“You’re going where?” Mozzie demanded.
Neal winced. He would have held the phone away from his ear, except he had his hands full and his BlueTooth in. “Over to Sara’s,” he repeated, glancing to the left before jogging across the intersection.
“Neal, we had plans! Did you forget about the thing? The thing I won’t talk about over a cell phone that’s probably been bugged by God-knows-who - if you’re listening in, Suit, that means you!”
“Smooth, Moz, very smooth,” Neal said dryly. “Look, she has the flu. I talked to her this morning, and she sounded terrible. It’ll just be for a couple of hours, and then I can meet you back at June’s.”
“You know,” Moz said, in the peevish tone that was becoming ever more familiar lately, “if I didn’t know better, I’d say your heart wasn’t really in this.”
Neal sighed. “It’s in it, Moz, I promise you. Hey, gotta go, I’m at Sara’s. I’ll call you when I leave, all right?”
“Neal - !”
Neal hung up and slipped his BlueTooth in his pocket, nearly dropping a quart of the finest miso soup New York City had to offer in the process. Mozzie would be annoyed with him, but by the time Neal got back to June’s, he’d have calmed himself over a glass of Neal’s best Syrah and forgiven him. Probably.
He climbed the stairs to Sara’s building and rang the buzzer. It took her a long time to answer, and Neal started to wonder if he should have called first after all. But he knew that if he had called, she would’ve told him not to come. He’d decided it was easier to ask forgiveness than permission.
Finally the intercom buzzed. “Go away, Caffrey,” Sara said, voice rough and tired.
“I have soup,” Neal replied “And also Theraflu, Tylenol Cold and Flu - AM and PM - throat lozenges, movies, and flowers.” A potted orchid, to be specific. Roses were “too cliché” for Sara.
There was a long, weighty silence while Sara clearly wrestled with her vanity. Finally she gave a sigh, which turned into a rather nasty-sounding cough. “I suppose if I don’t let you in, you’ll just climb in the window.”
“It’s a possibility,” Neal agreed, grinning.
“Wipe that smirk off your face,” Sara said grouchily, though there was no possible way she could have seen him. “I’m only after your soup.” The door buzzed and Neal wrestled his way inside with his various burdens.
Neal had managed to wipe the smirk off his face by the time Sara let him into her apartment. She looked . . . well, she was the least put together Neal had ever seen her. That was still better than a lot of people managed on a good day, but it was startling nonetheless. She wore no make-up, there were bags under her eyes, her hair was limp and a little greasy, and she was clad in a bathrobe Neal had never seen before. He was familiar with the red silk robe, and the gauzy purple one, and the blue kimono, but he’d never seen the soft gray chenille.
“Hey there, repo,” Neal said, and kissed her on the forehead. She was too warm - not dangerously so, but enough to be very uncomfortable. “Still running a fever?”
“I’m fine. You probably don’t want to stay very long,” she added, taking the orchid and closing the door behind him. “I’m contagious as hell.”
Neal started unpacking the bags on the kitchen counter. “I’ll risk it. You want soup now? We can always heat it up later.”
“I’ll have some now,” she said. Neal fetched a bowl down from a cabinet and poured some of the soup into it; then he put the lid back on the takeout container and stuck it in her mostly empty refrigerator. The soup was on the lukewarm side from the walk over, so he decided to give it a minute in the microwave.
With the soup heating up, he turned back to her. She eyed him warily as he moved in, but let him take her in his arms and even nuzzle her temple. “Why don’t you go lie down on the sofa?” he suggested softly. “I can bring you your soup.”
“Mmm,” she replied non-committally. “You know, this isn’t why I called you this morning.”
Neal cocked an eyebrow. “Meaning?”
“Meaning I called you to cancel our date so you wouldn’t come over.”
“Because I’m disgusting, Neal. My whole body aches, I’m sweaty, I barely slept last night, I haven’t brushed my teeth or washed my hair. And then you walk in looking like, well, you, not a hair out of place even after a day at the office.”
Neal tightened his arms around her. “Believe it or not, I don’t care what you look like.”
Sara snorted. “Right. Tell me I’m always beautiful to you, Caffrey, and somehow I will find the energy to use my baton. Look,” she added, placing a hand on his chest and pushing away, “it was sweet of you to do this, but it’s not necessary. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of myself.”
Neal tugged her back in with a hand on the small of her back. “I have no doubt about that. But sometimes it’s nice to have someone do it for you.”
“Oh yeah?” she said, raising her eyebrows. “Tell me, then. Who gets to see the great and invincible Neal Caffrey when he’s sniffling and runny-nosed and running a fever? Mozzie?”
“Moz’s a germaphobe,” Neal said, trying to subtly walk her back toward the living room so he could get her lying down, “so no, not usually. Truthfully, the last time I got sick enough to need someone to look after me, Peter had me stay with him and Elizabeth.”
Sara pulled up short. “Really.”
“Yeah.” She still didn’t look like she believed him. Neal shrugged. “I caught a really bad case of bronchitis last winter. I was so sick I could hardly lift my head. Peter dragged me to the doctor and made me stay in their guestroom until I felt better.”
“Huh,” was all Sara had to say to that, but she let Neal propel her the last few feet to the sofa. She’d clearly spent most of the day out here; there was already a nest of blankets and pillows, and beside it a trashcan with a dozen used tissues in it. At the gentle pressure of his hand, she sank down onto the sofa. “And you were okay with that?” she asked, as he started straightening the tangled blankets out.
