A/N: This story was originally created for Yuletide 2009. Thanks for reading!
It wasn't a typical visit to the field for Peter.
His shoes were more suited to bank vaults and art galleries with polished granite floors, not the rough, uneven terrain of a subway tunnel. He had almost lost his footing twice already. Jones, a few feet in front of him, didn't seem to be having any trouble. He made a mental note to find out what kind of shoes Jones was wearing.
The day had started off normally enough inside a nice, comfortable air-conditioned office. He had no idea he'd be spending his afternoon stumbling through the dark avoiding scurrying rats. But his life had become significantly more unpredictable since Neal entered it.
Peter had been on his fifth cup of coffee and fifteenth straight hour of staring at the case files for a particularly annoying and arrogant jewel thief. They had been chasing him for years, but he always seemed to squeak by without getting caught. Neal seemed to think he was working for someone bigger, possibly a group of collectors, but they had no proof. All they knew was that he was planning a job somewhere in the city within the next day. It didn't give them a target or much time, but they had to move anyway.
Neal had a lead on some potential targets and found out a few details that hinted this job might not be as simple as they thought. He didn't go into specifics, but Peter didn't want specifics, he wanted an arrest and so did the Bureau.
Neal was supposed to talk to someone Peter didn't want to know about and hopefully report back with the one piece of information that would crack the whole thing wide open.
He could dream, at least.
Peter was halfway through that fifth cup of coffee when he'd noticed Neal was late. It wasn't unusual and didn't cause much concern, he was probably flirting with the new round of interns downstairs. He'd sent Jones to track him down.
On his sixth cup of coffee, he was informed Neal could not be found.
He wasn't in the building or at home and they couldn't get a signal from the GPS.
Peter's morning went downhill from there.
His superiors were convinced Neal had finally managed to slip away. If he believed in coincidences he might have agreed with them, but Peter knew Neal's sudden disappearance had something to do with the current case.
He had to admit it was a possibility Neal ran, but he didn't truly believe it. There had been no warning, no hint that this was the day he would choose to disappear. And even though Neal liked to believe the contrary, Peter could read him pretty well.
But they had nothing to go on, nowhere to look and no one to ask. So Peter reluctantly continued with the case. It gnawed on him though.
Three hours later, he received a cryptic call from Neal's phone. It was Neal, though there was another person's voice in the background. The connection was weak and interrupted by the screeching of a train, possibly a subway. In between relaying demands and the assurances that he was okay, Neal told him not to come for him. He didn't sound right. He insisted again Peter not look for him, but didn't say why before the call dropped.
Either Neal had gone insane or there was something else going on.
It was clearly not a case of Neal running. If he had, he wouldn't have made contact again.
Neal was in trouble. Whoever put Neal in trouble was going out of their way to let the FBI know and Neal was trying to keep Peter out of it for some baffling reason he hadn't figured out yet.
Peter thought it over on his seventh cup of coffee as he waited for Cruz and Jones to come back with a location on Neal's phone. The answer came to him as he glanced at the stack of untouched case files still on his desk.
It was a diversion.
And Neal had figured it out.
This whole thing was to get them to switch gears and take focus off the heist.
Unfortunately it was working. But if anything, it made Peter more determined to hunt down whoever was responsible. He didn't tolerate anybody messing with his people.
Within twenty minutes they had a somewhat reliable location from the phone call and a map of the subway tunnels. They knew where Neal was, but he couldn't get to him. They didn't have the city's permission to search the tunnels or even to stop the trains long enough to look. More irritatingly, he didn't have the Bureau's permission.
In no uncertain terms, he was told that he was not to go after Neal and divert resources from the case. The case was top priority, Neal was not.
He understood the Bureau's reasoning, but didn't agree with it.
So, officially, he stayed on the case and put Cruz in charge.
Unofficially, he made a phone call and took a walk with Jones.
It had turned out, purely by coincidence, that there had been a gas leak reported underground near the subway. Another random turn of chance had put the alleged leak in the subway tunnel adjoining the one where they had placed Neal's phone call. Of course, he and Jones had happened to be in the area just as the fire trucks and utility company rolled in.
It was amazing how things turned out like that and he would take extra care to mention it in his report.
When they had arrived on-scene he'd flashed his badge, prepared to give a plausible reason why the FBI needed to investigate the subway lines during a emergency. Luckily for him, no one cared. They were too busy evacuating commuters and diverting trains. As long as he stayed out of the way, he was told he could investigate whatever he wanted. The language had been a bit more colorful, but he would take a free pass any day.
