(Chapter 9)

Neal...

Neal, wake up...

He heard somebody calling to him in the darkness. It took some effort but he swam up through the haze and fog and opened his eyes. He gave a gasp as if he had surfaced from a deep cold pool of water, his mind still lost in the darkness of wherever he had been. He felt cold, shivering as his body reacted to the sudden change in temperature. Someone held him close, their arms warm and comforting as he leaned his head against them and closed his eyes again.

You've suffered so much since you left. I'm so sorry, Neal. Please forgive me.

Neal opened his eyes again, slowly this time and found himself peering up into two blue green pools that sparkled with life. She was smiling down at him, one hand gently caressing his hair as he lay against her.

"Hello sleepy head." She continued to smile down at him, sitting on the forest floor holding him. Neal sat up after a moment and looked around at the scenery and realized he knew this place. He felt something fall off of him as he sat up and saw a jacket that looked so familiar.

"I meant to return this but I didn't know where you were. You looked like you could use it." Lena spoke with that soft voice he remembered now only aged slightly with time. He nodded dumbly, not understanding why he was here.

"Am I dead?" He couldn't think of anything else to say, his mind trying to imagine what other significance this place had for him other than death and painful memories. It was the woods where he had brought Lena. He had left her there with his jacket when shock and fear had overcome him. Then ran far away from home never to return until now.

"I don't think so but I am your creation, formed from your memories Neal. I'm the guilt you've held all these years that kept you running away. Don't run because of me." She put an arm around him, hugging him close and kissing him gently on the cheek. He could feel her touch, her soft lips even though they had never kissed. She smelled nice like the soft scent of flowers in a field. He had only known Lena a short time before what happened had happened. He leaned against her shoulder and held her, crying.

"You're gone because of me. If you had just ignored me maybe things would have been different." He pulled away but she grasped his hand in hers and pulled him to his feet.

"No, Neal. You're not going to get off that easily! Stop torturing yourself! It wasn't your fault what happened. I'm not Kate and Kate... she's not me." She had gently taken his chin in her hand and turned his face to hers.

"Peter trusts you, Neal. Believe in him and stop running. June loves you like a son. Stay with her. Elizabeth is like the big sister you never had. Let her lead you on the right path. And Mozzie... well, he's that crazy fun friend we need to keep us all on our toes. He's looking out for you regardless of what you think. Trust them, Neal. Let them in and stop hiding. You opened up for me, open up for them." She gently tapped him on the nose, before planting a quick kiss on his lips.

"It would have been nice to kiss you for real I think. At least i know that's what you think you'd have liked to do." She winked at him, pulling on the hand she held and leading him away from the clearing. Neal followed obediently, his inclination to turn back but she called to him.

"Look ahead, Neal. Don't look back!" Her voice was kind but firm as she spoke. Neal nodded, letting her lead him further from the darkening woods. The scenery started to fill with fog, Lena's form beginning to fade.

Look ahead, Neal. Look ahead...

He felt her hand disappear from his as the scene faded into the haze...

()()()

Peter had only been vaguely aware of everything that had gone on since the rescue. Diana had spoken to him as had Jones, several other blurry figures in black coming in and carrying him away to a waiting ambulance. It had all been a blur, literally as his fever kept him incapacitated. It was a miracle he was even conscious still with the temperature he had but he was worried about his partner. Neal had been near death when he last saw him but he was assured by his subordinates that Neal had been rescued and was well.

He only caught bits and pieces, his mind hazy from the fever. He was left alone after a while and had fallen into a light unconsciousness. It was the rustling that had awaken him, his eyes opening to find Neal laying near him on another gurney. Peter was too out of it to be aware of what was going on although a part of him knew they were in danger. He saw that his friend was bound and gagged but his fevered brain didn't register it. Peter just knew he was happy to see his friend and partner alive as he passed out again. After that he only remembered bits and pieces of voices, dialogue that didn't make much sense to him even when he heard the gunshot.

Peter was disoriented as it was but he saw a figure fall beside him, a hint of blue eyes in the darkness staring at him briefly before closing.

Neal?

He wanted to move but he was too weak to do so, his face aflame, his body cold as ice. Something was wrong but he couldn't react.

Neal... Neal wake up!

"Send in a med team. We have two men down!" The voice was familiar, Peter's eyes moving up to see who was speaking. Someone crouched beside him and felt his neck and head. They blinked as they realized he was conscious.

