Title: Lost Your Way
Characters/Pairing: El, Neal, Peter; Gen with canon E/P
Word count: 2200
Notes: My entry for the challenge at whitecollarhc. I'm more-or-less on time for once! This is also filling a prompt from kriadydragon on collarcorner.
Unbeta'd because I have no time management skills.
Summary: Elizabeth was supposed to be having a quiet evening in.
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When the doorbell rang at half past seven in the evening, Elizabeth didn't know who to expect — one of the neighbours, maybe. But it was Neal who was outside, his coat collar hunched up against the drizzle, looking cold and exhausted and leaning against the doorframe.
"Oh, hello," she greeted him, a little surprised. Not unduly, though. "Is Peter with you?" She stepped back from the doorway to let him in.
"He's not here?" Neal asked. He frowned slightly. "I'm supposed to be meeting him…"
She closed the door behind him. "He's working late — something urgent came up. I assumed you'd be there too, actually." She smiled, in case he thought she wasn't happy to see him. "Although I guess he'll be home soon, if he told you to meet him here? Take off your coat, it's soaking."
It was muddy as well as completely sodden. Neal eased it off himself stiffly and hung it on the rack, taking off his shoes too. They also had a coating of mud, and the dirt had gotten onto his dark clothing, as well as being smudged along his jaw. That, with his damp, mussed hair and pale face, made an odd contrast to his usual neatness.
"What happened to you?" El asked. She wasn't sure how concerned she ought to be. "Did you get into a fight with a ditch?"
That got her a faint smile, which was reassuring. Still, she could see now that he was shivering, and no answer seemed to be immediately forthcoming. She guided him towards the couch. "Come and sit down, I'll put some coffee on." And try and get hold of Peter.
Neal seemed content to wordlessly let himself be steered along, but he stopped at the last moment before sitting down. "I'll get it dirty."
"We have a dog," she reminded him. "The coverings wash."
Neal still hesitated, like he was having a hard time making such a simple decision.
"Would you prefer to sit at the kitchen table?" she asked.
He nodded gratefully, and almost immediately stopped himself. She wasn't sure if he was even aware of doing so. "Yeah. I've got to meet Peter."
She bit her lip and waited until he had sat down, by which time she'd started the coffee going. "Neal," she asked, carefully, making eye contact. "Are you alright?"
He blinked slowly at her, and she frowned a little. It looked like he was having some difficulty focusing. "I'm fine," he said, and she got the impression that the answer had slipped out automatically. Like most of the motions he'd made since coming into the house.
"Mmm." Under the bright kitchen lights he didn't really look very fine. He was very pale and still shivering, and his head kept tipping forward slightly as if it were too heavy, or as if he was in danger of falling asleep. She wished he'd taken the couch after all — she didn't want him to drift off and hit the floor. "It may not be my business, but you're worrying me a little."
"Sweetie, I'm not cross with you," she reassured him, and put a hand on his shoulder, an action rewarded with another small smile. Slipping her phone out of her pocket with her other hand, she sent a text to Peter. Will you be here soon? "Now, how about that coffee?"
"Please," he said, and when she'd poured some into a mug which she set down in front of him he curled his hands gratefully around the warmth of it.
"Are you still cold?"
He had to think about it, which was definitely worrying. "Yeah," he said.
She fetched a blanket from the cupboard and tucked it around his shoulders, touching his face gently as she did so. His skin was freezing, and she frowned where he couldn't see her, checking her phone.
Not for a while, sorry. Got some problems here.
She texted back immediately. Here too. It's Neal. Call if you can.
"El?" Neal asked, his voice on the edge of a moan.
She looked up sharply. He was slumping forwards, his elbows resting on the table and his head cradled in his hands. "Neal? What's the matter?"
"I don't…" He groaned, and she put a hand on his shoulder, rubbing the back of his neck gently. "Where's Peter?" he mumbled.
