Title: And the ghosts in the attic they never quite leave
Characters/Pairings: Diana/Christie, Neal, Peter
Rating: PG
Word Count: 14,300
Spoilers: Spoilers through 2.10 Burke’s Seven
Warnings: None
Summary: On the limitations of geometry as a guide to moral decision-making, or, the one where Neal and Diana cook dinner together and light things on fire.
Author's Note: Huge thanks to LC, my amazing beta, who is awesome and wonderful and who made this much better than it would have been otherwise! Also thanks to [personal profile] frith_in_thorns and neontiger55 for cheerleading and encouragement! I do not own any of these characters. The title is from Vienna Teng's "Eric's Song".

Art: The gorgeous cover art is by the amazing and talented [livejournal.com profile] love_82 - thank you SO MUCH! :)

In Diana’s earliest memory of him, Charlie walked the perimeter in the sun-drenched courtyard of a Venetian palazzo.

She stood beside a fountain, listening to water fall from the open beak of a verdigris-scaled swan, while bees hummed in the climbing rose scrambling up a wall of warm pink brick. Charlie walked along the low hedges, from one gap to the next, neat lines in a perfect hexagon around the courtyard’s border.

At the end of each circuit he stopped, near the broad path leading toward the main gardens, where he could see every entrance and her as well. He stood with a trained stillness, arms hanging loose and ready at his sides.

Her father and two men she didn’t recognize wandered from one carefully-trimmed topiary sculpture to the next, a soft buzz of voices in a language she hadn’t learned yet. She sat on the lip of the fountain pool and watched them, a cluster of dignitaries dancing a bee’s meandering path from flower to flower and Charlie, holding to the edge of the group, moving in clear straight lines.


She walks the length of the ward every twenty minutes.

Sixty measured steps. Fifteen to reach the first branching hallway and fifteen more to the elevator bank. A suspicious glance at an orderly waiting beside a laundry cart, faded aquamarine scrubs and a badly-disguised yawn.

Fifteen steps to the nurses’ station and she smothers a yawn of her own. It’s not yet 8 PM, but she slept three hours last night and that was three hours more than the night before.

From here clear sight lines radiate like points of a star; the potted fern beside the night nurse’s chair is too small to hide a shooter, the water cooler too transparent. She can see both ends of the hall, the stairwell door and the numbers crawling upward on the display panel over the elevator.

It’s an old lesson, where to look and what to look for, assessing all approaches.

At Quantico they taped all the students’ practical exercises. It had been the first time she’d seen herself standing guard. She remembers it like a gut punch, sitting in a room with a dozen others while her vision narrowed to a dark tunnel, watching the screen as someone with her hair and her clothes who stood and moved like Charlie came through the door, holding a familiar stance, raising a weapon and holding her aim to cover all access points.

The ding of an arriving elevator surprises her; she restrains a start as the doors open and the laundry cart disappears. She pivots, neat and sharp, beside the water cooler; her reflection passes across the closing doors, a blurred shadow in brushed steel.

The rhythm of walking night watch is older than Quantico. Her eyes are gritty and her ears buzz, a faint hum mingling with the gnat’s whine of overhead fluorescents. But her feet are sure, despite the growing headache pounding an off-beat counterpoint to her steps. Some children count sheep; Diana counted Charlie’s footsteps when she couldn’t sleep.

The hall outside her bedroom in Dubai was twenty paces long. In Pretoria it was thirty. Venice was thirteen and Jakarta twenty-seven. Now the sound of her own steps joins and echoes a primal sense memory, the faint squeak of rubber soles on polished tile like a lullaby or a mother’s heartbeat.

Fifteen steps and she pauses outside Mozzie’s room; the door is cracked and the light dimmed but Neal looks up. She doesn’t ask if she woke him.

Like her, he learned long ago to sleep through the sound of an armed guard pacing just outside the door.

Fifteen steps to reach the lounge. A coffee stain marks the grey carpet, a dark blot shaped like a squid, leftover fragments of someone else’s vigil soaked into the floor beside a low table piled with coloring books.

Twenty minutes ago, she would have said the stain had the grin of a Cheshire cat.

She presses the heel of one hand against her eyes, absently noting a faint tremor, nerve endings overloaded with adrenaline and caffeine. Her shift is nearly over; the beep of an incoming text tells her Agent Smith is on his way up from the lobby.

She wants to go home and do a faceplant at the kitchen table but Christie’s mother is landing at LaGuardia in forty minutes; Christie’s shift doesn’t end for another four hours, and Diana promised she’d play hostess until then.

A reckless promise made six hours ago, in that brief window of triumph and fuzzy exhausted relief, after they go their man and before they let him go again, when she thought everything was going to be okay.

Her phone buzzes and she answers without looking. “Hey, boss.”

“How’s it going over there?”

“The little guy’s been asleep since I got here.” He’d been awake earlier, Neal said; by the nurses’ odd looks when she asks about him, she suspects Mozzie is recovered enough to be his usual bafflingly irritating self. “Christie says that’s a good thing. Neal hasn’t told him -”

Neal hasn’t told Mozzie they let the man who shot him walk out of the federal building mere hours after they brought him in. A week’s desperate searching and no sleep is catching up to them, and now they’re back where they started, only without Peter -

“We’ll get him again.” Peter’s voice is an anchor. “We’ll get through this. It’s not the end of the world.”

It’s a damned good frame job, she wants to say. It’s a board of inquiry and possible criminal charges; it’s a killer on the loose and any one of us could be his next target.

“At least you didn’t -” - shoot anybody this time. She swallows the rest of that sentence as Neal appears in the hall, shutting the door to Mozzie’s room with a soft click.

“Yeah,” Peter says, like he hears what she doesn’t say. “Listen, we’re not going to solve this tonight. Take Neal home when your shift is up. And then get some sleep. You both need it.”

She blinks and sees sparkles overlaid on black beige walls, exhaustion adding color where there is none. Neal has spent the last week glued to Mozzie’s side, when he hasn’t been out hunting for leads. He’s as worn thin as she is and as unlikely to sleep tonight.

She could order him to leave the hospital; she can drag him back to June’s loft in cuffs but short of drugging him she can’t make him relax, can’t make him promise to behave.

But Peter has enough to worry about; she won’t add to that list.

“I’ve got this, boss.” Because someone has to be the steady one, the solid rock when everything falls down. Again. “Now you get some rest, too, okay?”

She hangs up, tucking the phone away as Neal approaches.

Charlie was always the steady one, for as long as she can remember; he made it look easy.

“There’s coffee downstairs,” Neal says. He nods toward the elevators in a vague gesture of invitation and she shakes her head.

It still feels like running into a brick wall, every time she wants to tell Charlie I get it now, every time she remembers that she can’t.

“June has better coffee than this place.” Not that coffee is what they need. They need to crash, to crawl under a pile of blankets and pretend this last week didn’t happen. They need Larssen and whoever he works for behind bars. “I’m taking you home.”

“Diana.” Neal’s practiced fake smile falters for half a second. “I’m fine. Really.”

There are so many things wrong with that statement Diana doesn’t know where to start, so she only goes with, “I think you owe me dinner.”

Neal blinks.

It’s the sort of idea one thinks is brilliant after a week of more espresso than sleep; it’s possible she’ll regret this later.

“Your place,” she says evenly, and his eyes are wary, searching for some hidden catch. “You’re cooking for three. Come on.”


The night of her senior prom, Charlie took her to the range and she practiced shooting his HK MP5 rifle until her shoulder ached.

Afterward she lay on the manicured embassy lawn, listening to a symphony of crickets tuning up and the guards’ radios murmuring routine checks from the gatehouse.

Charlie sat beside her, relaxed and alert at once. “Shouldn’t you be studying for the foreign service exam?”

A sickle moon had emerged from thin clouds, frosting the razor wire at the top of the wall with silver glitter. She might have said everyone else was still out dancing; it wasn’t yet midnight.

(The American ambassador’s daughter’s prom date was news, here; the school administrators and her father’s head of PR agreed Rachel Hayes was the kind of news they didn’t need.)

Instead she rolled over, propped herself on her elbows and breathed in dew and newly-cut grass. “I’m not taking it.”

She’d told her father last night; he’d come in wired and jetlagged just before 3 AM, after a month as special envoy on some assignment he wouldn’t discuss.

(When she asked, all he’d say was there’s no peace in this world that isn’t built on shitty compromises.)

“You’d be a competitive candidate,” Charlie said. She’d heard it before. School guidance counselors had been dropping hints since she turned sixteen; she’d lived in ten countries and she could carry a conversation in three languages. “A lot of your father’s friends think so.”

“My father doesn’t have friends,” she shot back; she expected Charlie to be on her side in this. “He has people who owe him favors.”

It would be one of their last arguments.

“His work is important,” Charlie insisted patiently.

