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13 February 2013 @ 07:58 pm
What Was Lost Part II  
Title:  What Was Lost Part II
Rating:  NC17
Warnings:  Explicit smex
Pairing:  OT3 P/E/N
Word Count:  ~12,000
Spoilers: Checkmate, this is an AU ending
Summary:  Written for this prompt from RabidChild67:  Let’s just suppose that Checkmate didn’t go quite as we saw, El was never rescued, even though Peter tore down heaven and earth to find her, and Keller got away with the treasure.



Neal barely made it up to his apartment before he was on his knees dry heaving into the toilet.  Another leftover from his concussion, Neal was truly sick of feeling sick.  The nausea and the vomiting sucked and these bouts of worshipping the porcelain god made the pain in his head flare to an indescribable level.

When he was finally done, he laid his arms across the toilet seat and rested his head on them while he waited for his headache to scale back to a more reasonable level.  He stayed like that for a good twenty minutes before Mozzie found him and helped him to his bed.

After Moz got Neal settled in the bed and dosed with Advil he headed downstairs to give Neal some space and to visit with June and fill her in on the news that Elizabeth had been found safe.

Once Moz had shut the door to Neal’s apartment behind him, Neal felt the tears he had been holding back for the last three weeks begin to slide down his cheeks.  He was incredibly grateful for Mozzie’s help, through everything since Keller had come back into their lives, but what he really wanted, needed, was Peter and Elizabeth.  

He understood why he couldn’t be with them, why he would never be with them again, not in the way that mattered, but it hurt.  Without him Keller would never have known the Burke’s existed.  Keller would never have taken Peter.  He would never had kidnapped Elizabeth.  They never would have had to suffer through that fear and the loss had it not been for his own place in their lives.  

Neal curled himself into a tight ball, tucking the covers in around himself and waited for the Advil to dull his headache enough so that he could give in to his exhaustion and sleep.

***

Elizabeth was nestled against her husband on the couch in their home.  Peter had the Yankees game on with the sound off, his head was resting against the top of hers.  It felt so good this normal, summer’s night activity.  But something was missing, someone was missing, and it was time for Elizabeth to find out why.

“Peter, what happened between you and Neal?”

“Nothing,” Peter replied a little too quickly.

“Then why isn’t he here?”  Elizabeth asked as she pulled away from Peter’s side so she could face him.

“El...It’s not that simple.”  He hedged.  

“Then please explain it to me.  I miss him Peter.”  

Peter looked away from his wife’s gaze.  “I do too.”  His voice was laden with what El heard as guilt.

“Do you blame him, for my kidnapping?”

“No,” Peter replied emphatically.  “I know that was Keller.  I don’t even blame him for Keller escaping with the treasure.”  

“Okay, then what?”

“I needed to focus to finding you.  I needed you back El, and that meant I couldn’t...I didn’t have anything left for Neal.”  It was difficult to explain to Elizabeth what he had felt when she was gone, knowing that he may never have another evening like this one with her again, that he might never hold her or see her alive again.

“Are you saying you don’t love him anymore?”  Elizabeth clearly didn’t understand what Peter was trying to express.

“No, I mean yes, of course I still love him.  I always will.”  Peter took El’s hand in his own.  “But I,” Peter hesitated, sighing.  “I needed to put my feelings for him away.  I couldn’t betray you.”

“Betray me?”  Elizabeth squeezed Peter’s hand.  “Peter,” she said shaking her head.  “You would never betray me.  You’re not capable of it.”

“But don’t you see El?  Every moment I could have spent with Neal, loving him, caring for him, was time that I wouldn’t have been looking for you.  If we never got you back, how would I have justified that to myself, how would I have been able to stay with him and not grow to resent him knowing that he may have kept me from you?”

“But Peter, Neal found me.”  El reminded him.

“I know.  But, it’s still not that simple El.  In not betraying you, I ending up betraying him.  I made a choice, I choose you and Neal knows it.  I’m not sure how to fix that.”  

“We’ll do it together.”  El replied, pulling Peter into her arms  “We’ll make it right.”

***

The next morning Neal made the assumption that Peter would still be at home with Elizabeth so he sent Diana a text saying that he had a headache and wouldn’t able to come in to work.  Then he curled back up in his bed.  

He just needed some time to get used to the idea that he was alone again.  It would be hard to continue to see Peter at the office, to work with him, but Neal was nothing if not resilient.  He would make it work, he had to.  

It was the nights that would actually be harder, Neal imagined.  When he would really be alone, without Peter or Elizabeth.  

Neal spent the morning letting himself drift in and out of sleep.  He had no energy for or interest in doing anything else.  At some point Neal heard someone come into his apartment.  He turned his head into his pillow and squeezed his eyes shut.  He wasn’t in the mood to talk to anyone right now.

There was movement in the kitchen and then the someone came and sat on the edge of his bed.  A familiar hand landed gently on his chest and then warm lips kissed him on the temple.

“Hi sweetie.  How are you feeling?”  El asked in a whisper.  

