The Ghost of A Loss
Disclaimer: White Collar is then property of Jeff Eastin and USA Network. This story is intended for entertainment use only and no profit is being made.
Long but necessary author's note: I apologize to the people waiting for the next chapter of Prisoners of Our Own Mistakes. I am going to finish it, but life threw a major log jam at me which I have to deal with first. I went to a writing seminar which recommended using real life pain as fuel for emotional story telling and I'm afraid that's what I'm doing with this story. My year old kitten, who's name is Mozzie, has been diagnosed with an incurable, fatal cat virus. If you're a pet parent you understand how devastaing this can be. So I've written this very angsty piece to help deal with it. Sorry all, and this story is dedicated to Miss Mozzie, the kitten who will never have the chance to be a cat.
No, no, no, no, no! Neal's heart cries out, even as his brain searches frantically for a way to save Peter Burke. This can't happen! This won't happen!
Peter stands a mere ten feet away from him, but it might as well be ten miles; Kevin Meehan, faithful soldier to the ill-famed Westies, is pressing a Ruger beneath Burke's right ear with such force Neal can see the mark it leaves from where he stands across the room. He has no doubt Meehan will pull the trigger – the best description of the Irishman is insane.
"Caffrey, that's an Irish name, isn't it?" Of all the things Meehan could say right now, that has to be the most unexpected.
Neal nods, too startled for speech.
"Why don't you run," Meehan suggests. "If you don't interfere with my plans, I won't stop you."
Yeah, running's always been an option in Neal's life, but not now. Not when the person who gave him a second chance, a new life, depends on him; not when Peter's life hangs in the balance.
"Sure," he agrees with an easy smile. "Just send Agent Burke over to me and we'll be on our way."
"So, did you really think I'd be that simple, Caffrey?" Meehan punctuates his question by adjusting his grip on Peter. The gun now presses into the soft tissue underneath and behind the agent's jaw bone. Peter swallows involuntarily as he rolls his eyes wildly at his partner, wordlessly expressing something, his dislike at the turn of conversation, maybe.
"No," Neal agrees resignedly. "But you can't blame me for trying."
"Just go," Meehan says again. "Get the hell out of here and let me finish my job."
"I'm not going without Peter Burke."
There's a finality to the statement the Irishman can't avoid. Meehan's sigh is epic.
"Then you've signed your death warrant." He gives Neal an oddly understanding smile. "You are an Irishman, alright. You're just as reckless and pigheaded as the rest of us. I should shoot you first, to be kind, but I do have the agent right here . . ."
Neal Caffrey's body shifts slightly, readying itself for action. Inside himself, Neal is surprised Meehan can't see the changes happening – his heart is pounding loudly and erratically, his breaths are short and quickly drawn. He focuses on Kevin Meehan's index finger; he watches for the slightest twitch, any sign he's going to squeeze the trigger. If he times it just right . . . if he can cross the ten feet between them with laser accuracy, he can deflect the bullet aimed at Peter's brain. He will not give up his friend without a fight to the death.
The tiniest movement produces a blur of motion, but it is the report of the gun that stops the world for Neal Caffrey. He is late, his timing off, and now the only world he knows is gone.
All Neal can see is red: the red of blood as it spreads across the dirty yellow linoleum floor, the red of his rage as the magnitude of his loss hits home. Then the shock of the act itself recedes, leaving a hole in his soul that his friend and partner once filled.
"NO!" he yells as he lunges violently at Kevin Meehan, ready to end the man's life. Neal Caffrey has never believed that violence is the solution to any situation, but right now he isn't looking for a solution. He's looking for retribution.
He doesn't understand why he can't reach Meehan. His heart contracts sharply, painfully, keeping rhythm with the echoes of the gunshot as they reverberate off the walls of the dingy back hallway. Yet somehow, the pounding of that organ doesn't provide the energy his body needs to propel him forward.
Instead of the red that filled his vision just moments ago, Neal now finds himself slowly being absorbed into an icy gray mist. The heat of his anger is cooling to the frigid emptiness of loss. He can hear voices around him – Kevin Meehan laughing at his bloody handiwork, the FBI arriving to arrest him – but he is oddly removed from the noise. He needs to find what remains of Peter Burke. He wants to say goodbye to his friend.
Neal reaches with a heavy hand to clear the mist from his eyes. He sees Peter's legs splayed awkwardly on the floor and realizes that the man's torso landed propped against the wall. He hopes the shot was painless and that death was instant. If anyone should suffer for this it should be he, and not his friend.
He tries to get to Peter, but finds himself unable to move. Jones is holding him back; Neal can't understand why. Is it possible he's under arrest for his failure to protect his partner? Perhaps, but right now he doesn't care. He trembles with effort as he tries to free himself from Jones' imprisoning arms.
"Peter! Please, let me go to him!" he calls out when he is unable to free himself.
"Neal, don't move," Jones orders him.
Neal shivers, but gives up the fight he can't seem to win. "Peter," he says again, but this time it is in mourning. He shuts his eyes and feels tears stream warm tracks down his icy face.
"Neal, open your eyes and look at me."
His eyes fly open at the command. Hovering over him is Peter Burke. Or Peter Burke's ghost? Neal doesn't believe in ghosts; he never has, not even as a little boy. However, there really can be no other explanation for the apparition floating above him. There is blood all down the man's shirt from the hole the gun left underneath his chin, but Neal is pleased to see that his face is intact. It's bad enough to be dealing with a ghost; a ruined face would be too much to bear.
"Peter." Neal says the name softly, reverently. How do you talk to a ghost anyway? "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." He can't take his eyes away from the deadly wound in his friend's throat. He realizes it is the physical counterpart to the hole in his life. He would give anything for their two injuries to be reversed.
"Just shut up, Caffrey." Neal is surprised at the roughness of Peter's voice; maybe the newly dead aren't too happy to find themselves in the Great Beyond. "What were you thinking, taking on Meehan that way? Only an idiot would have pulled what you pulled."
Neal knows the recriminations are deserved. He gambled with a friend's life and lost; he will have to live with that guilt for the rest of his life – his own private purgatory. The look on ghost Peter's face, however, puzzles him. It is the familiar combination of irritation and concern he he's seen there so often. It's the look that says I'll do whatever it takes to help you get out of this mess. But this mess can't be fixed; this mess is final, and his alone.
Neal shuts his eyes again – the sight of a kind, caring, dead Peter is more than he can stand. He feels the pain of reality stabbing sharply in his chest; there is no ghost. Peter is gone and he is alone to face it.
"Damn it Neal!" The apparition shakes his shoulder sharply. He's remarkably solid for a ghost, Neal thinks idly. And why is dead Peter so warm, while live Neal is so cold? He wishes the ghost would just leave him alone to grieve in peace, but obviously that isn't going to happen.
"Peter, just go," he begs as his pain seems to grow worse. His breath hitches sharply in his chest as he continues. "I tried to save you but I couldn't. I just want to be alone now." Once again he finds himself close to tears.
The face floating over him seems confused. "Neal, listen to me," the ghost voice commands. "I know slipping away from me is the easiest way, and I know you're good at it." Peter's laugh is harsh and angry. "But right now," he continues, "you have to stay with me." The brown eyes plead with him. "You have to trust me."
Neal doesn't understand what is happening, but the one thing he has always been able to do is to trust Peter. He gropes through the mist for Peter's hand and is oddly comforted when it grasps his. He clings to that trusted appendage as everything else slips away, following the ghost until eventually there is nothing at all.