Hi everyone. Thank you for your support and patience. We are winding down to the end of things!

I HAVE A SPECIAL SURPRISE AT THE END OF THE CHAPTER!~

Thanks for the reviews and favs and EVERYTHING

Special shout out to Karmicatian for her lovely PM.

Almost the end!

Disclaimer: I do not own "The Flash," "Hetalia," nor "White Collar."

PSsst. STUFF HAPPENS THIS TIME!


Chapter 18:

A Day That isn't really a Walk in the Park.


"Everybody has their own America, and then they have pieces of a fantasy America that they think is out there but they can't see…So the fantasy corners of America…you've pieced them together from scenes in movies and music and lines from books. And you live in your dream America that you've custom-made from art and schmaltz and emotions just as much as you live in your real one."

~ Andy Warhol ~


Peter stirred in another spoon of sugar into his morning coffee. He glanced at his watched and sighed as he waited for Alfred to finish getting ready. The teen's lack of punctuality was a usual part of their morning ritual. Peter and Neal would be by the door, ready to leave by about 8:00 and Alfred would be rummaging through his closet still or sleeping, (despite being woken repeatedly by both Neal and Peter.) Then the teen would come out wearing something utterly ridiculous, (like a superhero costume, colonial garb, too many American flags for Neal to handle, etc.) and they would spend about five to ten minutes arguing until Alfred went back into the room and changed. The addition of Mathieu did nothing to help the system, instead, Alfred just had one more member to the audience.

"Alfred, we're going to be late!" Peter called into the hallway from the kitchen counter where he, Neal, and Mathieu sat.

"I'm almost done! Give me a sec!"

"He said that five minutes ago," Peter muttered under his breath.

Finally, about three minutes later, Alfred exited the hallway.

"Alfred," Peter began blankly, "What are you wearing?"

The sunny teenager gave him a wide grin before twirling. "Nice huh?"

"Yes . . . Surprisingly . . ." Neal commented from the side.

Today, Alfred was wearing a pair of faded tan jeans and a dark blue chambray button up shirt. His shoes were brown leather Oxford wingtips, and over his shirt he wore a large bister colored leather jacket. Fur outlined the collar and there was a large star on the front and a plane on the shoulder. As he turned, they also saw the large '50.'

"You look normal. What's the occasion?" Peter asked as he drained the last of his coffee and set the cup in the dishwasher.

"It's fashion week!" Alfred said excitedly, "Is that right Mattie?" He shook his twin enthusiastically.

"Y-yeah." Mathieu managed as he was pushed and pulled repeatedly.

"I didn't take you as one interested in fashion," Neal said honestly.

Alfred shrugged. "A lot of people I know are." He smiled a little mysteriously at his brother. "And besides, I'm interested in everything!"

Neal just blinked at the declaration. From what he had seen, that tended to be the case for the blond teen . . . aside from things deemed too 'un-American.' Really, Neal doubted anyone could match Alfred's fervor in his exclamations of love for his mother country.

"Still, you don't seem to be one to splurge on high fashion, unlike Neal," Peter teased.

"Presentation matters," Neal replied, straightening the cuffs of his sleeves.

"If I have anything super trendy it's 'cause the designers give it to me," Alfred said lightly.

"What?" Peter asked, incredulously.

"They just give it to you?" Neal's expression was dubious. "Is it because

"Yeah! This shirt is Ralph Lauren, ah, these shoes are from Michael Kors and my pants are from Marc Jacobs." Alfred pointed out each item, remembering each designer individually.

"And let me guess, Calvin Kline gave you that jacket and Vera Wang cuts your hair," Peter said sarcastically. Sometimes the things Alfred said were too ridiculous. Neither Neal nor Peter were buying this one.

Alfred must have missed his sarcasm because he shook his head.

"No, my jacket is from my great, great Grandfather. He fought in World War Two as a fighter pilot." Alfred stroked the familiar material.

"It's been a while since I've seen that jacket," Mathieu said nostalgically, "You used to wear it every day."

Neal's practiced eyes ran over the material, and sure enough, he found signs of wear and tear that came from age, and holes from bullets that surely were a sign of war—

Neal stopped for a moment. A disturbing thought ran through his head. "Alfred, was your great-great Grandfather shot down in action?"

"No, I don't think so," Alfred said after some thought.

"I was just looking at those nice bullet holes." His voice was lightly sarcastic as he pointed towards the ripped back of the jacket Alfred was wearing.

"Well look at that!" Allfred exclaimed as he twisted his neck to see, "I'd forgotten about that! Those were actually pretty recent. Got them from a tragic cooking accident if I remember correctly."

Neal stared at him oddly, without a lick of understanding. "What?"

"Arthur tried to make scones while we were, ah, camping in Europe. I told him they tasted like shit and suddenly I was running from his gun. He was a lot more temperamental back then."

"Isn't Arthur you're guardian?" Peter was unable to keep the concern from his voice. The more Alfred talked about his guardian, the more dubious the character became.

Alfred laughed long and hard, "Don't worry, he didn't hit me. He only shot my jacket because I wanted to see if I could be a matador like Spai— Uhh Antonio always talked about. He's my friend from Spain."

Neal and Peter exchanged glances. Of course, his friend from Spain. One of the many people across the world the teen apparently knew.

Unaware of their thoughts, Alfred pushed on, "Anyways, the minute I saw Arthur's face after I told him his scones sucked ass, it hit me; he looked like he was going to rage like a bull! So I pulled my jacket off and tried to get him to charge."

" . . . And so he shot at you?" Neal asked, feeling bewildered by Alfred's stories.

Alfred smiled lightly.

"Alfred . . ." Mathieu sighed.

"Right, you're right, we should be going now; we don't want to make Peter late for work." Alfred gripped his brother's shoulder and began shepherding the other towards the door. Neal and Peter just exchanged looks before shaking their heads in unison. There was no point in pressing Alfred any further, by know they knew that no matter how much Alfred explained, they would never understand.

"Alfred, I already told you, I can't come with you," Mathieu said as he tried to pry off Alfred's strong grip with limited success.

Alfred gaped, "I thought you were joking! How could you be so serious about something so terrible! You can't leave me with them!"

"Ack! Let go Alfred!" Mathieu urged, "I told you already! I have work to take care of while I'm here." He had several meetings to attend, along with scoping out the fashion show. "I can't bring back pictures for the shows today if you don't let me leave."

Alfred pouted. "But they're so booring!~"

Peter felt a little annoyed.

"Just because we can sit still for a few hours without going crazy, doesn't mean we're boring," Peter sniffed. Alfred gave him a look that showed the federal agent how seriously he took that comment.

" . . . Right. See what I mean? They're like robots! No one can sit still for that long! What if they make me into one of them? A cyborg me! You'll be super upset—" He halted.

"Well actually I suppose that there's no way I'd be a sucky robot, so I'd have like rocket boots and exploding fists and I'd fight crime, but you'd still be sad! Who would keep you warm?!"

His Northern brother smiled and gave a little giggle at his antics.

"Maybe, I could like transform into the form of a heater like they do on the Wonder twins or transformers. That would be kind of a lame transformation though. Oh! Not if I make a really cool transformation sequence with awesome music and cool CGI effects. But I suppose that being a robot would mean I wouldn't have to use— Ahh! What are you doing?!"

Neal and Peter each took one of Alfred's arms and dragged him away from his laughing brother.

"Bye Mathieu, we'll see you later alright?" Peter called over his shoulder.

"Take care! I'll see you later Alfred." The Canadian man fondly waved goodbye.


