Master list for my White Collar fan fiction is here.
Fandom: White Collar
Pairing/Characters: Peter/Neal/Elizabeth (very close friendship)
Word count: ~ 10,200 altogether
A/N: This is a crack-fic in which Neals changes into a kitten. Peter's POV.
Excerpt: Jones and Diana were crouching next to me and all three of us drew in a startled gasp when a tiny black-furred head with brightly gleaming blue eyes looked at us. Neal's tie was hanging loosely around the kitten's neck.
“Damn it!” I muttered after I had run into the hall, gun raised, only to skid to a halt when I saw Parker pressing the barrel of his gun against Neal's temple.
Neal's eyes widened when the cold steel touched his skin and his hands were twitching while the rest of his body went rigid. Neal hated guns, especially when they were pointed at him. Even though he was usually able to hide his real emotions he could never hide the fearful flicker of his eyes whenever a gun was raised. I locked eyes with Neal, hoping that he wouldn't do anything stupid, that he would trust me to handle the situation.
Of course Neal didn't stay quiet and I had the sudden urge to bend him over my knees. I had that urge quite often but I had never acted on it – so far. Maybe I should think this over. Well, after Neal was rescued and El had lectured him. I don't know why but her scolding had a much better effect on him than mine and he at least tried to act reasonable for some time after she told him off.
Whatever Neal had said, Parker wasn't fond of his remark and ordered one of his brutes to come over to him. Neal struggled against Parker's hold and flinched when the brute grabbed his head until Neal's throat was pulled taut. Neal began to panic and I felt sweat trickling down my spine. Jones and Diana were standing beside me, both had raised their guns too but neither of us could attempt to shoot. Backup would at least take another five minutes to arrive and I cursed inwardly at Neal for having gotten himself into such a dangerous situation again.
I opened my mouth to talk Parker into letting go of Neal but Parker spoke first. “I won't kill him - probably. I will, however, do something else that might be able to help him control his impulses better.”
I frowned, then murmured, “oh shit!” as soon as Parker produced a syringe with a light blue fluid in it. Neal gulped and kicked the brute that was holding him. It earned him a hard slap onto a cheek, leaving him dazed and giving the man a chance to adjust his grip on him.
“Can't we … can't we talk about this?” Neal asked with a tinge of despair in his voice.
“I don't think so Mr. Halden. Or should I say Mr. Caffrey?”
Neal winced as did I. Neal had helped to solve a lot of crimes and I guess word had spread that he had changed sides. Of course I knew that Neal would never cut ties with his old life completely but other criminals probably didn't think the same way. I sneaked a glance at my watch, counting down the minutes for backup to show up when Parker uncapped the syringe and quickly administered the fluid into the erratically pulsating vein at Neal's throat. Neal cried out in surprise and pain and I took a few steps towards him. I stopped dead in my tracks when the second and the third of Parker's brutes pointed their guns at Neal. Even though Parker had said he wouldn't kill Neal, I couldn't trust him and couldn't put Neal's life on the line. I stepped back.
Everything was quiet except for Neal's harsh breathing and we all stared at him, waiting for whatever was going to happen. I heard Diana gasp when Neal's body suddenly started to quiver and fluctuate while he screamed in fear. Doors burst open while Neal's body – or what was left of it – slumped to the floor. The form writhed, then shrunk and shrunk until only the clothes were left.
Someone shouted “FBI! Freeze!” and I snapped back into reality. Parker and his guys were already at the doors on the backside, guns were fired and everyone seemed to shout orders. I ran after them after I had barked at Diana to stay and keep an eye on the heap of Neal's clothes.
We caught Parker and his guys and when I was sure that they were cuffed I hurried back to the spot where Neal had disappeared. My voice sounded hoarse when I asked Diana: “What the hell happened? Where is Neal?”
“I don't know,” she answered.
I crouched down and poked at the clothes. I jumped when something soft rubbed against my hand. I withdrew my hand and stared at the heap. I'm sure my mouth fell open, too, especially when the clothes began to move. I swallowed, then carefully lifted Neal's shirt. Jones and Diana were crouching next to me and all three of us drew in a startled gasp when a tiny black-furred head with brightly gleaming blue eyes looked at us. Neal's tie was hanging loosely around the kitten's neck. The poor kitten radiated anxiety in fearful waves.
“It's … it's a kitten!” Jones exclaimed. “Why is there a kitten?”
I shook my head in bewilderment. I had no clue why there was a kitten but the eyes were oddly familiar. I reached out with my hand and the kitten tentatively sniffed at it. It slowly came closer but toppled when it tripped on the tie. The kitten meowed before it tried to get rid of the tie around him. I smiled at the sight in front of me and eventually Diana took pity and freed the kitten. Gratefully the small creature licked Diana's hand and she scratched it behind its ears. A soft purr was her reward.
The purr and the relaxed body language of the kitten changed when Parker walked past us. He laughed and said, “a cat, huh? That fits, Caffrey. Though I have to say it is unusual to change into the baby form of an animal. You need someone to pamper and take care of you? Well, good luck in finding someone. Most people I know said that you're a charmer and in dire need of a good spanking --”
I cut Parker off when the kitten curled himself up in a small ball, looking miserable and forlorn. “What do you mean? That's a kitten! Where the hell is Caffrey?”
“The kitten is Caffrey. He'll change back in a few days, don't fret. Well, if he's able to survive that long, that is,” Parker replied.
“That's impossible!” Jones exclaimed. He was angry and I didn't blame him. He wasn't as close to Neal as I was but I had seen him growing fond of Neal. Well, no one could resist Neal's charm forever and he knew about that fact all too well.
I was drawn out of my thoughts by Parker. “It isn't. The proof is sitting right there in front of you. Look at the kitten, the eyes are Caffrey's eyes and he can understand each and every word, right?”
