Kill Shot Redux 3
I planned Kill Shot originally as a one shot, pun not intended. Then I was pleasantly surprised by the interest to keep it going. You guys got to me. I've loved getting you're feedback and suggestions. Thanks Extremebandgeek, Pechika, Roxanacleo and SherlockXHolmes 23 for yourterrific ideas. And a special thank you to the amazing Ultracape, for giving me one of the most thoughtful and insightful critiques I've ever gotten. I wish all of you struggling writers out there could have that opportunity. I hope to pay it forward one day, with a great story. While this may not be that story, I hope it provides a bit of closure.
He didn't have the shot. Sweat was dripping into his eyes, blinding him. His throat clenched. Protocol says never surrender your gun, but he had no choice. He's dizzy for a second. Tries to clear his head, focus. The man's cold empty eyes were looking into him, like he knew him. He was smiling as he pushed her to her knees.
"Peter, help me! Please."
"No, wait!" he screamed.
The man's fingers curled around the hilt of the knife as he swung the blade down, cutting her throat open. Blood sprayed and pumped from her body. She clutched her throat helplessly as it poured through her fingers and down her shirt. Pints of blood. She slumped forward.
"Peter! Peter! Wake up baby! You're dreaming again."
He couldn't breathe. He was gasping for air, fear screaming through his brain. His eyes wide, he tried to blink back the images in his head.
"It's OK honey. I got you. Breathe. That's it, in and out."
"Blood. There was so much blood, El. I couldn't…."
"It's alright honey." But she knew it wasn't. She cradled him in her arms, running her hands along his back, trying to smooth the tension rippling through his corded muscles. She laid his head against her chest, pulling him in closer. Her eyes filled with tears, as he shuddered in her arms.
"I 'm sorry, I am so sorry. You've been through so much already," he whispered.
"Don't be sorry. I don't want you ever to be sorry for what you're feeling. But I do need you to talk to someone, honey. Peter, you can't go on like this. I can't handle seeing you this way and not being able to help you. Promise me you'll talk to someone.
"What were you thinking before you took the shot?"
"He was holding her neck so tight, squeezing so hard... her feet lifted off the ground. I could see it in his eyes, he liked hurting people."
"He wouldn't kill her right away. He was getting comfortable. I let him. It gave me the advantage, time to line up the shot. I waited."
"Then what happened?"
"You know what happened. Why do we have to keep going over this?" his heart started to drum in his chest, gut tightened.
"It's happening isn't it? You're feeling the panic. It won't go away, Neal; unless you deal with this."
"You've been saying that for weeks. What do you want to hear from me!"
She was silent, her default position whenever he was about to make a flaming ass hat of himself. He knew she was right. He laid his head back against the chair, closed his eyes and willed himself to be calm.
"I remember the feel of the gun in my hand, my finger against the trigger, the sound of the bullet leaving the barrel. He was dead before he hit the floor. I was sure of it. Then it hit me, the rush. Like I feel when a con goes perfectly, but cranked up 100 times over."
He sat forward with his head in his hands and took a long steadying breath.
"Most of my childhood I thought my father was a hero. I also thought he was dead. Mom lied to me, he found me when I was a teenager."
"So she wanted to protect you?"
"I guess. She equated security with happiness. But I wanted to know him. I started meeting him secretly. It was the beginning of my cons. I figured she lied to me, it was only fair I lie to her."
"My father was a hard man. He came back from the war changed. He tried to pick up his life, got married, had a kid, joined the police force and did OK. It didn't last. He drank a lot and it made him mean."
He was remembering the last time he saw him, the menace in his eyes. No one crossed his old man.
"He was also a thief and a liar, not the best career builder for law enforcement. But you could always count on the truth when he was plastered. He told me once; the only thing he was ever good at was killing."
He went silent, stared at his hands. He couldn't will the shaking away.
"His first night on patrol over there, he told me how he had blown a guy's head off. He was five hundred yards out. He got better in time. He showed me how to shoot, said I was a natural at it."
"So you're thinking like father like son?"
"Thief, liar ….killer; tell me, you're not?"
Elizabeth was sleeping, it was five am. She looked peaceful lying in their bed. He found his shirt, his shoes and slipped out. He hated lying to her.
