(Chapter 1)

He pulled at his bonds but was too weak to move, a low groan escaping his lips. They had tied a strap of rubber around his mouth, gagging him as he lay on the long plank of wood. He had seen it from above before they had tied him there. It used to be a door, a medieval wooden ornate piece with insets that you didn't seen in modern craftsmanship. He had been astonished something so old had survived for so long or had been turned into something as simple as a table, or so he thought. He had noticed the few slits around the frame but hadn't thought what they were for till they had grabbed him and lay him on top, tying him with leather straps to the board till he could barely move. He had screamed and yelled but then one of them moved closer, amber eyes staring deeply into his till some weird kind of trance fell over him and he felt his body relax, his mind fading a moment as he gave into the glance. It was under this mental lapse they had gagged and finished binding him.

"He's ready, Master. We can begin."

The one with amber eyes was speaking, his eyes turning languidly to look at his captor. He was ordinary looking except for the fact that he was pale, too much in fact for a normal person. He had white blond hair that made him seem almost albino but he wasn't, his lips a sort of coral red with too white teeth that seemed sharper than normal. Did the man have fangs? His mind was too much under the influence of that stare as if someone had waved something pungent under his nose or drugged him. He just moved his eyes around at the blurry figures in the semi-darkness, candles and ensconced torches the only light in the stone room. He was trying to think where he was... why was he here...

"Good. You may do the first cut, Jeremy. Erik will be next then Aaron, Robert and Stefan. Feed my children so that he will come to our side. He will replace our lost brother who broke from our path."

The man's voice reverberated through his skull, something in the tone making him feel happy to do whatever it was they were going to make him do. His mind was a muddle but the spell caused him not to care that he was in danger.

He saw the man with amber eyes, Jeremy, pull out a scalpel as if by magic then slowly cut a shallow incision across his arm. He wanted to wince, a part of him panicking but those eyes stared into his and he just continued to lay there as if it didn't matter what was happening to him. He saw the red ribbon of blood start to form from the cut and then something disturbing.

"Drink children but do not kill him yet. He is a valuable asset. I want Mr. Halden to join us but we must put him through the paces. Drink of him and then he will drink with us and be one with our family."

Neal's eyes looked up into two deep dark orbs, a dark fire behind them that drew his soul deeply into them. He had to turn away but couldn't as the darkness seemed to draw him further along. He felt lips on the wound and turned to see each of the figures taking a turn at drinking from the cut, making it fresh with each new person.

No... let me go! Don't...

He couldn't talk or scream, his mouth gagged and his body effectively drugged into submission by their hypnotic eyes. He was trying to register exactly how this had come to be and why as he started to pass out.

"Sleep dear Nicholaus. All will be well."

()()()

Just over a week ago Neal was slumping over some boring case files in the bullpen when he heard a whistle and looked up bleary eyed. It was Peter, his hand giving him the two finger Quantico salute as he realized he was being called up. He nodded vaguely, pulling himself thankfully away from said case files as he grabbed his jacket and hat walking the few feet to the stairs and then up towards his partner's office. He peeked inside before Peter motioned for him to close the door and sit. Neal nodded noticing the agent was staring at his screen rather than at him, scrolling through something as he made a whistling sound between his teeth.

Neal waited a few minutes, watching his friend do this till he finally leaned over from behind, standing there and stared at the screen. What he saw made him whistle in disbelief as Peter paused, turned and they nearly knocked heads.

"I thought those were lost. Nobody's ever proven they weren't."

He saw the look on Peter's face and shrugged.

"Well they haven't."

Peter sighed, minimizing the screen and turning towards him.

"I'm not certain if this is something I want you to do, but Hughes had it thrown on his desk and now it's on mine. I'm having my doubts because there are things here that seem too good to be true and I don't want to take the risk."

Peter was vague enough it was beginning to bother the con as he held up a hand and stopped his thoughts.

"What is dangerous... a new case? Is it anything to do with what you were viewing? If someone has that stuff, I want in if only to view it."

He smiled brightly which seemed to annoy the agent more than usual.

"This is serious, Neal. The last person who was involved with this case, they disappeared. His name was Jeremy McCoy, CIA. He was sent in to investigate the supposed collector of these rare items if they truly exist. We think it's a con of some kind, something you'd have experience sniffing out but everyone who's gone near this has disappeared. In the case of McCoy, they think he became too involved, got paid off and may have stayed with the person involved and could be helping them. There have been sightings of the agent at various times but it's hard to say for certain since he disappeared over ten years ago. The people involved with this collection are stealthy and move by night."

