(Chapter 11)

Neal rolled over beneath the covers and shivered slightly. His brow furrowed in his sleep, a frown on his face as his eyes moved beneath his closed eye lids. Neal murmured something silently, a thin sheen of sweat forming on his face. Someone reached down and touched his forehead gently, his face twitching in response. Slowly his eyes opened up and was vaguely aware of someone standing over him. His vision focused and he saw it was Peter. Neal looked up wearily, not lifting his head from the pillow as he stared at his friend.

"Peter? What are you doing here?" His voice sounded tired as he spoke, wiping a hair from his brow as he made an attempt to sit up. Peter sat on the edge of the bed beside him.

"Came to see how you were doing. June let me in when you didn't answer." Neal looked surprised, more so that he hadn't heard them knocking on the door.

"Sorry, I guess I was out cold." Neal gave a little stretch and yawn, pushing himself out from under the covers and sitting beside Peter on the edge of the bed. They sat there in silence a moment, Peter glancing sideways at the young man as if wanting to say something but unsure how to go about it. Neal noticed but he was uncertain of things himself.

"I..." They both said it at the same time, Neal looking at Peter who motioned for him to go but Neal shook his head.

"I'm sorry for not being there, Neal. OPR shouldn't have been able to get to you like that." Peter sounded angry, the fatherly or big brotherly vibe coming from him as he spoke. His brown eyes were shiny and intense as he looked at Neal and placed a hand on the young man's shoulder. Neal put his hand on top of Peter's.

"It wasn't your fault. I should have called you back to confirm the message. I should know better by now but Mozzie says I'm getting soft." He shrugged a little, a small smile on his face. Peter smiled back.

"I think I know the feeling. Trust is a powerful thing and someone used it against us." Peter frowned slightly, his manner thoughtful.

"And Gordon was another Fowler with more power apparently. I'm wondering just how deep into OPR this operation goes. Someone had to have planned this out for all these leads to hide who the one in power is." Peter was beginning to sound a little paranoid, Neal smiling ever so slightly.

"Sounds like something Mozzie would be interested in exploring. He's good with conspiracy theories." Neal's tone was only half-teasing, Peter nodding at him with a fierce grin.

"If he wants to dig, I can use all the help to get this cleaned up. Hughes is starting to get in on the fun. He's going to support anything you and I find dealing with Project Mentor and the music box. It was a shock to find out his friend was involved; Someone he believed to be above reproach." Peter sighed, leaning back on the bed and staring up at the ceiling. Neal nodded, leaning back as well.

"So how much longer in your 'leave?" Neal turned his head seeing Peter raise himself up on his elbows and look at him.

"Another week. Think you'll be ready by then?" Peter looked at him hopefully, Neal shrugging.

"Maybe. It's been over a month and I still... I don't know, Peter." Neal blushed slightly, turning away as he rolled over onto his side. He felt Peter sit up and gently pat him on the shoulder.

"It's ok. Take your time. Hughes said to give you all the time you need but I really could use your help. Besides... " Peter paused, watching Neal turn and sit up again waiting to hear what he was going to say.

"El was wondering when you were going to come over for dinner again. She wants to borrow your palette for some recipes she's been experimenting on." He smiled at him, Neal smiling back.

"Hopefully not any of those caterers from last time. That quiche... I don't even want to think about it." He cringed sarcastically, Peter smirking.

"Yeah, and she thought it was just me and my every man palette. You were making the same face." Peter grinned, looking at the clock.

"So, are you going to sleep all day or are we going to go do something? I'm starved! El sent me away to come ask you to dinner before I could grab some lunch. What do you say?" He looked at Neal expectantly, the young man nodding.

"Sounds good. I guess I missed breakfast. Been doing that a lot lately. Let me jump in the shower and I'll be right out."


"So... what do you think?" Peter grinned as Neal gawked around the cafe. It was the kind of place he'd go to but it also had elements of a sports bar that Peter enjoyed, a game playing in the background on a large screen TV. He nodded.

"Very nice. Thanks for the invite." Neal sipped at his drink, a half eaten sandwich on a plate beside him. Peter sipped at a bottle of beer, taking another bite of his own sandwich.

"Well I figured it was a nice compromise." Peter clinked his beer to Neal's glass.

"A toast to middle ground..." Peter's toast was clear enough, Neal adding his own piece.

"And good friends."

(the end)