AN: A tag, sort of, to the season 5 finale because like everyone else with a heart, I'm slowly dying of anticipation. Takes place after Neal is found and (a taken liberty of assuming )released from the hospital.
The Jewelry Box
Agent Burke peers at the manila folder. The color so simple for a file so complex, and the picture doing little justice for the man it represents. Sometimes he wishes it only took a paper clip to hold the man in place, like the small one holding Neal Caffrey's photograph to the front of the folder laying on Peter's kitchen table.
He takes the edges between his rough fingers, rubs them so that the folder will spread and he's left holding only the top layer. His other hand comes up to rub much differently at his mouth, and his breath is exaggerated as it blows against his palm.
"What is it?"
Neal's rough voice, and it almost pains Peter to recognize the loss of silkiness, filters from across the table. He pries his desperately curious eyes from the folder to the man sitting across from him and wonders if he was just so wrapped up in his spirit of inquiry that he forgot the man's presence or if Neal consciously remained as silent as the grave so it would happen.
The agent leans his head back, opens his mouth as wide as he can with one corner lifted and raising his eyebrows. "Ah, it's nothing. Just another folder." He rubs at his eyes before glancing at his watch. "It's getting late and I could really use-"
The younger man says his name again and that in itself should be enough smiting and lighting to last Peter a lifetime, but he reckons its the ache in his knees, the tightness in his back and that little something that his gut does that has him taking it for granted, because he actually glares at Neal across the table.
"Neal. Let it go - for now."
They give their best attempts at a staring contest, but it's Peter who gives first. He doesn't blink, he just lets his eyes wander - wander down the colors of blue and purple swirled on the side of the younger man's face, the horizontal and vertical cuts splitting the once pristine skin and then Neal cranes his neck and the brownish, yellow tinted handprint stretches a little and somehow chokes Peter instead.
"I have a right to know!"
"Damn it, Neal!" He yells back, and then lowers his voice because he just can't get his eyes to focus on anything but the bruise circling the younger man's throat. "I know, and I'll tell you. But for one second, can you just focus on the here and now. Huh? You're back home. Relatively unharmed. Let's at least eat dinner first before we tear another hole in the universe, okay?"
Peter takes a deep breath and settles his eyes back on the entire being of the man sitting in front of him and it's like watching a ballerina in a jewelry box. The emotions that run through Neal's head turn slowly like the dancer to a song that'll make even a man's Adam's apple bob up and down. It's manmade, a secret to those who dare look, and pitiful, but it's captivating, too, and Peter knows that if he shuts the lid now, if he lets Neal shut himself off, it'll be like the music box all over again.
"Neal...we will sort this out. We'll get through it - together. Alright?"
"I don't want to go back in WITSEC, Peter." The response was soft, like the final notes of the song in a jewelry box before its lid is finally closed.
"I'm going to do everything I can to make sure that doesn't happen, Neal. I promise you. It's not going to be easy, but it's not like any of this has, so that shouldn't come as a surprise," Peter says like sticking a finger in between the jewelry box and the lid to prevent it from closing and Neal's dull eyes find the lines in the wood of the dining room table more fascinating than anything else in the world, more fascinating than anything Peter could promise him and it stings the older man.
"Neal. Look at me." It's not a command, not a question. It's just a dare. A dare to be angry, and to fight back. A dare to be courageous, and prevail. A dare to be honest, and understand the truth. A dare to feel, and to feel loved. Neal was nothing if not daring before he was kidnapped, and Peter hopes that he still is, despite what he's been through. Somehow against his dwindling gut, Neal's gaze seeks out and finds Peter's and it has the agent smiling despite everything, because he's overwhelming proud of the kid in front of him.
"Somebody recently told me - If you want a happy ending..."
"It depends on where you stop the story, I know. Mozzie." Neal finishes, eyes ready to drift back to the table.
But Peter isn't going to let him. "Don't let them take that away from you, Neal."
"I think you'll find by what's in that folder about my childhood, they already have."
"And I think you'll find by who's around you now that none of it matters," Peter counters, satisfied that Neal still had the will to bicker.
And there it is, in the shadows of bruises and the depths of cuts, both physically and mentally, the smallest of grins on Neal's face, one that doesn't quite meet his dull eyes, but molded by something he truly felt. Peter wouldn't take the liberty to guess at exactly what it was, but he does stand from his chair while ignoring the tensing of Neal's muscles, swipes gently, yet peskily, at the younger man's hair, and then completely closes the file on Neal's childhood, placing it back in the box among others to be forgotten until the time is right. Yet, somehow above all logic, with jewelry box closed, the ballerina still turns slowly to the song. Neal still trusts him.
AN: Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think!