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Neal turned towards Peter and finally spoke, "Agent Burke, I want to meet, Max."
"What?" Peter was not that surprised, if truth be said. Still he couldn't help but ask. He knew Mozzie telling Neal about his life that he had forgotten would lead to some unlikeable results.
''Am, I not talking in English?'' Neal asked in sarcasm.
Peter simply rolled his eyes. Trust Neal to come back with his witty replies. "Of course, you are, kid. But why Max? Is it absolutely necessary to go meet him?"
''I wouldn't have asked if it wasn't absolutely necessary, Agent Burke." Neal shot back.
Peter opened his mouth to answer but Neal stopped him,
"Listen to me, Please, Agent…"
This time Peter stopped him. "I shall listen to everything that you have to say, Neal." He quickly raised his finger to stop Neal from speaking and continued, ''only if you start calling me 'Peter' at least. I understand that calling 'Dad' is just out of question right now but calling me 'Agent Burke' and, El, 'Mrs. Burke' is just very strange."
Neal gulped. Of course, he wasn't going to address them as Mum and Dad suddenly. Calling them that would change a lot of things and he wasn't ready for that. Just yet. He needed proof. He knew he was being a jerk. Mozzie had in clear words expressed how much these people meant to him and how much he meant to them but his stupid memory loss was making things complicated.
''Alright, Peter. From now on, I shall call you, Peter, and Mrs. Burke, 'El'.'' He flashed his signature Caffrey smile to both of them. While El genuinely seemed happy about this, Peter on the other hand was not satisfied but for now, he decided to let it be. At least, the kid was calling him by his name.
''Thank you'' he said.
El suddenly gave a kiss on Neal's cheek and said, ''You have no idea, how much, you calling us, Mr. And Mrs. Burke was killing us, sweetie. So, thank you." Neal simply nodded as he was caught offhand by El's sudden sweetness.
"I will just go to the kitchen now. You two can discuss about Max." she then turned to her husband and spoke, "Peter, be careful."
Peter coughed out a laugh and replied, "Of course, hon. Always am careful.''
After El went into the kitchen, Neal wasted no time and asked Peter about meeting Max.
''Okay, I will take you to him, but why him? Didn't you trust your friend, Mozzie? Don't you trust us?" Peter asked
Neal's heart skipped a beat. Trust. It was such a delicate word. Did he trust his friend? Yes, he did. Did he trust these Burkes? Of course, he did. He was so surprised by the readiness of the answer. Then, why did he want to meet Max and complicate things?
"Neal, buddy? You heard me?" Peter called him. He must have zoned out again.
''Yes, Agent,.. sorry, Peter." He replied.
Peter shook his head. He knew Neal would take time to get adjusted to calling him Peter.
''Do you trust us?" he asked again.
''Yes, of course, I do trust you all, Agent… Peter." Neal replied promptly this time.
"Then, why go to Max? Ask us! Clear all your doubts with us. We are here to help you out, kid. Just let us in." Peter said earnestly.
Neal could clearly see love for him in those eyes of Peter for him but he had made up his mind. He was going to meet Max and no one was going to change that decision of his.
"I know you and EL and Moz are there to help me out, but I really need to meet Max. This isn't a matter of trust, Agent. I want to clear my head and talking with Moz and you guys is confusing me more and more.
''But, Neal" Peter began but Neal was having none of it.
''What are you so afraid of, Agent? If Max is now what Mozzie told he is then what do you have to worry about? Why don't you want me to meet him? Or are you scared that the real truth will be finally out?"
Neal bit out in frustration.
Peter stared at Neal in surprise. He never thought Neal would think that they didn't want them to meet Max was because they were lying. All Peter wanted was that Neal trust them and confide in them first.
''Okay, kiddo. You think we are lying? Fine! I will take you to meet Max. It will take two to three days to arrange the meet. Till then, you will stay with us. Alright?"
''Thank you!" relief clear on Neal's face. Finally, another person to talk to about his past life who will give not give biased answers. ''And of course, where else will I go? We have a deal, right? I stay with you as long as you find my dad.'' He couldn't help but add.
