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You've Got a Friend (And Lover) In Me

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~~! I !~~

Peter gasped when the knife effortlessly slid into his flank and choked on the air when the blade was yanked out at an angle.

“Peter!” Neal was shouting from somewhere to the left, but Peter was so focused on the burning pain in his side that he couldn’t keep track of what was happening with his partner. The last he’d seen of Neal was when the younger man took an unexpected fist to the face.

The op had gone sideways as soon as Neal’s cover had been blown by an authenticator that he’d worked with, and apparently screwed over, in the past. Neal had forged and was selling an ancient Greek vase, and Peter had gone in undercover with him as a the seller. The buyer had brought the authenticator, who had called out Neal as a forger and then Peter as his federal watchdog.

Before Peter could get his breath back, he and Neal were thrown into an abandoned supply room and left alone. There were several empty shelving units against the back wall, but the rest of the room was bare.

“Peter? Hey? Look at me.” Neal patted his face and smiled at him when he opened his eyes. “How are you doing?”

He grunted and tried to sit up. His position lying on the floor against the side wall was too vulnerable. He needed to up where he could face the door and protect Neal.

“Whoa. No, no. Just lie still.” Neal shed his jacket and then his dress shirt, which he folded up and pressed against Peter’s side, causing the pain to triple and his precarious hold on consciousness to slip away.

Later, when Peter opened his eyes, he was alone. Panic rushed in to dampen the pain, and he pushed himself up on his elbows so that he could see the whole room. Neal wasn’t there, and Peter worried that he’d been taken or had pulled one of his famous escapes to get help. Peter hoped for the latter and settled himself against the wall to wait.

He looked down and saw that Neal had secured his makeshift bandage with both of their ties tied together and then knotted in some sort of complex pattern over the bandage. Both were bloodied, and Peter wondered how long he’d been unconscious.

There were no windows, and Peter’s watch had been taken along with his cell phone earlier. His concealed Glock was also missing, which wasn’t much of a surprise. Suddenly alarmed that too much time had passed, Peter tried to call for Neal, but his throat was dry and he wound up coughing and crying out with pain.

“Peter?” Neal’s voice came from above him, and Peter looked up in time to see Neal’s head pop down through a hole above the shelves where a ceiling tile had been removed.

“Neal.” Peter was relieved to see the younger man and too exhausted to keep from showing it. “What are you doing up there?”

“Looking for a way out.” Neal contorted his body somehow and then slid out of the ceiling to land nimbly at Peter’s side. “I found a phone in an office at the end of the hall and called Diana. She’s on her way with the cavalry. How are you doing?”

“Hurts,” Peter replied. The pain had become constant now that his adrenaline spike was receding, and his stomach ached in a way that his first aid training told him wasn’t good. Internal bleeding was highly likely but that wasn’t something that Neal needed to know.

Neal nodded and checked the bandage. His frown betrayed his worry, but he schooled his features by the time he looked back up into Peter’s face. “Are you cold?”

Peter hadn’t really thought about it, but now he was racked by a full body shiver. Neal draped his suit coat over Peter’s chest and tucked it up under his chin.

“What time is it?”

Neal looked at his wrist but held up the bare appendage for Peter to see. Neal’s watch had been taken too. “If the phone in that office is correct, then it’s almost five.”

“Damn. We’re supposed to be home by six for dinner.”

Less than a month ago, Elizabeth, Peter, and Neal sat down and discussed this thing that was between them. They were in agreement that they wanted to explore the relationship and that they had to be careful about it. Neal was still in the FBI’s (and Peter’s, by extension) custody for a couple more years, but no one wanted to wait that long. Tonight was supposed to be their first dinner and sleepover night.

Neal sat down by Peter’s side and bumped shoulders with him gently as he raised a hand to guide Peter’s head onto his shoulder. Then, he wormed an arm behind Peter’s back and held him firmly but gently.

Peter had caught a glimpse of Neal’s face for the first time in a while and was startled at the bruising on his jaw and around his swelling eye. There were also lines of worry or frustration or both marking his forehead. “Are you okay?”

“I’m not the one who got stabbed.”

“Looks like someone got a couple of punches in.” Peter reached up with a shaking hand to brush his thumb over Neal’s jaw.

Neal twisted his head and kissed Peter’s palm. “I’m okay. I just hope Diana gets here soon.”

Peter nodded. “Will you call El? Diana will let you borrow her phone.”