“I’m fine.  Why are you here Elizabeth?”  Neal said, keeping his head tucked into his pillow and his eyes closed.

“Because Diana said you weren’t feeling well.  And, I wanted to be with you.”

Neal turned onto his back and opened his eyes.  Elizabeth looked so beautiful.  Her blue eyes were radiant, her raven hair spilled over her shoulders to where it just grazed against his chest.  Her presence was a white light permeating the emptiness that now encompassed him.  He had never loved her more.

“Peter’s right, you shouldn’t be around me, neither of you.”  He said.

“And why is that?”  El asked.

Neal looked up at her incredulously.  “El you were kidnapped and held for three weeks.  And Keller could have done so much worse.”

“But he didn’t and what he did do, HE did Neal, not you sweetie.”

El was brushing Neal’s fringe away from his forehead.  It was comforting and distracting, making it harder for Neal to keep his resolve.  “Keller would never have known about you, you or Peter if it wasn’t for me.  You would have been safe.”

“Oh sweetie, do you think for one moment that I would trade what we have, the three of us, to be safe, whatever that means.  I love you Neal, Peter and I both love you and that’s not conditional.”

“I would,” Neal said sadly, “I would trade it all to keep you safe, you and Peter.”

El leaned down and kissed Neal sweetly, a light brushing of her lips against his.  “I know, and that’s why I love you.  That and this incredible body of yours.  Oh, and the blue eyes and this curl your have right over your forehead.”  She added giving his forelock a gentle tug.

There, just the hint of a smile.  It was working, El realized, she was breaking him down.  “Come on I brought lunch, chicken salad and peach cobbler.  But first mister, you need a shower.”

Neal groaned and tried to bury his head back into his pillows. “Headache, remember?”

“Oh no you don’t.  A hot shower and a good meal will do you a world of good.  And, I’m not taking no for an answer.  Up!”  El hopped off the bed, took Neal’s arm and tugged him up into a sitting position.  

As soon as he was upright, Neal’s already pale face became impossibly white and his eyes slammed shut as he swayed slightly where he sat.  “Oh sweetie, I’m sorry.”  El exclaimed.  

“It’s okay,” Neal ground out.  “Just sat up too fast.”  

He sat there for a minute with his eyes tightly shut riding out the dizziness and the flare of pain the change in position ignited.  When he felt more stable he opened his eyes and smiled tightly up at El.  “I’m fine.”

Elizabeth nodded and then helped him out of bed and out to the bathroom.  Neal started to tug his tee shirt off over his head and Elizabeth gently pushed his hands out of the way.  “Let me.  Let me help you.”  

Elizabeth pulled the shirt off and then bent down to help Neal out of his pajama bottoms.  When she stood up again she saw tears streaming down Neal’s cheeks.  “Baby what is it?”  She asked softly as she wiped at his tears with her thumbs.  

Neal felt totally overwhelmed by Elizabeth’s forgiveness, by the love that she was offering him so unreservedly.  “I’m so sorry Elizabeth.  I don’t deserve this, I don’t deserve you.”

Elizabeth kissed him, sucking his bottom lip into her mouth.  When she pulled away, she said “Maybe not, but I deserve you.”

She kissed him again, passionately and then pulled off her dress followed by her bra and panties.  She turned on the shower and then took him by the hand and guided him under the spray.

At first Neal stood mutely while El kissed him from his jaw line, down his throat and his chest to his left nipple.  She kissed it lovingly, and then pulled it hungrily into her mouth sucking hard.  

Neal pulled in a sharp breath and wrapped his arms around her.  Spurred on by his response El moved her mouth to his other nipple and worried the first now taut nubbin with her fingers.       

Neal pressed up against her and El could feel his erection begin to grow against her lower belly.  She moved her free hand down between them, wrapped it around him and pulled smoothly, running her thumb along the vein on the underside.  

“El,” Neal gasped.  El smiled around the nipple in her mouth.  Neal had called her El.  As a reward she bit down lightly on his nipple while giving a teasing twist to the head of his dick.  Neal’s hips surged forward and he shuddered.  

That was her cue.  She guided Neal over to the small bench at the back of the shower stall and and pushed him down to sit on it.  She spread his knees slightly and then straddled him.  A mischievous smile played on her lips as she guided his cock into her body.  

The feeling of being inside of Elizabeth was almost too much for Neal.  He pulled her in against his chest and buried his head in the crook of her neck.  “I love you so much,” he murmured.  

In reply Elizabeth lifted his head and kissed him deeply as she rocked her hips against his pelvis.  She took her time, keeping her pace languid, building the arousal for both of them slowly, carefully.  This was about more than the physical act.  It was about reassurance and reconnection, something they both needed after the last three weeks.

Eventually she could feel the tell tale signs that Neal was getting close.  Little tremors began to run through his chest and she could feel his breathing hitch in the midst of a kiss.  She wanted them to come together, so she reached down and pressed two fingertips to her clit and rubbed three sharp circles to bring herself right to the edge.  When she felt Neal let go she pressed into herself one last time and she came with the warmth of Neal’s cum flooding into her body.  

