Coloring outside the lines

This is a re-write of a story I published a year ago. I've added new material and given it the once over. It is the first installment of the 'Neal and Sara's Wonderful Adventure' series and follows the prequel I just published 'The 'Oops' Heard around the World'

Thursday afternoon

Chapter 1 (Neal's POV)

'Come on Peter, can't we just check it out' Neal was saying as he hovered over his partner in the White Collar conference room

'Neal, you're being ridiculous. She's probably just pissed off at you' answered Peter as he continued to box up the evidence from the case they had just finished

Neal looked down at his phone once again noting that Sara still hadn't responded to his latest text. It had been over an hour and he had a nagging feeling that something had gone terribly wrong on his girlfriend's latest recovery. Granted, his last text had consisted of yet another dig at her choice of shoes for the retrieval and he'd reminded her (or was that teased her) that it was her turn to make dinner. He knew how much Sara hated cooking meals, preferring to let Neal take the lead in this, his area of expertise. Her idea of coordinating dinner was to choose between Thai or sushi – both of which were on the speed dial of her cell phone.

At breakfast, Sara had mentioned that she hoped to recover a Degas which was being fenced out of a warehouse in the garment district that afternoon. Neal had offered to go along with her but Sara had scoffed at the notion – after all, nothing could keep Sara Ellis from her duties as an insurance investigator, not with her trusty baton and her ballsy attitude. She'd been doing this job long before she'd ever started dating Neal Caffrey and she'd always taken care of herself just fine, thank you very much.

'Look, Peter, you're always telling me I have amazing instincts... Well, I'm telling you, something isn't right here. I know Sara' said Neal, his voice getting shrill

'Dammit, Neal. Why is it I'm always getting caught up in your love life?' Peter muttered, as he looked up at Neal – which was most definitely his first mistake. Looking into Neal's aquamarine, puppy dog eyes was all it took.

'Fine! We'll go' Peter finally relented as he grabbed his jacket and followed Neal out.

The drive to the garment district was quiet with Neal brooding as he looked out at the passing traffic and Peter secretly cursing Neal for dragging him out there. It was going on five o'clock and he had promised El he'd be home for dinner – something he hadn't managed to do all week. Elizabeth was usually patient where Neal was concerned but she had her limits and sometimes she thought her husband was just too much of a pushover where his CI was concerned.

The garment district was most definitely an undesirable part of town and several of the warehouses there had been all but abandoned over time. Although Sara was more than capable of taking care of herself and reminded Neal of that very fact every chance she got, he couldn't help but worry about her. Especially lately - their relationship had intensified to a level that left even Neal breathless and wondering where they were headed. Since his return from Cape Verde a few months before, they had hooked up again and this time, things had been different. Without the secrets that had been their downfall in the past – the U-boat treasure, the Raphaël – there was nothing left between them but amazing sex and a comfortable intimacy. She'd been spending most nights over on Riverside Drive, to Neal's delight, and on the odd days where they didn't see each other, Neal had begun to feel lost and abandoned. Not that he ever shared this fact with Sara – it was more his style to cajole her into coming over to his place or to find some pretext to drop in on her at her Upper East Side apartment.

Peter pulled up by the river's edge between two abandoned warehouses and the two men jumped out of the Taurus agreeing to split up in order to cover more ground, each heading into one of the warehouses. If his hunch was wrong, Neal would never hear the end of it from Peter - or from Sara. She hated being treated like a damsel in distress; after all, she'd lived on the edge for a long time. Sara was fiercely independent and she was downright scary at times and Neal was thankful she was with him and not against him; she could intimidate you with a sarcastic comment or a quick swipe of her baton and Neal had seen men much larger than himself cut down to size by the lovely Miss Ellis. If he was making a federal case when she was safely at home purposefully snubbing his text, he was in for a good tongue lashing or worse yet, a case of cold shoulder.

Without success, Neal made his way back to the car to an annoyed Peter who was about to call it quits when Neal spotted a third warehouse hidden behind the first one he'd just visited. They each headed for opposite ends of the building, agreeing to meet in the middle. As with the previous two buildings, this warehouse was dark and musty with dull fluorescent lighting giving it a dingy yellow glow. The building still housed industrial shelving and there were some boxes stacked up on the shelves on the south end of the building. It was likely being used to store some illicit merchandise by the looks of it and Peter made his way down the first row towards the back of the building. Neal headed in the other direction and almost immediately, he picked up on a small catlike sound, soft but plaintive, and he wondered if a stray hadn't wandered in looking for food. But as he continued to slowly walk down the aisle, he picked up on a rustling sound as well as a gentle cough that was decidedly human.

