AN: This story spawned from an amazing song titled Cripple Me by Elenowen. Every time I hear it, I think about Neal's character. I encourage you to look it up! Or just copy the link here and paste it in your URL bar and delete the spaces in the address. www. youtube watch?v=C1mFtnyjJng

The words in italics are the lyrics to the song.


Cripple Me

I see you waiting

But I'm not ready

To take that first step

Towards Home

The virgin white snow, in all of its serenity, was reduced to nothing but a frigid nuisance upon his skin reflecting the chill in his bones that had set in long before he had even ventured outside in comparison to the golden glow of the small illuminating bulbs that hung perfectly on long strands heartily placed on the house in front of him.

He exerted a small amount of desperate effort for their warmness, both literally and figuratively, to chase his coolness away, but he knew that no amount of staring would ever be enough to rid him of his rawness.

He fisted his numbing fingers in his coat pockets and had half a mind to take a reluctant step forward so that the snow melting around his feet didn't fully seep into the expensive leather of his shoes and soak into his socks. His muscles and bones danced with a shiver while his heart played a fierce rhythm in an otherwise motionless world, before the front door of the home he had been standing in front of for seven numb minutes swung open revealing something that could make a conman beg for the truth.

"Neal! What in the world are you doing standing out in the cold?! You must be freezing! Come inside, hurry now!" Elizabeth ushered with her hand with as much impatience as any worrying mother would, but Neal felt a flame of disinclination spark somewhere inside of him at the order with less grace than a petulant child.

The dark haired woman must have sensed it from his lack of movement, God forbid that she saw it upon his face, because she dropped her hand quickly and straightened her back so that her eyebrow could furrow. "Neal?" She questioned with a tone that caused the heart of a thief to try his best to return her comprehension he stole from her.

"Sorry, Elizabeth. I was admiring your Christmas decorations," he said and only stepped forward when her mouth twisted with a friendly smile, though the look in her eyes was not lost upon him.

So please be patient

God knows I'm trying

But these good intentions

Are not enough

Neal stepped into the foyer behind her, sidestepping so she could close the door to keep the cold out, while bitterly wishing it were that easy.

"I'm glad you like the lights. Peter spent all day yesterday putting them up before the snow came." She turned once the door clicked and brushed some snowflakes off of his coat, before prompting him to shed the article of clothing.

Unwillingly, but enthusiastically for her sake, he slipped out of his jacket then reached down to brush off a few snow particles from his pants just to hide another shudder. "Did he break out the cookie cutters and gingerbread houses, too?"

"No, but if you want to keep up the mocking I have the perfect Christmas sweater made by El's lovely mother that will look much better than an orange jumpsuit on you." Peter's voice sportively floated from around the bookcase as he walked from the kitchen.

Despite his previously held convictions, Neal felt the corners of his mouth tug in response to Peter's infectious grin. "As if any other color could bring out these baby blues better," he winked for good measure, rocking back on his heels with satisfaction as Peter rolled his eyes.

"Those eyes will do just fine without such a delinquent color. Regardless, Peter and I would rather you rely on your pearly whites and striking cheekbones if anything." Elizabeth snaked an arm through his, causing Neal to wish his confidence was low enough that he could blush to bring a heat he didn't feel to the surface of his skin.

"That... wasn't the point," Peter specified, but quickly changed the topic after making eye contact with El. "We're glad you made it before the snow got too bad. Come on, dinner's on the table."

Neal was vaguely aware of Elizabeth saying things like 'snow storm', 'guest room', and 'stay over', but his mind was too rattled by the surge of familial welcome displayed in even the tiniest nooks and crannies of the house.

"Neal." It was Peter's call that extracted him from his captivation, but he could tell that Elizabeth had made her attempts to do so as well.

He dismissed their looks with a grin that left him feeling more exhausted once he dropped it. "Sorry, just cold."

"Well your place is set by the fireplace so you'll be warm in no time." El reassured him and led all three of them to the dinner table.

He took his seat without missing the ache in his muscles the movement caused and the wave of heat that instantly swirled on his back from the fire, but it did little to warm him.

Glancing down, he took in the arrangement of his plate compared to his two dinner companions'. Although they had the same portions of the same food, someone went to a great deal to separate the gravy from the dressing so that it wouldn't contaminate the other dishes on the glassware out of knowledge of his distaste for mixed food. The green beans were missing the pieces of bacon spotting Peter and Elizabeth's plate to cater to his distaste for the meat's flavor in vegetables and with a glance at the wine on the table, he realized it was his favorite label printed on the bottle.

His name was being called again, but he couldn't focus on it due to the overwhelming feeling of affection laying in the simplicity of his dinner plate and the sudden heat that assaulted him. So much heat.

You've pulled back your veil

Laid it all on the line

But I've turned my back

And covered my eyes

The muscles in his stomach spasmed painfully, but he was unsure why, though he hoped that the shaking hands in his hair, around his face, and on his back knew the answer. A coolness seeped through his skin on the right side of his face and he pressed into it greedily, but a voice encouraged him otherwise.

