Title: This Much-Crumpled Thing

Summary: Neal's been in some pretty shady place during his criminal career. One of the least pleasant souvenirs is malaria. Written for the Running Hot comment-fic meme being held at the LJ of ariadnes_string.

Characters: Peter, Neal, El

Rating: PG

Wordcount: 5,684

Disclaimer: None of it is mine. None at all, which fills me with woe.

Warnings: Uh, parasite-borne infections?

Neurotic Author's Note #1: GDI I don't need another fandom! Okay, so someone prompted something with malaria, and we all know just how much willpower I have when it comes to that, right? I think the only fandom I haven't written a malaria!fic for is H50, and that's probably only a matter of time. Because malaria is such a common illness. IDEK, okay? I'm just rolling with it.

Neurotic Author's Note #2: This is my first story in the White Collar fandom. I am not sure that I got the voices quite right, so you'll have to bear with me.

Neurotic Author's Note #3: Comment-fic, which therefore means it's unbeta'd.

"You're telling me you need to take the day off," Peter says flatly into the receiver. He doesn't bother hiding the disbelief in his tone, because, really, the timing on this is far too coincidental, especially taking into consideration that he's talking to Neal Caffrey, the man for whom there is no such thing as coincidence. Neal Caffrey creates his coincidences. "You nursing the scrape on your knee from when you blew up that warehouse?" he asks, maybe a little more nastily than the situation warrants.

Neal sighs, keeps his tone quiet, conciliatory. "Something like that. I'm just under the weather, okay? Nothing big, I've had this before, I'll just take my meds and sleep it off. I promise I'll be in as soon as I can, okay? A couple of days, tops. It's not like you can't tell where I am, anyway."

"It wouldn't be the first time you played hooky. How am I supposed to know that you haven't messed with your anklet again?"

"You'll just have to take my word for it, I guess. Next time, I just won't bother calling in, since you're determined not to believe a word that comes out of my mouth anyway," Neal snaps, and the line goes dead.

Peter slams the phone back down, grateful at least for office phones that can still be slammed. There is nothing satisfying about pressing an "end call" button, no matter how viciously you do it. He feels a little bad about hurting Neal's feelings –and he doesn't know what it means that he can tell that just from Neal's tone when he hung up– but he tells himself it serves Neal right. If he wants to play fast and loose with the rules and violate the tenuous trust that they've managed to build up over the past two years, well, that's his problem, not Peter's. He can't forge an entire warehouse's worth of priceless art, pretend to destroy it in order to resell it, and expect Peter to extend the same level of trust as before. That's asking too much, even of Peter. God knows he's forgiven Neal enough misdemeanours over the past forty-eight months.

So that's that. If Neal wants to lay low for a while and play the avoidance game so he doesn't have to face Peter's disapproval like a five-year-old, let him. Peter is going to act like the adult that he is in this relationship and carry on with his work. The bad guys aren't going to catch themselves, after all. He grabs his pen, realizes that it's the FBI pen Neal won from him and probably left on his desk at some point, irritably picks up another one, and starts taking notes on what is probably the most boring mortgage fraud case in the history of all mortgage fraud cases. After most of the morning has crawled by, though, and when he's done more doodling in the margins of his notepad than notetaking, he gives it up as a bad job.

It's not that he's worried, or anything. Neal doesn't get sick, ever, so whatever this is he'd definitely faking it. Probably. It's not like he wouldn't have told Peter if he had some sort of recurring sickness, after all, right? Right, he thinks blearily, because Neal is always so forthcoming about his personal life. He drums his fingers on his desk, glances at his phone, and after a few seconds' debate picks up the receiver and dials the number for the detention centre where Neal was being held before his conditional release. It takes a little bit of persuasion, a little bit of fancy footwork and not a little charm before he gets the information he was looking for, but get it he does, and he feels his mouth go dry.

"Thank you," he manages. "You've been very helpful." He grabs his briefcase, stops just long enough to let Diana know he's going to check on Neal. "I might not be back in today, but I'll have my phone with me if there's an emergency."

"Sure thing, boss. Give Neal our best, would you?"


It's ridiculous, he tells himself even as he's hailing a cab. Neal is a grown man, is obviously capable of dealing with this on his own, as evidenced by the fact that he said as much over the phone. He has a place to stay, food in his fridge, and medication close to hand. There is absolutely no reason for Peter to be going to check on him, other than maybe to make sure that it's not all some elaborate hoax, some prank the universe is trying to play on him. Luckily, El backs up his decision when he calls her.

