(Chapter 11)

Friscinetti stood in the doorway. The mobster had a gas mask on, the same two men as before behind him also with masks. Peter stood up, looking at the man with just a hint of fear he pushed away. He had to stand up and keep the man occupied while Jones and crew came to the rescue. He hoped they were close for Neal's sake.

"I figured nobody had managed to get rid of you thus far, and while your Fed friends are outside and confused by the idea of fire, I would take care of this myself." The mobster smiled, his white teeth glittering despite the smoke filling the room. His eyes gleamed with a maniacal excitement, Peter more attentive to the gun in the man's hand than any expression on his face. The mobster continued to smile.

"Shall we go? I know a way out where nobody will bother us." Friscinetti waved the gun, his two men moving forward with their own pistols, one grasping Peter before he could react and the other grabbing up Neal in a fireman's carry as they moved out. The agent looked back briefly at the still form on the floor of Henricks with regret, blinking when he saw a brief shudder from the man's face, eyes looking up at him then acting dead when the henchmen looked his way. Peter deftly dropped his phone next to the agent when nobody was looking before they left the room and the supposedly dead Henricks.

Friscinetti and his men forced Peter forward past Erickson's office and into an adjoining room where Peter saw what looked like an opening in the floor of the room to an old maintenance tunnel. He turned to look at the mobster curiously when he saw a still form in the corner slumped in a chair. It was Erickson, eyes staring up at the ceiling without seeing. That was one last person he had to worry about catching.

"Move already!" The henchman with the gun on him pushed Peter forward almost pitching him head first down the narrow hole. Peter caught himself and started down the ladder as quickly as he could only complying because they had Neal. The first henchman followed him down, gun in hand and pointed at him as he descended. Peter moved aside, hands up and in the open.

"Catch your friend when they pass him down!" The man kept waving the gun as Peter climbed up a few rungs to wait for Friscinetti and the other man to lower his partner into the tunnel. Neal felt lighter than he should, his body limp and nearly lifeless. Peter cringed at the coolness of the younger man's skin and naturally felt for a pulse. What he felt was weak but Neal was alive and kicking, his breath shallow with a slight wheeze. He wasn't going to last long unless he got to a hospital and fast.

"You'll be carrying him the rest of the way, Agent Burke." Friscinetti hissed as they moved on, the three mobsters having removed their masks, tossing them aside as the hole was sealed back up. The mobster led the way with the two henchmen behind and Peter carrying Neal in the middle. The man started to speak, his manner like a pompous college prof and just as annoying.

"These tunnels were built over in the eighties and forgotten after the wiring and telephones for the building were updated. I found plans for them some time ago when trying to get back at another agent who investigated me. They always seemed to bring them here so I hired my own psychiatrist to infiltrate the place and make sure everyone who was brought to this safe house was far from safe. It worked out till he got greedy. Erickson won't be bothering anyone anymore although I am more than aware what it is that he did to you, Agent Burke." Friscinetti smiled coldly as he turned and looked at Peter briefly, his eyes sparkling in the dim lighting of the tunnel. Neal slumped against Peter's shoulder as he carried his partner and tried to keep up with the mobster. He may have been given a clean bill of health from the late Dr. Jacobs, but Peter had been far from well. He still had no idea what Erickson had done to him if anything, his memory still fuzzy. It didn't help Friscinetti knew of his vulnerabilities.

"We stop here." The mobster made a motion and Peter felt one of the henchmen grab his arm and the other pull Neal from him. He made a move towards his partner and friend when the henchman hit him hard across the back of the head, the blow stunning him as he collapsed to the ground. He was lifted back up to his feet, his wrists pulled back behind him, cuffed and then up as they hooked on a ring on the wall. He was dangling, feet barely touching the ground as he gazed with blurry vision at movement in the dimly lit tunnel. He saw they were in a kind of way area, a door with a wheel hatch to his left. He saw the two men drag Neal over to the opposite wall and do the same thing, hanging him from his wrists on another ring.

"Let him go... please!" He heard himself beg, something he thought he would ever do but Neal was hurting, blood already showing where his make-shift stitches were tearing from the pull on his shoulder and wrist. He watched as one of the henchmen pulled out a small syringe filled with something yellowish and tapped the needle. They were going to jack him up with that drug again. The bastards were going to kill Neal this time if they did, Dr. Jacobs and his cure no longer available. He struggled against the cuffs but one of the goons walked over and pushed their gun against his temple, gun cocked.

