A/N: Sorry for the long interval between updates. Medical school issues.

Anyway this will be basically Neil waking up.

Chapter 27 (Neil): Vigil Strange I Kept

"That Mr. Keating is going to pay for what happened to Neil."

"How do you know it was his fault?"

"He was putting ideas in our son's head!"

Amid this tumult of voices, no one quite noticed that in a nearby bed, a certain dark-haired young boy was finally waking up. "What am I doing here?" Neil wondered as he blinked up at the gray ceiling of the hospital room. He tried to move his head only to find his movement impeded by a collar around his neck. "Now why on earth did you do that?" he berated himself silently, now recalling the events of the previous night.

"Oh thank God, he's awake!" he heard his mother cry out a she rushed to his bedside. "Neil, we've been so worried about you!"

Neil opened his mouth to try to speak, but felt only a grating pain in his throat. "What's wrong?" he wondered, panicking as he tried to make the words come out.

"The doctors say you scratched your voice box. It's temporary, they hope," his father said seriously. "You're lucky to be alive, Neil. If we hadn't found you in time-"

"Oh Tom, don't talk about it anymore," Mrs. Perry said. She stroked Neil's hair. "You'll be fine in a few days. Just rest now."

"What's going to happen? Are you still going to pull me out of Welton? Can't I just talk to you, Father?" Neil wanted to say as he looked at his other parent. However Mr. Perry just shook his head and strode out of the room. Neil bit his lip and lay back on the pillow, trying not to cry even as he half-listened to his mother fussing over him. After a while, even Mrs. Perry quit the room to smoke a cigarette, leaving Neil to his thoughts.

His mind quickly went to the events of the past few days: being found out, his triumph on stage, and of course what had happened in the basement. "I wonder if everyone at Welton already knows," he thought miserably. It wouldn't take long for the news to get out, and he was sure he had some pretty impressive marks on his neck from where the rope slipped. He could only imagine what his friends would say, if and when they came to see him. "And what am I going to do after?" he asked himself. Going back to Welton might not be in the cards; even if he wasn't going to be pulled out, he wasn't sure if he could face the shame of his botched suicide. "I have to run," he realized.

Before he could contemplate places and addresses, a knock sounded on the door. "Hi Neil," Vanessa said as she pushed the door open.

Neil sat up in bed. "Can't-" he managed to croak out.

"Talk, yeah. We just wanted to see you," Todd chimed in as he entered the room after Vanessa. Both of them were dressed in long coats over their Welton uniforms. "We were so scared."

"We saw you getting rushed to the hospital," Vanessa explained. She had a bulging bag with her, which she immediately set down on a chair. "Of course we couldn't see you right away, so we just waited for your parents to step out."

Neil couldn't help but grin at this cheeky reply. He mimed writing on a paper, and immediately Todd handed a notebook and pencil to him. "How's everyone?" he wrote.

"Well, good news first. Knox got to see Chris. When we left he was on the phone with her," Todd said, returning Neil's grin.

Neil wrote back. "What else?"

"Shocked and all asking about you. Mr. Nolan is um...investigating," Todd replied. "T-they're saying that it's Mr. Keating's fault. Of course it isn't but you know-"

Neil paled, realizing now what was going on. "They can't-" he tried to say.

Vanessa hushed him with a finger on his lips. "You know how they are. Neil..." she trailed off, as if trying to keep her composure. "He, I mean, Mr. Keating isn't mad at you. He told us to tell you he's alright, he's congratulating you for the play, and he hopes to see you soon in his class."

"But..." Neil began before the pain in his throat started again. He picked up the pencil and paper and wrote. "Someone has to tell the truth. It was me. Not his fault. I wanted to act."

Todd gestured to the bag Vanessa had brought. "That's why we brought your typewriter."

Vanessa sighed and reached for Neil's hand. "You're the one who knows what happened. I'm sorry and I know it's a horrible time to ask you to do this, but you can tell Mr. Nolan somehow what happened. It might help," she murmured. "But only if you're ready to. Don't rush yourself."

"It's the least I could do," Neil thought, motioning for Vanessa to bring the typewriter over. If he couldn't get himself out of his own mess, he could at least try to do something right for a person who'd just tried to help him. "Tell him I'm sorry," he wrote on the paper.

"He already knows," Todd said. He gestured to the clock. "I should be getting back for extracurriculars. Van-"

"I'll stay," Vanessa said. "I can get back by myself, Todd."

"Maybe the others can come and visit soon?" Todd asked hopefully.

Neil smiled. "I'd like that," he croaked out.

After Todd left, Vanessa moved her chair closer to the bed. "So...why?" she asked quietly.

Neil took as deep a breath as his throat could allow. "You know."

Vanessa bit her lip. "You won't have to live with them forever."

The boy cringed as he wrote back, "They were going to pull me out of Welton."

Vanessa' jaw dropped in shock. "And send you where?"

"Military school," Neil scrawled.

Vanessa shut her eyes and held his hand more tightly. "You wouldn't have lasted there. They could make you do it...but no. You wouldn't have stayed, you would have found a way...if you didn't break first."

"Nearly did," he whispered, ignoring the pain in his throat.

She nodded. "I think...now that you've come so close, now that your parents know they could lose you, they might actually listen."

"You can't ask me to try again!" he wrote furiously.

"Is there any other way to keep fighting?" she asked. "I don't even know if telling the truth would help at this point. But it's the only way left to try to set things right."

"Fix this now, worry about the rest later," Neil decided. At any rate it did not seem as if his parents were in any hurry to make decisions. "Paper?" he asked.

"Brought some," Vanessa said, depositing the typewriter on his lap and helping him balance it. She brought a few sheets of stationery out, obviously nicked from someone's desk. "You sure? Right now?"

"Mr. Nolan acts fast," Neil wrote on the notebook. He put a single sheet in the typewriter and placed his fingers on the keys. "Here it goes," he told himself, willing himself to strike the 'M' key. The words came quickly to him as he set out what explanation he could. "Will I be believed?" he wondered as he reached the end of the missive. He pulled out the letter to sign his name. "Thank you," he whispered, feeling a little drained from this effort.

"No, thank you," Vanessa said, kissing his cheek. "I'll give the letter right when I get back."

Neil took a deep breath. "Are you mad at me?" he blurted out.

She smiled wanly. "No, not really. I can't understand completely why you did it, but I'm not angry with you." She turned as a sound came from the hallway. "I have to go before your parents get back. Which could be any time."

"Will I see you again?" he asked, catching her hand.

She nodded. "I'll come by tomorrow, or the day after. Get well soon," she whispered before hurrying out of the room.

Neil quickly shoved his typewriter to the foot of the bed and threw a blanket over it moments before his father came in. "I heard the door shut," Mr. Perry said gruffly.

"It was just-" Neil began before swallowing hard as if he was in pain. "This will be the last lie I tell him," he decided. "It was a nurse," he finished.

"That's odd," Mr. Perry said, shrugging as he sat down at the end of the room to work on a crossword puzzle.