Master list for my White Collar fan fiction is here.
Title: Sunshine and Roses vs Reality
Fandom: White Collar
Word count: ~ 25,000
A/N: Written for mpregbb. AU. Set after Neal's anklet got taken off. He stayed at the FBI and kept his job as Peter's consultant. Shortly after he became a free man Peter, Neal and Elizabeth entered a threesome relationship.
Summary: A few months into their relationship Neal wonders why Peter and El never became parents. After some prodding he finds out why the Burke's attempts at conceiving were never successful.
During his time in prison Neal participated in an experiment, which changed him into a “breeder”. Watching El longing for a child of her own, he offers himself to carry out Peter and Elizabeth's child.
Expecting only sunshine and roses after his offer Neal soon has to cope with the sometimes harsh reality.
Mid of June
It was another one of those comfortable evenings at the Burke's house with Peter sitting at the table and frowning at the computer screen while Neal and El did the inevitable, namely the dishes.
“There will be a day when that frown gets stuck permanently on his face,” Neal whispered conspiratorially into Elizabeth's ear.
She smiled at him and handed him another plate to dry. “Don't let him hear you talking like that.”
“It's too late for that!” Peter's voice boomed.
El and Neal started at the volume. They exchanged a quick, worried glance, which Peter interrupted by calling Neal over to him. Neal winked at El and kept on drying plates, completely ignoring Peter's demand.
Elizabeth chimed in a sweet voice, “Honey, Neal just made a joke. Why don't you go over to the sofa and wait there for us? We'll help you relax in a few minutes.”
The grateful look Neal bestowed on her could melt a heart of stone and Elizabeth had been a goner right from their very first meeting. She enabled a lot of Neal's antics and helped to calm down Peter whenever Neal pulled another of his life-endangering stunts. She wasn't a pushover though and when she put her foot down or even chastised their younger lover, Neal felt far worse than after one of Peter's scoldings.
“No, I want him to come over to me now.”
Neal sighed before handing the towel to Elizabeth. “I'll better go and see what his majesty wants.”
“I heard that too!”
“You were supposed to hear that!” Neal replied as he walked over to Peter.
He never understood why Peter was so damn sensitive about some of the things Neal said. Still he kept his mouth shut and his temper in check. The evening had been a pleasant one so far and if Peter needed to let steam off by chewing Neal's ear off, Neal would endure it. At least for a few minutes he would.
If he had learned one thing in the last few months than it was the fact that a pleasant evening with his two lovers was absolutely worth any trouble.
When Neal stood next to Peter he raised an eyebrow at him. “So dear, what got your panties in a bunch? Anything I can do to disentangle them?”
After a brief moment of pure disbelief Peter broke out into loud laughter. Shaking his head he said, “Be glad that you're my lover and not my son!”
“And why is that so, ol' one?”
Peter grabbed Neal around the waist, tipped him forward over his knee and playfully administered two slaps to Neal's butt. “Because if you were my son than you'd be in exactly this position.”
Neal chuckled as Peter began to rub slow circles on Neal's upturned butt. “You have my blessing if you go on like that.”
Peter groaned, looped one arm under Neal's chest and hoisted him up. Before Neal could step away Peter pulled him onto his lap, which always brought a blush on Neal's face. To hide the blush he slung his arms around Peter's neck and pressed his face against his lover's collarbone.
“I know that you're blushing.”
“At least that won't leave permanent damage on my face like wrinkles from too much frowning would do.”
“Oh Neal!” was all Elizabeth got out before Peter launched a merciless tickling attack.
She watched her two favorite men, sitting together on a chair, laughing and teasing each other with the ease of long practice. Tears streamed down Neal's face as he twisted on Peter's lap, trying to get away from the assaulting fingers.
When Neal was beyond the capacity of forming coherent words El intervened, “Boys, that's enough. Come on, honey, let him be. Our poor baby is already incoherent.”
Peter eased up on Neal but kept him on his lap until the younger man could talk without gasping for air. Mockingly he nudged a finger against Neal's chest. “That'll teach you to be cheeky!”
Neal's eyes twinkled mischievously as he opened his mouth for a reply. Elizabeth forestalled his comment by winding her arms around his neck from behind. She kissed first him and then Peter soundly on a cheek. “Don't be a bratty baby now.”
Neal sputtered indignantly. “You didn't just say that! I have you informed that I'd never in my entire life acted bratty. I'm the personification of style and--”
“Yeah, yeah, professor, cut it off. I'm sure it has been hellish to look after you as a kid,” Peter chimed in.
Both Burke's smiled when the expected pout formed on Neal's face. “It was not. I was very easy-going. That reminds me, I wanted to ask you this for quite some time. Why didn't you two ever become parents?”
The smile on Peter's face faltered. On Elizabeth's face it disappeared completely.
“I … what did I say? I'm sorry if I've been nosy. You don't have to answer my question. In fact, why don't we forget about it?” Neal backpedaled hastily.
Irritating Peter didn't faze Neal much but putting that ghastly look onto Elizabeth's face was more than he felt able to cope with. “Really, let's just forget about it.”
Peter gazed at El, who held his gaze then gave an almost imperceptible nod. Neal watched this little exchange with growing concern. He was so absorbed in watching his lovers that he jumped when Peter patted his left hip lightly.
“Get up, cub, and we'll talk about it.”
Too flabbergasted about the whole situation Neal did as he was told. He even forgot to complain about Peter's nickname for him. Neal found Peter's favorite nickname for him unnerving, which of course was part of the reason why Peter used it in the first place.
Neal settled onto his usual spot on the sofa, at the far right side of it. Elizabeth curled herself up in the middle with Peter on her left side. Satchmo yawned and squeezed himself on the floor in front of the sofa.
Elizabeth smiled at her men and patted a knee of each of them. Sighing in contentment she said, “I love sitting here, right in the middle of my two favorite guys in the world.”
Right on cue both men smiled then bent forward to press a kiss on either side of Elizabeth's face. Her smile brightened even further as she intertwined her hands with one hand of each man.
“Shortly after our marriage Peter and I thought and talked about becoming parents. We decided that we both love our jobs and would wait a few years. Well, our well-meant plans got thwarted by my getting abdominal cancer. They caught it quickly and only had to remove one ovary, so technically there's still the possibility of me becoming pregnant. However, I had chemotherapy and maybe that's the reason why we never got lucky. On the other hand, we have Satchmo and you, so there's no reason for any complaints,” Elizabeth rattled off.
Neal's eyes widened during Elizabeth's little speech and his mouth formed a perfect 'o' when she finished. Neal knew that the right thing to say would be he was sorry but what came out of his mouth was, “But you'd still love to become parents.”
Peter shot him a warning glare while Elizabeth tilted her head to the side and looked at him. Slowly she replied, “Yes, we would. There are more couples who have the same wish but it doesn't happen. Such is life, Neal. Sometimes you have to accept reality.”
Ignoring Peter's intensifying glare Neal pressed on, “Why didn't you adopt?”
“Oh Neal!” El sighed.
“What? It's a legitimate question!”
“That conversation is closed. You're just upsetting El,” Peter intervened, his voice barely above a hiss.
“Honey, don't be like this. He's curious, it's all right.” Elizabeth patted her husband's knee then turned back to Neal. “This might sound weird or even arrogant but … we don't want to adopt any child. We want a child of our own. Also, we know we'd do the world a favor if we took in a foster child or even adopted a child from another family but we've heard a lot about the difficulties. Neither of us could cope with losing the child to their biological parents. Oh, and we'd really want to raise a child from babyhood on. Does that make sense to you?”
“Yes, it does.”
“Fine, now the topic is closed and we can watch the game in peace.”
“Game?” Neal groaned. “How often can there be a game on TV?”
Elizabeth laughed, tapped her lap encouragingly and said, “Lay down and I'll massage what I can reach of you. That should get you through the game.”
“Philistines. The both of you are,” Peter said without heat.
Neal sputtered. “Philistines? You are seriously accusing us to be philistines? That is so wrong!”
“Be quiet now, I want to listen to the commentator.”
Elizabeth hushed Neal by putting a finger onto his lips. Neal rolled his eyes but complied and kept quiet.
Neal squirmed around until he was comfortable with his head in El's lap. One of her hands massaged his scalp while the other one slipped under his shirt, where she rubbed circles on his back. Neal felt himself relaxing under the soft ministrations. Meanwhile his thoughts whirled around, gauging the pros and cons of what he wanted to propose to his lovers.
End of June, one week later, Saturday
“Honey, do you know what's going on with Neal? He seems so … withdrawn the last few days. He's worrying me.”
Surprised Peter put down the newspaper and looked at his wife. “Withdrawn? Neal? Are we talking about the same Neal?”
“Don't tell me you didn't notice the side glances he throws at us. He's also often lost in thoughts. He's inattentive while we're talking and he's on the phone with Moz several times a day. Every time one of us enters the room during one of those calls, he smiles and either excuses himself or ends the call. Don't you find this behavior suspicious?”
“Um, if you put it like that.”
Elizabeth sighed and put down her spoon. After pushing the bowl of cereal aside she put her chin on her steepled hands. “You didn't notice anything, did you?”
“I … no,” Peter admitted. The disapproving look on El's face caused Peter to flush and fidget. “Look, I'm sorry I didn't notice. What do you want me to do about Neal?”
“I want to know what's going on. What if he has second thoughts about us? He's a free man and if he decides that this,” she pointed from herself to Peter and back again, “isn't working for him he could just vanish out of our life.”
Peter hurriedly got up and walked over to Elizabeth when he saw tears pooling in her eyes. Gently he pulled her up and into a tight embrace. Lightly swaying on the spot he pressed his left cheek on his wife's hair after dropping a few kisses onto it.
“El, listen, we will talk about it with him. Neal should be back with Satchmo soon. We'll corner and torture him until he spills the truth.”
Elizabeth chuckled, wiped a stray tear away from the corner of her right eye and loosened their embrace. Raising herself on tiptoes she met Peter halfway for a kiss.
They heard the backdoor open, followed by the clicking of Satchmo's paws on the floor. Neal freed Satchmo from the leash and his collar, gave his rump a pat and walked over to Peter and Elizabeth. Hugging them both he wished them a good morning.
“Did you eat before you went out with Satchmo?” Elizabeth asked.
“I had coffee.”
“That doesn't count as breakfast.”
“It does, lots of people have liquid breakfasts,” Neal countered.
“Not in this household,” Elizabeth responded firmly.
She took Neal by the elbow, guided him to his chair at the kitchen table and told him to sit down. Neal wisely did as he was told but couldn't help notice the tension Peter and Elizabeth radiated.
Glancing from one to the other he eventually asked, “Is everything okay?”
Peter sat down again while Elizabeth set a bowl with chopped fruits and a spoon in front of Neal. “Help yourself to the cereal.”
“Ooookay, guys. What is going on?”
Peter and Elizabeth exchanged a glance then Peter sighed. “We need to talk to you after you've eaten.”
Neal's stomach plummeted to the ground. That didn't sound enticing. Nervously he stared at his bowl, toyed with the spoon for a while before putting it aside. Wearily he asked, “I suddenly lost my appetite. What do you want to talk about?”
“Honey, you have to eat. I know you're fond of the trim and svelte look and Peter and I absolutely appreciate it, but don't overdo it, okay?”
Neal barely ever got embarrassed. Elizabeth though had a definite talent to bring color to Neal's cheek, have him drop his eyes and fidget on the edge of his chair.
“I think you've embarrassed him, El.”
“You think? Whatever gave me away?” Neal threw in as he got up. “How many times do I have to repeat my question before I'll get an answer? Because if I know the right number I can just--”
El laughed and shook her head. She quickly hurried over to Neal and tugged him into her arms. “Will you eat after we've talked?”
“If I'm hungry.”
“Neal,” Peter growled.
Wide, innocent blue eyes blinked at him. Peter shielded his eyes with one hand and motioned for Neal to sit down again with his free hand.
With ill grace Neal slid onto the chair. Trying to hide his nervousness Neal faked a gentle, soothing tone. “Go on, tell me what go you both so upset.”
El pulled a chair close to Neal and sat down with a firm pat on Neal's knee. “Peter, you can lower your hand now. There's no risk of being putty in his hands, his eyes are back to normal size.”
Mirroring El's gesture he put one hand on Neal's other knee. This was the point at which Neal couldn't pretend to be cool anymore. Slightly frazzled he looked at them and croaked, “You're going to tell me something horrible, right? Don't tell me someone is dying or anything?”
“What?” Peter said in shock.
El, quicker on the uptake, pulled Neal's head onto her shoulder and pressed a firm kiss on Neal's hair. “No, baby, no one is dying. Look, we couldn't help notice that you turned a bit secretive the last few days.”
Neal's cringe didn't go unnoticed by Peter and Elizabeth either. Locking eyes they were both greeted with the same worried gaze. Peter drew in a sharp breath. “So, we're right about that. Neal, if you're in trouble you've got to tell us. I won't promise not to chew you out but I'll do whatever it takes to clean up whatever mess you got yourself into.”
Neal pushed out of Elizabeth's hold to glare at Peter. “I'm not in trouble and I'm quite capable of cleaning up myself, thank you.”
“You're not? Why the secrecy than? Why the calls to Mozzie?”
“Since when do you need to know everything? Just because we're in a relationship doesn't mean I have to tell you about every step I take each day.”
“Neal, baby, it's just … we're worried. You were so withdrawn the last days, almost as if you want to shut us out.” Taking in another deep breath she forced herself to admit her worst fear, “We're worried you might want to leave us.”
Peter and El nodded, the apprehension and tension chiseled into their face. Neal groaned and rubbed his hands over his face. “Guess, I'm losing the feeling for keeping anything a secret.”
El's eyes grew big and filled with tears. “Okay. Okay, we understand. Really, we do, don't we, Peter?”
Peter was still gaping when Neal looked at Elizabeth, clearly confused. “You do? You already know what this is about? But … but why did you make such a fuss over it? More important, are you okay with it?”
A sob tore free from Elizabeth's throat before she jumped up and ran out of the room. Completely stunned Neal stared after her. “That's not exactly the reaction I expected.”
“Not the reaction you expected?” Peter laughed harshly. “What did you expect? That El would be over the moon because you're leaving? She loves you. So do I for that matter.”
“I'm not … I'm not leaving! God, Peter, I have no intention of leaving and just to get that straight, I love you both very much,” Neal protested fiercely. “I thought you'd know that! How could you think I'd be leaving?”
“But … you just said,” Peter replied, now utterly confused.
“I never said anything like that. I assumed you found out what I was hiding the last few days. Guess, I was wrong.”
Annoyance and a hint of anger crept into Peter's voice. “Neal! Elizabeth is crying because she thinks you're leaving us. What are you scheming?”
“Are you familiar with the term breeder?”
