Frith (frith_in_thorns) wrote,

[fic: white collar] Talking in Code

Title: Talking in Code
Characters/Pairing: Neal, Peter; Gen
Word count: 1500
Content Notes: Spoilers up to the end of season 5.
Other Notes: Written for an anonymous prompter on collarcorner. Also fills the "nightmares" square on my hc_bingo card.

Summary: Neal drops by Peter's house late at night. (Set post-cliffhanger resolution.)


The knock at the door startled Peter into looking up from his paperwork. It was late, surely? A glance at his watch told him that it was nearly midnight — even later than he'd thought.

The knocking came again, more hesitantly. This time Peter got up, feeling the stiffness in his neck and shoulders as he walked to the door.

He was expecting one of the neighbours. But he couldn't even feel terribly surprised when he instead found Neal waiting on the top step, a paper bag dangling awkwardly from one hand. "What are you doing here?"

"I brought take-out," Neal said. He was wearing one of his most disarming half-smiles, and had an air of vague dishevelment — something hard to put a finger on, as he was as well dressed as ever in the Caffrey-version of casual.

"Come on in, then," Peter said, puzzled, but stepping aside.

Neal set the take-out bag onto one of the few clear spaces on the table, and shoved his hands into his pockets as he surveyed the spread of paper. "Isn't this a bit late for working?" he asked.

"You sound like El," Peter grumbled. He attempted to establish some order among the mess. "Go grab some plates. You want a glass of wine?"

To his surprise, Neal shrugged. "Maybe just some tea," he said. "You mind if I make myself a cup?"

"Sure, go ahead," Peter said, more determined than ever to get to the bottom of whatever was going on.

He had cleared enough room to unpack the containers of Indian food by the time Neal brought in the plates. He had a bottle of beer for Peter.

"So, do you have any more thoughts on the Morrison case?" Peter asked, serving himself a portion of rice.

Neal looked up, seeming to take a couple of seconds to focus. "Huh? Oh, sorry, no."

He looked tired. That was where the dishevelled aspect was coming from — Neal's face was pale, his eyes slightly shadowed, and his hair was rumpled instead of immaculately combed. He was drooping slightly over his plate of food, one hand cradling his mug of tea.

Peter ate for a while in silence. He was more hungry than he thought, even though he'd had dinner not long — Oh. He hadn't actually remembered to eat dinner at all, but had instead dived straight into work after arriving home.

"Are you going to tell me yet what you're doing here?" he asked, eventually.

Neal shrugged. "I just came by to check if you were managing to eat and sleep without Elizabeth around to remind you."

Peter glared at him.

"What?" Neal asked. "I mean, really. At this time of night, shouldn't you be in bed?"

"Shouldn't you?" Peter shot back. Neal's tendency for deflection continued to be as annoying as ever.

"I probably should," Neal allowed, with a self-deprecating half-smile. "But I felt like a walk instead."

"Hmm." Peter didn't feel much like interrogating Neal until an honest answer eventually slipped out, even if it seemed like he was in the sort of mood where that was the only thing which would work. "Oh, El says hi."

"Tell her hi back. She's still settling in okay?"

"Yeah, she says she's run off her feet but really enjoying it." She had sounded half-asleep during their evening phone conversation, but Peter wasn't worried about her. She was much better at not working past her limits than he was, after all. And she was getting on just fine.

"Good. That's good."

An awkward silence fell. Peter finished eating, but Neal was still slowly picking at what was left of his rice with a fork. It was allowing him to keep his eyes on his plate, rather than look at Peter.

"Neal, are you having trouble sleeping?" Peter asked.

"Why do you say that?" Neal asked back. He kept scraping his fork around his plate, even though he was down to chasing the last few rice grains.

Peter pushed his own plate aside, and rested his elbows on the table. "You've had a traumatic experience," he said, choosing his words carefully. "It's not unusual for someone to have difficulty sleeping, or nightmares, after something like that." In all likelihood, there hadn't even been enough time for the bruises to fade completely yet. Neal was wearing a long-sleeved shirt tonight, as he had been constantly ever since the hospital, but Peter could still clearly remember how the dark blotches had circled his arms, and how he had hidden them the first chance he'd got.

"You shouldn't be lecturing," Neal said. It came out sounding accusatory. He was still drawing circles with his fork around the empty plate. "Diana said you barely slept, while I was missing."