Alfred pouted petulantly in the backseat of Peter's car for several blocks until Peter turned into the busy drive-thru at the McDonalds on the corner. Neal balked. It was the same McDonalds Alfred had dragged him to the time he tried to reunite Neal and Mozzie. Inwardly he shied away from thinking too hard about the bald man. He distracted himself by staring incredulously at his partner until the older man felt his gaze prickling at his back.

"What?" Peter asked, noting the very skeptical look on Neal's face.

"McDonalds Peter?" The raised eye-brow perfectly completed the younger man's look of disbelief.

Peter gave a shrug, letting the other's expression slide off him like water on a duck's back. "Does this mean you don't want anything?"

Neal sighed. "I'll have a coffee, two creams and one sugar."

"Yes! I am soo starving!" Alfred was pumped. "I want seven McMuffins and a shake and a big mac and two double cheeseburgers and some fries and a smoothie."

The other two listened to his long rambling sentence with fading interest.

"Welcome to McDonalds, may I take your order?" The voice buzzed from the intercom.

"Yeah, I'll five McMuffins, a coffee with two sugars and one cream and a smoothie, I don't care what flavor." The FBI agent was short and to the point.

"Hey Peter! You forgot all my stuff!" Alfred quickly unrolled the window and shouted to the intercom before Peter could drive to the window.

"I want a chocolate shake, two double cheeseburgers and some fries and like eight McMuffins . Make it into a combo or something." He said flippantly and Peter looked at him incredulously.

"You added more stuff than before! What makes you think I'm paying for all that junk?" The fed asked in his best parent voice.

"Why don't I treat you to breakfast?" Alfred offered giving Peter an Oscar winning smile.

Peter just gave a little grunt as he pulled up to the window.

"Hi, thanks for choosing McDonalds, your total comes to $30.98," A tired looking teenager said in monotone as she answered the window.

"He's the one paying." Peter gestured to Alfred who was pulling his wallet out from his many pockets.

"Hey, I'm Alfred F. Jones. You can put this on my tab," Alfred said with a blinding smile as he pulled out his I.D. card out to show the teen.

Peter and Neal were staring at Alfred, two thoughts running through their minds. The first was a question about whether the blonde was prone to having delusional fantasies. The second was mostly a realization, followed by some accepting sighs as the two comprehended that if Alfred was having a delusional fantasy, he would pick to have a tab at McDonalds.

"Sir, you do know this is McDonalds right? We don't do tabs." She raised an eye-brow with a vaguely irritated expression, silently questioning if Alfred was an idiot.

"Just show your supervisor or something." Alfred said rolling his eyes and the teen plucked the card from his grip with a look or skepticism before turning and walking away.

Peter gave the teen a stern look. "Alfred, if you're trying to get out of paying, you can stop wasting our time. I'll buy the damn—"

"Shh!" Alfred pointed to the window. "Watch."

Through the glass they could see the teen worker walking up to a bulky looking lady, who must have been the manager. They watched her mouth move silently. The manager's response must have frightened the girl because she jumped and dropped the card before apologizing repeatedly. Then the second figure walk up to the window with the teen following behind her in a repentant fashion.

"We are so sorry about this Mr. Jones, we're still training some of the newbies," The older lady said, shooting a glance back at the younger woman who quailed.

"Nah, don't worry. It happens a lot," He said, smiling as he accepted the card and tucked it carefully into his wallet. His I.D. was a national treasure and he was sure if he lost it the president would flip a table.

"Here's your food. Have a very nice day sir," She passed him a large bag and a drink carrier.

"You too, Anna," Alfred replied fondly to her surprised face. The manager had lost her nametag last week.

She didn't have time to say anything, because Peter had already driven out of the drive-thru and into the traffic filled streets of New York.

"Should I even ask how—"

"Or why for that matter," Neal poked in

"—You have a tab at McDonalds?" Peter asked feeling nonplussed. He dug his two McMuffins out from the bag and passed the rest to Alfred's greedy hands.

"I'm their number one customer," Alfred informed them happily as he munched on his fries. The two both gave him disgusted looks for eating that much junk-food for breakfast. The pungent smell of fast-food did nothing for their moods.

"So they gave you a tab?" Neal asked and Alfred shrugged. Any further conversation was halted when Peter's phone rang.

"Burke." A pause.

"Yeah I'll be right there." He flipped his phone shut and regarded his companions with a smile.

"You'd better eat fast; we've got a case waiting for us."

"You mean like an actual case?" Alfred asked hopefully.

"Mortgage fraud doesn't count as a case," Neal reminded him.

"Oh it's a real case," Peter grinned, "All the other teams are busy so we got a real case."

"Finally!" Alfred gave a fist pump and Neal smiled, agreeing with the notion.


The trio drove immediately to the site. Much to Alfred's delight it was Central park. He rolled down the window and stared with blatant excitement at their surroundings.

"Have you ever been to Central Park, Alfred?" Peter asked, amused by Alfred's reaction.

"Tons of times."

"I take it you like it then." Neal spoke rhetorically.

"Of course! It's so beautiful!" Alfred exclaimed. He could hear the sounds of his citizens echoing through the brush and he shut his eyes to feel the sensation. So many people—

"Come on Alfred, we have to be quick and quiet, understand?" Peter pressed, bringing the teen back to the present. All three carefully and quietly entered a black van parked by the side of Central Park. Inside, there were two other Agents, Dianne Berrigan and Clint Jones. There were several small TVs showing different views of the park and surveillance equipment hung on the walls.

"Looking sharp, Alfred," Dianne said by way of greeting.

"Thanks!" He said cheerily. "You too!"

Indeed, the agent looked casual but fashionable wearing a dark green safari dress with tan wedges and a large sunhat. Neal noted the change.

"Good morning, you look lovely," Neal complemented, "I smell undercover work."

"Thanks," She smiled.

"Spot on," Clinton said.

Peter sat in one of the observing chairs. It was a little tight with all the equipment, but Neal and Alfred were seated on one side, Clinton and Peter on the other. At the head, nearest to the front was Dianne.

"What do we have?" Peter asked eagerly.

"I can tell you've missed being on the field," Dianne said with a smile as she handed him a briefing folder.

"You don't know the half of it," Peter murmured before his eyes shifted to Alfred.

"Hey!" Alfred exclaimed, offended, "It isn't my fault that I'm really valuable, and you burned down a building!"

"He doesn't blame you, Alfred," Dianne assured him.

"Oh yes he does," Peter replied absently as he leafed through the papers. Alfred pouted, leading Peter to ignore him. "Hey Neal, have you heard anything about this guy?"

"What guy?" Neal asked, peering over his partner's shoulder to read the file.

"There's been a string of reported instances of art fencing around Central Park recently."

"Reported?!" Neal asked surprised, "This guy must be stupid if he's been reported multiple times, during the day, at a public place," He paused as what he said really registered, "What idiot would do business there?" He spoke frankly.

Peter snorted, "Yeah well, as stupid as this guy is, he's never been captured."

"Several of our rats report that there's an art fencer working out of Central Park, but every time the police scan the place, the guy's already gone," Clinton filled in.

"I see, so we have a ghost fencer, eh?" Neal said, smiling lightly, "Interesting."

"I almost pity this guy," Dianne said, shaking her head, "He gets to be your first case after being off the field for so long."

"He picked the wrong day to fence paintings," Peter grinned.

"Do we have a description?" Neal asked, moving the case along.

"Nothing too solid," Dianne's tone was dismayed, "All we know is that this guy shows up in a different part of Central Park every time. He tells his contacts where he wants to meet them and then he appears."

"So what's the plan?" Peter asked.