She pulled herself in tighter against him, wanting to feel every quiver, every heaving breath.  His head was on her shoulder again, his arms around her.  How could she not love this beautiful, gentle man, she thought.  He would do anything for her, he did do everything for her.

El continued to hold him while his breathing evened out and the tension drained from his body.   

The water was starting to cool and Neal was starting to drift off to sleep when El climbed off his lap and pulled him up.  “Come on sweetie, time to get clean.”

She positioned him under the spray and washed his body and his hair while he stood compliantly allowing her to manipulate him.  While she was fingering the last of the conditioner out of his hair, she asked “Are you okay, baby?”

“I’m getting there,” Neal replied honestly.  She pulled him in for another hug, kissed him and then shuttled him out of the shower to get dry and warm while she quickly washed up herself.

When she climbed out the shower, Neal was sitting on the closed toilet, his elbows on his knees, holding his head in his upturned hands. “Neal?”  She asked worriedly.  He lifted his head and smiled up at her.  It wasn’t even close to the full Caffrey, but it was genuine.  

“Just catching my breath.  That was some shower.”

“I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

Neal watched as Elizabeth quickly dried herself off and put her underwear and her dress back on.  The look on his face was clearly appreciative.

“Come on Peeping Tom, time to get you dressed and fed.  Peter will be here to pick us up in about an hour.”

“Pick us up, where are we going?”

“To the neurologist appointment that you blew off two weeks ago.”  El replied disapprovingly.

“Oh.”  Neal thought briefly about protesting, but he was tired of feeling like crap and maybe seeing the neurologist would help.  “Okay.”

Neal briefly considered wearing something Caffreyesque, but decided he didn’t feel up to the effort, so he pulled on the jeans that had become his usual clothing choice over the past week or so and grabbed a tee shirt.  At least the tee was clean he thought as he pulled it on over his head.  

Once he was dressed, Elizabeth ushered him to the dining table and placed a plate with chicken salad, a fresh roll, and some cole slaw in front of him.  Then she sat beside him with her own plate.  “Eat it all and you get dessert,” she promised.

“I thought I already got dessert in the shower.”

“Dessert round two then.”

***

In the well-appointed if mutely decorated waiting room at the neurologist’s office Neal sat quietly between Peter and Elizabeth.  When the nurse called him back Peter put his hand on Neal’s knee and squeezed, smiling reassuringly at him.  Neal allowed himself a moment to think that maybe Peter would, could forgive him for the hell that he had rained down on their lives and that hopefully they could continue to work together as friends.

Neal was gone for nearly an hour and a half when a distinguished looking man in a white lab coat came out from the examination area and introduced himself to Peter and Elizabeth as Dr. Wyeth.  

“Why don’t you come back with me to my office where we can talk.”  He suggested.

He led them out of the waiting room and into a well-appointed office with modern furnishings and multiple degrees adorning the walls.

“Please have a seat.”  Dr. Wyeth requested indicating the guest chairs that sat in front of his desk.  “Neal has asked me to share my findings with both of you.”

“Where is Neal?” Peter asked his voice laced with concern.

“He’s getting dressed.  He felt that it would be better if I spoke to you without him present.”  

Peter looked at Elizabeth and saw that her face mirrored his own unease.  

“Okay,”  Peter finally replied.  “How is he?”

“The good news is that Neal’s MRI and head CT were clean today, so I do expect him to make a full recovery.”

Peter felt himself relax marginally at that news, but if that was all the doctor had to report, there would be no reason for Neal to want to be out of the room for this meeting.  “And, the bad news?”  

“The bad news is that Neal has been struggling with some serious post concussion syndrome symptoms.”

Peter sighed.  “I know he’s been having some nasty headaches and some dizziness.”

The doctor nodded.  “Neal indicated that he had been attempting to hide the majority of his symptoms from you.  It seems he was more successful than he realized.  He confided to me that his headache has been persistent since his initial injury.  It’s been better or worse at different times, but it hasn’t gone away.  The dizziness has been persistent as well.  To add to this Neal has been nauseous and has been vomiting every two to three days.”

Elizabeth’s hand found Peter’s where he had it tightly fisted against his thigh.  

“Neal also reports that he has been depressed and anxious both of which can also be symptoms of post concussion syndrome.”

“What can we do to help him?”  Elizabeth asked.

“There are medications that I can prescribe.  Neal seems to be pretty adamantly against taking anything for the depression or the anxiety.  He told me that he has been under a large amount of stress since he was hurt, but that the situation has been more or less resolved.  Is this the case?”

Peter nodded.  “I can’t go into detail on an open FBI investigation, but yes.  Things had been pretty difficult for all of us these past three weeks.  But the worst is over now.”  Peter squeezed Elizabeth’s hand as he spoke.  

“Alright, then my recommendation is that I write Neal a prescription for an anti-nausea medication.  Neal and I discussed a pain medication for his headaches, but he decided that he was concerned about side effects and the possibility of rebound headaches when the medication is discontinued.  I would like to see him again in a week, to reevaluate how he is feeling and see if we need to add any further medications.”

