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Always Byzantine

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“Alicia!” Eli hisses into the phone, double checking that the door to Peter’s office is still closed. “You are his wife, you have a duty!” He realizes that in some ways, making this call is explicitly the sort of thing Alicia has warned him away from since the day they met. On the other hand, Eli thinks that most days he has a better grasp on the state of the Florrick marriage than its actual participants, and he’s pretty sure of his footing here. He’s also definitely petty enough to pull out the wedding vows. He has been ridiculously patient about the separate housing, interviews, even freaking Will Gardner, but there are limits. For better or worse, sickness and health, right? Isn’t that the whole fucking point?

“I have a court date,” she says briskly, “and you’re the one who cares about his speaking engagement tomorrow morning, which means it’s your duty.” She doesn’t sound concerned at all. That is just cold. Eli goes for desperate honesty.

“Do not leave me alone with him!” The door to Peter’s office opens, and Eli freezes, hoping against hope that the situation will have resolved itself somehow by the time he turns to face Peter again.  

She lowers her voice sympathetically. “You could always call Jackie,” she says, and Eli actually takes the phone away from his ear to glare at it with all the ire that statement deserves. Like his day needs to be any worse.

“You have the revised speech?” Peter croaks from the doorway and then coughs like it’s being torn out of his chest. Eli turns around. Peter is leaning heavily on the door, wearing a Florrick for Governor hoodie over his dress shirt and pants. He’s pale, he doesn’t have shoes on, his hair is mussed and sweaty, and his collar is sticking out of his sweatshirt, and Eli spares a moment to be thankful that there are no press around right now. The staff staring at him are bad enough.

“Uh,” he says, and then puts the phone back to his ear. “Okay, no, but I’m considering it, that’s how serious I am.”

“I’ll stop by when I get done. It's probably just that forty-eight hour bug that's going around, Eli. If you have to call a doctor, call me back, but until then, I’m going back to work.” She hangs up on him, and he stuffs his phone in his pocket. No backup, then. He points at the interns who are still staring, and they scuttle back to their jobs, clearing out of the immediate area. He faces Peter, crossing his arms.

“Why don’t you go home?” he asks, even though he knows it’s a lost cause.

“Too much to do,” Peter says regretfully, as if he has any ability to do the work in his condition. “It’s okay.” It’s not okay, he looks like death warmed over.  “I just want to look over the speech, then I’ll take a nap in my office. I’ll be fine for the interview tonight.” He coughs again, then straightens up from the door, like that will be compelling evidence of his health.

“We can reschedule,” Eli says dismissively, even though rescheduling anything at this point in the campaign is tricky. Any downtime is leaving space for Kresteva, and any rescheduling just pushes other things aside. But looking and sounding like he has the plague won’t do anything for Peter’s numbers either, and if he doesn’t get some rest so he can kick this bug, it’ll just drag out the amount of time he won’t be on the campaign trail.

Peter rubs his forehead. “We can’t just reschedule,” he argues, and then somehow loses his balance from a standstill, reaching out again for the door as he starts to tilt. He grabs the door frame just as Eli finishes an honest to God leap across the room, and shoves his arm under Peter’s shoulder. The staffers are staring again.

“Okay, for now, how about we continue this conversation with you sitting down?” Eli asks sharply, nudging Peter back into his office. He kicks the door shut behind them. He can feel Peter shivering now that their sides are pressed together. God, he hopes this isn’t the flu. He’d be out for a week.

“Oh—“ Eli groans as Peter leans on him. “Jesus Christ, Peter, you do realize you weigh twice as much as me?”

“Man up,” Peter mumbles, his hand hot on Eli’s shoulder. They shuffle slowly to the couch, but when Eli tries to push him down, Peter resists, frowning and reaching one hand towards his bathroom.  “I think I’m going to be sick.”

“Don’t you dare!” Eli hisses, horrified, and shuffles him faster.

While Peter is occupied, Eli requisitions the rest of the office until he has a blanket and a pill bottle that includes the words, “fever relief.” He makes an honest effort to remember the staffer—Nicole—who comes up a minute later with a cup of tea that steams and smells like lemon.

