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Too Close a Call

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Mozzie gave Neal a very generous four hours to lick his wounds from the comfort of his ridiculously spacious studio apartment before he knocked on the door. He'd discreetly followed Peter after the boxing match and then even more discreetly followed a fuming Neal back to June's. So far, the young conman hadn't left the apartment. Or bothered to turn on any lights if the darkness from under the door was any indication.

There was no answer, and after a minute, he knocked again. This time making sure to do it in an eccentric enough metre that Neal would know who it was.

No answer again.

“Neal? It's me. Let me in, please.”

Silence.

“Fine. I'm coming in.” Now, he was concerned. He pulled out his pick set and had the door open in seconds.

The apartment was indeed dark and very, very quiet. There was no sign of his friend on the bed or the couch or in the kitchen. Mozzie checked the terrace too as he made his way toward the back of the room.

The bathroom door was ajar and when he tried to push it open, he found it stuck. “Neal?” he called but received no response. He shoved a little harder and was rewarded with another inch of space. It was enough to reach his hand in to see what was in the way.

When his fingers touched a sock-clad foot and the hard plastic of an electronic monitoring anklet, he knew they were in trouble. “Neal! Answer me! Neal!”

He pulled his cell out and dialed 911 with one hand while he tried to maneuver his friend away from the door with the other. It was difficult, but he managed to relay some information to the dispatcher about the boxing match that afternoon and Neal's probable concussion while he squeezed into the small room.

Neal was laying on the floor, face down and unconscious. There wasn't any visible blood, and the only injuries Mozzie could see were the bruises that had bloomed in the wake of the boxing match. The right side of Neal's face was swollen, from his cheekbone down to his jawline.

Mozzie held his breath as he pressed two shaking fingers to Neal's carotid. The steady pulse was a welcome relief, and he told the dispatcher about it. She made encouraging noises and asked about Neal's breathing. That was more difficult to ascertain while Neal was on his stomach, but the dispatcher was adamant about not moving him. In the end, Mozzie lay his ear against Neal's back and listened to his respirations through a sweaty t-shirt. So far so good – Neal was alive and breathing on his own.

When the EMTs arrived, Mozzie was sitting with two fingers pressed to Neal's neck and his other hand hovering in front of the unconscious man's mouth and nose. It took a minute before he could reluctantly release the young man to their care.

~~!!~~

June, who had followed the EMTs into Neal's apartment, was the one to get Mozzie into the car and into the hospital. She'd also talked to the nurses, politely reminding them of the Ellington's contributions over the years and gotten them a private waiting room.

Mozzie felt better away from the coughing and sneezing and infection-riddled breathing of the general populace, but he was still incredibly anxious about Neal's condition.

“Should I call Peter and Elizabeth?” she asked, once they were settled with cups of coffee.

He hesitated before shaking his head. “Neal wouldn't want to see them. He and Peter had an argument.”

June was surprised. “About what?”

“Has he said anything to you about Ellen and his father?” Mozzie wouldn't betray Neal's confidence, not right now when Peter had already shaken that tree so recently and Mozzie himself was already guilty of going behind Neal's back and talking to the Feds. But June was a great listener and wonderful at giving advice.

“I spoke to Ellen, and she said that she'd been a family friend when he was growing up. She seemed like quite the maternal influence.”

Mozzie nodded, remembering all the hugs between Ellen and Neal. It had been an interesting relationship to observe. Neal wasn't particularly demonstrative, not even with his girlfriends, but he had seemed drawn to Ellen and her embraces. Like a little boy reunited with his mother. “Did he mention a Sam to you?”

“Was that the gentleman who visited Neal yesterday? I saw him as he was leaving, but I didn't know his name.” June allowed Neal his privacy, and she never pried in his life but that didn't mean that she didn't notice the comings and goings of his guests.

“Probably. He knew Ellen, and he knew Neal's father. Neal's been looking into his past recently.” Mozzie was trying to walk the fine line of not revealing too much information and letting June know what was going on so that she could help him sort this out. “Sam didn't want to involve the Feds, but Peter tracked him down anyway. Now, it looks like Sam's gone. They were arguing about that.”

June considered that for a moment before reaching for her phone. “I still think that Peter would like to know that Neal's in the hospital, and Neal will want him here. Whether he admits that or not.”

