pooh_collector: (pooh again)
[personal profile] pooh_collector
Title: Promises to Keep (Of Christmases verse)
Author: pooh_collector
Rating: G
Word Count: ~6,000
Characters/Pairings: Peter/Elizabeth/Neal
Summary: Part of the Of Christmases verse. Set a couple of months after The Storm Will Pass, the Spring Will Come. Neal thinks he’s finally getting back to normal, and then he doesn’t.
A/N: A belated birthday fic for [livejournal.com profile] kanarek13 whose generosity, talent and inspiration are a true gift to our little fandom.

Neal sneezed, and then he sneezed again, hard enough that his head spun and his ears rang briefly. It was a good thing that he was sitting down at his desk and the box of tissues he had absconded from the breakroom was at hand. He blew his nose and winced at the sparks that flew around behind his closed eyelids.

Looking up after disposing of his tissue, he saw Peter staring down at him from his office. Neal could feel the worry emanating off his partner through the glass walls and all the way across the bullpen. Neal smiled at him and gave a dismissive wave with his hand. The cold he had been fighting for the last few days was minor, no fever, no chills, not even an ache or a pain. In fact, his only symptoms were a bit of congestion, an intermittent cough and the sneezing.

Of course, that hadn’t stopped Peter and El from hovering and worrying every time he so much as sniffled. He appreciated their concern, and the love that was the source of their caring, but it was just a cold. He was fine. It had been six months since he had woken from his coma. He was back at work full time now. He was done with all the therapies except for speech, which was winding down, and he was nearly done seeing the therapist too, she was making noises about releasing him. Peter and El didn’t need to worry so much about him anymore. They had done far too much worrying about him over the past six months as it was.

He was wrapped up enough in his own thoughts that he didn’t notice Peter approach his desk. “Hey, maybe you should head home, get some rest.”

Neal looked up at his lover and smiled again. “I’m fine, really.”

Peter frowned. He hated that statement; more precisely he hated hearing it from his partner. Somehow in all the years he had known Neal, it had never been the truth. “Neal…”

"I know you're worried,” Neal interjected. “And I'm sorry, really; it's the last thing I want. But I am fine, Peter."

Peter nodded. He was doing it again, mother henning his partner and making him feel guilty. Neal had made incredible progress over the past six months. And the truth was, Neal was fine, or at least he was damn close. He needed to find a way to let go of his incessant worry and trust Neal to tell him if he needed help. "Okay. Just please, if at any point that changes, go home, okay."

Neal nodded. "I promise, if I actually start to feel bad, I will."

Peter wanted nothing more than to reach down and kiss Neal, right then and there, to reaffirm for himself that his partner was whole and sound, but they were in the middle of the bullpen, fully illuminated by the harsh fluorescent lighting. While his relationship with Neal was more or less common knowledge within the division, Peter was and always would be a professional despite how inconvenient that could be.

So he nodded back at Neal and forced a smile onto his face trying to convey to the younger man that he wasn't really worried, that he was capable of trusting Neal to be able to take care of himself.

***

"Neal?"

Neal looked up and blinked as a ripple of dizziness moved through him. "I'm sorry, distracted."

Erin, his speech therapist, looked at him appraisingly. "Are you feeling okay?"

"I'm fine," he answered automatically, willfully ignoring the buzzing that was building in his ears again. It had been coming and going over the past few days, along with the dizziness that kept making his head swim and the space around him twist and tilt.

She gave him a skeptical look. "Okay, then repeat what you said to me a moment ago as a complete sentence.

Neal closed his eyes and focused trying to remember what he had just failed to say correctly. The noise in his ears was louder with his eyes closed, diverting his meager attention again. Erin had called his name, because he had become distracted. He cleared his throat and then spoke. "I'm sorry. I was distracted."

"Good. Okay, let's just finish up with our word association exercises and then we can call it a day."

Neal nodded and instantly regretted it as it brought the dizziness back. He took a deep breath and blinked long and slow. When his eyes opened the room was back where it belonged. Neal gave a silent thanks and then did his best to get through the exercises as quickly and as accurately as possible.

