frith_in_thorns: Unfortunately, you'll also all blow up. (White Collar - Neal - dirty hands)
Frith ([personal profile] frith_in_thorns) wrote2012-01-22 04:06 pm

[fic: white collar] Aftergame

Title: Aftergame
Characters/Pairing: Neal, Peter/Elizabeth; pretty much gen
Genre/Rating: H/c, angst; T
Word count: 2300
Warnings: SPOILERS for 3x11: Checkmate
Summary: Missing scene for Checkmate, set between the final two scenes. Some comfort to go with the hurt.

Notes: I really wanted to write some comfort fluff to go with the lovely hurt we got in Checkmate - this is a little less fluffy than I was going for, but on the other hand I think I just about managed to stop it going into hardcore angst, which was definitely a worry when writing this!

-o-

Neal certainly hadn't been intending to hang around at the Burkes' for longer than it took to see for himself that Elizabeth was safe, and yet somehow he was still there, while Mozzie had slipped out a few minutes previously. If he waited much longer people would remember he was there and start to talk to him, and he wasn't sure that he could deal with answering questions just then, with his head pounding and the enormity of the decision he had reached just starting to hit him.

So he turned to leave, and stumbled over absolutely nothing, and somehow ended up on the floor.

"Ow," he said, giddily, and looked up to see that he had become the centre of attention.

"Neal," Peter said. He moved over quickly, and Elizabeth came too, their fingers linked, refusing to separate.

Neal held up a hand to ward everyone off. "I'm fine," he said quickly. "Just tripped."

"Like hell," Diana said, and was there to lend her support as he regained his footing. Neal was disconcerted by how much he needed that support as she hauled him to where he could quickly sit down on the couch. "You alright?" she asked.

"Fine," Neal said again, leaning forward so that he could press his palms into his forehead.

"He got checked out, right?" Elizabeth asked, and her light fingers touched his shoulder. Neal wanted to know why she was being nice to him, being concerned, but didn't ask.

"Of course he did," Peter said. "They mopped up the blood and everything, and then he even felt the need to ask for a comb." He tapped Neal's arm. "Come on. Look at me."

Neal reluctantly opened his eyes, and winced as the light stabbed straight into his skull. Peter's face was on a level with his own, looking worried, amused, and annoyed all at once, which was something of an achievement. "It's okay," Neal said. "The medic said I should expect a lot of bad headaches for a while. You know, concussion and all."

Peter sighed and rubbed his face, wincing slightly as his hand made contact with the swollen bruise on his cheekbone. "You just can't make things simple, can you?"

"Sorry," said Neal, and was, not least because he had been hoping to keep himself firmly together until he was home by himself and could metaphorically lick his wounds in private. But now he was coming apart all at once, and the blinding pain was only part of it. It was too much, this day — hell, all of the days from the moment the warehouse had exploded — had been too much, keeping him always on edge, on his guard. And now that driving momentum had gone and he wasn't sure what to do in it's absence. "I just need to catch some rest, that's all. Give me a couple of minutes."

"Do you want me to take him back to mine?" Diana asked, ignoring Neal completely and watching Peter instead. "Pretty sure he should be under observation, and Christie won't mind."

Neal stared at her in honest surprise, and her serious expression slipped for a moment. "Didn't know you cared," he said, and she rolled her eyes, fitting it back in place.

El squeezed Neal's shoulder. "That's kind of you, but it's okay, he can stay here with us."

"I'd have thought you guys would want to be on your own," Diana said.

El's grip momentarily tightened. "He isn't going anywhere," she said, with unexpected firmness.

"I wouldn't have thought you'd want me here," Neal said. No one was acting the way he had been expecting them to. He had been prepared for anger, resentment — or not prepared, since that was one of the other reasons he had been trying to slip out.

"Of course we do," El reassured him. "Hon?" she asked, glancing to Peter, who was looking almost as confused as Neal felt. "You don't mind, do you?"

Peter shrugged. "I guess it would be pretty cruel to inflict him on Diana," he said. Neal looked at him carefully but couldn't decipher what he was thinking. He didn't appear to be irritated, though. That was something.

"Okay," Diana said. "I'll get going before you change your mind." She paused. "Peter —"

"Yeah," Peter said, and they nodded quickly at each other. El caught Neal's eye and grinned.

"Diana, thank you," she said, and enveloped her in a quick hug. Diana looked both pleased and embarrassed and left quickly, taking the last of the agents with her.

And then it was just the three of them. "I'll get some painkillers," El said. "You two can share."

Peter stuck his hands in his pockets, then sat on the arm of the other end of the couch. "How're you feeling?" he asked, with studied casualness. "Keller got you pretty good."

