(Chapter 13)

Neal closed his eyes, trying to rest as he heard the door click shut and his friends left for the afternoon. He could just hear them talking outside in hushed tones muted by the walls and door. He caught a word here and there and his name in the midst of it all and figured they were discussing him and his future. Did he have one here with everything that had happened? Could he really just come back and pick up where he left off?

He thought about it as his mind wandered into the world of sleep and dreams. Neal still felt very warm from his fever, body shivering some as he lay tucked in as Elizabeth had left him. He dreamed about what would have been had he finished the case and his term without the time he spent with Lynkos on the ship.

"Neal, your anklet is now official off. You're still going to check in with me for the next six months and with a counselor. They're going to help you with finding a job, place to live..."

The ex-con looked at his friend curious as he felt the weight of the anklet removed and Peter put it aside on the table. They were alone, Neal having wanted to keep it all quiet besides the fact Sara was off on a case, while Jones and Diana were out in the van on a surveillance job. He was a bit sad nobody else was around but at least he could share the moment with Peter and Elizabeth was on the phone listening. She spoke over the speaker happily.

"Wish I could be there Neal but this catering gig has me busy in the office. We're having dinner tonight. don't forget!"

She was all smiles he knew, her voice the one thing that made him perk up a bit despite the thought of his future. What was he going to do? Where would he stay? He could leave the state and run to some far off place but could he do that again? He had roots here even if he choose in some instances to ignore them. This was his home now.

"I won't, El. Promise."

There was a knock at the door and he saw Hughes standing there smiling.

"Caffrey... Neal. I just wanted to say I hope you consider staying. We could use more consultants like you. Think about it."

He walked over and patted him on the shoulder like a father, hugging him briefly with that same smile, not the scary one, on his face. Neal smiled back.

"Thanks, Sir. I am considering all my options. Trust me."

He woke up and looked around the hospital room. There was something he needed to do. Someone he had to talk to before he made up his mind.

()()()

Peter woke up to the sound of his cell buzzing. His first thought was Neal was out of his radius but then he laughed, remembering that it had been over a year since Neal was in the anklet. He answered the cell seeing the number was from the hospital.

"Burke."

He heard a cough and then someone speaking quietly in the background before they spoke to him.

"Am I speaking to Mr. Peter Burke? This is Dr. Acosta."

He had to think a moment what Neal's doctor's name was then nodded to the air.

"Yes, I remember. Is something wrong with Neal?"

He was awake now, Peter hoping beyond hope the young man hadn't become sicker than he was. Neal had been healing so well he was getting out soon. He heard silence than another little cough.

"I'm not completely sure how to say this but, your friend isn't here. The nurse came on her rounds just a few minutes ago and found him gone."

Peter blinked, more than awake as he realized what he had been told. He stood up, thanking the doctor for their call as he hung up and started to grab a pair of jeans. El was just rousing.

"Honey... what's wrong?"

How was he going to tell her. He was pulling on his jeans, grabbing a shirt soon after and yanking it over his head as he tried not to think of the worse scenario. Maybe... maybe Neal was taken? He couldn't have run after everything that happened! He went back to sit on the edge of the bed as El moved closer and hugged him.

"Neal's gone. The doctor called to say he wasn't in his room. He's missing."

Peter felt his wife gently massage his shoulders and neck, her chin resting on his shoulder after a moment.

"He wouldn't run, Peter. You know that. He came back here... to us. To you. Something must have happened."

He nodded, knowing she was probably right but without an anklet, he had no idea where the young man could be or had been taken. Did Lynkos or Conners have men who had tried to take him again? He was worrying about that when his cell buzzed again.

"Burke..."

Peter was listening to the person on the other end patiently, a relieved sigh coming off his lips.

"Yes, I do. I'll be right there. Thank you for calling."

Peter was already slipping his shoes on and pushing his keys into his pocket. El looked at him curiously as she continued to sit up in bed.

"That was the night watchman from a local cemetery. Apparently a young man matching Neal's description was visiting a certain grave. Caretaker saw him and called the watchman."

He sighed but it was a relieved sound as he started to the door. He heard Elizabeth get out of bed as he headed downstairs.

()()()

It was 20 minutes later that Peter found himself walking across a cemetery at the break of dawn. He'd only been here a few times before for the original service and one other time with Neal. He didn't like being here but it was necessary under the circumstances. The caretaker looked at him with a concerned look as he pointed to a figure in the shadow of a gravestone, leaning heavily against it. Peter nodded as he quietly approached the grave site and person sitting there. Someone had placed a utility blanket over them Peter noticed as he crouched beside them.

"Neal?"

He spoke softly, reaching to gently nudge the younger man. Neal's face was pale even in the light glow of morning which seemed to make him look almost statuesque like the markers around them. It frightened the agent till he saw a flutter of lashes and two dull blue eyes looked up at him.

"Peter?"

He smiled at his friend, taking one hand in his own and feeling the cool skin there. It was a cold night and wondered just how long the young man had been there when Neal looked up at him then back at the grave he was sitting beside.

"I had to ask her what she thought. I wanted to give her that chance."

Neal's manner was vague, eyes closing as his voice trailed off. Peter nudged him again, squeezing the hand he held to warm it. The young man started slightly, looking around and then seemed to remember where they were.

"What did she say?"

Peter started to help the young man to his feet, Neal a bit shaky, a flush coming to his cheeks despite the paleness of his skin. He felt his friend's forehead and realized he was still very warm.

"She told me I had to make up my own mind."

He shrugged slightly with a little smirk, stumbling as they walked along the path of the cemetery towards the exit. The caretaker gave them a wave as they left the area towards the parking lot. Neal didn't seem too aware of what was going on, letting Peter lead him to the passenger side of the Taurus. The con was strapped in, blanket warmly around him as his head slumped back against the seat and Peter quietly closed the door as he made his way around to the driver's side and slipped inside.

