(Chapter 12)

Neal was in darkness, banging on the invisible walls of his mind that trapped him. He was screaming and yelling, laughter in the form of his own evil persona chilling him as it echoed throughout his head.

Let me go! Let me out of here!

Tsk Tsk Neal... you knew it was going to be my turn. I told you several times I wouldn't stay in the background. It's my time now! Have fun in the darkness...

Neal continued to scream and shout, banging on the unyielding door that trapped him in what could only be described as Hell. Nick would kill Peter if he had half a chance and no matter what part of his personality he was, Neal was no killer. Soren had programmed far more into him than he had capability of controlling.

"Don't... Neal. Please."

There was silence and then he heard Nick speaking as him. It was faint but Peter's voice came in loud and clear. Nick wanted him to hear his friend suffering at his hands. Neal felt something warm and wet drip down his cheeks in the Stygian gloom as he continued to try and escape without result. Nick had him sealed up tight.

"You didn't kill El. You could have easily... but you didn't. You're not a murderer, Neal. I know you. I trust you... to have my... back."

Neal heard those words and he sensed light in the darkness. He remembered going downstairs with Elizabeth. He had gotten her coffee but it was drugged. It didn't take long for her to relax and close her eyes on the sofa as he took the cups back with him and returned with something shiny. Neal had stood over her a long time staring, thoughts in his head telling him how much she cared for him and other voices telling him she was just one more barrier to his freedom. If he killed her, Peter would fold. The dark thoughts hit him one after another till he saw her smiling, a new memory forming from the past. El kneeling beside him worried even when she knew what he had almost done. She had stayed by him and defended him to the end. He felt a lightness there remembering her kindness to him and her understanding.

He was in a room now looking at Nick, his mirror image glancing around at the new scene and turning to glare at him.

No matter what tricks you try, you can't be rid of me Neal. I will always be there waiting for you to screw up. You can't push me away!

Neal knew what he had to do. He had handled this the wrong way. He had a sense of what was up and knew he had to give Peter and the shrink some time to get things done.

I know, but I can keep you here so you can't hurt anyone else.

Nick growled but he could do little else as he paced the scene which appeared to be June's apartment. Off and on he'd grab something off the wall or shelf and throw it to the floor.

I wish it were the real thing... I wish... you were here so I could strangle you.

Neal flinched inwardly at the other's threats but didn't react in an obvious manner. He just needed time.

()()()

Peter waited by his friend, glancing up now and again to look at the outside door. Emily was across the hall finishing up a few last minute things when he heard the buzzer. He left Neal's side long enough to check the door and see it was Elizabeth and buzz her inside.

"Peter? I didn't understand what was going on. Why did you need me here?"

She looked like she'd packed in a hurry, her clothes basic jeans and a comfortable yoga shirt. He hugged her and quickly ushered her over to the right most door. Emily was at the computer typing something up before she smiled and turned.

"Mrs. Burke... has your husband told you what's going on?"

Elizabeth looked confused and shook her head.

"We're going to have a kind of intervention."

His wife looked confused, staring at Peter as he tried to explain. Finally she nodded.

"So you know what he went through?"

Emily had walked away to finish setting things up, giving them a moment of privacy. El looked worried if not confused.

"Yeah... I wasn't sure I should tell you. Nothing happened like it did with Neal. I survived it so maybe Sorenson did more than I was exposed to. I thought since he responds to me and you, it might help Neal."

She nodded, smiling at him as she gave him a kiss on the lips. He felt bad for calling her away from her event but knew she was pivotal to helping their friend.

"Yvonne can handle the wedding. It was a small event with few family and friends. So, what do you want me to do?"

()()()

Neal continued to keep himself and Nick trapped in the dream version of June's apartment. Nick pulled on the door and screamed when it didn't open. Neal was using all his energy to keep them there but he was going to break if Peter and Emily couldn't help him. He had a slight notion of what they had discussed but he had to keep it hidden which required more energy in addition to keeping Nick at bay. Suddenly he was flung against the wall, jarring him enough that he felt a chink in his armor as the other him held him fast.

Let me out, Neal.

Nick growled at him, his voice low and threatening but Neal kept himself calm. He had to keep himself here or Nick would escape again. His other self punched him hard, moving away after a moment as he tried the French doors to the terrace again. The doors didn't budge although a foggy view of New York could be seen from behind the curtain. Nick screamed, moving back to him and throwing him to the floor as he beat at Neal till he felt bloodied had this been for real. Neal smiled despite himself, a chuckle leaving his lips as Nick hit him.

