(Chapter 4)

Derek had the gun pushed up against Elizabeth's temple, his finger on the trigger, face furious. Neal couldn't take this, armed goons or not. He jumped up but the two men were faster and pushed him down against the card table hard, cracking his chin on the surface as the table collapsed and he was pressed against the floor roughly. Regardless, Neal struggled against the men till one of them cracked him across the skull with a fist. He lay there stunned, eyes blurring in and out of focus as he watched the scene in horror before him.

"Let... her... go." Neal kept struggling against the two men but they held him securely. Derek only turned briefly to look at Neal.

"You would have let me kill him. Who is he? A boyfriend? Would your husband be happy to know about him?" Derek's voice was cruel, El's eyes flashing up at him suddenly filled with rebellion. She spat at him and pushed his hand away despite her fear.

"Damn you Derek! He's a friend but you wouldn't know anything about that. He's here to help me, nothing more. You always were suspicious of everything and everyone who didn't fit into your skewed view of things. I'm not going to take this anymore!" She stood up and Derek backed up slightly, almost fearfully as if unsure what was going on. El was obviously not going to be cowed anymore. Neal struggled to get up but felt his head pushed down against the cement floor hard, bringing stars to his eyes. His ears were ringing, unsure of what was going on as he tried to clear his head.

"Deborah, I only..." Derek winced as Elizabeth slapped him hard, hair flying around her face in her fury as she stood there and glared at the bully who had terrorized her. She had finally had enough.

"My name is Elizabeth! You killed Deborah with your obsessive nature. If you looked her up, you saw the death certificate. She's dead and I am not her!" She had gotten into his face, blue eyes flashing angrily when the two goons holding Neal let go and ran to their boss' assistance. They held her back as she struggled and screamed. Derek took a moment to compose himself, that smile returning to his face.

"Well, as long as we've established that Deborah is dead, let me make it a reality. If I can't have you... nobody will." He still had the gun, cocking it again as he pointed it at El. Neal pushed weakly at the floor, his limbs refusing at first to respond but he managed to make it up to a semi-crouch with the help of a chair. Nobody was paying attention to him, the sound of movement outside the room closer now. Neal had to act and act fast.

"If you kill her, you're never getting out of here alive." Neal was standing, if not a bit unsteadily but he had drawn Derek's attention to him again. The man looked crazed. Neal gulped but he had to protect Elizabeth from this madman.

"The hero speaks. Why bother if she's not yours?" Derek's voice was derisive, eyes flashing at the young man wildly. Neal blinked, narrowing his gaze.

"Sometimes you just have to do things because it's right." Neal's voice was honest, direct but his meaning passed over the man's head. Derek just wouldn't listen. He turned back to El, his expression still crazed.

"Selflessness... what's the use of doing something for nothing? What's the reward? Tell me!" Derek turned towards Neal, the gun going off with a flash. Neal was thrown back as the bullet hit him in the chest, an audible crack as his head connected with the wall. He flopped back slightly before sliding to the floor in a heap. El pulled away from the goons and ran towards Neal, nudging him desperately.

"Neal... NEAL!" She was crying, hugging the young man to her and rocking slightly. The door burst open and several men with guns entered the room. The goons looked surprised but Derek continued his ranting.

"FBI! PUT YOUR WEAPONS DOWN!" The goons complied to the agents but Derek held on to his.

"That's what selflessness gets you... dead." Derek laughed like a madman, one of the agents grabbing him and removing the gun as they pushed him to the floor. El was still hugging Neal to her, rocking back and forth as she cried.

"Neal... wake up. Please..." Her voice was barely audible, choked with tears. She fought the agents when they tried to look at Neal, holding onto him tightly. He had sacrificed himself for her. She wanted Peter with her to comfort her and tell her everything was ok. That Neal would be ok.

"El, honey... let them look at Neal." That voice... it sounded familiar. El wiped at her eyes and turned to see Peter standing there. She blinked at him a moment as he crouched next to her and hugged her close. He looked like he didn't want to let her go.

