Title: Trying to Make Sense of What Little Remains
Disclaimer: I own nothing about the White Collar series, its characters or plotlines, including any recognizable dialogue. Why rub it in? I also do not own the song Breakeven (by The Script).
Summary: "Is she lost to me or lost without me?"
A/N: I got to see the pilot!!! :) Many hugs to aloha94 for her help!! This idea has been bothering me for ages, it feels like, so I finally figured out how to write it out. Yes, I know the lyrics are out of order. No, it doesn't bother me. Yes, it's supposed to be that way. No, I won't change it. Thank you for not complaining. :)
This story is complete.
(I'm falling to pieces [One's still in love while the other one's leaving]
I'm falling to pieces ['Cause when a heart breaks, no, it don't break even])
"Is it after midnight?" He hates the way things echo here, the way every little sound is amplified and repeated, even after listening to it for four years.
"Yeah, it's after midnight."
He pulls himself into a sitting position, sighing heavily as he stares at his feet. One more day. Wearily, he stands and steps over to the other wall, hanging his head as he stares at the precise tic-marks he's made. It takes an effort to make the mark denoting today and the pen feels like lead in his hand. He stands there and the tics blur in front of his eyes as he lets his thoughts flow.
"Adios, Neal. It's been real." No tears, no emotion as she walks out the door without looking back.
"I see Kate moved out." A flippant remark that stabs deeper than he thinks Peter expected.
"I missed her by two days." An empty bottle, the symbol of all his unfulfilled promises and proof she's really gone.
And then he can't help himself, has to do something, anything before he starts screaming. He slashes through the neat rows of tic-marks, defiling four years of careful tallying in a moment's fit of anger. He barely feels the heat of the light bulb against his skin as he knocks it, doesn't register the shatter until the cell is plunged into darkness. With one final, black mark against the wall, his anger breaks, leaving him panting. He stands for a second, hands braced on the table, striving for the calm, careless attitude he usually employs. As his heartbeat begins to slow, he carefully steps around the pieces of broken glass to lean one hand against the opposite wall. He deliberately makes one solid black mark on the wall, watching with resignation as the ink dries in the moonlight.
Four more years.
He sighs and closes his eyes against the night, clutching the pen in his hand.
(What am I gonna do when the best part of me was always you?
What am I supposed to say when I'm all choked up and you're okay?)
"There's more to this... more to this than some lost love -- some side-angle he's playin'," Peter muses, frustrated by his inability to read Neal as clearly as he wishes. She rolls her eyes at how deliberately obtuse he's being.
"So you're suggesting that he escapes a maximum-security prison, knowing full well that you'd catch him, just so he could trick you into letting him out again?" She lets her incredulity speak for itself.
"It's a working theory," he tries to excuse himself and she can't help her smile.
"Yeah, keep working." She studies his face for a second. "Is it so hard for you to believe a man would do that for a woman he loves?"
"Neal just bought himself four more years in prison. For what?" He's half-angry, half-exasperated and she knows he honestly doesn't understand.
"For what?" She thinks it's kind of sweet, what Neal did, though admittedly not the smartest idea in the long run. She glances down at the papers on the table as she tries for some other way to explain this to her decidedly-unromantic husband. "If you were Neal, you wouldn't have run for me?"
(I'm still alive but I'm barely breathin'
Just praying to a God that I don't believe in)
"Where's Kate, Moz?" And there's longing, aching loneliness in those expressive baby blues. "Where'd she go?"
"She's a ghost, man," Mozzie answers immediately, trying to put him out of his misery. "She did an outstanding job of melting away." He doesn't want to do this, knows that if Kate's trying this hard to keep Neal from finding her, there's a reason and it can't be good, however innocuous.
Neal's dogged, though, refusing to believe. "Check France."
"I know, okay? It's probably nothing. Just... look everywhere." He sounds so lost, so defeated, Mozzie relents. He nods reluctantly, unable to look at those anguished eyes, and is thankful when Neal changes the subject, allowing him to focus elsewhere.
('Cause I got time while she got freedom
'Cause when a heart breaks, no, it don't break even)
"Remember when you told me not to look for Kate?" The question's snatched out of thin air, pulled randomly out of the blue. Peter tenses instantly; nothing's ever random to Neal. It always has a place and a purpose in his mind, even if it's not immediately obvious.
"Yeah," he drawls, leery, afraid of where this is going. He's handed a photograph, a black-and-white still from a security camera. God knows where he got it, but Peter doubts it was entirely legal. "Neal, you're putting me in a tough spot here."
"These were taken four days ago at a San Diego ATM," Neal explains hurriedly, blocking out any further comment. "She's going under the name Kate Perdue. You know what perdue means in French?"
"Yeah. It means lost." He tries to make his tone final as he shoves the photo back at Neal and continues down the sidewalk.
"Yeah. Makes you wonder, right?" The kid's breathless with excitement, brimming with pent-up questions and hopes and fears. "Is she lost to me or without me?"
"Stop it." This can't go anywhere good.
"I just need a couple days, okay? A-after this Dutchman thing is over." The stutter surprises Peter into glancing at him, just as he realizes what Neal's asking. "A couple days to go to San Diego." He tries to stop him, to make him realize how fool-hardy this is, but he refuses to listen. "You could send an agent with me. You can come with me." This is crazy, Neal Caffrey begging for something, dropping the suave confidence for honest desperation as he bargains to get what he wants.
"Stop. Stop. Stop it!" he finally manages to break through Neal's pleas as he turns to face the younger man. "How many times you gonna screw up your life for this girl? I hate to break it to you, buddy, but she dumped you -- with prejudice." Neal won't look at him, keeps shaking his head and mumbling in denial. Peter sighs in frustration and rubs his forehead. "Exactly what is your plan if you find her?" There's nothing. No words, no spark, nothing. He looks away and Peter nods.
"I know there's more to our story, okay? She disappears in the dust -- no, that's not an ending." His words are rife with emotion, his body language crying despair and heartbreak.
"Come on, man." He's trying to be understanding, sympathetic, trying to remember what El said. "We've all been there." Neal looks doubtful, unbelieving, stubborn. "It gets easier."
"Not if she's the one," he says with frustrating denial. "I brought this to you. Doesn't that count for something?"
"No." And he's little-boy shocked, with the wide-eyed, disappointed confusion of a child. "We made a deal. I gave you something good here, and you're about to blow it."
Neal looks away and the walls come up, slamming shut on whatever hurt and loss the kid's feeling. And Peter understands. If El left, he'd do anything and everything to bring her back. But something about this, it's more than Kate dumping Neal. And the kid needs to understand that, if she wants to be gone this badly, he needs to let her go.
"You're right. You're right, Peter. I'm a smart guy. I should know when I've been dumped." Peter lets him have his baby con, acting as though he believes and is grateful for the sudden change in mood. But he knows Neal and the one thing the younger man won't let go of without a fight is Kate.
"The bottle is the message. It's means 'goodbye.'" If Peter believed that he'd be a fool. And a fool would never have caught Neal Caffrey.