THROUGH THE DARKNESS TO THE DAWN

Summary: In order to take down one of New York's mobsters, Diana takes on an interesting role when she and Peter go undercover. But when the case starts falling apart, she has to do everything in her power to save Peter's life – and then make peace with her decisions afterwards.

Spoilers: This is an AU for episode 4x16 that takes place several months after Season 4. Minor spoilers through all four seasons.

Content Notice: A bit of torture (mostly off-screen), Language

A/N: This was written for sholio during the wcpairing exchange and posted earlier on my LJ account. It's been beta-ed by theatregirl, and I also received a lot of help from the folks at wcwu chat.

Please, enjoy!


It wasn't supposed to be like this.

Although there are a lot of people who hate hospitals, their reasons are not always the same. There are those who complain about the sterility, the uniformity of the place. Others claim that it's the "hospital smell", or the quality of the food. Someone like Mozzie would be worried about being put into the system. But for most of the people who despise hospitals, the reason for it is that simply being there is associated with them or their loved ones being hurt.

As the hand of the nearby clock moves forward with an audible "tick" that echoes through the otherwise rather quiet waiting room, Diana decides that the worst of it is the waiting, the not knowing.

It's been two hours since they took Peter to surgery.

Neal, who left for the bathroom about an hour ago and came back five minutes later with wet hair and droplets of water still on his face, is talking in a soft murmur to someone on his phone – June, perhaps, or Mozzie. Sitting on a nearby bench, Elizabeth has finally given up pretending to be looking through the suggested menus for someone's thirty year anniversary and now is simply staring at the door, willing a surgeon or someone from the medical staff to come through and give them the news. So far, nothing.

Peter –

The doctors have their job to do and they can't be disturbed. Yet, for a second Diana imagines grabbing someone, using her badge or gun and demanding answers.

Answers. Oh God.

She's still wearing that charcoal black attire with pieces of leather, her hair pulled up in a tight bun at the back of her head. She wants to shed it, burn all signs of the role that she has been forced to play, far more convincingly than she would have ever imagined. Yet in the end, it hasn't been enough to protect Peter from being shot.

At least the accursed knifes have been taken into evidence.

She can almost feel it in her hand. She sees the blood – Peter's blood – as it slowly dribbles from the blade. And all the time, that look in his eyes, even as he screamed…

Diana clenches her fist so hard that her nails leave marks on her palms and swallows against the bile. Peter will be all right. He will be. Diana won't accept any other outcome. Another glance at the clock tells her that it's been two hours and ten minutes.

The small, detached part of her reminds her that a shot into the right shoulder isn't that serious if treated properly. And the cuts were mild. Peter got help right away. They have every reason to believe that he will make it. She wills herself to listen to her internal voice of reason and stands there, motionless, listening to the clock on the wall.

Peter will be all right.

Then what is taking them so long?!

Diana's silent prayers are finally answered when the door opens. Neal immediately hangs up and Elizabeth stands up from her bench.

"Family of Peter Burke?" asks the doctor at the door.

"That would be the three of us," replies Neal before Elizabeth manages to find her voice.

"All of you?" The doctor gives Diana a highly skeptical look.

"How is my husband?" asks Elizabeth forcefully. "And don't give me that crap the HIPAA laws - those are Peter's friends and co-workers. What's happening with Peter?"

The doctor gives her a displeased frown. "Mrs. Burke, the HIPAA is there to –"

"It's okay, Elizabeth," interrupts Neal and smiles apologetically at the doctor. 'Later,' his expression tells silently. Knowing enough about the laws from experience and Christie, Diana knows that Caffrey has made the right choice in doing a strategic retreat

From afar, they observe as Elizabeth talks to the doctor. Finally, the man leaves and Elizabeth returns to them.

"He said that that the surgery went well. The wound itself wasn't that bad, but apparently Peter had them worried for a moment because he lost a lot of blood." She takes a deep breath and makes an effort not to look at Diana. "They've also sewn the cuts on his chest. Hopefully the scarring should be minimal."

Diana waits for the wave of relief, but it doesn't come.

"When can we see him?" Neal's eyes search hers.

"The doctor says that Peter's been heavily medicated, but he should awake later this afternoon."

Neal lets out a deep breath. "That's good. That's really good."

There is a long pause as they take in the news.

Then Neal's phone buzzes and he gives Elizabeth a grimace. "Calloway's been calling me for the last hour. I put it off for as long as possible, but…"

"You can stay here if you want," speaks up Diana suddenly. "I'll take full responsibility with Calloway."

Both Neal and Elizabeth look at her in surprise. It was the first time she has spoken since they arrived to the hospital. But she can't turn into a mess just because things went sideways. It's time she pulled herself together and got her head back into business.

Calloway won't like her decision, but Diana's facing a suspension either way and after the events with Pratt, she has little respect for her official boss. Besides, this was the second time Peter has been seriously hurt in less than six months. Elizabeth should have someone with her right now. And as she looks at Neal, she thinks he needs this as well.

"You were with Jones, so your report can wait. It's me that Calloway wants to see the most," explains Diana, ignoring the looks. She pauses. "Elizabeth, if there is anything we can do, any way we can help, don't hesitate to ask."

"Thank you, Diana."

"I'll keep you updated," Neal promises her. "I'll call you or Jones as soon as we know anything else." He pauses. "Are you sure you don't want to stay?" he asks with quiet compassion. "I could make up something for Calloway –"

"And then get thrown in jail. You don't want anymore trouble with the boss, Caffrey," says Diana flatly. Then she softens, because she knows how much effort that offer took from Neal. "Besides, hovering behind closed doors won't do anything to help Peter. The least I can do is make my report and make sure these bastards go away."

"Diana?" Elizabeth speaks up. "I'm glad you're okay."

Despite her boiling emotions, Diana somehow manages to look steadily into Elizabeth's eyes. She isn't surprised that under Elizabeth's calm facade, there is a myriad of emotions: anger, accusation, worry and pity.

Diana can handle anger. However, the pity makes her whole skin crawl with something unpleasant. "I promise you, Peter will have justice. This will be an air-tight case if I've ever seen one."

Elizabeth gives her a knowing nod.

"Diana? Good luck with Calloway." Neal's face conveys everything he won't – can't – say out loud.

