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Worth a Thousand Words

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Neal had a certain obstinacy, Diana had noticed, about admitting when there was anything wrong with him. It wasn't what she would have expected in the beginning. Early experience with Caffrey had led her to believe that he'd milk an illness for all it was worth, cheerfully wallowing in the sympathy. But further exposure made her realize that, while this might be true under some circumstances, as a general rule Neal hated to reveal any cracks in his smoothly polished facade. It was one thing if he chose to, and he definitely wasn't above playing wounded bird when he thought he could get something out of it. But to have any kind of weakness, despair, grief, or other vulnerability revealed for him ... it was something he avoided at all costs.

So she didn't even realize he was sick for a day or two. In retrospect she should've noticed that he was paler than usual, and perhaps more tellingly, much quieter and more subdued than normal. However, life had been stomping on Caffrey pretty hard over the past year, between Kate's death and his incarceration and everything else that had gone down, and it wouldn't have been the first time she'd seen him hit an emotional low point.

She didn't realize that there was something physically wrong with him until she leaned over his desk to ask him for his lunch order. Neal opened his mouth and rasped something unintelligible, then, scowling, reached for a pad of sticky notes and scribbled something on it.

"You okay?" Diana asked him. She was now taking in the slight redness and glassiness of his eyes, as well as his pallor. It was hard to wrap her mind around the idea of Neal Caffrey doing something so prosaic as catching a cold, but he looked ... well ...

"He's sick," Peter said, passing briskly with a stack of surveillance photos. "And now he's got laryngitis, because he hasn't got the sense to stay at June's and let her pamper him as I'm sure she'd love to do."

Neal glowered at Peter's back; it was evident from his body language that he really hadn't wanted anyone to know. Peter included, no doubt.

"Huh," Diana said. She'd been asking him questions as normal all day. But now that she thought about it, all the answers she'd gotten had been a nod, a thumbs-up, and so forth. He was smooth enough about it that she hadn't even given it a second thought. At one point she'd called over to ask about the name of a suspect in a case last week and he'd written it on a pad of paper and held it up. She had assumed it was just that he considered shouting across the bullpen undignified.

Apparently not.

"Don't give me that look," Peter said, although he wasn't even looking at Neal at the moment. It was obviously from Neal's aggrieved expression that he considered this deeply unfair. "You know she would. And he's going to want soup from that French place around the corner, by the way."

Neal stopped in the act of pasting the sticky note to the back of Diana's hand (because he was unable to resist being Neal, even when sick), snatched it back and crumpled it up. He scribbled something new and stuck it to her watch.

"He's requesting pho, boss."

"The other note was for that French soup he likes, though," Peter said complacently, spreading out the surveillance photos on an unused desk. "It's comfort food for him; he always does that when he's under the weather."

Neal narrowed his eyes at him.

"Yeah you do," Peter said, although he still wasn't looking in that direction, engrossed in sorting the photos into different stacks. "Get the soup, Di. He'll appreciate it, trust me."

Neal looked up at Diana. His lips moved as he tried to say something, but only managed a faint squeaking sound, which resulted in a deeply frustrated expression. There was, she thought, something truly pathetic about Neal deprived of words.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I don't understand. You're going to have to write it down."

Peter was looking over at them now. "Don't bother; he's just arguing about it. Neal, don't make me call Mozzie and ask him. Because I will."

Neal stared at him flatly and started to say something else, then desisted again in silent frustration.

"You only think I don't have his number," Peter said. "FBI, remember? We have resources. Besides, he's called me on several occasions, and at least two of them were from the same phone. They can't all be burn phones." This produced some eloquent eyebrow semaphoring from Neal. "Not a chance. I know he wants me to think that, but you must be able to call him somehow, so I'm operating under the assumption that there are a least a couple of numbers that don't change."

"You read lips, boss?" Diana asked. Neal had a questioning look that seemed to imply he was wondering the same thing ... and probably speculating on how this might have influenced his cons in the past.

"No, I just read fluent Neal." Neal gave him a dirty look. Peter retorted, "That wasn't smug. Trust me, you'll know when I'm being smug."

"You're doing both sides of the conversation and this is getting ridiculous," Diana decided. She went off to hand the lunch order to one of the interns.

When she planted the container of soup, a fresh mini-baguette, and a large bottle of water on the edge of Neal's desk twenty minutes later, he flashed her a quick smile and appropriated it. Quietly she palmed a couple of cold tablets onto the corner of the desk, which also quickly vanished.

She'd done more than her share of shifts while sick. At the very least he might as well be a little more comfortable. She might not be fluent in Neal, but she could get by where it counted.