"Well, at least there are two beds."
Neal nods, even though his head feels like it weighs about a thousand pounds. He thinks he says, 'Cheap, too.' He wonders why it's as cold in the last available room in Seneca Falls as it is outside. And then he remembers his fever, which is becoming harder to hide. "Ah."
Peter smirks and starts searching the walls. "Ah!" He fiddles with the thermostat. "Heat should come on soon."
"That'll be good."
"Yeah, it's freezing in here."
"Mm...." Neal allows himself to rub his arms. It doesn't help.
Peter dumps his briefcase next to the bed next to the window. "How's that cold?"
"It's doing very well, thanks."
Peter snorts at the sarcasm. "You need the bathroom first?"
Neal shakes his head – a mistake – and waves Peter to the door. He is grateful, for once, that he's not going to have to sleep next to an outside wall. Not that it seems to make much difference in this room. But this time, he wouldn't have the energy to escape even if it was warm enough.
He doesn't let himself shiver until Peter closes the bathroom door, and then he rubs his arms furiously and blows on his hands and tries running in place to warm himself up. He stops when his head aches and spins at the same time. He also lets himself swear under his breath, a rare thing for him. He really misses his room. He really misses June, and yearns for her coffee. He really misses Sara. He can't think about how much he misses Kate, or how bad an idea that is.
He doesn't realize that he's sitting on the bed until Peter emerges and says, "Your turn."
It takes every bit of Neal's remaining energy to get up as though nothing, whatsoever, is wrong with him. "Thanks." He clears his throat to disguise the croak in his voice after the fact.
"You don't sound too good," says Peter.
"Cold," Neal replies, shutting himself in the bathroom before Peter can say anything more.
The bathroom isn't any warmer than the rest of the room. The only proof that the place isn't actually freezing is in the fact that the water is running. But then he discovers that the faucet is dripping when he shuts it off, which means that running water is not really proof after all.
He checks for hot water. "Oh, thank God!" he murmurs. "Mind if I take a shower?" he calls through the closed door.
"Be my guest," Peter yells back.
Neal is pretty sure he hears a "Please!" in there, and he laughs slightly. He covers up the cough by turning on the shower.
He stays under the water until it starts to turn cold, at which point he swears at a slightly higher volume – very rare, indeed. He rubs himself dry before remembering that he doesn't have pajamas with him. And when he tries to re-don his old clothes, the smell is enough to make him gag. Or maybe it's just the idea. He can't tell, which means that his fever is climbing.
Neal wraps the towel around his waist and opens the door, stepping boldly out into the bedroom before he can register the fact that it's just as cold as it was when he escaped it, and that Peter is just hanging up the room's phone.
"Bad news," says Peter. "They ran out of oil and they can't get anyone out here until the morning."
"And I just used up all the hot water."
"Yeah, thanks a lot for that. Although that's electric, so there might be more."
"One to ten hours, depending on how many other guests want to use it."
"How many other guests are there tonight?"
"Oh." Neal collapses onto his bed. "You didn't bring any pajamas, did you?"
"El always puts a pair in my briefcase."
Neal looks up at Peter, all but batting his eyelashes.
"No, you can't have them. You got all the hot water, so I get the pajamas."
Neal groans without meaning to and dives into bed. Or rather, he tries to dive. He doesn't realize he's in trouble until Peter's beside him, holding up the covers.
"You don't look so good."
"Don't look so good, don't sound too good ... got any other complaints about me?"
"Do you want me to recite the list? It would certainly fill up the time...."
"Fuck off, Peter."
"Wow! You never swear." Peter's hand wraps around Neal's forehead. "And you're burning up."
Neal tries batting Peter's hand away, but misses and hits the lamp instead. "Ow."
Peter catches Neal's hand. "Towel," he orders.
"Give me the towel. It's wet, and it'll make you worse."
"Oh." Neal fumbles with the edge of the towel before glaring pleadingly up at Peter.
Peter shakes his head. He turns away, hand held out behind and pointedly at Neal. "It's not like I haven't seen you naked before—"
"I really don't want to talk about that!" Neal removes the towel, which takes about a million years, and fumbles it onto Peter's hand.
"Yeah, neither do I. I just never knew you were such a prude!"
"Like you said, I never swear." Neal pulls the covers as far up on himself as he can. They are thin and inadequate, and he is naked. All he can hope is that his fever will help him heat up the space between the sheets so he can get warm.
But then there's cold air blasting his side, and Neal wishes he had a gun, because he'd shoot Peter for that.
"Move over." Peter's voice is firm but quiet, and it makes Neal feel that all he wants to do is obey anything it says.
That's when Neal realizes that he'd fallen asleep. He groans.
Peter's hand lands on Neal's shoulder. "Come on, Neal, move over."
"Try harder." But Peter's voice is gentle and concerned, so nothing it asks is impossible.
Neal uses up his last muscle power to make room as Peter clambers into bed with him. And then he notices that the covers feel a lot thicker than they had. "What are you doing?"