“So is yours.”

“Diplomacy is more than those fancy cocktail parties you hate. You don’t see a lot of what goes into it.”

“I’ve seen enough.” She’d watched her father disappear into dark rooms and all-night emergency meetings for years, now, vanishing on last-minute red-eye flights for weeks at a time.

(State secrets, vital to national security, grownup things and you wouldn’t understand and stop asking questions.)

Her father had accepted her decision without question. He thought he understood; he’d started his career surrounded by those who judged him for the color of his skin; he knew some of the pressures and prejudices she’d face.

But it was more than that; she expected Charlie to understand. “I want to do what you do.”

“And what’s that?”

She sat up, rotating her shoulders forward and then back, stretching sore muscles. She tilted her head toward the Marine sentry pacing a crisp square on the roof.

She didn’t say Charlie got to shoot at bad guys, while her father got to invite them for drinks and ask them nicely, please behave.

“Your world is simpler,” she tried to explain, while Charlie watched her with that carefully expressionless look, the one that said he didn’t understand what she was talking about - or she didn’t. “Harder to live in,” she granted, “but easier to understand.”

She wasn’t a child anymore. She knew a polite request over cocktails could carry more weight than a column of tanks, when made by the right person. She understood some things were complicated.

But some things weren’t. Or they shouldn’t be.


The bakery two blocks from the hospital is closing when they arrive, but Neal’s smile can still open doors; he jogs up to the entrance, waving, and the clerk halts halfway through pulling down the shade and flipping the sign.

Nothing in his loft is fit to eat, Neal insists. Five minutes later he’s leaning against the counter, like he and the clerk are old friends sharing a secret, and Diana wonders if he’s just conned her into a grocery run outside his radius.

Sometimes Neal reminds her of her father.

The light in his eyes is illusion, diversion; the intimate conspiratorial tone bends rules like so much soft taffy. Even tonight, Neal can almost pull off that smile, the one that’s trying to say the rumpled clothes and three days’ stubble are a deliberate artistic affectation.


She knows he’s spent the last six nights in a hard chair beside a hospital bed; he hasn’t been home since they brought Mozzie in.

The sun blazes at a sharp, lowering angle as they emerge into the street, amber splashing against parked cars and sparking green fire from a broken bottle beside the curb; the crunch of glass under her feet sets her teeth on edge.

She’s seen Neal stripped raw in ways she’s never seen her father.

“You’re going to have agents with Moz all night?” Neal’s eyes are soft and fond and worried.

She nods. He stops and sets two paper grocery bags at his feet, tearing a warm roll and handing her half as he scans the street for a cab. The crust is hard and the soft interior smells like spring break in Paris.

If this is a con, she thinks as pigeons flutter-rush the crumbs at her feet, at least she’s getting a nice dinner out of it.

“Any news on Larssen?”

“We’ll catch him,” she says, emphasis on we, and as much false confidence as she can project. “Again.” She has no real answers to offer. “This isn’t over yet.”

“No.” Neal is hard to read; she can only guess what’s going on inside his head. “It’s not.”

Peter promised justice if Neal would step aside, if he’d trust the system, and now that system has failed at the first test.

She tries not to think about the look on Neal’s face as he watched Larssen walk out, barely six hours ago.

“We’re off the clock.” She wonders if he’d postpone whatever desperately stupid thing he’s planning next until sometime after she’s had a good twelve hours’ sleep, if she asked him nicely. “And we have cooking to do. We can think about the rest of it later.”

Her father doesn’t have friends but Neal does, even if he doesn’t know how many, or what to do with them.

It has to be friendship - hers for Neal, hers for Peter and Peter’s for Neal - she’s too tired to trace the pattern, and it doesn’t matter tonight.

“Is this a plot to distract me with awkward social engagements?”

But everything has limits. “You want to talk about awkward social engagements?” She turns and glares at him. “I spent four hours last night having drinks with the Russian cultural attaché - who by the way is a sixty-year-old man who’s known me since I was eighteen and still thinks my name is Daisy - to convince him to lean on the museum about not pressing charges. I think you owe me a few awkward social engagements.”

Neal’s mouth snaps shut and he looks away, raising one hand to hail a cab.

She lets out a slow breath. They’re both wrung out and frayed and frustrated, but it’s not her friend who’s spent the last week hanging two millimeters from death.

“My father helped him out, once.” Her father doesn’t have friends, but she’s grateful for those favors, now. Even if Anatoly Bakunin’s idea of friendly after-work drinks is half a liter of straight vodka and not particularly good vodka at that. “I’m sure you’ve had your share of difficult in-law moments?”

It’s the wrong thing to say. “Her father died before we met.” He doesn’t look at Diana. “If she had any other family, she wasn’t on speaking terms with them.”

A cab stops and the pigeons scatter; Neal’s face is blank once they get the bags settled on the floor beside their feet.

She wants to say it will get easier, that someday remembering Kate won’t make it hard to breathe. The cab accelerates, speeding through a puddle, water rising and falling against the window like a wing catching fire in the last sunlight; she resists the urge to glance behind them, checking for a tail.

She wants to say this will hurt less, someday but tonight she’d give her right arm to talk to Charlie for five minutes.

She finally says, “They’re not.” And when he looks up, blankly: “Going to press charges.”

Because she’s not sure anyone thought to tell him, with everything else that’s happened. Anatoly called at seven this morning, breaking her restless nap, as cheerful as if he hadn’t been up as late as she had and drank twice as much.

Whatever Neal thinks of this stays off his face; after a moment he nods once. Water running down the glass casts strange rippling shadows across his face.

“It’s just dinner, Neal,” she says quietly. His eyes are wary. They’re both wound too tight to remember how to stand down. “No traps. I’m not going to yell at you.”

He looks neither convinced nor reassured.

“I’m not going to try to make you talk about your feelings, either.”

That wins her a brief, twisting half-smile and a fractional loosening of his shoulders. “Pinky swear?”

There were all these reporters at Charlie’s funeral, she wants to say. She remembers being told to let herself feel, to let herself grieve, but only at the appropriate times, in the appropriate ways and in the appropriate places; she had her father’s image to maintain.

She was told many things, in the weeks and months after Charlie’s death, none of them useful; she’s never been sure what, if anything, to tell Neal. Grief is a messy, unstable thing and flows in unpredictable channels; it cuts its own ragged path like a storm surge spilling wide of a riverbank. Memories still loom to trip her when she least expects them, like black rocks long submerged breaking the waterline, shearing ripples through a fragile peace.

She could tell Neal she understands but he knows that; he’s heard the bare facts of the story and she’s not sure what else she can say. She’s never been good at talking about feelings, either.

“So.” He looks at her, finally. “Daisy, huh?”

She glares again, lets it melt into an exhausted laugh as she shakes her head. That he can find any humor in the whole situation is some cause for hope, she decides. “Do not even think about it, Caffrey.”


She took up pottery in DC.

The art and the process soothed her, and the raw physicality of it; with her hands on wet clay she felt a control too often absent at work.

She left New York with high hopes; she’d learned a lot, training under Peter Burke, but he didn’t prepare her for the endless tide of politics and paper that came with working in the capital.

She arrived in DC with some idea of bringing justice to the halls of power; four months later the potter’s wheel was a perfect metaphor for her life, spinning an endless circle and going nowhere.

She signed up for the class on a whim. She stayed with it, though she had no particular gift, to shape something that wasn’t paper. To get her hands dirty, watching symmetry take shape under her fingers: a wet grey lump spun and scooped out and passed through fire, turned into something hollow, bright and hard on the other side.

As an art it was deceptively simple. The wheel didn’t stop; one false move and the whole thing spun out of control.

She emailed her father dutifully every week. She had no one else to write - all her relationships seemed to wither into dust the hour she said goodbye. One or two old girlfriends would email out of the blue, but she could never figure out how to respond.

By the time she left Quantico she’d stopped physically typing and then deleting emails to Charlie - we just finished training on ambushes, tell me why you went left instead of right that time in Prague, damn you were right the FN SPR is amazing but I bet you didn’t even notice the weight - but she kept composing them in her head.

DC wasn’t Quantico and it wasn’t New York, and the questions she didn’t type grew more urgent and bitter with each passing month.

Her first big case ended in a multi-million dollar settlement deal that wouldn’t make a dent in her perp’s Swiss account; three months’ careful evidence gathering, long hours spent gaining the trust of frightened witnesses and two days after the bust he walked free with no criminal charges.

He wouldn’t be the last.

Christie made beautiful bowls and tall, graceful vases; she had a surgeon’s hands, strong and delicate and sure. Diana watched her throw clay for three weeks, and finally got up the nerve to ask her to dinner.

After dessert was done they strolled beside the water through a muggy fog, watching streetlights come on, wet cherry blossoms on the sidewalk and grey rain throwing a veil over the Potomac.

