Coping StrategiesAuthor: iamshadowFandom:
2,813 inc. footnotesSummary:
Neal wondered if it was too early to crack open a bottle of wine, even though it was barely three.
Then Mozzie reappeared looking white and shaken, and Neal had the corkscrew out without even consciously deciding one way or the other.Content:
Friendship, drunken confessions, awkward conversations, trauma, dissociation, PTSD, not as dark as the tags make it sound.A/N:
Just a short, unbetaed fic of somewhat unusual origins. kath_ballantyne
did look over it to make sure it was coherent though, as she does for all of my fics, mostly without credit. Love you, sweetheart.
When Neal got home, he was half expecting Mozzie. What he wasn't expecting was other company.
“Er... hi,” he said, holding out his hand to the strangers, hoping his smile was genuine enough after a long day with way too much running for his taste.
The man and woman, who had sprung to their feet when the door opened, didn't even bother to return it, just looked jumpy and suspicious.
“This is Steve,” Mozzie added hastily. Neal nodded politely letting 'Steve' seep a little to the surface in his posture.
“You trust him?” the woman asked immediately.
The woman coldly scanned Neal head to foot. The man just looked edgy, as though the Feds were about to swarm their way into the building at any moment. Neal really hoped they weren't.
“We'll come back another day,” she concluded, heading for the door without any further hesitation. The man trailed in her wake, his eyes too wide and startled.
“I'll... er... show you out,” Mozzie offered, quickly trotting behind.
Neal surveyed the empty room. No papers left behind (no clues), no coffee cups (no prints). If the floor had been dirty, there might have been shoe impressions, but the maid had been in yesterday and she always did a spotless job.
His calves and thighs were beginning to stiffen up, and he was pretty sure that there was a fist sized bruise colouring up on his ribs. Someone punching you in the ribs tended to do that.
Neal wondered if it was too early to crack open a bottle of wine, even though it was barely three.
Then Mozzie reappeared looking white and shaken, and Neal had the corkscrew out without even consciously deciding one way or the other. He slid the first glass across the table and waited.
“It's past... stuff,” Mozzie began. “Before.” Meaning pre- just about everything, except foster care, group homes, streets.
“That's cool,” Neal reassured him, keeping his body language neutral, open.
“I thought you'd be gone longer.”
“All-nighter. Just got in.”
Mozzie cracked a hint of a smile. “And you're drinking this? You're gonna be out on your ass.”
Neal returned it. “That's what I'm hoping.” He swallowed the dregs in a large, decadent mouthful.
Mozzie studied his hands. “They ran into me on the street, wanted to get out of public to talk. I panicked. I didn't want to take them back to mine, not so soon after the Suits ruining Tuesday.”
“It's fine. I get it.”
“I told them we live together.”
“And that you're my partner. You know.” Mozzie's voice trailed off a little.
Neal relaxed a little more. “Makes sense. I just walked in here like I owned the place. Plus,” he nodded over at the alcove, “one bed.”
Mozzie finally unwound enough to take a mouthful, savour it, swallow.
“You need to crash here for a bit?” Neal offered. “Just in case?”
Mozzie nodded. “I watched until they turned a corner, but I didn't wait more than a minute. They could have doubled back. Or someone else could be watching all of us. Hey, maybe we should hack the traffic cam on the corner. It'd be a great way to monitor the flow of vehicles and pedestrians. And cycle couriers. Work out if there's a pattern.”
Neal smiled indulgently. “It's not paranoia if they're really out to get you, huh, Moz?”
Mozzie didn't look indignant, or spout a quotation. He just took a deeper swallow and murmured, “Truer words.”
Neal scanned Mozzie's familiar face, a bit worried at how rattled he looked. “These people, are they dangerous?” Neal wasn't concerned for himself, but there was June, and her granddaughters, and the household staff to think of.
“No,” Mozzie replied. “Not them. They're just... fellow survivors. I'd rather not talk about it,” he said. There was a slight tremble in his hand, making the surface of the wine in his glass shimmer.
Neal didn't press, just refilled his own glass. His legs were starting to stiffen, the ache in his side a constant presence now. The fine silk blend of his shirt felt like hemp sacking, scraping across the skin every time he moved the wrong way. He kept it out of his expression, mostly, he thought. Instead, he focussed on radiating a general aura of receptivity, of no pressure. If Mozzie didn't want to talk (it happened, rarely, but it did), then they didn't have to talk.
For a long time, they just sat there in silence, while Mozzie settled down from vibrating in his seat to his usual level of hyper-awareness. Neal felt his limbs loosen a little, his eyes droop, and the muscles in his jaw soften from a tension he hadn't been aware of.
“You want to tell me why you're drinking your way through a bottle of very nice Bordeaux like it's water? Which is a heinous act, I must say. And unfair.” Mozzie's glass was almost empty, but it was only his second, and Neal had had at least three and was staring at the dregs of his fourth.
