You twisted my arm… Several reviewers requested a second chapter – a chance to peek at a Peter/ Neal reunion. I hope this lives up to expectations; this is my take on the hours that followed the previous chapter. And now, I'm going back to finishing 'Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave' so the rest of this saga will be left to your fruitful imaginations.
'Dammit!' yelled Neal as the little green Peugeot snuck around him and slid into the parking spot
Sara looked over at him; she'd rarely seen him this keyed up in all the years she'd known him.
'Lots of time, Neal. It's only 4:15' she responded, gently touching his arm
'This is crazy. There's not enough parking in this place' he continued, obviously frazzled
'Right up there!' she pointed as a spot opened up nearby
Neal pulled in, parking the car and letting out a long slow breath.
'Sorry about that' he said finally, returning to his cool, collected self
'I know you're excited about seeing Peter and Elizabeth...' she began
'And baby Neal' he added with a smug smile
'... and baby Neal' she repeated 'But you're going to blow a gasket before they even get here if you don't calm down' she said, letting her hand linger on his arm in an effort to ground him
They had just arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport to welcome their friends off the long flight across the pond and Neal had been on pins and needles all day, making sure everything was in place for their arrival and their long awaited visit to Paris.
Although Neal had been in touch with Peter several times over the past three months, the contacts had all been via phone or Skype and he was anxious to see the Burkes with his own eyes and welcome them to his new home. He'd seen pictures of their little guy – as a matter of fact, he had one proudly displayed on the mantle back in his apartment – but he was thrilled to finally be meeting him face to face and to have an opportunity to spend some quality time with him.
Neal looked over at Sara, thankful she was there to temper his mood and he gave her a small smile as the two of them stepped out of the car and began to make their way into the busy airport. Neal hadn't been there in over a year, ever since that day François Martin had arrived from Montreal and it took him a minute to get his bearings in the large building. They were heading towards the arrivals lounge when Neal spotted something in the window of one of the airport boutiques and he made his way over, pulling Sara in with him.
Peter slowly came to and turned to his right noticing Elizabeth was still sound asleep. He looked down, thankful that Neal was snoozing in his arms. He had taken a while to settle down but the constant rumbling noise of the aircraft had finally lulled him to sleep and Peter was thankful to see that the baby was still out like a light. He moved gingerly to check his watch without disturbing the baby's slumber; another hour and they would be landing. A smile crept in, unbeknownst to Peter who'd been basically smiling non-stop for the past three months.
He thought back to that afternoon in the storage unit where everything had changed; as the evidence mounted in front of his very eyes, he had begun to allow himself to believe, really believe that Neal was still alive, against all odds. He still didn't know how his partner had managed to pull the sleight of hand but it was obvious that Neal had left nothing to chance and he'd managed to fool them all, most importantly the Pink Panthers who were now safely out of reach.
He recalled the relief that had flooded him that day as the pieces of the puzzle had begun to fall into place, how he'd made his way home seemingly floating on air and the look in El's eyes when he'd described what he'd just seen. Even little Neal, who'd been six months at the time, had seemed happy as he watched his daddy breathlessly explain the unexplainable to his mommy. It had been a matter of days before Neal had been in touch, this time by cryptic e-mail, making sure that his sudden reappearance wouldn't be the cause of some overwhelming shock for his ex-partner. Peter had responded to the message and within minutes, Neal had appeared in front of his eyes, via Skype, as the two of them had finally reconnected, a little over a year after their forced parting of the ways.
There had been none of the anger or disappointment Neal had feared as he'd recounted the events of the days leading up to his sudden departure. Peter had been accepting and understanding of Neal's decision - and ultimately his actions - although Neal could see that his 'death' had caused a lot of pain and suffering to those he loved. But his wise decision had thankfully left the door open for a reunion and Peter and Elizabeth had eagerly begun to plan for a trip across the ocean to reunite with their friend. It had taken several weeks for the Burke family to pull things together for the trip; although Peter was owed weeks of vacation time, he needed to wrap things up at work and prepare for their holiday.
