Windstar: So I watched Copycat Caffrey tonight and was instantly given the urge to write this. I wrote my first WC fanfiction not too long ago, and started a multi-chapter story where Alex helped the FBI as a consultant...only to be insanely pleased with her participation in Copycat Caffrey. I felt like someone was reading my mind...anyway. That all being said and done, the ending scene is what prompted this fic and I hope you all enjoy!

Spoilers: Copycat Caffrey

Disclaimer: I do not gain any profit from this work of fiction. All characters belong to the creators of White Collar and USA network.

Of Books and Futures

Neal tried not to think about it. He really did. He'd spend his time focusing on all of the other things there were to think about. He'd think about Moz and the FBI, he'd ponder on June's Italian Roast, and he'd ruminate over the books on his shelves.

He took up reading because it passed the time. It started with a simple children's story that he remembered glancing over as a child. The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer. It was an entertaining read on a rainy day – and it did rain (quite persistently actually). He read about the life of a boy who was locked in a house so that the world forgot about him.

If he stayed in that house he'd be safe from the dangers of the world outside. He'd be safe from the cruelty and the pain and the way that people wanted to treat him. He'd be safe from it all. All he had to do was stay inside.

Perhaps because he was intellectualizing all of this, he found himself comparing the life of Neal Caffrey to the boy in that house – Matteo Alacran. Matt had been safe in that house. He could color and he could draw and he could do anything that he wanted as long as he stayed in the house. He wasn't allowed near the electrical appliances or the microwave, but that was dangerous. Neal was safe in prison. The guards came just as surely as Matt's nanny came. As long as he did what he was told he was safe. As long as he stayed there...Kate would come and visit and soon they'd be together forever.

But Matt wanted to escape, and so did Neal. Neal wanted freedom. He wanted the sky. He wanted to touch and to see and to breathe free air, and Neal wanted Kate. Perhaps because of this, him and Matt were very similar. They both wanted something, and after they were enticed – they left on their whim to follow whatever road the future was on.

Things didn't go well for Matt, and they didn't go well for Neal. He discovered life as a clone, and Neal discovered that he was lost without the iron bars. He craved the entrapment that the anklet gave him because at least that gave him a purpose as to what it was that he was supposed to do with his life.

The second book on the list was something far less intellectual and far more simple. A cook book. It had no secrets and it meant nothing to him, and that was fine because he didn't want to understand anything about himself. He didn't want someone to point out his flaws and tell him to get better.

He wanted to stop thinking about girls and about life and he just wanted to dig a hole and forget everything. He got what he wanted and then it faded away. Because the cookbook was great until it started talking about dinners and deserts and all the things that you share with people. Cookies and chocolates and items you eat when you're on a date.

He shoved the cookbook away and went with The Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkein. There was a good adventure story with relatively few relationships of the female kind that had nothing to do with his life. He wasn't depicted anywhere in those pages – except whenever there was mention of Arwen and Aragorn and suddenly he was thinking about how far apart he was from his Arwen and how much he hated being her Aragorn. How much he hated that he'd do anything for her.

Unfortunately though, every book on his shelf, no matter how many times he tried: they all reminded him of the life he had and of the future that was caving in on him. He was failing at the only thing he wanted to do. He was failing at not thinking about it.

Things did get easier with time. Mozzie helped. Peter helped. He tried to move on, and he failed. Which was why it hurt, God did it hurt, that Alex didn't trust him. That Alex didn't come to him when she needed help. It hurt so badly that it made his head spin. It made him feel like everything was falling apart again.

Why hadn't she trusted him? After everything they said and after everything they did, why hadn't she trusted him? It made his heart hurt and he wanted to make things better. Because when he thought of Alex, he thought of sex and love and heists and adventure. He thought of The Thief Lord and Catch Me If You Can and The Notebook.

He thought of Heidi Heinze's Sunny Side Up, and he thought of Shakespeare In The Park. He thought of living out in crappy apartments and swing dancing in night clubs. The thought about jazz and tacos and watching fireworks on the forth of July. He thought of forgeries and Italy, and Copenhagen.

But he didn't think of Kate. He didn't think about the woman who tore out his heart. He didn't think of fire. He didn't think of the sounds of explosions. He didn't think of the scars he had on his hands that he'd gotten after he'd shoved Peter off just long enough to get three steps closer. His gloves had caught and Peter had patted the fire out before socking him across the face and pinning him to the ground.

