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White Collar Fic - Third Time's a Charm (or, "Two Times Mozzie Was Right, and One Time He Wasn't")
Neal & Sara 2
doctor_fangeek
Title: Third Time's a Charm (or, "Two Times Mozzie Was Right, and One Time He Wasn't")
Rating: PG-13
Characters/Pairing: Neal & Mozzie, Neal/Sara, brief appearances by/mention of Peter & Elizabeth
Length: 6070
Spoilers: Contains minor references to characters/events from a couple of Season 3 eps and the Season 4 finale.
Warnings: None
Summary: Maybe Neal should listen to Mozzie (and his quotes) more often.  Then again, maybe not. Starts out pre-series, ends as future fic.  ETA: This fic also makes reference to a couple of events in my pre-series fic, "Five Times Peter Burke Didn't Arrest Neal Caffrey," but you absolutely don't need to have read that story to read this one.

AN: This is my entry for Round 3 of wcpairings, the terrific exchange run by the terrific rabidchild67 and elrhiarhodan. Thanks to jrosemary for the excellent beta work and talking through a potential plot hole with me. Written for veleda_k. I managed to work in a couple of the requested pairings and at least one of the prompts and something from the "likes" list.  I hope you like it.  ETA: Belated but much due thanks to elrhiarhodan and jrosemary for their super helpful brainstorming on the whole Neal as dog walker plot. You guys are the best.


“Never work with children or animals.”

“Seriously, Moz?  Estelle?  And how about your rat?  What’s his name?  Pot and Kettle?  Any of this ringing a bell?”

“The existence of exceptions doesn’t invalidate the usefulness of the advice,” Moz retorted. “And who names their dog ‘Midnight,’ anyway?”

“He’s a black lab, Moz.”

“Exactly my point.”

“Is the dog’s name really relevant?” Neal asked.  Moz gave him a withering look.  Neal just shook his head.  There really wasn’t an appropriate response, as far as he could tell.

“Whatever,” he finally said.  “I think I can walk a dog without causing a disaster.”

“Famous last words,” Neal found himself thinking several weeks later as he was forced to call for reinforcements – in the form of Mozzie – to aid in his search for the now missing Midnight.

It had been a good plan, despite Moz’s initial reluctance to use the Peterson’s dog as their “inside man,” so to speak.  It really had.

The initial mark was one of the many well-heeled families on the Upper East Side.  The Peterson’s, of 1185 Park Avenue, had a daughter Clara who attended the swanky Dalton School, a sweet-tempered black Labrador retriever named Midnight (named by Clara when she was six, Neal discovered), a small but rather impressive collection of Renaissance and modern art (mainly chosen by Mrs. Peterson), and an even more impressive collection of classic Roman coins (Mr. Peterson was a collector).

Neal and Moz could have just engineered a simple break-in, but Neal’s plan had the advantage of setting them up for a whole series of fairly low-risk jobs.  Neal was good with people, and his (admittedly forged) references were impeccable, not to mention well-supported by Neal’s former employers (or rather, Moz in the guise of Neal’s former employers, taken care of by a simple redirect of a few provided phone numbers to one of Moz’s phones).  Neal sold them on his cover story of being a grad student needing to supplement his income.  In fact, it was almost too easy to get the job replacing the Peterson’s dog walker (and the Petersons certainly didn’t need to know all of the details as to why their former employee had rather suddenly decided to take leave of his job for almost a month).

Neal spent the next few weeks becoming a regular fixture in the routine of the Peterson’s high-end apartment building.  The doorman, security, and even a number of the neighbors all knew George Danforth.  It was crucial that no one would think twice if – okay, when – George showed up one day when no one was home claiming that Kathy Peterson had called and asked him to stop by to check on Midnight and take the dog out for some extra exercise.  Admittedly, this was a calculated risk.  If the doorman or security guard happened to mention his visit, Neal would have to fast talk his way out of trouble.  But given the potential payoff, he had decided it was a risk worth taking.

The time spent playing the part of the dutiful employee also gave Neal the time he needed to create the forgeries that would replace the Roman coins he and Moz were after.  He could take the originals and no one would be the wiser, at least not for some time.  And when he needed another job after the Peterson’s regular dog walker returned from his “travels,” Neal would have a real reference from the family to help him get a new position.  And so on….  He figured they could milk this scheme for at least another three or four “clients.”

And it would have worked.  It should have worked. It had been working.