"Thanks, Neal."

And then, after exchanging a quick goodbye, Diana finally leaves to face things at the bureau.

o - o - o

The case started off simply enough when NYPD intercepted a bunch of forged one hundred dollar bills. At that time, the FBI team didn't expect that the fake notes would eventually lead them to a much larger scheme which involved bribery, illegal gambling, extortion and several other crimes.

Through Mozzie's intelligence and a lot of good old-fashioned FBI legwork, they slowly began uncovering the whole web of contacts. Finally, after six weeks of hard work, they learned the name of the guy on the top.

Justin Donovan was a businessman-slash-thug whose great-grandfathers had once ruled the New York City underworld. It seemed that his biggest ambition was to renew the crime empire that his ancestors had created before the FBI had brought them down nearly seventy years ago.

"He is good at covering his tracks," admitted Jones when he explained just how Donovan was supposedly laundering the money from his gambling places through one of his seemingly legit companies.

Peter frowned. "And we've never come across this before, why?"

Diana grimaced. "Donovan's uncle is a respected member of the city board. When there was some suspicion, he stepped in and smoothed things over."

Neal lifted his eyebrows. "Politics and crime, connected since the beginning of civilization. You have to admit it's classic."

"We might have enough to arrest some guys lower in the foodchain," suggested Jones.

"We can't guarantee the charges will stick," Diana threw her pen on the table in frustration. "If we arrest them, Donovan will get them some fancy lawyers while his uncle will make sure that his nephew's name is kept out of it."

"So in best case, we shut down his business," concluded Neal. "In worst case, we'll just inconvenience him. Either way, Donovan will go free."

Peter shook his head. "I hate this. I hate it when guys like that evade justice because they have connections or because someone has too deep pockets."

Diana knew they were all thinking about the same thing.

It had been four months since that fateful confrontation between James Bennett and Senator Pratt. Now, four months later, Diana still wondered how things would have turned out if Pratt hadn't taken that shot at Bennett.

Ellen's box had revealed incriminating evidence, but not nearly as much as they had hoped. Most of the events mentioned there had been long past their statute of limitations. What was more, the evidence had incriminated James nearly as much as Pratt. Doubts had then been cast on the origins of the box. As Pratt's lawyer had stated, Neal was a world-class forger. The chain of evidence regarding the box had also been put under suspicion. Lastly, the impartiality of Peter's statement had been questioned, especially when it had been revealed that Peter had cooperated with James and Neal and kept his actions from the Bureau.

In the mess that had followed, Peter and his team had been strictly forbidden from interfering with the case. In the end, the only thing that had stuck against Pratt was the shot he had fired at Neal's father. However, the DA had believed his claims of self-defense and let him off with a slap on the wrist. The only victory that the team could claim was that Pratt had resigned from his position of a US Senator. However, even that victory was tainted when it turned out that Pratt's temporary replacement was one of his close friends.

In the aftermath of the confrontation at the Empire State Building, James Bennett had disappeared again, Neal had almost been sent to prison and Peter had once more come close to losing his job.

In the end, things had calmed down, but nothing could take away the sour taste of their defeat. Pratt had gotten off, and he had been replaced by one of his own. Ellen's murder went unavenged. Finally, they had come to realize that the corruption went farther than just Pratt – but they were unable to do anything about it. They had been thanked for their efforts – and it had been made clear that if they went anywhere near that case again, the team would be dismantled, Neal would find himself back in orange and Peter would probably be looking for a new job.

They hadn't given up, Peter had insisted in private. But they needed to regroup and find new leads before they picked up the chase again.

Diana knew that Justin Donovan was nowhere near the level of Terrence Pratt, but it didn't matter. If he was guilty, then she needed to bring him down, to prove that justice could still prevail even when politics got involved.

"We'll get him, boss," she stated resolutely.

"Then we better get some evidence, because so far all we have are shady leads that won't even get us a search warrant, much less a conviction." Peter stared at the members of his team. "We need to find ourselves an in."

They hunched over the table and discussed the possibilities for maybe an hour before Peter decided to hand each of them their own task. Then they split and went back to their other cases.

o - o - o

Staring out of the window in Calloway's office while her boss deals with a call that interrupted them, Diana wonders where it all went so wrong.

She could try and pretend that it was all just a matter of bad circumstances. However, Diana has never lied to herself and she isn't about to start now. No matter how uncomfortable the truth feels.

They should have contacted Organized Crime once it became clear that the case was far much more complicated that the intercepted forged notes. They could have gone with Jones's idea, started by arresting Donovan's underlings and footmen. They should have double-checked, triple-checked Donovan's associates before they decided to go through with the plan. Finally, they shouldn't have underestimated Donovan; they should have known that he would find a way to bring guns to their meet.

At that moment, Calloway hangs up and turns back to Diana with a big smile. "Well, that's out of the way now. Now, where were we…"

"The ambulance arrived to take Peter to the hospital," says Diana, in no mood for the usual games. "The suspects were arrested. Jones took them to the office while Caffrey and I went to find out how Peter was doing."

"Ah, yes. There was that." Calloway keeps staring at her with that unnatural fake smile. "So let me get this straight, Diana. You and Peter walked unarmed into a dangerous situation…"

She is enjoying this, realizes Diana. Amanda Calloway lost some of her backing with Pratt's resignation, and she had faced an inquiry about leaving Peter's gun unattended at the Empire States Building. While she had made an effort to appear honest and straight with them, it has been only a matter of time before she found a reason to get back at Peter and his team.

And now they've given her ammunition.

Diana knows that her actions will result in a suspension and an official investigation, such is the procedure. Hughes, was he still there, would have done the same thing. But when her new boss nitpicks through her whole report with almost palpable satisfaction, it takes all Diana's resolve not to rise to the bait.

It is almost with relief when she finally takes out her badge, pulls her gun of the holster and lays both objects on Calloway's desk. Then she leaves the woman's office and goes to pack her stuff.

o - o - o

"I think I may have found our in," said Neal the next day when they reconvened to talk about the case.

"Well?" asked Peter when Neal didn't elaborate. "Would you care to share with the rest of the class?"

Neal smiled. "Funny you should say that. You remember the case with Oswald?"

"Your copycat," supplied Jones promptly.

