The most expensive Italian leather shoes can't make the pavement below any cleaner, any purer. The shine of the leather taunts him. It shines in glory, exuberance and high classification against the the grimy pavement he is confined to. He pries his chameleonic eyes away to glance at the pavement separated by an invisible line that has the same affect as a barbed wire fence. In reality, to every other person besides himself, the pavement on the other side looks just the same, marred by tire marks and other blemishes made by unknown things in an unknown time but tell a story all the same. To him, the pavement is like looking across an ocean from the sand to the very point in which you think the earth curves and hides the part of the world you may never reach. He will always be confined to the sand.
The wind blows and brushes against every part of his body except one. He's heard some people say the wind makes them feel encircled, makes them feel accompanied. He's always felt that when the wind ghosts across every inch of his body it redefines loneliness. There's nothing there, no one there, to block the wind. There's only space to be filled. Sometimes he is relieved that the wind is the only thing filling that space, because space is something he doesn't have much of. Space has always been confined to increments bordered by consequences. He takes a deep breath and welcomes the wind, the only thing that feels free. He admires the wind. It's unpredictable. It can't be controlled. He shakes his left ankle, the only place the wind can't touch. It makes his head too heavy to hold up and his chin rests faintly on his chest.
With his eyes closed, sound becomes louder. Unlike the wind, the sound is predictable. There's the low sound of a car being parked a few feet away followed by about ninety seconds of silence before a car door opens. The rest is so familiar he does his best to go deaf. Selective hearing is a close companion, but even the closest companions stray.
It's not a question that spills from the man's mouth. It's a statement that Neal has heard too many times, but he feels like he can listen to it just this once, one last time.
"I'm finding you here a lot lately."
He's able to lift his head off his chest with a sarcastic laugh, but it still remains hung.
"Quit looking and you won't."
"You know I can't do that."
"Can't or won't?"
"Does it matter?"
"Maybe." He looks at Peter. "Maybe not."
He hears the agent shuffle in his awkward, uncomfortable way right before he says something with an airy laugh. "It is both, but won't holds the most weight."
Neal grins a grin he doesn't feel. "For whatever it's worth right?"
"Ya." Peter nods and moves to stand shoulder to shoulder with him.
"Does it matter?"
"Maybe." Peter replies with a smirk. "Maybe not."
"The light is green. I guess that tells you the worth."
Neal meets Peter's gaze to receive the appreciation that the agent will cast his way. He takes it, but it stings. He's being appreciated for being controlled. The wind blows freely against his skin and makes his heart pound with envy.
He stays with Peter's gaze regardless, but notices Peter fishing for his keys. The agent pulls them out and breaks eye contact even before he bends down to reach out for Neal's left ankle. Neal swallows and feels his heart back down at the thought of gaining the freedom of the wind he envied moments ago.
He feels an unfamiliar click followed by silence which forces him to look down to see what has happened. The wind blows. He feels it against his left ankle. A short gasp sounds from his throat at the unknown. It takes a second to find the older man's gaze when Peter stands beside him once again.
"Go on." Peter gestures to the pavement that once looked so different and desirable moments ago. Neal looks at it, but suddenly can't find the difference between the pavement he stands on and the pavement he never has. He wonders if the curve of the Earth is hiding anything at all. He glances back at Peter. "Not too far." The agent says with a half sided grin.
Neal takes a step and contemplates if taking another would be too far, because it already feels like he's put several miles between himself and Peter. The wind blows and ghosts across his ankle. He gasps at the emptiness he feels.
"Freedom shouldn't feel like this."
He's a bit surprised he said it out loud.
"This." He replies as if Peter can feel what he is feeling. He backtracks in his steps and takes the anklet from Peter. The red light taunts him just like the shine of his leather shoes did a few minutes ago, only this time he can do something about it. He puts the anklet back on and sighs. His mind allows him to revel in the contentment for a few split seconds before telling him it's wrong. His head hangs again as he stands back in the same place with the same mindset as before.
Peter's hand pats him twice on the back before resting on his shoulder. It feels nothing like the wind. It feels a lot like his anklet. It's company. It's confinement. It's safe. It's predictable and reliable. And in some ways, it's freedom. It's freedom from his mind, freedom from making blind decisions, freedom of the unknown.
"Peter..." He can find the words, he just chooses not to say them, knowing he doesn't have to.
"I know. I know." Peter replies, pulling Neal towards the car away from the edge of his radius. "We could give you miles and miles of mountains and you'll ask for the sea."
The understanding passed between them just like all the other times Neal stood at the edge of his radius giving into the disease of freedom. Together, they would fight through it until Neal found the cure.
This is nothing new,
No, no, just another phase of finding what I really need
Is what makes me bleed
And like a new disease,
Lord, she's still too young to treat.
AN: This is a completely random one-shot I wrote while listening to the song Volcano by Damien Rice which is where the last thing Peter says comes from and the words at the end in italics that I think really defines freedom for Neal. Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think!