(Chapter 9)

He was dreaming, face twitching, body shifting in the hospital bed ever so slightly. Everything was dark and silent but for the sharp click of a gun being cocked back. He heard the slide of the wheel in the darkness and someone laughing menacingly. It was all he could do to back away, unable to see where he was or where the sound came from as the laughter echoed in the background from every direction.

Why are you doing this? He thought, as he felt around blindly. He tripped over something, falling hard to the ground, the sound of the wheel spinning ever so clearly near his ear. He felt breath there, a familiar fear washing over him as his invisible assailant continued to play with his fears.

Just end it now.

Peter felt helpless. He closed his eyes tightly in the darkness wanting it all to stop when he heard another sound in the background. It took him a moment but then he knew what it was and a kind of relief came over as he listened to the soft rhythmic tapping and slowly fell out of the nightmare and into dreamless darkness.

()()()

It was later that same day after El had left him to rest that he woke up, thinking about his nightmare and glancing to his right to find his wife now asleep on the sofa by the window. He watched her a moment before he heard the door open to his left and turned to see Dr. Jenkins standing there. He started to speak but Peter held up a hand, pointing at his sleeping wife. The doctor nodded and moved over, speaking quietly.

"If you wish to see your partner, I have a wheelchair ready for you. Just call the nurse." Dr. Jenkins was smiling, his manner calm and comfortable as Peter nodded, whispering back. They shook hands.

"Is Neal ok? My wife said she saw him earlier. I hadn't told her that he almost didn't make it. He stopped breathing before the paramedics came but one of my agents brought him back." Peter sighed tiredly, running a hand through his hair as he turned his attention back to his sleeping wife. He was lucky to have Elizabeth but who did Neal have? Was his friendships enough to keep him going? He saw the doctor nodding his head in a comforting manner.

"He's fine. His fever has gone down considerably since yesterday. I think he'll be alright. He seemed to react better once your wife and your friend June visited. His body is fighting the infection from the gunshot wound. I'm glad I was able to help figure out who it was had you. Your agents contacted me. I was the one who recognized Jordan." The doctor looked a bit upset about that last part but Peter nodded, giving him his attention again.

"You knew Jordan Saunders? I didn't even know he existed before this. I put his cousin Gregory away. How did you know him?" Peter was looking at the doctor curiously, Jenkins sighing.

"He was an intern here for a short time but it didn't work out. He did everything you shouldn't do if you wanted to be a doctor. It was one of his fellow interns, now a resident here, that reminded me of him and knew of that warehouse you were found in. I passed the information along to Agent Jones. I'm just glad I was able to help. Saunders would have gone on to do far worse than this if he'd been given half a chance." Jenkins looks haunted by the thought of what could have happened.

"It's over now. Let's leave it at that."

Both men turned to see Elizabeth sitting up and stretching a bit, her eyes still heavy with sleep. She stood and walked over, shaking hands with the doctor and hugging her husband.

"Sorry, I've been awake for a while. I didn't mean to interrupt but there's really nothing else to be said." She seemed to know Peter was still remembering the incident even if she didn't have all the details. El brushed at his hair soothing him. Dr. Jenkins repeated what he said about the wheelchair and visiting Neal, leaving them alone after their good-byes. Peter pulled his wife closer and held her tight.

"Thank you El for always being there." He kissed her and she squeezed his cheek afterwards.

"Where else would I be, silly?" She gently tapped his nose with her index finger before continuing.

"So... should we get you ready to visit with Neal?"

()()()

Neal looked pale, his skin still ashy and wan. His cheeks and eyes, although closed, seemed rather sunken in, one arm in a sling. Peter wanted to stand but he remained seated as Elizabeth and the nurse rolled him up to the bedside. The nurse checked a few monitors before leaving them alone with the unconscious young man. Elizabeth walked over and planted a small kiss on the younger man's forehead, brushing his hair aside as one of her hands held her husband's then helped him move to the chair by the bed so he could visit. Peter looked uncomfortable if anything at seeing his partner so fragile. He took the younger man's right hand in his own. Neal's fingers were limp in his, partially bandaged from being dislocated, his skin cool to the touch though not as icy as they had been at the warehouse.

"Peter, talk to him. Let him know you're here." She hugged him as she whispered just loud enough to be heard.

"We're here, Neal. Wake up soon." She squeezed his arm gently before leaving Peter alone with his partner, the door closing quietly behind her. He didn't know what to say. He wanted to say Thank You if nothing else but he wasn't very comfortable with expressing emotions. He was a guy. Neal understood that more than anyone. He sighed, thinking about everything.

