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For lgbtfest (fest post, with detailed header, here). Thanks, flist, couldn't have done it without you. Enjoy.



Self-Portrait, In Skin


3.

Neal can’t help staring. To think he’d thought the road trip to Baltimore with Mozzie would be the strangest part of this.

At the same time, Neal’s somehow not surprised that these are the kinds of people Mozzie’s friends with.

He keeps the thought to himself. They’ve agreed to help him, after all. And as much as he’s loath to admit it, he certainly needs the help on this one. He’s much better with his hands than with this kind of technology, and he can’t afford to have anything go wrong.

All told, though, the three make it look easy, Langly infiltrating the website of the Ohio Office of Vital Stats and adding the death certificate Frohike had forged (amazingly, Neal was grudgingly forced to admit), all while cracking jokes. Then doing it again with New York, the guys all happy to spend an afternoon stealing him an identity.

As Mozzie’d promised, they ask no questions. Neal expects they don’t have to, knows they’re smart enough to put two and two together.

When they’re done, he gets pats on the back, congratulations, and the feeling that maybe they didn’t do it just for the challenge, or the favor, after all.

1.

In his middle-school art class, they’re made to copy paintings, as practice. Everyone else finds it boring, unoriginal, a waste of time; he considers it a challenge.

And he finds he’s good at it, too.

High school Art is more of the same, except that he makes a friend. “Wow, LeAnn,” Lizzie is forever saying to him, the first few weeks, when they’re reproducing paintings, “you’re really good at this. Are you gonna be an artist when you grow up?”

He just shrugs, truthfully not sure he can see a future for himself at all. (Besides, he thinks, he’s not creative enough to be an artist, just to copy other people, and what kind of career can you make out of that? But he likes Lizzie, so all he says is, “Maybe, I dunno. How about you?” and lets her change the subject.)

He draws a picture of Lizzie over Christmas vacation, gives it to her for her birthday. She’s suitably impressed. He wonders, but doesn’t ask, whether she recognizes it from last year’s yearbook.

(He wishes he could sign it, but – even by the time he drops out, when Lizzie’s going by Elizabeth instead – he doesn’t know his name.)

4.

Roberts was a hell of a conman, if the stories he tells Neal are even half true. But he’s getting on in years, age is taking its toll, and arthritis has made him slow (slow to slip cuffs, to pick a lock, to escape a con gone south, even to use a paintbrush). The risk was too high, he’d decided, that he’d spend his last years in prison – so he hung up that life, left it to fresh blood. He’s settled nicely into effective retirement running his art gallery (which is perfectly above-board, he likes to joke to Neal – the near-annual audits caused by the eyes the FBI left on him see to that).

Retired, maybe, Neal thinks. But he’s still a hell of a conman.

He was observant, and it was easy to trust him (not that Neal had had much choice), and so eventually, inevitably, Roberts had found out about Neal’s need for money – you can’t fake surgery.

All he’d done was smile and say, offhand, as if to himself, “You know, I’ve been meaning to replace the Bonnard.”

A month later – with the help of Neal; Mozz; the local fence, Alex; and the insurance money – he had.

2.

He doesn’t have much of a plan when he leaves Ohio, he just needs to leave, so he does. Brings his clothes, his paints, his meager funds, and his dreams.

He moves to New York City to reinvent himself. It’s not as hard as he expected.

He spends much of his days in art galleries – for the paintings and the people – and lies and steals his way into hotel rooms at night.

It turns out you can meet a lot of interesting people, striking up conversations in art galleries.

And you can meet even more when the owner sees you in there every day and offers you a job.

(He likes the independence and the ease of pick-pocketing, but job security is admittedly nice, too.

And so is networking, he finds when his new boss, Roberts, introduces him to an old friend.)

“Neal,” he says, sticking out a hand, the name coming easier to him now than when he’d finally decided on it a few weeks before.

The other man shakes his hand warily; Neal gets the impression that’s his default state. “Mozzie,” he says. Neal wonders if that’s his real name, but decides it would be hypocritical to ask.

5.

Neal knows it could be worse. He knows how lucky he is that the prison nurse looked the other way about his forged documents, and that she went to bat for him so he could continue his hormone regimen (the prescription for which was also forged, but what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her).

And he knows, intellectually, that the relative privacy afforded in federal prison is a good thing.

But here, now, the loneliness is killing him one day at a time.

Most of his friends, busy and paranoid, don’t come by all that often. (It surprises him how much he misses them.) He sees Kate regularly (always worried for him, though she tries to hide it).

He starts daydreaming about escape in earnest the day she tells him Roberts is dead. Natural causes, she assures him, peaceful and quick, and something is twisting so badly in his chest that he can’t meet her eyes long enough to be able to tell if she’s lying.

She leaves, and he feels lonelier than ever.

