A/N: I love me some TV slash-worthy series :)

Not mine, which is so darn sad, but they are yum-my~

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If he really thought about it, Neal knew he would never have been caught. He was analytical, in his own specialized way, and he was methodical. You'd have to be, to recreate in painstaking detail a work of art that had been studied by experts, recreate with enough to convince them that they were looking at the right thing. He broke the creation of such works into steps to follow and he followed these steps properly.

It gave him a thrill when these so-called experts took his forgery into their hands and then nod their heads and tell him, "Thank you for your contribution, we are very grateful" blah blah blah. Neal wasn't able to be original in crafting works of art, but he knew how to copy.

Oh yes, back to his original point: if he had thought about it with his analytical and methodical mind, he would have fled without a trace the second he knew he was being hunted.

But Neal hadn't.

He had thought about it with that part of his mind that appreciated beauty and grace and strength, he had thought about it with that part of his heart that was impulsive and reckless and loyal and romantic, and he had sunk, completely.

Perhaps Kate had seen that, and that was why Kate didn't return to him. Now she would never come back, and was perhaps spared that bit about 'I told you so'.

She had told him so, back when he was still running. Or pretending to run.

"You seem to be giving this guy lots of chances, Neal."

"You couldn't hide your tracks better?"

"You think this is all a game, isn't it?"

Neal closed his blue eyes and breathed out slowly. It had been exhilarating, knowing that whatever little trace he dropped like a breadcrumb, it would definitely be picked up and examined. Examined, deduced, pored over by those stern, severe eyes, those large hands, that brilliant mind.

And when the 'aha' moment came, there would be that triumphant smirk and the bright glint in those eyes.

Neal thought he loved Kate. But in these few months, he knew he loved how he and Kate had been. When she didn't seek him out after his escape from prison, he knew it was a lost cause.

Analytical and methodical mind, remember?

There were people who stuck by him. Mozzie. June. Even Elizabeth. They were nice to him, very nice and careful and afraid to say something stupid. Mozzie tried, occasionally, but he valued Neal's good opinion too much to push the issue.

But only one person didn't, and Neal was glad he was spared the niceties. It would have shattered what foundations they had built, one of mutual trust and reliance, based on mutual understanding and honesty.

Heh, honest. That word fit Neal like a sequin-studded and crystal-bedecked Elvis jumpsuit.

His eyes opened. His blue gaze locked on the dark-suited man making his way across the restaurant where they were to meet for a briefing of yet another mission, one in which Neal might have to find a way to out-con yet another con.

There would be witty banter, and almost-friendly exchanges of opinion, and occasional flare-ups that would make that strong and determined gaze burn. Neal would inhale that faint cologne that would just waft over his face when they leaned in to chat or talk; bask in the slight warmth when he would unintentionally shielded by a larger frame from the wind; revel in the complete trust he had in this one man in all the world who cared enough to chase him down.

Cared enough to chase him down every single time Neal tried to run, even the time when he was trying to run to a legit life.

It felt good knowing that someone outside of his very limited circle of associates paid attention to him. To Neal Caffrey. It was a validation of his existence and of his skill, and he basked in that attention as a cat in afternoon sunlight. Makes him want to purr, even, with satisfaction at a job well done.

But he also knew it was a steep slippery slope that nobody could walk away from without being hurt if he ever acknowledged the pleasure of that attention. If he ever spoke out about it, or even hinted at it, it would feel good for all of three seconds, and everything would just tilt off-balance, throw everything into chaos, and then... then the door would be shut. Maybe not to him, maybe to her, but that door would shut and someone would get hurt.

He could never try to steal this particular work.

Still, what he couldn't possess or forge, he could appreciate. In great detail, and for a long, long time.

Add 'meticulous' and 'patient' to 'analytical' and 'methodical'. Maybe 'loyal', 'appreciative'. And 'handsome' and 'dashing', plus 'snappy dresser'.

'Reckless' and 'impulsive'? Not so much.

Forget the 'romantic'.

No, really. Forget it.

A tall, sandy-haired man passed through the arch and smiled at the man with the bright blue eyes and devilish charm. He raised an eyebrow and peered at his watch.

"You're early. I'm surprised."

"Always touching, that faith you have in me." Neal flashed his trademark grin at Peter Burke, FBI. "So, what are we up against today?"