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14 January 2014 @ 08:57 am
FIC: Blow the Bitter Winds Away  
Title:  Blow the Bitter Winds Away
Rating: PG
Word count:  ~4250
Pairings: P/E/N
Notes:  Written for Fandom_Stocking 2013 for angelita26.
Summary: Timestamp to  Of Christmases Past, Present and Future.  Neal finally comes home from rehab, but things don't go as smoothly as anyone would like.


The cold and damp January day that Neal finally came home from rehab El rejoiced, Neal breathed a sigh of contentment and Peter bit down on his worry and his guilt.

Neal looked so pale and fragile as he made his way slowly up the front steps and into the house. El had gone alone to collect him from the inpatient rehabilitation center where Neal had spent the last three weeks working to regain what the head injury and four weeks in a coma had robbed him of.

Peter had been stuck in a budget meeting that ran late, but he had managed to make it back to DeKalb Avenue in time to greet them. Now he stood in the doorway as Neal ambled past ready to lend a steadying hand should Neal need it. Neal stopped in front of Peter briefly resting his warm hand on Peter’s chest, a beautiful but weary smile gracing his face. Then Neal continued on into the living room, dropping down onto the sofa with an audible exhale.

"Hon, can you go get Neal’s bag from the car?” El asked as she entered the house. “I’m going to get dinner started.”

When Peter reentered the house Neal was still on the couch, slouched down, his head resting against the back, idling flipping through channels on the TV.

“Hey, how you doing?” Peter asked as he sat beside his partner, placing his hand on his lover’s thigh.

Neal smiled over at him. “Good, tired.”

Peter frowned. “Do you need to go up to bed?”

“No, fine here.” Neal replied, indicating his position on the sofa with a small wave of his hand.

“Can I get you anything, a drink, snack?”

Neal shook his head and looked back over toward the television where an incomprehensible ad for something was playing.

“I’m going to go help El.” Peter said as he got up and started moving toward the kitchen. Neal nodded after him.

In the kitchen El was just slipping a pan into the oven. “Hey hon, would you mind starting on the salad?” She asked when she spotted him. “I’m going to make some extra sauce for the ziti.”

Peter went to the fridge and pulled out the requisite vegetables and began quietly chopping.

After a few minutes El turned from her task at the stove and looked questioningly at him. “What’s got you so worried?” She asked.

“Nothing,” he replied, shaking his head.

“Peter, we’ve been married for a decade and a half. I know when something’s on your mind.”

Peter sighed taking a moment to decide how much of his concern he wanted to share with El. He settled on just what was currently obvious. “Neal doesn’t look good and he’s not speaking in full sentences.”

The injury that Neal had suffered to his RAS had initially left him confused and unable to string full sentences together. But, in the weeks since he had regained consciousness Neal’s speech had improved significantly. He had nearly returned to his former extremely articulate self. But his demeanor since returning home seemed like a significant step backward to Peter.

El put down the wooden spoon she was holding, walked up behind her husband and wrapped her arms around him. “I know you’re worried, but, he’s okay. It was a long day of meetings with his therapists, final instructions, an exit interview with the director. He just needs a good night’s sleep, okay?”

Peter nodded, taking strength in his wife’s warm embrace, pushing his fears back into the box where he had tried to keep them locked since the moment he watched helplessly as Ernie Shatz beamed Neal in the head with a baseball bat. “Okay.”


***


Two days later, it was pretty clear that Neal was in fact not okay. In the very early morning, long before dawn, he woke his partners with his coughing. They had him ensconced between them in their bed, and as he hacked Peter struggled to get first himself and then Neal upright against the headboard. El went into the bathroom and returned quickly with a glass of water.

When Neal’s coughing finally eased, he accepted the glass in a shaking hand and took several long sips. “Sorry,” he said roughly as he handed the tumbler back to Elizabeth.

“It’s okay, buddy.” Peter soothed as he placed the back of his hand against Neal’s forehead. Neal’s skin was damp and warm. “I’m just going to go get the thermometer. Sit tight.”

Neal simply nodded. Peter exchanged a worried look with El as he left for the bathroom. El snuggled back into the bed with Neal, pulling the covers up over his chest while they waited for Peter to return.

Neal opened his mouth compliantly for the thermometer which increased Peter’s unease. When it beeped Neal took it from his mouth himself and grimaced at the reading on the digital display. “101.6.”

“That’s not too bad.” El said as she took the device from him and double checked the number. “But just to be on the safe side, I’m going to give Dr. Kline a call.”

Neal nodded again and slid back down in the bed, burying his face in his pillow.

