Master list for my White Collar fan fiction is here.
Title: Don't touch me
Fandom: White Collar
Pairing/Characters: Peter/Neal/Elizabeth with focus on Peter/Neal
Word count: ~ 2100
A/N: Written for hc_bingo, prompt: nightmares; Spoilers for season 1 finale
Summary: After Kate's death Neal doesn't allow Peter to touch him anymore. Peter tries to be understanding but gets more and more agitated about Neal's retreat.
Don't touch me
Peter hadn't been there after Kate's death. Not because he didn't want to be there for Neal but because the younger man had been sent back to prison and Peter had had a hell of a time to get Neal out again with the same deal as before. Neal got out and pretended to be okay even though Peter saw him shaking or spacing out from time to time. He had no chance to help Neal coping because Neal had decided that they needed a break from each other.
Peter had been hurt and also scared. Denying that he loved Neal Caffrey was futile so he didn't even pretend to be okay with Neal's decision. El told him to be supportive and that Neal eventually would come around and find his way back into Peter's arms. Peter hoped for this outcome but at the same time anger was growing inside him. Neal still came to El when she was at home, crawled into her open arms and allowed her to hold him until he regained his composure. Peter wasn't allowed to hold him, Neal only tolerated occasional and very brief touches. Peter felt isolated from the two people he loved the most in the world and it drove him crazy that Neal always insisted to be okay, that he just needed time. Once Peter exploded and asked, “What do you need time for? You go to El whenever she's there! What's so different about me?”
Neal had frozen on the spot, eyes huge and suddenly brimming with tears. Peter had been sorry, so sorry but as soon as he reached out for Neal the younger man bolted. He barely talked to Peter the next few days. Peter complained about Neal's behavior bitterly when El called the next time. He was actually glad for a minute or so that she wasn't there because her well meant advice of leaving Neal alone for a little more time filled him with sudden rage. He ended the phone call, then kicked against a garbage can furiously.
When he came back into the FBI building after his sudden fit of rage Peter felt angry, more than drained. The anger evaporated completely when Diana strode towards him as soon as he walked out of the elevator, saying: “Neal is sick, stomach flu. Do you want me to drive him home?”
“Where is he?”
“In the men's room.”
“Let me have a look at him first.” Peter quickly walked over to the restroom and wrinkled his nose upon entering it. The room smelled of vomit and the sounds he heard were undeniably retching sounds. He pushed open the door of a stall and found Neal bent over the toilet bowl. Neal's face was flushed and his usually perfectly coiffed hair was plastered against his head. Peter pressed a hand against Neal's forehead and almost flinched at feeling his friend burn up. Neal shivered at the contact and tried to scoot away from Peter's hand. It was the last straw.
“Why do you always recoil whenever I touch you?” Peter hissed, “I remember a time when you couldn't get enough of my touches.”
“Peter, don't,” Neal begged in a very small and totally un-Neal-like voice.
Peter took a deep breath, then another one and eventually gritted his teeth. Without further ado he looped one of Neal's arms around his shoulders and hoisted him to his feet. Neal barely managed to stay on his feet but despite his weakness he struggled against Peter's hold on him. He opened his mouth but Peter hushed him with an angry snarl. “I'll drive you home and I don't want to hear anything about you being fine or that I shouldn't touch you right now. I don't care since you're not giving me a good explanation.”
“I said 'no but' if I recall correctly.” They left the restroom and on their way to the elevator Peter waved to Hughes who looked at him and Neal curiously. He gestured to his boss that Neal was sick and he was grateful when Hughes just nodded in the direction of the elevator.
Neal stayed quiet during the elevator ride and also when Peter opened the car door for him and buckled him up. Peter's grip on the steering wheel was so tense that the knuckles of his fingers stood out white. He couldn't wrap his mind around Neal's odd behavior and if he was honest with himself he was getting more and more desperate. He willed himself to stay calm and was successful until he parked the car in front of his house. Neal's eyes focused as soon as the engine was killed but he wasn't happy about his whereabouts. Petulance sounded in Neal's voice as he complained: “This is not my home.”
“No, it's mine and as far as I remember you called this your home too until a few weeks ago.”
“Peter, I don't want to be here. Bring me home!”
Neal's voice sounded as if he was fighting a battle against tears and had to swallow against a heavy lump in his throat. It sounded as if Neal was afraid of entering Peter's house which was beyond Peter's ability to understand. Right that moment Neal threw open the passenger door and retched again. Even though Peter usually hated puking people he welcomed the sound this time. It made it easier for him to ignore his guilty conscience while he overrode Neal's complaints and simply dragged him into his house.
It was a challenge to stumble up the stairs to the guestroom and prepare it but Peter managed. He only had to interrupt his activities several times to prevent Neal from running – or more precisely crawling – away and to hold up a bucket in time. Neal whimpered when Peter undressed him and coaxed him into lying down in the bed. He spent the next hours with cleaning the bucket, rubbing over Neal's clammy back and listening to his nightmares.
