As a waitress sashayed past him, the blue-eyed young man leaned back in his chair and grinned. The woman felt a thrill as the man's eyes followed her lithe frame. He gave an appreciative nod and tipped an imaginary hat before turning away from her.
The young man scanned the crowd; he was waiting, waiting for a man he considered to be his friend. His eyes lit up in recognition as another man edged his way through the entrance, partially blocked by a family that was attempting to leave the restaurant. The newcomer finally reached the table and instead of smiling in response he arched an eyebrow.
"Are you crazy, Caffrey?"
The young man—Caffrey—chuckled and rose to his feet. "Aw, come on, Peter; I just came back from Argentina, thought it would be nice to let you know I was back."
"Argentina?" The newcomer—Peter—twisted his mouth in a look of tired disbelief and shook Caffrey's extended hand. "I know you were in France, Neal."
Neal Caffrey neither confirmed nor denied the lie; he simply sat back down and lounged, relaxed, while Peter dumped his overcoat on another chair and sat, weary.
"You look tired, Peter," Neal noted disapprovingly. "You're not working too hard, are you?"
"Maybe." Peter stared pointedly at Neal. "Why? You want to lighten my caseload? Confess to all your crimes and I'm sure eighty percent of my caseload will magically vanish."
Neal smiled, unfazed. "I haven't ordered yet. Drink?"
Peter shook his head reluctantly. "I can't."
Neal crooned, "Why not, Peter? You're off the clock, aren't you?"
Peter gave a pointed glare. "Exactly; I can't even disguise this lunch as work—I shouldn't be having lunch with you."
Neal nodded; the agent did have a point. "So why are you here?"
Peter shuffled his chair forward and leaned against the table, grateful that the chairs were at least comfortable. "I'm hoping you'll let something slip."
Neal smiled; at least the agent was honest. "Now, now, Agent Burke, I've told you before, I'm innocent."
Peter Burke shook his head then waved to a waitress passing by a few tables away. "Neal, I'll catch you one day."
Neal seemed to find this amusing, though he knew Peter was perfectly serious. "Oh, I know; some day you'll arrest me for something I didn't do, but until then, relax; enjoy lunch—it's on me."
Peter ignored Neal. The young man was always like this; not getting through to him was nothing new. "What name is on your card this time?"
Neal gave a polite look of confusion. "I don't know what you're talking about, Peter; I only have the one name: Neal Caffrey."
Peter gave up then; the waitress had arrived anyway.
"Hello, I'm Natalie, I'll be your server today." The woman gave a blinding smile but it didn't reach her eyes.
Neal smiled in response but didn't bother with flirting; he already had his entertainment sitting opposite him at the table.
"Natalie," Peter nodded, "can we get a couple of menus?"
"Of course, I'll return shortly," she answered in a chipper tone then left, deftly interweaving through the occupied tables.
Peter was about to ask Neal how France had been and then maybe where Kate was but another man had approached, seemingly out of the blue.
"Agent Burke." The man was African-American in appearance and was smiling cautiously.
Peter smiled and stood. "Jones."
Peter was all for walking Jones out to the front of the restaurant before Neal stood and cleared his throat, extending his hand to the man. "Jones, was it?"
Jones turned to Neal, accepting Neal's hand and giving a fierce shake. "Agent Jones—yes."
Neal smiled even more. "Agent? You work with Peter then?"
Jones nodded. "Well, I work for him; he's my boss."
Peter pursed his lips and spoke stiffly, hardly able to believe that Jones hadn't recognized Neal. "Agent Jones just joined our unit two days ago."
Neal gestured to a third seat. "Well by all means, please join us."
Jones accepted the offer, after glancing at Peter, and pulled out the chair. Peter followed suit nervously; how exactly would he explain to Jones why he was having lunch with one of their most prominent suspects?
"You never told me your name..." Jones pointed out amiably to Neal.
Peter opened his mouth, about to tell Jones the truth, but Neal interrupted. "Mike ... Mike West."
Peter stared incredulously at Neal. "Actually, Jones, he's not...."
