The doctor disappeared back through the door to the waiting room with a flick of her white coat, taking with her all Neal’s velocity. He’d stopped pacing when the doctor arrived to update them on Mozzie’s condition, and now Neal could hardly even remember that he’d considered boosting a white coat and satisfying his driving urge for information on his own.
Mozzie wasn’t dead, which was good, which was very good, but which also meant Neal wasn’t on his way to the next thing. Neal had time. Neal had dead space. Which was very bad, because you had to keep it moving or it all fell apart.
He could hear Peter speaking in a low voice on his phone, behind him, as he’d been all day, matching him at every sprint, always exactly one step right behind, even when Neal didn’t want him there.
You had to keep it moving, your hands, the cards, the words, the fluid gestures, or it all fell apart and your knees started to shake. Neal went to sit down before it became obvious.
There wasn’t a next thing to do, so there was time to notice the smudged fingerprints people had left on the glossy cover of the Time magazine on top of the stack on the table. These fingerprints weren’t going to catch anybody, or solve a code, or dispel a grief. Neal put his elbows on his knees to shore himself up, steepled his fingers against his lips, and fixed the mags with a meaningless stare.
There was time to notice the fact that this was all his fault, which was kind of a given, but if you kept moving it didn’t hurt. Neal wasn’t moving any more, not crafting strategy, not turning tumblers, not gliding through obstacles, not pointing a gun in someone’s face—
Any minute now Neal was going to succumb to trembling entropy. Or worse: give in to tears, which had made a resurgence. He had managed till now not to let them fall, but now he himself was falling, and he couldn’t do a thing about it. He rested his forehead on the heels of his hands and turned his toes inward to press down in a token of resistance, a token that was mocked by the first tear falling on the impeccable leather. That was all right; people were supposed to cry in waiting rooms; nobody would notice, nobody would care. Except Peter, of course.
Who was now settling into the seat next to him, a movement the furthest thing from startling; quiet and purposely uncareful. That was Peter’s MO when the game was up: move in quietly and fill the room with that terrible sense of fait accompli, and gall you with his total absence of need to hear you admit he was right.
And the game was definitely up. The game was so up it wasn’t even a game any more. There wasn’t a next thing to do, and Neal was tired, and it ought to be Peter’s fault that he was crying in a goddamn waiting room, or at least it was Peter’s fault for being right about…something, but it didn’t matter because his life was completely screwed over backwards, and that was nobody’s fault but Neal Caffrey’s. And even that didn’t matter, because Kate was dead and Mozzie could have been.
“Take me back to prison, Peter,” Neal said, against the rock of tears in his throat. “I can’t do this anymore.”
He held back a sob to listen for Peter’s counter-argument, but Peter didn’t make one. He chafed Neal’s spine gently for a moment and said nothing.
When Neal finished crying, entropy still hadn’t arrived, so he sat up slowly, drawing deeper breaths and swallowing.
Peter was waiting when Neal looked over his direction. “Did you mean it?” he said.
Neal put his back into the chair and stared dully at the mags. “Don’t know about you, but systematically destroying the life of your friends is not exactly what I call the good life.”
“You saved my life. That wasn’t good?” Peter’s voice was mild, which meant he was going somewhere with this. Neal didn’t feel like playing along.
Peter was looking at him, waiting; when Neal still didn’t answer he looked out across the room and nodded. “You think prison would help?”
“No,” Neal admitted. Prison wouldn’t help at all. It wasn’t even a good place to hide. But. “Might be less complicated.”
“Yeah, none of that trusting other people and letting them trust you. Welcome to life, Neal. Congratulations.”
Neal glared at him. That was the other thing about Peter, the gentle irony that wasn’t even real sarcasm because he wasn’t actually kidding. Peter was actually congratulating him on being in this room in this state, and Neal couldn’t even turn the tables, because Peter was already here in the same room. There was nothing for Neal to do but shake his head and look away.
Peter took a long breath and shifted in his chair. “He called me, you know,” he said after a moment. “When he realized you had the gun.”
Neal went still, absorbing it. Then he sighed. “Is this your way of telling me it could be worse?”
“Well, it could,” Peter said. “You could have killed Fowler, and we wouldn’t have a name to put to Mozzie’s shooter.”
Neal looked back at him. Peter wasn’t glaring dark-eyed any more, at him or anyone else; he looked as tired as Neal felt, and calm after the velocity of sprints and phone calls. Fait accompli, Neal thought. He subsided deep into his chair and let out his breath in a long sigh.
“You always catch me,” he said.
“Yeah,” Peter said. “But it’s nice to have help.” His phone went off then, and he rose as he reached to answer it. Neal put his head back against the wall and listened. Then he wasn’t listening any more, he was drifting in the flotsam of hospital sounds and the deep warm anchor line of Peter’s voice.
He was sound asleep when the doctor came back half an hour later.