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Title: When Neal Was Thirty-One – Disguises
Author: sheenianni
Fandom: White Collar

Characters/Pairings: Neal, Mozzie, past Neal/Kate
Rating: PG
Genre: H/C, angst
Spoilers: None
Word Count: 1200
Beta-Credit: elrhiarhodan
Summary: It’s his birthday and Neal feels cold. Set in between Season 1 and 2.
A/N: This is a (belated) birthday gift for embroiderama and a part of the “Neal Caffrey and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad (Birth) Day Fest”.

EDIT: kanarek13 made me an absolutely amazing cover for this fic during Fandom Stocking 2013 :). Thank you so much!

___________________________________



>



Thirty one years.

According to statistics, he was still in the first half of his life – only two years over the average for first marriage, with prospects and future still ahead of him. The perfect age to build his life in the way of the American dream.

Kate was dead. He wore an orange jumpsuit, didn’t know for how long. For the last three days, the heating system in Sing Sing had been having problems. Meanwhile, the chili in the prison cafeteria tasted just as bad as ever.

Happy sodding Birthday, Caffrey.

“I’ve talked to the Suit. You should have called me.”

“Mmm.”

“Neal?”

Slowly shaking his head, Neal woke up from his thought. “I’m sorry, what did you say?”

“I said I’ve talked to the Suit,” repeated Mozzie patiently.

“Yeah, I’ve heard. Elizabeth told me.”

“Neal –”

“It’s okay, Moz,” stated Neal levelly. “I’m –”

“Yes, I know. You’re fine.” Mozzie released a deep breath and looked away, obviously upset. In response, Neal straightened himself in his chair and tried to make a better effort at faking his inner peace. The look that Mozzie gave him told him that he hadn’t been fooled.

He had once been able to fake it, even smile and laugh. When Kate used to visit him – Kate –

‘Don’t think about it.’

Under the table, Neal squeezed his hands together, trying to suppress their shaking.

Fifty one days. More than seven weeks. Less than two months.

It seemed like eternity here where the time had stopped. And yet, whenever a guard came to tell him that he had a visitor, Neal still half-expected it to be Kate.

They’d had plans, before. They wanted to – they had planned to go paragliding at the French coast. ‘We’ll go flying,’ Kate had said – before they planned the beach at Canary Islands, the climb-up to see a volcano in Italy, the concerts and art-shows, the flat in Manhattan and villa in Côte d’Azur –

“The plan is still in place, you know,” said Mozzie suddenly. “If you decide that you want to leave –”

Neal shook his head. “I can’t, Moz. I need to…”

There was a pause.

“What?” asked Mozzie at last. “You need what?”

“Did you find out anything new?”

“Neal…”

“You asked what I need? I need answers. I need to know who murdered my – I need to know who killed her.”

“I’m trying, Neal. I checked all my sources –”

“Check again. Was she the target? Was it both of us?” Was it me?

What had he missed? He had failed her. But what had he missed; what part of the puzzle he hadn’t seen?

A mosaic where he missed a handful of glass. Naïve and reckless, he had tried to fill the empty spaces with his forgeries. For a minute or two the pieces seemed to fit together before they violently shattered in front of his eyes.

Why?

He was thirty one today.


“I’m not leaving you here, Neal.”

Neal looked back at Moz. “I don’t plan on staying either.”

“If the Suit doesn’t come through –”

“He will,” interrupted him Neal. “Peter promised that he’d get me out of here. I trust him.” He paused. “I can’t find out who killed Kate if I’m on the run, Moz.”

“Besides, you think you’ll need the FBI resources,” stated Mozzie knowingly.

Neal didn’t bother with a reply. They’d had this same conversation several times before.

“If the DOJ doesn’t sign it off next week, how long are you willing to wait?”

Neal hesitated. “I don’t know.”

“Then tell me when you want me to start liquidating assets.”

“Not yet.”

But soon.

They parted with a stiff hug not too long after that.

* * *


Back in his cell, Neal was sitting on his bed as he stared at the bars while minutes slowly dwindled away. Next to him sat his presents: an unopened parcel from Elizabeth, a book from June, a coded message from Mozzie – and the most precious one, an extra blanket from Bobby the guard who had apparently heard him coughing last night.

When Neal had agreed to go back to the anklet several weeks ago, he had thought that by now, he would be long home. He hadn’t expected the never-ending series of obstacles, the most recent of which came two days ago when the DOJ found yet another reason to delay having him reinstated.

Neal knew that Peter was doing all he could. It was that thought that kept him sane, that kept him waiting even as the trail to Kate’s killers was growing cold.

He was so tired…

With the same numbness that had been consuming him the whole day, Neal pulled the blanket over his shoulders and finally opened the gift from El. Listing through the set of post cards and leaflets, he dimly smiled even as he felt the all-familiar ache – a Van Gogh “Sunflowers”. Dalí and his “Persistence of Memory”. Monet with his “Water Lilies”. Four more – and finally a note: “We’ll go and see some of these as soon as you get out. E. + P.”

Going through the pictures once again, Neal’s hands finally settled on the one with the broken clocks, finding it oddly appropriate.