What's so funny, Neal? I'll beat you till you let me go and then you'll be MY subconscious thought!

Neal just looked up at him and smirked. Nick hit him harder.

Talk to me, you wanna be boy scout!

Nick was getting more and more desperate which was what he needed. If his other self became sloppy, it would be easier to get rid of him. He'd done this with opponents that could have easily killed him or his friends. He'd tired them out or tricked them into tiring themselves out. Neal just had to bide his time.

He knew this was his own self beating him up for the duality within. Neal had always fought with nature over nurture as Elizabeth called it. He'd grown up in a place where he had to fight for things and had little of what many would call basic necessities. He'd been jealous of peers with more than himself who seemed oblivious to the fact others were in greater need of that wealth beyond buying the next big fad item. He thought of himself as the little guy in some instances trying to get ahead of the big greedy men who ruled without constraint. A slap woke him from his thoughtful reverie.

If I have to kill you off...

They both stopped a moment listening to something. Someone was talking to them, music in the background emphasizing the mood.

Neal, can you hear me?

The voice was familiar, the music soft and relaxing but jazzy. He recognized the tune as one he had often heard at June's. She had quite the collection of music on record and he liked to listen to her records when he was given the chance.

You're safe, Neal. We're just waiting for you to return.

The voice continued but Nick glanced down at him angrily, slapping him hard.

What trick is this? The only person returning is me.

Nick laughed coldly, covering Neal's face and nose till he couldn't breath. It was virtual but even here someone could die. Nick smiled as he watched Neal struggle to breath. His armor would break soon. He was fading fast but as he started to die he saw Nick turning transparent, a frightened look on his face.

Why am I vanishing too? You're supposed to go, not me!

Neal felt a smile on his lips as he continued to fade slowly away, Nick's confused voice slowly vanishing as they both went into that place men could only dream about.

()()()

Peter and Emily let Elizabeth do the talking. He knew if anyone could reach Neal it would be his wife. They had a bond he couldn't understand but he respected her as much as he respected Peter if not more. They watched the young man's face contort and react some then relax before he seemed to slump more so. Peter wasn't sure what to think as he realized Neal was looking ashen, his hand taking his friend's wrist in his. He felt no pulse.

"Neal?"

Emily and El looked confused at him until he moved his ear near Neal's face and felt no breath. His wife read his look first and then Dr. Moran.

"He's... not breathing. Neal... Neal wake up!"

It took a moment but Emily pulled him away and whispered to him.

"Isn't this what you told me happened before? We have to bring him back carefully. Let's put him on the floor."

Peter and Emily gently moved Neal's limp body from the sofa to the floor, El watching from the sidelines. The young man didn't move, head loose and slumping off to one side as Peter looked nervously at his friend. Emily nodded at him as he cleared Neal's airway and pinched his nose. She waited as he breathed for his partner and friend, Emily doing chest compressions. El had her cell phone ready but knelt beside him as she waited for them to tell her what to do. Emily checked Neal's wrist and sighed.

"I feel a weak pulse."

Everyone gave a small relieved breath, Peter nodding as he continued breathing for Neal, El taking his hand in hers. Neal's hand was cool and limp as she gently sandwiched it between her hands.

"Come back to us, Neal."

El whispered as she kept holding his hand. Emily checked his vitals and Peter kept breathing for him. Neal was ashy looking, body still limp despite the revelation he had a pulse. It was going on three minutes without Neal responding. Emily took his pulse once more and frowned, shaking her head as Peter and El gave each other a look. Peter lifted Neal up in his arms, hugging him a moment as if he were a child. Elizabeth had never seen him act this way but once and she moved closer to hug him as Emily phoned 9-1-1. They had done all they could to bring him back and lost him it seemed.

"The ambulance will be here in about 20 minutes. I'm sorry."

Peter looked traumatized, El continuing to hold him and whisper softly to him.

"Peter... look at me."

She watched her husband turn and look at her with pinkish eyes. He rarely cried and she could see him trying not to despite his loss.

"He's ok. Neal's ok."

El tried to make sure he knew that Neal was good now. He had to know they'd tried their best and now he was in a better place. Peter still seemed like he was going to cry as she slowly got him to lay the young man back on the floor as she grabbed up the sheet from the sofa and placed it over him. She took one last look at his face as Peter rose to his feet and moved aside. El was at a loss but had to be strong for her husband. She leaned over one last time to plant a kiss on Neal's forehead. A stray lock of hair lay curled there, her hand moving to brush it aside when a hand grabbed her wrist. She gave a little shriek, uncertain who had grabbed her till she realized it was Neal.