“Of course I will. Now, will you please just rest?”

Peter closed his eyes, but his mind needed a distraction. “We were looking forward to tonight,” he murmured. “Elizabeth and me.”

Neal hesitated long enough for Peter to open his eyes again. “Me too,” he finally said, but he was looking away.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.”

“Don’t give me that. Tell me.”

“It’s just… domesticity.” Neal’s voice softened, and his fingers stroked the bare skin they were in contact with to give his hands something to do. “I never thought I’d have someone to cook dinner for me. Hell, you and El. You have a house and a dog. It’s just strange. Not bad strange. Just strange.”

“I guess it would be different for Neal Caffrey, international art thief and all-around man of mystery.”

Neal forced a laugh and shook his head. “It wasn’t that exciting, trust me.”

“Don’t forget that I chased you for three years. I know what fancy hotels you were holing up in.”

“Oh, Peter. You have no idea.”

Peter opened his mouth to reply, but there was a sudden commotion outside the door. A moment later, Diana’s voice could be heard. “Neal? Peter?”

“We’re in here!” Neal shouted back, easily slipping away from Peter to get up. He kept one hand on Peter’s shoulder though to keep him from falling over completely.

“Stand back!” Diana called. Then the door was kicked open, and she was standing there with her hands on her hips and a smirk on her face. “You called?”

Neal grinned and nodded. “Please tell me you brought the paramedics.”

“They’re outside. We have to clear the building before they can enter.” She took three steps into the room and then kneeled next to Peter and lifted Neal’s jacket so that she could see the damage. She whistled low and shook her head. “Hey, Boss. We’re going to get you out of here.”

“Thanks, Di,” Peter murmured as his eyes slipped shut. “Make sure Neal gets checked out too, okay?”

~~! II !~~

Peter was dying. No, he’d been chewed up and spit out by the neighbor’s rabid cat, and now he was dying in… He opened his eyes to find the familiar surroundings of his own bathroom. When and how did he get to the bathroom?

There was a pillow tucked under his head and an old blanket draped over his body, so Elizabeth clearly knew where he was. The question was now: where was she?

He got his hands on the floor and pushed himself up. The room spun at the sudden change in position, and his stomach roiled uncomfortably. There couldn’t possibly be anything left in there to throw up, but his muscles clenched and made a valiant effort.

“Peter?”

Neal stepped through the doorway, and he frowned down at Peter, who waved him away. Peter didn’t want Neal to see him like this, even though he now had the nagging feeling that Neal had actually been the one to arrange the pillow and blanket for him.

Peter waited out the dry heaves, and then dragged himself over to the shower to turn on a nice warm spray. He’d definitely feel better if he could wash some of the sweat and sickness away. Using the toilet seat and the vanity counter, he pushed himself to his feet.

Neal must have heard the shower because he was suddenly by Peter’s side with one hand on his elbow and the other on the small of his back when Peter swayed against the renewed wave of dizziness. “Easy. Take it slow.”

“I’m okay.” Peter’s words were meant to be reassuring, but the way he mumbled them was anything but.

“Let me help,” Neal said softly. He put Peter’s hands on his shoulders for a balancing point and proceeded to shuck him pajama pants and boxers. Then, he pulled Peter’s sweat-stained t-shirt over his head.

Peter’s cheeks pinked in embarrassment that someone - Neal - had to help him get undressed and into the shower. “Where’s El?”

Neal flinched at the question, and Peter immediately felt a pang of regret. Neal was doing everything he could to help, and Peter was asking for his wife. He was sure it stung too because their relationship, as Peter and El and Neal, was still in its early stages and Neal was insecure and unsure of his place with them. “She went to the store to stock up on crackers and ginger ale.”

Peter moaned at the thought of food, even just crackers. He’d gotten a bad case of food poisoning from the deli that he and Neal had gotten lunch from the day before, and last night had been absolutely miserable. Peter never wanted to eat anything ever again.

Neal helped him into the shower, hesitating for just a minute before taking off his own pajama pants and tank top and following him inside. Peter wanted to protest, but then Neal’s fingers were pushing shampoo through his hair, and it felt so good that he couldn’t remember what he was going to say.

In the end, Neal had to trap Peter between the shower wall and his own body in order to keep the older man upright long enough for Neal to wash him good all over. It wasn’t easy, but Peter was beyond grateful that he was clean again.

