This is a twoshot, because I couldn't stop typing and it got crazy long ;)
Hope you enjoy…
A/N: bold type is flashback.
Title: Heavy Is The Head That Wears The Crown
Disclaimer: I don't own anything. Titles is from a line from the Katy Perry song 'Who Am I Living For?'
A/N: Peter/Neal, Elizabeth/Neal, Peter/Elizabeth/Neal, Mozzie/Neal and June bonding. No slash.
Summary: It takes a visit to the hospital on Elizabeth's birthday to learn about Neal's version of family.
"The sick do not ask if the hand that smoothes their pillow is pure, nor the dying care if the lips that touch their brow have known the kiss of sin."
It was Elizabeth's birthday, and Peter was sitting on a plastic hospital chair with a frown on his face as he watched Neal rely on a machine to help him breathe.
"You're like a child, you know that?" his partner said, shaking his head at him. "How you lasted so long on your own is beyond me."
"Peter!" Elizabeth automatically scolded him, complete with disapproving look.
"That's precisely the attitude that allowed me to evade you for so long," Neal countered easily, having pulled the oxygen mask away from his mouth. The grin that appeared on his face then was a prelude to the sound of his chuckle. "You underestimate me."
His smugness was abruptly cut short with a cough, and he shot forward with the sharp intake of breath as his body shuddered violently with the exertion. His eyes were wide and frantic, and his nails scraped against the mattress as his fingers curled into the sheets.
"Hey, buddy, just breathe ok, just breathe," he heard someone say, and it sounded so familiar, but he couldn't quite place it. The voice was so low and dim, like a distant echo that rattled inside the cavern of his skull and refused to escape even when the light was shining through to lead the way. "I'm here, Neal, you're ok, you're safe, just breathe."
He felt a hand on his back, rising and falling in sync with every gasp that rattled against his insides, setting off tiny needles to slice at his ribs with every particle of air that passed between his lips.
A siren sounded, piercing straight through his skull and penetrating what felt like every contour of his being. He winced at the migration of pain from his chest to his head and then back again. With great effort he tore his nails from the material they were imbedded in and clawed at his heart, as if to rip it open would be to release
A hand wrapped around his, fingers threading through his own to mold them together; binding him with someone he couldn't see, rooting him to a spot somewhere that seemed to exist off-screen, away from the impending curtain call.
"Neal? Neal, I need you to try and relax, ok?" another voice was trying to reach him, but it sounded just as far away as the first, and the further he spiraled, the more isolated he felt himself become. "I need you to slow down, just breathe in and out slowly."
Darkness was creeping in from all angles, and as the sounds and images started to blend into one until they offered him nothing more than a distorted view of reality; oblivion looked entirely too welcoming to resist.
"Neal?" Peter's voice broke through the haze and his head snapped up to find his partner watching him closely.
"Hmm?" he prompted, as nonchalantly as he could, and mustered up his trademark carefree smile.
"You didn't hear a word I said, did you?" Peter commented, with a shake of the head. "Go home, Neal. You're sick."
"I'm fine, Peter, really," Neal countered, and then released an audible breath with a dismissive wave of the hand, trying hold back a cough. "You think I'd have been able to pull off half the stunts you suspected me of if I could be taken down by a simple cold?"
The look on Peter's face told him he wasn't buying the act, but he continued anyway.
"Truthfully, I'm a little hurt at how little credit you seem to give me for my work," Neal told him, his hand falling over his chest in a display that mocked pain, despite the very real twinge that tugged at his insides.
"Alleged work," Peter corrected, with a smile. "You're slipping."
He feigned a gasp at the accusation.
"You look awful, go home," Peter instructed, nodding towards the door.
"I resent that," Neal automatically defended. "In fact, just this morning I was complimented by no fewer than three of your staff for how dapper I looked."
"Looked, past tense," his partner took the moment to point out. "I doubt you were as white as a sheet this morning and seemed like you were about to fall over at any minute."
He gave Neal a pointed look.
Neal heaved a sigh and rolled his eyes, making a show of getting up out of his chair and walking towards the door, Peter already at his back.
"I still think you're blowing this way out of proportion," he commented over his shoulder.
"Yeah, we'll see," Peter replied easily. "I'm driving."
