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21 February 2011 @ 02:57 pm
White Collar Fic: Vanishing Act  
Posted to whitecollarfic


Title: Vanishing Act
Series/Universe: Vanishing Act
Pairing/Characters: Peter/Elizabeth, Mozzie, June, OCs
Rating: PG13
Spoilers: Season 1
Summary: The text message had been terse: 'Caffrey cut his anklet. He's in the wind.'
Notes/Warnings: Read the disclaimer on my LJ


The text message had been terse: 'Caffrey cut his anklet. He's in the wind.'

Sixteen hours later Peter sat staring at the pool of light his desk lamp made in the darkness of his office. Most of his team was still out searching, but Peter had spent the last couple of hours staring at Neal's file. All of it - from the first hint of one of his aliases through the second time Peter had caught him - was in there plus all his work for the Bureau beyond that.

On top of the reams of paper spread out across his desk was the object of his current and much repeated scrutiny: Neal's farewell letter.

They'd found it on arrival at Neal's quarters in June's mansion. He'd left it beneath Kate's bottle on the coffee table.

'No Kate, no future, no point - in any of this. I'm off to drown my sorrows somewhere far away - maybe someplace tropical.

Don't waste the FBI's resources trying to find me. I've got more than enough money to never work again so you can forget about catching me working a con. I'm officially retired.

- Neal'


It was Neal's handwriting; after all this time Peter knew it well. It made sense - losing Kate had affected Neal deeply and although he put up a good facade Peter knew that Neal had lost interest in the work after that and pretty much everything else. Even Mozzie had had trouble getting him to leave the mansion afterwards. But this seemed strangely unbelievable. It felt wrong, even if it made perfect sense to everyone except him.

"I brought you dinner." Peter looked up to find Elizabeth silhouetted in the doorway wielding cartons of takeout Chinese bearing the logo of his favorite restaurant in their neighborhood. "Jones told me you wouldn't let him order you anything and we both know what a bad sign you not eating is."

"Thanks, hon," he told her as he gestured her in, making room on a corner of the desk for her to put the boxes down. "I just can't seem to manage any sort of appetite."

Elizabeth pulled up a guest chair and sat beside her husband, threading fingers lovingly through his hair.

"Honey, I know this is hard for you..."

"He wouldn't do this," Peter muttered, going back to staring at the documentation spread across his desk. "I know Neal and he wouldn't just leave like this."

"But he did," Elizabeth countered. "I mean he left you a note and everything, right?"

"Yes, but..." Peter scrubbed his face with his hand. "But... I don't know..." He sank back in his chair with an air of defeat, Elizabeth's soothing hand not helping chase the tension away. "Every fact says he took off. But me? I'm the sole person who can't believe he'd just take off like that. Hell, he said goodbye to everyone but me the first time he tried to leave and I still can't buy it! How's that for denial?"

Elizabeth's hand slid down his arm to interlace their fingers, squeezing Peter's tight.

"Do you really think that Neal wouldn't do this?" she asked quietly.

Peter nodded despite himself. "I really thought that he was starting to care about the work, you know, about doing something good with his life."

Elizabeth shook their joined hands to get his attention.

"You are the smartest man I know. And Neal? He's smart just like you are. So if you think you understand him when no one else does? I believe you - not the facts or anyone else's assumptions..." She fixed him in her gaze. "I believe you."

Peter brought their joined hands to his mouth and kissed the back of his wife's hand in appreciation.

"So what do I do?"

Elizabeth gave a little shrug. "Follow your instincts, like you do on any case. What are they telling you?"

Peter's gaze went to the farewell letter beside the Chinese food. "That Neal didn't write that letter."

"Okay," she said slowly. "Prove it. You've got experts who can tell a forgery. Run it by them. And if Neal didn't write it..."

Peter froze up, stiffening. "If he didn't, the question is who did. And why?" He took a hesitant breath. "And leaves the question we already were asking: where is Neal?"

o--o

"Hardwicke already told you this isn't a forgery?" Nanette looked up from where she was examining the letter under her high-powered magnifier. "Hardwicke is an idiot."

Peter felt a lurch in his gut. "He said the signature was perfect. You're saying it's not?"

"The signature is perfect," she agreed. "But I bet that's all Hardwicke looked at. If someone's going to forge a note like this? Of course they're going to make sure the signature is perfect because that's what you look at! It's what you want to know? 'Was this really signed by this person?' I, however, look further. I want to know if the whole note was written by the same person."

Peter sank down into a chair beside her. "So you think Neal might have had his name on a piece of paper and they wrote the note above it in his hand?"

"No way of knowing for sure once the ink's completely dry," she admitted. "It might just be an excellent forgery. Whoever did it is definitely tops in the field and knows Neal's writing perfectly."

Peter leaned in, eyeing her with scrutiny. "So what makes you think this might be a forgery?"

