A/N: I haven't written all that much White Collar fic, and I'm not certain this is all that great, but I kind of like the idea that I had, so I wrote it. If you ship Neal/Sara, you'll probably get a kick out of it. Would love to know if you like it, so please do drop me a review and let me know your thoughts :)
(Disclaimer: All recognisable characters belong to Jeff Eastin, Fox, and other folks that aren't me.)
3. A Caffrey Christmas Miracle
It didn't feel much like Christmas. It was the second year in a row that Neal felt this way and he knew why. No matter how religious a person was or wasn't, it was pretty much a truth universally acknowledged that the holiday season was supposed to be a time for love and family. These things were sadly lacking in the life of a man who could no longer officially bear the name of Neal Caffrey. In his head that was who he was, but nobody ever used the name anymore. As far as the world was concerned, all the friends and family that Neal had ever known, he was dead. Peter and Elizabeth had mourned him as they raised their first and only child. Mozzie, June, Jones, Diana, all at the FBI White Collar division that Neal had made friends with, every person in New York and beyond who had known his name, believed he was gone forever. Often Neal thought of them and wondered how they were all doing, knowing they would not be having similar thoughts about him. They all thought he was long dead, and probably thought about his passing sadly as they put up their Christmas trees, hung stockings by the fireplace, and sipped their mulled wine. Neal sat alone in his apartment, a stylish looking place that was impossible to keep warm, with only a couple of strings of white lights proving it was anything like a special time of year. Christmas just wasn't Christmas when there was no-one to share it with, no gifts to give or to receive, no-one to sing carols with or to kiss under the mistletoe.
Neal's eyes closed as he leaned back in the recliner and sipped his drink. The warmth of the alcohol barely touched the coldness inside, but it was better than nothing. These were the occasions when he felt the loneliness and loss so keenly, when the holes in his life seemed larger than the room itself, when he thought a lot of Sara and missed her too. She was gone before his 'death' but would still have been told of his demise. Maybe she cried about it, but she would have moved on by now, Neal was sure. A new life, a new job, a new man in her new country of residence. Neal could only hope she was even happier than they had been together, though he knew nobody would make him feel more complete than she had.
The knock on the door startled Neal awake. He wasn't sure when he drifted off or for how long he had been sleeping. Maybe a minute, maybe an hour, he really couldn't say, but he was alert in a moment as a second tapping came on the door. This building was pretty secure. Guests had to be buzzed in or admitted by the doorman. It could be one of his neighbours needed something, but it was quite a late hour for begging a cup of sugar.
Warily, Neal went over to the door, unlocked it and opened it up a crack. His eyes went from the usual level down to a little girl who smiled up at him.
"Hey there," he said, smiling back as he crouched down to her height.
The child could have been no more than three, and probably not even that. She had strawberry blonde hair and big blue eyes like stars. Her thumb was stuck into the side of her mouth but her smile was still beautiful.
"Are you lost?" Neal asked her, looking around in the hallway outside the door. "Is your mommy around?"
"Mommy's right here," said a voice suddenly.
Neal and the little girl looked up as one, and there she was.
"Sara?" Neal gasped at the sight of her, as the child threw herself at 'Mommy' and hugged onto her legs.
Sara's hand went to the little one's head and mussed up her curls, but her tear-filled eyes were fixed on Neal. She had to swallow hard before she could speak again.
"I didn't want to believe it," she said too softly. "When they told me... I knew Peter wouldn't lie, but you couldn't be gone. Not you, not Neal," she cried, tears streaming down her cheeks unchecked. "And here you are. Alive."
Neal was overjoyed to see her, confused but beyond happy. Still, he was mindful of Sara using his name where others might hear and urged her inside to continue their reunion. The little girl at her side was swept up into Sara's arms and carried into the apartment. She was the part that had Neal more baffled than anything else, but for the moment he hadn't the words to ask all he wanted to know.
"Uh, sit down, please," he said, manners apparently coming naturally even over the shock.
Sara wasn't surprised by that. She perched on the lonely recliner on one side of the room, wondering at the lack of other furniture. The little girl she carried was sat down in her lap and immediately curled into Mommy's embrace, still sucking on her thumb.
