Disclaimer: The following is a work of fan fiction based on White Collar which belongs to Jeff Eastin and USA. It is in no way intended to infringe on the copyrights of Jeff Eastin and USA.

With special thanks to  mam711 for  your beta reading, and your editing and all your help and support with this story.

 

Ghosts of the Past

White Collar

Warning for trigger themes of bereavement, self-harm and alleged suicide attempt.

Note: The suicide watch protocol is of the type practiced in a British prison.

Eau d’Hadrien is an expensive perfume; 0.5 ml costs up to $65 dollars.

Takes place beginning of Season 2 ep 1 Withdrawn

The Present

Peter pulled up outside of the mansion and looked up at the front door; Neal was running late—so what was new, Peter mused. His knock was answered by the housekeeper; he knew that June was away visiting her son and his family, so he just nodded at her in passing and took the stairs up to Neal’s apartment.

He knocked on the door; there was no answer, and he tried again harder. “Come on, Neal get the lead out; we're already running late.”  Again there was no answer. Peter frowned, pulled out his cell phone and hit the app on it that showed Neal’s location; the small triangle was superimposed over the house.

Neal was at home all right; Peter tried the door—it was locked. He called out for the housekeeper for a spare key, but when he didn’t get a reply he took a breath, mentally sent an apology to June, and shouldered the door open. He looked around and then in four strides was kneeling down by Neal's side; the younger man was sprawled on the floor, blood pooling under his body.

Quickly Peter felt for a pulse at Neal’s throat, and only then did he release the breath he didn’t know he was holding. Neal was alive. He rolled him onto his back; as his body flopped over he saw the bloody wrist and a knife that had been trapped under his body.

Grabbing one of the kitchen towels, Peter used it to put pressure on the wound as he called 911. “Neal, what have you done?”

Four Months Earlier

Prison

Neal was seated on the bed in the cell, his head in his hands; his mind was flying to pieces.

He had tried to read, but by the time he got to the bottom of the page he couldn’t remember a word of what he had read. He had tried to sketch Kate, only to scribble over it until the face was obliterated, the pencil tearing into the paper.

He remembered Mozzie coming to see him, under the guise of his lawyer, but it was just a blur; he had nodded his head and agreed to whatever Mozzie has said—it was as if the world was spinning out of control around him, and there was nothing he could do but hang on by his fingernails. 

 “Caffrey.” The voice was firm, but the tone was kindly and it brought him back to the present with a shudder; he turned his head slightly and saw the guard standing outside of his cell.

Bobby shook his head as he saw the state that Neal Caffrey was in—okay, the man was a bond forger, a con man, and a hell of a lot of other things, but in his profession he seen some real sons of bitches, men who would kill you for the fillings in your teeth. Caffrey wasn’t one of those.

“Caffrey, you have to talk to me; how are you feeling?”

Neal took a deep breath. “I'm fine, Bobby,” The guard just looked at him and then moved off down the hallway.

0-0-0-0-0

Bobby walked in silence; the lights would be going off in ten minutes, and most of the cons were settling in for the night.  Caffrey was his responsibility; he was on his suicide watch list. Bobby could be a hard man—he had to be with his job—but whereas a very small number of the guards had slipped into acceptance of the casual brutality of the prison, he never had, and so he could feel for Caffrey.

Losing someone you loved was bad enough, but being locked away in prison magnified all those emotions to the breaking point.

For that reason Caffrey’s shoelaces had been removed, and he wouldn’t be allowed to shave until it was decided he could be trusted with a razor.  But one thing that he knew was that if someone wanted to kill themselves in prison there were a lot of ways they could do it.

During the night shift he would be checking on Caffrey every twenty minutes, and then afterwards he would be filling in Caffrey’s personal log. When he signed off in the morning at the end of shift that log would follow Caffrey around the prison, and each guard that took charge of him would have to fill it in. He would be monitored 24/7 until they decided that he wasn’t a threat to himself.  One thing he was sure of was that Neal wasn’t going to cap himself on his watch. So each time he came on duty he would read through the log, and see if any of the other guards had picked up on any triggers during the day that might point to a possible suicidal state.

So during his shift, each time he walked past Caffrey's cell on his sweep he would stop and shine his flashlight in, playing it carefully over the sleeping man, making sure that he was breathing, and sleeping safely. Once back at his station he would pull out Caffrey’s log and enter the time and his observations into the file. Only then would he lay  the file back into the tray, and continue with his other work, until it was time to take another sweep past the cells.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Cell

2:00 am

Neal only lifted his head as he heard Bobby’s footsteps continue down the hallway; reaching under the pillow he took out the paperclips, opened them up, and then folded them in half and twisted the strands together to make one thick strand. It took him an hour of grinding it against one of the bricks to get the point sharp enough for what he wanted.  The guards had been careful around him, not even allowing him a razor blade, but paperclips could be easily slid off their paperwork or palmed; the guards were careful, but not careful enough around him.

Lying on his side, he pushed up the sleeve of his undershirt, smoothed a thumb over the unblemished skin of his upper arm, and then sliced into the skin of his upper arm; this way it wouldn’t show under the short sleeve of his prison clothes. Neal found himself watching the blood as it welled up from the wound. He pressed his thumb hard against the wound; the sharp bite of the pain and the flow of the blood seemed to break free something inside of him. It was as if the world suddenly snapped back into shape again as the blood ran from the wound, cleansing him. He could actually feel again and feeling something was better than feeling nothing, even if it was just pain. 

0-0-0-0-0

Two months later

Neal’s Apartment

Neal lay in bed looking up through the skylight, into the night sky. It had seemed like an eternity before Peter had managed to get him out of prison. Now he was back in the closest place he had to a home.

When he was first released he'd had the Architect case to work on; it had kept him busy and his head in the game, but now working on the mortgage fraud files he found it hard to stay focused on the job. He would be sitting poring over the files when his hand would begin to shake and the pressure would build in his head, and he would feel as if he was being shaken apart at the seams. Only pain could take it away.

He was all too aware that Peter had put his reputation on the line taking him out of prison the first time, but their 94% case clearance reflected well on Peter and the FBI, and their decision could be argue as being sound. But that was then; this was different—if the FBI thought he was becoming unstable, unpredictable, they would send him back to prison rather than risk him running.

