The blizzard blowing down DeKalb Avenue, and throughout the rest of the city, was one of the worst that New York had seen in the last couple decades. Elizabeth had stocked the kitchen with the staples, including some deviled ham and a case of red wine. Mozzie had arrived before the snow started in earnest, which she had insisted on after she'd heard from Neal that he was getting over a nasty cold. As soon as she'd learned, from Mozzie of course, that June was out of town, she'd told Peter to bring Neal to the house too. They had a spare room, a couch, and plenty of food. No one knew when the weather was going to subside, and Elizabeth felt the need to keep an eye on the men in her life.
Neal and Peter had been delayed by a case until after dark. When they came through the door, shaking snow off their winter coats and toeing off wet boots, Elizabeth greeted them with a smile. "Hey guys. We've been holding din- Neal, what's that? Are you hurt?" She'd spotted the blood dripping from his right hand.
"It's nothing," he replied, wrapping his pocket square around his injured hand. "It looks worse than it is."
"Sit down," she said, directing him into a kitchen chair. She grabbed a clean dish towel, wet a corner of it, and silently thanked all deities that she wasn't squeamish at the sight of blood.
"What happened?" Mozzie asked, taking the seat beside Neal and pushing aside the empty bowls and silverware so that Elizabeth would have some space to work.
"I slipped outside and broke my fall on a sharp piece of wrought iron railing." Neal eyed the Burkes warily. Elizabeth was approaching with the towel and Peter with the first aid kit.
"Don't be a baby." Elizabeth caught the look and shot him one of her own. "Give me your hand so I can see what we're dealing with."
"Did you get a medical degree while we were looking for a parking spot?" Neal asked irritably, not at all looking forward to what was about to happen. He could tell the laceration across his palm was deep by the way that it stung fiercely when he moved his fingers, and he was going to have to move them for someone to be able to see the wound.
"Caffrey!" It was Peter's turn with a look, and this one could kill.
"Sorry," Neal apologized but still didn't offer up his hand. He'd set it on the table but was keeping it close to his chest.
"It's okay." Elizabeth decided to try a different approach. She rubbed a hand over Neal's shoulder as she moved another chair to be able to sit beside him too. "You're hurting, but we need to stop the bleeding. It's ruining my tablecloth."
"Oh, shit," Neal raised his loosely clenched fist from the table, which revealed a stain almost the size of a tea saucer. "I'm sorry. I didn't realize."
"It's okay," Elizabeth repeated as she used the distraction to gently take his hand in hers and pull his fingers open. She hissed in unison with him when she got a look at the gash. She turned to look over her shoulder and called, "Honey-"
"Bowl of hot water. I'm on it," Peter replied, having seen Neal's palm too. The wound was nasty, ragged and still bleeding.
Thirty minutes later, Mozzie had revealed a secret skill and stitched Neal's hand using sterilized thread and a needle from Elizabeth's sewing kit and a pair of needle-nose pliers from Peter's tools. Now, the hand was clean and bandaged, and Neal was attempting to eat tomato bisque with his left hand. He vowed silently to never move his right hand again because, though they'd asked, he'd refused painkillers.
Mozzie and Elizabeth were carrying the dinner conversation while Peter practically inhaled his food. "So, it's settled," Mozzie clapped his hands together and grinned. "We'll make strata for tomorrow's breakfast. I have a recipe that you'll all love."
"I can't wait to try it," Elizabeth enthused. She loved trading recipes with Moz.
"Don't worry if you don't have gouda. I'm sure we'll figure something out."
She laughed. "I'll show you the cheese selection after dinner. Does anyone want seconds?" She glanced at Peter. "Or thirds?"
"That would be great. Thanks, El," Peter replied, holding out his bowl.
She ladled more soup out to both Peter and Mozzie. "Neal?"
"Huh?" he looked up, startled out of a daze. His hand was throbbing, and he was feeling a little light-headed, so it was hard to concentrate on eating and listening. He slid on a slow smile and tried to charm his way out of the slip up. "The bisque is really good, Elizabeth. What were you asking?"
She frowned at him, not fooled in the slightest. "How's your hand? Are you sure you don't want something for it?" she asked as she kicked Peter under the table, which caused him to start and reach down to rub his shin, but he got the message and got up to rummage through the cabinet where they kept their over-the-counter medications.
Neal waved his left hand, spoon and all, which splattered a drops of soup around him. He actually blushed. "Sorry."
"Would you please stop apologizing? You haven't done anything wrong. It's not your fault that you slipped. I would feel better if we could get some antibiotics into you, but we're not getting out and the EMS isn't getting in. Now, how do you really feel?"
Neal stared at a Elizabeth for a moment, processing her words. "Like shit," he finally said, and it felt good to be so honest.
