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In the Pain, There is Healing

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The rehabilitation center was always busy in the afternoon with patients and therapists working together in their own designated spaces. Sara's therapist, a petite but shockingly strong woman named Ginger, was waiting for her by the parallel bars.

“I see you have some visitors today,” Ginger said, nodding toward the men following Sara. Will was seated on Neal's hip, waving cheerfully at everyone as they moved through the exercise room. Sara always said that their son looked like Neal and acted like Neal, so she wasn't sure her DNA even made it into the mix.

“Will challenged her to a race.” Neal grinned as he set the little boy on his feet but took hold of his hands to keep him from running off.

“A race, huh?” Ginger looked over at Sara, who was maneuvering her wheelchair to the end of the bars. She took her position in front of Sara to help her get on her feet.

Sara gave her an exasperated glare and pulled herself up until she was standing, hands gripping the bars as she'd been taught. Sensation had mostly returned to her legs. There were moments of numbness and weakness, but she was getting stronger every day.

Neal watched with worried eyes. He'd been here as often as Sara would let him and Peter would give him the time off, and he'd insisted on being present for her first steps weeks ago, when she'd been flanked by two very large, very strong orderlies to ensure that she didn't fall and injure herself. Sara had come a long way since then; there was talk of releasing her soon, which terrified him. He really couldn't take any more time off work, but he also didn't think she should be alone all day.

“Are you ready?” Sara asked, hoping to wipe that look off her boyfriend's face. It was sweet that he was concerned about her, but she'd had about enough of it.

Neal looked down and smiled when Will beamed up at him. “I think we're ready. On your mark. Get set.”

“Gugugugugu,” Will babbled, trying his best to imitate Neal's next words. They'd done this a few times since both Will and Sara had started learning to walk. Will had mastered it quickly and could now take off and run whenever he wanted, which was pretty much all the time. Neal, Elizabeth, Peter, Mozzie and June had their hands full trying to keep up with him. On the bright side, he tired himself out enough to sleep through the night now.

Neal tugged on his hands, getting Will going in the right direction, while Sara started moving forward, putting one foot carefully in front of the other. Will whooped when Neal released his hands and let the toddler take off for a couple of feet, and Sara laughed at the two of them. Her steps faltered when her attention diverted, but she caught herself and kept going.

Will squealed when Neal caught him and flipped him upside down to give Sara a chance to catch up.

“I love that sound,” Sara told Ginger when she reached the end of the bars, barely breathing hard.

“Which one?” Ginger asked, looking over at father and son, who were close to collapsing to the floor in their fit of giggles.

“Both.” Sara smiled. “So, what do you think? They're talking about springing me in a few days.”

Ginger nodded. “Well, I'd still get to see you every other day for outpatient therapy. But, for what it's worth, I think you're ready. You're getting better, stronger every day, and you have a really good support system.”

“They are pretty great, aren't they?” Sara's eyes hadn't yet left her boys. Neal had turned out to be an amazing father, not that she'd doubted him. He had also been there for her throughout this whole nightmare, whether she'd wanted him to be or not. There had been many a night that she'd thrown him out of her hospital room, and he'd returned the next morning with blueberry muffins and apologies for pushing her too hard or too fast. She wasn't sure what she'd done to deserve either him or their son.

Neal and Will calmed a bit as they turned to see if Sara had made it. Will held his hands out toward her, but Neal bounced him from arm to arm to distract him. Everyone had gotten good at diverting Will's attention from the things that he wanted Sara to do that she couldn't actually do just yet. “You okay?” Neal asked, anxiety written in the lines on his forehead, where the scar from their accident had mostly faded away.

“Catching my breath,” Sara replied with a sigh. “He's getting fast.”

“Yeah. Elizabeth and June have been childproofing both houses. It's kind of crazy how many sharp edges and breakables there are within reach of a toddler.”

“And electrical outlets,” Ginger added. “I have six nieces and nephews. They all went through a phase where they wanted to stick things in the outlets.”