***

Neal rolled over carefully, trying not to disturb his partners, and gently swung his legs off the side of the bed. He took a couple of deep, slow breathes through his nose and then sat up gradually, his eyes closed tightly against the loops the dark bedroom was doing around him. He could still feel the movement in his head and his rolling stomach despite his closed eyes.

Eventually he stood by bracing his hand on the nightstand and then made his way to the bathroom by balancing on the dresser, the Queen Anne chair, and then the doorframes. He left the light off as he carefully descended to his knees in front of the toilet. He lifted the lid and then draped his arm across the rim and rested his head against it. He really, really didn’t want to throw up, it would be loud and it would be tough to clean up enough to dispel the smell while his head was still spinning. So he kept his head still and tried to breathe through the nausea.

Eventually the sensation that the room was moving around him faded and shortly after the nausea dialed back to a level where he figured it was safe to return to bed. He stood slowly, hissing at the pain the movement ignited in his knees and then waited for the vertigo to return. Thankfully, it seemed to be gone, for the moment.

He was steadier as he made his way back to the bedroom. He went around to his side of the bed and quietly slipped back between the sheets. El rolled over and snuggled up against him. “You okay, baby?” She mumbled, still mostly asleep.

Neal put his hand on her hip and gave a gentle squeeze. “Perfect.”

She sighed sleepily and was out again within moments. Neal lay awake for a long time as he quietly freaked out about the way he had been feeling for the last week or so.

It had been almost two weeks since he had recovered from his minor cold, only to be hit with this, whatever this was. Dizziness, vertigo, and nausea - as much as he didn’t want to even consider the possibility they only said one thing to him, new brain damage issues. Just when he was beginning to really believe he had made it to the other side and that his life was returning to normal, a new normal, but normal nonetheless. It was too much to think about, another wall he needed to scale, another possibly lifelong issue he would have to somehow learn to deal with along with the stutter and the humming and the headaches.

At some point he did fall back into a restless sleep. He dreamed that he was still in his coma, El was sitting next to his bed reading from A Christmas Carol, Peter sat beside her, holding his limp hand in his warm grasp. Neal knew that he was comatose, but somehow he could see and hear his lovers all the same. He could even smell the spicy sweetness of El's perfume. Worst of all he could feel their anguish, their despair at losing him. He wanted desperately to wake up, to return to them healthy and undamaged, but he was trapped inside his mind, his body lost to him.

The nausea lingered into the morning. He took a warm, but not hot shower and dressed slowly, hoping not to reignite the dizziness too. When he finally made it downstairs Peter had thankfully already left for the office. El was sitting at the dining room table working on her laptop. Neal walked past the coffee maker, pulled a slice of whole wheat bread from the bag on the counter and slipped it into the toaster. He got a glass of water from the dispenser on the refrigerator door and sipped at it while he waited for his toast.

El glanced over at him. "No coffee?"

"Eh, I'm in a latte mood. I'll stop somewhere on my way to the office." The lie slid off his tongue as easily as any he had made over the past three decades, but it stung. He never wanted to lie to El or Peter, but he couldn’t give them any more cause to worry. A little white lie to save his lovers some pain was more than worth any dark stain it would leave on his already mottled soul.

His toast popped and Neal munched on it slowly between more sips of his water while standing at the kitchen island. Despite the fact that El was facing the other way, Neal could sense her watching him. It was time to employ the fine art of deflection.

“Working from home today?”

El answered without turning away from her laptop. “Just for a few hours. I’ve got a couple of vendor meetings later.”

His brain stalled and he hummed for a moment before picking up the conversation again. “For the Cunningham wedding?” He asked, just as the buzzing started up in his ears again.

El shook her head. “Yvonne has that pretty much in hand. I’m working on a corporate retreat right now for a hedge fund.”

“Sounds pricey.”

El turned around in her chair and looked hard at her partner. “What’s going on with you?”

Neal had spent nearly 20 years of his life as a con man, and yet he couldn’t manage to fool El for more than five minutes.

“Nothing.” He shook his head and felt the nausea begin to bubble up in his belly again. He wasn’t sure whether to blame it on whatever had been going on with his health or the lying.

