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05 June 2011 @ 08:27 pm
White Collar/Firefly/His Dark Materials Fic: The Consummate Companion Part 1  
Written for crossbigbang Crossover BigBang 2011
Crossposted to whitecollarfic, firefly_plus and withdaemons


Title: The Consummate Companion Part 1
Pairing/Characters: Neal/Elizabeth/Peter, Neal/Kate/Vincent, Neal/Alex, June/Byron, Mozzie, Diana, Clinton, Reese, OCs
Rating: PG13
Spoilers: Seasons 1-2 (White Collar)
Summary: Neal Caffrey, with his daemon Keaira, is a professional Companion assigned to the Burkes when his past with Vincent Adler returns to haunt them all (AU)
Notes/Warnings: Read the disclaimer on my LJ

Read the Fandom Primer first!




Spring: blooms everywhere, flowers sweeping the landscape making the Guild training facility look more like a paradise than a school. But then Companions had always been about making everything look perfect, at least on the surface.

Neal shifted his bag from one hand to the next as he paused just a few more steps away from the shuttle that had brought him back after almost a year, fighting the urge to get back on it and let it whisk him away. Considering he despised and feared shuttle travel - always sure they were going to malfunction in transit - the fact that he wanted to get back on was definitely a strong indicator of doubt.

Keaira leaped from the ground to the bag and scurried up onto Neal's shoulder: her usual perch.

"Having second thoughts then."

Neal let out a long breath.

"I'm just not sure I'm ready."

Keaira curled her warm sable body around his neck consolingly. "June said it would be all right if we came back and then decided not to go out on assignment."

"True, but if I turn it down now, I may be out of the Guild for good. They don't like Companions to not be committed to the job." He reached up, his hand running over his daemon's silky fur. "I wish it were up to June alone, but it's not."

A whirring sound behind him told him the shuttle was preparing to take off again, heading to its next stop. Neal started walking, Keaira riding his shoulder, keeping an eye out around them.

"It's nice to be back though," she mused quietly.

Neal gazed around the lush gardens, already feeling heady with the fragrance of all the flowers surrounding him, and watched the mist rise above the nearby waterfalls.

"It is," he agreed. "I've missed this place."

o--o

"Neal!" June welcomed him just inside the door with open arms, enveloping him in a tight embrace as Keaira and her daemon Anteros made their own greetings on the floor beside them. "Let me look at you!"

June, as always, was impeccably dressed - this time in the same earthy tones as her lynx daemon's coloring. Neal hadn't used his companion skills to array himself, considering himself still off duty, but had worn a simple linen shirt and pants - classy yet somewhat informal.

"I haven't changed," Neal promised her. "It's not even been a year; I don't look any different."

June took his chiseled jawline in her hand, examining his face with gentle scrutiny.

"You have changed, my dear. You've known grief."

Keaira reflexively curled into a little ball and Anteros, ever protective, stood over her and gave her a compassionate lick with his cat tongue.

"I've been trained," Neal countered, putting on a flashing bright smile. "I can cover it up. See?"

"My dear boy," June tsked. "If I could take your pain away I would, but for now... Well, let's not talk about it. Your old chambers are free if you'd like to stay there. Let's give you a few days to settle in before we talk business." She reached down and scritched Anteros' ears. "Byron always understood that when business comes first it never gets your full attention."

"A wise man," Neal agreed, nodding. "And I am tired from the journey. A few days to rest up..."

June rubbed his arm as his voice trailed off. "Join me for dinner tonight. We'll catch up. All right?"

"Sounds great."

"By the way," June said, smiling as she withdrew. "An old friend of yours is here so don't be surprised if you hear a familiar roar in the hallways."

Neal chuckled to himself, bemused.

"Oh, Alex. You always had great timing."

o--o

After putting his scant belongings away in his former quarters - ones that no longer felt like his having housed other companions since he graduated and left to start his first and only assignment - Neal headed for the one place he thought he might find his old friend.

There were many pools in the complex, but only one that was little known and Alex's favorite for its privacy and its view. Large windows began near to the edge of the cliff so the pool seemed to disappear into the ether beyond.

Keaira had trotted alongside Neal on the way there, taking a few seconds to poke her nose into open doorways here and there out of curiosity.

Once they entered the pool room, Neal could feel her desire to hurry ahead although she refrained from putting a strain on their bond. They'd felt the agony of being pulled apart once before and never forgotten it. Keaira had been clingy for months afterwards and it was only recently that she was becoming her adventurous self again, moving closer to that limit rather than avoiding it outright.

Now she was bounding towards a large golden lion with a shaggy mane reclining lazily by the side of the pool, yawning with great gaping jaws yet coming across more like a spoiled housecat than king of the jungle.

"Pundarah!" Keaira cried out excitedly, heading straight for him.

Neal could feel her joy as the two daemons playfully tumbled together, Pundarah's huge paws gentle as Keaira nestled into his thick fur.