"Peter? Is it really...you?" She was in shock, nestling into his chest as she continued to hold Neal's limp form in her arms. Peter's eyes moved to Neal slumped in his wife's arms and they grew shiny with tears. He looked at the wound with a look of devastation that quickly shifted to confusion as he blinked, reaching to touch the area and felt something stiff beneath the young man's shirt. He unbuttoned it and saw a bulletproof vest underneath.

"Neal... you tricky devil." He gently pulled his wife aside as a paramedic entered. El reached for Neal, her face still blotchy from crying but resisted as Peter held her tightly, whispering softly in her ear.

"El, he's going to be ok. He was wearing a vest. For once he didn't go in completely half-cocked." Peter drew in a deep breath and sighed in relief as he held his wife close and waited for the EMT to give them an analysis.

"Looks like he got the breath knocked out of him if anything, and a bump on the back of his head. I'll need a gurney to get him out of here." The paramedic sounded relieved as did El and Peter, two more EMTs entering with a small stretcher a few minutes later.

()()()

Neal woke up to the sounds of familiar voices around him. He opened his eyes and stared up at a blurry vision of a bland white ceiling, his gaze lowering to take in the rest of the room which was just as boring decor-wise. He saw two blurry figures sitting near what he thought must be the window, diffused light passing through a tan material just bright enough to make him wince. The figures stopped talking, both of them rising as they moved towards him.

"Hey, hero. How are you feeling today?" It was Peter who was speaking. Neal smiled groggily up at his friend.

"Like several someones saw a Volkswagen and punched me simultaneously." He winked up at Peter who just patted him on the arm gently. He noticed the other figure move in closer. It was El. She bent down and kissed him on the cheek, hugging him tight.

"Thank you, Neal. I... Thank you!" She kept hugging him, her cheek brushing against his as he felt tears falling on his face and hugged her back gently.

"El... don't cry." Neal pushed her back to arm's length and wiped a few tears from her cheeks. He looked at Peter for help but he saw his partner was trying to hold back his own emotions.

"I'm sorry... I just... I never thought he would find me." She looked up at Peter and sniffled, wiping at her nose with a tissue.

"It's ok, honey. I'm surprised it never showed up in all the background checks I made. I'm just glad Neal was there to help when I couldn't. You saved my wife, partner. I owe you big time." Peter wiped at his eyes trying to hide his tears as he took Neal's hand in his.

"You've both helped me out with I needed it. You're like... family." His face had blushed slightly as if he were embarrassed. El made a motion and they ended up in a group hug with Neal still there in bed feeling smothered but happy. El looked over at Peter and a look of shame came to her face.

"I always thought I'd tell you but I never could find the right time and then... I figured my old life was dead. Deborah was reported killed in a car accident so I could be free of that man. I don't know why he didn't give up. I never thought my wedding announcement would lead him to me." She sniffed more, sitting beside the bed as she held Neal's hand. Peter stood behind her and smiled slightly, rubbing the back of his neck.

"The wedding announcements... that was the day I got so sick I couldn't go take the picture so they only posted yours in the newspaper. Although we did get lots of nice photos at the wedding." Peter sounded nostalgic. Neal just peered up at his friend a moment.

"I guess it was fate then that intervened. So what was it that made you so sick you couldn't take photos with your lovely bride to be?" Neal's voice was curious, Peter looking down at him with a slight blush.

"Nothing you need to worry yourself about. Just heal up so we can get you back to work. We won our case. You get to stay!" Peter smiled at his friend but Neal just didn't want to give up and he wasn't going to fall for an obvious redirect even if it was good news.

"Great! So, what was it that you had? Mono? Swimmer's Ear?" Neal was having fun bugging Peter and the mood needed a little lightening. He saw El look at him, still wiping his eyes as she glanced up at her husband and back at Neal.

"Actually, he had 'chicken pox' if you can believe it." El gave a little sniffle or maybe it was a stifled laugh, it was hard to tell with her eyes still red and puffy but Peter blanched at her revelation.

