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17 December 2016 @ 06:37 pm
FIC: Deck the Halls  
Title: Deck the Halls
Characters/Pairings: Neal, June, Peter, El, P/E/N
Rating: G
Word count: 6,000
Summary: For angelita’s hurt/comfort advent 2016 prompt “Neal is injured while helping June hang Christmas lights, but he's too embarrassed to tell anyone. The injury gets worse and worse until he passes out while at work.”
Notes: As usual, fic went a little awry. I got the first part of the prompt, missed the second half. Edited in haste, since I’m very late, (thanks for the extension kanarek13) so please forgive the errors. Merry Everything to one and all!

It was the weekend before Christmas and June’s home was abuzz. Her annual charity Christmas party was just hours away and everyone was busy with final preparations, including Neal who was standing on his tiptoes on the top rung of a stepladder stringing garland around the chandelier in the foyer.

June’s maid, Lila walked by carrying a tray filled with dishes of chocolates and nuts to distribute around the house. “The left side needs to drape a little more, Mister Neal.”

Neal raised an eyebrow, he thought it was perfect from where he stood and leaned back to get a more complete view.

At the same time, Bugsy came barreling down the hallway, sliding on the newly waxed floor in pursuit of the treats on the tray Lila carried.

In his excitement, his little feet lost purchase and he ended up on his butt, continuing down the hallway like a fuzzy bowling ball. He didn’t hit the leg with much force, but it was enough to jar the ladder ever so slightly. Neal lost his precarious balance, his arms pinwheeling as he tried to lean in to save himself from falling. But his quick movement forced the ladder up onto two legs and Neal went with it, losing his balance completely.

For a moment, it seemed like he was flying and then he plummeted and landed in a heap on the bottom steps of the grand staircase. The left side of his chest hit the edge of one of the steps hard and the pain of it stole his breath and caused stars to dance in his vision.

“Mister Neal!” Lila exclaimed as she ran to his side.

He tried to tell her he was okay, but he couldn’t manage to take a breath. He awkwardly pushed himself over to lay sprawled on the steps on his back as more pain spiked through his chest and Lila fluttered over him anxiously.

He waiting, hoping it would abate some before he had no choice but to try to breathe again. He closed his eyes and the pain eventually receded. When he opened his eyes again, June was kneeling on the step beside him.

“Neal dear, are you all right?”

He nodded and took a small breath. It deepened the pain, but not beyond a manageable point. He took another small breath and then replied. “Just had the wind knocked out of me.”

“You’re white as a sheet,” June commented. “Can you sit up?”

Neal nodded again and then used his arms to slowly lever himself into a seated position. It hurt, a lot, but he was certain that it was nothing too serious and that he would be fine after he took some Advil and iced it for a couple of hours. He dredged up a smile to try to put June and Lila at ease. “See, I’m fine.”

June gave him the side eye, she could always tell when he was lying, but she was ready to let it go for now assuming he could get up and make it to his apartment where she would settle him on his sofa with a large ice pack.
“Let’s get you upstairs where you can rest out of the hullabaloo.” She rose and gently took him under his right arm.

Neal let her help him to his feet and support him as they made their way slowly up the flights of stairs to his apartment.

By the time they reached his door, Neal was more than ready to sit, the pain in his chest was nasty and worse than that every time he tried to pull in a breath. June got him inside and settled on the sofa before disappearing downstairs to find an ice pack.

Neal leaned his head back and closed his eyes. What a stupid way to get hurt. This was not a tale he intended to tell at the office on Monday. He would never live it down. Jones and Diana would come up with a whole series of jokes about bad luck and ladders and brown pugs.

He was just going to have to take the next day and half and rest and ice the heck out of his chest so that he could get through his days at the office without favoring his left side. Things were quiet this time of year, even the white-collar criminals were too occupied with the holidays to cause any trouble.

Thankfully, Peter and El were spending an early Christmas with her family in Illinois and they wouldn’t be back in town until Tuesday. Hopefully he would be feeling fine, even if he was still black and blue, before either of them had a chance to see his injury.

While he was lost in his musings, June returned with the ice pack. She undid the buttons on his shirt and then laid the rectangular pack on the left side of his chest on top of his tee, tucking the edge in under Neal’s left arm.

