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30 July 2013 @ 12:13 am
[fic: white collar] Silent Night  
Title: Silent Night
Characters/Pairing: Neal, Peter; Gen
Rating: T
Word count: 3200
Warnings: Violence, PTSD
Notes: I actually wrote this ages ago, but sholio just convinced me to post it. (Thank you!) It fills the PTSD square on my hc_bingo card.

Summary: "I've never killed anyone," Neal says. His voice is shaking. "You know that, don't you?"

- - -

"I've never killed anyone," Neal says. His voice is shaking. "You know that, don't you? You believe me. I don't like hurting people."

"I believe you," Peter says his voice serious and sad. He puts a hand on Neal's arm, exquisitely carefully.

It's gentle, but Neal shivers at the touch. A tremor runs through him, and everything, every part of himself that he's worked so hard and so long to build was never more after all than a house of cards. The foundations were laid on fear and the need to run from a truth too painful to deal with. He shouldn't be surprised.

"I think we should get out of here," Peter says. "Neal?"

He hasn't once asked Neal if he's alright. That's something Neal is distinctly grateful for, because he's not sure he can summon up the energy to lie but the truth will tear him apart.

The blood on his hands is still warm. It glistens, and seems to shift in the light like it's something alive in and of itself.

Peter reaches like he's going to pry the knife out of his hand, which makes Neal jerk back sharply and drop it, stifling a gasp as it clatters on the hard floor. Peter retreats immediately, palms held up, but he's got it backwards. Neal doesn't want the blood to get to Peter, to contaminate him.

"It's going to be okay," Peter says, speaking slowly and softly.

That's unthinkable. Neal tries to picture anything outside of this warehouse and all he comes up with is an anxiety which makes his breathing and his pulse race. What's just happened is too enormous for the world to go on.

"Are you hurt?" he thinks to ask, at last, far later than he should have.

"No, I'm not. Thanks to you."

That should make him feel better, but it doesn't. He nods stiffly, though, because he thinks it's what he's supposed to do, and he pushes himself to his feet; pushing himself off the floor with a hand automatically and barely controlling his flinch at the perfect red print he leaves behind.

Peter is rubbing at his wrists, where the zip ties had cut deeply. He stops quickly as soon as he catches Neal looking, pushing his hands down almost guiltily. "After you," he says, and though Neal doesn't really want to take the lead right now he starts moving, everything feeling clumsy although there's nothing wrong with him, he's not hurt.

"What happens now?" he asks, and is careful to stop right before he says, Would they send me back for this?

"You've done nothing wrong," Peter says, so forcefully that Neal wonders whether he did say that out loud, after all. "Don't worry about that for now. Let's just get out of here."

Quite suddenly, Neal realises that he's not actually sure he wants to get out. While they're in the warehouse nothing else has to exist. He feels shaky, and cold, but the panic is already increasing at the thought of the nebulous future waiting outside.

His footsteps are slowing. He doesn't mean them to, but they're slowing and his breaths are getting caught somewhere in his throat and not making it down to his lungs, and Peter's looking at him like he's afraid Neal is about to break, to crack open, all the little pieces of him spilling across the cement floor, and Neal can't tell him he's wrong because he doesn't know himself.

Peter knows him. Peter is so often right.

But they make it across the floor at last and Peter opens the door to let in the sight of bruise-yellow clouds, heavy with snow that's hung there all day and is still to fall.

It doesn't seem right, that it's still the same day. The same clouds.

Neal glances back, but the daylight has contracted his pupils and he can't see far into the dim interior.

Then he turns back to the light, towards Peter, and their way is blocked by the dead man.

It shouldn't be possible, but the man Neal killed, who's lying lifeless somewhere behind them is standing in the doorway, the gun that Neal didn't even think about securing in his hand and aiming down at Peter. Who's kneeling on the concrete, defiant but bound at the the wrists and ankles, unable to free himself.

