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A Warm Embrace

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When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case
I could offer you a warm embrace
To make you feel my love

~Make You Feel My Love - Bob Dylan

 

Thanks to a multi-car accident on the only street that Neal was cleared by the Marshals to take into Brooklyn, he had been forced to leave the warmth of his hard-earned cab and walk the last several blocks to Peter and Elizabeth's. The wind was bitterly cold, and sleet had been falling for hours, which made the sidewalks treacherous. It didn't help matters at all that Neal had forgotten his hat so the precipitation was sluicing down the back of his neck as he hunched his shoulders and ducked his head to keep it out of his eyes.

By the time the Burke's townhouse came into view, he was shivering so hard that he had trouble walking a straight line. He'd tripped over his own feet a couple of blocks back, and he was pretty sure he'd skinned his knee, ruining this pair of vintage suit pants in the process, and possibly sprained his ankle. It was hard to tell with the numbness spreading through his extremities.

Elizabeth or Peter must have seen him coming. One minute he was standing at the bottom of the steps that led to their front door, trying to summon the energy to climb them, and the next, Peter and Elizabeth were on either side of him, pulling his arms over their shoulders and guiding him into the house and over to the sofa.

“He's freezing,” Elizabeth said, stripping him of his soaked wool jacket while Peter worked on his shoes, a completely impractical pair of leather wingtips. “Neal, sweetie, how are you feeling? Peter, go and get some towels and a pair of sweats. Neal?”

“Hmmm?” He opened his mouth to say more, but his teeth started chattering painfully. Elizabeth was pulling off his clothes, but he was so cold. He tried to curl into a ball, but she kept moving him around.

Peter dropped Neal's shoes onto the rubber mat by the door that would catch the excess water while he hurried upstairs to get the requested items as well as some extra blankets.

Elizabeth continued to undress Neal as tenderly as she could while also chiding him, but that was mostly out of fear. He was barely responsive to his own name and showed no other signs of comprehending what was going on around him. “What were you thinking? Going out in this weather. Didn't you get our message? Date night was canceled because of the storm. We didn't want you coming all the way out here in this weather, and look what's happened.”

She was almost done when Satchmo nosed his way in beside her and licked Neal's trembling hand. He whined when Neal didn't pat his head or acknowledge him. It was unlike the man to ignore him.

“Satch, go lay down,” El ordered, pushing him away so that she could pull off Neal's pants. She gasped at the sight of his bloodied knee. “Peter! Bring the first aid kit!”

“What's wrong?” Peter asked, his feet pounding on the stairs on the way back down. “Is he okay?”

“He must have fallen.” She pointed to the wound and then moved from her crouched position on the floor to sit next to Neal on the sofa.

“El?” he slurred, lifting his head and blinking slowly at her.

Peter held out a towel to her and she draped it across Neal's chest and started sponging at the water on his skin. “Hey,” she replied, ducking her head to try to keep eye contact with him. “What happened?”

He scrunched his nose and scooted closer to her, still trembling. “Cab. Accident. Walked here. 'M so cold.”

Elizabeth's eyebrows shot up to the roof. She pushed his soaked bangs aside and forced him to look directly at her. “Were you in an accident?”

“Neal?” Peter stopped bandaging his knee long enough to look up and check him over more thoroughly. He didn't appear to have any other injuries, but he was clearly mildly hypothermic, so his lethargy was understandable. He didn't appear to be confused or concussed, just sluggish.

“No,” Neal shook his head and burrowed into Elizabeth's side, seeking her warmth. She shuddered when his head fell to her shoulder and his cold skin and wet hair gave her a chill. “Traffic was blocked. Had to walk.”

Elizabeth released the tense breath she'd been holding and wrapped her arms around him. Peter handed her another towel, and she gently rubbed it over Neal's hair. “You're okay. Everything's okay now. We'll get you warmed up in no time.”

Peter finished up and set the first aid kit to the side. In the thirty seconds that it took him to shake out a fleece blanket, Neal had curled his knees up and tucked his feet under himself as he leaned into Elizabeth's embrace. He was shivering hard as Peter tucked the blanket around him and El and added a second one for good measure.

“Sit down with us.” Elizabeth had started to move one hand out of the blanket cocoon but Peter waved at her to stay put.

“I'm going to make him something warm to drink. Then, we can get him upstairs and into bed.”

She nodded and leaned her head down toward Neal's ear. “We were going to watch a movie. Peter was lobbying for Dirty Harry, but now that you're here, you can choose. Would you rather watch the original Ocean's 11 or Swing Time?”

“Fahrenheit 451,” he stuttered the suggestion as he tried to nestle even closer to her.

She laughed softly and planted a kiss on the top of his head.

Peter exited the kitchen with a steaming mug. He was blowing on it as he took a seat on the other side of Neal and set the mug on the coffee table. “What are you two talking about?” he asked as he rummaged in the first aid kit. It took a minute, but he finally found the thermometer.

“Movies,” Elizabeth replied. “I think Neal wants something with heat as a theme.”

Peter chuckled and tapped on Neal's chin. “Open up.”

