She was a junior agent, from the cut of her suit, and it was the fact that she completely ignored him that piqued his interest.
"Morning, Agent Burke."
"Mellie?" Peter got up from behind his desk and stepped past Neal to greet the tall girl who had just entered the office.
"Hi, Peter." What started as a handshake quickly turned into a hug, and the girl laughed as Peter picked her up and swung her around.
"I haven't seen you in years, girl! What are you doing in New York?"
"You didn't hear? I'm with the Bureau now."
"Get outta town, since when?"
"Since they recruited me out of the Air Force when I got back from Iraq- I learned Arabic and Dari while I was over there so they gave me my choice of assignment- I elected to join the white collar team here in New York and thought I'd come visit the only other person I know who's insane enough to work for the Feds."
Neal decided that enough was enough, he had been ignored for almost a full minute now, so he cleared his throat and stood up, extending his hand towards the girl.
"Neal Caffrey, pleasure to meet you."
"Oh, sorry, Neal, this is First Lieutenant Amelia Pearce. Mellie, this is Neal Caffrey, my, uh, consultant."
"Actually, it was Captain Amelia Pearce when I requested discharge, Peter."
"My apologies, Captain. What did you do to earn your promotion?"
"Helped out with some top-level extractions, and did my fair share of escorting Generals around the field offices in the Middle East. One of them took a shine to me, did a bit of mentoring and I went and got myself promoted six months before I was planning on coming home. Had to stay another year before he'd let me leave."
"Before he'd let you leave?" Peter asked, one eyebrow raised.
"Oh, don't look at me like that, Peter. He was a General and I was his helicopter-flying chauffeur, he made it sound like I'd pulled a team out from under heavy fire when all I did was scare a few insurgents with a flare gun before bringing his favourite Major back to him in one piece." Mellie smiled at Peter as she spoke, almost laughing.
"You're kidding." Peter deadpanned.
"I swear I'm not. It was good fun, though."
"Only you, Amelia, would call getting shot at 'fun'."
"Hey, ask my team, I always made sure that we had fun. Look, I've got to run, I don't think I'm actually supposed to be up here."
"Oh, if anyone questions you tell them I asked for your help."
"Sure thing. I'll call you later, okay?"
"Sounds great. It's good to see you back home safe and sound, Mel."
"Good to see you, too, Peter. Nice to meet you, Neal." She grinned at Burke one last time before stepping out the door again. Neal followed her progress down the hall and his eyes narrowed as she stepped past one of the guys from the antitrust team, he stumbled slightly while craning his neck to watch her walk down the stairs and Neal forgot where he was for a moment, letting out a derisive snort.
"What?" Peter turned away from watching Mellie take a seat at a desk not too far from Neal's to question his 'consultant' on the noise he'd made.
"Oh, nothing, just, how do you know a girl like that?"
"You'd never believe me if I told you." Peter said, returning to his seat and resuming his scan of the file on his desk that Mellie had interrupted.
"That good a story, huh?" Neal asked, keeping his tone carefully casual.
"Oh, it's better than you think, trust me. But I think I'll leave it up to Mellie to decide if she wants you to know how we met."
"Because once she gets to know you, she might not want to tell you any of her secrets."
Neal frowned at that, before glancing over his shoulder to catch another glimpse of the former Captain, who was now making herself a coffee. He averted his eyes as she looked up towards the office, but when he risked another glance at her she was watching him over the rim of her coffee mug, her expression hidden behind the standard-issue FBI ceramic. Neal narrowed his eyes as she dropped her gaze and moved back towards her desk, pausing to speak with another agent on her way.
"Neal? Are you even listening to me?" Peter asked, snapping his fingers.
"What? Oh, yeah. Well, this one looks like it might take a while to unravel..."
The next afternoon Neal walked into Peter's office to find his usual seat occupied by none other than the Special Agent Captain Pearce herself. She and Peter were laughing about something, but the laughter died rather abruptly when Neal crossed the threshold.
"Okay, so you tell Elle that I'll be there at seven, okay? And if you're late-"
"I know, I know, you'll make me sleep on the sofa. See you tonight, Mellie."
Agent Pearce stood up and, with her back to Agent Burke, gave Neal a once-over, from the fedora to the Italian leather shoes, before delivering him a swift wink and leaving the office before Neal had time to react.
Neal sat down and removed his hat, smoothing his hair as Peter crumpled up the paper bag his lunch had been delivered in, and decided to risk the question.
"Amelia knows Elle?"
Peter looked surprised at that, which, for an FBI agent, could be a bad thing.
"Of course she does, Elle's my wife. Why wouldn't Mellie know her?"
"Well, it's just, she's what, twenty seven?"
