“Wow, you make me sound really old now,” Neal ran a hand through his hair, also realizing that he knew that Bella was mid twenties, but, she too, could look younger. Why did this make him nervous? Getting old sucked, and if she was much younger than he was… she could choose to stop whatever they were just beginning with. “Age is just a number.”
“Yeah, I know,” she smiled at him. “And don’t worry, I don’t care how old you are, but it’d be nice to know how many candles I need to put on your birthday cake when it’s your birthday.”
“Now was that so hard?”
“You know, admitting that you’re getting old is hard.”
“It’s not old, Neal. And besides, you’re as old as you feel. Like you said, age is just a number,” she retorted as she shifted a little to look at him, her laptop still in her lap. “So yeah, Mozzie should stop worrying about you, you’re more than capable of taking care of yourself.”
“I know that, but it’s nice to entertain him.”
Neal nodded. “Don’t worry,” he said as he took her laptop and set it on the table before pulling her into his lap. “I find it extremely hilarious that he fears hacker you,” he softly brushed her lips with his. “But he doesn’t know you and that scares him a little. Mozzie doesn’t do well with change.” Neal tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear as he looked at her with those beautiful blue eyes of his. “He’ll stop in a month or so.”
“Okay,” she replied and smiled at him. “If you’re sure.”
“I’m very sure,” Neal kissed her lips briefly. “Now, I told you mine…”
“Like you said, age is just a number,” she replied teasingly. While she didn’t care about the age gap, he might, and she didn’t want to lose him. Neal made her feel safe and seen, and it was intoxicating.
“I don’t care how old you are, but it’d be nice to know how many candles I need to put on your birthday cake when it’s your birthday,” Neal replied, using her own words against her as he kept his eyes on her.
“Just as I thought,” he slightly nodded. “You’re far too mature for me, but that’s okay, I’ll get you to play.”
Bella laughed. “Really now?”
“Yeah,” Neal said huskily, remembering their conversation from a couple of hours ago before they set off to meet with the Michaels. “We’ll start off with having some fun,” he kissed her then, his hands making his way underneath her shirt. Oh, he felt her stiffen a little under his touch before she relaxed.
Bella answered his kiss as she shifted a little in his lap to get closer to him and dug her hands into his hair. It had been too long since she was touched like this, at least this caring and warm. Neal’s hands were soft, delicate as they moved over her skin. She gently tugged on his hair before one of her hands moved to the nape of his neck, causing Neal to giggle.
Breaking off the kiss for air, she looked at him with an amused smile on her face. “Ticklish?”
“Not at all,” he laughed. “But seems like you’ve found a spot anyway!” She grinned as she moved her hand back to the spot he had such a reaction to, looking at him with fascination as he burst out laughing, his shoulders going up in the air towards his ears, trying to make himself smaller, squirming as he did so. “You’re mean!”
“Yes!” Neal laughed as he pulled his legs up, making them fall sideways onto the couch but he was fast enough to roll her on top of him before she’d fall off. “Are you ticklish?”
“No,” Bella said as she let go of him and immediately crossed her arms over her chest, protecting her sides, and then realized what she’d done. “Ah, crap,” she responded as she looked at Neal, who had a devious look on his face. She scrambled to get off of him and the couch and ran away. “Nope!”
He caught her with ease and scooped her up in his arms, laughing. “Oh yes, I need to get my revenge,” Neal said as he walked towards her bedroom. “And I’m going to take time with getting it, too.”
She giggled as she put her arms around his neck and batted his lashes at him. “Is that a threat or a promise?”
She lost count of the times she’d seen stars as she laid curled up against Neal’s naked body, still feeling his hands and fingers everywhere on her body. Bella felt satiated as she almost nodded off, feeling the rise and fall of Neal’s body, hearing his breathing, his heartbeat and feeling his fingers drawing circles on her back. So good.
And now she knew what he looked like underneath his clothes. Perfect. While she didn’t care about age and what bodies looked like, but everything about Neal Caffrey was fucking perfect. The way he dressed, the way he took care of himself, his grooming routine… his skin was soft. He was blessed with a sixpack and some muscle tone, even his arms were yummy.
And not to mention the rest of him. It was almost as if he was made to fit just inside of her. Slightly bigger than normal, but fuck, she’d seen stars that afternoon.
And compared to Neal, she was a slob, in every way, except when she was doing a job. But he took pride in taking care of himself, and making sure he looked good even when not on a job.
“Hungry?” he eventually asked as he kept drawing circles on her back.
“I can’t feel my legs,” Bella murmured against his skin, causing Neal to laugh. “What?”