"Well, for the past couple months, I've established a false identity as an art collector with questionable morals," Diane explained, "I'm interested in more alternative methods of acquiring art. It was touch and go for a while, with a lot of wrong leads, but I finally got a reference to the Central Park fencer."

"So you've set up a meeting?" Peter asked.

"Sort of," She answered with a light shrug, "I'm supposed wander around. He claims that he'll find me."

"A marker?" Peter guessed.

His coworker nodded. "I need to put a yellow band around my ankle and wrist."

"So it's possible he's watching from somewhere then." Peter's eyes wandered to the various views of the park on the screens.

Agent Clinton Jones cut in. "But we thought that rather try and hunt him down, we'd just wait for him to come to us."

"Trying to locate him hasn't been very successful in the past," Dianne said.

"Good idea," Neal murmured, still reading through the information in the file.

"Well," Peter grinned, "How are we doing this then?"

"I'm going to start walking around the park. You two," She pointed towards Peter and Clinton, "Are going to pretend to be joggers. This is a low risk operation, so we couldn't get the bureau to spare any more agents, so the two of you will need to split coverage."

Peter nodded. He was trying to be careful about his suggestions, since Dianne was leading this case and not himself, "Alright, but I think it might be wise for one of us should rent a bicycle."

"What do you mean?" She asked.

"In case he tries to run, we'll have greater mobility."

She paused, considering the pros and cons, before agreeing. "Very well, you'll be the bicyclist."

He nodded before he looked around a little awkwardly.

"Here, there's a change of clothes and running shoes," Clinton Jones offered a duffel, as though reading Peter's mind.

Peter accepted the bag gratefully.

The space in the car was limited, so he awkwardly made his way to the front. Dianne turned her back and faced Alfred and Neal as Peter began changing. She made sure to keep her expression blank and professional.

"Aaannnd," Alfred led in, "What will I be doing?"

Dianne smiled at him, "You get to watch the van with Neal."

"What!" Alfred complained.

Neal was also looking fairly dismayed with this newest development.

"And I get to watch Alfred and the van?" Neal guessed with a sigh.

"And coordinate our communications," Dianne corrected.

"Someone has to do it," Peter said as he walked back towards the back of the van. He was wearing a plain grey t-shirt, navy shorts and Nike running shoes. Clinton grabbed another black duffel and moved to the front of the car to change.

"Whaaaat?!" Alfred protested even louder, "I don't need protecting!"

"Prove it to me this time by staying out of trouble," Peter said, "And hey, look at it this way, you have the best seats in the house."

Alfred still pouted, making Peter ruffle his hair.

"What's our timeframe?" Neal asked.

"Our appointment begins at eleven."

Peter glanced at his watch noting the time of ten thirty. "I think I'll head out now so I can grab a bike and get a feel of the area. It's a big park."

"That's why we're all using earpieces and landmarking," Dianne said, giving Peter an earpiece and receiver disguised as small headphones. He clipped the receiver to his shirt before nodding.

"Alright." He was about to leave when he hesitated. "Neal do you have your dummy gun?"

Neal barely resisted pulling a face, "Yes."

"Alright, I'm giving you ten rubber bullets, don't use them unless it's to protect yourself or Alfred." Peter counted out the bullets from his pocket and handed them to an unenthusiastic Neal.

"Thanks," He said tightly, not tacking on the tempting, 'mom.' He hated guns.

"Is there anything else?" Peter addressed Dianne.

She shook her head. "No. This is a fairly straightforward investigation. Remember to landmark and don't get too far away. I'll report when I find the guy and keep him engaged while you two close in. Agent Jones will follow in about fifteen minutes and then I'll leave."

Peter nodded with a serious expression before stepping out of the van and into the street.

Clinton was the next to go out, now wearing a red t-shirt and grey athletic shorts. The minutes ticked by until Dianne too stood to leave.

"It's good having you back around." She smiled sincerely at both Neal and Alfred before she left the van.

Neal let out a sigh.

He was condemned to babysit in a van during their first actual case in months. Where was the fairness in the world? His only consolation was that Alfred wasn't bouncing off the walls like usual. Instead, the teen was staring at the screens with disinterest. His charge's rapid mood swings were rather entertaining. Alfred didn't seem capable of not making some expression at every little thing that happened to him.

"Peter checking in." The static-y voice of Neal's partner sounded through the van. "I'm near a horse rental at the front of the park."

"I can see it a little ahead." Dianne's voice answered. "Slow your pace a little, please."

"Roger." Peter replied, respecting the leading agent's concerns. His voice was a little strained from the exercise.

Neal and Alfred watched what was happening with dull expressions.

"Can we go around the park after the mission?" Alfred pressed down one of the red buttons and asked into the speaker. "I'm gonna get fat if you keep me in here all the time!"

Peter quickly snapped back.

"Alfred, this is an official investigation— do not take over the communications to ask stu—"

The teen clicked the mute on and waited for a few moments until he figured Peter was done.

"—nderstand?"

"Yup," Alfred replied. Neal couldn't resist smiling.

"Neal, keep him away from the mic." Peter's voice was weary.

"Sure thing, Peter." Neal gave Alfred a sharp look before he sighed, pulled his finger off the speaker button and addressed the teen solely. "You know, if you didn't eat so much fast-food you wouldn't have to worry about getting fat."

"I am not fat! I just have a lot of surface mass." Alfred sniffed, pulling his jacket around himself self-consciously.

"I never said you were." Neal shook his head at Alfred's continual weird phrases. "Which is crazy, because I don't think I've seen you do any exercise since I've known you and your eating habits certainly leave something to be desired."

"What's that supposed to mean?!" Alfred asserted.

Neal smirked.

"Status report?" The only female of the group asked.

"This is Peter, I'm coming up to the Central Park Zoo."

"Jones speaking, I'm at the Victorian Gardens. You are in my sight Dianne."

"I'm still at the Wollman Rink," Dianne said. "Peter, try and loop around so that you're closer to me."

"Copy." Peter replied.

Alfred and Neal watched the three move around the park from the van. Neal decided to entertain himself by texting a few female companions that he'd missed in his long term of celibacy since Alfred— and by extension, Peter— had moved in. The teen sighed repeatedly as the three agents on the field moved around all the cool, awesome New York places that Alfred wanted to go to. There were a few more communications but generally the van was silent sans the occasional check in from the team undercover.

Neal began twirling his phone between his dexterous fingers while he waited for another reply from one of his casual associates. His eyes eventually made their way to the teen beside him. His mind drifted back to the honest conversation that the two had had, in which Alfred had completely seen through his intentions, and Neal had been labeled Velma in their Scooby gang repeatedly.

Neal wondered when it was exactly that he'd gotten used to having such absurd conversations. Even Mozzie's impressive talent for the random paled in comparison. Before Alfred had come along, Neal would have hardly imagined having such ridiculous chats with anyone he knew. It merely drove the point home exactly how different Alfred was compared to anyone else Neal had met. The teenager with a monstrous appetite and fickle moods, who was as erudite as he was uncultured, and embodied countless other contradictions. Alfred was unquestionably remarkable. There was something about him that had people turning towards him, like sunflowers to the sun— even strangers! What was it that made him shine so brightly in Neal's eyes? The ex-con knew that there was something unnatural about the teen, and yet Neal had a feeling in his gut that it wasn't what made Alfred so . . . Alfred. Which drew a serious question about if it was a mental disorder or what, because how anyone could be so blatantly multifaceted in so many ways was a complete mystery to Neal.

