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Picture Perfect 4/4 - Swirly Stars

About Picture Perfect 4/4

Previous Entry Picture Perfect 4/4 Sep. 10th, 2010 @ 01:18 am Next Entry
Title: Picture Perfect
Pairing: Referenced Neal/Kate. Character focus on Neal and Peter. El and Moz make an appearance.
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 13,146
Spoilers: Season 1 finale. A brief mention of a single conversation in season 2
Warnings: General angst. Neal being Neal.
Summary: Neal gets over Kate, only for her to show up again. Peter wants him to stay, Kate wants him to leave, and Neal is stuck somewhere in the middle
Author's Note: I do not own White Collar or its characters. And the artwork for my story was done by the talented and wonderfully creative [info]aruna7 

Previous

 

The city lights were just becoming visible as the sun was setting behind the buildings in the distance. Kate admired the view. She leaned over the railing staring at the street below, watching cars and cabs shuttle people through their lives. Though she wanted to explore the city, free from any scrutiny, Kate was reluctant to do so without Neal. Too many times Neal and she had dreamed of taking New York by storm, maybe steal a painting or two from the Met, and then whisk away to another far off land. She wondered if Neal would be up to going out with her tonight when he returned from work. Checking her watch again, and once more finding time moving too slow, Kate sighed and resumed staring across the city.

 

She heard the door creak open and then shut. She turned around; ready to cheerfully greet Neal, but her smile faltered when she saw who was with him. Forcing her smile to remain in place, Kate walked into the room and shut the balcony door behind her.

 

“Evening, Peter,” Kate greeted. She shot Neal a questioning, almost betrayed, look. “I wasn’t expecting you.”

 

Peter nodded his head and smiled tightly.

 

“I wasn’t expecting you either, Kate,” Peter replied. “I’m glad to see you up and about.”

 

Neal shifted his weight and sent Kate a silent plea to stay. She finally frowned and crossed her arms defensively.

 

“I’m sure you are,” she replied, a small amount of sarcasm leaking through her tone. “What changed your mind about that?”

 

It was impossible to miss the bitterness and even hurt in her voice. Neal bit his tongue to keep silent. He shifted his gaze between Peter and Kate, trying to figure out what went on between the two of them. He recalled Peter telling him about his first meeting with Kate, but aside from telling Neal that he thought Kate was playing him, Peter did not specifically mention all of what they said. A look of pained regret, along with a determination Neal came to associate with Peter, matched Kate’s withering stare.

 

“That was never what I meant,” he explained calmly. “I told you to leave him alone. I never wanted you dead.”

 

By now, Neal was putting pieces together, but he was still confused, and when he was honest with himself, a little hurt that both Peter and Kate had kept so much from him.

 

“It still served your purpose, didn’t it?” Kate accused. “As long as I wasn’t around to bother Neal by ‘twisting his heart around.’”

 

Neal said nothing, but threw his hands up in the air and dropped himself into the couch. Peter and Kate ignored him. Both were too caught up in their extensive history involving Neal to acknowledge him yet.

 

“Kate, your right that I didn’t want you to be around Neal,” Peter freely admitted, torn between giving Kate a stern talking to and offering her a hug. “But you’re here now, and Neal told me what you’re planning.”

 

Kate glanced over at Neal who studiously ignored her and continued to stare straight ahead.

 

“And you want me to leave Neal alone?” she asked.

 

Crossing his arms, Peter took a deep breath to gather his wits and took a moment to study the insecurity and fear hidden behind her eyes. It was the same insecurity and fear he had seen the very first time he had ever met her, and he wondered if it ever left her. When he recalled his meeting with her about the Neal and the music box, he realized he could see the same look.

 

“Ideally, that would be best,” Peter admitted, but held up his hand to silence Kate’s protest. “However, you’re here now, and as much as I don’t always like it, neither of you have to run.”

 

Suddenly, Kate started laughing. Neal looked over at her concerned, while Peter braced himself for her answer.

 

“And what am I supposed to do?” she asked in hysterics. “Help you guys solve your cases, live happily ever after on the straight and narrow?”

