Neal was missing! This didn't happen very often but it always gave him heartburn. Either the younger man was in trouble, or he was going to be!
Running a hand down his face as he stood staring out of his office window, Peter wasn't getting any insight from the city lights. It had been two days since his consultant disappeared after their operation concluded. Peter hadn't gotten the anklet back on him yet so it was theorized that the man had run. There hadn't been any clues to support any other theory.
Sighing, Peter was torn about what he wanted. It wouldn't be good for Neal either way. Either Neal was in danger and possibly being hurt by captors, or he'd run and would face life in prison when he was caught. As the agent who had caught him two-to-nothing, Peter knew he would find his friend. Peter didn't want his friend hurt, but life behind bars would be a waste of his skills and intelligence. Neal wasn't a world-renowned con man for nothing!
Why hadn't they been able to find anything? Peter's gut was churning with anxious worry and he couldn't get past his instinct that something was very wrong!
The clock kept ticking until Peter had to shut his office down and go home. It was the end of the critical and initial forty-eight hours. He'd been reluctant to leave with the rest. It felt like he was giving up.
Pausing before he turned off the light, Peter hoped he wasn't ending his partnership with his best friend. But, with nothing to go on, he didn't have a choice.
After another couple of days, Mozzie came through with a lead! Although his source was questionable, it was the only lead they'd gotten, so the team pursued.
The man was a wily one with odd habits. As Peter read through the notes, he wondered if this was a legitimate lead or not, but his gut agreed with Mozzie and not his mind.
First, the man was usually seen with a dollhouse or a small travel cage that he kept covered. Who kept their pets in a dollhouse? What kind of animal was it anyway?
Second, he seemed to like spiders. If he wasn't carrying his pet, he was using jars to trap spiders and other bugs in alleys. The bigger the better the spider seemed to be his motto, and poisonous was welcome too. Did he use the bugs and spiders to feed his pet?
Looking for an in, the team decided to research his mysterious pet but couldn't confirm what it might be. A lot of things eat spiders it turned out, and many of them were also small. Besides, he might not use them to feed his pet. For all they knew, he released them elsewhere or gave them away. Maybe he kept spiders as pets and fed them the bugs?
At loose ends, Peter was grateful when Mozzie once again came through for them!
In his desperation to get his friend back, Mozzie was functioning as something of a CI himself. Neal's safety was about the only reason his co-conspirator would darken the doors of the FBI. Unlike Neal, Mozzie was still a fully active criminal and avoided interacting with law enforcement.
Going underground into the criminal element, Mozzie was able to confirm their suspect's guilt in acquiring stolen merchandise. It was enough to get a warrant!
Entering the premises, Peter kept his gun up and ready with the others. They needed to catch this guy and find Neal. He kept his eyes open and tried to keep his focus off of his emotions and on his environment.
The place was an old loft complete with elevator and crumbling bricks. There was the dollhouse and cage set on a table, a mattress on the floor, and a few cluttered items indicating a temporary residence.
Some agents reported finding mazes and the jars of bugs in the next room. He didn't pay those discoveries much mind beyond the possible solutions to his curiosity. Finding Neal was more important.
Suddenly, a false pillar opened up and a man lunged at him knocking Peter off guard. He tried to respond, but the man had timed his advantage well. He wasn't their suspect, rather the goon left to deal with trespassers. The other team was tailing their suspect on his spider hunt. They were to find Neal or evidence of his captivity while their suspect was distracted.
While he grappled with the man, Peter could have sworn he saw Neal in the dollhouse. Looking closer when he'd defeated his opponent, Peter was shocked to see a tiny Neal pointing towards his foe. Ducking, Peter avoided the blow and resumed the fight with vigor.
What had these people done to Neal?
When he was the victor again and his opponent had been cuffed, Peter turned to the dollhouse again.
Checking it over, he found that it had tiny vents for air, but most of it was locked up tight from the outside. Finding the latch, he carefully swung the house apart.
Inside, there were running lights and it seemed to be a fully functioning house in miniature. Finding his target in the bedroom, Neal was standing shyly by the bed.
Looking him over, Peter estimated him to be between three and four inches tall. He was wearing what looked like doll clothes for a tee-shirt and shorts. His feet were bare and his hair hung messily around his face where he had a scruff from the lack of shaving.
