"The Toss Back"

I do not own White Collar, for if I did I wouldn't be writing fanfiction now would I?

This is set a few weeks after the conclusion of Out of the Box, so if you have yet to see the season finale then be prepared there are spoilers below. Also this is purely from the point of view of Neal.

I've always thought of life as a glass half full, everything had to be taken with that little wistful attitude I seemed to hold onto. I suppose that is why my world shattered so hard when Kate died. My glass was no longer half full, it was far too empty for me to accept. That is why my outlook changed so drastically, life to me is no longer a partially full glass but rather life is a series of shots; Sloppily thrown back so that more of the rich liquid flows over one's lips than down their throat.

Life tastes bitter now, it doesn't have the simple pleasures it used to have. But then again without Kate I haven't had those simple pleasures either. Pleasures like waking up next to a warm body, feeling your lover's lips against your own, or just listening to the soft breathing of someone you cherish. None of that is there any more, and though they say it could come back it won't ever be the same. Life is tarnished, life is sloppy.

Which makes sense when you think of where I am now, lying on this cold concrete floor in a pool of liquid far too warm to be good. I can taste the bitterness of the liquid; feel the numbness of the stupor it is putting me into. Though I don't remember ever picking up the glass to take these dangerous sips, but that doesn't mean I didn't throw them back just that I've pushed myself far beyond my own threshold to understand how I got there.

That isn't completely true, I remember how I got here. I was with Peter, Jones, and Cruz. We were working on a case, some high profile collar that seems all too irrelevant now. I remember it had something to do with home invasions, with stolen and foraged pieces of art, and…and…guns. Oh that's right, guns.

That makes sense now that I think about it. I remember choosing very carefully what shot would be my last one. I didn't have to think very hard about it, Kate's last shot had been delivered by the device that she hated most. Explosions, bombs same difference to her. She thought they were too destructive for the lives they stole and for those they left behind, too cruel. I agreed, but I have my own phobia. I didn't want to choose the typical pills, ropes, depression, anger, sadness, loneliness, ledges, cars, or trains. None of that would leave the same lasting impression; no it had to be guns.

I didn't think I was coming in here to die, no that would be ridiculous. I can't say I haven't been playing hard ball with death a little too much lately but still I wasn't looking for it the opportunity just kind of rose up out of nowhere. I saw the gun pointed at Peter and instinct took over, I kicked up into the air and pitched him over. It sounded like the smart thing, the right thing. And I suppose in a lot of ways it was. I saved my friend, but I fear that I took something from him that he won't be able to find again.

I promised him that I was ready, that I was sound and could do the job again. That is the only reason he let me come with him, let me in on this case. I didn't mean to lie, but it just kind of slipped out that way. I am not ready, nowhere near being there but I couldn't let him down. He needed me to be ready, so for Peter I was. And now for Peter I've taken that last shot.

I know he's here, I can feel the warmth of his hands even hear the worry in his voice but I can't open my eyes to find out for sure or not. He doesn't need me to look at him, doesn't need to see the lie in my eyes or the true peace that is there. To him I will take my last shot of life as a hero, which is a memory that Peter needs to hold onto not the memory of me waiting longingly for the moment that my heart pumps for the last time.

I should do something, give him some final sign that it is alright. That I know he's there, perhaps if I squeeze his hand then he'll understand…I do and all I get is a stronger squeeze and a brush of fingers over my forehead. Why does he have to be so gentle? So caring? He's not the man I thought he was, but then again he could say the same about me.

The wish that I could tell him all of that passes through my mind, but it is far too late. I've gone past the point of no return, even now I feel the last ounce of life sliding out of me. He doesn't want to let me go, now I know I'm clutched to his chest and part of me aches to apologize for all of this pain he is going through and will be going through.

But where I'm going now he can't follow, not yet, it isn't quite his time. I realize now that this shot is as much for him as it is for. Our final shot, our last moment together, the defining moment in Peter's life…perhaps we've been taking these shots together for a long time or perhaps this is the first one. Despite all of that I'm glad it is hands that I die in, because of all the people left in the world he's the only one I'd want there. Hopefully his glass will remain half full, perhaps he'll see the good things that have come out of this. Who knows, but I know that it's last call and bottoms up so…cheers Peter we'll take another shot together one day, just not now.