"Hello, Neal."

Alex's voice came from the water with a warm low rumble reminiscent of her daemon's sultry growl.

He stood watching her tread water, clearly naked in the crystalline pool.

"Hello, Alex."

As much as Keaira responded to Pundarah's affections, Neal couldn't help his own feelings arising within him. He and Alex had not only chemistry, but history. And if she was here, it meant she was on leave as well so no strings.

Kate and Solomon were gone forever; that part of his heart would remain empty.

"Water's perfect." Alex swam closer, flashing her sly grin. "Why don't you come in with me?"

Neal glanced over to where Keaira was contentedly laying curled up with Pundarah, getting nuzzled by the great beast.

Cocking his head, Neal gazed back at Alex for a few seconds before starting to unbutton his shirt. If Keaira could find comfort and contentment with Pundarah there was no reason why Neal should deny himself the companionship of his close friend as a respite.

"Sure. A swim sounds good."

Alex drew close enough that she was able to stand, revealing more of her body as the water level lowered.

"It's just what the doctor ordered."

o--o



Neal's bed was big enough, but Pundarah chose to stretch out on the rug beside the bed, Keaira curled up in the downy warmth of the undercoat of his belly.

Alex lay on her side, a fingertip drawing unseen designs on Neal's bare chest as he stared at the ceiling.

"Please don't tell me you're beating yourself up over this," she said. "Because if you were, you know I'd have to kick your ass."

Neal chuckled heartily. "No, no regrets. We've always been there for each other so this..." He shook his head. "No ass kicking needed. I'm good. I'm just..." He let out a long breath. "In a couple of days I need to be able to tell June I'm ready to go back into the field for a new assignment."

"And you're not sure you're ready yet?"

"I'm not sure I'll ever be ready again," Neal admitted. "I mean, I know my assignment to Vincent Adler was my only experience..."

"But it was a long one," Alex stressed. "I mean, I have assignments that last a night or a weekend. You totally lucked out by getting one exclusive long term client."

"I thought so at the time," Neal said mournfully. "Then again so did Kate. When we got assigned to Vincent it was great because we had each other when Vincent was busy."

Alex nestled in closer, her voice softening. "You didn't know you were going to fall for her."

"I didn't know I was going to lose her." Neal closed his eyes. "It was all so good, the three of us, inseparable... And then in the blink of an eye Kate was dead and Vincent had disappeared." He ran his hands through his hair in frustration. "Now all I have is a ton of unanswered questions and a hole where my future with Kate used to be."

"Maybe going back to being a companion would be the best thing for you," Alex suggested. "Find yourself a nice client, enjoy spending time with them and let your heart heal. Who knows..." She shifted to hover above Neal, catching his eye. "Someday, years from now, you might decide there's someone out there you do want to settle down with."

"Maybe." Neal pulled Alex into his arms, letting her pillow her head on his chest as he went back to staring at the ceiling. "But I know for sure, I can't let myself get too involved with my clients. I can't let them hurt me like Vincent did. I can't let them in."

o--o

It had been a year since they'd last had a proper tea, but Neal still was struck by the effortless grace June showed during even their informal tea ceremony. It wasn't hard to imagine her before her days as a handler being a prized companion, at least until Byron won her heart and she moved into management in order to marry him and have children.

It was clear once Byron passed how deeply she missed him and even Neal admitted to a great sorrow at the thought of never seeing his friend again. Byron used to sing to entertain guests at their home, his bird daemon Monique accompanying him from her ever-present spot on his shoulder.

June had taken time off for her own grief, finished raising her children on her own and returned to work, ever the professional. Now it was Neal's turn to put aside his past and move forward with his career.

"I've taken the liberty of pre-selecting a few client files you might be interested in," June told him, nudging an understated leather portfolio across the table towards Neal. "I'm sure you realize many men and women and couples would consider themselves lucky to be selected for your services." She took a sip from her cup as Neal pulled the portfolio closer. "I did choose only long term clients. That is what you wanted, correct?"

"Yes," Neal answered, his hand going out to smooth down Keaira's chocolatey brown fur almost on auto-pilot. Petting her soothed them both yet still maintained the necessary decorum. "I prefer the stability and the reduced travel. I'm not a huge fan of shuttles."

"They're a necessary evil," June admitted. She cocked her head toward the portfolio. "Go ahead and open it. You don't have to give me an answer right away, but at least take a glance and let me know if I'm in the ballpark."

"You always did know me better than anyone here, June." Neal flashed her a grateful smile then opened the portfolio. The top of the stack was women, the middle men and the bottom couples. Requests from married couples were fairly common, especially when both worked, but single people made up the greater part of their client base. Neal pushed aside the singles and lifted out the handful of couples to peruse.

"I thought you might be attracted to another threesome," June said, watching him over her steaming cup of tea.

"It's a dynamic I'm comfortable with, even if before it was two companions and one client."