 

Peter nodded seriously.

 

“More or less,” acknowledged Peter. “Listen, with the whole Fowler, OPR thing blown over, you don’t have to run. Neal just has to finish his four year sentence with me; then he’s free to go and do whatever.”

 

Closing her eyes and taking several deep breaths, Kate wrapped her arms around herself and chanced a glance at Neal. He was still doing his best at avoiding eye contact with her. His hands were clasped in front him, elbows resting on his knees. Peter joined Kate in staring at Neal. At long last, Neal looked up from his ruminations and stared blankly at the two of them.

 

“Are you two done having this conversation without me?” he asked, his voice a bit more clipped than he intended.

 

Shaking his head in frustration and turning on his heel, Peter motioned to Neal and Kate.

 

“You two need to talk this out,” ordered Peter. “And I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 

He left no room for argument before leaving the room so that Neal and Kate were alone. They stared at each other a moment before Kate grabbed a nearby kitchen chair and sagged into it.

 

“You told Peter,” she accused, no real malice behind her voice. “You have changed so much.”

 

“I haven’t changed so much as changed what I do with myself,” Neal protested.

 

“And what we do reflects who we are, Neal,” Kate replied. “What you’re doing here, is it really so much better than what we had?”

 

Neal shook his head, mouth open as he realized that he had no honest idea what he thought about his current situation in relation to what he used to have. He clamped his mouth shut and Kate stared at the floor dejectedly. She gnawed on her bottom lip as she tried to quell her growing anxiety. Her head whipped up when she felt Neal gently grab her shoulders.

 

“Less than four years, Kate. Then I’m legally free to go anywhere I want, with whomever I want,” Neal insisted.

 

Kate smiled sadly.

 

“You could always talk a pretty word,” she commented fondly. “What am I supposed to do for those ‘less than four years?’ Get a regular job? Help you like Mozzie does?”

 

“It’s not all that bad,” Neal defended the life he was living. He brought his hands up to cup the sides of her face. “You can have a good life here.”

 

Shaking her head, Kate covered Neal’s hands with her own and gently pulled them away. She blinked back the moisture gathering in the corner of her eyes and swallowed the lump in her throat.

 

“But it’s not the life I want.”

 

Neal froze and almost tripped when it felt like the floor was dropping out from underneath him. Kate knew the feeling. Standing up and forcing a smile, Kate collected her jacket and purse.

 

“Maybe Peter’s right and we need to think about it,” Kate suggested. “I’m going to see if I can stay with Mozzie.”

 

Wanting to disagree with her, but unable to bring himself to, Neal returned her tight smile and helped her with her coat.

 

“I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” promised Neal.

 

They hesitated at the doorway, leaning partway in before smiling awkwardly and separating. Neal watched her walk down the stairs, go out the door, and disappear into the evening. He remained standing at the top of the staircase staring at the empty space in front of him.

 

“Neal?” June’s asked tentatively.

 

Snapping out of his daze, Neal plastered on a smile and answered,

 

“Yes, June?”

 

June smiled at him, a knowing look in her eyes that Neal came to trust, respect, and need.

 

“I have another guest waiting for you,” she explained. “Would you like to see him?”

 

He had the strongest desire to tell her no and just lock himself in his room, but having come to trust her judgment in everything she decided to get herself involved in, Neal nodded his head. As he was walking down the stairs, he tripped down the last step when he saw Peter standing beside June.

 

“Peter, I thought you left,” Neal wondered.

 

“I don’t recall ever saying I was leaving,” he responded glibly. “I only said I would see you tomorrow.”

 

“I’ll send up some tea for you gentlemen,” June said.

 

She left the room, leaving behind her a tense silence. Peter looked upstairs questioningly to which Neal obliged.

 

“You okay?” Peter suddenly asked. “I saw Kate leave.”

 

Neal held the door open for Peter and then shut it when he entered.

 

“Yeah, she’s going to spend the night over at Mozzie’s,” Neal answered. “We’re actually taking your advice on something.”

 

“Wow, this day is just full of surprises.”

