Peter looked up as he heard a ring tone start to play from somewhere across from him. Another figure sat across the desk, their eyes only just open as they looked boredly down at the case file before them. They didn't seem to notice the sound softly erupting from their jacket pocket.
The agent coughed drawing the figure's sleepy glance upwards and then finally their blue eyes widened as they heard the sound.
"Sorry. I'll turn it off." Neal blushed slightly but seemed glad for the distraction as he pulled the cell from his pocket and looked at the screen only briefly. Something flickered briefly across his face that might have been 'surprise' but not a good kind of surprise as it just as quickly vanished. Peter pretended not to notice as he worked on his own version of the same case file and his PC simultaneously.
"So, I was thinking about that new Thai place down the street for lunch. What do you say, Neal?" He was trying to be friendly with his charge, their friendship having taken a huge blow when Neal conned him to find Alex, steal the music box and inevitably tried to kill Fowler. It had taken a few months for the higher ups to cool off, OPR to back down and Hughes to get over his anger at what had happened. It had not been a good situation and now finally, Peter was feeling he might be able to trust his friend again if only a little. He noticed Neal's distraction as the younger man put the phone away.
"Thai? Uhm... sounds good but I have plans today. June has a committee thing she wanted me to go to. I should be back by 1:30 if that's ok?" The younger man seemed worried about something despite flashing his patented smile up at Peter. The agent felt something akin to disappointment wash over him but nodded as he tried to act like he hadn't noticed the change in expression.
"Maybe tomorrow? It has all that foofy stuff you like but Jones said the beer selection is out of this world." Peter was grinning now, Neal nodding as he tried to act like he wasn't thinking about something else.
"Beer sounds good. I'm going to head out and help June with her event." Neal stood up waiting it seemed for permission to go. Their relationship had taken a toll from Neal's over zealousness. Peter nodded with a wave, watching his partner turn a bit stiffly and head out of the office slow at first then faster when he was nearer the doors. Peter wondered what the young man was up to but felt maybe for once he should just let it go. They had gone through a lot in the past few months and Peter felt they both needed a bit of space. Besides, he had the tracker to keep an eye on him.
He sighed to himself, looking at the case files on the desk and grabbing them up as he pushed them into a drawer, locked it, pulled on his jacket and headed out. El was out catering a party today in Long Island so she was going to be home late again. He could go home and eat alone or see if the others had any plans. He saw Jones grabbing up his own jacket and walked towards his subordinate.
"Jones, heading to lunch?" Peter smiled, the other agent nodding.
"Yeah boss. Where's Caffrey? I thought you two were going to that new Thai place I told you about. The food is out of this world!" Clinton sounded excited like a little kid but Peter shook his head.
"HE had other plans with June. El is off in Long Island doing a gig. Any chance I could join you?" He didn't want to sound like he was lonely but he was in a way. El had been busy with her business and Neal had been distant with the trust between them having been broken. Their friendship was healing slowly if anything and still required some time to get back to what it was. He almost missed hanging out with the younger man in more than a business capacity. They had been like brothers almost but now...
"Sure. I was going to try this Sushi place down the street. Diana and another agent or two were coming. Let me tell them we have another guest."
Neal had only briefly looked down at the text that appeared on his screen seeing it was from Alex. She was back in town? He wanted to ignore it but then he saw the coded message included.
"Caffrey, thought we could double date. Bring Kate. My friend wants to meet her."
That was what worried Neal. Alex for all her jealousy would never use Kate in this callous a manner against him unless she was in trouble. He couldn't answer while in the same room with Peter without giving away the fact he was still talking to Alex, she was back in town and getting that fatherly frown Peter liked to give when it came to his friends, especially Alex. He had come up with the lie about June hoping it would stick. She did have a committee thing today at her home but he wasn't going to be there. He needed to see what was up with Alex so he texted her back once he was in the elevator.