The family adored him.  He would chat with Kathy Peterson about Kandinsky and with Tom Peterson about classical music and Impressionists (and only occasionally about coin collecting or Roman antiquities). He made friends with Clara Peterson, who was a bright little girl, and with Midnight, who was an easy-going and friendly dog.  He would bring the occasional coffee to Mike, the doorman, and skim vanilla caramel lattes for Kathy when he knew she was going to be heading off to work shortly after his arrival and could use a pick me up on her way out.  It was a bit of a challenge to get good photos of the coins while the whole family was home – he needed pictures of both sides, and they had to be good enough quality to allow him to create his forgeries – but it was nothing he couldn’t handle.

Neal had been working for the Peterson’s for just over three weeks, and everything was ready to go.  The forgeries were finished and the stage was well set for George’s unscheduled visit.  Neal arrived at the Peterson’s building just after noon.  Mike didn’t even give him a second glance.  Joe the morning security guard just gave him a knowing – and sympathetic – look when he explained that he’d gotten a call from Mrs. Peterson asking him to stop by and check on the dog, who she’d told Neal had been “a little off” that morning.  They shared a “That’s the way it goes” look as Joe let him into the apartment.

Midnight, for his part, seemed more than happy to have a midday visitor.  Neal took a moment to give him a good scratch behind the ears, then grabbed him a few treats from the stash in one of the kitchen cabinets before heading to the den where Tom displayed his coin collection.  Neal spared a brief, longing, glance at the pair of Picasso sketches on one wall, but kept to the plan.  The coins were more transportable and inconspicuous – easier to get out of the building unnoticed.  Besides, he hadn’t forged replacements for the Picassos.  Neal took out the bag holding his forgeries and set it down on the nearby desk.  He pulled on a pair of gloves and made quick work of the lock on the case holding the genuine articles.  It was an easy swap – he was in and out in less than fifteen minutes.

A soft whine got his attention.  He turned to see Midnight looking balefully at him from the doorway.  If he didn’t know better, Neal would have thought that the dog knew what he was up to.  Then again, that was pretty much the same look the dog gave him on the occasions when he had to cut their walk short for some reason, or when he spent too much time chatting with Clara before going to get Midnight’s leash.  Neal smiled to himself.  Who was he to disappoint his charge?

“You ready for a walk?” Neal asked brightly.  Midnight perked up immediately, as he did whenever the word “walk” was mentioned, and trotted off to stand impatiently by the front door, tail wagging in doggy excitement.

Neal double-checked everything in the den, making sure that nothing was out of place, slipped the bag now containing the genuine coins into his jacket pocket, and went to grab Midnight’s leash from where it hung by the door.  The dog was almost bouncing on his feet, more than ready to go.  Neal made a point to wave to Mike on his way out, just as he usually did during his normal routine, then set out toward the park and his meet up with Mozzie for the hand off.  So much for Moz’ initial concerns – everything had gone off without a hitch, no one was the wiser as to Neal’s real motive for his midday visit, and no one would be home at the Peterson’s for at least another hour and a half, by which time Midnight would be back home and Neal would be in February, drinking a nice Pinot Noir with Moz.

Pleased with his success, Neal strolled along, leash in hand, enjoying the beautiful early fall weather.  He stopped – for what he thought was probably the fifth or sixth time – so Midnight could sniff a particularly interesting shrub.  And that was when it all went terrifically pear-shaped.

The dog had been going through his usual routine, trotting along at an easy pace, enjoying the sights and smells of the park.  Despite his apparent need to stop at what seemed to Neal to be an inordinate number of trees, shrubs, and even signposts to sniff them, or mark them, or both, Midnight was a well-behaved and easy-going animal.  Neal sometimes had to rein in the dog’s desire to make friends with random passers-by – though he did make exceptions from time to time.  Okay, fairly often.  Neal, after all, was a social creature as well.  Today, however, he was trying to keep the distractions to a minimum.  The two of them were about half-way to Neal and Mozzie’s meeting spot when it happened.  Neal could almost swear that Midnight was just going through the motions of sniffing a row of bushes, and then, suddenly, he was on high alert.  There was some active nosing around, and more sniffing, and then Midnight raised his head and turned to look intently off to their left.  Neal thought he saw something moving off in the distance, maybe another dog?  Midnight snuffled around the nearest bush one more time and then out of nowhere the normally placid dog bolted off, pulling so hard that his collar and leash were separated.

For a moment Neal just stood there, staring after the dog in shock, before he gathered himself and dashed off in pursuit, heading in the general direction of the park’s Great Lawn.  He had been running a bit ahead of schedule, so if he could just catch up with his errant charge Neal figured that he would still be able to get to the designated meeting location with Moz none the wiser.