The agent looked reluctant but he pulled out a case file and pushed it across the desk to Neal who glanced down at it and blinked.

"Yosef Machelli? You're kidding me! He's the man you're investigating?"

Neal was almost excited in a strange kind of looking at an idol or movie star sort of way. Machelli was a legend in the field of antiquities or at least he was rumored to be. There were some who thought he was a made up person as was his crew since nobody had ever seen them long enough to confirm an exact identity. As Peter had said, the man and his crew tended to work at night.

"I guess you've heard of him. What can you tell from your stand point, Neal? I'd like to get an insider's view of him if you have anything."

Peter had turned his chair to face him, hands behind his head as he leaned back and gave him his full attention. Neal smiled.

"He's a legend of sorts. Nobody really knows that he is who they say he is and every story is second if not third or fourth handed. Nobody who's ever seen his stash first hand could be found that I know of. We all consider him something of a mythical figure, a story told by the fireside on a cold winter's night. I never was certain he was a real person with all the tales told of him and his collection. It's said to be pretty extensive and if that's what you were viewing, I'd be glad to go in on this case just to see it."

He could see a frown forming on the agent's face, a look of worry in his eyes.

"Neal, this is a serious case. People have disappeared or in the recent case found dead."

Peter pushed another folder over, his face paling slightly. Neal took the file uncertainly as he opened it up and paled himself.

"What is this, Peter?"

He closed the folder and pushed it aside, his lips curled in a frown as he tried to get the image of the pale, skinny corpse out of his mind. Peter looked about as sick as he felt.

"The body was found recently. It's believed to be one of Machelli's men. He was drained of blood completely. All we have to go on are some items in his wallet and dental records. The man didn't look older than he was when he vanished thirty years ago so they think he might have been in a freezer or something preserved all these years. This is why I don't want you to go in."

Peter stood, moving to sit on the desk near Neal.

"I know you think the world of some of these people. You find them fascinating. Heck I do too in some sense or I wouldn't chase them... But this... I have a really bad feeling about this case. Something feels wrong. I've been trying to find any reason not to take it because if we do, Hughes will want to send you in. You're our man, Neal. I don't want to send you on something this dangerous if you won't take it seriously."

He sounded concerned, his manner big brotherly as he laid a hand on his shoulder. Neal nodded, uncertain how to react while underneath he felt like he'd just hit pay dirt. Machelli! To see that collection in person would be like going to Shangrila or Atlantis! He was thinking about it, forgetting about Peter's concerns when he heard a snap and woke up from his thoughts.

"I'm serious, Neal. My gut is kicking me on this one. I don't like what it's telling me."

He saw the look in those brown eyes, a look that spoke of honest concern for him and his livelihood. Neal had never seen the agent look so worried before and it was a sobering experience. Maybe he should consider the agent's worry but that collection: It was like a siren's song and he was the sailor at sea moving towards it and the jagged rocks beyond.

"You're really upset. If you don't want me to take it I won't. Ok?"

He meant it although this other voice in the back of his head wanted to find the address and sneak on over but he wouldn't. Peter was worried and he was his friend. If he had a bad feeling... he would go with what he thought for once. His gut had never been wrong before.

Peter seemed relieved by his easy acceptance of his concern, smiling at him.

"Thanks, Neal. You know I just want what's best for you. I have your back. Ok?"

()()()

They had all but forgotten the case, going for coffee not too soon after. The day ended with more boring case files till Neal was all but ecstatic to be going. Peter offered him a ride home and they walked down to the elevator, waiting for the car when Hughes walked up.

"Burke. Caffrey. Wanted to ask if you'd read that new case file. See what your thoughts were on it."

Peter swallowed hard, his eyes turning to Neal who shrugged slightly as the older agent watched the display with curiosity.

"By your reactions, I'm guessing you did. Do you have a few minutes to discuss it. CIA wants to see what we can dig up on our end. I'm not too crazy about the case but my superiors seem to think Caffrey here is the perfect fit to help solve it."

Hughes was smiling slightly, Neal feeling a bit frightened by the expression and seeing Peter was too. The agent cleared his throat and spoke after a moment.

"We did read it. I was discussing it with Neal here... under any other circumstances I would consider it a viable case but with the discovery of the body, I'm feeling a bit leery getting involved with this muchless sending Caffrey in. It's too dangerous, sir."

Peter was watching Hughes nod, the older agent's gaze turning to Neal.

"Noted, Burke. Caffrey... what did you think of the case?"

Hughes was staring at him now, the consultant feeling like he was under a hot lamp between the both of them as he finally answered.

"I'm actually quite intrigued sir. Machelli is a legend in the community but... well, it's not really my decision is it?"

