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26 January 2014 @ 05:11 pm
FIC: The Storm Will Pass, the Spring Will Come  
The Storm Will Pass, the Spring Will Come
Ratings: PG13
Pairings: P/E/N
Word Count: ~6,270
Summary: The second timestamp to Of Christmases Past, Present and Future. Neal is ready to go back to work at the FBI, but he needs to sort through a few things first.
Title from a quote by: Robert H. Schuller


The Storm Will Pass, the Spring Will Come

“The trial starts next week. How do you feel about the attempted murder charge?”

Neal shrugged and smoothed his tie down. It was a tell, he realized, but he seemed to have less control over things like that than he did prior to his brain injury. “Considering I almost died, I suppose it’s appropriate.”

“Just appropriate?” His psychiatrist, Dr. Anders countered. “That’s not really an answer to what I asked, Neal.”

“I don’t have a better one. I don’t really care what happens to Shatz. I just want all of this to be over. To go back to the life I had before all this happened.” Neal tried to mask the exasperation in his voice, but it was hard. It had been four months since the day Ernie Shatz had taken a baseball bat to the back of Neal’s head. Four months of near death experiences, pain, struggle, anxiety, and recovery and he was just ready for it to be over, to go back to work, to go home each night and not see a worried look in Peter’s eyes or have El mother hen him to death.

Dr. Anders gave him an appraising look. One he had come to recognize well in the six weeks that he had been coming to his FBI mandated appointments. Dr. Anders was a petite, but strikingly beautiful woman and she always dressed immaculately. In some ways she reminded Neal of El, the perfect appearance and the way she carried herself, which at the outset of their meetings had been almost as disconcerting as having to see a therapist at all. But the doctor’s demeanor was entirely different, while El wore her caring and concern in every look and gesture, Dr. Anders cloaked hers in professionalism. Neal came to appreciate both the objectivity and the regard it concealed.

He put his hand up to stave off the comment he knew was coming. “I know. It will never be the same; I’ll never be the same, but as close as I can get, okay?”

Dr. Anders nodded once and then waited for Neal to continue.

“Whether he’s convicted of trying to kill me or not doesn’t change what he did, or what’s happened to me since. I don’t want to be angry about it or to think about what Shatz did or why. I just want to keep moving forward.” Neal looked his doctor straight in the eye, willing himself to show the certainty he felt. “That’s why I believe I’m ready to go back to work. It’s the next forward step.”

Dr. Anders nodded again, a simple acknowledgement of his words. She was good at keeping her thoughts schooled. Neal knew more than a couple of his old associates who could learn a thing or two from her.

“And what do you think going back to work would entail for you now?”

Neal shrugged again. “Desk duty. I know I’m not ready for the field.”

Dr. Anders unfolded her crossed legs and sat forward in her chair. “Have you thought about the possibility that you might never be ready for the field?”

Neal swallowed. He had thought about it. And, thought about it and thought about it. He had spent nearly two decades identifying himself as a conman, even while in the employee of the FBI. A sting, a con, there was no difference in his mind. Since his injury he was different. He had lost a bit of his physical grace, he was still slightly underweight despite Elizabeth’s attempts to fatten him up, he still had difficulty sometimes getting the right words to come out of his mouth, he had developed new habits, like randomly humming when stressed or when his brain wasn’t working at quite the level he wanted it to. In his day-to-day life, none of these things mattered. He was capable and as physically healthy as he had ever been, aside from the occasional nasty headache. But, pulling a con required finesse, the ability to pull words out his mouth the same way a magician pulls a rabbit from his hat. The ability to create a persona, any persona, and be prepared for any eventuality. He couldn’t do that now, and he wasn’t sure he would ever be able to do it again.

“I’ve thought about it a lot. I know it’s a possibility,” he replied finally. “But, I have and can continue to contribute to the division from behind a desk. “ There was conviction in his voice, a conviction that wasn’t staged for a psychiatrist’s ear.

A small smile appeared on Dr. Ander’s face. She nodded. “I agree.”

Neal’s eyes widened. “Does that mean you’ll sign off on my return?”

“With conditions, yes. You’re still attending outpatient therapy?”

“Just speech, and just twice a week.”

“So, for the first two weeks, you’ll only work half time including the time you spend at therapy. Then we’ll assess going back to full time.”

Neal nodded. “Anything else?”

“We’ll continue to have weekly sessions until such time as I decide we’re done.”

Neal nodded again. He didn’t enjoy their sessions, he usually spent the remainder of the day after each of them thinking far too much about things he would rather not think about at all, but he had to acknowledge that they had helped him to sort through the minefield of emotions and conflicting thoughts that his injury had created. “Okay.”