Twenty minutes later he’d given up on Plan B and moved on to Plan C which was, unfortunately, calling Mozzie to come and help him find Midnight.  He supposed that they could take the coins and go, but not only would that kill Neal’s opportunity to get an in with any of the Peterson’s equally wealthy friends, but it would also bring him unwanted attention when it came to light that he’d made an unscheduled and unrequested extra visit to their apartment and left without word, apparently taking the family dog with him.  The Peterson’s would surely be at a loss as to why “George” would have taken their dog, but perhaps more importantly they might well find themselves wondering why their new dog walker had left in such a hurry and whether there was more going on than an apparent dog-napping.  That was scrutiny Neal surely didn’t want.  And if his luck were particularly bad, there would be some occasion for the discovery of a problem with Tom Peterson’s coin collection. That was unlikely, but leaving too much to chance was bad practice regardless.  And really, the best solution was to just find the dog and return him before the family was the wiser.

It wasn’t very long after Neal ended the call that Moz appeared – seemingly out of nowhere – not too far in front of him on the path.  Neal strode ahead to meet him.

“You know,” Moz said without even a hint of preamble, “this is just the sort of thing I tried to warn you about.  Far be it from me to say, ‘I told you so,’ but….”

“Moz!” Neal interrupted sharply.

Moz shot him a dirty look, but did stop talking, at least for the moment.

“There will be plenty of time later for us to discuss the many ways in which you were right and I failed to appreciate your wisdom, but right now we need to find the dog.”

Moz nodded in acquiescence.  “So,” he said, “the prosaically-named Midnight decided to shake off the chains of his humdrum existence in the home of the business suits.  Normally I would applaud such a decision, but….”

“Moz!  Focus?”

“Fine.”

Moz shook his head again, this time clearly in annoyance, but his commentary on the state of the life of Midnight the dog stopped.  “How much time do we have?” he asked instead.

“A little over an hour.”

“And explain to me why we we’re not just cutting our losses and taking off with the coins now?”

“Loose ends?  Attention we don’t want?  Having to retire George Danforth before his time…at least for a while?  He’s a good alias.”  Neal paused, gauging Mozzie’s reaction.  He was at least not rejecting Neal’s argument out of hand.  “Besides,” Neal added, “it wouldn’t be fair to leave the Petersons totally in the dark and let them come home and find their dog missing.”

“You do know that you’re not really their dog walker, right?”

Neal just rolled his eyes at that.  “Let’s just see if we can find him before Mrs. Peterson gets back, and then we don’t have to worry about any of it.”

“Do you know how big Central Park is?”

“Then we should get started, shouldn’t we?”  Neal was not, in fact, unaware that there was a good chance that they were going to have to scrap their original plan, but he wasn’t ready to give up yet, either, and he was grateful when Moz, despite looking faintly exasperated, acquiesced.  The two of them quickly went over exactly what had happened, where Neal had seen the dog last and what – exactly – Midnight had been doing before he took off in hot pursuit of, well, whatever he’d been pursuing.  And then they were off, following some sort of triangulation scheme that Moz insisted was their best chance of catching the inconveniently liberated Midnight.

In the end it was a good news, bad news situation.  On the good news side, they actually got lucky and Neal caught up with Midnight somewhere around the Turtle Pond, where he had, apparently, caught up with the object of his pursuit.  Said object turned out to be a standard poodle who appeared to have similarly broken free of her owner.  It also appeared that she was in heat – and really, who didn’t get their pets fixed these days?  And, well, one thing led had apparently led to another, as far as Neal could see.  Neal called Moz to let him know where they were.

And that was when the first bad news hit, as Neal discovered that he’d had a couple of missed calls and two voicemail messages from Kathy Peterson, who it seemed had gotten home about half an hour early.  Neal cringed.  He had to make sure the Peterson’s got their dog back, and while he knew he could talk his way out of a breaking and entering charge, he also knew that his dog-walking career was finished, and before it had really had a chance to get started.  There would be no future references from the Petersons.  Neal sighed, waiting for Midnight and his lady friend to finish whatever was left of their courtship ritual.  Moz chose that moment to arrive, coming to a sudden stop next to Neal.

“Well now we know what had your erstwhile charge so worked up.” Moz said.  “That was…unexpected.”  Moz just stood there for a minute or two, transfixed, then almost visibly shook himself out of his reverie and looked at his watch.  “Alas, the course of true love never did run smooth.”

“I don’t know, Moz, it seems to be going pretty well for them.”

“Perhaps, but unfortunately we need to break up this little rendezvous if you’re going to get Romeo here back home before he’s missed.”

“You’re mixing your Shakespeare, Moz,” Neal said.  “And besides,” he continued reluctantly, “it’s too late.  Mrs. Peterson got home early.  I’ve already had two voicemails from her.”