"Poor thing! Of course you should go see how he is. Do you want me to come?"

"No, no, you have that big thing tomorrow, I know you're busy. I'll be fine, I'm just going to go make sure he's at home where he said he'd be. The timing is awfully convenient, is all I'm saying."

He can practically hear El smiling indulgently on the other end of the line. "Of course, hon. You make sure of that, and call me if you need anything, okay?"

"Okay. Love you."

"Love you too."

June answers the door shortly after he rings, her expression pinched. "Oh, hello Peter. Neal hasn't been answering his door –I think he's not feeling well," she confides.

"He's at home, then?"

She looks surprised. "Well, yes. I never saw him leave, at any rate. Did you want to go knock?"

"If you don't mind."

"Of course not. You know where to find me if you need anything. That boy doesn't know the first thing about taking care of himself when he's sick, if you ask me."

"Neal doesn't get sick."

"And that's the problem right there," June says with finality, as though it's somehow an answer in and of itself.

Peter doesn't pause to give her statement any more thought, just heads directly to the guest room that Neal has been renting from June since day one of this little experiment in rehabilitation and raps on the door. He waits for a moment and somehow isn't surprised when he doesn't receive an answer. He knocks again, louder.

"Neal! It's Peter, you going to let me in or what?"

There's still no answer, but this time he thinks he hears a muffled thump from inside the room. It's a little unethical to break into Neal's place, but then again Neal is a criminal and isn't above breaking into places himself, so Peter deftly crushes any qualms he might have and pulls out his own set of lock picks. If there's one thing to be said for Mozzie, it's that he's a very good teacher –it takes less than a minute before the tumblers slide into place with a satisfying click, and Peter lets himself into the room.

"Neal? Hope you don't mind my bypassing the locks. It's not like you haven't done the same thing several dozen times more often than I have..."

He looks around, doesn't immediately catch sight of his wayward charge, heads toward the small bedroom, and stops short in the doorway when he catches sight of his partner. Neal obviously made an attempt to get up when he heard the door, because he's sitting at the foot of his bed, legs still halfway tangled in his sheets. He's shivering, face glistening with sweat, his hair damp and clinging to his head, dressed in only a pair of boxers and an undershirt that was probably white but is now stained with perspiration. His tracking anklet stands out starkly against the pale skin of his leg. He looks up from where he was trying to disentangle himself and flashes Peter a wan, strained version of his usual smile.

"Oh, um, hey Peter," he says, his words practically unintelligible through chattering teeth. "I was coming, but... did you get the door okay?"

Peter ignores the question, is over by Neal's side in the time it takes to take two steps. He crouches next to him, pulls the sheets free. "Jesus, Neal, why didn't you tell me it was this bad?"

Neal shivers a little harder. "I'm okay," he insists. "It's just a fever. Had this before."

"Yeah, I know, I got your medical file." Peter gives his arm a nudge. "Come on, you can't stay on the floor," he says, hauling him up just far enough to seat him back on his bed and brush the back of his fingers against the kid's forehead. "You're burning up. How on earth did you manage to contract malaria, anyway?"

"Uh, you know, theoretically, if someone was planning a theft in Myanmar," Neal lies back, squirming uncomfortably on the unmade bed, although whether it's due to the fever or to the admission he's not making, Peter can't tell, "they might have to go there. To case the place. Theoretically. And then, uh, you know, there are spots there –pockets– where malaria's endemic. And, say, theoretically, that the authorities got a little too close, and the person had to lie low long enough that the prophylactic meds ran out, then, well, the odds are pretty good that they'd catch it."

"I see." Peter can't help but smile. "Theoretically."

Neal's eyes close, leaving him looking pale and exhausted under the sheen of sweat. "The whole place is teeming with theoretical mosquitoes."

"I wish you'd told me you were this sick," Peter tells him, but it only gets him a shrug.

"I'll be fine. Had it worse before. Besides, you wouldn't have believed me." The tone is tired rather than accusing, but Peter flinches nonetheless at the truth in the words.

"Did you take your medication, at least?"

"Uh..." Neal's face scrunches up in concentration. "Yes? I think so. Maybe?"

Peter sighs, gets up and strips off his jacket, hanging it on the doorknob. It's not great for the fabric, but that's hardly his major concern right now. "Okay. Do you keep your meds in the bathroom like normal people do, or should I be looking for a hiding place with a secret code?"

Neal turns over to look at him, arms wrapped around his midriff, curling over on himself in a vain attempt to stop shivering. He coughs weakly, his expression one of mild confusion. "Why would I put my meds somewhere hard to get to?"

