Title: Outside Your Radius
Summary: It's been a year, and it brings back memories.
Characters: Neal, Peter
Warning: Spoilers for 1x14 'Outside The Box'
Author's Note: A big thanks goes out to rabidchild67 for betaing! On a personal note, I just read something on FFN this morning where someone also brought up this particular anniversary. I wrote this before I read that story, so it's a complete coincidence, even though some notions are frighteningly similar. (And here I thought my idea was original... *sigh*)
Disclaimer: White Collar, its characters and its settings belong to Jeff Eastin and USA Network. And, guys? Your characters are not only welcome, they're wonderful. I'm just borrowing, I promise.
Sharp gusts of wind circle the corners of the New York skyscrapers, making the boxwoods on Neal's rooftop terrace bend and rustle. Heavy drops of rain whip against the skylights above the dining table. The weather's sentiments are matching Neal's state of mind perfectly.
His left index finger draws random imaginary shapes on the photo lying in front of him. He is thankful today is Sunday. No necessary faking of smiles for the colleagues in the office (though almost second nature to Neal now), no putting up pretenses or trying to find excuses for inevitable momentary distractions.
He can't believe it's been a year. A year since his life took a fateful turn. A year since he came this close to dying. A year since he felt the searing heat penetrate his winter coat. A year since... he lost her.
A year is a long time, yet not long enough. Not long enough to forget her piercing blue eyes. Her enchanting smile and soft, straight, brown hair. Her sensual, full lips.
A small smile creeps onto his face despite the knot in his stomach. The first time they'd kissed—it was outside this cheap, cheesy café on West 115th Street. He'd been a different man then. Boy, really. He'd barely turned 20.
He can't remember now what exactly drew him to her initially, but they'd crashed into each other like thirsty souls looking for water in a desert oasis. At the time, he'd considered himself truly lucky to find someone who could match his wits and aid in his cunning schemes. Who knew how to con without being conned. Until he met Kate, he didn't believe in soul mates.
And then it all went wrong. Peter Burke did not forgive him the one slip of the pen that had led to his arrest five years ago. Still, a loyal soul, she'd stayed. Visited him once a week, like clockwork. Until—
Neal's head jerks up at the sharp sound of a knuckle rapping on wood. He sighs a small sigh. Mozzie, no doubt. The man's timing isn't always impeccable.
He gets up to open the door, his grim, inner voice betraying the casual words he utters as his fingers wrap around the doorknob. "Moz, I appreciate—"
It's not Moz.
The FBI agent's mouth curves upward in a near mischievous smirk. It's Sunday, his day off, he's wearing blue jeans and a dark green sweater that, no doubt, Elizabeth has picked. "Yeah, I... Can I come in?"
Neal frowns for a moment. He doesn't see any files, folders or other indications that this might be work-related. Really, what he wants is to say, "Actually, I'd rather you wouldn't," but does he have any choice?
"Sure," he mutters and opens the door for Peter to step in.
He watches as Peter sits himself down at the table. Neal follows, not his usual, ready-to-quip buoyant self. He eases himself into the chair he only occupied minutes ago, expectant eyes on Peter Burke.
He can tell there's something lingering underneath that's trying to find its way to the surface. Neal tries to sound carefree, not quite succeeding. "So, what brings you here on a Sunday? Elizabeth throw you out?"
"No." The answer is short, the pause uneasy. "No, I..." A sigh follows. "Look, I know this is awkward, and I can leave again, but," his brown eyes wander to the photo that is still lying face-up on the table. The voice lowers a notch, an unexpected softness to it. "But I know what day it is today."
Neal quickly closes his eyes, but not quick enough to hide the momentary pang of sorrow that he knows Peter just witnessed. "Yeah," he breathes out, not finding the strength to deflect with his usual rapier wit. There's a bitterness he can't contain, even though he wants to. "So what, you've come to join the pity party?"
"No, Neal, I..." Peter's fingers find the way to Kate's photo, drawing it closer so he can study it. "I don't know, I guess I just figured you could use some company."
This is unusual. And Neal is touched, as much as it pains him to admit it. And, really, he shouldn't be letting this happen. It's not what it's supposed to be like. Neal's supposed to be falling back on his facetious repartee, and Peter is supposed to pretend he doesn't enjoy rubbing verbal elbows that way.
For a change, maybe for the very first time, he is at a loss for what to say. They've had honest moments, earnest moments, moments where truths were not hidden or piggybacked on half-truths. But they'd always been unexpected, and caught Neal off-guard.
This is still unexpected, but somehow it feels... different. More important, more significant.
Neal is out of his element. He sees Peter draw in a quick breath, holding it for a moment. He's making a decision, struggling with the words. His eyes squint for the briefest moment, and that's when the decision is made. "Can I say something?"
Neal's eyes focus on Peter's, his expression giving the permission the man is asking.
"Look... I know I've not always been the most agreeable person when it came to things concerning Kate. And mostly I'd like to think there was a good reason for it, but I know what Elizabeth means to me and..."
Peter trails off, and Neal understands that this is probably the most he's going to get in terms of an apology—or something along the lines of one, anyway. Not that he's sure why Peter would apologize in the first place. Does he feel guilty for not liking Kate? For not doing enough to save her? It puzzles him because he doesn't think he ever led Peter to believe he expected an apology (which he didn't). And Neal still doesn't know what to say, because, really, what is there to say?
Peter catches him flatfooted once again. "You miss her, don't you?"
He just wants to walk away, because he is not prepared to talk about this. Especially not with Peter. His eyes upon him are silently pleading. Please don't go there! "Peter..."
He gets the hint. Of course he does. He's not stupid. He also knows Neal. Which is why maybe he realizes this was a bad idea.
"The cemetery is outside your radius."
That's a fact, and it's one of the reasons why Neal hasn't been there since her burial. It had been a bad day. One of the worst—and he's had bad days before. The congregation was small. Kate barely left any relatives behind, and those that were there, Neal hardly knew.
He remembers Peter's strong palm between his shoulder blades and Elizabeth's warm hand reaching for his when they lowered her coffin into the ground. Mozzie watched from a safe distance.
Neal didn't shed any tears that day. He'd barely talked either. They'd only allowed him two hours away from the penitentiary. Things had been back to gritty, unrelenting prison business after that.
Peter's voice brings him back to the present. "Do you want to go?"
He doesn't know. Does he? He's not sure seeing her cold, lifeless headstone will bring any kind of relief, or closure, or any of the other things that he's been trying to find for a year now. He realizes that this might be his only chance in the next three years to visit her grave, so maybe he owes at least that to her.
"Yeah, I'd like to go," he says quietly.
Peter just nods, his expression sympathetic. "Okay."
Before he grabs his coat, Neal quickly walks over to the desk, getting a light pink, square sheet of paper from the drawer. Nimble, practiced fingers will turn it into a paper rose on the way there.
The rose will be lying on top of her dark granite headstone until the wind blows it across half the graveyard and the rain turns it to nothing more than colored cellulose fibers. It still means Kate Moreau is not forgotten—and never will be.