What Freedom Feels Like

A White Collar Fan Fiction

Disclaimer: White Collar is owned by Jeff Eastin and USA Network. This is written for entertainment only. No copyright infringement is intended and no money is being made.

Neal Caffrey stopped, actually froze, mid-way through the act of putting on his left sock. It felt so odd, not having to work around the tracking anklet. He smiled a little as he rubbed at the rough spot on his ankle bone caused by two years of constant contact with the device. He wondered how long it would take before the callus disappeared.

He slipped his feet into the soft shoes he'd stowed away in his "go" bag months before and stood, grabbing the passport and some cash, shoving them both in his hip pocket. They didn't have a huge amount of money, but it was more than enough to last until they could properly dispose of a portion of the treasure. Bless Mozzie for having the forethought to get it out of the country before anyone was the wiser.

He glanced fondly at his friend, still sleeping soundly, a child-like smile on his face. They had arrived very late the previous night– or very early this morning, depending on how you looked at it, after nearly a day of changing to ever-smaller aircraft until they had reached this lovely little island. Neal had no idea how Mozzie had managed it, but their voyage had been completed without a hitch. The little guy had earned his rest.

Neal was finding sleep to be much more elusive than Mozzie: too many changes in too short a time period equaled too much stress. He tossed and turned for hours, the fine cotton sheets feeling hot and scratchy to his over-tired system, until finally the sky began to lighten. He decided he was going to find a decent cup of coffee. He figured an island that grew such wonderful coffee beans had to have an equally excellent brew. He just had to find it.

Opening the handsome carved armoire, he saw his suit coat tossed carelessly on the bottom. He had been tired when they arrived! It violated Neal's inherent neatness to see the finely tailored garment treated with such disrespect. He hung it on a hanger, carefully smoothing out the creases. When he pulled his hand away, he discovered a silky auburn thread wrapped around his fingers; one of Sara's hairs. He looked at it, smiling broadly. She had been so happy when she realized how close she had been to finding the Raphael he had stolen. At how close she had been to catching him.

She also had lied for him and risked her job for him. He wondered what she was feeling now. Anger, he hoped. Anger would serve her much better than any fonder emotion she might ever have felt for him. His smile turned bitter, certain that their relationship was well and truly over this time. He moved his fingers to discard the strand of hair. It seemed, however, that his fingers had a mind of their own. He slowly wound the hair into a small, soft circle and placed it carefully between two unused pages of the passport.

Neal stepped out of the small, rented villa, quietly closing the door behind him. Last night, tired beyond all reckoning, he hadn't been aware of just how amazing this little place was. Turquoise waters rolled up to a beach made pink with crushed coral. His fingers itched to capture this early morning beauty with paint and canvas. All of his supplies were back in New York, of course; he would have to replace them. He wondered, briefly, if he could contact June. Certainly she would be willing to forward anything he asked for, but he couldn't risk it. The authorities would be watching all of his former acquaintances now, to see if he were careless enough to communicate with any of them. No, he was cut off from everyone.

But he was free, he reminded himself, freer than he had been anytime in the past eight years. There was no one to watch him, to remind him that the only thing standing between him and prison was good behavior – and Peter Burke. He would miss Peter, he readily admitted, more than he would miss anyone else. It still amazed him that Peter Burke, FBI agent, had become his best friend. Or had been his best friend, he reminded himself.

Neal still marvelled at what Peter had done for him, in that one last moment. That tiny movement of Peter's head had been monumental. One little shake had warned Neal away, had told him to run. Neal worried, more than he cared to admit, about what might happen to Peter. He hoped that no one would ever know how Peter had helped him. It would destroy him, Neal feared, if Peter lost his place with the bureau.

Peter had made that decision freely, though; Neal would never have asked it of him. The best thing he could do now was to take full advantage of the final gift Peter had given him – freedom. Neal Caffrey was truly free. It was a gift he knew he could never repay.

Only . . . only, Neal Caffrey didn't exist anymore. Victor Moreau was free. He didn't really know Victor yet. He wondered how long it would take him to really become Victor. Vic. Yes, he liked Vic better than Victor.

The raucous call of a seabird roused Vic from his mental meanderings. He strode down the crushed-shell path with a jaunty step. The sun had risen higher and there were other people up and about. He called to a young man a short distance ahead of him; asking in fluent French where he might get a cup of coffee. The other man, who appeared to be on his way to work, responded cheerfully in the same language.

"The best cup of coffee on this side of the island is served at Madame Gautier's cafe, just a few steps ahead." He smiled and pointed. "Are you new here, M'sieu . . . ?"

Vic hesitated, just a beat. "Moreau," he answered, "Victor Moreau."

"Well, welcome, M'sieu Moreau." The young man hurried on his way.

Vic continued on to the little cafe, ordering coffee and pastry in flawless French. Yes, this was the best way things could have possibly turned out. He was free, rich, and in paradise.

So why, Neal wondered, did freedom feel so much like defeat.