"I don't know, it was just a question. Stay put, I'll be right back."

It's easy enough once he knows what to look for. He finds the pills on the top shelf of Neal's medicine cabinet along with a sheet of paper detailing dosages and detailed instructions on how many to take at what intervals, along with advice to take the pills with food. The pill bottle is brand new, and a quick inspection of the contents compared to the number written on the label shows no discrepancies, which means Neal hasn't taken any pills at all. He's pretty sure Neal isn't going to want anything close to real food, but a quick look through his kitchen cabinet reveals a box of crackers which should do the trick. At least ten minutes have gone by by the time he gets back, but Neal hasn't moved from where he left him, huddled on the bed, his sheets still bunched up by his feet. Peter perches on the edge of the bed, places his supplies on the night table.

"Crackers?" Neal asks a little dubiously.

"You're not supposed to have these on an empty stomach. I figured crackers were pretty safe," Peter pulls the covers back up, tucking them over Neal's shoulders. "Can you sit up?"

With a reluctant nod Neal pushes himself up just far enough to accept the pills and water, grudgingly chews on a cracker at Peter's insistence. "You don't have to stay, I'll be fine on my own," he mutters, burying his face halfway in his pillow. "You didn't have to come."

Peter rolls his eyes and makes a show of picking up the container of pills. "Apparently I did, or you'd never have taken your meds."

"I'm fine," Neal insists, though the effect is ruined by the fact that his teeth are still chattering. "You don't want to be here, anyway. You should go. Aren't there important mortgage fraud cases begging for your attention?" he asks a little petulantly, his lower lip jutting out in something that looks perilously close to a pout, not that Peter thinks it's cute or anything. Definitely not.

"Yes there are, but they can wait. They're pretty boring, anyway," he says, and is rewarded with a faint smile.

Neal lets his eyes close. "You still mad at me?"

"Yup. But that doesn't mean I'm going to let you fry that very useful brain of yours. You think you can get some sleep?"

There's a movement that Peter thinks might be an attempt at a shrug. "Can try."

"Attaboy. I'll go snoop in your apartment. Yell if you need anything."

Neal burrows further under his covers. "Thanks, Pete."

It's not so bad, Peter tells himself as he wanders through the tiny apartment, looking aimlessly through Neal's bookshelves. His only experience of malaria are the descriptions he read in the nineteenth-century novels he read when he was younger and in the few movie depictions he's seen, and none of it was especially reassuring. This, though, he can deal with. High fevers are bad, yes, but Neal's got medication for it so all they have to do is let this thing run its course and then it'll all be over. He pulls out a book of the collected works of Wallace Stevens to read since he's in no mood to try to parse the admittedly really boring case that landed on his desk that morning. He wonders if there's another unwitting agent he could foist it on and make them think it was all their idea.

He's in the middle of trying to parse what he thinks might be a metaphor when something –he's not even sure what– jolts him out of his thoughts. He lifts his head, abandoning the poetry for now, and realizes that he can hear what sounds like a soft moan coming from the bedroom. He drops the book on the sofa and hurries back to the bedroom to find Neal tossing on the bed, sheets soaked with sweat and thoroughly tangled in his legs.

"Hey, hey Neal, take it easy," he leans over him, puts a hand on his shoulder, alarmed at the heat that's rolling off him in waves. "Neal, you with me?"

He doesn't get an answer, just a low moan of distress. Suddenly this whole situation is starting to look a lot less like the walk in the park he thought it would be. He has no idea if something like this warrants a trip to the hospital, or if he just needs to let Neal sleep it off, or what. He shakes Neal by the shoulder just a little harder, trying to rouse him.

"Neal, talk to me. Do you need a hospital?"

That gets Neal's attention for a moment at least. "No... be fine. No hospital. Please."

"I'm not so sure."


"We'll see. I want to check your temperature first."

It's a matter of seconds to find a tympanic thermometer in Neal's medicine cabinet and to bring it back, although Peter is pretty sure that most patients don't squirm nearly this much. He clamps down on the impulse to shake Neal, reminding himself that it's not like he's doing it on purpose just to be contrary. Any other time, he might be, but definitely not today. A few seconds later the thermometer beeps shrilly and flashes 104.2, and Peter feels something constrict unpleasantly in his chest.

"Jesus, Neal."

Peter is definitely not equipped to deal with this. On the other hand, he knows someone who is, and luckily for him she picks up on the first ring. El listens to his slightly-panicky recitation of the facts with a mixture of amusement and commiseration.

