frith_in_thorns: Unfortunately, you'll also all blow up. (White Collar - Neal+Peter - wake up)
Frith ([personal profile] frith_in_thorns) wrote2012-05-08 05:02 pm

[fic: white collar] Miles From Where You Are

I have had it pointed out to me that there is almost no functional difference between how I write Gen and OT3 in this fandom. Except that OT3 fic gives me an excuse to put slightly more snuggling in.

Title: Miles From Where You Are
Characters/Pairing: Neal/Peter/Elizabeth
Genre/Rating: Angst, h/c; PG
Word count: 4500
Warnings: None
Notes: Completely shameless sick!Neal fic, written for [livejournal.com profile] sahiya's prompt on the running hot meme.
Beta'd by [livejournal.com profile] helle_d, with an unnerving amount of giggling at my melodramatic angst. Title is from a Snow Patrol song.

Summary: Prompt: Peter and El are away for Christmas at El's parents' house when Neal gets sick. Because it's the holidays, there isn't anyone around to look after him at June's. He tries to hide it from Peter and El when they call, but is completely unsuccessful.

- - -

When his phone rang it startled Neal out of a doze on the couch which he hadn't intended on taking. He scrubbed at his eyes while fumbling at his pocket for the cell, trying to feel more awake. "Hi," he said, his voice sounding slightly rough.

"It's me," Peter said. "Just calling to let you know we arrived safely."

Neal rubbed his eyes again, still feeling half-asleep. "You guys have a good journey?" He headed for the sink to pour himself a glass of water.

"There was holiday traffic everywhere," Peter grumbled, and Neal chuckled.

"How many of them did you try to run off the road?"

Peter huffed indignantly, which made Neal laugh again. It turned into coughing.

"Neal, you okay?" Peter asked immediately.

Neal rolled his eyes. "Like everyone else in this city, I've got a sore throat and a cough. Don't start fussing."

He could picture Peter's slightly rueful expression. "Sorry."

Elizabeth's voice was in the background. "What're you sorry about?"

"I'm putting you on speaker," Peter told Neal. To El, "Neal's getting a cold."

"It's just a cough," Neal protested, unwilling to have it made into an Issue.

"Knowing you're worrying isn't going to help with that," El told Peter firmly, and Neal grinned.

"Don't gang up on me," Peter protested.

"It's for your own good," El said. "Neal, how's New York?"

"Boring," Neal grouched. It had been miserably cold and wet all day, forcing him to stay inside, and with June off to find warmer climes and Mozzie off… somewhere… he was sadly lacking in company.

Happily, Elizabeth was more than willing to give him all the sympathy he could wish for. Neal felt a good deal more cheerful by the time the conversation ended, even if all the talking had begun to making his already tender throat hurt in earnest. Typical, that he should catch a bug the moment El and Peter left town for the Christmas period.

Still, he wasn't planning on sitting around feeling sorry for himself. Neal poured out a glass of wine and found the book he'd begun earlier. He was enjoying having time to himself, to relax - the thing with Peter and Elizabeth was still too new and fragile for him to feel secure completely letting his guard down when he was around him.

Best of all, he didn't have to get up early for work.

- - -

Even though he had been looking forward to sleeping in, Neal hadn't intended to be waking up after noon — he rubbed his eyes and checked the clock again, just in case he had made some mistake the first time.

He hadn't, and he began to realise that he really wasn't feeling very well. His head was pounding and when he swallowed the lining of his throat rasped like sandpaper. He hadn't had that much wine, surely? No, it had only been one glass. Apparently the bug was planning on being annoyingly persistent.

A hot shower and some Tylenol made him feel somewhat better. Neal found a box of teabags in one of the cupboards and made himself a mug — he needed the warmth. Trying to read more of his book only made his headache worse, the lines of small type blurring into each other, but he felt like he should be doing something. He wandered over to the easel and worked on some sketches instead, the smell of charcoal dust soothing.

Lost in the stark lines of the mountain scene he was creating, he jumped when his phone began ringing, and when he straightened up quickly he had to grab for one of the dining chairs to steady himself as he experienced a head-rush. And where even was his phone?

It had stopped ringing by the time he located it beside the sink, but started up again as soon as he'd picked it up. He answered it, surprised at how raspy his voice sounded. "Hey, Peter."

"Hey," Peter said. "El's here too."

"Hi, sweetie," El said, and Neal smiled to hear her voice. "Are you alright? You're not sounding so good."

"I'm fine," Neal insisted. "Just that sore throat."

"Hmm," Peter said, his voice practically frowning. "Have you seen a doctor?"

