Title: Running Late

Author: ricksilsa

Rating:PG-13

Characters and/or Pairing: Pre- OT3, but mostly Peter/Neal

Spoilers: 4x04 and 4x05

Warnings: Mentions cannon character death; Implied child abuse flashbacks, but no description.

Summary: Answer to lauracollared's prompts for Angst-a-Palooza 2012. Why is Neal so punctual and why did he drop out of highschool?

A/N: Like with my first WC fic, this was written late at night and beta'd by vodka. Apparently I have trouble sleeping when I drink, but vodka kills the writer's block... Sorry for the mistakes I missed.

Running Late

"I know it's tough, Neal. But you aren't alone. If you need to talk..." Peter broke off as Neal suddenly picked up his pace.

"Yeah, I'm fine, let's just go," he muttered, sighing in relief when he finally spotted Peter's car.

He waited impatiently for the FBI agent to unlock the door and quickly slipped inside, buckling his seat-belt.

Neal could feel Peter's scrutinizing gaze as the older man climbed into the car and fastened his own seat-belt with all the speed of decrepit old man.

"I'm just saying, that sometimes it helps to talk..."

He groaned and leaned his head against the passenger window.

Peter frowned thoughtfully as he started the ignition.

Neal counted to thirty in his head before turning to glare at his 'chauffeur'.

"Are you planning on driving us to work today, or should I get out and walk?" He asked, snidely.

The impudent tone set Peter off, and Neal was treated to a long lecture about respect, attitude, and something else he didn't bother to pay attention to. Instead, he looked down at his watch, counting the seconds and calculating in his head their estimated time of arrival to the office. Unconsciously, his leg started to shake.

Peter broke off mid-lecture and stared at Neal's leg. His CI was still facing away, so he put a hand on the younger man's knee to still it.

Neal's head snapped down to look at the hand on his knee. Tears begin to prick at his eyes as he felt the warm strength that was Peter Burke through that hand. How long had it been since someone touched him in such a caring way? Neal couldn't remember.

"Neal? Tell me what you're thinking," Peter said, voice firm, but gentle.

He bit his lip and shook his head.

The grip on his knee tightened so much that it was almost painful. But it was a good pain. It helped Neal focus on the immediate.

"Tell me," Peter commanded.

"I'm supposed to meet with Hughes at ten! That's in fourteen minutes! It takes at least twenty to get to the office, and that's if the traffic is good," Neal exploded, and was rewarded by Peter's obvious shock as the older man's jaw dropped open.

The CI sighed and turned back to look out the passenger window at the backed up traffic. He was careful to keep his leg still, not wanting to dislodge Peter's hand.

"It's okay, Neal. Reese won't mind if we're a few minutes late," Peter said, finally.

Neal just huffed and crossed his arms.

Peter stared at Neal as if he was one of his crossword puzzles that needed solving.

"I'll call him and let him know..."

The words echoed in Neal's mind as he remembered the first time he'd heard them. His mother had said the same thing regarding Neal's principle when he was in elementary school.

Four tardies in a row, and the young boy was about to be punished again. The principle would not care that his mother called to take the blame...

Neal gritted his teeth and pushed back the pain in his gut by focusing instead on the pain radiating from Peter's hand clenched tightly on his knee.

"No. No excuses. Let's just get there. Late is late, it doesn't matter why," he rambled, quoting his former principle.

Peter removed his hand and turned off the ignition. Neal glared at him.

"What are you doing? Trying to get me thrown back in prison?!" he accused, sounding desperate as his leg started shaking again.

The other man didn't say anything, just quietly got back out of the car.

A tear slipped out of Neal's eye and he brushed it away angrily as Peter opened his door.

"Out," the agent said, but Neal turned his head away, deliberately disobeying.

Peter sighed and walked away from the car, pulling out his cell.

Neal glared at him through the windshield as he called the office to tell Hughes that they would not be in today. He didn't hear what excuse Peter used, but a knot formed in his stomach as he remembered the 'excuses' his mother had always used...

Car won't start... Neal's sick... Neal's grandfather died..

Lies, all lies. Neal's entire life had been awash in a sea of lies, and while he normally tread the stormy waves just fine, today it felt as if the undertow was pulling at him and he would drown.

He shut his eyes.

Ellen's face with her gentle smile popped into his head.

"It's okay, Neal. I'll get you to school on time," She said holding out her hand.

The click of his seat-belt being unbuckled pulled Neal out of the daydream/memory and he opened his eyes to see that it was Peter with him and not Ellen.

Peter was not gentle as he pulled Neal out of the car. The CI retaliated by dragging his feet as Peter pulled him along the sidewalk and back to June's house where they had been not ten minutes earlier drinking coffee and discussing unsolved cases like it was just an ordinary day.

Through the door, up the stairs, and finally into his apartment. It was empty now. Immaculately cleaned by the thorough staff.

Neal shrugged Peter's hand off his arm and headed for the wine. The FBI agent leaned back against the closed door and watched Neal's every move.

He quickly evaluated each bottled of wine, before finally reaching behind them to grab Mozzie's leftover gin. He opened a cabinet to get out glass, but Peter was suddenly there closing it before he could.

"What's the problem, Peter? We're playing hookey, we might as well enjoy ourselves," he said, and took a big gulp straight from the bottle.

The alcohol burned his throat, and soon Peter was beating his back as he coughed and struggled to catch his breath.

As Peter's fist came down yet again on his back, Neal suddenly cried out and dropped the bottle. He crouched down to the floor and covered his head with his hands as he let out a heart broken sob.

"No! Please don't hit me anymore... I won't be late again, I p-promise..." he gasped, curling himself into a ball.

Everything went still and silent.

"Oh, God, Neal... I'm sorry, I was just trying to help you..." Peter ran a frustrated hand through his hair, feeling sick.

Neal hesitantly lowered his hands and looked up, almost expecting to see the uncaring gray eyes of his former principle. Instead, his blue eyes met the warm brown ones of his guardian and best friend.

Slowly, he pushed himself back up to his feet. His eyes remained wary as he studied Peter, who looked uncharacteristically unsure of himself. The agent reached out a hand only to drop it a second later as he shifted his feet and looked all around the room. Anywhere, but at Neal.

Neal's eyes remained wary as he slowly moved toward Peter, remembering their reunion on Cape Verde.

The warmth of that hug had set everything right then, maybe it would work again.

Peter instantly realized what Neal wanted, and opened his arms invitingly.

The younger man fell into his embrace and buried his face in the agent's shirt. It smelled of cologne, detergent, and slightly of Elizabeth. It smelled like home.

"It's okay, Neal. I'm not going to let anyone hurt you. You are not alone," Peter said, soothingly rubbing one hand in circles on Neal's back while the other combed through his thick hair.

Surrounded by the warm strength of Peter Burke, Neal let go.

He cried for the little boy who had been beaten by an evil man over circumstances beyond his control. He cried for the young man who had dropped out of high school after that same evil man had threatened to never let him graduate. And finally he cried for the older, yet still young man who had lost the closest thing he ever had to a real mother.

Neal cried until he was empty. He didn't remember moving to the bedroom and climbing into bed. He didn't remember Peter calling El. But for as long as he lived he would never forget the rich warmth of Peter against his back, and the refreshing coolness of Elizabeth's hands as she stroked his face, neck, and chest. He drifted off to the whispered confessions of love and assurances that he was not alone.

And he never worried about being late again.

End