Disclaimer: I do not own White Collar or any of its characters. This story, however, is mine.
A/N: LAST CHAPTER~! It's kind of sad to see this story end, but at the same time it's the first chapter story I finished in years so I'm rather proud of myself. And you have all been great, thanks so much for your support! There's an additional authors note at the end of the chapter. Read and review as always! Hope you enjoy this final chapter!
The sunlight struggled through the slits of the blinds. A groan worked its way out of Neal's dry throat as he turned onto his side, away from the light, not wanting to be woken up just yet. The sun kissed his neck and he tossed the covers over his shoulders to make it stop. He exhaled, burrowed into the bed, and paused, his eyes still closed, as he took a moment to listen to his surroundings.
The room itself was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Outside the door he heard the familiar panting of the Burke's trusty dog. He heard the animal whine and then he heard a hushed voice from the base of the stairs.
"Come on, Satch," Elizabeth whispered. The dog whined again and then huffed and Neal heard a light thud on the floor which he guessed was made by the stubborn labrador laying down outside the door. He heard the stairs sighing under Elizabeth's feet as she made her way up them. "Satchmo, let's go."
There was no sound for about half a minute, and then Neal heard a door creek open somewhere down the hall. Footsteps traveled toward the guest room, heavier than Elizabeth's.
"Listen to your mother," Peter's voice joked and Neal heard Elizabeth's soft laugh as Satchmo's tags jingled and his claws started to click-clack against the wooden floor. The stairs creaked again underneath Satchmo's paws.
"Good morning," Elizabeth said to her husband.
"Morning," Peter replied.
"You heading out soon?"
"Yeah, I think I am," Peter said. "Have you checked on Neal yet?"
"I didn't want to wake him," Elle explained. The floorboards protested as Peter leaned towards the door to open it and Neal flipped himself over again, tossing the comforter over his head. Light from the hallway slithered into the room but was quickly covered by Peter's shadow.
"Wonder how long he slept," Peter whispered.
"Clearly not long enough," Elizabeth replied. Her shadow blocked out the rest of the light and Neal listened as the door was closed again. There was silence, sweet silence, for a minute or two, and then Peter sighed.
"I guess I'll get going," he said.
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah, there's still some more paperwork I have to go over."
"All right." The stairs moaned their protest as Peter descended them. He paused towards the bottom.
"Have him call me when he gets up?"
Peter went the rest of the way down the stairs and in the next few minutes Neal heard him moving downstairs to get his coat, his shoes, to shove the dog out of the way so he could get out of the house. The front door clicked. Elizabeth lingered at the door for a few moments more and then Neal heard her go back to the first floor.
Neal rolled onto his back and allowed his eyes to open slowly. He laid there for a moment, then propped himself up on his elbows so he could see the clock on the nightstand better. It was 7:40. 7:40 in the morning. It was 7:40 in the morning and Neal had just woken up. Neal remembered climbing up the stairs the previous night sometime after 8. He remembered lying awake in the bed until finally nodding off sometime around 11. This meant that he had actually slept for 8 hours and 40 minutes. Straight. No darkness trapped him inside his dreams, no fire burned him so badly he woke up sweating, no screams echoed in the back of his head.
No nightmares. Just eight hours and forty minutes of uninterrupted sleep.
The office wasn't the same without Neal. Peter- and all of the agents, in fact- had grown accustomed to seeing him flitting around, flirting shamelessly with the women, making small-talk with the men, twirling that ridiculous hat in his hands. They were all used to his often unwanted input during briefings. Although nobody would want to admit it, Neal's presence seemed to make the office a little homier. He was the one who asked about your kids, who complimented your wardrobe choices, who gave you a reassuring wink when you weren't all-too-sure about yourself.
Of course, life was going on without him. The agents didn't need to chit-chat with him over morning coffee. They were perfectly fine going about their business without the ex-con. But Peter felt, and he could tell others did too, how empty the office seemed without Neal there. It had only been a few days and already Peter missed bickering with the younger man over cases, joking with him over lunch, warning him when he talked too much in a meeting.
Lauren Cruz knocked on the glass door once before she pushed it open and Peter glanced up at her. She waltzed inside with a small stack of papers in her hand and when she got close enough she dropped the papers onto his desk.
