Author's Note - Thank you to everyone for their feedback on my story. I noticed some people did bring up my long gaps in updating, I am planning on being a lot better this year. I have a busy school schedule, as I'm in my final year of university but will try for at least bi weekly updates so as not to keep you waiting too long. I know this gap has been longer because I have been sick but I promise I am trying.
I'd also like to say a very special thank you to mam711 for all her work beta-ing for me.
Diamonds are Forever
Chapter 3 – Only the Lonely
In learning the truth we hope to make sense of tragedy and find salvation in a world that seems cast to darkness. But what if truth doesn't bring the peace to our souls that we believed it would? Are we doomed to a lifetime of pain and regret? Is there hope for redemption?
Neal stands at the counter in the coffee shop. He smiles brightly at the young barista as she passes over his coffee in return for a handful of dollar bills. She flutters her long, gold lashes at him while wishing him a good day at the office and telling him she'll see him the same time tomorrow. With a bob of his head Neal peels away from the queue of business people waiting to purchase their much-needed morning fix and steps to join Mozzie on the sunny sidewalk.
"So might I ask if you've listened to the tape yet?" Mozzie inquires with a sideways glance. He's broached the subject every day for the past week, ever since Neal came back from Sara Ellis's apartment with the flight recording.
"I haven't got around to it yet," Neal repeats the same, tired excuse from the day before and expects that to be the end of it. But this time, on this fine morning, Mozzie doesn't let the matter rest.
"So let me get it straight, you go to all the trouble of visiting the lovely Ms. Ellis, who pointed a gun at you, I might add. You cook her dinner. You try to lift the package without her noticing, and you get caught stealing the package." Neal casts the little balding man a look as Mozzie recaps the course of events. "But she gives it to you anyway. And now you're stalling? Why?"
"I will open it, Moz," he mutters with faint certainty. "In time."
Neal takes a sip of sharp, bitter espresso. His mind travels back to the package he's storing behind a false slat in the wall. He doesn't really know why he's stalling as Mozzie puts it. Each and every morning for the past seven days he's woken up to the amber hue of morning, pouring in through the skylight, and the yearning to know the truth.
"Neal, this is me you're talking to," his friend reminds him. They've known each other for too long now to be able to fool one another; they've been through everything together.
"You weren't there, Moz. You didn't see it happen." Neal can't forget the howling explosion; the wild, unyielding flames or the emptiness he's felt since the day he lost what meant everything to him. He's discovered true and aching loneliness that he now combats every day even though he pretends that he's doing just fine.
"I witnessed the aftermath, figuratively and literally," Mozzie counters, and Neal knows that he's right.
Mozzie stops in the street and turns to face him, ignoring the irritated glances commuters throw as they now navigate past them. He wears a look of sincerity, "Look, when you're ready to listen..."
"You'll be there," Neal finishes the sentence and there isn't a shadow of doubt in his mind that he will have this man's support.
Neal nods his head in way of appreciation before he turns to the FBI offices they're standing in front of. "I should go, find out what case Peter's got us working on."
Mozzie nods, "tell the suit I said hi. I'm going to have breakfast and while away a few hours with a good book."
Neal steps out of the elevator and in through the shining glass doors and into the office. He flashes a smile to Clinton Jones who is busy working while hunched over his computer. He saunters over to Peter who's standing in the center of the open-plan space.
"Good morning," he says in a jovial tone. He finds he's actually happy that Peter's called him in to begin a new case and offer a fresh distraction.
Peter smiles thinly and offers a return of the pleasantry but his attentions are elsewhere. Neal follows the older man's captivated gaze towards Hughes's office.
"What's Sara doing here?" Neal asks as he spies Sara sitting behind the transparent panes and talking with Peter's boss.
"I don't know," Peter replies with a dubious look in Neal's direction.
"I didn't do anything." He holds up his hands in an elaborate gesture to plead his innocence. He knows Edgar Halbridge is tucked away somewhere, awaiting trial, so that can't be it. He does wonder momentarily whether Sara has come to make a formal complaint against him following the events of the other night. They hadn't left on the best of terms and he wouldn't put much past the woman who has an axe to grind. Those suspicious thoughts soon fall away as he notices a third person in the room.
"Who's that?" Neal asks as movement stirs within the office.
Peter puffs out a short, sharp breath before filling in, "That's Agent Alan Grayson, from the Department of Justice."
"What does the Department of Justice want with Sara?"
