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26 April 2014 @ 03:21 pm
FIC: Lost Time is Gone Forever  
Title: Lost Time is Gone Forever
Artist: kanarek13
Author: pooh_collector
Word Count: 13,000
Characters/Pairings: Neal Caffrey, Peter Burke, Clinton Jones, June Ellington, Sara Ellis, P/E/N
Rating: PG
Warnings: might be iffy if you are claustrophobic
Spoilers: the Cape Verde episodes and this story goes AU in S5 Ep 1
Summary: On an ordinary day three years after Neal has left Peter’s life, an unexpected message leaves Peter desperate to find his former partner.

See all of Kanarek13's lovely artwork here.





Ten

Peter was working in his office when the messenger arrived. He had been ASAC of the White Collar division for a little more than three years and he still wasn’t used to the endless stream of paperwork that filtered across his desk every day. The distraction that the messenger provided was welcome, even if it came in the shape of a plain brown box with only the words “Agent Peter Burke, Federal Building” written on it in black block lettering.

Inside the small package the cyclist would deliver to no one but Agent Peter Burke, Peter found an old-school bedside alarm clock, a big, round face attached to four peg legs with double bells and a handle on the top. Just a couple of minutes after Peter pulled the small clock from its inconspicuous packaging, it struck ten and the alarm went off, the bells clanging with a loud and tinny echo in his glass-encased office.

Under the clock nestled into the brown paper that held the clock in place in the box was a small, white square of cardstock which read, “Do you know where your CI is? Tick Tock,” in the same block lettering that was on the box itself.

Peter frowned. He didn’t have a CI. In fact, he hadn’t had one in three years.

Peter’s mind flitted unbidden to Neal and the look on his former CI’s face the day the Marshals came to collect him for the trip down to D.C. Peter didn’t like remembering that day. It left a bitter taste in his mouth. He had loved Neal and if he was honest with himself, he still did and always would. But, what they had had together was over long ago. It had bled away during the long, anxious nights that Peter had spent lying on a paper thin mattress behind bars while Elizabeth had slept alone not knowing if her husband would ever return to their bed again.

The time on the clock was slightly off, it was just after ten in the morning and Peter was late for a department heads meeting.

He put the clock and the note back in the box and grabbed his meeting notes on his way out of his office. Down in the bullpen Peter handed the box and its contents to Jones.

“Jones, see what you can find out about this. It was delivered by courier. I didn’t catch the company name. “

Jones looked skeptical as he peered into the box and spied the clock and the note sitting atop it.

“Sure, Peter.”


Nine

Peter’s meeting had thankfully been brief and he was back in the White Collar bullpen not long after eleven. On his way up to his office he noticed that both Jones and the box were missing. Maybe he had taken it down to ERT?

When Peter reached his office he noticed yet another plain brown box sitting on his desk. It was addressed in the same manner as the first box that had been delivered that morning and when he pulled the tape off and the flaps up inside he found a duplicate of the clock he had received an hour earlier. The time on the clock was dead wrong now; it read 9:10. The alarm was set to nine. It must have gone off and then timed out before he returned to his office.

Tucked beneath the clock was another small white card with the words, "Time is ticking away," in the same handwriting once again.

The first box had definitely started something undefined in Peter's gut niggling, but this new one was upping his "something is wrong meter" considerably. But how could this possibly involve Neal? He had completed his sentence just over a year ago and Peter had heard not a thing about him since. As far as Peter knew, the younger man was conning his way through Europe or Asia or the American west, or all three. He honestly had no desire to know with certainty that Neal had returned to a life of crime; so he never went looking for any incidents that carried his former partner's signature. It was important to Peter to keep the idea of Neal living a life on the straight and narrow alive in his mind. Despite how their relationship ended he still needed to believe that something about the time they had spent together was lasting and worthwhile.

But now, Peter had to wonder if he had any way of getting in touch with Neal should the need arise. Mozzie was as long gone as Neal was. As much as Mozzie had enjoyed Elizabeth's company, once Neal had been transferred to D.C., El had never heard from him again. Peter was fairly certain that neither Jones nor Diana had a contact number for Neal. Maybe, if it became necessary he could get in touch with June. She was most likely still living in her home on Riverside Drive.