"I know I don't tell you enough, Neal..." His voice cracked a bit, his eyes averted to the floor as he tried to think of what to say.

"You're much more than just my charge. You've... well... El likes you and Jones thinks you're a cool guy." His voice trailed off a bit as he continued to fight with his emotions he rarely revealed.

"Neal, Thank you... for having my back. Just know I'm here for you. You're not alone." Peter wiped at his eyes, a wet warmth there as he turned to look at his unconscious friend. He blinked as two pale blue eyes glanced back at him through partially open lids. Peter was stunned into speechlessness, his surprise showing. A ghost of a smile formed on Neal's face.

"Ca...t got... yo... ur... ton...gue?" Neal rasped with a faint grin, eyes still opened just a slit. He sounded tired but there was a slight hint of that mischievous glint Neal always had. Peter rolled his eyes, smirking a bit.

"If you're the cat, you probably fenced it through Alex by now. How are you feeling?" Peter watched his friend shifted slightly, Neal closing his eyes and giving a tiny wince of pain but not really complaining.

"Like... some... one... use...d me... as a... tram... po... line." He smirked, eyes open again and slightly wider. Neal's eyes looked watery, more with tears from pain than emotion he thought. Peter stood and hobbled around the bed to push the nurse call. Neal was breathing hard, his face flushed with the effort from speaking.

"Maybe we can get them to give you something that works. You hurting?" Peter felt worry as he lay a hand on his friend's forehead. It still felt fairly warm to slightly hot. Neal shrugged weakly away.

"I'm... o... k... Pe... ter." Neal rasped, his face redder. Peter noticed the younger man seemed to be having trouble breathing. He took his right hand in his and held it, Neal squeezing it tight.

"Pe... ter?" Neal was wheezing some now, his hand squeezing tighter as he seemed to fight to breathe. Peter shushed him gently but he went on, his wheezing becoming a whistle.

"Relax, Neal. Look, the nurse is here." Peter turned as she took in what was happening, grabbing a bottle of oxygen from a nearby cabinet and a mask, connecting both and bringing it up. Peter moved out of her way, standing on the opposite side of the bed.

"Breath in calm and slow, Mr. Caffrey. That's it." The nurse held the mask over his face, the strap hanging under his chin. A hissing sound something like Darth Vader's breathing could be heard as Neal breathed in and out till it started to hush some, his breathing beginning to relax. Dr. Jenkins showed up not too soon after, looking at the scene as everyone turned their eyes to see who had entered.

"Having some problems breathing, Mr. Caffrey? Nurse." He gave her a slight nod and she pulled the canister aside so the doctor could get closer, his hands drawing the stethoscope around his neck. The nurse gently opened Neal's shirt so the doctor could push the stethoscope against his chest.

"Breath in for me and hold it... now let it out. Again..." The doctor asked this several times as Peter watched, moving the stethoscope around Neal's chest. The nurse helped him sit up and the doctor listened to Neal's back, the same procedure till they settled him back and removed the mask.

"Sounds like the infection may have gotten to your chest. I'll get you some more powerful antibiotics for that. We don't want you to get pneumonia. Rest. Ok?" Dr. Jenkins smiled, patting him on the shoulder before he turned to the nurse and whispered something to her, her head nodding in reply as she reached under at a cabinet and pulled out a familiar looking object. Peter watched as they set up the humidifier. Once the item was set up, Dr. Jenkins and nurse left, El entering right behind them. She saw the oxygen canister and mask and the humidifier immediately, an eyebrow arching up in query as she noticed Peter standing.

"Honey you're supposed to be resting. Let me take you back to the room." She didn't seem to notice that Neal was awake, his eyes having closed for a moment while he caught his breath. Peter hobbled around the bed, hugging his wife.

"Neal was having problems breathing so I called the nurse. They put him on oxygen and then Dr. Jenkins said he'd be back with more antibiotics and they put this out for him before you left." He watched her nod at him, El kissing him.

"It's ok, honey. You were worried about him." She had her eyes on him the whole time, brushing his hair as she tried to move him back to the wheelchair.

"Hey... El..."

El paused, her eyes widening as she looked at Peter realizing he hadn't spoken. He watched her turn and look at Neal who was staring up at her with a soft smile. She looked a little surprised, her expression dumbfounded as she moved a bit closer, looking between Peter and Neal.

"Neal? You're... awake!" She moved to his side, Peter still hugging her as she took the consultant's hand in hers.

"Ye...ah. Pe... ter can... wake... the dead." He winked at her, El smiling but sniffling at the same time. Peter sat in the chair, drawing his wife to his lap.

