I really like this chapter. I hope you guys do too. There's a lot going on, and some very intense conversation to be had. Thanks for reading.
Neal could hear distressed voices. His head felt like lead, but at the same time filled with cotton, if that were somehow possible. It took him a few moments to make sense of what had just happened; he scolded himself for making such a scene. He wanted to look for the voice from before, but also didn't want to draw attention to his now concious presence until he knew who else was in the room, so nothing could startle him like , he kept his eyes closed and listened.
"Hon, I was only away for ten minutes." That was El. She was crying. "He was fine when I left, and I wasn't there-"
"Shh, It's not your fault." Peter this time. "I thought he was doing well - at least given the circumstances - too. Clearly this has shaken him up a lot, but it's nothing you or I did wrong. It's that bastard Lorenzo."
Guilt pulled at Neal. He hated that they were feeling guilty for his careless actions. It seemed that everything he did had poor consequences - and no matter how hard he tried to control them, they always hurt the people he cared about. In fact, if he didn't still have a gaping hole in his chest then this would have been the point in work release where he would really consider running. Not just fantasise, or dream to pass the time, but leave without ever looking back. Because that's what he did - he ran away from his problems. That's what he's always done.
"It's gonna get better, El. He'll get through this - we'll help him get through this. It will just take some time. I'm not going to lose another consultant."
Silence followed then, and Neal assumed they were hugging. He knew he shouldn't be listening, but he needed some truth - about what people thought about him. He deserved some truth. That, and well, he wasn't quite ready to talk about what had happened to him, or explain what had caused his episode in the hospital.
He was only psychic after all, not a ghost whisperer in Peter's eyes, which was another hurdle he was going to have to cross when he reached it. Admitting to being psychic was hard enough, but he didn't want to tell them that he believed there was - and still could be - a ghost sat in his room listening. Or that he hated hospitals with a passion because of the lingering death around every corner - not just the bodies - and the fact that being in one before had sent the rest of his childhood into a downward spiral. One that never really fixed itself.
He shivered a passing memory, at the blood, and it must have been one loud shiver because Peter was telling Elizabeth to hold on and he could hear footsteps approaching. He hard his name being called, and he made a show of just waking up.
"Mhmm?" Neal mumbled in question. As he finally opened his eyes he looked not at the agent, but around the small room to see whether his undead visitor was still there. He wasn't.
In the meantime, Peter had said something, and Neal had only caught the back end of it. His head was swimming with medical narcotics and he made himself commit to avoiding another breakdown at all costs. He hated not being in control.
"Are you alright?" Peter spoke again, and thankfully Neal did hear that.
"Fine." He didn't mean to sound so abrupt but it came out that way. He watched Peter wince, but he didn't really care - he didn't feel like having another conversation. This one in particular. His gaze moved past Peter again, and he saw that Elizabeth was hovering uncertainly a few feet away, not knowing how to approach him. It was just like being back in Sunnydale, with the looks he was given, the uncertainty, people afraid of him. He hated all of it.
He shifted one leg only slightly under the sheets, and with his foot sought out the sleek plastic of his tracker. It was back in place, wrapped securely around his ankle; Neal wasn't really sure how to feel. He let out a half-hearted laugh.
"Still expecting me to run with 20 staples in my chest? I'm honoured, Peter." He lifted his anklet-leg a little in indication. He wished he could stop sounding so bitter, but he wanted more than anything to be away from everyone right now, and out of this wretched place. It was starting to make him twitchy.
"Neal, you know that's not my choice. Of course I know you're not going to run, but-"
"Can I be alone? I mean, can you leave me alone for a little while?"
Peter stopped talking, eyeing Neal with a new level of concern. Elizabeth moved out of the background and towards her husband. "Neal-"
"I appreciate you being here for me, both of you. Really, I do. It's not exactly like I have anyone else. Alive, I mean." Neal let that last bit slip because he knew it didn't mean the same thing to Peter. Dead people were dead to him. To Neal, not so much. He took a breath and continued. "I just need some time to think about what happened, and I can't do that when you're all looking at me...when you're pitying me-"
It was Peter's turn to cut in. "Neal, we don't pity you. We're just really, really concerned, Christ - you nearly died, I thought for a minute that I'd let you down, and that this was something I wasn't able to fix." He rubbed the back of his head, suddenly wishing for El's motherly abilities. She could handle this kind of thing. "I know you want to believe you're fine, or maybe you think accepting help makes you weak, but it doesn't. Let us be here for you. You will get through this. You'll get better."
Their conversation was interrupted as a nurse came in to check him over. Peter turned away for a moment, Elizabeth looked down at her feet and the topic was hastily dropped. The nurse seemed to sense the tension but wasn't quite sure how to break the silence, figuring they would best be left alone to work through whatever problems they faced. She acted quickly, and after changing his IV and replacing his pain relief, she spared a quick glance between the three of them before leaving as silently as she'd come.
"See that's my problem," Neal continued when they were alone once more. His voice lacked it's previous force, as though he was losing what fight he had left in him. "People are always trying to fix me-"
"Neal, That's not what I meant-"
"-I've spent my whole life being a burden on people. On people who only pretend to care. I have no one, Peter..."
The room went silent then. Elizabeth turned away. Neal suspected she might be crying. He didn't want to look at Peter's face. If he did he wouldn't be able to look away.
"Please. I just want to be on my own..." Neal trailed off, defeat resonating in his voice.
"Are you sure?" Peter was quieter this time, speaking carefully as though he was afraid to hurt Neal further. He wasn't really sure what was going on, and whether it was the drugs talking or not, but if Neal wanted to be alone he wouldn't push the issue. It was also getting late, which meant that visiting hours would be over very shortly anyway.
