Title: you've been taken by the wind
Characters/Pairing: Neal, June, Peter, Mozzie; Gen
Word count: 2100
Content Notes: Character death, progressive memory loss, assisted suicide
Other Notes: This is a somewhat loose interpretation of the "de-age" square on my hc_bingo card. I floated the idea of doing a sort of Flowers for Algenon thing, and sholio and florastuart were unwise enough to encourage me.
Summary: He used to be able to look at a problem and see connections everywhere, golden glittering wires connecting everything, and now they're gone.
There are wide open skies in his dreams — a prairie, or perhaps a lawn, stretches from horizon to horizon, perfectly flat and even. No walls; no boundaries.
Sometimes he's a child there. Sometimes he's wearing a tracking anklet. It makes no real difference — he's alone under a vast blue sky, and he walks and walks. The landscape never changes. There's no destination he has in mind. He just keeps walking steadily, because it's all there is to do.
Neal Caffrey is beautiful, intelligent, charming. Charmed. From a certain perspective, his life is golden. He burns bright and has a smile like the sun.
It can't last.
He's the only one to realise, for a while. Little lapses; little things he forgets. He wouldn't even notice, if he hadn't spent a lifetime watching out for it. Anticipating it, with the sort of terror that wakes him in the dark.
No one else has seen it yet. He takes to carrying a notebook on him, in which he writes down everything he's found himself losing, in a desperate attempt to keep the information there.
How Diana likes her coffee (cream, no sugar)
The name he used for the job in Morocco (Simon Norrell)
Kate's favourite colour (blue)
Each night he reads through it, trying to hold the memories fast. But like sand, he can feel others trickling away between his fingers.
Mozzie's the first to notice, when Neal forgets his birthday. Even Mozzie doesn't know the whole story about what happened when Neal was young, all of the reasons why he was so desperate to run away from his life, but he knows enough fragments to piece them together. "It's happening, isn't it?" he asks.
"No," Neal insists. "No, it can't be."
Mozzie doesn't openly contradict him — he doesn't need to. "Does the Suit know?" he asks.
Neal shakes his head firmly. "He doesn't need to. I've thought about it, and it's better this way. I can just disappear."
Mozzie raises his eyebrows. "Really? You'd let him wonder forever what had happened to you?"
Neal twists his mouth, the taste of something bitter on his tongue. "You haven't seen what happens," he says. "That's why I don't want to be here, Moz. It's to protect him."
He'll leave soon. He promises himself that. When he's worked out how to say goodbye.
"Where would you like to die?" he asks Peter. "If you had a choice."
Peter turns abruptly to stare at him. "What sort of a question is that?" he asks.
Neal shrugs. "It was just something I thought of."
"Your mind is a strange place," Peter says, darkly. He rolls his eyes and turns back to his desk. "I want to die at home in bed when I'm ninety, thank you very much."
That's all very well, but Neal needs the sky.
FBI protocol creeps onto the list of things he can't remember without help. Peter's birthday. His work is becoming slow, and riddled with errors he has to scan for several times before he catches them.
He hasn't left yet. More time, just a little more time. It's running out fast, but that just makes him try to hold onto it tighter. But like sand, it slithers away.
June knows that something's wrong. He can't con her, but she hasn't tried to make him talk. Not even when he forgot Byron's name. But her eyes are shadowed with concern and fear when she looks at him, and there's nothing he can say to reassure her. He doesn't know what she's thinking of, but he knows it's not as harsh as the truth.
When he wakes gasping from a dream of wide-open grassland and steps onto the terrace, needing air, she's waiting there for him. Without words, they sit together and look up at the stars.
Peter shows up at his apartment late on a Saturday evening. He looks… lost. "Why didn't you tell me?" he asks.
"Who did?" Neal wants to know.
"Ah." Neal hands him a beer, but has tea for himself. He's avoiding alcohol now, out of some fear that even low-level sedatives will speed the inevitable. "How much did he say?"
"That you're losing your memory," Peter says. He takes the bottle without seeming to notice it. "That… that someone did this to you."
"You'll never find them," Neal says, with absolute certainty. He's tried, often enough. Him, and people with far more resources and reach than he could ever muster. "I'm one of the lucky ones, you know. We were just kids, and some of the others died right then." And he can't remember most of their names anymore. Not even his best friend — she had had brilliant dark eyes, and he had held her hand at the end even though she couldn't remember who he was, who she was.
Peter looks sick. "How many of you were there?"
Neal shrugs. "I don't know. I don't remember. And I don't know any others who are still alive."
"I can't believe —"
"We were all dirt-poor kids that no one cared about. What's hard to believe?"
Of course no one had cared that they were being experimented on by some semi-legitimate medical company. Not when the potential profits had been so high.
The understanding sinks into Peter slowly, but the fight doesn't drain out of him. "We can help you," he insists. "We have to be able to. We'll find an answer."
Neal says nothing. He knows better.
There are days of medical tests which come to nothing. Sleepless nights, some of which Peter spends sleeping on his couch. Neal doesn't forget that he'd intended to be gone before this could come to pass, but there's still time to leave.