Peter was narrowing his eyes at him, Neal seeing the disappointed look on the agent's face which Peter tried to hide from Hughes who was smiling now.

"Good... good. So we'll talk to Agent Harden tomorrow. He's the agent in charge of this case on the CIA side. He wanted to meet with you Caffrey. Be on your best behavior. Peter, I'll call you with more details."

Peter nodded, his side long looks unhappy ones as he stared at the con. Neal swallowed hard but he had been honest even if Peter was unhappy with that. He did want to do this case despite the danger. Hughes understood and had atleast asked for once. Suddenly a cell went off, everyone going for their phones but it was Reese who answered his.

"Yes... definitely. Let me find the file. Go ahead with out me. I'll see you both tomorrow."

Hughes walked back into their offices, the elevator showing up about that time as Peter and Neal entered in silence. The agent pushed the lobby button as he stared at the door and not at Neal.

They stood like that a while till Neal finally thought to say something but Peter spoke instead.

"I can't believe you said that! Neal... I know this man is some sort of idol of yours but this is dangerous! People have died and we don't know why or how. Let's hope they decide NOT to use our department."

He went silent again, his brown eyes flashing somewhat angrily although Neal noticed the underlying emotion: fear. Peter was afraid of something, worried about him he thought but why? He was a grown man and they'd sent him out on more dangerous assignments. Why was this one so different?

They spent the rest of the ride in silence, Neal wanting to say something but afraid that Peter would yell at him again. The agent seemed really freaked by the whole assignment. He wouldn't NOT do a case unless he truly felt strongly about what was wrong with it. Neal knew that from experience. Peter really did have his back even if he didn't always want to believe it. Neal trusted the agent but even so there were times his old ways kicked in and he did his own thing. Neal had never had a need to truly trust anyone and after all this time, he tended to think in terms of himself and himself alone.

The elevator doors dinged, opening up onto the lobby. Peter took the first step out, brusquely stomping forward, hands in his coat as his brow furrowed with a serious gaze. Neal waited a moment letting the agent move ahead before he followed behind, trying to stay quiet till Peter abruptly stopped and he nearly crashed into his back. The agent turned around, mouth open to speak then stopped before he actually said something.

"We'll talk about this later."

That was all he said, his manner still very upset as he walked quickly ahead, Neal barely keeping up as he stayed a few steps behind out of respect or guilt. Finally they reached the Bureau garage and Peter's car, both men entering the vehicle without a word. The car started and pulled out into the afternoon / early evening traffic both men still silent. Neal stared out the window at the city as it zoomed past not bothering to mess with the radio or dash. He gave a quiet sigh, hearing a cough from the other side as he turned to see Peter giving him a side long glance. He looked apologetic as he pulled the car over to the side of the street and parked.

"Neal... I'm sorry. I... You have to understand. This case is not a normal case. Don't ask me why but something's wrong and my intuition is kicking me in the gut about it."

He paused, a serious look on his face as he stared at the con.

"Promise me this... if they give us an out tomorrow, take it. I don't want to take a chance if we don't have to."

Peter was really pouring his heart out here, Neal's guilt at being excited by the case washing over him as he nodded. A part of him sulked at the thought of not taking the opportunity to find out if Machelli was real or his collection but he owed Peter and he trusted him to keep him out of trouble.

"Ok Peter."

They grew quiet again, Peter looking more relaxed as he pulled back out into traffic.

()()()

Neal looked back, waving at his friend as the Taurus blended back into traffic and vanished. He turned back towards the door to June's, opening it with his passkey and locking it behind him as he entered the palacious house and made his way towards the stairs. There was a note on the banister written in a familiar neat handwriting he recognized as June's.

Dear Neal,

I will be out for the rest of the evening visiting with my grandchildren. I had the cook leave you some food in the upstairs fridge and dessert (brownies) to fix when you like.

Love,

June

Neal smiled, grabbing up the note and heading upstairs with a bit more jump in his stride. The fight with Peter seemed secondary although it had hardly been a fight more than a disagreement. Neal was still thinking about taking the job if they offered it but he knew the agent was right. Something was off about the case with the missing CIA agent and the dead man he had seen in the files. That alone would make him normally stay away from a case, his dislike of death and violence more than enough to keep him away. Still... he had to know about Machelli. If this was the legendary thief, it would be interesting to meet him, see his stash even if soon after he had to turn him into the Feds. It would hurt his sensibilities as a thief to help catch such a man but if it meant no one else got hurt, it would be worth it.

He was considering every side of the situation when he reached to unlock his door and found it already slightly ajar. Neal quietly reached for a nearby cane from a large floor standing pot before opening the door. There was a soft sound from inside as he peered around then relaxed.