Mozzie smiled. “You're a very wise woman, Mrs. Ellington.”

“You can't fool me, Mozzie. You're just glad that you can tell Neal that I was the one to make the call.”

“A very wise and intelligent woman,” he conceded with a soft chuckle.

~~!!~~

Elizabeth had been nursing Peter's bruises with fresh ice when the call came in from June. They'd both rushed to pull on shoes and find the car keys before heading to Lenox Hill.

“He was so angry, El.” Peter had sounded so distraught in the car. He hadn't been able to bring himself to tell her about the fight with Neal until just then. It all tumbled out in a heap of words that he knew she would understand. “I screwed up,” he finished miserably.

“Yeah, you did,” she'd replied softly as she squeezed his hand. She'd insisted on driving, on getting them both to Neal in one piece. “But you and Neal have butted heads before, and it's turned out all right in the end. Let's just see how he is and take it from there.”

Peter had only nodded and fallen silent as she found a parking spot and steered him into the hospital. They found the private waiting room without much trouble since June had given them directions.

“How is he?” Elizabeth asked as they stepped inside the small room.

June got up to hug the younger woman. “No one has been in to talk to us yet. I'm going to go see if I can get any information.”

Peter turned to Mozzie. “What happened?”

“I don't know. I found him unconscious on the bathroom floor.”

“Dammit!” Peter paced to the opposite side of the room, obviously upset. He gripped the back of a chair until his knuckles turned white. “I should have sent someone to check him out after the fight. That last hit was too hard.”

“I let him be for four hours, Suit. I knew he'd taken a couple of bad hits, but I should have checked on him sooner.” Mozzie didn't know why he was sympathizing with the Fed, but he did know that he wasn't completely inculpable in this whole mess.

“Hey! Blaming yourselves isn't going to help Neal. The fact of the matter is that he's here, and he needs us to be strong for him.” Elizabeth was not going to put up with their bellyaching. This wasn't about them, not when Neal was laying in this hospital somewhere, unconscious and alone.

They all fell silent and waited for June to return. It was several long minutes before June and a tall, balding doctor in blue scrubs entered the room. Everyone jumped up to greet him, but he waved them back into their seats.

“I'm Dr. Robert Keyes, head of the Neurology department here, and I've been assigned Neal's case,” he gave a sidelong look at June, who returned it with an innocent, grandmotherly smile. “Is anyone here a family member?”

Peter shook his head, but reached for his wallet. “I'm a FBI Agent, and Neal's my consultant. I'm also his power of attorney, if you need to see the paperwork.” He cursed when he remembered that he was wearing sweatpants with no back pockets and that he'd left his wallet at home. “I can get it faxed over to you from the office.”

Dr. Keyes held up a hand to halt Peter. It was clear that everyone in this room cared for his patient and that they were desperate for information on his condition. “You can get it to me later. It's my understanding that he was involved in a boxing match earlier today.”

“We fought each other,” Peter spoke up again. “It was for a case.”

Dr. Keyes had noticed Peter's own facial bruising and had wondered about that. “Well, it looks like Neal took a couple of hard hits to his head. He has a subdural hematoma that's been slowly expanding all evening. He was unconscious when he arrived in the ER, and he's had a seizure.”

Both Elizabeth and June gasped and clutched for each others' hands.

“He's stable now,” Dr. Keyes was quick to assure them. “We're prepping him for surgery to remove the clot that's formed. He'll be sedated until at least tomorrow afternoon. We'll have to see how his neurological function is after the surgery before we can determine the next step in treatment. I suggest that you all go home and get a good night's sleep.”

“Can we see him?” Elizabeth was sure that she knew the answer but couldn't help but ask.

“Tomorrow.” The doctor's reply put everyone on edge again. “He's in a sterile environment for prep, and he won't be aware of any visitors until tomorrow at the earliest. Please go home and rest. We'll take care of him. If you leave your numbers at nurses' station, someone will contact you if there's any change in his condition.”

June was the first to step forward. She held out her hand to shake the doctor's. “Thank you, and please do take good care of him. He's very important to us.”

“Understood,” Dr. Keyes replied. He bid the others goodbye and slipped out the door.

