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Not Alone

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Neal was wide awake. He stared up at the ceiling of the Burke's master bedroom and listened to the sounds of Peter and Elizabeth sleeping, like he desperately wished he could do.

When the nightstand clock turned to 3:00am, he slid carefully out from under the covers and silently made his way downstairs. Satchmo looked up from his bed in the corner of the living room but stayed where he was. Neal's late night wanderings weren't that interesting, apparently.

He turned on a pot of coffee and stood by the window, looking out in the yard that was bathed in moonlight while he waited for the brew cycle to complete.

Lost in his thoughts, he startled when a hand dropped on his shoulder and squeezed.

"Want to talk about it?" Peter asked quietly.

Neal took a step away so that Peter's hand fell back to his side, and then he moved back into the kitchen where he pulled a mug from the cabinet and poured it full. "Want some?"

"No, and I don't think you should have any either."

Neal sighed but didn't take a drink.

"Have a seat." Peter sat down at the table and pulled out the chair beside himself for Neal.

"You should go back to bed, Peter. It's late."

"I'll go back if you come with me."

Neal shook his head and flashed a tired half smile. "That's not really in the cards for me tonight."

"Is this about your mother?"

"No," Neal replied, too quickly. "Sometimes I just can't sleep. You know that."

"True, but that's been happening less and less since you started spending nights here. Why don't you want to talk about this?"

"Because there's nothing to talk about."

"It's okay to be upset, or angry, or mad, or sad, or anything else about your mother. There's no right or wrong emotion here."

"Thanks Dr. Phil, but like I said-"

Peter reached out and squeezed Neal's hand. "Talk to me. Please."

The touch caused tears to gather unbidden in his eyes, and Neal could feel his resolve crumbling rapidly. Just before he started speaking, he turned his hand so that he could grip Peter's more securely. "She was all I knew, all I had for so long. Ellen was around as much as she could be, but there were so many nights I spent alone with my mom, listening to her talk about my dad, telling me lies she thought I wanted to hear.

"She wasn't a very good cook, but she let me help her in the kitchen. The only thing I wasn't allowed to touch was a knife, because I'd stabbed myself with one when I'd tried to make her breakfast for Mother's Day when I was four or five. I don't remember it, but-" His free hand moved to his side, fingering the scar through the thin material of his t-shirt. It was on the left side, below his ribs. The cut hadn't been too serious but it had required stitches and a visit from the Department of Social Services.

He took a deep, shuddering breath, reminded abruptly of the fear he'd felt when a woman with a serious tone and an even more serious bun in her hair had talked to him at the hospital about his mom and his home life.

"Neal." Peter let go of his hand only long enough to switch hands so that he had a free one to knead at the back of Neal's neck. "Breathe. Slowly. You're okay."

It took a minute for Neal to speak again. When he got his breathing under control, he said, "I yelled at her. That night, when she told me the truth about my dad. I yelled that I hated her, I hated everything about her. Those were the last words she ever heard me say."

He covered his face with his free hand and cried, softly at first but then sobbing openly by the time Peter pulled him into the comfort of his arms.

Neal clutched at Peter's shirt, gripping the material tightly in his fists and he let out all the emotions that had been pent up since he'd gotten the call from the Marshals the day before. Virginia Brooks had died in her sleep after a long illness. They hadn't given details, and Neal hadn't asked for any.

Peter didn't say anything, just held Neal until an indeterminate time had passed and Neal pulled back far enough to press his forehead against Peter's. "Thank you," he whispered.

"I love you, and I want you to know that I'm here for you. El and I both are. You're not alone." Peter swiped his thumbs across Neal's cheeks to wipe away the tear tracks before giving him a gentle kiss on the lips.

Neal kissed him back, but he was too tired and emotionally spent to do much else. "I love you too."

"Think you can try and get some sleep now?" Peter was already standing and pulling Neal up with him when he asked the question. He kept one hand on the small of Neal's back as they headed toward the stairs.

"Maybe," Neal murmured, letting Peter guide him back to their bed.

Elizabeth had curled up on the far side of the mattress, leaving plenty of room for Neal and Peter but not much in the way of blankets. Peter grabbed a quilt from the chest at the foot of their bed and lay down under it with Neal, who put his head on Peter's chest. Peter started rubbing his hand up and down Neal's back and before he knew it, Neal had fallen into a dreamless sleep, feeling safe and secure and loved.


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