A/N: I'm liking the way that Neal and Diana are interacting in Season 3. There was the dinner party, where I think they both had fun, despite some possibly ulterior motives. Then there was the auction, where she "saved" him by bidding on the date - and he repaid her with a fancy dinner in the van. And watching "Scott Free" the other night, it was pretty clear that Neal's profile of Scott Rivers held some personal meaning - and the look on Diana's face as he finished seemed to say that she understood that. And, of course, she wants some answers...
"No, Sara, I understand. I mean, I've had to cancel a few times too because of work… You've got the stun gun with you, right… Hey, maybe I should… Yeah, out of my radius. Look, just be careful… Call me when you're done, all right?"
Neal disconnected the call and set his phone aside, sighing. Of course, since he was alone in the apartment – except, perhaps, for the spider he'd been unsuccessful in catching earlier – there was no one around to appreciate the depth of the sigh.
He turned off the burner under the simmering soup pot, and then poured another glass of wine. It looked like he had the evening to himself now. But, even though he was sorry that Sara had cancelled, the prospect of time alone wasn't all bad. There was still some daylight left, which was by far the preferable lighting for painting.
Setting the wine bottle on the table, where it would be conveniently nearby, he pulled the easel into place near the balcony doors – just where he knew the evening light would be the best. Then he retrieved his paints and brushes, filled a dipping cup with water, and uncapped the first tube…
The light was fading, and he knew he'd soon have to either stop, or give in and paint by artificial light. But he was saved from an immediate decision by a knock on the door.
He ran through the possibilities as he wiped off his brush. Sara was working. The knock was not in iambic pentameter, so it wasn't Mozzie. June had a Riverside Gardening club meeting and would be out until late. The staff had gone home. Peter and Elizabeth were supposed to be using the ballet tickets a grateful client had presented to her wonderful event organizer. Though the way Peter had been grumbling about going, it might not be that surprising if he had skipped out somehow and was looking for refuge…
The person revealed when he opened the door was definitely a surprise.
"Diana!" He stepped back, offering admission.
"Neal." She smiled and stepped inside. "Wow, smells good," she started. But then she saw the table, with the two places set. "Oh, you've got plans. I should have called…"
"No, it's all right."
"Are you sure?"
"Actually, I've been stood up. Sara had to work."
"I guess I understand how work can interfere sometimes."
"You mean you've had to cancel dinner plans once or twice when the Bureau called?"
"Once or twice, right."
Neal grinned and then gestured toward the table. "Have you eaten?" he offered. "Oh, but Christie's probably expecting you."
"Actually… night shift this week." She looked over at the stove, and then back at Neal. "You wouldn't mind?"
"Not at all. When Sara called, I decided to use the daylight to paint. But now it's getting dark – and I'm hungry."
"Then I'd love to." She dropped her briefcase and jacket on the couch.
"Good." Neal went to the cupboard and pulled out another glass. "There's wine on the table."
"Thanks." Diana took the glass as Neal turned back to work in the kitchen area. She poured some wine, took a sip, and then looked at the painting. "I don't recognize this one," she said, studying the fountain depicted there.
"It's from the Conservatory Gardens," Neal replied. "There's a photo below the canvas. I took the picture a couple of weeks ago."
"So this is a Caffrey original?"
"First time for everything."
"You've really never done original work?"
Neal shrugged. "Not for a long time," he admitted, and then changed the subject. "I was just planning something light tonight. French onion soup, garlic bread, baby greens with a raspberry-walnut balsamic vinaigrette."
"Sounds great. And all homemade, I'm sure."
"Well, I bought the bread on the way home."
"Oh, not a baker?"
"Actually, I do bake, on occasion. But it was more than I really felt like doing tonight." He unwrapped a loaf of French bread, slicing it into rounds.
Diana walked closer, watching as he dropped a round of bread into each of two tureens, and then ladled soup over the top. "Lots of cheese, right?" she asked as he moved to the next step.
Neal grinned as he ran the block of cheese against the grater. "Absolutely. The gooier the better."
"So where'd you learn to cook?"
Neal shrugged. "Here and there."
"So that has to be a mystery too?"
