Consultant is a Noun, not a Verb

Disclaimer: White Collar belongs to Jeff Eastin and USA network.

A/N: so I'm starting to realize a lot of this story could be OOC, but then you never know what will happen or how these events will change Neal's relationship with everyone. Oh, and clearly I'm not a medical professional nor will I ever be!

Chapter 4

Neal had taken a shower and changed into the sweats and t-shirt Elizabeth had left for him on the bed. The shower didn't revive him as much as he had hoped though, and he was sitting at the dining room table poring over the case files Peter had left him; desperately trying not to fall asleep. He thought he had tracked down some of the missing money in one of the cases, and was making sure there wasn't anything else he had missed. Satisfied that he knew how the crime had been committed, he decided to take a break and have lunch; he didn't want to have to directly lie to Peter. Neal pushed his chair back and stood up a little too quickly feeling dizzier than he had earlier when he woke up. Neal thought maybe he needed food even worse than he thought, so he took a couple steps toward the kitchen before the floor rose up to meet him.

##

Elle had decided going home for lunch would be a nice surprise for Neal and she could see how he was feeling. She had a few samples from an early morning meeting with a caterer she was hoping to get Neal to try. She turned her key in the lock and pushed the front door open.

"Neal? It's Elle. I decided to come home for lunch."

Elle didn't hear any response and thought it was strange.

"Neal?"

Elle's voice took on a more worried tone. Peter had told her Neal was in danger, but the front door had looked secure when she entered so she dismissed the idea. She walked toward the dining room table noting Neal had spread some case files out, but he wasn't sitting there. She took another step and looked toward the kitchen door and then spotted the figure lying on the floor. She quickly set her purse and the appetizers on the table before kneeling down beside him.

"Neal!"

Elle didn't see any blood and was trying to figure out what was wrong. She didn't see anything obviously wrong and carefully rolled Neal over on to his back.

"Neal? Neal, I need you to wake up."

She pushed back a dark lock of hair and felt his forehead; it did seem a bit warm, but she couldn't tell how high it was.

"Neal. It's Elle. What happened?"

She saw Neal's eyelids flicker open and then try to focus on her.

"Hey, it's ok. You're ok."

"Elle? What are you doing here?"

"I came home to have lunch and check on you. It looks like it's a good thing I did."

"I was trying to have lunch but then everything went black."

"Neal, I think something's wrong with you. Stay right there; don't move."

"Ok."

Elle noticed Neal really sounded sleepy. She walked back to the couch and grabbed one of the throw pillows and the blanket Neal had used earlier. She covered Neal with the blanket and gently slid the pillow under his head.

"Let me call Peter and see what he wants to do."

Elle dialed Peter's cell while going into the kitchen to get a drink of water.

"Hey, honey, what's up?"

"I came home for lunch and I found Neal passed out on the floor. I'm not sure if he fainted or what happened, but I think he needs to be checked out. He's awake now so I didn't call 911, but I think we need to do something Peter. He doesn't look so good and he's mumbling incoherently."

"Do not move him or take him anywhere Elle. This could be a setup. He's probably been planning this for weeks. He might try to charm you into taking him to the hospital and he's planning to escape."

"Peter! I know you two have trust issues right now, but I think he needs serious help! Something is wrong with him; he's not in any condition to escape!"

"Elle. Listen to me. Do not do anything until I get there. Ok?"

"Ok. I'll see you soon then. I love you. Bye."

Elle hung up the phone and looked over at Neal. He was staring vacantly at the ceiling, and didn't move when she knelt down beside him to help him into a sitting position leaning against the wall.

"Is there any way I can help you Neal?"

Neal just looked lost as if he wasn't sure what the answer should be.

"I don't know."

"It's ok. Peter will be here soon."

##

Neal was still leaning against the wall with his eyes closed when Peter arrived home. He wasn't sure if Neal realized he was there or not, but from the expression of exhaustion on Neal's face he was certain Elle was right; Neal was in no condition to escape. He quickly walked to the kitchen; suspecting his wife was in there. Elle turned around when she heard the door swing open.

"I'm so glad you're here. Doesn't Neal look terrible?"

"I'm sorry I was upset on the phone, I didn't realize it was this bad. I think you're right though, I need to take him in and make sure it's nothing serious."

"Do you need me to come?"

"No, I can handle it."

Peter walked back out to the dining room, and shook Neal's shoulder gently.

"Hey buddy. Can you grab my hand, so I can help you up? I think we're going to the doctor's. You don't look so good."

"Peter? What are you doing here? I'm fine. Just tired."

It occurred to Peter that Neal had either forgiven him which he didn't think was very likely; no it was more likely he was just so out of it he had forgotten he was still stubbornly calling him 'Agent Burke.'

"You never cease to amaze me. I come over here convinced you are conning my wife into taking you to the hospital only to come home to find out you are telling me you're fine when you are definitely not."

"Would you just let me sleep…please?"

"Nope. Not right now. We're going to Urgent Care."

Peter lifted one of Neal's arms and put it around his neck, struggling with Neal's almost dead weight to get him to stand. It took several minutes, but Peter managed to maneuver Neal out of the house and into the Taurus. When they reached the clinic it was fairly busy so Peter helped Neal into a chair and went to check him in. Neal looked like he was asleep when Peter finally came back, but his head jerked up as the chair squeaked when Peter sat down.

"You awake? Would you mind telling me what happened this morning?"

Neal looked around finally registering his surroundings.

