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22 December 2012 @ 05:52 pm
FIC: The Still Small Voice of Conscience  

Title:  The Still Small Voice of Conscience

Rating:  PG13

Pairing:  OT3 P/E/N
Word Count:  ~ 6,200
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers:  A couple for Season 1 and 4
Time frame:  Post Mid-Season 4
Summary:  Written for a prompt from frith_in_thorns in some challenge this summer at whitecollarhc.  Yeah I’m really that slow.

Prompt:  So, Peter genuinely does belive that arresting Neal and sending him to prison was the best way to help him. But something really, really bad happened to Neal in prison. Could go for the classic tropes of him being attacked by anothe prisoner or guard, or maybe he got horrendously depressed and nearly killed himself. Or something. Anyway, whatever it was, it wasn't officially reported so Peter has no idea it happened. (Not that he would have illusions about prison being *nice*.) Neal wasn't exactly eager to tell anyone, so even Mozzie might not know.

In any case, this comes to light now, a good few years after the fact. (Neal lets something slip? Has a flashback? Someone else who was there shows up and says something?) Peter is horrified, and has angst. (I'd *prefer* if he didn't conclude that he shouldn't have arrested Neal, since it wasn't something he could predict/expect.) Neal reacts to Peter's angst in whatever way. Probably he still has angst, especially if he tried to block it out at the time.

I think I've already gone waaaay too detailed for a prompt, so I'll stop now. Stuff happens! I like reasonably happy/hopeful endings, ie where they're not estranged for ever or something.

Note:  This also fills the square for wild card on my h/c bingo card. This is unbetaed.  My apologies for any booboos.


The Still Small Voice of Conscience

Water pounded down on his back and his head.  There were hands on his naked body, touching, groping.  Voices laughing, rough and cruel.  His head ached, his ears rang, his vision was distorted and clouded from the water spraying down on him.  Panic welled up in Neal's chest.  He tried to move, to get away from the water and the men holding him down, but his hands slipped uselessly on the wet tiled walls, finding no purchase.  He couldn’t get his feet underneath him.  His heart slammed viciously against his ribs, his breathing was fast and shallow. 

He had to get out, get away.  He couldn’t let this happen.  He got one foot under him and tried to rise, but the hands pushed him back down again roughly.  His legs were pushed apart.  The laughing grew louder.  His panic grew sharper.

“No, get off me, get off me!”  He choked out.  Neal flailed his arms blindly attempting to keep his attackers at bay.  Other hands reached in and pushed his arms down to the ground.  He was pinned to the concrete, trapped.

Desperation seized him and he lunged upward, dislodging the weight holding him.  He managed to get his knees under him and he crawled forward into the corner of the shower stall.  Shoving his back to the wall he drew his knees up tight against his chest.  He could still hear their voices, laughing, taunting, but with the water cascading down on him, he couldn’t see his attackers.  He kept his arms up, ready to strike out to defend himself.

A hand landed unseen on his knee and Neal yelped and pushed it away.

“Neal.”  Peter said softly from where he knelt beside his partner in the alley where Neal had himself pressed up tightly against a brick wall.  “It’s okay, you’re okay.”

His partner was soaked from the rain that was steadily falling, the water streaming down his face mixing with the blood that was flowing steadily from the cut on his forehead.  Neal’s eyes were wide and wild, his pupils blown.  His breathing was nothing more than a series of choking gasps.

The suspect in their latest mortgage fraud case, Marvin Rollins had decided to rabbit.  When he rounded the corner into a narrow alley they were forced to continue their pursuit single file, Neal in the lead.  When Neal caught up with him, Rollins used his superior size and weight to shove Neal back throwing him off balance.  Neal spun, hit the wall hard and crumpled to the wet, dirty ground.  

By the time Peter reached him Neal was already trapped within some terrifying moment from his past.  Touching Neal had clearly been a mistake.  Peter just had to sit tight, wait it out and make sure that Neal didn’t injure himself further.  Peter pulled out his cell phone and quickly called for an ambulance keeping his voice low and even.  Then he sat next to his partner and continued to gently try and reach him with his words, and to keep his own worry at bay.

