(Chapter 4)

Neal felt his bonds cut loose and was only vaguely aware of the sound of a car door opening and closing. Voices in low murmurs floated around him like the sounds of parents in a Charlie Brown cartoon. His mind was still extremely hazy, the drugs and being nearly suffocated having weakened him considerably as he lay against the cool leather interior of the limousine. Despite all that he had started to remember things.

Neal knew that Agent Burke wasn't just the man who had chased and jailed him, but a good friend he worked with on consulting gigs for the FBI. Sure, he was technically on a work release program but Caffrey and the Fed had become close in their short association and he liked visiting with the agent's wife El who was one of the most fun and intelligent women he'd met in a long time. He smiled inwardly at the thought of hanging out and chatting with Mrs. Burke when he remembered his landlady June. She had taken him in when he had nowhere to go but a nasty little motel the government had put him up in. Peter had been so jealous of his digs at first but had come to like June, as Neal had, falling in love with not just the older woman's charms but her Italian roast. The thought made the young man feel warm. He had friends... true friends who cared and a home. It reminded him that he had thought Rathe was his friend although now he knew better. Never trust a con.

The thought of what Rathe had done to him made the young man restless with anger. He gave a low groan of pain as conscious came to him and his eyes opened to the dimly lit interior of the limousine. The goon peered out the window at something, reaching down to open the door as footsteps approached from somewhere outside. As the door opened up and sunlight blinded the young man suddenly, he was unceremoniously shoved out of the vehicle to the cement outside, the goon sliding down beside him. Neal squinted, vision blurry and unfocused. Two figures approached one taking a few reluctant steps forward but pulled back as they gasped audibly.

"Take this!" Neal saw Rathe toss a gun to the huge goon that crouched beside him. The huge man took the gun in his gloved hands and placed it in Neal's. The young con was barely conscious, a gag stuffed in his mouth, his head lolling between his shoulders loosely. He felt the cool metal of the pistol between his fingers and palm. Peter... what was he doing here? He saw Peter pushed to his knees by Rathe as the goon helped Neal hold the gun and pointed it at Peter's head. Rathe stood to one side behind the agent, gun held threateningly at the back of the Fed.

"It's a shame Caffrey tried to escape and shot you in the process but then you can't trust a con... can you?" Peter squinted back momentarily at the man who spoke, his eyes flashing with fury.

"He trusted you... you know that." Peter turned back towards the young man and the goon, face sober and accepting despite the obvious fear in his eyes.

"Neal... it's not your fault. You know I trust you. I hope if you remember anything... you'll remember that." Neal felt a tear roll down his face as he heard the goon cock the gun back with his hand still holding the gun limply and aim it at the agent's head. He watched the agent close his eyes waiting for the shot that would kill him.

No! Not like this! After everything Peter had done to help him and keep him on the straight and narrow... it wouldn't end like this. Neal pushed feeling back into his drug-numbed hands and with what little strength he could muster he gazed straight up at Rathe with a bright expression of fury. The man looked back smugly.

"Do it!"

Neal waited till the goon didn't expect it and that's when he yanked the gun upwards and pointed it straight at Rathe. It was sudden and unexpected, the gun went off with a sharp report that echoed around the park. Neal put a little more of his strength into it and the gun went flying out of both of their hands to the side and under the vehicle. The goon looked both scared and angry, smacking the young man with one of his huge hands. Neal lay stunned against the rough cement seeing Peter open his eyes and look around confused.

"Neal?" The agent seemed surprised he wasn't shot but it wouldn't last long. Rathe swayed dangerously behind the Fed, his face pale and a dark stain forming beneath his woolen coat.

"You..." the man hissed at Neal with his accented voice, pointing his gun down towards the back of Peter's head, face smirking. Neal couldn't move, his strength gone, watching in horror at the scene about to take place. No... please God, don't let this happen! For Elizabeth's sake... please! Neal was ready to faint, the sound of a gun going off as his vision blacked out. In the confusion and haze, he could hear voices. Lots of voices and the sound of someone falling to the ground. Tears rolled down his cheeks. Peter... I'm sorry... Elizabeth... June...

"Neal? Neal wake up!" Someone was shaking him gently, the tape and rag removed from his mouth, his head resting against a strong shoulder as he opened his eyes and looked up into Peter's eyes. The young man blinked thinking he must have died. Peter had been shot... hadn't he?

"I'm sorry... forgive me Peter." Neal croaked as the agent looked down at him with a confused smile.

"It's OK, Neal. Everything's OK. Jones got him." Neal blinked again, smiling back.

"Jones..." Neal's voice faded away and he was out like a light.


"Shush... you'll wake him up!" He heard voices whispering around him quietly. They sounded happy, almost content. Perhaps he did die and go to heaven. He saw Peter didn't he? Maybe that last whack from the goon had been enough to make his concussion fatal. Neal felt warm, something heavy and comforting tucked around him like a cocoon. He felt safe, happy except for the thought of his friend being shot. His eyes felt wet and warm, his hand reaching up to wipe at them as he squinted in the dim light.

"I'm just glad he's safe. I was so worried about him. Thank you, Peter." June's voice carried over from across the room, drawing Neal further awake as he pushed himself back into consciousness. He dabbed at his eyes with the duvet on the bed, pushing himself up to his elbows to look around. He was back. Back in his old room. The room he leased from June, the nicest landlady ever and the coolest. He felt a smile on his face though it was far from content. His thoughts continued to think of his friend. Had he dreamed that Peter was ok? The gunshot had been real. He knew that much. Maybe he was dreaming now.

"June, he saved my life aswell. I... We owe him so much. I don't care what the rest of the agency says. Neal is a good person." It was a familiar voice speaking followed by another he definitely recognized.

"It's so nice to finally sit and chat with you. I can see why Neal dotes on you so much. I never got to properly thank you for letting us use your terrace a while back. Thank you June." It was Elizabeth's voice. She sounded happy... content.

Neal didn't know what to think. He had to be dreaming but he pushed the blankets aside and sat up. His head still throbbed a bit but he felt no worse than a bad hangover, pushing his feet over the edge of the bed and standing up. The world swayed a bit but he caught the wave and stood his ground. He pulled the robe hanging on the chair near the bed around him and toddled towards the voices on the terrace.

"Any friend of Neal's is... Neal?" June turned and glanced at him in surprise as did the other two occupants: Peter and Elizabeth. The young man leaned against the door frame a moment, catching his balance before stumbling forward. Peter got up from his wife's side and moved to help the young man to a chair. Neal slumped into the chair, grasping the agent's hand and looking up at him in surprise.

"Peter, you're..." He looked like he was surprised to see the agent. Peter smiled back at the young man and mussed his hair in a brotherly kind of way.

"Yeah... Thanks to you. I see you're feeling better?" Neal nodded, smiling brightly.

"Yeah... thanks to you." They both turned with a slight blush at the sound of Elizabeth and June making contentment noises.

"Look at that... they're friends again." Elizabeth and June said nearly simultaneous making Peter glance sideways at Neal in a "Oh dear" kind of manner. The young man just smirked a bit, motioning the agent closer.

"I'm sorry... for what I said about Kate." His voice was low enough that only Peter could hear. The agent nodded, squeezing the young man's shoulder gently.

"I forgive you... if you forgive me?" Neal blinked.

"Let's call it a draw." They both agreed to that, looking up to see the ladies glancing at them expectantly. Peter spoke through the side of his mouth where only Neal could hear.

"Uhm... do they expect us to hug or something?" Neal spoke back in a similar manner.

"We're guys. Guy's just sock each other in the shoulder and tell each other to cowboy up...right?"

(The end)