Disclaimer: White Collar belongs to USA Network and Jeff Eastin.

Chapter 25

The three sat in silence mulling over all that Peter had said. It was clear that there were great chunks of Neal's story still to puzzle out. Elizabeth was the first to break the silence.

"So how on earth did he end up in New York?" she asked looking at Peter, who shrugged back at her.

"We didn't get that far." He replied shaking his head.

Together they turned to look at Mozzie, who seemed deeply focused on the floor in front of him. After a few moments he realized that the attention was on him and looked up, blinking first at Peter and then Elizabeth.

"By train, or more accurately, by several different freight trains. NYC just happened to be the end of the line for the last one he hid on. That's where I met him."

"That's not what you told me before." Peter snapped.

"Suit, while it is true that Neal and I may have been less than accurate in recounting our shared history. With all due respect, what business was it of yours? If he wanted to reinvent his life, and given what you've just told us, who wouldn't, that's Neal's choice to make."

Peter couldn't really argue the point. He had to admit, given all he'd been through (and he suspected they had only just seen the tip of a rather frightening iceberg) Neal was entitled to do whatever it took to try and make a go of his fractured life.

"So how exactly did you meet him?"

Mozzie shifted uneasily. Meet was not really the correct description for their coming together. He had literally stumbled upon Neal and he was pretty sure his friend would not want Peter and Elizabeth to know the details of the encounter. The most believable lies are based on facts, as he had countless times coached Neal, so Mozzie followed his own advice.

"I was, umm, departing from a meeting with some colleagues after a joint business venture fell through and I happened to choose a route via the station and decided to rest awhile…"

"Oh for goodness sake, Mozzie, drop the italics already." Peter said wearily. "You were fleeing the sign of a crime and got chased into the station, where you hid. Am I right?"

"Crudely put, Suit. But no entirely inaccurate."

"And would I be right in thinking this was the middle of the night?"

"Early morning actually, 2:22AM."

"How can you be so sure?"

"Trust me, I'm sure."

The time was burned in his memory. The time he almost didn't make it out of one sticky situation too many. A disastrous job had resulted in his running for his life and hiding out behind a dumpster at the station. More exactly behind a huge box he had tripped over. Had the era of flat-screen TV's begun he might have been discovered but it was still the time of massive square television sets and that gigantic box had literally saved his sorry ass. He had stayed behind it for what seemed like hours and had checked his watch before finally heaving a sigh of relief and tentatively creeping out.

It had seemed an auspicious moment and it had just crossed his mind that 2:22AM was as good a time as any to start a new chapter in his life, perhaps crime-free, when he heard a rustling coming from inside the box. He was so wired that his first reaction was to cry out and then clamp his hand over his mouth while looking around for anyone within earshot. Only when he was sure no one had heard him did he cautiously lean over the box and slowly open one of the flaps.

As it transpired, 2:22AM was to be a turning point in his life and while it didn't result in his pursuing a crime-free existence it did change everything so substantially it was true to say, his life was never the same again.

What he expected to find was a cuddly cat, or a cute kitten, or a cuddly cat with a whole heap of cute kittens, maybe even a sweet puppy.

What he got was Neal.

TBC – I know, I know… it's been a year (or more) since I posted. Truth is, I started reading other people's stories and thought them so superior to my own I reckoned I ought to pack it in. However, thank you to those people who just kept pecking away at me to continue. I would like this story to be told, even if I cannot give it the depth and nuance of so much of the fanfiction that is out there.

Also, this was conceived in my head well before Neal's past came up on the show. So it is pre-James, pre-Ellen, pre-pretty much everything that we now know about Neal's back story. I did try and change the plot to incorporate these new developments but it got too messy, so this will just have to be a different version of Neal's past.

I also don't feel I can go back to my beta after such a huge gap. So if anyone is out there who has read this story recently and is willing to help me make sure I don't contradict myself (and correct my awful grammar) I would appreciate the help.

And, as always, if you are following this story please take the time to review it. Don't feel like it? Then check out the author's note at the end of my story Paperwork!