The look El gave him made it obvious she wasn’t buying into his obfuscations.

When all else fails, he supposed, run. “I’ve gotta go. I’m sure Peter is wondering where I am.” Neal dumped his glass in the sink, kissed El on the cheek and then took off out of the house and onto the street. He didn’t stop moving until he was on the subway on his way to Manhattan.

The movement of the train, combined with the guilt, did nothing to help Neal’s symptoms. By the time they pulled away from the second stop Neal abandoned his usual place standing at the car’s center pole and took a seat between a teenager in ripped jeans who spent the whole trip texting and an elderly woman with her nose in a book. Neal leaned his head back against the subway map on the wall of the train and closed his eyes, hoping he would feel better by the time they reached his stop.

It was a long day spent trying to avoid Peter as inconspicuously as possible. The bright overhead lights and the constant noise and activity in the bullpen weren’t helping his symptoms any either. Thankfully, around three the Cybercrimes unit asked him to come down to their floor to take a look at a case they were working on. He ended up brainstorming with a couple of their team members for hours. It was after nine when he finally made it back home.

El and Peter were ensconced on the sofa watching the Yankees' game.

“Hey, I was getting ready to put a BOLO out on you.” Peter teased as Neal walked into the living room.

"Sorry, got caught up with Cybercrimes. Came up with some ideas… tracked a couple of leads."

El shimmied over on the sofa closer to Peter to make space beside her. "Come here baby, you sound tired."

Neal nodded and then swallowed against the vertigo and the surge of nausea a simple shake of his head caused. He made his way slowly across the living room and lowered himself down to sit beside her, not bothering to even open his suit jacket first.

Peter reached across his wife, wrapped his hand around the back of Neal's neck and began gently messaging the tight muscles there. Neal sighed and leaned back into his partner's soothing touch.

"Maybe it's too soon to be pulling twelve hour days," Peter suggested. He tried to hold his tongue. He definitely didn’t want to be caught mother henning Neal again, but his partner looked exhausted and pale.

Neal didn't know how to respond to Peter’s observation. Two weeks ago he would have balked and thought that Peter was being overprotective, today it seemed obvious even to him that Peter was right. Instead of replying, he closed his eyes and let himself relax into the comforting familiarity of an evening spent on the couch with his lovers.

When the game ended, Neal was drifting on the edge of sleep, only nebulously aware of Peter's grumbling over the Rockies' ninth inning come from behind win. Once the TV was shut off, Peter and El stood and then helped Neal to his feet. They prodded him in front of them and then followed him as he shuffled up to the bedroom. He stripped off his suit and thought about at least draping it over the chair in the bedroom, but he only got as far as the thought before tumbling into the center of the bed. Then he watched with one eye open as El picked his jacket and slacks up off the floor and took them out of the room presumably to hang them up in the closet he used in the guest room. He was nearly completely out when Peter slid in beside him a few minutes later and pulled the covers up over his shoulder.

Peter kissed his forehead and then whispered, "Sweet dreams, buddy."

***

Unfortunately, Neal's dreams were anything but sweet. They began much like the previous night, with him in his coma, Peter and El grieving for him while he helplessly watched. Soon enough they morphed into something even more disturbing. It was summer and Neal was slowly losing the fight to remain conscious. All the progress he had made over the six months since he had emerged from his coma was dissipating. It had begun with the dizziness, vertigo, the ringing in his ears and the nausea. From there his speech worsened, his headaches increased and his muscles began to obey him less and less. By fall he could barely mutter random words, he was bedridden and he spent most of his time uselessly trapped again, unable to do anything at all to help his lovers who were once more grieving for him. This time devoid of any hope that he would recover.

He woke up to his cheeks and the pillow beneath his head tear stained and damp, a nasty headache thumping at the base of his skull. He lay there silently crying as the sky outside lightened, brightening the bedroom around him.

When the alarm clock began to blare, he rubbed his hand across his face clearing away the moisture and then tucked his head into his pillow to try to hide the redness around his eyes.

Peter rolled over with a grumble and smacked the off button on the clock. He pulled himself out of bed and made for the bathroom without looking back, giving Neal a little more time to get his emotions in check.