As though sensing the weight of his thoughts, Alfred flicked his cerulean gaze towards Neal. The teen's eyes were unusually blank, and Neal felt as though Alfred looking through his outer appearance, and into his very mind. The sensation was unnerving enough to make a small shiver chase through Neal's body, but he found that he was unable to break the eye-contact.

After an indeterminable moment, Alfred blinked and gave him a bright smile.

The heavy air in the van vanished so quickly it was as though it had never been leaden to begin with. Alfred's eyes went back to the screen and he hummed to himself as he watched the three agents on the field. His temperament seemed much improved, and Neal had to wonder what had changed while Alfred had been staring at him.

"What are you smiling about, Alfred?" Neal asked curiously.

"You're such a funny guy!" Alfred said out of the blue, still grinning lightly.

Neal blinked at the non sequitur. "What?" he said, ineloquent in his surprise.

Alfred ignored the question. "You're such a good man sometimes."

Neal was going to tease the teen, but honestly he was too confused about what the teen was thinking.

"You know, when I met you, I was so totally shocked!" The teen's voice was amused, and he went on, unaware of Neal's mounting confusion. "I read all about you in your file and I thought I got a grip on your personality. You were too good-looking to be a nefarious no-good criminal guy, that's what I remember thinking. They couldn't have written what a charming dude you were— couldn't get it on the paper, ya know?"

"I suppose I should say thank you?" Neal asked, confused.

"No, no," Alfred shook his head. "When I got to see you in action I knew that you were lots more than what they'd written down." He's seen the potential in Neal, and then he'd seen the evolution take place. Visibly seen his citizen grow over time, in how he dealt with Alfred, how he struggled with his difficulty with his friend, Mozzie, and how he coped with the loss of his girlfriend Kate. They had been subtle changes, but Alfred's practiced eyes had caught every one. He knew that his people changed and grew and struggled, but to see it first hand was better than television. Alfred felt indescribably proud. Neal's journey in figuring out his life was something Alfred had delighted in seeing.

Neal had been alone for a long time with a dirty cop for a father that tainted his view of the world, and an absent mother. He had lost one of his closest people. But then he and Peter had become partners, and it invited more into his life. He'd met his landlady, June, who was generous, and the Elle who cared about him unwaveringly. Stability was something Neal had never truly had before. Peter though was constant and reliable.

Alfred smiled. Because against all the forces out there, all Neal's mistakes, regrets, and losses, he had found a home.

"I'm just really happy for you, that's all."

Alfred couldn't help but grin because life had turned around for his citizen in an unprecedented way. Like a movie! A really great American movie!

"Alfred," Neal said after a time, wondering what the teen was thinking, "what—"

A voice from the speakers cut off Neal's words. "I think I see our fencer, he's approaching me."

Neal and Alfred both jumped at Dianne's words and then quickly looked towards the screens where she was standing.

"Location?" Peter quickly answered.

"Delacorte Music Clock," Dianne replied. Sure enough, Neal and Alfred could see Dianne standing underneath the clock. They could also make out who they assumed she mentioned as the potential mark. A bulky, dark haired man was slowly circling around the area where Dianne stood. What set him apart was that he was facing forward as he moved around the perimeter, leading the agents to believe he was scoping out the area.

"You're within my line of sight, Dianne," Clinton said. Neal's eyes dashed around the screen to find the male agent and spied him further away, covertly tying his shoe as he talked into his receiver.

"You're in front of the Delacorte Music Clock?" Peter demanded. The strain in his voice was clear and they heard heavy panting.

"Yes." Dianne replied.

"I don't like it," Peter said, "The music clock is right across from—

"The children's zoo," Alfred murmured, right along with Peter.

Neal's eyes widened with concern.

"This changes the situation," Dianne spoke hastily into her watch as she made a show of rearranging her earring. "We cannot let this situation escalate."

"Two minutes away." Peter grunted.

"If it starts going bad we will withdraw. We can't afford to get into anything here. There are too many children around." Dianne's voice was harried now. "Neal do you have a clear view at the moment."

"Yes," Neal replied.

"Taking up point on your four o'clock." Clinton said.

"Switching to nonverbal. Relay to the team Neal."

"On it." Neal moved closer to the screen and honed his gaze on the female agent and the now approaching male.

"I'm between three and five minutes away." Peter panted over the radio.

"Roger." Neal replied for Dianne.

Everyone was silent as the man from before finally closed in on Dianne. As he stood still, Neal and Alfred could make out that he was around his mid-to-late thirties. His hand was twitching nervously, putting them all on edge. Dianne maintained a relaxed air though, and greeted the person who approached with a smooth smile.

"Miss Foster?" The male's voice rang gruffly through the van's speakers.

"Pleased to meet you," she replied coolly, in her alias' confident persona.

"Our communal friend said you got an interest in Rothko," he murmured.

Neal scanned the area of the screen again. They saw Peter enter the frame.

"Peter, your best position would be near the tall oak to your right."

"Copy." Peter put his down to hold the bike in place while he drank some much needed water at a nearby fountain. All the while, he covertly scouted out the situation.

His mouth pressed together unhappily. "There are too many people."

"It's possible this guy is unarmed," Clinton reminded him.

"Dianne, do you see a weapon?" Peter asked.

From his spot in the van, Neal was able to make out Dianne's subtle adjustment of her ring.

"None that she can see," Neal answered for her.

"Don't assume anything," Peter warned. "Let's get a little closer."

"Copy." Clinton echoed.

Meanwhile, Dianne's and the fencer's conversation was moving along according to plan. Right now they were haggling the cost of the painting. When Peter and Clinton got into position, she would agree on a price and that was their sign to get their guns out. Hopefully, they'd be able to wrap this up without setting off any alarm in the park. If he went along quietly, they could maybe just do it.

The fact that the suspect's eyes were darting every which way was decidedly concerning. Clinton and Peter were having a hard time acting inconspicuously.

Though it was tense the entire way, they managed to get into close enough to support Dianne in her the arrest.

"Very well, I'll settle for seven point three million," Dianne said, with a smooth smile. She held her hand out for the other man to shake.

He stared cautiously at her for a moment before he extended his hand and gripped hers. Dianne yanked him forward, setting him off-balance, and pulled the hand she held behind his back. Neal and Alfred smiled as Clinton and Peter began walking forward to close the gap.

The criminal didn't look to upset, which set off dull alarm in Neal's mind, but he set it aside to deal with later. Alfred on the other hand jolted visibly as he looked to the clock on his phone.

"You are under arrest for the illegal fencing of art—"

"Dianne!" Alfred cried into the speaker. "The clock—

But it was too late. A loud, cheery sound began to echo through the park from the Delacorte monument, and people in the area began moving towards the clock.

Dianne's concentration only wavered for a moment, but it was enough. The criminal ripped himself from her grip and pushed her back. She recovered quickly and assumed a solid stance before delivering a quick roundhouse kick the man barely dodged.

Peter and Clinton immediately reached for their guns, but Neal put a stop to it.

"No! The area's getting too crowded," he reminded them, concern laced through his voice.

"Shit." Peter cussed under his breath as he got closer for support anyway. A crowd was gathering now, eager to see the fight.

"They think it's a show," Peter thought unhappily.

"Hey, everyone, clear the area!" Clinton shouted.

"This is not a park attraction, this is a real FBI arrest!"

It did little to disperse the riveted, cheering audience.

The criminal was moderately skilled at fighting, but he wasn't nearly as good as Dianne. She dodged his right hook before delivering a quick combo of a jab and roundhouse kick. The criminal was knocked backwards and sent sprawling to the ground. The crowd parted to prevent anyone from being smashed. Dianne smiled a little in victory as she moved forward to arrest the dazed criminal.