Peter put the box to the side and sent a quick text to Jones asking if he had any new information on the first box. Then he started in on the pile of emails he had received while he had been out at his meeting, his concern over the clocks and the messages playing the role of annoying distraction in the back of his mind.

Twenty minutes later Jones showed up at Peter's office door. "Jones, what you know?" Peter asked looking up from his computer monitor.

Jones shook his head as he entered Peter's office. "Not much. The clock is sold by Target, you can get it at any of their retail locations or through their online store. There were no fingerprints other than yours on the note, the clock, or the box. The cardstock the note was written on is a basic brand sold in any office supply store. There was nothing distinguishing."

Jones pointed to the second box sitting on the side of Peter's desk. "You got another one?"

Peter frowned and nodded. "The note says 'Time is ticking away,' and the time and the alarm were set for nine, instead of ten, otherwise it looks the same as the first."

"You think there's any chance whoever sent it got sloppy and left a print?" Jones mused.

"Doubtful, but we might as well give it a try."

"Any clue what this is about?" Jones asked as he reached for the box.

"No, but I'm concerned about the mention of my CI. That could only be Neal." Peter frowned.

"It's probably just some sort of prank." Jones suggested.

"Probably," Peter agreed. "But while you're down with ERT check in with building security and see if you can find out which service delivered these packages."

"Sure," Jones replied on his way back out of Peter's office.


Three years, one month and ten days ago

Neal sat before his easel, his mind ostensibly on the painting before him, trying hard not to think about how difficult things had been since Peter had been released from prison. How hard things had been since his father had come back into his life, since Ellen was killed, since James had abandoned him again with Peter left taking the blame for another of his crimes, since Hagen, since Peter and El no longer seemed to want him in their lives or their bed.

There was a knock on the door and Neal welcomed Peter in. “What time is it?” He wondered aloud.

“Working awhile?” Peter asked in reply.

“Oh, you know how it is when you’re painting and you get into a zone.” Neal responded, trying hard not to let the things that had really been occupying his mind show through.

“Can’t say that I do,” Peter replied, reaching into the fridge for a beer. “My job is all about perspective," Peter continued, turning back to face Neal, but not meeting the younger man’s eyes. "Being able to look at a situation and evaluate all of the angles.” He looked contemplative as he stood fiddling with his unopened beer.

Neal put down his palette knife and gave his partner his full attention.

“I realized that I can’t do that anymore.” Peter surmised.

“What are you talking about?” Neal asked, a sense of foreboding churning in his belly.

Peter turned, opened the refrigerator and put the beer back inside. “Jones, Diana, everyone in the White Collar offices, we’re all family and you’re a part of that family. And, these past months you’ve been a part of me and El too. You’re also a criminal. I forget that a lot,” Peter admitted.

Neal looked away, shaking his head. This was it then, the conversation he had been dreading and that he had known was inevitable since Peter's release.

“And until you’ve served out your sentence that’s exactly what you are. I’ve made mistakes because I’ve let emotions cloud my judgment and I can’t let that happen anymore.” There was resolve and a note of melancholy etched in Peter's voice.

“What does that mean?” Neal asked, though he was honestly afraid of the answer.

“I’m turning you over to a new handler. Someone with the right perspective. Someone who sees you as you are.”

“A criminal.” Neal said looking up at Peter with the gleam of tears in his eyes. It hurt to hear Peter utter that word. Neal had let himself believe that Peter saw him as so much more, a friend, a partner, a lover, a good man underneath the conman’s veneer.

Peter sighed, determined, and nodded. “This is in your best interest.”

Neal turned back toward his easel again. “I could have sworn that last week you told me you loved me.”

“I did,” Peter hesitated, “I do.” Now Peter looked teary-eyed also as he continued. “Neal, I can’t risk you going back. I don’t like this any more than you do, but it’s the way it has to be.”

Neal swallowed hard. “Where are you sending me?”

“To D.C. Kramer signed an affidavit stating that he won’t do anything to extend your sentence. I have his word Neal. You’ll work for him; he’ll be able to keep you reigned in and in twenty-two months you’ll be free to live your life.”

Neal nodded. Free to live his life, a life without Peter and El. So it was over, the life the three of them had been building since Neal's return from Cape Verde. Peter had made up his mind, that was clear, and that was that.

Peter turned then and headed toward the door.