Before Peter came back from his shower, El rolled over and spooned up behind Neal. When she wrapped her arm around his waist, he picked up her hand and held it in his.

"Good morning," she murmured.

"Morning."

There was something off in the tone of Neal’s voice and now that she was paying attention, she could feel the tension in his body. "Neal, are you okay?"

He was frightened and so tired of denying that something was wrong, but he still couldn’t bring himself to burden El and Peter with whatever it was. The throbbing in his head however was something that he could admit to. "Headache."

El kissed his shoulder softly and then extricated herself from behind him. A few moments later she was back holding a glass of water and his medication out to him. Neal carefully skooched up against the headboard and then reached for the pills and then the water. His hand shook slightly as he slipped at the cool liquid. He was afraid the nausea that was still plaguing him would bring the pills right back up if he drank too much, but he needed to wash the bitterness of the medicine off his tongue. When he was done he handed the glass to her and then sank back down into the bed.

"Thanks."

Her cool fingers brushed his hair away from his forehead. "Just rest sweetie."

Neal nodded slightly and then closed his eyes, hoping that when he woke not only would his headache be gone, but somehow all the other things that had been tormenting him as well.

The bedside clock read 3:12 when he finally woke again. His head felt better, just a dull ache that he could easily ignore. The room tilted and swirled a bit when he sat up, but settled after a minute or two. He got up cautiously and pulled on his sapphire blue robe, waiting for things to go south, but for the moment at least the only thing that seemed to still be with him was the near-constant buzzing in his ears.

He used the bathroom and then washed his face and brushed his teeth before making his way downstairs. The idea of toast and tea actually sounded pretty good.

When he rounded the corner into the dining room he found Peter sitting at the table.

"Hey," his partner said in greeting.

"Hey," Neal replied.

"Feeling better?"

"Mostly, thanks."

He started moving past Peter into the kitchen when Peter slid his chair out from under the table. “Do you want something?”

“I can… get it,” Neal answered as he started toward the kitchen again.

Peter stopped him by placing his hand on Neal’s elbow. “I know you can. But you don’t have to. Please, sit.”

It was true that he didn’t need help, but he had to admit that it was really great to have it. Neal nodded and then took a seat at the end of the table.

Peter smiled, got up and stepped into the kitchen. “What can I get you?”

Neal hummed briefly and then said, “I wouldn’t mind a cup of tea and a slice or two of toast.”

“Coming right up,” Peter replied as he put the kettle on the stove. He was afraid Neal would be upset that he had decided to work from home in order to keep an eye on his younger partner. But it looked like he had dodged that particular bullet. In fact, it looked like Neal was glad that Peter was there for him.

Neal smiled at his lover. He was so very lucky to have Peter and El in his life. He was so thankful for all that they had done for him, not just over the past seven months, though that was exceptional, but also for taking his deal, accepting him for who he was, giving him chance after chance to do the right thing, for loving him. “Hey Peter.”

“Yeah?” Peter answered without turning away from the toaster.

“I love you.”

Peter did turn then, his smile growing wide. “Right back atcha, buddy.”

Minutes later Peter presented Neal with a plate of buttered toast and a cup of hot orange pekoe with honey. Neal ate half a slice of toast thinking that he was truly hungry for the first time in several days and then the nausea struck hard. He picked up his teacup and sipped at it gingerly praying that the hot, sweet brew would settle his stomach.

Three sips in the room tilted to the left and then began spinning. Neal was reminded of riding the tilt-a-whirl for the first time back in St. Louis when Ellen had taken him to a local carnival. He hadn’t actually enjoyed the combination of movements and sensations then and he didn’t like it any better now.

The room was warm as a result of the late June air, but Neal shivered fiercely and then a pain so intense it stopped his breath lanced through his left ear. It was gone as suddenly as it came, but it took Neal more than a few moments to remember to breathe again. On his first exhale he dropped his tense shoulders and forced himself to relax, not wanting to telegraph his newest distress to Peter.