Peter got himself dressed, mostly because he was able to sit on the side of the bed while he did it and then slipped between the clean sheets. Neal must have changed out the bedding while he’d been asleep - passed out - on the bathroom floor.

Neal made him sit up long enough to drink a glass of water. Then, the younger man climbed into bed beside him and started to stroke his fingers through Peter’s hair and down to the back of his neck, where he massaged at the tense muscles for a moment before repeating the process. With his other hand, he surfed the Netflix queue on the bedroom TV until he found a documentary on Renaissance art that he was sure would lull Peter right to sleep.

Instead, Peter reached over and gently took the remote to press the mute button. “Neal?”

Neal looked down at him with an expression that Peter wasn’t able to immediately identify and that worried him.

“Thank you for helping me today. I know I’m a lousy patient. El always says so, but I really do appreciate you being here.”

Neal smiled. “You don’t have to thank me. I don’t mind taking care of you, but she’s right about you being a terrible patient. It’s okay to admit to a little weakness, Agent Burke.”

“What would you know about it?” Peter groused.

Neal just laughed and turned back to his documentary. Peter fell asleep to the sounds of the narrator’s deep voice and Neal’s own soft commentary on da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man.

~~! III !~~

“Don’t even think about it.” Peter glared at Neal’s hand when it shot out to steady him. He knew that he was listing to the right, but his left ankle was now refusing to take his weight at all. It was going to be a long walk back to the car from the abandoned warehouse that they had thought they’d tracked their art forgery suspect. Peter had slipped on a oily spot in the dark warehouse and twisted his ankle, which he swore was just a sprain.

“Stop being so stubborn and let me help you.” Neal slipped under Peter’s left arm before he could try to pull away. “Lean on me.”

Peter scoffed and stepped forward onto his bad leg. His ankle buckled and nearly sent the both of them onto the dirty concrete, but Neal had widened his stance in anticipation of Peter continuing to be a mule about the whole situation and kept both of them off the ground.

“Seriously?” Neal’s patience was wearing thin, if his annoyed tone of voice was anything to go by. His expression though was one of concern.

“All right. Fine.” Peter let Neal take some of his weight as they slowly made their way back to the Taurus.

By the time they made it out of the warehouse and to the car, Peter was sweating and nauseated from the pain radiating up his leg. He was almost ready to admit, out loud, that it could be more than a sprain.

Neal opened the passenger door and eased Peter into the seat before the agent caught on to which side of the car he was sitting on. “No way. You’re not driving. You don’t even have a license.”

“That’s not a valid argument when you can’t even walk.”

“I don’t have to walk to drive,” Peter pointed out, watching as Neal rolled up his pant leg to get a look at the damage. “And it’s my left foot, not my right. I can still drive.”

“Then you get to be the one to explain to Elizabeth how you killed us in a fiery car crash because you passed out from the pain after refusing to let me drive you the ten miles to the hospital.” Neal loosened his shoestrings and slid the wingtip off as gently as possible. Peter still moaned at the movement. “It’s definitely swollen. I can’t see much until I get your sock off.”

Peter leaned his head back and closed his eyes against the spots that had started dancing in front of them. Now that he was sitting down and still, the pain had hit with vengeance. “Leave it.”

“Peter-“

“The doctor or nurse will cut it off.”

“So, you admit that you need a hospital?” Neal sounded like he didn’t believe him, but Peter nodded slowly.

“Um-hmm. You drive.” That must have scared Neal speechless because he didn’t say anything else. He just gently moved Peter’s feet inside the car and buckled his seatbelt. When his touch disappeared for a minute but the door didn’t close, Peter forced his eyes open just in time to see that Neal had grabbed a couple of blankets out of the trunk’s emergency kit. He rolled one up and placed it under Peter’s left foot and then shook the other one out to lay over Peter.

Within a minute, they were moving slowly down the dilapidated street toward the nearest hospital. Neal tried to dodge as many potholes as he could, but a particularly big one sent Peter’s pain levels out of control, and he lost time to snippets of uncomfortable moments followed by blissful analgesic-induced sleep.

Later, Peter was laying on a gurney with his casted ankle propped up to dry with both Neal and Elizabeth at his side. He was groggy from the painkillers they’d given him before setting his fractured ankle, but he turned his head toward Neal and said his name.

Neal looked up from the paperback novel that Elizabeth had gotten him from the gift shop to keep him from getting into trouble accosting nurses into giving Peter more medication or pretending to be a doctor for the fun of it. “You okay?”

