After Mozzie's departure, Neal had moped around his apartment still upset at the fact he had missed out on the significance of the day. He could always go tomorrow he supposed as he finally rose from the chair on the terrace and stood. He felt like a walk if nothing else. He needed some fresh air.
Neal walked back into his apartment closing the French doors as he walked to the door, pulled on his coat and gloves and found himself heading out of the room and down the stairs. Something definitely felt different about this although it was only a feeling he had. Things had changed. He knew that much and maybe it was just a change in attitude but he needed to clear his head and then he was going to visit Peter. It was the least he could do. He flipped his fedora onto his head, something light in his spirit compared to earlier. June noticed his change from earlier, his landlady watching him from the bottom of the stairs as he approached with a smile on his face.
"Well now. You look much happier than earlier. Something must have happened." She moved a bit closer, tightening his scarf a bit and straightening his lapels like a mother helping a son. He blushed slightly nodding.
"I guess you could say that. I just... I don't know. Things don't seem so bleak anymore." He shrugged and she just grinned back up at him.
"Well you know the old saying: Things aren't always as bad as they seem. There's always a silver lining." She tweaked his nose ever so slightly before they hugged briefly and he headed for the door. He turned, walking backwards towards the door as he called to her.
"I'll be back soon. I'm just going for a walk!"
She nodded back at him, waving as he did before he turned to exit. Neal stepped outside and was just locking up the door when he felt a hand on his shoulder.
He turned at the touch and familiar voice and saw Peter standing there. Something in him felt elated at seeing the agent where he had been angry before. Neal blinked as if not believing what he was seeing but why would he be surprised? He didn't quite understand this feeling of relief at seeing his friend and partner.
"Peter..." He couldn't find the words to say which was probably best as the agent raised a hand for him to stop.
"I'm sorry, Neal. I should have let you have today off but I forgot. Elizabeth reminded me. Date night's canceled." He looked a bit upset about that but more so he seemed to be looking closely at Neal. There was a guilt there for having ignored the younger man's needs for the sake of work. The glance made Neal feel guilty for his own selfishness at sulking for not getting the day off. He should have just dealt and then asked about going to do what he needed.
"It's ok. I'm not angry. I'll just go tomorrow." Neal felt so much better suddenly as he let his feelings go and knew it was better he had his friend with him than the day off. The past was the past and he had time enough to think about it. He saw Peter smiling at him, patting him on the arm.
"Well, hey... I was thinking of going out for a bite. The car's right over there. Want to join me?" Peter was pointing across the street as Neal nodded with a grin.
Peter grinned this time, moving towards the street as Neal followed. Something felt like the universe was finally where it should be. Neal walked beside the agent, both men deep in conversation about something as they started across the road. Neal moved ahead ever so slightly, turning round as he walked backwards towards the Taurus, his eyes on Peter.
Neal had barely opened his mouth to call out when he saw the car about to hit Peter. The agent didn't see it as Neal cried out, moving towards his friend to stop what apparently was inevitable. He could hear the screech and thud, see himself looking over the edge of the terrace as if this had all happened before.
He was rushing towards his friend to push him from the path of danger when he heard the screech of brakes and a loud thud.
Why? He has to live! Don't... do this. Please...
Neal felt the thought escape into the ether as he felt pain and his head hurt. His cheek lay against something rough and cool, his body aching, eyes shut. He was afraid of what he might see as he kept them tightly closed. Someone was nudging him while he heard other voices and sounds around him.
I'm sorry, Peter. I should have saved you. I...
"Neal! Neal wake up! Neal!"
Someone was nudging him where he lay, a familiar voice talking urgently to him as he tried to disappear into the blackness. The nudging seemed to ground him as he slowly opened his eyes and looked up into two worried brown ones.
"Neal... stay with me. (I need an ambulance... My friend was hit by a car. Yes... he's awake but he's hurt.)"
Peter was on a cell talking to someone as he looked down at him and kept shaking him gently to keep him conscious. Neal felt confusion thinking this didn't seem right and yet it was. He blinked, swallowing hard and trying to speak but his throat felt tight.
Peter? You're ok?
He looked up at his friend feeling the darkness and cold start to descend on him again. His body ached and he suddenly realized he was laying on the ground, a car bumper inches from his face.
Car... he had pushed Peter out of the way of the car. He heard the screech of the brakes and smelled the rubber when the tires slid to a stop or had tried but hit something. Him.
Neal had done it. He had changed the outcome for the better. He thought about Elizabeth crying, missing Peter and all the sadness his selfish thoughts had brought. For some crazy reason he started to think of Jimmy Stewart and "It's a Wonderful Life" as his eyes grew heavy and he started to pass out. Someone slapped his face and he woke up although only a bit, seeing a very worried Peter looking down at him.