"You're not naked, are you?"
"Nope. I'm wearing pajamas. Although I should be naked, theoretically. It's minus fifteen degrees out there, and skin-to-skin heat transfer is the best way to survive."
"Is it going to get that cold in here?"
"Not unless someone opens the door or window, but it might freeze in here. Northwest corner room. Westerly wind. Lake effect weather. Old building. Thin walls...."
Neal turns onto his side, his back to Peter. "All right, you can hold me."
Peter huffs a laugh against the back of Neal's head. "Gee, thanks. Although you are a good heater tonight."
"Remind me to thank Diana for giving me the flu."
Peter's arm works around Neal's waist and chest. "Oh, I will. So will El, when I bring it back to her."
Neal stops dead before his arm can settle over Peter's, and he stiffens. "Peter, I don't want El getting this."
"Neither do I, but sometimes flu happens. Besides, I've had my flu shot."
"Oh, well in that case, why don't I soul-kiss you?"
"Because I'll shoot you if you do."
"Oh, that little old thing." Neal lets his arm settle, and he squeezes Peter's hand.
"Why didn't you tell me you were this sick?"
"Because you needed me on this case."
"I'll always need you on forgery cases. Doesn't mean you'll always be available."
There is a long silence during which Neal wishes he could fall asleep or come up with a good lie. But he can't lie to Peter, no matter how much he wants to. "By the time I knew how sick I was, it was too late to say anything." He shivers, teeth chattering and muscles contracting as his temperature rises a little more.
Peter's arm encircles more of Neal, his hand coming to rest on Neal's left shoulder. "The thing with partners is, you have to tell them when you're impaired."
Neal leans back against Peter, seeking all the warmth he can find, giving up on pretending that he doesn't need to do this. "I didn't want to be a special snowflake."
Peter laughs against Neal, silently but hard, pressing his face against Neal's neck to muffle it.
"Oh, shut up!" But Neal is laughing, too, and he turns to hug Peter and rub his friend's chilly back. "Are you going to get in trouble with El for sleeping with me?"
"Sleeping? No." Peter rubs Neal's back gently, not quite as awkwardly as Neal would have expected.
"How about ... this?"
"Cuddling for warmth? She'd want to watch."
Neal snorts. "Should we take pictures?"
"Yep!" Peter turns and reaches for his cell.
"Peter! You're not going to—"
Peter pulls Neal in close and holds the phone as far as he can from them. "Smile!"
"Cheese!" The phone clicks. "One more and this time, smile!"
Neal groans and complies, and then he laughs when Peter tickles his foot with a toe.
"Don't you dare send that out over the Internet!"
"Who do you think you're talking to? I'll print it out and give it to El as a New Year's present. And if you ever show it to anyone else, I'll make sure everyone knows that Mozzie did all your forgeries and you can't draw a convincing stick figure." Peter turns off the phone and puts it in the night table drawer.
Neal snorts. "Yeah, right."
Peter turns to face Neal again. "You know I will."
Neal's smile fades and he searches Peter's eyes. "And you know I would never do that."
Neal hates the wall that's coming down inside him. "Yes, Peter! Yes, you do. Think about it. When have I ever done anything to spite you?"
"Never. But that doesn't prevent you from doing things that hurt me or El when you're pushed to the wall."
Neal takes as deep a breath as he can without coughing into Peter's face. "It hasn't. But after El's kidnapping, it will." He shakes his head as Peter opens his mouth. "I promise you that no matter what happens, I will never share that picture with anyone. Not even myself. Especially not myself. Or Mozzie." He shudders.
A slow smile emerges on Peter's face. "Way to kill the mood!"
And then Neal is laughing against Peter's shoulder, grateful for the pajama cloth that covers it, because he's also coughing and worried for Peter's health, flu shot notwithstanding.
But Peter's laughing too, unguarded and clinging to Neal for warmth every bit as much as Neal's clinging to him.
"Hell of a way to spend New Year's Eve," Neal croaks, at last.
"Yeah, but at least I'm not in bed with Diana."
"She kick-boxes in her sleep."
Neal's eyes widen.
"You had a lucky escape."
"El must've had a field day!"
"Did Diana get you in the—never mind...."
"She got me everywhere. On the good side, I own her now."
Neal pulls back a little to examine Peter's face. "You are an evil man."
"Yeah." Peter's laughter turns to shivering – hard enough to make his teeth chatter and his muscles turn to shaking steel.
"Hey, hey...." Neal rubs Peter's arms and back where he can reach them. "Are you getting what I've got, Mister 'I've had my flu shot'?"
"I don't think so. The room temperature just dropped again."
"One of us should get the covers from the other bed." Neal is really not sure he can manage it, but he'll brave the trek if Peter can't.
Peter shakes his head. "No, we shouldn't."
"Because they're on top of you."
"And I thought it was the fever." Neal pulls away and starts pulling at the stuff on top of him.
"Hey! You need that!"
"No, I don't. I'm burning up!"
