Chapter 1: 1
Disclaimer: Don't own, them never will. So far I don't mind this. Further on... we'll see if I have to storm in and claim neglect and attempted character assassination as legit reasons to adopt Neal and the others.
Peter Burke was in utter shock. This wasn't supposed to be happening. He wasn't supposed to be sitting on frigid asphalt, watching flames rapidly consume a plane and whoever had been inside. He wasn't supposed to be fiercely holding onto his best friend, who he'd believed to be one of the strongest human beings on the planet, while said best friend cried, trembled, screamed and fought like hell to get to the burning wreckage. Freeing one arm, and tightening his grip with the other, he somehow fumbled his cell out of his pocket and hit the first speed-dial button
"Peter? Honey, you sound awful. What is it? Who is that in the background?"
"Neal. El... we need you..."
"Where are you?"
"An airport... somewhere... I can't think, damn it. I'll leave my phone on. Call Jones, he'll GPS you right to us."
"Peter, what happened?"
"Just get here... please, El, just get here fast. I can't... I don't know what to do..."
"I'm on my way. Hang on, alright? Just hang on."
His hands shaking far too much to keep a grip on the small device, Peter finally let the phone drop to the tarmac and returned that arm to the one already cradling Neal. Despite the flood of comfort and succor in his ear, the smaller man continued to wail and sob and scream out his regrets and agony, as if the massive flames a few hundred feet away had spread to his soul. When the police and fire crews began arriving, Peter tugged Neal's head down into his shoulder and began rocking him back and forth, as much for extra support as to avoid anyone immediately rushing over to ask if they were alright. He knew it was bound to happen, but he wanted to put it off for as long as he could.
"Hush... I'm right here and El is coming. We'll get you home to June and Mozzie... it'll be okay..."
"No! It can't be okay! I promised her... I promised and now I can't say I'm sorry! God... Kate, come back... I have to say I'm sorry!"
"Promised her what?"
Neal moaned and clutched Peter more tightly. The sound, backed by the tears soaking his jacket and the nearly tactile waves of pain boiling off his young charge, came very close to breaking the hardened agent, but he breathed deeply and gathered his tattered composure.
"Neal... what did you promise?"
"God... she loved my art... said I could... make a good living with that alone... if I wasn't just as good at the game. It takes so much focus to do a job... once it was over, I used to get crazy sometimes... out of control... so she made me swear I'd never.... never break or... or rip up anything I made... not even sketches or drawings. The statue I made to get in the consulate..."
"... you hid something inside. Oh, Neal..."
"I would've apologized on the plane! I would have!"
"I know, I know. She forgives you, buddy. I'm positive of it..."
Suddenly there was another set of arms surrounding both of them, touching their faces and stroking their backs. Peter turned his head to look at his wife and finally allowed his own silent tears to begin falling.
Chapter 2: 2
Her breath and pulse both ratcheting up suddenly, El slammed the house phone down, grabbed her keys and cell and raced out the door. As she settled into the car she made the necessary call to Peter's office, praying for a hundred different things at once, even as she and Jones connected.
"I need you to get a GPS fix on Peter's cell phone and tell me where they are."
"They? Who's... is Neal with him?"
"Yes and something's very wrong. Please, no more questions! Call me when you have the location." she demanded, closing her phone and tossing it onto the passenger's seat as she backed out and pulled into the road. A few minutes later, she found a safe spot and pulled over, silently screaming at her husband's absent colleague to move faster.
This couldn't happen. It couldn't possibly be as bad as Peter had made it sound and the heart-wrenching, devastated cries she'd heard couldn't possibly have come from Neal. The sun-bright, irrepressible, unrepentant spirit that had captured her heart and become such a huge part of her life simply couldn't be capable of feeling that much pain.
At last the call came. As soon as she was positive where she was going, El threw the phone aside once again and took off, praying Peter's name and status would erase the trouble she was about to get in for speeding and ignoring any cops that tried to pull her over for it.
