IMPORTANT A.N: This takes place in the undetermined future. Probably several years.
As the craziness at the end of the bust was dying down, Agent Burke suddenly became aware of something. Or rather, a lack of something. The ever-present narration of Neal Caffrey was absent. Sweeping his trained gaze across the scene, he picked out the hunched form from all the others. Trepidation seeped into his veins as he rushed closer.
"Neal?" The hunched man straightened slightly, looking over his shoulder at Peter, not quite able to hide the anxiety in his eyes. A hand covered his mouth and nose. "Neal, you ok?" Eyes wide, the consultant shook his head. "What's wrong?" He tried to pull Neal's hand away, but the younger man flinched and shied away. "Hey, hey hey…C'mon, Neal, what happened?" Peter knelt down in front of Neal, for the first time noticing the dark red stains on his shirt. Neal dropped his hand slowly, closing his eyes. He didn't want to see Peter's reaction.
Peter drew a sharp breath at the sight before him. Neal's lips were bloodied, the lower one looked split and an abrasion was obvious between his chin and the tip of his nose. But the most dramatic sight was the blood that was running out of the consultant's nose.
"I think you broke your nose, Neal." Peter finally managed. Neal cracked one eye, looking at Peter with growing dislike.
"Really? I habn't nodiced, Peder." The distortion to his speech made Peter's mouth twitch as he tried to keep from smiling.
"C'mon, let's go get that looked at." Neal sighed and stood. He swayed slightly, unsteady on his feet. Peter put an arm around his shoulders, like friends do, and guided him slowly to the car. Sitting Neal in the passenger seat, he felt sorry for the con as he leaned back against the headrest, seeming completely wiped out. "Alright. Stay put while I go get Jones to secure the scene." Neal opened his eyes, conveying understanding without movement. Peter turned, crossing the scene with long strides until coming across his junior agents.
"Jones. You're in charge. You and Cruz, secure the scene."
"What are you gonna do, boss?" Jones asked, his question mirrored in Cruz' gaze.
"Think Caffrey broke his nose. Gonna go get him checked out." The junior agents nodded.
"Tell him we hope he feels better soon." Cruz said as left. Peter walked back over to Neal, hand coming to rest on the still-open car door.
"Neal? You awake?" The consultant's eyes flew opened. He regretted it almost instantly.
"Hmm? Oh, yeah. Awake. I am." Peter shook his head.
"Watch out, closing the door." Neal grumbled a little, but drew himself farther from the doorway before it closed. The drive to the hospital was quiet, Neal hardly even opening his eyes. His head hurt. It felt like someone had tried to remove half his face with a cheese-grater. Even his eyes hurt. When he did open them, all he could think about was closing them again. Everything was so bright and it was all moving so fast…It almost made him feel sick. And Peter's driving was definitely leaving something to be desired.
Finally, they reached the hospital. Peter had to help Neal into the Emergency Room, supporting him more than he had at the crime scene. Once inside, he deposited the consultant in a chair before filling out the necessary paperwork. Neal didn't have to ask how Peter knew so much about him and Peter knew it was best just to leave the 'family history' section blank without asking questions.
Neal thought the ER was too loud. His lips and nose throbbed in time, leaving Neal counting his pulse, trying to stay awake. He didn't want to fall asleep though, not in those uncomfortable chairs. But he was tired. Too tired for someone who had already had two coffees that day. Then again, headaches always made him tired.
It was several hours later when Neal and Peter left the hospital. The doctor had concluded that Neal's nose was indeed broken, had put a couple stitches in his lower lip and cleaned up the abrasions. He had also determined that Neal's headache was the result of a concussion. He'd recommended to Peter that Neal find someone to stay with for the night, just in case. Finally, the doctor had written a prescription for pain killers, to treat both the headache and the nose pain.
"You're gonna stay with El and me tonight." Peter declared as he started the car. Neal closed his eyes. When did Peter start talking so loud? "I called her a little while ago. She's getting the guest bedroom ready." Neal knew Peter was saying that just so he wouldn't object.
"Mkah." The weary con mumbled. He was too tired to argue; besides that, he was looking forward to El's cooking. Or, at least, he thought he was. His stomach clenched at the thought of food. He felt his throat tighten and he swallowed hard. Peter's driving skills seemed to have deteriorated rapidly. Shouldn't federal agents drive better than this? Wasn't there a test or something? He swallowed again. It must have caught Peter's attention, because in the next second, he heard –and felt- the man's voice as he spoke, his head throbbing.
"Neal? You ok?" Peter glanced at Neal as he changed lanes. The younger man was definitely paler than he had been in the hospital. He wasn't just pale though, his face had a slight green hint to it; and all those years Peter had thought that only happened in cartoons.
"I'b fime.", Came the stuffy-nosed reply. Neal swallowed again. Leaning his head back against the seat, he counted his breaths, trying to calm his rolling stomach. He reached one hundred and four before he felt his stomach shudder, a burning sensation slowly rising in his throat. "Peder, pull ober." He covered his mouth with a hand, wincing when he brushed his bottom lip. Stitches, right. Peter pulled the car over and Neal managed to remove himself enough that he didn't mess up the vehicle's interior.
