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26 February 2013 @ 07:00 pm
[fic: white collar] Variance  
I am literally just here to throw fic at you all and then run away again, argh why is life.

Although one thing that makes terrible days much better is writing incredibly ott woobie Neal. So have some incredibly ott woobie Neal which is ridiculous and has no plot. It is for saphirablue because she has also been having terrible days at work.

Title: Variance
Characters/Pairing: Neal, Peter, El; Gen
Genre/Rating: PG
Word count: 2600
Warnings: None
Notes: Beta-read by helle_d who agrees with the assessment of ridiculousness and also says this is OT3 not gen. Hence the new tag for the intelligently-named category of "gen-ish".

Summary: "I'm staying back," Peter said, from the doorway. "I don't want to catch what you've got."

- - -

"I'm staying back," Peter said, from the doorway. "I don't want to catch what you've got."

Neal laughed, and winced as it scraped at his raw throat. "Don't blame you," he croaked, raising himself up onto his elbows. "I don't want it either."

Despite his words, Peter came forwards to ruffle Neal's hair. Neal scowled and shoved at his hand, but the fever he was labouring under had sapped his strength to a truly ridiculous degree. "Get some sleep," Peter advised. "Don't annoy El."

"He's not going to do that," El said, appearing behind Peter. "And you're going to be late for work if you stay here fretting for much longer."

"I'll be back early," Peter told Neal. "El's got a thing this evening."

"I don't need a babysitter," Neal protested.

"No," El said, briskly. "But you're sick, and you need friends watching out for you." She turned to Peter. "Go! If you hang around you will catch what he's got and then you'll be sorry."

Neal huffed a laugh as Peter retreated, holding up his hands in contrition.

"Now," El said. "Do you need anything?"

Neal shook his head. "Just sleep," he said, his voice gravelly. It was pretty much all he'd wanted to do since yesterday morning when it had been an almost overwhelming effort to drag himself into the office. He'd managed by staring blankly at paperwork all day, until he'd fallen asleep slumped over his desk almost without noticing. Peter had asked him several very pointed questions, and on discovering that he was presently alone in June's house, had dragged him off to recuperate in the Burkes' guest bedroom instead.

El put a cool hand on his forehead. "I think that's the best thing for you. Remember to keep drinking plenty of water, okay?"

Neal nodded. He would never admit it to Peter (or even fully to himself), but he was pathetically grateful to have someone looking after him while he felt this terrible. He sipped at the glass of water on the nightstand to show his willingness to do as he was told for once. Outside the warmth of the covers he quickly started shivering, and burrowed back into them as soon as he could.

He slept on and off all day, waking when prompted to swallow water or pills or, once, some soup which he couldn't recall the flavour of even as it went down his throat. He was miserable and exhausted and he hurt all over and was unable to come enough out of his doze to form more coherent thoughts.

Then he suddenly snapped out of a nightmare to find that he was suffocating, thrashing weakly to get get the stifling blankets off him, his heart pounding so strongly in his throat that he could barely breathe around it.

"Neal?" a voice called. Not El — she had left, he vaguely remembered her leaving. Peter was here now. But that realisation increased his anxiety because El had told Peter not to get close to him, you'll be sorry.

"Neal, are you okay?" Peter was coming up the stairs.

In a panic Neal kicked himself free of the remaining covers, pushing himself up on a sudden surge of adrenaline to stumble as far as the wall.

Peter came into the doorway, and paused. "What are you doing out of bed?" he asked.

"No!" Neal croaked sharply as Peter started forwards. He pressed against the wall, wishing he could sink inside it. "Don't — you can't —" He could barely speak, but what came out of his mouth was sharp with panic.

Peter froze. "Neal?" he said, carefully. "It's me, okay? It's just me."

Neal nodded. He knew it was Peter, that was the problem. He had to keep Peter away, because El said — He couldn't remember exactly what she'd said, but he knew it was important. The anxiety and urgency jittering through him only reinforced that.

"I'm not going to hurt you. I'm just going to come towards you, very slowly."

"No!" Neal whispered sharply, his voice giving out again almost immediately. He wavered, and Peter made a slight, instinctive jerk towards him. Neal flinched violently, and almost unbalanced completely.