"Exactly. Well, we know Donovan has been trying to make a splash in the criminal underworld. He's been doing rather well –"

"Hence the case on our table," said Peter dryly.

"– but he still only small time compared to the bigger players. So the thing that our guy really wants –"

"He wants to become a big fish," concluded Peter.

"You know, it crossed my mind that Donovan might have been stepping on some toes with his recent crime spree," said Neal thoughtfully.

"So what? You want to approach him and spook him into thinking we represent one of the big players who has taken offence from his invasion into their territory?" asked Diana curiously.

"Not quite," replied Neal seriously.

"If we approach him like that, he might deny everything and not give us any evidence," explained Peter with a frown.

"Exactly. But if we got him thinking that we represent one of the big families who got interested in him and that we're considering cutting him in –"

"He would be much more open," finished Jones in a realization.

"You think he'll go for it?" asked Diana skeptically.

Neal smiled. "Look, the first step of a con is to find out what the mark wants. Once you know what they want, you offer it to them. Donovan is obsessed with three things – money, influence and his family's history. The thing is, even if he has doubts, he will want to believe that he has been noticed. He'll think that this is his chance to make it big, the chance to finally move up the ladder."

"He'll go for it," said Peter and cut off Neal's speech. Neal shot him a mock-hurt look.

"So who goes in as the bad guy?" asked Jones.

Peter gave them a smug smile. "Well, since Neal mentioned the Oswald case, I already have practice at playing mobsters –"

"Actually, I was thinking more of Diana," Neal interrupted him

"Diana?" echoed Peter in surprise.

"Well, Donovan has already seen me and Jones, and you said it yourself that he might have spotted you the other day. Diana is the one who's most likely still in the clear."

"You know, I've played two hookers, a secretary, a cigar girl… You didn't think that you'd get all the fun around there, boss?" asked Diana in a deceptively mild voice.

"Well, ah, no! Of course not." Peter gave her an apologetic smile. He shot a murderous look at Neal when Diana wasn't looking. "If Neal has an idea how to pull this off, then let's hear it!"

"All right. I talked to my sources –"

"Mozzie," coughed Diana and Jones.

Neal gave them a megawatt smile. "As I said, I talked to my sources. This is what we came up with…"

o - o - o

When she leaves the office, Diana's first impulse is to go to a shooting range to clear her head before she remembers that she no longer has her gun. She supposes she could go to the gym instead, but somehow she doesn't want to face the other FBI agents just yet. Instead, she stops at the park, buys a cup of coffee and sits on a free bench, near to a small playground where a group of children play soccer.

As she is watching the carefree kids run around and laugh, with the sun shining on the beautiful afternoon, she wonders how surreal that moment actually feels. Just a few hours ago, she has been playing a vicious mob queen; brutal, emotionless and dead set on revenge. She and Peter have been held at gunpoint, and then she was forced to keep playing the role and pray that it would be enough to get them out of there alive before backup arrived.

They should have been three minutes away.

It was five minutes later when Diana knew for sure that the situation was even worse than she had thought.

Despite the bad situation, the ultimate decision had been hers.

The day is warm, but Diana still can't help the cold from creeping up her spine. She finishes her coffee, trashes the empty cup and leaves the park with the kids behind.

o - o - o

"She's called the what?"

"The Mistress," Neal repeated patiently.

Diana shook her head. "The Peacemaker, the Dentist, the Mistress… Is it just me, or do all these nicknames really sound like something out of a cheap crime novel? You'd think that the criminal masterminds would have a better imagination than that."

"Excuse me! I was twelve!"

"We know, Mozzie," replied Peter.

"I think it's a pretty cool nickname," said Neal supportively.

"Liar. You sold your soul to the suits. Now you're conning your friends."

"Oh for God's sake, we like your nickname," snapped Peter, barely refraining from rolling his eyes. "Diana, tell him you like it."

"I love the nickname," said Diana with a toothy smile.

"See? She likes it. Everybody likes it. Now can we move on?"

"Suits." Mozzie gave an overstated sigh. "I want it noted that I'm doing this under duress…"

The four of them were in Neal's apartment, discussing the Donovan case. A bottle of wine and two bottles of beer later, Diana had been thoroughly briefed on the character she was supposed to be posing as – the Mistress, a lower boss of the Raccinis, one of New York's biggest crime syndicates.

"Why her?" asked Peter at last.

"Because she's high enough in the family and nobody knows what she looks like," answered Neal immediately.

"Exactly." Mozzie took a sip of his wine. "Look, the Mistress is a mystery, a shadow in the dark. Word is that she has been working for the family since she was a teen and quickly rose through the ranks. She became one of their top assassins before she turned twenty. She earned her nickname when she –"

"Okay, you already told us that story," interrupted Peter, looking slightly ill. "I still don't see –"

"I think I get it, Peter," answered Diana thoughtfully. She stared at Mozzie. "You're saying that even if he has doubts, Donovan wouldn't dare to voice them aloud unless absolutely sure because he wouldn't want to risk upsetting a psychotic killer with a knife obsession."

"Now you're catching on, Lady Suit."

Peter sighed. "And you're sure they won't know what she looks like?"

Mozzie frowned. "Look, I'm no expert on the New York mob. But, as I said, the Mistress is a mystery. Some people say that she's supposedly a Hispanic or an Afro-American. She's ruthless, vicious, extremely intelligent – plus, she really loves her blades. But the people who meet her don't exactly share details."

In the end, Peter gave up. "Fine. But if this goes south –"

"It won't," interrupted Neal impatiently.

"We're a good team, boss," said Diana.

Peter nodded. "All right, let's go through this once more…"

o - o - o

Diana isn't the best cook in the world. On the other hand, she's not the worst one either, so after spending nearly an hour trying to read a book and realizing she was still in the middle of the same page, she decides to occupy her mind by making an extravagant meal. She isn't particularly hungry, but then she can always share it with the old guy who lived alone on the floor above her.

Twenty minutes later, she realizes it has been a mistake. She doesn't mind cooking, that's true, but it has never been her true passion. The last time she attempted something this elaborate was with Christie – and doesn't that realization kill whatever's left of her mood.

Diana almost hurts herself with the chopper at the unexpected wave of longing and pain.

