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15 May 2015 @ 08:00 am
Reverse Big Bang Fic: The Long Journey Home  
Title: The Long Journey Home
Artist: kanarek13
Author: pooh_collector
Word Count: ~11,200
Characters/Parings: P/E/N Peter, Neal, Elizabeth, June, Jones, Diana
Rating: PG13
Warnings: Teeny bit of language
Spoilers: None
Summary: When Neal leaves the city at Peter’s beckoning for a case he ends up farther away from home than he thought and getting back proves to be quite the journey.
Kanarek's Art Post is here.





“Neal, dear.”

“Yes, June?” Neal's ever-elegant landlady was standing at the bottom of the staircase, wrapped in a cream-colored winter coat, Bugsy on his leash at her side.

“I wanted to remind you about the gala on Saturday evening. You’ll still be free to escort me?”

Neal walked down the stairs, slipping his own wool coat on as he went. Things had been far too hectic in his life lately and he had forgotten that the event was this weekend. But he was nothing if not the master of guile. “Of course,” he replied, sliding on his brightest smile. “I cleared it with Peter, he’ll let the Marshals know.”

June returned a knowing smile and took his hand in hers when he reached the main floor. “Thank you, dear. I know Peter’s been keeping you very busy lately. I’m glad you’ll be able to make the time. I’m looking forward to spending an evening with you on my arm.”

"Me too," he said sincerely. He really was looking forward to it, despite his absentmindedness. A night at a Valentine's Day themed event with June in her glamorous world complete with dinner and a silent auction for one of the many charities that she supported would be a wonderful change of pace. He hoped they would have their current case wrapped up by then, so that he could truly relax and enjoy the evening.

Neal’s phone buzzed and with a sigh he extricated his hand from June’s to pull the device from his suit pocket. It was a text from Mozzie. The third that Neal had received in the last hour. Neal’s quirky friend had gotten himself a somewhat legitimate job designing a security system for a not so legitimate client and he had been picking Neal’s brain at a furious pace over the past several days.

Neal was happy to help, mostly, but right now he had to get to the office. With any luck Peter and the team had completed the paperwork and secured an arrest warrant for their suspect, Gil Edmunds. By the end of the day they could have this case wrapped up and the man who had been defrauding elderly couples of their homes locked away where he belonged. Neal shivered involuntarily at how crass mortgage fraud was in general and how particularly distasteful it was to be cheating elderly people.

He clicked the text closed and put the phone away. Then he kissed June on the cheek and headed toward the door, her well wishes for his day ringing in his ears.

The White Collar offices were hopping when Neal arrived. Before he even removed his coat and settled in at his desk, he heard Jones call his name.

Without slowing his stride Neal dropped his hat on his Socrates bust and made his way to Jones’ desk. “Clinton?”

“I need your help with these R44s,” Jones stated as he handed Neal a stack of blank government forms.

Neal made a face. “I’m really not a red tape kind of guy.”

Jones looked up at him, his eyes widening. “You are today.”

Neal nodded tersely and reluctantly took the papers that Jones was holding out.

He spent the next four hours alternately filling in the forms and pulling out the strands of his hair, one by one. Paperwork was every bit as bad as the worst day of prison life had been. Neal could honestly testify to that fact and he would, if anyone was willing to listen.

He was on the final page of the forms when a Peter-shaped shadow crossed his desk. “Neal, how’s it going?”

Neal looked up, hoping to see his lover standing over him and was disappointed to find Agent Burke in front of his desk. “Peter.”

“We need to get these filed, so we can get our warrant.”

Neal nodded. “I need another five minutes.”

Peter’s eyes glinted and for a moment he looked less agent-like, “Good, that’s good. We should be on our way to make the arrest before the end of the day.”

“That’s great,” Neal replied with a smile.

Before Peter had a chance to walk away, Neal’s phone buzzed with an incoming text. He reached for the device where it was sitting on the side of his desk and noted with a sigh that it was once again from Mozzie.

“Problem?” Peter asked, pursing his lips the way he always did when he was concerned about something.

“No, it’s nothing,” Neal answered as he placed the phone back down. “I’ll bring these up to your office in just a minute.”