El left a message with Dr. Kline's service and then she rejoined Peter and Neal in their bed. Neal had already fallen back to sleep. He was coughing intermittently but he appeared to be sleeping through it. Peter on the other hand, way lying turned toward Neal, an arm thrown over the younger man's hip, wide awake.

“Did you reach Dr. Kline?” He asked.

“I left a message with his service. I’m sure he’ll call back soon.” El spooned up against Neal’s back and linked her fingers with Peter’s. “It’s probably just a cold. He was exposed to all of the other patients at rehab and his resistance was probably lowered from all the hard work he was doing.”

Peter nodded. “Probably. But this will ensure that he gets a few days off. We have to remember to call the outpatient center and let them know he won’t be there today.”

“I’ll take care of it after we talk to Dr. Kline. Let’s see if we can get some more rest in the meantime.”

When Dr. Kline returned their call an hour later Peter quickly picked up the phone, headed out into the hallway and closed the bedroom door behind him.

"Peter, my service said that Elizabeth called. What's going on with Neal?" The doctor asked when Peter answered the phone.

"He woke up coughing about an hour ago. He's got a fever and we're wondering if we should take him to the emergency room."

"Are there any other symptoms, nausea, vomiting...?"

"I don't think. Neal didn't complain of anything, but he looked pretty miserable after he was done coughing. He fell back to sleep pretty quickly."

"What was his temperature?"

"101.6."

"It's probably just a simple cold. As long as his temp stays under 102 it's best just to let him rest at home. Make sure he gets plenty of fluids and you can give him Tylenol for his fever. If his temp goes over 102, bring him into the emergency room and have me paged. Okay?"

"Okay." Peter replied.

"And Peter, don't be concerned if Neal's a little unsteady on feet and his speech is a little off. Colds can take it out of the best of us and Neal's still recovering from a serious trauma."

"I won't." Peter replied, knowing that he was lying to Neal's doctor even as the words left his mouth.

After he hung up with Dr. Kline Peter returned to the bedroom with another glass of water and the Tylenol. He woke Neal, checked his temperature again which hadn't changed and then gave him the Tylenol and the water. Neal was asleep once again as soon as his head it the pillow.

Knowing that sleep was out of the question, Peter grabbed his kindle and then slid back into the bed to keep watch over his sleeping partners.

***

When Neal woke up again sometime in the late morning, it was to the click, click, click of typing. With his eyes still closed Neal followed the sound until his head bumped up against a jeans-clad thigh. "Morning," he mumbled into Peter's leg.

The typing stopped and a warm, comforting hand brushed through Neal's hair. "How are you feeling?" Peter asked softly.

Neal hummed, a habit that he had picked up since he had regained consciousness. Peter thought it might have started out as a cover when Neal needed some time to work out how to translate his thoughts into words. Now it seemed to be a permanent part of who Neal was. Post-coma Neal was different in small but distinctly profound ways.

"Pretty crappy." Neal finally said, his voice sleep-filled and scratchy. Then he coughed, using Peter's thigh to cover his mouth. "Sorry," he mumbled when he was done.

"I'll take the laundry bill out of your next paycheck." Peter snarked.

"Kay." Neal replied in a way that made Peter think he was on his way back to sleep.

"Hey, why don't you sit up for a few minutes. We should check your temperature and get some Tylenol and maybe some tea and toast into you."

Neal sighed and snuggled in tighter against Peter.

"Come on buddy," Peter coaxed.

Neal sighed again, with a definite note of protest, but pulled himself up to a seated position against the headboard anyway.

Peter put his laptop to the side, picked up the thermometer from the nightstand and handed it to Neal. Neal put it in his mouth without comment and then closed his eyes again.

He felt another cough coming on and tried to hold it back until the thermometer beeped, but the harder he tried to suppress it the more urgently he felt the need to let it go. He quickly pulled the thermometer from his mouth just as he began hacking violently enough to make his chest hurt.

When he finally finished, the thermometer was removed from his hand and replaced with a glass of water. Neal drank a few sips gratefully and then leaned back against the headboard again.

"Better?" Peter asked as he removed the glass from Neal's grasp.

Neal nodded. "Sorry."

"Hey, stop apologizing." Peter admonished gently as he brushed Neal's curls away from his face.

Neal turned his head into Peter's cool palm, closing his eyes again, relishing the feel of Peter's comforting hand in his hair.

Neal forehead was still warm, but it didn't seem any warmer to Peter than it had earlier in the morning. Still he needed to be sure that Neal's temperature was remaining in the safe zone. "Ready to try the thermometer again?"

