Title: Broken Bones
Author: Amory Puck (pucktheplayer on LJ)
Warnings: h/c, mentions of physical and sexual abuse, Peter/Elizabeth/Neal
Word Count: 4,623
Summary: Broken bones heal, but the ache left behind is never forgotten. Sometimes, though, those ghostly pains bring people together in ways that can mend the soul. abused!Neal, abused!El (Peter is not the abuser.)
Author's Notes: Written for the 'broken bones' square of my H/C Bingo Card on Livejournal!
o o o
The Dentist of Detroit. The deluded young boy whose daddy issues led him to a life of crime. The daughter of a diplomat, her childhood spent flittering from hotel to hotel. A good old America lad who pitched and swung his way to the top, only to have his all star dreams shattered by an injury.
It's all so very dramatic, isn't it? Like something out of a television show. It must be nice to be able to sum your life up in so few words. I suppose if I had to sum up my own, I'd have to call it broken bones.
Peter grins at me as he pulls on his jacket, reaching out to wrap me in his big arms. I don't turn away, I never do, but the urge grows stronger and stronger with each passing touch, with every little glance, with every secret smile. Every touch and glance and secret smile that isn't shared with me.
"You have a fabulous day, El," Neal says, giving me a sassy wink. Funny, it's his words that warm my heart. He looks like my younger brother, a little bit. Okay, no, he doesn't. Neal is sexy and vibrant and full of life, and my brother wasn't any of those things, but it's nice to pretend that he might have been, if he had lived long enough to try.
"Goodbye, hon," Peter says, and I try to convince myself that those two short words still mean what they used to, but these days I long to hear them in full. A nice 'I love you, honey,' just every now and then, just to know he still means it.
The problem is, I'm not sure he still does. And what does he need me for, now that he has Neal Caffrey by his side?
The man I love kisses me on top of my head and pulls away, heading toward the door, leaving me alone in this empty house. Considering what my life has been like, I should really welcome the alone time, but I didn't then and I still don't now.
I swallow hard as the door swings shut, watching my husband and the man he loves disappear into the guts of the city, and remind myself that I'm not being fair. I should never, ever compare my beloved Peter with Him. My hubby has done nothing to deserve such a fate. All he has ever been is loving and good and kind, all the things I spent my entire childhood trying to convince myself He was. He wasn't, of course. Nineteen hospital visits and twenty-seven fractures are proof enough of that. Not to mention all those little pee sticks, carefully hidden under tissue paper in the bathroom trash. There were always plenty of tissues to hide them, because there were always plenty of tears.
"You are the most beautiful woman I've ever met," Peter said to me, on our first date. I was so proud of myself that day, having proved myself a strong, independent woman by holding up that sign, pretending as hard as I could that this agent with an agenda didn't kind of freak me out. Any other woman would surely think being stalked was romantic, after all.
Oh, I was so young.
It had turned out so well, though, and I have never regretted my choice. I love my Peter with all my heart, and I do know that he loves me. I'm just not sure he loves me enough.
Stupid bitch. Worthless slut. Little brat.
Really, how am I supposed to compete with a man like Neal?
I make my way into the kitchen, sighing at the pile of dishes in the sink. Another day, another paradox. Peter was supposed to wash up this morning. If I do them, he'll be upset, claiming I don't trust him to do the things he promises. But if I don't do them, well, they probably won't get done.
My whole childhood was one enormous lose-lose situation. I could really use a break from it.
I could really use a break from a lot of things.
o o o
Beautiful, talented, high class event planner. Successful, intelligent agent. Such perfect fucking lives. Like something out of the movies, or a sitcom penned by hipsters. I wonder how they'd sum me up? Friendless loser? Closeted faggot? Washed up crook?
Anybody up for 'all of the above'?
I sigh, letting my curls fall into my eyes. I really need a trim, but I haven't had the energy lately, or cared enough for that matter. I'm letting myself go, and He won't like that. But then He doesn't like much of anything. My body is evidence enough of that.
I guess if I had to sum myself up today, I could boil it down to two words. Broken bones.