 So he had to keep functioning no matter what. If that meant suppressing his emotions then he would do it; he could feel the tension building in his head, so his hand went to the bandaid on his upper arm, he pressed against it hard and there was the sweet bite of pain. He let out a soft sigh as the tension faded away; only then did he roll on his side and close his eyes, and prayed  that for once he would get a night’s sleep.

0-0-0-0-0-0

FBI White Collar

The Next Day

Seated at his desk, Neal looked up from the file in front of him. He could feel the tension in the office around him; the truth was the agents didn’t seem to know how to treat him. Those who had been friendly to him before offered their sympathy; the ones that had never liked him muttered behind their hands, and fixed any blame on him.

He laid his pen down and scooped up his coffee mug, not that he wanted a drink, but he needed an excuse to get away from his desk and their prying eyes.

It was then he saw Agent Ruiz coming towards him. He steeled himself for the verbal assault that was to come; he knew that Ruiz had never liked him. So he slid a hand into his pants pocket, clenched his fist tight around the staples he had in them; the pain as they pressed into his palm kept him balanced.

Ruiz went to walk past him and stopped, grimaced and then turned back; his voice lacked its usual venom.  “I never have liked you, Caffrey; you’re a criminal, and….“ He paused. “Even so, I was sorry to hear about your girl ...” He raised his hand slowly and patted Neal’s shoulder clumsily. “... and we will catch them.” He nodded and then strode off. Neal turned to watch him go, puzzled by the man’s change towards him; turning back, he saw the stunned faces of the other agents who quickly looked away to avoid meeting his gaze. He felt eyes on him, and looking up, saw Peter halfway down the stairs, coming towards him.

Peter to the rescue, he mused.  He would have had to have been blind not to see the way that Peter hovered around him protectively; even Hughes was giving him a wider berth than normal. Catching his eye, Peter waved him up to his office—it seemed they had another case; Neal paused, withdrew his hand from his pocket, and looked at the blood on his palm from the staples.  He clenched his hand, and relished the bite of pain when he did it; it was as if the pressure bearing down on him melted away as the pain spiked.

Peter’s voice brought him back to the present, and he took the stairs effortlessly two at a time; he bounced into the room, his best con man smile in place. Seeing two bars of gold, he smiled. “Peter, you shouldn’t have; a card would have been enough.”

The older man laughed. “In your dreams, Neal; if you’re good you get a cupcake with a candle, so plant yourself over there and listen,” Peter said as he began his case briefing.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Neal’s Apartment

Two Days Later

It was Sunday, and the street was quiet. Dressed just in a dress shirt and pants, and barefoot, Neal leaned against the balcony wall, a mug of Italian roast cupped in his hands. He had been up since 5:00 am, unable to sleep because all of his nightmares. Each time he would wake up shaking and bathed in sweat.

He heard the sound of a car horn, and looked down at the street below.

He frowned and did a double take, and leaned out further over the edge of the balcony. A young woman was crossing the street and walking away from him, her long dark hair blowing in the wind; she turned, one hand going to her face to shield her eyes as she looked up at him, and then turned and walked away. 

“Kate!” Neal yelled.

The mug dropped from his lifeless fingers and smashed onto the floor, but he didn’t care; all he knew was that he had to get downstairs. He took them two at a time, jumping down the last three; throwing open the bolts on the front door, he rushed out and down to the pavement.

His breath was coming in sharp hard gasps as he turned this way and that, but the street was empty and Kate was gone.  Neal ran a hand through his hair in frustration; he knew he had seen her. Hadn’t he…?

0-0-0-0-0-0

Thursday

Peter picked Neal up outside of June’s; the con man looked his usual self, but working with him, Peter had started to see the real Neal, the one that lived behind his carefully constructed masks, and he was beginning to get worried. He could see that Neal wasn’t sleeping well; there was a dark shade under his eyes, and there pain in his eyes. Peter made a mental note to check up on the investigation into the explosion; he had spoken at length with Elizabeth and they had both come to the conclusion that Neal would only get his life back when Kate was finally buried—then he would have closure. The problem was the closest cemetery they could use was just outside of his radius; that would—they believed—be an even worse torture for him. But Hughes had immediately stepped up to the plate for Neal, and arranged a radius bubble for the cemetery. Now they just had to wait until  what remained of her body was released for burial but the red tape was taking forever.  In the meantime Peter was watching Neal closely, and Elizabeth had gone into maternal mode with him, and with Mozzie keeping an eye on him as well, he hopefully had all the bases covered. So when Neal had said that he had a lunchtime meeting with Mozzie, Peter had let him go. 

0-0-0-0-0-0

The Park

Mozzie fell in next to Neal; they walked in a companionable silence, until finally Neal began to talk about a new sting that Peter was allowing him to put together. It was then that Mozzie saw the first glimpse of the real Neal coming back, and for that he was grateful. As he launched into the plan, Mozzie could see how hyper Neal was—nothing unusual there—and that was a good sign, because when he was working on a con, Neal was in perpetual motion, and he was doing that now, hands flying as he spoke.

“Peter’s talking about a straightforward snatch and swap, but it’s not going to cut it; I want to go old school and add an Philly shuffle or maybe ...” He grinned. “... an LA twist to it.” Neal ground to a halt, making Mozzie turn to look at him.

“Neal.”  He put a hand out towards his friend, concerned about the way color had bled from his face, when.…

“It’s Kate; Mozzie, look, it’s Kate.” Neal’s face lit up with such joy it was heartbreaking to the older man.

“Neal, Kate is dead,” Mozzie said levelly as he looked around him, trying to see what Neal was seeing, but he couldn’t see anything.

“She’s over there: look.” Neal was pointing over at the other side of the square.

“I can’t see her.”

“You have to; she’s just….” Neal’s voice faded as he tried to find her again, but she was gone. His shoulders slumped as he turned back to Mozzie, his voice a whisper. “It was Kate.”

When Mozzie opened his mouth, Neal just shook his head and said, “I know what I saw,” and started back towards the Federal Building.

Mozzie tried to get him to talk but Neal was lost in his own thoughts all the way back, and all he got was a curt “goodbye,” before the young con man disappeared back inside the belly of the establishment beast. 

0-0-0-0-0

Peter watched Neal take his seat from the upper floor above the White Collar bullpen; he could almost feel the pain that was seeping from the younger man. There was nothing he could do now, but when they finished work, he had plans for Neal.

