Four days earlier…
Earlier in the week, the FBI caught wind of an unidentified man that came into the city in the hopes of selling a stolen Rembrandt painting in New York. It sparked their attention because the particular piece hadn't been seen or heard for at least two decades. The storm on the Sea of Galilee went missing in 1990 and now it has resurfaced.
Peter and Neal followed the trail of clues and they managed to set up an appointment with their mystery man in Gramercy Park. As per protocol, the FBI staked out and waited for their man to show up from the confines of a worn utility truck parked two blocks away from the meeting site. Peter, Neal, Jones, and Diana all took a screen of their own and watched for anyone suspicious to show up.
"There," Neal pointed on his screen as an anonymous man sat down on one of the benches. He was a young man in his late 20s to early 30s with brown hair, but what caught Neal's eye was his demeanor. His knee was bouncing up and down, his fingers were fidgeting, and his eyes kept glancing and looking around nervously. This man was no art thief. He was just a young man. He looked at Peter to tell him, but from the looks of it he already knew what he was going to say.
"Guys, I don't think this guy is our man. Just look at him. He doesn't even come close to the profile of an art thief. I don't think this guy can steal a candy bar from a gas station. I think we are looking for another guy. This guy is just a middleman," Peter told his team.
"I agree, boss, so what's the plan?" Diana asked.
"We send Neal in to find out what he wants, and go from there," he answered. He watched as Neal stood up, fixed his tie and suit, and flashed his signature, smug smile before exiting the van.
Neal confidently walked towards the bench the man was sitting on, but before he could even come near him the young man glanced at him, ducked his head, and appeared as if he whispered something to an earpiece. Guess that confirms the theory of this guy being just a patsy, but now Neal knew he'd been made. Without showing realization, Neal kept walking acting as if he was just taking a stroll through the park.
He made a big loop back towards the van and informed the others when he got there that the still unidentified knew who Neal was and he informed his partner, or employer, of him through the use of an earpiece.
"By the looks of it, he knew who I was. I don't think this plan is much of a plan anymore, Peter," Neal said.
Peter had his thinking, planning face on. Then, a brief look of hesitation flashed on his face. No one else would have caught it but Neal was a master at detecting facial expressions, subtle or otherwise. He saw it. When Peter turned to him, he saw it in his eyes. He beckoned him to talk outside the van so he followed.
"What's up, Peter?" Neal inquired.
"I was thinking. This guy came to New York out of the blue to sell a valuable, stolen painting. What does that tell us? He's desperate to get the piece out of his hand, so he needs to find a buyer fast. What if we put a middle man on the table?" Peter explained.
"A fencer?" Neal questioned although he knew it was the right answer. "Where are we going to find someone good enough to act as an art fencer? Diana? She's good, but I have a hunch this guy is going to need someone more well-versed in the world of fine art. I would suggest Mozzie but he's been…occupied…since the Cape Verde fiasco. So who else is there?" Neal explained.
Peter looked at him with a look of hesitation with just a dash of regret. It dawns on Neal why he was looking at him that way.
"Oh, no. No. No, Peter, No. You are not bringing her into this," Neal began to object to his friend's idea.
"Neal, listen, she's the only chance we have of catching this guy. With her background in situations like this, who could be more perfect?" Peter tried to persuade. Neal was still not convince. He did not like this at all. Not one bit. Peter had one more card to play to try and get Ryne to do it.
"Well, how about we ask her opinion on it?" Peter slowly asked. He had come to know the young woman well in the year and a half she's been in Neal's life. He knew if anyone could change Neal's mind, it's her.
Neal had always been the romantic. Peter had seen him fall too easily and get heartbroken and dealt with loss no one should ever have to go through. He truly thinks that Neal loved them in his own way, but not the way he loves Ryne. Of all the women he's seen come and go, Kate, Alex, Sara, even Rebecca, in his friends life she's the only woman he was the most protective about. He could admit that seeing his friend care about someone the way he cared about Ryne gave him hope that Neal could have what he has with Elizabeth. A home, a family, love, happiness, contentment on where he is and what he has.
