Actions

Work Header

The Best It's Ever Been

Work Text:

Transatlantic red-eye flights were no one’s favorite way to spend eight hours. Neal had liked them a lot more back when he’d been able to fly first class on a regular basis. Coach was a miserable experience at the best of times, and midway through the flight to London, Neal was forced to admit what he’d been steadfastly denying for two days now: these weren’t the best of times.

If he’d known he was going to catch the flu, he thought, he would have sprung for business class. Well, scratch that - if he’d known he was going to catch the flu, he probably would’ve rescheduled his trip. Too late now, of course. He curled up in his seat under the scratchy airline blanket and tried to doze. But there was a kid behind him who kept kicking his seat and his younger sibling kept squalling.

And then they hit turbulence.

He’d never had any problem with motion sickness before, but he’d also never been on a very rocky flight while sick with the flu before. It was only through sheer force of will that he didn’t have to use the barf bag tucked into the seat pocket in front of him. But the second the fasten seatbelt sign went off, he climbed over his seatmates - who leaned away from him, because they were neither stupid, nor unobservant - and hurried to the tiny airplane restroom, where he threw up everything he’d eaten since that morning. It wasn’t much.

He ran into a flight attendant on his way back to his seat - almost literally, since he was mostly focused on staying upright - and asked her for a can of ginger ale. She eyed him closely. “Do you need medical attention?” she asked. “I can see if there’s a doctor onboard.”

Neal shook his head. “I’m just a little queasy, that’s all.”

She didn’t look like she totally believed him, but she also didn’t argue. Neal went back to his seat and tried to make himself comfortable, and eventually the flight attendant brought him his ginger ale - a full can, just not a cupful. Neal spent the remaining two hours of the flight alternating between sipping at it and trying to sleep.

He was so focused on just surviving the flight that he didn’t think much about what he’d do once he was there. It was only once he was on the ground in London that he remembered there was no one meeting him. Sara was supposed to, but she’d called the night before to tell him that an important meeting had gotten moved, and she couldn’t get out of it. “I’m really sorry,” she’d said. “We’ve been trying to get this client to meet with us for weeks now, and so of course he finally agrees to a time right when it’s least convenient for me.”

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Neal had said. “I’ll cab it or take the train to your place, and you’ll meet me after. Unless you have to work the case?”

“No, no, that’s not my job anymore. Once the meeting’s over, I’ll be yours for the next nine days.”

Cabbing it or taking the train had sounded okay the night before. But at the moment, Neal really would’ve preferred it if Sara had been meeting him. Letting someone else take care of things for a while sounded amazing.

He waited until almost everyone else had deplaned before getting off himself. Somehow, being on the ground - or maybe it was just being on his feet for longer than it took to get to and from the tiny airplane bathroom - let him feel just how awful he felt. He was sweaty but shivering, his head was splitting, and even back on solid ground he felt sick to his stomach. Worse yet, he was dizzy and disoriented; just getting up to the concourse was a struggle, and then he had to sit.

He took his phone out and turned it on with slightly shaking hands, mostly to make it look less weird that he was just sitting there. He was hoping rather desperately for a message from Sara telling him her meeting had been canceled and she’d be able to meet him after all. But all he had from her was a message with her address, just in case he had forgotten to bring it. Can’t wait to see you, she’d added. Don’t forget to let El and Peter know you got here.

El had probably called or emailed Sara, asking her to remind him, since he still wasn’t in the habit of remembering himself. Neal took a deep breath. He’d intended to just text them; calling internationally from his cell phone was insanely expensive, and he’d thought he’d wait and use Sara’s landline. But he also had the sudden and pathetic urge to hear their voices.

“Pull it together, Caffrey,” he told himself, and fired off a text: Made it to London in one piece. Then he waited, mostly because he wasn’t ready to stand up yet.

El’s reply came quickly. Great, thanks for letting us know. How was the flight?

Neal thought about lying, but he found himself yearning for a little sympathy, even if it was long distance and wouldn’t actually do him any good. Awful, actually. I don’t feel very well.

