I do not own or profit from the White Collar characters – I'm just trying to survive the withdrawal by writing about them.
Peter awoke from his nap with an uneasy feeling. He supposed the TV woke him, even though he noticed that Neal had turned the volume down. Looking over at Neal, he saw that his cheeks were a little pink, and he decided that the blanket was too heavy for this time of year. But Peter also noticed that Neal was clutching the blanket tightly under his chin, as if he desperately needed the warmth. Peter simply could not ignore the paternal instinct to feel for a temperature, so he tried to discreetly lay the back of his hand against Neal's forehead.
Neal was sleeping so lightly that Peter's movement on the couch was enough to wake him, and he opened his eyes to see Peter leaning over him, frozen with his hand stretched towards Neal's face.
"Peter," Neal said slowly, looking at him with cautious eyes. "What are you doing?"
Caught red-handed, Peter sunk back against the pillows. "I was going to feel your temperature. You look a little feverish."
Neal reflected upon this, and then shivered dramatically. "Well, it's freezing in here."
"No, Neal, it's not freezing in here," Peter said. "I feel fine, and I'm not the one under a heavy blanket."
"Okay then, go ahead," Neal said, smiling. When Peter hesitated, he added, "You know you want to."
Peter looked like he was about to argue, but then remembered that it was his idea in the first place, so he reached over again. Neal's skin was definitely warm to the touch, but that could easily be explained by his overheating under the blanket.
"You feel a little warm, but I'd have to get the thermometer to know for sure," Peter told him.
"Well, I feel fine, for the most part," Neal said. "Let's just finish this movie."
Peter abruptly woke again, but this time, his cell phone was the culprit. He was momentarily disoriented by the darkness in the room before he realized that the movie, and the day, had ended. The twilight invaded through the open windows, scattering eerie shadows through the room and across Neal's body. Neal turned fitfully at the sound of the phone, but he didn't wake.
"Hi El," Peter whispered, reading the caller id.
"Hey, what's going on? Why are you whispering?"
"Oh, Neal is just sleeping. We just finished watching a movie."
"Have you eaten dinner yet? I'm sorry I'm late - it's been crazy up here at work, playing catch-up."
"No, we haven't eaten yet, but don't feel bad. Take your time. I think I'll probably just heat up the leftovers from lunch," Peter said, not bothering to keep his voice down anymore when he saw that Neal wasn't going to wake up.
"Okay, well leave me some of the pad thai. And by the way, how did Neal's wound look this afternoon when you changed the dressing?"
Peter inwardly swore at himself for forgetting the one task he was given today. He didn't want to admit that he hadn't done it yet, so he said, "It looks . . . fine. Healing, and everything." He would have plenty of time to change Neal's dressing before Elizabeth got home, and she would never have to know.
"Okay, good. Well, I'm going to try to leave soon. Call me if you need anything!"
"Okay, honey. Bye bye." Peter hung up the phone and then looked at Neal. He was just about to wake him up when the phone rang again.
Peter picked up without checking the caller id and said, "Forget something?"
"Hey, I've been busy over here trying to shoulder your work! This is the first chance I had to call."
"Jones! I'm sorry, I thought you were Elizabeth calling me back. How's everything going?"
"Well, like I said, it's a little hectic with one agent down. When are you coming back?"
"I think the doctor will clear me for desk duty by next week. How's the case coming along?"
"That's exactly why I called. Pat Kiley up in Boston thinks he's got Reynolds. Going by a different name, of course, but they're pretty sure it's him. We can tie him to forensic evidence from the explosion, so it's a pretty strong case. Wouldn't be surprised if they picked him up tomorrow."
"Well, I hope they hurry. He moves pretty fast once he knows the FBI is onto him," Peter warned.
"I know, we learned from that one. Kiley's first contact will be the only contact."
"That's good to hear. I can't wait to see that bastard behind bars. Hey, thanks for the update."
"Sure thing, boss. See you soon."
Neal was finally starting to wake up, stretching and yawning like a cat. "Hey," he said, opening his eyes. "What's all this talk about bastards?"
"Reynolds," Peter said. "Apparently he set up shop in Boston, but the Bureau is about to make a move. Sounds like they might actually catch him this time."
"Good," Neal said. "He deserves to be caught. No class at all."
"Yeah, whatever you say. I think we slept through dinner time - are you hungry?" Peter asked.
Neal thought for a second and then shook his head. "No, I'm not actually."
"Well, Elizabeth will kill me if I don't make you eat. That is, if she hasn't already killed me for forgetting to changing your bandages today."
"Oh yeah," Neal said. "I forgot too. When is she coming home?"
Peter smiled. "That's exactly what I was thinking. She hasn't left work yet, so let me go get the stuff, and then I'll heat up dinner."
