It was an itch he couldn't scratch. It came at night, in his dreams, and in the morning he could only remember bits and pieces. Something was going to happen to someone he cared about and there was nothing he could do.
Rolling out of bed, Neal moaned as he stumbled into the bathroom, grimacing at the reflection that greeted him.
The dreams started a week ago and sleep was so fleeting he was surprised he could still function during the day.
Peter knew something was up. Neal could feel him watching his every move but thankfully the agent never called him on it. What could Neal tell him? Even if he did say something, Peter wasn't going to believe him. No one would.
He relieved himself and then splashed some water on his face. He was already late so a shower was out of the question. Fifteen minutes later Neal was out the door.
"You look like hell."
"Good morning to you too" Neal mumbled as he passed by Peter.
"Neal is something wrong?" Peter grabbed his arm.
"Peter I'm fine." Neal pulled free. "Just not sleeping well, that's it." Neal looked downward, avoiding eye contact with his friend.
"I'm here if you need to talk."
"I'm fine" Neal repeated as he turned and walked away, knowing Peter was watching him.
"Neal!" The ex-con startled.
"In my office now." Meekly Neal stood and followed Peter.
"Neal, you're sleeping at your desk" Peter began after closing the office door. "Please tell me what's going on."
"You wouldn't believe me" Neal whispered.
"Try me" Peter challenged. "And that's not a request" he added harshly.
"I'm having these dreams...more like nightmares" Neal corrected with a tired shrug. "Sometimes I wake up screaming, other times just completely drained. But I don't remember much."
"What do you remember?" Peter asked gently.
"I think someone dies" Neal quietly said. "Someone I care about but I don't know who and I don't know how. I just know how sad I am when I wake up." Neal looked away, clearly pained by that admission.
"Hey. Sit before you fall." Peter gently pushed him into a chair.
"Neal, maybe its Kate you're dreaming about."
"No." Neal shook his head. "It's not something that happened. Peter it's something that will happen."
Peter let out an amused chuckle, ignoring the look Neal threw him. "Are you telling me you can see the future? Come one Neal, even you can't do that."
Neal stood abruptly. "Forget it" he mumbled as he raced out of the office. Knowing others were staring he sat at his desk and picked up a file, ignoring those around him.
Peter tried again as they were leaving the office, offering Neal a ride home.
"I have plans" Neal said.
"Neal, please." Peter stepped in front of him. "You know what you said earlier. That doesn't happen. You can't see the future."
"It happened before..." Neal stopped when he saw Peter's face. "Let it go." He moved around the agent and stormed out.
"What do you want?" Neal opened the door wider and motioned for Mozzie to enter.
"The suit called and said you might need a friend. So I'm here." Mozzie checked out the wine selection. "Any preference?" he asked. When Neal didn't answer Mozzie chose his favorite and poured two glasses.
"Peter said you're seeing the future" he remarked as he handed one glass to Neal.
"Mozzie go home. Or whatever place you're staying at these days."
"Harsh" Mozzie muttered. "You're not a nice guy when you don't get your beauty sleep."
"Damn it." Neal tossed his glass against the wall and watched as the red wine slowly dripped, forming a distinct pattern against the white wall.
"Mozzie, they're so real. Someone dies and I don't know who." He stared at the shorter man. "It could be you or Peter." He shrugged. "I can't stop this." He covered his eyes and took a deep breath.
"Neal, do you want me to stay tonight? Maybe you'll talk while you're sleeping."
Neal eyed him before slowly nodding. "Thank you" he whispered as he grabbed a towel and started cleaning the wall.
Three weeks and counting. Neal opened the balcony door and shivered slightly as the cold air greeted him. He knew a little more than he did a week ago but not enough to warn the person.
Peter thought he was crazy. Elizabeth checked on him every day and Mozzie stopped spending the night when it became apparent that Neal was a quiet dreamer.
Neal knew Mozzie was freaked out in the morning when Neal awoke screaming and Neal didn't blame him. Maybe Peter was right. Maybe he truly was insane.
