While I was on duty and left to my own devices, this scene popped into my head and compelled me to write it down. I was partially inspired by both "Catch Me If You Can" and "Run" by Snow Patrol. I'm not sure why I have such issues writing Neal in his right frame of mind. Constructive criticism always welcome!
"I'll sing one last time for you
Then we really have to go
You've been the only thing that's right
In all I've done
Light up, light up
As if you have a choice
Even if you cannot hear my voice
I'll be right beside you"
"I'm sorry Peter, I assumed Neal would call you himself. He looked a little worn down this morning, but he looked like a day of sleeping in would set him right," June apologized, leading the younger man up the stairs to Neal's apartment. "He hasn't come downstairs at all, or made any noise that I could hear." She paused for a moment, amending the statement. "I've also been in and out all morning."
"I'm sure he's fine, June. Probably still asleep. I just needed to check on him before going all the way home to tell El he's sick just to be turned around to check for her," Peter assured, knocking on the door.
"Neal?" Peter called, knocking softly. "You awake?" There was no answer, but when Peter placed his ear against the door, he could hear movement inside. "Neal?" he called again. Still nothing, except strange scrabbling noises that made Peter think of rodents. "June, why don't you see if you can find some soup or something for Neal? I'm sure he hasn't eaten all day if he's not feeling well. I'll make sure he's decent," Peter suggested, smiling to assuage the woman's worry.
June pursed her lips, looking like she was about to argue before nodding in agreement. "I'll give you boys a minute. I'll see what I can make."
Peter watched her go down the stairs and out of sight before knocking one more time. "Neal? I'm coming in on the count of three, okay?" Peter counted down aloud, slowly, before turning the knob. Fortunately, the apartment wasn't locked. Peter pushed the door open, and felt his jaw drop.
Drawings were everywhere. The floor, the ceiling, hundreds of papers scattered across the floor from the sketch pad, which now was stripped bare. All of them were masterpieces, if not complete. There were Van Goghs, Matisses, Monets, and even lesser known artists whose name escaped him for the moment. All of them were sketches though, in fine black charcoal. Small miracles...if he'd been painting them, Peter wasn't sure how well June would take to having scribbles (albeit beautiful ones) all over her walls and upholstery in oil based paint.
Neal was in the middle of it, barefoot and in his sleep pants and tee, which was completely soaked through with sweat. His normally perfect hair was in tangles, matted and damp, and his blue eyes bright with what appeared to be a raging fever. Neal was on his knees in the middle of the floor, working on what looked like a black white version of Starry Night.
"Neal?" Peter called from the door as he slowly shut it behind him. Neal didn't even look up. He was frantically swiping at the floor, movements jerky and harsh instead of the careful, precise and smooth strokes Peter was used to watching. Peter stepped closer, and raised an eyebrow at the drawing. Neal must have done something to the charcoal half way through the sketch, because now it had a different consistency than the rest of the drawings. Actually...it looked damp almost. Neal swiped a hand across his face, leaving a smear of black and...red?
Peter suddenly ran towards Neal, forcefully grabbing his hand and lifting it away from the floor as he knelt beside the younger man. He didn't care if his knees were now covered in charcoal and blood as he stared in horror at Neal's hand. The con artist was trying to jerk it out of his grasp, but his attempts were pitifully weak. The charcoal Neal still clasped in his hand was worn down to nothing more than a nub, and where Neal had been dragging his fingers across the floor, he'd worn the skin off of them, leaving them red, raw and bloodied and looking extremely painful.
"Oh my God, Neal..." Peter hissed, wincing in sympathy. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket (dammit, Neal WAS beginning to rub off on him) and gently placed it over Neal's fingers. "What the hell were you thinking?"
Neal blinked hazily, before focusing briefly on Peter's face, as if seeing him for the first time since entering.
"Peter?" he whispered.
