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Close Quarters

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Neal had been coughing as if to hack up a lung since he'd walked into the office Monday morning—and if he thought Peter was still oblivious to the fact that he was sick, then his brain had to be as congested as his lungs sounded.

Right now, however, Peter was wishing he'd put his foot down when Neal had come in on Tuesday, and then Wednesday, looking like death warmed over—and then warmed over, and over again. Right now he looked ready to finish dying, and  stay  dead, all while sitting slumped in the passenger seat of Peter's car. Every time Neal coughed within the close confines Peter couldn't help but wince.

"...get ready for some messy blizzard conditions, folks,"  the forecaster's voice over the radio warned, " This is going to be a nasty one, so stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary."

The station switched back to the ubiquitous array of Christmas songs and Neal muttered something that was decidedly not a sentiment of holiday cheer, cutting the radio and interrupting Bing Crosby before he could finish dreaming of a white Christmas. Crossing his arms across his chest, he stared at the snowflakes already lashing at the windshield.

Peter pulled to a halt at a stoplight, noting with a sidelong glance the flush that had crept into Neal's face. “Heat on too high for you?”

Neal shook his head.

“Really? You look a little warm...”

“It's fine.”

On an impulse, Peter reached over to feel Neal's forehead with the back of his hand.

Neal jerked away. “You mind?”

“That you feel like a radiator? Well, no. That doesn't bother me at all, personally. But if you die of fever in  my  car, while I'm stuck in traffic with no way to dispose of your body—then, yeah, Neal, that could be problem.”

“You can let me out to wander in the snow once I get delirious.”

“Don't look so amused by the idea.”

Neal coughed.

The light turned. Peter resisted the urge to honk at the slow-to-react car in front of him. The snow was getting noticeably heavier by the minute. “You know what?” he mused, only slightly facetious. “This is perfect.”

“You're going to use up your year's supply of sarcasm.”

“No. I mean it. This is perfect.” Peter carefully took the turn, wheels crunching on snow that had yet to be turned into a pile of muddy slush. “All week you've been in need of some downtime, and now you're going to get it.”

“Thanks. I'll be sure to open a can of chicken soup, and eat my saltine crackers.”

Peter shook his head. “There's no sense in risking both our lives by staying out in this any longer than necessary. My place is nearer than June's.”



“I'm fine, Peter. Really.”

Considerately, Peter didn't scoff too openly. But enough was enough. “I've given you the week to try and beat this thing your own way. I'm calling it 'mission: failed.' There's no time like the present to try a little honest-to-God R&R—which you can do just as well in my guest room as you can at June's. Besides, I mean it, Neal. This snow's coming down too hard. The plows aren't going to be able to keep up with it.”

“June's house isn't that far.”

“In this weather?” Peter kept his eyes glued on the view of the street ahead that the windshield wipers were working furiously to keep clear. “It's far enough.”

Neal sat silently after that, except for the coughing.

Peter focused on not driving into the ditch, and hoped that Elizabeth had thought to stock up on Robitussin and Tylenol.


Elizabeth had called Peter before he'd left work to let him know she'd gotten out of her client meeting early. Nobody wanted to be caught out in this kind of weather.

She opened the door to let them in before they were halfway up the stoop, saying, “Thank God. Satch was getting worried about you.” She took in Neal, hunch-shouldered, coughing redoubled by the cold, dry air, and ushered them both in.

Neal stomped his feet on the rug and offered a hand to Satchmo for its due dog saliva de-thawing. “Sorry for crashing in like this.”

“I insisted,” Peter added.

“Of course.” Elizabeth gave Peter a peck on the lips and then took their coats to hang them in the closet, continuing to talk over her shoulder, “I wouldn't want either of you pushing your luck under these conditions. Besides, there's homemade pizza for dinner, and Peter and I can never finish a whole one, anyway.”

“You're sure?” Neal interjected. “I'm not that hungry.”