The kitten's eyes drew together to small slits and Parker laughed again. “If you want them to believe you're the real Caffrey you should better start convincing them. I'm sure you know that they'll bring you to the shelter otherwise.”
Parker grinned and the kitten suddenly uncurled and hastily scurried over to me. It meowed and stood up on his hind paws, indicating for me to pick it up. I just stared and the kitten meowed again.
“Boss, maybe you should pick him up,” Diana suggested.
“Him? Do you really believe that this is Neal?” I asked.
Instead of answering me she bent down and picked up Neal, uh, the kitten. She handed me the little black ball of fur and awkwardly I cradled the little creature in the crook of my arm. “I'm still not convinced,” I said.
“You could ask him something that only he can answer,” Jones said.
Neal's, er, the kitten's little head perked up and he looked at me pleadingly. A soft meow was probably meant to encourage me and damn it, only Neal could look at me like that and turn me into a puddle of goo. Figuratively spoken, of course. I thought about a good question but my mind was blank. I told the kitten: “I'll ask you something later. I have to wrap up this case. Diana, would you take care of him, uh, it?”
“Sure. Oh, and boss, it is definitely male if you take a look.”
I didn't take a look but not because I wasn't interested rather than because the kitten dug his claws deep into my shirt. It hissed at Diana and even with the two of us trying to pry him loose it was a challenge. He slipped through our fingers whenever we thought we had a good hold on him, snapped at Diana's hand and meowed so pitifully that everyone turned to look at us disapprovingly.
“Alright, alright, you can stay with me,” I groused after a struggle of almost five minutes. It shouldn't be possible for such a small kitten to fight two FBI agents off and I'm still convinced that it was only possible because we were both afraid to hurt him.
The kitten swiftly licked over my hand with his rough tongue, then grinned at me. Okay, I know that neither a cat nor a kitten is actually capable of grinning but this one did grin. In a very smug way, I might add. I stared at the kitten, then blurted: “you are Neal!”
Neal nodded his head fiercely a few times before he rubbed his little head against my stomach affectionately. Jones turned around, presumably to hide the big grin that was plastered all over his face and took over Parker. I scowled at Parker's retreating back but gave up on wanting an explanation for how he got Neal to convert into a tiny kitten with black fur. Maybe I was also a little bit distracted by the loud purring sounds that reverberated in my body.
“Stop that,” I muttered but Neal didn't listen. Not that this was anything new, I thought. I rolled my eyes, picked him up at the nape of his neck and held him in front of my face. He didn't like that position and began to whine heartrendingly. Again, some people stopped what they were doing and now there were definitely at least four people who glowered at me.
“God, you're such a brat,” I snarled. Still, I put him down and placed him in one of the big pockets of my jacket. “You stay put there, understood?”
Neal's head peeked out of the pocket and Diana couldn't suppress a squeal in delight. “Aw, that's so cute!”
It was such an untypical reaction for Diana that I gawked at her for a few seconds. When I had gotten my voice back under control I asked: “did you just squeal?”
She had the good grace to look at least a little bit embarrassed. She shrugged, then reached out for Neal to scratch him under his chin. “Elizabeth will do the same as soon as she sees him.”
“Oh shit!” I groaned.
Diana was certainly right and there was also the fact that El would lecture me about what had happened to Neal. I would have to take the blame as long as Neal wasn't back in his human form because she'd never believe me if I would tell her that he was responsible for it. Usually Neal would dig his own grave while he tried to put all blame on me and El was never pleased with him at those times. She always forgave him within hours though. It still strikes me as odd that she practically adopted Neal and often acts like a mother to him. Neal, on the other hand, doesn't have a problem with that.
Diana withdrew her hand and straightened up. “Let's get this case wrapped up,” she said.
I nodded and holstered my gun. Neal watched me holstering the gun vigilantly and not for the first time I wondered where the deep fear of guns came from. I shook my head and pushed Neal's head back into my pocket to hide him. I turned around and felt Neal moving. His head was out again and he inspected his surroundings. I pushed him back into my pocket, waited for a few seconds and indeed there he was again.
“I'm certain that I said to stay put there. What didn't you understand about this phrase?” I growled.
He blinked at me, tilted his head then snatched at one of my fingers. I wriggled my finger to pry him off me and thankfully he let go. I told him: “you already caused enough trouble for one day. Stay put and behave until we're finished here.”
I put on my darkest glare and Neal's eyes went huge. I had to squash the sudden urge to cradle him in my arms, rub his belly and tell him that everything was going to be okay. Then I remembered that nothing would have happened if he hadn't decided to play his own little game. I kept up the glare and he emitted another pitiful meow. I let out a breath of relief when he ducked his head and hid in my pocket – I wouldn't have been able to stay stern for another second.
Miracles do happen because Neal stayed hidden in my pocket until we finished up at the hall. I called Hughes to tell him that I'd do the paperwork from home because Neal wasn't feeling well and I had to bring him home. Hughes asked me if it was true that Neal had mysteriously changed into a little kitten. I sighed and told him about the incident. He was quiet and when I had ended he said: “if this wasn't you who is confirming that Caffrey is a kitten I wouldn't believe it.”
“Well, I've been carrying him around for about an hour right now and I still can't believe this.”
“Take him home and make sure that he doesn't escape,” Hughes demanded.
“Oh right,” I thought sarcastically, “that will be fun.”
Jones brought Neal's clothes and the tracking anklet to me as I climbed into the driver's seat of my car. I thanked him and put the clothes on the passenger seat. Jones cleared his throat and said: “you probably shouldn't drive with Neal in your jacket pocket.”
