Black and White and Red All Over
By Alone Dreaming
Rating: T or PG-13 for gore, angst and a bad word or two.
Disclaimer: I do not own White Collar. If I did, this would not be under fanfiction.
Warnings: A bit of blood and a few choice words. Lacking in dialogue.
Dedication: Written for Steph, who wanted Peter whumpage. I tried, buddy, I tried.
Author's Note: Introspective Caffrey versus the world versus Peter getting hurt versus my dying brain. Unbeta'd but fairly loved piece of fanfic which will hopefully be enjoyed. Edited a bit more (and possibly even more in the future) for coherency. Which, sadly, at this point, I lack.
Neal Caffrey dreamed in black and white instead of colors. This, however, did not help him realize when he actually walked his own imagination instead of the waking world; his dreams were far too realistic for a little thing like color to interrupt them. His nighttime wanderings fastidiously planned and executed complicated heists with such precision that they felt like actuality down to the moment when his eyes opened and revealed a brand new day. Unlike some people, Neal never had moments where things sped up, or scenery changed without reason. Life in his dreams directly reflected the outside world, right down to his clothing and the people he spent his time with.
But, all the same, he does not dream now. His hands grope at the front of his purloined scrubs, coming up damp with blood. It hurts, he realizes, as he presses the hole; it leaks the fluid down towards the waistband of his pants. The instinct to flee dissolves into a half-worry, easily disregarded in the sea of half-concerns that always eat at his mind. Blinking at Jones, who still holds the gun in his hands, prepared to take another shot, he tries to ask why, but cannot form the word. Why shoot an unarmed escapee? He has no answers, only more whirling questions.
He knows where it all started; back at the building, where he dodged around a corner and up the next flight of stairs, aware of the echoing stomps of his pursuer. He could feel the tightness of his chest, the pounding of his heart in his throat, as his hand jerked the nearest door handle and found it unlocked. Easy business, he thought, slipping into the room and soundlessly closing the door. A lock on the handle made him almost giddy with relief; he pressed it without another thought and leaned against the wall, forcing himself to breathe through his nose. Closer, his pursuers were closer, and he needed to find a good place to hide, just in case they had the keys.
No furniture resided in the room and his best bet lay in the ceiling with an air vent but he had no way of reaching it; so he curled into the corner on the opening side of the door and listened as the footsteps ended at the top of the stairs. No, one set ended at the top of the stairs. The second set, far more distant, continued to ascend. One person, he might be able to take down, but two would be challenging at best, especially if contestant one waited for contestant two to arrive. He schemed, hoping to come up with a plan that did not involve anyone's death—most especially his own—and came up with half-nothings which did him no good.
"Freeze, FBI," a winded voice gasped, distant but painfully familiar. The second set of footsteps stopped. "Drop the gun, Hammersten. It's over."
Peter; he could laugh with relief if he wasn't almost passing out from his controlled breathing. Standing, he slouched under the window of the door and slowly turned the lock on the handle. Sometimes, he forgot that it was not old times, where he had to save his own skin or take the fall. Teamwork, while useful in some regard, had never been his forte back in the day. He had contacts and allies (of sorts) whom he frequently utilized to the best of his advantage but he often chose to avoid heists which required more than his own work. Even with Kate, who asked to be part of his planning, his game, he would obfuscate until she would give up and go elsewhere for fun. He liked playing solo, then.
Now, he happened to like batting for team Burke. Not only did it have an excellent star hitter, but the head cheerleader was gorgeous with a brain. He felt certain Elizabeth wouldn't appreciate the comparison.
He cracked the door just enough to see the stand-off, Peter close to the stairs, his gun steady while Hammersten, equally unflappable, stood inches off of his door. Peter wore his no-nonsense expression, both hands on the weapon, his eyes fixated on his target. He knew it well as he'd faced it down the day he'd been arrested. However, he could not dismiss the determination in Hammersten's eyes; three days working directly with him for this had left an impression. What Hammersten wanted, he got, regardless of the cost; and once he got what he wanted, he usually escaped. Peter was like his dog, gentle, loving, smart and fierce when need be, a lab through and through; Hammersten kept Dobermans. He didn't know animals well enough to guess who would win.