Peter waited a minute and then made his way around to the passenger side. Neal had fallen out of the car, on his hands and knees, and was now gagging. Awkwardly, Peter stood behind him, unsure of what to do. Finally, he knelt next to his partner, rubbing the space between his shoulder blades. Dry heaves wracked the younger man's body and Peter could feel sweat dampening the fabric under his hand.
"Hey, hey, calm down, buddy. C'mon, deep breaths. Just calm down." Neal gagged again, but produced nothing for his efforts. Peter pulled him up until he was sitting. Neal panted, unable to breathe through his broken nose. He leaned back against the car, savoring the cool metal against his over-warmed body. Peter stood again, brushing off his knees before turning his attention back to his partner. The younger man's cheeks were flushed a bright pink color, sweat flattening his hair. He looked miserable.
"Feeling better?" Neal opened his eyes slowly.
"Oh, yeah, Peder. Neber bedder." Peter chuckled and pulled Neal to his feet, steadying him when he leaned too far forward. Neal closed his eyes as nausea swept over him again. Peter actually saw the color drain from his face.
"Alright, alright, sit down." Neal sat down heavily in the passenger seat, groaning as the sudden motion jarred his head. "Yeah, yeah, I know. C'mon, let's go fill your prescription and then get you to bed. Ok?"
"Okah." Was Neal's quiet reply as he sank into the seat. His head was killing him. He heard Peter talking but he couldn't make out the words. Everything blurred together into a persistent buzzing sound. Oh well, it probably wasn't important anyway. He closed his eyes and slouched even lower. Maybe Peter would think he was asleep and leave him alone. Then, he felt something reach across his body. Eyes flying open, he saw Peter leaning across him. Peter met his eyes and gave him a frustrated look. The agent fastened Neal's seat belt.
"I asked you to twice." He offered as an explanation. Neal hummed in acknowledgement. He closed his eyes again, not opening them until the car stopped in front of the Burke's home. With Peter's help, he managed to stumble inside, where he was transferred to the motherly care of Elizabeth. He was laid on the couch, while El fawned over him as Peter stood in the background, gently tut-ing his disapproval. El ignored him. After only five minutes, the con was settled on the couch, his shoes removed, covered in a blanket, his medicines taken and an ice-pack on his head.
"Tankth" he mumbled before he succumbed to sleep. El smiled and brushed his hair off his face, kissing his forehead as though he were a young child before turning to face her husband. She gestured for him to follow her into the kitchen, where they could talk without disturbing the consultant. Though, Peter was of the opinion that a bomb detonating over the coffee table wouldn't wake the sleeping man. Not with those drugs on-board.
"How did Neal get hurt?" El asked, twirling her hair around one finger, looking at Peter expectantly. Over the years, she'd grown attached to Peter's partner, adopting him as almost part of the family.
"I didn't see. It was the end of a bust. I guess he fell or someone pushed him. He's fine, El." She sighed and nodded.
"I know, I know. But I worry about the two of you. Every time either of you call from work, I think the worst." Peter pulled her close, planting a kiss on her forehead. She wrapped her arms around him, not letting go.
"It's just a broken nose and a concussion. He's fine." He repeated. Elizabeth looked up at him.
"But what if it had gone differently?"
"But it didn't, El. Don't worry." He kissed her again. He loved her but he hated that his job made her worry. It was just worse now that Neal was involved, giving El another person to fret over. She smiled up at him.
"I know I shouldn't. But wouldn't you worry if my job was more dangerous?" He gave her a lop-sided grin.
"How do you make a catering company dangerous?" He couldn't resist trying to lighten the mood. El returned his smile.
"Well, I could start juggling knives on the side." She teased. He chuckled at the thought.
"I think I'd get you a first-aid kit." She laughed and playfully smacked his arm. The two enjoyed a quiet dinner together, letting Neal sleep peacefully on the couch under the watchful eye of Satchmo. As they were finishing their meal, El gently broached a new subject.
"Are you working tomorrow?"
"No. I got the day off. Case's closed, anyway." She smiled.
"That's great because I'm going to be so busy tomorrow. We're doing a-" She would have continued with her upcoming hectic schedule, but Neal stumbling into the kitchen interrupted her. "Neal, is everything ok?" She stood to meet him, placing her hands on his upper arms to steady him. Peter rose as well, unsure what to do. Neal looked down at El, his eyes dull and unfocused. "Neal?" Suddenly, Peter smiled.
"It's just the drugs, El." Then he addresses Neal "C'mon, let's get you back to the couch, kid." Peter guided the younger man to the sofa before laying him back down. Neal closed his bleary eyes and fell back into slumber.
El smiled as she watched the scene. Peter turned and looked at her, rolling his eyes.
"Neal gets loopy on painkillers. It could be worse." She laughed quietly as they made their way back into the kitchen.
"Well, hopefully you can handle it yourself, because I'm not going to make it home until late tomorrow." Peter groaned at what that statement meant for him; he'd be home alone with Neal- all day.
Dun dun DUHN! The explanations start next chapter, I promise. And just so you all know, writing stuffy-nosed Neal is super fun. It's so adorable!