pooh_collector: (pooh again)
[personal profile] pooh_collector
Title: Within the Book and Volume of My Brain
Author: pooh_collector
Word Count: ~2,900
Rating: G
Pairings: P/E/N
Summary: Another timestamp in the Of Christmases verse. Neal deals with another repercussion of his head injury/coma. Takes place in the verse between Blow the Bitter Winds Away and The Storm Will Pass, the Spring Will Come, about 6 weeks after Neal comes home from rehab.

Thanks for the story idea and the beta [livejournal.com profile] angelita26, and for the title William Shakespeare.



Neal was late. His speech therapy appointment was going to begin in just under thirty minutes and he was still in the house tying the laces on his nubuck oxfords. His cab honked again, and Neal cursed silently, ‘I’m coming dammit.’

With his laces finally in place, he got up from the chair and pulled his black leather jacket on while he stepped from the living room into the front hall. His mind already out the door, he grabbed for his keys in the small bowl on the foyer table. His fingers scrambled around the ceramic dish, but came away empty.

Neal looked down then and his eyes confirmed what his fingers already knew, his keys weren’t where they were supposed to be. He let out an exasperated sigh and then stepped out the front door to signal the cabbie to wait for a minute.

Back inside, Neal instinctively patted down the pockets of his jacket, even though he hadn’t worn it for several days and was already certain the missing keys weren’t there.

The next logical step was to check the pockets of his other coats in the hall closet. He opened the door and began to methodically check them all one by one. By the time he reached his raincoat, which he knew he hadn’t worn since before his injury in November, the cabbie was honking again.

Anger bubbled in his chest and Neal slammed the closet door shut and stormed through the entry, back out the front door and down to the street. When he reached the cab, he pulled the passenger door open, grabbed twenty dollars out of his wallet and tossed it on the seat. With as much force as he could muster, he slammed the taxi door shut and stalked back into the house not caring what the driver may have thought of his behavior. He knew that his display of anger was rude, at the very least, and not at all in character, but he couldn’t help himself in the moment.

Back in the hallway he checked the leather jacket’s pockets again and finding nothing, pulled the jacket off and threw it in the general direction of the sofa before heading up the stairs to the bathroom. The keys had to be in the pocket of the slacks he had worn yesterday. He found them near the top of the pile in the hamper and dug through the pockets, again coming away with nothing. “Shit!” He was never going to make it to his appointment.

He tossed the pants aside, picked up the hamper and dumped its contents onto the tiled floor. His keys hadn’t fallen to the bottom of the hamper, and a thorough search of all of the other clothes there didn’t reveal them either.

His anger building with every failed effort, Neal kicked the scattered clothing out of his way as he stormed out of the bathroom and into the bedroom. There he rummaged around the tops of all the surfaces, the nightstands, the dresser he shared with Peter, and El’s dressing table, pushing aside lamps and books, jewelry boxes and tie clips, El’s makeup and the small porcelain dish she put her rings in for safe keeping, finding nothing.

Neal caught himself humming, usually just an innocuous melodic noise, in a furious growl. He knew that his anger was irrational and unnecessary, but he couldn’t seem to find the strength of mind to tamp it down.

Angry at himself for being so damn angry, Neal spun and kicked at the bedroom closet door. It was slightly open and the force of his foot threw it violently into the frame. He hoped that the physical release would help, but it didn’t. The only thing that would help would be to find his goddamn keys.

In the distance he heard his phone ringing. He had left it in the pocket of his jacket. He reasoned that it was probably his speech therapist calling to find out why he was late. He didn’t have time to go and find the phone and answer it. It would only delay him further. He just needed to find the damn keys, get a new cab and once he was finally on his way he would call her back. He just needed to find his DAMN keys.

The kitchen was his next stop. He scoured the counters, going so far as to pull the coffee machine and the toaster away from the back edge of the granite. In desperation he opened first the fridge, then the freezer to check their shelves. He dumped the entire contents of the kitchen junk drawer onto the floor. NOTHING. Then the contents of the utensil drawer followed.

While he was still rifling through the kitchen, Neal’s phone rang again. “Stop calling me!” He yelled as he flung the oven mitts from the small drawer beside the stove across the kitchen island and out into the dining room.

Tears were leaking from the corners of his eyes and his head was pounding from his self-made emotional hell. He wanted desperately to stop, to calm down, to give himself just a minute to reason out where he could have left his keys, but he just couldn’t. The knowledge that this wasn’t him, that this was a horrible and seemingly unstoppable consequence of his head injury only made the whole scenario so much worse. He didn’t want to be the guy who was too fucked up to rationally deal with lost keys.

