attackfish: Neal & Peter text "We may someday attain a reltationship of mutual respect/ First I will see the gods walking the earth" (Peter and Neal MWT quote)
[personal profile] attackfish
Disclaimer: If I owned White Collar, this would be a DVD extra.

Summary: The first two weeks after Neal gets out again, the world is spinning too fast, and he can't catch his breath.

Author's Note: This was originally written for a prompt on [ profile] collarkink, that called for vampire!Peter and Neal as Peter’s human pet and private blood bank. I couldn't figure out why on earth I wanted to fill this prompt so bad, given my deep dislike of vampire stories, or for that matter why I wanted to write gen with it. Then, about a day after I finished, it hit me. It's vampirism as a metaphor for disability. It's a fic about accommodations.

Down To Sleep

Back before Peter had caught him, the night had been his time. He could go anywhere under the cover of darkness, scramble over any rooftop, slip through any window, unlock any door. There were dinners, and parties and bars full of people who would believe anything he told them. Before he was a forger, he had been a conman, and before he was a conman, before he realized his smile and clever words could be used for more than just getting himself out of trouble when someone caught him with his hands in their pocket, he had been a thief. He took jobs during the day. He forged bonds, paintings, and money when the light was good, and conned people in offices on their time instead of his own, but he was a thief first, and thieves’ time was nighttime.

Prison had been different, with it’s yawning, empty years, and the hours inside ticking away out of his control. Day and night both belonged to the wardens and the guards, and the sun rose and set when they said it did. The unmovable, unrelenting weight of the place demanded he rise in the mornings and sleep at night, and it was so much easier just to give in.

Before he’d gone to prison, while the FBI got closer and closer, he had been so afraid, unable to think, to plan, and Neal had dreaded with a sick sort of certainty the evening he was going to wake up to find that they had cornered him while he slept. But they hadn’t. He had walked into their trap wide awake, hadn’t he? Even if it was during the day. Back then, Peter’s time had been the daytime.

It shouldn’t have been so hard to go back to the way things, had been, but he just kept waking up in the middle of the morning, restless and trapped, trying to remind himself that curling up and sleeping with the sun pouring in through the window felt as much like freedom as anything ever had.

Peter cleared his throat, and Neal let his eyebrow twitch and arch. “You still alive over there?”

“What?” Neal tipped the folder in his hands down band blinked blearily over it.

Peter shot him a warning look. “Don’t fall asleep on me.”

Neal didn’t answer. There were so many different things he wanted to say to that, about how it had been less than two weeks since morning roll call and lights out, and he was adjusting as fast as he could, damn it, and it would be so much easier if he’d been able to sleep at all since the flames had enveloped Kate’s plane. He just tilted the file back up to reread whatever it was he hadn’t really been reading before. Something about bank heists. Really, that should have been interesting.

But it wasn’t.

The office was quiet, almost empty, just the two of them and Ruiz, Blake, Cruz since just before her transfer to violent crimes (just after the explosion, oh God) Rabinowitz from cyber crimes, an inturn from NYU, and a couple of the file clerks, rattling around amongst the glass walls and desks. The florescent lights overhead leached the color out of everything around him, and it was so hard to remember it was real, to keep it from spilling through his fingers.

There was snow falling, outside Peter’s office windows, eery and translucent against the black sky and the empty streets. Neal dragged his eyes back to the file.

Clearing his throat, Peter glanced at his watch, and Neal, jarred out of his reverie, traced the sunrise times scribbled onto the blotter calendar upside down on the desk with the edge of his nail.

But the calendar wasn’t upside down. He was just on the wrong side of the desk, perched on a plastic chair, and barely even there.

“Get your coat.” Peter stood up after a while, and before Neal could do what he said, threw Neal’s overcoat into his lap. “Time to go.”

Neal pushed his arms through the sleeves and got to his feet. And had to pick the chair back up. His body felt loose and strangely clumsy, like he didn’t know quite where it was.

Peter kept glancing back at him, every few steps, all the way through the building, and the layers of the parking garage until he opened the car door for him. For a moment, Neal thought he was going to help him into the car, with his hand on Neal’s head, but it was the front door Peter had opened, not the back, and there weren’t any handcuffs around Neal’s wrists. He slid inside, gracelessly and set his hat on the dashboard, but Peter snatched it off and tossed it into the back seat. Groaning faintly in protest, Neal settled into the seat and pulled his overcoat up around his ears before closing his eyes.

Peter turned the key in the ignition. “You clear on what you have to do tomorrow afternoon?”

