(Chapter 2)

Peter woke up groggy and uncertain why he was so warm now. There was a hint of chill around his face but his body was toasty, eyes looking up at the blurry interior of some kind of vehicle. He heard the sound of a door opening and then closing quickly as two men piled in beside him and he could make out their navy jumpsuits as ambulance workers. He was in the back of a bus but he was trying to recall why. One of the men noticed he was awake, hovering over his field of vision as Peter started to become a bit more aware.

"(He's awake...) Agent Burke... how many fingers do you see?"

The man was holding up his hand, three fingers obvious as he coughed and tried to sit up. The other man gently pushed him back and that's when he noticed the blankets piled on him.

"Three... where... am I? Where's... my partner?"

He was suddenly worrying about Neal, remembering how his friend wouldn't wake up. The idea of Neal being hurt made him anxious but the men gently held him down, calming him.

"Another ambulance is taking him to the same hospital. We'll meet there. Try to stay still. We had to put your knee in a splint. Whoever wrapped it did a good job but it's swollen and needs to be kept still."

Peter nodded but he was still worried about Neal, laying back a bit more calmly against the gurney as the technicians worked on him, taking his temperature and checking his vitals. The blankets piled on him made him feel comfortable, warm and as the ambulance finally took off with a slight skid on the icy road, he was rocked to sleep by the motion of the bus and the background sounds of the vehicle in general.

"Peter..."

He turned around, seeing his partner and former con man standing in the doorway to his office dressed to the nines as he usually was. There was a twinkle in the younger man's blue eyes, something he thought would probably make him regret asking what was going on.

"You look happy about something."

Peter was sitting at his desk, computer on with the usual case work. His attention was on his partner, Neal moving inside and closing the door behind him.

"Oh... yeah, uhm Mozzie found me something I'd been looking for. Wine. Nothing illegal. We paid for it."

The con's tone was normal, nothing hidden from what he could tell so Peter relaxed and smiled a bit more calmly.

"Ah, Mozzie and his wines. You sure it was for you and not himself?"

He was teasing now, Neal rolling his eyes at him.

"A little of both I'm sure. So... June wanted me to ask if you and Elizabeth wanted to come to her place on Christmas Eve. Just a quiet, relaxed evening..."

Neal was smiling warmly, the agent surprised at the invitation despite no real plans beyond staying at home and watching holiday shows with his wife. El was certain to want to visit when he thought about it with a slight nod of his head.

"Let me make sure El doesn't have plans I don't know about. Sometimes she has friends who call us up last minute or events but I think I can probably say a definite "maybe" on us going."

He wanted to say "yes" but something held him back as he saw a brief disappointment pass those blue eyes. Neal seemed eager to have him say yes too but at the moment he'd have to check with Elizabeth for certain. Sometimes he forgot they had plans or things came up last minute. He couldn't think of anything his wife had told him was going on tonight so they were probably free to go.

"Ok. So..."

Neal was looking at him a bit expectantly, Peter uncertain why as he motioned for his partner to spit out whatever it was he was holding back.

"My anklet..."

Peter heard the phrase, looking down at his hand and seeing the cut anklet there. He glanced up again but now he was staring up at a white ceiling he didn't recognize, the room one he didn't know. There was a scent of antiseptic and white sheets kept him warm and comfortable, one of his hands gripping something he only just became aware of. He pulled his hand out and looked to see Neal's anklet in his hand, a moment of confusion falling over him before he remembered why. He'd cut it off so Neal could make a run for it to get help but the con had stayed and made sure he was ok. He held the item closer to him underneath the blankets, concern for his friend apparent as he tried to sit up, eyes on the door. He vaguely remembered a trip in an ambulance and someone trying to pull this item from his hand without obvious success. Peter turned to his right and pushed the nurse call, laying back in a semi sitting position as he tried not to think too hard about nearly freezing to death.

He suddenly felt a chill around his leg, his knee was elevated underneath the blankets, a blue ice pack wrapped securely around it as he pulled the sheets aside long enough to look. It was still sore but hurt less and felt a bit less swollen than it had when he was in that ditch. He pulled the blankets back over it his hurt leg as footsteps outside the hospital room door caught his attention. They stopped near by, someone talking low and quietly just outside.

"Nobody's in there with him so he must be awake. Yes... we've contacted his wife. She came to visit last night but he was still unconscious. Yes, doctor. I'll take care of it."

