Special Agent Peter Burke was not having a good day. He'd spilled coffee on his favorite suit, he'd been involved in a fender-bender on his way to work, and his CI was incommunicado and late for the morning briefing. The stakeout they'd been on the night before had run a little long, but they'd both left the van in enough time to make it home before midnight. The briefing was at eight, and Peter had dragged his ass out of bed to get there, so Neal Caffrey had absolutely no excuses for his tardiness.
If Peter were honest with himself, he was worried. Neal was always punctual, almost to a fault. The worst part was that he wasn't answering his cell phone. It rang to voicemail every time Peter or any other member of the team, mainly Jones or Diana, tried it.
Hughes went ahead with the meeting, which consisted of little more than a report on Peter's stakeout and couple of other teams' active cases. Afterwards, both Jones and Diana followed Peter into his office. “Jones, go over to Caffrey's place. Drag his ass out of bed and get him here.”
“On it,” Jones replied. He grabbed his coat as he walked by his own desk to get to the elevators. The temperature outside had turned chilly, and rain was in the forecast for the rest of the day. The fall weather made everyone in the office a little tetchy.
“You think Caffrey just overslept, Boss?” Diana asked.
Peter considered her words and the barely concealed anxiety in them. “No, but I don't-” he admitted and was interrupted by one of the probies knocking on his half-open door.
“Agent Burke, this just came for you.” He held out an envelope with Peter's name written carefully in printed block letters.
Diana leaned over his shoulder as Peter torn open the envelope and pulled out the card that was inside. It was plain white with a URL in red typed text. “That's not ominous at all,” she commented dryly.
Peter had a bad feeling about it too but didn't say anything as he entered the address into his browser. A video feed filled the screen that was tinged in green, indicating that it was a camera equipped with night vision. It was positioned so that you could see the upper body of a person lying in what looked like a coffin. The face was in profile, but it was unmistakable.
“Neal,” Peter and Diana said in unison. They couldn't tear their eyes away from the screen, scrutinizing it for any clues as to where he was or how he'd ended up there. He wasn't moving and didn't appear to be awake. They both held their own breaths as they watched his chest to ensure that it was rising and falling. The movement was barely visible despite the near HD quality of the video.
Peter reached for his cell phone, hitting the speed dial for Neal's cell without looking. The tinny ring in his ear was echoed on the screen.
Diana could hear it too, but Neal didn't even flinch. “Boss?”
“Get Missing Persons down here. And Cyber Crimes. I want a trace on this site now.” Peter's voice was rough, and he tried not to bark orders at her. Getting worked up now would only be a hinderance.
Diana nodded once and took off out of the office, running down to the 18th floor to get Cyber Crimes started on their task.
Peter dropped into his desk chair and started making a list of anyone that would do something like this to Neal. Every few seconds, he glanced back up at the monitor to see if Neal was awake yet.
Abruptly, he remembered Neal's anklet. He paused his writing mid-word and grabbed his cell again. A perky voiced representative answered at the monitoring service, and she was more than happy to tell him that Neal was at home. Peter demanded to speak with a supervisor and had them check for tampering with the signal. Neal wasn't at June's, but it didn't look like his tracker had been cut either.
Peter glanced out the window and saw that the rain had started in earnest. The day was a bust. He wished he could go back to yesterday and have everything back to normal. Without much else to do at that moment but lament over his inability to time travel, Peter dialed his wife's cell number and wished that he had better news to share with her.
Neal woke with a steadily throbbing headache that made him feel more than a little nauseated. He opened his eyes, or thought he opened them, but all he could see was darkness. That was strange. There was usually some illumination coming through the skylight above his bed, even on moonless nights.
His cell rang and he reached for it without thought. “What the hell?” he muttered when his hand whacked something hard. The phone rang again, and his fingers brushed against it as they moved to find it once more.
“Hello?” he answered, still feeling out of sorts.
“Neal? It's Peter.” The agent's voice sounded more relieved than anything, which Neal found strange too. Something wasn't right.
“I know your voice, Peter.” Neal pulled the phone away from his ear for a moment and noticed that it wasn't lighting up. He whacked it against his other hand, but it stubbornly stayed dark. “You still there?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I'm here. Listen, Neal, I need you to stay calm okay?”