"Sounds great. Kate is looking forward to meeting you and your new friend. Anything you need us to bring?"
He hesitated when he type the sentence, trying his best to tell himself he was just answering her coded plea for help. He got an answer as he left the elevator and entered the lobby, exiting the FBI building.
"Just YOU and Kate. My friend is shy."
Neal realized he was going to have to do whatever this was alone, Alex obviously in trouble. He didn't know what he was walking into but he felt a responsibility for Alex. He had almost lost Mozzie, Peter had done what he could he help despite their fighting and differences and Alex had actually been there. For the first time in a long time she had really been there before disappearing again. He owed her at least trying to help her if anything. He looked up from his phone, pushing it into his pocket as he read the address she texted him and hailed a cab, giving them the location and sitting back. He felt tense, hating that after all these months, he was lying to Peter again. Neal hated to do it but when he saw the message he knew it was something bad and Peter would have chided him like a father does a kid. He wasn't used to someone worrying so he hated dealing with it by running away and hiding stuff. He was an adult and should know Peter only wanted what was right for him, El and June included but he wasn't used to it regardless of his time with them so he continued to screw up by running away and hiding what he was up to. It was just his way.
"You sure this is the place, bub?"
Neal heard the cabbie speak before it registered what he was talking about. The young man glanced out at the vacant abandoned area outside the vehicle. It was more than just an abandoned lot, a large rusting hanger obvious against the stark landscape which loomed before a slightly less than picturesque view of the city's landscape. He nodded as he checked the address and paid the man, exiting the vehicle. Neal just stood there a moment, his mind taking in his surroundings. After a moment he realized the cab hadn't left and continued to sit there, the driver glancing at him curiously.
"I can wait for you if you like, bub. This isn't exactly the Ritz and I feel bad about dumping you here if you're not sure..." The cab driver said. He was nearly bald with tufts of reddish brown around his ears and lower back of his skull, Brooklyn accent obvious as he sniffed, nose a long schnoz for what it was and stubble around his face. He looked a bit the tough guy maybe from a 50s gangster flick but was obviously concerned with Neal's well-being if he stuck around. Neal shook his head and smiled his most charming smile.
"A friend is camping out here. Wanted me to come see her set up. Crazy kids." He shrugged and saw the cabbie nod in understanding.
"Those hippie types always make me shake my head. Here's my card if you need a ride quick, bub. I'll circle around for an hour." The cabbie handed him a card through the open window before taking off, his head turning to watch Neal who just continued to smile. He didn't feel it of course, something stinking about this whole situation. What would Alex be doing here unless she was in trouble and someone was with her? He sighed feeling that little voice in his head going:
Neal you are an idiot. Why didn't you just tell Peter. He would have understood. Why do everything on your own when you don't have to?
Neal sighed again, picking his way through the lot towards the hanger. The ground was slippery with loose gravel, stone, broken glass and other bits of this and that. The hanger itself wasn't in great shape with most of the windows shattered completely or mostly broken, bits of the corrugated metal falling in on itself in spots. It was a good 500 yards away but he managed despite his nice shoes, feeling a buzz around half way as he reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone.
"Come in through the back door."
That was all it said. Neal replied pushing the phone back into his pocket and realizing that hadn't been Alex answering him. Someone had typed in her place which made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end as he worried about his friend. She might be a pain sometimes but he wouldn't want anything to happen to her. He continued to walk making his way towards the rear of the hanger despite the nagging feeling that told him he should leave. Something was very wrong but it was Alex. He had to help her like the way he would help Mozzie, June, Peter or El.
