frith_in_thorns: Unfortunately, you'll also all blow up. (White Collar - Neal - worried shirt)
Frith ([personal profile] frith_in_thorns) wrote2012-12-25 03:01 am

[fic: white collar] Proof

Title: Proof
Characters/Pairing: Peter, Neal, El; Gen
Rating: PG
Word count: 3,800
Warnings: None
Notes: This is completely shameless h/c floof, part of my November flood of writing. (I don't even have the excuse of a relevant bingo square.) I intended to post this for my advent day at [livejournal.com profile] whitecollarhc and then got insecure about it. But better late than never?
Also, happy Christmas! :)

Summary: Peter rolled his eyes. "Wow, intoxication just strips you of all your maturity, doesn't it? What little you had to begin with."

- - -

Peter crouched down on the expensive carpet beside Neal. "You're a mess," he said.

Neal nodded dolefully. He was slumped against the wall with his legs stuck out in front of him and his arms at his sides, looking like nothing so much as a dropped marionette. "Not my fault," he slurred.

"I know," Peter said, putting a hand on Neal's shoulder. Neal nestled his head down on top of it, reminding Peter of a cat. A very drunk cat. "I was listening over the radio, remember?"

"Ev'rything's very spinny," was Neal's next contribution to the conversation.

Peter sighed. "Can you at least remember how much you drank?"

Neal started counting off on his fingers, but got confused and blinked at his hands. "Too much. Peter, I feel weird."

"I'll bet." Peter had been wincing on Neal's behalf, listening to him match shot for shot with a Russian guy whose tolerance level seemed to be somewhere in the stratosphere. But, somehow, Neal had closed the deal even with his words slurring heavily. As they still were. "You want to get out of here?"

"Not really, no." Neal closed his eyes. "Floor's comfy."

"That may be true, but you can't stay here. You'll be in the way when our techs start pulling this place apart."

"Oh." Neal appeared to consider Peter's words deeply. He raised his head and pointed limply at the opposite wall. "Then I can move over there."

Peter had to bite back a grin at how delighted Neal looked with that stellar piece of reasoning. "Somehow I don't think that's going to work, buddy."

"You sure? I can be in — inspic —" He broke off, frowning as his mouth moved silently.

"Inconspicuous?" Peter suggested, after several seconds had gone by and Neal showed no signs of giving up.

He was rewarded by a beaming smile that was utterly and unexpectedly blinding. "Yes!"

"Hmm. I'm not convinced you're all that inconspicuous right now. The smell of whiskey coming from you certainly isn't."

Neal just blinked at him, and then pouted. It was an expression which was far more adorable than it had any right from him, and Peter couldn't suppress a bark of laughter.

"Enough stalling. Come on, let's get you up."

He put an arm under Neal's shoulders before Neal had time to object, hauling him to his feet. That was the easy part. Getting Neal to stay like that was another matter entirely — as soon as Peter loosened his grip Neal attempted to slide back down to the floor.

"Oh, no you don't. Come on."

"I don't want to move," Neal whined. After consideration, Peter decided that 'whined' was entirely the right descriptor.

"What are you, ten?"

"I'd be breaking the law," Neal informed him. "Being drunk."

"I see."

"Because I'd be too young. You called me ten, but then I'd be too young to drink."

Peter rolled his eyes. "Believe me, Neal, I worked out the subtleties of that joke before you explained it, and I wasn't impressed with its cleverness then, either."

Neal pouted some more, and Peter took advantage of his distraction to bodily force him out of the room on unsteady feet. He wished the building wasn't so big — it was going to take forever to persuade Neal out.

Thankfully, salvation provided itself in the form of Jones, who was talking to someone on his phone just down the hall. "Jones!" Peter called. "A hand here?"

Jones waved, ended his call, and strode towards them to slip himself under Neal's other arm. "Looking real smooth there, Caffrey."

"Peter's being mean," Neal muttered.

Peter and Jones exchanged raised eyebrows over the top of an oblivious Neal's head. "Is he?" Jones asked, with an admirable attempt at sincerity.