'Sara?' he called out quietly surprising himself with the sound of his voice.

He continued down the row, stopping to listen intently every few steps and as he reached the end of the row and rounded the corner, he spotted a human shape lying motionless on the ground, partially covered by a tarp of some sort. He ran towards it, his heart in his throat, as he slowly began to realize that he was looking at the shape of Sara Ellis sprawled out in a very unnatural position on the cement floor.

'Peter, she's over here!' he called out, his voice echoing in the cavernous building

Sara lay on her side, blood around her head, clothing ripped and shoes strewn a few feet away. Neal ran the last few steps and immediately kneeled by her, calling her name and trying as best he could to assess the extent of her injuries. Instantly, Peter appeared behind him, phone in hand, calling for help while he surveyed the immediate area to see if those responsible for Sara's brutal beating were still in the vicinity.

Neal worked quickly to locate the source of the bleeding which appeared to be a gash on the back of Sara's head somewhere among her red locks. He spoke her name repeatedly, urging her to open her eyes while checking on her breathing and refraining from moving her and doing any further damage to her beaten body; Sara moaned softly but didn't respond or open her eyes. Neal noticed her arm in an oddly peculiar position and he could see that she had been kicked repeatedly in the ribs, her torn dress revealing the beginnings of bruises and marks.

Despite the panic that consumed him, he moved slowly and deliberately, repeating her name over and over, willing her to open her eyes and to look into his. She moaned as he lifted her head to gently cradle it on his lap – seeing Sara so vulnerable and defenceless was shocking – this was Sara, strong and capable Sara, always in control of every situation she'd ever found herself in.

'What's taking so long!' Neal yelled, his voice strident, all semblance of the usually calm, cool and collected Neal Caffrey suddenly vanished

Peter hovered nearby, having morphed into full detective mode as he checked for clues to the culprits.

'It's only been a couple of minutes' he answered, crouching beside his partner

'Who would do such a thing? I knew I should have said something this morning. I shouldn't have let her come out here by herself. Dammit, she is so stubborn and now look at her – Sara, open your eyes, please!' Neal pleaded

'Calm down, Neal' said Peter, attempting to be the voice of reason

'Her arm looks broken' added Neal, surveying the damage. In the distance, they could hear the sirens announcing the imminent arrival of the EMT's. Peter took off towards the door they had entered through in order to guide the paramedics to this hidden area of the warehouse.

Neal stared down at Sara in total shock trying to make sense of the situation and listening to her labored breathing as she struggled to move. He reflected on the many faces of Sara Ellis he'd seen over the years: determined, angry, willful, sarcastic, witty, sexy, and more recently caring and loving and he couldn't reconcile the Sara he knew with this woman he was holding, so defenceless and vulnerable.

'Don't move, Sara' he whispered 'I've got you'

Despite his reassuring words, he felt anything but reassuring. He was not equipped to deal with an unconscious Sara and he found himself inadvertently counting the seconds until he heard the commotion of the paramedics arriving and the clanging of the gurney as it made its way on the concrete floor.

The EMT's immediately got to work on Sara and Neal reluctantly left her side to give them room to manoeuvre. Sara began to stir and she called his name while the paramedics continued to assess the damage and evaluate the best way to lift her onto the nearby stretcher.

Peter and Neal stood by in silence, unable to move, waiting for Sara to be settled on the makeshift bed so they could get to the hospital and get her properly assessed and cared for. She called for Neal again and he moved to her side reaching for her hand to let her know he was there.

