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Fic: The Masked Path (White Collar; FR13)

Title: The Masked Path
Author: kaylashay
Rating: FR13
Disclaimer: I'm not USA or whoever else owns it, so I don't claim to own them.
Pairings: Pre-Peter/Neal
Fandoms: White Collar
Genre: Pre-Slash
Warnings: None
Word Count: 5,018
Beta: azraelz_angel
Written For: wc_reverse_bb based upon the awesome, awesome artwork by Nioell
Author's Note: I apologize for the lateness on this. Real life has kept me jumping and it delayed this third an final I had for the challenge.

Summary: Peter is tired of playing Kramer's golden boy graduate from the academy, but change is about to find him in the form of a masked man with intense blue eyes.




Artwork by Nioell



Peter was beyond annoyed. He hated playing politics and that was all Kramer used him for. Kramer loved to flaunt Peter as his "ace in the hole" while not letting him actually do anything useful when it came to fieldwork.

The man kept telling him that when he was sitting in the Director's chair in fifteen to twenty years, he would be thankful. However, Peter would never be thankful, as being the Director wasn't even on his personal radar. He was a field agent and intended to do that until they told him he couldn't. After that, he figured he'd play it by ear.

Now he was all trussed up for some elaborate event in New York City that contained a who's who list of law enforcement and politicians. It was another dog and pony show that Peter loathed. To top it off, he had been forced to wear some kind of elaborate mask that had likely cost more than his car.

He'd already made the cursory visit to the latest display of valuables from Europe. The most noted piece was a music box that had once belonged to Catherine the Great. It had been too ornate for Peter's tastes.

Being back in the main ballroom and surrounded by a sea of masked faces did not sit well with Peter. He felt like every person was a potential threat since he couldn't see his or her full face. Apparently, he was the only one affected it by it because the conversations were flowing freely around the ballroom. In fact, Peter was fairly certain that many were lowering their inhibitions since they were partially concealed. He had witnessed several married men chatting up the unattached women in the room. It was just another reason for Peter to abhor anything that dealt with the politics of his job.

"And here he is," Kramer's voice startled Peter as he felt a hand clap against his shoulder.

Peter turned around to see a group of men with his boss and he held back the sigh and tried not to roll his eyes. It was time for him to play his part yet again.

"Peter Burke." Peter extended a hand to the closest man and winced when a clammy hand gripped his.

"Terrence Pratt. Phil has been telling us all about you Agent Burke. I started out like you actually. Did my time in the trenches with DC Metro. Now I'm running for a Senate seat. A little hard work, making connections in the right places and you'll go far in life."

"I'll do my best Mr. Pratt. I hope your election goes well." Peter hoped he didn't sound too disinterested. Kramer would make him pay in grunt work later if he did.

"It's in the bag, so to speak. There's the governor. Phil, I'll catch up with you on that question you had later. Gentlemen," and Pratt excused himself with the other guys trailing behind him like lackeys.

"He's the guy to pay attention to, Petey. I see that man sitting in the White House one day and those of us who support him now will benefit from it later. It's all being in the right pocket. Remember that."

Peter just nodded his head at Kramer's bullshit. The man had delusions that far exceeded his own capabilities and Peter would be damned if he'd let Kramer use him as a stepping stool. But as it stood, Peter didn't much to stand on his own with at the FBI. He needed to find a way to snag a case outside of Kramer's purview and put him in the sights of other agents.

"I think I'll step out for some fresh air," Peter finally said in lieu of continuing the discussion of some politician that was likely corrupt.

"Don't stay out there all night, Petey. Those connections aren't made if you're hiding from the crowd."

Peter extracted himself from Kramer's vicinity and grabbed him a champagne flute as he wove his way toward the balcony doors. He would prefer to be sitting in his apartment with a beer in hand and game on TV, but anything with a bit of alcohol would be welcomed.

Just as he reached the door, a man bumped into him and the champagne ended up spilling down the front of his tux. He looked up and was suddenly lost in the vibrant blue eyes that were staring back at him from behind an elaborate mask.

"Sorry! I didn't mean to…" the man trailed off as he reached out and started brushing at the liquid that hadn't already seeped into Peter's jacket.

"It's okay. No harm, no foul." Peter stepped back a little to get the hands away from his body. "Really wanted a beer instead."