"He hit me with a Raphael," Neal moaned. That hurt, enough to equal the pain from his head. Keller destroyed things so casually, like they didn't matter to him at all, because they didn't. Paintings, people, lives.

"I know," Peter said, with a wince of sympathy.

Elizabeth came back just then with water and painkillers, both of which Neal accepted eagerly. So did Peter, with El standing very close to him, their hands reaching out over and over to touch each other lightly; her sleeve, his face.

"Why aren't you angry with me?" Neal blurted out, wondering why none of his plans today were working. He wasn't sure whether he wanted this question answered.

"Because this wasn't your fault," El said firmly. She twined her fingers into Peter's hair. "Not in the way that matters. We're all safe, and that's the important thing for now. We can talk about the rest later, but right now I want this to be alright."

"Tomorrow —" Neal began, but Peter raised his eyebrows and he fell quiet.

"El just told you we're not dealing with that tonight," Peter said firmly. "I'm just relieved to have my wife back, she feels the same, and nothing you have to say would be legally admissible anyway between the Raphael and the crowbar. Important conversations are on hold, and that's an order."

Neal blinked a few times. "Thank you," he said eventually. "For…" The rest of his words got choked somewhere in his throat, and he couldn't finish.

"It's alright," El said briskly, patting his hand. "Now. You really look like you'd be more comfortable lying down. Would you prefer to be down here or upstairs in the guest room?"

"Down here," Neal said instantly. He didn't bother with any more disbelieved protestations that he was fine — the idea of being horizontal and closing his eyes was far too strong a lure.

"I'll find you some things to wear," Peter said, standing with a groan which spoke of plenty of his own aches from the fight. "I need to change out of this uniform, too."

"You don't have to," El said brightly, and Neal snickered while Peter gave her a put-upon look. "I'm just saying, it suits you."

Peter hastened upstairs and returned in a short while in jeans and a polo shirt, dropping pyjama pants and a t-shirt onto the couch next to Neal. It took Neal longer to change than he had expected, because every time he shifted position he was rewarded with another stab of agony from his head, but at last he was able to lie down with a moan of relief. Elizabeth materialised with a blanket and an ice pack, and he felt a strong sense of deja-vu. He closed his eyes as soon as he thought it was polite.

Then he drifted, coming in and out of awareness as the afternoon moved along. His dreams were half-remembered and vaguely disturbing, but it seemed that every time he opened his eyes he could see El and Peter, always the both of them together, in the kitchen or petting Satchmo or drinking coffee at the table. And El's voice kept repeating in his head. We're all safe..

He wondered if she knew that he was planning on turning himself in in the morning. He wondered if Peter was sure that he would — actually, he badly wanted to know that, but didn't want to broach the subject. And sleeping was just so much simpler.

"Neal?" El asked, and he cracked his eyes open, blinking her into focus. "Do you want some dinner?"

"Not really," Neal said, blearily.

Peter handed him a glass of water once he'd struggled upright enough to accept it. "Tough. You need to get something in you. You'll feel better."

Neal was sceptical of that, but was certain that it would be pointless to argue. "I don't have to move, do I?" he asked, and El actually started laughing.

"I'm sorry," she said when they turned to look at her. "But that was the most pathetic face I've seen from you yet. I wouldn't be heartless enough to make you move to the table after that."

"Not that she was going to anyway," Peter grumbled, and she shushed him.

"How's your eye?" Neal wanted to know, as Peter sat on the rug and leaned against the couch by Neal's feet.

Peter touched it self-consciously. "I've had worse," he said. "I'd ask how your head is, but I probably don't want to know."

"Probably not," Neal agreed. "I wish I didn't know either." He shifted awkwardly. "Thank you, by the way. For showing up when you did."

"I should probably be thanking you, too," Peter said. "Although considering everything, I haven't made my mind up yet."

Neal smiled uncertainly. "You're welcome. I mean, if you were thanking me."

"Don't let it go to your head."

Neal tried to find a more comfortable position to sit in, and compromised by half-sliding down again. "Hey. I thought we weren't talking about anything important today."

Peter shrugged. "Right now we're talking about your ego, so there's no need to worry."

"That was low."

They were saved from further squabbling by El bringing in sandwiches. Neal ate about half of his while El sat on the floor leaning against Peter, and Satchmo flopped across her knees. Neal dozed again chatted about her work, and slid back down into sleep.

He woke because someone was stroking his hair. It was such an unexpected sensation that his body first reacted to it as a possible threat, every muscle stilling, his eyelids remaining closed to give him time to assess the situation while still appearing asleep. After a few confused seconds he realised what was happening, but he still didn't move. It was… nice, and he didn't want to spoil it. He felt… safe.