It was just after three when Neal left Dr. Anders’ office. He thought about walking the two blocks downtown to the Federal Building to tell Peter his good news, but it had actually been a long day. He’d had speech therapy that morning and then his appointment with Dr. Anders and he was a little tired. And, he wasn’t really sure how Peter would take the news of his return.

They had talked about it, of course. Peter knew Neal had every intention of returning to work. And, while Peter wasn’t dead set against it, he seemed to want to push it as far into the future as possible. Neal wasn’t really sure why, since the worst thing he would be in danger of while sitting at his desk would be bleeding out from a paper cut.

So he walked over toward Canal instead and hopped on the subway back to Brooklyn. It was nearly four when he stepped in the door to the house to find Satchmo waiting for him, tail wagging. He let the dog out in the yard as he poked around the kitchen looking for something to make for a celebratory dinner for his partners.

After he let Satch back in, he went upstairs to change into something more appropriate for cooking. Neal stripped off his tie and his jacket, hanging them up. He kicked off his shoes, shoving them under the bed for the time being. Then with a tired sigh, he dropped down on the edge of the bed. One thing led to another and Neal ended up curled up on the bed, his eyes closed, drifting on the verge of sleep.

There was a ringing sound. Neal looked down and realized it was coming from the phone on his desk. The small screen read Burke, Peter. Neal smiled and picked up the call. “Hello, Peter.”

“Are you almost ready to go?”

Neal looked up toward the ASAC office that Peter occupied, a small frown of worry replacing his smile. “Go where?”

“Court. We talked about this. You need to testify against Shatz today.”

Neal’s heart quickened. “But, I don’t remember anything,” he stuttered. “How am I going to testify?”

“What are you talking about?” Peter chastised. “Of course you remember. You’re our whole case against Shatz.”

Neal felt his panic grow, goose pimples prickling his fresh, sweat dampening his armpits. “No, Peter, that’s not right. What about all the forgeries in evidence and the bank records from the sales?”

“Neal, what’s gotten into you? You know that was all thrown out. It’s up to you now.”

Neal dropped the phone’s receiver like the plastic was burning metal. It wasn’t possible. He couldn’t testify. He didn’t remember anything from that day. And, no one would believe him if he did, he was an ex-con. Why was Peter making him do this?

Neal looked up toward his partner’s office again. Peter was at the top of the staircase, on his way down, a vexed crease in his brow and a scowl on his lips.

Neal stood up and started to back away from his desk, to put as much distance as he could between himself and Peter.

“Neal!” Peter exclaiming in the scolding tone that always made Neal feel like Peter was his father instead of his lover.

Neal tried to move further away, to escape from Peter’s demands, but he had backed up against a filing cabinet and had nowhere else to go. He put up a pleading hand. “Please don’t make me,” he begged.


***

When Peter arrived home from work the house was quiet. He had received an email from Dr. Anders stating that the official paperwork releasing Neal back to part-time desk duty was on its way and Peter had expected to find his partner in the kitchen, cooking up a spectacular celebratory meal and humming in delight.

When Neal was nowhere to be found on the main level, Peter headed upstairs. The bedroom door was open, Satch was sacked out at the foot of the bed and Neal was lying curled in a ball just above him in his slacks, socks and undershirt.

As Peter approached, Neal jerked and moaned softly and Peter could hear Neal breathing, shallow and fast.

“Neal?”

Neal jerked again at the sound of his name and then mumbled what sounded to Peter like “Don’t make me.”

Peter squeezed onto the edge of the bed next to Neal’s knees and put his hand on his partner’s upturned hip.

“Neal, buddy, everything’s okay. Wake up,” he crooned, softly.

Neal mumbled something else that Peter couldn’t make out and then shifted on the bed as if he was trying to pull away from Peter.

Peter applied some pressure and rubbed his hand along Neal’s thigh. “Buddy, you need to wake up now.”

Neal jolted one final time and his eyes snapped open.

“Hey, there you are,” Peter murmured as he gently rubbed Neal’s hip, giving the younger man a moment to orient himself and slow his breathing.

Peter kept up his soothing motions and waited as Neal blinked slowly, his eyes focused on nothing, while his brain came back online.

Eventually Neal sighed and rolled over onto his back stretching the painfully tight muscles in his legs out slowly.

Peter resettled his hand on Neal’s chest and was reassured by the steady beat he felt there. Even after three months, Peter still felt like it was a small miracle every time he got to touch his conscious and healing partner. “You okay?”