"Adler was selfish," June scoffed as Anteros let a dissatisfied growl rise up out of the back of his throat on the couch beside her, making his agreement known. "Wanting two companions when so many others couldn't get approved for even one."

Two companions had been an anomaly, but Vincent Adler had been a rich and powerful man - rich enough to get the Guild to make an exception for him and give him two companions full time for his exclusive use. Both Kate and Neal had been fresh graduates of the Guild's academy, but then that's what he wanted: two fresh lovers, just for him.

The files were all married working couples: one a lawyer/doctor pair, another a corporate CEO with a rival CEO husband, a third a high ranking investigator with the Alliance police whose wife apparently owned an event planning business.

"I'll look them over and let you know," Neal said, even as his eye fell on a smiling couple gazing up at him from the open file in front of him.

The Burkes, it read: Elizabeth and Peter.

o--o

"I said the Kingston Lounge, not the Kingston Ballroom. I need it for the first Saturday of next month. Right..."

Neal walked into Burke Premiere Events and spotted Elizabeth in the back immediately. Her kinkajou daemon was handing her a pad of paper and a pen as she kept talking on the phone.

"Can I help you?" a young woman asked, her tiny lizard daemon poised like a broach on the lapel of her suit jacket.

"I'm here to see Elizabeth," he said, gesturing back to her. "She should be expecting me."

"Who shall I say..."

Before the woman could get anything further out, a bright voice interrupted her.

"Neal! You're here!"

Elizabeth bounded forward all full of smiles and energy and embraced him tightly before pulling back to look at him.

"My goodness! You're even more handsome in person than when we talked on the Cortex!"

"And you are an exquisite beauty," Neal countered, producing a perfect rosebud out of nowhere and proffering it to Elizabeth with a little bow. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you in person."

"Aww, thank you!" Elizabeth enthused, accepting the rose and twirling it in her fingers. "I have to tell you Peter's going to be thrilled to meet you! He's such a guy's guy that I feel bad about not spending time with him doing guy stuff. I'll be so happy to see you two get to hang out." She turned to her daemon who was perched on her shoulder. "Ramiro, don't you want to say hello to Keaira?"

"If you don't mind." He slid down to the floor where Keaira waited looking svelte and stunning with her carefully groomed fur. Daemons were trained same as their humans and she knew that her role was to keep the clients' daemons pleased.

"I'm very pleased to finally meet you, Ramiro," she told him, approaching coyly.

"Likewise," he replied. "Tell me, do you have a nickname?"

"Whatever you'd like to call me would be lovely," Keaira offered, bowing slightly.

"Well, Elizabeth gets called El all the time and she calls me Ram so perhaps..." Ramiro looked up to Elizabeth as if for approval. "How about Ke?"

"I like it," Keaira purred. "Ke it is."

"Belinda?" Elizabeth turned to the young woman who had greeted Neal. "Can you please close up shop for me tonight?"

"Of course."

Elizabeth turned to Neal, looping her arm in his. "Peter called a few minutes ago to say he's getting off work early and wants to take us out to dinner. He and Theodosia should make it to the house just before we do - he's closer." She tightened her arm, gazing up at Neal. "Does dinner out sound good?"

"It sounds wonderful," Neal assured her, patting her hand. "Let's not keep Peter waiting."

o--o

"No, I told Hughes we can't take him into custody yet, we don't have enough proof!"

Elizabeth entered the house with Ramiro first, ushering in Neal and Keaira before closing the door behind them.

Neal could see Peter pacing in the living room on the phone, his daemon - a short, stout black bear with a tawny face and chest - sitting on the rug watching him go back and forth past her. He saw her reach out a paw and tap his leg to get his attention then point with a curved claw to where his wife and Neal were taking off their coats by the front door.

"I'll have to call you back." Peter put his phone aside and hurried to join them, kissing Elizabeth on the cheek in greeting. "Hey, Hon. And Neal Caffrey! In the flesh! I can't tell you how excited we've been about you coming here!"

He shook Neal's hand vigorously but not too tightly. His hand was warm and his smile was open and genuine.

"Theo, this is Keaira or Ke," Ramiro said, introducing the bear daemon to Neal's sable.

"I'm delighted to finally meet you." Keaira was graceful and welcoming in her greeting, as always a professional.

"I'm glad to finally meet you as well," Theodosia said, nodding. "I'm sure we'll get to know each other in no time."

Peter rubbed his hands together, looking excited. "I got us dinner reservations at Dantale. I wanted our first evening together to be special."

"You didn't have to go through any trouble," Neal told him. "I'd have been happy to cook for both of you."

"Wonderful as that sounds," Elizabeth told him. "There will be plenty of nights in the future for you to spoil us. For tonight?" She looped her arm in his again. "Let us enjoy spoiling you." She tugged on his arm and headed for the stairs. "Come on. Let me show you your room before we head out for dinner."

