White Collar -- Fanfiction
All recognizable characters are property of Jeff Eastin and USA Network.
No copyright infringement intended.
Title: Need (Part 6 - Hope)
- Rating: R
- Warnings: Language, Violence, Sexual References, PTSD
- Spoilers: none
- Category: Hurt/Comfort, Drama, Nudity, Peter-Neal-Elizabeth Friendship
As Neal takes a first step toward repairing his bond with Peter, Peter doubts that Neal is dealing with his traumatic past.
Thank you all for your patience. This took longer than expected. The good news is, it's all finished. The bad news is, it's too long for one post, so there's another chapter after this. I will post part 7 later tonight.
Still unbeta'ed and written while only partially awake.
Part 6 – Hope
“How much longer do you think he’ll keep this up?” Elizabeth places the tray with Neal’s breakfast on the small folding table she positioned right outside the door to the guest suit three days ago. She rearranges the small bouquet of fresh flowers on the tray and checks one more time that she hasn’t forgotten the cream for Neal’s coffee and that the multivitamins are impossible to miss.
“I don’t know,” Peter twist the doorknob to no avail, not that he is expecting the bedroom door to be suddenly unlocked. “If there is even half of his old stubbornness left in Neal, then we might be in for a long standoff.”
“Maybe if it was just me, he would let me inside,” Elizabeth suggests, her bright blue eyes blinking up at her husband, hopeful that he will see her wisdom or at least her thorough unhappiness with the situation.
“I’m certain he would, hon,” Peter replies affectionately. “But I truly believe that we have to let Neal take the first step. When he’s ready.”
Elizabeth sighs and looks dejected.
“What if he needs something?” She makes a final plea. “He’s still fragile, Peter. And I don’t think he has properly slept in three days. His nightmares are back. You’ve heard him at night. And when he’s not tossing and turning he is milling around the dark house at two in the morning.”
“Let’s take that as a good sign, El,” Peter tries to allay her concerns. “He’s been eating, right? At least the trays of food disappear the second we’re not looking. The shower is running a couple of times a day, so we can assume he’s taking care of himself. And if he’s roaming the house at night, it probably means he is bored, which in Neal’s case is a sign that he’s feeling better. Let’s face it, if he needs anything, he’ll take it on his nightly excursions. My pens and writing pads have been disappearing. And the pie you made yesterday.”
“Oh, you want to pin this on Neal now?” Elizabeth raises her eyebrows. “I know it was you. You woke up with a raspberry stain on your t-shirt!”
“One slice!” Peter confesses sullenly. “That’s all I took. I swear. He took most of the pie and the last of the milk.” His eyes sweep the living room. “And my book from the couch, before I got a chance to find out who the murderer is. And the deck of cards from the coffee table and your cooking magazine and the—“
Peter stares at the wall by the living area, his mouth hanging open in disbelief.
“He stole my flat-screen TV!”
As if on cue, the faint crackle of a TV set turning on sounds from behind Neal’s closed door, followed by the indistinct, energetic noises of a Spanish morning news program.
“He’s doing this on purpose!” Peter hisses and points his finger at the door. Elizabeth’s face lights up with a smile. She briefly bobs onto her toes and plants a kiss on his cheek.
“You’re right. He’s doing fine,” she finally agrees. “Let’s let him move at his own pace.”
“Honey, the World Series is starting tonight!”
“Then you better make yourself comfortable outside this door and start groveling.” She makes her way back to the kitchen to take the trays of their breakfast out to the patio. “After you’ve had your coffee by the pool with me.”
Peter isn’t sure what rouses him from a deep sleep that night. It is almost completely silent and nearly pitch-dark in the room. He still hasn’t gotten used to this after living in the city for years. To his left, Elizabeth is breathing quietly, sprawled across her half of the bed and spilling over into Peter’s territory, enjoying one more night of rest without her husband’s best friend clinging to her.
There is movement by the open bedroom door, a patch of white that recedes into the shadows of the living room as soon as Peter trains his eyes on it. He props himself onto his elbows.
“Neal?” Peter asks softly into the darkness.
The white patch freezes in its spot.
