A/N: Welcome to another White Collar one-shot. I've been writing this one for a while, even before Vital Signs (which had some effect on this considering Neal's reactions to being drugged, hehe). Considering that this has been in the works for a while you may kindly disregard the events of Out of the Box as having never occured. So the inspiration for this fic came from slantedwonders, who always complains to me that Kate and Elizabeth look too much alike. And, while we were pondering a case of mistaken identity, this little fic was born. I'll give you a little warning right now: I don't like Kate. I don't really bad-mouth her, but she's certainly not a hero in this. You can read this either as a friendship fic or as a fic with very minor suggestions of pre-Neal/Peter/Elizabeth. It's your choice! Enjoy!

Alcohol and Convicts

There are certain things in life that Neal Caffrey cannot (will not) accept. And the truth about Kate is one such thing. When faced with irrefutable evidence—the truth from her own lips, dropping like poison and not a single shred of sorrow in her eyes—of something that he cannot (will not) accept, Neal responds with a defensive coping mechanism.

The best coping mechanism he has ever found happens to be at the bottom of a bottle of whiskey.

So this is how he deals, by pouring shot after shot of the amber liquid until he reaches the point where he misses the shot glass and pours right onto the table (after which he just drinks straight from the mouth of the bottle, something that sober-Neal wouldn't consider, but that drunk-Neal doesn't even think is strange). By this point in time everything is blurry around the edges and the hurt is like a dream, a phantom floating in the back of his mind that drifts away on the tide of amber. Of course, he still knows what happened, and therefore he has not had enough to drink.

When his phone rings he quite nearly knocks the bottle of whiskey over. It's sheer luck that it doesn't crash to the floor; instead it teeters on the edge and then steadies, as though understanding that he needs it to remain whole. He fumbles with the phone, frowning at it through bleary eyes, struggling first to open it and then to press the right button. But finally—when it's on the last ring, about to go to voicemail—he manages to get it right and presses the phone to his ear.

"'ello?"

"Neal, you were supposed to be here for dinner half an hour ago. Where are you?"

Ah, Peter. He's surprisingly happy to hear his partner's voice, but he frowns at what the man says. Dinner? What dinner? Oh, yes, today is Thursday, when he has dinner with Peter and Elizabeth in that quaint little house, reveling in the domesticity that can never be his. "'m sorry, Peter. I f'rgot." He frowns even more, because he can hear the slurring of his voice. His tongue feels heavy in his mouth, tripping over vowels and drawing out the words.

There's a long silence, because apparently Peter hears it too.

"Neal…are you okay?"

"M'fine." He says, making a conscious effort to speak normally.

"You don't sound right. And how did you forget about dinner?"

"I j'st f'rgot, Peter. Wasn't thinking. I'll r'member next time."

"Neal," Peter says, his voice strong over the phone, "you're slurring. Are you drunk?"

He laughs, because isn't that an absurd idea? Him, drunk? Banish the thought. "A'course not! M'per-fect-ly fine."

But Peter doesn't sound convinced. "Have you been drinking?"

"May-be," he says, drawing the word out and then bursting into hysterical laughter, because there's something absolutely hilarious about the world right now.

"Neal, I'm coming over there."

"No!" He protests. "S'not necess-ss-cess-cessary? Thas' a hard word." He's never realized how hard that word is to say until now, with all of its 's' sounds, like it's one long hiss. He giggles again.

"I'll be there in a few minutes," Peter says. "Don't do anything stupid."

"M'not lettin' you in!" He says, petulant like a child, but the call has already disconnected. He doesn't realize this right away, and continues to talk into the phone, though no one is on the other side. "M'just fine. Don't need anyone at all. Can take care o' m'self j'st fine."

He puts the phone—still flipped open—down on the table, laughs once, and then pulls the bottle over, putting it to his lips and tilting his head back. And the conversation just slips from his mind, the way he hopes that everything will just slip away.

It's not too long after he reaches the point where the world keeps tilting more and more to the side and every time he tries to stand he falls back into the chair that his front door opens. He's sure he locked it though, and that's why he blinks blearily at the fuzzy shape that's standing in the doorway. He knows the figure is that of a man, but he can't make out the features.

"If y're 'ere t' rob me, j'st get it o'er with." He frowns again, because even to his own ears that string of words didn't sound comprehendible.

