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Long-Distance Worry

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When his cell rang, Neal didn't even have to look at the display to know who was calling. He answered with a raspy, "Hey Peter."

"Hey. How are you doing?"

"Tired of being tired. And sick. And tired."

Peter chuckled. "What did the doctors say?"

"Bedrest for the next week, at least. And I have these breathing treatments I have to do. They're awful. I think I cracked a rib coughing during one this morning."

"Try hugging a pillow if you think you're going to cough."

"I see you've done this dance before."

"Pneumonia is no fun, no matter what age you are."

"Mmhmm," Neal agreed and moved the phone away from his mouth so that he could cough. He grabbed one of the extra pillows at the last minute, and it did help cushion his ribs a bit. "That pillow trick. Good idea."

Peter was silent for a moment before asking, "Are you doing okay? Really?"

"Yes, Dr. Burke. I promise that I'm going to be fine. Do you want to talk to Sara to verify?"

"No, I believe you. It's just…"

"Just what?"

"I was worried. When Sara called to say that she had to take you to the emergency room-"

"A&E."

"What?"

"The Brits call it A&E."

"Neal."

Neal sighed and stifled another cough. "I admit that I could have gone to the doctor a few days," Peter cleared his throat but Neal kept talking, "earlier, but the weather is dismal here. It's always raining. It was probably going to happen at some point."

Peter made a non-committal noise, and Neal could hear a door opening and closing on Peter's side of the call. His friend was probably letting Satchmo in or out for the morning. Neal suddenly missed Satchmo so much that it caused a whole other ache in his chest.

"How are things in New York?"

"Same old, same old. We got a new probie in White Collar. Diana's making his life a living hell."

"Did he get her coffee order wrong?"

"I don't think he's got it right yet."

Neal laughed until he coughed again and had to take a couple of minutes to get himself under control.

"I should let you get some rest," Peter said after a moment of quiet.

"No, please." They hardly ever got to talk like this – Peter was busy as ASAC, and Neal had started an art and antiquities authentication business in London that kept him out of the most serious kinds of trouble.

He could almost hear Peter's frown across the thousands of miles that separated them. "Jones is a great SSA, but our closure rate took a steep dive when you left. Think we should try to find a new CI?"

Neal snorted. "Good luck."

"Yeah," Peter laughed. "That's pretty much what I thought too."

"How's Elizabeth?"

"She's doing really well. We have an alternate weekends plan we're working out. Every other weekend she takes the train up here, and I drive down on the other weekends."

"Sounds rough."

"It is," Peter agreed quietly. "But she loves working at the Gallery, so much more than she liked event planning. She's still using those skills, but she's back to working with artists, and she loves the museum setting."

"It's been almost a year. Have you thought about moving to DC?"

"I don't want a strict desk job. We've talked about this."

"That's not what I said."

Retirement was always talked about in hushed tones around Peter, but Neal figured that he could get away with it tonight.

He was wrong. "Let's talk about you and Sara. How are things going?"

Neal sighed but didn't push the previous topic of conversation. He wasn't up to a fight if Peter got upset about it again. "We're good."

"That tells me a lot."

"She's working a lot, and I have been too, so it's not like we're in each other's back pockets."

"But you're seeing each other enough?"

"Sure."

"That sounded convincing. Try again, buddy."

"I'd love to see more of her, but I can't tell her to work less or anything. We usually have the weekends together, so it's not so bad."

"Mmhmm."

"Did she say something to you? When she called the other day?"

"Yes, Neal, she said that you could barely breathe and you had a temperature of 103."

He didn't have a response to that, so he took a long drink from the glass of water next to the bed.

"Do you… want me to talk to her?"

"No, no. I'll talk to her. It's… Things are fine. Don't worry about us."

"Well, right now, I'm worried about you, and you're starting to sound worse. Is it time for a breathing treatment?"

Neal checked the clock by the bed and groaned. "I guess."

"It's all to help you feel better. Keep that in mind."

"I will. Thanks for the chat."

"Anytime, buddy. Keep me updated. Or I will call Sara."

Neal smiled and said, "Okay, okay. I'll talk to you again soon then."

"Rest and drink plenty of fluids."

"I will, Dr. Burke. Thank you again. Goodbye."

"Bye."

Neal ended the call and got his nebulizer ready. He was exhausted by the time he sat in the armchair next to the bed and started the machine.

The phone's incoming message ding was loud enough to be heard over the racket of the nebulizer, and he fumbled with the phone until he could read Peter's text message.

Seriously rest and fluids. Feel better soon. Miss you.

Neal smiled around the mouthpiece and texted back: I'll be ok. Stop worrying. Miss you too.

~End

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