Coffee cups in hand, Neal and Peter made their way back to the FBI office after taking a much needed break from the McDowell money laundering scam they'd been working on for the last three days. Neal had been surprised when Peter suggested they stretch their legs and get a decent cup of joe, but he'd been happy to get out of the office.
Neal pulled his hat down further over his eyes when the sun suddenly peeked out from behind the clouds. A chilly fall wind started to kick up leaves and debris from the sidewalk too, making him shiver.
"Looks like a storm's blowing in," Peter commented as he stopped at the curb to wait for the traffic to thin out or the light to change. They were two blocks from the office, having opted to get their caffeine from the Starbucks that was further away.
"It's that time of year." Neal's phone buzzed in his pocket before he could say more. It was Elizabeth, probably calling to talk to him about the surprise birthday party they were throwing Peter next week. He silenced the call since he couldn't talk about it with Peter right beside him and looked up to see that the light had changed and that Peter had already moved off the sidewalk.
Neal took a step to follow him and caught a strange movement out of the corner of his eye. There was a car, swerving erratically and going much too fast to stop for the light. Unfortunately, Peter was right in its intended path.
"Peter!" Neal shouted his name and surged toward his friend, pushing him out of the way just in time to get Peter clear, but Neal felt an explosion of agony in his left leg.
The next thing he knew, he was laying on the gritty pavement and Peter was bending over him. "Neal? Can you hear me? Neal?"
Neal tried to sit up, but Peter put a hand on his shoulder to hold him in place.
"Stay still. There's an ambulance on the way."
"Ambulance? What?" Neal was so confused. "What happened?"
"You-" Peter pressed his lips together and looked away for a moment. There were tears in his eyes when he looked back down, and Neal's heart rate sped up. "You pushed me out of the way of a car, Neal. Lay still. You're hurt."
Neal closed his eyes and took stock of his body. Everything felt kind of numb except for his left leg, which now that Peter mentioned something, was starting to throb and ache in ways that Neal had never felt before.
"Look at me, Neal! Open your eyes!" Peter's voice was high-pitched and verging on frantic, so Neal forced his heavy eyelids to move and met his friend's watery gaze.
"I'm 'wake." He reached up to clumsily pat Peter's arm, but Peter intercepted his hand and guided it back down to his side. Neal noticed that Peter wrapped his fingers around his own for a moment, and his breath caught at the gesture.
"You're shaking," Peter murmured. He leaned back, out of Neal's eyesight, and Neal tried to raise his head again. "No, no. Lay still." Peter's hand was warm on his forehead as he leaned back into Neal's field of view. His jacket was hanging off one arm, and his holster was plainly visible.
Neal shuddered and moaned as pain shot through his leg and up into belly where it coiled around his stomach and turned it, causing nausea that Neal wasn't sure he could handle.
Peter draped his jacket over Neal's chest. Between the warmth and Peter's scent, Neal's body relaxed for a moment before his leg made itself known again. The pain was overwhelming, and Neal needed it to stop.
"Stop it," he muttered. "Peter, please."
"What's wrong, buddy?"
"M' leg. Hurts." Neal groaned and tried to curl up, hoping that would ease the pain, but Peter held him down with one hand on his chest and the other on his head where Peter's fingers carded through his hair.
"Just breathe, buddy. I know it hurts, but you need to try to relax and breathe."
Neal couldn't concentrate well enough to match his breathing to Peter's, but the soothing gestures – brushing his hair back and gently rubbing his chest – were making Neal feel less scared.
He drifted off but startled back to consciousness when someone touched his leg. Neal tried to sit up but he was strapped down to something. There was a brace around his neck, and his head was somehow secured in place. Fighting the restraints only caused the pain in his leg to double, but he hated being tied down. "Peter! Peter!"
"I'm here, I'm right here." Peter's face was suddenly in front of Neal's, and Peter's hand pressed against his cheek. His thumb swept away the tears Neal hadn't been aware he'd cried. "The paramedics are taking care of you. They're just adjusting the splint on your leg. Try to relax."
"Hurts," Neal whimpered. His hands opened and closed, but he couldn't move them to reach Peter. Luckily, his friend seemed to know what he needed because a familiar, calloused hand closed over one of his.
"Squeeze my hand if it'll make you feel better, Neal."
Neal squeezed and cried out when his injured leg was manipulated. He blacked out again but came to in the ambulance. Peter was sitting behind him so that Neal saw his face upside down, and he could feel Peter's hands on his shoulders.
There was only one thing that he wanted to know at this point. After all that pain, he knew something was seriously wrong with him. "'S it broken?"
Peter leaned down and gave Neal a shaky smile. "What's that?"
"My leg. 'S it broken?" Neal had never had a chance to look at it, but it felt simultaneously like it was his entire being and like it was hanging by a thread.
The older man grimaced and looked queasy, which Neal took as a very bad sign. "Yeah, buddy. I'm pretty sure it's broken, but the doctors will fix you up. We're almost to Bellevue."