"Naturally," Neal commented off-handedly and walked through the door Peter held open for him to the elevators.
When Neal woke up, he trained his eyes on the clock on the opposite wall until he could follow the movement down to the exact second it was due to signify another minute had passed.
He didn't suppose he could measure time if he was dead, so he took that as a good sign.
"Oh, Neal, you're awake," Elizabeth's relieved voice carried across the space, and he turned to see her rushing towards him with a wide smile on her face.
She threw her arms around him and held onto him until he felt swathed in her special brand of affection and smiled into her shoulder.
"Like I said," Peter spoke up from the doorway, where he stood observing the pair. "You're such a child."
"Is that your excuse for staying to make sure I was ok?" Neal asked with a grin, and a twinkle in his eye.
"I don't need an excuse, I'm ensuring you're still a useful resource," Peter replied, with a completely straight face. "You're federal property, remember?"
"Nice, Peter," he returned and his partner flashed him a smile as he retook his own seat on the other side of Neal's hospital bed.
"Oh, hush, the pair of you," Elizabeth admonished them lightly, taking Neal's hand in hers. "Peter was extremely worried about you Neal, we both were, in fact. So you can stop terrorizing him now and just concentrate on getting better. No over-exerting yourself, you hear?"
She sent him a pointed look at that and Neal nodded.
"Good," Elizabeth smiled, and then promptly stood up. "Now, June has kindly offered to take me for a coffee to salvage some of my day-off, so I'll leave you two boys to bond, and I'll be back soon."
"I'm sorry for ruining your birthday, Elizabeth," Neal said with an apologetic look.
"Oh nonsense," she dismissed with a roll of the eyes and a puff of air that blew the hair out of her face. "Just no more excitement, alright? I don't think Peter's heart could take it."
She winked at him as she cupped his cheek affectionately.
"Stay well, ok, Neal?" she said to him with a soft smile.
"Always," he replied easily, his lips tweaking upwards almost involuntarily.
Elizabeth shook her head at his antics and rounded the bed to kiss Peter on the cheek before saying goodbye and leaving them to it.
"She's going to come back with a present for you now," Peter remarked, as he watched his wife walk out the room. "I just know it."
"Jealous, Peter?" Neal asked, with the practiced lift of his eyebrow, amusement coloring his words. "Well, maybe you should've thought of that before you were mean to me."
"Are you pouting?" his partner replied, his gaze almost scrutinizing.
"What do I have to sulk about?" Neal said, complete with a brilliant smile. "I'm awaiting the arrival of a gift from your wife."
"Like a kid on Christmas morning," Peter muttered.
"I feel you're overusing your analogy," was Neal's retort.
"Funny," Peter said, pretending to muse over the point. "I don't."
Neal sighed; people actually called him insufferable?
Peter made sure to tell June and her housekeeper that Neal wasn't well, ignoring his protests and banishing him to his room.
He was only slipping off his shoes and unbuttoning his waistcoat when Peter strode through the door.
"You took your time getting up here," Peter remarked and Neal shot him a look.
"Some of us like to move through life at a leisurely pace," he replied.
"Right," Peter scoffed. "This coming from the guy who made his living out of running."
"Actually, I made my living through other means," Neal answered. "I only started running when you insisted on chasing me."
He pulled his shoulders back to slip out of his waistcoat and then tried to cover the movement when the muscles strained in protest, shrugging out of the piece in a slower, smoother movement.
"Besides," he added, drawing Peter's eyes away from his torso and lifting his frown as he faced him. "I'm reformed now, remember?"
"Yeah," Peter laughed, throwing a look around the room and gesturing at their surroundings. "When did that happen again?"
"You know, we've been over this," Neal replied, with an easy smile. "There wasn't any con involved, June simply adores me."
"And I suppose she's bringing you up some chicken soup herself to prove it?" Peter returned with a raised eyebrow that was half-skepticism, half-amusement.
Neal's smile widened, and he titled his head to the side. "Is it the kind she gets from that little store down the street?"
"How do I know?" Peter threw back, in exasperation. "It's chicken soup."
And then he turned and walked towards the bathroom, with a shake of the head that clearly dictated that he didn't have a clue where Neal's mind was.
