It was too bad, Peter reflected, that after so long stuck in a two-mile radius, Neal really wasn’t in any condition to enjoy his first venture outside of it. Not that Denver was very exciting by Neal Caffrey’s standards, but it was something. Neal had been so excited when Hughes had given their trip the green light that Peter’d had to remind him not to dance in the office.
His excitement had lasted until they changed planes in Chicago. It was there that Neal had started to feel ill. He’d spent most of the second leg of their trip surreptitiously clutching a barf bag, and by the time they’d collected their luggage in Denver, he’d gone almost completely white. By the time they reached the hotel, all Peter could do was order him to bed and go interview their witness on his own.
Their witness was a fifteen year old kid who looked like he hadn’t had a good meal in weeks. Peter ended up taking him to dinner, and then, once he’d dropped the kid off at the group home where he lived, he met a detective from the Denver PD for drinks. It was after eleven when he finally got back to the hotel, and he expected the room to be dark and quiet when he came in. He’d left Neal tucked shivering into one of the beds, and though Neal’d made noises about looking at the case file one more time, Peter hadn’t really expected it to happen.
The room was quiet, but not dark. The overhead lights were off, but one of the bedside lamps was on, throwing a pool of yellow light over the bed where Neal lay with the file spread out all around him. His head was tipped back against the pillow, and the back of his hand rested over his eyes.
“Hey,” Peter said, dropping his briefcase onto the floor by their suitcases. “I didn’t think you’d be up.” Neal grunted in reply. Peter shrugged out of his jacket and loosened his tie, then stepped toward the bed to get a better look at Neal. “You look like hell.”
“I feel like hell,” Neal said in a flu-roughened voice. He finally dropped his hand and opened his eyes to look up at Peter. “I’ve been trying to look at the case file, but the words keep blurring. It made me sort of nauseated.”
Peter rested the back of his hand on Neal’s forehead. The poor kid was burning up. “Have you taken anything for that fever?”
Neal frowned. “What would I have taken? I didn’t exactly anticipate this, Peter.”
“You don’t bring over the counter stuff with you when you travel?” Peter always had a miniature pharmacy with him in his doc kit - which, come to think of it, seemed to magically refill. Thank God for Elizabeth.
“Why would I? I never get sick, Peter.” Neal closed his eyes, the very picture of abject misery. “Not like this.”
Peter decided for both their sakes that it was better not to dignify this patently untrue statement with a reply. Instead he changed into his pajamas, dug two Tylenol Cold and Flu out of his doc kit, and fetched a glass of water from the bathroom. He shifted the papers around on the bed, then eased himself down on its edge to press the pills into Neal’s hand. Neal opened his eyes. “Here,” Peter said, offering him the water. He nodded toward the pills. “Take those.”
Neal accepted the water but eyed the pills warily. “Will they make me groggy?”
“Yeah, it’s the nighttime stuff,” Peter said, “seeing as it’s after eleven.”
Neal shook his head. “I really want to look at the case file one more time. I’m missing something,” he added with frustration. “I know I am.”
“I imagine so, since you have the flu.”
“I once allegedly forged a Picasso while I had the flu,” Neal told him peevishly. “I can look through one case file.”
“I thought you never got sick,” Peter retorted. Neal glared. Peter sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “Look, I appreciate that you want to help, but I’d rather you just concentrated on getting better. I need you out in the field with me as soon as possible.”
“I know, I know,” Neal said, “but I swear to God, Peter, there is something in this file, and if the words would just stay still on the page, I know I could find it!”
Peter eyed Neal silently. He didn’t know what was actually going on here; perhaps Neal worried that if he wasn’t useful every moment of the day, the Bureau would decide it didn’t need him anymore, or perhaps he just wanted to ensure there would be other trips like this one, where he got to leave his radius. Or maybe he was just overly-focused when addled by fever, who knew? In any case, arguing wasn’t likely to get them anywhere.
Decision made, Peter told Neal, “Take the damn pills, and yes, that’s an order. Don’t even try cheeking them - I’ll know.” Then he got up and went into the bathroom, where he wet a washcloth with cold water and wrung it out before folding it in thirds.
He came back to find the water glass empty, and the little blister pack from the pills open on the nightstand. “Did you take them?”
“Yes,” Neal replied sulkily.
“Good. Now lean your head back.”
“But, Peter -”
“Neal, I swear to God . . .”
“Okay, okay, fine,” Neal said hastily, and did as he was told. Peter smoothed Neal’s hair back with his palm and then draped the folded washcloth over his eyes. Neal made a small sound in the back of his throat.
“Better?” Peter said, gentling his voice.
“Yeah,” Neal said. Peter went around to the other side of the bed and sat with his back against the headboard.
Neal turned his face toward him. “What are you -”
“Going through the file, since you seem so determined. Let’s start with the witness statements. Maureen Hudson, the suspect’s wife, age 54.”
“I don’t think that’s -”
“Hush, Neal,” Peter said, and started to read.
Reading a case file aloud wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t entertaining (well, Mrs. Hudson’s statement actually was, but she was the exception). Then again, Peter supposed the actual content of the file itself wasn’t the point. The point was to settle Neal down so he could get some sleep, and if the only way to do that was to pretend they were working, then that was what Peter would do.
He’d read through Mrs. Hudson’s statement and was halfway through the next one when he became aware of a heavy weight resting against his arm.
He paused in his reading and looked down. Neal was slumped against him, his breathing deep and even. “Neal?” he whispered. No answer. Peter smiled to himself and adjusted the cloth covering Neal’s eyes. Probably it wasn’t a good idea to move just yet - Neal had only just fallen asleep, and Peter didn’t want to risk waking him.
Besides, he thought, looking back down at the case study, if Neal thought there was something in here to be found, then there probably was. It wouldn’t hurt to take another look.