Peter’s seated on the couch when he gets back, for which Eli is grateful. He’s used to scandals, mishaps, and even Jackie, but he’s not sure he could have handled peeling his candidate off the bathroom floor. He wasn’t particularly good at this kind of thing even with his daughter and there’s something about seeing Peter, whose strength is so easy and ceaseless, brought so low that is really doing a number on Eli’s brain right now. Peter’s head is in his hands, and he grunts when Eli pushes the pills and a glass of water into his fingers.

“I guess this wasn’t in the job description,” Peter says on a huff of breath that was probably supposed to be a laugh but comes out as a cough, and he sounds so miserable that something in Eli’s chest tightens.

“Well.” He pats Peter’s shoulder awkwardly. “For better or worse,” he says, but his reply doesn’t sound like a joke either. It’s not like he would actually have left him laying on the bathroom floor if it had come to that.

Eli is working at Peter’s desk and Peter is asleep stretched out on the couch when Alicia arrives a few hours later. She opens the door quietly and nods at Eli who stands, coming around the desk to lean against its other side. She crouches by Peter’s side and touches his shoulder. “Hey,” she says, voice gentle, and Eli doesn’t think to look away. It’s become habit to study what the two of them say or don’t say to one another, when and how and even if they touch or look at each other. He wonders idly if he ever put this much effort into understanding his own marriage, and if that would have helped at all. Probably not. He watches Peter’s eyes flicker open and find Alicia, and his face shifts instantly to a smile. Peter actually looks at Alicia like that a lot, but her face isn't usually so gentle for him. She rests a hand on his forehead, brushing his hair back where it’s gone astray.  “I’m going to drive you back to the house, okay?”

Peter blinks, collecting his thoughts, and when he furrows his brow, Eli speaks before he can argue. He finds that his own voice is softer than usual, instinctively not wanting to break the bubble of quiet the room has developed. “I canceled the interview tonight, and your speech tomorrow morning. We’re rescheduling.” Alicia nods at him approvingly and Eli looks away, embarrassed. He’s pretty sure Alicia can read him at least as well as he can read her these days. He clears his throat, forces his voice closer to its usual brusque tone. “I’ll get his coat.”

They each have an arm under Peter’s shoulders as they walk him out of the office. “Hang on,” Alicia says as they reach the garage. “I’ll bring the car to you.”

Peter leans more heavily on Eli as Alicia slides away, and Eli widens his stance to take the weight, tightening his arm around Peter’s side. Peter sighs. “You should get some orange juice,” he mutters, and coughs into his sleeve.

“I sent interns out this afternoon.” Eli’s voice is absent as he watches Alicia cross the garage and slide into her car, swinging her legs in gracefully. “They brought back half a Walgreens with them. Anything you want is up in that office.”

“I mean you should get some orange juice. Or zinc, or whatever. You’ve been hanging out with me all—” his breath hitches, “all day,” he finishes in a gasp and sneezes loudly into his elbow. Charming. Eli leans away slightly, though he still doesn’t let go.

“You don't actually need to convince me,” he says drily as Alicia pulls the car up in front of them. He reaches forward to open the door, but Peter blocks him, putting a hand to his shoulder.

"I'm serious," he says, making Eli look him in the eye. “I need you." He looks and sounds awful—eyes overbright, face pale, voice congested—but he’s still Peter Florrick, and the feeling in Eli’s gut when Peter uses that tone is the whole reason Eli has put this much effort into someone with as problematic a  personal story as his candidate. The thing about his job is that when you spend enough of your time convincing everyone around you how great your candidate is, it’s hard not to buy into it yourself. Even when you know all his dirty laundry as well as his excellent education plan.

Not that he plans to let that on to Peter. For one thing, honest emotion makes Eli break out in hives and for another, he has to keep the upper hand somehow. So he pushes Peter back towards the car, and just says, “I’ll drink a whole carton of orange juice before I go to bed, all right?”

He guides Peter down so he doesn't whack his head on the door, but he does let his hand linger for a second on Peter's shoulder. "Get some rest," he says, and Alicia glances up at him. He knows she heard him, even if Peter didn't, not really. He shuts the door firmly and heads back inside, but he knows that Alicia knows that whatever he might have said, what it meant was, I need you too.