Thanks to Fawkes Song for betaing.
I gradually came awake, feeling very warm and comfortable. I didn't want to open my eyes, and I fought against waking up completely. I wanted to drift back into drowsiness, but I made myself wake up.
I was in Peter's living room with his dog cuddled against my leg. I raised a hand to my face. It still felt tender and achy, but my sinuses had cleared for the most part. That's the only good part about being sick – when you finally feel better, it makes you appreciate not having pain or hurt.
I saw the dreaded water bottle on the table, and I knew I would have to go again soon. I considered hiding the bottle so Peter couldn't find it, but knowing him, he would procure one from the kitchen or do something horrid like make me lean over the sink and drink from the running water until it ran out or I drowned.
The man is an absolute beast sometimes.
I should have made a bolt for the door. I should have found a phone and dialed Mozzie to come rescue me. Or called 911 to report a hostage situation and cruel water torture at the hands of a diabolical man who liked to force his victims to take too many naps.
But rather than act on my first impulses, I leaned back against the pillows and called, "Peter?"
Someone moved in the kitchen, and Elizabeth came out. "You woke up," she smiled. She has the sweetest smile – I don't know how she puts up with Peter. "Are you feeling better?"
I should have been a man and shrugged it off, but I shook my head, saying, "No, Peter made me go to the doctor. And then he made me get a shot and come back here. And then I had to drink too much water and he kept making me sleep."
It was partly true though I had only taken two naps, and the second had occurred from me falling asleep on my own, but still –
"And I don't like the medicine, and I feel strange, and I have to wear these god-awful pajamas –"
"I picked those out," her smile lessened.
"I felt bad and I still feel bad and my head hurts," I sounded about five years old at the end.
"Oh, poor baby," Elizabeth came over to the sofa. "I started supper and Peter will be home in a few minutes. If you roll on your side, I'll rub the back of your neck and head. That's what Peter does when I get a sinus infection."
I wanted to complain a little more, but I figured I could let her rub while I complained, so I rolled over. She got Satchmo to climb to the floor, and she sat on the edge of the sofa and put a soft hand on the back of my neck. She pressed her fingers down and began moving them around in small circles.
My complaints vanished from my thoughts, and I sighed deeply. Oh, it felt so, so good! It's been a long time since I had a massage (prison tends not to offer them as a part of your sentence), and I felt myself melting under her touch.
Kate used to rub my back and shoulders, but she's small and it always felt like soft petting which eventually turned into more passionate endeavors. Elizabeth's fingers were stronger and they kneaded down and deep, forcing my tense muscles to relax. She moved her fingers up the back of my head, deep into my hair and pressed all the sensitive nerves she found there.
I groaned and angled my body deep into the sofa, giving her better access to my back and shoulders.
"There you go," I could hear the care in her voice. "That makes it better, all better. Such a sick boy, all sick and sniffly."
Normally, I don't enjoy someone talking to me like I am a small child or animal, but Elizabeth was making me feel so good I didn't want to correct her. I didn't have the strength to do more than groan and moan under her fingers, especially as my sinuses cleared further as she hit all the pressure points.
She put her palm on the middle of my neck and moved my head to one side. My neck popped three times and immediately felt better. She tilted it to the other side; it popped in relief again.
"O-oh," I gasped
"Shh, there you go," she soothed. "You're already feeling better, but it's no fun being sick."
"Peter was mean to me," I mumbled into the sofa.
"Oh, no, he didn't mean to be," she rubbed the top of my shoulders, digging her thumbs into the tight tissue there. "He forgets that sick boys need lots of love and good care to feel better."
My eyes prickled. It had been a long time since a woman took care of me, and she was so sweet while Peter had been stern, and she cared about me and wanted me to feel better which made me feel even more vulnerable and achy inside.
"Don't cry," Elizabeth brushed my hair back from my face. "You're in good hands here. We're going to have dinner and you'll take some more medicine, and we can watch a movie later, and then you'll go to sleep and feel all better in the morning."