“Neal, honey, I  hate  cold pizza leftovers,” Elizabeth assured. As she headed back to the kitchen, she added, “It looks like the perfect night for a movie, and dinner in the living room.”

“Come on,” Peter motioned to Neal, “let's get you settled.”

Even in his reduced state, or possibly  because  of it, it shouldn't have come as a surprise when Neal's reaction to being handed an old sweatshirt and pair of sweatpants was to stare blankly at them like he was waiting for the punch line.

When the punch line didn't come, he said, “Thanks, Peter. But I'm fine like this.”

“Nuh uh. You are  not  going to sit out  my  couch and watch a movie, and eat pizza, while wearing a pricey suit like that.”

Neal gave him a look both tired and perplexed. “Why not?”

“Because it's un- American , that's why. This is pizza we're talking about. My wife's homemade pizza, what's more.” Peter pointed to the clothes. “Look, just wear them. This isn't about making a fashion statement. Even you can't be comfortable lounging around in a suit and necktie.”

Neal shrugged, but shuffled off towards the bathroom, coming back several minutes later, somewhat drowned by the outfit, like junior trying to wear Dad's clothes.

Peter struggled against a smile, with contestable results. “Just be thankful for drawstring waists, huh?”

Neal glowered without much force, and helped Peter finish making up the guestroom bed.

After Peter had changed into a comfortably worn outfit for himself, he descended the stairs to find Neal already clearly under the dictatorship of Elizabeth, ensconced on the far right end of the couch with a plate of pizza in his hand. Peter sat down next to him, accepting a plate of his own from Elizabeth.

He took his first bite, chewing and swallowing quickly to avoid burning his mouth. Observing Neal, who was coughing not-so-discretely into his elbow, he considered ordering Neal take something for whatever plague it was he'd picked up. But then he decided to hold off until Elizabeth had a chance to try negotiations. Maybe it was cowardly. Maybe it was just common sense.

Sure enough, it was long before Elizabeth materialized with a bottle of cough syrup, saying, “Here, Neal, why don't you try this? That cough sounds terrible.”

Neal accepted. He didn't even jerk away when Elizabeth briefly felt his forehead, only asking wryly, “Will I live?”

“You're definitely running a little hot... How do you feel?”

Neal gave one-shouldered shrug. “Tired. A little achy. Mostly it's just this stupid cough.”

Peter resisted the urge to throw up his hands and say something worthy of a sulky toddler. Hadn't he just tried this conversation, not an hour ago, with slightly different results? Different, as in entirely hostile and uncooperative. Of course, there had been some talk involved of throwing a delirious Neal out of the car, but  still...

Elizabeth patted Neal's arm. “Try that syrup. If you take it now, you should be able to take some more before bed.”

Neal regarded the label on the bottle with suspicion. “I've never liked this stuff. It always makes me feel drugged.”

“That's the point, Neal,” Peter said, reaching for the remote control. “You're sick. Sick people take medicine.”

At the last minute, Elizabeth stole remote control victory from him, hugging it protectively to herself as she settled in on Peter's left.

Peter only thought about making a grab for it. “Are you going to use that thing, or just treat it like a stuffed animal?”

“I'll  use  it as soon as you stop staring at it like a hungry wolf eying a piece of red meat,” she retorted, continuing to hug it with impunity. “Every once in a while a girl's got to seize a little power. You  know  it's my turn, Peter Burke.”

Sick or not, Neal was clearly beginning to enjoy his evening too much. Peter resisted the urge to elbow him, mostly because in doing so he'd probably wind up spilling the now-open bottle of cough syrup in Neal's hand all over the couch. To Elizabeth, he begged, “Anything but  Miracle on 34th Street . I'm begging, hon.”

She hit the power button on the remote. “How could I refuse an anguished plea like that from the man I love?”

“Guys, please,” Neal interjected, “I'm sitting right here.”

Peter put an arm around Elizabeth's shoulders. “Right, right. Nothing mushy in front of the kid.”