Neal held himself tightly up against the slick tile walls waiting, prepared to lash out again if necessary.  The men surrounding him seemed to have backed away.  Maybe one of the guards had finally arrived and had herded his aggressors out of the showers.  The voices died out, except for one, one that was saying his name and murmuring soothingly.

Neal was shaking violently from the shower water that had grown cold and the adrenaline coursing through him.  It was making it difficult for him to focus.  He tried to concentrate on his breathing, on taking deep, even breaths.  His head still hurt, his ears still rang, but slowly his vision began to clear.  The wall his head was leaning against was red brick, not the white tile he remembered.

“Neal, you’re okay, you’re safe.”

Neal recognized the voice.  It wasn’t Bobby or one of the other guards.  It was Agent Burke.  What was he doing here?  “Peter?”  Neal asked blinking rapidly to try and see the agent more clearly.

“Yeah, I’m right here buddy.”  Neal looked wrecked, shaken, uncertain, small.

Neal looked at Peter, dripping wet in his suit.  He looked down at himself, also in a suit, also dripping wet.  But from rain, it was raining.  He wasn’t in the shower.  He wasn’t in prison.  He was sitting on the ground in an alleyway in New York, with Peter, his partner.

“What happened?”  He asked haltingly.

Peter scooted a little closer to Neal and placed his hand gently on Neal’s arm.  “Rollins pushed you.  You hit the wall pretty hard and I think you had a little flashback.”

Neal nodded sharply, shuddered and drew in an unsteady breath.

It was then that Peter heard the siren of the approaching ambulance.  “Help’s coming, okay.  Just sit tight for a minute.”

“I’m okay.  I don’t need an ambulance.”  Neal mumbled as he tried ineffectually to get his feet underneath him.

Peter gripped Neal’s arm a little tighter to hold him in place.  “You’re bleeding.  Let’s just let the EMT’s have a look.”

Neal didn’t respond, but he didn’t try to get up again either.

They sat in silence for a couple of minutes, with the exception of Neal’s ragged breathing, until the EMT’s arrived.

Peter was loath to leave Neal’s side.  In all the years Peter had chased him, known him, worked with him, loved him, he had never seen Neal look so lost, so hurt.  Not even Kate’s death or Ellen’s had left Neal looking like this.

So Peter hovered while the EMT’s evaluated Neal.  He answered their questions correctly and clearly, but his affect was flat, his voice tired and wan.  When the EMT’s put him on a stretcher and bundled him in emergency blankets he didn’t protest which made Peter’s worry ratchet up by several degrees.  

Peter pulled one of the men aside, his ID read Andy Collins.  “I think you should know that he had a flashback after he hit his head on the wall.”

Andy glanced over at Neal and then said, “That would explain his affect, and a few other things.”

“What other things?”  Peter asked, frowning.

“His pulse rate is elevated, along with his blood pressure.  His pupils were pretty dilated when we arrived too, but they’re almost normal now.  We’ll let the docs know at the hospital.  The head injury doesn’t look serious.”

“Thank you.”  Peter replied allowing the man to return to caring for Neal.

Just before they loaded Neal into the back of the ambulance Peter gave his knee a squeeze and told Neal that he would meet him at the hospital.  “It’s going to be okay.”  He reassured.  Exactly who he was addressing that comment to, Peter didn’t know.

From the car Peter called Diana to fill her in on what had happened and issue an APB on Rollins for assault among other things.  Then he called Elizabeth.

“Hey hon.  Can I ask you to do me a favor?”

“Peter’s what’s wrong?”  Leave it to the best wife ever to read the stress in his voice.

“I need you to bring Neal and me a change of clothes.  Neal had a little run in with a suspect and we were out in the rain for a while.”

“Is he alright?”

“He will be.  He hit his head.  I called an ambulance and they’re taking him to Lennox Hill to get checked out, just to be safe.”

The line was silent for a moment and then El asked, “What aren’t you telling me?”

Peter sighed; obviously he couldn’t hide his worry from her.  “Something happened after he hit his head.  I’m pretty sure he had a flashback.”

“A PTSD kind of flashback?”  Now El sounded worried.

“Yeah."

“What about?”

"I don’t know.  But it was pretty scary El.”  Peter sighed into the phone.  “It really shook him up.”

“It sounds like it shook you up too.”

Peter shrugged, forgetting that his wife couldn’t see him through the phone.  “I’m just worried about him.”