With that, Peter picked up his coat and started heading for the door. Elizabeth followed behind, pausing at the door. She turned around. "You have us, sweetie, and we care very deeply about you. Remember that."
She paused for a few moments, and Neal realized she was waiting for a reply. He aimed for a smile but suspected it was more of a grimace.
They left then, and Neal was alone once more. He let out a long sigh he'd been holding for some time, closing his eyes and wishing he had enough strength to punch or throw something to relieve his pent up distress. He'd regret that, all of that, when the remains of his sedative and pain relief wore off. When he was more like himself he'd have to work out how to fix that. For now, though, he didn't have to try build up any walls or construct defences and could just be himself. That in itself was a huge weight off his shoulders.
The new dose of pain relief was settling in his bloodstream, so he very gently eased himself up into a sitting position - careful not to aggravate his wound, or do anything that might alert the nurses.
"Are there any wheelchairs nearby?" he spoke out into the room. "I know you're in here, so if you're gonna keep me company then you may as well be of some use."
It was odd; he couldn't see the ghost, but somehow he could feel it's presence. That didn't normally happen. He was sure it was the same one that had spoken to him before he'd gotten sedated. The same one that had stayed with him in what he thought would be his final hours.
"I'm really, really sorry for what happened earlier." It was the same voice, and now that Neal was lucid, the low, rough voice was strikingly familiar. Oh, he really didn't see that coming. He also still didn't see the ghost.
"Marcus," Neal said plainly. Out of all the people he'd imagined, his stalker was not whom he imagined would sit and console him whilst he was dying. Of course, back then he was too out of it to put a voice to a face, but it all made sense now. He shook his head in dismay, fighting to hold back a laugh at the whole absurdity of this new information.
"I didn't think you'd cause a scene. You're normally much more controlled."
Neal narrowed his eyes as he tried to pinpoint the location of the voice. He was almost right - the ghost formed in the corner of his eye and he turned his head to look at him. The ghost was sarcastic, and Neal responded in kind. "Well, normally I don't get stabbed and left for dead. You chose the worst possible moment for a reunion. I meant what I said. Are there any wheelchairs nearby?"
"You're not planning on leaving." It was more a statement than a question but not quite a threat.
Neal shifted a little on the bed until his legs were swinging over the side. The ghost didn't seem to be inclined to help him.
Marcus could see he was committed, so he sighed and offered an answer. "There's one just down the hallway, but you'd never make it. Not when your innards are this close- " he pinched his fingers to demonstrate, "- to becoming outers. You'd make quite a mess, and if I recall you already have once this week."
Neal couldn't help but appreciate the ghost's dry humour. It was much better than concern, which Neal had gotten too much of recently. Not that he didn't appreciate that - it was just so unfamiliar and equally overwhelming. He studied the linoleum floor for what seemed like an age, hands braced tightly at either side of him. He considered each of his limited options - he could risk it, but if it didn't work out, cue an even more concerned Peter. That wouldn't be good for the man's blood pressure.
"Don't forget I can't pick you up," Marcus supplied helpfully. Neal knew the ghost was finding this amusing. Still, he couldn't stay here - but he wasn't quite sure whether that meant the hospital or New York.
"You've changed your tune," Neal commented. "These past few months I've been convinced you've had it in for me and Peter."
The ghost suddenly wasn't there anymore, but Neal wasn't ready to end this conversation. He needed answers. "Wait! I'm sorry, I didn't mean-"
"He cares about you," The ghost reappeared by the window, looking out into street absently. The first few street lamps were starting to turn on, and the people leaving the hospital also looked like ghosts under the illuminating glow. "You didn't see his face when he found you, or the things he said when you were unconscious."
Neal swallowed, looking up from the floor. There was truth in those words; he'd missed a lot in the last few days. He didn't say anything, silently inviting the ghost to continue.
"I didn't like you, Neal, when I first saw him leaving the prison with you. To be blunt - I hated you. I guess I'd never considered that with me gone, he'd replace me eventually. I'd heard you were psychic. I wanted to throw you off your game, so that you'd either run or end up back in prison. I don't like the word jealousy, but it seems quite appropriate here. Your a tough nut to crack, Neal, and there's only so much I can do when I'm dead..."
The ghost turned and looked at him, and Neal stared back. Marcus faltered first, and looked back out of the window. "Then you got yourself sliced and diced by a psychopath, and I was the one watching them all tear around the office like they'd lost one of their own. Everyone was doing their bit - even other agencies loaned their resources to help find you. When Peter opened that container...well, I've never seen him so afraid. I've realised that there's no point in envying what you have, when I was the one that messed up and threw my life away. Since I died, I haven't seen him as happy as he's been since you got that tracker on your foot. That's good enough for me."
The ghost's voice had picked up in volume, and only then did Neal notice that before they were barely whispering. It occurred to Neal that being dead must have really hit the man hard. It's just too hard to imagine unless you're in that position - doomed to wander the earth eternally without ever making a difference.
Marcus hadn't yet turned around, but with a sly glance he could see Neal was still hanging over the side of the bed, and a hand was resting above his IV wire. He was thinking deeply, Marcus could tell, but he also knew the consultant had heard every word. He cleared his throat. "You could run - or, make a somewhat valiant effort to the door before they have to scrape you off the floor - but the point is you only get one second chance. And believe me, you don't want to mess that up. I only realised that when it was too late."
The conman met the eyes of the ghost for a few seconds and it was as though they had found peace in each other. Neal realised Marcus wasn't evil, just misunderstood and alone in the world, just like he was. They were the same, just with different problems. It took some time before the weight of those words sank in. He looked down at the floor one last time, before carefully swinging his legs up and laying back down in the hospital bed. He stared up at the ceiling, going over what the ghost had told him. It struck him that he still didn't know how the ghost had died.
The room was empty.