Diana had grown sick already of the whirling dance of Washington, where successful crooks had protection at the highest levels, where money flowed in its own circuitous path around the law and basic ethics and her office’s targets were chosen for political expediency.

She dreamed she was wrapped and smothered under reams of paper, weighing her down when she tried to act.

“Imagine you’ve got an ER full of patients you can save,” she told Christie, “and you’re not allowed to go near them with anything more than a band-aid.”

She had nightmares that she’d listened to the counselors, to her teachers, and gone into the diplomatic corps after all; she was tired of the delicate negotiating required to open cases that mattered, of deals made in dark rooms to protect criminals with powerful friends.

When Peter Burke called, eight months after she’d seen him last, to ask if she wanted to come back to New York and help him take down a dirty OPR agent, her answer was a foregone conclusion.

“There’s politics everywhere,” Christie tried to soothe her. Christie thought she was wary of commitment. “You’re not going to fix anything by running away.”

Diana grew up on the move; the oldest fix she knew was still the easiest to reach for. But she wasn’t running from Christie. She wanted to run toward something. She wanted to set fire to the twisted bonds of paper and red tape holding her.

She lay awake, after Christie fell asleep, and thought of her father; she wondered when is it time to stop making compromises?


June’s stairs are narrow and perfect for an ambush.

Diana walks up with a grocery bag in her left arm and her right hand hovering near her holster; she touches Neal’s arm as the floor creaks ahead of them, slips past him on the landing to enter the loft first before he can object.

The last time she came through that door she had her gun drawn, expecting Larssen on the other side.

(And Neal wonders why she and Peter don’t want to let him out of their sight.)

But it’s only June, standing beside the bookshelf. Diana sets the groceries on the table, flicks a glance around the room and exhales slowly, breathing through a flood of adrenaline.

(They all really need a break.)

June raises an eyebrow at Diana but says nothing, only smiles at Neal and leans in close to kiss his cheek, angled so Diana can’t see either of their faces.

“I’ll be at the hospital if you need me.”

“Tell Moz -”

“I will. If he’s awake.” June would have made a brilliant diplomat, Diana thinks idly; impeccably proper, convincingly warm, and revealing absolutely nothing she doesn’t choose to show. “He should be sleeping. And so should you.” A nod at Diana, gracious and impenetrable: “Don’t keep him up too late.”

Her heels tap across the wood floor as she collects her purse to leave.

“Dessert first,” Neal says as the door closes behind her, and opens a cabinet above the sink. He pulls down three bowls, a whisk and a blowtorch.

“I like the way you think, Caffrey.”

He sets four eggs beside the smallest bowl. “You know how to separate these?”

“Watch me.”

Diana beats the egg yolks with the sugar, a quick rhythm in counterpoint to the slow circles of Neal’s wooden spoon stirring a splash of Grand Marnier in a saucepan of heavy cream. They don’t speak as Neal pours the cream into the bowl, a thin stream as she whisks it all together; there’s a simple elegance in a good crème brûlée, and a soothing satisfaction in creating something with their hands.

Once the ramekins are in the oven Neal cracks the French doors open and pours two shots; the liqueur is heady and smooth, and lays a warm fuzzy glow over the evening.

She sets the table while he makes salad, handfuls of romaine and arugula tossed in a clear glass bowl, a generous scattering of feta and walnuts and sliced strawberries, drizzled with a splash of balsamic vinegar. The pungent smell of garlic fills the loft as he slides three salmon steaks into a frying pan.

A warm breeze stirs the plants on the balcony as Diana brings out dishes and placemats; all the right silver is here, and she knows where to place the salad forks and soup spoons, like they’re preparing for a state dinner. She knows how to fold the napkins into rippling fan shapes, pulling heavy damask into place like the slide on a well-oiled pistol.

Style over substance, she’d scoffed at the protocol officers who’d taught her these things; false glitter, the noise and flash from an empty chamber. But tonight it matters.

She’s doing this for Christie, though Christie won’t be here, and she wants to get it right.

Neal knows the formalities as well as she does; he sets out serving dishes, a wine bottle in an ice bucket and a heavy cut glass vase of gardenias, a rich scent washing over the balcony as the breeze shifts.

She can picture him laying place settings at some high end hotel, in a suave smile and a perfectly-pressed uniform. Some hotel with a safe full of diamonds and -


He used to do this for Kate, she thinks, watching him light twin candle lanterns at the center of the glass-topped table. Preparing everything just so, making sure the evening would be perfect.

He flashes a smile when he catches her watching him, bright as the lights of the city beyond the railing. It’s not terribly convincing.

What did Larssen say to you last night? The question hangs over them in the gathering twilight. What did he offer you? And are you having second thoughts about refusing?

Her cell phone buzzes as Neal goes back inside. “We’re almost ready,” she tells Christie, staring at Neal’s back as he stands over the frying pan. “Wish me luck.”

“It’s just dinner, Di,” Christie says. “Mom doesn’t bite, I swear.”

“We’ll manage,” Diana says, with more confidence than she feels. Christie isn’t her first serious girlfriend; she isn’t even the first to introduce Diana to her family.

She’s seen a range of reactions from those families, from barely-veiled hostility to the hint of a wistful hope that maybe Diana is a phase their daughter will grow out of.

“You’ll be fine,” Christie says, and Diana wonders how much she’s told her mother about these last eight months.

Mom’s not like that, Christie had assured her, over and over. She’s fine with me. She’s not secretly hoping I’ll meet a nice boy someday.

Diana wonders if Christie’s mother thinks her daughter has given up a lot to be with Diana and gotten too little support in return; she doesn’t ask if her mother wishes Christie would find a woman who treats her better.

“How’s it going over there?” she asks instead, breathing in the aroma of sizzling garlic. “You should know you’re missing out on something amazing.”

“Stop teasing me. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve had to remind my residents to look up their drug interactions -” Christie’s voice is a warm anchor; Diana can almost see her exasperated head shake. “I’m getting off at ten,” she says. “Mom’s going to catch a cab from Neal’s place and pick me up at the hospital. That way she’ll be out of your hair before it gets too late, and you and Neal can talk.”

“There’s nothing to talk about.” (An empty closet and a broken window; three security tapes and an antique dagger in a battered duffel, dropped on her doorstep by some clerk Anatoly trusted to be discreet.) “I’m not mad at him, Christie.”

(A cloth to wipe Neal’s prints before she unspooled the tape at her kitchen table, drawing the blade along it like so much curling ribbon and then lighting it all on fire.)

She watches the candle flames jump on the table and she can still smell burning plastic.

She doesn’t want to talk about any of it. She’s reasonably certain Neal doesn’t, either.

“You’re allowed to be, you know.”

“I’m not,” Diana snaps, and it’s a tone Christie doesn’t deserve. She’s been nothing but quietly supportive all week. “Are you mad at him?” A silent pause. “It’s your place, too.”

“Di.” She can picture Christie’s smile, fond and exasperated and oddly gentle. “This has nothing to do with -” Another pause, and a faint dammit, now what? at someone Diana can’t see. “I have to go.”

“Go. I love you.”

“Love you.” She catches the faint sound of Christie kissing the phone receiver before she hangs up.


“The guy’s a paper pusher,” Diana had tried to reassure Christie, shrugging into her coat as a cab honked outside their DC apartment. She’d booked the next flight out of Dulles with an available economy seat barely ten minutes after Peter hung up. “I’m not doing anything dangerous, I promise.”

“He’s OPR.” Christie stared at her small wheeled suitcase, standing ready beside the door. Like Diana’s swift packing and the lightness of her baggage meant something profound, but she wasn’t sure what. “He can still end your career.”

Diana didn’t say what good is a career where I can’t make any difference?

If they ended up losing their jobs over this, at least she and Peter would go out fighting a fight that mattered, instead of growing old chasing paper in circles.

She had a cozy apartment, here, one that was just starting to earn the tentative label “home”. She had Christie’s coat in her closet and curtains they’d picked out together to hold in the light; she had an old couch that was Christie’s mother’s, and a woman who loved her to curl up on it beside her as they watched TV.

And justice was still too far distant from the halls of power, and at least one agent in New York wasn’t afraid to do his damn job even when that meant punching upwards - and he was asking for her help.

“I’ll be home in a week,” she said instead. “Ten days, tops.”

Christie looked at her face and said, “No, you won’t.”

It was frightening and reassuring at once, having someone who knew you when you didn’t know yourself.

The last leaves were falling, autumn’s torches guttered and gone cold, bare trees shedding withered scraps of crackling brown like drifts of ash along the sidewalks. Black ice grew in patches along the steps of her hotel; frost glazed the iron railings, and the radios in all the cabs played bright Christmas songs at odds with the mood of grey November.

She really didn’t expect a shootout.

