This was Neal and Sara's first date night since their son, William, had been born almost six months ago, and both were excited to have an evening to themselves. That didn't mean that they hadn't secretly been texting Peter or Elizabeth, their chosen babysitters, under the table all night until they'd gotten phone calls telling them, in no uncertain terms, to enjoy their dinner. Or else.
Once they'd finished their Bass Roti Au Four, Neal and Sara had no problem hailing a cab outside of Bistro Cassis, the French restaurant that Sara had chosen. It wasn't that late when he held the door open for her to slide in to the backseat, but they were ready to get back to their little boy. Neal had been a bit anxious early on because leaving the baby with anyone, even Peter and Elizabeth, was more nerve-wracking than he'd expected. He relaxed pretty quickly after she started teasing him about all the places over the years that he could have hidden her Rafael, and he had even returned the sentiment by razzing her about her cutthroat ways of hauling in insurance scammers.
Somehow, they'd found a comfortable place in their lives together, and while they mutually weren't looking for more of a commitment than they had sharing apartments and working out babysitters, Sara had allowed herself to daydream lately about taming one Neal Caffrey.
“Did you have a good time?” she couldn't help but ask once Neal was seated next to her and the cab was worming its way through the nighttime traffic.
He smiled, and it was one of the ones that he reserved just for her, bright and happy. “I did. The food was amazing, and the company was brilliant, as always.” Neal worked the angle a little too heavy-handed, and he knew she would call him on it, but this was a familiar maneuver. The late night feedings were difficult with both their jobs being so demanding, and they were often trading favors to be able to sleep through the night. They loved their son, but they could not wait until he slept a whole eight hours or more.
She laughed. “I appreciate the compliment, but it's still your night.”
The smile dimmed but didn't retreat as he groaned. “Fine, fine. The three a.m. feeding is still mine.” Then, his eyes lit up. “Unless... we could call Peter and Elizabeth. See if Will would like to stay with them tonight. He's already asleep, I bet.”
“Neal!” She exclaimed incredulously.
“What? We could use a whole night to ourselves, and Will's fine with-”
His eyes widened as his attention was caught by something over Sara's shoulder. Bright lights suddenly engulfed the inside of the car as he reached for her and she tried to turn and look. Abruptly, the whole car jerked sideways and the terrible screeching of metal giving way to metal filled the night.
Peter was lounging on the bed, his laptop open to the most interesting case the White Collar division had seen that week – mortgage fraud from four states that looked like the work of a single suspect. He was making notes when Elizabeth walked into the room, giggling.
“Is he finally asleep?” Peter asked as he put the computer aside. Baby Will was giving them a run for their money. Every time they thought he was down for the night, he would start screaming again. Granted, the portable crib they'd set up in the guest room probably wasn't the most comfortable, and Will was used to his parents going through the nightly routine, but surely the kid would eventually wear himself out.
“You have to come and see.” El motioned for him to follow her, and he reluctantly gave up his warm spot to see what had her so amused.
He had to stifle his own laughter when he peered down into the crib. Elizabeth had found a button-down shirt of Neal's that he'd left one night when he'd stayed over, pulling an all-nighter for a case, and she'd laid it over Will in lieu of a blanket. She'd also put Sara's forgotten cashmere scarf nearby, as well as a picture of Sara, Neal and Will that Peter had taken not long after the baby was born. “I can't believe that worked,” he whispered.
“Me either, but he seems like he'll be okay until they pick him up.”
They tiptoed carefully out of the room and back to their bed. Peter was settling in beside El when he said, “Neal tried to talk me into keeping him all night, you know?”
Elizabeth had a sympathetic look on her face. “He's awfully young for that, but I wouldn't mind when he's a little older.”
“Old enough to be through the toilet training stage?” he asked hopefully. Elizabeth had been on the phone with a harried client earlier, and Peter had been forced to change Will's diaper or listen to the kid scream himself hoarse. Of course, as soon as he pulled off the soiled nappy, Will had peed right into Peter's face, much to the amusement of both his wife and their godson. Peter vowed to make Neal pay for it come Monday.
She laughed, but her response was waylaid by his cell's ringtone. “Who could that be?”
“Unknown number.” He read from the screen as he raised the phone and hit the 'Accept' button. “Hello?”