“I’m sorry.” Peter was having a hard time getting his thoughts in order to say what he wanted to say and had to hold up a hand to stall Neal’s response. “I am a stubborn ass when I’m hurt. I shouldn’t have been so mean to you earlier.”

Neal nodded and took Peter’s hand in his to give it a reassuring squeeze. “It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. I should have been able to accept your help. I don’t know why…” he trailed off with a sigh. “I’m an ass.”

“I’m a bit of a bear when I’m hurt or sick too.” Neal shrugged and leaned over to give Peter a kiss. “I just wish you trusted me enough to help. I’m not going anywhere, Peter. I want to help you when you need it.”

“I know. I don’t know what I was thinking today.”

“It’s okay. One day, you’ll trust me. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to keep showing you that I’m trustworthy.” He rubbed the tip of his nose against Peter’s for a moment before kissing him one more time and then sitting back in his chair.

Peter caught Elizabeth’s expression out of the corner of his eye. She was concerned about him, about them.

“We’re okay,” Peter told her quietly.

“I think you will be,” she responded wisely. “One day.”

~~! IV !~~

Lunch was supposed to be a few quiet minutes that Neal and Peter stole together behind a tree in the park. Neal knew of a little family-owned sandwich shop outside his radius that he swore had the best hoagie in NYC, and Peter agreed to take him there in the brand-new FBI-issued Taurus. It had a million new buttons that Neal couldn’t wait to poke at; Diana and Jones had a bet going that Peter would kick Neal out of the car in less than fifteen minutes or that Neal would be duct-taped in the backseat with his hands behind his back and his mouth taped shut within twenty-three minutes.

They ordered their sandwiches and marveled at how few people were around for lunch at two in the afternoon. Then, they headed back to the car so that they could make it to the park in time to eat and neck, if they had privacy.

Neal patted his pocket and sighed. “Forgot my wallet. Be right back.”

Peter laughed and turned to watch Neal’s toned butt as he hurried back into the shop. It was summer and humid enough outside that Neal had taken his jacket off in the car. Peter turned and slipped his sunglasses on while he pressed the newest button on his key fob, excited to see the remote start in action without Neal there to tease him about using it when he was only a few feet from the car.

The explosion was unexpected and no one had time to duck for cover. The Taurus blew apart and pieces of shrapnel flew out in all directions. Peter felt sharp bits of the metal biting into his hands, his chest, his face as he fell backwards. He landed harshly, but his body was already going into shock so it barely registered beyond the ringing in his ears and the pain in his brain. He curled up and brought his hands up to cradle his head.

A moment later, someone was beside him, and their hands were over his as they tried to get him to move. Peter yelped and lashed out, knocking the person away without even opening his eyes. That didn’t deter whoever it was. After a minute of struggle, which included the other person removing something from his face – his sunglasses, Peter remembered a second later – the person finally took Peter’s face gently in their hands and pressed familiar lips to his.

Neal. Neal was right in front of him, looking concerned and confused and upset. There was blood trickling from a cut on his cheek and another near his hairline, but he otherwise looked okay. Peter breathed a sigh of relief, moaning when pain shot through his ribs and across his chest.

Neal shook his shoulder, and he focused on the younger man once more. Neal’s lips were moving, but Peter couldn’t hear him. He couldn’t hear anything but a loud, obnoxious ringing. “I can’t hear you!” he shouted, or he thought he did. It was really hard to tell.

Frowning, Neal started to enunciate his words slowly enough that Peter could read his lips. His head ached at the concentration that it took, and he really only caught about every second or third word, but it was better than nothing.

Are . . . okay . . . hurts . . . Peter . . . what hurts? Neal was glancing down the length of his body and pressing against Peter’s knees in an attempt to coax him into uncurling.

“Head, ribs, ears ringing.” Peter slowly stretched out while keeping an eye on everything Neal was doing. He patted Peter’s legs down, searching for any wounds that were hidden by the dark fabric, but nothing hurt, so Peter assumed that his legs were okay. Then, he loosened Peter’s tie and opened his suit jacket. There were wounds there that Neal gently explored but otherwise left alone. Good, Peter thought, he wasn’t bleeding too badly from any of the cuts.

EMTs . . . here . . . relax. Neal squeezed his hand just as two strangers appeared on his other side. Their mouths were moving faster than Peter could keep track of, despite the fact that he was pretty sure they were directing questions at him. Since he couldn’t really answer them, he looked back over at Neal, watching his lover’s lips as he, hopefully, explained the situation.

