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Aug. 27th, 2012

[sticky post] Master List

GamesCollapse )

White Collar VidsCollapse )

White Collar FanfictionCollapse )

The Americans FanworksCollapse )

Fanworks for Other FandomsCollapse )

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Mar. 16th, 2017

Purimgifts 2017 fics

Once again, I got much more than I could have hoped for from this challenge.  My gift couldn't have been more perfect: a series of Purim Torah fics, Torah she'b'al Peh from Yavneh II prepared by  ladonnaerrante.

My entry this year was also a series of fics:
Title: Who I Was, Who I Will Be
Fandom: Tanach (Jewish Bible)
Summary: They left their people for an unknown future, far away from everything they've known, but can they really leave it all behind? Three women, three stories.

Jan. 26th, 2017

White Collar vid: Elizabeth's first case

Title: Elizabeth's first case
Characters: Elizabeth/Peter
Song: Music: "Peaches 'n' Cream" by The Ikettes
Rating: PG
Summary: Pre-series.  Elizabeth is being followed...

Notes: Prepared for the 5th round of runthecon, for ultra_fic's prompt 'peaches and cream'.

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Jan. 9th, 2017

2016 Vidding/Ficcing Retrospective

Vids (11 total)

White Collar: Smile!, Reviewing the Situation, New Boy in the Neighborhood, Our Man Haversham, Summer, Beautiful, Shana Tova, Great Day, '1461 Days' Promo
 
Galavant: What A Knight

The Americans: You Want It Darker
  

Fics (19 total):

White Collar: The Raphael, Give Me A Minute (To Get Used To You Again), Karma's a Beach, Stockholm Syndrome, Two men are caught with a stolen wallet, Waiting for a Counterfeiter, Blame Game, Paper Flowers, Thanks with chocolate chips, The Music Box, The Fresco Kid, Lifeline

The Americans: Nanu Nanu
 
Purim Gifts: The Maid's Tale, The Wise Woman of Avel, The Bride, Purim Anatevka, What part of 'enough' don't you understand?, How does one bless the new moon on Venus?


Overall, about the same number as last year.  A bit less vids (and shorter ones) and more fics (not necessarily longer).  Most of my fanworks are thanks to challenges, and wc_rewatch.   

I'm finding it harder to actually produce something, though.  I still have ideas that I want to fic and vid, but even when I actually start work on them, I very quickly lose the drive to actually finish.  I procrastinate, and soon I get stuck, or the idea doesn't seem as exciting as it did when I first thought of it.

So, this year, I intend to make an effort to finish all those half-finished fics and vids which have been accumulating.

Purim Gifts letter

I tried listing as many options as possible, but frankly, I'd be happy with anything Jewish.  I like playing around with Jewish texts, and I'm looking forward to what you come up with.

I wasn't sure whether to even list anything, since anything I list will exclude things I hadn't thought of, but would love to read.

So, with that in mind - a few things I like:
1. Strong women chars
2. Stories that give me new insights or and new ways of reading the text, history, traditions etc.
3. Stories that highlight lesser-known corners of history and lore
4. Humor

Dec. 8th, 2016

White Collar Fic: Lifeline

Title: Lifeline
Word Count: 1500
Characters/Pairings: Peter & Neal
Rating: PG
Summary: Pre-series.  It's a dark and stormy night, and Peter gets a phone call from Neal

Notes: written for H/C Advent challenge at whitecollarhc.

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Nov. 29th, 2016

White Collar Fic: The Fresco Kid (Master Post)

Title: The Fresco Kid
Artist: sheenianni
Author: treonb
Word Count: 10K
Characters/Pairings: Neal & Maria Fiametta
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: None
Spoilers: None
Summary: AU. Neal joins forces with a new partner in order to steal an ancient fresco that may or may not exist.  Part of my "Free As a Bird" 'verse - an AU in which Neal never escaped from prison and never made a deal with the FBI.

Notes: Written for the 7th White Collar Big Bang challenge, inspired by wc_rewatch.  The beautiful art accompanying the fic is by the very talented sheenianni (art post here).  Many thanks to the challenge organizers, without which this fic would never have been writtten.


Chapters: One | Two | Three | Four | Five

White Collar Fic: The Fresco Kid (5/5)

See here for Master Post

A week later, Neal was sitting outside a Manhattan cafe, sipping coffee and reading the paper. The New York Times art supplement had an a two page spread on the risks of buying ancient artwork. A photo of a striking reproduction of the The Tomb of the Diver fresco featured 'for illustration purposes'. The journalist interviewed one Professor Maria Fiametta, an expert in the field of illegal artwork, who pointed out the recent increase of forged artwork caught in Italy.