“Well, as much as I know we all want to be here, I think it's more important that we be well-rested for when Neal wakes up,” June said as she turned to look at the motley crew. “He's a handful when he's feeling poorly. It'll take all of us to make sure that he follows doctor's orders and heals from this.”

Elizabeth forced a smile as she stood and pulled Peter up with her. “You're right. We need to get some sleep and then have a good breakfast. We'll meet back here in the morning.”

“Someone should stay,” Peter protested. “What if the nurses don't call if something happens?”

“You, of all people, need to rest.” Elizabeth placed her finger to his lips before he could say anything more. “You're exhausted from this bout today, despite all the Gatorade I've made you drink.”

Mozzie settled down further into his chair and used another as a footrest. “I'll stay. I have all your numbers. Please tell the nurses that I'm in here and to keep me updated.”

“We will.” June smiled as she patted Mozzie's shoulder. “I'll bring you some coffee and pastries in the morning.”

~~!!~~

The night passed uneventfully. The operation went well, and now all they could do was wait. The nurses assured Mozzie that Neal was resting comfortably but wouldn't let him see his friend.

Peter and Elizabeth arrived shortly after seven, and Peter pushed his power of attorney papers in everyone's faces until they relented and let him in to see his partner. He was cautioned against talking or touching Neal, as the doctor didn't want his senses stimulated yet.

Aside from the ventilator rhythmically pumping oxygen into his lungs, Neal looked like he was sleeping. The swelling in his face had gone down, but the bruises were quite visible. There was also a white bandage on the side of his head where they'd operated, and it stuck out amid his wavy brown hair. They'd had to shave a small section, which Neal was sure to be upset about, but he would probably be able to hide it with some strategic combing. If that failed, he had plenty of hats too.

Peter stayed for fifteen minutes before he returned to the waiting room with the vaguely comforting news that Neal looked all right. June had arrived in his absence with coffee and croissants for everyone, even the nurses. They stayed the rest of the day, taking turns going back into the ICU to sit with Neal and keeping the nurses plied with gourmet food so they'd get speedy updates on Neal's condition.

Dr. Keyes stopped by in the afternoon with good news. “Neal's latest tests look good, really good. We're going to start easing back on his sedation this evening, so it's likely that he'll be awake tomorrow morning.”

“That's great. Will he be moved from the ICU?” Elizabeth was tired of only getting thirty minutes at a time with her friend. The limited time and lack of interaction with Neal was making everyone cranky.

“Once we can assess his neurologic status, we'll move him to a regular room.” His eyes slid over to June. She'd already arranged for a private room and the best nurses. He'd had a meeting with the Chief of Staff this morning regarding one Neal Caffrey. It seemed that June Ellington wasn't pulling any punches for the young man's care.

“Thank you for all you've done for Neal, Dr. Keyes,” June said, smiling warmly at him.

“It's not a problem, Mrs. Ellington.” He returned her smile before looking at the others. “Again, I urge you all to go home and get some rest.” He gave an especially long look to Mozzie.

“You'll have the nurses call if anything changes?” June asked, already putting her arm around Mozzie to get him out of the chair and heading toward the door.

“Of course,” Dr. Keyes replied. “Have a good evening.”

~~!!~~

Neal surfaced long enough to catch a glimpse of a dim, blurry aqua green scrub shirt and a St. Jude's medal on a necklace. The nurse was talking to him, but Neal couldn't focus on anything besides the medal. The patron saint of lost causes. Ivan Aivazovsky had drawn a very nice pencil sketch of Jude's betrayal in... Consciousness slipped away before he could recall the year.

~~!!~~

Someone was squeezing his hands, but Neal just wanted to go back to sleep. The ache in his head was pulsing. It didn't hurt so much as it was just there, pressing in from his temples. Someone squeezed his hands again, and words started to filter into his awareness. “Can... squeeze... hands? Neal?”

He tried to push the person away, but they must have misconstrued it for following orders, because they said, “Good,” and moved down to his feet. It tickled when they ran something up the sole of his foot, and he jerked away.

“Leave me 'lone,” he murmured.

The voice sounded much more chipper and closer to his ear when she spoke again. “Can you open your eyes for me, Neal?”

“Go 'way.”

“Open your eyes for me, and then you can go back to sleep.”

