Last Chapter: Peter search Neal's apartment. Neal had brunch with Mozzie, and Alex joined in. She walks him home.


Neal sighed, turned to grab a wine glass from the rack, and heard a knock at the door. Had Alex forgotten to tell him something? He pushed open the door to be greeted, not by Alex, but by a red-head in a dark green blouse and black slacks. Sarah had come to claim that lunch date.

"Sarah! To what do I owe the honor," Neal exclaimed.

"Do I need an excuse to come over?" Sarah teased, and leaned in for a kiss

Neal could smell a hint of pomegranate as he leaned in, and then her lip was between his. He held her there hard for a second, and then slowly pulled back

Sarah pulled back and shook her head slightly. Wow, that man knew how to send a girl spinning. "Hmm, well I was thinking lunch, but that tasted pretty good too."

With one arm around her, Neal led her to the table, and Sarah took a seat. "Well, that could be arranged," he said with his characteristic smile, "But if you want something more substantial to eat, I have a refrigerator and cupboards full of food." He swept his arm to indicate the oak cupboards on the kitchen wall.

"Well, I don't know that I ever got that soup I've heard so much about," Sarah replied.

"Well then, Chef Neal is at your service." Neal proclaimed with a flourish of his hand and an exaggerated bow. He then turned around and started pulling spices from a near-by cupboard.

Sarah turned in her seat, rested her arm on the back of the chair, and asked with a raised eyebrow, "Was that Alex I saw I came up?"

"She was just checking in on how the case was going," Neal replied.

Sarah pursed her lips but didn't say anything. She couldn't expect Alex to disappear when the FBI was working on a case that involved her grandfather and a huge treasure. She was going to take Elizabeth's advice and trust Neal.

"So, how is the case going?" Sarah queried, "Did you find the warehouse yesterday? I haven't heard anything from you or Peter."

Neal hesitated for just a moment over the celery he was chopping. "It well…could have gone better."

"Could have gone better?" Sarah repeated. She was a woman who didn't just let things slide.

Neal described how they had gone out that morning and he had heard the clanging. He then explained his encounter with Adler, how the building had exploded, and how Peter had shot and killed Adler.

"Oh wow, how is Peter handling that? He always avoids shooting if he can," Sarah gulped. "And you're OK, right?" she said, looking him up and down.

"Yeah, nothing here, at least not physically," Neal responded.

"Well I guess that explains the 'it could have gone better.' And the treasure? Is it all gone?" Sarah pushed.

Neal hesitated. He could stop his story here. He didn't have to tell Sarah about the Chrysler painting did he? Would she believe him? She was already having a hard time accepting this relationship. The topic certainly didn't seem likely to help out. The soup pot started to boil over, and he jumped to pull of the lid.

But on the other hand, chances were she'd find out eventually. She probably take it a lot worse if she found out that he hadn't told her. This way he could at least spin it his way for damage control. "Spin it," apparently he was back to his old habits. He ladled up two bowls full.

Sarah could sense his hesitation. So what if they were kind of together. She was an investigator, and something was clearly awry.

"Neal," she pushed, her voice sharper than she meant. "What aren't you telling me?"

"Well," Neal said as nonchalantly as he could manage. "There is evidence that the treasure wasn't in the docking building."

Questions poured from Sarah's mouth, "Not in there? Do you guys think Adler moved it? Why would he threaten you then? Did forensics find something off in the remains?"

Neal ran his fingers through his hair. "There was something a little more off than that."

"Like?" Sarah pressed.

"You know that painting of the Chrysler Building I did?" Sarah gave a small nod, a guarded look in her eyes. "Well, it kind of showed up at the scene," Sarah's guarded look turned to one of suspicion (distrust) "or at least pieces of it did," Neal eyed Sarah warily, not sure how she'd react.

"Your painting was found in the wreckage of the explosion? And how exactly did that happen?" she probed, her voice strained.