Neal let out a small sigh as the ice quickly dulled the pain. “Thank you, June.”

“You’re welcome, dear. Stay put, rest, we’ll need no more help from you today. And if you feel up to it, please join us for a bit this evening.”

“I will.”

June left him then to supervise the remainder of the preparations. With a grimace, Neal settled deeper into the sofa and closed his eyes again.

He woke hours later; the sun was nearly gone and darkness was descending on the city. He pulled the now warm ice pack away from his side and carefully took a deep breath. It hurt, there was no denying it, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been earlier. He pulled his tee shirt up and looked down at his chest. A thick band of dark blue and purple spread across his left side starting at this sternum and reaching toward his back. It was impressive in the worst way. He might have to have to find a reason, or reasons to avoid El and Peter’s bed for a few days until it faded a bit.

He got up, a process that was much harder than it should have been, threw the ice pack in the freezer for later and slowly got dressed for the event that was already in full swing downstairs.

He managed to stay for a couple of hours before the call of the ice pack became too strong to ignore. He spent the rest of the weekend moving from his bed to the sofa, the ice pack pressed to his side.

On Monday morning, he woke sore and stiff, but better. He took his time getting ready for work, no one would miss him if he was a little late. He decided to take a cab in, since Peter wasn’t around to drive him and he made it to his desk on the 21st floor only fifteen minutes after nine.

He did fine through the morning, mostly managing his usual level of wit and grace. By early afternoon his chest started to ache more, especially when he took a breath. He tried to distract himself by texting El raunchy ideas for how they could spend Christmas Day, but by 4:30 he was officially done.

He got up from his desk and walked over to stand in front of Diana, who seemed intent on something on her computer screen.

“Hey Di.”

“What do you want Caffrey?”

“It’s pretty quiet around here. Mind if I head out early?”

Diana looked up from her task and eyed him intently. Neal hated it when she did that. All these years he had been working with them and she still managed to make him feel like he was a suspect with that look.

“You coming down with something? She finally asked.

“No, just a little tired.” It was mostly the truth and hopefully enough to appease Diana.

She nodded. “Okay, see you tomorrow.”

“Thanks,” he replied quickly. Then he gathered his coat and headed out the door before anyone had a chance to stop him.

The staircase at June’s was particularly difficult. By the time he made it to his apartment his breathing was short, shallow and fast. He went straight to the freezer for his ice pack and then straight to the bed. He stripped out of his suit, shoes and dress shirt as efficiently as possible and gently climbed in under the covers, sighing in relief once he was prone with the ice pack against his aching chest.

It took a few minutes for the ice to work its magic, but as soon as the pain began to dull, Neal was out.

The sound of Peter’s ringtone woke himself sometime later. Neal woke instantly; answering Peter had become an instinct as basic as breathing after all these years. His phone unfortunately was still in the pocket of his slacks, which lay in a heap on the floor beside the bed.

“Shit,” Neal muttered as he rolled toward the edge of the bed and reached for his pants. The move reignited the pain in his ribs and by the time he scrabbled around, found the phone and rolled back onto his back he was nearly gasping.

“Hey Peter,” he answered as he tried to calm his breathing.

“Hey, you sound winded.”

Lie, lie, lie, Neal said to himself. He could lie to anyone, about anything, anytime. But Peter and El, not so much, even when it actually was the lesser of two evils. “No, just had to scramble to get the phone. What time will you be back tomorrow?”

“Our flight lands just after three, so we should be back in Brooklyn around five. Want to join us for some take out tomorrow night?”

Honestly, he wanted nothing more. He hadn’t seen them since the three of them had woken up in the Burke’s bed early Friday morning and Neal had seen them off as they left for their 8 AM flight. But he needed another day to let the bruising on his chest heal just a little more. There was no point in making them worry over something minor. Lie, lie, lie.

“You know, I told June I would help her with some last minute Christmas shopping tomorrow evening. Sorry.”

There was a hesitation on the other end of the line, like Peter was assessing Neal’s words before his partner finally replied. “Okay, we miss you.”

