Somewhere in the house, Neal heard a clock ding the midnight hour, and he allowed himself a soft sigh. This wasn't the first birthday he'd spent sprawled on a bathroom floor too sick to move, but he hoped it was the last.
About an hour ago, Neal had been helping clean up after his surprise party when the pain hit out of nowhere. It felt like someone was stabbing his left temple with an ice pick. Repeatedly and voraciously.
He'd managed to hide the pain for about fifteen minutes before excusing himself to disappear up the stairs and into the guest bedroom. Peter had already insisted that he spend the night due to what he so eloquently termed 'wine overload'. Come to think of it, the wine probably hadn't helped matters.
He hadn't had an attack in years and had run out of medicine to control them ages ago. Though he'd waited too long to take something anyway. He just had to ride out the misery until it eased enough for him to sleep.
His stomach churned again, so he shakily levered himself up to lean over the toilet. Dry heaves were the worst. The muscle contractions only caused his head to throb harder, and it was all futile anyway since he wasn't bringing anything up. Neal couldn't help the cough or the moan that escaped him, but he hoped they weren't as loud as they seemed.
In the bedroom, Elizabeth abruptly sat up, unsure of why she was awake when she'd only just gotten to sleep. She sat there for a moment, tuning out Peter's snores to see if there was something else going on in the house. A noise from down the hall grabbed her attention, so she slipped into her robe and went to investigate.
“Oh, Neal,” she said softly, as she eased through the cracked bathroom door. All she could see in the slight illumination of the nightlight was the young conman-turned-consultant hunched over the toilet. She flipped the overhead light on, to get a better look at what she was dealing with.
Neal immediately tensed, clamping his hands over his eyes and crying out, “No! No light! Please!”
“Sorry, sorry.” Elizabeth quickly hit the switch, plunging them back into near darkness.
Neal couldn't respond as he retched once again. She winced at the sound and moved closer to see if she could help in any way.
Peter shot off the bed when the shouts startled him. He ran down the hallway and kicked the bathroom door all the way open. It was only then that he realized that he hadn't grabbed his gun from the nightstand drawer. “What's going on? What's happening?”
Neal whimpered as the door crashed against the wall. There was too much activity, too many people in the small space. And then Peter flipped the lights on. Neal made a keening sound that Elizabeth never wanted to hear again.
“Turn that off!” She crouched down by Neal and put her arms around him, trying to shield him as much as she could.
Peter hastily complied. “What's wrong?”
She just gave a look that, even in the dark, said to stop being a dumbass. He got the message, loud and clear, and stood silently by the sink, unsure of what to do with himself now.
“Neal? Sweetie?” Elizabeth rubbed his back, concerned by the shivers racking his thin body.
“Could I... have a minute?” he whispered, pausing to catch his breath. His whole body was taut, ready to snap, and he needed time to get himself under control.
“Okay,” she replied, just as quietly. She wanted to argue, but anyone could see that he didn't have the strength for that. “We'll be right outside.”
Neal couldn't nod, couldn't do anything but listen to their footsteps as they moved away from him. He released the breath he didn't know he was holding and let go of the toilet bowl to slump against the wall. This birthday sucked.
The Burkes went into their room and sat on their bed. “El, what's wrong with him? That's not hungover sick.”
“I don't know,” she responded, biting her lip. “It looks like a migraine. My sister used to get them when we were kids.”
“This is a headache? Are you kidding me?”
“Not a headache.” She was quick to correct him. “A migraine is a thousand times worse than a headache. Jess used to spend hours in the bathroom, just laying on the floor in the dark, in too much pain to move.”
“That definitely sounds like,” he shrugged and gestured to the hallway, “that. Should we take him to the ER?”
“Only if he doesn't stop vomiting or doesn't start to get better by tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow?” Peter winced on Neal's behalf.
“It could last a few hours or a few days,” Elizabeth shuddered at the memory of her sister in pain for nearly a week during her first college finals. Jessica had been so stressed that she'd had to be admitted to the hospital, and even then, it had taken a while for her to get better.
Shuffling in the hallway alerted them to Neal's movements, and they were both on their feet and vying to be first through the bedroom doorway before he could make it the five steps from the bathroom to the guest room.
He stilled and glanced in their direction when he heard them. “I'm okay,” he said softly. “Go back to sleep.”
“That might be convincing if you didn't have a death grip on the door jamb.” Peter moved to Neal's side and wrapped an arm around the younger man's waist to help get him back to bed.
Neal was too spent to push the arm away so he allowed it. He was also too preoccupied to notice that Elizabeth had slipped by them until he was sitting on the bed and she was walking through the door with an ice pack wrapped in a towel, a glass of water, and a bucket.
Peter took the glass of water and held it up in front of Neal's squinted eyes. “Drink some.”
“No.” Neal really wanted to shake his head but knew better. “Still queasy.”
“You should still try a little,” Elizabeth suggested.
Neal ignored the glass, and Peter decided to push it on him later. “I'm going to leave it here on the table for later.”
“'Kay,” the ailing man responded.
“Lay back,” Peter coaxed, pressing against Neal's shoulder. He pulled the blankets over his consultant once Neal was as comfortable as he was going to get.
Elizabeth sat on the edge of the bed and placed the compress over Neal's eyes. She jumped when he moaned. “Is it too cold, sweetie?”
“No, no,” Neal murmured, raising his hand to gently grip her wrist to keep her from moving the ice pack. “It's good.”
“Okay. There's a bucket right here to your right.” She brushed his hair back so that it was out of his face. “You need a trim.”
“Mm-hmm,” was all Neal could muster for her.
She smiled and leaned over to place a kiss on his cheek. “Get some rest.”
Peter was standing by the door. He reached out to take her hand as they headed for their bedroom. “Have I told you lately how much I love you?”
She was perplexed but shrugged. “I'm sure I could hear it again. Why this time?”
“You always know what to do, El.”
She grinned and stood on her tiptoes to give him a proper kiss. “We'll have to work on you, though. What was that stunt with the bathroom door?”
Peter all but blushed. “I heard shouts. How was I supposed to know what was going on?”
“In the bathroom, Peter. Seriously?”
“You two woke me from a dead sleep. You're lucky I didn't grab my gun.”
She didn't have a snappy retort for that one. Now that he'd mentioned it, she was indeed thankful for that little detail. “Let's not think about that now. We should get some sleep. I have a feeling our houseguest is going to be quite the handful tomorrow.”
Peter chuckled, more than a little amused by that. “Isn't he always?”
“He does have his moments, doesn't he?”
Neal was trying to relax, but he couldn't help but overhear them through the open door. “Heard that,” he grumbled, making sure to raise his voice.
Peter and Elizabeth laughed. It sounded like their patient was starting to feel better. “Sleep, Neal,” Peter called back as the Burkes headed into their own room to get some sleep.
Thank you for reading!