My updating schedule is really out of whack. Thank you for being patient and bearing with me. I really appreciate it.
She was walking away. He could hear her footsteps retreating quickly, knowing that if he didn't act fast, he was going to lose her, for good. Although, there was a good chance that he already had lost her. It had been two years. Surely, she hadn't been waiting around for his return. Neal sighed and then decisively yelled through the door.
"I stole the Raphael." His voice was confident, but his body was far from it. He winced, bracing himself for the oncoming attack.
The footsteps stopped for a moment before they, once again, headed back in his direction. The door was pulled open for a second time, and, this time, Sara stood in the frame expectantly. Neal gave her a weak smile.
"Say that again," Sara commanded, narrowing her eyes in surprise and confusion.
"I stole the Raphael," Neal repeated in admittance. Peter was probably going to have to send him back to prison anyway, the least he could do was come clean about this. Sara looked doubtful. Neal closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead before reaching his hand out of sight and returning with a canvas. Sara stepped forward in immediate interest, apparently forgetting her anger.
"This is it?" she asked hopefully. Neal flipped the canvas around, revealing the painting in question.
"This is it," he confirmed. Sara opened her mouth, doubt evident in her face, but Neal cut her off. "It isn't a forgery. I swear, it's the real thing."
Sara held the painting in her hands for several minutes, studying it in silence. Neal waited patiently until she finally looked up at him.
"I'll probably regret this later," she said with a defeated sigh, "but would you like to come in?"
Neal beamed and took a step into the house behind her. She led the way down the hall and into the kitchen. Without so much as a drink request, she pulled two glasses and a bottle of wine from the cabinet and placed them on the table. She poured each of them a generous amount and sat down. This visit would definitely require alcohol.
"You look different," Sara commented after finally getting a good look at him in the light of her kitchen. Neal smiled again. He ran a hand through his newly long hair and straightened out his unusually casual attire. Sara shook her head. "I don't mean that," she said, shaking her head. "Your smile," she explained. "There's some remorse in it." She gave a small shrug as Neal's grin faded. "Not it's usual shameless self." She studied him some more when he didn't say anything else. Then she straightened herself and shot him an accusing look. "Does Peter know you're back?" she asked.
"Yes," Neal answered with a laugh. Sara seemed surprised by his answer.
"And you aren't in prison yet?" she questioned. "How'd you con your way out of that?"
Neal decided to ignore the accusation. "He's helping me out with something. A case," he explained. "Once that's over, he's probably sending me back."
"If you don't run," she corrected, her tone quickly taking a hostile ton. Neal just nodded his head. He deserved this.
"I won't run," Neal confirmed calmly.
Sara hardly looked like she believed him, but she moved on quickly, remembering the other dozen questions she still had for him. "Why are you here?" she asked, and it was evident that she hated him for the fact that he had returned. Not because she wasn't happy to see him. No. There was definite excitement behind the anger in her eyes. She knew that now that he had returned, she would finally have to deal with what had happened. She could no longer pretend that Neal Caffrey didn't exist. That he was just some figment of her imagination.
Neal sighed, knowing that he was going to have to tell her everything. After everything he had put her through, she deserved the truth. He just didn't want to tell her the same story he had told Peter. With Peter, he had been looking for the sympathy that he had undoubtably gained from the older man. He didn't want the same sympathy from Sara. If she was ever going to forgive him, it was going to be because she wanted to, not because he tricked her into it.
"I got into some trouble," he explained carefully. Sara shook her head knowingly. Of course he had. "And I need Peter's help."
"What kind of trouble?" Sara asked, without missing a beat.
"These guys," he said, looking everywhere but directly in her eyes, "are after me."
Sara didn't look surprised, but there was a hint of concern behind her eyes.
"They killed Mozzie," Neal said so plainly it was as if he was recounting the weather. Sara looked to him at once, studying his face.
"What?" she questioned in an immediate reflex. Neal just nodded. "When? Are you okay?"