"Then go lay down on the couch." She took his spoon and shooed him off to the living room. While he was getting comfortable, she wet a cloth with some cool water. Once he was settled, she lay the cloth over his eyes and shook a blanket out over his legs.
"Here," Peter's voice this time. He pressed two pills into Neal's left hand. "These will help."
Elizabeth was there with a glass of water when he sat up enough to take the pills. The cloth fell off his eyes, but she was fast to put it back.
Neal, for once, was uncomfortable with all the attention. "Please go back to dinner."
They laughed and left him alone to finish eating and clean up the kitchen. Neal let the quiet clanking of silverware and dishes distract him, and soon enough, the pain barely registered in his mind. However, something else was nagging at him. He reached for his neck, tugging at his shirt collar in a vain attempt at draw in more air than he seemed to be able to get at the moment. It felt like his throat was closing up. He tried to call out to the others, but his voice was already gone. Panicking, he flailed as he tried to sit up, which knocked the water glass over and got everyone's attention when it shattered against the hardwood.
"Neal?" Elizabeth poked her head around the corner. "Neal! What's wrong?" She hurried over to the couch and helped him into a sitting position. She sank down beside him, trying to figure out what was wrong and how to help.
He shook his head, eyes wide as he gasped. He tried to speak again, but it only caused his chest to hitch painfully. He couldn't breathe! No matter how much he willed his chest to expand, it wasn't working.
"Neal, are you allergic to tomatoes or dairy?" Though Elizabeth had seen him eat both before, she recognized the signs of an allergic reaction. Her sister had gone through a period when they were kids when she seemed to have an allergy to everything.
Neal, once more, shook his head. This time, he reached out to her, silently begging her to do something, anything. He squeezed her arm hard enough to leave a bruise, but it wasn't helping him breathe any easier. His panic was ratcheting up to an alarming degree. Neal Caffrey did not panic. Except when he was asphyxiating on the Burke's couch. Peter was going to be so mad.
"Peter?! Mozzie?! Is Neal allergic to anything? Do you know?" Elizabeth was about to panic herself. Neal's lips were turning blue, his face was red, and his eyes were starting to go bloodshot.
Mozzie spun in a circle, searching for the messenger bag he'd brought with him. "What did you give him, Suit? The pills? What were they?" Mozzie was cursing himself for not paying more attention a few minutes ago. He'd been too busy jotting down his strata recipe to watch what they were giving Neal.
"Just some ibuprofen," Peter replied, sitting on Neal's other side. "That's all we had."
Mozzie swore as he finally located his bag and upended its contents all over the Burke's living room rug. He grabbed for the epipen and already had it loaded by the time he got to Neal's side. He jabbed the needle through Neal's suit pants and into his thigh muscle before depressing the plunger.
The effects weren't exactly immediate, but Neal slumped toward Peter, who busied himself with unbuttoning the top three or four buttons and removing the tie that Neal had loosened in the car. Neal's gasps turned to ragged inhales.
"Easy," Peter said. "Take slow breaths or you'll hyperventilate."
Neal couldn't reply, but he made a concentrated effort to do as Peter said. It took him a few minutes to get himself under control.
Elizabeth cupped Neal's cheek and smiled softly when his eyes raised to hers. "Feeling better?"
He nodded and tried to take a deep breath but just ended up setting off a coughing fit. It was Mozzie who came to his rescue again. This time, he pulled an asthma inhaler from his pile, shook it, and pressed it into Neal's hand.
"Well, that was quite the show," Peter said, as Neal took a hit from the inhaler. "When you get your breath back, I expect you to tell me why this allergy and those meds aren't in your file."
Neal groaned and rolled his eyes.
"So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss," Mozzie quoted with a knowing look at Peter.
"I'm not your enemy."
"Say what you will, Suit. That doesn't change the fact that there are people out there that would use this kind of thing against him."
"Yeah, yeah," Peter sighed. "Knowledge is power and all that crap. But this is medical. And life-threatening." He looked at Neal. "These are the kinds of things that you need to tell me about. Are you allergic to anything else?"
Neal cleared his throat and took another hit from the inhaler. "Aspirin," he finally replied, voice soft and raspy. "Cats. Poison ivy."
"This is all going in your file," Peter said, making mental notes.
"What? No-" Neal tried to protest.
"No complaints or my next order of business is to get you a Medic Alert bracelet."
Neal made a face and pulled away from where he'd still been leaning against Peter. "I already have enough jewelry courtesy of the FBI, thanks."
Elizabeth had slipped out of the room and returned before Peter could retort. She held a fresh glass of water out to Neal. "Here. Drink this."
Neal eyed it for a moment before shaking his head. "I can't." His stomach was roiling, and he wanted to avoid any other embarrassments tonight, if possible.
"Your system's probably still in shock," she said. "It'll help."