"Peter, please," Neal said, throwing the blanket off of him. "It's such a production for you to get around. I'll start heating the food, and then I'll bring you the stuff."
"Hmm, okay. I can live with that." Peter leaned back against the couch while Neal started to sit up. As he pushed himself up to a sitting position, though, Neal drew in a sharp intake of breath and grabbed his side.
"What is it, Neal?" Peter said, putting a hand on his back. "Are you okay?"
"Ahh, I think so," Neal said, grimacing in pain. "It's just that this hurts almost worse than before. I keep waiting for it to feel better."
"Well, maybe you should just stay here on the couch," Peter suggested. "I think El left everything in the upstairs bathroom anyway."
"No, no," Neal said, shaking his head. "I've been sitting here all day. I need to stretch my legs."
After Neal bustled around in the kitchen and then made his way to the stairs, Peter remembered that Elizabeth had instructed him to help Neal in any way that he could.
"But what am I supposed to do?" Peter had asked. "Stand at the bottom of the stairs and break his fall?"
"Yes," Elizabeth said. "If that's all you can do to help, then do that."
Peter was helping now by watching Neal ascend the stairs from the couch. He reached the top without much excitement, unless you counted stopping midway to catch his breath. But Neal often did that recently, just walking around on level surfaces. Neal paused with his hand on the banister, and he ducked his head down to look at Peter through the railing.
"I think you're right about the fever," Neal called down. "I'm definitely feeling a little woozy."
"Great," Peter said. "Things take a turn for the worse on the one day Elizabeth trusts me to take care of you. You know, she's never gonna leave you alone with me now!" Neal grinned and continued his ascent, and soon Peter heard the faucet running above him.
In about ten minutes, Neal was on his way back down, carrying the medical supplies. Peter was flipping through the television channels when he saw Neal stop and clutch the banister out of the corner of his eye. He turned and watched, helpless, as Neal's knees buckled and he took one unsteady step, swaying dangerously.
"Whoa, Neal, hold on!" Peter jumped up as fast as he could, hoping that he could catch Neal before he passed out. He hopped over to the stairs on one leg, not taking the time to grab his crutches, but he knew he wouldn't make it in time. When he reached the bottom of the stairs, Neal was already on his way down, trying to slide down into a sitting position against the wall, but failing miserably. Instead, he fell completely forward, coming straight towards Peter.
As he was falling through the air, Neal's body twisted so that his back collided against Peter's chest, sending them both crashing into the wall so hard that Peter's breath was knocked out of him. He lost his balance on impact, but Peter tried to protect Neal from the next fall by keeping his body between Neal and the floor. Trying and actually succeeding, however, are two very different things, and it all happened very fast.
In order to absorb the shock of the fall, Peter had quickly wrapped his arms around Neal as they were going down, and this pressure against his abdomen was the first thing Neal felt as he came to.
"Are you okay?" Peter asked through gritted teeth. When they had both hit the wall, Peter had been forcefully reminded that he still had fractured ribs, but he also thought he had done a pretty good job of breaking Neal's fall, as El had instructed him to do earlier.
Neal didn't answer. He was exploring the second sensation he felt, as Peter pulled his arms out from underneath him. A strange relief of pressure accompanied the movement, almost like something had given way. He expected pain, but instead . . .
"Oh no," Peter said, looking at the hand that had been against Neal's stomach. It had the slightest hint of blood on it, just a little bit damp from touching Neal's shirt. Neal looked down and could see where the blood must've leaked out from under his dressing, and was now staining his t-shirt.
"Must've not been taped very well," was all Neal said, starting to feel light-headed again.
"Here, lay back down, and let me look at it," Peter said, rolling Neal away from him. Peter struggled to a sitting position and then lifted Neal's shirt up to his chest. Sure enough, the tape had ripped off on one side. Peter lifted the bandage and was dismayed to see bright, fresh blood seeping out from between a long line of staples. "Does it hurt?" he asked Neal.
"It feels weird," Neal answered honestly. "Not necessarily worse than before, but I can't tell." He closed his eyes.
"Does anything else hurt, from the fall?"
"No, Peter. Everything's okay," Neal said, his tone taking on that singsong quality Peter was now recognizing as his delirious voice. He tried to push aside the guilt of sending Neal upstairs to get everything, but he definitely couldn't ignore the strong sense of déjà vu he felt with Neal lying on the floor, bleeding beside him.
Peter tried to be gentle pulling off the remainder of the tape, but he still noticed that Neal started taking more rapid, shallow breaths as he worked.
"Am I hurting you?" Peter asked, as he started swabbing around the staples with one of the clean pieces of gauze Neal had dropped.