Neal’s heart sank. This was different too. Lying had never resulted in Neal feeling guilty, never, not even with Kate, not until Peter and El.

“I miss you too. I’ll see you Wednesday and I’ll come out to Brooklyn with you after work, okay?” He probably should have found a way to get himself an extra day, but he did miss them and while he didn’t want them to worry, he didn’t want to be without them any longer than necessary either.

“Okay, I’ll pick you up in the morning.”

“Sounds great. See you then. Love you.” Not lying was so much easier.

“Love you too.”

As Neal suspected Tuesday was a slight improvement over Monday, but very slight. If Peter had been around, there would have been no hiding his injury. He made it to five by the skin of his teeth and made straight for his precious ice pack and his bed as soon as he got home. He had to be better tomorrow.

He woke up early on Wednesday to give himself fifteen minutes to ice his chest before he got dressed. It was still an ugly, muddy dark blue and purple, but he felt better, as long as he didn’t try to breathe to deeply. Inexplicably his throat was sore, but he chalked that up to the dry air and all the mouth breathing he was doing to ease the pressure on his ribs. He gargled some salt water and stuffed a few cough drops that he had lying around from the last time he had had a cold in his jacket pocket.

He was waiting out on the street when Peter pulled up in the BMW. He climbed into the passenger seat and Peter leaned in to kiss him. He had to twist into his injured side to meet Peter’s lips, and it hurt, but it was worth it. They lingered in the kiss for a moment, enjoying the feel and the taste of each other.

“Good morning,” Peter said as they parted.

“Good morning,” Neal replied, smiling at his partner.

Peter slid the car back into gear and they rolled into the morning traffic.

Peter hadn’t missed the tiny grimace on Neal’s face when his lover had turned in his seat to kiss him in the car. Nor had he missed the careful way Neal had done everything since, particularly taking off his overcoat when they had gotten to the office. Something was up. Thankfully, despite the fact that he had been gone for five days, his inbox wasn’t horrendous and the pile of new case files on his desk was exceeding short, so he had more than enough capacity to keep one eye on his work and the other on his partner.

The rosy pink from the wind and the cold seemed to quickly fade from Neal’s cheeks to reveal a face paler than normal. And he was sitting differently too, straighter than he normally did.

Just before lunch, Peter called El to get some advice on how to handle this latest Neal development. “I don’t know whether he’s sick or hurt, or whether or not I should grill him about it over lunch.”

“Just make sure he comes home with you this evening. We can talk to him about it at dinner, in a calm, confrontation-free manner. Let him be until then.”

“Okay, we’ll see you later. Love you hon.”

“You too, hon.”

By quitting time, Neal not only looked pale, but exhausted. Peter was almost loath to make him come back to the house, but if he was sick it was the best place for him, where they could take care of him.

“Come on, El’s waiting for us,” he said as he grabbed Neal’s coat and helped his partner shrug into it.

“You know, I’m pretty tired, maybe I should just go back to my place tonight.”

Peter shook his head. “Nope, no can do. El will flay me alive if I show up without you.”

“Well, I guess we wouldn’t want that to happen, just before Christmas and all.”

“No, we most certainly would not. So, let’s go.”

Peter ushered them toward the door and then held it open while Neal walked through.

It was tempting, oh so tempting to ask Neal if he was okay as they drove home, especially after his lover coughed a couple of times roughly and unconsciously put a hand up to support his ribs. It looked so painful that Peter felt a tightening in his own chest. But he held off, he knew it would be better if El did most of the talking. She had a particular way of handling Neal since the three of them had undertaken a full-on relationship and it was often more effective than anything Peter had tried over the years.

As soon as they walked through the door, it was obvious that El had spent the day hard at work in the kitchen. The aromas of winter spices and sugar and chicken filled the air. Peter helped Neal off with his coat. If his partner suspected that Peter suspected something was going on with him, he didn’t let on and let Peter remove first his wool coat and then his suit jacket without comment.

El found them in the foyer as Peter was taking off his own coat and she put her arms around Neal and hugged him gently before kissing him. Neal was grateful that she hadn’t held him tighter, which she often did. His chest was aching enough that breathing was harder than it ought to have been and his two episodes of coughing in the car had only made the constant pain he was in worse.