"You look tanned." Peter Burke stopped by Neal's table.

Neal briefly looked up at him. "I didn't realize that was a crime."

The agent grabbed a chair and sat down, not bothering to ask for permission. "You crossed the border into Canada a couple of weeks ago, and according to the Canadians, you did not leave the country." It was an accusation.

"They have tanning salons, you know." Neal finally turned his full attention to Peter, folding his paper away. "I thought Agent Ruiz was now in charge of my case."

Peter shrugged. "I'm just following my leads."

A waitress stopped by. "Would you like to order, sir?"

"No, thanks." He didn't plan on staying around long.

Neal held up a hand to stop her. "You really should try it. They have the best Italian roast in the city, Peter."

Peter laughed. "Italian, huh?" He shook his head at the waitress, who moved away to other customers.

The FBI agent turned his attention back to Neal. "Word on the street is, you forged and sold an ancient fresco in Italy."

Neal's eyes shone with obvious pride. "Was it any good?"

"Stop playing games, Neal."

"You just said I was in Canada. I couldn't be in Italy, could I?"

Peter ignored that. "I wouldn't put anything past you. What I can't figure out is why there's even chatter about this. A deal like this, you'd want to keep quiet, right?"

"Or maybe the rumors are wrong," Neal offered.

"Nah..." Peter waved that away. "See, I'm thinking you couldn't help yourself, you wanted to show off."

Neal's cordial smile disappeared, but he did not blink under Peter's gaze. "Peter, I have no idea what you're talking about."

"I bet you don't. Interpol will have its eyes peeled for any sale of ancient frescoes."

"Good."

Peter glared at Neal for a long moment. "You might think you got away with it this time, but you're not going to outwit law enforcement forever, you know. One day, you'll slip up and you'll get caught."

Neal was quiet finished with this conversation. "So you've said."

Peter sighed. It was like talking to a wall. He couldn't figure out why he cared enough to keep on trying.

"Okay," he continued. "If you want to talk, you know where to find me."

Neal was already buried back in his paper. "Always do."

Peter sat there for yet another silent moment, until Neal looked over at him. "Want to try that Italian roast?"


*****

A few minutes after Peter finally left, Mozzie took his seat. "So, what did the Suit want?"

Neal glanced at Mozzie from behind his paper. "Same as usual."

"Hm. Oh, I heard Eva Molloy is looking around for that Steve she met. He apparently up and disappeared, didn't even leave a glass slipper, or a last name."

Neal shrugged. He wasn't sure how much of this Mozzie was making up. "She'll get over it."

Neal couldn't have been less excited. One thing Mozzie had learned, having survived as a conman for this long, was that some things couldn't be pushed. It didn't matter, there were enough cons out there for everybody. "What do you think of Japan?"

"It's an island," Neal answered. "Anything specific about it?"

"There's a very special museum in Kofukuji-" Mozzie stopped when Neal's phone rang.

"Hold on." Then, to the phone, "Hello."

"Hi, is this Nick?"

"Speaking."

"This is Chloe. I don't know if you remember, we met-"

"Yeah, sure," Neal smiled. "At the photography exhibit."

"Right. You offered to show us around your studio, Danny and I."

"Right, right. How about next weekend?"

"Sounds great."

"Great."

"Uh, I'll be in touch then." She hung up.

Neal put away his phone and turned to Mozzie. "I need a studio."

"Studio. New job?" Mozzie inquired.

Neal smiled enigmatically. "Maybe."


THE END

White Collar Fic: The Fresco Kid (4/5)

See here for Master Post


A couple of weeks later, Neal boarded a flight to Toronto.

This did not pass unnoticed by the FBI.

At the White Collar offices, Diana popped her head into Peter's office. "Neal Caffrey's in Canada."

Peter frowned. Neal Caffrey on the move usually meant some elaborate crime was about to go down. "Where in Canada?"

"He flew into Toronto. RCMP were waiting for him, but lost him shortly after he left the airport."

"Of course they did." Peter sighed. There wasn't much he could do. "Get everybody to check their street contacts, maybe somebody knows something."

But by the time this chat was taking place, Neal (or, Tommy Churney, per his passport), was sipping champagne at cruising altitude, on his way to Rome.