"Not too sure what you would classify as a good beer, but this was not good champagne. The catering service skimped."

Peter snorted. "Anything to cut corners in this day and age. The majority out there won't say a word unless someone higher up the chain does."

"That's true."

Peter was graced with a smile that seemed to reach from ear to ear on the man. Peter shifted slightly, aware that his body was taking interest in the man in front of him.

"Was about to escape for a bit. Want to join me?"

Peter hoped that his pick up line didn't sound like one. When he'd decided to join the FBI, he'd limited himself to only women. While law enforcement was technically supposed to be tolerant, they were anything but when it came down to it. He had no idea if the man behind the mask was in law enforcement or a politician, but either didn't bode well if he played his cards too early.

"Lead the way. I'm always open for a good escape."

Peter set his now empty flute on a pedestal next to a statue and opened the door. He sucked in a breath at the bite of cold air that hit him, but it was a welcomed reprieve after the stuffiness of the crowded ballroom. The man following him didn't seem bothered by it in the least.

"I can never get enough of this view," the man said with a sigh as he moved to lean against the stone railing that overlooked the night sky of New York City.

"It is something else." Peter wasn't just talking about the view of the city as he watched back of the man before him. He was gorgeous and Peter found himself wishing he could see the entirety of the man's face.

"I'm Peter," he added as he stopped looking and stood next to the man.

"Nick." The name flowed off of the man's tongue, but it didn't seem to fit the man in Peter's mind. "So what has you escaping, Peter?"

"Politics," Peter said bluntly. "I hate it with a passion, but it seems to have become my life while I wasn't looking."

"Things like that do have a way of sucking you in. You think your life will go exactly how you planned it and then you blink and it's completely different and you don't know how it happened."

"Pretty much. How about you? You were making a hasty retreat when you took out my glass."

"Socialites have extremely grabby hands."

Peter knew that wasn't the real answer, but Nick had enough practice to make the random statement fit the answer most would be expecting. Peter wasn't the average person though. Something wasn't a hundred percent with the man, but Peter found himself not highly concerned at the moment. He was enjoying the respite from the typical crowd they'd just left.

"They do, especially the ones with wedding rings. My boss wants me to make nice with all of them, but I think he'd just jealous they aren't after him."

"Tell me about it. Since you hate politics so much, why are you doing it?"

Peter sighed. "I'm not a politician. I'm actually a FBI agent out of DC. I'd rather be out in the field working the trenches, but my boss decided I was his stepping stool to greatness. He snatched me right out of graduation at Quantico before I had a chance to realize what was happening."

"Let me guess, top of your class?" Peter detected a bit of jealousy mixed with sadness in Nick's voice.

"In everything but dealing with bureaucracy."

Nick snorted. "I thought about going into law enforcement, but after hearing that, I think I'm glad I didn't."

"What path did you end up on then?"

"The path less traveled," Nick said softly.

Before Peter could push for more, the silence of their balcony was cut but the sound of gunfire inside. Peter instinctively grabbed Nick and pulled him into the corner where they couldn't be seen from the doors.

"What the hell?" Nick whispered harshly into his ear.

"Don't know. Could be a heist with that collection that's on display or it could be a hit against one or more of the politicians present. Whatever it is, they're stupid for trying with a room full of law enforcement present," Peter whispered back.

"I bet you're the only one carrying," Nick said, tapping Peter's ankle holster with his foot. "Even the law enforcement that is here are more desk bound than anything."

"Probably," Peter agreed. His mind briefly wondered how Nick had known about the holster, but pushed the thoughts away to focus on the matter at hand.

"We need to find out what's happening." Peter started to move back toward the door only to be stopped by a hand on his shoulder.

"Going through that door will tip them off if there's more than one. There'll be a look out at the ballroom door and you can bet they'll see you."

"There isn't another way."

Then Peter watched as Nick stepped back toward the railing and gracefully moved to stand on the wide ledge. He was tall enough that he grabbed the lip of the balcony above them and hoisted himself up. Peter held his breath as Nick dangled for several moments before his feet disappeared above him. Peter leaned out over the balcony and found Nick looking down at him.

"Think you can make it, Mr. Top of the Class?"

