The next two days went by in a haze of sleeping and waking up aching, too hot or too cold. Either Peter or El was always there with the thermometer and the never-ending supply of plastic bottles. With the vile cough syrup out of the picture, Neal didn't feel sick to his stomach, just not-hungry in a way he could ignore long enough to drink the shakes. By Thursday evening he felt well enough for a dinner of oatmeal and chilled peaches from a little plastic cup, the peaches soft and cool against his throat.
When he woke up Friday morning, Neal still felt tired and achy but he could swallow without wincing, and he thought his fever was mostly gone. He wandered across the hall to the bathroom and found his own robe hanging on the back of the door. As he walked down the stairs he heard Peter talking, and when he came around the corner he saw Peter sitting at the dining room table, his laptop open, files spread out next to it, his cell in hand.
Peter's eyes widened when he saw Neal, as if walking around was a miracle after the last few days, but then he shook his head, returning to the phone call. "Look," he said, sounding exasperated, "if they still have a problem with your expense report tell them to call me and we'll get it straight."
Neal walked into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door. Nothing looked especially appealing, so he just grabbed one of his shakes and went back to sit down across the table from Peter.
"Right," Peter said. "I'll tell him. Call me if you need anything before tomorrow." Peter put the phone down then looked appraisingly at Neal. "So, it lives."
"It lives and feels a lot better. I'll be fine if you need to go in to the office."
"Oh no, it's Friday and I got the go-ahead to work from home. If you think I'm going to squander this opportunity your brain must have gotten fried by that fever more than I thought." Peter took a drink of coffee and looked at Neal over the top of the mug. "By the way, Diana sends her well-wishes."
Neal felt embarrassed at the idea of everybody talking about him, so he just drank more of his shake.
"What do you think about breakfast? I was going to make some eggs and bacon, since El's not here to silently scold me about cholesterol."
"No bacon." Neal shook his head hard at the idea. "But I could eat an egg maybe. Some toast?"
"Coming right up." Peter stood up and walked to the fridge.
"Thank you," Neal said.
"It's really not a problem, I was going to cook anyway."
"No, I mean-Peter, thank you." Neal tried to make it clear with his voice that he meant everything: Peter coming to get him, taking him into his home, taking care of him.
Peter nodded, his eyes sober. "You're welcome. And you don't need to thank me again. Or El."
The weekend that followed was strange but good. Neal was still exhausted, still weak in a way that made him feel vulnerable and on-edge, but was awake for enough of the day to get bored. Every time he suggested that it would be okay if he went back to June's Peter or El blew it off as if it wasn't even a consideration, and Neal didn't want to argue. Saturday evening, Neal sat in the armchair in the living room watching a movie with Peter and El-or rather, with Peter after El fell asleep ten minutes into the movie curled up with her bare feet on the couch, leaning against Peter.
"Is she really okay?" Neal whispered during a quiet scene in the movie.
Peter tilted his head to look at El, then shrugged the shoulder she wasn't sleeping against. "She has nightmares, but they don't seem as bad as they were. And she's talking to somebody. She's stronger than she looks."
"She looks pretty strong to me."
Peter just smiled and looked back at the TV.
On Sunday, El went into Manhattan for a few hours to manage an event, and when she came home she had a garment bag in hand-two of Neal's suits, plus shirts, ties, shoes and all of the other little accessories that went with them, including his hat.
Neal had been napping when she walked into the guest room but he sat up, grateful to see some of the trappings of his normal, healthy life. "Elizabeth, you raided my closet!"
"I did!" She grinned. "It was fun, too. I'd like to get a closet like that built for myself, but then there wouldn't be enough room left for the bedroom furniture."
"You could move to Connecticut, get a nice big house out in the suburbs and have all the closet space you want."
"Bite your tongue. Peter would probably like it, aside from the commute, but I love being in the city."
"Me, too," Neal agreed, thinking about how close he'd come to leaving it for good.
"I'm glad," El said, and Neal knew she was thinking about the same thing.
Peter came downstairs Monday morning to find Neal sitting at the dining table, dressed to the nines and clutching a mug of coffee as if it would help him look more energetic. "I don't think so," Peter said, heading into the kitchen for his own cup of coffee.
"I feel a lot better, Peter. I don't need to spend all day in bed like an invalid."
Neal did look better; his color was closer to normal, even if he still had shadows under his eyes and was slightly washed out, and his fever was more or less gone. On the other hand, he clearly needed more time and rest and good food to be healthy again, and now that he was back to eating actual food El had Plans-with-a-capital-P that Peter completely supported.
