Neal answers the knock at his door. He is alone in his apartment this time – no Mozzie in sight.
"Hello Sara. No cops with you this time?" Neal holds the door open, not quite welcoming Sara inside.
"Thanks for returning the Raphael," Sara is holding a bottle of Dom Perignon.
"What?" Neal asked with a genuine look of surprise.
"I got the painting delivered to my apartment this morning. It's been authenticated. It's the real thing. It's now back with the owners and I've got my 2% recovery fee. So I'm here to thank you," Sara is still standing at the door and holds out the bottle of Dom.
Neal opens the door a little wider and steps aside to let her in.
"I don't understand," Neal is still frowning as Sara steps inside the apartment.
"Oh come on Neal. You can drop the act. My client's got his painting back. I've got my fee. You were convicted, not for the theft of the Raphael, granted, but still I'm happy you did time in prison, and you're still on the anklet so not exactly a free man. I don't care where you hid it all these years and I can only assume Peter's influence has finally rubbed off on you and your conscience told you to return it. Whatever. I'm closing the file on the Raphael and I wanted to celebrate with someone."
"Sara, I'm happy that you got painting back and that you got your fee. But how could I have returned it when I didn't have it in the first place?" Neal chose his words carefully, but always in his charming tone. He gives her his most disarming smile. "And I'm more than happy to help you drink that bottle of Dom," Neal heads towards the kitchenette to get a couple of champagne flutes for them.
Sara doesn't believe a word Neal is saying but she doesn't care anymore. She's happy to let him flirt with her and her head is still spinning from the recovery fee she has just earned herself. She pops the bottle open and starts to pour out the champagne into the flutes Neal is holding out to her.
Neal hands a glass to Sara and they hold their glasses up.
"Cheers!" Sara smiled as they clinked their glasses.
"To the most attractive white collar bounty-hunter I know," Neal smiled broadly.
"So who do you think returned the Raphael to Sara?" Mozzie asked.
"I have no idea," Neal replied.
The two of them had just left Neal's apartment, heading towards Hyland Financials to check out the neighbourbood.
"Do you know who bought the painting?" Mozzie asked.
"I don't know. Hale didn't want to touch it and Alex took a while to fence it and she wouldn't tell me who she sold it to." Neal pondered.
"Because of the Kate situation?"
Neal stopped walking. "Yeah, the 'Kate situation' as you call it."
"Anyway, whoever bought it has kept it hidden for a long time. No one has seen it resurface that I know of. So why would it suddenly pop up now?" Neal starts walking again.
"Yeah and it wasn't fenced again. And now it's returned to its owner. Who does that?" Mozzie's mind was churning away at possible conspiracy theories.
Peter's team is on a brief lunch break, sitting in the conference room of the FBI office. Peter is having his devilled ham sandwich and Neal is munching on a cucumber salad. The rest of the team have stepped out for some fresh air but their papers are spread across the conference room table. They had been working around the clock as they prepare for the final take-down of Carroll Investments and Hyland Financials scheduled for the next day.
"So come on Peter. We've been working on this case for a month already and you haven't told me anything about what happened with Stephanie," Neal was trying to push Peter for a confession.
"There's nothing to tell. I've already told you before. Stephanie and I dated for a couple of years when we were in college. She was a freshman when we met. I was doing my Honours in Accounting and earning extra cash as a tutor for her roommate. I finished my Degree, went to Quantico and we broke up. I hadn't seen her till now. End of story." Peter didn't want to talk about the painful break-up.
"You expect me to believe that's all there is to it? I know you better than that Peter. I mean, I love Elizabeth and I'm glad you guys met and got married and all, but this is like a secret past you have that I know nothing about and it's a much more exciting past than I ever imagined you had!" Neal was acting like an excited schoolboy.
"You know plenty about me and it's not MY past that's the top secret you're interested in. It's Stephanie's."
"OK so I'll ask her when I see her tonight then," Neal is still pushing.
