mrwubbles: (WC Determined Peter)
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"All units, be advised search pattern for grid..."

"Air support ETA five minutes..."

"Roger, Central. Davis Mary Three and Five report to SAC Burke on—"


The first thing Peter thought of as he scrambled out of his car with one wheel parked on the curb, was what was he going to tell Elizabeth? His second thought? It was more of a promise about what he would do to those responsible.

"Close off this block," Peter bellowed. He impatiently took the vest Jones was using to bar him from bolting up a random building or dashing in front of one of the NYPD patrol cars screeching to a halt. Peter struggled with his vest one-handed, the other still holding the only lifeline he had to Neal in case he called again. But the phone was apparently taking Caffrey lessons and choosing to be uncooperative.

"Which one, Agent Burke?" one of the agents asked, breathless as if he'd been running.

Folgers Row was a strip of aging brownstones the city had taken through eminent domain after the last mafia purge in a fit of economic ambition; sepia-toned buildings had once been owned by the city's notorious, once been used for the unspeakable. Real estate developers had aspired to turn them into a small city of high rise condos and gleaming big box stores like Whole Foods and Gap. But between landmark committees, neighbors petitioning for more affordable housing and the district's assemblyman joining in during his election year, the cluster of short buildings had hung in limbo until it became too expensive to fight for it any more.

Somewhere, in those languishing and forgotten buildings, was Neal.

Peter slapped a hand over his Kevlar-padded chest, double-checking the plates were in the right position as he stared up at the row of five story buildings. Five stories, possibly six rooms each, six buildings equals to—Damn it.

"Peter?" Jones stood off to his left. "Which one? Did Neal call back?"

"No," Peter said tersely, not bothering to elaborate which question he was answering. Jones's eyes flicked toward his face and wisely chose to not press.

"All right." Peter tried not to think this was one step worse than eenie, meenie, minny, moe. "Clark, you take Sanchez and Lewis to the one on the—"

"Stop! NYPD!"

Peter's head snapped around in time to see three LEOs giving chase after two shadows slithering out between 45 and 47. Like greyhounds with a rabbit, the officers bolted into action two federal agents tearing for the corner to catch the perps on the other side.

Peter's muscles tensed; his initial reaction was to give chase as well. With effort, he steeled himself and turned to consider the buildings where the shadows had emerged.

"Clark," Peter said grimly, "you take your team into 47. Jones and I will take the LEOs into 45."

* * * * *


Peter and Jones pressed their backs on either side of the doorway that opened up to a hallway of—great—more doorways. He could hear NYPD shouting "Clear!" one by one downstairs, the heavy pounding of their boots sounding a little like heartbeats.

A rat skittered out of the hallway, squeaking, escaping to some hole behind Jones' feet. Jones made a face and pulled a foot back.

Peter pointed two fingers toward himself, then to the air above his head. Jones nodded, acknowledging it with a finger to himself and to the floor.

"One," Peter mouthed silently.

Jones crouched.

"Two." Both their arms tensed and their guns steadily rose.

"Three."

Together, Peter high and Jones low, they entered the hallway, muzzles first. Classic Quantico, textbook entry, yet Peter's mouth was dry as they took one step, then another deeper into the corridor.

Everything was stripped from the walls, white patches where paintings must have hung, random patches of eggshell wallpaper peeling like autumn bark, the intricate patterned carpet bare and thin in spots.

Peter eyed the white lines that cut into the once royal red carpet, dust on either side of the tracks thick and gray.

Ice writhed and lumped into stone in his gut. Something was dragged. Recently. He refused to think of what that might have been.

The drag marks led to the last door, but Peter and Jones needed to check the others first. It was a morbid countdown, each taking turns to quietly call out the all-clear.

One by one the rooms were examined and dismissed, their stride careful but hurried, until they reached the last door.

And that's when the smell hit them: metallic and heavy, almost burning their nostrils.

Clark's voice crackled quietly into their earwigs. Nothing had been found in 47.

Peter ignored the alarmed look he could sense Jones had thrown him. He set his jaw, rested his palm on the door and shot a look at his agent. Jones gave him an aborted nod before he kicked down the door.

