Aftermath 3

Neal leaned back in the passenger seat of Peter's car and glanced out the window. New York hadn't changed but it seemed fresher, newer to him now that he was out of the worse of his haze. He would never truly be over the loss of Kate even if 10 years had passed him by but in three months he had managed to atleast get the worse of his anger and frustration out.

He suddenly remembered how he had acted with Peter and El in the hospital. The week he had spent with them had been hellish while he tried to disappear and his friends did their best to keep him alive. He had been a total ass if nothing else. Neal remembered little more than long days of sleeping in and only getting out of bed when Peter or El would come to bring him food or coax him downstairs to play with Satchmo. He would walk the dog occasionally in their backyard but he never really tried to be present that week. His body was with them but his mind and spirit had been anywhere but there. When he woke up that one night and thought he was dying, Peter and El were there for him but he hadn't thanked them. He had felt nothing but hatred towards them. They were happy. They were together. He had nothing.

Neal sighed and heard a cough from his left. Peter was looking at him with a slightly worried expression. Neal did his best to smile and the agent nodded back with a grin, turning his attention back to the road. He didn't want his friends to be unhappy because of him. He didn't want to be mopey and depressed but he knew that until he could push this behind him, not away, but behind him, he couldn't move on. He didn't want to forget Kate, he just wanted to get over the pain and loss.

He continued to think about all that had happened and then it occurred to him. The last time he saw Elizabeth, she had been angry with him. Well more disappointed than anything but he hadn't helped her feel any differently. He had tried his best to push all her buttons and get her to leave him alone. She had refused to let him wallow in his self-pity and anger by slapping him. He had been shocked at worse by what she did but his pride and hurt refused to show how he felt. He had stared coldly back at her and El had left the room nearly in tears. Peter had come in soon after and tried to remedy the situation but again, pride and hurt spoke for the young man and something dark had replied to his friend. It wasn't Neal Caffrey the charming thief that had spoken but Neal Caffrey the angry young man. Peter's expression had all but made him feel badly for how he had acted. That's when he had made his plans. He was to be released from the hospital the next day to Peter, but Neal slipped out before anyone could notice and vanished. He had left a note in his room that the nurse had probably handed them.

Neal felt the shudder of the car as the engine died and felt a gentle hand on his shoulder. Peter was looking at him.

"We're here." Neal nodded at the agent, rubbing at his eyes sleepily. The trip had felt so much longer than it actually was. He peered out the passenger side window and saw the narrow two-story house Peter shared with his wife Elizabeth. It was cute in a white picket fence sort of manner without the actual picket fence. Eight steps lead up to their door. Neal thought about the interior and how smartly it was decorated when he heard a cough again and saw Peter staring at him.

"Coming?" Neal nodded, removing his seat-belt and opening up the door. He stepped out into the sunlight and squinted some, using his hand as a visor. He glanced up and down the street but unlike his initial visit with June, he had no urge to run. He wanted to get this over with but not in the sense that it was done and finished. He wanted to be here and hopefully return to the carefree nature he and the Burkes had shared. Neal tried not to think of the last words he had with El.

Peter poked at him in the shoulder gently, making him turn and look at him. Those brown eyes didn't judge him. He saw compassion and concern for a friend in them. Neal tried to smile back and thought he probably wasn't doing a good job. He saw his friend smile back.

"Don't worry. She's not going to slap you again." Neal felt his cheeks redden then saw the grin on Peter's face and realized his friend was just teasing him. He gave a nervous chuckle back hoping beyond hope she wasn't still upset with him. Peter put a hand on the young man's back and pushed him forward gently, closing the car door behind him and locking it.

"Are you sure?" Neal's voice sounded uncertain. Maybe he should feel like running but his feet kept moving, Peter's hand on his back as a gentle persuader.

"Yes... she's been asking about you ever since she knew I was out there watching your back." Neal paused half way up and turned to his friend with a curious look.

"I guess it was you I kept sensing when I had the feeling someone was watching me." Neal stared at his friend as if trying to figure something out. He saw Peter's expression turn to that of someone who'd been found out. The Fed rubbed at the back of his neck.

"Yeah, I guess if you knew someone was watching you, I didn't do a good job." His face looked rather embarrassed but Neal shook his head.