“That's great,” Neal deadpanned as he made a mental note to ask if the outlets at the houses had been covered.

Ginger rolled her eyes at him and turned her attention back to her patient. “Okay, Sara, time to turn around and go back. You need to complete three laps before we move on to the weights today.”

Neal stuck around long enough to see that Sara was improving on last week's progress before taking Will out into the hospital gardens to burn off some energy. Now that he was mobile, the kid couldn't sit still for too long.

They met back up with Sara in her room for lunch, which was free range chicken with vegetables and rice for Neal and Sara, and mac and cheese for Will. Neal had picked it up from a nearby restaurant since Sara had tired of hospital food weeks ago.

Sara asked him to put the side rails up on the bed so that she could help feed Will without worrying that he would fall off the bed. The little boy wanted to be self-sufficient and usually insisted on feeding himself, but he acquiesced with his mother. He sat on her lap, eating his lunch while playing with a puzzle box that Neal had given him to keep his hands busy.

“So, I've been thinking about when I get released,” she said, looking over at her boyfriend.

“Yeah?”

“I think we should move into June's until I'm recovered. She has that staff elevator in the back, and your whole apartment is at least on the same floor.”

He nodded along with her reasoning. He hadn't told her but June, against his wishes, was in the middle of remodeling his studio apartment to turn the sitting area into a small nursery for Will and to enclose the area around his bed into a true bedroom. Both rooms were quite small, but the skylight above the bed made all the difference. The last he'd talked to her, she was considering expanding the bedroom using some of the terrace.

“My apartment's unmanageable right now, and so is the Burke's. Elizabeth asked if we wanted to move in with them, but with the bedroom and bathroom on the second floor, it's just impossible.”

“I know,” Neal replied. He'd had the same conversation with Peter. “June's thrilled to have us. I thinks she likes having a baby in the house again.”

Sara smiled thoughtfully but with a hint of envy. “You have some amazing friends, Neal. I hope you know that.”

His eyebrows drew close as he frowned. “They're your friends too.”

“Sure, yeah.” Her agreement was a little too quick, but his response was interrupted by the ringing of his cell phone.

He stepped out into the hall to take the call, and she had to keep an eye on Will before he jumped over the rail and took off after his father. As it was, Will stretched his arms out toward Neal and babbled, “Dadadadada.”

“Dad'll be right back,” she assured him, wondering when or if he would call her name. While she hadn't been completely absent from his life recently, Neal had definitely stepped up to being his primary caregiver. She sighed and forced her irritation down so that she wouldn't frighten the baby. All it took was one garbage truck running one red light to change so many of their lives.

“Hey,” Neal got her attention when he came back. “I've got to get back to the office. Our case just blew up, and Hughes is on a rampage. I'll try to be back for dinner.”

“Don't worry about me. But call later, okay?”

“Of course.” He gave her kiss before picking Will up and heading out. Peter had already talked to Elizabeth, and she was going to meet them at the office to take Will back to the Burke's for the afternoon and probably the evening.

~~!!~~

It was late by the time that the White Collar unit found their identity theft suspect and took him into custody. He'd tried to flee the city, but he was an amateur with no hope against the team of Caffrey, Burke, Berrigan, and Jones.

Peter had decided to put the paperwork off until morning when he saw how exhausted his team was. They'd been chasing leads and gathering evidence for the last few days with little time to rest. Since Neal had been staying with him while June was remodeling, they were both in the Taurus as Peter made his way through Brooklyn traffic.

“How's Sara doing?” Peter asked when Neal reached for the radio. He had no desire to listen to NPR this late at night. He'd surely fall asleep and drive right off the road.

“She's getting better every day, but she's nervous about coming home.”

“Does she know about June's house?” Peter hadn't had a chance to visit Neal's girlfriend in a while, but he knew that Elizabeth saw her almost every day. The two women had bonded over Will, but they'd grown even closer over the last few months.

“No, I haven't told her.” Neal sighed.

“What's wrong?”