Neal nodded and opened his mouth, without opening his eyes. Peter shook his head in amusement and stuck the thermometer under his partner's tongue.

This time Neal made it to the beep, but then hacked again briefly as soon as Peter removed the device from his mouth.

"101.5" Peter informed Neal once the younger man had quieted again. "No better, no worse. Hang tight for a few minutes while I go get you some hot tea and toast."

Neal nodded and then drifted on the edges of sleep while Peter was downstairs in the kitchen.

When he returned to the bedroom Peter found Neal exactly as he had left him, lying up against the headboard, his face pale where it wasn't flush from his fever, his eyes closed. Peter placed the tray table across Neal's lap and then bent to kiss his lover on the forehead.

Neal brought his hand up to the back of Peter's neck and guided Peter down to capture his lips with his own. Peter kissed him softly, just brushing their lips together, but Neal wanted more so he opened his mouth inviting Peter in.



Peter hesitated for a moment, his partner was sick and had only been home with them from rehab for less than three days. He didn't want to rush anything. But, then he remembered how much he longed to touch and taste his partner while Neal had lain in his coma, lost to him. So Peter accepted Neal's invitation and deepened their kiss, using his tongue to drawn out Neal's, reveling in the feel of Neal's lips and mouth and the unique taste that was all Caffrey.

Neal hummed in satisfaction, the vibration reaching Peter's own mouth and sending a thrill down Peter's spine straight to his groin. It took all the disciple he could muster to remember that Neal was in no condition to take this to the next level and break their kiss.

Neal gave a sleepy whine at the loss of contact. "Want you," he mumbled.

Peter sat on the edge of the bed. "I want you too, more than I can possibly express. But right now you need to get over this cold. So please drink your tea, eat your toast, take your Tylenol and then get some more rest."

Neal opened his eyes then and looked at Peter appraisingly. "Peter, you know I'm not going to break, right?"

Peter nodded, lying for the second time in one morning as the unremitting sound of wood striking bone reverberated in his head.

"Hey," Neal said to get his attention. Peter hadn't even realized that he had looked down and away from Neal. When he lifted his head back up to meet Neal's gaze he saw concern radiating from his partner's blue eyes. "I'm okay."

Peter shook his head. "No, you're not Neal. You nearly died, more than once, and then you spent four weeks in a coma, a coma that you're still recovering from. And, now this cold on top of everything else."

Despite the brain damage, Neal had sensed from almost the first day he emerged from his coma that all was not okay with his partner. At first it was easy to chalk it up to Peter's innate protectiveness and the fact that Neal had been badly injured. But as time went by and Neal continued to recover every day, Peter's apparent anxiety and worry didn't improve along with Neal’s health.

Neal took one of Peter's clenched fists in both of his hands, worrying the knotted fingers. "I'm okay, Peter. And, I'm getting better and better. But, you're not and I think maybe it's time we talk about what happened."

Peter shook his head again firmly and extricated his hand from Neal's. "There's nothing to talk about. You were injured in the line of duty and you're right, you're getting better, that's it."

Neal sensed that Peter was beginning to feel like a caged tiger hungry to get loose from their conversation and the feelings that it was bringing to the surface. But, Neal knew that if Peter was ever going to get past what happened on that day in November he was going to have to talk about it. "You know that I don't remember what happened that day and I think I need to know Peter."

"No.” Peter replied obstinately. “There's no point in rehashing the past. It's over." To make it perfectly clear that Peter wanted no more of this conversation he got up off the bed and left the room without another word or even a backward glance at his partner.

Neal munched on his toast, drank his tea and took the Tylenol, not wanting to give Peter further cause for worry. Then he shifted the tray over to the other side of the bed and snuggled back under the covers. He was just dozing off again when Peter quietly reentered the bedroom.

Peter moved the tray off the bed and then sat back down next to Neal and opened his laptop.

"Sorry," Neal muttered as he scooched up against Peter's side.

"Didn't I tell you to stop apologizing?" Peter replied as he slid his hand into Neal's hair. Neal nodded against the weight on his head that signified both security and forgiveness and then lost himself to sleep.


***


Two days later Neal had been fever free for more than 12 hours and Peter decided that despite the lingering cough, scratchy throat and achy muscles, Neal was well enough that he could manage on his own and had returned to work. Neal didn't hesitate to use the opportunity to his own advantage. From his perch on the couch he picked up his cell and dialed.

"Hey Clinton." Neal drawled once Jones had answered his call.

"Neal, how are you doing? I've been meaning to stop by and visit but things have been a little hectic around here."