"More?" Peter asked and Lauren looked apologetic as she nodded her head.
"Sorry, boss," she said with a shrug of her shoulders. Peter waved her off. He imaged what Neal would have done if he were at work with them. Groan at the papers, probably. Complain how bored he was. Maybe flirt with Lauren a little bit. Lauren lingered in Peter's office for a minute, glancing around. "Seems quieter without him here, huh?" she commented.
"Yeah," Peter sighed. "Quieter."
"Yes, that sounds perfect!" Elizabeth said cheerfully once her assistant had finished describing the venue for an upcoming 50th anniversary party they were working on. In truth, though, Elizabeth hadn't really been paying too-close attention to the description. She was a little distracted by the light footsteps coming down the stairs, the shuffling feet on the floor of the living room, the young man standing in the doorway of the kitchen, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Elizabeth waved to Neal, who gave a small wave back.
"Can I call you back later?" Elizabeth said into the phone, and then she said her goodbye and hung up, making herself able to focus her attention on Neal. "Well, good morning!"
"Hey," Neal said, his voice a little hoarse. He pointed to the sink. "May I?"
"Oh, of course," Elizabeth said. She turned around and swung open a cabinet door, pulling out a glass and filling it with water for him.
"Thanks," Neal said as he reached out and graciously took the glass from her.
"No problem," Elizabeth said with a warm smile. She waited as Neal took a few sips of the water and then she motioned towards the dining room. They went in together and sat down at the dining room, Neal taking one more small sip of his water before setting the glass down on the wood. "So, how'd you sleep?"
The smile that broke across Neal's face was as radiant as the sun and when he looked up at her his blue eyes were dancing, the spark finally alighting in them again. "Great."
Peter signed the bottom of the last sheet and slapped atop the pile, nodding with satisfaction that he'd finished. He sighed and stretched his arms, leaning as far back in his chair as he could. As he leaned his arms on his desk again he saw a little blue light shining from underneath all the papers that littered his workspace, followed by a quiet ringing. He moved the papers around, fishing through them for his cell phone. He flipped it open as soon as he found it.
"Hello," he said and he was pleasantly surprised by the voice that responded.
"Hi," Neal chirped. Peter couldn't help the smile that crept onto his face.
"Well hi, sleeping beauty," Peter said with the tiniest hint of sarcasm. "How are you?"
"Pretty good," Neal said. He sounded happy. Really, truly happy- just the way Neal should sound. "No nightmares."
"That's great," Peter said and he could practically see Neal's ear-to-ear smile through the phone, he could feel the excitement pouring off the other man.
"Yeah," Neal agreed. And then Peter felt the mood of the conversation shift, the tone suddenly darken. Neal sounded a little bit distant. "I have to go back to June's."
"No, not right away," Peter said instinctually. He felt a pang in his heart at the pain in Neal's voice. "You can stay with us for another night, at least. And tomorrow I can take you back to June's."
"Are you sure, Peter?" Neal asked. "I don't want to be a burden."
"You're no burden," Peter said. "You can stay with me and Elle until you're ready to leave, alright?"
"Ok," Neal replied after slight hesitation. "I think Elizabeth wants to talk to you."
"Sure, put her on. I'll see you later, Neal."
"See you," Neal said, and then there was a minute of quiet as Neal passed the phone over to Peter's wife.
"Hi," Elizabeth greeted and Peter felt his smile widen at the sound of her voice.
"Hey, honey," he said warmly. "He sounds a lot better."
"Yeah, he looks better, too," Elle replied. "So what time do you think you'll be getting home tonight?"
Peter looked to the papers scattered about his desk, the small stack he'd already completed. He looked out to the rest the White Collar Crime Unit, watching the other agents as they typed away on computers and made phone calls and flipped through files. It was a slow day leading into what looked like a slow weekend. It looked as if the FBI could make do with one less agent.
"I think I can be home early," Peter replied.
"Oh?" Elizabeth questioned, clearly surprised. She wasn't used to her hard-working husband doing such things, although Peter knew it always pleased her when he decided to go in an hour later or come home earlier.
"Yeah," he said, standing up and pinning the phone between his ear and shoulder so that his hands were free to straighten up the papers on his desk. "Just give me about an hour."
"Ok," Elle said, her voice a tad bit more chipper than it had been during the conversation. "That sounds good."
