A/N: Thank you so much for all of your lovely reviews! They are very much appreciated! Also, I want to take the opportunity to thank my dear friend last1stnding once more for your help. Without your incredible insight and knowledge of the characters the story would never have turned out this way. This is the last chapter. But I'm working on a new story, so stay tuned…
This is the last chapter. But I'm working on a new story, so stay tuned…
Neal was sleeping in late, the Bureau having unexpectedly given him Friday off. He wondered if that meant trouble but nothing seemed in the offing so he lingered in bed, feeling tired. Surprising how honest work could be so exhausting, he thought muzzily. Glancing at the bedside clock, he was aghast to see it was already past noon. Strange nobody had called or made themselves at home. He indulged in a long shower and a leisurely breakfast. Checking his phone there had been another thank you message from Elizabeth but that was it. It was later in the day he started to feel that vague sense of unease; Peter was due back today. By now, Neal was feeling real remorse from his reckless actions the other day and he wondered if Peter would come back in a good mood or if the agent was still angry. He thought he might have won some brownie points by helping out Elizabeth however…
Who was he kidding? He would have helped Elizabeth out whether or not Peter was mad at him or being his best friend. Sometimes he wondered why he thought along those lines – but most of the time it was ingrained, a habit that could not be broken. Besides, that kind of thinking had helped him out of many of tight spot before.
Unconsciously he began to watch the time and then as the afternoon turned into evening and there was no call, Neal started to get miffed. Just use me and throw me away, like the Bureau, he thought sourly, deciding to build a wall of resentment. Moz called on nothing every important, Neal cut him off abruptly and then it was silence again.
By the time the phone rang Neal had worked himself into a snit but he still jumped at the first ring, cringing when his treacherous hand went ahead and answered the call. About time.
"Hey." A weary sounding Peter Burke greeted his rather snippy hello.
"How's Elizabeth?" Neal asked.
"She's all right; mending. And staying off her ankle today."
"She was talking about picking you up from the airport yesterday," Neal informed him.
"Incredible as it may be, I won that battle," Peter replied. "Flight was delayed a couple of times and it was hell to catch a shuttle by the time I made it to New York, but I finally got home a couple of hours ago."
"That's nice," Neal said formally. "Glad you made it."
"Neal," Peter's voice took on a new timbre, that serious, soft voice that meant pay attention, "I want to thank you for everything you've done. El tells me she could not have coped without you the other day. It, well, it means a lot to me that you came over."
For his part, Neal wasn't sure if he was proud of the praise (well, yeah, he was, a little) or offended that Peter would think he would ever hesitate over something like this. "You know I would always be there for Elizabeth, don't you?"
"Yes, I do," Peter replied quietly. "No matter what comes between us, I know you will always help El. But sometimes I do say thank you. When it's not parole related of course," he added hastily.
Neal couldn't help it; he laughed. "Killed you to say that, didn't it?"
To his relief, there was laughter in Peter's voice as well. "A little."
Neal shook his head. "Did you have a good time?"
"It was all right," Peter replied. "Didn't do much though. Most of the stuff I already knew, for better or worse. But I mainly wanted to say thank you and ask what you are doing tomorrow night?"
"Well," Neal fought the urge to make to make up a story; nothing to be gained by admitting he was at loose ends. But, really, what was there to say? To his chagrin, he blurted the truth. "Nothing much, I guess."
"Well, El and I don't want to interrupt your busy life but I guess we're going to that, wait, what is it called, El?" Neal heard Elizabeth's voice in the background with a smile, "Kandinsky exhibition and we wondered if you want to go along? They are having a special showing before it leaves."
"What? It is still here?" Neal blinked. "You are actually going?"
He could almost see Peter shrug. "I guess we owe you," he said glumly. Elizabeth exclaimed, "Peter!" in the background.
Neal laughed. "I am so totally there! You will love it Peter!" He proceeded to explain the exhibition's many fine points to a completely unimpressed and tired Peter who, no longer willing to hear more, handed the phone to El.
"This is great. Isn't this great? Don't you just love the color?" Neal enthused to Peter, who walked along with his hands in his pockets, looking a bit bored. "Look at the originality!"Neal stopped to admire a huge wall sized mural.
Peter looked too, but he stood in astonishment, rather than admiration. "Somebody actually managed to make money throwing paint fastballs on a huge canvas? Wow, there has to be some sort of fraud in that," he added, his tone taking on a new measure of respect.
"You have no imagination," Neal informed him pompously.
Peter however, was still lost in his idea of money making. "You know I could get a bunch of different colors, have Satchmo run through them and make an obscene lot of money on multi colored dog prints. Throw some fancy title on it like The March of Society – and clean up the cash." He brightened. "Maybe this isn't such a bad idea after all. It would certainly beat a government pension."
