Neal looked down at his feet. They had used to be on the move constantly. They had jumped out of windows, leapt down from buildings, dangled from heights far above the ground. They had kicked open doors, moved up ladders, sneaked into buildings, and danced along the corridor to the evidence room in the FBI building. Once or twice they had even managed to keep him from drowning, when his only way out had been jumping into water. But most of the time, they had been running. In all his years as a con man, he never stayed in one place for too long. Always afraid of being caught.
Even after his days as a con man were over, and he had started working for the FBI, he still had needed to run away a lot. People always were shooting at him with firearms, or bows and arrows. Staying on the move meant staying alive.
But right now, his feet would not move one inch. It actually weren't his feet that were the problem, his knees were. They were locked and didn't budge at all. Neal knew he couldn't stay here indefinitely, that he had to walk those last few steps through the door ahead, but he just couldn't. He was terrified.
Aside from his feet and knees, his voice was failing him as well. He was used to being able to talk his way out of every situation, always knew how to read his opponents, and instinctively knew the right approach to winning them over, to make them consider hearing him out instead of simply shooting him. His voice could be charming, coaxing, and smooth; it also could be loud and angry and hurt, but right now, it was nonexistent. He seemed to have lost it; it seemed stuck in his throat, and he was unable to say even one word. Let alone do what was expected of him any minute now!
He should never have agreed to this. What would Peter think of him? And Elizabeth, Jones and Diana? He did not need to guess what Mozzie would be thinking; he was in on this, and had actively helped prepare Neal during the past weeks. Still he felt he wasn't ready, not at all. He needed more time. He wanted out of here, to run away, but his feet refused to do that as well. So he just stood there, staring at the door ahead, hearing the noise behind it. The noise that was the sound of many excited voices
God, how many people were there? He hadn't expected a huge crowd. Didn't they have anything better to do with their time than sitting there and making him uncomfortable?
It was really laughable, when you thought about it. Neal Caffrey, con man, being afraid. Terrified even. He noticed all the signs – cold sweat, shivering, nausea, feeling he needed to pee even though he had been to the toilet three times already. His hands shook as he took another sip from his water bottle. There was food on the table as well but his throat was so constricted, he would not be able to get down a single bite.
Suddenly Mozzie was there, and immediately the atmosphere in the room was different.
"Hey, there you are. We're all waiting. Did you see the crowd? It's amazing. They even have…." He babbled on, and it was hard for Neal to get a word in. He opened and closed his mouth a few times. Then he took a deep breath.
"Mozzie," he finally croaked hoarsely.
Mozzie stopped mid-speech and stared at him.
"That's not really helping," Neal managed, then grimaced.
A slow grin was appearing on Mozzie's face. "No, don't tell me, let me guess. You got cold feet. Neal Caffrey, of all people, got cold feet. Now that's a sight to remember!"
Neal scowled. Easy for Mozzie to be excited. He wasn't the one that needed to…
"One day, Mozzie. One day you'll need my help and then I will stand there and laugh in your face. You'll see."
But at least he was able to talk again now, and his knees seemed to have unbuckled. He didn't want to admit it, but Mozzie's presence helped to calm him indeed.
"But I am here to help you. Time's up, no excuses. You are going out there now, even if I have to shove you myself. Is that clear?" All humor was gone from Mozzie's face and he seemed to do his best to imitate a drill sergeant.
Despite himself, Neal had to laugh. He threw up his hands in despair. "Okay, okay, I'm going."
Together they walked the short way through the door. When they reached the curtain, Mozzie stepped aside and Neal walked on without him.
Immediately he was blinded by the light, and it took a while for his eyes to adjust. The room actually wasn't that big but it was packed, people everywhere, looking at him expectantly, and right in front he saw Peter and Elizabeth and all his other friends. It was now or never. He took one last breath, and then the music set in.
He zoned away from it all now. He didn't see all the people anymore, he just listened to the music, heard the beat, the familiar song. His stage fright was gone, and he was suddenly excited to be here. This was where he belonged now; he could feel it, deep down. When the intro was over, he set in as if he had never done anything else in his life. It felt natural and good.
There was a key change for the second verse, and suddenly June was next to him on stage. June, who had taught him everything she knew about singing during the past months, and then some. June, who had been adamant he kept at it even when he wanted to give up, when he started to get second thoughts, doubting he would be any good. June, who had helped with her calming presence when needed; and pushed him to his limits at other times when also needed.
They faced each other and sang the rest of the song as a duet, with her providing the second voice, and it was the most perfect thing he had ever heard.
When the song was over, the crowd went wild. Neal had tears in his eyes.
While hugging June he whispered his thanks into her ear.