 

Before Neal could answer, there was a knock on the door followed by the maid informing them she had tea. Neal opened the door, thanked her, and set the tea on the table. Neither Peter nor Neal made a move to pour any tea.

 

When Peter had left, he had every intention of going back up and telling Neal he would be a fool to run away with Kate. But now that he was sitting across from Neal, he realized his words would be meaningless.

 

“You’re running,” Peter observed.

 

Neal tensed, but made no indication of denying it. Peter wanted to go back to his original plan and call Neal an idiot, but he refrained from reacting on his initial instinct. Instead, he forced himself to be calm.

 

“You told me you didn’t want to run anymore,” he pointed out. “Why do you want to run now?”

 

“I love her, Peter,” Neal replied with conviction. “I need to be with her.”

 

Running a hand through his hair, Peter braced himself for what was to be sure an exhausting conversation. He repeatedly told himself he has to remain calm and be the one in control.

 

“Yes, you do love her,” Peter started out agreeing with him. “But you loved her then, before you thought she was dead, and you didn’t want to run.”

 

“Things changed,” Neal blurted out. “Everything I had done was so we could be together. She put so much on the line, played everybody, just so we could be together.”

 

Peter gently shook his head.

 

“Neal, I noticed the scaring on Kate’s arms without her jacket on,” he explained as he maintained eye contact with Neal. Taking a deep breath, Peter continued. “There is a hell of a fine line between love, responsibility, and guilt.”

 

Slamming his hand on the table’s surface, Neal stood up and began storming around the room.

 

“I’m not doing this just because I feel guilty,” Neal yelled. “Why can’t you understand I love her; that I want to be with her?!”

 

“I do understand, Neal, of course you want to be with her,” Peter responded, his voice increasing in controlled volume to match Neal’s. “But I don’t think you understand what you want.”

 

Roughly running his hands through his hair and tugging angrily on it, Neal continued to pace and rapidly shake his head.

 

“You’re wrong, I know what I want!” Neal continued to insist.

 

Concerned for the floor’s well being, and more importantly, for Neal’s state of mind, Peter stood up and grabbed Neal’s arms and forcefully shook him to make him slow down and breathe.

 

“You want what Kate wants, but, Neal, love isn’t just about what the other person wants.” Peter stated, waiting for Neal to nod his head once. “Do you really want to run away from here, from all of this? This is your life now, until your sentence is served. Again, why is now any different from before? You’d still be escaping. You’re just now finding your life, and Kate is still looking for hers.”

 

The muscles in Neal’s jaw tightened as he clenched his teeth and refused to admit anything.

 

“Neal, you do so much good here,” claimed Peter. “You help people who normally would be forgotten in the sea of bureaucratic paperwork. And you get to do it while doing the things you love; the things you live for; outsmarting the next conman, outsmarting the system, and trying to outsmart me.”

 

Even Peter would admit his joke was a little flat, but it still forced Neal to pause long enough to calm down and take a deep breath. Finally comfortable with letting Neal go, Peter carefully relinquished his grip on Neal’s arms and backed away from him.

 

“I don’t want to see you leave,” Peter admitted quietly.

 

Neal scrutinized Peter’s face for any trace of lying.

 

“Why? Because I’m doing such great work here, because I would be breaking the law, because-“

 

“I would miss my friend,” interrupted Peter. “I would miss my personal pain in the ass that keeps life interesting and forces me to enjoy every day of my life.”

 

The sounds of the old grandfather clock downstairs echoed softly in the room. Neal opened and closed his mouth, trying to find words and failing. There was an almost look of desperation on his face as he tried to steady his breathing. Peter was about to tell Neal to sit down before he passed out, but before he could, Neal finally spoke.

 

“I need to talk to Kate.”

 

Instead of reaching for his cell phone, Neal practically ran to the door and jumped down the stairs, forgetting his jacket. Peter reached out to call him back, but at the last minute, he dropped his hand to his side and forlornly looked around the room, listening to Neal’s rushed steps.