“Goodbye, Peter.” Neal said to Peter’s back, letting his unseen tears fall.


Eight



Neal went from unconscious to awake in an instant, sucking in a gulp of damp, warm air as his eyes flew open. He was lying flat on his back on a hard surface with his arms tucked at his sides. An eerie greenish-yellow glow was the only thing his eyes were able to capture. The only thing he could hear was the sound of his own harsh breathing echoing back in his ears.

Neal blinked hard to clear his vision hoping that the disconcerting feeling of confinement he was experiencing was merely a trick of the strange half-light. His hopes were quickly dashed when it became apparent that the 'ceiling' of his prison was a mere few inches above him and the ‘walls’ at his sides were even closer.

Neal threw his hands up to slam against the rough wood above him. The board failed to give at all. The only thing his effort produced was the sound of a solid and unyielding thunk. His heart sank a little further. He had dearly hoped for a hollow thud. His palms stung from the impact against the rigid plank and he shook his hands out in the meager space above his chest in an attempt to alleviate the pain.

Neal tilted his head up and then down toward his feet seeing wood above and below him, the box he was lying in was only slightly longer than his body. A coffin, or the equivalent, though any distinction hardly mattered as he had apparently been left here to die. A sense of anxiety settled heavily and painfully in his chest. Neal fought it, knowing that staying calm was vital to any possibility of staying alive.

As he swiveled his head around to further assess the space, Neal noticed that something was written on the wall just above his head on his left side. "tick tock" accompanied by the very disconcerting image of a smiley face. Nice to know that his nemesis had a sense of humor, whoever it was this time, Neal supposed sarcastically.

There was something down by his feet and the odd light seemed to be coming from his right side. He fished around with his hand until he felt something cylindrical. It was a light stick, probably one of the 12 hour versions. With the light source grasped in his hand, Neal shifted his feet away from the object at the bottom of the box and leaned to the side to try and see what was down there. Another cylinder, larger and metal, a small oxygen tank. Now that he knew it was there Neal could hear it above the sound of his own rough breathing, slowly hissing away, dispensing life preserving air into Neal’s claustrophobic home.

So he wasn't meant to die too quickly. He didn't know whether that was supposed to be a comfort or a further torment, but he suspected the latter.

With the where and the how established, Neal took a moment to try and suss out a why. None of his current work with Sterling Bosch would have incited anyone to come after him. Nor any of the private security jobs he'd picked up since his return to New York. It had been a bit longer than a year since he closed his last FBI case, though he supposed that anyone he helped put away over those four plus years could conceivably have a long memory and a penchant for revenge. There was no way to know, not from the scant evidence left with him.

In another time and another place Neal would have taken comfort in knowing that Peter would find him. With or without the weight of the tracker on his ankle, Peter had always managed to follow wherever Neal led. But, Peter wasn't coming this time.

A sudden sharp ache filled his chest, a longing for love long gone. Neal fought against the tears that began to well in his eyes. This wasn't the time or the place to dwell on what he'd lost.

Peter wasn't coming and he needed to find a way out on his own.


Seven

By the time Peter received the fourth clock, he and Jones had tracked the previous three to three different courier services, each with offices located across Manhattan and the other four boroughs as well. In the only one where one of the packages originated that had a camera at the customer reception desk, their guy knew it was there and kept his face concealed behind the hood of his sweatshirt. The employee who had been working the desk could only describe the suspect as male, average height, average build, clean shaven, dark hair, dark eyes.

The fourth clock did confirm for Peter that time was indeed ticking down. He had begun the day with ten hours and now had under seven to determine if this was some sort of joke or a credible threat. Unfortunately, his patented gut was telling him quite emphatically that it was indeed the latter.

On the drive back from the courier’s office, Peter had attempted to contact June. The woman who answered the phone, Peter assumed one of the household staff, informed him that Mrs. Ellington was touring Europe with her granddaughter, and no, she would not provide the FBI with June's current cell phone number without a warrant.

Despite the situation, Peter couldn't help but smile at June's continuing distrust of law enforcement. Once the wife of a con, always the wife of a con.

Back at the office, he confirmed that no one working in White Collar knew of any way to contact Neal. Then he phoned Sara, who as far as he knew was still living in London and left her a voicemail urging her to get in contact with him as soon as possible.