That afternoon, Neal corrected to himself. It was already morning, even if the sky was dark. He turned over in the seat until he had his back to Peter. “Need sleep. Have to get up early to rob a bank.”

“Pretend to rob a bank. Neal-” Peter pinched the bridge of his nose. “You don’t actually get to keep any of the money.”

Neal turned back over and pressed a finger to his annoying grin. “Shh. Sleepy time.”

But he didn’t sleep. His eyes sank closed and he flopped back over to face the window. The street lamps left patterns of red and black shadows on the insides of his eyelids as they passed beneath. He let his breathing become even and slow so that Peter would think he was asleep and wouldn’t worry. Or at least wouldn’t talk to him and make him have to answer back.

It was so different from the first time he had gotten out, when everything seemed so shiny, and he couldn’t decide which was going to be better, summer, when Neal had long, lazy, sunlit hours to do whatever he wanted, or winter when the sun set before everyone else left work, and for a few hours, there were other people in the office who weren’t bored with him yet. Now he just wanted to sleep, and he didn’t care if it was in Peter’s car, or Peter’s house, or prison, or anywhere else. It didn’t matter.

Not so different from when he’d escaped, and Kate was gone, but not quite as gone as she was now. Not so different from how he had sat there in that empty apartment with the empty bottle and waited for the FBI and the Marshalls, and... anybody else to catch up to him and drag him back.

Not so different from the way he’d sat there, trying not to think. It didn’t work then, either.

He hadn’t noticed the sun set, or the sky grow black, then deep purple as it got ready for dawn. All he noticed was the glass bottle in his hand slowly heating up where the surface touched his skin.

Sometimes he still thought about how easy it would have been with all those hours between him and Peter for him to just slip away into the afternoon sun and disappear into some country with no extradition treaty, to conduct his search for Kate somewhere where the law and Peter could never reach. Then he had to stop thinking about it, because he couldn’t stand it.

If he had just been able to think, if his mind had actually bothered to work while he held that stupid bottle-

If he could sleep now, at all.

There had been taunts, on his side, he remembered, lethargic, automatic taunts about how it had taken Peter long enough, how wow, the FBI must have lost a few steps. All Peter would have had to say was “But I still caught you,” but he had let it pass. And it would have been so easy to say, but he let it pass.

The car stopped moving. Peter turned the key and removed it from the ignition. His seatbelt clicked open, and Neal listened to the door pop open and slam closed, and then to the silence as Peter jogged around the car to open Neal’s door. “I know you’re awake.”

Neal blinked his eyes open. “Yeah.”

“You okay?”

“Yeah,” Neal said again, too tired to say something more like himself, to give Peter an “Of course, Peter,” or to summon up a credible smile. He slid off the car seat and caught himself before he tumbled onto the sidewalk outside Peter’s house, and stood like he hadn’t just almost fallen. There was a glow in the east, dark bluish green against the black, slipping faint streaks of color onto the sidewalk. Neal followed Peter to the door and slipped inside behind him when he opened the door.

El sat on the couch, half-awake, a cup of coffee almost empty in one hand. “Morning, you two.” She drank the last of the coffee before clunking the cup down and standing up. Her fingers grasped the blackout curtains and tugged them closed, cutting out the lamplight. Neal mumbled some kind of greeting and propelled himself up the stairs in the shadows, getting out of the way.

Mornings were special. The time between when Peter came home with Neal, and when El left were for just two of them, a left over piece of time that they had grabbed onto and kept safe for themselves, to sustain them since Peter’s turning.

He closed his bedroom door behind himself and collapsed onto the bed. After a few moments, he heaved himself up and peeled off his shoes, setting them down at the foot of the bed. His suit came next, then he tipped his head to the side and let his hat fall into the palm of his hand. He hung it from the post at the end of the headboard, and clung to the post for support. The air in the room was cool and dry from the winter and the central heating, and strangely, incongruously, he missed the apartment he’d found just after Peter got him out the first time, in June’s house on Riverside Drive. He’d only been there a week before they realized it just wouldn’t work, making Peter come there every time he needed to feed. But the windows had been huge, the whole place full of sunlight.

Resignedly, he flopped back down on the bed and pulled the blankets up. He watched the snow drift past the window.

Maybe he mused tiredly, he should try to get in touch with Moz again, just talk to him, even if it involved park benches, and newspapers turned to the right pages. And he missed the apartment all over again.

When Peter had come to the prison, the guards had dragged Neal out of his cell in the middle of the night, and he’d stumbled along between them, blinking and bewildered. They’d sat him down in the bolted down chair across from Peter at the bolted down table, and he had just stared at him stupidly as he let his legs give way.