At first, all Peter registered was the body. He stumbled back a step. When he heard Jones mutter a prayer (or a curse), Peter took a closer look. Bleach-blond, sightless brown eyes, square jaw...

"It's not Neal," Peter exhaled. He dropped a hand on Jones' stiff shoulder. "Clinton, it's not Neal." He grimaced as he took another glance at the bloody tableau.

Jones gingerly poked at the knife with the muzzle of his weapon. His junior agent made a face and backed away. White Collar usually meant less dead bodies and more mortgage frauds.

Neal said it wasn't his blood, Peter told himself. He sighted Neal's tie, a crumpled thin banner of blue and silver silk limp trapped partially by the body. He grimaced and averted his eyes.

"Get CSU in here." Peter looked down at the phone his hand had automatically fumbled out of his pocket the moment he realized it was a stranger dead on the bed. "Have local PD widen the search grid."

Jones, his hand to the earpiece, was nodding to both Peter and to whoever was on the line. "Barrigan's on her way with the backup team."

Peter couldn't help but smile grimly at that. Good ol' Diana. "Go. I want the surrounding buildings searched. Send up the coroner as soon as he gets here. See if we can get a better idea where Neal called from and get me an update on those guys NYPD chased on foot."

"You got it."

Peter was already dialing the last number as Jones left. He gritted his teeth as he listened to the voicemail connect.

Click.

Peter started. He pressed his ear into his phone, even though he knew deep down that it didn't really do squat.

"Neal?" Peter said urgently. "Where are you?" He scanned the room. He found himself riveted to the body. The victim stared vacantly toward him, arms out flung, mouth agape as if he wanted to share a secret.

"Peter?"

Knees suddenly shaking, Peter staggered a step, but didn't dare lean on anything and accidentally destroy evidence.

"Are you all right?" Peter demanded. He was unsure as to why his voice was sharper now, louder, echoing in his ears, especially since the ice in his chest had loosened at the sound of Neal's voice. "Neal, where the hell are you?"

Peter could have sworn the silence cringed. He heard the rapid breathing and swallowing.

"Peter?"

Not good. Not good
, Peter's head was chanting. He swallowed as well but the lump had reformed and was now lodged in his throat. He breathed through his nose and tried to calm down because Neal's voice was growing tinier and fainter and impossibly not Neal Caffrey.

"Hey," Peter said calmly, as light as he could make it, "we're here. You called us. Neal, I know I told you to hide, but you didn't have to do that good of a job. You'll ruin my track record."

The panting in the phone slowed a fraction.

"Come on, Neal," Peter coaxed. "Where—"

Peter's brow knitted. The echoing in his ear was getting worse. Peter pulled back the phone. Full bars. He took a step back. The floor creaked.

Something creaked tinny in his ear at the same time.

It wasn't an echo.

Peter's eyes zipped to the closet, but there was no door. Gaping wide open, Peter could see there was nothing inside except for a few broken hangers.

Carefully, Peter stepped over the spot again. Sure enough, it creaked both under his feet and in his ear. Peter's eyes drifted to the bed. He studied the bed skirt and toed it up to reveal the narrow space underneath.

A muffled gasp, both in his ear and under the bed could be heard.

Peter swallowed. He eased down to his knees, crouching low until he could peer under. Geez, he could barely fit into the space. How the hell...? Peter squinted into the dark, but he couldn't see anything. When he tried to move, maybe work his shoulders in, he heard a choked sound.

The screen blazed into a patch of light when Peter tapped on his phone. He pointed towards the back. He oscillated from corner to corner until he caught a glimpse of a white face before something pulled over it and his phone's backlight shut off.

"Jesus," Peter murmured. He cleared his throat, tried to stretch out an arm, but the sound of Neal trying to wedge himself further into the corner under the body stopped him.

"Neal..." Peter whispered into the phone. It was odd to hear himself in some weird, imbalanced stereo. "Come out from there. It's all right. You called me, remember? You asked me to find you." He smiled shakily even though Neal couldn't see it. "Well, here I am." Neal made another sound, barely audible to discern its intent. Peter's eyes burned. Damn bed was dusty as hell.

