Disclaimer: I don't own White Collar, Neal, or any of the other characters (sadly).
Neal was finally back in his own apartment. He had been staying in the safe house for three weeks after he was last released from the hospital, and it was well over two months since this whole thing had started. Peter had been fully prepared to make him stay in the safe house for another week (or longer, for all he knew), but Neal had insisted that he come back here. It was the right time. He couldn't keep hiding from everything, no matter how much he may have liked to. Neal had been right in that there were no further attempts on his life, but that hadn't made the last three weeks a walk in the park.
His physical wounds were mostly healed, but the mental ones had barely begun to close. The nightmares kept him awake almost every night for the first week, but they slowly became less frequent. Even though the logical part of him assured him that he wasn't in danger any longer, he couldn't control the unnatural panic he felt so often that told him he was. As his life began to fall back in a semi normal routine, the panic became less frequent, more manageable .Things were finally on the way back to normal, but he was still painfully reminded every single day of what had happened. Every aspect of his life had been turned on it's head. It wasn't like in the movies, where life went back to normal and everyone lived happily ever after. Reality made a horrible story teller.
Peter's house had been repaired, though both El and he still spent a fair amount of time at the safe house with Neal. Less time than they would've liked, perhaps, due to their jobs. They had already taken a lot of time off, but they couldn't continue doing so. Whether they liked it or not, life didn't stop because someone's world fell apart. Life moved on. You either accepted it, or you get shoved to the way side.
The day Neal had finally went back to his loft again had been by far the hardest he'd faced in a while. It was out of sheer will power that he didn't cave the moment he opened the door. His hands were shaking, and no amount of determination or self control would stop it. He could feel Peter's presence behind him, waiting for some reaction out of him, but Neal's actions didn't immediately offer one.
The place hadn't been touched since the last time he'd been there. It was disconcerting seeing something so normal and unchanged after everything that had happened. He once again saw Alex laying there in a pool of her own blood, but he shook the image away and forced down the panic that was threatening to rise. He could do this.
"You don't have to do this right now, Neal." Peter assured him. It sounded like he was trying to talk him out of jumping off a cliff, not reassuring him.
"I'm good, Peter." He said quickly. He steeled himself and, before his fear convinced him otherwise, walked into the room. His hat was still laying on the table where he'd tossed it weeks ago. He picked it up and flipped it onto his head. He could practically feel Peter roll his eyes behind him but didn't turn to face the agent. He took a few deeps breaths to steady himself. The panicky feeling was dissipating. His hands were still shaking slightly, but he was in control of himself again. There was a definite feeling of relief that he was back home, as terrifying as the prospect had been at first. It was so normal, the exact opposite of what the last several weeks had been for him, and there was something immensely comforting about that.
"I'm fine. You don't need to stay." He said, finally looking at Peter.
"I don't have anywhere else to be." Peter shrugged, walking a bit further into the room.
"I'm sure El will be making dinner by now. You don't want to keep her waiting."
"I can call her and tell her I'll be a bit la-"
"Peter." Neal interrupted. "Please, go home. It's late. I'll be fine, I just need some time..."
Peter looked at the young man hard, as if he could see by looking at his face whether he was telling the truth or not. Finally, he sighed in defeat. "Okay. Just, call me if you need anything at all."
"I will." Neal promised.
With a slightly hurt look, Peter finally left the room. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate everything that Peter had done for him; there was no doubt in his mind that had it not been for him and El, he wouldn't even be trying to move on. But he needed some time to think for himself, to sort things out in his head. He took a few minutes walking around the apartment, inspecting things and making sure they were still there just for something to do, to keep himself busy. Eventually he sat down, just letting his surrounding wash over him. He hadn't intended to, but within ten minutes he'd dozed off.
He jerked awake when he heard the knock on the door about a half hour later. He was momentarily frozen, but relaxed when he heard a familiar voice float through the room.
"I come bearing gifts"
He made his way to the door and opened it to find Mozzie there, holding a bottle of wine. He stepped back to allow his friend in, taking the proffered wine. "What's the occasion?" He asked, inspecting the bottle.
