Disclaimer: Yeah. I don't own White Collar, but it'd be cool if I did.
Notes: This directly corresponds to the season finale, Out of the Box. Let me know what you think, and thanks for reading!
He didn't expect the room to be as dark as it was, with the only source of light seeping in from the balcony, filtered by the gauzy curtains that had been drawn together crookedly against the early evening twilight. The lighting made the room appear hazy, dreamlike, surreal. In fact, as he stepped inside and softly shut the door behind him, he had a hard time believing that this scene wasn't some strange construct of his imagination, because he could very clearly hear the distinct choking of someone crying. Neal Caffrey didn't cry. He was always irritatingly upbeat and coy and sly and so, so clever. He did not fall apart at the very expensive, designer seams. Believing that Neal was only ever capable of smiling and laughing usually made him easier to deal with, but usually, planes didn't explode on runways, just a few hundred feet from where an intended passenger and a desperate FBI agent stood.
"Neal," he whispered hoarsely into the dim apartment, but no movement answered. Awkwardly, Peter took several more steps into the room, not yet daring to switch on the light for fear of seeing the conman submerged in utter grief. Just by the awful noises, he could imagine rumpled clothes, an unshaven face, and eyes so red they might have been bleeding – not to mention the messy plaster covering the better part of his forearm, the product of his struggling so fiercely in Peter's grasp, that Neal had fractured his own wrist. He sounded broken; no one had the right to see anyone in such a state, and so the lights remained off, and Peter gingerly crept around furniture towards the corner nearest the edge of the couch, coincidentally the darkest area in the entire flat. Something black and bulky huddled in the space there, shaking and shivering and downright pitiful. "Neal? It's… it's Peter."
"Don't." The word was thick with tears and mucous and something like mortification, so much so that Peter almost didn't catch it, almost mistook it for a cough or a gag. But the figure shuddered even more, and Peter couldn't help but crouch down, his knees cracking painfully in the dense silence. Part of Neal's face was lit with the eerie blue glow of some sort of nearby electronic, giving him a blended, melted look over a ghostly pallor. It was like staring into a horrific parody of an impressionist's work. Shaking his head, Peter stopped himself from reaching out to the man, unsure of how it would be received.
"Is there anything I can do for you?" Neal jerked his head sharply to the side. Discomfort and embarrassment radiated from him, but Peter didn't budge despite the burning in his quadriceps, and the way his dress shoes cut into his Achilles. Sighing, he tried again: "Neal, I can't leave you like this. I came by to… I'm here as your friend," he repeated again, from earlier, this time emphasizing the last word, but the other man wouldn't look at him. "I want to help you."
Several seconds passed. Then Neal shifted abruptly, pressing his back against the wall and releasing a shaky breath. "Kate. Kate is…. Peter, she's d-dead. So unless you're-you're some sort of, of magician, you c-can't help me, and I… I'd appreciate it if you… if you left. Please."
Dammit, Neal. Listen to yourself. This time, he threw caution to the winds and placed a heavy hand on a narrow shoulder that surprisingly didn't flinch away. This didn't feel like a friend-to-friend confrontation, or attempted consolation; Peter felt as if he were addressing a child, and in that instant, Neal seemed so small and entirely too vulnerable beneath his fingers. The thin dress shirt was damp.
"Neal." He glanced at Peter with something like shame in his eyes. "Neal, look at me. Look at me." It took a minute, but he finally complied, his gaze resembling a cornered animal's in its frenzied darting of dazed, unfocused pupils. "We're both… uncomfortable in this situation, but I can't go home knowing… I can't leave you like this. So, I'm going to stay here, and you can say or do anything you want, but I'm not leaving until I'm convinced you'll be all right again."
He heard a vague protest forming in the way Neal's posture changed, his shoulders being thrown back against the wall as he sat up straighter to assume some semblance of dignity; Peter shook his head slowly and tightened his grip, until the fabric bunched under his hand. "No. Look, I know that it's hard and it's a bad time for you, and that you've got a long road of… of problems ahead of you, and the department will probably order a psych eval-" Again, Neal squeaked, attempting to move, to escape, but Peter held on tight, with both hands this time. "But what happens tonight, right now, we will never talk about again." Deep inside, he could feel a tiny spark of anger and desperation and helplessness, which translated to, "So for god's sake, will you drop the damn formalities?" instead of, Why is this happening to you? To me?
Stricken and lost, Neal stared at him blankly. Tears had begun to gather again at the corners of his eyes; his mouth hung open slightly. Peter could feel his own emotions coating the back of his throat, tightening the muscles, until he feared he wouldn't be able to talk. He wasn't even sure why he felt so strongly all of a sudden, so very, very sad and bitter and angry. Everything seemed frozen for what might have been eternity – until something shattered in Neal's expression, and he leaned forward, possibly moving towards his knees and the sanctuary they offered from his partner's eyes. In an instant, Peter had changed positions so that he sat beside Neal, one arm now draped loosely over his shoulders, and the other moving to redirect Neal's forward motion until, unexpectedly, he found himself awkwardly patting Neal's shoulder as he cried into Peter's suit jacket, mumbling incoherently about Kate and how very sorry he was for something or everything.
"It will be all right," Peter murmured simply in response. He didn't know what else to say, or even if it was true, but it sounded decent, and it reminded him of something Elizabeth had said just before he had left for June's house. "Neal, it will be okay." He could feel Neal's good hand curling into the fabric and tugging on the back of his jacket, and it simultaneously broke and warmed his heart. I am so sorry this happened to you. I am so, so sorry. "It's okay. It's okay." And even if the truth of the matter was the Neal would not be okay, or that it would take a long time to make it okay, or that, in reality, Neal would hide behind his meticulous façade until he could drown in his denial – it didn't matter, because in this moment, it was okay. Neal would be okay – had to be okay – and Peter so staunchly believed it that he hugged his friend to him tightly, in physical reassurance and comfort and security. Neal would be fine.