Before Neal could bend to pick up his bags, Peter scooted ahead and grabbed them.

"I've got them!" he proclaimed, gesturing them to the stairs.

"You two do get that I'm supposed to be here to take care of your needs, right?" Neal asked, bemused. "That is how a companion works."

"Humor us," Peter said.

"Yes," Elizabeth agreed. "Besides, we don't want to think of you as a companion. To us, you're going to be part of the family."

Neal felt something catch in his throat, leaving him too choked up to speak. Whether they noticed or not, neither Elizabeth or Peter said anything. They only ushered him upstairs to a nicely appointed, well sized room, furnished in a pleasing modern style.

"This is great, I love it."

"We want you to be happy here," Elizabeth said, pretending to adjust his shirt.

Neal smiled at both of them, doing his best to reassure them in all their sweet nervousness.

"I want that too - for all of us."

o--o



"You seem to know a lot about wine." Elizabeth held her glass as the sommelier poured the dessert wine Neal had chosen, at their behest, to go along with the end of their meal. "All of your choices tonight have been spectacular."

"It's part of our training," Neal admitted.

"Then maybe you can help me," Peter interjected. "I promised El I'd put in a little wine cellar, but I have no clue what to look for and where to put it in the house."

"I'd be happy to help," Neal offered graciously.

"Oh! Before I forget!" Elizabeth pulled out her handheld computer and brought up her work calendar. "There's a museum opening I'm catering in a week and a half. Is that too soon for you to escort me? You'd need formal wear."

"It's not too soon," Neal assured her. "I'm ready now. I brought two outfits of formal attire with me and planned on asking you what you'd like to see me in. The Guild has fantastic tailors on call so once you decide what you'd like me to wear I'll arrange for fittings and have it made."

"If it gets me out of monkey suits?" Peter raised his glass. "I'm all for it!"

"As you can probably guess, an escort for events is one of the major reasons I wanted a companion," Elizabeth explained. "I mean, Peter can do one or two, but his work keeps pulling him away at the last minute and I know he's not fond of it."

"Not to worry." Neal patted her hand. "Companions are trained to be expert entertainers so I fully understand the kind of host duties you might require. I can even sit down with your staff if you'd like so I can understand their roles better and how that might help me anticipate your needs."

"That would be fabulous!" Elizabeth beamed. "Oh, I knew this was a good idea!"

Neal turned to Peter. "And how about you? There had to be more behind this than not having to dress up for your wife's business events."

Peter twirled the wine in his glass for a moment, looking thoughtful. "There is. El travels a lot for work and when she's gone... The house just feels wrong when it's empty. So yeah, I get lonely when it's just Theo and I."

The daemons had been quiet throughout the night, letting their humans focus on each other, but at this point Theodosia sat up and put her head on Peter's knee, gazing at him with affection and offering the solace of her physical presence.

"Don't worry..." Neal reached over and laid a consoling hand on Peter's arm. "Your home is full now."

o--o

Later that night Neal lay staring up at a totally different ceiling, as unable to sleep as before.

Keaira nestled around Neal's neck like a furry collar: one of their favorite sleeping positions.

"I like them." Her quiet voice was barely audible in the silent room.

"I like them too," Neal agreed. "I hope it works out."

"It will if we make it work." Keaira gave him a little affectionate lick to his ear. "You know we can do it. But for now? We should sleep."

"I know." Neal tensed. "It's just I can still see her when I close my eyes."

"Don't go there," Keaira warned.

"I can't help it! I want to rest but out of nowhere I see Kate laying on the floor beside the bottle and she's... She's..."

"Shh..." Keaira purred low. "Let it go... Just let it go..."

Neal rolled over and let the tears begin to fall to his pillow.

"I'm not ready," he said, grief harshing his whispered words.

Keaira whimpered, curled up against his chest in a warm bundle as he held her close, wetting her fur with his teardrops.

"I know this is hard," she soothed. "You know how I took it to find Solomon just gone after how close we'd been. But the same way Pundarah helps me forget my grief by reminding me of all the good out there, that's the same way the Burkes can help you. They're good humans, Neal. Just let them have a chance."

"One month," Neal finally said, gaining his control again. "I'll give them a month and if it's not working out I'll see about either quitting the Guild or maybe switching to short-term clients like Alex has. If it's more about sex then I might not think about it as much."

"So that's what's bothering you? How much they care about you as a person?"

Neal huffed out a little chuckle. "Yeah, how crazy is that that I'm upset at how good they are to me?"

"Not crazy. After what Vincent did..." Keaira stiffened at the memory even as Neal's insides lurched at the still strong physical memory of that violent act. It had been worse for her. Not only had Vincent pulled Keaira and Solomon further away from Neal and Kate than they'd ever been before, he'd done it by hand - a gross breach of etiquette. Humans never touched another person's daemon. Yet Vincent had used his grasp on their very souls to punish them in the most hateful way possible. A day later Vincent was gone and within a day after that Kate was dead by her own hand.