Sure enough,  Miracle on 34th Street  was to be found, as was  It's a Wonderful Life Frosty the Snowman , and the 1964 special of  Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer . True to her word not only in fact but spirit, Elizabeth didn't torture him with any of it. Satchmo, who had been shoving his drooling muzzle against knees in a silent bid for his own slice of pizza, gave it up for the subtler approach of settling down against their legs and occasionally craning his neck around to try and pierce their souls with big, brown puppy eyes. So far, their souls were managing alright.

They caught an update on the weather, which wasn't really an so much an update as a confirmation, since a glance out the window told them that a steady amount of snow was still being gusted about by battling winds. They weren't the only ones hunkering down for a long, cold night.

They finally arrived at a universal consensus to watch Mythbusters.

It  would  be an episode focusing on cat-burglary. Naturally.

It was hard to decide if Neal found it more agonizing or hilarious. After team Mythbuster had proved it was impossible to scale air ducts effectively and silently using either suction or magnetic devices (in response to which Neal had smirked and commented that they had “No imagination whatsoever.”), they went on to further decide that it was impossible to get past an infrared laser security system without tripping the alarm (to which Neal, literally, said, “Ha.”).

“Any more expert pointers from the peanut gallery over there?” Peter goaded, fully hoping to prod Neal into being even more open—and detailed—in his critique.

Neal smirked all the more. “You wish, lawman.”

After that Neal was content merely to snigger, around the occasional cough, at Jamie and Adam's attempts at getting  out  of a room and  into  a vault.

By the end, as it was announced that there was another whole hour of Mythbusters on—featuring a “James Bond Special”—Peter cast an assessing glance in the direction of his distinctly flushed-looking CI.

“You doing okay there, Neal?”

Neal looked at him, blinking a little sluggishly and giving an abbreviated cough. “Yeah. Why?”

“You don't look so good.”

“Thanks. You don't look so impressive in sweatpants, either.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “Alright. Just relax some more and scoff at these neophytes.”

He helped Elizabeth clear the living room of cups, paper plates, and the mostly empty liter bottle of now-tepid Doctor Pepper. Depositing the garbage into the wastebasket, he glanced out the kitchen window where the yard light made the ice crystals in the air sparkle, as if it were a giant bottle of children's silver craft glitter that was being dumped on them.

“Is it just me,” he asked Elizabeth, “or is he acting a little off? I mean, even for a guy with a cold.”

Elizabeth lifted the pizza stone to wipe crumbs off the table with a washcloth. She smiled. “Right now he reminds me of my cousin's best friend's daughter's son.”


“You know, Mike—Mikey? You met him at Easter. He's friends with Trey, and Claire brings him along sometimes.”

“Oh...yeah, him,” Peter said, though hadn't a clue. Elizabeth's sister was impossible to stress out, even around the holidays, and as a result had a tendency to be left doing babysitting detail for friends on a regular basis.

Elizabeth swatted him lightly on the shoulder with the now freshly rinsed washcloth, leaving a damp swath. “Tell me you don't remember the time Mikey was sick at Thanksgiving? He tried pulling all those antics, remember?”

“Oh, you mean  Mike , as in the kid who tried to ride Satchmo? He was sick at the time?”

“Kids rarely  act  sick, especially when they are. And apparently he's hyper-sensitive to cough syrup. Not in a dangerous, allergic way. It just makes him all loopy. It was kind of adorable after he settled down and got sleepy.”

“We could have a problem on our hands if Neal tries to ride Satchmo.”

Elizabeth chuckled softly. “Judging by the way Neal looked a minute ago, I wouldn't be at all surprised if he was asleep already.”

Sure enough, Neal was fading fast from the land of the coherent. His chin had sunk forward unto his chest, eyes shut in perfect disregard for the sounds of manic glee coming from the TV as a propane tank, riddled by a machine gun, burst into a fireball.