"Neal?" Peter couldn't believe what he was seeing!
Waving at him, Neal acknowledged that he could hear him, but when he talked, Peter couldn't understand him. Neal wasn't loud enough.
Putting a finger up, Peter signaled Neal to wait for a second while Jones and Diana approached. His agents had been handling the scene.
"There's no sign of Caffrey here, boss," Jones said sadly. They'd all been hoping.
"What's with the dollhouse anyway?" Diana asked curiously indicating the open thing in front of him. It had made them all curious so she wanted what answers they could get for their troubles.
Putting his hand out flat, Peter directed Neal to climb on before carefully lifting him out for the others to see. As strange as it was to the others, Peter felt weird holding his consultant while the rest stared in shock.
Neal's feet were small and cold as he walked across his palm while his small hands held onto his thumb for a stabilizer. He stumbled and leaned heavily into Peter's thumb while Peter brought his other hand up just in case Neal fell off and needed to be caught. Fortunately, Neal was able to regain his balance and didn't need the extra assistance.
Sitting down, Neal looked startled and paler than usual. He was generally handling his situation well, but it was obviously a strain on his nerves.
"What happened to him?" Diana exclaimed while Jones stared in wide-eyed wonder.
Looking to Neal, Peter wondered if they would be able to hear his response. The answer was not clearly, they could tell Neal was talking, but they couldn't hear enough to understand him.
"I'm going to try something, hold on Neal," Peter instructed and when Neal had a good hold on his thumb he started lifting. Slowly, he raised Neal towards his ear to see if he could hear him. Maybe being higher would help the others hear him too?
"Can you hear me now?" Neal yelled in his ear.
"I could hear you before, now I can understand you. What do you remember?" Peter asked. It was weird, but at least he could understand Neal.
"We were at the bust and I moved outside to be out of the way. They must have gotten the drop on me or something because my next memory was being chained in a cell. Once I was conscious, they must have used one of his toys to drug me because I passed out without knowing why. When I woke up again I was in the dollhouse here."
Peter could imagine Neal shrugging or giving him a neutral rundown on a case as he'd done in the past, but he had no idea how Neal actually looked. This wasn't a normal case.
Shivering, Peter couldn't imagine what it must have felt like to discover that he was miniature and in a dollhouse. How was Neal keeping his voice so steady?
"Whoa," Jones reached out and helped Neal. "Your hand shook when you shuddered, he nearly fell off." Jones then explained.
Apologizing, Peter lowered Neal to where he could stand on his own in front of them.
Back by the dollhouse, Neal looked nervously around him. Maybe there was something more to its seemingly innocent appearance?
"How can we talk with him without lifting him around?" Peter was puzzled for a moment before he snapped his fingers. Yelling to the team in general, he ordered, "A bug, does anyone have a bug?"
While his agents gather the needed equipment, he turned back towards Neal. His consultant had his hands over his ears and was even paler than before. Frowning, he almost asked what was wrong, but if his voice was too loud then he would need to moderate his volume first. Speaking more normally, Peter asked, "Was I too loud for you?"
Nodding his head, Neal lowered his hands and sat down. Then he leaned forwards onto his palms while resting into his knees.
Reaching out slowly, Peter put his hand to Neal's back. He could feel the Velcro that held his shirt together and how loose the shirt was on Neal, but it was the shaking that worried him more. Neal seemed a little cold but mostly just stressed. Using his other hand, Peter pulled out a clean handkerchief. It would be like a big blanket on Neal, but maybe it was better than the blanket he'd been captive with? Holding it up, he offered it to Neal, "It's clean."
Looking up, Neal made a face at first but accepted it after a moment.
Lifting his other hand, Peter helped Neal wrap it around him like a large security blanket. Then he put his hand against Neal's back again. This time he was rewarded with Neal leaning back into him for comfort. Shifting his thumb slightly, he tried to offer the extra touch to see if it helped.
Waiting, it was only a few minutes longer before Price ran up holding a bug and a radio. With the work being handled by other agents, they had re-tasked a system for talking to Neal. After passing the supplies to Peter, Price stepped back before going to help the rest of the agents in handling the situation.
Handing the bug to Neal, Peter set the radio so that he and the others would be able to hear.