Neal was expecting another lecture, but what he got was a surprisingly sympathetic look.

Before they got any further in the conversation, however, Midnight finished his business, as it were.  The two dogs separated, the poodle trotting off in the direction of the Great Lawn and Midnight flopping down on the grass, apparently sated.

“Midnight!” Neal called.  The lab looked up, and on seeing Neal got to his feet, tail wagging, and trotted over.

If only he’d caught up to the dog a little sooner, Neal thought.  And even as those words were going through his head, as if to add insult to injury, an officer of the Park Police arrived on the scene and “George Danforth” was fined $100 for violation of the city leash law.


“Never tickle a sleeping dragon.”

“Seriously, Moz?  Harry Potter?  And he’s an FBI agent, not a dragon.”

“Clearly, it’s a metaphor,” Moz replied, in that ‘I can’t believe I have to spell this out’ tone that Neal was all too familiar with even now that their partnership was an equal one.

“I think that’s a stretch, even for you, Moz.  Besides, what happened to ‘Know thine enemy’?”

“I said know your enemy, not send him flowers!”

“The flowers were for Elizabeth!”

“Right, and the fact that you think you’re on first name terms with your FBI stalker’s wife makes it better how?”

Neal sighed.  There was a part of him – a very small part – which recognized that Mozzie might be, well, not right, but perhaps not entirely wrong.  But Agent Peter Burke was a challenge, one that Neal just couldn’t turn away from.  He was smart, and he’d gotten oh so close to Neal, and matching wits with him was a rush all its own.  And besides, it had been Neal’s fault that Peter had missed his wedding anniversary, so he really had owed Elizabeth an apology.  But maybe he shouldn’t tell Moz that.  No, probably not.

A number of months later Neal had absolutely no intention of telling Moz about how he found himself calling an ambulance for an injured Peter Burke and then waiting with him until it arrived.  But Neal missed the initially planned after-job meet, and when he finally made it to July (their backup rendezvous point) Mozzie was like a dog worrying a proverbial bone.  Neal deflected, but Moz wouldn’t let it go, and eventually Neal snapped.

“Peter broke his ankle and cracked his head on the sidewalk!  I couldn’t just leave him lying there,” he said, a bit more sharply than he’d maybe intended.

“I knew it!” Moz snapped back, throwing up his hands in disgust before turning away and stalking across the room.

“You knew that Peter was concussed?”  Neal said, skepticism clear in his tone, though he knew that wasn’t really what Moz meant.

Apparently Moz knew that Neal knew, if the look on his face when he turned back around was anything to go by.

“You’re deflecting.”

“Moz…” Neal started to reply, but he wasn’t really sure what to say.  While he wouldn’t have felt comfortable just haring off and leaving Peter – and his probable head injury – completely to his own devices, he supposed he could see why Moz would question Neal’s waiting around with the FBI agent trying to put him in prison.

Moz shook his head.  “You’re playing a dangerous game, mon frère,” he said.

“He had a head injury.”

“Fine.  So call an ambulance.  Or tell someone at the front desk of the hotel.  Flag down a passer-by!  And you know what I mean…it’s not just this one thing.  I know you’re enjoying this little cat and mouse thing you have going on, but you know what they say.  It’s always fun until….”  Moz paused, as if to give Neal time to contemplate the inevitable conclusion.

“I don’t think anyone’s losing an eye here, Moz.” Neal said, starting to get frustrated with the conversation.

“I was going to say, ‘until someone is doing 5-10 in a federal prison.’”

“Okay…that’s not even a real quote.  Or saying.  Or whatever.”

“If you play with fire?” Moz suggested.

Neal sighed.  “How long are we going to have this conversation, Moz?  Until you run out of clichés?”

“I was thinking until it knocks some sense into that stubborn head of yours, but since that doesn’t seem likely any time soon….”

“I get it Moz, I do, but I’ll be fine.”

It was Moz’ turn to sigh.  “Fine.  Okay.  Just don’t expect me to be there to pick up the pieces when this little game of yours blows up in your face.”

In the end, Neal thought – and he’d certainly had some time to think lately – it was his love for Kate that had been his downfall, and not anything to do with his “unnatural interest,” as Mozzie had once put it, in the intrepid Special Agent Peter Burke.  Of course if he were honest with himself, and if he were going to be this was probably the time for it, seeing as he was about to be serving a four-year prison sentence, he supposed that some of his…interactions…with Peter hadn’t really helped his cause.  He’d gone past “know thine enemy” some time ago, and as much as he had learned about Agent Burke, the man had maybe learned a bit too much about Neal Caffrey.  Neal had meant what he said when he thanked Burke for helping him find Kate, and he’d walked knowingly into the trap, but quite possibly his shared past with the agent had helped the trap to be set.