"Thirty, actually, but I'll be sure to tell her you said that. Elizabeth knows most of my friends, besides, Mellie doesn't have many people in New York, so she's coming to dinner tonight."
As soon as the words were out of his mouth Peter knew he'd made a big mistake. Now Neal was going to somehow wrangle an invitation and try to extract information from Elle about his history with Mellie, all while in Peter's house, completely unstoppable.
"Dinner, tonight?" Neal asked, and Peter pinched the bridge of his nose, wondering if it would be worth the breath to tell his consulting felon to stay at home. After a moment he sighed, resigned.
"If you promise to behave, I'll call Elle and ask her to make it a setting for four, okay?"
"You're inviting me to dinner, at your house?" Neal's eyes narrowed, suspecting an ulterior motive.
"Call it intuition, but I have a feeling that you'd show up anyway, might as well be prepared for the inevitable."
Neal smiled at that, making Peter's eyes narrow in turn. "Please don't make me regret this, Neal."
"I won't. Scout's honour." Neal held up three fingers in a salute and Peter rolled his eyes.
"Caffrey, I know your shoe size, you don't think I know that you were kicked out of the Scouts?"
Neal's grin widened, he stood up and put his hat back on, turning to leave the room.
"Where do you think you're going?"
"You just invited me to dinner, I've got to find something to wear."
Peter resisted the urge to laugh out loud, biting his lower lip before waving a hand towards his consultant. "Get out of here before I change my mind, and think yourself lucky that we increased your radius."
Neal tipped his hat at Peter and stepped into the hall, skirting around the staff floating between offices and collecting a few items from his own desk before approaching Amelia.
"I hear you'll be joining us tonight, Caffrey." she said, without looking up from her paperwork.
Neal stood there, mouth open, before gathering enough of his wits to begin a response.
"It's the shoes, Neal, nobody else here wears anything that nice. They're a dead giveaway." she told him, setting her pen down and looking up at him. "Oh, and Peter just called to tell me." she mentioned, not telling him that the call was now on speaker, and still connected. "See you tonight."
"Uh, okay." Neal muttered, not quite as smooth as usual. "See you tonight."
Peter, still upstairs, muted his phone so that he could actually laugh. Having Neal rendered speechless was the highlight of his week, and getting to hear Amelia disarm him so effectively was going to be a happy-place memory that Peter visited many times in the future.
Amelia picked up her handset as Neal pushed the button for the elevator, and heard the tail end of Peter's laughing fit.
"Oh, shut up." she told him, which just made him laugh again.
"Come on, Mellie, it's not often I get to see him so off-balance."
"What do you think has him so spooked?" she asked.
"Probably you- and the fact that you're immune to his charms – he's not used to that." Peter told her.
"Oh, really? Interesting. See you tonight, Pete."
Peter smiled at the familiar nickname. "See you then, Mellie."
By the time Peter managed to get away from the office it was quarter to seven, and he knew there was no way he would get from FBI headquarters to his home in fifteen minutes. He phoned Elle.
"Hey, honey, I'm just leaving the office now, so I'll be a little later than I thought."
"No need to call me honey, Pete."
"Amelia. Why are you answering Elle's phone?"
"Because we saw who was calling and she's up to her wrists in a chicken."
"Fair enough. Well, I'm walking out the door, should be there in half an hour."
"Sounds fantastic. See you when you get here. Oh, hi Neal!"
"Caffrey's there already?"
"Just walked in."
"I'll be right there." Peter slammed his phone down and grabbed his briefcase, practically running towards the elevator. He might trust Neal to help him with cases, but in his house? That was another matter entirely.
"Don't call me that." Peter told Neal as he closed the front door behind him, dropping his briefcase and hanging up his jacket as Elizabeth called out from the kitchen.
"Is that Peter?"
"Yes, honey!" Peter shouted back before Neal could open his mouth.
"Great, you want a beer?"
"That would be awesome." Peter shot Neal a warning look for no reason other than the fact that he was there, and walked through the lounge into the kitchen to see Elizabeth and Amelia sipping martini's next to the stove.
"Why is he out there by himself?" he hissed at the girls, pulling a beer out of the refrigerator.
"Oh, come on, Peter, like we've got anything worth stealing. Besides, Mellie was just refilling her drink." Elle put a hand on Peter's forearm, calming him as Mellie went back into the lounge. "He's fine, Peter, he's been a perfect gentleman."
"He's always a perfect gentleman, right up until he steals something. That's his angle." Peter reminded her.
"Oh, give him a break. He's been mooning over Mellie since he got here."
That made Peter raise an eyebrow. "Really?"
"Really. You might not be any good at it, but I know flirting when I see it, Peter."