“That just means that I’ve done a job well done.”
Bella hummed and nodded for an answer.
“Seeing as I’m still able to walk, how about you stay in bed and I’ll make us some food and get you something to drink.”
“But that means you’ll have to leave the bed,” she tried crawling into him.
“Hmm… I love you being clingy. Next time we have to bring water into your bedroom.”
“Until then, one of us has to leave the bed.”
Bella sighed and nodded as she managed to let go of him. “Come back soon.”
5h1tF4c3: I know it‘s like the middle of the night.
5h1tF4c3: Didn‘t think you’d still be awake.
Mingus: I am 🙂 How are you doing?
5h1tF4c3: Great, actually!
Mingus: Good to hear that, what‘s up?
5h1tF4c3: Well, one, I‘m going to retire this handle.
5h1tF4c3: Secondly… have you ever heard of Tr0uble?
Mingus: Of course, he‘s trouble. He has brilliant ideas, the codes he posts are mental, but he doesn’t seem committed, you know. Might be the people he’s hanging with.
5h1tF4c3: I thought some of his work was useful.
Mingus: LOL. Okay. What about him?
5h1tF4c3: I dunno, is he trustworthy? Like… does he have honor and won’t actually fuck me over?
Mingus: Yeah, he‘s decent and about as elegant as an elephant in a porcelain cabinet, are you sure you want to work with him? You’re more than capable of doing the hacking yourself.
5h1tF4c3: It‘s more his associates I’m curious about. I figure that if he hangs out with the right people…
Mingus: Well there are rumors he‘s running with a crew, based in New Orleans I believe. Not sure. Met him once at ComTech. Very charming, smart. Unfocused.
5h1tF4c3: But if he‘s running with a crew…
Mingus: Well yeah, it‘d save you the trouble of recruiting them yourself, would it? Just expect to pay dearly. Have you come to the States yet?
Mingus: Cool 🙂 Did your friend make it too?
5h1tF4c3: Yep. Also erased his previous life completely from law enforcement servers. Was piss easy to do.
Mingus: But what if they have old backups?
5h1tF4c3: Should be good for now. If not, he‘ll just has to get plastic surgery hahahaha
Mingus: Okay. So what‘s the plan now? Get Tr0uble’s crew to help you get even?
5h1tF4c3: Yeah, maybe. Likely. Will be fun. It‘s just that I’ve always been alone and now there are people.
Mingus: You‘ll be fine. Didn’t you grow up in a big family?
5h1tF4c3: I never told you that.
It took far too long for Mingus to respond after their quick messages back and forth before she told him off. Something wasn’t right.
Mingus: No, but the last name you had did.
5h1tF4c3: Right. Are you working for them now, is that it?
Mingus: WTF, where did that come from?
5h1tF4c3: If so, you can tell them to go fuck themselves and that I‘m coming after them. Good night, Mingus.
Bella angrily disconnected the call and started the process of deleting every mention of 5h1tF4c3 off the web, which was easier to do than deleting Neal from government servers. She still had her other handle to work with, 5w4n, that she used for more low key hacks or information. Bella liked that handle, she could act like a complete noob with it. She was still going to keep her name active so that nobody could pretend to be her.
Mingus’ response to her still didn’t sit well with her, even thinking back to the conversation she had about Neal back in France. No one needs an ID like the one you and I created for you. Trust me on this. She had brushed it off as Mingus refusing to do it again as they had ran into some trouble to begin with, but he was the go-to guy. She’d been referred to him by someone in the community, that he was a solid guy. I am interested in helping you set up whoever wants you dead.
And she had just told him.
Surely it was just her paranoia talking shit about Mingus.
“Hmm, I don’t like that look on your face,” Neal said as he set down a glass of water next to her on her desk and pulled up a chair. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know,” Bella sighed, shaking her head. “Probably nothing.”
“Did you talk to Mingus?”
“I did,” she nodded as she ran a hand through her hair. “And it’s not adding up and I fear that I’ve been set up. He might be working for my family.”
“Yeah, or something else is at play here,” she said as she started looking for her former hacker friend who brought her into touch with Mingus. Just as she suspected, that handle hadn’t logged in in a very long time, but was still around. Digging some deeper, she found a list of suspected law enforcement hackers. And her hacker friend and Mingus were on there. She wasn’t sure if she could trust the list, seeing as 5h1tF4c3 was on there too and some other people who definitely weren’t law enforcement.
“I’m going to do something incredibly stupid,” she said as she made sure they were extra secure and opened a software for extra brute force. “It’s going to take some time but someone of Mingus’ caliber should totally be on the FBI watch list, yes?”
