This is the last part of my short series of one-shots, which has Neal thinking over everything after he and Peter arrest Avery and his partner at his house party. It's sort of a recap of the last two parts, plus Neal's thoughts on Peter talking to Kate and about the music box. This'll probably be my last White Collar fanfic for a little while, as I've completely run out of ideas.

Disclaimer: I do not own White Collar or any of its character, plot lines, etc. – just this one story so far.


It was getting harder for Neal to fall asleep.

He had figured that out a long time ago, back when Kate first said goodbye. In prison Neal would stay awake trying to find a way out of that hell, or fantasizing about when he had found and convinced her to stay. Neal had never doubted that he could convince her to stay; if he could persuade his marks that he wasn't going to steal their Monets, Goyas or Rembrandts, surely he could persuade the girl he loved to not leave him.

His staying awake in prison had been voluntary, however: he stayed awake with a purpose, a goal in mind that Neal was intent on achieving. But after Peter released him from prison, and he became able to relax a little, knowing that he could, at least, walk the same streets as Kate did for the time being, Neal discovered that he could not fall asleep some nights, mostly whenever Moz found something new on Kate and the man with the ring. Those nights he was almost forced to stare up at his ceiling, or at the Bordeaux wine bottle Kate left him, his mind filled with questions, incomplete plans and whatever other information Moz had provided him.

And with him accusing Peter of having Kate and lying to him, then finding out that the man with the ring was, in fact, Fowler, made it impossible for his conscious to allow him that badly needed rest. Sometimes Neal thought that his conscious felt he deserved to be in some sort of pain for all of the stupid mistakes he had made in his entire life.

So there he was, lying on his expensive bed in his apartment, staring up at the ceiling for what seemed like the hundredth time since he left prison. Neal's mind buzzed with everything that had happened in the past few days, trying to register it all. He had since quit attempting to fall asleep a couple of hours ago, and simply succumbed to the pointless wandering his mind went through every now and then.

Not that anyone knew he didn't sleep some nights.

Of course, the headache that had slowly been getting worse since his brief brush with death earlier that day made it hard for him to fall asleep also. Neal winced as a painful throb shot through his head. He wondered whether it was worth getting up and taking some painkillers to alleviate some of the throbbing; he had taken a couple pills just a few hours before, but they didn't seem to be working.

He turned over onto his side, trying to focus on anything other than the constant throbbing. His mind finally settled on him finding out that Peter had talked to Kate and that she needed the queen's music box. Everyone still thought that he had acquired it some time ago, and that he had stashed it away along with all of his other stolen treasures. Neal had almost told Peter that he never had the music box in the first place, that it was one of the few things that eluded him throughout his criminal life, but he stopped. It didn't seem right to tell him that – at least not yet.

But Peter had also told him that Kate was using him just to get to the music box. And Neal didn't believe him. Yes, he trusted Peter, but he wasn't quite ready to believe a claim like that yet. It seemed far-fetched, and crazy, and just plain ridiculous. Why would Kate be using him? Why wouldn't she just go out and look for it on her own? It had to have to do with the man with the ring – that was the only logically explanation. He wanted the music box, and he had Kate to get Neal to give it to him. If everyone in the criminal world thought he had the music box, why not a federal agent?

Neal couldn't see how he'd be able to get the music box, though. It was basically a legend among con artists like him mainly for the fact that no one knew where it was or who had it. He once had his eyes on the box a long time ago – the challenge of finding something that no one else could excited him enough to make him spend weeks on end trying to dig up information on where to get it, but it had come up short. And Neal was smart enough to know when to give up on a lost cause.

Getting the music box wouldn't be a lost cause now, however, not if it meant having Kate safely in his arms again. Neal needed that music box. It was his one ticket to having Kate back, being happy and – possibly – freedom. The "freedom" he thought about suggested running away from the FBI, June, Moz, Peter and Elizabeth, almost everything and everyone he had come to know and, dare he say it, care about since he left prison. If he did get his hands on the music box, and gave it to Fowler and finally got to be with Kate again, he would have to leave New York for good. Once he ran, he'd always be running.

Neal sighed again. He didn't like the thought of running his entire life. He'd rather have the chance to be able to live in one place for good, just him and Kate, not needing to use fake passports or names or backgrounds. On the other hand, if he cut his tracker and did run away, he'd have no choice. He was still on probation, and running constituted a trip back to prison. Peter would most likely be the one to catch him if he did; he'd caught him two times before, and a third time wouldn't be so hard for the intelligent fed. That is, if he wasn't too angry or disappointed in him to bother looking for him.

Neal rolled over onto his back to stare up at his ceiling once again. He didn't have many options to choose from nowadays. He always had a limited number of doors to pick after he'd left prison. It was always door number one, which was to keep his toe in line, go by the FBI's rules and maybe staying out of prison and finishing his work release, or door number two, which was running from it all and looking for Kate with Moz a few thousand miles away under an assumed name and always looking over his shoulder. A life he wasn't really meant for or a paranoid freedom. Those were his choices.

But what would he choose?

………

Neal got up to get those painkillers.