Peter hesitated before knocking on Neal's door. Inside he could hear the low murmur of voices. Judging by the tone, he knew one was his partner and the other sounded like Moz. He wasn't sure what he was interrupting and he wasn't sure if he wanted to know. The sound of his knuckles on wood halted the conversation abruptly.
"Door's unlocked." Neal's voice sounded weary. Peter entered, smiling as he saw Moz shuffling papers under each other. He really didn't want to know. Both men were sitting at the table, though Peter could tell from the lines of Neal's face that he was hurting.
"I don't even want to know." Peter nodded towards the papers. "Neal, have you taken your pain killers?" Neal sighed.
"Yes, mom." Neal rolled his eyes. Peter sighed and sat down across from him. Moz looked from Neal to Peter and back again. Despite Neal's skills at lying, he wasn't doing a very good job; he always had had a hard time deceiving people he was close to, though. Neal leaned back in his chair, closing his eyes. Moz and Peter exchanged a worried glance. Moz pointed towards the pill bottle on the counter and shook his head. Peter nodded in understanding.
"Moz, you're a traitor." Neal mumbled. Moz grinned.
"As if he didn't know already. You're a horrible liar, Neal." Neal opened his eyes, blue eyes dull.
"My bag's by the door." Peter nodded
"I saw it. I assume you're ready to go? El's making dinner." Neal nodded and stood, grabbing the table to steady himself.
"I'm fine." He didn't sound very convincing. Moz slipped out before Peter and Neal did, leaving the two partners together.
"C'mon, Neal." Peter called over his shoulder, picking up the backpack. He watched Neal carefully, finally taking pity. "Just sit down before you fall down." Neal obliged. "Why don't you take your pills and then we can go?"
"Don't want to take 'em." Neal muttered, glazed eyes fixed on the floor. Peter let out a frustrated sigh.
"Then cowboy up and get your butt down to the car." As Neal stood and slowly made his way towards the door, Peter pocketed the small, orange pill bottle. Maybe he would drug Neal later.
The ride to the Burke household was quiet. Peter glanced over at Neal repeatedly. He couldn't help but worry; Neal was never this quiet. It was always a bad sign.
Dinner passed almost silently. Peter could tell Neal was hurting, but he didn't know what he could do about it. After the table was cleared El motioned for Peter to follow Neal as the younger man retreated into the living room. When he entered, Neal was sitting in Peter's recliner, eyes closed.
"That's my chair." Peter joked, sitting on the couch. Neal looked up at him, his face pale with pain.
"Too bad." He retorted weakly.
"Yeah. Why don't you take your pain pills and go to bed?"
"Don't need pain killers." Peter rolled his eyes.
"Like hell you don't! You look miserable, Neal. I'm not blind." He paused for a moment before playing his final card. "Besides, you're worrying El." Neal let of a breath and then nodded.
"Fine. But only because El wants me to." Peter smiled ruefully, standing and ruffling Neal's hair before getting a glass of water. After Neal had taken the pills, Peter waited. He wondered what had made the con so nervous to take them in the first place. His cryptic message in the hospital didn't give much away. Fifteen minutes later, he got his answer.
"Peter? Wanna go t' bed." Neal slurred.
"Alright. C'mon. Off to bed with you." He helped Neal up the stairs, surprised by the amount of weight the younger man was leaning on him. Finally, Peter carefully laid Neal down on the bed pulling the covers over him. Three years ago, if someone had told him he would be tucking Neal Caffrey into bed one day, he would have shot them. "Night, kid." Peter mussed up the younger man's hair again, turning to leave. But something stopped him. Something in the form of criminally talented hands. Peter looked down at Neal and then at his hand, which Neal had managed to snag.
"Don' go." The con's eyes were glassy, his pupils wide.
"Neal, go to sleep." Peter tried to pull his hand away, but Neal's grip was deceptively strong.
"Fine." Peter sat down on the edge of the bed, looking down at Neal. "Why don't you want me to go?" He asked, noticing that Neal hadn't let go yet.
"Safe. You're safe."
"I didn't know we were playing tag. Who's it?" Neal blinked confusedly, the joke falling short. Peter sighed. "Never mind."
"Just don't go. You're safe."
"Neal…what are you talking about?" Peter tried again to pull his hand free but to no avail.
"Neal…no one's going to hurt you. Just get some rest."
"Peter, please. Stay? I…nightmares…" Neal's eyes fluttered shut but they opened again after a moment. Peter almost smiled; Neal was fighting sleep like a kid who didn't want to take his nap.
"What do you want me to do about the nightmares?"
"Protect me." The words were softly whispered, but they went straight to Peter's heart. Neal tugged on Peter's hand. "Please?"
"Alright. Alright, I'll stay." He was just glad none of the guys from the Bureau could see this. "Scoot over." He pushed against Neal's legs, getting the younger man to slide over some. Peter lay down next to him. "There. See? I'm staying." Neal nodded sleepily.
"Thank you." He was quiet for a while and Peter hoped he'd fallen asleep. But when he moved to get up, that familiar hand tightened its grip.
"Don't go, Peter…keep me safe…" Peter groaned inwardly and lay back down. Neal shifted closer, his cheek pressed against the agent's shoulder.