Time to throw in, Caffrey, he thought, but how? He wanted to do what was best for his side but would the better approach entail pretending to change teams? He used that tactic frequently, often to everyone's advantage, because it tended to defuse extreme situations such as the one they faced currently. No one had to die due to guns if everyone acted calmly, rationally, and purposefully. All he had to do was figure out the best route to that—give himself up, probably—and then play it out to the end. Hopefully, an end where Hammersten got handcuffs and prison time and no one took a bullet. That way, Peter could go home to El, he could go home to his research, and Hammersten's little girl would still have a father.
Because his luck kept him alive, he forgot that it wasn't a blanket he could spread on everyone around him so they would stay warm and safe. Sometimes, he could use it as a shield for them but never could he give it away. Even as he widened the door slightly, a sound downstairs startled Hammersten and he fired; Peter responded in kind but the shot when wide as Hammersten's bullet struck. Peter tumbled to the floor, and Hammersten stared at him, not even a hint of remorse in his eyes. From his position, safe behind his luck, his barrier, he couldn't tell if Peter was still alive.
Action took him before thought did. He slammed the door open, startling Hammersten once more and dodged the bullet that came his way. Using his momentum, he took the other man below the knees, tackling him down to the tile. The two of them ended in a twisted pile, struggling for supremacy and the weapon Hammersten still held. He grabbed the hand, keeping it positioned away as Hammersten attempted to direct it back. A careful press on the tendons on the wrist forced Hammersten to release just enough and he swiped the gun just as Hammersten wound an arm about his throat.
He didn't comprehend what happened next until he sat alone, in the outcome, the gun lying in his lap and warm blood splattered on his face. Lying next to him, Hammersten gazed half-lidded at the ceiling, his chest a solid mass of dark fluid. Before the macabre image had time to imprint, he scooted away to Peter, who lay just as still, just as silent, but hopefully, not as dead. The gun lay near the dead adversary and his hands hovered over Peter, unsure of what to do next. Find the wound, his mind encouraged, stop the bleeding. Find a cell phone, call for help. The first part was simple enough; he could see the gouge that the bullet had left along the side of Peter's skull. The rest flitted away from him in a wave of panic as he tried to discover if Peter still breathed.
Guns caused trouble, his mind wailed as he looked for something to staunch the bleeding. In the perfect form of crime, people would not need guns. Heists would go as planned and violence would become a moot point; and, if something happened less than perfect, take the fall or run. Fighting for what wasn't rightfully yours made you double the fool. He believed in the age old saying, 'He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day' except substituted with, 'He who heists, yet runs away, lives to heist another day.'
"Just have to be the hero, don't you?" he hissed, not unkindly at Peter's pale form. "Always true blue good, deep down, no matter what."
They found him with using his shirt as a compress, holding Peter's head together with nothing more than his fingers and silk. No one asked if he was okay, or what had happened. Instead, he was shoved aside and Lauren took over his position while Jones gave orders. A team swarmed in to document evidence, and he sat back against the wall, his head in his hands, blood trailing down his face. In his nervous attempts to keep his—his what, friend? savior? Peter was so many things –alive, he'd forgotten the important parts of wiping a scene clean of evidence. And, in his haste, he hadn't considered how it looked with two men shot, one dead, two bullets, one gun, and a singular set of finger prints. When they coaxed him down to the paramedics and he was labeled "in good health", Jones cuffed him and led him to the car. He didn't have to ask where they were going.
Prison changed while he sat in the lap of the government, happily living with a generous millionaire and enjoying the freedoms of the chained but free life. Rumors spread through old contacts and the thieving community about Caffrey, the turncoat, the liar, the cheat; less loathed than a pedophile but not friendly with anyone in the cells. Unlike before, he shared with a thin man with pointed features who watched him in a disconcerting manner as he went about his daily business. Moments in the exercise yard were peppered with glares and reminded him of everything he'd given up in the pursuit of escape.
However, he could deal with all of that if he had contact with the outside world. The prospect of future freedom would've kept him pleasantly content, even when thin, rat-faced Christopher attempted to pin him one night, or when he had his lunch upended in his lap. As long as he knew someone cared, it would all be superfluous, a moment amongst many. He would thrive on the fancy that, one day, Peter would walk in and have him brought back to the bureau as an asset.
