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[personal profile] asimaiyat
Title: "Summer In The City (the Hallucinating You remix)"
Fandom: White Collar
Pairing: Kate/Neal, Mozzie/Neal, Kate/Mozzie
Rating: R -- dark themes, implied sex. References to prison violence.
Summary: While Neal is in prison, Kate and Mozzie reach for each other.

AN: This is a remix of [profile] photoash's wonderful ficlet "Solace". I strongly recommend reading hers first -- it's amazing how much she fits into 500 words. Title and cut text from the Regina Spektor song of the same name.

Kate goes to visit Neal in prison every week. Whatever she's doing, whoever she's supposed to be seeing, she drops it all at nine thirty on Thursday mornings and changes into something colorful, something soft and pretty, the sort of thing that she imagines is missing from his world these days. It's not easy; every week she has to set her jaw and prepare to see Neal looking like a lonely ghost, to hear all around her out-of-context snatches of the saddest stories she's ever heard. There are other women like her -- well, at least in one way they're like her; she's usually the only one with pale blue eyes and a Betsey Johnson skirt and a cab waiting outside to take her to a gallery opening -- crying and bringing cards drawn by children, coming back week after week, and at first she thinks that's so sad, these are their lives, and then she thinks, this is my life, and she doesn't know how to live with that, exactly, but the next week she comes back in a pink silk blouse and an angora beret and she smiles at him, because she loves him. Because she doesn't think he could do this without her.

When she first met him he seemed invincible, above it all and afraid of nothing. She thought he'd just taken up with her because she amused him, because he thought she was cute like a little kitten. Now she knows that he needs her, that her strength -- such as it is -- is what's getting him through this, year after year. That's how strong she needs to be, so that's how strong she is. Strong enough not to be one of their countless other friends who've given up, who went a couple of times at the beginning before begging off because it was "too spooky" or "too depressing," and also strong enough not to be one of those women who press themselves up against the glass like they're going to trick it into giving way for a second, letting them touch. She knows the rules, and she follows them, even if sometimes it feels like it's killing her to not be able to do anything but look and smile. And when she's walking out to catch her cab and she sees this big guy with sunglasses and a white shirt that's too small in the shoulders, hanging back and maybe watching her, and she know she's seen that guy somewhere before, she ignores the little shiver that runs down her spine, because whatever's going on, she's just going to have to handle it on her own.

She's been avoiding Mozzie, despite his occasional calls to see how Neal's doing, despite Neal's not-really-casual questions about how Mozzie is doing. He wants her to check in on him -- "Is he sleeping? Is he getting out to see people? Has he found an uncensored copy of those classified 9-11 memos yet?" It's demeaning, being asked to babysit for a man in his forties who treats her like a pre-schooler because she doesn't know who Neal Stephenson is. But nobody else is going to do it, so finally she picks up the phone and talks him into meeting her an outdoor cafe in the Village, because Neal is worried that he isn't getting any sun. Of course, it turns out that he's mysteriously busy until nine p.m., but she supposes that starlight must deliver at least a low dose of vitamin D.

It's one of those late-July nights where just walking down the street feels like swimming through a swamp, and Kate's still dressed for her weekly visit, in a short lavender dress that could be described as "breezy" if there was actually a breeze. Yeah, not so much. She sees Mozzie from half a block away, sitting at a table for two with an old fashioned glass in front of him that he isn't drinking from. He's one of those people who always get places first, no matter how punctual everyone else is, and she feels this sort of wash of anger at him for no reason -- because he's still wearing layers and shows no sign of taking off his jacket, because he's probably drinking some obscure 1920s cocktail that he and Neal used to drink together when she was still in school, because he's not going to give an inch and she doesn't have the energy to hold her own right now. Because she sat in a prison waiting room today and watched the woman sitting next to her trying not to cry as she told her husband that she still believed that he was innocent, and she wants to tell someone about it, anyone, but she can't, because she isn't a person who goes around talking about things like that. She smiles and waits for a second in case he wants to stand up and shake hands or something. He doesn't. Instead, he moves his eye just enough to take in her wilted dress and her four-inch wedge heels (what, she needs some kind of advantage; she isn't the one with a Sun Tsu quote for every occasion), and says, "Hi, Kate. Neal always did have good taste." By which he could mean any number of things, none of which come close to a compliment.