“I know sweetie.  I’ll get the clothes and meet you at the hospital as soon as I can.”

“Thanks hon.” Peter replied before breaking the connection.

Peter spent his time in the waiting room pacing up and down, trying to piece together a cause for Neal’s flashback.  His childhood hadn’t been easy, but Peter had known Ellen well enough to know that she would never have allowed anything that damaging to happen to Neal.  Peter didn’t know everything about the days of Neal’s con artist exploits, especially the earlier years before the bond forgery, but Peter didn’t really believe that anything so terror inducing could have happened in those years.  Neal still seemed so young and oddly innocent when Peter finally knew who it was that he was chasing.  That left prison.  The place that Peter had sent Neal for his own good.  Peter held no illusions about what life in prison was like, but the official reports from Neal’s incarceration didn’t include any incidents that Peter would have considered flashback inducing.  

When Elizabeth arrived she found her husband walking a hole in the dingy linoleum floor, his brow deeply furrowed, his still damp grey suit clinging awkwardly to his body.

She kissed him, handed him the bag she had brought his dry clothes in and then pointed him in the direction of the washroom.

When he emerged he looked slightly better, but there was still a Grand Canyon sized crease in his brow.

“Have you heard anything yet?”  She asked.

Peter shook his head in reply.

“Why don’t we sit down and wait.  You look like you’ve been running a marathon.”  El took Peter’s hand and gently tugged him over to sit down on the end of bank of plastic chairs.

“What’s got you so worried?” El asked once they were seated.

Peter shook his head again.  “I just… I’m not sure how to help him with this.”

“You’ll figure it out.  You always do.  That’s why Neal trusts you.”

At El’s words, Peter looked down and away from his wife, his shoulders tensing.  “Peter?”

“I’m not sure that trust is deserved right now.”  He confided.

“Of course it is, Peter.  You have always been there for Neal.”

“That’s not entirely true, hon.  For three years and nine months Neal sat in a prison that I sent him to and I was certainly not there for him then.”

“You think the flashback had to do with something that happened when he was in prison?"

“I think it’s highly likely.”  Peter surmised.

El pulled on the hand that she still held between hers to get Peter’s attention.  When he looked up at her she said, “Jumping to conclusions isn’t going to help Neal.  Find out what happened Peter.  Then you can help him deal with it, regardless of whether it was before, during or after, those three years and nine months.”

Thirty minutes later Neal’s doctor found them in the waiting room.  “Neal is ready to be discharged, assuming there is someone who can keep an eye on him for the next twenty-four hours.”

“Of course, he’ll come home with us.”  Peter said nodding his understanding.  “How is he?”

“Minor concussion, I don’t foresee any complications there.  He’ll probably have some headaches over the next few days.  I’m more concerned about his mental state.  The EMT’s said Neal had a flashback on the scene?”

Peter nodded again.  “I think so.  He definitely seemed to be somewhere else, somewhere frightening.”

“I talked to Neal about it.  He claimed that nothing like that has ever happened before.”

“Did you believe him?”  Peter asked.  It pained him to even consider the possibility that Neal had been suffering these flashbacks for years.

The doctor nodded.  “I think he was sincere about that.  But, when I asked him what the flashback was about, he told me he didn’t remember.  That is not likely.  The intensity of these types of episodes generally makes them rather impossible to forget.  Of course, that same intensity makes them something that people really want to forget.”

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

“Convince him to get therapy.  Now that this trauma has resurfaced it’s not going to go away without some help."

**

Peter watched Neal through the rearview mirror as he drove from the hospital to Dekalb Avenue.  His partner sat quietly in the backseat next to his wife, his eyes darting from his lap, out the window and back again.  He hadn’t said a word since Peter had walked into the treatment area to give him the clothes that El had brought for him.  He hadn’t met Peter’s eyes even once.  To say that Peter was concerned was an understatement of immense proportion.

Neal was the world’s best communicator.  Even if all he was communicating were obfuscations and outright lies, Neal’s face, his eyes, his hands and voice were always telling some story.  Now Neal was completely shuttered, nothing escaped.  He looked blank, almost lifeless.