With nowhere left to turn Peter called the Art Crimes offices in D.C.

"Phil," Peter began.

"Petey, I haven't heard from you since before Neal left."

Peter sighed. He hated the nickname, hated that he needed Kramer's help, hated to hear Neal's name come from the man's mouth. "I need to talk to Neal Phil and I was hoping you had a phone number or an email address for him, or maybe someone in your office is still in touch with him."

"Well now, I thought Neal would have run straight back to New York once his sentence was up, considering the way he always romanticized his time there with you."

Peter cringed at the word ‘romanticized’ hoping that it was just an ironic choice on Kramer's part. "This is important and rather time sensitive. Do you know of any way to contact Neal?"

Finally Phil seemed to sense Peter's urgency, "No, Peter. I'm sorry, but I don't. He never formed any real relationships with anyone in the office here and he left no forwarding information that I’m aware of."

Peter sighed. His options were getting fewer and fewer.

"But, I'll ask around the office, just to be sure and get back to you if I find out anything."

"Thanks, Phil."


Six

At 1:45 PM Peter made his way down to the lobby of the Federal Building in the hope of intercepting the next package and being able to question the delivery person immediately. He knew it was unlikely that the delivery guy would know anything about the customer who dropped the package off, but he was frustrated with feeling like he was always an hour behind.

Peter paced the marble floors anxiously, his eyes never leaving the doors. Four different delivery people entered the building between the time he arrived and when he decided to give up the ghost around 2:15. None of them were carrying a box of any size into the building. Not one of them was delivering anything addressed to him either.

As he made his way back up to the 21st floor, Peter briefly let himself believe that this had all been some elaborate hoax, someone was just screwing with him and had decided to pull out all the stops. He considered the possibilities, who could he have pissed off enough to go to such lengths? Only one name came immediately to mind, Mozzie. But while Moz certainly had the means and the connections to pull something like this off, and he was odd enough to do it with the right motivation, Peter couldn't image what, after all this time that motivation could be. Next on the list unfortunately, were a rather large number of criminals that Peter, and more likely Peter and Neal together had put behind bars in the two plus years they had worked together.

Once he entered the office, Peter went straight to Jones' desk. "Jones, can you put together a list of everyone that we took down while Neal was working with us and where they are now."

"You think someone the two of you put in prison could be behind all this?" Jones asked.

Peter shook his head. "I don't know what to think at this point. I didn't get another package."

Jones furrowed his brows, looked up toward Peter's office and then back at his boss. "Yes, you did. It showed up while you were gone."

"What?" Peter said as he quickly headed in the direction of his office. "Did you hold the delivery person?"

Jones got up from his desk and followed Peter up the stairs and into the office. "No, I assumed he was a dead end. He wouldn't know anything about who delivered it to the courier office. I did get the name and number of their Manhattan branch from the guy though."

Peter hastily opened the box on his desk that matched all the others he had received that day. Inside the alarm had already gone off and stopped of its own accord. It had been set for six. Time was running out while Peter floundered helplessly trying to get a lead on his former partner. It was time to switch gears. "I need that suspect list on my desk an hour ago."

Jones nodded determinedly as he headed back out of the door. "I'm on it."


Four years, three months and 18 days ago

Neal was relaxing in the middle of the Burke's couch. His healing leg was propped up on a pillow on the coffee table. El was curled up on Neal's right and Peter was sitting on his left. El had made beef bourguignon for dinner and now they were relaxing in a haze from the delicious heavy food and the wine that had accompanied it.

"We missed you," Peter said, looking into Neal's eyes. The softness and caring in his voice were unmistakable.

Neal hesitated a moment before replying. He had missed them too, of course. More than they could ever know, more than he could really ever admit to himself. When Peter had pulled him into his arms on the parapet of the church on Cape Verde, he has hesitated then too. It had felt so good to be held by Peter, to know that Peter cared enough to come after him, cared enough to draw him into an embrace so warm and unreserved, that Neal couldn’t help but drop his guard and his reluctance and reciprocate.

Peter and Elizabeth could never know what he really felt for both of them. Giving anything away was risking a lot, especially in light of what he had so recently been forced to do, leave them behind for what he believed was forever, but at the same time he couldn’t deny them his appreciation and his friendship. That much at least was well worth any risk.

