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Fannish Things (inc. new WC fic)
Matt TNH 1
doctor_fangeek
Let me just say that I didn't start out intending to write a White Collar Old West AU.  I really didn't.  But such are the joy's of Promptfest (as hosted by the amazing elrhiarhodan ).

Title: On the Trail
Prompt: Peter - Leather
Rating: PG? (it's occasionally suggestive, but otherwise quite tame)
Spoilers: None
Characters/Pairings: Peter, Neal
Summary: Bounty hunter Peter Burke is on the trail of the notorious confidence man and safe-cracker, Neal Caffrey
Word Count: 3023

A/N: This all started when the prompt "Peter - Leather" led me to the idea/image of Peter using a strip of leather instead of cuffs on Neal, because it couldn't be picked.  Oh, yeah, and they're in the old west. :-)  There were actually at least two or three versions of the scenario in my head (including one in which Peter and Neal are partners), and what follows is the one I ended up writing.  I'm leaving the ending as I wrote it for Promptfest, although I think it actually could use a few more scenes to make it more of a stand-alone story.  I hope to get around to writing those in the not-too-distant future (though even with them, or maybe even more so with them, the story seems to beg for a sequel).  And I'd like to write the other version as well.  We'll see.  Also, I'm still casting about for a title I like - I had to give it something to make posting easier, but I'm not attached to it.

 

Peter Burke sat at a corner table, nursing a beer – his first, and only, of the night. A man without a drink would draw attention he didn’t want and could ill afford, but he also needed all of his wits about him on this job. He allowed himself a small smile. This would be his biggest payday yet, if he could see it through. At that thought, he turned his attention back to the poker game going on a few tables away. One of the players had just ordered whiskeys all around, his treat. Peter smile grew at that. The man was good. He was winning – had been all night – but he was careful about it. Never taking too many hands in a row, keeping up a steady stream of diverting conversation, buying drinks for the table to keep everyone happy. It occurred to Peter, and not for the first time, that this man could make a fine living on the right side of the law. Poker could be dangerous – some of the other players didn’t always take so kindly to losing too much of their money, but playing a game of cards was usually a less stressful situation than being chased by a posse. And really, the sharp mind behind all those confidence schemes and winning poker hands could surely be applied to something less likely to end in a prison sentence. “What a waste,” Peter thought, then gave himself a mental shake. It wasn’t good for the job to worry about why his quarry took up a life of crime, worse still to start feeling badly about it. Whatever else he was, Neal Caffrey was a confidence man and a thief, and it was past time that someone put a stop to his criminal activities. And if Peter could net himself the more than sizeable reward for bringing in the notorious safecracker, well so much the better. Nearby laughter brought Peter out of his thoughts, and he looked up. Not surprisingly it was coming from the poker game, where Caffrey was apparently continuing to charm his fellow players, while simultaneously playing them out of most of their money if the pile in front of him was anything to go by. Peter watched as Caffrey bought another round of drinks – but barely touched his own. Peter watched as Caffrey politely fended off the advances of not one, or two, but three different saloon girls, turning them away but somehow managing to leave them with smiles on their faces. Peter watched as Caffrey got up to take his leave, somehow managing to have more than one of the other men at the table cajoling him to stay, despite the fact that they had clearly been losing to him all night. Yes, the man was good. Hopefully, the man was also planning what Peter thought he was. Oh, Caffrey was wanted, and Peter could take him in now. But despite all of his alleged crimes and the price on his head, Peter wondered how many of the charges would actually stick. But if he could catch him in the act….

Later that night, or more accurately, in the wee hours of the next morning, Peter Burke sat in a comfortable wingback chair, in a hotel room several towns over from where he’d started the evening hours before. The room was dark and quiet, and Peter massaged his temples and shook his head. He needed to stay not only awake, but alert. Thankfully it was only a few minutes later when he finally heard footsteps in the hallway outside the door. The chair was in one corner of the room, the view of it blocked by the door as it opened. Peter felt himself tensing in anticipation. The footsteps stopped, there was the sound of a key turning in the lock, and the door slowly swung open. Peter waited, holding himself very still, while someone stepped into the room. Peter knew he’d be visible when the new arrival turned to shut the door. He saw it the instant Caffrey – and it was definitely Caffrey – realized he had company. Saw his eyes drift to the still half open door and then snap back at the sound of Peter’s gun cocking.

