Title: The Scorpion's Ghost

Spoilers: minor mentions of first season and 2X01 "Withdrawal",

Warning: implied attempted sexual assault, mentions past character death, violence, bad guys being bad

"…in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp 'Why?'

Replies the scorpion: 'It's my nature...'"

Aesop's Fables

He could taste blood in his mouth.

Gagging, coughing, it was only after a few gulps before Neal realized it was because he had bitten his tongue. The same time, he realized two things:

1. The air smelled like blood
2. The blood wasn't his

He couldn't remember how he got here.

...Okay, three things.

Neal stared blearily up at an ornate ceiling. He knew the names of the sculpted delineations surrounding the chandelier (due to a two-man con back when it was just him and Moz, and Moz was more convincing as the architect's assistant, while Neal had supposedly graduated magma cum laude from Cooper Union) but he couldn't remember them right now. His head pounded, his body felt leaden, bruised, not his. Neal painfully turned his head, the spot behind his eyes flaring hot and tight when he did. The rough cotton scraping his cheek told him he was on decent quality bedding: high thread count, just poor thread.

To his right, Neal could (barely) see the murky space of a large room, stripped of furniture, walls paler in spots where something must have once stood. All that was left was a mahogany table that didn't match the space, a door opened to reveal glimpses of a bathroom and the gaping opening of a walk-in closet.

To his left...was a body.

The sharp shock that lanced through his hip was Neal's only clue that he'd thrown himself onto the floor. He sat there, chest heaving as he stared up at the bed. It was low enough so he could still see the blank-eyed corpse turned toward Neal, mouth partially opened as if he had been interrupted mid-sentence, his white dress shirt was pink with the blood leaked from a throat slit ear to ear. It left a macabre grin under the gray face.

Neal's breath quickened. He had never seen that man before. Why was he here? Better yet, why was Neal here, in the bed, the dead and the living lying side by side in a—where was this place?

Peter. He needed to call Peter.

As Neal shakily got up on his knees, he patted himself (his jacket was gone, his trousers' pockets were torn) for a cell phone he knew might not be there. He spied an unfamiliar one, glistening wet and red on a nightstand Neal hadn't noticed before. He grabbed it and dialed Peter's number. It took him two tries.

The ringing was a relief. Neal rested his head against the side of the bed, thought better of it, then shuffled over to lean against the nightstand instead. He couldn't walk away. He couldn't stand and somehow, even down here, Neal could feel that empty stare finding him from that bed. He turned his shoulder and stared at the scuff marks on the patchy carpet instead.

The phone picked up after three rings, long enough Neal found himself shaking, quick enough Neal didn't have enough time to question why his first instinct wasn't to get the hell out.

"Burke."Peter's clipped voice had scarcely registered when Neal sagged against the furniture.


At Neal's voice, Peter exploded into a tirade; something about the radius, marshals, missing for hours. Neal flinched at the anger. His eyes darted left and right, up and down, until they steadied on his legs. A tiny sound strangled out from the back of his throat and the buzzing by his ear stopped.


"My tracker's gone," Neal blurted. He stared at his bare ankle, purple bruising striping where a GPS should have been; the dark trouser sock that normally camouflaged the tracker into a lumpy ankle was torn and sagging. He started to shake harder.

"I-I don't have my..." Neal blinked rapidly. The floor blurred then sharpened, only to blur again. He clutched the phone closer to his face. He gagged because even that smelled coppery. "I don't know where I...you can still find me without it, right?"

"What's going on? Are you all right?"Peter seemed to have shot back into another tirade; however his voice changed to something less livid but no less frenzied.

Neal closed his eyes. "I don't know. I...it's gone. I don't know..." Neal curled a hand around the cell, the other around his bare ankle. The grip on the clammy skin gave little comfort, but the weight around it was a vaguely reassuring one.

"What do you mean you don't know? Neal, we lost your tracking info an hour after you left the office. What the hell happened? Neal? Neal!"

"My anklet," Neal mumbled. His hand curled tighter around his ankle. Why didn't Peter get it? It was like that time he'd tried to explain the significance of Kahlo's self portraits to him.

"Neal!" Peter sounded frantic for some reason. "Are you hurt?"

No, he didn't think so. Neal pulled up his hand and dully plucked at the frayed thread where a trouser button should be. No, he was numb, no pain, so he couldn't be hurt, right? Not like that. Besides, it wasn't his blood.

"Blood? What blood?"

Oh, he must have said it out loud. Neal's shoulders hunched and his chin lowered. He wanted his jacket. He wanted his tie to close the gaping shirt, its buttons worriedly gone, leaving his exposed throat chilled.

"I don't know where I am," Neal mumbled. He wished his head didn't feel so heavy. He wished he didn't feel so blank right now, emptied of everything he'd learned that would have gotten him away from this place. All he knew, all he could concentrate on was the phone he held to his face that was tattooing him with someone else's blood; it was the only thing keeping him tethered to someplace safe.

Peter had gone silent and Neal began to gasp. Did he lose the connection? He didn't want to risk pulling the phone away to check. Maybe if he could get closer to the phone—wait, that didn't make sense. Neal closed his eyes and swallowed convulsively. None of this did.

"You'll find me, right?" Neal whispered into the phone. He nearly dropped it when Peter's voice returned, just as low, but a buoy more solid than the nightstand Neal was propped against.

"Damn right I will."

This wouldn't be a fic if it weren't for my beta brate7, my guide through grammar, characterization and plot holes.