“She's upset that it's been my friends that have been helping us since the accident,” he explained. “The rub of it is that Sara doesn't have any close friends. Some people from work have stopped by or sent flowers, but if she and I weren't together...” he trailed off and worried his thumbnail, a very un-Caffrey like thing to do. It betrayed his current state of mind, but Peter wondered how much of that was exhaustion catching up to the young man.

“Hey, we all like Sara,” Peter told him. “This anxiety of hers probably has more to do with leaving rehab than it does with you. Or us, for that matter. I can have El talk to her though, if you want.”

“No, no. Don't tell Elizabeth. I probably shouldn't have even told you.”

Peter couldn't help but chuckle.

“What's so funny?”

“Nothing,” Peter replied. “It's just that I remember having a similar conversation with my brother not long after El and I got together, and she was having some big fight with her best friend. I don't even remember what that was about, but they made up, and I kept my nose out of it.”

Neal looked over at Peter, confused. “You've never mentioned having a brother before?”

Peter sucked in a breath. He hadn't meant to make that slip, and ever-observant Neal, even overtired as he was, had picked up on it. “Yeah. Doug. Are you sure I haven't mentioned him?”

“Peter,” Neal said, quirking an eyebrow at the obvious lie, “spill.”

“There's not much to tell. We just don't get along. Never have, really. He's older by four years, and he always ran in different crowds.”

Neal sat in silence for a moment, debating his next course of action. “So, where is he now? Why haven't we met?”

“That's a story for another time.” Peter parked the car and got out. “Hey, I wouldn't worry too much about Sara. She'll come around on the friends thing.”

Neal nodded, and they made their way down the sidewalk toward the Burke's townhouse. “Wait,” he said, stopping in his tracks. “Sara has a sister. She ran away when Sara was young, but she's wanted to find her. What if we found her?”

Peter frowned and took Neal's elbow, nudging him to start walking again. “Let's talk about this in the morning. After you've had some sleep and are thinking clearly again.”

“I know what I'm saying,” Neal replied, pulling away as they ascended the front steps. “I want to do this for her. She needs someone to be on her side. Someone that's not me or someone who knew me first.”

“Technically, I knew Sara before you did.”

Neal scoffed as he opened the front door and stepped inside. “Um, yeah, consulting with the FBI on the pursuit of a stolen Raphael doesn't count.”

“Says the man who stole that Raphael.”

“I gave it back!”

“Because you had to!”

“Boys!” Elizabeth's sharp tone caused them both to turn and see her sitting on the couch, setting aside a book. She put her finger to her lips. “I just got Will to settle down and go to sleep about an hour ago. Let's not wake him.”

“Is he okay?” Neal looked up the stairs, straining his hearing to see if they had indeed woken his son. It wasn't like Will to not be in bed by nine or ten, at the latest. It was now after midnight.

Elizabeth nodded. “He was just restless. He wanted to stay up until you got home.”

“Oh.” Neal hated being away from his son during bedtime. They'd established a bit of a routine once Neal was home from the hospital and confident that he could hold the baby without dropping him since his right arm had still be strapped to his chest. Now, he rubbed that shoulder as the memory caused a twinge in the healed muscles and bone.

Elizabeth shared a look with Peter. She knew that the past few months were weighing heavily on Neal. Becoming primary parent to Will, supporting Sara, handling his own recovery, working full-time with Peter – it was all coming to a head at the same time that Sara was getting released from the rehab center. Elizabeth had been afraid of this.

“Go on up.” Peter slapped Neal on the shoulder and nodded toward the second floor. “Check on Will and hit the hay.”

Neal rolled his eyes but started up the stairs. “Night.”

Elizabeth gave Peter a kiss but waited until she heard the creak of the floorboards outside the guest room before switching the baby monitor off. “Hey, hon,” she said with a smile.

“Hon,” Peter replied, kissing her again. “How was your day?”

