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Fiction by Pen . . . . . not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment

The Fundamental Things Apply

with thanks to misbegotten for the beta

"Talk to me."

Peter breathed carefully. He couldn't talk. Here, in the bed with his lovely wife, in his wonderful life, with their son quietly asleep (finally) in the nursery, he was happy, he was, but. He couldn't speak.

Next to him, El shifted, and he felt her long hair brush against his shoulder as she leaned on one elbow. "Peter. Talk to me. Please."

"I—I just," he began, and didn't know what to say next.

"It's all right, Peter, it's all right. I'm here. You can tell me."

Slowly, with difficulty, he found that he might be able to speak after all. It was easiest like this, in the dark, where she didn't have to see him struggling to express his feelings. "It's—El, I still miss him."


"I see him, you know," he said, and the words began to flow out. "I turn around, at the office, and he's there, putting on that ridiculous hat. Or, or sitting at his desk, smiling up at me without a care in the world and probably some scheme in his head."

"Oh, honey," she murmured, and her arm tightened around him. "I know. I know."

"And it's—if I hadn't—I should never have sent him there. I should have known. Keller, he was always dangerous. He wasn't like Neal."

"No, he wasn't."

Peter winced. Of course Keller wasn't like Neal. Keller had kidnapped Elizabeth, he might have lost her, and how could he have borne that? His arms wrapped her closer still. "I'm sorry, El. I'm so sorry. It's not that I—I worked without him all those years, he wasn't the only thing that made me good at my job, but he made it," he hauled in a breath, "he made it fun."

"That he did."

"And I thought. I thought I could change him—no, I could help him change himself. He was so close, El, if he'd just walked away from that one job..." No, that was dishonest. "Maybe I couldn't have changed him. Maybe he never would have changed. I'm sure he and Mozzie stole—enough to set them up, not enough that we'd," he chuckled grimly, "make a federal case of it. Not enough that we could be sure." Sloppy government accounting, hah.

"I don't know if you could have changed Neal, Peter. But you tried. You did your best."

Did I? he thought, staring into the darkness. Did I do my best? "If I hadn't gone after Keller, there might have been time to save Neal."

"Don't go there, Peter. Don't do that to yourself. We've been through this. You knew Keller needed to be stopped, and you stopped him. And don't forget, Neal knew who Keller was, better than anyone."

"Yeah," he said, reluctantly. "He knew. It's just.... I wish.... it's been almost a year now since I saw his body in that black bag, and it still hurts."

"I know, honey. Of course it hurts. He was easy to love, even though we both knew he couldn't exactly be trusted. You know," she shifted a little, "I'm sorry you had to see him like that. I'm so glad I didn't. It doesn't seem real to me, that he's dead. Sometimes I think of him out there somewhere, on a fancy island surrounded by beautiful women, charming people into giving him whatever he needs."

"I wish I could do that. If I hadn't seen him, I guess I wouldn't believe it either. Like Mozzie said, Neal always had a way out. Just, not this time." Peter sighed. "I'm sorry, hon. I should be past this. I mean, here I am. I have you, and we have a beautiful little boy who's not going to grow up to be a con man. I have the world, right here in this house."

"It's okay to miss him, Peter."

"Yeah." And it was getting easier. With El, and little Neal, he couldn't be sad all the time. Not with this life he had. Almost a year now, and he was healing.

* * *

A year after Neal's death, just an ordinary evening, except when he got home there was wine on the stoop, with a number on the cork that tickled something at the edge of his memory, and led Peter to dig out that key from the small box of Neal's personal effects, and put things together in his mind. A storage container. Number 701. Neal, Neal, what did you do here?

For a moment, he had an impulse to walk away, to leave Neal's final secrets hidden. But he had never let Neal get away with anything—that he could prevent—while he was alive, so why change now? He turned the key, and opened the box.

He hadn't known what to expect. An empty container, a stash of priceless works of art? This was... somewhere in between. Boxes. Trunks. Furniture. Pictures—a cute little dog in a delicately intricate frame, aha, by Sir Edwin Landseer, of course it was. Was that a Degas? Or something of Neal's own creating? Never mind. There was more to this container than he'd ever imagined there would be.

He moved through the carefully curated mess, because yes, it was curated, it was set out for him to read the story. A dummy with a bullet hole, ammunition and blanks on the table. So, he thought with a sudden thrill of terror, Keller had tried to shoot him after all and shot only a bla—which meant that Neal, wait, wait—now a photograph of a man in a lab coat, and he knew that face, because that had been the doctor who told him and Mozzie, gentle but matter-of-fact, that Neal was... and that woman, that paramedic, why was her photograph here, unless she... was the woman Neal had given an envelope to, she was part of the plan. It was all part of the plan.

Peter gazed around the bizarre scene. Pictures of puffer fish, human anatomy, a skull, a typed list of symptoms: LOW HEART RATE, SLOW METABOLISM.... He could see the plan, the con, the con, so clearly now. The con man's attention to detail. How Neal Caffrey had faked his own death—but why? Why had he done it? He was about to be free! He'd caught the Pink Panthers, he was going to walk free, and Peter had wanted to offer him a job as a consultant with the FBI so that the two of them could keep right on doing the work that had been so much more satisfying since they'd been doing it together. Why would Neal choose to fake his own death instead? And leave Peter grieving, and El, and Mozzie. And June. And Peter's team.

Then, there was the newspaper. The Louvre Gets Security Upgrade. Well, the fake newspaper. It looked real at first sight, and he stared at the picture and for a lurching, crazy instant he thought, did Neal steal the Mona Lisa? For a moment he actually found himself thinking, wonderful! Common sense took over soon enough: if anybody had stolen the Mona Lisa, Peter would have known about it. There would have been alerts, global alerts. Though if anybody could have, surely Neal—but no, that was absurd. Peter read the headline again. And the subhead: Large Contract Awarded at Paris Museum.

Oh. Oh!

Neal was alive! Neal was alive, and he was going straight. That had to be what this meant. It had to be. He'd left this for Peter to find, he'd sent the bottle of Bordeaux with the numbered cork, he wanted Peter to know he was alive and not a criminal any more. Working on security at the Louvre, was that possible?

This was Neal Caffrey, so, yeah. Why the hell not.

Eagerly, delightedly, Peter scanned the text beneath the photograph, but there was nothing—it wasn't a report, it was a weird collection of random thoughts repeated over and over, not lorum ipsum but maybe extracts from a book. It wasn't a real story, just a mockup. But it didn't matter. The headlines were the story.

On the way out, he spotted the Queen of Hearts. Had Mozzie seen this already? Or was that waiting for him to find? Ah, he'd figure it out. There was time to figure it all out. Right now, all that mattered was that Neal was alive.

* * *

Peter had promised the stakeout guys coffee, and he delivered it to the van with a light heart. Jones could see there was something up, and even after they got what they needed and sent in the team to capture Mortenson and his three cohorts, even in the triumphant aftermath, Jones took Peter aside for a moment to ask what was going on.

"I can't tell you right now, but I will. Very soon," Peter promised. It wouldn't be fair to tell Jones first. He should probably tell Mozzie first, in case that Queen of Hearts was not what he thought it was. And El deserved to know. And June.

By lunchtime that day he had signed a pile of paperwork and had time to think. He bought a hoagie and took it to the park. It was a bright, cool day and the fresh air was just what he needed, because he had just begun to look at things again and to wonder if maybe he was being conned once more.

There were still so many questions.

Peter wasn't worried about the pictures or the contents of those many mysterious boxes. There'd be time to figure those out and—probably—get them to their rightful owners. That is, if Mozzie didn't get to them first. He should do something, but it didn't feel like a priority right now. If those boxes held Nazi loot from the submarine, the world had managed without it for decades and a couple more weeks wouldn't matter. He almost laughed at how unimportant it seemed.