"Actually, I never would have guessed it was you. Although... one night I seem to recall hearing your voice in my head and waking up to some found money." Neal peered at his friend but the man just shrugged.

"Hmmm... interesting. Can't say I know what you're talking about though." Peter just sort of smirked as if he knew something before he walked up the rest of the steps and opened the door. Neal followed along, pausing briefly at the threshold. Peter looked back at him as he removed his jacket and hung it on a coat rack by the door.

"Should I bring out some holy water and garlic or are you coming in?" Neal blinked then smiled slightly embarrassed and nodded, walking across the entryway and closed the door behind him. He leaned against the door frame a moment as if trying to hold back something. Peter patted the young man on the shoulder and smiled confidently.

"El, I'm home!" The agent called out as he coaxed the young man towards the small living room area and a comfy couch. Neal moved slowly, deliberately as if he were walking on quicksand and didn't want to sink through. He had barely stepped from the small entry way to the living room when he heard someone call out.

"Peter? You're late!" Her voice wasn't annoyed or angry, just concerned. Neal knew her well enough to know when she was angry but this wasn't one of those times. Her voice actually sounded rather cheerful.

Neal gave a nervous little gulp as he felt the urge to turn around and flee but it was too late. She walked in from the kitchen area, door swinging open with a quiet whoosh and turned pausing. Her face paled about three shades as she stared at the young man a moment, mouth agape. She had a small plate of something in her hand but he couldn't tell what as it was covered with foil.

Peter crossed the room and hugged his surprised spouse, kissing her on the cheek. She absently squeezed him back with her free hand, kissing him on the cheek while still looking at Neal like she just saw a ghost. Peter carefully extracted the plate from her hand and walked it over to their dining table at the far side of the room leaving them staring at one another. Neal gulped again unsure of what to do.

"Hi..." was all he could think to say and suddenly had this weird flashback to watching "An Affair to Remember" with Kate. The memory itself was silly but the idea of Kate made him want to cry. He felt his eyes start to water.

"Here." Someone was holding a tissue to his face and he saw El standing there before him. Her face was somewhat guarded but after a moment she just smiled that simple smile of hers that expressed all kinds of emotion. He took the tissue from her and sniffled slightly. He didn't know what to do. He felt a bit self-conscious about crying in public so he just nodded to her and smiled back.

"Neal, could you please make sure Peter doesn't start eating before I'm finished setting the table?" The young man blinked at her and nodded vaguely. She smiled sweetly at him but he could see she was hiding her emotions at seeing him for the first time. Her eyes were shiny but she just kept smiling at him and gave him a little squeeze before turning around and waggling her index finger at Peter.

Neal didn't know what to think. He looked down at the tissue in his hand and pushed it into his pocket with a quiet sniffle. He removed his jacket and put it up on the coat rack before he finally walked across the room to the dining table, a dazed sort of expression across his face. Peter motioned the young man to sit down but Neal remained standing.

"I'll be right back." Neal said quickly and made his way over to the kitchen door, pausing only briefly before he pushed it open and disappeared inside.

El was hunched over the oven slightly, pulling out a large pan. Neal crossed the room, grabbing some extra oven mitts along the way and started helping her bring the item out. It smelled good. Really good. She just smiled at him as they placed the item on the stove.

"Thanks, Neal." Her voice was soft and she turned away from him a moment to grab a large spoon. She started to dip it in the sauce around the pot roast and dribble it over the meat. Neal removed the mitts and placed them neatly on the counter, watching as she finished her task. She bent down and pulled another smaller pan out from a lower cabinet and handed it to Neal.

"Hold this and help me move this over." He nodded and the pot roast was moved successfully from one pan to another. She wiped at her brow, a relaxed look on her face. She pulled her mitts off and removed the white apron from around her waist.

"Shall we?" She winked at him and he nodded, taking the pan with him, her arm linked with his. They pushed through the swinging door to a surprised Peter who stared up and grinned.

"Ah ha... caught you!" Neal almost dropped the roast but El took it from his hands and clucked her tongue at her husband. Peter continued grinning.