“I missed you too,” Neal finally said, returning Peter’s gaze. “Both of you,” he continued, turning to El.

Peter and El both picked up on the hesitancy in Neal’s voice, the sadness that lingered behind his smile.

“Neal, El and I had a lot of time to think and talk while you were gone.”

Neal looked back to Peter, an eyebrow raised. “About?”

“About your place in our lives. About how different things were when you were here. It had its up and downs, no doubt,” Peter intoned ruefully, “but despite the downs, we really missed the ups.”

Neal looked down at his hands, clutched in his lap. “I know I didn’t always make things easy, or easy at all.”

Peter huffed in amusement. “No, you didn’t. But, we’re willing to live with that. Relationships are about the good times and the bad.”

Neal looked back up at his partner, confusion etched in his deep blue eyes. “Wait, relationships? What are trying to say, Peter?”

“What I’m trying to say, what we’re trying to say,” Peter added, indicating his wife, “is that our lives haven’t been the same without you. We want you to be a part of our life; we want you to be a part of us.”

Neal swallowed hard, trying desperately to process Peter’s words. He couldn’t possibly be proposing what it sounded like to Neal’s yearning ears. Peter and El, they were perfect, perfect people, in a perfect, loving, committed, passionate, fulfilling relationship. Why would they ever consider messing that up. And, for him of all people. The guy responsible for El being kidnapped, Peter being kidnapped, Peter nearly losing his job multiple times, and any number of other crazy and nearly disastrous mishaps.

“I don’t understand,” he finally whispered.

“It’s not that complicated, sweetie. We love you.” El said.

“You and Peter, you’re perfect just the way you are. Why would risk that for me?” Neal countered.

“Well, first of all, we’re hardly perfect and second, no risk, no reward.” Peter replied. “When you were gone and we thought that we might never see you again, have you in our lives again, we decided that you were worth the risk. Something that had somehow become vital to our happiness was suddenly missing from our lives when you were gone - you.”

It was hard for Neal to imagine that Peter and El had any idea what they were asking him for, what they were setting themselves up for. Despite his romantic heart, his loyalty and his willingness to give anything he could to those he loved, he had never managed to have a successful relationship long term. Chaos and heartbreak seemed to follow him everywhere.

Neal shook his head. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.” Neal said, breaking his own heart in the process.

“For you or for us?” Peter asked.

“For anyone. You’ll only get hurt in the end.”

“Why, Neal? Because you don’t love us?”

Neal shook his head again. “Because I do.”

Peter picked up Neal’s left hand and El followed gathering Neal’s other hand into the softness of both of hers. “And, that right there, is why you’re worth the risk,” Peter concluded.

“Because I love you?”

“Because, you love us and because you’re willing to deny yourself the chance for love and happiness to protect us.”

Neal started to protest, but Peter stopped him with a stern shake of his head. “We want you and we’re not taking no for an answer.”

“Can we at least get it on record that I warned you?”

“Noted and round filed,” Peter said before leaning over and placing his mouth against Neal’s, kissing him with a tenderness juxtaposed by the scratch of stubble against his cheek.


Five



Neal’s rise to consciousness came much more slowly the second time around. It took a long moment for him to remember where he was. His head ached, he wasn’t sure whether it was from the low level of oxygen in his prison or from his original capture. He didn’t remember whether he had been knocked unconscious then or drugged. In fact he remembered nothing after leaving June’s that morning. For all he knew it was no longer Tuesday. He wondered for a moment if anyone at Sterling Bosch would have noticed he hadn’t shown up at the office, if maybe, maybe they would have reported him missing. Of course it wouldn’t matter until he’d been AWOL for more than 24 hours to the police and if today was still Tuesday, he would be long dead before anyone even began looking for him.

Neal pushed the implications of that aside, along with the fantasy that he would be found by the NYPD. Then he remembered what he had been attempting to do before his most recent bout of unconsciousness, trying to escape.

Once in a fit of boredom while working for Phil Kramer, Neal had spent half a day poking around the Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook website. You never knew in Neal’s line of work when something unexpected and completely outside his wide parameters of weird would happen, like now. One of the articles that had made him chuckle at the time was the one about surviving being buried alive.

