Title: A Walk in the Park
Characters: Neal, Peter, Jones, Diana, OFC
Word count: ~4200
Spoilers: for Front Man, On Guard
Summary: It started out as a simple walk in the park. Then there was a shot fired. Maybe.
Disclaimer: Jeff Eastin's characters are welcome. And belong to him, not me.
Neal sat in the Mt. Sinai emergency department waiting area, disgusted with himself for both causing Peter to need emergency treatment and his own reaction to it all. He kept mentally replaying, in an endless loop, the events of earlier that afternoon. Was there really a gun? Did someone actually fire a shot at Peter? Maybe not, probably not, but Nealthought he had seen the barrel end of a rifle in the bushes in the park's North Meadow and pushed Peter out of the way, breaking Peter's wrist when they fell to the concrete path.
They had waited, laying on the ground together, their only cover a wooden bench as they listened for a second shot that never came. After Peter was able to stand with his horribly mangled-looking left wrist cradled to his chest, he told Neal to stay put and call for back-up - to stay safe - and he carefully made his way to where Neal were certain he had seen the gun. There was nothing, no one. Peter looked at Neal oddly, quizzing him about what he thought he had seen, and what he did or didn't hear. Now Neal had doubts, and while it was rare that he second guessed himself, he was no longer sure of exactly what had happened. He had felt a pinch in his side as he and Peter hit the ground but it was gone almost as quickly as it came. Must have pulled something, he thought at the time. Peter had even asked him if HE was alright, because the normally calm and always collected Neal Caffrey was actually starting to sweat, in spite of the mild temperature.
"Just a little warm," Neal had said, taking off his jacket and draping it over his arm. He felt that pinch again, but when he discretely rubbed his hand over his side it didn't come back covered with blood. That was encouraging.
Diana and Jones arrived just then, and since there didn't seem to be a crime scene they, too, looked from Peter's wrist to Neal.
"Damn, Caffrey, you're shaking. I'm sure Peter's not planning on pressing charges," Diana said lightly as she guided him to their car.
"Yeah, well, it's not often I knock my boss to the ground and break his arm," he replied.
Now Peter was waiting to have his broken wrist set while Neal was sitting in the emergency waiting area as far from everyone else as possible, elbows on his knees and squeezing his head between his hands. The headache hurt as badly as a migraine without actually being a migraine. He felt sweat covering his back and chest, and, just because the universe really had to punish him for breaking Peter's arm, he was getting nauseous. In its best Peter Burke voice his brain told him to cowboy up, that this was no time for this crap. It didn't work. He tried to take deep, steady breaths, but that only made him dizzy, probably because he couldn't actually take deep breaths. Shallow breaths weren't coming easily, either. He suspected this breathing thing was the reason he started to see little black specks dancing in his eyes, slowly choking off his peripheral vision. He squeezed his eyes shut so he wouldn't notice it as much. He found it almost funny that, in all of his years of pulling high stake high risk cons, thefts and forgeries, four years of prison (with a couple of repeat visits) and numerous undercover operations with Peter and the FBI he never once had anything even remotely approaching an anxiety attack; he was pretty sure that he was having one now. Damn it damn it damnit damnitdamndamndamn. If he could only control the nausea, he'd consider it a win. He wished he could see. He wished he could stand without falling. He wished the pain in his head would dial back to merely awful. He wished his stomach would stop roiling. He wished he could catch his breath. He wished he was alone. He wished he hadn't pushed Peter. He wished that he never thought he saw a gun.
He was aware that someone pulled a chair up right across from him. All he could make out was a fuzzy pair of black shoes. Then he heard Jones's voice. "Caffrey, are you okay, man?"
In what demented fantasy world would this ever be okay?
"Be fine. Please. Go." He was gasping.
"Neal, look at me," Jones said, with a tone that sounded suspiciously like Peter. And because it sounded like Peter, even though Neal knew perfectly well it wasn't, he had to lift his head. And open his eyes. Jones was not unaware that Neal had brilliant blue eyes, but the irises usually had pupils in the middle. Neal's were practically non-existent. It was more than a little creepy.
