Title: What Remains
Beta ericadawn16 Big thanks to her for putting up with my terrible writing.
Summary: In the aftermath, Neal's friends rally around him.
Rating: PG for mentions of death :p
Characters/Pairing: Neal; Peter/Elizabeth
Warnings: Angst. Heaps of angst. Everyone angsty.
Spoilers: For entire series, especially "Out of the Box"
Author's Note: I have too many things to write and not enough time or brain power. This fic is one of the many, many ideas on how things went right after "Out of the Box".
Elizabeth was gazing at the flowers Neal had sent, her finger mindlessly tracing the petals of a delicate pink lily. She was worrying and wondering what was happening with Peter and Neal. She knew her husband had gone to make one last ditch effort to keep his partner in New York. She also knew that he didn't expect to succeed. They both knew that Neal was powerless against Kate's siren song.
Her fingers brushed against the petals of the only red flower in the bouquet, a carnation, just as the phone rang. She was expecting to hear from him, and was prepared to offer him all the love and support she could. She was not prepared for what she heard on the other end of the line. Peter's voice was raw with emotion as he described the explosion, told her about Kate (no body, presumed dead). He did not tell her that he was all right, or that Neal would be fine.
"Honey, about Neal --" Peter sounded distant, as if he had moved the phone away from his body for a moment. There were voices in the background, Neal's plaintive tone reaching her even through the commotion, tearing at her heart.
Peter sighed and said, "I have to go. They want to talk to Neal. He's asking if I'll stay with him. I can't leave him."
"Bring him home," Elizabeth said in a voice as steady as she could muster. Her heart felt like it had shattered when Peter described Neal's anguish. It hurt to breathe, to think of the pain he was going through. He needed to be with those who loved him. She took a deep breath and added, "When this is done, bring him home."
"Thank you," Peter murmured relief evident in his voice. "It might be late," he warned her and then he was gone, the line going dead between them as he ended their connection. Elizabeth sat in silence for a moment longer, picturing what would be happening now.
Peter would take care of Neal and protect him from bureaucrats and officials who would try to wring some sort of confession from him. Neal would be in no shape to answer them. Peter would use himself as a buffer, redirecting their irritation with Neal towards him until he could convince them to release them from custody. Even so, it would probably be hours before he would be able to extricate them from this mess.
She would be able to get the guest room ready, make a few phone calls and get dinner ready. As she ran up the stairs, Satchmo faithfully trotting behind her, Elizabeth dialed Mozzie's number and hoped that he would still answer.
Five hours later, Neal and Peter arrived. At some point both men had showered, the clothes they'd worn at the scene gone. Neal had quietly begged to be allowed to change, and Peter had agreed. Hughes arranged for it, pulling favors to help them not only get cleaned up, but to smooth the way for Neal to be released into Peter's custody.
Elizabeth greeted them at the door. Peter drank in the sight of her while he supported an exhausted Neal. The younger man seemed barely aware of his surroundings. It wasn't until Peter gently eased him onto the sofa and Satchmo wagged his way over to him that he finally took notice of where he was. A small frown slipped onto his face and he looked up at the Burkes in confusion.
"Peter? Elizabeth?" The normally smooth voice was hoarse and raspy from screaming. El seated herself next to him and took his hand in hers. Red-rimmed eyes gazed at her with uncertainty. "Why am I…I thought you said you were taking me home. This is your house."
Peter sat on his other side and rested a gentle hand on his shoulder. "We thought you would do better with a little company," Peter explained carefully. "I can take you to June's if you want."
"No…no. I just…" Neal floundered, trying to form a coherent sentence. Elizabeth squeezed his hand and pressed a kiss to his pale cheek in understanding. With all the things that had happened the past week, Neal must be wondering how he could be welcomed back into their home.
"You're our friend, Neal. We take care of our own when trouble comes," El said in a firm voice. "Now I'm going to heat up some soup and I want you to eat a little. Then you can get some rest."