"Come on, Neal," Peter told the dark now. The phone was set down on the floor. He reached out an arm again, wiggled in until his shoulders were caught between the bed and the floor. He got in close enough to feel a trembling, chilled ankle before it jerk away.

"Hey...you trust me to find Kate's killer...you can trust me it's safe to come out."

Because Peter knew where Neal generally was, Peter could now make out the different patches of shadows as Neal pulled away whatever he used as cover. Peter's mouth stretched painfully across his face. His right shoulder ached as he kept his arm stretched out, twisted awkwardly to stay palm out, loosely curled and as non-threatening as possible.

"Come on, buddy," Peter coaxed. He was rewarded with the feel of shaky fingers drifting across his palm.

Even though Peter just wanted to snatch them, drag Neal out, Peter forced himself to wait until he felt the cold fingers travel down to curl around his wrist. Peter wrapped his hand around Neal's, felt the already too rapid pulse leap as Peter pulled.

Neal emerged silent, shaking, limp when Peter was finally able to get him out from under the bed. The wide blown pupils told Peter all he needed to know and explained some of Neal's behavior. It didn't make him feel any better though.

"Easy, easy," Peter soothed as he tugged Neal further away from the bed. He checked the lines of blood smeared on Neal's face and discovered no wound. His gaze flitted over to the body on the bed, but he averted his gaze when he caught Neal trying to track what he was looking at.

Neal sat half-slumped against Peter's arm. He shivered, his teeth chattering loudly, one hand curled tightly around a phone, the other purpling and swollen, cradled protectively against his stomach. He jerked violently when Peter tried to pry the phone out of his hand.

"Are you hurt anywhere?" Peter asked. His mouth soured as he caught a glimpse of Neal's undone trousers, his shirt twisted around him, the bruises on his throat. Peter gripped him tightly on the shoulders. "Neal? Neal, do you hurt anywhere?"

Neal shook his head hard enough he pitched forward before Peter braced him. His head shot up when a rush of footsteps brought in Jones and an unfamiliar man in zippered sterile coveralls.

Jones took one look at Peter, at Neal and pivoted around to his companion.

"Not now," Jones said flatly.

"We need to see the bod—"

Neal made a sound, his head drooping and suddenly, Jones was escorting the coroner with a fist to the back of his collar. Moments later, he popped his head back in.

"Ambulance is three minutes away," Jones said quietly. He didn't enter the room but before he left, he crouched down to slide his FBI windbreaker across the floor to Peter. The arguing outside the room rose but then abruptly stopped with a squawk.

Jones was not a particularly large man but his jacket buried Neal's form as it huddled against Peter. The shivering didn't lessen, but Neal curled fingers around the jacket and pulled it closed around him.

"You're going to be okay..." Peter murmured into the sweat-flattened, dark hair. Neal nodded, his head butting up under Peter's chin. Peter absently rubbed a hand up and down the bowed back as he tried to iron out the tremors he could feel underneath Jones' jacket.

"I don't know.... How did I get here?" Neal stammered. His teeth clattered too violently to let him form a proper sentence.

"We'll figure it out, big guy." Peter felt a hand now tugging at his sleeve. "Help's coming." Peter never thought he ever hear anything as beautiful as the distant siren wail.

"I l-lost my anklet..."

"It's okay."

"I'm...I'm sorry...I don't know how I—"

"Sh, sh, sh. Don't worry about it. It's fine."

Even semi-lucid, Neal clung on with a tenacity that usually exasperated Peter. Neal tried to raise his head, but it lolled into Peter's chin. "What happened?" Neal mumbled as he slumped further against Peter.

Peter wrapped an arm around Neal's shoulders. He stared over Neal to the body and thought of his partner, cowering under the bed, under the body.

"That's what I like to know," Peter murmured as Jones returned with the paramedics.

* * * * *


She stared out the rainy window like she was posing for a study of Hopper's "Hotel Window". It wasn't clear if she was waiting, if she was bored, or if she was just looking out the window. There was nothing remarkable about the painting: the subject's linen blouse billowed off the frame, her hair gleamed dark and wet against her pale skin, her eyes hooded by the shadows created from the dip of her chin.