She misses Christie.

It was clear in the end that they couldn't make it work, and their break-up has been the right thing to do. Yet sometimes the ache hits her so forcefully that she almost calls a cab and goes to Christie's place to beg her to take her back. She hates the empty place in her bed and hates watching sappy movies alone. She hates opening the fridge and finding everything the way it was there before, nobody stealing her favorite yoghurt. She hates that Christie's not next to her right now, with a laugh and a hug and comfort. She needs Christie, and it's not fair or right.

You've broken it off, Diana. Deal with it.

Chopping some paprika, Diana adds it to the mixture in a big pan and stirs what will become the sauce that will go with the meal. She realizes that despite today's events, handling the knives in kitchen doesn't bother her any more than it would have yesterday. But then she never shared Neal's attitude about weapons. Weapons themselves didn't hurt people, only other men did that. It was a lesson of responsibility that Charlie had drilled into her head before he first put a gun into her hands.

Or maybe the ease came with being an FBI agent.

Cutting some pork into little cubes, Diana puts it on another pan. Even as she continues cooking, she realizes that she is definitely not in the mood for a meal like this tonight. No matter. She'll put it in the fridge when she's done. Or maybe her neighbor will be hungry enough and rid her of her problem.

What will Peter be eating at the hospital…

Chasing that thought away, Diana washes a couple of tomatoes and forcefully focuses back on her sauce.

She will go to that nearby bar, she decides when she begins to fry the pork. Tonight, she will lose herself in listening to bad music. Maybe someone will capture her attention and she'll even dance, although right now she doubts it.

The meal is almost finished when Diana's bell rings.

o - o - o

Setting up the meeting with Donovan had been easier than any of them had expected.

Mozzie had commented that someone like the Mistress wouldn't go to a meet alone, so in the end, they decided to send in not only Diana as the mob boss, but also Peter as her henchman.

"What is the job of a mob boss's henchman?" Jones asked curiously.

Peter smiled. "I open the doors for her, look threateningly imposing…"

Neal chipped in. "Carry her bags, wash her shirts…"

"Feed her dog…"

"Make her coffee…"

"Break the kneecaps for her…"

"Make her ice-cream…"

"What kind of a crime lord eats ice-cream?" Jones shook his head. "Wait, forget I asked."

"I don't have a dog, but thanks anyway, Peter," said Diana pleasantly and cut off the exchange between him, Neal and Jones. Then she shot him a mock-murderous look. "And stay away from the kneecaps. Those are mine."

"Mob bosses usually don't do the dirty business themselves," commented Neal.

"The Mistress might," said Jones dryly.

"Don't forget that I've claimed the kneecaps," hissed Diana threateningly before she and Neal burst into laughter.

Diana was hard-pressed to contain how much she was enjoying this. She wouldn't admit it aloud, but it had been a while since she had had such an interesting undercover assignment.

"All right guys, let's focus! We have a mobster to take down," Peter interrupted them with a stern tone, but he was still smiling.

"Yeah, it's definitely Diana breaking the kneecaps," chuckled Neal. "Face it, Peter – she's way more convincing with the evil act."

"Let's not beat about the bush, Caffrey. I see you don't approve of the sort of help I hire. Would a demonstration help to change your opinion?" Diana's voice was mild, almost bored. However, behind that, she projected an ice-cold, chilling undertone. Judging by the shocked looks of her colleagues, it worked better than expected.

Neal recovered first. "That was good," he said approvingly.

Jones nodded. "Scary, but good."

"Yes, good." Peter cleared his throat. "All right. As I said, we have a wannabe-mobster to take down. And Donovan might not be Mogilevich, but we still shouldn't underestimate him."

In the end, it was decided that Diana would be wearing a transmitter, because she was going to be the one doing the negotiation. Neither she nor Peter would have a receiver though, in fear that such a thing might be too easy to spot. Neal, Jones and the rest of the team would be nearby, ready to provide help and arrest Donovan once they got a confession. They agreed on the activation phrase ("party"), talked about emergencies, covered every possibility that occurred to them.

They were determined to make sure that everything went as smoothly as possible.

o - o - o

"Caffrey. What do you want?" asks Diana flatly when she opens the door of her apartment.

Neal flashes her one of his huge fake smiles. "You hurt me. Why the suspicion, Diana?"

She gives him an annoyed look. "I'm not in the mood tonight. Go bother someone else, Neal."

Diana knows she's being unfair, but – damn it. While she thought she didn't want to be alone, she didn't expect to find Neal on her doorstep. Honestly, at this point she doesn't want to see anyone from work, and Neal has the tendency to make even the simplest things complicated.

It is possible that Neal has sensed her thoughts, because he lifts his hand in an apologetic manner. "Look, I'm sorry. That wasn't the best opening line. I just – I thought that today wasn't a good day, and you shouldn't be alone after that." He makes a pause. "Can I come in?"

Diana sighs. "Fine."

Neal follows her back to the kitchen. "Something smells good," he comments approvingly.

Diana shrugs. "I wanted to kill time. It'll be done in ten minutes or so. You can sit down in the meantime." She waves in the direction of the kitchen table.

Neal smiles. "All right."

They fall into silence while Diana is finishing the meal. Diana uses the time to pull her thoughts together. When she is finally done and turns back to Neal, she feels mostly collected and back in control.

"Well?" she asks. "Do you want to try some of my Pork Skillet?"

"Absolutely," replies Neal with one of his smaller but more honest smiles.

After a short moment of hesitation, Diana pulls out two plates and puts some of the mixture on them.

"Water? Beer? I'd offer you wine, but it doesn't really go well with this meal."

"Water will be fine, thanks."

"Suit yourself."

Neal helps her carry the plates and utensils to the table while Diana fetches a glass of water for Neal and a bottle of beer for herself. She takes the place opposite Neal, opens the bottle with her knife and pours herself some of the beer.

Neal lifts his glass with a smile. "Cheers."

Diana rolls her eyes, but she clinks the glass with him.

Although she knows about Neal's criminal career, sometimes Diana still forgets what kind of gifts Neal needed to make it as a world-class con man. Therefore, she is slightly taken aback by his perceptiveness when he follows her unspoken wish to eat in silence and postpone the talk about the elephant in the room.

