plot. But sholio reassured me that "because Keller" was a perfectly valid resolution XD

And yes, evil hurt means there needs to be loads of hugs at the end to make up for it. ♥ Again, I'm really happy you enjoyed reading, and thank you!
lov_pb on October 24th, 2013 01:35 am (UTC)
Since I'm watching the World Series, I meant to take a quick look at this and save it to enjoy later. No way --- hooked from the very beginning, I couldn't stop reading Blackout! Amazing fic. What a great story for Caffrey-Burke Day. Thank you, thank you. (Now I can check ... the Red Sox are doing fine) :)
Frith: White Collar - Diana - coatfrith_in_thorns on October 24th, 2013 12:11 pm (UTC)
I apologise for distracting you! ;D But also I'm extremely happy to hear that you enjoyed my story enough to miss some of the game for it -- thank you very much! :D
calis_1stcalis_1st on October 24th, 2013 04:23 am (UTC)
This hits just about all of my hurt Neal buttons. Hallucinations, confusion, concussion; friends staying with him to reassure him every time he woke up. Neal saving Peter and Peter saving Neal. Can you tell how much I adore this story? Thanks so much for a wonderful Caffrey-Burke Day gift.
Frith: White Collar - Neal - writingfrith_in_thorns on October 24th, 2013 12:13 pm (UTC)
Awww, thank you so much! (Those are totally all my buttons too, this story was very id-fic :P) I'm very happy that you enjoyed reading!
ivorysilkivorysilk on October 24th, 2013 04:44 am (UTC)
Awwww. That was simply awesome.
Frith: White Collar - Diana - coatfrith_in_thorns on October 24th, 2013 12:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! :)
izzie7izzie7 on October 24th, 2013 06:58 am (UTC)
I was really caught up in this, believing, like Neal, that something dreadful must have happened to put him back in prison and in such circumstances. The swimmy, unreal state of mind you describe as he tries to understand what is real and what is not was beautifully drawn. Loved it!
Frith: Zundry - raining heartsfrith_in_thorns on October 24th, 2013 12:19 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm really happy that you enjoyed reading! :D
caseyf123 on October 24th, 2013 12:17 pm (UTC)
Great story. Was a little bit nervous at first that Neal had been abandoned by everybody. Can't have that. Loved the ending with Neal snuggling next to Peter. Nice job.
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - boysfrith_in_thorns on October 24th, 2013 12:20 pm (UTC)
Nooooo, I don't think I could actually write something that upsetting!! :) I'm really happy you enjoyed this, thank you!
a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf: White Collar - Neal & Peter hugembroiderama on October 24th, 2013 01:01 pm (UTC)
Oh, this is wonderful! I love how you show Neal's confusion and pain, and all of his friends being there for him at the end was perfect. ♥
Frith: Zundry - raining heartsfrith_in_thorns on October 24th, 2013 09:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Confused!Neal is very much one of my favourite things to write ♥
Jasmine: Neal in shadowreve_silencieux on October 24th, 2013 04:43 pm (UTC)
Well that was a roller-coaster of emotions, from fear, to worry, and obviously confusion. I'm so glad that it wasn't prison/Peter in coma, because that's just too much for Neal to deal with. It was nice to see everyone there for him when he woke up too. Great fic!
Frithfrith_in_thorns on October 24th, 2013 11:32 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! I do enjoy playing with EXTREME ANGST, but I really couldn't have been mean enough for it to be true :) I'm very happy you enjoyed reading!
pooh_collector on October 24th, 2013 07:04 pm (UTC)
What a great idea for a story!

I loved the idea of Neal being back in a cell and having no idea why. And, poor Peter having to watch Neal suffer through the glass and not having any way to help him.

And, I think it's no secret how much I love a hurting, concussed, confused Neal.

Yeah for fic that pushes all my buttons!
Frith: Zundry - raining heartsfrith_in_thorns on October 24th, 2013 11:33 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! A hurting, confused, concussed Neal is always such an appealing image, isn't it?!

Really glad you enjoyed this, thank you :)
saphirablue on October 24th, 2013 07:07 pm (UTC)
Oh, Neal! *hugs him a lot*

Wow, that was really evil - letting him think he is back in prison and that Peter is in a coma and that he is the reason for that. :/

I love, love, love all of them sitting at Neal's bed and reassuring him that Peter is fine and so on. ♥

The last scene with Neal using Peter as a pillow? *awwwww*

Thank you!
Frith: Zundry - raining heartsfrith_in_thorns on October 24th, 2013 11:36 pm (UTC)
True story: I started writing this over a year ago, and put it on pause partly because I thought no one would think it was even in-story realistic. And then I saw the H50 episode with Chin and the prison and decided that in comparison this fic totally made all the sense XD

I am totally evil though, you should know that by now ;P But when there's evillness, I get to make it up at the end with cuddling!

So glad you enjoyed this, thank you!
angelita26: Neal!Sleepingangelita26 on October 25th, 2013 03:36 am (UTC)
A seriously whumpy story that made my heart go all melty. Keller is such a bad guy, and this is definitely something I can see him doing to both Neal and Peter. I loved being in Neal's POV, especially in the beginning when he was trying to figure out what was going on. Poor guy. I do feel sorry for him, but I also love the whump. And that last scene with Peter - Neal snuggling down against him. Awwwww!

Thank you for sharing!
Sholio: WhiteCollar-Hard Sell Peter Nealsholio on October 25th, 2013 08:56 am (UTC)
eeeeee, I love this so much. \o/ POOR NEAL, and poor Peter too. I love all the angst and everyone hovering over Neal in the hospital and Neal being worried about Peter every time he woke up. EVERYONE! ♥
pipiljpipilj on October 25th, 2013 09:57 am (UTC)
Aww Keller's evil plan was foiled. Loved that some one was with Neal after he regained consciousness. Of course Peter would stay. "Ah. So it's actually Elizabeth's strong suggestions I have to be afraid of."

"They're probably more threatening than mine," Peter agreed. "Think about it, okay?"
had me grinning. Would love a prequel into what Keller goons did
ladyrose42ladyrose42 on October 25th, 2013 10:27 pm (UTC)
So many great fics to catch up on. Love the Neal POV as he tries to make sense of what's happens anf figure it out
shadowfireflame: White Collarshadowfireflame on October 26th, 2013 01:37 am (UTC)
Ohhhh, this was lovely. You write the best hurt!Neal and protective!Peter ever. What an awful, nightmarish scenario at the beginning. I love the way you wrote that transition from thinking the prison scenario was real to hearing Peter's voice telling him to wake up: Peter's voice is what brings him back to the real world. And the difference between having nobody in the prison scenario to having everyone loving Neal enough to visit him and sit by his bedside so that he would never wake alone--oh, it just warms my heart and makes me happy. Wonderful story.
leesa_perrie: Peter Neal Hugleesa_perrie on October 28th, 2013 07:38 pm (UTC)
Oh, this was lovely!! Poor Neal, and Peter! Lots of lovely h/c and angst, and love the ending so much! *hugs the fic* *hugs Neal too*
imbecamiel on November 1st, 2013 01:06 am (UTC)
Oooh man. What an awful scenario. That would be terrifying to wake up to. And hardly less awful for Peter, knowing what was going on just next door and yet unable to do anything to help Neal.

So well done. <3
where the paper flowers meets purple skymarissaangell on November 1st, 2013 08:06 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure what else to say... because the only thing I know is that I absolutely LOVED this adorably whumpy piece VERY MUCH
asiajournalasiajournal on May 29th, 2014 09:19 pm (UTC)
Intense. And glad really that everything is okay again. And that that they're always looking out for each other.