Neal picked up his cup then and took another sip. When he swallowed the same white-hot pain ripped through his left ear again. Neal closed his eyes and rode it out. It was gone in seconds, but Neal held his breath again, not wanting to do anything that would bring on another bout.

"Headache back?" Peter asked softly as he retook his seat with a fresh cup of coffee in hand. Neal had gone suddenly pale.

Neal reopened his eyes and the room spun wildly forcing him to swallow hard against the vertigo and its accompanying nausea. "Um, yeah. I think I'm going to go lie down again." He kept his voice low and even.

Peter started to get up again, to give his partner a hand but Neal forestalled him. "I've got it."

He got up slowly, bracing his hands on the tabletop for support. He waited until the worst of the spinning stopped before he moved away from the table and headed slowly out of the dining room. Just as he reached the living room, the dizziness swamped him again, his vision whiting out from the outside in and then the pain sliced through his ear. This time it was so intense, he couldn't stop himself from crying out.

He didn't know which way was up and which was down, his world had become nothing but a spinning, searing agony.

Peter had been tracking Neal as he got up unsteadily from the table and began to slowly make his way back upstairs. The change from mostly better to white as a sheet had come rapidly and Peter couldn't help the concern he felt. Neal was moving slowly and stiffly until he stopped and cried out, his hands coming up to clutch the sides of his head. Terror gripped Peter's heart as he leapt from his chair and lunged for his lover. Neal was halfway to the floor by the time Peter got there. He reached for Neal's head, not wanting him to further injure his still healing brain in any way, and slid down to the floor with his partner.

"Neal?"

Neal's eyes were closed and his breathing was shallow and fast. Peter gently laid Neal's head on the hardwood and then fished his phone out of his back pocket. His hands were shaking hard as he dialed 911 but his voice was oddly steady as he described the circumstances to the emergency operator.

Before the paramedics arrived, Neal sort of regained consciousness, but he was in so much pain that he was hardly lucid. Peter felt utterly helpless sitting on the floor cradling Neal's head as his partner withered and cried.

While the paramedics assessed Neal and got him on a gurney, Peter called Dr. Kline's office and left a message saying that Neal was being rushed to Brooklyn Hospital in severe pain. In the back of the ambulance while holding his lover's cold and clammy hand, Peter's fear transformed and became tempered by anger. He wanted someone to blame, someone to vent his frustrations on. Neal didn't deserve this. He hadn't deserved any of the shit that he had had to deal with these last months. Please, he silently begged, please take his pain away.

The EMTs rushed Neal back into the depths of the ER as soon as they arrived at the hospital leaving Peter standing in the waiting room. He wanted desperately to stay with Neal, to protect him, to give him whatever comfort he could, but the hospital staff held him back.

Still on his feet, he checked his phone to be sure that Dr. Kline hadn't returned his call and then he took a deep breath and called El. Somehow, he managed to find the same calm center he had had with 911 while speaking with his wife. The last thing he wanted was for her to feel what he was feeling, especially since she was on the North Shore of Long Island running some corporate retreat. So he simply told her that Neal's headache had gotten worse and that he had brought him to the ER to get checked out. He said nothing about Neal losing consciousness from the extreme pain and nothing about the ambulance ride.

He was walking around the waiting room aimlessly when one of the staff handed him a clipboard with paperwork to fill out. He finally sat so that he could rest it on his knees while he filled in the questions. A year ago he would have had to leave half of the forms mostly blank, but the last seven months had sadly provided him with reason to have an in-depth knowledge and insight into the health of his partner.

***

For a long time, Neal's awareness was centered on the screaming pain in his ear, and odd noises and strange hands touching him in ways that were either way too intimate or painful. But at some point the frenetic activity dissipated, the pain in his ear dulled and Neal began to get a sense of time and space again. He was in a hospital that much was clear from the sounds and the smells. A hand was resting gently on his forearm, not far from to the needle that he could feel in the back of his hand.

“Mr. Caffrey are you with us now?” The woman’s voice had an Asian lilt and was soft but insistent.

Neal opened his eyes slowly and blinked up at the doctor in a white lab coat who stood beside him. She was beautiful with almond-shaped, chocolate-brown eyes and long, jet-black hair.