Bringing my drink to my lips is like climbing a goddamn skyscraper, my entire arm screaming at me to be a good boy and put it the fuck down. I don't, though, mostly because I like being contrary. I'm a fighter, you know. Nothing can come between me and a fifth of whiskey these days. I mean, I could lift it with my left hand—that arm is still intact—but why bother? I deserve a good remind of what it means to be a desperate little bitch. Not to mention a coward. I'll fight my shouting nervous center 'til I pass out, but I won't even look Him in the goddamn eye.
Wow, I am really vulgar tonight. Crass language isn't usually my style. Because I have so much style, you know. Styling. It's what I am. All good looks and dapper skills and high class manners. A kiss on each cheek for a lady, a bop of the hat for a friend. Cool, confident Neal Caffrey. 'Dino,' as Peter would put it. Oh, Peter. Big, stupid, wonderful Peter.
He looks like Peter. A lot like Peter. I try and pretend that isn't why I stay with Him, but I've never been good at conning myself. Damn right brain always whispers my secrets to the left, and vice versa. Luckily, the downstairs brain is too dumb to communicate, because it would really piss Him off if I didn't perform, if you know what I mean by *perform*. I guess in His mind there's nothing sexier than being fucked by a man who just snapped your wrist like a carrot.
It hurts. I hurt. I want to go home. I wish I had someplace to go home to. You know the old saying. A house is not a home…
Their little house is so damn adorable, wedged up in there like a chubby gnome with with windows for eyes and a door for the mouth. All the bright colors, and that little patch of grass that always trucks on, stubbornly refusing to bow to the peer pressure of all the asphalt around it. Sometimes I stand outside it at night, watching the shadows of the venetian blinds cutting across the sidewalk, the gritty, grey ground slashed by soft light.
It's creepy, I know. Hell, it creeps me out. But what I wouldn't give to be inside, blanketed in the warmth of that light, wrapped in the arms of someone who actually cares about me.
It must be so nice, in the light. My flat is so very grey.
I love Peter, but it doesn't matter. My whole life I've loved people and, in the end, it didn't matter. They always find someone else and I'm left alone.
She's so perfect. Beautiful and talented, with those bright blue eyes and that brilliant smile. When he looks at her, the love floods the room. I've never had anyone look at me like that, not even Kate. Oh, but if he would only look at me that way… It won't happen, though. How could someone like me compete with someone like her?
I can only imagine what Peter sees when he looks at me. I must seem like a big, skinny kid. Sometimes I feel like a kid. I *did* lose the prime of my life to an eight-by-ten cell. In a way, I am still that kid. But, at the same time, I'm getting old.
He never misses a chance to remind me of that. Yet He never misses a chance to treat me like a kid, either. Peter wouldn't do that.
The whiskey burns my throat, but it doesn't dim the ache in my wrist. The world is starting to blur, and I'm not sure if it's from the alcohol or the pain. It doesn't matter. Either way, the silence will be welcome. At least then I won't have to think about Peter. At least then I won't have to think about Him. I could really use a break from thinking about Him.
I could really use a break from a lot of things.
o o o
My honey is agitated, and I don't know why. I gave in and did the dishes, but I don't think he's upset about that. I don't think he even remembers it was his turn. But something has him riled, and it's making me uncomfortable.
I've always been good at sensing when people are upset. Call it empathy, if you will. Personally, I've always seen it as self-preservation. Not that Peter would ever hurt me. That's not who he is. But like a mouse born in the jungle, some instincts are hard to forget.
Even Satchmo senses it tonight. His head is in my lap and he's making little whimpering noises. My brother used to whimper like that. How sad, that my little brother whimpered like a dog.
I should have protected him.
Satchmo doesn't need protection from Daddy, though. He's got the big fangs that my brother never had.
I move my food around on my plate, not feeling very hungry. The nervous energy in the air is making me feel a little nauseated, actually, and the last thing I want is a big bite of leftover meatloaf.
"I hit Neal."
My eyebrows shoot up and my fork falls to my plate with a clank. "Excuse me?"
Peter uses his napkin to wipe at the sweat building up on his forehead. His other hand is tapping out a nervous little beat on the table top, and his body is wound so tight it looks like it could snap any moment. Snap like a bone.
"I hit Neal." His voice is thick with pain, and there is a desperation that I can practically smell. Forgiveness. He's looking for forgiveness. They always look for forgiveness afterward, and who I am not to give it to them? But then, he didn't hit me.