“Is this Special Agent Peter Burke?” A no-nonsense, unfamiliar female voice was on the other side of the call, and Peter's hackles raised.
“Yes. Who am I speaking with?”
“My name is Erica Leone. I'm a nurse in the Emergency Room at Weill Cornell Medical Center, and we have a patient here named Neal Caffrey. You're his emergency contact, correct?”
Peter's breath caught when she said Neal's name, and his heart plummeted to his toes. “Neal Caffrey? Are you sure?”
“Yes, sir. His FBI consultant ID was in his pocket, and he matches the physical description.”
That was when he realized that something was very wrong; Neal's ID had a picture too. If they couldn't identify him by the photo... “Is he okay?”
“I'll be happy to explain everything in detail when you arrive.” Erica honestly didn't have much information to impart but would know more by the time Agent Burke got to the hospital.
Elizabeth was watching him closely and straining to hear what was going on. The despair and hurt in Peter's voice was unmistakable, and she was sure she'd never heard the combination from her husband before.
“There was an auto accident. Mr. Caffrey was not sitting on the impacted side, but he wasn't wearing a seatbelt. He's unconscious, and he's been sent for tests to determine the extent of his head injury. Agent Burke?”
Peter had closed his eyes in expectation of the worst possible news. Elizabeth's hands were on his shoulders, kneading gently, as she waited for him to be able to tell her what was going on. “Yes,” Peter said, when he realized the nurse was waiting for a response.
“We're still assessing his condition to determine the full extent of his injuries. We'll know more when you get here.”
He was about to hang up when he remembered that his friend had been on a date. “Neal was with a woman. Sara Ellis. Is she okay?”
Erica typed the name into her computer and tapped her fingers as she waited for the search results to return from the database. “I'm sorry, sir. I'm not showing that we have a patient here by that name. It's possible that she hasn't been entered into the system yet or that she was taken to a different hospital.”
“Okay,” Peter replied, not knowing what else to say to that. “I'm on my way.”
“Have me – Erica Leone – paged when you arrive.” She gave him her name again in case he had been too overwhelmed to remember it. These calls were always hard to make and, she imagined, harder to hear.
“Thank you.” When he tossed the phone aside and turned to look for Elizabeth, he found her across the room, pulling clothes out of the dresser. She threw a sweater, jeans and socks at him.
“What's happened?” She crossed her arms over her chest, almost hugging herself as she waited for the news. It wasn't going to be good, she feared.
“There was a car accident. All they'll tell me is that Neal's unconscious and has a head injury.” He hastily dressed. “But they didn't know anything about Sara. Will you call the hospitals in the area? See if anyone matching her description was brought in?”
“Of course,” she replied. “I guess I'll stay here with Will. Call when you know anything more.”
He hated to leave her here, but someone did need to stay with the baby. “Maybe call Diana and Christie and see if they can take him for the rest of the night?” Diana had been surprisingly fond of Will since he was born and had babysat him during the day on a few – Neal would call them desperate – occasions.
She nodded. “I'll try. Just let me know, okay?”
He agreed while shoving his feet into his shoes and sprinting for the stairs.
Forty-five minutes later, he was pacing the hallway outside of the waiting room. Erica hadn't had much additional information when he'd arrived, but she had told him that Neal had a shoulder injury, most likely a fracture from impacting the door during the crash, and that his nose was broken. He was still unconscious, but the head CT hadn't shown any signs of significant trauma yet.
Someone cleared their throat nearby and Peter looked up to see Mozzie standing by the nearest exit. “Suit,” he greeted. “Have you heard anything about Neal?”
“How did you know to come?” Peter asked, aware it was a stupid question before it fully left his mouth. Mozzie had eyes and ears everywhere.
“Elizabeth. She wants an update.” Mozzie had been surprised by the call but had dropped everything to get to Weill Cornell. Neal didn't do sick or injured well, and he figured the suit would need some help with their friend.
“He was still being assessed the last that I heard,” Peter replied. “He's unconscious with a head injury.”
“Actually,” Erica said as she approached from behind Peter, surprising the men. Both whirled around in varying states of defensive posture, but Peter relaxed immediately. She didn't comment on their reactions, only smiled at Peter. “Neal's awake, and he's asking for you.”
Peter looked over at Mozzie. “Stick around. I'll find you and let you know about Neal.”