“You're right, thanks, Jones, for reminding me.” I scolded myself for being careless and thought that I had never been that careless with Satchmo. On the other hand, Satchmo had never been so small that he fit in my pocket. I reached into my pocket and gently poked Neal with a finger telling him: “Neal, we got to move you.”
I didn't get an answer, not even a meow. I peeked into my pocket and was about to start lecturing Neal when I discovered that he was asleep. He was curled together in a small bundle with his tail draped over his body, almost reaching his nose. I smiled and shook my head in fond amusement. I got out of the car again and asked Jones to help me pull off my jacket without jostling Neal too much. Jones and I were both wearing a silly smile but neither of us bothered to hide it. There was something about Neal even in his human form that touched me and I reacted even stronger to him in his kitten form. Cautiously I placed my jacket on the passenger seat and climbed back into the car.
It's a good thing that my car is equipped with a lot of technological knickknacks because I glanced over to the passenger seat more than once during our drive to my house. I found a parking spot nearby and by the time I picked up my jacket Neal woke up. He looked at me out of sleepy eyes, yawned heartily and stretched his body in such a fluid and aesthetic motion only cats are capable of. Well, that's not exactly true - Neal could pull such motions off even when he was human.
“Got enough beauty sleep?” I asked. Neal gazed at me, then slumped back on the passenger seat with a theatrical sigh. I rolled my eyes and told him: “I'm not sure how Elizabeth will react and I don't know how Satchmo will react. You stay put and I mean stay put.”
Neal got up and crawled completely out of my jacket pocket so I could slip it on. He meowed again, a soft questioning sort of meow and I could see the nervousness and insecurity roll off him in waves.
“Come here,” I said and he practically jumped into my open arms. I patted his head and cradled him in my arms securely. After having locked up the car I walked to my house, telling him: “I hope Elizabeth doesn't think I've gone crazy when I tell her who you are.”
I stopped at my front door and took a very deep breath. Okay, maybe I took several deep breaths. I was holding Neal in one hand and my keys in the other hand but didn't move. How in hell was I going to explain to El what happened? Neal gazed at me out of those bright blue eyes worriedly but also trustingly. I didn't want to disappoint him, especially since we still had trust issues anyway. Nervously I stated: “this is going to be awkward.”
Neal nodded and snuggled himself deeper into my open palm, huddling himself together to an even smaller bundle. Finally I opened the door and shouted: “honey? Are you there?”
Before I got an answer Satchmo ran to me with full speed, then skidded to a halt when he saw Neal on my arm. He barked and Neal shrieked before he hastily climbed up on me until he was sitting on my shoulder.
“Oh my God! Is that Neal? He's so small! Satchmo, get down and be quiet!” Elizabeth demanded when she came to us.
I was stunned. How did she know that the kitten was Neal? Satchmo wasn't pleased but obeyed Elizabeth's command immediately. He sat on the floor and watched us intensely. I didn't even have time to ask El how she knew about Neal's transformation in a kitten because she reached out for him and cradled him in her arms, all the while cooing and gushing. Neal bathed in her caresses and rubbed his head against her hands affectionately. He purred and I'm sure that El's eyes were getting wet so I cleared my throat. “El? How … how did you know that this is Neal?”
“Jones called me but I didn't believe him so I called Hughes and he said it's true. Poor baby, he must be so scared!” El's eyes had never left Neal and she went on, “don't you worry, sweetie. We'll take good care of you. Oh, we need to call Moz and June, they'll worry about you if you don't show up. By the way, Peter, did you buy some food and a litter box for him?”
“Excuse me?” I stammered.
El looked at me, then asked: “you did buy those things, right? Jones said you don't know how long he'll stay a kitten so we need the right equipment.”
Neal's purr got even louder and he looked at me with a smug expression. I growled: “no, I didn't. I was busy wrapping up the case and bringing Neal home. He has no tracking anklet right now, you know.”
“Oh, then you better drive to a pet store now.”
Sarcastically I replied: “do you want me to buy him a basket too?”
“That would be sweet,” she replied. Swiftly she stroked my cheek and pressed a firm kiss on my lips, then scratched Neal under his chin. I stood there dumbfounded and watched El retreating to the sofa, gushing. Satchmo looked at me, then at El and obviously decided that the kitten was more interesting than me. He followed my wife to the sofa and I turned around to leave again. Before I closed the door El shouted: “honey! Don't be niggard when you choose the basket!”
I closed the door with a bang.
About one and a half hour later I came back and of course there was no free parking space near the house. To top my good luck of that day, it started pouring too. I climbed out of my car, grumbling and ranting and searched for my umbrella in the trunk. When I finally found it I was already drenched. I decided against using the umbrella and instead grabbed everything I had bought - which was a lot, thanks to two calls from El telling me that we needed this and that – and carried it to our house. By the time I reached my destination my clothes were completely soaked and I cursed loudly.
At last I entered the house and a puddle formed around my feet immediately. I shouted for El and was relieved when she appeared within seconds. Relief made way for annoyance as soon as she scolded me: “Honey, lower your voice, will you? Neal is asleep.”
At least she took some of the stuff while I scoffed: “Neal is asleep, Neal is asleep. Why do I have to be quiet because he's asleep. This is my house!”
“Aw, honey, you'll have to take a look. It's so cute! I already took pictures,” El told me.
She looked so happy that I couldn't stay mad. Despite of the fact that I was freezing and just had paid a helluva lot of money to pay for stuff we probably wouldn't use for more than a few days, I became curious and wanted to see the source of her excitement. I followed her but she stopped me and said: “You better go upstairs and change your clothes. I'll put everything away, okay?”