"Peter..."

Neal's voice sounded far off as if he weren't really concentrating on his words.

"What is it Neal?"

He saw those blue eyes turn towards him although a bit glassily, the young man swallowing as he licked at his lips to wet them.

"Am I going back to prison?"

Peter blinked at the comment shaking his head in answer. Neal seemed to relax a little more, body curling up some under the blanket as he leaned against the door. His hair was plastered to his face in spots, Peter reaching over to feel heat radiating off the young man even before he touched his forehead. He was uncertain what to do till he finally turned down a familiar street making up his mind.

()()()

Neal didn't remember much about that day. He was still feverish when he managed to sneak out of the hospital. He was cold and shivering when the men were talking to him, telling them in his feverish state (or was he dreaming?) how he had to finish his conversation. Finally they'd left him alone, someone wrapping him in a warm blanket before a familiar voice and face appeared. It was a vague memory at best which is why he probably felt like he had been dreaming till he opened his eyes and looked around.

It was a strange yet familiar feeling that overcame him as he woke up. He sat up and rubbed at his eyes uncertain he wasn't still dreaming. Neal pinched himself and felt the pain knowing he must be awake but how could he?

Hushed voices filtered in from the terrace, the doors shut but not curtained allowing a stream of weak sunlight through. He could just tell it was overcast through the skylight above his bed as he pushed the blankets aside and started to rise. He felt a pinch on his left arm and saw he was attached to a small IV on a pole. He pulled his robe on as much as he could then took the IV with him pole and all as he pushed his feet into warm familiar slippers and moved towards the French doors. He peeked through to see June talking to two others he recognized. A smile crossed his tired face as he quietly opened the doors and stepped out into the cool breezy terrace, the wind whipping at his hair as June looked up to see him. The others turned and everyone looked surprised but for the smiles on their faces.

"Neal! I would have gone inside to bring you something to eat soon."

June stood up, hovering over him as she helped him to the small wrought iron table and sat him down IV and all. Peter and El looked at him with anxious looks as he settled into the chair and smiled back.

"I guess I missed the party? What day is it?"

El reached over and hugged him briefly, kissing him on the cheek before touching his forehead.

"It's been two days. You feel cool. I think you fever must have broke if you're up. We'll have to call Dr. Acosta. How are you feeling?"

He shrugged still smiling. Neal definitely felt better than he had the other day. How had he come here? He remembered leaving the hospital and going somewhere but then things got hazy.

"Neal..."

He looked at Peter curiously then realized he hadn't answered El.

"I'm feeling better. Sort of like I just came home after a long trip."

He was looking at June as she came back with a fresh tray of food and drink.

"I brought some juice and water. I don't think the doctor wants you to have anything stronger than that yet. I also brought some fruit, oatmeal and chicken soup."

She pulled up another chair to sit with them again as they all started to chit chat again, Neal listening and joining in off and on between bites. He felt pretty famished despite everything as he ate all the fruit, oatmeal and the soup. He had three glasses of water and two of juice his stomach behaving itself despite having eaten so little in the last few days. Neal had a faint memory of someone having him take aspirin and water but it was vague and wispy like smoke as he tried to think about it. Eventually he just leaned back in the chair, listening to everyone talking around him, including him when they could till he thought he might sleep again.

"Come on, Rip Van Winkle. Let's get you back to bed."

Neal perked up a bit, his second wind fading away as Peter helped him up and to his room while June and El stayed outside. He leaned his head on the agent's shoulder, too tired to stand up completely on his own as Peter removed his robe and slippers and tucked him in.

"Thanks Peter..."

The agent shrugged, sitting on the edge of the bed as he checked the IV and felt his forehead again.

"Just don't do that again. You don't have that fancy gadget on your leg anymore. I'm not psychic."

The tone was playful but hidden within those words was worry and concern. Neal nodded as he smirked back.

"I won't. I think... well for now I think I'm here to stay. I still have to discuss some things with Mozz but he'll understand."

He wondered where his friend was, Peter's face doing an "oh yeah" kind of expression.

"Speaking of our little friend... He left you something."

Peter rose, walking over to the coffee table to pick something up and bring it back. It looked to be a greeting card atleast by the envelope as he handed it over to him. Neal carefully opened the envelope pulling out a card with a picture of the Mona Lisa holding a tissue to her nose. Inside was printed: Don't Mona(nd) groan. Get well soon!

He smiled, showing the card to Peter. The agent rolled his eyes.

"Odd but strangely Mozziesque I'd say. Surprised he didn't add a note to it."

Neal nodded as Peter mussed his hair and let him sleep, going back outside as he closed the doors behind him to rejoin June and El. He could hear their voices softly murmuring from afar as he held the card up to the light and breathed on it lightly. Slowly a message appeared.

I know the Suit will offer you a job.
I don't agree but it's your decision.
Remember me when you want to run.
My door is always open.

The message started to fade quickly as the paper cooled and Neal placed it back in the envelope and then on the nightstand.

Mozzie was right: He would do the right thing for now, atleast in his own way. He still had a good stash to work from and he was free. He was no longer 'forced' to work with Peter, he could do it on his own terms.

Neal closed his eyes and pushed the year he'd lost into the back corner of his mind and concentrated on the life he'd come back to. It was as if he'd never left and as long as he believed that, that's how things would continue.

(The End)

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Author's Note: Surprisingly I thought I was going to write more but this is how they wanted to end it. The characters were ready to move on. Strangely enough, I've already written 2 chapters (almost up to 3) for my next story. Think you'll all like. :)