He starts planning his escape when she doesn’t come back.

He earned this life, his life, and he’s not wasting any more of it in here.



ETA: You can find four more drabbles in this universe here.

Comments

( 42 comments — Leave a comment )
dime_for_12
Jun. 16th, 2010 09:18 am (UTC)
Wow. I absolutely adore your writing, and this is just another masterful piece!

It's amazing how you can set up a scene and a mood with just a few words. In places, the fic is saturated with this quiet, distant desperation, and I caught myself reading a bit faster in reponse (my breath even quickened, I was so caught up in it).

Very, very nice work!
lonetread
Jun. 16th, 2010 01:40 pm (UTC)
Aw, thanks! I'm so glad you liked it; you leave such wonderful comments. =D
embroiderama
Jun. 16th, 2010 11:08 am (UTC)
I like this a lot. The Lone Gunmen were a particularly awesome choice.
lonetread
Jun. 16th, 2010 01:43 pm (UTC)
Thanks! They were a lot of fun -- happy to hear it worked out.
asimaiyat
Jun. 16th, 2010 04:03 pm (UTC)
Oh Neal. <3

I like how even though there's so much loneliness in this fic, he still has this community of fellow outlaws who are there for him. Especially Mozzie.
lonetread
Jun. 16th, 2010 04:12 pm (UTC)
I know, right? <3

Hee, "community of fellow outlaws", that's it exactly. :) Thanks for the comment!
photoash
Jun. 16th, 2010 06:07 pm (UTC)
I really liked your story. I think how you laid it out and the amount of depth to each section despite the economy of words was really impressive.

Thanks for sharing it with everyone!
lonetread
Jun. 16th, 2010 06:30 pm (UTC)
Thanks, I'm glad you liked it!
minkhollow
Jun. 16th, 2010 06:21 pm (UTC)
(Still lacking a White Collar icon; I should fix that one of these days.)

I loved this! It's an intriguing and entirely believable look at Neal. He's from Ohio! The Lone Gunmen (whom I know just enough about to get the cameo)! AND IS LIZZIE ACTUALLY EL BECAUSE HOW AWESOME WOULD THAT BE? THIS AWESOME. ::holds hands way far apart::
lonetread
Jun. 16th, 2010 06:38 pm (UTC)
(Same here. 15 is just so limiting.)

Yay, thanks! And OF COURSE SHE IS. :D What can I say? It seems every fic I write, they end up BFFs.
deepbluemermaid
Jun. 17th, 2010 04:10 am (UTC)
I don't always read transfic because it can be handled so badly, but this is just so beautifully done!

Neal's desperation to get out of Ohio, his accumulation of accepting friends, and doing transition the less-than-legal way...it all works very well. And your writing style is really lovely.

I'd definitely like to see more of this...
lonetread
Jun. 17th, 2010 07:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm happy to hear that.

I'd definitely like to see more of this...

Great, because there probably will be. I'm expecting at least one sequel, probably two, plus a random drabble or several. (What? This 'verse took over my brain a little.) Unfortunately, I don't think any of that'll be for a while yet -- I've got surgery coming up, and then school after that -- but I hope it'll happen eventually. And whitecollarfic will hear about it when it does.
deepbluemermaid
Jun. 17th, 2010 09:52 pm (UTC)
Best of luck with your surgery :)
lonetread
Jun. 17th, 2010 09:56 pm (UTC)
Thanks! :)
rubynye
Jun. 17th, 2010 07:24 pm (UTC)
That read like 25,000 words, not 1000, in all the best ways. I am ASTONISHED by how big of a story you've told in so few words.

Especially since you know how to wield names. That :"LeAnn" alone says so very, very much.

PS HI LONE GUNMEN HI HI!
lonetread
Jun. 17th, 2010 09:54 pm (UTC)
Wow, thanks so much! :D I really appreciate the nice comment.

It sometimes felt as tough as writing 25,000 words, so I'm thrilled it's being received so well.
tigerbright
Jun. 18th, 2010 05:08 am (UTC)
Just gorgeous. Clearly you know transmen and really, really listen to them.
lonetread
Jun. 18th, 2010 05:21 am (UTC)
Thanks, I appreciate the compliment! And, well, being one helps, too, heh.
tigerbright
Jun. 18th, 2010 10:41 am (UTC)
I wasn't going to assume.
lonetread
Jun. 18th, 2010 04:03 pm (UTC)
Sure; it's cool. :) Just didn't want to get undue credit.
badplanmobile
Jun. 22nd, 2010 03:37 am (UTC)
This is fantastic! I haven't actually started this series yet, though it's been recommended to me and I've been meaning to, but I love your characterization especially in relation to the gender issues. Favorite thing: forged documents.
Also: I've founded a community for transfic that you might want to check out. I'd love to see this posted there.
lonetread
Jun. 22nd, 2010 03:59 am (UTC)
Thank you! A lot more work went into this, especially the part about the docs, than I was actually able to fit into the story, so I appreciate hearing that it was worth it.