He didn't recognize the voice, muffled on the other side of the door before it opened and he was blinded momentarily by light from the main corridor outside. He hadn't really noticed how dimly lit the room was, a lamp off in the corner giving enough light to see by. A figure walked towards him in a white lab coat and blue scrubs, a clipboard in their hands as they came into view. She was in her mid to late 30s, dark brown hair and thin framed brown glasses on her nose.

"Agent Burke... Dr. Jenkins apologizes for not coming in. He's been snowed in at his house. I'm his colleague Dr. Ashcon. How are you feeling?"

She was friendly but to the point, asking permission before turning on the other lamp. His eyes had to adjust a bit before he could see her better and the room. She gently took his left wrist in her hand, taking his pulse and then checking his breathing with a stethoscope. It was warm thankfully as it touched his skin under the thin hospital robe he had on.

"Better. A little cold still. How is my partner? Does my wife know I'm here?"

He was worried about El not knowing he was here or Neal being worse off than himself. Dr. Ashcon gave him a little pat on the arm, smiling slightly as she did so.

"You're doing much better today. You and your partner were in bad shape when we brought you both in 8 hours ago. I'll let your wife know you're awake. She's visiting your partner in his room at the moment. We're still waiting for him to wake. Did you need anything? I can have the nurse bring you some breakfast."

Peter wasn't sure he was hungry but a low grumble came from his stomach and he blushed enough to make the doctor grin ever so slightly.

"I guess that's a yes on food."

She smiled at him, writing something on his chart before looking back up at him. Dr. Ashcon had gently pulled the sheet away to take a look at his leg, Peter a bit self-conscious in the robe but dealing as she gently examined his leg and splinted knee.

"The swelling on your knee has gone down considerably with some bruising still evident. Your knee is healing very well, Agent Burke. Nothing was torn or broken but we still need to do some more exams to be sure the soft tissue heals correctly. Looks like all you had was a bad sprain. We'll continue to keep it iced and elevated."

She made him comfy, returning the blankets around him and looking at his hand and the broken anklet. He noticed her glance, a slight blush to his cheeks.

"Belongs to my partner. You said he was doing better?"

He needed some assertion that Neal was ok, the doctor smiling back with a nod.

"Sleeping far as we can tell. His core was much lower than expected. Once he's back into the 90s, I'm sure he'll be more likely to wake up. His temperature is currently 87. We also bandaged his shoulder. It was banged up in the fall. You are both very lucky to be here."

Dr. Ashcon gave him a little squeeze on the shoulder as she turned to leave.

"I'll let your wife know you're awake now. She's been visiting your partner down the hall. You're lucky to have a partner like him. He wrapped your knee like an expert. Kept your injury from being far worse than it could have been."

She gave him a slight wink, leaving him to his thoughts and the meaning of her unspoken words. His eyes moved back to the dead tracker, his grip on it like it was something valuable which in a way it was. It was a reminder of Neal staying with him despite the odds. The doctor's words just reminded him how much he worried about his friend. Peter wanted to make sure Neal was ok, the tracker still in hand as he nodded off for a few minutes. He was woken up by a nurse who asked if he was still hungry. His stomach again growled in response, a slight blush to his cheeks as she smiled at him and helped him sit up again comfortably to eat the meager meal. It was light considering but he knew it was full of what was needed for his body to heal despite being hooked up to IVs feeding him nutrients. The oatmeal was good by hospital standards, the juice a bit too sweet for his tastes but he knew it was probably to up his blood glucose or something. He thought about the times he'd given blood and they'd given him something similar with a cookie.

"Hun?"

His eyes widened some, reacting to the sound of their voice as he turned his head and saw Elizabeth standing in the doorway. He'd been thinking way too hard for something as simple as a hospital breakfast. He felt his pulse up a bit but it was in a good way, happy to finally see his wife as she moved closer and sat on the edge of the bed beside him.

"El..."

He really wasn't sure what to say, still too surprised and happy to do more than reach out and hug her tightly, El laughing in relief more than anything as she held him just as securely. After a moment of that and some kisses they just looked at the other, hands held in each others.

"The doctor said it wouldn't scar."