"Hey, boss. Can you hear me?" It was Diana, another figure behind her that looked to be Jones checking on Neal.

"Caffrey's breathing but just barely. How's Peter?" Jones' voice was only one of many, several people in SWAT uniforms moving around in the darkness, the sound of crunching leaves and twigs evident. Peter smiled lopsidedly up at Diana, lips parting but he was unable to speak. She pushed two fingers to his lips and shushed him.

"Rest, boss. You'll be at a hospital soon. We got them all." She gave him a little thumbs up as he fell back into unconsciousness.

()()()

Peter dreamed he was at home eating his favorite sandwiches, deviled ham, Elizabeth reading the paper across from him as they sat at the dining room table on the opposite end of the den. He paused after a moment, chewing the same piece of sandwich again without swallowing as El looked up curiously.

"Honey, is something wrong?" She looked truly concerned, putting the paper down as she neatly refolded it. Peter shook his head.

"I don't think so." Peter finally swallowed the bit of sandwich and took another bite as he tried to remember what he was forgetting. El touched his arm as she rose and hugged him from behind.

"You're going to be late for work, honey." Peter glanced up at the clock and then down at his watch and nodded, finishing up the last of his sandwich and coffee. He stood, hugged his wife back and kissed her gently on the lips before grabbing up his jacket and taking off. He turned to watch her wave from the door as he climbed into the Taurus and drove away. He turned the sports channel on the radio and listened to some commentary while he tapped his finger on the steering wheel and tried to think what he was forgetting. After a few minutes and three red lights he shrugged and figured he'd remember when he got to work.

Peter parked in the private garage for the FBI, taking the elevator up to the offices. He waved at Jones and Diana as he made his way across the cubicles and up the small set of stairs to his office. Something felt off but he ignored the feeling till he sat at his desk and turned to his PC. He pulled off his jacket and slung it over his chair as he started to type up some notes from the previous day.

"Hey boss... we were all thinking of doing Chinese today. You in?" Diana had popped her head into the office, a wide smile on her face. Jones was looking up from the lobby below as if he knew what she was asking. Peter nodded, standing up and acknowledging Jones below. The agent gave a thumbs up as Diana turned and left. Peter grinned, turning back to his work. He turned to his desktop briefly to grab a case file when something fluttered down onto his desk. Peter glanced at the item and looked around as he tried to figure out where it came from.

"A paper flower... who would have..." His voice trailed off as he stared at the intricately folded item in blue, a very fine cursive scrawl on one petal reading: OPEN ME. Peter blinked, fumbling to unfold the flower and open it up. Inside was a note in the same handwriting, the style familiar but he couldn't quite place it as he read the note. His eyes widened as if something had clicked on over his head.

"Neal?"

()()()

Peter woke up, his eyes popping open almost immediately. He gazed around at his surroundings curiously, the bland beige walls surrounding him with a soft flower design in pale yellow. His gaze moved down to his right and the small window, curtained with a pale tan material over a thinner off white covering. A matching tan sofa sat below the window, a figure sleeping there. Peter smiled, moving despite the pain in his shoulder and head. He found himself tethered to the bed with monitors and IVs, wanting to rise and walk over to the sofa. His movements were apparently louder than he thought, along with his mild wince, waking the figure up.

"Peter? Hey honey." Elizabeth rubbed the sleep from her eyes as she sat up and stretched. She stood up and walked towards him smiling, hugging and kissing him as she hunched over the bed. Peter hugged his wife gratefully back, feeling a bit confused about things as he continued to wake up. El seemed to notice.

"Peter, what's wrong? Should I call a nurse? They wanted to know when you woke up." She was reaching for the button but he shook his head, taking her hand in his and kissing it. She blushed. He had missed his wife, thinking he wouldn't see her again, and glad he had made it through the ordeal. El leaned closer to him, head on his good shoulder.

"I'm glad you're ok, Peter. Everyone was so worried because of the fever. You've been asleep for 4 days." She continued to hold his hand, hugging him as he gently lay his chin against her forehead.

"Four days. I barely remember the time at the paintball course. Where is Neal?" He had hardly said the last few words when he remembered seeing the young man staring sightlessly at him in the darkness of what had to be a forest. His mind was hazy as to the details but he could just recall the sound of a gunshot breaking the silence, those blue eyes cold and glassy. Peter felt his wife hug him close and brush the hair from his face.

