(Chapter 7)

It appeared the people who beat up Neal didn't want him dead, just hurting. The doctor was amazed with all the bruises and scratches Neal wasn't in worse shape which was good for his recovering quickly. Nothing had been punctured or otherwise broken but it would be a week at least before the swelling around his eye went down. His eye appeared undamaged so the doctor told Peter and El he would prescribe some eye drops till the swelling went down to help his eyes stay moist as well as some anti-inflammatory meds for the rest of his injuries. He would be able to leave the next day after some rest.

Peter thanked the doctor profusely, as did El, walking back to Neal's room. It was nearly 2 am now and both of them were exhausted. Peter was still sore from his shoulder wound and had to ask a nurse for some aspirin, taking them before they reached the room. El blocked the door before they entered, holding up a hand in mock threat to her husband.

"Peter, you're going to say hello and then you're going to rest. I already arranged for a small cot in there for you and I'll take the sofa. No complaints!" Her voice was soft but held a certain authority to it. Peter nodded obediently. He was actually thinking of going home but if Neal was going to leave tomorrow, it would be good to stay and be there for him when he woke up. El moved aside and opened the door, holding it for him as he limped inside.

The room was fairly spacious for a hospital room with another empty bed across from Neal facing the opposite direction. Peter looked around for the cot and realized they had just pushed another bed into the room since the empty one had no equipment around it like Neal's did. El blinked in surprise.

"They told me they'd bring a cot. Well, maybe I'll take it and you have the sofa." She winked at him and took his arm as they walked over to Neal's bedside. The young man still looked pretty beat up, his face pale, eyes sunken in and one eye swollen up partially shut. His chest had been wrapped up since he had sustained some bruising on his ribs but none had been found to be broken or otherwise fractured. Neal had been very lucky. Gambosa's men had sent him a message about turning on the mobster and his men but it had thankfully only been a warning. Peter gave a sigh of relief, taking one of the young man's hand's in his own and squeezing it gently.

"I know you meant well, Neal..." He was about to say something with a "but" in front of it when he saw his wife's glance of warning. Yes he meant to say "but you went all half-cocked and got yourself beat up" but instead he took in a deep breath and said what he really felt.

"... Thank you. I know you did this for me and El. Just let me know next time so I can be there to protect you, ok?" He turned to see El looking at him with a smile. She gently moved him into the chair as she gently hugged Neal and kissed him on the forehead. El brushed a few locks of his dark brown hair from his face and whispered:

"Thank you Neal, for everything." She kissed him on the cheek this time and moved away, hugging Peter as they watched the young man sleeping. It wasn't long before Peter started to doze in the chair so El made him move to the extra hospital bed and tucked him in. She grabbed an extra blanket on the sofa and curled up, looking at Neal who's eyes seemed to be opening up. Maybe she was dreaming but she thought she saw him look over at her and smile as she fell asleep.

()()()

El woke up to the sound of what sounded like arguing. She snapped awake trying to figure out first where she was and secondly who was arguing with her husband. It was Neal. He was wide awake and with the light coming through the shades it had to be late morning. She rubbed at her eyes and glanced over at the two men with a frown.

"Whatever it is your arguing about can wait till the doctor at least gives Neal the ok to leave the hospital. Peter, come over here right now." She sounded serious but being woken up by loud voices did not help her mood. Neal just gawked looking at his partner as he walked over to El and pushed something into her hand. She looked at the cup and then at her husband.

"Plying me with coffee after waking me up isn't going to help your case, Peter." She narrowed her eyes at him and Neal intervened.

"I'm sorry we woke you up, El. I was trying to figure out what his trick was winning poker. Damned if I know how he keeps beating when he's not using a trick deck. I don't buy his story about going to the regionals in poker." Neal looked genuinely confused by Peter's winning streak and El just glanced between the two men and started laughing. Peter had to take the coffee cup from her to keep it from spilling but El was rolling about something and Neal looked even more confused by the situation. Peter blushed slightly, helping his wife to her feet.

"It's ok, El. Just drink your coffee and I'll go get us some food." She shook her head and kept laughing ever so slightly, her hand at her mouth as she tried to stifle it.

"What deck are you using?" She noticed Neal had a deck of blue back cards spread across the bed sheets on his lap. She smirked and looked at her husband with a "OMG" kind of look and kept laughing. Neal seemed more than curious now, looking at Peter with a suspicious glance. El held up a hand and finally caught her breath enough to speak more than one sentence.

"Neal, since you were honest with us..." She held up her hand as Peter started to speak but he stopped and let her continue, arms crossed over his chest, face still slightly flushed.