"Kill me if you want but let him go. Don't do this. Please? If you have to put it in someone... let me take it. He's suffered enough!" Peter didn't know why he was begging. He didn't want to die or leave Elizabeth but he couldn't let them hurt Neal anymore. It was his fault this happened. His investigation that caused it all to happen, even the kidnapping of his wife by Neal. If anyone was going to pay, it should be him. He saw the man pause and look at Friscinetti, the mobster smiling and nodding.

"I knew we could convince you at some point to volunteer. That's all I wanted, Agent Burke." The man kept smiling, one hand gently caressing Neal's hair as if he were a favorite pet. Peter growled at the man but stopped when both henchmen held him still and the needle moved closer to his neck. He had to comply for Neal's sake.

"Such a potent spot to place my drug. This version is much purer. You'll feel a whole new respect for me after you take it. You may even think I'm God." The man laughed, nothing but chills from it coursing up and down Peter's spine. He didn't want to do this but if he had to... For Neal's sake. He felt the needle start to prick his skin, pushing deeper into his neck and into a vein when the pressure lessened and the man suddenly slumped to the ground. Peter was confused for a second, looking at the small red stain appearing on the man's chest. Friscinetti looked confused as well, turning to look and see where the shot at come from.

"Don't even think about it, Friscinetti. I've already contacted the Feds outside. They're coming up through that door. You're trapped!" Henricks' voice was firm as he suddenly appeared in the dimly lit tunnel, pistol in his hand. He looked a bit pained, a red stain on his shoulder where he had been hit earlier.

"I guess you wanted Erickson to look like a suicide but leaving a gun with a silencer by a body was foolhardy. You ok, Burke?" The younger agent asked seeing the henchman that was left still holding a gun on him. Peter nodded as best he could, his eyes moving from the agent to the mobster and Neal, Friscinetti holding his own gun to Neal's chin.

"You'll have to make a choice, Agent. Do you save the Fed who has a fantastic record with awards and several years of service or do you sacrifice his pet con? Either way you'll be making a mistake and you might even lose both." The mobster laughed, gun cocking dangerously. Peter struggled despite the gun against his temple.


Just an hour ago, Neal lay mostly unconscious on the sofa in Peter's hospital room at the FBI clinic. He could hear the occasional voice, tuning into Peter's when he could as he tried to wake up, the head wound and his previous injuries making that impossible. He dealt with the bit of consciousness he could muster, listening despite his helplessness. He heard the door shut and then lock, someone walking towards him but he knew he had heard Peter leave so who was still here?

Neal heard an unfamiliar voice speak to him and then rough hands flip him enough that he felt cold metal against his wrists as his arms were pulled uncomfortably behind him, cuffs tightened and clicked into place. He heard the figure talking, catching a word or two and knowing he was in danger.

Peter? Peter help!

He couldn't speak, his body still mostly unresponsive but trying his best to wake up so he could at least see who it was that meant him harm. His eyes fluttered open ever so slowly, widening when he saw the flash of metal coming towards him. He managed to duck and roll off the sofa out of the way, the man missing him by inches as the sharp metal stuck into the couch where he had only just seconds before lay. Neal breathed hard, looking up from the floor where the man hunched over him, pulling the metallic item out of the sofa and looked down at him with a manic gleam.

"I don't want to do this but he has her! I can't fail or she's dead!" The man, dark blond hair almost brown with golden highlights falling over his face as he moved around glared down at Neal, brown eyes flashing with desperation. Neal scooted back, away from the man trying his best to free himself of the cuffs so he could defend himself against the figure. He opened his mouth, lips and throat dry not just from fear.

"Who is it... they have?" He hoped he could stall long enough to get at least one wrist free then he could get away. The man seemed to pause long enough to think, hand held up ready to stab him in the heart if not the head. Neal swallowed hard hoping for more time.

"My wife... Erickson took her. He has her somewhere and I don't know where. Friscinetti is playing all his cards now. He wants you both dead and I said I would take care of you. That would make your agent friend easier to control. I'm sorry... but I can't lose her!"

Neal looked at the man, that desperation in his eyes but he was far from reasonable and if he had to kill him, he was going to kill him. He felt the cuff give and pulled his arm free as the scalpel came down cutting at his wrist. Neal winced as he felt the blade push through his arm then pull out. He did what he could to keep the man from stabbing him again, kicking at his knee till the man fell back away from him with a cry of pain. Neal stumbled to his feet but the man had already recovered and jumped him, slamming him to the floor hard. Neal twisted around so he could see better, pushing at the agent but without success. His hands wrapped around something cold and metallic near the man's waist, grasping the object in a hope it would defend him. Neal cried out when the scalpel stabbed into his shoulder, the man twisting it.