"That would be easier to believe if you weren't shivering so hard that the wall's shaking."
"Look who's calling the kettle black...." Only 'kettle' had about four more t's or k's or something than it needed, and Neal can't deny that he's freezing in a really weird way.
And then Peter's pulling the covers over both of them and pulling Neal into the biggest, most comforting bear-hug in the history of the world, a fact that both soothes and unsettles Neal to the bottom of his core.
Neal returns the hug in full measure, although ... "Can't breathe...."
"Sorry!" Peter loosens his grip enough to let Neal settle and breathe. "Hey, think you could get some sleep?"
Neal takes a while to answer. Peter's warmth is overwhelming. In all his time longing for connection, Neal can't remember experiencing it like this. He rests his forehead on Peter's shoulder and just breathes. Scent is the most powerful sense memory, especially for long-term retrieval. "Yeah. Just don't go gallivanting across the room to that other bed and leave me ... pining in the cold."
Peter just tugs him a little closer. "I won't. You're too good a furnace, remember?"
"I'm sorry you can't be with El, right now."
"I know. So am I."
"Could be worse. Could be—"
"Don't say it! Whoever you're about to mention, don't!"
Neal laughs. And coughs. "Too bad El didn't pack any cold or flu stuff in your briefcase."
Peter's hands freeze on Neal's shoulders. "I suppose I should stop being surprised that you look through my stuff."
"Habit," Neal says, at last. He doesn't say what he knows Peter will.
"It's one you should break." There's no venom in it. There's not even as much admonition as usual.
Neal stiffens, waiting for the other anklet to drop.
"It's all right. I'm not going to lecture you tonight."
Neal starts to relax.
"That'll keep till tomorrow."
Peter's laugh puffs against Neal's hair and then quiets. "Listen, about today...."
"I'm sorry I ruined your plans with El."
"I was going to say thanks for keeping me honest. If you hadn't pushed, twenty-seven people would be dead and we'd never have caught a bad guy the FBI hadn't even heard of before. But if you'd rather grovel in guilt over keeping me from the most beautiful woman the world will ever see, I'll take that."
"That's okay. I'll take the hit from her when we get back."
"You sure? She's got a hell of a right cross...."
"Just knock a month off my sentence."
"I'll try for an hour."
Neal coughs uncontrollably, rolling out of Peter's arms so he can turn away. When it stops, Peter is sitting next to him, helping him to sit up and handing him a glass of water.
Peter's arm around Neal's shoulders braces him enough to drink slowly, calming the itch in his throat. Peter's hand feels cool on Neal's forehead. Must be the water because that hand had felt so warm against his back a few minutes ago.
Neal's not sure he can hold up his head anymore.
"It's after midnight. Let's get some sleep." Peter's voice is gentle and sonorous and weird against Neal's feverish body.
Neal decides not to think too much about it, because images of his father are intertwining with that voice, and he can't have that because it's just wrong – like a Degas on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
"Sorry. Can't stop shaking...." Neal doesn't tell Peter that it's not so much from the cold anymore.
"You seeing clowns across the room?"
Neal blinks. "What?"
Peter smiles, rubbing Neal's arm. It's very warm in a way that Neal hasn't experienced in many, many years. "When I was eight, I spiked a fever so high my mom nearly took me to the hospital. I had this dream, like all the walls were melting – sort of like Dali, only different – and there were clowns." Peter shudders, and it might not be coincidence that he's clutching Neal's arm, now.
"Clowns." Neal is about to make fun when his eyes find Peter's face. "A lot of people are scared of clowns." He snakes his arm back around Peter, huddling convincingly as though for warmth. He squeezes the man, briefly. "If it's any help, there weren't any clowns in the room, tonight." His mind lights up. "Except us," he adds, at exactly the same time as Peter.
They are laughing, and Neal is coughing and wincing, and wishing that he didn't have to sleep because then the dreams will come, as they always do. But he's exhausted and can't hold himself up anymore, not even against the wall, not even with Peter's help. He slides down under the covers, which his temperature hasn't warmed enough to let him be okay on his own. "Sorry."
Peter goes with him, wrapping around him like Nana in Peter Pan, only without the fur or the dog smell. "You know you can call on me, right?"
"Don't wanna wake you up," Neal mumbles.
"Don't worry about that. You need anything, you wake me up, okay?"
"Need you to drive in the morning. Five hours."
"Oh. Okay, good point. Don't wake me up." Peter turns out the light. "You know, if this place still had incandescent bulbs, we'd be warmer."
Neal doesn't want to ask for Peter's arm to come back, but damn it's cold! Nonetheless, he sets his teeth firmly together and tries not to shiver.
"Okay, here's how it's going to go," Peter says, next to Neal's ear. "Any time one of us gets cold, we grab the other one. That way, the cleaning crew doesn't find a corpse or two in here in the morning. You got that?"
Neal reaches over his shoulder and all but yanks Peter's arm around himself. "Got it."
"Goodnight, John Boy."