(Chapter 16)

Peter was less than alert, a blurry item hung over him, blurry figures around him talking. He thought he recognized a voice but wasn't sure from where. He felt a faint sense of panic arise, his pulse racing, throat growing tight as they asked him to stay still.

Just a few more minutes, Peter. (Get another shot of the right temple. Does that look like a fracture?)

His mind was confused, addled, the voices disappearing into the background as others took their place. Memories more than anything of things he wasn't sure were real or not.

You're the only one I trust.

I'm getting on that plane, Peter.

This one sounded familiar but who it was... The speaker was hidden from view but he had a hint of blue.

"Peter..."

His eyes focused, the machine gone and he was suddenly looking up at his wife. Elizabeth was staring curiously at him as he found he wasn't where he had been. The X-Ray room was gone and he had somehow been moved to a regular hospital room.

"Hun?"

El looked worried but he finally nodded, smiling softly as he reached up and touched her cheek. She was real so he was here. His mind felt like it had been wiped clean like a slate. He had been at home napping so how had he gotten here?

"Why am I... in a hospital? El?"

His head ached, the right temple throbbing painfully. His hand reached up and felt a bandage there where his fingers touched. He had been hurt but he didn't remember how. He was supposed to be looking for Neal but now he was here.

"You got hit on the head, hun. Don't you remember?"

Her voice caught slightly in her throat, something about her reaction bothered him. It seemed to involve more than just concern for him.

"I don't remember. I just recall getting home late and napping. what happened? Did they find Neal?"

He saw her eyes widened at his partner's name. Peter had been right to think she was worried about something else. He squeezed her hand in hers hoping for more information but she turned her eyes to avoid his, head shaking slightly.

"Not now, Peter. Please... you need your rest. The doctor said you got a pretty good concussion. I need to let him know you're awake."

Elizabeth was doing her best to be calm but something was bothering her and he wanted to know what, his hand keeping hers in it's grip so she couldn't reach across.

"Tell me what happened. Did they take Neal back already? I missed taking him in. He wanted me to..."

You have to take me in. Tell them what you want but I'm turning myself in to you, Agent Burke.

When had Neal said that? Why had he been so formal? It wasn't how the con spoke at least not since they had become more than partners. They were like family and about as informal as could be. They were friends and yet...

"Hun... what's wrong? Let me call Dr. Carson in here."

Peter shook his head, pulling his wife to him as he hugged her tight and hid his face in her hair. He wanted to be distracted as the memories hit him. She held him back, gently rubbing his back as he tried not to cry.

"He shot him, El. I remember... but I wasn't me. He wanted... Neal wanted me to take him in. Arrest him but I didn't understand. He was handing it to me and then..."

His body shook, warm wetness dripping from his eyes as El held him even tighter and did her best to soothe him. He thought he heard her crying too but he was too lost in his own sorrow for a moment to pay attention. Atkins... he had shot Neal.

"Oh hun... Peter. You weren't supposed to know yet. Dr. Carson wanted you to rest before you were told. You didn't seem to recall what happened and Hughes felt that was ok until you were better."

She pulled away to arms length, their hands still holding on to the other as he tried not to let the memory stress him. Neal had been shot and was innocent. Even as lost as he was, he knew that at the time and took the man as he was but Atkins... his eyes narrowed and lips curled into a snarl.

"Atkins shot him. How... is Neal? I need to know."

El was still trying to avoid the topic but finally gave in, her shoulders sagging in defeat.

"He's... Neal lost a lot of blood. Dr. Carson is the surgeon. He promised to let me know what happened. He's still in surgery."

Peter wasn't sure what to think about his partner's life hanging on a thread. He just hoped Neal would survive. He had to talk to Hughes about what happened. El seemed to understand.

"Tomorrow, Peter. Hughes will be here in the morning. You need to rest. It's only been 8 hours since they brought you in. Rest, hun."

She kissed him, hugging him as she did so and he relaxed, knowing again that his wife was right.

"He wasn't going to hurt me. He didn't. Neal saved me, El. Atkins and the rest of those stuff shirts need to know the truth."

She nodded, El's cheek next to his as she gently wrapped an arm around him.

"I know hun... rest. I'll let you know if Dr. Carson comes in with news."

()()()

It was early the next morning, the light through the window still dark when Peter heard voices.

It's still too soon to tell. He's still unconscious but the surgery went well. We managed to stop the bleeding.