It took a few minutes before he found himself on the opposite side of the rotting building and saw an open, sagging door with a broken window in it that hung by the bottom most hinge at best. He gave a tentative glance inside the semi-darkened interior his entrance less than quiet with all the broken glass and gravel crunching under foot. He saw dusty motes floating up and around like so many sparkling faeries in the beams of sunlight that made their way through the holes of the roof. The building itself was empty except for a few small bits of pieces here and there of planes and some old tables where tools once sat. He saw offices most of which the walls had fallen down except for one, the door shut, frosted glass on the door that hadn't been broken hiding the inside. Neal approached the office as he kept an ear and eye out. He crossed the hanger and touched the doorknob turning it with a quiet creak.
"Alex?" He made his way quickly across the few feet of the 15 x 15 office towards a bound figure in a wooden chair. There was a bruise across her face and some cuts, her hair disheveled, clothes scuffed up. Neal felt anger surge inside of him as he reached to untie her but someone grabbed him, the young man flying into the office wall with a hard thud.
"Mr. Caffrey I assume?" The voice was deep, very gruff and menacing if nothing else. Neal turned to see a large man, heavy set like a football player or wrestler with broad shoulders. He looked like a stereotype heavy from the old movies, cleft chin, bent nose looking like it had seen one too many fights and won. The man's eyes were a bright hazel almost greenish color, a scar lining from just over his left socket down to his cheek. Neal finished sizing the man up including the holstered pistol underneath the man's jacket.
"Who's asking?" Neal felt a bit woozy but managed to lift himself up to his feet without acting like he was. He could see Alex's eyes flashing at him with a frightened look she rarely had. The other man smiled, speaking again.
"A mutual friend who's into music boxes. What luck your little friend here conveniently showed up to tell us where you were." The man smiled a cold menacing grimace that made Neal shiver. He saw the look on Alex's face and knew he had to do something.
"Let her go and you can have me. I'll go quietly." Neal hoped if he got Alex out of the way he could find a way out. It would at least make his life easier knowing she was safe. The big man shook his head.
"Oh no... pretty boy. She's part of the entertainment." The man's voice smirked at him, Neal distracted long enough he didn't see the taser. He felt it as the small darts hit him square in the chest shocking him into submission as he collapsed to his knees then to the ground. The man was laughing.
"That silver tongue of yours isn't as good as you think, boy." The man kept talking, dragging Neal close to Alex, his arms pulled back and overhead as he was cuffed into place over a pipe, sitting down, legs taped above and below the knees, ankles firmly bound with more tape. He struggled a bit but the man hit him with one large fist and stunned him again as something was stuffed into his mouth and tape pulled tightly over his lips. Neal opened his eyes ever so slightly as he glanced over at the frightened form of Alex not 5 feet feet from him bound in a chair. The man smiled at his handiwork.
"Wrapped up tighter than a Christmas present only you're not getting out of this. I'm going to let you watch your girlfriend here get cut up a little before I finish up with you. He wanted to be sure you suffered before you went. Kate just wasn't enough." The man was pushing every button Neal had and even though he had been tossed hard against the wall, tased and manhandled, Neal was pissed. He worked on the cuffs while the man started to tear at Alex's skirt slowly with the huge k-bar. She was making muffled sounds and struggling but the man just laughed as he kept cutting at her skirt. He wasn't watching Neal who had finally gotten one cuff off. He pulled off the tape from his lips and spit out the rags, freeing his legs.
"Get the Hell off of her, you bastard!" Neal flew at the man but the man was ready for him, batting him aside like he was a gnat. Neal hit the ground hard, the man instantly straddling him, arms pinned beneath the man's knees, one arm pushed hard against his neck choking him.
"Well, I guess I can kill her last but it won't be as fun if you aren't watching. Still... she can at least have the joy of watching you bleed out." The man chuckled coldly as he drew the large knife downward and pushed the serrated edge next to Neal's right temple.
"Some Native Americans used to scalp their enemies. Let's see if I can follow suit."
Neal felt the jagged edge cut into his skin along the scalp line as the man slowly and painfully cut at his skin. Neal bit his cheek at first but soon he couldn't help but cry out, the man looking happy with each scream.
"Not the best way to die but you'll be conscious of everything."