Now, three months later, they were finally on their way to 'Gay Paris', to visit Neal, Sara and Mozzie.
'You okay?' he heard the sleepy voice ask
He turned towards his wife, the smile still apparent on his lips and nodded. He was more than okay. Neal's absence had left a hole that would never be filled and his best friend's last words to him as they'd parted that day had haunted him for the better part of a year before he was lucid enough to put the clues together. He still couldn't believe that his grief had clouded his critical thinking to such an extent that it had taken a big neon sign (or in this case a small wine cork) flashing the number 701 in front of his eyes for him to follow up on that mysterious key he'd been handed on that fateful day. He chalked it up to shock and grief but he had chastised himself on more than one occasion over the past few months when he thought of how he might have avoided them all so much pain and suffering if he'd been his usual and sharp 'Agent Peter Burke-self'.
'His schedule is going to be all messed up' El said as she gently touched her son's hair
'He'll survive' Peter said gazing down at the sleeping infant
'What time is it in Paris?' she asked
'Five after four' Peter responded, taking her hand in his
Neal stood clutching the stuffed animal in his arms as Sara stood nearby watching him; he'd changed so much since she'd been with him in New York. The last three months, she had observed a transformation in Neal, not the least of which was his level of self-confidence and his faith in the choices he was making. Sure, it could be argued that the old Neal Caffrey was a strapping 180 lbs of unadulterated cockiness and self-assurance - but she knew better. Being tethered to an anklet for the better part of four years had not been conducive to following his own true path and although Neal had enjoyed working with the FBI and using his skills to bring down some bad guys, it had never been his choice. Of course, he wouldn't trade his relationship with Peter, Elizabeth and the rest of the White Collar crew for anything in the world and those connections had been pivotal in his journey, contributing to making him who he had become. But Sara realized now that he'd needed time to work things out, away from all those influences, in order to become true to himself and to his destiny.
She wondered in passing if he had even realized that yet.
'Vol 272 en provenance de New York est présentement en débarquement à la porte 17' they heard the soft female voice announcing
'This is it' said Neal, his voice shaking
He caught a glimpse of Peter before the FBI agent had a chance to spot him. The escalator connecting the secured flight arrival area to the public waiting space was flooded with the new arrivals but it took a mere seconds for Neal to zero in on the Burkes, pointing them out to Sara the second he spotted them coming down the rolling stairs. Elizabeth was carrying the baby and Peter stood on the escalator right behind her holding their carry-on bags. Neal's eyes remained glued on Peter, willing him to look down and spot him and within seconds, he saw Peter's face illuminated as he finally noticed his friend in the crowd, waving to him.
The crowd began to dissipate, everyone going their own separate ways and Peter, Elizabeth and baby Neal made their way to where Neal and Sara were waiting patiently. Neal's eyes were locked on Peter's as the Burkes finally stood right before them, smiles all around.
'Neal!' Peter called out as he opened his arms to hug his best friend
Neal just smiled that most sincere smile of his – the one Sara was noticing more and more on his face these days – and just hugged back, tears filling his eyes.
The men finally pulled away from each other, noticing they were both teary-eyed and beginning to laugh at their mutual failure at keeping their emotions in check. Neal turned to Elizabeth, hugging her gingerly as his eyes went to the baby she was holding in her arms. He looked so big, Neal thought, realizing he'd missed almost a year of his namesake's life and after kissing El on both cheeks he turned to examine the child who lay calmly in his mother's arms.
'Hi little guy!' Neal said tentatively, not wanting to frighten him
He'd been reading about child development ever since June had informed him of the baby's birth and over the past nine months, he'd imagined him growing and changing, his heart breaking at not being there to witness this development in person. He was nine months old now and Neal knew that babies often made strange at that age, needing to feel secure in their parents' arms. El saw the longing in Neal's eyes and spoke gently to her son.