Peter holds back his reply and quietly surveys the scene unfolding above them. Neal's brow furrows; he knows that the DOJ being there isn't routine. Peter's pensive expression does nothing to appease Neal's curiosity. He focuses on the unknown agent who marches out of Hughes's office.
Grayson carries himself not only with an air of power and authority but also with an over-encompassing ego that Neal isn't altogether sure he likes. The stiff, burly man with the short, immaculate haircut and the broad shoulders looks like the stereotypical Fed who Mozzie would have mocked. And he notices Sara's somewhat ruffled appearance. She's dressed confidently but her eyes betray her. He can see the dark shadows beneath them. She follows Hughes and Grayson down the small flight of stairs and Peter moves quickly forward to meet them.
"Agent Burke," Grayson nods in greeting and he extends his hand, "always a pleasure."
"Likewise," Peter doesn't sound very convincing.
Agent Grayson turns his attentions back to Sara. "Thank you for your cooperation, Ms. Ellis. Here's my card. If you think of anything further let me know."
Sara takes the object with a quick flourish and a tight smile. The contempt she holds for him tells Neal she won't be calling or cooperating with the Department of Justice any more than she must.
"Gentlemen," Grayson moves to leave.
"I'll walk you out," Hughes says and the two move towards the door.
Once the two have disappeared from sight, Sara places the card quickly into the depths of her oversized purse. She's ready to go; she's under scrutiny from Neal and the agents who seem to have abandoned what they were doing to cast looks in her direction.
"Sara, a moment," Peter steers her away from Neal and the curious looks from his peers clustered around the coffee machine.
"Is everything all right?" he asked once they're out of earshot.
"Everything's fine," she attempts with a faint assurance and folds her arms to her chest.
"If you need anything..." he extends the offer gently with a meaningful look.
"Thank you, Peter," Sara smiles the glimmers of a genuine smile at Peter's gesture; they've called in favors from each other in the past. "I should go. I have a ten o'clock appointment."
"Of course," Peter watches as Sara's heels carry her away to the elevator and Neal approaches him.
"What was that about?" Neal asks his partner curiously.
Peter shakes his head to indicate that the topic of conversation is closed. He straightens the jacket of his classic suit before he collects the new case files from where he'd left them on Jones's desk. His head is inclined and he's already flipping through the pages. "This case should be of interest to you. Aaron Fields; suspected of forging..."
"Well, if we're in for a busy day why don't I just go out and pick us up some more coffee."
Peter is about to say that that would be nice, but he immediately catches that waywardness dancing behind Neal's eyes, and it divulges the true intentions of the consultant's gesture.
"I'll be right back." He dashes towards the elevator.
"Neal!" The chastising voice of Peter sounds from behind him but Neal chooses to ignore it.
"Hold the elevator," Neal calls out, sprinting past the glass entrance and bracing a hand against the thick metallic doors to stop them from closing.
His voice startles Sara and she lifts her gaze in time to watch Neal Caffrey pinch his way into the space before the heavy doors slide shut.
'Oh for God's sake,' she curses in a low breath. Playing a game of conversational racquetball is not what she had in mind. She watches as he settles beside her, fedora perched on his head and she hates herself for noticing he's probably the only man she's ever known who's able to carry off the look.
"Neal," she drawls coldly. She lets him know immediately she's in no mood to talk to him.
Neal places his hands idly into the depths of his pockets and he watches as Sara's eyes fix onto an imaginary spot on the wall. She's mad at him and attempts to ignore him, though there's nothing new there.
"Listen, Sara, about the other night…"
Before he can even finish his sentence the small space lurches to an abrupt halt. She teeters on her heels and both reach for the support of the cold wall.
"What's going on?" Her eyes trace about the area. "Why aren't we moving?"
"The elevator must have stopped." He moves to the control panel for closer inspection. "I'll call Cindy, she'll get us out."
"Who? What?" she says snippily.
"She works Reception on the ground floor," he explains while pulling away the panel from the wall.
"I have- I need to get out."
"I'm working on it, believe me." He's not exactly thrilled about being forced into spending more time, and in such close proximity, with the woman who's chased him like a bloodhound.
"No! I have to get out of here."
Neal turns to look in her direction; she's pacing like a caged animal, her hands are shaking and her breathing is uneven and shallow.
"I can't be here," she murmurs erratically. Her fingers rumble at her tailored suit. "I need to get out of here."