Peter cringed at that. "I know, I know, we should have been honest with you from the start. But it was for your good only, buddy."
''Yeah, whatever." Neal nodded half-heartedly.
"You promise, you will not run away again, right?" Peter asked seriously.
Neal made a shocked face, "Peter! You hurt me. You think I will run away? Of course, not! I will be a good boy and stay in this house only." He flashed his 1000-watt smile.
Peter rolled his eyes but smiled fondly at his son. This banter, he used to enjoy very much. He wished his son's memories would return quickly. He hoped that Max would really help Neal ease some of his tension and Neal would stop torturing himself this much.
"Dad!" Neal finally called out suddenly.
"What did you just say?" Peter asked with a tiny ray of hope in his heart that maybe Neal remembered that he was their kid.
"Dad? I figured this was the only way to catch your attention, Peter." Neal replied innocently.
"So, you simply fooled me about it?" disappointment clear in Peter's voice.
"Hey! I didn't mean to hurt you, Peter. I am sorry if I did. I promise I won't do it again.
"Neal, I know you don't remember us being your parents but we are your parents so please never joke about it." Peter quickly averted his gaze from Neal to hide his watery eyes.
Neal on the other hand felt ashamed of himself for playing with Peter's emotions like this. He didn't remember being his son, but Peter surely remembered everything. How could he do such a thing to him.
''I am sorry, Peter. I really am." He really meant it.
Peter nodded and seemed to accept his apology. ''Come on, let's get you to bed, it has been a long day. You must be tired. El will bring your dinner upstairs."
Um, get me to bed? What do you mean by that?" Neal asked raising his left eyebrow in doubt.
''It means that I will carry you to your room.'' Peter replied smiling.
''Neal gasped in shock. "You would never!"
''Oh! But I have already done it in the past and I can do it in the present too!" the latter replied with a laugh.
And before Neal could utter another word to protest, Peter lifted him up in his arms.
"Put me down, Peter! Now!" Neal commanded but Peter didn't budge. He just shook his head softly and started walking towards the stairs.
El came just in time witness this sweet moment.
''Wait! Let me click a picture!" She said, already pulling out her cell from her purse which was kept on the fireplace,
''Gladly, Hon. Please see to it that it is the best picture ever!'' Peter said with a sugary sweet smile.
Neal was annoyed beyond everything. "Come on, you guys! What am I? a baby? Put me down, Agent Burke!"
Peter shot him a disapproving look while Neal gave him a satisfied one.
"Not gonna happen, kid. Gonna put you down straight on your bed. You are in no condition to climb the stairs."
''Of course, sweetie. Peter is absolutely right!" El chimed in. "Honey, take him upstairs, dinner's almost ready.'' With that she went back into the kitchen.
Neal was pouting and Peter found it so enduring but he kept it to himself.
The short trip had butterflies in his stomach. The feeling the he was experiencing was something that he couldn't describe. It filled his heart with warmth. This moment, it seemed he had experienced before too. Peter had carried him like this before too. He just knew it. This family was proving in each and every step how much they loved him and yet his stubborn attitude was blocking it all away.
Peter knew Neal was in deep thought but he let him be. He didn't want to impose himself on the kid. Let the kid feel whatever connection they had come to him on its own. He quickly climbed the stairs and stepped into Neal's Winter Wonderland and laid Neal on to his bed.
"There you go. Relax. Eat your dinner and go to sleep. Tomorrow morning, we are going to see the doctor. I don't want to take any risk regarding your leg. Already you have injured it too many times."
Neal gave a questionable look but Peter didn't say anything further. After some time El brought his dinner which he was extremely grateful for as he hadn't eaten anything since his morning breakfast. He gobbled down his dinner. El admonished him for that but Neal wasn't listening. After the dinner, the couple left the room so that Neal can go to sleep.
Neal tossed and turned on his bed but sleep just wouldn't claim him. The day's events were weighing him down. Out of all the possibilities of past life that he couldn't remember, he never thought that Peter Burke and El Burke would turn out to be his parents. He unconsciously fingered the silver keychain with both his hands. Everything was making sense. Maybe he should just get on with his life and forget about meeting Max.
He sighed loudly and turned on his right. The snow was slowly pelting the window. It was a beautiful sight. Neal sat up on the bed and stared at the window for a while. He slowly got up, putting minimum weight on his injured leg. He walked over to the window and opened it. The snow had picked up speed. It was falling in heaps now. Neal shivered. He was still wearing his blue shirt and jeans and they didn't protect him from the harsh cold. Just like the swirling snow his mind was also filled with swirling thoughts. Should he not meet Max?
'Come on, you ran away to think about it and you came back with a decision. Don't change your mind now!' He mumbled to himself.
He closed his eyes and took a deep breathe. It felt cold. He would meet Max. Maybe meeting him would make him remember something from his past and he would just stop being an idiot and get on with his life? Yes! That's what he would do. Meet Max.
He shut the window and slowly walked back to his bed and laid back. He closed his eyes and willed himself to fall asleep by trying to block all the thoughts that were bouncing in his mind. After a half an hour of tossing and turning he finally was able to succumb to sleep.
The next two days went by in the Burke household smoothly. Neal behaved as if nothing had happened to him and was all sporty with the Burkes. The Burkes were surprised by this behaviour of his but they kept it to themselves. They knew Neal was pretending to be normal and was just waiting for the meeting with Max to happen. At least till then they got to spend normal time with Neal.
They really wanted their ordeal to get over. And they hoped it would get over as the meeting was arranged for tomorrow. They knew Neal wouldn't be getting his memory back just by meeting Max but at least he would be somewhat satisfied by his answer. He won't be this doubtful anymore. At least he would start to look at them in the new light.
"So, what do you wanna watch?" Neal asked. They had just finished their dinner and were now seated on the couch with Neal squished in the middle and El and Peter sitting on his sides.
"Definitely a baseball game, duh!" Peter started the T.V and put on the channel that was playing some baseball game.
''That's not fair! Why do you always get to choose what to play? Why not me?" Neal protested.
"I called it first!" Peter said proudly. ''Winners always get to choose."
"It's okay, kiddo, you can watch your favourite T.V tomorrow, right?'' El said smiling.
"Yeah whatever! Neal pouted.
They continued to watch the sports and after some time, El caught Peter's attention. He turned and saw that their kid was fast asleep. His head was resting on El's shoulder.
Peter shook his head. "Every time!" he whispered. "Does my sports channel bore him so much that he always falls asleep?"
El giggled, "Not only him, Hon, Even I would have fallen asleep if another minute or two had passed."
''Ha ha! Very funny. Now please wake him up and tell him to go to his bed." Peter said with half-hearted annoyance.
''Nope! Not happening. You know the ritual." El replied.
"Really, Hon?" Peter asked skeptically
"Of course! Pick him up!" El replied instantly.
''Fiiiine!" Peter dragged out the word. He stood up and stretched his legs and arms. He then took Neal in his arms, being careful about not waking up their precious bundle in the process. Neal stirred a little but otherwise remained sleeping.
El sighed deeply. Worry clear on her face.
''What is it, honey?" Peter asked worriedly.
''When will he remember it all, Hon? I don't like the way we are living right now. It is not only torture to us but torture to him too." She ran her hand smoothly over Neal's hair. The latter snuggled into Peter's chest. The couple smiled warmly.
''Don't worry, El, all will be fine. I promise. He will be back with us soon. It is only a matter of time." Peter said.
"Come on, eat up fast. We don't want to be late for the meeting." Peter wiped his face with the napkin after finishing his bowl of cereal and washing it down with a glass of orange juice. Neal was still munching on his French toast and sipping on his hot chocolate. El was done with her breakfast and was busy cleaning the kitchen as she had an urgent client meeting too.
''I am done, I am done! Give me 2 minutes." Neal mumbled in between his breakfast. The toast was gone in matter of seconds and so was his hot chocolate. Today he was dressed in red checked shirt and black pants. He quickly grabbed his black jacket and was ready to move out with Peter.
''Let's go! Peter." He said while pulling in the sleeve of his right hand.
''Nope! Not so fast, buddy. First, we are going to the doctor. He is going to check out your leg and then we are going to the Bureau. It was you who had promised that we would go see the doctor on the day meeting was arranged. Right?" Peter asked. He wore his jacket too and grabbed the keys of his Taurus.
''My leg is fine now, Peter. Let's just go to Max first, please." Neal whined. He just wanted to get over with it. He wanted to meet Max and get some closure to the matter that he himself had started. Now that he thought of, he knew he was being silly. His best friend had told him about his forgotten memory and even the Burkes were ready to discuss it all with him.
But he was adamant like a baby about meeting Max as if Max's words were the ultimate. As if what Max told him was the entire truth and the exact truth. Maybe because, Max was a third person, his opinion mattered that way.
''Not gonna happen, kid. Doctor first. Max can wait. We've already waited for 2 days. Let's go." Peter replied. He then turned around and hugged his wife and gave a peck on her lips. "See you later, Hon"
''See you later, Hon'' El replied back.
The trip to the hospital was eventful. Doctor Bright Thyme gave them the good news that Neal's leg wasn't fractured but because it was twisted and swollen, it was to be kept wrapped in a crepe band for at least fifteen days. He also prescribed pills and ointment but said there was nothing to worry about.
After the trip to the hospital, Peter and Neal went straight for the Bureau. The ride in the Taurus was tensed. Peter kept glancing Neal who seemed a nervous wreck. He kept bouncing his leg and thumping his fingers on his thigh.
''Relax, kid. You already know the truth. What are you afraid of? What else do you think you might hear from Max?"
Neal simply shook his head.
"Listen, Neal, I assure you, whatever Mozzie told you, it was all truth. You don't need a criminal to verify it. I give you, my word. You can ask El too. Please, kiddo, believe us, whatever happened in your past that you don't remember is what Mozzie told you. You don't have to go to Max if you don't want to."
Neal closed his eyes. His fingers automatically went to the keychain.
''I want to meet him, Peter. Please."
"Okay." is all Peter said.
They reached the Bureau in 20 minutes. Peter and Neal exited the vehicle and went inside. Upon reaching the 21st floor, Neal was once again hit with the sense of déjà vu. He had been here. God knows how many times but his instinct told him he had been here more than once.
As soon as Peter opened the main door all the staff's gaze went to him. Everybody's eyes shone with pleasant surprise. Neal found it very uncomfortable. Suddenly, out of the blue, an agent with balding look appeared before him. He was smiling like he had just won the lottery.
''Hey, Caffrey, or should I say, Caffrey-Burke?" the agent spoke with a lot of zeal.
''Clinton! What did I say?" Peter admonished him.
''Okay, okay, sorry, Peter, but I was eager to meet him." Clinton then turned to Neal and spoke to him directly, "I am Clinton Jones and you don't remember me, do you, Neal?"
'Neal simply shook his head. ''Sorry."
''Aah! It's okay! But if you ever want to know anything about your life, let me know, okay!" Jones said, offering a handshake.
Neal nodded and shook the offered hand.
Another agent, a lady came and stood next to Jones.
''Hey, Neal." She smiled.
''Does everyone, over here know me?" Neal asked in exasperation. Everybody knew him but he just couldn't remember anyone.
The lady agent laughed softly. "Yes, Caffrey. You are quite famous around here. And don't worry, you will remember everything in no time. I am Diana Berrigan by the way."
Neal smiled. ''Hey, Diana."
''Feels weird to introduce us to you like this'' she replied. Neal chose not to answer anything.
''Boss, we are ready." Diana told to Peter.
Peter nodded. He then looked at Neal. ''You ready, kid?"
"Ready as I will ever be.'' Neal replied smoothly. None of the agents were fooled. They knew Neal very well. They knew that the kid was scared but they chose to remain silent.
''Alright, let's go.''
Neal nodded apprehensively and followed Peter to the room where Max was waiting for him.
