You're there in another bar where Harvey has abandoned you, trying to think about too many things, how you're going to get back, how you're going to win this fucking case, what kind of frozen pizza to get on the way home. Your head is buzzing a little, probably the champagne from earlier. You should sit down, so you do.
It's a nice bar. It's very Harvey, sleek and dark with plush leather chairs and silent, hard-faced men looking into their glasses of bourbon as though they held the future. There's a man talking to the bartender, his shoulders falsely relaxed, a fedora on the bar next to him. (Who even wears a fedora anymore?)
It's not that you want to - you don't want to care, really, you care too much - but your brain doesn't leave you any choice, so you watch him: he's probably a criminal, ex-criminal, judging by the way he looks calm but would actually be out the door in thirty seconds if something happened; young, thirty at most, single, a lover of women. He's here for something. Men like him don't drink alone in bars like that.
He has blue eyes, too, but that's not a deduction.
He turns towards you. You don't order, because you don't like whiskey, and it's not like you can ask for a Coke here. He probably doesn't really like whiskey, either, judging by the way his mouth wrinkles the littlest bit when he takes a sip. He could hide it, but he doesn't bother – no one here is smart enough to pick up on that, it doesn't mean anything, he has other things to do.
"Hi," he says. It could be an interrogative lilt in his voice.
"Hi," you answer, feeling a little foolish. Then you take a look at his face. He's handsome, but the thing you notice most about him is that he's Neal Caffrey, the conman you read about in the Times two years ago, on September 23rd, 7:30 AM. "You're Neal Caffrey."
He chuckles. He's surprised. "I guess I'm a little too famous, aren't I?" he says.
You could say many things here. Only to the good people. or even No, you're not. "I just have a good memory," you say. Twenty-five years, and you still can't decide if it's a curse or a blessing.
He laughs again. He laughs a lot, or at least that's what the laugh lines at the corners of his lips tell you, but he's a liesmith. A conman. He's this man you'd like to despise but can't help but admire. No wonder you're so smitten with Harvey. He's perfect for you - good but never boring, with his not-so-hidden wicked streak and sneaky deviousness. Oh well.
"So what about you return the favor?" Neal asks, his eyes sharp, fingers skirting on the hard edge of his fedora.
"I told you my name. What about you tell me yours?"
"You didn't tell me your name," you say, because pride and good-looking men will be the death of you.
The light diffracts the smile he hides in his glass and sends it tumbling on the facets, multiplying. "Didn't I?"
Your tie is itchy and (too skinny) it's kind of stuffy here, hot like a jungle. "Mike," you say, because your name doesn't mean anything. "Mike Ross."
He hmms. "You used to deal back in the day, right?" he asks without looking at you. You have the same eyes, you realize. Same color. Blue isn't really that common.
"I thought you didn't deal with amateurs?"
He turns to you, teeth sharp and white when he smiles. His jaw is chiseled, you remark, like you could sharpen a blade on it, if blades were your preferred weapons. "I like to keep informed," he shrugs fluidly.
There's a moment of silence. You have words tumbling on your tongue and against the back of your teeth, but he's the maestro. You wait for him to talk. He lets it last, seems to savor it, sipping his bourbon with soft, mocking noises of approval.
Eventually he drops a handful of crumpled dollars on the shiny black wood, nods at the bartender, and shrugs his jacket on. It could be a scene out of an old Hollywood movie, maybe even one in black and white. You wonder who would be the heroine. Maybe Ava Gardner.
His hand is on the doorknob when he turns around, a smile playing at the corner of his mouth. "You coming?"
You stumble a bit in your hurry to get to him.
The ride home is silent, the air between you crackling with electricity. Or maybe it's just you. You see electricity everywhere, because your memory works like that, everything always sizzling, neurons and thoughts and feelings.
He give his address before you can give yours. You're surprised. It's not far but it isn't close either, kind of like you two if you made this kind of comparisons, but you don't. You think about his apartment, what it's going to look like, and about him. No data, your brain tells you. Neal Caffrey, conman.
It's a little fascinating how someone can be so many people, so many faces, so many places and heists and jewels, and you want to ask all about it but you don't. It's not your place. You know your place, no matter what Harvey says. What you do with Harvey you do because he wants you to crash his boundaries, go further, ask questions. Some day you'll find the time to be afraid about what it inevitably means for you two. There's always too far after further.
You aren't expecting it when he curls a hand at the nape of your neck, eyes still fixed before him. Your nail rake the black leather, a little uselessly. He smiles. The slanting light catches on it. You bow your head.
His apartment is a house, with a long stairway and a balcony. It's full of warm wood and artwork, and you think about your blank countertops and empty fridge, a little ashamed. You trail your fingers on a buddha with jade eyes.
"Shanghai, 1999," he says. His jacket is open, but you can't remember if it was ever closed. You've seen his forearms in rolled sleeves, this shouldn't matter.
He crowds you against the door. You leave the buddha and let him sigh your name in your mouth as he kisses you, "Mike Ross" with a contemplative lilt.
(You kissed Trevor once, or maybe he kissed you. You were both high. Trevor said it didn't matter, and you've always been smart but you've also always listened to Trevor. Harvey is still an interrogation mark, in the future. You try not to think about the future too much, in general.)
You knock the fedora off his head and tangle your fingers in his hair. "Neal," you say, to test the name, how it tastes on your tongue. "Neal," you repeat, satisfied.
("New York, 1977," he says, but you won't tell anyone that he's another thing that he thinks he's stolen, another worthless diamond.)
He inches his thigh between yours and that's when you decide to try and stop thinking. It doesn't completely work, of course, but it never does.
There's a nice morning with omelette and sunlight raining on your shoulders. He doesn't kiss you when he leads you to the taxi, but he's got a hand pressed against the small of your back, tracing the bruises he left through the material of your suit. (He said you should dress better, gave you addresses. You promised yourself never to introduce him to Harvey.)
The bruise you prefer is on your ankle, when his tracking anklet pressed against your skin. You smile as you rub a thumb there, to make sure it turns purple, then yellow.
Then Harvey calls you, and you open your briefcase. The stack of files from yesterday isn't there anymore.
"Harvey?" you say, flipping your phone open.