(Chapter 9)

Peter was listening over the scanner as he heard the US Marshalls and other authorities show up at the last location for Neal's tracker. It was near the Hudson off a shipyard on the edge of town. Peter had a bad feeling when he heard the location, his knuckles turning stark from gripping the steering wheel even tighter. Jones hand touched his shoulder.

"We're almost there, Peter." Jones spoke softly as Peter turned the car past a large stone wall and through an open gate the glow of flashing blue and whites in the distance.

"We have the suspects in custody."

Peter listened to the radio as he pulled in behind a large Police van and saw several officers and Marshalls cuffing people. Peter parked and jumped out of the vehicle looking around for Neal but not seeing him. He didn't notice Jones talking to officers as he hurried to the main suspects looking for signs of Neal. Bethany was pressed up against a cop car, arms behind her cuffed. She looked smug despite everything.

"Where is he?" His voice was almost a growl but he didn't grab her as she turned and smirked at him.

"Where is who, Agent Burke? I have no idea who you mean." Her manner was cold, eyes briefly flashing towards the water. Peter felt his heart skip as he realized what had happened, running to where her glance had gone and looking over the side. It was early evening so he could see little in the turbulent waters.

"Neal!" He called out looking across the water as he made his way over the chain. He heard someone calling him as he removed his jacket and shoes and jumped in. Peter felt the cool water chill him to the bone but he bobbed back up and took a deep breath as he looked around for any sign of his partner.

"Peter!" Jones called out but he ignored him as he saw something glinting just off shore and started to swim out. Jones was still calling to him as he crossed the distance, muscles burning from using ones he'd long forgotten about but he made it and reached out.

"Neal?" Peter nudged the limp figure as they floated face down along with the tide. It was Neal but he was pale and still as the agent took hold of him and used what energy he had left to pull the young man back to shore. Jones was already reaching over the side with some other officers to help Peter out of the water after he held Neal up.

"Peter, you ok?" Jones helped his boss towards a waiting ambulance but Peter just shrugged him off as he followed Neal's body. The officers who pulled Neal out were unbinding the young man's hands and removing the blindfold, tape and rags. Neal's eyes were partially open but unseeing as Peter stood nearby and watched the paramedics rush over and start CPR.

"Peter..." Jones draped a blanket over his boss' shoulders that a paramedic passed them but Peter's attention was on his partner.

Don't die on me, Neal...

"No pulse or breath yet." He heard the words but he tried not to think about it as he watched them continued to work on Neal. He watched those sightless blue eyes just looking up through slits and wished they had closed them before they started.

"Clear!"

Someone had brought out a defibrillator, Neal's body shuddering as they used it.

"Clear!"

Peter stood there without breathing, not sure what to think as he watched his friend staring skyward.

"No response. He's gone." The paramedics had worked on him for a good 15 minutes, Neal's eyes still staring upward. Peter felt his heart skip a beat as he collapsed to his knees. Someone was talking to him but he heard nothing, his eyes staring at his friend.

He was willing Neal to wake up, to do something when he saw those blue eyes turn and look at him. The paramedic was starting to throw a sheet over Neal but his eyes, they had moved. Peter crawled forward stopping the man from finishing covering the young man.

"His eyes... they moved." His voice was a barely audible whisper, the paramedic looking at him strangely.

"Agent, I'm sorry... he's dead." The paramedic tried to cover Neal again but Peter stopped him.

"I saw his eyes move. Check him again." This time his voice was louder, firmer, the paramedic looking at him oddly but nodding as he reached down to feel for a pulse. His eyes widened.

"I feel a pulse! Hey... can you hear me?" The paramedic was gently shaking Neal who's pale face remained still as a statue, skin the color of alabaster. The paramedic started rescue breathing again when Peter saw Neal's eyes close. Soon after Neal's body twitched and water gurgled from his lips as he gasped for breath.

"He's alive! Bring a gurney over here!"

Peter felt the tension leave his body as he let his breath out and sighed. Jones patted him on the shoulder.