Her heart stopped as she realized that this could get much more seirous. By the time she realized, it was too late; the criminal had grabbed a young dark-haired girl from the crowd, pulled a gun from his coat, and put it up to her head. She let out a screech of terror and began struggling vainly against his grip.

Now, the audience dispersed with cries of fear and horror and Dianne's hand darted to her thigh holster. Peter, Dianne, and Clinton immediately trained their guns on the criminal target.

"Here's what's going to happen," the man spoke. The confidence in his tone made disgust run across Neal's expression. He felt completely helpless watching the events from the van. Alfred was feeling similar. His teeth were gritted in anger and frustration as he watched his citizens struggle.

"I am going to leave this park. You, are not going to follow me, or we'll see how long it takes a bullet to reach this kid's brain."

The child in his arms sobbed pitiably as the cold metal lay heavily against her head.

"Neal, status," Peter hissed quietly into his speaker.

"I-I- I don't think any of you have a perfect shot. You got out of formation trying to clear the crowd."

Peter worked his jaw furiously as he tried to figure a way out of this.

Dianne moved an inch forward and found a bullet lodged in her thigh for her troubles.

She let out a muffled scream as she collapsed to the ground.

"You all now know that the gun is loaded," the criminal said as a pool of blood began spreading onto the ground around Dianne. Neal exhaled sharply in horror and Alfred's face was pained. The teen immediately whipped out his phone and began dialing 911.

"Bastard!" Clinton hissed.

"Now then, do I need to shoot all of your legs out, or will you put down your guns and let me leave peacefully."

"Don't worry about me Peter," Dianne pushed, her voice strained from the pain.

"Oh he should worry. I doubt you could dodge a bullet it your state."

The female agent paled, and the distress on her face betrayed her true worry at the situation.

"911 operator, what is your emergency."

Neal distantly heard the small voice from Alfred's phone's speaker. He was numbly glad that the teen was as rational as he was.

"We have an FBI agent with a bullet wound in front of the Delacorte Music clock at Central park. No civilian casualties, but the shooter does have a hostage." Alfred summarized the situation briefly and efficiently.

"We've dispatched help, where is the bullet wound."

"Upper thigh, not immediately life-threatening, but there is always a risk of infection which could lead to amputation if untreated."

Neal choked on air at the teen's cold and clinical words.

"Please stay on the line whil—"

"Thank you," Alfred said before he hung up on the operator and turned his attention back to the screen. Neal just stared disbelievingly at the emotionless teen beside him.

"Alright, we'll put our guns down," Peter said after a long time.

"Peter, no!" Dianne shouted furiously. "I am the lead agent, don't you dare put the gun down!"

"You are in no shape to be making orders," Peter said in reply. "As the next in charge, I'm taking over this operation."

His tone left no room for argument and Dianne had to bite back the tears of frustration and self-anger as she complied.

Clinton and Peter placed their guns on the ground carefully.

The criminal grinned madly before he began running, dragging the crying girl with him.

Clinton quickly picked up his gun, but couldn't get a steady shot from the rapidly moving target and increasing distance. He exhaled in frustration before he moved to the ground where Peter was helping put pressure on Dianne's nasty looking wound.

"Neal, call 911." Peter directed

"Alfred already did that. They've dispatched an ambulance already." Neal informed the older man quickly.

Neal's attention was directed away from his partner as he saw the figure of the man move across multiple camera frames as he ran through the park. He was heading towards the parking lot . . . And it wasn't too far from where they had parked either!

Neal watched as the criminal reached a black non-descript van. He tossed the girl in the back roughly before locking the door and beginning to pull out.

Neal visibly jolted as he realized that he was in position to help save the girl.

"Peter, I'm going to do something," Neal began in that mysterious tone Peter hated.

Every time he heard it, without fail, his partner was about to do something crazy and risky. Neal probably knew how much Peter hated that tone, and used it all too regularly.

"What are you going to do Neal?"

"The van is within my sights. I'm going to pursue it."

"Damnit Neal! You can't go off on your own like that! Wait for us to regroup, or you're going to get yourself killed!"

"Don't worry about it," Neal said dismissively. "When I find the girl, I'll make sure she gets back to you."

"NEAL! YOU—"

He pressed the mute button to drown out his partner's cries.

Without another word, Neal turned the keys in the ignition and started the car.

"Alright! We got a chase!" Alfred crowed. The con man started in surprise. He'd forgotten about the teen's presence.

"No Alfred, I have a chase." Neal corrected.

"Nu-uh!" He protested. "I wanna help!"

"Sorry Alfred." The con man stood suddenly, and just as Alfred read his intent, Neal had already opened the door to the van and pushed Alfred outside. "Make sure to find Peter, alright?"

Neal didn't wait to hear the shouts of outrage, instead he leapt into the driver's seat and put his foot on the gas before Alfred could push his way back onto the van. He sped away furiously.

The criminal had stopped the car after about ten blocks and seemed to be waiting for something. Neal pulled in shortly after, making sure to be as subtle as possible. The criminal stepped out of the van. The young girl's arm was held firmly, (and Neal would add, painfully,) tight in his grip. The girl was obviously distressed but he hissed something to her that made the girl nod and follow after him with no struggling as he walked into a nearby alley.

Neal shot out of his seat, quickly pulling checking to see if he still had his gun on his holster. If he played his cards right, he could maybe get out of this with the girl safe, and his health intact.

The ex-con quickly moved to the alley until he saw the man and girl in one of the back-sections. He took a deep breath. Neal then held his hands up and walked forward, shoving himself into the line of fire. The criminal cussed loudly at the sudden appearance of another man.

"Stay where you are!" The criminal shouted.

"I'm unarmed," Neal returned, still slowly walking towards the guy, "I want to propose a trade."

"A trade?" The guy asked, his eyebrows raised.

"Yes, a trade of hostages."

"You want the girl?" The perpetrator queried.

"Me for the girl," Neal said boldly.

The other man let out a harsh laugh. "Why the hell would I trade with you?"

"I'm worth a lot more to the government than that child is," Neal told him.

"What's your name?" He spoke at length.

"Neal Caffery," Neal responded coolly.

Suddenly, the guy started laughing. A boisterous and hearty sound.

"Oh God, I've heard of you," the criminal said once he'd calmed down. "You're the FBI's little dog, aren't you?"

Neal hesitated. The criminal already knew about Neal at the very least. Whether he heard this from whispers around the underground or if he had been previously informed . . . Neal didn't have time to contemplate.

"I have a sort of forced association with the White Collar unit, if that's what you mean."

"Mmm, I'm surprised they let you off of your leash little bitch," He said sarcastically.

Neal ignored the words. Though the fact that the criminal had previous knowledge of him was disconcerting, perhaps it could work to his advantage. After all, the criminal would never suspect that the FBI had given him a gun, (even if it only had rubber bullets.) The gun was strapped to his ankle instead of his hip like most guns, so the chance of him finding something was small even I the guy decided to check.

"You know, I think I'll take you up on your offer," The criminal said. The smile on his face was too wide for Neal's preferences. Neal had been hoping a switch of hostages would unsettle him, but he had no luck; if anything, the criminal seemed more excited now.

"If you do anything, then I swear, you'll be on the floor like the other agent," he threatened, "I can promise you that."

Neal nodded solemnly. He walked towards the guy. When he got within arm's reach, the man's right hand shot out and gripped Neal's hair tightly, forcing him close to the criminal.

Neal ignored the stinging pain. He glared at the criminal before turning his attention to the little girl who was then released. She fell backwards onto the ground where she sat and wailed for a few moments. Neal pulled her up carefully.