Neal's eyes were closed and he'd been drifting in a haze, so he startled and whimpered at the touch.

“Hey, hey, it's okay,” Peter assured him. “I just need to know what your temperature is. Then, you can have something hot to drink.”

Neal was buoyed by the promise of warmth, so he opened both his eyes and his mouth at the same time. He quietly watched as Peter shook out the thermometer and put it under his tongue. In an effort to keep his teeth from chattering against the glass, Neal let the shivers rack the rest of his body.

Elizabeth frowned over at her husband. “Should we call an ambulance?”

Peter put a restraining hand on Neal's chest when the younger man started to rise in protest. “No, I don't think so,” he said to El. “He's conscious and pretty coherent, and the shivering is actually a good sign. I think he'll be okay in the morning. We'll just have to keep him warm tonight.”

She nodded and waited for Peter to take the thermometer from Neal and check it. “What does it say?”

“He's down a few degrees, but nothing we can't handle.” Peter picked up the mug and took a sip to see if it had cooled enough. He nodded to himself and looked over at the patient. “Can you sit up a little? This isn't going to taste the best, but it's warm.”

“What's it?” Neal murmured as Elizabeth helped him shift to sitting. She stayed close, and he was grateful for that. He snaked one hand out from under the blankets to reach for the drink.

Peter batted the hand away and held the mug up to Neal's lips himself. “Slow sips. It's just a little water with honey and lemon. It'll make you feel better and then we'll get you something with a better taste.”

Neal held each sip in his mouth, savoring the heat of the liquid. It didn't taste like much, but he didn't care. It was the most amazing drink he'd ever had. When he'd made it through half the water, he fell back against Elizabeth's shoulder. “Tired.”

“Okay. That's okay.” Peter patted his knee and stood. “Don't go to sleep yet. You'll be more comfortable upstairs, trust me.”

Neal was pliant as they carefully dressed him in sweatpants and a t-shirt. Both were Peter's so both were a bit too big, but Neal didn't care. They smelled like the Burke's, a combination of fabric softener and the feminine floral scents that permeated the house, and he felt safe in them.

“Slowly,” Peter said, as he and Elizabeth helped Neal to his feet.

His head spun briefly, but it settled quickly enough back into the haze that didn't seem to want to lift from his mind. Then, he took a step forward and hissed when his knee and ankle protested his weight with sharp twinges of pain.

“What's wrong?” Peter and Elizabeth asked in unison.

“Fell outside,” Neal explained as best he could through the muzziness. “It's okay. Sore.”

Peter and Elizabeth shared a look, silently communicating their concern for Neal and wondering if there was any hope they could get him to the hospital through the storm outside.

“C'mon,” Peter finally said as he made the decision for them. He pulled Neal's arm over his shoulder and pointed them in the direction of the second story. “Let's get you upstairs.”

The ascent took a lot of effort on everyone's behalf; the stairs were too narrow to allow Neal and Peter to move up them side-by-side, which left Neal to have to navigate them mostly on his own. Elizabeth was behind him, braced in case she was needed to stop a fall, and Peter was in front, walking backwards with one hand on Neal's left elbow, tugging him gently to keep him moving. Neal's right hand clutched tightly at the banister as he was still shaking and didn't trust his feet or his grip to keep him vertical for long.

What was supposed to be a quick stop in the bathroom turned into a longer enterprise when Neal finished his business and then looked longingly at the shower. Elizabeth caught his expression and didn't hesitate to turn on a lukewarm spray.

“El, we should get him to bed,” Peter whispered.

“It'll just be a few minutes,” she replied. “He'll feel better, and then we can all get some sleep.”

Peter nodded while she slipped out to turn on the heating blanket on their bed. It wouldn't do to get Neal all wet and then put him into a cold bed.

By the time Elizabeth returned, Peter and Neal were both stripped and in the shower. Peter was behind Neal, holding most of his weight while Neal leaned his head back against Peter's shoulder and let the water flow over his chest.

Elizabeth pulled off her flannel pajamas and stepped inside with them. The shower wasn't huge, but it could comfortably fit the three of them, and this wasn't their first time executing this particular dance. She grabbed a loofa and soaped it up so that she could wash away the sweat and rain water that Neal would hate if he were coherent enough to notice.

Neal closed his eyes and let them handle what needed to be done. He was so happy to be under the warm water that he didn't really care what was happening.

Peter waited until Elizabeth was done with Neal's front before he carefully leaned Neal against her and washed his back and then his hair. He had just finished rinsing the conditioner out with the extra hand-held shower head when Neal's knees buckled unexpectedly.

They were all wet and slippery, but they managed to catch him before he banged his head against anything or hit his injured knee. “Neal?” Elizabeth called his name and tried to shift him so that she could see his face. There wasn't enough room for her to kneel down.

“Huh? Wha'?” Neal blinked heavy eyelids open and squinted at her.

“I think he just fell asleep,” she reported, looking up at her husband with a wry smile. Only Neal would scare her that badly by merely being too exhausted to even tell them so. “Time for bed, then?”