He had managed with a good deal of struggling to wiggle out of his suit jacket which now lay beneath him. His shirt was off on his left side but stuck around his hand on his right. He had been attempting to undo the buttons on his cuff when the exertion had become too much and he had lost consciousness. Neal took a couple of deep breaths, holding the thin air in his lungs for as long as possible and then began working the buttons free again.

It took longer than he had hoped, draining him of much needed energy, but finally Neal had the sleeve off his arm and his shirt pulled up over his head to prevent him from suffocating should dirt rain down on his face if his attempt to kick through the coffin’s lid proved successful.

Again Neal took two long and slow breaths, trying to keep his mind and body as calm and relaxed as possible. Then he began kicking the coffin’s top plank with both feet trying to put as much force behind the blows as he could. He had hoped that the lid might already be at least partly cracked from the weight of what he assumed was dirt on top of it, but that didn’t seem to be the case when after five kicks that completely tapped Neal of what little energy he had, the lid was still solidly in place.

He stopped to rest, trying to gather strength for another assault. He moved the shirt back down off his face, it was claustrophobic and airless enough without it blocking his nose and mouth. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of the smiley face drawn on the wood beside him again and felt rage build up inside him. There was absolutely nothing funny about dying in fear, alone and desperate. The smiley face had been put there to mock him and it made him burn with anger.

Neal moved his shirt back up to re-cover his face and threw both of his feet up against the lid again, his fury and his fear giving new strength to his efforts. Neal kicked again and again, frustration bringing tears to his eyes that spilled down to be absorbed into the pale blue shirt that lay against his cheeks.

Despite his best efforts to keep his breathing calm and deep, Neal’s heart began to race in desperation, his breathing increasing to keep pace. He knew he should stop and rest again, pace himself, conserve oxygen, but he had to get out.

The pain in his head ratcheted, his vision behind his shirt began to waver and still Neal kicked and kicked with as much force as he could muster. Finally, Neal’s vision whited out, his legs slumped back to the bottom of his coffin and with a final ragged breath of defiance Neal lost consciousness again.


Four



At the five-hour mark the pattern had changed. Instead of a courier with a clock, Peter’s cell phone had chimed with an incoming text message. It had read, “’tick tock’ goes the clock.”

Jones traced it to a burner phone that had been switched off the moment the text was delivered.

An hour later exactly Peter received the next text, from a different burner. This one said, “The marathon is ending. Will there be a sprint to the finish?”

Now Peter sat at his desk running through the rather long list of men and women that he and Neal had taken down in their two-year partnership. He had no idea that it would be such a painful process. Memories of their time together, both the good and the bad, came flooding back and Peter’s agonizing desperation to find his lost partner grew with every single one.

Seeing Neal that first morning dressed to the nines in his vintage Devore, “You look like a cartoon.” The pride he felt upon realizing Neal had created the exigent circumstances premise for the raid on Hagen’s warehouse. Holding Neal tightly in his arms as the younger man screamed and raged in a futile attempt to reach Kate as she burned. The look in Neal’s eyes at the mansion on Long Island when he thought Peter had betrayed him. The trust in those same eyes that same day when Neal’s life literally sat in Peter’s hands. Neal’s brilliance in helping him escape from Keller’s cell. The camaraderie they both felt kneeling atop the U-boat. Neal’s anger when Peter accused him of stealing the treasure. His own sense of loss and conviction when he gave Neal the signal to run. The undeniable surge of love he felt when he found Neal on Cape Verde. The passion that he and Neal and El had shared for those wonderful few months before everything had fallen apart and Peter had gone to prison for a crime that Neal’s father had committed. The torment he had buried behind his determination when he ended their relationship and sent Neal away for the last time.

Peter was staring unseeingly at the list before him, when his cell phone began to ring. As he picked it up he hoped that it wasn’t his wife. She would hear in his voice that something was wrong, very wrong and he didn’t want to have to talk about any of this with her until he knew Neal was safe. It had been his decision to end their relationship with Neal. Elizabeth had deferred to him when he told her that the risk hadn’t been worth it in the end, he had been the one to go to jail, the one who had risked his whole career to be with Neal after all, but Peter knew that while El had understood, she hadn’t been happy with the decision.

But it wasn’t El on the phone, it was Sara.

“Peter, sorry to be so long calling you back, but I was in the middle of a little crisis here when you called. What’s going on?”