Cool comm you've got there. *joins* Do you know about the transfic masterlist? You'll probably be able to find lots of interested authors over there (as well as awesome fic, of course).
badplanmobile
Jun. 22nd, 2010 04:01 am (UTC)
It was actually the transfic masterlist that inspired me to make the comm in the first place. :D I've been reading through all the fandoms I know or am curious about for awhile now. Thanks!
lonetread
Jun. 22nd, 2010 04:08 am (UTC)
Ah, cool. Best of luck with the comm! Hope the traffic picks up.
secretsolitaire
Jun. 22nd, 2010 04:05 am (UTC)
Really nicely done!
lonetread
Jun. 22nd, 2010 04:09 am (UTC)
Thanks!
sthlmsyndrom
Jun. 22nd, 2010 07:03 am (UTC)
I really loved reading this!
lonetread
Jun. 22nd, 2010 01:12 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I'm glad! :)
maevele
Jul. 13th, 2010 08:24 am (UTC)
This is gorgeous.
lonetread
Jul. 13th, 2010 01:43 pm (UTC)
Thank you.
china_shop
Aug. 8th, 2010 03:06 am (UTC)
Wow, this is wonderful! I love the back and forth progression. *snugs Neal*
lonetread
Aug. 8th, 2010 03:20 am (UTC)
Thanks, that means a lot coming from you! And for some reason, "post it out of chronological order" was one of the first thoughts I had when I started plotting this ages and ages ago. After a while I couldn't remember why I was so attached to that and wasn't sure it had even been a good idea in the first place, so I'm particularly happy to hear you liked that about it. Thanks!
foreverdirt
Sep. 18th, 2010 02:45 am (UTC)
This is wonderful! Each moment of his life is so vivid and immediate, and the way they knit together gives that final line one hell of a punch.
lonetread
Sep. 18th, 2010 04:13 am (UTC)
Thanks so much! I always love nice comments, of course, but I've been working on more in this verse, so this particular comment makes me incredibly happy. :D I can only hope the sequels will live up to the expectations I've apparently set.
faemouse
Sep. 22nd, 2010 05:04 am (UTC)
1. How did I not realize you wrote this? 2. How have I not commented on this before?

This is phenomenal. I love Neal - he feels very true to cannon. The motivations, thought processes, the way he relates with others is really well done. I love the little twists you threw in there with Kate and Mozzie - especially Mozzie!
lonetread
Sep. 22nd, 2010 05:14 am (UTC)
Heh, I don't know, but I appreciate the comment now. ("Phenomenal"? Really? :D) And characterization is a weakness of mine, especially with something as close to my heart as this, so I'm very glad Neal rings true to you.
accrues
Sep. 26th, 2010 11:52 pm (UTC)
This is great - was it implied that it was Elizabeth Burke with him at school? Because that's just awesome. <3

lonetread
Sep. 27th, 2010 12:02 am (UTC)
Thanks! You bet it was (and I'm thrilled that everyone who's noticed that thinks it's awesome; I was kind of worried the coincidence would strain suspension of disbelief). I mentioned it in the lgbtfest header and nowhere else, which was in hindsight a poor decision on my part. But oh well, this means the people who didn't catch that will be surprised -- pleasantly, I hope -- when it comes up again. And I'm hoping to bring it up in the second sequel, if I ever make it through the first sequel. x_x
accrues
Sep. 27th, 2010 12:04 am (UTC)
Hee, it's great. There's probably a bit of an age gap between them, but whatever, shhhhh. Anyway, good luck writing!
lonetread
Sep. 27th, 2010 12:21 am (UTC)
Longwinded response is overly longwinded.
Yes, there is, and in planning for the aforementioned second sequel while writing section 1, I initially about killed myself trying to account for it (I about killed myself trying to account for so much in this freaking fic, you have no idea -- there's still a loose thread or two in there that I'm just glad no one noticed). Eventually, I figured I'd age Neal up a little, age El down a little, and pass anything worse than that off as "Well, it's art class. You can be in art class in any grade" if anyone asked, which is true enough.

Thanks for the luck, I'm sure I'm going to need it. (11.5 pages of notes for the first sequel, and counting. I need to stop planning so much. It only ends in pain. x_x)
clex_monkie89
May. 10th, 2011 01:28 am (UTC)
He wishes he could sign it, but – even by the time he drops out, when Lizzie’s going by Elizabeth instead – he doesn’t know his name.

I think that part is the most heart-breaking of them all.
lonetread
May. 10th, 2011 01:55 am (UTC)
<3 Thanks.
( 42 comments — Leave a comment )

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