Upon landing, he breezed through Italian border control without a hitch.

Maria had no need for such delicate maneuvers. She took a flight straight to Rome a few days earlier, and was waiting for Neal by the time he exited Rome International, leaning casually against a yellow Alpha Romeo.

Neal gave her car a look-over. "Maybe you should tone it down."

Maria laughed. "Any problems?"

"None at all." He threw his bag in the back and got in on the passenger's side. The car screeched away from the curb.

"So," Neal asked after they got out on the highway. "Who's our mark?"

Maria shot him a quick look, then focused back on the road. "How about you let me worry about that?"

"Hey, we're partners, right?"

"Right. You handle the fresco, let me deal with selling it."

"You don't trust me." Neal looked out the side-window at the passing view.

Maria glanced at Neal again, but didn't say anything. Neal was a sleek conman, and she wasn't about to become one of his marks.

She drove a circuitous route, to make sure they weren't being followed, though Neal wondered how hard it would be to follow such a flashy car.

Maria had rented a villa in a little village outside Naples. On the highway she'd handled the sports car like an experienced race-car driver, and she barely slowed down now as she navigated the narrow streets and sharp curves. Neal was relieved when she finally came to a stop.

Their new home was two stories high, with pink bougainvillea climbing up the side wall. "Nice." Neal commented.

"There's a pool in the back."

"Even nicer."

"Wait till you see the studio."

"There's a studio?"

Maria was already heading towards the door. Neal hurried to keep pace with her.

She did not disappoint. The villa had an attached studio in the back. Large windows offered floor-to-ceiling views of the mountains around them. The rest of the walls were covered with paintings of the view. "The owner likes to paint," Maria said by way of explanation, gesturing over at the panorama outside.
Neal dropped his bag as he went to inspect the slab of travertine stone that was waiting for him.
"I've got everything you asked for," Maria said.

Neal ran his hand along the stone, feeling its texture. "Looks good. So? What about that trip to the museum?"

*****

The next morning, Maria woke up to discover Neal doing the freestyle in the pool.

Neal had taken up swimming after his release. In jail his daily exercise routine was limited mostly to push-ups and pull-ups in his cell. Now he preferred being outside, the freedom of the water and the heat of the sun on his back.

He did a few laps back and forth before he noticed her standing at the edge of the pool. He stopped, treading water, and looked up with a bright smile. "Good morning!"

"What are you doing? We've got work to do."

By which she meant, you've got work to do.

"This is part of my process."

She glared down at him.

"We're supposed to be tourists, I'm just playing the part."

Maria gestured towards the wide expanse of nothing around them. She'd purposefully chosen a villa which was situated at the far end of the village, far from any prying eyes. "For who?"

Wordlessly, Neal turned, and did another lap, spraying Maria as he passed by. On the other side of the pool, he pulled himself out and reached for his towel.

"You're a slave driver," he called out to her.

"So my students tell me."

Neal finished toweling off, then dropped the towel over a lounge chair and stepped towards Maria. "Yeah, well, I'm not your student."

Maria pointedly ignored him. She pulled a lounge chair over and sat down. "No, you're not. You're the partner who promised to make me a fresco. Our client is expecting it this weekend. He's already wondering what's taking me so long."

"Don't worry, it will be ready," Neal said with a reassuring smile.

"Let's make sure it will."

Neal smirked. "Slave driver."

*****

After a few hours of intense work, Neal finally came up for air. He grabbed an apple, and munching, went out to the yard. Maria was still in the lounge chair by the pool, her head lolling off to the side.

Throwing the half-eaten apple across the yard, Neal stepped over to her. He lowered himself down to the deck and for a long moment just watched her. Her chest was rising and falling at an even pace. She was sound asleep.

No time like the present to do a little snooping. Neal didn't think Maria was running an op for the Feds, but he was quite aware that once he finished the fresco, he was going to become dispensable. She would have everything she needed to close the deal, and every reason to cut him out. A quarter of a million reasons, in fact.

She was clutching her phone. Neal considered relieving her of the machine, but he figured he wouldn't be able to dump its memory anyway. If Mozzie were here he could have done it. But Mozzie wasn't here.

Instead, Neal moved over to where she'd left her tote bag.

As he reached for it, Maria shifted, stretching her right arm above her head. Neal froze. A few seconds ticked by, until he was sure that she hadn't woken up.

