Sara needed a drink.
It had been the kind of day that, if she was still in New York, would have ended with her tucked into a corner at the smoky jazz bar near her apartment, sipping on a glass of wine and letting the music sink into her bones. Or it would have ended with her curled up in Neal's arms, her glass of wine forgotten, her troubles soothed and laughed away by the con man she never meant to fall for.
But she wasn't in New York. Her new job in London had been a dream come true—most days—and she couldn't imagine going back to her old life. Except on days like this, when London seemed horribly devoid of anything familiar, of jazz bars and comforting music.
She didn't like to think about that.
Sara nudged her front door open, closing it with one foot while she juggled her keys and purse with the armful of paperwork she'd brought home. Somewhere in her bag her phone buzzed for the third time since she'd left the office. Whoever it was wanted her attention, and the stirrings of unease began to chase themselves around her stomach.
"I'm coming," she murmured, hurrying to the kitchen counter that doubled as her work table. She dropped her mountain of files and dug through her purse until she found the phone.
Her stomach dropped when she saw the name on the screen. She hadn't spoken to him since she'd left for London two years ago, and in Sara's experience, calls like this always contained bad news. She allowed herself a moment, consciously relaxing her suddenly tense shoulders before unlocking the screen. "Peter?"
Oh God. His voice held enough weight to crush her with that single word, enough to send her stumbling for the nearest chair. Breathe, she told herself. Don't jump to conclusions.
"Peter. Is something wrong?"
There was a pause, as if he was taking the same breath she'd just forced through her lungs. "I know this is a long shot, but I have to ask. Is Neal with you?"
"No." She collapsed into the chair, her legs shaking. "Why?"
Another pause. It seemed to last forever, settling over her skin like a cold fog, surrounding and choking her. The silence was answer enough, but Sara shook her head as if she could keep him from confirming it. "I'm sorry, Sara," he said at last. "Neal... Neal's gone."
"He ran away again?" she said. Hopefully. Desperately.
"No." His voice broke, but he pushed on as if it hadn't. "He's dead. Keller shot him."
The floor seemed to tilt beneath her; Sara gripped the table with her free hand to keep herself upright. A dozen questions flew through her mind: How? When? Why was he with Keller? Wasn't Keller in jail? But she sifted through them in a heartbeat and asked the only one that mattered.
"Are you sure?"
She could picture him nodding, his lips pressed thin, his jaw clenched. "Yes. I saw his body. I just thought... I hoped... if it was a con, if he'd managed to fake it somehow... he might have gone to you."
Gone to her? No, he hadn't gone to her. He hadn't so much as called since she'd left New York. If this was a con, Neal would have gone somewhere nostalgic, romantic, full of art and music and easy targets. Venice, maybe, or Paris. Not London. Not to her.
Why couldn't he have come to her?
"Sara?" Peter said in her ear.
She swallowed, brushing away the tears that had gathered in the corners of her eyes. "I'm here."
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have called."
"No, it's—" She broke off to take a breath, her eyes wandering to the print of Saint George and the Dragon hanging in the hall. "Thank you for calling," she finished. "If there's anything I can do..."
"Thanks," Peter said. He stayed silent for a moment, inviting her to ask the questions she no longer had a voice for. When she didn't say anything else, he ventured, "I'll be in touch."
He hung up, but she couldn't make herself put her phone down. It wasn't possible. Peter didn't make mistakes, not about something like this, but she couldn't wrap her mind around the thought of Neal being gone. Peter may as well have called to tell her that New York no longer existed. A bullet couldn't stop Neal Caffrey. Not after all he'd been through.
She sat there for a long time, lost in a numb feeling that might have been shock or denial, but wasn't quite grief. Grief implied a measure of acceptance that Sara wasn't capable of yet. She thought about Mozzie, about June and Elizabeth, about Clint and Diana. About Peter. She thought about their sadness and envied the fact that they were together, a family rallying for answers and support, while she was an ocean away and alone. Always alone.
No... not this time. Peter hadn't asked her to come back, but how could she stay away? She had to help her friends, even if it meant just being there while they grieved. And when the grief came for her, she'd be better off with them than here in her empty flat.
Tickets—she needed to order plane tickets, one way, since she had no idea how long she'd be there. She'd need to notify work... did a "family emergency" cover the sudden death of an ex-boyfriend? It would have to. She hadn't taken a day off since starting her new job, so they couldn't begrudge her a little time now. She'd find a hotel once she got into New York and—
A knock at the door broke through the tumble of thoughts. Sara stilled, her nerves flurrying through her stomach again, her hand half-extended for her laptop. She rarely got visitors, and the ones who did come by always called first. With trembling fingers, Sara took the baton out of her purse and snapped it open, holding it slightly behind her as she moved toward the door. She tilted her face toward the peephole, taking in the sight of the man standing at her door, dressed in a dark suit, his face hidden by—
Sara choked on a breath that felt dangerously close to a sob. A fedora. The man's face was hidden by a fedora, and Sara was ready to drop her baton and whip the door open and fall into his arms. Get it together. Neal wasn't the only man who wore hats. She cleared her throat, grip tightening on her weapon. "Who is it?" she called.
The man looked up, blue eyes flashing to the peephole as if sensing her gaze, and Sara's baton crashed inches from to her foot as she tore open the door.