"Neal, you look like terrible. I'm getting a doctor."
Neal groaned and crossed both arms tightly across his stomach.
"Feel like you're going to be sick?"
Neal nodded, his head dropping to his knees.
Jones managed to get a waste can at Neal's feet just in time for Neal to brush his jacket onto the floor and heave. Jones turned to give him some privacy, well, at least from him, and bent to retrieve Neal's jacket. A narrow plastic cylinder fell from it, and Jones started to pick it up until he saw that it had a barbed point. He pulled a latex glove from his inside jacket pocket and picked it up carefully. The cylinder was partially filled with a light tan liquid.
"Caffrey, have you ever seen this before?" he asked Neal in between bouts of vomiting. Neal glanced over and shook his head.
With Neal jacketless and leaning forward with his arms extended Jones looked at Neal's back and sides and saw a small slit and just a drop or two of blood on the side of his light colored shirt.
"Oh, damn," he said and ran to the desk.
"I need help over here, I think my friend's been poisoned," Jones said.
The triage nurse looked at what Jones was holding, rushed over to Neal and helped him sit up. He held the stethoscope to Neal's chest with one hand while lifting each of Neal's eyelids in turn with the other. He gave Neal a reassuring pat on the leg and said something that sounded like "right back," and sprinted back to the desk. Almost immediately they heard over the hospital PA system, "rapid response team to emergency department waiting area for possible hazardous materials response. Rapid response to emergency waiting area."
The first nurse gave Peter a cold pack and asked about his pain level. The first doctor agreed that it was probably broken, ordered x-rays to see exactly which bones were involved, and asked if he wanted something for pain. Peter refused, to Diana's amusement. "You're going to want those later," she said. While they had a few minutes between visits by medical professionals Peter passed his revolver over to Diana.
"Would you check on Neal for me?"
"You want me to use your weapon on him?"
Peter laughed. "Please don't."
They were both distracted for a moment by a sudden rise in activity in the open area leading to the exit. "Wonder what that's all about," he said.
"Check on Neal. Sure, Boss, but why?"
"I don't know, something just seemed off."
"Maybe he's feeling guilty about all of this."
"No, there's more to it than that. He -"
"Mr. Burke, I'm here to take you to radiology," said the young man in dark blue scrubs pushing an empty wheelchair.
"I can walk," grumbled Peter. He was beginning to reconsider his position on pain medication.
"I'm sure you can, but you may not. Hospital policy," he replied.
"I'll check on Neal," Diana said, as Peter settled into the chair.
She walked out into the main waiting area looking for Neal and Jones. She spotted Jones standing about ten feet from a crowd of people wearing scrubs and lab coats, and assumed somehow Neal was at the center of it. "Caffrey?" she asked.
"Diana, he was shot with this dart at the park." She looked at the dart, then back at the rapid response team. She and Jones caught a glimpse of Neal as he was lifted onto a gurney. They picked up a few words spoken by the petite, far too young- looking doctor who was clearly in charge - "pupils pinpoint" - "oh-two levels 84 percent" - "respiration -come on, breathe for me" -"atropine" - "have to intubate -".
"I called Hughes," Jones said, "he's going to notify NYPD and get a team out to the park. One of us needs to be there. What's Peter's status?"
"He just went for x-rays. " They watched as Neal was rushed into the treatment area. Diana's expression had gone from mildly annoyed to very concerned. "This is really bad, isn't it?" Jones just nodded. Diana looked at the dart. "The hospital's probably going to need that. I'll go to the park."
The hospital activated its procedures for handling a hazardous materials incident. The head of the hospital laboratory packaged and arranged for the NYPD to collect and analyze the dart and its contents. Security and maintenance cleared the waiting room. Another team made sure it was safe before it could be put back into use. An occupational health specialist helped Jones with decontamination procedures before he could enter the treatment area, but his badge would only give him access to information needed for the criminal investigation.
One of the many specialists surrounding Neal was assigned to be Jones's liaison to the medical team. "Do you know what he was hit with?" Jones asked the liaison.
