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Not just a headache

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Peter quietly enters the apartment, not sure if Neal is awake or not. Neal has left the hospital two weeks ago and his condition is improving, the cuts and bruises are healing and fading and he starts to look more like himself. His more serious injuries are improving slowly but steadily and the doctors are cautiously optimistic. He still isn´t approved to start physical therapy just yet and it frustrates Neal. For an energetic man travelling the world, the longest distance he now travels is from the bedroom to the living room.

Peter puts the groceries down in the kitchen, making sure he doesn’t make too much noise. Five minutes later, when everything is stowed away in the fridge , and cupboards, he makes his way to the guest bedroom.

‘Neal?’ He whispers.

He thinks he can hear a muffled response of recognition, but he isn’t sure. So he makes his way towards the nightstand to check on Neal medication. He has a whole collection and Peter wants to make sure that Neal took it during the day. He would prefer to stay home and take care of Neal, but this is a long term situation and duty calls, so Peter agreed to go work and check in on Neal every few hours. When Peter had called in the afternoon, Neal had told him he was getting a headache and that he would try to sleep it off.

He glances over Neal´s sleeping figure and can see that he is in pain, the lines in his face are a dead giveaway, even in sleep.

‘Neal? are you in pain?’ he asks quietly. It is quiet enough that Neal won´t wake up if he is sleeping.

When he doesn´t get a response, Neal doesn´t even move, he is convinced that he is deeply asleep and leaves the room again. He is satisfied to see that Neal took his pills, even his pain medication, which he hates. But he doesn´t like how pale Neal looks. The bottle of water next to the bed is also finished, so that is good. Peter decides to take care of the toilet chair first, he knows how self-conscious Neal is about the device, but it is the easiest and safest solutions when Neal is alone. His right side is still weaker than it should be, and Peter doesn´t want Neal to lose his balance and hurt himself more. So they compromised, Neal could stay alone without a day nurse, but he had to use the toilet chair.

When he is done and he turns his attention back to Neal, he decides against a heavy warm supper and instead prepares a tray with Neal´s favorite Greek yoghurt, a nice salad with whole wheat buns. He takes the tray back up to Neal´s room.

‘Hey sleepyhead. Can you wake up for me?’ He gently strokes Neal over the arm that sticks out.

A groan comes from underneath the covers.

‘Hmmm?’

‘Neal, I would like you to eat something, since your medication is due.’

‘I have a headache, not hungry.’ Neal slurs without opening his eyes.

‘All the more reason to eat something, I made you a salad and I bought you those fancy Greek yoghurts you like.’

‘With honey and nuts?’

Peter smiles, Neal is such a diva when it comes to food.

‘Yeah, I bought those too.’

‘OK. Yoghurt please.’ Neal sighs.

Peter opens the container and adds some honey and nuts. He takes a spoon and holds some of the yoghurt in front of Neal, who lets himself be fed without complaint. That worries Peter, Neal must feel worse that he is telling.

Halfway Neal turns his head and tells Peter he wants to take a nap. So Peter feeds him his medication and some water and makes sure Neal is comfortable, before going to prepare something to eat himself.

 

* * *

 

Peter switches off the television after the late night news. He walks over to the fridge for a fresh bottle of water. He will check a last time on Neal before turning into bed himself. Peter can hear Neal tossing and turning.

‘Hey, are you awake? Is the headache worse?’

Without saying a word, Neal nods, immediately regretting the movement. Peter can see his eyes scrunching shut. Peter hands Neal´s pills, who reaches blindly for them and swallowing them down with one sip of water.

‘I want you to try and drink some more.’

Neal turns his head away. ‘I´m feeling sick.’

Peter turns to leave the room.

‘Stay.’

‘Sorry?’

‘Please, stay.’

‘Oh hon, of course, I was just going to the bathroom to get a wet washcloth, I will be right back.’

Neal is on his side and Peter gently washes Neal´s face and neck with the cool washcloth. He can feel the sigh escaping Neal´s lips.

‘Is it a just headache or should I call your doctor?’

‘My head is throbbing.’

‘Sounds like a migraine, rest, I´m right here.’

‘Thanks.’ Neal murmurs.

Peter continues to hold the cloth on Neal´s forehead. He stays until he can feel the tension leaving Neal and his breathing evens out. He puts the cloth in the hamper and gets into his own bed. He is so tired he falls asleep almost immediately.

 

* * *

 

Peter is awake instantly. He stays still to register what woke him and there it is, a faint noise coming out of Neal´s room. Peter jumps out of bed when he realizes it is a sob he hears.

When he enters the room, Neal is curled up in a ball and quietly sobbing.

‘Hey Neal, why didn´t you wake me?’

He tries to uncurl Neal, but he stays in a tied ball. He gently strokes Neal´s back and lays behind him so he can embrace Neal while he is still curled up.

‘Why didn´t you wake me Neal, you shouldn´t let the pain get this bad.’

‘I thought it would be OK.’

‘And then it wasn´t?’

Neal nods minutely.

‘Why don´t you lay down in my bed. Yours is soaked through. I will change it.’

Peter guides Neal out of his fetal position and lifts him into his bedroom. Neal sighs in relief when he feels the clean and dry sheets underneath himself. He lefts himself be cleaned up, before Peter feeds him his medication and some water. When his physical needs have been taken care of, Peter takes him into an embrace, softly stroking and massaging his head.

‘Feels good.’ Neal murmurs meaning into the gesture.

‘I will take care of you, if you let me. You don´t have to do this by yourself. I am here for you, for better or for worse.’

He can feel Neal smile against his chest.

‘Let´s hope this is the worse part.’

‘Even if it isn´t, I will always take care of you.’

Peter can slowly feel Neal relaxing and falling asleep again when he presses a kiss on top of Neal´s head.