Peter turned off the TV and regarded Neal for a minute—one full minute of fondness, no doubt stirred up by the illusion of camaraderie their snowed-in-together status had created. In the day-to-day bustle there wasn't much time for more than quick emotions like irritation and amusement. And  irritation .

But now that he'd taken a moment to get snowed in, and found himself with nothing better to do than take a moment to actually think about it, he did  like  Neal. And it was kind of nice having him around. He might make a lot of noise about how much of an imposition it was to have Neal Caffrey crashing in on his home during breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But Neal's unasked-for visits had also become something of an expectation: one of those things in life you could change if you really wanted to; one of those things you constantly claimed you'd get around to changing; one of those things you never did change, because by the time you did get around to doing something about it you discovered you were far too accustomed to it to fathom the idea of being without.

Tonight wasn't even  nice  in the way that a special occasion was nice. It just felt normal, and simple, and undeniably right.

“You're the pain in my neck I apparently can't live without,” he muttered aloud. “How pathetic is that?”

“Oh, I don't know. I think it's kind of sweet, actually,” Elizabeth said, coming around behind to rest her chin on his shoulder and wrap her arms around his waist. “Just don't let  him  catch you having a sentimental lapse like that.” She nuzzled the side of his neck with her nose. “Now see if you can get Peter Pan over there tucked in.”

“Peter Pan?”

She only looked at Neal and shook her head before heading off up the stairs. Peter took a second look at Neal's currently deceptive mask of slumbering innocence, and could only agree with her assessment.

But apparently rousing a cough-syrup-comatose Neal was akin to waking the dead. Or at least to waking someone exhausted out of their head, and suffering from a nasty respiratory infection. Peter wrapped Neal's arm across his neck and levered him to his feet.

“Come on, find your land legs, Neal. It's bedtime.”

Neal responded enough to carry most of his own weight up the stairs, if unsteadily.

He had no intention of taking Elizabeth's suggestion literally. But one way or another, after depositing him onto the bed, Peter found himself pulling the covers up securely over Neal before giving the bedspread an absentminded pat as he headed off to his own sleep.


Generally, Peter considered himself a pretty sound sleeper. Which was why his unresponsive brain found it a hard thing to fathom the fact that he was lying there in the pitch dark, roused because he was shivering beneath a single bed sheet.

He groped with one hand for the comforter, encountering it—all bunched up, and wrapped snugly around Elizabeth.

“El.” He prodded her shoulder. “You've got all the blankets.”

A muffled, “It's cold,” emanated from cocoon of unshared warmth.

That's when his brain realized that it  was  cold—colder than it should've been, even considering he'd turned down the thermostat a notch before climbing into bed. His fingers were freezing.

As he glanced over to check the time, the second piece fell into place when he encountered only blackness where the digital display from the clock on the nightstand should have been.

“Hon,” he shook Elizabeth's shoulder a little more forcefully, “the power's out.”

She roused with a groggy noise. Peter found the flashlight he kept in the bedside table drawer and switched it on as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. Satchmo was up, wagging his tail tentatively, confused but still full of patented Labrador goodwill, no matter the ungodly hour.

Elizabeth squinted into the sudden light. “You think it's the storm?”

“Must be.” He nodded towards the window, where the orange glow of street lights usually filtered through. “Looks like the street lamps are down, too.”

Elizabeth regretfully unwrapped herself from the comforter. “Here, give me that flashlight for a minute.”

Peter handed it to her, and she hurried over to the closet, producing first a robe for herself, then him, and finally a Coleman LED lantern. This she also handed to him. “I'll use my cell to see what's going on with the weather. The outage has to have been reported by someone, but I'll call anyway to make sure. Why don't you go see if Neal's awake? Here, take him this,” she added, tossing him an extra blanket.