The shooting range was empty.
"Hey buddy, you're early."
"Usual set up?"
He looked down the range to the target behind the lines etched in the concrete floor. He took a breath and fired. Fired again and again. Three bullets perfectly centered. He didn't need to look. He'd made that shot more times than he could remember. Bullets follow physical rules. Inertia, velocity, gravity…. these were concepts he understood, absolutes.
It wasn't his nature to panic. He had always been steady. FBI training taught him to be calm and analytical, to embrace the rules he found comfort in. The rules made you safe. Peter Burke, youngest agent to lead up the White Collar Division. Success story. His father told him he could do anything, be anything. He missed him.
Ally, friend, husband and protector, roles that fit him like a glove. They all felt foreign to him now. What would his father think of him now? Lying to his wife, letting down his team, putting Neal's freedom at risk. The young conman had placed his future in his hands, hands that now wouldn't stop shaking.
If Caffrey had stayed in the van like he told him, Dianna would be dead. If Caffrey had played by the rule they wouldn't have gotten Elizabeth back alive. He wasn't Neal Caffrey, but he wasn't Peter Burke either now... Maybe Neal was right. He didn't dare look at him, for fear of seeing the loathing in his eyes he must surely feel for him.
In the scramble of his brain, his father's voice was faint. His palms began to sweat and he felt his chest tighten.
"Hey buddy. You OK?"
"Gonna get a smoke, need anything before I go?"
He needed to re establish control. Fight this.
"Yeah, move the target out farther."
A brand new target was placed at the extreme end of the range. He lined up the shot, gripping the automatic in both hands, arms straight, knees bent, aim centered. He fired. This time he looked. He couldn't take his eyes away. A crimson stain was spreading outward from the canvas target's core. The smell of blood filled the room as the crimson spread across the floor toward him. Panic mixed with disbelief and horror. He was swallowed in a wash of fear, unable to move to think. This couldn't be real.
"Hey fella," the night duty guard approached the shaken agent.
Peter jumped as if he'd seen a ghost. His face white and waxen, he slumped against the counter.
"If you're going to hurl..."
He stared past the man at some distant destination.
"If you're going to be sick..."
He closed his eyes for a moment, fell to his knees and retched.
Dr. Sullivan suggested a mild tranquilizer during the worst of the panic attacks. The shakes were really bad then. But, he preferred his pharmaceuticals bottled. He poured a glass of wine and stepped out onto the balcony. The sky was overcast and the Merlot helped brace him against the chilly night air. He was lonely. Mozzie had become invisible. He hated the look of pity in June's eyes and well Sarah, that was done before it could get started. He was an outsider. It wasn't the absolute condemnation he faced earlier, but it hurt. He closed his eyes.
He'd saved Dianna, brought Elizabeth home, wasn't that expiation enough for his crimes. What did he have to do to convince Peter? How many more acts of reparation would it take? He wanted to stay on the path he'd chosen. He needed Peter. Dammit, he needed Peter to help him. It shattered him to think his friend had given up on him and no amount of pharmaceuticals could change that.
His cell phone buzzed. It was Elizabeth.
"Elizabeth Burke called last night. She wants me to talk to Peter."
"How did that make you feel?"
"Hopeful. Ever since I cashed in my crazy ticket, Peter's been avoiding me. Can't say I blame him."
"You think you went crazy?"
"Don't you? I don't even remember hitting Peter."
"You killed a man. How should you have felt?"
"Not good about it."
"You didn't look so good when I saw you."
"I get that you don't judge people, that it's part of the process. And God knows I've had just about as much judging as I can take these past months, but I blew a man's brains out and it was a rush. Not exactly a recipe for mental health."
"Like father like son?" she asked.
"It was your comparison."
"But you felt it fit."
"Until all of this, I would have said I was nothing like my old man. He had big plans for me. He wanted to mold me into a carbon copy of him."
"Is that why you left?"
"And never looked back. I became a master of evasion. I got really good at hiding, getting away."
"You got away, but did you get free?"
He fell silent. Sullivan had struck a chord.
