sheenianni: (hedgehog)
[personal profile] sheenianni
Title: Dance Around the Flames – Part VI
Author’s Name: [ profile] sheenianni
Fandom: White Collar
See Part I

When Sara gets home and finds Caffrey there, her first thought is that she’s not quite surprised.

Neal is sitting on her couch, sipping a glass of water as if it was the most natural thing in the world. “Hey Sara.”

She glares at him. “You broke into my place.”

Neal quirks his lip. “Are you going to call the police on me?”

“Or I could just shoot you as an intruder,” Sara states threateningly.

“I really hope you don’t, then.”

And then he grins at her, and Sara finds her façade cracking, smiling back at him.

“It’s good to see you, Caffrey.”

“It’s good to see you too.”

It’s an unconscious move. They both step forward at the same time, wrapping their arms around each other. Their kiss feels familiar, as if over a year hasn’t passed since the last time they were together.

When they break apart, an unspoken message passed between them. She hears Neal’s breathing (too erratic, too fast) and feels the sticky tension clinging to her body like an invisible veil.

She clears her throat. “Sex now, talk later?”

“Fine with me.”

They share a quick smile before going for each other’s clothes. Both of them impatient, they stumble on their way to the couch.

Laughing, Sara pushes Neal on the couch. She moves on to Neal’s buttons while he pulls off her shirt, and soon they’re both naked, eager in their shared desire.

The joining of their bodies feels like the most natural thing in the world.

* * *

Some time later, Sara feels the pleasant fatigue seeping into her bones. Not surprisingly, the physical connection between them works just as well as before.

Lying on the couch, she thinks they could stay like this – go back to sex, favors and pretense. They could ignore the something between them which might bring joy but also promised heartache and ugliness and complications. It would be laughably easy; just get off the couch, put on some clothes and push Caffrey away, going back to the world where things are simple and nothing can hurt you.

Maybe she’s had too much of “simple” in the past.

Lying next to Neal, Sara clings to the physical contact, thinks about her walls and wonders if she’ll ever be able to let Neal in. If she even wants to.

Then he smiles at her and something inside her clenches. She wants to run, wants to escape before he lets her down, before he leaves, before he tears her apart more than he already did. He’s ruining her, making her weak and vulnerable, and she doesn’t need that – she’s stronger on her own, she’s better alone, she’s…

A coward.

She’s afraid. Deep down, Sara knows she’s been afraid ever since Emily. Her sister brutally murdered, the perpetrator never caught because there just wasn’t enough evidence: no witnesses, no case, no nothing; only a solid alibi provided by the killer’s best friend.

The FBI turned down her application. She left the police academy when she realized that the rules were too strict and would only get in her way. Instead, she spent the required three years working for a PI and then applied for her own license the very moment the law allowed her to.

Using her new skills, she dug up everything she could on Emily’s killer and didn’t let up until his life was ruined beyond recognition. And then she built walls around her heart, made sure nobody would ever get close, and started fixing other people’s lives for them.

Until Caffrey came along and conned her into thinking that maybe she could want something more.

She sits up on the couch.

“It’s getting cold here.” She can feel the goose bumps on her skin.

Neal smirks at her. “Is this another Titanic reference? For the record, I’d totally slip those cuffs before letting you anywhere near my hands with an axe.”

What… Oh. A memory almost forgotten, Sara remembers their conversation all those months ago. She smiles. “Interesting. And I suppose you have a solution to keep us from drowning as well.”

“Yep. You keep your own flotsam, I find one for myself.”

“You’d let me drown?” she exclaims with mock outrage.

“No, you’re too stubborn to drown. We’ll meet again once we we’re rescued, and then I’ll forge the Heart of the Ocean, we’ll fence it and start a whole new life.”

“Oh, so we start our arrival to the New World with a series of crimes, and… we sell the copy.”

“Yep, while you keep the original.”

“Very innovative ending,” says Sara with a grin.

While they bicker, Neal passes her the folded blanket from the edge of the couch. As he covers them both, Sara’s shaking gets worse for a few moments before it fades away, replaced by a sense of calm and relief.

Maybe she can do this.

She holds Neal’s hand as she listens to the sound of his heartbeat.

* * *

In the end, it’s Neal who mentions the elephant in the room.

“So where do you think we’re going with this?”

At one time, Sara’s immediate instinct would have been to push him away. Now… “I don’t know.”

Their touches are suddenly intimate, more so than before. It’s not an unpleasant feeling, and Sara lets it go on until Neal tries to touch the scar on her thigh and she hits a mental block. She catches his wrist, stopping him before he can move further even as she gives him a half-apologetic look.

