A/N: My obligatory follow up to the season finale. I tried to resist, but…in the end, I couldn't. :p
He could never get used to this. Peter Burke had walked into his office to find his partner quietly bent over paperwork. The federal agent walked gingerly, not wanting to startle the con. 'Rule One: No Sudden Movements' He thought to himself. Setting a coffee down on the edge of the desk he took a seat at his own, pretending to do his share of the paperwork. Pretending he wasn't watching Neal protectively. Pretending that this wasn't horribly and inconceivably bizarre. 'Rule Two: Act Normal'. The worst part was that Neal wasn't even aware that Peter was watching. Under normal circumstances, he surely would have noticed. He seemed to have a sixth sense about such things.
Finally, Neal did look up. His eyes were red and the bags under his eyes told Peter of long, sleepless nights and haunting memories.
"I know you're watching me." Peter grinned a little but it faltered when Neal's tone fully registered. Flat. It sounded lifeless.
"I thought you would." Peter replied coolly, taking a sip of his coffee, watching his partner of the plastic rim. Neal slouched lower in the seat, his face flushing slightly under the agent's stare. He drew a shaky breath.
He closed his eyes, feeling his pulse start to race. His hands shook and he clasped them together fiercely trying to stop them. It had been two weeks since his life had been ripped apart, torn wide open. Two weeks since his world went up in flames. He hadn't been back to work until today and he was regretting it already. He licked his lips, hoping that this would subside.
"Neal?" Peter could see the distress on the younger man's face. "Neal?" He repeated, but Neal was already too far gone.
"I-I-ah" Neal stood quickly, too quickly, his chair toppling as he fled the office. Peter followed behind him. He watched Neal run into the men's room. Wanting to follow but not to intrude, he stood awkwardly in the hall for a moment.
"Peter?" He turned to see Agent Jones standing next to him, a slightly confused look not quite concealed. "Do you need something in the copy room? I was just headed there." Peter was confused until he realized he was indeed standing next to the copy room.
"No, I…We'll I guess I forgot. One of the many hazards of aging." Peter tried to play it off and maybe someone else would have bought it, but he'd trained Jones well.
"Where's Caffrey?" Peter didn't answer. 'Rule Three: Don't provide too many details'. "C'mon, I saw him in your office earlier. Is he doing ok? I was going to say hi but I didn't want to overwhelm him." Peter shrugged. "I guess he's pretty upset." Peter shrugged again. Jones nodded "Sorry. Everyone's just missed him. Let him know when you see him." With that, younger agent skirted past Peter into the copy room. Peter took a deep breath and walked down the hall, entering the bathroom almost cautiously. A moment of silence was followed by a sharp intake of air.
"Neal, Neal what's going on?" Neal was sitting on the floor, wrinkling his suit. He shook his head. In his mind, all he could see were those flames, knowing that somewhere in them was the only thing he had ever really wanted. Tears rolled unchecked down his cheeks.
Peter crossed the room in only a few strides and put a hand on Neal's shoulder. 'Rule Four: Don't Say Cowboy Up.' With this rule in mind, he didn't know what to say. Neal turned his head away, a sob escaping.
"Let me go…Please Peter." He whimpered. Peter groaned when the words and the faraway look in his partner's eyes clicked. Was this why Neal hadn't wanted to see anyone, even Mozzie?
Peter had been in the FBI long enough to know that flashbacks were bad news; he'd seen several agents end up needing psychological help to relieve them. His previous experience also told him that they were terrifying- for the person experiencing it and whoever was with them. He'd once been held at gunpoint by a former colleague who was convinced he was back in a hostage situation. Neal leaned his head back against the wall, whimpers escaping his lips.
Peter wanted nothing more than to leave and not have to deal with this, but something somewhere between El's threats and a nagging sense of guilt held him in place. If they hadn't, Neal's fingers curling around his sleeve, creasing the fabric as he held him close would have. Peter sighed and pulled Neal to his chest, his heart breaking as he realized that Neal was trembling.
He held his partner close to him, one hand protectively cupping the back of his head and the other cradling his weary body. Neal buried his face in Peter's chest. They sat together for ten minutes before the con tilted his head upwards.
"I'm sorry" Peter startled slightly as his voice, lower and softer than usual. He looked down, smiling gently.
"It's fine." His voice turned more serious. "How often have you been having these flashbacks, Neal?" The weary consulted shrugged, nestling closer to his protector, taking advantage of his warmth.
"I can't tell the difference between them and the nightmares." He whispered, too tired to disguise his tone, too deep in mourning to care. Peter sighed. Something had to be done; there were no questions about that. Neal couldn't go on forever with flashbacks and sleep deprivation and as much as Peter refused to admit it, Neal's presence in his office added a certain amount of pleasant unpredictability.
"We're going to get you some help." Neal opened his eyes, peering up at Peter curiously.
"You need to see someone you can talk to about this. Someone who knows what they're doing. Maybe some sleeping meds or something…" He trailed off as Neal closed his eyes again, wriggling a little and getting even closer to Peter. "No. No, you are not falling asleep in the men's room. C'mon, let's get you up."