"El what's wrong? Why are you crying?" He looked confused as he saw Neal shrug at his glance. She wiped at her face and hit Peter on the shoulder ever so gently.

"Why do you think? Geesh... How long have you been awake, Neal?" She got up and hugged him gently, Neal making a wincing sound as his shoulder pulled a bit. She apologized, kissing his forehead.

"I'm sorry, Neal. I'm just glad to see you're doing better. Did you need anything? June brought you some things. There's a bag in the closet." She started to fluff his pillows but he just grasped her hands in his and shook his head.

"I'm... fi..ine... El." He was smiling up at her, El nodding as Peter squeezed her and patted Neal on the arm.

()()()

It was another two days before Peter was released with a request he stay home for at least a couple of weeks to rest in addition to Hughes' mandatory month leave. Neal was kept for observation as he got over the chest infection that turned into a nasty cold. His fever finally left by the time they released him but he still had a bit of a hacky cough when Peter and El came to pick him up almost a week after Peter's release. Neal still looked a bit gaunt and pale but his color had returned enough that he seemed better than he had been. Peter patted his friend on the back as they wheeled him out to the car, Neal complaining ever so slightly about being pushed out instead of walking. Peter told him to "cowboy up" bringing a childish sulkiness out in the younger man before they helped him out of the chair and into the backseat of the Taurus where he leaned against the window, eyes closed. Neal's still had his left arm in a light sling. El looked back at the younger man with a concerned glance but Peter just shook his head to let her know he needed to rest.

The ride back to the Burkes' was quiet, the sound of traffic noise prevalent in the background but otherwise there was very little conversation and mostly between Peter and Elizabeth. Neal stared out the window or seemingly slept, cheek pressed against the back window as he slumped there tiredly. When Peter parked the car in front of their home, it was surprising that the first person up and out was Neal. He stood there on the curb, swaying slightly but upright. Elizabeth exited next, pulling out her key as she glanced back at Peter who nodded as his wife and partner walked up to the few stairs to their door. The agent opened the back door and pulled out Neal's bag and some other stuff they had picked up before stopping by the hospital.

Peter walked inside his home to find no sign of his wife or Neal till he finished dropping the items on the floor by the door, hearing voices upstairs. He climbed up slowly, hearing his wife talking softly to someone. He saw the door to the guestroom open and peeked inside. Peter saw El sitting on the edge of the bed, Neal curled up as his wife gently brushed at the younger man's hair. His partner looked to be asleep, El standing to leave after a light peck on Neal's forehead. She smiled when she saw Peter, holding up a finger to her lips as she took the overnight bag from him, placed it quietly inside the door and they left.

"He's still very weak. He didn't want to sleep but soon as he came back from the bathroom, I found him stretched out." El kept her voice low as the door was closed and they moved downstairs again. Peter nodded, holding her close as they sat on the sofa.

"Neal is definitely not acting himself. I'm surprised I am." He leaned against his wife tiredly, one of her arms around him while the other one brushed his hair.

"It'll be ok, Peter. Maybe you should get some sleep too. I'll bring you a blanket." She was already moving aside as he slipped down to lie on the sofa as El stood. She kissed him on the lips before walking away, Peter almost immediately falling asleep. He was dreaming as soon as his eyes shut.

()()()

Neal wanted to be more alert but he felt exhausted. Even with the fever gone and his body mostly healed, he felt a kind of weakness one only gets from a major illness. Dr. Jenkins had sent him home with more meds, handing them to Elizabeth as he spoke to all three of them. Neal nodded without really listening, his mind distracted from his tiredness and thinking about what had happened. He felt badly for his silence since leaving the hospital but even having his voice back, it took a lot out of him to speak so he just sulked out of habit. El seemed to understand but Peter looked a bit unhappy about it.

When they reached the Burkes' residence, Neal exited the car first walking up with El and feeling badly that Peter lagged behind getting all the stuffs. Inside, Elizabeth took his jacket and hung it up by the door and followed him upstairs when he said he needed to wash up. She went to the guestroom and started to fix it up as he closed the door and stared into the mirror. He didn't recognize himself in the mirror, thinking of how lucky he was to have Peter and Elizabeth to worry about him. He took advantage of them more than he should, his guilt getting to him as he turned on the faucet and washed his face, smoothing back his hair. He tried to put on his best smile but it looked too hallow and wan even for him so he just opened the door and left, walking to the stairs before El called him into the guestroom.

