"Let me talk to him alone. Stay in the background. It should be ok." Peter looked at Hughes with an almost pleading look, some part of him hoping that Neal was going to turn himself in. According to the note, he wanted to talk to Peter alone if only long enough to convince him of what was going and had been going on for the last couple of months. He looked at Reese and watched the older agent's face till he saw a nod.
"I trust that you know what you're doing, Burke. You said he admitted to planning this heist but beyond that, he seems to honestly be trying to get back in our good graces. Are you certain you want to do this?" Hughes sounded tired but his voice held concern for his best agent and friend. Peter nodded without hesitation.
"I trust him. I need to know what happened to cause this. If he's willing to meet with me and talk, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. I owe him that much. If..." He started to say: "If he's not on the up and up, I'll arrest him myself..." but he didn't and left it at that, Reese seemingly understanding what he meant.
"Ok, then. We'll be your backup and you'll be wired. He should be expecting that."
The meeting took place at the museum warehouse after hours. They had the permission of the curator, Mr. Buhari and his staff. Their guards were told to stand down as were the police who were called in when Mr. Buhari decided he wanted a second opinion much to Hughes' annoyance. He didn't like involving the police in their cases unless it was absolutely necessary and at the moment, it didn't seem to be.
Peter had told Elizabeth he would be meeting with Neal but not how or why. He wanted to spare her feelings in case things didn't turn out the way he expected. He knew Neal could be unpredictable at times. There was no threat of violence only of losing Neal if he ran again which it seems he had done in this case although it wasn't clear why.
The warehouse loading area of the museum was deserted this time of day, filled with boxes with numbers that were stacked in infinite amounts it seemed. Peter followed the map he had been anonymously mailed and found the spot he was supposed to meet Neal at. The building was silent except for the occasion creak and groan of boxes and the building itself. He felt a little creeped out till he heard soft footsteps and a figure dressed to the nines stepped out. It was Neal.
Neal looked a bit thinner if nothing else, his face pale, expression far from happy. Something about seeing him again made the agent excited not just for seeing his friend and partner for other reasons he couldn't fathom at the moment. He saw a similar feeling pass through those blue eyes before it vanished.
"I'm glad you came. I wasn't sure how else to get you here." Neal's voice was soft and almost hard. There was no soft charming smile, those blue eyes stormy gray with emotions that seemed to be more angry than anything. Peter wasn't sure how to react.
"It's good to see you too. You look well (he lied). So what is it that you wanted to discuss with me? What's so special about this statue you want to steal? I'm guessing Mozzie was your inside person?" He got right to the point because that's how he was. He noticed Neal blink in surprise and then frown slightly, almost sadly.
"You've become too much like me. I know it feels good to have the home but it's not yours. You're welcome like family but Neal... you're not me!"
Peter blinked this time, looking at Neal confused.
"Why are you talking in the third person? Neal, I can get you help. We're all worried about you. Forget this heist and we can figure something out." He hoped the con man would agree but he saw a shake of his head.
"If anyone needs help, it's you Neal. They must have convinced you of being me because of what happened. Unlike me, you had to conform or you knew my life would be nothing when I got it back. Remember who you are. That's why I need the statue. Why we need it. Remember..." Neal spoke plainly, pointing at a box to the side that seemed familiar.
"That's the box I placed you on at the raid when we were shot. I wrote the number down. Inside that box is what caused this and will fix it. I'm not stealing the item but we need it if our lives are going to return to what they were. Wake up, Neal! I need you to remember if not for your sake or mine, do it for Elizabeth's."
It seemed the con was looking at him a bit more deeply than before. He thought about all the things he had been doing since Neal left. People had said he seemed to be different and the fact he started making origami figures for fun was a bit unusual if nothing else. He thought about the origami figures a moment. Peter didn't know how to make those! Neal did so that meant...
But maybe he learned from watching his friend and partner making them. It was possible but improbable seeing that Peter was no nonsense. Why take up a craft he wouldn't need or use. Peter was practical, Neal was not.
There seemed to be a glimmer of something there that started to make sense to him. He had told everyone he was Neal but had been afraid of what would happen to Peter if he continued so he let himself be convinced.
Neal/Peter's head started to hurt, his hand going to his temples. He thought he felt the world start to swirl drunkenly before he tipped slightly forward and was caught by Peter/Neal.
"I didn't mean to break your belief but you aren't Peter Burke, I am. I guess in the end you listened to me and cowboyed up. I'm so sorry Neal. If this could have been stopped..." He would have continued but there was a shot, Peter/Neal slumping as his shoulder was hit. Neal/Peter turned and looked around seeing a museum guard standing there looking nervous.