Perhaps the artist decided to apply some Occam's Razor to his thick oil strokes. Maybe, as viewers tried to analyze the elegant slope of a slender neck, the direction her dark locks curled behind a shell-like ear as something meaningful and purposeful, the artist just wanted to paint Kate looking out the window.

Neal blinked, peered down at his glass of Monte Rose. The 2008 vintage was a poor sibling to its 2007 predecessor and while it was complimentary, he still felt like he had overpaid for it. He set it on the tray of a server who patrolled by. The server flashed Neal a dirty look, which quickly colored into a blush when he bestowed her an appropriately sheepish smile. When timed right, it usually forgave him of a lot of things.

Except for bond forgery and other "alleged" things, that is.

Neal plucked a long stem of champagne instead as another server did a graceful waltz around a crowd, more interested in the scandalous ménage à trois hanging around the corner. Neal took a tentative sip. His eyebrow arched high when he tasted not sparkling wine, not prosecco, but actual champagne. At least the owner of Blackman Galleries had spared no expense in this while showcasing its newest collection.

Fortified with better than expected libations, Neal turned back to the painting again. He had come, two blocks shy of his radius, because the gallery was presenting the best examples of neo-expressionism for one more week. It was good to run a refresher in his head: spotting security flaws, noting guard rotation times and planning the best way to switch out the unexpected Rauschenberg hanging as the gallery's centerpiece, maybe even a vignette or two. Or three.

But instead of imagining himself hanging upside-down from the East wing skylight with a spray can and a scalpel (because a box cutter felt inelegant), Neal found himself staring at the painting no one else cared to look at, no one bothered bidding for, that had been tucked in a quiet corner with improper lighting by the hallway that lead to the offices, currently doubling as the caterers' kitchen.

It made him mad for some reason.

Neal took a long sip from his glass and tamped down the urge to pull the fire alarm to save her.

"I think you're in the wrong place."

Neal flicked his eyes to his left; the only reaction to the throaty voice that solidified next to him, a little too close to his personal space.

The champagne the slim newcomer held was a shade lighter than his hair. It made a startling fusion of golds when it was tipped back. Neal knew it was a deliberate choice when the man took a sip of it and grimaced.

Neal smiled politely before taking a sip of his own. No grimace on his part.

"I'm pretty sure this is the Blackman Gallery." Neal smiled politely as he gestured to his surroundings with his flute of champagne.

The man laughed a little too loudly for Neal's taste. He ran a palm down a tailored, two-button brown herringbone suit, smoothed back the slicked back hair tousled deliberately away from his face. He flashed a toothy smile that normally would have Peter hollering for a warrant and Mozzie for a new burn phone.

"No, no, I meant everyone else seems to be riveted by Canning's interpretation of a…dinner party." He nodded toward the painting in front of them. "Compared to that, this one seems so...ordinary, in the background." He neared it, squinted at its lower right corner at the signature. He ghosted neatly trimmed fingers along the back of its gold-gilded frame but stopped short of setting off the alarms. "It seems quite plain compared to the frame it's in."

Neal studied the painting. "But doesn't that make it even more extraordinary?"

Chuckling in agreement, the other stuck out his free hand. "Michael Docks."

Neal fought back the blink of surprise. "You're pretty brave to be wandering around Tribeca, Mr. Docks." He canted his head toward the top-heavy, not entirely inconspicuous man lurking around the partition of self-portraits.

"Then again, with the US government as your date, I suppose you can be a bit more courageous."

Docks shrugged, one hand out in a "What can I say?" fashion. Docks looked like he was still shuffling millions to and from Giraldi's accounts in a shell company on Wall Street. He tugged at a double-cuffed sleeve. "House confinement is so...boring."

The plastic weight wrapped around his left ankle had Neal nodding despite of himself. "I can imagine." He smiled brightly at the agent half-concealed behind the wall. How did anyone expect to be invisible if they're constantly checking in with their earwigs? Neal turned to drink to cover the roll of his eyes.

"Grand jury is in a week." Docks sighed dramatically. "And then it's no more Michael Docks, accountant to the stars."

Neal swirled the remainder of champagne in his glass. He doubted Peter Burke would see the Mafioso Andre Giraldi as a star. But he just made a sympathetic sound.