What was beginning to scratch at his brain was the whole narrative contained in that box. The neat set-up, the explanation of Neal's death, and the miraculous resurrection culminating in a happy, honest Neal working freely in Paris without—ohhh, without the threat of vengeance from the long arm of the Pink Panthers. Of course. That would explain the need to die.

But. When had it all happened? Was Neal in New York City right now, setting things up, putting a box of wine on his stoup and today's newspaper in the container? The newspaper—he didn't think The International Ledger was a real newspaper, and that 'story' that wasn't real... Had it had today's date? But no, it wasn't a real newspaper, so the date didn't matter. Neal could have created it whenever he wanted, he could have created it a year ago, when he knew he might be killed.

Would he have done that?

Peter was dismayed to realize that he didn't know. Would Neal have set up the container with its trail of evidence, would he have done it a year ago, so that Peter could discover that he was not dead? Or, so that Peter could believe that he was not dead, and be glad of it? Yes. Yes, he could. Peter had pursued Neal for long enough to appreciate the incredible lengths a good con man would go to, to make a story seem plausible. If the con was big enough, important enough. And Neal was a very, very good con man.

Was it possible to distinguish between a faked death and a real one?

Yes. Of course it was. Peter had the resources of the FBI at his disposal. At least, he amended to himself, he couldn't actually treat the FBI as his playground, but he could damned well find out whether the Louvre museum had paid Neal Caffrey to upgrade their security system or not.

He wouldn't tell El, not just yet. He'd keep this hope hidden for a little while longer. He'd find out, and be sure of his ground.


"Hey, hon," Elizabeth greeted her husband as he came through the door. "Peter? What happened today?" She could see on his face that something had changed. Changed for the better. Of course, now, he had that ludicrously guilty expression he got when she found out about something he was trying to hide, like her birthday earrings or a dinner reservation at a fancy new restaurant. Peter would make a terrible con man, thank God.

Of course, their infant son chose to make a loud fuss at that moment, so Peter scooped him up and they burbled happily at one another. Her heart turned to mush just like it always did. So she set the question aside, and they played with the baby and fed him and bathed him and put him to bed, and kissed his little downy, baby-scented head, turned the intercom on and the light off and went downstairs for their own dinner. Takeout, tonight, because sometimes a girl just needed Chinese.

Settled at last on the couch with a glass of wine, it was time. "So. What happened today? Did you catch some bad guys?"

Peter laughed. "Yes, we did. Jones and his team did, I just brought coffee and signed the paperwork."

"But something else happened, didn't it?"

"I wasn't going to tell you. Yet. I was going to wait. I want to make sure, because there's always that chance that it's not true. Neal—I know he never lied to me outright—"

"Except when I made him." She still felt a little bit bad about that.

Peter dismissed it with a shrug. "And the time he told me he jumped off a building, but he never meant me to believe that one so maybe it doesn't count. The thing is, he was so good at misdirection. I'm certain he pulled some stuff that I never knew about. I probably never will know the extent of it. And this could be just that, more misdirection, letting me reach conclusions from the evidence presented but not actually telling me everything."

"I—Peter, what? What evidence? What's going on?" It probably wasn't the moment to let him know Neal actually had jumped off that building. Neal had told her Peter didn't believe it, and he'd had that pure mischief on his face that was so infuriatingly endearing. But she didn't want Peter sidetracked right now. "Tell me everything!"

"I think Neal's alive." He told her about the wine cork, the key, the container. El listened in astonishment as Peter told her about bullets and blanks, about puffer fish poison and people who weren't who they pretended to be, and about a headline on a fake newspaper. "It's like a beautiful narrative designed to make me feel better," he said. "It's almost too perfect. Neal isn't really dead, and he's going straight. And I know it could be a lie, and I'm gonna have to find the time somehow to see if I can track him down, now that I have a place to start and a reason to look."

"My God, Peter. I can't—wow!"

"And I know I might be kidding myself, but, hon, I can't help it. I think he's alive. I believe it."

She couldn't think what to say, but Peter's happiness, carefully tamped down but not really hidden, not from her, was somehow making her believe it, too. The stuff about simulating death with puffer fish extract sounded ridiculous, not to mention dangerous. But then, Neal had once jumped off a building. "I see what you mean," she said. "And I—I want to believe it, too. It could be true. It would be so wonderful."

"Yeah. We won't ever see him again," Peter said, with less regret than she might have expected, "because he did this for a reason. He can't come back. But it just, it feels good to think of him still out there."

"It does." She hugged him. "You caught him twice already. If he is out there, you can catch him again."

Peter grinned at her. "Yes, I can!"

Later, in bed, a thought occurred to her. "Are you going to tell Mozzie? I think you should tell Mozzie."

"Teddy Winters, he's calling himself now. I guess I should. Though it's possible he already knows. I found a playing card there, and he might have left it in the container to let me know that he knows. Or it might have been from Neal as a message to Mozzie. I haven't been able to figure out that part. But I guess I should tell him."

"Of course you should!"

"I was just thinking that he took a long time to come to terms with Neal being dead. He was devastated. Even with seeing the body, he was so determined not to believe it, he said Neal always left himself a way out, but I met him yesterday and he was better, he was more settled. He'd accepted it. I'm pretty sure we were both being honest with one another, and I believed him when he said he was okay." Peter paused. "I wonder if it's right to give him hope again, when I can't be sure it's true. I mean, everything in that container could have been put there a year ago and Neal could still be dead, if the puffer fish thing went wrong."

El thought about this. "I think you should tell Mozzie about it. Show him the container. It wouldn't be fair to keep it from him, and, you know, living in hope is kinda nice."

"Hmm." Peter sighed. "I guess you're right. Though I could do without Mozzie's triumphant celebration when he's vindicated."

"You'll live," El said, and snuggled closer. "And besides, you said there was a playing card?'

"Queen of Hearts."

"Maybe Mozzie got a clue like you did. You may not have to tell him at all. But you should definitely talk to him."


So much for talking to Mozzie. He was not on the corner by Bowling Green Station when Peter went by there after work the next day, and Peter found that he had no idea where Mozzie lived. He had only ever met Mozzie at Neal's apartment, or at a public rendezvous—that one time Mozzie had hidden him, the safe house had been abandoned right after.

June might know. He went to see her, and told her that he had evidence Neal might be alive. She reacted with delight, but she was not quite as surprised as he'd thought she'd be. And she denied all knowledge of where Mozzie might be.

"He visits me, sometimes," she said, helpfully, "but we don't have a regular schedule."

"I thought you had martini nights."

"Oh, you know how it is. A lot of things fell by the wayside when Neal—when we thought he was taken from us. You could come by the club, sometimes. I'm singing again."

"That's wonderful, June. I'm so pleased. It's just, with our little one, I don't think either of us is ready to trust him to a babysitter yet, but when we do, we'll be there."

He kissed her cheek and took his leave. Yes, she knew already. Had Neal been in touch somehow, or had Mozzie conveyed the good news? Peter was beginning to be convinced that the Queen of Hearts was a sign that Moz had also found his way to the container. He was probably moving the stolen goods out of there right at this moment.

Peter couldn't bring himself to care. He went home to his beautiful wife and son.

"Can't find Mozzie anywhere," he told El. "I don't know if we'll be seeing him again."

"I wonder if Neal contacted him directly," El said, thoughtfully.

"That, or he sent a clue just like he sent one to me. And if that's what happened, I think Mozzie got there first." He kissed her. "I should go see what exactly is in that container, before it gets cleaned out." And get rid of the carefully curated clues, he thought, which were best kept out of the FBI's files. Neal had corrupted him, he thought, but he weighed his conscience and found it as light as ever.

* * *

They made a family outing of it at the weekend. With small Neal happily warbling in his baby sling on his daddy's chest, Peter showed El what he'd found in the container, and the two of them packed all the clues carefully into a suitcase and stowed it in the trunk before they began to look at the boxes which might or might not hold stolen Nazi treasure.