"Alright then, I'll see you soon."
"Ok. I love you, Peter."
"Love you too." Peter hung up the phone and tucked in his pocket. He then gathered up all of the various papers he had read through and attached his signature to that day and took them across the wide office to Hughes' desk. Peter's superior wasn't there at the moment- he'd probably gone out on a coffee run- so Peter dropped the papers on his desk and went back to his own office. He quickly tidied things up, remembering all the times Neal had mocked him for doing so, and grabbed his jacket off the back of his chair and shrugged it on.
He imagined it was a strange site for the other agents in White Collar Unit who knew Peter. They were used to him staying later than he was supposed to, so it wasn't much of a surprise to see them giving him odd looks as he made his way to the elevator.
When Peter got home he found Neal on the couch, Satchmo laying beside him and panting as Neal scratched behind the dogs ears. Neal glanced up when the door squeaked open and the smile he gave Peter was the first sign of the real Neal Caffrey Peter had seen in days.
"How was work?" Neal asked and Peter shrugged.
"Piles of paperwork. You know, the usual."
"The boring stuff," Neal replied and Peter shook his head.
"Yeah, that. Where's my wife?"
As if on cue, Elizabeth came out of the kitchen. She smiled and walked a little faster to reach Peter as he hung up his coat. They embraced each other and kissed and then she stepped back and looked him over.
"So, slow day?" she asked.
"Very," Peter answered. "How about here?"
Elizabeth and Neal glanced at each other and they both shrugged. They gave their accounts of the day- Neal saying her hadn't really done much of anything and Elizabeth saying she felt like she was on the phone all day working out details for an event. Then Elizabeth disappeared into the kitchen again, promising to have dinner ready in just a few more minutes. Peter turned to Neal and Satchmo and tapped the latter on the head.
"Come on, Satch, down," he ordered and the dog hopped off of the couch, circled the coffee table, and settled himself at Neal's feet with a heavy sigh. Peter fell onto the cushions beside the ex-con.
"So," Neal said, desperate to stay out of an uncomfortable silence. "What happened with that case?"
"The art and gold theft?" Peter asked and Neal nodded his head. "Caught him. He may have been smart about how to get all that stuff, but he made a stupid move in bringing it all to the same warehouse. We got him when he and his guys were getting ready to try and transport the paintings somewhere else."
Neal smiled. "So it's finished?"
"Good," Neal said. "That's good."
"Boys!" Elizabeth called, as if she were beckoning her children. "Dinner!"
Their meal was pleasant. The food was delicious and the conversation was light and everything just seemed incredibly normal. Neal and Peter even made a few jabs at each other- Neal making a remark about Peter's choice of tie and Peter retaliating by comparing Neal's own clothing choices to that of cartoon characters. Elizabeth had kept the peace between them and when she was finished both men stood up to help her clear the table.
Neal retired earlier than the Burke's, and before he went up to bed Peter reminded him that they would go back to June's house the next day. Neal agreed, a little reluctantly, and then went up to the guest room. Peter and Elizabeth went upstairs just a few hours later, both of them fighting the urge to check up on Neal. They agreed to leave him alone that night, since he seemed to be so much better.
"Peter," Elizabeth said right after her husband shut off the light.
"Hm?" he hummed, turning his head to look at her.
"Do you think his nightmares are gone? For good, I mean?"
Peter reached over and covered her hand with his.
"We'll find out," Peter said. "I'm taking him home tomorrow. He's had some time to clear his head here. And either way, I haven't cancelled his next appointment with Dr. Saggezza, so if anything else happens he'll have help."
Elizabeth bit her lower lip in thought.
"Elle, he's getting through this just fine," Peter assured, squeezing her hand. Elizabeth nodded and snuggled under the covers, getting as close to Peter as she could.
"You'll keep looking out for him, right?" she asked, holding both his hands tights in hers. Peter's warm breath hit her neck when he whispered his reply.
It was a sunny Saturday afternoon. Neal and Peter, after a nice lunch with Elizabeth, climbed into the Taurus. Peter put the key in the ignition and, before starting the car, he glanced over at the young man in the passenger seat. Neal wasn't pale anymore, his eyes shone like they used to, and the deep, dark circles under them were starting to disappear. He looked better. He looked like Neal.
