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Its Noisiest Passenger

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The doctor released Neal three days after his admittance with a white long leg cast, a pair of crutches, and strict instructions to take it easy for the next few weeks. Neal was already tired of the restrictions, but he had to concede to them since his leg ached fiercely every time he moved.

Peter and Elizabeth helped him get situated in the Taurus and kept up the bulk of the small talk on the way home. Neal had been given a shot of painkillers before he left the hospital, so he was in a bit of a drugged daze as they made their way to Brooklyn. Traffic was not on their side though, and the pain was fighting its way through the medication by the time they pulled up outside the townhouse.

"Just give me a minute, Peter!" Neal snapped when Peter tried to help him lift his cast out of the car.

"Sorry, sorry." Peter stepped back and glanced over at Elizabeth.

She rubbed a hand over her husband's back and then smiled down at Neal. "I'm going to run ahead to open the door and put Satchmo out into the backyard. Will you two be okay?"

"I'm fine!" Neal knew that he shouldn't be touchy, but Peter was hovering and he hurt. All he wanted to do was get to a bed and sleep.

Peter turned away from Neal's frustration and raised his eyebrows at her. "We'll be there in a few minutes."

El nodded and adjusted Neal's overnight bag on her shoulder. "Take your time."

After a couple of minutes of deep breathing, Neal maneuvered himself and his casted leg out of the car and allowed Peter to help him stand and then hand him the crutches. He wavered, groaning as gravity pulled blood down into his leg and caused it to throb.

Peter didn't ask if he was okay because he'd already been growled at enough for that question. Instead, he shadowed Neal's slow progress to the front steps and then up to the door.

Once they were inside, Peter put a hand on Neal's back, concerned by the tremors he felt in the younger man's muscles. "Do you want to rest on the couch?"

Neal shook his head. He was calmer now and completely exhausted. "If I sit down, I might not get back up any time soon, and the bathroom's up there."

"Let's take it slow then."

"Like I have any other speed right now," Neal muttered as he looked up the stairs. There seemed to be more of them than what he remembered.

With a sigh, Neal handed one of his crutches off to Peter and gripped the handrail with his right hand and the other crutch with his left. He kept his weight on his hands as he hopped up to the next step on his uninjured right foot and then brought his left crutch and left leg up onto the same step. It had seemed less physically demanding when the therapist had shown him what to do at the hospital.

By the time they got to the middle of the stairs, Neal was panting and sweating. He moaned as he looked up and saw how many steps there were left to climb.

"Neal?" Peter was just behind him

"Need a minute," Neal replied, slumping against the bannister and closing his eyes.

"Do you need to sit? We could turn you around." Peter didn't think it would be very easy, but he also knew there was no way he could carry Neal up the stairs. The younger man had a slim build, but he was all muscle. Plus there wasn't room to maneuver on the stairs.

Neal was silent, focusing on breathing and staying upright, until Peter put his hand on Neal's lower back. He flinched and almost lost his balance. "Just give me a minute!"

Peter gritted his teeth so that he wouldn't bark right back. Logically, he knew that Neal was in pain and reaching the end of his reserves, but the man's attitude was wearing on him. He mentally counted to ten and then to twenty and then to thirty.

Neal steeled himself and hopped up another step. The constant jostling had awakened what felt like every nerve ending in his leg. He swallowed hard against the rising nausea and forced himself to continue.

Finally, they made it into the guest bedroom, and Neal gingerly sat down on the bed. He felt sweaty, sick and uncomfortable.

"Do you need a bucket?" Peter had caught sight of Neal's green pallor and anxiously looked around the room until he spotted the wastebasket beside the small desk in the corner. He checked it for trash and then held it out to his friend.

Neal accepted it but set it aside as he lay back across the bed. He closed his eyes and tried to relax. "I'm not doing that again. Maybe ever."

Peter patted his right knee and let out a slight chuckle. "Well, you won't have to for a few days. We moved a TV and DVD player in here, the bathroom's right across the hall, and Elizabeth was already planning on bringing meals up to you."

As if on cue, Elizabeth stepped into the room and leaned against the doorjamb. In one hand, she carried a glass of water. "How are we doing in here?"