Neal nodded. “Bad dream.”

“I gathered that much. Want to talk about it?”

Neal shook his head.

Peter gave a moment’s thought to pressing the matter, it was so hard not to worry, not to see every deviation from the norm as a possible heath issue, every stutter or balance check as a reason to pull Neal close and try to somehow keep him safe, make him whole, but he held himself back. Neal was his partner, his lover and a grown man who was perfectly capable of asking for help if he needed it. It didn’t matter now that that had been far from the truth only four months ago.

Peter decided it would be best to change tacks instead. “Hey, let’s get dressed up and go out and celebrate your illustrious return to the office.”

“You already know?”

Peter nodded. “Dr. Anders sent me an email.”

“You’re not upset?” Neal asked hesitantly.

Peter knew Neal’s hesitancy was valid. He had expressed concern over Neal’s return to work multiple times. He consoled himself with the knowledge that it was a perfectly legitimate response. Neal had been severely injured, had almost died as a result of working for the FBI, of working for Peter. But it wasn’t fair to put that on Neal, to make Neal believe in any way that he didn’t want his partner back at his side.

Peter shook his head and smiled down at Neal. “No, I’m looking forward to having you back, we all are. But, be prepared, I’m gonna worry.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything else.”

“Good. Come on, let’s get cleaned up for dinner.” Peter stood and offered a hand to Neal which the younger man took, letting Peter pull him smoothly to his feet.

They undressed and climbed under the warm spray of the shower together. Neal shivered once, then turned and pulled Peter into his arms. Peter thought for a moment Neal’s embrace might be a prelude to something more, but Neal just held him tightly and buried his face in Peter’s neck.

Clearly Neal was looking for connection, security, comfort. He might be ready to return to work, but that didn’t mean it would be easy, or that he wouldn’t have doubts. It was Peter’s responsibility, one that he readily accepted, to help Neal in any way he could. So he brought his own arms up and wrapped them tightly around Neal, resting a hand on the back of Neal’s head, his index finger brushing against the scar Neal’s ventriculostomy had left behind.

***

The following Monday morning Peter strolled through the glass doors to the White Collar offices with Neal beside him, matching him stride for stride. And despite Peter’s continued worry, it felt right, so right, to have his partner next to him again.

Neal peeled off to his desk where he found a large piece of cardboard propped up against his pen holder, the words Welcome Back emblazoned on it along with the best wishes and signatures of all the division staff. Next to the placard was a latte from his favorite coffee shop and a paper plate holding an enormous cinnamon roll.

Neal smiled brightly at the sight.

“I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t have time for El to make you pancakes this morning,” Peter teased.

Neal’s hand drifted up to his stomach. “No kidding.”

“Once you’re settled in I want you to take a look at the file on this investment scheme that came up last week.”

Neal nodded as he took his seat behind his desk. “Sure.”

Two hours later Peter looked up from the file he was reviewing on his desk and down at his partner in the bullpen. Neal was still sitting behind his desk, Jones was perched on one edge and Diana was standing before them. The three of them were sharing some joke, Diana was smirking, Jones held his hand to his mouth to stifle his chortle and Neal was glowing, suffused with a brightness that Peter hadn’t seen on his lover for four long months. Peter settled back into his chair, a smile of his own breaking across his face.

Just before noon Neal popped his head into the open door of Peter’s office. “Got a minute?”

“Sure,” Peter replied waving him in.

Neal entered, placed three file folders down on Peter’s desk and then sat down in one of the guest chairs.

“What have you got?” Peter asked.

“Your investment scammer is no Bernie Madoff. But, he definitely has an insider with the S&P. I found several cash transfers to an account in the Caymans under a false identity that I was able to trace back to a VP by the name of Walter Ackles.” Neal stopped and hummed for a few moments before picking up the thread of his thoughts again.

“The other two files are a couple of cold cases that landed on my desk. The top one is most likely a Gordon Taylor heist, we’ll never get him on it, but I’m pretty sure I traced back who hired him. If the stolen artwork is in his possession…

“That last one was insurance fraud,” Neal made a face of disgust. “All of the people whose names and insurance information were stolen live in one of several nursing homes owned by a management corporation called Ever Homes. The adult son of the records manager at the operations office has been using his mother’s access code to steal the information. I made notes.”

By the time Neal was done with his recitation, Peter was grinning like a fool. Neal had been back in the office for less than four hours and he’d solved three cases. Not that Peter doubted it, but Neal was still at the top of his game and the affirmation of that truth brought joy to his heart.

