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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

White Collar fic: I Could See for Miles, Miles, Miles (1/1)

December 8th, 2013 (10:09 pm)
bored

feeling: bored

Title: I Could See for Miles, Miles, Miles

Disclaimer: I do not own White Collar.

A/N: A fill for my loss of vision prompt for hc_bingo. Beta give by lena7142. This is probably set in the S2 range but it's pretty vague.

Summary: Neal has the gift of sight.



-o-

As a child, his art teacher fawned over him, telling him about how gifted he was. “You have the gift of sight, Neal,” she says.

Neal is puzzled. “But this is art,” he says.

“I know,” she replies. “And art is being able to see the world in a way that others cannot. You can see and take that vision into something tangible. This is a rare gift, Neal. Use it well.”

Neal can see the world all right, but he’s not sure he sees the sense in his teacher. When she dismisses him to recess, he runs happily away.

-o-

He comes back to art, though.

It always comes back to art. Only not the way his teacher told him. He’s not so interested in the world, but the art. He sees the intricacies of a piece -- he notices the nuances of the brush strokes and chalk lines and marvels. He passes his time reproducing what others have made, trying to see what they’ve seen.

He thinks if he can capture their vision, maybe he’ll find his own.

He’s still trying.

-o-

He sees the world. He meets people. Reproduction is his gift, in art as much as life. Because he can identify the careful flourishes of a colored pencil just as easily as the smallest tell on someone’s face. He learns to see what people mean even when they’re saying nothing.

It’s the small parts that make up a whole. Neal can rebuild anything -- a painting, a sculpture, a life -- with enough time and dedication.

So he does.

-o-

He’s always counted his gift as a blessing, until everything he sees is bleak. When he runs out of blue skies and new hopes, he gives up.

And he sees nothing but the inside of a prison cell.

-o-

The days are long; the scenery is monotonous. Neal mopes for a while, and then he sees hope.

He’s starting from close to scratch this time, but Neal can see how the pieces can come together. He doesn’t know how this will end up, but he knows it’ll be better than this.

At least, if anything, it’s worth a try.

-o-

It’s hard, and it’s easy, but Neal sees success. He gets out with Peter Burke’s help. He finds his place in the city thanks to Mozzie. He has a home with June.

Things look better than they ever have.

-o-

In this, Neal flourishes. He can see through a criminal case, and he can put together the pieces just as good as anyone. He sees the things they miss, and he can do the things they can’t. It’s hundreds of small brush strokes, all making a masterpiece.

Of what, though, sometimes Neal’s not sure.

-o-

He likes what he does. But sometimes Neal sees a different future. Sometimes he sees himself on the run, making his ways. Sometimes he’s rubbing shoulders with influential people, visiting art museums and lounging on a private beach.

But sometimes all he sees is the New York skyline from June’s spare apartment, Mozzie making his move at chess, and Peter waiting for him every morning.

-o-

Neal will have to make a choice -- he knows that. But for now, he’s pretty happy as it is. He’ll take it day by day, case by case.

And the cases aren’t without their perks.

He gets to see things in a whole new way, and he has to admit, turning the world on its head is fascinating.

Sometimes, though, when he’s doing his latest copy in his apartment, he wonders which of his dreams is the counterfeit.

And which is real.

-o-

It’s an ordinary sort of mission, but it goes south quickly. Neal sees it coming, but Peter’s all by the book. Still, when Peter finally pulls rank and tells him it’s time to leave before the warehouse explodes, Neal’s already on his way out.

The thing is, though, Neal has the gift of sight. He can see.

This is a blessing.

This is a curse.

Because Neal can see, but only if he looks.

And Neal has never not looked.

Peter drags him as far out as he can, but Neal can’t help but look back. Because he wants to know what happens. He wants to see.

The initial flash of light is brighter than fireworks, splaying into the sky with an intensity that surprises him. The air is sucked in before the pressure builds and the second explosion rattles the warehouse, consuming it in a ball of flame.

The shock knocks Neal off his feet, and Peter loses his grip. He watches the whole way down, eyes wide as the heat stings his face and the white light burns his retina until he can’t see anything at all.

-o-

Then, there’s nothing.

It’s not light; it’s not dark.

It’s just nothing.

Neal sees nothing.

And for the first time, Neal is scared down to his very soul.