“It’s alright, you can come in.”
The white patch hesitantly moves a few inches closer, morphing into the shape of an undershirt over a pair of boxers. Neal stops in the doorframe.
“Is something wrong, Neal? Are you okay?” Peter can’t make out Neal’s face in the darkness but he can sense his conflict as Neal remains rooted to his spot, torn between his instinct to retreat and whatever impulse brought him to their bedroom at this hour. Peter keeps still and doesn’t press him further. He feels Elizabeth’s hand slowly slide over to touch him, letting him know that she’s awake and listening even if it may appear otherwise.
“I want to sleep,” Neal timidly states into the silence.
The shoulder straps of the white undershirt rise and fall with a mute shrug.
“Do you think you’ll have better luck sleeping in here?” There is no trace of ridicule in Peter’s question.
Another shrug then what looks like a cautious nod.
“Alright, come on in,” Peter sighs and lifts his hand to wave Neal over. “I don’t think we need you haunting the house for another night. I don’t want to wake up to a missing fridge.”
Neal takes a couple of reluctant steps into the room, before making a steady beeline for Elizabeth’s side of the bed.
“Ah-ah, no!” Peter whispers urgently and stops him mid-track. “We’re not waking her. She hasn’t slept well in weeks, Neal.”
Neal wavers where he stands. His eyes ping pong between the bedroom door and Peter who gently pushes Elizabeth toward her edge of the large bed and scoots over to clear space for Neal on his right. Peter makes a point of smoothing out the sheet and fluffing and turning the pillow.
“Here. I even flipped it to the cool side.” He pats the pillow in an invitation.
Neal looks at him for a long time. And quietly leaves for the safety of the living room.
Crestfallen, Peter drops onto his pillow. Elizabeth turns to him, presses her lips to his shoulder.
“Be patient, Peter,” she whispers.
“I’m trying.” Peter closes his eyes and tunes into the sounds of the house, listening for any movement, for any hint at what his sleepless friend may be doing in the darkness. He dozes off to nothing but silence.
Peter wakes an hour later when the mattress shifts under the weight of someone settling onto it to his right. Peter slowly turns his head. With his back turned to Peter, Neal stretches out along the very edge of the mattress, leaving a foot-wide strip of no man’s land gaping between them. Peter doesn’t take his eyes off of Neal until he can see his body rise and fall in the calm and steady rhythm of sleep. Then he stretches the light down comforter as far as it will reach and drapes it over Neal. Peter retakes his position in the center of the bed and lets his heavy lids drift shut with a speck of hope in his chest.
Peter opens his eyes to daylight filtering through the drawn shades. He feels chilly. Lying flat on his stomach, he cracks his eyes to look at the empty stretch of the bed where his wife slept. The empty space isn’t as wide as it should be and Peter hopes Elizabeth didn’t flee the scene because he crowded her out of the comfortable bed. Peter lifts his head, to survey the other side of the bed and discovers the reason he is left exposed to the cool temperature of the air-conditioned room. The king size comforter is bunched into a large mound that takes up an entire half of the bed. The only sign of life in the pile of down and light blue cotton is the thatch of chocolate brown hair peeking out at the pillow-end.
Peter smiles softly and shivers in his t-shirt and boxers. He rolls onto his back, rubs his bare arms. He considers his options for a moment. The bedroom door is closed, muffling any noises of what Elizabeth may be up to on the other side of it. Peter yawns. He doesn’t feel like exploring quite yet, not if there might be a few more minutes of sleep in the cards for him. Moving slowly, Peter reaches over to Neal’s side of the bed to grab a corner of the comforter and reclaim his fair share of it one square inch at a time. He stops when the comforter suddenly resists.
At the head end a pair of sleepy blue eyes appears below the shock of mussed hair. Peter doesn’t breathe as he braces for the bout of panic he has come to expect from Neal. But Neal only blinks at him with a querulous frown.
“You know, Caffrey,” Peter smirks, “I let you sleep in here to keep you from stealing my stuff at night.”
