First story ever! Hope someone likes it...any feedback would be appreciated.

Disclaimer: Don't own anything.

Takes place after Neal is arrested.


It was over. Neal had long since accepted the fact that there was always someone better than him. If he decided to remain guarded about his revelation, so be it. Underestimation was the victor of many battles, after all. And he loved to win.

In a way, he was glad. Running had always been a part of his life, but he was so tired. One of the reasons he was with Kate was because she made him feel alive again. Made him feel like Neal, not a con artist or a forger or a womanizer, but an actual person who was just as entitled to his flaws and imperfections as everybody else. She was the only one who knew that he drooled like a basset hound when he slept and hated clipping his toenails because it meant removing his body's one natural defense.

She knew that he had a binder labeled "Regrets" tucked somewhere safely away and that he had an allergy to pet dandruff, although that would never stop him from nuzzling any animal he found adorable. She also knew of his slight obsessive-compulsive tendency to look at the time, add up the numbers, and see if they were divisible by three.

Not even Mozzie saw him like that. Sure, his best friend had seen him slobberingly drunk, heartbroken, and depressed, often simultaneously. But he never bothered to learn his idiosyncrasies. It just wasn't part of their relationship. Neal didn't mind that. It was simple and straightforward, qualities sorely lacking in his life.

Yet, despite his foray into love, Neal was at all times a realist. It was difficult for a hopeless romantic like him to even consider the possibility of deception or treachery from the one he loved so much, but he had been burned so many times by delusions of passion that he remained wary. He wanted to forget. The hole in his heart wouldn't let him.

So when Kate walked out of that jail cell for the last time, Neal knew he should have expected it. That didn't stop the pain, the impulsive desire to run settling firmly in his chest. His flighty instincts, for they were instincts now, always kicked in when he felt threatened, scared, or hurt. Occupational hazard, as he calls it. Or just one of his many defense mechanisms. Layers of them.

He let himself go for a bit, stopped shaving, stopped caring about his appearance. Not entirely, for that would have been totally against his character, yet enough to worry the female guard who he had charmed his first day there. And he rationalized ridiculous reasons for Kate leaving him in his head. Because that was how he coped. Internally.

Eventually, though, something inside Neal awoke. And, oh how he hated dealing in clich├ęs of any kind, especially when he felt like a living, breathing version of one. He decided to go after the one person who knew a few layers beneath the superficial, even if she had barely scratched the surface. He knew he might get damaged in the process, come out a little roughed up in the end.

Then he remembered that he was Neal Caffrey. He always landed on his feet.