"Well, then it's good I called. We can kill two birds with one stone. I'm hoping you can do me a favor and bring me a file."

A clearly reluctant Clinton Jones brought the file and takeout at lunchtime and by the time El returned to the house after a slew of client meetings Neal had read through all of the agents’ official accounts of the day that Ernie Shatz had taken a baseball bat to the back of his head.

Neal didn’t hear her come in, he was too distracted, reading the initial report from the hospital. It made him want to vomit, thinking about Peter and El sitting in the emergency room listening to the doctors tell them that his brain was swelling, that he was in critical condition, that he had a 40 percent chance of surviving the next 24 hours and an 80 percent chance of permanent brain damage if he did live.

When El walked into the living room she found Neal sitting on the sofa, covered by the quilt that she had tucked around him that morning, papers cluttered around him. His face was completely drained of color and he seemed completely intent on the page he was reading. “Neal, sweetie?”

When he looked up at her, El saw devastation radiating from his too pale face. “I’m so sorry, El,” he whispered finally.

El went to his side, brushing the papers that separated them onto the floor and pulling him into her embrace. “It’s okay, sweetie, it’s okay.” She crooned as she slowly rocked him. For a moment her mind flashed back to that morning in the hospital when she found him sobbing in fear that he’d been abandoned because she and Peter had gone home for the night. Roughly, she pushed the memory aside so that she could focus on whatever was upsetting her lover now.

Neal held her back, tightly. “I never realized.” He mumbled into her hair.

“Realized what, baby?”

“What I put you and Peter through.”

“What do you mean?” She asked as confused by what she was hearing as she was concerned.

“When I got hurt. What you and Peter had to go though, waiting to see if I even lived through that first day.” He squeezed her a little harder. “I’m sorry.”

“It wasn’t your fault, Neal. You have nothing to be sorry for.” She held him for a few moments longer and then pulled away. She picked up several of the pages scattered around and glanced through them trying to understand what was going on inside Neal’s head.

It didn’t take long for her to figure out that Neal had somehow gotten his hands on the incident report from the day he was injured. “Neal, sweetie, you shouldn’t be reading this.”

“I had to,” he replied as he started gathering up the pieces of the file.

“Why? I don’t understand.”

“Peter.” Neal sighed, looking down.

El nodded in understanding. Peter hadn’t been the same since that day. No matter how well Neal was doing, how much closer he came to being 100 percent again, Peter just couldn’t seem to let go of the anxiety and fear Neal’s injury had instilled in him.

“How is this,” El gestured to the file, “going to help?”

“I needed to know why.” Neal stopped speaking and began humming.

El waited, giving him a chance to put his scattered thoughts into words.

Eventually, he took a deep breath and continued. “I needed to know how to help him.”

El nodded again and took one of his hands in hers. “You help him by being here, with us. You help him by continuing to get better every day.”

“Not enough.” Neal replied sadly.

“Did this help you come up with another way?”

“Think so. Need to try at least.”


***


When Peter came home that evening Neal and El were ensconced on the couch watching an old black and white movie. When he came into the living room, El kissed Neal and then got up off sofa. She welcomed Peter home with a kiss of his own and then started toward the stairs. "There's a plate for you in the fridge hon. Goodnight."

Peter looked at her in confusion and then turned back to Neal. That was when he noticed the FBI file sitting on the coffee table.

"Neal," he began with an exasperated sigh.

Neal cut him off. "I know you don't want to talk about this Peter, but not talking about it is killing you. And, I can't watch this eat you from the inside out any longer."

Peter shook his head and then dropped down into the lounge chair next to the sofa. "Fine, talk." He spat out.

Neal knew that Peter's anger was really just a defense mechanism, but it still stung. He took a deep breath to give himself time to regroup so that he could keep his voice level and calm. "I read everything. I know what happened to me. I know what you and El went though. I'm so sorry that I put you through that."

Peter blinked hard against the image in his mind of sitting with Elizabeth in a small waiting room in the ER while Dr. Kline told them that if Neal lived, if, he would never again be the same man that they had fallen so deeply in love with.

"You didn't put us through anything, Neal. For once in your life, you weren't reckless, you didn't go against my orders, you didn't provoke anyone,… you didn't do anything wrong. So stop apologizing dammit."

"You're right." Neal replied nodding. "I didn't do anything wrong. And, I'll figure out how to accept that and move on--on one condition."

"Oh, here it comes." Peter said snidely.

"You need to do the same."

"What the hell does that mean?"

"Come on, Peter." Peter's attempt at deflection was lame at best, but it still irritated. "You know what I mean," Neal countered.