“That’s great work, Neal.”

“I didn’t want you think I was goofing off all morning or anything.”

“Yeah, yeah, I saw you down there fooling around with Jones and Diana.”

Neal brought a hand up to his chest and gave his best ‘who me?’ look.

“Yeah you. Now get out of here, go home. I’ll see you later.”

“Your will is my command,” Neal snarked, as he rose smoothly from his chair and headed toward the door turning just long enough to tease Peter with a lascivious grin on his way out.

***

It was a beautiful early spring day and Neal decided to go for a short run once he made it back to Brooklyn. He grabbed a quick snack, changed into sweats and a long sleeved t-shirt and then hit the pavement. After a couple of blocks he fell into an easy rhythm and the world around him bled away.

Neal was on the witness stand, his right hand raised, his left resting atop a Bible. It was a position under most circumstances that he greatly enjoyed. It was a novelty when he got to testify, to wear his brightest smile and show off his knowledge for a judge and a jury.

But today was different. He felt a flutter of anxiety as he repeated the oath. As the Bailiff moved off and Neal took his seat he looked over and saw Ernie Shatz sitting in the defendant’s chair that he had once occupied himself. His anxiety bubbled even higher.

His eyes scanned the rest of the room until he spotted Peter sitting in a row toward the back of the gallery. Peter caught his eye and gave him a look that said to Neal ‘don’t screw this up.’

Neal swallowed hard as the DA approached the stand. The questioning started out fine. What was Neal’s position with the FBI? What did his job entail?

But things turned difficult quickly when the DA asked, “What happened on November 21st?”

Neal shook his head. “I don’t remember.”

The prosecutor pressed. “Did you accompany the White Collar unit to deliver the warrant on Mr. Shatz?”

“I must have,” was all he could say.

“What happened at Mr. Shatz’s showroom?”

Neal shivered from the adrenaline coursing through his body and looked over at Peter again. His partner was scowling and clearly unhappy with the responses that Neal was providing.

“I don’t remember,” he stated again, a hopeless feeling washing over him as nausea curled in his gut.

“Please describe for the jury the events of that day as you remember them.” The DA requested.

“I don’t remember anything,” Neal insisted, shaking his head.

The prosecutor pressed him again. “Nothing? You’ve already stated that you were there that day, Mr. Caffrey.”

Neal looked from the DA to Peter again. His partner was looking more and more angry. The kind of look he usually reserved for the rare times that Neal went completely off the reservation. Then he glanced over at Shatz. He looked confident, unconcerned and when he noticed Neal watching him he sneered.

Neal pointed at Shatz. “How I am supposed to remember what happened?” Neal stammered. “He slammed me in the head with a baseball bat. He almost killed me and left me in a coma for a month. I’ve spent the last three months in endless therapy sessions and I’m still not okay. I’ll never be okay, because of what he did to me.”

Shatz’s attorney stood and yelled, “Objection!”

Other voices started up as well and then the judge slammed his gavel down demanding order in his courtroom.


A horn honked loudly and Neal startled out of his daydream. He was in the middle of the street, crossing against the light. He waved at the driver and then quickly booked it to the curb. Somehow he had managed to get nearly two miles from the house without knowing how he got there and miraculously without getting himself killed in the process. He stood against the wall of a corner bodega to catch his breath and clear his head. When he felt more settled he made his way back home, walking this time and paying close attention to his surroundings.

***

On Wednesday morning Neal was sitting at his desk, paging through a file when Peter came down the stairs and approached him. “Hey,” he said, smiling down at his partner.

“Hey,” Neal replied, returning the smile.

“I’m on my way to court. I’ll see you at home tonight.”

“Court?” Neal asked, the smile fading from his face to be replaced by a worried frown.

“The trial started yesterday, Neal.” Peter was certain Neal knew that Shatz’s trial was starting this week. And, the look on his partner’s face now confirmed Peter’s belief that Neal didn’t belong anywhere near the courtroom. “Look, you don’t need to worry about it at all, okay? Everything is going to be fine.”

Neal nodded slowly, but the frown stayed in place.

“Make sure you go home at noon. I’ll see you tonight.”

Neal nodded again. Peter thought about taking Neal aside to reassure him, to hold him tightly for just a moment, but he needed to go if he was going to make it to court on time and Jones and Diana were waiting from him at door. “I love you,” he whispered so only Neal could hear him.

“Me too,” Neal replied, the barest hint of smile returning to his face.