It took about five seconds for his phone to start ringing. Neal picked up. “Hey. I thought we said no phone calls on cell phones.”

“Extenuating circumstances,” El replied, crisply. “Are you okay?”

“Depends on your definition,” Neal said. “I sort of feel like I’ve been run over, but I’m sure it’s just a cold.” El was quiet but somehow managed to radiate doubtfulness straight down the line. “Or maybe the flu,” he admitted after a few seconds.

“Where are you now?” she asked. “Are you on your way to Sara’s?”

“Haven’t made it that far yet,” Neal said with a sigh. “I never realized before just how big Heathrow is.”

“Oh sweetie,” she said, sympathetically. “Well, they have those carts for a reason, do you think -”

“No,” Neal said, firmly. He was feeling a little better now that he’d been sitting for a few minutes. “No, I can do it.”

“Okay. Well, maybe buy a bottle of water or some orange juice or something? I always come off long flights dehydrated, and I’m sure that isn’t doing you any favors.”

“Yeah,” Neal said. He’d had that can of ginger ale, and a small bottle of water with each of the meals he hadn’t eaten, but El was right - that really wasn’t enough, especially considering that he’d thrown up (a detail he did not intend to share with her). “I’ll do that.” He took a deep breath, gathering himself. “I guess I’d better let you go before we run up your cell phone bill and give Peter a heart attack.”

“He’ll understand under the circumstances,” El said. “Feel better, all right? And call if you need anything.”

“I will,” Neal said.

“Love you.”

“Love you, too,” Neal said, and disconnected. Then he pushed himself to his feet, pausing to let a brief dizzy spell pass. A bottle of water and then baggage claim, he told himself. One foot in front of the other.

***

Sara didn’t usually dislike meetings. They weren’t her favorite part of her job, but they’d always been necessary to getting things done, and she had a lot more of them now that she was a VP. At the moment, though, she was fantasizing about leaning across the table and stabbing the client with her ballpoint pen. It was his fault she wasn’t at the airport meeting Neal as they’d planned, and to add insult to injury, his verbose, self-important ramblings about nothing threatened to make the meeting run long.

Her phone buzzed quietly in her purse, and Sara surreptitiously reached in to check it. She thought it might be Neal, letting her know he’d landed, but it was actually from Elizabeth: Not an emergency but call me when you can. Sara raised her eyebrows, then slipped the phone back in her purse and tried to look at least vaguely as though she cared about what the client was saying.

It took her another twenty minutes to extricate herself, after assuring him multiple times that he was in good hands, and then the investigator working the case tried to catch her afterward. Sara would’ve usually been happy to talk over the details and help him plan his approach - mentoring young investigators had been a surprisingly enjoyable part of her current position - but this time she just didn’t have the patience. “Sorry, I’m going to be late catching my flight,” she lied. “Send me an email, all right?”

“All right,” he agreed, looking disappointed. “Have a good vacation.”

“I will,” she said, and walked straight out the door without even going back up to her office, so that no one else could waylay her. She had everything she needed with her, and her assistant would take care of the rest.

Sara would have usually taken a cab home, but it was a warm summer evening, even if rain clouds were threatening to roll in. With the rush hour traffic snarl, it would take her less time to walk. She called El on the way, wondering if Neal had forgotten something. “Hey there,” Sara said, when El picked up on the second ring. “What’s going on?”

“You sound cheerful,” El observed.

I am on vacation for the next week, and Neal is waiting for me at home,” Sara replied. “Why shouldn’t I be cheerful?”

“Well, when you put it that way . . .”

“Exactly.” She hadn’t had more than a couple days off at a time since she’d gone to New York to visit Neal over the holidays, and she planned to make the most of them. She’d given them the weekend to just relax, but on Monday she planned to surprise Neal with Eurostar tickets to Paris. They hadn’t gone when he and El and Peter had visited her in the spring, and she knew he’d been a little disappointed. But this time, they would finally get the Paris trip they should have had six months ago.