"Trying to steal my dinner before I get to eat it. And I thought you only liked caviar and champagne." Neal felt his heart slip slowly back down to his chest.

"Peter... stop it! I hope you washed your hands?" She pointed at the kitchen and did the same to Neal who had a surprised look still on his face. Both men shuffled quietly over to the swinging door and stepped through.

Peter smiled at the young man as they shared the sink. Neal looked a little pale.

"I'm sorry. I was trying to make a joke. I guess you're still a little..." Neal nodded despite how easily it had been to talk to El so far. Well she had done most of the talking so he felt she had forgiven him.

"Eggshells... I think they say walking on them is what I feel like right now." He tried to smile but he still looked a bit nervous. Peter finished washing his hands, dried them and patted the young man on the back.

"No eggshells here unless you count the color paint we added to the bathroom walls." Neal blinked then chuckled. His color was returning and he saw Peter's eyes flash jovially.

"Come on or she's going to go on the warpath and make us do the dishes." He was just turning to the door when someone called out.

"I heard that!"

Peter flinched in mock fear before he walked through the door and disappeared. Neal finished drying his hands and leaned back on the sink a moment. He took in the soft pastel tones of the kitchen. The fluttering of the light yellow curtains at the window and even the small decor items El had chosen. He took it all in and absorbed it.

"...Go home, Neal. They're waiting for you." He heard Kate's voice from his dream month's before. He felt at home here. He felt safe. He felt...

"Neal, the roast is getting cold." El peeked in from the other room and smiled at him, her eyes showing concern. He nodded and pushed himself away from the sink and walked forward. She smiled, holding the door open for him as he walked over. He caught the door as she walked away and paused outside of it as he tried to finish his interrupted thought.

He felt...

"Are we having pot roast?" Neal nearly fell over as he turned and saw a familiar figure standing near the front door. That rabbity twitch of their nose, the thick glasses... He felt...

"Mozzie?" Neal just stood there, the swinging door hitting him slightly in the back as he unconsciously let go of it. The gentle nudge of it pushing him back into the room. It was his friend. What was he doing here? Peter seemed to be thinking the same thing, a slightly annoyed look on the agent's face.

"Hello Moz. I guess El invited you to dinner?" Peter said as he looked up at his wife with a slightly annoyed look but she just clucked her tongue at him quietly and he did his best to smile. Mozzie looked between the Suits and Neal and seemed a bit confused and surprised too.

"Neal!" He walked over and then paused a few feet away. His voice grew quiet and he may or may not have known everyone could hear him.

"So... I guess they sucked you back in?" His tone was conspiratorial and it was all El could do to keep from laughing as she served food out on the plates. Neal nodded, holding his hand out to shake Moz's.

"Yeah, I guess you could say that." He paused then added.

"It's good to see you." His friend smiled broadly, still speaking in quiet tones everyone could hear.

"You too. I've been uhm surveilling the premises in hopes of getting news on you. I guess I can stop now that I know you're back." He made a kind of sign that was supposed to be a "hush hush" kind of motion or something.

Neal nodded with a smile. "Of course."

Neal suddenly realized as he moved towards the group that there had been four plates on the table all along. El must have suspected something or why would she have set four places? Perhaps Peter had told her he was coming after all. He went back to his unfinished thought. He felt...

"Neal, come sit down." El was smoothing her skirt and sitting down near Peter to his right and Mozzie was sitting at the far end, while Neal made his way to the last seat to Peter's left and sat down. He felt...

"Ok, everyone dig in." El's voice was cheerful. It made him think of going home for a Thanksgiving dinner with family. Family... that's what it was he was feeling. He felt like he was with family.

Neal looked down at the meal on his plate and although he had never done so before, he found himself making a silent prayer. When he was done he picked up his fork and knife and began to dig into the feast. He ate slowly, deliberately, taking in everything he could. He wanted to remember this forever and carry it with him like a worn out photograph in a wallet. He listened to the chatter around him and he contributed it when he could. Everyone was smiling. Even Mozzie looked happy.

So this was what it felt like to have family. At one point he thought he felt a gentle hand on his shoulder and turned. A quick whiff of a familiar scent caught his senses briefly and he could of sworn he heard Kate's voice say:

"They're waiting for you."

(The End)

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