"You alright?" He asked her softly. Her eyes were wide and watering, she didn't reply, and Neal didn't blame her. "What's your name sweetie?"

"S-S-Sammie," She stuttered.

"Alright Sammie, my name's Neal." He smiled as he gently pushed his smartphone into her palm. "I want you to get out of here. Take my phone and call 911. Can you do that?"

She nodded, still crying. Her grip was tight around the phone.

"Alright, go," He urged, "Go now."

"Th-th-thanks," She uttered before stumbling away. Though she tripped a few times, she made it out the alleyway. Neal exhaled in relief as she vanished from his sight. He hated it when the bad guys kidnapped little children. It was just poor taste.

"Since I was so kind when I didn't have to be, you are going to behave like the best captive ever," The criminal gripped his hair tighter and pulled Neal closer, "Is that clear?"

"Crystal," Neal muttered in reply.

"Disobey and I'll shoot you."

Typical threats. Neal had really gotten used to them by this point.

Now he had to figure out a way of getting out of here.


Alfred watched the criminal jump backward, gun still pressed to the girl's head. Without a word, the target began running, dragging Sammie Adams along with him. In an instant, Alfred assessed the situation, reading the criminals mind quickly and grasping his goals. He admitted that he was surprised by what he found there. For some reason the kidnapper was attempting to lure the federal agents after him. Probably a trap for them then. Alfred didn't think he could let them wander in there. But what could he do? He wanted to shout out something loud and ridiculous about how it was obviously a trap— how he'd seen this episode last week, and it was certainly a trap. Peter and Neal couldn't go after them because it had been planned. He held his tongue though. The fact the child was in the other man's hands assured that pursuit would happen. It would only be seconds until Peter and the rest shot after the criminal.

His eyes glanced to the side as Neal spoke to Peter. A little flare of pride grew in his chest as he felt the selflessness of his citizen. Perhaps it was because he was relishing the feeling that he didn't realize Neal's intention to leave him behind until he was forced out of the van and Neal drove away.

Despite the swirling negative emotions, Alfred forced a smile to the front of his face. They would get out of this.

"FLASH DUN AH-OH!" He jumped forward, dashing to the bike rental and pulling out his credit card. He hummed to himself the entire time. The moment the bicycle was free, he was swinging his leg over before he began pushing the pedals frantically. "PROTECTOR OF THE UNIVERSE!"

"A hero's gotta do what he's gotta do!" Alfred shouted to himself, half his words lost in the wind as he pumped his legs frantically.

And his duty as a hero, without question, was to protect his people.

He entered the busy streets, following the feel of his citizens. He would make it in time.


Neal grunted in pain as his hair was pulled painfully. The guy had a real knack for doing things in the most painful way possible.

The artist tried to ignore the pain in his head, and instead tried to surreptitiously check to see if his "gun" was still strapped to his ankle. The slight chafing informed him it was. The rubber bullets were still in his vest pocket. He could do this.

The criminal had made a serious mistake when he had assumed that Neal would be unarmed just because he was a ward of the federal government. The guy clearly had done his homework, but perhaps that's where he went wrong. His 'educated' assumptions would be his downfall.

The criminal threw Neal to the ground harshly.

Neal gritted his teeth to avoid making a sound at the pain he felt from the rough treatment. The criminal kept his gun pointed at Neal the entire exchange, making it impossible for Neal to act conspicuously. A good thing he was well trained in the opposite.

Feigning surrender, Neal slowly slid his hands lower, slipping one into his pocket and grabbing a single rubber bullet and nestling it between his fingers and then raising his hands. From the distance the other man stood at, he wouldn't be able to see the clear bullet between Neal's fingers— That was the hopeful working theory in any case.

"Shut the fuck up and stay there," the man ordered sharply, the gun remained aimed at Neal's face. With his other hand, the criminal began digging through his pocket for his cell. Within moments, the phone was dialing.

Neal listened with keen ears as the other line picked up.

"Hello?"

Neal heard the voice on the phone very faintly. The alley was thankfully rather silent, and the walls helped echo the sound.

The criminal replied, "Yeah, I did what you asked. You were right about the agents."

"And?"

"I caught one of them! He's my hostage right now," the man said proudly.

Neal exhaled in surprise. So they knew about them, like he suspected. What that meant in the grand scheme of things, Neal didn't know.

Neal's brow furrowed. 'What does he mean? Do they know about Peter and mine's relation to Alfred? Does it have something to do with the painting and the Russians?' He thought to himself.

"Hmmm," The voice drawled, "I suppose that should work. If he's anything like I know he is, then he'll be here any time now to save your hostage."

Neal frowned at the sound of that. 'Are they talking about Peter?' He bit his lip. This didn't sound good at all. Clearly he and Peter were unknowingly involved in something bigger than they were, (as usual.) He needed to get his gun out soon and turn to tables around. He slowly sat up, making sure to keep his hands raised, despite the ache in his arms.

"Hey, I told you to not fucking move!" The man shouted, jabbing the gun towards Neal threateningly.

"I was getting sore," Neal replied in a smooth tone. "Besides, this suit is expensive, I don't want it any dirtier than it has to be." His voice was calm despite the raging adrenaline that filled his body. His persona either amused his captors, or pissed them off beyond belief. He winced. From the puce color the gun-wielding man's face was turning, he'd have to place him under the latter category.

A low chuckling came from the speaker of the phone, and the other man's fury faltered.

"What an entertaining character we have before us. I'm going to assume the one you captured was Neal Caffery, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, it was," The other man replied, looking off-put by the voice's reaction, "We don't really need the thief anymore, do we? I mean, he's already coming, right? Can I just finish this guy off?"

The former con-man's heart skipped a beat and fear flooded his system.

"Absolutely not! Have you forgotten the rest of the plan?"

"Er, well, no," the criminal was backpedaling. Neal exhaled silently in relief. It seemed that for the moment he was safe. Though, he did have to wonder what their future plans entailed.

"Good!" The voice on the phone growled, "Besides that, getting that guy angry is the last thing I would want to do on this earth. Nothing could save you from his fury."

"Seriously?" The criminal asked in blatant surprise.

"That person— no, that thing, is beyond human."

Okay, now Neal was confused again. Was the other guy really that afraid of Peter? Neal would have to be sure and tell Peter what was said about him when he was safe again; the captive had a feeling the older fed would get a kick out of it.

"Okay, I'll wait until he arrives before we start the next part," the criminal said slowly.

"Very good. Now then, the rest are closing in on you now, they will be there soon. Don't fail me."

Then the voice cut off, leaving a dial tone behind.

Neal's stomach sank as he heard those words confirming an impending appointment of ill content. He needed to act now! But the gun was still hovering over his head, it was too dangerous.

He needed a distraction, something to give him enough time to reach his ankle holster.

As if waiting for the most opportune moment, Alfred came sprinting into the room, breaking the criminal's concentration. Quick as lightning, Neal's hands flew to his gun. He unclipped it and hastily loaded the single bullet into the barrel.

He aimed the gun at the other man's head as he rose to his feet. Never had he been so grateful to have spent hours practicing rapid hand movements for pickpocketing in his life.

"I suggest you put that down," Neal said with a tense grin. His eyes flickered towards Alfred. What was he doing here? And where was Peter? The questions ran around in Neal's mind but he couldn't afford to pay them too much attention.

The criminal's eyes widened and Neal could see the cogs turning. Slowly, the other man's hand lowered from Neal's head. But instead of falling to the side, instead, the end of his barrel pointed towards the golden haired teen.