"Why in the world would you hit Neal?" I ask in a shocked tone, because I am shocked. Peter loves Neal. Why would you hurt the man you love? Though considering I've spent a good amount contemplating the reverse—why I loved the man who hurt me—it's not an entirely fair question.
Peter's napkin falls to his lap and he plays nervously with his chin, eyes not quite meeting mine. It's obvious that he is weighing the shame of admission against the need for forgiveness. Apparently forgiveness wins out in the end, because he begins to speak.
"He kissed me, El, and I don't mean of those silly peck on the cheek kisses he does sometimes. Full out, on the mouth. With tongue."
I blink in surprise. Not surprise that Neal kissed Peter, of course, but surprise that *Peter* has never kissed *Neal.*
"Well, he loves you, honey," I say with a little shrug, trying to choke down the sudden urge to run upstairs, curl up in a ball and sob. There goes my love, slipping away, and there's nothing I can do.
I learned long ago that you can't make people love you.
Peter stares at me in a way I can't really decipher, and it makes me nervous. All these years and he still makes me nervous. Once again I am so thankful that he cannot read my mind. If he could, I have no doubt he would be horrified—my honey doesn't take well to men who frighten their women—but the fear is not something I can discard. It's a part of who I am. All I can do it control it and make sure it doesn't leak through.
"He loves me…? El, what the hell are you talking about?"
I stand up abruptly, gesturing for Satchmo to take care of my dinner. He happily obliges, no more whimpering for him, and I move over to the sink, running water over the dirty sauce pan. I don't want Peter to see my tears.
"I know how you feel about Neal, hon. I've known for a long time. I can't believe you hit him, the poor boy. Just who do you think you are, laying your hands on him?" The words come out harsher than I mean them to be, and suddenly I whirl around, eyes blazing. "You have no right to hurt him! What kind of man are you, leading the poor man on and then punishing him for doing what you wanted him to? That's cruel, Peter, it's just cruel!"
The sound of the doorbell saves Peter from having to answer, though the shocked look on his face says enough. Apparently this was not the response he expected. What *did* he expect, then? That I would just sit back and watch while my husband hurt him, the way I sat back and watched when He threw my brother against the wall and the punches fell and fell and fell, endless punches, blood running down that little face, the sound of screams and cracking bone echoing through the room?
That isn't me, not any more. No more sitting back and doing nothing for Elizabeth Burke.
I stride out of the kitchen into the living room, leaving my husband along with his shock.
Some things are made to be broken. Neal Caffrey is not one of those things.
o o o
It's drenched outside, and I didn't bother with an umbrella. I must look like a wreck, but I don't care. It's kind of weird that I don't care, considering how vain I am. But right now, all I want is to make things right. I don't care what it takes, I need to make things right.
The left side of my face aches, and there is a metallic taste in my mouth. For once, I am grateful for the pain. It was what I deserved. What kind of bastard kisses a happily married man? Hell, even if he wasn't married, if he was entirely available, I'd have deserved a punch to the face. A man like me doesn't belong with a man like Peter. Peter can do better than me.
Hell, even He can do better than me, as He reminds me all the time.
Last night He threw me on the bed and held me down, pressing my face into the pillow until I could barely breathe. A few minutes later everything went fuzzy, and when I woke up, He was fucking me. I was too afraid to struggle, too scared to even fight.
I spend a lot of time afraid these days.
Today at work, Peter put his hand on my shoulder and I flinched away. My handler looks so much like Him, that sometimes it's hard to remember they're completely different people. Maybe that's why I kissed him. Or maybe I just wanted to see what would happen.
Either way, the situation ended as expected. A punch to the face. I know He doesn't like it when I kiss Him in public, but I'm pretty sure Peter's punch wasn't about that. I'm pretty sure he was just disgusted by me. The saddest thing was, the punch didn't even bother me. It was the realization that I had officially destroyed whatever semblance of a relationship I had with Peter that sent me running into the rain.
If he'd just be with me, I'd let Peter punch me all he wants. I would happily be his bag, taking hits all day long if he would just smile at me the way he smiles at her.
I tried to run to Him, and He dislocated my shoulder. I had to lean against the brick outside His office building and force it back into place myself. I couldn't go the the hospital—my file is getting way too thick, and one of these days a social worker is going to show up—so I just fixed it myself.