"Not hungry," I said, allowing myself to feel sorry for myself just a teeny bit longer.
"No, you have to eat. Food will help settle your stomach. I'm making a noodle casserole and rolls that you can swallow easily and some hot tea for your sore throat."
"It hurts a lot when I swallow," I wondered how long she would soothe me. Peter would have told me to cowboy up a long time ago.
"Maybe some light ice cream after dinner to help your throat. And we'll put a humidifier in your room so you don't get too dried out."
Call me sexist, but women really do make the best nurses. They know just what to say or do when you are sick to make it all better. If Elizabeth had found me at June's, I would have had a much more pleasant day. She wouldn't have made me get the shot or swallow all that water or put on these stupid pajamas or take a nap.
I heard the key in the lock, and I groaned. "Ugh, the Nazi's home."
Elizabeth rubbed my back in sympathy.
Peter came into view, holding two bags of stuff. "What are you doing?" he demanded to his wife.
"Just helping him feel better, like you do with me when I'm sick," she kept rubbing.
"That's a different story," Peter frowned. "Stop pampering him, El. It's his fault that he got sick in the first place."
The rubbing stopped, and she stood up.
I rolled back to give her my best sick puppy look, but she was staring at her husband.
"Yes," Peter set the bags down in a chair. "He was playing around in the rain the other day like – like some kind of goofy Peter Pan and he caught a cold and instead of going to the doctor, he let it get worse until it turned into a sinus infection."
"Neal!" she looked down at me, and I felt like I had in second grade when I got caught sneaking the gerbil out of the classroom.
I gave a sad sniffle.
"I need to finish making dinner," Elizabeth decided and went back into the kitchen.
"Stop looking so pathetic," Peter told me. He gave a half-grin. "Wait until you see what I got while you were playing Sleeping Beauty. Your medicine," he took out two rectangular boxes, "in liquid form. You don't like swallowing pills? You can take it by spoon. A thermometer, to make sure you're not running a fever," he placed a glass thermometer on the coffee table beside the medicine. "Children's Tylenol in case you are, again in liquid form."
"Ha-ha," I scowled at him.
He smiled. "Only the best for you, my friend. What else? A heating pad, an ice pack for the back of your neck, and two whole gallons of water."
He put the plastic on the table, and I stared at them in dismay. So much water.
"And the best part is that I'm taking all of these things out of your monthly allowance. So you're paying for all of them."
"You're evil," I protested.
"Ah, no," he squeezed my shoulder. "You know you must be feeling better if I'm teasing you again."
That was horrible logic, and I pulled away from him as much as I could into the sofa.
"You look better," Peter started putting the instruments of torture back in the bags. "By tomorrow, you'll be on your feet again. But you're not coming back to work until the day after."
Yes, your Majesty.
"Dinner will be ready in five," Elizabeth called from the kitchen.
I sat up slowly, still a little drowsy and dizzy from the steroid shot. "Can I go change?"
"For what?" Peter went into the dining room and started setting the table.
"For supper. I don't want to be in my pajamas."
"They'll be fine," Peter waved my concern away. "You're going back to bed in a few hours anyway. El won't mind."
I stood up, legs slightly shaking. "I mind. I don't want to eat in pajamas."
"Your vanity has no limits," Peter scoffed.
I wanted to yell at him, to twist the whole situation around so he could see how mean he was being. But I just glanced to the floor, my cheeks burning, and tried to rein in my temper.
"Well, if you're going to get upset," Peter gave in. "Upstairs, change. If you're not back in two minutes, I'm coming up after you."
I scurried up the stairs and went back to the guest room. I pulled on my old clothes, feeling a sense of relief when I got the pants belted properly with my tee shirt tucked in. I slipped on my shoes and went back to the dining room.
Elizabeth was putting food on the table, but she said, "What are you doing in a tee shirt? No wonder you're getting sick. Honey, go get him one of your shirts."
Peter shook his head at me as he headed towards his bedroom.
"I hope Peter doesn't let you stroll around New York in nothing," Elizabeth fussed as she found a serving spoon. "I'm going to have him keep an extra coat in the car for you."
