The Whistler's Whistle.
Strength In What Remains Behind.
A/N: This chapter was the most difficult to write, so I hope it's okay. I want to thank AliWC for her amazing help and encouragement (without her, I probably wouldn't have posted this) and my beta, SherlockXHolmes23. If any of you think this is too angsty, don't worry because I have everything planned out and this isn't all this story's going to be. If you think it's moving to fast or too slow, I'm sorry, but I hope you will all bear with me. This is my first multi-chapter fic I've ever tried to write properly.
Warnings: Adult swearing and a lot of it. A lot of angsty-ness.
Disclaimer: I own nothing here. The title of this chapter is from the extract of the poem at the bottom of the page.
"The darkest hour is just before the Dawn." - John Hurt, Merlin.
Neal didn't turn as Mozzie left and instead neatly folded the note he'd been given into a small square, before shoving it into his pocket. He knew the older man was trying to help and the conman felt the strange prickling feelings of guilt stab at his conscience for even considering what Mozzie said.
But it made sense.
In another life, Neal would've left without a seconds thought to the people he left behind.
People were unreliable, they left, and they lied, always. Neal knew that because he was one of them. Honesty didn't come naturally to Caffrey anymore. It had done, once upon a time.
He remained sat on the steps in the yard, blinking slowly at the fading light that somehow still hurt his eyes and it occurred to Neal that being outside was more stifling than being in the house because there should have been more noise, more sounds he was missing.
With a stuttered breath, he got to his feet and hurried back inside, pretending that the panic that clutched at his chest was exhaustion and not the dark, foreboding and growing sense of fear.
Neal remained awake all that night, just sat at the end of the guest bed, staring of into the swirling and twisting shapes of the darkness. It was easier to think in silence, which was one thing Neal both embraced and hated. He could totally cut himself off from the world, the distractions but he also couldn't get back. It was like the world was moving on and he was stuck, never moving forward.
He wondered what he'd be doing that same night in a year's time. In prison? With Mozzie? Or maybe back at June's, living the life he loved. Neal knew that people had overcome worse things, much worse things and struggled through life with smiles and courage and strength.
But Neal didn't feel strong. Not anymore.
The conman was dressed beneath the blankets, so he only had to slip on his shoes and shrug on a coat before he was ready to leave the house. He didn't know where he was going and he didn't care whether walking around in the dark and the cold in his rather vulnerable state was a smart move.
Somehow, some way, Neal managed to sneak downstairs and unlock the front door without waking Peter, Elizabeth or Satchmo, who had disappeared in a mount of blankets in his basket.
It was a lot colder than Neal anticipated but he zipped up his coat and stuck his hands in his pocket, watching in brief fascination at the cloud of icy air that puffed before his face.
He remembered when he was a child, he used to pretend he was a dragon.
Neal began to walk, remaining senses alert, ready, waiting and he found himself glancing behind him every few seconds, every shadow lurking with malicious intent.
The forger walked at a steady pace for about half an hour, ignoring the blare of the city lights as he left Brooklyn, his subconscious guiding his feet.
When he finally looked up, properly, Neal was stood in the centre of a street, still and the crowds were rather thin considering the hour but Neal had had panic attacks before and he could feel the painful, suffocating strangling of his throat and the clenching of his chest.
Then he ran all the way back to the Burke's.
They didn't wake when he let himself back inside and huddled back under the blankets of the guest bed, sweating, despite the lingering coldness.
The next morning, Neal didn't get up when Elle and Peter did, so the agent peeked his head around the guest room door. He paused for a moment at the way Neal was dressed and tucked in on himself on top of the blankets, a pair of recently scuff sneakers on his feet. He hadn't taken of his coat and Peter frowned at the fact he didn't hear Neal leave at all during the night.
Even when deaf, Neal still somehow managed to move silently, like a cat, aware of everything that could give him away.
Peter decided to use that time to make the call he'd been dreading and he dialed the number Dr. Miles Arnold had emailed him the previous day.
Dr Anna Reid was one of the best psychiatrists in the state and she was adapted to dealing with adults who'd suffered recent traumas, both physical and mental, and she had helped a few people before in Neal's situation. Arnold suggested Neal meet with her, so it was up to Agent Burke to ring the office.