Peter stops eating. "What d'you want me to say? That Stephanie had broken up with me when I finally saved up enough money to buy a ring to propose to her? That she said she wouldn't be able to cope with having a long-distance relationship when I moved to Virginia? That she did not want to be married to a cop? Her father had been with NYPD for 15yrs, working the toughest beat in Hell's Kitchen and she had grown up worrying that every door knock or phone call would be someone coming to tell her and her Mom that her father had been killed in the line of duty." There was a pain in Peter's face as he told this.
"Wow. That was unexpected." Neal was surprised Peter had given away this much. It seemed to Neal that Peter had been keeping all this pain locked away for a long time and suddenly the dam had burst and the words suddenly all came rushing out.
"I'm sorry," Neal finally said. He really wasn't sure what was the right thing to say to his friend and partner.
"It was a long time ago. If Stephanie hadn't broken up with me I would never have married El and we are perfectly happy. End of story. Now let's get back to the case," Peter took a deep breath and went back to eating his sandwich.
"There's something I'd wanted to ask you since we met at the FBI office." Neal is in Stephanie's penthouse. They are sitting at the round dining table in the Harper dining room. Neal felt like he was one of the knights of King Arthur's Round Table. Their Crusade was going to be finally taking down Carroll Investments and Hyland Financials.
"Technically, we met at the gallery fund-raiser," Stephanie replied with a smile.
"OK. There's something I'd wanted to ask you since we were re-introduced as our real selves in the FBI Office a month ago," Neal rephrased the question.
Stephanie looked up at Neal, into those baby blue eyes of his. "Go ahead. Ask."
"Why didn't you tell Peter about your cover? I can understand why you hid the truth from him when you first broke up with him. But you knew he was working for the FBI and you knew he was in the same Division as you, working for Bancroft. So you could have told him the truth any time since. Why didn't you?"
"Have you ever had to lie to someone you loved? And I don't mean little white lies like 'does this dress make me look fat?' kind of lie, but a really big one, the kind that you knew would change your life forever?"
"Yeah," Neal admitted. "But never to Peter."
"Well, you're one up on me there." Stephanie gets up and walks over to the buffet to pour herself another drink, then returns to her seat.
Neal looks at Stephanie attentively, waiting for her to continue.
"When I broke up with Peter, it was the worst thing I had ever done. Did he tell you he proposed to me?" Neal nodded. Stephanie continued. "Well, you know Peter so you know how hard that was for him to even ask and then be rejected. That was the first time I ever lied to him. After he left for Quantico, I guess I was too scared to talk to him again because I didn't know if I could ever look him in the eye again. I knew I certainly didn't want to have to lie to him again. My entire training was to put me under deep cover, mingle with the rich and catch them out at their crimes. I have been sleeping with a gun under my pillow for nearly 20 yrs because I was always worried my cover would be blown. I had to be careful. I only ever dealt with Bancroft or Hughes, giving them the information they needed to catch their suspects but I could never been connected to any of the cases. At the same time, I did still have my own business to run and a marriage to maintain. If I told anybody, it would jeopardise the entire operation."
"So why did you involve Elizabeth this time?"
Stephanie knew this question was coming but still took her time to consider her response before speaking again.
Neal continued, "Well, you knew who she was married to and you had to know that Hughes would assign this case to Peter and me. If you never got involved with other agents directly in any of the cases before, what made this one different? Now there are half a dozen people in this office who know your secret. And there are a thousand event planners in Manhattan. I'm not saying Elizabeth isn't good but you could have got any one of those to organise your fund-raiser." Nothing was getting past Neal.
"Because I wanted to meet you," Stephanie smiled at Neal but he wasn't buying it and looked seriously back at her and her smile suddenly turned sad. "I watched the man I loved marry someone else. I wanted to know what she was like."
"You watched him marry Elizabeth? I don't remember Peter telling me you were at his wedding…?"
"I saw the video."
"And?" Neal asked.
"They looked happy. They ARE happy." Stephanie stands up and turns away from Neal.