"It was about a year ago," he told her. "I'm fine." That was hardly true. "They caught me, though." Sara instinctively reached across the table to take his hand. Neal allowed her to. "Kept me for a few months before I escaped. I've been running from them for months, but…" he trailed off.
"You don't want to anymore," Sara finished for him. He looked up at her, regret evident on his face. This wasn't what he wanted. He wanted her to hate him for what he had done, but, right now, the only look on her face was one of complete sympathy and concern.
Neal nodded and then continued his story, filling in all of the gaps carefully and with as much detail as he had given in his statement earlier that day. He told her about his reunion with Peter and Elizabeth and then about returning to work and finally about Logan West. Sara didn't interrupt. She remained silent, holding his hand and nodding her reassurance. It made Neal feel all the more guilty.
When he finally did finish, Sara pulled her hand away from him and leaned back in her chair, deep in thought. Neal didn't speak another word.
"I always wanted you to come back," Sara said quietly. "Just so I could tell you how much I hated you for leaving." Neal winced. "And now I have the perfect opportunity to tell you exactly that…" she started, trying to build on her anger, but she fell flat. "And I can't." She groaned in frustration and folded her arms across her chest. "How do you do that?" she asked, desperation evident in her voice. Neal furrowed his brow in confusion. "You get away with everything," Sara clarified. "Youescaped with an entire Nazi treasure, and here I thought, finally, Neal Caffrey is going to get it for this," she shook her head. "And nothing. Peter's accepted you back without question." That was hardly the truth, but Neal didn't argue. "The bureau is more than happy to take on your case. And I…" her eyes fluttered to the floor in embarrassment. "And I can't even be mad at you." Neal looked up guiltily. "I've spent the last two years hating you, and now you're sitting in my kitchen, and all I can think about is how much I've missed you."
"Sara, I'm sorry," Neal started, but she cut him off at once.
"It's not your fault," she said, meeting his eyes. "I knew who you were all along, and I was stupid enough to try to convince myself that you could change. It's my fault I got hurt."
Neal stared back at her in shock. He would have rather she yelled at him. He would have rather she shoved him out of her house, slapped him across the face, and slammed the door. That would have been easier than this. Her words caused him physical pain. She had expected him to change for her, and he had never thought to do so. He had never once thought that if he did change he could have an actual life with her. The thought of retiring to some island getaway with Mozzie was much too tempting. But, now that he thought about it, the alternative seemed even more appealing. He could have finished working with Peter and gotten an actual job. They could have gotten married, had kids. It was such a simple concept, and yet that was the life that seemed like a fantasy to him. The thought of having a normal life had never struck him as an honest possibility, but now he began to realize that it had been in his reach. Of course, that was before he had ruined it. All of it.
"I should have tried to change," Neal started. "Or at least wanted to. You may not blame me, but this is my fault. I'm sorry I put you through that, and I'm sorry I'm here putting you through this now."
Sara stared at the stranger in front of her. This was hardly the Neal Caffrey she had known. "You've changed," she said, studying him through narrowed eyes. Neal looked at her in surprise. "I've never heard you apologize before."
Neal smiled weakly. Why was everyone saying that? Did the world have to constantly point out the fact that, yes, Neal Caffrey finally made a mistake he was willing to admit? Apparently. "Yeah," he said with a shrug. "It's this new thing I'm trying out." He gave her a small smile, which she returned instantaneously, and then cautiously leaned forward. He knew just how unfair he was being for even trying such a thing, but the lighting made her look just perfect, and every second that went by with her only made him realize just how much he had missed her.
Sara hesitated at first, fearing what she know what would come if she did this, but then he reached out and took her face in his hand, and there was something about his eyes and that crooked smile of his that made her forget to be smart for once. She leaned in and closed her eyes, this time not pulling away when he tried to kiss her. It was probably a mistake, and she would probably regret it later, but, at the moment, it was insanely perfect.