"Are we at the hospital?"

"Good guess, Einstein. I see your brain isn't entirely mush yet. Elle found you lying on the floor when she came home for lunch."

"I was working on one of the cases. I think I found something. I'm sure I wrote it on the file, I just don't remember right now. I knew you would be mad if you found out I didn't eat anything, so I was going to make myself a sandwich. I don't remember eating it though."

"I don't think you made it to the kitchen, Neal. You were on the floor in the dining room."

Neal didn't respond immediately, but then Peter noticed how pale Neal had gotten.

"Peter? I need your help or I don't think I'll make it to the bathroom either. I need to throw up - now."

##

Neal looked up from the examining table as Dr. Nevins walked back in.

"We're still waiting on the blood tests to make sure it's not something worse, but as of right now it just looks like a case of malnutrition and dehydration. These usually manifest themselves in weight loss, lethargic behavior, weakening of the immune system, dizziness and fainting. You seem to be exhibiting all of these symptomos, Mr. Caffrey. It also looks like you might have a slight case of the stomach flu; in your state your immune system is not able to fight off the flu as well as it might otherwise."

Neal still looked a bit dazed, so Peter decided to query the doctor.

"So what can be done?"

"What I'd like to do is to use an IV drip for just a couple hours to replenish some necessary fluids and vitamins and minerals. He wouldn't need to be admitted and it would be considered an out-patient procedure. I will give you an eating plan we strongly encourage Mr. Caffrey to follow in order to maintain a more healthy weight. Unfortunately, many times this doesn't mean it solves the underlying problem though."

Peter thought he knew what the doctor was getting at, but he didn't want to question him more in front of Neal so he motioned for the doctor to follow him out of Neal's room.

"Are you talking about mental and emotional problems or physical problems?"

"In general, a lot of patients who stop eating and become malnourished have had an emotional trigger or stress point responsible for the dramatic change in behavior."

"Yes, well Neal definitely qualifies. His girlfriend was recently killed and his best friend is in a coma."

"Ahhh, Yes…that would be the kind of emotional trigger consistent with my diagnosis."

"Is there anything I can do for Neal?"

"Make sure he is eating several small meals every day…One big meal won't set well with his stomach. Foods like yogurt, biscuits and cheese & crackers are good to start out with, but I will get you a sample meal plan. Also, try and remove as much stress as possible. He should avoid crowds as they tend to be stressful, but you also don't want him to become isolated. Isolation can sometimes be the worst thing for people under this much stress."

Peter knew the doctor wasn't trying to make him feel guilty because there was no way Dr. Nevins could have known, but he felt it anyway. He could only hope that he and Elle could prevent any more self destructive behavior Neal had planned.

##

Neal was lying on a bed watching the liquid drip into the IV in his arm resisting the urge to pull it out. He didn't know why they bothered…it wasn't like it was going to increase his appetite or make him want to eat…cardboard was cardboard. A few more vitamins and minerals, or 'electrolytes' as the doctor called them, were not going to change anything in his opinion. As good as Elle's cooking was, he didn't think it would have any effect on his appetite; although he could imagine Elle standing over him refusing to move until he had consumed at least a serving of whatever she had thoughtfully prepared. Neal was sure Peter didn't care what he ate. He hadn't even noticed anything until recently and then Elle got involved and made the situation worse in Neal's opinion. He had been getting along just fine without their interference. Now, because of them, he was bored to death watching the IV fluid drip and drip. Instead of viewing the fluid as vital nutrients, Neal was envisioning them as his life draining out of him; wondering what would happen when the bag was empty.

##

Peter had stepped out of Neal's temporary room for a few minutes to make a phone call to Jones who was providing security outside Mozzie's room for the afternoon.

"Hey Boss! What's up?"

"I was just checking into see if there was any change in Mozzie's condition?"

"No. He's still in a coma."

"I'm sorry to hear that. I'm thinking of taking Neal to visit him this afternoon. I know this is really getting to him, and maybe just seeing Mozzie will help him."

"Sounds like a plan. I will expect you then."

Peter hung up the phone and returned to find a nurse taking the IV out of Neal's arm. He noticed Neal didn't look as thrilled as he would have thought to be rid of the IV; maybe he had missed something while he had stepped out.

"Is he all ready to go?"

"Yes. He's all set. Did Dr. Nevins give you the printout for the suggested eating plan?"

"Yes. My wife will be handling that aspect."

"Great. I know you'll be feeling better soon Mr. Caffrey."

The nurse quietly left the room and Peter realized Neal hadn't said a word since he had returned.

"Everything ok? We can go now."

"The bag is empty."

"The IV bag? Yes. It's empty, that's why we can leave now."

"Have you ever felt empty Peter?"

Peter realized this could possibly be very loaded question.

"I've felt sad and discouraged many times, but I can't say I've felt empty."

"What if there isn't any more? What if my life is draining away before my eyes and I can't stop it?"

Peter knew Neal was not talking about the IV fluid, but about losing Kate, possibly Mozzie, and even pieces of himself.

"Neal, the IV is there to help you…to refill you…to give you life. I know it feels like you have lost so much, but the IV doesn't symbolize what you've lost; it symbolizes what you have to gain."

"There is nothing to gain Peter."

"Mozzie isn't dead yet Neal. I think we should go see him!"

Peter saw Neal's eyes light up slightly although it didn't reach down to fashion his mouth into a smile, but it was better than nothing.