A/N: This is my first White Collar fic, inspired by the wonderful relationship of Neal and Sara. I love the way they talk to each other, whether they're together or not and I was really interested by her demanding him to be honest with her in the last episode. So, this is an expansion on the scene from 3x15 where she visits him at the loft.
All characters belong to Jeff Eastin, I'm merely using them for entertainment purposes.
Sara breaths slowly in and out to calm herself as if she's about to walk into the lion's den. And, truth be told, she kind of is because getting close to Neal again is like playing with fire, the kind she wants to let consume her but has to resist.
Her knock is tentative and as she hears his voice calling her in, she can feel the excitement in her system and knows this is going to be interesting.
Neal's definitely surprised to see her and Sara knows Peter didn't mention this. He wonders whether this is official business – he has no reason to assume otherwise – and she has to go straight for what she came to say. Sara needs to understand why he didn't tell her about his commutation.
"I didn't want you to think it was because I needed you to say nice things about me." His tone is honest and straightforward and she feels surprised because she's not used to dealing with an honest Neal. And she sees an in.
"Alright. Tonight, you and I are going to talk. Not about your hearing but we are going to talk."
She sees his interest rising but his wariness is also there, as if he's expecting her to pull out her recorder and ask him about the Raphael.
"What do we talk about?"
Sara pulls the last shred of hesitation out of her voice and takes a leap. "Everything."
Of course, Neal is not one to let her take control of things and the quid pro quo is reasonable and expected, so she relents and promises there was only one fiancé and tries to ignore the joy in his eyes and not think about what it means.
"Is your name really Neal?"
He tries to deflect by saying it's a long story but she will have none of it. It feels like to know this one thing about him could somehow convince her he hasn't been conning her about everything.
"I like a long story and we have time."
He halts in his deflections and really looks at her, as if understanding what she's asking of him. I want to trust you.
"Alright. Yes and no. Neal Caffrey is the most real name I've ever had but if someone was to find my real birth certificate, it would have a different surname on it and Neal would be my middle name."
She recognizes this as the truth and sees the hesitation in him, realizing he has to learn to trust her as well and to give her his full name would be to reveal too much, too soon. So, she smiles and stays on course but doesn't push him too far. "Where did you get the name from, then?"
"It was my mother's maiden name, actually. I had it legally changed when I turned 18, after I found out my father had been a dirty cop, gunned down when I was two. This also accounts for why I don't like guns."
This is unexpectedly honest and Sara wants to offer him some kind of comfort for the flicker of pain she sees in his eyes. Her hand moves to his arm and rests there, accompanied by a small smile as his eyes take this development in, wondering.
"What about you? Are you really Sara Ellis?"
She chuckles, humored by his attempt to imply she has things to hide. Which she does, of course, and now she has to give some of them up. "Oh, I think you know more about me than I do about you. You know where I grew up, what my first car was, when's my birthday."
"Facts, not knowledge."
Now she's the one who has to relive a pain in the past and she decides to push through it because this is quid pro quo.
"You know I was thirteen when my sister ran away; she was seventeen. I always admired her for how beautiful she was, how she could light up the whole room just by smiling. She had everything going for her – a family, a boyfriend, a future planned as a French literature major when she would go to college. And then, one day, she simply wasn't there any more."
The pain squeezing at her heart is not new but the importance of what she's about to say, is, and the light caress on her hand guides her through this. "I was the one who found the note. And the funny thing is, the note was just two sentences, ten words. I'm sorry, I have to do this. Be brave, Sara. Nothing more."
"You never found anything about her?" His voice is softer now, and she idly wonders if this is the voice he used when manipulating people but casts the thought aside, willing herself to trust his honesty.
"She was a runaway kid from Sterling, Virginia and we had no idea where she could've gone. My parents searched for years but nothing was ever found, like she just vanished."
Neal is quiet now, not saying the things she's spent years thinking, the most painful of them Maybe she is dead. It's hard to acknowledge the possibility of that, so she entertains herself with the mystery instead, not actively looking for her but not accepting any reality as well. And now, she doesn't need him to say anything comforting but move on and he takes the hint.
"Sterling, Virginia and St. Louis, Missouri. We've both come a long way to New York, Sara Lilian Ellis."
Sara isn't sure whether she really should be surprised he knows her middle name but he has never before given any indication he does. "Really, my middle name? And you say you want to know more about me, Neal...Caffrey." She can't keep away the hurt from her voice even if she's not trying to accuse him of anything. This is progress, she has to keep reminding herself.
"My real birthday. Now we're even." The mirth finds its way back into the conversation and she definitely enjoys this piece of information about him.
"Valentine's Day? It's like you were born to be a con-man and a ladies' man." She jests and the slightly impatient expression on his face reveals to her just how many times people have joked about his birthday.
"Un vrai Casanova, ne c'est pas." His French is smooth but lingering with a hint of local dialect and she gives him an inquiring look.
"My mother was of Missouri French descent and my grandmother spoke it to me whenever I went to visit her."
"Ceart Casanova." She replies with a tidbit of her own and now he's really surprised, like he wasn't expecting that.
"Fifth generation Irish American. You couldn't tell by this?" Sara gestures to her fiery red hair and he shrugs, like he had never thought of that. "I don't really speak the language, just a few words and phrases I picked up as a child."
"But no accent."
"It's not like we wanted to stand out as the only Irish descent family in Sterling." She doesn't say why, doesn't talk about everything that made her father leave behind the other Ellises in Baltimore because those secrets are too dark to tangle Neal up in them. And he lets it go.
"Aren't you going to ask me about the Raphael I allegedly stole?" The ever-present thorn in their relationship, the Raphael. And she really would like to know but at the same time she knows that tonight, there will be no Raphael.
"No. I want to know about you, the Neal Caffrey from St. Louis who speaks Missouri French and who doesn't like guns because of his father. Not the con-man who allegedly stole a Raphael and whom I sent to prison because I want to let go of that."
Sara knows she's promising him a future and she's treading dangerous paths now. He is too stunned to hide the look on his face; the reverence, the joy, the lo-
Before she has time to acknowledge the emotion she thought would never be connected to her, he's kissing her.
She should pull away, not let him do this but she's always loved his kisses, the way his mouth glides effortlessly, smoothly. Even his kisses are the epitome of him; always elegant, respectful, debonair and she is unwilling to refuse them. And while it's always felt real, this time she feels honesty and something melts inside her and she somehow knows there is no play here, no con, no planned seduction. This is the Neal she wants to trust and god help her, she doesn't resist any of it.
He concludes the kiss with a slow, final glide of his mouth and breaks away. When she opens her eyes, his are right there in front of her and while there is passion that always burns between them – which even Bryan could see – there is a tenderness she has been craving for.
"What was that for?" Her voice is filled with wonder and he gives her a small smile, not the dazzling kind he uses for cons and she feels safe.
"That was a promise, Sara Ellis. I promise I will try my hardest to be the man you want me to be, the kind of man I thought I had lost the ability to be."
Those are the best kind of words she's ever heard from him. She remembers June's words about having to give Neal time and knows that he will not try to con her to the best of his intentions. And that is a beginning she can live with.
A/N: So, I naturally invented a lot of things for this fic because we don't know anything major about their relative pasts. Hilarie Burton is really from Sterling, Virginia, along with the little we want to believe about Neal's past in St. Louis and his family.
For the French, Neal says "A real Casanova, right?" to which Sara replies in Irish "A real Casanova." At least I hope she does because while I speak French, my Irish is limited to a dictionary.
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