AN: This fic has a podfic (like an audiobook), but FFN doesn't allow them to be posted here. If you are interested in listening to this fic read out loud, please check out the post on Archive Of Our Own.
"Trust is like a vase, once it's broken, though you can fix it, the vase will never be same again." – Walter Anderson
Sometimes, Neal misses New York. Misses the people. Mozzie, Elizabeth, Peter. But then Neal remembers why he left. Remembers the trust he fought so hard to gain. Remembers all his attempts to be good, to be the person Peter wanted him to be, stomped out, like sparks in the dust again and again.
Neal remembers telling Peter, "Out of all the people in my life—Mozzie, even Kate, you know—you're the only one. The only person in my life I trust."
Neal remembers Peter. Peter never betrayed him exactly. He just refused to extend that trust back to Neal. No matter how hard he tried, Neal was never enough for Peter.
Neal remembers the moment when he knew.
When Peter first accused Neal, he was confused. "You did this. The Fire. All of it."
"Those were masterpieces. I would never burn them. You know that."
"No. But you'd steal them."
Neal couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"You don't know what you're talking about." Neal hoped that was true at least. With everything that had happened and now the fire. Peter just wasn't thinking clearly. Peter knew Neal would never betray him like that. Peter finally trusted Neal. Didn't he?
"That long con on Adler finally paid off. You saw your chance, and then you took it. I don't know how, what game you are playing."
Neal didn't know how to respond. "I haven't lied to you, Peter. I'm not lying to you now. I didn't steal the art." But even as he said it he knew, somewhere in his heart, Peter would never believe him.
"I think you did."
And whatever was left of Neal's heart after Kate, shattered.
"Then prove it. Prove it."
He didn't want to admit it then, but it was at that moment Neal knew, Peter would never trust him. Once a criminal, always a criminal in Peter's eyes. Black and white, with no shade of gray.
Neal remembers he painted a self portrait once, when he was feeling a little depressed. In the portrait, he was in his prison uniform. A reflection of what he was feeling. Even without the prison bars, he was trapped in New York. Stuck working for the FBI without hope of release. Perhaps it was fitting, that Mozzie burned it when he stole the treasure.
Neal picked up his new ID.
Goodbye, Neal, he thought, as he mentally let go of the past. He'd changed his identity before. This time would be no different.