Moments later, music starts playing. Neal had quietly left the dining room and found the CD system, more like a professional entertainment theatre than a typical home sound system. He found a Tony Bennett CD. He puts it in and selects the song shuffle option.
Neal walks up to Stephanie and asks, "May I have this dance?" He holds out a hand.
Stephanie turns around. Tears were flowing slowly down her cheeks. Neal takes the handkerchief from his coat pocket, stands close to her and wipes the tears from her face. She takes Neal's hand and he leads her out to the living room. Bennett is singing "A Kiss To Build a Dream On". Neal holds her body closely against as they sway slowly together to the music.
Stephanie is holding onto Neal tightly as if he was her knight in shining armour. Her right hand is resting in his left and her left around his neck, with her head resting on his shoulder. She starts to pull away when the song is over. Neal touches her face gently, retraces the path of the tears with his lips, then takes her chin in his hand and pulls her in for a kiss. Stephanie offers no resistance, closes her eyes as she feels Neal's lips on hers and she accepts the kiss, then returns it as she kisses him back. The kiss was hesitant at first, then became more furious as they both felt the electricity shooting through their bodies.
Stephanie pulls away first. She had not felt as vulnerable with anyone since her breakup with Peter as she felt in that moment. Neal looks deeply into Stephanie's light brown eyes and he sees the years of longing and regret pouring out. Neither of them moves. They're not aware if the music is still playing or not. In that moment, there is only the two of them.
Neal is the first to move. He takes her hand and slowly leads her down the long hallway from the living room towards the bedroom.
The team is gathered in the conference room in the FBI office: Stephanie, Peter, Neal, Diana, Jones, Blake and Matthews. Even Bancroft has come to congratulate the team. It is late at night, around 11pm. They are drinking champagne out of plastic cups and Hughes is making a speech.
"Great job, everyone! You all did great today. And not just today, but today's take-down was the culmination of a month of hard work by Agent Burke's team, and even more than that by Agent Harper. Because of all of you, Carroll Investments and Hyland Financials will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Gleason International have agreed to co-operate with the SEC and DOJ to pull together requisite evidence in their case for insurance fraud against Carroll. You should all be proud. Cheers!"
They all hold up their plastic cups and responded to Hughes with their enthusiastic "Cheers!"
Bancroft speaks: "Now, I know I don't have to remind you but I will anyway. It is absolutely crucial that no-one reveals Agent Harper's cover or her involvement in this case. She has helped us catch and successfully prosecute about 30 high profile criminals over the years and kept her cover intact. You will jeopardise not only the future of this operation, but more importantly, her life if you so much as breathed a word of her involvement to anyone. She has helped us put away a lot of very powerful people, all of whom would not hesitate to come after her if they were to find out who was behind their arrests. Are we all clear?"
There is a smattering of "yes,sir" and "no problem" in response.
"OK then. Enjoy the champagne because tomorrow, it's business as usual and we go out to catch more bad guys!" Hughes finishes off.
Stephanie is standing a little away from the rest of the team, staring out the window again. She is holding a cup but has not drunk any of its contents.
Peter looks at his watch. It is getting very late and he is anxious to get home to Elizabeth. Neal is talking to Diana. Peter approaches Stephanie.
"To our first case together," Peter said.
Stephanie turns to look at Peter and sees the smile in his eyes. "To our first case together," she repeats.
"Will you come over for dinner tomorrow night? El's been harassing me about inviting you over as soon as the case was over. She said she wants to thank you for giving her such a huge plug about Burke Premier Events but secretly, I think she wants an ally to gang up on me. And Neal's coming too."
"Sure. I'd love to."
Peter looks at his watch again. "Why don't you go home, Peter?" Stephanie prompts. "Elizabeth is waiting for you. You should go home and celebrate closing another case with her."
"Yeah, I'd better get going. So, tomorrow it is!" Peter said enthusiastically. "Come over at 6. We can have some pre-dinner drinks."
"I'll be there. Good night Peter," Stephanie leans in to give Peter a hug.