"Peter's been putting you on. He figured he could trick you into thinking he was some kind of a card shark. We had these cards made some time ago as a gag gift for a friend but something came up and we ended up getting another gift for them. This is a trick deck it's just not as obvious as most of the ones you find in magician's shops." She patted her husband on the shoulder gently as he frowned at being discovered. Neal looked like he was relieved and maybe a bit happy to know he had been conned.

"I still don't see how... oh wait a sec. You were always looking at the cards sideways, Peter." Neal turned one of the cards slightly sideways and the design changed from a random blue marbled image to the Ace of Spades. It was like those magic eye images you saw in poster stores. Neal looked triumphant, Peter still scowling slightly although a bit of a smile curved at his lips.

"Had you didn't I? You honestly thought I took off as a teen to attend the regionals in poker. Gotcha!" Peter grinned broadly, watching his friend stick his tongue out at him.

"I guess I may have thought that or maybe I just made you think I thought that. Doesn't matter. Now we know better. Thanks El." He reached out to hug her and she obliged.

"Now you two behave while I go find something for us to eat. I think there's an Einstein Bro's in this hospital. What does everyone want on their bagel?" El pulled the complimentary pad from the nightstand and a pen and started to write. Neal looked thoughtful a moment.

"Onion Bagel with a schmear of salmon, Please." Neal smiled, licking his lips and winced slightly as he felt the split there. El reached over and passed him a fresh tube of lip balm she had gotten for him. She looked at her husband and smiled.

"And for you, my dear?" He reached over and kissed her and smiled back.

"Everything Bagel with a schmear of cream cheese and chives and of course a large coffee." He sat down in the chair near Neal again as Elizabeth pulled the top sheet off and placed the pad and pen back on the nightstand.

"Now behave. I'll be back before you know it." El gave them a motherly look of warning and exited the room. Once the door had clicked shut behind her they started up their discussion again.

"I can't believe you conned me, Peter! I never would have expected that from you. And you knew we were playing for a day off from my anklet." Neal pushed his left leg out from under the blanket as a guilt trip, the anklet there again. Peter chuckled slightly, rubbing at the back of his neck.

"I couldn't help myself. You'd have done the same thing. Admit it, Neal." Peter looked at him in that big brother sort of way but Neal shook his head.

"Fine... I don't need to go to the Met or any other museum unless it's on the clock." He crossed his arms gingerly over his chest and pouted slightly, eyes turned away. Peter looked at him, his expression turning to guilt. He was thinking of the beating his friend and partner took for him to get Gambosa to lay off. Neal must have noticed because he turned.

"Peter... I don't want you to feel obliged. I didn't do it for that reason." He saw Peter blink at him curiously. It was odd how they always knew what the other one was thinking. The agent nodded reaching out a hand to the young man. Neal reached back with a curious glance and they shook.

"If you want to go to the Met... fine. Just give me time to get it approved." Peter mumbled the last part out though it wasn't grudgingly just because he wasn't used to being so open about things. Neal nodded acting like he didn't hear it.

"So... where did you buy this deck? I've never seen anything like it." Neal re-directed like a pro, Peter falling for it without hesitation.

"One of those gift catalogs we got in the mail. I don't even know if they are in business anymore. I just thought it was a neat item since my friend liked gag gifts and he played poker. You can have them if you want. They've been collecting dust in the drawer." Peter stood up and stretched gingerly, walking around the room to wake up. He looked pretty tired.

"Thank you, Peter." Neal was shuffling the cards without really paying any attention to what he was doing. It was like watching a magician even though all he was doing was various forms of shuffling. Peter stopped to watch and smiled.

"You'll have to show me some of those moves. I've never seen a shuffle like that before." Peter came back to the chair and sat down as Neal grinned.

"Step right up! Don't be shy now! Everyone's a winner!" Neal winked and started to do various shuffling tricks, Peter's eyes watching like a kid at a carnival. El walked back in and noticed what was going on, quietly making her way across the room and over to the sofa and coffee table to lay the food down. Nobody noticed her till Peter glanced up and smiled.

"I think I smell something with my name on it." Peter walked over and kissed his wife. El just blushed and turned to look at Neal who was whistling and acting like he was just shuffling cards in Vegas.

"It's ok, ma'am. I know newlyweds when I see them. Wanna try your luck?" Neal winked devilishly, Peter giving him a look.

"Fine fine... don't shoot the dealer. I'll just take my bagel to go." Neal magically scooped up the cards and had them in the box like they had never been out. Peter and El just gawked and clapped.

"Nice trick there, Caffrey. Got any more?" Peter walked over with the bagel and a bottle water for Neal who nodded.

"I'm going to make this bagel... disappear!"

(The End)