Title: Old Dreams of Flight (1/?)
Characters/Pairing: Neal, Peter; Gen
Genre/Rating: Wing!fic, h/c; pg
Word count: 1600
Notes: So I started writing this for elrhiarhodan ages ago, but never finished it. Okay, so it's still not actually completed, but I didn't like the ending I had, so I chopped it off and will write a sequel to this instead.
Fills the "wings" square on my hc_bingo card.
Now with a gorgeous cover made by kanarek13!
Summary: Neal has a hidden ace up his sleeve, but things like that come with a cost.
- - -
Staring desperately up, Peter can see the distant figure of Neal teetering for balance on the very edge of the roof, trying to keep his footing on the rain-slick surface while dodging the faint pop of gunfire that Peter can only faintly hear. He makes an abortive gesture, like there's any possible way he can help from where he is on the ground, endlessly far below.
The tiny figure which is Neal trips back suddenly and flings out his arms, searching for some support, something to grab onto, but Peter can see, clear as lines of force on a diagram, that he's already passed some invisible point of no return. And there's nothing he can do. Nothing.
Neal tips, overbalances, falls.
He falls, tumbling down past storey after storey, and he screams something, wordless, lost to the wind, as Peter yells his name helplessly. But then —
Then, something, things, expand from Neal's shoulders, like a parachute, like wings. Which is — exactly what they are. Wings. Grey and gossamer. Neal stalls, slows, but he's still falling, and a second later he slams down hard onto the tarmac. Peter stands frozen to the spot, until he sees Neal push himself painfully to his knees, and it's only then that Peter starts running towards him.
"Neal!" Peter demands, because wings, but then he blinks and they're gone.
His team apprehend the bad guys, and Peter hovers anxiously while Neal gets checked out by a medic. Neither of them mention that he fell from the roof; Peter almost does and then realises how stupid, how unbelievable it sounds. And Neal hardly speaks at all. He seems dazed, and his responses are sluggish — but there's apparently no head injury. Or any other serious injury. Just some bruises and scrapes, the sort you'd expect from a fall of a fraction of the height.
And his shirt is all ripped up. Neal clutches a blanket proffered by the medic around him, and then his jacket. Cold, he says. The medic tells Peter it's mild shock, nothing serious.
"I just want to go home," Neal insists, when Peter shows signs of wanting to take him to the ER and have them check him over again. "I'm just… I'm really tired."
He does indeed seem exhausted,his face pale and drained, and he falls asleep with his head leaning against the car window. It takes Peter a while to get him up the stairs to his apartment, and Neal's taking almost none of his own weight by the time Peter finally manoeuvres him down onto the bed, slipping off his shoes and tie.
"You want to change?" Peter asks, almost casually.
Neal swallows. He looks suddenly more alert, and wary. Like a wild thing, about to take flight.
It's an unsettling metaphor.
Peter thinks that he should probably leave. Or at least, leave Neal alone. Go home, come up with a rational explanation. But he has to know; he pushes the jacket aside and begins to unbutton Neal's shirt. Neal watches him, saying nothing at all.
"Sit up, so you can get these off," Peter says, making it a suggestion. Neal quirks his mouth in a fleeting half-smile, and then does, using Peter's shoulder as support to pull him up.
The back of Neal's shirt is soaked with blood. Peter inhales quickly, hesitates.
"That's normal," Neal says, as if normal is a word that can or should be applied here. "Don't worry. Really."
"You're hurt," Peter says, horrified. But although Neal's hurt, he's not dead, not battered and broken by the tarmac and the relentless pressure of gravity.
"It's not as bad as it looks," Neal says. He shrugs slightly.
Peter peels away the blood-sticky cloth as carefully as he can . There are two long, parallel cuts running down the length of Neal's back. They've already stopped bleeding, it seems. "How —" he begins. And stops himself. "These should probably be cleaned."
Neal sighs slightly, and directs him to the first-aid supplies. He's lying down again by the time Peter returns with them, turned onto his side to present his back. He flinches a couple of times as Peter carefully cleans the wounds and then tapes gauze down over them. "They won't scar," he says, finally.