Hello, this the office of Dr Anna Reid, how may I help you?
"Hello, I'm Peter Burke, I'm ringing on behalf of a friend who would like an appointment with Dr Reid." Peter gnawed at his lip as Elizabeth looked on from across the table, hand wrapped securely around her husband's.
And this friends name is...?
Date of birth? Peter paused for a second. He didn't actually know Neal's real age. He knew very little about the man's past and he wouldn't have been surprised in the slightest if 'Neal Caffrey' was just another alias, another lie.
"Uh...24th November, 1980."
That's just for our records. Home telephone number and cell number of Mr. Caffrey?
Peter just gave his own over.
"Okay. We have a free appointment after another patient cancelled on this coming Friday at 1:30 PM. Otherwise it could be weeks until another available slot. Would this be okay?
"That's be perfect, thank you."
All booked, Mr. Burke. Dr Reid will see Neal then. Goodbye.
Peter sighed in relief and hung up, hating the way his heart thudded at an irregular pace.
"That wasn't so hard was it?"
"No." Peter wanted to pretend the hardest bit was over. "But now I have to convince Neal to actually go."
Neal managed to keep up his façade in quite an impressive manner until the following Thursday, when Peter suggested he go to the office with him. Not to do work, just for a second while Peter spoke to Hughes about some old cold case before taking Neal out to lunch in central park with Elle.
Peter wanted to get some normality back into his friend's life despite knowing how futile that was when Neal was in denial, which he most certainly buried in.
The conman shook his head faintly, eyebrows knotting ever so slightly as he thought deeply about why Peter really wanted him to go. The older man was treating Neal like he was a deck of cards balanced upon one and other in a make shift structure, built to most definitely fall.
Agent Burke had another agenda, Neal just had to work out what it was.
Surprisingly, it had only taken a few minutes for Peter to crack before he was reluctantly writing down his plans before handing the sheet of paper over to Neal.
I've booked an appointment with Anna Reid, she's a councilor. She wants to meet you, she's helped a lot of people in your situation. I think it's time you thought about your future. She knows a lot about ASL, she gave me references to some of the top speech therapists-
And that's when Neal stopped reading and looked back up at the other man.
"What is it you want from me, Peter?"
The agent looked stunned for a moment. He thought perhaps it was too soon for Neal to be thinking about these things, he needed time to grieve after all, but then again, the deeper he fell into this depression, the harder it would be to climb out.
Peter took the paper back and replied.
I want you to get better, Neal.
"I'm not sick."
You're not okay. That's normal after everything you've been through. This doctor, she can help with everything you're feeling.
Neal bit down on his lip until the familiar tang of blood sweetened his senses.
"You have...no idea how I feel."
Peter managed to stop the look of hurt flash across his features. His hand shook as he held the fountain pen, its blue ink smudging across his thumb.
Then tell me.
Neal looked away in the distance, eyes void of anything that could tell Peter what he was thinking. He remained that way for a few minutes, brooding, before he shook his head weakly.
"I'm fine." Neal let his teeth flash in a grin. "Worse things have happened to people than this."
That was true. Logical. However, Peter also knew his friend was in no state to be thinking logically.
"I think it's time I went back to June's." Neal had stopped up swiftly and began to head for the stairs while Peter tried to comprehend where that had come from. He was going to call after Neal, then stopped himself, noticing glumly at the way the con man kept his gaze fixed firmly on the floor as he walked up the stairs just so he technically couldn't see Peter's protests.
Neal packed up his belongings in a quick succession, never stopping long enough to truly think about what he was doing. He honestly didn't know what he doing, or what he was going to do. He had to hope he'd figure out, decide for himself who he was going to be.
The Neal Caffrey he'd invented for himself was gone and that hurt more than anything. There was no other name to be, no other man to create. Just him, whoever he was.
Neal stopped briefly after he'd zipped up the bag, his belongings thrown hastily inside and pulled out his phone. No new emails from Mozzie.