"Yes. It's not fair."

"Damn, you're completely wasted," Jones said. He glanced at Peter. "He going to be okay?"

"I'm going to have to take him home with me," Peter said. "No way is he making it up all those stairs, and god knows what he might get up to in this state."

"'m right here," Neal interjected. "Don' talk behind my back. S'rude."

"It's not behind your back when you're right here," Peter pointed out.

Neal thought about that one for a while. They were halfway down a flight of stairs by now, taking each step slowly and carefully. "I feel spinny," he said, after several moments. "Things're spinning."

"We're nearly out," Peter reassured him. "You can sit down when we get to the car."

"Can I sit down now?"

"Not til we reach the car. Can you see a car here?"

"Wouldn't fit through the door," Neal agreed.

"No. Although I was about ready to drive through it anyway and get you out of there."

"Oh." Neal bit his lip, apparently processing that, but he didn't say anything else.

His silence continued all the way out to the Taurus. Peter and Jones between them unloaded Neal into the front passenger seat, where he contrived to sprawl in an utterly ungainly way. Peter had to physically lift his right leg into the footwell — Neal seemed perfectly content to leave his ankle dangling just above the sidewalk, which would have made closing the door a problem.

Peter straightened up, and he and Jones exchanged a wry look before they both snorted with laughter. "You okay to take charge here?" Peter asked. "I don't like to leave you guys like this, but —"

"I've got it," Jones assured him. "You get Caffrey home. That's one hell of a hangover he's going to have."

"No kidding." Peter glanced through the window. Neal had his head tipped down onto one shoulder, and looking like he was already asleep. He sighed. "I'm not happy. This isn't something that should have happened."

"He'll be fine," Jones said, reassuring. "After the headache wears off, anyway." He tilted his head, considering. "Do you have anything in your car for him to puke into?"

"He —" Peter stopped, groaned, and scrubbed a hand over his face. "What am I saying? That sounds like exactly the sort of unhelpful thing he'd do. Would you mind finding something?"

"Sure."

Jones was back in short order with a plastic tub he had scrounged from somewhere or other, and Peter was finally ready to leave. He climbed into his seat and dropped the tub onto Neal's lap, causing him to stir groggily.

"Wha?"

"Ready to go home?" Peter asked.

He had half expected more arguing, but Neal just gave a happy little nod and smile. He reached to fiddle with the radio as Peter pulled out into traffic. Within moments he was singing along cheerfully to some incredibly annoying pop song. Peter sighed heavily and rolled his eyes, but he could feel his face twitching as he struggled hard not to laugh. In truth, Neal suddenly sounded years younger.

"You're going the wrong way," Neal pointed out, breaking off halfway though a chorus.

"Nope. This is exactly the right direction to my house."

"Why'm I visiting this late?"

"Because you're drunk out of your skull and you need supervision. From a responsible adult, which rules out Mozzie." He gave Neal a pointed look.

"Watch th' road!"

"Come on. You still can't stop with the backseat driving?"

"It's really, really bad," Neal said. He turned the radio down to make sure he was being properly heard. "Really bad."

"Yes, thank you, you've said that already."

"You do that, that thing were you stop an' start. And wavering." Neal waved his hand vaguely in the air, apparently demonstrating, and kept going with the motion. Peter kept half an eye on him to make sure he wasn't about to get smacked in the face.

"You can talk about wavering when you can walk in a straight line."

Neal huffed, and sunk back into his seat. Peter slowed to pass roadworks, but apparently Neal didn't have anything to say on that score, for once.

But the car was now juddering on the unsurfaced road section, and somehow Peter wasn't surprised when Neal began breathing fast, and then leaned forwards and groaned. "I'll pull over," he said.

Neal shook his head, swallowing determinedly.

Against Peter's expectations, Neal held on for the few blocks remaining. As soon as they stopped he levered himself out of the car, leaned on the hood for support, and threw up at length into the gutter. Peter hung back. Neal was hunched away from him, his posture signalling very clearly that he didn't want help just then.