"Neal?" A voice asks, and he recognizes that voice anywhere. The figure steps further into the room and its feature solidify into the familiar features of Peter. He smiles sloppily.

"Peter!" He slurs.

"Neal, you are drunk, aren't you?" Peter says, and he detects that hint of disappointment. It makes him feel as though he's been punched in the stomach.

He shakes his head in denial and then instantly reaches out to try and grab something, because the act of moving his head made the world spin as though a child had just picked it up like a snow globe and shook it around. Peter approaches him, and spots the bottle sitting on the table. "How much of this did you drink, Neal?" Peter's voice is oddly gentle, he thinks, but maybe the world is just on mute. He squints at the bottle, trying to gage how much is in it.

"It was full b'fore."

Peter's eyes widen and his hand goes around the neck of the bottle. "Neal! That's half the bottle! What are you thinking?" He flinches at the fierceness of the voice, curling into himself like a child, his shoulders lifting in a shrug.

"Dunno. J'st want'd it outta m' head."

He watches Peter frown. It's not just a simple matter of lips turning down; Peter's frown is the deepening of the lines around his mouth and the furrowing of his forehead and the look in his eyes (in this case, that look is confusion and concern). "You…you just wanted it out of your head?" He nods and the world shifts around him. Peter's hands grip his shoulders when he sways, anchoring him and keeping him steady. "Neal, what did you want out of your head?"

It's his turn to frown now. He wonders if his own frown takes as much effort as Peter's does, if it carves lines into his face like crevasses. He shakes his head—he's realizing now that if he keeps the motions smaller the world won't swirl so much. "Don't wanna talk 'bout it."

Peter's grip on his shoulders is firm. "Kid, something made you drink half a bottle of whiskey, and I've barely even seen you drink anything other than wine or champagne. As far as I recall you don't even like hard liquor."

He closes his eyes. "Wanna f'rget."

He hears Peter sigh, and the man's hands pull away from his shoulders. He opens his eyes and reaches out to pull the bottle back over to him. Peter shakes his head and gently pulls the bottle away from him. "You've had enough, Neal."

He shakes his head, hard enough that the world spins again, as though he's on one of those carnival tilt-a-whirls. "Nuh uh." He says, and grins foolishly because he sounds like a little kid. Peter gives him an amused, almost fond look and keeps holding onto the bottle.

"Yeah, Neal, you've definitely had enough."

He folds his arms and pouts, but Peter just shakes his head and walks over to the sink, and once the bottle is out of his sight he almost completely forgets its existence. He puts his head on the table, feeling the cool wood against his skin. Looking at the grain of the wood from this close he sees that there are all kinds of swirls and patterns, as complex as any fingerprint. With a fingernail he traces them idly, shaking with small bouts of laughter as he does so. He's only partially aware that Peter has pulled out his cell phone and is talking to someone, but he faintly hears Peter's side of the conversation:

"Hi, honey. I don't think I'm going to make it back home tonight."

"I think drunk is an understatement. I've got half a bottle of whiskey here, and he says that it was full when he started."

"No, there's definitely something wrong. From what I can get out of him he 'doesn't want to talk about it'."

"El, you don't have to come, we'll be fine—."

"Of course, dear. I shouldn't have even tried to protest."

"Love you."

"Neal?" This one is directed at him, and he raises his head. Peter pulls a chair over closer and sits, staring at him. "I just called El to let her know that I'm staying here with you tonight."

"Don' have'ta."

Peter rolls his eyes, but there's a smile on his face. "Actually, I do. You're in no position to take care of yourself."

He frowns and looks away. It's not that he doesn't want Peter there—he does, he really, really does—but he doesn't want to be a burden. As though sensing his thoughts, Peter reaches out and touches his shoulder, making him look back at the man. "I'm staying because I give a damn about you, kid. So cowboy up and accept that I'll be here for the rest of the night."

He grins, the expression wide and crooked on his lips, and then he leans forwards and throws his arms around his partner (essentially throwing his entire body at the other man, since his coordination and motor control aren't exactly perfect at the moment). Peter catches him and then snorts, keeping him from sliding down to the floor. The man pats his back, the motion a little stilted, a little awkward, but he doesn't care at all.

"Alright, alright," Peter says, amused, helping him sit back in the chair.

Neal laughs and the throws his head back, singing at the top of his lungs. "Blue skies, smilin' at me—." Peter shakes his head again, groaning.

