sam_storyteller: (White Collar)
sam_storyteller ([personal profile] sam_storyteller) wrote2005-07-20 05:27 am

Never Leave A Trace 3/3

Title: Never Leave A Trace
Summary: Neal Caffrey can steal souls. Peter Burke has two shadows. Everything's normal...except when it isn't.

Part Two


When Neal was born, in an overcrowded charity ward on Chicago's south side, his mother had already chosen his name: Niall. Niall was a king of Ireland, the cast-off fifth son of the king by a second wife. Neal's mother had been something of a romantic, and he knew she'd felt it fitting for the son her married boyfriend wouldn't admit was his. Niall, youngest son, unwanted by his father, father himself of twenty-six generations of Irish kings.

Niall Caffrey was what it said on his birth certificate, but there was some kind of problem with the spelling on his vaccination records. It was easier to enter him into school as Neal, the name on his medical file and his social security card. He was arrested and tried and convicted under the name Neal, as if the rightful spelling of his name was simply an embarrassing error on a slip of paper he didn't even know the location of anymore. If he needed a birth certificate for whatever reason, he just forged one, and it was easier to put Neal and save himself some time. Or to put some other name entirely.

Nobody living knew his name was Niall. Kate had; he'd told her the story, but Kate had been discreet and now was dead. He'd suspect Peter of knowing, but if Peter had known he would have insisted Neal's records be changed, that he be tried under his real name. Most of the time it didn't even occur to him to think about it. He'd been called Neal his whole life.

Niall was his last line of defense, the place he went when he had no other resource left. It had got him through the first few weeks in New York as a teen, a really bad bout with pneumonia about a year before Peter caught him, a couple of hard times in prison, and through Kate's death a year after he got out on work-release. Niall wasn't strong, but if he went there then Neal could be a shield, when his other defenses failed him.

He spent the day thinking about that. There wasn't much else to do on the ward.

Around eleven at night, just after bed check, Gutierrez edged along the wall and appeared at Neal's bedside with a grin. Neal didn't ask how he'd got there, just grinned and gripped his hand tightly when Gutierrez took it.

"Man, you look like shit," Gutierrez said. "Sure you're up to this?"

"It looks worse than it is," Neal answered. He'd been consciously letting go of his throat all afternoon, willing the rawness to fade. "Listen, though, there's a problem."

"Isn't there always?" Gutierrez asked.

"I promised my guard I wouldn't touch Keller. I can't put a hand on him."

"Make me do all the hard work, I see how it is," Gutierrez teased. He pulled up a chair like he was just settling in for a visit instead of an unauthorized break-in.

"Do we actually know what we're doing?" Neal asked. It had gnawed at him, the sense that they were about to perform a fairly complex task with absolutely no plan whatsoever.

"I got a few ideas," Gutierrez said. He pulled up his sleeve to show Neal a tattoo on his arm -- new, the skin red and angry, the ink starkly black.

"That's pretty permanent for a one-time party," Neal said.

"Big party," Gutierrez answered, rolling his sleeve back down. "You think Keller can get out of seg?"

"As long as he knows I'm here," Neal said.

"Pretty sure he knows."

"Wouldn't surprise me," Neal answered, and scrubbed his face with his hands. "So, no plan? No divine wisdom from God?"

"God thinks I'm a fucking idiot," Gutierrez replied. Neal laughed. "We can do it. Let Keller make the first move."

"Can't steal first base," Neal murmured in agreement. "Gutierrez. You ever exorcised an entire prison before?"

"I've never done an exorcism at all before," Gutierrez replied. "Hell, man, I was an atheist when I was sent inside. But if it gets rid of Keller, I'm for it. You think he's possessing the place?"

"You got a better idea?"

Gutierrez shook his head. "Nothing comes to mind."

"Okay then," Neal said, and settled in to wait. "We'll make it up as we go along."


Peter was alone in the guard captain's office -- warrant in his pocket, lockpicks raking away at the pins in the top locked desk drawer -- when the power went out.

The office was dark, and he was trying to play it as low-profile as possible, but he could see the crack of light under the door die, and he heard the sharp whirr of the captain's computer powering down. There were exclamations from the guards on break. Peter waited, unmoving, for the emergency backup generator to kick in. Most of the locks weren't electronic, and those that were had failsafes that auto-bolted when the power died, but a prison was a micro-community, and a power outage was not only a major inconvenience but a safety hazard for everyone.

Nothing happened. No blink of light under the door, no sign that the generators even existed. Peter had a decision to make: join the squads that were mustering (they would know if he didn't show up) or get the ledger and try to either hide it somewhere or get it out to Jones.