One of the paramedics took his attention then and asked several questions about his level of pain and what he remembered about the accident. By the time, he'd answered everything he could, they'd pulled up to the hospital and he was being unloaded and rolled into the ER. The jostling of the stretcher was too much, and Neal let his tenuous hold on consciousness go.
He was awake in snatches of time after that, vaguely aware that his leg was in a bad way and that he needed immediate surgery. He saw Peter briefly on his way to the OR, and there was a no-nonsense nurse in the recovery room that had made him repeat words back to her and describe his pain level before she would give him any medication. Eventually, floating in a morphine haze, Neal was moved to a room and left to doze.
While Neal was in surgery, Peter made the necessary calls. He spoke with Hughes to explain why neither he nor Neal had made it back to the office; he gave assignments to Diana and Jones; he called June, who was in the middle of a heated game of backgammon with Mozzie, so that killed two proverbial birds, and told them that there was no need to come to the hospital yet since it would be hours before there was any news; he left a message on Elizabeth's voicemail that he hoped didn't sound too worrisome about where he was and what was going on.
Not long afterwards, a couple of NYPD officers found him in the waiting room and asked him questions about the accident. The driver of the car had experienced a stroke and was being treated in the same hospital. Peter had seen other bystanders move toward the car after it had hit Neal and crashed into the side of a building, so he'd stayed with his partner. Once he realized Neal was conscious, there wasn't much that would have taken him away from Neal's side.
Finally, when he had nothing else to do, he gathered up all of the Sports Illustrated copies he could find in the waiting room and settled in for a long wait.
Elizabeth arrived less than an hour later and sat quietly while he explained what happened. She'd wrapped her arms around him wordlessly and let him cry out the tension of the afternoon. El always knew what to do.
Hours passed before Neal's surgeon, a petite but formidable woman named Dr. Burchell, came out to assure them that Neal would recover, but that it wouldn't be overnight. Peter was more than ready to see for himself that Neal was going to be okay, but it was going to take some time before he was moved out of recovery. Dr. Burchell had promised that a nurse would come to get them when Neal was ready for visitors and then rushed off to the next emergency.
They were both getting antsy when a male nurse found them and introduced himself as Javier. He led Peter and Elizabeth down a hallway to a private room while explaining, "Neal's been awake a few times but hasn't been very aware of his surroundings. He'll probably sleep until morning due to the anesthesia and the pain medication."
Peter nodded and squeezed Elizabeth's hand a little tighter. He was prepared for the worst, which meant that it was huge relief when he finally saw Neal. He was hardly hooked up to any machines or other medical stuff at all. There was one monitor that registered his heart rate, temperature, and pulse oxygenation, and he had an IV in one hand and a nasal cannula. Otherwise, he just looked like he was sleeping.
Elizabeth tugged him toward the bed and then leaned over to kiss Neal's forehead. She smoothed his hair back away from his eyes and smiled when Neal's brow furrowed and he mumbled something.
"What was that?" Peter asked.
His wife shrugged. "Sounded like 'five more minutes'."
Both were quiet for a beat before bursting into relieved chuckles. Neal looked okay, and the doctor had given him a good prognosis. Now, the hard part was about to begin – Peter didn't expect Neal to take it easy without a fight.
Peter pulled two visitor's chairs up to the bed, and they sat down within reach of their friend. Peter put a hand on Neal's forearm while Elizabeth curled her fingers around Neal's hand, careful of the pulse oximeter clipped to his index finger.
"He looks so young," Elizabeth commented, breaking their comfortable silence.
"I can't believe he did that today. I don't think he even hesitated, just jumped right into the path of an on-coming car like he was a damn superhero. I didn't know what hit me for a moment and by the time I turned around, he was already on the pavement. His leg-" Peter swallowed hard against the nausea the memory evoked. "It was awful, El. It was twisted, and his pants were turning dark with blood. And the worst part was that he was awake."
"I'm so sorry," Elizabeth whispered. She let go of Neal to rub Peter's hand and shoulder. "That must have been terribly scary."
"It was." Peter sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. "He was in so much pain, and there wasn't anything I could do."
"Oh, hon. I know that's not true. You talked to him, right? Kept him calm?"
Peter nodded. "I put my jacket over him when he went into shock and started shaking."
"See. You did a lot for him, and I'm sure he appreciated it."
He had to admit that she made a good point. He'd done all that he could for Neal, and the younger man definitely needed someone to be with him. He'd even called out for Peter when he was scared.
They were allowed to stay for about an hour before Javier gently reminded them about visiting hours ending at eight. Neal had done little more than sleep and occasionally twitch as if he was startled by something. Peter had assumed he was dreaming and worried about what he was seeing in his dreams.
The next morning, Neal was awake and sitting up in bed when Peter and Elizabeth stepped through the door at eleven, which was the earliest the nurses would let them inside.
"Hey, buddy," Peter greeted softly. "How're you doing?"
Neal's smile was lopsided and dopey. "I'm okay. Are you okay?"
Neal nodded and surveyed Peter where he was standing by the bed.
"I'm fine, Neal. You pushed me out of the way."