“What? Why?” He tried to sit up, but cursed when he bashed his forehead against something hard and unforgiving. Pain exploded through his head, and it took him a few minutes to breathe through it. When it died down a little, he pressed his hands to whatever it was above him. All too soon, he realized that he was laying in some kind of box with barely five inches of clearance around him, and maybe eight or nine inches above his head.
He'd dropped the phone to test the boundaries around him, but he picked it back up when he heard Peter calling his name. “Neal? Neal?! Answer me!”
“Peter? What's going on? Where am I?” His voice trembled as the reality set in. He was trapped in a very small box God-knows-where with no light and a cell phone that he couldn't remember the last time he charged.
“We don't know yet, but we're working on it. Just stay calm.” Peter's voice drifted away, and Neal could hear the bustle and murmurs of other people in the room with him, but he couldn't make any of it out.
“Peter?!” Neal called after a few moments of silence. “Don't. Don't stop talking, okay?”
“I'm right here,” Peter assured him. “I'll stay on the line. We're trying to trace it anyway.”
“Okay.” Neal nodded in the darkness and bit his lip to keep from freaking out again. Peter would find him. Peter always found him. “Okay.”
“Can you tell me anything about where you are?”
“It's dark. I can't see anything. The cell won't light up.” Neal strained his eyes but still couldn't even make out the shape of his hand holding the phone.
“Can you move?”
“Not really. There's a few inches of space around me, a little more above my head. It feels like I'm in a...” he trailed off, unable to say coffin. “It's wooden. I can feel the splintering.”
“Okay. That's good,” Peter encouraged. “Do me a favor. Wave your right hand.”
That was the oddest request he'd heard in a while, but then again this was the strangest day ever. “Why?”
“Humor me,” was Peter's only response.
Neal frowned by waved the hand dutifully. “Nothing happened.”
“We can see you, Neal.” He could hear the smile in Peter's voice and it caused him to smile too. “This is a live feed,” he commented to someone that wasn't Neal.
“I don't understand.” He said it as much to get Peter's attention back on him as he did to actually find out what that meant. Right now, Peter's familiar timbre was the only thing keeping him together.
“There's a video camera in there with you, and someone sent me a link to the feed.”
“How can you see me? It's literally pitch black in here.” Neal had never really considered what pitch black would look like, even though he'd used the phrase before. Now that he knew, the words left a sour taste in his mouth.
“Night scope. The guys in Cyber are trying to trace the IP address of the camera, but the signal's being bounced around.”
“Call Mozzie. He can get in touch with Sally.” Neal didn't mind putting Mozzie in that position. Now that they were back in New York and settling in again, maybe his best friend could rekindle his spark with the pretty hacker.
“El's calling him now,” Peter told him.
“She's worried.” That seemed to be all Peter was going to say on the subject. Something in the office got his attention and Neal tried his best to hear what was going on. After a minute, Peter spoke to him again. “Neal, there's someone here from Medical that wants to talk to you. Her name is Dr. Garcia, and you will be honest with her.”
“Sure. You know me.” He was trying to put on his usual Caffrey front, but it was frighteningly flimsy at the moment.
“That's what scares me,” Peter replied and handed the phone off.
Neal shifted uncomfortably. He already missed the connection to Peter, but he assumed this would be brief. How much could a doctor examine over the phone?
“Hi, Neal.” She had a pleasant voice that reminded him a bit of a young Ellen. He mentally pictured his surrogate mother as he listened to the doctor. “You can call me Claire, if you want. Do you remember how you got there?”
Neal tried to rewind his memories back but came up with a gaping hole between leaving his and Peter's stakeout and waking up in this godawful box. “No. The last thing I remember is getting out of a cab at June's. It was late last night.”
“Okay,” she responded, and there was a scratching sound like she was writing down his answer. “How are you feeling?”
“My head hurts. Someone must have hit me.”
“On a scale of one to ten, ten being the worst, how bad is the pain?”
“Maybe a four.” It was as honest as he could get with a guess.
“How about your chest? Are you having any pain there?”
His eyebrows drew together and he couldn't figure out why she was asking about his chest. “N-no,” he stuttered, concerned about this line of questioning.
