Of Chicken Soup and Fuzzy Bathrobes
Author's Note: Another sudden inspiration. I don't know where this particular plot bunny sprung from, but here I am writing this story. This is set, let's say, sometime immediately after By the Book, with a small tag to that episode. I began this piece with some humor in mind. Six paragraphs in, the story had turned slightly angsty, but the majority of this is just meant to be a look into Peter and Neal's friendship. The two recognizable quotes are taken directly from By the Book. I hope you all enjoy this one-shot. Please R&R!
Disclaimer: I claim no rights to anything White Collar – but I have fun pretending that I do.
On Saturday morning, Neal awoke to a buzz of his cell phone on his nightstand. Blinking the sleep from his eyes, he reached over to grab the BlackBerry, scanning his newest text message, a note from Peter.
Neal – woke up sick. Sorry that we can't work on cold cases today. Stay in your radius. See you tomorrow morning.
Neal smiled amusedly. Honestly, one should never feel the need to apologize for not being able to tackle boring old cold cases. They were almost as boring as mortgage fraud cases are and that was saying something.
Stretching luxuriously in his bed, Neal glanced at the time. Hmmm, 9:15. He'd slept in this morning, but he had planned to spend the day at the Burkes', trying to avoid making actual progress on the cold cases and steering clear of Peter's deviled ham sandwiches.
Feeling rested and contented, Neal swung himself out of bed to complete his morning routine. After a shower and breakfast on the terrace – with June's amazing Italian roast, of course – he donned a crisp black fedora to match his lighter weekend clothes – black slacks paired with a rich blue button-down and dark leather jacket – sauntered down the stairs and out the front door.
Breathing in the clean air surrounding him, Neal felt more relaxed in this moment than he had in the past several months. For once, his sleep hadn't been plagued by nightmares of what had happened at the hanger by the Hudson. He could vividly picture the explosion in his mind withal, but there were other things for him to focus on nowadays. Sure, he would continue to spend his off-hours tracking down Kate's killer – because it would be a long time before he could consider moving on from her – but his most recent case, the one involving Mozzie walking unarmed and vulnerable into a high-stakes sting, weighed foremost on his mind today.
As he walked to the park he and June frequented most often, Neal's thoughts returned to his last conversation with Alex. She had gently asked him to understand that Kate was gone, but she had also reminded him that there were those who were still here. And he tried to accept that. Mozzie had placed himself in great danger in trying to rescue Gina. Neal had been worried to the point of sleeplessness for his long-time friend and he wasn't surprised that Peter had picked up on his anxiety.
Stomach hurt? Got that parched thing happening?
He had brushed off Peter's concerns with a facetious comment, but he hoped that Peter knew how grateful he was – for both saving him from the plane explosion and for caring enough to worry when an operation turned sour.
Halfway to the park, Neal changed direction and began his journey to the Burkes' instead. He had a friend to visit. First, though, he needed to return to June's for an hour in the kitchen and to find a soup thermos among her Tupperware.
Peter Burke was having the worst Saturday imaginable. He'd woken up at seven o'clock, displeased to find the other side of the bed empty and cold. Elizabeth was out of town, he remembered. Sighing, he tried to fall asleep again. Neal wasn't due at his place for another three hours, anyway.
However, try as he might, Peter couldn't seem to find a comfortable position. His entire body ached, as though he'd fallen down the entire flight of stairs in his home, and he was shivering, but he had covered himself with both layers of bedding. To make matters worse, his nose was stuffy and his throat was sore.
Grumbling and with a growing sense of dread, Peter forced himself out of bed to find a thermometer. Unfortunately, as soon as he stood up, he was attacked with an awful coughing fit. Hacking up what Peter was sure must've been half a lung, he shoved his arms into his bathrobe and proceeded to stumble over to the bathroom. Bleary-eyed, he rummaged for a minute in the medicine cabinet before procuring the instrument. Sliding the probe across his forehead, Peter waited for the beep. 100.2°F, the device read. He moaned. Because his fever wasn't high enough to warrant medical attention and he liked to avoid medication whenever possible, Peter decided to forego the Tylenol and sleep off his sickness instead.