"I'm going to get you some pills and a damp cloth," Peter called over his shoulder and then threw him a quick glance. "I'm going to hazard a guess and deduct from the beads of sweat on your forehead that you're burning up."
When Peter turned his back to him once more, he lifted a hand to his temple and frowned when the pads of his fingers came away wet and hot to the touch. He heard the cabinets being opened and closed and instead of calling and simply telling Peter where the items were, he took the time to change into his pajamas.
He was in his bed and wrapped up in the covers when Peter reappeared, stopping briefly to retrieve a bottle of water from the fridge, before walking over to him.
"I'd have thought you'd have opted for the couch," Peter commented at his current position.
Neal shrugged half-heartedly, and smiled at his partner. "Hey, you're the one who insisted I was too sick to be working. And June's bringing me chicken soup, I might as well make the most of it."
"Of course, silly me," Peter shook his head and rolled his eyes at him. "How could I think you wouldn't use this opportunity to your advantage?"
"Ah, now, don't forget who was the one to send me home to begin with, Peter," Neal answered, still smiling. "It's not my fault I'm so adorable people have a natural tendency to want to look after me."
"Natural, my ass," Peter laughed his comment off. "You turn on the Caffrey charm and give them the puppy-dog eyes."
"That's what I said, natural and adorable," he replied, flashing his partner a winning smile.
"Just take the pills," Peter said to him then. "Please."
Neal eyed the little white capsules with suspicion and then lifted his gaze to meet Peter's. "Did I mention I'm allergic to most common forms of modern medicine? I prefer homeopathic remedies – or none at all. Yeah, I usually just wait these things out, let the body heal itself. You know, biologically, naturally, safely."
"Neal," Peter all but growled, thrusting the pills at him with more vigor the second time. "Just take the damn pills."
He opened his mouth to pick up where he left off with his protest, "Ah, but you see, Peter, the thing is – "
Peter shot him a warning look.
"Right, the pills," Neal said, carefully reaching out and lifting the tablets between his fingers, "To make me better, because I'm sick, the pills. Gotcha."
And then he swallowed them dry, and grimaced at the taste.
"Here, drink this," Peter instructed next, holding out the bottle of water.
Neal took it from him and brought it to his lips to take a swig. "You gave those ones to me deliberately," he accused his partner, shooting him a scowl.
"If you mean did I refrain from giving you the orange-flavored pills that you so obviously stole from June's granddaughter," Peter quickly deduced. "Then yes, these are adult doses in adult pills for adult people."
"Then I think you need to investigate a grave misconduct by the pharmaceutical business," Neal told him, lips still pursed together in distaste. "Ageism by allocation of flavoring."
"Tell me you're not serious," was all Peter said to that, tilting his head to the side to survey Neal.
"You're just saying that because you weren't the one forced to take drugs against your will." He ran his tongue over his lips and spat his tongue out in disgust, frowning at Peter. "That's twice it's happened to me under your supposed care, Agent Burke. I should lodge a complaint."
"And I should throw your ass back in prison, but here we are," Peter dismissed easily.
"Speaking of here, where's June with my chicken soup?" Neal prompted then, throwing a look over at the door, which opened as if by his command to reveal his landlady carrying a tray with a bowl of steaming hot soup on top.
"Anyone ever told you you're exceptionally demanding, not to mention presumptuous?" his partner remarked.
"Would you say no to this face?" Neal returned and gave him a dazzling smile.
"Yes," Peter replied shortly.
Neal wiggled his eyebrows, his smile growing; point made.
"Thank you so much for this, June, it looks delicious," Neal told her as he pushed himself further up against the headboard.
"Oh, it's no trouble, Neal," she replied kindly, settling the tray on his lap.
She cupped his cheek in her hand and smiled at him, looking intently into his eyes.
"Now you eat up, young man, and make sure you get plenty of rest," June said, looking over him with clear fondness and concern. "I'll be downstairs if you need anything."
Neal smiled up at her, and apparently that was gratitude enough.
When he turned his smile to Peter, he was cut off from saying anything by the words, "Just eat the damn soup already."
He did, and it was every bit as delicious as he'd claimed it would be.
"Our most basic instinct is not for survival but for family."
I'll have the second part up tomorrow.
Thanks for reading, and please let me know what you thought :)