“Maybe, but I’m great at covering my tracks,” she smiled at Neal. “If Mingus isn’t on there, I could do a search in the personnel files,” she added before looking at him again. “Or am I taking this too far?”
Neal shrugged. “You know what they say, don’t trust anyone on the internet.”
“I don’t, but something just feels off about Mingus, you know.”
“I’m sure he’s one of you guys, he’s helped you with your ID, didn’t he?”
She should have thought of saving every conversation she’d ever had with anyone on the dark web, really. “Yeah but it’s just the way he said certain things, and in the beginning, he knew things that I never told anyone but I brushed it off as him being a great hacker even though I covered my tracks so clearly,” when Neal remained quiet Bella sighed. “What would you do if believed you didn’t know someone as well as you should have? If your sense of danger kicked in?”
“Ask Mozzie,” Neal shrugged.
“Pass. I remember telling him to stop being a helicopter parent.”
“You’re making things far too difficult.”
“And I want to know who I’m dealing with.”
“Who do you usually turn to for advice?”
“Hacking advice? Mingus. I’m all alone. I was the hacker of the family. I didn’t have that many friends off the internet and certainly none online. Everyone’s either afraid of 5h1tF4c3or there’s some mad, twisted respect. I don’t have anyone but you at this point, Garrett and Liam don’t know stuff either. I’m alone. Hacking is a solitary job, especially when you don’t want to get noticed.”
“Hey, it’s okay,” Neal smiled at her and gently rubbed her back. “Why not reach out to Cole? You know his handle, you’ve met him.”
“But we’re still not sure if we can trust them.”
Neal let out a breath and nodded. “But it doesn’t hurt sometimes to take a leap of faith. You’re not alone, Bella, I’m here. You can be a bit more trusting.”
Just as she wanted to give in to Neal and take that leap, someone was at the door. Pulling up the video footage she was a but surprised to see Cole standing there. “Well, speak of the devil.”
“Oh, you were supposed to make that list.”
“Right,” she then giggled as she looked at Neal. “But I was otherwise engaged last night.”
Neal smirked and kissed the top of her head. “Want me to invite him in?”
“Yeah, take him to the courtyard, I’ll be down in a second. I need to dress my lazy ass.”
“But I love that ass.”
“Sure you do,” she shook her head laughing and watched him go downstairs before going to the bedroom and getting dressed. Bella really needed to start caring of herself, because she wouldn’t remain looking like the way she did now when she was older, and even now, she felt she could lose a little. Bella hated her thoughts right now and wasn’t sure where they were coming from.
She got dressed in a cute flowery dress and put her hair in a braid before joining Neal and Cole in the courtyard with her tablet in her hands. “Hi! Sorry, completely forgot about that list.”
“That’s okay,” Cole smiled widely. “I can wait. I love what you’ve done to the place.”
“Thanks,” Bella smiled as she started to compile the list. “I think we’re both really enjoying the fruits of that investment.”
“Totally,” Neal nodded. “So, how do you and you family work, though? You’re doing things for fun now, but how did you get where you are now?”
“Oh, old money mostly,” Cole replied with a shrug. “Good investments. A job here and there, but our mother was one of those hippies, she wanted us to share our wealth with those who were less fortunate with every job that we did. We currently are patrons of various charities here in New Orleans, even fund a local Krewe around Mardi Gras. We enjoy what we’re doing and the rush that comes with it.”
“Am I really the only one who likes to steal stuff and keep it for himself? You’re making me sound like an egotistical asshole,” Neal laughed, shaking his head.
“No, I lived like that,” Bella said, not looking up from her tablet. “Uncle Garrett taught me a different way, especially because I felt miserable between my siblings and cared enough about the aftermath that I sometimes donated to the victims. They didn’t even go after the rich, but after the ordinary person sometimes, especially when they were bankrolled by rich people. It was just…”
“Sounds awful,” Cole replied. “Especially with them wanting you dead, what did you do to piss them off?”
“Nothing,” Bella replied with a sigh. “I suppose leaving, choosing for myself. Maybe they’re afraid I report them to the authorities or something, which I won’t ever do unless they really force my hand.”
“Well, loyalty is a good thing, shame that your own family doesn’t trust you enough.”
“Isn’t a nice feeling, I can tell you,” she said as she kept typing on her tablet. “Which is why I want to go after them myself, to show them that I can do what they can do. Just no deaths. Just arrests.”
“Got that,” Cole nodded. “We don’t like using guns anyway. Ronon and Henry might, but they’re our hitters.”