He swayed dangerously when he stood up, though, and Peter slung an arm around him automatically. Neal sagged against him and groaned some more.

"Not feeling so good now?" Peter asked, sympathetically.

"Not looking forward to being sober," Neal groaned.

Peter winced. "Well, I think you've got quite a while to go there, if it makes you feel better."

"It doesn't."

Peter chuckled, and steered Neal carefully up the steps, steadying him against the lintel while he unlocked the door. "El?" he called. "I've got Neal with me."

"Hi, hon." She appeared at the top of the stairs, hand marking her place in a book. "Is everything — ah." She raised her eyebrows as she came down the stairs and took in Neal's state. "What's he done?"

"Got drunk under the table by the mark," Peter said, not able to fully suppress a grin. Neal missed it, even if Elizabeth didn't.

She gave him a look that told him his lack of sympathy was being noted. "Neal, sweetie, do you want to lie down?" she asked.

Neal shivered, and then swallowed again before shaking his head. "Think I'm gonna puke again. Sorry."

"Don't you worry," El said. "We'll look after you. Hon, can you get him upstairs?"

At least Neal, possessed now with a sense of urgency, was of more help this time. Peter got him into the bathroom. Neal dropped to his knees in front of the toilet and threw up some more, while Peter stood back and grimaced.

"You okay?" he asked, finally, and mentally slapped himself for the stupidity of the question.

Neal was apparently feeling too unwell to treat it with the sarcasm it deserved. He folded his arms across the toilet seat so that he could pillow his forehead on them. "Want t'die."

"No, you don't."

"Do so," Neal mumbled.

Elizabeth entered in time to hear that last part of the conversation. She shot Peter a look which was distinctly less reproachful than it was trying to be. He raised his hands to fend it off.

"Neal, I made up the guest bed for you," she said. "Whenever you want to move there."

"I'll stay here for the rest 'f my life."

El was already suppressing a grin as she leaned over to give Peter a kiss on his cheek. "He's all yours," she murmured, and slipped away, probably back to her book. Traitor.

Peter sighed as he surveyed Neal. "You can't be that close to death if you can still manage that level of melodrama."

Neal mumbled something which Peter decided he was probably better off not being able to make out.

"Okay," Peter said, briskly. "Let's see if we can make you more comfortable." He efficiently stripped Neal of his tie and overshirt, Neal reluctantly moving his limbs when ordered. He tossed the clothes in a pile in the corner. Neal could complain in the morning.

Or right then. "Feel so bad," Neal moaned.

"Yeah, I'm not surprised." Struck by initiative, Peter dampened a washcloth under the tap and laid it on the back of Neal's neck.

"S'nice. Thanks."

"You're welcome." He folded himself down so he could sit properly on the floor, and began rubbing a hand gently up and down Neal's back, feeling Neal's tensed muscles gradually relax.

"Peter?" Neal said, after a while, his words still muffled by his arm.

"Yeah?"

"You're not mean. Wasn't true."

"Thank you, Neal," Peter said, gravely. He was unquestionably amused, but also kind of touched. He was also suspecting that Neal was on the edge of dropping off to sleep, and tapped him on the arm. "I think it's time you were in bed."

"Mmm." Neal sounded less than enthused by the prospect. "Don't want to get sick again."

"Do you think you're going to?"

"Dunno."

"I think we'll take that risk," Peter said. "My knees hurt."

"Getting old," Neal said, and laughed sleepily.

Peter rolled his eyes. "Wow, intoxication just strips you of all your maturity, doesn't it? What little you had to begin with."

"I don't want to move. Moving's not fun."

"And spending all night on my bathroom floor is?"

"Don't care. Gonna sleep here."

Peter sighed. "No, you aren't. Up."

As he had been expecting, however, it took bodily lifting Neal to his feet to persuade him that he did actually have to make the effort of moving. He leaned on Peter rather more than Peter suspected was strictly necessary, and made no attempt to combat his wavering sense of direction. Peter ordering him to grow the hell up just made Neal break out into giggles, and all in all Peter was thoroughly relieved to finally reach the guest room and deposit Neal onto the bed.