Neal turned back to her bag. A couple of books about the archeology of the area. A legal pad. He skimmed her notes, but there didn't seem to be anything of interest there. And a gun.

"What are you doing?"

He looked up to see Maria staring back at him. She had woken up without him even noticing.

He held up the gun. "What is this?"

"It's exactly what it looks like."

"Guns are dangerous."

Maria snorted. "If you've got one pointed at you."

"This wasn't part of the deal."

"Are we changing the deal now?"

"No." Neal got up, removed the clip, and threw the piece into the pool. Without further word he walked back to the studio.

*****

The next few days were quiet ones in the villa. Neal threw himself into his work and Maria was often out. They both pretended nothing had happened.

It was getting close to the deadline when Maria showed up in the studio, nightcap in hand. "How's the painting going?"

"It's going well."

She leaned closer to take a look. It was a celebratory scene, looking, as far as she could see, just like the original.

"Hey, watch it with that wine glass."

"The Greeks probably spilled wine over their walls all the time," she pouted. "A few wine-stains will just give it a more authentic look." But she did take a step back.

Neal got back to his work.

Maria swirled the wine in her glass. "Have you ever thought of painting original works?"

Neal didn't stop his brushwork. "Would you pay half a mil for an original Caffrey?"

Maria laughed. "Probably not," she admitted after a short silence. "Is that what it comes down to?"

"Doesn't it always?"

"Do you always evade questions like that?"

Neal paused, his brush hovering over the stone slab. Then, with an annoyed shake of his head, he turned around to face Maria. "What is this really about?"

"You can't answer a simple question. Didn't you say honesty is a more challenging game?"

"It is."

"So... why don't you paint originals?"

Neal hesitated, then turned back to his work. "You'll have to wait for next New Year's for that."

Maria shook her head at Neal's evasion. "You can count on that." She turned back to examine the painting. "You're almost finished."

"Just about. I need another day for painting, and then a couple more days for drying it out and aging it."

"Good."

"I want to come along for the meet."

"You don't trust me." Maria sounded surprised.

"Any reason I should?" Neal retorted.

Maria finished off her wine, and put her glass down on a side-table. "I've got nothing to hide."

For somebody who had nothing to hide, Neal thought, she was sure doing a lot of it.

*****

Maria had rented a small truck, and so the morning of the swap, the two loaded up the fresco in the back.

Neal gave the fresco one last look-see, making sure it was firmly tied down in place, before he hopped down to the ground and slammed the truck doors shut behind him. "All ready to go."

"Good. Get in." Maria hopped into the driver's side.

They got on the main highway going south along the coast, but after a while Maria veered off towards the mountains. The flat, wide road turned windy as it started to climb up the mountains. Traffic thinned out. Maria kept a slow and steady pace and every once in a while an impatient driver would honk away as he bypassed them.

At some point a police car, sirens blaring, showed up behind them, but it soon passed them as well, heading off to whatever emergency. Neal and Maria exchanged a relieved look.

After a couple of hours of driving past picturesque villages, Maria turned off to a dirt path, which wound its way between planted fields and vineyards. The truck kicked up dust, and Neal, coughing, rolled up his window. Maria didn't seem to mind.

Finally, she stopped the truck, in what seemed to Neal like the middle of nowhere. An olive grove to their right, an empty, plowed field to their left. More of the same ahead of them.

Neal looked out through the dusty windshield. Besides the birds flocking overhead, there was not a soul in sight.

"And now what?"

"Now - we wait," she said.

And so they waited. The van had no air-conditioning and the heat was beginning to get oppressive. Neal rolled his window back down for a little bit of air. He was relieved when a quarter of an hour later, an approaching dust cloud signaled that somebody was coming.

Indeed, soon enough three cars materialized out of the dust. They came to a screeching halt around the truck. The people who piled out didn't look like businessmen to Neal. Broad-shouldered, muscular and armed.

Neal glanced at Maria. This was not at all what he was expecting. "I thought you said our client's a businessman."

"He is." Maria nodded over to where an older man was getting out of a car. "That's him. Stay in the truck."

Before Neal could respond, she was already slamming the door shut and walking towards their client.

She greeted the men in Italian, which Neal could understand fairly well, but then they moved around to the back of the truck, and their voices were lost in the wind.

One armed man was standing by the truck. He glanced impassively at Neal. Neal nodded with a quick smile, which was not returned.