"Sara?" He realizes she's claustrophobic. He moves carefully towards her; she's unpredictable at the best of times. He doesn't doubt for a moment that her baton and gun are both nestled in the depths of her purse.
"Is it hot in here?" Her hands shakily move to unbutton her jacket.
"Okay, Sara, look at me, breathe" he says as he attempts to soothe the woman who can point a gun at him with an unyielding stare but who crumbles at being trapped in a confined space.
She lets him move to stand beside her but her gaze is unfocused. She mutters a string of incoherent words.
"Sara, listen to me," he says, sharper this time. She offers a low murmur but he knows he's startled her enough to get her attention. He places a hand at the small of her back. "I need you to look at me. And I need you to breathe."
She rests her palm against his shirt and presses her eyelids together. She can feel his strong, reassuring touch curling at her waist. She listens to his voice, while attempting to control the rapid panic welling in her heart.
"I need to get out…" she hiccoughs.
"Just breathe," he whispers calmly. "In through the nose and out through the mouth."
Her grip slackens from his clothes and she manages to regulate her breathing. Her lashes are damp as they blink against the harsh, glowing lights.
"I need to sit down," she murmurs weakly. Her legs are numb and unstable, and she gladly sinks to the floor. She closes her eyes again and tries to envision a wide open field, one of the many exercises she's learned to combat her fear of small spaces. She can hear Neal's voice blurring in her ears as he calls down to Reception.
"Security will have us out of here as soon as they can," Neal says reassuringly after hanging up with Cindy.
Sara opens her eyelids and nods her head slightly indicating she's heard him but she doesn't speak. He moves the couple of short paces to where she's slumped against the wall. "You okay?"
"Yeah," she turns to watch him sit down beside her.
"You sure?" Her shoulders are still quivering just a little but her eyes are focused instead of glazed like they were not long before.
"I'm fine." She's quick to brush off his concerns though her voice still sounds tentative even to her own ears. Amongst the lingering anxiety still burning within her chest, she feels a little silly. It had to be him; she had to get trapped in an elevator with Neal Caffrey. She can't help but think someone somewhere is having a good laugh at her expense. The way he's looking at her bothers her; like she's weak and fragile, and needs to be taken care of. She hates it. And a lesson she'd learned early in life was not to show any signs of vulnerability, especially not to anyone she considers an adversary.
"Cindy's a good woman," Neal offers encouraging. "She'll have security on it as we speak."
"I hope so," she mutters and takes a deep breath.
"I should call my assistant," Sara murmurs the afterthought as realizes that she won't be making her ten o'clock appointment. She fumbles in her purse with a trembling hand and retrieves her cell. She runs a hand through her hair while she waits for her perky assistant Sandra to pick up and tries to ignore Neal's gaze of persisting concern.
He shrugs his crisp jacket off his body and lays it across his legs. He rests his head against the cold metal and takes a breath of stale air while Sara reschedules her meeting for tomorrow.
"You sure you're okay?" he asks when she hangs up.
"I'm just so sick of this building," Sara murmurs weakly and earns a small, crooked smile from him. She's already spent time under FBI protection and if she never sees the place again she'll be quite happy.
"You'll be fine. A man I used to know once told me how he locked himself in a vault overnight. He said it was a lot smaller than this, and no one knew he'd locked himself in." Neal tells her as he attempts to lighten the mood. "They know we're in here."
"I suppose there is that." Her eyes travel warily over the small space. She spent a couple of days hauled up in the FBI conference room and tries to convince herself this isn't much different. She reminds herself for the umpteenth time that her fear is irrational and she can't afford to let it control her.
She chuckles involuntarily. She doesn't even know why she's laughing; she guesses it's probably to relieve the niggling fears that are still very much at the front of her mind.
"What?" he inquires.
"Nothing, it's…" He's impossibly beautiful with those shining baby blue eyes. He's slick, charming and can have any woman he wants. She doesn't doubt that he's no stranger to these kinds of situations. "Being trapped in an elevator with a woman? I bet this happened to you before?"
"No. Actually this is the first." His gaze travels back towards the fluorescent lighting above.
"Yeah?" she questions. "Why do I doubt that?"
He really should have just let her comment fizzle out into the dense atmosphere. He had made up his mind a long ago that she was cold-hearted, only to discover recently that there is more beneath that lovely yet brittle surface. But she's so intent in burying her humanity with merciless bravado and sharp comments. And unfortunately she now seems to be getting beneath his skin.