“What about Sara?” It had taken Mozzie a while to warm up to the insurance investigator, but Neal made it clear that she wasn't going anywhere any time soon. Then, Will had been born, and he'd become Uncle Mozzie, the eccentric who brought him inappropriate gifts and taught him the finer arts of the con when his parents weren't looking. Sara accepted Mozzie's position in Will's life and had even thanked him for everything he'd done for Neal over the years.
Peter looked toward the nurse. “Any word on Sara Ellis being admitted?”
“Actually, yes,” Erica replied. “She was airlifted in and taken directly to surgery.”
“How is she?” Mozzie asked, taking a couple of steps closer even though it moved him away from the fresh air of the partially open exit door.
“She's in critical condition and is still in surgery. Her injuries are concentrated mostly on the left side of her body, which was close to the point of impact. There is also a spinal injury that they're evaluating. I'm afraid I don't have any other information right now.”
Peter had to place a hand against the wall to keep from falling when he heard the words 'spinal injury'. He'd had a friend in college that had been paralyzed after breaking his neck diving into the shallow end of a pool. He hadn't been able to cope with his injuries and had taken his own life not long after being released from the hospital. Sara was a strong, confident woman, but this was life-altering in ways that he couldn't even imagine.
Erica had steadied him with a hand on his elbow and promised to keep him updated on both Sara's and Neal's conditions. He nodded his thanks and silently followed her through the ER to a curtained cubicle in the corner. She left him to push his way inside on his own.
Neal eased his head toward Peter, clearly uncomfortable and pained at the movement. His face was a mess – nose swollen, eyes already starting to bruise, and a large bandage across his forehead was stained with enough blood to indicate a long cut or deep gash. The only things that gave away his identity were the piercing blue eyes and the wavy, brown hair. “Hey,” he rasped. “Any word on Sara? They won't tell me anything.”
Peter frowned. He hated lying, especially to Neal, but this was one of those times that he was sure it was the best policy. Neal's health was too precarious to give him all the information yet. “She's being looked at. How are you doing?”
“I don't... Um... I just...” Neal couldn't really put his misery into words, especially not when his brain felt like it was about to leak out his ears. He finally settled on, “Everything hurts.”
“I'll bet it does.” Peter was finally able to tear his gaze away from Neal's face to notice that the stained bandage across his forehead actually wrapped all the way around his head to another bloodied section of gauze toward the back. His right arm was immobilized across his chest in a complicated sling, and his bare torso was already deeply bruised, especially along his sides. The rest of his body was hidden below thin hospital blankets.
“Yeah.” Peter's gaze moved back up to Neal's hazy, pain-clouded eyes.
“Where's Will? Is he okay?”
It occurred to Peter that Neal probably didn't remember the accident. He'd most likely asked about Sara on instinct and then been terrified when the doctors and nurses stonewalled him. Which was just what Peter had done too. Damn, this was a fine line he was walking.
“Will's with Elizabeth. He's probably still sleeping. She had to practically wrap him in one of your shirts and a scarf of Sara's to get him to settle down.” He smiled as he shared the story, even though it felt like it happened a lifetime ago.
Neal smiled and then grimaced when his abused facial muscles protested. “He's okay,” he said, mostly to himself. It was a self reassurance that tugged at Peter's heart. “Do you know anything about Sara? Is she okay?”
Peter's immediate alarm was almost tangible, and Neal panicked. His heart rate jumped, and his breathing accelerated in a matter of seconds. His left hand flailed, trying to reach for Peter with all the coordination of a two-year-old.
“What? What's wrong? Sara? Sara!” Neal shouted his girlfriend's name as loud as he could, and Peter wished she was there and able to answer him.
A nurse, not Erica, shoved the curtain aside and started taking Neal's vitals. “Mr. Caffrey, I'm going to need you to calm down. Take a deep breath.” She reached for an oxygen mask and gently placed it over his lower face, careful of his injured nose.
“He asked about his girlfriend twice,” Peter told her as he grabbed Neal's hand and squeezed it firmly. “Is he okay?”
The nurse nodded. “Confusion is normal with a severe concussion. I'm going to give him a small dose of sedative. We don't want him hurting himself.”
That didn't really make Peter feel any better, but he accepted the answer. He turned his attention to his friend. “Everything's okay, Neal. Relax.”
