Genre and/or Pairing: Gen. Angsty, but with a hopeful ending.
Spoilers: mostly for the last episode.
Warnings: mentions of blood, (fake) death and grief
Summary: Neal wakes up after his “death”.
A/N: First WC fic! Set during “Au Revoir”. Companion of to sleep, (perchance) to dream (Peter’s POV). Read this first. Title comes from Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
to die, to sleep
Neal wakes up abruptly, violently, eyes snapping open so quickly his lids ought to have torn apart, oxygen-starved lungs straining to breathe in as much air as they can. His heart pounds relentlessly against his ribs, as if it were a prisoner of an inescapable cage, banging on the bars and begging to be let out to see the light. (Not unlikely he’d done, once, so many years ago, before the deal and the anklet and the life in the clouds.)
He sees nothing but pure, deep, all-encompassing darkness, and for one long, wild moment, he wonders whether his eyes have been carved out of his skull or he has simply gone blind.
Something cold and metallic tickles him, right over his bare chest, and after some shuffling he manages to reach a hand over his head, and feels a small piece of metal hanging slightly over his hair. It’s a zip, and he slides it down quickly, anxiously, needing fresh air. (He has always been quite desperate, hasn’t he, when it comes to being free.)
The black plastic he was wrapped in — a body bag, his mind helpfully supplies, and he has to suppress a shiver at the realization — falls down in a matter of seconds, trembling fingers hurrying to free their owner, and Neal throws himself off the stretcher and falls to the ground in a mess of shivering, sweaty limbs. He sits up, puts his hands around himself to fend off the cold, and lets his head fall on his knees.
His mind is a jumbled mess of half-scattered memories, and he realizes that, for once, maybe he should trust his heart rather than his mind, because his heart is screaming anguish grief fear, while his brain floats into a deep confusion.
Soon however, panic begins to wrap around his throat like a parasite vine, and he feels powerless and out of control because he knows nothing — not what happened, or what is happening, or what will happen. He only knows his own name (and really, what’s in a name? He’s had so many, after all.)
Neal, he thinks to himself. My name is Neal.
At that, unexpectedly, memories rush back to him in a maddening swirl of images, sounds, touches. It is almost too much to bear, and he wishes he’d let himself bathe into the bliss of ignorance for a while more.
In his mind-eye, he sees blood, a lot of it. On his own chest, splattering one of Byron’s fine shirts. Then he sees Keller, pointing a gun at him, his expression an odd mix of surprise and smugness, before fear blossoms over his face (son of a bitch). He can hear himself huff out a breathy (fake) laugh, and then Keller is (so damn predictable) gone, and then he’s taking a small capsule from his suit pocket. He pictures himself hesitating, before opening it and swallowing its contents. He feels himself fall to the floor and he can literally feel himself dying, if temporarily, and the sensation of his heart slowing and his breath escaping him has got to be one of the scariest thing he’s ever experienced. His accomplice must have called the ambulance for he remembers being lifted onto a stretcher, limbs already growing limp and weak, his eyelids getting heavier and heavier. He feels his eyes close as they bring him out, the light bright and painful, and hearing the sounds of a concerned crowd gathering around the ambulance.
And then, he can hear Peter’s voice (you move, you move), and he’s suddenly so relieved he wants to cry, and he is also scared and sorry and so very lonely, but he can’t let himself regret this because it’s too late, and he has to protect Peter and El and the baby and Moz and June and Diana and Jones, because he’s got few friends but they’re good ones (the best), and he can’t let them get hurt because he was too selfish, too brash, not careful enough, because he chose freedom over happiness.
He remembers feeling Peter’s comforting presence beside him (we’re gonna get you out of this), and struggling to open his eyes (i don’t think so) because he had to see him one last time, before it all ended (don’t, don’t say that). He tries to convey all he can in one tired look, how thankful he is (you’re the only one who saw good in me) and how sorry he is (stop it, neal), and how he doesn’t blame Peter because (you’re my best friend) it’s his own damn fault it has come to this. He remembers trying to smile at the agent for the last time, not a con-smile, a real one, but he thinks he failed and all he could manage was no more than a twitch of the lips before everything blacked out.
And now, there he is. Naked, alone, with a fake bullet wound on his chest and on the verge of a panic attack. How the mighty have fallen, they say, and never has a saying been more fitting than in this situation. He fell from the clouds and crashed down, his wings failing him, like Icarus — who’d been too enchanted by the sun to realize he couldn’t reach it, and his own stupidity had led to his demise.
Neal, this isn’t without risk, Peter had warned him, but he’d chosen not to heed his advice and this was the result.
He’s dead. He’s officially dead, to the world, to the FBI, to his friends. But he’s also dead to the Pink Panthers, and that’s what matters. He hopes this will be enough to keep his friends (family) safe. And if it is, then this will all have been worth it. His own happiness is a small price to pay in exchange for their wellbeing. (That doesn’t make it hurt any less, though, he reflects, as tears spill over his cheeks and sobs wrack his body.)
They’ll mourn him, of course (he hopes). They’ll be sad, but they’ll get over it, one day. And who knows — maybe this isn’t the end after all.
(It isn’t. Thank goodness it isn’t, he thinks, as he sends a bottle of Bourdeaux at the Burke’s address, and waits for his family to bring him home.)