A/N: This scenario bridges the gap between the opening scenes of Burke's Seven in the hospital, and the activity that starts back at the Bureau when Peter tells Neal about Julian Larrsen. After everything that had happened earlier in the day, there just had to be more to the story.
Hospitals were too quiet. Too damn quiet, despite the beeps and hums of the various machines. No, those sounds didn't count. What was missing were the voices, the signs of real life.
Signs of life from the too-still figure lying in the bed next to him.
Neal glanced over at Mozzie... No, Ivan Bliminse. He needed to keep the name he'd given for the records in mind, in case someone asked. He owed it to Mozzie, to keep him out of the system the other man so feared, to keep him safe...
Yeah, he'd done a great job of keeping his friend safe so far!
If only he'd been able to let go of the obsession, like Alex had. If only he hadn't asked Mozzie to help decipher the code. If only Kate had come to him, trusted him to protect her. If only he hadn't taken the undeserved credit for the previous music box heist.
If only it had been him on that plane, not Kate...
He turned to stare out the window again. Not that he had any idea what he was actually seeing. There could have been a parade and fireworks and he probably wouldn't have noticed.
Staring out the window was simply preferable to staring at the heart monitor, willing the wavy line to keep going up and down, up and down.
The doctors said Mozzie – Ivan – would survive. Probably...
No, he would survive. If sheer force of mind could do anything, Neal would will it to be so. It was the least he could do for his friend, maybe the last thing he could do.
He was, honestly, surprised that the marshals hadn't shown up already to take him back to prison. After all, he'd stolen a gun, slipped the tracker, broken up a foreign-owned museum, fired the gun...
There was more, of course, but that list of sins should be enough.
To his credit, Peter hadn't lectured him on any of that – yet. The agent had accepted his help in trying to locate Mozzie. When the word came that someone matching the missing man's description had been taken to New York Presbyterian, suffering from a gunshot wound to the chest, Peter had driven him there, sat with him in the surgical waiting room, brought him coffee...
Peter hadn't grilled or lectured him, merely let him worry and wait – but not wait alone.
He'd still been left to wait even after Mozzie came out of surgery. Whatever happened, he owed Peter for allowing him this time.
He heard the door open behind him and he tensed momentarily. But the footsteps were soft, not the hard steps he'd expect if it was the marshals. So he wasn't surprised when he heard the soft voice at his back.
"Neal, we need to go."
But he didn't want to go. If he went, who would be there to make sure that that thin heart line kept beating...
"He's in a medically induced coma."
Right – because he was Neal's friend. Because Neal had asked him to help.
"There's nothing you can do for him here."
Nothing except be there to will Ivan Biminse's survival...
"But there's something you can do out there."
Yeah... He could go back to prison. Where he wouldn't – couldn't – hurt his friends anymore. He'd have enough enemies back inside by now so that hurting anyone else wouldn't be an issue for very long.
There was a time and a place to argue, to beg, and this wasn't it. If it was true that people in comas could hear what was going on around them, he didn't want Mozzie hearing that.
With a final glance at his friend's still form, and the blips of the heart line that were the only indications of life, Neal turned and followed Peter out into the hallway.
It was a long, silent walk to the car.
Well, it was definitely silent, and maybe it just seemed long because of the silence.
They finally reached the car, and Neal heard the locks release as Peter used the remote. He pulled the passenger door open and slid inside as the agent walked around to the other side.
Too much silence – maybe better to get everything on the table before things went too far. Correction, before things went even farther...
As Peter got in behind the wheel, Neal seized his opportunity. "I know I don't have the best standing right now to request a favor."
"After what you pulled earlier today? You're right about that."
"Yeah," Neal sighed. "But I'm going to ask anyway," he continued, swallowing hard against the lump in his throat. "This happened to Mozzie because of me. I... I need to know he's all right. I'll agree to whatever restrictions you want if we can wait until he wakes up before you send me back. I just really need to talk to him," he finished, his voice little more than a whisper.
"Is that what you think should happen next?"
"Me going back to prison?" Neal was silent a moment before continuing. "I don't know what else you can do," he admitted, almost whispering again.
Peter offered up his own sigh and shifted in his seat to look at the younger man. "I won't deny that my first reaction to your little stunt was to call in the marshals," he admitted. "But I realized that I really don't want to do that. Neal, I've been desperately trying to find a way to keep you out of prison."