He writes down more lists of facts which he carries everywhere. But the loss of them is less important than the feeling of his thought processes slowing. He used to be able to look at a problem and see connections everywhere, golden glittering wires connecting everything, and now they're gone. (That isn't something he can replicate in a notebook.)
He forgets the name of Peter's dog. He forgets Elizabeth's job. He forgets Diana has a son.
He looks at what he knows are classic works of art, brushstrokes he lived and breathed, and he has no idea who painted them.
There's no more work, of course. Peter used to bring him case files, but now it's too painful for them both.
He dreams of open skies, where no words are needed.
Soon, even words begin to fail him. He reaches for them and they're simply not there, leaving holes it hurts to stumble over.
Elizabeth persuades him to keep drawing. His hands at least still move swift and sure, even if he can't put names to sketched faces or remember if he's seen with his own eyes the vistas he captures in charcoal.
Did he plan to run? Surely he should have done that.
"Who am I drawing?" he asks Peter, who puts a hand on his shoulder as he bends to look.
"Ellen," Peter says. "That's Ellen."
"How do I know her?" Neal asks, with an unexplained ache in his chest.
Peter swallows, like he feels it too. "She was your father's partner," he says.
Neal nods, grateful to have a puzzle-piece to slot into place. "My father was a cop, you know," he says, conversationally. "Killed in the line of duty. Did I ever tell you that?"
"Yes, you did," Peter says, and abruptly turns away.
Something's missing, and he never finds out what it is.
"I can't do this," he tells June as they watch the stars together. So bright; so far away. "I'm losing more pieces of myself every hour."
June is holding his hand in hers. "You're still you," she says. "You'll always be you."
"Even if I can't remember who I am?"
"Even then." Her voice is soft, but fierce. "All of us who love you, we'll remember on your behalf. We'll take care of you."
The noise of the city is muted up here, but still constant. It's only the very strongest-shining stars they can see above them.
"That isn't enough," Neal says. "It won't be — I watched my friends die…" But he can't catch hold of a memory he needs, only the echos, and he can't put words to his feelings. "Alone…"
"You aren't alone," June insists. "I'm here. I'll always be here. So will Mozzie, and Peter, and Elizabeth."
He shakes his head, frustrated. It isn't enough. Because if he doesn't know who they are then they might as well be strangers. (He held her hand, stroked her hair, but she was still alone, still searching past him for someone she knew when she died.)
He's desperately, desperately afraid of that fate.
"We want to help you, Neal," June says.
He meets her eyes then. "I know how you can."
His hands shake sometimes, these days. He's crumbling from inside; soon he'll be gone
Peter has to do the tie for him, with fingers which still remember the correct way a knot goes. He smooths Neal's lapel into place when he's done. "Don't worry, I know better than to crease a Devore," he says.
"What's that?" Neal asks, before he can bite his tongue. He tries not to ask questions around Peter now. Peter can't hide his expression when it's something Neal should know, and it's almost too painful to bear. "Never mind."
Mozzie appears in the doorway, clearly in time to overhear that because he gives Peter a glare that isn't really deserved. "Elizabeth says you can come through now."
The table in his apartment is laid formally enough to be for a much grander event than the one they're having. There are only the four of them, plus him. "We made your favourites," El says.
Neal smiles. "You realise you could say that regardless of what you're serving, don't you?"
"Neal," Peter says, sounding mildly scandalised, but everyone else laughs.
Neal smiles at the laughter. It's what he wants — a happy occasion, a chance to say goodbye, before the inevitable. While he knows who he's saying goodbye to. His attempts to do so in words have been rejected, but it's something he needs.
Like Peter needs to keep searching for a cure. Like Mozzie needs to keep trying to track down those responsible. Like Elizabeth needs to treat him just the same as ever. It almost doesn't make a difference that none of them will succeed, just as he never managed to outrun this ending however many names and countries and faces he changed. (He always imagined he would manage, somehow.)
The food is good, and there are smiles and laughter and love around him. Stay with us, he hears in everything they don't say, and hopes that later they will be able to recall his equally unvoiced farewell.
After, he sits quietly on the balcony again with June. "How did I end up living here with you?" he asks.
"Chance," June says. "Luck."
She takes his hand, enfolding it in both of hers. "The best kind." Letting go, she passes him the drink she had beside her. "Here."
The clear, star-studded skies are as open above them as they ever are in the city. He could have gone somewhere with wide fields, wide horizons. He's glad he didn't.
"Stay here with me?" he murmurs.
"Of course," she says. "Until the end."
Her fingers have lost their grip with age, but they're more than strong enough. Warm around his. "Thank you."
Tears glisten in her eyes. "Remember for as long as you can," she says. "Remember everything."
Neal holds his memories tight. They're sparse and precious, like gems.
Dancing with June to slow music.
Peter, handing him a badge.
Hot Egyptian sun, and carrier pigeons.
White walls and cold electrodes on his scalp.
Moz and Peter guarding him.
Cities. Streets. Faces.
June takes the cup from his loosening fingers. It doesn't hurt. She had made sure of that, when she agreed to help fulfil his choice.
In his last few moments, a flood of memories split him wide open. All the things he'd thought he'd lost, all the memories he'd thought had trickled away forever. All there with him.
He's not alone.
Posted at http://frith-in-thorns.dreamwidth.org/121652.html with comments.