Title: No Matter What

Rating: G

Characters/Pairings: Neal/Peter/El (friendship/family)

Spoilers: All Seasons (mostly the last few episodes of S3)

Word Count: 2,153

Summary: Neal is not alone.

In response to a prompt by indigocat in the whitecollarhcWhite Collar Freedom Fest

A/N: So I'm a long time reader and lurker in many fandoms who finally decided to post something. Yay! SO this could totally stink...be forewarned. Also, I have no Beta so I've probably missed some mistakes. This prompt just caught my attention, and this is what came out of my mind. Constructive criticism welcome :).

No Matter What

Neal can feel the tears sting as his eyes fill with water, but he won't cry now. Not on this plane with so many witnesses around. Not with Mozzie right beside him. He won't admit to anyone, besides himself, how much this loss has hurt him. He shuts his eyes tightly and listens to the sounds of the people around him finding their seats and making themselves comfortable.

He'll deal with this pain, just like he has with every other loss. Like he did with Kate. And his dad. And all his plans for a honest life on the police force, following in his fathers heroic footsteps. He'd let this loss die, and with time, the hurt would fade. Right? He'd make himself into something new. Again. Except this time he'd be more careful not to hold on so tightly or so closely to anything. So when that went too, it wouldn't hurt like it does now.

Because he doesn't think he could bare anything worse than what he feels now.

The sunset shines in his tiny window as the plane rises, and he frowns as he draws the parallels. The sun dies, like Neal Caffrey has just died. He's Vic Moreau now. He feels as though he should take a moment to say goodbye to Neal and all that he has left behind with him. He leaves behind June and her warm hospitality and unmerited trust. He leaves behind Diana and Jones and the playful banter they shared as they'd solved cases together. He leaves behind a job he was actually good at and that stimulated him. The first thing he'd ever really found that met those two qualifications that was not illegal. He thinks about how these things are getting smaller and farther away, just like the buildings below do now.

But he can't bring himself to think about the other thing he's lost. He's knows if he thinks about them, if he allows himself to feel that loss, he won't be able to hold it together on this long flight.

So he leans back, starring ahead and tries to find the silver lining. He use to be good at that, but its not working today.

Sure he stuck it to Kramer, but what will the ramifications be to Peter? Will his friend pay the price for his life of wrong choices? Peter had already paid more than anyone should have to for him. He wasn't worth the grief he had brought his partner.

Yeah, he was thankful that Mozzie had held his half of the Nazi loot. But could he really live with knowing that his escape to paradise was funded by the blood of hundreds of innocents and not to mention the kidnapping of Elizabeth. El, who bless her heart, had never even suggested he was at fault. Who had hugged him and trusted him and cooked him is favorite meal just weeks after she had been rescued.

This thought brings him to remember how awkward things were right after they got Elizabeth back. Having been afraid to go over to Peter's house - to face her. For weeks he avoided going over late to work on cases or stopping by for drinks or anything that would mean intruding into their home. He'd thought he'd been sneaky enough about it too, declining for one good reason or another. But apparently they'd caught on to his game.

Of course.

Peter would always catch him.

One night after work, Peter invited him over for dinner. He had tried to shoot off a quick excuse, but when Peter had insisted, had said that El insisted, and that Neal owed them, well, he couldn't really deny that. So he told them he'd be there. Then he'd went to his loft and spent an hour trying to decide what to wear, and another hour on what to bring with him as a gift. He was already running 30 minutes late when Peter knocked on his door for the second time.

What do you wear to your emotional execution? What wine said "I'm sorry you were nearly killed by a crazy lunatic friend of mine all because I couldn't say no to some blood bathed Nazi loot?"

So he ended up arriving empty handed and wearing the same suit he'd had on at the office earlier.

Dinner had been mostly a quite, slow misery for Neal. Everyone looking as if they wanted to talk about the obvious issue, but no one knowing quite how to start. So after an hour of how's the weather and other painfully idol chit chat, Neal had had all he could take. If things weren't fixed by now, he'd just have to accept that maybe he had really and truly broken things this time. And he couldn't face that thought any longer.

He thanked 'Mrs. Burke' for the meal, excused himself as politely as he could and managed to slip out the door without looking back to see their faces. He remembered he had made it just to the bottom of the steps before he had sat and rested his head in his hands, trying to pull himself together.

His hands had been shaking and sweaty all through dinner and he was tired. He was just so tired. All the time now it seemed. It was hard work trying to hold all the lies together that made up Neal Caffrey these days. It felt like between Mozzie and the Burkes and the Bureau, he was slowly being pulled apart. He was going to call a cab, because he was too tired to walk this late at night. But he just needed a minute to pull it back together.

So he sat with his head hidden in his hands, breathing, and rebuilding his walls when he felt a hand squeeze his shoulder and then slide down to hold his hand. Startled, he turned to see Elizabeth sitting on the steps with him. He hadn't even hear the door open.