"Neal. What are you doing?"
"I don't want…you to go."
"Yeah, I got that."
"I keep having… nightmares…I just want to sleep." Neal was almost inaudible.
"Stay. Don't leave like…like everyone else…"
"Who else left?" He couldn't help but feel guilty for prying, but knowing Neal, this might be the only time he got decent answers. The FBI agent in him told him to take advantage of this.
"Dad…mom…Kate…I can't…" Neal's voice quivered and Peter felt guiltier than he thought possible. "I can't lose you too."
"Ok…Ok, I'm staying. I'm not going anywhere." He got the sinking feeling that they were talking about more than Peter staying in the room.
"Thanks." Neal wiggled a little closer, his head resting on Peter's shoulder now. Peter sighed, his exhaled breath making Neal's hair flutter a bit.
"You're so lucky you're on drugs right now." Peter growled "Otherwise, I'd never let you live this down."
"Promise…you'll still respect me…in the morning." Peter laughed suddenly at the unexpected humor. As Neal finally gave in to sleep, Peter turned his attention towards his thoughts. He figured that this was why Neal hadn't wanted to take the pain killers; loopy didn't begin to cover it. Though, it was nice to know Neal trusted him, placing him in the same list as Kate.
But Kate was only after that music box…what was it that Peter wanted? Did he want only Neal's skills in solving crimes and his insight or did he want more? Did he want to befriend the conman? Neal shifted in his sleep and instinctively Peter held him closer. He had his answer. Neal was his partner, his friend. Someone he knew would have his back. Peter smiled at the thought. There had always been a mutual respect between the con and the lawman, but now there was something more: trust. Neal trusted him, felt safe with him and Peter felt the same. He couldn't believe it had come to this. 'At least El will be proud.' He mused.
Neal stayed with the Burke's for another week. He went and saw the department shrink. Peter didn't let him go back to work during the time, citing his shoulder as reason to not be running around the city chasing crimes. So he stayed home with El. He went grocery shopping with her and helped her try out new recipes. And talked. He told he about Kate, about when they'd met, about the cons they ran together, the places they traveled. He described the way they'd lived in Venice, in Paris and all over Europe, with only enough to just barely get by. He made her promise not to tell Peter.
"I want him to figure it out on his own." He joked. And somewhere in the middle of those conversations, he healed.
The following Monday, Neal was woken when the lights suddenly flipped on. He groaned and pulled the pillow over his face.
"C'mon, Caffrey. Thought you wanted to get back to work." He lifted the edge of the pillow and peered at Peter, watching as the agent tied his tie.
"You were serious? I thought that was just the wine talking." He slid out of bed slowly, holding his left arm close to his body. It still hurt like hell. "Ok. Gimme fifteen."
"You have ten. Starting now."
"Peter…" Neal whined. "I'm wounded."
"Better get moving. Clock's ticking." Peter pointed at his watch, smiling when Neal glared at him. "El made pancakes."
"Ok, ok. I'll be right down. Geez. Just let me shower, unless you want a smelly consultant."
"I'd rather have a quiet consultant."
"No can do, Peter. No can do." Neal grabbed his bag and made his way to the bathroom. After a moment, Peter heard the shower running. Going downstairs, he wrapped his arms around El, kissing her check. She swatted him away playfully as she set the table.
"When's Neal coming down?"
"Probably a couple of minutes. He's in the shower." She nodded.
"He seems like he's doing better now. What do you think?" Peter thought back to their banter that morning and nodded.
"Yeah, I think he is. I think you helped more than that department shrink, though." She laughed.
"Because he trusts me. He just needed a woman's touch, that's all." Peter nodded, grabbing a pancake. El snatched it out of his hand.
"No. You have to wait. We're all going to eat together." Peter conceded, lowering his hands and sitting at the table.
"Fine, fine. So what exactly did you and Neal talk about?" He was curious. He was also a little worried. As a seasoned FBI agent it wasn't in his nature to leave his wife alone with a criminal, even if that criminal was Neal Caffrey. Scratch that, especially if that criminal was Neal Caffrey, full of smiles and charm.
"I can't tell. I've been sworn to secrecy." El's smile dimpled her cheeks as she watched her husband grow more flustered looking.
"We talked about Kate. About when they met, how he asked her out, stuff like that. You wouldn't want to hear about it." Peter nodded, though he suspected Neal might have revealed more. Those thoughts were interrupted when the con in question came padding down the stairs barefoot, wearing most of his classic rat pack look.
"You look like a drowned rat." Peter commented, taking in the wet, still slightly dripping hair. "We do have towels, you know." Neal smiled brightly.
"I know. But I smelled El's breakfast and couldn't wait." He turned his charming smile to El, who laughed at him. He didn't have to tell them it was pretty hard to dry off with a bullet wound in the shoulder. The three sat in companionable silence as they ate. After the table was cleared and the dishwasher loaded, Peter pointed Neal towards the door and kissed El goodbye. As he started the car, he broached the subject he'd wanted more information about.
"What exactly did you and my wife talk about?"
AN: So sorry for the long delay! Everything got busy! I hope this makes up for it! Thanks everyone for all of your reviews! You've all been great. It's sad to see the story end, but I'm glad it went so well!