"Yeah," Neal finally agreed, trying to calm his breathing to soothe the both of them. "The Burkes are good people. They'd never do anything like that to us. Never."

"So we give them a month," Keaira stated firmly. "Then we'll see how we feel about staying."

o--o

"I agree with you completely," Neal stated, the lie effortless on his lips, "Earth That Was costume balls are way past their prime. It is time for something more modern." He leaned in towards Elizabeth's potential clients - an extremely wealthy middle-aged couple from Osiris - and whispered in an almost conspiratorial tone. "I know an artist on Persephone who recently started building robotic masquerade ball masks."

The woman's eyes lit up and the man seemed suitably impressed.

"Really?"

"Yes," Neal continued, feeling a nudge of encouragement from Elizabeth by his side to continue. "She hasn't had a showing yet of them so only a handful of people know they exist. If you're interested, I can not only introduce you so that you can be the first to throw a gala with the new masks, you could also host her first showing and make a killing when the pieces are sold to the public!"

"That sounds wonderful!" the woman gushed before turning to Elizabeth, her hummingbird daemon all atwitter around her coiffed head. "You're so lucky! He's even more charming than you told me."

Neal made a suitably modest bow of his head as Elizabeth beamed. "We adore him. And he takes such good care of us! I don't know how we got by without him." She gave Neal's arm a squeeze. "We'll follow up next week and put you in touch with the artist."

"I look forward to it," the man said, nodding, his stately eagle daemon perched on his shoulder nodding as well.

"Enjoy the rest of the party," Elizabeth told them as she and Neal drew away tactfully. Once they were out of earshot her voice went up in pitch, giving away how excited she was. "Do you have any idea how big it is to close that deal? How much those two spend on their formal balls?"

"No clue, but I could tell you felt they would be important clients so I did whatever I could think of to impress them."

Elizabeth turned to face him, beaming with pride. "You were magnificent! The consummate companion! Deftly steering the conversation to events, complimenting their taste even when it's not the norm and coming up with that artist mask idea? Brilliant! Oh, I could kiss you!" Neal laughed as she went back into busy bee mode. "But first I need to get Belinda to find out why we're running low on champagne and where the Halvorsens have gotten to because the announcement's in less than ten minutes..."

Neal caught her by the arm and got her to stop. "El, just tell me whatever you need the staff to do and I'll get them to take care of it. Then you can focus on prepping the Halvorsens for the announcement. I know it's important to you that that go off perfectly."

"It is. Thank you." This time she paused enough to go up on her toes and kiss Neal on the cheek. "You really do take good care of us, you know?"

Neal cupped her face in the palm of his hand, feeling a rush of affection for her.

"I try."

o--o

The lone lamp on Peter's office desk formed a pool of light just wide enough for Neal to see Peter's expression. Neal knew that look: it was when he was so focused on something he was close to that he was sure he'd make a breakthrough any second. Only he often wore that expression for hours before lapsing into frustration and giving up for the night.

He tapped lightly on the open door frame.

"You didn't come home for dinner," Neal chided gently. "So I figured dinner should come to you."

Peter leaned back in his chair, stretching. "You didn't have to do that."

"You're right," Neal teased. "I wanted to."

"I suppose I could use a sandwich or something," Peter conceded.

"El made me promise," Neal told him, unpacking the container he'd brought which included everything from a full place setting to all the courses kept hot or cold as needed. "No fast food and no boring sandwiches when you work late. I agreed. You work hard, you deserve a good meal."

"So what have we got?" Peter asked, peering at the containers.

"We have..." Neal paused a second for Peter to clear a wide space on his desk then laid out each container - removing the top - as he listed them. "Miso soup, Sunomono salad, Soba noodles and a bowl of Unagi-don."

"Oh, that smells so good," Peter murmured, taking it all in. "And of course, now that I see all this food I'm starving."

Neal unpacked a pair of chopsticks and handed them to Peter. "Then dig in!" As Peter started in on the salad, Neal poured his drink for him.

"Oh, I heard from El about an hour ago," Peter piped up between bites. "Things are going really well and she thinks she should be able to make her shuttle home this time - no more postponements."

"That's great!" Neal replied, honestly glad to hear it. He watched as Keaira ran in happy little circles around Theodosia on the floor.

"I miss her," Peter said, pausing for a moment. "And I know you miss her too. But it helps that I'm not alone while she's gone. So thank you."

Peter wasn't the most affectionate man out there, but one glance at Theodosia sweetly rubbing muzzles with Keaira told him more than words could say.

"I do miss her," Neal admitted. "But I'm happy for the time we have together too." He sat back in his chair, content to watch Peter eat.

o--o

Sunday mornings were the best times for relaxing, the six of them spending hours lazing around the master bedroom.