Neal was starting to give into the pain, his body going into shock as he felt the fight go out of him.
"FBI! PUT YOUR WEAPON DOWN AND MOVE AWAY FROM THE HOSTAGES!"
Someone yelled the words Neal thought he would never want to hear again, but at the moment they were music to his ears until he felt himself start to faint from the pain. His eyes rolled back into his head as his torturer continued despite the words. Neal thought he heard a shot and for a moment his eyes rolled forward and he could see the hit man still smiling before he toppled forward across Neal smothering him. The man was heavy as he looked and the added stress of his weight made Neal gasp for breath as he started to pass out again.
"Suspect has been taken down! Call a paramedic in here!"
Neal was only just aware of the familiarity of the voice speaking. It was Peter. Peter had found him and Alex. Dammit! Fear washed over him as he realized how pissed the agent was going to be when he figured out what was going on. Neal felt his brow furrow in fear which made him cry out again as the skin the hit man had cut pulled in the process. Someone removed the hulking figure from him so he could breath easier and he was gently lifted up into some one's arms, a jacket draped over him.
"Neal... Neal answer me. Neal!" Peter's voice broke through his lethargy as he looked up at the angry face of his friend and partner. Angry as Peter looked his brown eyes expressed another emotion: worry.
"Dammit, Neal. Why did you lie to me? I could have helped if you asked! El's going to freak when she sees all this blood." Peter wasn't really worrying about the stains on his shirt as he removed it and used it to gently stem the flow of blood along Neal's hairline. The younger man reached up and touched the agent's hand.
"I'm... sor... ry." Neal tried to say more but knew there was little he could say just before he passed out.
Peter had this weird feeling something was up. He sat with his co-workers at the sushi place and felt like he needed to go. Something was bothering him. He finally excused himself and walked back to the offices but at the last minute he turned into the FBI garage and got into his car. He drove down the road till he was parked across from June's. He looked at the dash and saw the time was just after 1 pm. Hadn't Neal said he was going to be out at 1:30? The agent stepped out of the car, locked it up and ran across the street to the huge brownstone mansion ringing the bell when he reached the door. He could just make out people inside, one of them coming closer. It was June.
"Peter! What a nice surprise. How can I help you today?" She was smiling broadly motioning for him to come inside. Peter nodded with a respectful smile and entered. He saw several women young and old alike sitting around eating and drinking. He didn't see Neal.
"I was looking for Neal, I'll go up and knock." He was about to turn to the stairs when June blocked him and shook her head.
"He's not with you? I know you took him to work today but he hasn't come home yet. Anything the matter, Peter?" June looked confused. Peter blinked back at her and ran a hand through his hair.
"No... nothing's the matter. I forgot he went to run and errand. I thought maybe he was here instead. I apologize for barging in. I'll show myself out, thank you June." He nodded at her in an apologetic manner, the same to the ladies who noticed him and left quickly. Dammit he thought... Neal had done it again. He had run off and done something else and told him a lie. Why did he insist on doing these things when they were just getting back to where they had been. Peter sighed tiredly, crossing the road and pulling out his cell phone in the process.
"US Marshalls, how may I assist you?" The professional voice asked.
"Federal Agent Peter Burke requesting a trace on anklet 9305 Alpha, Neal Caffrey." He waited as he stood by the car and glanced around him. He knew the con had been lying but had let it go for once hoping it hadn't been a lie but it was. He cursed to himself listening as the voice came back.
"Anklet 9305 Alpha is currently on the north end of town by the docks. It's an abandoned hanger. Do you need assistance Agent?"
Peter opened the door to his car finally and entered, closing the door and pulling on his belt.
"No. Thanks." He hung up the cell after getting the address and tossed it on the seat beside him as he sat there and gripped the steering wheel in a death grip and tried not to be pissed but he was. He was getting comfortable with Neal being trusted again and he does this. Who was he meeting out there was any one's guess. Peter cussed, starting up the vehicle and pushing a button on the dash.