"El honey... what's wrong?"

The sound of a siren was drawing closer as she glanced downward, Peter moving over and kneeling beside her. He could see Neal's hand seemingly gripping his wife's wrist as Peter gently removed the fingers from around El's wrist. The hand was still taut as Peter wrapped those fingers around his own and felt pressure there. Neal was holding on to him. He checked for a pulse and felt nothing there and then a slow steady feeling as blood flowed and then a soft gasp. Neal was breathing, lips parted slightly as color began to return to his pale features.

"He's alive."

()()()

Neal felt everything disappearing, Nick vanishing into nothingness as he himself faded back into the darkness. The beating of his heart was slowing down like the metronome the doctor had used and then it stopped and so did the sound of breath from his lips as everything went cold and quiet. He lay in the darkness unaware of anything but feeling whole finally. Whatever Sorenson had done seemed to melt away in the darkness as he lay there alone.

Come back to us, Neal.

Someone spoke to him in the darkness, a light shining like a far off star in the inky pool around him. He reached for it but it fizzled out and he was once again fading away, disappearing into that Stygian prison that surrounded him. Nick was gone although what he was originally remained within him. He could never let go of that part of him completely without losing something of himself. Neal knew he would go soon if something didn't happen. Soren had dragged him here once before and left him here till he had been broken and splintered like a stained glass window. He had fought for unity and achieved duality beyond what he already knew. He felt warmth, eyes opening in the virtual gloom as that light appeared in the distance. He reached for its protection and felt his body coming back from the hole he had fallen into.

His eyes focused on a white sterile ceiling that swam before his eyes then settled like a frozen sea and finally calmed. Neal blinked uncertain what to think before turning his head at the sound of soft breathing beside him. A familiar figure sat there, slumped in the chair beside what appeared to be his bed. IVs and other tubes stuck out of him as he moved to get more comfy. The bed creaked slightly and two brown eyes glanced back at him.

"Neal?"

Peter looked at him curiously, sleepily almost as he rubbed at his face tiredly and smiled. Neal wasn't sure what to think, his mind still fuzzy with memories of darkness and something else. He wasn't sure what to say, feeling like he had woken up after a very long nap. His mind felt clearer though and the duality seemed to be gone but he had felt this way before.

"Hey buddy. Did you want me to call the nurse?"

Peter reached for the button but Neal stopped him, gripping his wrist gently but firmly.

"I'm... good. Where's El?"

He wanted to be distracted from what he remembered happening although most of it seemed so distant and dream-like. A pang of guilt came over him as he looked at the agent, his friend and partner. Neal wasn't sure what he remembered was real but the look on his friend's face was nothing less than concerned for him.

"She's getting coffee. Been a long couple of days. Doctor said you were fine but the coma seemed self-induced."

Neal blinked at those words. Coma? Self-induced... it fit but still made what he thought he remembered all the more scary. He pushed the feeling aside, leaning back heavily against the pillows as he let go of Peter's wrist. The agent stood and stretched, eyes watching him curiously.

"I don't blame you, Neal. You didn't do anything wrong. Even... Emily said it was all Sorenson. He twisted the conflict between us..."

Neal sat up at the comment and shook his head.

"There's no conflict, Peter. I don't... hate you. I never have. Even when I thought you might have Kate, I never hated you."

He watched the agent blink back but nod. There was guilt enough to go around although Neal wasn't trying to guilt Peter. He just wanted to clear the air while he was thinking about it and despite having just waken up, his mind was pretty clear about things. He felt a hand gently squeeze his shoulder as Peter smiled at him.

"Let me page the doctor. They wanted to know when you woke up."

Neal nodded as Peter pushed the button and they waited in silence. The door opened a moment later revealing Elizabeth with two cups of coffee and a small bag of what smelled like croissants. Neal felt hunger pangs, stomach growling. El noticed him awake and smiled as she moved closer, placing the items on the nightstand as she handed a cup to Peter.

"Hey sleepyhead."

She was smiling at him as if he were a long lost friend, his face blushing in response. He felt so guilty for everything that had happened and yet she forgave him. They both forgave him.

"Hey El. Something smells good."

He was eying the bag as she smiled and nodded.

"Croissants but we need to ask the doctor before you eat anything. You've been asleep for a while."

Neal knew she was sincere, looking out for him like a mother hen or big sister. They were the family he never had growing up and he cherished them despite his stupidity and thoughtlessness.