I wanted to tell her that I would die before I was seen in public in Peter's clothes, but I thought maybe that wasn't the nicest thing to say to his wife. I gave her a trusting smile and nodded.
Peter brought down the ugliest sweater I had ever seen – some hideous tan thing that no one under seventy would ever wear, but I pulled it on obligingly and we sat down to dinner.
I didn't know if it was the medication or all the gross mucus, but I didn't want to eat anything really, even Elizabeth's good cooking. I fiddled with the handle of my fork until Peter grabbed my plate and held it out for Elizabeth to serve me a huge spoonful of casserole and then two rolls.
They both had goblets of wine, but I got skim milk in a big glass. However, it wasn't water so I decided not to complain. I made myself eat a few bites, but I couldn't taste much. Elizabeth and Peter chatted pleasantly as they ate, all happy in their domesticity and family dinner while I tried to choke down the food and gulp some milk.
Towards the end of dinner as Peter finished a second helping and Elizabeth sipped at her wine, I spread the rest of my food over my plate to make it look like I had eaten a lot. I looked up to see Peter smirking at me, and I dropped my fork self-consciously.
"It's okay, Neal," Peter assured me. "You don't have to eat anymore."
"At least drink the milk," Elizabeth urged.
I swallowed down the cold white stuff and the meal finally ended. I got up to take my plate and glass to the kitchen, but I got herded into the living room and seated back on the sofa, Peter not even considering my offer to help with the dishes.
I meant to look cool and suave on the sofa, but I felt a little cold so I pulled the quilt over me. I couldn't decide if I was going back to June's or if Peter would make me stay the night. Any other time, I would have resented Peter making every decision for me, but I had long abandoned the idea of fighting Peter while I was sick.
"Okay," Peter walked back into the living room, "El says we have to watch a movie of your picking. Can I interest you in something with action?"
"No," I snuggled down into the sofa peevishly, "something romantic."
"You and your bleeding heart," Peter rolled his eyes.
He searched through the stack of DVDs and by the time Elizabeth came out of the kitchen, Peter had started Sabrina on the TV. I liked the old version, but this was the one from the 90's, and I thought I could stomach it for tonight.
Peter sat down on the sofa next to me, and Elizabeth sat next to him. As the movie got under way, Elizabeth whispered something in his ear. Nodding, Peter leaned forward to grab one of the bags and rummaged through it. He found the thermometer, took it out of the bag, and shook it hard.
"Open up," he turned to me.
With a sigh, I took in the thermometer, carefully moving it under my tongue.
"Two minutes," Peter settled back down on the sofa.
Only Peter would buy a glass thermometer instead of those electric kinds, and only Peter would make a grown man in his early thirties sit with one in his mouth beside two other adults like the grown man was some kind of kid. To make it even worse, Elizabeth wore her "Isn't he adorable?" look every time she looked at me.
That was not the impression I wanted to make at their house. I'm supposed to be the young, cool consultant that breezes in and out when he wants with a nonchalant attitude that dazzles Elizabeth and nettles Peter. I'm supposed to keep everyone guessing because I'm a genius and I went to prison and I'm on top of my game. And here I was, curled up on their sofa with a quilt, still a little sick, trying to keep the metal end of a thermometer under my tongue so Peter wouldn't make me hold it under there longer. And of all the carefree, cool things that popped into my head at that moment, I couldn't say a single one because I was afraid I would drop the thermometer and have to start over. Two minutes seemed really, really long.
"That's good," Peter reached over and pulled the thermometer out of my mouth.
I watched anxiously as he turned it between two fingers until he could read the silver bar.
"A little over 99," he reported.
"That's not too bad," I said hastily.
"Better give him a little Tylenol now," Elizabeth advised. "You don't want his fever spiking in the night."
Peter took out the Tylenol and poured the orange stuff in that stupid plastic cup thing that comes with the bottle. I took it from him, refusing to sip it while he held the cup, and I tossed it back like a shot of whiskey. Only, whiskey would have tasted better than that sweet orange-flavor syrup that kids were supposed to like.