She swallows. “I think it’s time we talked.”

Neal smiles. “I’m looking forward to it.”

* * *

They settle in the kitchen; dressed, a glass of wine before each of them (and only one glass, since the point is to ease them a bit into the conversation, not get them both wasted).

They start light, because despite the rather recent events, they haven’t seen each other for a long time. Sara talks about her cases and Neal shares some stories about his (alleged) heists in Europe. However, as the evening progresses, they move on to more serious topics.

“So how long have you been out?” asks Sara.

“Two days. I wanted to get some things in order and find a new place before I dropped in on you.” Neal pauses before looking in her eyes. “You know, I heard that the Atlantic bonds mysteriously became unavailable as evidence against me at my trial.”

“Imagine that,” says Sara neutrally.

“My attorney told me if the bonds hadn’t been lost, I would have likely been convicted. Agent Burke seemed to think you had something to do with that.”

“Oh?” Sara feels curious almost despite herself. “What did he say?”

“He said I got a second chance I didn’t deserve. That I was goddamn lucky to have you on my side.”

“Really,” says Sara with a hint of bitterness. “So, what now? You’re here out of some misplaced gratitude?”

“Please. Did I ever do what people wanted me to?” He shakes his head. “You’re a remarkable woman; smart, gorgeous, independent… You got under my skin. Even when I didn’t want to come back, I missed you. Then once I learned what you did for me, I had to come and see you. I wanted to know if there could be more between us… Unless you shredded the bonds out of gratitude.”

“No,” says Sara after a moment. “I mean, I’m glad you got me out of that cellar, but that wasn’t the only reason. I didn’t do it to repay some sort of a debt.”

Neal smiles at her. “I was hoping you’d say that.”

For a moment, they watch each other in silence.

It’s Sara who asks the next question. “So, I always wondered. Back at the gallery, when we first met; why did you ask me out? And don’t tell me it was ‘love at first sight’.”

“No, not really.” Neal hesitates. “There was I girl I loved at the time, Kate. She had a boyfriend, but then one day she came to my place and kissed me. I thought there might be something between us… Then the next day, she left for Chicago with him.”

Sara tries to connect the dots. “So, the first time we met…”

“…was a week after she left. My wounded ego needed some patching up, and you were by far the most interesting woman in the room.” He pauses. “At the time, you were a distraction. But then we got to know each other, and…”

“It became more.”


She should probably be upset, Sara thinks to herself. Instead, she is profoundly relieved and happy. She doesn’t believe in ‘love at first sight’, but nothing becoming something… that she can understand.

“Maybe you should paint me someday,” she says out of blue, once again remembering that old conversation before she tried to blackmail him.

Neal brightens up with joy. “I’d love to do that. Really.”

She smiles at him. “Just make sure you’re around for it, then.”

He frowns a little before nodding. “You’re telling me not to get arrested again.”

“I won’t visit you in prison,” she warns.

“I’ll bear that in mind.”

She wants to make demands and extract promises. In the end though, she knows she has to let him choose his own path.

* * *

A month later, they’re lying side by side in her bed. Listening to Neal’s quiet breathing, Sara remains awake, staring at the ceiling.

She doesn’t think Neal will accept her proposition and join her in her PI business, at least not now and not as her partner, but maybe he could consult with her from time to time. Recently, Neal told her about his friend Mozzie and suggested introducing Sara to him. For better or worse, he is letting her more into his life; trusting her where he wouldn’t have before.

She hasn’t seen any evidence that he’s been up to something illegal. On the other hand, she hasn’t seen him exploring any legal options either, and she wonders how long this sort of vacuum will last. If she’s going to be dating an active criminal, then at least she wants to know about it, if only to open the window and help him escape once the police comes knocking on their door.

Neal makes her laugh. He makes her feel less broken, steadier, like there’s a part of her that’s been missing and he helped her find it and put it back.

She wonders if she’s naïve, setting herself up for heartbreak.

Instead, when the blow comes, it’s from a direction she didn’t expect.

* * *

She doesn’t do anything she hasn’t done in the past. In fact, she does the exact same thing that her PI mentor taught her before she earned her own license. She knows that PIs are not above the rules, but there’s always been a sort of camaraderie with the police that allowed her a certain leeway.

She’s working another case when she’s arrested for trespassing.

There are handcuffs and everything as they take her to the station, but she thinks she’ll be able to talk her way out of it, as she has done during those rare occasions in the past.