Peter couldn't believe Nick was trying joke at a time like this, but he also wouldn't back down from the issued challenge. He didn't move as lithely as Nick had, but Peter managed to make it without using the man's outstretched hand for support.

Once they were settled on the balcony, Peter moved cautiously to the door. It was dark inside and he couldn't make out any potential danger. With a soft twist he tried to the doorknob and wasn't surprised to find it locked.

"Breaking the glass will draw attention we don't want," Peter huffed out.

"How about doing the silent way?" Peter just stared as Nick produced a set of lock picks out of nowhere and went to work on the door.

"Do I want to know why you have those?" Peter was just hoping he wasn't be set up. For all he knew, Nick could be a part of whatever was happening inside, especially with all the hidden talents the man seemed to possess.

"All part of that path less traveled," and the door opened with a soft click.

"Later then."

Peter led the way, making sure that Nick stayed behind him. Part of him wanted to keep the man in his line of sight, but Peter was the only one with a gun and that meant he was protecting Nick. He'd had a brief thought of telling Nick to stay at the balcony, but he knew that the man would just follow him anyway.

Nick had instructed Peter to a stairwell that would bring them out at the far end of the ballroom. It was just another mystery surrounding Nick that left Peter confused.

"Think we should take our masks off?" Nick asked softly just before they got to the stairwell.

Peter had honestly forgotten he was wearing the thing in the rush that had followed since the gunfire. Glancing back, Peter saw that what little light was coming through the windows reflected greatly off of the silvery white in Nick's mask.

"It'll be a risk, but with them on, we can play it off as two drunk partygoers who were coming back from…" Peter trailed off and he flushed at the thought of what he wanted to say.

"Coming back from coming?" Nick quipped back. Peter could see the mirth in the man's blue eyes.

"Something like that. Let's go." And the discussion was ended as Peter headed for the stairs.

Once they were back on the floor where the ballroom was, Peter allowed Nick to guide him toward the side room where the display was set up. Inside the room, they could see two armed men bagging up the various pieces, including the music box.

Peter pulled back and whispered in Nick's ear telling him to stay near the entrance but hidden from view. Peter wanted to see what was happening in the ballroom before he acted.

Moving cautiously, Peter made it to one of the side exits that the staff used. Peering inside, Peter found that the crowd had been moved to one end and a guy was working through the crowd collecting valuables that were on hand. Two others were watching with their guns at the ready.

A minute or so later, one of the watchers gave some orders to the other guy and then headed out of the ballroom and toward the collection room. Peter panicked, when he realized the path would take the man right by Nick's hiding place.

Peter made a hasty retreat back toward the collection and watched with horror as Nick was grabbed by the man with the gun and pushed into the collection room. He was either too late, or Nick really was a part of this crew. If that was true, Peter was thoroughly screwed. He inched as close as he dared to one of the doors so he could hear what was being said.

"Caffrey, Caffrey, Caffrey… Should of figured you'd be here. Know how you like to put on a show while pickin' any pockets you can get your hands in."

Peter's heart sank. The man had just confirmed that Nick wasn't on the right side of the law, but it also seemed that Nick wasn't part of this particular team even if the man knew him.

"Didn't take you for one to concern yourself with the upper crust of society, Matthew. Last I heard, you were sewer diving in Paris."

"If the pay is good, I'll rub elbows with anyone. What were you here for?"

"Champagne and a roll in the hay with one of those married women. They always have the best artwork in their homes and they don't pay attention when I'm disappearing at five in the morning after I leave them boneless."

"The champagne here sucks, Caffrey. I guess we're at a stalemate, my friend. I don't like leaving loose ends behind and, right now, you are a loose end."


"How about you cut me in? Fifty-fifty?"

Peter was furious. He'd started to like Nick and now the man was siding with what appeared to be armed thugs for hire.

Matthew snorted. "You're fucking hilarious, Caffrey. How about I leave you here to take the fall for the whole thing?"

"See that won't work. First, I know you cut the camera feed, so there won't be any evidence of me. Second, I have a back up plan."

"Your back up plans are a joke, Caffrey. And how the hell do you know I cut the cameras?"

"A true artist never reveals all his tricks," Nick said with a smile.

Peter missed what Matthew said next because he felt the cold press of a gun against his neck. He'd gotten too focused on the room in front of him that he'd completely ignored his surroundings.