"Call Jones." Peter pulled out into traffic feeling his shoulders and neck knotting up with tension as he thought about what he was going to tell Neal when he got to him.
"Jones here. What's up Peter?" He could hear Jones typing in the background, the squeak of his office chair evident. Peter ignore the sounds and bit his tongue as he spoke as civilly as he could.
"Get Diana, yourself and a few other agents and meet me at the docks at that old hanger." Peter could hear silence on the other end and figured his tone had frightened his subordinate till he heard a soft intake of breath and Jones responded.
"Yes sir. Can I ask what this is about?" Jones was being polite and not smart alec but Peter was in no mood.
"Just show up. I'll brief you when we're all there." Peter hung up the call through the dash and sighed as he slammed a hand on the steering wheel. Neal... he had to ruin things when everything was starting to return to some semblance of normalcy again. Why did the con insist on doing things behind his back and making his life difficult? Hadn't he been anything but his friend and understanding? Despite everything he had stood up for the young man after the Fowler incident and now this.
Peter continued to fume as he headed through the afternoon traffic and edged closer to the hanger. It was 20 minutes later he drove up to the abandoned lot and two other dark blue and black sedans with FBI lights pulled up. It was Jones and Diana in one with three other agents in the other vehicle. Good! Now he could go in and grab Neal and whomever he was meeting and see how he liked house arrest for lying. He exited his vehicle and Jones walked up.
"Uhm, Boss... what's going on? Why are we here?" Jones sounded truly confused the others looking a bit unsure what was going on all obviously donning the usual vests and weaponry for a call. Peter motioned for them all to come closer and spoke firmly.
"Neal went behind my back. We're here to grab him and whomever he's with and take him to June's. He's under house arrest. No violence just cuff him and take him to June's." Everyone nodded at Peter's words as he started across the lot, his crew following.
When they entered the dilapidated hanger it was obvious something was wrong when he heard something slam hard against the office at the end. Peter held up a hand for silence and everyone pulled their weapons out at the ready. This gut feeling he'd had earlier was making him feel nauseated now as Peter and crew approached the office from all sides. The door was open and he peeked in, eyes widening at the scene before him. Peter wasn't sure how to react as he saw a bound Alexandra Hunter glancing to her right frightened as another hulking figure straddled a familiar form on the ground. He saw the huge K-bar and felt ill.
"FBI! PUT YOUR WEAPON DOWN AND MOVE AWAY FROM THE HOSTAGES!"
The figure didn't respond continuing their gruesome task as Peter decided to do the only thing he could and shot. The figure finally paused, knife falling from their fingers as they collapsed across Neal. Peter quickly disarmed the huge man, his crew dragging the wounded goon aside as Peter checked the damage and Diana untied Alex.
Peter was angry with his charge and friend but he was worried, so much blood flowing from the jagged wound along Neal's right hairline. He took off his dress shirt and tried to stop the bleeding, pressing on the wound as he called for a paramedic and tried to keep Neal conscious. His anger got the best of him and he ended up chiding the young man despite himself, Neal passing out in his arms from shock. He shook his friend but there was no response, ragged breathing all he heard with a relieved sigh.
"I'm sorry Neal... but you lied to me. I..." He couldn't say anything else, his emotions far from stable at seeing his friend hurt and the anger at being lied to making him bite his tongue. Diana gently touched his shoulder and he looked up to see a couple of white suited men with a stretcher and medical kit walking up. He nodded and let them take Neal insisting on going with them in the ambulance. He tossed Diana his keys to take the car back.
At the hospital Peter had to wait outside, pacing the visitors area till his wife showed up. He was surprised by her presence but said she had received a call from Jones to come. A part of Peter was angry with his subordinate for doing that behind his back since he was still pissed at Neal for lying but the other half of him was glad for it. He didn't want to deal with this alone. He hugged his wife and nodded.