It took a few minutes, but Neal's vitals stabilized, and the nurse left them alone again. Peter couldn't help but notice that she'd left the curtain open this time.
Before either of them could say anything, a tall, thin man wearing a white coat over a set of navy scrubs walked over and introduced himself to Peter as Dr. Martin Watts. He was handling Neal's care while he was in the ER, and he led Peter to a private room to discuss Neal's condition. Peter had been reluctant to leave Neal's side, but the younger man had quickly been reduced to staring into space, slack-jawed, by the sedative. If that was a small dose, Peter didn't want to see a large one.
The meeting had been brief, but Peter felt better afterwards. Dr. Watts assured him that they were keeping an eye on Neal's head injury but so far there were no signs that his brain was swelling. His bruises and cuts would heal, and the doctor had agreed when Peter requested that a plastic surgeon see to Neal's nose and forehead laceration. The damaged shoulder needed more testing to determine a course of action, but Dr. Watts didn't expect him to need surgery.
When Peter returned to Neal's cubicle, he found the nurse waiting for him. She let him know that Neal was being admitted to the neurology department on the third floor for observation and further treatment.
After that, he made his way back to the hall outside the waiting room to look for Mozzie. He finally found him sitting just outside the hospital entrance.
“Don't keep me in suspense, Suit,” Mozzie said, holding out a paper cup that bore the name of nearby street vendor.
Peter sat down, accepted the coffee, and used his free hand to rub his eyes. The adrenaline of getting the phone call about Neal was wearing off, and he was crashing. “Thanks,” he said, indicating the caffeine. “He's in a lot of pain, and he's a little confused, but overall, I guess he's doing okay. They're admitting him now.”
Mozzie nodded, not sure what to make of the vague answer. Of course Neal would be in pain after nearly being run over by a garbage truck. He'd poked around the nurses' station and discovered that Neal and Sara's cab had been hit by a trash truck, presumably after the driver fell asleep at the wheel. The cabbie had died at the scene, which caused Mozzie's stomach to twist into uncomfortable knots. Sara and Neal both could have died as well, and he doubted that either were really out of the woods yet.
Both men had gone silent, lost in their own thoughts, when Elizabeth walked up to them.
“Hey, Hon,” she greeted Peter with a kiss, and then waved at Mozzie. “Diana and Christie are at our place, keeping an eye on Will. How are they?”
Peter stood and pulled her into a hug, leaning his head against her shoulder for a moment.
“Oh, no,” she breathed, embracing him back.
“Sara's in bad shape,” he said softly. “Neal's hanging in there. I talked to him for a few minutes, but he was confused and upset.”
Elizabeth pulled away and took a deep breath to calm herself. “They're going to be okay. We all need to think positive thoughts, all right?”
The men nodded, both knowing better than to cross Elizabeth when she used that tone of voice.
The next few days were filled with carefully organized chaos. Even though Sara was unconscious, there was almost always someone – Elizabeth, June, Mozzie, Diana, Jones, or even Peter – keeping an eye on her. No one wanted her to wake up alone and in pain and strapped into rigid brace that was protecting her spine from movement and further injury.
Neal, on the other hand, was keeping everyone on their toes. The first day, he'd spent mostly sleeping. An orthopedist had come by around dawn to explain that Neal's shoulder was dislocated, and his shoulder blade was fractured but surgery wasn't necessary. The doctor and a nurse had taken him away to reduce the dislocation, and he'd returned to the room in a less complicated sling and singing a slurred version of what Peter assumed was a showtune. He'd settled down eventually, and Peter had the forethought to grab a few hours of sleep, because the next couple of days were hell.
Neal was awake and aware that they were keeping something from him in regards to Sara. He'd threatened to climb the drainpipe outside his window or sign out AMA until they'd relented. Peter had sat down and explained everything that they knew about Sara's condition, which admittedly still wasn't much. Neal had absorbed everything quietly and asked, with somber tone and damp eyes, to see her.
Peter had wanted to stall this as long as possible, but he couldn't deny Neal. If it were Elizabeth lying in the ICU, he'd move heaven, earth and hell to be able to see her.
Neal's breath caught when his wheelchair was pushed through Sara's ICU door. If he'd been walking under his own power, he'd have stopped or, more likely, fallen over. As it was, Peter kept moving, positioning him at Sara's side and within easy reach of her hand.