'I'm here, Sara, I'm here' he repeated

'I'm going to go with her in the ambulance' he shouted to Peter

'I'll follow in the car' Peter added as they all headed out

The ambulance made its way through the streets of Manhattan on its way to Mount Sinai Hospital, sirens wailing as they went. Sara had temporarily regained consciousness and appeared to be in agonizing pain. The paramedics were tending to her head wound and her arm which they'd attempted to immobilize as best they could but Sara seemed confused and upset. She called Neal's name, tears running down her cheeks and reaching out to touch him but he had been asked to move away so they could tend to her. Neal had never felt so helpless in his life, watching someone he loved so vulnerable and in need of comfort and reassurance. He talked to her all the way, telling her she was going to be okay, that he wasn't going anywhere, that the doctors would make it better - anything else he could think of to keep her calm.

Even to his ears, the words sounded hollow.

WCWCWC

'Mr. Caffrey? I'm Dr. Collingwood. I've just finished examining Ms. Ellis' the man who had suddenly appeared in front of Neal said.

He was dressed in a lab coat with a stethoscope hanging from his neck; a tall and lean silver-haired man who appeared calm and collected – everything Neal wasn't at the moment.

'How is she?' Neal blurted out as he walked towards the doctor

'Are you related to Ms. Ellis?' asked Dr. Collingwood

'I'm her boyfriend' said Neal

'You're the baby's father' he said more than asked

Neal took a quick breath as the bomb the doctor had just dropped made its way through the thick soup that was presently his consciousness.

'The baby…. yes, I am' stuttered Neal with just the slightest of hesitations

The doctor continued: 'Ms. Ellis has suffered a number of injuries: she has a concussion and a nasty gash to the back of her head, her left arm is fractured and she has some bruising on her ribs. She was obviously kicked repeatedly; luckily she managed to shield her abdomen and for the moment, the baby appears to have a good strong heartbeat although it's still early days. I do want to monitor her closely though'

A good strong heartbeat – the words reverberated in Neal's ears. How soon can you hear a baby's heartbeat, he wondered.

'How far along is she?' Neal asked still in shock at this latest bit of information

'According to the ultrasound, I'm estimating between six and seven weeks' said the doctor as he checked his notes

'Can I see her now?' Neal asked, slightly breathless

'Of course, she's still drifting in and out of consciousness but you can sit with her. We've admitted her and we've set her arm and bandaged her ribs for the moment. We want her under close observation for the next 48 hours because of the concussion and her pregnancy, of course, which is now high-risk considering the events of this afternoon'

'Thank you, doctor' Neal said, the shock of his revelation finally sinking in

Neal made his way to the 5th floor where he was immediately directed to room 508. He stood by the door to Sara's room, peering in; he could see the top of her head peeking out from the stark white sheets, her body still and motionless. As anxious as he was to step inside, to see her for himself, to talk to her and reassure her – and have her reassure him – he needed a minute to process what had just happened.

Sara was pregnant!

How? Well, that seemed obvious. But when? If she was already six or seven weeks along, surely she must have known about it and if so, why did she keep it from him? He thought their days of deceit and duplicity were a thing of the past – he had certainly turned over a new leaf and all but left his deceptive ways behind and Sara had never been much of the secretive type, always preferring to tackle things head on. A few dozen scenarios flashed through his mind: maybe she'd decided not to keep the baby, maybe the baby wasn't his (discounted as quickly as the thought had formed), maybe she was afraid of his reaction or maybe she'd been on the verge of telling him. Whatever the reason he had gotten this life-altering piece of information from the lips of a stranger in an antiseptic setting, the answers to his numerous questions would have to wait.

The doctor had mentioned she was six weeks along; what were they doing six weeks ago – apart from the obvious. Suddenly, he flashed on the night of June's 75th birthday party in late June. It was the night he first realized he was in love with Sara and he had blurted it out as they had prepared to have sex. He remembered feeling slightly flustered and more than a little intoxicated from the Château-Neuf-du-Pape that had flowed freely that evening. He suddenly had a vague recollection of a small malfunction with the condom he had reluctantly taken from his bedside table; Sara had had to remind him to reach for the protection and he had awkwardly unrolled it, ripping it slightly. At the time, he'd thought nothing of it but evidently, his little swimmers had a mind of their own.

His mind numb and his thoughts scattered, he peered into the room where Sara lay motionless on the bed, still unconscious. This was not the time to throw all these questions at her. He had to give her some time to heal, to come to terms with her injuries. He was going to have to put on the infamous Neal Caffrey mask for the next few days while the dust settled. The time for questions – and answers – would come soon enough.

He pushed the door open and stepped into the room.

TBC