Neal threw his arm over his eyes and groaned.

"That well, huh?" she teased him gently. Then, she turned to Peter, "Hon, would you bring Neal's bag up?"

Once Peter was gone, Elizabeth moved over to the bed and held out the glass. As Neal struggled to sit up, she pulled a prescription pill bottle out of her pocket and shook one out for him.

"Thanks," he said after he'd taken the much-needed analgesic and placed the glass on the nightstand.

She smiled and nudged Neal's shoulder. "Will you let me help you get settled?"

"Don't want to move," Neal muttered.

"Maybe not, but the doctor wants your leg to be elevated for the next few days to keep the swelling to a minimum. I'll be gentle, Neal. I promise."

He took a deep breath as he let her carefully lift his casted leg up onto the bed while he pivoted so that he was laying with his head toward the headboard. Elizabeth rested his cast on the pile of pillows she'd arranged while he was getting into position.

"Breathe," she reminded him softly.

He realized that he'd been holding his breath to keep from making any noise while she was handling his sensitive leg. "Sorry."

She smiled and sat down by his hip. "Don't be. I can't tell you how grateful I am for what you did. Saving Peter's life like that. It was-" Her emotions got the best of her, and she pressed a hand to her mouth to contain the sudden sob.

Neal's eyes widened and he awkwardly patted her arm. "It's okay. Peter's fine, and I'm going to be okay."

They were both quiet for a minute. Neal wasn't sure what to do with a crying Elizabeth and she was trying to get herself under control.

It was Neal who spoke first, very quietly. "Peter would have done the same for me."

Elizabeth nodded.

"I'm sorry for being so cranky today."

She reached out impulsively and brushed the bangs off his forehead. "Oh, sweetie. It's been a rough day, and I don't think I'm the one you should be apologizing to."

Neal nodded and hung his head, finding the hem of his gray t-shirt very fascinating.

Peter knocked on the open door and took a step inside. "Is it okay to come in?"

Neal's head shot up while Elizabeth waved him in. She let Peter deal with the overnight bag and excused herself to start on dinner, a homemade chicken noodle soup. She shot Peter a 'talk to him' look as she made her way out the door.

"So," Peter held up the bag and pointed to the dresser, "do you want me to put this stuff away for you?"

"You can just leave it in the bag. It's just sweats and lounge pants right?" Neal had no idea who had packed the bag for him or what was in it. He assumed that it was June who'd chosen the clothes and gathered his grooming supplies.

"Except for this." Peter held up the toiletry bag. "I'll put it in the bathroom."

Neal nodded and tried to relax. The bed was comfortable, and the sheets smelled clean with a faint floral smell that he couldn't place but it reminded him of Elizabeth. The pain had receded in his leg to the point where he could barely feel it, but the analgesic had also slowed his brain and made him sluggish. That was a feeling that Neal really, really hated.

When Peter returned, Neal's eyes were drifting shut and he was forcing them back open. "You should get some rest. El will bring dinner up around six."

It was barely after two, but Neal felt like he could sleep that long. "Thank you, Peter, for letting me stay here. When I'm back on my feet, I'll make it up to you and Elizabeth."

Peter shook his head and moved the desk chair to the side of the bed so that he could sit without jostling the bed. "There will be no more talk of that. Whether you want to believe it or not, you saved my life by pushing me out of the way. You can stay here as long as you need, and Elizabeth and I will be happy to help with whatever we need to do. Okay?"

Neal maintained eye contact for a long moment, waiting for something that would hint that Peter was being less than honest with him. All he saw, however, was gratitude and caring and compassion.

"Neal?"

"Okay," he echoed quietly.

Peter smiled at him and patted Neal's forearm. He got up and moved the chair back so that Neal wouldn't trip over it if he had to get up. "Rest, Neal. Your phone's on the bedside table. If you need anything, just call my cell or Elizabeth's."

"Call?"

"It's probably more effective than yelling."

"Oh, yeah." Neal's eyelids drooped. He felt Peter drape a blanket over him as he drifted in a medicated haze. It was strange, having someone there to take care of him, to tuck him in, but it felt good. It felt right.

~End

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