When the strangers put their hands on him, he cried out and tried to push them away. He’d lost himself in staring at Neal and had honestly forgotten about the paramedics. That probably wasn’t a good sign with a head injury, but Peter’s rising panic was pushing that worrisome thought from his mind.

He kicked and struggled with one hand because Neal refused to let go of the other. Despite Neal’s best effort in trying to get and maintain Peter’s attention, there was no calming him. The prick of a needle in his bicep was followed by a warm rush of medication, and then the world swam out of focus and went dark.

When Peter woke, he knew by the darkness outside the window that a lot of time had passed. There was still a ringing in his ears, but it had diminished to an annoying hum rather than a full-scale bell choir. He let his eyes slowly move around the room as he tried to remember what had happened and why he was in a hospital bed.

In the corner, Elizabeth was curled up in a chair with a blanket and a book dangling from her fingers, a few minutes from dropping to the ground as she gave in to sleep. The light was dimmed in the room, but he could tell that she wasn’t wearing makeup and that her clothes had been haphazardly chosen. The shirt didn’t really match the pants.

Beside him, Neal was hunched over in a chair, working a cryptogram in a puzzle book. It worried Peter that Neal had only filled in a couple of letters, and even concussed and groggy with the book upside down from his view, he could tell that they were wrong.

“Hey,” Peter croaked, relieved to be able to hear the noise that came from his own throat.

Neal’s head shot up, giving Peter the full view of the bandage in his hairline, the band-aid across his cheek, and the bruised eyes that spoke of little rest and a lot of worry. “Hey, you,” he said, taking care to slowly form the words with his mouth. “Water?” he asked and held up a cup with a straw.

“Please.” Peter couldn’t help but smile when Neal guided the straw between his lips and caressed his cheek with a thumb while Peter drank.

When Peter had his fill, Neal set the cup aside and smiled at him. “You okay?”

Peter nodded and grimaced at the jarring of his sensitive brain. “I can hear you. Kind of.”

Neal breathed a sigh of relief and started stroking the hair at Peter’s temple with one hand. It felt amazing, and Peter hoped he never stopped. “The doctor said it would start coming back soon. You’re okay, by the way. Some cuts and a couple of bruised ribs. Your ears were the most damaged, and they’ll have to test you for hearing loss in a few days.”

Peter frowned at that but didn’t have the energy to protest. Not that Neal could do anything about it anyway. He’d have to talk to the doctor when he was feeling more coherent.

“I have to press the nurse call button, and let them know that you’re awake, okay? Don’t give the nurse a hard time.”

Peter scoffed at that. “I wouldn’t.”

“Tell that to the paramedics who arrived on the scene today.”

He frowned at that but couldn’t pull up the memory of what he’d done. Before he could ask, an older woman in a nurse’s uniform came into the room, smiled at him, and started asking questions.

Once she was gone, Neal and a now awake Elizabeth moved back to the chair beside Peter’s bed. Neal sat down and pulled Elizabeth onto his lap so that Peter could look at both of them without having to turn his head.

“How are you doing?” Elizabeth asked, reaching out to intertwine their fingers. She smiled at him in a guarded way that made him wonder how badly she’d been scared by this whole thing.

“I’m okay. Tired.”

“You should get some rest,” Elizabeth said, leaning over to kiss his forehead and then his lips. She lingered there while Neal took his free hand and ran a thumb over the knuckles there in the way that Neal knew he loved. They were both damn good at calming him and trying to take his mind off the day.

He pulled away from them both and fixed his eyes on Neal’s face. “What happened today? With the car?”

“It was a defect. Apparently Ford knew, but they hadn’t done anything yet. You should have seen Diana on the phone with them.” Neal grinned at the memory, and knowing Diana as he did, Peter was sure that it was quite the spectacle.

Peter’s breath escaped in a rush. It was a random event. No bad guys from the past had planted a bomb in his new car, no bad guy from Neal’s past had followed them and tried to take them out.

His heart monitor sped up, and he gasped for air.

“Peter?” Elizabeth’s voice shook when she said his name.

“Peter?” Neal gently moved El off his lap and then leaned over Peter with his hands on both sides of Peter’s face. “Peter, look at me. Everything’s okay. You’re okay.” He pressed his forehead to Peter’s so that their eyes were locked together. “Take a breath. Good. Another one. That’s good.”