He worked frantically at the lock as the shouts outside increased. Stupid fiddly little things, small simple locks were sometimes harder than big complex ones, and his skills were rusty...

There was a click that sounded overly loud in the quiet dark room, and Peter sighed in relief. He tugged the drawer open, rifled blindly through the office supplies it contained, found nothing big enough, and took out his flashlight, holding it inside the hollow where the drawer had been. He shone it down into the second drawer, lifting up a file folder, a book on prison management, a half-empty flask bottle of scotch --

There. A plain cheap accounting book, no title or name on the outside. He opened it with the very tips of his fingers and hit the jackpot.

Inside were scrawled columns of accounts, debits and credits, names, times, divided overages, payments in cash to prison suppliers, and on the inside cover a list of what had to be shell companies the prison was making deposits to. They couldn't have done better if they'd gift-wrapped it for him.

He pulled an evidence bag out of his pocket, slid it up over the ledger, and sealed it, scrawling his initials and date on the seal out of habit. The noise outside now was approaching riot levels, and Peter tucked the slim book up under his stab vest, securing it with one folded edge of the bag hooked over a shirt button. Too late now to make a run out to the guardhouse and pass it to Jones.

He slipped out of the captain's office into an empty breakroom and ran for the yard, the shouts of prisoners clanging in his ears. There was no reason for them to riot, and no particular reason the guards should feel unsafe, but prisoners would take any excuse to make some noise. The monitor cameras were out, there were no corridor lights, and some of the blocks had to be plunged into deep darkness. Without any electricity, some of the infirmary patients might --


Peter skidded to a stop. Neal was in the infirmary. The lights were out. Keller had it in for Neal and Peter had heard murmurs that he thought were just hyperbole, metaphor, exaggeration, about how Matthew Keller couldn't be caught, how Peter was the only guard who'd ever managed to hit him.

With the lights out, the cell doors were shut but the block doors were open. Including the block doors to the isolated seg cells.

He turned sharply and sprinted back down the hall, one hand on his vest to keep the ledger secure, following the fastest route to the infirmary. If Keller got out, Neal would be next to defenseless. If he had to, he'd take Neal out now, haul him out under the cover of darkness, and damn the release paperwork.

As he barreled down the corridor towards the open, gaping infirmary doors, someone began to scream.


When the lights went out, right around midnight, Neal sat up further in the bed. He couldn't leave it -- the orderly's bindings were in place -- but there should be no reason he'd have to. He couldn't touch Keller, he'd promised Peter, and there was no point in running from him. After all, the whole idea of Neal going into the infirmary was to lure Keller into a neutral place.

"How's your mojo?" he asked Gutierrez, as their eyes adjusted. The infirmary had merely been dark, dimly lit; now, with the office and hallway lights off, it was pitch black. Neal imagined he could feel his pupils dilating.

"Not this good," Gutierrez answered in the darkness, and there was the sound of a chair scraping backwards. "Got a light?" he asked, humorlessly.

"Don't look at me," Neal said, and Gutierrez laughed. "Pun unintentional."

"It's fine," Gutierrez said. "Hey, don't suppose you could call your amante, huh?"

Neal closed his eyes. There was a hum of power rising, most of it normally obscured by the electric lights and machines, now a loud whine in the darkness. It was hard to push through the thick, cloying air to find Peter, but he managed; Peter was crouched behind a desk in the guard captain's office, his emotions spiking high on triumph and concern. Must've found something, then.

"With the power out they'll be squadding in the yard," Neal said. "They'll get guards here eventually. Not soon enough, and no guarantee it'll be him."

"Just us, then," Gutierrez said. "Keller better show himself."

"This is nice," said a third voice, and Neal widened his eyes, for all the good it would do him. Keller's voice, the nasal twang unmistakable. "Very literary. Big showdown," he added, sarcastic. Neal heard him snap his fingers, and the lamp above them exploded in sparks that scattered around the floor and kept burning long after they should have winked out. Keller stood in their shattered-glass glow, arms crossed, looking smug. "Hiya, Neal."

"Keller," Neal growled. Gutierrez was moving, subtly, putting himself between Neal and Keller. Keller waved a hand and the little shards of light flared bright. Gutierrez froze.

"You always were afraid of taking power," Keller said to Neal. "You," he added to Gutierrez, "you, I don't know."

"Leonel Gutierrez," he replied.

"Aha. The saint who talks to God," Keller replied.

"No saints in prison," Gutierrez murmured.