"I won't let you go if it means she lives!" Allard screamed, pulling the scalpel out, one arm pushed hard across Neal's throat choking him as he used his other hand to raise the blade for one final blow. Neal felt the metal item in his hand and wrapped his fingers around it tightly, the item making a soft click as he pulled back on it and sound exploded. Allard's face went calm a moment, the scalpel falling from his hands as he collapsed next to the wounded consultant. Neal pulled himself away as much as he could, gun still in hand. He was shaking, the man staring blankly up at him.

Neal had shot someone but he had to didn't he?

The thought raced through his mind with half a million others that made him stare at the dead man as he went into a state of shock. He was paralyzed till he felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Peter there.

Peter? What...

He couldn't finish the thought trying to come to terms with what had happened. He was tired, so very tired suddenly and he couldn't keep his eyes open. Another man held a gun now, the gun he had shot the other agent with. If he was killed it would be over wouldn't it? He didn't care, he just wanted to close his eyes. Peter stood blocking him from the man with the gun, eyes fluttering closed as he collapsed and passed out.

It seemed forever he lay in darkness till he felt a pain, his body aching again. His breath labored as he tried to fight back the agony of his body but he was waking up, slowly but he was coming back to consciousness.

"You'll have to make a choice, Agent. Do you save the Fed who has a fantastic record with awards and several years of service or do you sacrifice his pet con? Either way you'll be making a mistake and you might even lose both."

That voice sounded familiar, something cool pressed up against his chin. His eyes fluttered open to reveal a dimly lit scene that made him think of the movie Das Boot and being inside a submarine or the bowels of a ship. Neal didn't move his head but his still unfocused eyes took in figures moving around him, one in particular seemed more familiar as his vision cleared.


The thought gave him some comfort before the pain and blood loss overcame him, his system stressed to the limit as all of it came to fruition and he turned his head to the right and threw up. Someone cursed, the metallic object pressed against his chin pulled quickly away and the sound of a gun going off not too soon after apparent in the small space. The sound echoed loudly off the metal walls making his head hurt as he threw up again, his body reacting to everything as he slumped forward, eyes starting to close again.

"Neal... Neal! Check on him, Henricks. Neal!"

Peter was yelling, Neal feeling his stomach churning despite the feeling of unconsciousness coming over him. He slumped against his bindings, feeling someone catch him when they were loosened. His eyes fluttered open a moment to see Peter there.

"Neal? Neal... Help me with him."

Neal closed his eyes again, feeling tired but hearing movement around him, loud footsteps echoing around and voices shouting. Then blessed darkness.


Neal woke up to a feeling of being hung over. His head throbbed, body ached and his stomach churned ever so little as his eyes fluttered open and glanced up at the boring white ceiling above. His eyes blinked a few times before they moved downwards to his right and then around the room to his left slowly before stopping at a door.

He was in a hospital room, he knew that much but where? Was it that same clinic? Had it all been a big nightmare? His stomach churned again, a gurgling sound audible as he glanced around for some solace from his nausea. He started to try and slide out of bed, pushing the metal bar to his left down with some effort as he reached for a small wastebasket on the floor and vomited. The monitors were beeping a bit louder than they should be, one IV pulling taut against the needle in his arm painfully as he collapsed to the floor by the trashcan and curled up.

"I'm here now... Yes El. I'll see you later. Say hi to June for me. Yes I have the bag. Love you too." Peter hung up the cell as he walked down the hallway, heading for Neal's room at the hospital. He saw the agent missing outside when he showed and had a moment of fear only calming when he saw the agent returning with a cup of coffee. The man nodded at him in recognition.

"Agent Burke, sir." The man remained standing, placing the coffee on his seat. Peter smiled, motioning for the man to relax.

"Just here to see my partner. I guess it's been quiet?" He hoped to hear that was the case, the agent nodding.

"Yes sir." The man didn't say much, he was a younger agent but capable if they had him here. Peter nodded back and headed inside the room seeing the empty bed as the door shut with a quiet click behind him. A cold feeling washed over him till Peter heard the cough from below and looked down to see a figure on the floor curled up around a waste paper basket.