"Neal's good. He hasn't waken up yet but I just saw him last night. They said he's doing better. Don't worry, honey. I'm sure if you're awake now, he'll be up and about soon trying to get on your nerves." She winked at him as he smirked back, relief obvious in his expression.

"That's good. I had a terrible dream I didn't remember him. He wasn't a part of the team and had never been. It was strange because I knew something was missing." Peter's voice was quiet, thoughtful if not concerned. El nodded.

"You were worried about him and had a nightmare. Speaking of which, Reese told me a bit of what happened to all of you." Her blue eyes were runny as she continued to hug him and keep close. Finally she sat up and kissed him gently, pushing the nurse call button.

"I think we should probably let them know you're awake, honey. Maybe the nurse can give us some updates on Neal."

()()()

It was another two days before Neal finally woke up, his eyes fluttering slowly open before promptly closing. The light although subdued bothered his eyes, the young man squinting as he moved his head painfully to either side to see where he was. He had a vague memory of woods and someone being with him but his thoughts were for his partner and team. Had everyone gotten out ok? He remembered a gunshot before he'd passed out but noticed he only had the one bandage still on his semi-bare chest. Neal shifted his weight ever so slightly, his body sore from the ordeal and stiff from what he guessed was having been asleep in the same position for some time.

"Hey there. Steady now." Neal turned at the sound of a familiar voice and firm hand on his arm. Two brown eyes stared back at him smiling.

"Peter?" He blinked, rubbing his eyes in disbelief but smiling finally when he realized he was awake.

"You're..." He paused surprised to see his friend awake and well. Peter grinned at his lack of words.

"Well? Yup. How are you feeling?" He ruffled Neal's hair without warning.

"Good until you did that." Neal stuck his tongue out, smiling slightly as he made a motion to stretch some. The little movement made him wince, Peter helping him by fluffing his pillows and raising the bed a bit.

"Better? Doctor said you were lucky. Only a minor concussion and stress related injuries with the bullet wound but you're healing well." Peter pointed at his own arm in the sling and sighed.

"Jackson and crew are going to get the maximum, especially Baker. Lorne... Jeffries took him out." Peter looked tired if not relieved by the news with only a hint of curiosity as he glanced at Neal.

"I guess Diana and Jones told you what happened?" Neal didn't want to say anything else, hoping that they hadn't mentioned him knowing Jackson or Karen/Jen. He didn't want to remember that he knew them much less what they had almost done to him again. Peter nudged him gently, brown eyes looking at him for answers.

"Yeah. If you don't want to... it's ok." He smiled, mussing Neal's hair again.

"I don't." Neal left it at that his voice a bit harsher than he meant but he wasn't ready to go there yet. He watched Peter nod but with that hint of curiosity still bright in his eyes. There was a sudden silent tension between them when the door opened with quiet warning knock. Elizabeth peeked in and smiled.

"Hey sleepy head. How are you feeling?" El walked over and hugged Peter, kissing him on the lips before she walked around and hugged Neal lightly, planting a small kiss on his forehead. He smiled up at her and grinned.

"Better. I'm..." He wanted to apologize to both of them for some reason, thoughts of what had happened so long ago still making him feel guilty for things that weren't his fault. Most of all he wanted to pull all the wires off once they left and make a run for it. It wasn't fair that they were hurt by his past even if it was just a strange coincidence Jackson and crew had been there. He didn't want to think about what could have happened to Peter much less Diana, Jones and Hughes. Guilt continued to wash over him as he sat there deep in thought. A small cough brought him out of his reverie.

"Neal, are you ok? Want me call the nurse or doctor?" Elizabeth's voice was soft, concern evident. He shook his head but kept feeling guilty. Looking at her reminded him of Lena, Kate and everything bad that could have happened had Peter not come back. El would have been alone without her husband. He felt ill, pulling at the IVs and monitors as he tried to rise despite his weakness, Peter and El stopping him as he made a face, covering his mouth. Peter got up first, grabbing a small wastebasket and brought it over, holding it under Neal's face as the young man threw up. When he was done, El went to the bathroom and brought him back a glass of water and a cloth to wash his face and mouth. Neal leaned back exhausted, eyes closed as he tried to catch his breath.

"Honey, could you call a nurse." She made a gesture with her eyes at Peter who looked confused a moment before he nodded with an "OH" kind of look and got up.