 

Neal slammed the entrance doors shut behind him and he took off running towards Mozzie’s home. As he ran, he fumbled in his pocket for his phone and dialed Kate’s number. There were a few rings and then Kate’s soft answer. Neal had to stop running in order to speak properly.

 

“Let’s run,” he panted. “Tonight.”

 

There was a swift agreement from Kate and sounds of her waking Moz. Just as he heard Moz yelling about a government raid, Neal hung up and frantically searched the area around him. To his surprise, Peter was nowhere to be seen, and his anklet hung heavy on his ankle. He looked down at the piece of plastic keeping him locked in this place and cursed. Biting his lip in frustration, Neal noticed a cab driving down the street. He waved the cab down, and when he opened the door, he tossed the driver a wad of bills he had stored in a pocket and ordered him to drive to the airport. However, instead of getting in the cab, Neal leaned over, found the release switch and fiddled with it a moment until it opened. Immediately, the light started blinking madly. Neal tossed the object in the back seat and slammed the car door shut. The cab driver was confused, but did not question the money. Neal watched the cab disappear around the corner before turning the opposite direction and running.

 

Neal and Kate did not need to organize their escape. Other than Neal’s impromptu maneuver to get rid of the tracking anklet, he and Kate had spent all weekend running through all the details of the grand plan. As he ran down the streets, a non-descript vehicle pulled alongside him. The window rolled down to reveal Kate motioning him to get in the vehicle. Wasting no time, Neal dove into the car, complimented Moz on his timing, and lay low as they made their way to the bus station.

 

Hoping the tracking anklet would confuse the marshals long enough to create some distance, Neal sat up as Moz parked the car. Kate thanked him with a kiss to the cheek and a heartfelt hug. He was distinctly uncomfortable with displays of affection, but he tolerated it well enough. When Neal was getting out of the car, he turned towards Moz, but he could not bring himself to say anything. Moz just stared at him, neither approving nor condemning Neal. It was more than Neal could ever ask for in a friend. With the sound of the door clicking shut, Neal placed a hand over his stomach. Kate came up beside him and gently tugged on the sleeve of his shirt.

 

“We have to get going,” she said. “The bus is getting ready to leave, and we need to be on this one if we want to be able to transfer.”

 

Neal nodded his head, but he did not move. Kate furrowed her brows in confusion and tugged a bit more urgently on his sleeve.

 

“What’s wrong?” she asked, dread and panic beginning to color her voice. “Don’t tell me you changed your mind?”

 

Shutting his eyes in an attempt to gather courage, Neal grabbed Kate’s hand and held it firmly.

 

“Why do we have to run?” he asked.

 

Kate shook her head, confused as to his questioning.

 

“You just said you wanted to,” Kate answered.

 

“No,” Neal corrected her. “I mean, why is it so important I leave?”

 

Glancing frantically between Neal and the bus right behind her, Kate ripped her hand from Neal’s grip.

 

“So we can finally be together, Neal!” she exclaimed, not understanding why he was so reluctant to leave with her. “What can this life offer you? After your sentence is up, then what? You get a regular job, join the workforce? Or what, did you think you would hang around with Peter?”

 

The few people who were still milling around, waiting for their bus, snuck glances at Kate who was balling her hands into fists and shifting her weight in frustration. No matter how much she fought against it, she felt a warm trickle down her face. Neal’s pained look was too much for her. She did not want his sympathy, pity, or anything else. All she wanted was to be with him, just like it always had been.

 

“Neal, you have no idea what will happen at the end of your four years, but you know what you’ll have with me,” Kate urged, desperation now openly apparent. “We play the odds because we can’t know. Those few times when we do know, those are what we act on.”

 

Neal bowed his head, but forced himself to look at her. He stepped forward and cradled her face. Leaning down, he placed a soft, chaste kiss on her lips.

 

“You always knew how to speak a pretty word, Kate,” Neal said with a small smile. “I don’t know what will happen. I can only see this thing through and hope for the best.”

 

Shoulders slumping in defeat, eyes free from any tears, Kate questioned sadly,

 

“What is the ‘best,’ Neal?”

