From Inside to Outside (The Healing Edition)

Disclaimer: Borrowed for entertainment purposes only, no infringement is intended, nor is there any profit made.

Warnings: Angst. Hurt/Comfort…Spoilers for season finale. Un-Beta'd.


Neal opened his eyes. The first thing he noticed about the calm blandness of Peter's guestroom, was that he was in it. The second thing he realized was that he was laying down in a warm bed, wearing soft cotton sleep-pants. Neal sat up. Objectively (the part of Neal's mind the worked out details and brush-strokes and left the thrill and fear to other, less focused cells), he knew that there had to have been a series of movements and conversations that lead him to his current position, but damn if he could find the will to remember. He watched as his left leg slid to the floor, ankle bare and un-tethered.

Well.

As soundless as he could be, he let himself leave the bedroom and run through the motions that his body seemed willing to guide him on. Ablutions completed tunelessly and tiredly (wrist bone connected to the hand bone, hand bone should hold the toothbrush). Neal stood blinking in the hallway, swallowing against some pain in his throat (It was his, yes? He thought there may have been screaming...) and didn't think. It was a novel thing.

A very fine thing, the way the bubble of reaction seems to rest on the top of the inside of his skull, away from the numbness coursing blissfully all the way to his fingers. 'This was another type of shock,' Objectivity said pragmatically, where it lurked in a reasonable way by the crowded ceiling in his head.

Neal let out a breath, loud in his ears. Did it again. Felt his chest rise and fall with oxygen and dust and carbon. Rhythmic. Like his pulse. He turned into the bathroom and retched. Fingers that were still his curled into claws and bit into his palms. Tears clouded his vision and he wiped his mouth, face tight with loss tilted toward the sky.

Eventually, Peter would find him there and pick him up, lifting him under the arms and putting him back in bed, murmuring comfortingly meaningless things about eating something and you're not alone. Neal says thank-you and doesn't look Peter in the face. He thinks -"Happily ever after? Isn't for guys like us-" Neal closes his eyes.

It's much later, when Neal opens his eyes again. The master bedroom's décor is calm and filled with the soft influence of two loving people. Neal feels his lungs stretch and fill. Exhale. He swallows and regrets it. Feels a raw sensation on his knee; he must have scraped it against the tarmac. One arm had twisted underneath him in his sleep, and tingles. He feels a pressure behind his eyes and knows, knows , its more than he can bear to shudder his shoulders and weep. Vaguely, he realizes its been hours since he was sitting on the bathroom floor, and thinks that the weak tea he's sure someone had pressed to his lips may have made him sleep longer than what was natural. Maybe.

Peter's blankets were the same quality as the ones in his guestroom, courtesy of his wife. Neal's finds that sparing the breath to be grateful doesn't twist in his lungs, and his mouth quirks.

He makes it down the stairs this time, taking a seat on the bottom step, chin anchored in one hand as his mind threatens to float away.

The first painting she ever saw was a Rorschach's. She said the possibilities made it beautiful. Neal laughed and didn't say a Rorschach's wasn't even real art, but kissed her and said he'd steal any possibilities she'd ever want.

Satchmo, the big friendly thing that he was-lumbered over to Neal and sat down, leaning his weight into the convict and sighing heavily. It wasn't anymore trouble to breath than it was to steal his hand away from his chin and let his head fall against a furry neck. He didn't notice when Elizabeth wandered by to check on her dog's sudden absence, so he didn't see the sadly fond smile she gave as she turned around and let them be.

Neal thought of ideas, and debris.

A few days had slipped by, and the thought of food and conversation no longer rolled like stones in his stomach, so he sat at the table with Peter and a plate heaping with sandwiches (cucumber and cheese for once, thank god) and a pile of suspected mortgage fraud cases. Peter didn't bother with awkward conversation and Neal was both relieved and annoyed with him for it.

"Should I be helping you with this?" He asked, aware of the bareness of his ankle, he hadn't bothered to wear any socks in days.