"Neal? Hey buddy..." Peter was immediately at his friend's side, crouched beside him and crinkling his nose as he realized why Neal was on the floor. He took the trashcan and moved it aside, checking his friend's forehead. Neal didn't have a fever but he was warm and sweaty, skin pale with a flush of his cheeks. Peter gently removed the monitors and IVs as he helped the young man up to his feet slowly. He took him into the bathroom and sat him on the stool in the shower as he ran the water and gently splashed water on the young man's face, grabbing a cup and helping him rinse his mouth out. Once Neal looked like he was feeling better, Peter led his sick friend back out to the main room and eased him back into the bed.

The young man slumped back against the mattress and pillows, eyes closed, breath raspy. Peter reached across and pushed the nurse call wondering why they hadn't already shown up with all the monitors disconnected. He had barely finished doing so when Neal's hand grasped his arm tightly, blue eyes open a crack and looking up at him. Peter gently took the young man's hand in his own, taking it from his arm as carefully as he could.

"Hey... are you feeling better?" He continued to hold his friend's hand, Neal grasping it tightly and nodding after a moment.

"You gave me a scare there when I walked in. I thought something had happened. I guess your stomach is still a bit upset." Peter patted the younger man gently on the head, brushing a hair from his face. Neal closed his eyes, hand starting to let go then clinging again, eyes open wide.

"What is it? I'm right here, Neal." Peter pulled the chair over with his free hand and sat down, their hands still entwined. Neal looked at him curiously, lips parting as he tried to speak but instead coughed.

"Did you want a drink of water?" Peter moved towards the bathroom again but felt his partner grasp his hand tighter keeping him in place.

"N...o." Neal's voice was raspy and quiet but he had spoken. Peter smiled.

"Just take your time." He watched Neal nod as he cleared his throat with a wet cough and then tried again.

"Fris... ci... netti..." He started to cough again, Peter looking around and finally seeing the door open as a head peeked in and a nurse showed.

"I'm sorry for the delay. How is he doing?" She was about to ask more when she saw Neal wasn't hooked up to the monitors anymore and frowned. Peter blushed slightly.

"I came in and he was on the floor sick." He pointed at the trashcan and then continued.

"I unhooked everything to take him to the bathroom. Couldn't wait." He gave her a helpless shrug which she nodded at with an understanding smile.

"Our fault. We just had a change over of staff for the new shift and just got your alert. I apologize. Let me check him over. Mr. Caffrey, wasn't it?" She looked at him with a soft smile and Neal nodded tiredly back as she took his free hand in hers and touched his wrist as she looked at her watch. She nodded.

"Your pulse is good, if not a bit fast but that might be from the illness." She touched his forehead and smiled again.

"No fever... Breath sounds a bit ragged though. How do you feel?" She had pulled out a stethoscope and was listening to his chest, gently moving him forward with Peter's help to listen to his lungs from the back before letting him lie back again.

"Little congested sounding but probably just the cold you came in with. I'll put you back on that drip of antibiotics. You're doing so much better. I'll bring you something back for your stomach." She smiled brightly at him and Peter, promptly and very delicately returning the monitors and IV connections. Once she was done, she left them alone again, Peter sitting back down.

"Friscinetti is in the hospital. He was shot although not life threatening." Peter threw that out there seeing Neal blink back at him then start to open his mouth to speak. A tightness filled the agent's chest when he thought about how close he had come to losing the young man.

"How?" Neal said nothing else, cough a bit after he spoke but holding up a hand when Peter looked worried.

"Well..." Peter flushed a bit, his face holding some emotion back that soon broke into a light chuckle that confused the younger man. It took a moment but Peter finally stopped laughing.

"I'm sorry but uhm... you stopped him and Henricks got a shot in before he could do anything. His gon gave up pretty quickly after that, but then you made everyone want to give up." Peter sighed, his lips still stuck in a small smirk. Neal was confused.

"I don't recall doing anything. What could I have done? I remember being semi-conscious and throwing up." Neal tried to think what else could have happened, the smirk on Peter's face growing.

"Sorry... yeah, you threw up but you did it on Friscinetti. He pulled his gun away long enough for Henricks to shoot him and the other guy holding me gave up immediately. Cowarded out. He's in jail waiting for the trial. He and his boss are going away for some time." Peter was smiling broadly now, Neal blinking at the revelation.

"I threw up on Friscinetti?" He tried to recall that and thought about the metal that had been pushed against his chin. A gun! He shivered a moment but then the irony of the situation hit him. He vomited on the mobster who was grossed out enough he was apprehended. A grin started to form on his face, Peter nodding.

"Wow... who would have thought tossing my cookies would have made me a hero." Neal was sounding a bit better now, humor lacing his voice as he spoke. Peter grinned with a slight arch of his brow.