"He still out?" Peter asked, his voice quiet and pitched low.

"Yep," El said, in the same tone. "I was going to wake him so he can move upstairs, but I'm not sure if I should."

"Hmm," Peter said, and Neal just knew that he was wearing his amused-and-fascinated expression, the one he always wore when he encountered Neal's private life. "He looks pretty comfortable there. I'm tempted to take photos."

"You wouldn't," El said comfortably. She removed her hand and Neal felt unreasonably bereft, but shied away from any further introspection.

"I'm still surprised you wanted him here," Peter commented, and Neal couldn't stop himself from tensing slightly.

She laughed quietly. "And if he wasn't you'd be worrying about him, and then second-guessing yourself for doing so. And then I'd worry about you. And you'd notice and feel guilty."

"And meanwhile Neal would be convincing himself we never want to speak to him again, and probably start on the wine, concussion or no," Peter finished. "That's why you wanted us all in the same house, so we could forestall each other. You're one devious woman."

"Oh no, I'm entirely selfish," El rejoined cheerfully. "I didn't want to be worrying either. More importantly, I've had your undivided attention all afternoon, and don't you dare tell me that would have happened anyway."

"Extremely devious," Peter repeated, and their clothes rustled against each other.

Neal was beginning to drift off when El spoke again. "If he's staying down here he might get cold. I'll fetch a couple more blankets."

"Good thinking," Peter said.

Peter didn't move when El did. He just stood there, near enough to the couch that Neal could hear him breathing, and through his eyelids he could also feel Peter's gaze as decidedly as he had felt El's hand smoothing his hair. The reassuring weight of it pressed him down into sleep once again.

When he woke next it was morning, very early.

His memories of the evening before were like a fever dream. Neal sat up carefully, more relieved than he had words for by the comparative lack of pain, and the clarity of his thoughts.

He was already fully awake — unsurprising, given the number of hours he had slept yesterday. The number of his limited hours of freedom he had half-dreamed away.

The Burkes' house suddenly felt confining. At once Neal acutely wanted to go home, have a shower, just say goodbye to his life on his own, without having to speak to or explain himself to anyone. Just himself. Like old times, except for it now being untrue.

His suit was neatly folded on a chair. Neal dressed quickly, then hesitated over what sort of note to leave (Peter would have a fit if he simply vanished). Took a cab home to change. I might be a bit late to the office, he wrote in the end, and then leaned against the kitchen counter flicking the pen between his fingers. Thank you, he added.

They would understand. Somehow Elizabeth and Peter, in their different ways, understood him, including things he was too scared or embarrassed to put a name to himself. And he now understood too, and that understanding cumulated in what he was preparing to do later that morning.

No. Not preparing; he was already prepared.

He closed the front door as quietly as he could behind him. He had expected the soft snick of the lock to sound very final. And yet, somehow, it didn't.

-o-
sahiya: (Default)

[personal profile] sahiya 2012-01-22 09:23 pm (UTC)(link)
I've really been hoping someone would write this story! Delicious, delicious comfort, and really not overly angsty, all things considered. Wonderful El. Thank you!!!
monkeyonthelam: (huggy hugs)

[personal profile] monkeyonthelam 2012-01-23 03:04 am (UTC)(link)
Thank you for writing this fic. I think you captured everyone's emotions perfectly. They know that right now they need to focus on the physical injuries before tackling the much harder emotional ones. Would you mind if I added you as a friend? I need more people in my reading circle who write white collar fic.
sholio: Peter & Neal hugging in episode 2x14 of White Collar (WhiteCollar-Peter Neal hug)

[personal profile] sholio 2012-01-22 09:45 pm (UTC)(link)
Awwww~! <3 Lovely episode tag, and I think it gets to the heart of what I loved about the episode and about them: that even if there are still unresolved issues between them (and may be for a while), the love and affection is still there -- they love each other, and worry about each other, and Neal isn't making his sacrifice out of blind guilt, but to protect people who love him.

[identity profile] govgal.livejournal.com 2012-01-22 11:24 pm (UTC)(link)
Great job filling in between the scenes! I really enjoyed it!

[identity profile] micheleeeex.livejournal.com 2012-01-23 12:15 am (UTC)(link)
I was waiting for someone to write an episode tag and I was not disappointed :) I love this!!
Edited 2012-01-23 03:10 (UTC)

[identity profile] dmk0064.livejournal.com 2012-01-23 01:21 am (UTC)(link)
I have such love for this. Thank you! Big hugs to you!
embroiderama: (White Collar - El & Peter)

[personal profile] embroiderama 2012-01-23 03:10 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, this is lovely! It's just what I've been wanting to see for this episode, and you did it so well.
cyanne: White Collar OT3 (White Collar OT3)

[personal profile] cyanne 2012-01-23 03:28 am (UTC)(link)
This is a lovely addition to the ep.

