sheenianni: (hedgehog)
[personal profile] sheenianni
Title: Dance Around the Flames – Part IV
Author’s Name: [livejournal.com profile] sheenianni
Fandom: White Collar
Notes:
See Part I
___________________________________



PART IV

A year passes. Sara continues her PI job. On occasion, she hears the news about Caffrey’s exploits and smiles with a bit of ache, but she knows it’s over and she is moving on.

She still enjoys fixing the various wrongs in the world. She hears one day that Danielle won the legal battle against Jeremy Stout; got back the apartment along with a hefty compensation that should allow her and her boy to be comfortable for a while at least. No matter how things turned out otherwise, Sara is glad that at least Danielle got her own share of justice and happiness.

Between tracking back missing items and catching unfaithful spouses, she also works some more interesting cases. It’s during another embezzlement scheme that she makes several acquaintances with the FBI White Collar division. In a different world, she might have called Peter Burke a friend.

Acquaintances and contacts. Anything else just brings too much complications.

* * *


It’s another of those boring cases that nevertheless help her pay the bills and make her PI business look more “by the book.”

Mrs. McCann is a cop’s wife who comes to Sara worried about her marriage. Her husband has been evasive lately, she says; lying to her, working far too many late nights, making thin excuses. She thinks he has found a mistress.

Infidelity cases aren’t Sara’s particular favorites. For one reason, taking photos of cheating spouses in compromising positions gets pretty monotone after a while, and she could probably write a book on what not to do if you’re pretending not to be involved with someone. Besides, apart from the rare cases when the target actually turned out to be faithful to their partner, most infidelity cases end in pain and heartbreak.

On the upside, at least this time, she’s up against someone who knows a bit about investigation and secrecy, so he should be more interesting than the average schmuck. And who knows, maybe she’ll get lucky this time and Mr. Cop will have a kinky side to himself to make things more interesting (he did look rather hot in his photo.)

She follows him around for a few days and he slips her once, but she’s not sure it wasn’t just a bad coincidence. His finances are the first thing that gives her pause. As opposed to most adulterers who are trying to hide their expenses from their spouse, her latest target seems to be quietly introducing more money into the family finances.

At the moment, she has little to no evidence to support her claim. Yet she’s begun to suspect that McCann is up to something more nefarious than simply having a woman on the side.

Sara perks up at the challenge.

A few days later, she finally seems to have hit the jackpot.

She follows McCann to a shady part of the town, more and more convinced that there is something else going on, her suspicions all but confirmed when she tracks him down to an old warehouse.

The windows of the warehouse are covered, but she finds a place where the paper has ruffled up and she can actually see a bit of the inside. After quickly checking her surroundings, Sara presses her face closer to a window, getting a glimpse of a dim-lit room that seems to be empty except for a table and a few chairs.

And money. There’s a whole suitcase of it on the table.

Quietly thinking about her equipment, Sara concludes that with some luck, she might be able to get a half-decent photo. Reaching for her bag, she starts pulling out her camera when some instinct warns her and she turns around.

She barely catches a glimpse of her assailant when something hits her over the head and everything goes black.

* * *


She wakes up in a dark room, ropes around her chest and thighs, her hands and feet zip-tied to a chair, her mouth gagged. Clearly, whoever caught her did their job.

What the hell is McCann really up to?

They could kill her. Take their time at it. Dump her body somewhere as a bloody mess; just another missing person, a woman who disappeared, a case never solved; another meaningless statistic…

She ruthlessly squashes the flicker of terror and focuses on anger and determination. She’s going to get out of here.

Alive.

* * *


Her captors haven’t blindfolded her, which means she can study her surroundings, at least as far as her neck allows her to turn. The bricks look different than those at the warehouse, which might suggest that she has been moved elsewhere. Smelling the slightly damp walls around her, Sara concludes that she’s in some sort of a cellar.

Her surroundings are incredibly quiet; another clue suggesting that she may be underground. She tries to work her head and jaws to get the gag out, but concedes defeat after maybe half an hour. Even if someone could hear her, it’s not going to happen until someone takes the gag out.

