Sara Ellis was in a hurry, her schedule tight since she'd arrived in Paris. Normally this would be a city she'd go to see the sights and sounds, eat in a cafe and think about things but right now she had things to do. Jack Pideaux a friend from the Louvre had called to let he know they had some issues. One of their Monets was believed to be a fake but nobody could think when the item had been stolen or exchanged. There had been no new employees or odd incidents in their vicinity for the past 3 months. He wanted her expertise to help find the piece and figure out who had stolen the original. Sara had agreed of course, Jack a good friend of hers who had given her more than her share of items to track down and money in her wallet. Still, as she arrived at the museum, bypassed the lines of waiting tourists and visitors and entered the museum with a flash of her badge and a quick word to the guard in French.

"Ms. Ellis… Sara mon ami! Please… s'il vous plait. This way… this way. I trust your flight was good?"

They chit chatted a moment, half English and French as Jack took her to the bowels of the museum and into a room that could only be described as a catacomb of sorts with stone walls made of huge concrete brick that had been aged and worn with time. There were small rooms created later on after the fact made of lesser materials but adequate to house artwork and fine sculpture many items not on display or being repaired sitting in various dais or on easels. Jack led her to one specifically, pointing and gesturing as he muttered under his breath between their chat.

"Voici… This one. Tell me you can find the real one, Ms. Ellis. Est-ce que vous pouvez m'aider?"

Jack was beside himself as Sara moved closer, looking at the canvas before her and taking out a small magnifying glass like jewelers use out of her purse. He was quiet now, waiting for her opinion with baited breath she thought, her eye taking in the details. This was a great piece, details authentic but there was something about the texture that seemed off, gloved hands gently wiping the surface and rubbing two fingers together with an "ah-ha" that made Jack seem hopeful.

"If this is a fake, it's a very good one Jack. Do you mind if I take pictures?"

He shook his head at her request, gesticulating again for her to go ahead.

"S'il vous plait, Ms. Ellis. Whatever needs to be done. Ça va… C'est bien! If you have to take the piece with you, I can have men deliver it to your offices for authentication."

()()()

Sara sighed, looking up at the vision of the Eiffel tower on the horizon before her thoughts once again returned to the job at hand. She was to return this evening back to London. She was backlogged with cases and although she was now boss, her need to be in the field was a love she couldn't give up when the time was possible. Her colleagues found her interest in going out vulgar in some ways thinking she should conduct herself more professionally but she was the best. They couldn't argue she didn't get cases closed and works returned to their rightful place.

"Excusez-moi…"

She said it quickly, looking up only briefly at the person who had bumped into her but it was a glance she quickly returned with a full on stare. The man was just a hint taller than herself, handsome, dark hair now shorter than it should be with dull blue eyes. She knew them and yet, something was missing from their manner, one that had been more lively.

Neal?

She didn't say those words but she thought them, blue eyes finally meeting her own and blinking vaguely back before passing her quickly by without a word. Maybe she was wrong? Maybe… No, she was certain it had been him and as the figure passed, shuffling some their manner less than confident, shoulders sagging, Sara felt the need to follow. There were hours until her plane left and without a hotel she was left to her own devices until then. She had what she needed from the museum, this was a new mystery that had to be solved.

()()()

He had a mission, they were watching him and he couldn't stop to say excuse me even if he thought… no, his mind was dull and blank. Nothing could make him pause as he walked across the plaza towards the meeting site. He'd been told to pick an item up, men watching him the whole time, eyes burning into him from across the street. They were everywhere, invisible and armed. If he was out of sight for too long they would do more than just keep him drugged. 3 months and nobody had come to rescue him but how would they know he was here, Paris: the city of lights. He thought about the last few moments he was in New York. He had been upset at the news Peter had given him, Mozzie was trying to hack his anklet and things in general seemed grim. Without Peter he'd just be another tool in some agent's belt and apparently only Peter despite the past few months still cared about his future happiness.

I'm the last person who will know your whereabouts…

The man had been blunt, following him since he'd left the hospital the day before Mozzie had been released. He only realized now the trouble he was in. No judge or jury would think he didn't run again, Cape Verde hanging over his future freedom and his friends lost to him. Neal glanced at his watch without being obvious: 2 PM. He had time before the pickup but he had to be there by 15 after the hour. He was close to the location, glancing around to be certain he wasn't being followed when he caught a hint of someone watching him. Neal couldn't quite see who they were but knew it was a woman from their motions and size. He walked faster, ducking into the nearest alley. He watched her pause, curious if she was from his group or the competition's. There was something familiar about her but he was still fuzzy from the drugs they kept him on, something to make sure he obeyed and didn't roam to far. He watched her glance around, walking towards him but looking backwards as Neal remained hidden. Her hair was blondish but something in the back of his mind said she had had it darker once, maybe a reddish brown and while it was pulled back at the moment it was prettier flowing over her shoulders…

"Merdi…"

She was cursing, not more than a few feet from him as he stayed out of sight. She was close, brown eyes sparkling with frustration at losing him when suddenly she turned and their eyes met. The curve of her face, that cute narrow nose that curved slightly upwards… her lips… Something about how they tasted…

"Neal… Neal?"