"I'll be right back." Peter patted Neal on the shoulder, limping out of the room. Elizabeth gently brushed a strand of hair from Neal's face, his eyes opening to look up at her.

"Feeling any better?" She handed him the glass of water and he took a grateful sip nodding a moment before he shook his head. She smiled softly, an understanding look on her face.

"I know you feel guilty. Peter told me you knew the people who kidnapped you." Her tone was plain without accusation. Neal glanced at her and nodded, eyes averted once he'd done so. She grasped his chin gently and pulled his face to look her way.

"It wasn't your fault, Neal. You didn't know what was going to happen. Nobody did. It was bad set of coincidences. Besides..." She tapped him gently on the nose with her index finger.

"You're the reason everyone got out." She was smiling broadly at him, his face flushed a bit in surprise. She kept smiling, only looking up as the door opened and a nurse walked in with Peter not too far behind.

()()()

Another three days went by before Neal was allowed to go home. Peter and El had come with June to take him out to eat in celebration. Neal was happy when Mozzie showed up last minute to join them, the con apologizing for being late to the party. Afterwards, June invited everyone to stay over for a little get together. El and Peter took a room down the hall from Neal's but Mozzie refused for his usual paranoid reasons, June far from insulted and understanding completely.

Neal stood out on the terrace in his silk pajamas and robe, the latter flapping slightly in the breeze and he stared across the city and tried to think of positive things. He heard a soft knock despite the hour and turned to see Peter peeking inside.

"Hey... mind if I come in?" Peter looked a bit sheepish, dressed in a gray pair of sweats and an old college tee. He was wearing white tube socks, his steps light on the wooden floor. Neal nodded, turning back to his view of the city. Peter stepped up beside him and leaned over the edge of the small stone wall and whistled.

"Beautiful view. You're so lucky to have this, Neal." Peter's brown eyes glittered softly in the darkness, taking in the scenery in awe. Neal turned and watched his friend realizing they were very much the same. They had both worked hard for what they wanted although in Neal's case he had been able to both enjoy his cake and eat it too while Peter had held back doing things the honest way. He could see his friend having a nice fat pension in a few years and taking Elizabeth to all the places Neal had already seen. The thought made him smile, knowing they would be able to do that together.

Neal sniffed slightly, wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his robe as he thought about his own past and wondered about his future. He felt a strong hand on his shoulder and turned.

"It's getting a bit chilly, how bout we go inside?" Peter was smiling, walking back towards the open French doors, Neal following after one last look at the sparkling city lights. Peter had already sat down on the sofa, socked feet up on the coffee table as he leaned back comfortably, a yawn on his lips as he stretched. Neal walked over and bumped his friend's legs with his shins as a hint. Peter looked up and smirked slightly, taking his feet down so Neal could pass and sit on the other end.

There was a moment of quiet before Peter turned his attention back to Neal.

"I wanted to discuss something with you, Neal." His tone sounded ominous, Neal wondering if he'd done something wrong. He already felt himself squirming as he tried to think of excuses and alibis. Peter read his mind.

"You're not in trouble but I thought you might want to know... Daniel Baker isn't who he seems to be. It was an alias." Peter's tone was somewhat uncertain as he looked at the younger man and tried to say what he wanted to.

"His real name was Derek Angelos. He, Jackson and Karen/Jen were in the military together after joining a program to help rehabilitate teens who were likely to go to prison. They met Curtis there and Lorne and that's how they became a team. Their division leader was a rogue who wanted to form a militia and fight the government. We took him out some time ago just before I started chasing you." Peter sighed.

"Their leader was a man named Smith. Simple name, complicated man. He had issues and it cost three agents to catch him. We had no idea his men were still out there, having caught or killed most of them during the firefight that erupted. Not a memory I like to recall." His brow furrowed into a frown as he fell silent, head leaning back against the sofa. Neal took in everything that was said, realizing now why Baker had seemed so familiar. It was Derek, Jackson's second who had killed Lena so many years ago. Anger filled him with the memory of having to watch her die at his hands before they had tried to kill him. They had stolen so much of his past and nearly his future.

"Derek..." Neal stopped there, clenching his fists to hold back the anger he felt. He felt Peter's hand on his, the touch calming him some.