Peter’s mind turned back to those moments in the alley.  Neal wide eyed with terror, shaking violently, scrambling desperately to escape whatever horror he had already had to live through once.  Peter had been startled by Neal’s initial behavior and then frightened when he realized that Neal was experiencing a flashback.  He was frightened still by the possibility that he could be partially responsible for what had happened to Neal.

At the house Neal walked through the front door and straight up the stairs.  Peter right on his heels.  When Neal walked past their bedroom and down to the guest room Peter’s heart sank.

Neal went to the window and stood before it watching the rain that still fell.  Peter stood in the doorway, afraid to close the distance, afraid to touch Neal despite his desperate desire to take his lover into his arms, to protect him, to make this thing go away.

“Can I get you anything?”  He asked quietly.

Neal shook his head.

Peter stepped into the room.  “Neal…”

“I just … I’m tired, Peter.”  Neal’s voice was soft, but the message was clear, leave me alone.

Peter nodded pointlessly to the back of Neal’s head.  “Okay, El and I will be right downstairs if you need anything.”

It hurt to turn his back on Neal and walk out of the room.  It went against all of his instincts.  But maybe he was the last person that Neal needed right now.

Neal stood staring at the rain trying to hear the pitter patter against the window glass and not the sound of shower water slapping against ceramic tile.  His hands were still shaking despite the fact that he had already shoved them deep into his pockets.  His head hurt, his body ached.  He was exhausted, but afraid of what would happen if he gave in and climbed into the warmth of the bed, afraid that the waking nightmare that found him today would follow him into this dreams.  So he stayed where he was and listened to the soothing sounds of Elizabeth and Peter moving around downstairs, the soft murmur of the television, the clink of dishes in the kitchen, whispers of voices.  

Darkness fell while Neal stood before the window.  An arm linked itself though Neal’s, a small, delicate hand winding its way down to his.  Gently El extricated Neal’s hand from his pocket and weaved her fingers into his.  Then she simply stood there with him, until their breathing synched up and Neal’s body relaxed for the first time since the chase with Rollins had begun.

El said nothing as she gently tugged him toward the bed.  Once he stood beside it, she slowly undressed him, down to his t-shirt and boxers, her hands knowing and soft against his skin.  Neal closed his eyes and let El guide him.

Soon he was ensconced under the covers in the bed, his head pillowed on El’s stomach, her fingers running soothingly though his hair.

Still she said nothing, allowing Neal the quiet he wanted, but giving him the love and support he needed.  It took awhile, but eventually Neal felt his body completely relax and his mind drift away toward sleep.

***

Peter sat in the Queen Anne chair in the corner of the guest bedroom watching his lover and his wife sleeping in the bed, Neal’s prison file sitting on his lap.

Peter had spent the last couple of hours reviewing it by the pale light filtering in through the window.

Just six months into his sentence Neal had reported to the infirmary with a laceration to his scalp and a minor concussion.  The official report stated that he had slipped in the showers and hit his head against the tiled wall.  There was nothing else in the report, no mention of the involvement of other inmates, no mention of any other injuries.  But the whole thing seemed startlingly familiar to Peter.

He was certain that he had read about the incident when he had first pulled Neal’s file, before he had accepted Neal’s deal.  There was nothing about it at the time that had made it stand out.  No indication that anything more serious had occurred.   But now Peter had to wonder about what had really happened in the showers that day.  Had Neal been assaulted?  Even the possibility that Neal had been raped made Peter fume.  He was angry at the men who had hurt Neal and at himself for the harm that had come to Neal because Peter had finally caught him and sent him to prison.  

He was in no way naïve.  He knew the realities of life in prison.  It had never deterred him from doing his job, from sending those who violated the law away.   But if something had happened to Neal, something unforgivable how could he and Neal move forward?    

Peter woke the next morning with a crick in his neck and a bitter taste in his mouth.   He picked up Neal’s file from where it had slipped to the floor and quietly tiptoed from the room.

An hour later Peter was sitting at the dining room table nursing his third cup of coffee when Neal came down the stairs.  He was dressed in his usual manner; trim black suit, light blue shirt, midnight blue tie and matching pocket square.   He looked good, so good.  Peter would never have known how traumatic yesterday had been for Neal if it wasn’t for the two butterfly bandages just under the curls on his forehead.

