I sat down to write the next chapter of my current story and I realized I just couldn't do it before I wrote my ending to Neal's story. I loved the finale; it gave us all a chance to imagine what the future might hold for him. Like a lot of fans, I do not buy the theory that Neal's actions were simply a con designed to deceive and just a means to an end in his quest to live a life as a master thief and criminal. The long and winding road that has been the character's life for the past six seasons has changed Neal Caffrey and although he will never be a model citizen (what would be the fun in that?), he is a good man who has more than paid his dues and who wants - and deserves to be happy. So here's my take – of course, Sara is part of the future for him (otherwise, I would have been conning you all this time with my AU with the two of them).

Life goes on

By the time Neal made his way down rue de Lacourcière, Sara had stepped out of the boulangerie on the corner to catch up with him.

'Did you get it?' he asked as she laced her arm in his

'All set' she responded as she showed him the bag dangling from her arm

They had been spending weekends together – mostly in Paris, although sometimes at Sara's flat in London – for the past three months. With the indictment of the Pink Panthers senior members, Neal had finally been in touch with her and revealed the fact that he was very much alive and well.

He'd given the revelation a lot of thought. Ever since he'd arrived in Paris, he knew the moment would eventually come when it would be safe to finally let his loved ones learn the truth and he'd had very little else to do but prepare for that moment for the better part of a year.

He thought back to that day when he'd boarded the plane in Montreal bound for Paris. He hadn't wanted to take the chance of flying out of the States - just in case - and instead, he'd dug up his Canadian passport for François Martin and driven the ten or so hours to the Canadian border in a rented car. From there, it had been a snap to get on the plane as a French Canadian tourist with an open return ticket finally arriving at Charles de Gaulle airport, ready to start his new life.

The weeks preceding his 'death' had been so busy with making sure every single part of his elaborate plan was in place for his departure – he hadn't given much thought to what would happen at the other end. Conning Keller, making sure his 'death' went off without a hitch, getting everyone paid off, saying his goodbyes as unobtrusively as possible; it had all been a flurry of activity and it had been totally disconnected from his emotions – something that had been essential for his plan to work. If he even stopped to think about what his leaving would do to those he loved, he would have wavered and that was unacceptable when the stakes were so high.

A boy... Peter and El were having a baby boy and suddenly as if the stakes hadn't been high enough, they'd grown exponentially higher and he'd had to stay focussed in order to get through every stage of his plan without distraction or hesitation.

The first few days after arriving at his destination had been busy with finding a place to live, getting his bearings again and simply luxuriating in his long awaited freedom. Although he loved the sense of self-determination which had begun to seep deep into his soul, the first few days, he'd awakened disoriented and feeling somewhat naked without the constant presence on his left ankle. Of course, any fleeting thought of the anklet had brought with it thoughts of Peter, his best friend, who'd been on the other end of the tether for over four years. He'd shake off the feeling at first, reminding himself that this had been the only logical and safe choice he could possibly make but more nights than he'd cared to admit, he'd laid in bed, longing for his life back in New York surrounded by the people he cared about and who cared about him.

Like those he'd left behind to mourn his passing, he'd also gone through the many stages of grief and mixed in with his exhilaration at finally being a free man, was sadness at the price he'd had to pay. Eventually, after a few months, Neal had become depressed and he'd had to work hard to overcome the sadness and start to focus on the future. There was light at the end of the tunnel; he just wasn't sure how long the damn tunnel was and what state he'd be in when he got to the other end. All the while, he'd kept his ear to the ground and waited patiently for word that the Panthers were no longer a threat to him and to those he loved. Then, he would truly be free from his past, free to live life on his own terms and when he'd start to lose faith, he would remind himself that someday he'd be reunited with his loved ones; he just had to hang on a little bit longer.

Not that it had all been Sturm und Drang; Neal had been enjoying living in Paris, the sights, the food, the museums, the shows, the culture. And he'd spent most of his days and nights living what had once been the dream – the life he'd wanted more than anything. Once, that is, a long time ago before he'd realized that life was more than sights, food, museums, shows and culture.

Before Peter and Elizabeth Burke.

Before Sara Ellis.

Before June Ellington.

Before the White Collar unit.

Before he knew better.

Whenever he became nostalgic, he'd remind himself of the reasons for his self-imposed exile and he'd just carry on, waiting for just the right moment to step out from the shadows. Then, and only then, would he be truly fulfilled and complete.

The word had finally come that the Panthers had been indicted and Neal joyfully had begun to put his plan into motion. He'd been thrilled to finally get word to Mozzie that he was alive and well – they'd had many contingency plans over the years in order to keep in touch and it had been easy to contact Mozzie and give him specific instructions as to how to bring Peter into the loop. Mozzie had only had to wait a couple of days for Peter to show up on his street corner to give him the news about the indictment and it had only taken a few seconds for Peter to invite him to visit El and the new baby. It had been child's play to leave the bottle of Bordeaux on the stoop and after that, Peter had followed the trail and had been well on his way to drawing his own conclusions.

