Present Day… New York…
It was was nearly 9pm and there was still a light on in the FBI offices. A haggard Peter Burke was still hard at work in the conference room, pouring over video feeds and paperwork scattered all across the long table. Despite sending Diana and Jones home an hour ago, and promising to do the same himself, he was unable to tear himself away.
“Neal,” he murmured to himself as he stared at traffic cam footage, catching a glimpse of what he suspected was his target on a motorcycle, heading through an intersection. “What in the world has gotten into you?” With a groan, he straightened himself up, massaging his lower back before heading to a map of the city. He placed a red tack symbolizing the brief Neal sighting and then stood back. It was clear to Peter that Neal was obviously heading out of town, making a beeline for one of the major highways, I-95 heading south toward New Jersey.
As he turned back to the table, he cast a long, troubled look at a black folder bearing not the seal of the FBI, but the crest of the Justice League International.
The transfer request from the high powered, multi-national superhero organization had arrived just two hours after Neal vanished, hand delivered by a liaison named Megan Morse. The woman had been less than pleased to learn the person she was to take custody of had slipped through the FBI’s grasp. In fact, she had been completely alarmed and had immediately set about making phone calls as soon as she was informed of the current situation. It wasn’t until Peter took a look at the transfer orders that he understood the reasons for her heightened sense of urgency.
Neal was being targeted by the League of Assassins.
As unbelievable as it initially appeared, somehow Neal had been placed in the crosshairs for one of the most deadly murder-for-hire groups in the world. His life was in imminent danger, for reasons neither the orders nor Miss Morse would clarify on, and the JLI was stepping forward to put him into protective custody until the situation could be resolved.
Peter didn’t like it.
Nothing about the situation before him made any sense. As far as he knew, Neal had done nothing to warrant being the target of an organization like the League of Assassins. Far as he knew, Neal’s death wouldn’t benefit anyone with the deep pockets required to buy one of the deadly League’s favors. Additionally, why was the JLI taking particular interest in protecting Neal themselves, to the extent that they wanted to remove him from FBI custody entirely?
Peter’s cell phone rang. He glanced at the screen and suppressed a sigh of disappointment. “Hi Elle.”
He could practically envision the small, understanding smile on his wife’s face as she spoke. “You were hoping I was Neal, weren’t you?”
“Maybe a little, but I’m always glad to hear from you, hun.”
“Have there been any new developments?”
“Not really. Following him on traffic cam feeds from this morning got me as far as the highway before we lost him in rush hour traffic, so he’s definitely not in the city anymore. Security footage from last night showed he got what looks like a pretty important phone call at 3:30am. Tried tracing the call, but no dice yet. When that call ended, Neal ended up making another call of his own to an unknown number, probably a burn phone, and my gut says it was probably Mozzie.”
“Did you call the number Moz gave you awhile back?”
“Already tried it. No answer. I have a feeling he’s gone to ground, which means it’ll be next to impossible to find him.”
“Are you planning on staying at the office any later tonight, or should I stop by in the morning before work and drop off some breakfast for you?”
When Peter turned his head so that he could catch a glimpse of the wall clock beyond the glass walls of the conference room, something else caught his attention in the shadows beyond the glass. He immediately, but slowly, straightened up. “I’m going to have to call you back, Elle.”
“Is something wrong, Peter?”
“No… I just have a visitor I need to attend to.”
“Visitor? Who visits the FBI unexpectedly at this hour of night?”
Peter turned so that he could fully face the imposing masked vigilante who’d silently materialized beside Neal’s desk. “Bats apparently. I’ll tell you all about it later.”
“Alright, love. Be careful.”
His phone was tucked into the pocket of his suit as Peter exited the conference room and, as calmly as he could, made his way to Neal’s desk. “Nightwing, I presume?”
The man clad entirely in black, save for the red that emblazoned his chest and gave his masked eyes an ominous glow, turned his attention from his examination of the desk in front of him to the FBI agent. “You presume correctly,” Nightwing responded crisply.
Peter got the strangest sense of deja vu, but filed the thought away for later. “I’m assuming this isn’t a social call.”
Nightwing went straight to the point. “Where’s Neal Caffrey?”
“If I knew that, I wouldn’t be here, now would I?”
“Do you have any leads?”
Peter frowned. “What’s your interest in him?”
The vigilante seemed almost taken aback. “Excuse me?”
“Humor me,” Peter said simply. “I’m trying to do my job. Twelve hours ago, an official order came down the pipeline stating that Neal Caffrey was an active target of the League of Assassins, and was to be placed into the custody of the JLI as soon as possible. ‘As soon as possible’ translating into ‘immediately’ if he had actually be here in the first place. Two hours before that, Caffrey took it upon himself to cut and run for parts unknown, for reasons currently unknown. And about ten hours prior to that, someone decided to take potshots at Caffrey in his own home from a nearby rooftop. But of course, you already knew all that, right.”