"We needed to get you back," Peter said. He wished Neal would look at him. "I know we took too long, Neal, and I'm sorry —"

"Not your fault," Neal interrupted, quickly. "Please. Stop apologising to me."

Sorry, Peter nearly said, but caught himself in time. There was more silence.

"Are you having nightmares too?" Neal asked, finally. He looked up, but his expression was smooth, blank.

Peter held his eyes for a moment. "Yes."

"What about?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Peter said, almost crossly. He wanted to snap at Neal, tell him to stop dragging this conversation out.

But Neal's facade was already cracking. He was just too tired to keep it up. There was a lurking desperation behind his eyes.

"I have nightmares about not being able to find you," Peter said. He could stop there, but he suddenly felt it was important to be as honest as possible. "About Rachel shooting you. About being back in jail." He shivered involuntarily.

"Still?" Neal asked, quietly.

Peter nodded. "They'd stopped. But since El's been in DC…"

God, he missed her. Not just for himself; she would know what to say to Neal, how to make this better. But their bed at night without her in it felt wrong. Too cold and empty. Her absence left too much space for his fears to fill.

"My nightmares are the same as yours," Neal said, voice still quiet. "I've been trying not to sleep."

Peter raised his eyebrows. "Yeah, I can tell."

Neal gave him a slightly annoyed look, but there was relief in his expression too as he drooped tiredly over the table. Him coming over had meant he'd wanted to get this off his chest, probably for days.

Peter cleared his throat. "You look exhausted. How about you crash here tonight?" Where they would be just across the hall from each other. Close enough to hear… anything.

"You don't mind?" Neal said, immediately.

"Tell you what, you can make breakfast."

"Sounds fair," Neal agreed. He glanced at the clock. Peter followed his eyes, and winced. It was definitely time to be in bed.

Upstairs, he dug a spare pair of his pyjamas from a drawer and tossed them to Neal, before heading to the bathroom.

When he emerged, however, Neal was still standing in the hall. "Something wrong?" Peter asked.

"Uh," Neal said, and gestured towards the guest room. "Am I sleeping on the floor?"

Peter groaned. The spare bed, and its bedding, had gone to El's apartment in DC, since she had the greater short-term need. They — or, more accurately, he — hadn't gotten around to replacing it yet. "Sorry, I totally forgot." He grimaced. "I guess you'll have to make do with the couch. Unless you wanted to bunk in with me, I suppose."

He'd meant it as a joke, but Neal's face twitched for a moment into an expression he quickly wiped away. "The couch is fine," he said, hastily. "I'll just change first." He headed into the bathroom quickly before Peter could react.

Peter rolled his eyes, even though it was only to himself. He changed into his pyjamas in the bedroom, and waited for Neal to come out of the bathroom. "Come on, get in here," he said, when Neal did.

Neal hesitated on the threshold. "Really?"

"Unless you snore," Peter said. "Or if you really would prefer the couch." The bruises on Neal's arms had faded to a yellowish-green, but they were still visible. Peter mentally kicked himself for not giving him the option of a long-sleeved top to sleep in.

Neal hesitated a moment longer, and then came inside, closing the door behind him. He followed Peter's gaze to his arms, but didn't try to hide them. "I don't want to wake you up," he said. "If I have bad dreams."

"It sounds like we're about equal in that respect," Peter said, a little wryly, and Neal smiled. "Come on. Let's both try to sleep."

They both climbed under the covers, and Peter switched off the light. He could hear Neal shifting around for a while, searching for a comfortable position, and then all was quiet except for the sound of their breathing.

He woke in the night. Neal was panting, as if he'd been running. "It's okay," Peter whispered. "You're safe, it's okay."

Neal rolled over to lie against him, a solid line of warmth. "Sorry," he whispered back.

Peter's own dreams had been troubled, and frightening. "It's okay." He found Neal's shoulder with his hand, letting his fingers rest there.

Neal's breathing had calmed. He didn't move out of contact with Peter, though. "Thank you for this."

"Thank you for coming over," Peter said, and Neal made a soft, pleased noise.

He fell asleep again like that, with Neal against him. And this time, neither of them woke until morning.


Posted at with comment count unavailable comments.
Tags: fanfic, fic: white collar, gen, hc, hc_bingo, white collar

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