She got to her feet, pulling him up with her, and dragged him by his worn collar to her bedroom, slamming the door behind them. Neal laughed. At least it wasn't slamming in his face this time.
Neal couldn't remember the last time he had been so comfortable when he woke up the following morning, sprawled out on Sara's bed. She was still asleep. Her arm was draped across his bare chest, and her face was resting just inches from his. She would probably regret everything once she woke up, claiming that it had been the alcohol, not her better judgement, that had agreed to this. But, for now, he could pretend that they were just a normal couple again, or at least as normal as they had been. There weren't about a dozen things they needed to discuss or a mountain of trust issues they would have to get over if they ever wanted to work this out, not to mention the still very real possibility of Neal's imprisonment. None of that seemed to matter last night. Maybe it wouldn't matter today.
Neal stretched his arms above his head and let out a loud yawn, stirring Sara from her sleep. She took her arm away from his chest and blinked up at him. She seemed confused for a moment, as if she didn't quite believe it was him, and then realization hit as the events from last night reformed in her head. Neal half expected her to throw him out, but she didn't. She smiled up at him and twirled a piece of his long hair in her finger.
"You need a haircut," she commented, her voice still raspy from sleep.
"Mmm," Neal agreed. He was hardly paying attention to her words.
"I have to go to work today," Sara told him carefully, trying to make clear her regret for such news. "But maybe tonight we can…" she started, but Neal had shot up at her words, looking around the room wildly.
"Work," he stated, awareness flooding over him. "Peter." How had he been so careless? He hadn't even meant to fall asleep. He had promised Peter that he would be back hours ago. The man probably thought he had run. Every federal agent in the city was probably out searching for him at the moment. Without anymore of an explanation, he threw the covers to the side, jumped out of bed and rushed to the kitchen in nothing more than a pair of boxers and a single sock. Sara followed him, draping her comforter over her shoulders and dragging it behind her. Neal seemed to have completely forgotten about her, however. He took no notice of her as she joined him in the kitchen and quickly picked up her phone and dialed. It rang only twice.
"Sara?" Peter's confused voice answered. Neal breathed a small sigh of relief. It didn't sound like he was in full panic mode just yet.
"Peter. It's me," Neal clarified quickly. He let himself smile when he heard Peter's laugh on the other line.
"So, I guess Sara forgave you," Peter said in amusement.
"Guess so," Neal shrugged. He turned to Sara who was staring at him with her head cocked to one side questioningly. Even with her makeup smudge from the night before and her hair messy from sleep, she looked exceptionally beautiful. He gave her an apologetic look. "I'm sorry, Peter," he continued on the phone. "I guess I fell asleep." He was pretty sure he had had this same conversation with his mother numerous times as a teenager. It seemed odd having it now with his partner. "I'm heading back right now."
"I wasn't worried," Peter said quickly. "I was gonna give you another hour before calling in the cavalry."
Neal laughed. "Sure," he said with a shrug. "I'll see you soon."
He hung up and turned to Sara with a small pout. "You really have to go to work?" he asked, crossing the room and wrapping his arms around her waist. She rolled her eyes.
"Yes," she said insistently. "And it sounds like you have to too."
Neal gave an overdramatic sigh. "Fine," he agreed. "But I'll see you tonight?"
Sara swallowed, a mixture of fear and excitement running around her head. Just like that, they had become a couple again. She had been telling herself for two years that she would never let herself fall into Neal Caffrey's trap again, and here she was planning dinner with him. "Sure," she said with a smile. Had she learned nothing? He was going to leave again. Just like he had before. Just like he always did. "Dinner?" Why couldn't she resist him?
"I'll pick you up at eight," he promised and flashed his beautiful grin. Sara shook her head. How could anyone resist that?
Hope you don't mind all the Neal/Sara in this chapter! I don't know. I think they're cute. Needed this chapter to be on the lighter side. Let me know what you think. Feel free to bash or hate. I truly love criticism (provided it's constructive). How else do we learn, right?