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The Silent Language of Grief

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Tears are the silent language of grief. ~ Voltaire

Peter hadn't slept in three days. Every time he closed his eyes he saw the tram, saw the water, saw Neal fall. Every damn time.

Reese, Diana, Jones, Elizabeth – they had all tried to get him to talk about it, but there wasn't anything to say. The distance had been too great for a jump, but Neal tried. Peter's stomach had twisted and flipped, but he hadn't been able to look away.

Right now, he needed to be alone, so he used his key to let himself into June's house and then Neal's apartment. He sat and stared at the evidence of a life cut short – dirty dishes in the sink, half-filled bottle of wine on the table, tank top crumpled at the bottom of the unmade bed, book open and face down on the coffee table.

He could see Neal moving through the apartment that morning three days ago, making breakfast, getting ready for work. Mozzie must have been there at some point for the wine to have been opened; Neal usually wasn't one to drink alone.

There was a solid navy silk tie laying on the kitchen table, and Peter imagined Neal trying to decide between this one and the one he'd been wearing – a navy tie with a double gray diagonal repeating stripe.

Peter remembered every detail of what Neal had been wearing. Sometimes, in his dreams, he saw Neal's face, shocked and scared, as he fell. Other times, it was Peter falling; he could feel the terror and the adrenaline rush that he thought Neal must have felt.

The apartment door eased open, and Peter's eyes followed Elizabeth as she stepped inside. "Hon?"

"Elizabeth," he acknowledged her but didn't get up.

"I was worried. June said she saw your car outside."

That explained how he'd been found. Not that he was hiding.

"I needed to be alone."

"Oh, honey." She moved closer and put her arms around his neck. "What can I do?"

He patted her hand and gently removed her arms. "I just need some time."

She pursed her lips and dabbed at her eyes with a tissue he hadn't seen in her hand earlier. "Okay. I'm going to go downstairs and have some tea with June. If you feel up to it in a little while, you should join us."

He nodded and she left, closing the door behind her.

Peter closed his eyes. Neal's presence was everywhere in this damn apartment. The faint traces of his cologne even seemed to hang in the air. If he held his breath, he could hear Neal's shoes as he walked across the hardwood toward the door. It was nearly unbearable to know that he'd never see his… Neal again.

~~!!~~

Neal woke with a cough that painfully jarred his bruised ribs and aching head. He tried to curl up, but his body was too sore to move without an urgent need. Everything hurt, from his toenails to the tips of his hair.

"Neal?" Mozzie's voice startled him, and Neal's eyes shot open. "Take it easy. Deep breaths."

He tried, but his ribs protested and he wound up coughing again. "Ugh," he muttered when he finally got himself under control. "What happened?"

"Well, let's just say you took a flying leap and didn't stick the landing."

"Huh?" He tried to think back to what that could mean, but the last thing he remembered was speaking with Ellen in her apartment on Roosevelt Island. "Ellen?!"

Before he could attempt to sit up, Mozzie had his hands on his shoulders and was holding him down. "Whoa. Hey, Ellen's okay. Just relax."

He grasped Mozzie's wrist and squeezed with as much strength as he had in him. "Moz, tell me."

Mozzie sighed and extracted his wrist so that he could sit back in the chair next to the cot on which Neal was resting. "The FBI was closing in, and you tried to jump from one tram to the other, but they were too far apart. You fell, and I pulled you out of the river. That reminds me – it's time for your next dose of antibiotics."

Neal watched as Mozzie poured two glasses of water and shook two pills out of an orange prescription bottle. Mozzie took one with the water and then helped Neal take the other one. "Why?"

"Because no one knows what's in that water, and you and I both inhaled some. You, of course, inhaled much more, which means I've been keeping an eye out for you to grow a tail or gills, but so far, you're just hovering on the edge of pneumonia."

"Thanks, Nurse Nightingale."

"You're welcome, Patient Zero."

Neal frowned and looked around the room. "Why are we at Saturday?" It was one of the smallest of Mozzie's safehouses, only about twenty feet by eight feet. It held the cot that Neal was laying on, a chair and table to eat or work at, and a kitchenette with a mini-fridge and a hotplate. There was also a bathroom in the corner with a sink and a toilet but no shower or tub.

"It's the closest to Roosevelt Island, and I couldn't take you to the hospital."