There was a sudden noise down by his feet, and Neal raised his head instinctively, gasping as the pain doubled.
“Neal, what's going on? Are you okay?”
He squinted, trying to see what was happening, but it was futile. A moment later, water started to seep into pants leg. It was cold, and he shivered when it reached the small of his back. It was then that he realized he wasn't wearing his suit jacket. He still had on his pants, button-down shirt and black wingtips though.
“Neal?!” That was Peter's voice, and he sounded like he was somewhere between pissed off and losing his mind.
“Uh, how close are you guys to finding me?”
“We're still working on it. What's wrong?”
“There's water coming in. It's cold.” Neal's breathing accelerated as his alarm shot off the charts. “Peter, get me out of here. Please. Please get me out. Peter!” He thrashed, kicking and hitting at the wood above him, trying to break through, to break free. Guttural sounds of frustration and pain and panic filled the box.
“Neal!” Peter shouted his name over and over until Neal stilled, chest heaving. Minutes had passed but no one else existed in either of their worlds right then. “You okay?” Peter dropped his voice to a whisper when Neal carefully moved the cell back to his ear.
He let out a choked sob and shook his head. “Get me out.”
“We're working on it. I swear that I'll find you, Neal. I'll get you out.” He'd never heard helplessness bleed into someone's voice quite the way that it was into Peter's. His heart dropped.
“Don't make me any promises that you can't keep, Peter,” he chided quietly.
Peter tore his eyes away from the flat screen monitor that was running the feed from Neal's box and looked around at the team gathered in the conference room.
Besides Diana, Jones, and Hughes, many of the other White Collar agents and probies were coming and going, offering any help that they could. Several of them had left a little while ago to start a foot search at June's and expand out from there. No one expected them to come up with anything, but it was something for them to do to feel useful.
There were two guys from Cyber Crimes with their heads together at the far end of the table, attempting to trace Neal's cell signal, the malfunctioning anklet, and the website IP address.
A woman from Kimberly Rice's Missing Persons team was liaising from the conference table. She had both a laptop and the note that he'd received in front of her. She was tracking down a lead on where the card and typeface came from, but it was a long shot. The cards were sold in hundreds of stores and anyone could print on them. The typeface was unique, but not necessarily the work of a professional printing company.
Mozzie and Elizabeth were hunched together in the chairs closest to Peter's own position. Mozzie was video conferencing with Sally, who was also trying to trace all of the signals that Cyber Crimes was working with. Mozzie was helping as much as he could from his own personal laptop, and Elizabeth was keeping everyone supplied with coffee and snacks from the break room.
Peter's phone beeped, indicating another incoming call. He'd already ignored a couple of calls relating to their open cases in order to stay on the line with Neal, but this one was from a private number and he had a gut feeling about it. He told Neal to hang on for a minute and switched the call over. “Burke.”
“Ah, Agent Burke. I wasn't sure that you would answer. I'm pleased to hear your voice.” It was a man, and he sounded familiar, but Peter couldn't put a face or name to it.
“Who is this?”
“I think you have better questions to ask me. Perhaps, more pressing matters to attend to.”
Peter signaled Diana to start tracing this call, and his mind whirled with ways to keep the man on the phone. “I like to know who I'm speaking to. Humor me.”
The man laughed. “You're not in any position to be making demands, Agent Burke.”
Peter couldn't argue with that. He turned his attention toward the man on the screen in front of him. Neal had his arms wrapped around his body, and he'd started shaking. He was losing his composure, and there wasn't a damn thing Peter could do to stop it unless he got this man to help him. “Where's Neal Caffrey?”
“Not far. What's he worth to you?”
“What are you asking for?” Peter countered. He needed to know what kind of ransom they were talking about before he could even begin to think of an answer for that question.
The man laughed again, and it sounded disconcertingly sinister the second time. “So he's worth more than I imagined. That's good to know.”
“Just tell me what you want.” Peter's patience was slipping. Elizabeth stood and placed her hand on the small of his back to ground him for the moment.
“I want your watchdogs called off, and I want unobstructed passage out of the country.”
As soon as he heard those words, everything clicked into place. Walter Greenburg, Peter mouthed the name at his team. It was the same guy that they had been surveilling this last week for embezzlement and a host of other charges relating to his company Greenburg Financial. After they'd uncovered some suspiciously convenient deaths of his associates, they also suspected that he had ties with the mafia but hadn't been able to prove it.