She then focuses on the rest of her restraints. If they had handcuffed her, she could have picked the locks. Unfortunately the zip-ties around her ankles aren’t budging and neither are those around her wrists.

Damn it.

At last she closes her eyes and tries to get some sleep.

She might need her strength later.

* * *


The sound of the door opening wakes her up. Raising her head, Sara stares at the two men across from her – both of them wearing ski masks that conceal their faces.

Noticing their shoes, she immediately recognizes one of them as McCann. The other one must be an accomplice.

The fact that they’re not letting her see their faces could be good news – if they were hell-bent on killing her, they might not have bothered with them. Or they could simply be used to taking precautions, thinks Sara cynically.

For a moment, they eye each other in silence.

“We checked you out,” speaks the unknown man at last. He reaches into his pocket and Sara tenses involuntarily. Her eyes follow his hand as he pulls out something and tosses it on the ground. Her IDs.

“Quite the set of IDs you have here,” says the man conversationally. “Your name is Sara Ellis. You’re a PI who stuck her nose where it didn’t belong. That was a stupid thing to do.”

Staring at the other man, Sara notices how McCann twitches next to his companion.

“I’ll take out your gag now. Nobody will hear you here, so don’t bother trying to scream. Make no mistake, I will hurt you if you piss me off.”

He pulls out a knife during his speech. She wants to laugh at his Mr. Blonde impression, except she knows better than to not take his threats seriously.

She shudders despite herself when he cuts her gag and yanks the remnants of the cloth out of her mouth. “Blondie” seems to smile under his mask. “Now Sara, let’s find out what you really know about our operation…”

* * *


The chair flies when Blondie punches her into the stomach. For a moment, Sara sees stars, her head spinning from the way she hit it on the ground.

She thinks she hears her captors arguing, but she can’t be sure. There’s blood tickling down her chin from the way Blondie hit her earlier. Her sight is muddled by involuntary tears. Spitting out blood, she gasps for breath and tries to focus her scattered thoughts.

They’ll keep up the violence; probably escalate it until she tells them the truth. Then if they realize how little she knows, they can kill her.

She can’t let them know.


“I didn’t sign up for kidnapping people!” exclaims McCann from the other side of the room.

Her bloodied face hidden from them, Sara smiles. She has to hold on and wait for an opportunity to escape.

* * *


From the overheard bits of conversation, she realizes they’re all corrupt cops – a group of several people, skimming from the money they apparently confiscated working cases and running their own dirty business on the side.

She knows they will probably come and search her PI office. Then they’ll try to find her apartment, which will take them a bit longer, but ultimately they will succeed.

She doesn’t have much time.

Sara seizes her opportunity when McCann visits her alone the next day.

“You need to tell us what you know,” he says when he takes out Sara’s gag.

“Why, so you can kill me?” she asks, her voice weak and raspy.

“We don’t have to kill you,” he says with an audible frown. “We could simply set you up with some drugs. Inject some into your bloodstream, leave more of them at your place…”

“…ruin my credibility and destroy my life. Wonderful plan.”

“At least you’d have a life. But you need to tell us what you know.”

She looks away. “I’m hungry,” she says at last, her voice wavering with fatigue and fear.

Her jailor nods. “I’ll bring you something to eat.”

Filled with anticipation, Sara watches him leave the room and holds her breath as she waits for him to return.

When McCann comes back, he’s holding a spoon and a bowl of Ramen noodles. More importantly, he’s still alone.

They have untied her twice when she mentioned using the bathroom, but always with several people in the room and guns aimed at her, and she wasn’t stupid enough to try anything with the odds so against her.

But McCann is alone and the least capable of them. She might not get a better chance than this.

He eyes her with suspicion. “No funny business, do you understand?”

“Please, I’m really hungry,” says Sara, her voice breaking with defeat.

Setting the bowl aside, McCann pulls out a knife and cuts through one of her zip-ties. Giving him a grateful smile, Sara stretches her hand and gives her wrist a few experimental moves.

Putting the knife away, McCann brings her the bowl with the still hot noodles and settles them in Sara’s lap. Then he hands her the spoon.

She grabs the bowl, burning her fingers in the hot liquid. Then she throws the noodles in her captor’s face.

