Title: Lights Will Guide You (Home)
Characters/Pairing: Neal, Peter, El. Gen
Genre/Rating: Hurt/comfort, T
Word Count: 2000
Notes: Title is from a Coldplay song.
Summary: Neal's lost. And it's dark. And there are stars.
- o -
Stars flare and burn against the ink of the night sky.
Too many stars for a New York night. He realises this and the lights become vehicles and streetlights and aeroplanes, lower than the sky but streaming upwards, becoming a part of it.
Cars and stars.
He moves his hands lazily and water slips through his open fingers, presses at his palms. He moves his feet and the water buoys him up.
Neal kicks again because he is swimming, treading water, wait, what the hell, he is floating in dark water with bridge lights dotting trails against the sky and the lights from blocks of buildings rising from the banks on either side.
He is in the river and it is night and the dark water pulls at his clothing and he has no idea why.
Because it seems like the only course of action, he starts to swim. His hands are pale in the gloom of the water, like fish. Perhaps he could become a fish altogether and slip away downstream and out to sea, going on forever with no one to stop him. The idea is tempting, but then there's a stronger feeling deep within him, something he can't name or even describe, but like a leash it tugs on him and he strikes out towards the shore.
The lights are very beautiful. He wants to paint them like this, while they fragment into hues and shapes beyond comprehension. And they shimmer, as if they're about to float free of their moorings and drift away.
Maybe he should be worried. His situation strikes him as slightly troubling. It's a pity Peter isn't here with him, to help sort it out. But the motion of the water is soothing, and Neal finds it hard to concentrate on much beyond the slow rhythm of his arms pulling him forwards. He can swim all the way home.
Until he can't. Mud and weeds clutch at his ankles and then sharp edges of stones dig into his hands. The river laps at him but he pulls away, stands, and then falls as the ground shifts as if it too possesses waves and currents. It hurts now, when he lands hard on his knees.
"This is wrong," he says, and his voice, too, sounds wrong in his ears, blurred and off-key. Things are very wrong and all of him is numb and he found himself in the river with no idea why, but at least the lights from the city and the sky are bright and lovely. It loves him, this city. He knows it.
He manages to stand again and this time he is prepared for the way the seemingly solid earth tilts and dips. His soles are designed for smooth streets, not the slip and slide of mud and weed-slimed rock, but he pulls himself at last to the top of the bank where he sits and closes his eyes until the sky stops swirling.
There is a quote, about sitting in the mud and looking at the stars. Or something. Mozzie likes it when he's feeling maudlin.
He's started shivering. He must be cold.
Neal thinks that perhaps he could continue sitting here, but the same thing which had pulled him from the water tugs him to his feet again. A concept, to be working towards. He stumbles, knows his steps are weaving, but the lights are ahead and they are what he has to aim for. He hopes he didn't lose his hat in the water, but he doesn't usually wear his hat with this pullover so he should be okay.
It's a shock when he actually reaches a light. They had been distant and unreal, but now here is a street lamp with a corona dancing around it and he's standing within the orange-gold circle it throws onto the soft stone of the sidewalk, and it hurts his eyes, which feels almost like a betrayal.
And it dispels some of the shadows inside him. He shivers harder, wrapping numb hands around around his sodden body. "Where am I?" he asked the lamp, like it should know. It's cold and he feels wrong and vaguely ill and very, very lost.
Finally, it occurs to him to check his pockets. His cell phone refuses to respond, even to pleading, but his wallet is fine, if soaked. The light on his anklet glows a steady green.
He holds on to the post of the lamp for support. He doesn't want now to leave its protective zone of light.
A while later (time currently doesn't seem to be more than a vague idea) a taxi pulls up. "You waiting for a ride?" the driver calls opportunistically through a mouthful of bagel.
Neal takes it as a sign. "Yes please," he says, and stumbles forward.
"Woah," the cabbie says as he steadies himself on the door frame. "You drunk, man?"
"I don't know," Neal says, which is the truth. There's not much he's certain of right now.
He's eyed dubiously. "If you chuck up in my cab I'm charging you for it."
"Sure," Neal says, and sits down heavily. His limbs suddenly feel cored with lead.
Then he drifts off, leaning on the window, until he's roused by the driver. "Hey man. Dude! You're home."
Am I? he wonders once he's out on the street again, having paid with soggy bills and shaking hands. This isn't June's place.
But for all that, it's just as familiar. His head is swimming now and he has to hold on tightly to the railings to make it up the steps to the dark house. But there he is at last and he leans on the doorbell desperately.
Peter has sleep-rimmed eyes and has his right hand tucked out of sight as he opens the door cautiously. "Caffrey, what the hell — " he begins angrily, and then he opens his eyes wide and cuts off the tirade, opening the door fully. "Neal, seriously, what happened?" he asks, still forcefully, but concerned now.
"I don't know," Neal says, and something cause Peter to hastily shove his gun onto the nearest surface and grab hold of Neal's arms.