She was playing with his hair along the temple, a hint of something there from his fall. He hadn't really thought about the wound since waking up, his knee more obvious than they gash he'd gotten during the fall into the ditch. He nodded a bit self-consciously, his hand holding hers as she continued to just gently brush his cheeks with her free hand and gaze at him affectionately. He did the same, happy they were together again.

"Good. They said my knee was going to be better. I might have to wear a brace for a bit though. So... how is he?"

Peter wasn't sure how to ask, happy to see his wife beyond words but still worried about Neal enough to change the subject if a bit coyly. El looked like she was happy he had asked, a relieved yet worried look on her face.

"Sleeping. He hasn't woken up but the doctor said he's not comatose. His temperature was lower than it should be but he's otherwise ok. They wrapped his arm up but like your knee, apparently it's only a sprain."

She tweaked his nose a bit, kissing him again as he relaxed. The doctor that told him all of this too but hearing it first hand from his wife made it all seem so much more real to him.

"He's going to be ok, Peter. You can let your death grip on that dead tracker go. He's not running away."

She was teasing him a bit, his eyes looking at the tracker in his hand still. Something made him want to hold onto it but his wife was right. Neal was ok and he didn't have to have a security blanket of this kind at his age. Peter handed it over to her and she smiled, dropping it into the wastebasket by the bed.

"Now that your "security blanket" is put away, want to talk about what happened? Jones didn't tell me much but that they got a text from you saying you were stranded coming back from interviewing a suspect."

She cuddled next to him as best she could on the bed, careful of his knee as Peter tried to think back to the day before. He shivered slightly recalling how cold it had been.

"Cut and dry case. Nothing else to report on that side. The Taurus blew two tires on something I couldn't see in the snow. We were forced down a more remote path due to weather. Neal whined like a kid most of the time but then we were both soaked and half frozen by then so I didn't really mind so much. My shoes... they're not repairable I think nor were his. My coat's a mess too."

He was distracting himself from reality. Thinking dollar signs now, logistics really since he was one of those people who tended to wear things until they were threadbare and holey. El gently grasped his chin in her hand, giving his cheek a playful slap as she kissed him.

"Clothes are replaceable, hun. You... and Neal, are not. You needed a new set of shoes and coat anyway. You've had that one for years, Peter. Out with the old..."

She was teasing him now, Peter moving to kiss his wife as El wrapped her arms around him.

"He'll be ok. June said she will come visit soon as the weather permits. I was lucky to get here soon as they said they'd found you both. The roads were closed down due to weather a few hours later. Not the best way to celebrate but I'll take being with you wherever I can. Merry Christmas hun."

Peter realized they had missed the typical holiday celebrations and not so public celebrating. They hadn't had any major plans beyond dinner and having Neal over but even that had been compromised by weather and unforeseeable circumstances. He gave a heavy sigh but smiled, hugging his wife.

"Merry Christmas hun. Guess we both got what we wanted so far."

He watched her blue eyes water a bit as she nodded, the two curled up as best they could on the small hospital bed, thankful for the blessing of being together another year.

()()()

Neal wasn't even aware of himself being carefully extracted from the ditch. He had been clinging to someone and now he was laying warmer than he had been but still shivering with cold as he was moved out of the elements and into a more comfortable space. His eyes never opened but he was aware on a cursory level he was safe, warm and out of danger.

His mind was awash in a dream though, never interrupted from the lovely dinner with friends at the Burke home with Peter and El. He could finally taste the food and feel safe in enjoying such a meal without worry even if his subconscious told him they were still not perfectly safe.

"Neal..."

He looked up, brown eyes meeting his as they made a "someone's talking to you motion to his right. Neal turned to see El sitting there with coffee, a blush warming his cheeks as he took it and saw a small smirk on Peter's lips.

"You really have been a million miles away tonight. Is there a theft we're keeping you from?"

Peter was teasing, El poking him playfully to stop it but Neal shook his head in response.

"Not this time..."

He saw a quizzical look cross the agent's face, El smiling at him before the scene faded to black and he found himself suddenly staring up at a blurry white ceiling. He'd been sitting hadn't he, his eyes roaming around him and downward as he saw he was in a clean antiseptic hospital room, his body tucked warmly under several layers of blankets. Slowly he became aware of a quiet beeping, a monitor to one side where he was connected to several IVs and he felt a slight stiffness from his shoulder indicating it still hurt from the fall.

That's right...