“Neal! The short version. The very short version, please!”
Neal replied, with only a slight quiver detectable in his voice, “I'm able to become pregnant and would like to offer to carry out your and Elizabeth's child.”
“Excuse me, what did you just say?”
“I said, I'd like to carry out your and El's baby because … because I know how much you'd like to be parents. See, the baby would be yours, it would carry your genetic material, I would merely act as an, um, incubator,” Neal explained, his voice getting higher at the end of his little speech.
Peter sat down heavily while he continued to stare at Neal open-mouthed. Neal shifted uneasily on his chair, waiting for Peter to react in any way. When nothing came forth he asked tentatively, “Peter? Are you mad at me?”
“Mad at you?” Peter echoed. “No. Well, yes, but only a little bit and that's for making us nervous and fearing the worst.”
“So, what about my offer?”
“Are you really a breeder? There was nothing in your file about it.”
“Yes, I am,” Neal sighed. “The first weeks in prison were … let's say adventurous. I constantly had to ward off advances from fellow prisoners, if you get my drift. The doc took me aside after the first weeks and told me about the program. You know, breeders and all that stuff. He told me I'd be send to a different prison where I'd have much more leeway and also would be protected. He gave me two days to consider it. I agreed.”
“So, you got the replica of a female reproductive system implanted? I've heard about it. I think a lot of breeders even gave birth successfully,” Peter said thoughtfully.
“The critical part is the conception. If you get past that point, which is quite essential as we all know, then most breeders carried out successfully. So, either it works correctly from the beginning or not.” Neal shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly though he kept his eyes trained on Peter.
“I don't know, Neal,” Peter shook his head slowly. “I just don't know. What if it doesn't work? First we'd be very expectant and then we'd be greatly disappointed. What about you? If I recall correctly you'd be in critical condition for 48 hours when they place the egg into the artificial womb.”
“Yeah, that's the risk and the first 48 hours are not so pleasant. But they are not too bad either.” Neal hastily added after seeing Peter's expression change from maybe interested to no way.
“How do you know …,” Peter trailed off. “Oh my God! You already did this!”
“And you gave the baby away?”
“No. They discovered that the baby had a gen defect. It would have had Down's syndrome. The parents decided they didn't want the baby after all so I had to abort in the tenth week.” With brightly shining eyes Neal drummed his fingers restlessly on the table surface before he eventually added, “That was not a good experience. I had nightmares for a long time. Fortunately I needed a recovery period of at least a year and well, after that I took off after Kate and the rest is history.”
“Wow. Why didn't I know about this? I thought I'd knew everything about you.”
“Knowledge about the whole breeder work is tightly controlled and secured. Can we talk to Elizabeth now? I feel awful for having made her cry,” Neal begged.
“Yes. Yes, of course. I think she went upstairs.”
“Will you come with me?”
“Don't … don't do that!”
“Do what? I don't know what you're talking about,” Neal replied as he fluttered his eyelashes coyly.
“Don't look at me with that kicked puppy face.”
Neal got up, walked through the kitchen to the stairs and threw over his shoulder, “Why not? It works like a charm.”
Peter erupted from his chair to follow Neal. The younger man squealed in surprise then flew up the stairs. Breathlessly he burst through the master bedroom's door. His good mood evaporated instantly as he discovered Elizabeth's shaking body on the bed.
“Oh, El! I'm so sorry!”
Neal crawled onto the bed and pulled El close to him. Peter got onto the bed from the other side so Elizabeth was trapped between the two men.
“Honey? Honey, listen. Neal isn't leaving. It was a big misunderstanding.”
“R-Really?” El opened her eyes to look at her husband, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Yes, El, really. I'm sorry for upsetting you so much, I really am,” Neal said, his voice sounding choked as well.
El turned around so she faced Neal instead of Peter. The agent nestled up at her back, one arm outstretched over her head while his other hand idly stroked circles on her hip.
“Come on, cub. Tell her what you told me.”
“Do you have to call me that?”
“If you wouldn't have acted so suspiciously the last few days we weren't in that mess right now. I figure that a little bit embarrassment is not too high a price to pay,” Peter replied unfazed.
“Says the man who didn't even realize something odd was going on,” El hiccuped.
Neal's eyes jerked from Elizabeth's blotched face to Peter's. The older man groaned before burying his face into his wife's long, dark hair. Neal chuckled and El joined him suit. After wiping the last tears from her wet cheeks he gently kissed her on the lips and repeated his explanation.
Peter sometimes chimed in to elaborate on some points but mostly let Neal do the work. By the time Neal finished Elizabeth had stopped crying or hiccuping. She laid completely still, her eyes wide as saucers and her mouth hanging open.
Neal's eyes darted from El to Peter, secretly searching for reassurance from the other man. Peter said nothing though he lowered his hand to flick a finger against the tip of Neal's nose.
Neal's eyes crossed as he tried to track Peter's finger, which elicited a giggle from Elizabeth.
“That's the best sound I heard during the last thirty minutes,” Neal admitted, a relieved smile enlightening his face. Hesitantly he made eye contact with El before asking softly, “So, what do you think about my offer?”
End of July, one month later, Tuesday
“Neal, baby, are you really sure you want to do this?”
Neal focused his attention from the window to Elizabeth, who was sitting on the edge of his hospital bed from where she fussed about him. Knowing that she was nervous and also very hopeful helped Neal not to snap at her though his nerves dangled from their last strings.
After closing his eyes briefly to compose himself he forced a smile onto his face. “Yes, Elizabeth. For the millionth time, I'm sure I want to do this.”
“El, honey, he said so for one million times already. How about simply believing him? That's what you always say to me when I'm not sure he tells the truth,” Peter intervened.
“I … all right. I guess you're right,” she said, her face still showing her concern. Reluctantly she got up after glancing at her watch. She pressed a kiss on Neal's lips and added, “Time for me to go back to work. I'll be back in the evening to see you.”
Neal nodded and watched her leave the room. He thumped his head back against his pillow and exhaled sharply. “I never thought that she would be the one to drive me crazy. Especially not before anything even happened!”
Peter smirked as he sat down on the bed. “You've been very brave, cub.”
“That would have worked as a compliment if you hadn't used that damn endearment. It is an endearment, right? I'm never quite sure. It could, of course, also be seen as an insult though I doubt Elizabeth would let you get away with that,” Neal rambled.
Peter's smirk softened to a tender smile. “I've never heard you ramble on like this before.”
“I've never been this, uh, jittery before.”
“Jittery or scared?”
“Oh, are we splitting hairs now? That might even work as distracting tactic though I don't know for how long and--”
“Scared it is then.”
Scooting closer to Neal he pulled the younger man into his arms. Enveloped in his lover's strong arms Neal couldn't keep it together any longer. A shudder wrecked his body as he clamped his arms around Peter's waist.
“Damn it, Peter! I want to do it, I really want to do it. For … for all of us but I'm so scared, which is ridiculous. I already went through that procedure once. I won't even feel anything because they'll knock me out. By the time I wake up the fertilized egg will already be implanted in the womb. Why am I so scared this time? I don't like it and I don't like El running around with a worried face all the time!”
“Whoa, Neal, slow down! Take it easy now. You still have another day left. Everything is going fine. The fertilization worked on the first attempt, now you only need two more of the initializing hormone cocktails injected and then it's time for the implantation. It was successful once so it will be successful tomorrow too. What are you really worried about?” Peter asked while prying Neal's arms loose.
Sighing wearily, Neal reclined and hid his eyes behind a forearm. “You'll think I'm vain.”
“Vain?” Peter echoed. “Wait. Are you worried about how you'll look later in the pregnancy?”
Neal chewed his lower lip but remained silent. Peter shifted uneasily on the bed. He didn't know whether he wanted to laugh out loud or flee the room. In the end he did neither.
Gently he pulled Neal's arm away from his face. All thoughts of how ridiculous he believed Neal's question was, vanished upon seeing the honest distress in Neal's eyes. Cupping Neal's face in his hands, he kissed him hard on the mouth. Neal's eyes fluttered shut for a brief moment and a soft moan left his lips.
“You're a gift for El and I. Admittedly, sometimes an annoying gift but most of the time you're a very charming one, lovely to look at. Nothing will ever change that fact. More importantly, you're going to give us the greatest gift possible.”
Neal's eyes filled with tears during Peter's affectionate little speech. “Wow, what a speech. I don't know if it was that emotional or if it's the hormone injections that are affecting me so hard.”
Peter grinned, stroked his thumbs over Neal's cheekbones before letting go of Neal's face. “I am such a talented speaker, of course.”
Neal stared at Peter's hands, which were resting loosely in his lap. The urge to feel Peter's hands, his arms, any part of his body, preferably wrapped tightly around Neal's body forced a gasp from Neal's mouth.
“Neal? Are you okay, cub?”
The younger man shook his head. “I don't think so.”
“You don't?” Peter's voice rose as his hands scrabbled all over Neal's body, frantically searching for a visible hint to Neal's distress.
“No,” Neal moaned.
“Why? Neal, come on, what's wrong? Wait, I'll just call a nurse,” Peter bent over Neal's body to reach for the bell.
Neal snatched Peter's wrist, earning him a scowl in the process. “No, Peter, wait. There's no need to call a nurse. I'm fine.”
“But you just said you're not okay.”
“I … feel out of sorts, jumbled, all over the place,” Neal choked on his last words, took several deep breaths before adding in a whisper, “unsafe. Everything's going to change.”
“Unsafe? Cub, you're highly monitored now and you will be kept in the ICU for 48 hours after the implantation. Only when everything's okay during that time will you be moved back into this room. There's no reason for you to feel unsafe,” Peter lectured.
Neal let go of Peter's wrist and sunk deeper into the pillow. Curtly he replied, “Okay. If you say so.”
He didn't want Peter to see how dejected he felt, how much it hurt not to be taken seriously. Forcing a smile on his face he said, “I'd like to get some rest now. Why don't you come back tomorrow together with Elizabeth?”
Peter frowned, reeling from the change of topic. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, agent Burke, I'm sure,” Neal snapped.
Peter's frown deepened as he scrutinized Neal for some time. Neal averted his eyes after one minute, slunk deeper under the cover and pretended to fall asleep. Noticing that Peter still hadn't moved after what seemed like an eternity, Neal asked, “Are you actually going to leave or not?”
“Not until you tell me the truth.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Why do you want to get rid of me?”
“God, Peter, why the hell can't you just leave?” Neal groused.
“That snapping for starters. You calling me agent Burke in that go-to-hell voice, which you only ever use when you don't want me to know something. So what is this about? And don't even think about saying nothing.”
Neal glared and balled his hands into fists. “Nothing.”
Peter raised an eyebrow, licked his lips and sighed. “All right, cub. I'll call Elizabeth.”
“No? So, you decided to talk to me?”
“There is nothing to talk about!”
Peter stayed silent. His stare never wavered as he flipped open his cell phone. Hovering with his finger above El's picture he asked, “You sure?”
When Peter kept looking expectantly at Neal the younger man sighed. Putting his head into his hands he told Peter in a muffled voice, “Please, don't call Elizabeth. I'm going to scream if she fusses over me one more minute.”
“Are you talking badly about my lovely wife?”
“Peter!” Neal whined.
“Are you going to talk to me or do I have to call the fussy monster?”
“Put that phone away. Please.”
Peter closed the phone and replied encouragingly, “I'm listening.”
Neal eventually emerged from his hiding place behind his hands, leveled his bright blue eyes at Peter and said, “I'm feeling unsafe and I …,” he swallowed and averted his eyes before forcing the remaining words out. “I want you to hold me, to make it better.”
Peter was speechless. Deciding that whatever words he could come up with wouldn't be what Neal needed he simply patted Neal's hip, indicating for him to make room for Peter on the bed.
The older man got comfortable, extended his left arm in invitation and smiled at his younger partner. “C'mere.”
Neal slid a bit lower so he could comfortably rest his head on Peter's chest and draped one arm over Peter's midsection. Slipping one leg between Peter's Neal sighed in contentment.
Peter laid one hand on the small of Neal's back while he curled his other hand protectively around the back of Neal's head. The tension slowly drained out of Neal's body and his breathing evened out.
When Peter was sure that Neal was sound asleep he allowed himself a heavy sigh. Whispering, he said, “I'll keep you safe.”
One day later, Wednesday
“Honey, are you sure we shouldn't call the doctor to look after Neal? He's really miserable and I'm not sure he should be having so much trouble,” Elizabeth asked as she cleaned a small bucket.
Peter brushed dark, sweaty locks from Neal's forehead while he cleaned the younger man's face with a wet washcloth. Feverishly gleaming eyes gazed at Peter pleadingly. Hoarsely Neal whispered, “Make her stop!”
“And how am I supposed to do that?” Peter replied, equally lowly.
“She's your wife. Be inventive.”
“She's also your lover and very worried about you. I'm worried too. You shouldn't be puking at all.”
“Yet I am.”
“You also shouldn't run such a high fever.”
Neal giggled then singsonged, “Yet I do.”
Peter frowned at his feverish partner who laid in bed, curled up on his side, giggling madly. The heart monitor showed an elevated line and two IV lines fed Neal an antibiotic mixed with an immune suppressor as well as fluids.
“What? Oh sorry, El. Yeah, I think we should talk to his doctor again.”
“No!” Neal shouted, startling both, El and Peter. “No! No more doctors. I want to go home.”
“We'll take you home as soon as the doctor releases you,” Elizabeth said in her best soothing voice.
A distinct pout, even with a protruding lower lip, appeared on Neal's face. “But Eliiiiizabeth! I want to go home now!”
Elizabeth came over to Neal's bed, put the small bucket next to Neal's face and gently squeezed his shoulders. “Aw, my poor baby. I know this is hard for you but you knew beforehand how this would go. 48 hours in the ICU is mandatory.”
To Peter's horror and El's surprise Neal burst into tears. He curled himself up into a small ball with his long legs pulled up to his chest, sobbing heartrendingly. Flabbergasted Peter cast a questioning look at his wife.
“Neal? Honey, what is it? Why are you so upset?”
“You could be fooling us, cub.”
“I'm not and I'm not a cub. I'm a human incubator. Don't I have any rights? I want to go home, right now.”
“Neal, I fear you're not making any sense. Now calm down for a bit,” Peter demanded.
A new voice reacted to Peter by saying, “He's pretty out of it and probably won't make much sense for the next 42 hours.”
Peter and Elizabeth turned to the door where Neal's attending doctor stood. Smiling, Dr. Simmons, who had very close similarity to how Santa Claus was pictured in early children books, entered the room.
Neal glanced at him then shrieked, “I've been good! I've been good!”
Befuddled Peter looked from one to the other. Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders, mouthing, “I don't understand either.”
Neal chose that moment to declare, “ 'm sick.”
