Title: Five Times Neal was Sick (and slept on the Burkes' couch)
Word Count: ~ 6900 total
Spoilers: At the top each story that has them
Summary: Just like the title says.
Disclaimer: Jeff Eastin rocks.
Note: This was originally published at Live Journal in response to a prompt at Fever Fest 2, so if it looks familiar, that'd be the reason.
Part 1 - in which Neal learns that germs can really gang up on a guy
(contains references to Free Fall)
In retrospect, maybe he shouldn't have chosen that particular escape route from the van after jumping from the judge's chambers. Between spending those few days in prison filled with individuals who were less than conscientious about personal hygiene and basic sanitation, followed by a dash through the storm drains that had varying levels of fetid water, Neal (of course) ended up with a minor (according to Peter) upper respiratory infection. Neal might have been inclined to agree with the "minor" assessment if he didn't feel like crap and could just go home and crawl into bed, after a glass or two of an excellent merlot he had been saving. But, his plans for recuperation and self-medication put on temporary hold by Peter (who was perhaps feeling just a little bit guilty), Neal found himself invited for a dinner he wasn't sure he could swallow, between the blossoming sore throat and the rapidly expanding ick in his sinuses. He thought he'd avoid a "cowboy up" if he could just con his way into appearing to be in fine health.
The trip to Brooklyn was quiet. Neal's "I don't have a care in the world" attitude would have been more believable if dark circles weren't forming beneath his eyes and he didn't sound like a congested five-year-old. By the time they got to the Burkes' he was starting to shiver. Not full-out teeth-chattering shivers, but the occasional total body shudder.
"Neal, it's so nice to see you at the FRONT door again," Elizabeth said with a smile as she met them in the foyer. His smile back was genuine, if lacking its usual brilliance. "You've had a rough few days, haven't you" she said, taking his arm and leading him to the couch. "Dinner won't be ready for another half hour. Peter, why don't you get Neal something to drink."
"Neal?" Peter asked.
"Just water, please."
"You really don't feel well, do you."
"You're basing that on my beverage choice?" Neal asked, trying for nonchalance.
"More on - " Peter waved his hand in Neal's general direction " - you. I'm sorry, Neal. Would you rather go home?"
Neal considered taking a cab back to June's but was too wiped out to deal with it right now. "No, I don't want to drag you back to Manhattan this time of day. If you don't mind, I'll just sit here for a while." He tried to cough discretely.
"Stretch out, I'll wake you when dinner's ready."
It was dark when Neal woke up, and the house was too quiet. He came to the slow realization that his head hurt less than before, his throat wasn't nearly as raw and scratchy, he was no longer cold and he could breathe again. And that he was under a blanket and wearing something he'd never actually seen before. He had vague memories of Peter helping him change into a pair of sweatpants and a tee shirt, and someone giving him some foul tasting green liquid and spraying something red and strange smelling in the back of his throat. Part of him wanted to sink back into sleep but a larger part was suddenly hungry. He pulled himself up, feeling steadier than he had when he first arrived with Peter.
"Hungry?" asked a voice in the darkness.
"Wow, that's - a little creepy," Neal replied, not specifying if he meant Peter's ability to read his mind, or just his presence in the room. "Are you watching me sleep?"
Peter chuckled. "No, I just came down a minute ago. You were tossing around, and I wanted to see if you were okay."
"Actually, I am feeling better. And yes, I'm a little hungry. I'm sorry I missed dinner."
"El saved you a dish. Come on in the kitchen, I'll heat it up for you."
"Peter - "
"No 'Peter' for you. If you think you can handle lasagna, it'll be hot in a few minutes. Otherwise, we've got soup."
They sat in the kitchen and split the rather large plate of lasagna El had put aside. Neal glanced up and saw Peter watching him.
"Neal, I know how difficult this last week has been for you, and I'm sorry I didn't believe you at first." Peter wanted to continue but didn't know what else to say that wouldn't sound false or patronizing. Neal's head dropped when he remembered Peter's words to him in prison - "you let me down, Neal" - and almost missed Peter's heartfelt apology. "I truly am sorry, for Fowler, and for prison, but mostly for not believing you."
Neal, still looking down, just nodded. He wasn't sure if he could trust himself enough to not show Peter the hurt that memory still held for him.
"Do you mind if I just crash a little longer?" he asked.
"Of course not," Peter replied. "Oh, wait, since you're up, how about another shot of cold medicine and throat stuff? It seems to have done you some good."
Neal considered. As much as he hated feeling drugged, even with over-the-counter stuff, it was preferable to going back to the way he felt earlier. And maybe the memories of the last week were finally easing up along with his physical aches.
"Sounds good, Peter."