As inconspicuously as possible, they made their way down to the tunnels. Jones had an idea of where they were going, or he seemed to at least. He pointed to the left and they followed the platform for as long as they could before having to hop down to the track.
Peter almost slipped for the third time stepping over the rail. Next time he would be sure to wear better shoes.
He reminded himself that the electricity had been cut and the trains stopped, but he still felt uneasy as they moved slowly into the darkness.
The only light came from their flashlights and the dim red of the emergency back-up lights overhead. His eyes strained in the dark as his flashlight moved over the tunnel walls, casting shadows that moved as he walked. More than once, he swore he saw a figure, only to realize it was a trick of the eye.
They walked slowly and methodically. It was eerily quiet without the screeching of the trains every few seconds. It was quiet enough that he could hear their footsteps and the hushed rustling of rats somewhere close by. He preferred not to think of how close they probably were.
All too soon, they came to the end of the tunnel.
There had been no trace of Neal.
Doubt crept into his mind. They might have gotten the location wrong or Neal might have been moved. It had been over two hours since they received the call. He'd been so sure, but maybe his hunch had been wrong. He'd never forgive himself if-
Peter put that thought out of his mind as quickly as it entered. They'd find him. End of story.
"Go back over it, make sure we didn't miss anything," he said to Jones as he continued forward down the next tunnel that split left from the first. The place was like a maze that was probably impossible to navigate with full light and a map, of which he had neither. Neal would definitely own him for this. Big.
He turned his flashlight to the ground, looking for something that would give him a evidence someone had been there before him. He saw footprints from work boots, but that didn't help. Neal didn't wear them and would probably rather go barefoot if forced to choose.
As he moved the light from print to print, he caught the impression of a heel in the grit. It was smooth and square, likely from a pair of shoes as thoroughly unsuited to the terrain as his were. They were about the right size for Neal, but he didn't let his hopes rise too high. As quickly as he saw one print, he saw another from the same shoe. That print led to another. This one turned right sharply.
Peter lifted the flashlight to see a break in the tunnel wall. It looked like an access corridor, though he didn't remember seeing it on any map.
Cautiously, he drew his gun and looked through the opening. It was just as dark as the rest of place. He risked shining his flashlight inside. The beam cut through the gritty air, something had stirred up the dust recently.
Just then, the light fell across a shape- a person, he realized.
Gray suit, dark hair. It took a second for his mind to confirm what his eyes were telling him.
It was Neal.
"Neal," he whispered from the cover of the opening. He kept his eyes on the narrow corridor and the tunnel beyond in case they were not alone. Neal didn't answer or move, his head was slumped down toward his chest, his hands behind his back. Peter swore under his breath.
With one final look down the tunnel to determine it was clear, he slipped in and holstered his gun as he crouched down next to Neal. He didn't see any blood, which was encouraging and he thought he saw Neal breathe which would be a good start.
He put a hand to Neal's neck, feeling for a pulse to be sure. As soon as Peter touched him, Neal flinched and his head jerked upward. He was definitely alive, though he seemed disoriented.
"Easy, easy. It's me," Peter said, realizing what the problem was. He couldn't see. He was blindfolded, a strip of duct tape pressed across his eyes.
"Peter?" Neal said in disbelief, recognizing his voice.
"Are you okay?" Peter asked as he set the flashlight down and started to work on untying Neal's hands.
"What are you doing here?" Neal said, partially confused and partially frustrated, no doubt, that Peter hadn't followed his direction to stay away.
"It was a 'yes' or 'no' question," Peter reminded him. Neal's hands were free a moment later.
He was amused at Neal's surprise. He hadn't seen it often, Neal usually had things figured out or he thought he did. He obviously didn't expect Peter would put him above the investigation. Maybe Neal didn't know him half as well as he though he did. That gave him a little hope, he always thought Neal could read him like a book.
"Yes," Neal answered, "I'm fine. But you shouldn't have come-"
"You're welcome," Peter cut him off. He tapped the edge of the tape on Neal's temple. "Take that off."
He picked up the flashlight as he waited for Neal to carefully peal the tape off. Neal was taking his time, attempting to keep his prints off of the adhesive. Whether it was a habit from the old days or he was trying to preserve evidence, Peter didn't know.
"Look at me," Peter said.
Neal humored him.
He held the light up to Neal's face as he looked him over quickly. His face was flecked with dirt, the skin around his eyes was a bit red and there was a bruise forming on his chin.