From the right side, she looked like she was sleeping. A nasal cannula was visible under her nose, but her face was peaceful, as it was when she she was lying in one of their beds. A blanket was drawn up to her chest, but a hard plastic brace was obvious through the thin material. The compression in her spinal cord was in the lower lumbar region, so there was no reason for a neck brace, which Neal was thankful for now. His gaze lowered to her legs, and he saw that the bulky cast encasing her broken left leg was elevated on a foam cushion.
“Sara?” he whispered. She'd been unconscious since the crash, so he didn't expect a response, but he needed to make the effort. He tentatively took her hand, turning it over and tracing the lines of her palm to distract himself from the reality.
He didn't know how long he sat there before a petite red-head in a white coat entered the room through the open door. Neal was startled to find that he was alone with Sara, and he absently wondered when Peter had left.
“Mr. Caffrey,” the doctor greeted without a smile. She got down to business right away and with a practiced ease, checking Sara's monitors, as well as the various wires and tubes.
“Doctor,” he replied with a nod. He didn't know her name, didn't even know how she knew his. Nor did he care. There was only one thing he wanted to know. “How is she?”
“Dr. Brayman,” she supplied. “She's doing as well as can be expected.”
That was just the kind of non-answer Neal had spent his adult life perfecting. His eyes narrowed as he specified, “When will she wake up?”
“Her body's been through a hell of a trauma. It will take some time for her to come around.”
Neal decided to call bullshit. This was the first time that he'd gotten to speak to one of Sara's doctors, and she had the gall to give him the runaround. “In other words, you have no idea.”
The doctor cut her eyes over to him, and her mouth set in a line that was unfriendly. “No one knows, Mr. Caffrey, but Ms. Ellis herself. I can predict, based on her current medical status, that she could wake within the next 48 hours, but her condition is precarious.”
“That's all you had to tell me,” Neal grumbled, his indignation failing in the face of her words. While everyone had gone out of their way to assure him that Sara would live, no one had ventured a guess as to what state she would be in when she woke.
Dr. Brayman sighed. “Head and spinal injuries are tricky. Everyone's body heals and reacts in different ways.”
Neal nodded and looked away. He knew this, of course, but he hated hearing it where Sara was involved.
A nurse interrupted a moment later. She spoke quietly with Dr. Brayman for a moment and handed her a large manilla envelope. The doctor moved to the wall lined with light boxes and turned them on before putting x-rays up across them.
Neal could make out the outlines of Sara's skull and spine, but nothing specific. His vision was still a little off from his own head injury after all. He unconsciously held his breath while watching the doctor study the images. This was Sara, the mother of his child. He didn't know what he would do if... He just didn't know what he would do.
Dr. Brayman was aware of the scrutiny, so she kept her expression calm, even though she wanted to shake her head. A small piece of vertebrae had broken off in the crash and was pushing against the nerves in Sara's spinal cord. They'd waited to see if the swelling would subside, but it was only becoming worse. A second surgery was going to be Sara's best option.
She turned and took a good look at Neal. One arm rested in a sling, while his free hand was intertwined with one of Sara's. He was slumped toward his girlfriend as exhaustion and pain radiated off him. He was in no condition to make this decision. She flipped off the light boxes, gave him a courteous smile and headed out of the room to find Agent Burke.
A forced cough startled Neal some time later. He'd dozed off at Sara's side, still holding her hand. The doctor had left them alone, and a part of him had wanted to call out to her, to demand she tell him about his girlfriend's condition, but he hadn't been able to bring himself to make a sound.
“Hey,” Peter spoke softly as he pulled a chair closer to Neal's. “We need to talk.”
Neal couldn't help but close his eyes. The look on Peter's face spoke volumes. It was as if the agent had aged twenty years in the last hour by walking through a fiery pit in hell. He clearly didn't want to be having this conversation any more than Neal did.
“Neal?” Peter was more worried than ever. Neal was still recovering from his own injuries, and now he had to make a decision that would change Sara's life no matter what.
“Just tell me.” Neal rallied, sitting up a little straighter and opening his eyes to give Peter his full attention. He kept hold of Sara's hand, taking as much comfort as he could in the contact.