"Stay with me Neal. The ambulance is coming. OVER HERE!" Peter rose long enough to wave someone down, Neal watching him as he seemingly disappeared beyond the edge of the car bumper. His eyes started to close again and he thought he heard another voice.
It's only a matter of time...
Neal found himself back in that gloom he had thought he was free from but he wasn't afraid this time. He had fixed what he broke and now he was ready for whatever lay ahead. He squinted through the gloom to see a shadowy figure there in the distance walking towards him.
Who's there? Who are you?
The figure kept walking towards him till he could clearly see an old man glancing back at him. There was something very familiar about the man but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. He noted the man wore a leisurely white suit, expensive but it hung loosely on his thin frame, a matching white hat pushed over a still thick mop of salt and peppery hair. There was a hardness to the other man's expression, his eyes looking tired and sad as if they had experienced a lifetime of regret they could not forget. Something about those eyes made him think he had seen them before.
I had hoped you would make the right choice. I chose the route of anger and stubbornness and lost my best friend in the process. He had tried to make me see better if not beyond my own needs. His wife never got over his death nor did I. Just know you took the right path, Neal.
The stranger started to turn before looking back and staring at him with a twinkle in his blue eyes.
Treasure your friendships and your current path. Don't let the past determine your fate. Time heals all wounds...
The man tipped his hat at him before walking away into the darkness again, the gloom swallowing him up as the dream faded and Neal felt himself starting to come to.
Neal woke up to quiet. It was actually a relief in some ways but made him nervous as he tried to shift his weight and found his body aching. There was a crinkling sound as he opened his eyes to find himself with a large amount of bandaging around his midsection and his left arm in a sling. His head ached a bit and he reached up to rub his temples to find large knot on his right temple and a bandage over it.
He gave a quiet groan of discomfort as he looked around at his surroundings and figured out he was in a hospital room. He leaned back against the pillows wondering why he was here as he tried to think back. Neal had been dreaming about something but his head hurt too much when he tried to think about what. It probably wasn't important as he leaned back against the pillows and tried not to think about much. There was a soft click to his right as he heard a door open and soft footsteps enter the room. He cracked an eye open to find a familiar figure tiptoeing into the room.
Neal opened his eyes to see them more clearly when they turned and saw him looking.
"Neal? Hey sweetie." Elizabeth Burke said in a soft whisper. She was smiling as she approached him and took his hand in hers. She sat down on the chair by the bed and looked relieved as he stared back. He blushed when she started to brush his hair from his face, her eyes watery with some emotion (maybe happiness or gratitude) but what would she be grateful for him for? He just gazed at her with a chagrined look uncertain how he felt although something told him he was content if nothing else.
"The doctor wasn't sure you would wake up today. Your injuries aren't major but he said you got a pretty good knock on the head if anything. Peter tried to keep you awake but you passed out at the scene. They were worried you had a concussion but if you're awake..." She looked absolutely happy that he was fine which made him feel both happy and uncomfortable. Neal was never very good at this kind of attention especially when he felt he didn't deserve it. She seemed to feel his nervousness and gave him a gentle hug.
"It's ok, Neal. You did good although I wish this hadn't happened. The driver was feeling guilty. She wanted to make sure you were ok so she asked us to relay when you woke up. She sent a card and flowers." Elizabeth pointed at one of several small vases and balloons near the window. Her voice was still a quiet whisper and he was wondering why she was keeping her voice so quiet if they were alone.
"El? Why are we whispering?" He hadn't said anything but he was still so uncertain what he wanted to say. A strange kind of guiltiness was keeping him unsure of himself. She blinked pointing across the room at the sofa.
"Peter's been there since last night. I finally made him sleep. You didn't see him?" She gave him a funny smile and he turned his head to the left to find the figure of his friend and partner slumped across the small sofa by the window. He hadn't noticed the agent sleeping there or maybe it was because Peter wasn't snoring for once he missed him. It could also be the sofa and his suit were almost the same color. Who knows but now he could see Peter was ok and the guiltiness seemed to flow from him like a bad dream in the sunlight. A smiled curved his lips slightly upward.
"All night? How long have I been here?" He could kind of remember the incident but his head still hurt when he thought too much. She brushed at his hair to soothe him.
"Since 6 PM when they brought you in. June's been frantic to know how you were. She came out of her house when she heard the commotion. There's an overnight bag in the corner with some stuff for you. June packed it herself and brought it after I got here around 8 last night. Peter was so frantic about how you were. He kept saying it should have been him. He was so worried about you, Neal."
She squeezed his hand in hers looking into his eyes as she leaned over and kissed him on the forehead.