“Of course,” Nightwing admitted. “So why bring it up.”
Peter looked Nightwing squarely in the eyes, refusing to flinch, refusing to be cowed by his first experience standing toe to toe with one of the larger than life costumed crime-fighters who handled dangerous people and situations that were well above his pay grade. He respected men like Nightwing, but that didn’t mean he was in awe of any of them. They had their jobs to do, and he had his.
“I don’t believe in coincidence,” Peter stated simply. “And I trust my instincts, especially when it involves Neal. That it’s you who personally came from the JLI to find out what happened to him and not any other member of your organization means something. I don’t know what, yet, but I will.”
Nightwing regarded Peter calmly. The man behind the mask was impressed with Agent Burke’s general reaction and demeanor to this unexpected visit. He was also taken slightly off guard by how quickly the federal officer had come to the conclusion that there was more to his personal involvement regarding Neal than meets the eye. Nightwing could literally feel Peter dissecting him under his gaze, attempting to piece together a mental image of who the man in front of him really was, figure out what his motivations were, decide if there were any ulterior motives in the works, and then trying to fit all those separated pieces into the puzzle he was currently working on.
Dick wondered if perhaps this was what his father felt during the early days of working with Commissioner Jim Gordon back in Gotham.
“Regardless of my own motivations for seeking custody of Neal Caffrey,” Nightwing said. “Everything stated within the transfer orders is correct. He needs to be quickly located if he’s to have any chance of protection from the League of Assassins. I need whatever information you have regarding where he might be heading to.”
Peter mulled the request over. “Quid pro quo,” he offered in return. “I’ll share our information with you, but in return I need to be there when Neal is found.”
“I’m not certain if that’s a good idea, Agent-“
“This is not up for debate,” Peter interrupted. “Neal is a career criminal who has been extremely successful at his trade in the past because he made it a point to avoid crossing paths with people like you. Depending on his motivations for running off the way he did, if he found out you and your people were after him, he’d most likely go to ground and then you’d never be able to find him.”
“You found him… Twice.”
Peter raised an eyebrow at him. So the masked man knew his record. “True, but the ace I had up my sleeve for locating him sadly isn’t something that can be played anymore.” He sighed. “If we find him, and I can get a chance to speak with him, I think I can talk him into going with you willingly.”
Nightwing looked pointedly at Peter. “Do you honestly think you can talk him out of running?”
The agent thought back to the day Kate died, and what Neal had told him as he hesitated in going towards the doomed plane.
“You said goodbye to everyone except me,” Peter had said to Neal there on the tarmac. “Why?”
Neal had tried to dismiss the question. “I don’t know.”
Peter knew that was a lie and demanded an answer. “Yeah you do. Tell me.”
He could see the frustration starting to bloom in Caffrey’s face. “I don’t know, Peter.”
“You know why!”
“Because!” the younger man finally relented. “You’re the only one who could change my mind!”
Peter sighed as he returned his attention back to Nightwing. “Despite being on opposites sides of the law for most of time we’ve known one another, I’ve been a constant, stable presence in his life for the last several years. I’m not saying I’m some father-figure to him or anything of the sort. What you need to understand is that, on some level, Neal respects me enough to at least listen to things I have to say to him. He may not always take my advice to heart. In fact, if he doesn’t like what I’m saying he’ll either tell me straight up or he’ll smile and nod and do the exact opposite later. However, that is definitely more than he’d give you or any other member of the Justice League.”
“And what would he give to one of us?”
The agent thought for a moment. “He’d probably flash you one of his disarmingly charming grins, talk evasive circles around you, all the while planning six different ways to slip away when a moment presented itself.”
Nightwing was reminded of his first meeting with Neal Caffrey, back on the night he first discovered that the con man was really his brother. He glanced over Peter’s shoulder, a subtle gesture that was thankfully masked by his pupilless red lenses, and looked to the nearly imperceptible tall broad shadow in the corner of the conference room. The shadow moved slightly.
“Alright,” Nightwing said. “When we track down Neal and find him, you’ll be along with us.” He walked towards the conference room and held the door open for Peter.
“Good… Wait-” Peter paused midway through the doorway. “Did you just say us?”
From a shadow directly in front of Peter, there was movement. A large, imposing, iconic figure melted out of the darkness. The agent tried hard not to show too much visible reaction at the unexpected sight, but he couldn’t prevent the way his face paled, the sharp intake of breath, and the way his eyes widened in their shock and awe. Meeting Nightwing, the leader of the Justice League, in person was one thing. Meeting this man, though…
Peter finally meets Nightwing and Batman, and the DC/White Collar worlds blend even further together.