Disclaimer: I'm not USA / Jeff Eastin / etc., so I don't claim to own them.
Genre: Gen; Alternate Universe
Fandom(s): White Collar
Word Count: 1,579
Written For: sinfulslasher's Shifter!AU Request for the Lucky 13 - The AU Prompt Meme
Summary: When Peter agreed to a meeting with Neal Caffrey, he wasn't expecting it to take place at the Zoo.
"Why the hell are we at the Zoo?" Peter ground out as the Keeper led him past the gawking throngs of people and towards the behind the scenes area with its high security.
"Cause Caffrey's a shifter," the Keeper said as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
"Impossible," Peter said, holding back a growl. "I've personally arrested him twice and I know when I'm standing next to a shifter."
Just the smell of all the shifters in their forms throughout the Zoo was beginning to take its toll on Peter. Shifters were still rare throughout the world and to be surrounded by so many in their shifted form was unnatural. Just the thought of the Zoo had always set Peter on edge. His sharp ears picked up the voice of one of the tour guides with a group of paying people.
"The first Zoo was established in California in 1965 to combat the rising number of shifters that had committed crimes. Regular prisons were unequipped to handle them. In addition, the prison system saw it as a way to fund the rising cost of prison maintenance. With the discovery of the serum that forced a change in shifters that same year, it was the perfect solution. Within ten years, Zoos were built throughout the world. There was some discussion of remanding all shifters to Zoos for the safety of the populace, however, some proved to be useful in society as law enforcement and soldiers as long as they were kept on short leashes…"
Peter winced at the laughter that followed that comment. Getting to his position with the FBI had been a fight to prove not only himself but his cat too. He had been fighting against society's views of him since his first shift at fifteen when he saved a ten-year-old girl that had fallen in a river. He was already running for the water when everything had become sharper. Before he could register what was happening, he was on all fours and springing into the rushing water. Even for his much stronger form, the currents had been a challenge, but he had saved the girl.
After that, his life changed. The government had registered him like every other shifter before and after him. Most of the kids at school avoided him while others gawked or let their hatred of shifters be known. The worst part had been his forced removal from the sports teams. With his heightened senses, it wasn't allowed. Looking back on it all, he could easily see how so many of his kind ended up in the Zoo. If it hadn't been for the support of his family, he could have easily gone that way.
"Following Caffrey's original sentencing, he was given the mandatory gene test. When it was reported that he carried the gene, his first shift was forced per the US Justice System rulings. Since he was considered non-violent and his form isn't a big-ticket seller, he served two months in rotation at the Zoo and then two months in the pen with an inhibitor. When he escaped, the inhibitor was still place. Good thing too, or you never would have found the guy. With his escape, he's been remanded to us for the rest of his original sentence plus the additional years they tacked on."
Peter wasn't sure if he wanted to strangle the guy or shift and sink his teeth in because of his obvious indifference to how inhumane it was to hold shifters in Zoos, no matter what their crime had been. He forced the urge down and let the Keeper lead him into a bare room that only had one solid door and no windows.
"We'll be bringing Caffrey in still shifted. Once the door's shut, he'll get the serum for his shift. All the animals in the Zoo are kept in their form with a reverse inhibitor so we can control their shifts."
Peter just nodded, trying to keep a check on his anger over the situation. One of the hardest lessons he had learned was controlling his urge to shift when confronted with things that angered him. Some shifters never had the base urges, but his was coupled with his cat's dominant nature and his original shift to save the girl.
Peter smelled Neal before he saw him. Back in Kate's abandoned apartment, he hadn't tasted the scent that now filtered through the air. He could still smell Neal's human self, but it was tampered by the smell of a shifter that was distressed. It put Peter's protective urges on edge. Him and the cat viewed Neal as theirs, and tasting Neal's distress was troublesome.
Peter wasn't sure what he was expecting when the door opened to bring Neal in, but it wasn't the small birdcage a guard was carrying. Inside, he could see a brightly colored hummingbird smaller than the palm of his hand. It was flitting around the cage as if looking for an exit. Then it came to rest on the swinging bar as the guard plunked the cage down on the table.
"We just gave him the serum for the shift. Once I leave, you can open the cage door. It'll take another few minutes before he changes," the guard said before he left, the door shutting heavily behind him.
Glad to finally be alone, Peter opened the cage door quickly and watched with a little amusement as Neal took flight and circled the room at rapid speeds. Birds like Neal were meant to have wide spaces to fly and seeing the size of the cage he'd been carried in with added to Peter's ire.
Finally, Neal came to a rest on the floor in the corner and Peter watched as the shift began. The most amazing part was watching the bright blue feathers retract across his growing face until the blue rested in his eyes, replacing the dark black of his hummingbird's form. Neal stayed kneeling on the floor, taking deep breaths and then he looked up at Peter.
"Thanks for coming," he said softly. "Wasn't sure you would."
"I keep my promises, Caffrey," Peter said. "They didn't leave any clothes," he added as he stood up and took is suit jacket off and tossed it toward the man. It would at least give him a little dignity.
"Thanks," Neal said as he slipped it on and then sat in the other chair. "Take it you weren't expecting this. Could smell your anger down the hall."
"Damn idiots didn't even update your file with it. When they told us you were here, Hughes started chewing asses out over it. They didn't even tell us while I was assisting during your escape."
"And you couldn't tell because of the inhibitor," Neal said. "It takes three days for it to leave the system and I had received my last injection a day before. I screwed up my timing."
"Sloppy," Peter said with a teasing tone. "So, you were right about the fiber."
"Of course I was," Neal said with a cocky assurance that seemed more himself. "What if I told you I could help you catch the Dutchman?"
Peter shook his head, not even surprised that Neal knew who he was looking for. Hell, being in the Zoo probably gave him access to more contacts than being in the regular pen did. One thing that shifters around the world had managed to keep a secret was the fact they could communicate mentally with each other while they were both in animal form and nearby. Zoos were likely a hotbed for information trading. Plus, it would be easier for outsiders to gain visitor access to the shifters and most normal humans forgot that shifters still understood everything they heard in animal form.
"What do you want, Neal?" Peter figured it was best to get right to the point.
"I want out of here," Neal said matter-of-factly. "I want to find Kate. I want… I really want to fly."
Every month, Peter took a trip to a special park that was set-aside in trust by the wealthy family of a shifter. Within it, shifters were allowed to run free in their natural form without repercussions. He knew exactly what Neal wanted, but it would be hard to give it to the man.
"I've done some research," Neal said hastily. "They have a bio tracker that's been developed. Ultimately, I think they plan to inject every registered shifter with it, but for now, they're doing trial runs on paroled shifters. If you could get me a work release to help you catch the guys like me, I'll have the tracker injected. You'll be able to find me anywhere in the world and there's no way I can remove it."
Peter glanced back at the cage Neal had been kept inside. While he felt that Neal needed to serve time for his crimes, he didn't think Neal deserved being confined to his animal form in the Zoo.
"I'll see what I can do," Peter said. "I can't make you any promises, Caffrey, but I'll try."
"That's all I ask."
"Just remember," Peter said before he signaled the guard to return, "if I get you out of here, your wings will be mine. So no flying off."
"Even if I do, that tiger of yours will chase me down again," Neal said with a smile.
"Bet your ass he will. He loves chasing birds."
Author's Note: While trying to find an animal form for Neal and I came across the following description for hummingbird spirit animals and many of the items made me think of Neal. www.spiritanimal.info/hummingbird-spirit-a
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