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Three days later, Peter had been moved to a private room instead of being released because the doctors were cautious of his recovery due to a nicked aorta. However, visiting hours were less restricted, and Peter was able to rest more comfortably because the nurses weren't constantly in and out of his room.

It had taken a full 24 hours after Peter woke up for him and Elizabeth to convince Neal to go home, sleep a few hours and get a shower. After that, Neal and El switched off so that one of them could at least rest in a bed and not just an uncomfortable visitor's chair.

Peter looked up when there was a triple knock on his door and smiled when Neal stepped inside a moment later, carrying a brown paper bag. "Hey! What do you have there?"

"Since you're more awake now, I brought us a couple of board games. And…" He dug in the bag and pulled out a book and a pack of pencils. "I also got you a crossword puzzle book."

"Beginner series? Neal!" Peter frowned at the book and tried to give it back to his friend. He grunted when pain flared briefly through his chest at the movement, but covered it by flapping the book at Neal and saying, "Take this back."

"Hey, with the drugs that you're on, I didn't want you to be upset that you couldn't finish a New York Times Sunday edition just yet. If this proves too easy, I'll get you a different one. I promise."

Peter sighed and set the book and pencils aside. He hated to concede the point, but Neal was right. His head was fuzzy with the pain medication and antibiotics that were coursing through his system. "I'll let you know."

Neal grinned and sat down on the foot of Peter's bed. With one hand resting gently on Peter's ankle, Neal took a moment to look him up and down. "How are you feeling?"

Peter tried to project an aura of health and virtue, but he suspected that he fell a bit short of the mark. When he'd shuffled into the bathroom this morning with the help of a nurse, he hadn't been surprised that the face in the mirror was pale and haggard. There had been dark bags under his eyes, but he hoped that the two-hour nap he'd taken had helped with that.


He'd spaced out while thinking about being healthy. That wasn't a good sign. "Sorry. I'm doing all right. Sore and short of breath sometimes, but the doctor says that I’m healing up. They might let me out in a couple of days."

"That's great news. Are they sure it's not too soon?" Neal was trying to sound positive, but he had paled at the mention of Peter's prospective release.

Peter frowned and wished Neal was sitting closer so that he could reassure him with a touch on the shoulder or arm. "They're keeping a close eye out for infections or other complications, but they think I'll rest better at home."

"Yeah, rest is hard to come by when the nurses are waking you up every hour or two."

Nurses were the bane of patients' sleep habits, which Peter had decided a couple of days ago. "Don't I know it." He pointed to the bag that was on the floor, out of his reach. "What else did you bring me?"

Neal smiled, reached down and pulled out a board game box. "How about a rousing game of Checkers?"

"Checkers? Are you kidding me?"

"Do you really want to play me at chess?"

"Fair point. But Checkers?"

Neal shrugged and set up the game on the rolling tray table that extended over the bed. "I thought you'd be a pretty good opponent, even with all those meds, but if you'd rather admit defeat now…"

Peter pushed himself to sit up a little straighter in the bed. "Don't get cocky. And I claim white."

Peter made the first move, and they alternated several times before Neal took one of Peter's pieces. It was then that Peter noticed Neal's hand was shaking. They played a few more rounds before either said anything.

"How are you doing with all this?" Peter asked as casually as he could.

Neal gave him a strange look over the board and made a spectacularly bad move with one of his black pieces.

Peter jumped three of his checkers and moved them off the board. "Have you talked to anybody?" Neal opened his mouth to reply, but Peter cut him off with, "Mozzie doesn't count."

"He's a licensed psychologist."

"Licensed by who? The University of Phoenix?"

Neal sighed and made another bad move.

"Are you trying to lose now? You think if you let me win, then I'll stop asking? I'm not on that many drugs, Neal."

Neal glared and moved one of his pieces to the edge of Peter's side of the board. "King me."

Peter pushed the tray table aside. They were going to have this conversation whether Neal liked it or not. "Diana told me that you were the one to apply--"

Neal interrupted. "I did what anyone else would have done."

"Yes, but you did it for me."

"You would have done the same--"

"I'm trying to thank you here, Neal."

"I don't want you to thank me. I just want you to be okay."

"And I will be."

"Then the matter is settled." Neal dumped the checkers and the board back into the box and shoved into the paper bag. "I should go so that you can rest. Call me if you need anything."


"I'll see you tomorrow."


"Night, Peter." And then he was out the door.

Peter laid his head back and sighed. That could have gone better.


Later that night, Peter lay awake in bed, unable to fall asleep since he'd refused medicinal help. He'd coaxed Elizabeth into going home and sleeping the night in their bed, so now he was alone and caught up in morbid thoughts about all the ways his shooting could have gone wrong.

He picked up his cell phone without giving himself time to reconsider and pressed the speed-dial for Neal. It rang three times before his friend answered.


"Did I wake you?" Peter hadn't looked at the time before he called, and it was after midnight.

"No, no. Are you okay?" Neal was concerned and Peter could kick himself for causing the younger man any more worry.

"I'm fine. Just can't sleep."


The silence stretched out for a long beat. "Neal?"

"I'm still here." He sounded exhausted, more exhausted that even Peter felt.

Peter quickly responded with a sincere "I am too."

"I know."

"Good." Peter's eyelids were getting heavy, and he could tell that Neal's words were slurring with fatigue. "I'm not going anywhere."

"You'd better not."

They both yawned then, and Peter felt so much better after hearing Neal's voice. He hoped Neal felt the same. "Night Neal."

"G'night, Peter."