El sighed. “I hope this doesn’t put a damper on your good mood. I talked to Neal after he got in. He’s sort of . . . sick.”

“Sick?” Sara repeated. “What kind of sick?”

“Flu-sick, I think. He sounded awful. I wanted to give you advanced warning.”

“Yes, thank you,” Sara said. She was already turning things over in her mind, wondering what sick people needed. Rest and fluids, she supposed. And probably food. “Damn,” she said aloud. “There is no food in my flat - I thought we’d go out to dinner.” She had reservations at a very swanky place that had opened only a couple months ago that she’d been dying to try, but it didn’t sound like that was going to happen. Hell, depending on how sick Neal was, Paris might not happen. “I guess I’ll stop and pick something up. Is there anything he likes in particular when he’s sick?”

“He doesn’t really like to eat when he’s sick,” El said. “But maybe some soup and crackers. Just make sure he stays hydrated.”

“Right. Hydrated,” Sara said with a sigh.

El was quiet for a second or two. “Are you okay with this?”

“Well, I don’t exactly have a choice about it, do I?” Sara said, then realized how that sounded. “I’m sorry. I’ll be fine, I’m just - I’m disappointed. And you know me, I’m not exactly the nurturing type.”

“You do a lot better than you think,” El said. “You did great when you were here over Christmas and Neal and Peter were both laid up.”

“Thanks,” Sara said. “But I was really mostly following your lead.”

“You’ll be fine,” El said firmly. “Tell Neal we love him, all right? And take care of yourself, too.”

“I will,” Sara said, and disconnected. She slipped her phone into her pocket and gave herself a minute to get a grip on herself. Neal was undoubtedly just as disappointed as she was, but she had to be an adult here. Her partner, for lack of a better word, was sick. She was going to trust that El was right, and she was better at this than she thought she was.

It was starting to drizzle a little when Sara ducked inside the convenience store down the block from her apartment for some essentials. She eyed the selection of chicken soup before deciding that none of it was anything she wanted to give Neal; she’d get some from the Pret a Manger across the street. She did pick up some Sprite and juice, and then wandered the aisles a little aimlessly for a few minutes, sticking things in the basket - oranges, paracetamol, and, right before she checked out, a thermometer. There, she thought. That should do it. And she could always come back if she’d missed something.

It was really raining by the time Sara left the store. She opened the umbrella she carried all the time now and dashed across the street for the chicken soup. The restaurant was almost empty this time of day, but fortunately they still had some soup left. Sara bought enough to last them a couple days, and then hurried up the block toward her apartment, shopping bags in hand.

It was dim and quiet when she let herself in, aside from the sound of the rain against the windows. “Neal?” she called softly. There wasn’t any answer, but there was a familiar pair of men’s shoes in the foyer and an open suitcase in the lounge. Sara eyed it a little worriedly for a minute; it was unlike Neal to just abandon it there. Sara dropped her bag of groceries off in the kitchen and then ventured down the hallway. The bathroom was empty, but it was warm and steamy, so apparently Neal had showered after getting in. She slipped her shoes off and, with them in hand, padded into the bedroom.

Neal was asleep face down on the bed, wearing a pair of sleep pants and nothing else. His hair was damp and his face, which was turned to the side, was flushed. Sara changed into a pair of yoga pants and a Smith College sweatshirt, then went and fetched a bottle of Sprite, the paracetamol, and the thermometer from the grocery bag. “Neal?” she murmured, kneeling on the bed. “Hey, Neal, wake up.”

He stirred, murmuring in faint protest, but when she brushed his hair back from his face with her hand, he opened his eyes and looked up at her. “Sara, hey,” he said. He blinked, disoriented. “I didn’t mean to fall asleep like this.”

“Here, let’s get you under the covers,” she said, and pulled them back so he could crawl under them. She climbed in with him and pulled a pillow into her lap so he could lay his head comfortably there. “I have some paracetamol for you,” she said, when he blinked at her. “But first we should probably find out how high your fever is.”

He frowned, then shook his head. “You talked to El.”