The voice sounded familiar, whispering just loud enough to be heard, eyes moving in the dimly lit room to see two shadowy figures by the door talking. He recognized one as his wife and the other had red hair so he guessed it had to be Dr. Carson. Peter was too sleepy to respond, closing his eyes as he continued to hear what he could of the conversation through drowsy ears.

Your husband woke up? That's good to know. I'm sure he'll be able to go home today. We just wanted to observe him over night. When he wakes up next, use the nurse call. I'll be back to examine him to make sure everything is ok. I'll bring the room number so you can visit your friend when I come later. Get some rest, Mrs. Burke.

Peter's mind had him thinking he was awake, sitting up in bed as he heard the door shut quietly in the background. He felt warm breath by his cheek but nobody was there.

Neal's out of surgery, hun. Dr. Carson says... (her voice hitched slightly as she took in a breath then continued.) We can visit him when you wake up and you can go home today.

He turned in the direction of her voice but discovered himself to be alone, Peter leaving the bed as he stood and started walking towards the door. It opened up as he approached as if by some invisible hand. His feet seemed to have a path already drawn out, Peter following where they went as the dream continued. He was walking down a long white, sterile looking corridor and finally stopped before a silvery elevator. The doors opened as he stood before them and he stepped inside automatically, turning to face the entrance as the doors shut. He saw that someone had already pushed a button, the 3rd floor, as the elevator quietly rose with him inside then stopped, the bell dinging as the doors opened up again. Without missing a beat, he exited, continuing his strange journey through the dream version of the hospital and down to the left through another sterile empty hallway. There were at least three turns before he found himself staring at a room in the ICU section, hand reaching for and opening the door.

Dr. Carson stood in the room, two nurses settling someone in a bed at the end of the room. The figure didn't move, respirator and other machines connected to the person lying there as he moved closer to get a better look. It was Neal Caffrey.

Let me know if there's any change in his vitals. I need to let his friends know they can visit him soon.

One of the nurses left with the doctor but the other stayed, sitting down and writing something on a chart before taking a book from a nearby bag and sitting down to read it. She looked up off and on at the unconscious figure, checking the monitors and writing more information down Peter couldn't see as he watched the scene silently. At some point the nurse put her book down and moved closer to check Neal's pulse by hand, her cheeks blushing slightly as she did so. Even unconscious Caffrey made girl's flush at his good looks. It brought a smile to his face, no jealousy there as he continued to watch as if it were really happening.

Hun... Peter, honey.

Suddenly he was awake, looking up at his wife's smiling face. He glanced around confused for a second then remembered where he was. The window was light now, the curtains lit from the outside by sunlight.

"What time is it?"

He stretched some, his body achy from his ordeal the day before. Neal had rescued him from that pile of debris when the cat walk fell. He just hoped...

"Just after 9 AM. Dr. Carson gave me Neal's room number. He's on the 3rd floor. Once they've given you a final exam, he said you can dress and we can head up there before you leave."

El kissed him, Peter happy to have his wife with him at this moment. He thought about when she was missing and pushed the memory away just as quickly. He wasn't thinking about what she said other than Neal being out of surgery.

"Did he say if Neal had woken yet?"

She shook her head with a slight frown, giving him his answer.

"I need to talk to Reese. Has he come by?"

El shook her head again, helping him get comfy as he sat up in bed and tried not to feel anxious. He had to know the state of Neal's freedom. Was he going to prison for good or was there a chance he would still be his Consultant?

They both turned as a knock was heard and the door opened. It was Hughes.

"Peter... Elizabeth... Good morning."

The senior agent nodded to El who stood and gave him a friendly half hug before excusing herself.

"I'm going to go see where Neal's room is. Thank you for coming, Reese."

Once she had exited, Hughes stood near the bed a moment as if waiting for something then finally took the seat El had been using as he sat near Peter and took a deep breath.

"Atkins is getting suspended for his rashness. The gun Caffrey had didn't have a clip in it and he broke procedure. It doesn't help everyone knew he had a thing against Caffrey. I think you found your out, Peter. Caffrey isn't going back."

Peter blinked, not wanting to believe it but...

"So he's still my CI... if he survives."

His tone was dark, hands clenching at his sides. Reese touched his leg through the blanket and drew his attention up to his eyes.

"I'm sorry it had to happen this way. They were going to make sure he was in prison for good but when they heard what happened, everything was back in his favor. He saved your life and he didn't deserve what happened, impulsive or not. Caffrey is a good man, Peter but then you always knew that."

He saw a shininess in his boss' eyes that made him realize the agent liked Caffrey too despite his gruffness towards the con. Peter just hoped Neal would live to see how much he was appreciated. It wasn't his fault what happened and he knew that better than he ever could.