"He didn't want a son. I was like a vanity plate on one of his fancy cars. All shiny and new, until I wasn't. He didn't take well to rebellion. It was his way or no way. You follow the rules or else."
"Or else, what?"
"No one crossed him and for good reason. He was ruthless and powerful."
Ruthlessness was much a part of his old man as the blood that flowed through him. The same blood pulsating in his veins.
"The only power I had was to deny him."
"To not be him?"
"Something like that. I thought I could change who I was, outrun my DNA. But in the warehouse, when I pulled the trigger, I came face to face with my past. I am my father's son."
"Yes, you are; but you're not him. You said you're father was good at killing. Took a certain pride in it. You wouldn't be here if you were good with killing that man. Don't get me wrong, we need to understand what that rush was all about Neal. But I think it's safe to say, you're not your father."
"You sound like Peter. He didn't believe I was a prisoner of my DNA either. He thinks I can change, at least he thought I could change. He can't even stand to look at me now."
"How does that make you feel?"
"Sad …really sad. I was doing this second story job once, my partner was supposed to be waiting ….. Long story short, he didn't show. I fell trying to escape, two stories, tore a gash in my side. I couldn't exactly go to the nearest hospital, so I ended up suturing it closed myself."
"Sounds pretty awful."
"It was. It hurt like hell. That's how it feels now, when Peter won't even look at me," tears glistened in his eyes.
"You've sutured your own wounds for a long time Neal. Sounds like Peter wanted to be there for you. He saw something in you your father couldn't. He saw you."
He bowed his head and fought the tears stinging his cheeks.
"I miss him. I miss Peter believing in me. I tried to change, I did; but he won't believe me."
"Then tell him until he does. Make him believe you."
"I am afraid I've exhausted all my credibility with him."
She was looking at him with that Sullivan look.
"Maybe you've exhausted your credibility in yourself. You believe you're your father and then you are. You believe you can't change and then you don't. There are no easy answers Neal."
Without the comfort of that illusion, a chill went down his spine.
"Do some people need killing?"
"You'll have to answer that question for yourself. Time is up, we'll talk tomorrow."
He agreed to meet Peter at the café down the block; he owed it to Elizabeth and himself. He looked around as he walked in. The place was almost empty. A young couple at the bar deep in conversation, a guy in the back deep in his espresso. Peter was uncharacteristically late.
The coffee was good. He looked up as Peter slid into the chair across from him. He looked like a man who needed a good night's sleep.
"What's on your mind?" he said flatly.
Peter avoided looking at him and talked to the table instead. They were accustomed to looking at each other, face to face. Something had derailed that, or someone. He flinched at the thought. This wasn't the outcome he'd imagined, wishing he hadn't come. But then something flickered across Peter's face, not anger so much as sadness mixed with equal parts fear. He had to commit.
"How are you?"
"You didn't set up this meeting for small talk, Neal. I know you, what do you want?"
"Elizabeth called and asked me to talk to you. Peter you've got to talk to me sometime. I'm sorry…"
"She's angry," he continued to look down.
"I wouldn't say angry so much as worried," Neal offered.
The waitress brought Peter's coffee. He took a refill.
"I've been lying to her," he ran his finger around the rim of the cup.
He never thought he would hear that from Peter Burke.
"About what?" Neal asked tentatively.
"She thinks I should go to counseling."
"Join the club," he smiled.
"Is it helping you? I'm sorry I shouldn't…."
"No, it's OK. I am giving up being my father. The withdrawal symptoms are a bitch," he smiled, finally catching Peter's gaze.
What he saw was troubling. He looked wounded, lost. Something had a hold on him.
"I've been going to the shooting range."
"Why? You have one of the best shooting records in the Unit?
"It wasn't good enough to protect Diana, to keep you from having to kill a man," his voice trailed off.
"Is that what this is about? It wasn't your fault. It wasn't anyone's fault but the guy who took Diana."
"I can't sleep. I keep having this dream. Thing is, I can't tell if I'm dreaming or awake anymore. I was at the range, and there was blood, all this blood. It seemed so real."
He gripped the coffee mug as if it were a life raft.
"The rules always made you safe. I can't make anyone safe. Not Elizabeth, Diana…you."