Crawling back into bed, Peter fell into a light sleep. He woke up again, two hours later, feeling at least five times worse than he had earlier, so he sent a message to Neal to cancel their cold cases session. Peter hated having to take time off from work as a result of illness or injury, but Elle was due home in a week and if she found him sick and in bed because he'd refused to rest, he'd never hear the end of her lecture on his health. And he didn't want her to worry. Besides, Peter had the strongest suspicion that having Neal in his home would only serve to worsen his temper and temperature. Satchmo would be more than sufficient company for the day.
By eleven o'clock, Peter had given up on staying in bed. He couldn't sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time before waking up from his discomfort or from the nagging voice in the back of his mind telling him to look over those cases sitting in his briefcase. Bundling into sweats and the same green bathrobe, Peter slowly made his way downstairs. He set the files on the couch and settled in with a sandwich. Deviled ham was his favorite, but everything tasted bland today. Pushing away his half-eaten lunch, Peter slouched into his corner of the couch and began reading over his work, sniffling every now and again, dropping tissues into an ever-growing pile by his feet.
The painting, masked as an enlarged photograph of the suspect's wife, was discovered to be hidden amongst a valuable collection of artwork and antiques located in a secret vault, which chamber was protected by…
"Peter, you look awful!"
"Ah!" Peter exclaimed, the report sliding off of his lap and onto the floor as he gasped in shock, reached for the nonexistent gun at his side, and looked sharply over to his left toward the doorway. The sudden action made his head spin, but the intruder in question caused his ire to spike. "Neal! What the hell are you doing in my house?"
Neal Caffrey, in perfect health and presentable attire, smiled widely at him, removing his hat and placing it on the coat rack before responding. "I don't know what you're talking about, Peter. You told me to come over today."
"Did you not get my message?" Peter berated. He huffed in annoyance, coughing slightly. "I told you I was sick and not to come over today. We'll do the cold cases tomorrow."
Neal's counterargument did nothing to lessen Peter's foul mood. "But you didn't tell me not to come over, Peter. Your message simply said we'd do the cases tomorrow and for me to stay in my radius – which I have, by the way – so here I am."
Peter glared at his partner. "That doesn't explain why you're in my house. Why didn't you go to the park or to one of those museums you're so fond of? I don't have anything for you to work on to- achoo!" Oh, great, not only was he sore and stuffy, he was sneezing now, too. And sneezing tended to induce coughing in Peter's case.
Neal grinned at Peter's congested syllables, hiding his tiny worry at seeing his friend in such a miserable state. "Peter, are you wearing Elizabeth's bathrobe? I know your taste in clothing is substandard, but isn't what you're wearing a bit fuzzy, even for you?"
"Elle bought this for me, which is more than I can say anyone's done for you lately, Caffrey," Peter bit out. Despite his sickness, grumpiness, and general unpleasantness, Peter regretted his words as soon as he saw a flicker of anguish flash across Neal's face. He backtracked. "Look, I appreciate you coming over to check up on me, Neal, but I'm a big boy. I can handle a little cold."
He was relieved to see that his partner seemed to accept that amendment as apology, as Neal smirked before saying, "Well, June's out with her granddaughter today and Mozzie is holed up… wherever he lives. I haven't visited Elizabeth in a while, but seeing as she's out of town, I thought I'd keep you company."
"How thoughtful." Sarcastic, although Peter was touched, but he couldn't have Neal knowing that, so he rolled his eyes in exasperation. "If you're going to stay, you can make yourself a sandwich. I think there's some roast beef in the fridge."
"I see you've eaten already," Neal surmised, throwing a not-so-well-hidden disgusted glance at the remnants of Peter's deviled ham.