(She didn’t expect a lot of things.)

For half a second she heard Charlie’s footsteps behind her in the parking garage, hard echoes bouncing off water-stained concrete pillars. Peter’s voice startled her; she saw Charlie’s reflection in the side of Fowler’s car, his long shadow at her shoulder, his presence felt like a phantom limb.

Charlie always had a backup piece.

An absurd thought flashed through her mind: the airport line at Heathrow, more than twenty years ago, the bored screener’s eyebrows inching upward as Charlie piled four handguns and a boot knife in a bin beside the metal detector -

Always have more than you think you’ll need, he used to tell her. She raised her arms slowly, eyes moving from Fowler’s gun hand to Peter’s reflection. Peter’s arms were spread, his steps slow and deliberate until he went for her gun.

Peter didn’t push her out of the way.

Her hands were steady; her heart pounded a rising crescendo in her ears but she wasn’t afraid. She had a clear villain in her sights and a rock beside her; she had a straight line on her target and half of her was singing, sharp and fierce, this is what I came here for.

The other half whispered Christie is going to be so pissed.


June’s little pug barks sharply as a cab pulls up below Neal’s balcony.

The ER staff is suffering through a flu outbreak or Christie would be here. Christie offered to let her mother have dinner with her coworkers in the hospital cafeteria so Diana could get some sleep, but Diana insisted she was up for entertaining.

Now she’s less certain. She hears the street door open and looks at Neal, as footsteps rise on creaking wood stairs. “Promise you’ll kick me if I start to nod off over the salad course?”

Neal has shaved and put on a clean shirt. The kitchen is tidy, used dishes stacked in the sink and food standing ready on covered serving plates; in the mirror above the mantel both their faces are drawn, eyes hollowed.

He nods once. “I’ve got your back.”

The old smiles and the old masks fall into place as she opens the door; she thinks of her father at his cocktail parties, Anatoly in his silk suit, the carefully polite smile and artistically constructed warmth she’s always received from June.

Christie’s mother is family. She deserves better than the exhausted autopilot version of Diana’s diplomatic mask. But the oldest fix is still the easiest to reach for, and she and Neal are both running on fumes.

The woman at the door has Christie’s eyes and nose and understated makeup; she’s half a head shorter than her daughter, wearing wire-framed glasses and carrying only a small suitcase. “You must be Diana.”

Diana offers a handshake and gets a kiss on the cheek instead, before she’s pulled into a hug. A real hug, not the tentative, formal, awkward sort she’s endured at a hundred embassy receptions. It takes her half a second to figure out how to respond.

“Call me Helen.”

Neal takes Helen’s jacket and her suitcase. Neal gestures toward the balcony in a sweeping, theatrical half-bow and pulls her chair out when they reach the table; it’s delightfully, ridiculously over the top; it’s meant to make Diana laugh as much as charm Helen and it works.

“And you must be Neal Caffrey.”

“Guilty as charged, ma’am.”

“Christie warned me about you.” Helen laughs, catching Diana’s eye. “I’ll bet this one’s trouble.”

You have no idea. But the ice has been broken and the first awkward moment is past. Diana breathes, exhaling slowly. “He keeps life interesting.”

The sun is gone and the last light traces along the edges of the skyscrapers like lines of fire. The horizon is a peach silk ribbon, melting into charcoal shadows.

“I do try.” Neal pours the wine as Diana sits on the other side of the table.

The big stone dragon is a solid shadow at her back. Candlelight sparks in the cut glass vase, kindles a jewel-tone ruby glow from the depths of the wine glasses; the wine is smooth and tastes expensive, a deep warm buzz stealing over her like a thick blanket.

She blinks and sits up straight as Neal’s foot nudges hers. Helen is asking her a question. Possibly for the second time.

“Is he your responsibility?”

“Temporarily.” If she says it with enough conviction, she might make it true. She unfolds the cloth covering the basket of rolls, sets one beside her salad plate and passes the rest to Neal. “While Agent Burke is on - administrative leave.”

“Christie mentioned your boss was suspended,” Helen says, and Diana can feel the ground shifting, unsteady, beneath this conversation. “She didn’t say what for.”

The questioning lift at the end is clear.

Full disclosure is what Peter said, when she asked him how he had managed to make his marriage work for so long. Her father had kept his secrets but not his marriage.

Diana hadn’t planned to keep things from Christie; she hadn’t thought through Christie’s openness with her own family.

But it’s nothing that won’t make the Times. “Evidence tampering.”

The words taste sour, but between wine and fatigue she can’t find a graceful dodge. Helen tilts her head, curious, and Diana realizes too late that Helen expected more outrage on Peter’s behalf, and less resignation.

“Did he do it?”

Diana has no outrage left, only a weary appreciation for the way the light shimmers on the sword of Damocles that’s swung back and forth over their heads, these last eight months. She’s been expecting this, since the night she came home with her clothes reeking of jet fuel and a multi-billion-dollar stolen antique in a duffel under her front seat.

It was only ever a matter of time.

“No,” Neal jumps in smoothly, standing to serve the salad when Diana doesn’t answer right away.

A pair of bats flutter up in a looping circle from higher up the roof. Diana tilts her head back, watches a distant plane trace a curved path across the sky, red light winking a steady, reassuring beat until it vanishes into the cloud layer.

We are the good guys, she told Peter, and she meant it; if a shiver of fear ran through her, locking the music box in her closet that first night, it wasn’t accompanied by any guilt.

“But it’s a convincing frame job,” Neal continues. (It was a small lie, and a tiny step over the line.) “It’s going to take some work to clear it up.”

(A decoy box sealed in an evidence bag, warm wood-grain the color of amber, of good Italian amaretto, and the work of barely a second to sign her name on the log.)

Rules had their place but they had limits; DC was full of rules that got in the way of justice, and Diana was tired of asking the bad guys, please behave.

Christie was furious. You think falsifying federal evidence logs and stealing priceless antiques is going to fix anything?

She’d followed Diana to New York, though she wasn’t happy about moving; she’d signed for an apartment and lined up interviews at two Manhattan hospitals before Diana admitted, even to herself, that they weren’t going back to DC. But Christie never signed up for this.

Christie shook her head and said I won’t visit you in prison. When Diana hung their coats in that closet, Christie moved hers out - and the box of medical license records - and refused to go near it. And when the hospital asked her to work nights she didn’t argue, even though it meant she and Diana saw each other only briefly in the mornings and evenings.

“We’ll clear it up tomorrow,” Diana says firmly, catching Neal’s eye; time to change the subject. “We’re supposed to be relaxing, remember?”

If they get their hands on the real box, Peter said, we’ll never catch them.

The decision wasn’t a hard one. She always knew this would be a risk.

The rough, exhausted edges behind Neal’s smile aren’t faked, but the slip of the mask is deliberate as Helen’s eyes shift toward him, warmly concerned.

(She promised Christie it wouldn’t be dangerous.)

“Enough talk about work,” Helen says, and Diana wonders again how much Christie has told her.

(She promised a lot of things.)


She was supposed to meet Christie at LaGuardia the night Kate Moreau’s plane exploded.

The sun had long set but the western sky glowed outside the city, out over the river, before she hit the first roadblock. She’d make it up to Christie later, she thought: once she figured out how to explain she was late because her paper pusher pulled a gun on her.

At the second roadblock she smelled smoke, rolling down her window to show her badge. Beyond distant buildings she saw the arcing spray of a fire hose, feathered gold reflecting flames on the other side of the hangars.

Snow settled on the creases in the dark wool of her peacoat and caught in her hair as she threaded her way through a curious crowd, ducking under hastily-strung yellow tape. A faint popping carried over the sirens, something melting or bursting in the heat.

The pavement was wet. She stepped around shrapnel and charred, unidentifiable debris; puddled chemicals and melted snow reflected the red strobe lights.

But the smell that hit the back of her sinuses wasn’t ash or smoke or filthy city snowmelt, but the metal taste of blood.

She walked up to Peter and gripped his arm, shook him gently; he wasn’t hard to find. He was the only one without a uniform.

“Boss, are you okay?”

“Moreau is dead.” His voice was rough and hard to hear over the sirens.

He wasn’t wearing a coat but even at this distance heat slapped her face. Closer in, the air was muddled quicksilver. The stench of burning fuel covered the smell of whatever else was burning inside the plane, or what was left of it. An ambulance sat idle and forlorn behind the line of fire trucks.

They wouldn’t pull anyone alive from that.


Peter didn’t answer. Following his gaze she saw a knot of blue jackets approaching, two lines of US Marshals, faces grim and hands on their weapons. She almost didn’t recognize Caffrey at the center, weaving blindly as the hands on his arms steered him.

Peter’s coat hung loosely from the younger man’s shoulders, one sleeve flapping loose at the seam. His face was bruised; his eyes stared blankly past her.