“What do you need us to do?”  Peter asked.  

“Keep an eye on him.  Make sure that he’s resting, that his stress levels are as low as possible.  I understand the obligations of his work release, but I don’t think he should be working, at least not until I see him again next week.  He’s clearly lost some weight, I would like to see that stabilized.  Hopefully, the anti-nausea medication will help with that.  Some light exercise will probably help as well.”

“He’ll come and stay with us for the week.”  Elizabeth affirmed.  She was speaking to Dr. Wyeth, but looking directly at Peter.  Cleary she would brook no argument from her husband on this.

“Good,”  Dr. Wyeth replied.  He picked up his prescription pad and wrote out the prescription for Neal’s medication and then handed it to Peter.

“Neal should be waiting for us outside.”  The doctor said as he got up from behind his desk.  Peter and Elizabeth rose and followed him back out to the waiting room, where Neal sat looking like he had been run over by a truck in the last hour and a half.  He was slumped in his seat, his face pale and slack, and his eyes were closed.  Peter thought he might actually be asleep.  

Dr. Wyeth approached Neal and put a hand gently on his knee.  “Neal.”

Neal startled and blinked his eyes rapidly.  “Peter has your prescription.  I’ll see you next week, alright?”  

Neal swallowed and then nodded.  “It will be an easier visit, I promise.  No more MRI’s or CT’s.”  The doctor continued.  

Neal nodded again.  “Thank you.”  He said quietly.

Neal started to get up from his seat and Peter put a hand under his elbow to help steady him, mindful of what the doctor had said about Neal’s continued dizziness.

At the contact, Neal turned his head to look at Peter, his eyes dark, his mouth set in a thin line.  Peter was struck by how reserved and resigned Neal looked.  Peter had thrown something away when he had pushed Neal aside.  He hoped he could convince Neal that he wanted it back.  

Neal sat in the backseat of the Taurus with his eyes closed all the way to DeKalb Avenue.  When Peter pulled up in front of the house Neal looked surprised to be there.  

“I shouldn’t be here.”  He said to Peter.  “You need to be with Elizabeth, taking care of her.”

Peter looked over at his wife, who was sitting next to Neal.  The look she gave him in return was very clear, I want Neal here.  “I will be with Elizabeth Neal, we both will.  That’s what she wants.  It’s what I want too.”

Neal turned to Elizabeth looking for confirmation.  She nodded to him.  “I need you here with us Neal.  I knew you and Peter would find me.  I never doubted it.  But I don’t want to be apart from either of you right now.  I have a lot of lost time to make up for.”  She leaned across the seat and kissed him firmly hoping it would drive the uncertainty from his face.

Neal couldn’t refuse Elizabeth anything right now.  Honestly he never could.  So he nodded and got out of the car.  El took Neal into the house and straight up to their bedroom.  She helped him pull off his tee shirt and jeans and then tucked him into their bed.  Before she could turn and walk away, Neal grabbed hold of her wrist.  “Don’t go.”  He begged.

She kicked off her shoes and climbed in the bed beside him.  He rolled onto his side facing her.  His expressive face held reverence and gratitude.  Once again Elizabeth was overwhelmed by how much she could love him.  She brushed that errant lock of his hair away from his forehead and whispered to him, “Close your eyes.  Rest now.”

When Peter returned with Neal’s prescription a half hour later he found Neal sound asleep, his breathing deep and even and Elizabeth curled up beside him.

“Hi hon,” he whispered as he bent down to kiss her.  “How’s he doing?”

She shrugged.  “This whole thing with Keller and my kidnapping, it was hard for me.”

“I know hon.”  Peter sympathized as he knelt on the floor beside the bed.

“No, Peter let me finish.”  El interjected, taking Peter’s hand in hers. “It was hard for me, but it was hell for you and Neal.  When I said I knew you would come for me, I meant it.  I knew that I was safe, and that all I had to do was wait and you would find me.  

“But you and Neal, you never had that assurance.  For all you knew Keller had me killed the moment I got off the phone with you.  And the more time that passed, the harder it must have been to imagine finding me alive and safe somewhere.

“I’m okay, I really am and I’m getting better every moment I spend with you both.  But, you and Neal I really can only imagine what you felt, how you managed for three weeks without knowing whether I was alive or dead.  It’s going to take some time honey, for both of you to feel right with the world again.”

Peter nodded, the grief and the sorrow that he had lived with while El was gone welling up in his chest.  “It was not an experience I ever want to relive.  I’ve never felt so helpless or lost.”

“You didn’t have to go through it alone Peter.”

Peter sighed.  “I thought I did and I’m honestly still not certain I was wrong about that part.  But, I was wrong to make Neal go through it alone.  I had no idea he was hurting so badly, that he was so sick.”

Peter reached across his wife to place his free hand on one of Neal’s where it lay on top of the bed covers.  “I failed him, and I failed you too.  But, I’ll make it right El.  I will.”

