Take me away from here, from all of today's pain.
For a brief moment Neal stood on the landing strip, between the woman he loved and the man he trusted. Between two sorts of freedom. He looked at Kate, her blue eyes and smile evident even from a distance. He turned back to his partner.
"Peter," he began, anguish filling his voice. A roaring blast of orange sound erupted behind him.
No. The word flashed through Neal's mind before it was filled with panic. He felt the heat at the back of his neck, the force of the explosion pushing him forward. He hit the cement hard. Immediately Peter was there next to him, holding Neal back as he yelled. The plane went up quickly, with Kate inside. His eyes stung with repressed tears.
"No!" He pulled against Peter's firm grasp on him, wanting to go towards the wreckage. There was nothing he could do.
He didn't care.
"No!" Peter said. "Neal, stay here! Stay back!"
"No! Kate!" Shards of glass few out from the wreckage, pieces of the plane smashing into the landing strip as it was blown apart. He struggled furiously against the man who was trying to stop him. He had to get to the plane. Had to find Kate. Peter pulled his arm around Neal to keep him from escaping. Neal was filled with a horrible feeling of despair. This can't be happening.
"Neal, you can't!"
He felt Peter shift his grip so that he could use one hand. Heard him call someone on his phone.
He didn't care.
"I need you down here right away," Neal heard, part of Peter's urgent conversation. He didn't cease struggling and protesting.
"Who's yelling?" Elizabeth's voice on the phone.
"It's Neal. El, I don't- I can't-"
"Where are you?" Peter told her their location. "Don't worry, I'm coming," Elizabeth said. Peter fumbled to put the phone away and returned his attention to Neal.
Neal didn't know how much time passed as they stood as he was unable to get where he needed to be. It couldn't have been long, but it felt like an eternity. Neal tried to pull away, but he couldn't. He felt his whole world crashing down around him as parts of the plane crashed down to the ground. The plane that had been supposed to take him and Kate to a new life.
"Peter!" He shouted. "Please!"
"I can't let you," Peter said, grabbing his other arm as the younger man pulled frantically. Another flame flared up from the plane. "It's too dangerous!"
"I don't care!" Neal yelled. "I have to help Kate!" Neal didn't see the pain that filled Peter's eyes, identical to the emotion in his own as he kept struggling.
"Neal," Peter said more quietly, just loud enough to be heard over the sounds of the fire. "There's nothing you can do." Neal's bag slid off of his shoulder and Peter let it fall to the ground. Neal stopped pulling away for the smallest moment and turned to look at Peter.
"I have to try," he insisted. The pure agony, the pain, the horror contained in those brilliant blue eyes pierced Peter. When Peter didn't reply Neal pulled away hard again, and Peter almost lost him. Neal's eyes jumped back to the plane and took in the metal frame. The flames had died down now, leaving little behind. He looked at the spot where Kate had been, desperately wanting to see her again as he had a moment before.
"Peter!" Quick footsteps echoed behind them. Elizabeth came up next to them, her eyes widened as they flew to the fire and back to the struggling Neal.
"How did you get here so fast?" Peter asked.
"I was in the area, picking something up for one of my remaining clients..." She was silent for a moment. "Peter, what happened?" Peter looked up from the ex-con and to his wife.
"Kate was in that plane." Elizabeth's face showed shock. She didn't ask any more questions, she just stepped forward and grabbed Neal's arm.
"Neal," she said gently. "Come here." Neal lessened his efforts to get back to the plane and looked down at Elizabeth Burke. Her eyes met his and something passed between them before Neal stopped completely, all the fight suddenly going out of him. Peter let go and Neal almost fell forward, but Peter caught him and held him upright.
"I-" Neal began, but his voice broke and he didn't say anything else. Peter put one firm hand on Neal's shoulder and Elizabeth stood on his other side, holding onto his arm. His two anchors. They started walking to the car where Elizabeth had parked it. Neal got into the back seat without protest, leaning forward so his dark hair fell over his eyes as he stared at the car floor. Elizabeth got into the passenger seat as Peter started the Taurus.
