Most people just need you to acknowledge that they have power over you. They don't really care if they help or hurt you, as long as their time with you makes them feel a little less small. Neal knows exactly how to work with those people. A smile, and a story, and a casual mention of something they might gain by helping him, and then another smile so they know he thinks the world of them no matter what.
Some people need to feel drenched in their power; they live their lives like the rest of the world is a comedy, and it's their role to watch, mock, and profit.
These people are more dangerous, but a whole lot more susceptible - Neal can play to their egos, their insecurities, their cruelty, their desire for revenge on their enemies. These people offer up their rage to Neal like its his toolbox.
Of course there are a few people who need to feel that they use their power for something good, something worthy. Those people are easy - just tell them that you really need their help. Which is usually true, even if you're reasons aren't. Of course, if they also happen to be smart and skeptical and completely unafraid of confrontation ... well, then you might set off their bullshit detectors. But still, it's worth a shot. Those are the ones most likely to forgive you your flaws. It's a more complicated play, but - in most cases - Neal still knows how to handle it. It's technically possible that some people in his life might be exceptions, but those are few and far between.
The trick is to read people; social engineers don't have actual power - they just know how to read people who do. Figure out what the other person wants to do with that power, and the artist has an in.
It's tempting, of course, to gain power in this way. To keep a con going until it becomes you, to worm your way into some cushy job, to usurp the mark's power instead of just borrowing it.
But this is the opposite of what a great artist does, Neal knows.
The great ones know that power sits heavy.
A boulder on the grass.
An artist knows that there is something better than power, something better than some weight that's too jagged to roll.
It's better to have motion than to have power.
Wings rather than weight.
It might be harder, Neal knows, but it's still better.
That's why Neal doesn't tell anyone about the accounts in Norway. Not even Moz knows he has enough liquid to bribe his way to freedom ten times over.
It's why Peter is the only one who has a clue - and even he doesn't know for sure - that if Neal absolutely had to, he could shoot his way past fifty guards as long as his position had good cover.
It's why there are forged records at an elementary school in a small town that Peter visited four times while chasing him, which is why even the brilliant Peter Burke hasn't figured out Neal's real name or age.
Neal could have gotten out of maximum; everyone knows that Neal will go if he really wants to go. But if he decides to - really decides there's nothing worth staying for - even Peter will have no idea how far and how fast Neal can be.
There are certain people in New York, and they have some kind of power over Neal. A solid thing, making Neal feel like he'd hate to leave. But Neal has his motion, he has the thousand faces and words and plans that will whisk him away if need be.
Beacuse motion trumps power.
Neal reminds himself of this, again and again, to avoid the onset of panic, as he notices his life growing solid and still. And worse, that he seems to like it.
These people - dangerous in their own way - who have the power to keep Neal, and the power to make him want to be kept, make Neal's usual tricks useless; he has no idea what to do with someone who wants the same things Neal does... but until he figures it out, he might as well stick around... with a finger in the wind, just in case.
AN: Written for the prompt at a promptfest on lj - Neal, power.