Diana and Jones both took off for the doors. He could hear them rounding up a team in the bullpen to get over to Greenburg's house.
“Mr. Greenburg, I'm sure we can arrange something. Tell me where Caffrey is, and I'll see what I can do.” Peter knew he wouldn't go for it, but he had to make the offer.
“I'm afraid that's not good enough. Pull back your men and have a private plane waiting at JFK to take me to the extradition-free nation of my choice. When I'm in the air, I'll tell you where Caffrey is.” Greenburg had obviously thought this through. “And, Burke, I wouldn't take too long in getting that plane ready. Rain's coming down much harder than the forecast called for yesterday.”
The threat against Neal was clear, but Peter was confused by the weather reference. Before he could respond, the line went dead. Peter cursed and resisted the urge to throw the phone across the room. He had no doubt that they would get Greenburg, but Neal was in more danger with each passing second, and they had no idea where to even begin looking for him.
Elizabeth gently took the phone from Peter and moved toward the other side of the room to give him a chance to get himself under control. She took a deep breath and switched back to Neal's call. “Hey, sweetie.”
Neal had been in the middle of his best distraction technique – mentally planning an extensive heist of several his favorite paintings from the Met – when Elizabeth spoke. It was one of the most amazing sounds he'd ever heard.
“Elizabeth, hi. Is everything okay with Peter?” He wondered what the agent was doing if he'd given up the phone to his wife.
“No,” she replied honestly, “but he'll be fine as soon as you're back here.”
He frowned and worried his lip, wincing when he tasted blood. The water had creeped up until it was lapping at the back of his neck. He shivered and said, “Wish I was there now.”
When she spoke again, he could hear the tears that she was holding back, and he hated that she was the one having to talk him through this. “We all do. Promise me that you'll hang in there, Neal. We're going to find you.”
“Sure, okay.” His reply was for her benefit more than his own, and he was careful not to make the promise, convincing himself that he was agreeing only with the last sentence.
She was silent in response to his blatant disbelief. He thought he could wait it out, but the longer it lasted, the more his heart sped up.
“Elizabeth? Are you still there?” Neal desperately needed to hear someone's voice besides his own. He hated being this dependent on someone else, but right now, he didn't have a choice.
“I'm here.” She was quieter now, and he feared that he'd upset her even more.
“Would you talk to me? Tell me a story? Something, please.” He was hesitant to ask, but he couldn't help himself. He needed a new distraction.
“Did I ever tell you about the first time that Peter met my parents? He was so nervous, and my dad just sat there and silently analyzed him. It drove Peter nuts, but Dad did that to all my boyfriends. It was some sort of test that mostly scared them off. I hated it when he did that. Don't tell him I said that if you ever meet him.”
Her rambling caused him to chuckle. She'd almost made him forget that he was lying in a box that was filling with fetid water. “I wanted to meet him when your parents were in town for your birthday.”
“Peter told me. Next time, we'll have you over for dinner.”
Neal's heart stuttered. He hoped there would be a next time for him. “That would be really nice,” he all but whispered.
“Then I'll set it up.” She was determined to keep this charade going, so who was he to stop her.
Fortunately, Peter stepped in before either of them had to think of something more to say on the subject. Neal could tell that Elizabeth had taken the phone away from her ear and was talking to her husband. Their voices were distant but discernible.
Peter's voice came through the line a minute later. “Neal? You doing okay?”
“It's getting kind of cold in here,” he replied. “Any word on the calvary?”
“Sally's close to narrowing down your location.”
It didn't sound like Peter was misleading him, and Peter had a distinct tone when he was trying to con the conman, but Neal could tell that his time was running short. The water was covering his legs and lapping at his ears. “Tell her thanks for me. If this doesn't-”
“Stop. We have a lead, Neal. We're not going to leave you there.”
He closed his eyes and willed himself to believe what Peter was saying. Just in case, though, he started talking again, “Peter, this whole thing, with the anklet and the work release and the cases-”
“Neal, please. Don't do this.”
“Let me get this out, Peter.” Neal wanted to tell him how much he'd actually liked working for the FBI, how much he enjoyed bending their rules, and how genuinely satisfying it was to close a case.