"Why do you always sing?"

"Frank Sinatra, man. Y'don' mess with Frank Si-na-tra, Peter."

"And yet you continue to butcher Frank Sinatra songs when under the influence of something."

"Nuh uh." He contemplates this for a moment, then leans in closer to Peter. "Hey, Peter, guess what?"

Peter humors him, leaning in conspiratorially. "What?"

"I think I'm drunk."

His partner puts his head in his hands, groaning, while he beams like a little boy who is covered from head to toe in mud and stands in the doorway of his house while looking up at his mother, naively believing that everything is perfectly normal. "My head is all swooshy."

"Swooshy?" Peter remarks, and then sighs. "That's what happens when you're drunk, Neal."

"Is it? I haven' been drunk in a long time."

Peter leans in. "So what possessed you to drink a good portion of a bottle of hard liquor by yourself?" Instantly he clams up, retreating inside. He shakes his head dimly, enjoying the feel of the world rushing around him, particularly when he tilts to the side and Peter has to reach out and keep him from falling over. "You're honestly not going to tell me what the hell happened?"

He feels himself frown, his lower lip jutting out a little into a kind of pout. "Don' be mad," he says in a small voice, and his partner's expression instantly softens. The man sighs again and then pats him on the shoulder.

"I'm not mad, Neal. Just worried." Peter stands, and he reaches out to grab him, fingers latching around the man's wrist.

"Don' go, please," he begs. Part of him hates that he's begging (he calls that part Sober-Neal), but the rest of him (which he calls Drunk-Neal) doesn't care.

"Neal, I'm not going anywhere. But you've almost fallen out of that chair at least ten times, so I think you'll do better on the couch." Peter's arms go around his midsection, pulling up. "Up we go." He frowns and swats at the arms, protesting.

"I can walk," he says. But no, apparently he cannot walk, not if his legs have anything to say about it. They seem to be performing a mutiny against him, stubbornly refusing to heed to his demands; the floor comes rushing up to meet him and he laughs the whole way down, then blinks when he finds himself sitting in an ungraceful pile at Peter's feet. He tilts his head back and looks up at the man, waggling his fingers. "Hi," he says and then dissolves into giggles.

Peter mutters something—"I need backup"—before bending down and hauling him up. "C'mon Neal, up and over to the couch." With Peter holding him and taking on most of his weight he is able to remain on his feet, long enough for them to slouch over and for Peter to deposit him on the couch. He sinks into the cushions, his head lolling awkwardly as he slumps to the side. "Do you want to sit up or lay down?"

"Up," he says, struggling to move himself to said position. Peter guides him upright, but he tilts to the side again with a giggle. "May-be down."

"Yeah," Peter agrees, and helps him to swing his feet up, piling pillows beneath his head. "You don't feel sick at all, do you?"

He shakes his head. "Feel all floaty'n'bubbly."

"Floaty and bubbly," Peter says, with a hint of amusement, shaking his head. "I'm going to get a pot of coffee, and see if we can't help you come back down to earth."

"Don' wanna."

He feels a soft, warm touch on his head, fingers grazing over his scalp. "Probably not, kid. But at the very least it'll help me." Peter stands. He cranes his neck back to peer up at the man.

"You're tall."

"Not surprising, since you're lying down. Okay, Neal, stay here. Don't try to get up, don't try to go anywhere, and I'll be right back." Peter pats him on the head again. "Why don't you close your eyes for a sec?" Obligingly he closes his eyes, and is faintly aware of footsteps away from him. He thinks that he hears Peter's voice at a distance, just a dim warm murmur and a lighter reply, but he can't make out the words and he doesn't really care. He's floating inside of himself, his head spinning and spinning and it makes him just want to laugh because it's such an odd feeling.

A hand touches his cheek, and he knows instinctively that this is not Peter. The hand is softer, cooler, more delicate; a faint floral scent washes over him. "Neal," a woman's voice says, calling him out of the drifting tides within himself. He blearily opens his eyes.

And Kate's face swims into blurry focus in front of him, her eyes clear and blue and worried, her dark hair falling over her shoulders. He knows that he should be angry, that he should shove her away from him in disgust, but when she looks at him with that concern so clear in her eyes he's certain that everything she said before was just a lie to protect him. He raises a hand and touches her cheek, breath escaping him. "Kate."