“I did,” she said, stroking her fingers through his damp hair. “She said to tell you they love you. Come on, sit up.”

Neal nodded, sighing. He sat up and let Sara slip the digital thermometer under his tongue. He took it out himself when it beeped and squinted at it. “39.1,” he said. “I don’t even know what that means in Fahrenheit.”

“They have an app for that,” Sara said, already pulling it up on her phone. “102.3 or so. Here, take the paracetamol, that will help. And so will fluids.”

Neal meekly accepted both the pills and the Sprite. He swallowed the pills down, then sipped carefully at the bottle of soda. “I’m sorry about this,” he said, after a minute or two of silence. “I’m sure you had plans. I definitely did,” he added ruefully.

“I did,” Sara said. “But to be honest, most of them involved being right here through the weekend.”

“Yeah,” Neal said, “but I bet they didn’t involve taking my temperature and mopping my fevered brow.” He put the cap back on the soda bottle and lay down again with his head on the pillow in Sara’s lap.

“Well, you have me there. Still,” Sara said, rubbing slow circles on Neal’s scalp with the tips of her fingers, “it could be worse.”

“I guess,” Neal said. “I could still be on the plane for one thing.”

Sara winced. “Rough flight?”

“I’ll spare you the details,” Neal said, “but yeah. Rough flight. I was really glad to be back on solid ground. And I’m glad to be here,” he added, snuggling closer. “I’ve missed you.”

“I’ve missed you, too,” Sara said. She was sure Neal would rather be home in his own bed, being fussed over by El and Peter, who were much more adept at fussing than she was. But she was glad to have him here with her all the same.

Neal was drooping already, obviously exhausted. Sara held herself still, stroking his hair, until his head grew heavy in her lap and he fell asleep.

She waited until he seemed like he was well and truly out, and then she slipped out from underneath him and went into the kitchen to put the groceries away. She texted El and Peter while she was at it, to let them know that Neal had gotten to her place okay. Peter texted back immediately, asking how he was.

Pretty under the weather, but resting comfortably, Sara wrote back. I think the flight was the worst part.

I can imagine. Is he awake right now?

No. But I’ll let him know to call you when he wakes up.

Thank you.

Sara set the phone aside, then caught sight of the envelope on the counter that held their train tickets to Paris and their hotel reservation. Normally she’d have kicked herself for leaving it out like that; Neal would have undoubtedly seen it by now, if he’d been feeling more himself. But now she opened it to take the tickets out and look at them, thinking about the trip it looked like they’d be missing out on again. It wasn’t Neal’s fault, of course, anymore than it’d been his fault last time, but it was still frustrating.

They might still make it, of course. It was hard to say with the flu - Neal might be over it by tomorrow night, or he might be sick for most of next week. But she’d intended to surprise him with the tickets that evening, and that seemed like a bad idea. She didn’t put it past Neal to try and con her - and maybe even himself - into thinking he felt better than he really did, if he got it into his head to be stubborn about the trip. And if Monday arrived and he really wasn’t well enough to go, she didn’t want him to feel guilty about it either.

She tucked the tickets back inside the envelope and then slipped it into the drawer where she kept what her mom used to call “odds and ends.” Better to just say nothing.

***

Neal would absolutely never, under any circumstances have chosen to get sick on his trip to London, but he had to admit, to himself at least, that it was almost kind of . . . nice.

Not the getting sick part. That was wretched. He felt worse than he had since his concussion in December, and running a fever when it was warm and kind of humid out was no fun at all. After twenty-four hours he and Sara still had yet to make love or even properly kiss, and Neal was pretty pissed about that, too.

But other things, like curling up with Sara in her bed on a rainy morning, were nice. Neal knew she didn’t think she was any good at taking care of other people, but he knew better. She kept him fed and hydrated, which was probably more than he would’ve managed on his own, and stroked his hair when he had trouble falling asleep. It felt intimate, and it was nice to have some time that was just the two of them, just a little bubble of Neal-and-Sara. Well, mostly just them; Peter and El texted him off and on and even called a couple times, checking in to make sure he knew they were thinking about him. That was nice, too.