“I'll get the towels.” Peter quickly dried himself off and pulled his sleep pants back on before helping Elizabeth get Neal out. They sat the younger man down on the toilet while they both got him dry and dressed back in the sweatpants and t-shirt.

Within a few minutes, Neal was ensconced in the center of the king-size bed with Peter on one side and Elizabeth on the other. They fit themselves around each other like a perfect puzzle, and he almost immediately fell asleep in the security of their arms.

Some time later, Neal was roused by the urgent needs of his bladder. He was too clumsy to extricate himself with any grace, so he'd woken both of his lovers by the time he was off the mattress and stumbling into the bathroom.

When he leaned against the door jamb a few minutes later, he found them waiting for him with one lamp turned on to its dimmest setting. His knee and ankle were sore, but then again, so was his entire body. He'd finally stopped shivering, but he still felt cold, especially in the open air of the bedroom. And fatigue was weighing heavily on his mind, threatening to topple him onto the hardwood at any second. He hated feeling so terrible and vulnerable.

“Come back to bed,” Elizabeth sleepily entreated.

He hesitated, glancing down the hallway. Even though he was both thirsty and hungry, he doubted he'd make it down to the kitchen and back upstairs. Too bad Satchmo wasn't trained to bring him a bottle of water and a banana.

“What is it? Do you need something?” Peter stood and rubbed his hands over his face and through his hair. It was two in the morning, and he'd been sleeping soundly until Neal had kneed him in a very sensitive spot.

Neal hated to ask for help. He'd been self-sufficient so much of his life that it was his primary nature, but he really didn't have a choice tonight. “A snack and some water would be great.”

Peter grinned. “Look at that. He's speaking full sentences again, hon.”

Elizabeth laughed and held out her hands to Neal again. He limped back to the bed while Peter slipped out the door to scrounge up something to eat. “How are you feeling?” she asked while pulling the blankets back over him.

He refused to lay back down, instead pushing some pillows against the headboard and leaning against them. “I'm achey and still so cold.”

She was surprised by the honesty. “I'm not complaining, sweetie, but why did you come out here tonight?”

“It's date night.” He said it like it was the most obvious answer in the world.

“I love date night with you, Neal, but the weather was so bad tonight. We tried to get in touch with you to let you know that you didn't have to come, that we would have double date night next week instead.”

“I didn't want to miss it.” He slipped an arm around her waist and pulled her close untl her head rested on his chest and his chin sat on top of her head. It was easier to say this when he wasn't looking into her eyes. “I look forward to this every week, El, and it was so quiet in my apartment. I wanted to be here.”

She entwined their fingers over his stomach and kissed the patch of skin on his chest that wasn't covered by his t-shirt. “I was so worried when I saw you outside. You weren't moving, just staring at the bottom step. You were wet and shaking so hard when we got out to you.”

He shivered again at the memory of it himself. “Sorry.”

“Don't be sorry. Just promise me that you'll call next time. We would have found a way to get to you so that you didn't have to walk in the cold and rain.”

“I promise.”

They were quiet when Peter returned with tray of several bottles of water and a couple of plates, one held triangles of toast with jam and the other had some sliced bananas. Satchmo had followed him up the stairs and he sniffed at the bed for a moment until Neal leaned over and gave him a good scratch behind the ears. Apparently satisfied that his humans were okay, he settled down on his dog bed in the corner.

Elizabeth helped Peter position the tray over Neal's legs, but Peter stopped Neal from reaching for anything. “Let's take your temp one more time, okay?”

Neal acquiesced and let Peter put the thermometer under his tongue while Elizabeth surfed the channels on TV until she found a re-run of a Friends episode to provide some background noise.

Peter took the thermometer back after a minute and nodded approvingly at the readout. He leaned forward to press a kiss to Neal's forehead, gauging his temperature that way as well. “You're almost back to normal. How do you feel?”

“Sore, exhausted.” He snagged a piece of toast and bottle of water while Peter got comfortable back under the covers. Both Peter and Elizabeth were sitting close enough that their hips were pressed to his, and he was aware that he would feel claustrophobic under any other circumstances, but for now, it felt right, comfortable, and most importantly, warm.

“That's to be expected. Still feel cold too, I bet.” Peter dropped an arm over Neal's shoulders and adjusted the blankets around him.

Neal nodded and grabbed a second piece of toast. There was something he was curious about, and he figured now was the best time to ask. “How did you know what to do?”

“I took a First Responders course after 9/11, and I re-certify every year. You never know when it'll come in handy.”

Neal's heart swelled with pride and respect for his partner. “Thank you. For helping me tonight.”

“No need for that,” Peter replied, pulling him close and kissing his temple where his hair had curled a bit as it dried. “I will always take care of you.”

Neal smiled and pulled Elizabeth into the embrace. “I love you both,” he said, as honest and earnest as he'd ever been. He'd been wanting to say it for a while, but after tonight, he didn't think he'd be able to hide his true feelings for them. He didn't want to hide them.

Elizabeth had tears in her eyes when she pressed her lips to his. “We love you too,” she whispered against his mouth as Peter's arms enveloped both of them.

~Finis

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