“Hey.”  Neal said as he passed Peter and headed into the kitchen.  Peter watched as Neal took a mug from the cabinet and poured himself a cup of coffee.  Then he grabbed a bowl, picked a box of cereal after some consideration and poured it into the bowl.  He was about to pour the milk, when his face paled ever so slightly and he returned the container to the fridge leaving his cereal dry.  It was the first sign that Neal was still not 100 percent.

“You’re staring.”  Neal said dryly before popping a Honey Nut Cheerio into his mouth.

Peter shifted his eyes to the black depths of his coffee.

“Peter, I’m fine.”  Neal admonished.

“Maybe, but you’ve got the day off regardless.”

Neal sighed.  “Fine, then would you please drive me to June’s on your way into the office.”

Peter knew Neal shouldn’t be alone for at least another eight hours, but he couldn’t refuse Neal whatever he asked for right now.  As soon as he dropped Neal off he would call Mozzie and have him keep an eye on Neal.

The ride to June’s was completed in silence, the weight of the conversation that they were both avoiding hunkering in the space between them.  When they arrived Peter started to get out the car with Neal, to make sure he got up to his apartment safely, but he stopped himself, afraid that Neal would spurn his help

Peter had never felt so impotent, not even when Keller had taken El.  He wanted to protect Neal, to help him through this, no matter what it took, but Neal didn’t seem to need Peter or want his help.  Peter’s fear that Neal held him at least partly responsible for what had happened to him escalated.  “I’ll call you later."

Neal nodded mutely at Peter’s statement, shut the car door and was gone.

Neal wished that Peter had followed him up to his apartment.  He would have liked to have spent a few minutes alone with his lover.  Peter made him feel safe, protected and Neal felt he could use a little of that security right now.  But, Peter had been oddly distant since the hospital the previous day.

Neal spent the morning trying to sleep off the headache he had woken up with.  When he woke up again just after noon, he found Mozzie sitting at his dining table reading.  Neal got up, grabbed his robe from his wardrobe and made his way to the bathroom, without saying a word to his friend.  He knew he shouldn’t be angry with Peter for sending Moz to keep an eye on him, but what he really needed right now was Peter.  

When he returned from his shower, Neal found a streaming bowl of soup, a slice of toast and a glass of water waiting for him on the table.  Of Mozzie there was no sign, though Neal was certain his friend would reappear before the afternoon was over.

Neal sat and ate the soup which he quickly recognized to be El’s homemade chicken noodle.  Apparently Mozzie hadn’t been alone all morning.  The knowledge that he was loved warmed him more than the soup.

The quiet in his apartment helped soothe him.  He spent a few hours painting, letting the act of creating balance him and help him come to terms with his memories and their violent reemergence yesterday.

By the time Mozzie showed up in the late afternoon, Neal was feeling significantly more settled.

***

Peter spent his day looking for Rollins, directing his anger toward the man who had caused his lover’s immediate pain.   It was well past dinnertime when Peter looked up from the reports in front of him with a frustrated sigh.  His eyes landed on Neal’s empty desk.  Neal’s Socrates bust was turned from its usual position.  The philosopher’s empty, white eyes seemed to be staring up at Peter, a silent reminder that Peter had not yet called his partner.  He hadn’t even phoned El to let her know he wouldn’t be home for dinner.

He grabbed his cell and called home.  When the answering machine picked up Peter hung up and tried El’s cell.  When she answered he could hear laughter in her voice.  “Hey sweetie.”

“Hey hon, I’m sorry.  I’m still at the office.”

“Okay.  When do you think you’ll be finished there?”

“I don’t know.  We haven’t caught up with Rollins yet.”

“Well, Neal and I are just finishing up dinner at his place.  We would love it if you could join us soon.”

Peter flinched.  While he was certain his wife meant the words he wasn’t so sure that his lover would actually agree with them.

“I’m not sure I can get away.”

“Peter, it’s Friday night.  Come spend it with us,” El pleaded.

“I want to honey, really, but I need to get this guy.”

Peter wanted nothing more than to climb into bed with Elizabeth and Neal and rest in their arms, wrapped in their love.  But he couldn’t face Neal’s hurt and his own guilt, not until he had Rollins behind bars.