"Peter, I'm fine," Neal said, again. Okay, so maybe he really didn't feel that great, but with the two of them several hundred miles away, all they could do about it was worry. And he had no intention of ruining their Christmas with something this silly. "I'm not going out in the rain on the day before Christmas Eve for a doctor to tell me I need rest and fluids. Besides, I'd probably pick up something worse in the waiting room."

"You do have a point," Peter conceded.

"You are getting rest and fluids, though, aren't you?" El asked, sounding anxious.

Neal realised guiltily that he probably wasn't drinking enough. "Of course," he said. Drawing was restful, anyway, so he was being truthful there.

"Glad to hear it," Peter said, managing to convey his scepticism clearly.

Neal started coughing again, holding the phone away from him while he did so. "Anyway, how are the two of you?" he asked brightly, before either of them could express concern. Not that it wouldn't have been more than welcome under different circumstances. If they had all been together in the Burkes' house El would be bringing him blankets and tea, and Peter would sit with him and watch movies, and Neal would be happy to curl up next to them and bask in their care. Knowing that, however, only served to make him feel more miserable that they were so far away.

"We're having a wonderful time," Peter said, extremely neutrally.

El giggled. "I don't think Peter's relaxed once since we got here," she said.

"That's not true," Peter protested. "I'm relaxed right now."

"You just need to make more of an effort to be sociable," Neal told him, grinning. Okay, so there were a few advantages to distance.

"Boys," El chided, but Neal could tell that she was smiling too. "Neal, honey, we're supposed to go back downstairs to watch dreadful Christmas movies. Will you be okay?"

"Go enjoy your evening," Neal said. He managed a scratchy laugh. "Send me drunk texts complaining about them."

"You'll regret saying that," Peter warned. He cleared his throat. "We miss you."

"I miss you too," Neal said, and ended the call.

Mindful of Elizabeth's words, he made himself another drink, and sat down at the table quickly because moving around had made him realise that he was actually incredibly tired. Considering that he had only been awake for a few hours that seemed mildly ridiculous, but his head had also begun to pound again. Really, his whole body was aching, and the hard chair was becoming uncomfortable.

He suddenly badly wanted to lie down, but it felt far too early to go back to bed. Instead, he made the long journey to the couch, feeling slightly dizzy by the time he reached it. He pulled his feet up and rested his head on the arm. Surely he would start feeling better soon.

- - -

Neal woke up, freezing. He curled into a tight ball, legs up against his chest, face resting on his knees, trying to find some scrap of body heat. He was shivering violently, and he was entirely certain that he'd never felt so cold in his life. It was almost impossible to think beyond it. He huddled against the couch cushions, searching for some relief.

He wanted Peter and Elizabeth so badly that it hurt. They wouldn't let him feel like this. They would stop him being so desperately cold. He imagined lying in the middle of their bed, their wonderful warm bodies against him on either side, and he wanted to cry.

Bed. His bed would be warm. He swung his legs off the couch and stood up too fast, so that he staggered dizzily. There was a light on over where he had been drawing but this side of the room was dim and he tripped on the edge of the rug, catching himself against the wall.

Finally reaching the bed he fell into it thankfully, huddling under the duvet, wrapping the covers around him like a cocoon. He wasn't cold anymore, finally, although he still couldn't seem to stop shivering. He was certain he never wanted to move anywhere ever again.

- - -

His phone was ringing. Neal knew he should be answering it, but he was almost too tired to open his eyes. He stuck his head under the covers, but that seemed to make the noise even louder.

Oh yes. He was still fully dressed, so it would be in the pocket of his slacks. He fumbled it out, and winced as the light from the screen stabbed into his eyes. He screwed his eyes shut again as he answered it.

"Merry Christmas!" It was Elizabeth's voice, almost overwhelmingly cheerful and kind. "Are you feeling any better?"

He'd almost forgotten that it was Christmas Eve. "Hi," Neal managed. The lining of his throat felt like it was sticking together.

"Honey, you sound really bad," El said. She sounded worried.

"I'm okay," Neal insisted. He didn't want her to be worrying. He didn't want to spoil her Christmas.

"What's your temperature?" she asked.

Neal shrugged, then remembered she couldn't see him. "Don't know. Really, El, I just need to sleep."

"I'm not so sure about that."

Peter's voice entered the background. "What's going on?"

"Neal's really sick," she told him.

"Please, stop worrying," Neal protested. "I've dealt with worse."