"I don't know about mystery. It's not like I went to Le Cordon Bleu or anything – though I have taken some classes in France." He paused, layering the cheese on top of the soup. Then he put the tureens on a sheet tray and moved to the oven. "I've always liked creating things. Cooking is like any other art."
"Just a man of many talents."
"And as far as I know, cooking is even legal."
"Oh, I don't know. There was that illegal unpasteurized cheese…"
"I think you ate all the evidence."
Diana laughed in agreement. "True. And it was very good."
"Thanks." Neal pulled out another sheet pan and laid some bread slices out. Then he grabbed a head of garlic and held it up. "A little, or a lot?"
"Oh, I love garlic. Lots!"
"Lots it is." He busied himself separating and peeling the cloves, and then finely mincing the cloves before mixing them into some softened butter. He spread the mix on the bread and added the pan to the oven.
"I'm surprised you'd do garlic when you were planning a romantic evening," Diana said.
"Well, if both people have garlic, it's all right," Neal replied. "But I'm guessing you and I probably aren't going to kiss," he added, grinning.
"Yeah, probably not."
"Oh, well." Neal gave an exaggerated shrug, and then turned to the refrigerator. He pulled out a bag of salad greens, a tray of raspberries, and a cruet of dressing. The greens went into a bowl, mixed with the raspberries, and then he put both the bowl and the dressing on the table before pulling out a chair. "We have a few minutes while the bread and soup finish in the oven," he said, gesturing to the seat.
Diana sat down and Neal seated himself across from her. They both sipped their wine, and there was silence for a long moment, before Neal finally broke it.
"So, what brings you here?"
"Maybe I was just in the neighborhood?"
"Right. Because you've just stopped in so often before… like, never." Neal paused for a sip of wine and then looked up. "Did I do something?" he asked quietly.
"I guess you could say that," Diana replied, sipping her own wine. "You let something slip."
Neal raised an eyebrow at that, thinking. "Why do you say that?"
"Elver?" It took a moment, and then he smiled. "Norwegian for Rivers."
"Very good – and the reason we couldn't find much background on Scott Rivers."
"But Scott Elver?"
"Way more information."
"And he's cooperating?"
"We've recovered quite a bit of what he stole. Peter's put in a call to the US Attorney's office. Scott will probably get a pretty good deal."
"That's good," Neal said, emptying his glass. "Maybe it's not too late for him," he added softly, pouring a refill.
"You knew a lot about him at that first meeting," Diana pointed out. "How?"
"Maybe I've been studying profiling in my spare time."
"Or maybe 'Robin Hoodie' was a little more familiar on a personal level than you care to admit."
Neal just swirled the wine in his glass, not saying anything.
"What you said about him – shiny things, entitlement, morals. It was really about you, wasn't it."
That earned a small smile. "You're sure you want to go down that path?"
"I'd like to know what makes Neal Caffrey tick."
"Why?" There was genuine puzzlement in his voice as he asked.
"Maybe you've grown on me."
"What, like a wart?"
"I was thinking more like a friend."
That stopped him for a moment, and he concentrated again on swirling the wine, watching the patterns in the deep red liquid. "When I was in prison, there were four psychologists who wanted to understand me. Two wound up pursuing other career options shortly after – one specifically blamed that on me. Are you sure you want to tempt fate?"
"I'm willing to take the risk."
"Is this going on some report or something?"
"Nope, it's just me wondering."
There was a soft chime just then as the kitchen timer went off, and Neal got to his feet. For a moment, he considered claiming himself to have been 'saved by the bell' – but something stopped him. And then he surprised himself with the words that came out of his mouth. "Dinner's ready, so let's eat – and talk about anything except my past. When we're done… you can ask me about one part of what I said regarding Scott. Deal?"
Diana's face clearly showed her surprise as she nodded. "Deal."
Neal picked up the last piece of garlic bread and tore it into two pieces, putting half on Diana's plate.
"You know, you can keep feeding me all night, and I'm not going to forget that you said you'd talk," Diana said – even as she reached for the bread.
"I had a small hope," Neal said, the barest hint of a smile playing on his face. "Some people get really tired after eating."
"Nope, I'm wide awake."
Neal sighed and got to his feet, going over to grab another bottle of wine and the corkscrew. He brought both back to the table and sat down again, starting to open the bottle. "I guess I'll need to be fortified."
"Why is your life such a secret?"