They both turned as the phone rang on the bedside, Hughes glancing at it curiously before he stood and picked it up.

"Hughes... Hi, Elizabeth."

He was quiet a moment and then a smile formed on his face, turning to see Peter looking at him expectantly.

"Yes, I'll let him know. Tell Caffrey he's... not going anywhere. Yes... Of course. Bye."

Peter waited to hear what Reese had to say as the man smiled brightly at him.

"He's awake. Your wife is with him now. I told her to let him know what we talked about just now. Maybe this will turn out better than we thought."

()()()

It was a long month after the incident with Atkins. The agent was demoted once his suspension came under review. He had done the same rash act with another suspect but it had not come to light until recently. The agent had few friends and when it came to a choice between getting rid of Neal Caffrey and ratting out Gerald Atkins, the consultant had won. Kramer and a few of the other higher ups had backed the con despite some reservations. Kramer had been happy to hear of his rescue of Peter as had the other agent who'd been in agreement at the original meeting, an Agent Maurice Hoskins. Neal wasn't completely off the hook but he was back in as Peter's consultant, the curfew still in place but Neal wasn't going to complain. He was still recovering from the gunshot wound, receiving transfusions until he was 100% again.

Neal didn't mind the restrictions as much. He had won his freedom in a way, back to his old routine with only some minor changes. Peter was to check in on him every day at least twice when he wasn't at work. He'd been given the month off to recoup but made a habit of showing up for lunch with the White Collar unit when he felt up to it. It help pass the time and he was allowed that luxury during his current probation at Peter's whim. Today though had not been a good day so Neal had stayed home in bed, reading a book and chatting up the nurse who came to give him the transfusions. June had a friend who hooked them up with a good hospice agency to keep Neal relaxed and closer to home.

He fell asleep during the session not feeling the nurse remove the IV or even heard her leave until the door quietly clicked closed. His eyes popped open as he glanced around to find himself alone and gave a heavy sigh. Dr. Carson said he would only have to do the transfusions for another week and then he'd come in to check out his blood platelet count to be sure he wasn't still anemic. Neal had been very lucky. A major artery had been nicked but Peter interfering when he had saved his life. He couldn't help but be glad the agent was keeping an eye on him even when he wasn't himself.

"Knock Knock..."

He hadn't heard the door opening, Peter standing at the doorway smiling curiously back at him. He was still wearing his suit from work, blazer thrown over his shoulder nonchalantly. Neal sat up with a quiet groan, pulling the blanket aside to sit up and nod at his friend.

"Hey... guess I missed lunch with the bull pen today. Doctor says I'm getting better though. Any cases for me to peruse?"

Peter grinned slightly, pulling out a small manila folder from under his arm.

"Museum theft. Thought it was right up your alley but you will have to be the arm chair detective for it until Dr. Carson and I approve your return."

The agent walked over and handed the case file to him as he sat on the edge of the bed and watched him read it quickly. Looked like a typical snatch and grab only the thief had made use of a skylight.

"I think I have an idea how this was done and by whom... Are you hungry? I know I am."

Peter nodded back as Neal rose slowly to his feet and moved over to the kitchenette and opened up the fridge. He pulled out a large platter of something that looked like chicken only smaller. The agent grinned.

"Hot wings? I thought you only ate the best finger foods. Trying to bribe me?"

Neal turned and shook his head with a devious grin.

"June's idea. She had some of Samantha's friends over from soccer. This was the left overs. I'll warm some up. Beer or Wine?"

Peter rolled his eyes as Neal did the same.

"Like I need to ask... wine it is."

He winked back, pulling out a couple of beers and handing them to the agent as he poured himself a glass of some expensive looking red wine and placed the platter of wings in the oven. Once he turned and joined Peter at the table, the agent raised his bottle.

"A toast... think we should make this a moment to remember."

Neal smirked, looking down at his wrinkled silk pajama pants and tee under his matching robe.

"I think I'm a little under dressed for this but ok, I'll bite. What are we toasting?"

Peter patted him on the shoulder and smiled.

"Happy endings..."

(The End)

oOoOoOo

Author's Note: Yes! It's over! Really and truly! I loved writing it but heck if the boys didn't want me to add the kitchen sink (I think I might have somewhere in this tale.) Hoping to write another one soon once I think of a new plot. I'm a little worse for wear on plot lines with work driving me nuts with trouble tickets on accounts. So... I hope you liked and hope to hear from you on the next tale. :)