“I know you will Peter.  Will you stay with him, while I make us some dinner?”    

“Of course.”

Elizabeth got up from the bed careful not to jostle Neal and then Peter laid down in the space his wife had just vacated.  

“I’ll come get you when dinner’s ready.”  She kissed Peter on the lips and then Neal on the forehead and went downstairs.

Peter turned on his side to face his partner.  Evidence of the stress and pain that Neal had been  dealing with over these past weeks showed plainly on his face.  He was still so pale that the dark circles beneath his closed lids looked like eye black.  Fine lines were etched in the corners of his eyes and on his forehead.

“I’m so sorry Neal.”  Peter murmured.  

Neal shifted his position in his sleep, burying his head in Peter’s chest and wrapping an arm around his waist. “Peter,” Neal mumbled.

“I’m here buddy, I’m right here.”  Peter wrapped his own arm around Neal, pulling him closer.

An hour later Elizabeth found them both asleep glued to each other in a tangle of arms and legs.  El couldn’t help but smile at the sight of them.

At dinner Peter and Neal spent far more time aimlessly pushing food around their plates than eating.  El chattered away, trying to break the mood and the silence, but Neal was resolute in his muteness and Peter only seemed capable of one word responses.  

After the plates were cleared she put a beer in Peter’s hand, a tall glass of water in Neal’s and then pushed them both out the door and onto the back patio.

Peter sat with a sigh on one of the lounge chairs and watched Neal as he wandered out onto the lawn.  The night was warm, but not muggy, a light breeze blowing through.  Fireflies played in the darkness and crickets chirped in the silence between Peter and his partner.  
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Peter gave himself and Neal a few minutes to enjoy the peace before calling him back over to the patio.

“Sit with me.” Peter said, patting the space between his legs on the lounger.  

Neal looked down at him uncertainly.  “Come on,” Peter encouraged.

Neal placed his untouched glass of water on the table and sat down with his back to Peter keeping his feet planted firmly on the slate tiles.  Neal was completely stiff, his shoulders tight and hunched.  Peter snaked an arm around Neal’s waist and pulled him in to rest against his chest.  

“Relax,” Peter whispered into Neal’s ear.  

Neal’s body remained rigid.  Peter kissed Neal behind his right ear.  “Please Neal, we need to talk.”

Neal let out a breath, and the tightness in his body eased somewhat but it remained firm in his voice.  “It’s okay Peter, really.  I understand.  You don’t have to pretend or explain anything.  I’ll go back to June’s in the morning.  I would appreciate it if we could continue our professional relationship.”

Neal started to pull away from Peter, but Peter wrapped his other arm around Neal, effectively anchoring his lover to him.  “Oh Neal, have I really screwed things up that much?”  

Neal twisted in Peter’s grip to face him.  “No Peter, this wasn’t your fault.  It was mine.  I’m the reason that Keller came into your lives, yours and Elizabeth’s.  It’s my fault.”

In the pale patio light Neal looked wretched.  “I accept that.  I know I can’t be a part of you and Elizabeth any more.  I know it’s for the best; to keep you safe, both of you.”

Neal’s hand reached up and cupped Peter’s cheek.  It felt so warm, so right to Peter.  “It’s okay.  I love you both enough to let you go.”
 
The strength and determination in Neal’s voice, even as tears slowly began to slide down the younger man’s face broke Peter’s heart.

“No, Neal please, that’s not what either of us want.  I’m so, so sorry that I pushed you away after Keller took El.  It was stupid and selfish and I never meant for you to believe that I blamed you or that I stopped loving you.”  

Neal blinked and salt water from his tears sparkled in his eyelashes.  

“I’m so sorry that I’ve hurt you.” Peter continued.  “Please don’t allow my actions to push you away.  None of this was your fault.  Keller took El.  Keller put you in the hospital.  Keller is responsible for what happened over these past three weeks.  Not you.”

“Don’t you see Peter?  Keller never even knew your name until I became your C.I.  And, he’s still out there.  And, so are all the other criminals and cons who I’ve known.  Who knows when someone else, someone even worse than Keller might come along to hurt you or Elizabeth because of me.  I can’t be responsible for that.  I won’t be responsible for that.”

Neal leaned in and kissed Peter lightly.  “You have to let me go.”  He breathed against Peter’s cheek.   

“No, I don’t accept that.  If you walk away from us now, Keller wins.  I love you.  Elizabeth loves you.  I know I messed up.  I know I wasn’t there for you when you needed me.  I know I have no right to ask for your forgiveness or to expect you to stay after what I’ve done.  But, I need you to.  Elizabeth and I both need you to.  Our lives haven’t been the same since you came along Neal and they never will be again.  Don’t ask us to go back.  Don’t ask us to pretend that we’re better off without you.  It isn’t true.  It could never be true.”   

Peter put his hand on top of Neal’s where it still rested on his cheek.  “Please,” he pleaded.  “Stay with us.”