Peter stayed at the office all night and slunk back to DeKalb Avenue the next morning after he knew El had gone to work an event.  He showered, changed clothes and went back to the office where Diana and Jones met him to work through all their leads again.

El called him in the late afternoon, but Peter was actually on his way to the house of Rollin’s second cousin once removed, in a last ditch effort to track the guy down, so he let the call roll to his voice mail.

As luck would have it, the cousin knew exactly where Rollin’s was hiding, in his basement.  He apparently wanted “no trouble with the Feds” so he opened the basement door for them himself.

By the time the paperwork was wrapped up, it was long past dinnertime, again.  Peter hadn’t returned El’s call and the last words he had spoken to Neal, I’ll call you later had been said more than 38 hours ago.

With no one to deflect his anger onto, Peter knew it was time to face his fears and Neal.  Neal usually spent Saturday night at Peter and El’s so Peter decided to head home.  He spent the car ride thinking about what he would say.  How do you apologize to your lover to putting him in harm’s way, even if it was the right thing to do?  He needed Neal’s forgiveness, but even more he needed Neal to get through this, whatever it took.

Time had apparently gotten farther away from Peter than he thought.  The house was dark when he arrived and he found Neal and El already asleep, El’s head pillowed on Neal’s chest with Satchmo lying at their feet.   He stood in the doorway for a moment watching them, amazed at how beautiful they were together and how damn lucky he was to have them both in his life.  Then he stripped off his clothes and climbed into the bed next to El.  The stress and exhaustion quickly caught up with and he was asleep within minutes.

In the morning Peter awoke to the smell of French toast and bacon cooking in the kitchen and the sound of Neal’s laughter.  He smiled at the sound, a desperate hope that Neal would be okay flaring in his chest.

Downstairs Peter found them in the kitchen.  El wrapped in a blue robe putting the finishing touches on a fruit salad and Neal standing before the stove dressed only in his pajama bottoms.  Peter smiled at the sight of them.  They were all tousled brown hair and bright blue eyes, perfect and beautiful; his own Roman gods, Minerva and Apollo come down to earth to undo him.

“Good morning sleepyhead,” El said as she noticed him standing just outside the kitchen.

“Hon,” he replied as he approached her where she stood at the kitchen island.  He kissed her on the cheek and then moved on to the coffee maker.

Peter set the table for them and then they sat and ate the savory bacon, the tart fruit and the sweet and spicy French toast that El and Neal had prepared.

Peter was aware of the tension at the table.  Neal and El were completely at ease with other, as they had always been from that first day that Neal had shown up at the house while they were pursuing the Dutchman.  But Peter couldn’t quite figure out how to relax around Neal.  He was still stuck in the alley, watching Neal suffer with no idea how to help him.

The worst part was that Peter knew Neal sensed that something was bothering him which was of course making their relationship even more strained.  That was the last thing that Peter wanted, to make things harder for Neal right now.  So he kept to the sidelines and let El and Neal carry the conversation through the meal.

When they finished El disappeared upstairs leaving Peter and Neal to clean up.  Neal started to get up and clear the table, but Peter waved him back down.  “Sit, finish your coffee, I’ve got this.”

Neal nodded and retook his seat.  Nothing was said as Peter cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher.  Just as he was finishing straightening up the kitchen El appeared fully dressed with her bag slung over her shoulder.

“I’m going to pick up a few things for dinner.”  She walked over to Neal and kissed the top of his head and then sauntered over to her husband and looked him squarely in the eyes.  “Play nice while I’m gone.”  Then she kissed his cheek and disappeared.

Peter got the message; fix whatever was going on between him and Neal while she was out.

Peter sighed and felt his heart rate speed up, his anxiety over how to finally talk to Neal about what happened on Thursday skyrocketing.  He dawdled over wiping down the counters while he tried to come up with the right way to begin the conversation.  I’m sorry you got hurt in prison… I’m sorry you were raped… I’m sorry I caught you and sent you there…

Neal watched as Peter wiped down the island for the third time.  He knew Peter well enough to know that he was working himself up to try to talk about something serious.  This was it then, the conversation that Neal that had been dreading since he got home from the hospital.  

With a silent admonishment t cowboy up Burke, Peter threw the sponge into the sink and sat down across from Neal at the table.