She smiled and Neal realized that he must have vocalized his thoughts when she said, “Thank you.” She patted his arm. “I’m Dr. Lin. How are you feeling?”

Neal took a moment to take stock. His ear still hurt, but much less than it had back at the house. He had a mild headache but the room wasn’t spinning around him at the moment which was a definite plus. He cleared his throat. “Better.”

“Good. We’ve given you some medication to ease the pain, but I need some help from you so we can get to the heart of the problem.”

This was it then, the conversation about his head injury and how his brain damage was creating new and more debilitating problems. “Okay. Seven months ago my RAS was damaged in an incident. I spent a month in a coma.”

Dr. Lin nodded. “I can see that here in your chart.” She pointed to the folder resting on the gurney next to his hip. “We’re dealing with something different here, something new. I have a suspicion but I’d like to talk to you about the new symptoms you’ve been experiencing.”

Neal wasn’t sure he heard her correctly. “It’s not related to… my brain injury?”

“I don’t think so. Tell me about your symptoms.”

“It started with dizziness, vertigo and then my ears started buzzing off and on. Oh, and I’ve been nauseated a lot. And, then today, my left ear just exploded with pain.”

Dr. Lin nodded again. “I’m going to run a few checks.” She used the remote to move the head of the gurney up so Neal was more upright. “Still okay?”

“Yes.”

Then she proceeded to shine a light in his eyes and look in ears. “I’m sorry, what kind of doctor are you?”

“I’m an Otolaryngologist.”

“A what?”

“An ear, nose and throat specialist.”

“Shouldn’t I see a neurologist?”

“Not for labyrinthitis.”

“Labi…. What now?”

She smiled again and Neal suddenly felt at ease. “An inner ear infection.”

“An inner ear infection did this?” Neal asked indicating his current situation with a sweep of his eyes around the space.

“I’m afraid so.” She patted his arm again. “I’m going to prescribe an antiemetic and something non-narcotic to help with the ear pain. I’m also going to prescribe a ten-day course of benzodiazepine. It should help protect your brain from the confusing signals it’s getting from your inner ear. You’re going to need to rest and take things easy, especially when you’re experiencing vertigo, until your symptoms abate.”

“Okay and how long will that be?”

“It could be as long as eight weeks. There is a small chance that you’ll experience some hearing loss, but it’s unlikely. I’ll make an office appointment for you with me in a couple of weeks; in the meantime if your symptoms get worse in any way, you come back and see me, deal?”

Neal nodded. “Deal.”

***

Peter felt like he had been waiting for hours for someone to come and tell him what was going on with his partner, but looking down at his watch he realized that it had been barely ninety minutes since they had wheeled Neal away from him.

Long enough to try to find out what was going on. He was halfway to the desk when his cell rang. “Burke.”

“Peter, I got your message.”

Peter was relieved to hear Dr. Kline’s voice. “Can you get here? I don’t know what’s going on with Neal, but he collapsed in pain, holding his head.”

“I’ve already spoken with Neal’s physician, Dr. Lin. There’s nothing neurological going on. Neal has an inner ear infection. A rather nasty one, granted, but it’s just an ear infection.”

Peter shook his head, knowing that Neal’s neurologist couldn’t see him. “He was in agony when he collapsed in my arms.”

“Peter, I know it was frightening. Dr. Lin is a well-respected Otolaryngologist. I trust her judgement. We discussed her treatment plan and I concur. And, I’ll have my office call and make a follow-up appointment with Neal in a couple of days just to be sure. Okay?”

Peter knew he should just say okay. He trusted Dr. Kline implicitly, but he couldn’t get the memory of his partner on the floor withering in pain out of his head.

“Peter?”

Peter swallowed back on his anxiety. “Okay.”

Thirty minutes later Neal was wheeled out the treatment area in a wheelchair. Under the robe he had been brought to the hospital in he was wearing a pair of light blue scrubs. A pair of thick socks covered his otherwise bare feet. Other than the unusual attire Neal looked tired, but a hell of a lot better than he had just two hours ago.

“Neal, how are you doing, buddy?”