Peter nodded and then headed back up to his office. Neal couldn’t help taking a small and appreciative peek at his lover’s ass as he crossed the bullpen. Then with a renewed sense of determination he focused on the final empty boxes on the R44s.

With the paperwork done and handed off to Peter, Neal returned to his desk with a relaxing roll of his shoulders. Maybe he could take a couple of minutes to answer Mozzie’s half dozen texts and then grab some lunch before they left for the bust.

He was rereading Mozzie’s second missive, when Diana approached him and dumped a stack of files in the center of his desk. Neal looked up, his eyebrows quirked in question.

“These need to be filed.”

“Don’t we have interns for that?”

Diana gazed down, moving her eyes from his face to his phone. “They have work to do, and now so do you.”

Neal pocketed his phone and picked up the stack of files, tapping them against his desktop. “Anything for you, Diana,” he conceded with a wide smile.

She smirked at him with a shake of her head and then made her way back to her own workspace.

Neal got up and headed back toward the shelves of files that lined the rear of the office, knowing that lunch was now off his itinerary. His shoulders slumped as he scanned the shelves looking for the location of the first folder in his hands. He felt strangely tired, worn down by all the demands that life and his friends and coworkers had been placing on him of late. It was nothing unusual and nothing he couldn’t handle. He had balanced many more demands and opposing obligations after Mozzie had stolen the treasure. But for some reason, lately, it seemed like everyone needed something and they needed it now and Neal was getting tired of being their go-to-gopher. He felt like a henpecked husband, without the advantages of hearth and home that came along with actually being married.

Neal sighed as he shoved the first folder into its correct location. That wasn’t really a fair assessment. No one was truly asking him to do anything that was difficult or outside of his wheelhouse and he did get to enjoy the home and hearth of Chez Burke on a regular basis; it was just a lot going on at once. By the end of the day this case would be wrapped up and he would be wrapped up with Peter and El in their bed and everything would be so much better. He just needed to make it that far.

Neal straightened his shoulders and committed himself to the task at hand, knowing there was a light at the end of the tunnel.





Unfortunately, that light turned out to be the headlights of their suspect’s car as he rabbited. Peter had told Neal to stay at the car while he and the rest of the team went in to the make the arrest. As usual Neal interpreted Peter’s words in his own particular way and decided that standing just outside of the Taurus was close enough.

But, their suspect Edmunds must have seen them coming. Just as they announced themselves at the front door of his condo in Queens, his car came barreling out from the back of the building. It took the corner too wide, sliding on the slush left over from their most recent winter storm. Neal saw the Buick slipping even as he watched their suspect through the windshield pulling on the wheel trying to correct the car’s turn. It was to no avail, the sedan was coming straight toward Neal where he stood by Peter's Taurus.

For a moment, he was the proverbial deer in the headlights unable to move as the car came ever closer. With just moments to spare, he dove up and over the front end of Peter’s car, just before the Buick slid in close, clipping off the Taurus’ rear view mirror and taking it with it down the road.

Neal’s momentum carried him over the car and onto the street where he rolled to an abrupt stop against the icy, slushy curb, the wind knocked out of him by his impact with the pavement.

Before he had a chance to catch his breath, Peter was there kneeling over him.

“Neal!”

“I’m fine,” Neal replied as he uncurled from the tucked position he had landed in and pushed himself up to sit.

Peter’s hands were everywhere and if they had been at the Burke's home in the privacy of the bedroom Neal would have loved it, but not so much on a street corner in Flatbush.

“Peter, I’m fine, please.” Gently, he pushed Peter’s hands aside and got to his feet, more anxious about the freezing wet slush soaking into his skin than any minor injury he might have sustained in the fall.

“Are you sure?” Peter’s eyes were wide and his concern was evident in his voice. He wrapped his hand tentatively around Neal’s upper arm as Neal nodded. “You can call me a mother hen as much as you want, but I’m taking you to get checked out.”

“I wouldn’t expect anything less,” Neal replied with a resigned groan.



Hours later, Peter turned in his seat, the leather squeaking loudly in the confines of the car and brushed Neal’s hair away from his forehead gently as he pleaded his case one last time. “You really should come back to Brooklyn tonight. Let El spoil you.”