"Poor guy, it sounds like a rough time. How high did you say his fever was?"

"One hundred and four."

She clucks her tongue. "Okay, hon. I can't get there until a little later this afternoon, but you don't have to take him to the hospital unless his fever goes higher than that –anything over one hundred and five, really. Or if he goes into convulsions, but he probably won't."

"Convulsions?" Peter is horrified.

"Don't worry," El soothes. "That's really rare. Just make sure he drinks a lot and takes his pills. If you're really in doubt, then you should take him to the hospital."

"He was just really opposed to the idea. I don't know, El. I mean, this isn't anything I'm used to dealing with!" Peter tries to keep his voice down, pacing agitatedly in front of the door to Neals, room, running his free hand through hair that's been getting progressively thinner thanks to none other than the man currently in the throes of delirium not ten feet away.

"Just keep him cool. Use wet towels or ice packs if he's got any, just don't put the ice packs directly against his skin, okay?"

"Yeah, okay. What time can you get here?"

This time he's pretty sure he doesn't imagine the quiet huff of laughter from his beloved wife. "I need at least two hours, maybe three. I'll call when I leave, but my cell will be on, okay hon?"

"Right. Towels?"

"Any kind of cold compress."

"Okay, thanks El."

Neal has large, fluffy towels that act like sponges and drip all over the floor no matter how well Peter wrings them out, but since there's nothing with which to make a suitable ice pack in Neal's tiny freezer, Peter figures this is better than nothing. Neal is still out of it, murmuring under his breath, but doesn't offer even a token resistance when Peter carefully peels off his undershirt. He does try to jerk away when Peter lays a wet towel over his chest, but he settles again as Peter shushes him, running his fingers through his sweat-tangled hair.

"Easy, Neal, it's just me. I promise I'm not getting fresh, I'm just trying to get you cooled off, okay?"

Neal shakes his head, eyes half-open and staring at something Peter can't see. "I'm not supposed to go in there."

"In where, Neal?"

"Peter?" Neal's eyes focus for a moment, glittering with fever.

"Yeah, it's me."


Peter sighs, uses a damp washcloth to wipe at Neal's face. "Yeah, I know. You're not due for more meds for a while yet, but what you took before should help, I promise. Come on, hold still. I'm trying to get you cooled off here, but if you keep wriggling around like that it's not going to help."

It's a waiting game after that, and Peter keeps himself busy checking Neal's temperature every half hour, coaxing water into him, switching out wet towels to try and keep his fever in check and keeping him quiet when the delirium gets too bad. Somewhere around four o'clock in the afternoon Neal sits up in his bed, throat working soundlessly, and jackknifes forward to vomit over the side of the bed, narrowly missing Peter's lap. He collapses where he is, sprawled awkwardly over the mattress, and Peter has to haul him bodily into his arms in order to get him back into bed.

"It figures that, even sick, you'd be making my life needlessly complicated," Peter tells him, but he keeps his voice soft as Neal clings to him reflexively, panting from the fever and what looks like a remnant of nausea. "Come on, easy now, I gotcha," he cups the back of his partner's head, strokes his hair once, quickly, as though he's worried someone might catch him doing it. Ridiculous.

El shows up just before six o'clock with a change of clothing for him, a plastic bag from the drugstore, and a large bag of take-out Chinese food. "June let me in. I figure we might be in this for the long haul," she says, rising a little on her toes to kiss him in greeting, "so I brought supplies and something more comfortable than your work suit. You look done in," she says, surveying him critically. Peter long ago ditched his tie and shoes and loosened several buttons on his shirt. "Sit, have some water yourself because I bet you haven't had anything to eat or drink all day. Tell me I'm wrong, I dare you."

Peter smiles and shakes his head. "You're not wrong."

"You can't take care of Neal if you're ready to fall over yourself. Let me take over for a bit. Eat, take a break, and I'll call if I need anything. How is he?"

He grimaces. "Bad. At least, he looks bad to me, but I don't know anything about this."

She kisses him again and shoves him gently toward the sofa. "Sit."

For the first time since he first heard the word 'malaria' over the phone this morning, Peter feels himself relax a little. It's stupid, but knowing that someone has his back in this mess is more than a little reassuring, and now that the responsibility for Neal's well-being is no longer resting solely on his shoulders he finds he's actually starving. He wolfs down his General Tao chicken in record time and is cleaning sticky sauce off his fingers when El comes to join him on the sofa and plucks an egg roll out of the paper bag.