"Mozzie!"

He heard an exaggerated yell, the little guy turning towards him and dropping something on the floor in the process. Neal couldn't help but laugh seeing what he saw. Mozzie looked saddened, a large bit of brownie flatted when it plopped down onto the wooden floor boards. Around his mouth was a chocolate ring and a white one to match over his lips.

"It would help if you warned one before sneaking up on them. That was my last one."

He was frowning deeply, the con looking rather upset as he pulled a few paper towels from the roll and cleaned up the mess. Neal stifled a giggle as he closed the door behind him and left the cane by the door.

"I hope you didn't eat them all. June said she left me some and I would have liked to try one."

He put his coat on the hook by the door and walked over towards his friend as he opened up the fridge and saw not only a dish filled with what smelled delicious but another full of large brownies with walnuts. He grinned.

"Oh yeah, June gave me a few of my own. She had just left the note for you when I came in. Guess she forgot to add: PS, Mozzie is here. Didn't mean to frighten you. I hope you didn't plan on using that cane. I bruise easily."

His voice was dead pan as he took up a small glass and took a long sip of milk. Neal pulled another towel off the roll and handed it to him.

"You look like you have a goatee from those brownies, Mozz."

The little guy nodded, wiping at his mouth politely till he no longer looked like some overgrown kid with a milk mustache.

"Better? So... how was the daily grind of the government bureaucracy? Did the man send you out into the field as a target again? You really need to reconsider this agreement after the last time."

Mozzie sounded truly concerned making Neal feel worse for what he was still considering with the Machelli case. Maybe if he bounced it off of his friend he'd get a whole new perspective.

"Yeah... Hey do you remember the stories about Yosef Machelli?"

Neal threw it out there casually, the silence that came back tangible to cut when Mozzie finally turned and looked at him.

"Machelli? THE Machelli who's said to be able to walk through walls, fly through the air and basically do all the things Superman can, Machelli? Who hasn't in the con world? He's a legend. A myth if anything else. No way anyone could live with such a reputation without it being a lie or exaggeration. Why do you ask?"

Mozzie arched a brow upwards, his manner interested as he followed Neal to the sofa and they sat down.

"Peter is investigating Him. They think he might be a real person according to a recent case they were given by the CIA. I think I might be a bit intrigued to find out who the real Machelli is."

Neal felt a broad grin cross his face, the brow remaining arched by his friend who looked a bit worried suddenly.

"Machelli... real? Are you kidding me? If that man is real, I wouldn't touch him with a ten mile pole from the stories I've heard. Some of them are hair raising if anything although by the fourth person it's going to get exaggerated but still. Neal, this is dangerous territory if you take it. Even if it's just a group of thieves, the stories they tell about Him are enough to make you not want to follow."

Now Mozzie was sounding alot like Peter but Neal still felt that excitement about seeing the cache and if it existed. He wanted to know the truth behind the legend.

"But that cache of his. Peter showed me some pics from the CIA. There are things that haven't been seen in 100s of years that were thought lost or never having existed. They had what looked like the golden cup Vlad Tepes supposedly left in the square in Tirgoviste as a test of honor. It's legendary like he is."

His eyes must have been glittering, Mozzie looking entranced by the speech.

"They said he had a diamond encrusted scepter never before seen from the ancient Sumerian's. I had seen sketches of it and a worn picture once."

Mozzie sounded just as excited till his face fell and he seemed to shiver.

"It's too easy, Neal. Even if these things exist in reality and Machelli is real, he's the devil. He can't be anything but. You have to admit it's too good to be more than a trap for fools. Stay away from it."

Neal seemed surprised by his friend's worry and superstition. For once the paranoia seemed so natural but still he felt a sense of wanting to see who this Machelli was and if he was THE man they had heard about. Impulsive he might be but he had to know.

"Two against once... you and Peter should hang out more. Your paranoia, his gut feelings..."

He sounded a bit sullen but Mozzie just nodded.

"Suit is smart. Gut feelings, intuition and paranoia all help to keep one safe to live another day. You should consider listening to that little voice in the back of your head, Neal. Impulsiveness does nothing for you."

()()()

The next day came far too soon which in a way made Neal happy. He wasn't worrying too much about the case, his eyes still glittering over the thought of seeing that cache if they took up the case. He could always go behind Peter's back with Hughes but he felt that would be too much even for him. He wouldn't do that under the circumstances, his loyalty to Peter too great. If they got it, good. If not, well it wasn't meant to be.