Neal was staring down at the New York Times spread out in front of him, the look in his eyes reminding Peter of how Neal had looked in the car on Thursday when he drove him home from the hospital, blank, lifeless.

“I think we need to talk,” Peter began.

Neal nodded, his eyes still staring down at the table.

“I think you need to get some help to deal with what happened the other day… and what happened in prison.”

“I don’t need any help, Peter.  I’m fine.”  Neal’s voice was firm, but Peter couldn’t help but notice the defensive hint it held.

“I know this isn’t easy, to be faced with something you thought was in the past, but it’s back, you need to deal with it and I think you’re going to need help.”

“Nothing happened.  There’s nothing to deal with and nothing I need help with.”  Neal stormed, rising from his seat and turning away from Peter to face the fireplace.

Peter stood as well, coming around the table.  He stopped an arm’s length away from his partner, afraid to get too close to Neal, afraid of making him feel boxed in.  “Neal, please, I just want what’s best for you.”

“Really?”  Neal questioned turning to face Peter.  “Because it sounds like what you really want is what’s best for you.”

“No, Neal, this isn’t about me.”  Peter held up his hands in what he hoped was a reassuring manner.

Neal laughed, the sound of it bitter in Peter’s ears.  “You could have fooled me.”

“I’m not sure where this is coming from, Neal.  You had a flashback about something horrible.  You don’t want that to happen again, do you?”

“That’s right, I had a flashback Peter, ME.  You don’t know how I feel.  You don’t know what happened.  You don’t know what I need.  So stop trying to tell me how to handle this.  I don’t need your help now.”  Neal’s anger was palpable, his fists clenched at his sides, color rising on his cheeks.

Peter stepped back a pace.  Clearly Neal felt what Peter had feared, anger with him for putting Neal in the position to be hurt in prison.  “I’m sorry.”

“I don’t need your apologies, either.”  Neal said deflating.

“I’m sorry anyway, I never meant to hurt you."

“Then why?  I don’t understand.”  In an instant Neal’s anger had turned to anguish.  Peter watched as tears trailed their way down Neal’s face.  

“I had a job to do.”  Peter didn’t expect Neal to understand, that to Peter his job was putting criminals behind bars, it was, it had to be, up to others to protect those criminals from each other inside.

“You had to do it?  Just this once you couldn’t leave it up to Diana and Jones?”

“What?”  Peter was suddenly unclear as to what the topic of conversation really was.

“I needed you Peter.  I needed you, and, you weren’t here.  Catching Rollins was more important, I guess.”

“No, no Neal, that’s not … is that what you’re upset about?”

Neal nodded.  “I guess so; I know it’s your job.  I know catching Rollins was important, I just wish I was too.”

“Oh Neal, geez.  Of course you’re important.  I love you.”  Peter implored moving closer to Neal wanting so much to take the younger man in his arms, but terrified of bringing on another flashback.

“You’ve had an interesting way of showing it the last few days.  You haven’t touched me, you haven’t looked at me, hell you’ve barely even spoken a word to me since Thursday.  I’m not dirty, Peter.  I’m not."

Neal was actively sobbing now, hurt and anger mixed in his tears.

Was that what Neal really thought, that Peter believed that he was sullied and unworthy of love because he had been raped in prison?  God, he’d been an ass.  So afraid of causing Neal further pain, that that’s EXACTLY what he had done.

Peter stopped thinking, stepped into Neal and pulled him gently into his arms.  “No Neal, you’re beautiful and perfect and I love you so much I’ve made a first class ass out of myself."

Neal was stiff in Peter’s embrace, unyielding, but Peter held on tighter, rubbing his hands soothingly across Neal’s shuddering back.  “I was so afraid that you would blame me for what happened in prison, for putting you in prison that I let you down when you needed me the most.  Please baby, please forgive me."

Neal sobbed one last time, Peter could feel it run through his whole body, and then Neal buried his head in the crook of Peter’s neck and brought his arms around Peter snugly.

Peter had no idea how long they stayed that way, wrapped up in each other, but he had no intention of letting Neal go until the younger man was ready.  Eventually, Neal’s trembling stopped and then the tears.  Neal took a deep breath and gently disengaged himself from Peter.

“Whatever you need buddy, I’m right here.  I’m not going to let you down again.”