Neal smiled. It was thin, but real. “Better. I’m going to be fine, Peter. I promise.” Neal looked up at the woman who was pushing his chair. “Dr. Lin says so.”

“I do say so,” the doctor concurred. “Neal has some prescriptions that he’ll need to take for a while and he’ll need to get plenty of rest, but given some time, he’ll be fine.”

Peter felt the fear and the anxiety that had been crushing his heart drop away. Neal would be fine. For the first time he didn’t mind hearing his partner say those words. Today, thankfully, they sounded like the truth.

***

Neal was right where he wanted to be, his head resting on the sweet swell of El’s chest with Peter spooned up behind him. El was running her fingers gently through his hair and Peter was rubbing his hand up and down Neal’s upturned thigh. He was humming, but the action was born of pure contentment, not his brain damage.

Thanks to the meds his headache and the nausea were gone and his earache had been reduced to a dull thump. The dizziness was coming and going, but lying still with his eyes closed was minimizing its impact.

“How are you feeling sweetie?” El asked softly.

Neal was too content to do more than change the tenor of his hum.

Peter laughed. “That good, huh?”

Neal repeated the sound.

“Hey, we do need to talk you know.”

Neal knew this conversation was coming, but he had hoped Peter and El would take mercy on him until he was feeling better. No such luck.

“I know,” he mumbled into El’s breast.

“Why didn’t you tell us you weren’t feeling well?” Peter began.

Neal sighed and rolled over onto his back so he could look up at his lovers. “Remember when I had that minor cold a few weeks ago?”

“Yeah.”

“Do you remember how you reacted?”

Peter shook his head and shrugged. “How?”

Neal scooted up to lean against the headboard. “Come on, Peter.”

Peter scowled. “Okay, I might have been a little overprotective.”

Neal rolled his eyes. “Sure, let’s go with that.”

If he wanted Neal to come clean, he needed to be willing to do the same. “I’m sorry okay, but I worry and I’m going to keep worrying because I love you.” Peter moved his hand behind Neal’s neck and squeezed gently.

“I know and I love you too. But you’ve both spent too much time worrying about me since last November. I don’t want you to worry. I don’t want you to have to worry.”

“We know that sweetie.” El picked up Neal’s hand and held it in hers. “But that’s what you do when you love someone. You’re worried about how much we’re worrying about you. We love you and you love us. What goes around comes around.”

“It’s the cards we were dealt, Neal.” Peter continued. “I won’t lie to you and say it hasn’t been hard. But I can say with absolute certainty that it has been worth it, every minute of it, the good and the really awful.”

Neal nodded and wiped at the tears that were pooling in the corners of his eyes with his free hand. “Yeah.”

Peter knew that Neal was telling the truth, but he was reasonably certain it wasn’t the whole truth. “There’s more to it though right? Why you didn’t tell us?”

Neal swallowed and nodded again. “Yeah.”

“You can tell us, Neal. You can tell us anything,” El encouraged.

“I was afraid.” Images from his nightmare about returning to his coma flashed through his mind. “I was afraid that my brain damage was getting worse… I would end up comatose again.”

Peter glanced over at El and she returned his look knowingly. They had both had those same fears in the early days after Neal had come out of his coma.

“I know it wasn’t really rational,” Neal continued, “But it seemed like the most likely scenario.”

“Oh baby,” El crooned, reaching out to gather him in her arms.

Neal let himself be pulling in, relishing the comfort.

Peter moved his hand to his partner’s back. “We get it. Trust me, we get it. But in the end, hiding your symptoms from us and denying what was going on only made things worse.”

“I know.”

“So promise us, please Neal, that you won’t hide anything like that from us again.”

Neal nodded into the crook of El’s shoulder. “Never again.”

Date: 2016-01-22 12:22 am (UTC)
elrhiarhodan: (Default)
From: [personal profile] elrhiarhodan
Oh, happy sigh. So glad you wrote this one - it's painful and beautiful, the perfect story for a day when I'm battling a bad headache with a sinus infection and a touch of vertigo, too.

