(Epilogue: Behind the Scenes - Final Judgment)
Peter was relieved when he stepped out of the room, reaching up to loosen his tie when he still felt that tightness in his chest and throat. It had been a miracle he thought that Kramer had admitted wrong much more Neal had been given back to him. He corrected that thought. Neal wasn't a commodity to be passed around or a tool in anyone's belt as Rice and Kramer thought. Neal was a person and a very smart one at that. Peter liked smart and his friend was one of the smartest guys he knew. He had his partner back.
He turned to find Elizabeth there, dressed in a nice pant suit and looking curiously at him. She wasn't supposed to be here but he was glad for her presence as he hugged and kissed her. She smiled back.
"Happy to see you too. Good news I presume?"
She was looking hopefully up at him as he nodded with his own smile. El's blue eyes widened in happiness, arms hugging him tightly as she kissed him again.
"Oh hun! ... so Neal?"
El's eyes turned from happy to slightly worried but he smiled and nodded again, her face beaming in reply.
"He'll be happy to hear it. June was worried when she went to visit..."
Peter stopped her, glancing down at his wife curiously, El's eyes looking up at him apologetically.
"He woke up last night. The doctor called me after you had already left this morning. I forgot I hadn't had a chance to tell you."
Peter moved to sit on a nearby bench in the hallway, one arm still wrapped around his wife's waist as she hugged him back and gave him a furtive glance.
"I told you everything would turn out ok, Peter. Kramer confessed, Reese helped and even that nice agent from D.C... He helped Neal. You can relax now."
Elizabeth seemed certain of things why didn't he? What would prevent someone else from trying to blackmail Neal back into his old life or worse? It was obvious that Neal had changed, wanted to stay and be with them but was it enough? His mind was whirling at the what ifs despite their win when he heard a cough and glanced up. Suddenly he was filled with anger he'd been holding back for the past year.
It took all he had not to punch the man out, his body stiffening where he sat as Elizabeth obviously felt his tension and squeezed her arm around him a bit more tightly in response. He didn't want to feel this way after the victory but that uncertainty was back, brown eyes glaring up into the watery blue of his old mentor.
He kept it simple, saying little as he felt his teeth gripping the side of his cheek to keep him from saying more. It was taking all his willpower to hold back the words he wanted to spew at this man but he had to hold back.
"I just wanted to say, congratulations. I'll have Caffrey's things sent back to Ms. Ellington's."
Kramer seemed just as uncomfortable talking to him but for other reasons, Peter nodding up silently at the man. Elizabeth kept quiet but knew enough to be angry at his former mentor. Her blue eyes were flashing with curiosity at the man as he looked at them both with a slight chagrined expression.
"I can admit I was wrong, Peter... I'm sorry for everything I put you through and Caffrey. He's a much different person than I figured him to be. I can honestly say you've left a mark on him. Tell him..."
Philip paused as if unable to finish the sentence as he nodded to them again before leaving. Footsteps echoing down the corridor as Peter finally stood and turned towards the exiting figure.
He caught up with the agent, anger still intact as he tried to temper it with some mercy despite feeling otherwise.
"What you did... It's not up to me to forgive you for that. I know what I think but Caffrey is a good man and you treated him like a tool in your belt! I will never forgive you for trying to take my friend and partner away. We are through!"
He hissed the words at the man, Kramer blinking back at him curiously without a hint of smile or wryness, only a weary nod.
"Trust me, Peter... I underestimated your friendship and his. I won't bother you again. Not even sure I will be in D.C. for much longer but that's my fault."
Kramer paused, his hand reaching carefully over to touch Peter's shoulder in that old familiar manner but now it felt different after everything that had happened.
"Caffrey held out for you, Peter. He's definitely got your back. I'm just sorry I didn't see that sooner."
Phil just nodded to him with a slight smile before he turned and left without another word. Peter watched him go a part of him hurt by the actions of his mentor and former friend but also glad to have gotten things off his chest finally. He felt someone hug him, El by his side.
"I think he meant what he told you but you needed to be honest with him, hun. You handled it as well as anyone. I'm proud of you."
Peter heard what she said his eyes moving from the receding figure to his wife. He leaned down to kiss her. She was always right.
"Let's go visit Neal. I think he'll want to hear the good news too."
El was smiling up at him as he smiled back finally feeling like he'd dropped a great weight off his shoulders. Peter wrapped his arm around his wife, holding her close to him as they left the building. Maybe everything would be ok after all.
Neal remembered people talking to him, the sound of something loud making the space vibrate but he was too tired and weak to respond as he lay on the front seat of the sedan, eyes partially shut. He was staring at the blurry light of the cell phone, someone chatting to him through it but he was no longer able to respond. His second wind had come and gone, hunger and exhaustion hitting him hard as the hours past. He could breathe but that was the least of his worries after two days encapsulated in cement.
Neal... Is he ok? Neal... wake up!
A familiar voice spoke to him, others drowned out by the buzzing in his head as he tried to stay conscious but found himself stuck in the darkness. His eyes had closed, body limp but he was just aware of movement as he was carried out of the cement coffin he had been trapped in, cool wind whipping at his hair and face. He shivered slightly, someone wrapping him up in their jacket and arms. They felt warm as he snuggled slightly to them, head resting on a strong shoulder. Someone was stroking his hair, holding his hand and talking to him, Neal trying to wake up but still too tired to respond. The person stayed with him, talking all the time as other voices joined in but this one was constant, keeping him relaxed as he felt himself moved and shifted by other hands, something poking his arms and then quiet as he finally passed out.
