Peter's cellphone vibrated across the nightstand and fell to the floor with a clatter loud enough to wake the dog. Satchmo woofed and jumped off his dog bed to inspect the device. Peter pushed him away and picked up the phone, hoping none of it had disturbed El.
Unknown Caller. That looked ominous at – Peter glanced at the clock and groaned – 2:14am.
The sound of uneven breathing was the only response.
"Who the hell is this?"
The breathing hitched and then a voice whispered, "Peter?"
Peter carefully climbed out of bed and moved out into the hall. Elizabeth didn't make a sound.
His heart skipped a beat when the voice finally registered. "Neal. What's going on? Are you okay?"
"I don't… I need… Peter?" The younger man sounded confused, and his breathing was even more erratic all of the sudden.
"Where are you, Neal? Are you at June's?"
"June? No. She's…not here. No."
Peter gritted his teeth and paced the length of the hallway. "You've got to help me out here, buddy. Where are you?"
"Don't know." There was a rustle and a scrapping sound over the line, and Neal's harsh breathing was suddenly gone.
"Neal?!" Peter ran back into the bedroom and started pulling on the jeans he'd worn the night before to take Satchmo for a walk. The lab was agitated by Peter's hurried movements and danced at his feet, unsure of what to do.
Elizabeth sat up and turned the bedside lamp on. "Peter? What's going on?"
Peter shot her a look full of confusion and worry. Then, he turned his attention back to the phone. "Neal, answer me, dammit."
There were unidentifiable noises for a long moment before Neal spoke in a breathy voice. "Peter?"
Peter's own breath rushed out. "I'm here."
"Dropped the phone. Everything's kinda numb and…"
"Neal," he said the name slowly and clearly, "I need you to focus. Can you do that for me, buddy?"
"Okay. Can you tell me what happened? What's the last thing you remember?"
"Umm… I don't… Blurry. Too fast. Everything's spinning."
"Shh, calm down. Take a breath."
Neal did as he asked and sounded a little steadier when he said, "I don't know. I just don't-"
"Okay. Look around. What do you see?"
"It's too dark."
"Are you inside?"
"No. Too cold. There's breeze."
"Okay. Do you hear anything?"
Neal was silent for long enough that Peter was just about to prompt him with another question when he finally responded, "Cars. And music."
"Did you go to a bar, Neal?"
"I don't… Maybe?"
It was a less than helpful response. Peter shoved his feet into a pair of mismatched shoes and got a tap on the shoulder from Elizabeth, who handed him a pair of matching loafers. He kicked off the other offending shoes and slipped into the new ones. She also handed him his wallet and car keys. "Thanks, Hon."
"Elizabeth," Neal murmured in his ear. "She's not – don't bring her here!"
That was an odd turn in the conversation. Peter stilled and looked at his wife. "Why not?" he asked Neal.
"There's bad men." Neal didn't elaborate, and Peter felt sure that he would have an aneurysm before he got any answers from his friend.
"What bad men? What did they do?"
Neal took a while to answer again. "Dropped something in the drinks."
Now they were getting somewhere. "Neal, did they put something in your drink?"
"No. I don't know. Maybe. Is that why everything's spinning?"
Peter didn't answer that. "Where are you? I'll come get you."
"Oh, for the love of-" Peter bit off his reaction as he descended the stairs, grabbed the first jacket off the rack, and headed out into the dark September night. It was chilly enough that he was concerned about Neal being outside somewhere and probably drugged.
And that's when he remembered the tracker and mentally slapped his palm against his forehead. He spun around and ran back into the house, grabbing his laptop from the coffee table as he made his way into the kitchen where he sat down at the table and flipped the top up. While he was waiting for it to wake, he turned his attention back to his friend.
"Neal, you there?"
"Talk to me." Peter typed his password in on the Marshal's tracking website and tapped his fingers as he waited for Neal's signal to be found.
"Anything. Just talk to me."
Neal hesitated before mumbling, "You're a good man. You must have a really great dad. And mom. But a dad too. Great parents."
"They were pretty good, yeah." The computer had finally given him a location outside a bar not far from June's house. He was on his way before Neal even said anything else.
"My mom was… Um…"
"I loved her, I did, but she wasn't always there. For me. She tried, I think. I don't know. Haven't talked to her in a long time. Years and years."
Peter frowned. Neal wasn't tell him anything he hadn't at least suspected, but it still hurt to hear the sadness in his friend's voice.
"Didn't know my dad. Do you remember being three? I don't remember it."