"It's good," says Neal a moment later.

Diana nods. "Thanks."

She wasn't in the mood for a meal when she was cooking, but now that she has begun eating, she is hit by a wave of hunger that reminds her that she hasn't had a proper meal since breakfast. She begins devouring her dinner with gusto, not fazed even when she sees Neal's small grin, and when she'd done with the small portion she put on her plate earlier, she stands up and goes to get some more.

"It looks like Grandpa Fred will be dining his own food after all," she comments aloud.

"What was that?" asks Neal curiously.

Diana returns to the table. "Grandpa Fred, an old neighbor who lives above me. I help him sometimes during the weekends if I'm home and he's having a bad day. Me and Christie used to bring him a meal occasionally. I thought I'd ask him if he wanted the Pork Skillet. I wasn't exactly in the mood for it before."

She realizes right then that her visits to her neighbor have grown much sparser during the last few months, and feels an unexpected wave of guilt. It wasn't that she had any obligation to Grandpa Fred. And yet…

"I'm sure he appreciates it," says Neal. Then he smiles at her. "And here I thought I knew you so well. Diana Berrigan, the charitable neighbor."

"Not so charitable today. The pork is almost eaten."

"Ah, well, who knows. Maybe your neighbor's Jewish and wouldn't care for it anyway."

"I think I would have known that after living here for almost three years, but thanks for your helpful insight," replies Diana dryly.

When they continue eating in silence, she realizes that Neal is willing to let her ignore the events of today if she wants, pretend that they never happened. However, Diana didn't become an FBI agent by being a coward, and she is not going to start down on that path now. She swallows a mouthful of rice before she sets down her fork.

First things first. "I'm sorry I snapped at you earlier," she says honestly.

Neal stops eating too. "Well, I barged in uninvited and disturbed your cooking. No wonder you were upset."

Diana shakes her head, not willing to take the escape that Neal is offering her. "That's not the reason I snapped at you and you know it." She pauses. "You were right. It hasn't been a good day."

"If you don't want to talk about it –"

"You'll let me ignore it until the end of the world. Thanks, but no." Diana takes a deep breath.

"How is Peter?"

"I visited him late this afternoon," replies Neal. "He's doped up, but otherwise in a good mood." He smiles. "He asked about you, you know."

The wave of relief, guilt and confusion hits Diana like a punch to her stomach. The fact that Peter's alright – and she's so genuinely touched that he has asked about her… Knowing Peter, it shouldn't surprise her, and yet…She beats down the lingering doubt and focuses back on her guest.

"What about Elizabeth?" asks Diana. "This must be hard on her. It's been only a few months since Peter had the car accident."

"She's holding up. She's – well, she's a bit shaken. She'll be all right though. She's just happy that she can be with Peter right now."

"Yeah, I bet."

There is a moment of silence.

"How about you, Diana?" asks Neal at last.

o - o - o

Slipping into the role of the Mistress had been easier than Diana had anticipated, especially once she put on the all-black clothes and attached some knifes to her forearms, waist and one to her pant leg.

At first, she had been seriously annoyed when she had to leave her gun with Jones in the van. But she had reminded herself that Peter had her back, and he was still armed. Moreover, while everything suggested that Donovan was greedy and power-hungry, he wasn't stupid. He wouldn't want to upset the Raccinis, so the role of the Mistress should be enough to protect her. Finally, Jones and the rest of the team were close on stand by, and they insisted that they would be able to reach her and Peter in less than three minutes if anything went wrong.

The first tense moment came when Donovan's people, aka a group of three thugs, asked Peter to relinquish his gun and wanted to search them both. Diana exchanged a split-second look with Peter, a quick unspoken discussion on how to proceed.

"Are you trying to harass me before we even begin negotiating?" drawled Diana with obvious displeasure. She paused. "My boss believed that you could be a reasonable man. Apparently he was wrong." She turned to Peter. "This meeting is over."

Peter's eyes widened almost imperceptibly. They didn't want to lose Donovan. What Diana just did had the potential to completely destroy their operation. Yet deep down, Diana felt it was necessary. Her instincts told her that Donovan wouldn't trust her if she didn't protest their treatment, that this had to be done if she wanted to maintain her cover as the Mistress. Not to mention she didn't like the idea of going anywhere with Donovan's people with both her and Peter unarmed.

After some haggling, threats and negotiations, Diana had relented on the subject of the gun when Donovan's people gave up theirs as well. She didn't like it and neither did Peter, but if they wanted to carry on with the operation, they didn't really have a choice. And as long as Donovan believed that they belonged to the Raccinis, he wouldn't dare to harm a hair on their heads.

They settled in the room that had been picked for the meeting. That was when the crucial part really began.

After the experience of the past few months, the team wanted a completely clear-cut case that would lead to an easy and flawless conviction. To ensure that, Diana knew she had to get Donovan to talk about his deals in as much detail as possible. At the same time, she had to be careful not to reveal that her own knowledge of the problem – while not bad – wasn't nearly as deep as Donovan's own.

As it turned out, they needn't have worried. Once Donovan believed that Diana truly was the Mistress and that he had attracted the attention of the Raccinis, he went all the way out to convince her that he could be an asset to the family.

Everything seemed to be going according to the plan.

And then it happened.

Suddenly the door burst open and six men barged in. Diana noticed right away that all of them were armed.

"Doug?" spoke up Donovan. "What is the meaning of this?"

Without a blink of the eye, the guy called Doug pulled out his gun and aimed it straight at Peter's head. "You seem to be having a mole there, boss."

Well, shit.

Still maintaining her cover, although it might have already been blown, Diana slowly rose up to her feet.

Screw easy conviction. They would have to make do with what they had. She would rather deal with skeptical DAs again than be carried away in a body bag.

"I don't recall agreeing to making this into a free-attendance party, Donovan" she said in an icy voice.

Donovan gave her an apologetic look. "Madam, I'm sure this is just a misunderstanding that will be cleared immediately."

"See to it," she replied curtly.

She felt Peter's tension next to her, as well as his silent resolution. She had already said the activation phrase. In three minutes Jones and the team should be there to bust them out. They only had to stall until then.

Donovan frowned. "Doug, you better have a really good explanation for this, or I swear I'll make you regret it."

