Apologies for the mammoth gap in finishing this. It was basically abandoned in this last chapter, then a review kind of spurred me on to complete this. Please remember that most of this story was written and uploaded before season two aired and most of this chapter was written before season 2 aired also, so there may be differences between this and the show. Thanks again to all readers/reviewers.
I do not own white collar or its characters.
Three days after being extubated, Neal was fit enough to get out of bed for physiotherapy. He was still quite weak but the doctors were keen for him to mobilise as soon as possible, and he himself was getting sick of seeing the same four walls. His chest drain had been removed, his face was less swollen and the bruising had changed to an off-yellow colour, making him appear as though he had had a bad encounter with a spray tan. They had scheduled him for surgery on his hand in another two days, though he was trying to think about that as little as possible, knowing that there was a small possibility that he would never regain full use of his hand. He still needed to use a stick to walk the length of the corridor, but he was quietly confident that he would be able to walk unaided by the time he was discharged, and all in all, he felt he was coping well.
However, the same could not be said for Peter. Peter looked more tired than Neal felt, he appeared constantly stressed, and when he wasn't at the office, he spent his remaining time at the hospital, often staying long after visiting hours had ended. It was not that Neal wasn't grateful for Peter's company, but he hated seeing his friend so on edge. He knew that Peter felt guilty about him being wounded but Neal couldn't help but feel there was more to his constant presence than guilt.
"How you feeling now, Neal? I brought in a couple of books for you - they're oldies but goodies," Peter said as he entered Neal's room for his third visit that day. "And El made you another salad since you've barely been eating the food they give you here."
"Thanks," Neal said as Peter opened the container for him and pulled out some sandwiches for himself. "But Peter, do you realise what time it is? Shouldn't you be having dinner at home. With your wife."
"We had an early meal today," Peter said between bites. "Why? Are you expecting someone?"
"No," Neal replied honestly. He could count on one hand the number of people who visited him, and they had fallen into a routine of visitation that he could almost time them to the minute.
"But, Peter, you spend more time at here than you do at home. I don't want to be responsible for the break up of your marriage - think of the rumours that would go around the office if people heard your wife had left you because of me."
He winked at Peter who was almost choking on his food at the suggestion.
"Funny, Neal," Peter put aside his food, and sat forward in his chair. "I just like to make sure you're ok. Is there something wrong with that?"
"Peter, I'm doing great. They think I should be out a few days after the surgery to fix this damn hand." He held up his hand which was in a temporary cast until his surgery.
"I know, Neal. I just…"
"Want to make sure I don't run? Peter, I can barely walk up the corridor and I can't hold a pencil never mind make a fake ID. I know you don't think I've made much progress, but I'm not the same person I was a few months ago. I love Kate with all my heart, and her death is always going to be a big part of me, but after everything that's happened, I kind of know where I fit in the grand scheme of things now."
"Did you just get a dose of morphine?"
"Yeah," Neal laughed, his words slightly slurred. "I think it's just hitting me."
"Peter," Neal said as he grabbed Peter's arm. "You've got to believe me though. I promise you - and I don't make promises lightly - I won't run. Without giving prior warning anyway."
Peter packed up his things as Neal closed his eyes and began to drift off to sleep. As he left the room he stole a glance at his now deeply asleep partner and tried to decide which of the two of them had the trust issues.
Rachel had become a ghost. In the chaos in the tunnel after Neal had been shot, she had managed to slip away unnoticed down a back tunnel and had not been heard from or seen since. That was until Peter dragged himself into his office one morning to find her already sitting at his desk.
"How the hell do you do that? I'm going to have to have a word with the security team if you can manage to get in here twice." He threw his briefcase on the table and sat down opposite Rachel.
"Oh, I see someone's not a morning person. Good thing I brought you coffee," she said as she passed him a large cup and a muffin.
" I don't usually accept things from criminals," he said as he dumped it in the waste basket.
"Except Caffrey." She put her hands up in peace, and continued speaking anyway, hoping to stave off a tirade from Peter. "I hear he's doing good and that he'll hopefully be out soon."
Peter stared at her, exasperated but not surprised. She simply shrugged back, "I keep my ears to the ground."
"Yeah, his hand's holding up nicely, he's getting around now. He's doing great actually." Rubbing his hands over his face, Peter suddenly felt tired. "I guess now would be the time to thank you. From Neal, of course. He's grateful you saved him."
"Well, tell Neal I'm sorry that he ended up in this situation in the first place." She never let her eyes drift from Peter's.
"What do you want, Rachel."
"I don't know. I just wanted to chat I guess." She began fidgeting in her chair. "I mean, it's not like I have anyone else to talk to. After the tunnel - when I ran, I realised I didn't have anywhere to go. I'd already alienated all my friends."
