Aftermath
by elledeegee

White Collar fanfic.

SPOILERS:

Sorry for not putting this sooner. I figured if this takes place after the last episode, people would guess there are spoilers.

Takes place 3 months after "Out of the Box"

Neal had no intention of ever returning to June's. Not that he wouldn't have under other circumstances but he had been promised immunity and his own life. At the time it seemed worth it to throw what he had gained away to be his own person... But now, everything was up in the air and Kate was gone. Everything he had worked towards, thought he wanted, had evaporated.

He thought about his last moments on the tarmac when he hesitated to talk to Peter. The agent had come to tell him good-bye, reluctantly he knew, but it had given Neal a warm feeling to know that Peter was there. The man really cared for him but Neal was only thinking of Kate at the time and the plane waiting to take them away to their new life. He didn't want to talk to the only person who could convince him of anything other than what he was anticipating. Then the floor was pulled out from under him as the air was filled with heat and a sound that nearly deafened the young con. He turned to find the very plane he and Kate were to leave on nothing more than a smoking pile of rubble. She had been inside. Kate. He had seen her peeking out at him curiously as he stopped to talk to Peter. If he hadn't stopped to talk to the agent, maybe... His thoughts grew dark at that moment, blame for Kate's death drawing him into a darker place he had never been to before.

So many thoughts ran through his mind: If he hadn't asked for Fowler to help, Peter would not have been suspended and Elizabeth's career nearly destroyed. If not for all of that, he couldn't have realized that the promise from Fowler and whomever was using him was no more than a deceit to use the young man to get the music box. If Peter hadn't shown up at the tarmac, the young man would have been on that plane and possibly dead. Neal realized he had been no more than a pawn. The young man realized that now, but everything was still so fresh in his mind that he was blinded in many ways by his anger, frustration and hurt.

This was not the way it was supposed to go! He was free now, technically, but to what extent? It still felt like he was in prison when he was kept in the dark as to why Kate was killed and perhaps that he had been meant to die aswell. The young man shook his head at the thought, looked up and tapped on the partition for the cabbie to stop.

He was back in his old two mile radius although now it wasn't his to stay in with the anklet gone. This was the small stretch of Central Park June and he used to walk and talk in. He pulled his overnight bag onto his shoulder, paid the cabbie and stepped out into the afternoon sun. The air was still chilly despite it being April. Three months since Kate's... He pushed the thought out of his mind and started walking. He stopped after a moment at a small gazebo he often sat in when he had had the time to visit and took a seat on the bench. The wind brushed around him quietly, touching his cheek and playing with his hair. He thought of the times he spent here with June. He smiled thinking of conversations he had with Peter and Elizabeth. He leaned back and closed his eyes, an audible sigh escaping his lips. So many memories and yet all he could think of was Kate and what might have been. What was it El had told him when he had tried to say good-bye? Loving the idea of someone versus loving them for who they are? Neal leaned back further, finally realizing what she meant but knowing he wasn't ready to go there yet. He was a smart person but sometimes he was still so very naive about life and stubbornly set in his ways.

"Neal?" He turned towards the voice, opening his eyes and sat up as he realized who was talking. It was June. She was smiling at him although albeit more sadly than he remembered. She stood there in a nice brown dress with a flower-patterned shawl draped over her shoulders. She looked at him expectantly as if asking for permission to sit. He moved his bag to underneath the bench with a chagrined nod of his head. June seemed a little less sure of something and he could feel a slight tension between them as she sat beside him. Neal thought he knew why and wanted to say how he felt but it was still too soon for him to process everything that had happened or how to deal with people again. Even those he knew cared about him like June. He had spent the last few months hiding not only from himself but others.

"You look well. I had wondered how you were and... Well, it's good to see you again." Her voice was soft like he remembered and kind. She was being careful with her words, lying he knew when she said he looked well. He couldn't help but think she looked sad or disappointed in him. He had left without much warning and it had been all he could do not to go back. She was like a mother to him and understood him better than anyone, but he had stayed away since the incident and tried to forget everything and everyone in the emotional haze he had been in. He wiped at his eyes and tried to act as if it hadn't been three months and he wasn't holding back his emotions.

"I've been trying to keep busy. Get things in perspective. Did you get my card?" He tried to meet her eyes but couldn't for some reason and stared at his feet instead, hands twiddling nervously in his lap. She noticed his body language, moving a bit closer and placing a hand on his arm. He finally looked up at her and their eyes met. He saw tears in hers and felt a few roll down his own cheeks. June reached up and brushed one away as she fought back her own.