Peter nodded and placed a hand on Neal's knee, hoping to anchor the young man and offer support. “There's a piece of bone in Sara's spine that's broken off and is pressing against her spinal cord. The doctors want to do surgery, but they need consent.”
Neal was confused. Why wouldn't he consent? This sounded serious but fixable. “Why do they need consent?”
“Because there are a lot of complications that could happen.” Peter was trying to keep this as simple as possible. He glanced at Sara, but she remained stubbornly still and unconscious. “There's post-operative infection, blood clots, further injury to her spine.” Peter hoped he was getting this across without having to actually say it. If Sara wasn't paralyzed, the operation could paralyze her. Maybe even kill her. If they didn't operate, the bone fragment would almost certainly sever her spinal cord. This decision was a double-edged sword of the worst kind.
Neal groaned, a long-suffering and frustrated sound. His eyes found Sara without conscious effort, and he drank in the sight of her. He loved her. He loved the way that she laughed when he caught her off guard; he loved the way that she smiled when they kissed; he loved the way that she cradled Will to her chest and breathed in his baby fresh scent; he loved that she thought dressing casual meant stilettos with her designer jeans; he loved that she hogged the covers even in the summer months. He didn't want anything about her to change.
Peter's hand moved to Neal's uninjured shoulder, and he squeezed firmly. “Neal? I don't want to push, but they want to start treatment as soon as possible, either way.”
“What if they don't do the surgery?”
He'd known Neal would ask this question, so he'd asked it himself. “They'll move her to occupational therapy when she wakes up. She'll be in pain for a long time, probably the rest of her life.”
Neal forced himself to look over at his friend, to ask this very important question. “If it were El, what would you do?”
Peter's breath caught and tears gathered, unbidden, in the corners of his eyes. As much as he wanted to hold Neal's gaze, he had to look away. He'd been asking himself this since he'd heard Sara's condition, and he'd dreaded this moment when Neal finally asked the question. He cleared his throat and worked his jaw a moment before saying, “I'd get her the surgery to remove the bone fragment. And pray like hell that she'd be okay.”
Neal nodded. “Sara would want the best possible chance.”
“Okay,” Peter replied. “I'll let them know.”
Sara was supposed to go into surgery before midnight, but an overturned city bus had flooded the ORs, and she was rescheduled for early the next morning. When Neal woke in his own hospital bed, feeling dopey and numb, he was surprised to see Elizabeth sitting nearby cradling a bundle of blankets that could only be one thing.
“Morning.” She was keeping her tone low, though Neal wasn't sure if it was for him or the baby. “We thought you might be ready for a visit from your favorite little man.”
He nodded and smiled softly. “Thanks, Elizabeth. This means a lot.”
“He's been fussy without you and Sara, but we're getting into a routine.” She stood and placed the sleeping baby on Neal's chest, careful of his shoulder and sling.
Neal rubbed his free hand up and down Will's back as the little boy shifted and settled into a comfortable position. He couldn't remember the last time he'd held his son, though he was sure it wasn't more than a few days ago. When he was able to look away, he found Elizabeth watching them with tears in her eyes. “Thanks for taking care of him.”
She waved his gratitude away. “It's been a pleasure having him at the house. June, Mozzie, Diana and Christie have helped too, but we didn't want to scare him by shuffling him around, so they just come over when I need to run out.”
Will snuffled and stretched, waking leisurely. He looked up and grinned at his father, immediately starting to babble at him as if he was telling Neal all about the time they had spent apart.
Neal and Elizabeth both laughed, and Neal nodded toward the bed controls. “Would you sit us up?” He kept his one hand securely on Will's back as the bed moved, raising them into a nearly seated position.
Elizabeth watched as father and son bonded. Neal was allowing the little boy to distract him from waiting on news about Sara, which was, of course, Elizabeth's intention. The waiting would be excruciating otherwise.
A couple of hours later, Peter stepped through the open door and waved at Will, who was sitting on Elizabeth's lap chewing on a teething ring. He'd had a shower, shaved, and taken a quick nap while he had the opportunity, and she was pleased to see that he looked better, less pale and drawn with worry.
Neal tiredly raised a hand in greeting and then turned his attention back to his son. Will was reaching for his father, but Neal was too exhausted from their visit to take him. Instead, he held out his hand and let Will squeeze his fingers.