By the time the nurse arrived, Peter was calming. Tears were falling quietly down his cheeks though, and he refused to let go of Neal’s hand.

“I’m going to give you something to help you get some sleep, Mr. Burke,” the nurse said as she injected the contents of a syringe into his IV line. Then, she turned to Elizabeth and Neal and opened her mouth to say something, but closed it when she saw the determination that Peter could also clearly see on their faces. “I won’t waste my breath telling you to go home, but he’s going to need you both rested for tomorrow, if the doctor decides to release him.”

Both Elizabeth and Neal nodded. They sat back down together after the nurse was gone and Peter held out his free hand to Elizabeth. “Stay,” he requested softly.

“We’re not going anywhere,” Neal assured him, and Elizabeth nodded her agreement.

Peter fell asleep with his fingers resting on the pulse points in their wrists, reassured by the steady beats. The day had been so overwhelming, and he was immensely grateful for their support and devotion.

~~! V !~~

Peter had the best team in the world. He could always count on Diana and Jones to follow his orders without question and to take care of things when he wasn’t available. Neal was much more of an uncertain variable, but he had Peter’s back, and he got things done, even if it was in the most unconventional way possible.

One of the biggest things they all had in common was that they hated stakeouts in the van in the middle of winter. The heater sometimes blew cold air for no reason, the equipment had a tendency to malfunction when the temperature dropped below 40 degrees, and Neal whined about frostbite more often than not.

“Caffrey, I’m going to shoot you if you say another damn word.” Diana gave him a pointed look that spoke of the seriousness of her words. Her hand fell to her holster when he opened his mouth, but he quickly snapped it shut.

“Smart man,” Jones said, with a barely concealed smile behind his hand.

Peter shook his head at their antics and tapped the display in front of him. “Keep your eyes open. Our book cooker accountant could show up at any time.”

Diana stood up to stretch her legs and walked toward the front of the van, accidentally kicking Neal when she stepped over his foot.

“Ow!”

“Please. I barely tapped you.” She rolled her eyes and then turned to take a look out the front windshield. “The snow’s really starting to come down out there, Boss. I don’t think our guy’s going to come out in this.”

Jones flicked his headphone feed over to the local weather broadcast. He listened for a minute before turning to Peter. “They’re starting to shut down roads all over the city.”

Peter sighed and glanced at his watch. It was a quarter ‘til ten. “We’ll give it fifteen more minutes, and then we’ll head back.”

The time passed so slowly that Peter wondered if time had actually started moving in the wrong direction. At 9:58, there was movement on their screens as a man matching the description of their accountant approached the office building on the wharf that was under their surveillance and fumbled with the lock.

“That’s him,” Peter said, reaching for his coat. “Let’s move. Neal, stay in the van.”

“I don’t know why you bother,” Diana commented as she, Jones, and Peter filed out into the snow-covered street.

Fifteen minutes later, Peter didn’t know why he bothered either. Their accountant looked mousy, but he’d come prepared for trouble. When Peter shouted at him to freeze, the guy pulled a gun and aimed for him. As Peter was bringing his own sidearm to bear, a body slammed into his, pushing him out of way as a shot rang out.

Peter tumbled toward the edge of the concrete where there was nothing but a drop into the river. It just had to be a warehouse near the river, Peter thought, as he tried to stop his momentum with little result. He had a second to imagine how cold the water was going to be just as he went over the side and hit with a splash.

Icy tendrils of pain tugged at him as he tried to push himself back to the surface. It was so cold that he was simultaneously numb and on fire. Peter fought against the water until his head broke the surface, and he gulped in equal amounts of air and water.

“Peter!” Three voices called his name, but he couldn’t respond. Every ounce of energy was put into keeping his mouth and nose above the water.

Within minutes, he was exhausted. It was true what they said about your life flashing before your eyes; he saw his wedding day with Elizabeth, the first time he’d laid eyes on Satchmo, his first meeting with Neal and that damn green lollipop, catching Neal both times, the first night he, Elizabeth and Neal had shared together, and the fight the three of them had that morning about Peter’s birthday party. He didn’t want one, Elizabeth wanted an elegant dinner party, and Neal wanted an intimate, candle-lit dinner followed by whatever Peter wanted to do in the bedroom. It was a ridiculous fight, and he wished he could take back what he’d said about their ideas now.