Reflexively, Peter hauled Neal in a sitting position while Elizabeth placed the bucket under Neal's face. Retching sounds filled the room, only occasionally interrupted by choked sobs.
A nurse took the bucket from Elizabeth, pushed a new one into her hands and left the room. Dr. Simmons read the notes on Neal's chart, frowning slightly as he did so.
After Peter had cleaned Neal's face he tried to settle him back against the pillows. Neal didn't have any of it. Instead he clutched at Peter's shirt and whined, “I'm cold.”
“How can you be cold? You're running a high fever!”
“Peter, he's shivering. Wait, I'll get another blanket.”
“No blanket,” Neal whined in a voice that started to grate on Peter's nerves.
Exasperatedly the older man sighed, “Neal.”
“You be my blanket.”
“I … Neal … how about you close your eyes for a bit, hm?” Peter tried.
“No! I want you! Even though you're a complete--”
Dr. Simmons cut off Neal's outburst with a firm, “Mr. Burke, please lay down with your partner. I assure you it's in the best of all our interests.”
Peter sighed but slid into bed next to Neal. The younger man immediately curled around Peter, radiating heat and misery in palpable waves.
“Dear Lord, you're hot and not in a good way, I might add.”
Neal simply pushed his head further up on Peter's chest until his left ear rested above Peter's heart. Within seconds he was asleep.
“I'm already sweating and that after not even five minutes,” Peter complained.
“That's the price of him being pregnant,” Simmons smiled. “Your partner is having a very volatile reaction to the implantation. From his record I gathered that he had the same reaction when he was pregnant for the first time. It's a bit uncommon but as long as he's well monitored you don't need to worry.”
“He had the same reaction? He told us everything went smoothly with no problems at all,” Peter replied.
“He didn't say it exactly like that,” Elizabeth chimed in.
She shook her head and reached out to stroke up and down Neal's spine. Even in his feverish sleep Neal seemed to be aware of Elizabeth's caresses. He sighed in contentment and his body relaxed even further.
“You know he'd never lie openly to one of us.”
“No, he'd just be very creative about the truth. Especially if he wants us to go along with something he wants.”
“He sounds like a handful,” Simmons acknowledged.
He scribbled something on Neal's chart before he hung it back at the end of Neal's bed. He rounded the bed, stuck the earpieces of his stethoscope into his ears and told Elizabeth to pull Neal's shirt up.
“Don't you need to wake him up to examine him properly?”she asked.
Simmons raised an eyebrow, blew on his stethoscope to warm it and then pressed it on Neal's back, listening intently. When he was finished he ordered Elizabeth to pull the shirt further up so he could put the stethoscope on Neal's chest.
Neal scrunched up his face but didn't wake up during the examination. Afterward Elizabeth and Peter made sure Neal was covered up again. Then they directed an inquiring look at the doctor.
“You didn't really want us to wake him up, did you? Believe me, it's way easier while he's asleep.”
“You don't seem to be worried,” Peter wondered. “Would you explain to us why not? Because he's not acting like himself at all.”
“Let me guess. He's clingy, whiny, wants to be cuddled all the time while at the same time snapping when anyone fusses over him. Does that description fit?”
“How did you know? Is this common for pregnant men? Because neither of us read anything about it in the info brochures. Not that there was much info material to begin with,” Peter exclaimed.
Elizabeth nodded her agreement.
“If anyone would put this info into the brochures, do you honestly believe anyone would try this? I've been working in this field for almost forty years now, since the first days. Many of the men react like this. It scares their partners out of their wits frequently,” Simmons chuckled.
“It is scary!” Peter and Elizabeth said in unison.
“Oh, I know. Believe me, I know. I've survived three pregnancies of my own partner.”
“Three?” Peter blanched. Throwing a wary glance at Elizabeth he added, “We see how we survive one pregnancy, right?”
Elizabeth smiled while she patted Peter's hand comfortingly. “Don't worry so much, honey. We should relish the experience. I'm actually a bit envious that you get to cuddle him so much.”
“I wouldn't mind switching places right now.”
“I'll leave you three alone and will check up on our patient in about an hour. There's really no need for you to worry, he's doing fine so far,” Simmons said after summoning a nurse and instructing her to exchange the bag with fluids.
Peter and Elizabeth disentangled Neal from Peter, which was harder than they both expected. Neal whimpered in his sleep and clutched Peter's shirt so tightly they wondered whether the shirt would rip.
They shirt remained intact in contrast to Peter's nerves. Neal fidgeted in his sleep, struggled against the blankets only to start shivering seconds after the blankets were removed.
Simmons looked in on Neal every hour until his shift was over. Another doctor, Rollins, took over. He wasn't as accommodating as Simmons and frequently woke up Neal to examine him.
Neal didn't take kindly to the examinations and hurled abuse at the doctor and nurses. Rollins' smile became more and more strained for which neither Peter nor Elizabeth blamed him.
They didn't hold it against Neal either. Their younger lover suffered from shivering fits, occasionally still vomited and his fever stayed around 104 constantly. Several times he startled them awake from a fitful doze with screaming or whimpering in agony.
Peter and Elizabeth switched place every hour or so, doing their best to get Neal settled and comfortable.
Around 34 hours after the implantation Neal's fever finally broke. Two nurses brought in a fresh bed, washed Neal quickly and efficiently while Peter and Elizabeth were ushered outside to take a shower of their own.
Not wanting to leave Neal for long the Burke's quickly showered and dressed in fresh clothes Elizabeth had providently brought with them. When they came back to Neal's room the younger man was propped up against pillows. In front of him stood a tablet with a bowl of steaming soup.
“Hey, baby! We're so glad that you're awake. You look much better!” Elizabeth exclaimed as she rushed to Neal's side, planting a big kiss on his cheek.
“I don't want to know what I looked like before if you think I'm looking better now,” Neal murmured.
Elizabeth sat down next to him, careful not to jostle the tablet. “Aren't you hungry?”
“I am but my hands are trembling. See?” He held up his trembling hands for inspection.
“Oh, that's no problem,” Elizabeth chirped.
Neal closed his eyes briefly then smiled weakly. “I feared you'd say that.”
“Now open your mouth, baby bird,” Elizabeth cooed.
Neal shot her a mock-glare but did as he was told anyway. After swallowing the first spoon full he muttered, “Practicing already, aren't you?”
“You can never start too early. Oh, and it might rescue you from a very stern lecture from me.”
“Stern lecture? I didn't do anything!”
“No? You merely forgot to tell us how very badly you react to the implantation? How very convenient. Uh-oh, no sliding down and hiding under the blanket. You have soup to eat.”
Neal stopped in his downward slide. Softly he replied, “I didn't want to scare you off.”
“So you thought it would be better to scare us out of our minds? Open.”
Neal took the next spoon while directing his blue gaze pleadingly at Elizabeth. “El, I want us to have this baby. You would have dissected my idea to infinity.”
Neal's wide blue eyes always had the desired effect on Elizabeth. Her expression softened visibly. She put the spoon away to cup Neal's face in her hands. Tenderly she kissed his forehead, the tip of his nose and ended at his mouth.
“I won't scold you, baby. I'm too relieved to see you feeling better.”
“Well, she won't. I, however, have no qualms doing the scolding,” Peter growled. “You can put away those puppy eyes right now and listen very carefully to me.”
Elizabeth kept feeding soup to Neal while Peter lectured until Neal's ears rung. In the end he pleaded guilty and promised never to withhold any information regarding the pregnancy again.
End of October, 16 weeks pregnant
The implantation had been a full success. Only Peter's hair had suffered from Neal's stay in the hospital as it had earned Peter a few streaks of gray hair. Whenever he groused about it, Elizabeth kept assuring him that it gave him a very distinguished appearance. Neal always rolled his eyes as he was sure that Peter was secretly pleased by El's reassuring words.
During the last three months Neal had learned to cope with Peter's increasing protectiveness and Elizabeth's increasing fussing. His usual calm and always collected demeanor cracked more times than Neal liked to remember though. Especially because when it cracked, it did so in a spectacular manner.
All their expectations and worries accumulated into palpable tension in their household, leaving all of them exhausted and wary at the end of the first trimester. All three of them tried their best to cope with the changed behavior of their partners but that didn't lessen the strained atmosphere.
One Thursday late afternoon, after having been bitched out by Peter in the office for thoughtless behavior, Neal fled from the bureau. He had no real goal in mind, merely wandered around aimlessly for an hour.
Tired and wholly fed up, he wound up in Central Park. Sitting down heavily on a bench he stared into nothingness. Tears welled up in his eyes unbidden as he pondered about his relationship with Elizabeth and Peter.
Stupidly enough he had believed that now the world would consist of rainbows, twinkling stars and happiness all around. What he had gotten was tension, lots of it.
One of his lovers fussed about everything and anything, including what clothes he wore, how comfortable they were. Neal didn't even want to think about the issues with proper meals.
Peter developed a strong, overbearing attitude. Even more so than usual, which left Neal feeling increasingly inadequate. Of course that led to him pulling more stunts than normal, which in return got him chewed out thoroughly every time. To make matters worse, Neal found out that Peter's overprotectiveness was contagious. Most of the other agents kept a close eye on Neal and reported to Peter immediately if they felt Neal's actions could be perceived as even remotely dangerous.
For a short moment today Neal had feared Peter would lose it. Peter's face had been a mask of fury and the pat on Neal's ass to get him moving away from their suspect had bordered on being more painful than warningly.
Now Neal sat here, all alone, drowning in his own pity. He watched the skyline darken, thinking that this sight fit his mood perfectly. His phone rang but he ignored it for a while. When ignoring became an issue he shut off the phone completely. He was so not in the mood for another scolding.
Why weren't they sitting at home, happily browsing through catalogs of baby furniture or clothes? Hell, they hadn't even decided which room should become the baby's room. Neal closed his eyes while he attempted to get his shallow and fast breathing back into a more regular pattern.
The wind picked up, causing Neal to shiver miserably. He really shouldn't have flounced out of the FBI building without his coat. October nights weren't made to sit outside, specifically not when your name was Neal Caffrey who tended to freeze easily anyway.
Neal started violently when something heavy landed on his lap. His eyes flew open as he shot up from the bench, frantically looking around.
“Mrs. Suit won't be happy with you sitting here in the dark, freezing and then throwing a perfectly warm coat into the dirt,” Mozzie declared.
He bent to pick up the coat and held it out to Neal. The younger man took it and gratefully slipped into it. A soft moan of pleasure escaped his mouth when he huddled into the warm cloth.
“How did you know where I am?”
Neal raised an eyebrow before he sat down on the bench again. Mozzie followed his example. He steepled his hands in his lap, looked around and seemed to be perfectly fine where he was.
“Who sent you?”
“No one sent me,” Mozzie turned his body sideways to gaze at Neal thoughtfully. “I might have gotten a panicked call from Mrs. Suit. I also might have gotten a very concerned call from Mr. Suit. Neither of them seemed to be able to get a hold on you.”
Neal stuffed his hands into his coat pockets, hoping they'd stop trembling so badly. Mozzie kept silent though his scrutinizing gaze never wavered. Neal could feel it on him even though he resolutely kept his eyes averted.
“The tip of your shoes must be fascinating.”
“What?” Neal blinked in confusion before he looked at Mozzie questioningly.
“You're staring at the tip of your shoes for the last ten minutes. I don't know how you even see them, given that it is pitch dark but maybe you developed night vision through the pregnancy. So, what is so interesting about them?”
Neal shook his head. A smile played on his lips. “Are you up for some company?”
“I'd be up for yours.”
“Fine, you got it.”
Neal followed Mozzie's lead, all the while wondering where Mozzie's new hiding place was. The shorter man guided him through several back alleys, took some short cuts over other people's lawns and after a while Neal gave up on trying to figure out where they were headed.
Suddenly a dark figure stepped out in front of them at the end of the street, effectively blocking their way. Mozzie kept walking towards it and Neal wondered when his friend had gotten so thoughtless about his surroundings.
“Moz!” he whispered urgently. “Moz! Stop!”
Mozzie ignored his whisper and kept going. Neal quickened his pace to catch up with Moz. When he caught up with him he grabbed Moz's elbow, bent down and whispered again, “Shouldn't we take a different route? Didn't you see that man over there waiting for us? He's trouble.”
Unperturbed Mozzie kept walking. “He's not.”
“What do you mean he's not? How can you know-- Oh no!” Neal whirled around on his heels, heading abruptly back into the opposite direction.
“I thought you were my friend!” Neal snarled.
Pounding footsteps alerted Neal about the other man's approach. While he fought against the childish urge to run and hide, Peter reached them. A heavy hand landed on Neal's shoulder. He allowed Peter to turn him around and before he knew it, he was engulfed in a crushing hug.
Neal's hands clutched at Peter's jacket on their own accord and a small whimper escaped his mouth. He smothered any more annoying sounds by smashing his face into Peter's shoulder.
Hesitantly he heard Mozzie asking, “Will you be able to get him home now?”
Peter's grip around Neal's torso tightened. “Yes.”
“Would you like me to look into a tracking device for him? Life was so much easier when he had to wear the anklet.”
“Moz!” Neal exclaimed. It sounded muffled because he shouted right into Peter's shoulder and the man wasn't inclined to give him one inch of space.
“I'm just being reasonable,” Moz defended himself. To Peter he added, “Talk with Mrs. Suit about it and inform me about your decision. Have a good night.”
Mozzie turned and within seconds vanished from Peter's view.
“Peter?” Neal asked tentatively when Peter didn't start moving after a few minutes.
“Don't you ever dare to run away and not answer your phone again,” Peter growled. “Elizabeth is sick from worrying. She was close to throwing up.”
“She was?” Neal squeaked. “I'm s-sorry.”
Peter sighed. “I know you are. So does Elizabeth. We're also sorry. Things are not going as we all expected them to go.”
“No, they are not,” Neal sniffled. Forcefully he added, “I hate that I'm so prone to tears all the time.”
Peter let go of Neal but entwined their hands, “Believe me, I could do without that too.”
Neal bumped his shoulder against Peter's. “I love you too.”
Peter smiled then looped an arm around Neal's shoulders. “Same here. Don't forget that.”
Neal swallowed heavily. He snuggled deeper into the older man's body, for once not caring if anyone saw them together like this. The walk to their home was short and when they saw it, Neal swallowed again. Hesitantly he asked, “Is she … mad?”
“And like I said, she's also out of her mind because she's worried about you. Want some advice on how to handle her?”
Before Neal could answer that he'd definitely like some advice the front door slammed open and Elizabeth rushed towards them with Satchmo on her heels.
Neal had no time to process what went on because Elizabeth simply pulled him out of Peter's arms in her own. Tears trickled down her cheeks and for a while Neal let her cling to him. He hugged her back tightly, feeling somewhat powerless in the surge of her visible turmoil.