He heard a knock and before he could say anything the door opened and Peter entered.
"Hey" the agent said as his eyes darted around the room, finally settling on the bed. Both pillows were on the floor and the blanket was twisted in a heap near the foot of the bed.
"Peter, what are you doing here?"
"I know its Saturday but I thought we could talk. El thinks you should stay with us for a couple of days."
"And what do you think?"
Peter shrugged. "Wish I could help you but I don't know how. Any luck with the dreams?"
Neal laughed. "Are you ready to commit me yet?"
"Neal I want to help you. Tell me what I can do."
"You can believe me" Neal put forth.
"I want to" Peter countered. "But you know how ridiculous this sounds, don't you?"
"I know" Neal sighed deeply. "I wish they would go away but they don't."
"Tell me what you know" Peter said as he approached his friend. "Tell me everything you can remember."
"It's not much" Neal admitted. "Someone dies and I can hear a voice telling me but I don't know who and I don't know how. I just know how I feel and then I wake up screaming or crying. Peter its real and I know it's going to happen and I know how crazy that sounds."
"Will you stay with us?"
"I can't. I'm not sure if the dreams will come with me and I have to figure this out."
"OK, you'll call me if you need me?" Neal nodded.
Neal watched him leave and then sank heavily onto the sofa.
He woke up screaming. But this time it was different. He knew. He saw it and he remembered. Elizabeth was the voice; Peter was dead. It was a freak accident on the airplane...
Neal opened his eyes and lay there, breathing heavily. Suddenly he sprang out of bed and grabbed his pants. Peter had mentioned going to Maine for the weekend, a wedding or something. And he was leaving that morning. Neal toed his shoes on and found June's car keys before running out the door.
"Neal, what are you doing here?" Elizabeth opened the door and he ran in.
"Where's Peter?" Neal asked as he searched the house.
"Neal, what's wrong?" Peter came sprinting down the stairs.
"Peter don't go. Don't get on that airplane." He grabbed frantically at Peter, finally taking a hold of his shirt.
"Neal, calm down." Peter tried to loosen the grip Neal had on him.
"I remember. It was you. You're going to die if you get on that plane." Peter heard Elizabeth gasp and he looked at his wife.
"Neal, I'll be fine. You have to believe me."
"No." Neal turned towards Elizabeth. "Please" he pleaded. "Don't let him go." Tears rolled freely down his face. "Elizabeth, you have to stop him."
Elizabeth and Peter exchanged worried glances, neither knowing what to do. Finally Peter broke the silence. "Neal, stay here with Elizabeth. I'll be home tomorrow I promise." He reached for Neal but the ex-con stepped back. "Don't make promises you can't keep." He ran out before they could stop him.
"Peter, maybe you shouldn't..."
"El, don't. This has been going on too long. I need to go just to prove he's wrong." Peter went upstairs to finish getting ready.
"What if he's right?" Elizabeth quietly asked, but there was no one there to hear her.
The ride to the airport was silent. Occasionally Elizabeth would sniffle and Peter would tighten his grip on the steering wheel. By the time they reached the airport and parked, she was crying and Peter was angry, inwardly swearing at his partner for putting this idea in his wife's head.
"El, please." Peter hugged her. "You know flying is safer than driving. It's Charlie. He's my oldest friend. What would he say if I didn't make his wedding?"
She pulled away. "He would understand if you had to stay home and take care of your sick wife."
Peter groaned. "You truly believe Neal?"
"Peter you saw him. He's terrified of you getting on that airplane and that's not Neal. Please. I'm asking you to stay home with me." Peter looked at her; she was frightened and he couldn't leave her, not like this.
"OK." Peter picked up his bag. "Let's go home." He kissed the top of her head gently and then guided her out of the airport.
Peter was fixing a leaky pipe in the kitchen when he heard his wife scream. Dropping everything he ran to the living room, where she stood, fixated on the TV.