He'd met Kate first, but they were friends for so many years...and then Alex had come. Alex had come and it had been sex and laughter and fun. They were never a couple. They never declared themselves as a relationship. They were simply there.

She stole, he stole, she fenced, he needed a fence...they were partners. They worked jobs together and they laughed for hours about it, and he loved her, and she loved him, and Kate wanted more. Kate wasn't just drunken love. Kate wasn't just a romp in the sheets. Kate wasn't just that girl. Kate wasn't just a lay.

He could never hurt Kate, because Kate had been there through it all. Kate had been there no matter what. Kate had always been by his side. Alex he'd met years later. So when Kate said that she wanted him, and that it would kill her to not have him – he gave up everything and focused only on Kate. He focused on her because she was the only thing he could focus on.

He ignored Alex who would come to the door with a bottle of Ketel One. She'd see him pressing Kate to a wall and kissing her thoroughly, but he would rarely see her. Kate always would, and Kate would always make sure Alex knew her place. She was the whore, Kate was the girlfriend.

For a while, Alex was sure she could get one up on the Kate though. No matter what, Alex was Neal's partner. They did their cons together, they stole together, and Neal trusted her. Until Copenhagen. In Copenhagen they were running as fast as they could, and they had one option. They had to jump from the gate house to get into the square below.

Her heels had caught on something and when she jumped she'd done so sloppily. She watched breathlessly as he rolled safely and got to his feet, and then pain flooded her arm. He turned and saw her laying there and he carried her when pain gripped her senses. Her bone was visible and she was shaking violently.

He brought her to the hospital...and Kate called him away. He hated leaving her. He hated the fact that she'd wake up there by herself. He hated the fact that everytime a nurse came she'd look up and it wouldn't be him.

He never heard from her again. She never visited him in prison. They never spoke.

And then Kate disappeared.

And then he escaped and became a consultant to the FBI.

And suddenly she was back.

And he loved her still, and she loved him, but Kate was still there and he wouldn't betray that. He couldn't betray Kate, and she never asked him to. Just like she never asked him to chose. Just like she always accepted the way that he forgot their relationship. Just like how she accepted that she didn't matter anymore.

But when Kate died, and he was back in jail, the only thing that kept his thoughts from the woman he would have given his life for – was the woman that he left alone. He thought about the first time they drank alcohol and how they were only eighteen and they were drunk after their second beer. He remembered how she felt when he was lost in a haze and just wanted to do her.

He remembered her voice and her smiles and her arms. He remembered her laugh and the way that her eyes would light up at the thought of getting a job. He remembered her, and she kept the dark thoughts away.

So he didn't think about Kate, because he was thinking about her. And when she came and didn't want his help, it hurt because he felt like he had burned a bridge he hadn't wanted burned again. He was still trying to rebuild the last one.

So he did what he could. He helped her out and he made sure she was safe, because he knew that if she was dead he would fall apart. He knew that if she was lost he would never be able to forgive himself. He knew that he needed her safe. He knew that she was keeping him alive – just like Moz, just like Peter.

And so he got her a deal, and helped get her to Italy. He couldn't go to the airport, he knew he'd take her and never let her get close and he'd fall apart in minutes. He couldn't do that. He needed to let her go. He needed to let her be safe. He needed to say goodbye.

Their kiss though...that was what surprised him the most. He'd frozen the moment she leaned forwards. His breath left and he couldn't do anything about it. He could only stand there and watch as she moved close to him. Their lips touched and it wasn't the fiery passion he was used to, but it was the pure innocence that he remembered. He closed his eyes, and suddenly was engulfed by birthday parties and running and laughing and fireworks and love and joy and friendship and all the things he missed.

She pulled away, and he slipped her something of his own – a letter he'd written just for her.

Please write me. You have my address, and I'd like to know yours.

Be safe.

And she took it gracefully, her eyes never reading the message, just slipping it into her pocket. "I'll stay in touch." And his heart soared.

"Alright."

And she was gone.

So he thought about it all the time. Her lips and her smile and the past that he was letting go so he could join the future with this woman. His dearest companion. The one who knew that he was ticklish on his toes and had a thing for a good strawberry ice-cream. Not the ones that knew that he could steal and that he was smart...no...just the ones who knew him inside and out.

He got home that night, placed the piece of the music box somewhere safe, and looked at the night sky.

"Goodbye Kate." He whispered, and just because fate dictated it to be so: a plane flew overhead. "Come home safe Alex."

The future was coming.