Neal bit back the urge to snip, it's my wine
, and let his breath out in a sigh, instead. “Long day,” Neal murmured.
“Uh huh,” Mozzie said sceptically. “Long, like the Suit made you file paperwork all day and sign away another piece of your soul to the administration, or long as in someone kicked your ass?”
“Someone kicked your ass, and you what, ran out of Tylenol?” Mozzie sounded almost offended. He pulled the bottle across the table, and refilled his own glass with a generous measure. “You are a disgrace to wine connoisseurs everywhere.” Neal noted that the bottle remained at Mozzie's elbow. It was well within his reach, but had very obviously, pointedly, been confiscated.
“The ER cleared me, I'm fine,” Neal said.
“Uh huh,” Mozzie said, sceptically. “You're fine. That's why you're sitting here, getting drunk at three thirty in the afternoon.”
Neal raised his eyebrows. “You sure you should be throwing stones, Mr Glass House?”
“Touché,” Mozzie conceded, though he didn't give the bottle back. Neal might have grabbed himself a new one if he didn't know he'd regret it, and if his aching body wouldn't protest the movement required. The wine hadn't stopped the hurt, but he didn't care as much that it hurt as he might otherwise have, had he been sober.
“They were going to break my fingers,” Neal said eventually. “They found the bug I was wearing, wanted to know who I was working for. They told me what they were going to do to me, then they shoved me in a janitor's closet to stew for a while.”
Mozzie's gaze on Neal remained steady, his body still. “Air ducts?” he asked.
“Window,” Neal said. “It was only two floors up.”
Mozzie snorted derision. “Amateurs.”
“I blanked out,” Neal admitted. The words were calm, coming out of his mouth. His hands were still. His calves felt like they were strung with wire.
“Huh. It's been a while,” Mozzie said, almost casually. “You run far?”
“Peter found me a quarter mile east of the Brooklyn Bridge.” Neal didn't talk about how he'd panicked and struck out when Peter grabbed him, how Peter had held on to his wrists and then cupped his hands around Neal's face, getting him to look him in the eye, talking Neal back down from the place he'd disappeared to in his head. Peter had a blossoming bruise across one cheekbone, now. It'd be purple by tomorrow.
“Where'd you start from?” Mozzie asked.
“East 23rd Street, I think,” Neal said, though his memory was a bit hazy.
“You headed for the Suit's house?”
And there, there was the fact that he'd been dodging away from since he came back to himself, surrounded by the smells of exhaust fumes and the water, and the sound of angry New Yorkers honking indignantly at Peter's car, stopped in the road with the driver's door flung wide and the hazard lights blinking.
“Maybe,” he said reluctantly. “He sent me home.”Jesus, Neal
, Peter had said, and, are you hurt
, and, show me
, and, talk to me, tell me you're okay
, and even though Neal had managed to choke out that he was fine, really, Peter had driven him to the hospital and sat there while someone checked him over, checked his eyes and responses for concussion, checked his ribs for breaks. At the FBI building, Peter had snapped the anklet around Neal's leg, watching him with a singular intensity while he did it, as though he suspected its presence would be enough to make Neal run again. Then, when it didn't, he'd gruffly ordered Jones to drive Neal home. Neal had felt the weight of Peter's gaze until the moment the elevator doors thunked closed.
“The fact that you're sitting here, and not in leg-irons on your way back to Sing Sing, suggests he thought you were,” Mozzie said relentlessly. He leant over to pour a scant half-inch more into Neal's glass as a compassionate gesture. Neal drank it.
“I'd rather not talk about it,” Neal said, because it frightened him, just a little, that his brain had hit the preprogrammed button for home
and come up with the Burkes' house in Brooklyn.
Mozzie took a larger than usual mouthful from his own glass, then took a deep breath and said, “I was at this group home for while, when I was a teenager. This girl got hurt, they covered it up. The system went into major damage control mode, sent us all out in different directions. Some of us who wouldn't shut up got sectioned for a while. I'd rather not talk about it either.”
“'s cool,” Neal murmured, flapping a hand in Mozzie's direction.
Mozzie tipped the last few drops from the bottle into both their glasses, and then toasted Neal before knocking back the scant mouthful. “Enough awkward confessions. Go wash off the residue from your captivity and impromptu marathon. I feel like Thai food and wartime cinema.” He ambled off, without a backward glance, to poke through Neal's DVD collection.
Neal pushed himself to his feet, feeling every muscle scream a protest. He drained his wine, then tidied both glasses and the bottle into the sink. He left his wallet on the table before slipping into the bathroom.
After half an hour under the pounding pressure of water as hot as he could make it, Neal emerged, still sore, but looser, clad only in a pair of sleeping pants and a long-sleeved tee that hung on his spare frame, the cuffs covering all but his fingertips.
Mozzie had parked himself on the couch with his food. On the small screen, Rathbone was utterly owning the black-and-white set he was acting on. Neal didn't have any of the Sherlock Holmes films, so Mozzie had been torrenting on Neal's internet connection again. Peter now and then reminded Neal that the FBI knew when you'd been breaching copyright laws. Neal denied everything, naturally, and was scrupulous about never giving in to the urge to watch porn on his laptop.