-o-

The sensation of movement is disconcerting, but when Neal tries to open his eyes to get his bearings, it doesn’t do any good. The world is ringing, and Neal has little luck sorting through the voices and sounds assaulting his ears. He doesn’t know what’s happening. He doesn’t know.

His skin prickles as his shirt is torn away. There’s pressure and then -- pain.

It ripples through him with unprecedented force, and he feels his stomach turn as he writhes in futility against it. He tries to shut his eyes, but that doesn’t do any good either.

There’s no escape.

There’s nothing.

And then, through the cacophony overloading his sense, a hand wrapped around his. A voice.

“It’s okay, Neal. It’s going to be okay.”

Neal dissipates again, groping blindly for the threads of hope he just can’t see.

-o-

There’s more movement; there are more voices. Neal thinks he should be able to piece together what’s going on, but it’s too hard.

Instead, he blinks his useless eyes in intervals until something is pressed over his face and a stranger tells him to just go to sleep. Things will be better when he wakes up.

Neal doesn’t believe it, but somehow it doesn’t matter.

As sleep claims him, nothing matters at all.

-o-

Neal has lost track of time -- he thinks he’s lost track of everything -- and when he wakes up, it’s something of a relief.

At least, until he opens his eyes.

And can’t.

His eyelids twitch, but there’s something heavy pressing down on them. Even the small movement elicits pain, but when Neal keeps trying, the results are the same and Neal’s panic starts to mount.

Something is wrong, something is very, very wrong.

He tries to reach up, to feel his eyes, but someone grabs his hand.

The touch is familiar.

“Hey,” Peter says. “Easy now.”

Neal swallows with difficulty, finding his throat strangely scratchy. He attempt to breath, and feels his resolve shaking. “My eyes,” he says, even if it’s just barely more than a croak.

Peter inhales slightly. “Yeah, about that--”

Neal’s heart skips a beat. “Peter, my eyes--

“Hey,” Peter says again, squeezing his arm more firmly now. “You took the force of the blast full on. It’s caused a mess of swelling, which is why they’ve got your eyes covered for now so they can heal.”

Neal feels shaky and lightheaded. “But they’re okay?”

“Well, the doctors think with enough time, they will be,” Peter says.

Neal processes this. “But right now,” he says, his palms starting to sweat.

“Right now there’s too much swelling,” Peter assures him. “The damage probably isn’t permanent.”

“But it could be,” Neal says, his chest hitches as his voice wavers. And then he sees the truth, the one Peter is hiding so carefully from him. “Peter, am I blind?”

“It’s probably temporary,” Peter says again.

“But if we took the bandages off right now,” Neal says. “If I opened my eyes--”

Peter sighs, sounding resigned. “Then you wouldn’t see anything at all.”

-o-

It’s a harsh truth, and Neal can’t see anything but he can see that. Peter is unwavering, and when the doctor checks him, she sounds truly optimistic. “These types of injuries have excellent outlooks,” she promises. “We just have to give it time.”

But Neal knows how to play the odds. Neal knows that nothing is ever a sure bet. That’s why he’s liked taking risks, because the chance of failures gives things excitement. Neal knows he’s good and he likes to stack the deck in his favor, but it doesn’t always work out.

Stuck in a hospital bed with blast injuries and bandaged eyes, it hasn’t worked out at all.

-o-

Neal’s blind -- temporarily or not -- but life still goes on. Peter stays with him most of the time, and El comes to visit, bringing his favorite cookies. “But only if you wait until they’ve cleared you for solids, okay?” she says.

Neal nods, turning his head away.

She lingers, her fingers brushing his arm. “I know this is hard,” she says. “But there’s never been a situation you haven’t gotten out of.”

It’s an encouragement, and a genuine one at that. Neal might appreciate it, but this time, he can’t see an out.

He can’t see anything at all.

-o-

Mozzie shows up next, though Neal knows the other man has been here all along. He loiters on the wall for a while before Neal finally sighs. “I know you’re there,” he says. When there’s no reply, he continues, “I can hear you breathing.”

“I could be a total stranger,” Mozzie replies.

“Hanging out in a blind man’s room?” Neal quips. “Sounds pretty boring, even for you.”