But all Peter’s plans came to nothing; they had to split up to cover two of the most promising leads on their case, and Jones ended up taking Neal home.

Neal returned to an empty house. He picked at his dinner, and turned in early with most of it uneaten. He felt exhausted, and sleep finally claimed him, but he woke up at 3:00 in the morning; there was scent in the air that hadn’t been there before. It took a moment to recognize it: Eau d’Hadrien, Kate’s favorite perfume—there was no mistaking the blend of lemon, grapefruit and cypress.  The next minute Neal was out of bed; a wave of dizziness caught him. He staggered, trying to catch hold of the wall to stop himself from falling, but he missed. His knees buckled and he fell to the floor; he heard a click of high heels, and the scent of the perfume was almost overpowering. Rolling onto his back, he saw through blurred eyes the figure of a woman standing over him; he reached a hand up to her as he called her name, but she didn’t answer.

Blackness dragged him down into a void of nothing and he knew no more. The sound of a cell phone ringing woke him, just as the sun was spilling through the French windows; he threw up a hand to try and block it from his eyes. The movement sent a jiggered splinter of pain through his head, and he nearly vomited. Somehow he managed to drag himself up and onto the bed; he rubbed a hand over his head, and tried to breathe through the nausea that swept over him. All the time the cell phone kept ringing; finally he snatched it up—it was Peter, demanding to know why he wasn’t at work.

“Not now, Peter,” Neal said, and switched the cell off; he knew that Peter would be angry over that, but somehow he couldn’t stir himself enough to care. He reached out, took the picture frame off the bedside table, and clutched it to him. It was the only picture he had of them; he had found it among the files one time when Peter had decided that a stint in filing would be punishment for him. It could never be regarded as punishment when it allowed him to find this treasure. He ghosted a fingertip over her features, remembering the softness of her skin, the silkiness of her hair; he never realized he had dropped asleep until he was woken by Peter storming into the room.

Peter had taken the stairs at a near run; Neal had overstepped the line this time, blowing him off like that. Who the hell did he think he was? That tracker wasn’t a fashion accessory; it came with obligations and he was damned if he was going to let Neal forget that.

The door to Neal’s room was unlocked and he threw it open; it hit the wall and he strode in the room.

Whatever Peter was going to say was forgotten when he saw the way that Neal came off the bed, clutching a picture frame to his chest; he looked totally lost and frightened.

Slowly, Peter raised his hand. “Neal, it's Peter, it's okay.” He watched as Neal rubbed a hand across his face, and swallowed hard.

“Peter.” His voice sounded rough, rasping. “Am I late?”

“About two hours, buddy,” Peter said as he approached him; when Neal swayed, he pushed him gently but firmly down onto the bed. Turning, Peter looked around the apartment; usually Neal’s room was tidy but he could see clothes and dirty dishes all around the room, along with several empty bottles of wine, and one of whiskey.

When Neal started to get up again, Peter pushed him down again, and sat down next to him. “You have to start talking to me, Neal. To put it bluntly, you look like hell.”

Neal shrugged and shook his head as he looked down at the picture in his hand, his fingers brushing the outline of her face. “Just not sleeping, that’s all.”

“Have you see Dr. Wilson?” Peter asked, knowing that Hughes had made sure when Neal was taken on that his medical coverage was changed to that of a field agent, rather than the one that the Justice Department had allocated to him. Wilson was the department shrink, and perhaps one of the few that the agents didn’t see as a liability to their job; the man was good, and understood the pressures of their job.

“No.”

“Neal, if you’re not sleeping, you need to speak to him; he can—”

“Can what?” Neal cut across Peter, the sarcasm rolling off his tongue. “Bring Kate back, tell me I wasn’t to blame. Grow up, Peter if I go to him, how long before Hughes has me back inside?” Peter had never heard Neal speak to him like that before, but he pushed his anger down, it showed him more than anything what Neal’s state of mind was. He put his hand out and rested it on the younger man’s shoulder, to try and calm him down.

But Neal got up, roughly brushing his hand off, and turned on him, looking down, sneering at him. “I am as only good as my last case; remember, you told me that, so weakness can’t be tolerated. You left that bit out, Agent Burke.”

Walking back into the main part of the room, Neal put the picture down reverently, took a swig from one of the opened wine bottles, and then scooped up some clothes and disappeared into the bathroom.

Peter watch him go and then got up from the bed; he felt his head swim—there was a musty smell to the apartment. He went over, opened the French windows, and stepped out onto to get some fresh air. He was going to have to watch Neal carefully from now on; things were a lot worse than he had imagined.

0-0-0-0-0-0

FBI Headquarters

During the rest of the day he kept more of an eye on Neal than usual; on the surface he was the old Neal, but there was something off about him to people that knew him—it was as if he was straining every fiber of his being to keep the Caffrey mask in place. And Peter knew that anything stretched that tightly was going to snap soon, and he knew he had to be there when it happened. 

0-0-0-0-0-0

Saturday

Peter had been surprised to receive a call from Mozzie for a meet; the small man tended to view him with suspicion, not only because he was the person that put Neal away, but because he was part of the Machinery of Oppression. Only one thing would make Mozzie get in touch with him and that was Neal; this—Peter knew instinctually—wasn’t going to be good.

In the park Peter sat down with the paper, and was surprised when Mozzie came out and sat near him. “What, no coded message?” Peter said in an attempt to lighten the mood.

Mozzie gave a small smile. “Not this time, Suit; it's Neal.”  He looked away from Peter to monitor the area around him. “You didn’t see him when Kate walked out on him that time. It complete floored him; that was when he walked into a bullet.”

“Santa Fe 200—” Peter didn’t get to finish because Mozzie just shot him a look that confirmed what he was saying.

“I nearly lost him, but at least then he had hope she would return to him; this time he’s lost her for good, and he can’t accept it.”

“Something happened, Mozzie; what happened?”

“He saw Kate,” Mozzie said levelly, “here in this park.”

Peter exhaled slowly; there were a lot of things he was expecting and that wasn’t one of them. He knew the answer but he had to ask the question. “Did you see her as well?”

“No,” Mozzie said, “I looked for her because he wanted me to, but there was no one there, Suit; she’s gone and he can’t accept that.”

