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First fics for a fandom will always make me nervous. This is my first effort at a White Collar fic! The show is my newest obsession and there's something really appealing to me about Neal/Kate, so I wrote this, a few snapshots of Neal dealing with Kate's death and a snippet of their past with the Bordeaux bottle, pre-series.

Any and all criticisms will be appreciated--as I said, first fic for a fandom! I ran this by a White Collar buddy of mine (thanks, Cait, you're the best!) and she told me it's clear of continuity errors, but if anyone catches anything, let me know.

I make no claim to the lyrics I quote herein. "Breakeven" belongs to The Script, "Fine Dining" belongs to Jason Mraz, and "Porcelain Fists" belongs to Ingrid Michaelson. I own nothing!

“I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing.” 

Noise, then heat, then silence.

Someone grabbing him. Peter. Peter’s arms around him, holding him back even as he throws himself forward, desperate. Lips forming words that he can’t hear, ears ringing, deafened from the explosion. Peter’s, saying words like stay back, telling him not to go any closer.

His own, soundlessly screaming Kate and no and lapsing into incoherent rasps and sobs.

His legs buckle and fold just as Peter is trying to sit him down, after he’s sure he won’t run—he would,  he wants so badly to comb through the wreckage just to see but it’s hopeless, there’s nothing, nothing, how is there nothing

Peter stops him from falling, catching him halfway down and then lowering him more carefully to the floor, kneeling next to him and putting a hand on his shoulder, saying words he still can’t hear. Something about calling for help.

Some help it is, because after they have finished interrogating Peter and examining the wreckage and telling him that Kate is dead and he’s in shock, they are slapping handcuffs onto his wrists and leading him away, back to prison.

His hearing has returned, but there is no sound when he looks back at Peter, no protest, no words. Instead, there is only a look, a promise, a locked gaze that says Peter will fix this. Peter will help him.

That thought is the only one he has to console him as he is pushed into a squad car and taken away.

“She is mine; she loves her wine and fine dining.”

In his cell, he rolls the taste of the memory around in his mouth like a fine wine. Of course, the wine he did have in the memory was not exactly fine. Far from it. He hadn’t been kidding when he’d told Peter they’d fill the Bordeaux bottle with whatever cheap wine they could find.

Kate looked skeptically at the bottle, holding it up to the light to better see the label as Neal wrangled two slices of cold pizza apart and out of the box. “What did you say they call this?”

“Two Buck Chuck,” Neal said over his shoulder. “California named it the best chardonnay, or so the guy at the counter told me.”

“And it was really two dollars.”

“And change.”

He didn’t miss the slight wrinkling of Kate’s nose as he joined her on the floor with the pizza—broke or not, they could surely do better than two-dollar wine, he knew she was thinking—but she seemed to choose her battle and not say anything, instead uncorking and pouring the chardonnay into the empty Bordeaux bottle.

“To the Côte d'Azur,” she said lightly after pouring the wine into two not-quite-sparkling-clean (they couldn’t exactly add the expense of a dishwasher onto their utility bill) glasses and handing one to him. He repeated the toast and gently clinked his glass against hers.

It was far from the worst wine they’d ever tasted—actually, in the grand scheme of things, he would have voted it some of the best. After an hour, they are full on cold pizza and drunk with cheap wine and kissing lazily, breathing in rhythm as they make love on a cold, bare floor. It is not the better life he has always promised her, but for now, it is the only life he can imagine.

“Cold tiles beneath your knees, your body broke your fall.
Spitting into your own reflection gazing back
Inside your porcelain fists, your palms begin to crack.”

At first, he does not let himself think of it. He lives in the memories of the crappy apartment, the cold pizza, the bottle of Bordeaux. He can keep thinking that Kate will be here to visit him like she always was every week before the good-bye. He can close his eyes and imagine her skin on his, as though they are still keeping each other warm in that freezing apartment.

His resolve begins to crack as the weeks pass, as he remembers hearing her voice on that pay phone, running to where she was only to be met with empty air. It is the same feeling he gets these days when he wakes up, shaking, with his hand stretched out to the other side of the bed, grasping for something that isn’t there.

He cracks further as the memories begin to slip in, unbidden. Zipping Kate’s dress for her as they slipped out to some formal function, one where they were about to run a scam. Dancing at one of those functions, his hands at her waist, her mouth close to his ear as she whispered seductively, detailing exactly what she wanted him to do to her when they got back to the apartment. Waking up to the sunlight on her face and his hand splayed lazily over bare skin.

These memories do not have the pleasant haze of cheap wine cast over them. These memories are stingingly sober, achingly sharp, painfully blissful.

These memories are the ones that make the tears come.

These memories are the ones that make him swear that whatever it takes, he will find whoever was behind the explosion. Kate deserves that much. And so does he.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 16th, 2011 09:53 pm (UTC)
That was beautiful. Well-written Neal!Angst is pretty much win in my book, and going back to the time he's in prison especially gets me. Great first work in the fandom. Hope you write a lot more! We could really use some Gen writers over at collarcorner. Care to check out the prompts?
May. 16th, 2011 11:46 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the encouragement; it means so much! :D Sure, I joined the comm! I haven't written much gen, so it'll be great to stretch my wings, and I love working with prompts, so it seems like it'll be great fun!
(Deleted comment)
May. 16th, 2011 11:49 pm (UTC)
Angst: it's what's for dinner. ;) Your encouragement is overwhelming! (I see what you did there Tumblr, spamming my dashboard with likes. :D) I don't know if I like Neal/Kate so much as I like the idea of what they had--that image of the two of them having nothing but each other and the empty Bordeaux bottle really struck me and got me thinking. But the one thing that has been clear to me is how much Neal loves her, so I really wanted to explore how he could've worked through it just afterwards. And trust me, this probably won't be my only fic! :D
May. 17th, 2011 09:08 am (UTC)
I thought this was really lovely, well-written, in character, and intelligent. I love the difference between the sharp memories and the hazed over ones, and how you write the Peter-Neal friendship as well as the Neal/Kate. There are some great turns of phrase here, and I think this is my fave line:

"In his cell, he rolls the taste of the memory around in his mouth like a fine wine."
May. 17th, 2011 01:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Glad you enjoyed. :D
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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