Peter's eyes went blank. He'd been so caught up in his own misery; he hadn't seen his friend suffering. He was going off the rails and it made his heart ache. He'd do anything to help him.
The waitress reappeared.
"It's almost closing guys; can I bring you anything else?"
"No, we're good," he smiled. But they weren't.
"Take your time. I've got tons to put up."
Peter had returned to his coffee. He seemed to be running something through his head.
"Peter, I had no idea..." he reached out and placed his hand on his. Peter pulled back, startled; his face a mask of fear and confusion.
Shaken by his reaction, he edged back in his chair and tried to focus. It was then he saw the man. The espresso guy from the back. He was standing at the counter, scanning the room. He was nervous, sweating. His eyes were wide, their focus constantly changing as if he were speculating. Not good. Not good at all. He knew that look. There were only a few possibilities for that behavior and he didn't like any of them. Before he could react to what he was seeing, the man had taken hold of the waitress. She let out a muffled cry.
Damn it! This couldn't be happening, not now he thought.
Peter blinked in rapid succession. His face changed. He turned his head in the direction of the man, raked his hand over his cheek and drew in a breath. He removed the safety from his gun.
Seconds too late he realized Peter was reliving the events of the warehouse. By then he had moved across the room his gun by his side.
"Look man, don't be a hero. I don't want any trouble. I just want the money," the man shouted.
"Let the girl go."
Peter's hands were shaking so bad, the first shot went wide. The bullet ricocheted against the far wall.
"I said let the girl go."
His grip grew steadier as he advanced on the man. His gun leveled at his head. He let the girl go.
"OK, OK! I'm not armed man."
"Put your hands in the air. Get on your knees. Do it!"
'Don't shoot me," the man cringed.
The sound of the shot till ringing in his ears he caught up to Peter. He was two feet away from him.
Peter wheeled around. His gun leveled squarely at his partner's chest, dead center. Neal took a step back instinctively, put his hands in the air. Then after a second's delay, his eyes wide and his heart in his throat he said.
"Peter, it's me, Neal." He tried to calm his voice.
"Get out of the way!"
"I'm not moving Peter."
"I said, Back Off!"
"Sorry Peter, I'm staying here. Put the gun down, please." He took a tiny step forward.
Peter didn't reply. He didn't move. His finger trembled on the trigger.
"Give me the gun Peter, this isn't you."
His head was spinning and his vision was blurred, adrenaline was burning him up. He couldn't clear his head.
"I was supposed to keep her safe."
The gun barrel moved again. He placed it against the man's head. Squeezed the trigger halfway. His hand was damp. He was tipping over the edge.
"You like hurting people, don't you." He looked down at the man.
"Dude, he's crazy, the man was staring up at Neal. His mouth opening and closing. Do something! He's going to kill me."
"For God's sake Peter, don't do this. He edged closer. Let me help you."
The man on the ground began to whimper and shake.
Neal kept his gaze on Peter. His blue eyes searching his face. He had to bridge the distance between them. Reach him.
"Listen to me. You told me…. "he caught his breath. You told me you can't tell if you're dreaming or awake. You're seeing something, but it's not real. You have to believe me."
"I don't know…," Peter struggled to speak.
"The rules keep you safe."
"They do Peter. You kept me safe. You saved me more times than I can tell you. Let me help you. Trust me."
"I want to... "
"Give me the gun."
He saw a dawning comprehension on his face as he seemed to recognize him, maybe for the first time in a long while.
He gave Neal the gun and staggered back toward the bar. He was tired, so very tired. His knees buckled. Neal moved forward, caught him and gently lowered him onto a stool.
"I'm scared Neal."
He pulled his friend and partner to his chest, wrapped his arms around him and whispered, "So am I, Peter. So am I."
She stayed awake until sunrise to protect him from the dark. The last several nights were better. The nightmares were on the wane. She was grateful to Neal. He looked peaceful lying next to her. He was dreaming.
"Neal, stop squirming, you're going to turn over the boat. You can't catch a fish without bait."
"You didn't tell me the bait was alive. Oh my God, could this smell any worse."
"I can't believe you've never been fishing. OK, the first rule is..."