The lantern cast an unforgiving circle of artificial white light upon the mess of twisted and mangled sheets—and upon Neal, the restless perpetrator in the middle of it all.  Neal  was mess: sweaty and shivering at once. Peter put a hand to his forehead, his icy fingers feeling instantly thawed by the heat.

“They've got workmen out doing their best to make repairs, but it's tough going. The snow is slowing down, the wind's still up, which makes it dangerous and slow going at best...” Elizabeth trailed off mid-update, stepping out of the doorway and coming closer to the bed.

Peter didn't realize just how out of his depth he'd been feeling, until she sat down on the edge of the bed, somehow thereby taking the situation all in hand with a sympathetic: “Oh, Neal honey, you're burning up...”

Almost immediately, though, her organizational mindset took over. She switched light sources again, setting the lantern on the table by the head of the bed, and sent Peter off in search of a thermometer and some Advil.

By the time Peter returned Neal seemed to have woken. More or less. The eyes that regarded Peter were red-rimmed, and bleary with more than tiredness. He coughed from deep in his chest, and inquired with a frown, “Flashlights?”

“The storm knocked the power out,” Peter informed him, handing what he'd gathered over to Elizabeth. “Hence the free refrigeration.”

Neal's bedraggled state was worrying enough, but more worrisome still was the fact that he accepted both the explanation and the thermometer Elizabeth stuck under his tongue without comment. His eyes drooped as they all waited for the beep.

Elizabeth looked at the thermometer before holding it out to Peter. It read 104.6. They exchanged a glance. Peter couldn't help but feel like they'd strayed unwittingly into some surreal version of parenthood. Or at least into a bizarre dreamscape approximation, wherein a feverish Neal Caffrey stood in for a sick child.

He really shouldn't have been surprised. After all, Neal Caffrey was thoroughness itself. If he got the flu, it stood to reason that he'd do that thoroughly, too. He only hoped this wasn't turning into an even nastier case of pneumonia.

Peter uncapped the bottle of water he'd snagged from the kitchen as Elizabeth shook two Advil out onto her palm and urged Neal to take them.

“Thanks,” Neal rasped, eyes already closed. He fell asleep almost immediately, heedless of his audience in a very un-Caffrey manner.

“I don't like this, Peter,” Elizabeth whispered, making no move to rise. “If his fever doesn't go down, it could get dangerous. But I don't think the ER is even an option right now. And the house is just going to get colder...”

“Give the Advil time do its job. Temperatures can spike fast, and go down just as fast.”

She nodded.

“Why don't you go back to bed,” he suggested, “I'll sit up a while to keep an eye on him and take his temp again in a bit.”

After she'd gone, he pulled the covers back over Neal and settled into the corner chair. It was going to be a long, cold night.


Peter paced back over to the bedside, smoothing the sheets out, somehow finding himself in the ludicrous role of tucking Neal in for the third time that night. The moment he'd begun to doze, Neal decided to resume his tossing and turning, shifting around until he'd succeeded once more in balling the sheets up hopelessly.

“Once an escape artist, always an escape artist, is that it?” Peter spoke under his breath as he straightened out the bottom sheet and tucked the edges in more firmly under the mattress. “Well this time you're staying put.”

Neal's head moved restlessly on the pillow. Peter barely caught his hoarse: “No...please. I...can't...”

“Neal, you with me?” Peter might not have considered himself a deft hand around a sick bed, but neither had he been expecting such a visceral reaction to idle talk. When Neal didn't open his eyes, or respond, he sat down on the edge of the bed. He could feel Neal shaking with chills.

Can't  go back, Peter, please...”

“Woah, slow down.” He tapped the side of Neal's face gently. “Come on, bring that brilliant mind of yours back to reality.”

He'd really been hoping Neal's nonsensical words were the product of a dream. But when Neal opened his eyes the expression in them was still clouded with confusion as he rasped, “Are you here to take me back?”

Fevered rantings or not, Peter suddenly thought he understood the thread of Neal's delusional train of thought. And Neal might as well have been a puppy pleading not to be kicked.

