Hi, guys! I haven't been to the White Collar side of fanfiction for a while... but I'm back!
Right after the plane exploded in season 1, we see Peter pulling Neal back and Neal a complete mess. I wrote this with the intention of it being a oneshot just of the moment right after the plane exploded but I don't know if I should continue it to see what happened within those two months, with Neal being, well, a mess and back in jail and all that stuff. I don't know. Well, lemme know if you want me to continue it! :)
I'm starting this with the beginning of their conversation at the hanger, right when Peter catches up to Neal. Thanks in advance for reading and I hope you enjoy it!
Neal stopped cold, dropped his hand from the air and his eyes from Kate's. He felt something rise within him, something like fear like resistance but he fought to shove it back down. He shut his eyes, willing some strength to return to his now-numb limbs. She was so close. He could see her. He could see her.
But something had made him stop at the sound of Peter's voice. He turned.
Neal nodded toward the plane, where Kate was still waiting on the steps. He looked back to her, her long, dark hair flowing in the breeze kicked up by the turbines of the small plane. In only a few moments, Neal would get to touch her again. Feel her. Sweep her in his arms and hold her so tight, so close. And never let her go. Smile on his face, Neal told Peter, "I'm getting on that plane." And the words and you aren't going to stop me went unspoken.
"I'm not going to stop you." said Peter, and Neal wasn't too surprised the agent read his mind. He took a few steps closer, grinning at Neal like this was all some inside joke. Like he wasn't the FBI agent who'd chased him for years, who'd arrested him, who'd been his rival. Or even the handler he had become.
He was just a friend.
And yet… somehow, that was more threatening to Neal than Peter had ever been.
"It's been a good run, Peter," Neal told him, keeping his mixed emotions toward the man deep below the surface. As much as his heart yearned for his reunion with Kate, not fifty feet from where he stood, he felt another pull—a stronger one—keep him rooted to the ground. Here, with Peter. Maybe because he felt that Peter ought to have an explanation. Maybe because Neal owed it to him. "But it's legal; everything's legal."
"I know." Peter stopped a few yards away from him, not moving any closer. He was still smiling.
Neal let silence linger for a moment, unsaid words littering the seconds with tension. Confusion. Feeling something stirring within him—something almost like doubt—Neal took a breath. "Goodbye, Peter."
He started back toward the plane. Kate's face appeared in the window. This is the beginning of our life, Neal thought. His eyes traced the features of her face, so much he wanted to kiss her…
"You said goodbye to everyone but me." Neal stopped and turned, fully expecting Peter's smile to have dropped. But it hadn't. If anything, he seemed to be enjoying this. Like he didn't even seem to care that Neal was leaving. Or… he didn't even believe he would. The confidence in his face and eyes made Neal's waver. His heart twisted the smallest bit in his chest, one tiny shift of confusion.
"I just want to know why." said Peter. He wasn't asking as his handler. Or as an agent interrogating him. He was asking as a friend.
Neal shook his head, breaking out into a grin, too. He couldn't deny it anymore; he was torn. "You know why."
He's really gonna make me say it, thought Neal amusedly. "Because you're the only one who could change my mind."
And there—he said it. What his entire being had been rebelling against. The truth.
Peter looked thoughtful. He cocked his head, gently prodding, "Did I?"
The mixture of emotions fought beneath his skin. His desire to see Kate and his friendship with Peter felt like he was being ripped apart. Pulled in the two different directions. Pressing into him, threatening to overtake him. He looked back toward Kate. She waved through the window. Her eyes shined. The same way they did the moment he first laid eyes on her when they met. He took a step toward the plane.
His heart surged. His smile grew. He lost himself in the emotion. He kept toward it, more steps toward the plane.
He stopped. Without even thinking it, without feeling it. Something—some invisible thread was pulling him backward. He stood still on the tarmac, frozen between two worlds. He hesitated. Turned back toward his—best—friend.
"Peter," he said heavily.
And then, his world exploded.
Heat—scorching, burning—heat and a blast of air shoved him backward, an invisible wall throwing him backward onto the pavement. The blast rang in his ears, so intense it blotted out all thought, all emotion, all anything. The span of seconds felt like hours—days.
And time suddenly caught up to him. In a flash—an instant. The plane was destroyed. Flames leapt out of the burning mess. Black smoke billowed into the air.
Neal staggered to his feet, eyes wide, her name the only desperate thought that ran straight from his mind to his heart and into the core of his very being.
The smoke obliterated the plane. She'd been right there. Right in front of him. But the window she'd been behind didn't even exist anymore. The space where her beautiful face had been, the eyes he lost himself in, was now filled by smoke and nothing but filthy air.
"No," Neal felt himself gasp. He began to run, all coherent thought lost except for the fact that she had been right there, right there, but arms were around him, holding him back, yanking him away. "No, no!" He was screaming; he knew he was. His eyes burned, tears slipped down his face, stinging his eyes. He didn't stop fighting the arms behind him until a sob forced its way out of his chest. The heavy truth whispered from the back of his mind.
Another broken sound escaped him, and his legs gave out. He barely felt the arms around him catch him as he fell, slowly lowering him to the ground. He hit the pavement again, hands and knees scraping the gravel, another sob wracking his body. "No," he whispered in a broken voice.
"Neal, Neal—" Peter was in front of him. Gripping his shoulders. Neal shut his eyes, averting his gaze from the burning mess. Maybe if he didn't see it. Maybe if he pretended… maybe it didn't happen.