I remembered why I loved my wife so much. She smiled at me, kissed me and shooed me to the stairs. I was one lucky guy, I mused as I trotted upstairs. On my way I left wet footprints everywhere. Quickly I went to the bathroom, undressed and took a short but very hot shower. When I was warm up again, I toweled myself off and dressed in comfy clothes. Neal would wrinkle his nose at seeing me in such clothes. I sometimes wondered if he seriously likes to dress up like a model all the time. It wasn't that I didn't appreciate his appearance – I was well aware that this combined with his charming smile opened a lot of doors to us – but he was a tad too uptight for my taste.
I hurried downstairs and El waited for me. She opened her arms and I accepted her invitation. I inhaled her scent deeply, rubbed over her back and relaxed in her arms. Softly she murmured: “Are you ready to die from cuteness overload?”
I brought some space between us so that I could see her face. I was unsure if I should take her question as a joke or serious. I raised an eyebrow and she simply took my arm and led me on into the living room. She put a finger on her lips to indicate that I should be quiet, then pointed at Satch. At first I didn't see anything different than usual but then I became aware that something black was snuggled up in between Satch's front paws. I'm sure I formed a perfect “Oh!” in astonishment.
Obviously Satch had adopted Neal even in his kitten form. Satch's head appeared huge next to the small bundle of black kitten and they both seemed to be very content. El nudged me in the ribs with her elbow and whispered: “Isn't it cute? Whenever Neal shifts a bit in his sleep Satch makes sure that he's alright. I was worried that he'd act jealous but he didn't, not at all.”
“What about Neal? He was a bit frightened of Satch at first.”
“I'm sure he'll deny that he was frightened. You're right of course. He was at least nervous around Satch at first and he definitely didn't like it when Satch licked his fur.” El began to giggle and added: “you should have seen Neal's face. He was like 'eeew' and completely rigid for a few seconds.”
I smiled at her and asked: “Let me guess: he then looked at you out of big eyes and started to whine pitifully.”
“How do you know that?”
“This is Neal we're talking about. I know him.”
El frowned, then said: “You mean, he already did that earlier, right? Did you stay stern or did you cave and give in to the desire to cuddle him?”
“Of course I stayed stern,” I replied.
El pursed her lips and tilted her head in that way that meant “are you kidding me?”
I defended myself: “I really stayed stern.” I hesitated shortly and admitted: “if he had gone on for just another second I would have caved.”
El hugged me again. “Are you going to look after them? I'll start on dinner meanwhile.”
“They are sleeping and don't need a babysitter. I'll go with you and help.”
A horrified look flitted over El's face briefly, then she gazed at me in disbelief. “Did you seriously say that Neal doesn't need a babysitter? Are you okay?”
I frowned because she had just reminded me that Neal was off his anklet and no one knew when he would convert back. If he changed into his human body he could run away and I wasn't sure if I could track him down again. I also tried to ignore the sudden twinge in my chest at the thought of Neal running away. Kate was dead but we still didn't know who was responsible for her death. Neal could attempt to find Kate's murderer on his own and the incident with Fowler had shown that I couldn't trust Neal. This wasn't astonishing news if I was honest, though, because whenever Kate was involved Neal acted absolutely unpredictable. Well, there was one predictable fact, namely that Neal wouldn't listen to me – under no circumstances.
“Honey?” El interrupted my musings.
“What? I'm sorry, you're right. I'll keep an eye on Neal. What are you going to make for dinner?”
“It's a surprise!” El replied. She kissed me soundly on the mouth and left for the kitchen. Mesmerized I stared at her swaying hips and her long dark hair. She had bound it into a ponytail which bounced up and down at every step. No matter that we're already married for over a decade, sometimes it's still surreal that El chose me.
I listened to her puttering around in the kitchen and humming along to the radio. I had forgotten Satch and Neal completely until a little ball of black fur jumped right onto my lap. I'll deny to have squeaked in surprise until I die even though I do know that I did exactly that. Neal almost fell off of my lap and Satch barked at me accusingly. He nudged Neal with his nose to see if the kitten was alright. Neal quickly scrambled away from Satch as soon as the dog's tongue appeared.
I laughed when Neal climbed on top of my shoulder and patted Satch who acknowledged my caresses by thumping his tail loudly on the floor. I said to Neal: “I bet you can't make so much noise with your tail, huh?”
Neal just grazed me with an indignant meow before he wandered along on top of the sofa's backrest. He balanced easily on the narrow rest but my hands twitched nervously whenever he bent deeply over the edge to inspect whatever he saw on the floor nonetheless. Once he craned his head to look at me and I'm certain that he knew how much I worried about him losing his balance. Gruffly I asked: “What the hell do you think you're doing? Get down there!”
I was barely able to comprehend what was happening next. Neal obeyed – immediately. He had never done so before so I probably looked rather silly with my mouth hanging open and staring at him incredulously. I clicked my mouth shut as soon as the little devil started to grin. My finger was already raised and a snappy comment was on the tip of my tongue when Elizabeth came over and cooed: “oh sweetie, you're awake again! Did you have a nice nap? I'm sure you did. You must be hungry now. Come on, let's get you fed.”
Neal's eyes lit up and he hastily jumped down from the sofa to follow El. Satch whined and Neal stopped. That tiny little kitten looked lost, standing in the middle of our living room, uncertain if he should follow El who promised him food or if he should stay with his big friend. To hide my own grin I put a hand over my mouth, pretending to stifle a yawn. Neal sighed, then strolled over to Satch to wind around his forepaws. El called out for Neal: “Neal? Sweetie?”
“He's still here, hon. He couldn't endure listening to Satch's whining.”
Neal protested with a loud meow but I knew better. Satch could do whatever he wanted with Neal – at least with the human Neal – and Neal would always be happy and shower him with cuddles and whatever else Satch wanted. He acted the same way with kids and whenever I saw him interacting with pets and children I was sure I saw the real Neal Caffrey and not one of his many masks.