But he was glad to be in her arms nonetheless and kissing her, her breath sweet from sampling the things she had been baking that afternoon. This was home, here with her and Peter, the Christmas tree lit in the corner, the fire bright and warm beside it, the sweet smells coming from the kitchen. This was all he could ever ask for in life and somehow, miraculously he had it.

Unbidden tears began to pool in the corners of his eyes and El took her thumb and gently brushed them away. “You okay, sweetie?” She asked with concern.

Neal nodded. “Yeah, I’m just really happy to be here with you both.”

Peter came up from behind him and placed his hands on Neal’s shoulders. “We’re happy you’re here with us too, very happy.”

They stood there in silence for a moment, until Peter could stand the emotional stuff no longer. “Something smells amazing, what’s for dinner?”

El smiled and gave Neal a knowing look. “Chicken and dumplings. Why don’t you boys sit down at the table, everything’s just about ready.”

Peter smacked his hands together audibly and then rubbed them vigorously in anticipation as he made his way toward the dining room. El took Neal by the hand and led him in the same direction.

Peter was already seated at his place at the table when El walked Neal around to his and pulled his chair out for him.

“Here you go, sweetie.”

“Thanks, El,” he replied as he carefully lowered himself into the chair.

The table was already set, with El’s holiday dishes. A bottle of white was decanted and breathing next to Neal’s plate.

El returned a moment later with a tureen filled with the promised chicken and dumplings. “Just let me get the noodles and we’ll be all set. Neal will you pour the wine?”

“Sure,” he replied as he picked up the decanter and reached out toward El’s glass. It was a bad move. The weight of the decanter put too much strain on his ribs and he gasped as the decanter slipped from his fingers and landed with a thud back on the table.

“Neal!” Peter called out.

Neal closed his eyes for a moment while he waited for the pain to subside. “I’m sorry, it slipped.”

When he opened his eyes again, El was kneeling next to his chair her small hand resting on the hand he had clenched around his chair’s armrest.

It was hard enough to breathe before El and Peter were made to worry about him, now it seemed like he was summiting Everest without an air tank.

“Neal, baby, what’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing serious, I promise. Please don’t worry.”

“I think it’s a little late for that, buddy,” Peter countered.

Neal grimaced. “That’s the last thing I wanted. It was just a silly accident.”

“What happened?” Peter prodded.

Neal looked down at the table. “I was helping June get the mansion ready for her charity event on Saturday. Lila was… Bugsy… “ He sighed. “It doesn’t really matter how it happened, but I fell off a ladder and you know old saying, the flight was fine, but the landing was a little rough.”

“Where are you hurt?” Peter asked. His eyebrows were scrunched together in that way they always were when Peter was worried about something.

“It’s just a couple of bruised ribs. I’ll be fine in a few days.” He turned to El. “Can we please eat dinner now. I’m starving.”

El patted his hand. “Of course. Peter, can you pour the wine while I serve the noodles.”

Peter nodded and picked up the decanter, but he was still frowning as he poured just half a glass into Neal’s wineglass.

Dinner was strained. Neal was feeling too guilty about getting hurt and making Peter and El worry to say much or eat much. Peter was too worried about Neal being in pain and feeling it was necessary to hide it to say anything. El spent the meal trying to lighten the mood, to no avail.

After Peter collected the dishes and put them in the kitchen he returned to the dining room and motioned to Neal. “Come on, I want to take a look at those ribs.”

Neal knew this was coming, but that didn’t make it feel any less like he was heading down the green mile toward his execution. He let Peter take him by the hand and lead him up the stairs to the bedroom. And, then he stood with his arms by his sides as Peter unbuttoned his dark blue dress shirt. He wasn’t wearing an undershirt, they were too hard to get on and off with his ribs, so it wasn’t long before Peter sucked in a breath as he pushed aside Neal’s shirt to reveal the bruising on his chest.

“Jesus, Neal.”

Neal looked down at himself. His chest was still deeply black and blue, but it was beginning to look a little yellow green around the edges, an improvement over yesterday even. He was about to say as much when he looked back up to see Peter scowling. Maybe admitting that it had been worse, wouldn’t help his argument right now.