He replayed the conversation in his head like it had just happened yesterday. He remembered she had started by saying that Peter had sent her to check on him. To make sure he was okay. But then she'd confessed that even if Peter hadn't have asked, she would have come. She told him that she was sorry.

She was sorry!

Neal remembered he kept thinking, "What in the world did she have to be sorry about? " This was entirely his own fault. But she wouldn't let him say it. She just went on saying how they shouldn't have let it get this far. That she didn't blame him, had never blamed him. She just hadn't quite known how to go about expressing that to him after everything had happened. She even went as far to say that she and Peter had talked and they understood why he had done it, the temptation, the pressure, and that they knew that if he had known how this would have turned out, he never would have done what he did.

And most importantly, she'd stressed, that they were not giving up on him.

Neal couldn't help it when it slipped out, "But why?"

She had smiled and squeezed his hand even tighter. "Because we're family honey," she'd said, "And family takes care of each other, no matter what."

Neal wasn't sure if he had believed it then, but she'd sat there and rubbed gentile circles into the back of his hand, telling him it would be ok-they would be ok, until he calmed down enough to squeeze her in a quick hug and accept her invitation to come back in for dessert.

Things had been much better after that. Almost back to normal between him and Peter at work, and he was no longer hesitant to drop by whenever he was invited, and even on occasion when he wasn't. In fact, before this whole Kramer mess went down, he had found himself thinking about that night and those words more frequently than he should have. With each passing day, it seemed he grew closer to actually believing it was possible to have this life for keeps. He had really meant it when he told Peter that no matter what the outcome of his hearing, he would be back there in the office Monday morning, ready for work.

But there really were no happy endings for guys like him.

This was the only ending for Neal Caffrey.

At least, he thought, he had his freedom. But then what was freedom without those you love to share it with? It was nothing. And thats what he had now. No treasure, no freedom, no family and no silver linings to fall back on.

Just...nothing.

Well, he did have Mozzie. Who had always been there for him. And who was currently snoozing, slouched in his seat. So maybe he had dragged him into trouble a bit lately. But that wasn't Mozzie's fault. Mozzie's hadn't changed. He was the same slick, overly cautious, moderately paranoid con-artist he had always been. He saw Leilana wobbling on the tray between them and smiled as he realized. It wasn't Moz who had changed, it was him. He really wasn't Neal Caffrey any more.

But he wasn't Victor Moreau either.

So who was he?

It was so awful he smiled. Not a happy smile, but one of those tearful, regretful smiles. The ones you give out to keep from falling apart. He smiled to keep from sobbing, which he had already promised himself he would not do on this plane, with these people.

But it wasn't working. This con, of the strong detached Neal Caffrey he had been displaying since he saw Peter nod at him on those steps, was failing him. Maybe because he didn't want to be that con anymore.

Unwilling to hold on to the lie or his tears any longer, he let his shoulders drop and his head and hands met in the middle as he covered his face. Trying to breath. Trying to hide his panic as he came to a deeper and deeper understanding of just how much he had just ran from. His breathing hitched and his hand shook and his head throbbed, as his internal trauma manifested itself in his physical body.

He imagined when the tears finally came, and the sobs broke through his rapidly crumbling barriers, flight attendants would ask if he was okay and bring him a glass of water. And Mozzie would wake up and probably think he was having a weird reaction to the government initiated chemical population reducers in the chemtrails produced by commercialized airliners.

But before it came to that, he felt a hand slide between the window and his right shoulder. It wrapped securely around his upper arm and squeezed reassuringly, lovingly, and then relented as it slid down, pulling his hand from his face and coming to rest palm to palm with his.

He didn't need to look back to know that hand, because the only other person who had ever touched him with such gentle caring had done so once before. He didn't need to look back to know her, but he felt like he needed to see her face to prove to himself that it was real. That she was really here with him - because she shouldn't be here. But as he turned to look back, he felt his hand being squeezed sharply again and he turned back around facing forward.

He took a moment to look over at Mozzie, who was now drooling slightly on the expensive plane seat, unaware of this moment. How had she slipped on the plane without him noticing? Probably while he had been so distracted by his own emotions, he surmised. And she must be trying to keep a low profile. Goodness knows the trouble Peter would be in if the FBI got even a whiff of this. Peter. Who was too good to him. Who was probably in all kinds of trouble for him now, and facing it alone.

Irrupting his troubled thoughts, he felt her thumb rubbing gentle circles on the back of his hand to comfort him. Just like before.

And he understood. With just that simple caress, he understood. They were back on those steps again. And she was telling him to remember. Peter had sent her to make sure he was ok, but she would have come anyway. That they didn't blame him, and most importantly, that they were not not giving up on him.

This time he didn't need to ask why.

He smiled to himself and squeezed her hand in silent thanks as he rested his head back against the seat.

He knew why. Because they are a family. And family takes care of each other.

No matter what.