Neal leaned back in his seat, staring at the view ahead. He heard the truck door open, and muffled voices behind him as they entered the truck.

He was just beginning to think of getting out and checking what was going on back there when, suddenly, the man next to him sprung into action, unholstering his gun as he ran towards the back of the truck.

From his vantage point, Neal couldn't see a thing. He leaned over to check the driver's side mirror, but he couldn't see much there either. The Italians were all around the truck, yelling and waving their guns at the back.

"Damn." Neal slid over to the driver's seat, and reached for the key. But there was none. Maria had taken it with her. Probably to prevent him from running off with the treasure while she was closing the deal.

Muttering a string of curses, Neal leaned down to pull out the wires from underneath the steering wheel. A minute later, the truck stuttered to life.

Neal hoped that Maria was inside the truck as he shifted into reverse and pressed down on the gas pedal.

This was greeted by shouts from the Italians. Neal could hear the ping-ping of gunshots hitting the metal siding as he shifted back into drive and floored the pedal.

*****

He didn't get far. A few bullets hit the back wheel and the truck careened off the road and into a field, planted with long rows of greens.

Seconds later, Neal was dragged out of the van by a couple of burly Italians. Amid much yelling and shouting, he was brought around back, when Maria was being held by a few more men.

Their 'businessman' client walked in front of them. "So," he said in strongly-accented English, "you think you can play games with me, heh?" He waved a gun, which Neal recognized as the same gun he had thrown into the pool.

Neal glanced with annoyance at his partner. "I told you, guns are-"

"Silence!" The older man shouted.

He was in the middle of nowhere, Italy. If this was the end, it was a sorry way to go. Would anybody know what happened to him? Would anybody even care? Neal was pretty sure Mozzie would care, but he had a hard time thinking of anybody else who would miss him.

Mercifully, he didn't have long to contemplate matters, for suddenly - everything went dark.

*****

Neal groaned. His head was throbbing so badly, he just wanted to die. Then he remembered that he could have been dead. It took a few more minutes for the next thought to coalesce in his mind: He wasn't dead.

His head was killing him, ergo he wasn't dead!

Slowly he felt the back of his head. His hair was sticky, and he could feel a tender, sore spot there. When he brought his hand back, it was covered in blood. His own blood.

Neal groaned again and closed his eyes.

"Hey, you okay?" Neal's eyes opened again too see Maria's head swim into view.

"More or less." He thought about that for another moment. "Less."

This earned him a quick smile. "How many fingers am I holding up?"

He squinted at her. "Three."

"Good. You had me worried. Come on, we need to get out of here."

He was lying on the dirt path. She gave him a helping hand. He took it and slowly moved into a sitting position.

"What happened?"

"The deal went south. Our client decided he could take the fresco and forgo the payment."

It was all coming back now. The meet in the middle of nowhere, the Italians, the guns. "The truck?"

"Gone."

Neal felt the sore spot on his head again. "So what was the plan? Not just con the mob, but also steal from them?"

"There was no plan," Maria answered. "Our client got greedy and decided to back out of our deal."

Neal wasn't sure he believed that version of events. "So you pulled a gun on him?"

Maria's eyes narrowed. "We would have gotten away with both the fresco and the money if you hadn't driven off like that."

Neal exhaled in surprise. "Seriously? You're gonna blame me for this now?"

"Just giving you the facts."

"And what did you intend to do after you had the fresco and the money. Get rid of me at some stage?"

Maria's jaw dropped. "You're unbelievable."

"All I know is that I do all the work, you set up the deal, and now the fresco's gone."

"You do all the-" she spluttered. "So what, you think this was all a setup?"

Neal looked up at her. "You tell me."

Maria shook her head in disbelief. "If I was going to steal the fresco, I wouldn't be here right now."

Neal didn't buy it, though he wasn't about to argue the point. Shakily, he got to his feet. He took a few unsteady steps, and then collapsed in an ungainly heap on the road.

"God." Maria looked at him, and after a moment's hesitation came over to help him up. "Come on."


*****
Neal leaned on Maria as the two walked back towards the main road. Maria had taken off her shoes and was holding them in one hand.

It was by now late afternoon, and they cast long shadows ahead of them.

"We could try to get the fresco back," Neal said after a while.

Maria came to a stop, looking over at Neal. "How?"

"It shouldn't be that difficult to locate the truck. Every rental has GPS tracking nowadays."

"So we'll find the truck, how would that help us?"

"The fresco might be nearby."