"El, you promised you wouldn't tell anyone that!" Peter crossed his arms over his chest in a slightly annoyed fashioned although his lips were curving into a small smile. Neal pointed at him as he looked at El who was, he thought, more than likely laughing now.

"Chicken Pox? And you were 'how' old, Peter?" Neal saw El give him a wink under Peter's nose but he saw and just frowned slightly, rubbing the back of his neck mumbling something under his breath. Neal put his hand to his ear as if he were deaf.

"I'm sorry, Peter but I didn't hear that. Repeat?" Neal was smirking now and El was no longer pretending to be sniffling from sadness. She was choking on her stifled laughs.

"Twenty-seven. I caught it from a friend's child." Peter continued to keep his arms crossed and grumbled slightly, El standing up and hugging him gently.

"It's ok Peter. We're family. We don't need to keep secrets from one another." El kept one arm around her husband and held her free hand out to hold Neal's.

"Does this mean I have an automatic invite to Thanksgiving?" Neal's voice was liked a little boy's. Peter grumbled but nodded as El kissed him on the cheek then on the lips which made him smile.

"Fine but you'll have to watch a game with me. It's tradition." Peter smirked as Neal made a face.

"But we should do something Elizabeth wants like watch a black and white movie... Miracle on 34th Street or maybe It's a Wonderful Life?" He saw El smile at him with a slight thumbs up, hiding it once Peter scowled in mock annoyance at both of them.

"Don't encourage him, El. Although after the game we could maybe watch a movie." He mumbled the last bit grudgingly, a slight smile on his lips. El stood up and kissed him, tapping him lightly on the back of the head.

"We'll keep you at your word, Peter. Neal, I'd love to watch a movie with you." She started bringing up some old classics like The Thin Man, My Man Godfrey and a few others which Neal seemed familiar with. Peter just looked at them both like they were speaking Chinese. Neal looked up at Peter's confusion about what they were discussing, winking at El.

"Oh and who could forget The Terminator or Alien..." Neal grinned as Peter perked up, El turning to her husband and smiling sweetly.

"We can watch whatever you like, El, but Neal you need to rest. They said you could leave in the morning. No broken bones and no concussions. You lucked out, kid." Peter mussed Neal's hair in a brotherly sort of way, the young man squirming.

"Well it was worth it. I got to pretend to be married to a wonderful woman." Neal took El's hand in his and held it to his lips, kissing it lightly. She blushed and Peter glanced at his partner curiously, hugging El.

"That she is." Peter kissed his wife on the cheek, Neal smiling at them both rather wistfully. El reached over and took Neal's hand in hers.

"I may just take you up on that movie offer, El. There's a film festival coming up at the Bijou near June's. They're showing Casablanca and Strangers on a Train." Neal's eye's lit up as did El's. Peter just blinked unsure of what was going on.

"Oh that sounds like fun. Let's make it a date." El sounded absolutely thrilled, Peter's arms still hugging her as he looked between the two film buffs.

"Are you asking my wife out on a date, Neal?" Peter's voice almost sounded jealous. El turned around and slapped him playfully on the arm.

"Behave, Peter. He can ask me to a movie. You can come along if you want but I know you hate anything that doesn't have explosions, sports or guns." El smiled sweetly up at her husband as Neal smirked slightly but shook his head.

"I'm not asking her out on a date. Let me rephrase that... I am but it's not THAT kind of a date." He smiled charmingly up at his partner. Peter opened his mouth but then stoppied a moment before finally speaking.

"Fine... but you have to sit one seat apart." Peter's voice was grumpy in a fatherly sort of way, El stifling a laugh as she patted him on the arm.

"Yes, Dad. I'll be sure he brings me home by midnight and no kissing or hugging." She stuck her tongue out at him, Neal chuckling. Peter put his arms on his hips and looked at them both.

"Dad? I'm only a year older than you, El. Don't you, Dad me. And you... Respect your elders." Neal gave an innocent "moi" kind of look as Peter smirked back at him.

"Yes you... now... are we going to let him rest or do we do order some take out while we're here? I'm starving!"

(The End)