Neal moves. He can't stop himself because this has all been played out already, and the knife he left behind is back in his hand. He just watches as he throws himself desperately forwards, the blade wicked-sharp and glinting for a moment before it slices right through the man's throat and blood spurts out, wet on his hands.

This is wrong, he thinks, You've already bled out, before the man topples forwards and Neal moves to catch him automatically, knocked to his knees as blood drips down onto him. It's cold. Cold and damp.

"Neal," Peter says, his voice low and urgent, but when Neal turns to cut his ties, This is what I have to do now, I did this, he's not there.

The blood is freezing his hands.

Neal snapped awake all at once, gasping and half-sobbing in confusion and panic. White. Everything was white, and he was icy-cold.

He was kneeling in a snowdrift, his hands plunged into its heart.

Worse, he was in his pyjamas and he had no idea where he was. Some small space hemmed in by snow-hushed streets, in the middle of the night.

Shivering, he got to his feet. He was wearing socks. Better than nothing. That was a plus.

That was as much of a positive outlook as he had. He wrapped his arms around himself. His feet and hands ached fiercely, and he was disorientated and shaky from the dream.

Snow crunched and squashed under his feet as he picked a direction and began trudging along the nearest sidewalk. It was no longer falling, but lay in soft heaps. The whiteness reflected a dull glow from the street lamps and the sky and Neal knew he would have appreciated the beauty around him under almost any other circumstances.

The cold should have woken him before, surely? He still had no idea how far he'd walked, although when he cautiously lifted his pyjama leg the light on his anklet still glowed safely green.

The city in the snow was unsettlingly quiet; otherworldly. Neal could hear faint traffic noises from streets away and a dog barking somewhere. He passed rows of darkened windows and locked doors and pictured himself knocking on one of them, asking for help. For a phone call, to beg Peter to come get him. It should be an attractive prospect.

Except that the idea of it was making him shudder in a way that had nothing to do with the cold. He kept trudging forwards, feet growing numb and sliding in patches of slush.

Eventually he got to a crossroads and found a cab stand.

The first cab driver refused him, rolling up his window while Neal was halfway through a story he'd pulled out of thin air about a midnight argument with a girlfriend, which had been designed to make the sight of him seem less crazy.

The second guy also looked Neal up and down, but with an expression that leaned more towards the amused than the suspicious. "Not dressed for this weather, are you?" he said, with a twist of his mouth. As if in answer to his words, a new flurry of snow began to fall. "You got a wallet somewhere?"

"My friend'll pay you," Neal said, forced to speak slowly by the numbness of his face and lips. "I was sleepwalking, and I'm locked out." Too tired for stories.

"Sleepwalking. Not high?"

Neal raised his hands, fingers uncurling painfully. "I'm clean," he said. "Scout's honour."

"Where's your friend live?"

"Brooklyn."

The driver considered. "That's on my way home. Guess I'll risk it. Hop in."

Neal fumbled the rear door open quickly, and all but fell onto the seat. The engine started, and with it came a blast of hot air. "Thanks," he said.

"I think you need it. You look like an icicle."

He couldn't really disagree. Neal leaned his head back and shut his eyes, giving in to the looping images that had been his dream. He was deeply shaken by the sleepwalking. The preceding couple of nights he had barely slept at all but this… this was orders of magnitude different. He needed to be able to trust himself, and if he couldn't…

It seemed to take hours to get to Brooklyn, but when the cab neared Peter's house Neal began to dread arriving. There seemed to be constriction in his lungs, his breathing coming too fast, and his fingertips were drumming rapidly on his thighs.

But he got out, when they arrived. "Hey," the driver said. "You've got no shoes. Want to sit while I go get your buddy?"

Neal shook his head. "No, it's okay." He wondered belatedly if the man hadn't been more concerned about him fare-dodging, but he didn't object. Maybe just being kind, after all.

His feet had just begun to thaw, and Neal hissed in pain as he lowered them back to the snow-covered sidewalk. He hobbled to the railing and clung to it, using it to haul himself up the steps. At the top of them he hesitated. He was, he admitted to himself, ashamed to be seen by Peter in this state. Ashamed to have to go running to him for help.

