"Hey Peter, how's it going?"
The FBI agent stiffened. That was not Neal's casual, 'how's it going'. That was his, I'm-trying-to-be-casual-but-I really-want-something-from-you-so-I'm-gonna-try-to-charm-you-up-first 'how's it going'. Well, Burke wasn't having any of that. Lowering the file he had been looking through, he found himself face-to-face with the sly conman.
"Alright, what do you want?"
Neal pulled out his most blatantly baffled and innocent look. "Why Peter, I'm appalled you would assume I have ulterior motive just from a simple greeting."
"Neal." Peter said in a firm tone.
Signing, the younger man caved. "Will you go to the museum with me this weekend?"
Peter furrowed his brow. "Why?"
"There's a William Adolphe Bouguereau exhibit going on and I want to see it, but it's outside my radius."
"Bouguereau? What's so special about him?"
Neal smiled, a nostalgic, sentimental look on his face. "He painted 'First Kiss'. The picture of the two cherubs? It's my favorite painting."
Suddenly, the agent's head snapped up, eying the ex-con in front of him suspiciously. Noticing the look, Neal huffed indignantly, "What?"
"Did you… you know…"
Neal rolled his eyes. "No, I don't know. Mind filling me in on why you're suddenly all… weird?"
"Oh come on, Neal." Peter sid, knowingly, "You honestly expect me to believe that in all your years as an art thief-"
"Supposed art thief." Neal interrupted.
"in all those years," Peter continued, "You never went after you 'favorite painting'? If I had experts look into it would we find your signature somewhere on that canvas?"
It was said so simply, it took the FBI agent by surprise. "Really?" He asked, still skeptical.
Neal paused, for a moment just staring at Peter as though looking for something in his eyes. Whatever it was, he must have found it, because he finally blinked and said, "Can I tell you a hypothetical story?"
Peter sighed. "Hypothetical" stories always involved something illegal. But still, his curiosity got the better of him. "Sure."
Slowly, a crooked smile grew across the conman's face.
The museum was beautiful on it's own, the architecture giving the whole building a grand, castle-like feel, especially to the small, wide-eyed eight-year-old wandering the floor. Eyes darting across the numerous paintings and statues, a woman walked up behind him. Long ringlets of deep brown hair cascaded down her back, and bright blue eyes shone with happiness and she gentle grasped the child's hand. "Find anything you like, sweetie?"
Grinning, the little boy nodded, and began pulling his mother across the room until they were standing in front of a painting of two cherubs, a boy with small, feathery angel wings, and a girl with butterfly wings like a pixie. The boy was giving the girl a gentle kiss on the cheek. The older woman smiled in approval. "Ah, 'First Kiss' by William Adolphe Bouguereau. An excellent choice, baby." Humming thoughtfully, she began pulling her child back towards the exit.
The boy whined. "Can't we stay a little longer?"
"Sorry, baby, but we have to get home for dinner." Stopping, she kneeled down next to the boy, whispering conspiratorially. "But I tell you what, after your birthday next week, you can look at that painting whenever you want, okay?"
Effectively appeased, the child smiled, and allowed himself to be led away. The week passed, and the boy spent his days scribbling in his notebooks, drawing messy scrawls of little children with wings. When his birthday finally came, his father kissed him on the forehead and made him pancakes, promising to bring back something special when he got home from work. When he finally left, the boy's mother led him upstairs into her studio. The boy felt immensely proud. His mommy never let anyone, not even daddy, into her studio. The woman smiled. "I have a present for you." Walking into the back of the room, she unlocked the walk-in closet. It was filled with art supplies of all kinds, and in the back was a large tarp covering something. Stepping forward, she revealed the item and the little boy gasped.
It was the painting he had seen in the museum, the pretty picture of the two little angels.
Leaning down and hugging him, his mother spoke quietly into his ear. "It's yours, baby. But it has to stay in here, and daddy can't ever know about it, okay? If you ever want to look at it, just tell me. It has to be our secret."
The boy just smiled and hugged his mommy back, thanking her endlessly while gazing at the beautiful picture in awe.
"…so, your mom stole that painting?"
Neal smirked fondly, "Hypothetically."
Despite himself, Peter smirked as well. "So it'd be her signature on it."
There was another pause, and Neal cocked his head to the side. "Well, hypothetically," Peter snorted, and Neal smiled before continuing, "if it was me, and let's say, something happened to my mom…" the smile left Peter's face as he watched a flicker of sadness flit through the conman's eyes before quickly disappearing. "…then I would go back later and switch the paintings back. Because I'd rather have the one my mom painted, with her signature." A beat. "And then I'd go and see the real one whenever I could." He looked up at the older man, his expression carefully, perfectly neutral. "So will you go with me?"
For a moment, the two men studied each other, the new information hanging between them, loose ends and gaping holes and endless questions floating there, begging the story to be completed…
Blue eyes sparkled t the younger man smiled. "Great! So I'll drop by tomorrow. And you should invite El, too! She has good taste, she'd enjoy it. Oh, an try to at least be semi-presentable, I don't-"
"Yeah, yeah." Peter cut him off, smiling as Neal tipped his hat and left the room, leaving his partner to wonder just what picture all these puzzle pieces were making.
Meeeh, not my best... I'm super, super sorry about the ridiculous delay! Life's been... well, life. Thanks to Goddess-of-Genius though, for reminding me that this story even exists. XP I'm going to try to update at least semi-regulary again. Now that I'm getting into the more serious stuff, it'll probably go a bit faster.
Hmmm, there's something about this chapter I just don't like, but I can't figure out what! If any of you figure it out, please review and let me know! Feel free to be as harsh as you please! Thanks for reading and I'm sorry again for the long wait! ~BFMS