McCann screams and grasps at his eyes, the noodles all over his ski mask. The second of distraction is all Sara needs to pull herself up in the chair and stand on her feet. She falls forward, knocking McCann to the ground with her. Clutching the spoon with all her might, she gasps in effort as she rolls over, ready to stab the spoon into her captor’s eye, chest or neck –

And then she hears the sound of a gunshot and pain explodes in her thigh. She barely registers it as something moves toward her head.

A blow to her temple and she knows no more.

* * *


She’s going to die down here.

She doesn’t know how much time has passed since her escape attempt.

She’s been shot in the leg. She thinks she has a concussion. She’s not sure if she’d be able to walk even if they removed the zip-ties and ropes.

She tells herself she has no regrets. Somehow, she always expected her life would end like this – in pain, violent and alone.

Between the interrogation and the infection that’s beginning to fester in her leg, she’s almost grateful for the fever that eventually comes and allows her to slip away.

* * *


“…Sara? Sara!”

She’s drowning in hallucinations and feverish dreams.

“Sara, it’s me. Can you hear me?”

She blinks her eyes open, but the person above her is just a blurred smudge. Her eyes flicker closed again.

“Let me get you out of these…

When she opens her eyes again, the restraints are gone and someone is pulling her up. Through the haze in her head, she blinks at the person lifting her up. She knows him from somewhere…

Green and yellow splotches…

“Frog painting.”

“Sorry, what did you say?”

No, that’s not right…

“Caffrey?” she asks weakly when the information finally clicks. It must be another dream…

He smiles at her. “Hey.”

“What are you doing here?”

The smile disappears and he swallows. “I’m so sorry. I came as soon as I heard…”

What…

Nothing makes sense.

“Sara, hey! Listen to me. Can you walk?” Neal asks her as he wraps her arm around his shoulders.

Can she walk?

There’s pain, exhaustion. And a man holding her up, standing by her side.

She grasps at his forearm. “Let’s go.”

* * *


She must have phased out for a moment, because suddenly they’re out in the street and the air and wind never felt so sweet as now.

Neal half-leads, half-carries her to a car. Did he steal it? He’s one of the best thieves on the planet…

“Where…”

“I’m taking you to a hospital,” he says from the driver’s seat after he buckles her up. “Just hold on, okay?”

They’ll find them there. The bad cops will track them down… “Don’t let them catch you,” she wheezes out.

“Don’t worry about me,” says Neal with a pained smile.

She passes out before she can say anything else.

* * *


When she wakes up, she feels better than she has in days.

She’s lying in a bed, so very soft and comfortable that she almost doesn’t want to open her eyes. Pulling herself up, Sara looks around, realizing almost immediately that she is in a hospital.

She freezes when she realizes there’s a man at the door.

“Hello Sara,” says Peter Burke with a soft smile.

“What are you doing here?” she asks guardedly.

“Looking after you, in case someone tried to attack you again. May I?”

Sara watches him warily as Peter comes closer, pulling a chair to sit next to her bed.

“That’s quite an operation you uncovered there. You could have come to us, you know? Just because you’re a Private Investigator doesn’t mean you have to do it all alone.”

Operation? Uncovered…?

She notices a file lying on the table. Without betraying her surprise, Sara reaches for it, opens it and starts reading.

A group of corrupt cops, selling guns and skimming money off of drug busts. Carefully, she flips through page after page, until slowly allowing herself a small smile.

With the information there, the cops who held her captive are going down; it’s just a matter of making the arrest.

‘Thank you, Neal.’

* * *


It’s two weeks after she’s been released from the hospital. Still at home, Sara uses her crutches to make it to the kitchen. She grabs some Hot Pockets, sticks them into the microwave and waits for the beeping noise; then she somehow hobbles back to her couch with her plate, settles the crutches next to her and grabs her laptop to read the news.

She’s halfway through the page when she sees a title that freezes her blood in her veins.

“A suspected thief and bond forger arrested in New York”

“Neal Caffrey (28), who has been suspected on multiple counts of fraud, art theft and forgery, has recently been arrested by the New York FBI division…”

Sara’s plate breaks as it slips her hands and hits the floor.


Part V

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