Just then, however, Jones' phone began to ring; he glanced at the two men apologetically and rose from the table, pulling out his phone as he went. After Jones moved away towards the restrooms where it would be quieter, Peter hissed at Neal.
"Mike West? What happened to Neal Caffrey is the only name you have?"
Neal grinned, amused. "What, I can't have a bit of fun?"
Peter glanced around trying to order his thoughts, trying hard not to rant. "Now I'm going to have to tell him you lied."
"Why?" Neal asked. "Don't tell him, Peter; it's a pain—law enforcers act weird around criminals."
Peter looked at Neal, triumphant. "Criminals? What happened to 'I'm innocent, Peter'?"
Neal, however, wasn't bothered. "Yes, Peter I am innocent, but all those trumped-up crimes you've got attached to my name suggest that I am a criminal; law enforcers don't care about whether or not you've been framed."
Peter frowned. "Framed?"
Neal smiled at the waitress who had returned with two menus. "Thank you very much; we won't need to order for few minutes yet, but do you have any recommendations?"
The waitress nodded. "We have the Chef's Special, Chicken Schnitzel."
Neal nodded. "Thanks."
Peter smirked distractedly; he knew full well what Neal thought of the Chef's 'Special'; too ordinary for Neal, no doubt.
"Hmm." Neal perused the menu but sighed after a minute with disappointment. "I can see why you suggested this place, Peter."
"Neal." Peter was uncomfortable but he had to know, so when Neal murmured, he made himself ask, "If you knew it would work, would you accuse me of framing you? Of evidence tampering?"
Neal looked up with horror. "Peter?"
Neal saw the genuine worry in the agent's eyes and so he shook his head. "No, Peter, never."
"Really?" Peter tried to keep the surprise from registering in his tone. "Even if you knew you were going to prison for a long time?"
Neal put the menu down on the table and leaned forward to stare into Peter's eyes intently. "No, Peter, not even then."
Peter relaxed; he'd had a genuine reason to worry: it's not as if Neal wasn't smart enough to do it if he wanted to, after all.
"Thanks, Neal." Peter picked up his own menu and soon, as much as he didn't want to, he found himself thinking Neal was right; these meals were terrible. Chicken Schnitzel actually began to look special.
Jones returned then. He sat down and took a deep breath. Peter noticed the tension straight away in his new agent.
"Something wrong, Jones?" Peter dumped the menu.
Jones glanced at him then at Neal—Mike.
"Uh, maybe we should head outside," Jones muttered.
Neal looked at Jones. "Is something wrong?"
Jones shook his head. "No, I just don't know whether Agent Burke wants to talk about work around his friends."
Neal chuckled. "Oh, don't worry about that; I know more about his work than you'd think."
Jones looked at Peter who shrugged.
Jones nodded. "Okay. Sir, that phone call—it was Agent Hadley."
Peter frowned. "What did he want?"
"Apparently he tried to call you."
Peter pulled out his phone and peered at it. "Hmm, I had a meeting before—with the higher ups—and put it on silent, damn it!"
Jones and Neal wisely stayed silent while Peter checked his call log.
"Only one missed call," Peter murmured, "he didn't try very hard."
Peter fiddled around with his phone for a few more minutes before looking back to Jones. "Did Hadley say what he wanted?"
"Yeah," Jones paused, "the airport reported a known alias being used in the system."
Peter looked sharply at Jones who scrambled to explain.
"They tried to detain the suspect, but he got away. It was several hours ago now; too late to chase down but at least we know he's in town."
Peter looked at Neal; no—it couldn't be.
Neal, on the other hand, began to smile.
Peter took his gaze off Neal and moved it back to the agent. "Jones, who was it?"
Jones put his elbows on the table and leaned forward, looking intently at Peter. "Neal Caffrey; looks like he's back in town."
Peter felt stiff all of a sudden; he realized how ludicrous it was but went ahead and questioned Jones further.
"Did the airport get a picture? Passport? We can get Caffrey if we use his alias to connect him to the crimes he may have committed using that name." Peter studiously ignored the spreading grin of Neal Caffrey sitting across from him.
Jones shook his head. "No photos, no video, we can't connect the face to the name; all we have is your BOLO—how did you get the alias in the first place?"
"Yeah, Peter, how did you get that alias?" Neal moved forward with a serious expression.
Peter smirked then leaned forwards as well, all trace of humor gone. "I'll tell you, if you admit to it being yours."
Neal smirked back. "I only have one name, Peter, and I'm innocent."
Peter rolled his eyes; Neal had officially worn out that line.
Jones was looking between the two men with confusion.
Peter sighed and rubbed his forehead. "Agent Jones, I'd like you to meet Neal Caffrey."
Neal took his eyes off Burke and smiled broadly at Jones. "Agent Jones."
Jones stared at him vacantly.
Jones looked at Burke as if wondering if he'd been serious.
Peter sensed his subordinate's gaze. "This is your fault, Jones; if you'd done all your homework, you would have seen the surveillance photos and you would have known the moment you walked in that this man was not Mike West."
Neal gave a sympathetic grimace. "Yeah, sorry about that. Just for the record though, I made Mike West up on the spot; he's not an alias."
Jones stared at Neal again and nodded mutely. Suddenly his eyes clouded over and Neal knew he was angry. Neal wasn't the slightest bit daunted though.
"I'd also like to add, just in case Peter has misled you—I'm innocent." Neal nodded then glanced at Peter who had by now looked up and at Jones. Neal could see that Peter also knew Jones was not happy.
"Jones," Peter called firmly.
Jones looked at Burke, jaw clenched. "Why didn't you say something?" Then Jones seemed to change tack. "You're having lunch with Neal Caffrey?"
Peter nodded calmly. "Yes, Jones, I'm having lunch with Neal Caffrey."
"Neal Caffrey is still here," Neal piped up, scanning his nails.
Jones glared at him, but upon seeing the most-wanted white collar criminal gingerly checking his nails with little or no concern, he couldn't help his mouth twitching in the corners, threatening a smile.
Jones gave in; his anger evaporated and he sat.
Neal smiled. "There now, isn't that better—at least this way Peter won't make you run around New York trying to find me."
Jones glanced at Peter. "I don't get this, boss, is there a reason you're having lunch with Neal Caffrey?"
"Don't wear my name out," Neal muttered. "'Neal' is fine."
Peter shrugged. "He called out of the blue, Jones; like I said to Neal before—I'm hoping he'll let something slip."
"But of course," Neal added lightly, "I'm innocent. so that won't happen."
Jones smirked then looked sharply at Peter for confirmation. "He's not, is he?"
Peter shook his head. "Far from it."
Neal seemed unperturbed and changed the subject. "You guys see anything you like? Agent Jones, go ahead and look at the menu; lunch is on me."
Jones ignored Neal's advice. "No, thanks; I've got plans. Boss, you mind?"
Peter nodded once. "Go ahead, Jones—and Jones, when you get back to work, lock down that alias and put out a search on Mike West."
Neal snorted, amused, but neither Jones nor Peter reacted. Jones stood and put out his hand to Neal who shook it. "I can't claim it was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Caffrey—a shock more like—but you take care."
Neal nodded. "Thanks, Agent Jones. You, too."
Once the agent had left the vicinity, Neal arched an eyebrow at Peter. "I'll bet the first thing he does at the office is check all the surveillance photos."
"Here's hoping," Peter muttered.
Neal smirked, then looked at Peter with interest. "I like him—seems to be a good man. How did he come to work for you?"
Peter picked up the menu again. "He transferred."
"Hey ..." Neal leaned forward. "... do you think he's arranging to have me tailed?"
Peter dumped the menu again. "For the sake of his job, he better be."
Neal smiled. "What about you—you organize anything before coming?"
Peter looked at Neal. "I'm off the clock, remember?"
Neal rolled his eyes. "Come on, Peter, agents don't go 'off the clock'."
Peter gave a wry grin. "No, I didn't bother, Neal; you've slipped every other tail I've had on you."
"If that were true," Neal leaned back, "I wouldn't be having lunch with my favorite tail of all."