"I know this bastard, boss," growled Doug angrily. "I met him seven years ago when I was still working freelance. We had a perfect job lined out to the detail, until this son of a bitch got cold feet and went blabbering to the feds. The rest of us were arrested – all except him who disappeared into thin air."

Everything in the room stilled.

Silence.

"That's the most ridiculous tale I've ever heard," said Peter at last.

"The feds," murmured Donovan quietly. "Of course."

Diana tried to measure the distance between herself and Doug, but then she gave it up as a bad idea. Even disregarding the rest of the armed thugs, she would never make it to him in time before he shot Peter. Now she was seriously regretting that she didn't have her gun on her. And where was Jones with the team?

Donovan's signal must have been imperceptible.

Suddenly, the rest of the newcomers pulled out their guns as well and aimed it at Peter and Diana.

This was bad. Really bad.

"Are you sure it's him?" asked Donovan, not even looking at Diana.

"Positive. I wasn't sure on the camera, but the moment that I saw him in person, I knew. And I would recognize that bastard's voice even in my sleep. It's him alright."

"I see."

Donovan's men surrounded them in a semi-circle, making sure that they wouldn't escape and that any unexpected move would be met with deadly retribution. Diana knew she or Peter had to speak up, but the words were frozen in her throat. As always, she waited for Peter to give her a lead, a suggestion, instructions on how to proceed… only then she realized that this time, Peter wasn't the head of the operation.

She was.

Finally, Donovan lifted his gaze and looked at Diana. "I have been wondering –"

"Is he right?" spoke up Diana suddenly. With the speed of a striking cobra, she swirled and turned to Peter, one of her knifes slipping into her hand. "Are you working for the feds?"

Donovan's men stared at them in confusion.

Peter lifted his eyebrows. "I don't know what he's talking about."

"You filthy back-stabbing rat," gritted Doug though his teeth. "This piece of shit is the reason my brother got twelve years in the slammer, all over some stupid Russian dolls. I'll shoot his brains out and I don't care what –"

"Careful Doug. You're crossing a line there," Donovan interrupted in a warning tone. However, his eyes remained firmly fixed on Diana and Peter.

It was then when Diana finally remembered the case that Doug was talking about. Seven years ago, Peter had been undercover as an accountant who had been recently fired on suspicion of fraud. The crew they were after hired him to help them launder their money from their illegal smuggling business. And indeed, some of the items were smuggled inside matryoshka dolls.

She vaguely recalled that when the scheme came down, several of the perpetrators had been tripping over themselves to cut a deal. The evidence was so overwhelming that it didn't even require Peter to testify at the trial – which was a good thing, because back then, Peter's attention had been almost fully occupied by chasing one Neal Caffrey.

Diana would bet her money that Peter already remembered it all as well. And she was equally sure that there was no way they could talk Doug out of his certainty that Peter was his man.

What now?

Diana gave Peter an ugly smile. "I knew it. I knew we had a snitch in our mist every since the cops crashed our party at the gambling house. You were always too smart for your own good."

For a moment, Peter was silent, probably contemplating their next move. In the end, he uttered a snort of contempt. "You called that a party? I think the people there were pitiful."

Damn. She had hoped that Peter would come up with a plan.

However, now she had no choice than continue the charade.

"You bastard." Diana brought the knife less than an inch under Peter's jaw. "You will pay for it," she seethed. "You will pay for every lie, every betrayal, every penny we lost that day – "

"Can I shoot his brain out now?" called Doug.

"You touch a hair on his head and the deal's off," snapped Diana. Doug withdrew a bit – at least for the moment.

Diana stared into Peter's face. Behind his facade and looking at his throbbing vein so close to her blade, she could read an echo of the same panic that was threatening to suffocate her. Even if Jones and the team had any doubts about the situation there, they'd now repeated their safeword several times. Where the hell was their backup?!

Then Peter's eyes bore into her. 'Patience,' his look said. 'Trust Jones and Neal.'

Diana blinked that she understood. 'Okay.'

Donovan was eyeing her with a mixture of curiosity and heavy suspicion. Diana also noted that he hadn't yet told his people to lower the guns that were aimed at her and Peter. "What is your business with the rat?" he asked at last.

"That rat has been close to far too many family operations. I need to find out what he knows," explained Diana chillingly. "He and I are going to have a nice long conversation about loyalties and his relationship with the feds."

To make the show more real, she pressed the blade closer to Peter's jaw, just close enough to draw a drop of blood. Then she slowly drew two fingers across his neck, hoping that it would look psychopathic and not as cheesy as it felt to her.

Peter bent his head slightly backwards. "I won't talk," he pronounced strongly, standing there straight and proud with a several guns aimed at him and the tip Diana's knife under his jaw. For a second, Diana wondered how the mobsters around them could not admire his courage and morals. Then she slipped back to her role.

"But you will, sweetheart. You will."

At least one of the mobsters visibly winced. Apparently her role as the Mistress worked as well on these thugs as it had on Neal, Peter and Jones in the safety of the FBI conference room. Except now it wasn't a game anymore.

She shot a glance at Donovan. "This traitor is mine."

"As you wish, Mistress," nodded Donovan at last.

Diana gave him an icy smile. "Good choice, Justin. I'll have to call my people and inform them that –"

"Boss, what if he told the feds about this meeting?" spoke up suddenly one of Donovan's people.

Donovan stilled.

Diana shot the man who interrupted them a haughty look. "If the feds knew, they would have stormed this place by now." And she was going to kill Jones if they survived this. What the hell was he waiting for?!

Donovan stared at Peter for a moment. "Search him," he said at last.

This was their chance, Diana knew it. To search Peter, one or more of Donovan's men would have to approach them. If she and Peter could get a hold of their gun – a standstill was bad, but with their backup god-knows-where, this situation was even worse.

"Jackson. Give me your gun and then search him," said Donovan. When the man obeyed his order, Donovan aimed the gun at Diana. "Search them both."

"You dare to doubt me?!" hissed Diana angrily.

"It's nothing personal, Mistress," replied Donovan with an almost apologetic shrug. "I just can't take the risk that you're not who you're claiming to be."

At that moment, Diana realized that the dynamic in the room had shifted.