"Sorry!" Peter said, immediately. "I didn't mean to scare you. Neal…" He looked upset and helpless and Neal almost wanted to cry out of pure frustration because he didn't want to upset Peter, he wanted to keep him safe but nothing was working properly…

And he was shaking now, his legs cramping as they fought to hold him up.

"You need to sit down," Peter said.

"No," Neal whispered. "Need, need to —"

"I'll sit down too," Peter said. "Look, all the way over here." He sat down very slowly, smoothing out all his movements. "I'm not going to hurt you, or arrest you, or whatever you think's going on. I just want to help."

Neal stared at him in confusion, but his knees had made the decision for him and he was sliding down the wall, folding into a heap on the floor. He felt nauseous with terror and dizziness, and there were black specks flickering in his eyes.

"It's okay," Peter said, soothingly. "You're not well, that's all."

Neal wrapped his arms tightly around himself. Yes, and he was going to make Peter sick if he got any closer, and then El would be angry at him and something terrible would happen to Peter… "Peter," he whispered desperately.

Peter made a cautious motion, but froze instantly as the burst of panic knocked Neal's breath out of him in a gasp. "Neal! Please, tell me what you think is happening."

"I'm sick," Neal managed to whisper, pressing the heel of one hand against his pounding head.

Peter nodded reassuringly. "You are, but you're going to be okay. Why don't you want me to come near you?"

"Mustn't," Neal whispered, beginning to breathe fast, anxious again. Why didn't Peter understand? Wasn't he listening? He felt lightheaded and faint.

"Neal!" Peter said. "Calm down, please. I won't come any nearer, I promise. Okay?"

Neal couldn't form any words. He was having to keep his head leaning against the wall to hold it up, and felt like he was about to pass out. But then what would Peter do?

With a start he jerked his head up and realised he'd accidentally dozed off. But Peter, true to his word, hadn't moved, although his lips were pressed together tightly and he looked like he was straining not to do anything.

"Caffrey," Peter said, helplessly.

Neal stared back at him. It was getting harder to remember what he was supposed to be doing. His head was agonising, and his vision kept blurring in and out. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

"What are you sorry for?" Peter asked. "Whatever it is, it's okay. I promise."

But Peter was still not understanding and Neal didn't know how to explain, choked and confused as he was.

A noise from below jolted him into alertness again, as Peter called out, "El!"

She climbed the stairs quickly. "Is everything alright?"

"No," Peter said, a little desperately, and caught at her wrist to stop her as she entered the room.

"What's going on?" she asked, bewildered. "Neal, you look terrible. Why aren't you in bed?"

"He won't let me near him," Peter said. "Every time I try he just — It's like he's terrified of me."

El looked back and forth between them, frowning worriedly. "Neal?" she said, very gently. "Will you let me come over to you?"

Neal nodded, and his insides twisted at the expression on Peter's face, devastatingly hurt.

El crouched down and put her arms around him. He burrowed into them, almost crying with relief at the sensation of being held, of feeling at last like things were going to be all right.

"I want to get you back into bed and lying down," El murmured in his ear. "Is that okay?"

He nodded again, although he couldn't stand on his own. But she was stronger than he had expected, hauling him up enough that he could collapse onto the mattress, dizzy from even that brief exertion, too much so to open his eyes.

El was stroking his hair and his forehead, murmuring to him. "Peter's gone to fetch some damp cloths," she said. "We need to get your temperature down."

Neal jerked at the mention of Peter's name.

El shushed him. "What are you afraid of?" she asked. "Please, sweetie, tell me."

"You said," Neal rasped, and then had to stop to try and wet his painful throat.

"Here." His head was raised, and the rim of a glass tapped against his lips. He sipped. "What did I say?"

"He can't come here," Neal croaked, the longest sentence he'd managed in hours.

"Are you frightened of Peter?"

A shake of the head vehement enough that he instantly regretted it.

The cold touch of a damp cloth was laid over his eyes, as another began to dab gently along his hairline and down his neck. It felt wonderful on his overheated skin, and his breathing was beginning to slow, deepening.

"Neal, do you think I told you not to let Peter near you?" Her voice was soft, and serious.