Neal stood. He knew it was better to continue this conversation at eye level with Peter, but he couldn't sit still any longer while Peter continued to deny what was going on with him. Whether it was lingering weakness from his cold, or the result of missing four days of physical therapy, or just overbalancing Neal didn't know, but he staggered, almost crashing into the coffee table.

Peter shot up from the chair and wrapped Neal in his arms, stabilizing him. His face was white, all the anger he had been feeling moments ago drained away. "You alright?" He asked.

Neal nodded. "Yes." He replied assuredly, his meaning clear. "Peter, I'm alright."

Peter pulled Neal into his embrace and closed his eyes fighting against the tears yearning to fall.

"What happened to me wasn't your fault." Neal whispered into his partner's ear.

"I turned my back, Neal." Peter’s remorse echoed plainly in his voice.

"On a harmless, 50-year-old collectibles forger."

Peter opened his arms and guided them both down to sit back on the couch. "Harmless? That's a clearly inaccurate threat assessment."

"So, because your threat assessment was off, you're somehow responsible for what Ernie Shatz did to me?"

"Yes. It was my operation, Neal."

Neal looked down and began to hum softly. Peter’s sense of responsibility was one of the many things that he loved about Peter, but he was taking it too far, and Neal needed to make him see that.

"It's my job to protect you, and Diana and Jones and everyone on the team. That makes it my fault," Peter continued.

The memory of a different conversation with Peter about guilt and blame flittered through Neal’s mind. He looked up again, meeting Peter's gaze. "You remember what you told me after Keller took El?"

Now Peter looked away. The recollection of his words to Neal once they finally discussed Keller's abduction of his wife flooding back.

"You told me I wasn't responsible for Keller's actions, Keller was." Neal continued.

Then he moved his hand up to cup Peter's cheek. "You absolved me. And, now I know that you were right. I may have started the ball rolling with the treasure, but Keller's actions were his own. I wasn't responsible for what he did then, just like you're not responsible for what Shatz did. I don't blame you Peter.”

The tears that Peter had been fighting refused to be held back any longer. As they fell, Neal brushed them away delicately with the fingertips that were resting on his cheek, taking with them the fear and guilt that Peter had been harboring for so long. "Please stop blaming yourself."

Peter put his arms back around Neal, pulled him in close and rested his head on the younger man's shoulder, humbled by and so thankful for his partner’s understanding and love. "On one condition."

"Anything."

"Don't ever leave us again."

 
 
 
angelita26: NealPeter Coffeeangelita26 on January 14th, 2014 04:31 pm (UTC)
I love this 'verse so much, and I'm so glad that Neal has El and Peter to watch over him (as much as it frustrates him sometimes). He needs help whether he wants to admit it all the time or not. Poor guy.

I'm also glad that Neal and Peter talked about what happened. I think it'll still take some time for Peter to stop blaming himself, but Neal will be there to make sure that he does. *smishes them*

Thank you so much for writing this for me - I love, love, LOVE it! *hugs*
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on January 14th, 2014 08:34 pm (UTC)
Thank you ang!!!

I had hoped you would enjoy this timestamp.

It will take Peter some time, but he comes through it and so does Neal in the end.

I know I take great pleasure in torturing our boys, but they make it so fun and easy.
Kerstinkerrylang on January 17th, 2014 11:30 pm (UTC)
This 'verse is beautiful because I love the h/c here. Having Neal getting hit with a bat and being in a coma and all that worry Peter and El have to endure and Neal being so helpless and then the sequel of him being home but not quite okay... I love it and want to ask if there will be more?

Thanks so much for writing it and when your muse is hitting you again with this, please don't hesitate to write it down for your eager readers :).

pooh_collectorpooh_collector on January 20th, 2014 03:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you for the lovely comment!

I didn't think there was going to be more and then inspiration struck and I'm working on the third part now.
Kerstinkerrylang on January 20th, 2014 05:31 pm (UTC)
Wow, I'm so happy about that! Looking forward to it. Thanks for telling me!!
snowdrop3100snowdrop3100 on February 9th, 2014 01:23 pm (UTC)
Lovely.
Thank you for sharing :).
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on February 9th, 2014 08:22 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading!

I'm glad you liked it.
joy2190joy2190 on June 9th, 2014 07:34 pm (UTC)
You gotta stop making Peter cry, it's killing me!
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on June 22nd, 2014 10:02 pm (UTC)
Sorry, I'm just kinda evil that way.

I enjoy whumpping Neal and making Peter cry all too much to stop now.