Donovan still respected her, she was sure of that. But the awe and fear he had felt when she had introduced herself as the Mistress was now gone – understandably, since she had supposedly made the inexcusable mistake of bringing a snitch into his house. With that change, their situation became even more dangerous than it had been before.

It was the moment when she fully acknowledged that she and Peter might not make it out of there alive.

o - o - o

'How about you, Diana?' Neal has asked her.

And isn't that the million dollar question.

"I don't know," she starts hesitantly at last. She pauses, trying to put her spiraling thoughts into something resembling a coherent sentence. "I've been suspended," she says then. "I had to give Calloway my gun. And now I feel so damn naked without it." She shakes her head. "Neal, it was such a stupid plan –"

"The plan wasn't stupid," Neal interrupts her.

Diana sighs. "Okay, maybe not. But it had too many holes that we forgot to consider."

"We couldn't have known that Peter's cover would be blown," points out Neal. "Nor that we would lose contact with the two of you."

"We should have expected it," replies Diana sharply. "This sort of stuff can always happen during an operation. But because we were too eager to close this case, we took a stupid risk and it came back to bite us."

"You're right."

Diana does a double-take. She has expected him to argue with her for longer, not to give in so easily.

"What is really bothering you?" asks Neal a moment later.

Diana takes a swing from her glass of beer and tries to find the answer.

o - o - o

Fortunately, Donovan's man didn't find the transmitter masked as Diana's hair-clip. But that was where their luck was about to run out. Diana had played every angle she dared to without blowing her cover, but it had been to no avail.

Donovan wouldn't let her leave with Peter as her prisoner, nor would he let her make a call to her own people, "to inform the Raccinis that we had a rat". And Jones – Diana was going to break his legs before killing him if they survived this – Jones still hadn't come to their rescue. Whatever happened, it became apparent that they were on their own.

Donovan insisted that they had to interrogate Peter to find out what he knew. Diana's vicious objections that she wouldn't expose the family secrets in front of a stranger fell on deaf ears.

She considered letting Peter grab her blade and "overpower" her, allowing him to take her as his hostage. But Donovan's attitude towards "the Mistress" had changed too much to ensure that he wouldn't call their bluff or simply shoot them both, his fear of the Raccinis be damned. It didn't help that she and Peter couldn't talk together, nor that there were still far too many weapons pointed at them.

"Tie him up and bring the tools," said Donovan. "Let's find out who our friend here really talked to."

With a chilling thought, Diana realized that she had at least one more option left.

"Forget the tools," she said aloud. "I'll do it myself."

"Madam –"

"Enough." With as much authority as she could muster, Diana shot Donovan one more psychotic look. "Do you know why they call me the Mistress, Donovan?"

"Forget about the crazed bitch, boss," snapped one of Donovan's men.

This was bad. This was really, really bad. They had already zip-tied Peter's hands behind his back and Diana was losing even the last shreds of control there. She put everything she had into one last deadly glare into Donovan's eyes and secretly prayed that it would be enough.

"Do you know why, Donovan?"

There was a long pause.

"Yes. I know."

"Today is your good day," said Diana. "But tomorrow? The day after? You don't want me as your enemy. … Unless, of course, I'm mistaken. Maybe you want me to talk to the bosses about your questionable loyalties. Or maybe youwant to find me in your bedroom one night for a little friendly visit. You and I could have so much fun together –"

"I understand perfectly, Mistress," interrupted Donovan. Diana was sure that at this point, he was already planning her demise – once he secured his place with the Raccinis.

"Forgive me my rudeness. The rat is yours."

Diana smiled at him. "Thank you, Justin."

She took a few steps and stretched her shoulders. To her surprise, Donovan had apparently given his people another wordless signal, because most of the guns that had been aimed at her disappeared. For a moment, Diana was tempted to stall, still hoping that the team would come to get them. But by then, it was painfully clear that they have somehow lost contact, so she abandoned the thought and returned to her former plan, even though the mere idea made her almost physically ill.

If she messed this up, Donovan could change his mind and kill them both. To hell with her principles – she could worry about them after she got them out of here alive.

With a controlled, only slightly crazed smile, she zipped open Peter's leather jacket and then slit through his T-shirt to expose his bare chest. She needed to make it look professional, like she had been doing this for many years.

Diana thought she did rather well when she didn't throw up.

With a slow stroke that supposedly mocked gentleness, she ran her empty hand across Peter's now half-bared left shoulder and all the way down, hoping to find his cell-phone there. No such luck.

Aware of all the eyes on her, Diana knew she needed a distraction before she attempted the same thing at the other side.

She pressed the tip of her blade against Peter's chest.

And then she found she couldn't.

Her hand began to shiver.

This was Peter, her boss, her friend. Peter, who had listened to her suggestion about how to catch Caffrey, even when there were far more experienced agents around. Peter, who had trusted her with the music box and the treasure hunt. He was her mentor; the man who talked to her after her first shooting, the man she respected more than anyone else since Charlie's death.

Diana couldn't do it.

"I won't talk."

She almost jerked when she heard Peter's voice. Then she looked into his eyes.

She saw the same faith in them, the same determination and unshakeable trust that she had always admired about him. Then Peter gave her an almost imperceptible nod.

Diana swallowed bile. "This is gonna be fun."

Staring into Peter's eyes, she found the same unwavering determination. She clenched the knife, and then she moved it down in a clear cut.

Peter screamed.

o - o - o

"Six cuts," Diana says at last, although she knows Neal has seen them himself. "One before I found Peter's phone. The other five until you arrived."

Neal reaches across the table and gently clutches her hand.

"I stalled," continues Diana. "I boasted and talked shit like a crazy egomaniac to prolong the time between them. I tried to do as little damage as possible while not tipping Donovan off." She takes a gulp of her beer and stares at the table surface. "And the whole time, Peter kept looking at me with this – this – "

Encouragement? Blind faith?

After that first scream, Peter kept biting his lips to make it easier for her, letting out only small grunts of pain. It didn't help. It was only that look of unwavering trust that kept telling her to go on.

"I couldn't have done it without that," concludes Diana without further explanation.

"You did what you had to do to get both of you out of there alive."

For a long while, Diana remains silent.

"Diana?" says Neal softly.

She runs her hands through her hair before she looks at him.

"You did what you had to. Peter's gonna be okay thanks to you."

