He's never felt so alone.
The streets are dark and empty, and he knows better than to be out here this late by himself – knows that this particular area of the city is a haven for all manner of criminals, seeking their next deal, or fix, or victim, as the case may be.
But he's one of them, isn't he?
It's what he's always been; nothing's changed. Except – for a brief, shining moment that now feels like a hollow, bittersweet dream, he thought he could be something else – but that's over now, and he's on the run again, hiding in a tiny European country with very convenient extradition laws that happen to be in his favor – if he should ever happen to be found here.
Which he won't.
Something tightens in his chest, coiling and dark and dangerous, and he finds himself suddenly not caring if he happens to meet an unfortunate end in the dark, garbage-strewn alley he's just turned down. It doesn't matter.
Nothing matters anymore.
He's a fugitive – and the only ones that matter to him now are forever, far out of his reach.
A strong hand closes around his forearm, and Neal reacts automatically, though a part of him longs for nothing more than an end to the aching, lonely emptiness that's his constant companion now. Still, with the option of flight denied him, the instinct to fight kicks in, and he spins on his heel, trying to pull his arm free, while at the same moment drawing back his other hand in a fist to strike. His fist is immediately caught, crushed in the strong grip of his assailant, and the man surges forward, slamming Neal back against the wall behind him, and directly into the faint, distant glow of the single streetlight at the end of the alley.
"Stop it," his attacker growls, low and warning and intense – and Neal freezes, heart racing, at the sound of that familiar voice, even before his eyes focus enough to take in the sight of Peter's face, inches from his own, jaw set with fierce determination, eyes blazing with challenge. "Damn it, Neal, stop fighting me!"
Neal does, staring up at Peter in disbelief. He can feel his own pulse beneath the pressure of Peter's firm hand on his wrist, his breath gradually coming back to him in quick, shallow gasps as he stays still, submissive, no longer trying to get away.
He never wanted to get away from Peter, anyway.
"Peter," he gasps out, struggling to find the words, his usual eloquent façade shattered with the shock of Peter's touch, his familiar scent, the righteous fury blazing in his eyes that's all so familiar, and yet so foreign to him now – now that he'd resigned himself to never seeing, never feeling any of it again. "What… what are you doing here?"
Peter's hand tightens on Neal's wrist, and his voice is low and ominous, like quietly rolling thunder. "What do you think I'm doing here?"
Neal lowers his gaze, bracing himself for the worst. This is Peter, and while he knows Peter cares about him – he will always be Peter, and nothing will change that.
Nothing will ever make Peter Burke less than the honest man he's always been.
Neal's voice is hushed, carefully neutral, as he draws the only natural conclusion.
"You've come to take me in."
"What…" Peter shakes his head a little, an incredulous, almost wounded look in his eyes as he backs off just a little, and there's disbelief in his harsh, trembling words. "Is that really what you… ? Neal."
The gentle disappointment in Peter's voice, the warmth and tenderness with which he speaks his name – it's almost Neal's undoing. Peter edges in even closer until his body is flush against Neal's, his hand leaving Neal's arm to instead rise and cup his cheek. Instinctively, Neal flinches a little, – barely, almost imperceptibly, because he's not used to being touched like this, at least not by another man – not by Peter. He lowers his eyes, swallowing hard and staring down at Peter's chest, firm and solid and so, so close.
Peter's thumb slides down his jaw, tilts his head up again firmly, gently insistent, and Neal complies, pliant and submissive under Peter's hand, though reluctant, because he knows there's more than he wants Peter to see in his eyes.
But Peter's eyes – Neal loses his breath again at the possessive, fiery intensity he sees there, the almost dangerous longing that is his only warning before Peter closes the distance between them completely and covers Neal's mouth with his own. The kiss is breathtaking, bruising, but Peter's hand slides up behind Neal's head, protecting him from the harsh impact against the cold stone wall behind him.
Peter's other hand falls to Neal's waist, pinning him firmly against the wall as he claims him with lips and tongue and teeth, stealing every last breath of shocked, instinctive resistance – until the cold, sharp, bitter thing that's been settled in Neal's chest for the past month shatters, and takes him with it. His hands tremble as they rise to rest on Peter's back, drawing him in closer as Neal collapses against the wall. He feels so bare and breathless and broken, and it's only the pressure of the wall behind him and the strength of Peter's hands – holding, claiming, reassuring – that keeps Neal on his feet.
When at least Peter pulls away for breath, Neal aches with the loss of him as if it was that first moment on the plane all over again. He leans forward instinctively, shaking hands clutching at Peter's arms as if to keep him from vanishing like just another dream from which he's about to wake up. He rests his head against Peter's chest, breathing in his scent and trying to make himself believe that this is real, Peter's really here and not going to let him go.
Peter's hand rises to cup the back of Neal's head, his other arm sliding around his waist, firm and reassuring as he holds him close.
"I'm not here to take you in, Neal," Peter says softly against his ear, and Neal shivers a little in his embrace, shifting closer and clinging to the surety and strength that Peter offers. "I'm here to take you home."