Neal Caffrey felt like he was floating, disconnected from everything. He was laying on his back, looking up at the sky, and it was the bluest blue that he'd ever seen. He reached for it, wanting to touch it and see if it felt blue, but something or someone gripped his wrist and pushed his arm back down.
“Neal? Are you with me?”
That sounded like Peter, if Peter were three miles away inside a barrel. Peter would never be inside a barrel. He didn't like small, dark places. But Neal wasn't supposed to know that, so he hoped he didn't say it out loud.
The voice sounded funny. All high-pitched and frantic. Was Peter hurt?
Neal tried to turn his head, but someone's hands were on either side of it, pressed against his ears. He didn't like that at all. His ears weren't handles to be held. Wait. Maybe that's why sounds were weird. He tried to push away the hands, but more hands held him down.
“Nnnnngh!” He protested all the manhandling. It would wrinkle his suit.
“Hey, hey, calm down.” Peter's voice was above him, but Neal couldn't see him. He rolled his eyes around, trying to catch something in his periphery but only managed to make himself dizzy.
“Ugggggh,” he groaned as his stomach flipped. Then he gagged and the hands shifted, rolling him onto his side. He was rewarded with a new view, which he could almost appreciate if he weren't busy retching all over one of Diana's flowy shirts. This one was low cut enough for him to catch a glimpse of something he shouldn't have been looking at before the retching started again.
“Caffrey!” Diana exclaimed, but it was a lot less annoyed that he would have expected. Maybe something was seriously wrong with him. Why else would Diana let him puke all over her without punching him?
That was Peter again. Neal wished he'd stop using his name. He was getting tired of it. Maybe he'd change it to Steve. No, he'd used Steve already. And Nick. Something new. Something different. What about Rio? Surely, he could pull off Rio. His blue eyes alone would explain away Rio.
“Hey, Caffrey, stay awake. Medics are almost here.”
Who was that? He recognized the voice, but he couldn't place... Jones with the phones. Burke the jerk. He'd never thought of one for Diana, but her name didn't rhyme with anything too easy. He'd have to think harder. What was Diana's last name again? Barrett? Bear...something. He was pretty sure.
“Neal! Open your eyes!” Peter was barking at him, and he wanted to laugh when he pictured Peter's head on Satchmo's body. Maybe he did laugh. It was hard to keep track of what was going on. His eyes kept closing without his permission. They were so heavy. Like that sculpture he and Mozzie had liberated from that museum in Paris. The name of it was on the tip of his tongue.
His tongue felt weird. Like it was too big for his mouth. And it tasted like metal. He spluttered, trying to get rid of that nasty taste.
“Sir? Sir, can you tell me your name?”
Neal jumped, his whole body tensing, when an unfamiliar blonde leaned her face into his field of vision. He groaned as pain shot through all his muscles before settling into his back. What the hell had happened?
Neal opened his mouth to respond, but the only thing that came to mind was, “Rio.”
“What?!” Peter exclaimed from off to the left this time. Neal still couldn't see him. Was Satchmo being bad? Is that what Peter had raised his voice for?
He tried again to turn his head, but agony exploded through his shoulders and neck. He cried out, gasping for air as the edges of the world liquified and washed him away.
Peter Burke sat up in the molded plastic visitor's chair and tried to stretch the kinks out of his back. He'd been sitting here for hours, since Neal had been admitted into the hospital and given a private room.
“How are you doing, Hon?” Elizabeth moved around behind him and started massaging his shoulders. She'd arrived a couple of hours ago with coffee and sandwiches. Then, she'd sent Diana and Jones home to rest while she sat with her stubborn husband and his equally stubborn CI.
He grunted as she pressed into a very sore knot. He had no idea how to answer her question. Neal had been unconscious practically since the EMT had arrived on the scene, and that worried him beyond words.
“What happened today?” She hadn't had the courage to ask before. Neal looked pretty bad, lying flat in the hospital bed with a cervical collar around his neck and bandages peeking out along his shoulders from the wounds they'd stitched in his back.
Peter spared her most of the details. Neal had gone undercover with a group of ne'er-do-wells, who were also stealing identities to fund their little game of “Spot the Forgery” with most of the major museums in New York. Their base of operations had been the second floor of a brownstone in Brooklyn, which thankfully bordered a park. Someone inside the house had gotten twitchy and suspicious, and there had been a scuffle that ended with Neal defenestrated. He'd landed on his back on the grass in the park, but the sound of his scream as he fell would haunt Peter's nightmares for a very long time.
The sun was peeking over the New York skyline when Neal's doctor came by with good news. He was optimistic that Neal would recover from his injuries with little side effects. The biggest concern was the concussion, but they were monitoring him closely for changes in his mental status. And after some physical therapy for the muscle damage sustained by several large shards of glass, he would, more than likely, be good as new. There would be some scarring, but it would fade with time.
Peter waited until the doctor was out of earshot to look over at El and say, “He's one lucky kid if all he takes away from this is a few scars.”
Elizabeth nodded and looked over at the young man in question. She reached out to squeeze his hand when he moaned, stirring restlessly but not waking. “When have you ever known him to be anything but lucky?”
He had to concede that point. Neal would be okay. He always was.
~Continued in the Coda
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