“Sl'p,” Neal repeated, prepared to accept the offer. His eyelids lifted, but he slammed them shut as the light in the room pierced all the way through his brain. He cried out and got one hand up to his eyes to try and rub the pain away.

There was a clattering in the background, and he thought he heard the voice, but the pain overrode his senses. Suddenly, a rush of cold fire ran up his arm, and he fell back into the pitch.

~~!!~~

Neal blinked and squinted. The only light in the room came from a dim bulb somewhere behind his head, so he was having a hard time figuring out if Peter or Elizabeth was sitting in the chair beside his bed. The Petelizabeth mass shifted, and he realized that they were sharing the chair.

“Neal.” Elizabeth spotted him first and smiled. She kept her voice low and, for that, he wanted to kiss her. “How are you feeling?”

“'M okay,” he responded softly. His throat was sore and dry, but his whole body felt sore, so he pushed it aside to focus on the room.

“I'd believe that if you could open your eyes all the way,” Peter said, leaning closer as Elizabeth moved to perch on the edge of Neal's bed.

Neal didn't have anything to say to that, so he let his squinted eyes sweep the room. Mozzie was in the corner, and he lifted a hand in greeting but otherwise didn't move. Neal was grateful that his oldest friend was giving him space to get his bearings. He thought he waved in return but couldn't be sure that his hand actually responded to the command from his brain.

“June wanted to stay, but she had an appointment.” Elizabeth told him, smoothing his blankets.

He tried to still her hand, but his aim was off, and he wound up patting her forearm instead. “How long?” he asked with a slight cough.

“This is day two.” Peter pressed the call button. He hesitated before asking, “What do you remember?”

“Uh...” Neal closed his eyes and tried to dredge up some memory of how he wound up in this hospital bed with a headache, a sore jaw, and some tender ribs. “I don't... did we have a case?”

“Yes,” Peter replied, patiently.

“Insider trading. There was boxing.” He opened his eyes and pinned Peter with a frown. “You have a killer left hook.”

Peter paled at his choice of words. Neal could have died from his injuries, would have if Mozzie hadn't checked on him. This was too close a call for anyone's comfort.

“Mr. Caffrey!” The nurse smiled as she walked up to the other side of the bed and started taking his vitals. “It's nice to see you awake. Are you in any pain?”

Neal glanced at the Burkes before replying, “Not much.”

“You can tell me,” the nurse said, bending down to his level. “I have access to the good drugs.”

He frowned but awkwardly gestured to his whole body with one hand. “Sore.”

“What about your head?” she asked, making a note on his chart. “On a scale of one to ten. Ten being the worst.”

“Five. Maybe six,” he replied. “Doesn't hurt if I don't move.”

The nurse smiled again. “I'll get you something for it.”

“No, please.” Neal managed to get a grip on her arm, and he squeezed it weakly. “I'm okay.”

“Trust me,” she said, gently removing his hand. “The doctor will be in to see you soon, and you'll want some drugs before he gets here. He's going to give you some tests.”

“I'm great with tests,” Neal said, flashing her a grin. It wasn't nearly as bright as his usual one, but anyone could see the nurse falling for it anyway.

Peter snorted from his chair, and Elizabeth swatted his shoulder. “Hush,” she admonished softly.

“All right,” the nurse said, turning to them. “Mr. Caffrey needs to rest, and visiting hours have ended.”

“He just woke up. Can't we stay a little longer?” Elizabeth asked.

The nurse frowned and looked down at her patient. “Let 'em stay,” he said, “an' please call me Neal.” He coughed slightly again, trying his best not to move his head or body.

“I'm Shelly.” She sighed. “They can stay for five more minutes. Do you want some ice chips?”

He nodded once, slowly. “Thank you, Shelly.”

Once she was gone, he closed his eyes and sunk into the bed. It was exhausting, making conversation and keeping track of who was talking and if they were talking to him.

Elizabeth and Peter exchanged knowing glances. As much as they wanted to stay and make sure that their friend was okay, he was still recovering from surgery. Brain surgery, at that.

“Neal, sweetie, we've got to get home. I just remembered that Satchmo hasn't been let out since this morning.” Elizabeth squeezed his hand and leaned over to gently place a kiss on his forehead. “Sleep well.”