Peter nodded his thanks; he knew how hard it was for Mozzie to share information on Neal with him. 

Peter talked it through. “It’s still early days; while he was in prison, he kept his feelings locked inside of him. I’ll try and talk to him. But I need you to keep watching him, Mozzie; if I have to I’d rather commit him than risk losing him over this.”  Seeing the alarmed look on the smaller man’s face, Peter added, “It would only  be a last resort, I promise you that, but if it’s in his own good I would do it and to hell with the consequences.”

The Mozzie that looked at him now was someone that Peter had never seen before; there was a hardness that was alien to the smaller man that Peter knew. “You had better be damn sure, Burke, because if you do it because it’s simple or easy for you, I will get Neal out, and then I will destroy you.  Just like your betrayal will destroy him. For some reason you are the world to him, Burke; he draws strength from you, tries to do good because of you, despite what his impulses tell him. Kate’s death might have damaged him, but if you betray him that will kill him.”

Peter nodded in understanding, and then realized it wasn’t enough. “You’ve got my word on that, Mozzie.”

“As an agent.”

“As a man.” Only after Peter said that did Mozzie start to relax, but even so he had to issue a warning.

“I’ll hold you to that, Suit; I don’t have many friends, and I am not losing Neal.”

“That makes two of us, Mozzie.”

0-0-0-0-0-0

48 hours later, Neal was coming out of a corner coffee shop that was on the edge of his radius when he saw Kate walking away from him; he took off after her, ignoring the high-pitched screech of the tracker as he went out of his radius, but when he reached the corner she was gone. Neal swore and slammed his hand against the wall in frustration just as his cell phone began to ring. He knew without answering it would be Peter.

Reluctantly he turned and walked back over the invisible line; the tracker stopped screeching and the light went back to a steady green. He took the cell out and began to apologize to Peter. The older man was angry but told him firmly they would talk later, to head back home, and he would check up on him later.  As the phone clicked off he knew that Peter would be on the phone with the Marshals waving them off.

He was all too aware by now that he had a ten-minute period of grace with them; in those ten minutes they would call Peter, and then start to mobilize.  If it went on one second over ten, they would be after him. It was built in to allow for incidents like when he had taken a taxi that has been sent on a detour that took him out of his radius. He knew he was lucky—some cons only had a five-minute grace period and even if they got back in they would still be pulled in for a 20-question interrogation. He was under no illusions that Peter would want to know what happened. Too many of these accidental violations and he was in trouble, which would result in five days' house arrest with a radius that ended with the front door of the house. That’s if they didn’t throw his ass back in prison for a cooling-off period, just to remind him of his place.

Because of the workload the talk didn’t happen and Neal could almost make himself believe that Peter had forgotten all about it. The black coffee was keeping him alert, even if he wasn’t sleeping because of his nightmares that were filled with Kate death; when finally sleep claimed him it was only to doze and wake smelling her perfume.

0-0-0-0-0-0

Peter blamed it on the sudden time-sensitive workload, but he knew it was more than that. It was going to be hard to broach the subject with Neal, so he decided to wait until Sunday, when Neal would be coming out to his house.

Sunday

Peter met Neal at the door and let him in, taking his coat; rather than the usual Rat Pack vintage suit, Neal was dressed in black jeans and turtleneck, and an old battered leather jacket. They way he dressed encouraged Peter; Neal had come over without his con man’s armor on—the immaculate suit and hat. This might—he prayed—actually work.

The meal was delicious, and El had managed to coax Neal to clean his plate by cooking all his favorite dishes. Peter knew that El had a soft spot for him; she could see the good in Neal, and would often champion him, even to the extent of helping him when he was wrongfully accused of stealing a priceless diamond. It had been at least two weeks since she had last seen Neal, and Peter had seen the look of shock she had masked quickly when she saw him. Neal had always been lean, but it was obvious that Neal had lost weight he couldn’t afford to lose. Hence the fact she was now feeding him up. 

After then had eaten their fill and sat over their coffee, Satchmo made his need felt, and the three of them had taken Satchmo out for a walk, El with her arm linked through Neal’s, with Peter holding Satchmo’s leash.

Yet Peter felt no jealousy as he watched the two of them together; he loved El and trusted Neal, and was pleased that the younger man had found a confidante in El. He somehow felt that Neal had never had a very strong female role model in his life, and his relationship with Kate was—his gut told him—far from healthy.

The silence between the three of them wasn’t strained; Satchmo set the pace for them. The park was small but well used by the local families; Peter turned to speak to Neal when he realized that the younger man had stopped in his tracks, pulling El to a halt.

El was looking at him with a worried expression on her face as she saw the color bleed from his face. “Neal …” she said his name firmly.

“Kate.” Neal said the name and started forward. El tried to pull on his arm, and without thinking he pushed her way. Her foot caught on the uneven pavement, and she tumbled onto the ground as he took off.

Peter swore under his breath. “El—” only to have her wave him off

“Go after him, Peter,” she said, then added “I am all right. GO.” 

He took off after his wayward CI, with Satchmo matching his pace; the park was on the edge of Neal’s radius, and he saw the younger man cut across and into the trees which was the edge of the radius balloon they had given him to allow him to visit them. Only this time Neal was crossing the paved area round the fountain; he was out of his area now, and showed no inclination to stop.

Damn it, Peter swore; he had forgotten how fast the kid was on his feet. Suddenly Peter saw Neal stop and begin turning around and around as if he was trying to find someone.

Peter grabbed him, tackling him to the ground as his cell phone in his coat began to ring; Neal tried to twist out of his grip. But Peter had him pinned with his face pressed into the grass and a knee to the shoulder.  “It was Kate, Peter; I saw it was Kate. You have to let me go; I have to find her.” Neal began to struggle and then gave a muffled cry of pain as Peter increased the weight on his shoulder. He was pleading but Peter ignored it as he pulled the cell from his pocket.

“This is Agent Peter Burke; I am Neal Caffrey’s handler, authorization code 78934A Caffrey is with me.” Peter glared down at his charge and then took a steadying breath. “He’s not trying to run; it’s my fault—I misjudged the radius, and you can stand down.” With a sigh Peter hung up and slipped the cell back into his pocket.