El, bless her, had set out a pair of pyjamas and a plastic basin, as well as a tall glass full of juice. Peter tossed the pyjamas at Neal. "Put them on."

"Not with you watching," Neal muttered, mutinously.

"What, now you're worried about your dignity?" Peter held up his hands. "Fine. But you'd better also have drunk all that juice by the time I get back."

Neal made a face, but Peter was unmoved by it. He closed the door firmly behind him, and peeked into his own room. "El?"

She smiled at him. More accurately, she was biting her lip to keep from laughing. "Having fun?"

"Oh yes," Peter said, dryly. "Tons."

"Poor Neal."

"What about poor me, for having to put up with him?"

She was definitely laughing now, her book upside down on the covers. "Poor baby. Your life is very terrible."

"Overdoing it a little?"

"Surely not." She nodded at him scooping up his own pyjamas. "Are you coming to bed?"

"Soon, I hope, but I want to make sure Neal's okay first." He glanced up apologetically from undoing the buttons of his shirt. "Do you mind?"

She smiled fondly at him. "Don't be ridiculous. He needs you."

Peter bent to kiss her hair. "I love you."

"I love you too," she said, and tilted her head up so she return the kiss, before taking up her book again. "Hush now. I'm busy."

Grinning, Peter retreated.

Neal had got himself into bed, slumped against the headboard. He'd drunk about half the juice, and was eyeing the rest with some distaste. He brightened up when he noticed Peter. "You came back."

"Against my better judgement," Peter retorted.

Neal smiled at him dopily, comfortably certain that Peter didn't mean that. "Glad you came back."

Peter shook his head and sat on the empty side of the bed. Neal immediately wriggled closer to him and nestled up against him.

"Finish your drink," Peter ordered.

"I'm too tired."

"That doesn't even make sense."

"Does," Neal muttered. But he didn't make Peter enquire further, and drained his glass. "Ugh."

"You aren't going to throw that up, are you?" Peter asked, anxiously.

Neal shook his head, and slid sideways onto Peter some more. "Sleep now," he mumbled.

"Good decision. You sleep well." But when Peter tried to move away he found Neal's arms tightening around his middle. "Neal?"

Neal's face was smushed against Peter's chest, his breathing even.

Peter shook him slightly. "Come on. I know you're not asleep."

Neal mumbled something incoherent, and didn't move.

"Seriously?" Peter stared at him in bemusement, unsure of what to do. An unexpectedly clingy Neal was not something he had much experience in dealing with. "Neal, I want to get some sleep as well."

He might as well have been talking to one of the pillows for all the reaction he got. Briefly, Peter considered calling out to El for help. She would probably be able to persuade Neal to detach by some means other than force. If she felt like actually helping, rather than standing back and giggling. Peter liked to think that he knew his wife rather well, and he had a strong suspicion which she would choose.

Also, that would wake Neal up, as would trying to pry open his grip. Granted, he would probably drop off to sleep again almost immediately, but Neal, despite the inconvenience he was causing, was managing to look impossibly young and adorable, and waking him seemed utterly heartless.

"The things I do for you, Caffrey," Peter muttered (quietly), and with some undignified wriggling of his legs, managed to retrieve the duvet from where he was sitting on it and pull it up to tuck it over both of them, before finding that he could indeed stretch just far enough to reach the light switch. He settled himself against the pillows in the dark.

"G'night," Neal murmured.

"What, you're awake?" Peter demanded, indignantly, but he got not further response. Grumbling slightly, Neal's breaths rising and falling along with his own, he eventually drifted off into sleep.

- - -

Neal woke up, and instantly wished he hadn't. His head felt like it had been stamped on repeatedly, and his stomach wasn't any better. Worse, when he eventually cracked his eyes open, it was to see Peter, raised onto one elbow, watching him while wearing a distinctly sardonic expression. "Good morning," he said.

Neal groaned, and rolled away. The motion didn't agree with him.