But the cab driver was waiting, and he had been kind. Neal had on occasion conned and double-crossed people who had done more, but those weren't occasions he remembered with any pride. He pressed his doorbell, letting it chime loudly for slightly longer than was polite, and then leaned against the wall, waiting.

Heavy steps quickly approached from the other side of the door, and then it opened as far as the safety chain would let it. "Neal?" Peter quickly closed the door and reopened it, fully this time. His eyes widened as they took Neal in properly. "What on earth — no, get inside first."

"Can you lend me the cab fare?" Neal asked. He had been trying to think of what to say to Peter, how he could explain this, but none of that came out. His teeth were already chattering again. "I'll pay you back…"

Peter waved towards the cab, acknowledging the driver, and then pulled Neal inside while he stuffed his feet into the first shoes at hand. "Wallet," he muttered distractedly, fumbling in his coat pocket. "Neal, grab the throw from the couch. You're frozen." He was out of the front door without giving Neal a chance to reply.

Neal was at a loss. He was cold and stiff, and the couch was a long way away, so he just stood there, wondering what he could possibly say to Peter when he returned.

But Peter didn't immediately ask. He opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, and then hurried upstairs to return with a towel, a blanket, and a set of loose clothes. "You want to dry off and get changed? I'll make something hot to drink. Tea? Chocolate?" He was clearly forcing himself to talk normally — or as normally as he could manage right then.

"Coffee," Neal said. "Please."

"Isn't it a bit late?"

That was the point. He didn't want to sleep. He shrugged.

"Hmm," Peter said. "Okay. You're alright if I leave you here?"

"Yeah, I'm good."

"Hmm," Peter said, again, but he disappeared into the kitchen.

Neal slowly towelled his hair, and then himself. He was uncoordinated, his limbs feeling like they didn't belong to him. He was shivering violently by that time, but once he had put on the too-large shirt and sweats and wrapped the blanket around himself he finally began to feel warmer. He clenched and unclenched his fingers, forcing feeling back into them. "Peter?" he called.

"Come in here." Peter was fussing over the coffee pot, but he gestured towards a chair. "Sit down. We need to do something about your feet."

Neal looked down, and realised with a dull shock that he was leaving a smeared and dirty trail of bloody footprints. "They don't hurt," he said.

"They'll hurt enough when you've thawed out properly. Even more if you get an infection."

"Cheerful," Neal muttered, and sat on the kitchen chair to pull off his socks. They were filthy. The soles of his feet, when they were revealed, were scraped and cut and dark with road-dirt and blood.

Peter slid a mug of coffee towards him. "Here. Pay attention to this." He waited until Neal took a couple of sips and began arranging supplies on the floor; a plastic basin full of water, a couple of washcloths.

"You're going to clean my feet?" Neal asked, raising his eyebrows sceptically.

If Peter noticed his tone, he didn't say anything. "Yes," he said, simply, and knelt on the kitchen floor. He dampened a washcloth in the lukewarm water and began working at the sole of Neal's left foot, dabbing in slow, gentle circles.

It felt oddly intimate, and Neal was suddenly unsure of himself. "You haven't asked me what I'm doing here," he said.

Peter didn't look up, holding Neal's ankle steady. "I could probably venture a guess."

"I think I was sleepwalking," Neal said.

He waited, a little defensively, for Peter to say something either pitying or joking. But Peter didn't. He just nodded calmly. "Is this the first time?"

"Yes. But… I haven't been sleeping well." And he had no idea whether he might not have, actually, been wandering through the house at night, never remembering. Somehow that seemed even more unsettling than waking up in a strange place.

Feeling was beginning to come back into feet. As Peter had predicted, they were now hurting in earnest. Neal flinched as Peter pressed the cloth against a raw spot.

"Sorry," Peter said.

"It's fine," Neal replied. He drank some more coffee, looking away.