“She's got it!” Mozzie jumped to his feet and pointed at his computer screen. “Sally's sending the coordinates of Neal's location. Let's go, Suit.”
“Do you hear that, Neal?” Peter spoke into the phone as he and the others headed for the door. “Sally found you. We'll be there soon.”
“Hurry,” Neal responded. “The water. It's rising.”
“We're coming,” Peter assured him just as the phone line dropped. “Damn!”
“What's wrong?” Elizabeth was so close to panicking. “Is he okay?”
“I don't know. I think his battery died.” Peter rubbed his hands over his face and took a moment to let it all sink in. Then, he turned to the team and started issuing orders. He assigned a probie to take Elizabeth and Mozzie to the hospital closest to where Neal was, as Peter was sure he'd need medical attention. Then, he got a team together, wishing that Diana and Jones were there and not halfway across town about to arrest Greenburg, and took off for the park that was practically across the street from June's. Greenburg hadn't been lying when said that Neal was close.
In the end, it took a rescue squad and most of the White Collar department volunteering to help get Neal to safety. Greenburg had paid off someone to make Neal disappear, which meant knocking him unconscious and stuffing him into a pine box that they proceeded to nail shut. A couple of breathing holes had been drilled in the box, inexplicably closer to Neal's feet than his head. It was the holes that turned out to be quite the problem. When mother nature had dumped sheets of rain on the city that day, Neal's box had been hidden in a storm drain by the river, which rapidly filled with water runoff from the streets. If Sally hadn't found him when she did, it was very likely that he would have drowned.
Neal had been bundled into an ambulance and taken directly to the hospital as soon as the box was broken open. He was physically suffering from a concussion, a case of mild hypothermia, and abrasions and bruises on his hands from pounding at the lid of the box. The ER doctor also called a psych consult, but Neal was admitted to a private room before the therapist could meet with him. He had been too agitated by the sounds and lights of the busy emergency department to keep him in the curtained cubicle for long.
The lights were dim, and the room was quiet when Peter, Elizabeth and Mozzie walked through the door. This one had come equipped with a lightly padded recliner as an overnight visitor's chair, which Neal was sitting in with his knees drawn up to his chest and several blankets wrapped around his shoulders. His head was turned so that he could look out at the view of the city and the sunset through the window.
“Hey, sweetie,” Elizabeth greeted, moving to sit in the regular plastic visitor's chair next to him before anyone else could move.
It took a minute for him to turn his head and for his eyes to focus on her, which was a testament to the drugs in his system. “Hi,” he replied as a smile slowly appeared on his face. He reached for her at the same time that she reached for him.
“How are you doing?” She cupped his cheek with one hand and adjusted his blankets with the other when she felt the chill of his skin. He wasn't nearly as warm as he should be since receiving treatment for the hypothermia.
Peter cleared his throat and held up the IV that was leaking clear fluid onto the tile floor. Neal must have pulled it after the nurses got him settled and left him alone.
“Oops,” was all he could say when he saw what Peter had.
The agent just shook his head and pressed the nurse call button on the bed rail. He also accidentally hit the power button for the TV, which popped on to some children's cartoon that was both loud and flashy.
Neal cried out and his arms came up to cover his head as he pressed his face into Elizabeth's chest. Both Peter and Mozzie scrambled to get the TV off. Mozzie even went so far as to jump and try to reach the unit itself, which hung on the wall several inches above his head.
Elizabeth frowned at her husband as she wrapped an arm around Neal and held him close. She noticed that his hand was still bleeding where he'd pulled the IV, but she was more concerned with calming him. “It's okay, Neal. Peter was just being clumsy. Everything's okay now.” She murmured soothing words until Neal uncurled a little bit and moved to rest his head on her shoulder.
Peter kneeled in front of him and squeezed Neal's sock-covered foot. “You okay?”
Neal forced a smile that he clearly didn't feel. “I'm fine. When can I get out of here?”
“I'm afraid that's yet to be determined,” a nurse said from the doorway. She was young and pretty, and she wore a pair of rimless glasses and a nametag with Cindy written on it. “Mr. Caffrey, you should be in bed.”