How is he today nurse?
It seemed like days before he heard another voice, one he knew well. A nurse he thought answered back. He'd heard her before but his mind drifted here and there trying to come back to the surface as he focused on the words around him.
He's stable. Sleeping.
There was silence after they spoke, the sound of soft footsteps and then a door opening and closing before someone touched his hand. He wanted to grip it back, open his eyes and look up at the figure there. They spoke softly to him, his mind at ease from their presence.
Your room is just as you left it, Neal. Don't think you can leave so easily. My door is always open to you. Remember that.
He thought he felt his head nod in reply, imagining his room at June's as she softly hummed to him in a low musical tone that relaxed him. Slowly his eyes opened and he could see her, a blurry form at first and then her smile surprised yet welcoming as he felt himself return it.
"Hello, sleepy head."
He couldn't talk yet, nodding at her as he gave a quiet yawn. Maybe he was sleepy but something told him he had slept more than enough. His body ached as if he hadn't moved in some time, a slight pain at the back of his skull where he'd been hit. Someone had hit him hard. It was coming back to him as he glanced up at her and gave a slight groan, shifting his weight to get comfortable. June helped him, reaching over to fluff his pillows and adjust the bed before pushing the nurse call.
"Did you want something to drink, Neal?"
June's voice remained even, calm and gentle. He nodded back to her as she rose and went to the sink off to his left, taking a disposable cup from the dispenser and filling it with water. She helped him drink it as the door opened and a nurse walked in.
"Is something the matter? Oh... he's awake."
The nurse sounded surprised, smiling as she moved to take his hand in hers, checking his pulse, pressure and other vitals quickly before letting him alone and making a quick call.
"Mr. Caffrey, the doctor will come see you soon. Everything seems to be fine. Is there anything you need?"
June remained by his side as he shook his head to the nurse and she left them. He wanted to know what had happened. Mostly he wanted to see Peter.
"How long... have I been asleep?"
Neal shifted some more, wincing from the lack of movement than anything else as June shushed him and patted his hand as she held it.
"About a week. You were very weak and dehydrated when you were brought in. Everyone's been worrying about you... Mozzie... Me... Elizabeth... even Peter."
June winked at him as she noticed the obvious relief at hearing everyone's names, especially Peter's. He smiled back, cheeks flushing he thought as she kissed him on the forehead and smiled again.
"At least the fever is gone. You were slightly feverish the first two days but it went away."
She had barely finished her words when the door opened and a man in a white lab coat and blue scrubs entered. He was smiling softly, nodding to June and then looking over curiously at Neal.
"Mr. Caffrey... welcome back. How are you feeling today?"
It was four hours later with all the tests and exams he could stand saying he was ok that Neal found himself turning to the sound of the door opening again with dread.
He barely noticed who the figure was, tiredness still making him irritable and wanting to sleep.
"Tests? Nobody told me there was an exam today."
Neal blinked, focusing on the figure as he took in the Brook Bros suit that told him the person was an FBI agent.
He wasn't sure if he was awake or not but the figure moved closer, holding out a hand as Neal took it and felt a warm solid grip. This wasn't a dream. He sat up despite aches and pains from days of being immobile, hugging his friend despite himself. Peter's arms enfolded him and for a moment they were just in the moment until he let go and saw those honest brown eyes staring at him with a look of honest concern.
"El told me you were awake... Good news to add to even more good news."
Peter was still smiling only more broadly now. Neal was intrigued in addition to being happy to see his friend again.
He saw Peter grasp his shoulder gently, giving it a little squeeze.
"You're coming back here. No more Kramer... no more D.C. and..."
Peter trailed off but winked as he finished up.
"All charges were dropped for both of us. You're finishing your time with me if that's ok with you."
The words seemed to hit him and slide off a moment before they sunk in, Neal blinking a few times before he grinned broadly.
"I think I can stand working with you a few more years... partner."
Kramer's own part in everything was investigated further after the initial hearing Neal had missed, some news spilling into the White Collar offices through Hughes as he passed along details to Peter. Neal was glad to hear about the man who's practically imprisoned him being punished for his part in his own near death experience. He was happier to hear that Morgan's soon to be parole and freedom had been called off as the Irish mobster was given an additional 15 years for his part in trying to kill the consultant. It was nothing less than a miracle as things seemed to be going back to normal. The only thing missing was some of his possessions left in D.C. Agent Efran would have helped but he had been reinstated to another state he had asked to be moved to but he had called in a favor to some friends to help get those things back to the C.I. but it involved his traveling to a place he had hoped never to see again.
Already a month had passed since he'd woken and been released from the hospital. Neal wasn't sure he could handle the uncertainty of going to D.C. a fear there despite knowing he was going a free man... well free as Peter's consultant and partner. He would have gone to prison if he couldn't be with his friends... his family. It would have been preferable to his time with Kramer in D.C. but he could do this. He had to get over it and how better than to go to the place of his nightmares. Peter was escorting him with Hughes' permission. He watched his friend filling out the paperwork to take him away from New York and felt sorry for putting him through so much but Peter seemed happy... content he thought as he shrugged off his questions about keeping him here.
"If you think I'm going to lose you again, Neal... Just let me fill this out. This is the last of the headaches and then you're here for good. Ok buddy?"
Neal saw the irritated look over the paperwork turn to a wry grin.
(The REAL End)
Author's Note: All the stuff you asked for and possibly more at least enough to feed all the queries I think. :) Enjoy!