Disclaimer: I don't own White Collar

Summary: Neal compares Kate and Peter.


For a long time, longer than even Neal cared to speculate on overmuch, Kate had been the centre of his world. He had been the lonely planet that revolved around her sun. in unceasing, faithful orbit.

In his darker moments he wondered, had it been that they had never stopped moving long enough to see the distance that was growing between themselves?

Kate did what she did for reasons he would never know, now that she had been reduced to ashes and a name on a classified file. Mozzie had always questioned her motives when it came to him, even when they were free and together, not content to let love be love. Alex had let her derision be known in simple ways, making it plain that she considered her naïve, a gold-digger tagging along with him for the mystery, the intrigue and the pretty face that went along with it. And Peter, who had doubted her, and said as much, but who had also done what the others had not, had attempted to enforce the idea that life didn't have to be all about that one person, that there were other things worth living and staying for.

And other people too, though this went unsaid. It didn't matter, he knew anyway. And he may considered their points of view more than he would admit to them, or himself. But if he was a fool, he was a fool in love, and as long as Kate was by his side, he could overlook that the conman might have become the mark, just this once.

Neal wasn't sure when Peter had become Kate's successor. As a consequence of his chosen profession, it had been too dangerous to let people close to him. Alex and Mozzie were prepared to flee at a moments notice, or less, and he did not fault them for their caution. Kate had been the only exception, and they had both paid for the privilege. He could charm and entice people into conversation, but these brief flirtations into socializing were dead ends, and the connection, once severed, remained so.

Peter hadn't been a substitute for Kate, in the beginning Neal had only thought the agent might reluctantly come to appreciate his talents as he appreciated those of the only man able to catch him. A working relationship, and he was sure that Peter had felt the same, not given to deliberate maliciousness, but not inclined to be overly kind to the resident convict he was now responsible for either.

When had it changed? Maybe it was when he was invited into his house, by his wife, but the sentiment held water. Perhaps when Satchmo had padded across the room to welcome the newcomer and after a cursory sniff, fixed trusting and nonjudgmental eyes on him and proceeded to lay his head on Neal's knee. Although, it was most likely when Peter came into the room, already mad at him for breaking his radius. He had been annoyed, certainly, but not truly angry. It told him that this might not be as bad as he had envisioned, that he could partake of this sliver of warmth and normalcy outside his invisible cage.

Time went on, and though Kate was ever on his mind, he found himself contemplating Peter Burke just as much. The agent was a rarity, having agreed to his deal. One might have thought that he would be glad to see a felon he spent so long chasing put behind bars for another four years, that he would be too proud to accept the help of someone he considered a criminal, and in no way reformed.

He became his friend. Mozzie choked on his appropriated wine when he voiced this, spent half an hour lamenting his fate in succumbing to the mind controlling powers of the Suit and self-righteously drained the remainder of the bottle, to his dismay. The unwanted sobriety it brought him did nothing to change his mind.

Peter had never been a replacement for Kate, but with her gone, and his tendency to devote himself to one person utterly in effect once more, it still took him some time to realize that in his mind, they were equals. They shared his regard, and this made him uncomfortable. Neal could never have seen himself questioning Kate's motives before all this, but he had taught her well, and those wide and innocent blue eyes she was capable of flashing on a whim held no less power over him than any other mark. She could lie to him, and she did. He would never know exactly why. Peter had lied too, but had lied to prevent Neal from abandoning what he saw as a life worth living.

It was all about Kate, and finding out who killed her. But she was dead, and Peter Burke was very much alive. He had not chosen to give up Kate, and he will not choose to give up Peter.