Peter paused long enough to lower his sandwich and shrug, carefully casual. "Those papers-your new identity- it's all still legit. You can be Neal. You can read these reports and sign them, or you can be someone else, and eat your lunch. Your choice is still on the table."

Neal looked wary, and suddenly felt very tired. "And if I eat my lunch?"

Peter picked up his sandwich. "Dinner's still at six."

After, when he was alone, he thought of ideas and choices and clenched his hands in fury, feeling a dark rope tighten around his chest and squeeze and he wanted violence, noise, revenge. He knew it would feel good against the pain and he would, he will, he wanted

He threw pillows across his temporary room and pressed his nails into his thighs (nothing of his own to break, he wanted to sob) until he bruised. He never had what he wanted, he just had echoes.


"Which ones?" Elizabeth asks, holding out two pairs of cufflinks. Neal gives them both the attention they deserve, which was not equal at all. The department store was quiet, as it usually is on a Monday morning, and the hung-over sales clerk was more that happy to let the pair browse. "These." He decided, fingering the elegant silver ones in Elizabeth's left palm. They were of a simple design, yet classy, and not anything Peter would ever think to wear until his wife made him. They were perfect.

Neal watched while Elizabeth rang through her purchases, hands obediently by his sides (there may have been a lecture by June and El respectively about posture and pockets and the lines of his suits, and how he shouldn't ruin them). When she finished, bright-eyed with her purchases, Neal made himself smile and offer to carry her bags.

Elizabeth, amused, allowed him, probably knowing that the stores' bottom line would be much safer if Caffrey had something to dangle from his fingers.

She bumped her elbows with his through the exit and Neal knew she wanted to take his hand in hers, for now he was grateful that she didn't try. "Was thinking Mexican, for dinner tonight." She said idly. Neal raised his eyebrows. "Oh?"

"Hmm. We'll have to sort out a meal rotation, for when you head back to work."

Neal's kept his face neutral. "Is that so?"

The brunette nodded, "It is nice having you two home every night, but I've heard there's been a bit of a backlog without you."

Neal knew that Peter had to borrow staff from other divisions, and thought briefly about preening at the understatement, then discarded the impulse.

"Sounds to me like he's handling things." Neal said slowly.

She made a noncommittal noise. "It'll be easier when he has you again."

Neal looked at her sideways. "Fish on Fridays?"

"Turnip on Tuesdays." She answered sweetly.

Neal felt his mouth turn up in a smile, real, despite himself.

"You seem sure about the outcome of my options."

Elizabeth finally gave in to her urge to touch and linked her arm with his. "Oh, you made that choice weeks ago. Neal's a name that suits you, I would hate to get used to something new. You really don't look like a Charles."

Neal blinked once, and lowered his eyes. "You know, that deal is a new name and a new life somewhere away from here. I wouldn't be able to stay, even if I wanted to."

Elizabeth smiled, squeezing his arm. "We both know that's a lie. You'll do exactly what you want to, Peter and I don't mind."

Neal's breath stuttered. He was glad, in that moment, that El was holding on to him, the world suddenly seemed dangerously unbalanced.

"Mexican huh?" His voice trembled slightly.

"Hmm."

"I'll have to take a plate to Moz. His favourite, you know."

El dimpled at him, and fell happily silent for the remaining walk to the car. Neal, pale, his body thrumming with fear (and guilt- that he dare have hope) let himself walk forward.

He had once warned Kate that very little about this life was normal. She had only raised her eyebrows. "It's not what's normal, dummy. It's what's new, good and bad, and which parts you let change you." Neal had stared at her, surprised at this wisdom, then she snickered. "Lifetime Network Presents."

Fin


A/N

Okay. When I started this I only meant it to be a small drabble. A hundred words of weepy!fic maybe, ending on a hopeful sentence.

This is not that drabble. That drabble fell out of my brain and was eaten by sharks. It happens. And the thing is…a reaction to loss and it's following grief are such a hugely private, intensely individual thing that I was rather reluctant to even write about it. But I did. I'm calling it my 'Highly Conceptualized Thoughts on How Neal Dealt With Watching His Girl-Toy Go Boom'.