"Why not?" Neal couldn't think of a legitimate reason why he couldn't have been treated by a professional doctor.

"Sally's been keeping an eye on your commutation through her backdoor into the Bureau. Kramer had put in a request to have you transferred to DC. He wasn't going to let the committee commute your sentence."

"What?!" Neal sat up with a surge of adrenaline that caused his head to spin.

"Calm down. You're getting too worked up. I'm taking care of it."

"How?"

"I'm working on getting us safe passage out of the country."

"Peter's never going to stop looking for me."

"Well, about that…"

"What did you do?"

"Nothing! I did nothing."

"Mozzie?"

"The Suit, Mrs. Suit, the other Suits… they all think you're dead."

"What?!"

"It's the only way."

"No! No, it's not. I cannot let Peter and Elizabeth believe that I'm dead. What about June and Sara? This is a terrible plan."

Mozzie held up his hands in a placating gesture. "After we get to safe haven, I'll get word back to June that you're okay."

"No, Moz, this isn't right." Neal thought of his friends and how upset he'd be if any one of them died. Peter, Elizabeth, June, Sara, even Jones and Diana were family now, and he didn't want to leave them behind. He didn't want to leave them thinking that he was dead when he was still breathing. Barely. He coughed again and winced when his chest ached fiercely.

"Neal, you'll be free of the anklet, the Suits, all of it. No one will be chasing you. You're not going to throw that away over some ridiculous notion while you're concussed and have a fever. I won't let you. Now, lay back down and rest."

Neal wanted to protest, but he was feeling lightheaded and ill. This conversation wasn't over, but he wasn't in any state to continue it at that moment.

~~!!~~

It took Peter three tries to tie his tie properly. The fact that his hands were shaking was the main issue. That and he didn't want to do this. Today was Neal Caffrey's memorial service. Though his body hadn't been found, Elizabeth and June insisted that they all needed closure, and the best way to do that was to honor Neal, celebrate his life and say goodbye.

Elizabeth smoothed the shoulders of his suit jacket and gave him a small, sad smile. "Ready?"

"No. Never."

She leaned in and gave him a soft kiss. Then, she took his hand and tugged him gently toward the door.

There was a black Town Car waiting for them on the street. Peter opened the back door for Elizabeth and hesitated before sliding in beside her. He felt like he was going to throw up, but he couldn't remember the last time he'd eaten. Nothing tasted right anymore.

He must have zoned out because the next thing he knew, they were in June's house being welcomed by June herself. There were a lot of people from the office milling around, waiting for the service to begin. Jones and Diana gravitated toward them, and they stood in loose circle without speaking. There weren't any words that would make this better.

Peter noticed that Mozzie and Neal's other criminal acquaintances were nowhere to be seen. He wondered if June was having a second ceremony or if this was the second one. Who would have thought Neal Caffrey would require two memorial services: one for the feds and one for those wanted by the feds. He almost laughed at the thought but held it in. This was not the time or place. Peter worried suddenly that he was losing his mind.

It wasn't long before June gathered everyone in the back parlor where she said a few words about Neal that left very few dry eyes in the house. Then, she invited others to speak, and one by one, the White Collar team, from agents to clerks, stepped forward.

Peter had tuned out long before his turn came around, unable to bear the pain in everyone else's voices. When Elizabeth, with tears streaming down her face, nudged him forward, Peter's throat closed up, and he fled the room.

It wasn't like him to run, but he had barely felt like himself since that horrible day in the tram car. Now, he found himself up three flights of stairs and standing in Neal's apartment. Nothing had changed since he'd last been there. That's what finally broke through and caused his tears to fall. Nothing had changed here, but nothing would ever be the same outside.

~~!!~~

Neal felt so bad that he had no choice but to let Mozzie take the lead for the next few days. He was sleeping more than he was awake, but every time he woke, he felt a wave of grief for his friends who were grieving for him. No matter what Mozzie said, he couldn't let them go on believing that he was dead.

Once he was able to make it to the bathroom and back to the cot without assistance, and while Mozzie was occupied outside of the safehouse, Neal pulled a ratty jean jacket on over his loose t-shirt and cinched a belt around his corduroys. Normally, he wouldn't be caught alive in this outfit, but it was what Mozzie had been able to scrape together without going back to Neal's apartment at June's. Mozzie was adamant that they not return there for anything. He had papers for Neal hidden away, and he was working on getting him a passable wardrobe.