When Peter got home that evening, El and Neal were in the kitchen, jazz was playing in the background and the two people he loved most in the world were leaning against the counter wrapped in each other’s arms, kissing. Neal had one hand in El’s hair, cradling her head, the other was wrapped around her waist and pressed possessively against her ass. El’s arms were enveloped around Neal’s chest and one leg was twisted around his calves. They looked sexy as hell and Peter felt an inevitable stirring in his groin. He watched them for a long moment, soaking in their beauty and then he said “Caffrey, are you messing around with my wife?”

At the sound of his voice, they broke the kiss, but not their embrace and looked over at him. El smiled brightly, her lips obviously swollen. Neal looked down as if embarrassed, a blush spreading over his features.

It was an old game that had started when they first became a threesome. Peter would do it tease Neal about his insecurity around his place in their lives. Peter hadn’t pulled it out in a while, not since before Neal was hurt.

From the look on Neal’s face Peter thought for a moment that he shouldn’t have gone there, but then Neal spoke. “Caught me again, Agent Burke. What does this make you now, four and oh?”

Peter shook his head as he closed the distance between them, “At least five, maybe six.” Then he wrapped them in his arms, kissing El’s temple and Neal’s jaw. Neal turned his head, inviting more and Peter pressed his lips to his partner’s. Neal pushed his tongue into Peter’s mouth moving as if he was searching for something that he could only find in possessing Peter. Peter broke off when he suddenly realized he needed to breathe. Neal was looking at both of them hungrily.

El stepped away from their embrace and took Neal by the hand. “Dinner can wait,” she proclaimed as she tugged Neal gently out of the kitchen.

Upstairs in their bedroom Neal was like a starving man setting upon his first meal in days. His hands and his mouth roamed everywhere on his lovers’ bodies, touching and tasting as they undressed and climbed onto the bed. Neal had never been a shy lover, or a submissive one, but since his return home from rehab he had let Peter and El take the lead in their sex life. But tonight was different, Neal assumed complete control asking for and taking what he wanted from both El and Peter while lavishing them with his love and adoration. When he was finally done with his ministrations and they were all thoroughly sated and lying replete in each other’s arms Neal kissed them each one final time, a thank you, an ‘I love you’, tucked his head into Peter’s shoulder, and nodded off to sleep.

“That was… new,” Peter whispered across Neal’s head to El.

She smiled, a wicked smile. “I liked it, a lot.”

“You’re not going to hear any complaints from me. I’m just curious about what brought it on.”

El shrugged. “When I got home this afternoon, he mentioned that you were at the trial today. I think he’s a little anxious about it.”

Peter reached down and kissed the top of Neal’s head. “He doesn’t need to be. It’s open and shut. The evidence we have on the forgeries is overwhelming and nine FBI agents witnessed Shatz attack him. I told him he has nothing to worry about.”

“Honey, you know there’s a difference between knowing something intellectually and knowing something in your heart.”

“I do; it just hurts me to see him hurting.”

“Me too,” El agreed, reaching across Neal’s slumbering form to take Peter’s hand in hers.

***

Dr. Anders raked Neal over with her usual appraising gaze when she let him into her office on Thursday afternoon.

“Dr. Anders,” Neal greeted her with as much nonchalance as he could muster as he sank into his customary seat.

“Neal,” she responded as she followed and sat across from him. “How are things going at work?”

“Good, fine.”

“Care to elaborate?”

Neal shrugged. “Not much to say.”

“What kind of cases are you working on?” she continued.

Neal shrugged again. “Different things.”

Dr. Anders sat forward in her chair, placed her elbows on her knees and waited.

Neal hated being scrutinized this way and he knew that his doctor was aware of that fact. He scrubbed a hand over his face and sighed before replying. “Sorry, tired, headache.”

Dr. Anders nodded and went over the small fridge she kept in the corner of her office. She pulled out two bottles of water and then grabbed a bottle of ibuprofen that she kept on a small tray on top of the fridge.

She handed Neal one of the bottles and offered him the medication which he waved off. “Thanks.”

Dr. Anders retook her seat and then waited while Neal cracked open the water and took several sips. “Would you like to reschedule?” She offered.

“Not necessary, I’m fine.”

“Okay, then let’s try actually talking, shall we?” She asked with a small smile.

“Okay,” Neal agreed.

“How are things going at work?” his doctor asked again.

“Good,” Neal stated before breaking off into a hum for several moments. “I solved three cases on Monday, one on Tuesday and I’m close on another one.”

“That’s great. How does it feel to be back? Things okay with Peter?”