She spoke to him and he backed away, some part of him afraid of her. He couldn't see her, she couldn't see him… Neal backed away, turned but her hand grasped his arm and he paused trapped as their eyes met again. She was closer now, one hand holding his arm firmly while the other reached up and touched his cheek with a gentle stroke that he remembered. Time… he didn't have much time but she was here and he couldn't move.

"Neal… It's Sara."

Her voice was as beautiful as he remembered, but he remained frozen unable to react except to know he knew her. He was supposed to go, there was a task he had to finish…

"Sara?"

His voice was plaintive and low, almost a whisper and then he did something he least expected. Maybe it was the isolation from everything and everyone he knew but now she was here. He turned and hugged her tightly, forgetting where he was and why. Sara's arms enveloped him as her lips brushed his cheek and he just held onto her. Someone was here. Maybe he was safe now. Maybe… She pushed him to arms length with a gentle nudge, there were tears in her eyes and he sense his own were rather watery. They were quiet a moment and then he glanced down at his watch and blinked, terror washing over him. He was going to be late. The men he worked for were into punctuality or there were consequences. Neal backed away again, the agenda once again on his mind as he started to pull away. Sara didn't let go of him.

"Neal… what are you doing here? Does Peter know? Neal, talk to me."

She was begging him for answers, a lost look on her face as he wondered the same thing but what could he tell her without putting her in danger. His eyes moved around the area. If they saw her with him…

"No… my name is Andre… You have to wrong person. It was a mistake… Go! Just go Sara…"

He said the last part quietly, quickly before he pulled his hands from hers and ran down the alley way as fast as he could. She didn't chase him as he vanished around the corner and saw Sara watching him before she was gone from his view and he continued to run towards the rendezvous. What was she doing in Paris? Sara was in London. It couldn't be her. Neal couldn't think about old friends or the life he had been forced to leave. Being a CI had been confining enough but Peter had let him loose off and on to be who he was. Here he was just another thief, a dog to be let out when his skills were needed. He had no tracker but there were eyes everywhere and he hoped none had seen him with Sara.

Neal made it to the site just in the nick of time, a familiar face sitting at the cafe at the 3rd table from the door on the left. He composed himself, walked over as if nothing was wrong and sat down across from the salt and peppery haired gentleman. They wore Armani, a silk burgundy tie with a gold tie pin in the shape of an ivy vine and matching cuff links on his ecru shirt. Hazel green eyes continued to gazed down at a small cup of espresso before them, pouring more from a small pot. There were no words for several minutes as he waited to be addressed. They had rules in the group and one was that the you didn't speak until spoken too, something he had been beaten into submission for the first month before Neal realized he wouldn't be much use to them or himself if he was dead.

"Right on the dot… Do you have the information I requested?"

Neal nodded, keeping his head low as he took a small usb thumbdrive from his pocket and pushed it under a napkin. The man took another cup and filled it, pushing it towards Neal and taking the napkin without revealing its contents to anyone but himself as it fell to his lap and he pocketed it.

"Yes… Everything."

He kept it simple, the man nodding quietly as they both sipped their espresso. Neal only took two sips before the man quietly clucked his tongue, the signal for him to leave as the con nodded and left the cup.

"Au revoir… Andre."

The man was dismissing him, Neal leaving as he had come. He felt numb, forgetting for a moment what had happened on the way to the meeting. He had done his job and now he could head back to the warehouse that was their home. It was across town in a more urbanized part of the city that had been modernized but forgotten to a newer section of the city just months ago. They moved often and Neal just had to deal with it.

You're the criminal. I'm the law man… I make the rules.

That voice popped back into his head, one he had pushed aside on so many occasions since his kidnapping. He had to forget his past, New York and everyone. They had threatened him with death but realized he wasn't afraid of it, only fear that his friends would be hurt. These were past associates of Rachel's who had been eager to get their hands on the diamond but now they had him with the assassin / thief in prison for good. She had recommended him before he had discovered who she was, planning to take him with her but things had changed and now he was their prisoner to make up for the loss of the diamond.

Sara… what was she doing in Paris? Had someone sent her or was she here on business? The chances they would bump into one another were astronomical. He missed her everyday but now… now would she tell Peter where he was? Far as he knew the agent wasn't looking for him here but his friend wasn't easily put off a trail and if Peter had anything to say about it…

Hope was filling him in small fleeting waves but he had to push it back, put up the dam that had kept him sane while they used him and his talents for their own means. Unless he could really leave, escape from them, there was no need to hope or plan. The city was theirs and he was watched from every rooftop and window, every car and shop. Neal couldn't afford to hope.

(TBC)

Just something I came up with that I may or may not finish up. I have so many stories on the back burner but I had to do something that ended up in Paris and involved Neal being there and bumping into Sara accidentally. Kind of angsty and hopeless but let me know what you think. :D