"I don't think I will." The criminal's smile grew wide as he saw the hesitation in Neal's eyes. Neal was cursing inwardly. He should have been more careful. This wasn't like the movies where just because both sides had guns that meant that one surrendered. No, this was messy life, and a game of life-or-death chicken.

"Do you think you can shoot me faster than I can shoot him?" The criminal asked, his smirk cruel.

Neal glanced towards Alfred to see how he was holding up. The teen's ashen state did nothing for Neal's confidence. 'Just keep it together for a little longer Alfred, Peter is on the way.' He willed his thoughts to reach the teen. In the meanwhile, his eyes flashed towards the man across from him.

He had really been hoping to intimidate the criminal, but he realized that the man had nerves of steel. His only edge, his element of surprise, was lost. He was on the bad end of the stick. If he held out against the criminal and the criminal decided to shoot Alfred, Neal's only hope would be to shoot the criminal first— But the bullets Neal had were only rubber. They wouldn't do enough damage to put the man out of commission, they wouldn't kill the man. Perhaps they would startle him enough that the real bullet the criminal shot missed, but he would have the ability to shoot again probably and Neal would be out of bullets. Maybe he could tackle the man, regaining the element of surprise, but could he wager Alfred's life on that chance?

He didn't think so.

"Look," Neal began, sounding far calmer than he looked, "We're both capable of dealing with things in a civilized manner— why don't you and I make a deal?"

"A deal?" The criminal looked amused, "What kind of deal?"

"I don't particularly want Alfred to get shot, nor do I want to be forced to kill you. You're much more valuable to me alive, you know," Neal spoke smoothly, "So, why don't we make an agreement? I will put my gun down, and in exchange, you won't shoot, or harm Alfred, sound fair?"

"Oh?" Criminal snorted, "And then what?"

"Then you have two hostages— just one that you can't shoot," Neal said, "You can continue with whatever plan you've been working on, and we'll behave." From what Neal had heard, Neal would be kept alive until Peter arrived. If he could get the criminal to keep Alfred alive too, then it would buy all of them some time to think their way out of this situation. He was just indescribably thankful that the criminal didn't know his bullets weren't real.

He could see the criminal begin mulling this over. Neal bit the inside of his mouth to avoid showing how much anxiety he was feeling.

"Alright," The criminal said at length. He turned his gun away from Alfred and back at Neal. "Place the gun on the floor."

Neal exhaled inwardly in relief and slowly did as the criminal said. Both of them were okay for now. If only Peter could get where they were faster.

That would—

"Thank you very much," the criminal said, "But now it's time to say goodnight."

That was all the warning Neal had before the butt of the gun cracked the back of his skull, sending his mind into the black nothingness of unconsciousness.


"Neal."

The conman grunted. The first thing he was aware of was the pain in his skull. The loud buzz that surrounded him didn't help his pain in the slightest.

"Neal!" The voice spoke more urgently.

Unhappily, Neal opened them.

He found himself lying on a gurney. The ceiling was unfamiliar and metal. Glancing around he noticed medical equipment, and slowly his brain put the pieces together.

"Am I in an ambulance?"

"Yeah."

Looking left, he noticed a weary looking Peter was the one addressing him.

"Peter," He said blankly for a moment, trying to recall what had led to him being in an ambulance, "What happened?" He asked eventually.

"Do you remember anything?"

Neal cast his mind back, groping through the pain to find the answers. His eyes widened in remembrance.

"Alfred!" Neal shot up in his bed, making his world tilt around him unsteadily. He had to bite back the nausea.

"Don't move so fast," Peter scolded lightly, readjusting the younger man's pillows.

"Alfred, he was in the alley, and then that criminal— Is he okay?"

The stony, unhappy expression on Peter's face was not what Neal wanted to see.

"He's—" Neal's voice broke, and he felt terror swell in his stomach.

"No," Peter assured him quickly, "He isn't . . . dead."

Neal was oddly glad that he wasn't the only one who had a hard time saying a sentence like that.

"At least," Peter continued, "We don't think so anyways."

"Explain," Neal said shortly.

"Mr. Jones was taken."

Neal's eyes shot towards the entrance of the ambulance where he found Alex, Alfred's large bodyguard.

"Taken?" Neal asked, stunned.

"Yes. He has been kidnapped." Alex spoke stoically, in full business mode. "We believe that it was the goal of the perpetrator from the beginning. The set-up would have needed to be very . . . elaborate to capture someone like Mr. Jones," Alex explained, "Such a feat is very difficult I assure you."

"What do you mean?" Peter asked, showing his confusion.

The bodyguard said nothing in reply; instead he asked a question of his own. "Mr. Caffery, what do you remember from the event?"

"It was a set-up," he spoke hurriedly, "They knew it was us! The fencer, the reason why he had so many sightings was because he was waiting for us. He wanted us to come to him, and then—" His breath was getting short.

"Slow down." Peter's brow furrowed. He didn't like how upset Neal was getting.

"Start at the beginning, Mr. Caffery," Alex said, ever professional. "What happened after you left the park?"

"I—" He stopped his sentence as he tried to recall everything that happened. "I tossed Alfred out of the van and then followed the guy. He was supposed to find you Peter, but I should have known better." Neal sucked in a harsh breath before exhaling and continuing. "I caught the guy going into an alley and followed. I convinced a trade, me for the girl. The perp called someone on the phone."

"Did he say anything worth mentioning?" Alex asked insistently.

"It was quiet enough that I could hear both sides of the conversation. They were definitely setting a trap for someone and I was to be the bait. I assumed it was for you Peter," Neal said, turning his eyes to his partner, "Because the person on the phone kept mentioning how they were waiting for someone to arrive and the guy seemed genuinely afraid. You're getting famous."

Peter gave a grim smile which Neal weakly returned.

Alex's dark eyes narrowed at what he heard, but he remained silent.

"I had my pistol on my ankle, so I was trying to find a way to access it so I could bluff my way out of the situation, but the guy was attentive. It wasn't until Alfred came plowing in that I was able to get my gun out and aimed at the other guy."

"Then what?" Peter queried

Neal sighed miserably. "Then, he pointed his gun at Alfred instead."

"Agh!" Peter groaned, "That's a rookie mistake Neal! The absolute first thing you do is disarm the other person."

"I tried!" Neal snapped back. "He was fast."

"Enough," Alex cut in shortly, "What happened next?"

Neal took a deep breath before beginning again. "Well, I knew that my first priority was to make sure Alfred and I stayed alive. As the situation stood, it seemed likely that one of us was going to get shot. I couldn't kill him with rubber bullets. The chance of him shooting Alfred was too high, so I tried negotiating with him."

"How?" Peter asked, his eyes shrew.

"I told him that I really had no desire to kill him, and I didn't want to see Alfred dead either. In exchange for Alfred's safety I would put my gun down."

Peter was fuming. "You willingly unarmed yourself like that?!"

"I didn't have a choice!" Neal replied shortly, "I meant to buy time until you got to us."

"It was a wise decision," Alex murmured from the side, "Any action to keep Mr. Jones alive and safe from harm is the correct one." He stated the fact simply.

"Alright," Peter sighed, "Now we need to figure out what to do next."

"I was wondering, do you think it was the Russians?" Neal asked, "I know that they wanted to eliminate him because he would authorize the painting but—"

"That is a possibility, though at this point somewhat unlikely." Alex was quick to cut them off.

"What do you mean?"

"I am not at liberty to share that information," Alex replied stiffly. "It's confidential."

Peter was about to pull out his hair. "You've got to be kidding me! We're a part of this case, surely we deserve the details. He was our charge!"