"How's this?" Neal kept it simple and short.
It was like talking to a subdued Neal, he spoke more softly and quietly than usual. Whether that was a result of what he'd been through or because of his size and their means of talking could be debated. "We can hear you, Neal. Are you okay, besides the obvious?"
"I'm not hurt, but that's not for his lack of trying. He seemed to think it was funny to see how much danger he could put me in that I could survive. Being small, it wasn't hard for him. He built traps, unleashed bugs, and even toys can be hazardous at this size. I almost got run over by a large toy fire truck!" Neal's voice had a quiver that some of it left other scars than physical, but he tried to let his anger be dominant. He wasn't an experimental plaything!
"Bugs?" Peter questioned. What did the man do with bugs? Did that have anything to do with his spider collection and the maze in the other room? He hoped not!
"Whatever bugs he could catch. He'd found a way to control them so they'd be the 'monsters' of his realm. Most were trained to attack and, being so small, what would be painful in normal circumstances could remove a limb with the big ones. The little ones weren't something to laugh at either." He shuddered and moved closer to Peter's hand for protection.
"Did he use spiders for any of that?" Peter didn't want to know, but it mattered so he needed to know.
Wrapping the handkerchief around himself tighter, Neal leaned into his fingers. "Those were the worst! He loves spiders and it doesn't help that he could get them easily in large numbers, they were often big, and some were poisonous!"
Peter fisted his hand around the radio and by habit lowered his face to hide the horror in his eyes. He forgot that Neal could see. At least he remembered not to move the hand Neal leaned on. It would be so easy to hurt him at this size!
"They didn't bite me, being a slippery con has its advantages," Neal spoke through the radio to comfort him.
Frowning at Neal, Peter asked, "Did he know who you are?" It sounded like Neal was repeating something he'd heard. The way he spoke of himself as a slippery con came out derogatory and insulting.
"Enough to tell me I'm nothing but a criminal that no one would miss. He seemed to think he was doing me a favor, that a gladiator's death was better than prison. He didn't know me well enough to know I don't live in prison." There was disgust to his voice, and it bothered Peter.
"Or that you would be missed. You're not just some con, you're our friend. We may have been at loose ends until Mozzie heard the rumors about this guy, but we were looking." Peter reminded Neal that he had people who cared, people who wanted him around. "Mozzie even came in as an unofficial CI to make sure we had everything we needed to find you."
"So, those wanted posters were for show? He brought one in." Neal turned his head away so Peter didn't catch whatever else he said.
Sighing, it wasn't like Peter could ruffle his hair and joke that he might have run; this was more sensitive than usual. "After twenty-four hours with no lead I wasn't able to hold it off with proof, we were required to put up roadblocks and wanted posters in case you'd run. It isn't like they do any good should you run, but it made the bosses happier. I only hoped you'd run because it meant something like this wasn't happening. We don't want you behind bars or on the run, but you being hurt or killed could be a far worse outcome." Rubbing his thumb on Neal's hair, he tried to reassure himself. "This hadn't even crossed my mind as a worst-case scenario. But, there were plenty of other things to fear." Sitting the radio down, he ran his hand over his face and tried to wipe the images passing through his mind away. His worst fears, only happening to a tiny and helpless Neal.
A tiny but hard pinch to his finger made him jump and pull his hand back from Neal. Had he hurt him? Dropping his other hand to see Neal, Peter saw him point towards the activities behind him. They were clearing out to return to the office. Checking his phone, Peter had a missed call from Hughes so he'd called Jones.
"We're supposed to bring Neal to the office, the dollhouse is fully functioning and his size so we're to bring it and have it searched before using it for Neal, otherwise teams will continue searching for evidence." Jones relayed the orders.
Nodding, Peter turned back to Neal. How to transport him safely?
"Maybe your breast pocket? It's small but if he fits it would be safer than carrying him." Diana suggested from behind him.
Looking to Neal for permission, Peter then put his hand out flat at Neal's nod with a raised thumb to give him support. Then once Neal had stepped on wrapped in his handkerchief, Peter lifted him up to where he could reach his pocket. Opening it, he made it as easy as possible for Neal to crouch in. It wasn't spacious, but Neal fit well enough to be safe. Handing him the bug, Peter got up with the radio and had Jones grab the house.