So maybe Mozzie was right.  A little.  Speaking of whom, Neal had been unsurprised, if a little disappointed, when there had been no sign of Moz in the weeks after Neal was arrested.  He didn’t blame him.  The other man had warned Neal, after all, right up until he went off to that fateful meeting with Kate.  And Neal wouldn’t want his friend to get dragged down with him.

But it was still hard.  Neal thought he’d caught a glimpse of Moz the last day of the trial, in the back of the courtroom, a short bespectacled man in what looked like a better toupee than usual, but it had been almost a week since then, and this was probably Neal’s last day before the Marshals came to pick him up for transport.  His lawyer had already been by this morning to go over the details, as had, somewhat surprisingly, Agent Burke, who’d ostensibly come to encourage him to “keep his head down and his nose clean.”  Not that Neal didn’t think Peter absolutely meant all of that, but he’d also gotten the distinct impression that he was being checked up on in some way.  Which was, oddly, kind of nice.  If Neal thought about it.  Which he tried not to.

Whatever he might – or might not – have been thinking was interrupted by one of the guards stopping in front of his cell and announcing that his lawyer was there to see him.  Which was almost as surprising as Agent Burke’s earlier visit, given that he’d spoken to his lawyer all of three or four hours ago.  Neal got to his feet, waited for the required pat down, held out his hand for the cuffs, and followed the officer all on autopilot while his brain tried to process what another visit from his attorney might mean.  He was just able to school his features to hide his surprise when he was led into an interview room to find Mozzie sitting on one side of the table.

“Mr. Haversham,” Neal said once he’d taken his own seat.

Moz gave Neal a quick nod before ordering the guard out of the room so that he could speak to his client alone.

“Not that I’m not glad to see you, but what are you doing here?” Neal asked.  “Besides masquerading as part of my legal team, that is.”

Moz favored him with his, ‘You’re really asking me that?’ look, which Neal liked to think of as the partner to his ‘I can’t believe I have to spell this out’ voice.

In return, Neal just raised an eyebrow and waited him out.

“Like I wouldn’t come,” Moz finally said.

“It’s been months, Moz.  And you did warn me not to expect you to clean up my mess.”

“I’m not just going to leave you to the wolves.  Or the Federal Prison System, as it were,” Moz replied, and though the banter was familiar there was something in Mozzie’s tone that took Neal by surprise.  It wasn’t as if he hadn’t trusted Mozzie before.  But part of him had taken the other man at his word when he’d told Neal he was washing his hands of him, at least where any fallout from his continuing interactions with one Peter Burke were concerned.  And it wouldn’t have been the first time Neal had been let down by someone close to him.  But despite what he’d said, despite the warnings he’d given Neal, Mozzie was here, having voluntarily walked through the front doors of a federal holding facility.

“Thanks, Moz,” Neal said simply.  He was, uncharacteristically, at a loss for words.

“You’re welcome, mon frère,” Moz replied. “Now what are we going to do about this?” he continued, gesturing vaguely around the room.

“You’re here to break me out of prison?” Neal asked.  Perhaps he shouldn’t have been surprised, but he hadn’t expected to see Moz at all, let alone for him to show up in the guise of Neal’s attorney in order to plan some sort of escape.

“Not right now,” Moz said, sounding as if that were the most obvious thing in the world, “but they’ll be moving you soon.”

“Tomorrow, Moz.”

“Perhaps.”

Neal wondered just how they were supposed to put off the Marshals.  Then again, it didn’t really matter.

“No.”

“No, what?”

“No, you’re not getting my transfer date delayed so we can plan a jailbreak.  I appreciate the offer, Moz, I really do.  But I’m going to do the time.”

“Are you okay, Neal?” Moz said with a frown. “They’re drugging your food, aren’t they?”  He managed to keep his voice down, but the agitation was clear.

“They’re not drugging me, Moz. I swear.  Look…I talked to Kate.  She’s going to wait for me.  I can do this.”

“You’re sure?  You don’t need some time to think it over?”

“Seriously, Moz?” Neal said, shooting a look over his shoulder at the locked door, then holding up his cuffed hands.  “I’ve had a little time to think already.”

Moz actually looked a bit abashed at that, which was more than a little unusual.  “I suppose you have.  Though I’m not sure all that time hasn’t dulled your senses.”

“Moz, I’m serious.”

Mozzie sighed dramatically. “Okay.  I get it.”  Neal gave him a raised eyebrow.   “At least theoretically,” he continued.  “I don’t agree with it, but if that’s what you want.  But if you change your mind….”