"Neal, don't worry," she began, and then her cell started ringing. She checked the caller ID and sighed with relief. "Oh, thank god," she said as she answered it.
"El?" Peter's voice was tight, worried. "What's happened? What do you know about Neal?"
"He's right here," she said. "Shouldn't he be?"
"He's —" Peter inhaled sharply. "What's he doing there?"
"Looking for you, apparently. Please, what's going on?"
"Neal's been missing for hours," Peter said. "Jesus. We thought he'd been abducted. His undercover op went really bad."
She glanced over at Neal, who didn't seem to be registering her conversation at all, and dropped her voice just in case. "Well, he looks kind of bad."
"He's hurt? How is he?"
"I think he's pretty out of it. I've been worrying about him."
"El." Peter's voice was calming. She took a couple of deep breaths. "Can you drive him to the nearest ER? I'll meet you there. Or I could come pick him up, but —"
"Of course," she agreed. "This'll be much quicker."
"Love you," he said. "Tell him off for making us all worry, okay?"
"Certainly not," she retorted, knowing that he wasn't serious. "Love you too."
She slipped her phone back into her pocket and turned around, just in time to see Neal finally lose his battle with gravity and tumble sideways. She made a noise of alarm as she darted forwards, just in time to catch his head before he cracked it on the hard floor, but she wasn't able to stop him the rest of him ending up there in a sprawl of limbs. "Neal!"
He got his eyes open, and this time he was definitely struggling to focus on her, blinking several times in confusion. "Oh," he mumbled. "What're you doing here?"
"You're in my house," she told him, carefully keeping her voice calm. The situation seemed to be getting out of her control alarmingly quickly.
She exhaled. "That's a very good question. I think several people would like to know the answer." She rubbed his back very gently.
Neal turned his head some more, looking distinctly dazed. "Where's Peter?"
"We're going to meet him at the hospital," El said firmly. "Although maybe I should call an ambulance."
"Don't need that," Neal protested, and struggled into a sitting position, shuffling so that he could lean against the nearest wall. Then he put a hand against his mouth and El made a quick grab for a basin, getting it to him just in time.
She sat next to him and waited until he'd finished retching. "How do you feel?" she asked.
He groaned. "Terrible. Sick, dizzy. My head hurts." He looked at her, and his expression made her take his hand and squeeze it tightly. He looked so lost. "El, what's going on?"
"Everything's going to be fine," she said, quickly. Probably too quickly. "I think maybe you hit your head."
"Huh," Neal said. He screwed up his face in an effort to think. "Maybe? I don't remember."
"That's okay, don't worry about it," she told him. This level of confusion couldn't be good. "Can you get up?"
Neal nodded, and when she stood and held out her hands he took them. She pulled him up. Once on his feet he slumped against the wall and breathed heavily, eyes pressed shut.
"Neal?" El asked anxiously.
"Room's spinning," he mumbled, and pinched the bridge of his nose tightly. After a few moments he cautiously looked up. "Okay, it's better now."
He'd stopped with fine, at least. "Ready to move?"
"Yeah." The dazed look was back in his eyes. She took his arm and began steering him slowly towards the front door, stopping to put on shoes and drape one of Peter's coats around Neal's shoulders. He pushed his arms into the sleeves and wrapped it tight around him. "Thanks."
El put her arm around him, pulling him into a quick half-hug. He was still very pale, despite his time out of the cold, and his gaze kept flickering around as if his surroundings didn't quite make sense to him. "Come on, then," she said, trying to sound calm and encouraging. "Let's go."
Neal offered no resistance as she led him out to the car. He buckled his seatbelt automatically, and let his head fall back.
"Sweetie, I think you should try to stay awake," El said as she started the engine.
"I'm so tired." He sounded faintly frustrated. With everything, probably, and she couldn't blame him.
"I know, but you've got a head injury. Don't sleep until a doctor's seen you, okay?"
"Oh yes," Neal said, sounding suddenly and incongruously pleased. "That was Black."