Neal thrashed around in bed, sometimes whimpering and sometimes crying bitterly. Peter felt uncomfortable, useless and utterly helpless. He didn't like either of those feelings. To keep himself busy he emptied the bucket when necessary, pressed a cool washcloth against Neal's forehead or held one of Neal's trembling hands.
Late in the evening Neal stopped puking and his breathing evened out. Peter got up from the bed and quickly went downstairs to fix himself a sandwich. He wished El was there or at least that she hadn't taken Satchmo with her. He decided to call her but only got her voicemail which reminded him that she was at some big event right now and certainly too busy to talk with him about Neal suffering from a stomach flu. He sighed and wondered why his life had to be so difficult. The sandwich didn't taste good and he only ate half of it.
He went upstairs again to look after Neal. The younger man was obviously captured into another nightmare because his legs were kicking and had gotten tangled into the comforter. Neal's lips were moving and suddenly a heavy shiver surged through his body, reminding Peter of a spasm. He crossed the distance but stopped dead in his tracks when he discovered the fresh tears on Neal's face. He jumped when Neal emitted a pitiful whimper and gaped openly when Neal began to beg in his dream: “Peter! Peter! No! Don't die, please, please, oh my God, Peter!”
The plea quickly became incomprehensible because Neal sobbed and cried while he struggled with the comforter that had slung itself tightly around his legs. Peter was on autopilot when he helped Neal disentangle his limbs. He wondered if Neal was pushing him away because he was afraid of losing him. Maybe Kate's death had triggered this response within Neal, he mused. He didn't quite understand this logic on an emotional level but he could acknowledge the possibility on a rational level.
He was still unsure how to proceed but made up his mind when Neal called his name again, accompanied by searching motions by his hands. Neal whimpered whenever he tried to grab dream-Peter but only closed his hands around air. Peter quickly stripped until he was in his boxers and shirt and slipped under the comforter.
“I'm here, Neal, I'm here,” he whispered. Neal reacted immediately with curling himself around Peter, his breath coming in jerky gasps. Peter felt his own body starting to tremble in relief. He had missed body contact with Neal and slung his arms tightly around Neal's still shaking body. It took Neal a long time to breathe in a regular pattern and his body to relax. Peter stayed awake for longer but eventually he followed his friend into dreamland.
Peter was awake before Neal the next morning and relished in the feeling of holding Neal close. He tensed up when Neal stirred, fearing that Neal would bolt in an instant. His fear got proven right as soon as Neal found out that his head was pillowed on Peter's chest. Peter tightened his grip around Neal and didn't let go of him even as Neal struggled heavily against him. He heard Neal hiccupping and tried to soothe him. It was of no avail. Neal put all his strength in loosening the hold around him and almost slipped out of Peter's arms.
Anger gave Peter more strength. He grabbed Neal, rolled him on his back and settled himself on top of him. He looked down only to be greeted by a terrified looking Neal who resorted to begging. “Peter, Peter, please, let go off me!”
“No. Not this time. You are going to listen to me – very carefully.”
“I don't want to listen to you. I want you to let go of me! Now! God damn it! Get the hell off me!” Neal was yelling and writhing underneath Peter, desperately trying to free himself.
Peter knew that he was getting to Neal, the cursing a dead give-away for his despair. He ignored the thrashing underneath him and also the curses that followed. Instead he kept his voice low and soothing and just talked. “Neal, I know you're afraid. I'm sorry that I couldn't get you out of prison earlier, that it took me so long to convince everyone that it would be safe to release you into my custody again.”
Neal's struggling became weaker and Peter continued: “I can't promise you that I'll never get into a dangerous situation and die but I can promise you that I'll be careful.”
Neal gasped and his body went slack. He stared up at Peter out of wet eyes and choked out: “I dream of you. I dream that you're dying. I'm always there but I can't reach you in time and it … it hurts. I … if I don't let you too close to me it won't hurt so much in case … in case ...”
Neal trailed off and Peter finished his sentence: “in case I'll die. Neal, that's bullshit.”
Neal huffed indignantly, quickly followed by, “It's not!”
“It is and you know that.”
Neal turned his head and stared at the bedroom wall. The muscles in his face were twitching nervously and tremors surged through his body. Peter cupped Neal's face in his hands and gently guided his face back so they were facing each other. Neal swallowed hard several times while he blinked away the wetness in his eyes. Peter had to strain his ears to hear Neal when he whispered: “I'm scared, Peter.”
Both men stared at each other until Peter repeated: “I will be careful, I can promise you that. I told Elizabeth the same and you know that she'd chew my head off if I was telling a lie.”
Peter's statement evoked a tentative smile on Neal's face. Peter took this as an encouraging sign and asked hopefully: “may I kiss you?”
A full-fledged grin appeared on Neal's face, that kind of grin that could light up a room in an instant. Peter smiled and Neal nodded. They met halfway and kissed, familiarizing themselves with each other again.