WhiteCollar-Neal sidelight

White Collar fanfic: Three Ways to Mend a Broken Heart (3x08 tag)

Title: Three Ways to Mend a Broken Heart
Rating/pairing: PG, gen
Word Count: 1500
Summary: Episode tag to 3x08, "As You Were". What it says on the tin: how three different characters cope with their respective situations.
Crossposted: On AO3 | On DW

1. Go home

The trailer park looks like a lot of the places they lived when she and Jenny were kids: rows of cheap trailers baking in their aluminum siding, their window-mounted AC units rattling in the Georgia heat. The one she wants is unit #79. There's an old Ford truck, fifteen years if it's a day, parked in the trailer's shade, and an assortment of kids' toys -- a little pink bike with tassels on the handles, a soccer ball -- scattered on the withered lawn.

Sara parks behind the Ford and sits in the rental car for a long time before she gets out and mounts the sagging porch steps to knock on the door.

She can hear the murmur of a TV inside, and a high-pitched voice shouting, "Mom! Door!"

When the door opens, Jenny's face is wary and guarded for a moment, and Sara wonders what her sister expected to see: a bill collector, an ex-boyfriend? And for just an instant she wants to say I made a mistake, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have come. But then Jenny's frown dissolves into a smile, and it's the same bright, cheerful smile from their childhood. "Sara," Jenny says, "come in, please, come in," and ushers her into the cheerful disarray of the trailer's living room.

She thought she'd feel out of place here. She never expected it to feel like coming home. Even the cheap paneling and the cracked plastic of the kitchen counters is familiar. She's slept in gorgeous hotel rooms, rented apartments that cost more per month than Jenny makes in a year. And none of them felt as comfortable as the trailer's tiny, cramped kitchen, where she sits on a lawn chair while Jenny gets out beers for both of them.

The girls are shy around her. Little Amanda isn't so little anymore, and Sara's never even met Kitty, who's already walking and talking. The girls know her only as a voice on the phone and a series of packages at birthdays and Christmases. After being introduced to Auntie Sara, they go back to their cartoon.

"How's life in the big city?" Jenny asks. Her gentle drawl is familiar too, the telltale cadence that Sara worked so hard to erase from her own diction. She can hear herself slipping back into it, responding automatically to Jenny's soft vowels and comfortable pauses.

"It's good. Well, not so good." Sara rolls the beer can between her hands. She hasn't had beer from a can since she was nineteen and still dependent on her older sister to buy it for her. "I was dating a guy who turned out ... not to be what I thought he was. Or maybe I hoped he wasn't what I knew he was all along."

Jenny hugs her. She was always like that -- quick and spontaneous with her affection, where Sara was guarded. "Oh, honey. I'm so sorry. We've all been there."

There was a time in Sara's life when she would have rebuffed her sister's sympathy: I'm nothing like you. I haven't made the mistakes you made. But she's a little older now, a little sadder, a little smarter. "I know," she says quietly.

"Want to talk about it?"

"Yes," she says. "Later. But more than that, I want to talk about you. It's been too long, Jen. What's happening in your life?"

2. Get back on the horse

"Come on, at least try to look like you're having fun," Diana says in a tone of fond exasperation.

This bar isn't Clinton's usual kind of place. He prefers bars with thumping music you can dance to, or quiet hole-in-the-wall joints where only the regulars go. This one has potted ferns, soft track lighting, and umbrella-sporting drinks that cost more than a couple six-packs of good beer.

Diana pokes him. "Penny for your thoughts."

"I'm thinking I could've gotten drunk at home a lot cheaper."

"Look, the whole point is to try new things. Live a little." Diana waves a hand around. "Good atmosphere, good drinks, lots of single women ..."

"Does Christie know you like going to bars with lots of single women?"

Diana rolls her eyes at him. "The one over there is checking you out."

Clinton's pretty sure she's checking out Diana, actually. "You know, if the point is to pick up a date, I'm thinking that sitting here with my gorgeous female friend is not really helping."

"The point is to enjoy yourself. Dating is optional. But I take your point." Diana waves to a couple sitting at the far end of the bar. "Look, I'm going to mingle, see some friends ... I'll come back later and take you home if you're still not having fun."

"I think I can manage to get home on my own. But thanks, Di. For everything."

Diana kisses him on the cheek, and sashays down to the end of the bar, where her friends greet her. Clinton orders another overpriced drink, and turns back to find that someone new has slipped into the seat Diana just vacated.

"Girlfriend trouble?" she says sympathetically, looking after Diana.

"No, they're doing fine --" Belatedly he realizes, oh, wait, she means him and Diana. "Oh, no. She's just a friend."

"Oh." The new arrival stirs her drink with her little umbrella. "My date just dumped me. I figured you were having the same problem."

"Not really. I'm having a rough week and she thought coming here would cheer me up. I'm sorry about your date."