"I'm just glad you're ok. Thank you. I don't know what I'd do if Peter wasn't here." She was still gripping his hand in hers as she looked over at her sleeping husband and smiled happily. Neal just watched her and knew that whatever happened he never wanted to see her smile go away. He wanted that smile to always be there and Peter. They had each other's back; Both men two sides of the same coin if anything.
He felt her grip loosen on his hand as she rose and went towards Peter. She sat gently on the edge of the sofa and slowly roused the sleeping form of the agent who looked a bit surprised as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
"El? I'm sorry, I guess I slept a little bit longer than I thought. How is Neal?"
Peter's voice was heavy with sleep but he sounded well and that's all Neal needed to hear. He moved as little as possible so he could sit up comfortably and watch his friends from his side of the room. It was a few minutes before Peter was alert enough to peer past his wife and notice Neal was awake. The agent blinked, brown eyes suddenly wakeful as a small smile form across his lips. He rose from the sofa and made his way, one arm around his wife, towards the bedridden con.
There was a kind of moment of awkwardness, El feeling the tension but knowing she should leave to let them talk.
"I'm going to get you some coffee, Honey. Cream and sugar?" She was looking at Peter but he was still peering at Neal with a relieved expression. He turned after a moment and nodded vaguely, hugging and kissing El as she excused herself. Once she was gone, Peter dropped down into the seat she had been using and looked at Neal curiously.
They were quiet for a while, Neal knowing something good had been accomplished but he wasn't sure what. Peter looked thoughtful about something himself as if trying to speak but uncertain what to say.
They both spoke at the same time then stopped, smiling but Neal let Peter go first. The agent blushed ever so slightly, patting the younger man on the hand.
"I'll just say it... Thank you Neal. I was worried when you passed out. You were so still it took the paramedics a moment to find your pulse and breath. I thought..." Peter couldn't quite say it, standing up and pacing across the room a moment then turning back.
"I had a nightmare. You were in it."
Peter was running a hand through his hair, face a bit pale. Neal just looked at him and blinked.
"Gee, thanks Peter. I like it when I'm a source of fear for my friends." He said it teasingly but Peter just kind of ignored it with a nervous chuckle.
"Well it wasn't that kind of a nightmare. You... you didn't exist. I only knew about you because you were a cold case on a show El was watching." He looked kind of uncertain with a half shrug.
"It was kind of weird because it's like I knew that I should know you but I didn't. I couldn't understand why I'd be worried about someone from a cold case I didn't know. Then El said you should have had a better set of parents and talked about how she would have adopted you..."
Neal listened patiently feeling a weird sort of deja vu with the story he was hearing but not sure why. He let the agent finish and smiled.
"Interesting. So I didn't exist? I'm sure your lives were quite dull without me." He was smirking now but Peter was still in whatever literal frame of mind he was in nodding before he stopped and looked up at Neal smirking back.
"Actually, a world without Neal Caffrey... well the thieving, conning and forging one would be nice. I wouldn't mind the one I have now though."
He was smiling, looking a bit less tense than he had been. He suddenly slapped the side of his leg as if remembering something.
"Mozzie... called. Was asking for you about something. Told me to tell you not to worry. Anything 'I' should worry about?" Peter's eyes narrowed but Neal shook his head.
"No. Let's just say I think I had the equivalent of Pandora's box in my hands or at least I think I did. Maybe it was a dream. I don't know anymore. It didn't grant me anything I would have liked but it did make me realize I should treasure certain things more." Neal left his remark cryptic uncertain how he wanted to tell Peter of his feelings. They were friends definitely if not family. Peter nodded after a moment as he moved back to the seat and sat again. He looked pretty exhausted.
"You should sleep, Peter. Those bags under your eyes are big enough to check in at the airport!" Neal was grinning now as Peter gave him a mock glare.
"Funny, Neal. I guess next you're going to tell me the TSA would pull me over for having too many carry ons."
Peter looked up as he started to giggle, Neal trying hard to stifle his laughter.
"Hey, can I used that next time we raid an airport? I'll make sure they check those bags under your eyes." He winked at his friend who just threw up his hands and sighed.
"Hardy Har Har... I should make them charge you duty on that silver tongue of yours. How much is silver going for these days?"
Neal clapped as best he could with one arm in a sling, Peter bowing his head in jest.
"Good one, Peter. Now if you could just make it funny..."
Author's Note: I know some have told me this was kind of a depressing story. I blame hormones and that blasted cold I had. Other than that, I'm going to attempt a happier holiday story hopefully. I've been playing with ideas but not sure what I'll do if I have the time to between now and Christmas. Just watch and see. Thanks for reading!