Neal closed his eyes and took a deep breath.  Peter still loved him.  Despite everything, the treasure, Keller, what had happened to Elizabeth, Peter still loved him, still wanted him.  Neal felt the darkness that had held him like a vise ease.  He looked up again.  Peter’s face was partially in shadow but Neal could see Peter’s eyes shining brightly with sincerity and love.

“I can’t.  Please understand, this is the best thing for all of us.  You and Elizabeth, you’ll be fine.  You have each other, you always will.”  

Neal pulled his hand away and then gently pulled Peter’s arm from around his waist.  “I love you Peter, you and Elizabeth.  Kate died because I couldn’t protect her from my past.  I only survived losing her because of the two of you.  If something happens to either of you because of me...”  

Neal shrugged and swiped at the tears running freely down down his face.  “I’m sorry.”

Neal rose on unsteady legs and walked back into the house.  Elizabeth turned from where she stood at the sink washing the dishes.  She saw his red eyes and the tears marring his cheeks.  “Neal?”  

He smiled weakly at her.  “Goodbye El.”

Neal kept moving through the house to the front door.  His hand was shaking as he gripped the knob and pulled the door open.  He hesitated briefly his heart warring with his head and then he was gone, out onto the street.

El found Peter still sitting on the lounger staring off into the darkness of the yard.  He looked stunned and bereft.  “Peter, Neal just walked out the front door.  What happened?”

Peter swallowed back his grief and then slowly focussed on his wife.  “I lost him El.  I pushed him away.  I made him feel responsible for Keller’s actions.  He walked away to protect us.”  

***  

Neal had no memory of the trip back to June’s.  He managed it entirely on autopilot and was grateful that he had arrived without tripping his anklet somehow.  When he reached the apartment, he turned off his phone, left it on the kitchen table and headed out to sit on one of the lounge chairs on the balcony.  He didn’t want to talk to anyone and he was glad that Peter would not be expecting him at the office for at least the next week.  It would give them both time to come to terms with their new reality.  A clean break would be the best thing for all of them.  He knew that his decision would be difficult for both Peter and Elizabeth, but as he told Peter they had each other.  They would be okay.  

Eventually, Neal fell asleep where he sat lulled by the sounds of the traffic coming up from the streets below.

The sun was fairly high in the sky when Neal startled awake.  He had a crick in his neck and the pounding in his head was on the higher end of the post concussion headache scale.  He squinted at the brightness of the midsummer light and struggled to figure out what had woken him.

There were voices coming from inside his apartment.  He stood up slowly, careful not to bring on a bout of dizziness or crank his headache up.

Through the French doors he could see Peter futzing with his espresso machine and Elizabeth setting the table, a plate of bagels, a bowl of cut fruit and several tubs of flavored cream cheese were already set out.

Elizabeth was laughing softly at Peter as he cursed at the steamer on the machine.  

Neal reached the door unnoticed bewildered by the sight of his former lovers in his apartment engaged in such normal everyday activities.

Elizabeth looked up and saw him standing there.  “Hey, sweetie you’re up.  Could you please come help Peter with the espresso machine.  I swear he’s going to burn his eye out in a minute.”

“What are you doing here?”  Despite the obvious, Neal couldn't understand what Elizabeth and Peter were doing in his apartment after the conversation he had had with Peter just last night.   

“You left your medication at our house.  We thought we would bring it by for you.”  El replied picking up the prescription bottle from the table and giving it a little shake.  “You should probably take one of these before we eat.”

Neal stayed in the doorway trying vainly to process what was happening in his apartment.  

“Ack!” Peter cursed as he pulled his slightly scorched hand away from the steamer.

Elizabeth snorted at her husband.  “Seriously sweetie, please save Peter from himself.”

“Elizabeth?”

“Mmm?”  Elizabeth responded not looking up from where she was laying out utensils at each place setting.

“Why are you here?”

Elizabeth looked up her eyes sparkling with determination as they met Neal’s.  “Because we love you Neal.”

Peter abandoned the espresso machine and joined his wife at the table.  “We talked about it after you left last night and we’re not giving you up.  It’s not just your decision to make and our two thirds majority decided that we want you in our lives.”  There was steel in Peter’s voice.  We’re not letting you go Neal.”

Head shaking Neal finally entered his apartment.  “No, no this isn’t a democracy, Peter.  This was my decision.  Please, I need you to respect it.”  Neal pleaded.  “Don’t make this any harder than it has to be.”

Neal kept the table between himself and the Burkes hoping the physical separation would provide some emotional distance too.

“You’re right Neal, it’s not a democracy.  It’s a relationship.  That means that we, all three of us, are in this together, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part.”  Peter blatantly ignored Neal’s attempt to keep some separation between them and moved around the table to stand before Neal.  “Nowhere in that vow do you find the words until someone decides to fall on his sword.”  

“That’s what you think I’m doing?”  Peter’s blunt statement made Neal realize that he hadn’t looked at the situation from that perspective before.  Maybe there was some truth to the idea that he was too intent on taking the blame, consequences be damned.  

Peter nodded.  “We don’t want your nobility Neal, we want you.  And we’re not taking no for an answer.”