Late on Saturday night - or it might have been early Sunday morning - Neal woke up drenched in sweat. That had happened before, but this time felt different. He felt lighter, somehow, as though the malaise that’d been dragging at him since he arrived in London had finally lifted.

“You okay?” Sara asked, sleepily.

“Yeah,” Neal said, then grimaced. “I think my fever broke.”

Her hand snaked out of the covers and rested across the back of his forehead briefly. “You feel much cooler.”

“Cooler, but also grosser,” Neal said. “I think I’m going to rinse off.”

He climbed out of bed and made his slightly unsteady way down the hall toward the bathroom. Sara’s bathroom was probably the nicest thing about the apartment aside from the view. He’d had the chance to enjoy the large bathtub earlier, when Sara had drawn him a lukewarm bath. She’d sat on the floor of the bathroom by the tub, more casual than Neal had ever seen her in yoga pants and a tattered college sweatshirt, and told him stories about some of the cases she’d worked since coming to London. Neal had rested his head on a folded up towel on the edge of the tub and let her voice wash over him as he watched clouds scuttle across the bit of sky he could see through the skylight.

Neal hoped he and Sara could make better recreational use of the tub before he went home, but for the moment he settled for rinsing off with the shower head. He avoided getting his hair wet - as much as he’d have like to wash the dried sweat out of it, he didn’t really want to sleep with wet hair.

Sara was changing the sheets when he got back to the bedroom, towel wrapped around his waist and pajamas in hand. “Better?” she asked, looking up from stripping a pillow out of its case.

“Yes, much,” Neal said. He pulled clean pajamas out of his suitcase and changed into those, then helped Sara finish putting the new sheets on the bed and even change the duvet cover.

Neal slept well, better than he had in days, but he still felt weak and tired when he woke the next day. At lunchtime, Sara went out to get take-out, since they were both sick of living on soup and oranges, and Neal was feeling well enough that some hot and sour or egg drop soup sounded like a good idea. He didn’t know if she texted Peter to tell him she was going out or if it was purely coincidence, but Peter called about ten minutes after she left. Neal decided he was tired of lying in bed, and got up to wander around the apartment while they talked.

“You sound a lot better,” Peter observed after a minute or two of chatting.

“I feel a lot better,” Neal said, draping himself over an armchair in the living room - the lounge, Sara called it - with a view of the square. “Still kind of woozy and tired, but at least I’m not queasy anymore. And my fever broke last night.”

“Good,” Peter said. “El will be happy to hear that. And things with Sara, they’re going okay?”

“Well, neither of us would have chosen this,” Neal said, “but yeah, things are good. How’s everything at home?”

“Quiet,” Peter said. “It’s weird without you here.” He was silent for a few seconds. Neal waited, sensing that he wasn’t done yet. “You don’t think - I know you miss Sara -”

“No, Peter,” Neal said, firmly. He managed to keep his sigh to himself, at least. “New York is my home, you know that. She and I have talked about me coming over for a month sometime, maybe two, but I’ve spent a long time building my life in New York. I’m not going to give it up. Besides,” he added, letting his head rest against the chair, “she wants to come back to New York eventually, too. She’s just waiting for the right opportunity at Sterling-Bosch.”

“Right,” Peter said, and sighed. “El told me I was being an idiot. I just - I miss you when you’re not here.”

“I miss you when I’m not there, too,” Neal said. “I’ll be back in a week, just like we planned.”

“We’ll be there to meet you,” Peter said. “Not because we have to,” he added, before Neal could protest that he was perfectly capable of getting a cab, “but because we want to.”

“All right, then,” Neal said.

They talked for a few minutes more about nothing in particular, until Peter had to go. Neal stayed in the chair a little longer, phone in his hand, before getting up. Sara would be back before long, but in the meantime he was thirsty. Maybe there was some juice left after all, or some of the fizzy water Sara had been mixing with it.