Neal shifted slightly, the beeping increasing some before footsteps hurried somewhere nearby and the door to the room opened revealing a 30ish woman in blue scrubs and a white lab coat. She smiled at him with hazel brown eyes under short dark brown hair and thin framed brown glasses on her nose. There was a hint of curiosity about her maybe towards him he thought as she moved closer and continued to smile.

"Mr. Caffrey... I'm Dr. Ashcon. How was your sleep?"

She was already gently taking his wrist in her hands and checking his pulse, writing things on a small clipboard between that and checking his shoulder and temperature. He felt cold still and a bit lethargic but overall happy to be alive and warm.

"Long... Is my partner here? We were together. His name is Peter Burke."

He was hoping she would tell him Peter as ok, the nurse never dropping her smile as she finished by checking his heartbeat and breathing with a thankfully warmed up stethoscope.

"He's fine. Your partner is up the hall resting. It's been just over 20 hours since we brought you both in. His wife has been coming to check on you when she can. Agent Burke's knee is still not ready for him to walk on yet or he would have been here after he woke up."

She was smirking slightly, something in her manner making him think she was not the clinical person she looked to be.

"Your temperature is much higher than it was. 92.5 is closer to normal. And your shoulder appears to be healing well although we may need to do some more tests now that you're awake. You and your friend were very lucky to get away with just strains and minor exposure."

She moved to the end of his bed, writing something on the chart before giving him her full attention again.

"This is one of the worse storms according to the experts. We're currently snowed in but a friend or yours was able to drop off some things for you. I placed them in the closet. He seemed a little nervous..."

Mozzie.

Neal grinned, smiling back at her a bit more energetically he thought as her eyes mirrored his expression.

"I'm guessing he's a good friend."

Neal watched her with that look of curiosity again, although she tried to hide it somewhat behind her glasses and clinical expression. She was trying to read him for some reason.

"You could say that... when can I see Peter?"

He felt anxious much as he wanted to hide it but at the moment he didn't care too much as the worry he'd pushed aside while unconscious returned. Dr. Ashcon cocked her head a bit to look at him, glancing down at her watch.

"You only just woke up, Mr. Caffrey..."

He interrupted her long enough to say: "Call me Neal." She gave him a slight nod, her manner parental now.

"You seem well enough but it's been 20 + hours since your last meal. Let's get you situated, fed and then we'll talk about it. You have all the time in the world at the moment and I know they'll both be happy to know you're awake. I will send a nurse with some food for you. Rest."

()()()

El passed a roll, Neal buttering one in front of him as Peter took a bite of his food, his wife handing him a napkin.

"Just because we're not at home doesn't mean you can make a mess, hun."

She was teasing, Neal trying not to laugh as he took a bite of his roll to stifle whatever he had on his mind. Peter shook his head as he took another bite of the juicy chicken in his hand. It was December 26th but they were finally celebrating Christmas, eating good food and there was a small fake tree with permission of the doctor in their room. Diana, Jones and Hughes had come by once the weather had cleared up earlier that day and taken their statements about what had happened. June stopped by with a few gifts and some rosemary chicken with all the trimmings which they were eating now and enjoying in Peter's room once Dr. Ashcon and their regular physician approved Neal coming to visit.

"Blame the chicken, El. Can't help it's delicious."

He winked at her, Neal coughing despite finishing off the roll and grabbing another piece of chicken for himself.

"This chicken isn't delicious Peter... it's an epicurean delight!"

He was smiling broadly, eating far more nicely than Peter and making less of a mess despite also using his fingers to hold the drumstick he was chewing on. Neal always seemed to look neat and tidy no matter how messy the situation.

"I know, right? I'll have to see if June will let me have this recipe. I think it would work with a few of my events."

El was eating some vegetables in between bites of chicken, long buttery asparagus spears with some brussel sprouts and green beans evident on their plates. Peter perked up at his wife's words, nodding his head appreciatively.

"I wouldn't mind another go at this, hun."

He kissed his wife as she handed him some more food and Neal sighed although in a comfortable manner than anything else.

"I guess this is where Tiny Tim comes in and says: Merry Christmas to all."

Neal grinned, Peter mussing his hair up before nodding back.

"Exactly..."

(The End)

Author's Note: Quick fast ending because I didn't want to make you all wait and besides... they're all ok and well anyhow. They will be walking about by the next story. ;) Happy Thanksgiving and soon to be Christmas.