“I ran into that blonde nurse, Ava, outside,” Peter said as he pulled up a chair beside Elizabeth. “She said that Sara's surgery is going well and that they're supposed to update us within the next half an hour.”
“She was in here about an hour ago with a positive report too.” Elizabeth smiled and bounced Will when the little boy started to fuss. He was getting frustrated that Neal wasn't playing with him any longer. “Somebody needs a nap.”
“I think that's two somebodies.” Peter chuckled as Neal's eyelids drooped, but he quickly forced his eyes back open.
“I'm okay,” Neal murmured around a yawn.
Peter and Elizabeth shared a knowing look. “We'll wake you if we hear anything about Sara, okay?” Elizabeth offered, hoping Neal would relax enough to sleep if she made the promise.
Neal wanted to protest but that required too much effort. Instead, he shifted over in the bed, stifling a groan of pain when his shoulder twinged through the haze of painkillers. He pointed to Will and patted the empty space on the mattress with his free hand. “When he falls asleep, put him down here, and put up the side rail.” Elizabeth started to shake her head, but he turned his puppy-dog eyes on her. “Please.”
“Okay,” she replied. “You get some rest too.”
He nodded once and promptly dozed off.
Sara's operation went well, and the medical staff was cautiously optimistic about her prognosis. As Neal's body started to heal, he was able to spend more time by her side, waiting for her to wake up. His concept of hours, even days passing was incredibly skewed, and he wasn't sure how long it had been when she finally stirred.
“Sara?” he said softly, squeezing her hand. “Open your eyes.”
“Mmm,” she moaned, rolling her head toward the sound of his voice.
He smiled when her green eyes blinked and focused on him. “Hey.”
“Neal?” She frowned, and her hand slipped from his to raise up toward his face. He'd almost forgotten about his broken nose. Among the aches in his body, it barely registered on his radar most of the time.
“It's okay.” He intertwined their fingers and moved her hand back to the bed before she could touch the bruised skin. “I'm okay.”
Neal cracked a grin. “He's fine, being spoiled as we speak by any number of our friends.”
Satisfied with his response, she let her eyes dart around the room. She was obviously trying to figure out where she was and why but was coming up with more questions than answers. “What happened?”
“There was an accident. Our cab was totaled or so I'm told. I don't really remember it either.”
She nodded as her attention shifted and she looked down the length of her body. The cast was still visible under the blanket, and she tried to flex her toes instinctually. Abruptly, she was aware of the numbness below her waist and her eyes widened. “Neal? Neal, what's going on?”
“Hey, hey,” he tried to get her attention as he released her fingers to press the nurse's call button. Inwardly, he cursed the shoulder and sling that kept him from using one hand while using the other to press his girlfriend back against the stiff hospital mattress. “Calm down, Sara. Everything's going to be okay.”
She continued a steady climb on the emotional ladder toward hysterical. Monitors around her bed started frantically beeping, and her breathing was labored.
“Sara! Do you trust me?” Neal got right in her face, pressing their foreheads together and pushing away the pain flaring through his stitches and bruised nose. “Listen to me. You're going to be okay. All right?”
Her eyes closed as she took deep breaths, trying to quiet herself. Tears leaked down the sides of her face, but Neal held the position and whispered soothing, nonsense words to her.
After a few minutes, the nurses eased them apart but didn't make Neal leave her side. Instead, they worked around him to take Sara's vitals, check her leads, and medicate her. Her eyes never left his and soon she was as comfortable as she was going to get.
“Tell me,” she said quietly. The nurses had left them alone, and apparently, she had to make the first move. It was atypical of Neal and concerned her more than she was willing to admit yet.
He haltingly explained her injuries as best he could, taking care to spin things toward the positive. The doctors were confident that the swelling would subside, and while her chances for full recovery were slim, they weren't dire.
Once he was done, she asked to speak with the doctor and to be alone while she waited. Neal had honestly expected nothing less, had in fact retreated into himself when he'd heard the news too. He kissed her forehead and promised to be back soon.
Sara waited until his footsteps had retreated down the hall before turning her head and breaking down. She used the pillow to muffle her sobs and hoped that the monitors wouldn't go off again. She just needed a few minutes to let it all out, let it all go, so that she could be strong for herself and Neal and Will. She would beat this; she would walk again. But for the next five minutes, she didn't need to be anything but scared senseless.