“How high was this ladder?”

“It was just a stepladder; I just landed badly, that’s all.”

Peter touched his fingertips to Neal’s ribs and then ran them gently along the bruising. “You had these x-rayed, right?”

Neal didn’t answer, he couldn’t. Peter’s touch was so warm and so careful, he couldn’t find the words to tell his partner something the other man would be angry to hear.

“I’ll take that as a no,” Peter concluded.

“It’s nothing…”

“Stop. I don’t want to hear you say it’s nothing again. We’re going to get you checked out.”

Neal took as deep a breath as he could, which admittedly still wasn’t very deep, and swallowed. “Tomorrow, okay. It’s getting late and I have to admit I’m pretty tired. We’ll go on the way in to the office. I won’t try to back out or complain at all, I promise.”

Peter took his time considering. It had been days since his partner had been injured, how much difference would ten more hours make. On the other hand, the longer he went untreated if there was something seriously wrong…

Peter sighed. Neal was looking at him with such faith. His blue eyes glowing in the light cast by the bedside lamp. Was the word “sucker” tattooed across his forehead?

“Okay, first thing in the morning, no backing out and no whining.”

Neal nodded. “I promise.”

“Go get ready for bed. I’ll go help El finish up in the kitchen and walk Satchmo and then we’ll be up.”

Peter kissed him and then headed back downstairs.

Neal finished removing his shirt and then went into the bathroom to wash up. He leaned in to get his toothbrush and pain exploded across his chest. He gasped and grabbed the edge of the sink when he felt his knees buckle. His quick move to support himself turned out to be a bad one, as it somehow made the pain intensify.

He stood still then, just trying to breathe. He took one small, shallow breath and then another, then a third. Slowly the pain receded back to an almost manageable level, but it was definitely harder to breathe than it had been a minute ago.

He abandoned the idea of brushing his teeth and settled for swirling some Listerine around his mouth. Then he went to the bathroom and slowly returned to the bedroom. Lying down would help. He just needed to get off his feet. He was sure it would make breathing easier again.

He didn’t bother going around to his usual side of the bed. He just kicked off his shoes and sat slowly. He braced his ribs with his hand and then carefully leaned back onto the mattress.

Being prone eased some of the pressure on his ribs and after a minute he thought he was breathing a little better, probably. It hurt a little less at least.

He would rest for just a minute and then he would find a way to take his pants off.

He woke up when he felt someone tugging on his belt.

“Sorry, didn’t mean to wake you,” Peter whispered.

“It’s okay,” Neal slurred.

Peter got his belt undone and then gently tugged Neal’s slacks off his hips, over his ass and down his legs. Then he pulled the comforter up over his partner and kissed him lightly.

“Go back to sleep.”

Neal nodded and was out again seconds later.

The bedroom was pitch dark when Neal woke again, coughing. It was just once, but it was enough to make the pain sear through his chest again and his breath catch. He waited for the pain to level off again, which it finally did, but he was beginning to think that Peter had a point, he should get checked out. He should be feeling better by now, not worse.

He closed his eyes again and started to drift back to sleep, despite the burning in his side, when he felt the tickle in his throat, the precursor to another cough. He tried to clear his throat, then he swallowed hard, trying desperately to stave it off, but it was no use. At the last moment he pulled himself to a semi-seated position against the headboard and then he coughed, holding his arms tightly to his ribs. The pain was worse than anything he’d felt before, worse than the fall from the Amalienborg Castle, worse than getting shot in Cape Verde. Unfortunately, he didn’t stop with a single cough this time, they kept coming, hard and fast enough that Neal was having a lot of trouble catching his breath in between.

There were hands on him now and he could hear the voices of his lovers, though not the words they spoke. All he could really distinguish was the sound of his coughs and his rattling attempts to breathe. God it hurt. Finally, he stopped coughing, but he still couldn’t seem to take a proper breath. He tried to go slow, to bring in just a little air, but he couldn’t do it. He was exhausted and hurting, but the thought of suffocating burned brightly enough in his brain that he started thrashing, hoping that somehow the movement could force his lungs into action.