"Hey, Mozzie. Staying out of trouble?"

"More or less," he says, "as far as anyone knows. And yourself?"

"I," she says, and takes a long breath. "Have forgotten what 'out of trouble' even looks like. I'm knee-deep in the stuff. Trouble is my business."

"Chandler," Mozzie replies with a raised eyebrow. "A classic. You've got decent taste yourself."

"I've always loved Chandler. Figured you would, too." She tries to catch the eye of the waiter. "Neal's more of a Hammett guy."

"Neal's got a weakness for the snappy banter."

"How else do you think I got his attention in the first place?" She just lets that sit there, because she's pretty sure Mozzie thinks he knows what Neal sees in her, and she's pretty sure he's wrong. She's bluffing a little, betting that he'll let this one go.

"He ever tell you how he and I met?" And he folds. Good for him. On to the next hand.

"Can't say I ever asked. He talks like the two of you go back forever, though."

"Forever is a very long time. But in Ingenue years? More or less forever." He smirks, which she takes as friendly. "The Ingenue" was how Mozzie had referred to Kate for the first six months that they'd known each other, while both of them were under the impression that they'd only have to get along for work purposes, before it became obvious that matters of the heart were involved, on all sides. "He was just a kid. A reckless kid... which is to say, he hasn't changed very much. I wanted to find out who'd been working on a mural of Manet's Olympia on the wall of an old warehouse in the neighborhood... as it turned out, someone had gotten tired of his efficiency having a view of a brick wall."

Kate snorts. "You're right, hasn't changed a bit."

"Even less than you think -- my curiosity ended up losing me my wallet. So I went looking for him again, in the hope of getting it back... and I found him."

"What did he take the second time?" she asks wryly. "Don't say your heart."

Mozzie winces a little at that. "The second time I knew who I was dealing with. I taught him a trick that day, though -- how to empty the wallet and return it without being spotted. He picked it up like a dream, in minutes. Just brilliant."

She wants to argue with this, to challenge the claim, as if you could re-write somebody else's history by resenting it enough. She wants to say you think you discovered him, didn't you? As if anyone discovered Neal, as if he was discovered rather than invented, by himself for the first time and then again and again in their imaginations. But there's nothing to argue with, just facts and stories and memories that she can't contradict. And she's tired, and it's late, and today she had to talk to the man she loves through a glass window, watched by hostile guards, and instead of looking for points to dispute she finds herself just listening to stories. Mozzie tells her about Neal at her age and younger, skinny and guarded, picking pockets in Times Square and slumming in Hell's Kitchen.

He says: "I don't quite remember how we got back to the airport after that; I suppose he had a change of clothes on him somewhere. The kid always was an expert on traveling light."

She says: "And you know, when he looked at me like that my mind just went blank, so I told this terrible old joke I'd read in some book about the Algonquin Round Table, because it was -- literally -- the only thing I could think of to say. And there was this really awkward silence, until he started laughing, and then everyone else started --"

"And then I had to spend the rest of the night pretending I had terrible laryngitis and was unable to speak, because of course His Excellency Dr. Bronkowski -- my alter ego for the evening -- just had to be a native speaker of Polish."

(By now Mozzie has taken his jacket off, Kate has received and made significant progress on a vodka & cranberry, and the tables around them have long since emptied out.)

"So that was my first felony. He took me out for gelato afterward to celebrate, and then told the guy behind the counter that it was my birthday..."

"Do you have any idea how heavy Faberge eggs are? I certainly didn't. I want you to guess. How much do you think the average Faberge egg weighs, in ounces?"

"Turns out the concierge I was supposed to be distracting could not care less about my cleavage. Yeah, you guessed it. Gay as a parade. Not that I was ever as good as Neal at that part, anyway; he makes it look so easy."

"That's what he does," Mozzie agrees. "Remember our first job together, as a triumvirate? I will admit, I was a little bit surprised to see him --"

"Strutting down the fire escape, I know! I didn't even think it was possible. Especially weighed down by like five stuffed suitcases."

"Five Vuitton suitcases, he would like for you to remember."

Kate can't stop laughing, like a seal has been broken, finally, after god knows how long. "How could I forget?"

"And then the heavens opened, boom! all over all of that vintage leather luggage..."