"We should get you checked out tomorrow, just to be safe," Peter said. He was going for casualness but it was far too studied, and he didn't look at Neal as he said it.

"I've already talked to the shrink," Neal protested. He had. Something inside him twisted up defensively at the thought of going back. "Obviously it didn't work."

Peter pursed his mouth, but his hands didn't falter. Neal had assumed he'd be done by now, but he had underestimated Peter's capacity for gentle thoroughness. "What did you say to him?"

"I thought I had the pretence of confidentiality. Will you use your authority as my handler if I don't tell you?"

"Neal," Peter said. He laid the damp cloth over the side of the basin, and looked up to meet Neal's eyes. "Do you really think I'd do that?"

Neal half-smiled, somewhat dryly. "If you believed it was for my own good."

Peter's mouth twisted. Point to Neal, though he didn't much want it.

"We just talked about… what happened," he said, extending an olive branch. "He wanted to know if I've been having flashbacks. I haven't, but —" he swallowed — "Every now and then I can feel it. The resistance when the knife went in, and the blood."

His eyes found the smears of blood and dirt on the kitchen floor. They didn't inspire any particular reaction. Context. It was all about context.

"Did it help at all?" Peter asked. "Talking about it?"

Neal shrugged. "It still happened."

"And besides," Peter suggested, shrewdly, "You couldn't help yourself from figuring out what he wanted to hear, and conning him."

Neal grinned briefly. "Guy's too used to working with law enforcement. He's primed for honesty."

Peter chuckled. "Oh, I wouldn't be so sure of that. But you're certainly out of his league."

Neal preened, which made Peter laugh.

"Hold still, now," Peter told him, and uncapped the tube of antiseptic cream. It was cold against Neal's torn skin, but in a good way, a way that brought with it a lessening of pain. Peter worked it in carefully, head bent, and Neal watched the sure movements of his fingers as minutes ticked by quietly.

"Nearly done," Peter said, finally. "You probably won't get gangrene."

"Good to know."

Peter cut strips from the gauze pads, and wrapped them in place over Neal's soles using a length of bandage. "I'll get you a pair of my socks to protect that," he said. "Hang on."

Neal obediently stayed where he was, his feet dangling idly just off the floor. The remainder of the mug of coffee had gone cold in his hands. He swallowed a couple of mouthfuls and put it down, the clink loud in the silent house.

He was already tensing, bracing for the long, lonely, sleepless night ahead. He didn't want to be alone.

As far as epiphanies went, it was rather underwhelming.

But then Peter came back downstairs and Neal felt himself relax again immediately. Which wasn't good, because he didn't want to have to rely on someone else (even Peter) for his peace of mind, but he didn't know what to do about it.

"Here," Peter said, and passed him a pair of clean white socks, too big. But they fitted securely over the padding of the bandages. Petr waited until Neal was done easing them on, watching him searchingly. "You want to go to bed? The guest room's all made up, and El and I will be just across the hall if you need anything."

"Um," Neal said, trying to appear nonchalant while his insides shrank at the prospect. He nodded at his mug. "Not really tired right now. Must be the caffeine."

"Must be," Peter said, levelly. "Okay, how about moving to the couch? More comfortable there." He punctuated the sentence with a badly-hidden yawn.

"Sounds good," Neal said. Then he grimaced, looking down. "Give me a hand?"

"Of course," Peter said, quickly, and bent to fit his shoulder under Neal's arm.

They made it to the couch eventually, Neal moving with slow, shuffling steps. He sank into the cushions with a groan of relief, not opening his eyes as he felt Peter sit down beside him. He did, however, look up with a start when Peter spread a throw over him.

"Warm enough?" Peter asked.

"Yeah. Thanks."

Peter reached for a couple of case files which had been on the side table. Neal also made a move towards them, glad to have something to do, but Peter pushed him back. "Nope. I don't care whether or not you actually sleep, but you're going to rest. You're obviously exhausted." Softly, he said, "I'll be right here."