Neal savored the careful touch of his lover’s hand in his hair for a moment before replying. He had been feeling so mired down by all the demands that were being placed on him just a few hours ago. The last thing he needed was to spend the night reassuring Peter and El that he was really okay. “You know on any other night I would love that, but I’m just really tired and I think I need to be alone in my misery to sleep.”

Peter frowned at Neal, unhappy that his partner preferred to be by himself with his pain instead of taking the comfort that he and El were glad to offer. They hadn’t been a threesome for long, but Peter had hoped that the walls Neal used to guard himself against further losses in his life would have started to come down by now.

“I know you would feel better if you could keep your eye on me; but I’m alright, Peter. The ER doctor said no broken bones and no concussion. I’ll be fine in the morning, I promise,” Neal placated.

Peter swallowed, remembering how his heart had stopped as he stood and helplessly watched their fleeing suspect’s car careening toward Neal, nearly plowing his partner down. Peter’s frown deepened from the memory, but he nodded, willing himself to allow Neal whatever he needed to recover from the day’s trauma. “Okay, whatever you need.”

They got out of the car then and Peter shadowed Neal into the mansion and up the stairs to Neal’s apartment. Peter helped Neal out of his still damp and definitely ruined suit and into a pair of pajamas smoothly manipulating the cloth over his lover’s sore and bruised body. Then he got Neal settled in the bed, with the covers pulled up over him, a glass of fresh water on the nightstand. He kissed Neal on the forehead chastely and then turned to go.

Neal reached out and snagged Peter’s hand pulling him back toward the bed. “Thank you, Peter, for understanding.”

Peter smiled down at him. “Of course.”

Neal pulled Peter closer to lean over him and opened his lips in invitation. Peter leaned down and kissed Neal, tasting his lips, then his tongue and then he deepened the kiss even further, letting his partner know how much he loved him and how very glad he was that Neal had survived the day with nothing worse than some bumps and bruises.

When they parted, Peter caressed Neal’s cheek. “Get some rest. Sleep in in the morning. And, don’t think you’re getting out of spending the night at Casa Burke tomorrow.”





When you’re up grab the Metro North to Tarrytown. I’ll have someone pick you up at the station there. You’re going to love this new case.

That was all Peter’s text had said. Neal had tried to call his partner when he found the message on his phone, but Peter hadn’t picked up, probably too busy at the scene. Neal was surprised that Peter had taken on a new case, after yesterday’s FUBAR. But, maybe it was really for the best that the team take a break from the case that had gone so far south just yesterday. Gil Edmunds had made a clean getaway and was still at large when last they had been updated by Diana just as they were leaving the hospital the previous night.

It was already nearly ten and Neal’s head still hurt enough that all he really wanted to do was curl up in his bed and go back to sleep. But, he got up, slowly, and made his way toward the bathroom. He took his time showering, letting the hot water ease the pounding echoing inside his skull and the aches in his abused muscles. Then he got dressed and ate a slice of toast with a cup of tea, hoping his stomach wouldn’t freak out at the prospect of food. Thankfully, it seemed to be okay as he pulled on his coat and headed out to catch a taxi to Grand Central. It was frigid for mid-February, and Neal was glad he had the extra layer to stave off the chill. Despite that, he cracked open his window in the cab and breathed in the fresh, cold air on the way across town to the terminal to help him stay focused and hopefully keep his headache to a dull roar.

Regardless of the off hour, Grand Central was a zoo and Neal had to maneuver his way through crowds of tourists and commuters to get his ticket. Before heading to the platform he took a moment to look up into the sea green night sky above him. Orion was standing as tall and strong as ever with Gemini at his back and Taurus before him. Neal smiled at the failure of the designers, Hewlett and Basing, to place the bull and the twins in their correct positions in the sky. To the untrained eye, it made perfect sense for Orion’s club to be raised in defense against the on-rushing bull, but the bull is sitting in the place where the twins should reside and vice versa. If Orion was depicted as he often was with a shield formed with the star Bellatrix at its center, and Taurus was in his correct position, Orion would be facing down toward him, his shield held high between them, his club raised to strike, with the twins sitting above them watching the action. Others might wonder why the error hadn’t been corrected when the ceiling was reconstructed in the 1930s, but Neal was glad the original design had been preserved. It was wrong, but it was art and history.