Neal nodded, a small smile appearing.  “Thank you."

Peter took Neal’s hand and led him over to the sofa.  They sat and Peter wrapped his arms around Neal urging him to rest his head on Peter’s shoulder.  “It’s going to be okay.  We’ll get through this together, you, me and El.”  He kissed Neal on the forehead and then the temple.

“I know.  Peter, you need to know what happened.  You need to know that nothing happened.”

“Neal, I was there in the alley.  Please don’t let denial…”

“Peter, just listen to me please.”  Neal interrupted as he lifted his head from Peter’s shoulder to look him directly in the eyes.  “They tried, four maybe five of the other inmates.  They cornered me in the showers, pushed me up against the wall.  I hit my head.  Then they pushed me down and they started to, they tried to, but the guards came.  They broke it up; got the other inmates out of there and then they took me to the infirmary.  It was scary as hell, but nothing happened.

“I don’t really know what happened in that alley on Thursday, what brought it all back.  It was probably just the most ridiculous combination of the rain, the tight space, getting pushed, hitting my head… but I’m okay, really.

“I just needed some time to get my head back together.  I needed to feel safe and loved.”

Peter lifted his hand to caress Neal’s cheek.  “You are loved, so much and I will do everything in my power to keep you safe.  I am so sorry, Neal.  I got so wrapped up in my fear of what you were going through that I never bothered to find out what you were really going through.  That will never happen again.”

Peter reached down and his lips met Neal’s.  They tasted like salt and snot.  They tasted perfect.  Peter deepened the kiss pouring all his love and all his regret into it.  Neal pulled Peter in tighter returning Peter’s kiss with equal measures of love and forgiveness.


 
 
 
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - boysfrith_in_thorns on December 23rd, 2012 05:26 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for writing this!! I really like it, especially that for once Peter didn't know how to be there for Neal - that wasn't what I was expecting, and was really interesting to read! And I loved the descriptions at the beginning, with poor Neal so panicked and shaken up!
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on December 23rd, 2012 05:58 pm (UTC)
Yeah! I'm so glad it worked for you.

Peter's inability to figure out how to help Neal felt like a natural extension of his angst at feeling somewhat responsible for what happened to him. It just happened while I was writing. I'm glad it was a nice surprise for you.

Have fun in the Shire!
a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf: White Collar - Neal & Peter hugembroiderama on December 23rd, 2012 08:09 pm (UTC)
Aw man, I love this. Neal's flashback situation was really vivid, and I love that Peter wanted so much to do the right thing and that eventually Neal told him what he needed.
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on December 24th, 2012 09:28 pm (UTC)
Yeah! Thank you for reading.

Merry Christmas!
memole81memole81 on December 26th, 2012 10:42 pm (UTC)
Wonderful story :-)
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on December 27th, 2012 04:46 am (UTC)
Thank you!
miri_thompsonmiri_thompson on December 28th, 2012 01:20 am (UTC)
I like how you used this prompt, and how it led up to an ending of warmth, healing, forgiveness and acceptance. Good work!
pooh_collectorpooh_collector on December 28th, 2012 02:07 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'm a sucker for a happy ending.
sapphire2309sapphire2309 on February 19th, 2013 03:02 pm (UTC)
What is it with you and making me cry? Gahh!

That line, where Neal says "I'm not dirty" is just so stripped down and bare that you made me cry again.

You, dear friend, are undermining all the pride I had in myself for not crying easily when reading fiction. I should hate you, but I don't. Not one bit :)
pooh_collector: pooh2pooh_collector on February 21st, 2013 09:41 pm (UTC)
Well, I'm very glad you don't hate me. And, I'm glad you enjoyed this fic. I'm sorry I made you cry again. But, I'm glad you were moved enough by Neal's experience to do so.

Thanks for reading.
sapphire2309sapphire2309 on February 26th, 2013 02:40 pm (UTC)
I love reading, so that's no problem at all
I'm glad i made you glad :)
ivorysilkivorysilk on November 3rd, 2013 04:27 pm (UTC)
Salt and snot! UGH--in this instance, I am unenviously glad that Peter is the one loving Neal. This fic is awesome--I'm sure I've read it before, but it was perfect to re-read this morning!

(YES, I really am gonna go write things now ...)