“Come on you two, let's go inside,” Peter said softly after a few minutes.
Neal was flanked by one Burke at each side, his hands tightly entwined in one of his lovers hands. Once inside the house Elizabeth helped him out of his coat then ushered him into the kitchen where she immediately put bread and other needed utensils on the counter.
“El, it's after ten,” Neal tried.
“And I'm sure you haven't eaten for hours,” she replied unfazed.
“I'm not hungry.”
Elizabeth slammed the bread knife on the counter, whirled around and stalked towards Neal. The younger man got up so quickly in alarm that his chair toppled over. Elizabeth retrieved the chair, set it forcefully upright, pointed to it and demanded, “Sit down, you terror.”
Pale-faced Neal did as he was told without thinking. When he sat he blurted the first thing that came to his mind, “terror? Did you seriously say terror to me? What is wrong with you two? Why can't you call me by my real name?”
Elizabeth heeled out a chair next to Neal, took both his hands into her own and answered in a clipped voice, “You are a terror sometimes. We were worried sick about you. You can't just disappear like that. You have responsibilities now; to me, to Peter, to the baby. I know that atmosphere at home has been strained but that doesn't give you the permission to leg it. You're in a relationship now. We expect you to act like a reasonable adult. Do you need any more explanations? I'll be happy to provide you with them.”
Neal shook his head. Wide-eyed he watched Elizabeth shove back her chair and stalk back to the counter where she buttered some slices of bread. Nervously Neal glanced from her back to Peter who looked as shell-shocked as he felt.
Without consciously realizing what he was doing Neal got up and quietly walked over to Peter. There he slumped down onto Peter's lap, slung his arms around Peter's neck and pressed his face against his lover's throat.
“I'm scared,” he whispered softly into Peter's ear.
“You've all reason to be scared.”
“That's not very reassuring.”
“Let her fuss a bit and hopefully she'll calm down.”
“Do you think that's a realistic hope?”
Peter shrugged. “You're the big dreamer of us. Keep believing in it and maybe you'll get a miracle.”
Elizabeth chose that moment to turn around with a plate full of sandwiches in her hand. Raising her eyebrows at the sight in front of her she walked to them and placed the plate in front of Neal.
“You must be starving,” she said in a voice that held no place for arguments.
“He is. He told me as much just seconds ago,” Peter interrupted.
He gave Neal one of the sandwiches, silently begging him to simply bite into it. Elizabeth on the war path meant serious trouble, for both of them. Fortunately, Neal bit into the sandwich and even choked the first bite down successfully.
“It's not that bad,” Peter whispered in his ear.
Neal shook his head in affirmation. Elizabeth kept a jealous watch over them for a while then got abruptly up to get Neal a glass of water.
“It's good and I'm even hungry but my stomach is tied up in knots. El is scary. How can she glare that menacingly?”
“I told you that you'd be hungry, didn't I?” El said as she clunked down the glass of water on the table.
Neal jumped guiltily. Peter sighed expressively. “El, give him a rest. Otherwise we'll never get him to come home again if he feels like he pissed one of us off.”
“When did we switch roles here? You're usually the one who's angry and I'm the one who tries to make peace!”
“I like that role distribution much better too, believe me!”
Neal snorted and slapped Peter lightly with his open palm on his chest. It was that comfortable gesture that got Elizabeth to crack. A smile spread out on her face and she came over to them, hugging them both.
“God, I love you both to pieces,” she sighed.
Both men kissed her. Neal threw her an apologetic smile before asking, “Are we good now?”
“We're going to talk. But not now. We're all tired and stressed. You finish eating and then we'll have a good night's sleep.”
Neal ate two of the sandwiches, gazed pleadingly at El while snuggling even closer to Peter. Elizabeth didn't have it in her to keep up her anger, which had mostly been fueled by worry anyway, and nodded. “All right, you're good to go if you really aren't hungry anymore.”
“I'm not. Just tired,” Neal mumbled sleepily.
“You must be very tired. You're sitting on Peter's lap without blushing or squirming,” Elizabeth commented. “Or is it just because you think you're safe there?”
“I don't know what you're talking about,” Neal replied, a tad indignant as he squirmed free from Peter's arms, aiming to stand up.
Elizabeth frowned, took two quick steps towards Neal, causing him to sit back onto Peter's lap and wrapping the older man's arms around him. Peter blew out an exasperated breath before telling his wife, “El, honey, I think he gets that you're upset and I'm sure he won't even think about doing something like this again. How about I take him upstairs now?”
“You know, Peter,” El replied wistfully, “there have been many times when Neal came to me to hide from you because you'd scold him for whatever he did. It's actually interesting to see it from the other side.”
“Um, how about I'll never piss either of you off again and we can all be happily ever after?”
Elizabeth smiled at him while Peter pressed a quick kiss on Neal's cheek. Peter stood him on his feet then took his hand. Neal felt odd, thrown off balance. Peter was affectionate with El, very much so but not overly so with him. At least he hadn't been. Neal wondered if Peter had held back and waited for Neal to be more generous with physical contact that didn't include sex.
As much as he loved Peter, Neal still feared to show his more vulnerable side, the one that longed to be sitting on another man's lap without freezing up. He had no trouble giving and demanding attention to and from Elizabeth but with Peter it had been different.
Neal allowed Peter to tow him upstairs into the bathroom where he also allowed Peter to undress him partially. Maybe it was time for Neal to tear down the last remaining safety walls between him and Peter. Neal swallowed heavily and sunk down on the bathtub edge.
“Neal? Do you feel sick?”
“What? No. Just tired.”
“You're shivering,” Peter observed.
“That's because you keep my pajama as a prisoner.”
Peter shrugged. “I like watching you in your birth suit.”
Neal rolled his eyes. Peter handed him his top and while Neal slipped into it he muttered, mostly to himself: “Take a good look then, it's all going to go to the dogs soon.”
As soon as Neal's head emerged from the top Peter took Neal's chin in his hand, tipping it upwards so Neal had to look at Peter.
Peter's next words caused a shudder to run through his body. “You're the most beautiful man I've ever seen. Nothing will ever change this fact.”
Neal didn't know how to respond to Peter's words – flippant, nonchalant or what? Nothing seemed fitting. Peter rescued Neal by pressing a firm kiss on Neal's and saying, “Finish up here and be quick. We're all tired and you of all people need your sleep.”
“Especially because sometime during the next two weeks the womb walls will thicken and the nidation process will be completed,” Elizabeth commented while she climbed up the stairs.
Neal hadn't gone through the completion of the nidation process during his first pregnancy but he had heard some of the horror stories from other men. All color left his face as he recalled some of them.
Neal's trembling legs barely supported him through his nightly routine in the bathroom. He could only think about the end of the nidation process. From what he understood the end started off with the men running a light fever, soon to be accompanied by nausea. He could deal with these inconveniences but there was the fact that for 24 hours Neal would be in pain, in great pain. He had once listened to another man going through this 24-hour period. Though he had only listened for a few minutes he would never forget the screams, moans and pleads to make it stop.
Mechanically he finished in the bathroom and trudged over to the bedroom. He slid on the right side of their huge bed, as he did every night. After the three of them had become an item and squeezed themselves into Peter's and Elizabeth's old bed Elizabeth decided to buy a new one. Neal was all for it while Peter simply told them to do it without him.
Now they had a huge bed where all three of them fitted in nicely. There was no place left for nightstands and only a small drawer, holding underwear and some toys stood at the opposite wall of the bed. The closet with all their clothes had moved to a spare room, which was sometimes uncomfortable but mostly none of them complained.
Peter and Elizabeth followed suit with Peter climbing into the middle of the bed. After exchanging good night kisses they all settled down to sleep. Except Neal was still too wound up from the events of the day and the prospect of almost unbearable pain. He tried his best to lay still and not bother Peter and Elizabeth.
He jumped when Peter growled, “God damn it, Neal! Stop fidgeting!”
Not wanting his lovers to know how upset he was about the oncoming future Neal replied plaintively, “I'm cold.”
“Then come here.”
Unceremoniously Peter pulled at Neal, manhandled him on his side and spooned up behind him. From experience Neal knew that Peter's grip around him would be like a vise. Forcing himself to breathe evenly and lay absolutely still, Neal's muscles soon began to cramp. Sleep as well as at least a hint of tiredness also eluded him.
“Christ! What is it now? I swear that Elizabeth is not holding a grudge against you. She'd never do that, you know that,” Peter hissed into his ear.
Neal gave a startled yelp. “You just scared me to death. Why aren't you asleep?”
“Why am I not asleep? Cub, how am I supposed to fall asleep when you squirm and twitch as if you're possessed?”
“I'm not squirming!” Neal protested. “I'm doing my best to keep absolutely still.”
“You're smothering me.”
Peter groaned and loosened his embrace a tad. “Better now?”
A sleepy Elizabeth peered over Peter's shoulder. “Are you feeling sick, baby?”
“All right, that's it,” Elizabeth said determinedly. Flipping on the light she sat up, got out of bed and rounded it so she could see Neal's face. “None of us will get sleep if you don't spill the beans. Even if you are not tired, I am. I've been worried about you most of the day, my patience is on its last thread so please do us all a favor and tell us the reason for your sleeplessness.”
Both men laid utterly silent and blinked at Elizabeth. Neal, who was usually so eloquent in all situations, couldn't get a single word out. Peter patted his hip lightly and whispered, “You better answer her.”
“But then there will be even more fussing!” Neal blurted out in frustration.
“Fussing?” both Burke's echoed.
Neal grabbed for the pillow and hid his head beneath it. “I could sleep on the sofa. Satchmo wouldn't mind me, I'm sure.”
Despite Neal's clutch at the pillow it was removed from his fingers. He was manhandled on his back with Peter and Elizabeth's faces hovering closely above his own.
“Uh, I'm feeling cornered. Would you mind getting out of my face? Just a little bit?”
“Neal,” Peter and Elizabeth sighed in perfect unison.
“All right. I think this has to do with the pregnancy? Am I right?” Peter asked.
Neal nodded curtly.
“Remember that time in the hospital? Right after the implantation? You promised to never withhold any information regarding the pregnancy again. Now spill because I fear I might do something I'll regret later,” Peter snarled.
“Oh, and what would that be?” Neal asked, genuinely curious.
Peter sat up abruptly, took in several deep breaths while Elizabeth shot him a sympathetic look. Shaking her head she addressed Neal, “You really don't know where the line is, do you?”
Neal shrugged. He put both hands over his eyes, then blurted, “You're both acting like mother hens and it's … suffocating. I love you but that's not how I imagined it to be. Oh, and I'm scared, no, terrified about the end of the nidation process. I only know that it'll hurt badly and I'm not keen on that experience.” Letting out a long-drawn sigh he collapsed back upon himself. Adding in a small voice he muttered, “That's all.”
“Oh baby,” El cooed.
She pried Neal's hands from his face and gathered him into her arms. Neal snuggled into the embrace, leaned his face against her bosom and inhaled Elizabeth's scent. Admitting his fear hadn't been too bad, especially when it was rewarded with El's arms around him, rocking him slightly back and forth.
“Well, since that's all, how about we all get some sleep now?” Peter asked.
Neal snorted when El slapped Peter on his upper arm closest to her. “Honey, your conversational skills are definitely lacking.”
“My conversational skills have already gone to sleep. I intend to follow them but that will only be possible if the cub stops squirming.”
“Stop calling me cub and I might consider to let you sleep.” Neal asked, “How's that for a deal?”
“It does sound tempting but … no.”
“What? Why not?”
“El, come on and get in the middle, okay? It's late.”
El smiled and winked at Neal before she crawled over him. Peter bent over to press another kiss on her lips then turned over to switch off the light. Elizabeth extended her arms for Neal and the younger man followed her invitation. Slipping lower in the bed he rested his head on her belly and closed his eyes.
Elizabeth draped the quilt around Neal's weirdly bent frame and herself until Peter whispered, “Stop fussing, hon, or else he won't ever fall asleep.”
“You really love me, don't you?” Neal quipped.
Peter's chuckle and El's giggle were the best sounds Neal had heard all day long. Eventually the three quietened down. As Neal was about to drift off to sleep El murmured above him, “Yes, we really do love you.”
Mid of November, 18 weeks pregnant
Neal ran a light fever for a few hours already and so far neither Elizabeth nor Peter had caught on to the fact that Neal was feverish. Given, it was low, only around 100º and Neal didn't feel too bad. A bit on the wobbly side but he could deal with that.
He took longer for everything and also favored reading files at his desk instead of wandering around. No one took much notice of his behavior for which Neal was grateful.
He didn't know why he didn't want Peter and El to know that he had entered the last stage of the nidation process, especially after he had made that damn promise about not withholding information anymore. Both of them had backed off as good as they could, which meant Neal could eat what he wanted and when he wanted. At least most of the time, just once per day Elizabeth persisted on doing it her way. Peter let Neal do his work as he pleased as long as it didn't include potentially dangerous situations.
Neal knew he should be feeling good, relieved even and he definitely shouldn't try to hide his fever.
Yet he did. There was no reason for it, or at least none he could figure out. Maybe those hormonal changes in his body were the source for his strange reluctance. Or maybe, just maybe he was scared.
Scared of the pain that was to come and scared of the small possibility that the nidation might fail. Given, the chance was under 5% but it was there after all. Neal dried his suddenly sweaty hands on his pants. Elizabeth would be devastated if that happened. Peter would be too though he probably wouldn't show it openly. Thing was - if Neal was honest with himself he would be devastated as well.
Neal sighed heavily, steepled his hands on his desk and put his chin atop of them. He still couldn't feel any kind of movements of the baby but the reality of him carrying another human being - which soon would put their world upside down – began to sink in. Now if he only could be sure that everything would proceed successfully for the next few days.
Neal's head grew heavier as he thought about all the implications and concerns he had until his eyes closed. Soon he gave up his struggle against sleep.
When Neal woke up again it was to the concerned sounds of numerous people standing around him. One of them was Peter, who gently pulled him upright into a sitting position, touching his forehead to feel for fever. Despite his best effort to keep up his composure Neal reached out with his arms for Peter.
The older man's eyes widened as he immediately complied with the unspoken plea. He crouched low in front of Neal, allowing the younger man to sling his arms around Peter's neck.
“I don't feel so good,” Neal confessed in a trembling voice.
Peter barked a short laugh. “Guess what? You don't look that good either and I think you're running a fever.”
“Why the hell did you bring him to the office when he's in the last stage of the nidation process?” Reese Hughes asked gruffly.
“I didn't … he … wait, what?”
Neal cringed at the increasing volume and confusion in Peter's voice. He tightened his hold on Peter's neck, brushed his lips against Peter's throat before pleading meekly, “Don't yell at me now, please?”
“God damn it, Neal! You knew what's going on and you didn't say a word to me or Elizabeth this morning?”
