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Official Bureau Response

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"'Cuff him," Burke ordered with a curt nod at Neal, moving forward to take charge of Fowler, himself.

Still buzzing with adrenaline, Diana approached Neal with her handcuffs out. A shake of his head betrayed his dismay, or it may have been from some other emotion, but he let his hands fall from where they raked his hair to dangle enough behind him to count as cooperating. Diana 'cuffed him on autopilot, still processing what she'd seen. Caffrey with a gun was a Caffrey she didn't know. Caffrey threatening someone with a gun was a Caffrey she didn't want to know. That sense of the alien helped her go through the motions as if her captive was any other perp.

Before she could read him his rights, though, Burke said, "Take him back to the office. Call Jones and have him handle the official Bureau response." Diana nodded and, gripping Neal by the elbow, guided him back out the door Burke had beat down. Neal obeyed her direction, but the tension in his body made it feel like steering a walking statue.

Halfway down the expansive museum staircase, past broken glass and splintered door, Diana felt the gazes of scores of partygoers on the floor below them. Anxious, excited, hostile – a sea of wealthy New Yorkers in cocktail dresses and fine jewelry gawked up at them. Neal stumbled upon a stair, Diana steadied him, and all at once that feeling of alienness that had distanced her from the shock of 'cuffing a colleague lifted. This was Neal she marched before these haughty faces, and whatever else he was, he was no circus curiosity.

She shifted Neal to the wall side of the staircase and put all the authority she could into her voice as she bellowed out orders to keep the stairway clear, there was no danger, FBI. Obedient, the crowd parted and thinned as the more tonie guests retreated from contamination with crime and law enforcement. As she steered Neal through the beeping entrance metal detectors she briefly wondered how he got that gun inside. She checked his ankle. No tracker.

She put Neal in her Bureau car without either of them speaking; she held his head to protect it as he got in. Though she suspected he could escape the handcuffs if he wished, so long as he wore them his safety was her responsibility. She leaned across him to fasten his seat belt and smelled expensive aftershave. Tiny glass shards glinted in the woolen threads of his fine Devore suit. He didn't meet her eyes, which was fine with her. She couldn't think what to say.

Out of habit and protocol, she put him in the back, but as she got in the driver's seat and checked the door locks, she wondered if she should have put him up front, where she could keep a direct eye on him. In the rear-view mirror she saw him looking out at the afternoon, desolation in his eyes. It was an odd look on his genial face and that feeling of dealing with an alien Neal returned. For a moment she remembered him as he'd looked back at her from the museum landing when she ordered him to stop – not cold, exactly, but disinterested and calculating, focused fully on his goal. Another look she'd never seen on him. How much, she wondered, of the manner he wore at the office, was real?

She put in her ear phone and punched Jones's pre-set. "FBI, Jones," he answered.

"Hey Jones, this is Diana. We got Fowler. Peter's bringing him in his car. Neal's with me." She paused to let Jones digest that information.

"I thought Caffrey was at home," he said.

"He's with me now." And now for the bombshell. "Peter wanted you and me to handle the official Bureau response." It was a code. Like having her forge Peter's signature when she needed to break through bureaucratic barriers in a hurry, Peter sometimes needed his junior agents to hold off on following procedure. The "official Bureau response" meant "wait until I get there to take charge." Burke did nothing illegal, but by disguising the order to stall, they could all swear under oath that there had been no discussion of circumventing the booking process. Diana didn't know if Neal knew of the code – she'd not seen any use of it since back when she was Peter's probie.

Diana pulled into traffic hearing silence on the phone. Jones knew only a limited amount of what she and Burke were working on; for his own protection. He knew Fowler had resigned and gone off the grid – everyone knew that – but Jones knew nothing about the music box. "There's no one in the office," Jones finally replied. Sunday, and though the White Collar Crimes division might be working an active case, otherwise, they were 8:30 to 5:00 workers like the rest of the federal government. The coast is clear, Jones was saying. He would keep it that way and sound a warning if anything changed.

She glanced in the mirror at Neal. He sat so stiffly, hands behind him, that it made her muscles ache just to look at him. He leaned his head against the window, eyes closed, body turned as much away from her gaze as he could expect to hold comfortably for very long. His face was a study of misery. For a moment she felt so sorry for him that she groped for a memory to make her angry or suspicious; something she could rebalance with. She found it in Christie, the woman she loved more than anyone in the world, who had been so unnerved since the break-in at their safe home that she wouldn't stay in the apartment alone and insisted on having a light on all night. Christie, already negative about New York City, now hated it with a fearful fury. That was Neal's fault, and reminding herself of it almost made her tell him to open his eyes and get his last look at the world outside the Big House. She was so upset, she yielded to a taxi.

She took a deep breath and regained her professionalism. "Neal, how did you get out of your anklet?" she asked, neutral. Whatever Burke decided to do, it was information they would need, and possibly quickly, before this alien Neal bolted on them. Neal didn't answer.

"Your probation is on very thin ice, you know," she said with steel in her tone. "This is no time for withholding."

A tiny pause, and then Neal answered, still with his eyes closed, "I have the key." His tone was level but forced, as if through a constricted throat.

Diana's eyebrows shot up; she couldn't help it. In what universe did that happen? In Caffrey's, of course. That man was magic. Burke was the best she'd seen and Caffrey had eluded him for years.

"Where is it?" Not really important, she scolded herself. They'd have to re-key his tracker anyway.

"Left pants pocket." Neal still didn't move.

"Where'd you get the gun?" Diana took her eyes off of him as she negotiated a tricky short-distance lane change into the lane that would lead her into the FBI's underground parking. The driving distracted her at first from noticing that he didn't answer. Once she was safe on track she glanced at the mirror again.

"Neal? The gun?" A red light let her look carefully at him. Then she looked away. Without his hands to hide, disguise, or wipe his face, tears collected freely on his reddened cheeks. She sighed, relieved. It wasn't the first time she'd seen tears in the back seat of her car -- anyone arrested by the FBI was having a very bad day -- but these tears cheered her. Neal's stony exterior had cracked. The fact that being reminded he'd stolen (for she was sure it was stolen) and used a gun was what broke him meant that he was still the Neal she knew. Thank God he hadn't shot anyone. Thank Burke.

He made no sound while she found a parking spot in the sudden dimness, and Diana took extra time about it, to let him get some control. "Akihiro's. Antiques," Neal said with more sniffle than sob. Diana nodded, turned off the engine, and got out. She opened Neal's door, and waited for him to look up at her. He did, tears and all, a hint of his former cockiness in the look. Pretending nothing was wrong. "You haven't read me my rights," he said.

"C'mon, get out," she said, more kindly than she'd intended, hand protecting his head. "You're not under arrest until Agent Burke says you are." Neal considered that while he stood. Diana got out her key.

"I'm not taking you into the FBI in handcuffs either," she said, motioning for him to turn around. Wide-eyed, he complied. As she took them off she added, fiercely, thinking of Christie, "But if you screw me, Caffrey, I swear to God, I will eat you alive. You got that?"

Neal faced her swiftly, alarmed. "I got it."

"Good." She pulled his linen pocket square from his jacket pocket and handed it to him. Without waiting for him to wipe his face she turned and led the way to the elevator.

--end