But no one contacted him while he sported his jumpsuit; not June, Elizabeth, Peter or, even, Hughes. With little patience, he waited to hear whether Peter had even survived his injuries. Surely, they would give him the benefit of knowing if Peter had survived his wounds. They could do so by note, or phone message, or letter, or even telegraph it so suited him; after all, he'd used carrier pigeons in past games, why couldn't they? In self-defense, he tried to distract himself, tried to convince himself that eventually he'd know the details because they were going to charge him with the shooting.
Two weeks of people cooing at him and trying to take him down because of his pretty eyes and straight white teeth, and he tried to call Elizabeth only to find no answer on the home phone and silence on her mobile.
So, he made a decision. Under the best of circumstances, prison awaited him. If Peter was fine, recovered, gave a full statement right to the moment where Hammersten fired, he, Neal, would still have to face fire for shooting a man. Best scenario, some time in jail, maybe less than what was left of his sentence if he got self-defense. Worst scenario, years and years left to endure prodding, poking and misery. He had no interest, no matter how short the sentence, and, after his roommate fell asleep, acquiesced to one possible answer.
No matter how wonderful life felt on the right side of the law, life on the wrong side was where he belonged. Everything that mattered—his prizes, his money, Kate—lay outside of Peter's moral code and June's friendship and nice house. He could purchase his own clothes, his own home, his own friends once he escaped the grasp of the FBI and the United States government; he could even retire, if he so chose, in Rio, and spend the rest of his life on the sandy beaches. Maybe, if he stayed there long enough, he'd forget about the comfort it brought him to be a part of a team, to know that there were people who had his back for more than just the payout; maybe, if he stayed there long enough, he'd forget about the dinners at Peter's house, Elizabeth's laugh and Peter's sheepish grin.
"That's someone else's life, Caffrey," he whispered. "Not yours."
"Shut the hell up," his roommate snapped. "Fucking whiner."
And the idea struck him. "Why don't you make me, asshole?"
He would've loved to believe that he had a great deal of fighting prowess but his technique of avoiding confrontation made it difficult for him to throw punches. Two seconds after he was dragged unceremoniously from his bed, he curled up on the floor, protecting his ribs and midriff until the guards broke up the battle. Feigned disorientation got him to the clinic where a bored nurse asked questions. What was today? He told them Monday and they said Thursday. His name, Neal Caffrey. President? He didn't keep track of those sorts of things. Where was he? Well, it certainly looked like prison. The doctor wanted to keep him for observation and he found himself cuffed to a bed, IV'd and minimally supervised.
A picked lock and stolen uniform later, he waltzed through the prison, and ducked into a corridor. Another change of clothes and he pushed a catering cart through the closed off sections. Then he snuck into the ventilation and ended in personal attire for the guards. The man who kept locker twelve had a pair of jeans that almost fit and a polo shirt which he donned along with sunglasses before slipping out the front door, giving the matron at the front desk a grin. He'd taken some money from the wallet stashed away in the pants and a credit card, and he immediately put them to use.
First, a cab ride to the outer parts of the city, where he paid with the card and left it in a trashcan nearby. Then, he visited a thrift store and changed his clothes to something more suitable. Slacks, a sweater but not a hat; he kept the sunglasses, paid the cute girl at the register and left with a new pair of shoes on; she failed to notice he didn't pay for them. He went to another place and picked out a jacket and pilfered gloves while he flirted with the salesperson. His next stop, he changed his hairstyle and, his last, he picked up a pair of mild reading glasses which he tucked in his pocket.
By the time he reached the hospital, he could've passed as someone completely different from who he was only a day before. The purple bruising about his face and neck made him look like hospital material but, he insisted, when he went to the reception desk, that he was the lucky one and his friend hadn't been so lucky. He was just here to see that man. He even paused dramatically in the gift shop and picked out a small potted aloe with a teddy bear on it.
It all ended up in a closet when he whipped on scrubs and covered his hair and face. Peter's location wasn't difficult once he looked the part—he pilfered an ID tag and flipped it around so no one could see the middle aged balding man on the other side—and made his way up to the third level of the hospital. He hadn't dared to look at the condition because this was merely a goodbye for him, not a social call. Drop in, see the damage that was done, remind himself why he worked alone, and then vanish into the air like he should've done ages ago.
Peter looked dead already, held together with tape and tubes and wires. He stood in the doorway, afraid to penetrate the bubble that no doubt kept Peter breathing just as much as the respirator and the monitors. He held a hand against it, splaying his fingers against the light coming through the blinds, and took a step back. Some things, he discovered long ago, he could not face. One of them hovered before him in the shape of a man who'd given him trust, stability and a chance.
