Disclaimer: We do not own, nor do we plan to con anybody out of the rights to White Collar anytime soon.
Authors' Note: Hey there! I want to give credit to the amazing Agnixx, who succeeds in conning me out of coffee every time she comes to my house, is an awesome co-author, and would also like me to mention that she has a fedora exactly like Neal Caffrey's, and yes, can flip it onto her head. Which she does. Frequently.
This story is set seven years in the future, after 'Invasion' takes place. What if Peter and Elizabeth had a daughter? Other than that, there is not much you need to know to understand this story. We hope that you'll enjoy it; I know that we have both enjoyed writing it immensely. – SSW
"Uncle Neal! Uncle Neal!"
The seven year old girl was the first to make it through the front door, seeing as she'd bounded out of the car as soon as it had come to a stop. Her brown hair was done up in a single braid, which bounced against her back with a soft thud, thud that accompanied her much louder footsteps. Her eyes, the same as her mother's, flashed to find the man in question, lighting up when she did. Her mother and father were soon to follow their daughter into the apartment, matching smiles on their faces as they made their way into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee.
Neal Caffrey had been seated at the kitchen table, but had stood when he heard the young girl's voice. It was February thirteenth -a day Neal had marked on his mental calendar as special for two reasons. One, being February thirteenth meant it was almost February fourteenth, which was a holiday, and Neal Caffrey loved holidays. But most importantly, it stood out because today his "niece" was coming over.
Cheryl Burke was seven years old, as stubborn as her father about getting what she wanted, and as warm-hearted and conspiring as her mother and with all of a seven year-olds charm, she had stolen Neal's heart the moment he laid eyes on her. A fact that Peter found both amusing and grudgingly adorable.
Neal had been on his best behavior today at work, if a little more antsy to be out than usual. It had been nothing but paper-pushing all week and he was glad for the respite from the dullness of paper work. His niece could make even paper work bearable.
He had stopped and made sure to pick up a gift for Cheryl and it was all neatly packed away in a box with pink wrapping paper and an elaborate array of curly ribbons and bows. He had originally planned to give her something he made himself, but he found it too hard to sit still long enough or find the necessary inspiration. He could forge a perfect Haustenburg, but when it came to his own, self-inspired talent? He hit a wall. Nothing seemed good enough, and though he tried capturing Cheryl's likeness on paper, no matter how many times he had drawn and re-drawn the lines, it could never add up to what he wanted it to be. In the end he crumbled all the papers up and swept them unceremoniously to the floor.
Mozz had been by when he got home and could tell right away from the grin on Neal's face and the twinkle in his eye that Cheryl would be visiting. Thankfully Neal had been able to put a stop to Mozz's use of "the little suit" as a nickname for Cheryl before it stuck in his friend's brain, but Neal figured Mozzie still secretly thought of her that way, if fondly.
"I missed you!"
Neal was barely able to take two steps forward before the seven year old wrapped her tiny arms around his legs in her version of a bear hug. He grinned down at her, matching smile for smile.
"C'mere!" She beckoned him with a curled finger, and he could easily see the excitement in her eyes. "I've got something to show you!" That insistent tone and demanding gesture were not to be ignored. She was a seven year old but easily as stubborn as her father. He quickly knelt at her level and Cheryl reached into her back pocket to retrieve something.
"I got this for you!" There was no mistaking the pride and enthusiasm in her voice when she held out the object. It was an eraser – the type that topped pencils – in the shape of a monkey holding a heart. "Be my valentine, Uncle Neal?" She tilted her head to the side.
He felt his smile grow and his blue eyes were bright with warmth. "I've been waiting all day to hear you say that." he promised her, lifting her up in his arms, valentine and all. "Of course I'll be your valentine, Cheryl. Just don't tell your daddy," he whispered, grinning. "Or he'll be jealous." He took the offered valentine, a pencil topper shaped like a monkey and decorated with hearts for the upcoming holiday, and placed it securely on his pinky finger, wiggling it around like a puppet.
"Daddy won't be jealous." Cheryl affirmed with all the seriousness of a seven year old. "Daddy has Mommy for his Valentine." Laughter bubbled from her lips with the wiggled eraser on her pseudo-uncle's fingers. "Speaking of my Daddy, he can be obtuse about presents. I think he needs your help, but he won't admit it."
Neal choked back laughter at the young girl's choice of words. Though he wondered where she'd learned that particular one, 'obtuse' was the perfect word to describe her father's inability to find gifts for his wife. The fact remained that he'd wait too long, being Peter, and the responsibility of asking for his help would fall on his daughter's shoulders. Not that Neal minded. Finding the perfect gift was like solving a difficult puzzle and the satisfaction of completing the task was a reward in its own right.
"Don't worry, Chère." He soothed, using the nickname he knew she loved. He made a promise to help, tapping her nose with the eraser.