Peter frowned and shook his head. "No, it's not good. You shouldn't have done that, Neal. It was reckless and stupid. Jumping in front of a runaway car-"
"Hon." Elizabeth gave him a disapproving look that stopped his lecture.
Neal seemed not to notice the chiding as he turned his attention to her. "Hey, El. You didn't have to come."
"Oh, Neal." She leaned over and gave him a gentle hug. "I think I did. You gave us quite a scare yesterday."
He clumsily waved her words away. "I'm okay."
Peter scoffed. "Have you talked to your doctor?"
Neal pointed at his left leg, which was elevated on a pillow. The covers had been moved away from it so they could all see the splint and bandages that wrapped it from his toes to above his knee. "She put in some plates and screws, and it'll be fine in an obscene number of weeks. No base-jumping or rooftop chases for a while though." He looked sad about that, and Elizabeth gave his hand a squeeze.
"Is there anything we can do for you?"
Neal shook his head and pulled away from her. He struggled with the covers, trying to flip them over his exposed leg, but the movement just caused him to hiss in pain. Elizabeth and Peter both jumped to help him, which caused Neal to tense up and whimper when the pain flared up with a vengeance.
Peter raised his hands and stepped back while Elizabeth got the blankets in order. "You okay?" he asked, feeling like an idiot.
"Yeah. It's sore. Hurts when it moves." Neal released the breath he'd been holding and then drew another deep one in to control the discomfort.
"Try to relax," were the only words of wisdom that Peter could come up with. Elizabeth kicked his ankle and gave a quick shake of her head while Neal seemed to ignore him completely.
The Burkes took the same chairs they'd sat in the day before, and Neal appeared to drift off to sleep for a minute before his eyes popped open and he sought out Peter. "The anklet! They said the paramedics cut it off yesterday, but there weren't any Marshals here when I woke up."
"Whoa, calm down. I talked to the Marshals before it was cut, and last night you weren't in any shape to make a run for it."
"Okay." Neal lay back and raised a hand to rub his forehead. "That's good. Okay."
"Why don't you try to rest, sweetie? I'm going to go and get some coffee for me and Peter. Do you want anything?"
Neal thought about it while he picked at a loose thread in his blanket. "Is there… Do you think they'd have banana pudding?"
"I'll see what I can find."
"Thanks." His eyes tracked her as she left the room before moving to Peter. "What happens now?"
Peter was perplexed and tried to figure out Neal's train of thought before giving up and asking, "What do you mean?"
"Doctor said I could probably go home in a couple of days, but I needed someone to help me. Cindy's away, and I don't want to ask June…" he trailed off and shifted uncomfortably.
"What about Mozzie?" Peter knew where Neal was going with this, but he had to ask about the eccentric older man.
"His bedside manner is pretty bad." Neal chuckled to himself, and Peter had to wonder what kind of crazy memory that had dredged up.
"Neal? You're more than welcome to stay with El and me."
Neal looked hopeful for a moment and then shook his head and averted his eyes. "I don't want to put you out."
"Hey," Peter gently took Neal's chin in his hand and turned the younger man's face toward him, "you saved my life. The least I can do is make sure you're okay."
"Yeah?" Neal grinned, and it was the most open and honest expression Peter had ever seen him have. He was clearly pleased to be invited into the Burke home.
"Yes. But you might want to be careful what you wish for. Elizabeth is a known mother-hen."
Neal laughed lightly. "Surely she's not that bad."
"Just wait and see." Peter sat back in his chair and watched as Neal tried to get comfortable on the bed. He was probably due for his pain medication because he squirmed and grimaced and finally reached down to rub his thigh. "Neal, if you're in pain, you should call the nurse. There's no reason for you to be hurting."
Neal sighed and reached over to press the button. He was rewarded a couple of minutes later when his day nurse, Lena, popped into the room with a smile and a clipboard. She took his vitals, asked him a few questions, and injected an analgesic into his IV.
Elizabeth entered just as she exited and held up four different pudding cups. "I couldn't find banana, but I brought you a few to choose from."
Peter raised an eyebrow at Neal and snickered.
"Um, chocolate is good, I guess." Neal was visibly drooping by the time she pulled his tray table over, opened the pudding cup and handed him a plastic spoon. He managed two bites before he fell asleep with the spoon hanging out of his mouth.
Peter reached for his cell phone, but Elizabeth slapped his knee and then gently removed the spoon and wiped Neal's mouth.
"The nurse just gave him something," Peter told her when she sat back down.
She nodded and gave him a kiss. "I thought that might be the case. He seems like he's doing pretty good considering."
"Yeah. I invited him to stay with us when he gets released." Peter wasn't sure what she would say, but he couldn't imagine she would object.
"Of course, he'll stay with us. We should move the TV from our room into the guest room. I'll make up the bed later tonight."
Peter grinned and nodded along as she outlined plans she'd clearly already been putting together for Neal's recuperation. He couldn't ask for a better wife or a better friend, he thought as he looked from El to Neal. It would take some time, but Neal would be okay and that was all he wanted right at that moment.
Thanks for reading!
A Follow-up has been posted: Its Noisiest Passenger