(Epilogue)

The two agents who were caught in June's house knew nothing of the "ring" man. It seemed that they were under similar hypnotic suggestion only knowing they were following orders but not remembering from who. Neither Neal nor Peter could remember what he looked like. Whatever had been done to them had been reversed but that memory had been deleted in the process when forensics made the new CD.

Several weeks passed and Neal seemed more his old self although now he seemed a bit more quiet than usual. Peter figured he knew why but didn't want to pry into the young man's affairs unless he asked. El had recovered more or less from the ordeal but seemed sad that Neal didn't come over as much as he used to. When Peter would mention an invitation to dinner, Neal would find an excuse not to come over when in the past he was always glad to crash at their pad for food. June would visit with El occasionally both of them hoping Neal would get over whatever it was that kept him from visiting the Burke's home.

Neal had gotten into the habit of disappearing just before it was time to go home so that Peter couldn't give him a ride in the Taurus. Unless it was a late night gig, Neal didn't hang around the office much and would disappear at lunch time only to show up on time after wards. He avoided Peter for rides to and from work and at lunch so there was definitely something bothering the young man.

It was one Friday not too long after Peter had figured out Neal's little avoidance tactics that he figured he'd try a few tricks of his own. He made as if he were going for coffee in the break room but put on his coat and left early, dashing down the stairs to the lobby below. He sat in the waiting area and pulled out a newspaper and waited for Neal to come by. It wasn't long before the con showed up and Peter followed him, giving the young man a small lead. Once they were outside and around the block, Peter caught up to his friend and tapped him on the shoulder. Neal nearly jumped out of his shoes as he turned and looked to see who was there.

"Peter? What are you doing here? I thought you were getting coffee..." His voice trailed off almost guiltily which made Peter grin ever so slightly though he got no satisfaction in being right this time. He took his friend's arm and turned him around back towards the FBI offices.

"We need to talk." Neal pulled back slightly against Peter's grasp but when he saw the look on the agent's face he gave a helpless shrug and nodded. They walked back in silence, Neal looking at the ground and Peter glancing over at his friend occasionally. Neal looked like he was thinking about something serious.

"El's making lamb chops tonight." Neal looked up and turned, his expression curious.

"Yeah? With that sauce..." Peter nodded at him.

"And the stuffing on the side?" Peter nodded at him again with a grin. Neal looked conflicted, his blue eyes thoughtful again with just a hint of doubt maybe.

"That sounds delicious." Neal left it at that, his body language indicating he was still doubtful about something. He pushed his hands into his pockets and continued walking with Peter till they made it to the garage. He paused making Peter turn and look at him curiously.

"Let me give you a lift home. No tricks. If you don't want to come for dinner, I'm not going to force you. El would love it though. She keeps asking about you." Peter had pulled out his keys and was turning to walk to the car when Neal grabbed his arm. Peter turned back.

"El's asked about me?" Neal averted his eyes just enough to express how much he still felt guilty for what had happened almost a month ago. El had finally confessed to Peter what had happened in his absence not wanting her husband to go off the deep end and think Neal had tried to hurt her. He hadn't. It had been whatever programming the "ring" man had sent with the CD. Peter knew all too well what that programming was and held no grudge against the young man for anything that had occurred. They had all but vowed silence to what had happened between the both of them not wanting to cause any further harm to Neal's parole and Peter's career. Nobody had been themselves that week and it was best to just let sleeping dogs lie in this case. Still, the idea of Neal with a gun and trying to hurt El must have bothered the young man to no end because he still couldn't bear to face either of them for long periods of time. June had mentioned he kept to himself more than he had in the past. She understood why, but it hurt her to think he didn't trust himself with his friends anymore.

Peter felt Neal's grasp loosen and the young man look back at him with a chagrined look.

"I'm sorry, Peter. I know I haven't been around but... I just didn't trust myself. I kept wondering if the "voices" would return and I couldn't bear it if I hurt any of you... again. You understand, right?" Neal seemed like he was asking for forgiveness though it wasn't necessary but Peter acquiesced.

"Neal, you know I'd forgive you if it was necessary but I don't need to because, it wasn't you who did those things. You know that right? We weren't ourselves during that week. Anything that happened is forgotten. Got it?" Neal nodded at Peter's words smilingly slightly for the first time in a while. Peter hugged the young man gently, smiling at him and punching him playfully in the shoulder.

"So we let bygones be bygones? We clean the slate of what happened?" Neal nodded to Peter with a larger grin, punching the agent back. Peter made a sarcastic rub of his shoulder making the young man blink worriedly.

"Did you just assault a Federal Agent, Mr. Caffrey?" He winked at Neal who just rolled his eyes and walked with Peter to the car.

"Geesh, like you didn't just assault me with that weak punch?" Neal's voice dripped with sarcasm. Peter paused and grinned broadly at the young man.

"You daring me to hit you harder?" Peter's eyes held a playful gleam. Neal held up his hands in mock fear.

"I'll tell El on you. She'll protect me." He stuck out his tongue at the agent who just smiled back.

"Well see about that. Now, do you need to stop by June's for anything or straight to dinner?" Peter unlocked the car and they both slipped inside. Neal scratched at his chin.

"Would it be possible to invite June for dinner? I'm sure she'd love to have some of El's lamb chops."

(now it's the real THE END) ;P