“Peter’s been great. I think he really is glad I’m back. I know he’s still worried. I keep catching him looking down to check on me.” Neal smiled at the thought of just how much Peter cared about him.

“And…”

“It’s good, mostly.”

Dr. Ander’s sat back waiting for the rest of what Neal wanted to say on the subject.

“I think I’m having a harder time with the whole trial thing than I thought I would.”

“How so?”

Neal sighed and closed his eyes briefly against the headache that had bloomed during his speech therapy session that morning.

With his eyes still closed, Neal continued. “I’ve been daydreaming about having to testify, the whole case rests on my testimony for some reason, and I don’t remember what happened and Shatz is going to get away with everything, because I can’t remember.”

“Do you have any thoughts about what’s at the core of these daydreams?” Dr. Anders asked him quietly.

Neal shrugged.

“Last week, you told me you didn’t care what happened to Ernie Shatz, that you just wanted it all to be over so you could move on. Is that the way you still feel?”

Neal tucked his head back against his chair and thought about the question. It was still true that the outcome of this trial wouldn’t change what happened to him. It was still true that he just wanted to move forward, but maybe it was also true that part of moving forward was getting through the trial and coming to terms with whatever it was that awaited Ernie Shatz.

Neal opened his eyes and blinked to adjust to the light. “Mostly, I guess.”

“What’s different now?” She probed.

“I’m not a vengeful person. I don’t want to become one, not because of this.”

Dr. Anders sat forward in her chair again, her short wool skirt pulling away from her knees. “Neal, you don’t believe that wanting justice for what was done to you is wrong, do you? Because that’s what this trial is about. It’s not vengeful to want the person who hurt you, who changed your life possibly permanently, to pay for that crime.”

“I guess that depends on the payment. I’m not really a fan of the federal prison system.”

Dr. Anders nodded and sat back again. Neal could see her wheels spinning as she framed her reply. “The four cases you closed this week, do you feel the same about those perpetrators? It’s your job isn’t it to find the evidence that will send people to prison? Why is this different?”

“I don’t get to decide for someone else what they think is fair when they’ve been hurt or wronged,” Neal justified. “That’s not my job. This time I was the victim, me.”

“That’s right Neal, you were the victim. So what do you think is fair?”

Neal scrubbed at his face with both hands. His headache was getting worse the longer they continued this discussion. And, a tingle of nausea was forming in his belly. “Don’t know.”

“Okay, how about the counterfeiting? Should Shatz be sentenced to prison for that? That is what you were sentenced for originally isn’t it?”

Neal nodded. “Four years, maximum security, bonds.”

“Shouldn’t Shatz get the same?”

“No, white collar crime, usually minimum security. Maybe longer though, more charges.”

Neal didn’t realize that he had closed his eyes again until he felt Dr. Anders’ hand on his knee. “Neal, I think you should come and lie down on the sofa for a little while.” She said quietly.

Neal opened his eyes and let her guide him out of the chair and over the sofa Dr. Ander’s kept against the far wall of her office. He lay down slowly to keep the movement from making his stomach rebel and then closed his eyes again gratefully once he was vertical.

Neal was sitting in the jury box with thirteen other people. The prosecutor was presenting closing arguments, telling them why Ernie Shatz should spend the next decade plus in prison. He described in detail the wooden bat, how Shatz had grabbed it, aimed, and then savagely brought it to bear on Neal’s head. Neal swallowed hard against the non-memory of the fear and pain he must have felt in that split second before he lost consciousness.

Once he had concluded his remarks Shatz’s defense attorney stood and talked about Ernie’s surprise at being raided and the fear he felt when he was surrounded by FBI agents. He had acted on that fear, it was clearly self-defense. He hadn’t intended to grievously injure anyone; he was simply trying to find a way to escape and made a poor choice.

Neal thought back to the incident reports he had read when he came home from rehab, the one Peter wrote and Diana’s and Jones’ and Blake’s. All of them said that the raid had been executed with no guns raised, the warrant handed to Shatz calmly. There had been no reason for him to feel threatened in a way that would make him act out physically in self-defense. Jones, in the dispassionate manner in which he always wrote reports, stated that Shatz consciously picked up the bat and had looked angry, not afraid, when he had swung it with force at Neal. He may have chosen Neal at random, but Jones made it plain that Shatz had intended to inflict harm.

The judge gave his instructions once the attorneys were done and then he was escorted with his peers to a room where they would deliberate and decide the fate of Ernie Shatz.