"You're really convinced that I don't have a shred of integrity?" he accuses with annoyance. He may be a ladies' man and a flirt, he may appreciate a beautiful woman from afar, but that's it; that's as far as it goes. That's been it since he was sentenced to five years in prison. He's only been in love once; his thoughts have been occupied with Kate, and only Kate, for longer than he cares to remember.
"Have you ever given me a reason to think otherwise?" she challenges.
He sucks in the retort that readily surfaces up in his throat. He supposes that maybe all their past encounters indicate that he hasn't.
"I mean you steal a painting insured for millions but you get put away for forgery instead. You escape a maximum security prison but end up working alongside Peter Burke and the FBI."
"That bothers you, doesn't it? My working with Peter?"
"Hell, yes, it bothers me," she hisses with disdain. In truth it annoys the hell out of her. Neal Caffrey has always walked the wrong side of the law; and yet after being caught and tried, and caught again, he ends up walking the streets of New York. And he gains the trust of one of the few people Sara herself looks up to. Sara trusts and respects Peter Burke, and by some twisted notion the two men work side by side as partners. She hates it and she'll never understand it.
"You break into my home and point a gun at me." Her hands curl and ball in fists.
Neal opens his mouth to plead his side of the case then but she cuts him off.
"Then after cozying up to me after I invited you in to my home, you attempt to steal a package that is addressed to me…"
Neal turns to face her, frowning with irritation. Clearly Sara's feeling better and her sharp tongue gets the better of her. And it seems to get the better of him as well.
"Don't plead the innocent victim in all of this, Sara; I would never have shot you. You, on the other hand; well, I'm really not so sure about that. The theft of the Raphael was never proven and the whole fiasco with the package? Well, you know why I did that."
They both fall silent, quietly seething. Neal rubs the back of his neck with the palm of his hand. There's too much ill feeling between them and being in such a little space only seems to add fuel to that fire.
"You really want to keep doing this?" He repeats the same question they've used over and over as their bickering and strong wills constantly get the better of them. "Especially since we're stuck in here together for the foreseeable future."
Sara shakes her head, "not really." Her day's gone from bad to worse and she's too tired to argue.
"Truce," he proposes and she agrees.
"I really hate this building," she jokes.
"I can think of better places to be," he says lightly with a grin.
Silence fills the air and Sara's eyes travel across the sparse area. There's an air of anxiousness about her this morning and it had been present even before they stepped into the elevator. He's about to ask her what she's doing in the FBI offices and being questioned by DOJ, which was the original reason he had chased her into the elevator to begin with.
She beats him to the punch as she inquires casually, "Have you listened to the tape?"
He's quiet for a few fleeting seconds, but he answers with a simple, "no."
"Peter's had me working pretty hard on a new case."
Sara throws him a meaningful look, letting him know that she's not buying his over-used and tired excuse.
"I don't know." He answers honestly with a shake of his head. He stares about the small, metal area and feels a little uncomfortable himself. There's really no room for games; while they're stuck here together it's just him, her and the stark, bare walls.
"What happened, Neal?"
"That's a long story, and it's complicated." His eyebrows furrow a little. It's one that he's still so unwilling to divulge or even recount. He blocks as much of that day out of his mind as possible. At night his feelings catch up with him and haunt him in the darkness of his dreams.
"What happened to her?" she tries again. "To Kate?"
"How much do you know?" It's his turn to ask the questions. He hasn't gone into specific details with her. He'd never once mentioned Kate's name to Sara. He doubts Peter would have or even that Sara would have been bold enough to contact Peter to ask.
"I know that she was your girlfriend when you were in prison," she explains to appease his curiosity. She remembers Kate Moreau clearly from Neal's trial; Kate had sat quiet and mournful behind the defendant's table. "I know that you escaped a maximum security prison to look for her. I know that she died in an explosion."
"You've been looking into me?"
"I did a little research," Sara confirms. "I called the FAA, considering the package was sent to me in the first place."
He doesn't know if he should be concerned or curious; the last time Sara Ellis looked into him, she ended up on the witness stand testifying against him.
Sara licks her dry lips before she opens her mouth to try again. She suspects as the investigation carries on in the background that Kate Moreau's death can't have been an accident. And she knows from the shadows of resignation that the tragedy has left its mark deeply in Neal Caffrey. "Who killed her, Neal?"
"I don't know," he says regretfully.
Sara purses her lips together after hearing his answer. She watches as he stares at the blank walls while he seems so lost in his own thoughts.