Neal wasn't surprised, he'd basically told the older man he wasn't going to run. Not yet, anyway. He had to know first. He had to know whether Peter would really let him be tossed back in prison. Neal's head said yes, of course he would, he wouldn't think twice about it. But his heart? As aching and as cold as it felt at times, it told Neal Peter wouldn't let that happen, not ever. That confusion, the feeling of the unknown just added to the pile of wayward emotions Neal couldn't control.
He wasn't sure how he was meant to feel. What should a man in his position be thinking?
There was a shadow of grief around Neal's person that hung heavy and he was drowning in it but it wasn't the sadness that held Neal under the surface of his life. It was something else.
Caffrey slung the bag back over his shoulder and began down the stairs, where the agent stood waiting, quietly.
"Thanks for..."Neal bit his lip in nervousness. "Everything. I appreciate it."
Peter smiled momentarily, before opening the front door and leading the way out to the Taurus.
Neal followed almost immediately, stuffing his hands in his pockets so he didn't have the watch his fists clenching.
No words were said as Neal let himself into June's mansion, Peter behind him and he dropped his bag at the sight of June walking quickly towards him, arms opened. Neal let himself be embraced tightly by the older woman, inhaling the familiar perfume of spices and old leather and lavender all at once. She touched his cheek lightly, her dark skin paling at the sight of the conman who'd somehow become her family.
She looked at Peter and he stared back.
Everything was conveyed in that one look, so June kissed Neal once and then let him past.
He took his bag again and headed towards his apartment, but the moment he stood in the only place he could called his own, it didn't feel like his anymore.
Everything was how he'd left it, right down to the last, heart breaking detail.
Life remained the same in that apartment, as if nothing had happened at all.
It would have been better, easier, to step into a place that was totally distant and far away from home. There, he could pretend to be anyone, the deaf man down the road, he could lie.
He couldn't lie any more.
The rage Neal Caffrey felt for life at that moment was perhaps the most merciless thing he'd ever felt. It didn't let up. It didn't quiet. And it didn't stop.
It had been simmering ever since he'd been given that look and the two words that would change everything for that charming con man.
From deep within Neal's blackened soul, there was a flash and it ignited with a hollow, blood red glow and before he fully comprehended what was happening, it had consumed him.
The rage had devoured everything that Neal stood for and he snapped.
He snapped like a blunt, rushed knife, all sharp edges and bared teeth and burning cheeks and clenched fists and broken nails and bleeding lips.
The second Peter had shut that door, Neal gave up and succumbed to that anger. It was the only think he could understand, the only thing that made sense.
He simply couldn't keep it hidden away any more.
Neal didn't feel Kate's bottle shatter and cut into the palms of his hands as he hurled the priceless and yet worthless thing across the room, stumbling with it and impacted the window pane.
He didn't notice the shavings of glass in his feet or the chips of the window in his neck or the way his nails tore into his palms, leaving tiny pink crescent moons upon the skin.
A part of Neal knew that Peter would have heard that, but the younger man didn't care. He couldn't focus on keeping his composure, his dignity. What did it matter when everything else was ruined?
Neal was screaming. Both inside his head and from deep within his aching lungs and he was too preoccupied to notice the bewildered Peter Burke watch as one arm jerked out and swept an abandoned meal from the table and clattered to the floor in a hush.
Neal was too far gone for that.
Peter was shouting and Neal was shrieking, at himself, at the man with a switch that destroyed everything, at the man in the heavens who didn't give a fucking damn.
It wasn't fair.
It just wasn't fair.
Neal's throat was raw. Skinned but he kept on screaming and he knew that Peter was crying, begging him to stop, but he couldn't.
"This shouldn't be happening! I don't deserve this. What the fuck have I ever done to deserve all this?"
It infuriated Neal because no matter how loud he cried or how much he smashed, he still couldn't hear it.
It was still fucking silent.
"It's not supposed to be like this!"
Through Neal's shrieking, Peter couldn't make out many words but all he knew was that Neal Caffrey had reached that point in oblivion where everything all became lost as one and he couldn't distinguish himself from what remained behind.. More than anything, Peter wanted to say something to make it all right again, but there was nothing to say.
No words could heal Neal.
There was no reason for any of it, no point in any of it.
Despite the futility of it, Peter called his consultants name, pleaded with him to calm down and even if Neal could have heard it, he was too ravaged to listen.