When they held their vote on the charges, Neal raised his hand to vote guilty with everyone else on every count of forgery. Then the foreman read the formal language of the attempted murder charge and asked for a show of hands on a guilty verdict. Neal sat and watched as one hand and then the next and the next was raised. He knew he shouldn’t be in the room. He knew there was a reason for impartiality in juries. He knew if Shatz was convicted on this charge he would spend a minimum of eight years in maximum security for that crime alone. What he didn’t know was why he cared. The truth was, Shatz was guilty and Neal wasn’t responsible for that, nor was he responsible for what the government deemed a worthy penalty for such a crime.

If he wanted to move on, he needed to let go. Neal raised his hand.


Neal woke slowly feeling disoriented and vaguely headachy. He cracked his eyes open trying to get his bearings. The room was dim, with just a low-wattage light coming from somewhere behind his head. He shifted to get a better look around and realized that he was still in Dr. Anders’ office.

“Feeling better?” He heard her ask softly.

Slowly he righted himself hoping the action wouldn’t reignite anything in his head. Sitting with his legs planted back on the floor he replied, “Yes. Thank you.”

“Good,” she said as she came around from behind her desk to sit in a chair beside the sofa.

Neal looked toward the windows, it was growing dark outside. “What time is it?”

“Around 5:30.”

“I’m sorry. I’ll get out of your hair.” Neal apologized as he started to get up from the sofa.

Dr. Anders put a hand on his arm and guided him back down. “Neal, it’s okay. You’re still recovering and it’s been a stressful week with going back to work and the trial.”

Neal nodded.

“I’d like to schedule another appointment for tomorrow so we can talk some more about what you’re feeling.”

“I don’t think that’s necessary. I’m feeling okay, really. I know I’m not responsible for what Ernie Shatz did. Shatz is. I’m not responsible for deciding what happened that day or what price needs to be paid for it. That’s up to the court. I’m ready to let it go, so that I can continue to move forward.”

Dr. Anders looked at him hard for a long moment and then she nodded and smiled. “That’s really good to hear, Neal.”

She got up and he followed. As they made their way toward her office door Neal wondered if Peter and El had tried to reach him while he was sleeping. He always turned his phone off for his sessions; it was one of Dr. Anders’ rules. But, he was late and he knew they would be worried about him. He decided he would check his phone as soon as he said good night and reentered the waiting room.

Dr. Anders opened her office door for Neal to walk through. “I’ll see you next Thursday, Neal?”

Neal nodded. “Yes, thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Neal turned his attention away from his doctor and noticed someone sitting in one of the waiting room chairs, someone particular. His tie was pulled loose, his jacket open, a folded newspaper sat on his knee as he worked a crossword puzzle. “Peter?”

“Hey, buddy,” Peter said with a smile as he looked up from his puzzle.

“Peter, what are you doing here?”

“Dr. Anders called and told me you might like a ride.” He replied as he rose smoothly from his seat. “What do you say, can I drive you home?”

Neal smiled, grateful that Peter didn’t ask why Dr. Anders had called him. The silent support meant more to him than he could express. “I would appreciate that.”

“Good, because El is making that coco vin stuff you like and we need to be home on time for a change.”

“You mean Coq au Vin?”

“Yeah, that. You still need some fattening up.” Peter commented, patting Neal’s flat abdomen.

Neal laughed and shook his head at Peter’s attempt at humor as they headed out the office door. “Let’s go home.”

 
 
 
angelita26: Matt - Buzzcut TCAangelita26 on January 27th, 2014 01:57 am (UTC)
Oh, Neal *snuggles him close*

I'm so glad he was able to work through his feelings, with the help of Dr. Anders (I like her!) and the love of Peter and Elizabeth. I so love this series! You've done such an amazing job with it. Thank you so much for sharing!
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on January 29th, 2014 02:30 am (UTC)
Thanks ang!

You have been one of my main encouragers on this little project. So thank yourself!

I'm glad you like Dr. Anders. I kind of like her too.
bluegreen_17bluegreen_17 on January 27th, 2014 02:35 am (UTC)
I love this 'verse and this latest installment is just wonderful! You handle the psychological complexity so beautifully. I really enjoyed Dr. Anders and her interactions with Neal. I like that Neal seriously considers the fact that he may never be able to do undercover work again. I hope he'd still be able to do some limited fieldwork, like going to appraise art. I would love to hear more about Neal's ongoing recovery. Thank you for writing and sharing!!
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on January 29th, 2014 02:32 am (UTC)
Thanks Blue, I'm glad it rang true for you.

I'm thinking about another timestamp around Neal maybe/maybe not being able to do field work again.

I've done, winter, and spring. Next comes summer I guess.