Satchmo was jumping around them both, barking, enjoying this game, as he tried to root at Neal with his nose.  Peter pushed the dog back, then moving off Neal, grabbed his wrist ,pulled Neal to his feet, and herded his charge back to the right side of the radius edge. “Neal, the tracker.” It wasn’t a request; it was an order.

For a moment he thought that Neal was going to refuse, and then, resigned, the younger man tugged his pants leg up just enough to show it was flashing green again. 

Just then El came up. “Peter?” she asked.

Peter’s hand moved to Neal’s shoulder and he gave him a hard shake. “What the hell where you doing? You knocked El over and took off like a jackrabbit; you better have a good—” It was then he noticed that Neal wasn’t listening to him. “Caffrey,” he snapped the name at him.

But Neal’s attention was solely on her. “Elizabeth, I didn’t mean to; I am sorry.” The younger man reached a hand out to her, a look of total dismay on his face, and she saw that she was bleeding from one knee. She caught his shaking hand easily and gave his hand a squeeze.

“I know you didn’t, sweetie.” She leaned into him slightly. “You have to breathe for me, Neal; that’s it, nice and slow.”

“Are we all right?” There was a hesitation in his voice that cut right through to her heart.

“Of course; accidents happen.” He glanced at Peter “I can still visit?”

Whereas Peter might have said something cutting, he didn’t because he suddenly realized that Neal meant he actually thought that he would stop him from coming over because of the accident.  “Of course you can. But Neal ...” He saw the look of despair flick across Neal’s face. “... you have to tell us what happened here.”

“I saw Kate.” He turned to look back the way they had come. “She was there by the trees.”

Peter exchanged a look with El, and he gave her a small nod. “Neal, have you seen her before?” Elizabeth asked; her voice brought his attention back to her.

He nodded. “I saw her walking outside of June’s, then when I was with Mozzie, but he didn’t see her,” Neal acknowledged.  He looked at Peter, his head coming up a little higher. “Aren’t you going to tell me that I am imagining it?”

Peter knew that Kate wasn’t unique-looking, no matter what Neal thought, and there would be any number of women that would look like her at a distance; Neal’s mind was doing the rest, he was sure of that. But now wasn’t the time.

“Come on, let’s get you home,” Peter said, avoiding the question. El took Neal’s arm and when he flinched she ignored it; with Peter and Satchmo flanking Neal on the other side, they walked him home.

Once inside, they got him sitting on the couch, then Peter followed El into the kitchen.  “What do I do? how do I get him to open up to me as to what he’s feeling?”

“Talk to him, Peter; he really needs a friend now.”

“El, I am his handler.”

“You’re his partner, and his friend, who just happens to be his handler.”  She paused. “He needs you.” She leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. Peter pulled her into a hug. “You sure you're okay, hon?”

“I am fine; it was more surprise than anything else. Now go get him.”

“I'm not good at this sort of thing.”

“You’re better than you think,” El said, with a gentle push towards the living room.

Peter pulled his chair over so that he was sitting opposite Neal; what he was going to say had to be said and Neal had to hear it, the cold hard facts of it.

“Neal, you have to face it: we both saw the plane explode. I am sorry, buddy; there is no way she could have survived it.”

“You don’t know, Peter; they haven’t identified the bodies,” Neal ground out, “It’s Kate, and she needs me.” He was stubbornly refusing to give in on that point.

Seeing Neal like this worried Peter, but if he was honest he had been waiting for the other shoe to drop. Now it looked like it was finally happening.

“Neal, when the jet exploded she never had time to get out. I am sorry I have to be so blunt but she is dead, Neal, and not wanting to believe it won’t change the facts. I'm really sorry, kid, but that’s the truth.”

“Your truth,” Neal snapped back at him. “But you’re wrong. I’ve seen her, Peter; she needs me.”

0-0-0-0-0

Neal knew he had to get away from Peter; he could feel the pressure building up in his head again, and it would only get worse until he could get home, feel the blade cut into his arm, and feel the release that the pain and blood would give him. 

But Peter was like a dog with a bone, he laid the proof out in front of him as if it was some case they were working on, and not Kate’s death.

No, not death: she was alive, waiting for him. So he did what he did best—he plastered his best con man smile on his face and said the words that Peter wanted to hear.  In truth he would have sold his soul to the devil to get out of that room.

El joined them and suggested that he stay the night; he knew it was because she didn’t like the idea of him returning to June’s empty house. But he managed to sidestep the invitation, he hoped without upsetting El; he still felt devastated that he had knocked her over. She was the last person he would ever had hurt—she had from the moment they met accepted him, but he could feel the pressure building up inside of him; he had to get home.

Finally Peter dropped him off; once he was gone, Neal stripped down to his undershirt and poured himself a large glass of wine. He took comfort in the ritual of what he was going to do; through that he had control. First he took the knife from the drawer, opened out the blade and wiped it with an antiseptic wipe; he settled into a chair, took another drink from his wine glass and then laid a crisp white towel under his arm to catch any drops of blood. Only then did he cut into his arm. He gave a sigh as the pain and blood took away the pressure that was pressing down on him.

The blood washed it all away and his eyes closed as the knife fell out of his hand and onto the floor as sleep claimed him. 

0-0-0-0-0-0

Later that night Neal woke up from his doze in the chair, his mind still clouded; it was the scent that called to him, and he said one name, “Kate.” Then his eyes snapped open and he sat up straight in the chair; it was her scent, he could smell it. It was as if she was in the room with him again. But when got up to switch the light on he was alone. Leaning back against the wall, he allowed himself to slide down onto the floor, his head rolling forward. “Oh god, Kate, what’s happening to me?” He reached out for the cell phone and was about to hit Peter’s number when he threw the cell away from him. If Peter thought he was falling apart—more than he already did—at  best he would send him back to prison, at worse he would have him committed; he would risking too much in trusting him. He had to handle this himself.

0-0-0-0-0

Two days later, Neal saw Kate again when he was on his lunch break; this time because of the crowd he was within an arm's length of her before he was sent staggering by a bicycle messenger, and he lost her in the crowd. Suddenly he saw her again in a gap in the crowd; he ran up, catching hold of her, he spun her around, only for it to be another woman. He let go of her arm and threw his hands up. “Sorry, sorry; I thought you were someone else.”

The woman was scared but accepted his apologies. His cell phone began to ring; it was Peter reminding him that he had work to do and that his lunch break finished ten minutes ago, and Hughes wanted options for the Bridgewater case by the end of the day.