Turned out, they did. El was wide-eyed with astonished wonder after fifteen minutes, as they opened crates and boxes and chests. There were candelabra and plates, jewels, silverware, vases and woodcarvings, and paintings—so many paintings. Although some of the boxes were empty. Mozzie's share, perhaps?

"I'll make a formal report of all this on Monday," Peter said. "I'll tell them I decided to follow up some loose ends from the case, and found this."

* * *

It was quite an operation, retrieving the treasure, but the business of authenticating everything, tracing histories, and returning the pieces to their rightful owners, was no longer Peter's concern. In time, he would be invited to participate in ceremonial handovers to delighted museum owners, government representatives and the children or grandchildren of some private individuals whose precious possessions had been stolen, but that was yet to come.

For now, free of the burden of that container, Peter was able to think about how he was going to track down Neal Caffrey again.

"I don't think he's going to be able to use any of his old aliases," he told El. "Nick Holden and—oh, all of them, they all died when "Neal Caffrey" did. And if he's on the honest track now, he'll want to use a name that's really his. But he can't use Caffrey, because the Panthers will find out, and he won't want to use his father's name, so it'll be something new. It's possible he might pick a name with an art connection, but I think he'd want something innocuous. No sense calling himself Neal Rembrandt or, or Raphael Degas." El snorted. Peter grinned and continued: "My best guess is, he'll use someone else's name, someone who meant a lot to him, and I think it'll be Ellen's."

"So, what was Ellen's last name?"

"That's the problem. Parker. Or maybe Hill, depending whether he used her original name or her alias. But either way, I'm not gonna be able to find one Neal in a haystack full of Parkers. Or Hills. If she'd had something more unusual I might've had a chance."

He did look for Parkers and Hills, and occasionally poked into something that looked like an art connection, but yeah, it was hard. It was always going to be hard this time around, because with Neal officially dead and himself the ASAC now instead of a case handler, he could not kid himself that he had any right to use the FBI's time to get the job done. Mostly, he ran searches in the evening at home, with a strict timer to prevent him spending more than an hour each night on the hunt. It wasn't fair to El. But there were times when checking through FBI files was called for, so he spent a lot of lunchtimes eating his sandwiches at his desk while looking for threads to pull. For information on the Louvre's new security system. For art thefts and forgeries with the Caffrey signature which he knew so well. For anything.

Finding nothing.

It was a good while before he decided to go to the source, and contacted the Louvre museum, but that was an exercise in frustration because for some reason nobody he could get ahold of seemed to be able to speak English, something he frankly did not believe. An internationally known museum like that? Of course, the French were notoriously superior about speaking their own language, but there must be somebody who could communicate with him. Eventually he managed to reach the museum's Chef de la Sécurité, who told him very firmly—in precise and chilly though heavily accented English—that their security arrangements were being kept private for a reason, and that the security company that had installed the system had strongly advised them not to make it public.

Which sounded reasonable. Peter had seen enough cases to know that telling the criminals in advance what kind of precautions they'd need to circumvent generally did not end well. But all he wanted was a chance to speak to whoever was running that particular show, to ask them if Neal Caffrey/Parker/Hill was on the payroll. He was with the FBI, for heaven's sake, he wasn't going to broadcast the details to every art thief and swindler not currently in prison.

Somehow, everything he tried seemed to have two answers. One of them meant Neal's container was telling the truth.

As time went by, Peter became less convinced that Neal was still out there somewhere.

His search continued, but with less urgency. And baby Neal was growing, new teeth, more hair, he crawled, then he hauled himself determinedly to his little feet and made his way from one end of the couch to the other, and on the day after his first birthday he walked his first independent steps, and Peter could not stop talking about his incredible, precocious child all the next day.

And time went by.


The boys were upstairs, Neal freshly bathed and in bed, and Toby settling down to his homework. Elizabeth, dried the last of the wine glasses, set it on the shelf with the others, and went to sit down with her needlework hoop. She still wasn't certain needlework was her thing, but she'd promised herself she would give it her best try.

"Do you ever regret that we didn't move to DC?" Peter asked, out of nowhere.

El considered. "No, not really. I mean, I sometimes wish I'd gotten to work at the National, but it worked out for the best, And I do love living in New York City."

"So... you wouldn't want to move there now?"

"Honestly, I don't think so. I have my job balanced just how I like it, and a bunch of other moms with kids Neal can play with, and you know Toby would hate it if we left this city."

"I guess that's true. I just, you know. Sometimes I feel like I sacrificed you for Neal Caffrey, and it didn't pay off."

"It wasn't Neal Caffrey that brought me back here. It was our baby. I would not have wanted to be pregnant two hundred miles away from you. And it would have been way harder to establish myself in Washington as a new mom, whereas right here, I could get the business going again really easily, and we already have friends here. Peter, what brought this up? Are you being offered a job in DC again?"

"No, no. If I wanted to go, I'm pretty sure I could swing it, but. It's just, well, Jones is doing a great job, but he's going to want to move up, and there's nowhere for him to go if he stays here, because his next step is my job. I really don't want to go to the next level, because that means adding politics to the paperwork and even less opportunity to get involved in the real work."

El felt a twinge of sympathy. Peter had enjoyed tracking down criminals a lot more than any human being alive had ever enjoyed paperwork. "Is there any reason why Clinton wouldn't want to move to another city for a promotion?"

Peter looked at her with that hint of grin tugging at his mouth. "I think there is, now. The name Chantelle has been coming up in conversation quite a lot."

"Oh, he has a serious girlfriend? We should invite them to dinner."

"Yeah, we should."

"But, you know, there's no reason why you should move out of his way. There are FBI offices all over the country. He might even get to go to DC, work with Diana again."

"Not if the right woman doesn't want to go."

"Dinner. Definitely. I want to meet her."

* * *

So they worked out a date, and Clinton Jones arrived with flowers and wine and a tall, beautiful woman on his arm who turned out to be whip-smart with a wicked sense of humor, and they had a great evening. From the slightly dazed look on Clinton's face, El could see that he thought she was The One, and as the evening went on, she grew convinced he'd made a good choice. El also decided that Chantelle knew she'd picked a good man. Chantelle was a high school Math teacher, and she herself pointed out, unprompted, that this was about as portable a profession as there could be. El did not think Peter was going to need to worry about how Clinton could get his next promotion.

Conversation eventually turned to Peter's occasional out-of-hours investigation, which inevitably his trusted colleague had gotten to know about.

"I don't know what to believe anymore," Peter said. "I'm honestly wondering if he left that container so that the people he cared about would be able to believe he was still alive, even if it all went wrong. It's been almost three years and I haven't found anything. Nothing that actually tells me Neal is alive and working museum security in Paris, nothing that tells me he's up to his old tricks, either. I don't know that there's anywhere else to look."

"You didn't wonder if he was involved with that failed heist last month?" Clinton asked.

"I don't think he ever ran with that particular gang."

"I guess Neal was more of a solo act."

"There was a failed heist?" Chantelle asked, looking interested. So Peter and Clinton explained how there had been an attempt to steal Da Vinci's Madonna of the Rocks from the Louvre, thwarted by the museum's own security. It had led directly to the capture of a notorious group of European art thieves.

"And," Clinton observed, "some very smug statements from the museum's representatives to the world's press."

"Their Chef de la Sécurité was a lot pleasanter to the reporters than he ever was to me!" Peter said. "But he did let slip the name of the company they use. Not that it helped. What was it called? Cheville Security."

"No doubt they'll be getting a lot of new business after this kind of advertising," Clinton added.

"You're assuming anyone will be able to find them!" said Peter. "I don't think they have any online presence at all."

"Oh, I'm sure the other museums in Paris can get the details out of the Louvre," El said. "Even if they don't want to share more widely."

"Weird name, though," said Chantelle.


"I mean. Cheville." She shrugged.

"I assumed it was some guy's surname. Head of the company, probably," Peter said.

"I guess it could be. I don't know what surnames are common in France. It's just, it means ankle, so. Ankle Security. Odd name."