Neal sighed, and leaned back. After a few minutes it was too much effort to keep his eyes open. He hadn't expected to feel drowsy, but somehow it had snuck up on him. A suspicion seized him. "You gave me decaf," he mumbled. "Traitor."

"Yup." Peter touched Neal's hair, gently, and then tucked the blanket more tightly around him. Neal tensed as much as he had energy for, not able to relax because sooner or later Peter would get up and leave him there. He was waiting for it…

He was still waiting when he fell asleep.

- - -

Posted at http://frith-in-thorns.dreamwidth.org/101296.html with comment count unavailable comments.
 
 
 
kanarek13: minekanarek13 on July 29th, 2013 11:33 pm (UTC)
Awwww, and I'm so glad Sholio managed to convince you because this is soooooooooooooooooo good. Poor Neal, this is definitely something that would turn his entire world upside down. Thank God for Peter. I love it that Neal, when in trouble, always seems to be drawn to Peter like a magnet. And Peter always know how to make things right again, even if just a little bit.

Thank you for posting. Now I can go to sleep happy :P
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - boysfrith_in_thorns on July 31st, 2013 09:45 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! ♥ Neal going to Peter when he needs help is totally one of my favourite things to write :)
Sholio: WhiteCollar-Peter Neal soft filtersholio on July 30th, 2013 12:18 am (UTC)
Oh, NEEEAAAAAAL! ;_; Oh, Peter. <3 <3 <3

I am glad you posted this; it's so lovely, from the gorgeous, evocative descriptions of the falling snow, to Neal's willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for Peter, and Peter's gentleness and care with him. ngghhh, so good. <3
Frith: Zundry - raining heartsfrith_in_thorns on July 31st, 2013 09:45 am (UTC)
Thank youuuu! :D For your comment and for getting me to post this <3
angelita26: Neal!Sleepingangelita26 on July 30th, 2013 12:21 am (UTC)
Oh, Neal! *smothers him in blankets* I definitely felt how traumatized Neal was, and I'm so glad that he went to Peter when he found himself in need of a friend. And then he was finally able to fall asleep, poor guy. Thanks so much for sharing!
Frith: White Collar - El+Neal+Peter - familyfrith_in_thorns on July 31st, 2013 09:46 am (UTC)
Neal needs all the hugs.

I'm really happy you enjoyed this! Thank you :)
lov_pb on July 30th, 2013 02:25 am (UTC)
"Peter pursed his mouth, but his hands didn't falter. Neal had assumed he'd be done by now, but he had underestimated Peter's capacity for gentle thoroughness."

My favorite scenario. Neal seeking his safety net: Peter Burke. Beautiful glimpse of true friendship.
Frith: Zundry - raining heartsfrith_in_thorns on July 31st, 2013 09:46 am (UTC)
It is also a scenario I love massively. Thank you so much!
a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf: White Collar - Neal & Peter hugembroiderama on July 30th, 2013 05:07 am (UTC)
Oh wow, this is so sad but the details and the tone of it are beautiful.
Frith: White Collar - Neal - hat bluefrith_in_thorns on August 1st, 2013 09:58 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much!
pipiljpipilj on July 30th, 2013 07:35 am (UTC)
Oh poor Neal, his distress is beautifully explored. Loved how he unconsciously sought out Peter when he felt troubled. Loved how Peter handled Neal with gentleness and understanding and knowing just what Neal needed. Lovely story.
Frith: White Collar - El+Neal+Peter - familyfrith_in_thorns on August 1st, 2013 09:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I do love Peter taking care of Neal :)
calis_1stcalis_1st on July 30th, 2013 10:43 am (UTC)
Wow, this is heart wrenching. Your descriptions of Neal's physical and emotional were so real. I absolutely love their conversation in the kitchen, both the words and the tone. Thanks you so much for posting this (and thanks to Sholio, too).
Frithfrith_in_thorns on August 1st, 2013 10:00 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! <3 I'm really glad that you enjoyed this.
daria234daria234 on July 30th, 2013 10:48 am (UTC)
This is really lovely and all too believable. I love the point Neal makes about what Peter would do if he thought it was for Neal's own good, and Neal flattered that Peter thinks he's out of the therapist's league.
Frith: White Collar - El+Neal+Peter - familyfrith_in_thorns on August 1st, 2013 10:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! Especially for picking out those bits :)
leesa_perrie: Peter Neal Talkleesa_perrie on July 30th, 2013 11:52 am (UTC)
This is wonderful! Oh Neal *hugs him* This is so believable, and I love the descriptions and the way we jump from the warehouse to Neal in the snow - it shows Neal's confusion excellently. Oh, there's so many little bits in here that made me squee, including Peter's gentle handling of Neal throughout. The bit about not being able to resist conning the shrink made me smile - so Neal to do that, so Peter to know that he would.