As Neal backtracked the way he had come, he was deep in thought; each time he couldn’t find her the pain of her loss got worse. He looked up and stopped in his tracks: Kate was just ahead of him; he increased his pace and saw her step inside a shop. He went through the door after her but she was gone, and none of the shop assistants remembered seeing her.

He backed out of the shop when he realized that he was freaking them out, and the last thing he needed was the manager calling the police.

The phone in his pocket rang again; he opened it. “Caffrey.”

“Neal, get your ass back here now before Hughes has the Marshals pick you up.”  There was a pause and Peter spoke again, but his voice was softer, more reassuring. “Get just back here now, okay?”

“Sure; sorry, Peter.” Neal headed back to the Federal Building.

 

0-0-0-0-0

The Present

Hospital

Peter paced up and down in the waiting room; finally he was allowed in to see Neal, and that was only after he confirmed he had Neal’s power of attorney.  Dr. Walker warned him before he let him into the room, “Mr. Caffrey's resting; don’t do anything to aggravate him. You can stay for a few minutes, and Agent Burke, I will need to speak to you about what we do next about Mr. Caffrey.  When we examined him we found cuts to his upper arm; these are clear signs of self-harm, and this suicide attempt is a clearly a call for help we—”

“Thank you, doctor.” Peter cut him off firmly; he didn’t want to think about what they were going to do next—the thought that Neal had been cutting himself sickened him, because it was proof that he had already failed Neal on one level. But he pushed that to the back of his mind; first he needed to see him. As he approached the room, he nodded to the Marshal on the door; Neal’s tracker had been removed when he was taken into surgery to repair the damage to his wrist, and so far it hadn’t been put back on. 

Neal was awake when he came in; the first thing he said even though his voice was raspy and dry was, “I didn’t do it, Peter. You have to believe me.” There was an almost frantic edge to it, as he pleaded.

He reached out to Peter with his good hand, and Peter took it as he sat down; looking into Neal’s eyes he saw the pain and emotional turmoil.

“The doctor said that you've been cutting yourself.” It had to be said.

Neal looked down and his grip tightened on Peter’s hand. “I never wanted you to know that.”

“When did it start?”

There was a long pause. “When, Neal?” Peter prompted.

“When I was in prison; it was the only way.” Neal looked up. “I found it helped; it was the only thing that I had control over—I needed control, Peter.” His breath was ragged with emotion. “But I would never try to kill myself; you have to believe me.”

Everything that had happened over the last few weeks told Peter that logically Neal might have been pushed over the edge; that he had been cutting himself seemed to be the final proof, but looking at his friend now,his heart was telling him different. Neal would never try to commit suicide, so when he said, “I believe you,” Peter was telling him the truth. He sat by his side; he could feel Neal’s eyes boring into him. “Can you tell me what happened?”

Neal shook his head. “I can’t remember anything,” and then he added, “Why can’t I remember, Peter? You have to believe me.”

Peter, hearing the beginning of panic in the younger man’s voice, tried to reassure him. “I know, Neal, I believe you. We'll find who did this to you and why.” He broke off as he saw one of the doctors in the doorway. The doctor waved him out of the room. Pausing, Peter said, giving Neal’s hand a squeeze, “I will be back, Neal; hang in there.”

This doctor was older than Dr. Walker. “Agent Burke.”

“Yes.”

Peter watched as the doctor checked his notes and he readied himself for an argument about Neal. He could well imagine that once the Justice Department heard about this they would want him moved to the prison psychiatric ward.

“My name is Dr Appleton; I was the surgeon who operated on Mr. Caffrey. I see that you have power of attorney for him and since you are also an FBI agent, it make it makes it easier to talk about this.”

“Is he going to be all right?”

“There is always the possibility of losing feeling in the fingers with that kind of wound, but with Mr. Caffrey, I am convinced that he should make a full recovery.”  The doctor paused and then added, “But there is something that we need to speak about in connection with Mr. Caffrey’s injuries.”

“His suicide attempt.” Peter shook his head. “I know Neal; he wouldn’t try to do that.… He said he didn’t do it; I believe him, but he can’t remember what happened.”

But the doctor cut him off. “That’s just it, Agent Burke; I don’t think it was a suicide attempt.”

“What do you mean?”

“Mr. Caffrey is right-handed?” The doctor paused, waiting for Peter to confirm it.

“Yes.”

Taking his pen, the doctor explained as he demonstrated, “If  a right-handed person was going to cut their wrist, they would cut it from left to right, but Mr. Caffrey’s wrist was cut from right to left; that is not a natural cutting motion. I have seen suicide attempts, and I have never seen a right-handed person cut themselves that way. Also the depth of the wound is even; normally the first part of the cut is shallow, getting deeper as the person drags the knife across, and also there are no hesitation cuts. So there is certainly something wrong here.” He paused. “I asked for them to rush a tox screen on his blood, to see if there were any anomalies before I had Mr. Caffrey taken into surgery; I am expecting the result.…” The doctor trailed off as he saw one of the lab technicians coming towards him. When the man hesitated he waved him over.

“Doctor Appleton, I have the tox screen you asked for.”

The doctor looked at it and nodded to himself before turning to Peter. “Mr. Caffrey has Rohypnol in his bloodstream; that would explain why he is unable to remember what happened, and I’ll be honest, Agent Burke, I have never heard of anyone taking that drug before they try to commit suicide.”

“Thank you, doctor.” Peter paused and then added, “I’ll need you to put everything you told me in a report.”

Dr. Appleton nodded. “I can do that for you, Agent Burke, and ...” The doctor looked at him keenly. “... Mr. Caffrey will need all the support you can give him; he may not have cut his wrist, but he has other cuts that appear to be self-inflicted. When this is all over, you will need to be there for him. He'll need a support team, and based on your concern, Agent Burke, you would be ideally suited to it. He will be, I believe, in good hands.”

“Thank you, Doctor.” Peter put his hand out and they shook. As he walked back into the room, the news that someone was trying to kill Neal was frightening, but at the same time anything was better than thinking he was trying to kill himself....