Too tired to argue, he let his shoulders droop and he nodded in agreement. Satchmo had seated himself at Neal's feet and was refusing to budge. While the conman absently petted the lab, Peter followed his wife to the kitchen.
The moment they were out of sight of Neal, Peter pulled Elizabeth into a hug and simply clung to her. He needed the closeness, needed her scent and needed her to wash away some of the ugliness from earlier in the day. El held him, knowing that he needed more. This wasn't the time, however, and they broke apart reluctantly with a gentle kiss.
"Lauren brought some homemade soup," El said as she opened the fridge. "I don't think Neal will eat too much tonight and its light so it won't be too heavy for him."
Peter made a muffled sound of agreement and opened the pantry to get some crackers. "He's in rough shape, El. I don't…I'm not good at this sort of thing. I don't know how to fix this for him."
Elizabeth took the box from her husband's hands and pressed a kiss to his lips. "You can't fix it, but you can be there for him. You know him better than anyone, Peter. You'll know what he needs."
The rest of the dinner preparation continued in silence. Peter got the bowls ready, Elizabeth arranged some crackers and cheese on a plate, and they went out to the dining room together. Neal was where they had left him, on the sofa with Sachmo's head on his lap. Although he still looked wane and just a shadow of his usual self, the younger man seemed more collected than when he had first arrived. He looked up at their approaching footsteps and even managed a small smile for them.
"Hey," he said softly by way of greeting. He gave Satchmo a final pat and shuffled to his feet with a moan. All the aches and pains that adrenaline had hidden suddenly hit him and he wobbled for a second. Peter was beside him in an instant to help steady him.
"Easy," Peter encouraged him gently. He obviously had some clue of what was happening to Neal. When he knew the conman was more stable on his feet, Peter stepped back rather than make him feel crowded.
Even the short distance to the table seemed to wear Neal out, and he sank onto the chair. He was grateful although his skin blanched at the sight of food. "I don't know if I can," he murmured with regret. Peter rested a comforting hand on his head; ruffling his hair in an almost fatherly way.
"Just a few bites, all right? Then you can go rest," Peter coaxed. Neal hesitated but finally nodded in agreement. Peter and El took their seats and they served him a small bowl of soup. The first few minutes of dinner were silent. Neal stirred his soup aimlessly while his friends tried to watch him without being obvious about it.
Finally El spoke up, wanting to break the silence. "Mozzie checked the house for bugs while you were gone," she reported. At the mention of the other con's name, Neal looked up. "He didn't find any. He said he'll drop in tomorrow if you're up for company," she added.
She didn't tell them that Mozzie had been almost out of his mind with worry for his friend. El had finally convinced him to leave with a promise to call him after Neal arrived and give him an update. She was concerned that too much company might well push Neal past his limit.
"Haversham. Good man," Peter said, a smile tugging at his lips. Out of the corner of his eyes, he noticed that Neal had stopped playing with his food. "And you said Lauren brought the soup?" he asked casually. Neal ate one spoonful of soup.
Elizabeth noticed it too, so she carried on the conversation. Lauren and Jones both dropped by. Lauren had brought prepared food and groceries. Jones had gone to June's home to pack another overnight bag for Neal, since his items from the airport had been seized as part of the investigation. June, when she heard the news, personally packed the bag, and then gave Jones some money to buy other essential items that Neal would probably need over the next few days.
Neal continued to slowly work at his food while Peter and El talked back and forth. As the conversation came to a close, Neal pushed his bowl away with a resigned sigh. He hadn't managed to eat much, but it was better than not eating at all.
"I'm sorry," Neal apologized. "I just can't eat any more." He moved to take the bowl to the kitchen but Elizabeth stopped him. She cleaned up the table, leaving Neal and Peter alone. The silence stretched out between them. Peter wasn't sure what he could say to help Neal, or if the other man even wanted to talk yet. While they sat, Peter studied his friend's worn features and his gaze softened.
"Why don't you go change?" he suggested. "If you're still sore I can get you some Tylenol, and you can get some rest."
