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Conversations with Con-Artists

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In Neal Caffrey’s vast experience as a con artist, he’s learned that misery doesn’t always love company. Of course, that doesn’t keep company from showing up.

The case had been kicking his ass and after not being any closer to finding Kate’s killer, he just wanted to come home, kick his shoes off, have a glass of wine, and try not to feel so exhausted. Sophie Deveroux apparently had other plans. She did owe him an explanation though, especially since she’d already helped herself to some of Neal’s best wine.

After a few minutes of small talk and Sophie studying him with thought tucked into the corner of her smile, she got to it.

“We all wear masks, Neal,” Sophie said with a beautiful frankness. Never mind the fact that Sophie wasn’t even her real name. “Some of us better than others.”

“Maybe I’m tired of wearing the mask,” Neal suggested, ruffling his hair. There. He said part of what’s bothering him, even if maybe it wasn‘t completely true. Some days he felt stretched thin by life’s masquerade.

“No you’re not,” she smirked, knowingly and flipping her long dark hair over her shoulder. Her brown eyes full of mirth.

“Okay I’m not,” Neal agreed, then looked pained and a little lost and frustrated at himself. He thought he wanted to quit, to grow old with a girl and find excitement in the everyday until that was’‘t an option. Maybe it had been just a dream.

“Mozzie’s right,” Sophie consoled, hand covering his on the table, and gently squeezed. “People like us don’t give it all up and go for a life in the suburbs with 2.5 kids and a picket fence.”

“Maybe that’s what I wanted,” Neal insisted, fighting her logic, “with a rescue dog.”

“That’s what you thought,” Sophie said understanding, “but not what you wanted.”

“Have you gotten what you wanted?” Neal asked, deflecting but completely curious at the same time.

“It’s a start,” she smiled, looking happy. She meant every word, he was sure. She was probably even having fun.

He’d been working on a level of happy. If he was being honest with himself he doesn’t really want to go anywhere, even if he did miss traveling a little.

“You got a super team and I work for the FBI,” Neal clarified.

“You like it,” she said, like it was fact, indisputable and complete.

“Yeah,” Neal nodded. Because that was a fact and maybe he didn’t mind that too much.
“Sometimes that’s all you need,” Sophie offered standing and putting her coat back on. “I’ll see myself out.”

“Tell Parker to bring back my jade lion. It has a lot of sentimental value and I won it fair and square,” Neal said instead of goodbye.

“Of course,” Sophie said agreeably. “You know she’s gotten better about that sort of thing?”

“I’ll take your word for it,” Neal answered, smiling a little, because once a pick pocket always a pick pocket, that trinket’s absence proved it.

“See you around, Neal,” Sophie promised.

“Sure,” Neal said and watched her walk out. If his visitors could have stopped with her he would have considered himself beyond lucky. Neal sometimes forgets that he only ever makes his own luck and apparently he was sending the universe visitation vibes. She probably shouldn’t have walked up to him outside the office later to slip him some contact info for the case. He does have an email after all.

***
“Why are you talking to a known grifter right outside of the building?” Special Agent Peter Burke asked. “Are you trying to give me a stroke?”

“Why yes, Peter, it’s good to see you to this morning, thanks for asking,” Neal smirked, applying a thick layer of sarcasm with his charm, which only caused Peter to lift an eyebrow.

“Neal, don’t kid with me,” Burke insisted, face serious.

“Jones shouldn’t be such a tattle tale,” Neal said instead trying not to sound like a petulant child.

“He’s a good agent doing his job,” Peter countered.

“Which apparently is to follow me outside and take note of every single person I talk to,” Neal protested, letting anger color his words. “Why can’t you just trust me Peter?”

That will always be the question between them. Never trust a con artist will be Peter’s philosophy. He couldn’t help it. It’s his default setting despite how much Neal tries to change it.

“This isn’t about trust. This is about the fact that you were talking to Sophie Deveroux,” Burke muttered, keeping his voice just on the edge of not quite yelling. “Are you helping her pull a job?”

“Peter,” Neal said, wounded at last.

“No, don’t you give me those somber eyes and act like I’m the bad guy here. I’m not,” Peter said firm scowl in place that softened at the next bit. “I’m just worried.”

“Well stop worrying,” Neal said quietly, looking Peter in the eyes. “I’m not helping Sophie pull a job or giving her any ideas to pull a job. It was a social visit of which she was uninvited, but she’s an old friend of June’s. They had tea and talked about Chopin.”

Peter stared at him a long minute and started to speak. Neal cut him off.

“No I won’t take any job offers from her. Yes I will try to limit contact with her,” Neal waved a hand on his way back out of Peter’s office, bumping into the ginger-haird LAPD consultant Charlie Crews on his way out, and offering a tight smile in apology to Crews. “Yes, I will warn you if I’m going to do anything stupid involving Sophie and so on and so on.”

“Mocking me doesn’t make this any less serious,” Burke called after him.

Neal gave a little wave and stalked toward the elevators, a storm cloud of discontent in his wake. His humor did not improve when he saw who was at his place when he got home.


***

“I know you’re a wine man, but this 16 year Lagavulin is marvelous,” Crowley purred, swirling the amber liquid his in glass and giving it an appreciative sniff. “So fragrantly peaty. Delicious.”

“Well, Crowley, I only keep it for you,” Neal admitted. It was bad enough to have a demon visit him on a regular basis that he really didn’t want to listen to another lecture on how any man of character should have a good whiskey on hand. Twice was certainly enough, please and thank you.

“Just like you keep cheap beer for that Agent of yours and gin for that wonderful weasel Mozzie,” Crowley observed as if to count himself amongst Neal’s friends. Well, he might be. Just a little. Or at least something interesting in an intolerable sort of way.

“Not that I don’t love our little visits, but why are you here?” Neal asked getting to the point. No need to dance around it, besides, Neal was pretty sure he was developing a migraine at this rate.

“Are you sure I can’t interest you in a deal?” Crowley asked, pouring another whiskey and smiling just a little. “I could take your leash off with a snap. You’d have quite the run of things, I ensure it. I’m King of Hell, you know. I could use a man smooth as you to help the transitions, keep an eye on things.”

Now wasn’t that quite the proposition? Neal could cut a nice deal with Crowley, he’s a con artist after all. Deals with devils was part of his repertoire. And Crowley would most likely let Neal do what he wanted, travel wherever he may, take whatever he wished. And it’s not like Neal’s the most moral of guys, but he has standards no matter how few. Besides, he’d hate to think what Peter would say if Neal ever said yes to a demon like Crowley.

“My suits wouldn’t stand up to the heat. They are too high fashion for such abuse,” Neal said seriously. It was part of the reason, but Neal could admit there were masks even he couldn’t wear with grace.

“Leave it to you to worry about finely woven wool and silk ties,” Crowley rolled his eyes with a grin still on his face. “Offer a bloke the underworld on a platter and have it come back to the delicateness of wardrobe.”

“Fashion and presentation are important,” Neal countered, smiling a little in return.

“You are like an overgrown peacock in a concrete jungle,” Crowley muttered raising his glass in toast. “Actually, this is merely a social visit,” the demon admitted. “I’ve been frequenting places in which whisky comes in gallons and mason jars and needed a change of scenery.” The demon shuddered at the thought of abused whiskey lacking in sophistication.

“How is Mr. Singer?” Neal asked, quirking a smile when Crowley scowled.

“Soulful,” Crowley admitted knocking back the rest of his whiskey.

“Good for him,” Neal declared.

“And that is why I will one day get you to say yes to my offer,” Crowley said. “You like a good underhanded turn as much as the next demon.”

“Hold your breath,” Neal said throwing on his best charming grin.

Crowley chuckled, snapped his fingers and vanished, leaving an empty glass as the only evidence that he was ever there.

***

Neal had hoped that Crowley would be the last of his visitors, but it was only the first wave. When he got back from work the next day, he was greeted with a Time Agent. Figured.

His feet were propped up on the dining table with his pistol nearby and the bottle of vodka was half empty though he couldn’t have been here longer than an hour. Neal hadn’t even realized he had any vodka in his flat.

He hoped this rascal hadn’t stolen any from June’s wet bar. It was a nice bottle as far as vodkas were concerned.

“John Hart,” Neal said in way of greeting, hanging up his hat and shutting the door.

“That’s Captain John Hart to you, darling Neal,” John corrected, smarmily. Some things would never change no matter time or place.

“Sarcasm noted and I’m still not your darling,” Neal frowned at him, probably for that ‘darling’ business.

“But you could be my darling,” John insisted. “You kind of want to be my darling,” John stood and crowded into Neal’s space. His nose skimming along Neal’s jaw line. “You’d be good at being my darling, all those clever words, clever charm, the masks you wear so well. We’d rule the universe.”

“Bet you say that to all the guys,” Neal tilted his head and aimed his words low, to cut, and couldn‘t have said why. “Jack tell you no again?”

“I should punch you for that,” John said frankly, standing straighter, charm temporarily forgotten letting the danger and mercenary show through the facade. Neal figured that was still a sore spot.

“But you won’t,” Neal countered, because no matter how much that line had hurt, John was still a little better than that or at least less willing to go with the obvious move like he used to. Or at least Jack thought so and Neal was always a little more willing to listen to Jack.

“It might ruin your pretty face,” John was back to smiling. “And I can’t be having ugly eye candy when I take over the universe.”

“I think you’ve had enough vodka,” Neal said in response.

“Still telling me no then?” John asked. It was a fruitless question. John had had his fun, so to speak. He’d showed up to half-heartedly charm. New York wasn’t where John wanted to be. Neal almost felt a little like a back-up prom date.

“Pretty sure it wasn’t yes,” Neal confirmed.

John kissed his cheek, grabbed the bottle, poked a few buttons on this wrist, mock saluted and disappeared into a rift in time.

“Better be going to Wales and leaving me out of it,” Neal muttered, putting his hat back on and stalking back out of his flat to have a Martini somewhere that a Time Agent hadn’t kidnapped the good vodka.

***

“Why do people keep ending up in my kitchen, specifically my kitchen table?” Neal asked, exasperated, throwing up his hands and ruffling his hair when arriving home later in the evening. People apparently now included cooking.

Misery, he decided, does not love company. It hates company, especially when company drinks his booze or rattles on about Zen nonsense. Who knew his line was Zen nonsense? Neal didn’t. But it was true. And apparently Zen nonsense came in the form of an LAPD detective, a ginger no less, who he came home to find cooking on his stove that he only ever really uses to age paintings with. Damn consulting officers being in town and invading his kitchen.

“A kitchen table is not clutter,” Charlie responded stirring the sauce in the pan, which wasn’t exactly an answer to his question.

Apparently it was the best sauce ever according to Mozzie. Of course Mozzie would say that. Both Charlie and he had talked Zen nonsense for the last two days. They were new best friends and no Neal wasn’t jealous. Neal would not be guilty of being jealous of crazy.

“That isn’t even a relative answer to my question,” Neal protested and did not stomp his foot even if he felt like he was having a childish argument.

“You sound like the suit,” Mozzie declared, worrying his lip and frowning at Neal over his glasses.

“Because you both sound like raving lunatics,” Neal muttered, ruffling his hair more and mentally kicking himself for sounding like Peter. It would be unforgivable if he didn‘t feel like he was fighting for sanity.

“A kitchen table is welcoming. It draws people in. It’s inviting,” Charlie explained. “It’s only natural that people would gravitate to it, whether they are apparently welcome or not.” Crews shrugged and gave the sauce a counter clockwise stir.

“See,” Mozzie agreed gesturing with his gin.

Neal sat down and thunked his head against the smooth surface of the table. He had a feeling it would be a long evening.

“Here,” Mozzie said, scooting a glass next to Neal’s wrist. “Drink some wine. Everything’s better with wine.”

Neal propped his head back up and studied the glass then Mozzie. He sat up and took a sip and admitted, “It might smell a little good.”

Mozzie grinned at Neal causing him to smile a little back. Maybe the unexpected visitor wasn’t so bad, especially if food was involved.

***
Of course, Neal would decide that the ideal visitor brought their own alcohol and food thanks to Richard Castle, who was already waiting at his door when he got in from headquarters the following day armed with Chinese cartons and a bottle of white.

“Before you say anything,” Castle started, halting Neal’s protests in it’s tracks and pushing into Neal’s room, “I brought wine and food.”

“Tell me that it’s at least a good bottle of wine,” Neal insisted, shutting the door and turning to face the author. “And Pad Thai,” he clarified.

“It’s a ‘97,” Castle said as if it were obvious, “and yes.”

“Why are you invading my flat with wine and food? Did your mother throw another party?” Neal hedged the questions. It was probably some sort of lovesick puppy mess involving Becket or he was actually avoiding a party.

“I can’t just drop by and see my favorite con artist?” Castle asked, puppy eyes fluttering and grin tucked firmly in the corner of his mouth.

“Not this week,” Neal said, trying not to sound completely weary.

“Is is because Sophie Deveroux stopped by?” Castle asked, trying to play it cool but sounding amazingly eager at the same time.

“No I will not give you her number and you can tell Burke I am still not working a job with her or her team,” Neal guessed.

“Way to spoil my fun,” Castle pouted as Neal opened the wine. “Some criminal friend you are.”

“I’m sure that you have much more efficient ways to contact her that doesn’t include me,” Neal said pouring the wine and giving Castle a look. “So what’s really going on?”

“Nothing,” Castle admitted. “There’s no new cool murder. Alexis is doing good in school and I don’t even hate her boyfriend and my mom is actual being pretty tolerable.”

“How normal that all sounds,” Neal admitted, and didn‘t sound envious, much. Peace and quiet were overrated until it wasn’t.

“Tell me about it,” Castle said, sounding just this side of horrified. “Everything is just so normal and boring and too quiet. How am I expected to create anything with such harmony. What is life without death? Death without life? A home without a theatrical feeling of drama?” Castle mused out load.

“A typical home?” Neal asked.

“Typical yes!” Castle scoffed and sputtered. “I can’t exist with typical. I’ve grown too accustomed to atypical. To the extraordinary!”

“Clearly,” Neal said, fighting a smile.

“Do you think if we talked sweetly to June that she’d tell us some fantastic stories about the old days?” Castle asked hopefully.

“What?” Neal asked, smiling outright. “My stories not good enough for you anymore?”

“I’ve heard all your stories,” Castle answered doing a lazy dismissive hand gesture.

“Did I tell you about the time I met a high functioning sociopath and his sidekick in England?” Neal asked, smiling at the thought.

“You know Sherlock Holmes and Dr. James Watson?!” Castle exclaimed gaping and managing to cackle at the same time. “No way! Tell me! Tell me! Tell me!” he demanded clapping his hands and then leaning forward on his elbows. “Are his cheekbones as fantastic in person?”

“Of course you would focus on the cheek bones,” Neal frowned, fighting a smile.

“You have to admit that they are kind of fantastic,” Castle countered. “He totally took you to school though, didn’t he?”

“Not completely to school,” Neal answered delicately. “He just called me out in front of the room I was working causing me to make a hasty gallery exit.”

“Guards escorted you out?” Castle asked, picturing it and smiling at the mental image.

“Both of us,” Neal answered taking another sip of wine. “Apparently the gallery owner didn’t take kindly to Sherlock being so obnoxiously himself especially since he wasn’t invited.”

“Sweet!” Castle grinned.

“It was actually,” Neal agreed.

“Aside from the part where you were caught,” Castle added.

“Well of course,” Neal confirmed. Thankfully, Castle didn’t ask Neal to think philosophically the rest of the night and was called away to a murder scene just as they finished the bottle.

Neal should have known better than to evoke the name of Sherlock Holmes though. Apparently the mention of his name makes him show up.

Neal learned this when he woke up the next morning to find the Englishman sitting at his breakfast table with a cup of tea. He ran a hand through his hair to calm it down and rubbed a hand over his stubbled chin.

“I thought you were going to sleep the day away,” Sherlock stated, rolling the empty bottle of wine between his hands. “And on a week day. Of course you are kind of a scoundrel, so I imagine it’s to be expected.”

“What?” Neal asked, pulling on his robe and sauntering over to the counter to coax the French press into making coffee. “Have you gotten kicked out of your hotel for being too English or something? Or is calling ahead and knocking just not something that you’re accustomed to.”

Neal could admit that he didn’t exactly have his A game turned on yet.

“I imagine everyone still thinks you’re charming,” Sherlock said with a tilt of this head, eyes focusing for a moment on Neal’s hair, his chin, his lips then back on his eyes. “I can see the appeal. Your hair almost perfectly coiffed even after a bender, smile tucked into the corner of your mouth, but the eyes...” Sherlock smiled just a little.

“What about them?” Neal asked, standing still, unmoving.

“You’re not completely hiding behind your eyes as well as you think,” Sherlock stated simply. “It’s slipping. It’s been slipping for a while. But you’d never admit it. Because that isn’t what people like you do. People like you just carry on conning everyone that cares about them, trying to push them away. Trying to infuriate those people until they leave. Until they give up.”

Neal was angry all at once. And wanted to punch him in the face. Neal just wasn’t in the mood to be analyzed before coffee.

“I’m going to kiss you now. It’s fine if you slap me after. I kind of like that,” Sherlock declared and leaned in. His lips caught Neal’s and Neal kissed back before he could think about it, let Sherlock slip tongue into his mouth before he pulled away.

He did slap Holmes then, a little because he wanted to, a little because Sherlock expected it, and a little because he was so surprised at himself.

Sherlock grinned a Cheshire grin, his hand touching the singed skin of his cheek.

“Even before you brush your teeth, you’re kind of irresistible,” Sherlock mused, stealing one more kiss and bounding out the door before Neal could yell at him, or throw something, or demand he get the hell back in.

Neal would blame that last thought on temporary insanity. Clearly he’s stretched too thin by all his visitors and the talking. Yep. Heaven couldn’t even make him chase down Sherlock in his dressing gown, especially if Watson’s threatening texts were anything to take into account. Of course, that didn’t stop Heaven from visiting so to speak.

***


“Look,” Neal spoke, firmly putting his foot down and addressing the trench coat laden visitor.

Castiel merely tilted his head to the side and waited for Neal to speak, which didn’t stop it from being a little unsettling.

“My dance card is completely full,” Neal explained. “Yes, I am working on the side of good now. However, I am not, nor have I ever, traded in any artifacts of Heaven. I prefer silver, paintings, and priceless sculpture if I must fence anything. This honest job stuff takes up a lot of my time so I don’t have a moment to spare on the business of Heaven. And for the record, I already told Crowley no.”

Castiel brought his head back to the upright position and looked at Neal as if he were a really interesting bug.

“You just showed up in the wrong place, didn’t you?’ Neal asked rubbing his forehead, trying not to feel so foolish for his confession.

“I was looking for Balthazar, but clearly I was mistaken,” Cas said in way of explanation, eyes focusing momentarily on a tarnished gold horn resting on the bookshelf close to the door. He nearly frowned at it and turned back to Neal.

“I’ll call if he turns up,” Neal said, agreeably trying not to let his puzzlement show. “Your cell still the same?”

Neal didn’t remember having that horn and he’ll be really displeased if John Hart has left something volatile and just this side of ugly in his flat, especially if he didn‘t notice it until now. But it may have had a don’t-look-here filter on it that can only be altered by one of the Heavenly Host.

“Yes or pray,” Cas answered then pointed at the horn. “I would suggest you don’t play that.”

Before Neal could ask why, the angel disappeared with a rustle of feathers. Neal decided that a call to Bobby Singer later might explain the flute interest but that would be after he’d had a long nap, preferably on the balcony away from where any visitors might pop out of thin air.

***

Parker was sitting at the table when he got home on Friday evening with the piece she’d stolen from him. The window was open from the balcony. He’d left it locked. Leave it to Parker to not even think of using the front door.

“Parker,” Neal greeted, tossing his hat atop the coat rack and sliding out of his suit jacket to hang on the spoke below it.

“Caffrey,” she said simply, still looking the jade sitting on the table. “I’m sorry I took this back from you. You did win it fair and square, but I just wanted to hold it for a little while,” she said, sounding just this side of rehearsed, shrugged and looked a little sad.

“I’m not just going to give it to you because you look sad about it,” Neal said in response sitting down across from her.

She smiled a little at that. They lapsed into a somewhat comfortable silence.

“Sophie’s worried about you,” she chirped after a few minutes.

“Oh?” Neal asked. Sophie was great if she wasn’t being a mother hen. Neal was so screwed.

“She didn’t go into any specifics,” Parker explained, “but she did say to tell you not to regret helping folks.”

“Are you happy? Helping folks?” Neal asked and Parker looked at him finally. A glimmer of a smile was tucked into the corner of her mouth.

“Yeah,” she answered.

“I think I might be happy in a way too,” Neal admitted, unsure what to do with himself all at once. He looked away.

“It’s a little scary, right?” Parker asked, looking bemused perhaps at Neal or herself.

“Yeah,” Neal admitted quietly.

“It seems to be getting better though,” Parker agreed and stood. “See ya, Caffrey.”

She jogged out the balcony door and leaped over the edge causing Neal to smile. The first time she did anything like that, it scared him to death. He supposed if he could get use to someone like Parker, having such a centrally located flat and working for the good guys might not be so bad despite how he felt in the morning to find Captain Jack Harkness leaning against his door.

“So, John was here?” Jack asked, fingers worrying one of his suspenders as he leaned against Neal’s closed door in way of greeting.

“Why yes Jack it’s lovely to see you, so glad you let yourself in and didn’t even make coffee,” Neal muttered thankful that he wore pajama pants and a shirt to bed, but would have been happier to be fully dressed. Time Agents were always so handsy without warning nor with the minding of personal space so that it was usually better to start out conversations with more clothes.

“You know I don’t make coffee,” Jack wrinkled his nose and somehow managed to look devastated at the idea of such.

“Yes,” Neal answered fiddling with his French press, “John was here.”

Jack nodded taking a step over to help. “And?” he asked.

“He tried to get me to run off with him again and I said no, because contrary to most everyone that seems to keep showing up, I do have a life that I am trying to be happy with.”

“You don’t have to get all defensive,” Jack frowned. “How many visitors?” Jack asked, with a little bit of a smile.

“I don’t have any more room on my dance card, Jack,” Neal warned.

“But has there been any actual dancing?” Jack asked. “Tell me you know someone better at swing dance than me.”

Leave it for Jack to go with the literal.

“June,” Neal smirked.

“June is fantastic in all respects,” Jack agreed, looking fond, lost in memories.

“Ah the days of old,” Neal joked pouring the coffees. There was probably a story there, several stories. June has a hell of a life and her younger days were no exception and it’s only natural that Jack’s known her all her life. Swing was probably just the tip of a story that inevitably weaves into card playing and whiskey.

“Don’t knock it,” Jack warned, grinning, eyes dancing with mischief.

“Sure,” Neal agreed. “Now why are you really here?”

“The case you’ve been working on,” Jack explained following Neal out onto the balcony and into the morning sun. “I’m afraid a few of the artifacts were extra terrestrial in origin and I need to see that it’s taken care of.”

“Peter will work with UNIT,” Neal offered. See, he’s trying to keep things on the up and up. Valiant of him.

“Some of these are time sensitive,” Jack waved a hand.

“And you don’t like official channels,” Neal shrugged. He can only offer, never minding he likes when things are off book and completely illegal. It’s always more fun.

“Speaking of time sensitive,” Neal gestured for Jack to follow and showed him the horn on his bookshelf.

“Neal, why do you have the horn of Gabriel in your apartment?” Jack asked, looking more than a little surprised. .

“I have no idea and apparently no knowledge of it,” Neal explained.

“Don’t touch it until I make a few calls,” Jack said, moving them backward away from the shelf.

“Or tell anyone it’s here and so on?” Neal lifted an eyebrow.

“Exactly,” Jack leaned in and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. “Tell June I stopped by.”

“Sure,” Neal said. “For the record, I have no knowledge of our conversation today.”

“Of course not,” Jack smirked opening the door. “Thanks for the coffee,” with that he sauntered out. At least Jack thanked him.

A few calls apparently meant that a man with a worn trucker cap showed up driving a tow truck.

“Hello Mr. Singer,” Neal greeted when Bobby showed up Sunday afternoon.

“Hi Neal,” Bobby muttered stepping inside and studying the room. “Quite a set up you’ve got here.”

“At least it isn’t haunted,” Neal agreed. “Should I offer you a drink or are you just here to take the horn, call me an idjit and hit the road?”

“It’s better I take it and my leave soon, then he show up and take it back himself,” Bobby suggested.

Neal quickly went and got the horn and handed it to Bobby. “I really don’t have the patience to be visited by an Arch Angel, especially if they are mischievous.”

“Few do kid,” Bobby admitted tucking the horn into a bag followed by a box, which Neal thought was overkill, but what did he know regarding the artifacts of Heaven? He’d been more thorough shipping some silver so he figured he had no room to talk.

Tip of the hat and Bobby walked out. Neal didn’t hear the door shut as he loosened his tie and walked over to stare out the balcony window.

“Well, you look like you’ve had about enough company,” Sophie mused, stealing him from his thoughts.

He turned to find her standing in the doorway looking smug.

“Tell me you aren’t responsible for all of this?” Neal asked. It wasn’t a demand and he’s pretty sure he doesn’t really want to know.

“I’m not responsible for all this,” Sophie answered, face serious. She was probably playing him but he was too tired to care. “I see that Mr. Singer took that horn off of your hands.”

“Horn that you planted,” Neal countered causing her to smirk. Gotcha.

“It was of the belief that you knew the proper channels,” Sophie waved off. “Besides, I’m just here to make sure Parker gave you your lion back.”

“Sure that’s all you’re here for,” Neal rolled his eyes, fighting a smile. Sophie hasn’t lost her touch. He hasn’t been kept this on his toes in quite awhile.

“And what we talked about before,” Sophie said, tilting her head. “Are you happy wearing your masks Neal? Or do you want something else?”

If this small army of visitors has led Neal to any conclusion, he’s pretty sure, that despite a flattering array of offers, he’s happy where he is and what he’s doing. He even liked it a little. Besides, Peter would only chase him again and there’s no need for any collateral damage. Even if Peter would probably manage to find him at the end of the universe.

“What else could I possible want?” Neal asked, smirking.

“Your own corner of the universe or Hell or London on a plate or any number of those things,” Sophie suggested. “All of those things.”

“I’m just working on my own two mile radius of New York first,” Neal decided and would dare to say that the feeling in his chest might be contentment.

Sophie returned his grin and started to speak.

“And I know how to reach you if I ever change my mind,” Neal added.

“Big if,” Sophie said giving him a hug and then walking out.

She was right. In this moment, if will never be when, but it’s not like he doesn’t have options.