Mozzie sees it first.
They are walking through town together after getting lunch. There's a con Moz has been wanting to try out, and he wanted to discuss it with his, quite literal, partner in crime. Before crossing the street, Neal turns his head to check for cars. And there they are. Thin, angry red lines, peeking out of the collar of his t-shirt, standing out starkly against his pale neck. As he moves to turn back, Moz gently reaches out to touch his chin, holding his head in place.
"What happened?" The bald man's voice is soft, suspicious.
Neal blinks, his eyes glancing confusedly at his friend. "What?"
"These marks…" Moz brushes his fingers against them and Neal abruptly pulls away. He turns to the smaller man, smiling that charm-filled smile that Moz knows is reserved for cons.
Frowning, Mozzie's eyes dart back to his neck, trying to get another look. "They look kind of like scratches…"
For a second, Neal's eyes widen before any and all emotion is effectively masked behind a cool, devious smirk.
"Well if you must know, Kate and I like it kind of… rough." His voice is husky and Moz immediately throws his hands up in surrender.
"Too much information!"
Musical laughter fills his ears, "You asked."
"Yes, well, I'm sorry I did."
It's not until he is back in his storage unit, alone with his thoughts, that he begins to see the lie. Because he knows Neal. He's known him since he was just a kid trying to survive on nothing. And as awkward as it is to think about, Moz is certain that Neal would be as gentle and loving during sex as he is in every other aspect of his life.
It's not until an hour later, sorting through his thoughts, that he begins to see the truth. Because while he doesn't know Kate as well, he's seen her. He's felt the coldness of her gaze, the harshness of her touch. He's seen the possessive glint whenever Neal so much as speaks to another woman, never mind that it's obvious Neal only has eyes for her. He's seen the sharpness of her nails. Moz can believe that Kate 'likes it rough', and he has a good idea of whose feelings she'd put first in any situation.
A few days later, Neal starts wearing button-up collared shirts. He smiles and tells Moz that he's becoming infamous enough to warrant dressing better.
"More professional!" He laughs, and Moz laughs with him, all the while staring at his covered neck, wondering what lay hidden beneath the fabric.
Alex notices next.
She figures it out pretty quickly. She is only in town for a few days before she plans to head to Europe to follow a new lead on the music box. It's been awhile since she's seen Neal, and she invites him to dinner with her. She extends the invitation to Kate as well, but isn't surprised when Neal shows up alone. For whatever reason, Kate never seems to like her.
They sit in a fancy Italian restaurant, each laughing over a cheap glass of wine. He is raising his glass to take another sip when his sleeve slips down and she sees the bruise. Soft purple encircles his slender wrist like a bracelet.
She jerks her head toward the injured limb. "What'd you do to yourself?"
"Huh?" following her eyes, he sees the offending mark. There is a quarter second delay, barely noticeable, but Alex recognizes it as the quarter second Neal needs to fabricate a story.
"Oh, this." He smiles and his charm is palpable. Lowering his voice to a hush, he explains, "I was in such a rush to leave the museum the other night, I forgot to make sure I was all the way through before slamming the door."
The two laugh and the night continues undisturbed, but Alex can't help but think that slamming a door on your wrist wouldn't leave a full ring. And she can't help but notice Neal carefully holding his sleeve over his wrist the rest of the evening.
Walking home after dinner, she casually asks, "So how is Kate?"
Neal shrugs. "She's doing alright. I don't think I've been spending enough time with her though. She was kind of upset about me coming out tonight." The genuine guilt in his voice makes Alex feel a bit sick.
Suddenly, her mind is filled with a vision... Neal asking Kate's permission to go out with Alex, just as friends. Kate, in jealous rage, viciously grabbing his arm, demanding that he stay stay stay.
Two days later, when she stops by to say goodbye, she doesn't miss the slight flinch, or the tenseness of his body as they hug. She leaves quickly, not wanting to see the masterly disguised pain in his eyes. Later on the plane, she thinks about how much Neal must value her if he thought one dinner with her was worth the consequences, and she feels a combination of honor, pride, and joy. Moments later, she is sobbing in her seat, ignoring the concerned, confused looks of passengers and flight attendants, lost in her own self-loathing and pain for the man she's always sort of loved.
It is barely a month before she returns, her "promising lead" turning into yet another dead end. This time, Alex doesn't tell anyone that she is back. Instead, she waits around the corner of Neal's apartment until she sees Kate leave. Part of her wants to follow the other woman, to do… something, anything to assure that she never lay a hand on Neal again. But she refrains, because she knows it would only hurt Neal more and that's not what she wants.
