As I impatiently wait for the return of White Collar, I find myself writing more and more little one-shots like these. This is a little snippet that rolled around in my head while listening to the film score Why So Serious? from the Dark Knight soundtrack. I guess it would take place at the beginning of season 4 (Neal trying to escape the people trying to catch him, him trying to get back to New York). But it could take place under different circumstances at a different time, I suppose.
His feet pounded into the pavement with quick decisions on which way to go seemingly before his brain even processed it. The sounds of footfalls from the men chasing him nipped at his heels. He ran faster. His legs burned. His chest swelled and deflated with each gasp of air. He kept running. Fingertips ghosted across his back. His chest swelled in a mixture of air and panic. He dove left around the corner of a brick building. The skin on his arm brushed the rough surface and bled in protest. He didn't stop.
He had gained a few feet, a few more seconds. He silently thanked God they didn't have guns. He could outrun a lot of things, dogs, the law, but bullets weren't one of them. He kept running.
He took a glance back to see how far behind they were, but the moment he did he tripped on an unknown object and collided with the pavement. Palms first. The side of his face second. The skin peeled on his palms. His face began donning shades of red, purple and blue. He pushed himself up and began running again. The distance now back to mere inches. He turned another corner.
He wanted to stop, to fall to the ground. He didn't. He kept going. He ran harder. He ran faster. He felt their fingertips again, more this time. He tried to speed up, to get away. He couldn't. The wind blew and swelled his shirt. They grabbed it and his body crashed down to the ground again. He landed, skidded and rolled. More crimson spilled out through cracks, rips and tears in his skin. He shot to his feet before they grabbed him again, before they could pin him down.
He stumbled. He regained footing. He ran. They were on his heels, their screams drowned out by blood pumping in his ears, the sound of the life still left in him.
He saw it coming. He saw the end of the shore line, the beginning of the river. The murky water was raging in between concrete slabs, separating them with a deadly line. To get to Peter, he had to cross it. He had to get to the other side. He never slowed. He kept running. If he didn't make it, the river would take him. It would fill his lungs and empty his life.
His arms and legs kept their motion of running while his body flew threw the air, across the river to the next concrete slab.
But not completely.
His torso collided with the edge of the concrete with a sickening crack. He felt paralyzed for a split second, the air completely stolen from his lungs before the river even took him. The next, he was sliding back, down against the edge of the concrete to the waiting water below that waited relentlessly to grab his body and smother him under the current. His hands dug into the concrete in a wretched attempt to stop his descent, but the skin just peeled away as if telling him they weren't in the fight. He felt the edge of concrete against his palm and sucked in his breath so the water wouldn't suffuse his lungs upon impact.
He never hit the water.
Something warm around his wrists kept the water waiting. It crashed below him in fury and swelled up with waves in horrible impatience. It licked at his feet, getting a taste. He shuddered and a cry was forced from his throat. Death was a horrible reality to face. He shuddered again and looked up. Peter's reddened face, twisted in strain and desperation, was above him. Pulling him. He noticed the sweat gathering on the man's face. It glistened like a calm lake despite the frantic surface it covered. The water tasted his feet again.
"P'ter." He wasn't one to beg. He wasn't one to plead. But the water was winding up his leg, savoring the feeling of being so powerful, so hungry. He shuddered again. "Please."
Peter's groan of determination against the strain in his muscles was lost in the sound of the river's satisfied roar as he tried to pull Neal's weight up. Neal felt himself moving up. He tried to take a deep breath but his sides and chest ached in protest. They were giving up the fight too soon. The water was just getting started.
The water bulged below him, nipping at his feet once again.
The sweat running down Peter's face was pooling in his palms, separating his grip on Neal's arm with a sick sense of humor. Peter's grip slipped. Neal dropped back down towards the craving water below. The river swirled around his calves in delight. It jerked him down farther unwilling to share.
Peter pulled back, agreeing to the game of tug of war.
Neal groaned at the pain, his body wanting to nourish the water's desire, but his heart wanting to keep up the fight, to not give in.
"'Peter!" His voice now stronger as the water knocked on his door, with death as a companion.
A sound broke through Peter's gritted teeth and with one last heave, Peter slammed and locked the door with Neal on the inside.
They fell back on the safety of the pavement. Laying side by side, Peter's chest heaving as it worked to get air into his lungs, Neal's struggling to do so. Peter ceased the task once he realized Neal's fight was more desperate. He rolled over onto his hands and knees. He leaned over Neal and tapped the side of his face.
"Neal. Look at me." He ordered, leaning over him yet again. "Breathe slow."
Neal felt Peter's hand in his hair, the other one rested gently on his chest. He saw Peter glance back, to the other side. His expression easily readable. It held fury, yet relief with a tinge of pure determination and rage. The men who had been chasing Neal had left the chase a long time ago, never once attempting to cross the deadly water barrier. Neal shuddered at the thought of what they would have done to him if they had caught him. The water soaking his pants were a heavy, cold reminder of the river and he writhed with the memory, the nightmare.
"Easy. Take it easy." Peter assured, his fingers tightening around the dark curls of Neal's hair. "You're home."
Neal blinked. He felt the pavement below, disgust running through him as his torn skin met the surface again, but soon found relief puddling around him as the pavement, his home, began to feel like clouds beneath his fingers.
He subconsciously shook his left ankle and registered the fleeting feeling of not having a weight around it on the soil of his home while his eyes tried to find Peter's. They found their destination through unwanted water gathering in the corners of his eyes.
"No..." Neal tried to say, but the words caught in his throat. He coughed. His broken ribs ached with hatred at being moved. Peter's eyebrow raised, his hands never leaving Neal's hair. "No m're...more...vacations for me."
He watched Peter's mouth turn up at the corner. Despite the lines it caused in his face, it appeared rejuvenated and refreshed. "What? Did you find out paradise isn't all its cracked up to be?"
Neal stared at Peter's face for a few seconds, trying to will away the horrific picture of death's door. He took it all in. The brown eyes that shown bright enough to see his reflection in, the lines that showed his age, his hardships, his mannerisms. It all seemed familiar, like driving down the street you've lived on your entire life. It was welcoming, but not in a sinister way. It wanted you to be there, to add to its life, not to take yours away.
The face furrowed painting concern, curiosity and a tinge of amusement on a worn out canvas. "Neal?" Peter's voice filtered through his ears though his expression was enough. Peter knew he was studying him, but had no idea why.
"No." Neal shook his head again. "Paradise is...all its cracked up to...be. It's just here...in New York."
"You're crazy for leaving, then." Peter shot back amusement clear on his features.
"No one leaves paradise because... they want to, Peter." Neal offered a weak grin.
Peter nodded in agreement, glancing up briefly to spot Jones running towards them before looking back down at Neal. "Well, thank God you don't have to leave anymore, huh? Your modes of transportation are a little risky."
"Taking risks is easy, if you believe you'll get to the end."
"You've got a lot of faith."
Neal nodded and hit Peter's chest lightly with the back of his hand. "And you've got a lot of reasons why I should." He laughed a bit deliriously and waved his hand around. "This whole thing being one of them."
Peter smiled, though it felt a bit heavy with responsibility, but if all he had to do was bear a little bit more weight on his shoulders to keep Neal alive in paradise, he welcomed the weight like water welcomes waves.
AN: Thanks for reading. Let me know what you think!