“You’ll be the first to know, Moz.”

“You need anything?”

“I’ll let you know?”

Moz just nodded and pulled something that looked like a business card out of a pocket.  Neal had known Moz long enough to interpret the numbers, to know that he’d be able to contact a friend should the need arise.

“Thanks, Moz.”

Another nod.  “Just…watch yourself.”

Neal frowned and shook his head.  Did everyone think he was going to get himself killed?

“You know, keep your head down.  Attention isn’t always a good thing.”

Neal found himself torn between being frustrated by the apparent lack of confidence and being amused by the eerie similarity the conversation was starting to have with his earlier “talk” (read: lecture) with Agent Burke.

“You don’t want to know who you sound like right now.”  Amusement won.

At Mozzie’s perplexed look, Neal elaborated.  “I had another unexpected visitor this morning.  He hit the ‘keep your head down’ theme too, though with a side of ‘keep your nose clean’ added in for good measure.”

There was a brief pause during which Moz processed this information.  Then a scandalized expression appeared on his face, but he recovered quickly.

“Even a government drone can have the occasional moment of clarity,” he remarked.

Neal smiled, something he hadn’t been doing very much of lately.  “I’m sure he’d appreciate your endorsement, Moz.”

“Whatever,” Moz said, clearly dismissive, and then he waved the whole thing off – literally, with a wave of his hand.  He was done talking about Peter.

“I’m serious, you know,” he said, looking Neal in the eye.

“Yeah, I know.  I get it.  And I appreciate the concern, but I’m not totally incapable of taking care of myself, you know.”

“I do,” Moz reluctantly conceded the point.

“I’ll be okay, Moz.  And Moz?”

“Yeah?”

“Thanks for coming.”


“Happy endings aren’t for guys like us."

Neal heard the door open and looked up from where he was sautéing onions and peppers for the pasta sauce.  Peter and Satchmo had returned from their walk.  Peter unclipped Satch’s leash and hung it on the peg by the door.  Elizabeth was putting together the salad, and paused to greet her husband with a quick kiss.  Satchmo, meanwhile, trotted over to Neal who reached down to give him a scratch behind the ears.  Peter stopped to wash his hands, then joined Neal and Elizabeth in the kitchen, pulling out a loaf of bread, butter and fresh garlic.  Satch made a stop at his water bowl before curling up next to the kitchen island.

Neal, Peter and Elizabeth had been working in companionable silence for several minutes when the doorbell rang.

“I’ve got it,” Neal said, sliding the peppers and onions into the sauce pot before wiping his hands off on towel and heading over to open the front door.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” Sara said, leaning in to kiss him.

“No problem,” Neal replied, sliding his hands around her waist and pulling her to him.  He deepened the kiss, walking them backward into the house and pushing the door shut behind him.  They broke apart a long moment later, and Neal knew he was grinning stupidly, but couldn’t bring himself to care.  He was happy.

“How was work?” Neal asked.

“That’s a surprisingly ‘normal’ conversation starter,” Sara said with a smile.  “Are we becoming conventional now?

“Never,” Neal said, grinning back at her.  “But I do want to know.  You were following up on some leads on that Regency furniture, right?”

“I was.  And, well, my day was pretty conventional.  Nothing exciting to report.  I’d ask you the same, but I doubt you want to talk about mortgage fraud.”

“Please, no.  Things have been so slow lately, I’ve been tempted to steal something, just to spice things up.”

“You’re a bad man, Neal Caffrey,” Sara replied, sliding closer, her voice going just that little bit husky, and Neal could feel the heat starting to build in his groin.

“Is that Sara?” Peter’s voice came from the kitchen.  The two of them stepped apart, and Neal was gratified to see the blush on Sara’s face.

An instant later, though, she was eyeing him in a way that he could only call predatory.  “We’ll talk about your criminal behavior later,” she promised, giving him a light smack on the butt as she moved past him and out of the room.  He took a moment to collect himself, then followed her toward the kitchen.

“Peter, how are you?” Sara was saying as Neal came up behind her.

The small talk that followed could probably best be described as conventional, as well, but that was okay.  While Neal went back to finishing the sauce and Elizabeth made the salad dressing, Peter and Sara set the table.  With the pot of sauce simmering on the stovetop, Neal retrieved the bottle of Shiraz he’d brought and started pouring.   As he turned around, ready to take two glasses over to Peter and Sara, he found himself pausing and just taking in the scene in front of him.

