Fandom: White Collar
Characters/Pairings: Neal, Mozzie
Word Count: 1,776
Beta Credit: elrhiarhodan
Warnings: Non-canon death of canon character (suicide)
Summary: A phone call can change everything.
Author’s Notes – Written for joy2190 for the 6th day of my 12 Days of Christmas Meme. She requested “The Secret History of Anger” as a timestamp to When Neal was Eighteen. You don’t necessarily need to read that story, but it would help in understanding this one.
When Neal was eighteen, he ran away to Manhattan.
When he was nineteen, he successfully fleeced his first big mark – a pompous man who owned parking lots across the city. Neal took him for fifty grand and the promise that he wouldn’t tell the man’s wife about the secret apartment, complete with mistress.
When Neal was twenty, he contacted Ellen. Their conversation was stilted at first, but love has a way of smoothing things over.
When he was twenty-one, she called to tell him his mother had died.
That night, Mozzie found him sitting on the roof of their apartment building, surrounded by empty wine bottles.
“Mozzie….” Neal looked up at him, the bleary-eyed smile on his face at odds with the tear tracks lining his cheeks. “Did I ever tell you how much I love you, Moz?”
“Every time you drink.” Shaking his head, Mozzie stooped to help Neal stand. “Steady…” Neal listed to the side, his head dropping down. “C’mon, let’s get you to bed and you can tell me all about it in the morning.”
“You’re my family, Moz,” Neal whispered. “The only one I’ve got left…don’t like being alone. You won’t leave me, will you, Moz?”
Mozzie’s smile was sad. He was a self-proclaimed loner, but Neal? Neal wasn’t designed for that. Whether it was a girl (or guy), a partner in crime, or even a mark, Neal needed people in his life. Mozzie was just glad that he could be there for his friend. Especially right now. Something had happened – he’d never seen Neal like this before.
“Don’t worry, you’re stuck with me.” Slowly they made their way down the stairs to their apartment. Navigating through the darkened space, Mozzie got Neal situated in his bed. Pulling the covers up, he murmured, “You don’t have to be alone, Neal.”
Neal woke the next morning with the light streaming into his eyes and a hangover that would kill a horse. Groaning, he rolled over, gingerly sitting up. His head was pounding and his mouth felt like ashes but at least he didn’t need to vomit.
There was a note next to the glass of water and two Advil on his nightstand.
Going to get greasy food.
Neal swallowed the medicine, drinking the entire glass of water, and staggered to the shower. After standing under the spray for what seemed like forever, he finally felt close to human. Next on the list was the coffee that he was sure Mozzie had made before he left to get breakfast.
He knew that when his friend returned he would have to explain why he tried to drink his weight in Merlot. But not yet. Right now, Neal could sit and remember and let the rage simmer.
Neal was nursing his second cup of coffee when Mozzie came back, laden with food from the place around the corner.
“He is risen,” his friend joked, pulling containers of bacon and eggs and fried chicken out of the bag. “Except I’m not sure Jesus looked as bad as you do right about now.”
“Cute.” Neal pulled a box towards him and opened it. Scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon and hash browns. His stomach protested at the smell of the grease. “You sure this will help?”
“Trust me – the cure for a hangover is grease. That is, unless you want some of the hair of the dog.” Mozzie started on the fried chicken.
“Ugh, no.” Gingerly Neal tried the bacon. He managed a few pieces and didn’t feel like he needed to make a mad dash for the bathroom. The eggs were next and they seemed to settle his stomach.
“So…” Mozzie paused. “Want to tell me why you tried to destroy your liver last night?”
“Not really.” Neal finished his coffee and moved to the counter to fill up his mug. He grabbed a cheese Danish and sat back down. They ate in silence.
Neal could feel Moz repeatedly glance at him. “What Moz?” he sighed, getting tired of the darting looks.
“Neal, we’ve been friends for a while and I’ve never seen you drink like you did last night.” Mozzie took off his glasses and wiped them on the tail of his shirt. “I’m just…worried, that’s all.” His face showed his concern.
Neal hesitated. Mozzie was his best friend, but there were things about Neal that even Mozzie didn’t know. Like the reason he was in New York. And why he never talked about his past. Maybe, just maybe, it would be a good thing to finally tell someone.
“I – got a call last night from a friend,” he started haltingly. “It was about my mother….”
“I didn’t know she was still alive.” Mozzie began clearing the trash from the table.
“She’s not. My friend called to tell me she died.” Neal said it bluntly. It felt like ripping a bandage off of a wound.
“Oh, Neal!” Mozzie froze, his voice shocked. “I’m so sorry.”