Her grin stretched even wider at his actions and affirmation of offered help. "What are you gonna name him?"
Neal furrowed his brow for a moment, considering the monkey-eraser between them with an expression of serious contemplation. "Is it a boy monkey or a girl monkey?"
Cheryl leaned closer to the monkey still perched on his finger, squinting her eyes and tapping her chin, mirroring her uncle's pensive expression. "It's a girl monkey, of course. It has eyelashes!" She exclaimed cheerfully, still looking pensive. It was an Old Soul kind of look that made her look as if she were on the verge of figuring out the answer to the Universe. "Why don't you call her Kate? You like that name, don't you?"
It wasn't exactly the answer to the universe, but to Neal, it might has well have been.
He had told Cheryl about Kate. Well, mostly. Most of the time it was indirect, in the form of bedtime stories and late afternoon tales that Cheryl always managed to figure out despite how Neal carefully voided out names. There was always a knowing spark in her eyes before she drifted off that let him know she knew what he was telling her wasn't merely just a story. He had told her a vague story one afternoon about a poor boy and a poor girl who bonded over an empty bottle of wine and while he had, as always, avoided names, it hadn't stopped the girl from climbing down from the couch, heading towards his table and returning with the treasured bottle in her hands. And then her quiet voice, asking, "What was her name?"
And he had told her and she went to bed and left Neal to his own devices. But he could tell she had always been curious to learn more about the mysterious Kate whom Neal never mentioned except in nameless allusions to stories that held only part of the truth as to their life but all of the wonder. He remembered the day Cheryl had come to him and after spending the better part of ten minutes silent, quietly asked if Kate had died.
"No," he had told her softly, keeping his voice even and shaking his head. "She didn't die." and both of them had agreed silently that that conversation had come to an end.
Her question now was an innocent one, a question meant to be harmless or comforting while it somehow managed to be both and neither all at once. It took Neal a moment to recollect his thoughts and when the fog of memory cleared from his light blue eyes he managed to give his niece a small, genuine smile.
"Yeah," he murmured, deeply moved. "Kate."
He recovered, keeping the characteristic grin in place for her but sure the astute young girl had noticed never the less. "Thank you."
"I got you a valentine, too." he told her and, grinning like a kid on Christmas while secretly anxious of her verdict, he handed her the box. "In a perfectly legal manner, I might add." he added innocently, for Peter and Elizabeth's benefit. The couple were in the kitchen, though he had no doubt that Peter was keeping a close eye on him, lest he decide to teach the seven year old how to pick locks or steal a wallet. He could hear them talking over a pot of coffee.
"Mommy, Daddy, Uncle Neal got me a present!" Cheryl called out, leaning backwards so that she could just make out the face of her mother. "In a perfectly legal manner!" She repeated his words with a laugh, bright eyes twinkling energetically as she took the package.
"That better not be a sheriff's badge, Caffrey." Neal heard the call from the kitchen and couldn't help but laugh. Cheryl took no note of it, quickly tearing into the package and giggling like the little girl she was.
Her eyes widened when she lifted the gift out of the box. "It's a you hat! And it's perfectly me sized." She cried out in glee, clapping her hands.
"Just for you," Neal promised. "I thought you'd like it," He tweaked her nose playfully with his fingers before plucking the hat deftly from her tiny hands and settling it carefully on her head. He couldn't help but grin at her poking out from under the black fedora, the band around the rim a light shade of pink.
"It looks perfect," he told her, and adjusting his hold on her by shifting her weight to one arm, he reached across the table to snatch his own hat and flipped it skillfully onto his head with a delighted twist of the mouth. "There," he said. "Now we match."
"Oh, this I've got to see. Honey, did you bring the camera?" El's voice sounded from the kitchen seconds before she entered the living room. Motherhood suited her – he'd never seen the woman quite so happy. "Oh my, Peter, you have to see this."
"Mommy, Uncle Neal got me a fedora!" She exclaimed, lifting her eyes comically as if she were trying to see the hat atop her very head. Fedora was a word she'd learned early and insisted on being taught to say correctly, once she'd learned that was what the word for the hat her uncle wore.
"I can see that, sweetie." El teased, kneeling in front of her daughter.
Peter was leaning against the doorframe – despite not wanting to grin at the gift Neal had given his daughter, he couldn't help it. It might have been impossible not to smile at the pink and black hat atop the seven year olds head.
"Did he teach you to do the adorable hat flip yet?"
The seven year old reached upward with a tiny hand, quickly removed the hat, and flipped it back onto her head with the expertise of someone who had been doing so – or at least watching someone do so – for years. Neal beamed. He'd taught her well.
"Adorable. That's freaking adorable. Caffrey, you're turning my daughter into a cartoon!"But he didn't sound angry and couldn't help but smile at the pleased look on his partner's face and the proud, goofy grin his daughter was giving him.
If only he knew how quickly everything could go wrong.
Author's Note Two:
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