He grinned. "I only agreed to talk about one of the things I said regarding Scott. I don't think that question qualifies."
Diana scowled at him, but then relented. "All right. I've decided which part I want to ask about."
Neal filled his glass, topped off Diana's, and then leaned back in his chair. "Well, give it your best shot."
"You said he grew up around money, but never had any himself. Tell me about that."
Neal was quiet for a moment, his gaze fixed on something seemingly far away. "I lost my dad when I was two," he started. "And no, I'm not talking about that." Diana nodded, reluctantly, so he continued. "It was a big enough town, and yet small in many ways. I was too young to remember, but that's what I was told. Anyway, mom found herself a single parent, with four young children."
"Siblings?" Diana rolled her eyes at Neal's expression. "Right. Not part of this story."
"Right. Anyway, we had to move. I always thought my mom was pretty smart. But the thing is, she met my dad her first year in college, and by the next summer she was pregnant. She never went back to school."
"So, new town, few job prospects."
"Exactly. And the new town had its very definite division of haves and have-nots. We were have-nots, but I went to school with a lot of haves – and mom worked for some haves, cleaning houses. Sometimes I'd go with her. I saw everything that they had, and how hard she worked for them."
"Developed a sense of entitlement?"
"I don't know about entitlement, but I definitely figured out some things I wanted."
"Any of those things mysteriously disappear from the houses?"
"Actually, no. I did not illicitly acquire anything like that. But those haves did own a lot of very nice artwork, and I might have honed some artistic skills there."
"Ah, setting up your future as an art forger."
"Alleged. I was only convicted of bond forgery."
"Right. Remember that first day you came to the office? You said there was no difference between the truth and rumor about your career."
"Actually, I think I just asked if there was a difference. I made no statement of fact."
"You're a master of deflection and misdirection."
Diana rolled her eyes and sighed. "Of course you'd take that as a compliment."
Neal just grinned in reply. "So, now you know the story of why I can identify with growing up around money, but not having any."
"Raised more questions than you answered."
Neal shrugged. "I'm a man of mystery. But you got your one answer for tonight."
"Your turn. Now that you found the name Elver, how'd I do on the background?"
"Not bad," she admitted. "I left the file on your desk. You can see for yourself in the morning."
"Excellent. So, are you interested in dessert?"
"What's on the menu?"
"I was going to go downstairs and raid June's freezer for some ice cream." He paused, grinning at her skeptical expression. "What? June knows. If she's around, she usually joins in. And she keeps an excellent variety on hand."
"So what's your favorite?"
"Because of the rocky life you've led?"
He had to laugh at that. "I'd never really considered it that way. I just thought it was because I liked the marshmallow swirl. How about you?"
"Definitely. I like to scoop across, get all three flavors in one spoonful."
"Well, come on," he said, standing up. "Let's go see what's in the freezer. I think I might have even heard June come in a while ago."
Diana got to her feet, pausing to take one more look at the partially finished painting. "This is really nice, Neal. You should do more original work."
"Thanks. Maybe I will."
"If we do dinner again, and I get Christie to make one of her fancy desserts, can I earn the answer to another question?"
Neal just laughed and opened the door, holding it for her. "Maybe."
The following Monday, Diana knew she had to leave early for a dental appointment, so she made it a point to get to the office extra early.
Someone, however, had gotten there even earlier.
There was a package leaning against her desk. It was fairly flat, maybe two feet by three feet, wrapped in brown paper with a fancy bow of red, white, and brown ribbon. She set her bag down and lifted the package onto the desk, working at the tape on the back.
As the wrapping fell away, she found the completed painting of the Conservatory fountain. The vivid natural colors seemed to leap off of the canvas. The leaves on the trees appeared to be moving in a gentle breeze, the flowers seemed real enough to put in a bouquet. And the fountain…
Well, the shimmering water looked so real that she was all but sure that if she touched it, her finger would come away wet.
The door opened, admitting a couple of other early arrivals, and she reluctantly set the painting aside – carefully saving the Neapolitan bow. And then she reached for her phone, intent on leaving a message for Christie to see when they could arrange another dinner.
Because now that she had started to unwrap the mystery of Neal Caffrey, she was anxious to earn another answer. And she already knew the next question she wanted to ask…