"…a team here right now!" Peter was saying, the words a garbled mess in Neal's ringing ears.
We were finally going to be together.
They were going to go away. Start their life. He'd waited so long… searched for her his entire sentence in jail, and for months afterward, trying to find her, to save her…
He was gently shaken. His mind was so disconnected from him that he didn't know what that notion was supposed to mean. All he saw were patches of gravel and fragmented memories flash before his eyes. Memories that kept coming and wouldn't stop. He shut his eyes, hot tears burning them.
He didn't know how long he stayed like that, but the firm grip on his shoulder never left. Not until car suddenly pulled up on the hanger, red lights flashing. Feet pounded across the asphalt. Peter's hand still didn't leave him.
Peter looked up from Neal, who was so far in shock he was truly worried. Diana stopped in front of him. "Is Caffrey all right?"
"He's…" Peter took a breath, nodding toward the burning plane, where several fire trucks had just pulled up to. He brought his voice down, though he was nearly certain Neal wasn't tracking the conversation. "Kate was on the plane."
Diana's eyes widened. "Oh, my god…" She looked back down to Neal, understanding dawning in her eyes. "Is he…?"
"He's in shock," said Peter, squeezing his hand on Neal's shoulder. But he felt his own hand tremble the slightest bit. And he's not the only one. "We should get him out of here," Peter added quieter.
Diana nodded. She turned and left.
Peter returned his gaze to Neal. "Neal…"
Neal seemed to be a bit more with it now than he had been a moment ago. He shifted his gaze from the ground to Peter. The look in his eyes—such a lost, broken look—chilled Peter's heart. "She—" He couldn't get past the first syllable. His voice caught and his shoulders shook.
"Neal, I'm so sorry," said Peter as gently as he could. He suddenly desperately wished for Elizabeth. She would know what to say. Peter heaved a sigh. Neal shouldn't have to stay here and watch this. He needed to get him out of here.
"Actually," said a voice from behind Peter. "We can take care of Mr. Caffrey, Agent Burke."
Peter tightened his grip on Neal's shoulder before he turned. An FBI agent he was unfamiliar with was looking at him blankly, flanked by two other statue-like agents. "Excuse me?" asked Peter in a clipped voice. "Take care of him? What are you talking about?"
The agent nodded his head toward the plane. "With all due respect, Agent Burke…" He nodded a head toward Neal, who was still frozen in shock.
"What?" demanded Peter.
"Sir," said the agent, in a slightly lowered voice. "We've been instructed to take Mr. Caffrey into custody."
"By who?" exclaimed Peter.
"We received calls from D.C. since the explosion. Caffrey was involved with this particular aircraft and—"
"Wait, wait, wait," said Peter harshly, holding up a hand to silence the man. "You think Caffrey did this?"
The agent shared an uncomfortable look with his comrade. "Agent Burke, we have reason to believe he—"
"He did not do this!" exclaimed Peter in such a harsh, forceful whisper it effectively shut the agent up. Peter took a dangerous step toward the younger man, glaring daggers. The anger that coursed through him burned his veins. "He just lost the only person he cared about in that explosion, not thirty minutes ago!" he hissed. "There's no damned way Caffrey ordered this attack."
The agent swallowed, struggling to meet Peter's eyes. He took a moment before he could reply, gathering his words. "I understand, Agent Burke. But it's protocol. Until he's proven clean…" He handed Peter some folded up paperwork.
Peter snatched it and skimmed the document. His eyes settled on the last of it.
Signed, Garret Fowler.
No wonder it got here so quickly.
Peter rubbed a hand over his face, looking back down at Neal, who was still pale as a ghost, staring at the still-burning plane.
"I am perfectly capable of handling Neal," said Peter at last, changing tactics. "Leave him in my custody. He won't leave my sight."
"We've been told to relocate him back in the city penitentiary."
Cold settled in Peter's gut.
Without waiting for Peter's reply, the agent nodded to his friends and they each approached Neal and grabbed an arm. They lifted him to his feet and Neal seemed to break free from the haze he'd been drowned in. The paper in Peter's hand crumpled as his fist tightened, rage consuming him. His girlfriend was just murdered and they're hauling him to jail?!
"Peter—" gasped Neal, his eyes red and scared. For the first time since he'd known him, Peter had never seen Neal look so young and frightened.
"Neal—" Peter grabbed Neal's shoulder. He glowered at the men. "What's wrong with you?" he demanded to the two emotionless agents.
"Peter," said Diana suddenly, rushing up next to him. "What's happening?"
"They're arresting Neal," said Peter blankly.
Neal's eyes only widened. "Arresting—" He looked between the two agents holding him. The disjointed pieces of the mess must have clicked in his mind. He went a shade paler. "I—I didn't do this! I—how could I—" His voice broke as his hands were cuffed behind him by one of the agents. Neal looked helplessly to Peter. "I didn't…" He couldn't finish the sentence. His voice cracked just the slightest bit, only enough for Peter to hear the ghost of it. It made his heart rip in two.
Peter suddenly embraced Neal, using the time to whisper, "I know, Neal. I'm sorry. I can't stop them. But I'll get you out as soon as I can." He released his CI to look him in the eye. "I promise."
Neal didn't say anything. He still looked lost and broken. The agents pulled him away and he reluctantly went with him, not a single look back.