There was a box of noodles on the table, still neatly folded shut, with a pair of wooden chopsticks wrapped in a napkin wedged under the wire handle. Neal knew without even touching it that it would be his favourite.
“What, no Maltese Falcon
?” Neal asked.
“No criticism from the passenger seat, or I'll queue up a Shirley Temple marathon.”
“That's disturbing,” Neal said after a moment's contemplation. “Why do you even have those?”
“They present a fascinating insight into nineteen-thirties America's culture of denial and escapism,” Mozzie said in all seriousness.
“Dali painted her as a sphinx perched over a skeleton, with a vampire bat on her head,” Neal countered. Mozzie just nodded as though Neal had made his point for him.
Neal collapsed onto the other half of the couch. “The Spider Woman
it is, then,” he conceded.
Mozzie wriggled a little deeper into the couch cushions and made a small, wordless sound of contentment.
After taking his first mouthful of noodles, Neal did, too.
“Didn't think these guys delivered outside of Chinatown,” Neal said, scrutinising the label.
“They owed me,” Mozzie said nonchalantly. “You're talking all over Gale Sondergaard's best lines.”
“She's in a Temple film, too. The Blue Bird
. She played a cat,” Mozzie teased.
“Paws and tail, or jazz?” Neal can't help but ask.
“Paws and tail. Bell around the neck and everything.”
“No more surreal than The Wizard of Oz
. They were box office competitors. Oz
Neal realised that there was a Shirley Temple film in his future, and it was best if he just accepted that. “You'll have to get me drunker,” he warned.
“Eat your noodles,” Mozzie told him. “Then, we'll talk vintages.”*Story genesis:
The first 583 words of this started life as a fragment based on a dream I had around 17th March, 2011. I have the feeling that the original dream revolved more around the idea of Mozzie genuinely having been part of a government conspiracy/cover-up. Because that idea, though fun in its own way, would require a lot of plotting out and probably mainlining a bunch of The X-Files
to get in the appropriate mindset, I instead fixated on the injuries I'd given Neal, since I had no idea whatsoever
why I'd given them to him. The only timestamp I could give was post-Prisoner's Dilemma
(mention of Tuesday), and pre-Point Blank
(Mozzie isn't recovering from a gunshot wound), and the only ep between those is Company Man
, which I don't recall Neal getting beat up or doing a bunch of running in. Hot-wiring an elevator, yes, getting roughed up, no. So, take the time for this as being somewhere in that narrow window, but not relating directly to any particular episode or the major music box arc.
And because characters, not plot, is what I do best, rather than being a Lone-Gunman style conspiracy fest, this story wanted to be an exploration of Neal and Mozzie gently poking each other's crazy. Once I worked that out, I gave myself two rules: one, no worried asking after each other's well being, up to and including asking about extent or nature of injuries/trauma, and two: no physical reassurance/comfort. We know that they've talked about serious stuff, that they've shared deep secrets, because of the exchange in What Happens in Burma
, but they also don't have a conventional hugs and kisses and caring and concerned inquiries relationship. Mozzie and Neal only very rarely touch in the show, and I think the almost-touch from Mozzie when Neal is leaving in Out of the Box
is a great example of that. So instead of hugs and Mozzie fetching Neal painkillers and Neal asking concerned questions about Mozzie's past, I've got them getting drunk in the mid-afternoon, awkwardly disclosing a small amount as frankly as they can, then eating take-out and watching illegally-downloaded old movies. And I accidentally managed to sneak in some absolutely simmering-with-ust yet somehow completely gen Peter and Neal interaction. Some day, I swear I will write filthy porn for this fandom, I promise.And, some extra info:
I highly recommend The Spider Woman
and The Blue Bird
, if you're interested at all in 1940s popular films. The Spider Woman
is one of my favourites of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films, despite moments of ridiculousness, primarily because of the exceptional performances of both Rathbone and Sondergaard. The Blue Bird
was intended as 20th Century Fox's answer to MGM's The Wizard of Oz
. It was a flop (I think mainly because The Wizard of Oz
was so successful) but it was nominated for two Academy Awards, had an outstanding cast, and it's certainly one of the most watchable of Temple's films. Gale Sondergaard
was an amazing character actress in Hollywood films during the 1930s and 1940s. Her career was unfortunately irrevocably damaged by the McCarthy Communist witch hunts of the 1950s, and for most of the rest of her working life, she could only find acting roles in theatre.
Dali did indeed paint Shirley Temple as a sphinx, sitting over a skeleton, with a vampire bat on her head. The work is called Shirley Temple, The Youngest, Most Sacred Monster of the Cinema in Her Time
. It was painted in 1939, and is housed at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, in Rotterdam.
Tags: gen, neal&mozzie, pathos, peter&neal, pg, white collar