"Nice scam you're running with this one, Neal," Keller added.

"It's not a scam. If it were, it wouldn't be mine," Neal answered warily. "Why'd you come, Keller?"

"I got word you're gunning for me. Which is okay, I'm gunning for you, too. Now we could be civilized about this; we ain't in the same block. No reason to go messing each other up."

"Except you poison the food," Gutierrez said.

"You keep out of this."

"It's my food too."

Keller glared at him; Gutierrez stood his ground.

"It's true, though," Neal said. "You stop rotting the fruit, Keller, and we can talk about this."

"Fuck you, Caffrey," Keller snarled.

Neal sighed, as if this could not be more tedious, even as he was filing Keller's defensiveness away in his mind -- he didn't think the man could control the power he had, didn't think Keller could stop if he wanted to. Which made it the perfect taunt. "Keller, what do you get out of it? What do you want?"

"I want you to get out of bed and face me like a fucking man!" Keller yelled. Neal felt a jolt of something, some sharp strong emotion, and identified it as Peter.

"Gutierrez?" he said.

"Yeah?" Gutierrez answered.

"Mi amante viene de prisa."

"I'm not gonna warn you again, Neal," Keller said, and uncrossed his arms. He raised his left hand and the little glowing shards of very sharp glass lifted up off the floor. The light shifted over Keller's face as they rose, and Neal reached for the heavy bottle of disinfectant on the table next to his bed.

Before he could throw it, before Keller could make another move, Gutierrez charged forward, darting around one of the little glowing shards, and shoved bodily into Keller. The impact pushed him back into some of the glass and tumbled both of them to the ground. Keller screamed in pain. Gutierrez pinned him with his knees across Keller's shoulders and got his hands flat on the linoleum floor.

"In the name of God I cast you out," Gutierrez said. "In the name of God I cast you out!"

"Exorcism?" Keller demanded breathlessly, screaming again when Gutierrez ground him down into the glass shards. "Seriously, you think I'm possessed?"

Neal struggled against the restraints, trying to see clearly what was going on.

"No," Gutierrez said. "We're exorcising you from the prison. You are the evil. In the name of God, I cast you out -- "

A third scream was cut off by a new voice. Peter, bellowing Neal's name as he burst into the ward, distracted both Neal and Gutierrez for just long enough. Keller flipped the smaller, older man off his shoulders with a manic twist, rolling through glass to his feet while Gutierrez gasped for breath, the wind knocked out of him. Keller turned to face the new threat; Peter's baton was already in his hand, almost two feet of wicked black steel alloy, cocked at an angle from his body.

"Hands up, Keller," Peter barked. Behind Keller, Gutierrez was struggling to get upright.

"Duck!" Neal yelled, because a smug grin was crossing Keller's face as he raised his hands. The glowing glass shards orbiting around him lifted in sync with his hands and when Keller twisted a little they hurled themselves at Peter. Gutierrez grunted and moaned as one passed right through his half-prone body.

Peter didn't duck, didn't move at all. A dozen pinpricks of light should have shredded him to nothing, but as Neal watched each of them winked out a few inches from Peter's body. Peter's body, which was dim and grey -- protected by the shadow.

Gutierrez saw his chance and lunged, but this time his arms passed right through Keller's throat. Neal made a frustrated, aggressive noise and tried to roll out of the bed again, but it held him fast.

Keller and Peter were circling each other now, the room dimmed almost to darkness, only a few shards of glass still lit.

"Mijo, I don't think the classics are going to work," Gutierrez called, without taking his eyes off Keller. "If you wanted to come up with a plan now would be a really good time."

"I'll let you know," Neal answered. "Peter, be careful -- "

Peter swung and managed a hit on Keller's upper arm; Keller swore and danced backwards, cradling it against his chest. Peter grinned, teeth bared. Neal leaned out over the bed, reaching -- he could almost touch one of the madly vibrating shards of glass --

"Give up now, Keller," Peter insisted, as if this was an ordinary out-of-bounds prisoner recapture. Neal was so close to the glass, but it slipped through his fingers, leaving them bloody.

"Your boys came after me first," Keller snarled back. "This is between me and them."

"That's not what it looked like when you went after Neal," Peter said, and swung again. The baton passed through part of Keller's chest and lodged there; Neal watched, horrified, as Keller jerked his body back and took Peter, still holding the baton, with him. There was no blood, and it didn't look like there was any pain. Peter wouldn't let go of the baton, but he telescoped it in, shoving it so that the blunt ends of the segments slammed into Keller's body. Keller staggered, right into Gutierrez, who caught him in a bear hug. Neal struggled harder and finally one of the shards danced right into his fingers; he brought it down in a slash, cutting the bed open, and threw his body sideways, tumbling to the ground.