"Why?" The single word, almost a plea, came out before he even realized he was saying it.
"Why? Because you're probably the smartest guy I've ever met, even if you make some truly dumb decisions. Because when your head is in the game, you make the white collar unit the best it's ever been. Because you have so much to offer. And..." Peter paused, seeming to search for the words he wanted. "And because you're my friend, and if you go back to prison, I know what will happen."
"It might be best. I wouldn't be able to hurt anyone else..."
"What about all of the people you've helped?" Peter challenged. "What about Lindsay Gless? However bad the decision was by Rice to offer you up, you played Wilkes' game out and bought enough time for us to find the girl. Or Tara? You're the one who figured out to jam Ghovat's phone so we could get the explosives off. What about Donovan? I can play all right in a penny-ante game of poker, but with a million dollar pot on the table? You took him down, Neal, and stopped the adoption scams." He paused, taking a deep breath. "What about what you've done for me? In Avery's vault, you gave me the breather. And when Fowler and his pet judge tried to frame me with a bribe? You risked your freedom, and maybe your life, to get rid of that recording. And even though you'd just found out I had known where the music box was since the explosion, and you were mad as hell at me, you still saved my life in Kent's office at Novice."
"Mozzie got shot because of me. Kate died because of me. It should have been me..."
Peter reached across and grabbed Neal's shoulders, turning the younger man toward him. "Stop it, Neal! A lot of factors have played into everything that has happened, and you can't be responsible for all of it."
"But what I did..."
"All right, let's talk about what you did."
Neal took a deep breath and swallowed hard, wondering where to start. "I stole a gun."
"Tanaka's dead. Given the state of that shop, I sincerely doubt that the police will be able to find anything missing. Diana and I are the only ones who know about that."
"I sent Al... someone to break into her apartment and take the music box."
"And you're going to owe Diana an apology. A big one. She may even want to exact a pound of flesh – or expect some sort of service in addition to an apology. But she's a professional, and she'll wait for an appropriate time."
Diana would probably want to break both his arms, maybe his legs... but better not to think about that right now. "I shot at Fowler."
"Were you actually aiming at him?"
"If I had been, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
"Diana said when she asked you about it in the car, on the way back to the Bureau, you actually got sick."
Neal nodded. "It's a good thing she was able to stop really fast." Still, how embarrassing to be emptying his guts while she had to hold him up. She'd taken the cuffs off after that.
"Garrett Fowler has his own problems to deal with. He won't be pressing charges."
"What's going to happen to him?"
"He's in protective custody for now, and talking to DOJ. To protect the Bureau, I expect they'll work out some kind of deal."
"And the man he killed?"
"There's no case," Peter admitted. "The initial police investigation turned up no forensics. We don't have that tape. Fowler wasn't under arrest when he talked about it, so he hadn't been read his rights. Even if he had, given his history with both of us, neither of us would be a credible witness." He paused, sighing. "I know it may not seem fair, Neal. But I don't think there's anything that can be done."
"No, it's all right," Neal replied. "He did it because he loved his wife. I can kind of understand that."
"Love has been known to make people do stupid things," Peter said. "Let's get back to you."
"Ummm... I slipped the tracker."
"I lifted the key from Deckard during the Franklin case."
Peter's tone seemed to convey a mixture of surprise and amusement – or maybe Neal was just imagining that part. "He wasn't going to need it anymore."
"I guess the marshals never realized one of the keys was missing," Peter said, considering that for a moment. "Technically, it was their responsibility to figure it out. But you'll owe Jones an apology too for the hassles he went through."
Neal nodded. "That still leaves the deal at the museum," he said, sighing. 'The deal' – like crashing through the window of a foreign owned museum...
"Yeah, that is the toughest one. The Russians weren't very happy."
"I can imagine."
"There's a way out, if you want it."
"I finally got the approval to reimburse that ten thousand dollars you put up during the Jennings case. The money should be here next week," Peter said. He waited until Neal looked up before adding one more thing. "You're making a donation to the museum."
"All right." The response was automatic, and off of Neal's lips before he even thought about it.
"I mean the whole thing, Neal."
"Sure." Neal shrugged. "I never thought I'd see it again anyway."