"Inside. Now."

Peter complied, with his arms raised in the air and the gun loosely held in his hand.

"Found this guy lurking outside, Boss," the thug said to Matthew when they entered the room.

"Part of your back up plan, Caffrey? If so, it's already in shambles." Matthew then turned his attention to Peter. "Drop the gun and kick it over here."

Peter had no other choice. He watched as the gun slid across the floor and stopped at Nick's feet. Then the thug started patting him down while Matthew kept his gun focused on Peter. The thug gave Matthew a nod to indicate that Peter didn't have any more weapons and Peter stood helpless as Matthew moved closer.

"I'm assuming you're a fed of some type. You seem too uptight to be another lawbreaker. It's a bit crowded as it is."

Peter kept silent, trying to reveal nothing to the man. He also hoped he'd learn more about the heist and who the back was if he just listened.

"Hey, Caffrey. If you want in, need you to pick up the fed's gun. The other boys are getting their cut for being armed. Only fitting you are, too."

Peter watched as emotions flicked across Nick's face. He wasn't sure what to make of them, but he seemed scared.

"Oh, that's right," Matthew said, snapping his fingers. "You're too sophisticated for guns. I think you're just scared about getting your hands dirty."

Before Peter could ponder that, a trigger was pulled and Peter felt himself falling as a sharp pain hit his leg. He'd been shot and Matthew had pulled the trigger.

"Now you'll be linked to the shooting of a federal agent, Caffrey. And since I don't like loose ends…"

Peter watched with a pained horror as Matthew aimed the gun for his chest. It hurt too much for him to try to crawl away. He knew that he was about to die and that if Matthew had his way, Nick would be framed for his murder. He turned his eyes to Nick and watched with fascination as the man picked up the gun with a lightning fast motion and had the trigger pulled before any of Matthew's henchmen could react.

The bullet hit Matthew in the shoulder and the man went down in front of Peter. He then watched as Nick turned the gun on the guy behind Peter. Another shot and the guy was down with a bullet wound to the hand that was holding the gun.

The other two didn't attempt to stop Nick. They just ran from the room. Apparently, they hadn't signed on for the murder of a federal agent.

Peter closed his eyes with immediate danger resolved, trying to fight the pain. He snapped them open when he felt hands under his arms tugging him toward the door. They made it into the open area when Nick stopped moving him.

"Shit. There's too much blood."

Peter watched through half lidded eyes as Nick tossed the gun to the floor and then added a bag he didn't have before next to the gun. He then peeled his suit jacket off and then his button down white shirt. It left the man in a wife beater undershirt. Peter was so focused on watching the man's chest move that the sudden tightness around his leg left him gasping for breath.

"Tourniquet," Nick said shortly. "It's not going to stop the blood flow, but should help until help can get to you."

Peter watched as Nick looked around widely as if expecting the help to be just around the corner. If anything, Peter should be placing Nick under arrest. He had caught the man with stolen goods. But at the same time, Nick was not a part of the larger problem and the man had just saved his life. Peter felt he owed him one.

They heard a brief spurt of gunfire in the ballroom and then the mass sound of a lot of people moving. It seemed the final guy had been dealt with.

"Get out of here before they come."

Peter was rewarded with Nick blinking at him in confusion.

"What?"

"Get yourself clear. I know you weren't part of this group, but the others won't see it that way," Peter said with a nod toward the bag that Nick had discarded on the floor. Peter could see the gold of the music box glinting inside the bag.

"Some FBI agent you are, Peter. Maybe we will meet again some day."

"Maybe," Peter huffed through the pain. Then he heard shouts of FBI agents and paramedics making their way toward their location. "Go."

Nick turned and looked down the hallway and then leaned back down so that he was face to face with Peter.

"Take care of yourself, Peter."

And Peter closed his eyes as soft lips pressed for just a second against his own. When he opened his eyes again, Nick was gone and he'd left the bag behind.

It didn't take long for the empty place that Nick left behind to be filled by Kramer. He leaned over Peter and was barking out orders for a medic to get their ass over there.

"They got you good, Petey. " And Peter cringed at the hated nickname. At least the pain he was in would cover the expression from Kramer's notice.

"You find 'em?" Peter managed to ask.