"They broke in with breaking news. An airplane had a hole in it when landing in Maine and it sucked out one row of seats." She stared at Peter with eyes wide. "Two people died and the other seat..."
"Was empty" Peter finished, suddenly feeling light-headed.
"Peter, he was right." Elizabeth said as she watched Peter sink down to the floor. She followed and wrapped her arms around him, holding tight.
"How?" Peter mumbled as he rested his head on Elizabeth's shoulder. Suddenly he pulled away. "Neal doesn't know I wasn't on that airplane." He stood on shaky legs. "I need to go there."
"Peter, can you drive?"
"I have no choice." He ran out, frantic to get to Neal.
"Neal" Peter called as he entered the apartment. "What the hell?" Peter stared at broken dishes scattered on the floor. His eyes widened when he saw the overturned TV and the screen shattered in many pieces. "Neal?" Peter ran to the balcony and searched every corner, seeing no signs of his partner. He raced through the apartment and finally he found Neal, in his bedroom closet.
"Neal?" Peter lowered himself to his knees as he stared at his friend lying there in a fetal position with his hands over his ears. He reached out and touched his shoulder.
"Hey! Neal look at me."
Neal did; eyes wide with fear as he stared at Peter.
Peter reached out again and Neal shrank back. "You're...dead" he stammered, as he crawled away.
"Neal. I didn't get on the plane. You saved my life." Peter tried again and slowly he touched Neal's face. "I'm real" he whispered.
Peter watched as realization set in and a myriad of expressions crossed Neal's face; first disbelief and then pure joy. And then he shattered. Before Peter could move, Neal flung himself at the agent, almost knocking them both over. Neal was babbling incoherently and Peter didn't understand a word he said. Soon he was crying and all Peter could do was hold him, and speak softly and ensure Neal that he was alive.
And when the enormity of the day finally sank in Peter buried his face in Neal's hair and cried.
"Neal, my feet are numb." They had been sitting there in silence for nearly an hour but Peter finally had to change positions. He pushed Neal away and stretched his legs, leaning back against the wall in the process. Neal came with; he leaned against Peter...still needing to touch the agent to assure himself that Peter was alive.
Peter reached for his phone, smiling as he read the numerous texts from his wife.
"El wants me to bring you back to the house."
"Can't" Neal said. "If you didn't notice I have a lot of cleaning to do."
"Didn't notice" Peter remarked and he could see a smile on Neal's face.
"Neal, you said this happened before. Tell me about it."
He could feel Neal tense and he wrapped his arm about the younger man and squeezing gently.
"I was six" Neal began when he found his voice. "I found a stray dog but Mom said I couldn't keep him. So I found an abandoned house and I put him in there and I'd feed him every day after school." Neal sat up straighter and wiped the remaining tears from his eyes. "I started having these strange dreams and I knew something bad was going to happen but my mom wouldn't listen." He paused and sniffled, taking the offered tissue from Peter. "One day I found the dog dead from a gun shot...and a few nights later the pieces of the dreams came together."
"Neal I'm sorry."
"It's okay" Neal muttered. "Maybe I had to fail that day in order to succeed today."
"Maybe" Peter agreed and he couldn't help but pull Neal a little closer. "I should go" Peter said a few minutes later as he got to his feet. "Tomorrow you're coming for dinner and bring a bag with you."
"What?" Neal looked up, confused.
"We're going to be so drunk neither one of us will be able to drive."
"What about work on Monday?"
"We're calling in sick" Peter answered. "You need to catch up on sleep and I..."
"Need to sit back and smell the roses" Neal finished for him.
"Something like that" Peter remarked. "Are you going to be ok tonight? "
Neal nodded. "Peter" he called out.
The agent stopped. "Call me when you get home so I know you're ok."
Peter smiled. "Sure thing" he said before walking away.
Neal's phone rang and he read the text from Peter. He was home and Elizabeth wouldn't let him out of her sight. Neal smiled and continued cleaning.
Later that night Neal slept. And the dreams stayed away.