“Look, Neal, the snow's piled up so high right now that I couldn't bring you bring you back to that cell of yours even if I wanted to. And, believe it or not, putting you there is never a prospect I  enjoy  considering.” Peter spoke slowly, because Neal was gazing at him owlishly, like he was an oracle reciting something beyond mortal ken to comprehend. It wasn't an expression Peter was used to receiving, especially from Neal. “The only thing you're guilty of right now, buddy, is not taking a few days off to rest before things got this bad.”

“Sorry.” Neal shivered and swallowed thickly. “Sorry, Peter...”

Somehow, Peter had the feeling Neal still wasn't with him. Though he might have been justified each and every time he'd wished that Neal Caffrey would just own up and actually show some regret for his actions, at the moment it was anything but satisfying to hear him sound like a dying man trying to get out his full confession before the end arrived.

“Just...don't worry about anything right now, okay? No prison for you.”

Neal's eyes turned sharply on him at the word “prison,” and for a moment he looked almost coherent—in a desperate, slightly wild-eyed way. “Not the infirmary...please. 'M not that sick. Swear.”

“You're at my house, Neal,” Peter informed him patiently, though he was beginning to sense he was in a losing battle. “You're not going anywhere. I promise.”

Neal coughed hard, expression pained. He didn't respond. Peter was beginning to wonder if he was listening at all.

“Let's check your temperature again.”

To his surprise, especially considering his clear fear of an imminent trip to the prison infirmary, Neal didn't fight the idea. It was probably due less to trust and more to the fact that he was fading again, lying with eyes half-lidded while they waited for the thermometer to register.

When it beeped, Peter took it and held it up to the light to read the numbers. 105.4 degrees.

Peter groaned inwardly, scrubbing at gritty eyes. This night was one of the most surreal he'd ever been unlucky enough to be awake through—which was saying a lot, considering all the stakeouts he'd endured in his lifetime.

He glanced at his watch, squinting to read the time by the light of the lantern. It was 3:12—not even half an hour since Neal took the Advil. There was still time before it would truly kick in. Neal might still be riding out a spike in temperature that would soon go down.

There were whole boatloads of optimistic possibilities, and oceans full of pessimistic undercurrents to sink them.

Even so, Peter wasn't generally the type to forecast gloom and doom. But at 3:12 in the morning, with a blizzard raging without, no light or heat within, and a feverishly ill friend lying his guestroom bed, he was beginning to think he was positively  required  to declare the proverbial glass officially half empty.

There wasn't even that much for him to do, except maybe mop Neal's feverish brow. As soon as the sarcastic thought had occurred to him, he realized it might not be such a bad idea. He had a feeling he wasn't going to get much sleeping done tonight, anyway.

He retrieved a bowl, a second bottle of water, and washcloth, setting them down on the bedside table and easing himself down weary onto the edge of the bed. Wetting the cloth, he used it to smooth away sweat-damped hair.

“I  will  remind you of this moment in days to come,” he muttered with a shake of his head, “You can count on me getting some mileage out of it, that's for sure.” He spoke because the situation seemed to call for it, more than out of any true irritation.

Neal's head turned on the pillow toward the cool feel of the cloth against his face and neck. Or maybe because the sound of Peter's voice was beginning to penetrate into his mired brain.

“How's he doing?”

Peter started, and turned to look at Elizabeth, once more standing in the doorway. “Not so good.”

Neal, as if to testify to his gravely ill status, moaned softly and began a string of coughs that left him curling onto his side, arms wrapped around his chest.

Elizabeth nodded to the still mostly full bottle of water Neal had used to take the Advil earlier. “We need to make sure he's staying hydrated.”

It was something much easier said than done, as they both soon discovered.

Using an extra pillow, Peter managed to get Neal propped more-or-less upright to keep him from choking. Throughout, Neal remained as helpful as a limp rag. But it wasn't until Peter tried to coax him into taking a sip that things got difficult.

