Journey 2 H - part 3

POST-EP : THE HOSPITAL ROOM

Neal resolutely stood in the doorway, refusing to enter or respond even when Peter hoarsely greeted him.

"Hey bud. Neal? What's wrong?"

Eventually, El rose from the hard plastic chair she'd occupied for the last hour or two and approached Neal, grasping his hands to tug him over the threshold.

"C'mon in, sweetheart. It's okay."

"No. I mean… I just had to see… to know he'll be alright. I'll go and leave you two alone."

"Are you kidding? You have as much right to be here as I do. You're part of us, now. Nothing changes that."

"El…"

"If you hadn't fought to get to Peter, I'd be planning his funeral, Neal. I want you here." She stated with finality, slightly softening the passionate declaration with a gentle smile. After another few moments of hesitation, the young man finally nodded and moved hesitantly to Peter's side. El followed, but sat on the bed, leaving Neal the only chair. He dropped into it slowly, carefully, as if he feared that his knees would fail him, and stared at Peter for a long time. When he spoke at last, the words weren't what his handler was expecting, but, despite still feeling like his batteries needed recharging, Peter was able to go with the flow, as he almost always could with Neal.

"You scared the hell out of me, Agent Burke."

"Yeah… sorry about that." Peter replied with a weary grin.

"God. If…"

"What? If what, Neal?"

"You know."

"I think I do. Can you say it, though? For both of us?"

Neal swallowed harshly and ran one hand through his hair before replying.

"If I'd lost you, too… if you'd died in my arms because of a stupid mistake… I would've vanished into thin air before anybody thought to look for me."

Peter sighed, as though intensely relieved, closed his eyes and breathed out a quiet response, one that deeply confused his charge.

"Thank you."

"What? I don't understand."

"For so long I've told myself that if some case, something I asked you to do for the Bureau… I'd quit. Even after the last few weeks, I couldn't be absolutely sure you felt the same way. Knowing you do… hearing you say it out loud…"

Peter let the thought trail off into silence, confident Neal understood what his constricted throat forced him to leave unsaid. Neal leaned forward, resting his upper body on the bed and his head on Peter's chest. El laid one hand one his back and the other on Peter's arm, supporting them as they found emotional release together, just as they had at the airport. As she had from the start, she agonized over what would happen if her husband's superiors discovered how radically the relationship between Peter and Neal was changing, but for the moment she shoved the worry aside, basking in the sense of bonds tightening and growing stronger. The three of them were good for each other; were meant to be. That was the thing to focus on. The future would bring what it would bring. As a family, they would weather it and come out the other side better and closer than ever. Still, she sent up a silent prayer for guidance in making it happen.

END this part. See you soon with a re-vamp of the second half of S-2…