I think it's been so long since I've updated that apologizing would seem even more disrespectful. Regardless, for anyone still interested in this story, I hope this chapter doesn't disappoint, it's more of a filler so I can get back in the groove with this story, but hopefully it's alright.
Peter regretted his decision the minute he stepped inside the gate. Gray headstones popped out from the ground with their deteriorating faces imitating the body they marked and the agent felt his breath rush out of his chest. He wanted to reach out and steady himself but settled for placing his hands on his knees as he took in slow gulps of air, so he wouldn't have to touch such cold, lifeless stone.
The rustle of the paper around the small bouquet of flowers was loud in the silence of the cemetery as it crinkled between his sweat-slicked palms and his weakening knees. Two small birds were startled from a nearby tree, catching Peter's gaze. As he watched them flee, he noticed the headstone just underneath the lowest hanging branch and straightened himself up with a deep breath before making his way over.
He squatted down, once he reached the grave, with his legs spread to the side and arms laying casually on his thighs with limp hands dangling as if he were examining evidence at a crime scene. The thought struck him, forcing him to shift his position to be more respectful. He huffed out a laugh, looking down at his hands with embarrassment, before slowly laying the flowers horizontally across the headstone just under the engraved date.
He let his eyes scan the rest of the engraved headstone, before bringing his hand up to wipe his face as another sigh escaped him. He rubbed at his mouth as he contemplated what to say. Rubbing his hands together and bouncing on the balls of his feet a few times, he finally spoke.
"I don't really know why I'm here," he laughed shyly, before glancing back up at the name on the grave that read, Ellen Danielle Parker. His smile dropped and he set his jaw for a brief moment. "I guess it's because I let you down. You told me to protect him, and I..." he trailed off as emotion twisted in his throat and he went back to bouncing on his feet and examining his fingers.
He looked back up after a moment, finally finding a passage in his throat. "What do I do Ellen? What am I supposed to do?" He shook his head, fisting his hands. "There's a chance he won't..." he swallowed the words before he could voice them. "God, how did you do it? How did you protect him all those years? I'm sure he wasn't hanging around people with guns, but knowing Neal I wouldn't put it past him. Regardless he made it to his eighteenth birthday with you looking out for him. I've only been trying for four years and he's already fighting for his life. So what am I supposed to do?"
He paused in anguished thought, ridiculously waiting for her reply. When he received none, he turned his gaze, looking out amongst the other headstones. It was then he heard a quiet chirping noise coming from above him. Standing with popping knees, he walked the three steps it took to get to the lowest branch of the tree standing tall beside Ellen's grave. He stepped on an overgrowing root snaking out of the ground and peered over the extended limb to see a small bird's nest, with a quietly, yet hungrily chirping baby bird sitting in the middle.
A soft smirk played at the corner of his lip. "Hey, little guy," he drug out, slowly extending a hand towards the bird, "I guess I startled your parents when I walked up. Sorry about- Woah!", he exclaimed and withdrew his hand quickly as a fully grown bird swooped in and landed in the nest. Peter stumbled back off the root, hand to his chest, with a startled laugh.
The bird perched on the side of the nest and squawked in Peter's direction. Peter laughed, and watched a second bird swoop in, worm hanging from his beak. "Protective bunch, aren't ya?" Surprised that the wild birds came back even in such close quarters with a human. "I guess that's what family does." The second bird dropped the worm for the baby and both chirped happily. "Yeah," he nodded.
Peter smiled and turned back to Ellen's grave. He kneeled again, glancing back up at the bird's nest once more, then to Ellen. "You know, I prefer my miracles with a little more smiting and lighting, but someone once told me sometimes you have to take a leap of faith, so I'm going to take one and assume that little bird show was you trying to tell me something."
He finally placed his hand on the headstone and smiled a small smile. "Thank you...for everything," he said softly, silently thanking her for protecting Neal all the years before. "We'll take care of him, Ellen. I know we aren't perfect, but we are his family."
Peter rose, giving one last glance at Ellen's grave, before turning to leave, and as he walked away he heard the bird's singing a nice little melody.
The hallway was dark, only lit by the overhead lights supplied by generator power. Their dull hum was almost deafening to his ears as Neal cautiously walked the length of the hospital wing. Their wasn't a soul in sight and every doorway he looked in was empty. He sped up his footsteps, though not so much as to run, but walk briskly.
"Hello?" His voiced echoed harshly in the corridor. He felt his breath catch in his throat. "Peter?"
"Neal." His name was spoken from one of the rooms further down the hall. Picking up speed into a jog, he quickly searched each room until he came to the third one from the end and saw a man hunched over on the end of the bed, with dirty gray, short cut hair. Holding on to the doorway as he caught his breath, he prodded, "Excuse me."
The man's head suddenly turned towards him, sallow and weary, with an infuriated expression and quickly stood, displaying a gunshot wound to his chest and blood staining his gray suit.