"Think I could have some water?"

Elizabeth nodded as she looked at Peter who shrugged as he got up and got the con a cup of water from the nearby sink. He handed the cup to Neal as the door opened again. Dr. Marrin stood there with a nurse in blue scrubs.

"Agent Burke, Mr. Caffrey and Mrs. Burke..."

He smiled at them all, the nurse moving over to check vitals as El and Peter moved aside with the doctor whispering briefly before he moved away to talk to Neal who was looking up at him expectantly. He wanted this over with to return to what life he had. Neal didn't want to live in fear of being institutionalized due to Soren's programming. The doctor patted him on the arm as he looked over his charts and the nurse's findings.

"Looks like all your vitals are good. Are you ready for another MRI?"

Neal made a face but nodded. If it meant he could go home soon he would do it. The physician smiled.

"I'll have the nurse prep you while you finish your visit."

He squeezed his shoulder gently before leaving Neal to continue talking to El and Peter. Both looked at him with nothing but sincere concern which made him feel worse. He had nearly killed both of them several times against his will, but it had been a part of him twisted into hate against the two people who had done nothing more than try to show him a better path. El held his hand as the nurse gently removed all the monitors and IVs in preparation of his visit to the MRI room. He hated being in that tube, the slight bit of claustrophobia he ever experienced heightened by the small space. He felt a hand squeeze his, turning to find Elizabeth still sitting there. Peter had moved over to the small sofa at the far end of the room, nodding off with the coffee cup in his lap.

"We'll stay with you if you want, Neal."

Her blue eyes were watery and red rimmed from worry. He didn't deserved this he thought, El seemingly reading his mind.

"Everything's going to be ok. We're here for you. Remember that."

She kissed him gently on the forehead before a group of orderlies entered the room with a gurney. It was time for him to go for that MRI but he wanted to stay with his friends, his eyes moving over to the bobbing head of Peter as he tried to stay awake at the sofa. He smiled nodding at El.

"Thanks."

()()()

He was exhausted when they brought him back from taking the MRI. It wasn't that he had worn himself out but maybe being asleep for 2 days had taken a toll. He had barely been up 2 hours, the doctor performing a few more tests and a surprise visit by Dr. Moran taking up some of his time. Neal wanted to visit with Peter and El again, eyes heavy as they wheeled him back inside his room and eased him back onto the bed. The room was empty, a faint scent of coffee and croissants remaining from earlier. His eyes closed of their own accord as he fell into a light slumber, darkness swallowing him up as he found himself lying on the floor again in June's. It was the last thing he remembered now from his time at Dr. Moran's. She had waken Nick who had been more than furious at being pushed into the background. Now he heard someone crying, a man curled up in the corner and sniffling like a little boy. Neal pulled himself to his feet and hobbled over to the figure as they flinched at his touch.

You should have known this would happen, Nick. I tried to warn you and you even said it yourself. We can't live without the other. Friends?

Neal tried to comfort this other part of him as the face he knew as his own looked up at him with red rimmed eyes. They were still cold and dark but this was the side of him he hid, the dark place that Mozzie often worried about. Nick was a part of him no matter how many good things happened he would always have an angry self to deal with.

Don't think I'm still not pissed off with you Neal.

The other him took his hand as they both stood there in the dim light wafting through the skylight above.

We have to work together or nobody wins.

Nick arched a brow at him but nodded reluctantly as he gazed at the injuries he'd caused. Neal looked pretty beat up but it was all mental blows if anything. They would heal in time.

Call me when you need me, Caffrey.

Nick smirked ever so slightly as he vanished from sight and Neal found himself awake again. He sensed a presence to his right, turning his head to find Peter sitting there. The agent was fiddling with something on his phone when their eyes met.

"Hey... was wondering when you'd wake up. Hopefully I didn't wake you."

Neal shook his head looking beyond to find El crashed on the sofa. How long had he been asleep?

"Nearly dinner time. They said they would bring you something once you woke up. Want me to page them?"

Peter reached for the button but Neal shook his head.

"Let's just talk. What did the doctor say?"

He had a feeling he knew as Peter shifted in the chair, stretching slightly. The agent looked exhausted and Neal knew it was because of him.

"Dr. Marrin said your MRI was clean this time. They'll release you tomorrow. He wants you to continue with Dr. Moran if possible. She said Nick was behaving himself?"

Neal shrugged.

"We've got a compromise going."