"Anyone for more coffee?" Neal asked casually from where he was settled in the middle of the bed, towards the bottom, on top of the rumpled bed covers.

"I'm good," Peter replied, not looking up from his reader.

"I'm fine too, Hon," Elizabeth said, reaching down from where she and Peter sat with their backs up against the headboard in the master bedroom to run her fingers briefly through Neal's hair even as she kept flipping through restaurant reviews.

Neal returned back to his digital sketch pad, where he'd been working on a new portrait of Elizabeth and Ramiro. As he often was, her daemon was on her shoulder, his active prehensile tail still and curled around her chest like a necklace or a furry embrace.

And then it hit him what Elizabeth had said. Neal had learned early on that in Burke shorthand Honey or Hon weren't just terms of endearments, they were shortcuts to saying 'I love you'.

And now Elizabeth had called him Hon.

Neal glanced over at Keaira, but both she and Theodosia were curled up together enjoying a warm ray of sun through the window.

His hearing caught the tiniest hint of Ramiro whispering in Elizabeth's ear before he came down off her shoulder and dropped down off the bed next to the other two daemons. Theodosia put out her arm to him and Ramiro curled up against her right next to Keaira who reached over a little paw so as to be touching him as well.

"Come up here," Elizabeth said, giving Neal a nudge with her toe.

She put aside her reading and pulled the covers down for Neal to get into the bed between them. Peter had to have sensed something was going on, because he put aside his reading as well.

Once they settled - Neal on his side looking at Elizabeth with Peter behind him - Elizabeth reached out and ran a thumb slowly over Neal's bottom lip.

"You know we adore you, right?"

"I'm pleased that I make you both happy," Neal answered.

Peter laughed, a warm and friendly sound that held no judgment. "Now that's an official answer if I ever heard one."

Elizabeth put her hand on his shoulder and gave Neal a little shake. "Stop being the trained companion for a minute and just be Neal, okay?" She nestled in close and Peter did the same, their hands joining on Neal's hip. "You are a part of us, part of who we are. I can't imagine coming home and not wanting both of you here. I can't imagine having to face a long boring party with people I'm only paid to tolerate without you keeping me company. And I don't want to think about Peter alone in his office working until the wee hours all alone and hungry because no one made him come home to eat and rest."

"What she's trying to say," Peter interjected. "Is that we love you."

"Yes, we love you." Elizabeth drew him in for a sweet kiss as Peter tucked an arm around him to embrace him from behind.

It all seemed so perfect in that moment, Neal almost wanted to cry and laugh and shake his head in wonder.

He'd said he would give them a month. That day came and went without acknowledgment; Neal no longer entertained any idea of going away.

This was where he belonged.

Curled up with Peter and Elizabeth in bed, he allowed himself a contented sigh.

"I love you too."

Once the words were out of his lips it hit him: he actually meant it.

o--o



"This is good!"

"No! This is bad! Very bad!"

Neal scrubbed his face with his hands as his two closest friends stared each other down. Vacations from the Companion life were supposed to be relaxing, but he'd almost immediately found himself in a tennis match of an argument - somehow excluding him even though it was about him.

"Nice to see I can get support from you two," he joshed.

"You can," Alex stressed, bare feet slipped out of sandals and rubbing Pundarah's belly. "Even if we don't agree on what's best for you."

"I don't see how you think this is in any way good." Mozzie had his stubborn face on with his arms crossed over his chest and Ursaluna, his chameleon daemon, was flushed an indignant shade of pinkish-red. "The last thing Neal needed was to get emotionally involved in a doomed threesome arrangement." At Neal's bristle, Mozzie turned to him, apologetic. "I'm sorry, but someone's got to be the voice of reason here."

"Reason and love have no business together," Alex countered. "If they did, we'd all find our mates via checklists and applications, not by kissing and touching."

"I suppose it's a moot point anyway," Neal bemoaned. "I was stupid, I didn't keep my boundaries in place and I fell for my clients. Now I'm stuck at their whim: they can keep me or dump me whenever they want. Unless, of course, I leave them first."

"Gah!" Alex threw her arms up in frustration, startling Keaira enough to skirt around behind Neal's chair. "You love them! Why would you leave them? Is this some stupid guy thing? Where you have to be the one to ruin a good thing because you can't risk waiting around in case someone else might some day ruin it and get the jump on you?"

"It is the way of men," Mozzie proclaimed, zen-like.

"It's ridiculous," Alex huffed before leaning forward to fix Neal in her gaze. "Listen. It's only been a year. Take the rest of your vacation to think about it, but I strongly suggest you stay with the Burkes. Even if you don't end up with them long term? You deserve to be happy a while! After all Adler put you through, after losing Kate..." Her voice trailed off and her fingers threaded kindly through the hair at his temple. "You deserve to be happy."

Ursaluna had returned to a contented shade of green against Mozzie's also green shirt, almost disappearing against it as Mozzie relaxed, unfolding his arms.