"I know that," she replies finally, even though a part of her wonders if Neal is just telling her the words she wants to hear. "I'm not stupid, Neal. I mean, maybe there had been a better solution –"

"That's not – "

" – but we both made it out alive, so I guess that worked. It's just…"

"It's still hard to accept it," finishes Neal gently when Diana trails off.

"Yes."

For a moment, there is silence.

"How did you text us without them noticing?" asks Neal.

Diana breathes out. "Something you taught me. I used a distraction. I grabbed the phone in Peter's pocket and then jabbed Peter into his back with it. He caught on right away and pretended that I was – scratching him, or grabbing him or something. I typed the message with one hand while I used the other to do the second cut in the front."

"7-6-7. SOS."

Diana nods. "Donovan and his thugs didn't notice a thing."

Neal squeezes her hand. "That was good."

Diana shakes her head. "Not good enough."

o - o - o

Somehow, Diana knew that they were here even before the door burst open.

"FBI! DROP YOUR WEAPONS! DROP YOUR WEAPONS!"

In the moment of distraction when the SWAT team led by Jones made their impressive entrance, she was already cutting through Peter's zip-ties and supported him as he almost fell down.

"Peter. Peter!"

He caught balance by painfully grasping Diana's shoulder. "I'm okay. Di… I'm okay." The six bleeding lines on his chest were visible like some sort of a horrible pattern.

"The hell you are," snapped Diana, feeling her eyes moisture. She could feel Peter's shaking run through her whole body. "Come – sit down. Boss, I'm so –"

"Good. You did good. Diana…"

BANG!

An unexpected force tore Peter from Diana's arms and threw him backwards. For one endless moment, Diana simply stared at him before comprehension settled in.

"PETER!"

The rest was a red haze.

She remembered yelling. Remembered pressing Peter's cut T-shirt into the wound in his shoulder. Remembered Neal pulling her away from Peter when the ambulance arrived, and remembered yelling some horrible things at Jones.

She only snapped out of the haze when Neal put his hand on her shoulder. She shrugged it off, but then she followed him to the hospital.

And there, they waited.

o - o - o

"What exactly happened?" asks Diana. "Why didn't you get there when we first gave the takedown signal?"

"We lost your transmission – "

"But how? Why?" presses Diana. "How did that happen? Did they have a jammer or – "

"No, nothing like that." Neal hesitates before he gives her a grim look. "We have no idea what happened."

Diana stares at him. "What?"

"The Bureau claims it was equipment malfunction. We lost the audio on you about ten minutes after you moved inside. Since we could still see your signal and neither you nor Donovan's people left the building… I texted Peter, he replied everything was okay, so Jones decided to continue the operation." Neal sighs. "Obviously Jones has been beating himself up over it ever since we got your message."

Thinking back, Diana realizes she vaguely remembers Peter fiddling with something on his phone.

The last traces of anger she felt against her colleague and friend dissolve into thin air. "It wasn't Jones's fault," she says with a sigh. "If I were in his place, I might have made the same call."

"Maybe you could tell him that later when we meet him at the bar?" suggests Neal. "If you want to come, that is."

"You're meeting Jones at a bar?" asks Diana with some disbelief. She wouldn't have thought that Jones would be in much mood to socialize this evening.

"He said he'd be there," replies Neal a bit evasively.

Ah. So Caffrey blackmailed him into it somehow. Diana wonders what Neal told Jones before she decides to let it go.

She stares into distance. "Equipment malfunction. I can't believe it."

"Neither could I and Moz," says Neal darkly.

Diana's head snaps as she looks at him. "What?"

Neal hesitates. "You're gonna think I'm crazy."

"I'll try to withhold my judgment."

For a moment, Neal remains silent. "It's a bit curious that the equipment mysteriously malfunctioned right during a meeting with a wannabe-crime boss. Do you remember the last time Peter ended in a hospital?"

When Diana finally comprehends Neal's train of thoughts, she snorts out. "You're right Caffrey, that is crazy."

"I never said it wasn't."

"Not everything is a conspiracy theory," continues Diana. "Sometimes malfunctions happen on their own. Nothing mysterious about it."

Silence.

There isn't anything mysterious… right?

"You're right," says Neal at last. "Malfunctions happen. I've probably been spending too much time around Mozzie."

Probably…

No. She would not go there. Diana knows that if she starts being paranoid, she will go crazy before the end of the week.

"Well, I think that we've officially finished the Pork skillet," says Neal completely off topic. Then he grins at her. "Maybe that was why I came here in the first place. I wanted to steal your dinner."

"Wow, was that a confession? Maybe I should arrest you," says Diana with a ghost of a smile.

Neal smirks. "You'd have to catch me first."

"I could do that," replies Diana seriously.

"Well, then I'd better help you with the dishes to destroy the evidence."

"Evidence tampering now? That's a serious offence, Caffrey."

"You can't arrest me if you help me do it," pointed out Neal with another smirk.

At first, the bantering is almost mechanical, just an old habit that's hard to turn off. But as they continue needling each other, Diana feels some of her weariness fade away.

She still feels sick when she thinks of Peter's injuries, although she knows that the feeling will diminish over time. Another part of her is chilled how easy the act came to her – not the torture, but the rest of it. It was like she used a part of her personality, twisted it and removed everything else. Did Neal do the same whenever he worked a con? Diana doesn't know.

She feels tired and empty and shattered, but somehow, she has begun to put the pieces back together. What she wants the most now is to talk to Peter, but that will have to wait until tomorrow. But for now, she realizes that she wants company.

"So where did you say that we'll be meeting Jones?" she asks at last.

Neal smiles.

o - o - o

Standing in front of the hospital room, Diana's hand hesitates above the door knob.

She knows Peter, and she knows he won't blame her for what happened. And yet, for some reason she is afraid to face him.

But nobody has ever accused Diana Berrigan of being a coward. She takes a deep breath and opens the door.

There are two beds in the room. The left one is empty. On the right one, Peter lifts his head when he hears the sound of the door opening.

"Hey Diana." His voice is a bit croaky, but his smile is warm and genuine.

"Hey boss."

And as Peter invites her to take the seat, Diana finally knows that things are going to be just fine.

THE END


Reviews are very welcome.