In the Service of a Friend

Summary: When a guy like Neal Caffrey falls apart in your arms, well, that's something you remember. Spoilers for Out of the Box. Peter/Neal friendship.

A/N: I just started White Collar and I love the friendship (however complicated) between Peter and Neal. Here's a quick piece for Out of the Box, because I obviously had to write something for it.

The world is on fire. Well, not the world, but that's sure as hell what it feels like. The explosion is jarring, unexpected, devastating. Thoughts of rescuing Kate flit into your mind but are quickly extinguished. No one could survive that blast, and you have to keep your common sense because Neal has lost all of his. You grab for him just in time and he struggles against your hold. In this moment, he does not care about anything besides Kate, doesn't care that he's fighting to throw himself into flames, and he doesn't care about the people that are still here to care about him.

Anguish fills his screams. He's yelling her name so desperately that your heart breaks ten thousand times over.

When a guy like Neal Caffrey falls apart in your arms, well, that's something you remember. Neal is supposed to be, in all things, calm, cool, collected. The most affected you'd ever seen him was the day you found him for the second time, heartbreak on his face and an empty bottle in his hands.

This is infinitely worse.

He's stopped fighting now, but tears are streaming down his face and his eyes are hollow. You keep your arm around him, just in case. He feels lighter somehow, more fragile.

"Neal."

If he hears you at all, he doesn't acknowledge it. Instead he crumbles to his knees, and you go down with him to maintain your grip on his shoulder. The sound of his ragged breathing mixes with the roaring fire in front of him.

Neal pounds the ground once with his fist and lets out a feral scream.

This is killing him, and it's killing you to see him this way.

You have to get him away from here.

You keep a grip on him and pull him to his feet. He doesn't fight it, simply follows the motion like a child being lead by a parent. You pull out your phone and dial the appropriate number. You request firemen and investigators, and you hate that you have to tell them to bring a body bag. Neal closes his eyes at the words, and you know you should have stepped away so that he wouldn't have to hear it, but you're afraid to let go of his arm.

So very, very afraid.

You close your phone and slip it back into your pocket. You pull Neal further away from the scene, and he looks at you for the first time since the explosion. For all the credit he gives you for knowing how he thinks, you have to admit that he's usually a complete mystery to you. But now, of all times, you understand that look he's giving you. He wants you to make this better, he wants you to tell him that this is a dream, that it's all going to go away, and that tomorrow can be a brand new day full of solving crime and infinitely chasing after Kate.

But this isn't something you can fix, no matter how much you want to.

The best you can do is pull him into a hug. Whenever you were holding him before now, it was to protect him from himself, to keep him from rushing into flames. This is entirely different; this is purely for comfort. Comfort for the man you've called your partner for the last year, comfort for your friend, your brother.

Slowly, his arms raise behind you and he hugs you back, fingernails clutching into your jacket like he's holding onto a lifeline. He cries quietly into your shoulder, and you've never been able to bear another person's tears, but you don't even think of pulling away.

And you still know that this isn't something you can fix, but in the days, months, years ahead of you, you can sure as hell try.

A/N: Reviews greatly appreciated!