Neal glanced over at the four-faced clock on the information booth. It was just striking noon. His train was due to depart in fifteen minutes so he traversed the Main Concourse, dodging the onlookers too engrossed in the beauty of the building to mind where they walked, to the arched entrance to his platform. Thankfully, the train was already there, waiting for its departure time and Neal ducked into a car halfway down and found a seat.

He leaned his head against the bright orange and dirty beige seat back and settled in for the trip north. The scent of commuter train, a strange combination of stale air, hoary plastic and sardined business people, wafted into his nose. Neal sighed and closed his eyes. He really hoped this case would be as Peter promised. Nothing less would make a trip upstate on Metro North worth it today.

His headache flared and Neal mentally kicked himself for not remembering to take something to fight it before leaving his apartment. He would have to try to bum something off whoever Peter sent to pick him up, or get them to stop somewhere on the way to the crime scene, wherever that actually ended up being.

It wasn’t long before the seats around him filled up and then the doors closed and the train pulled away from the terminal. As they began the trip north Neal pondered what kind of case could possibly bring Peter and the team all the way up to Tarrytown. He couldn’t think of anything at Lyndhurst that would be worth the trouble. There might be a special exhibit of some sort going on at Marymount that was a possibility, but he hadn't heard of anything. There weren’t any significant private collectors that Neal knew of living there, but of course he wasn’t as in the know about these things as he used to be and there was always the potential for a single piece, long owned by one family, to have gone missing.

And, of course there was Sunnyside, the famous home of Washington Irving. Maybe the crime was committed there and had something to do with Sleepy Hallow. Maybe some fan of the Fox show had gone a little overboard with their fascination. Who knew?

It didn't take long for Neal’s headache to make the usually pleasant act of speculating on the crime at hand to be anything but pleasant, so he closed his eyes and let himself sink down into his seat. The rhythmic shshunk, shshunk, shshunk sound of the train as it passed along the tracks and the rocking side to side motion, despite being loud and jarring, were strangely lulling and Neal found himself dozing as the train made its way along the Hudson River.

In that strange place between fully asleep and fully cognizant of what stations were passing him by, Neal’s mind didn’t travel to the north end of Tarrytown, to Sleepy Hollow. He didn’t dream about the headless horseman or Ichabod Crane or frightening nights on dark lonely roads. Instead he dreamed of a little village at the foot of the Catskill Mountains and about another man that featured in a different Washington Irving tale, the seemingly overburdened and henpecked husband Rip Van Winkle.

Neal dreamed of the long lost Rip's return to his village, where his grey beard and aged face left him unrecognizable to those he had left behind so many years ago. In his dream, Neal could feel Rip's confusion, hadn't he merely been gone for a day? How could his friends be old men, his son be grown with children of his own, his wife be dead and dust? Neal's Rip was grief stricken for the days lost that he could never get back, all the sunny summers, the colorful falls, the frosty winters and the vibrant springs. All the days lazing under shade trees, the evenings spent in the pub, the nights at the hearth with his wife and child and even the many chores and obligations that he had longed to escape before he had fallen asleep in that sun-drenched field.

Neal startled awake to the conductor's call, "Tickets!"

The deep sense of loss that pervaded his dream followed Neal back to the conscious world. He hid his face, and the tears that were pooling in the corners of his eyes, as he held out his ticket to the conductor to be punched.

He didn't know exactly what or who it was that he himself was mourning, his mother, Kate, Ellen, the ideal of a hero father who had never actually existed, the years he had lost to prison, the years he was partly losing to the anklet. Maybe a bit of all of those things, and maybe none. He knew that he had dealt with more than his share of loss in his thirty-five years and that those losses had an impact on who he was and how he managed or mismanaged his few remaining relationships.



He sighed as he swiped at his eyes with the back of his hand. He should have let Peter take him back to Brooklyn last night. Hiding his vulnerability, his pain, his need for comfort, was not helping his newfound relationship with them. If he wanted the chance to have a future without regret, without mourning for missed opportunities and lost loves, he needed to figure out how to let them love him, how to let them in and stop walling himself up in a prison build by his own hands, brick by brick.