"And of course there were no cabs anywhere. Thank God you had all of those bus passes."

"When all else fails, public transit will come through for you. Every single time. I like to think it's the City's way of paying us back for everything it puts us through."

"I guess," and Kate is having trouble stringing together a sentence through the laughter, "that must be your romantic side."

She suddenly realizes how close they are, as her hand brushes his upper arm, their faces a moment away from touching. She can tell that he's realizing it at the same moment, stopping himself in space like he was just about to close that distance. The laughter dies down, like the flicker at the end of a reel of film. She can't take her eyes off of his, now, but she feels his fingers stroking her hair, drawing out the moment inch by inch.

"This is fucked up," she says.

He gives her a look over his glasses that reminds her of all of the reasons why she didn't want to come here in the first place. It's a challenge.

"I get it," she says. "We're already fucked up. Fucked up is our business."

"Astute," he replies, and finishes his drink in one long sip, their eyes locked as she mirrors the gesture.


After, in her bedroom, she wakes up at an odd hour and sees him sitting up in bed beside her, staring into space. She lies still, wrapped in cool sheets, and watches the ceiling fan throw dark shadows across his face. The window is open and the nighttime city sounds drift up from fourteen stories below, hushed by the whirr of the fan. Kate pretends to be asleep, taking slow, deep breaths, looking up at him through her eyelashes. She wants him to notice, to turn his head the couple of inches it would take to see her eye fluttering open, but she's unwilling for some reason to break the spell herself. Just too stubborn, probably.

She wants him to ask her what it's really like. She can imagine how he'd say it: don't tell me any more fairy tales. I can handle the truth. In this space, in this dim light, she'd tell him. She wouldn't spare the details, the overwhelming loneliness of solitary confinement, the way Neal talks more in an hour now than he'd talk all day sometimes when they were living together, desperate to fit in as much conversation as possible. She'd say that maybe he looks a little thinner, but the real change is inside, invisible, and it scares her to death. She'd say that he knows that he's luckier than most, he says so over and over, and that she doesn't think he tells her the worst of what he sees and hears. Maybe, while there was still the option of pretending that it was all a dream, he wouldn't think she was trying to make him feel guilty, pushing him away. Maybe he'd understand that she just needs to tell someone. And she could tell him what it's like for her, bracing for the worst week after week, keeping all of this inside of her all the time.

If he asked -- only if he asked -- she could tell him how scared she was, not just for Neal, but because of the black sedan she kept seeing parked outside of her building, the guys in dark sunglasses she kept barely recognizing out of the corner of her eye. After all, if anyone could help her, Mozzie could. In the full light of the city she knew he'd rabbit at the first word of it, she'd break the only connection Neal had to his best friend, but now, maybe, if she was just talking in her sleep, guileless and vulnerable in one of Neal's old t-shirts, maybe he'd have to help her. Maybe she wouldn't have to face whatever this was alone. Maybe it would be enough just to get it off her chest.

He doesn't ask, though. And she can't make herself move, can't even draw a quick breath and let him know that she's awake, watching him contemplate whatever it is. They're so close that she can feel his body heat on the bed, but the thought of reaching out and touching him is like some crazy sci-fi dream talk. She waits in suspense, not sure if he's thinking about lying back down or getting up and leaving. Maybe he's worried about waking her up. She waits just like that, the silence held between them, until she can't keep her eye open any longer, and no longer has to try to pretend to be asleep. When she wakes up in the morning, she's alone.

A week later, she calls him again.

(no subject)

Date: 2010-05-10 07:34 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] primary
this is augustbird from lj~ lolol damn it's been a while since i've looked at my dw.





ok ok once more this is like ANOTHER piece where i literally would quote THE ENTIRE THING back at you if i had to pick brilliant lines kjashdflshjkf HOW DO YOU MANAGE TO WRITE SO EFFORTLESSLY? you make it look so goddamn easy IDK WHETHER TO RAGE AT THE UNFAIRNESS OR ENJOY THE HELL OUT OF YOUR TALENT possibly both xD

As if anyone discovered Neal, as if he was discovered rather than invented, by himself for the first time and then again and again in their imaginations.

<333 love it.


asimaiyat: If you're in trouble, and no one else can help, and you can find them, maybe you can hire Leverage! (w/ whole team) (Default)

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