You know I see it all so clear, like a morning after the rain.
How did I fall for that? Neal asked himself as he rested his aching head in his hands silently, feeling them shake. Peter had called Lauren to alert her and Jones to the explosion. It's my fault that Kate's... He couldn't even make himself think the word. The pain in his arms and side from hitting the cement were nothing in comparison to what he felt inside.
Fowler was planning this all along. I should've realized it. A sentence came back to him.
"Have a nice life, Caffrey." He'd been too busy thinking about how he'd finally see Kate. Too excited to hear the strange sound in the agent's voice, the suspicious way he'd smiled. And now Kate had suffered for his mistake. Failure. He berated himself mercilessly as Peter drove the car towards somewhere.
"Neal-" the on-suspension FBI agent began, but Neal heard Elizabeth shush her husband. Thank you. He couldn't talk to anyone right now. The sounds of New York City came through the windows of the car as they reentered the heart of the city. Everything was wrong. The noise was too loud, banging against Neal's fragile shield of protection. The sun was too bright. The world felt empty without Kate in it.
There's still hope, he tried to convince himself, but there wasn't any. He'd seen the plane blow up--was still seeing it, replaying over and over in his mind. He squeezed his eyes shut to try and block out the images. It didn't work.
"We're taking him to our house," Neal heard Elizabeth whisper as Peter made another turn.
"He probably wants to be left alone, El," Peter said back softly.
"I don't think we should leave him alone, Peter. He needs... I don't know. But we can't just leave him." Neal pretended not to have heard their brief conversation. He truly didn't know what he wanted, but he felt touched that Elizabeth was so worried about him. They pulled into the Burkes' parking space and Elizabeth helped him out.
And I worry all the time, about what's coming around the bend.
Elizabeth and Peter were silent as they entered the house. Neal was grateful. Satchmo bounded up to them and licked Neal's hands in the way that had become his habit, but when Neal didn't react, he stopped. Neal felt completely drained of everything, and at the same time so full of emotion that he couldn't keep it all inside of himself.
"I'll take you upstairs, Neal," Elizabeth said quietly. She let him into their small, seldom-used guest room and gave his arm a reassuring squeeze before closing the door behind him. He locked it, grateful for the solitude it provided. He yanked off his black gloves before sinking down against the wall and let his head rest back against it, pushing his hair out of his face. He could hear the muted murmur of Peter and Elizabeth's voices from the kitchen below him. Doubtless Peter was telling her exactly what happened.
What am I going to do? He asked himself. He didn't know. The whole point of his existence since Mozzie had given him that picture of Kate had been to find her, save her, help her. He had wanted to hold her in his arms and never leave her again. He'd even been ready to give up his criminal ways so that their relationship would never be at risk again. More than anything, he wanted to apologize for the years they'd lost as he was confined in prison.
I'll never get that chance. Kate's bright eyes from the airplane door flashed into his mind again and he had to restrain himself from destroying anything he could reach.
A scratching sound came from the door, accompanied by whining. Neal reached over and opened it, then closed it after Satchmo came into the guest room.
"Hey, Satch," he whispered. The golden dog sat down next to Neal and wagged his tail hesitantly, his large eyes shining with that signature dog comfort. Neal rested his hand on Satch, then pressed his face into the dog's fur. In one sudden wave everything crashed down on him again, and all the emotion he'd been holding in burst out. He cried silently, his hands woven into Satchmo's fur.
Maybe I'm just going crazy.
Images of Kate flashed through his mind as he sat noiselessly with Satchmo, on Peter's floor.
Their first meeting. Kate had just picked a man's pocket. Neal held back a smile as he watched her clumsy theft, though the man still didn't catch her. He waited until she was a little ways away from her target before approaching her. She first looked worried when he called her on it, then irritated as he told her what she'd done wrong. "Oh, and I suppose you could do better?" In response he held up her own wallet, giving her a grin. She was still suspicious, but took his offer of help.