It was early evening when he stepped outside into the fresh air. The safehouse was a storage container that Mozzie had retrofitted with a ventilation system, basic plumbing, and parked in a warehouse that he owned through a series of shell corporations. There were stacks of other storage containers, but Neal didn't know if they were there to keep up appearances or if Mozzie used them for their intended purpose.

Without a phone, Neal had no choice but to walk a few blocks until he could hail a taxi to take him to Brooklyn. At this time of day, Peter was either at the office or at home, and Neal really didn't want to have to walk into the federal building if he could help it. Also, he had no idea if it was a week day or a weekend until he looked at the screen affixed to the back of the driver's seat, which displayed the date, time, temperature, and an advertisement for a national burger chain.

The drive was swift despite the hour, and Neal paid the driver with the emergency cash he'd taken from Mozzie's stash in the toilet bowl. He'd replace it if Mozzie didn't kill him for breaking cover.

Then, he snuck around behind the row of townhouses so he could make sure that Peter was home. Each house had a small fenced in backyard with a gate, which Neal had never been more grateful for. His body was still sore, and his ribs had barely begun to heal, so the less scaling fences he had to do, the better.

He peeked through an open slit in the fence and saw Peter sitting outside on the patio with Jones and Diana. All three had beers, and no one was speaking. Satchmo was resting beside Peter, but all of the sudden, his ears perked up and he trotted toward the fence – directly toward Neal – with a low woof of interest.

~~!!~~

Peter was lost in his own thoughts when he heard Satchmo. His dog rarely made any noises, so it was curious that he'd be at the fence woofing and wagging his tail like there was a treat waiting on the other side. At least he wasn't growling like there was a threat.

Jones and Diana noticed too, but Peter motioned for them to stay put as he moved to investigate.

"What's going on, Satch?" Peter took hold of the lab's collar and opened the gate, expecting to see that the poodle from down the block had escaped her home. Instead, he saw a ghost.

Peter stumbled backwards and fell onto his ass. He lost his grip on Satchmo, and the dog ran to the apparition and pawed at its legs. Peter was stunned when it bent down slowly and rubbed Satchmo's ears.

"Hey, boy," Neal said softly, speaking to the dog but looking at Peter.

"You're not real." Peter's vision was starting to tunnel into darkness.

Then, Neal took two steps forward and bumped his shoe against Peter's in his effort to get to the other man. Everything snapped into focus in that instant, and Peter was on his feet, pushing Neal back against the fence, angry that the younger man had let him believe – let them all believe – that he'd been dead for the last week.

"How dare you! Was this some kind of con? Some kind of joke? You bastard!"

Neal's mouth was open, but Peter was choking him so badly that he couldn't get a word out. Before he could ease up, there were hands on him, pulling him away from Neal.

Jones got in between them while Diana kneeled beside Neal, who'd fallen to his knees as soon as Peter wasn't holding him up.

"Neal? How… What… Are you okay?" Diana had one hand on Neal's shoulder and the other on his chest, over his heart.

Neal coughed and tugged the collar of his t-shirt away from his throat. His skin was red where Peter's forearm had been pressed, and Peter felt a wave of concern before his anger worked its way back in. "What the hell, Neal? Where have you been?!"

"Just," Neal coughed again and bent over with his hands pressed to his ribs, "give me a minute. I can explain."

Suddenly, the back door swung open and Elizabeth asked, "What's going on out here?" Her hand flew to her mouth and then she was running across the yard. "Neal?" She crouched beside him and tilted his face toward her. "Oh, my god."

"Hi, El," Neal said softly. He groaned as he pushed himself to his feet and then wavered until Elizabeth and Diana steadied him.

"Let's all take a breath here," Jones said, keeping one hand on Peter's arm, "and go inside. I think we could all use a stronger drink right about now."

"That's a great idea." Diana started moving Neal forward, and Peter waited for them go by before turning to follow. He wasn't letting Neal out of his sight until he got the whole story.

Inside, the light was brighter than it had been in the yard, and Peter could plainly see how pale Neal was. There were lines around his eyes and mouth, tell-tale signs of pain without enough analgesic in his system. Peter's anger was ebbing away now the he could see that Neal hadn't spent the last week with his feet up enjoying the finer things in life.