He was melting, falling apart, turning to dust until there was nothing left.

Putting the gifts on the nearby table, Neal turned off the light and went to bed, even though it wasn’t midnight yet. He curled into the sheets and clutched onto his pillow in hopes of falling asleep, trying to find the warmth that no additional blanket could give him.

But despite his exhaustion, sleep wasn’t coming.

Kate was gone.

A violent shiver ran through his whole body.

He had to get out of there. He had to get out of there and put on his suit and hat before he forgot how to go back to the illusion of the smooth Neal Caffrey.

He had to avenge Kate’s death.

He wanted to go home.

Two weeks, decided Neal. He would wait two more weeks if Peter could find a solution, then he would tell Moz to liquidate the assets.

He had to have faith in Peter. He had to believe that there was a future ahead, more than revenge and regret and life in prison. He had to have faith.

There was no need to mark the day on the wall, not like the last time. Listening to the voices outside his cell and to the guards’ footsteps, Neal realized when the midnight came and passed. His birthday was over; another day in prison that left nothing but a vague memory. It was several hours later when he finally fell asleep.

* * *


Four days later, the DOJ finally approved his deal. Like a familiar costume, Neal put back on his suit and his hat and his smile. However, despite the mask of calm and confidence, he felt anything but.

It was time to find Kate’s killer.


THE END


birthday_pic


Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
embroiderama
Oct. 17th, 2013 11:42 am (UTC)
Aw, NEAL! I adore stories about Neal in prison after Kate's death, and this is really great. Thank you so much!
sheenianni
Oct. 17th, 2013 08:18 pm (UTC)
It's such a heart-breaking moment - at the end of Season 1, after all that struggle, Neal is so excited, so earnestly happy that he had found Kate. And then, of course, the explosion and everything that came afterwards.

I had to re-watch the beginning of Season 2 before I wrote this, and Matt's acting is so brilliant, I don't even have words for it.

I've never written a Season 1 (or 2) fic before, so it was a new experience for me. And I'm really glad that you enjoyed this :)
elrhiarhodan
Oct. 17th, 2013 12:35 pm (UTC)
What a beautiful, painful story!

You've perfectly captured an interlude of angst.
sheenianni
Oct. 17th, 2013 08:23 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm really glad you liked this. And thanks for the quick last-minute proof-read!
leesa_perrie
Oct. 17th, 2013 09:23 pm (UTC)
What a great fic! Lots of angst, really well done. *hugs Neal*
sheenianni
Oct. 17th, 2013 10:27 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I'm really glad you liked it.
*Joins in hugging Neal and sends another hug to Peter before the season premier.
ladyrose42
Oct. 17th, 2013 11:16 pm (UTC)
I think you caught Neal's mood exactly.
sheenianni
Oct. 17th, 2013 11:20 pm (UTC)
Thank you! That was my main concern - to capture Neal's mood just right, so I'm glad you think it worked.
kanarek13
Oct. 21st, 2013 10:47 am (UTC)
Wonderfully heartbreaking and painful, you have captured the mood perfectly, indeed. I wish the show had explored more of Neal's temporary stay in prison, it would have been a masterpiece of acting on Matt's part.

Thankfully we have such great stories to fill in the gaps \o/ Brava!
sheenianni
Oct. 21st, 2013 11:23 am (UTC)
I think that the show has handled the aftermath of the explosion quite well - truly, there could have been more about Neal's stay in prison, but his anguish, his pain and anger and issues are well visible through the whole season 2 opener. We don't see all of it directly, but it's there - in Neal's shakes, Peter asking him how he's doing and Neal so obviously lying, Peter and Moz conspiring together because of their shared concern for Neal and more.

Anyway, thank you for your lovely review and I'm glad you enjoyed this!
marissaangell
Oct. 22nd, 2013 12:39 pm (UTC)
d'awww…! *skims through vocabulary* I'm reasonably lacking words to describe how wonderfully on spot this was.
On the other hand… I rarely have enough (and right) words to describe Matt's quality of play... Now I need to rewatch s1, s2, s3 and get onto s4 before I can dare hope for s5 *dreamy sigh*
sheenianni
Oct. 22nd, 2013 04:56 pm (UTC)
Matt is truly an absolutely brilliant actor... And I have no right words for it either.

Thank you so much for your wonderful review!
marissaangell
Oct. 22nd, 2013 09:54 pm (UTC)
Oh, totally! He's a purest perfection ever made by God :)

treonb
Oct. 22nd, 2013 03:47 pm (UTC)
OOh, this is beautiful. What a sad birthday. That was really heaping things on Neal to send him to jail after Kate was killed. I'm kind of glad they didn't show too much of it on-screen, it would have been too depressing, but I'm also glad we've got fic :-)
sheenianni
Oct. 22nd, 2013 05:07 pm (UTC)
I know right? It's not enough that they murder the (supposed) love of his life, he's sent to prison afterwards. Sometimes Neal's inner strength truly astounds me - his ability to go on and rebuild things again and again and again.

I think the opening of Season 2 was just perfect, with Neal's pain being visible and there, even though there was only one prison scene before he was released.

Anyway, thank you so much for the lovely review!
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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