When Neal Caffery heard the word hero, he immediately thought the word idiot. Heroes died. They risked everything- mind, body, spirit-to save strangers, uphold a cause or some other rubbish.
Heroes lost everything they loved, everything that meant something to them and for what? A pat on the back, a smile, and then a shelf with yesterday's news.
Heroes were morons. They rushed into deadly situations without thinking. More often than not they wound up dead because they acted on impulse. They didn't stop and think, didn't formulate a plan. So they died and the survivors felt bad so they gave the idiots the label hero.
Definition of a hero in Neal Caffery's book: dumbass in search of glory or honor and ends up with a bullet between eyes.
But if you looked up that definition in the dictionary, there would be a picture of Neal beside it.
It wasn't like he hadn't tried to come up with a plan. He had. The whole way to the car. That he'd borrowed. Without permission. Yeah, he was so going back to jail.
It'd started with their case. He and Peter were searching for the Scarecrow, a counterfeit who used duress and unnecessary violence to get what he wanted. Neal thought the name came from the Wizard of Oz because the criminal obviously had no brain when it came to finesse. Peter insisted it was from the Batman villain, the one who struck fear into his victims or some nonsense. Neal had rolled his eyes.
Peter was such a boy scout.
Neal preferred his reasoning, especially when they had a break in the case and discovered the criminals real name. Curtis Wolfgang. Neal would have taken the Scarecrow over that name any day.
It was Peter that came up with the plan to infiltrate Wolfgang's operation. It was Neal who volunteered. Peter, reluctantly and with much cursing, agreed.
Neal should have known playing the ex con on the rebound gig would catch on sooner or later. He should have known his name would be linked with those three letters every criminal hated: FBI.
The Jag Neal had 'borrowed' was low on fuel. Peachy. Fan-freaking-tastic.
He glanced down at his ankle and glared at the green light.
"Damn it," he swore aloud.
He wasn't out of range. He need to damn thing to change to red or no one would come for him. And if no one came, then his impromptu plan would be a bust.
The Scarecrow had been watching them. He let Neal in to the operation but never let him see evidence. Didn't matter. It was all a façade. Wolfgang could have run, but as Neal had imagined, the man didn't have a brain when it came to safe business practices. He took things personally.
Neal found that out on the roof of June's home. Thank God she was at her granddaughter's art show. She wouldn't be happy about the mess on the roof or the hog tied unconscious killer. But those things could be fixed.
Neal jerked the wheel to the right, narrowly missing the car traveling at a snail's pace. Two miles seemed to be a million and he still had another mile to go before he reached the Burkes.
During the fight on the roof, he'd convinced his attacker to spill and found out he wasn't the only target that night. A second agent had been sent to take care of Peter Burke. Not the FBI agent directly, but his lovely wife.
Neal sped around the corner, nearly crying in relief when he saw the Burke house, brightly lit. he glanced down at the tracker and could have danced for the flashing red light. Instead, he gave a quick prayer of gratitude.
Stupid Peter, damn boy scout. Neal, since he did possess a brain, had phoned him right away but only got his voicemail. Damn meeting he wasn't a part of. When Burke didn't answer, Neal called the FBI office and was promptly put on hold. He should have called the police then, but his mind was a little slow.
Probably from the blood loss.
The Jag hopped the curb. Neal parked and ran drunkenly for the door. He tried to open it, found it was locked, and started pounding on it for all he was worth. Twenty seconds later, a very confused and blissfully unaware Elizabeth appeared at the door.
"Neal? What're you-"
"We have to go," Neal panted, "Right now," he glanced down at her bare feet, "Got shoes?"
"Whoa, slow down," Elizabeth gasped when he sagged against the door frame and his coat moved, "Is that blood?"
"Elizabeth, we don't have time. You have to believe me. Something bad is gonna happen if we don't leave, now."
Elizabeth's eyes widened, "Peter-"
Neal pushed off the frame, "Peter's fine, but-"
The frame exploded into splinters. Elizabeth shrieked in surprise. Neal felt the tiny bits of wood slice across his face, but he was already moving, pushing Elizabeth inside and kicking the door shut.
"Back door?" he asked.
"What the hell was that?!"
The window behind them shattered and Neal made a split second decision. He grabbed Elizabeth's hand and pulled her up the stairs. As they turned the corner into the hall, the door below flew off its hinges. Elizabeth screamed.
Neal could hear the man storming up the stairs as he reached for the attic ladder cord and pulled. It flung down with a hard thump and Neal pushed Elizabeth up the steps. The man rounded the corner and raised his gun.
"Go!" Neal shouted.
Elizabeth cried out as she tumbled into the attic, courtesy of Neal's shove. The man fired two shots in rapid succession. The first lodged in the ladder. Neal felt the other slice across his calf as he climbed the ladder.
He screamed in pain, but through the haze, he latched onto the pull cord and yanked with all his might. The ladder snapped up as the man reached out for it. Neal wound the cord around his hand and braced himself against the floor boards as the killer grabbed the other cord and pulled.
"Neal!" Elizabeth called as she scrambled for him.
"Get something heavy!" he cried.
He could feel the cord biting into his flesh and his strength was disappearing fast. The killer was going to win this tug of war game sooner rather than later.
Elizabeth dashed across the attic and shoved a tall stack of boxes over. Neal didn't understand why until he saw her pushing a desk toward the opening. A desk made of solid oak.
The cord was giving. Neal clenched his teeth and leaned all of his weight back. He pulled, ignoring the searing pain in his side and leg and hand. And then the cord snapped. The ladder fell down, inviting in the killer. With one finale shove, the desk covered the hole. Neal sighed heavily and closed his eyes.
Cool hands touched his face and his eyes snapped back open. Elizabeth stared anxiously at him. He swallowed hard. The work of a hero is never done.