His thoughts still swirling, he spent more uncountable minutes going through the remainder of the drawers and cabinets in the kitchen without success. He knew by now that he had entirely missed his appointment and there was no reason for him to continue. He had nowhere else to go until his physical therapy session tomorrow and Peter and El would help him find the damn things later, but he couldn’t wait. He couldn’t stop until he found them. He just couldn’t.

He was in the midst of pulling apart his small third floor studio when Peter appeared in the doorway.

“Neal, are you alright?” His partner asked calmly.

For some reason, the concern that Neal heard in Peter’s voice managed to piss him off even more. “I’m fine,” he snapped.

Peter nodded and raised a conciliatory hand. “Okay, I got a call from the rehab center saying you missed your appointment and they couldn’t reach you to check in. Then I tried to call you to find out what was going on, but you didn’t answer for me either. So, I came home to see what was up.”

Neal looked up from the box of paints he was searching through, “Nothing is up.” There was a part of him that could clearly see that his anger was off the charts and that he was intentionally attempting to push Peter’s buttons and start an argument so that he could have another avenue to vent his anger.

“Neal, you missed your speech therapy appointment, you haven’t been answering your phone, and the house looks like a localized tornado hit it, there is no way there is nothing up. Spill.”

Neal hummed. The tone was angry and sharp. Peter stood in the doorway, waiting, giving Neal space to get his words in order. And, Neal’s anger grew. This fucking head injury. He couldn’t remember where he had left his damn keys. He couldn’t control the anger he felt over losing his damn keys. He couldn’t get the words to tell his partner what was going on in his head out of his damn mouth.

Suddenly, seemingly of their own volition, the box and the various tubes of paint were flying across the room. Neal’s incredulous eyes followed them as they scattered across the floor.

The room was silent then for a long moment, Peter still standing in the doorway waiting and Neal too stunned by his own ferocity to do anything.

Finally, Neal looked back at his partner. “I can’t…” He stuttered, gripping his head in his hands.

“You can’t what, Neal?” Peter asked gently.

“… Find my keys.”

Peter blinked and Neal knew what his lover was thinking. That this was absolutely nuts. That he was absolutely nuts for going on a rampage and destroying the entire house simply to find his keys. And he still hadn’t found the damn things.

The anger that had been boiling for what felt like hours now surged again and he slammed his hands down on the hardwood floor.

Peter came into the room then, and crouched down in front of Neal. “Hey, let’s just take a break, go downstairs and have something to drink, relax for a few minutes and then I’ll help you find them, okay?”

“No. You don’t understand, Peter. I have to find them now.”

“Okay,” Peter replied with a nod. “Think back, when is the last time you remember seeing them?”

Neal glared at his partner. “If I knew that… they would have been in my hand in time for me to have made it to my appointment.” Neal heard the sarcasm and the renewed fury in his voice. He wanted to stop antagonizing his lover and let Peter help him, but everything, absolutely everything, was beyond his control.

Peter took a deep breath and let it out slowly. He was determined not to let Neal bait him. He knew what this was. Dr. Kline had prepared him and El for moments when Neal would lose control of his emotions. It had happened a couple of times already, brief flashes of abrupt anger, and one time a sadness that had left Neal sobbing for near to an hour; but this was new. On his way up the stairs he had seen some of the damage Neal’s key rampage had wreaked on the house and watching him fling his treasured art supplies across the room in unbridled fury had been unnerving.

“Okay, then let’s find your keys,” he replied as evenly as he could manage. “You haven’t been up here since the weekend, so they’re not here. Let’s try looking downstairs again.” Peter stood, and offered his hand to Neal, to help his partner up from the floor.

Neal glared up at him again, but then took Peter’s hand, gripping it harder than necessary. Peter pulled him up gently and Neal went with it until they were standing side by side amidst the scattered paint tubes. Peter wanted to wrap his arms around his lover and take away the anger and somehow give him back his sense of control, but Neal’s body was so tense, everything about his stance screaming stay away. So instead Peter turned away and led them back down to the bedroom where he methodically looked in all the places he thought the keys might be while Neal thundered through the space. “I looked there already,” he admonished repeatedly as Peter checked the dresser and the nightstands and even under the bed.

Eventually, Neal’s anger pulled him out of the bedroom and down to the main floor. Peter heard him pounding down the steps and then humming angrily as he paced from the living room, through the dining room and the kitchen and then back again.

With Neal out of sight and earshot, Peter pulled his cell phone from his pocket and called El. “Hey hon, were you home yesterday when Neal got back from his therapy appointment?”

“Yes, you remember I worked from home yesterday afternoon. Peter, what’s going on?”

“Neal can’t find his keys and he’s a little worked up about it.”