So, standing up straighter, attempting to look as normal as possible, she walks up the steps to the apartment. Knocking on the door, she smiles with genuine happiness at seeing the blue-eyed man again.
"Alex!" Neal smiles back, stepping forward to hug her. "I didn't know you were back."
"I just got in." She replies. "Hit another dead end and decided to lay low for awhile."
"Well come in."
Stepping into the room, she glances quickly over the furniture, the pictures and paintings on the wall, everything seeming so normal. Finally, she turns to really look at the man in front of her. A thick black turtleneck covers most of his skin, and dark rings under his eyes contrast the pale smooth skin of his face. His eyes shine, showing sincere joy at her presence, and as he smiles at her, she finds her face slowly falling.
"Your lip is bleeding." Alex speaks flatly, refusing to let any emotion seep into the statement.
Neal's eyes widen and his hand flies to his mouth, stemming the blood flow. A moment later he is smiling again. "Damn, I need to invest in some chapstick. This dry weather is not doing me any good."
Alex looks at him and takes a shuddering breath. It takes everything in her power not to grab him by the shoulders and just shake him. She wants to yell and scream that it rained last week, and the rest of his lips are as soft and perfect as always, and the edges of the cut are beginning to bruise, and when, when did he become such a terrible liar?
But she doesn't. She exhales and reaches into her purse. A second later she is placing a small tube of chapstick in his hands, smiling softly while she wants so much to cry.
"You should be more careful."
The two talk, and joke and soon it is time for Alex to leave. Standing to move to the door, she turns to Neal one last time. "Are you okay?"
Blinking in surprise, he responds, "Of course. I'm fine."
She sees in his eyes that he really believes that, and in that moment more than anything she wants to know who.
Who hurt this beautiful man so much, and in such a way, that he can honestly think that any of this is ok.
"Jeez, man, what did you do?" Moz asks, shocked at the fading bruise along his friend's jaw line.
When Neal laughs, it is as painful to hear as he's sure it is to execute. "The other night, I was so tired I just kicked my shoes off next to my bed before going to sleep. Next morning, WHAM! Trip and knock my face right into the floor."
There is a moment of silence before Moz walks away. He doesn't say anything, doesn't point out that Neal is graceful even when stumbling and always manages to catch himself, doesn't point out the flaws in Neal's increasing number of lies or the fact that he doesn't need to bother because Moz knows the truth. He honestly has no idea what to do. How can he ask him to leave her? How can he make him see what is happening? Regardless of Kate's love or lack thereof, Neal does love her. His heart has been shattered and reassembled so many times but he still loves. In the back of his head, Mozzie wonders if Neal is capable of healing one more time. He fears that one way or another, Kate may be the last.
Ignoring Neal's confused calls, Moz rushes away, practically running. He is closest to his Friday safe house, so he goes there. When he finally arrives, he slams the door behind him before sliding to the floor. And for the first time, Moz allows himself to cry for his best friend.
Peter Burke is triumphant. Before him, the elusive Neal Caffrey is in Handcuffs. His pride is slightly dampened by the fact that the conman is grinning madly, congratulating him and pointing out everything his did right while offering tips for improvement.
"Oh, shut it, Caffrey." He says irritably. Neal smiles as he is pushed forward towards a cop car. As they walk, Peter frowns. Reaching out, his fingers swipe at a small drop of blood seeping from the criminal's hairline by his ear.
Jerking away, Neal glances at him in surprise. "What?"
The agent frowns. "What happened?" He had overseen the whole operation from start to finish. No one had touched Caffrey other than to cuff him. Leaning forward, he uses one hand to move Neal's hair, ignoring the attempts by the smaller man to pull away. Closer examination reveals numerous ugly scratches and cuts on his scalp, as if someone had cruelly grabbed at the soft brown locks and mercilessly dug their nails into his skin.
Before Peter has another chance to ask, or Neal has time to deflect, they find themselves at the cop car and the thief is put in the back, giving the agent one last smirk before he is driven away to his fate.
Meanwhile, Peter is left with the gut-wrenching feeling that he caught the criminal, but not the bad guy.
Neal thrives in prison. Not even the most hardened criminal can hate a man with eyes like that. He does crafts and exercises and makes friends with criminals and guards alike. Mozzie and Alex visit from time to time under various aliases and disguises, both smiling at how much healthier he looks, the irony not lost on them. And there is also an unspoken realization that Neal is okay. That he sleeps better and actually feels safer. Because while bars and guards keep him in, they also keep certain people out.