I watched Neal winding around Elizabeth's feet, purring and making goo-goo eyes at her. El's resolve crumbled in record time. She sighed, then said: “okay, okay. Satch will get a little treat too.”
Neal nudged his head against her shin and Satch's tail whooshed from one side to the other excitedly. I shook my head as I watched El leading the small procession into the kitchen. It should have been weird or, I don't know, at least odd, but it wasn't. The small kitten and Satch trailing after El looked familiar. I felt content because everyone I loved was here and safe.
I took in a sharp breath when I became aware of what I had just thought. I did not love Neal Caffrey! At least not in a sexual way, not at all. He was attractive for a man, okay, not even I couldn't deny that fact but … I groaned and slumped back into the sofa cushions. Maybe I felt more than just friendship for Neal, maybe what I felt was some kind of love. In a fatherly way, I mused. Yeah, that's it.
“Great,” I muttered to myself. I had gotten too attached to Neal and didn't think of him as only my CI anymore. Sometimes I thought of him as my partner but mostly he was the child El and I hadn't gotten. Of course, I knew that I couldn't really be Neal's father because the age difference wasn't that big but … that was just how I felt about him. As I thought more about this revelation, I became more and more aware that I often acted like a father anyway. Neal responded very well to my fatherly behavior so maybe we both got something out of our relationship.
“Honey? Are you okay?” El asked me. She stood in the door frame of the kitchen and looked at me worriedly. “You look as if you've seen a ghost.”
“Not a ghost,” I answered. “I just had an epiphany about something.”
“You don't look too happy about that,” El replied.
I rubbed my hands over my face tiredly and then got up from the sofa. I tried to shrug it off and said: “I'm just surprised, that's all. How are things going in the kitchen?”
“Oh, Satch is very happy but Neal is making a fuss. He doesn't want to eat his kibble and tries climbing up on the counter or the table. Could you talk to him?”
“Sure,” I said.
Even before I had set a foot into the kitchen I heard El scolding Neal. His answer was a rather high-pitched meow which quickly changed into an angry hiss. Curiously I stared at my wife who was holding Neal in both her hands, telling him off in clear words. Neal obviously didn't want to listen because he writhed and kicked in her hands. El simply held on and Neal got angrier by the minute. I held myself back and watched the show until Neal decided to stop this conversation by scratching El on the back of her hand.
“Ow!” El exclaimed. Instead of letting go of Neal she gripped him at his neck. Her blue eyes were blazing with anger and even Neal had the good grace to look abashed. He tried to curl himself together to a small bundle and looked at El anxiously.
“I'll take him,” I said. Neal's eyes widened even more and if he had been human he would have begged Elizabeth to keep him. I saw Neal swallowing hard several times and made sure to glower at him with as much force as I could muster. Neal actually shrunk and I felt him tremble in fear. I put him down on the floor while El rinsed the cut with cold water. “Don't you dare do something like this ever again. If you're hungry, you'll eat what's in the bowl. Cut the princess-crap right now.”
Neal cowered on the floor and stared at me with those expressive blue eyes. The intensity of his eyes always threw me off but he didn't seem to notice this time. One of my hands was still resting on his back and I had to fight hard against the urge to just cradle him in my arms and pamper him. He was so small and felt so delicate that I reacted incredibly protective even though I knew that he'd just misbehaved. I couldn't really bring myself to stay mad at him and when I sneaked a glance at El, I saw that her face had softened too.
“Great,” I muttered. “Now he's conning us with his childlike looks and behavior.”
Neal's head perked up at this and slowly his abashed posture turned into a self-confident one. El sighed: “Honey, I think you gave him an idea.”
“He has already played us!” I protested.
“I don't think so but he will now. On the other hand, I'm sure Neal will be the sweetest kitten in the world and won't scratch me again because I'll get really, really angry with him otherwise.” She stared at him pointedly and Neal hastily nodded his head several times in agreement. He nudged my hand off his back and lumbered over to El to wind around her feet. She picked him up, nuzzled her face against his and said laughingly: “I think I lost this war already.”
“He's still not allowed to eat anything else than the kibble,” I said.
Neal studied me with a wounded look on his face and meowed feebly. I shook my head and set the table. El put Neal down on the floor and we both ignored his pleading meows even though they started to grate on both our nerves. El got this tight look around her eyes, the one she only got when she was agitated but didn't want to blow up.
We sat down at the table and started to eat. It was silent which was unusual for El and me. Even after being married for over ten years we still loved to talk to each other. I glanced at El and she only sighed, then jerked her head downwards. I bent over and took a look under the table. Neal was sitting on one of El's feet and rubbed his head against her shin again and again.
“Neal!” I barked. The kitten jumped and turned around to look at me with a guilty expression on his face. I squeezed out: “Get away from Elizabeth. If you're hungry you know where the food is. I'm not going to repeat myself, understood?”
Neal's ears twitched nervously and he eyed me intensely for a long moment. Then he let out a long-drawn sigh and trudged out of the kitchen. Satchmo followed him immediately. El and I exchanged a quick glance before we heard Neal squeak indignantly. El giggled: “I guess Satch tried to comfort Neal with licking him again.”
I chuckled and shrugged my shoulders. “He'll eat if he's really hungry.”
El nodded and eventually we started a conversation. Given, it mostly revolved around Neal and how long it would take for him to change back in his human body but at least we were talking. After dinner we cleared the table and did the dishes. El nudged me with her elbow and said: “You really should call June and Mozzie.”