She shrugs. "No great loss. It's a blind date and it wasn't going that well anyway. So, was your friend right?" She smiles at him. "I mean, about coming here."

For a minute, he thinks about lying: Yeah, this place is great. But that's just not him. "Actually, I hate it here," he confesses in an undertone.

She giggles helplessly. "Me too! The friend who set us up suggested this place, but it's not my usual scene at all. Which I guess should have been my first clue. I don't go out all that much; when I do, I just want somewhere I can get a reasonably priced drink and maybe dance a little."

She's not as beautiful as Isabelle, but she's cute and she has nice eyes. Clinton sets aside his untouched drink. "Let's blow this popsicle stand. I know a couple of great dance places that won't be too packed this time of night."

3. Trust a friend

El is out for the evening with some of her girlfriends, and Peter's got the game turned on low and case files spread out on the coffee table when there's a soft knock on the door.

He's not expecting anybody. Maybe El forgot something and had to come back for it. Still, paranoia dies hard, and Peter finds himself calculating the distance from the couch to his gun as he says, "Yeah, c'mon in."

It's only Neal, but a slightly nervous-looking Neal, carrying a paper grocery bag. "Hey," Peter says, and reaches over to mute the sound on the TV. "Did you figure out those sequences of numbers in the McNally case? Because I've been running down every possibility I can think of, and nothing is panning out. I'm drawing a blank at this point."

"No. I'm not here about the case, actually." Something is definitely up, though. Neal's usual self-assurance has given over to a tense uncertainty.

"What's in the bag?" Peter asks, curious.

Neal sets it on the coffee table and pulls out a six-pack of beer -- Peter's usual brand -- and a bottle of wine that looks expensive. "Sorry," Neal says, "gonna need a corkscrew this time. Unlike some people, I don't actually think screw-top wine is a clever invention."

"You know where the corkscrew is, smart ass."

Neal's back from the kitchen in a moment with a corkscrew and a wine glass. "Elizabeth isn't home?"

"She's out for the evening. Which," Peter adds, twisting the cap off one of the beers, "I think you already knew."

"Okay. Maybe I did." Neal pours himself a glass of wine, concentrating on that rather than looking at Peter. "The other night, you said -- You remember what you said?"

And, out of all the conversations they've had, Peter doesn't have to ask which one Neal is referring to. "I said that if you wanted to talk, I'd listen. And I meant it." Peter slides over to make room on the couch.

Neal hesitates. Then, wine glass in hand, he takes the offered seat.

Peter knows better than to hope that Neal's come here to talk about anything other than Sara, but, well, it's a start. Trust -- like friendship, like love -- is built one small piece at a time. And there's a long way to go before dawn.

Peter knows better than to hope that Neal's come here to talk about anything other than Sara, but, well, it's a start. Trust -- like friendship, like love -- is built one small piece at a time. And there's a long way to go before dawn.
That gives me hope, and I really want to hope that Neal can get it right. Peter's giving him all the help he can.

Diana was trying, but taking Jones to a bar and then sitting next to him was not the best way for Clinton to meet someone new! I can imagine her doing that, though! Jones deserves more happiness.
Thank you! Yeah, I can totally see Diana doing something just like that. *g* I hope Jones finds himself someone nice; he deserves to be happy.
Aww - sweet moments of connection, all three.

(I admit that when Jones & Neal were having their bonding in the show I was half-expecting them to start complaining about Peter - "Wait, he gets all this *and* a hot wife? So not fair!" XD)
Thank you! :)

Ha, Neal and Jones complaining about Peter behind his back would've been worth the price of admission right there. :D
This is very nicely written. Each small part is an insightful slice from each character's life, brought together around a common theme. Characterizations are spot-on. The last sentence,And there's a long way to go before dawn. must be my favorite part. Lovely.
Thank you so much! I'm especially glad the last line pinged you, because that's the line that the whole story pivots around - it's Neal and Peter's arc this season in a nutshell. :)
Aww! Very nice. I wish we could see this in an actual episode. (Especially number 3, of course *g*)
I really enjoyed this, especially the parts with Sara and Jones - I've only really come across them as background in most of the fics I've read so far, so it was nice to get a look at them (so to speak). I'm finding Diana's failure to find a place that Clinton likes at all to be hilariously adorable *g*

And I did like the bit with Neal and Peter too, and this line: Trust -- like friendship, like love -- is built one small piece at a time. And there's a long way to go before dawn. I'm assuming that the latter half of the season will have to focus on them rebuilding trust again. Or at least I hope so, because the alternative is the rest of the season with the Nazi Treasure (tm) still being hidden, and I'm getting a little bored with that plotline... And getting a little off-track with this comment, oops :P
Thank you! :D Sara and Jones definitely deserve their time in the sun too! And I am crossing my fingers for major reconciliations in the back half of the season. Having them at odds (er, more so than usual, I mean) is so hard to take!