Neal gasped and jerked back away from the doorframe, as none other than Senator Pratt stood before him. "S-senator...Pratt?"
"I gotta say, I was hoping to meet with the other Caffrey but I guess I'll have to settle for you. Looks like Daddy dearest, wasn't as noble as you'd wanted. Hurts doesn't it?" He seethed, patting a hand against the hole in his chest and stepping forward, causing Neal to take a step back.
"N-no. No. You're...", Neal struggled to get his breath as he backed into the wall of the corridor.
"Dead? So are you." Pratt grinned, sending a shiver down Neal's spine before he pushed away from the wall and ran back down the corridor.
Peter walked into Neal's hospital room, shutting the door behind him while glancing at the clock on the wall. 8:04. He turned his attention to his charge in the bed. "Another long night of watching you sleep? I hope not," he sighed as he eased down in his usual chair beside the bed. He pulled out his Sports Illustrated, preparing to keep his mind occupied for the next short while, before patting Neal's arm just as much for the younger man's benefit as his own. He felt the cool skin beneath his hand and noticed chill bumps on Neal's arm.
"Huh. A bit cold, Bud?" He stood and exited the room, making his way to the nurses station to ask for an extra blanket. He received one and went back to Neal's room, and covered him with the extra layer, before sitting down and opening up his magazine.
Neal ran down the hallway, frequently glancing over his shoulder to make sure Pratt wasn't following him. Convinced he wasn't, he slowed down enough to catch sight of someone standing in another room. He wouldn't have stopped if not for the long raven hair and piercing eyes that stopped him dead in his tracks.
"Kate." The name ghosted across his tongue with the same passion he'd always had for her and he stepped forward ready to sweep her off her feet like he'd always dreamed of doing, but never believing he was perfect enough to do so.
She met him at the doorway, as if she were ready to embrace him but at the last second she stopped him with an outstretched hand. "No, Neal. You can't."
There it was. His worst imperfection across her perfect lips. "Kate...I'm sor-"
"Neal," she smiled, with a spark in her eyes that nearly drove him to his knees. She lifted her hand as if to cup his face, but rested it on the doorframe instead with a sad smile. "You have to save them."
He moved forward, but she shifted with a pained look on her face. He guiltily stepped back. "Save who?"
Her face twisted in torment and she took another step back before looking at him with desperate eyes. "Go, Neal. Save them. Just go, please."
"Kate, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I-" He pleaded with her retreating form.
"Please, Neal. I'm...ahh, I'm asking you to go before-," She grounded out through clenched teeth. Neal was about to ask, but suddenly he didn't need to as Kate burst into flames, and like the day she died, he screamed until his throat was raw.
Peter was on the twenty-third page of his magazine, when the quiet room tone was suddenly disrupted by terrified moaning. The agent jumped, hand going to his empty holster for a split second while he searched for the source. Instantly looking at Neal, he noticed the younger man wriggling and moaning between clenched teeth. He stood, pressed the nurse call button, and grabbed Neal's hand with one of his own while placing the other on his uninjured shoulder.
"Neal. Hey, come on," Peter tried to encourage and sooth, but to no avail, as the nurse came running in. Then, Neal said one word that the agent would never forget.
"Peter!" Neal shouted as he ran away from the inferno, down the hospital wing. He felt a pain in his shoulder and stumbled slightly, until a slight pressure on his other steadied him. He straightened back up to keep running, but stopped short with a gasp as Ellen appeared in front of him holding a small baby bird in her hands. She smiled up at him while running a thumb over the bird's back.
"Neal, honey. It's alright."
"E-ellen, please...help me." He pleaded, feeling the burning in his shoulder intensify.
She titled her head to the side, her smile deepening with empathy. "It's not me anymore, sweetie. But you'll be fine. Just like him." She spread her hands and the baby bird fluttered out of her palms and flew directly towards Neal. With one last cry, he squeezed his eyes shut and when he opened them he was staring up at Peter.
"Neal. Neal, hey, look at me. Look at me. It's alright." Peter tried to calm his charge, as groggy blue eyes floated around the room in a frenzy. Peter glanced up at the nurse on the other side of the bed who was getting ready to increase Neal's pain medication. She smiled a tired smile, "I'm going to give you some more medicine, Mr. Caffrey."
Peter turned his attention back to the younger man to catch Neal staring at him. "It's alright, Bud. You're going to be fine."
He watched Neal blink sluggishly at his words and doubted the conman even understood, but slowly a grin twisted at the corners of the injured man's mouth and he slurred a whispered, "Ellen said that, too. Then threw a bird at me," before he succumbed back to unconsciousness.
A smile split Peter's face as he ran a hand through Neal's hair and let a deep chuckle escape him. "Yeah, that's sounds like Ellen."
AN: Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think!