They were quiet a moment, Peter looking a little thoughtful about something as he glanced at the younger man. Neal thought it might be something negative as the agent's lips curved downwards a bit.

"The higher ups want Hughes to have you evaluated. I told Hughes it wasn't necessary but you may have to continue seeing Dr. Moran before you can come back to work..."

His voice trailed off and Neal understood why.

"If I'm allowed back."

A twinge of anger was hitting him now and he controlled himself for fear it would awaken Nick from his compromised sleep. He knew they had reason to keep him from going back but he wasn't sure why.

"Neal, I didn't tell them anything but when... well when you were at our home that day Christophe took you, Hughes found the knife and showed it to me. He figured things out from there. I told him you would never hurt Elizabeth. You were stronger than Sorenson but he had to tell them what he knew so now they want to re-evaluate our agreement."

He could barely nod, a sullen look on his face but what could he do? He had almost killed both of his friends and the only two who cared enough to forgive him what he almost did. Guilt ate at him like a cancer and he wanted to run. It was what he knew best.

"I understand, Peter. Not your fault or Hughes. I think I'm going to rest now."

Peter nodded with a terse shake of his head. He looked just as upset as he patted him on the arm before standing up and turning towards his sleeping wife. El was rousing already as he approached and gently helped her up.

"We'll be back tomorrow to pick you up. June left you some clothes."

El spoke softly not realizing what the two men had discussed as he nodded at her with his false smile. He wanted her to think things were rosy even if they weren't. Things weren't buried away so perfectly he thought as the door shut and he was left alone.

()()()

Peter slept very little that night, his mind going back to the session at Dr. Moran's. He had talked to Emily briefly at the hospital and she had told him Neal would do fine once his shattered psyche was able to fix itself. Once he knew she was privy to their situation, he had asked her opinion on the topic. Elizabeth had left him for the ladies room and he had bumped into the psychiatrist in the corridor as he waited.

"From what you've told me, he's no danger to anyone once the programming is gone. His MRI's were clean so that's something. I've worked with Dr. Marrin before on cases like this. This one was unique in its own way but I think you could argue quite well that your partner is more than capable of doing his job. He wasn't acting on his own recognisances due to that programming. Once he's well, that should be proof enough as is his past performance."

He thanked her for her time. Emily wasn't sure how to help with their situation at work but volunteered her expertise if necessary. She would be a witness if anything on their behalf. She was just walking away as Elizabeth had come out and they'd left for home. He had talked to her finally about what was going on, uncertain he was going to tell her but they'd discussed it in length before going to sleep and now his mind was in overdrive remembering everything from the start of this strange case to the present.

"Peter... honey, wake up."

He jerked awake looking across at his darkened reflection in the mirror of the bureau. Elizabeth was hugging him in the gloom of their room, only faint light streaming through from the window.

"I'm sorry. Did I wake you up?"

He could just make out her face in the dim light, eyes glittering a dark blue as she reached up to caress his face and smiled, something he just sensed as they sat there in bed. Finally he sighed and leaned back, his wife on her side watching him in the darkness.

"You were talking in your sleep."

Peter didn't have to ask why she woke him. It had to have been about Neal. It was always about Neal.

"I was thinking about what happened and how I could have prevented it. How I could still help him. He's not... dangerous, El."

He was pleading with her in the darkness but it was more rhetorical than anything as she nodded back, rolling over to turn on the lamp by the bed and now he could see she looked like she had also been worrying about Neal as well. It had been a long three days of waiting for him to wake up from the coma the doctor had said was self-induced. All the stress of the past month or so had just been so much more than anyone could have guessed. Neal had not been the only one to suffer but they were determined to stand by him and make sure he got through this.

"I know honey. Neal wasn't himself but now he is. That's all that matters."

She was hugging him now, her lips touching his as they lay there a moment and tried to think happy thoughts. They needed all the positive energy they could muster, the sound of Peter's cell ringing. El looked at him and he shrugged rolling over to pick it up.

"Burke..."

There was silence at first and then, a familiar voice.

"Peter... uhm, we need to meet."

He blinked wondering why Alex Hunter was for one thing calling him at 3 am and secondly needing to meet him. She had been in protective custody when Christophe had died. He guessed she was now out of the safe house, free to do what she wanted and he thought perhaps mourn. Her absence from Neal had been interesting. They had been close once. He wasn't really certain why she was back but it had to have something to do with Neal. Is that why she was calling now? He stifled a yawn uncertain what to think as El glanced at him curiously.

"Do you realize what time it is?"