[identity profile] emmafoxtrot.livejournal.com 2012-01-23 04:06 am (UTC)(link)
A great tag! I've been eagerly anticipating tags for this episode and you fulfilled all of my hopes, thanks!

[identity profile] shadowfireflame.livejournal.com 2012-01-23 06:04 am (UTC)(link)
This was totally what I wanted, too, after the (admittedly delicious) hurt we got in the episode! I love El's deviousness, hee hee, and the fact that they're still including Neal in their lives. I hope it's the same in the actual show. :D

[identity profile] noiproksa.livejournal.com 2012-01-23 06:37 am (UTC)(link)
Oh, that is such a sweet episode tag! Fits in between those two canon scenes perfectly and I really liked to see some comfort after all the whump, thank you!
I love the image of Neal feeling safe enough to fall asleep (and the eavesdropping before dropping off to sleep again, heh ;)
And another favorite bit: Neal still upset that Keller hit him with a Raphael and his thoughts about Keller in that context: "Keller destroyed things so casually, like they didn't matter to him at all, because they didn't. Paintings, people, lives."

[identity profile] love-82.livejournal.com 2012-01-23 07:14 am (UTC)(link)
This is wonderful. A great episode tag. I love how it shows the caring between all of them even if they still have things to work through.

[identity profile] october-sky815.livejournal.com 2012-01-23 09:19 am (UTC)(link)
Very nice! I really liked the ending too!

[identity profile] kriadydragon.livejournal.com 2012-01-23 09:36 pm (UTC)(link)
Yay! That was great. I was hoping for some whump aftermath with yummy comfort and you delivered wonderfully. And I loved Elizabeth's reason for keeping Neal, because that is just so her. She is indeed one wonderfully devious woman ;)

[identity profile] rabidchild67.livejournal.com 2012-01-24 01:32 am (UTC)(link)
Oh I love this - simply beautiful. Was contemplating just such a fic - what's Neal doing overnight? Mine would've swung waaaaay angstier - I like this better ;)

[identity profile] pipilj.livejournal.com 2012-01-24 07:03 am (UTC)(link)
Loved this. The conversation between El and Peter, Peter and Neal was perfect.

[identity profile] rumrouz.livejournal.com 2012-02-09 08:39 am (UTC)(link)
OMG! You definitly made my day ImageImageImageImage
Awwwwwww ImageImageImageImage Adorable)))))
Thank you so much Image
ext_24338: (Neal Caffrey)

[identity profile] leesa-perrie.livejournal.com 2012-03-14 10:13 pm (UTC)(link)
Aww, this was lovely. Poor Neal, so confused.

And El, she's amazing, isn't she? And totally understands both Peter and Neal, better than they do themselves!

[identity profile] coltdancer.livejournal.com 2012-03-23 04:49 pm (UTC)(link)
OMG, I am just going to camp out in your journal for awhile.

Another glorious tag! I was wanting to push out something following this episode because, dang if they didn't gloss over the fact that Neal took a beating at Keller's hand. And, what of the aftermath...El, amazing woman, and Peter, who was really awfully trusting of Neal, reunited safely. How they reacted to the events, to Neal after it was said and done.

You approached it so very nicely. This was lurvely. I love the concern, and Neal feeling awkward about it. And dozing on the Burke's couch while El and Peter sat together, shared coffee, etc...all the while remaining close to Neal and keeping an eye on him. I absolutely adore this aspect of the bromance or the bromance + El...the absolute open and honest care they have for one another. The affection. I turned into a puddle of goo at the part where El was crouched down, stroking his hair, while Peter gazed down them. Peter always does seem so...amazed...by Neal, doesn't he? I could go on forever about this, and how it is so subtly played out (KUDOS to DeKay, for how he does it, too).

The ending was just enough closure and angst to make my stomach clench. Neal was ready, willing, to do what needed to be done. He cares that much. Maybe too much. It's his downfall as a confidence man. And yet, one of his most endearing qualities.

Okay, I'm going off on tangents that I really need to explore in fic, but I couldn't stop by without letting you know! Apparently I've become your stalker. ;)
Edited 2012-03-23 16:51 (UTC)

I totally loved it!

[identity profile] ferryboat george (from livejournal.com) 2012-04-09 11:16 pm (UTC)(link)
Can't really get enough comfort for Neal getting beat up in Checkmate, and this fills that so perfectly.

"Hey. I thought we weren't talking about anything important today."

Peter shrugged. "Right now we're talking about your ego, so there's no need to worry."

LOL