"You said," Neal whispered, desperately.

"Whatever I said, I think maybe you misunderstood it," El said, gently.

Neal shook his head miserably. He couldn't have; he knew this was important, something that had to be obeyed.

"Well, listen. I'm telling you now, okay, you don't have to be worried." Her voice and hands were soothing, rhythmic. "You need to calm down, and rest, and soon you'll feel better." She continued stroking his hair.

He was so tired…

- - -

Neal woke to a shaft of daylight slicing in through the drawn curtains, feeling like he'd been flattened by a track. He rolled over slowly, groaning slightly as his aching muscles protected.

An armchair had been moved from the main bedroom to just inside the door. Peter was slumped in it with a robe tied over his pyjamas, head tipped onto one shoulder, fast asleep.

Neal watched him for a while, trying to work out why he was there. He felt a little amused, and equally touched, and rather like he'd forgotten something very important.

Eventually he got round to sitting up. He was trying to be quiet, but the mattress-springs creaked and Peter stirred, kneading fists into his eyes before opening them. "Neal," he said, sounding unusually cautious.

"Hi," Neal said, wincing at how gravelly his voice sounded. He rubbed at his forehead, which still hurt.

Peter sighed in a way that sounded very much like relief. "You're looking a lot better."

Neal half-grinned wryly. "Don't really want to know how I looked before."

Peter smiled back, too broadly be a result of Neal's words. "How're you feeling?"

"Exhausted," Neal said, still with the same rasp at his sore throat. "And I've only been awake five minutes. This is why I hate being ill." He slid his legs over the side of the bed, and noted with irritation that he was already weak and trembling.

"Want a hand?" Peter asked. In a change from his usual over-protective fussing, he had hardly moved since waking up.

"Please," Neal said, and leaned gratefully on Peter's shoulder when it was offered.

Peter left him at the bathroom door. "I'll make some coffee," he said. "Well, tea for you. Call if you need me, but try not to wake El."

Neal let the apparent contradiction slide. "What time is it?"

"About half ten, I think. But she didn't get to bed until after four, so she needs sleep."

Neal brushed his teeth and washed his face at the sink, feeling badly in need of a shower but not confident in his ability to stay upright for that long. It was only then that apprehension began to trickle into him as his brain gradually began to feel less stuffed with cotton wool.

Peter found him resting against the wall halfway back to the bedroom, and without needing to be asked gave him a hand the rest of the way.

Neal slumped gratefully back into bed, almost not believing that he could be so tired not already. "That fever's really taken it out of you," Peter commented. He pulled the duvet back over Neal.

"Yeah," Neal agreed. He hesitated. "Peter, I… What happened last night?"

Peter pursed his lips. "What do you remember?"

Neal closed his eyes for a moment, struggling with the question. With alarming snapshot clarity he suddenly saw Peter's anguished face, across the carpet and a million miles away. He looked up sharply. "God, Peter — I'm so sorry —"

"Don't apologise," Peter said. He sat down on the edge of the mattress, and cautiously put a hand on Neal's blanketed knee. "It was the fever talking, not you." He frowned worriedly. "But you were terrified of me. Have I ever —"

"No!" Neal said, instantly and as decisively as he could. He frantically tried to shift through the tangled mess of nightmares and half-remembered reality, because Peter's face had again taken on a soft, hurting expression that he couldn't bear. "I've never been afraid of you."

"That's not what I saw last night," Peter said, quietly.

"That wasn't — I didn't —" He struggled to grasp at whatever core of logic he had been running on. It wasn't easy. He frowned, holding up a hand in a wait gesture.

Then it came to him. Oh. Oh.

"Um," he said, in a rather small voice, and abruptly stopped being able to meet Peter's eyes. "I think I was convinced I was going to make you sick with what I had, and then you'd die. Something like that." He could feel his face beginning to overheat, and stared down at his lap instead.

Peter was silent. For a while. "You're telling me —" he began, in a choked-off voice.

Neal nodded miserably.

"You were trying to protect me." Peter blew out a long breath. "That's… okay, that's actually sort of sweet. And infuriating."

"You wouldn't listen," Neal tried, half-heartedly.

"Can you honestly recall the point where you indicated any of this at all out loud?"

