He was drowning. As the memories overtook him, slowly his eyes opened, his arms flailing in fear.
"Peter." He felt a warm, comforting hand in his and something soft caressing his cheek. "Peter, you need to calm down. You're ok." The fog began to clear and the room became more focused; white walls, beeping machines and something annoying attached to his nose. He reached for it but a hand quickly stopped him.
"Peter, no!" He glanced sideways and his beautiful wife smiled weakly at him. "Doctors said you need that for a couple of more days." She squeezed his hand. "Do you remember what happened?"
He closed his eyes momentarily as snapshots of the past crept to the surface: the car submerged in water. He was trapped inside. Neal was trying to hold his head above water and then diving down to work on his stuck leg. Neal was yelling at him to stay awake, almost crying as he begged Peter to live. He heard footsteps and opened his eyes hopeful as a barely audible word passed his lips.
"Neal" he mumbled again as Elizabeth moved aside so the doctor could examine her husband. Peter endured the ten minute exam grudgingly, sighing with relief when the doctor finally left the room. "Where's Neal?" he asked, his voice stronger. "Is he ok?"
"I think so" Elizabeth answered as she again took her place next to the bed. "He got you out. He did CPR…" she paused, her voice cracking. "You had stopped breathing" she said quietly, wiping at a fallen tear. Peter grabbed her hand, gently stroking it as he waited for her to continue. "Peter, he was here when I arrived. He said it was his fault but he wouldn't tell me what happened. He said he couldn't lose you too." It was less than a month since Kate's death and they both knew how fragile Neal still was. "At some point he slipped away." She shrugged. "I called June and Mozzie but no one has heard from him in days."
"Days?" Peter's eyes widened. "How long have I been out for? "
"Five," Elizabeth said. "They kept you sedated so you could heal. I think Neal's been calling" she quickly added. "The night nurse said a man has been calling every night asking about you and I figured it was Neal so she's been telling him you were getting better. "
"So, he's somewhere around" Peter mumbled sleepily. "Tell the nurse to tell Neal I want to see him ok?"
"Go to sleep" Elizabeth said as she leaned over her husband and lightly kissed his forehead. "Neal knows how to take care of himself, he'll be fine."
Peter grunted his agreement though he was more worried than he wanted to admit. But he was also surprisingly tired and allowed himself to succumb to the blissful peace.
For two days Peter grew stronger, the number of tubes sticking out of him dwindled and the machines slowly moved out of his room. He had a steady stream of visitors and phone calls but the one person he desperately wanted to see remained missing. The night phone calls had stopped also, worrying Peter even more. Peter awoke startled and instantly knew he was not alone. In typical Neal fashion he had snuck in during the middle of the night.
"Come here!" Peter quietly ordered as he turned on the little lamp on the nightstand. He heard the shuffling of feet and a slight groan as Neal neared the bed. "Sit down!" Peter sounded angry but he wasn't; he was so relieved that Neal was there, yet he wasn't able to show that properly. "You look like hell" Peter exclaimed as Neal lowered himself into the chair, eyes downcast. Normally immaculate in appearance, Neal looked nothing like his formal self; unshaven, hair standing on end and dirty clothes. Peter noticed a distinct odor and had to swallow twice to keep from getting sick.
"You saved my life" Peter reached over to touch Neal's arm but the younger man recoiled back, away from Peter's outstretched hand.
"Neal, what is wrong with you? Why did you tell El it was your fault? Come on buddy, I'm having a little trouble remembering that day so you need to fill in the pieces." Neal glanced upward and one look into his feverish eyes and Peter knew they had more pressing issues. He reached behind his head and grabbed a pillow, placing it next to himself on the bed.
"Neal, lay your head down for ten minutes." Peter patted the pillow. "I promise I'll wake you and then we can talk." Neal didn't hesitate as he lowered his head to the pillow, closing his eyes with a slight sigh…oblivious to any ulterior motives Peter might have or just too sick to really care. Peter lightly ran a comforting hand through his hair, talking softly as the younger man fell asleep. He felt Neal's burning forehead, waited another ten minutes to ensure that Neal was soundly sleeping and then reached for the nurse's bell.
Neal could never do anything easy Peter mused as he sat next to his bed, watching the younger man sleep. Neal wasn't just sick. A temperature near 105 had landed him in ICU while the doctors and nurses worked continuously to try to stay on top of everything going wrong. They had pumped him with fluids to combat the dehydration only to have his lungs fill up with fluid, almost placing him on a vent. More medicine and dialysis helped his ailing kidneys and finally a prolonged ice bath had taken a little venom out of the fever. During that time Peter had stayed with Neal, trying to comfort him as he deliriously called out for Kate. He had asked for Peter many time also but was never conscious enough to know Peter was right there. Elizabeth had stopped by often, as worried about her husband as she was for the ailing man almost unrecognizable under all the tubes and bandages. Peter had finally been released but he was in no hurry to leave the hospital, not while Neal was in this precarious condition.