A sudden sharp pang in Neal's abdomen prevented him from answering. Inhaling sharply he pressed one hand against his by now slightly swollen belly. He heard Hughes bellowing for the other agents to step away so Neal wasn't crowded.
“Peter, get your and Neal's coat and then we'll get him downstairs. You're excused for the next two days,” Hughes said.
Neal felt Peter nod curtly. He whimpered when Peter extricated himself from Neal's arms. Another sudden sharp pang caused Neal to double over and clutch his belly.
“Ow! Oh God,” he moaned.
“Peter, move!” Hughes demanded sharply.
Neal listened to Peter hastily scurrying away then felt a heavy arm sliding around his shoulders. Despite Neal's protest Hughes pulled him onto his feet. Another wave of pain had Neal's legs buckling and he would have crumpled to the floor if it wasn't for Hughes steadying him.
“Ow, geez, ow, ow! I want to sit down.”
“Not now. It'll be easier on you if you keep standing now.”
“No, it won't!”
Neal attempted to free himself but soon realized that Hughes didn't give an inch. A frustrated sob tore free and he slapped his hands sharply against Hughes' shoulders. Still, the lead agent didn't budge. On the contrary he secured Neal more tightly. One arm was slung around Neal's waist while the other one cradled the back of Neal's head, which was pressed against Hughes' collarbone.
“I hate you!” Neal spat.
“Neal!” a breathless Peter chastised him.
“What? He won't let go of me and I want to sit down,” Neal wailed as another sharp wave of pain washed through him.
“We won't get him to your car if he sits down now. I'll follow you and help you get him out of the car and inside your house. He'll most likely want to lie down and probably won't be able to get up again until it's over,” Hughes explained.
“Peeeeter!” Neal whined.
“How come you know so much about this?”
“I've seen a few men go through this stage. One of them was my nephew and for almost six hours I was the only one around. Make sure you won't be alone with him for that long or you'll curl up into a corner and weep,” Hughes said dryly.
Peter blanched while Neal moaned in panic.
“Peter! I can't do this, I seriously can't do this!”
Peter looked as if he was ready to agree with Neal. Hughes patted Neal's back gently and smiled. “Nice try, Caffrey. From what I gathered this whole pregnancy-thing was your idea, right? You'll survive the ending of the nidation.”
“If anyone tells me to cowboy up now I'm going to kick that person's ass,” Neal snapped.
“I already called Elizabeth. She's on her way home. Now let's get you to the car.”
Between Peter and Hughes they managed to guide Neal to the elevator, the eyes of all agents following them. Some cringed in sympathy when Neal groaned from the pain. All his attempts at sitting down were firmly interrupted by Peter and Hughes, much to Neal's resentment.
Inside the elevator Peter confessed, “I never thought you had in you to hurl around so many colorful words.”
Neal glared at him but said nothing because another wave of pain had him grit his teeth and stamp his feet in a futile attempt of getting rid of the pain. Sweat trickled down his spine, the fever caused his legs to tremble and to his dismay he became slightly nauseous.
“You have a plastic bag or anything the like in your car?” Hughes asked.
“Um, maybe. Why?”
“I'm not sure he's going to make it without throwing up during the car ride.”
“Oh great,” Neal moaned. “Can this day get any worse?”
Hughes opened his mouth to give a reply but Neal forestalled him by saying, “That was a rhetorical question. I'm sure it'll be horrible.” Turning towards Peter he added, “I can't do this. I really can't. I'm not good with pain. Peter, please, I can't do it!”
The elevator came to a halt and slowly the three men made their way over to Peter's car.
“What do you want me to do, Neal? I can't give you any painkillers. I'll call the clinic and ask if there's anything we can do to help ease the pain. The only other option is to … to remove the baby,” he concluded softly.
Shock was the foremost visible emotion on Neal's face. It took him a long time to reply to Peter's words. “I don't want to remove the baby. But what … what if it's not going to be successful? There's still a small chance that my body will reject it.”
“That's highly unlikely,” Hughes cut in. “The pain will increase during the next hours but after about 8 to 10 hours you'll start having pain-free intervals. Only if those don't happen then you can start worrying.”
“8 to 10 hours?” Peter and Neal whispered in unison.
Peter swallowed heavily as he opened the passenger day for Neal. While he guided Neal into the car seat he saw a few tears spill down Neal's cheeks even though the younger man swiftly wiped them away. With a sigh he buckled Neal in and pressed a kiss onto a wet cheek. “We'll get you through this, I promise.”
“What if all this is for nothing?” Neal asked, his voice barely above a whisper.
“Nonsense!” Hughes barked. “You're a healthy young man. I understand that you're scared but you're not going to assume the worst.”
Flabbergasted Neal looked up at Hughes and asked, “I'm not?”
“No. The White Collar division is already collecting money for a baby shower so can the gloomy attitude,” Hughes replied in a mock-stern voice. He took all heat out of his words by ruffling Neal's hair and saying, “I'll follow you home.”
Peter and Neal merely nodded. Peter rounded the car, slid into the driver's seat and cringed when Neal yelped in pain.
Hughes helped getting Neal out of Peter's car and into their house. Satchmo whined upon hearing Neal's yelps of pain as the two men maneuvered him into the bedroom. Elizabeth rushed into the house just as they sat Neal onto the edge of the bed.
“My poor baby!” she cried.
Sliding onto the bed next to Neal she cradled him against her chest. Soothingly she stroked his hear, cringing every time he moaned in pain.
“Peter, get a bowl or something. He will throw up, it can't take much longer for him to start with it,” Hughes reminded Peter.
Peter scuttled off to fetch a bowl while Hughes and Elizabeth undressed Neal and tucked him under the quilt. Neal curled up on his side, his knees almost touching his chest, whimpering and shivering badly.
“No matter what he tells you, he's going to make it. If the pain doesn't lessen in about ten hours you should consult with your doctor,” Hughes said to Elizabeth.
Neal opened his eyes to glare at the lead agent. “I still hate you.”
Elizabeth looked scandalized but Hughes only laughed. “I'll leave you alone now.”
“You better do that.”
“Neal!” Elizabeth glared at her younger lover.
Neal's bottom lip slipped out into a pout. A few seconds into the glaring contest he conceded defeat though and averted his eyes.
“Thank you for bringing me home,” he murmured into Hughes' direction.
“You're welcome. Oh, Elizabeth, you might want to make a hot-water bottle, it'll help ease the cramps,” Hughes advised. He almost bumped into Peter as he left the room. In a whisper Hughes said, “Be strong, Peter. Remember that it's only for a few hours.”
Peter nodded, not completely convinced he could deal with Neal whining due to the pain. He jumped when Neal yelled as a particular vicious wave of pain surged through him. Hughes shot him a sympathetic look, patted Peter's shoulder and said, “He's just getting started.”
“Oh God!” Peter moaned.
He couldn't dwell in his misery because Elizabeth called out sharply, “Peter! Bring the bowl!”
Peter hastened to comply and reached Neal just in time. The younger man threw up, all the while clutching his belly with both hands. Hughes left the little family and let himself out.
Peter and Elizabeth spent the next hours with holding the bowl for Neal, wiping his sweaty bangs out of his eyes and talking to him. The pain level increased to the point where Neal screamed almost constantly, begging El and Peter to help him get rid of the pain.
At first the Burke's took Neal's pleas stoically but after the first six hours Elizabeth simply cried with Neal. Peter chose to rinse out the bowl and slid down the bathroom door, allowing himself to cry as well for a few minutes. On trembling legs he hauled himself up again, carried the bowl back to their bedroom and was greeted with another one of Neal's blood curdling screams.
Elizabeth had spooned up against Neal's back. She was propped up on an elbow and ever so tenderly stroked whatever she could reach of Neal. The younger man didn't seem to register the strokes but whenever El stopped for more than a few seconds his whimpers grew higher and more urgent.
So far Peter had mostly held the bowl or cleaned Neal's face. Now, he was worn out and desperately wanted to hold Neal. Giving in to his urge he slid onto the bed, lifted Neal into his arms and held him tightly. Neal remained curled up into a small ball but he gripped Peter's arms firmly. Tears streaked down his face and his whole body shook.
El scooted closer to her two men, her face showing dried streaks of tears as well. A sudden thought struck her. “Damn! One of us has to look after Satchmo and walk him.”
“Don't worry, hon. I don't know who did, though I have an idea, called Mozzie. He's downstairs and already walked Satchmo once.”
“Moz … Moz is here?” Neal croaked.
“I never thought he'd walk Satchmo,” El said.
“Neither did I,” Peter replied.
Neal groaned, then shouted in pain until the wave ebbed away. When he could speak again he sniffed, “So he heard me scream? I'll never be able to look at him again without feeling mortified.”
“Bullshit,” Elizabeth snapped. “He might not feel very comfortable right now but he is your friend. Your friend who's very much looking forward to the baby.”
“Moz?” Neal asked, incredulity coloring his voice. “Are we talking about the same Moz? That would be the one who thinks babies are germ spreaders and therefore the incarnation of evil. Just in case you got him confused with someone else.”
Peter's chuckle rumbled through his chest and even elicited a very small smile from Neal.
Elizabeth swiftly kissed first Neal then Peter before she asked, “Will you two be okay for half an hour? I'd like to warm up some soup for all of us.”
Neal grimaced. “As long as you don't expect me to eat.”
“Just a few spoons, baby,” Elizabeth cajoled.
Neal's whole body went rigid as the pain built up anew. Elizabeth watched him with a great deal of sympathy as he turned his face into Peter's chest to smother his next scream.
Peter had dark circles under his eyes, which were rapidly filling with tears. He rocked Neal gently back and forth, all the while murmuring something to Neal. Despite that Neal was in horrible pain, warmth spread out in Elizabeth's belly.
“I love you. Both of you so much,” she whispered in awe.
Neal was beyond listening at that point. Giving up on all dignity he cried openly.
Peter mouthed, “Love you too.”
Mid of December, 23 weeks pregnant
Peter and Neal pronounced their arrival at home by loudly arguing with each other. Elizabeth sighed when she heard them. Their increasingly louder and frequent getting arguments worried her. She swiftly got up from the sofa to intervene.
She winced when the front door slammed shut and Peter bellowed, “Neal!”
“Just leave me the fuck alone!”
Satchmo whimpered, looked up at Elizabeth inquiringly and then took refugee behind the sofa instead of greeting the two men. Elizabeth walked over to Peter who almost ripped his coat while hanging it up the hook forcefully. Neal stamped upwards, muttering under his breath.
“Hey, honey,” El greeted her husband. “Not a good day, I take?”
“He's the personification of terror,” Peter groused.
He opened his arms for a hug, which he received immediately. Elizabeth felt him shaking in her arms. In a whisper she asked, “That bad?”
“He doesn't listen. No matter how often I or one of the other agents tells him to stay put he always shows up right when it gets dangerous. Today he had a gun pressed against his temple for almost ten minutes.”
Elizabeth closed her eyes as a shudder ran through her frame. Both Burke's clutched at each other, grateful for Neal being all right and dreading to think about a worse outcome of the situation.
“So Neal's in the doghouse. Why is he acting as if you did him wrong?” El asked as she led Peter to the sofa.
“I had Jones drop him off at the office where he had to stay with Hughes for the rest of the day. Hughes and I had a talk and decided to supervise Neal and ban him from any work outside our building. Neal didn't take our decision kindly.”
“Doesn't he get that he's jeopardizing his and the baby's lives?”
“Honestly? I don't know what's going on with him. He hates guns, yet he brings himself into situations where a lot of guns are waved into his face. He's smart yet he lets himself be driven by impulse.”
“Honey, he was always like this,” Elizabeth threw in.
“I know but now he's carrying our child and he's acting as if nothing is different. It's driving me crazy.”
“Maybe his manhood is threatened and he thinks he needs to prove it somehow?”
Peter raised his eyebrows at Elizabeth's suggestion. “You want me to talk to him about this, right?”
“It might help.”
Peter didn't bother to hinder a whine creeping into his voice. “Can't you do it? Please, El?”
“This is between you and Neal, honey.”
Peter slung his arms more tightly around Elizabeth's shoulders and pulled her close. She rested her head on his collarbone, pressing gentle kisses on his jaw. Neither of them saw or heard Neal coming down the stairs.
“I'll leave you two lovebirds to it.” Acid seemed to drip from Neal's voice, causing El and Peter to look at him in bafflement.
“Neal!” Peter shouted.
When the Burke's finally disentangled themselves from each other Neal was already out the door and nowhere to be seen on the streets.
Neither Elizabeth nor Peter got much rest during that night. Neal didn't show up during the night or the morning, leaving the Burke's worried and also slightly angry.
“I hate this bolting-thing he does every time something doesn't go according to his pretty head,” Peter ranted while shoveling spoons of cereal into his mouth.
“He does have a really pretty head and he knows that.”
“He's a brat, that's what he is.”
“He's our brat and a very pretty one. He's also carrying our child. I'll give Mozzie a call and see if he's able to locate Neal,” El said. “And when Neal's back home I'll take him for a ride.”
Peter grimaced but kept quiet. He should be used by now to worry constantly about Neal. Fact was that he wasn't and probably never would. He bid his goodbye to Elizabeth and drove to work.
His first look went to Neal's desk and to his utmost relief his lover sat there, bend over a file, looking as immaculate as ever. He walked over to Neal, rested a hand on a very tense shoulder and said, “Next time let us know that you won't be back so we can get at least some hours of sleep.”
“I don't need to tell anyone where I am or if I'm home during the night. I'm an adult and can do as I please,” Neal snapped.
Peter drew in a deep, calming breath before replying, “You're in a relationship with us. You can't run away anymore. You owe us at least to tell us where you are.”
“Well, I figured since you don't want me working with you anymore, you might want to get rid off me for a few nights at home too.”
A vein began to throb at Peter's temple. He could tell Neal was keen to provoke him, the total lack of eye contact a dead give-away. Reining in his temper he simply said curtly, “You might want to let Elizabeth know that you're okay.”
“And if I don't?”
“Stop acting like a total brat, Neal,” Peter hissed.
Before Neal could retort something Hughes walked up to them. “You two, I want you up in my office now.”
Startled Peter and Neal looked at Hughes who sported a stony expression. Hughes' eyes narrowed to slits as he directed his gaze at Neal. The younger man squirmed in his seat and quickly lowered his head. Hughes strode off to his office while Peter wondered about Neal.
Hauling Neal up by grabbing his upper arm, which elicited a short yelp from Neal, Peter whispered, “What have you done?”
“Why do you always assume I did something?”
“Because you did something more often than not. What is it this time?”
“I don't know,” Neal replied forcefully.