Now it was El's turn to not understand. Although, she would be happy to talk about anything, whether or not it made sense, if it would help keep Neal alert. "Black?"
"Yeah. I got away."
"He's the one who hurt you?"
"Yeah," Neal said again, and rubbed at his forehead. "Then… I need to find Peter. He wants reports."
"We're going to him now, remember?" And he's going to make sure Black pays for hurting you, Elizabeth added, silently.
Neal swallowed thickly, and groaned. "My head's killing me."
She reached across to pat his knee. "It'll be better soon. I promise." She chewed her lip worriedly, and looked at him when he didn't respond. "Neal?"
He groaned again in answer, but his eyes were closed again.
She pulled into the parking area outside the ER before she had managed to succeed in coaxing a more coherent reply from him. She got out, and was debating leaving Neal alone while she found someone to help her with him, when she heard her name being called.
"El!" Peter lifted a hand in greeting as he jogged towards her through the drizzle. "Are you both alright?"
He put his arms around her briefly and she took the moment to be deeply relieved that he was there too; that she no longer had to deal with this situation by herself. "I'm really worried," she admitted. "Neal's not clear on what's going on, and he's stopped talking to me…"
Peter pressed a quick kiss to her forehead and opened the passenger-side door. "Neal?" he asked. "Are you with us?"
Neal squinted up blearily. "Peter?"
"Yup. You want to explain to me why you've been wandering all over town and making my wife worry about you?"
Neal took hold of Peter's sleeve, as if to make sure that he was actually real. "I went to find you, but you weren't there."
"Yes, that was because I was out looking for you in places where it would actually have been sensible of you to head for." His fond expression belied the exasperation in his voice. "Come on. Let's get you inside."
"Mmm," Neal said, and made no attempt to move.
"Neal!" Peter ordered, and, when that still didn't work, got his arm under Neal's and hauled him out of the car to waver unsteadily on the tarmac. El shut the door and quickly slipped herself under Neal's other arm, so that she and Peter could support him between them.
"It's just a little way to go," El coaxed, as Neal moaned at the movement.
They got him into the ER, and a combination of Peter's badge and the words head injury got Neal laid down on a gurney and wheeled away from them almost immediately, leaving the two of them standing there, momentarily at a loss.
Elizabeth leaned into Peter and he hugged her. "Thank you for looking after him," he said, and sighed deeply. "I swear, I really am going to kill him this time."
"You don't mean that," El chided, as they followed the directions of a nurse towards the waiting room.
"No," Peter agreed, wryly. "For once, this isn't actually his fault. I'm just relieved that he managed to get away before anything worse could happen." He scrubbed his face with his hand. "It's going to be interesting trying to work out exactly what happened in there."
"There was a man called Black," El told him, remembering. "Neal said he's the one who hurt him."
"He's one of the ones we've already got in custody," Peter assured her. "He'll be going away for a long time."
"Good. That's good."
They lapsed into silence, holding hands while they waited on chairs with threadbare cushioning. Peter fetched them coffee, and not long after that a doctor came out and they were led through to see Neal.
He blinked up at them drowsily from the bed. His hair had been dried briskly, and was sticking up in odd directions. "Hey," he said, his voice thick.
"Hey, Neal," El said, and squeezed his hand. "How are you feeling?"
"Tired," Neal said. "I'm in the hospital?"
"Yup," Peter told him. "You've got a pretty nasty concussion, and apparently some quite impressive bruises. You'll be here overnight at the very least."
"Oh," Neal said, accepting this without question, his eyelids drooping. He was obviously struggling valiantly to stay awake.
Peter, also noticing, smiled fondly. "Get some rest," he said, reaching out to ruffle Neal's hair but catching himself at the last moment and patting his shoulder instead. "And stay in that bed. No more wandering off for today."
"Huh?" But Neal's eyes were already closing.
"We'll be back in the morning," Peter said, with a glance at El. She nodded back firmly; of course we will. "You did a good job, Neal. Go to sleep."
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