He's certain that he sees shock right before he leans in (falls in, really) and kisses her. And she's stiff and unyielding and there's a different taste (sweet, sweet rather than citrus, because Kate always tastes like citrus, like she's just finished eating an orange, and this tastes like sugar), and he knows that something's not right. They pull apart—he pulls back slow while she jerks as though an electric current has gone through her body.

"Well this is unexpected," a voice says from the doorway (he knows that voice, he knows he does). He looks in that direction but everything is way too blurry for him to see that far, and everything is spinning, and when he looks back at Kate he's surprised to find that her features have melted and come into clarity as those belonging to Elizabeth. Who looks dazed and confused and is staring at him with deep, deep concern.

"Elizabeth?" He whispers, staring at her. "I-but—."

"Neal," she says, her lips parted, her forehead furrowed. She reaches out and touches his hand, manicured nails sliding over his skin. There are footsteps and the person from the doorway comes in and even though the features are blurry he can recognize that outline anywhere.

"Even drunk, Neal Caffrey gets all the girls," Mozzie says.

"Hey, Moz," he says, his tongue thick and stumbling on the words. He's definitely feeling less floaty and bubbly and right now he doesn't feel like laughing at all; quite the contrary, now the world is spinning (still, always) but now it's a dark, dizzy feeling and his stomach is churning. "I-I'm gonna throw up."

Elizabeth and Mozzie exchange panicked looks and there is much scrambling, and only seconds before his stomach heaves a trash can is thrust in front of him. His hands clutch the smooth sides of the trash can as the acid bubbles up in his throat and he retches into the can. He hears Mozzie make a slight sound of disgust while Elizabeth rubs his back, whispering soft nothings to him while he throws up. When he stops heaving and sucks in a breath she brushes his hair out of his eyes and touches a cool hand to the back of his neck. There are footsteps and voices and he heaves again, throwing up what feels like (and probably is) the entire contents of his stomach.

Hints of conversation flutter around him:

"Oh, the poor dear!" (That's June, and when did she get here?)

"Poor kid. Wait, Haversham? What—?" (Peter! He's back, and that makes him so happy for some reason.)

"I have my ways of knowing things, Suit." (Classic Mozzie right there.)

"Meaning that I called him." (Elizabeth's voice, from right near his ear, soft and musical and her hand is still moving in circles on his back as another round of bile comes burning its way up.)

"If you know so much, do you know why he decided to drink half a bottle of whiskey?" (Peter again. He can imagine the raised eyebrows and the folded arms.)

"He did what?" (Mozzie. His voice is flat and low and he is definitely in trouble, he can detect that even now.)

There is clinking, like glass against tile, which he thinks is probably Peter picking up the bottle—where is that bottle anyway? He doesn't remember it being moved anywhere—and he imagines Peter holding the bottle out as evidence. There's silence for a moment.

"Dammit, Neal, that's my bottle." (Oops? In his defense, he wasn't exactly thinking clearly when he cracked it open. He was more on a kind of self-destructive auto-pilot, and the whiskey happened to be the first thing that he came in contact with.)

"So I take it you don't know why he decided to go on a binge either?"

"No clue. You're the Suit, what did you do?"

"Why do you assume that this is my fault?" (Peter, his voice slightly exasperated. Mozzie is probably glaring at him and Peter's glaring right back.) His current round of vomiting finishes and he gasps for breath, fighting back the compulsion to heave again. He groans low in his throat, because his throat feels like he's swallowed glass and his head is pounding and everything is still spinning. Although, things are a bit more in focus now, like Elizabeth, who gives him a wavering smile and pushes his hair (which is plastered to his forehead, wet from sweat and that is not attractive) back.

"You never could hold your alcohol, Neal," Mozzie says, as though he's commenting on the weather. He raises his head and glares in the short man's general direction. He opens his mouth to say something and then his stomach lurches and he bends his head over the trash-can again.

He's vaguely aware of people moving; chairs scrape against the wood, the couch moves a little as another person sits. There's silence for a while, punctuated by the sounds of his retching and his gasps and he's not sure if this buzzing sound is in his head only or if everyone can hear it.

"Mozzie, if you give me one more sideways look I'm never letting you in the house again." (Elizabeth, definite irritation, and he wonders what kind of looks Moz has been shooting her to make her sound like that.)