"I'm sorry I didn't call you directly. Been worrying about Neal and we only just got back an hour ago. I'm waiting to hear what's going to happen. He was cut pretty badly." Peter saw a flash of the hulking figure straddled over his partner trapping the con and basically trying to scalp him. The image was horrifying and dissolved his anger the more he thought about it. It didn't make up for the fact Neal had lied but it would wait to deal with that situation once the young man was better.
"Sit down honey. Tell me what happened."
It was another hour before the doctor came out and told them that Neal would be fine. He hadn't lost too much blood, stitches and some minor skin grafting had been performed to alleviating the damage by the knife's serrated edge. He should heal with minimal scarring along his hair line.
Peter and El shook the doctor's hand as they headed towards the room Neal had been moved to. Peter was hesitant to enter, but El not knowing about the fact Neal had lied, pushed him ahead and they went inside. He entered and just stared, pausing as he saw his friend and partner laying there apparently asleep, head bandaged and IVs stuck in his arms, monitors beeping softly. He sighed, running a hand through his hair and sitting at the chair beside the bed as he grasped one of Neal's hands in his own. El stood beside him and gently brushed a hair from the younger man's face.
"Was this a case you were working on, Peter? What happened?" She was looking worried as if this were their son. He hadn't yet told her that Neal had lied to him about where he was going and it was only by pure dumb luck that Peter had actually gone to look for him. It was his anger at the situation that had drove him to search out his partner and he had been willing to snatch him up and make him pay for lying with house arrest for a few days but what if he hadn't cared? What if he had just given up and thought that Neal was a lost cause and not gone after him? The thought of what could have happened made him ill. Peter rose quickly, going to the inroom bathroom and throwing up in the toilet. He was there a few minutes before he rose, washing his hands mouth and face. El had entered soon after and hugged him gently.
"Peter... tell me what happened? Please..." She was pleading with him but he wasn't sure he was ready with all the conflicting emotions running through him. He shook his head and raised a hand for her to stop asking.
"I can't... not yet." He left it at that and moved to the sofa at the far side of the room and lay down, one arm draped over his face as he tried to reduce his stress level and think of what to do. What was he going to tell Hughes? Reese wasn't going to be happy to know what this was about. He had used agents during working hours for a private project basically. He had felt right to do it under the circumstances but it wasn't work related. He could have just waited but he was angry and let that emotion tell him what to do.
"Honey? Talk to me. It can't be that bad..." El had come to sit beside him on the sofa and he removed his arm from his face, wrapping it around her as he sat up and lay his head gently on her shoulder.
"He lied to me, El. He did it again and look what happened?" He was angry when he spoke but it wasn't truly anger directed at Neal so much as it was now directed at the fact that the younger man was hurt.
"Neal lied to you? I don't understand..." She was caressing his hair gently as he nodded without turning to look at her. All Peter could see was that man trying to scalp Neal alive, his friend and partner screaming in pain. He shuddered and the anger grew.
"He lied right to my face after everything and went out on his own to help that... to help Alex. I know she's his friend but she's no better than..." He couldn't say what he meant after all that happened. He never hated Kate, had never wished any harm to her other than to leave Neal alone. Now there was Alex to worry about. She was worse than Kate and a terrible influence but it was apparent she had been in serious danger and Neal had gone to help her. She was a part of his past and his 'family' from his former life. Maybe Peter felt a kind of jealousy that with all he tried to do for Neal he didn't get the same respect these others did. He sat up and leaned back against the sofa.
"Honey... Alex is his friend, maybe not a great friend from what I've heard but she's a friend. Neal is very loyal to a fault like someone else I know." She gently tapped his nose with her index finger and for a moment he smiled.
"We'll talk to him."
Author's Note: This is based off a drabble in my Menagerie collection. I'll be expanding on it and getting to the point mentioned in the short story.