'This is your uncle Neal' she said as the baby's eyes locked onto Neal's, finally smiling as his uncle held up the stuffed toy he had just picked up for him at the boutique
The baby reached out for the toy and Neal put out his arms welcoming him as Peter, El and Sara watched in wonderment. The baby willingly went to Neal, smiling at the toy and making some gurgling sounds that Neal repeated to the little's guy's delight.
Sara noted how the tears had returned to Neal's eyes as he cradled the baby and she and Elizabeth exchanged knowing smiles as Peter looked on with pride. Neal always did have a knack with kids and Peter had known that the two of them would hit it off – in fact, the fear that he would never see the scene he was now witnessing had haunted him for a very long time.
They collected their luggage and made their way to the parking lot, Neal still carrying the baby as everyone else followed – a beautiful little parade as they made their way out of Charles de Gaulle International Airport.
'We rented a car' Sara said as they walked by the taxi stand
'What about...' Elizabeth began
'A car seat?' Sara said, finishing her sentence 'Neal thought of that. All set up in the back seat'
Elizabeth should have known better. Neal was a detail guy, always had been and the need for a car seat for the baby would not have escaped him. They all settled in for the drive back to the 3ième arrondissement where Neal's apartment was located, over on rue de la Bretagne not terribly far from where he was now gainfully employed. At first, everyone seemed to be talking at once, sharing news, as if time would run out and they would be left with things unsaid. The women sat in the back with baby Neal between them and talked about Sara's job, El's impending return to work and the joys and challenges of parenthood while the men caught up with the most recent cases at White Collar, Jones' promotion, Diana's move to DC, Neal's new job and the joys of living on the continent.
By the time they arrived at Neal's place, everyone had begun to quiet down and the excited host got everyone a drink as the baby sat amongst them taking in all the toys Neal had gotten for him to play with during their stay.
'I got you guys a suite nearby' Neal said as he handed Peter a beer
'Where did you get an Heisler?' Peter asked as he took in the sight of the beer in Neal's hand
'What kind of host would I be if I didn't find you your very favorite libation?' Neal asked, his composure returning
Peter just rolled his eyes as he took the beer from Neal's hand – leave it to Caffrey, he thought.
'The hotel is just around the corner' Neal continued without missing a beat
'You'll love it!' Sara said to Elizabeth 'I stayed there once for work and it is very high class'
'And it's on me' Neal hastened to add, not wanting Peter to have any concerns about the price tag of what would be a costly hotel stay
'No, Neal, we can't let you do that!' said Elizabeth as she took the glass of wine Sara was offering her
'You are my guests and I won't even hear of it' Neal said taking his place next to Peter
'You must be making pretty good money over there at the Louvre, huh?' Peter asked, as always slightly miffed that Neal always seemed to land on all fours
Neal just gave him a mysterious smile and stood, finally settling in on the floor with the baby, grabbing a nearby toy and engaging him in play.
'I'm just going to get a few nibbles together – you guys must be starved' said Sara, rising
She'd spent practically every weekend at Neal's place for the past three months and she felt very much at home playing hostess to their guests. Neal gave her a wink and smile and watched as she moved to the kitchen followed by Elizabeth, leaving the three men together in the living room.
'So tell me again about this job. How did you swing it?' Peter asked. He'd heard the story once before but he wanted to hear it again, this time while looking for tells in Neal's eyes
'Like I said, it didn't take much for me to pick up on the lax security over there. I spent a few months casing the place, picking apart their weaknesses and then, one night I slipped in and helped myself to a few artifacts from their exhibition of Mayan art...'
Peter looked on in alarm.
'... which I returned the next day' Neal continued 'along with my long list of recommendations on how they could beef up their security'
Peter studied Neal's face – only Caffrey, he thought, only Caffrey.
'So, who do they think you are?' asked Peter finally
Neal just looked away mysteriously. Peter might be his best friend but he didn't have to know everything about everything.