There was a little bit of both. Neal poured himself a glass and drank it in Sara’s immaculate and obviously rarely-used kitchen while poking around for something to eat while he waited for Sara - toast or something. He found the heels of a couple loaves in a drawer; they were a little on the dry side, but at least they weren’t moldy. He popped one in the toaster, located butter in the fridge, and then went hunting for a knife.

He thought he remembered where Sara kept her silverware, but the first drawer he opened was full of twisty ties, rubber bands, Scotch tape and a pair of scissors. He almost shut it, but then he saw it - there, right on top, was an envelope with tickets poking out of it.

Old habits died hard, and it wasn’t like the envelope was sealed or anything. Neal picked it up and glanced inside.

There were tickets. Two tickets on the Eurostar, London to Paris, leaving the next morning and returning on Friday. First class. Not cheap. Tucked behind them was a print out for a hotel reservation, the same Marriot he and Sara had been planning at over Christmas until life intervened and Sara had ended up coming to New York.

Sara hadn’t said a word about it. But then, Neal thought, what would she have said? Get better by Monday or I’ll lose a bunch of money on the trip to Paris I was going to surprise you with? Still, Neal wondered when she’d intended to say something. That night, if he was feeling better? The next morning? Never?

His toast popped up. He spread a thin layer of butter over it, and then, feeling a little woozy, decided to go eat it in the bedroom. He left the tickets out on the counter.

He ate his toast, then set the plate on the nightstand and dozed in and out while he waited for Sara. The sound of the front door opening and closing woke him, but he was so comfortable that he couldn’t bring himself to move. He closed his eyes, listening to the rustle of the takeout bags as she took them into the kitchen. He heard her footsteps pause, then. He imagined her standing in front of the counter, looking at the tickets he’d left skewed in their envelope.

After a few seconds, Neal heard her footsteps coming toward the bedroom. He opened his eyes and saw her standing in the doorway, envelope in hand. “You found them,” she said, not a question.

“You weren’t exactly hiding them,” Neal pointed out.

“No, I guess I wasn’t,” she said with a sigh. She sat down on the bed and kicked off her shoes, then stretched out beside him; he rolled over to tuck himself closer to her. “What do you think?”

“I think that I’m not letting anything get in the way of a trip we should’ve had six months ago,” Neal said.

Sara, to his surprise, did not look pleased. “You see,” she said, sounding exasperated. “That’s exactly why I didn’t tell you.”

“What?”

“I didn’t want you to feel like you had to go,” she said, frowning at him. “If you’re not feeling well, we shouldn’t go. Bad enough that you’re sick here, when I know you’d rather be at home in your own bed, but it’d be even worse for you to be sick in Paris, in a hotel room, and to feel like you had to drag yourself out to please me.”

Neal answered her frown with one of his own. “I feel a lot better. And I want to go, Sara. I’ve been wanting to go to Paris with you for years now.”

“I know,” she said. “And I want to go, too. But you’ve been sick, Neal. Really sick.”

“Not that sick,” Neal objected.

“Sick enough,” she replied, crossing her arms over her chest. “Sick enough to worry me.”

Neal hesitated. He hadn’t quite thought of it like that. He hadn’t really been worried once he’d managed to get himself to Sara’s apartment. It’d been unpleasant but not scary for him, because he’d felt like he was in good hands. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to worry you.”

Sara shrugged. “It’s not like you could help it,” she said. She leaned back into him, and Neal reached out to wrap an arm around her waist. Her body fit naturally into the curve of his own. “I don’t want us to go if you’re not feeling well enough to go.”

“But I’m the only one who can say that for sure,” he said, tightening his grip around her waist. “So I think it should really be my choice.”

Sara rolled over to face him. “Okay,” she said, slowly. “But you have to promise me that you’re making this decision based on how you actually feel, not because you don’t want us to miss out on the trip a second time. And that you won’t con me into thinking you’re healthier than you are.”

Neal wasn’t sure he could actually promise that - sometimes he honestly didn’t know he was conning someone until they called him on it - but he did take his time thinking about it. “I want to go,” he said at last, because he did, dammit. “But maybe we can take it easy the first couple of days. We’ve both been to Paris before, there’s no need to run all over the place trying to do the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and Versailles all in the same day.”