He was suddenly struck by just how normal and, well, “right” it all seemed.  And then the memories came to him, unbidden, of other, earlier, times in this same house when he’d watched Peter and Elizabeth – usually just going about some mundane tasks like setting the table, making dinner, and feeding Satch – and had felt brief pangs of longing.  He’d appreciated the way that they had welcomed him in to their home, he’d felt comforted by their acceptance, but there was a part of him that had sometimes still felt apart, no matter how comfortable he was in the Burke’s home, a part of him that had wanted what they had, wanted it for his own, but feared he would never have it.  He hadn’t spoken of it, hiding his desire beneath a bright con man’s smile, but Peter, clever Peter who sometimes seemed to know Neal better than Neal knew himself, had eventually noticed that something was up.  And one night over a six-pack and a bottle of wine, Neal had let slip his fears.  Peter had tried to reassure Neal, both that he truly was part of their family, and that he could eventually find what he was looking for, but experience told Neal otherwise.  People leave.  Good things go bad.  Happy endings aren’t for guys like him.

And yet, here he was.  They’d managed to get through the mess with Senator Pratt and James Bennett (and Neal could only call him James, even in the privacy of his own head) with neither Peter nor Neal ending up in prison.  And then, about six months later, Sara had come back from London.  It had been a bit awkward at first.  After all, she’d left shortly after the whole scene of Neal’s all too real fake proposal.  But they’d slowly tested the waters, and had found that their previous “friends with benefits” arrangement was no longer right, or enough, for them.  Eventually Neal had realized that this was the life he wanted, for good.  Peter, thankfully, had only given him a modicum of grief about how the “suave, sophisticated Neal Caffrey was brought low by a case full of potential engagement rings.”  Mozzie – who was currently in an “on” stage of the “on again, off again” flirtation he’d started up with his hacker friend Sally, had grudgingly given his blessing to Neal’s relationship with Sara.   He’d grumbled, of course, and reminded Neal that she did wear a suit at least some of the time.  But Neal could hear, underneath the more or less token protests, the part of Moz that was happy for him.  The part that was waiting for Neal in his apartment the day Neal had planned to propose, with a bottle of wine (for drowning Neal’s sorrows if things didn’t go as expected) and a bottle of champagne, which, fortunately, they’d gotten to drink.  Moz hadn’t quite been able to promise that he wouldn’t bring any heists-in-planning to Neal, but he’d more or less stopped complaining about how Neal had finally succumbed to the Suits’ brainwashing, so Neal counted that as a win.  Elizabeth, once she found out about Neal’s plans, had actually sent her husband off on other errands and gone ring shopping with Neal.  And June, June just gave him a gentle, loving smile when he came to her with the news of his engagement.

And so here he was.  He watched as Sara laughed at something Peter said, and when she looked up and caught his eye, the smile that lit her face when their gazes met was nothing short of beautiful.  Neal made his way over to the table, handing Peter his glass and setting down the one he’d brought for Sara.  Peter gave him a knowing look and wandered back to the kitchen.  Neal heard him in the background, talking quietly to Elizabeth, but his focus was on the beautiful woman standing in front of him.

“Neal?” Sara said, sounding just a little uncertain, and Neal was pulled out of his reverie.  “What are you thinking about?”

“I’m thinking that I’m a very lucky guy,” he replied.  He knew he was smiling, probably in a completely undignified way, but he really didn’t care.  It was nothing but the truth.  What had Jones said to him that day, over drinks, that he had the dream life with a tracking anklet?  Yeah, Neal thought, that was about right (and even with that, the anklet wasn’t forever).  Maybe, Neal thought, a guy like him really could have a happy ending.  Perhaps if he just stopped the story in the right place…and maybe, just maybe, he’d figured out how to do that.

Awwww, this is wonderful \o/ I can never get enough of pre-series Neal and Moz moments... lol... the job with the dog was great :D I can almost see Neal charming the entire building of unsuspecting people :D Who could resist him? ♥

Also, I love it that Peter came to see Neal after the trial and told him to be careful. Awwww, they were so meant to be best friends, even though the road to their friendship was not an easy one \o/

And, of course, Neal having a future with Sara, being happy and having a family - this is something that I wish would happen in canon. He really does deserve happiness ♥

Really wonderful story :D *happy sigh*

THANK YOU :D

Thanks so much for the lovely feedback. I'm glad you enjoyed the story, and that you could picture Neal charming all the people in the apartment building - I can definitely see that, too. :-)

Thanks again for the feedback.

Aaaww, this was so sweet :) All that friendship and love and humor wrapped in this wonderful fic. I really like it.

Thank you! I'm glad all the different aspects (friendship, humor, love) worked.

That was really good!! Awesome job!

Awww. This is lovely. I got hijinks, Neal and Mozzie BFFs, Neal/Sara, and dinner at the Burke's.

