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09 August 2012 @ 12:00 am
[fic: white collar] We Sleep on Stones  
Okay, so this is a thing, which is pretty much all the angst ever. *iz not sure about posting this*

Title: We Sleep on Stones
Characters/Pairing: Neal, Peter; Gen
Genre/Rating: Angst; T
Word count: 1800
Warnings: Spoilers for 4x04; Character death
Notes: The title is from a song by Cherry Ghost. This is unbeta'd, and doesn't really have a point apart from Neal-angst. I did promise it to theoret.
I'm using this for my 'loss of voice' square in hc_bingo.

Summary: Tag to 4x04, 'Parting Shots'. Neal in the aftermath.

- - -

The ambulance pulls away. Neal stares after it, unable to tear his eyes away, unable to move. He should be in there. He should be riding with Ellen.

He isn't.

The air feels too thin. As if he's standing on the edge of a precipice, too high up, too close to falling. The siren's blare fills the space around him, makes it hard to breathe even as it fades away and is replaced by the more usual traffic noise, still too loud. There are drops of blood on the grey ground, bright and still wet.

He takes his phone out of his pocket, finding himself dialling without thinking about it. Because he doesn't know what else to do. Because Peter has to be able to make this right; it's what he does.

"Neal, hi," Peter answers. "What is it?" He sounds calm, relaxed. Like this is a normal afternoon, like nothing's wrong.

And Neal can't speak. He stares at scuff-marks on the kerb and his throat is constricted and his mouth won't open.

"Neal?" Peter prompts. "What's going on?"

It seems impossible, that Peter doesn't know already.

He finds himself sitting down, against the planter which Ellen and Mozzie worked on together. He doesn't remember moving.

There's the click of computer keys in the background. "You're at Ellen's, yes?" Peter's looking at his tracking data. "What's wrong?" His voice is tense now, anxious. Somehow, that's worse than him sounding normal, and Neal suddenly can't bear it.

He disconnects the call. His phone rings back almost immediately, but he doesn't answer it. He turns his head away from the gawkers on the sidewalk, from the young cop who's hovering uncertainly a few paces away, and runs his fingers over the rough lip of the planter, presses them slightly into the faintly damp soil beside the green stems, vividly fragile. Forget-me-not. Forget-me-not. It hammers in his head, mockingly.

"Neal." Peter touches his shoulder, crouching down in front of him. Neal doesn't even feel surprise that he's materialised here — just a dull acceptance.

Peter hesitates, and then pulls Neal towards him into a hug, squeezing him tightly. By the time Neal's fully registered it, and before he can think to reciprocate, Peter has drawn back, looking anxiously into his face.

"I'll drive you to the hospital," Peter says, and waits. Neal waits too, before he realises that Peter must be waiting for some sort of consenting signal from him.

He gets up, suddenly jolted by urgency. God, he's just been here on the sidewalk, while Ellen — he should be with her. She'll be waiting for him, wondering where he is. He can't fall apart like this.

The numbness floods back once he's sitting in the car, though, Peter sneaking glances at him. Other vehicles slide jerkily past. He blinks, and entire blocks are behind them. They stop at a light and Peter puts his hand gently on Neal's knee. Neal looks at it but doesn't do anything else. He wants to cling to Peter's hand and never let go, but he can't seem to move.

"He's family," Peter tells the receptionist, and holds up his credentials. Neal looks away, watching people scurry purposefully through the ants' nest of corridors. They need to make sure Ellen has protection on her room while she recovers. Anyone can just walk through a hospital. She isn't safe.

Peter pushes a cardboard cup of coffee into Neal's hand, and pushes Neal down into a chair. The paint is cracking from the waiting room's walls. Blue paint. It makes Neal feel like he's drowning, and he stares at the faded fabric of the chair covers instead. He raises the cup to his lips automatically, but the coffee smell is too strong, too bitter, and he's suddenly swallowing back bile. He puts it down on a table instead.

Mozzie should be here, but he isn't picking up. Neal has hung up on his voicemail several times now without speaking.