“True,” she said, then quirked her eyebrow at him. “Will they even let you in the Louvre?”

Yes,” Neal said, a trifle defensively. And then, because she kept looking dubious, he added, “Probably.” The New York museums didn’t have a problem with him - he was even talking to MOMA about docenting for them, maybe working with a couple of their curators, and they knew about his past - and the museums in London had been okay with him so far, too. But he hadn’t tried his luck in France yet. “But even if they don’t,” he added, holding onto her, “all I really want is to be in Paris with you. Eating at tiny bistros, going for walks by the Seine, going to little markets and finding things to put on your ridiculously bare walls.”

She sighed. “My apartment is minimalist.”

“That’s one word for it,” Neal said dryly. She poked him in revenge and he squirmed away. “My point,” he said, catching her hand in his, “is that we can do all that and just . . . take our time. Go back to the hotel in the afternoon if I get tired. Or even if I don’t,” he added with a smirk. “No agenda. No list of sights to see. Just us in the City of Lights.”

“That sounds nice,” Sara said, a little wistfully. “I don’t know if I’ve ever done Paris like that.” She looked him in the eyes. “You’re sure?”

“I’m sure,” he said, and kissed her. It was the first time they’d properly kissed since he’d arrived; he’d felt so disgusting for the first day and a half that he hadn’t wanted to, and he’d been hoping to avoid passing the bug on to her, though she hadn’t been all that concerned about it. It seemed to catch Sara by surprise at first, but she caught on quickly. Neal hadn’t meant for it to be anything more than a kiss, but the chemistry between them had always had a life of its own; the spark between them caught and flared.

Neal was still tired and a little out of it, but they knew each other so well, it didn’t matter. Sara rolled him over and took charge, giving him a slow, exquisite blow job until arousal had chased away the last of Neal’s lethargy, then she lowered herself down onto him, inch by excruciating inch. Neal mostly tried to hang on after that, kissing and touching whatever part of her was in reach - her breasts, her hips, the curve of her neck. She caught his hand in hers and kissed along the inside of his wrist, then slowed their rhythm down and bent to kiss him.

He wasn’t up to much, and Sara knew it. She came once and then slipped off of him. Neal groaned in protest, but she was already reaching for him, sliding her hand along his length. It didn’t take her long to finish him off, and it felt good, cleansing somehow, after the last couple of days. It wasn’t what Neal would’ve planned for his first time making love with Sara after being away from her for months. But it was still sweet.

“So,” he murmured, as they lay together afterward. “What do you say?”

She lifted her head and smiled at him. “Let’s go to Paris.”

***

When she’d made the hotel reservation weeks ago, Sara had asked the person to give them a room with a view, and - possibly owing to Sterling-Bosch’s corporate partnership with Marriot - they had. The room had a beautiful view of the Seine and, in the distance, the Eiffel Tower. And it was a good thing, too, because she spent quite a bit of time enjoying said view while waiting for Neal to get ready to go out.

Men always complained about women taking too long to get ready, she thought as she sat on their balcony, barefoot but with her Louis Vuitton heels ready to slip on once Neal said he was ready. But most women she knew had nothing on Neal.

“We do have reservations, you know,” she called inside.

“Almost ready!” he called back.

Sara rolled her eyes. Another time, she thought, she would have been annoyed; she had been annoyed about it in the past. But she was too relaxed at the moment after three days in Paris with Neal. Too relaxed and too happy. They’d taken it easy, just like they’d said they would, going out in the morning but coming back in the afternoon to rest and, more often than not, make love, before going out again for dinner. Sara thought it might be the best vacation she’d ever had.

Her phone buzzed in her hand and she glanced down at it. How’s Paris? Elizabeth had asked.

Sara smiled and used her phone to snap a picture of the view, just starting to glow with the very beginning of sunset. The picture itself said everything she wanted to say, but she couldn’t resist adding a caption, too.

It’s the best it’s ever been.

Fin.