“Well,” Cole laughed. “Fun story, his name is Jason May, right? But he’s this huge guy, tiny heart, doesn’t speak much and honestly, he looks like someone from a show I used to watch.”
“Yes! Which is why I nicknamed him Ronon, and he doesn’t care. If he does, he’s not saying anything.”
Bella let out a snort as she shook her head. “It’s the show that keeps on giving, gone too soon.”
“Neal’s last name was picked from that, and so was mine.”
“You two are such nerds,” Neal laughed, shaking his head. “I”m going to leave you alone for a moment and get us something to drink.”
“So you work on your tablet?”
Bella looked up and shook her head. “I have a laptop and a pc. I only use this one when I’m on the go, but I figured it would take notes as well,” she smiled at Cole. “Great source of distraction, kinda makes it hard to forget I actually have to interact with real people sometimes.”
“That’s alright, I’m merely wondering what you are,” Cole leaned on the tiny table and smiled up at her. “Because you see, I’ve spent some time last night doing some research in to you and your family, get an idea of how they work, my brother was reading along and profiling them from the snippets we could find. Most cases they didn’t need a hacker to clean up their shit, but instead it was either a cop involved or foreigners or in some cases the area would be closed up and cleaned up. You can’t tell me that was all you.”
“Okay,” Bella nodded. “I won’t.”
“I won’t tell you that was all me, or at least people that I had to find and then pay well,” Bella replied as she kept typing. “I know a little about a lot, I’m not the best at grifting or cold reading people, but I can get by. Hell, I even fooled Neal Caffrey, and that’s saying something. Hacking is what I love doing and unlike everything else that I know, I taught this myself.”
Bella nodded. “I was the youngest, but we were all trained by people in the field. Reading letters from Matthew Keller, books on Charles Ponzi, Gaston Means, Daniel Levey… Frank Abagnale Jr… Natwarlal, of course, with the added bonus of books on psychopaths and killers, having unsavory people teaching us…”
“But you were taught?”
“Yeah? You weren’t?”
“No,” Cole laughed. “Well, not like you. It was just passed on to us, and I didn’t want it. So I left and faked being a hacker for a while before I realized I was one after a couple of months. I have this… gift to learn new things fairly quickly.”
“Cool,” Bella smiled and looked at Neal who was returning with a soda bottle and three glasses.
“We’re out of wine,” he sulked as he sat down. “We need a wine cellar.”
“Okay,” Bella laughed. “Sounds great.”
“Really? But you don’t drink that much.”
She shrugged for an answer then before sending the file over to Cole. “If you have any questions about my family, let me know, I could clarify stuff.”
Cole looked it over and nodded. “I see no mention of your twin brother?”
“You have a brother?” Neal said surprised as he poured himself a glass of the soda that Bella liked so much. Maybe, it wouldn’t be vile.
“Had,” Bella replied, slightly angry that Cole had found out about him. “Had a brother and I’ve been trying to forget him ever since he… died.”
Bella remained quiet as she poured herself a drink and finished her glass with a sigh. “We were nine or ten and we were used as a tool in a con that they were running,” she eventually said. “I fucked up and my brother came back for me, took my place, made sure I escaped okay while he got taken by the cops. I was told that he died in foster care because the police kept asking him about his family, but we’d never tell. And he was the strongest of us. So yeah, I needed to be better, and keep my mouth shut. Make sure everyone would get out, stay away from the authorities, and remain safe.”
“You were just kids,” Neal gently rubbed Bella’s back. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“Yeah, it was. I fucked up. If I hadn’t fucked up, Grant would still be with me. We’d be doing this together.”
“Or not,” Neal pointed out. “You never know.” He now understood where her obsession came from when it came to staying away from law enforcement, why she didn’t like it that one of his friends was an FBI agent. It all made sense now. She’d lost her twin brother and felt guilty about it. He could only imagine what it’d feel like to carry that guilt with him for 15 years.
“No, best is to look to the future and live my life as best and safe that I can,” she then looked at Cole. “And just how did you know about my twin brother?”
It was a good enough reason for her. “So yeah, the notes I sent you are on every member of the family. Emmett, the twins Alice and Jasper, Rosalie and Edward. You could also try to include Carlisle and Esme in the plan, but they’re squeaky clean on paper.”
“Brilliant, thanks. I’m sure we can work with that. If not, I’ll shoot you a message.”
“There are also other players involved, the Blacks. Jacob used to be one of the approved friends I could play with as he was closer my age than anyone else around us,” Bella replied. “So I included them as well.”
“The Blacks are pure filth,” Cole sighed before breaking out in the biggest, goofiest smile ever. “This is going to be so much fun!”