Peter really, really wished he was anywhere but there at that very moment. That horrible look in Neal's eyes...they looked so desolate...empty. Lights were on but nobody was home...except it was more than that. The con looked exhausted beyond the point of endurance. His eyes were bright from fever and red from lack of sleep. Peter could feel the heat radiating off of him. Neal looked...broken. "Neal, look at me," Peter said when Neal's gaze began to wander. Slowly, Neal tracked back towards the agent. "What were you doing, Neal?"
Neal suddenly blinked, one lone tear tracing down his face. "Ask me to stop..."
Peter frowned at the odd request. "What?"
Neal's voice was nothing more than a cracked whisper. "Ask me to stop, Peter. Tell me to stop, please...please, ask me to stop. I don't want to anymore..."
Before Peter even knew what was happening, Neal had practically crawled into his lap, pressing his forehead against Peter's shoulder as his own shook uncontrollably. Bloodied hands gripped at his shirt, practically clawing at it.
"Please, please..." he whispered brokenly. "Ask me to stop. Ask me to stay. Please, tell me to stay. I want to stay. Tell me you want me to stay and I will. I'll do anything if it means I don't have to run. Please...Peter..." The voice that was usually so self assured, so confident, was gone. Just that horrible quavering whisper that was begging for Peter to fix it.
It took Peter a moment to shake himself out of stunned silence and to realize the whole of Neal's body was shaking. Whether from fever, fear or trying not to cry or a combination of all three, Peter wasn't sure. "Stop what, Neal? I can't ask anything more of you than what you already give," Peter said quietly, not sure what in hell Neal was asking him about.
Neal made a choking noise and Peter desperately wished he could see his friend's face, but if he tilted his chin down he was going to hit Neal in the back of the head. "Mozzie left me. He left me because I wouldn't run. Because I couldn't. I don't want to go back to what it was. I don't want to run. I don't want you to chase me. I want to stay. Please…keep me."
Peter felt an unfamiliar surge of paternal rage on behalf of Neal towards Mozzie. Mozzie was Neal's only friend that he knew of. And he left Neal behind because he didn't want to go on the run again...what the hell kind of friend was that? Mozzie asked the impossible of Neal. A honest life over a lie. The life in the city he was born and raised or a country with no extradition treaty, never again allowed on US soil. Neal was left behind by the love of his life when Kate left him to rot in prison. And Peter couldn't help but think that if that was all she did, it would've been better for both of them, instead of the elaborate con she'd set up to trap him. Now he was left behind by the one person besides Peter than Neal trusted.
There was a sad irony to Neal's life that finally occurred to Peter. That he was in fact the one constant in it. When Kate left the first time, Peter was there...albeit as a relentless pursuer. When she left again, Peter was the one who gave him a chance at a better life. One where his input was welcomed and often sought after and he didn't have to hide his brilliance. And now Neal chose to give up the chance at his former life, filled with adventure, excitement, and always on the run to stay here with Peter. Somewhere on that curvy line through the shades of gray that Neal lived his life, Peter went from nemesis to saving grace. Without thinking about it, Peter carefully raised his hand to the back of Neal's head, simply letting it rest there. "It's okay Neal. I'll always let you stay. If here is where you want, then you're always welcome." Peter leaned back on his heels, and Neal fought to keep his fierce grip on Peter, but the agent tilted his head up to he was finally looking Neal in the eyes.
"Neal, I want you to stay. And I will never, ever tell you otherwise." Peter paused to make sure Neal was still listening, and it almost broke his heart to see that shred of hope in his eyes. Knowing that everything hinged on him telling Neal what he needed so desperately to hear, Peter chose his words carefully. "Neal...stop running. No one is chasing you anymore. You have a family and friends here that will never ask the impossible of you. We want you to stay. As long as that's what you want, Neal, stop running."
Neal's shoulders shuddered with the gasp of relief that escaped. "I can stop?" he repeated, as if he was afraid to believe it.
"Yes, Neal. Stop running. You're home."