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[personal profile] coffeethyme4me
Title: Foundation and Empire and the Unbearable Lightness of Being
Author: [personal profile] coffeethyme4me
Characters: Neal, Peter, Kate
Rating: R
Words: 1,310
Written for [community profile] mmom day 17.
Warnings: Neal in prison. (No interaction with inmates other than briefly acknowledging the fact that a sexual assault on Neal *could* happen but hasn't. Just want to be very clear so you'll know if this fic is triggery for you or not.)
Summary: Neal lives for Thursdays when he gets to go to the library.





It was mostly bearable. Yes, he’d been stripped of every attachment to the outside world – his art, his style, his movement, everything in his life, including a beautiful woman, his girlfriend – her enduring smile and soft laugh. She never laughed anymore. And he couldn’t touch her face. He was surrounded by concrete and bad people claiming their innocence. Neal was not innocent. But he was not a bad person. It had taken a long time, a year, to come to terms with these four walls. The one, the worst one, made of painted grey metal bars. The grey had a bit of green in it. Army green. It took great willpower for Neal to tamp down the need to paint his view. To make this new life of his into art. To make it more bearable.

What helped was Thursdays. Thursdays were library days. Neal was working on getting a job there. Right now his job was to mop the mess hall, the kitchen, and just about every place else. It kept his arms in shape, but it also kept the eyes on him. He could feel them watching him and was glad to be holding a heavy stick.

And manual labor was not what he wanted. Not if he was going to spend the next three years here as he had the first. He wanted the library, and he wanted it more than one day a week.

He could get lost there in the stacks, even though the cameras and the guards were always watching. Almost always. He’d devoured anything and everything he could find on art, just trying to remember what the brush felt like, how the acrylics smelled. Then he’d curse the days when it worked, because not having those things all over again was an agony, a hell he made for himself, wanting to recapture his life.

He’d moved on to history, to philosophy, to biography, to poetry. He’d gone through most of the 19th century British novelists, such as they were in a place like this. The American modernists were almost too hard – too much like where he was and what he was going through. They couldn’t transport him.

Neal started reading science fiction. That was the section he was in now. It wasn’t a very popular place. Most of the inmates who frequented the library at all seemed obsessed with the law books, as though they could find fault with their trials and be set free on handy technicalities – like in the cop shows. The ones that couldn’t read used the time to flip through magazines. Almost everyone stayed at the long reading tables near the front. Almost no one really looked through the books.

Neal liked the science fiction section, not only because he was enjoying reading something new, reading a world where nothing of his life existed, but because there was a blind spot between P and R, right in the middle of where Q would be if there were any Q authors. Neal had found a place where he could sit on the floor, unnoticed, for twenty or thirty minutes before the guards rounded his group up again to go back to their cells. He’d flirted with the librarian a few times –a big, Latino man who had the greatest eyelashes in the world and who seemed straight as an arrow except for the way he always had to swallow before Neal spoke to him, the dilation of his eyes. Neal had been given more latitude than his fellow inmates in the library, in part because of the flirting but also because everyone knew he was profoundly respectful of the books and had a genuine desire to be there.

What they didn’t know about was that it wasn’t just the books he was there for. The latitude bought him the privacy he needed to bring down the hardback copy of Asimov’s “Foundation and Empire” – to take it back to his little reading area between P and R – to sit down and open the book to page 77 – to let the photograph fall into his hands once more.

Neal swallowed and let his eyes take it all in: the line of his jaw; the way his lips curled up on one side; his hands gripping the file – the gentle grasp of long fingers; the way the cheap dress shirt hugged his chest; the long line of his legs, crossed and relaxed. The way Peter’s eyes took in the file in his lap.

Never mind how Neal had gotten the photo. It had been surprisingly easy, really. Some palms just loved to be greased. The important thing was that it wasn’t just a picture of Peter Burke. It was a picture of Peter Burke looking back at him, at Neal Caffrey. Because that was Neal’s file he was holding. Neal’s file he was smiling at. Neal’s file he’d laid in his own lap like that. Neal’s file held in his gentle fingers.

Neal studied Peter’s eyes. There was a subtle light there. Some bemused contemplation. There was something good in his hands. Something good. Something worthy. An opponent. A conquest.

Neal tried to see himself through Peter’s eyes, and what he saw was promise. What he saw was someone interesting, fascinating -- someone for whom Peter had mixed feelings. Frustration, anticipation, guilt – affection.

All of this was fiction, of course. Neal had no idea which file Peter was actually holding. He had no idea how Peter Burke felt about him. Only that he’d gotten his sentence drastically reduced, for whatever reason. Only that he’d seen the gleam in Peter’s eyes when he’d caught him, and it didn’t seem cruel. It seemed both satisfied and…sorry.

This photograph was all Neal had of that life. It reminded him of who he’d been and what he’d almost had. This photograph was his anchor, his weekly solace, his company. Peter Burke was his company.

Neal made sure he was alone – he always was – and then he reached down and he squeezed his dick through his jumpsuit. He couldn’t take it out. He wouldn’t need to. Neal had learned that this fragile connection – his eyes on Peter, Peter’s eyes on him…pages and pages of him – was enough to make him hard, to give his blood a reason to move through his body. To give his breath feeling. To make him continue to keep wanting. And that’s what Neal needed. To keep wanting. Once he stopped, it would be over, and four years might as well be forty; he’d lose himself in this place without something outside to hold onto. Something more than the sadness he saw deep in Kate’s eyes. And for needing more than she was capable of giving, Neal felt real remorse.

But the remorse, too, the guilt, was something. Something real.

Neal looked at Peter’s face, at his easy posture, and he rubbed at his cock.

Peter Burke – the only man to ever subdue him. The only man to ever have the brains and the balls to catch him. Neal didn’t tease himself; he didn’t make it last. It wasn’t graceful or poignant or pretty in any way. He didn’t stroke it. He mashed his palm against his erection and roughed it out. He looked at the tenderness in those strong hands, and Neal came, his legs twisting on the floor, his breath held to keep in the scream. And then all he could do was breathe – as the tremors left in waves, as his hand with the photograph in it shook. All he could do was stare at Peter’s face, holding himself, his half-hard and sticky cock.

All he could do was hate the hope that fell on him like light.

All he could do was put the photo back in the book for another week and wait.

All he could do was bear it.


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