There was a creaking of bedsprings as Peter sat down. Neal half-expected to feel his mattress dip, but that was ridiculous. "Funnily enough, the thought of that's not making me feel any happier."

Neal cast around for something to say. But conning Peter and El was so much harder than anyone else, and not just because they knew him so well. It was that he didn't want to. And anyway, right now his thoughts were far too fogged — staying focused on the conversation was hard enough.

El's voice was gentle. "Neal, talk to us."

He groaned. "I'm really not feeling good," he admitted, his voice cracking slightly. It was such a relief to say it, though, even if he was only confirming what they already knew.

Peter sighed heavily. "Dammit, Neal, you really like making everything complicated."

"Sorry," Neal said. He hoped he'd be allowed to stop talking and go back to sleep soon.

"This isn't your fault," Peter said, reassuringly. "Probably." A moment later — "Ow!"

"Be nice to him," El ordered, and Neal smiled, picturing both their faces, before he was taken by another coughing fit. "Neal?"

Neal burrowed into the pillows, worn out. "Ugh," he managed, which summed up how he felt rather well.

"Sweetie," El said, and she sounded even more worried now, "Peter and I need to talk about what to do, okay?"

Neal nodded. As long as they weren't expecting him to make any decisions.

Peter spoke again. "Neal, are you listening?"

"Yeah," Neal mumbled.

"Good. Have you got anything to drink there?"

Neal squinted blearily at the nightstand. "No."

"Okay. Can you get something?"

"Sure," Neal said, tiredly.

"Do that now, then. Promise me. I'll call back as soon as I can."

"'kay," Neal said.

Peter sighed, not sounding at all reassured, but he ended the conversation, and Neal was left lying there, clutching his phone.

Okay. Water. He could manage that, right? Neal pushed away the covers — he was too hot now, anyway. While he was at it he managed to fight his way out of the sweater he was wearing, before getting unsteadily to his feet.

Water. He had to lean heavily against the kitchen sink when he finally reached it, shaking. He found a glass and gulped down the water quickly. By the time he had finished his second glass he was so exhausted that he had to cling to the edge of the sink, sure that if he tried to take a step away he would collapse.

Not that that helped for very long. Neal could feel his legs beginning to give way, and he had no real choice but to let himself slide down to the floor. He was just so tired.

His phone began to ring again. Neal put his hand to his pocket, and when it wasn't there he realised that it was still on his bed. "Peter," he mumbled. Peter would worry when he didn't pick up. Neal tried to stand, but crumpled down again before he had managed to rise more than half way. His body just wasn't working.

Eventually the phone settled into silence. Neal, curled up loosely on the floor, fell asleep.

- - -

It was ringing again. "No," Neal muttered, but it didn't stop until he opened his eyes. "'m up," he told it, and then it did.

He was supposed to be doing — something. He was very certain of that, and managed to sit up on the strength of it. His eyes wouldn't focus properly, and trying to make them just increased his headache and made him feel sick.

Eventually, he managed to get up the rest of the way, holding onto the side for support. He needed the bathroom so he headed there, at a snail's pace, following the line of the walls. He relieved himself and then stopped to look at himself in the mirror, which was probably a mistake. Although he felt completely and utterly dreadful, he hadn't really expected to look it. That was when the dizziness and nausea finally overtook him and he threw up into the sink, bile and water.

He could hear his phone ringing again as he turned the tap on, rinsing his mouth and washing his face. He drank several palmfuls of tapwater, because he had promised.

The phone. He should probably get that.

He only made it a few steps out of the bathroom before he lost his balance and found himself on the floor.

Too cold once again, he wrapped his arms tightly around himself. His shirt was soaked with sweat.

- - -

It would be so much more peaceful if his phone would just stay quiet.

- - -

Neal didn't remember how he'd managed to get to the bed, but he was on the floor next to it and his hand was resting on the trailing edge of one of the covers he'd knocked off earlier. The height he'd have to climb to get onto the mattress was immeasurable, impossible, so he tugged on the sheets instead. He was out of breath by the time they finally budged, but then there was a minor avalanche of bedding which he hugged to himself thankfully.

Something hard thudded down onto the floor nearby. Neal reached for it and found his phone. He hoped El or Peter would call him. That would be nice.

He had just succeeded in getting himself wrapped inside a nest of bedclothes and was lying back utterly exhausted from the effort when the phone did ring. His hand was shaking so hard that it took a couple of tries to answer. He set it to speaker, because it was too heavy to hold for long.

"Neal?" El's voice was a mix of emotions he was too muzzy to puzzle out.

"Yeah." His voice didn't sound like him at all — it was far too weak and thready.