"Dr. Kiley - she's the attending doc in charge of this response - she thinks it might be one of the parathions. It's an insecticide." She paused. "Do you know this man personally?" Jones nodded. "Do you know if anyone has his medical power of attorney, and is there any way to remove the device on his ankle?"
"Agent Peter Burke has his power of attorney and the key to the tracking anklet. We came in here with Peter about an hour ago because he has a broken wrist. Last I heard he was going to radiology." She nodded and made a phone call.
"Do we need additional security for Mr. Caffrey? Should he be restrained?"
Jones thought about the Neal he knew tossing a rubber band ball in the office, joking with the team about alleged and hypothetical art thefts and forgeries. He recalled Neal facing down Ryan Wilkes with a gun pointed at his chest, stalling for time so the rest of the team could rescue Lindsey Gless from her kidnappers. He remembered Neal stepping between himself and David Lawrence's gun and saving his life when Neal was undercover, and Jones was following Neal. Then he pictured Neal in the waiting room, physically falling apart from some poison, now unconscious with a ventilator breathing for him.
"No. Neal Caffrey is the most non-violent man I know. He doesn't need security, he doesn't need to be restrained anymore than he already is."
"I' m sorry, Agent Jones, I had to ask," she said, responding to the anger Jones didn't even realize he gave voice to.
He took a calming breath. "Yeah, sorry, I consider him a friend. He doesn't deserve this."
The rapid response team had been working to stabilize Neal for over an hour when Peter returned on his way to be discharged. He was diverted around a crowded emergency isolation area and saw Jones pacing the narrow walkway near the central work stations.
"What's going on? Hospital security said Neal had a medical emergency when they asked for the key. Where's Diana?"
"Peter, Neal was right, someone tried to shoot you and Neal's been poisoned." Peter blanched and whipped his head in the direction Jones indicated. Jones handed Peter a small hazmat bag with Neal's anklet and key and gave him a status report, beginning with finding Neal in the waiting room to the latest update from the liaison. "If you don't need me here, Peter, I'd like to join Diana and NYPD." Peter could only nod.
Peter stood just beyond Neal's treatment area. He only got a glimpse inside before he was asked politely to step away and move closer to the work stations. In those few seconds he saw Neal's legs jerking a couple times under a blanket, lots of IV tubing, wrists wrapped with padded restraints securing them to the sides of the bed, and his bare chest rising and falling steadily, the result of a machine breathing for him. Peter grit his teeth and pulled out his phone.
Another half hour passed before Dr. Kiley moved away from Neal's bed, stripped off her outer gown, booties, gloves and face mask and dropped them into a hazardous waste bag. She stepped over to Peter and gently took him by his uncast arm. "Agent Burke? Let's talk," she said, and led him to a small office with a door. Peter's stomach clenched; in his experience good news could be shared in a hallway.
"First of all, Mr. Caffrey is stable for now. The NYPD lab did confirm that the vial contained fairly high grade methyl parathion, which affects a number of organ systems and biological processes. Mr. Caffrey's most immediate problem was that his respiratory system was shutting down. Fortunately, there are antidotes, and I'm confident we were able to administer them before there was any permanent damage. We'll know for sure after we finish treatment and can watch him for a few days. We have him on a ventilator for now. I'd like to keep him on it for a bit until I'm sure his oxygen level stays where it should be."
"Do you know how long he'll be here?"
"Well, if he doesn't rebound, I'd like him here in the hospital four days at a minimum. Some individuals will have delayed symptoms up to ninety-six hours after exposure. If he's one of those people, I'd rather have him here. Mr. Caffrey was actually displaying a lot of the symptoms common to this pesticide, the respiratory issues were just the most critical."
"I need to see him. Please."
"Sure, as soon as the decon team is finished. I don't think he had any trace other than what was on his shirt, but it's protocol, just to make sure he's not having any continuous exposures. We'll have his clothes and personal items bagged for you, or we can send it to the NYPD lab."
"Does he have to be restrained?"
