The op didn't sit right with Peter from the beginning. It felt too… easy. Two lost Monets were for sale on the black market, and Neal's George Devore alias was perfect as the buyer. The fence was a guy named Stevie that he'd never dealt with before, but he made contact and set up a meeting for Thursday at five.
It was a cloudy evening with rain threatening at any moment as the Municipal Utilities van parked two blocks away from the rendezvous site, a nearly abandoned office building. Jones pulled up all the nearby street cams and had them in split screen on the monitors so that he and Peter had visuals on the team. Neal was going to record audio through his watch, but it wasn't set up to have a constant open connection. They hadn't pulled his anklet because it was supposed to be an easy in and out job.
However, the famous Peter Burke gut detector was going off at DEFCON red so Diana went in as George's assistant. Jones and Peter had eyes on them from a grainy street cam at the end of the block, and they could only watch in horror as a van skidded to a stop behind Neal and Diana. Before anyone could react, a gloved hand reached out and jerked each one of them inside. It was over in less than a minute. The van tore out of the alley, scraping the side of a FedEx delivery truck as it made the escape.
All they found at the scene were partial tire tread tracks and some paint transfer on the FedEx truck. Further down the street, Neal's anklet had been tossed out after having been cut by force. No one was inside the office building. The meeting was a set up, plain and simple.
Everyone in the White Collar offices – probies, veteran agents, the Harvard crew – mobilized to check traffic cameras, to clean up the images they had of Neal and Diana being abducted, and to research the background of the fence that had been brokering the deal. People had also been assigned to the tread marks and the paint transfer. The van had been non-descript, but everyone was motivated to bring Diana and Neal back safe and sound.
It was after four in the morning when Peter quietly unlocked the front door of his home and turned off the alarm before resetting it. They weren't any closer to finding Neal and Diana, nor did they have any idea who'd taken them. All they really had was blurry street cam footage of the van going over the bridge, but they lost it after a few turns in Jersey.
Elizabeth was sitting on the couch, petting Satchmo with one hand while she cradled a coffee mug in the other. Her eyes were red and puffy, but she looked up hopefully when he stepped into the living room.
Peter shook his head, and she burst into tears, startling Satchmo. The dog woofed once and laid his head down on her thigh to comfort her once more.
"What happened?" she asked, as Peter drew her up and into his arms and closed his eyes against his own tears.
He had only called to tell her the basics earlier, that the op had been compromised and Neal and Diana were taken. Now, he didn't know that he wanted to put voice to what he knew.
"Neal and Diana were undercover. They were heading to a meeting when a van pulled up behind them. The van door opened, and they were both pulled inside so quickly that neither one had time to fight back. There was nothing we could do. They were just gone. We followed the van on the street cameras until it got into Jersey. Then, we lost it."
Elizabeth's hands were rubbing soothing circles around his back, below the holster he hadn't taken off yet. "Oh, hon. You'll find them. You and Jones and the team will find them."
That's when he pulled away, pacing a few steps toward the kitchen and then back. "Something's not right about this, El. I thought there was something off this whole time, and there's no evidence besides Neal's cut anklet without fingerprints, the van tread marks, and some paint. The van itself is non-descript, black without any tags."
She took a deep breath to steady herself and then moved into his path to stop him. "You need to get some sleep."
He was shaking his head as he stepped around her to keep pacing. "I can't. Not while Neal and Diana are still out there. God knows what's happening to them right now."
"You can't help them if you're exhausted, Peter." She got his way again and grabbed both of his hands to keep her in front of her. "Go upstairs, take a hot shower, and lay down. I'll be up in a few minutes to catch a nap with you."
"You have work-"
"I canceled my appointments for today. Just go, Peter. Try to relax."
Days went by without any new evidence in the case. Within a week, Reese had reassigned his agents and had a very difficult conversation with Peter about how he understood that finding Berrigan and Caffrey was important, to Peter and the Bureau, but that there were also white collar cases that needed to be worked. He made it clear that he was turning the evidence over to Missing Persons, as it always should have been. Peter would have to liaise with Kimberly Rice, on personal time, if he wanted to continue to take part in the investigation.
That afternoon, Peter turned in a request for time off, using all of the vacation days that he'd accrued to work on finding Diana and Neal and bringing them home.
As time passed, day-to-day life in the Burke household grew tense. Elizabeth tried to pull back the number of functions she specifically had a hand in because she knew that Peter was going to break one day, and she needed to be there when it happened. He was hardly eating or sleeping, and it was very worrisome.
Even Satchmo felt the tension and the loss of Neal, who had been a frequent visitor and playmate. He stopped eating for a while too and refused to go for walks until Elizabeth took him to the vet and had to start sneaking him doggie antidepressants in treats and rolled up slices of cheese.
When Peter got home at two a.m. for the third night in a row, Elizabeth was sitting at the table with a half-empty bottle of wine and a saran-wrapped plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. "This has got to stop, Peter."
He sucked in a breath and blew it out in an annoyed huff. "I'm so close, El. We got a possible hit on the tread and-"
"Stop! I can't do this any more. I can't sit here and wait and worry and go over all these scenarios in my mind of what's going to happen to you when you find them," her voice dropped to whisper when she added, "if you find them."
"Don't. Please, Peter. This has to stop. It's been four months."
"I won't stop looking, Elizabeth!" His vehemence was startling to the both of them. In all their years of dating and marriage, he had never raised his voice at her.
"I'm not asking you to. I'm only asking that you take a step back and deal with this in a healthier manner."
"And what do you suggest?"
"Regular meals for one thing. At least six hours of sleep a night. And spending a couple of hours a week with me where we don't talk about Diana or Neal or Kimberly Rice's competency or that damn black van."
Peter pressed his lips together and tried to think of a response to that. His heart ached for the time that had already passed when God-knows-what was happening to his team, his friends. He could barely bring himself to stop and rest, no matter how tired he felt. Whatever Neal and Diana were feeling was undoubtedly so much worse.
"I miss him too," Elizabeth said softly. "But this can't be the way that we live our lives now. I can't keep giving Satchmo pills and pretending that everything's okay when it's so clearly not."
"I'm sorry," he said, assuming that's what she wanted to hear. It was the easiest answer he could give.
She sighed, stood up and gave him a peck on the cheek. "I'm going to my sister's for a few days. I'll call you, okay?"
"Please don't go. I'm sorry, and I don't want you to go." He reached for her, but she was already slipping away, toward the door.
"We need a few days apart. I'll be back by next weekend, and then we can talk." She stopped at the foot of the stairs, where her suitcase and makeup bag were sitting, so that she could whistle for Satchmo. When he trotted over to sit by her feet, she clipped his leash on to his collar. She gave Peter a sad, tentative smile as she gathered her things and stepped out into the night.
He watched her go without saying anything more. After he heard a car start on the street and then pull away, he turned on his heel and went into the kitchen, where he dug around in the top shelf of the cabinet to find his only bottle of scotch. He poured himself two fingers, and then a whole glass, and drank it down.
Thank you for reading!