Suddenly, Chantelle was being stared at by three frozen dinner companions.

Elizabeth could so clearly see Neal Caffrey laughing at them all.

* * *

"Do you think I should let Diana know about Ankle Security?" Peter asked, a few days later.

"By a very happy coincidence," she said, "the opportunity just came up. We got mail."

"We did? From Diana?"

"She invited us to go visit. She wants to see Neal! And I want to see how big Theo is now. And she threw in another incentive, she got an invitation to an exhibition, and she can bring guests. It's a gallery she worked with a couple months ago. They're presenting four new artists, and she thought I might be interested." She looked slyly at Peter. "Of course, she says she thought we might be interested, but I'm pretty sure she meant me. But you get to put on a tux and come with me anyhow."

"I do look good in a tux," Peter said.

"Yes, you do. It's five weeks from now. Here, take a look."

He perused the handwritten page. "Looks good. Will Toby be on break yet?"

Frowning, she checked her calendar. "No. But I think it would be good for him to go to DC. We can go look at the Capitol, and all kinds of educational stuff."

Peter looked dubious. "I guess he's old enough to stay here without us, if he doesn't want to go." They looked at one another. Their foster kid had come a long way, but leaving him alone for a long weekend might not be the best plan.

"I think we can persuade him that he wants to go to Washington. And two days isn't much. He hasn't missed any school days for more than a year."

* * *

When consulted, Toby was eager to join them on the trip to DC. "I don't have to do the art gallery thing, do I? I can babysit Neal instead." Elizabeth accepted the offer willingly, though she thought it more than possible Diana had already arranged babysitting.

* * *

Diana had—of course—arranged babysitting. Her favored babysitter for Theo was a leggy young woman with a soft cloud of curls who was in her sophomore year at Georgetown. Elizabeth had to work quite hard to control her expression when she saw the two of them together, the poised nineteen-year-old student and her not-quite-sixteen-year-old foster son doing his very best to appear suave. Peter had the same problem, and Diana didn't even try not to grin.

The three of them headed out to one of DC's finest dining establishments for an early dinner. Peter and El had gotten used to eating as soon as Peter got home, since eating together was a good way to teach Neal table manners and Toby was ravenous all the time. Besides, it would be easier to take an interest in the exhibition if nobody's stomach was growling. Peter looked slightly shamefaced when his wife pointed that out, but did not disagree.

There was plenty to discuss about their wondrous, perfect little boys, about the stages Theo had passed through already and what El and Peter could expect over the year to come, about the difficulties of finding suitable play groups and the worries of a mother whose kid would be starting kindergarten in a future that seemed to be rushing up towards her like an approaching train... but eventually, the conversation turned, as it somehow, inevitably, always turned, to Neal Caffrey.

"You know," Diana said, "I wasn't really surprised when he was killed. I always thought things would catch up with him sooner or later. I know he wasn't a violent criminal, but he must have been building up a mighty list of people with grudges. Do you seriously think he didn't actually die? Because it sounds kinda crazy."

"I was beginning to wonder if I was kidding myself," Peter admitted. "He hasn't left any traces, and believe me, I've been looking—"

"He really has," El corroborated.

"But you didn't find anything?"

"I got nowhere. But I was also looking at art thefts worldwide, because it's Neal, and he always has an angle, and maybe he wasn't reformed at all. It wasn't until we found out about Ankle Security that I was sure." Except, El thought, Peter had been sure. Not with logic, but emotionally. With his gut. Or with his heart.

Diana laughed like a lunatic when they explained about Ankle Security, and said it was a stretch but hey, maybe. "I guess you could find a reason to get yourself over to Paris and see for sure," she said. "Have a bottle of wine together by the Seine, or whatever."

"I do love Paris," El said.

Peter shrugged. "I doubt we'll ever see Neal again. Maybe it's for the best. I like the idea of a reformed Neal Caffrey, keeping the Louvre's art safe from people like him. But, you know, maybe one day we'll wake up to a screaming headline about the biggest art theft in history and the Louvre will be empty. An even bigger con than faking his own death, and I can't be totally sure that won't happen."

"Or everything replaced with forgeries!" Diana laughed again. "Always had plans he didn't tell you about. Us. Anyone."

"Well, I like to think he's one of the good guys now," El said, firmly. "I'll think of him sitting in front of the Mona Lisa with an easel, like the art students who are always there trying to copy the paintings. For fun, not forgery."

* * *

There was quite a crowd of elegantly dressed patrons at the gallery, but (as Elizabeth had secretly hoped) many of the more fashionable people had already moved on to wherever they needed to be seen next. She was offered a handsome brochure, and took it with a smile (Peter expressed in mime that he would share) but tucked it under her arm instead of reading it at once. "I like to look at the art and decide what I think about it before the artist tells me what he wants me to think," she explained.

An austerely coiffed blonde woman in expensive black—gallery owner, or at least manager, El deduced—came forward to greet them, and looked startled and then, strangely delighted. "You're El," she said, unexpectedly. "I'm so pleased to see you here."

Out of the corner of her eye, El noticed Peter raise interrogative eyebrows at Diana, but Gallery Blonde was beckoning her forward.

"You must be so proud," Gallery Blonde was saying. "I would very much appreciate the chance to talk—oh, I'm so sorry, excuse me," for there was someone at her elbow and, with an expertly smoothed-out frown, she excused herself. "I will find you later. Enjoy!"

"Did you tell her my name?" El asked. Diana shook her head. "Weird." Maybe someone from the National had remembered her and assumed she'd be there? It seemed highly unlikely, but the art world was not large, and even though she'd been mostly out of it since Neal was born...on reflection, yep, quite a stretch. Oh well. Not important.

The first artist seemed to have decided to make a career out of ugliness. Good paintings, even excellent, and she hated them. She also didn't care for the maze-like display, but there were quite a lot of works here and they had to be fitted in somehow. But she was sure they'd taken a wrong turn in the middle of the second artist's work, the logic of the paintings seemed to progress in different directions. She would have done a much better job of making sure everyone saw things in the right order, El decided.

Around the next corner, Peter gasped.

"It's the view from Neal's apartment!"

It was a painting of a New York skyline, with the Chrysler building unmistakeable against a chiaroscuro Rembrandt would have been proud of. A fascinating juxtaposition, and she looked closer.

"It absolutely is. It's exactly the view..." he said, staring.

She didn't recognize it, but Peter had been to Neal's apartment often enough to know, and he seemed raptly convinced. There were tiny details in the buildings, scratched bones of architecture and traces of writing, and hints of the twenty-first century under the deceptively simple surface.

"Oh, El. Oh, my God. Look at this one. Look!" Peter was so excited, standing in front of something that looked as if it had been swirled into being by a young Monet, except it was a table, chairs, and New York in the background. "It's called Italian Roast. El, I sat at that table. This is Neal's work. This is absolutely Neal's work. It has to be."

"Well." She looked, and saw again the reconciling of a classic style with something new, with the modern world. "I can imagine him painting this," she said.

"It's Neal's work." Peter was grinning. "His own work. This is amazing."

Diana was at her right elbow. "Uh," she said, "Elizabeth, you know how the gallery manager recognized you? Come see this."

"Eep!" She couldn't help letting out an embarrassing squeak of astonishment, for there in the next frame, there she was. A head and shoulders portrait of herself, painted like a Renaissance Madonna and yet a modern woman. More beautiful than she'd ever been in her life, the face on the canvas seemed to glow, and the eyes... "Peter..."

"Oh," he said, reverently. "Oh." They stared, together, and barely noticed the people around them whispering about the resemblance. "I want this one," Peter said.

Gallery Blonde materialized at her elbow. "It's wonderful, isn't it? So much love. When did you sit for it?"

"I—I didn't. I didn't know he painted it," she managed.

"How much?" Peter said.