"Yes I did. Thank you." She hesitated a moment then added: "Your room is just the way you left it. You're welcome to it anytime." She said nothing else and he nodded at her as if he had never left. She smiled in her old familiar manner and linked her arm in his as she stood and he did too, leading him from the bench and gazebo in the park and down the sidewalk. Neal watched her face as she spoke to him about things she had done over the three months and how well her granddaughter was doing since he had helped get her back on the organ donor list. He nodded automatically, honestly interested but still in a haze about how he had ended their friendship aswell as losing Kate. He fell into his old habit of following June, her voice soothing and comforting in its tone and inflection. Neal didn't notice the change from the Park to the street until they had walked a good mile back to her residence and the entrance to her home. June only let go of his arm long enough to unlock the door, open it and walk in. She paused when he didn't follow, looking back at him expectantly. Neal didn't move, something keeping him from entering her home.

"Neal, please... come in." Her voice held a hint of pleading he was unfamiliar with. He continued to hesitate, looking around as if for an escape route, eyes wide with some kind of frightened feeling he couldn't explain. He wasn't ready to come back even if June wanted him to. He didn't feel he had the right to return to this place. Peter had been right when he told him this was too much for too little. Neal didn't deserve to be here or to have June as his friend after he had been willing to give this all up for Kate. He took a hesitant step back away from the door when she reached out and touched his arm.

"Please..." was all she said to him, her eyes full of worry and concern. But there was more: She missed him. That's what made the feeling of fear and doubt fade. He couldn't second guess himself with June there wanting him to stay. He sensed her sincerity and nodded, allowing her to lead him into the long hallway just inside the entrance. He stood there looking around nervously as she locked the door before she linked her arm in his once more and lead him down the hallway to the foyer. Neal looked around the large room, noting the huge hearth in the corner and the dining room separated from the main area. He was more than familiar with the layout of her home, but it felt like an eternity since what happened three months ago. This was truly like a homecoming for him. Neal still felt strange about being here again but because it was June, he would stay for her sake.

"Neal?" He turned and looked at her with those bright blue eyes as she called his name softly. She still seemed somewhat hesitant towards him but tried to act normal as if nothing had changed. "If you want to get cleaned up, I'll have Maggie make us some lunch. Take your time." She smiled at him in her old familiar manner, her eyes looking briefly upwards, as she turned and walked around the corner into the dining room and disappeared.

Neal felt that was his cue although he was still feeling a bit out of sorts. He made his way up the familiar staircase slowly, still wondering if he was making a mistake coming back here. When he reached the door to what had been his room, he reached into his pocket out of habit and blinked when he found the key to his room. He knew he had returned it to June before he left but how it got into his pock... He chuckled quietly realizing June's game. She had been close to him since they'd met in the Park and had obviously slipped it in without him knowing. Clever of her! He grinned and opened up the door.

It was as June had said. Nothing had changed. The room was a small penthouse-type apartment or studio. It was one large room with everything in the same space and one adjoining bathroom. The chess set sat on the table as if he and Mozzie were still playing and the glass doors leading out to the terrace were just as inviting though in a more wistful manner now that he was back.

He dropped his bag on the floor just beside the door and walked around the room slowly and deliberately. His glance kept moving towards the wardrobe where all of June's late husband's clothes hung. Neal made his way towards it and caught his reflection in the full length mirror between it and the king-sized bed. His face looked paler than it had three month ago, his features more angular. He had a kind of pallor to him you see when people have been through a rough patch or else faced some major illness. It had been so sudden when Kate died that he decided to run away. Peter had tried to help him and so had Elizabeth but after a week of staying with them and trying to make things work he had to leave. He had left a note, the coward's way of ending things, and stole away in the night before anyone could stop him especially Peter. He had sent a card to June to let her know he was going but he had yet to contact Mozzie. He figured he had hurt enough people without causing more damage.

For the past three months he had lived off what little cash he had acquired legally while working with Peter as a consultant. It hadn't been much so he had spent alot of time traveling between here and there in the city, hiding from everyone. He had been surprised that nobody came to find him and that was probably why he had come to think he had been wrong to think he had family here muchless friends. He spent many a sleepless drunken night in a shady dive or night club trying to keep himself from remembering. He rubbed at his eyes, seeing the circles there in the mirror aswell as the sunken look of his cheeks.

Neal walked over to the terrace after a while, opened up the french doors and stepped out into a nice cool breeze. His hair whipped around him as the wind played with it and he walked to the edge of the balcony and looked around. It was nice to be back, glancing over at the 10 million dollar view of the city. He thought of all the times he had eaten breakfast up here with June, Peter... it brought a sad smile to his face. He turned away from the view and sat in one of the wrought iron chairs at the small table and leaned back. He could almost smell the sweet scent of Italian roast as he drifted off in the chair.