Peter grabbed the plate and shoved it closer to Neal, who quickly turned tail and fled for the kitchen. He smiled in triumph.
Neal hummed to himself as he prepared a sandwich in the Burkes' welcoming kitchen – clearly attributed to Elizabeth's tasteful choices in paint colors and wallpaper pattern. He was just about to stack the second piece of bread on top when he heard Peter break out into another terrible coughing fit. Abandoning his lunch, Neal hurried through the swinging door to find his friend hunched over on the couch, coughing so hard his throat must be burning. He seated himself next to the giant germ – Mozzie's influence, definitely – and rubbed Peter's back until the fit subsided. His face twisted into a frown.
"Hey, buddy, you okay? Maybe you should take something for that cough," he said.
"Nah, that stuff doesn't really work for me," Peter replied, regaining his breath. Neal handed him the glass of water from his lunch. "Thanks."
"Are you hungry? You barely touched your sandwich."
"I'm good. Don't have much of an appetite."
Neal smiled knowingly. "It's because your sandwich tastes like crap, doesn't it? We both know Elizabeth makes your lunches."
Peter glared. "Shut up, Neal. Not like you're some fancy master chef."
Neal shrugged. "Maybe not. But I do think that you should give up looking at those files today and lie down."
"I'm fine," Peter insisted. He sneezed.
"Mm-hmm. Go upstairs and go to bed. I'll clean up here."
Admitting defeat, Peter pushed himself up off the couch and made for the staircase. As he turned around to thank Neal for visiting and to stay away from his valuables, Neal called, "Don't get any ideas. If you're sick and can't come into the office, I'll be stuck doing paperwork all day. Think of the others, Peter."
Peter glared at his partner again, hoping that he managed to hide his smile. He climbed the rest of the stairs to the second floor, shuffled into his bedroom, and collapsed onto his bed.
Rubbing his eyes, Peter turned over onto his back and squinted at the beside clock. 4:30. He'd slept for almost four hours, his muscle aches had mostly subsided, and the chills had disappeared. He smiled. He pushed the covers away, ready for a hot shower, but paused when he realized someone must have tucked him into bed. His mind had been fuzzy all day, but he was sure he had landed on top of the comforter and fallen asleep immediately, too tired to move. Elle would have called him if she was returning early, so the only person it could have been was Neal.
Making his way into the bathroom, Peter shook his head. His partner had come over today against his orders, the first thing he had done was insult Peter's appearance, and he insisted that he was only here to ensure his own safety against boredom at the Bureau. Neal was a rule-breaker, a danger to himself, a thorn in his side, but he was also the best partner Peter had ever had. And he had come over to check up on him on his day off.
Returning to his room to change into a fresh set of sweats, Peter's olfactory senses were immediately assaulted by the delicious scent of chicken noodle soup wafting from the bowl resting on his nightstand. As he walked over to sit on the edge of the bed, he heard the front door shut quietly, then silence in the house. Picking up the bowl, Peter allowed himself to inhale the hot steam before digging in. He sighed in satisfaction. It smelled delicious; it was delicious. He happily slurped up the noodles.
Ten minutes later, Peter stood to return the bowl to the kitchen, catching sight of a note taped to his bedroom door. Pulling it off, he read, in Neal's very neat penmanship:
Heard you moving around upstairs. Hope the soup clears up your sinuses (you look and sound horrible). I'm headed back to June's. See you in the morning.
P.S. I took the liberty of disposing of the deviled ham I found in the cupboards. They were all expired, anyway.
Yes, Peter thought, Neal was a pain in the ass on just about every occasion, but he was also Peter's best friend, who had brought him homemade chicken noodle soup.
The Saturday hadn't been a complete waste, after all.
The only question was, how did Neal know Peter liked goldfish crackers in his soup?
Well, I hope you all enjoyed this! I know that people usually associate goldfish crackers with tomato soup, but I like them in my chicken noodle soup, too, so there's my idiosyncrasy embedded in the story. Thank you for reading!