"Now that we can agree on."

o--o

The announcement was played over the loudspeaker in the same monotonous voice as all the other announcements.

"The shuttle will be landing in five minutes. Please prepare to disembark."

The flight back to the Burkes had been a long one and Keaira had all but worn herself out with nervous flitting about, shuttle travel making them both near phobic with anxiety. It seemed all the relaxation of their annual vacation had been erased between the fear of flying and the anticipation of seeing Peter and Elizabeth again.

"I hope they like the gifts we picked out for them," she muttered, pacing the empty seat beside Neal. "I'm worried they won't like them."

"They'll like them."

"But if they don't..."

"Like them or not, it's what we got them," Neal countered, trying not to focus on the ground coming up at them at frightening speeds.

"I suppose. I just really want to please them."

Neal managed a weak smile for her. "So do I. I guess that's a good sign - that we care about making them happy while we're on vacation..."

Mid-sentence the shuttle violently lurched. The wings began to shake. The fuselage whined with strain. Red emergency lights flashed in the cabin and shuttle personnel started running down the aisles.

"Neal?" Keaira climbed into his lap as he fumbled, trying to tighten his safety harness.

"It'll be fine. It's always fine. We always land. Always." The words were like a mantra meant to reassure, but then the world suddenly turned upside-down - the shuttle flipping as part of a wing snapped off. "Ke!" Neal called out, reaching for her as she fell towards the ceiling of the shuttle. He felt the slickness of her fur on his fingertips for a split-second and then she was falling away from him, screaming in panic.

He felt a wrenching pain deep inside as gravity took her far away, too far, and then the blackness of nothing.

o--o

Neal felt warm, almost too warm, and he went to nudge Keaira off his neck to cool down when it hit him: she wasn't around his neck and both his hands were occupied.

As he came around, he couldn't figure out the presences he felt around him, but he could feel Keaira near, finally sensing her weight on his chest.

As his eyes fluttered open his gaze downward was filled with loved ones.

Keaira was indeed curled up on his chest, but then so was Elizabeth. She'd gotten onto his hospital bed - the white room and blinking lights could mean little else - and tucked herself under his arm to sleep against him. Theodosia was sitting at the end of the bed watching him as Ramiro sat on her shoulder, tail nervously furling and unfurling until he saw Neal's eyes open.

"Peter!" Theodosia whispered. "He's awake!"

It was then that Neal realized his other hand was being held tightly by Peter who was sitting on a low stool beside the bed with his head resting on the edge until Theodosia startled him.

Daemons usually slept while their humans did, so the fact that they went without sleep to watch over Neal and Keaira touched him deeply.

"Hey..." Peter's voice was gruff with concern and his hand - already tight on Neal's - squeezed harder before releasing it, as if realizing he'd been too rough. "How are you feeling?"

Neal blinked and realized he had no idea.

"I... What happened? I just remember the shuttle flipping and I lost Ke... She fell away from me..." His free hand went to his daemon automatically, holding her form close to his chest. He still felt the aftermath of the pain from their forced separation and the sick feeling inside that came with it.

"Neal, I'm so sorry." At the end of the bed both Theodosia and Ramiro made noises of empathy, holding each other close at the dread mention of separation. "Yes, the shuttle did crash, but it was so close to the landing pad that there were only injuries. No one died." He brushed back Neal's hair from his face tenderly. "Still... We were afraid we'd lost you," he said quietly, a tremor in his voice.

His glance went to Elizabeth and Neal's eyes followed. Her eyes were smudged with signs of carelessly wiped away tears and even in slumber she carried the expression of one anxious with worry.

"El?" Neal gave her a little shake only to realize that small motion caused a jolt of pain. Apparently he had been hurt in the crash; the drugs were just keeping the pain at bay.

Her eyes fluttered and when they opened, Neal felt a stab of grief at how red they were from crying.

"Neal!" She threw her arm around his neck and hugged him tight, waking up Keaira with all the jostling. "I was so scared! They didn't know if anyone survived the crash at first!"

"It's okay, it's okay..." Neal rubbed Elizabeth's back with one hand and pulled a blinking Keaira into his other side to comfort her and hold her close as she came around. The words seemed to comfort them both and somehow they continued when he stopped, Peter's voice echoing it in the distance as he drifted off again.

o--o

"All right, all your things are put away." Peter walked into the master bedroom where they'd installed Neal upon his arrival home from the hospital. June had offered him his choice of where to recuperate, but Neal had decided to stay with the Burkes - but only after Elizabeth and Peter made it abundantly clear they were following wherever he ended up. "Except for this bag, which you told me to watch out for and not open."

"Thank you." Neal reached out for the bag, but winced at the motion, still feeling the aftereffects of his injuries. Peter wisely brought it to him and set it beside him instead, sitting on the other side of the bed from where Elizabeth was busy updating the record of what medicines Neal had just taken.