Then Peter Burke appears on the scene and Sara finally understands what’s going on. The consequences for helping Neal go free are catching up with her.

Her first loyalty is to her client and as always she has an excuse ready, but her story can only take her so far. Things proceed fast after that.

Her PI license is suspended and she gets a hearing with the Department of State. With the police and the FBI breathing down her back, she makes a deal with the prosecution, pleads guilty to a class B misdemeanor and pays a fine.

Neal is horrified and feeling guilty, and she’s not as wrapped up in her problems that she doesn’t see he’s got one foot out of the door.

“Oh, don’t you dare,” she snaps at him. “It was my choice to help you. You don’t get to feel guilty and walk out on me because you don’t like where it led.”

He disappears for three days; then comes back with flowers and wine and an unspoken apology. After that, he stays.

The ink on her brand new shiny criminal record is still drying when Sara has her hearing with the Department of State. It’s a long battle, but in the end she wins, if only barely. She professes her deepest regret for her actions, agrees to pay a fine of $1000 and ends up with her license suspended for three months.

She still has her job, for now.

She wonders if that’s it, if this development will satisfy the FBI’s need for retribution. Because she can play it by the book, she can be careful and not break the rules, but if they’re determined to get back at her, they will succeed. Sara’s never had any illusions about how things worked in this world.

The same way she destroyed the life of her sister’s killer without really breaking any laws, the same way Peter Burke can ruin her, if he decides that it’s justice for abusing his trust and shredding those bonds.

She doesn’t think Peter is vindictive like that. Then again, the agent probably didn’t think Sara would break the law and destroy evidence in his very own office, so maybe they’re both due to a surprise here.

Either way, right now her license is suspended. She has three months to reevaluate things and decide where to go from here.

* * *

“I thought about going away for a while,” says Neal to her a few days after she learns the decision of the board. “I was wondering if you’d like to come with me?”

Sara frowns at him. “I don’t run, Neal.”

“I didn’t mean not to come back. I thought more like a vacation. To figure things out, see new places, maybe visit a few museums and see some art. Have fun.”

She raises her eyebrows, unimpressed. “If seeing art is some sort of a legal euphemism–”

He chuckles. “No, I think I gave up on the idea of heist dates a while ago.”

Heist dates. Is that really a thing among thieves?”

He smirks. “Oh yes. One day, remind me to tell you about Alex and Copenhagen.”

His criminal past she still doesn’t know enough about.

She bites her lip while thinking about it. “A vacation, you say.”

“Nothing illegal, just the two of us doing the normal tourist stuff.”

She doubts anything Caffrey comes up with will be particularly normal. Still, she does have three months of free time on her hands. Making an abrupt decision, Sara smiles at him. “Sure, why not.”

He beams at her. “It’ll be perfect, you’ll see. I swear you’re going to love it. We could go to Venice – or Paris. Maybe Vienna…”

It’s hard not to be swept by his enthusiasm.

However, someone has to be the level-headed one in this relationship. “Remember, I’m not breaking you out of a French prison.” Neal never blamed her for being blunt.

Neal turns serious at those words. “And I won’t make you. I promise.”

She wants to scoff at them both, him for making a statement like that and herself for trying to believe him.

It’s going to be a disaster, she can feel it in her bones.

* * *

They’re sitting on a bench, watching the sunset in France when Neal clears his throat.

“I wanted to show you something.”

Oh no.

He probably plans to rob the Louvre. Scratch that, he did already rob the Louvre. What if –

No. Sara deliberately stops that train of thought, because if she trusts him, the joke stopped being funny a while ago. And if she doesn’t trust him…

“What is it?” she asks with a curious smile.

She expects a lot of things, but the brochure Neal places on the table is not one of them. She opens it at the place of his bookmark.

Sterling&Bosch. Employment opportunities.

“You’re thinking of becoming an insurance investigator?” she asks in surprise.

“Me. Or you – maybe both of us.” Neal hesitates. “Do you think they’d hire me?”

“I like private investigation just fine, thank you.” Still, it’s an interesting idea, and Sara makes a mental note before she considers Neal’s question. “They would have heard of your reputation. They’d have to be pretty bold to hire a known thief and forger.” She pauses. “It’s worth a shot, I guess.”

“Yeah, maybe.”

They fall back into comfortable silence, watching the sun setting over the ocean. Staring at Neal’s profile, Sara smiles.

She doesn’t know how it’s going to end. But right now, she’s exactly where she wants to be.


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