"Jackson tried to implicate you as did Baker but Jen was dumb enough to tell the truth. Be glad she was blinded by her hatred long enough to cuss you out and tell us how things really were. I... I heard you got the better of her a few times. That didn't sit well with her. Hughes said you got the jump on her and helped him escape. He wanted me to thank you." He could hear the hesitation in his friend's voice, knowing Jen would have mentioned that she and Neal had been from the same town. He wasn't ready to discuss his past with Peter yet. The agent just nodded without saying anything else.

Peter gave a little yawn, standing up and stretching after a moment.

"I guess I'll go to sleep. El's probably wondering where I disappeared to. I'll see you in the morning, Neal." He patted Neal gently on the shoulder before he padded out of the room quietly, closing the door behind him. Neal stared at the door a few minutes before he curled up on the couch, pulling his knees close to his body.

He wanted to share with Peter but his past wasn't something he was proud of and his friends didn't need to know he was a useless nobody from a hick town. Neal curled up into a tighter ball, folding his arms under his chin as he tried to forget and fell asleep.

()()()

Peter snuck back into the guest room at June's, tiptoeing to and slipping back into bed. He felt a hand on his arm as El rolled over and looked at him in the dark.

"Everything ok, honey?" Her voice was a soft whisper, her warm lips gently caressing his cheek. Peter nodded.

"I think so. Goodnight, El." He kissed her back, curling up beside her as she settled back into sleep. Peter felt a kind of guilt at not saying more to his friend back there, the feeling keeping him from falling asleep right away. He had hoped Neal would talk to him about how he knew those people but there had been only silence for the most part. Typical Caffrey but he had always been private about his past. Peter sighed softly, hugging his wife gently as he closed his eyes and fell asleep.

()()()

Another couple of weeks went by before either Peter or Neal were approved to go back to work. Hughes had stayed away to some extent but there was work to be done and finally he allowed everyone to get slowly back to where they had been before the incident. In a way it had brought the team closer together but everyone had been affected differently, especially knowing that Baker had been the inside man and tried to turn them all against Neal.

Neal sat at his desk, staring at his PC monitor blankly. A yellow legal pad was sitting on the desk, his hand idly writing on it as he stared. He woke up when he felt a shadow over him and turned to see Peter standing there looking at him worriedly.

"Nice picture. Who is she?" He kept his voice low as he sat on the edge of the desk. Neal blinked looking down to see he had been sketching on the notepad. It was Lena. He blushed, pulling the sheet from the pad and crumpling it.

"Nothing... I should get back to those case files." Neal opened up a folder beside him on the desk but Peter's hand touched his shoulder making him look back up.

"Come to my office. I think we need to talk." Peter's voice was direct, the agent rising to his feet and moving away. Neal watched him walk away before he finally stood and grabbed up his pad and pen, making his way over to the stairs and Peter's office. Once they were inside, Peter closed the door and sat down. He reached into his desk and pulled out a folder, sliding it across the desk to Neal.

Neal looked at the folder and saw that it was a police record rather than FBI and it was from a town he hadn't thought about in several decades.

"Peter, since when did we start doing cold cases from the Police?" He opened up the file and blinked.

"Just read it." Peter sounded firm but smiled softly when Neal looked at him. He nodded reluctantly, opening up the folder and paled. The name inside read "Nathaniel Courtney." There was information about a young man disappearing at age 16 from a small town in New Mexico after a robbery. He was not accused of the murder but thought to have been murdered. Neal blinked as he read the rest of the pages, his blue eyes watering when he got to the last page. He slammed the folder shut and stood up, leaving the office. He sprinted down the stairs before Peter could stop him and left the building.

()()()

"I thought I'd find you here." Peter walked up to the bench and sat beside Neal as he stared across the park without really seeing. Neal looked deep in thought, a conflicted look upon his face.

"I want to be alone." Neal growled slightly, starting to rise when Peter blocked him.

"Neal, talk to me. I already read the case file so I know what's in it. I just... I want to understand what this has to do with the people who kidnapped us. I never would have known anything except for Jen. She seemed happy to put you down. Help me set the record straight." Peter tried to sound as sincere as he could, wanting to help Neal but he looked like he wasn't going to stay. He nodded and let go.

"When you're ready to talk, you know where I am." Peter turned and walked away, sighing to himself and wishing he could just wring the info out of his partner but that wouldn't help anything. He shrugged to himself, pulling the keys from his pocket for the Taurus. He had barely strapped himself in when he heard a knock on the passenger side door, Neal standing there. He unlocked the door and the young man slipped inside quietly, his manner somewhat sullen if not sulky. Peter pulled out into traffic, the ride quiet as they sat there with nothing but the sounds of traffic and the car noise in the background.