With a quick pull he freed his arm from Peter's grip and walked in front of the older man. Even though he was still annoyed Peter couldn't help but admire the perfect tight ass in front of him. From behind you didn't see that Neal was pregnant. Even from the front you only saw a light pouch. Only when you looked at Neal's profile the light swelling of his abdomen became obvious.
About two weeks ago Peter and Elizabeth had felt the baby's movements for the first time. That whole evening they had caressed Neal's belly, which later on developed into tender love making for the rest of the evening. It had been a very good evening.
Peter shook himself out of his memories and closed the door to Hughes' office behind him. Hughes handed him a file and said, “Last night a pair of earrings, a matching bracelet and a matching necklace, altogether worth about $ 50,000 were stolen from Israel Rose. Guess who was there, right before the theft looking at exactly those items?”
Peter had his lips pressed together to a tight line during Hughes' explanation while his hands crumpled the file he clutched. Slowly he turned towards Neal who blinked at him innocently.
“Neal, please tell me you didn't have to do anything with this.”
“Why do you always assume it's me?”
“Were you there yesterday?” Peter barked.
Neal jumped then snapped back angrily, “Yes. I was looking for a gift for Elizabeth. As far as I'm concerned that is not a crime.”
“The owner has you on tape, inspecting the jewelry very closely. She reported that the cases were empty when she wanted to put them back,” Hughes interrupted.
A triumphant smile spread out on Neal's face. “But she doesn't have me on tape actually stealing anything, right? Otherwise I wouldn't be here. So, if you excuse me – I have files to read and probably bore me to death.”
With that Neal turned on his heels and stormed out of the office. Peter and Hughes' exchanged a pained look.
“Peter, if anyone finds the jewels on him he'll have to serve time. No one will care if he's pregnant or not,” Hughes said, compassion coloring his voice.
“I know,” Peter answered, a dreadful feeling settling into his stomach. He watched Neal flipping open his cell phone, wondering whom he was calling. He hoped it was Elizabeth on the other side of the line.
“Moz, it's me. I need your help.”
Peter took Neal out for lunch that day. Most of their conversation was strained because even though they tried their best to be friendly they ended up snapping at each other every second sentence.
“Do you mind if I go home and get some rest? Last night activities probably weren't good for me in my condition,” Neal said when they finished.
Peter's eyebrows almost climbed up to his hairline. “You think so? What exactly did you do last night?”
“I walked around, hung out with Moz, looked at possible gifts for El, stuff like that,” Neal shrugged.
“How about you say that again with actually looking at me.”
Neal glared at Peter. “I see you tonight, Peter.”
“Neal!” Peter grabbed Neal's elbow and pulled him back until they were face to face. “If you got anything to do with the theft then tell me and let me fix this. You'll be send to prison if any of those items are found in your possession. Think about the baby.”
Neal stiffened upon Peter's remark about the baby. Snidely he replied, “I'm thinking about nothing else since that's all everyone else thinks about when they see me.”
Peter frowned in surprise. Neal seized the opportunity and shook off Peter's arm. Signaling for a cab he quickly got into it and left a thoroughly annoyed Peter standing at the curb.
“Basically you want me to bring back these jewels without getting caught, did I get this right?”
“Moz,” Neal whined. “Please. I can't do it myself.”
“Why do I have to bring them back? Why don't you sell them? You could buy Mrs. Suit something else for Christmas from the money?” Moz asked.
Neal shook his head. “No, I want my name to be cleared completely. Peter will never trust me again otherwise.”
“You want your name to be cleared although you stole the jewels right under the nose of the jeweler?”
Neal blushed and carded his hands through his hair. “Moz, please.”
“You have changed. So very much. It's greatly displeasing.”
Neal groaned then directed big pleading eyes at his friend. “Pleeeeease, Moz.”
“This trick works on Mr. and Mrs. Suit but not on me.”
Neal's lower lip began to quiver as he nervously fiddled with the bag that held the stolen jewels. “I didn't mean to steal them. I was just … fed up and the opportunity was there and I didn't even think they'd have me on camera.”
“You didn't think a jeweler would have surveillance cameras installed? You're lucky that no one saw you actually taking the jewels.”
“I know.” Neal rubbed a hand over his eyes, which were filling with tears despite his best efforts.
Moz reached out for the bag, patted Neal's hand awkwardly before sliding the bag into a pocket of his jacket. “I'm not doing this because you're crying. Crying never works on me.”
“Okay,” Neal responded, a small, genuine smile playing on his face. Softly he added, “Thank you.”
“You should get yourself checked out. You're rubbing your abdomen the whole time,” Moz advised before he vanished into the crowd at Central Park.
Neal frowned but listened into himself. It took him a while to figure out that his abdominal wall contracted in a fairly regular pattern. He broke out into a cold sweat when it dawned on him that he was having contractions. He was only 23 weeks into it! The baby would have no chance of survival.
His abdomen hardened and left Neal dizzy with panic. With trembling fingers he managed to call Elizabeth on his cell phone. “El? It's me. Can you … can you come and get me to the hospital? Something is wrong.”
“What? Of course, of course. Wouldn't it be better to call Peter or an ambulance?” Elizabeth rambled.
Neal heard her hastily pack some things then there was the distinct jingle of keys and a car door closing.
“No! Don't call Peter. Hopefully it's just a false alarm!”
“False alarm? Oh my God! Baby, are you having contractions?”
“I … I think so. El, hurry, I'm … I'm scared,” Neal confessed, his voice hitching at the end.
“I'm on my way. I should be there in ten minutes. If it gets worse you call an ambulance, do you understand me?”
Neal swallowed convulsively then answered, “I'll call an ambulance if it gets worse.”
Once in the hospital Neal was immediately examined by Simmons. Elizabeth held onto his hand tightly the whole time for which Neal was grateful. He could barely look at her, feeling too ashamed of having let her worry about him last night and not even calling her to tell her he was all right.
While Simmons did an ultrasound Neal whispered subduedly, “I'm sorry for worrying you last night.”
Elizabeth simply brushed a long strand of hair off his forehead and smoothed it back. She forced a smile on her face before replying, “We'll talk about this later. Peter called me this morning to ask if you called me.”
Shame brought more color into Neal's cheeks and he whispered again, “I'm sorry.”
“Everything looks mighty fine but I'll put you on a CTG for half an hour to see what's going on,” Simmons interrupted.
In silence the doctor put the cables and straps in the right places. When the CTG started and the steady heartbeats of the baby filled the room Neal began to relax slightly. He expected Simmons to leave but instead the doctor sat down on the edge of the padded examination table.
“Do you want to know the gender of the baby?”
“Could you see it?” Elizabeth asked excitedly.
“Yes, I could.”
“I'd love to know it. What about you, El?” Neal asked.
“I'd love to as well but shouldn't we wait for Peter? He might feel excluded.”
Neal tensed up, closed his eyes and said tonelessly, “If you think so.”
Seconds later he hissed as his abdomen visibly hardened for a short time. Elizabeth shot Simmons a worried look but the doctor merely smiled at her. Simmons kept up a light conversation and most of the time Neal showed no signs of contractions. Whenever the talk brought up Peter Neal reacted strongly.
“Baby, you and Peter should definitely sit down and talk later,” Elizabeth sighed. “Even I can see that you're contracting every time Peter's name is brought up.”
Simmons jumped into the conversation and added, “These are not real contractions. They can be frightening but those training contractions don't do any harm.”
“Training contractions? What are they training for? I'm not going to give birth like a woman by having to press the baby out of me,” Neal snarled. When Simmons only looked blankly at him Neal's eyes widened in shock. “I'm not, right?”
“Well, some of the men develop a birth channel a few weeks prior to the due date and are able to deliver the baby that way. Didn't you know that? You should have been informed about this fact before the implantation,” Simmons replied.
“Neal said he knew everything that's to know about male pregnancies and we didn't need to take the mandatory talk,” Elizabeth said. A deep frown disgraced her beautiful face as she turned to a still shell-shocked looking Neal. “Neal?”
“I … might not have listened very carefully all the time,” he croaked out. “I don't have to give birth like … like that even if I develop this, er, thing, right?”
“No, you don't have to. Most of the men developing a birth channel do give birth that way though. Most of them went from naught to sixty and by the time they reached the hospital they were fully dilated and short of the last stage,” Simmons smiled.
Neal closed his eyes and a violent shiver wrecked his body. “Splendid. Let's hope I won't develop this birth channel. I'm not good with pain. How do I know if there's a birth channel?”
“You might feel an odd sensation low in your belly and between your legs for a couple of days. When the birth channel opens it'll feel like someone is slicing you open around your perineum and there will be a blood flow for about one day.”
Elizabeth's grip on Neal's hand tightened. Neal choked on his own saliva and let out a moan. “Thanks for letting me know. I'm not going to be one of those guys.”
“We'll see about this,” Simmons said while unstrapping Neal from the CTG. “You should consider talking to your other partner. Stress isn't good for you in your condition. Even though you know now that these contractions are not harmful they'll frighten you. It's better you get the problem with your partner straightened out.”
“Wow, you're not only my physician, now you're also my psychiatrist?” Neal asked mockingly.
“Neal! That's it! I've had enough of the bratty attitude lately. Peter is trying his best to keep you safe on the job and Dr. Simmons just gave you a piece of advice. Since when are you so openly hostile and ill-tempered?”
Neal got up angrily and with brisk movements tucked his shirt into his pants. “I'd like to go home. The faster we're there the faster you and Peter can yell at me and be done with it.”
He stormed out of the room without a word to Simmons, leaving El to apologize profoundly to the man. The doctor merely shrugged and smiled. “You better catch up with him. Sometimes those pregnancy hormones turn a perfectly well-mannered man into a walking and screaming nightmare.”
Elizabeth was already at the door but turned around to look at Simmons again. His smile only grew fonder. She sighed and said, “Your partner was the same way, huh?”
“Yes, and I survived three pregnancies, one even with twins. Your Neal might be worried about something, which he doesn't want to acknowledge aloud. Don't let him throw you off track.”
“I'll see you in two weeks. Have a good Christmas!”
Elizabeth caught up with Neal at her car where he leaned against the passenger door, pouting. She unlocked the door and climbed into the driver's seat silently. Neal pulled the door open forcefully and slammed it shut with even more force. Elizabeth was aware of Neal glaring daggers at her but she trained her eyes on the road and denied Neal anything to feed his self-righteous anger.
Neal huffed and squirmed in his seat the whole ride. As soon as Elizabeth pulled the car up at the curb he flounced off. Elizabeth sighed, locked up the car and followed Neal.
Once inside she immediately heard two raised voices. Satchmo came over to her with his tail tucked between his legs, whimpering. Affectionately she patted him and kneaded the soft flesh behind his ears. He uncurled his tail to wag it against Elizabeth's legs while she closed the front door.
Peter's yelled, “Neal Caffrey, you stay right where you are!” stopped Satchmo's excited wagging. Sadly he peered at Elizabeth who told him, “I better sit those two down and get them to talk. What do you think?”
The slam of the back door caused Satchmo to wince and hurry away to find a good hiding spot.
“Oh, I wish I could hide as well,” Elizabeth murmured.
Longingly she watched Satchmo retreating behind a big plant. The powerfully opened back door quickly forced her to cross through the rooms and get between her two men. When she reached their porch Neal and Peter stood face to face, both glaring and balling their hands into fists.
“Honey, what are you doing here so early?” She kissed Peter soundly on a cheek, which startled Peter out of his momentary anger.
“I wanted to look after Neal. Guess what? He wasn't here although that's what he said where he'd go! What a surprise!” Peter yelled.
Neal pressed a hand on the light swelling and gritted his teeth. Elizabeth took his free hand and also one of Peter's hands. Towing both men behind her she said calmly, “We're going inside. There's no need for the neighbors to listen in.”
Almost docilely Peter and Neal followed her inside. She seated them around the kitchen table, got all three of them a glass with juice, then sat down as well. Curtly she informed Peter about Neal's examination in the hospital. Peter returned the favor by informing her about the theft at Israel Rose and that Neal was a suspect.
“Surprisingly enough the allegedly stolen jewelry turned up today,” Peter concluded.
“So it has been a misunderstanding. Neal couldn't have done it because he was in hospital and I was with him the whole time.”
“He couldn't but someone else could have brought the jewels back,” Peter said, scrutinizing Neal all the while.
“What? You think he got someone to bring the jewels back? Why?” Elizabeth asked perplexed.
Peter didn't answer. Instead he kept his eyes on Neal who seemed to want to merge with his chair. Elizabeth reached out and gently laid her hand on Neal's left knee. Neal lifted his head, eyes showing remorse and trepidation.
“Oh Neal,” she said. “What if you've been caught?”
“What did you think?” Peter bellowed, drawing Neal's gaze to him. “Did you think at all? What about the baby?”
Neal jumped up and in a rare display of temper threw the chair he had recently been sitting on to the floor. Eyes brimming with angry tears and his voice sounding tight from barely suppressed fury Neal shouted, “The baby! The baby! That's all you care about!”
Elizabeth gaped open-mouthed at Neal who turned on his heels to storm off again. Peter reacted instinctively and grabbed Neal around his waist. Pulling him onto his lap proved to be a challenge because Neal fought to free himself from Peter's arms.
In the end Peter sat down on the kitchen floor, pulled Neal with him and eventually wrestled the trembling body of his lover between his legs, fencing him in. Neal struggled and writhed, all the while muttering incoherently.
Peter's arms became heavier by the minute and when all his soothing words didn't calm Neal down one bit he let his anger led his next action. He landed a well-aimed but non-too forceful slap on Neal's behind. Neal stilled in shock, allowing Peter to get a firm hold on him.
“Peter!” Elizabeth exclaimed in shock. She hurried over to them and crouched in front of her two men. Accusingly she pointed her finger at Peter, “How could you! He's upset as it is!”
“You hit me!” Neal gasped out.
“I did not hit you. I slapped your butt to get your attention.”
“Is that what you call domestic violence nowadays?” Neal snapped back. “I hate you!”
Hurt flashed over Peter's face but he still held on tightly to Neal, who struggled but not as much as before.
Elizabeth forestalled any response from Peter by saying, “All right. I've had enough of this. I get that we all need to adjust to the pregnancy but this is getting ridiculous. You love each other, you don't hate each other. Since when do we hurl such hurtful things around? Huh? I expect an answer, Neal!”
Subconsciously Neal moved closer to Peter, pressing his back against Neal's chest as if seeking reassurance and shelter. He tucked his trembling legs closer to his body, which Peter took as a sign to adjust his hold and grip him even more tightly.
“I … I didn't m-mean it,” Neal stuttered.
“Why did you say it then? To hurt Peter? Because if you wanted to hurt him than congratulations to you. It was clear that you were very successful,” Elizabeth ranted. Tears pooled in her eyes as she sat down next to Peter and Neal, adding almost desperately, “We don't talk to each other like this.”