"Not very likely," Maria dismissed the idea. "They could ditch the truck, and have the fresco halfway across Italy by now."

"You're not that keen on getting that fresco back, are you?"

"I'm not that keen on getting myself killed. This isn't New York, we're in unfriendly territory, and it can get really dangerous to go up against the mob."

Neal wasn't about to give up so easily. "He's probably keeping it close where he can see it. I can break into his home, and-"

"Neal!" Maria almost shouted. "You're talking about a very secure compound that the Italian police don't dare approach. Face it. We've been had."

"How very convenient."

Maria just shook her head. Then an idea popped into her head. "Maybe we're going about it the wrong way."

"What do you mean?"

"Maybe we don't need to get the fresco back..."

"I think we already established that's not your top priority."

Maria waved that away. "Will you listen? That fresco is only worth half a mil if it's rare Greek art. How much do you think the mob would pay for a Caffrey original?"

It took a moment for the idea to sink in, at which point Neal grinned. "You know, Maria, we could make quite a team."

Next Chapter

White Collar Fic: The Fresco Kid (3/5)

See here for Master Post

The next morning, Neal showed up at Maria's building. Mozzie was not the only one who could vet prospective partners.

Maria was indeed listed as a professor at Brooklyn College, an art historian whose main area of research was art on the black market. That checked out with what she'd told him. A quick check on Google netted him her home address, and here he was.

Neal stopped outside apartment 10B. According to the university schedule, Maria was supposed to be at work right now. Neal glanced left and right, made sure the hallway was empty and then reached for his lockpicks.

Just then he heard a door open down the corridor. Not missing a beat, he dropped the lockpicks back in his pocket and knocked on the door.

"You're looking for Maria?"

Neal turned to find a young man, two doors down, locking his door. Early twenties, his clothing screaming money, he looked like the type of guy Neal relished conning. The 'too rich for his own good' type. Neal assumed the building was full of them.

He affected uncertainty. "Yeah. She told me to meet her here."

The other man wrinkled his nose. "I think she's at work Thursday mornings."

"You're sure?"

"With Maria, who knows." The young man shrugged. "Don't worry, you're not the first one she's stood up."

Once the guy disappeared around the corner, Neal turned back to the door. He made quick work of the lock, but when he opened the door, he discovered the security chain was attached on the inside.

Somebody was inside! In fact, he could now hear somebody moving in there.
*****

Maria was running late. She had called in to work to have her assistant take over her morning class.

Somebody knocked on the door, but she did not have time to deal with guests right now. She hoped whoever it was would just get lost.

A mug of coffee in one hand, she grabbed her bag and headed for the door.

And when she opened the door... there was Neal Caffrey, casually leaning against the door-frame.

Maria blinked at him in surprise. Well, well, well. "Had a change of heart?"

Neal grinned. "I thought I'd give you another shot at convincing me."

Maria raised an eyebrow.

"Theoretically speaking, of course," he hurried to add.

"Playing hard to get, huh?"

Neal shrugged. He gestured towards the coffee in her hand. "Caught you at a bad time?"

"I was just about to leave for work," she said, but then offered: "You can join me, if you want."

Neal didn't think about it for long. "Sure."

He caught a quick glimpse of her apartment as she turned back to close the door and lock up. It didn't look like your normal academic fare. But then, he had to admit, neither was Maria.

Most college professors he knew (and, admittedly, he didn't know many) didn't own exclusive apartments in SoHo. Most law-enforcement agents he knew (and, admittedly, he knew even fewer) didn't either. Maria was most definitely not an FBI agent. If Neal had to guess, he'd say she was probably too rich and too bored, and looking for some fun in life.

They took the elevator down to the parking lot. Neal followed Maria as she led the way past the parked cars. As she neared her car, a red sports coupe, she unlocked it with a beep.
Neal let out a low whistle. It was a Mercedes Benz SL55. Definitely not your normal academic fare.
Maria looked back at him, a faint smile on her lips.

"I didn't realize professors drive such cars," Neal said.

"They don't, usually. Not on a professor's salary."

"Hm."

Maria gestured him forward. "Come on, get in."

*****

At the university, Maria led Neal through the campus and what seemed a maze of corridors.

A student was waiting outside her office. "Professor!"

As Maria dealt with the barrage of questions on an upcoming exam, Neal used the time to look around. There wasn't much to see. A long drab corridor filled with little offices. Maria's name, along with a colleague's, was displayed on a small plaque outside her office door.

