Note: For complete heading info, please refer to Chapter 01.
The day had been a long time coming, and Peter was doing his best to fight the nervousness he felt. He felt arms wrap around him from behind and leaned back into El's warm embrace.
"Hard to believe we finally got here," she said softly in his ear.
"I know," Peter agreed. "I never thought he would want it. The last year has changed him. I wish it had never happened, but a very small part of me feels that if it hadn't happened, we'd never get what we're about to get."
El held up a manila envelope, "Neal gave this to me this morning and told me to open it before we went in the room."
Peter watched as she pulled a sheet of sketchbook paper out of the envelope. Color covered the paper in elegant swirls that seemed to move with the shape of a body. Hidden within the colors was the brand that Neal wanted to change and make his own.
"It's beautiful," El whispered, her fingers tracing over the lines. "I can't wait to see it on him."
Peter just nodded, unable to speak. He'd tried his best not to show how much seeing the brand hurt, but he knew that Neal had noticed every change in his eyes when he saw the mark. Especially the first time Peter had taken him after the ordeal. But they had worked through it and now Neal was about to make multiple changes in their lives and they would work through each one as needed.
Peter finally looked up from the artwork when El's phone buzzed. With a quick glance at the message, she carefully tucked the drawing back into its envelope.
"Moz said they're here, so we should go inside. He didn't want to see us until he's in the room."
Peter nodded and took her hand as they entered the judge's chamber. The judge was already standing in front his desk and nodded for Peter and El to take their places to his right. A few moments later, the door opened again and Peter's breath caught.
Neal entered in one of his finest suits with June and Mozzie on either side of him. They led him to stand in front of the judge and then moved off to the left. Peter tried to catch Neal's eye, but he was staring straight ahead. Then the judge began to speak.
"We are gathered here to witness the emancipation of the slave designated as DC80-456. Paperwork from DC80-456's current owners Peter and Elizabeth Burke have been filed with this court requesting the release of DC80-456 from its sentence of slavery leveled on it July 31, 1980. Upon review, the Office of Slave Council and Rehabilitation has labeled DC80-456 an outstanding candidate for this consideration. It is the recommendation of this court that DC80-456 will hereby and forevermore be labeled as a free citizen of the United States of America and will have restored all rights granted a free citizen. The former slave has requested the name Neal George Caffrey be placed as his official name, renouncing all names prior to and during his slavery. Will Neal George Caffrey step forward?"
Peter swallowed hard as Neal approached the judge. This was the moment he'd been waiting for. The judge reached up to Neal's black collar and flipped the cover on the control panel. It took over a minute for him to enter several sequences of numbers and then a click echoed through the room. He pulled the collar away and set it on his desk.
"Congratulations on your freedom, Mr. Caffrey."
It was only then that Neal turned toward Peter and El. His eyes were shining brighter than Peter could ever remember. He wasn't sure who moved first, but suddenly they were in a three-way embrace.
"I love you both so much," Neal said hotly as he pressed a kiss on each of them. "Never told you because slaves aren't supposed to love. But I've loved you forever."
"We know," El said. "And we've loved you right back."
"And you're still ours," Peter added. "Always."