Kate visits all the time. Sometimes she is angry, sometimes she is in despair, but she never leaves with out telling Neal, in a sickly sweet voice that unknowing listeners could mistake for affection, that no matter where he is Neal will always be hers.
Kate leaving throws a wrench in Neal's new-found mental stability. When she leaves, she sounds so genuine, that he is thrown back to the Kate he knew when they first met, the one who was passionate and loving. He is suddenly left wondering whether all these years of pain was someone else, and now his love, his Kate, is in trouble.
And so he runs. And when he finds the bottle, he cannot decide whether or not he is relieved.
"Did you ever love him?"
He hadn't planned on asking that, but the moment the words leave his lips, Peter realizes that he needs to know. For his own sake as well as Neal's, he needs to understand this woman in front of him.
Kate is silent, her eyes flickering with emotions that she could never hide as well as Neal. And looking into those eyes, Peter realizes that she did love Neal. Once. A long time ago, she really did. But not now.
Peter sees the darkness in her eyes, and he wonders what happened to her, what made her this way. He wonders what she was like, the woman Neal fell in love with. He is surprised to find that he misses her, even though he never knew her.
The full story is a mystery to him. He has his suspicions, but he knows no truth about the situation. But what he does know is that Neal loves her, and it will kill him if she lets it.
"Let him go." He tries to sound strong, but he is begging, pleading, let him go. Because Kate will never be ok, and she destroys everything she touches.
When he gets home that night, he walks into his room and without a word, wraps his arms around Elizabeth. She doesn't say anything, doesn't ask questions, merely lets him hold her tight as he cherishes the person he always knew he was lucky to have.
That night Peter prays, and he asks God to protect the conman who has become his friend.
When Kate dies, no one is happy, but no one mourns her death. Except for Neal. However, one night, after emptying a bottle of wine and sitting in buzzed silence with Mozzie, he reveals,
"I've been mourning her for years."
His bald companion looks up in surprise. "Oh?"
Neal nods before continuing. "The Kate I was in love with… The Kate who loved me back… I think she's been gone for a long time. And I don't know what happened, or where she went, but that's who I'm crying for. I miss who she was."
Moz looks at his friend, and he knows that that is the closest thing to an admission of the truth that he's ever going to get. So he places his hand comfortingly on Neal shoulder, trying to communicate that he knows, and he doesn't have to hide and use half-truths or subliminal messages with him.
They sit together. And when the sun rises, a weight is lifted from their shoulders, and the future doesn't seem so scary.
Neal walks through the cemetery alone. It's over. Kate's killer, Mozzie's attacker (the second more important than the first), all put away where they belong, all loose ends tied. Except one. Before he even realizes it, he is standing in front of her headstone.
KATE MOREAU is written in plain letters with two dates beneath it. There is no message, no "loving daughter, sister, lover," or anything else. Neal couldn't bring himself to lie in stone.
"Hey Kate." He begins hesitantly. "I… I should have done this a long time ago. I should have done this when you were alive." He inhales slowly. "I loved you. Past tense. I loved who you were, not who you became. I wish I could have helped you, saved you. But… it's too late for you. It was too late for you a long time ago. Our time was up long before you died. And… I need to save myself. So… I'm letting you go." He lets out a pained laugh. "I'm breaking up with you. Because I can't do this anymore. I can't keep carrying your corpse." Gently, he lays the Bordeaux bottle against the stone. "Bye Kate. I hope you find peace."
For the first and last time, Neal Caffrey walks away from Kate Moreau. In the cemetery parking lot, Mozzie sits in the driver's seat of the car. Getting in to join him, Neal quickly buckles up before they drive away.
"So how'd it go?"
Neal nods. "Good."
Moz glances at him from the corner of his eye. "You ok?"
When Neal smiles, it is real, and they both know he has been freed of a great burden. "Yeah. I'm ok."
Looking at the road before them, Moz smiles too. He is no longer worried about his friend's ability to heal. Because there is no one in the world like Neal Caffrey. So he will put his heart back together and love again, because that's who he is. Silently, Moz vows that Kate will be the last. She will be the last to break this man's heart.
That night, for the first time since he can remember, Neal falls asleep smiling.
Hmm, I can never get the ending to be what I want! Really, after the section where Peter arrests him, I wanted to end it (you know, and have "caught the criminal but not the bad guy" be the last line). But for whatever reason I decided to try my hand at some of the stuff during the series (plus that allowed me to give it a happier ending). Meh, depending on reviews I may go back later and cut out the parts after that. We'll see.
Well, I hope you enjoyed, but either way I would love to know! Thanks a million for reading! xoxo ~BFMS