A future fic, set some four years down the road.
While this has nothing to do with the finale, I found that I had an indescribable urge to post it now... perhaps just looking forward to a time when things are different for our boys, and the distrust of this season is a distant memory. I thank you for humoring me, and hope that you enjoy
Present Tense: Future Perfect
The phone rang in the darkness. Elizabeth groaned, disentangled herself from Peter's arms, and grabbed it from the nightstand. Blinking at the clock radio, she squinted at the time. 3:41 AM. "Hello?"
"Elizabeth? It's Neal." His voice was far from steady.
She was instantly awake, sitting up and turning on her reading lamp. "Neal? What's wrong?"
Reaching to her side, she grasped Peter's arm. His eyes opened just enough to see the expression on her face, and abruptly, he too was awake.
She pulled the receiver up away from her lips. "It's Neal." Pulling it back down as Peter sat up and rubbed his eyes, she spoke with a calm she didn't feel. "Where are you?"
"At the hospital. It's happening." Elizabeth waited, willing herself not to talk. "She had some labor pains but they stopped… They think the baby might be in distress. They're talking about a c-section."
Elizabeth did some quick calculations in her head. "Okay. Okay, she's what, thirty-five weeks? That's not bad…"
"Even better. You know she's at the best place for it, hon."
"I know. I just – I'm…"
Elizabeth felt her eyes watering. "Listen, Neal. I'm giving you to Peter while I get dressed. Okay?"
Peter stepped around to her side of the bed, and she realized he already had jeans and a t-shirt on. He put his hand out for the phone, and handed his over at the same time. He glanced quickly at his watch and made a calculation. "Call Diana?" They traded phones and Elizabeth nodded, dialing as she dashed for the bathroom. Peter looked after her and took a deep breath. "Hey, Buddy. What's going on?"
"They're taking her down for a sonogram… "
Peter nodded, trying to counter the stress he was hearing. "Neal, kids show up when they feel like it. You know how it was for us… I'm sure that -"
"I know. It's just that the way they talk about this stuff, it scares me to death. And I think it scares Sara even more. I'm trying to be strong for her, but-"
"Neal." The older agent rubbed his eyes with his free hand and took a deep breath. "It's times like this that you have to be strong for each other. If she knows that you're scared too, it just might make it easier for her."
"You think so?" The tension in the younger voice was evident, but hope was trying to find a way through.
Peter scratched his fingers through his hair. "I know it was that way for El." A faint grin crossed his lips. "I guess it shows that you think it's just as important as they do. Sometimes I'm pretty sure women are stronger than we are, when it comes down to it... especially when they feel they need to be. Where's Sara now?"
The familiar exasperated sigh made Peter feel better. "They're doing a sonogram, and then prepping her for an epidural. She's scared, but she told the doctor she only wanted to hear positive affirmations. I don't even know what that music is she has playing."
Peter chuckled. "El said she was taking this whole natural childbirth thing pretty seriously. Just remember, she's a tough lady. The doctors would be smart to do what she says, because she could probably take them all on."
"Exactly." There was a longish pause, a more vulnerable voice emerging. "Peter?"
Peter responded gently, but with his usual steady tone. "Neal. Don't borrow trouble."
The firm, warm assurance of his partner's voice only served to open the crack in Neal's demeanor even farther. "I mean, if something should happen to the baby… or to her - oh, for God's sake, Peter –" his voice cracked to a stop, and Peter waited patiently until his breath steadied. "You know… I never thought I'd even want to be…"
"Hey. You know she wants this as much as you do."
"I know, but …" The silence held out for a moment. "Damn, it Peter. I've never been so scared."
The agent grinned. "And that's why you'll be a great father, Neal. We'll be down there in fifteen minutes, okay? Tell Sara to wait for us."
It was actually twenty minutes later that they arrived at the hospital maternity ward. Neal, blue eyes weary and dark curls unusually unkempt, came out to meet them dressed in scrubs. "Thanks for coming, guys."
Elizabeth hugged him hard. "You know we're here for you." She gave him a kiss on the cheek and he suddenly frowned.
"Who's with the baby?"
"Diana was on call for this shift. It'll be fine, Matthew loves her."
El laughed at his expression. "We've had an emergency schedule going for a week. You should know by now how many people care about you." She patted his cheek gently as he looked down, overcome once more, and changed the subject deftly. "How's she doing?"
Neal swallowed hard. "They're still checking some things … They won't let me in there until they finish."
"She'll be fine. The doctors will let you in once they get her set up, I'm sure."
His eyes were a deeper shade of blue in the night. "I hope so."
Elizabeth looked to Peter for help, who stepped up and put an arm around Neal's shoulder. "It's going to be okay. I know it's scary. But they're going to be fine…"
Neal opened his mouth to say something and stopped abruptly as a nurse walked in to the waiting area.
"Mr. Caffrey?" Neal swallowed hard.
"That would be me. How is she?"
The nurse smiled. "Much better than we feared. Her water broke before we could start the epidural for a section, and labor is coming on spontaneously. In a big way, I might add. Sometimes it just happens that way."
Neal stared, and Peter asked for him. "How's the baby?"
"According to the monitors, fine. You need to scrub up, Mr. Caffrey. Your wife is going to need all the support you can give her, and we can't have the father meet the baby for the first time with germy hands…"
She motioned for him to follow, and Neal had gone five steps before he stopped cold. Peter stepped forward and spoke softly. "Neal? What's wrong?"
"Peter… this is really going to happen."
Peter stared for a moment, then smiled, brown eyes sparkling. "Yeah, it is. You're going to be a father, Neal."
"But… am I crazy? I mean… what do I know…"
"No one knows, Neal." He reached over and gave his friend's shoulder a squeeze. "Everyone knows how much you two want this. Hell, I haven't even met this baby, and I'm crazy about it. The only thing you'll have to worry about is the kid getting spoiled rotten. Just get in there and back her up. You're going to do fine."
Neal shook his head, a smile growing on his face. "Thank you."
"Go. Be brave. Your wife needs you."
Neal's old, familiar smile suddenly sparkled with excitement in the dim corridor. He looked from Peter to Elizabeth, and said, "I'll let you know as soon as I can - if Matty has a wife or a best friend."
They smiled broadly. "We'll wait." Elizabeth waved after him as they dashed down the corridor. Then she turned and rested her head on Peter's shoulder. "He's adorable." Her husband chuckled. "Do you think they'll be okay?"
Peter gave a peaceful sigh as he hugged her close. "I think they're going to be fine."
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