Disclaimer: I do not have the rights to the show, White Collar.
A/N: This takes place some time after "Something Good," though I wouldn't call it a sequel. The references to Riker's come from that story, though you don't have to read it to follow this one.
The FBI's dispatch and intelligence center was a high-tech state-of-the-art room full of everything technological that an agent or a unit might need. Every morning when Burke picked Caffrey up, he called the center to disable the alarm on Caffrey's tracker. The GPS would still report the felon's position to within five square feet, but Burke could take him around the city as necessary without lighting up an alarm board and getting an urgent call from Dispatch. If Burke ever lost track of Neal, a single call would pinpoint his position for him, and the man would have some explaining to do. When he took Neal back to June's at night, he called to have the alarm turned back on.
So he was not expecting an official call from Dispatch in the middle of the workday, with Neal seated at a conference table right in front of him.
"This is Burke," he said.
"Agent Burke, this is Dispatch. Do you have Caffrey's location?"
Burke raised an eyebrow. "Yes, he's sitting in front of me." This statement attracted the attention of everyone in the room; Caffrey, Cruz and Jones. "Don't you have it?"
"No sir. His GPS unit has stopped broadcasting."
"It's stopped?" A thousand suspicions flew through Burke's mind, only a few hundred of them allayed by Neal's indisputable presence there in the room. "When? What was his last location?" All the eyes regarding him looked puzzled, Neal's blue ones the widest and most innocent.
"It just stopped a moment ago, and we've reset the board but it hasn't helped. His last location was there in the HQ."
"Well, he's still here." Burke took the phone from his ear. "Neal, show me your tracker."
Eyebrows raised, Neal put out his left leg and hiked his pant leg up to show it. Both Jones and Cruz peered at it curiously. "Cruz, check that it's secure."
"What's this about, Peter?" Neal asked. He smiled winningly at Cruz as she squatted by his ankle with a don't-you-dare-try-anything look. The tracker's red light blinked, but that was normal because the FBI office was more than two miles from the hotel Peter had initially established as the center of its radius.
Peter's native caution advised him not to tell Neal anything, but really, it was too late now. "The GPS isn't broadcasting," he admitted.
"It's not?" Jones asked. "It looks okay to me," Cruz said, standing.
Neal's expression went suddenly slack, eyes staring at possibilities, before he grinned hugely and stretched. It was only that Peter knew him so well that he caught the expression before Neal put on a mask. "Well, well," Neal said. "I wonder what could've gone wrong."
The atmosphere in the room changed as everyone realized the slipperiest, smartest, most notorious criminal their division had ever collared was sitting there essentially free. Everything had changed. Neal clasped his hands behind his head, looked around at everyone and smiled.
Peter took two steps, putting himself squarely in Caffrey's personal space. "Don't. Move," he said. Neal's grin weakened as Peter put the phone back to his ear. Jones and Cruz tensed. "Get the tech guys in there right away. And I want someone in my conference room stat who can confirm Caffrey's wearing the real tracker."
"Peter!" Neal's grin ignited again. "You think I've actually forged a fake ankle tracker. Thank you. I must say, I am flattered."
Glowering down at him, Peter asked, "What did you do?"
Neal lowered his hands and shrugged. "You'll have to assume I'm lying, whatever I say."
"Try me," Peter growled.
"I didn't do anything, of course." Neal looked around at the FBI agents positioning themselves between him and the conference room door. "Guys, what are you worried about? I'm in the middle of the FBI's New York City Headquarters. Where am I gonna go?"
"Absolutely nowhere." Peter didn't move, but looked behind him to his agents. "Cruz, go apprise the AD that the grid's gone down on Caffrey's tracker. Jones, I want you to personally round up the tech-support and lab guys with the skills to figure out what's happened and get it fixed. Also, find out how quickly we can get another one of these over here."
The others chorused, "Right," and "On it boss," as they hurried out the door, casting worried glances over their shoulders.
"Neal, in a few seconds the AD and a division full of curious agents are going to be in here. But right now, I want you to listen to me. Don't do it."
Neal looked at Peter and partly lowered his cheerful mask. "Peter, you can't really think that I did—"
"It doesn't matter if you did or didn't. You can't tell me you haven't been sizing up every possible option you have in order to run if only you could get that thing off your ankle."
Neal swallowed a protest, regarding Peter with wide serious eyes.
"I know what you're capable of. Until we solve this, you're going to be capable of running no matter what we do. Listen to me. Don't do it. Don't throw everything away. It won't be worth it."
Neal's mask was gone, unless even this was an act. He looked at Peter with uncertainty, yearning, hope. "Peter …" Breathless. "It – Kate. I think Kate's in da –"
"No." Between clenched teeth. "Don't, Neal. Don't. Even."
Neal's face fell, but he breathed hard as his gaze moved restlessly from Peter to the consternation growing beyond the glass walls. Just before the AD and the others poured through the door, Neal gave Peter a final pleading, almost frightened look, before smoothing out his expression into one of innocent enjoyment at the attention.
With Neal being watched by … well, by everyone else while a tech guy studied his tracker, the AD pulled Burke into his office for some crisis management.
"What was Caffrey doing just before the tracker went silent?"
"He's studying our files on past forgeries. He was just sitting there reading, and doodling on a sketch pad."
"If that thing is dead, we've got a problem."
Peter rubbed his eyes. "We sure do. I hope to God they can fix it or get a new one here before the end of the day."
The AD stared at a wall-sized aerial photograph of Manhattan. "If they can't, we've got to keep him secure overnight. Where can we put Neal Caffrey that he won't escape from?"
"Not Riker's!" Now a different alarm rang in Peter's head. "We can't send him back there. No way."
"He didn't escape from there." The AD regarded him sidelong.
"He had the tracker on. He knew escaping would just make it worse." Peter's heart beat hard. He had promised Neal he'd keep him out of Riker's. "That place isn't impervious."
Peter's boss nodded. "He stayed in the super-max for almost four years. But we'd have to transport him …"
"He even broke out of there as soon as he had a reason to," Peter said. "If it's just one night, I suppose we could post a twenty-four hour guard on him."
"Put him in our own lock-up?"
Peter shrugged. He didn't have a good feeling about that, either.
"Burke, you're the expert on him. Is it possible he won't run?"
Peter tried to think, detached from the anxiety he felt. "He knows he'll go away for good if he runs. Or he'll spend the rest of his life as a fugitive. But he's got powerful temptations …"
"What's he thinking right now?" The AD pointed toward the conference room with his chin.
Both men looked through the glass office walls to where Neal stood, obedient, while now two of their tech guys moved radio scanners around his ankles. A smile lingered on his face, but his gaze was distant.
"He's afraid," Peter concluded, remembering that flash of a pleading, panicked look.