A/N: Many thanks to Last1stnding for the beta and reassurance it didn't suck too much. This story was written for the Peter Whump Day at LJ (July 17th)
The Day Her World Stood Still
When she realizes this is her third attempt at reading the same paragraph, Elizabeth sighs tiredly and closes her book. She just can't focus on the story. It's not that it's a bad book. On the contrary, she actually loves anything by this author.
But today, her heart isn't at it. All she can think about, what is occupying her entire mind and heart, is Peter. She looks at him, resting in his hospital bed, sleeping from a too quiet sleep. His left arm is taken in a sling and he has superficial cuts on the left side of his neck and forehead. She shivers as she can't prevent mental images of the accident to form in her head. She sees the car crashing into Peter's, she hears the metal crumpling, feels the shock as the car hits her husband, her love, her life.
The doctor said he was lucky. She doesn't feel lucky right now, watching Peter. She is holding her breath, the world standing still around her. She is waiting for Peter to wake up.
She doesn't know when he'll wake up – "There's no way to tell" the doctor said, "His brain needs time to recover." – Nor how he'll wake up. He has a concussion. It's vague, and it's terrifying. The doctor said long-term after-effects were unlikely. But "unlikely" isn't enough for Elizabeth right now. She needs certitudes and "unlikely" sounds like a terrible euphemism. What if he does have after-effects? Headaches, nausea and dizziness are common after-effects of concussions. She's heard about it. What if it's more serious, like speech problems, memory loss? What if he is mentally disabled? This could affect his ability to work at the FBI. It could affect his life. What if he will never be the same?
She is scared. Scared to death, like she has rarely felt in her life. She is scared that their life as they knew it is over and gone. This is her worse fears coming true. She had felt this Damocles' sword hanging above their heads ever since Reese had paid them a visit. She had never heard the senior agent warn Peter of the danger of an investigation in that way before. But Peter was already too deep in the chase to listen to anyone. Not his trusted boss, nor his own worried wife.
She is shaken by a sudden sob. But her eyes are dry; she has already shed all the tears she could possibly cry.
She has spent the entire night watching over her unconscious husband, and she hasn't slept. She can't. She had drifted off at one point during the night, and she was assaulted with visions of Peter, heavily disabled, in a wheelchair, not responding to her, like he didn't even recognize her. She woke up from this frightening nightmare with a jolt, terrified, and nauseous. It had taken her a long time, listening to his calm and steady breathing to steady hers, to calm her heart and convince herself it did not happen. So now, she stays awake and tries unsuccessfully to keep at bay all the scary thoughts that keep haunting her.
She knows she isn't rational. And she knows it isn't like her to feel so weak, so lost, and afraid. Elizabeth Burke is a strong woman. But Peter means the world to her and when the realization had hit her that she had been so close to lose him for good and forever, something had broken inside of her, something that will not heal until she gets her world back, her Peter back.
If Peter doesn't wake up exactly like he was, she'll have to be there for him. She'll have to be strong for the two of them. It breaks her heart just thinking about it, and she doesn't want it. She doesn't want this kind of life. She'll hate it, because he'll hate it. But she'll be there anyway, because there's nowhere else she'd rather be than at her husband's side. She'll be the strong Elizabeth Burke again. So meanwhile, she allows herself to feel weak, and angry.
She's angry at everyone. Pratt, Neal, Reese, the Bureau. She can hear that sensible and hypocritical little voice. "He's an FBI agent; you signed up for this when you married him." This is such total crap, and everybody knows it. Knowing it can happen doesn't make it less painful when it does, and certainly doesn't make it right.
She's even angry at Peter – for a tiny fraction of second. She's angry at his stubbornness, his stupid sense of Justice, his incessant need to help those he cares about. And she's angry that she loves him so much for that.
Elizabeth bends over and delicately grabs her husband's right hand in hers. It's as warm and solid as ever, if heavy. With her other hand, she caresses his cheek, she passes her fingers through his hair.
"Come back to me, Hon," she whispered. "Please, Peter, wake up."
But he doesn't.
He still needs some time. She puts a gentle kiss on his hand and releases her hold. She takes back the book from her lap. Waving her thoughts away, she starts over for a fourth time and tries to focus on the fiction, this other reality that takes her far from hers. It gives her worried mind some rest and her broken heart a small solace.
"Hi, Hon," he says.
Two words, two little words that mean so much. His voice is a little weak, but his tone is so deliciously tender. She looks up instantly and moves close; as close as she can.
He looks at her with that enveloping gaze that makes her feel warm and fuzzy inside. He's smiling at her and she smiles back.
She doesn't need anything more to push away all her dark fears from the night. The weight that was holding her down vanishes and her heart bounces in her chest, happy and light.
They exchange a tender kiss. Peter looks a little disoriented for now but she can read in his eyes, locked in hers, and in his sweet smile that his love is intact.
Peter is back. The Earth can start spinning again.
And how fast the world is already spinning… Clinton Jones arrives first, talks business, and Peter eyes light up. At the mention of Pratt's name, Elizabeth exits the room. She feels sick and angry.
Then Neal shows up again. She knows she wasn't fair. She wants to say she's sorry for treating him the way she did. But she can't. The pain is still too raw, her heart too sore. Instead, she reminds Neal of their agreement. It's not easy to see her husband hurt by the lie. But she doesn't say anything. She can't. He'll get over it. An angry Peter is better than no Peter at all. She'll protect him, no matter what, and against his own will, if she has to.
Later, her friend Dana comes to visit and they go outside for a coffee. It gives Elizabeth a welcome break. But she can't stay far from her husband for long. She thanks Dana for stopping by and she goes back inside the hospital.
As she approaches Peter's room, she sees him through the window of the door. Peter is on the phone, a cocky smile on his lips, and his eyes sparkling with mischief. Peter is like a kid at Christmas when he catches the criminals. Also, he is wearing Mozzie's fake arm. He is happy.
Elizabeth watches her husband and smiles. Yes, for better and for worse, her Peter is back, and he is just the same: the stubborn FBI Agent she loves.