"Sorry about that." Maria joined him a minute later. She unlocked her office and gestured Neal in.

Her office was just a bit larger than a broom-closet. Or, Neal considered, as large as his cell back at Sing Sing. Her office had no windows, either.

"Homey," he said.

Maria dropped her bag on the desk. "That's one way of looking at it. I do most of my research at home."

A large map was hanging on the wall, and upon closer inspection, Neal saw that it was a closeup of the Naples area. A few spots were circled in blue and red. By the map Maria had posted pictures of the frescoes from the Tomb of the Diver, along with photographs of the archaeological site.

Neal glanced over at Maria, and found she was watching him. "I see you're not hiding your interest in the tomb."

She shrugged. "Why would I? I'm an art historian, that's what I do."

"Forge antiquities?"

Maria chuckled. "Research art that disappeared onto the black market. This," she waved at the wall, "is just part of my research."

"Ah."

"It's mostly for show. I've got the real interesting stuff back home."

Neal turned away from the map. Maria's desk was filled with materials on the antiquities of Paestum. He ran a finger along the binding of a stack of books on archeology and Greek art.

"So," Maria asked, "do we have a deal?"

Neal looked up at her. "What makes you think I'm interested?"

She smirked. "You're here."

She had a point. "How much are we talking?"

"I'll pay you fifty thousand to make the fresco."

Neal broke out in laughter. "And how much are you making on it?"

Maria didn't answer.

"We either do this as partners and split it fifty-fifty, or I'm out."

"You're not the only forger in New York." Neal was not the first or only forger Maria had approached

Neal chuckled. "You're not choosing tomatoes in the supermarket. You need somebody who can make a copy that will be indistinguishable from the original." He moved closer, breaching her personal space. "You need me."

Maria considered him for a silent moment. Neal was full of himself, but he had good reason to be. There were very few forgers of Neal Caffrey's caliber. "Fine. We'll do it fifty-fifty. I've got a client who's willing to pay half a million."

Neal whistled. That was way more than he expected. "Who's the client?"

"An Italian businessman."

"Does he have a name?"

"Do we have a deal?"

Neal smiled broadly and stuck out his hand.

Maria shook it. "Good." She glanced at her watch. "I have a class now, but maybe we can continue afterward?"

"Sure."


*****
Maria made good on her promise. The two new partners spent the rest of the morning in the university's library, collecting reading materials. After a break for lunch they stopped at the Met to check out period pieces. A wary guard kept an eye on them throughout their visit.

It was getting late by the time they finished, and Maria suggested they go back to her place to brainstorm over dinner. Maria ordered Chinese takeout, and they sat down to discuss strategy.

"I'll need to go see the originals in Paestum," Neal commented as he picked at his chop suey.

"Of course."

"Not only that, if you want to forge ancient frescoes, you'll need to match the ancient materials used."

"Right."

"To do that, you need samples from the Tomb of the Diver. Just a sliver from the original. We'll need to case out the museum first. I suggest you do-"

"Hold on. I've got something even better." Maria disappeared into a nearby room, and returned a few minutes later with a thin booklet. "Here."

Neal raised an eyebrow. It was a study of the chemical composition of the Diver's Tomb frescoes. He took the booklet, flipping through it. It had a breakdown of the plaster and the paint, along with possible materials used, taking into account the historical era in which it was made.

"This is a peer-review copy," Maria added. "It hasn't been published yet."

"Impressive." With this he could just buy the materials and get to work.

Maria smiled at him. "We could make quite a team."

Neal dropped the booklet down on the table. "There's this story about these two spies, sworn enemies who always tried to bring the other down, and they meet on New Year's Eve and make a deal, that each of them will get to ask one question, and the other will have to answer truthfully."

Maria nodded. "They had to ask the right question, because they might never get another chance."

Neal grinned. "I've always said honesty is a more challenging game."

"So... what's your question?"

"I don't believe in coincidences."

"Neither do I."

"So what were you doing at the Chesterton Gallery last night? You don't seem to be the type for third-rate photography."

Maria smiled. "I could ask the same question."

"You first."

"Okay. I got a tip the exhibition was a front for a fencing operation."

Neal blinked. "Seriously?"

Maria nodded.

So Berrigan being there was a coincidence.

"Your turn," Maria prompted him.

"I was there to accidentally meet somebody."

Maria laughed. "You don't believe in coincidences, huh?"