Gutierrez was struggling with Keller. Peter kept trying to get a hand on him, but his fists passed straight through Keller every time. Neal ran forward, through broken glass, and bent in a swift motion to grasp at Peter's second shadow. The blood on his hand caught it, tugged it free; he yelled, "Gutierrez!" and shoved it into one open, grasping hand. Peter stiffened and his whole body jerked; Gutierrez caught the shadow and pulled it up, across Keller's face like he wanted to smother him.

Neal became aware of the pain in his hand, the slick blood under his feet, and of a ringing silence in the room. Peter grasped the baton again and yanked up, hard; it jerked through Keller's ribcage. Keller screamed against the shadow on his face as Gutierrez pulled it tight against his mouth, over his head. They went backwards together and when Keller hit the ground he shattered into a million pieces.

White crystals scattered over Gutierrez's legs, over Peter's shoes, bounced off Neal's bare ankles. Glass and salt poured down. Gutierrez scrambled away, horror on his face, and thrust the shadow up, into Peter's chest. Peter gasped on a long inhale and then bent over, dry hacking coughs shaking his body. He dropped to his knees in the middle of the white spray on the floor, doubled over. All Neal could hear were Gutierrez's harsh breaths and Peter's choking gasps.

He crouched, shuffling forward a little, and held tightly to Peter's chest until the wracking coughs had passed.

One by one, the corridor lights flickered back to life.


Gutierrez had a hole in his side that needed stitches and a dozen shallow cuts in his legs, and they said he was dangerously dehydrated. Neal watched them run an IV into his arm, while one of the orderlies bandaged Neal's feet and fingers and another quietly, without comment, swept the glass and salt into a dustpan. Peter, once he'd stopped coughing, had all but thrown Neal back onto his bed and then helped Gutierrez out from the minefield of broken glass. He'd left his baton lying in the middle of the mess, ripped off his radio belt with something like terror, and run out of the infirmary. Neal could feel him now, walking back down the road from the guardhouse at the prison walls, a heavy exhaustion weighing on his shoulders but the ledger finally in safe hands.

"That was interesting," Gutierrez said conversationally, from the next bed over. Neal laughed. "I think we won."

"Yeah, I think so," Neal agreed. The orderlies carefully ignored them.

"You getting out of here now, Suicide?"

Neal nodded. "Tell Noel goodbye for me."

"Ah man, he knew he wouldn't see you again. He said to tell you he'd find you on the outside."

"Good," Neal said. He glanced at Gutierrez. "You'll be okay?"

"Oh, yeah, no problem here. Couple of days of Club Med Ward, I'll be good. Hey, have a beer for me on the outside."

Neal grinned. "Sure. You know anytime you want to leave, say the word."

"After this? I'll be like a national hero or something. Hell, I can't wait to have a banana that doesn't taste like it fermented on the boat ride over."

Neal looked up as Peter elbowed his way through the door. The lines on his face looked deeper than usual; he seemed about twenty years older, but he stopped at Gutierrez's bed and spoke softly with him before coming around to Neal. Neal could see salt and glass in his pant cuffs.

"Can you walk?" Peter asked.

"It's one in the morning," Neal pointed out.

"Jones is bringing a car. Can you get there from here or do I carry you?" Peter asked. Neal groaned and pulled his legs around to the side of the bed, testing his feet gingerly. It hurt, but not badly enough to keep him here for a minute longer than necessary. He slung an arm around Peter's shoulders and limped past Gutierrez, through the infirmary door. Outside, the orderly was dumping the dustpan into a trash can.

"What happened here?" Peter asked Neal softly, as they walked down the hall.

"You really want to know that?" Neal asked, by way of reply. Peter seemed to think about it; as they drew close to the exit gate, he shook his head.

"Maybe not," he agreed. The guard at the gate nodded at Neal. Peter dug in his pocket and shoved a wad of paperwork through the bars. "FBI. He's in my custody."

The guard studied the papers and then looked up, seemingly about to object. Neal glanced sidelong and saw Peter's eyes almost black with the shade. The door swung open.

They passed through two more checkpoints -- a guard station and the exterior door -- before they made it outside. A dark sedan was waiting for them; Jones was in the passenger's seat, still in a pizza deliveryman's uniform, a blue-coated field agent behind the wheel. Peter helped Neal into the back and then tore off his stab vest, tossing it on the ground before he climbed in after.