Neal looked up from the paper to find Peter staring at him from across the room. The agent looked sleepy and a bit on edge for once. Neal waved him over, pouring a cup of Italian roast in an extra cup and pushing it across the table. Peter nodded with a slight smile as he walked over and took the cup with a grateful expression. "Thanks. I must look like hell warmed over." Neal blinked at his friend's comment.

"You look tired. Stakeout?" Neal motioned for Peter to sit and finally the agent did, sipping at the coffee like a beer.

"Yeah. Ended up being a bust. Could have found out more and stayed in bed doing it." He gave a humorless chuckle, sipping at the coffee and pouring some more. "I could really get used to this." Neal chuckled this time.

"Peter, you know you're always welcomed. So, what brings you here?" Neal sounded his usual charming, confident self. He saw his friend nod, a slight grin on the agent's face.

"Got a case for you. Right up your alley." Neal perked up, taking sip of his own coffee and folding the paper, laying it on the table.

"I'm all ears."

"Neal..."

"Neal..." He heard Peter's voice repeat and someone was shaking him gently but with a firm hand. The young man woke up, opening his eyes and found himself staring up into a pair of familiar brown eyes. He sat up with a start and looked at the figure before him.

"Hey, sorry. I didn't mean to startle you." Peter's voice was quiet, calm and he looked relieved in some manner as if something he had been looking for had been found. Neal blinked away his sleepiness and rubbed at his eyes. Peter was still standing there. This was no dream.

"Peter? How..." He saw June peeking around the corner from the doorway, a tray of food in her hands. She saw the two men and smiled in her friendly manner and walked in.

"I thought you two might be hungry. Agent Burke, will you be staying for lunch?" She brought the tray over and set it on the table. Peter looked between the two and finally nodded with a hesitant smile. "Sure, if it's ok with everyone?" He turned his eyes back to Neal who realized that he was being asked permission. The young man gave a vague little nod, still surprised at the agent's presence.

June gave Neal a little wink that only he saw as she started to take things off the tray and spread them out. She had brought several small sandwiches of varying kinds all cut neatly and into halves. There was also a pitcher of what appeared to be lemonade and another with water, both tinkling softly with ice. Neal stood and helped her with the tray, removing the two pitchers and pouring two glasses of water and two of lemonade while motioning for Peter to sit across from him. They both seemed to be on eggshells but hid it well as June performed her hostessing.

Once the food had been spread out and the drinks distributed, June made an excuse to leave, closing the door quietly behind her as she left the room. Neal continued to stand for a little while after she left before noticing Peter looking up at him from his chair. The young man sat back down, took a long sip from his water glass before taking a sandwich from the plate and holding it in his hand. He continued to hold it without taking a bite while watching Peter start chewing on what appeared to be a ham and cheese on wheat. The agent was apparently hungry but he only took small bites, his eyes looking around the terrace but occasionally glancing over at the young man in a quick not so hidden manner. There was something on his mind but like Neal, he was apparently unsure how to deal with the situation. So they sat there in silence a while, Neal looking at his sandwich like some kind of specimen in a museum and Peter taking his time eating the small half of sandwich he had initially picked up.

It was when the sandwich was finally gone that Peter cleared his throat, took a quick sip of lemonade and wiped at his lips. He looked directly at Neal, opened his mouth but then stopped and looked down at the table and the sandwiches as if considering grabbing another before changing his mind as he glanced at the young man yet again.

"Elizabeth wanted me to thank you for getting her that gig at the Channing. She couldn't stop talking about how much fun it was and all the business it brought her. She made alot of important contacts through that event." He paused, taking another sip of his lemonade and then grabbed another sandwich, it looked like turkey or chicken, and placed it on his plate. Neal nodded with as much of a smile as he could muster and spoke softly. Neither of them was keen to speak of the person responsible for everything: Fowler.

"I'm glad I could help." He wanted to say more but his voice clammed up on him. Neal felt guilty for everything that had happened to both Peter and El, aswell as his leaving them without telling them good-bye in person. He had been a coward from the beginning, and after all the Burkes had done for him, he was still too much of a coward to face them, especially Peter, and tell them how he really felt. He couldn't bare to think that he had hurt them but he also couldn't bare to stay long enough for them to tell him what he knew all along: that they cared for him. When he made his deal with Fowler he had broken all promises to everyone and thrown any chance he had with his current friends away. He had basically tossed them aside for the promise of a new life with Kate. Guilt ate at him as he thought about what he had done. To be forgiven, he didn't think that was a luxury he deserved.