"I'm going with him, Jones." Peter stood shakily, his adrenaline from earlier gone, body shivering slightly from the exertion of swimming as he felt a chill from his wet clothes. Jones nodded, helping him to the ambulance and whispering something to the medics.

"I'll let Elizabeth know where you're at boss."

()()()

Peter held Neal's hand in his as he sat in the back of the ambulance. He was exhausted, eyes partially closed. He opened them and looked down when he felt Neal's hand close around his and squeeze.

"Neal?" He saw the young man's eyes open but a slit, blue eyes looking at him glassily but they were looking at him before they closed once more. Neal's grasp remained firmly attached to his, Peter holding on as the ambulance pulled into the hospital. He held on till they made him let go just out of the OR, shivering in his still damp clothes. Peter didn't move from the spot, eyes staring at the swinging doors long after they stopped.

"Peter? Come sit down." He turned as someone gently touched his shoulder. It was Elizabeth. She had an overnight bag slung over her shoulder as she took his hand and hugged him. How long had he been staring at the door before his wife showed?

"I brought you some dry clothes."

Peter looked at the bag over her shoulder and nodded, a nurse walking over as Elizabeth turned at the sound of footsteps.

"Agent Burke? We have a shower in the staff lounge you can use. Your colleague told us you might need use of it. Let me show you were it is."

Peter looked at his wife and then the nurse again before Elizabeth put her arm around him. They followed after the nurse as they walked down the sterile corridors into a large staff quarters in a less traveled area.

"There are clean towels on the shelf outside the stalls and slippers. All are sterilized daily and put in plastic so pick the size that fits. You can put the used items in the hamper there when you're done. Let me know if you need anything. My name is Jenna." She smiled at the two of them and left the room quietly.

"Honey, let's get you warmed up ok?" Elizabeth spoke softly, helping him undress till he was down to nothing but his tee, boxers and damp socks. Peter stood there shivering a bit more, the hospital a bit chilly but El had already dug around finding him some slippers in his size as she pushed him towards a stall.

"I'll wait for you outside, Peter." She hugged him tight, her warmth making him feel better. He nodded vaguely, El letting go and walking out into the outer part of the staff quarters. Peter felt a chill as his wife let go but he finally pulled off the last few articles of clothing and walked into the shower. The water was lukewarm at first but he managed to get it hotter, the shower invigorating him after a few minutes but a small chill remained as he thought about his partner.

Peter turned the water off, his skin tingling from the hot shower as he grabbed the towel he'd hung over the stall door and started to dry off. He pushed his feet into the slippers as he stepped out, towel wrapped around his waist, another around his shoulders to find Elizabeth had hung his clothes nearby for him to dress. He smiled feeling warm thoughts that he had married a truly incredible person. She took care of him like nobody else. Peter kept smiling as he finished putting on his clothes, placed the wet towels and slippers in the hamper and walked back out into the main area. Elizabeth was curled up on one of the cots, her eyes closed as she slept. He watched her sleeping a moment before sitting down beside her on the edge of the cot and kissing her on the cheek.

"Hey honey... I guess I fell asleep." She sat up and yawned, curling up against him as they sat there in the hospital staff room. A little while later Jenna showed up again and smiled at them.

"Agent Burke, I thought you might want to know your friend was put in a room already. You can go see him if you like. He's still unconscious but doctor says he's just resting. Everything checked out good." She was smiling softly at them both, Peter nodding back with a relieved and thankful glance.

"Thank you for letting me know." Peter stood to shake her hand as did El, Jenna smiling.

"He's in room 210."

()()()

Neal was still sleeping when Peter quietly entered room 210. The young man's face was still somewhat pale, eyes slightly sunken looking but he was otherwise healthy looking. Peter sat down at the chair next to his partner's bedside and just watched the younger man sleeping peacefully. He felt a kind of brotherly protectiveness of Neal as he watched him sleep.

"Honey? How is he?" El had walked in and stood behind him, her arms wrapped around his shoulders. Peter sighed.