The younger man jerked his head in a weary nod and trudged up the stairs. Peter helped El finish cleaning up the dishes. Neal's light tread was above their heads as he moved around the guest room, and a few minutes later, they heard the sound of the shower sputter to life.
They took advantage of their time alone to simply hold each other. They were both wrapped up in their thoughts and worries, but it was enough to be held and cherished for just a moment. Elizabeth pulled away first, but not before giving Peter a gentle kiss. It would be a long night, and they needed to focus their energy on Neal.
He went into the family room and turned on the news to see what was being said about the explosion. Nothing new or useful, as it turned out. Why do they call it news if it's not really new? Peter wondered absently. The shower upstairs shut off, and he clicked to a repeat of "The Office". Neal definitely didn't need to hear all the horrible details over again.
Peter was flipping through the channel menu, trying to find them something else to watch when he heard a slight rustle behind him. He turned around in his chair to see Neal, dressed in a pair of loose fitting grey lounge pants and a white t-shirt. With his damp hair and forlorn expression, he looked like he was twelve.
Elizabeth smiled at him and pointed to the sofa, where she had made a cozy nest for Neal in case he had decided to join them. "You want to sit down?" she asked gently. "We were going to watch a movie."
The invitation seemed to break something in Neal and his face crumpled. Concerned, Elizabeth went to him just as the first wrenching sob shook his slender frame. She walked him over to the sofa and let him cry against her shoulder. She smoothed his hair back and pressed a kiss to his temple, which started a fresh flood of tears.
Peter watched in consternation as Elizabeth mouthed for him to come over and help her. He wasn't good at this sort of thing, but Neal was his friend so he had to at least try. The FBI agent cautiously made his way over to his wife and partner, and seated himself next to Neal. Unsure what to do, Peter settled for settled for an awkward pat on the younger man's shoulder. To his surprise, it seemed to help, so he did it again.
"It's all right," Peter murmured. He knew it wasn't really all right, but that's what people said, wasn't it? He continued to pat Neal, and murmur useless, meaningless things while El stroked her hands through the dark hair. Between the two of them, Neal finally began to relax, his sobs diminishing to raspy breathing and the occasional sniffle.
As Neal's eyes began to droop, Peter knew they couldn't leave him this way. It wouldn't be that comfortable so El helped him move the sleepy Neal into a stretched out position on the sofa.
Peter coaxed him awake just enough so that he could take some Tylenol. El propped his head up with a pillow to make him more comfortable and draped a blanket over him to keep him warm. He seemed ready to drift out, but suddenly his eyes flew open and he grabbed Elizabeth's arm.
"Don't leave," Neal begged, his body tensing as if he was going to sit up. He didn't seem quite awake. El tried not to cry herself as she realized nightmares were already beginning for him. Very gently she pressed him back onto the couch and smoothed his rumpled hair away from his face. He blinked up at her in confusion, and tried once again to sit up.
Peter was just returning from kitchen when he saw Neal's frightened face. He knelt beside the sofa and without thinking, took the younger man's hand in his own. "What's wrong, Neal?" he asked with concern.
Some of the wildness left Neal's eyes as he came more awake, and he flushed as if embarrassed. "I'm sorry," he murmured. "I was...confused."
"Tell me what's wrong," Peter insisted. He wasn't letting Neal off that easily. He hadn't at the airport, and he wouldn't do it now. Refusing to let go of Neal's hand, he waited for an answer. The younger man squirmed uncomfortably and gave El a pleading look, which she ignored.
"I was afraid you had left. That you were leaving," Neal admitted reluctantly. He yawned and tiredly scrubbed at his eyes. "I…don't want to be alone right now. 'M afraid," he added, his words starting to slur as exhaustion pulled him back towards sleep.
"We're not leaving," Peter said in a steady voice. He waited for Neal to open his eyes and look at him, and then continued. "You're not alone in this, Neal." He squeezed the hand he was holding and said fondly, "Get some sleep. El and I will be here if you need us."
"Thank you," Neal whispered as his lashes drifted shut. Long after Neal slept, Peter remained by his side.