Neal thought back. And back. He could remember being convinced that this had been explained to Peter. It began not to sound at all like the same thing as Peter having actually received an explanation. But then why… "You were sitting in that chair all night," he said, looking up at last.

Peter looked faintly embarrassed. "Well, not all night. El stayed with you first, and then she traded off. We didn't want to leave you alone. We were worried." He cleared his throat. "Finish your tea."

Neal obeyed. It was easier than coming up with something to say. But the silence pressed on him, and eventually he blurted out, "I didn't mean — I'm sorry!"

"You were completely out of it," Peter reminded him. "It's not something I'm going to hold against you." He smiled a bit, and patted Neal's knee again. "I reserve the right to remind you of this in future, though.

Neal smiled too. "I imagine you're never going to let me forget it."

"That you were hallucinating yourself as a deadly plague-carrier? That was going to, I don't know, eat my brain or something?"

"Or something," Neal mumbled.

"You didn't seem to be worried about El's safety there, I noticed." Peter's voice had taken on a distinct helping of sarcasm.

"I think she might have been immune."

"Oh, a deadly and extremely selective plague. Well, that makes so much more sense."

Neal flopped down with a groan, and pulled a pillow over his face. With luck, he still had time to just die.

- - -

Posted at http://frith-in-thorns.dreamwidth.org/89879.html with comment count unavailable comments.
Current Mood: stressedstressed
izzie7izzie7 on February 26th, 2013 07:45 pm (UTC)
Giggly angst - the best kind :)
Frithfrith_in_thorns on February 27th, 2013 10:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you! :D
kanarek13kanarek13 on February 26th, 2013 07:46 pm (UTC)
Awwwww \o/ A glorious sick!fic is exactly what I needed. I can relate :P

I love it when Neal is so adorably out of it and determined to protect Peter ♥ Poor Peter, he was so hurt by Neal's desperate attempts to save him. I'm glad that you got them to talk and explain everything... giving Peter blackmail material - heeee :D

WIN \o/ Thank you :D
Frith: Zundry - raining heartsfrith_in_thorns on February 27th, 2013 10:59 pm (UTC)
I'm really glad you're feeling better now!

And thank you so much! This is probably the most pointless fic I've yet written, but it was so much fun to write :D And I'm really glad you enjoyed it ♥
digitalwavedigitalwave on February 26th, 2013 07:55 pm (UTC)
Awwwwww! This was wonderful. :)
Frith: White Collar - El+Neal+Peter - familyfrith_in_thorns on February 27th, 2013 11:00 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much ♥
leesa_perrie: Neal Smileleesa_perrie on February 26th, 2013 08:01 pm (UTC)
This was great! Angst and humour all mixed into one - just what I love! :)
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - boysfrith_in_thorns on February 27th, 2013 11:01 pm (UTC)
Aww, I love his grin in that icon :D

And thank you so much! This was very silly but really fun :D
Sholio: WhiteCollar-Peter Neal hugsholio on February 26th, 2013 08:08 pm (UTC)
*cuddles them a bunch* ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

(You've got an unclosed "i" tag near the end.)

Edited at 2013-02-26 08:09 pm (UTC)
Frith: Zundry - raining heartsfrith_in_thorns on February 27th, 2013 11:04 pm (UTC)
Eeee, thank you! ♥ And thank you so much for your encouragement the other night with this, it really is very silly but so much fun and just pure id-fic, so I'm really happy that other people like it too :)
elrhiarhodan: Neal - Icebagelrhiarhodan on February 26th, 2013 08:20 pm (UTC)
Wonderful - simply, gloriously wonderful.