I love the bit with the dog. That seems like exactly the kind of trouble Neal and Mozzie would gotten themselves into. And the end is so sweet, seeing Neal form his family.

Thank you so much!

I'm so glad you liked it! I don't generally write Neal & Sara (although I do like them together), so I was glad that I was able to incorporate that part of your request. And it's always great to hear when the person I wrote for enjoyed their story. Thanks so much for the comment.

Oh, I loved this! From the fun of seeing Neal and Mozzie pre-series, to the future where he's happy and has a family. Mozzie and his quotes, though, hehehehe! I really love Moz. And while it would horrify Moz to be wrong, Neal does deserve a happy ending. Love the way Neal watched Peter and El, realizing he wanted that - and went after it. True, Sara had to come back, but... details! (btw - might want to change spoiler warning)

I also have to point out that I cracked up at this line - SO Neal!

“Please, no. Things have been so slow lately, I’ve been tempted to steal something, just to spice things up.”

He would think that way. ;-)

Thank you so much for the really lovely comment! And I have changed the spoiler warning accordingly - good catch.

Awww, I loved these. It's so sweet that both Peter and Mozzie came to see him before he went to prison, and that they both gave him the same advice. And your voices are spot-on.

It was wonderful to read this delightful story.

"And your voices are spot-on." What a terrific comment to get. Thanks so much!

Glad you enjoyed the story.

This feels so canon in the way Neal thinks and interacts with Moz. Each installment is like reading a little bit of history. (And I swear there's a fic where Neal stays with Peter with his broken ankle, etc pre-canon). Thanks for writing this!!

"Feels so canon" is a comment I always love getting. Thanks@

And the fic you swear exists? I wrote it. :-) I actually reference a couple of events in that fic in this latest story (though you don't need to know that one to read this one). I was going to mention it in the author's note, but forgot. Thanks for reminding me - I added it in.

Glad you liked the story.

These moments with Mozzie are really great, and I love the promise of the ending.

Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed it.

Marvelous! Shenanigans and bromance and a touch of true love at the end! <3

I love that Moz is right on the money twice--and completely wrong the third time. Peter turned out to be right, and Neal is the luckiest guy.

I love how the strength of Neal and Mozzie's friendship shines through this entire piece . . . along with hints, in the second part, about how strong Neal's friendship with Peter will be. (And then, of course, we have the proof in part three.) I love Neal/Sarah, so I am ridiculously pleased with the third part. :D

Great job!

Awww. I love this comment! Thanks so much! Shenanigans are always fun (though sometimes hard to keep organized and w/out plot holes). I really wanted to have that friendship element be very strong, and I'm glad that worked. As I said to veleda, I don't really write Neal/Sara, or at least I hadn't, but I kind of enjoyed doing it here. So glad you liked it.

Alas, I don't seem to have either a Neal&Moz or a Neal/Sara icon. I may have to correct that. :-)

This is splendid, the interaction between Neal and Moz is perfect. Getting to see a little into how the friendship between Neal and Peter started to where it ends up, and finally a positive future for Neal with Sara. Great story.

Thanks so much. I'm glad the Neal & Moz interactions really worked - it was fun writing them. And it's nice to think of a positive future for Neal.

Thanks for reading and commenting.

Awwwwwww this was so wonderful! I'm so glad I found time to read it. <3 <3

I'm glad you found the time to read and especially to comment. :-)

Thanks for the feedback. So glad you enjoyed the story.

Awww, I loved this! Moz and Neal's relationship was awesome, and I especially loved the plot with the dog. It's nice to see things get away from Neal for once (he's just so damn good at what he does). And of course I loved the bit with Sara at the end! Wonderful!

Thanks so much for the lovely feedback. I'm glad Moz & Neal worked and that you enjoyed the whole dog walking plot line. I've not really written Neal & Sara before, so I'm pleased you like that as well. Thanks for commenting.

Love me Neal and Mozzie :D
it was lovely :)

Love this - I was intrigued by your story idea when you framed it out to me, and the reality of it is so much richer. It's a fun tale, in part, a little sad, in part, and overall, it highlights the awesome friendship between Neal and Moz and what they's been through together, and just WHY their friendship is what it is.

And the end - Neal has learned just what Moz tried NOT to teach him...how appropriate

Thank you for writing and sharing and being part of the exchange.

Thanks so much for the lovely feedback! I wanted it to be fun, and to explore the Neal & Moz relationship, and I'm glad to hear that that all worked for you.

Thank *you* (and RC) for running the exchange - I've had a great time writing for all three rounds. Also, thanks again for the brainstorming when I was working on the dog walking plotline - it was super helpful.

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