"They told you to stand by! What the hell were you thinking?" He looked at Peter/Neal, his body slumping as he collapsed to the ground. Peter/Neal looked back at him with his blue eyes pleading with him.
"Pull the statue out of the box, Neal. Please!" Peter/Neal seemed to slump more as he lay him sitting against another box. Neal/Peter pulled a crowbar out of a pile and started to pry the box open. He dug through the hay and packing material till he found it. He turned and looked at Peter who was looking pekid now, the wound bleeding heavily. He turned and screamed at the guard to get help, hearing the FBI coming in through the two-way as they heard the shot. He needed to do this before they showed up.
"Peter, what now? I have the statue." He nudged his friend who looked up, blue eyes watery and unfocused.
"Blood..." Was all he muttered as he passed out from the pain. Neal was afraid, shaking his friend.
"Peter? Peter wake up!" He looked at the limp form of himself laying there and froze in fear. Finally he rubbed the statue against his friend's wound and prayed for his friend to be ok.
"Please don't die, Peter. Elizabeth needs you. I'm sorry... for everything." He was remembering now…
Neal waited to see what would happen but nothing did. He crouched down and shook his friend gently, taking off his jacket and binding the wound as best he could.
"Peter, please... wake up!" He was starting to cry, still shaking his friend when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"Burke... let the paramedics take care of him." Neal looked up to see Reese looking down at him. This was wrong. He wasn't Peter.
"No... he..." Neal felt dizzy again. It wasn't just the revelation of everything coming back to him but something else. He felt a pain in his chest as if he had been shot again at the raid when this all started. He could smell the gun powder burning his nostrils. He felt strong arms catch him and someone shouting, it sounded like Hughes but he wasn't sure, darkness overcoming him.
"Neal... Neal... Neal, wake up."
The voice penetrated the darkness like a bright light and yet he still couldn't react to it.
"Neal... Neal wake up!"
He felt a coldness coming over him as he fought to reach the surface. Someone was calling to him.
"Neal? Can he hear me?"
Neal felt his eyes open slowly, painfully as bright light blinded him. He squinted and closed them again until he could open them fully. Someone was holding him, the ground rough beneath where he sat. He realized suddenly he was sitting on the ground leaning against someone, that someone was Peter.
"Peter?" Neal looked up at those brown eyes staring back at him feeling a bit confused. He looked at himself and he was 'himself' again. What had just happened? Where was he? He saw Peter looking at him with a relieved smile. He noticed a small gash on his friend's temple.
"Hey. Got scared there for a moment. How are you feeling?" Peter's voice was quiet, Neal still feeling a bit confused on what had happened. He sat up with some effort and looked around. They were back at the original raid just after he got shot. He saw a bit of blood on Peter's white shirt sleeve but nothing more. It seemed he had been winged but off to his left he saw a figure laying dead on the ground, the gunman.
"I feel like a train hit me. What happened? I thought we were getting the statue." Neal was still thinking back to what he had seen but Peter looked at him oddly. Apparently nothing he remembered had really happened, or so it seemed.
"Statue? Uhm... Maybe the vest didn't protect you as much as I thought. Did you hit your head?" Peter felt around gently till Neal winced. There was a small knot on the back of his head where the force of the blast had thrown him against the ground. Had it all been a dream?
"Nevermind... just glad to be back." Neal winced as Peter helped him up with his good arm, Jones in the background with other agents swarming and checking for more gunmen. Neal limped with Peter back to the Taurus before sitting down and relaxing just a bit as he leaned back in the passenger seat. Peter slipped in on the other side and sighed, his arm obviously hurting him despite it being no more than a minor graze. Someone had already wrapped it up, the agent's sleeve torn and slightly bloody.
"Sure you're ok, Neal? Seems like you were a bit confused back there. The paramedic should be here in a few minutes to check on you." Peter passed him a bottled water, taking one for himself.
"I'm ok. I had a weird dream when I got knocked out. Let's just say you were there, Jones and everyone else... and there's no place like home!" He took a long sip of water hearing a soft chuckle from Peter.
"Sounds like the kind of dream I had. I second that toast." He clinked water bottles with his friend as they waited for the paramedic. Ends up Neal had a few bruised ribs from the blast hitting his vest and a nasty bump but nothing else seemed to be the matter. He had lucked out. No vest would have meant massive trauma. They both thanked the paramedic as he bandaged Neal's chest. Once he was done, they both buckled up, closing their doors.
"Guess it's home again, home again, jiggity jig?" Peter grinned at Neal's expression.
"Ugh, don't get nursery rhymes stuck in my head!" Neal covered his ears with a groan and slight crinkling sound. The paramedic had wrapped his ribs for safety's sake despite it only being bruising. Peter nodded.