“You know, I don’t usually trust medical authorities, but this time I think they have a point,” Mozzie says, his voice getting closer as he scuffles across the floor. “It’s probably temporary.”

“I know it’s bad if you’re playing the optimist,” Neal says.

“I am a realist,” Mozzie insists.

“You’re paranoid,” Neal tells him.

“Which is just realistic!” Mozzie says, but then he goes silent. “Really, Neal, I’ve seen the scans.”

Neal rolls his head toward Mozzie. “How?”

“The security here is not as good as they think it is,” Mozzie tells him. “And their file on you is very, very optimistic.”

Neal sighs again. “But what if they’re wrong, Moz?” Neal asks. “What if I really am blind?”

“Well, then, so what?” Mozzie says. “It’s not like you can’t work with that.”

“I have to see,” Neal says, the longing in his voice impossible to hide. “Without that -- I’ve got nothing. I can’t work a con; I can’t crack a case. How am I going to tell what’s real and what’s not if I can’t see it?”

“You have other senses, you know,” Mozzie reminds him.

“But counterfeit is almost entirely visual,” Neal says. “If I can’t do that--”

“Then what?” Mozzie asks. “Not even a suit is heartless enough to send you back to jail after this. You’ll find something else.”

Neal turns his head away again. “What if I don’t know how?”

“Then we’ll help you,” Mozzie says. “It’d be a great challenge, I think. And one hell of a feat. Can you imagine? A blind con? There’d be so many possibilities.”

Mozzie’s enthusiasm is noble, but Neal can’t work up any enthusiasm.

“It’s not going to come to that, though,” Mozzie adds. “Trust me.”

“You’re a liar and a con,” Neal reminds him.

“And I’m your friend.”

Neal swallows, nodding his head slightly. “I know,” he says hoarsely.

They lapse into silence, and Neal can’t see Mozzie, but he knows the other man is still there when he finally drifts back into sleep.

-o-

When June comes, it’s with pomp and circumstance. She fusses, putting something heavy on the table by Neal’s bed.

Neal frowns. “Flowers?” he asks, taking in their fresh scent.

“And balloons,” June says. “I’m afraid the arrangement is wanting. I’ll have something better for you waiting when you get back home.”

Neal furrows his brow. “It’s not that I’m not grateful,” he begins, not sure what to say. “But...”

“Why bring flowers to a blind man?” she asks knowingly.

Neal blushes.

June chuckles. “You’re not blind,” she admonishes him. “And besides, even if you do lose your sight, you think that’s all you’re good for?”

“It is kind of important,” Neal says.

June clucks her tongue. “You honed your sight, Neal. You trained it; you developed it. Losing it would be a terrible, terrible thing, but it’s not insurmountable. Not for someone like you.”

“I don’t know if I believe that,” Neal admits, his throat starting to close.

June reaches down and squeezes his shoulder. “Then believe me,” she says. “And I would love to stay, but I’m afraid I’m running late. Enjoy the flowers!”

With that, she’s on her way back out. The absence is telling, but when Neal breathes in, he can smell the scent. Lilies. He inhales again. With baby’s breath and fresh grasses.

Neal smiles.

-o-

Neal’s never been one to get bored -- he always seems to find something to do or see -- but in the hospital, the hours pass with painful tediousness. Though his loss of vision is his most nagging concern, the explosion has left him beat up and damaged in other ways, too. His body is sore, and when the nurses come to check on him, their simple requests seems exhausting to fulfill.

When they check the bandages on his eyes, the pain is too much and his eyes water as they clinch shut before the bandage is wrapped firmly back in place again.

Normally, he’d charm his way into a better position. He’d work his way up to an elite hospital suite or get some extra perks. But he can’t see the nurses; he can’t read their smiles or look them in the eyes, so he doesn’t see the point.

The hours drag on.

-o-

The hours become days. His condition is upgraded. Breathing is easier and his head stops throbbing. There’s talk of letting him out soon.

“What about this?” Neal asks his doctor, pointing up at his eyes.

“We’ll remove those before your discharge,” the doctor says.

“And I’ll be able to see?” Neal asks.

“There’s no way of knowing for sure,” the doctor cautions. “But you’re healing right according to plan. I think the odds are in your favor.”

But Neal’s never trusted the odds, which is why he cons his way into a better position.

This time, however, he sees no other choice.