Peter sat down on the edge of the bed. “Neal, the doctor got the results back from your tox screen; you had Rohypnol in your system—that would explain why you can’t remember. The wound on your wrist, the doctor said it was highly unlikely in his experience that you could have done it yourself; you have your proof there was someone else in your room with you. You have to tell me what else has been happening; you said you saw Kate on the street outside of June’s, with Mozzie and with us. What aren’t you telling me?”

Neal looked down, avoiding his eyes and he saw the shame in them. “Please, Neal, you have to tell me.”

“Since we last talked about it, I’ve seen her on the street again; she disappeared when I followed her into a shop, and I’ve smelled her perfume again. And.…” He trailed off.

Peter leaned in closer. “I know you don’t want to hear this, Neal, but Kate: did you see her clearly? Are you sure it was her?”

“Yes, no.  I don’t know.” There was an edge of panic now in Neal’s voice when he replied.

He caught Neal’s good hand again. “Easy, buddy, we will find out who is doing this, but you have been set up; you do understand that, don’t you?”

“She’s dead,” Neal said softly. He closed his eyes, and his tears seeped slowly from under his eyelashes.

“Yes, she is,” Peter said softly. “Oh hell,” Peter swore, then pulled Neal into his arms and just held him, rubbing his back as the tears that Neal had been unable to shed finally rolled down his face. Neal’s whole body was shaking with his sobs, but for Peter there was nothing embarrassing in the younger man’s emotions. Because this was Neal, this was his friend, and he needed this moment. Needed this final release, and Peter vowed that whoever had done this would pay.

Finally, Peter lowered him back on the bed, and with his thumb brushed the tears away.  “Try to rest, Neal.” When the younger man’s good hand caught his wrist, Peter added, “I am not going anywhere.”

Only then did Neal fall asleep clutching Peter’s hand to his chest; only this time he didn’t dream.

0-0-0-0-0-0

An hour later a nurse put her head around the door to tell him that Agents Jones and Berrigan were waiting by the nurses’ station for him.

Peter reluctantly left Neal’s side to meet Diana and Jones; quickly he told them what had been happening with Neal, and concluded with the findings of Dr. Appleton. “We need to get Dr. Khan from forensics involved; have him go over Neal’s apartment to see what he can find. Someone is screwing with his head and I want to know how they're doing it.”

Diana nodded. “When 'Kate' went into the shop, did he tell you which one? Because most shops have cameras and they might have caught her on it.”

“No, but when he wakes up, I’ll ask him.”

They heard a loud clatter and yelling, and the  emergency call light outside of Neal’s room began to flash, and the orderlies came running.

When Peter, Diana and Jones got there, Neal was out of his bed and cowering against the far wall as two orderlies tried to grab at him.  The FBI agents pushed past them, and formed a barrier between them and Neal.

“What the hell’s happening here?” Peter demanded.

“Mr. Caffrey is being transported to the psychiatric ward, and—”  Dr Walker started to tell him only to be cut off by Neal.

“Peter, you said, you said, you—” Neal’s panic cut through Peter like a knife.

“I meant it,” Peter said firmly but kindly, and then snarled at the orderlies and the doctor, “Neal didn’t try to commit suicide; he was attacked. Dr. Appleton confirmed it, so back off him, or I’ll have you arrested for assault.”

Peter turned his back on them, trusting Diana and Jones to deal with them; bending, he carefully helped Neal to his feet and back to the bed.

The hand that clamped his arm was bruising, but Peter didn’t try to break Neal’s grip on him, surprised to find that he needed this connection as much as Neal did.

When Dr. Appleton arrived it didn’t take long to have it all straightened out; the senior doctor tore into his colleague, demanding to know who had signed the authorization to commit Neal.

Hearing the doctor’s argument, Peter got a feeling that this wasn’t a mistake; too many things were happening around Neal for him to believe that anything else was by chance.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

The next day Peter called in to see Neal and found El sitting with him; she had brought a comfort basket, along with a drawing tablet and her iPad with art books on it.  Peter was pleased to see that Neal was looking better, and took a seat on the other side of him. “I need you to look at this, Neal.”

He opened the laptop up and then slid a CD in. “Diana went back to the shop you chased Kate into, Neal, and this is the tape she found. I am sorry.” He pressed play. The video was black and white and jerky; the woman had the same long dark hair, and slender graceful body, but it wasn’t Kate. El reached for Neal’s hand and squeezed it as she saw him blink away tears. He knew that Kate was dead and last night had cried out his grief and pain, but this was the death of a dream.

“Diana talked to the shop assistants, and asked why they had told you no one had come in. It turned out she told them you were an old ex stalking her. So they covered for her. Do you recognize her at all, Neal?”

The young con man shook his head. “No.… Sorry.”

Just then there was a knock on the door and Ruiz stood there. Peter got up; he didn’t know why the agent was there, but even though he'd heard from Diana how Ruiz had sympathized with Neal earlier, it didn’t mean that he was there for any good reasons. Peter positioned himself between Neal and Ruiz. “What do you want, Ruiz? This has got nothing to do with Organized Crime. If you’re here to—”

 Ruiz cut across him, “Hold your horses, Burke; I brought the forensic report. Dr. Khan found scratches around the lock on the back door to the house, suggesting that it’s been tampered with. He also found a small bottle of Eau d’Hadrien perfume at Caffrey’s home.” When Neal was about to protest he put a hand up.

“Whoever left the bottle wanted us to think that Caffrey had bought it to feed his fantasy about his girlfriend; we found traces of it all over his pillow. Dr. Khan ran the fingerprints on it and they do match Caffrey’s prints that we have on file, but the position of them on the bottle isn’t conducive to someone holding it. The other point in your favor, Caffrey, is that it’s Eau d’Hadrien perfume, and that is only stocked in four shops in the whole of New York, and all four of them are out of your radius. And they don’t do mail order.”

Ruiz paused, looking at Neal thoughtfully. “Someone has been working real hard to sell the idea that you were so grief stricken and deluded that you tried to kill yourself.”

Peter nodded in agreement. “Whoever it is knows, sorry, knew Kate—that time in LA we nearly got you when you stole that large $500 bottle of perfume for her. So who else would know that she loved that particular scent?”

“She got her first bottle, a small bottle, as a present from Adler as a bonus; it was  her....” Neal trailed off and then added, “It was her favorite from then on.” Neal tried to change the subject. “ So why are you doing this for me?” He didn’t think that Ruiz would answer him but the agent did.