Just as he was about to sink back under, a rope smacked him in the face, startling him badly enough that he opened his eyes and renewed his efforts to tread water.

“Hey! Peter, grab the rope. Put your arms through the loop. Come on! Peter!” It was Jones, guiding him into the makeshift harness the agent had made.

It took a few minutes, but Peter found himself back on solid ground again, and he’d never been more grateful. “Thanks,” he mumbled as Jones laid him out on ground.

His eyes kept closing of their own accord; he was so tired. At some point, when he opened his heavy eyelids, he was inside the van with most of his clothes stripped off, and he was under a couple of emergency blankets and heavy wool jackets. Neal was under the blankets with him, curled against his side with his head resting against Peter’s.

“Hey,” he greeted Peter with a slight smile “Jones cuffed our bad guy and is waiting for backup. And paramedics are on the way.”

“I’m okay,” Peter immediately replied. Then, he had an unexplainable spike of concern for Neal. “Are you okay?”

Neal nodded, but Peter could tell that his movements were careful and his face was drawn with tension and pain. “Diana seems to think so.”

“What’s wrong?”

Neal glanced to the left with a worried look. Peter followed his eye-line to see Diana standing nearby with her cellphone pressed to her ear. She put the phone on speaker and set it on a nearby chair so that they could all hear the holiday hold music. Then, she knelt in front of them and adjusted their blankets.

“Do you remember what happened?” she asked Peter gently. It was so unlike Diana to use that tone of voice that he was suddenly afraid he was missing something very important.

Peter closed his eyes to focus on recalling the last hour or so. They’d been waiting for the accountant to show, and he had. They’d gone after him and left Neal in the van… Peter’s eyes flew open, and his trembling fingers fumbled for Neal’s body. “Were you shot? Where? Diana?!”

“Calm down,” Diana and Neal said in unison. Neal winced when Peter’s hand hit the bandage wrapped around his bicep.

“Neal?” Peter tried to stare down his friend, his lover, but Neal wasn’t easily cowed.

“It’s just a scratch.”

Diana snorted but didn’t get a chance to add her two cents. The hold music abruptly died on her cell and was replaced with the tinny voice of an operator. “Yes, this is Special Agent Barrigan, badge number 73298. Where is the ambulance? I called for it over-“ Her voice faded as she stepped away from them.

“Neal,” Peter gently took his chin even though he was still shaking pretty badly and turned Neal’s face toward him, “be serious. How bad is it?”

Neal shivered at Peter’s icy touch. He reached up with his uninjured arm and tucked Peter’s hand back under their coverings. “Diana bandaged it. It was bleeding pretty hard, but I don’t think it hit anything important.”

Peter opened his mouth to tell Neal that he couldn’t know that, but a hard tremor racked his body and he curled toward the meager heat that Neal was providing. Neal’s hand started rubbing gentle circles between his shoulder blades.

“You’re okay,” Neal said softly into his ear. “Before you know it, Elizabeth will have you bundled up into bed, and we’ll sleep tomorrow away and watch old movies and maybe, if you’re good and take your medicine and rest, we’ll even watch some baseball.”

Peter smiled at that and lifted his head to look into Neal’s eyes. I love you he mouthed, aware of the other agents nearby and the imminent arrival of the medics. He wanted to say it out loud, and he would, when they were both safe and warm and home in bed.

The paramedics stepped into the van a few minutes later, and Neal was taken away first, which distressed both of them greatly. However, the medics needed room to work on Peter, and Neal’s wound could be seen to in the back of the ambulance just as well as it could on the floor of the van.

Diana must have called Elizabeth because she met them at the doors of the ER, frazzled and worried, with her hair falling out of a messy ponytail and tear tracks down her cheeks. Peter wanted to comfort her, but he was strapped down, under a pile of blankets and all he could do was shoot her a smile and call out, “Hon!” as loud as he could to let her know that he was okay.

The next afternoon, Neal and Elizabeth had wrapped Peter in his winter robe and nestled him into bed between them. True to his word and after Peter had taken his antibiotics and pain pill, Neal turned on the Yankees game. However, Elizabeth and Neal were asleep long before the second inning even started, and Peter couldn’t help but think about how damn lucky he was to have them both in his life. One or both of them always seemed to be around to catch him if he fell or take care of him when he wasn’t feeling well, and he loved them for it. He’d even agreed to let them plan his birthday party without any more protest.

~Finis

Thank you for reading!