He looked tired, but his eyes were mostly alert. Definitely good enough to make it out. That was all he was concerned about, EMS could figure out the rest later.
"Let's get you out of here," Peter said as he gripped Neal by his arm and pulled him to his feet. "Can you walk?"
"I bet we'll find out," Neal said good-naturedly as he tried to find his balance.
He forgot it was still daytime until the blindingly bright sunlight reminded him. They emerged from the underground station to find the same level of activity as when they went in.
Peter kept a hand on the back of Neal's shoulder, both to steady him and guide him through the confusion.
From what he overheard, they hadn't found the source of the gas leak, but they were still sending crews down to search. In fact, it looked like even more trucks had shown up.
He shot Jones a look and saw him try not to smile. He supposed it was good practice for the utility crews, but he couldn't help but feel a little guilty. A lot guilty, actually.
"Jones," Peter said, "check in with Cruz and get an update on the operation."
Jones nodded and stopped to make the call as Peter kept Neal walking away from the scene.
It took Neal less than a minute to figure out that something wasn't quite right. If Peter cared to build up Neal's ego, he would have congratulated him on it.
"What's with the firefighters…and the gas company?" Neal asked slowly, trying to put it together in his own mind even as he asked.
"There was a reported gas leak along one of the tunnels. You just happened to be in the area. It was purely a coincidence we found you."
Neal raised an eyebrow, clearly not buying it. "So, what were you doing investigating a gas leak? Since when was that your thing?"
"The leak started in New Jersey and crossed state lines. That makes it an FBI matter," Peter responded.
A smile played at the corner of Neal's mouth. He got it.
Peter would never admit anything to do with it, of course. But Neal wasn't a stranger to secrets.
"And what concerned citizen should I thank for reporting it?"
"It was an anonymous caller," Peter shrugged with exaggerated nonchalance. "Though, I'd imagine someone as quick-thinking as them would be brilliant, successful and ruggedly handsome."
Neal laughed. Peter felt himself smile just a little.
"Peter, I'm impressed," Neal said. It sounded like he was being honest, but with Neal he could never be sure.
"Neal Caffrey is impressed. My life's work is complete. I can die happy," Peter said with more than a note of sarcasm. He took it as a compliment, but he'd never admit it.
Once they were across the street and away from the crowds gathered at the police barriers, he slowed their pace.
"Take a seat," he directed, indicating the nearest stretch of curb. "I want you to get checked out by EMS before you go anywhere."
"I told you, I'm fine," Neal said.
"That's nice," Peter said as he flagged down the nearest police officer. "Sit." He exchanged a few words with the officer and was told he'd send an EMT over that direction as soon as he found one. That was good enough, it wasn't an emergency. When he turned back, he was half-surprised to see Neal actually sitting down.
Peter took seat next to him. They sat in a comfortable silence for a few moments, but Neal was never good at silences.
"You shouldn't have left the case to come for me," he said.
"How you figure?" Peter asked.
"It was just a diversion, you did exactly what they wanted you to-"
"You knew?" Neal looked at him sideways. "Then why did you do it?"
"I'm not going to risk you for a case," Peter said, realizing a moment later that he had done that several times already .
"What about-" Neal started, no doubt vividly remembering those exact instances.
Peter held up a hand to stop him. "Those were controlled circumstances and you were under the protection of the FBI. What I meant was, I'm not going to risk your life. You are more important than the case. You're…" he hesitated a moment before settling on the best way to say it. "You're a member of my team."
He was, but it was more than that. On some days, he was a pain. But most days, he was a good friend. Above all, he was his responsibility and someone he wouldn't ever abandon. He couldn't say all that, so he just left it unsaid.
Neal nodded once. He had a smile on his face again, but he didn't say anything, which was a small miracle.
They settled into silence again, but that lasted less than five seconds.
"Did we just have a moment?" Neal asked.
Peter cleared his throat. "No."
"It felt like it."
Neal easily ignored that remark. "So the FBI was fine with you coming out here? Not knowing about the gas leak master plan, of course."
Peter glanced up quickly, making sure no one had heard. No one was within earshot, but Neal probably knew that before he said it. "No, not really."
"Is this going to be a problem for you?"
"Don't worry about it. I knew what I was getting into, I'll take care of it."
"Peter," Neal started.
"You're welcome," Peter beat him to it, meaning to put the matter to rest.
He would do it again for Neal. He wouldn't tell him though, there was no need. He had a good feeling Neal knew anyway.