"Do not behave as though you are so entitled," Alex replied coldly. The con man recognized that they wouldn't be getting anything out of the bodyguard without significant wheedling. They didn't have the time to waste. Instead, Neal pushed forward, trying to ignore the throbbing of his bruised skull.

"Well what are we supposed to do? Do we have any leads?" Neal asked before Peter could voice his frustrations.

"Right now, I need to make some calls. We will begin working on reacquiring Mr. Jones tomorrow. For now, you need to recover— Tomorrow will be very difficult. I will not tolerate anything less than your best as we find Mr. Jones."

With those words, Alex turned on his feet and began walking away.

Neal watched him go, feeling listless.

"How's Dianne?" He asked slowly.

"She's fine. They don't think the leg muscle was damaged too badly so hopefully she'll be back on her feet in a couple months," Peter said.

"That's good," Neal murmured, distantly.

"Hey," Peter said, his tone marginally softer. "Are you okay?"

"Aside from letting a nineteen-year-old get kidnapped you mean?" Neal asked sarcastically, "I'm peachy."

"Look Neal, if I was in your situation I probably would have done the same. If it was anyone's fault then it was mine," Peter said comfortingly. "If I had just been faster, then you wouldn't have even had to make a decision like that."

When Neal looked ready to protest, Peter cut him off.

"Let's follow Alex's advice, eh?" Peter suggested. "Tomorrow we find Alfred, so you need to be in top form. Let's find an EMT to give you the go-ahead and we'll get you back home."

Neal reluctantly agreed. With his head throbbing like it was, he wouldn't be much use. He steeled his resolve and tried to focus on tomorrow.

He had to believe they could get Alfred back.

Because if not—

Neal couldn't afford to entertain that train of thought; he'd already lost too many people. He would not lose another.


The Latino bodyguard walked until he was fairly far away from the scurrying FBI agents taking pictures of the scene and analyzing the area, he pulled out his phone.

This was one call he was loathing.

Perhaps he could have asked Mr. Williams to do it . . . But he couldn't.

This was his burden for not ensuring the safety of his charge.

He deserved whatever he got.

Bracing himself, he dialed the overseas number.


Sunlight filtered through the lace curtains and into the home office of Sir Arthur Kirkland, human embodiment of the United Kingdom. The bright afternoon sun had reached its peak and would soon begin its descent. Another day come and gone. He leaned back in his office chair after he signed another paper with his flourished signature.

England couldn't find it in himself to be too upset for the day to be winding down. The paperwork was killing him. One would think that after decades of doing paperwork, England would have gotten used to the monotony and the mind-numbing legal jargon that accompanied it.

This was not the case. In fact, it seemed that the more time passed, the more unbearable it became. The situations grew lengthier and the legal systems evolved into complex and tricky spider webs. He was sick of it.

The island country longed for an era where he was free to prowl the world in naught more than his ship.

Back to an age where country borders were more like suggestions and there was no one to monitor who came and went.

Those were the days. He sighed wistfully.

He smiled lightly, well, he supposed it wasn't all bad. At least now he could make his scones and enjoy a good cup whenever he wished. (Something he rarely was able to do at his leisure when he was on a pirate ship.)

Speaking of, he imagined it to be that time.

"Ellen, I wonder if you could fetch me a cup of tea," England called into the hallway.

Upon his call, a woman of around thirty came into the room balancing a tray of tea.

"I'm ahead of you sir," She smiled as she set the tray down on a nearby coffee table, "I had a feeling you would want to break for afternoon tea soon."

"Quite correct, as usual," England commented, pleased by her efficient service. He stood and stretched before making his way towards the sitting area and seating himself on a large leather couch.

"Today we have some cinnamon scones with jam and clotted cream, a small cherry Bakewell cake and a few cucumber sandwiches." She placed the various dishes on the table before she set about pouring a cup of tea.

"Thank you, this is lovely." England sighed as he relaxed. Nothing was quite like afternoon tea.

"Oh!"

At the sound of surprise, his eyes flipped towards the startled servant.

"What is it?" He inquired.

"Nothing really, but I'm afraid your preferred cup has a small crack in it," She informed him, holding out the cup for inspection.

He frowned, taking the delicately painted teacup into his hands for inspection. Sure enough, there was a small crack along the lip.

"After so many years, I suppose it is bound to happen." He resisted the urge to frown. It was rather a favorite of his. A gift from her late majesty, Queen Victoria. There were still several remaining in the set though, he supposed.

"It will be fine for today, there is no need to get another Ellen, but afterwards, perhaps it should be tossed."

She nodded in understanding, "Yes Sir." She then proceeded to pour him a cup.

"I'll add the sugar myself," England said, "You are excused, thank you."

"Of course Sir." Ellen withdrew from the room, quietly closing the doors behind her, leaving England alone in the room with his tea.

The country picked up a scone and began adding jam to it. His thoughts strayed to something he'd heard many years ago from Japan.

According to the Asian country, cracked tea-cups were a bed omen. A disconcerted feeling spread through his body like a winter's chill. He shook his head and scoffed lightly at his idle thoughts.

"Not bloody likely." He took a bite of the scone, relishing the familiar treat.

Suddenly, his mobile rang, a most irritating song, reserved for area codes from a particular part of the world.

" Don't wanna be an American idiot.
Don't want a nation under the new mania
And can you hear the sound of hysteria?
The subliminal—
"

He smiled lightly at the sound. He placed the scone down and retrieved his mobile from his pocket before answering.

"Hello?"

"Mr. Kirkland?"

England frowned. He was rather hoping it was America calling. Nothing took his mind off work quite like the irritating man.

"Yes, this is he speaking. How may I help you today?" He replied while adding a couple sugar cubes to his earl grey tea.

"This is Alex Rodriguez, I work for Mr. Jones."

"Ah, and how is Alfred? Still a handful I imagine," England mused more to himself than to Alex as he stirred his tea. He quite liked America's most recent bodyguard.

"I'm afraid that is rather the point of this call." The man seemed to hesitate, making England frown.

"What has that twit done now? Please tell me he didn't try to move a McDonald's into the White House again." England rolled his eyes as he took a sip of tea.

"No, nothing like that." The voice was silent for a time. The pause irritated England. His very sparse free time was being cut into.

"Come out with it, what has he done? It can't have been too terr—"

"Mr. Jones has been kidnapped by unknown assailants."

The fact that the powerful country had just been cut off didn't register in his mind. The teacup slipped from England's hand, landing on the coffee table and shattering into small ceramic shards. The tea sloshed all over the table, falling off the edge and seeping into the carpet. Ellen ran into the room after hearing the sound and asked after him concernedly.

England heard none of it. His mind was blank.

No. That was impossible. America was too strong. It couldn't have been . . . the only way something that impossible could have happened was if—

"We are working at several angles at the moment, and I have much faith that he will be rescued soon. I don't mean to concern you, I just thought I should let you know—"

"Ellen, arrange my jet for departure. I'm going to America's," He ordered shortly. The woman jumped before acquiescing and scurrying out of the room, "I will be at the New York airport in approximately eight hours. Until then, you are going to tell me everything that happened. Don't leave a single detail out."

England knew his tone was fierce and harsh, but he didn't care.

". . . Very well Sir," Alex began slowly, "It began today when Mr. Jones accompanied his handlers on a case . . ."

England glanced towards the remnants of the teacup.

'I'll be there soon America,' England thought to himself, 'I promise!'


:}

Thank you for bearing all the misspells and grammatical errors. Lol, please ignore my loose logic, it's a little floaty this chapter.

More ACE next chapter!~

REview?