"I... she was dead. Derek had killed her." Neal's voice was soft, cracking with emotion, eyes staring out the window as he spoke. Peter didn't say anything, continuing to concentrate on the road. He could just make out the reflection of Neal's blue eyes in the window, a sadness he hadn't seen since Kate's death reflected there.

"I woke up and found her still and cold. I had no one to trust so I took her to the woods and left her there before I ran away. I couldn't go back... I never wanted to." His body shuddered slightly, a slight sniff coming from him as he wiped at his face. Peter put a hand on Neal's shoulder and squeezed gently without saying anything. Neal turned, blue eyes slightly pinkish now.

They rode the rest of the way in silence till Peter finally stopped at June's and parked. Neal sat up and glanced out the window, unlocking his belt as he opened up the door and stepped out. Peter didn't move, unsure how to react or if Neal wanted him to. He just peered over to nod good-bye when he saw Neal smile back at him.

"Peter, I have some beer upstairs if you're interested." Neal's voice sounded odd as he tried to be casual. He obviously wanted to chat so Peter nodded at the invitation.

"Sounds good."

()()()

They spoke a lot longer than they had thought. El having to show up in a cab to pick up Peter when he called home obviously drunker than he'd ever been. She crinkled her nose at the scent of bourbon and other stuff coming off her husband's breath. Neal smelled about the same, a lopsided smile on both men's faces. Both were rather incoherent and laughing hysterically over something random as June and El interrupted their binge.

"Come on Peter, we're going home." Elizabeth excused herself apologetically as she took her husband and helped him down the stairs, Neal watching and waving in his drunken manner. June started to put some coffee on but Neal waved her off.

"I'm sorry June. Is she mad at me?" Neal had flopped down onto the sofa, head on the armrest as he gave a little yawn and closed his eyes. June shook her head, grabbing a blanket and pulling it over him.

"No, dear. She was just worried. Let me know if you need anything, ok?" June kissed him lightly on the forehead and he nodded groggily and passed out.

()()()

Neal woke up the next day with a horrible hang over. He was slightly confused as to why he was asleep on the sofa but June filled him in when she came to wake him up early in the afternoon. Neal apologized profusely, June smiling.

"Trust me dear, you boys were far from rowdy. Never known a nicer group of drunks." She was holding back a laugh, Neal blushing.

"I can imagine, but still. I'm sorry." He gave her a little hug and she smiled back, starting a pot of coffee for him and offering him some breakfast. He nodded thankfully as she left to get food and he went into the bathroom to shower and clean up. By the time he had finished and dressed, June had brought back a small tray of fruit and sandwiches and the coffee was ready. Everything was laid perfectly on the wrought iron table out on the terrace along with a manila folder he didn't recognize. Neal stared at the folder a moment unsure what to make of it till June popped in again.

"Oh, that came for you while you were sleeping." June smiled and left. Neal took a bit of cantaloupe as he opened up the folder and pulled the file out.

"Lena Harris." Neal read the name and pushed it away, the file flying off the table scattering papers. One was a photograph, the shiny paper catching his attention as the sun caught it. Neal stood and walked over to pick the photo up.

The figure in the picture looked to be around 30, long dark hair, bright blue green eyes and a sad but beautiful smile. Drops hit the picture, Neal looking up for rainclouds when he realized it was tears. He looked back down at the picture as he wiped at his eyes then moved to pick up the rest of the file.

Name: Lena Harris

Age: 30

Occupation: Private investigator

Neal kept reading finding that his disappearance is what had caused her to go into the line of work she chose. She had been looking for the childhood friend who tried to help her when a robbery went bad. It was then he realized all his memories had been altered by his memories of Kate, adding his current name to those memories when he had been Nathaniel Courtney. Jackson had been calling him Court not Caff. He sighed sadly, finishing up the file before he stood and took the folder with him, leaving his room.

()()()

"Neal? Hi." Elizabeth answered the door looking a bit surprised. She opened up the door, stepping aside and motioned for him to enter. Neal walked in quietly, smiling back at her as he stood in the entry way and glanced around the cozy home.

"I don't know if Peter was expecting you but he's upstairs getting dressed. Should be down soon. He just woke up a little while ago." She looked at him curiously as if hoping he would answer why they were so drunk but he just smiled and nodded.