"Help me up," he said.
She nodded and grabbed hold of his arm. Together they stumbled like a pair of drunks to the back corner. Elizabeth helped him lean against the wall.
"What's going on, Neal?" she asked, her voice shaking.
Neal dug out his cell, "Call Peter."
Though she wanted answers, Elizabeth obeyed. Peter answered on the second ring.
"El, I can't talk now, honey-"
"Peter! Someone's in the house!"
"He has a gun and I think he's trying to kill me!"
Neal beckoned for the phone, "Let me."
Elizabeth nodded with tears in her eyes, "Neal needs to talk to you."
"What the hell is Neal doing there?"
"Hello to you too," Neal said dryly, "Peter-"
"What the hell are you doing in my house, Caffery? And why is someone shooting at my wife?"
"It's the Scarecrow," Neal said tiredly, "He knew I was working with the FBI. He sent someone to kill Elizabeth as a warning."
"How'd you find out?"
"From the unexpected guest I had tonight," Neal frowned when two Elizabeth's suddenly appeared in front of him.
"What are you doing there?"
He lifted his coat and grimaced at the large stain. The shirt was obviously ruined. Elizabeth gasped, her hands flying to her mouth.
"What the hell-"
"Are you on your way?"
"Of course I am!" Peter yelled, "I'm five minutes away. Back up's not far behind."
"Good, cause I think our new friend is trying to break in."
Neal tossed the phone aside and scrambled to his feet just as the octagon shaped window across from them shattered. Elizabeth screamed and covered her head. The killer stumbled in through the window and raised his arm, but Neal was already on him.
The two men fell to the floor, wrestling for the gun. Neal somehow managed to stay on top. He looked over his shoulder at Elizabeth.
"Run!" he screamed.
He watched her run by them to the window as the man's hands closed around his throat. Neal gagged and choked as his air was abruptly cut off. He was thrown to the ground and the man rolled. His hands never left Neal's throat.
Damn hero complex.
Neal reached out, searching for anything to ward off his attacker. His fingers stretched out across the dusty attic floor. The face of his killer darkened as what little air he had in his lungs escaped. And then he found it. The gun of all things.
Neal slammed the weapon into the man's face and watched him crumble to the side. He raised himself up on his elbow and hit the man again, just for good measure. Convinced he was out, Neal scrambled to his feet, letting the gun hang limply in his hand. He limped to the broken window.
He looked to his left and saw her huddled on the corner next to the window. She looked cold, clad only in her blue silk pajamas, the window blowing her hair.
"Thought I told you to run," Neal said as he eased himself out the window.
Elizabeth latched onto his arm, "I couldn't just leave you."
"Why not?" he grumbled as he found his footing on the roof, "It's the smart thing to do."
"But not the right thing," she said, "Besides, you didn't leave me."
No he hadn't, and that was the whole damn problem.
"We gotta move," Neal said, "He's out, but I don't know for how long."
Elizabeth nodded. They climbed the incline of the roof to its peak. Elizabeth slid down on her bottom to the rain gutter. He came after her with much less grace.
"How bad are you hurt?" she asked.
"I'll live," he said, "but I'm never playing hero again."
She smiled at him but it vanished as quickly as it had appeared, "How do we get down?"
The headlights appeared then, swinging into the driveway with a mad and desperate rush. Neal pulled Elizabeth back. He wanted it to be Peter, but he couldn't be sure the man hadn't called for back up. He got his answer when the driver's door swung open and Peter ran for the house.
At his wife's relieved cry, Peter changed course and ran through the gate to the backyard. He held his gun in his hand and looked up at the pair perched on the roof. Neal sighed. It was almost over.
"Elizabeth?" Peter called, "Are you alright?"
"I'm fine." she glanced at Neal, "but my shining knight is a little worse for wear."
"I resemble that remark." Neal muttered.
"Why are you on the roof? And where's the shooter?"
"Knocked out in the attic," Neal called back, "We'd like to get down now please."
"Hold on. I'll secure the guy and-"
Elizabeth, who had been leaning forward to look down at her husband, suddenly cried out as she lost her balance. She tumbled forward. Peter jerked forward, knowing he wouldn't be in time to keep her from slamming into the ground. Neal's reactions were quicker and in the right range. He latched onto her wrist and flung himself back. Elizabeth dangled off the roof, wishing this day had never started.
"El!" Peter cried.
"Get under her, Peter," Neal cried, straining to keep his grip, "I can't hold her."
Peter raced forward just as Elizabeth's wrist slid from Neal's grasp. She let out a startled cry and braced herself for the hard impact. Instead she felt warm arms wrap around her. She and Peter tumbled to the grass.
Elizabeth looked up and smiled lovingly at Peter. He held her close and sighed with relief.
The couple looked up at their roof. Neal waved at them.
"Not to ruin the moment," he said cheekily, "but I'd really like to get down now."
Peter nodded and opened his mouth to speak. Elizabeth cut him off.
"Neal, look out!"
Neal turned his head. His attacker, bleeding and furious, grabbed his collar and threw him to the roof. He straddled Neal and grabbed his already bruised neck with his eager hands. Neal couldn't believe it, but he should have known. The hero always dies, at one time or another.
And that's what he was. Neal Caffery, ex con man, hero, royal dumbass.
Neal pulled at the fingers crushing his windpipe, knowing it was hopeless. He'd lost too much blood, used all of his adrenaline. His strength was gone and so was his air. Black spots danced in front of his vision, clouding the blood thirsty face above him. The pressure in his lungs burned and then there was nothing. No pain, no sound. He was drifting on a cloud, flying high. His hands went limp and Neal closed his eyes.
The gun shot echoed one heart beat too late.