Welcome to my second WC fic-thingy! I'm not really sure that I love this one, and it is really more a collection of character snapshots than a story with, you know, plot or whatever. Really it is just a short (slightly incoherent) break from my temporary exam-induced psychosis. Nonetheless, please peruse, enjoy and, if so inclined, review! Feedback would certainly help me overcome the hell that organic chemistry has created especially for me. Oh, the title comes from the quote: "It's better to be a fake somebody than a real nobody"

The thing about a forgery, a really good fake, is that it is no less beautiful than the original. It has no less meaning, it provokes no less emotion. It is just as valuable, in all the ways that matter. Yet it is worth nothing. This is the brilliance of Neal's work, the indescribable pull that drug him into this life at seventeen and refused to let him go. The other things, the money and the people and the plain fun of dancing on the wire's edge, those came later. First, though, it was about the enchanting contradiction of using his hands and his talent to create something that was simultaneously invaluable and worthless.

If there is a pretty obvious analogy about his life in there somewhere, he chooses not to dwell on it. As it turns out, controlling how others see you is all about controlling how you see yourself, and he likes this slick Sinatra wannabe so much he almost forgets he wasn't born in a skinny tie and a nice suit. Almost.

He has a dozen aliases for a thousand situations, all pre-packed and ready for use. In an emergency he can invent another hundred on top of that. The blink of an eye and some quick sleight of hand and he becomes anyone. He lives a dozen lives and none of them are truth. (He envies them all.)

He never drinks. Or rather, he never drinks to drunkenness, which is what matters, when you think about it. There aren't many people who get close enough to know this, and fewer still who would bother to speculate. He's never asked Peter, who knows his shoe size and all the other things that don't matter (and some that do), but he knows that he believes it is a reflection on Neal's (former) lifestyle. He might say that this avoidance of alcohol grows from a fear of the truths which might be inadvertently revealed in a vulnerable state.

Peter is wrong, but not entirely. It is about fear, just not of the truth. Because when Neal is drunk he finds himself unable to keep from lying. A few drinks on the wrong side of tipsy and the conman will insist (with alarming convincingness) that the sky is green and you breathe plutonium. Kate used to laugh, but there is nothing funny to him in the realization that, stripped of his defenses, he is not a liar by choice.

He really is a fake. An artful forgery, but a fake nonetheless. It is not the alcohol that sends him rushing to empty his stomach.

He shakes for days, and doesn't drink again.

Meeting Elizabeth is like stepping into the Twilight Zone. Sable hair and crystal eyes, she could be Kate's sister. Standing at the door of a home where he is not yet welcome studying the familiar face of a woman who is not yet a friend, he takes a moment to speculate on which is the genuine article. That face begs to be trusted and (ever a fool, for all he's a genius) he complies. With their warm laughs and keen humor, they could almost be identical. And when his practiced eye fails him, he falls back on loyalty and love to decide that, yes, Kate must be the original. Must be where all the value is.

Except Elizabeth doesn't lie. Not ever. And Peter couldn't tell a lie to save his life.

He thinks, (much later, when he feels the beginnings of doubt about Kate, when he knows for sure just how real, how valuable a woman like Elizabeth truly is and only for a moment) that they are a better version of himself and Kate. The genuine article to their forgery. And maybe that's the reason they compulsively redirect, compulsively broadcast their perfection and beauty. Because if anyone were to inspect, were to try to authenticate, they might see how worthless they really were. (How worthless he was.)

Peter teaches him the tricks of the other side. Teaches him to investigate, to ask the right questions, to get the right answers. Above all, he teaches Neal to narrow an event down to the facts, to whittle away the carefully constructed lies and find the truth (it is really only the opposite of the building and building he'd mastered years before). He thinks he may hate Peter for that. Because for days now he's been pouring paint thinner over the canvas of his life, and he doesn't like what he finds beneath the flashy colors and bold brush strokes of his lies. (an empty bottle and cheap boxed wine. GPS and an office of coworkers who mistrust him. Paper flowers and porcelain smiles and nothing, nothing, nothing.)

He sits at a dining room table and watches two people who are a decade beyond pretense bicker good-naturedly about the dog or the in-laws or whatever important date Peter set aside for whatever case this time. It is comfortable and completely without glamour, and so real that it actually stops his breath for a second. Surrounded by the proof of the intrinsic value authenticity can bring, he lets his grin drop for just long enough that the investigator (and the woman who is too perceptive for anyone's good) notices. Peter is the one that asks, taking care to cover any traces of the suspicion he still can't quite shake, in case this isn't one of those things. Are you alright?

Neal smiles at him then, big and false, all socialite charm and little boy fear.

(The whole thing is so pathetic that Elizabeth isn't sure weeping would be an inappropriate reaction.) She smiles back and presses another dinner roll into his hands. At the very least, she can give him that.

There you have it. Again, not so sure about this, but hey, they can't all be winners, am I right? Review!