When Neal choked on a mouthful of water, it like a switch had been flipped. He didn't become violent so much as he became a wiry, struggling mass of desperate energy. Peter instinctively grabbed for his arm, and almost got whacked in the jaw as thanks.

But it was clear Neal was also just playing out some instinct. He was like a drowning man: choking, and coughing, and trying to claw his way to the surface. For all he knew, that might be exactly what Neal thought he was doing.

Peter swore under his breath as he kept a hold on Neal's arm, trying to prevent him from tumbling off the bed. It was easy enough to restrain him, shivering and weak as he was. However, making him stop fighting that restraint was another matter. His whole body was taut with panic.

“Let go,” Neal panted, “Let  go . I can't... I can't... go like  this ...”

“Neal?” Elizabeth's tone instantly imbued the insanity of the situation with calm. “No one's trying to hurt you. You're sick. You  need  to stop fighting us.”

He did. And when he whispered “Kate”—with so much pent up hope and longing it hurt to listen—neither of them was about to try and correct Neal, not even when he wound up crumpled forward, head resting on Elizabeth's shoulder.

Neal kept murmuring: a litany of “sorry”s, interspersed with Kate's name.

Elizabeth just met Peter's eye sadly, and rested a hand on Neal's back, rubbing soothing circles, countering his shaken apologies with a dozen repetitions of, “It's okay, Neal. It's  okay ,” until he finally began to quiet.

Just when they both thought he'd fallen asleep, he gave a small shudder, and shifting and turning his head enough to see Elizabeth's face. There was a spark of recognition, mixed with not-quite-alarm as he comprehended whose arms he was currently being cradled in, and he realized in a gravelly voice, “Peter's going to kill me.”

Peter took that as his cue to add his two cents of reassurance. “You got a  one -night exemption, buddy.”

“Must be dying then.”

“Nope. Just out of your head with fever.” He met—or tried to meet—Neal's glazed eyes. “You are out of your head right now, right?”

Neal half chuffed, half coughed, and drifted again, still nestled against Elizabeth's shoulder.

Sighing, Elizabeth rested her chin lightly on top of Neal's head. “He's had one tough year.”

He's  had one tough year,” Peter griped mildly, sitting down behind her on the bed wearily, providing the support of his shoulder as an impromptu chair back.

She leaned back against him gratefully. “You poor baby. I'll make you waffles in the morning.”

“Chocolate chip pancakes,” he haggled.

“Mmm. Let's just hope we have electricity, or it'll be cereal with half-frozen milk.”

They savored the simple warmth of contact, shoulder to back, until Neal's breathing had evened into a congested snoring. By that time, they were both just about asleep sitting up, themselves.

“Hon?” Elizabeth roused them both, drowsily. “He's soaked through. And I'm getting there.”

Neal  was  drenched, both from sweat and from wearing the water he'd been supposed to drink. It was a project getting him cleaned up, considering the way Neal lolled limply about without any signs of returning helpfully to anything approaching consciousness. But, eventually, they managed to get him into a clean long-sleeved shirt before virtually mummifying him with blankets.

That wrestling match won, they were both awake, yet again.

But their vigilance was soon rewarded. The Advil brought down the fever at last, just an hour or so before their power was returned, gradually flooding the house with welcome warmth. It felt like they'd survived a war.

In the pre-dawn hours of what would undoubtedly turn out to be the kind of blue-sky day that only follows after the elements have done their worst, Peter sat down with his back to the wall and a blanket spread over his knees. He observed Elizabeth curled up and fast asleep in the chair, and then the mound of blankets on the bed that represented Neal's still, peacefully-slumbering form. All was well with the world.  Finally. 

Satchmo, who had been a pensive background witness to all happenings of the evening, now came and sat down beside Peter with a relieved huff. Soon, he was snoring contentedly with the side of his face nuzzled up against Peter's leg.

And, eventually, Peter slept too.