She looked intrigued, but the businesswoman's hard head won out against the questions that the art enthusiast was obviously itching to ask. "I'm sorry, I'm afraid this one is not for sale. The artist left very specific instructions."

Peter huffed with frustration.

"Oh! It's called Elle," Elizabeth realized, and felt a rush of affection for Neal Caffrey, who was alive and flourishing and painting in Paris. She almost laughed and thought she might cry.

"Okay, well, I'm convinced," Diana said, wryly. "It looks like Caffrey's using his powers for good. Maybe we should look in the brochure?"

"Let's look at the rest first," El said, shakily, so they did.

They were interpretations of New York, all filtered through the style of some of the artists Neal had, hmm, imitated before, but somehow uniquely his. There was June, not recognizable like Elle but still gloriously alive in a nightclub; there was a bridge, a river, a museum, a subway station, even the FBI office (which made Peter snort with laughter). Diana peered at that one closely, and declared that one of the tiny figures by the entrance must be herself, and the other was obviously Clinton Jones. "Sorry, Peter, you missed out."

"Guess he had no reason to paint my ugly mug," Peter said.

"Well, he should have!" El said, indignant. "He could have painted your portrait, he knew you way better than he knew me!"

"As a jailer, or a cavalier in a big curly wig," Diana suggested.

Peter just rolled his eyes and shook his head. He was obviously so happy with the paintings, paintings that proved to him that Neal was no longer a forger. He didn't need to see himself on canvas. But he should, El thought. He was more important to Neal than any of these places. He deserved to be up there. And she would have loved to see Neal's portrait of Peter Burke. Dammit.

Then there was a fractured canvas which made them all snicker because although nobody else in the gallery would realize that this was a portrait, it was unmistakably Mozzie, with his sneakiness and his conspiracy theories and such affection in every brush stroke.

Peter was grinning irrepressibly by the time they finished. He was so proud, El thought, so proud that Neal had done this. And so was she. Had Neal expected them to see the paintings? Did he know Diana was in DC, did he think Peter was working in DC now, and that she'd have gone to the exhibition? Or was it pure chance that they'd found them? Had Neal deliberately not sent his work to a gallery in New York? Had he not meant them to see the pictures?

"If we can't buy the picture of, um, me, maybe we could get the coffee one?" she suggested, and Peter beamed at her.

"I guess we should check out the prices," he said. "I have no idea what an exciting newly discovered artist gets paid for his work."

Gallery Blonde was very happy to take their money, and it wasn't, really, so very much. Not unreasonably much. She would clearly have liked to talk to them more about their relationship with the artist, but happily, several someone elses clamored for her attention and wanted to argue about pricing on one of the first artist's work, the ugly stuff. They were welcome to it.

"I want to know what Neal has to say about all this," El said, firmly. "His artistic statement. They always put one in a show like this. It should probably have been at the beginning, but we must have gotten into the end of the section first."

"Why not sit down and check out the brochure," Diana said. "There's a couch. I'll go look at that." She pointed to a white plaque with black type on it, situated at what must be the beginning of Neal's display. Really could have been better planned.

Peter sat, and El sat, and someone brought them wine, and El riffled through the brochure and found the photo of the coffee table picture. Then Diana was back standing in front of them looking boggled.

"What's the matter?" El asked in surprise.

"Did you read that yet?"

El stared down at her open brochure. The artist's statement was printed opposite Italian Roast, and she began to read it aloud. "I spent a long time imitating the art of the masters—imitating, do we like that word, yes, I think we do—and it took me a long time to find my own style. With so much beauty in the world already, it seemed arrogant to think that what I might do was worthy of being looked at in the same way. But the urge to create—"

"That's not what I meant," Diana said.

Peter, beside her, made a small, helpless sound, and when she glanced up at him, there were tears on his face. "Peter? Honey, what is it?"

He wiped his eyes and pointed.

The artist's name, at the top of the page. She hadn't bothered to look....

Neal Parker Burke.


Three months later, Peter was about to go to lunch when the front desk called up to let him know that a package had been delivered for him.

It was a lot bigger than anything he might have been expecting, and security were deeply suspicious about the whole deal, but it was a large, wooden box, and the sight of it made his heartbeat quicken. It had been scanned, and weighed, and the security guys didn't seem to have an actual reason not to let it pass... so he bore it back up to his office and prised it open without delay.


Peter did not get very much work done for the rest of the day, he spent far too much of his time staring and the portrait of his beautiful wife (and also agreeing with the stream of 'casual' visitors who complimented him on it) and by four o'clock it was clear that he wasn't going to be even a little bit productive today, so he packed the picture back into its crate and took it home. It would look very good next to Italian Roast.

Time went by, and it no longer seemed necessary to worry about what Neal might be doing. Peter kept a cursory eye on things, all the same, and El did her best to keep track of artist Neal Parker Burke, who was mostly being exhibited in Europe. Their son grew steadily and their foster son grew like a weed and then stopped well before he got anywhere near basketball player height. And then there was a pandemic and Peter was far more worried about keeping his immediate family safe than about what was happening in Paris.

And time went by.

* * * * *

Toby was gonna have to say something to somebody.

It was kinda daunting, because it would have to be in French, and he wasn't sure his vocabulary was up to it, and he was certain his accent wasn't, but it had to be done. He just had to think what Dad would do, and Dad would definitely report this.

He'd followed the guy with the hat through four—no, five galleries, and he thought maybe he could get a photo. The guy was sitting on a bench in the middle, looking everywhere, and Toby could tell that his eyeline was not tracking the pictures, it was looking above and around them. He snapped a couple of profiles while he could, then hauled ass. Hoping he wasn't completely lost, this place was fucking huge. If he had to ask someone... he probably wouldn't understand the answer. Maybe there'd be a map.

He got back to the entrance quicker than he'd expected, and braced himself to speak to one of the guards who was checking bags. "Uh, excusez-moi, monsieur, je crois que il y a un homme qui va, uh, voler un peinture. Beaucoup de peintures." The guard looked at him with dead-eyed hostility, and spoke far too quickly for him to understand.

"C'est que, je l'ai vu, et il ne regard pas les peintures. Uh. Parlez vous Anglais?"

The guard sighed in a very gallic way—he'd seen that sigh a lot, this trip—said "Attendez" and went off somewhere. He came back with a man in a suit: short, olive skin, incredibly neat mustache. Who said, "So. 'ow may I 'elp you?"

Which was a relief. Toby followed mustache guy into a small office, where he was invited to sit. Mustache guy introduced himself as Marcel LeBlanc, the Chef de la Sécurité, and so Toby explained that he had been watching someone who looked like he was, uh, figuring out how to rob the museum, and he had photographs if monsieur would like to see them.

The man glanced at Toby's phone, raised his eyebrows, gave a small, tight smile, and handed the phone back. "A moment, please," and he was out the door, leaving Toby increasingly uncomfortable. He kinda wished he hadn't said anything, but he could just hear Dad's voice if he didn't, so.

Monsieur LeBlanc was back, and right behind him—jeez, that was the guy! That was the guy who'd been—but this couldn't be right, did they already know? What the fuck was going on?

The guy said something in French, again too fast for Toby to catch. Did everybody speak at ninety miles an hour here? Maybe Americans sounded like that too, if you didn't speak much English. He understood "Merci, Marcel," though.

"Let me introduce Monsieur Parcairboorcah," the monsieur was saying. "He is very interested to talk to you."

And he left.

"Hi," said the guy.

Toby didn't believe anybody was called Parcairboorcah. Also, he didn't trust people who were that good looking. Stuff was too easy for them. And Dad said being good looking could be just as much of an advantage for a criminal as it was for someone who just wanted to get on TV or have lots of sex.

"Please, call me Neal. I understand you've been on the lookout for a thief?"

What was he supposed to say now? What was he supposed to do?

Attack. Best form of defense. "You looked like you were casing the joint," he said.

The guy—Neal—grinned. "What makes you think so? Don't worry, you're not in trouble. I just happen to be interested in the security here. So tell me, why did you think I was casing the joint?"

