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Bruised, Not Beaten

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Elizabeth had her first therapy appointment on Friday morning, four days after Keller's goon had come into her kitchen and shoved a gun into the small of her back. She didn't want to go, but she also didn't want to argue about it with Peter. You didn't achieve going on twelve years of marriage without learning to pick your battles, and this was one that El realized she probably wouldn't win. She didn't have to go back, Peter said, if she didn't think it was useful, so it was really just an hour. One hour out of her Friday.

"So, Elizabeth," Dr. Evans said, once Elizabeth had seated herself on the sofa. "Tell me what brings you in to see me."

El gritted her teeth. It really wasn't fair. Dr. Evans seemed like a perfectly nice, not to mention highly qualified woman - late 40s, beginning to gray but not bothering to hide it with dye, diplomas from Smith College and Harvard on the wall behind her desk - but El couldn't help hating her just a little. Dr. Evans worked for the Bureau on a contractual basis. Somewhere she had a file with all the information in the world about why El was there to see her, and she just kept smiling at her as though she had no clue.

"Elizabeth?" Dr. Evans prompted after a moment.

El sighed. "My father is a psychiatrist," she told her.

Evans blinked. "I'm sorry?"

Me, too, sometimes, El thought dryly. "My father's a psychiatrist, so this -" she gestured around, taking in the tastefully appointed office, "the way you just spoke to me -"

"- made you feel like you were sixteen, about to be grilled by your father about the boy who brought you home?" Dr. Evans supplied.

"Yes."

"Right, then." Dr. Evans uncrossed her legs and shifted her weight in the chair, leaning back slightly. She also turned to deposit her legal pad on the desk. "Is that better?"

"A bit, thanks." Dr. Evans was still looking at her, sharp-eyed and scrutinizing, but El supposed she couldn't help that.

"Good. Now, Elizabeth. I know why you're here. You know why we're here. But I'm afraid I really do need you to tell my why you're here."

"Yes, I know." Elizabeth shrugged. "Recently - about four days ago, actually - I was kidnapped out of my home by a man named Matthew Keller. He was - is - an enemy of my husband, Peter."

"Peter is an FBI agent."

"Yes. White Collar division, so normally it's all mortgage fraud and bond forgery, the occasional art theft - nothing too dangerous. Anyway, Keller wanted some information he thought a friend of my husband's had, and so he kidnapped me to try and get it. I was captive for about twelve hours before I managed to escape."

Dr. Evans raised her eyebrows. "You escaped?"

El shrugged, slightly embarrassed. Everyone focused on that part of the story, as though escaping were something terribly heroic. It hadn't felt like heroism at the time - it'd just felt necessary. She hadn’t known how close Diana and Jones were, and she hadn't known how long she had before Keller decided he was tired of waiting for Neal to give him the treasure. "Peter's agents were closing in. They would've maybe taken another fifteen minutes to find me."

"Still. Impressive. Were you hurt?"

El shook her head. "Some bruising on my upper arm, where Keller's thug grabbed me in my kitchen, a few cuts and scratches from the broken window I escaped through. Nothing major." The bruising was pretty spectacular, actually. El had been wearing long sleeves, even in the heat, to avoid answering awkward questions from her friends and coworkers - and for the sake of Peter’s blood pressure, which visibly ratcheted up every time he caught sight of them.

"And how have you been feeling since then?"

"Fine," El said. Dr. Evans raised an eyebrow. "No, really, I've been fine. I stayed home for a couple days, but my husband was driving me crazy. I went back to work yesterday, managed a gala last night. I'm fine."

Dr. Evans nodded. "Then why are you here?"

"Peter insisted," El said. "He said that if I were an agent, it'd be mandatory. I didn't want to argue. But honestly, I'm not sure what we're going to talk about," she added, with a laugh, "because as I said, I'm really doing fine." She wished people would believe her when she said that. No one really seemed to - not Peter, not Neal, not even Mozzie. They all got the same slightly patronizing look, too, when she said it. It was infuriating.

"And how are you sleeping?" Dr. Evans asked.

El shrugged. "Okay. Peter hasn't been sleeping well, so I'm not sleeping well."

Dr. Evans nodded. "But you yourself? No nightmares?"

"A few," El admitted. "But they're getting better." Peter, she knew, had horrible, vivid dreams about what could have happened to her. She didn't, though. She had vague, uncertain ones about red sauce against white tile, about someone's hands on her, about being unable to scream. They were unsettling, but they weren’t enough to cripple her. Most of the time, she didn’t even remember them once she woke.

"Would you like to tell me about them?"

"Not really."

Dr. Evans nodded. "All right. Then why don't you tell me a bit about Matthew Keller. You said he was an enemy of Peter's?"