Peter had demanded, and to Neal, it had seemed like yelling, and it yanked him out of his torpor. He had wanted to much to yell back and demand to know what he was doing there so late, why Peter couldn’t have come during the day.

One night, over a bottle of wine and coq au vin, (wine for her, but not for him, with Peter taking blood out of him, it just went to his head so fast anymore, and-) he’d drawn the story out of Elizabeth while Peter glowered and fussed, about a medicare fraud case a year after he had been sent away, and going to arrest a crooked doctor at his house, and getting tackled by his nine-year-old, blood drinking daughter. But that was a long time after. None of the little bits of information he had managed to glean about Peter, his team and his cases had mentioned it. Neal hadn’t known.

He had scrambled around for his paperwork, and then realized it had to be back in his cell. And he’d done his best, laid it all out, and Peter had told him it was a nice try. The “no” hadn’t even registered right away, his mind slow, the gears gummed up with sleep, so he had just kept talking until he hadn’t even known what he was saying, he had been so tired.

And Peter’s face had been gray and slack with the hunger and the weakness that living off pig’s blood from a butcher left because El wasn’t food, and Peter couldn’t even think about her that way, and his eye was twitching to Neal’s throat and away again. So Neal pulled down the neck of his prison uniform and tipped his head to the side.

Anything. Anything to get to leave.

He dozed fitfully, tangling the sheets and the comforter around his legs. It snuck up with him, and for the first time in (far far far) too long, it caught him. He rested in the cool, wan winter sun as it rose high and hot enough to break through the snow clouds, his dreams formless, too weary even to take substance. And with the fires swirling in the pit of his mind, and the smell of jet fuel and ozone, he didn’t mind. He didn’t mind.

“Neal,” his name came hissing through the air, and Neal mumbled something and rolled over without waking up. It was hard to wake up when he wasn’t all the way asleep, but stuck somewhere in between. “Neal!” his name came louder the second time, sharp and annoyed, and Neal jerked awake.

“Peter?” Peter crouched behind the door frame, and Neal blinked blearily at him. “What are you...”

“The curtains.” He rubbed the bridge of his nose with the heel of his hand.

“Oh.” He rolled out of bed and stumbled gracelessly, the sheet tangled around his legs. Bunching it in his fists, he threw it onto the bed and pulled the blackout curtains shut against the sunlight. The shadows raced into the room and Peter came away from the door frame and into the room after them. Neal stood in the middle of the floor in his underwear for a full moment before he realized and flopped back down on the bead and wrapped the sheet around his shoulders.

Peter sat down on the bed next to him and put his arm around his shoulders too. “I’m starving,” he said, in that awkward, half-way apologetic way. Neal nodded. He leaned in against Peter and let him pull him against his chest. Peter’s chin rested against his shoulder, his cheek against Neal’s neck, his chest against Neal’s back, and Neal closed his eyes, letting his head loll to the side.

The teeth sank in, pushed hard into his neck driving that sharp, agonizing rush of pain into him, and the euphoria that came with it, and stayed after the pain left. Neal fought the need to squirm, to struggle, to get away, as Peter swallowed down gulp after gulp of his blood. The color in Peter’s skin grew warmer, more alive; Neal could see it in the man’s hands every time his eyes blinked open.

At last, Peter pulled his teeth out, and the two little wounds closed almost immediately with the saliva. He pulled something out of the pocket of Neal’s jacket and pressed it into his hand. Neal examined it bemusedly, “Peter, this is a pocket square, not my handkerchief.”

“I know that, I just-” Peter exclaimed, snatching it back resentfully. “Where did you even put the damn thing?”

Neal shook his head, too worn out for words and grabbed a handful of tissues out of the box next to his bed and pressed them to his throat to mop up the blood. Peter shook his head. He tugged the tissues out of Neal’s hand and tossed them into the trash can. He put out his hand and pushed Neal flat against the bed tucked the blankets around him.

Neal let his eyes sink closed. “You owe me a steak dinner.”

“Yeah, well don’t get up,” Peter snorted. “Not a lot of steakhouses are open for breakfast.”

As he spoke, Neal summoned up the energy to make his eyes wide. “What are you always telling me about excuses?”

“Tell you what,” Peter told him, running a hand unconsciously through Neal’s hair. “If you pull it off tomorrow, I’ll take you out for any kind of dinner you want.”

Neal’s eyes sank closed. “Promises promises.”

“Something reasonable, I’m not going to-” But Neal was laughing, shaking quietly at him. Peter smiled and let his hand trail through Neal’s hair until the laughter stopped and his breath evened out, and he slipped into the first true sleep in weeks.

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