Characters/Pairings: Neal and ensemble (inc. Ellen, Peter, Elizabeth, and Neal Burke, Mozzie, and Sara)
Summary: Three moments in Neal Caffrey's life, and the things he longs for (until he doesn't). Set pre- and post-series.
Authors Note: My runthecon Round Five contribution, for the prompt "did you see that?" from ashley5627. The comm is a flash writing challenge, where participants post their fic and tag the next person, who then has 24 hours from the time of the tagging to write and post their own story. The round five theme was "Sweet, innocent PG-13 gen fun." This was written entirely in the last 2 1/2 hours or so over chai and a blueberry scone (and then in my office at school after my laptop battery died). It's also more than a little angsty, but it's PG-13 and innocent, with some fun and a happy ending. Apologies for any errors or inconsistencies.
“Did you see me, Aunt Ellen? I won!” Neal Caffrey, age 10, shouted as he ran up, waving his first place ribbon in the air.
“I saw,” Ellen said, smiling down at him. “You were great!”
Ellen wasn’t really his aunt, just what his mom called “a friend of the family.” Neal knew Ellen had known his dad. But since Neal’s dad had passed away she’d helped his mom take care of him, which was good, since sometimes Neal’s mom was too tired to make dinner or to tuck Neal in at night (not that he needed tucking in anymore – he was ten, after all), or too busy to take Neal places, like that one time when Ellen had taken him to the dentist. Come to think of it, Neal would have been okay if no one had been able to take him there, but mostly Ellen took him good places. Like today, Ellen had promised to take Neal for ice cream after Field Day was finished and Neal had done all his races.
Later that afternoon, sitting at a table and eating his ice cream sundae, basking in the glory of his success (two first place finishes and one second place), Neal was happy that Aunt Ellen had been there to watch him, but part of him was sad that it hadn’t been his mom cheering him on.
“Did you see that, Uncle Neal?” Neal Burke, age 6, exclaimed as he ran over to his namesake from where Peter had been pushing him on the swings. “Did you see how high I went?”
“I saw, Tiger,” Neal Caffrey replied with a smile, tousling little Neal’s hair. “But maybe I should call you something else. I don’t think tigers can fly that high.” Little Neal frowned, his lower lip sticking out, as he appeared to give the suggestion serious thought.
“That’s okay, Uncle Neal,” he eventually said. “I like being a tiger.”
Neal knew he was probably had a goofy smile on his face, but he couldn’t help himself.
“Okay, you guys. Time to eat!” Elizabeth said from where she was setting out food on a nearby picnic table. Correction. From where she and Mozzie were setting out food.
“C’mon, Uncle Neal,” little Neal said, taking his ‘Uncle’ by the hand and giving a tug.
A few minutes later, sitting at a table with not just Peter and Elizabeth and their son, but Mozzie as well, eating Elizabeth Burke’s famous potato salad, Neal Caffrey found himself marveling at the fact that this was his life. It wasn’t all that long ago, in fact, that Neal had been living a completely different life. It had been a good life, and Paris was a wonderful city, but try as he might, Neal hadn’t been able to shake the feeling that something was missing. That it wasn’t really home. And as much as Neal Caffrey had always managed to do things that some might have deemed impossible, he had eventually come to the conclusion that there were some things that even he couldn’t do, and some things that he just wasn’t meant to have. But somehow, against all odds, he and his found family had found a way. And here he was. And he loved this life. He loved that his two best friends were somehow both still in it. He loved Peter and Elizabeth, and he would lay down his life for the little boy that shared his name. He was happy. And yet, there was a part of him that longed for a family of his own, a family that was really, truly his.
“Did you see that, Daddy?” Jack Ellis-Caffrey, age 5, said, breathing hard as he ran over to where is father was sitting in the bleachers. “I scored!”
“I saw it, buddy,” Neal replied. “Great job! But you should probably go back over to the team. It’s time to shake hands.”
“Oh. Right,” Jack said, hurrying off to join his teammates. Neal watched as his son, who had in fact scored the winning run, high fived his Tee Ball teammates again before lining up to shake hands with the other team.
About half an hour later, Neal is sitting at a table at their favorite local diner, watching his son – his son – wolf down a cheeseburger and fries and relive the day’s game with two of his buddies. They’re still in their uniforms, and they’re smiling and laughing.
And just when Neal thinks the moment can’t get any better, Jack looks up. “Mommy!” he shouts, still young enough to be excited to be out with both his friends and his parents.
Neal turns just as Sara arrives at their table, gets up to give his wife – his wife – a hug and a quick kiss. And a few minutes after that, he’s sitting at the table, with his wife and his son and his son’s friends. And thinking about just how lucky he is. When Neal had finally made it back to New York, back home, he’d counted himself lucky (far luckier than he’d expected, or than, frankly, he thought he deserved, to be). And then one day he got a phone call. Sara Ellis was back in the country, back in New York City. And slowly, tentatively at first, they’d started testing the waters, seeing if they were still friends, if they still wanted to be more than that. And now, now Neal is happy, and for once there’s no “but” after that, no part of him that is longing for something he still doesn’t have.