"Fine. Come by the apartment later," Neal gave in and walked away but not back to the van.
"Where are you going?" Peter asked him.
Neal turned around and a flashed a bright smile, "To make my case before you show up." He arrived at June's house and as he does everyday since he moved in he went to say hello to his beautiful, kind landlord before making his way upstairs. He looked everywhere on the lower floors for her, but he figured she currently wasn't home so he headed upstairs to his apartment.
The rich tones of a lively piano music being played gradually became louder as he ascended the narrow stairwell. A grin began to form on his face as he remembered the animated conversation they had about bringing getting a piano to his apartment.
"Come on, babe. It's all I'm asking. Everything else in the apartment is yours. I just want one thing that's for me. My own mark on Neal Caffrey's perfect apartment," she said in almost whiny, but endearing voice.
"Ryne, I just don't see the practicality of having a piano in here. Do you know how hard it will be to get it up here? And where would we put it?" Neal reasoned while tying his tie in front of the tall mirror beside their bed . He turned around to face her after he finished fixing himself.
She sashayed toward him slowly, enticingly, until coming to a stop in front of him to fix the lapels of his designer jacket.
"There's plenty of room in front of the bed," she suggested, almost pouted, and looked at his blue eyes with her big, hazel one pleadingly. The only thing missing was batting eyes, but she was not a little girl begging for candy. She's was a sophisticated woman who knew that the man in front of her would give her the world if she asked for it. He couldn't resist her, and she knew it.
"Ugh, fine, you can have a piano in here," he gave in and laughed when she jumped for joy at getting what she wanted. "The great Neal Caffrey tamed by big eyes and pouty lips. What have I become?" He looked down and shook his head with feign disappointment.
She lifted his face by the chin and flashed the brightest of smiles before she closed in and gave him a passionate kiss. One of his hands held the back of her head while the other wrapped around her waist to bring her closer to him. She wrapped her arms around his neck and threaded her fingers through his brown locks.
Had he no plans of meeting Peter, he would have gladly had his way with her on the apartment they now shared. Funny, even though Sara lived in his apartment for a brief time he never considered them sharing his home. It was always his, and Sara was there conveniently due to circumstances at the time they were dating. That's not the case with Ryne. She's different. He wanted to share everything with her, to be with her, to spend every waking minute of his life in the comfort of her arms. It was at that moment he realized he wanted to be hers forever.
Neal Caffrey was smitten with her. He knew he had never felt like this with anyone before. Sara had been close to capturing his heart, but she demanded a life he couldn't give her. With all the women that came to his life, she's the only one that didn't want anything from him. She didn't demand him to change, to be less the conman and more the honest-living-type-of guy. She encouraged and loved that he needed to live an almost free-spirited life. She simply loved him, Neal Caffrey, and all his facets, no more and no less.
"I love you, Ryne Beneventi, more than anything in this world, more than the finest art or jewelry. If you would have me, I want to be yours forever," Neal proclaimed as he pulled away from the kiss and looked deeply into her eyes. He held her closer to him. Neal had never in his life said those three words to anyone but her.
Kate knew he loved her, but he never said the words aloud. It was always implied, assumed. Alex was a spontaneous relationship. They had something, but not enough for those words. With Sara, he came close. He realized he fancied the "domestic" life with her. He cared for her perhaps a bit more than the others. He even proposed to her as part of a job they were doing. Rebecca, she, was a different case. A loose canon not worth mentioning.
But Ryne, she was the light in the darkness. She was his compass when he felt torn on which direction he should go. She was the breath he needed to live.
"I love you, Neal Caffrey. And I am yours as much as you are mine. Forever," she replied with a bright smile as she caressed his cheek softly with a warm, soft hand. He leaned to her touch and kissed the back of her palm before pulling away.
He would have loved to have stayed with her the whole day, but almost in cue his phone began to ring. His leash beckoned.
In the present, Neal shook the memory away and proceeded up the flight of stairs towards their apartment. He opened the door quietly as to not disturb her. He leaned by the doorway mesmerized by the picture painted in front of him with Ryne lost in her world of music simultaneously filling him with joy and contentment he never knew he could feel