Peter hadn't known what to say, before then. "You have experience?"
Neal actually smiles. "Despite that terribly managed landing, yes."
He tucks this piece of information away for later — when he can tell Neal how glad he is that he has this extra ace up his sleeve, that he's a fraction further removed from the reckless crazy death which Peter is so terribly afraid will find him one day. "Does it hurt?" he asks. There are so many more questions he wants to ask, but this seems the most important one. Neal's face is still turned away from him, but it seems to be fatigue that's making him not change position, rather than a desire to ignore Peter.
"Not as much as you'd think," Neal says. "They heal quickly, anyway. It just takes it out of me, doing that."
"I can see that," Peter says. He eases the covers out from under Neal, tucks them over him gently. "Rest. You look like you need it."
"I'll tell you properly," Neal murmurs. "Promise."
Peter stays sitting there beside him, long after Neal has fallen asleep.
- - -
Neal dreams of silent flight through an empty city, glassy windows staring at him as he glides by. Air currents stream around him, sliding across his skin, but the wind is barely louder than a whisper.
Slowly, so slowly that he barely notices it at first, he is pulled downward. The knowledge of the earth below weighs in his mind like an anchor.
His descent is gradual but inevitable. He circles gently toward the deserted streets and sidewalks. At the very last moment fear grips him, cold and tight in his chest.
He wakes as his feet touch the ground.
- - -
"I stole them," Neal says, looking at his hands. His voice is soft.
"That's not the sort of thing you can steal," Peter says.
"Not the sort of thing I should have, either," Neal responds, and Peter doesn't know what to say to that. He thinks Neal has lost weight. It's been a week since — since he brought Neal home, and June had reported that Neal had stayed in bed for two days, mostly sleeping. She'd been concerned. Peter had had no idea what to tell her, so in the end had simply gone for I don't know what's wrong, let's give him some time.
The sky is grey, and they're sitting out on the balcony. Neal doesn't look up, but he's constantly making small unconscious movements. Like the breeze is swaying him this way and that as it shifts.
"So where did you steal them from?" Peter asks.
One corner of Neal's mouth turns up in a slight smile. "Not somewhere they'll be missed. Or, at least, they aren't the most valuable thing I took from that place."
"What was that?"
The rest of the smile follows. "Myself," Neal says, simply. He meets Peter's stare. Please don't ask me, his eyes implore, though his expression doesn't waver.
"You were hurt," Peter states, and although Neal tries to hide his shiver, he doesn't succeed.
"It was a long time ago. An old story." He tilts his face to catch the breeze.
"I'm here to listen, you know," Peter offers, cautiously. For a moment he thinks Neal is about to speak, but then he closes his mouth and shakes his head slightly. Peter sighs. "Neal, I want to help you." He tries for another route. "When you were falling — you couldn't do what you expected?"
There is deep pain in Neal's eyes. His smile slips away.
- - -
It's a little harder every time. A little more painful. It takes a little longer to recover afterwards. Neal meters out flight in breaths, heartbeats, wingbeats.
Every time it's a little harder, coming down to earth.
The last time he had flown was to break free from Keller, avoiding the men who had been watching to see that Neal didn't get away. But he had; he had tucked himself behind a statue high up under the roof of a cathedral, pressed between stone and stone, his face turned to the wall so that a glimpse of pale skin wouldn't give him away.
He had stayed up there all night, until Keller realised that he had slipped the trap. And the sky had called to him, up there; the ever-shifting wind, the clouds tearing and reforming. He had known, instinctively but with bone-deep certainty, that he could choose to fly up and up, vanish into the sky. Somehow. It wasn't a thing which had needed to be understood.
And yet, he hadn't. He told himself he still had plenty of time in which to decide. He could make his choice another day, continue to have both worlds for a little while longer, albeit walking slightly out of step with each.
The sky calls to him again, now. Sitting here with Peter he tries to ignore it, but it's very strong. Come back. Come back.
He has enough in him for one last flight upwards, but he looks at Peter, sees all the worry and care in his face, and thinks, I can wait a little longer.
There will be a reckoning, but not yet.
Not quite yet.
- - -
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