"Sorry, something my dad used to say." Peter blushed slightly.
A couple of weeks went by and Neal began to forget about the alternate history since now it seemed to have not happened at all. Peter didn't even seem aware of what had happened so Neal wasn't going to say anything if he was the only one who remembered. Maybe it was a weird dream and he could leave it at that.
Neal paced his apartment, walking out onto the terrace and looking out over the city. He had missed this view and his apartment. He had missed June and Mozzie and as much as it had felt good to feel like he had a home and wife, it was someone else's. He could never steal another person's life for his own benefit. He was glad to have things the way they ought to be. He turned at a slight knock and saw June peek in.
"Everything ok? You've been awfully quiet the past few days." She had a small tray of food in her arms: sandwiches and fruit. Neal made to help her as she walked over to him and they set the food on the patio table. Both of them sat and she smiled at him, her hand touching his.
"I guess everything's back to the way it was?" Her voice was somewhat enigmatic as if she knew, Neal turning to stare at her a moment but she just smiled in her friendly manner.
"Just the doddering thoughts of an old woman. Nothing important. I should let you rest." He was about to say something but stopped himself and nodded. He felt like he had had this conversation before or had he? He was forgetting what he thought had happened.
"If you're doddering then I think I'm Napolean." He flashed one of his patented grins at her, sticking his hand inside his jacket. June chuckled.
"Such a charmer."
Peter was walking Satchmo around the block. It has been at least two weeks since the raid and he had this strange feeling of something he was forgetting. He stopped when he noticed Satchmo looking at him funny.
"What is it Satch? I grow a third arm or something?" The dog seemed to be watching him intently as if wondering something then sniffling in reply before continuing his explorations along the route.
When Peter got back home, Elizabeth had already set out dinner on the table. He was walking past the table to the kitchen to wash up when he noticed the third place setting. He paused and looked at El who was finishing placing napkins on the table.
"We expecting someone for dinner?" He walked around the table and hugged her gently, wrapping his arms around her waist and smelling her hair. He felt like he had gone on a trip and just returned. She noticed his manner and smiled, turning to kiss him on the lips.
"Just Neal. You invited him, remember? Two weeks ago. I'm testing out the new recipes tonight." She blinked at him and he nodded but he really had forgotten. Neal came over so often, it was almost strange to think he took that fact for granted. He kissed her on the cheek and nodded again as he made his way to the kitchen to wash up. While he was there he heard the door bell and El call out. Satchmo barked in reply which was odd in itself. Everyone seemed to know who was at the door but him.
"Neal... come on in!" Peter heard El's voice speaking as he dried his hands and exited the kitchen peeking around the corner. He saw Neal standing in the entrance, something under his arm.
"You didn't have to bring anything, Neal. You're always welcomed." El wrapped her arm gently in Neal's and led him inside as she closed the door. Satchmo looked at the young man expectantly, Neal stopping to pet the lab affectionately. Peter noticed the dog was acting just as oddly as he had been to Peter, sniffing the young man's hand as if confirming something.
Neal looked up as he walked around the corner to the living room and saw Peter. They nodded at one another, El smiling as she took the wine bottle from Neal.
"Let me put this on ice." She disappeared into the kitchen, leaving the two men alone a moment. Satchmo seemed to look between the two, walking over to lick Peter's hand in a manner he only did with his master. Neal smiled as if thinking about something fond.
"Penny for your thoughts?" Peter spoke softly, motioning towards the sofa. Neal nodded and they sat down.
"Nothing much to share. You'd be wasting your money." Neal smirked ever so slightly, hands in his lap. Peter nodded back.
"I keep thinking I've forgotten something but I guess it's not important. You're here and El seems happy. Satch is too." He scratched the dog behind the ears affectionately, the dog smiling. Neal nodded.
"Yeah. Mozzie said I was acting strangely like I had been on a long trip and only just got back. Distant is probably what he meant but you know Mozz." He shrugged, leaning back against the sofa and closed his eyes a moment. He sensed Peter move slightly.
"I think I know the feeling. I've been feeling a bit disconnected since the incident at the raid. I had a nightmare it was so much worse but it was just a dream. Thank goodness we put that vest on you. Hughes always thinks they'll see it over that skinny frame of yours. I just had this feeling you'd need it." Peter blinked as if unsure why that sounded odd. Neal seemed to be a bit surprised by the comment.
"Thanks for that. Bruised ribs are better than breathing through a tube." He opened his eyes as he heard the kitchen door open and El exited with a dish of something that smelled good. He smiled, seeing Peter rise.
"Looks like dinner's ready." Peter smiled, Neal standing beside him and reflecting the expression.
"Last one to the table, washes dishes."