"Doctor, is something wrong?" El, behind him, tired sounding, close to tears, asked. He turned because he couldn't lie to a woman who invited him into her house, took care of him when he was drugged out of his mind, fed him when she should've treated him like the criminal he was.
"Neal," she said, eyes wide. "Neal…"
"Hey," he said, moving out of her way so that she could go into the room. He wouldn't touch her, wouldn't break that confidence, wouldn't make that connection. "Just saying good bye."
"How did you," she started and she grasped his hand before he could pull away.
He smiled but it felt broken, as though he'd lost a piece of it somewhere. "Better that you don't know," she made the connection and he continued it with a little kiss on her cheek, "thanks for everything." And then snapped it by removing his hand from hers, "Give him my best."
"But, Neal," she tried again, as he backed away down the hall. "Please—"
"I'll send you a painting," he assured, turning away. "A nice one." And he came face to face with Jones.
His knees shake and he drops to them, the blood still leaking, none of the staff coming to help him, Jones a silent statue awaiting his death. What happened? He cannot recall the gunshot or the reason for it, only that it happened so that grey colors his pale, white hands, staining them fresh. He'd spent so much time trying to get the black out from under his fingernails, the color of Peter's blood, and now it is ruined by his own dark grey which dabbles on the fuzzy white of his clothes and the sharp lines of the floor.
White; black; white; shades of grey; his whole life is a shade of grey.
He wakes up, his head aching, his neck sore, behind a door in an empty room, Hammersten's footsteps echoing the hall just outside. Just barely, he can recall the hissed words, "Stay here and stay quiet," before Peter slipped away to play the white knight he so thoroughly embodied. The throbbing behind his ear does not deter him from scooting to the door and pulling it open just a crack. There stands Hammersten, gun held steady, pointing at Peter, who in turn has raised his gun.
Only a second to think and he slams the door as loud as he can, startling Hammersten before the footsteps downstairs are able. Hammersten fires, Peter fires, Neal dodges out from behind the door to kick away the falling guns. Again, he is the only man left standing, wobbling in a room like jello in an earthquake. Hammersten clutches his leg, moaning, blood pumping out of it alarmingly fast. Peter lies still against a wall and Neal cuts across the room in an unsteady path, eyes fixed on the rubies dribbling from Peter's side. He has his hands on them in seconds, trying to make them his own so—for once—he could put something valuable back where it belongs.
"Not fast enough there," he says, his heart racing from the violence, from the dream, from life, from imagination.
"Can't make you happy, can I?" Peter grits out, his hand covering Neal's. A spasm grips it as Neal presses harder.
"My mom always said the only way you're disappointed is if you don't know exactly what you want," he replies. "I'm disappointed."
"D-disappointed?" He doesn't like the stutter in Peter's words or the way the agent's eyes flicker between Hammersten and the wall.
He shrugs. "I didn't follow her advice very well." Had he planned better, if his foggy brain would've let him remember before the dream, maybe he wouldn't be playing nurse, trying to keep Peter's insides where they belong.
"Never…follow…any advice," Peter chuckles and chokes.
His heart speeds up. "Calvary's on its way, right?" Peter doesn't answer and he presses a little harder. "Peter?" His hands look like he's donned gloves. "Peter?"
"Yeah," Peter murmurs, blinking. "Can hear them."
His careful self-training fails him in the face of his panic. Normally, he could detect the slightest sounds, the smallest movements, but it takes Peter's hoarse voice for him to notice the steady thumping up the stairs. His head throbs violently and his stomach clenches but he doesn't let it show. Instead, he puts on his patent smile, ignored the warmth of Peter's blood and pretends like none of it bothers him.
"Just testing your coherency," he lies. "Elizabeth's going to be pissed."
"Mmm, gonna miss dinner," Peter mumbles wearily.
"I promised her I would watch out for you."
"Think you followed," he pauses, grimaces, his eyes slide shut, "through all right. You know… probably would've… gotten me worse… if you hadn't… startled him."
His mind darts to the hospital, the weakly smiling face stilled under a respirator, body wrapped in tubes and wires instead of hands and a jacket. He looks at the trails of red weaving into the webs of his hands, his fingers painted in bright crimson, the pads of his thumbs leaving incriminating fingerprints. "Yeah…"