El's breath hitched. "Oh, thank god. I was about to call 911 and have them break down June's door."

"Don't," Neal mumbled. It would upset June, if her things were broken.

El's breath caught again. Neal thought she might be crying. "You weren't answering. I was afraid —"

"S'ry." Words were a lot of effort. Neal closed his eyes, and imagined that El was sitting next to him. Wishing for that, he missed some of what she was saying.

"—little bit longer," he tuned in to hear. "Can you do that, Neal?"

"Yeah," he whispered. He would do just about anything Elizabeth asked him to, especially when she used that desperately anxious tone of voice.

"You do that," Peter said. "Hey. Neal. You remember what you promised me?"

It took an achingly long time to think of it. "Water. Did what you said."

"That's good," Peter told him. "Thank you, that's really good."

"'m tired," Neal whispered, and although one of them replied he couldn't make out the words.

- - -

Something was tapping his face. Neal tried to use his shoulder to nudge it away.

"Come on. Open your eyes."

Neal cracked his eyes open, out of surprise as much as anything else. The person leaning over him was blurry, little more than a dark shape. But a familiar one, for all that. "Peter?" he whispered. Hoping.

Peter's cool hand cupped his face. "Yeah, it's me. Guess you're a little less fine than you kept on telling us."

Neal shifted his head so that he could rest it against Peter's knee, and sighed. He would be perfectly happy to just stay like that.

Peter, it seemed, disagreed. He shook Neal's shoulder slightly. "Hey. Don't go back to sleep."

"Mmm."

"Neal, I mean it. Come on, you have to get up."

Neal was too tired to protest when Peter grasped him under his arms and hauled him up bodily onto the bed. He shivered, already missing his nest of blankets.

"Don't move," Peter warned him, which was slightly unnecessary — Neal wasn't sure he could have if he tried. Probably Peter was telling him not to fall off the bed. He concentrated on that.

Peter was back shortly, with a soft pile which he dropped onto the mattress, and a glass of water. "Drink it," he ordered, sitting down beside Neal and putting an arm around his shoulders. Neal leaned against him while he sipped the water slowly, needing to using both of his hands to support the glass. Peter didn't talk while Neal was drinking, which saved Neal from having to try to concentrate on more than one thing at a time.

When Neal had finished, Peter took the glass off him and put it on the nightstand. Then he put his other arm around Neal too, holding him close. Neal rested his head against Peter's chest, feeling the gentle rise and fall as he breathed. Another coughing fit took him, and Peter held him stead through it. "How're you here?" he asked, once it was over. He was still half-afraid this would turn out to just be a dream.

"We drove," Peter told him, his chin resting on top of Neal's hair. "Good thing we did, too. Seems we were right to be worried about you."

"El?" Neal tried to look around, in case he hadn't noticed her.

"She'll be back soon. She dropped me off and went to take Satch home, since we don't know how long we'll be waiting at the hospital."

Neal noted hospital and sighed slightly. He could tell that Peter was waiting for him to argue, but he just didn't have the energy.

Peter gently levered him upwards. "Let's get you into some more comfortable clothes," he said, and began unbuttoning Neal's shirt for him. He peeled that and the sweat-soaked undershirt off, and somehow managed to get a clean t-shirt and sweater on without Neal having knowingly taken part in the process at all. "Seriously, who puts on those sort of things to lounge around indoors in?" he groused.

"They're casual," Neal protested, and Peter gave a huff of laughter as he continued to do most of the work of re-dressing Neal in loose jogging pants.

"Only to you," Peter said, crouching down to push a pair of sneakers onto Neal's feet. "I'm going to pack a bag for you. I'll just be a minute, okay?"

Neal nodded and leaned forward, his arms folded over his knees and his head resting on top of them. He wanted nothing more than to curl up and go to sleep again. He could feel himself already drifting into a light doze.

A touch on his shoulder roused him. "Ready to go?" Peter asked. "We'll take the stairs really slow, and wait down there for El."

"Okay," Neal said, and clung to Peter as he was pulled up again.

The stairs were torturous. Neal quickly closed his eyes, too dizzy to keep them open, and relied on Peter to guide him. "One step at a time," Peter murmured. "You can do this."

Neal nodded grimly.

But they were on the ground floor at last. Peter had probably intended for them to rest on one of the couches, but Neal just flopped down heavily onto the bottom step. Peter joined him. This time Neal tipped completely sideways so that he ended up lying across Peter's lap. Peter laughed softly and ran a hand up and down Neal's side, soothingly.