Elizabeth brought out the bottle of whiskey that Peter kept for really tough days and passed around shot glasses. For Neal, she poured a glass of orange juice and set it in front of him. He gave her a wan smile and sipped at it while everyone else, even El, took their shot.

"I don't remember everything," Neal began, "but I'll tell you what I do know." It took less than fifteen minutes for him to bring them up to speed, and everyone was sitting, dumbfounded, when he was done. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, staring into his nearly empty glass. "I'm so sorry."

"Hush." Elizabeth smoothed his unruly hair away from his face and frowned. "You're burning up."

"I'm okay," he murmured, just before he coughed and curled around his ribs.

Peter reached over at felt Neal's forehead himself. He definitely had a fever, and if what he'd just told them was the truth, then he didn't imagine that Mozzie took Neal by a hospital, or even an urgent care clinic. "Have you seen a doctor?"

Neal shook his head and drank the last of his juice.

"Diana-"

"On it, Boss," she said, cell phone already in hand as she stood and moved into the living room to call Christie, just as he'd been about to suggest. Peter really did have the best team in the entire FBI.

Jones caught Peter's eye and gestured to Neal. "I hate to bring this up now, but what are we going to do about Kramer?"

Peter had forgotten all about Neal's commutation hearing and the discussion he'd had with Kramer about Neal being a valuable asset in DC. He rubbed a hand over his face and shrugged. "Let's take things one step at a time. First is making sure Neal's okay."

"Christie's on her way," Diana said as she returned to the kitchen. "And I think I can help with Agent Kramer."

"What do you mean?"

She sat back down at the table and poured herself another shot. "He cornered me in the garage one night and tried to bribe me to falsify evidence."

"What kind of evidence?"

Diana's eyes flicked toward Neal, who was leaning his head against his hand and listlessly following the conversation. "He wanted me to revise some of my case files to implicate Neal in the crimes we'd been investigating. He said he didn't have much time to find real evidence, of which he was convinced there was plenty, and he wanted to make sure the he could get Neal's hearing thrown in his favor so that he could get him to DC to work cases there."

Peter's anger grew again so quickly and urgently that he swept his arm across the table, sending shot glasses and the bottle of whiskey flying. "That bastard. How dare he?!"

Diana calmly pulled her cell phone from her pocket and placed it on the table. She tapped the screen a couple of times before a recording program was visible, and then she hit play. Through the speakers, everything she'd just relayed came out in Kramer's voice.

Peter was seething. He stood and went outside before he destroyed the whole damn kitchen. Phil Kramer had no right to mess with Neal's life like this, especially when Neal had earned his freedom with the work he'd already done for the FBI. He'd put his life on the line for several of their cases, and there was absolutely no reason to force him into service against his will.

He paced the yard until he felt his heart rate settle, and then he went back inside to find that Christie had arrived in his absence. She was examining Neal in the living room while Elizabeth, Jones and Diana cleaned up his mess of broken glass in the kitchen.

"Oh, damn. I'm sorry, hon. I'll take care of that."

"No, no, we've got it." Elizabeth dumped a dustpan full of glass into the trash can and then moved over to pull him into a hug. "Everything's going to be okay now. You know that right? Neal's here, and he's – he's alive!"

Peter nodded and gave her a kiss. "Thanks, hon." His eyes shifted into the living room, where he could see Neal sitting on the couch, allowing Christie to check his ribs. Even from across the room, Peter could see the livid bruises along Neal's sides and across his chest.

Christie joined them a few minutes later, and Diana moved over to put her arm around her girlfriend.

"What's the verdict?" Peter asked the question on everyone's minds.

"He's going to be okay. He has some deep bruising along his ribs, but nothing appears to be broken, and he's suffering some lingering effects of a concussion. I'm most worried about his lungs, but he says that he's been taking antibiotics. I wrote him a prescription for more."

"His lungs?" Elizabeth's worried tone matched the little wrinkle in her forehead that Peter ached to smooth away.

"I'm pretty sure he has an infection that's bordering on pneumonia. He said that he inhaled some water from the East River, which is definitely cause for concern."

Everyone winced and nodded their heads in agreement.

"He has a fever, but it's not too bad. He won't go to the hospital for tests, so I suggest lots of fluids and rest."

"We can do that." Peter looked over to Neal and saw that the con man was struggling to his feet. "Hey, hey, where do you think you're going?" he asked gently.