"I have no idea to what you're referring." (Mozzie, and that's a tone that he definitely recognizes, the I-plead-the-fifth intonation.)

"Of course not." The cushions give with Elizabeth's movement, a slight shifting. "You're just dying to know what you walked in on."

"The thought had crossed my mind."

"What did he walk in on?" (Peter, slightly suspicious. He can almost imagine El's expression, first a glare at Mozzie then a placating, slightly challenging look at her husband.)

"Neal kissing me." (She sounds as perfectly innocent as an angel; he's certain that her eyes are wide and blue and guiltless, the way that Kate's eyes have never looked.)

"He was doing what?" (Peter's voice gets louder, angry but not angry—he hopes—and confused and shocked and he flinches a little, because this really is his fault.)

"Now, now, hon," Elizabeth says, her hand still rubbing his back gently. "You can't hold him accountable for things that he probably won't remember in the morning."

"Just because he takes it on himself to guzzle whiskey like it's water doesn't mean that he gets to kiss my wife!"

"He called me Kate."

The ensuing silence coincides to the cessation of his vomiting, and this time he thinks that he's done for a while. He holds the trash-can (oh god, he's throwing up in a trashcan) with trembling fingers and tries to breath and then closes his eyes. The spinning is finally fading and everything seems clearer (pain will do that to you) and he's probably going to regret a lot of this in the morning.

"I can hear you, ya know." He says, leaning back against the couch. When he opens his eyes he realizes that for the first time in a while (hours?) he can see with clarity beyond a few feet. And everyone is looking at him. June approaches, holding a glass of water in her hands.

"Here you go, dear," she says. He tries to take the glass but his hands are shaking too badly, and in the end Elizabeth helps him to drink by holding the glass to his lips. He drinks as much as he can and then slumps. His head feels so heavy that he can't even hold it upright; it flops to the side and comes to rest on Elizabeth's shoulder. He sees Peter's glare and wants to shrug but can't even find the energy to do that. He's sotired now that he can barely believe it.

"M'sorry," he says, and he's not sure who he's saying it to. "I didn' mean to—," he breaks off, frowning, because he's not sure what he's trying to say.

"Neal," Peter says slowly, "is this about Kate?"

He pulls his knees up, the motions slow and uncoordinated as he tries to draw himself into a ball. "M'tired. Wanna sleep."

Peter sighs, glancing over at Mozzie—they exchange resigned looks that he can't read—and then Elizabeth pats him on the head. "Come on Neal, let's get you into bed." She shoots her husband a look. "We can all talk about this in the morning."

Peter and Mozzie rise and shamble over to take up the task of helping him stand (much harder than it looks) and then half-carrying him across the breadth of the apartment over to the bed (an extremely frustrating task, which includes him dropping to the floor several times and collecting some rather magnificent bruises). He's aware (kind of) of someone unbuttoning his shirt and then his pants (he has the feeling that this would be extremely awkward any other time, and will probably be even worse in the morning, but he's so tired that he can't think and the spinning blurriness is starting to return), and then of being half-lifted into the bed and tucked beneath the covers. He curls up on his side and closes his eyes and just before he sinks into the darkness he is aware of a whispered conversation (argument?) and then the bed sinking a little on the other side.

But these details, by this point, are not important at all.

He's spinning inside of himself, spinning and spinning all the way down into the darkness.

_____

The thing that he is aware of before anything else is the pain. His throat and his head—oh God, his head—and various aches (did he get hit by a cab?), they're all screaming at him. He opens his eyes a little and the light—what little of it that there is—is a little like needles of pure misery sinking into his skin. The moan slips out and he feels stirring next to him, the slightest hint of movement.

He really wishes that he could go back to sleep, but now that he's conscious the pain just seems to triple.

"I think he's awake," he hears a whisper. It's a woman's voice, but he's not sure whose voice it is or why they're in his apartment. Come to think of it, he's not even sure that he is in his apartment. He's not fully awake yet, and his memories are stubbornly refusing to wake. But the pain is there, strong and angry and just yelling at him.

"Neal?" The same voice whispers, and a hand touches his forehead. He steels his nerve and opens his eyes again, wincing and groaning at the same time.

"Elizabeth?" He asks, when his eyes adjust enough to clear his vision. Even speaking hurts. There's more shifting next to him, but he doesn't turn his head yet. "What…?"