 

“I don’t know yet,” he admitted. “But I’ll know. And when I do, I’ll find you.”

 

Laughing softly at the irony of the situation and life, Kate leaned forward and kissed Neal on the cheek.

 

“I won’t wait up.”

 

Neal smiled at her, and Kate smiled at him. There was something life changing happening between them, but neither of them knew what it was. They simply understood that they would never be the same with each other, and to each other. The pain in their chests did nothing to ease their anger, frustration, sadness, guilt, and relief. A loud horn burst through the night air.

 

“Goodbye, Neal,” Kate said. “I love you.”

 

“I love you, Kate,” Neal stated, almost too soft for Kate to hear over the engine of the buses.

 

Without a final glance back, Kate walked away and stepped onto the waiting bus. Neal watched the bus slowly back out and carefully exit the lot. As it passed by, he caught a glimpse of her in the window. He waved.

 

“Do you want to go home now?” Moz asked.

 

“Yeah, I’m sure the marshals are climbing the walls,” Neal answered. He paused and took a moment to hug Moz. “Thank you.”

 

Moz was caught off guard by the hug, but for once, it felt natural. He returned the gesture and patted Neal on the back.

 

“Right,” he said, clearing his throat. “My phone has now been inundated with calls and messages from your favorite Feebie.”

 

“Peter?” Neal asked incredulously.

 

Ushering Neal into the car, Moz rolled his eyes.

 

“I believe I just told you that,” he stated. “He’s waiting for you at his place.”

 

No other words were spoken as Moz willingly drove his own car to a federal agent’s house. Neal appreciated the silence and appreciated Moz all the more. The drive was comfortably silent, and when they arrived, Moz shooed him out of the vehicle with a rant about satellites and compromised positions. Neal offered him a smile, and used the pretense of watching Moz leave to build up the necessary determination to knock on the Burke’s front door.

 

With his fist poised to knock on the front door, Neal was surprised when it suddenly opened and he was pulled into a warm hug. Not too loose, and not too tight, Elizabeth’s hug was perfect, and Neal felt like he could face Peter. She smiled sadly, but with an amount of care very few people have ever given him. Patting him gently on the shoulder, Elizabeth silently made her way up the stairs with Satchmo.

 

“Not one of your more complex escapes,” Peter noted.

 

Neal shifted his weight and forced his body to remain still and in place as he met Peter’s eyes. His breathing hitched when he saw no anger or disappointment in Peter’s expression.

 

“It was sort of last minute,” Neal explained. “What about the anklet?”

 

Reaching into his pocket, Peter pulled out the anklet in question.

 

“I told the marshals to take you off your radius for today,” Peter informed him casually. “For being unpredictable, you can be quite predictable.”

 

Smirking, Neal stuffed his hands in his pockets.

 

“We can’t be having that now, can we?” he joked somewhat seriously.

 

“Nope. That would make my job too easy,” responded Peter.

 

“Did I make the right decision?” Neal suddenly asked despondently. “It really doesn’t feel like it.”

 

Peter sighed and walked over to Neal. He placed a comforting hand on his shoulder and squeezed.

 

“I know. I can only imagine what this cost you.” Peter made sure he had full eye contact with Neal. “But you’re not alone.”

 

Neal tried to smile at Peter, but all he managed was a brief spasm at the corner of his mouth. Peter appreciated the attempt, but right now, it was not what Neal needed.

 

“I thought I would hate you,” Neal spoke in barely a whisper. “If I stayed here. I was afraid I would. I didn’t want to. And now I know, I don’t, and I won’t ever hate you.”

 

There was a tremendous amount of relief when Peter heard Neal say that. He was prepared for Neal to be angry, to be upset; to hate him for pushing him into staying.

 

“That’s good to hear,” Peter admitted.

 

He stood, suddenly feeling an awkward silence settle between them. Frowning in concentration, he looked around his living room and happened to notice the lone hat resting on the table. Grabbing the hat from its resting spot, Peter held the hat out to Neal. When he made no move to grab it, or even acknowledge it, Peter gently set it on top of Neal’s head.