“A little?”

“Okay, maybe it’s more like a category four hurricane. Did you see him put them somewhere when he got home yesterday?”

“No, but he’d taken off his coat and he was empty handed when he came into the dining room to give me a hello kiss. So they have to be somewhere in the foyer or in the clothes he was wearing yesterday.”

“Okay, that helps, thanks. I’ll call you back when all is quiet on the Western Front.”

“Okay, hon. Good luck.”

With El’s well wishes ringing in his ears, Peter hung up the phone and then made his way down to the living room. Neal was pulling books off the shelves and rummaging around behind them. “Hey buddy. I talked to El, she thinks they have to be here in the foyer somewhere.”

“I looked… there,” Neal stuttered, his exasperation heavy in his voice.

“I know, but I’m going to do the second pair of eyes thing.” Peter opened the door to the hall closet. “Which coat did you wear yesterday?”

“The dark grey wool one.” Neal replied without taking his attention away from the bookshelves.

Peter searched the outside and inside pockets of the coat Neal had indicated finding nothing. He continued on to the pockets of a few of the other coats he knew Neal wore often, in case his partner had been mistaken, to no avail.

He sighed softly and dropped his head and when he did so a glint of something on the floor of the closet caught his eye. Over time the closet floor had become a bit of a graveyard for out of season shoes and odd bits of outdoor equipment. He knelt and pushed aside a pair of El’s flip flops and a neon green Frisbee. There was a jangle as something fell deeper into the clutter. Peter got down on his knees and dug further in, until his finger looped around the metal of Neal’s keyring.

Peter sighed in relief as he grasped the keys firmly in his hand and then stood. He turned back into the room just in time to see Neal grab at his head again.

“Hey, Neal, I found them.”

Neal looked around at Peter, his hands still clutched in his hair. Despite holding the solution to his partner’s woes in his hand, Peter’s heart broke a little at the sight of Neal’s despair. “They must have slipped out of your pocket. They were at the bottom of the closet,” he explained, holding them up for Neal to see.

Neal blinked, his hands dropping back to his sides. Peter could see the anger and the frustration drain out of Neal in a rush. His body seemed to go with it as Neal dropped, his knees colliding hard with the floor.

Peter was at his side a moment later. He wrapped Neal in his arms feeling the younger man tremble. “It’s okay, we found them. It’s okay,” he murmured as he ran his hand over the tight muscles in Neal’s back. With his other hand, Peter reached down and placed the black leather keyring in Neal’s hand. Neal nodded an affirmation against his shoulder, but kept trembling as the last of the anger fueled adrenalin leached from his body.

“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, finally, as his body began to quiet.

“It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. This wasn’t me, I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Peter pulled back slightly and pushed Neal’s sweaty curls away from his forehead. “I know. And, I wish I could tell you this won’t happen again, but I can’t.”

Neal nodded again once and looked down. “I can deal with the stutter and the humming. I can deal with being clumsier and with the headaches. But this anger, this isn’t who I am, and I hate it so damn much. There’s a part of my brain, when it happens, that’s somehow separate, that can see objectively what I’m doing, how I’m behaving. But, I can’t stop myself. I can’t figure out how to get that part of my mind to take control.”

“Neal, maybe you should talk to your psychiatrist about this.”

“I’m not… I don’t want to be medicated, Peter.”

“You don’t have to be. That’s not what I was getting at. But, maybe Dr. Anders can find a way help that rationale part of you take control.”

“Maybe,” Neal conceded.

“It will get better,” Peter insisted.

“Maybe.”

“Neal, two months ago, you were in a coma you were likely to never recover from. Now, that brain of yours is as brilliant as ever. Give it time. You’ll figure it out. I have faith in you.”

Neal leaned in burying his head in Peter’s chest. “I couldn’t do it without you, you and Elizabeth. Thanks.”

“Any time and every time you need us we’ll be here.”

“I know. Sometimes I still can’t believe it, but I know.”

“Good. What do you say we try and clean this place up a bit before our better third gets home?”

Neal pulled away again and looked his partner in the eyes. “That is something I can definitely use your help with. I made a pretty big mess.”

“Ah, it doesn’t look too bad,” Peter replied surveying the scene in the living and dining rooms.

“I’m guessing you haven’t been in the kitchen yet.”

Peter raised his eyebrows. “Do I need to get out the hazmat suits?”

Neal laughed and Peter felt lighter, more at ease than he had since he first got the call from the rehab center.

“It’s not quite that bad.”

This time when Peter stood and reached a hand out to help his partner up, Neal smiled and let himself be pulled back to his feet. And then, side by side, they picked up the pieces.


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