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When You're Good to Mama (The Grateful Remix)

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The FBI gives him $700 a month for food and rent and everything else he needs. It will will last him about a week at Manhattan rates.

Peter drops him off at a truly terrifying motel, and laughs when Neal tells him he has nothing more than the shirt on his back (white and old and stained, it smells like an evidence bag, no hint of Kate's perfume left on it).

He gives Neal no money and no wiggle room and then directs him to a thrift store that has $200 dollar shoes and $50 t-shirts and June. Thank god, June with an armful of suits in his size and a speculative gaze and a dead husband and an empty room. June who looks him over like he's somewhere between fascinating and on sale.

"I watch her granddaughter," he tells Peter the next morning. "She's an art student." Cindy's 21 and doesn't have an ounce of real talent. "Walk the dog," he says, and Peter rolls his eyes and drinks June's imported coffee and doesn't ask any more questions.

June helps him try on the suits. Pulls them out of the closet and holds them up to his torso, brushing fake dust from the shoulders, smoothing nonexistent creases from the sides. He models them. Tries a jaunty walk to match the fedora, the sleek lines, the Italian cloth.

"Come closer," she says, and he steps forward until he's practically between her thighs.

"Do I look like Byron?" he asks, because there are no photos of him in her house.

"No," she says. "But you don't have to."

She runs her hands down the front of the vest. Slowly. Feeling the contours of familiar fabric over his chest, his ribs, his stomach. "Classic rat pack," she says with a smile. And she should know because she was there. Drinking bourbon and playing cards and holding her own.

It has been four years since anyone touched him gently. It has made him more appreciative of it - knowing that every touch could be painful, knowing that every time it doesn't hurt he should be grateful. And she is. Gentle. She runs her hands down her husband's suit, and Neal's body echoes with Kate's touch. Soft hands over his ribs, his stomach, his hips.

"You'll do," she says, standing up to leave. He takes another twirl in front of the mirror.

And when she comes back that night with pajamas in her hand and a silly question on her lips he has no reason to say no, and every reason to say "Thank you."

He hasn't been with a woman in four years. Which is not to say that he has been alone. Which is not to say that he hadn't wanted to be alone. The blood tests take six months, but June is fine with safe sex. So they muddle through, latex and a thin veneer of civility between them, the threat that might be running through his veins acknowledged and then ignored.

And even though his skin crawls with danger, with run, run, run, he gets hard, impossibly hard, god, she's wet and open for him -

He closes his eyes and tries to imagine that she's someone else. Opens them and runs his hands over her skin, wraps his hands around her hips. Kate was skinny, she fucked like she was fighting, but June - June takes her time. She pinches his nipples and kisses him, rocks herself slowly on his cock, takes her time and her pleasure and doesn't notice that he doesn't come.

He jerks off, after. Every time. He takes the condom off and throws it away and kneels on the floor (it's not his bed, not his bed not his bed not his bed) and fucks his hand as quickly as he can. There is no name on his lips when he comes. Not Kate or June or El or Peter. Not God or Jesus, not even a word, yes or fuck or please.

He hasn't been with anyone of his own choosing in four years. And pretending to enjoy it, to be someone else, to want someone else – it's a hard habit to break. His hand moves faster, his hips jerk frantically, his mouth opens, and nothing but his breath comes out.

Every so often he walks past the motel. Sometimes he goes in. It reeks of piss and sex. The hookers try to chat him up and he doesn't want to take the time to explain it's only our price tags that make us different. The man at the front desk remembers him. Snake eyes, with a smile that makes Neal feel more like prey than predator.

He asks for a room, one time. Gets the keys and goes in and at least there's no dog, this time. And no TV and no windows and more stain than carpet on the floor. And he can hear shouting and screaming, his neighbors are either fucking or trying to kill each other, and it's loud and it smells and he can't see the sky, and if he wanted this (if he could have handled any more of this) he would have stayed in prison.

June gives him fresh coffee and a view that make him feel like a king, gives him stories about the kind of man he aspires to be and a priceless wardrobe and he's never thought of himself as a damsel in distress but then, this isn't how he pictured his rescue, either. In a tower with Peter knocking on his door, a box of condoms he didn't buy in his bedside table, red stripes from June's nails down his back, $1,400 in his bank account.