Peter showed up early, the meeting with the CIA agent at 9 am so they had to get to work earlier than usual. June was a sweetheart and made a thermos of her famous Italian roast for Neal to share. She didn't know about the case but she knew something was up by the gleam in his eyes. He told her it was nothing to worry about, just a case he found intriguing. She nodded knowingly at him, straightening his lapels before ushering him off out the door like a proud mother hen. He felt like he was leaving his home to go to school or maybe a field trip. It was an odd feeling as he thought about the meeting to come. Peter was happy when Neal poured him a cup of June's heavenly brew, sipping it with a happy smile as he took a large whiff of the cup then drank.

"Thank June for me Neal. I don't think I could have gotten by today on the mud in the office." He yawned a bit, looking more tired than usual. Neal poured himself his own cup of ambrosia and sipped at it.

"Trouble sleeping last night, Peter? You look awful!" He tried to say it jokingly but apparently his friend was too tired to take it any way but literally.

"Actually, yes. Wait... you were joking. Anyhow, yes. Had the strangest dream about this case. I honestly hope they give it some other agent or department. Elizabeth said she had a weird dream as well. I say that's a good enough reason not to take it and I am not an omen's kind of person. Geesh, now I sound like Mozzie. His paranoia is catching."

Peter took another sip of the coffee, a frown on his lips but it made Neal think. His friend was really worrying over this case alot more than he thought he should. Maybe he was missing something if everyone saw wrong and he didn't.

"I really think every one's overreacting, Peter. You'll be happy to know, Mozzie agreed with you about the case."

He sulked a bit, unhappy about not getting to find out whether or not Machelli was real or myth. It would be like finding the original amber room of Catherine the Great or the lost city of Atlantis. He sighed heavily. If they lost this case it would be more boring case files and mortgage fraud for them. Peter might like boring and dull but Neal needed to do something a little more exciting. He felt a hand on his shoulder.

"I know you're excited about the prospect of seeing this myth come to life but sometimes it's better not to know what's behind the curtain."

Peter sounded almost Mozzie-like for an instant, the young man blinking back at his friend but nodding.

"Let's just get this meeting over with so I can get back to those case files on my desk."

Peter smirked at his lack of enthusiasm.

"If you stop sulking, I might take you to that new French bakery around the corner. I know you've been wanting to try it out."

Neal gave him a look, the agent smiling as he took another sip of coffee.

"Deal!"

()()()

The memory started to fade, the scent of Italian roast transforming into a more metallic aroma that made the young man crinkle his nose as he came to. He had been hallucinating. Dreaming of what had been only days before. Before he'd waken to this nightmare. Neal gazed at the dimly lit stone room, his blurry vision focusing on few things long enough for him to do more than get a fuzzy hint at where he might be.

It was ancient masonry possibly from Revolutionary times. He tried to think where he was, how he had gotten here and where they might be keeping him. Obviously he had been sent to spy on Machelli and in the course of his involvement had been discovered and captured. He gave a muffled sound of pain, a low groan uttering from his throat as he raised his head ever so little to view the damage. He could just see cuts on his arms healing by some mysterious means as Neal tried to think back to what they had done to him.

How long had he been here? He felt so weak. All he knew was that they would come as a group and drink from the wounds they cut into his arms and then by some magic Machelli would heal his cuts and they would do it again. His blood never recovered but his body did, their stares all they needed to keep him at bay as he let them steal the life from him. Neal was certain he would be dead soon. It was inevitable. His punishment for falling for the trap Machelli had set for him. Maybe Peter had been right and he should have listened. Mozzie was definitely correct in his assumption that Yosef was a devil. It was the only explanation.

His mind was started to fade again. He sensed their presence as a kind of spectral haze spread across his thoughts and turned his body to jelly as they appeared around him. He only had barely blinked and they were there, ominous and staring at him with hungry eyes.

No more... please... Let me go. Let me die...

He tried to fade away but someone nudged him in his mind. There was no human or inhuman hand that touched him, only a voice in his head. Machelli's voice.

Don't leave us yet, Nicholaus. You will be one of us very soon. It is nearly time to complete the rite. Do not anger me as my last protege' did and the world will be yours forever!

Neal found himself nodding vaguely, his vision suddenly returning to the figures around him. Their eyes seemed to glow from within as Jeremy, the missing CIA agent drew out a shiny metal scalpel and the blood letting began.

oOoOoOo

Author's Note: This was a story I've had rolling around in my head since last year. Thought I'd try and give it a whirl and see how it works out. I had put a small portion of what I thought could happen in my Menagerie drabbles. I guess you could call this AU and perhaps Horror of a sort. I prefer angst and friendship.