I wandered around in the downpour for a couple hours and now here I am, on the cheerful little porch of that warm little house with its perfect little people inside. I'm not entirely sure why I'm here. To beg forgiveness? To acquire another black eye? Like I said. Not sure.
The door opens and I stare into Elizabeth's bright blue eyes. Her usually sweet features are set into something fierce, and I drop my gaze. She knows, and I am not worthy to look her in the face.
"Neal," she says softly and I let out a cry when her fingers wrap around my bad arm. She releases me immediately, her eyes widening a little.
"I'm sorry," I mutter, yanking my soggy hat down to try and hide my face. "I'm going."
"No," she says sharply. "Come inside."
For a moment I consider disobeying, but that seems like a lot of work, so I follow her into the warm little house. There's Satchmo, wagging his puppy tail. I glance around, unsure of what to do. I am soaked to the bone, definitely unfit to sit on the couch. That is apparently where she wants me though, so I oblige, wincing a little as the rainwater soaks into the fabric.
"Oh Neal," Elizabeth whispers, running a hand along my face.
I blink back tears as her fingers trace the shape of the bruise beginning to bloom around my eye. "I'm sorry, Elizabeth," I whisper. "I swear, I'll never do it again."
"You have nothing to apologize for, Neal," El replies, a rather outraged look growing on her face. "How dare he string you along then hurt you like this!"
"String along him along? I didn't string anybody along!" Peter is standing in the doorframe, the backlighting of the kitchen turning him into a faceless, menacing figure.
"Oh, Peter, stop pretending!" El says shaking her head. "Everyone can tell you're in love with Neal! You're always touching him and gazing at him and smiling at him. Then he responds to your affections and you treat him like this? What kind of a man are you? What kind of a *man* are you?!" There is a wild look in her eyes, and suddenly I'm not so sure she's actually talking to Peter.
"El," I say softly, reaching out and entangling my fingers with hers. "He hasn't been leading me on. And he doesn't love me! He loves you. Hell, I shoved my tongue down his throat in the middle of the office. I deserved a punch to the face."
"And a broken arm too?" El retorts, her eyes starting to shine with unshed tears. "Did you deserve that, too? And what about your shoulder? I can see from how you're holding it that it's hurt. What did he do to your shoulder, Neal? You can't let him do those things to you! It's not worth it, Neal! In the end, it's not worth it! Trust me, I *know*."
My heart seems to stop beating, and for a moment the world is frozen in time. Is Elizabeth saying what I think she's saying? No, it can't be. It *can't* be. Can it?
A fury rises up inside me, a kind of anger I haven't felt in a long, long time. A righteous blaze.
Some things are made to be broken. Elizabeth Burke is not one of those things.
o o o
Neal looks like a broken toy. His arm is hanging limply at his side, wrist cocked in an awkward position, and these is an enormous bruise slowly opening its petals at it spreads from his eye out toward his nose and cheek. He is soaked to the bone, like he jumped into a swimming pool with his suit on, but I don't think that's the reason he's shaking.
"Does it feel good?" Neal's eyes have gone from dull to flaming in an instant, nostrils flaring as he stares down Peter with icy blue eyes hot enough to scald. Good. He deserves to be angry. How could the man I love, the man I thought I knew better than anyone in the world, do this?
Apparently I don't know him at all.
Jaw clenched, Neal climbs to his feet, arm still looking awkward at his side, and takes a step toward my husband. "Does it make you feel strong?" He made a choked sound, and I can see tears gleaming in his eyes. "Does it make you feel like a real man, picking on the weak? Do you enjoy the way she flinches? Does it make you feel warm inside to look her in the face and tell her she's not good enough?"
Wait a second… 'She'?
"I don't know what you're talking about!" Peter says, looking more than a little pissed. "But I don't think I like what you're implying!"
"I heard her, Peter! She said she knows!" Neal uses his left arm to grab the right, face twisting up in pain as he yanks up the sleeve, revealing an array of purples and greens and blacks and blues blooming on his skin. "She doesn't deserve this! She's beautiful and talented and kind and wonderful! She doesn't deserve to feel like this!"
