- *No Site Warnings Apply
It had been a horrible day. Neal wasn’t sure when all of the wear of the last few months had finally begun to fray the edges of his control, but the last few hours had seen to it all coming unraveled. He had managed to hold himself together at the office, admittedly brittle and stilted where he was normally graceful and poised, but he was counting it a win since no one had commented to him about it. But now he was home and he could almost physically feel the cracks in his façade, the bitter ache of his well-worn mask coming off and crumbling away. Despite being one of the best in his field, a master at both manipulation and control, even he couldn’t hold everything in all the time. He merely made certain such crass outbursts never happened where anyone might see it. If life had taught him nothing else it was that you should never show weakness.
That knowledge is what brought him to his current position. Neal sat in the corner of his couch, feet firmly on the ground, back straight and taking deep breaths. The room was dark, the hazy evening lights of the city filtering through the glass doors the only illumination in the room, highlighting his forlorn figure. Even here in his own private space, it was hard to let go, to loosen the control that’s too much a part of who he is, and allow himself to breakdown. He certainly wouldn’t give in to the urge to sob away his sorrows like some third rate starlet and let the grief pour out of him. He had never been inclined to such dramatics outside of a con but it was tempting at this moment. Truthfully he would prefer not to give in at all, except that he knows all too well that the only way to mend the cracks is to relieve some of the internal pressure. If he didn’t, he knew without a shadow of a doubt that it would break free at the most inopportune moment possible. And Neal Caffrey was much too good at what he did to allow those kinds of mistakes.
So he sits in the dark immersed in quiet grief, the only indications of his distress being the clenched fists by his sides and the small hitches of breath that catch in his chest painfully. Even that is almost more than he’s willing to give, he feels like if he allows anything else to slip through that he won’t be able to stop. He’s still managing to hold off the tears collecting at the corner of his eyes for the moment, but their threat is imminent.
He thinks he probably could have kept them at bay completely, but he had been so focused on holding himself together that he never noticed another presence until he feels the hesitant, too heavy touch on his neck. A large awkward hand settles in a tight grip at the nape, the other coming to rest like an unwelcome benediction against his crown, thick fingers catching uncomfortably in his hair. It’s too much.
Against his wishes the tears break free, leaking from between clenched lashes to burn trails down now flushed cheeks. Shame, like acid, burns in his chest and, Neal’s suddenly so angry. At himself for his loss of control, for not locking his door, at the world in general, at life in particular, but mostly he’s angry with Peter. Not just for putting him in this position, or for catching him in the first place, but for this very second, this cruel act of kindness. Giving him what he craves when he wants it the least, at the instant it will break him the most. It’s Peter who is taking advantage of a rare lapse in Neil’s self-control. But as quickly as the anger comes it fizzles and dies, leaving him feeling open, wounded, and unable to hide.
The gentle hitch of airways becomes deep shuddering breathes and the tears fall faster as the dam finally breaks. The pain of this moment, a culmination of everything that’s happened, has him curling down around himself, trying to hide even knowing it’s impossible to do so. His body presses contradictorily closer to Peter’s warm presence, which has moved to sit stiffly beside him, and away from the comfort of those uncertain hands which only hesitate a moment before they follow his retreating form.
Peter is making strange, concerned shushing sounds that Neal thinks might be meant to soothe him and is oddly effective. They sit like that in the dark for what seems like hours. Neal is lost in his alarmingly silent grief while Peter radiates confusion as to what’s going on but remains wrapped awkwardly around him, hands hesitant and comforting the entire time until Neal’s finally spent. Left feeling peaceful and horrified by turns he decides the best course of action is to simply allow his exhaustion to overwhelm him and barely manages a murmur of thanks when he’s shifted to lay on his side, drifting away to where sleep will give him both time to rebuild his masks and spare him and Peter the need to face each other over the events that have just transpired.
In the morning Neal wakes alone in his room with an ache in his neck from sleeping on the couch and his usual upbeat charming charade firmly in place and flawless once again. It feels easier to put on, somehow lighter than before, and less false than it has in a while. When he gets to the office there are no curious looks, no sidelong glances, or any indication that anyone knows about his little laps the previous evening. He finally makes his way to where Peter is waiting and the only acknowledgment of the night before passes with a simple meeting of eyes, a silent question of concern, and a subtle nod of thanks for things that they will never speak of.