"Neal okay?"

"He's sleeping, or at least lying still with his eyes closed, which I'll take as a win," she says around a mouthful of egg roll. "Poor kid. How on earth did he get malaria, anyway?"

"He won't tell me, but apparently there was a theoretical trip to Burma," Peter smiles, and El mirrors his expression.

"I see."

"Thank you for coming, El."

"Hey, I like Neal too, and no one should have to be alone when they're this sick. It'll be fine," she squeezes his knee. "He's resilient."

"Yeah, I know. I just... I've never seen him like this."

El finishes her roll, pulls out a small box of pineapple chicken and a pair of chopsticks. "He does put up a lot of barriers. It's strange to see him with all his defenses down," she says, and not for the first time Peter finds himself marvelling at his luck in finding such an insightful woman and persuading her to marry him.

It's easier after that, with El helping him. Neal's fever hovers steadily around 104 degrees for the whole evening no matter what they do, but it never goes any higher or fluctuates in any way, which Peter figures can't be all bad. El is a lot better at the whole nurturing part of this, but more often than not he finds he's reluctant to let her do much of the manhandling that Neal requires to get him to do anything like sit up and drink the electrolyte solution that El bought at the drugstore and mixed up for him. Neal is barely aware of their presence, just enough that he doesn't panic outright when he's touched, but he's anxious and skittish, and Peter wouldn't put it past him to lash out in fear at a wrong move from either of them. Given the circumstances, he'd much rather be on the receiving end of the blow than his wife.

When Neal is quieter they take it in turns to watch him, each stretching out on the sofa to catch a quick nap in the meantime. Peter is jolted out of an uneasy sleep by the sound of voices in the dark. He sits up, groggy and disoriented, trying to figure out just where he is and why he's not in his own bed, when he recognizes El's voice, quiet and placating, but he recognizes the slight hint of desperation in her tone. He blinks, catches sight of the LED display on Neal's television telling him it's not quite three am, staggers to his feet, because El and Neal are both not ten feet away, right by Neal's front door.

"Neal, sweetie," El is saying, both hands on Neal's arm to restrain him, "come on back to bed. You shouldn't be up. Neal!" she turns at Peter's approach, her face illuminated only by the dim light streaming in through the window. "He can't hear me," she says a little desperately.

Peter takes her by the shoulders. "I got this. Neal," he moves forward to block his partner from making a beeline for the front door. "Neal, what are you doing?"

Neal stops in his tracks, wavering on legs made unsteady by fever and the fact he hasn't had anything more substantial than crackers and Gatorade all day. "I have to go," he tells Peter, his eyes bright and wild. "I have to get out."

"You can't go now, you're sick and in your skivvies, my friend," Peter places his hands Neal's shoulders, trying to figure out if any of what he's saying is getting through. "You can go tomorrow, okay? When you're feeling better. How does that sound?"

He gets a headshake, even thought Neal's legs are already beginning to buckle under the strain. "No, I have to... it said I would thank them. I just..." His legs give out in earnest, catching Peter off-guard. He barely has time to adjust his grip to catch Neal before he falls, their combined momentum bringing them to the floor anyway in a slightly-controlled descent. Neal struggles in Peter's grip. "Let go! Let go, I can't think... please, I can't think like this. Please!"

El crouches next to them. "Neal, it's okay, it's just us. No one's going to hurt you, okay?"

It's obvious that, whatever Neal's seeing, it's not them, but he clutches at El's sleeve. "No, I have to fix this. You have to let me go. Kate, Kate please... you believe me, right? I have to fix this before Peter sees, he won't understand, he doesn't believe me..."

"What won't I understand?"

But Neal has started shivering again, teeth chattering so hard Peter starts to wonder if that might not damage them. Whatever's going through his brain, he can't explain it to them, and it's likely not rational anyway. He lets Peter pull him upright, sags against him, still shivering so hard it feels like his whole body is spasming, and Peter finds he can't do much except hold on, rubbing his arm with the hand that's not keeping him propped up and murmuring soothing nonsense to him. Neal pulls in a shuddering breath.

"I can't get out," he whimpers. "I keep trying and it pulls me back in. It won't come off..."

Peter rubs Neal's shoulder, feels his heart clench unpleasantly. El is looking stricken, as though her thoughts are mirroring his own. "I'm sorry, Neal, for what it's worth. Come on, can you get up? That's it," he murmurs encouragingly as Neal lets him pull them painfully to their feet. "That's it, I gotcha. We're going to go back to bed, okay? Easy does it, one step at a time."