"You're American?"

"Yes I am. Eh, these days I like to think of myself as a citizen of the world."

Toby restrained his eyeballs, which so wanted to roll around, but it took some effort. "Do you check out all the museums in Paris or only this one?"

"Quite a few of them, in fact. But what made you think I was checking this one out? Seriously, I'd like to know. If it makes it any better, it's actually my job." He took a business card out of his pocket and passed it to Toby. Neal Parker Burke, Cheville Security, email address, phone number.

Oh. Embarrassing. But Neal Parker Burke—good name, he thought—didn't seem to be pissed about it, so. Okay.

Toby began to explain the things he'd noticed. How the guy—Neal—wasn't really paying attention to the pictures, how he wasn't even looking at them half the time, but he looked interested, not like the people who were there because somebody else dragged them there, they looked at the art but they didn't care about it, or else they just marched through like they needed the restroom. How Neal looked like he was maybe measuring the spaces with his eyes, like he was thinking how easy it would be to run away. Or something.

"You just. You looked wrong," he said, eventually, and hunched a bit, because it sounded kinda foolish.

"That's impressive," said Neal, and he genuinely seemed to mean it, and he had a big smile that was sorta reassuring, and Toby hoped he hadn't made a total fool of himself. "Look, you want to get coffee? Or soda, I guess, if you're not used to Parisian coffee?"

"I like the coffee here!" Toby said, affronted. "We drink the good stuff at home."

"Come on." So they stood, and went out the door and out the museum. "Where is home? If you don't mind my asking."

Toby couldn't think of a reason to object, so he said, "New York City. Brooklyn."

"I hope you're enjoying Paris?"

"Yeah, yeah, it's amazing. I mean, I wish people didn't talk so fast, but it's beautiful here. It's like, it's exciting like New York is, but not the same way New York is. I saw the fire in Notre Dame Cathedral on the TV back before the pandemic, and even after that it's still standing, mostly. Sometimes I go around the corner and there's something just so, so old—and they have those ridiculous little cars and I think the drivers here may all actually be certifiable, plus when I cross the street I keep wishing a little old lady would help me over so's I don't die, but it seems to work."

Neal laughed aloud. "That is true. Here, this is a good place." It seemed like all the other cafés in Paris to Toby, but he saw no reason not to go in and sit down. "How do you take your coffee?" He summoned a waiter with a twitch of an eyebrow, and Toby soon found himself with a large cup of coffee and the most beautiful jewel-like pastry topped with raspberries and something shimmering that he didn't dare refer to as jello, even in his mind. Mom would know the right name.

He decided to take a mouthful first, before asking the obvious question, but then he had to take another mouthful and holy shit, that was good. Eventually, he looked back up into Neal's amused blue eyes. "So, why am I here? Why are you buying me coffee?"

"Actually," Neal said with another grin, "I'd like to offer you a job."


"You said I looked like I was plotting to rob the museum. That's exactly what I was doing. I spend quite a lot of my time trying to figure out how to rob the Louvre." He paused, apparently expecting something.

"So... you know what the bad guys might try to do?"

Neal nodded, and that sure looked like approval in his eyes. "If I can work out how to do it, I can work out how to prevent it. And that's my job. Part of my job. I also look for other people who might be planning how to rob the museum. And I have staff. Part of what we do is look online for suspicious activity, and we check out technology that could be used against the security precautions, but we also do what you did. Mostly from the camera footage. You'd be surprised how unusual behavior pings when you fast forward through everything. But sometimes, I like to send my people in to see if they can spot weird patterns in person. It keeps them sharp. And they enjoy it."

"And you're offering me a job?"

"You'd need training, of course, but you have great instincts."

"You don't really know anything about me."

"Hence, we're here." Neal waved a lazy hand. "You seem sharp. You spotted me—not that I was trying to hide, but still, most people wouldn't. I like what I've seen so far. I'll have to get a bit of background, but—"

"I won't pass a background check!" Toby blurted.

"You won't? Really?"

Toby shook his head. He found that he wanted Neal to like him, to approve of him, not to think of him as a thief and a liar, and though he couldn't actually accept a job right now, the idea that someone would offer him one just like that made him feel really good. And disappointed that he couldn't.... "I did some stuff. When I was younger. I guess it might not even be on my record anymore but you work for a security company. You can't use me."

"Don't be so sure."

"I can't do it, anyway. I have another year of school to get through, and my parents would be really upset if I didn't get my degree. And anyway, I kinda want to, so."

"Ah. You're a little younger than I thought," Neal said.

"I'm twenty-one. Almost. Ten more days."

"They probably tore up your record, then. How old were you when you got in trouble?"

"I was fourteen. I was stupid. I got lucky, 'cause the guy who caught me didn't want me to get in any deeper and he took me into his home and he and his wife applied to be my foster parents."

"Is it that easy to foster someone you find on the street?"

"Yeah, well, I compressed that a bit. It's not a very interesting story, it's just bureaucracy. And like I said, they did end up being my foster parents. I don't know why, because I was a shit and I didn't deserve a second chance and I really gave them a hard time for a while there."

"But you took that second chance eventually, didn't you? If you're in school now, sounds like you turned things around."

"I guess I woke up. I guess... they showed me I didn't have to be that way. And I don't want to let them down, not ever. That's why I tried to report you, because my dad works for—in law enforcement, and he'd be disappointed if I didn't do the right thing."

Neal gave a short laugh. "Sounds like you and I have a lot in common, kid. What's your name, anyway?"

"Toby. Jackson."

"Well, Toby, I got a second chance, too. Actually a whole bunch of second chances which I really didn't deserve, but I guess I wised up eventually."

Toby looked at him skeptically.

"No, it's true. I think I let my—my mentor down so many times, some of them he never even knew about, and at the time I just, every time there was a problem I would solve it the same way, by doing something I knew he'd think was wrong. Truth is, it's kind of a kick, being smarter than everyone else, being able to get around the rules." He shrugged. "In the end, I couldn't make it work. But, here I am in Paris, and I get to plan museum heists every week, and I'm not sure there's a better job in the world."

"I don't think my dad would agree," Toby said.

"Probably not. Law enforcement types don't, usually. Not the good ones. The bad ones, well."

"I'm sorry I can't take the job," Toby said.

"You could work with me just for the summer. When do you go back to school? September? You'd make better money working security than fast food."

Toby grinned. "It sounds like it would be cool. But I'm only in Paris another two weeks, then I'm moving on. I have more than two months vacation to go and I have a train pass and I'm going to Italy and Germany and Copenhagen and Amsterdam and Spain. At least I might be able to speak the language in Spain, although my mom told me they say things different there and I'm gonna struggle with the accent."

"Fair enough. And I don't blame you. But you know what? Keep that card. I'll still want people with your instincts a couple years from now. If you're interested when you graduate, call me. Even if you want to follow your dad's lead eventually, you could pick up some useful experience. And improve your French!"

"I will do that. I mean, probably. Does it pay well?"

Neal smiled. "It does. So you hang on to that card."

Toby tucked it into his inside pocket, next to his phone, zipped it and folded down the flap.

"It looks like your dad taught you how not to get your wallet stolen." Neal went on to give some good advice on how to stay safe and not lose his stuff—not that it was necessary, since what Toby didn't already know, Dad had told him. He wasn't going to be caught leaving his phone in his back pocket or falling for a con man with the three cup trick, but the information about the TukTuk taxis was new, and about the free water fountains where he could refill his own bottle. Neal also had a few suggestions about restaurants and cafés and things he should try. Toby wrote some of them down. Mom and Dad would be impressed if he could take them somewhere really nice, when they got here for his birthday.

"Do you know any Caribbean restaurants?"

"I do, let me check." Neal scrolled through his own phone, and showed Toby the details. "New Soul Food, Caribbean and African. It's very good. Not cheap."