Neal looked annoyed. "You are a complete Philistine, you know. I think you should know that, in case no one has told you before."
Peter smirked. "Whatever."
They strolled on, arguing and walking. Elizabeth grinned as she sat in the coffee shop watching them. She had wanted to accompany them on the entire tour. However, her ankle had improved but was still on the sore side, so she decided to wait until they reached the special part of the exhibition, for wealthy patrons only. This part of the exhibition – the Kandinsky - had been held over without publicity and, as it happened, the part Neal most wanted to see. The museum had been justifiably nervous having Neal Caffrey, master thief and forger, attend their private showing but between her vouching for him and Peter's shield, Peter had been able to swing it, with the proviso that he never leave Neal unattended. And it looked like Neal was supremely happy with the whole thing. Elizabeth was glad; he had really saved her the other day. It was the least she could do.
When they finally returned, Elizabeth got up to join them on the special exhibit. "Are you boys playing nice?" she asked formally.
"Elizabeth, we are having a wonderful time. Aren't we, Peter?" Neal's joy shone from his eyes.
"Yeah, cool," Peter said flatly, itching to check his phone for the Rangers score.
Elizabeth laughed and linked arms with Peter while giving Neal's arm a squeeze.
Later, when they were nearly finished, Elizabeth stood next to Neal. "I hope this is some way conveys my thanks for all of your help, Neal. I literally could not have done it without you."
Neal shrugged but his smile betrayed his true feelings, an odd event for Neal Caffrey. "Well, I needed to get back in Peter's good books."
El froze; please don't let him mean that.
Observant as ever, Neal smiled again but this time it was a bit strained. "I guess that was a bad reason why, wasn't it?"
"Kind of. But it wasn't the only reason though, was it, Neal?" Elizabeth asked firmly.
Neal squirmed a bit but finally admitted, "No. Of course not. But I don't know what Peter will say," he nodded to where Peter stood with a security guard, both trying to catch the hockey game on their phones, although Neal was never out of the agent's sight.
"I think Peter is saying thank you," Elizabeth replied, with a small smile on her lips. "This may come as a surprise to you, but he doesn't normally attend these kinds of shows."
Peter rejoined them as Neal chuckled. "Are we done here?" he asked hopefully.
Elizabeth glanced at Neal, questioning. "Well, we could do a little more in depth look at the Romantics section-"
Both he and Elizabeth laughed when they noticed Peter's look of frozen horror. "No, we are done here," Neal relented but he took one last wistful look around.
"How about joining us for dinner tonight?" Peter asked hastily, not liking the look in Neal's eyes.
"Sure. Where are you going?"
"We thought we'd let you pick," Elizabeth said firmly, with a sharp look at Peter, who nodded reluctantly.
Neal smiled. "I suppose we could try that new French place on 29th; their cuisine and wine list are said to be superb."
"Don't you need reservations?" Peter asked quickly, hope rising in his voice.
Neal sighed. "Well, I could probably get us in without them." Noticing Peter's look of disappointment and Elizabeth about to scold him for it, Neal quickly added, "Or we could go to that Italian place around the corner. The bar has a nice television."
"You might have mentioned that first," Peter grumbled.
Elizabeth shushed him. "It really is your choice tonight, Neal. Is that what you want?"
Neal glanced at Peter, who nodded, putting a good face on it. "She's right. But don't do anything illegal getting into that French place," he added hastily.
Neal smiled. "It's okay. As it happens, I'm in the mood for Italian tonight."
"We can still make the fourth quarter," Peter agreed enthusiastically. As they started to leave, he paused. "El, maybe we should get you a cab?"
"I'm fine; it will take longer to flag down a cab tonight than it's worth. Just don't walk at FBI speed, no matter how much you want to watch the fourth quarter."
Smiling, Peter put his arm around her shoulders and Neal led the way, opening the doors and chattering about the art, obviously in a good mood. Earlier, Peter had informed him there would be no formal reprimands for Neal on his actions earlier, but he had given Neal the 'be careful' speech, for the hundredth time so Neal claimed. Peter shot back that he wouldn't have to do it so often if Neal would only listen the first time.
While they walked over to the restaurant, dodging the large crowds on Saturday night, Elizabeth turned to her husband. "By the way, I have an event coming up next month that I could really use an expert bartender, honey. Are you interested?"
"What?" Peter sputtered, Neal laughed, Peter glared, and Neal looked unconcerned. Elizabeth tightened her hold on her husband's arm, smiling as Peter stammered through an explanation about the origins of Kevin the bartender.
It was funny; Elizabeth thought while walking between Peter and Neal, how such a bad week could end so well after all.