Disclaimer: I'm not USA / Jeff Eastin / etc., so I don't claim to own them.
Word Count: 1,181
Beta: all mistakes are mine
Written For: hc_bingo and sinfulslasher's July 2013 Prompt
HC Bingo Square: sensory deprivation
Summary: The doctors said it was temporary, but to Neal temporary felt like a lifetime.
Neal sat on the lounge chair with his face tilted toward the sinking sun. The heat that he felt across his face did little to warm his thoughts. Those remained as dark and dank as his sightless blue eyes.
The doctors had told him two weeks to two months and he felt that he could learn to handle that. It was temporary after all. But then they said that timeline was just for the return of limited vision and his heart sank. His two consulting physicians in the immediate aftermath of the accident and Mozzie's non-conventional healer had said the same thing, they expected a near full recovery, but that would be at least a year, if ever.
Now, one week into his ordeal, that timeframe seemed like an eternity. Initially, he had smiled and said the lack of vision wouldn't stop him. He'd joked with Peter that he'd run and see if a blind man could outsmart the agent. Diana had thrown something in about how it was too bad he didn't have a tail they could chop off before he ran. Despite the lighthearted mood they all attempted, it was anything but.
Peter had to lobby the Department of Justice to keep him from being sent to a medical prison for his recovery. The DOJ and the Marshals felt that he couldn't contribute his end of the deal that was keeping him out of prison. Peter had argued that he could still contribute; they'd just have to change the means in which that occurred.
He was supposed to head back to the office tomorrow, but Neal was already afraid he wouldn't be able to cut it. He relied on his eyes for just about everything, especially his contributions to the FBI. His eyes were what allowed him to look at a painting and pick out details that would lead to a forger. His eyes were how he judged people's reactions and motivations in order to lead the conversation the way he wanted. Without his eyes, he was nothing.
The previous day, he had sat on the balcony with a pad of paper and a pencil. He wanted to prove to himself that his eyes didn't matter. He'd sketched on the paper, recalling from memory what Elizabeth looked like the day she had burst in to the office to tell Peter about winning the bid to cater a Presidential event. The way her eyes lit up, the flow of her hair... they were all things he wanted to capture. But as he applied the pencil to the paper, he couldn't judge if his drawing was what he wanted. He couldn't see the areas that needed shading. He couldn't tell if his hand had smudged the spot he'd just worked on.
He had ripped the page from his sketchbook, balled it in his fist and tossed it across the balcony. After that, he kept the pencils and sketchbooks away. He couldn't think about what he had lost. Maybe if some of his vision came back it would be better, but right then, he felt helpless.
"Hey," Peter's voice startled Neal.
He had always heard that a blind person's hearing was second to none, but so far his hadn't improved. In many ways, it was worse because when he did hear something there wasn't a visual reference to go with it. Time would change that he figured, but he'd rather not have the amount of time it would take for that to happen.
"Hey," he answered back, sounding nothing like his normal self. "I'd say it was nice to see you, but..." Neal trailed off, the attempt at levity falling short.
"You ready for tomorrow?" Peter asked, ignoring the lame attempt at a joke. "I can get you another week. The doctors said things might start coming back by then."
"The longer you stall, the more they'll want to toss me back in the system and throw away the key. I managed prison the first time, but I don't think I could do it again without my eyes," Neal admitted. He couldn't see Peter's face, but he imagined the other man was frowning. Neal hated reminding Peter that prison wasn't a cakewalk, even if he made it look that way.
Peter didn't respond right away and Neal could hear the rustling of paper.
"This is beautiful, Neal," Peter's voice was soft and had a hint of awe in it. "Why the hell would you toss it?"
Neal froze. The only thing Peter could be looking at was the picture he'd attempted of El. His silence and probably a panicked look on his face must have alerted Peter that something was amiss.
"When did you draw this?" he questioned, his interrogation voice shining through.
"Yesterday," Neal mumbled. "Probably looks horrible, like a Picasso. Not that Picasso is bad, but when you're going for realism, then it's not right."
"Neal," Peter said and then he felt a sturdy hand on his shoulder. "This is perfect. All your work is perfect, but this is the first original piece of yours I've seen and it's... It's El."
"Don't lie, Peter," Neal said bitterly.
"No lies," Peter said, squeezing his shoulder. "If this is how you draw blind, I can't even begin to imagine what an original Neal Caffrey would look like when you can see again."
"Don't get your hopes up, Peter. It might be better to just send me to the hospital place they wanted-"
Neal didn't get to finish. Peter's hands grasped his face and he could feel the other man's breath on him.
"You're going to do everything the doctors say and you will get your eyesight back. We've got a plan at the office to help you out until you get partial vision back. It won't be ideal, but you are going to do it."
Neal just nodded his head with what little movement Peter's hands allowed.
"You're going to let us help you. Jones and Diana were working out things at the office this past week. June, Mozzie and El are here for you. And I will be too."
Neal felt a tear streak down his face and he flushed. He hadn't cried since the doctors told him. Crying wasn't something he did in general.
"And Neal," he felt Peter brush one of the tears away. "I have a project I want you to work on. I have an anniversary in about ten months and after seeing your drawing, I actually know what I want to give El. No waiting until the last minute this year. I want a Neal Caffrey original, artist's prerogative as to what it is, as long as I can hang it in our living room. If you have to get your vision back to do it, then you damn well better or El won't get anything and she'll be pissed at both of us."
Neal couldn't speak and he didn't pull away when Peter pulled him into his arms. And he hoped it wasn't his imagination when he saw a flicker of light through the darkness.