By the end of the session, El had managed to tell her what had happened, with a necessary detour into explaining Neal's general presence in their lives, which seemed to interest Dr. Evans rather more than El thought it should. No, she said, she wasn’t jealous of Neal or the amount of time and attention he required from Peter. She liked Neal, even though he made some really terrible life choices. She limited her description of the treasure to "a very large pay-out," understatement though that was, and Dr. Evans didn't press her for more. That wasn't really the point.

Not that El was entirely sure what the point had been, by the end. She'd told the story, but she'd told the story to Clinton Jones, too, when she'd given her statement. There wasn't anything particularly cathartic about it. She didn't think catharsis was what she needed, anyway; she'd cried a little, the first night home with Peter, but that was it.

"One more question," Dr. Evans said, just as the session was ending.

El paused in gathering her purse to glance up. "Yes?"

“Are you angry with anyone for your kidnapping? Peter or Neal or -”

“Keller,” Elizabeth said firmly. “He’s the only person I’m angry at. Other people . . . well, they made some bad decisions, but no one could’ve known what Keller would do. Besides -”

“You’re fine.”

“Right. Anyway," El added awkwardly, "thanks."

"Thank you, Elizabeth," Dr. Evans said. "Have a good day."

She did not say, See you next time, El noted with relief, glad that Dr. Evans would not be surprised when she didn't make another appointment. This was just silly. She was fine.

Which was what she told Peter later that night, when he asked how it'd gone while they were setting the table for dinner. "It was all right," she said, "but I'm not going back. I don't need therapy. I'm fine."

"Okay, then," he said.

She turned to look at him. "Really? You're not going to argue?"

"If you say that therapy isn't going to help, I believe you. But, hon . . ." He stopped.

"What?" El said, a little impatiently.

It took Peter a moment or two to reply. "Sometimes these things sneak up on you," he said at last. "Sometimes, something like this happens, and weeks or months later - boom. And you realize you weren't as fine as you thought you were."

She stood on tiptoe to kiss him, once, lightly. "If that happens, you'll be the first person to know."

"Good," he said, and they left it at that.

At least, until it turned out that their neighbors were criminals.

***

After it was all over, El found herself sitting outside the Stardust Revue, watching Peter and his team do what they did best - catch bad guys and put them away. She thought Peter'd want a statement from her eventually, but for the moment she was just sitting, watching.

She did not expect Mozzie to appear out of nowhere and sit down beside her. With so many agents around, she'd have expected him to be long gone. "Well, then," Mozzie said, "you won't have to live next door to Bonnie and Clyde after all."

"Nope," she said with satisfaction.

Mozzie was quiet, briefly. "They're going to be busy here for a while. Shall we steal away for a cup of coffee?"

El glanced at Peter. He was deep in conversation with one of his agents. There was a Starbucks just across the street. "Sure," she said, "let me just text Peter to let him know where we are." She pulled out her phone and sent him a message: At the Starbucks with Moz. Come find me when you're done. She watched him take his phone out, read it, and give her a smile and a half-wave.

El tried to buy Moz's iced soy vanilla latte for him, but he wouldn't hear of it. He paid for her chai, too, over her protests, and led her over to a table by the window, where they could see the commotion across the street. Neither of them spoke for a minute or two, and then Mozzie sighed. "I don't think I ever apologized properly for what happened to you," he said. "With Keller, I mean."

Where did that come from? El wondered. And here she'd thought that she might actually have a day where no one said a word to her about the creep. "It wasn't your fault, Mozzie.”

Moz shrugged. "It was, at least in part. And I'm sorry. And it's because I feel partially responsible that I feel I have to ask. Are you seeing anyone? In the therapeutic sense, I mean. Not that I would generally encourage anyone to subject themselves to what passes for mental health care in this country," he added hastily, "but I hear it's been known to help, despite itself."

El shook her head. "No. I went once, just a few days afterward, but I'm really doing all right."

"No nightmares? No shakes?"

"Nope. Well, the occasional nightmare, but nothing too bad." She frowned, suddenly suspicious. "Why?"

"Because this? Today? Isn't like you." Mozzie sighed. "I'm used to Neal having impulse control problems, but -"

"I do not have impulse control problems," El said, annoyed.

Mozzie raised his eyebrows. "So it was a carefully thought out plan that led us to walk into that place and impersonate the FBI, rather than wait for your husband and his well-armed fellow Suits?"

El felt her metaphorical hackles go up. "They might've been too late. If we hadn't done it - well, we had to, that's all." She nodded firmly and took a decisive sip of chai. They had had to. It was the only course of action that made sense, at least at the time. Granted, it was a little difficult now to remember what exactly had led her to that conclusion, and in the end, Peter wasn't really that far behind her, but she hadn't known that. Just like she hadn't known that Jones and Diana had been so close to rescuing her from Keller.