I sighed heavily. I didn't want to call either of them nor did I want to explain to them that their friend had miraculously turned into a tiny black kitten. “El, I don't think that's a good idea. Let's take care of him and make sure he doesn't run away. Maybe he'll be back in his human form by tomorrow morning. There's no need to upset the two of them.”
“You just don't want to explain what happened to Neal,” El corrected. “Do you honestly think that Neal would run away right now?”
I dried my hands on the towel and we both walked over to the sofa. Neal had curled himself together on top of Satch's flank and slept peacefully. It was such a cute sight that I had trouble to not blurt out: “How adorable!”
El had no trouble to say this aloud nor would she even think about holding back her delighted squeal. Her face lit up when she declared in a very long run-on-sentence how incredibly adorable Satch and Neal looked. I stayed quiet and rejoiced in seeing her happy face. She was beautiful but even more so when a delighted smile was on her face and her eyes were shining brightly.
We sat down and decided on a movie to watch. While I crouched in front of the DVD player El said: “you haven't answered my question.”
I could have played dumb but then again I have never been able to fool El. I fumbled around with the DVD, then came over and sat down close to her. She nestled up against my side. She held the remote in her hand but didn't start the film. I sighed and said: “El, this is Neal.”
“So, you still believe that he'd run as soon as he gets the chance?”
Honestly? I didn't know. I didn't want him to leave because I had grown fond of him. Too fond probably but it couldn't be helped. “I don't know, honey.”
El cupped my face in her hands and pulled me closer to hers. “Peter Burke, I want you to listen very carefully to what I'm going to say, got it?”
I blinked, then nodded. She placed a firm kiss on my lips, then said: “Peter, he won't run away. If he really wanted to do that he would have done so. You know that he could have cut off his anklet and disappear anywhere. You wouldn't have a chance to find him if he does it right. So, what's the conclusion? He wants to stay, no matter how often he whines about the anklet or how you treat him.”
“Treat him? What does that mean?”
“Oh, come on, honey. Sometimes you treat him as a partner and sometimes more as if he's your little brother or son.”
I began to sweat and squirm. This was a conversation I so didn't want to have. “He's my consultant,” I stated lamely.
El just raised an eyebrow. “Sure, honey, if you're more comfortable with lying to yourself that's your choice.”
As much as I loved my wife I couldn't deny that I was getting angry. “Look, El, I know Neal's changed into a tiny and yeah, totally adorable little kitten, but he's without his anklet. We don't know when he'll change back and if he does change back and no one is there he will run.”
“No, he won't. He loves you.”
“No, he doesn't and even if he would …,” I trailed off.
El and I had locked eyes but neither of us said a word. I almost jumped out of my skin when I felt Neal's soft paws stepping on my lap. He stared at me with those crystal blue eyes, then meowed. I frowned while El smiled. She directed her next question at him: “Did you hear everything?”
I wasn't sure if Neal acted coyly or if he really was coy. El still smiled at him, patted his head and asked him: “so, will you run away?”
Neal looked from her at me, then shook his head hesitantly. I pulled a face. “That wasn't very convincing, Neal. Not that I'd believe you anyway.”
I swear that Neal rolled his eyes before he exchanged an exasperated glance with Elizabeth. I rubbed my eyes when I saw him shrug his shoulders in a “what-can-you-do”-sort of-way because, seriously, that was just too much for me. I had no chance to get a word out because El turned to me again. “Peter, do you trust me?”
“Of course!” I exclaimed, there was no doubt about that fact.
“Then trust me when I say that Neal won't run away.” She fixed me with a pointed stare and I swallowed. I wanted to believe her and I wanted to trust Neal, I just couldn't. El picked up Neal and held him in front of her face. In her most serious voice she said to him: “don't make me regret having said this.”
Neal actually sniffled and struggled in El's hold to get closer to her. I was gaping when she pressed him against her cheek, murmuring something I couldn't understand. They cuddled like this for some time until I decided to end this session. I cleared my throat and both heads turned to look at me.
“No need to be jealous, Peter,” El chirped. She put Neal on my shoulder and pecked me on the cheek. I was too stunned to protest.
El started the film and Neal made himself comfortable on my shoulder. He snuggled his head against my throat and after a while he began to purr constantly. I felt myself relaxing bit by bit and we enjoyed our time together. I was surprised when a thought crossed my mind: I could get used to this.
After watching the movie Neal got up, jumped on my lap and stretched himself gracefully. He jumped down on the floor, then ran straight to the stairs. Without conscious thought I had gotten up and hurried after him, hollering: “Neal! What the hell are you doing?”
Neal glanced at me, shook his head and proceeded climbing the stairs. He wasn't very fast because the steps were a challenge for him so it was easy to pick him up midway. He meowed and whined immediately and struggled forcefully against my grip. “Damn it, Neal, hold still!”
He didn't, of course, and I was about to lecture him when El showed up at my side, grabbed him wordlessly and hastily carried him up the stairs. Neal swiftly licked her hand and hurried off into the bathroom. El turned around and glowered at me. I felt uncomfortable because I had no clue why she was angry at me.
“What did I do? Why is he upstairs? You can't let him out of your sight!”
El walked to me, took my arm and pulled me with her into the living room. She wasn't only glowering now, she was fuming. “Peter, he's using the litter box,” she hissed.
“Oh!” I said. I felt pretty dumb. Well, embarrassed too but my inner, self-opinionated voice forced me to say: “you still can't let him out of your sight!”
“Because he'll escape through the open bathroom window? Peter, please don't be ridiculous. I told you Neal won't run and your display of mistrust is getting annoying.”
“Um,” I stammered. El was the only person in the world who could render me completely speechless. I tried again: “the window is open? Hey, you know he's a con-man. It's his profession to get other people to trust him.”
“Right now, he's a con-cat at most,” El corrected.