“Hectic. I had a rehearsal this morning for the Morgenstern wedding, and then two new clients called this afternoon for emergency appointments. Yvonne helped me with Will.” She released him to walk into the kitchen. “Beer?”

“Please. We had this takedown. The guy slipped us at his apartment, but we caught up to him at the airport. He went down without much of a fight.”

She smiled, appreciative of the lack of gunfire in his day, and unscrewed the top off Peter's beer for him. “I stopped by to see Sara this evening.”

“How is she?” Peter had heard Neal's side, and now he wanted El's take on it.

“Mostly, she's nervous about getting around when she's released and about being home with Will during the day. I reminded her that June would be there, and probably Mozzie too, until she got comfortable.” Elizabeth took a sip from her nearly empty wine glass. “She's worried about Neal too. She thinks he's pushing himself too hard, and that he'll be even worse-”

“When she's home,” he finished her sentence. “She's probably not wrong about that.”

“Oh, and she wants to hire me to do Will's birthday party next month. Can you believe that? Like I would actually charge her for my godson's party.”

He laughed. “Did you tell her that you started putting it together a couple weeks ago?”

“No, not in so many words,” she said with a grin, “but I did mention that a race car theme would probably be at the top of Will's list.”

Peter nodded and pulled her close again. “They're going to be okay, right?”

“Oh, hon. They're going to be just fine. I'm sure of it.”

She sounded so confident that Peter's mind was put at ease for the night. He gave a long kiss, thanking her for being there for all of them.

~~!!~~

The next morning, Neal woke to the sun streaming through the window and Will standing in the crib, babbling at him. It sounded like the kid was either telling the greatest story ever told or solving for the last digit of pi. He hoped it was the latter; Mozzie would be so jealous.

“Morning, bud,” Neal said, getting up and pulling Will into his arms. “What time is it?” He glanced over at the clock and whistled. “Uncle Peter is going to be very mad at Daddy whenever I finally make it to the office.”

He carried Will downstairs and rummaged through the cabinets, looking for breakfast. This was usually Elizabeth's forte, but since he was already late, he might as well eat now. He was debating between the different boxes of cereal when Elizabeth's voice startled both him and Will.

“Morning.” She walked into the kitchen and held her hands out to Will, but he clutched at Neal's neck. Sticking her lip out, she pouted at the little boy.

“Hey, why didn't Peter wake me this morning?” He leaned a hip against the island as he loosened Will's grip.

She shrugged as she expertly fixed a small bowl of oatmeal for the toddler. “He said that there wasn't anything pressing at the office, and he wanted to let you sleep as long as you could.”

Neal groaned. Peter's concern was nice but unnecessary. “I'm fine. He didn't have to do that.”

“I would have thought that you knew my husband a little better than that by now.”

He didn't have anything to say to that, so he settled Will in his high chair and gave him a handful of Cherrios to keep him busy. “I should go get ready for work.”

“Wait.” Elizabeth held up a hand and gave him an envelope. “Peter had this delivered by courier half an hour ago.”

Neal was confused but quickly unsealed the flap and pulled out the folder inside. He flipped it open and found pages of information. Most of it was about Sara's younger years, and Neal felt wrong just skimming it, but there was a little about her older sister Emily too.

There was also a note, which read: Neal, I called in a favor and Missing Persons put a file together. Don't get your hopes up. This one could be a long shot. Peter Despite the warning, he smiled, pleased that Peter was giving him the go-ahead to pursue this investigation.

“I know that smile,” Elizabeth said from the kitchen table, where she was helping Will with his breakfast. “What are you and Peter up to?”

“It's a surprise for Sara. Is he okay with you today? I've got to go out.”

Elizabeth nodded, and Neal disappeared up the stairs. She turned to Will and sighed. “Your Daddy's going to get himself into trouble, isn't he?”

Will jabbered at her and pointed in the direction that Neal had gone, which also happened to be where the picture of Neal and Peter in their tuxes, which she affectionately called their prom picture, was hanging on the wall.

“Yeah. It looks like Peter already has a toe in that water too.”

~Finis

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