"You can stay here tonight, Neal. Let me get you some clean towels and extra sheets." El left the room with a pat to his back. Neal sat on the edge of the bed, curling up on the comforter after a minute and just staring across the room till his eyes started to close and he relaxed. He thought he heard El talking to him, felt a hand gently brush his hair and a blanket draped over him before he passed out. He lay there for some time till he felt himself wake up, sitting up and looking around. It took him a moment to remember where he was, sitting up and finally standing. He shifted his arm in the sling, his body still feeling a bit stiff as he stretched and then walked over to the door and opened it up.

Neal made his way downstairs, seeing a figure asleep on the sofa with a throw over them. It was Peter. Neal smiled slightly, seeing his friend looking so calm and relaxed. He sat on a nearby chair, staring at his friend till he noticed a small twitching of Peter's cheek indicating he was dreaming. It didn't look like a good dream, Neal reaching over to nudge Peter when the agent's eyes fluttered beneath his lids, lips moving slightly as he spoke in his sleep. Neal stopped.

"End it now. Please... Just end it."

Peter's voice sounded so fragile and helpless, something Neal wasn't sure he could deal with as he listened. Finally he reached over and nudged his friend awake. Peter looked a bit confused till he saw Neal there, nodding up at his friend as he wiped the sleep from his eyes.

"Neal... hey. Feeling better?" Peter sat up, looking around the room as if he were still a bit disoriented then relaxed again. Neal nodded.

"Better. How about you?" Neal noticed Peter giving him a look as if knowing what it was he was really asking.

"Better. So... Where is El?" Peter stood up and walked over to the kitchen then back, Neal following his friend upstairs. They were quiet, making their way to the guestroom first, then the bathroom and finally Peter's bedroom. He peeked inside and found El stretched out on the bed asleep. He smiled, closing the door and holding up a hand as they made their way back downstairs. Neal followed Peter into the kitchen again the agent opening the fridge and pulling out two bottles, passing one to the con.

()()()

It was a while later when El woke up and heard voices downstairs. She rolled over and eased herself off the bed, straightening her clothes and hair before heading out of the bedroom. She checked the guestroom but Neal was absent. El walked downstairs, the voices getting louder.

"Oh come on Peter... you shot a radio out of some one's hand. You're a regular gunslinger. Billy the Kid wouldn't have had a chance!"

El heard Neal speaking, but there was a certain oddness to his voice she couldn't quite figure out till she heard the next voice.

"You're damn right! I caught you twice... or was it thrice? I could have caught every one of those gun fighters. Sheriff Burke, fastest gun in the Easth..."

Peter's voice was slurring slightly, something she had noticed about Neal but it was less apparent. She turned the corner as she stepped off the stairs and saw them sitting at the dining table, chips and dip in front of them. Peter looked up and smiled crookedly.

"Hey honey... we were... what were we doing, Neal?" He turned and turned and looked at the younger man. Neal shrugged.

"Well we were discussing something. Want to join us?" Peter took another pull of his beer, El nodding.

"Sure, but let me put the coffee on. Did you want sandwiches? I have chicken salad and deviled ham." She cleaned up the few empty bottles on the table, taking them into the kitchen to the trash. Neal stood and followed her, bringing his own bottle and pouring what was left in the sink. He seemed rather sober suddenly.

"And you let my husband get drunk... why?" She didn't sound angry, just curiously as she saw a little twinkle in his eyes. Neal shrugged, looking a bit more innocent than usual.

"I'm not exactly sober myself but he needed it. Trust me." Neal kept his voice low, filling up the bottle with water and moving back out to where Peter was. El just rolled her eyes and started the coffee pot. She walked out and heard her husband and Neal, who sounded more drunk than he was, discussing some nonsense about gunslingers. She heard the coffee maker beep and went back, grabbing three cups and putting them on a small tray with the sandwiches.

"Ok, Hop-along... here's your coffee." She put a cup in front of Peter whose eyes widened at the smell and scent, forgetting his beer as El took the bottle from him and put another cup in front of Neal giving him a wink only he could see. She placed the third cup on the table before her as she sat down and joined them. Peter took a long sip of the coffee and smiled, pointing at Neal as he looked at his wife.

"If I'm Hop-along, who's he?" Peter spoke with less slurring but it would take a few cups to get him back to normal. El sipped at her coffee looking between both men with a thoughtful look.

"Neal... don't you know your own partner, Peter?" She grinned, handing him a deviled ham sandwich and a chicken salad to Neal.

Peter blinked at her a moment, opening his mouth to speak then stopped, nodding.

"Right... You're always right, El."

(The End)

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Author's Note: Thanks again for reading. I'm still riding along with NaNoWriMo and over 31K. May have another story up soon depending how things go.