Lost Boy Chapter 13 -
The Second Star to the Right 1/?
A/N: Okay, so this was written for the Kid!Fic Fest over at the White Collar Hurt/Comfort Community. It's set within my "Lost Boy" series (although if you wave your hand at the fact that Neal is a kid, I suppose you could read it on its own) and is going to be like a little mini-arc thing within that verse, so there will probably be 2 or so more parts to this. Please review and let me know what you think (particularly as I take every bit of constructive criticism seriously and will take it under consideration as I write the next bits.) Thanks, and Happy Spring!
Six days, eleven hours, and forty-three minutes.
That's how long it took. Six and a half days. Too long. It was too long. It should never have happened in the first place.
Peter paced the length of the waiting room, tugging at his hair. He felt sick but there was nothing in his stomach. When he'd all but collapsed in the men's room earlier, he'd clung to the porcelain and wretched nothing but bile. Not surprising really. He couldn't remember when he'd last eaten. He was sure he must have, over the course of the week, had a sandwich and cup of coffee pressed into his hands at irregular intervals by Jones or Diana or one of a dozen agents swarming around him, but the last meal he remembered was breakfast, six days ago. Elizabeth made pancakes in the shape of Mickey Mouse because ever since they'd taken Neal to Disney World for his eighth birthday last month the boy had decided that "everything tastes better if it's shaped like Mickey's head." Neal drew eyes and a smile on his pancakes with syrup and tried to keep Peter from noticing that he was sneaking bits of bacon to his new puppy, Mingus, under the table. Neal had been happy and healthy and safe, and then he wasn't. He wasn't, and it was Peter's fault.
Someone was tugging on his arm, and his hand hurt, and he realized he'd struck the wall with his fist. The knuckles were split and bleeding sluggishly, bits of plaster stuck to them, and they hurt but he wanted to hit the wall again and again and again because it was his fault.
"Peter!" Still quiet, but more urgent, and he finally turned to face the source of the voice. Diana, he noted, a hand still on his arm and worry in the lines between her brows.
"Peter. Boss. You alright?"
The acid in his stomach churned, crawling up the back of his throat. No. No, he was very much not alright.
"I'm fine." His voice was hoarse and dull and he no longer had the energy to lie well, wrung-out and cold and hollow, from six and a half days of emotions that burned like the sun and a frenzied, frantic pace of doing something that led to this horrific nothing of waiting. He propped his back against the abused wall, the bone-deep exhaustion setting in and threatening to take him out at the knees. Diana retreated and he watched her go, fall back into her chair amongst the unusual group in the waiting room. The coworkers and strangers and adversaries who had somehow become friends through a charming young man with a Cheshire grin, and then, impossibly, become family through a sweet little boy with that same impish smile.
Diana and Jones and half a dozen other agents, suits wrinkled and ties loose at throats, agents who kept crayons in their desks for the days Neal came to the office to "help" Peter with paperwork, agents who had spent the week rushed and sleepless and searching, an anxiousness to their work, like it was one of their own missing. June, who dotes on Neal like he's one of her own beloved grandchildren, and her Samantha, who's life Neal once saved, who, now a teenager, has never forgotten and is never too busy with school or sports or friends to drop by when Neal has a piece in his school art show or an important meet for his swim team. Elizabeth and Mozzie, huddled together, pale and drawn, hands clutched for comfort over the armrests of their seats. Mozzie, who was Neal's first best friend, who is still Neal's "best best-friend", who loved him through time and trials and separation, through differences and disaster, who speaks loudly about "self-preservation" but would always put Neal first.
And Elizabeth. His El. The woman who had opened her door to a conman so many years ago, invited him into her home, fixed him home cooked meals and fussed over him when he wasn't feeling well. El, who had loved Neal and mothered him long before he'd regressed back into a child, who had cried the first time Neal called her "Mommy" and seemed to have somehow known, always, that he was meant to be theirs.
The waiting room stank of ammonia and stale coffee. It was beige, which was not even worthy of being called a color, and it was too small for Peter to pace in without feeling like a caged tiger. And it was full of family, of people who loved Neal, and while that should have made him feel better, should have comforted him, it just made it worse. It made it so much worse. Because they had to know, they must know that it was Peter's fault. He was to blame, he was the reason they were all here, weak with worry.
For years Peter had been keeping a watchful eye on Neal. When he was chasing him he was all but obsessed with his whereabouts, and when Neal was his partner Neal was hardly out of his sight for longer than a day or two on the weekends, and since his transformation back to a child, Peter always knew where he was. With his mom, or Grandma June, or Mozzie, or at school, Peter always knew where Neal was, was always watching out for him.
Until, just for a second, he glanced away. He can't even remember what was so important now, what could possibly be so important that he would take his eyes off his son for even a second. But he did.
On a warm Sunday morning in the park, not ten feet away from the playground, eight year-old Neal George Caffrey Burke was kidnapped by a six-foot something Caucasian man in a navy blue baseball cap and dark sunglasses.
He was missing for six days, eleven hours, and forty-three minutes.
And it was all Peter's fault.