Neal feels himself caught with a jolt, and wonders how Peter had known that he was falling before he did.
"What's going on?" El comes down the stairs rubbing her eyes as Peter guides Neal firmly down onto a chair. He leans forward, holding his head.
"I have no idea," Peter replies, shutting the front door. "He just showed up here soaking wet and out of it."
Light fingers check his scalp. El tilts his head up. "Neal, honey," she says. "Open your eyes for me, okay?"
He does and she peers at him in concern. "Did you hit your head?" she asks.
"I don't think so." His head hurts but it's not the sharp pain associated with injury; just a constant dull ache. The lights are blindingly bright and he has to shut his eyes again.
"Peter," she commands, and a moment later the lights click off. "It's okay now," she coaxes. "We need to know what happened, so we can help you. Are you hurt?"
Neal watches Peter light three votive candles in glass holders. The flames are radiant and he stares at the golden flickering tongues, unable or unwilling to look away. "I came here," he says thickly.
"Yes, you did, and we're very pleased." In the background Peter makes an odd noise and she shushes at him.
"I've yet to get evidence of that," Peter mutters. Then he pulls a chair up so that he can sit at eye level, and Neal finally drags his eyes from the candles to meet Peter's piercing gaze. "Neal, I need you to answer my questions. Something's happened to you. You don't have a head injury and I don't smell alcohol. Are you drugged?"
"I don't know. I'm cold."
Peter rubs his hand against his forehead. "Yes, okay, but do you remember anything at all that might be relevant? What about how you got soaked?"
At last, a question he can actually answer. "I was in the river. I sort of woke up treading water."
The results are dramatic. Peter leaps up and shouts, "What?" while Elizabeth gasps and presses a hand to her mouth. Neal doesn't know what he's supposed to do so he does nothing, tipping forward so he can pillow his head in his arms.
"He's definitely on something," Peter says. "The river? God. What on earth can have happened?"
"We should probably take him to a hospital," El says.
Neal lifts his head quickly, ignoring the way his vision blurs and spins at the sharp movement. "No hospital. Please." Hospitals, with their officiousness and record-keeping are bad enough at the best of times — and right now the thought of the loudness and brightness of an emergency room is unbearable.
Peter and El give him a look and proceed to have a brief but animated argument which seems to happen mostly through exaggerated facial expressions and gestures. Neal watches in bemusement, tilting sideways to get a better view, until he loses his balance and suddenly finds himself on the floor.
Peter kneels down. "You alright there, buddy?" he asks.
"No," Neal says mournfully.
Peter sighs, and smiles wryly.
He realises belatedly that they must have decided a hospital isn't worth the headache (or the other way around, in this case) when Peter hauls him upwards and supports him towards the stairs. El brings the candles. "I'll find something for you to change into," she says. "Can you manage a shower before bed? It would probably help you."
"Sounds good," Neal says gratefully.
"If you're going to wear my clothes you'd damn better wash the river muck off first," Peter grumbles, but there's no heat in it.
Neal's way too out of it to be embarrassed when Peter has to help him with his shirt buttons before pushing him towards the shower. There are candles now on the shelf above the sink, reflected in the mirror. "I'm leaving the door open and waiting outside," Peter says. "If you fall over and crack your skull I want to know about it."
"Okay," says Neal, not caring about much beyond the prospect of finally becoming warm. He strips out of the rest of his damp clothing and steps into the shower. The water is wonderful, beating the shivers out of him at last.
When he reaches down for the shampoo, however, fighting against the falling water becomes a monumental effort and he ends up sitting on the floor of the stall, washing his hair from that position. He lets his head drop against the tiles. The water rushes down around him, a soothing sound which washes everything else away.
He does intend to get up, eventually, but it's a shock when the shower abruptly stops. He jerks his head up and Peter's crouching down nearby looking worried and holding a towel.
"Sorry," Neal says, because Peter's looking pretty tired as well as worried, and it occurs to Neal that he has no idea what the time is, but certainly it's a time when Peter and El would far rather be sleeping.
"It's okay," Peter says, even though Neal didn't manage to articulate what he's sorry for. The walls are moving again and he has to close his eyes with a soft moan.
Peter roughly towels his hair. "Up you get," he says, and provides a comforting steadiness as he helps Neal to towel himself dry and put on a pair of pyjama bottoms and a teeshirt which are both way too big. "It's okay," he continues to murmur at intervals. "You're okay."
Neal's almost asleep by the time he collapses into the guest bed. There's a final candle twinkling softly on the side table and El smooths his hair down as Peter tucks the duvet over him. "Neal?" she says, and he manages nod slightly in response. "We'll leave the door open so we can come check on you. You just go to sleep now."
"I don't think we need to worry about that," Peter whispers, and El laughs softly.
Neal feels that he should say something like, Thank you for letting me into your home and looking after me, even though it's the middle of the night and I'm not being a very good guest, but forming words is a huge effort right now.
"Hey," he tries, but he falls asleep before he can complete the sentence.
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