"Yeah, all but two. We had a count of five when it started. The leader has a bullet wound in the shoulder that I assume is your handiwork." Kramer stated as he eyed the gun lying next to Peter's prone body.

Peter just nodded. He wasn't about to tell the truth about his thieving savior. Peter didn't want Nick tied to the group, especially the way the man had been repulsed by the guns and the fact he'd shot someone with Peter's. The fact that Nick had confirmed the security cameras were compromised was just a bonus.

"One of the lackeys said the lead guy was Matthew Keller. I'll make sure they throw the book at them Petey."

Peter just nodded one more time and then felt relief hit his tense body at the sight of an EMT dropping to the floor beside him. He closed his eyes and tried not to pass out as the man started working on him.

It was hours later that he surfaced at the hospital. A blanket covered him, but he could tell his leg was heavily wrapped from the bulge underneath the blanket. He was also surprised to not feel much pain. Then he heard the hiss of a pump next to him and realized it was probably the morphine helping.

He heard a sound and looked to the side to see Kramer sitting in the chair beside his bed.

"Need my report yet?" Peter rasped out.

"Eventually. The three we got aren't talking. But the techs are working on matching the bullet to your leg to Keller's gun. Did you shoot both of them? We don't have much to go on since they cut the camera feeds well before the party started."

"It was my gun." Peter decided that the best lie was the truth. It was his gun, it just wasn't his finger that pulled the trigger. If the bad guys weren't going to flip on Nick, then Peter wouldn't either. The man had saved him and he'd resisted taking the stolen goods.

"How about the collection? Anyone else hurt?"

"The guy who managed the one left in the ballroom was admitted for minor injuries. You were the only one seriously hurt beyond the perps. The two that got away took a few of the smaller pieces with them. But we found the music box near you."

"Yeah, it was dropped I think."

"It's been secured. The only thing I can't figure is what happened to your badge."

Peter frowned. His badge had been in the inside pocket of his tux. They should have found it at the scene. Then his mind flashed back to his first meeting with Nick when the man was brushing against the champagne wetting his jacket. The man had picked his pocket and Peter hadn't even noticed.

"One of the guys in the room must have kept it. They shot me when they found out I was a fed."

"We'll get you a new one, Petey. You'll be back out there before you know it. I've been fielding lots of interest in you. And Pratt was also interested in speaking with you in more detail. I think this will get you everywhere you want to be."

Peter let his eyes close and hoped that Kramer would assume the medicine was drawing him back into sleep. As much as he wanted to be known for something outside of Kramer, he wasn't sure if this would take him the direction he really wanted to go. Only time would tell.

As he drifted off to sleep, he wondered what the hell Nick would do with his badge. He just hoped the man wasn't going to pretend to be an agent. It would be a disaster when it was traced back to Peter's badge number. Hopefully, Nick was smarter than the average thief.




Sixth Months Later…

Peter sat at his desk with a stack of forms from human resources in front of him and the final statement from his doctor clutched in his hand. It wasn't the first time an injury had derailed his plans. The torn rotator cuff in college had kept him from going pro in baseball. Now a bullet to the leg was going to keep him from the field.

The doctor had no issue with Peter sticking to a desk job, which he had been doing since his release from the hospital. But when Peter had given the man the physical requirements to maintain field agent status, the doctor had just dropped his head and sighed. Then there was a long explanation regarding Peter's knee and what could happen at any time in the future.

Peter was also aware that the slight limp he still had after months of physical therapy was not going away. His therapists had told him that it could be psychosomatic and had recommended him to a psychiatrist. Peter declined because he'd had enough with the one at the FBI office who had finally cut him loose.

Peter was well aware that he could take a desk job and stay with the FBI. In fact, it was what Kramer had been grooming him for all along. He would make connections and rise in the ranks of the guys who pushed the pencils and were cut off from the reality of life and death that the field agents faced every day. Peter couldn't see himself in that position.

The other option was resignation. Due to his injury being classified as 'in the line of duty' even if he wasn't technically on duty when it happened, Peter could received a decent severance package and continued support regarding health insurance for things related to his injury.

It would give him time to figure out what he wanted to do next with his life. It would be the third time his life plans would change dramatically. He just needed time to figure out what to do.

