Disclaimer: This is an original story based on the characters of White Collar. No profit will be made from this story and no copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Note: Thank you to all who read and for the kind feedback. This was originally intended to be a one chapter story, but it was begging for more. Enjoy!
During the day, Neal Caffrey lived his dream. He was free, he was rich, and he was living the good life. He had a beautiful house, an ocean view, time to paint and a whole island to enjoy.
During the day, Neal Caffrey did a pretty good imitation of being happy. But, at night, when the waves crashed against the sand and the air smelled like summer and coconuts, even the master of imitation couldn't fool himself. This wasn't the dream…not anymore. As he lay in bed, night after night, he could not shake off his homesickness. When he slept he dreamed of his view, of the sound of the elevator stopping on the 21st floor, the smell of June's coffee brewing, of El's sweet smile, Jones' firm handshake, Diana's teasing grin, and Peter. He thought about the irony of it all, one lonely night as he sat on the beach and threw rocks in the ocean. Mere months ago, he had been willing to throw it all away, everything he'd been given, for a life of riches and freedom with Moz. He had started to change his mind because in the end he couldn't do that to Peter. Then gradually, he realized he couldn't do it to himself. He didn't want the life of riches and freedom. He wasn't that guy any more. But now, here they were, living off their treasure, just like Moz had planned…and all their money couldn't come close to making up for the loss of his partnership with Peter.
But it was for the sake of his friend that he could never ever go back to the city he loved. Only the two of them knew what went between them that day, and he wanted to stay that way. He had lost too much already. He needed to know Peter would be okay and go right on doing what he had always done.
So during the day he painted and swam and explored. He worked hard at it…eventually the con of being happy would become real. But at night he dreamed of home, and his makeshift family. And when his dreams woke him and the reality of their illusion hit him again, he walked the beach till dawn, when the day could begin again. And he prayed, for his family's sake, that the one man who had always found him, would simply let him stay lost.
As time went on, it got easier. After Dobbs was paid, he could breathe easier about the possibility of Peter finding him. As he fell for Mia, he began to think that one day, he might be able to call this island home. Even as he lovingly sculpted the skyscrapers and buildings of New York out of sand, he realized that he was starting to let go of his old life. Their night was perfect, the sounds of waves crashing, warm salt sea air, and wonderful company. It felt good to open his heart to a woman again. They had talked well into the night and he felt more at home than ever. He could be James. He would be James.
And then the buzz of a pager, calling him back.
He saw the number and was terrified. Ellen wouldn't have used it if there wasn't a problem…his hands shook as he pulled his pants on, as he ran onto the beach, as he dialed the number. "Everything's okay," he said to himself as it rang. "Please let it be okay."
He should have known. He should have hung up and threw the phone as far as he could…
But it was so good to hear his voice. It was so good just to feel like he was home again.
But he knew that every moment they talked Peter was getting closer to figuring it out and finding him and he couldn't let that happen. He would not go back to prison and he would not let Peter destroy himself. He was getting ready to hang up but he had to know…
"How bad did I leave things for you?" he asked, knowing full well that Peter would downplay anything he was going through, which he did. They were both quiet for a minute, and with the silence Neal knew what he had to do. Peter warned him about Collins, and he could hear the worry and concern in his friend's voice. Peter had always protected him, always watched out for him, and now it was his turn.
He told he was safe. He told him he was happy. He told him he was done. And as he told him, he could picture him so clearly in the kitchen, shaking his head in defiance of what Neal was saying. The words hurt as he said them. "You're an FBI agent, I'm a con man." After all their history, that's what it boiled down to…not partners…not friends…not brothers, FBI agent and con man. He knew the words would hurt Peter too, he could almost see the expression on his face.
"You understand this has to be the last time," he said, as much to convince himself as Peter. And when he said goodbye, and heard the click he stared at the phone for a moment, and a part of him, feeling very lonely and lost, hoped that Peter wouldn't give up and would find a way to bring him home.
Then he threw the cell phone as hard as he could into the ocean, and he walked the beach until dawn.