Neal ran a hand through his hair and glanced over at the FBI agent.
"You wanna drive or just keep looking at me?" he asked with a laugh. Peter smiled. Yeah, he was definitely Neal. Peter pulled out of the driveway and started towards June house. Neal had seemed alright that morning when Peter mentioned taking him, but now, as they drove on and drew closer to Neal's current place of residence, he noticed how the ex-con's muscles were tensing, how Neal clenched his fists now and then, how he bit his lip.
"You ok?" Peter asked. Neal shook his head and then he shrugged his shoulders.
"I'm fine, I guess," he said. "Just a little…A little nervous, I guess. Worried. I…I don't want to go through all that again."
"You don't have to go back today, you know," Peter said. "If you want to spend another night at my place you're welcome to."
"You've done enough already, Peter," Neal said. "Really. You and Elizabeth have been great."
"I'm just saying, our door is open."
"Thanks," Neal said. "But…I don't think I should put this off. I can't hide out at your place forever, right?"
Peter smiled. "Right."
There was silence while the mansion slowly came into their view, looming over them as the car came closer to it. Peter parked and turned off the car and turned to look at Neal, who was staring up at the building.
"It…It can't be that bad, right?" Neal asked.
"No," Peter said. "I don't think so."
"Ok." Neal unbuckled his seatbelt but made no further moves to get out of the car. Peter looked him over once more.
"Neal, are you sure you're ready? I just said I'd take you back today because I thought you might want to go home. But if you aren't ready, we can just go back. I don't mind," he said. Neal shook his head and put his hand on the door, fingering the lock.
"It'll be fine," he said, seeming like he was trying to convince himself and not just Peter. He finally pushed open his door and let himself out of the Taurus, Peter following suit. Side-by-side, the men walked up the stone steps. Peter reached out and knocked on the door and the maid let them inside. She told them that June was out with granddaughter, but would be back soon, and then let them go up to Neal's guest suite.
The room was unkempt, just as Neal had left it. There were wine bottles on the coffee table and glasses crowding the sink. There were scraps of paper littering the little dining table, a pen lying on top of a notepad as if somebody had just left it there seconds ago. Neal looked around and drew in his breath.
"Well?" Peter urged, waiting for a reaction. Neal walked to the center of the room and folding his arms over his chest. He looked over his shoulder at Peter and smiled.
"I'm fine," he assured. He sighed and turned back around to the apartment. "Everything's fine."
Peter had left him there hours ago. It was midnight now, and Neal was lying in his own bed. He was on his back staring up at the ceiling. He took a slow breath as he ran through all of the reasons why he was anxious about coming back to his apartment that day. The apartment was where his whole problem had started. All reminders of Kate were there. It was 1.6 miles away from the sleazy motel that served as the base of his 2 mile radius. He was trapped there, in a sense. The shadows were darker in those rooms than they were back at the Burke's.
Neal took a deep breath, counting to 5 to inhale and 5 again to exhale. Everything that reminded him of Kate, anything that tugged his thoughts towards her, was in a box resting on his bookshelf in the next room. He tossed aside the covers and glanced down at his anklet. It was still as bulky and ugly and annoying as ever, but it didn't seem so menacing anymore. Neal sighed and pulled his blankets back over himself. He knew he wouldn't fall asleep right away, but he also knew that no matter what time he finally drifted off he would sleep through the night and wake up refreshed in the morning.
4 o'clock would come and go, and Neal knew that at that hour he would be sound asleep without a single nightmare to interrupt his sweet dreams.
Ok, well, thanks again for being so great with your reviews, favorites and story alerts! I have another White Collar chapter story coming out soon. It'll be called This Woman's Work, so keep an eye out for it :3 I'll also have lots of oneshots because oneshots are fun to write and make me happy. ^^
Here's a list of songs I used while writing this story...
1. Title and Only Madness Knows My Name -- 4 O'Clock, Emilie Autumn
2. Too Tired to Be Fighting -- A Bad Dream, Keane
3. My Broken Wings Can't Hold My Weight -- Broken Wings, Evergrey
4. Hold Me While I'm Falling Down -- Hurt Me, Kerli
5. I May Be Weak But I'm Never Defeated -- Sweet Silver Lining, Kate Voegele
6. Say Good Morning To The Night -- Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, Elton John