Neal plucked at his shirt and wrinkled his nose. "I've been stuck in a stor- safehouse without a shower. Do you mind?" He pointed up the stairs toward their closest bathroom.

Peter looked him up and down and raised an eyebrow. "Can you stand for that long?"

Neal scoffed but promptly stumbled over the coffee table he must have forgotten was there.

"How about I run you a bath?" Elizabeth moved quickly to his side and took his arm. "I'll find you something comfortable to wear too and make sure that there are sheets on the guest bed."

Peter watched them make their way upstairs before turning back to his team. "I don't think I need to tell you both to keep this to yourselves for a little while."

Diana and Jones exchanged glances before nodding resolutely. Christie squeezed Diana's hand and nodded too.

"Diana, send me the recording that you made of Kramer."

She started tapping on her phone's screen. "On its way. I’m glad I thought to hit the record button when I saw him waiting for me."

"We all are." Peter felt his phone vibrate in his pocket when the message was received. "Go home and get some rest. Tomorrow, we'll take the recording to Hughes and get OPR involved."

Christie stepped forward and handed Peter a business card. "Call me if Neal's symptoms worsen. He's uncomfortable but not in need of urgent care right now. If anything changes, I need to know."

Peter put the card in the chest pocket of his t-shirt and patted it. "I promise."

Jones cleared his throat and said, "About Mozzie-"

"Leave him to me."

Jones opened his mouth but thought better of whatever he was going to say because he snapped it shut just as quickly.

Peter showed them to the door before heading upstairs to see if he could help Elizabeth get the guest room set up. She was almost finished, so he headed into the bedroom to get ready for bed. He was exhausted. Now that Neal was just down the hall, alive and hopefully on his way to being well, the last week of stress, tension, and sleepless nights was weighing heavily on Peter's shoulders.

As he was attaching his cell phone to its charger, it started to ring. He answered it as soon as he saw that it was a 'Private Caller'. "Mozzie."

"Is he there?"

"Yes, and he's going to stay here. You're no longer allowed to have any contact with him. If I see you near him, I will arrest you."

"On what charges?"

"All of them. Every single one that I can think of."

"That's-"

"Don't try to tell me what's fair and what's not. You let us believe that he was dead, Mozzie. Dead. Do you have any idea what that feels like?"

"I'm-"

"Don't even try it. You're not sorry. You were going to take him away to some island with no extradition and live out your days like kings. It's despicable."

"You would have done the same thing!" Mozzie exclaimed before Peter could continue or disconnect. "He was free and clear, Suit. No one chases a dead man. Not even you. Not even Kramer. Now, what's going to happen to him? Do you even know?"

"It's been handled. Goodbye, Mozzie." Peter hung up before Mozzie could say anything more. He turned and threw his phone into the farthest wall, satisfied when he heard the broken pieces fall to the floor. There was nothing more that he needed to say to Mozzie, and there was nothing Mozzie could ever say that would make the last week okay.

Once he'd calmed, he walked down the hall and found Elizabeth giving Neal a glass of water and an extra blanket in the guest room. He moved inside and sat down on the edge of the bed where Neal was already under a mound of covers. "How are you doing?"

"I'm tired but better." He fidgeted with a loose thread on a quilt that Elizabeth's grandmother had made. "I'm sorry that everyone had to go through that."

"Hey," Peter's hand closed over his, "it's not your fault." Neal gave him a look and Peter shrugged. "Okay, so it wasn't your best idea to jump the trams, but you had no control of Mozzie's decision to not take you to a hospital or let us know that you were alive."

Neal yawned, and Elizabeth moved forward to flip off the lamp beside the bed. "You should rest. Wake us up if you need anything, okay? I mean it."

Neal nodded, and Elizabeth impulsively leaned down to give him a hug. He gasped in surprise but returned the embrace. "Thanks, Elizabeth."

"I missed you, sweetie," she replied as she let him go and then left the room.

"We missed you," Peter said, and then leaned in for a hug of his own. It was awkward, and he was worried about hurting Neal, but the other man clung to him for a long moment.

When Peter eased back, Neal was nearly asleep. He patted Neal's knee and then headed toward the door, looking back over his shoulder as he shut off the light to make sure that Neal was really and truly there. Neal flashed him a smile that turned into another yawn. Peter turned away and yawned too. It had been a long week, but he was more grateful than he could ever say that Neal was here and that he was going to be okay.

~End

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