"Good night, Stevie."
As Peter leaves to say goodbye to the others, Neal comes to stand with Stephanie.
"Hey," Neal said, a gentle smile on his lips.
"Hey yourself," Stephanie returns the smile.
"So, what's next for you?" Neal asked.
"There's something I need to show you. Can you come by my place later? I think it's within your 2-mile radius and you'd be accompanied by an FBI agent anyway," Stephanie said.
Neal nods, curious about what new secrets Stephanie is going to reveal.
Stephanie lets Neal into the penthouse. Neal steps up close to her and gives her a deep kiss. When they finally pull away, she closes the door behind him as he walks towards the living room.
"So what more secrets are you going to reveal to me. I thought I pretty much knew every secret there was to know but you are just a constant source of surprise to me," Neal smiled at her.
"Come," was all Stephanie said as she took Neal's hand and led him down the hall.
"Well, this is no big secret. I've been down this hallway before, just last night, as a matter of fact," he grinned.
Stephanie doesn't reply but stopped at the first door.
"OK. I didn't come into this room last night," Neal said.
Stephanie opens the door to the study and walks in, with Neal following behind her. He looks around.
"Wow, are those first edition Dickens?" Neal looked with amazement at the shelves of vintage books lining the walls of the study.
Stephanie doesn't answer but goes to the desk at the far side of the room away. Neal noticed there are no windows in this room. She puts her hand under the desk and appeared to be pressing a button or pulling a lever. The wall of books behind the desk slides open.
"Ryan's panic room. Not very original hiding place but it was already here when we bought the apartment." Neal stepped inside, with Stephanie stopping just inside the door.
Neal stood there, open-mouthed. He is completely speechless and enraptured by what he sees in front of him, all around him. There is a single revolving chair in the middle of the panic room, which is about the size of Peter's office.
"I told you Ryan loved art," Stephanie explained.
Neal did not appear to have heard her. He is still busy taking in all the paintings hanging on the walls, most of which he recognised as paintings that had been stolen and never been recovered over the last 20 or 30 years. He even recognised a few of them as works he had stolen in the past and fenced off through Alex or Hale or one of Hale's crew.
The room was simply floor-to-ceiling of beautiful paintings. Except for one empty space on the far wall. It was exactly the size of the Raphael that had been sent anonymously back to Sara Ellis to be returned to her client.
"Ryan would sometimes sit in that chair and stare at the paintings for hours on end. And when he'd had enough of one wall, he'd turn around and look at the other."
Neal finally looks back at Stephanie. "You sent the Raphael to Sara."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Stephanie smiled and left the room, leaving Neal standing alone inside the room, still admiring the paintings on the walls.
Peter walks into his house and quietly closes the door behind him. It is nearly midnight and he does not want to wake El, who had fallen asleep curled up on the lounge, waiting for him to come home. Satchmo looks up from the lounge where he had been sleeping at El's feet then drops his head again and goes back to sleep.
Peter leans over his sleeping wife and gives her a gentle kiss on the top of her head, careful not to wake her.
He takes off his jacket and hangs it on the back of the dining table chair. He walks into the kitchen and grabs himself a beer while he takes the holster off and also hangs that on the back of the same chair.
He digs out the loose change that is in one pants pocket and places it in the bowl on the shelf just outside the kitchen. He puts his hand in his other pocket to take his phone out. But there was something else in there. It is a small piece of paper.
Elizabeth has woken up and has walked over to her husband who looks up at the sound of her footsteps. She snuggles up to him, sees him holding the paper and asks, "What's that?"
"I'm not sure. Probably some Post-it note I put in there that I'd forgotten. I just found it in my pocket," Peter replied.
He unfolds the paper. There is just one sentence. Six words. He recognises the handwriting. He stares at the paper, completely shocked and speechless.
Elizabeth feels the muscles in her husband's body tense up, reaches over to take the piece of paper from Peter's hand.
"Ryan Harper was my Neal Caffrey."