"Not usually." Neal grinned.

*****
Mozzie was sitting on the couch in Neal's hotel suite. Waiting. Alone. In the dark.

It was getting less and less dark, though. Faint slivers of sunlight were making their way through the curtains, the sounds of the city waking up filtering their way up to the 20th floor suite.

Somewhere nearby, Mozzie could hear a clock ticking the seconds away.

A sound at the door, and Neal came in, whistling to himself. He plopped a few things down and picked up the phone. "Room service? I'd like a continental breakfast. Room 2078. Thanks."

He hung up the phone and turned around. Spotting Mozzie, he stiffened. "What are you doing here?"

"Where were you?" Mozzie countered with his own question.

"I didn't realize I had a curfew."

Mozzie got up and came closer. "You were out all night."

"You were sitting here all night?"

Mozzie held Neal's gaze, then his gaze dropped to where the Neal had put his stuff. Neal followed his glance, then back to Mozzie. For a second, they froze, then they both lunged for it. Mozzie managed to get to it first, wresting it away from Neal's hands.

"Hey!" Neal protested.

Mozzie quickly flipped through it all. The booklet about the frescoes, a book of pictures, some notes on needed equipment. His gaze moved back to Neal. "I see you decided not to wait after all."

It sounded too much like an accusation. "It doesn't matter, Moz. She's not a Fed." Despite himself, Neal was already on the defensive.

"This could still be a Fed op."

"Trust me, Moz. It isn't."

"And how can you be so sure?"

Neal just shook his head.

"I assume you already slept with her?"

"That is none of your business."

It was as much confirmation as Mozzie needed. "You know what's your problem?"

Neal really didn't want to know, but Moz didn't need much encouragement to continue. "You don't know how to separate business and pleasure."

"Oh, God."

"And it always gets you into trouble. Your on-again-off-again relationship with Alex, to name just one example. And then there's Kate-"

Neal didn't want to hear it. He turned around and walked away. But Mozzie hurried up after him.

"You can't keep running away from this."

Neal turned back, then forced himself to calm down. And change the subject. "I assume you checked up on Maria?"

"Of course."

"What did you find?"

"Maria Fiametta. Art History teacher at Brooklyn State."

"We already know-"

Mozzie held up a hand. "She wrote a couple of books."

That caught Neal's attention. "You've got them?"

"Of course." Mozzie led Neal back to where he'd been sitting before and handed him both hardcovers.

Neal glanced at the back cover of the first book, then flipped through it. "Hmm... running around with Egyptian smugglers, that's-"

"Your new girlfriend likes the adventurous life."

"She's not my girlfriend."

"Uh-huh. And she doesn't lack money."

Neal looked at up Mozzie. "Yeah, I noticed."

"She's heir to the Fiametta fortune," Mozzie supplied.

"I never heard of the Fiametta fortune."

"Her great-grandfather made a nice bundle during Prohibition. His children capitalized on it."

"Legally?"

"Mostly. The Maria apple didn't fall far from the tree, apparently."

Neal knew exactly what that was like. "So what's not to trust?"

"It all sounds too convenient. She's looking for a forger and she just happens to run into you, with the Feds all over the place?"

Neal shrugged.

"Maybe they're using her to get to you. It wouldn't be the first time."

"I guess I'll just have to risk it." Neal handed both books back to Mozzie, leaving him open-mouthed with shock.

"You'll just have to risk it? Neal, we're talking about years in prison."

Neal grinned at his friend. "I thought you were worried I'd left the life."

Mozzie had no answer to that.

"See?" Neal clapped Mozzie's shoulder. "You had nothing to worry about."

"Great," Mozzie mumbled. This was not what he had in mind at all.

"Oh," Neal said. "I do need a favor, though."

"Passport?"

Neal nodded. A job as big as this would have to be prepared on-site, transport was too risky. There were a few warrants for his arrest in Italy, and he had burned most of his international aliases.

Mozzie sighed a long, deep sigh. He couldn't believe he was going to help Neal in this folly of a job. "By when do you need it?"

"Next week."

There was a knock at the door and Neal went to answer it.

"It's going to be a rush job."

"Whatever."

The waiter had arrived with his breakfast, and Neal stepped aside to allow him to wheel it in.

Mozzie waited patiently till the man was gone before he spoke up again. "Fine. I'll get you your passport. But don't say I didn't warn you."

Neal was already busy spreading jam over his bun. "Noted."

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