"Sarah," he pleaded and reached for her hands. "I did not steal the treasure." He looked her straight in the eye and emphasized every word.

Sarah closed her eyes to block out his blue ones. She wanted to believe him. She did. But this was the man who had stolen the Rembrandt. And she knew that working for the FBI hadn't stopped him from lying. He had lied to her point blank about the stolen tape, even managed to fool her lie detector. Even his work for the FBI involved lies! She mentally skipped back to his story about being the son of the yacht club owner. Sure she had gone along with it, but the point was that she knew what a smooth liar he was. Shoot, he was probably even lying about why Alex had been here. She opened her eyes and looked at Neal. "I can't do this, Neal. I can't." Sarah pushed the chair out and stood up.

"Sarah, please, believe me." Neal entreated.

"I need time to think," she asserted with a shake of her head and walked out the door.

Neal leaned forward, his mouth twisted in misery. It was too late; she was gone.

He spent the rest of the afternoon listless, doing nothing but straightening up the odds and ends that were out of place after Peter's search. This treasure seemed to have placed a curse on his life.


Sunday Morning

It was about 11:00 am when Neal heard a soft knocking at his door. June, just back from church and gorgeous in a gray skirt and pink cardigan stepped in. "Neal, dear, it seems we are all alone this Sunday afternoon, and I was wondering whether you wouldn't like to join me for lunch," she said clasping her hands.

Neal put on a smile. "Why it would be my pleasure and honor to dine with such a lovely woman as yourself. May I assist with any of the preparations?"

"Oh no, no," she waved him off. "It's nothing difficult or fancy. Just come down in about 45 minutes."

Exactly 45 minutes later, Neal walked down the stairs, running his fingers along the banister. He found the table loaded with a dish of stuffed tomatoes, chicken breast with a caper cream sauce, and strawberry parfaits.

"June," Neal caught her hand and looked her in the eye. "You may be the most amazing woman I know."

"Well, you'd better not let all those other beautiful women hear you say that," she demurred as he pulled out her chair. "Speaking of which, I noticed both Alex and Sarah came by yesterday." She raised an eyebrow as she smoothed her napkin on her lap.

Neal ran his fingers through his hair, "Yes, yes. I…."

June held up her hand, "You don't have to explain anything to me you don't want to. They are both gorgeous, intelligent, and fiery women. They'd both challenge you and keep you on your toes."

Neal smiled and inwardly shook his head at the word challenge. Yes, he certainly was facing a challenge, but he responded to the question June had intended. "They would. I mean, Sarah is so amazing. She's like sunlight, always moving, full of life and passion. But Alex is like moonlight. Darker, but dominant among all the other lights in the night sky."

He paused for a moment, "But sunshine wants to reveal all, relentlessly uncover the dark corners in a person's life. Sarah knows who I am, but I'm not sure that she's up for seeing all of me. For all I know, she'd still turn me in for the Rembrandt. She doesn't see it the way you do." Neal said his eyes flicking to June's warm face.

"So you fear who you will be revealed in Sarah's sunlight, but what about the moon. How do you feel about the moon?" June wondered out loud.

"The moon is beautiful and open to the opportunities dark brings. But it is also less consistent. Its path is unstable, and it waxes and wanes. Alex would never want to settle down. Half the time I'm not even sure what country she is in. She doesn't give her heart away or even open up most of the time."

"Well, not everyone is ready to give themselves away," June replied,"Some people build walls of steel around their hearts so that even the best thief can't crack the safe."

Neal thought back to the way he had felt losing Kate and compared it to when Alex had left the first time. With Kate, he had felt agony for months. With Alex, they had had fun and then left. What was Mozzie's word? Convenient. They could pull a heist together, make-out wildly afterward, and then move on the next day to someone else. Perhaps in his line of work, it was safer that way.

"Did I ever tell you? The first night I spent with Alex, we made out passionately, and then that morning both she and the cash from my wallet were gone," Neal remembered with a short laugh.