"No," Peter said, to keep him talking, "I remember getting my first baseball glove. I must have been four or five then. I think that's my earliest memory. What's yours?"
"Was five when I broke my leg first time."
Peter gasped, concerned about the young Neal in a way he'd never been before. "How?"
"Fell out of a tree. Loved climbing. Mom called me monkey."
The tension in Peter's chest eased. Little Neal had only had an accident, which really made the most sense once he thought about it. His friend's reckless streak and lack of self-preservation had probably gotten him into even more trouble as a kid than it did now. Or maybe just a different kind of trouble.
The bar came into sight just down the street, so Peter pulled over as close as he could and dropped his FBI placard on the dash so he wouldn't get ticketed or towed in the No Parking zone. He grabbed a blanket and flashlight from the trunk and started searching the closest alley.
He suppressed the urge to roll his eyes and swept the light around the dirty ground. "Do you see the light?"
Peter turned and made his way back to the street. There was another alley on the other side of the bar, but he had to shoulder his way through a crowd of drunk patrons to get there. He shined the light straight down the alley and then started moving it in circles. "See it now?"
Peter caught a glimpse of dark hair on one of his sweeps and hurried down the alley to drop to his knees beside his friend. Neal was curled in a ball against a dumpster, shivering but gripping the phone tightly.
"Hey, hey, let's see what we've got here." Peter set the blanket aside for a moment while he used the light to assess Neal's condition. His eyes were bloodshot, and he was groggy. His head lolled on his neck when Peter pushed it aside to feel his pulse. "Are you hurt anywhere?"
"Feel kind of… numb."
"That's because you're on your way to hypothermia out here without a coat." Peter shook his head and started maneuvering Neal to get the blanket around him. "Can you stand?"
Neal nodded, and Peter pulled his arm over his shoulder. Neal's other hand was clutching the blanket tightly around his body.
"On three. One, two, three."
Peter stood, pulling Neal with him, but as soon as Neal was on his feet, he tried to bend over while moaning in pain.
"What is it?" Peter leaned him against the wall and started searching for a wound with the flashlight. "What's wrong?"
"Ribs," Neal hissed.
"What happened to your ribs?"
Neal's shirt was already half-untucked, so Peter tugged it up the rest of the way and winced at the large bruise already forming on Neal's side. He tried to gently feel for cracks or breaks, but Neal flinched away and stumbled against the dumpster.
"This guy. Hitting on a girl inside. She said no, but he grabbed her. I pulled her away. He hit me. Couple times."
Sighing, Peter reached for Neal's shirt again. "Try and hold still. I need to see if you need a hospital."
"No! No hospital. Please, Peter, please."
Peter tucked the flashlight into his back pocket, gently held Neal in place with one hand while he used the other to palpate the ribs. Nothing gave way, which was a good sign. He'd played enough sports as a kid to know what broken ribs felt like from both sides of the situation.
"How do you feel? Do you know what kind of drug was in your drink?"
"Tired. Wanna go home."
"Neal, what was in the drink?"
"Don't know. Roofies?"
He frowned and pulled Neal's arm back over his shoulder. "Come on. Let's get you to the car."
"I don't like it. I'd rather get you checked out." Peter steered him down the alley and through the drunk crowd to the car. After easing Neal into the passenger seat, he buckled the seatbelt and tucked the blanket around him.
"Just want to sleep," Neal said, as soon as Peter was in the driver's seat. "Please."
He watched as Neal huddled deeper into the blanket and leaned against the door, looking exhausted and uncomfortable. If Peter were in his shoes, he wouldn't want to sit under the fluorescents of a waiting room for an unknown amount of time with a bunch of other sick and miserable people either. Reluctantly, he decided to take Neal home for the night and reassess the situation in the morning. "Okay."
The drive to Brooklyn was quick, and Peter roused Neal enough to get him in the house and up the stairs to the guest room. Elizabeth had been dozing on the couch, waiting for them; she hurried to get a spare pair of Peter's pajamas and a glass of water.
Neal was little help in getting out of his dirty suit and into the pajamas, but he offered no resistance either. Peter made him drink the water before helping him get comfortable under the covers.
He waited for Neal to close his eyes before trying to slip away. However, Neal's hand snaked out and grasped his wrist.
"Don't go," Neal said, opening his eyes to half-mast. He looked so vulnerable that Peter couldn't say no.
"You need to sleep," Peter said gently as he lay down beside Neal and pulled the covers securely over both of them.
