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Unrestrained Care

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Neal and Sara spent Saturday having marathon sex and eating a number of foods off various body parts, so it was no surprise to Neal that he woke on Sunday morning with a vague stomachache and a low-grade fever.

Sara was a little lethargic too, but she made them both toast and moved the TV stand so that they could both see it from the bed. They watched a couple of black and white classics before she got to work on a couple of case files from Sterling Bosch and he dozed under the covers.

In the afternoon, Sara shook his shoulder to wake him for lunch. "Neal?"

He gasped and curled into a ball as soon as consciousness returned. His stomach was killing him.

"What's wrong?" Her hands hovered over him like she was afraid to touch him.

He groaned. "Stomach hurts."

She frowned and put her hand against his forehead. "You still have a bit of a fever. Is it just your stomach?"

He started to nod but paled abruptly and pushed her away to stumble toward the bathroom. He got as far as the kitchen sink before throwing up the toast and water from breakfast. When he was done, he slid down to the floor and moaned.

"Neal?" Sara didn't usually do panic, but her voice was a little high-pitched and her hands were shaking when she brushed his hair out of his face.

He took a deep breath and squeezed her hand with one of his. "It's okay. I feel a bit better." It wasn't a lie exactly. His stomach wasn't aching any longer, but there was now a sharp pain emanating from low on his right side. The nausea was still there, lurking under the surface, but there wasn't anything left to throw up.

"Are you sure?"

He decided to prove it by sitting up and then standing, but he couldn't straighten his back without his side protesting painfully.

"Neal?"

"Just give me a minute."

"Where does it hurt?"

He waved a hand over the lower right side of his abdomen, and she frowned.

"Let me help you get dressed. We need to get you to the ER."

"What? No. I’m not going to the emergency room for a stomachache." Despite his protest, he let her take hold of his elbow and help him to a chair at the table.

"Have you had your appendix out?" she asked as she hurried back over to the bed and pulled on the dress she'd been wearing the day before. She grabbed a pair of his track pants and a t-shirt from the armoire and shoes for both of them.

"Nooooo," he drew out the syllable as the implication of her question hit his muddled brain. "That's not what this is. Right?"

She dropped the shoes beside his chair and dumped the clothes on the table. "Only one way that I know of to try and find out."

"This is going to hurt, isn't it?" he muttered as she put her hand on his lower right side and pressed in. As soon as she moved her hand back, he cried out and doubled over.

"I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" She kneeled by the chair and rubbed her hand up and down his back. "Breathe, Neal. Please breathe."

He took a ragged breath and then another and another until the pain abated enough for him to sit up a little. "That sucked."

She smiled at his lack of eloquence and gave him a gentle kiss. "I'm sorry, but we need to get you to the hospital. Can you raise your arms?"

He just shook his head miserably and leaned into her shoulder. "Let's just go."

That worried her. Neal hated for anyone to see him in less than a suit jacket and tie, so he must have been feeling awful for him to let her whisk him away in his pajama pants and sweaty, creased t-shirt. She called a cab while she got his shoes on and then helped him into a coat. Her slingbacks and jacket were easy to slip on, but the shoes made it difficult for her to get him down the stairs without the both of them taking a header.

By the time they got out to the street, they were both sweating profusely. It was a good thing the cab was waiting or he would probably have fallen over on the sidewalk and given up on life right then and there. Sara eased him into the backseat, slid in beside him, and directed the driver to the nearest hospital.

~~!!~~

Neal was taken back into the ER almost immediately, but Sara wasn't allowed to go with him. She filled out the paperwork as best she could until a nurse came to ask her about Neal's tracking anklet.

Sara assured them that he was non-violent, but when the talk turned to restraining him, she immediately picked up her cell and called Peter.

"Sara?" Peter was surprised when he answered.

"Hey, Peter. Would you be able to come down to Bellevue?"

"Why? What's wrong?"

She recounted the events of the day and her suspicion about Neal's appendix being inflamed. She concluded the story with "The nurses want to restrain him, but he's in so much pain."

"I'll be right there."

"Thank you," she said softly. After taking a deep breath to calm herself, she turned to the nurse. "His handler, Special Agent Peter Burke, will be here shortly to explain the situation. There's absolutely no reason to restrain him."

"Ma'am, it's hospital policy to-"

"I don't give a damn about your hospital policy! He's sick, and he's in pain, and the last thing he needs is to be handcuffed to a damn bed!" She flushed red when she realized that the entire ER waiting room had heard her outburst, but she didn't really care. Neal deserved better than how she feared he was going to be treated right then.

"Ma'am, please calm down."

Sara blew out a frustrated breath and put her hands on her hips. "Can I see him now? I'll make sure he doesn't-" she waved her hands in the air "-do whatever it is that you think he's going to do."

If the nurse thought about arguing, she quickly changed her mind because all she did was motion for Sara to follow her back into the curtained cubicles of the ER.

Neal looked awful when she got a look at him, laying on a gurney under the harsh fluorescents. He was pale and sweating, so much so that his hair was plastered to his forehead.

"Neal?"

His eyes opened slowly, and it took a moment for them to focus on her. "Sara, hi."

"How are you doing?"

"Gave me morphine. It's awesome," he slurred. "Have you tried it?"

She chuckled and squeezed his hand. "I have, when I had my appendix out. Did they tell you if that was the problem?"

He nodded as his eyes slipped shut. "Bad appendix. Surgery."

"Yeah, you'll need surgery." Impulsively, she leaned over and kissed his forehead. It felt strange but right at the same time.

Neal smiled and squeezed the hand that was still holding his. "You do care. Always knew it."

She blinked, unsure of how to respond to that. She did care about him, though she wasn't sure exactly when her feelings had gone from contempt to caring. When they'd started working together, there had been a spark that ignited into something she couldn't quite describe, and now… She looked down at Neal and realized that he'd fallen back to sleep.

~~!!~~

Peter arrived not long after and removed the anklet. He stayed with Sara while Neal was in surgery and recovery but left after securing the anklet once more. During the wait, he told Sara how much he appreciated her keeping Neal on the straight and narrow and how good they were together as a couple. He knew that Neal would be okay on her watch but she shouldn't hesitate to call him if she or Neal needed anything.

Neal slept through the night and was discharged in the morning after a thorough exam by his doctor. He was going to be sore for a little while, and the doctor gave him a note excusing him from work for the next week.

Sara hovered as he slowly climbed the stairs back up to his apartment. "Maybe we should have gone to my place for a couple of days."

"I have to climb them sometime. Might as well be today."

She just rolled her eyes and followed him up to the fourth floor. Once they were inside his apartment, he headed straight to the bed. It had been made up and turned down, and Sara figured that June's staff had come in and changed the sheets for them.

"Do you need anything? A glass of water, maybe?"

"That'd be nice," Neal agreed. She could feel his eyes on her while she retrieved it, and when she got back to the bed, he took her hand and tugged her onto the bed. "Lay down with me."

"I've got some work to do-"

"Just for a little while." Neal turned on the charm and gave her his best puppy-dog eyes.

"Okay." She slipped off her shoes and crawled under the covers on his left side. He put his arm around her, and she lay her head on his shoulder.

"You were pretty amazing these last couple of days. Thanks for being here and staying with me in the hospital."

"You're welcome. Now, get some sleep. I bet you're exhausted."

He chuckled lightly and kissed the top of her head but didn't deny it.

She was planning on waiting until he fell asleep to get up and finish with the case files she'd brought with her, but once she was warm and comfortable in his arms, she was able to doze off too.

~End

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