"How is he?" Peter turned, smiling at his wife. "Fever finally fell before 103 and they said he's stable. Doctor said he was at least 20 pounds underweight. I knew he wasn't doing well" Peter quietly added, inwardly kicking himself. "He shouldn't have been back to work until he worked through Kate's death."
"It's not your fault" Elizabeth said, leaning over her husband. "I brought you clean clothes and something to eat."
"Thanks" Peter muttered. "Mozzie should be here later and I'll try to get some sleep then."
"Peter you need to come home and really rest. You just got out of the hospital yourself."
"I can't." Peter stood, and neared the door, with his wife following him. "He saved my life and I still can't remember what happened that day. I can't leave him alone until I know he's going to be ok."
"I know." Elizabeth leaned in, hugging her husband tightly. "Just make sure you eat and get some rest. I'll stop by after work." Peter saw his wife out of the room and then went back to his chair, holding vigil.
Peter heard moaning and put the file he was reading down. Officially he was not back at work but bored out of his mind and helping out where he could. Neal had now been in the hospital for eight days, but he was finally out of ICU and officially on the mend. He had woken briefly the past two days, but never for long or coherent enough to realize what was going on.
"Neal?" Peter neared the bed as the prone man started flailing around.
"Take it easy." Peter grabbed Neal's arms and held them in place. "Neal, are you awake?"
"Huh? " Neal scanned the room, finally settling on Peter's face. "What's.…wrong?" He nervously looked around and at the tubes sticking in his arms. "Let go!" He whined, trying to get out of Peter's grasp.
"Neal, you're in the hospital. Remember the car accident?" He paused, but Neal didn't respond. "The tracking device gashed your ankle and you obviously ignored it. You ended up with an infection that got into your blood stream…you almost died" Peter added quietly, as he settled down next to the bed.
"I should have" Neal mumbled turning away from his partner. "Leave me alone" he said, burying his face in his pillow. Peter wasn't sure what to expect when Neal woke up, but it wasn't this. "Hey, I know you're confused and you probably feel lousy but I don't believe for a moment that you want me to leave. Neal, I'm your friend and I'm not going anywhere. "As he talked, Peter lightly rubbed Neal's back, trying to comfort him. He could feel Neal shaking beneath his hand and he kept up the motion as the younger man started to calm down. "He turned Neal over so he could see his face and the weaker man offered no resistance. "Neal, I remember what happened that day and it wasn't your fault. Yes, we were arguing and I still believe you need to see a therapist but it was my fault I wasn't watching the road. It was my fault I swerved to miss the dog. Got it?" Peter kept his hand on Neal's head, gently stroking. "You saved my life and I will never forget that. But you are wallowing in guilt because of Kate and I won't allow you to blame yourself for my accident." Neal was crying silent tears and he inched closer so he was leaning against Peter. "We're both going to be ok" Peter whispered, as Neal fell back to sleep.
"Ready?" Peter walked into the room, pushing a wheelchair. "Your chariot awaits you, let's go."
"I don't need that" Neal protested, as he put the last of this things into a duffel bag.
"Hospital rules" Peter retorted, taking a closer look at this partner. "Are you ok? You don't seem that excited about leaving the hospital." Peter scrutinized his friend. He was still thin but they managed to put about ten pounds back on him with a special diet. Otherwise he looked well, except for his eyes. Neal always had a plan or scheme up his sleeve and his eyes sparkled…he was alive. Sadly Peter wasn't sure that would come back…part of him died when the plane blew up.
"Maybe you should take me back to June's place" Neal said quietly.
"We talked about that." Peter sat in the wheelchair, opposite Neal.
"You talked. I listened" Neal countered. "I don't have a choice on that or the shrink."
"Neal, you know June travels a lot. I think you'd be better having me and Elizabeth around…"
"I don't need babysitters." Neal stood, tossing the bag over his shoulder.
"How about a friend?" Peter reasoned, also standing. "Neal, you know I arranged my schedule so I could work from home until you're medically cleared. Doesn't mean you can't help me" he added hopeful. "Neal, talk to the psychiatrist. It can't hurt and we both know you haven't done well since Kate's death. OK?"
"Is this what I get for saving your life?" Neal smiled weakly as Peter positioned the wheelchair behind him.
"It could be worse" Peter retorted.
"Really? How?" Neal sat, dropping the bag on his lap.
"I could ask Cruz to babysit you."
"You wouldn't." Neal glanced back, eyeing his partner.
"No, I wouldn't. Let's go home."