Elizabeth hugs him, briefly, pulling back to give him his own space when he doesn't move to return it. He would have liked her to stay, but working out how to ask her to is too complicated, and in a moment he's lost the train of thought.

"He hasn't said a word to me," Peter whispers, with Elizabeth on the other side of the room. Peter hasn't had enough practice in not being overheard. "I tried to at least make him drink something, but…"

Neal stops listening. The lights overhead are bright enough to hurt his eyes.

Time passes, interminably. He glances at the clock on the wall and has already forgotten what it says as soon as he looks away.

"There's nothing you could have done," Peter says to him, which is clearly not true. There's always something, a causality. And he was the one who started digging around the wreckage of the past without even considering that it might come crashing down on him.

No, not on him. On Ellen. Peter has accused him, more than once, of always managing to walk away clean while the fallout hits someone else. A charmed life, people have said, and now that phrase feels like an accusation.

A charm has a curse on the other side.

He paces, around and around, like he's searching for some way out. He doesn't know who fired the shots, doesn't know who he can blame. Ellen will be able to tell him where he can focus the hate he's sure to feel soon, when there's more than a swirling emptiness inside him where his emotions are supposed to be.

"Is there anything I can get you?" Elizabeth asks. She glances at the cold coffee. "Water, soda?"

He shakes his head, absently.

She puts her hands on his arms, her grip gentle but demanding. "Neal, sweetie, look at me," she says.

He does. There's pain in her face, in her eyes and in the creases at the corners of her mouth, and kindness, and understanding. It's too much, too much, and he wrenches his gaze away before she can splinter through his numbness. He's behind glass, and it's not safe outside.


He's been leaning forwards in the chair, staring at faint marks on his shoes and at the small green light on the anklet. He never asked Ellen if she'd felt trapped, too, in the life she hadn't chosen. All the time he's known her, and it never occurred to him to ask.

The doctor is waiting. Neal stands, swallows.

"I'm so sorry," she says, and Neal had assumed he'd already retreated as far as he could go but he'd been wrong, he'd been so wrong, there's a blizzard whirling inside his head, his thoughts all whited out and his ears blocked by its roar.

Someone says his name, repeats it, and the rim of a cup is being pressed to his lips, cold water spilling into his mouth and forcing him to swallow it.

He's sitting again. Someone's loosened his shirt and tie. Peter, probably, who's pulled another chair out so he can sit in front of Neal, at the same level.

Neal takes the cup and sips it. His hands are shaking, but he can think more clearly now, see where his way out is. "She's okay, really," he says. His voice is husky, and sounds strange. "This is just a cover for her. WitSec are —"

"No." Peter puts a hand on his wrist. "Neal, Ellen didn't make it. She's dead."

"She can't be," Neal says. "She… she wouldn't do that."

Peter scrubs his free hand over his face. Elizabeth makes a movement from nearby, but Peter shakes his head very slightly and she stills. He leans forward again and rubs his thumb gently over the inside of Neal's wrist and waits, until Neal finally, reluctantly, raises his head to meet Peter's eyes.

"Neal," Peter says, very, very quietly and kindly.

He can't run from Peter. Peter always finds him. And Peter holds onto him when Neal tips forward, his face pressed into the front of Peter's cheap suit, trying to hide the messy, undignified way in which he's crying. There's the scrape of another chair and Elizabeth leans into the two of them, rubbing her hand up and down Neal's back.

It seems a long time before Neal can manage to take a proper breath. Before he can sit up without feeling like he'll fly apart if they aren't there, feeling like it's only their tight hold on him which is keeping him together.

"Can I see her?" he asks.

Peter looks like he wants to object. And part of Neal hopes that he does, because that might mean Ellen is alive after all but being kept away from him for her own safety.

"I'll see what I can do," Peter says. "Stay here, okay?"

Neal nods, and Elizabeth puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes gently. It seems to be that which reassures Peter. He leaves the room.

He's back only a short while later, during which Neal has sat in a silence he's grateful for.

Peter eyes him. "Sure you're up for this right now?"

"I need to see her," Neal states, and waits for Peter to see that he's telling the truth.