Peter sighed. He began to wonder how and when he had become the therapist of the criminal world.
"I murdered my boyfriend," Rachel suddenly blurted out. "I mean, I know I had no other choice, and Demetri was trying to kill me. But I'm not that person…I always thought I wasn't that person.."
"It wasn't murder Rachel. Our office has cleared you on that and the case is closed. You saved Neal's life, your own and you probably saved my life cos Demetri was hell bent on taking us all out. I only wish I could have taken him down myself."
A few silent tears trickled down her face and she gratefully accepted a tissue from Peter. He hated it when a woman cried, and didn't know what to do or say, never mind that this woman was a criminal indirectly involved with the near death of his partner. But as El kept constantly reminding him, she had been partly blinded by love.
"You made a mistake," he said as she rolled her eyes. "Ok, a few mistakes. But you're luckier than most - you're not in jail for a start. Your deal still stands and you have immunity, though I could probably wrangle up a new charge for trespassing onto FBI premises again.
"And see this Rachel - these tears, this guilt…It's good. It shows you still give a damn. And you take it and you use it and you make a better life."
"You should have been on the pep squad in school." Rachel's tears quickly dried up and her face was set with a new resolve. "I really am sorry, Peter. Tell Neal I hope he gets better soon."
He just hoped she heeded his advice.
It had been almost one week since he had been discharged from hospital before Peter decided he needed to have a heart to heart with Neal. Neal was a good listener, usually gave good advice, though could never take his own, and was a great conversationalist, but a discussion about private matters made him nervous and before Peter spoke, Neal was already squirming in his seat.
"So. How are you doing?" Peter asked over their morning coffee. Peter was back at work now, but Neal still needed more recuperation before they'd let him go back, though Peter joined Neal every morning for coffee before work.
"I'm doing great. Same as when you asked me this morning, same as when you asked last night, same as the day before." He smiled as he spoke to reassure Peter that he was fine.
"That's good. You taking your pain meds? June said she had to force them into you."
"I take some of them. Some of them loosen me up a bit too much." He could remember some conversations from the hospital, from the early days when he was in too much pain to argue with them about morphine. "But the pain is good, it's settling, I mean."
Peter didn't point out that Neal grimaced when he shifted a fraction in his seat, or that he was barely using his injured hand, despite the doctors saying that everything went well and the prognosis was good.
"That's good." He took another sip of his coffee. "Neal, I - "
"It's ok, Peter. I know what you're going to say, and you don't have to. It wasn't your fault I got shot, just like it wasn't your fault Agent Marks got killed either. I'm fine, you're fine, Demetri's gone."
"I know but I - "
"Okay, so my hip aches on occasion and I still need to walk with a stick but I think it makes me look good, right? Gives me an edge."
Recognising Neal's nervous chatter, Peter tried to get a word in.
"Stop, Neal. Just listen for a second. I know you are doing well - "
"I'm doing great."
"Ok, you're doing great. But I just worry about you. After Kate, and after you ran when she died….those were some pretty bad months for us all. And then when I brought you back, I guess I was just glad to have you back that I never really spoke to you about any of it unless we had to, because I was worried that I'd send you running away again. But if you think we didn't notice how depressed you became you're wrong."
"Peter, I'm not…I wasn't depressed." His voice was soft and broken, and he avoided looking at Peter.
"Hey it's nothing to be embarrassed about Neal. I'm sure we've all been through some form of it, and you have good reason too. But I guess my point is that I kind of brushed over it, you know. I saw it but ignored it in case I lost you again, just hoped it would pass. And now with all this- the beating, being shot - I'm just worried that you're going to sink deeper and deeper."
"I don't know what you want me to say."
"You don't have to talk to me if you don't want to, but talk to Mozzie or El or June. Or if that's too personal, a therapist. Not the FBI sanctioned guys, someone else independent if you want. But Neal, if you don't talk about this, it's going to eat you up inside."
They were silent for a few minutes while Neal regained his composure and Peter pretended to read the newspaper.
"Did anyone ever tell you you'd make a good shrink Peter?"
They held a service at Kate's graveside on the one year anniversary of her death. There were only a few people in attendance, and of those few only three of them had known her while she lived. It saddened Neal to think that so few people had known or cared for her, and that on his death he would expect even fewer still at his funeral.
He had not been at Kate's funeral last year, running scared from his failures, his loneliness. But now he stood surrounded by his partner, his friends, as they said a few prayers, a few thanks for what they still had. And afterwards they would have dinner together, and a few glasses of wine. And tomorrow he would he get up and go to work, then he and June had tickets to the theatre. And life goes on.