Neal is half-collapsed in his arms, making it impossible for El to help, but she follows a few steps behind until Peter can get his partner settled again and is ready with another towel when Neal is back in his bed. Peter stays seated on the edge of the bed, one hand on Neal's forehead, stroking his hair with his thumb, which seems to be keeping the kid calm for now at least.


"You back in the world of the lucid?" Peter manufactures a smile when he leans over to see if Neal is actually tracking anything that's happening."

Neal blinks at him, which makes whether or not he's lucid anyone's guess. "Peter? Are you here?"

"Yeah, I'm here."

At least Neal seems willing to take his word for it. "Why don't you believe me?"

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out what he's talking about. Peter sighs. "I'm starting to, actually. We'll talk about it when your brain isn't trying to imitate a fried egg, okay?"

"I'm sorry," Neal shifts, turns his face into Peter's palm, eyes closing with a small sigh. "I am..."

"I know you are," Peter says quietly. "Me too. Just... get some sleep, okay? I promise, we'll talk about it when you're better."


"I promise."

It seems that that promise is all it takes for Neal to sink back into sleep, breathing evening out, but Peter can't bring himself to remove his hand or even move much further away. He settles himself by the bed, resigned to watching his partner sleep, if only for his own peace of mind.

When he wakens again, light is streaming in through the window and El is shaking him by the shoulder. He glances at the bed, but Neal is still asleep, mouth a hanging a little open, one arm flung protectively over his chest. He still looks terrible, but there are none of the lines of pain and fever from before, and Peter wonders if that means they've turned a corner of some kind.

"I have to go to work," El says apologetically. "You should try to get some proper sleep before he wakes up, okay? I think the worst is over."

Peter staggers to his feet and, heedless of stubble and morning breath, kisses her soundly. "Thank you for this, hon. Are you going to be okay for your event?"

"I'll be fine. I'll just delegate a little more than usual," she smiles and doesn't complain at all about his lack of hygiene and he marvels again at his luck. Her smile widens, eyes searching. "What?"

"Just thinking how lucky I am."

El pokes him. "Very lucky. Now I really have to go or I'll be late, and you need a nap and a shower. I'll leave it up to you to pick the order."

He takes her advice to heart, making quick use of Neal's shower and stretching back out on the sofa. Neal is still dead to the world when Peter wakes up again, spends most of the day sleeping. He only rouses when Peter shakes him gently in order to make him take his meds and drops right off again afterward, long past the point of exhaustion. Still, the fever has definitely broken, and although what little research Peter is able to do indicates that it might spike again tonight, he thinks that El was right and that the worst is past.

He settles in the chair by the bed with his abandoned book of poetry from the night before, leafs through it quietly. The day passes without noise, so much so that he actually startles when he hears Neal's voice, hoarse in the silence.

"What are you reading?" He's propped up on his elbows, still groggy from sleep.

Peter almost drops the book, holds it up instead, marking his place by inserting his thumb between the pages. "Stevens. You want some water?"

Neal shakes his head, but he's looking at Peter, bemused. "You stayed."

"Sure I stayed." Peter wonders if anyone in Neal's life has ever stayed, and the thought is depressing. "How are you feeling?"

"Better, I think."

"El made chicken soup before she left. You want some?"

"Uh, maybe later. El was here?"

"She might have realized I was a little out of my depth," Peter admits with a grin, and Neal smiles back weakly.

"Never thought I'd see the day." He settles back on the bed, eyes drooping already. "Damn it. Can't believe I'm still tired..."

"It's not surprising, you were delirious for most of the night. If I were you I'd be tired. Go back to sleep."

Neal hums something that sounds like it might be agreement, but then again, Peter can't be sure. "Thought we were going to talk."

"Oh, that part you remember?" he smirks. "We'll talk, but when you're better. Go to sleep," he repeats, but Neal makes a face, forces his eyes open again. "What is it?"

Neal doesn't quite meet his gaze. "Weird dreams," he mutters, as if it's an explanation, and maybe it is.

Peter pulls his chair closer to the bed. "I might have a solution to that. Can't guarantee no weird dreams, but at least they'll be different weird dreams," he promises, and opens up the book again. "Close your eyes, at least," he orders gently, and when Neal does as he's told, he begins to read, keeping his voice quiet.

A red bird flies across the golden floor.

It is a red bird that seeks out his choir

Among the choirs of wind and wet and wing.

A torrent will fall from him when he finds...

The next time Peter looks up from his book, Neal is asleep again.