"Yeah... well you grossed us all out. It was totally unexpected but enough of a distraction to get at Friscinetti. He was whining about it all the way out. You ruined a nice suit apparently." He patted the younger man on the shoulder careful of his wound. Neal smiled up, yawning slightly as he started to feel worn out again.

"How long have I been here? You look better. Allard said Erickson did something to you." He sounded worried despite the yawn that followed, his energy starting to wane. Peter nodded.

"Three almost four days. And... yeah, post hypnotic suggestion courtesy of Erickson. Friscinetti really wanted to screw with both of us but apparently long term for me. My new 'shrink' says I should be ok in a few weeks. It takes some time to dismantle those kinds of things as intricately woven as they were by Erickson. He's dead." His voice went serious a moment, Neal blinking again more from surprise than sleepiness.

"Friscinetti wasn't taking any chances was he? I saw Dr. Jacobs. He didn't deserve what happened. I..." Neal paused thinking back to what he had done to El when he took her hostage. He'd hurt both of his friends and wondered how Peter could forgive him and talk to him as if nothing had happened. He turned his head away a moment, hiding the shame he suddenly felt as he remembered everything. Peter touched his shoulder but he didn't turn back.

"Hey... Neal what's the matter? You ok?" He sounded concerned, Neal turning with watery blue eyes averted.

"I was remembering... what I had done. If you want to throw me back into prison... I'll understand." Neal felt guilt suddenly eating at him as it all flooded back, his head hurting in the process. Perhaps he was still withdrawing from those drugs. He didn't know for certain, his eyes turned aside.

"Prison? Why would I... oh. Neal... I was hoping you wouldn't remember that." Peter sighed, running a hand through his hair and patting his friend on the arm.

"El understood and Mozzie explained it to me. You were... coerced. I knew it after I saw the surveillance tapes. After the higher ups found out about Allard's involvement in trying to kill the both of us, and Friscinetti's man told us where to find the agent's wife, they decided to reconsider what happened. Hughes threw in his two cents along with Diana and Jones. Your status is good. June's just waiting for you to come back home when you're better. Ok?" Peter made his tone firm as if to say, that's all there is to say on the subject. Neal nodded with a relieved smile.

"Thanks." Neal still didn't seem like he was over what he had done but for now he would just deal. He was stuck in the hospital a while longer. Both men turned when the nurse showed up again, a bottle of something in her hand.

"For your stomach, Mr. Caffrey." She grabbed a disposable cup from the dispenser in the corner and poured some of the nasty blue gray liquid into the cup and handed it to Neal who glanced at it with a slight scowl. Peter made the same look knowing what that was and not envying his friend for having to take it.

"Do I have to? It looks... worse than I feel." Neal continued to look at the liquid, swirling it in the small cup, the nurse nodding.

"Either that or a feeding tube and that's going to be uncomfortable with you being awake." She arched a brow at him and Neal finally nodded, holding his nose and chugging the liquid with a crinkle of his nose, face twisted into a scowl.

"That wasn't so bad was it?" She patted him on the arm and took the cup back, offering him another full of water. Neal drank it up asking for more when the taste just wouldn't leave. Peter watched quietly glad it wasn't him drinking that gunk.

"When you're feeling better, there's food. Just push the nurse call." The nurse smiled and left the two men again, Peter smiling at Neal in understanding.

"Stomach any better, Neal?" Peter stood and stretched a moment as he waited for a reply. Neal shrugged.

"Not churning quite so much but not sure this stuff helped. Makes me think I'm drinking a cup of liquid chalk. Color isn't very appetizing either. How much longer did they say I have to stay here?" Neal was pleading now, his blue eyes turning to puppy eyes as he asked. Peter crossed his arms over his chest.

"They said you're doing well with the withdrawal but you still have the other injuries to heal from. Doctor's call at this point. Just rest. You've been through a lot. I'm on administrative leave till they finish the investigation and get me re-evaluated as well." Peter sighed on the last part, leaning back in the chair and closing his eyes a moment. Neal reached over and touched him on the arm. Peter looked at his friend, a silent moment of understanding passing between them.

"It'll be ok." Peter left it at that, wishing he felt the way he said it.


Two more weeks passed, Neal having been let out a six days after he had been admitted. Once the doctors determined he had gotten over the worse of his injuries and showed no more signs of reacting to Friscinetti's designer drug, he was released. They attributed his blood loss to helping in his treatment, most of the drug leaving his system when he had bled out.