Peter considered this for a moment, not sure if he liked what direction it might go, before shaking his head a little and loosening his tie.
"Well, Mellie's a big girl, I guess she can take care of herself." He muttered, untucking his shirt. Elizabeth smiled, setting her drink down to give him a hug.
"Is that trust I hear?" she asked, face buried in his neck.
"Oh, no, I still don't trust Neal as far as I could throw him, but I know Mellie's not stupid enough to get involved with someone like-" Peter stopped short- realising that the two people in the lounge had been oddly quiet for the last little while. He pulled away from Elle, taking three swift steps backwards until he could crane his neck to look past the sound system and see the sofa Neal had been parked on when he'd arrived.
It was empty.
"Where the heck did they go?" Peter muttered, scanning the room and seeing Amelia's martini glass on the coffee table next to an empty wine glass- presumably Neal's. Both of their coats were still hanging next to the door, and as he stepped into the centre of the lounge, Peter heard the floorboards above his head groan slightly.
"What are they doing upstairs?" he asked Elle, who shrugged and took another drink before answering him.
"Maybe he's showing her where the bathroom is?"
"Mellie knows how to find a bathroom."
"Maybe he offered, Peter, he is a gentleman when he wants to be." Elle picked up his beer and handed it to him. "Can you relax? He's been working with you for almost two years and he still hasn't done anything too spectacularly idiotic. Give him a break."
"How many of those have you had?" Peter asked, indicating the martini.
"Only two, and Mellie only had one. Sit down and drink your beer, turn the TV on and stop pretending you're her Dad." Elle gave Peter a shove, dropping him to the sofa and handed him the remote. He sighed, resigned, and turned the game on, trying not to listen to the sounds coming from above his head as he sipped his beer.
Upstairs, Mellie grinned at Neal, who bit his lower lip before smiling back.
"You think we've tortured him long enough?" Neal asked, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.
"If we're up here much longer he's likely to have a heart attack."
"Oh, come on, Elle's keeping him occupied. Listen, he just turned the TV on."
"You know, you're really mean to him." Mellie commented from her perch on the edge of the bath.
"Hey, you followed me."
"I asked you to show me where the bathroom was."
"And I did."
"You also stayed upstairs and picked the lock once you heard me washing my hands."
"What can I say, tormenting Peter is the best part of my day."
"Even when he makes your life miserable afterwards?"
"He never makes me too miserable, he appreciates my help too much." Neal grinned again, smug and self-satisfied.
Then he noticed the look on Mellie's face.
"Oh, no, you're going to get me into serious trouble, aren't you?" He recognised the look on Amelia- he'd seen it on Alex countless times and even once or twice on Loren. It meant that something was going to happen that, for once, was not his fault - but he'd be blamed for it.
"Whatever would make you think that, Mr Caffrey?"
"Don't call me that, not with that look on your face, Amelia." She noticed the slight stress on her name at the end of his sentence, but didn't allow it to deter her. She stood up and stepped over to Neal, moving into his personal space.
"I wonder what Peter will think of this..." she asked, before reaching up and scrubbing her hands through her own hair, messing it up and pulling a few strands down over her face. She bit her lower lip, turning it bright red, and popped the top two buttons of her shirt-dress, before hiking up one side of it almost to her waist.
"I'm pretty certain that he's going to kill me." Neal muttered, but he was still smiling.
"You like the idea of raising his blood pressure, don't you?" Amelia asked as he imitated her, loosening his tie to the second button and untucking one side of it before scruffing his own hair up a little.
"Hey, I've got to keep myself entertained."
"Elle was right, you are a bad influence."
"She said that? I'll have to send her some flowers."
"Careful, Peter might get jealous."
"Come off it, he knows he's got nothing to worry about. Elle's awesome, but I'd be mad to try and steal her away."
Amelia nodded in agreement before pausing to listen - the TV was still on but the volume had been drastically reduced all of a sudden.
"He's coming up here. Quick." Neal hissed, grabbing Mellie and pressing his lips to hers before she could stop him. Three seconds later there was a heavy knock on the bathroom door.
"Neal? You in there?"
Detaching himself from Amelia, Neal pressed a finger to his lips before answering.
"Yes, Peter. Can't I pee in peace?"
"In here with me, where else would she be?"
There was a pause, and even through the door Neal could almost hear the gears turning in Peter's head.
"Are you being sarcastic, Caffrey?"
"Why would I do that?"
"Enough! Is Mellie in there or not?"
She couldn't help herself, Mellie had to answer, to bait him just a little more.
"No, I'm not in here, Peter."
"NEAL!" Peter shouted, and Mellie was surprised that the door remained intact as Peter subjected it to a number of ferocious thumps. "NEAL! GET OUT HERE NOW!"