From the way he was watching her across the table, El didn't think Moz agreed. "El," he said, after a moment, "do you think that maybe all of this wasn't really about your neighbors?"

"What," she scoffed, "you think this is some delayed reaction to being kidnapped by Keller?"

Moz shrugged. "It's not out of the realm of possibility."

"Yes, it is. That's ridiculous, Moz. I told you, I'm fine."

"Yeah, you did," Moz said.

El gritted her teeth and looked out the window to avoid saying anything truly unfortunate. She knew Moz was only concerned, but she was tired, frankly, of dealing with everyone else's concern. Some days, Peter was so solicitously concerned that she wanted to throttle him.

Think of the devil. The commotion across the street looked like it was wrapping up, and Peter was heading their way. Moz caught sight of him at almost the exact same moment and said, "Well, I suppose that's my cue. El, I didn't mean to upset you."

"You didn't," she said, even though he had. She forced herself to look at him. "Thanks again for believing me." When no one else did, went unspoken.

"For that, you can always count on me," he assured her, and stood to leave just as Peter came in. "Suit," he said to Peter, by way of greeting.

"Moz," Peter said, and then watched him go. He turned back to her. "You ready?"

"Don't you need to take my statement?"

Peter shook his head. "Stop by the office for lunch tomorrow, we can do it then. Diana and Jones have everything under control. You hungry? I was thinking we could get an early dinner at Donnatella's."

El managed a smile. "Can I take a raincheck? I was actually hoping we could just go home."

"Sure," Peter said. "Whatever you want." He slid his arm around her as they left, tucking her against his side. El let him.

They were both quiet on the way home. Once they hit the BQE, Peter called their favorite pizza place and put in an order for delivery. Otherwise, neither of them said a word. El didn't know what Peter was thinking, but she was thinking about how the back of her mind was quiet for the first time in days, but there was a lump in her throat that ached terribly and she didn't for the life of her know why it was there.

Peter found parking on the street just a couple doors down, and together they went in, just as they had a million times before. "El -" Peter said, once they were inside.

"I'm going to take a shower," she said, and went upstairs.

She took her clothes off, turned the shower up as hot as she could stand it, and burst into tears. She cried quietly at first, but then the first sob wrenched itself from her throat and she couldn't stop the next one, or the one after that. She stood under the hot water with one hand braced against the tile and the other one pressed against her mouth, and cried until there was nothing left, and she felt drained and empty.

It stopped as suddenly as it had started, and with as little reason. She washed her face and her hair and turned the shower off. She went into the bedroom, put her pajamas on, and combed her hair out. The house smelled like pizza and she could hear the faint sounds of a ballgame on TV. "Everything's fine," she said aloud, just to hear herself. "Peter's home. Nothing bad is going to happen to you here."

Peter turned the TV off immediately when she came downstairs, but she just smiled at him and went into the kitchen. The pizza was on the counter, next to a bowl of salad. She raised her eyebrows at the salad - very unlike Peter to think of that - but served herself two slices with some lettuce and homegrown tomatoes, then got a beer from the fridge.

When she turned around, Peter was standing in the doorway, watching her, his own beer in hand. "Everything okay?" he asked.

At least he didn't ask if she was okay. El leaned on the counter and methodically picked all the olives off her pizza. "Yeah. It’s just . . . Moz said something to me this afternoon. I thought it was crazy, and I told him so."

Peter hitched himself up on one of the tall chairs at the island. "Well, this is Moz we're talking about. It's not like there wouldn't be precedent. What'd he say?"

"He said that maybe today - this whole week - wasn't really about the neighbors. He said that maybe it was really about - about Keller.”

Peter sighed. "Ah."

El put her fork down and crossed her arms over her chest. "You don't think it's crazy?"

"You don't think it's crazy," Peter pointed out, "or we wouldn't be having this conversation. But no, I don't, El. Sometimes PTSD doesn't look like PTSD."

"I don't have PTSD," El said sharply.

"El, you were attacked at gunpoint in our home," Peter said, his voice very even. "You were taken from here against your will, and you were held captive for over twelve hours by a psychopath. I would almost be more worried if you didn't have some form of PTSD."

"But I’m fine."

Peter shook his head. "If you're fine, then why didn't you trust me to get it done today?"

El flinched, just a little. "Why didn’t you believe me when I told you something was wrong?"

“I did believe you.”

“Not right away, you didn’t.” That still rankled. “You stood there with Neal and looked at me like - like maybe I had lost it.”

Peter sighed. "I know. And I'm sorry for that. I should have listened. But later, once we had proof - I have a team, El, and we're good. You know how good we are. Why didn't you trust us?"