"There's a basin beside the bed," Peter said, the mattress creaking as he sat up. Neal located it just in time and leaned over to retch into it. Peter's hand rested comfortingly on his back.

Once he'd finished heaving he spat, and collapsed back onto the pillows. "Why'm I not dead?" he moaned.

"Because you didn't drink enough to actually give yourself alcohol poisoning," Peter said, dryly.

"Pity."

Peter patted his shoulder. He was working very hard to keep his expression sympathetic, but since there was a grin clearly trying to break through, Neal wasn't inclined to give him points for effort. "Maybe I should leave you alone until you feel differently."

Neal scowled, which hurt, and pulled the covers up over his head, the better to block out the light. It seemed intent on stabbing its way right to the back of his skull. "Gonna die here." He couldn't imagine ever feeling differently about that.

Peter chuckled. "Okay, you stay here and die melodramatically. I'm going to find coffee."

Neal ignored him. Peter left.

It was quite a long time later before Neal felt like moving. He suspected he'd fallen back to sleep for a while. At any rate, he finally felt well enough to sit up, and then to gingerly get out of bed. Which was when it occurred to him, for the first time, that he had no real idea why he had woken up in Peter's guest room. There were just flashes, and impressions. Being in Peter's car. Feeling horrible. And yet, even inside the loss of control, an overriding knowledge of safety.

"Afternoon," Peter said. He was making a sandwich at the kitchen island. Neal winced at the sight of it.

"Is there coffee?"

"Over here," El said. She was working on her laptop at the table, but leaned over to pour coffee into a mug which had been standing waiting. "I take it you're feeling better?"

Neal took the coffee and sat down on the first chair he could find. "My head's killing me. What the hell happened?"

"Well," Peter said, watching him. There was an annoying spark of glee in his face. "It's a long and interesting story."

Neal glared at him. Peter was enjoying this far too much, and taking way too much delight in the prospect of spinning out the story.

"The mark got you out-of-your-head drunk and after you were done throwing up in the bathroom you spent the rest of the night snuggling with my husband," Elizabeth said, matter-of-factly, finishing with a sweet smile.

Okay. Maybe he could have done with a little less succinctness. Neal folded his arms on the counter-top and buried his head in them. "Seriously?"

"Hey," Peter said. "I had to suffer though taking care of you. You don't get to complain now."

"You were quite adorable, actually," El said. "Both of you. I looked in while you were both still asleep."

"I've changed my mind," Neal groaned, without moving. "I don't want to remember this. Ever."

Peter snorted with laughter, and then tapped Neal's hand. "Here. Aspirin."

"Thanks." Neal had to sit up properly to swallow the pills. "Um. While my previous statement stands, I'm sorry you had to deal with that." His gaze slid to the counter, which he examined minutely. "And thanks. For, y'know, stuff."

"Stuff," Peter agreed, gravely. "You're welcome."

"Yeah, but…" Neal waved a hand awkwardly, trying to encompass a great many things without having to actually say them. Peter looked back at him just as awkwardly.

Normally this would be the time for him to bolt. But it occurred to him that he was wearing a too-large pair of Peter's pyjamas and he had no idea where his own clothes were.

"It's what friends do," Peter said. "What were you expecting, me to drop you at June's, and leave you to sober up on your own?"

Neal opened his mouth, and then realised that his immediate answer wasn't the correct one, after all. "No," he said, the weight of the discovery taking him by surprise. "I wouldn't have expected you to do that, at all."

Peter smiled at him. No, Peter beamed at him. Neal had a sudden feeling that Peter had been waiting a long time to hear him say that.

"Anyway, I wasn't snuggling," Neal said, quickly. He needed to bring the conversation back onto a safer level until he was less hungover and more able to deal with it. Another time. There was plenty of it.

Peter chuckled, playing along. "I thought you said you couldn't remember?"

"Yeah, well, I'm pretty sure my brain would have made an exception for that."

"Sometimes your brain may surprise even you," Peter said.

Neal grinned wryly, moreso when he caught Elizabeth's wink. I think it already has.

- - -