Neal snuggled closer and rested his head on Peter's shoulder. He was quiet, but Peter could tell from his breathing that he wasn't asleep yet. Finally, he whispered, "Do you remember when we met?"
"How could I forget? Three years had culminated in a handshake and Jones slapping the cuffs on you. To be honest, I was always a little jealous that he got to do it." Peter kept his voice low and soft as he answered the question. Neal was fighting the rest he desperately needed, but his body would give in eventually.
"No. Before that."
"Oh, you mean that day outside the bank when you gave me the green sucker?"
Neal nodded against his t-shirt, moving his head closer to Peter's neck where errant strands of hair tickled the sensitive skin.
"I should have known you were up to something. You had that look."
"Like you knew something I didn't, but you were so damn…"
Peter laughed lightly despite himself. "Earnest. You really seemed worried that your bonds might be counterfeit."
He sighed. "You know what I meant."
"I think," Neal started and then paused for a couple of breaths, "that's when I fell for you."
"You were smart. And sexy. Even in that suit."
"Glad you caught me."
Peter frowned at that and leaned his head against Neal's so that his cheek was pressed to the messy hair on the top of Neal's head.
"Wouldn't change anything," Neal murmured. Peter felt the other man's body relax against his as he finally succumbed to his exhaustion.
Peter himself lay awake for a long time. Neal was a criminal, and Peter's job had been to find him and arrest him. He would always stand by that, but Neal had a good heart, and Peter wished that he'd had other opportunities and chances in life to make a legitimate living working with art. The four years in prison couldn't have been easy for him; Neal never talked about them.
His eyes snapped open to sunlight streaming through the window, and Neal pushing away from him to stumble across the hall and into the bathroom. Peter had no memory of falling asleep or of his dreams during the night. He stood, stretched, sidestepped Satchmo, who was sleeping on the floor by Peter's side of the bed, and headed downstairs to round up breakfast.
Elizabeth was chopping vegetables beside the stove. "I was going to wake you guys in a little bit. How's Neal doing?"
"I'm not sure yet. He was pretty drugged last night."
She nodded and set the knife aside. "Did he tell you what happened?"
"He doesn't remember much." Peter filled her in on the hazy bits of information Neal had known while he poured himself a cup of coffee. He debated whether or not to tell her about what he and Neal had talked about in bed, but one of their agreements in regard to his relationship with Neal was that he would be honest with her about it. "He told me that he's loved me since he first met me. I don't know what to make of that."
She looked up from where she was beating several eggs in a large bowl and frowned. "Why not?"
"First of all, he had no idea what he was saying. I bet he doesn't remember it. And secondly, it doesn't make any sense. I was an FBI agent, and he was a criminal. I was working his case."
"Just because he was drugged doesn't mean he didn't know what he was saying. His inhibitions were lowered, and he was telling you what he's probably always wanted to tell you."
Peter shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other.
"As far as the rest of it goes, when have you ever known Neal to follow standard convention?"
He arched an eyebrow and nodded. "You're right. I just wish he'd been able to tell me that without being under the influence of some street drug."
"Give him time," Elizabeth replied. She poured the eggs into a pan and then added her vegetables. "I'm making omelets and breakfast potatoes. Let him know it'll be about ten minutes before it's ready?"
Peter nodded and headed back up to the guest room. Neal was sitting on the bed, absently rubbing Satchmo's head, when he stepped through the door.
Neal looked up and gave him a tired smile. "Morning."
"How're you doing?"
With a sigh and a shrug, Neal leaned back until was sitting with his back against the headboard. "How did I get here?"
Peter's brow furrowed. "You don't remember?"
"All I remember is going to the bar, some seedy little place a few blocks from Riverside. I needed a drink somewhere that wasn't home." He waved a hand dismissively after the statement. "This guy was being an ass, and I got into a fight with him. After that…"
"You called me," Peter said while sitting down beside Neal and putting a hand over his, "from some burner phone, I think. We'll talk about that later. That was around two in the morning. I found you in an alley beside the bar and brought you back here. You don't remember any of this?"
Neal shook his head and shifted so that he could rest against Peter's shoulder. "Did I say something stupid?"
Peter hesitated, unsure of whether or not he should bring up the conversation. In the end, he pressed a kiss to Neal's hair and replied, "No, nothing like that. You just told me that you loved me."
He felt Neal relaxing against him and jostled his shoulder. "Don't go back to sleep. Elizabeth's making breakfast."
"I love you too."
Thanks for reading!