"Is a forgery," Nanette huffed. "Look here..." She held the document up to the magnifier and pointed out areas to Peter. "These phrases 'drown my sorrows' and 'working a con' plus the letters in FBI are more feathery than the other words. Whoever wrote them took more time causing the pen to leave behind a tiny bit more ink."

"So..." Peter said, gesturing her to go on.

"When I see this - phrases sticking out for no reason? It's normally phrases the forger is unfamiliar with. I see it a lot on words like theater, flavor and color. Brits and Europeans who learned British English instead of American English would write theatre with an R-E and flavour and colour with O-U-R not O-R."

"So this guy slowed down because 'drowning my sorrows' was an idiom he wasn't familiar with." Peter nodded in comprehension.

"I'd say you're definitely looking for a non-American - most likely someone who didn't learn English in a posh school in Europe or Asia including Australia. I'd say middle class if only because working class wouldn't have English this good period."

"Non-American," Peter huffed. "That narrows it down."

"If you'll take an entirely non-scientific guess?" Nanette offered. "I'd say focus on Eastern European, perhaps former Soviet block nations."

"Why?"

She leaned back in her chair. "Because it's cold there, they're either landlocked or far from the sea and the standard of living isn't particularly high. We know Neal lived in a mansion with a rooftop terrace so tropical sun - which he could have easily afforded - wasn't that huge of an allure for him. But to someone stuck in say, Belarus in winter?"

"Oh, yeah," Peter agreed. "They'd so be fantasizing tropical beaches." He clapped her on the shoulder as he rose. "Thanks, Nan. I owe you one."

He flipped open his cell phone and dialed as he walked.

"June! It's Peter. No, there's no word, but I need a favor. He likely won't respond if I reach out, but if you see or hear from Mozzie at all do whatever it takes to get him to stay put long enough for me to come talk to him. It's about Neal. I think Mozzie might be the only one who can help us find him."

o--o

"He upstairs?" Peter asked as June's maid ushered him in the front door only to find June waiting anxiously just a few steps behind her.

"Yes," June told him, wringing her hands as Peter mounted the stairs. "And he looks as worried as we are."

"That's not a good sign," Peter mumbled, stepping up his pace.

He normally would hesitate, knock at least, but he knew Neal wasn't in there so no courtesy required. Still, Peter felt bad when he burst through the door and saw Mozzie jump.

"Where's Neal?" Peter asked without preamble.

"What's the matter?" Mozzie was clearly trying to puff himself up and make it appear like he wasn't unsettled. "You suits lose him - again?"

Peter crossed the room only to have Mozzie back up. He held back from forcing Mozzie up against the wall; intimidating him wouldn't get him what he needed.

"Cut the crap, Mozzie. I think you don't buy this whole Neal taking off thing any more than I do. And if we're right? And he's not sunning himself in Barbados right now? Then he needs our help and you're the only person who can help me figure out who's got him and how to get him back." He paused, the only sound in the room the intense breathing of two worried men. "So you help me? And we get Neal back. Deal?"

"What if," Mozzie seemed to be pulling an excuse from the air, "he really does want to be left alone and I'm betraying him by helping you find him?"

"For crying out loud," Peter groaned. "I can see him blowing me off, but do you really think he'd leave without saying anything at all to you or June? You two worked cons together for years and more than that Neal's your friend; he cares about you, I can tell. Think about it: would he really leave without even a hint that he wanted to get away?"

Silence was his response. Mozzie finally lowered himself in to a chair, the slump of defeat alone a sign he shared the same concerns.

"I don't know anything," Mozzie muttered. "He didn't tell me anything. I just know what you know. There was a note and no Neal."

"Well, I've got something." Peter pulled up a chair and sat, pulling a copy of the letter out of his pocket. "Handwriting analysis said this is most likely a high-end forgery. The signature's perfect..."

"Yeah, even I can't do Neal's signature that well," Mozzie admitted.

"But they identified phrases that the writer stumbled over that led them to believe the writer wasn't American, that English wasn't their first language. A foreigner."

Mozzie perked up. "From where?"

"Best guess? Eastern Europe." Mozzie grew still and thoughtful. "What is it?"

Mozzie just waved him off. "Nothing... Yet. Let me get out there and see what I can find."

"And you'll contact me?" Peter asked, rising as well as Mozzie headed for the door.

"I'll either come here or contact June," Mozzie told him. "I'm still not convinced the Feds don't have him."

"We don't have him!" Peter exclaimed, flustered.

"You might not," Mozzie stressed, hand on the doorknob. "But that doesn't mean all of your less ethical compatriots are innocent until proven guilty."

o--c
 
 
 
Emma DeMarais: BlueEyeemmademarais on February 21st, 2011 10:57 pm (UTC)
Confession
Welcome to Part 1 in the six part series of Vanishing Act!