His thoughts made his throat constrict painfully and brought more tears to prickle at his eyes. Neal turned to the window and watched the trees and the clouds pass by as the train pushed north letting the sight of the world shrouded in winter soothe him.

His head continued to throb in time with the shshunk, shshunk of the train along the tracks, but after a while the tightness in his throat eased and his eyes dried. There was something about the starkness of the bare tree limbs against the bright blue of the sky that made him long for summer, the trees bright with new leaves, the flowers in bloom, the air soft and warm. Maybe, when the weather changed he would find the walls he had built, that he thought were made of brick and mortar, were merely ice and they would melt away, along with the remnants of the winter’s snows.

Neal closed his eyes again as the train pulled into the station at Dobb’s Ferry. He only had three more stops before they arrived in Tarrytown and he needed to get his head in gear. He didn’t want Peter to see that he had spent the ride up from the city mired in self-pity. Peter’s ability to read right through him was uncanny and honestly made him glad that he had given up the life of a conman. He had quite obviously slipped in the years that he had been more or less out of commission.

He used the last remaining minutes he had aboard the train to push aside the remnants of his dream and the feelings it had stirred in him and paste his infamous smile back onto his face. As the train pulled into the station, Neal texted Peter to let him know that he had arrived.

The sun was bright, but the air still crisp and cold, as Neal stepped onto the platform. He made his way down to the parking area and waited for a reply from Peter for a couple of minutes before spying the appropriately named The Horseman diner just across the street. The sign across the top of the brick building showed a silhouette of the famous headless rider in his typical stance, arm back ready to throw his pumpkin head sitting astride his rearing horse.

He brought up his text app and typed, Waiting at the diner, The Horseman, just across the street from the station.

He then made his way across the street to the door of the diner. It swung open with a merry jingle and Neal immediately smelled coffee, burgers frying on the grill top and pizza fresh from the oven. He found a booth in the corner, took off his overcoat and slid onto the red vinyl seat.

A moment later a waitress appeared. “What can I get you, hon?”

Neal startled slightly when Peter and El’s favorite endearment was directed at him. He blinked up at the waitress almost expecting to see one of them standing over him. Instead he saw a woman a decade younger than El, with long dark hair and an olive, and obviously Mediterranean complexion, looking back at him. Her name tag appropriately read Sophia.

“Just coffee, thank you,” he finally managed to reply with a tight smile.

“Coming right up.”

While he waited, Neal toyed with his phone, finding it strange that Peter hadn’t yet returned his text. He reasoned that Peter was probably busy doing an interview and had just sent someone off to get him without taking the time to reply. He just hoped he didn’t end up waiting in the diner for too long.

When Sophia returned she placed a steaming mug of black coffee in front of him and then slid a single dose packet of Advil down next to it. Neal looked up at her, questioningly.

“You look like you could use them,” she responded with a shrug of her shoulders.

“Thank you,” he answered with a slight nod.

“You’re welcome. Let me know if I can get you anything else.”

Neal nodded again and then picked up his mug as she moved on to another customer. The coffee was strong and hot and Neal felt its heat as it travelled all the way down to the pit of his stomach. He picked up the small packet and twirled it in his fingers for a moment before tearing it open and swallowing the two pills with another sip of his coffee.

He took his time finishing his drink while watching out the large plate glass window next to him for a familiar FBI motor pool car to show up. When none did by the time he finished the last dregs of his brew, Neal pushed himself into the corner of the booth, pulled his legs up onto the seat and closed his eyes. He would give the Advil a chance to do its thing as long as he still had to wait for his ride.

It wasn’t long before he felt himself drifting, despite the headache, or maybe because of it. He knew he should open his eyes, sit up and stay alert, but neither the spirit nor the body were willing.





PART 2

 
 
 
riverotter1951riverotter1951 on May 15th, 2015 02:36 pm (UTC)
Broken link to part 2 of Long Way Home
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on May 15th, 2015 02:38 pm (UTC)
Just fixed! Thanks!