Frith: White Collar - Neal - purple shirtfrith_in_thorns on February 27th, 2013 11:04 pm (UTC)
Awww, thank you so much :)
saphirablue on February 26th, 2013 08:32 pm (UTC)
♥____♥ woobied!Neal! terrified!Neal sick!Neal worried!Peter awesome!El ♥____♥

Yeah, woobie!Neal makes everything better! *tackle hugs you*

I love the scene in which Neal is terrified that Peter comes close because he thinks that he'll make Peter sick. ♥ And Peter and El taking care of him and Peter sleeping in the armchair. ♥

Thank you so much for this!
Frith: White Collar - El+Neal+Peter - familyfrith_in_thorns on February 27th, 2013 11:11 pm (UTC)
Heeee, I'm really glad you liked this! Thank you for encouraging it ♥ And I'm glad that it made you happier :D

(no subject) - saphirablue on March 1st, 2013 09:42 pm (UTC) (Expand)
a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf: White Collar - Neal h/cembroiderama on February 27th, 2013 01:26 am (UTC)
Oh, I love this! I adore that they took him back to the house and then awwww to poor scared Neal and confused/hurt Peter. Perfect.
Frith: White Collar - Neal - hat bluefrith_in_thorns on February 27th, 2013 11:12 pm (UTC)
♥ Thank you! And thank you for encouraging me to finish it, too! I love them being all cuddly and loving each other :)
love_82 on February 27th, 2013 02:22 am (UTC)
I love a good sick fic and this was great! So sweet.

I love out of it Neal trying so hard to protect Peter. Poor confused, hurt Peter. :) And yeah, I don't think Peter would ever let him forget that. :D

I love the gen-ish tag. That should totally be a genre of fic. It fits the show perfectly. :P
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - boysfrith_in_thorns on February 27th, 2013 11:28 pm (UTC)
Gen-ish is the best genre, totally. I think I need to go back and tag most of my fics with it :P

And thank you! I think this fic has even less of a point than my usual low standards, but it was so fun to write, and I'm really glad you enjoyed it. They are adorably fun.
angelita26: Neal!Sleepingangelita26 on February 27th, 2013 02:26 am (UTC)
I was so excited to see that you posted sick fic - I was in need of some good fevered Neal today, and you totally delivered. I loved the scene where Neal was keeping Peter away and Peter was devastated that Neal seemed so terrified of him. This was amazing. Thank you for sharing!
Frith: White Collar - Neal - purple shirtfrith_in_thorns on February 27th, 2013 11:31 pm (UTC)
Hee, thank you! ♥ Writing sick fic is very cathartic on rubbish days. And I love writing Neal being out of it and Peter trying to look after him!
m rohrmrohr1 on February 27th, 2013 04:29 am (UTC)
Aw, I'm having a rough day/week/etc, too, and this just made me happy. I could really feel the anxiety on both Neal's and Peter's part, and then I love the bit where Neal realizes/remembers that he was trying to protect Peter. ;) And Peter's response. ;) Thanks for writing this! --m
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - boysfrith_in_thorns on February 27th, 2013 11:37 pm (UTC)
Aww, I'm so glad to have cheered you up with this! ♥ Thank you very much :)
aqwt101aqwt101 on February 27th, 2013 06:32 am (UTC)
Awww, them ♥ Your sick!fics are always great, yep:)
Frith: White Collar - Neal - hat bluefrith_in_thorns on February 27th, 2013 11:38 pm (UTC)
Hee, thank you so much! ♥
pipiljpipilj on February 27th, 2013 07:52 am (UTC)
Lovely sic fic. hugs them both
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - boysfrith_in_thorns on February 27th, 2013 11:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you! :) They need a lot of hugs ♥
imbecamiel on February 28th, 2013 04:49 am (UTC)
Aw, I'm sorry RL's been so hard on you. *hugs*

What a lovely, awesome story, though. Sometimes a full-out sickfic with floofy cuteness and woobie!Neal is just exactly what you need. I enjoyed this so much! :D

I hope that life starts treating you better very soon. <3
Frith: BSG - Bill+Kara - lightsfrith_in_thorns on February 28th, 2013 09:58 pm (UTC)
This week is much better, so much less stressful! (And writing floofy h/c in my lunchbreaks very much helped with the stress last week.) And I'm really glad you enjoyed this, thank you very much! *hugs*
sanuye12sanuye12 on February 28th, 2013 08:09 pm (UTC)
I really enjoyed this. A sick fic with a very sweet twist and nice humor at the end.
I hope your life is going better. I will tell you that this story made my life go better. :)
Frith: White Collar - Neal - purple shirtfrith_in_thorns on February 28th, 2013 09:59 pm (UTC)
Aww, thank you so much! ♥