We both gazed at each other, then El giggled and I chuckled. The tension evaporated and I pulled her close. “I'm sorry, honey. I wish I could trust him like you do but I can't.”
El sighed and rubbed her hands over my back. “You can, actually. You're just afraid of what will happen to your relationship when he bends the rules.”
I stiffened in her embrace. “Wait, you want me to trust him but at the same time you think he'll bend the rules?”
“We are talking about Neal, I'm aware of this. But Peter, he won't do something to hurt you and that includes running away.”
I squeezed her so she knew I had listened. I didn't react to what she said though. A minute later I frowned – something was off. Quickly I loosened our embrace and asked: “How long does it take him to use the litter box? Shouldn't he be back by now?”
El held me back but a small frown appeared on her face too. She tried to cover her worry but failed. Calmly she suggested: “let me go and have a look, okay?”
“Okay,” I relented.
I watched El walk upstairs and itched to follow her. She peeked into the bathroom and I couldn't keep still anymore. Taking two steps at a time I rushed upstairs too. El turned around, a big smile was plastered all over her face and she signaled to me to be quiet. I looked over El's shoulder and sighed in relief when I saw Neal dashing through the bathroom. I whispered: “what's he doing?”
“He's chasing a fly. Oh my God, this is too cute for words! Can't he stay a kitten forever?”
I craned my head to get a better view and indeed, Neal was chasing a fly. Silently he sneaked up to his prey, then jumped on it. Or at least that was his intention. Whenever he lifted up his paw to glance at his prey there was nothing. Neal looked around, wearing a confused and irritated look on his face, searching for the fly again. Then the chase would start anew. We watched him for a while until El cleared her throat. Neal squeaked in surprise and even though it's impossible I swear that he blushed at being caught. I said: “The fly is as hard to catch as you are, huh?”
Neal bounced over to me, wound around my feet and purred. I bent down and scratched him behind his ears. El yawned and declared: “I'm tired and will make myself ready for bed.”
“Okay. I'll stay up to look after Neal.”
El groaned in utter exasperation and I stared at her, baffled. I had to relocate my stare towards Neal because he slumped down on my feet and put his front paws over his eyes. El laughed and I had to admit that Neal was doing a fairly impressive imitation of a Disney animal.
El put her hands on her hips and told me: “you're not going to stay up all night and watch Neal while he sleeps. We're all going to bed now.”
I straightened up and put my hands on El's shoulders. In a soothing voice I said: “El, I know you trust him and all and I don't want to bring up the same discussion again but … he's without his anklet. If he changes back during the night he could vanish.”
Neal growled, got up from my feet and walked out of the bathroom. I swear he was pouting but I didn't give a damn about it. I followed him and saw him entering our bedroom. Befuddled I stopped, then briskly walked after him with El on my heels. Neal was trying to climb onto our bed but was too small to achieve his goal on his own. El brushed past me, scooped him up and placed him between our pillows. Neal beamed at her before he curled himself together to a small ball.
“Now isn't that a great idea of him? We can lock the door and he can't pick it. You don't have to stay up and worry and everyone is going to be happy.”
“If he changes into his human body during the night he only has to unlock the door and walk out of the room!” I ranted.
“So put your hand on him. You're a light sleeper, you'll notice when he tries to slip out.” El's tone was clipped and forbade any further discussion. She walked to the bathroom and closed the door a bit louder than was necessary.
“I don't think it's a great idea to share our bed with you,” I told Neal. He opened one eye shortly, then yawned and curled himself even tighter. “Satch will get jealous,” I muttered.
Neal's reaction was to turn around and face away from me. Slightly annoyed I undressed myself and waited for my turn in the bathroom. El emerged from there shortly after, already dressed in a blue silk pajama. She quickly slipped under the covers and patted Neal. I was still sitting on the edge of the bed and asked hopefully: “can't he at least sleep in the basket I bought?”
El thought about that. Neal gave up on pretending to sleep and snuggled close to her. Pleadingly he looked at her and started kneading El's arm. Instantly I knew that I had lost this fight. El proved me right as she said: “but Peter, it's a closed basket and if he'd change back while he sleeps it could cause trouble for him.”
“We don't know that, honey.”
“Peter,” El said in that voice I couldn't deny anything. Two pairs of blue eyes gazed at me pleadingly and I caved.
“Okay,” I sighed.
I got myself ready in record time and locked the bedroom door after I made sure that Neal was still lying in the middle of our bed. I crawled into bed, slipped under the covers too and kissed El. I jerked my head back when a raspy tongue licked my nose.
“Neal!” I shouted. The kitten was innocence personified and I couldn't keep the anger of him intruding on an intimate moment up. Okay, it wasn't a very intimate moment between El and me but he still shouldn't have interrupted us.
Eventually we all settled down and I rested my right hand atop of Neal's abdomen. Soon enough El's deep breathing showed that she was asleep. I had trouble falling asleep but kept my breathing even because I knew that Neal was still awake. He would so get an earful from me if he was going to try anything, I told myself.
Despite of wanting to stay awake to keep an eye on Neal I felt myself drifting off. Before I fell asleep for real Neal scooted closer to me. He snuggled up against my chest and I curled my right hand around him. We both still pretended that neither of us knew that the other one was awake. Hell, I'd claim to have been half-asleep if anyone ever asked me about this! I wondered if I could ever fall asleep now. I was sure that I couldn't because I feared that I'd crush Neal in my sleep.
I was wrong and slept peacefully for hours.
While I fought to wake up the next morning, I knew instantly that something wasn't exactly as it had been when I had fallen asleep. I blame my sleep-addled mind for not immediately catching up on what was going on. Eventually I pried my eyes open and was greeted with the sight of Elizabeth smiling at me affectionately. I smiled back but before I could say something she shushed me. She gestured that I should look at my chest so I did.