"Hey, hey. Easy. That's not a pillow, buddy." Peter's voice was soft despite something that made it waver slightly as he peeled his hands from the moist undershirt covering Neal's back and slid them underneath the younger man's arms. "That's the bathroom floor, so unless you want to sleep next to where we do our business, I'm going help you to the guest room, kay?"

Neal may have heard a womanish scowl under his groan at Peter's choice of words, but he couldn't be sure. The next thing he heard was Peter's voice once more, "...nice and slow, alright? Take it easy. No rush."

Suddenly the world was titling, and despite his eyes being closed, he squeezed them tighter to counter the dizziness the gradual change in position caused. His handler's arm around his chest steadied him against what he assumed was the bathroom wall, before he was being spoken to again.

"...Neal?"

"May not...feel well."

Peter's easy laugh filtered through the blood rushing in his ears. "Almost, kid. Drop the 'may' and that'll be an honest statement."

Neal hadn't been able to make sense of the world expect Peter's voice and a pair of soft hands mussing his hair, but suddenly his trust was being called into question for an umpteenth time and agitation squirmed in his muscles.

"Don'...don't lie to...Peter...to you."

"Hey, sweetie. He knows. Peter knows. He's just...stating the obvious, aren't you hon'?" El's voice was in his ear, in time with her hand in his unruly, wet curls.

But Peter's voice was missing, his hands were gone. Neal squirmed again at the loss of contact in the distant, unknown world, but when they were back and the older man was reassuring him of all the things Neal wasn't certain of, the conman wriggled away from it all, because something in the back of his mind said he had to. However, when Peter was silent and remote once more, Neal couldn't help but reach out for him.

So please, please, please, please

Cripple me

So I can not keep running

Away, away from you

With Elizabeth already in the guest room turning down the bedsheets and placing a trashcan beside the bed, that left Peter and Neal wobbly trekking down the hallway. Whether the sorry excuse of a groan that tumbled out between dry lips sounded more like a whimper, Peter made no mention of it except a simple, "Almost there," while tightening his grip around his waist when the floor was coming up to meet the conman face to face.

I'm walking on a wire

But you're holding it steady

And you're taking me higher

But I'm getting heavy

With his arms underneath him, burrowed in the most comforting sheets that didn't gain the title from their material, Neal curled in on himself shivering from the chill of his body and moaning with the heat of his skin. Elizabeth's presence had went away after she tucked the sheets around his pathetic form, but Peter was squatted beside the bed prompting him to stay awake for whatever the return of El brought.

"You'll be alright. With some sleep and meds, you'll be good as new."

But Neal wasn't so sure, and his uncertainty showed in his fever induced squirm that twisted the bedsheets around his legs.

"For someone so touchy about being trusted, why don't you trust me?" Peter questioned, without heat, because really, Neal couldn't take anymore, and fixed the bedsheets back in their proper place.

Just give me some time

I'm almost a man

Without you by my side

I don't know who I am

A day and half passed before Neal's fever broke and lifted the radius keeping him inside the swirling, confusing world he had been trapped in. Another two before his legs would support him to the couch downstairs and back. But with one more added on, Neal felt more like himself with just a twinge of exhaustion. Standing at the door, Peter's hand came to pat his shoulder. "Take a few more days off." Neal didn't even get to open his mouth to protest. "I mean it. Rest."

"Sure. Scout's honor." Neal slid out from under Peter's hand.

"We've talked about that," the agent retorted.

"You were a scout."

"Still doesn't apply to you." Peter stated with a shake of the head and hands on his hips.

Neal's face fell and he tried his best to chalk it up to exhaustion before noticing Peter's softening expression and grinning again.

"Guess not. Goodbye, Peter."

The farewell felt like a few heart-wrenching ones before it, because the things he wanted to say still weren't said.

"Merry Christmas, Neal."

"Oh, I guess I missed that holiday, huh?"

"No. I think I remember an elaborate rendition of Deck the Halls at two in the morning from you and the way you clawed at the sides of the trashcan while you expelled whatever was left from the office Christmas cookies the day before was way more enthusiastic than a kid opening a present on Christmas morning."

"Well as long as your holiday was entertaining, at the very least."

"I'd say it was the most genuine Christmas El and I have had in a while."

Later, Neal would swear that the virus he had caused him to forget the English language, because he could do nothing but stare at Peter until the man slung an arm around him and they walked to the car.

Neal followed him unconditionally, but wondered if he was capable of doing it forever. He had little faith his ability, but then he remembered the bank heist case, his first one back after Kate died and standing outside Midtown Mutual with Peter getting ready to break into the bank.

"There's always another way...," he had told Peter, and maybe he wasn't just talking about breaking and entering.

So please, please, please, please

Cripple me

So I can not keep running

Away, away from you

"Merry Christmas, Peter."


AN: Thanks for reading! Please let me know what you think! And go look up Cripple Me by Elenowen and all their other stuff! :)