“I … yes. Oh god, I'm s-sorry.”
“Apology accepted,” Peter said tiredly. “I still want to get to the bottom of this. What is going on, cub? You're jeopardizing your health and it seems as if you don't care for the baby at all.”
“The baby! It's always about the baby! Let go!”
Peter was so baffled by Neal actually screeching that he almost did as Neal demanded. It took him almost two minutes to wrestle Neal back into his arms. This time he manhandled Neal sideways, so Neal's head rested against Peter's right shoulder. His long legs were draped over Peter's and Elizabeth's legs, with both of them clutching onto Neal.
The younger man eventually slumped against Peter's body, his chest heaving and shivers running through his frame. He turned his face into Peter's shoulder and closed his eyes. Tears trickled down his cheeks and after the first sob tore free, many more followed.
Peter and Elizabeth exchanged a worried look, both feeling harried and helpless. Peter busied himself with pressing gentle kisses on top of Neal's head while Elizabeth stroked up and down Neal's calves.
“Baby, come on and talk to us. Remember that advice Dr. Simmons gave you. Please, for the sake of yourself and the baby,” Elizabeth cajoled.
“It's always about the baby! I'm more than just a breeding machine!” Neal choked out in between sobs.
Peter and Elizabeth were stunned into silence. Then Peter groaned and thumped his head against the kitchen wall. “Damn it! Have you been told you're just a breeding machine and that El and I would only be interested in you giving us this baby?”
Neal didn't answer but he nestled even closer to Peter, crumpling Peter's shirt in his hands.
“Who told you?” Peter asked. “Come on, cub, tell me who spouted such rubbish so I can have a nice little chat with those people. Neal? You know that this is bullshit, right?”
Neal's breath hitched a little but otherwise he remained silent. Elizabeth's stunned silence changed into bewildered disbelief.
Incredulously she asked, “You didn't believe whoever told you this, did you? Neal?” Elizabeth drew in a deep breath before continuing sternly, “Because if you did I would be seriously disappointed in you.”
“Hon, I don't think telling him you're disappointed in him will help to calm him down.”
“No, but maybe it'll help him thinking the next time he hears such crap!” Elizabeth replied hotly.
Neal turned his head so he could look at Elizabeth. His face was splotchy, his eyes red-rimmed and dried as well as fresh tear streaks were visible on his face, giving him a truly pathetic appearance. The blue of his eyes glimmered even brighter, causing Elizabeth's expression to soften immediately.
“I … might have listened to them,” Neal confessed. “They were very convincing.”
Elizabeth cupped Neal's face in her hands and kissed the tip of his nose. “So all this bratting around is because you were worried we didn't love you?”
Color rose in Neal's cheeks and he tried to hide his face against Peter's chest again. Elizabeth had none of it. “Uh-huh. No hiding. It's bad enough you believed them but you're not going to hide now that it's out in the open.”
“It hurt. What … what they said – it hurt. I didn't believe it right away but when … when Peter didn't even allow me to go with him anymore I thought … I …,” Neal trailed off, embarrassed.
“It was a decision between Hughes and me to keep you safe. You were only allowed to go with me for so long because I convinced Hughes you wouldn't pull any stunts. Any other pregnant agent would have been pulled off the streets much earlier.”
Elizabeth let go of Neal's face so he could look up at Peter. Meekly Neal asked, “Seriously?”
“Oh. I feel a tiny bit embarrassed now.”
“That's good. Maybe it'll help you to think before acting impulsively in the future. I don't want to see you in prison,” Peter reprimanded.
“I'm sorry. Impulse control isn't my strongest character trait.”
“We figured that,” Peter said sourly. “You did take the jewelry, didn't you?”
Neal averted his eyes and huddled closer to Peter. Neither of the Burke's said a word, leaving Neal to ponder if he should tell the truth or not. Fear of what they'd do or think about him brought a wave of dizziness. Neal shivered uncontrollably, then gasped when his belly contracted painfully.
“Neal,” El said softly.
“Yes. Yes, I took them. I got Mozzie to bring them back,” Neal choked out.
Peter and Elizabeth sighed in unison. It was Peter who talked after a while. “Sometimes I really want to have a talk with your parents. Why they never spanked you. Maybe that would have helped with your impulse control issues.”
“Who said they didn't?”
“They did?” Peter asked in surprise.
“No,” Neal admitted. “I'm sorry and I won't do it again.”
“You could have been caught, cub. You almost got caught. You were just lucky. Do you want us or the baby to be without you?”
Sullenly Neal replied, “It's your and El's baby anyway. What does it matter where I am?”
A sharp slap on the inner side of his thigh ripped a shocked yelp from Neal. Peter blinked at his wife who was sitting on her heels, her hand still on Neal's tingling thigh. She glared at Neal in a way that had him stare at her wide-eyed.
“You,” she gasped, “you are a terror! Yes, the baby carries Peter and my genes but you're the one who's nurturing it now. You're going to be the one who will teach him or her how to get into trouble and wrap Peter and I around his or her little finger. You're going to be the baby's parent as much as Peter and I will be. And if I hear you putting yourself down one more time I'll get my hairbrush.”
Neal looked at her in confusion, “Uh, your hairbrush? To do what? Do you want me to style your hair?”
Peter laughed out loud which led to Satchmo sticking his head into the kitchen, gauging whether the air was clear or not. Deciding that no more yelling seemed to occur he ambled over to his people, wagged his tail and eventually laid his head onto Neal's lap.
“What? What's so funny?” Neal asked while he wiped the last tears from his eyes.
“The hairbrush would be applied to your butt,” Peter explained.
Neal paled then blushed profusely. Darting his eyes between Elizabeth and Peter he stammered, “Ha-ha. V-Very f-funny.”
“Oh, I don't know. I have to keep it in mind,” Elizabeth said with a smile. “Maybe that would stop you from getting yourself into trouble and maybe taken away from us. Because we love you. If you aren't able to remember this maybe the hairbrush would help with your memory.”
“I'll never listen to anyone accusing me of being a breeding machine and I'll never steal anything anymore,” Neal replied hastily.
“Don't make promises you won't be able to keep,” Peter said while ruffling Neal's hair affectionately.
“I'll make sure I won't get caught?” Neal hazarded.
The sour expression on Peter's face brought a reluctant smile to Neal's face. “Okay, okay, I won't do anything stupid anymore. I'm way too frightened of Elizabeth's wrath anyway.”
“That's good. Now how about we all get a bit more comfortable and you can tell Peter about the ultrasound Dr. Simmons did today?” Elizabeth asked.
Mid of February, 32 weeks pregnant
The last weeks Peter, Neal and Elizabeth had been able to spend more time together. The tension between them had seeped out a lot. Neal did his best to accommodate to his condition, El stopped fussing about every tiny detail and Peter held his tongue and closed his eyes several times to stop himself from smothering Neal.
All in all life was good. The easy banter was back and in addition to that especially Neal and Peter acted more affectionate to each other. It took some getting used to it from all of them but now they were all pretty content.
They had even decided on a room for the baby and Peter himself wanted to do the painting. It swiftly became clear that Peter was all thumbs so Elizabeth organized for a professional painter to come. Neal spent some time in the baby's room to paint animals on the wall while Elizabeth went furniture shopping.
The room was mostly ready and held in soft terracotta colors so it wouldn't matter if the baby was a boy or girl. After a long talk they decided they wanted to know the gender before the birth if it was possible and asked Dr. Simmons about it during the next examination.
“Of course, I'll have a look,” the doctor explained happily.
“It's going to be a girl,” Neal declared confidently while he struggled to unzip his pants. Peter batted his hands away, opened the pants and buttons on his shirt. He helped Neal lying down on the exam table and tenderly stroked the bump. An answering kick from inside brought a smile on his face.
“The way it kicks it has to be a boy,” he said.
Stubbornly Neal held onto his opinion. “I'm still sure it's a girl. It doesn't feel like a boy.”
“It doesn't feel like a boy? How do you know?”
Neal shrugged. “I don't know. It just feels like a girl to me.”
“I've heard that some women can tell the gender of their babies in advance,” Elizabeth threw in. “Maybe Neal knows it as well.”
“Sometimes pregnant people are very perceptive,” Dr. Simmons agreed.
“Did your partner know the gender in advance?” El asked.
“Yes, he did. Only during the last pregnancy he got real grouchy because he swayed from girl to boy for a few weeks. The problem got resolved when we found out he was pregnant with fraternal twins,” Dr. Simmons replied.
“Twins?” Peter said faintly. “Wow.”
Neal patted Peter's hand comfortingly. “Don't worry, Peter. They'd found out if I was carrying twins by now.”
“I'm so glad to hear that.”
Simmons applied gel onto Neal's stomach then a picture of the baby moving around appeared on the screen. “Oh, come on, little one. Let me have a look between your legs.”
As if on cue the baby turned and Simmons smiled. “Congratulations to a little girl.”
“Hah! I was right!” Neal exclaimed, bumping his fist in the air.
Elizabeth beamed happily at him, then pressed a very firm kiss on his lips. Peter looked at the screen in awe but remained silent otherwise.
Frowning slightly Neal turned his head towards Peter and asked, “Peter? Are you disappointed?”
“What? No, of course not. A little girl. I hope she'll come after El. Now we just need a name for her. Maybe we could name her after one of her grandmothers?” Peter mused aloud.
“Edna or Gertrude? Peter, please!” Elizabeth exclaimed.
Simmons chuckled when Neal gazed at Peter horrified. “We're going to have a long talk about the baby's name. At home.”
Peter blinked, completely bewildered about Neal and Elizabeth's strong reaction to his suggestion. “What is so bad about those names? They are very unique and I don't want our girl to be named something ridiculous like Apple or Peaches.”
Neal sputtered. “I want a classy name for her, nothing ridiculous but also nothing that sounds as if she comes from the last century.”
Simmons interrupted their argument by saying, “Everything looks still mighty fine. Your baby girl is growing as she supposed to be, the placenta and the womb are intact and show no sign of collapsing. I still want to see you once a week from now on. Do you feel any pain or itching close to your perineum?”
Neal blushed and hid his face behind his hands while Elizabeth and Peter wiped away the gel from his belly. Despite that his perineum had started to itch two days ago Neal shook his head and mumbled, “No.”
They had relished a very thorough love making session two days ago, which was the reason why Neal still felt a bit sore around his perineum. He could almost convince himself to believe it. When he lifted his hands away he was greeted by Elizabeth's scrutinizing stare.
Only Peter hauling him up into a sitting position spared him to wither under El's stare and confess everything. Feeling slightly guilty for withholding information regarding the pregnancy again Neal soothed himself with the fact that the itching could come from their love-making. There was no reason to alarm anyone.
In the evening the three of them sat on the sofa in the living room, each of them armed with a pad, a pencil and various baby name books Elizabeth had organized with a little bit of help from Mozzie.
Each of them compiled a list of names, then they exchanged the pads, striking out the names they absolutely couldn't stand. After a couple of hours all of them were frustrated and in a bad mood.
“What is wrong with Wilma?” Peter asked.
“My God, Peter! There's nothing classy about that name,” Neal answered.
“Your name isn't classy as well and you still survived.”
Neal shot a death-glare into Peter's direction. “Peggy is a no go as well.”
“What about Florence then? That name has style.”
“I don't like it,” Neal pouted.
He grimaced when his abdomen suddenly cramped. Laying a hand atop of the bump he waited until the muscles loosened up again. “You're upsetting me.”
“How very convenient,” Peter bit back.
“It's not convenient. It's a fact, you grinch.”
“Is it now?” Elizabeth asked, her blue eyes piercing deeply into Neal's.
Peter raised an eyebrow upon seeing Elizabeth's stern look to which Neal responded with dropping his eyes.
“What is it this time?” Peter groaned.
“Nothing?” Neal hedged.
“That blood stain in your crotch is nothing then?” El asked mildly.
Peter abruptly bent forward, gasped and gathered Neal into his arms to carry him upstairs. “Christ, you're way heavier than you look.”
“I'm pregnant,” Neal replied indignantly. “And I'm capable of walking alone.”
Peter muttered something incomprehensible, set Neal on his feet and motioned to the stairs. “Go on then, cub.”
Neal straightened up, took one step into the direction of the stairs before being forced onto his knees from the intense pang of pain that seemed to slice open his perineum.
Neal cried out and clenched his legs together as tightly as possible. Satchmo let out a frightened bark before scurrying out of the living room.
“El? Hon, that's a lot of blood,” Peter remarked faintly.
Elizabeth sighed. “It'll be hard work to get rid of the stains.”
“What?” Neal whimpered. “That's all you can think of right now?”
“I would have liked to avoid this mess but since you insisted on nothing being out of the ordinary I had to believe you, didn't I?” Elizabeth replied, her voice holding an icy edge.
Neal clutched his belly and stared rather dumbfounded at Elizabeth. She merely stared back with her hands on her hips. Neal bowed his head and mumbled, “I didn't think it was that.”
“I hate to break up your little argument because it's nice not to be involved for once but I think Neal would be better off in bed,” Peter interrupted.
Unceremoniously he pulled Neal onto his feet again, which elicited a pained groan from Neal. Sweat formed on Neal's back, causing his shirt to cling to his body within seconds. With Peter's help he made two small steps towards the stairs, while sharp blades seemed to rip him open between his legs.
Neal's legs buckled and only Peter's iron grip prevented him from going to his knees again. Elizabeth rushed to Neal's other side, slung one arm around her shoulders to keep the younger man steady.
“I can't do this!” Neal whined. Aiming for something akin to humor he added, “There's no way I'll be able to climb all those stairs. Can't I bleed to death downstairs?”
Elizabeth guided him to the banister before she slid out from under his arm. Neal panted as well as Peter from sheer exertion. She waved her finger in front of his face and glared at him. “I can certainly apply my hairbrush to get you moving?”
“Elizabeth!” Neal exclaimed, looking scandalized and also a tad worried. “I really, really didn't lie!”
“When Dr. Simmons asked if you felt pain or an itching you didn't lie?”
Neal was spared to answer for another minute or so in which Peter maneuvered Neal five more steps up. They ended their movement as soon as Neal began to cry in earnest. If it was from pain, exhaustion or feeling guilty, neither of them could tell.
“I felt sore, I admit that but … but I thought that was from having sex two days ago.”
Elizabeth stared at him, not sure if she wanted to believe Neal when he added, “Please, El, I swear at first I thought that could be the reason and then … when I didn't move around it didn't itch or anything.”
“Means we're back to you not telling us about pregnancy related stuff, right?” Peter asked.
He helped Neal up some more steps until they had to make another stop. Neal leaned heavily on Peter, his body shaking and hurting. “You must think I'm an idiot.”
“I think you're pregnant. I also think that one pregnancy is enough for us all,” Peter answered. He dropped kisses on Neal's forehead before he urged him to go on.