"You can't go back to work until you're cleared by a doctor, and your appointment is on Wednesday." Peter held up his hand as Neal opened his mouth with the expected rebuttal. "And do you really want to go back to June's and be alone there all day and night? Do you really think you're going to be up to running around inside your radius, getting into God knows what trouble?"
Neal closed his mouth like he'd been smacked, and Peter felt guilty. Ever so slightly guilty, but not enough to soften the blow.
"I just thought you might want me out of your hair now that I'm well on the way to recovery."
"You're not going to be in my hair that much. I'll be gone all day, and El will be in and out, but you'll have Satch to keep you company during the day. I know he'll be happy about that, especially if you feel up to taking him for a short walk every now and then."
Peter laughed. "I got the Marshals to move your radius here, one mile centered at this house. But I don't think you're going to be up for more than that anyway, not in the next few days."
"One mile? Is it going to stay one mile back in Manhattan?"
"Do you really want to press me about that?" Kramer had lobbied Peter to end the Criminal Informant situation and put Neal back in prison. He'd have something to say if he heard about Neal staying at the house, but Kramer didn't know everything. Peter had to believe that people could change, and that hope was sitting at his dining room table.
"No," Neal answered, "not really." And the really crazy thing was that Peter believed him.
The rest of the week went well. Peter suspected that Neal still slept much of the day, but in the evenings he was dressed in his version of casual-suit pants and shirt with no jacket or tie. The sharp bones of his face began to fade under a thin layer of flesh, and El took to smiling smugly as if she'd done it all herself; Peter liked that look on her, a lot.
On Friday, Peter left the office at 2pm to go pick up Neal and escort him to his doctor's appointment. Neal was clearly uncomfortable with the whole situation, dressed in his sharpest suit and playing with his hat in the waiting room, but the doctor signed off on Neal returning to work-light duty, no field work for at least three weeks for fear of exploding his spleen. Clearance for regular duty would be approved pending another checkup after those three weeks were over. Neal chafed at the restriction, and Peter couldn't blame him; he could remember sitting out gym for a month in high school, his mother scolding him every time he started to roughhouse with his brother. Nonetheless, he wasn't going to let Neal get around the doctor's order.
After the appointment, Peter took Neal and all of his clothes back to June's house. The lady of the manor was due back Saturday, and the staff were already back to work, getting the place ready for her arrival. The house was already far from the cold museum it had felt like when Peter attempted to drop Neal off after the hospital visit ten days ago, and if Neal wasn't quite running up the stairs with his usual verve he didn't need to stop and have a nap half-way up either.
Over the weekend, Peter let Neal be, and spent the days with El, trying to erase some of the chaos of the previous few weeks. Satchmo moped around the house, missing his new daytime buddy, and Peter tried not to call him a traitor out loud.
Monday morning, Neal showed up in Peter's office looking well enough to at least pretend to be as bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as usual, and Peter thought about the Monday two weeks ago when he'd seen that Neal was clearly not okay but had sent him back to his miniature dungeon anyway.
"Should I head back to my cold case closet?" Neal asked, no visible trace of bitterness. "Are the boxes still there?"
"Yes and no," Peter said, then corrected himself. "Actually, no and yes. The boxes are still there, and I'm going to have you keep working on them unless something else comes up that I need you for here in the office. I went over some of your notes, actually, and Diana and Clinton are working on leads to reopen a few of the files. However, I want you to set up shop down there." Peter pointed to an open desk in the bullpen, down on the floor within his line of sight, in the middle of agents and staff rather than stuck by himself in a room.
"You want all of those boxes crowded around that desk just so that you can keep an eye on me?" Neal looked like he wasn't too sure of the idea, but at the same time Peter thought he looked pleased; he was getting the idea that Neal didn't do well in isolation.
"No, not exactly. See that blond kid down there? His name is Cody, if you can believe that somebody named Cody is an adult, and he's what we call an intern. He'll be using a hand-truck to bring you boxes, which you are not to go fetch yourself because you're on light duty, remember?"
Neal's mouth twitched into a quick grin. "I remember."
"He'll bring up five boxes to get you started, and you just need to let him know when you need them swapped out. Now go give Cody your request. I'll come get you when it's time to go get lunch."
"We're going to get lunch?"
"Until further notice. I need you cleared for fieldwork, after all, once your spleen stops being an IED. That okay with you?"
"Sounds good to me," Neal answered, his voice quiet. The he shook off the mood and grinned. "As long as I get to pick out the place."
Peter pointed to the door. "Out of my office! Back to work!"
"Glad to be back," Neal answered before turning to leave, and Peter believed he was telling the truth.
And that's it. Thanks for reading and for the reviews, favorites and follows. :)