"Call it a house warming gift." Mozzie answered, going to the cupboard to get glasses.
"How'd you know I was back?"
"I never reveal my sources."
"El sent you?" Neal guessed.
"No one sends me; I go places." Mozzie corrected quickly, but he didn't have to answer the question for Neal to know he was right. Neal sighed. First Peter postponed leaving for as long as possible, then they sent Mozzie over to keep an eye on him. Apparently they were determined that Neal not be alone.
Mozzie took up his usual seat at the table, while Neal struggled to remove the cork from the bottle. His left arm was finally out of the sling, but it was still fairly useless from being immobile for so long, which made removing the cork a challenge. Finally he managed it. He began pouring the wine into the glasses, but his hands were still shaking so badly he almost spilled half of it on the table. Mozzie quickly took the bottle from Neal's hands and finished pouring it into the glasses. He then set the bottle down on the table and gave Neal a worried look.
"I'm fine, Moz. It's just been a long day." Neal said quickly, clasping his hands beneath the table in a desperate attempt to keep them still.
"Neal, if you're not ready to move back in-" Mozzie began, but Neal cut him off.
"I am. Really. The pain meds just make me a bit shaky." He supplied quickly. It wasn't strictly a lie, the medication did make him shaky and lightheaded sometimes, but not to that extent. Neal knew full well it was being back here that was causing it, but he wasn't going to tell his friend that. He could handle this, he had to.
Neal was an excellent liar. Mozzie had seen it countless times. But Neal still wasn't one hundred percent, and Mozzie could see straight through the it. He was about to call his friend on it, but stopped. There was no point. Neal would only deny it, and in the end, it would only make things worse. Whether he liked it or not, Mozzie understood Neal's determination. After everything he'd been through, he just wanted things to go back to normal, to forget what had happened. But forcing himself to be okay and pretending that everything was fine didn't make it so.
"When are you going back to 'work'." Mozzie asked finally.
"I've got to take a psych eval first. It's scheduled for a week from tomorrow. Once I'm cleared, which won't take long, I can go back." Neal answered, grateful for the subject change.
"Don't you think it's a little soon?"
"You sound like Peter."
"I'm nothing like the Suit. I take offense to that insinuation."
"I'm sorry." Neal apologized with a little smirk. "It's not too soon. I've been sitting around doing nothing for weeks. Any longer and I'm going to get cabin fever."
"What if you aren't cleared?"
"Thanks for the vote of confidence. I will be. It's just for the official documents anyway. It's no big deal. I go in and chat for a little bit, convince them I'm still on the straight and narrow, and we're done."
"So you're going to lie."
"Everyone lies during their psych evals."
"Maybe, but as Richard Bach said, 'the worst lies are the lies we tell ourselves.'" Neal just looked at Mozzie. He knew Neal too well to fully believe the cheerful exterior. For good reason, too. He was acting like he was okay, or more okay than he actually was. It was a facade for those around him. But he couldn't, wouldn't, let everyone around him know his emotions. The mask was part of who he was and what everyone saw him as. Image was everything, and maybe if he pretended he was okay long enough it might actually come true.
Neal took a sip of his wine to avoid commenting. "This is excellent. What year is it?" He asked quickly. It was clear that Mozzie saw exactly what he was doing, but he didn't say anything about it, for which Neal was immensely grateful.
The next hour was strangely normal. Talking with Mozzie was one of the many things he hadn't realized he'd missed. He'd been discovering a lot of those lately.
Neal knew better than anyone else that he had a long road ahead of him still, filled with plenty of ups and downs; but it was times like this that he couldn't help but be optimistic (even though he knew for a fact that he wouldn't be this positive in the morning). He wasn't fine, he was a ways from it; but things were getting better. And as impossible as it seemed at that moment, life would go back to normal, one day.
AN: And that's the end! I had a lot of trouble figuring out how to finish it off well, hopefully it's all right. Thank you so much everyone who's stuck with this story. And an especially huge thank you to every who's reviewed. I'm blown away by how supportive everyone has been. I wouldn't have gotten half of this written without you guys. Keep an eye out for more from me. To quote Mozzie "it's goodbye, but we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies."