Disclaimer: Boy, do I wish Neal Caffrey was mine! Sadly, I only own what little plot there is to be found.
A/N: This was written in response to a prompt over at the lj comm collarkink, but I only managed to fulfill part of it, so there may be a sequel. We'll see. Also, this is my first attempt at writing in the present tense, so any constructive criticism especially relating to that is quite welcome.
The first time Agent Peter Burke finds a gift left for him by con artist Neal Caffrey, he freaks. Of course, he doesn't call it "freaking," but that's what it is. It's only been a week or two since he was assigned the case, but he'd immediately dug into it, trying to get a feel for this Caffrey character.
He may not pay a lot of attention to what goes into his personal safe – mostly exciting things like the really important bills, social security cards, marriage license and birth certificate, etc. – but he knows for a fact that he hadn't left those cufflinks there. (Does he even own cufflinks?)
He knows even after just two weeks' worth of research that this is just Caffrey's style. At least, cufflinks are. The rest, though?
Peter freaks. If Caffrey had gotten in, did he take anything? (No.) Did he get anywhere else? (Peter checks his bank account, his gun safe, even the loose floor board under the hope chest in the master bedroom.) And what does it mean? Why him? (None of the previous agents on the case have mentioned receiving anything from Caffrey.)
Of course, there's no proof that it's from Caffrey. There are no fingerprints, no DNA evidence, no photos of him in the area – just an elderly woman's remark about "that charming young man" who'd so "gallantly helped [her] across the street," to quote from Peter's interview notes. The cufflinks hadn't even been bought with stolen money or a fake credit card; they're legit, and as such are returned to Peter after the battery of tests he'd ordered on them have been completed.
Peter is entirely bewildered about what to do with them, and so the cufflinks are tossed in a drawer and forgotten about.
The second time Peter finds a gift from Caffrey, he's on a case that has taken him across the country (Not Caffrey's – he does work other cases, you know.) But he and the other agents are staying at the local Marriott Inn when they're not working, and it's the last place he expects to find Caffrey.
The tie clip laid precisely on his pillow suggests otherwise.
His indignant fury at Caffrey's brashness carries him all the way down to check-in, where he questions the receptionists at length about anyone who might have been asking about his room or who seemed suspicious, though he knows almost as he's begun that he won't get anything helpful.
Eventually, he gives up, resolving to focus on the case at hand and to ponder Neal Caffrey when he gets back to New York.
Again, he sends the gift in for testing, and again it comes back clean.
This time, though, the gift remains on his bedside table – and if he never wears it, at least it isn't locked away. Elizabeth sometimes finds him staring at it, often after the Caffrey case takes a puzzling turn.
The third time, it is Elizabeth who receives the gift.
It is one of those rare days that Peter has off but Elizabeth has to work, and he is standing bleary-eyed in the too-bright kitchen, waiting for his coffee to be ready when she bursts back in, all happy smiles and kisses. He quickly forgets about the small box she had clutched to her as they make their way back to the bedroom.
Afterwards, when their breathing has slowed down and Peter's brain has engaged, he glances down at the dark-haired beauty he holds in his arms, and questions, "Not that I'm complaining, but what brought that on?"
"That was a thank you, Peter," Elizabeth says as she shifts a little to be able to look her husband in the eye.
Peter is confused. "For what?"
Elizabeth smiles a little at the adorable crinkle that appears on Peter's forehead and rolls away to produce the box she had been holding when she entered the house; it was just like him to buy her a gift and then forget all about it.
Peter opens the box to find a small bottle of expensive perfume – Elizabeth's favorite, but not one she can afford to wear often. A suspicion begins to grow in his mind, but he says nothing and waits until Elizabeth has returned to work from her "lunch break" to examine the box further.
Eventually, he succeeds in finding a short note from Caffrey: "I know what it's like to want your woman to have the finer things in life. Hope she enjoys it, and happy anniversary to you both, NC."
Perhaps it's not the smartest move on Caffrey's part, as it eventually leads to the FBI discovering Kate. And although Peter's pretty sure the gift is legit like the cuff links and the tie clip, he can't decide between being grateful or chagrined that Caffrey remembered his wedding anniversary when he'd forgotten.
He decides he must be more grateful because he never sends the perfume to be tested as he did the other gifts, and he begins to refer to Caffrey as "Neal" – as least in the privacy of his own mind.
He promises himself that he'll tell Elizabeth who the perfume is really from someday – perhaps when she and Neal meet each other. Yeah, like that would ever happen.
Six years later, he regrets that thought.
After that, Peter receives all sorts of trinkets from Neal – postcards from cities in which he's been suspected of running a con, a cup of coffee in his car after a particularly long night… There's a pair of crystal goblets for his next wedding anniversary, but they're mostly small gifts, recognizable only by the flourishing initials "NC" – and none of them arrive in the mail.
Some of the other agents in his department accuse Neal of taunting Peter, but Peter rather thinks it's something else. Neal is old-fashioned in some regards, and it feels like he's courting Peter – as if the con man is afraid of losing the agent's full attention. Those times that Elizabeth catches him staring at the tie clip, Peter is often wondering if it's loneliness or boredom that drives a man like Neal Caffrey to court the FBI agent in charge of catching him.
Then Peter does catch Neal, and the gifts stop, of course. Peter thinks he should probably be relieved, but he feels oddly like he's lost something instead. He wonders if he hasn't grown to crave Neal's attention as much as Neal craves his.
He is inordinately pleased, then, when he receives a Christmas card with only the words, "Happy Holidays, NC."
A/N: Reviews are love! Let me know what you think.