Fandom: White Collar
Characters: Neal, Neal/Kate (Gen, Drama)
Summary: (Season one) Kate was still the compass that dictated Neal's path.
Author's Notes: This is the improved version of this story. The original (written for usanetwork_las) is here. The prompt for round 1 was "Running out of time".
He couldn't understand why it had to be so hard. Sometimes he wondered if it always had been, and he'd simply never noticed.
Or chosen not to see.
Neal had loved other women before Kate, back when he still remembered innocence and when the future seemed simpler than it later turned out to be. None of those other women took hold the way Kate did—threading through his thoughts (his hopes and dreams) like a painter's private symbolism recurred through a portfolio of art. When Neal's greatest talent was revealed to be more extraction than execution, any other woman would have left. Kate Moreau was different.
They met on a job, where Kate was the courier for the manuscript he'd stolen. She was as drawn to the danger and beauty of the heist as he was, and nothing about him could ever have surprised her except for his rare and gentle nature. He never hid it from her, after their first few encounters. Later, she would tell him it was that gentleness she loved most.
He thought they'd have forever to soar and scheme, to fold the rush and thrill of their work into their passion for each other. Instead, Peter Burke caught him before Neal realized just how fast and far he should have run.
Prison was hard, but Neal kept reminding himself that it didn't have to be his entire future. Kate was waiting for him, and they still had a lifetime left for all the things they'd hoped to do. Her abrupt farewell was a shock, and soon Neal was scrambling after whatever clues she might have left behind. When Peter Burke found him for the second time, Neal was still clutching the bottle Kate had used to signal another form of the goodbye he'd never seen coming.
Outside prison, Neal kept searching for the answers to Kate's disappearance. Both Peter and Mozzie insisted that the truth was obvious, but Neal wasn't about to follow where that idea led.
Hidden maps and half-formed messages brought him nothing. He and Mozzie chased the details of Kate's photo in circles until they pointed to Agent Fowler and a music box no one could entirely prove existed.
In the years before prison, Neal had stolen with Kate—they had partnered in some of his finest operations. But until now, he had never stolen for Kate. If it weren't for her voice on the phone and that tone of panic, he might have questioned the need and his ability to pull it off.
He no longer had that luxury.
With only days left, Neal worked as quickly as he could now, rushing after all the leads Alex and Mozzie could provide. The fact that he was even working with Alex again—the trust between them as fragile as Italian glass—just showed how desperate he'd become.
The wait between the stages, the endless planning… it was all too slow. Fowler was ruthless enough that he might actually kill Kate if Neal didn't come through on the man's timeline.
Sometimes, in the sleepless hours of long nights, Neal couldn't help remembering how Peter and Mozzie looked at him when he talked about Kate being kept hostage, as if he were deluded.
Neither of them understood how necessary his convictions were.
It had been more than a wounded heart that made Neal search for Kate. He couldn't have begun to consider the possibility that she'd simply left him.
Now, frantically running down every path that might lead to the music box, Neal had to believe he was saving Kate.
The alternative—that she was using him, and that everything that had happened in the last year was part of a larger con—was unbearable.
He had nothing to hope for if he ever allowed himself to even think it.
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