"Thanks." For his birthday dinner, it could be expensive. Dad wouldn't mind.

"Incidentally, if you have any problems while you're in France, you can call me. Not saying you will, but if you need any help, I'm on the spot and I know how things work here."

"That's great. Thanks. I don't plan on getting into any trouble, but, thanks." They shook hands, and that was that.

Weird morning, Toby thought. But he had a ticket to visit the Catacombs today, so he should make tracks.


Peter caught El's eye as they sat listening to their foster son's enthusiastic account of his time in Paris so far. He was really making the most of this trip. And he was making smart choices, knowing that they were bringing small Neal out to celebrate Toby's birthday together—Neal wouldn't have wanted to visit the catacombs, but going up the Eiffel Tower should work for everybody, and the Cité de Science ought to be fun, and yesterday's boat trip had been a great way to start, since they didn't have to get up too early for it.

"Are you sure you don't want to come to Disneyland Paris with us?" he asked.

"I'm sure. I think I'm more a Universal kind of guy," Toby said. "It should be perfect for Neal, though."

"I've never been to either of the Disney places in the States," El said. "I'm looking forward to it!"

Peter was privately rather less keen, but he could fake it for his wife and kid. Neal didn't speak up, but his eyes were so bright, it was clear that the parks would be the highlight of his trip. He was a bit young for the kind of sights Paris had to offer, but they had worked out a plan that would give him something fun every day and still allow the grownups to visit some of the museums.

This morning they were heading for the Rodin Museum, then the Eiffel Tower mid-afternoon. "Everybody done with breakfast?"

"Just let me finish my coffee," El said. "Toby, did you visit the Louvre yet?"

"I did, last week. I thought if you wanted, I can take Neal somewhere while you two go there. We can go see the Statue of Liberty, or the parakeets. Or even both."

"That's great, sweetie!"

"But the Statue of Liberty's in New York!" Neal said, indignantly. "How can it be here?"

"They have another one here. We'll go see it. I think this one might be smaller."

"Are you sure?" Peter said. "There's a lot to see at the Louvre—did you see the Mona Lisa?"

"I actually did. It's pretty small. I know there's, like, a year's worth of stuff there that I didn't see, the place is enormous, but I'm good. I'll take Neal for the day. Maybe we can get lunch at the cat café, would you like that?"

Toby and Neal discussed the possibilities offered by a cat café as they got their things together and strolled to the Metro. Peter and El sat side by side opposite the boys, and held hands.

"Are you thinking of asking about Neal, when we're there?" El murmured.

"I... don't know. Don't know that I should, don't know if I want to." As things stood he could believe Neal had turned honest, was working in security and as an artist in his own right. If he saw Neal, would there be a reason for the doubts to creep back in? He'd known Neal Caffrey so well, known that he always, always managed to find the con man's way of doing things. Even dying. It might be better to leave things as they stood. "We don't even know if he'd be there at the museum." Neal was alive, safe, apparently honest: that was enough. Really, it was. And if they met, now, after all these years, what would they say to one another?

El nodded understandingly.

It was a beautiful June morning, so they went into the museum's garden first. Neal had permission to run around a bit, since he was a good kid and would not be obnoxious, but Peter kept an eye open to make sure his son didn't irritate the other patrons. Most of the early visitors had gone into the building first, so the garden was not crowded. Actually, Neal seemed quite awed by the statues, and was mostly running from one to the next and staring at each one. El took a few surreptitious photos.

"It's nice to see him enjoying the art," she said.

Peter thought privately that their kid was going to be more baseball than art, but if he could appreciate the statues, so could his son.

Toby, who in his capacity as big brother had been keeping an eye on Neal, came over to them with a gleeful expression on his face. "There's a guy sitting on the bench over there. He's planning to steal something."

"What?" Peter was startled.

"You should go tell him you noticed."

"What makes you think he's planning to steal something?"

Toby still looked gleeful, but wouldn't say more. There was something behind Toby's smile, and Peter would get an explanation out of him, but for the moment, he'd play along. He glanced to his left, where a man in a jaunty hat was surveying the park and thought, Ah. He's probably not wrong. "All right, I will," he said, and moved unobtrusively towards that bench.

He leant over the guy's shoulder and said, "If you're planning on stealing that, I will catch you."

Neal Caffrey turned in astonishment to see Peter grinning at him, and leapt to his feet. "Peter! Oh, my God! Where did you spring from?"

They looked at one another for a brief moment, then Peter moved around the bench and the two of them hugged.

"You haven't changed a bit!" Neal said.

"Eh, little bit grayer, here and there. Kids." Neal didn't seem to have aged at all.

"Oh, man. It's so good to see you. I can't believe this! What brings you to Paris?"

"My foster son's birthday. El's here too, and—and our son." Peter waved towards El, who was frozen in open-mouthed astonishment.

"I must be getting old," Neal said. "That's the second time this month I've—wait, did you say foster son?"

Peter looked at him in surprise. Neal was already looking around, and plainly spotted Toby standing a few yards from El.

"Seriously! I should have guessed," Neal said, as the two of them walked across to the others. "Hello, Elizabeth," he said, kissing her on both cheeks, French style. "It's wonderful to see you. And Toby. Hello again." Neal was infinitely more poised than Peter's astonished foster son.

"I am going to want the whole story," Peter said, sternly. "Probably over dinner, because we have tickets for the Eiffel Tower this afternoon so I think lunch is out."

"Absolutely over dinner," Neal said. "I will make a reservation. Where are you staying?"

El gave him the hotel's address, and then said, "Thank you for the portrait. I think Peter looks at it more often than he looks at me," she added, mischievously.

Peter shook his head. "Not even close. But it is beautiful. And it looks great next to Italian Roast."

Neal took a moment to process that, and to Peter's astonishment and delight, he blushed. "Er. How—when—where did you see the other painting?"

"Paintings, plural," Peter said, greatly enjoying Neal's confusion. "We visited Diana in Washington and she took us to the gallery."

"Ah." Neal's ears were still pink. Peter didn't think he'd ever in his life seen Neal Caffrey blush. Neal had not expected them to know about his new, chosen name. There hadn't been a card of any kind attached to Elle, and they'd not bothered to look at the certificate of authenticity that had come with it, just filed it carefully away, still in its heavy white envelope. Perhaps Neal had counted on that.

"And we loved it," Elizabeth added. "Particularly the portrait of Mozzie. Do you keep in touch? Is he well?"

Neal sighed. "It's a little difficult," he said, "because Mozzie can't quite believe I'm working for The Man now. He shows up every couple of years or so and drinks my wine and tells me I'm wasting my talents. But he likes my paintings." He shrugged.

"Next time he turns up, tell him I miss him," El said.

"You can tell him I don't!" Peter said at once.

Neal laughed. "Have you been into the house yet? The work here really is glorious. Rodin was absolutely a genius."

"I'll go fetch Neal," said Toby, and bounded towards the far end of the garden, where seven-year-old Neal was gazing at The Thinker with his chin on his fist.

"You—you named your son Neal."

Peter had never heard Neal Caffrey speak in quite that voice before. And he knew exactly how Neal was feeling right now, so he let him feel it for a few seconds, then said breezily, "Well, you know, we thought you were dead, so...." and put his hand on Neal's shoulder.

A second later Neal was holding him tightly. Peter hugged back, and patted him reassuringly.

"I'm sorry, Peter. I'm so sorry."

"Hey. We're good. We're good."

Neal shuffled and blinked—definite tears, there—and blew his nose on an elegant polka-dotted handkerchief. "It's really good to see you, Peter."

Peter nodded. "You, too."


Neal was full of questions about the hat-man who had the same name as him. Toby kept quiet and watched with amusement. Between them, the parents told Neal that Dad had worked with hat-Neal for several years, before Neal was born, and they had called their new baby Neal after him to honor him. Just like his middle name was Peter to honor Dad and Grandpa. The parents had a policy of never lying to their kids—which was why Neal never got paid when his teeth fell out, and was strictly forbidden to talk to his middle-school friends about Santa—nonetheless, Toby was absolutely certain there was some economy with the truth going on here, and when Neal's questions moved on to why he never saw hat-man before, it was even more obvious.