Peter stepped into Neal’s personal space.  “Do you remember what you said to me just before we got into the truck to drive to the storage facility when Keller had El?”

Neal nodded.

“You promised me that we would find her, that you loved us too much to see things end any other way.  You kept your promise Neal.  You brought her home to us.”

Peter looked over at his wife.  She smiled encouragingly at him.  “Well, I promised El that I would fix what I broke when she disappeared, that I would fix what I did to us.  I love you both too much to see this end any other way.  Don’t make me break my promise, Neal.”   

Peter took Neal into his arms.  “I can’t live without you.”  He whispered.

Neal felt his resolve shatter like glass in Peter’s embrace.  “You promised Elizabeth?”  He asked haltingly.

Peter nodded into Neal’s neck.  “I did.”

“I wouldn’t want to be responsible for you breaking your word to your wife.”  

Neal could feel Peter’s lips curve into a smile.  “No, you wouldn’t.  She could take us both out with a spatula if she wanted to.”

“And don’t either of you ever forget it.”  El said as she wrapped her arms around Neal from behind joining the three of them together once and for all.  

 
 
 
Laura: Neal approvescookielaura on February 14th, 2013 05:20 am (UTC)
Aww, this was really nice! I thought it was a really perceptive and realistic way to write the estrangement between Peter and Neal, with Peter actually not blaming him but still feeling unable to be close to him. It felt really in character for Peter, and aww, I wanted to hug Neal so much.

The creepy postcard thing was really tense, and aww the bit with Peter and Neal on the chair in the garden was gorgeous.

Thanks for a great read :)
pooh_collector: pooh2pooh_collector on February 14th, 2013 05:39 am (UTC)
Thank you!

I'm glad you thought that my Peter felt true.

The scene in the garden was supposed to be the reconciliation scene, but then Neal surprised me by deciding go all noble and stuff and walk out. I hate it when characters mess with my head like that.
Kayla Shay: White Collar - OT3 Heartskaylashay on February 14th, 2013 05:33 am (UTC)
Very nice... And angsty Neal made me want to hug him.
pooh_collector: pooh2pooh_collector on February 14th, 2013 05:40 am (UTC)
Me too. I love an angsty Neal, which I guess explains why I keep writing angsty Neal fic.

Thanks for reading!
kanarek13: yay!Peterkanarek13 on February 14th, 2013 07:57 am (UTC)
Awww... poor Neal... and poor Peter *hugs them* This was such a difficult situation for all of them, no wonder it left them broken and lost...

But you handled it brilliantly, the way both Peter and El refused to give up on Neal, determined to make things right - perfect \o/

Great fill. Thank you \o/
pooh_collector: pooh2pooh_collector on February 15th, 2013 01:30 am (UTC)
Oh thank you!

I'm so glad that it worked for you.
a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf: White Collar - Neal & Peter hugembroiderama on February 14th, 2013 01:33 pm (UTC)
Aw, NEAL! Really, all three of them and Mozzie, too. This is great and felt like a realistic way for all of them to deal with the situation. But poor Neal. *pets*
pooh_collector: pooh2pooh_collector on February 15th, 2013 01:32 am (UTC)
Yeah, I really kicked the crap of Neal in this physically and emotionally. Sadly I love him this way.

Thanks for reading!
elrhiarhodanelrhiarhodan on February 14th, 2013 01:48 pm (UTC)
Make me cry into my morning coffee, why don't you?

I loved every bit of this, from Neal and Peter's desperation to find Elizabeth, to her rescue, to the lovely achy hurt/comfort. But the icing on this very delicious cake has to be the sacrifice that Neal was trying to make, and the Burkes' refusal to let him.

Beautiful, just gorgeous.
pooh_collector: pooh2pooh_collector on February 15th, 2013 01:35 am (UTC)
Oh, so sorry to make you cry, but so happy that I could.

A self-sacrificial Neal is a Neal who needs to saved from himself. Thank goodness for Peter and El.

I'm so glad you enjoyed my fic!
memole81memole81 on February 14th, 2013 02:18 pm (UTC)
Wonderful and realistic story! :)
pooh_collector: pooh2pooh_collector on February 15th, 2013 01:36 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it.
RabidChild's Fic: OT3 - maniprabidchild on February 14th, 2013 03:19 pm (UTC)
Holy Crap
Just: holy crap! One of my fave prompts is finally filled, and you did such a wonderful job with it. Allow me to squee properly:

1. First off, the Neal!whump is really terrific. I am one sick kitty, head injuries just DO IT FOR ME, OK? I have reasons.

2. Second, I can't even begin to tell you how much I love angsty, guilt-ridden Neal fics - it's the guiltiest of guilty pleasures. The more misery he piles on himself, the better, honestly, and this one didn't disappoint at ALL. The scene in the patio where Neal's in Peter's arms, I'm thinking, "aw, you can let yourself off the hook now, Neal, please," which is totes what I would've done - but you didn't! I really admire that - no easy way out for this guy! You're brilliant.