Sara's free hand came up to wipe under eyes, so with clear vision she could survey the room and moreover Neal himself. He was alive, and she couldn't stop being in awe of the fact, though she had suspected it was true all along.
"You look almost as surprised to see me as I am to see you," she said with a laugh she couldn't help. "But I'm not the one they said was... gone," she said carefully, mindful of little ears.
Neal could look nowhere but at the child. His mind was whirling with the concept that Sara was her mother. The girl could be adopted or something, but staring into her sweet face, Neal was sure that wasn't true. She had Sara in all her looks, except maybe her eyes, but Neal recognised those too, and too well. A little mental arithmetic and the rest made sense, or at least led to only one conclusion.
"Sara..." he said absently, eyes coming up to meet hers.
"Yes, Neal. Your math is sound, your instincts are sharp as ever," she confirmed. "Sweetheart," she said, addressing the child now and encouraging her to look at Neal, "this is Daddy."
The little girl looked up at him with wide blue eyes and another winning smile. She didn't say a word but she seemed to be taking in the sight of him with real interest and no small amount of happiness. Neal didn't know what to think or what to say, though he felt the need to react in some way.
"Hi," he said to the little girl. "I... Um, what's your name?" he asked.
"Maisie," she said so softly that he only heard because the room was otherwise devoid of sound.
"Maisie?" he echoed, tears forming in his eyes that Neal couldn't have explained in a lifetime. "Meaning pearl."
"I wanted something that reminded me of you, but without being too obvious, given the circumstances," Sara explained. "I went through all the precious stone related names; Ruby, Jemma, Pearl itself, but none of them suited her. Then I went a little abstract. I like Maisie."
"I like Maisie too," said Neal, swallowing hard the next second, knowing he couldn't speak anymore until he had.
He sunk to his knees on the carpet before the chair, taking in every angle of the baby girl in Sara's lap. She was his daughter, and she was perfect. He just couldn't understand how she was here, how either of them were.
"Go ahead, honey," Sara encouraged Maisie not to shy away from Neal when he came closer. "Give Daddy a hug."
With the merest hint of apprehension, Maisie leaned forward and finally took her thumb from her mouth in order to throw both arms around Neal's neck. He hugged her close, marvelling at the feeling of tiny arms holding onto him, the embrace of his own daughter.
"You are beautiful," he said when they parted a moment later, gentle fingers trailing over Maisie's curls and down past her cheek.
"Those good genetics," said Sara, wiping her eyes one more time.
Maisie wriggled to get down from her mother's knee then and set off running to the other side of the room. She was apparently fascinated by the trinkets and books Neal had on the shelves in the corner. Sara called for her to look but not touch. Neal shook his head.
"It doesn't matter," he assured her. "If she breaks anything... Who cares anyway?" he shrugged.
"Isn't some of it expensive? Potentially priceless?" she whispered.
Neal laughed and shook his head, still on his knees before the woman he loved so long and not even noticing somehow.
"Nothing you can buy or steal is really priceless," he told her easily. "It took me a very, very long time to realise that, but it's true enough."
"I know what you mean," said Sara, leaning forward and putting a hand to his face. "Neal, I... I don't know where to start"
"How about with Maisie?" he suggested, glancing briefly at the little girl who seemed completely enthralled by objects that were entirely foreign to her. "You didn't have to tell me she was mine, I could see that, and besides she must be the right age..."
"Yes, she's yours." Sara smiled. "It had to have been one of the last times we... were together," she said, feeling oddly bashful about it all of a sudden. "By the time I realised that all our careful precautions hadn't quite worked, I was two months along. I thought about contacting you, Neal, I really did, but I wasn't sure it was the right thing, for either of us. When I finally plucked up the courage to face you, well, I did a little research first, just to be sure. I needed to know you were safe, still free, not into any trouble. I found out you had a new girlfriend."