With a heavy heart, Peter smoothed out the wrinkles he had created in the doctor's statement and then started on the paperwork that would take him the rest of the day. At some point, Kramer had stopped by his desk and tried to talk him out of the decision, but Peter had held firm. Riding a desk was not for him.

He started on the paperwork with his heart racing. He had no idea what he would do, but he'd figure something out. He had time on his hands.

It was after midnight before Peter stumbled into his small apartment with a box of belongings from his desk. He tossed it to the side and started to sift through the mail he had grabbed on the way in. Only he stopped short when he saw a brown wrapped package sitting on his kitchen counter.

After clearing every room in the house and ensuring all his windows were locked and the dead bolt was thrown on the door, Peter returned to the mysterious package. He grabbed a knife from a drawer and slit open an end and dumped the contents out on the counter.

On top was a very familiar blue and silvery mask that had a smear of blood to one side of it. Peter's breath caught when he realized that was likely his own blood. There were also several booklets and one thick book with the recognizable yellow cover of an idiot's guidebook. Glancing at the cover the title gave him pause.

"Private Investigation?" Even as he said it, something seemed to click in Peter's mind.

He thumbed through the other booklets and found information that pertained to New York state laws and even a mostly completed application for a business license. Also included was a bound set of house and apartment listings throughout the city. Some had notes on the margin that indicated if there were decent places to get a beer nearby.

Peter found himself chuckling at the back page that contained a list of the best beers to be found in New York City. Then he saw a sheet of paper sticking out of the idiot's guidebook. Pulling it out, Peter couldn't help but grin at what the note had to say.

I feel like I should have done more to keep you from getting shot. It was a rookie mistake that Keller even spotted me. If he hadn't, you'd still have your job now.

But since you're now at loose ends, I figured maybe you could take a path less traveled and give the PI business a try. Just don't put your skills to work on me. –Nick



Author's Note: This story will have sequel as I didn't have the time to do the 'whole' story... :)

Comments

( 8 Campfires — Leave a Comment )
sinfulslasher
May. 24th, 2014 01:19 pm (UTC)
OMG, I loved this! What a wonderful twist on canon - this is now how I see the boys meeting for the first time if Peter had worked under Kramer like that. And good lord, yes, he would be the kind of guy to rub elbows with politicians and try to groom Peter for "greater things". *shudders*

Neal was awesome in this. Mischievous, smart, plain brilliant, and as usual the good "bad boy". Yay, Keller! Love the bastard. LOL!

The ending was great. Such a Neal--excuse me, Nick--thing to do. Cannot wait for the sequel! :D
kaylashay
May. 24th, 2014 06:52 pm (UTC)
Yay!! Glad you liked! Neal Nick has definitely captured Peter's attention, even if he is a little bit of a bad boy. But he saved Peter's life, so Peter is more open to things.

I actually started on the rest as 'part 2' and had intended for it to be one big story, which is why it took so long to post. Then I realized I just wasn't going to get the second part done, so I posted this which could stand alone.

And Keller will factor into the sequel along with Adler... *evil laugh*

And PI!Peter!!!!
sexycazzy
May. 24th, 2014 02:17 pm (UTC)
brilliant and I look forward to the sequel with Peter as a PI! :)
kaylashay
May. 24th, 2014 06:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks!! Hopefully I can continue work on it soon!
scarym1
May. 24th, 2014 07:41 pm (UTC)
I really like this AU of Peter & Neal. I am glad to hear there will be a sequel. : )
kaylashay
May. 30th, 2014 02:48 am (UTC)
Thanks!
elrhiarhodan
May. 26th, 2014 02:20 pm (UTC)
Love this!

I love the images of Peter and (of course) Neal in masks, what the masks mean in the overall context of the story. The action kept me right on the edge of my seat, and your take on everyone's favorite villain - Kramer (and I guess, Keller) was nothing short of brilliant!

Thank you for writing and for sharing.
kaylashay
May. 30th, 2014 02:51 am (UTC)
Kramer does make a good pseudo villain. He's got that sense of the perfect person to be corrupt and/or not caring who he steps on if he gains something. I don't know yet if Kramer will be in the sequel, but Keller definitely has a part to play along with Adler. :)

And now I really need to take time this weekend and go back to read all the fics I missed!
( 8 Campfires — Leave a Comment )

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