I’m not was on the tip of his tongue to reply, but he couldn’t. How can you say that you’re not sorry that your mother is dead?, he wondered.
“What happened?” Mozzie sat back down, the disposing of the breakfast mess totally forgotten.
“It seems that she took too many sleeping pills.” Neal knew his voice was bitter, but he couldn’t help himself. It was just like her.
“Oh…wow….” For the first time since they’d met, Mozzie was speechless. “Man, I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be. I’m just surprised that it didn’t happen sooner.” Neal pushed back from the table. “Look, I’m still not feeling so good. I think I need to lie down.” He left the kitchen, knowing full well he was running from the questions Mozzie was sure to have.
Shutting his door, Neal fell on the bed, pulling the covers over himself. He closed his eyes, feeling his throat close as the tears threatened.
Neal woke to a dark room, the streetlights casting shadows across the bed. His head hurt again. Struggling to sit up, he saw Mozzie seated in the chair in the corner.
“How long have you been there?” he croaked. His whole body ached like he’d hadn’t slept at all.
“Long enough to make sure you didn’t do anything stupid.” Mozzie took a drink from the wineglass in his hand.
“I’m not my mother,” Neal shot back instinctively.
“No…you’re not.” Mozzie put the glass down on the side table and looked at Neal. “Do you want to talk about it now?”
“Do I have a choice?”
Neal could tell that Mozzie was not going to let this go until he had some answers. Sighing, he said, “Okay. But can we do this somewhere other than my bedroom?”
“That’s fine. As long as you talk.” Mozzie stood and headed out of the room.
“I’ll meet you in the living room. Open the Malbec.” Neal stopped in the bathroom to wash the grit out of his eyes. The image that looked back at him from the mirror was not a pretty one. His eyes were red-rimmed, his face pale. Splashing some water on his face, he ran a hand through his hair and went to talk to Mozzie.
Mozzie had opened the wine and poured them both a glass. He knew that whatever Neal was going to tell him as not going to be easy. He saw it in his friend’s face, had heard it last night in the sorrow of his friend’s voice.
Neal came in and sat, looking pale and still slightly hung over. Silently, Mozzie handed him a glass and watched as he drank deeply.
“Okay…” Neal put the glass down. “I guess I should start at the beginning. Remember I told you that my dad was a cop?”
“Yeah. Which I always thought was paradoxical, considering…”
“I know.” Neal blew out a breath. “But not as much as it seems. Actually, my dad was a criminal, too.” Neal told him about his father. How he was a dirty cop, how he confessed to killing a fellow officer. Their flight into WITSEC.
“I grew up thinking that he was this hero who died honorably. But he wasn’t.” Neal stared out the window. He looked broken – smaller than the big smile he greeted Mozzie with each day. “My mom had been lying to me, telling me that he was a good cop, making up stories about him. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up.” Neal laughed – a disturbingly hollow sound. “Guess I got my wish.”
“And my mom, she just – went away.” He spoke softly. “There were times when she wouldn’t come out of her room for days. I learned to cook when I was five because I couldn’t count on her making me a meal.” A tear broke loose and ran down his cheek and Mozzie saw him angrily wipe it away. “What five year old has to cook his own dinner?”
The look on his face almost brought Mozzie to tears. Neal was five years old again, his expression lost and confused.
“Ellen, my dad’s partner, was in WITSEC with us. She did what she could, but she had to work too. So a lot of times I was on my own.” Neal’s voice was hoarse. “Some days were good. Mom would be happy and we’d do things like go to the park or the movies. Other days…weren’t.”
“I was in fourth grade the first time we had to call the ambulance. She’d taken some pills and was passed out on the floor when I got home from school. They pumped her stomach and kept her on a seventy-two hour suicide watch.” Neal’s breath hitched. “She missed my Christmas concert.”
“I begged her, Moz, promised that I would be good, if she would just be happy. I stayed out of the pool hall, got good grades. I did everything. But she just couldn’t be. Why Moz? Why couldn’t she be happy?” Neal whispered.
Mozzie knew the question that Neal wasn’t asking. Why couldn’t she love me enough to be happy?
“I don’t know, Neal. I wish I did,” he said softly.
They were quiet, Neal’s hitching breaths the only sound in the room. “I miss her, Moz.” Neal curled up on the couch and closed his eyes. Mozzie covered him with the knitted afghan they kept on the back of the couch.
“I know.” Mozzie sat back down and as he waited for Neal’s breath to even out, he promised himself that he would be Neal’s family. He just hoped it would be enough.