Peter guides him out of the room with a hand against his back. Like he's worried about letting him go. They follow a nurse in blue scrubs who gives them a small compassionate smile as she holds a door open for them. "Take all the time you need," she says.

All the time… There is never, never enough time to say goodbye.

Ellen does not look like she is asleep. This is no deception, no con, no sleight of hand.

"I'm so sorry," Neal whispers to her. And then, "What should I have done?" Like a child, a little boy, begging for an answer.

"You couldn't have done anything," Peter says, a step behind him.

Neal shakes his head. There are tears on his cheeks, and he lets them fall. Ellen has seen him cry. Seen him laugh. Seen him when he was in love, and when he was running, certain no one could catch him, and when he was alone and afraid. When he was desperate, and drowning in dark places inside himself. She's always been there, even when it was at a distance.

She deserved better than this. But this is what she's got.

"We need to find who did this," Neal says, a little desperately. "Peter, I don't know enough yet, but we need to find them."

"We will," Peter tells him. His face is sad when he looks at Ellen, and the expression stays as his gaze moves over to Neal. "Come on. Let's get you out of here."

Neal moves slowly, reluctantly, towards the door. He stops just before the threshold to look back. His throat is choked with things he wants to say to her. You've done so much for me, all my life. I hope you rest peacefully. I love you.

"Goodbye," he whispers, and turns away.

- - -

Posted at http://frith-in-thorns.dreamwidth.org/69063.html with comment count unavailable comments.
a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf: White Collar - Neal angstyembroiderama on August 9th, 2012 12:20 am (UTC)
OH NEAL, this is wonderful. ♥

Also, my post-ep angst could be vaguely described as this fic...with cops. Sort of.
Frith: White Collar - Neal - writingfrith_in_thorns on August 9th, 2012 12:28 am (UTC)
I spent all evening worrying about whether this was too melodramatic to post, seriously, so thank you very much! :)

I'm also looking forward to reading yours! This was an ep to which there should be many tags.
florastuart: Nealflorastuart on August 9th, 2012 12:31 am (UTC)
He's behind glass, and it's not safe outside.

Oh, Neal. I love this - Neal's grief and his complete numbed shock are very vivid, and I love Peter and El being there for him.
Frith: White Collar - Neal - hat stepsfrith_in_thorns on August 9th, 2012 01:09 am (UTC)
Thank you very much :) I really needed to have Peter giving Neal hugs -- his face at the end of the ep was just heartbroken. I'm very glad you liked reading.
Sholio: WhiteCollar-Peter Neal hugsholio on August 9th, 2012 12:50 am (UTC)
Awwwwww. It's a dreadful situation for Neal, but an absolutely lovely fic! ♥
Frith: White Collar - Neal - worried shirtfrith_in_thorns on August 9th, 2012 01:15 am (UTC)
I know, next week's ep really needs to have Neal getting lots of hugs from everyone. *hopes*

I'm very happy you enjoyed this; thank you!
Winter: JDaywinterstar95 on August 9th, 2012 01:01 am (UTC)
This is so heart wrenching and true and beautifully wrought. I really hope this is canon because it must be. There is no doubt in my mind whether or not they show this on screen, you have written canon.

There are too many parts that are too perfect here to point out. But I do want to say, you captured shock and grief with talent and did not over do it.

Thank you!
Frith: White Collar - Neal - dirty handsfrith_in_thorns on August 9th, 2012 01:20 am (UTC)
Thank you! This fic took far longer to write than it should have, and by the end I couldn't tell or not whether I was going too far with the angst. So, seriously, thank you so much. ♥ I'm thrilled that you'd want this to be canon! :D
devra_01devra_01 on August 9th, 2012 01:15 am (UTC)
*shattered* Neal hides alot, but I do not believe that Ellen's death will be one of those moments in his life that he can con his way through. You have conveyed beautifully the rollercoaster of emotions one experiences when confronted with the death of a loved one.
Frith: White Collar - Neal - hat stepsfrith_in_thorns on August 9th, 2012 01:27 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! I agree, this is going to hit him really hard, and I do hope the show doesn't skim over that. I'm very happy you liked this :)

(Also, if you just got a notif that I froze your comment -- that was my phone touchscreen misfiring :P)
oh these heroes come and go;: [wc] neal & ellen - FAMILY;;micheleeeex on August 9th, 2012 01:41 am (UTC)
Neal ;_______;

I loved this!
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - purplefrith_in_thorns on August 9th, 2012 09:20 am (UTC)
Thank you! :)
daria234: suitdaria234 on August 9th, 2012 03:21 am (UTC)
This is superb. Emotional and smart and realistic and heartbreaking.