"Peter, June needs an escort for a charity ball - can I please not be on stake-out duty this Friday?"

Peter sighs and grumbles and Neal makes his biggest, fakest pleading face. Peter agrees. He usually does. He doesn't ask any questions. He never does.

They do it in the town car. Neal gets on his knees in the foot-well, hikes her skirt up around her hips, and sucks on her clit until she comes. The driver stares at them in the rear view mirror on the way back, Neal's mouth on her breasts, his tongue on her skin, his teeth teasing her nipples. "Good boy," she murmurs.

Charity balls and fundraising parties and private soirees, and he hangs on her arm and plays up his part. Fetches her drinks and pulls out her chair and doesn't flirt with her friends. She picks out Byron's most expensive, form-fitting suits for the occasions and he can feel eyes on him the entire time. He keeps his gaze fixed on June. Her raised eyebrows and her smile, the hand she places on his elbow when he escorts her out, the possessive pain of her fingernails on his wrist if his mind wanders too far away.

The weeks drag on and the nights blur together and he starts to look forward to waking up with June's arm around him, her head on his shoulder. He understands again how loneliness and memory can change a person.

In the first weeks after Kate dies, he stays with Elizabeth and Peter. They have a guest room and understanding smiles and they nurse him through the worst of the shock and tears and nausea, the mornings he wakes up and doesn't remember where he is, the nights he spends screaming, the days he can't do anything more than breathe.

She pays for the funeral even though there's nothing to bury. And Peter and Elizabeth stand next to him and hold his hands as they lower the casket, and invite him home with them again. But he knows where Byron's buried and after the crowd evaporates, June's waiting for him.

"He wasn't a good man," she says, when Peter and Elizabeth pull away and June's towncar is the only one left. "And I missed him for years before it got any better. Before I stopped pouring two glasses of coffee in the morning, and saving hot water for his shower, and - and just - expecting him to be there.

"She visited you every week," she says, because she has heard too much, from Neal and Moz and Peter, knows the whole sordid, tangled tale. "Doesn't even matter if she didn't love you back, or love you until the end, or if you didn't go to the grave with her." Peter calling his name, the plane, god, the flames - "You loved her."

And they sit on the ground until night falls. They watch the attendants fill the grave with dirt, and pick at the grass, and swat at mosquitoes.

Then they leave their lovers behind and go home together.

And he was - honestly, he was expecting things to go back to the way they were. His knees, for once, aren't bruised, but he's ready to kneel in front of her until he's black and blue, his back isn't marked but he knows the pain of it will drag him back into his body. Kate's name has been on his lips. In his mouth. On his tongue. (Kate! Kate, Kate, Kate. ) He and June excelled in silence.

"There's a difference," she says, when he tries to kiss her. "Between being pragmatic and being cruel." And June has been many things in her life, but cruel is not one of them.

She fetches a bottle of bourbon and they drink until they pass out and when he wakes up June's arm is around him, her head on his shoulder, Kate's name whispered into the morning air. She weaves her fingers into his hair when he crawls down between her legs and opens her legs so that he can lick his way inside of her. And she comes and comes and comes and he doesn't have enough breath to make any sound at all.

A month after Kate dies he gets his test results back and they fuck without a condom. It means something to her. The sensation of his skin against her cunt, the new friction sliding into her body. She closes his eyes and he realizes that for the first time – she's pretending that he's Byron.

So he fucks her like he imagines Byron would have. Gently. Slowly. They would have known each other's bodies so well. Their sex would have been comfortable, habitual, normal. He rubs her clit like an afterthought and it makes her groan, makes her cunt clench around him. He comes before she does.

She's nothing like Kate and anyway, there's no point in lying now. Not when he knows that tonight, she'll stay with him, and let him hold her, tonight they'll both stretch the lies of their lovers until there are two people and two ghosts all squeezed onto his queen-sized mattress.

Weeks pass and nothing changes. Charity balls and coffee and art lessons for Cindy. They eat breakfast together and go shopping and sometimes they fuck in the car, or early in the morning, or in the kitchen with company only a door away. He feels like a king and a whore and a damsel in distress and, some nights, when she talks to him like an equal and fucks him like a lover and falls asleep in his bed, her name is the one on his lips when he comes. June like a promise, like a prayer. Like a thank you.