“Please. Stay,” Peter said, though it was clearly not a request.

Caffrey stepped fully into the room and turned to shut the door behind him, moving slowly and glancing warily at Peter out of the corner of his eye. “May I?” he said, gesturing at the lamp on the table by the bed. Peter nodded his assent, watching the other man closely. For the moment, he seemed inclined to let Peter dictate the encounter, simply lighting the lamp and turning to face Peter. Peter stood up, gun in hand. Caffrey took a couple of measured steps toward him, his hands held out away from his body, his brow creasing as he tried to get a better look at his unwelcome visitor.

After a few moments in which neither man moved or spoke, Caffrey broke the silence.

“You obviously have me at a disadvantage, Mister?” he said, the sentence tailing off in a clear invitation.

“Peter Burke,” Peter supplied. He had no reason to hide his identity.

Caffrey frowned. “Burke? I’m sorry, but do I know you? A card game perhaps? I apologize, but I really can’t remember them all.”

Caffrey was remarkably calm for a man with a gun pointed at his chest, and Peter was impressed in spite of himself. He’d been a bit skeptical, but now he found himself believing that the man could really be responsible for all of the scams he was suspected of. Probably the striking good looks didn’t hurt either, though Peter wasn’t sure what brought on that observation.

“No, we haven’t played cards,” Peter said then, realizing that Caffrey was still waiting for an answer. “And you don’t know me.”

“So do you frequently ambush men in their hotel rooms and brandish guns at them?” Caffrey replied, actually sounding affronted.

“Only when they have a price on their head, Mr. Caffrey,” Peter said, and if he hadn’t been paying such close attention he would never have noticed the oh so brief look of surprise that crossed the other man’s face. As it was, he could almost think he’d imagined it. Especially when the next thing Caffrey did was laugh.

“Want to share the joke?” Peter asked.

Caffrey stopped laughing, but he still had a smile on his face and he was shaking his head, in a sort of, “Can you believe this?” way. “I should have guessed. You’re not the first person to make that mistake. But I can save you the embarrassment of wasting some poor sheriff’s time. You’ve got the wrong man. My name is George Danforth and I may enjoy a good game of cards, but I’m a businessman, not a thief.”

“Is that so,” Peter replied, and he knew his skepticism was clear in his voice.

“It is,” was the only reply, delivered in the haughty tone of a man wronged.

“Prove it.” Peter challenged.

“Why should I have to prove anything to you?”

“Because I’m the one holding the gun?”

Most people would just acquiesce at this point, Peter knew, but he could see the wheels spinning in Caffrey’s head. Peter wasn’t a lawman – not anymore – and while he would be unlikely to face serious repercussions for shooting a wanted criminal, he preferred not to. And on the off chance he was wrong….

“And because the fastest way for an innocent man to get me out of their hair is to go along with this,” he added.

Caffrey frowned at that, but it seemed to have done the trick. He let out a rather theatrical sigh. “What do you want me to do?” he asked, the very picture of a man resigned to dealing with an unwanted annoyance. He obviously wasn’t happy about the way this was going, but had apparently decided that going along with Peter, at least for the moment, was his best bet.

Peter allowed himself a brief moment of inner triumph, but he knew this wasn't over yet.

“You see,” he said, well aware that he wasn’t actually answering Caffrey’s question. “I find myself wondering. Why would a man take a room in a hotel here in Clarksburg, when he was planning to spend the night playing poker in Red Bank?”

“A man might say that it was none of your business,” Caffrey replied. “I presume you’re going somewhere with this little story?” he added a moment later, sounding bored, if anything, now. But Peter could swear he’d caught another flicker of surprise on the other man’s face before it, too, was buried.

“So I asked myself,” Peter continued as if Caffrey hadn’t spoken. “What this man might be doing in Red Bank besides playing poker. And you know what? It turns out that the Mayor just happened to be having some big shindig this weekend in honor of the Governor, whose wife just happens to be known for her extensive – and exquisite – jewelry collection.”

“So what?” Caffrey interjected with a smirk. “You want me to turn out my pockets?"

“I might…if I trusted you that far,” Peter replied, and he was smiling now. “But I think I’d prefer to do it for you.” He wasn’t about to give Caffrey the opportunity to get rid of evidence, and he knew the man was slippery enough to do it given half a chance. He expected some new protestation of innocence, a complaint about the invasion of his privacy, something.