"Jones, get us the fuck out of here," Peter said, and Jones nodded to the driver, who pulled away. Peter put his hand up between the front seats and Jones pressed his ID wallet into it.

Neal felt sharp pinpricks all over as they passed the guardhouse, got their paperwork checked again, and rolled out onto the backroad that serviced the prison. He coughed hard into his hands, twice, and felt something rise in his throat; after he spat it out he lowered his palms and studied the little dry origami crane he'd coughed up.

He offered it to Peter, who flattened it carefully and tucked it under his FBI identification, closing the wallet. Neal leaned against him, heavily, suddenly so tired.

"What happened?" Jones asked.

"A lot," Peter answered. "Let's get Neal to a hospital, get him checked out. I'll write my report in the morning. You taking care of the ledger?"

"Handed it off to a tech, he's taking it to Diana."

"Good," Peter said. Neal yawned into his shoulder. Behind him, the bright spotlights of the prison yard receded and sleep ran over him like a shadow.


Morning found Neal released from the hospital with a clean bill of health, aside from cuts and bruises, and waking alone in the Burkes' bed, wearing a pair of Peter's pajamas. He pushed himself upright, groaning, and drew his feet up, bandages rasping against the sheets. There was a weight on his left ankle. He reached down and found the comforting plastic bulk of his tracker, breathed a sigh of relief.

He could hear Peter moving around downstairs but he couldn't reach out and find him anymore, had no sense of where he was or what he was feeling. He could hear Elizabeth too, climbing the stairs, her tread a little lighter than Peter's. She came into the room carrying a cup of tea -- all his senses still felt sharp, and he could smell it from the doorway.

"You're up," she said, looking pleased. "You look awful, sweetie."

"Thank you," he said, accepting the tea. She sat on the edge of the bed while he blew on the surface of the tea to cool it, sipping cautiously.

"Peter won't talk about it," she said. He set the cup aside and she offered him a little plastic bowl. In the bottom was a small pile of white crystal. "This came out of his shoes."

Neal studied it. "Salt?"

"I think so." Elizabeth leaned in close. "The second shadow's gone. Thank God."

"It's okay. It wasn't...bad," Neal said, stirring the salt with a finger. It was cold. "Throw this out. Far from the house. My prison clothes too. Get rid of them."

She nodded. "Are you okay? Really?"

"I will be," he said, and then on impulse added, "I need to tell you about my name."

"Your name?" she asked, curious.

"It's not Neal," he said, lifting one of her hands and tracing his bandaged thumb along her palm. "I mean -- my mother named me Niall. You need to know and tell Peter. Niall. N-I-A-L-L."

"Sweetie, why -- "

"I'll tell you sometime, just, someone needs to know," he said, and shivered. "I'm not going back to prison again. It's too much. Don't let Peter send me back there, ever."

She stroked his hair with her free hand. "I don't think he could. Whatever he knows, it scares him. Not you," she added, because she could obviously see Neal panicking. "Whatever it did -- to him, to you -- he wouldn't. But I'll make sure," she added, and Neal nodded and let go of her hand. "Peter said to tell you the ledger is going to blow the ring wide open."

"Good," Neal said. "Does he need me?"

"No. Sleep a little, if you want," she added, and picked up the bowl of salt from the blankets. He eased back down against the pillow, but he didn't close his eyes.

"Niall," he said.

"Niall," she repeated, and kissed him. "Sleep."

He waited until she was gone, listening for a while to the sounds of them downstairs -- Elizabeth's footsteps, the slam of a door, Peter's voice on the phone. Satchmo came up to the bed, whuffed at the hand he let fall, and then hoisted himself up onto the blankets, curling up in the crook of Neal's legs.


They said a lot of things about Neal Caffrey, after he disappeared from supermax. That his name wasn't really Neal Caffrey at all. That he and Gutierrez once killed a man in the infirmary. They said he had a guardian angel. They said he was more dangerous than you could ever believe. He disappeared in the night, but nobody looked for him. None of the guards would talk about it. One of the orderlies would, if you caught him at the right moment, but he wouldn't say much.

They said he left because he could do real magic, prison magic, but he couldn't control it. They said that on the outside he was an exorcist, or that the priest who owned his shadow made him do it. They said his cop lover carried his freedom in his pocket.

At the moment, however, Niall Caffrey was sitting at the dining room table in the yellow morning light, eating a poached egg and casually stealing extra bacon from Peter's plate.


Never leave a trace or forget a face
Of any man at the table.

Tom Waits - Black Wings

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