She gave him an understanding smile. "I have him on an anti-anxiety drug because being intubated is not the most pleasant feeling, but I really don't want to give him anything stronger. As soon as I'm sure he's able to breathe on his own we'll pull the tube and remove the restraints. A lot of people try to pull the tube out, even when they're sleeping, so we really have to use them. They're not painful." Peter wondered how quickly Neal would slip out of them, even in his current state, and smiled the smallest smile.
She walked to the door. "You can wait here, if you like. I'll let you know as soon as you can see him."
About fifteen minutes later a nurse popped her head in the door and told him he could see Neal. Dr. Kiley and several others were at his bedside. He seemed to be sleeping. He was wearing a hospital gown with heart monitoring leads poking from the top, and a pulse-ox was on his right index finger. IVs were in both arms. The lower part of his face was obscured by the ventilator tube and tape to hold it in place. Softly chiming monitoring screens seemed to be everywhere.
Peter put his hand on Neal's head. His hair was damp and had a slight disinfectant smell. "Hey, Neal," Peter said softly, not expecting a response. But Neal opened his eyes and looked around in a daze until he caught sight of Peter. "Hey," Peter said again, ruffling his hair. Neal's eyes widened with panic as he tried to speak.
"Doctor?" asked Peter worriedly.
"Mr. Caffrey, I'm Dr. Kiley," she said, taking one of Neal's bound hands in hers.
Neal was twisting in the bed, pulling against the restraints and trying to breathe over the ventilator.
"Neal, Neal, calm down, it's okay. You're going to be okay, but you have to try to relax," Peter said, running his hand from Neal's hair to his cheek so that Neal would face Peter. Damn, he thought, Jones did not exaggerate - he really doesn't have pupils. "Please. You're going to be okay."
Neal seemed to calm slightly, but it was taking an obvious amount of effort. He nodded, and Peter moved his hand to Neal's other wrist. Dr. Kiley spoke again.
"Mr. Caffrey, when we first saw you, you were having trouble breathing on your own, so we had to intubate you. I'm willing to remove the tube but if you have any problems I'll have to put it back in. Is that alright with you?"
"Agent Burke, I'm going to have to ask you to step outside."
Neal shook his head and blinked rapidly.
"It will just be a minute, Mr. Caffrey, I promise," she said. Peter could hear the velcro on the straps open as he stepped past the curtain into the hall. "On three, I want you to cough as hard as you can for me," she said. Peter heard Neal cough, then gag, then gasp and draw a few loud breaths. Dr. Kiley was murmuring encouragingly to him, then it was quiet while she listened to his lungs.
"Good," she said, "you sound so much better than you did a couple hours ago. I would like you on oxygen, though. Joe, two liters for now," she said to the respiratory therapist standing by the corner of the bed. He set Neal up with a nasal cannula.
"Thank you," a voice Peter barley recognized as Neal's replied.
"Agent Burke, come on back," she said. She turned toward a nurse standing near Neal's bed. "Rebecca, can you get Mr. Caffrey some ice chips?"
"Peter, I'm so sorry," Neal said in a raspy whisper. The bed was more upright than it was earlier. Neal gripped the side rails even without the restraints.
"For what?" asked Peter, puzzled.
Neal lightly tapped Peter's cast. "And pushing. Didn't mean to. And being here. Never - panicked like this."
"Panic is a natural reaction, I would think," said Peter slowly, not quite understanding Neal's concern. "I would have panicked if I woke up in a hospital with a tube down my throat."
"Never needed treatment."
Peter's expression changed from puzzlement to understanding.
"Neal, do you know why you're here?"
"No, no. Neal, you were poisoned. You were right about the gun, only it wasn't a bullet, it was a dart of some kind."
Neal looked stunned. Peter put his hand over Neal's.
"So, how are you feeling, Mr. Caffrey?"
He slowly turned to toward Dr. Kiley. His throat was sore and voice scratchy. "Better than before," he replied slowly. "Good to be able to breathe and to see again."
"You're looking a lot better than when we first saw you. I have to tell you, I was pretty worried. We're going to keep you on the meds while your symptoms clear up."
"If you feel up to it I'd like to talk to you about what happened," she said. He nodded. She told him about the pesticide and its effects while a nurse gave him a couple of ice chips. She explained that it could kill people by either shutting down their respiratory system entirely, or by causing so much fluid to get into the lungs that even if the lungs are functional, oxygen couldn't pass through the fluid and into the blood.