"I wouldn't have come by but June called me. I haven't told El yet. I was on my way home... " Peter's voice sounded guarded but there was enough emotion to tell the young man that the agent was having the same kind of dilemma with what he wanted to say. It had been three whole months since they had parted after what would have proved to be Neal's freedom. Peter stood up and put his hands in his coat pockets in an uncharacteristic manner, waving them so it looked like his coat could spread like wings.

"I'm glad you did. I... I'm sorry." Neal spoke as he looked down at the uneaten sandwich in his hand and placed it back on the plate, wiping at his hands with a napkin. The young man's face looked more pale than usual as he tried to hold back the emotional river behind what had been a dam of snark and charm but he couldn't do it. The dam was cracking and everything he had been running from was going to flow forth like a torrent. Something warm and wet rolled down his cheek.

"Peter... I never thanked you." He stood up and walked around the table grabbing the surprised agent in a hug. He felt Peter tense a bit then relax and the Fed hugged him back. It was only for a moment but something about the action made the young man feel so much better than he had. He let go and moved back a few feet, looking at the agent who now had similarly shiny eyes as he held back his own tears. The agent sniffed slightly, a broad smile on his face.

"I could say the same. Thank you that is. El wanted to talk to you so much after what happened but... well she hasn't been the same since you left. Atleast work keeps her busy." Peter walked over to the edge of the terrace and looked over the city. "She misses you although Mozzie has stopped by a few times. I think he's fond of her too." He turned, coat flapping some in the wind as he took his hands out of his pockets. The tension was breaking between them.

"There were so many times I wanted to find you, but El told me to let you be. In the beginning, she wanted me to bring you back home but we finally agreed you needed your space, so I just... well I knew where you were. I figured when the time came you would come back of your own free will or not." He gave a slight smirk and shrugged. "I'm sorry. I couldn't help but be sure you were safe." Peter put his hands back into his coat pockets and moved forward back into the apartment and towards the door. He seemed to feel some guilt about tracking the young man.

"I'll be seeing you?" He said it without turning around, something that made Neal blink as the agent opened the door and left the room, the door closing softly behind him. He could hear footfalls echo to silence as Peter walked down the hallway. Neal just stood there on the terrace, wind whipping at his hair in gentle strokes.

It seemed like he stood there forever thinking about things before Neal found himself on the other side of the door, taking the steps two at a time and rushing out of the estate. He made it halfway down the sidewalk towards a familiar vehicle, its lights turning white as it reversed to leave. He stopped a few feet behind it, seeing the red brake lights come on as the sound of the engine died and the driver's side door opened revealing Peter. The agent looked curiously at the young man as he stepped out of the car.

"Mind if I tag along?" Neal felt his face actually smile for the first time since everything had happened. He felt a great weight falling from his shoulders. He saw Peter nod with a grin of his own, the sound of the passenger side door unlocking. Neal grinned back, walking smoothly towards the vehicle and opening up the door to slip inside. He had barely strapped himself in and closed the door when he felt a hand on his shoulder. Peter was smiling at him.

"I believe El said she would have a pot roast ready for me tonight. You like pot roast, don't you?" The agent squeezed the young man's shoulder a moment before starting the car up again and pulling the vehicle out from the curb. Neal leaned back in the seat feeling more relaxed than he had and nodded, eyes looking out the window at a figure waving from the second story window. He waved back at the silhouette of June with a thankful smile before the car was out in the road and the figure was no longer visible.

"Yeah. Pot roast is good. I think El made it for me in the past." Neal felt the smile on his face growing and everything was falling back into place. He turned his attention to the dashboard and started messing with the radio. He heard a cough from Peter and glanced over at the agent curiously.

"Put it on the game. I missed the first half visiting with you." His tone was mock petulance that made the young man smirk and keep messing with the dial. "Game? I call dibs. You're driving and I'm the guest. Guest has first rights to the radio." Jazzy music came out of the speakers. He saw Peter roll his eyes some but the smile remained. "Fine. Just don't think this is going to be a regular occurrence. First thing next week, anklet is back on and you're back to work. Got it?"

Neal blinked. "Hmmm... you make it sound all so exciting. Should I start shining your shoes and walking 10 paces behind you with my head lowered?" His tone was nothing but snark, the agent grinning back.

"10 paces? That would be nice but then I couldn't see what you were doing. I'd have to suspect you were up to no good." He gave his own little smirk. The ball was back in Neal's court.

"Ok then, I'll walk next to you and watch your back. Deal?" He saw Peter turn briefly, holding out a hand and they shook.

"Deal."