"Neal," El says, moving to his side and wrapping her arms around him. She pulls him in close, not caring that his wet body is soaking her sweater. "Peter has never touched me, I swear. I wasn't… I wasn't talking about Peter. I was talking about… Well, it was a long time ago. A very long time ago." She shoots a furious glance at Peter. "And he's never going to touch you again, I promise. You don't deserve that either. We'll go away together."
Peter's mouth falls open, a shocked look coming over his face. "You think I…?"
"Give it up, Peter," El snaps, tears rising in her eyes as it begins to process just how badly she misjudged the man she thought she loved. "You admitted it! You said you hit him!"
"I said I hit him because he kissed me," Peter replied. "But I didn't do that to his arm, if that's what you think! I'm sorry I punched him—that was wrong. But I didn't make his arm all… black."
Neal pulls away, brow furrowing as he looks at El. "Elizabeth, Peter didn't hurt my arm, or my shoulder." His voice cracks. "Or anywhere else. Just my face, and I deserved it."
"No one deserves to be hurt, Neal," El says sharply, but an intense wash of relief floods her body as she realizes this wasn't her beloved honey after all. She hasn't been taken for a fool. He is still who she thought he was.
"El, it wasn't Peter's fault…"
"Who did that to your arm, Neal?" Peter's voice is stern and commanding. Neal shrinks back a little as he slowly draws his gaze up along Peter's body, as if he's not sure he wants to meet the other man's eyes.
"I… I tripped and fell down the stairs," Neal says in a voice way too meek to be believable.
"Bullshit," El replies, causing both men to look at her in surprise. "Someone hurts you. Who hurts you, Neal?" She leads Neal back over to the couch, sitting down beside him and taking his good hand in hers.
Peter sits down on Neal's other side, putting his arm around the shivering man. Neal flinches at the touch, but then settles down with an uneasy look on his face.
"No one. I mean, it's my fault. I don't have to stay with him," Neal says, Adam's apple bobbing as he swallows nervously. "I love him, though, and he says he loves me, too." The words are more hopeful than sure. "He just has a temper, you know? He likes his space, and I'm really needy."
"Is that what he told you?" El questions softly, fingers gently stroking his hand.
Neal looks over at her, and his eyes are filled with tears. "Yes," he says quietly. "And I know I should leave, but I'm so lonely… I don't want to be alone." He gives a bitter laugh, reaching down and touching his ribcage, wincing as he does so. "I guess this is the price I have to pay."
"Dammit, Neal," Peter mutters, shaking his head. "There shouldn't be a price for companionship. Besides, you're not alone. You have me, and El."
Neal snorts. "No, you have you and El. There's no me in that picture, Peter, and there shouldn't be. You're perfect. She's perfect. You deserve each other." He squeezes his eyes shut, a pained look coming over his face. "You don't know what kind of person I am. You don't know the things I've let him do to me because I want his love. If you did, you wouldn't be sitting here with me right now."
El reaches up and cups his face in her hands. "You smile when he hurts you, and thank him when he's through. You don't even count the punches anymore, you just lay there and let them come. You let him use your body however he wants, not even bothering to fight, and hold back the tears until he's gone. You hide the bruises under baggy clothes and make up stories when people ask. You sit in your bedroom after he's gone and mend your broken bones in the dark."
Neal stares at her with wide eyes, a look of disbelief on his face. "How do you know that?" he whispers.
A small, sad smile forms on her face. "I know because I've been there, sweetie. But don't worry. All broken bones heal in the end."
o o o
Peter smiles and wraps his arms around me, kissing that little spot he loves between my collarbone and my neck. I smile back at him, a real smile, and lean back against his big chest.
Three years now, since that fateful night. So much has happened, so much has changed. I have a home now, with the man and woman I love, a place in their bed and in their hearts. He is in jail, and He's going to be for a long, long time. Apparently that's what happens when you hurt the man that Agent Peter Burke loves. All the bruises on my skin have long faded away, and with very passing day the ones on my heart heal a little more.
Together the three of us have formed a life. Elizabeth and I understand each other in ways that Peter never could, and this bond has helped old wounds to close. There will always be scars, but there are blessings, too. Blessings like little Peter Nicholas Burke, Nick for short, the child that never would have been if I hadn't kissed Peter that day and ripped the mask off of things El had been mourning in silence for years.
Our lives now are full of joy and commitment and happiness, this life of Peter and Elizabeth and me.
As they say, all broken bones heal in the end.