Peter wasn't sure how to respond, El leaning over to whisper in his ear. He covered the mouth piece.

"It's Alex. She wants to talk?"

He heard the young woman breathing on the other side and it sounded like she might be stressed.

"I'm at Neal's apartment. Meet me there. June's up."

She left the comment open and hung up, Peter uncertain what to do as he stared at the now quiet cell. He finally placed it back on the charger and turned to face Elizabeth.

"Alex said she's at June's and wants to meet with me. I get the feeling this has something to do with Neal."

He sat up and started to get out of bed as Elizabeth nodded and did the same.

"I'll make you some coffee, hon."

She kissed him as she moved around from her side of the bed and left the room. He watched her exit in her fuzzy robe as he started to change quickly into a pair of jeans and tan polo shirt. He pulled on some black socks and slipped into some top-sider loafers as he took his cell and exited the room. He quickly freshened up in the bathroom, putting some cold water on his face as he smoothed back his hair and headed downstairs. He could already smell the coffee brewing as he moved into the kitchen and El handed him a mug.

"Call me."

He hugged her tight with a nod of his head as they kissed a moment and then he left her.

()()()

He could always blame Nick for this but for once in the last month or so he was in his right mind. The guilt ate at him for what had happened and the possibilities caused by what Soren had done to him and Chris. He had to get away and think a moment, get his head clear so he got out of bed and pulled the IV's and monitors from his body. He quickly dressed in the clothes June had left and snuck quietly and stealthily out of the room.

It wasn't long before he reached his first destination, paying the cabbie and waiting for them to leave before he climbed over the fence and dropped without a sound on the other side. He had an idea where the place was he wanted as he felt his way in the darkness then knelt when he reached the spot.

"I should have stayed behind and helped. I'm sorry Chris. At least you're free."

He knelt there a while until he thought he heard someone coming. Neal made his way back behind a tree when he saw a familiar figure standing there. They dropped flowers on the ground before the stone as he watched and heard them speak quietly to the person they would never see again.

"Alex?"

She turned with a start, trembling with fear before seeing it was him.

"Neal? What... are you doing here?"

He walked out into the dim light and shrugged.

"I guess the same thing you are. I'm sorry."

She shook her head and turned back towards the stone. He could see her trembling some either from the chill in the air or emotion, he wasn't sure as he removed his jacket and put it around her shoulders. She kept shaking.

"Looks like you're doing better. I thought you were in the hospital in a coma."

Alex looked up at him, eyes glittering slightly in the half light but he shrugged again, arm gently around her until he felt her head leaning against him.

"You keeping tabs on me?"

She shrugged with a wipe at her face which he thought must be her crying some but not enough for him to see, the gloom enough to hide their emotions.

"Maybe. Does Peter know you're out here?"

He shook his head. She grinned at him, her expression obvious as she looked up at him.

"I need a drink."

She blinked at him but smiled as they took a moment to say good-bye to their friend then left, Alex's arm around Neal's waist while his arm hugged her shoulders. They exited the cemetery and made their way towards town and the nearest bar.

()()()

Peter showed up to find June waiting at the door for him. She was in a long dark blue robe with matching slippers poking out. As always, June looked bright and ready to help. He wasn't sure where she got the energy but envied her ability to be calm under pressure.

"Peter. I was told you were expected. I was up reading a book when I heard someone at my front door. I guess Ms. Hunter called you? She's upstairs."

She smiled slightly, looking like she knew something he didn't. June could sometimes be quite the mystery herself, his knowledge of her past and husband sketchy at best. She was a force for good despite her history and he knew if anything she meant well for Neal. He smiled back, stifling a yawn as he went up the stairs and watched her observe him a moment before going back through the dining room.

Peter wound his way up the dark staircase until he found himself before a familiar door. He gave it a light knock as he heard soft voices and movement then saw Alex peek out.

"Agent Burke... you're fast! I... I apolo... apologize for the wait."

She sounded a bit drunk as she pulled the door wide open and waved him in like a hostess at a frat party. She was wearing Neal's jacket, a black leather number he'd worn on one or two occasions. Her own outfit consisted of a black and mocha brown two piece miniskirt and gauzy top with a dark camisole underneath. A simple gold necklace and hoop earrings finished the outfit off, the items jingling slightly when she moved.

"He's over... there."