 

“I think you would have been lonely without it,” Peter mused.

 

Neal dropped his head onto Peter’s shoulder with a soft thud. The hat slid off with the movement and hit the floor without a sound. He was silent, but Peter could feel Neal’s tightly controlled breathing and a warm, moist spot growing on his shoulder. He brought his arm up and rubbed up and down Neal’s back. Neal’s shoulders slumped, an occasional hitch in breathing wracked through his body. They remained like that for a short eternity, before Neal felt more in control. When he pulled away from Peter, Neal grimaced at the wet stain on Peter’s shirt. Cutting him off before he could apologize, Peter leaned down and picked up the hat. He dusted it off and set it back on Neal’s head. Neal could not help but smile just a little. Peter returned the smile and grabbed the hat again, but this time, he adjusted it on Neal so it sat cocked at an angle.

 

“There,” he stated in his usual no nonsense manner. “Picture perfect.”
Leave a comment
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From:elrhiarhodan
Date:September 10th, 2010 12:34 pm (UTC)
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This is terrific!

I could feel Neal's deep conflict - the old comfort of his love for Kate battling with his growth as a human being.

Your characters and voices are pitch perfecr and very much in canon. A wonderful story worth reading over and over again.

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From:astra_sequi
Date:September 13th, 2010 01:02 am (UTC)
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It's great to hear the characters stay in character. It's kind of hard to do, especially for Kate (since WC gives us next to nothing about her). Thanks for reading. :D
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From:secretsolitaire
Date:September 10th, 2010 12:42 pm (UTC)
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Aw, Neal! *hugs him* I enjoyed this. I could see how things had changed between Neal and Kate (mostly because of how Neal himself had changed), and I liked Peter giving him his mojo hat back at the end. :-)
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From:astra_sequi
Date:September 13th, 2010 01:06 am (UTC)
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Peter will always make sure Neal has his mojo/hat. :D Thank you for reading. Glad you enjoyed it.
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From:micheleeeex
Date:September 10th, 2010 02:09 pm (UTC)
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i loved this :D
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From:astra_sequi
Date:September 13th, 2010 01:07 am (UTC)
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Happy to hear you enjoyed this. Cheers!
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From:astra_sequi
Date:September 13th, 2010 01:15 am (UTC)
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I'm happy he decided not to run too. It's more fun when he's with Peter. :) Cheer! I'm happy you enjoyed the story.
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From:afiawri
Date:September 12th, 2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
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Your poor Neal, trying to have his cake and eat it too.
I love how, in the middle of this last act, tomorrow becomes a theme. The first chapter is so grounded in the present, the second in history, and you have this final chapter balancing on tomorrow so beautifully delicately- and it’s Peter who breaks that by pulling a Neal. The moment he came back was brilliant. And then symbolism of the clock- chiming the hour, bring it closer to tomorrow, and then Kate wins Neal over- that was brilliant.
I love how Neal, too emotional to think clearly, has too logical an argument (unusual! And it works well) whereas it’s Peter who finally utilizes pathos, as he tends to do at critical moments. This role reversal work so well, and I love how you give it a fragile balance that snaps so suddenly.
I think, reading most White Collar stories, I personally go in with the assumption that there will be a happy ending, or at the very least Neal will do the right thing. You do a wonderful job of making me question that assumption at every turn. And that was a large part of what made this such a fun read.
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From:astra_sequi
Date:September 13th, 2010 01:27 am (UTC)
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It makes me so happy to hear that you've enjoyed this story so thoroughly. Your comments and insights are a pleasure to read, and it makes me feel more confident in my writing. Thanks so much for reading. Cheers!
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From:mousedm
Date:September 27th, 2010 09:13 pm (UTC)
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Great story with a wonderful conflict nicely resolved!
From:alp1128
Date:June 26th, 2011 12:34 pm (UTC)
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Wonderful story and very in character. I never liked Kate and I'm so glad Neal made the right decision, though I could feel his anquish. Peter played it just right and knew not to push too much. And the part with the hat at the end was just perfect.
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