"You should listen to it," she states, breaking the hollowed quiet. "Whatever it says or wherever it leads you, you need to hear it."
Neal brushes a hand through his hair; she's probably right. He needs to know the truth. He's been avoiding listening to the tape and hearing Kate's final words. It all feels too real and too final.
"Do you feel that?" Neal's eyes sparkle. The elevator cranks and stirs back to life and they're travelling downwards. "We're moving."
"Oh thank God," Sara mutters with a sigh of relief.
Neal stands before he lends a hand and helps her up to her feet. "Well, would you look at that, we survived being trapped in here together and we didn't kill each other."
"Imagine that," she flashes a genuine smile and straightens her pencil skirt.
They finally make it to the ground floor, and the thick doors roll mercifully open. Sara eagerly steps out into the brightly-lit lobby with Neal following close behind her.
"Thank you, Neal," She allows herself to admit that he's been good company even if the subject matter was forged on difficult grounds. Being trapped and confronted by her phobia could have been a lot worse and she knows it.
"Sara Ellis is thanking the alleged art thief?" he teases with that cheeky glint of a smile. "Wonders will never cease."
"Don't push it, Caffrey." She's extending her gratefulness to him, which is something she rarely does, especially to a man who has seen through the chinks in her armor.
"You're welcome then," he says with a nod to her gesture of gratitude.
"I should go," Sara balances her large purse on her arm. "Be careful with that elevator on your way up."
"Oh, I think I'm going to take the stairs for the remainder of the day," he tells her.
She smiles softly; he really does have his moments. "Goodbye, Neal."
She turns and strides swiftly towards the sunny world outside. She plans on making a quick trip to the office to read her emails and listen to her messages. She has every intention of rescheduling her afternoon meeting and going home to sit on her balcony with a glass of wine. But something holds her back; he helped her back there and she guesses maybe she should help him with his dilemma.
"Neal?" she calls him back. She moves quickly before her own sense of self-preservation can talk her out of it. She feels that little flutter of her heart and it tells her she'll probably regret her act of compassion.
He turns from the heavy door leading to the stairwell and she's striding towards him. "Yeah?"
She meets him in the middle of the well-lit foyer and she levels her eyes to meet his own. She keeps her voice as calm and level as possible while she says what she needs to say. "Sometimes the not knowing is worse than anything else."
"You owe it to Kate and to yourself to know the truth. You should listen to it," she tells him earnestly.
She turns to go, she's said her piece; she wants to leave before he has a chance to ask any questions of his own. Neal's hand comes to rest on her arm, stopping her retreat and pulling her gently back. As his very blue eyes stare searchingly into hers she can barely stand it. Her gaze travels to the shiny floor beneath her heels and Neal lets his touch drop from her jacket.
"Did you love him?" Neal doesn't know whether to expect an answer. But he chances the question that's lurked in the back of his mind ever since they'd shared soup at her apartment. Back inside her home he'd come to realize that they shared something other than mutual contempt. Her advice and the sadness echoing behind her hazel eyes only confirm his suspicions.
"Yes." She swallows hard, but her eyes do lift to meet with his. "Yes. I did."
"If you ever need a friend…" He has no idea if she'll ever take him up on the offer, and he has no idea if he'd even be ready to open up his own buried feelings with anyone. Since Kate's death he's been shutting Mozzie out and he's working behind Peter's back. He's barely been able to fathom his endless sea of grief and he's been doing everything he can to avoid having to deal with it. He just figures they're two people who can maybe make sense of the aching tragedy that's taken hold in both their lives. "Well, I have an extensive wine collection."
Sara feels a tiny smile play at her lips; in spite of the sad circumstances that tie them, Neal's extension of friendship penetrates through her defenses and makes her feel a little lighter inside. Peter told her just a matter of days ago that she needed to get a life, but she thinks what she really needs is a friend. She wants to thank him but her ego takes hold so she settles for the next best thing. "Maybe..."
"Neal," Peter's stern voice penetrates the atmosphere. Neal and Sara turn to see Peter stepping out of the elevator and he beckons with his fingers.
"I guess that's my cue." He places the fedora back to its place on his head.
"Yeah," Sara says as she turns her attentions back to the sidewalk but she meets his gaze one final time before she leaves. "See you around, Caffrey."
His partner wears a quizzical look on his face when he reaches Neal's side but he doesn't venture anything further on the matter. Instead Peter presents him with Aaron Fields' case file before the two head out of the building and to the car.