Finally they reached the top of the stairs where Elizabeth waved them over to the bathroom. The tub was already half filled with water and Neal eyed it longingly.
Concerned Peter asked, “El, do you think that's a good idea? How are we going to get him out of the tub?”
“I read that a long soak in hot water would help while the birth channel opens. It seems to speed the whole process up. We have to clean him up anyway.”
Efficiently they undressed Neal and helped him into the tub. Neal tried unsuccessfully to hide his embarrassment about being treated like an invalid but had to admit that the hot water helped tremendously. He still looked at the red-colored water in disgust.
“That's revolting,” he managed to say after a while.
“Does it help?” El countered.
“Yes. Are you mad at me?”
Instead of answering his question Elizabeth pulled the plug. She draped thick warm towels over Neal's naked body, waited until all the water had drained, rinsed off the blood, then started to fill the tub anew. She removed towels when necessary, leaving Neal no other choice than to watch her worriedly.
“El?” he asked softly.
“I'm going to make some tea. Honey, are you okay to stay with him by your own for ten minutes?” Elizabeth asked her husband.
Both men watched Elizabeth leaving the bathroom. As soon as the door clicked shut Neal moaned, “I hate when she's mad at me.”
Peter smiled sympathetically at him. “She's not really mad at you anymore. She doesn't want you to see that she's forgiven you already and she tries very, very hard not to fuss about you too much right now.”
“Yes, cub, seriously. This is El we're speaking about. It's not in her genetics to stay mad at anyone for long, and especially not at you.” Upon seeing Neal's delighted smile he quickly added, “But that doesn't give you a free pass!”
“I know.” After a short companionable silence Neal went on. “I'd love to ask you to climb into the tub with me but … that's just gross.”
Peter chuckled, retrieved the spray and wet Neal's hair. “I'll wash your hair, how about that?”
Neal flashed a thousand-watt smile at Peter and tilted his head backwards to invite Peter for a kiss. Without hesitation Peter bent down to kiss Neal and nibble along his jaw.
“Well, well. I'm away for less than five minutes and you're already making out without me. Tsk!” Elizabeth said.
She put the tray with tea mugs on the toilet lid and ambled over to her two men. She traced a finger from Neal's forehead to the tip of his nose and asked, “Is the bath helping?”
“Yes, thank you.”
“I love you. Even though you're a terror, you know that?”
Neal grinned up at her. “I think being titled terror is growing on me.”
“Oh god! Don't encourage him, El!”
“Don't worry, Peter. I'll make sure to terrorize you plenty as well,” Neal quipped.
“Terror!” Peter and El said in unison, their eyes sparkling.
Neal's softly uttered statement of, “Love you both.” brought tears to their eyes.
25th of March (37 weeks pregnant)
All of them survived the opening of the birth channel, some more traumatized by the event itself than others. Dr. Simmons was pleased to hear about the opening because those men usually gave birth quickly and interestingly enough without any kind of trouble.
He informed Neal, Peter and Elizabeth that their baby was more at risk during a C-section because for whatever reason the umbilical cord stopped working as soon as the womb was cut open. Sometimes it even stopped working right after administering the anesthetic. That was also the reason why the C-sections always happened in general anesthesia. The surgeons had to be incredibly quick for delivering the baby so it wouldn't suffer from any kind of damage.
“Well, maybe it's better to wait for our little girl until she shows that she's ready?” Elizabeth had asked softly.
Even though the image of Neal going through labor caused Peter to feel nauseous he supported his wife. After everything they had gone through he didn't want to take any risk with their little girl.
All arguments fell on deaf ears. Neal ignored each single argument and stubbornly insisted on an appointment for a C-section. Absolutely no one was able to convince Neal otherwise. Not even Hughes, although he described the C-section of his nephew in very drastic words.
“I'm sorry your nephews baby suffered from a lack of oxygen but that won't happen to our girl. In no circumstances will I give birth through … through … that other way,” Neal had replied hotly.
The approaching due date had Neal on edge, causing him to either lose his temper or cry. Peter reverted to the tactic of ignoring Neal when he ranted and comfortingly rubbed his heaving shoulders when he cried.
One evening after Neal had finally fallen asleep sandwiched between Peter and El, Peter sighed loudly. He caught his wife's eye above Neal's tousled hair and whispered, “I never thought I'd say that but I actually like it better when he's crying than when he's throwing a tantrum.”
“Because he's easier to handle when he cries?” El asked, smiling.
Tenderly she brushed a stray lock from Neal's forehead then put her hand back onto the bump. The baby snuggled its head into Elizabeth's hand, eliciting a goofy smile on El's face.
“She's doing it again, huh?”
“Yes, she'll be a cuddler,” El replied dreamily. “So, is it because he's easier to handle when he cries?”
Peter thought for a moment. Neal was easier to comfort when he cried, probably because he was embarrassed about not having any kind of control about his tear ducts at some days. Wryly Peter answered his wife, “That and also because in the end he always cries himself to sleep.”
“What? It's true! I'd never believe anyone telling us our cub here could throw such impressive tantrums if I hadn't seen them with my own eyes. Several times, I might add.”
Elizabeth giggled about Peter's bewildered expression on his face. “Yeah, they clash quite a bit with what we're used to, huh?”
A small whimper escaped Neal's mouth and Peter immediately pressed himself more firmly against Neal's back. During the last weeks that was the only action that proved to calm down Neal when he became fidgety. That, and sometimes Elizabeth needed to stroke with her finger repeatedly along Neal's right eyebrow.
Peter and El had perfected the art of soothing Neal in his sleep and so Neal drifted deeper into sleep while Peter and El eventually followed him.
Peter woke up with a start, feeling disorientated and wondering why the hell he was awake when the room was still tinted in absolute darkness. He was about to settle back in his usual sleeping position behind Neal when it occurred to him that the younger man shivered miserably.
Peter felt for Neal's forehead, only to find it sweaty and hot. Worriedly he felt for Neal's pulse at this throat and found it going strong but fast. A groan, followed by a whimper and Neal curling up as much as he could on his side, had Peter switch on the light.
Neal flinched, showing that he was awake even though he hadn't given any sign of being so while Peter felt him up. Elizabeth blinked groggily against the light and asked in a sleep-hoarse voice, “What's going on?”
Another, this time louder groan was followed by a long-drawn and high-pitched whimper from Neal. Peter sat up in bed, only to find out that Neal had stuffed his fist into his mouth to prevent himself from crying out loud.
“Are you going into labor?” Peter asked, stunned.
Neal shook his head vigorously even though the tears streaming down his cheeks betrayed his statement. Elizabeth was awake in a split second and out of bed only seconds later.
“I'll get dressed and call the hospital that we're on our way,” she said before rushing out the bedroom.
“No!” Neal yelled frantically. “I'm okay. Just … just the same contractions as always. I'm not going into labor.”
“You totally are, cub.”
“Noooo!” Neal whined. “I don't want that. The C-section is scheduled for the 27th. Only two more days. The contractions will stop in a minute. I'll be fine.”
Peter helped Neal to sit on the edge of the bed, feeling pity for his younger lover who panicked so clearly. Looping an arm around Neal's shaking shoulders he nuzzled behind Neal's ear. “It's going to be okay, Neal. We'll be at your side. Our little girl simply decided she couldn't wait anymore.”
“Why does she have to be so impatient?”
Peter chuckled. “That's definitely a character trait she inherited from you.”
“She can't have inherited anything from me. Remember that I'm just--”
“No. Don't say it,” Elizabeth, already dressed, interrupted firmly. Neal swallowed down the rest of his sentence and decidedly stared at his feet. El handed Peter some clothes and said, “Hurry up, Peter. Dr. Simmons said that we've got no time to lose. Except we want to experience a home birth.”
Peter's eyes widened almost comically and he hastily exchanged places with Elizabeth. A strong contraction caused Neal first to shout in pain then gasp for air and cry. “I can't do this!”
“Yes, you can. If you really didn't want to give birth through the birth channel, why didn't you wake us earlier?” Elizabeth countered.
Neal looked at her pitifully. “I hoped the contractions would go away.”
“Oh baby,” El sighed. “Once a dreamer, forever a dreamer, I guess.”
“Maybe they still can do a C-section?” Neal gritted out as Peter and El helped him to get out of his pajamas and into lose pants and a shirt.
The Burke's exchanged a look, knowing very well that Neal was grasping for straws. Once the birth started a C-section was highly unlikely for various reasons.
Evadingly Peter replied, “We'll see.”
It still sparked hope within Neal and together they maneuvered him out of the house and into the car.
The ride to the hospital went by agonizing slowly even though Peter pushed the gas pedal to the metal. Neal was in the backseat with Elizabeth at his side. She squeezed his hand whenever a new contraction caused him to go rigid and forget to breathe.
“Baby, you need to breathe,” El said several times.
At first Neal didn't react with words, merely let out his breath in a big whoosh whenever the pain lessened. After the tenth time and the pain increasing to so far unknown levels for Neal he snapped, “Damn it, Elizabeth, shut up! I would breathe if I could.”
Elizabeth stared at Neal, completely dumbfounded. She exchanged a sheepish glance with Peter in the back mirror then sighed. “Sorry, Neal.”
Peter parked close to the hospital entrance where they were already expected. Two male nurses stood there with a wheelchair. Neal immediately took offense and snarled, “I won't get into that thing. I'm perfectly capable of walking.”
A forceful contraction belied his words as his knees buckled from the sheer pain. Trying to regain his composure he coughed when the pain lessened. He turned his suspiciously wet gleaming eyes at Peter and said, “Is there a good reason for me to get into that thing?”
“It might be a quicker way to get upstairs into the ward where Dr. Simmons waits for you so you might still be able to get a C-section.”
“All right, all right. What are we waiting for?” Neal replied while cautiously edging closer to the wheelchair.
The nurses helped him into it and quickly pushed him to the elevator. Peter and Elizabeth followed, both looking pale and stressed. By the time they arrived at the right floor Neal was drenched in sweat and the contractions came almost unremittingly.
Neal was brought to a big room which held a bed but also various other supplies and furniture, neither Peter nor Elizabeth could identify the uses of.
“W-Why are we here? Th-that's not an OR,” Neal whimpered.
Simmons strode into the room just as Neal asked his question. Smiling, he went to Neal and said, “I don't think we'll need an OR. You're healthy and from what I gathered it shouldn't take much longer for you to deliver the baby.”
“You don't think we'll need an OR? Tell you what? I don't give a flying fuck about what you think. Get me into an OR!”
Neal's screech raised goosebumps on Peter's and Elizabeth's arms. Simmons seemed to be unfazed by Neal's outburst. Soothingly he patted Neal's shoulder and helped one of the nurses to settle him on the bed and get him undressed.
“Well, I have to examine you then we'll decide about the best course of action.”
Neal whimpered when the next contraction rolled through him. The glare he directed at Simmons was weakened by the tears in his eyes. He accused the doctor, “I know what you're trying to do!”
“Oh, you do?”
“Yes! And it's not going to work!” Neal spat.
“Neal! That's enough,” Peter bellowed.
The younger man jumped, looked at Peter indignantly for a brief moment before opening his mouth, ready to hurl hurtful words at his lover. Elizabeth, sensing what Neal was about to do, rushed to his side, took his head in her hands and pulled it against her bosom.
“Don't,” she simply said. “Just don't. You might regret your words later.”
Neal stifled another pained scream and clutched tightly at Elizabeth while Simmons examined the opening of the birth channel carefully. Neal winced and tried to scoot away from the searching hands but it was to no avail.
“Don't. Please,” Neal sobbed.
“I can already feel the head of your baby,” Simmons said softly.
“You do?” Peter stared at the doctor in bewilderment.
“Yeah, do you want to have a look?”
“No! No, he doesn't want to have a look,” Neal wailed.
Peter looked as if he was ready to agree but then he squared his shoulders and replied, “Actually I'd love to have a look.”
“Then come over here,” Simmons invited.
“What? Don't I have a say in this? I … Eliiiiiiizabeeeeeth!”
Another contraction stopped Neal's whine. Everyone in the room could see Neal's belly harden and also hear him wail pitifully. When the pain ebbed off Neal didn't hold back his tears, dampening El's shirt with them.
“Wow. I can really see her head. She's got a lot of hair,” Peter said, the awe in his voice distinct.
“Okay Neal, here's what I want you to do. During the next contraction I don't want you to hold back, I want you to actively go with it and press,” Simmons said.
Neal shook his head, his cries getting louder and even more heartrendingly than they already were. “No. No, no, no.”
“Yes. You can do it. I promise you it'll be over in a few minutes. It'll be quicker this way.”
“I don't care about quick, I want painless,” Neal replied.
Despite his objection he followed Simmons advice and pressed during the next contraction.
“Fantastic! Maybe three or four more and then you're done,” Simmons encouraged him.
“Three or four more?” Neal repeated. “Oh God! It already feels as if someone is ripping me apart.”
Another contraction brought the head even closer and the next contraction pushed the baby's head out of Neal's body. Yet another contraction and the baby was completely born. Neal collapsed back against Elizabeth who said admiringly, “She's really there.”
“Why ... why isn't she crying?” Neal asked.
“Because she's born with the caul still intact. I've only ever seen this once. I'm going to remove it now,” Simmons said, his voice thick with emotions.
Only seconds later a cry, followed by a series of short cries, echoed in the room. Simmons laid the baby on Neal's chest who blinked at it completely stunned for a moment. Simmons busied himself with cutting the cord and gently spreading out a thin blanket over the baby and Neal. He withdrew to make room for Peter and Elizabeth on the bed.
Tears trickled down Elizabeth's cheeks as she ran a finger lightly over the baby's face. Peter bent over Neal to kiss him on a cheek. “See, you did it.”
Neal nodded, to overcome with emotions to give a proper answer.
“You know what this means, right?” Elizabeth asked. “She was born in the caul. She'll be blessed with clairvoyance or at least it's a good sign for her life.”
Neal blinked, licked his dry lips and finally said, “I like that it's a good sign. I don't know if I like the thought of her being clairvoyant.”
“Are we going to name her Claire now?” Peter interrupted, his brows drawn together in confusion.
“No, we agreed on Helen Rebecca,” Neal replied as he stared at the little bundle fussing atop of his chest. Bright blue eyes peered at him in open interest, eliciting a touched smile.
“You might want to call her cub now, given that she's the youngest in the household from now on,” Neal chuckled.
“No way, cub, no way. You're our cub and no one else.”
“We'll find another lovely pet name for her, I'm sure,” Elizabeth chimed in.
Neal stroked his fingers over the baby's tiny back, feeling her breathing going deeper and more slowly. Neal, Peter and Elizabeth gazed at her in awe until she fell asleep then Peter said in a heartfelt voice, “Thank you, cub. Thank you for this life-altering gift.”