'Not Neal...' El thought desperately as she fought her way through and around traffic on her way out of the city. Her mind kept insisting that she knew what must have happened, but she didn't want to believe it. On a normal day, her romantic streak was almost impossible to shake or discourage, but this... this might be enough to finally do it. There was only one person, one woman, whose desertion could have shattered Neal so thoroughly. Suddenly, atypically enraged, El ruefully acknowledged that if she ever came face to face with Kate, the conniving, manipulating creature might not survive the encounter. Fiercely resisting the need to curse out loud, calling Kate every name in the book and some she was sure Peter would be shocked to find out she knew, El re-focused on her driving and on a picture of Neal smiling, relaxed and happy, but the image kept distorting and fading when the cries she'd heard on the phone returned to haunt her.
The one thing, the only thing El couldn't regret was that Peter's uncertainty and indecision about Neal's place in their lives was about to come to an end. The choice was hers now and she had no doubts whatsoever. Neal needed both of them, to ground him, to uplift him and to kick him in the ass when necessary. He needed family and he was going to get it whether he liked it or not.
Screeching into the parking lot of the airfield, she left her car a few feet behind Peter's, tumbled out and sprinted toward the spot where the two men were huddled together. Dropping to her knees, she wrapped her arms around them and spent a few dazed moments watching the firemen attempt to douse the flames. When she looked down at Peter and saw the moisture tracking down his face, her shock deepened. Peter openly weeping was a sight she'd only seen once before and it was a clear sign of how bad the situation truly was. Stroking his hair and Neal's back alternately, she tightened her embrace and made a silent vow to protect and love them both.
Somebody was holding Neal back, pulling and tugging him, and he was only a moment or two from twisting and throwing a punch. He had to get free, to make it to the plane. She might still be alive, waiting for him to come save her. The two of them hadn't gone through all the games and the separation for nothing. He hadn't risked everything to find her only to have it end like this. Not possible...
Abruptly, waves of heat and pressure swept over him and drove him backwards. He stumbled and almost fell to his knees, but strong arms were there to support him and keep him safe. Initially, he willingly buried his head in Peter's shoulder, breathing harshly, hiding from the snarl of the inferno and protecting his now tender, reddened face. He didn't renew his struggles until the other man tightened his hold and began to ease them both down into a sitting position.
"No! God... Let go... Peter, let go! God, please... Kate!"
The words suddenly being crooned close to his ear took several minutes to penetrate the thick fog of grief that had swallowed Neal whole, but eventually he ceased his efforts to break away and slumped in his partner's arms. The anguish ripping him up wouldn't stop, however, and kept pouring out of his throat no matter what he did.
A few minutes later, a second set of hands touched him, rubbing his back and neck. Recognizing her perfume instantly, he finally lifted his head and gazed up at Elizabeth.
"I know, sweetheart. I know." She told him, swiping his tears away. "It'll be alright. We're taking you home."
Peter, knowing from the sound of the word that she didn't mean June's home, startled and began to question her, but she stopped him with a hand on his lips.
"No. The mansion is his house... his apartment. Home is a safe place, a refuge..."
"... where they have to take you in." Peter choked out. "If I let myself... and he runs..."
"We'll give him reasons not to. Don't be afraid, Peter. Please, don't be afraid..."
Staring uncertainly into her eyes, Peter latched onto the strength, determination and compassion that had made him fall in love with El so long ago and levered himself up to his knees, bringing an unresisting Neal along with him. With El's assistance, the men stood and the trio slowly made their way back to the car. When Peter seemed as if he was about to place Neal in the front passenger's position, El stopped him and guided them both to the back, tucking them in together. Returning to the driver's seat, she made a gentle turn and headed for the road. Glancing in the rear view mirror at Neal and Peter clinging to each other, she smiled and swept away a tear of her own. The men she loved would both have everything they deserved. She would see to that.
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