3. Finally, smexy scene was smexy. And I love that it was Neal/El alone, there aren't enough of those IMO. And I love her capacity to forgive and to have faith in her loves, just GAH! Kisses to her too!

All in all, a terrific read, and this really did make my day. Thanks so, so much!
pooh_collector: pooh2pooh_collector on February 15th, 2013 01:42 am (UTC)
Re: Holy Crap
Oh, I'm so glad that I could make your Valentine's Day. Your wonderful comment has definitely made mine.

Ironically, that patio scene WAS supposed to be the resolution. But, while I was writing it Neal decided to go for broke on the angsty guilt and walk out the door. He left me no choice.

And, the smexy scene was inspired by you as well. After you wrote the story with Neal and El where Neal gets stung by the ray, we talked about how there was not enough El/Neal fic out there. And, so this scene was born.
angelita26: HappyMattangelita26 on February 14th, 2013 03:37 pm (UTC)
I loved this so much! I might have read it a couple of times already because determined, but sick Neal is very much a button that I cannot have pressed enough. I really just want to hug him very gently after all those nasty post-concussion syndrome symptoms. Poor Neal! I'm so glad that he was able to find Elizabeth and that the OT3 is healing. So well done. Thank you!!
pooh_collector: pooh2pooh_collector on February 15th, 2013 01:44 am (UTC)
Wow! I'm so glad you liked it.

I love the determined, but sick Neal stuff myself, A LOT.

Thanks for reading, multiple times!
Winter: empathia1winterstar95 on February 15th, 2013 12:39 am (UTC)
What a lovely and terrific story. Welcome back to writing, lady! Great work.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on February 15th, 2013 01:44 am (UTC)
Thank you so much. Getting this done has been quite the process over the last 6 weeks or so.

I'm glad you like it!
lauracollaredlauracollared on February 15th, 2013 05:41 am (UTC)
SNIIIIIFF Neal!!
Awww man this was rough on me. Physically and emotionally whumped Neal! Poor baby!

This was really truly wonderful. Beautifully written. I'm so glad it had a happy ending. Thank goodness for strong, amazing El!
pooh_collector: pooh2pooh_collector on February 15th, 2013 05:43 am (UTC)
Thank you!

The whumpage was pretty intense.

I'm sorry it was rough on you, but I'm glad you enjoyed it anyway?

lauracollaredlauracollared on February 15th, 2013 05:44 am (UTC)
Oh, yes! I enjoyed it very much. I enjoy reading whumped!Neal. I'm just so very attached to him. lol. Sometimes I can't handle all my Neal emotions and you really pressed on those emotions with this fic!

Very good job. Yes, I enjoyed it. :)
pooh_collector: pooh2pooh_collector on February 15th, 2013 05:51 am (UTC)
Yeah!!!

I'm so glad.
sapphire2309sapphire2309 on February 15th, 2013 03:34 pm (UTC)
This is one of the very very few stories/tv shows/movies that has made me cry. Usually I can't relate, however painful the event may be. The min character's lover could get blown up ( and no, not like Kate, someone more fleshed out and likeable than her) and I would sympathise but mot be crying. But this, this literally made me cry and made my stomach hurt. I think it was the very accurate description of the aloneness (yes, I just used that word) that Neal was feeling. I've been there so many times, it's impossible not to relate.
Blew my socks off. I've read a lot of stories that provide alternate endings to Checkmate, and not one of them made me cry. In fact, I'm pretty sure this is the first White Collar fanfic that made me cry.
Sorry,I just can't stop obsessing about it.
I would comment more coherently but you made me cry!
Okay, I'll shut up now......
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on February 16th, 2013 03:37 pm (UTC)
Wow! Thank for that amazing comment.

I'm really sorry that I made your stomach hurt, but I'm glad that you were able to connect emotionally with Neal and what he was experiencing.

I'm pretty familiar with aloneness myself.

"In fact, I'm pretty sure this is the first White Collar fanfic that made me cry."

I'm pretty sure that was the best compliment my writing has ever received. Thank you.
sapphire2309sapphire2309 on February 19th, 2013 02:46 pm (UTC)
You're welcome! It was a crazily emotional but amazing read for me

I'm pretty sure a lot of my time is spent ignoring stuff so I can feel a little less alone. Neal isn't exactly ignoring it, he's bringing the aloneness onto his head for Peter and Elizabeth's sakes, but aloneness is aloneness.

I'm honoured to have paid you that compliment.
Stacysahiya on February 17th, 2013 08:36 pm (UTC)
I've read this twice now, I wanted you to know, and loved it both times.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on February 18th, 2013 12:50 am (UTC)
Wow, thank you so much!
asiajournalasiajournal on February 26th, 2013 09:00 pm (UTC)
I cried the whole time Neal is sufferring. With Peter neglectness, Neal's sickness, his acceptance of Peter coldness, and his decision to break them up for their love.
And i love every moment of it! It's all worth it cause it all ends happy! And love crying this hard!
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on March 2nd, 2013 07:27 pm (UTC)
Oh thank you so much!