“Thanks, El.” Neal squeezed her hand back but didn't muster the energy to open his eyes.

“We'll see you tomorrow,” Peter added, patting Neal's foot as he walked around the bed.

“Bye, Pet'r,” Neal replied around a yawn.

When Shelly returned two minutes later, the Burkes were gone and Neal was fast asleep. Mozzie was still sitting in the corner though. “Visiting hours are over,” she reminded him.

“I'm not going anywhere. He's resting, and I'm not in the way,” he calmly stated.

She tried to stare him down, but Mozzie wasn't easily intimidated. Finally, she threw her hands up and left the room. He really hoped she wasn't going to call security. The last thing he wanted to do was lead the rent-a-cops on a chase around Lenox Hill until he lost them in the little-known tunnel system below the hospital.

Fifteen minutes later, she returned with a syringe of pain medication and Dr. Keyes, who asked Mozzie to leave so that he could administer some routine tests. Mozzie made sure to drop June's name as he departed the room to stretch his legs and stop by the men's room.

~~!!~~

Neal woke up crying before dawn. There wasn't a clock in the room, but it was still pretty dark outside. Shelly had left the light on over Neal's bed, and Mozzie was grateful as it allowed him to get to the young man's side without tripping over any of the equipment surrounding him.

“Neal? Are you okay?”

“Moz,” Neal gasped. “Is he gone?”

Mozzie pressed the call button, concerned that Neal's condition was worsening. “Is who gone? We're the only two people here.”

“Sam. Is Sam gone?” He clutched at his head, but Mozzie only moved to intercept him when his hands got scarily close to the bandage and the healing wound underneath.

“Calm down, Neal.”

“Please. Is he gone?” Neal whimpered and squeezed his eyes shut. The pain in his head multiplied as the memories of the day before and after the boxing match flooded back.

“Yes.” Mozzie was honest, even as he kept a grip on Neal's wrists to keep his hands away from his head. “But we'll look for him. We can find him again.”

Shelly hurried into the room before Neal could form a reply. “What happened?”

“He's remembering the day of his injury.” Mozzie looked over at her. “It wasn't a good one. A friend disappeared.”

The nurse nodded, sympathetic to her patient's suffering. Neal had been a good patient so far, and she hated to see anyone in pain. “I'll get something to help him sleep.”

Neal was still crying and was starting to shake. Mozzie felt completely out of his depth, but he suspected there wasn't anything he could do to make his friend feel better anyway.

Shelly returned a moment later with a syringe. She injected it into Neal's IV and spread an extra blanket over him. “I'll be back to check on him in a few minutes.”

As Neal slowly relaxed, Mozzie moved to the chair beside the bed. “You doing okay?”

Neal sniffed and swiped at his face with the new blanket. His coordination was still off, but he didn't seem to notice. “Can't believe he's gone. Why would Peter meet with him?”

“Look, Neal, you and Peter are going about this all wrong. The two of you need to work together instead of fighting each other every step of the way.” Mozzie knew this wasn't the best time to bring this up, but he wasn't going to get a better chance. He just hoped that Neal remembered it later.

“No Feds,” Neal repeated what Sam had told him.

“Far be it for me to argue for the other side, but Peter can help, Neal. It's time to let him.”

Neal's eyes sluggishly closed as the medication took effect. “Peter'll help,” he murmured.

“That's right,” Mozzie said with a sigh. He never thought he'd see the day when he'd suggest going to a Fed for assistance. Ginsberg was surely rolling over in his grave. “Peter and Elizabeth and June and I will all help you find Sam. Rest, now. We'll talk later.”

“Mmhmm,” Neal mumbled, drifting into a drugged slumber.

Earlier, Dr. Keyes had assured Mozzie that Neal would be fine. It would be a few weeks before he was back to his old self, and he would need some physical therapy to help with his coordination and motor skills. On the whole, he was a very lucky young man.

While Mozzie had no doubts that Neal would recover physically, he could only hope that they could all put this Sam mess behind them sooner rather than later. He was reluctant to trust Peter, but the man had helped figure out a way to get Neal back to New York, at great cost to himself. Peter had proven himself. Now, it was up to Neal and Peter to find that trust within themselves so that they could work together to find Sam and the answers the Neal so desperately wanted about his past and his present.

~Finis

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