She looked at the monitors, and listened to his chest again.
"Still sounding good. I'm going to go over what we saw when you first came in, and you can tell me if it's worse, better or the same."
As they went through the rest of Neal's symptoms Peter unconsciously squeezed Neal's hand until Neal looked at Peter and wiggled his fingers.
"Peter, maybe you could work the ice chips?"
"Oh, sorry, I'm sorry, " he said, a little embarrassed. Peter was starting to feel a bit sick himself, hearing everything laid out so clinically and visualizing what Neal had gone through.
"S'okay," Neal said with a tired smiled.
"I think we've talked enough for now," Dr. Kiley said, looking toward the hallway. "Looks like your transport is here, you'll be going to ICU for a bit."
"Home?" he croaked.
"No, I'm sorry, we like to keep our favorite patients close for a while."
Neal looked at Peter, who looked incredibly worried, and kept quiet.
"Get some rest, Neal. I need to see what's going on with the investigation. I'll be back later after you're settled." Neal nodded and let his eyes close.
A day and a half later Neal had made significant progress; so had the FBI and the NYPD. A security camera outside of the park saw a man leaving the area, awkwardly trying to conceal something inside of a long coat. After hours of looking at footage from city and storefront cameras they were able to find and question him. It took no more than ten minutes for him to confess to making and shooting the dart, in order to watch the city's response. He wasn't trying to kill Peter or Neal in particular, Peter just happened to be the first person who passed him after he took his position behind the bushes. He told them he just wanted to see how effective his darts were, and to maybe even watch someone die from being poisoned. The NYPD found twenty-seven more of the filled darts in his apartment. Privately, the detectives told Peter they had never met anyone more disturbing and with less remorse.
Later that afternoon Neal and Peter were sitting side by side on the same park bench they had dove in front of earlier that week. Neal had been released, although it was against medical advice, just an hour before, and they were sipping coffee made by June and brought by Peter when he picked up clothes for Neal.
"Are you sure you want to be here?" asked Peter.
Neal had been staring down at the ground in front of them, lost in thought. He looked up with an almost angry look.
"What if he had gotten you with the full dose, Peter? What if he hit a child?"
Peter had had similar thoughts. Not about himself, but a civilian getting hit. Or Neal taking the full dose, just because a sociopath who wanted to be an emergency medical responder couldn't pass the New York Fire Department's psychological evaluation.
"You should still be in the hospital, Neal."
"Waste of medical resources," he replied, taking another sip of coffee. "Besides, I know what to look for, I promise I will go back the minute anything happens, I just - you know, need to be out of that tiny room."
Peter nodded in understanding. The room really wasn't all that small, but it was confining, at least to Neal. Plus, once the treatment was successful he was really only being kept in case any symptoms returned, and the experts Dr. Kiley consulted with thought that was unlikely, given how quickly he received the antidote. Neal also promised to return daily for blood work and follow-ups, at least for the next few days.
"The department is considering prosecuting this as an act of terrorism."
"Whatever it takes to put him away for a very long time."
Neal felt, rather than saw, that Peter was staring at him. "Why does that surprise you, Peter? You know I don't like guns of any sort. Not so much the gun, but what it does. Stolen paintings can be returned. Money from forged bonds can be restituted. Death can't be changed." He paused. "There were children in front of us that day. If he was there just a few seconds earlier one of them could have been his target."
They sat in silence for few minutes.
"Peter, I'm not going to brood about this, I promise."
Peter smiled. "Since when did you become a mind-reader?"
Now Neal smiled. "It wasn't your mind I was reading, it was everything else. Look, I'll be fine. I will be," he repeated, seeing Peter's expression. "I'll leave the justice piece in your hands, and I'll spend some quality time with a sketchpad and pencils."
"And friends?" asked Peter.
"Absolutely. 'A life not shared,' and all that. What?"
"You know what."
"No, I don't."
"Yes, you do."
" I never thanked you, Neal. Thank you."
Thank you for reading.