They arrived the room which was closed. Peter's hand rested on the knob to twist it open. "You want me to be there with you, Neal? I can stay if you want, buddy." Even though Max had saved Neal's life a couple of times, Peter was still not entirely sure about Neal's safety around him. Max was after all a criminal.
''You would do that for me?" Neal asked hopeful.
''You know I would do anything for you, kid." Peter replied, ruffling Neal's hair. Plus, he didn't like the idea of sending his son alone with Max. Reformed criminal or not.
''Thanks. Peter, I would love it, if you would be there too." Neal requested.
''Alright, kiddo, let's go in." With that Peter twisted the knob to open of the door and entered the room along with Neal where Max was already waiting for them.
Inside the room
''My, my! What a pleasant surprise, Agent Burke. I never in a hundred years would have thought that I would get to see you and Neal ever again." Max spoke as soon as Peter and Neal entered the room.
There was something off about him, Peter could feel it. He seemed a little shifty. He guided Neal to take the seat opposite Max and sat next to him.
''Hey, kid, you look great." Max said as soon as Neal settled next to Peter. In that moment, it looked to Peter that it was the same Max that had saved Neal a couple of times.
Neal gave a small smile. He was still not able to grasp the fact that this was the same Max that had a change of heart and had saved his life. He didn't know the details but knowing that he had saved his life was enough. Outside Neal was putting on a brave face but inside he was still terrified of Max. He blamed it to his lost memory.
''What? No reply, kid? What happened?" Max asked with a questionable look on his face.
"Neal is here to ask you something, Max.'' Peter came to Neal's rescue.
''Well, If Neal is here to ask me something, then Neal will have to do the talking." Max said
"Of course, I will do the talking, Max." Neal said bravely. He was Neal Caffrey after all. He was not going to show it to the people in the room.
"Um.. Max, can you please recall how you saved my life. I just want to know how you did it all.'' Neal asked, hoping he didn't sound urgent.
Max frowned. ''Why are you asking me this now, kid? I am sure you remember it all, right?" he replied.
''Of course! It's just that I, I want to hear it from you once again." Neal lied. He knew he was lying and Max was way too shrewd not to understand what was going on here but he didn't want Max to know about his memory loss.
''What do you want to know, Neal? Do you want to know how I saved your life from your dad because he was trying to kill Burke but then you came out of nowhere to save him but then I jumped in to save YOU because Burke here tried to steal his one and only son from his dad!" Max said calmly as if discussing weather and Peter's eyes widened in shock.
''What the hell?" Peter was enraged. ''Why the hell are you lying, Max?''
''Lying?'' Max's face crinkled in a frown ''Who said I was lying, Agent Burke?''
Neal turned pale as white snow that was falling outside.
''You tell me, Neal, you think I am lying?" He eyed Neal up and down in such a way that sent a shiver down Neal's spine.
''Neal! Don't trust him. He is lying." Peter urged Neal to look at him as Neal's eyes were fixed on Max.
''Am I, Agent Burke? Tell me, I am wrong, that you considered him as your own son even when James was alive and you wanted to keep Neal to yourself''
''Yes, I have considered Neal as my son but" Peter started but
''See, kid, he is not even denying it. And tell me, kid, which father, bad or good can see that his son is being taken away from him.'' Max replied soberly.
''Don't you dare, Max." Peter said with warning.
''See! And he is scared that you will finally know the truth!" Max's eyes bored in Neal's blue ones as he spoke.
''What truth?'' Neal asked in apprehension
''The truth is that your father begged Agent Burke to get his son back but he was so cruel that he denied and your father took a shot at him and you tried to save your dad by coming in between and I in turn saved you. Max finished.
Suddenly Peter got up and reached across the table and grabbed Max by his collars and shook him hard.
''You bastard!" he shouted.
Max remained impassive.
Neal suddenly stood up and screamed, "Stop, Stop!''
''You are a liar, Max!" Peter continued and shook Max even harder.
''Peter! I said STOP!'' Neal tried once again. This time Peter obliged.
''Neal..'' he started to say but Neal just went outside the room before either Peter or Max could react.
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