Sara was another story. She'd been so close now for so long and Neal had resisted on too many occasions just hopping on the train and breaching the short 350 kilometers that separated them. Of course, he had no idea how she would react or if she wanted him back in her life – but he was free now and living mostly on the straight and narrow and maybe, he dared hoped, this was the other time and place Sara had spoken of that day atop the Empire State Building. A guy could hope... and he'd spent hours ruminating about the best way to get in touch with her.

Finally, one Tuesday morning, he'd put his plan into action, calling a florist in London he'd visited years ago with his very specific order. He had sent orchids (her favorite) with a mysterious signature in the hopes of preparing her for the shock of seeing him again – 'Love from Cape Verde' he'd signed. But the flowers had come at a particularly busy time for Sara and she hadn't even looked at the card assuming that they'd come from a client whose case they had just closed and who'd been particularly grateful for her help. She'd simply placed the gorgeous bouquet on her sideboard with a smile before returning to the numerous cases she was overseeing.

Neal had then waited a day or two – although he'd practically had to tether himself to the Eiffel Tower – before putting stage two in place: a face to face meeting. He'd debated whether to go to her office or to her flat and he'd finally determined that her flat was more conducive to their long awaited reunion and he'd taken a long time to get ready, fussing on small details – his pocket square, his hair, his suit – before realizing that none of it mattered. If Sara was indeed open to having him back in her life, she would be glad to welcome him, no matter what.

Neal had made his way up busy York Street, holding his breath as he walked and praying that this would be a happy reunion after the shock eventually faded. He'd nervously strolled into her apartment building at eight o'clock on a Thursday night, hoping she was home yet afraid she might be. He had no idea what to expect and truth be told, he hadn't been sure himself what he'd wanted except for the fact that he wanted her in his life again and that he believed the time was right to make that happen.

Neal had heard soft music coming from Sara's flat and he'd suddenly realized Sara might not be alone; she might have a man in her life now. He hadn't talked to her in over a year and even those last conversations before the Panthers heist had been short and very casual – just the 'hi, how are things' ritual they had fallen into after she'd moved to London. For all he knew, Sara could be involved in a serious relationship and he'd be left there holding the bag (the one he'd been presently holding with a fine Italian red inside) without them ever having a chance. He'd finally taken a deep breath and put on his patented Caffrey smile before knocking on the door. She'd answered almost immediately and he'd had a few fleeting seconds of seeing her beautiful face before she had collapsed, Neal just barely breaking her fall as she hit the ground.

Sara laughed now as she thought of that moment but it had been anything but funny at the time. She'd hit her head and suffered a cut to her forehead by the time Neal finally got her situated on the nearby couch and had gone to fetch a towel and a glass of water. Luckily, she'd come to within minutes but the shock had lasted a long, long time and after Neal's recounting of what had happened prior to his 'death' and since his disappearance, Sara had finally accepted a glass of wine with her shaking hands as she'd sat there, white as a sheet – taking in the ghost in front of her eyes.

It had taken time but they'd begun to see each other again, visiting mostly on weekends, although Neal had surprised her on weekdays on a couple of occasions, preparing dinner for her at her flat before spending the night in her bed. Sara had been cautious at first, unsure of Neal's plans for the future now that he was a free man but their relationship continued to blossom and she could see him settling into the job he loved as head of security at the Louvre, something that allowed Neal to be around the beloved pieces of art he so enjoyed. She'd wondered at first if the job was all a con but as time went on, she could see the sincere pleasure he took in his new position and they'd dared to start talking about a future together.

She looked over at him again as they stood in front of the boulangerie and she wanted to pinch herself. They had been handed a second chance at a life together and although they were both cautious and unsure of what that life might be, there was no doubt that their destinies would always be intertwined.

'So, what time are they arriving?' she asked

'On the five o'clock flight. I said we'd pick them up' he answered, gazing at her

She nodded. She hadn't seen Peter and Elizabeth in almost two years and she looked forward to meeting Neal's namesake who was now a busy toddler, according to his mom.

'Did you invite Mozzie?' she asked as they continued towards Neal's apartment

He rolled his eyes at the question just as she realized how silly it was of her to even ask. Although Mozzie had begun to get a life of his own and was working as a barista in a local coffee shop while running small time cons on the side, he was never very far, living a few blocks away from Neal's place and visiting regularly.

'So, we have our baguette. Anything else before we head back and change?' he asked

Sara shrugged. 'No, I think you've got everything' she said

Neal looked at her fondly before speaking.

'I do believe I do' he said

TBC