He wasn’t expecting the suggestively raised eyebrow or the, “Do you think we know each other well enough for that? I mean, we’ve only just met.”

The reply took Peter off guard, as did the look in Caffrey’s strikingly blue eyes (and why was he noticing that), but he recovered quickly. “Very funny, Caffrey,” he said.

“I told you, the name is Danforth.”

“Whatever. Turn around and put your hands up,” Peter said, putting as much authority into the command as he could and gesturing with his gun to back it up

Caffrey hesitated, and Peter wondered if he was going to have to force the issue, but after a moment his face took on a look of resignation and he did as he’d been told. Peter holstered his weapon, and stepped forward, somewhat surprised as Caffrey submitted without protest to Peter’s search.

“And what do we have here?” Peter asked, stepping back to give Caffrey room to turn back around and holding up a small cloth bag. For the moment the other man had nothing to say, so Peter pulled open the drawstring and tipped the contents out into his hand. There was a necklace – impressive, even in the dim light of the room – and several smaller items.

“Let me guess,” he said, allowing himself an amused grin. “Gift for your wife? Girlfriend, maybe? Just carrying it around because you were afraid to let it out of your sight?”

Caffrey gave Peter a measuring look. “Do you have any idea what those little baubles you’re holding are worth?” he asked. Peter had expected another denial, some clever explanation as to what George Danforth was doing with a stash of jewelry in his pocket. Perhaps Caffrey had come to the conclusion that Peter wasn’t going to buy it, whatever is was he was selling. Perceptive. “You seem like a reasonable man, Burke,” Caffrey added when Peter didn’t respond. “I’m sure we can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement.”

“By mutually beneficial, I assume you mean I let you go and you, what, ‘cut me in’? Are we done pretending that you’re not Neal Caffrey?”

“If it will ‘get you out of my hair’.” That’s what you said, right?”

“That’s what I said. But you’re leaving out a key part of that sentence. The part about an ‘innocent man’?” Peter knew he was smiling now. He felt like he’d won something, even if it was just one part of a bigger game.

“C’mon on, Burke,” Caffrey said, not yet giving up. “I know how much I’m worth, and I promise you, I pay better than the state of Texas.”

Unfortunately for Neal Caffrey, Peter Burke was both a man of modest means, and a man with a long history working for the law. Not that it wasn’t at all tempting. He’d be lying if he said that. But Peter didn’t need that much money, and he took real pride in his work. Something of his thoughts must have shown on his face, and he could see it the moment that Caffrey realized he couldn’t be bought.

“I take it that’s a ‘no,’ then,” Caffrey said, looking at Peter with something akin to wonder.

“Take off your coat,” Peter replied, deciding it was past time to move the plot of this little drama along. He drew his gun to emphasize his point.

“Didn’t we have this conversation before?” Caffrey said, a grin breaking out on his face. “If I’d known it wasn’t money you wanted….”

“You. Are incorrigible. Aren’t you?” Peter replied, somehow amused, uncomfortable and annoyed all at once. He was also too charming for his own good. And surely he was joking. Wasn’t he?

Caffrey just smiled that Cheshire cat smile.

“Look. I don’t want your money. Or anything else you might be offering.” And did Peter just say that?

Caffrey kept grinning.

Peter sighed. “They may not have been able to hold you, but I know you’ve been arrested before, so I know you know the drill. I could knock you out,” and here he brandished his Colt, “but I’d really rather not.”

That seemed to get the other man’s attention. The smile left his face, taking with it the amused look in his eyes, which gave way to resignation. He took off his coat.

Peter advanced slowly, not wanting to spook Caffrey.  All his research said the man was non-violent, didn’t even carry a gun – and who didn’t carry a gun in this day and age? But it didn’t hurt to be cautious.  Caffrey held very still as Peter approached, followed Peter’s directions (turn around, hands on the wall, and so on), let Peter search him – more carefully this time.  Peter let himself relax, just a little. And that was his first mistake. Caffrey may have been non-violent. He may have been that little bit smaller and slighter of build than Peter. But he was just as slippery as they said, and suddenly Peter felt the impact of Caffrey’s booted foot on his shin, and then he was slipping out from between Peter and the wall and making a dash for the door. Peter grunted in pain, but he was quicker than he looked. Recovering rapidly, he dashed after his erstwhile prisoner, managing to tackle him to the floor just as he was starting to open the door into the hallway. The two men went down in a heap, Caffrey’s breath coming out in rush as Peter landed on top of him. Caffrey might be thin, but he had a wiry strength. He might be generally non-violent, but that didn’t mean he was just going to let Peter bring him in. He struggled under Peter’s weight, trying to twist out from under him, but Peter managed to adjust his position enough to get a good hold on one of Caffrey’s arms and twist it up behind him. Caffrey either didn’t realize it at first, or he chose to ignore it, because he continued to squirm. Peter gave the arm a tug, pulling it higher, and the movement underneath him stopped.