Peter wasn't sure who HE was till he turned to see Neal sitting on the couch, slumped and holding a glass of what appeared to be scotch in his hand. The young man looked relaxed as he walked over to get a closer look. Neal's eyes were shut, his face twitching slightly as Peter moved to wake him. He barely nudged him when two glassy blue eyes glanced up at him. Neal wiped at his face as if he wasn't sure he was seeing correctly then glanced back up at him.

"Peter? What are you... doing here?"

He made to get up but couldn't quite make it as Peter took the drink from his hand and placed it on the coffee table. He sat beside him uncertain what to say.

"Neal, you're supposed to be in the hospital. What are you doing here?"

Peter had suddenly moved to father mode, worry and concern mixed with a mild feeling of anger. He'd been waken up to find his partner at home drunk and not where he was supposed to be. Neal glanced up at him with a slightly sheepish grin.

"Are you here to pack my bags, Peter?"

He blinked at his friend, noticing Neal curling up on the couch and getting comfy as if he might fall asleep. Peter nudged him again.

"Neal, what are you talking about? I'm here because Alex called."

Two blue eyes looked up at him, a glazed look to them from the alcohol.

"Guilt trip... that's why you're here. I have more than enough to go around. Take a number."

Neal waved a sleepy hand up at the agent as he rolled over and seemed to get comfy on the sofa. Peter didn't know what to do when he heard what sounded like a soft snore coming from his friend. Neal was asleep. He turned to see Alex hanging up Neal's jacket and looking like she was about to go.

"Wait..."

He kept his voice quiet as he moved towards the door and the departing fence. She paused looking at him with eyes just as glassy as Neal's. He could smell the alcohol on her breath but kept from saying anything.

"Alex... tell me what's going on. Why did you call me?"

She looked across the room at Neal on the sofa before motioning for him to follow her out into the hallway. Peter closed the door as she held a finger to her lips and pointed at the room.

"Chris... we were at his grave tonight. I guess we had the same idea. Neal said he wanted to get a drink so we went out then came here but he didn't have his key so he tried to pick it and woke up June."

Her face went red and she looked like she wanted to giggle a bit but instead rolled her eyes as did Peter. He was lucky June was so understanding about things.

"So, you two came up here and you called me for what?"

He was gentler this time realizing the gravity of the situation. Neal hadn't had time to mourn his friend or truly grasp everything. Peter was thinking about that when a hand gently touched his arm.

"He respects you, more than you know. I told him to call you before the hospital did but he was being Neal. Plus he got drunk before I... (hic) did."

She looked a bit embarrassed, covering her mouth and smiling sheepishly. Both Neal and Alex were cut off the same mold. She knew how Neal thought.

"I'm glad you called. Did you need a ride anywhere?"

Alex shook her head and pointed back at the door as she leaned closer to speak.

"He wanted to talk... to you. I'll take a cab home."

She hugged him lightly which was something he didn't expect as she weaved slightly down the hallway disappearing down the stairs. He was worried she might fall until he heard June's voice and realized she had been standing nearby. Peter went back inside to find Neal still asleep on the sofa. He closed the door and went over to the bed, pulling the blankets aside before he walked back to the sofa and nudged Neal.

"Come on. You're going to sleep over here."

Peter managed to walk the mostly unconscious con to the bed, ease off his shirt, pants and shoes before pulling the blanket over him. Neal looked red faced, hair mussed like a little boy who'd been tired out playing all day. He sighed, brushing a stray hair from Neal's face before he pulled out his phone and called Elizabeth.

"It's me. I'm good. Neal's here. Alex and he... well he's good and she went home. I'll tell you about it in the morning when I get home. I'm going to stick around. Yes... he's asleep. Love you too."

He hung up the phone and gave a quiet yawn, turning when he heard the door creak quietly open. June stood there looking curious as she entered the room and made her way beside him.

"I guess he's sleeping. I can take care of it from here if you want to go home Peter."

He shook his head turning to look at Neal and feeling a pang of concern. He worried about the young man and he wanted to talk to him about what was going on. The guilt trip comment got to him.

"I thought I'd stick around if that's ok."

She smiled and nodded at him, motioning towards the door.

"I'll get you a blanket and pillow. Be right back."

()()()

Neal was only vaguely aware of getting back to June's. He and Alex had already shared a few drinks at a local bar before heading back to his apartment. He'd forgotten the fact he had escaped from the hospital, thoughts of running gone as he reached for his key and realized he didn't have it. Alex offered him assistance with a hairpin, the fence and con trying their best to quietly break into his apartment through June's front door before the light came on and his landlady showed up.

"Neal? I thought you were in the hospital. Is anything the matter?"