Peter thinks a trace of mischief is seeping into Neal’s eyes and he wishes he could see the matching smile to be certain. The hold on the comforter is released and Peter welcomes its warmth. He sinks onto his back with a contented sigh and looks up at the ceiling, all too aware of his friend’s watchful eyes on him.
Peter desperately wants to talk to him and doesn’t know how or where to start. Neal came here, took the first step. Peter had been waiting for this for three days. But he can’t push now, can’t maneuver Neal into another corner.
“I’m sorry about the pool,” he says to the ceiling. “It wasn’t fair to blindside you like that.”
By his side, Neal rolls onto his back, mirroring Peter’s position, looking up at the same featureless ceiling.
“You had every right to be angry with me,” Peter continues and wishes Neal would say something already. Any comment that may have been forthcoming is precluded, when the bedroom door is opened. Both men lift their heads in unison to look at Elizabeth who beams at them from the doorway.
“I thought I heard signs of life in here,” she chirps and makes for the window to pull the shades up. Synchronous groans sound from the bed when the bright sunlight floods the room. “Morning, boys. Although it is almost noon.”
“Noon?” Peter squints. “Why didn’t you wake me?”
“I didn’t have the heart to. The two of you looked too cute.” She heads over to Neal’s side of the bed, ruffles his hair affectionately while collecting Peter’s water glass from the nightstand. “We missed you, sweetie. Did you sleep okay?” She doesn’t wait for a reaction but zooms around the bed to pick up the second glass.
“I’m an FBI agent. I’m not cute,” Peter grumbles.
“Well, I hope you’re both hungry because I’ve been up since six and I’ve had nothing better to do but to cook brunch for a small army.” She is already on her way out the door. “Last person at the table does the dishes.”
The two men drop back into their pillows with matching, heavy sighs, returning to staring at the ceiling for a few more moments of quiet.
“I’m gonna need my TV back,” Peter declares with a sideways glance at Neal. “And my murder mystery book.”
“Don’t bother.“ Neal grins. “The vic faked her death.”
He rolls out of bed and lumbers in the direction of the brunch table.
“So, is this what we’ll be doing?” Peter asks and helps Elizabeth strip the rumpled sheets off of Neal’s bed.
“Is this what we’ll be doing about what?” Elizabeth throws the pillowcase onto the pile of dirty laundry she collected in the center of Neal’s bedroom.
“Are we going to pretend that everything is just fine?” Peter’s frustration rings in his voice. “I mean three days ago Neal told me that he would rather have died than be saved by me and fifteen minutes ago I had an inane conversation with him about the finer points of scrambled eggs!”
“The two of you have had two-hour debates about coffee beans in the past.” Elizabeth shrugs.
“That’s not what I mean.” There’s an edge to his tone that comes from a place of helplessness, not anger.
Elizabeth lets the pillow in her hand drop to the bed.
“I know, honey,” she placates him. “But Neal actually talked to you. That is progress.”
“Yes,” Peter admits with a sigh. He looks out onto the patio where Neal is sweeping the pool deck with a broom. “I don’t want to make it sound like I am not happy about that. I am. You have no idea what it felt like to sit across the table from Neal and not see dread in his eyes when he looked at me. Everything about this morning was ordinary and uneventful and absolutely perfect and for the first time in weeks I felt that we might have a chance in hell to come out of this with a semblance of our lives intact.”
Peter sweeps his eyes around the room, at the abducted flatscreen TV propped against the wall in the corner, at the pilfered magazines and books piling up on the nightstand.
“I don’t know what went on in here in the past three days,” Peter continues. “But we’re fooling ourselves to believe that he is coping with what happened to him. He may not know who he is right now. But I do. I know that he will construct a brand new self that will adapt to whatever life we offer him. He doesn’t quite know how yet but he’ll be piecing that persona together bit by bit, by trial and error if he has to. And eventually he will succeed. I’m afraid that we will fall for it, that time will lull us into believing that Neal survived this.”
“Honey—“ Elizabeth starts, but Peter has stepped up to the window now and turned his back to her, watching Neal’s every move, searching his face for any tells.
“I’m afraid if I don’t make him deal with what happened he never will.” Peter throws a hopeless look over his shoulder at his wife.