I loved this bit, it made me laugh:
"You gave me decaf," he mumbled. "Traitor."

And this bit at the end was just perfect:
not able to relax because sooner or later Peter would get up and leave him there. He was waiting for it…

He was still waiting when he fell asleep.


Thank you for sharing it, and to Sholio for convincing you to!
Frith: Zundry - raining heartsfrith_in_thorns on August 1st, 2013 10:03 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! :D I really love writing Peter being gentle and caring, because he really is :) And Neal needs all the hugs *hugs him*
sapphire2309sapphire2309 on July 30th, 2013 12:33 pm (UTC)
Oh, dear, this hurt so much. But it was amazing!
Frith: White Collar - Neal - hat bluefrith_in_thorns on August 1st, 2013 10:03 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!
lauracollaredlauracollared on July 30th, 2013 01:47 pm (UTC)
Wow. This was brilliant. Neal's pain. Peter's amazing reactions and caring for him. They were so in character. The moment's of light humor....
Decaf. Touching his hair.
Peter waiting til he falls asleep.

This was perfect. Thanks for sharing!
Frith: Zundry - raining heartsfrith_in_thorns on August 1st, 2013 10:04 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! <3 I'm really happy that you enjoyed this :)
Treontreonb on July 30th, 2013 01:51 pm (UTC)
This is beautiful! I love the scene jumping, and how Neal finds himself at Peter's house, and of course how Neal accepts him no questions asked.
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - boysfrith_in_thorns on August 1st, 2013 10:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! I'm glad that the scene jump especially worked :) And I love writing Peter looking after Neal.
(no subject) - treonb on August 4th, 2013 03:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
aqwt101aqwt101 on July 30th, 2013 03:15 pm (UTC)
Oh, poor Neal! I loved that Neal came to Peter for help and how gentle and steady Peter was. And the last scene with Peter just being there and Neal finally being able to sleep - just aww ♥
Frith: White Collar - El+Neal+Peter - familyfrith_in_thorns on August 1st, 2013 10:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! Peter always knows how to look after Neal when he's in distress <3
saphirablue on August 6th, 2013 03:59 pm (UTC)
Wow. That's very powerful (and hurt-y) to read.

I love Peter in this. Neal's rock and person to go. ♥

Thank you!
Frith: White Collar - El+Neal+Peter - familyfrith_in_thorns on August 7th, 2013 12:26 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! Peter is great at looking after Neal :)
sheeniannisheenianni on August 6th, 2013 06:30 pm (UTC)
This is awesome, painful but real. Poor Neal!
On a side note, I like your cab driver - a great OC I wouldn't mind seeing again (despite the guy not even having a name and being there for about half a page, LOL). The moment between Peter and Neal at Peter's house was just the perfect mix of concern, comfort and love, with subtle but touching humor.
Wonderful fic.
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - boysfrith_in_thorns on August 7th, 2013 12:29 am (UTC)
Thank you very much! I do like making up minor OCs, so glad you liked him! :) And the bit with Neal and Peter was definitely my favourite to write. Again, thanks :)