Elizabeth looks over her shoulder. "He's awake," she says, and her voice is too loud. He moans in protest and she shrugs, looking apologetic. The bed moves and he finally looks over next to him, just in time to see Peter sit up, his hair sticking up in every direction, his eyes blinking sleepily. For one very long moment he stares at his partner, and then he looks down at himself, blushing when he realizes that he's wearing only boxer shorts and an undershirt.

Well, isn't this an awkward situation?

"Um, El? Why am I half-naked and in bed with your husband?"

Looking over into the living room he realizes that Mozzie is asleep on the couch and June is in the kitchen making something and he is extremely confused. Elizabeth breaks into peals of laughter while Peter swivels his head to glare at him, disgruntled. "Because you make bad decisions when you're drunk, Caffrey."

He blinks. "Are—you—what?"

Peter grins a little, the disgruntled expression easing into amusement. "How much do remember about last night?"

He frowns and tries to remember. "I remember…."

Oh. He remembers exactly what started the events of last night, and stubbornly pushes them away, delving deeper into the memories. "I…." He blinks and focuses on Elizabeth. "Did I kiss you?"

She nods, arms folded over her chest, and he can feel color rising in his cheeks. "Oh my God, I'm so sorry, El." He bites his lip and glances at Peter, trying to put on an innocent look. "Oops?" He says, and Peter just rolls his eyes.

"You know, I was quite disappointed in the quality of that kiss," she says. "I've imagined it a few times and I have to say that it was a sloppy showing." Her lips tug upwards, inviting him to be amused. He stares at her for a few moments and then shakes his head (oh God, mistake).

"Alcohol impairs my abilities. I'll have to try better next time."

"You know, only a hung-over Neal Caffrey could manage to coherently use words like impair and abilities as well as flirt with my wife." Peter says, giving him a mild look, to which he grins.

"I feel like I got hit by a truck," he announces.

"Whiskey does that."

June comes over, bearing some kind of concoction in her hand. She offers it to him and he takes it, looking at it warily. "Hangover remedy," she says with a smile. "My Byron used to have the worst hangovers the morning after poker with Devore. This was always the tried and true method."

He grins at her. "Well how can I not try something with qualifications like that?" He downs the drink, attempting not to let it touch his taste buds on its way down. He shudders at the bitter taste and makes a face and then hands the glass back. "Thank you." She smiles at him and then goes over to gently wake Mozzie (who reacts, as usual, with a shout of "Show me your warrant", which amuses Peter to no end).

Elizabeth roots through his closet and pulls out a pair of sweatpants and a t-shirt, both of which she throws at him. He nods thanks and pulls the shirt over his head, then slides into the sweatpants, swaying unsteadily on his feet. His head, in particular, seems to find the act of standing a particular offense, if the attack going on in his skull is anything to go by.

"I think I'm going to die," he says to the room. Elizabeth laughs a little, while Peter rolls his eyes and Mozzie glowers.

"That's what you get for drinking my whiskey. Do you know how expensive that bottle was?"

"I didn't drink it all." He protests. He pauses, tilting his head to the side. "Did I?" Peter laughs and Mozzie rolls his eyes, and he takes their reactions to mean that no, he did not polish off an entire bottle of whiskey. That and the fact that he's not in the hospital. He—with El's help—shambles over to the couch and sinks down.

Mozzie folds his arms, glowering and giving him a hard look.

"Moz, I'll buy you another bottle."

"You'd better, Caffrey. You'd better."

He looks at the collection of people—FBI agent, criminal, landlady, FBI agent's wife (friend)—and frowns a little. "Thanks, for everything. I'm sorry—."

"Neal," Peter says, looking at him. "Shut up." He shuts up, mouth closing. "You managed to evade our questions last night, but you are not evading right now."

He raises an eyebrow. "Shouldn't it be easier to get information out of me when I'm drunk?"

Mozzie shrugs. "Apparently not."

Peter leans forward, looking him straight in the eye. "What, exactly, caused your little drunken spree?"

He licks his lips, wondering how much of an evasion he can get away with. From the look in both Peter and Mozzie's eye he thinks not much, but it's worth a shot. "I just…."

El sits on the couch next to him. "Should I mention that you called me Kate right before you kissed me?"