To say that I was surprised is absolutely inadequate to describe how I felt right then. Instead of a tiny black kitten there was Neal with his forehead pressed against my chest and one arm slung over my torso. It was then that I recognized that I was holding him close while El tentatively stroked his hair. I pulled away my arm and Neal stirred instantly. He tightened his hold around me, causing me to freeze. I felt out of my element and with a slightly panicked expression on my face I looked at El for help. I whispered: “what am I supposed to do?”
“You are supposed to say: 'El, you've been right all along',” she whispered back.
I was too confused to stammer more than: “Huh?”
“He changed back and he didn't run away, just like I told you.” Triumph gleamed up in her eyes, then she added: “I'm going to make breakfast. Do you think you can get the both of you ready in about fifteen minutes? Just give Neal one of your pajamas.”
El didn't wait for an answer. She slipped out of bed, threw on a bath robe and silently walked out of the bedroom. I stared at her retreating back and later at the closed door dumbfounded. It's a good thing that I'm sharper when it comes to my work otherwise I'd probably be dead by now.
I sighed and peeked under the cover only to find that Neal was naked. As I disentangled myself from Neal he began to stir again and clutch at me more tightly. I grumbled: “for heaven's sake, Neal! I'm not a pillow or lifeline or … or whatever else you think I am right now.”
“I think you're simply your most lovely self this early in the morning,” he answered, his voice still hoarse from sleep. Finally he became aware of how close we were and managed to scoot away a few inches. He blurted: “you were so huge when I was a kitten.”
“Well, you were really tiny.” An awkward silence settled in as I thought how young Neal looked with his sleep-mussed hair and small eyes. It also proved that Neal was only human and didn't wake up looking spic and span. When I finally pulled myself out of my train of thoughts I caught a glimpse of anxiety fluttering over Neal's face. His cheery mask was firmly in place only a split second later. I got out of bed and walked over to the closet, then asked: “how are you feeling?”
“Naked,” he answered dryly.
“I can help you with that.”
Neal started fidgeting instantly. “I don't think any of your clothes will fit me and, no offense and all, but I don't think we have similar taste in clothes and --” He cut himself off when I turned around slowly to throw one of my darkest scowls at him. “Wow! That scowl is pretty convincing. Now, about the clothes, I --”
“Neal! Breakfast will be ready in about five minutes and my wife ordered me to give you a pajama, so that's what I'm going to do and you will wear it.”
I turned around to rummage in my closet some more. I could feel Neal's gaze on me though. “What if I won't do that? Strictly hypothetically spoken, of course.”
“Hah!” I exclaimed triumphantly. I had found the right one. I grinned and brought the item to him.
“I don't think I'll like this,” Neal said. He eyed me apprehensively.
“You're going to wear this because it'll please Elizabeth.” Suddenly I had the strong urge to tousle his hair and I followed this urge. Neal was shell-shocked and stared at me out of impossibly big blue eyes. “You already pleased me with not running away, so now please Mommy too. You still have to make up for scratching her yesterday.”
I was a lucky guy because I saw Neal Caffrey blushing a deep shade of red. I also rendered him speechless; I vowed to myself to remember this victory whenever Neal was going to drive me crazy again. Brusquely he gestured to the pajama in my hand. My grin was surely face-splitting at that point. I unfolded the garment and Neal groaned before he hid his face under the covers. I chuckled and coaxed him out of his hiding place. Right at that moment El shouted that breakfast was ready. Neal's face was beet-red when he took the pajama bottoms and slipped them on, still hidden by the covers. Eventually he sat up, put the covers aside and also dressed into the pajama top. He mock-glared at me: “I can't believe I'm wearing this.”
“Rest assured that El will be gushing all over you.”
“Did Elizabeth buy this one for you?”
“Yeah, it was a joke but I couldn't bring myself to throw it away and hey, it fits perfectly right now.” I was still grinning – this was just priceless. Neal was wearing oversized blue cotton pajamas that had printed kittens all over it. The pout on his face and his hair falling in every direction it desired made him look really incredibly young. I shook my head, then pulled at his arm to get him to get up. Neal stood up and the pants hit the floor. He hastily bent down and tied the strings tightly while I tried to get my laughter under control.
“You so owe me something for this!”
“You know what? I think you're right. How about I put that anklet back on after breakfast and a shower?”
He was surprised but still asked: “how about you put in on even later?”
“Neal, don't press your luck. You know I have to put it back on you,” I sighed. I wished I didn't have to do it but on the other hand I was grateful for the anklet as it helped me to know about Neal's whereabouts.
“You put it back on because you have to or because you believe I'll run away as soon as I'm dressed in decent clothes?”
My answer was important to him and, to be honest, to me too. When I answered I looked him straight in the eyes, hoping desperately that he wouldn't betray my trust. “Because I have to.”
A genuine smile appeared on his face. It wasn't one of his thousand-watt smiles but I liked this one much better. He closed the distance between us, opened his mouth, then shut it again. I frowned because I wondered what he wanted to tell me. Instead of speaking he quickly hugged me and then all but fled from the room. I followed him after short hesitation. Even upstairs I could hear El's delighted laugh about Neal's clothes.
I went downstairs and retrieved the camera from a shelf. Carefully I stuck my head in the kitchen and, cheesy as it may sound, my heart skipped a beat when I saw Neal standing in the kitchen all flustered and flushed while El gushed about how cute he looked. Satchmo was sitting next to Neal and his tail swished from one side to the other excitedly. I clicked the release right when El cupped Neal's face in her hands and they rubbed their noses together.
I heard a double shouted “Peter!” before I was tackled onto the floor and tickled by four hands until I begged for mercy.