I made a face, and Peter chuckled as he handed me a glass of water.
After that, he poured me a dose of the other medicines, each one nastier than the last. While on the TV Harrison Ford got busy keeping Julia Ormond from dating Greg Kinear, Peter piled me with medicines, promising they would help me feel better. They were all awful, and once I had swallowed the last disgusting dose, I leaned against the sofa back and glared at him for being so mean.
He just smiled and patted my knee. "Now, we got that over with and you can enjoy the movie."
I had barely made myself comfortable when he remembered, "Oh, the ice pack –"
"I'll get it," Elizabeth got up from the sofa and padded into the kitchen.
The ice pack turned out to be one of those re-freezable compresses.
Peter took it from his wife. "Lean forward," he instructed.
I did, and he slapped it on the back of my neck.
"Peter!" I jerked forward, trying to get it off, but he kept a strong hand on the compress, pinning it down on my poor neck.
"Lean back," he used his free hand to push me against the sofa. "Keep it on your neck and you won't have a headache."
"Because my head will be frozen?" I twisted, trying to find a comfortable angle to bear the coldness. I wouldn't have minded it so much on my forehead, but on the back of my neck it was excruciating. I did my best not to squirm.
"Stop being such a baby," Peter scolded. "I swear, El, he's helpless."
"All men are when they're sick," Elizabeth snuggled against her husband, and he draped an arm around her shoulder.
Meanwhile, I was in agony, and no one cared about that. I decided to accept my torture so I leaned back against the compress and let my neck go numb from the cold.
Eventually, the cold lessened (or my skin was frozen and didn't know the difference), and I got comfortable again. The medicine made me sleepy, but I tried to keep watching the movie. Harrison Ford was yelling at everyone, and then they were yelling back at him, but I was really too tired to care if they got him back properly or not.
"Neal," something shook my arm. "Neal?"
"Go 'way," I made a face at whoever was pushing me.
"Come on, buddy," Peter said from far away. "It's late, and we're going to get you upstairs to bed."
"Not tired," I refused to open my eyes.
He grabbed me by the upper arms and pulled me to my feet.
"Pe-e-e-eter!" I whined. "Stop."
"You're going up to bed," he announced. "You can decide whether you want to go quietly now or go after a spanking, but you are going to bed."
I opened one eye to scowl at him. "Too tired."
"Up we go," Peter braced himself against me and started walking me up the stairs. I stumbled and tripped, but he kept me going.
Once upstairs in the bedroom, I managed to fumble with my clothes long enough to get back in my pajamas and collapse into bed. The bed was cold, but I didn't care as I flopped down on the pillow. I heard a humidifier humming around the room, blowing mist into the air.
"Don't you want to brush your teeth?" Peter chuckled somewhere over me.
I mumbled into the pillow, not even opening my eyes.
"Get some sleep," he told me.
That was rather stupid – what else was I going to do in bed at his house? It was a shame I was too exhausted to make a scathing reply.
"Later, when you're better, we'll talk about running around in the rain and not taking care of yourself," Peter promised.
Had I been fully awake, I might have constructed a brilliant argument against him to make sure he understood that he had lost and I had won, but I couldn't even talk.
"Good night," Peter turned the light off.
"Is he tucked in?" Elizabeth's voice came from somewhere. "You got him to bed? Now, that is too sweet."
"You've got to stop babying him," Peter insisted. "He's a grown man, fully capable of taking care of himself. And I'm going to see that he takes better care of himself in the future."
"Oh, honey, don't be too cross with him. He's not used to being out on his own."
The door shut, sealing off their conversation.
As I tumbled into sleep, I knew I wasn't going to let him get on to me about being out in the rain. I could decide if I wanted to dance in the rain every day and sing in it, too. And I fully planned to pay him back for all the annoying kindness he had shown me in the last twelve hours.
He should really go into the medical business – no one would dare get sick if they knew that brute would be taking care of them. So annoying!