"You never told me your name." Docks' smile broadened, just short of a leer.

Neal sighed to himself. Great.

"Nick Halden," Neal introduced himself as he reluctantly stretched out a hand.

A sticky hand wrapped around his and squeezed. Hard. Neal pulled his hand back the moment it was released. He wrapped his fingers around the stemware in hopes the lingering condensation would wash away the tackiness Docks' grip left behind.

Cool green eyes swirled into a starling deep brown as they considered Neal.

"Nice to meet you…Nick," Docks said, his voice lowering to nearly a purr.

Perfect. This was exactly what Neal not needed right now. Or ever. He glanced around quickly to pick another painting to look at, preferably in a crowded spot. He quickly ran through all the politic ways to excuse himself when Docks smirked.

"Nick Halden. Nick Halden. Hm. Are you sure it's not Neal?"

Neal's smile never dropped, but his shoulders tensed at the knowing twist on Docks' face.

Docks held up both hands, his stemware pinned between two fingers. "Don't look so cornered...Neal. I heard so much about you. We're pimping out for the G-men. You and I are on the same team."

Three counts of alleged assault, money laundering, two counts of suspected murder and Docks should have gotten fifty years in prison. Instead, he has a WitSec customized future of anonymity in exchange for information on every Giraldi's account here and abroad.

"No," Neal said evenly. "I don't think so."

Docks' face fell, but it smoothed out immediately into a deceptively guileless expression Neal suspected had lulled two of his victims into complacency before he raped and strangled them. Of course, no one could prove it. Christine Laders and George Arron were never found. The third survived and retracted his statement when they found him in a hospital six days later, four states away.

"I was just thinking this is my last week as Michael Docks and it would be nice to have dinner with a fellow jack-of-all-trades such as yourself before I'm sent away to a life of obscurity."

"Better than a shortened life," Neal pointed out. He took a step back.

Docks took a step forward.

"Maybe a toast is in order, instead?" Neal sighted a server drifting, ignored by everyone, two remaining glasses of that unpalatable Monte Rose balanced on his tray. Neal took two steps toward the server, swapping out their glasses with the two remaining drinks. He held one to Docks, his smile strained when Docks brushed fingers against his before accepting the drink.

"Farewell to Michael Docks," Docks toasted with a smirk. He winked at Neal. "May better days lie ahead."

Neal ignored the look and took a sip. He grimaced at the taste—it was even worse warm—and at the stare he could feel pinned on him.

Then the painting twisted and warped before him. And Docks' face loomed.


Wincing, he felt heavy, leaden, tied down...

A grip on his arms, weight crushing him, he knew something wasn't right...

"Sir, you can't come in here!"

"Back off!"

Unfamiliar voices hot in his ear. A rumble underneath him. A car horn blared.

"Caffrey! Caffrey! Wake up, you son of a bitch..."

Something hot curled around his ankle, tugged his leg straight. No!

"Sir, if you don't leave now, I'm calling security."

"And if you don't leave now, I'm arresting you for obstruction of justice!"

Something cool snicked bitingly tight around his ankle. No, wait, something else should be there...

"Hold him down, damn it!"

Acid filled his mouth, his throat, his nose. He couldn't breathe. Next to him, a shriek, a gurgle, but he couldn't move, couldn't speak...


"Hold him down! Caffrey, you're only making it worse for yourself!"

A slap rang hard against his jaw. He couldn't tell if it was real or phantom as the sensation of cool, large hands curled around his throat and pressed.

"Son of a bitch bit me!"

Neal's eyes flew open as he felt his right hand yanked back and cuffed to something rattling next to him. A broad, flat face with a bleeding mouth was inches from his face. Neal reared back. Only he couldn't. A mattress yielded against him and the sensation of it charged his limbs.

The face contorted, burned redder, as he gripped Neal's left hand. Fire raced up to his elbow. Neal bleated in pain, yanked his arm free, only to have it held down by two hands now. He bucked, blinking eyes filling with agony and he squinted watery at the face not far from his nose.

"Neal Caffrey," the stranger snarled, spit splattering Neal, "you're under arrest for the murder of Michael Docks." The face above him scowled, thick eyebrows low over deeply set gray eyes.



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