“Neal.” Peter stepped toward them and Diana seized his arm, holding Peter still before the Marshals could react; the backs of his hands were black and red with scabbed road rash.

He must have pushed Caffrey down. Out of the way of the blast.


“He can’t hear you, boss.” She breathed in hot smoke and smelled blood again, stronger than before.

Peter must have pushed him down. (One moment he was on his feet and the next he was on the ground and the roof of the world fell in.) Out of danger.

She stood frozen as the Marshals went by, blue jackets melting into the dark uniforms of her father’s security team.

(She went down hard; she remembered that. Her arm numb where Charlie’s fingers had bit into her bicep, the other shoulder strained from the would-be kidnapper’s grasp. A faint popping sound above her, her palms and her cheek bruised against the pavement and blood all over her shirt. The flood of emergency lights, spilling together in bright confusion. The jostling curious crowd and the cluster of guards closing in tight phalanx about her, a knot of armed urgency surrounding an island of glazed, detached shock -)


“I’m all right.” Her voice was steady, mechanical; it was only the fumes making her dizzy, black smoke dropping like veil as the wind shifted, falling between them and the Marshals.

“Stay with him.” The sharp, frustrated helplessness in Peter’s eyes dragged her back to the present. He had no badge and no authority here, and they were taking Caffrey away. “Just - stay with him.

What he thought she could do she could not imagine. If Caffrey wouldn’t hear Peter he certainly wouldn’t hear her. And Peter - she shook her head, turned and strode after Caffrey and his escorts, abandoning Peter in her wake.

It was a simple duty, to shadow Neal and to guard him; as the flames sunk lower the last of the night’s exhilaration drained away, replaced by something fierce and cold: whoever did this was going down.


They talk about safe things, during dinner.

Helen has a dozen stories about a recent Hawaiian vacation, and it’s easy to let her carry the conversation for a while. Once the plates are stacked to one side she passes around her phone, and Diana and Neal make admiring noises at photos of white sand and turquoise water.

It’s an oasis, a fragile moment of calm; when Helen leaves, she knows, Neal will head back to the hospital and Diana will follow him. Neither is a necessary errand, but they will hold the vigil until they’re needed elsewhere.

“Christie’s lucky,” Helen says, “I haven’t got around to uploading any embarrassing baby pictures on this yet.”

Diana doesn’t keep baby pictures, embarrassing or otherwise. She has only a few photos tucked into her wallet; she pulls them out and passes them around in the wavering candlelight. Her father, shaking hands with the president. Christie, smiling, in front of the Washington Monument. And sixteen-year-old Diana outside an embassy guard station, Charlie beside her, his boots pale with dust and a pistol at his belt.

“Where’s that?” Neal holds the last one close to the light.

“Dubai.” Diana squints, leaning closer, but the lettering on the plaque at the gate is too small to read. “I think.”

It’s the last picture Charlie was in, and one of the few that shows his face; in most photos he’s in the background, a shadow half-cropped from a corner or hidden behind her father.

“That’s the embassy?” Neal frowns. “That’s where you lived?”

She looks at it again and snorts, realizing what he sees: the gatehouse behind her and the guard inside with his rifle, the high embassy walls topped with thick scrolls of razor wire. “It’s nicer on the inside. Trust me.”

“I should hope so,” Neal says. “’Cause it looks a hell of a lot like a -”

It’s not even that funny. But their eyes catch at the right (or the wrong) moment and they’re both doubled over laughing, a high-pitched raw wheezing that goes on long enough to leave her breathless.

She blinks rapidly when she can sit up and breathe again; Neal swipes a hand across his face, composing himself, and Helen watches them both with an alarmed look.

A car slows, passing along the street, lights sweeping the darkened block. Diana sits up abruptly, raising one hand toward her ear and a radio that’s not there.

Down on the street level, visible through the balcony railing, she sees a dark car parked across the street; two agents are on duty inside, watching the house. She knows another two are stationed in a truck at the corner.

Neal’s eyes flick toward the street, then back to her, catching the gesture as she lets her hand fall.

“I’m guessing pictures are something to avoid, in your line of work,” Helen says, looking at him. “Incriminating evidence, and all that.”

Neal’s face splits in a grin, dazzling false glitter brighter than a signal flare. Diana thinks of a creased black-and-white ATM camera photo and wonders if he has any others of Kate; she’s reasonably certain no one has any photographs of Mozzie.

His phone buzzes before he can say anything. Fear stutters across his face for half a second before he answers it.

From the hospital, Diana thinks as he locks everything behind an apologetic smile. Her eyes track him as he retreats inside, crossing to the sink and facing away from her.

Some kind of relapse. She drums her fingers beside her wine glass, listening, and hears only the slow murmur of traffic passing at the corner. The night is warm, and snatches of music rise from open car windows. Larssen, showing up to finish what he started.

Both, perhaps, with the way their luck is going -

“She’s not unhappy here,” Helen says quietly, and Diana looks up, startled.

She's fully awake, now, and expecting the next crisis. (They’re due for one, surely; it’s been nearly eight hours since the last.)

“She’d like to be closer to home,” Helen says, “but she never liked living in the capital any better than you did.”

“I want to make her happy,” Diana says, because it’s the truth, even if she’s done a poor job so far. She doesn’t know how much Christie has told Helen, of the bitter fights when they arrived here, of the resigned, frustrated silences that grew between them afterward.

She lets her eyes drift toward the doors, staring at the line of Neal’s back as he leans against the counter, phone still pressed to his ear. She doesn’t know how to say she wouldn’t have made it through the past week, without Christie to lean on.

“She worries about you,” Helen says gently, and Diana blinks.

Someone has to do something, she told Christie. Fowler’s disappearance, barely two days after the explosion, had been all the vindication she needed for planting a fake music box. With their one suspect lost without a ripple into the dark the real box was their only lead, a fragment of a song holding the only hope of tracing him or whoever he worked for.

“She’s proud of what you do, you know,” Helen goes on. “And she knows you and Agent Burke both take risks because you care about people, and about your work. But she doesn’t want to see you get hurt.”

Why you? Christie had asked, over and over again.

Diana didn’t come here because it was safe. She came here because she wanted to be one of those who ran toward the sound of gunfire, and never again the one pushed aside to safety at another’s expense.

One block over, a roof light flickers on casting a glare on the French doors, a blurred reflection and she can’t see Neal.

She gathers up the plates and the empty bread basket to go inside. Neal turns as she enters and gives her a tired smile and a thumbs up as she sets the dishes in the sink: all’s well.

She lets her shoulders sag in relief, breathes out slowly and rinses the plates, and leaves the doors cracked open when she leaves.

“Everything all right?” Helen asks.

“Just an update from the hospital.”

Neal faces the doors, now; his voice is too low to hear but she can see his face soften, weary and open and relieved.

“Your friend who was shot?”

“Neal’s friend.” Lawyer. Partner in crime and all-around bad influence. “Family.” Or what’s left of it. “Mozzie is -”

A sheet anchor in a storm. She runs out of words and refills the wine glasses; more wine is the last thing she needs but it’s something to do with her hands.

“Mozzie is family.”

She uses the word differently than most, than Christie, but so does Neal. She watches a pair of fireflies drift upwards from the gardenia blooms, following a lazy swirling path over the rail, brief lights like embers rising.

Sometimes Neal reminds her of her father; sometimes she thinks he’s more like herself, desperate for a home without knowing how to root in solid ground when he finds it.


Two days after the opening press conference, half-deflated balloons still trailed beside the main entrance to the new Timmy Nolan Memorial Park.

The official groundbreaking for the new playground wouldn’t take place until spring, assuming public opinion hardened behind it enough that the city planners couldn’t back out once they realized they’d been played. The weekend after Jennings’ arrest it was only a wide field, winter-brown grass rimed with frost and a forlorn welcome banner snapping in a cold wind.

(Someone had had the sense to take down the campaign posters.)

Diana wrapped her arms around herself and scanned the field, searching, until she spotted three men in trench coats walking a yellow lab.

“That took a while,” Neal said, concern shading his voice, as Jones handed her a paper cup of hot chocolate and Satchmo shoved his face against her knees, begging for scritches.

She opened her coat enough so they could all see her badge and her gun, secure at her hip and back where they belonged. Peter caught her eye and nodded firmly.

“You did good,” he said, and she didn’t say I know.

The board of inquiry was standard procedure, any time weapons were fired; she hadn’t expected them to find fault and they didn’t.

Gary Jennings was the kind of slick politician her old boss in DC would have ignored, except to shake his head sadly, and Barrow was a sleaze and a bully and she felt better than she probably should about shooting him.

(It helped that the idiot had let her get close enough to be reasonably sure of a non-lethal shot.)