Thanks for reading and commenting!
kanarek13: s5 promo Nealkanarek13 on January 27th, 2014 09:10 am (UTC)
Oh, waking up in the morning only to find this brilliance posted - I want such morning everyday :P

Absolutely amazing. It's officially one of my favorite verses/series/extended stories? It's so heartbreaking andhopeful at the same time. To see Neal struggle through his recovery is so hard, but when Peter and El take care of him, love him, cherish him and are there for him every step of the way - I can't help but cry at the beauty of it ♥

Neal going back to work was such a wonderful moment, I was a bit worried that Peter might end up hovering a bit too much, but he was perfect and Neal was, indeed, glowing with his brilliance and beauty \o/

Yeah, things might never be 100% the same as before but in every step, every word and gesture I can't help but see and feel the "old" Neal right there ♥

Thank you so much for this, it's beyond words how happy you make me every time I see something new in this verse posted \o/
Awww *tacklehug* (my new favorite hug :P)
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on January 29th, 2014 02:40 am (UTC)
UMMMPH!

Tacklehug received and happily returned!

The thing I really enjoy about this 'verse personally is how committed Peter and El are to Neal, no matter what. That's an amazing kind of love and such a pleasure to write.

Thank you for being such a wonderful cheerleader.

I'm so glad that you enjoyed this installment. I'm pretty sure there will be more.
a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf: White Collar - Neal b&wembroiderama on January 27th, 2014 01:42 pm (UTC)
OH POOH!! This is beautiful! I love that Neal is thinking everything through and struggling more than he lets on, and I love the caring between him and Peter and El. You do a great job of showing that Neal is himself but not quite the same, and his ability to be aware of that without just drowning in sadness or anger really speaks to his innate adaptability.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on January 29th, 2014 02:43 am (UTC)
"You do a great job of showing that Neal is himself but not quite the same, and his ability to be aware of that without just drowning in sadness or anger really speaks to his innate adaptability."

Thank you!!! That's an amazing compliment.

I'm so glad you enjoyed it.

Thanks reading!
Kerstinkerrylang on January 27th, 2014 02:23 pm (UTC)
Ah, a new installment, awesome!!

I just copied it to my kindle and will read it tonight, so I'm going to comment properly soon. I just wanted you to know how happy I am about you writing and posting another part for this wonderful story. ♥

pooh_collectorpooh_collector on January 29th, 2014 02:44 am (UTC)
Hope you enjoy it!
calis_1stcalis_1st on January 30th, 2014 02:31 pm (UTC)
This is such a beautiful timestamp to a wonderful 'verse. It's so poignant to see Neal struggle through his recovery, yet remain positive, in spite of knowing that he might not ever be able to go back into the field and do the work he loves so much. I love how Peter and Elizabeth are so understanding and loving, and how they show their love in ways that are very different and still very much "in character."

Thank you for posting this.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on February 9th, 2014 08:21 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading and commenting!

I'm so glad you're enjoying the verse.

And, so sorry for the late reply.
Stacysahiya on February 2nd, 2014 05:25 am (UTC)
This was excellent! I loved how you dealt with Neal's extremely complex feelings about the trial and about going back to work. It felt very realistic.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on February 3rd, 2014 03:40 am (UTC)
Thanks sahiya!

I'm glad you enjoyed it!
snowdrop3100snowdrop3100 on February 9th, 2014 01:58 pm (UTC)
Loved it.
Thank you for writing and sharing :D.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on February 9th, 2014 08:20 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much!

I'm glad you enjoyed it.
lauracollaredlauracollared on February 15th, 2014 06:43 am (UTC)
Just read the 'verse and I'm in love. I cried a lot too! Damn you! ;p :shakes fist:

But really this so beautifully written. The way you right this changed Neal... himself but not himself. It's amazing. I hope you writ more in this 'verse!
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on February 15th, 2014 03:52 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much. I'm glad you're enjoying it, even if it did make you cry.

I do have a least one more story planned.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on February 15th, 2014 03:55 pm (UTC)
There is one more that you may not have seen, since I haven't added it to my master list yet.

It can be found here.

http://pooh-collector.livejournal.com/10998.html
lauracollaredlauracollared on February 15th, 2014 05:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I did read it. :) I love how each time stamp was from each one of their perspective's!
joy2190joy2190 on June 9th, 2014 08:10 pm (UTC)
Such a positive installment, and it have the benefit of knwing there is another already written to enjoy next.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on June 22nd, 2014 10:04 pm (UTC)
Awww, thanks joy!

Glad you liked it.