The corners of his vision began to swim and shimmer and he knew what was coming, but he couldn’t die now, so he kept fighting. Something was trying to restrain him and he tugged against it fruitlessly as what little strength he had waned. Then he felt himself fall back against the headboard and his eyes close. His last thought was knowing that he had struggled in vain.

Peter woke to the feel of the mattress shifting suddenly. Before he could make any sense of what was going on in the dark bedroom Neal began to cough. It sounded awful, deep and ragged. Peter sat up quickly as did El on his other side. She flipped the light on and then Peter could see Neal sitting partially against the headboard, his arms wrapped around his chest as he hacked.

Peter put a hand on Neal’s shoulder, hoping to offer some silent support as Neal’s face turned red from his efforts. Peter could hear Neal struggle for air between the coughs and he looked helplessly over at El.

Finally, Neal stopped coughing, but he still didn’t seem capable of taking a breath. Peter watched as he rasped slowly, struggling. At some point the color of Neal’s face began to turn from red to grey and his lips began to take on a blue tinge.

“Hon?” El asked, obviously seeing the same thing Peter did.

“El, call 911. Tell them Neal’s not breathing and we need help immediately.”

She nodded and turned away to get her cell phone just as Neal began flailing, caught in his desperate attempt to breathe. Peter grabbed his arms as gently as he could and tried to hold them to Neal’s side. The last thing Neal needed was to cause further injury to his chest.

“Neal, buddy, hang on. Help’s on the way.” Neal didn’t seem to hear him. Somehow, he began to fight against Peter’s restraining hands.

“Neal, please calm down.” Neal still seemed obvious to Peter’s pleas. But it hardly mattered, for moments later, the last of his strength gave out and he sagged back against the headboard unconscious.

Peter leapt into action. “El, what’s the ETA on the ambulance?” He asked as he maneuvered around Neal and out of the bed.

“Five minutes.”

“Okay, can you go down and let them in?” Carefully, he pulled Neal back down the bed until he was lying flat. Then he tilted his partner’s head back and began delivering rescue breaths.

El watched her husband and her lover for a moment, mesmerized by the horrifying scene playing out before her. But then the importance of her own task brought her back to the moment. She pulled on her robe and rushed down the stairs to await the ambulance.

Things moved in a blur after that. The ambulance arrived and the two-man team worked quickly and efficiently to assess Neal, stabilize him and get him loaded onto the bus.

Peter and El dressed quickly and then followed, with the bubble light flashing on the top of the BMW.

Inevitably, things slowed down once they made it to the hospital. Peter went to the front desk and flashed his badge, hoping to get answers sooner, but all he got were the standard forms to fill out and a curt “someone will call you as soon as there is anything to report.”

Peter filled out the forms quickly, returned them to the desk and then sat holding El’s hand for what had to be an eternity, before a woman in maroon scrubs and a white lab coat came down the hall and asked for the family of Neal Caffrey.

Peter gripped El’s hand a little tighter as they stood. “Here, we’re Neal’s family.”

“I’m doctor Ehrman. Let’s walk while we talk,” she said as she turned back toward the bowels of the ER.

Peter and El stepped in beside the doctor. “Is Neal okay?” Peter asked.

“Neal has pleuritis, or simply put an inflammation of the lining of his left lung.”

“His ribs,” Peter surmised.

Dr. Ehrman nodded. “Neal has two cracked ribs. Which he failed to properly care for, which is how the pleurisy developed.”

Dr. Ehrman stopped before a set of double-swinging doors. “We’ve drained the affected area of Neal’s lung and we’re giving him some fluids and pain medication. I’m going to admit him for the day, just to keep an eye on his progress and give him some time to rest. If all goes well, we’ll release him around dinner time.”

“Doesn’t he need antibiotics, or… something?”

Dr. Ehrman shook her head. “No, he needs rest and he needs to take his pain medication so that his breathing isn’t further compromised by his ribs or the pleurisy and he needs to put zero pressure on those ribs until they heal. I’ve already given him hell about not taking care of himself, but feel free do it again.”

“You don’t have to worry about that,” Peter replied.

“Someone should probably stay with him for a few days to make sure he’s following doctor’s orders.”