He groans and buries his head in his hands. "I thought you were her," he says, his voice muffled. "Everything was all blurry and I opened my eyes and I could swear that it was her. I thought that she came back."

"Came back?" Mozzie and Peter say at the same time. He doesn't miss the look that they give each other, but he's not in the right frame of mind to truly savor the comedy of it.

He looks at them and then sighs. "She was here." He looks away, unable to meet their gazes, unable to see the look in their eyes. "And you were right, both of you. She was just playing me, this whole time. She told me, straight up. And I—." He wraps his arms around his stomach. There's part of him that desperately wants to break, but he's too aware of everyone around him. Although, all things considered, he's probably already shown more of his vulnerability than he ever meant to. "I was such an idiot for believing her this whole time. How could I be such an idiot?"

They're all silent, and he shakes his head.

"She's good, Neal," Peter says. "There's no way you could have known—."

"Yes, I could have."

"She played everyone, man—."

He cuts Mozzie off. "Both of you have been telling me this whole time, and I just didn't want to see it. That makes me the idiot. I'm the sucker who got conned and fooled into thinking she could possibly love me." He makes a face.

Elizabeth touches his hand. "Neal. The fact that you wanted to believe in the woman you love doesn't make you an idiot. It makes you a romantic. It makes you a very rare catch in a man."

"And any woman who threw that away," June says, her expression fierce, "isn't worthy of even being in your presence."

He shrugs. "You can say that as much as you want, and it doesn't change anything." He smiles a little. "But I appreciate the sentiment." He looks down. "I just wanted to forget."

Peter gives him an almost fond look. "And your best idea for doing that was drowning yourself alcohol? There's that criminal mastermind at work."

He makes a face. "Admittedly, it wasn't one of my better ideas."

All four of them give him a look that says: Ya think?

"So the next time you have an urge to try and drink your weight in hard liquor, what are you going to do?"

He smiles wickedly. "Steal a Picasso from the MET?"

Peter scowls at him.

"Not funny."

"I think it was."

"You shouldn't be this witty when hung-over. I can blast loud music and shine a flashlight in your eyes if you're feeling really perky."

"I'll take a cup of coffee instead," he says with a wince, and Peter gives him a smug grin.

"That's what I thought."

"Play nice boys," Elizabeth murmurs, as she wanders into the kitchen to grab the coffee pot.

He looks over at Peter, chewing on the inside of his cheek. "Peter?" His partner looks at him, eyebrows raised. "Thank you," he says quietly, looking down. He's not really a heartfelt gratitude kind of person, but he means it now. Peter touches his shoulder lightly and he raises his head; the man smiles at him.

"Next time, Neal? Call when you need a drinking partner."

"And don't drink my whiskey!"


A/N 2: Just a little aside about a few things in here. The whole thing with Neal not being able to say necessary? Totally because it was late at night and I couldn't spell necessary, haha. Below we have a little scene that I cut out because of the ended that I wanted to have. It explains why, exactly, Peter spent the night in bed with Neal, and I thought I'd include it because I think it's funny.

Extra Scene:

"So…how did you end up in bed with me?"

Peter scowls a little, glaring into the kitchen at Elizabeth. "El insisted that someone be near you in case you got sick again or fell out and cracked your head open or tried to get up. And since I obviously wasn't going to let my wife sleep in the same bed as you it was either me or Haversham."

He grins. "You lost rock paper scissors, didn't you?"

Peter nods and then glares at him. "Don't get used to it, Caffrey."

"What, you being in my bed?" He leers, feeling more like himself. "Oh you'll be back. You can bring Elizabeth with you too, next time." Elizabeth hands him a cup of coffee, arching her eyebrows at him.

"Is that an invitation?" She asks, giving him an arch smile. Peter's mouth drops open.

"Elizabeth!"

She grins widely and sits down next to her husband, leaning into him. "Just kidding, dear. I won't run away with Neal."

He raises his eyebrows at her. "Sure about that?"

Peter shoots him a glare, but there's no heat to it, just amusement. "Stop trying to steal my wife."

He grins. "What if I want to steal you too?"

"I'm going to be sick," Mozzie announces, glaring at them. "Neal, if you're going to seduce the Suit I'm going leave."

"There will be absolutely no seducing," Peter says firmly. June, who had gone to fetch something from another room walks in and pauses, arching her eyebrows at the FBI agent, who blushes.

"Well now, what fun is that?"