Neal didn't hear Elizabeth open the front door but she was suddenly there, her fingers stroking through his hair as she bent down to kiss his forehead. Then she and Peter were supporting Neal between them, helping him stumble down the front steps and out to the car. Peter helped him into the back seat as El slipped round to sit on the other side.

He leaned against the door as El reached across to lock her fingers into his. "You came back," Neal said, speaking slowly, realising it properly for the first time.

"Of course we did," El said, matter-of-factly. Like it was something which should be taken for granted.

- - -

Neal fell asleep in the car on the way to the house. When Peter opened the door and shook him gently awake the biting draught was a shock. "Let's get you inside quickly," Peter said.

Neal was only too happy to lean on him up the mountainous flight of steps.

"It's snowing," El exclaimed, and Neal tilted his head up and smiled at the fat white flakes drifting down. The clarity of the cold, quiet air was actually a relief after the brightly-lit confusion of the ER, which had only been made worse by his fever haze. It had been a nightmare of having his temperature taken and an IV inserted and people moving around all the time, people touching him and asking questions while he had felt so exhausted and ill that he could barely think.

But that was over now, and his head was clearer.

Satchmo nosed around his knees and was pushed away by El. She had run in ahead to check that the lights and heating were on, and she had even switched on the lights of the small tree in the lounge.

Peter deposited Neal onto the couch, pulled off his shoes, and draped a blanket around him. "I'll just go help El with the bags," he said. "You'll be alright for a few minutes?"

"Of course," Neal said. Satchmo came wandering over to get his head scratched, and flopped down across his feet.

He must have zoned out again, because it seemed to take practically no time for the car to be unloaded and the bags taken upstairs. Elizabeth locked up the front door.

"It's nearly midnight," she said. "Peter and I think we may as well stay up until it's officially Christmas Day — what do you want to do?"

"I'll wait up too," Neal said. He felt slow and sleepy, but comfortably so, and wonderfully warm with the blanket tucked around him and El's hand on his shoulder. The stuff they'd given him at the hospital was making him feel better than he had in days, letting him ignore most of the complaints from his body.

"Sure?" El asked, and waited for Neal's nod. "Alright then. Would you like some hot chocolate?"

"Yes please," Neal said, smiling, and she pressed a kiss to the top of his head and disappeared into the kitchen.

Peter came downstairs then with another blanket. "I'm not taking any chances," he said, to Neal's look.

Really, Neal would have found it difficult to reject their fussing over him. Not after wishing for it like he had been. It must have shown in his face, because Peter sat down on the other side of the couch and pulled Neal up against him. Neal nestled close, relaxed and limp in his arms.

El brought in the mugs of hot chocolate on a tray. "How's our invalid?" she asked.

"I think he's going to live," Peter replied, gravely.

Neal grinned as he accepted his mug. "I can't believe you guys came back just for me," he said. It was a long sentence.

Peter ruffled his hair. "You thought we'd leave you on your own when you were that sick? I'm very glad we did come back."

"But it's Christmas," Neal protested.

Peter sighed, impatiently. "All the more reason not to leave you by yourself."

El leaned across to put a hand on Neal's knee. "Sweetie, you needed us. And that's fine." She smiled. "You know, it can be nice to be needed, too."

"You should listen to her," Peter said. "She's a smart woman."

Neal laughed softly, and glanced up at the clock. "Hey," he said. "Midnight."

They all Merry Christmas'd at each other. Peter and El kissed, and then they took turns to kiss Neal, despite his protests that they really didn't want to do that when he was ill. "Hush, you," El said, teasingly, stroking his cheek. "Just hurry up and get better."

"I'll do my best," Neal promised sleepily, returning the hug she gave him, enjoying the softness of her hair against his cheek.

"Speaking of which," Peter said, and yawned. "It's past your bedtime. Come on."

He hauled Neal upstairs — Neal was practically falling asleep on his shoulder. Neal crawled into the bed while Peter changed into pyjamas, watching him through eyes he could only half keep open. Then Peter climbed in next to him and threw an arm over Neal's chest. Neal snuggled close to him.

"What do the two of you do at Christmas, anyway?" Neal murmured, close to drifting off. He listened to the small noises of El coming in and closing the door behind her, opening drawers.

"Well," Peter said, "It depends. But tomorrow I was thinking we could sit around playing board games and watching television. Does that sound alright to you?"

"Sounds perfect," Neal said, ending on a yawn. Elizabeth got into bed on the other side, and also laid an arm across him, next to Peter's.

"Go to sleep," she whispered. "We're here."

- - -

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