“He is dealing with it,” Elizabeth tells him. “In his own way.”
“How can you be so certain?”
She smiles softly, walks over to the armchair in the corner and picks up one of the yellow, ruled notepads Peter has been missing.
“I wasn’t snooping.” She passes the notepad to Peter. “The door was open. I came in here to air out the room while you guys were sleeping.”
Peter looks at the paper in his hands. The top page is an ink pen drawing of palm tree by the pool.
“There are two more notepads just like this,” she explains. “I think you should look at them. You’ll understand what I’m trying to tell you.” She nods her head in encouragement and leaves the room with the pile of laundry in her arms.
Peter looks outside again, finds Neal, who is on his knees and tending to the flowerbeds by the privacy wall. He picks up the remaining two notepads from the chair then moves to the back of the room, out of Neal’s sightline should his friend glance this way. Sitting down on the edge of Neal’s bed, Peter flips the first leaf of the writing pad.
The next few pages are filled with sketches of this bedroom, simple and rough at first, then improving in detail and skill with every turn of the page. There are still lifes of the bedside lamp and of the soap dish in the bathroom. Drawings of the room are followed by depictions of the bungalow and of the backyard with its plants and the pool.
The content of the sketches changes to something Peter doesn’t recognize immediately, until the crude, hurried lines coalesce to form barbed wire-topped walls, sleeping barracks and impenetrable walls of granite. Then sketches of the prison yard give way to those of people. Faceless throngs of men in rags and chains, crowding around steaming kettles of food and packed shoulder to shoulder on rows of mattresses.
There are studies of raw-knuckled hands and wrists in shackles. Neal’s hands, Peter is certain. And of Neal’s body drawn with sharp lines and deep shadows, dressed and bare, curled up protectively and standing tall. The next pages are filled with self-portraits. Neal at his worst with sunken cheeks and hollow eyes, bruised and bleeding. And Neal at his best on the following page, healthy, bright-eyed and smiling. He sports an unkempt beard and matted hair in the next drawing, is clean-shaven with his hair trimmed to a buzz cut in the one after that.
Peter puts the first writing pad down, picks up the second. He can’t identify the faces on those pages, but he recognizes the terror they instilled in the man who drew them. Peter puts those sketches aside. He isn’t quite ready for this glimpse into Neal’s nightmares.
To call the drawings on the final writing pad works in progress would be generous. Sketches are begun and scratched out, lines drawn and redrawn until the tip of the pen broke through the paper. Peter can see Neal’s frustration on these pages. He can also see what Neal has been struggling to visualize and put on paper. The jagged silhouette of the Manhattan skyline with its unmistakable landmarks, the bridges spanning the East river, the pond in Central Park.
Peter starts. Elizabeth stands in the open door to the living room.
“Neal’s about to come back inside.” She approaches the bed, puts a fresh set of sheets down.
Peter hurries over to the armchair to return the sketches then comes to Elizabeth’s aid as she battles the duvet and the king-size comforter.
“Do you think he’s trying to, you know, process things?” He asks.
“I think it’s a start and as long as he is trying we should let him move at his own pace. And I think if Neal wants to talk to you about scrambled eggs you shouldn’t overanalyze it and assume he is being in denial.”
Peter heaves a deep breath and moves on to stuff a pillow into its slipcover.
“I don’t think he remembers life back home,” he sighs. “He used to be able to draw the city with his eyes closed. And now … let’s just say I’ve seen more accurate renditions of the Empire State Building by a second grader who used dried pasta as a medium.”
“It’ll come back to him. You know what they say about taking the boy out of New York and taking New York out of the boy.”
“What if it doesn’t come back?”
“Then we’ll reintroduce him,” El replies with her unwavering optimism. “That could be fun too, don’t you think? Making a brand new start of it, and all.”
Peter isn’t convinced.
“Fine,” he agrees regardless. “But let’s not show him the shitty parts. Or the really expensive stuff.”
Elizabeth shakes her head at him with a playfully scolding glare.
“Maybe I can convince him he likes deviled ham…”
He ducks to avoid the pillow flung at him.
On to Part 7
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