I've been saving this one up since last year so I hope people forgive it being a little past its due date in terms of canon relevance, but it's hard not to want H/C anytime with a cast like this! (Yes! H/C! Stay tuned!)

Title stolen (shamefully) from my lovely slashwife melissima's fic of the same name. I honestly couldn't think of anything better, so I stole it. Mea culpa.

BTW, pretty much this entire fic series was written with the cheerleading assistance of the awesome community of authors and readers at ficfinishing. Thank you! You guys are the best!

Very special thanks to First Readers cedara, eotu, photoash, byrons_brain, bientot and betas penguingal and melissima for their assistance with this fic.

Thanks,

Emma DeMarais
dwelian: WC - neal approvesdwelian on February 22nd, 2011 12:13 am (UTC)
Re: Confession
And it's awesome! I got to the end and was all.."wait, it ENDS?! nooooooooooo" Then I saw your post that it was part 1 OF SIX and I was gleeful again!
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on February 22nd, 2011 12:17 am (UTC)
Re: Confession
Thank you so much! All the installments have been written and just need a final typo check and headers to publish so I hope to have them all out within a matter of days. :-)
oh these heroes come and go;micheleeeex on February 21st, 2011 11:53 pm (UTC)
Great chapter! Can't wait to read the next :)
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on February 22nd, 2011 12:16 am (UTC)
Thank you! I'll try to get them all out fairly promptly.
elrhiarhodanelrhiarhodan on February 22nd, 2011 12:55 am (UTC)
Love this and can't wait for the next part.

Even though Neal isn't anywhere in this chapter from an action POV, he's here in spirit and soul.

More now please?
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on February 22nd, 2011 01:46 am (UTC)
Thank you! /beams/

I know what you mean. It was *really* hard not to list Neal as a character in the headers because he's all over this story - he's just not technically *in* it!

I will probably post the series post tomorrow then part 2 the day after so I'll try to keep them coming.
Deb: Bomerdamietta on February 22nd, 2011 01:38 am (UTC)
Boy, this sucked me in right away. (And, I was so glad to see your note at the end.)

I loved that Peter knew that Neal wouldn't leave like that; and, that Elizabeth gently guided him to trust his instincts. Elizabeth is most awesome that way.

Idioms are SO hard in any language. How great of you to put that little clue into a forgery.

Peter and Mozzie are always an interesting duo. They know they need each other, but they really don't trust each other. But, their love for Neal keeps them spinning in the same orbit....and you having them together right away makes this even more interesting.

Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on February 22nd, 2011 01:57 am (UTC)
Thank you for your thoughtful comment! It's always a treat to hear that a reader gets what you put into a story. You nailed it re: Peter's belief in Neal, Elizabeth as Peter's guide, Peter and Mozzie bonding over the one thing they have in common to get past everything else where they are polar opposites... ;-)

The idioms though, that was an awesome catch. I live in a rather polyglot household so we not only enjoy foreign languages we revel in semantics in our native tongue as well. I really wanted it to be plausible that even FBI agents might find the note believable, that it takes persistence and expertise to prove it when it's so easy to believe what's in front of them.

I hope you enjoy the rest of the series!
ladygray99: PeterWatchladygray99 on February 22nd, 2011 04:27 am (UTC)
You are evil leaving a cliff hanger like that. I want to know what happened!
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on March 9th, 2011 12:36 am (UTC)
Ha! And you thought *this* was a cliffhanger! /evil gleeful grin/
And now a word from our sponsor...: Sidekick - NCIStoscas_kiss on February 22nd, 2011 12:41 pm (UTC)
Yay! Awesome first chapter. :-)
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on March 9th, 2011 12:36 am (UTC)
Merci!
Dani: WC Peter/Neal workumbralillium on February 22nd, 2011 03:40 pm (UTC)
ACK! Neal! Find him, Peter and Moz! *bites nails in worry*
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on March 9th, 2011 12:37 am (UTC)
Just say no to nailbiting and say yes to nailbiting-worthy suspense! ;-)
Indigo Catindigocat on February 23rd, 2011 02:40 am (UTC)
I liked what I read and I am looking forward to the rest.
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on March 9th, 2011 12:37 am (UTC)
Thank you! All six parts have been posted now so I hope you enjoy the tale!
dragonfly.dreamwidth.org on March 4th, 2011 07:13 am (UTC)
I love this! You have the voices and characters perfectly. Oh, the joy of a long plotty fic. I can't wait to read the rest. (But I have to wait, woe.)
Emma DeMaraisemmademarais on March 9th, 2011 12:38 am (UTC)
Thanks for such a great compliment! Enjoy the rest of the story! No more waiting!
The Gauche in the Machinechina_shop on July 7th, 2012 10:36 pm (UTC)
Ooh, intriguing!