“I put up a bit of a fight at first, but I wasn’t in much of a condition to argue. And after that, it was just a relief to let someone else take care of things for a while.” Peter and El had been so good to him. It’d been a long time since anyone had treated him with that much kindness without expecting anything in return. He’d gotten a bit overly emotional about it, though thankfully never in front of either them. Well, a bit in front of El, but she’d promised never to tell Peter. It was one of the things he kept thinking about, whenever he thought about Mozzie’s plans. He didn’t think the odds were good that he’d find that sort of kindness again very easily.
“I’m . . . not very good at letting other people take care of things,” Sara admitted. “In fact, you might say that I’m very bad at it.”
Neal picked her hand up and kissed her palm. “I guessed that,” he said. He didn’t say that he’d also guessed why; he was slowly piecing together a picture of Sara’s teenage and young adult years, spent taking care of parents who never recovered from losing their oldest daughter. “But I’d like to, if you’ll let me.”
She didn’t answer. After a few seconds, Neal finished tucking her in and got up to retrieve her soup from the microwave, which had started beeping insistently. “Very important question,” he said, as he brought it out to her. “Tylenol or Theraflu? I got you the gelcaps and the kind you drink,” he added, “but I’m not sure how it’d go with the miso.”
“Gelcaps are fine,” she said, and raised her eyebrows when he returned bearing a glass of orange juice and a blister pack of the pills. “I don’t have any orange juice.”
“I know,” he said. He set the juice and the pills on her end table, then seated herself by her feet. “I brought it.”
“Anything else in those bags, Mary Poppins?”
“Just Amelie and The Devil Wears Prada. But if you need anything I didn’t think of, let me know. I can run out and get it.” He pulled one of her feet into his lap and rubbed his thumb along the arch.
She made a wordless noise and sank lower into her nest of blankets. “You’re way too good at that.” She pushed her empty bowl onto the end table and picked up the glass of OJ and the pills. She broke the blister pack and swallowed them one at a time with the juice. Then she settled back with the glass cradled against her chest and watched him through half-lidded eyes. “You really didn’t have to do this, you know.”
“I know,” Neal said. He applied pressure to a certain point on the arch and her toes, painted bright red like rubies, curled. “I want to. And yes,” he added, before she could say a word, “I’m allowed to just want to. I swear I’m not after your mail this time.”
She smiled slightly at that. “Good.” She closed her eyes and curled against the back of the sofa, clearly enjoying the foot massage. Neal switched to the other foot. “My therapist says I have trouble with vulnerability,” she murmured after a minute or two of silence, without opening her eyes.
“It’s not really comfortable for anyone,” Neal said, just as quietly.
She sighed. Neal rubbed her foot until his hand started to cramp, then gently pulled the blanket over her feet so they wouldn’t get cold. He thought she might have fallen asleep, but just as he was about to try and sneak out, she opened her eyes and looked at him. “Hey,” she said. “You want to stay over?”
Neal rested a hand on her ankle. “Do you want me to stay over?”
“Yeah,” she said. “I think I do.”
Neal woke abruptly, blinking and confused, to the credits rolling at the end of Amelie and the persistent ringing of his phone in his pocket. Sara, asleep on his shoulder, mumbled a sleepy protest as Neal dug it out and looked at the screen. There weren’t too many people who might be calling him at 12:35 on a Wednesday night. Damn, he thought. He’d completely forgotten about meeting Mozzie. With a hastily murmured apology, he eased himself out from under Sara and padded into the kitchen.
“Where are you?” Mozzie demanded when Neal answered. “You said it’d only be a few hours.”
“Yeah, about that.”
“What, don’t tell me you’re staying over?”
“She’s sick, Moz,” Neal said, making sure to keep his voice low. “I can’t very well say no. And besides . . .”
“What?” Mozzie asked darkly.
“I want to.”
Mozzie sighed. “For the record, I think this is a really bad idea. Whatever you think you want, Neal, you’re not going to find it with her or with the Suits. But let me know when you’re ready.”
Neal frowned. “Ready for what, Moz?”
“To commit,” Moz said, and hung up.
Neal stood looking at his phone for a long minute, until Sara said, “Hey.” He looked up; she was standing in the doorway to kitchen, sleep-tousled and still flushed with fever. “Everything okay?”
“Yeah,” Neal said, stuffing the phone back in his pocket. “Yeah, it’s fine. Just Moz.”
“Do you need to go?”
For a split second, Neal thought about it. He thought about Mozzie and all the years they had been friends; he thought about the art in the warehouse, and the last big score, and the dozens of names he’d considered and rejected over the past few weeks.
Then he thought about Peter, who had watched Ocean’s Eleven with him three nights in a row when he’d been sick with bronchitis, and El, who, when he’d finally broken down, had hugged him and handed him a box of Kleenex. And he thought about Sara, standing right in front of him, who’d let him in even when she didn’t want to and fallen asleep on his shoulder.
“Neal?” Sara said, raising her eyebrows. “Do you have to go?”
“No,” Neal said, moving her take her in his arms again. He kissed her hot forehead and pulled her close. “No, I don’t.”
He only hoped Mozzie would forgive him.