Luckily for Mom and Dad, going up the Tower gave Neal something else to ask about, and all three of them were kept busy trying to identify the things the kid pointed out when they were at the top. Unfortunately for Mom, she made the mistake of reminding Neal on the way down that they had to go back to their hotel and get ready for dinner with hat-Neal, and that started the questions again.

It gave Toby the chance he'd been waiting for. "Dad, would you describe yourself as hat-Neal's mentor?"

"What? Uh. I... guess? Officially, I was his handler."

"But you're the one who gave him his second chance, right?"

"Yes." Dad looked at him suspiciously. "Don't imagine I don't know there's a story here. You met Neal before the Rodin Museum, didn't you? How? What happened?"

"If I tell you, you'll tell me why he's a Burke, deal?"


So Toby explained about spotting the guy he'd thought was planning to rob the place, and how he turned out to be the security guy. It was kind of embarrassing, but he could see that Dad was amused and also, it looked like he was pleased.

"And he offered you a job? That's amazing, Toby. Good for you."

"It does sound like it could be fun," Toby said, cautiously. "Do you think?"

Dad was silent for a moment. "It was always interesting working with Neal," he said carefully. "A bit like owning a Border Collie that you didn't train from a puppy, because he's too smart for his own good, a real challenge to keep up with, and will get into mischief at the drop of a hat." He huffed, and smiled ruefully. "I don't know what he'd be like as a boss. He'd definitely be full of surprises, which might not always be things you'd want to be surprised by, and I guess he'd be—no, I know he'd be fun to work with. And he'd have high standards."

"He said he had his staff spend time in the museum looking at the visitors, to keep them sharp and because they enjoy it. I think he'd be a good boss. I'm guessing he learnt that from you."

Dad looked away for a minute, then laid his arm over Toby's shoulders. "You know, son, if there's anything you particularly want, now would be a really good time to ask."

Toby grinned. "You prob'ly can't make me six inches taller, and I know we got my birthday presents sorted already, so how about you tell me how come he has your last name?"

"You are just fine as you are. As for Neal, okay. He's had a lot of names."

"Really? Why?"

"He was a con man, and an art thief."

"No way!" It did kinda make sense, that must be why he knew how thieves think. Wow.

"A very good one. He had aliases, but I think they were always personas that he'd put on for the con—for the occasion. We always knew him by his mother's last name, because his father was not a good man, and he dropped his father's name when he found out. Anyway, that version of Neal got entangled with some powerful people, which is one of my biggest regrets because I encouraged him. I helped, and he ended up dead."

"What?" Dead? What?

"It was necessary, though at the time it was, um, difficult... anyway. He ended up reborn in Paris, and he needed, I guess he needed to make a new identity for himself, and rather than pick something at random, or name himself after an artist—which I thought for a while he might have done—he chose the names of people he, uh, respected. Ellen Parker was like a second mother to him, I think."

Toby considered. "So you were more like his dad than his mentor?"

"No, no, no! No! Although I did once—never mind. It looks like he eventually understood what I'd been trying to teach him. You were a lot quicker to catch on, by the way."

"I was?"

"Yeah. I'm very proud of you." His arm tightened around Toby's shoulders, and Toby enjoyed that for a moment before shrugging free. "So, if you want to work for Neal some day, I'd say go for it. After you finish college, mind."

"Of course!"

Dad grinned. "I'll be very interested to know how it goes."


Neal, in a different suit and shirt but possibly the same hat, turned up at their hotel and led them through a convoluted series of streets in the pleasant cool of the Parisian evening. He lured El aside for a discreet conversation, and Peter overheard her assuring Neal that their son would eat anything. Possibly even escargots, if Toby would eat them too. It was just as well their boys were having their own separate conversation at this point, Peter thought.

"He's been eating his meals with us since he was very small," he heard El say. "I'm way too lazy to prepare two separate dinners."

"I think you mean, you won't have chicken nuggets in the house," Neal said, smiling. He wasn't wrong, of course.

"Anyway, he's quite sophisticated about food. Toby balked a lot harder at meals, when he first came to us, but he'd lived on junk for years and it took him a while to get used to proper food. It helped that he was a teenager. Always hungry. I had no idea how much teenage boys can eat. And I'll be doing that all over again soon." She sighed. She loved it, of course. She'd been so happy to see Toby eating more and more of her cooking, and then learning to cook alongside her.

Once in the restaurant and comfortably seated, the food was the main thing on everybody's mind.

"What are es-car-gots?" nine-year-old Neal asked. He was boggled by the answer, and deeply suspicious that the grown-ups were putting him on, but Neal assured him that while escargots were a real thing and yes, people ate them, they weren't really worth it. "The best thing is the garlic butter, and you can get that on food that actually tastes good, like shrimp."

"Why don't we all order different hors d'oeuvres, and share? That way we all get to try everything," Peter suggested. "Does anybody want to eat snails today?" Nobody wanted to eat snails.

It was a merry meal. The boys were both extremely curious about their father's sometime partner, and quite a few stories came out from way back when they worked together. El's eyebrows kept going up in surprise, and Peter realized somewhat guiltily that he'd kept quiet about more than he'd meant to. But she got her revenge when she brought up that base-jumping thing Neal had told him once, when he didn't want to let on how he'd switched that painting... except.... Neal explained to the boys exactly how he'd pulled that particular con, to their rapt fascination and Peter's increasing horror.

"You're not serious!" he said. "You actually jumped off the building?"

"I told you, I never lied to you, Peter."

"Hah." Within the strict definition, maybe not. Peter eyed him narrowly. "Boys, this man is a Bad Example! Do not do that, not ever!"

Neal laughed. "Okay, enough about me. How are you guys planning to spend the rest of your time in Paris?"

"Montmartre tomorrow and Beaubourg if there's time, Louvre the day after, but the boys are skipping out on that one," El said.

"Cool! Er. Do you want a guide for the Louvre? I don't actually get to appreciate the art as often as I'd like."

"That would be wonderful," El said at once.

"So what will you two be doing instead of visiting the best art collection in the world?"

Son and foster son began to explain their plans.

El leaned towards him. "Nice to see the boys getting on so well." She winked. Peter was probably failing to hide how happy he was. "You really didn't know about the base jumping, did you?"

"I honestly thought he made that up to hide what he really did. If it happened now, there'd be video all over social media within seconds, but back then I guess he got away with it." Peter shrugged. "Not much I can do about it now. Can't spank him, can't send him to his room."

"Hat Man says there's an adventure playground," their son announced. At the sight of Neal's startled face and El's suddenly delighted one, Peter cracked up.

"Hat Man?" El managed, giggling.

"We can't both be called Neal," their son insisted, with dignity.

"Does it come with superpowers?" Peter said. "It sounds like it should come with superpowers." Hat-Neal gave him a look that threatened vengeance, and Peter laughed outright.

"Hat Man's superpower is knowing all the best places to eat," Toby said, calmly. "I mean, this is delicious. Uh. We're gonna have dinner at one of the places you recommended, for my birthday on Friday. New Soul Food. Will you join us?"

Neal—Peter was going to call him Hat Man from now on—looked amazed, then delighted, then reluctant.

"If your girlfriend doesn't mind," said Peter, offering him an out.

"My girlfriend is in Brussels this week. But it's a family celebration, I don't want to intrude."

"Seriously?" said Toby. "Looks to me like you're as much a member of this family as I am. You should come." Peter felt his heart melt. He would have added his invitation to Toby's, but wasn't entirely sure he could speak, and it looked very much as though his wife was in the same state.

"Come! I wanna know more about the submarine," said small Neal.

Peter put his head in his hands.

"In that case, I would love to join you," said Neal Parker Burke.


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