El answered this time. “He’ll be with us.”

The doctor nodded. “You can go in and sit with him until they find a bed for him upstairs. Then visiting hours begin at eight.”

“Thank you,” Peter said holding out his hand.

Dr. Ehrman shook it and then was off back down the hall again.

Neal was lying semi-upright on the gurney when they entered the room, an IV in the back of one hand, a pulse ox monitor attached to his finger. His face was still far too pale, but no longer grey, his lips no longer blue, and he was breathing on his own, a vast improvement over the last time they had seen him.

El went straight to him and took his untethered hand in hers, gently brushed his hair away from his forehead.

Neal sighed and turned his head into her hand. His eyes slid partially open. “El.”

“Sssssshhhhhhhhhhhhh. Go back to sleep. Peter and I will be here.”

“K,” he mumbled as his eyes closed again.

Neal played nice with the hospital staff that day and as promised he was released in the late afternoon.

Peter tried to lead him straight up the stairs when they got home, but Neal protested. “I just want to sit in the living room with the tree and the lights for a little while, please.”

Peter thought for a moment before replying. The doctor had been pretty clear about what Neal needed right now, but an hour lying on the sofa while they all had dinner should be fine. “Okay, dinner in the living room with the tree and then straight upstairs for you.”

Neal smiled, it was thin, but real and it was the best thing Peter had seen in days.

Of course, El was ahead of both of her boys, the sofa was already set up with pillows against one arm and a pile of blankets stacked against the other.

Peter supported Neal as he sat. Then he pulled his partner’s shoes off and lifted his legs up so he was lying back against the pillows. Then he spread one of the blankets up over him.

Neal sighed once he was settled against the pillows.

“Good?” Peter asked.

“Mmmm.” Neal uttered as his eyes slid closed.

El appeared from the direction of the kitchen carrying a tray with three steaming mugs and a prescription bottle. She placed it on the coffee table, dumped two of the pills in her hand and then settled on the edge of the couch. “Sweetie, time to take your pain medication. I’ve got some hot cider for you to wash them down with.”

Neal opened his eyes and made a face at the pills.

“Hey, none of that,” Peter scolded. “You’re going to follow doctor’s orders to the letter or…”

“Or what?” Neal countered. “Not so easy to threaten me now that orange jumpsuits are no longer in the mix, huh?”

“Oh, I’ll come up with something, don’t you worry. Maybe I’ll start with three months of desk duty and all the 505s you can fill out in a lifetime.”

Neal’s eyes grew wide and he held out his hand for the pills.

El smiled in amusement as she watched him down them and then handed him his mug of cider.

He sipped it to wash the taste of the pills away. “This is delicious. Thanks, El.”

“You’re welcome. Now, rest for a few minutes. I’ll bring dinner out soon.” She patted his knee affectionately and then got up, grabbed her own mug and headed back to the kitchen.

Peter waved a finger at him. “Stay put, I’m going to help El.”

“There is no place I’d rather be,” Neal replied.

“Same here, buddy, same here.”

Peter followed El into the kitchen and Neal was left alone with the Christmas tree and his mug of cider. He sipped at it as he watched the colored lights glow brighter as the daylight coming in through the windows faded. He was warm, and as comfortable as possible under the circumstances, his nose was filled with the scents of cider and pine and his lovers were just in the other room. Despite the annoyance and the pain of the last few days that led Neal to spending the holiday stuck on the sofa, he really couldn’t think of any place he would rather be for this Christmas or any of the Christmases to come.

angelita26: Neal Winceangelita26 on December 19th, 2016 03:08 am (UTC)

This was so much better that I imagined when I left that prompt. It had all my faves - the hurt, the hurt getting worse, the comfort, the OT3, the frantic 911 call and hospital stay, and my most favorite: sore and sleepy and home from the hospital.

You rock, pooh bear! Great job!!
Sherylyn: Love Winssherylyn on December 25th, 2016 06:34 am (UTC)
I'm so behind on getting to read!! :-P And this is just so wonderfully done! Like Angelita said: it's just got all the best elements, and it's just beautiful, all of it, even the painful parts, because they're so perfectly interwoven. Love this, completely!!