"Oh, the crazy games we put ourselves through," June laughed. She took a look at Neal and placed her arm on his shoulder, "Dear, I think the question may not be about who these women are. Both of them full and established persons. The real question is, who do you want to become?"

The amazing thing was Neal knew that June would accept him no matter which decision he made.

"I don't want to be like Ford, choosing the heist over friends. But I don't know if I can handle the straight and narrow. Keller accused me of acting like a law man the other day. I hated it. I mean I respect Diana, Jones, and Peter, and someday I'd like a family, but I can never just be a 9-5 worker with a soccer wife. That would kill me," strained Neal shaking his head.

"You know I loved Byron, and the con, the heist, the thrill; that was all part of him. I don't think I would have loved him the same if none of that was in him," June counseled.

"But you two managed to get out, to live life." Neal's voice grew stronger.

"Yes, yes, we did. But Neal, it's not like we left it all behind. Trust me, we still had our share of thrills, and perhaps not all of them were entirely legal. Mmhh, for our 25th anniversary, he swiped the security card from a guard at the empire state building. That night we snuck in and had midnight champagne while sitting perched on top, the entire city spread beneath our feet."

Neal pictured a younger June sitting lady-like atop the concrete edging of the building and smiled.

"You know, it was a minister friend of ours that helped Byron when he got out on parole. He was always there for him, to talk, to be a loyal friend. He didn't condemn, just loved. He died 2 years ago, but I think I have a picture of him in the photo album." June pushed her chair back, set her napkin on the table, and walked over to the parlor table. She picked up the leather-bound book and flipped through the last few pages. These ones were had the muted look of an early color picture. "Here we go. Elazer was the biggest support during those rocky first few months."

Neal saw who he knew to be Byron, in his upper 40s, with his arm over a man with the biggest smile. Even in an unmoving picture, Neal figured it was one of the most genuine smiles he had ever seen, more genuine than a good many of his own.

"One thing he was always telling Byron, 'You can't serve two masters,'" June reminisced.

"You'll love one and hate the other," Neal completed.

"Well he was right. I don't mean you need to stop being who you are, but some day you'll have to make some choices about who you are. Who you want to be."

"But June, I can't choose between friends. I can't turn my back on Mozzie or Alex, but I don't want to hurt Sarah, and Peter, Jones, and Diana either," Neal agonized, twisting his napkin in his lap.

June held up a hand, "You misunderstand me. I don't think the choice is between one set of friends and another, and yes, I know they are all friends," June said with a knowing smile. "The choice is between which path you want to pursue. Mozzie and Alex are smart. They will understand if you want out. I mean look at me. Byron and I decided to go straight 15 years ago. I'm model citizen, a member of the Purple Hat Society, and a trustee on the Smiles for Children board. However, I'm pretty sure I could accused of having a soft spot for conmen." She winked at Neal.

"Hey, well I figure I've got about two years before I have to choose," he said rising to his feet.

"And its not a choice you have to make all at once. The best wines take years to mature; your experiences will shape whomever you become," June replied. "But whatever you choose, know that I believe in you."


Neal sat on his bed thinking. He did enjoy some of the cases he'd worked on. Sure mortgage fraud was dead boring, but conning had its own low spots. The stings allowed him to use his skills and his knowledge. He still got that old thrill of pulling off a job. And the present situation aside, he'd actually had less conflicts of interest than he'd expected. Sure he had went behind Peter's back to warn Alex against her silver heists, but he didn't feel like a turncoat for stopping a man from running an adoption scam, for protecting a man who had been framed for art theft, or for turning in violent men like Keller and Ganz. His mind spun back to the day when Ganz had stuck the gun in the drivers face and then held up a picture of his daughter to get the man to back down, all for money. People like him did belong in jail. Perhaps Neal could choose people, and his form of justice, without choosing legality.


I had a harder time writing Sarah than June. Did the characters come out accurately? Thank you for reviews and writing tips. They really help.

*Elazer means help of God