"No, you're doing great," Neal answered. He became acutely aware of the rise and fall of his chest, with Peter so close to him, and he wondered if Peter was feeling uncomfortable. "What are you doing now?" he asked, when he felt cool fingers press down gently around the edges of the wound.
"I'm feeling for warmth and tenderness, like your discharge papers said to do. The area is definitely warm. Does it feel tender?"
"Yes," Neal said. "Is that bad?"
"I think they're signs of an infection. And that's in addition to the fever you probably have." Peter finished up by taping a large abdominal pad over the wound, and then applied pressure with his hand, to slow the bleeding.
"But I'm taking antibiotics," Neal protested.
Peter just shrugged as he pulled out his cell phone, grateful that he had remembered to put it back in his pocket. "I don't know what to tell you, kid. Maybe you need another kind? Hold on while I call Elizabeth."
"Hi Peter," she said on picking up. "I'm so sorry I'm not home yet. I'm stuck in traffic, and it's barely moving."
"Well, you may want to change direction. I think I need to take Neal to the ER." Peter winced, waiting for the explosion on the other end of the line.
"What happened?! What's wrong with him?"
"It's nothing serious," Peter answered, hoping he was right. "He just fell down the stairs and pulled a few staples. They'll stitch him back up, and he'll be fine!"
"He. Fell. Down. The STAIRS?! I told you to help him, Peter."
"Well, I broke his fall, like you asked! There was nothing else I could do," he said, knowing this wasn't true. He could've gone upstairs himself, instead of sending Neal when he knew he wasn't feeling well.
"Okay, I'll meet you at the ER. We'll talk about it later," she said, sounding dangerous.
When Peter hung up the phone, he noticed Neal was smiling. "Oh, shut up," Peter said, while he dialed the number for a cab to come pick them up.
As they pulled up to the doors of the emergency room, Peter nudged Neal with his shoulder to make sure he was awake. They had been sitting close so that Peter could keep pressure on the wound during the ride, and he couldn't see Neal's face.
"I'm awake," Neal said in response.
"Are you alright to walk?" Peter asked. "There's no way in hell I can push you in a wheelchair with these crutches."
"Yeah, I'll be fine. You don't need to baby me, Peter."
"Getting you a wheelchair isn't babying you. It's what people do at the hospital." Peter paid the driver and then went around to Neal's side to at least help him get out of the car.
Luckily, the ER wasn't very crowded, so they didn't have to wait long to get a room.
"You know, I've had enough of these hospital beds to last me a lifetime," Neal said, as they were waiting for the physician to show up. "And this oxygen up my nose. It's driving me crazy."
"Well, don't mess with it," Peter told him from his chair at the side of the bed. "The nurse said you're not breathing efficiently because of the pain."
"I'm feeling better now, though," he argued.
"Well, still don't mess with it," Peter said, tiredly.
There was a knock at the door, and Peter and Neal both looked up expectantly, hoping for the doctor. Instead, it was Elizabeth. And June. For some reason, Elizabeth didn't look very happy.
"Hey guys," Neal said, smiling. "June, how did you know I was here? Not that I'm not pleased to see you."
"Mozzie called. He said you texted him that you were back in the hospital," she replied.
At this, Elizabeth gave Neal a dark look. Peter expected El to be mad at him, but not at Neal. "Honey, what's wrong? Neal will be fine. They said they'll probably get him started on some new antibiotics, nothing major."
"It's not that," Elizabeth said, softening as she walked up to Neal's bed. "June is staging an intervention. Apparently we're not doing a very good at taking care of Neal."
Peter felt immensely guilty, and Neal looked surprised, but June spoke up before either one could respond. "I just think it would be easier for everybody this way. He won't be going up and down any stairs, and I can be there all day. Aren't you going back to work soon anyway, Peter?"
"Yes, but –"
"Peter, I agree with her," Neal said. "You shouldn't be worrying about me while you're trying to get better. You could've gotten hurt today as well."
"Neal, I'm sorry. I just feel so horrible about all of this," Elizabeth said. She looked close to tears.
"Don't," he told her. "I appreciate everything you've both done for me. But you have to work, and Peter will be going back to the job soon. I would just get in the way."
"Hey, I'm not the only one going back to work," Peter cut in. "Granted, I will be on desk duty for a while with this leg, so once you're feeling better, if you want to work with Jones or Cruz in the field for a little excitement . . ."
Neal laughed. "I've also had enough excitement to last me for a while. Desk duty sounds just fine."
Thanks for sticking around till the end, my fellow Collars! And thank you to everybody who made this story a favorite and took the time to leave feedback. I'm about to start working on my next fic (another h/c of course), so if any of you have requests for Neal and Peter's next predicament, let me know!