"Neal! You're hurting yourself! Please stop this!"
Neal was bleeding.
"It's okay! It's going to be okay!"
"Just stop…..please…..just stop."
Neal seemed to have finally noticed what he'd done and he staggered, the force of his ravaged existence hitting him with more strength than anything Neal had ever felt before.
The agent saw Neal's broken expression, the way his face crumpled, his quaking body too lost to hold itself up and he went forward and wrapped himself around the younger man's torso, dragging Neal into his arms and together, as one, they sank down onto the cold, hard floor.
That was all it took for Neal Caffrey to truly collapse and fall from grace.
Then he was crying. Sobbing. Wailing into Peter's chest as he hammered his fists against the man and scratched at the wood flooring so violently, his nails chipped and oozed red. Peter found himself weeping in a way he hadn't for many years and he was sure that Neal hadn't ever fallen into grief quite like he did that night.
Peter just held the young man in his arms in a secure embrace, holding onto to him so tightly that his muscles ached and he knew he was bruised but he let Neal grasp fistfuls of his shirt until it ripped. He didn't have the strength or the heart to stop it.
Neal's breath hitched and he choked as his body quaked and trembled with fierce sobs, his crystal tears trailing down his face and mixing with the blood and sweat that lay there already, creating this illusion of his carefully sculpted mask getting washed away in the rain.
He howled into the older man, cursing the world and the cards fate had dealt him and it was all so much worse because without being able to hear himself, truly experience the damage he'd done, Neal couldn't move on and he couldn't stop crying.
Peter rubbed his back, soft circular motions and he pressed his lips to the top of Neal's head in a way that soothed Elle when she was hurting. But Elle had never fallen apart in quite the same way.
"Shhh…Neal…I'm here…" Peter had the other cradled in his lap, his own legs folded beneath the two of them at an awkward angle. "It's okay. It's all okay…"
"It's not fair Peter…..I don't want to be like this." He kept repeating the same devastating words over and over again, but he still didn't quiet. "I don't think I can live like this."
Peter, through his watery vision, was overwhelmed at the pure, unblemished pain that was written across his friend's crumpled face, laced into every jagged movement, ravaging his soul.
Neal felt so many things and Peter couldn't for the life of him understand how Neal was really feeling. It wasn't just anger. He supposed that Neal didn't really know either.
But no matter how tight the older man held Neal, no matter how many times he shushed him, Neal just kept on crying.
Because that was all he could think to do.
But it wasn't just that.
Crying was a release, the bough breaking, the floodgates opening and everything he'd been feeling over the past weeks of horror, all these garish and fierce flashes of emotion that'd weighed him down, like the roots of an oak hidden within the ground, paused.
For a fraction of a second, Neal could really feel.
He could feel the sadness and the grief, the anger and the hatred and the blind hope and the spark of wonder that came with the silence. He could sift through these emotions like the pages of a book. They were no longer knotted and tangled together in one flimsy web of pain, they were free and fading and then brightening again.
Neal Caffrey didn't feel quite so lost any more. He just couldn't understand why.
Perhaps it was the way he could see the dove perched on the coffee table outside, its pure white feathers sparkling with their softness in the flickering afternoon light. Maybe it was the way Peter's arms enclosed him, engulfed him with their warm and their strength and Neal didn't have to hold himself up any more. It could have been the way the other man brushed his fingers through Neal's hair, lightly, faintly and a hundred times gentler that one would think necessary.
But maybe it was the fact that Neal knew.
He knew that he wasn't alone. He believed that one day he would stop falling, stop spinning long enough to truly look at his life and Peter would be there to catch him.
Peter Burke wouldn't let him fall alone in the depths of despair the conman found himself lost in. Neither would Mozzie, or Elle, June or Jones or even Diana.
For the briefest and yet most beautiful moment, Neal felt loved.
If he died tomorrow, or the next day, then someone would care.
And if he lived and breathed and tried to stand tall, someone would steady him when things got rough and pick him back up when he gave in.
Hearing or not, at that moment, as the dove fluttered away from its perch in a flash of white, that was all Neal had to cling on to.
And just for a little while, perhaps that was all he really needed.
"What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind."