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Sympathetic Threads

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“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
~ Herman Melville

 

Neal wasn't surprised to find his bed occupied when he opened the door. The sun was setting over the city, casting long shadows inside the studio apartment and across Sara's sleeping body. She'd been staying with him more often lately, claiming that it was closer to work. Neal conceded the lie because he liked having her warm body next to his at night too.

He let her be as he quietly moved about the large room, pulling off his tie and jacket and dropping them over the back of the sofa. He flipped on the lights furthest from the bed, and then opened the fridge and cabinets slowly, gathering the items he needed to make omelets and toast.

The smell was enough to wake Sara half an hour later. He grinned and pressed his palm to her slightly rounded stomach when she joined him in the kitchen with a peck on the lips and a sleepy smile.

“Breakfast for dinner?” Despite her skeptical tone, she got two glasses from the cupboard and poured the orange juice.

“I know how much you love a spinach and goat cheese omelet.” He set their plates on the table and laughed at her crinkled nose and offended expression. “Okay, so it's about the only thing we have. I can ask June's staff to make you something else.”

“No, this looks good,” she replied.

Neal nodded, pleased that she was accepting the healthy meal. He had no qualms with tricking her into eating or playing her independent nature against her. The doctor had warned them at her last appointment that she needed to take better care of herself after coming in under weight on the scales. Now that the morning sickness had abated, he was plying her with all sorts of foods.

They'd just sat down across from each other when the door swung open, and Mozzie strolled in.

“You're never going to knock, are you?” Sara asked, raising an eyebrow.

Mozzie nearly rolled his eyes and retorted, “You're never going to learn to lock the door, are you?”

Neal waved his white napkin between them with a deep sigh. “I didn't want to have this talk with you two, but here it is. Mozzie, Sara's part of my life. She's pregnant with my child,” he paused to give Mozzie a stern glare when the older man scoffed, “so she's going to be sticking around for a long time. Okay?”

Mozzie was clearly unhappy about it, but he finally nodded in understanding.

“Now, Sara, Mozzie is my oldest friend. I trust him with my life, and I trust him with your and the baby’s lives. Okay?”

She too was hesitant, but the eccentric old fart obviously meant a lot to Neal, so she had no choice but to agree. “Okay.”

“Good. Now, we can eat. Moz, can I help you with something?”

“No, I have what I need.” He'd dug one of the better bottles of wine out of the back of the collection on the counter and poured himself a glass.

Sara almost made a crack about his soused liver but thought better of it. Instead, she forced a smile and ate her omelet. It was surprisingly tasty.

“Everything okay over there, Repo?”

“This,” she gestured with her fork, “is pretty good. Have you thought about opening a restaurant?”

Mozzie laughed and Neal grinned wide enough to nearly blind her with his teeth.

“What's so funny?” Sara asked, looking back and forth between them.

Neal just shook his head. “I own a bakery called The Greatest Cake. It's off Broadway.”

She was genuinely surprised. “Why on earth do you own a bakery?”

“It's a long story-,” Neal said, only to be cut off by Mozzie.

“Neal jumped out a fourth floor judge's chambers' window onto the recently installed awning of our new bakery. It was spectacular, or so I'm told.” Mozzie was giving up secrets to show how annoyed he was that Neal was pulling Sara further into his life. It was rare for Mozzie to stoop to such a petty level, but sometimes he just had to make his point.

Sara wasn't sure what to make of that. Neal was glaring daggers, which meant that the story was most likely true. “Um, okay.”

“It wasn't a big deal. I was set up for a jewelry theft, and I had to clear my name.”

“So, now, you own a bakery. That makes perfect sense.” She barely managed to suppress the urge to roll her eyes.

“It turns a pretty good profit actually. You'll be happy for that when we start buying all that baby stuff that Elizabeth insists we'll need.”

“She has three nieces and a nephew,” Sara reminded him. “That pretty much makes her the expert.”

“True.”

“That sounds like my cue to leave,” Mozzie said while re-corking the bottle of wine and tucking it under his arm. “This baby talk has killed my appetite.”

“But not your alcoholism,” Sara said, almost under her breath.

“All right.” Neal stood and started to gently guide Mozzie toward the door. “Enjoy the wine, Moz. I'll talk to you tomorrow.” He shut the door against Mozzie's protests about the 'insurance wench' and her 'judgmental tone'.

“Sorry, sorry.” Sara stood and took their plates to the sink. “He just drives me so, ugh, crazy.”

Neal didn't know what to say to that, didn't know how to even begin to explain how important Mozzie was to him. So, he quietly gathered the rest of the dishes and started washing them in the sink while he contemplated it.

Meanwhile, Sara puttered around the apartment, straightening the magazines on the coffee table and putting a soft jazz album on the record player in the corner. When Neal finished up in the kitchen, he moved to the sitting area and picked up a book he'd left laying nearby as he took a seat on the sofa.

Sara sat beside him and put her hand on his shoulder. “Are you mad at me?”

“No,” he replied honestly. “I'm just not sure how to explain Mozzie to you.”

She laughed at that. “I don't think that's even possible.”

He didn't see the humor in the situation. He wanted them both to get along or else the next eighteen plus years would be hell for him. “That's not what I meant. Look, when I moved to New York, I didn't know anyone. No one at all. I'd been traveling, learning cons from watching others and reading up on them, but New York was the big time. I met Mozzie the first month I was here, and he took me under his wing and taught me most everything that I know. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for him.”

“You wouldn't have gone to prison either.” She couldn't help but point it out.

“You don't know that,” Neal countered, pushing away from her to stand and put some distance between them. “I was already running cons that I didn't really understand yet. I could have gone to prison for a lot longer.”

“Or you could have found a legitimate job and gone straight.”

“C'mon, Sara, you don't really believe that, do you?”

“I can't help it if I believe that there's good in you, Neal. You're great at everything you try. You can't tell me that there's not some legitimate career path that you could have taken!”

“I didn't want a career! The con is a rush, Sara. You don't understand it; you can't.”

Her mood swung in response to his tone and a surge in her pregnancy hormones. She shot off the couch and jammed her feet into the first shoes she saw. “You're right. I don't understand it. And you won't explain it to me.” She didn't give him a chance respond; the door slammed behind her as she left.

~~!!~~

Two days passed without Neal or Sara seeing or speaking to each other. Neither was willing to back down yet on their points of view, and they were both okay with getting some breathing room, until Sara's cell rang in the middle of the afternoon.

She was too busy flipping through the financial statements of someone who'd clearly come into a lot of money recently, probably from fencing a stolen Manet, to check the display on her phone. “Sara Ellis.”

“Hey, Sara, it's Elizabeth.”

Sara picked up on the harried tone in Elizabeth's voice right away. “Is everything okay?”

Elizabeth hesitated for a couple of beats too long and a painful knot formed in Sara's stomach.

“Elizabeth?”

“There's been a bit of an accident. Neal's-”

“Accident?!” Sara interrupted. “Where is he? I'm coming.”

“Mount Sinai. I'll meet you there.”

Sara hung up before Elizabeth could say anything else. She grabbed her purse and her jacket and ran out the door as fast as her six-inch Louboutins allowed.

~~!!~~

The Mount Sinai ER waiting room was full of people, which was surprising for 3:30 on a Thursday afternoon. Sara glanced around but didn't see anyone that she recognized, so she went to the desk.

“Name? Age? Complaint?” the nurse asked without even looking up.

“I'm looking for someone,” Sara replied. “Neal Caffrey.”

“You'll need to go the information desk at the main entrance.”

“You can't tell me if he's here in the ER?”

“No, ma'am. I don't have information on patients. You'll have to go to the information desk-”

“You seriously can't just tell me if he's here? That is the most ridic-”

“Sara!” Elizabeth's voice interrupted what was sure to be an epic pregnancy-induced bitchfit.

“Elizabeth, please tell me that you have news.” Sara abandoned the nurse to meet Elizabeth by the ER admittance doors.

Elizabeth smiled at her. “He's going to be okay. Grumpy for a while probably, but okay.”

“What happened?” Sara asked as Elizabeth looped their arms and led her back into the ER toward the exam rooms.

“I'm still not clear on the details. For what I can gather, Neal did something he shouldn't have,” Elizabeth said it with a grin that made Sara snort, “and fell from a external stairwell or fire escape or something. Anyway, he doesn't seem to have a concussion, but he did a number on his wrist.”

“Broken?”

Elizabeth whistled in an impressed sort of way. “Oh, yeah. In three places.”

Sara felt like she was going to vomit despite Elizabeth's easy-going attitude about the whole thing. “Three places?”

Nodding, Elizabeth stopped them in front of an exam room door that was slightly ajar. From inside, they could hear a muffled argument.

“I'm fine, Peter,” Neal insisted in an uncharacteristically whiny tone of voice. The sounds of crumpling paper and the creaking of an overused and under-oiled gurney could be heard too.

“Don't even start with me, and lay back down. Your wrist needs to stay elevated.” Peter sounded exactly like an exasperated father close to the end of his rope.

“It doesn't even hurt any more.” There was more crumpling and creaking as Neal fidgeted.

Peter sighed. “That's because the nurse gave you a shot. Remember? You were shouting and crying-”

“Was not.”

“Were to.”

Elizabeth shook her head and stepped inside the room. “Boys, behave.”

“El.” Peter spoke the single syllable with the relief of a man getting water for the first time after days in the desert.

“What's she doing here?” Neal's voice held some curiosity, some displeasure, and something else that none of them could quite identify.

Peter put a restraining hand on Neal's uninjured arm. “I asked Elizabeth to call her.”

“Why?”

“Because she's your girlfriend. You're going to need someone's help zipping up those fancy pants of yours for a little while. And I'm not doing it.”

Neal's eyes slid toward Elizabeth, and Peter moved so that he was blocking the younger man's view.

“Neither is my wife.”

“Peter!” Neal tried to sound affronted but wound up closer to petulant. He rolled his head away from them and started to hum a slow, sad tune.

Sara couldn't help her smile at Neal's antics. She'd never seen him like this, and while it was worrying, it was also amusing to the see the con artist lose so much of his composure. “What's wrong with him?” she asked quietly, not wanting Neal to hear.

“He's sensitive to medication,” Peter replied. “It reverts him back to pre-pubescence.”

“Does not!”

“Neal, settle down,” Elizabeth said, moving closer to the bed and squeezing his left hand, the one that wasn't swollen to twice it's size despite the splint, ice, and elevation the nurse had insisted on.

“'Lizabeth,” he murmured, batting long, elegant eyelashes at her.

She chuckled. “Yes, Neal?”

“I'm ready to go home.”

“Oh, sweetie.” Her demeanor softened, and she caressed his cheek for a moment. Tears threatened when he leaned into the gesture. “I think you're going to have to stay for a little while.” She glanced at Peter, who nodded.

“You need surgery, Neal. We talked about this with the doctor.” Peter's reminder wasn't as gentle as it should have been, and Elizabeth gave him one of her patented disapproving looks.

Neal sighed and looked away again, humming quietly once more.

“Surgery?” Sara was surprised and concerned enough that her voice trembled. She pressed her lips together and took a slow, deep breath in to steady herself.

Peter nodded as he shuffled aside in the limited space and gently moved Sara toward Neal's uninjured side. “His wrist is unstable and with the three fractures, the best thing to do is go in and put in some pins and maybe a plate. They'll see when they-“

A nurse interrupted them by pushing the door open and stepping around Elizabeth to get to Neal’s side. She took his vitals while the others watched quietly. “All right, Mr. Caffrey. We’re going to move you up to a room so that we can work on getting the swelling down before the surgery.”

“I can rest at home,” Neal replied, giving her his best earnest expression. “I promise to elevate and ice it and everything.”

She gave him a kindly smile and shook her head. “Dr. Kent wants to see if she can operate early tomorrow morning, so it’s best if you stay here.”

Neal pouted openly as she started arranging his gurney and IV bag for transport.

“He’s being put in the Orthopedics wing, room 512,” the nurse told Sara, Peter, and Elizabeth. “It’ll take us a few minutes to get him settled in up there. Our cafeteria has some half-way decent coffee, if you want to grab some of that.”

Though they were all reluctant to leave Neal’s side, they filed out when an orderly came to help get him upstairs.

~~!!~~

Four days later, Sara sighed in exasperation and sat down on the edge of the park bench she’d been directed to in a series of anonymous text messages. Someone out of sight cleared their throat, so she flicked open the newspaper that had been in her left hand, and said, “The mockingbird flew at two.”

“What color was the mockingbird?” a voice called out from behind her.

“Blue. By the way, this is ridiculous,” she said when she felt the jostle of someone take a seat on the bench behind hers.

“Mrs. Suit said that you wanted to talk,” Mozzie replied, also opening a newspaper. “This is when and where I talk.”

“Paranoid, controlling…” she muttered under her breath.

Mozzie’s ears perked up, but he couldn’t quite understand her, much to his displeasure. “What was that?”

“Nothing. Look, it’s very important to Neal that we get along, and Neal is very important to me, so-“

“Promise me,” he interrupted, “that you won’t hurt him. That includes carting his child off to parts unknown at any time in the next eighteen years.”

She frowned at that, not that he could see her expression. “Honestly, I’m more concerned about the two of you disappearing with my child.”

“I’m not.”

She considered his words and the underlying tone. He was clearly concerned, and she wasn’t surprised. She’d heard a little about Kate and the relationship that Neal had with her from Elizabeth. The other woman didn’t know much except that Neal had completely, unabashedly loved Kate, and her death had nearly killed him.

“Repo-“

“Don’t call me that!” She rolled her eyes and added, “You’ll have to promise me something in return.”

“What are your terms?”

“First of all, you’ll start knocking at Neal’s apartment. Secondly, Neal’s life of crime is over.” She barely paused when the older man snorted. “You won’t talk him into any cons or stings or heists or whatever you want to call them. I will not raise my child with a criminal.”

“Technically-“

“You know what I mean.”

Mozzie conceded with single nod of his head. “I won’t bring him in on a job, but I won’t let him go off and do something on his own either. If he brings me-“

“You’ll tell him no.”

“You should stop while you’re ahead, Ellis.”

She bristled and spit out. “Fine.” They could always revisit the subject again later, as long as he didn’t get Neal in trouble before then.

“Fine,” he repeated, pleased that the negotiations had gone as well as they had. He knew that Sara meant a lot to Neal, but the baby complicated things in a way that Mozzie wasn’t quite sure how to plan for yet. That made him edgy. Neal did crazy things when he was in love. Crazy, crazy things.

~~!!~~

A week after Neal had been admitted to Mount Sinai, he was over the worst of the pain and the nausea from the analgesics, and he’d just had his semi-cast replaced with a plastic brace. He was pretty much back to his previous level of independence, and that made him very happy. As much as he usually liked Sara taking off his clothes, it lost it’s excitement around the fifth time she had to unzip for him in the bathroom.

He was poking around in the refrigerator, trying to come up with something for dinner, when Sara came through the door.

“Hey!” She gave him a kiss and placed a large paper bag on the table.

It smelled like orange chicken and egg rolls. “What’s this?”

“Chinese. It’s partly to celebrate your recovery.” She tapped his black brace gently. “And partly to say that I’m sorry for the situation with Mozzie last week.”

Neal’s eyes lit up and he started ripping open the bag as quickly as his still-tender wrist would allow. “Are there scallion pancakes in there?”

She laughed and grabbed a couple of plates out of the cabinet. “I wouldn’t forget one of your favorite foods as part of my apology.”

It only took a couple of minutes for them to dish out their food and sit side by side at the table. Neal looked over at Sara and put down his fork. “Look, I know that you and Moz won’t resolve your differences overnight, and I don’t expect you to. All I ask is that you both try. He’s like a brother to me, and we’re having this baby, and-“

She pressed her index finger to his lips to quiet him. “Mozzie and I talked this week. We’re working on it.”

Neal’s brows furrowed as he surveyed the room, looking for damage that he might not have noticed before. “You and Moz? In the same room? Talking?”

She gently took his chin and forced him to look at her. “It wasn’t here. Some bench outside Central Park.”

He nodded knowingly. “Newspaper? Mockingbird phrase? That sounds about right.”

“He’s… odd.”

“But?”

“But he cares a lot about you. I’ve assured him that I won’t whisk your child away to Paris or Reykjavík or São Paulo or somewhere, and he’s assured me that he won’t try to talk you back into a life of crime. It’s a start.”

Neal grinned and pulled her into a kiss. “Thank you,” he whispered and then deepened the kiss. His hand slid down her body to cradle her growing stomach.

“I love you,” she murmured against his lips, and they both froze, startled at the sudden declaration. They had never said it to each other before, but the sincerity in her voice was unmistakable.

“I love you too.”

~Finis

Thank you for reading!