"You really thought we'd make you put that kind of money up personally?" Neal just shrugged again so Peter continued. "Why would you do that, Neal?"
"It was the only way to keep Diana's cover intact."
Peter allowed himself a soft smile. "Don't you see, Neal? It's decisions like that that make me think there's something in you worth saving after all."
Peter reached over, laying his hand on Neal's shoulder. "The problem with the museum goes away with the money. Just give me the word."
"Make it go away," Neal said. Because that still left the biggest problem of all... "I let you down," he whispered.
Peter pulled his hand away and nodded. "Yes, you did."
Peter's tone was hard, weary – definitely a sign that they had finally reached the heart of the matter. Something that wouldn't be easily put right. "Can we fix that?"
"I don't know," Peter admitted. "I hope so, eventually." He paused, sighed. "You did some really stupid things, Neal. But, I know I wasn't blameless."
"Neal, I knew you and Mozzie were looking into the music box. I could have – should have – kept closer tabs on you. And, as you know now, I knew a hell of a lot more about the box a lot earlier than I ever told you."
"Yeah, but I still..."
"Neal, I spent three years chasing you, learning everything I could about you, remember? Despite the good, occasionally brilliant, work you've done for the Bureau, I know who and what you are."
"Let me take a little bit of the blame, all right?"
Neal finally nodded. "All right, a little." He turned to look out the side window for a moment, and then back at Peter. "So where does that leave us?"
"It leaves us trying to rebuild," Peter replied. "I can't lie here, Neal. My level of trust in you right now isn't very high."
"But there's a little?" And damn if his voice didn't crack when he asked that. If there was any hope...
"Yes, there's a little. Mainly because I know you want to find whoever's responsible – for Kate, for Mozzie, for targeting you."
"Yeah. But whoever is behind this went after you too, Peter. And Elizabeth."
"I know. And that's why this has to stop now. I'm tired of getting jerked around by this mysterious puppeteer. I want to get this guy."
"You have a plan?"
"More a place to start than an actual plan," Peter replied. "But I need to know if you're with me, if you can get your head back into the game."
"What do you need me to do?" Neal asked, relieved to realize that his voice sounded stronger again.
"We'll figure that out. The thing is, Neal, it's just you, me, and Diana. We're the only ones who know about the music box and everything that's happened."
"Can we tell Jones?"
"We might have to, but I'd rather wait. I hate to put anyone else at risk."
"I'll do whatever you need me to, Peter. No hidden agenda this time. You have my word, for whatever that might still be worth."
"I'll take it, and hope that it's worth a hell of a lot," Peter said. "Because despite what I said about low trust, I'm going to have to trust you. I called the marshals."
"I thought you said..."
Peter held up a hand. "Let me finish. I didn't call them to take you back to prison. I called them to change the monitoring on your tracker. With only three of us to do the work, chances are you'll need to do some things alone. And chances are also pretty good that you may need to access some sources who might not appreciate a federal agent tagging along."
"So what are you saying?"
"On a temporary basis, the two mile radius is gone. Instead, you have a curfew. Between the hours of midnight and six in the morning you are required to be within a block of June's address. The rest of the time you can go where you need to. Is that clear?"
"Yeah, no radius. So the hospital..."
"You're free to visit, when you're not working on the case. And as long as you abide by the curfew."
"Thank you." Damn, he was whispering again.
Peter nodded and took a deep breath. "Neal, I need you to take the curfew very seriously. I'm covering for a lot of things from today, for the reasons I told you. But if I get a call in the middle of the night..."
"You won't," Neal said quickly. "Peter, you won't. I will be home by midnight."
"All right. But if something comes up on the case and you'll be late, you have to call me, Neal."
Neal considered that for a moment. "The doctors won't really tell me much. What if... what if something happens?"
"There's an advantage to having a badge," Peter replied, his voice softening. "They'll call me with any updates. And if I hear anything, I'll let you know, Neal. I promise."
"Would it help if I said I was sorry? Because I really am."
"I'm going to need you to prove that you're sorry, not just say it. But yes, it helps."
"Where do we start?"
Peter shifted to face forward, turning the key in the ignition and pulling on his seatbelt. "I have a file to show you," he said. "Buckle up and let's go."
(Before anyone asks, this is a stand-alone story and NOT related in any way to 'Aftermath' if you've read that one.)