She saw him before her eyes turned to find Alex behind him hiding some. They were both blushing and holding their eyes down as if they were two kids caught coming in late. She sighed and motioned them in as she glanced around the street. Neal wondered why she was so nice to him as he wove and stumbled down the small entrance into her large foyer. The hearth always impressed him especially when she lit it on cold winter nights. His mind wandered in this way as he glanced up to find he was at the top of the stairs already, Alex and June following up behind and he opened up the door.

"I think this calls for a... cele... cele... a drink. What's your poison, June?"

He was more sloshed than he probably thought he was and acting rather stupid. Neal didn't care, Alex looking a bit more sober as she went out on the terrace and made a call. June started to make them coffee but he had already gone to the wine rack and looked for something to drink. He ended up with a bottle of scotch from the cabinet, pulling out three glasses but June declined.

"Neal, you should be resting. Should I call Peter?"

He shook his head, swigging down a large gulp of scotch before pouring another. Alex came back and he gave her a glass.

"To being whole again!"

Alex glanced at him curiously but nodded as they clinked glasses and drank. June rolled her eyes, excusing herself when she heard a knock downstairs. Neal wondered who it could be but the bottle of scotch and Alex pouring him another glass distracted him.

"To Chris... we'll miss him."

Her voice went down a notch and Neal felt his buzz starting to fade despite the high he was feeling. Maybe he was getting too drunk, sipping the glass as he hugged the bottle to him and walked over to the sofa and plopped onto it. He was tired now, slumping till his head was close to laying on the arm. That's when he heard the voice he least expected.

"Peter? What are you... doing here?"

He was too out of it to really keep up with what the agent said. He curled up on his side muttering something about guilt trips. Maybe he was dreaming and would wake up back in the hospital, his eyes closing as Peter's voice faded into the background. He had the feeling he had said something to bother the agent but it was a dream wasn't it? He just faded off to sleep, barely aware of being moved to his bed till he woke up to find sunlight streaming into the room. Neal winced and groaned, rolling over and looking surprised he was one not in the hospital and two back at June's. He gazed up at the skylight above, wishing for less light when he turned to his right and blinked.

Neal sat up and gazed over at the figure on the sofa curious who and why as he quietly slipped off of his bed, pulling on his robe when he found himself in his tee and boxers. He padded cautiously up to the figure when he heard a groan and not so quiet snore.

"Just a few more minutes, El..."

He sighed and smiled, curious why the agent was there and how he came to be at June's. Neal didn't have long to wait as Peter rolled over and off the sofa with a thud and unpleasant volley of quiet curses.

"Good morning, sunshine."

Peter glanced up at him blearily till he realized the agent was remembering something and nodded with a grimace.

"Yeah... if I was at home with my wife maybe and not... well, how are you this morning?"

Peter pulled himself up onto the sofa again as Neal joined him and they both tried to think of something to say.

"I get the feeling you were called out at all hours to look for me. I'm sorry Peter."

The agent looked at him with a grunt and nod of his head.

"Alex called me. I think she was worried."

Neal nodded, sighing as if to say he knew how she felt. Alex had always had a thing for him but he had always been too immature to think that far ahead. He found her fun and exciting but Kate had been his girl then. He had obsessed over the idea of Kate and the white picket fence that had always been denied him. He couldn't get that with someone like Alex no matter how much he cared for her.

"Penny for your thoughts."

He perked up and looked at the agent with a shrug.

"Just thinking. Do you know how long the evaluation will take?"

Peter blinked, combing his hair back with one hand as he seemed to really think about what he said.

"I don't know. Hughes just told me what I told you the other day. I wasn't any happier than you are. Elizabeth is willing to help you out when she has a slow day and I can go with you to some of your appointments if you want. Dr. Moran offered herself as an expert witness on our behalf. Everyone's behind you, Neal."

He saw the sincerity there in his friend's eyes and knew it was the truth. That part of him Nick had been formed from had to understand he had a life here and family. He had roots now and it would take more than a simple errant ego to destroy that.

"I know... Thanks Peter."

(The End)

oOoOoOo

Author's Note: Yes it's finally done! YAY! Sad to see it end but it had to sometime. I hope you enjoyed reading it. I need to sift through my other ideas for my next story but I had one in my Menagerie shorts people were liking so I may do that one next. I have several ideas, one I've been writing on my iPod when I'm bored. Anyone else excited about what happened last episode? Sad and touching but so cool. Waiting for next week's since I saw part of it filmed while in NYC this past June. w00t!