"Guess we got carried away last nite. Sorry." He blushed back, following her to the sofa as they heard footsteps from the stairs. Peter peered and blinked as he saw Neal standing there, El smiling back.

"Hey honey. We have company. I'll be right back." She squeezed Neal's arm before walking over and hugging Peter, then disappeared into the kitchen. Peter walked into the den and nodded, Neal nodding back.

"You got the folder." His voice was quiet, obviously trying not to pry. Neal nodded and sat down at the sofa, folder in his hands. Peter saw it as he walked over and sat beside him. They were quiet a moment before Peter cleared his throat.

"All this time... I thought..." Neal stopped short, dropping the folder on the coffee table and staring down at it. Peter nodded, quiet until El walked back in carrying a small tray of snacks.

"Until lunch is ready. Are you staying, Neal?" She sounded hopeful as she lay the tray on the coffee table along with a pitcher of lemonade. Neal looked at Peter uncertainly.

"He is, we just have to finish some work on a case." Peter was smiling, El looking relieved as she made her way back to the kitchen. Neal turned and looked at the agent curiously.

"Well, you're not going to go are you? Besides, did you read the whole file. I think you'll find the last bit interesting. Baker did when I brought it up. He's going away for a long long time." Peter glanced down at the folder, Neal picking it up as if it would bite him and opened it up again. He lay the papers out on the table and read through them as Peter grabbed up a few chips and crunched them noisily.

Neal read the last page, a newspaper clipping finding out that Derek Angelos was wanted on attempted and suspected murder charges in the case of Lena Harris and Nathaniel Courtney.

"Ms. Harris had stumbled into town and was taken to the hospital. She had been delirious, speaking of a friend who had been forced at gunpoint to open a safe. Calvin Gerrold the owner described Nathan as a reliable kid and knew he wouldn't have stolen from him. If Jackson and Angelos were involved, he had to have been coerced which is where Ms. Harris' was a witness."

"So all this time... I could have gone back." Neal tried to think what it would have been like to stay there, to grow up in that town and realized even so, he would have had little future with his stepfather's conning, and the rest of the boys constantly robbing and stealing. Something else would have gone wrong. Would his life have been so much different? He wouldn't have met Mozzie, Alex, Kate... Peter and El... June...

He shook his head and sighed, turning as he heard more crunching from Peter's direction. Peter gave him an odd look, pausing to drink some lemonade.

"Want some?" Peter was so oblivious, Neal nodding with a tiny smirk as he pushed the papers back into the folder and moved it out of the way.

"Sure." Neal watched Peter pushed a few onto a small plate and pass it to him along with a glass of lemonade. El came back, sitting across from them as she took a glass for herself and some chips.

"So what kind of case are you working on?" Her blue eyes flashed between the both of them as Neal smiled ever so slightly.

"Just trying to figure out why Peter's so loud when he's eating chips." Neal pushed a few into his mouth, eating quietly as Peter looked at him warningly.

"Don't mock the man who can make you wear orange. It's a cold case honey but I think we have it solved." Peter winked at Neal who nodded back as he sipped at his drink.

"We know that Peter and chips equals the sound of a cement mixer." Neal jumped up and out of range as Peter turned to sock him in mock annoyance.

"Caffrey..." Peter smirked up at the younger man who was now hiding behind El. She was trying not to laugh.

"Well uhm, Honey... you do chew them a bit loudly at times but a cement mixer? Neal... that's just not nice. I would have used rock crusher. My dad did construction so I know what one sounds like." She stifled a laugh as Peter blinked at her comment.

"Two against one... I see how it is." He crossed his arms over his chest in mock hurt, El looking back at Neal earnestly.

"Maybe we should apologize, Neal. I wouldn't want you sent back to jail because you said he sounded like a cement mixer when he eats." She flashed her eyes back at her hubby playfully.

"I'm sorry, Peter. You don't sound like a cement mixer." Neal moved back around and sat beside the agent. Peter just looked at him then nodded uncrossing his arms.

"Thank you. Apology accepted." He reached for some more chips, a background sound like someone moving the arm on a crane coming from Neal. Peter turned and glared at him, Neal looking innocent.

"You're asking for it, Neal."

(the end)

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Author's Note: Not sure why my endings are getting longer. LOL

I also got really angsty in this chapter. Had to tie up all the loose ends so it got interesting. I hope you enjoyed this! :D

Now on to the next story... *whoosh!*