She wasn’t happy about it; it was not a thing she held lightly, and she hoped it never would be. But her hands didn’t twitch and her gun felt no heavier than it did a week ago, and part of her thought maybe it ought to.

A kite sliced through the cold air, trailing bright streamers against a watery winter sun. She wished Charlie were here. She wanted to hear him tell her it was okay for her to be okay with this.

She’d hardly had time to do more than work and sleep, over the past two months, between the cases they were working officially and the one they weren’t. She’d slid back into the old patterns of working with Peter, the two of them clicking solidly into place in a comforting rhythm.

Christie was settling into her new job, and if she and Diana and the music box still made for three uneasy roommates they hadn’t had a real fight about it in over a week.

(They hadn’t had a real conversation, either, but Christie had kissed her and whispered good luck as she left for the hearing that morning; it was a start.)

She felt as though a weight had lifted; having too much work to do was somehow less of a constant, dragging frustration than leaving needed work undone for the wrong reasons. She and Peter might have bent a few rules badly enough to sprain them, but there were still bright lines between right and wrong and since she left DC she was surer than ever which side she was on.

Fowler and his mysterious contact might have slipped through their fingers last week but she and Peter were putting the pieces together. It was a thrill, the two of them together against powerful and corrupt enemies; the victory against Jennings was a first step, and only one of many.

This was what she was meant to do, and who she was meant to be: justice in the clean arc of a hammer, swinging down.


Her phone buzzes; she stands, walking toward the railing, but it’s only a text from Peter. She gives a quick response, we’re fine, and resists the urge to add stop worrying.

“Christie?” Helen asks, and then, at Diana’s headshake, “Your boss.”

“Just checking in.” She leans against the railing, solid stone cool and hard beneath her arms. Between the thick clouds coming in and the city lights spreading below her, she might be suspended above the stars, looking down into the wide bowl of the sky. A radio tower blinks a steady beat against the skyline; a distant siren keens, fading into the dark.

“Quite a view,” Helen says at last, echoing her thoughts.

Diana returns to the table, sits facing the doors and turns the stem of her wine glass, slowly, between her fingers. “It’s not Virginia.”

She’s not sure if she’s trying to offer apologies or explanations or excuses.

“Moving is never easy,” Helen says.

Diana nods, because it’s what’s expected; for her moving is as easy as finding the right gate at the airport and stepping on the plane.

Christie planted a tree in her backyard when she was nine years old; Diana has never seen it but Christie likes to tell the story. A slim cherry sapling that shot up and shed feathery pink blooms across the yard every spring for her birthday. She presses the flowers in a scrapbook every year and makes cards with them; she gave one to Diana for their three-month anniversary and had no idea why Diana was overwhelmed by it.

Diana stares at her wallet photos still lying on the table. For too many years home was a row of airport seats and a thin blanket and Charlie’s shadow watching beside her, boarding announcements and security warnings in languages she didn’t know, a runway falling beneath her and Charlie’s shoulder for a pillow.

She’s been entertained at palaces older than this country but she’s never had a tree to call her own, or stable ground to plant one.

She stifles a yawn as the French doors open and Neal returns. “I’m sorry. I’m not much of a -”

“Please.” Helen touches her hand. “Don’t apologize. It was a wonderful dinner. You’ve been very kind.”

“It’s been a hell of a week.”

She’s not sure how to explain this, the bone-deep exhaustion whlie she’s still wide awake, the sense still hanging over her that something terrible is about to happen.

She looks at Neal as he drops into a chair. “The little guy all right?”

“Sleeping. June’s still over there.” He leans back, looking briefly as tired as she feels. “She says she’s going to stay all night.”

Diana thinks Neal understands, on a deep inarticulate level; home was never a location and family has nothing to do with blood. When you live on the move, those who move with you are the only anchor you have.

Christie carved her initials in a tree truck; Diana left drawings on the walls of a hundred rooms in a dozen countries, echoes of memories hidden behind impersonal hotel paintings and another layer of paint during the twice-a-decade remodeling.

After long enough, nothing you leave remains.

“Peter says hey,” she tells him, and he makes a face, looking down and away, uncomfortable and awkward and not used to this kind of hovering concern.

(He can damn well get used to it, after a stunt like -)

“You both admire Agent Burke a great deal,” Helen says, and Diana blinks.

“He’s a good agent,” she says, and feels the ground shifting again. “And a good teacher. I’ve learned a lot from him.”

“Are you sure he’s innocent in all this?”

She doesn’t say define “innocent”. “He wouldn’t lie to me,” she says instead, and it’s the truth.

“I spent twenty years working dispatch for the Alexandria PD,” Helen says. “I knew a lot of cops, then. Good people. They took their jobs seriously.” She’s speaking slowly, as though feeling her way. “I know it’s not an easy job. You see a lot of good people get hurt, watch a lot of bad people walk.”

Diana nods, uncertain.

“A - friend of mine - knew a guy. A good cop, she’d worked with him for years. He was accused of planting drugs in a suspect’s car.

“Everybody knew this suspect was their guy. They’d been after him for months. He’d been involved in at least three shootings but he kept his hands clean, and there was never enough evidence to pin anything on him in court.”

Crickets saw a melancholy counterpoint to the cooing of a dove from a neighbor’s tree. Diana closes her eyes and a theme from Mozart teases the edges of her hearing.

“My friend knew those drugs weren’t planted. She knew there were lines this cop wouldn’t cross. She was sure he’d never do anything like that.” She shakes her head slowly. “She was wrong.”

Diana remembers Peter opening the music box for the first time, the two of them leaning in close to listen, to hear what was in this song someone would kill for.

“Good people can make mistakes,” Helen says. “And this Larssen sounds like he’s dangerous. It can be very easy to justify a small lie, to take down someone like that. It’s easy to justify a lot of things, when someone close to you gets hurt.”

Neal stands abruptly, jostling the table; the vase of gardenias rocks back and forth, splashing water across the glass. He walks over to a stone planter beside the railing and stops, staring into the darkness of the street.

“That’s - not Peter’s style.” His voice is strained and quiet.

“It’s normal to want to protect your friend.” Helen’s voice is gentle, but Diana keeps her eyes on Neal. “Just be sure you’re protecting someone who’s worth your loyalty.”

Diana remembers sitting up late with Peter at his kitchen table, two giant mugs of coffee and a box of latex gloves, one of Elizabeth’s dishcloths to wipe away Neal’s prints and an elegant little pearl-handled .38 to fill the empty space in her closet safe.

“I am,” she says, and Neal turns, his face pale and unreadable in the flickering light.


It was a three-month probie stuck staffing the Marshals’ office on a Sunday afternoon.

Diana offered no explanation, only her best flat glare and the kid burned a new key for the anklet without asking questions.

It was the first thing that had gone their way all day.

(No, the second.)

She tossed the anklet onto the dash as she got into the car, massaging her wrists and shutting her eyes. The passenger door thumped shut as Jones settled in beside her.

She gripped the steering wheel, black and already hot after ten minutes parked at the curb, warmth like a gun barrel recently fired. The anklet key was heavy in her pocket.

(Tell them my dog ate the damn thing, Peter had told her, and she’d heard what he hadn’t said, what he’d meant: make. this. not. have. happened.)

Jones stared at her, silent, and finally asked, “Are you okay?”

“We were supposed to see Romeo and Juliet in the park today,” she said. “Me and Christie.” The tickets were still stuck in the change compartment beside the gear shift.

An uncertain pause, and then: “I guess Caffrey owes you a rain check.”

“I never liked that play.” The words were oddly flattened. She’d agreed anyway; Christie had made plans two months ago and things were still fragile between them, so Diana had swallowed her grumbling about idiot teenagers and the things they did for love -

She’d been more excited about finally catching Fowler, anyway.

(This was her chance to be the hammer; this was what she came here for.)

“Neal wasn’t running,” she said at last, because she’d explained nothing, so far. Peter needs you at the office, she’d said, and Jones had pulled into the mostly-deserted garage to find Neal climbing out of Diana’s car wearing cuffs and no anklet; it would be anyone’s first guess. “We were moving in to arrest Fowler today, and Peter - didn’t want him involved.”

“He always suspected Fowler had something to do with that plane.”

“More than suspected.” She rubbed her arms again. “Fowler bought the explosives. We found a receipt.”

“’We’ kept that pretty quiet.”

Not quiet enough.

Jones opened his mouth like he was about to say something biting, then breathed out slowly instead. “It’s personal. I get that.” He didn’t ask the obvious questions: how long were you two planning this? and why wasn’t I included? “I’m not surprised Caffrey wanted to be there at the takedown.”

She twisted the key in the ignition, felt cold air blowing over her hands and a trickle of sweat along the back of her neck.

“He brought a gun.”

The words fell, flat; the purr of the engine was loud in the sudden silence.