Due to the circumstances behind their involvement with the Friscinetti case, Neal and Peter's comments were taken out of court, more than enough proof to send the man away.

Neal was in his apartment at June's, lounging on the chaise on the patio. He had kept to himself for the past few days, still feeling the effects of the drug despite it not being in his system. He still felt guilt at what happened with Elizabeth, avoiding her and Peter to some extent. He barely left the apartment except for the occasional walk to the park where he promptly turned around the other day to head back home when Mozzie appeared. He just wanted to be alone to think about stuff, so here he was on the terrace, eyes closed as he leaned back and tried to forget.


He opened his eyes when June's voice carried across the room. He wiped the sleep from them, turning to look at his landlady and friend with a smile.

"Hey June... Anything wrong?" He felt a bit awkward since he'd been alone for so many days. She shook her head and walked across the room and sat beside him on the chaise.

"Just checking up on you. How are you feeling, Neal? I know something's been bothering you." She held up a hand when he made to protest, quieting him.

"I have some guests coming for dinner tonight. I want you to get cleaned up and come downstairs and meet them." She was asking but not asking, her manner strangely firm which made him nod after a moment and smile.

"If you're going to twist my arm about it." He smirked, chuckling as she pinched his cheek in a motherly manner.

"Well, you need to be out and about. Mozzie's been asking why you're avoiding him..." Her voice trailed off, his mouth opening to say something to redirect but then closing before he could start. She was right: He had been avoiding contact with those he was close to since he'd been released. He was still worried about what he had put Elizabeth through and the fact he had shot a man, even if it had been in self-defense. Peter had assured him Hughes had squared everything with the higher ups but the incidents still haunted him. He felt a gentle squeeze of his shoulder and looked to see June watching him curiously.

"When are your friends coming over?"


Neal was putting on the finishing touches on his clothes, pulling on a nice sky blue skinny silk tie with dark blue stripes accented in white around the collar of his beige button up shirt. Everything was perfect as he slipped last of all into his navy jacket over shiny black pants and even shinier patent leather black Italian loafers. He kept looking at himself in the mirror, unsure he wanted to go downstairs. He felt guilty for having avoided his own friends and now he was going to talk to strangers he didn't know but at least they weren't aware of his current situation. He could do some simple polite chitchat without worrying about looks of pity or knowing glances. No guilt.

Neal sighed as he finally felt ready to go downstairs and grabbed up one of his favorite hats. June had been the best of benefactors to him and a great friend. It was the least he could do but meet her friends if she asked. In fact he felt honored she liked to introduce him as if he was a son. He felt a slight flush come to his cheeks, waiting for it to leave before he donned on his most charming smile and headed out the door. He slowly made his way down the short hallway and towards the stairs, stepping down quietly. Low voices spoke from nearby, murmurs from the dining room as he reached the bottom, made one last adjustment to his attitude to be charming and turned to head towards them.

"He should be coming down any... there he is. Neal... I'm glad you could make it." June was smiling graciously, a little smirk on her lips as she saw Neal's expression.

"I don't know if you remember my friends, The Burkes. They came for dinner."

Neal felt his smile almost break a moment as he saw Elizabeth and Peter sitting at the table with a glass of wine smiling back at him. Peter stood up and reached a hand over as if they were just meeting, a wink as he did so.

"Peter Burke, nice to meet you Neal. June's told us so many nice things about you."

Neal just nodded with his mask of charm on, unsure how to react but going with the flow as he smiled back and nodded. He was still too dumb to react verbally, El standing up and holding out her hand as well.

"So this is the infamous Neal Caffrey. I thought you were making him up, June. So nice to meet you finally." She winked playfully at him, giving him a half hug across the table then letting go. Neal still felt too awestruck to say much, June patting him on the shoulder as she turned him towards her other guest.

"I don't believe you've met my friend, Mr. Haversham. He's almost as elusive as you are, Neal." She moved aside as Mozzie stood with a funny little grin and held out his hand almost nervously.

"Charmed, I'm sure. June told me you're a fan of art and wine. Two of my favorite things. I think we'll be fast friends." He almost sounded serious if not for looking over at the others as if unsure what he was supposed to be doing with this charade. Neal could sense his friend's uncertainty, feeling a bit surprised by everyone being there after so many days alone. Suddenly, he started to laugh, closing his eyes and just feeling all the stress drain away. Someone touched his shoulder and he opened his eyes to see Peter there.

"So, I heard you're a consultant. I've been looking for someone to help me on some cases here in the New York office. Interested?"

(The End)