"I . . . I did, Peter. I do."

He shook his head. "You didn't today. And you acted very recklessly, with no regard for the danger you were putting yourself or Moz in. That isn't like you."

She didn't know what to say to that. That was what Moz had said to her, too: This isn't like you. The idea was unnerving, that there was some . . . thing sleeping in the back of her mind, and when it woke up she did things that just weren't her. "I do trust you," she repeated, because Peter had to know that, he had to believe that. "I've always trusted you to keep me safe. I trusted you and your team to find me."

"Except I didn't, did I?" Peter said, looking as though it were physically painful for him to admit it. "I didn't keep you safe, and my team didn't find you. You escaped."

"They would have," El insisted. Another fifteen minutes or so, she’d told Dr. Evans. They'd been closing in. But that might not have been fast enough. If Keller had called his goon while he was out buying antibiotics and told him to just finish the job - in that case, fifteen minutes would have been way, way too late.

Peter was watching her, his brown eyes warm and a little worried. El thought he probably knew everything she was thinking. "But they didn't," he said, quietly.

El swallowed. "No. They didn't." She closed her eyes, but it seemed she'd cried herself out in the shower, because even though her throat ached, the tears didn't come. "Is this . . . normal?"

Peter reached over and took her hand. "I've seen it before with agents. Something bad happens to them in the field, and so the next time they go out they're twice as bold as they were before, just to prove to themselves that they can do it. It can be terrifying for the person standing next to them," he added, a little wryly.

El managed a laugh and pressed the heel of her free hand to her forehead. "Oh God, poor Mozzie."

"It's also pretty scary for the person married to them.”

She drew a deep, somewhat shaky breath. "I know. I'm sorry."

Peter shook his head. "It's okay. It reminded me what you go through, every day.”

El let herself relax, just a little. She picked up her fork and poked at her salad, finally managing to spear a tomato wedge. "When it's an agent, what do you do?"

Peter drew a deep breath. "You won't like the answer."

"Counseling?" she guessed.

He nodded. "Counseling and deskwork, until the therapist signs off on it. I know you didn't like it before," he added, before she could say anything, "but I think - I think it might be a good idea. If you don't like Dr. Evans, we can find someone else. The Bureau will pay for it."

She nodded. "I - I think maybe you're right. And I liked Dr. Evans fine, I just . . . it was too soon. But I’m ready to try again, I think."

"Good," Peter said. He came around the island to put his arms around her, and she leaned her head on his shoulder, relishing the comforting solidity of him. He pressed his lips to her hair. "You've been incredible in all of this, El," he said, voice slightly muffled. "You've been so strong. But part of being strong is knowing -"

"- when I need help. I know, Peter. And I also know," she added, stepping back, "that you're dying to watch the rest of the game. So let's do that now, all right?"

Peter nodded. "Whatever you want."

"That is what I want," she said.

"And tomorrow -"

"I'll call Dr. Evans," she said. "Scout’s honor."

***

"Well, Elizabeth," Dr. Evans said, when El showed up for her appointment three days later, "I have to say, I was surprised when you called. I got the impression last time that you didn't think this was very useful."

"I didn't," El admitted.

Dr. Evans tilted her head. "May I ask what changed?"

"Something . . . happened," El said, "and the way I reacted - I'm not as fine as I thought I was." She hesitated, and Dr. Evans watched her. "I meant what I said before, about not being angry with anyone except Keller. It wasn't anyone else's fault."

". . . but?" Dr. Evans prompted, when El didn't go on.

El swallowed. "But I think I might be sort of pissed off anyway." Not at anyone, she'd realized. She wasn't mad at Peter or Neal or Moz - but she was angry that her home had been violated, angry that someone had come in while she was cooking dinner and shoved a gun into her back, angry at the ugly bruises that had lingered for days on her upper arm. And yeah, maybe she was angry that it'd taken the FBI so damn long to find her. She'd always trusted Peter and his agents to get the job done, to do what they needed to - but that time they hadn't. Not fast enough.

Dr. Evans nodded. "You should be pissed off. Someone hurt you. Being angry about it is normal. And so is being frightened. These are all healthy, normal reactions to what happened to you."

El bit her lip. "What about impersonating an FBI agent to buy my husband time to arrest our criminal neighbors?"

Dr. Evans's lips quirked. "That . . . sounds a little unusual. This was the something that happened?"

"Part of it.”

"Well, then." Dr. Evans leaned back in her chair. "That sounds like a very interesting story. I'd love to hear more."

El drew a deep breath and started talking. She wasn't fine, not yet, she'd finally had to admit. But she was bruised, not beaten. The bruises on her arm had faded and so would this with time - and a little help.

Fin.