Theodosia and Ramiro had pretty much taken over the bottom of the bed where Keaira had settled near Neal's feet, unable to move further away from him, but not wanting to keep Elizabeth and Peter from getting close to Neal. The bear and kinkajou doted on the little sable: petting her, soothing her, keeping her company whenever their humans were in the room which was most of the time.

"I should go get lunch started," Elizabeth said, rising.

"Wait." Neal stopped her with a hand on her arm. "Before all this happened? Ke and I got you both presents while we were away. We were really looking forward to giving them to you when we landed..." Neal forced a smile. "Only that plan got a little messed up. But I'd like you to have them now."

"You didn't have to get us anything!" Elizabeth sat back down as Keaira crawled a little further up Neal's legs to watch, Theodosia and Ramiro perking up behind her as Neal went to open the bag.

"I know, but I wanted to." He pulled a box out of the bag that was made out of fine leather lined with cloth and closed with a mother of pearl fastener.

"Mother of pearl!" she mused. "That's almost impossible to find anymore!"

"Open the box," Neal urged.

She did and as soon as she saw what was inside her jaw dropped. "Oh my goodness, Neal! These can't be real!"

"They are," he assured her.

"What are they?" Peter asked.

"Caviar spoons! Mother of pearl caviar spoons! The best way in existence to eat fine caviar." She looked up at Peter, delighted. "It doesn't interfere with the flavor like metal does. It's prized for being the most flavor neutral substance for delicacies."

"There are a hundred hand carved spoons in there," Neal told her. "Enough to use for a smaller party in your catering business and definitely enough to impress the clients."

"Impress! This will blow them away! No other caterer can offer this sort of option in their place setting!" She impulsively hugged Neal, almost upending the box in her joy. "Thank you so much!"

"You're welcome." He turned to Peter. "The other item in the bag is for you."

Peter pulled it out and found a brand new electronic reader, the newest model out.

"Thank you! I was thinking about upgrading to a new reader."

"It's not the reader that's the gift, though I did know you were prime for a new one," Neal admitted. "It's what I found to load onto it that took some effort."

Peter turned it on and within seconds was misty-eyed.

"Thank you," he whispered, eyes never leaving the digital pages.

"What is it?" Elizabeth asked.

"I'll let Peter tell you," Neal said carefully.

They both waited a while as Peter went through and read what was within. When he finally looked up his eyes were shining brightly.

"When my mother was in college she submitted a number of pieces to a poetry anthology. They ended up being her favorites. But she lost her copy and could never find another. This? This is the anthology and it has all her poems in it." He pressed a kiss to Neal's temple, the emotion clear in his voice as he spoke. "Thank you. Thank you for this."

o--o




Part 2
 
 
 
Emma DeMarais: BlueEyeemmademarais on June 6th, 2011 03:27 am (UTC)
Confession
If you haven't done so already, check out the Fandom Primer post on my other LJ! Even if you know all three fandoms, it's got nice pictures of the characters with their animal daemons. (And OMG how cool are the manips in my cover art to show PEN with their daemons like that!)

Normally I go on and on about what was behind a fic like this - and I'd like to - but I'm exhausted from all the work it took to write up the primer and the headers from hell. (Have I mentioned I despise writing headers for publishing fic?) But I think I'll go insane if I try to list off why I chose every animal and where I found each of their names, so if you are curious about anything in the fic, feel free to ask. I can't promise I'll remember the answer, but I'll try. ;-)

One comment I have to make though: OMG I WROTE A BOOK/MOVIE FANDOM! /TV girl flail/ Can Sandman be far behind? /quivers/

I confess it was cool to write daemons for another fandom. I highly recommend it as an interesting change of perspective on an existing fandom. I might just try more in the future. Or more in this universe. Not sure...

Oh! One thing I did want to make sure I mentioned... Both Peter's sun bear and Elizabeth's kinkajou have other names they are known by and one of them they share, oddly enough: honey bear! Considering how the Burkes use the word Honey to mean I love you, it seemed perfect that the daemons I wanted for them already shared that lovely moniker behind the scenes. ♥

Title inspired by my own Firefly Companion Fusion with Numb3rs: Constant Companion. (My last crossbigbang entry.)

Peter's quote, "This is all far from over" is taken from Dead Again - a movie I recommend to just about everyone to Netflix.

Art Credit: Bigbang cover art and banners by chibifukurou (Thank you so much!)

A shoutout to umbralillium whom I ran my daemon ideas past in the early days - thank you!

Very special thanks to First Reader shinychimera and beta melissima for their assistance with this fic.

Thanks,

Emma DeMarais
Karen: wc shirtless nealbyrons_brain on June 7th, 2011 08:39 pm (UTC)
Oh wow this is fantastic!
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on June 7th, 2011 09:06 pm (UTC)
Thank you, hon! I'm so pleased you took the time to read it and ever so glad you enjoyed it! /hugs/