“Unfortunately, we seem to be having a bit of a crisis here as well,” he acknowledged. “Sara, I know it’s been awhile, but do you have any idea where Neal might be? Maybe a contact number for him?” Peter mentally crossed his fingers. Sara was his last hope for finding out where Neal might be now.

There was an unnaturally long pause on the other end of the phone. “Sara?”

“Peter, Neal’s in New York. He has been since the anklet came off.”

“He’s what?”

“He’s been back in New York for over a year.”

“I had no idea.” He should have known, shouldn’t he, that Neal was back in New York, so close and hiding in plain sight.

“I know. He didn’t want to bother you, or make you feel obligated in any way. But, he missed the city and June, so he decided to move back.”

“Can I get his number from you, Sara? It’s important.”

Sara hesitated on the other end of the line again. “I’m not really sure that’s in Neal’s best interest.”

“Look, I don’t really have time to get into the details, but something has come up and I think Neal might in trouble.”

“You didn’t even know where he was a moment ago. How can you know that he’s in trouble?” Sara questioned.

Peter understood Sara’s reluctance and he appreciated her desire to protect Neal, even from him, but he needed her help. “Someone’s been sending me messages that look to be a credible threat. I just need to check on him, make sure he’s okay. I promise I’ll leave it at if that’s what Neal wants.”

“What kind of threat?” Sara asked, clearly unsettled by Peter’s words.

“It’s too much to get into and nothing specific except for a mention of Neal. Sara, I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t really concerned that his life might be in danger. Please.”

Sara read off a phone number and then continued, “Peter he’s working with Sterling Bosch and living back at June’s. I’ll call the New York office and see if he’s there or if anyone knows where he can be found and get right back to you.”

“That would be great. In the meantime I’ll try and call him and see if I can get a trace on his phone if he doesn’t answer. Sara, thank you.”

Peter dialed Neal’s number immediately after hanging up with Sara. There was no answer and his call went directly to voicemail.

“You’ve reached Neal Caffrey. I’m not available at the moment, but please leave your name and a number where I can call you back.”

It was hard to believe, but as he listened to Neal’s message Peter realized that he had begun to forget what Neal’s voice had sounded like. Tears welled in his eyes and it took him a moment after the beep to compose himself enough to actually leave a message.

“Neal, I know this is unexpected, but please call me back as soon as you get this message. Someone’s threatened your life and I need to make sure that you’re okay. Please, for El if not for me.”

Peter hung up then and wiped at his eyes with the back of his hand.

He passed off the number to Jones to try and run a trace on Neal’s phone and then returned to his office to wait. Five minutes later his phone rang again and Peter clutched at it hoping desperately that it was Neal. When he saw Sara’s name on the screen he almost felt like crying again. “Sara, any news?”

“He didn’t make it to the office today, Peter. He was scheduled to have a lunch meeting with the VP of his department and he didn’t show. I tried calling him when I got off the phone with the office and it went straight to his voicemail. He’s in trouble isn’t he?”

“I think so.” Admitting it to Sara made it real in a way that Peter had been trying to avoid all day. Neal was in danger. Neal had been gone from his life for three years, but suddenly Peter was right back in those days when Neal would go off and do something impulsive and crazy and Peter would do whatever it took to drag him back from the edge.

“What can I do to help?”

“Keep making phone calls. See if you can find out who may have seen him last or if anyone knows what cases he’s been working on, where he might have been going today or last night.”

“I can do that. I’ll call you back the moment I have anything. Please keep me in the loop.”

“Of course. Thank you, Sara.”

As soon as Peter hung up with Sara he called everyone in the office into the conference room. It was after five, but thankfully the majority of the unit was still at their desks. Most of the members of the White Collar team had worked with Neal, had liked him. Peter hoped that now that they knew Neal was in trouble they would do everything they could to help Peter find him before it was too late.

Peter gave everyone a moment to find a seat and settle in and then said the most difficult words he had uttered since the night he told Neal he was sending him away. “Neal Caffrey has been abducted and I have reason to believe that unless we find him in the next three and half hours he’ll be killed.”


Part 2
 
 
 
wise_old_cronewise_old_crone on April 28th, 2014 01:11 am (UTC)
Oooh, excellent reading so far! On to Part 2 I go!
*rubbing hands excitedly*