He shook his head again and tried to push it away, but his hands were shaking so badly that he missed both the glass and her hand. He closed his eyes and leaned against the back of the couch, clenching both his fists against his stomach.
"Nauseated?" Elizabeth exchanged worried looks with Peter and Mozzie. Neal was pale, sweaty, and his breathing was starting to hitch again.
"El, call 911," Peter said, not knowing what else to do at this point.
"No!" Neal tried to sit up, but Peter put a hand on his shoulder to hold him down.
"Hey, hey," Peter moved so that he was in Neal's line of sight. "With that blizzard outside, we can't get out to get you to a hospital. And I highly doubt emergency services can get here right now. Epipens are great, but they're not a permanent fix. We need to get this under control, and as you so helpfully pointed out, we're not doctors. So, El's gonna call and get some help. Okay?"
Neal nodded and groped the couch for the inhaler that he'd dropped there earlier. He sucked in the medicine and tried to quell the rising panic that the reaction would continue to cycle until none of the medicines worked anymore.
Elizabeth's call with 911 had been brief. They dispatcher had advised her to get some antihistamines into Neal, as well as encourage him to use the inhaler. She'd also suggested running a hot shower and getting Neal into the steam to ease his respiratory symptoms. She'd asked Elizabeth to call back if Neal got worse and also to let her know if he needed an ambulance once the snow abated.
So, the three of them had coaxed Neal into taking some Benadryl with half a glass of water, and then Peter and Mozzie had gotten him upstairs and into the shower.
An hour later, Neal was back on the couch, wearing Peter's sweatpants and t-shirt and covered with an afghan made by Elizabeth's grandmother. He was as comfortable as he was going to get, propped up on a couple of pillows and breathing more or less normally while he dozed. Every fifteen minutes or so, he roused with a start, not quite able to let himself fully relax into sleep after the commotion of the last few hours.
Mozzie was in the armchair, sipping what was probably his tenth glass of the Sangiovese, while Elizabeth and Peter sat on the floor, playing a game of Parcheesi on the coffee table. Their mugs of steaming coffee were within easy reach. It was late, but there was a silent agreement that they were all going to keep an eye on Neal tonight.
Each time he spasmed, one of them would reach out and pat an arm or leg, letting him know that he wasn't alone and that he was okay.
It was around two in the a.m. when Neal turned onto his side and contemplated his friends. He'd had a few people in his life that he would classify under that definition but none were as loyal as the ones in this room, plying themselves with caffeine so they could watch over him. It was… humbling. And more than a little disturbing that his roots had grown this deep without him realizing.
"You okay?" Elizabeth squeezed his left hand when she saw him move.
He nodded and extricated his hand to point at the game of Clue they were now playing. "Who's winning?"
"Mozzie," Peter replied. "I didn't even know he was playing."
"You're not the only one with detective skills, Sherlock Suit," Mozzie retorted.
Neal smiled. "Thanks, guys. For everything. But it's late, and you should all get some sleep."
"We've only made it halfway through our board game collection," Elizabeth replied.
Peter added, "And we're pretty sure the coffee will last until morning."
"That's nice, but I'm okay. Really. You can go to bed."
All three of them laughed and went back to their game.
"That wasn't a joke."
"Neal, honey, when you rest, we'll rest. Until then, I plan on defending my title as grand champion of Monopoly." Elizabeth proudly held up a classic version of the game in a worn box.
"Pfft." Mozzie looked offended. "Monopoly? What a joke. Did you know that both Cuba and the Soviet Union both banned it for a time? Cuba and the Soviet Union! That's saying something right there."
Neal even laughed that time and was pleasantly surprised that his breathing didn't so much as catch once. Now that he really thought about it, besides the ache in his right hand and the exhaustion weighing his eyelids, he did feel all right. He closed his eyes and vaguely listened as Mozzie continued to harp on the game even as Elizabeth and Peter set it up and playfully argued over who got to use the racecar token and whether or not they were putting money into the center for when you land on Free Parking.
A few minutes later, Elizabeth looked over at Neal and smiled. "I think he's really out this time."
"It was bound to happen eventually," Peter said, as he stood up and stretched cramped muscles. "He's exhausted, and so am I. Let's get some shuteye before we have to start digging ourselves out in the morning."
"It's already morning," Elizabeth responded as she pulled the blanket up to Neal's chin and gently brushed hair off his forehead. When he didn't stir, she knew he was truly asleep.
"You coming, Mozzie?" Peter asked from the stairs.
"Nah," the older man replied. "I'll keep an eye out a while longer."
Elizabeth nodded, knowing better than to argue with him. "Night, Moz."
Mozzie raised his tea cup in her direction and went back to the book he'd been reading most of the night. He kept one of his four eyes on Neal though, making sure everything was going to be okay.
Thanks for reading!