"Sleeping. I still... I don't understand what happened. I'm going to end up having to interrogate Bethany and crew to see why they came after him again. He should have been safe at June's." He sighed in frustration, trying to concentrate on Neal getting better but worrying about how all this happened. They shouldn't have found him. Peter turned, looking at his wife with a tragic look as he tried to think what had gone wrong when they heard it.

"Ag... gi..."

Peter blinked as did El as they both turned to see Neal's lips moving ever so slightly. His face was still calm but his eyes had started to flutter softly beneath his closed lids.

"Agg... giiii..."

Neal was speaking, voice just audible. Peter reached to touch his friend's hand. Neal curled his fingers around his, eyes opening slowly, two watery blue orbs staring back at him. He was smiling ever so slightly followed by a slight wince as he closed his eyes again.

"bri...ght. Where... am I?" Neal's voice was raspy but clear, Peter smiling as he patted Neal on the shoulder.

"Hospital. They just brought you in a few hours ago." Peter kept his voice soft noticing the slight nod of Neal's head.

"Head... is throbbing a bit. They... Roth drugged me." His voice cracked a bit as he spoke, Elizabeth moving hurriedly to the side to fill a cup, returning to help Neal drink it. He nodded after he was done and smiled.

"Thanks, El. I think they gave me... the same stuff... as that first day. I feel hung... over." He shifted his weight a bit, El helping him with the pillows so he could sit up a bit, adjusting the bed to a more comfortable angle. Neal smiled thankfully, grasping Peter's hand tighter.

"I figured you'd find me. At least I kept hoping as I floated there. They never noticed the tracker. Not the brightest criminals." He smirked, eyes closing a moment before they opened up again. Peter was chuckling.

"I think that's an understatement and what is this... 3 and 0 although I guess this one doesn't count. You weren't running. But I don't understand how they found out where you were. What happened?" Peter saw his wife looking at him warningly. He was already starting the interrogation but Neal just shook his head.

"It's ok El. I tried to call you Peter but I kept getting your voice mail. Aggie... she came to pick up a friend of June's, her mom. She didn't recognize me but I wasn't sure how long before she would realize I was Alexi. I was going to flush them out by dressing the part but before uhm... well my plans changed when she saw me looking more like Alexi because she came back to June's to get the cell phone she'd dropped. There were messages on it from Roth telling her about a meeting." He tried not to look too guilty as Peter glared a bit but then softened his expression.

"So you didn't go out but what happened with Agent Rogers? I found him tied up and drugged. They said he's going to be ok. Same drug they gave you apparently." Peter waited for Neal to continue, the younger man shifting his weight again, a tired look on his face.

"June and I had a late lunch, I took some food out to Rogers and then I went upstairs. Nothing else happened. June went out for a bit with a friend and I thought I heard someone downstairs. When I went to check I found Rogers' tied up and out of it. Someone snuck up behind me and stuck me with something sharp, grabbing me. It was Roth. He bound me and I saw Bethany. She was there along with a couple of others I wasn't sure of. The drug worked quickly. I remember being blindfolded and then pushed into the trunk of their car. They pulled me out some time later and dropped me in to the river. I guess my tracker had gone off by then because I heard the sirens coming right around the time I passed out. I have to say your response time is quick." He was grinning ever so slightly, Peter smirking this time.

"You bet it is with a cunning criminal like yourself. I had to make sure they knew you weren't running after I found Rogers. Told them you'd been taken when I got the call and to use minimal force. I'm glad you're ok." He mussed Neal's hair affectionately, the younger man yawning now, eyes looking a bit sleepy.

"Hey... if I weren't so wore out, I'd claim assault by a Federal Agent but since you saved me..." He didn't finish his sentence as his eyes closed and head slumped to one side. His hand went slack in Peter's but was still tight enough to hold on. Peter smiled.

"We should let him rest, Peter. You need some rest too, it's late." She walked around and brushed a few strands from the young man's face before planting a gentle kiss on his forehead.