Their first real date. Neal had picked her up. They'd gone to dinner, then they'd walked along the part of the streets where magicians and vendors were rampant. As the sunlight dimmed and the street lamps went on, Neal watched a magician's sub-standard trick and demonstrated to Kate how it was supposed to be done. As he showed her, a few people applauded and he gave them a charming grin and a mock-bow. When he looked back to Kate, her saw her face lit up in her first true smile to him, her blue eyes happy. It was at that moment that he knew how much he was really in love with her.
Kate's birthday, when they'd spent the day all over the place, doing whatever they wanted, and ended the day with a candlelit dinner and an old, cheesy black-and-white movie.
Their first heist, after which Kate was exuberant and Neal was impressed at her ability to learn. It hadn't been so long before when she'd barely managed to pick a man's pocket.
A lazy Saturday afternoon, the first time Neal introduced Kate to Mozzie. After a while Mozzie announced that he was satisfied with Kate, to which she replied, "Good, because I'm not going anywhere."
The anniversary of his mother's death. Kate had accompanied him to the cemetery as he placed flowers on the grave, and she added a paper flower of her own--something he'd taught her to do. She hugged him softly and comforted him the way no one else had ever before.
A simple trip to an art museum, spent admiring the works of other artists and wondering which ones they would ever be able to fake.
The day Peter first started chasing him. He'd finally gotten back to their apartment, breathless and worried. Kate hadn't smiled that day, but they'd gotten through it together.
A heist gone horribly wrong. The bond forgery that had gotten him in prison. He had been heading over to a street corner where Kate had been supposed to meet him after he'd passed the bond off, but he was intercepted by Peter and his FBI agents before he could get there. As he was handcuffed, he glimpsed Kate standing out of sight near the corner, her eyes brimming with tears.
The day she'd told him at prison that she was leaving, never coming back. The strange, masked emotion in her eyes as she bid him goodbye. She'd left him a message, but he hadn't known it at the time, and it had hurt like nothing before it had.
Again the image of Kate's happy face from inside the plane invaded his mind, her familiar hair and clothes welcoming him back. Then the explosion that took her life, and took her from him. Neal found he was no longer crying. The intense pain inside could no longer be expressed that way. He could've died, too, if he hadn't hesitated for those few seconds talking to Peter. In a way, he wished he would have. He untangled himself from Satchmo's fur and the dog laid down.
Another knock sounded at the door.
"Neal?" It was Peter this time. Neal stood up, brushing the dog fur from his clothing and hoping his eyes weren't red. He opened the door and saw Peter standing in the doorway. He didn't know exactly what to expect.
"Neal, I-" Peter broke off whatever he had been about to say and surprised Neal by pulling the younger man into a tight embrace. "I'm sorry," he said fiercely. Neal returned Peter's hug, closing his eyes against the onslaught of memories that still assaulted him. Peter let go and held onto Neal's shoulders, looking him in the eye.
"It's not your fault, Peter," Neal said, his voice slightly hoarse.
"I know. I'm sorry anyway. Whatever I thought about Kate, she didn't deserve that." Neal felt tears threatening again. He blinked them away angrily. Elizabeth came quietly up the stairs and wrapped her arms around Neal briefly also.
"You're not alone, Neal. We're always here for you." She smiled weakly up at Neal, her eyes full of love and shared pain.
"I know," he whispered. That doesn't make it any better. He was still grateful. Grateful that, for the first time, he felt totally safe around two people. His unwavering trust in Peter had gradually extended to Elizabeth, and now they felt like his family.
Kate and I will never have a family, he reminded himself. He felt broken and empty inside, and nothing could fix that. Nothing but Kate. And that was impossible. He let the Burkes lead him downstairs to their couch, and they sat down on either side of him. But he wasn't really listening. He was trying to preserve every memory of Kate he had, because that was all he had left of her.
But it feels like the end.