Neal winced horribly at her pain, and at the memory or Rachel. Some girlfriend she had been. It was insane how quickly he let himself be drawn in by her, even if she had been the sweet Rebecca when he had first met and fallen for her. She was the reason Sara stayed away? Kept his daughter from him? No, Neal knew that wasn't true. The whole truth was that Sara stayed gone because of him, because she didn't believe he would want her and Maisie, he supposed. That hurt just as much to think about, but he couldn't blame his ex for that.
"Anyway, even without the new girlfriend, I couldn't see a kid fitting into your world." Sara sighed. "At the time, I really wasn't sure how she would fit into my world, but then she was born and... and everything changed. She became my world, and everything else just revolved around her," she explained with a smile, gazing across the room at their daughter now. "She was a reminder of you, sometimes a painful one, but it was still nice in a way. A little piece of you that I could never lose."
Neal didn't know what to say. He wished he did, it was usually the one thing about him that was constant, but right now, he had no words to say that would help, so he said nothing. It wasn't long before Sara continued anyway.
"Then Peter called one day to tell me... to say you were gone," she explained, so close to tears again that it tore at Neal's heart. "And I cried and I raged. I yelled at God, asking why he let it happen. I yelled at you, even though you weren't there, asking how you could be so stupid. The more I thought on it, the more it didn't make sense, because you're not stupid. There had to another explanation."
"And there was," said Neal huskily. "Sara, I'm so sorry. Nobody could know where I was, not back then. Even now, it's probably not entirely safe for you to be here."
"Like I care about that," she told him, rolling her eyes. "Neal, after everything... I don't know, Christmas came around again, and I had all this information from Peter. He's not stupid either, you know?" she said with a smile. "He has it narrowed down to Paris, it won't be long before he comes knocking, I'm sure. I figured it out by myself and then... and then I was sitting with Maisie talking about Christmas, about Santa Claus and what she would like him to bring her because she'd been such a good girl all year. Next thing I know she's toddled right on over to the table and back again with your picture in her chubby little hands," she explained, tearfully.
"You told her about me?" asked Neal, equally as choked up as Sara.
She nodded, sending tears streaking down her already damp cheeks.
"From the start. Your picture was always out, and I talked about you all the time. You're her father, Neal, no matter what. All I wanted was for her to know you and for you to know her."
As if on cue, Maisie came rushing back to the scene then. She stopped within a foot of Neal and Sara, looking between them too thoughtfully. Never had she looked more like the perfect combination of her parents than in this moment, and they both knew it.
"Mama, no cry," she said, shaking her head as she came closer and reached to hug Sara.
"I'm okay, sweetheart," she promised, hugging her little girl back.
"Dada, no cry," Maisie said next, giving Neal another hug too. "Kiss-mas-tie!" she said with a grin when they parted.
Neal looked at Sara and she laughed.
"Christmas time," she explained. "She's having a little trouble with the word Christmas. She is only two. Almost anyway."
"Tomorrow," admitted Sara, smoothing out Maisie's curls. "She was my little Christmas miracle."
Neal wasn't sure he could take any more surprises, but they just kept on coming. First Sara was back and he was a father. Now he found out that it was Maisie's birthday tomorrow, on Christmas Day. It was strange to think that he had been sat here alone an hour or so before, thinking how lonely and pointless his life seemed. Now here was a family, his family, though he hadn't known they were out there waiting for him until now.
"A Christmas miracle," he echoed, one arm around Maisie and the other hand reaching out to grasp Sara's own. "That's what you both are for me."
"I'm very glad you see it that way," she said, meeting his eyes. "I was almost afraid..."
Neal couldn't hear that, couldn't know that there was any doubt in Sara's mind that he would want her back or want their child. He moved in closer and kissed her lips without a care, overjoyed when she responded with a passion. Only Maisie's childish giggling broke them apart.
"Kiss-mas," she said, voice full of laughter.
"Christmas" her mother corrected, smiling in spite of herself.
"Kiss-kiss!" said Maisie, making the sound of blowing kisses at both her parents.
Neal laughed because he couldn't help it. She was too adorable, and this moment was too amazing and perfect. It truly was a Christmas miracle that he barely felt he could deserve, but here they were, Sara and Maisie. He was never letting them out of his sight for a moment, not ever again.