“Had enough?” he asked, his voice promising pain if the answer was no.

Peter was rewarded with a heavy sigh and a “yes,” and he thought the resignation might be real this time. Still, he was careful as he eased up just enough to pull the leather cord out of his pocket and use it to bind Caffrey’s hands behind him. Peter had handcuffs – a few pairs, in fact – but he’d done his homework. If it has a lock, it can be picked. He double-checked his knots before he got up, then pulled Caffrey to his feet, keeping a hand on his collar. Caffrey shifted his balance back and forth a few times, flexed his fingers, tugged experimentally on his bonds. Peter waited, his hand heavy on the back of Caffrey’s neck, until he settled. Finally relaxing, Caffrey turned his head to look at Peter over his shoulder. He gave the cord around his wrists one more pull, raised an eyebrow. “Leather? Really?”

“Know your enemy,” Peter responded.

Caffrey’s look said he understood exactly what Peter meant, but after a brief pause the cheeky grin was back. “And here I thought you’d changed your mind about my offer,” he said.

Peter shook his head, smiling in spite of himself. “Like I said, incorrigible,” he grumbled, then gave himself a mental shake. Caffrey was too likeable for Peter’s good, and he couldn’t afford to let his guard down around the man. Schooling his features to a carefully neutral expression, he walked his prisoner over to the chair in the corner of the room and turned him around by the shoulders. “Sit,” he said, pushing him down. Caffrey wasn’t fighting him anymore, at least not for now, and he let himself be pushed into the chair. “Stay,” Peter said. Caffrey quirked an eyebrow at that, but Peter just ignored him, and moved to search the room. Keeping one eye on Caffrey, he worked his way around the room, looking for anything that might seem important and gathering Caffrey’s belongings so he could go through them more thoroughly. As he went about his business, Peter allowed himself a moment of satisfaction. He’d won another round, it seemed. If only there wasn’t still a fair way to go before the game was over. Starting with surviving a night in Neal Caffrey's hotel room. If he were honest with himself, though, Peter would have to admit that he was looking forward to continuing to play.

 

*****************

In other fannish news, I seem to have made the rather sudden decision that I'm going to Comic-Con this year.  I have a college friend who lives out in San Diego, and when I found out she was going (or at least trying for tickets), I decided to give it a go.  The process for buying tickets was completely INSANE, but I managed to snag a 4-day pass.  So - trip to San Diego this summer.  Woot!

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Awesome - don't think I commented properly on the Promptfest. I hope you continue this AU - it's a lot of fun.

Thanks! And thanks for taking time to stop by and comment now. I know I get behind in my commenting during Promptfest - there's so much good stuff everywhere, it can be hard to keep up. :-)

I hope to continue it as well, though while I have a general idea where things go after this, it's *extremely* general beyond an additional couple of sections of the bit I've already posted. Did that make any sense? I may end up writing the other version first (same prompt, same core moment, but a completely different set-up and resolution).

That does make sense - it'd be fun to explore a rewind of the same fic. I've never done it but I've seen others do it and it can be very interesting.

Have you ever seen the movie "The Comancheros"? I was suddenly totally reminded of that....how about a sequel, involving an anvil? This would work really nicely as an AU.

I'd love to see the alternate version of this story, and/or a sequel...

I've been thinking about this 'verse a bit lately. I *would* like to revisit it, but first I need to finish my next kid!Neal fic (the one I didn't finish for the kid!fic challenge over on whitecollarhc). I posted a fic I'd written earlier but hadn't posted anywhere because I couldn't get the next one finished in time.

Edited at 2012-03-27 02:44 pm (UTC)

Ohh, boy, am I glad this came up in the chat yesterday! Loved it, and really hope you'll revisit this story soon! :D

:-) I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm not sure about a follow-up/sequel at the moment, but I have kind of started working on the other version of the scenario that was in my head back when I wrote the original. We'll see what happens.

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