I love that he felt guilty, I love that he tried to believe it was a witsec ruse, and I love that even at the end he still doesn't say everything he wants to out loud.
Frith: White Collar - Neal - hat bluefrith_in_thorns on August 9th, 2012 11:59 am (UTC)
Thank you! And I'm especially glad that you liked Neal's reactions.
pipiljpipilj on August 9th, 2012 03:48 am (UTC)
Poor Neal, beautifully portrayed emotions
Frith: White Collar - Neal - smile shirtfrith_in_thorns on August 9th, 2012 11:59 am (UTC)
Thank you very much! :)
lauracollaredlauracollared on August 9th, 2012 04:11 am (UTC)
Oh gosh I just cried a lot during this. And I needed a good cry so thank you. Oh Neal.... this really feels like canon. Thank you.
Frith: White Collar - Neal - worried shirtfrith_in_thorns on August 9th, 2012 12:48 pm (UTC)
Awww, thank you so much! :)
ivorysilkivorysilk on August 9th, 2012 04:22 am (UTC)
This was seriously heart-wrenching. And sad. And poignant. And it felt very, very real.

I also truly hope this does not happen -- it would be too sad.
Frith: White Collar - Neal - hat stepsfrith_in_thorns on August 9th, 2012 01:14 pm (UTC)
I feel that this is going to be the season of Neal having to cope with Terrible Things. *hugs him*
Thank you very much :)
pooh_collector on August 9th, 2012 04:23 am (UTC)
Okay, I'm crying right now. Poor Neal, never to be allowed to keep anyone he loves.

This was painfully lovely.
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - walk wallsfrith_in_thorns on August 9th, 2012 01:15 pm (UTC)
I'm sorry for making you cry! But also really flattered. Thank you very much!
kanarek13kanarek13 on August 9th, 2012 04:30 am (UTC)
Awwwww... So heart-wrenching, poor Neal *hugs him* you've brilliantly captured the shock and grief, I have a feeling this will be my go-to story when the actual episode fails to deliver the proper amount of hugs in this tragic moment. I love it that Peter is with Neal every step of the way, it's exactly how it should be in my book :)

Very powerful. Thank you for posting!
Frith: White Collar - Neal - blue shirtfrith_in_thorns on August 9th, 2012 01:18 pm (UTC)
I will be very upset if next week's episode has no hugs in it -- I think Neal is definitely going to need them.
I'm really glad you enjoyed this. Thank you! :)
neontiger55 on August 9th, 2012 07:53 am (UTC)
I loved this, so beautifully written. You've captured Neal's sort of disconnected, jolting state of mind very well.

I liked this especially:

Ellen has seen him cry. Seen him laugh. Seen him when he was in love, and when he was running, certain no one could catch him, and when he was alone and afraid. When he was desperate, and drowning in dark places inside himself. She's always been there, even when it was at a distance.

Frith: White Collar - Neal - hat greenfrith_in_thorns on August 9th, 2012 01:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much! I was worried before posting this about whether it made sense because of the style, so I'm really glad you liked that :)
Sally M: white collar 7sallymn on August 9th, 2012 08:33 am (UTC)
This hurts. This really really hurts. Poor Neal...
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - tablefrith_in_thorns on August 9th, 2012 03:22 pm (UTC)
Definitely poor Neal this season :(
Thank you!
raven_treeraven_tree on August 9th, 2012 10:01 am (UTC)
Dammit, I had to read it in two parts, I kept tearing up.
Frith: White Collar - Neal+Peter - purplefrith_in_thorns on August 9th, 2012 03:29 pm (UTC)
Aww, I'm sorry! But thank you ♥