She closed her eyes, saw a courtyard of warm pink brick and a fountain at the center, and Neal with a straight line on his target, sprinting up the stairs.

She didn’t say it would have been me. It wasn’t; she didn’t fire; no one did.

She didn’t fire but her wrists ached all the way up to her shoulder blades, like she’d just come from a day at the range.

She put on the turn signal, stared at the blinking indicator, clicking steadily like a heartbeat. She saw brightly-dressed dignitaries milling like bees around the fountain and Neal, backlit against the open window at the top of the stairs, his eyes flat as a steel blade and holding no room for compromises.

It was a clean arc, across that courtyard and through the window on the other side; it was a clear straight line down the end of his sight. And all the bonds that held Neal were made of paper; in the end she could only watch them burn.


The next phone call is for Helen. It’s Christie, heading into her last two hours, and Helen goes inside and leaves Diana and Neal to the dark.

Diana tops off the wine glasses, sets the empty bottle back in the bucket, now more water than ice, surface broken by a dying moth, wet wings fluttering and frantic.

Neal gathers up her wallet photos, still lying on the table; he stares for a moment at her younger self before holding them out to her.

His voice is hushed. “He was with you in a lot of places.”

“Yeah.” She’s told him about Charlie already; there’s not much more to say. She tucks the photos back in her wallet, as if she can sheathe edged memories by keeping them out of sight.

He walks away from the table, shoves his hands into his pockets and removes them again. She stands beside him, resting her elbows on the railing as he folds his arms tightly across his chest. His body language is classic uncertainty, defensiveness and confusion; as a professional con he knows this, and yet he lets her see it anyway, which means … something.

She wishes she knew what.

He tips his head back and stares up toward the roof. “They get the guy who did it?”

The words are carefully noncommittal; he doesn’t look at her.

Below them, streetlamps throw overlapping pools of white and pale orange along the sidewalk, piling shadows in inky dark heaps behind parked cars and under hedges. Two agents are watching from one of those cars, she knows.

Two agents are drinking burnt coffee and eating Chinese takeout while she and Neal sip expensive French wine, and she’d give anything to be in that car with them.

It’s a simple duty, to watch and to guard in the dark, to stay awake and alert, to stop anyone who might hurt Neal. But it’s not the charge Peter gave her, tonight.

The silence lengthens; crickets hold a hushed conference with the breeze whispering among the azaleas. Bats swoop lower, toward the abandoned table, moving in to snatch their own dinner from the moths lured in by the candlelight.

Peter asked her to make Neal get some sleep but she can’t do that. The most she can do is distract him, and that only for so long; they’ve had no chance, yet, to slow down and stop and think about any of it, and now it’s all catching up and they can only brace for impact.

Peter needs her to protect Neal from himself, to make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid, and she’s trying.

(Peter charged her to stop Neal, last Sunday; she can still hear his voice, rough and desperate.)

Neal is asking for something else entirely.

“Sniper shot him from the roof,” she says at last, and doesn’t look up. “About two seconds after -”

The bare facts are simple enough, but those aren’t what Neal needs.

She could tell him it didn’t help, having the shooter’s blood splashed across her shirt along with Charlie’s. It didn’t stop the nightmares; it didn’t numb the pain. It didn’t fill the empty hole at her shoulder, every time she turned around. But that’s not what he’s asking.

She lifts a hand, moving as if to squeeze his shoulder, then lets it fall on the stone. He’s not asking for that, either.

He’s asking - begging - for answers she doesn’t have, to questions she’s wrestled since she was seventeen. She looks at him and the glass walls of rage are gone from his eyes, replaced by something raw and lost and searching.

He’s listening, finally; he’s looking to her for some hope or solace and she has none to give.

Last Sunday things were simple and now they aren’t anymore; sometimes the straight path leads over a cliff’s edge and you can’t see - not until the ground is giving way beneath your feet - that it’s a long way down.

She hears footsteps as a lone figure turns the corner down on the street and imagines the agents below snapping to alert. Now she does grip Neal’s arm, tugging him back from the railing.

(She can do this; she can check the angles and watch the street and pull him out of the way of potential snipers.)

She feels him exhale, sees his shoulders sag, tension going out of him, relief or defeat or both as he rakes a hand through his hair.

A thin horned moon throws a wavering pearl reflection in the water spilled across the table; she blots it away with a crumpled napkin as the candle flames jump, light stirring the shadows like a breeze against a curtain.

(She can cuff him; she can drag him back from that cliff’s edge and she can guide him down those twisting stairs when he stumbles, blind with shock.)

She can try to put the pieces back together. They’re all trying, holding onto shards like broken glass, but the edges are ragged and sharp and won’t align, and someone forgot to bring the glue.

She could grope for any of a hundred platitudes, useless lies well-meaning people told her. She can say that someday those days when Kate’s absence sucks all the air out of the world, those days won’t come so close together; she can’t say they’ll ever go away.

Nothing will heal this but time, and she can’t bring herself to lie to him.


It was Charlie who taught her how to shoot.

He’d stood behind her, guiding her as she placed her feet that first time, adjusting her stance and her aim and her grip. He’d been her first teacher and he’d taught her the first rule of firearms; the first rule was iron and she had never broken it: don’t ever pull a gun you’re not prepared to fire.

Charlie was gone and he couldn’t teach her anymore; he couldn’t give her answers while she was still groping for the questions.

She’d thought she was ready to make that call.

She almost asked Peter, later, what he would have wanted her to do. She never wanted to find herself in that place again, but she wanted (needed) an answer all the same: did you mean for me to take the shot?

As if she could put off that responsibility, even hypothetical, onto him.

Three times, she almost asked. In the silent parking garage when Peter handed her cuffs back to her; as they left the antique shop, listening to Neal’s phone ring through to voicemail over and over; in the back seat of Peter’s car on the way to the hospital, following the ambulance, with her hand on Neal’s neck holding his head down between his knees.

She never did ask. She knew what he’d say.

He wasn’t going to do it, Peter would have told her. There was never any need. I knew he wouldn’t shoot.

She remembered the fear in Peter’s eyes, in his voice; if she’d asked he would have lied, to her and to himself because he had to. Because he couldn’t think about what almost happened and so she swallowed the question because she didn’t want to think about it either.

(Her gun and Neal’s in a line like a blade’s edge and Peter off to the side, his gun aimed at the floor, his eyes on Neal when she looked to him; she was alone, two lives weighed in her hands.)

She came here seeking justice beyond rules; she came here because she was tired of protecting criminals. And she was this close to shooting a friend to protect a murderer and Charlie was gone. He was gone and Peter was silent.

(She couldn’t see Neal’s face. She could see Fowler’s, and that was enough; she watched him close his eyes and she knew he knew the threat was real.)

She couldn’t stop thinking about it.

But perhaps if she didn’t ask, if she didn’t talk about it the question rolling over and over in her mind would stutter to a stop, and fade away.


They go inside for dessert.

The decision is hardly rational. There’s a detail outside and if they fail Neal’s glass doors are no protection; if Larssen wanted Neal dead Neal wouldn’t still be breathing but the balcony feels suddenly exposed.

Neal blows out the candle lanterns and Diana collects the wine glasses. Helen is tucking her phone away when they come in, blinking in the warm yellow light.

“It looks like rain,” Diana says, and no one questions her.

“Christie says she loves you and you’d better save her some dessert,” Helen says.

Neal makes the coffee. And it’s good coffee, better than Diana has ever had at work and miles above the stale sludge from the hospital cafeteria and she leans against the counter and breathes in the aroma as it steeps.

He pours into three mugs and adds a generous slug of Bailey’s to each.

“Friends old and new,” he toasts, and they all clink their mugs together.

Diana pulls the crème brûlée from the fridge, sets four ramekins out; they’ve chilled and set by now, not even quivering as she sets them on the table. Neal brings over the sugar and the blowtorch.

“This is the fun part.” He lays out three clean spoons and they each take a heaping spoonful of sugar, dusting it over the surface of the custard.

The torch hisses as Neal lights it, a bright flare and then a steady blue flame; he’s in his element, here. He’s an accomplished craftsman, showing off his art.

Diana sips her coffee; it’s as good as it smells. Better, even. She watches as he passes the torch over the sprinkled sugar, a flame like a paintbrush tip layering rich caramel glaze as smooth as glass. There’s an artistry to it, and Neal’s smile fades to a look of intent concentration, leaning over the table like a fine canvas.

“Voila!” He presents the finished dish with a flourish, switching off the torch and offering it to Helen; she blinks, and he says, “I’ll show you.”

He guides Helen’s hands, at first, then steps back to let her finish the glaze herself. When she’s done she hands the torch back to him.

“Your turn.” He offers the torch to Diana, catching her eye with a grin.

The grin is real, not the fake plastic thing he’s worn all evening. The light in his eyes is unaffected, uncomplicated fun and it catches her off guard. It’s a light she hasn’t seen since they closed the Dutchman case.