 

 “Because I had someone kill themselves because they were pushed too far; I couldn’t stop that, but I can stop this.” He turned to go, and then paused, looking over his shoulder back at Neal. “But that doesn’t mean I won’t kick your ass if I find you’ve been messing with one of my cases, Caffrey.” But he smiled as he said it.

“Special Agent Ruiz, thank you,” Neal said, and meant it.

Ruiz nodded, and to Peter said, “If you need any more people on the ground, let me know; I’ve cleared it with Hughes and my boss,” then left, leaving Peter looking after him in disbelief, but proud that the man could put aside his own prejudice against Neal being a consultant to help him.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

It was three days later that Neal was sent home, and he woke in the middle of the night to the scent of perfume; he switched the light on as he swung his legs over the edge of the bed. He ran a hand through his hair. “It’s not going to happen this time, so why don’t you come out of hiding?”

Instead of a woman, the person that stepped through the door was a man in his early thirties, with long greasy-looking hair pulled back in a ponytail. In his hand he held a gun. Over his shoulder he had knotted sheets.

“This time, Caffrey, you’re going to die. You should have last time; you couldn’t even do that right.”

“Why are you doing this to me?”

“Look at you, you piece of filth, you took Kate from me, and you got her killed.”

Neal frowned. “I’ve never met you.”

“Of course you have, only I was 40 pounds heavier, your name wasn’t Caffrey, and I was just Adler’s IT guy; remember me now, Nick?” he drawled. “There had been other boyfriends before you, but somehow they never lasted, and I always hoped that she would notice me. But once Kate saw you she didn’t see me; I was just some fat computer geek. I bought her her favorite perfume that Christmas, it was expensive, but it would have been worth every penny to see the look of joy on her face when she opened the present. But she walked straight past me to get to you, and all you had was a rose.

“Then you took her on the dance floor and danced the tango with her, and everyone, fuck it, everyone said you were perfect for her. I was the one that loved her, and you know what you did, Mr. High and Mighty? She came over and asked if I wanted to dance, and I was so happy she had seen me.  My beautiful Kate had seen me, but then she said it was all right because you had asked her to ask me.

“It was your pity, NICK, and the people around me laughed, NICK.” His voice was loud now as he came closer and spat the name at Neal. “They laughed at the fat man who could only get a dance if the handsome NICK allowed it.” He paused, gasping for breath. “I read about her death and knew that I had to do something; you caused it, and if you hadn’t been a criminal she wouldn’t have died. So I had to make you suffer, and I did.” He began to gloat. “Did you really think you were seeing her, NICK? The perfume, laced with the drug I pumped in here, gave you a real ride. I even left a bottle of it here for your FBI pals to find, so they would think that you bought it yourself. Now you’re going to die; you’re going to hang yourself. It’s a pity, NICK; it’s a pity that they couldn’t save you.”

“I am sorry you felt that way but Kate didn’t love you; we can’t make people love us, and it wasn’t my fault that she died. I know that now.” Neal gave a small shrug of the shoulders.

“You're going to take this rope.” Todd threw the sheets at him. “You'll like it—it’s pure Egyptian cotton—and you’re going to put it over that pipe there in the kitchen and you’re going to hang yourself, once and for all.”

“No.” Neal got up slowly.

 “You've got a death wish, Caffrey,” Todd demanded as he cocked the gun.

“You're not going to pull the trigger, because you weren’t the one that did this to me.” He touched the bandage around his left wrist as he spoke.

There was the sound of slow clapping, and a woman walked into the room.

“Mary, you should have stayed in the car,” Todd said.

“What, and missed this?” She was the woman from the picture, Kate but not Kate. “You might be wondering who I am; maybe I should tell you.” She had a gun in her hand.

“Mary Kay Mor—” That was as far as Peter got before the woman spun around; there was the crack of a gun and hers went flying from her hand as the bullet hit her arm.  Todd dropped his weapon.

“Kate’s older sister,” Peter said as a way of explaining, as he came in with Jones and Diana. 

The woman broke into tears, sobbing as she clung to her bleeding arm, then she turned on Neal; she said the most vile things that Peter had ever heard, and that was saying something. Neal didn’t say anything in his defense, but his swayed slightly as if they were physical blows, not words hitting him.

Jones dragged her out of the room, with a protesting Todd being taken out by Diana; by the time they got down to the car, Todd was trying for a deal.

Peter walked past Neal, leaving the younger man staring down at the floor; he hadn’t moved since she had started yelling at him. Picking the black bag up from where Neal had left it when he came in, Peter dumped it on a chair, and then picked up the battered leather jacket and thrust it into Neal’s hand.

“What?”

“You’re coming home with me.”

When Neal opened his mouth to protest, Peter shook his head. “You’re coming home, mister, so accept it.”

As Peter shepherded his friend down the stairs, Peter was thankful that their plan had worked; they had set up surveillance equipment behind the two-way mirror in the apartment, and had it manned round the clock.  Then it had just been a waiting game, until the bad guys had decided to move in on Neal and finish what they had started. It was then the trap had been sprung, and thank God it had worked. 

Now they had them; Neal could continue with his life.

0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Two weeks later

The weather was overcast when they gathered in the cemetery; slowly the coffin was lowered into the ground. Neal stood by the side of the grave, with Elizabeth on one side of him holding his hand, with Mozzie standing next to her. On his other side was Peter; the older man’s arm was around his shoulder, allowing him to draw on Peter’s strength and support. When the graveside service was finished, Neal threw a rose into the grave, his eyes never leaving it as it arched into space before dropping down onto the polished coffin.

The one secret they shared that Neal didn’t was that the coffin was empty; there hadn’t been enough of Kate left to bury, but that wasn’t important. What was important was that Neal now had a place to grieve, a place that he could visit and move on from. It might have seemed selfish, but for Peter, Elizabeth and Mozzie, all that mattered was Neal, his safety and his sanity.

It was Peter that thanked the priest, leaving Neal in Mozzie and Elizabeth’s competent hands. Neal stopped long enough to shake hands with and thank Diana, Jones and—not so surprising as it may have once been—Ruiz for coming; the FBI agents fell into step with him as he was shepherded to Peter’s car. One life was over for Neal now. No one was fool enough to think it would be easy—Neal had demons to exorcise—but he was with friends now and a new life could finally start.

 

The End