-o-

At night, Neal sleeps. His eyes are open; his eyes are closed; it doesn’t make a difference. In his dreams, he sees everything. He sees the first painting he copied. He sees the first check he forged. He sees the first girl he charmed into giving him a place to stay for the night. He sees the first businessman he snookered.

Neal sees.

This is his life. This is what it is.

He’s put that on hold, but he’s always held on to the promise of going back. He’s always seen it, just like he does now.

But when morning comes, it’s gone -- nothing more than a fleeting dream.

Neal wonders if that has always been the case.

-o-

It’s no surprise when Peter shows up. He’s had to go back to work, which has limited his visits, but he’s there right when visiting hours start. Neal recognizes the sound of his dress shoes on the floor and the soft knock on the door.

“You didn’t have to come,” Neal says.

Peter crosses the threshold. “Actually, I sort of did,” he says. “You’re being released from a secure facility. They wanted someone on site to monitor it.”

“Because blind guys make the best fugitives?” Neal jokes.

“You’re not going to be blind, Neal,” Peter says.

“I’m also not going to be a fugitive,” Neal returns.

Peter collects a breath at that, and seems to be looking for something to say. “You know, either way, I’d be here for you. We all would.”

“If I were a fugitive?”

“Neal.”

Neal sighs. “I know,” he says wearily. “It’s not that. It’s just--”

“What?” Peter prompts.

“I have the gift of sight,” Neal says, almost blurting it.

“I don’t understand,” Peter replies.

“The gift of sight,” Neal says, gesturing one hand helplessly. “That’s why I’m good at what I do. I can see things clearly. I can see all the small parts and how they make the whole. That’s how I copy artwork and make forgeries. That’s how I charm people without them knowing it. I can see. Without that...” He shrugs. “Without that, I don’t know who I am.”

Peter moves closer. “You may have the gift of sight,” he concedes. “But that’s not the only gift you have. And that’s sure as hell not the only thing worth living for.”

“Like what?” Neal challenges. “I wear an anklet and am working out the remainder of a federal prison sentence. I have no family, and I only have a room because I charmed the right person.”

“Neal,” Peter says, sounding almost disappointed. “You have a job. You have friends. You have people who care about you. Who care a lot about you. Mozzie actually comes into the hospital for you. June takes time out of schedule to bring you fresh flowers. El spends her nights baking your favorite things and refuses to let me have any. And do you really think they ordered me to come here?”

Neal’s throat feels tight, and his eyes burn. The emotions are too much, and he finds himself shaking. “I’m scared,” he admits, his voice wavering.

This time, Peter closes the distance, hand wrapped around Neal’s one more time. It’s sure; it’s steady; it’s the most reassuring thing Neal’s ever known. “I know,” he says, even as tears leak into the bandages on Neal’s eyes. “I know.”

-o-

Neal is anxious, to say the least. He makes no attempt to hide it; he doesn’t even attempt to be suave or debonair about it. Instead, he sits taut, fingers fisting in the sheets as the doctor carefully undoes the bandage, unwinding it from around Neal’s skull.

This time, Neal keeps his eyes shut, clenching his teeth together as the doctor cleans away the gunk that’s coating his eyelashes. She’s careful but thorough, and when she’s done, she stands back. “Okay,” she says. “You ready?”

Neal takes a breath. Nearby, he can hear Peter edging closer. Neal takes another breath, and nods. “As I’ll ever be.”

He opens his eyes.

-o-

Neal’s always had the gift of sight, but it isn’t until he loses his vision that he sees the things that matter most.

That Mozzie will be his friend, no matter what life decisions he makes.

That June will take a stand for him, even when it’s not convenient.

That El will save a place for him at the table, even when he doesn’t deserve it.

That Peter will always -- and has always -- wanted what’s best for him.

Even when Neal’s too blind to see it for himself.

And the world is a beautiful place, indeed.

Comments

Posted by: a rearranger of the proverbial bookshelf (embroiderama)
Posted at: December 9th, 2013 12:17 pm (UTC)
White Collar - Neal b&w

Oh, Neal! This is great. I really like how you explored what sight means to Neal.

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: December 24th, 2013 07:43 pm (UTC)
neal smile

Thanks :) I haven't watched the most recent seasons, but I also find Neal fascinating as a character.

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