{{{HUGS THE LITTLE BEAR}}}

Date: 2016-02-14 03:32 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pooh-collector.livejournal.com
Ugh! So sorry you were battling that yuck! Channeling post-coma Neal is never fun.

But, I'm glad you enjoyed the fic.

Date: 2016-01-22 02:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] caseyf123.livejournal.com
Thank you so much for this wonderful addition to your "Of Christmases..." verse. It is one of my favorite verses. I love the loving relationship between Peter, El and Neal despite/as a result of the trauma they have all had to endure. I hope this verse goes on forever.

Date: 2016-02-14 03:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pooh-collector.livejournal.com
Oh, thank you so much!

I'm glad you enjoyed this addition to the verse and the verse itself.

I've got nothing in the hopper right now, but I doubt I'm done.

Date: 2016-01-22 03:01 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] icecreammilktea.livejournal.com
Awww this is great. I really adore this verse - it brings out the love that each of them has for the other so damn well. Thank you for sharing!

Date: 2016-02-14 03:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pooh-collector.livejournal.com
Thank you for reading and commenting! I'm really glad you enjoyed it.

I'm kind of partial to this verse myself. ;)

Date: 2016-01-22 04:19 am (UTC)
angelita26: (Neal Sleep Couch)
From: [personal profile] angelita26
I was so excited to see that you'd posted, and it is amazing! Poor Neal - he was so afraid of his symptoms and worried about telling Peter and El, but it all turned out okay. I was worried too, if we're being honest here, and I'm so glad that it was just an ear infection and not something to do with his head injury. You really know how to keep me on the edge of my seat. I love it! Thanks for sharing! *HUGS*

Date: 2016-02-14 03:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pooh-collector.livejournal.com
Awwwwwwwwwww! Thank you for the wonderful compliment. I'm really glad you liked it, BT.

Date: 2016-01-22 06:29 am (UTC)
sherylyn: (Love Wins)
From: [personal profile] sherylyn
I love this!! It's so beautifully, perfectly done!! I have a dear friend who has a really bad case of Meniere's, so Neal's symptoms made me think "inner ear" far more quickly than I probably would have otherwise — they were just too similar to what my friend deals with routinely. You described all those things so well, though! Poor Neal, being so afraid that something even worse was going on!! Simply brilliant, m'dear. Brilliant!! <3

Date: 2016-02-14 03:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pooh-collector.livejournal.com
Thank you! I'm sorry you weren't 'surprised' by the ear infection but I'm glad you enjoyed the story nonetheless.

Poor Neal indeed, how I love to torture our poor boy.

Date: 2016-02-14 04:57 am (UTC)
sherylyn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sherylyn
As I said, I'm sure most people reading this would have been surprised -- it's just the "personal experience" (well, second-hand, but close-ish?) with the symptoms that made it where I kept thinking that's what it sounded like. I thought you did a wonderful job with showing the symptoms but keeping it a bit of a mystery, too ;-)

And yes, poor Neal. It's amazing how much we "love" him by torturing him in this fandom! LOL!!

Date: 2016-01-22 05:37 pm (UTC)
sapphire2309: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sapphire2309
oh baby... *hugs him gently* He can be so stupid sometimes though. c:

Date: 2016-02-14 03:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pooh-collector.livejournal.com
He sure can. But at least he always has the best intentions, regardless of how he acts on them.

Date: 2016-02-14 04:04 am (UTC)
sapphire2309: (sapphire)
From: [personal profile] sapphire2309
True stuff.

Date: 2016-02-06 11:35 am (UTC)
kanarek13: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kanarek13
I went all squee in email about this and completely forgot to leave a proper comment here /o\ *offers huge jar of homey to the bear*

Oh, my friend, this fic is such a treat, I just read it again and d'awwwww, it pushes ALL of my buttons, poor angsty Neal, all hurting and hiding and worrying for all three of them, awww. Poor baby *huggles him*

Thank you, thank you, thank you, I love it sooooo much ♥

Date: 2016-02-14 03:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pooh-collector.livejournal.com
numnumnumnum! YUM!

Yay for hunney!

I'm so happy I could push all of your buttons! Hehe!

You are so very welcome!

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