"Rest well, Neal. We're glad you're back." She waited for Peter to say his good-byes and they left quietly.

()()()

The next day the doctor said that Neal was ok to go home. Far as they could tell he had no lasting effects from the drug or his long dunk in the water. All the tests came back negative so he was good to go home but would need to rest a few days. Peter picked his partner up and gave him a ride to June's, the older woman so glad to see Neal doing better. She felt it had been her fault what happened but Neal had insured her it wasn't anything that could have been prevented. She couldn't have known her friend's daughter was involved with his current case.

A week past after the incident and Peter came to pick up Neal for work. He let his partner know that Bethany and company had been prosecuted and placed in prison for at least a 20 year sentence based on the attempted murder of a Federal employee and stealing corporate secrets with intent of selling them across borders illegally. It was during the hearing that they discovered how Bethany had found out Neal was not Alexi. She was looking at a particular photo the real Corsavon had sent her of a French bakery when she noticed a slight reflection. On closer inspection she discovered it was Alexi's real face. That's when she had made the plan to kill Neal not knowing he was a Federal employee but wanting him gone for being a fraud. That insight had relieved Peter and Hughes knowing that nobody had leaked info and Neal had not somehow given himself away which had been impossible with all the precautions taken.

It was lucky that Neal did not have to go to the hearing mostly to keep his cover and partially for his recuperation. Peter had gone in his stead with Hughes telling what had happened and what part they had all played in the operation. Neal looked relieved on the results as he sat in the car and listened to the news.

"Thanks Peter. I don't think I would have been able to stand in that hearing and dealt with the looks from that group, especially Bethany. She was a little too much for my liking." He leaned back in the seat with his fedora pushed over his eyes. He looked sleepy despite having had a whole week to heal and rest. It had been a long couple of months for the consultant but he had insisted on coming back to work, the cabin fever driving him nuts after being indoors previously. Peter understood all too well getting Hughes permission to bring him back.

"You know... we're not going to be putting you out on the hook for a while. It will be case files for you till Hughes feels secure again. He's still bad mouthing the highers up for what they did to you. I told him to put in a couple of choice words for me." Peter's expression was grim but relieved that his partner had pulled through. Neal nodded back with a slight smirk.

"Well I'm not too anxious to meet that early bird again although case files might make me want to change my mind. We can't do something a little more exciting? I was cooped up for weeks, Peter." His tone was petulant and just a little childish, blue eyes making a puppy dog look. Peter laughed.

"The worm wants to make his own terms to the fisherman? Besides, it's the higher ups that consider you bait. I prefer the term partner and sometimes performer in arms although I know you hate guns." Peter was being honest, Neal sitting up and smiling back.

"So I guess you're the rod and reel always there to pull my ass out of the proverbial lake if the fish start biting?" His blue eyes were flashing gleefully as Peter sighed and grinned back.

"Yup... just call me the Petemaster 2000."

Neal just blinked back at his partner, blue eyes still twinkling.

"Sounds a little like something you'd buy on one of those late night infomercials. Only three payments of $19.99 and if you order in the next 10 minutes you get the Nickmeister chameleon lure..." He didn't get to finish as he saw the glare from his partner.

"Hey you're the one calling yourself Petemaster. I was just commenting." Neal couldn't stifle his laugh, Peter sighing.

"Nickmeister chameleon lure... sounds like a questionable buy. Does it have any special qualities?"

"Of course..."

"Hmmm... all that for three payments of $19.99, I think I'd have to call the FTC on you or the Better Business bureau. That would be one expensive rod."

Neal was grinning now, Peter confused until he realized what his partner was laughing about.

"You know what I meant. Grow up, Neal. We're here. You ready for work?" Peter parked both men exiting the vehicle and walking towards the elevator.

"You bet Pete... master." Neal was grinning again, Peter sighing as he pushed their floor and the doors closed.

"Don't you dare repeat that upstairs. I don't think you want that 2 mile radius to shrink to 5 feet do you?"

(The End)