It’s like watching someone learn to walk again.

And for a suspended moment all she can see is the back of his head and the angle of his shoulders down the end of her gun sight and she turns away and sets her mug down, carefully, before she breaks it.

She breathes slowly, in and out, and clenches her hands around the lip of the sink until her fingers ache.

When she turns back Neal has finished glazing hers and Christie’s both. His face is a polite mask as he lays the torch aside, suave and smooth and false and she sees a haunted shadow behind it, a twisting guilt to think he could be happy, even for a few seconds, in a world without Kate.

Diana knows that feeling, too; she can’t tell him that will ever go away, either.


The hospital was quiet and tense and it was easy to forget, in the windowless lounge at the end of the ward, that it was nearly midnight. It was as easy to believe Mozzie had only gone into surgery five minutes ago, as it was to think he’d been there forever.

Neal’s face was shocky and set under the unforgiving fluorescents, a tensely-coiled mess of pain radiating don’t touch me in waves she could feel halfway across the room.

“Three more hours,” he said, as she sat in the chair beside him. “They said. At least. If he doesn’t -” Broken phrases stumbling to a halt and he let out a soft, shaking breath. “Do you think -”

Broken glass sparkled in his hair as he turned; she resisted the urge to brush it away. “They’re doing everything they can.”

“Do you think you -” He turned, a quick glance encompassing her and Peter both. Peter stood covering the entrance to the lounge, on guard, and Neal’s look might be seeking reassurance or escape from a trap, she couldn’t tell which. “Do you think you and Peter can hold off the Marshals until there’s - some news?”

His voice cracked on the last words, splintering into fragments.

“The Marshals aren’t coming, Neal.”

He thought he was going back to prison.

He wasn’t, for a great number of reasons, some having to do with sympathy for him and others to do with potentially awkward questions about the music box that they’d prefer to avoid, but most of which boiled down to one stark fact: letting the Marshals take Neal would require her and Peter to let him out of their sight, and there was absolutely no way that was going to happen tonight.

Neal stared at her like the words meant nothing.

She’d spent the last hour on the phone with her father; she’d spend hours more, in the days to come, making whatever deals she had to, in whatever dark rooms she could find, to keep Neal here. And all for what might be a temporary, ineffective bandage; she knew if Mozzie didn’t survive they were going to lose Neal, too, one way or another.

“The Marshals aren’t coming.” And she wasn’t sure if she wanted to hug him or punch his lights out, but she made herself speak gently, with an effort. “You’re not going anywhere.”


Diana wished Christie could have joined them for dessert; the smooth taste melts away any remaining awkwardness and before long the dishes are empty, the spoons collected, and Helen’s cab is honking downstairs.

They all follow Helen out to the curb. Neal carries her suitcase and they put her in the cab, after another round of heartfelt, genuine hugs. The street is dark after the cab turns the corner, and Diana feels the last of the mask slip away. She turns to Neal; his face is open and raw and tired.

Back upstairs, Neal washes the dishes. Diana stands beside him, drying the plates and glasses as he hands them to her. It’s an uncertain rhythm and slightly off, alcohol and a post-adrenaline crash beginning to take a toll.

“This was nice,” she says, finally, because someone should say something and it’s true. “Thanks for helping out.”

“I owe you one,” he says. “Several. A lot, really -” There’s an awkward silence, like he wants to say something and he’s trying to figure out how. Then, “It was an invasion of your privacy, yours and Christie’s, and I never …”

She stares at him as he trails off, her brain wading through wine and exhaustion after his meaning. And it hits her: he’s trying to work his way around to apologizing for Alex Hunter.

He thinks she’s angry about a knife scratch on her window frame and the theft of something that was never hers in the first place and it’s such a spectacular case of missing the goddamn point she doesn’t know whether to laugh or scream.

She slams her hand down on the counter and he starts; a wine glass in the sink falls on its side and cracks.

“Diana.” He leans in, damp fingers touching her wrist. “You want to tell me what’s wrong?”

She says, flat and precise, “I almost killed someone a week ago. And I’m still having a really hard time dealing with that, all right?”

His head snaps back, wary suspicion in his eyes, like he’s not sure if she’s mocking him.

“I almost had to shoot you.” Somehow saying it out loud makes it real, in a way it wasn’t before. Her voice drops, low and fierce. “Do you get that, Neal?”

He stares at her; the silence presses down and he takes a breath as if to speak but says nothing.

“What was I supposed to do?" she demands. Peter would lie, if she asked him; Neal gives her no such comfort. He only blinks, his face pale and his eyes huge.

She wonders if suicide by cop had been part of his plan, or if he simply didn’t have a plan beyond Fowler’s death.

She can’t bring herself to ask that question. It looms over all of them, huge and massive and when it falls they will have nowhere to go.

“Do you have any idea what kind of trouble - even assuming the official investigation didn’t end with me or Peter in prison for falsifying federal evidence and God knows what else I’d still have one more person I care about who’s dead because of me and how the hell am I supposed to live with that?”

She stops when she runs out of breath and they stare at each other; she’s not sure which of them is more stunned.

“Diana -”

“Don’t.” She throws out a hand, blocking whatever line of unreason he intends to use. “I don’t even -”

They both reach for the broken glass in the sink at the same time.

“I’ve got it,” Neal says, quiet and hoarse, and she watches as he gathers the pieces and lays them on a towel, though to her eyes it looks beyond fixing.

“You have a lot of people, here, who care about you,” she says finally, as if words can fix anything; these are all she has. “Please try not to forget that.”

They finish the dishes without speaking, and if her hands aren’t entirely steady she can try to blame it on the alcohol. When the clean plates are all stacked she stares blankly at the empty sink until Neal says, again, “I got this.”

She blinks at him; they’re both supposed to be resting, but she knows he meant to head back to the hospital once dinner was over, and she’d been intending to follow.

“Couch,” he says, and she lets him boss her, here, in his apartment, gives him back the illusion of control.

She leans her head back against the cushions and watches him put away the dishes.

“Moz swears that’s the most comfortable couch he’s ever slept on. Of course, given where he usually sleeps -” He trails off. “I won’t go anywhere,” he says. “I promise.”

She gives him a flat, suspicious stare; he tries for his classic innocent look for about half a second.

You need to rest, too,” she says. Before he can protest: “Try. For a little while.”

She thinks he’s going to argue but he only crosses the room to the light switch and the room goes dark.

He drops his belt over a chair back but stretches out still in his Westwood trousers. On the couch Diana tugs her holster off her belt, tucks the sidearm under a gilt embroidered pillow and draws up her feet, hiding them under the throw.

She hears the bed creaking as Neal shifts, and a soft sigh, and he says, “Night, Daisy.”

She grabs the pillow and hurls it in the general direction of the bed; there’s a thump and she hopes whatever she knocked over wasn’t too expensive. She gropes for another pillow and wedges it against the armrest. “Call me that again,” she says, around a yawn, “and I’ll break both your arms.”

The only response is a weary chuckle. She lies in the darkness, listening to his breathing even out. Something ticks steadily from the direction of the stove, or maybe the refrigerator, a slow tapping of electronic kitchen noises like an echo of footsteps, pacing.

The sound fades away and Diana sleeps.

Current Mood: sleepy
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veleda_k: White Collar: Diana & Neal[personal profile] veleda_k on September 26th, 2013 05:31 pm (UTC)
This is fantastic! I love your Diana POV, and I love how you expand on her relationship with Charlie.

The atmosphere in this fic is incredible. Tense and uncertain, but still filled with such affection. Neal's grief permeates the fic, but you don't lose the tenderness that's there underneath.

The way you get Diana's position--that she might have had to shoot Neal--is incredible. It's one of those things that I'm not sure canon even noticed (though who knows), but you draw so much meaning and character exploration from it.
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florafic: Kate laughing[personal profile] florafic on September 29th, 2013 01:07 am (UTC)
Oh, I'm so glad you like it! :D

I've always wanted to explore her POV on that whole situation - she understands Neal's grief very well, here, but I think almost shooting him would have messed her up, and I wanted to address that. (I have watched that scene ... a ridiculous number of times, and it would have been her. Peter's gun is pointing at the floor the whole time.)

And Charlie is fun to explore, too. :) Thank you so much!
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giglet[personal profile] giglet on September 29th, 2013 05:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I liked this very much!
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sahiya[personal profile] sahiya on November 4th, 2013 04:26 am (UTC)
I'm still catching up on WCBB, so sorry this comment is belated. But I thoroughly enjoyed this fic. You do such a wonderful job of showing the relationship between Neal and Diana, and this gave me a perspective on early S2 that I'd never considered before. I particularly liked your insights into why Christie might "have trouble adjusting to New York." Beautifully done. Thank you!
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