The women returned with snacks and the foursome continued with the small talk, going over their plans for the next couple of weeks. Neal had managed to get some time off and Sara had taken a week off work to spend some quality time with El, to do some shopping and take her to London for a couple of days of girl time while the men tended to baby Neal. Elizabeth hadn't had much of a break from her son since his birth and she looked forward to spending time with Sara, whom she'd always enjoyed being with.
Shortly before Neal served dinner, there came a very familiar knock in iambic pentameter, causing El to jump to her feet in anticipation; she'd been looking forward to seeing Mozzie again and she sprinted to the door, opening it to find the little guy standing there with a big smile on his face.
'El!' he said joyfully as they hugged
'Hey Mozzie!' she countered 'I've missed you'
Since his sudden departure three months before, they hadn't been in touch and she'd looked forward to reconnecting with him and having him spend time with the baby. Mozzie, like Neal, had a child-like quality that allowed for an easygoing relationship with kids and Mozzie's one and only visit to the Burke house since the baby's arrival had been most welcome.
Dinner was a fun affair with many simultaneous conversations as everyone recounted the numerous events of the past year, lived apart. Neal could tell his guests were beginning to droop, their circadian rhythm totally out of whack. The baby had fallen asleep in the small bed Neal had set up for him in the guest room and he could see both Peter and El slowly starting to fade.
'Look you guys, if you'd like to stay here for tonight, Sara and I could take your room at the hotel' Neal offered 'There's no point in waking the baby'
Peter and El exchanged looks. It was tempting – they were exhausted from the long flight and the emotions of the reunion and it would be awfully tempting to walk a few feet and drop into bed.
'I've got fresh linen on the bed and fresh towels in the washroom' Neal continued, always the consummate host
'Thanks' said Peter 'That would be great; we could meet up back here for breakfast'
'Sure' said Neal 'just call us when you're up. And don't forget, tomorrow I'm taking you to work with me so you can meet everyone' he added, excitedly
Neal walked over to the bedroom and returned within a few seconds with a packed overnight case for himself and for Sara as she looked on curiously, somewhat surprised at the speed with which he had carried out the task.
Mozzie, Neal and Sara bid everyone goodnight and made their way out into the warm Paris night. They parted ways as Mozzie headed towards the metro and Neal and Sara continued on foot a few blocks to the Hôtel des Archives.
'You were ready awfully fast with that bag' Sara commented as Neal took her hand in his, avoiding her question
'What? Are you complaining about a night at the hotel?' he asked, a typical Caffrey deflection which did not escape Sara
'Bonsoir Monsieur Caffrey' said the woman at the desk as they finally arrived 'Nous vous attendions'
'Merci. Est-ce que tout est prêt?' asked Neal as he took the card key from her hands
'Oui, monsieur. Comme vous l'avez demandé' she answered
Sara was not fluent in French, as Neal now was, but she knew enough to get around and it didn't take a lot for her to figure out that Neal had been expected at the hotel.
They made their way up to the 14th floor, an amazing view of Paris at their feet and Sara took in the sight of the opulent suite as she turned on the lights. She spotted the bottle of champagne and the strawberries dipped in chocolate by the side of the bed, which had been turned down for them.
'Alright Caffrey, spill' she said as Neal came up behind her, slipping his arms around her waist
'What?' he asked, feigned innocence dripping from his voice
'You planned this all along, didn't you? You wanted Peter and Elizabeth to stay at your place - you just conned your best friend' she added, as she realized that Neal had planned all along for them to spend the night at the hotel
'Why should Peter and Elizabeth have all the fun? I thought you and I deserved one night in this place – after all I am paying for it' he said as he kissed her neck, hoping to be forgiven for the subterfuge
She shook her head in exasperation as she turned to face him, a smile dancing on her lips.
Neal would always be Neal and frankly, she wouldn't have it any other way.