“Neal,” he corrected, preferring to be called by his first name. “I wanted to see the city.”
Cindy had obviously been brought up to speed on Neal's ordeal as she only nodded and moved to the IV stand to get it situated. She also opened several drawers of a nearby cabinet, gathering items that they couldn't quite see in the faint light of the room. Neal flinched when one of the drawers slammed shut by accident.
“Can we move the bed closer to the window?” Peter asked, getting up so that he was out of the way when she pulled the IV stand closer to Neal's chair.
The nurse nodded. “I'll have a couple of orderlies come in to make the arrangements. We'll be hooking Neal up to some monitoring equipment during the night so that we can keep track of his vitals out at the nurses' station. We'll need the equipment to be moved too.”
“I'm okay here,” Neal interjected into the conversation that was about him but didn't include him.
Cindy smiled softly as she cleaned the wound on his left hand and placed a bandaid on it. “You'll be more comfortable in the bed.”
“I'm staying here.” Neal stood firm. He didn't want to lay down. He didn't want to be in the bed. And he most certainly didn't want anyone telling him what to do.
“Neal!” Peter's sharp tone made Neal cringe, and the agent regretted it immediately. It had been a long day for all of them, and he had to remember that when dealing with his consultant and friend. Neal was only trying to come to terms with it too and taking control of a situation that he could in fact control was one way to do that.
“No. I'm not getting into that bed. You can't make me.” Neal hoped he didn't sound as petulant as he felt. This argument was ridiculous, but he couldn't give it up.
Cindy moved to stand between the two men. “Calm down. Both of you.”
They were both silent long enough that the nurse went back to work, inserting the IV needle into Neal's right hand. “Leave this one in, please. The saline's warmed to help raise your body temperature, okay?”
He frowned, flexing his hand around the needle. He didn't like it. The needle and tape were both itchy and uncomfortable.
“Okay,” he mumbled. The fight left him as exhaustion tugged on his consciousness, but he wasn't ready to give in to sleep yet. He laid his head back on Elizabeth's shoulder, taking comfort in her proximity and the familiar scent of her perfume.
Elizabeth looked to the nurse for help, and Cindy only smiled. She mouthed the word 'sedative' as she gently picked up Neal's wrist to take his pulse.
Peter waited until Cindy crossed the room to straighten Neal's sheets before he asked, “How's he really doing?”
“Physically, he'll be fine. We're keeping an eye out for complications like pneumonia, but the hypothermia threat has passed. Mentally, though, I think he'll need some time and therapy.”
He nodded and looked back over at his wife and friend. They were still sitting in the same positions, but Elizabeth was talking quietly to Neal, who had his eyes closed. Peter approached them, making enough noise so he wouldn't startle Neal when he placed a hand on the younger man's knee. He considered his words carefully before asking, “Neal, don't you think it's time to get back in bed?”
“I'm so tired,” Neal whispered, barely opening his eyes.
“I know,” Peter said, slipping a hand under his friend's arm and carefully pulling him up. He kept a tight grip as Neal wobbled on his feet.
“It's okay,” Elizabeth said, supporting Neal's other side. “You need some rest. We'll be here all night.”
Neal nodded as they sat him on the bed. There were a lot of hands on him then, and he let them settle him into the bed. The sheets were cold but for a minute, but then several blankets were piled on top of him, chasing away the chill.
Cindy quickly attached the electrodes to monitor his heart rate and clipped a pulse oximeter to his left index finger. She checked the monitors and then headed for the door. “I'll be back to check on him later. You're all cleared to stay the night, if you want.”
“We'll be here,” Elizabeth said firmly, and both Peter and Mozzie nodded in agreement.
It only took a few minutes for them to spread out and find comfortable places for the night. Mozzie was in the corner near the door, watching over Neal in his own way and texting with Sally on the sly. Elizabeth had taken Neal's recliner and was using Peter's jacket as a blanket, and Peter himself had pulled a chair close to Neal's bed and alternated between watching the monitors and watching Neal sleep.
Neal wasn't the best of patients, and Peter knew from his prison records that Neal hated talking to psychiatrists, so the next day was going to be an uphill fight. He had no doubt that Neal would get through this, and that all of his friends would help in any way that they could, but it was going to take time and patience.
Thanks for reading!