"Mom! Dad!" The cries died on Peter's lips as he shot up in bed, breathing harshly and completely panicked. The past sounds of squealing tires and screeching metal echoed in his ears.
Neal was unexpectedly perched on the edge of the mattress, and Peter had almost head-butted him in his rush to sit up. The younger boy's hands were on his shoulders to keep him steady, but Peter pushed him away hard enough that Neal stumbled to his feet and almost fell.
"Hey, hey. It's okay." Neal's voice was soft, and his expression was one of concern.
Peter's eyes darted back and forth. The lamp by Neal's bed was on, illuminating enough of the room for him to see that Mozzie's bed was rumpled but empty. "What? Where?"
Neal followed his gaze and then pointed toward the door. "I sent him to sleep in the guest room. You were… dreaming."
He scrubbed his hands over his face as he fought to control his breathing and calm his heart. It took a couple of minutes longer than Peter liked. When he opened his eyes, Neal had pulled his desk chair up beside Peter's bed and was sitting in it, wrapped in a blanket, and trying to find a comfortable position on the small seat. He had a hardback novel in his hands and was already reading from it.
"Go back to bed, Neal."
One shoulder shrugged and eyes didn't leave the page. "Wasn't sleeping. You should get some rest though."
Peter all but growled. "Neal."
Neal set his book aside and looked over at him. "Do you want to talk about it?"
The sudden change in subject made Peter's brow furrow. "What? No."
"Then, get some sleep. I'll just hang out here for a while." Neal looked like he wouldn't be deterred. He picked his book back up and thumbed back to whatever part he'd been reading. It was The Three Musketeers, Peter could see now, and he wasn't surprised. Neal had been glued to that book for weeks. This was probably his tenth re-reading of it.
Shifting back under his covers, Peter closed his eyes but all he could see was blood and broken glass and twisted metal. His eyelids lifted almost before he knew what he was doing, and he turned his attention to Neal. The younger boy was balanced on the narrow seat in an impossible position – tailor-style with his elbows propped up on his knees and his book cradled in his hands – but impossible seemed to be a Neal Caffrey specialty.
"I always wanted a little brother." The words tumbled out before he could stop himself.
Neal raised his eyes but didn't say anything.
"I used to ask Santa for a baby brother every year, and my mom and dad – they would just laugh and tell me that Santa was good but he couldn't fulfill every wish." Peter sighed and rolled onto his side so that he was now fully facing his best friend.
Neal worried his lower lip and slowly closed his book. "We didn't really do Santa. I guess we did before my dad died, but I don't remember it. And my mom was… She hated holidays."
"My mom loved the holidays. She would decorate for all of them, and we always did something special. Even things like Arbor Day, if you can believe that." A sad smile curled his lips. Somehow, it didn't hurt as much to talk about her with Neal, and Peter wasn't sure why but he wouldn't look too closely at the proverbial gift horse.
Neal smiled too. "I didn't know anyone really celebrated Arbor Day."
"We'd plant a tree and make homemade peppermint bark."
Peter rolled his eyes. "You hate peppermint, and the thought of getting your hands dirty makes you twitchy."
"Not true." Neal held up his right hand, which was stained green on the side where he'd been painting earlier.
"Fine, whatever." Peter flipped onto his back and stared at the ceiling. He was tired, but not so much so that he was willing to risk the nightmares again. It was almost November, almost the anniversary of his parents' deaths. His dreams were more vivid when the date drew near.
Neal was silent beside him while Peter sorted out his thoughts. He was still incredibly sad that he'd lost both his parents, but he'd gotten a second chance, a second family. He found it hard to be upset about that. Neal and Mozzie were great friends, and June and Byron were amazingly patient and kind. They would never replace his parents, of course, but sometimes he found himself going a day or even several in a row without thinking of them. His heart ached when he acknowledged this but that was mostly because he was starting to forget the sound of his mother's laugh or his father's deep baritone when he sang along with the oldies radio station. He'd liked Johnny Cash best.
"Peter?" Neal's hand slid over his and gripped it tight. It was then that Peter realized he was crying.
"Sorry." He scrubbed at his face again with his free hand as he was reluctant to lose Neal's grounding touch.
Peter squeezed Neal's fingers and gave them a gentle tug. Neal was not one for prolonged physical contact, but he seemed to understand what Peter needed. He transferred himself from the desk chair to the bed and awkwardly held out his free arm in invitation. Peter sat up quickly and all but fell into his best friend's arms. He pressed his face into Neal's shoulder and let everything go while he could.
Neal let him cling for as long as he needed to, and Peter was grateful. After a few minutes, he released his friend and sat back against the headboard. "Thanks."
"You do the same for me." Neal stood but didn't move away. He shifted from one foot to the other while he regarded Peter. "You okay?"
"Yeah. Think I'll try to get some sleep now."
Neal nodded and gathered his blanket and book. Peter's eyes tracked him back to his own bed when he lay down and put his book on the nightstand but didn't turn out the light. He looked back over at Peter and waited.
"Good night, Neal." Peter slid back under his covers and curled up on his side facing Neal's direction once again.
"Night, Peter." Neal switched the lamp off, and Peter closed his eyes.
Sleep claimed him almost immediately. When he saw his parents in his next dreams, they were smiling and watching over him and his second family.
Thank you for reading!