(Chapter 8)

It had been 36 hours since Peter had been brought in and Neal arrested. The agent had slept for most of that but his mind was thinking of the man who had rescued him. He had looked so much like his partner or had it all been in his head? There had definitely been similarities and the man whoever he was had saved him from certain death. If this was Neal's father he couldn't be a bad man although it wouldn't be odd that he saved the agent for ulterior reasons. He didn't know about the arrest yet, waking up just over a day later with a horrible headache and aching chest. The crinkle of bandages wrapped securely around his abdomen and around his head made him flinch, his ears sensitive to sound as if he had a hangover. Someone moved closer, their hand gently pressing against his forehead and caressing his hair. It was El.

"Hey hun... how are you feeling?"

His eyes opened, gazing around the bland room but falling on the one thing in it that was familiar.

"El? I'm... in a hospital... how long did I sleep?"

He was remembering most of what happened despite the ache of his head and body. Carson had done a number on him and had intended on getting what he wanted, others be damned. El calmed him, shushing him gently as she kissed his lips.

"It's been about a day since they brought you in. Doctor says you're doing well. Your ribs were mostly bruised, no breaks or fractures and the bump on your head a minor concussion at best. I'm just glad you're awake."

She hugged him gently, careful of his ribs as he tried to sit up and she helped him, adjusting the bed and then bringing him a cup of water. Peter wanted to ask her about Neal. There had been something wrong when he was hurt that bothered him but his memory was choppy at best. El seemed to read his mind.

"They found Neal. He's just down the hallway asleep. His temperature is closer to normal now. 93.5 last time I asked. He wanted to see you but the doctor wanted to wait until you were awake and he was closer to normal body temperature. He's been through a lot. We all have."

She sounded contrite as if telling him this wasn't her plan but he nodded, holding her hand in his and squeezing gently.

"So he's ok. Good. Do they have agents watching us? Carson will likely try something again..."

El was quiet, a look on her face that was hard to read.

"Carson's dead."

Peter blinked up at her, her hand squeezing his and then he nodded back finally realizing what she said. The man who claimed to be FBI was dead, his real identity unknown. He would have to ask Hughes about anything that came up on the man if it did. He let out a breath he didn't realize he was holding, smiling slightly.

"That's something..."

His voice trailed off and now it was El who looked at him curiously, her hand gently wrapping around his chin and moving his head so they were eye to eye.

"I have the feeling you're holding something back, Peter."

El was all too perceptive of him and his moods but this was something bigger than himself. He wasn't sure he would tell Hughes yet but he did want to ask Neal about what had happened before he spoke to anyone else. He figured Mozzie knew something but still, Neal was his best bet.

"Just happy he's not in the picture any more and... worrying about Neal. He wasn't doing that well when I left him."

His wife seemed happy with that answer despite his having left out a few minor details. She kissed him on the lips and stood up.

"Rest honey. I'll go see Neal and let him know you're ok. The doctor will want to know you're awake."

She left him, the room quiet and kind of dark when she left. His gaze finally left the door and moved over to the window off to his right, sunlight evident on the other side. It was daylight so the doctor was probably around and Neal awake he hoped. The agent continued to think about what he had seen but his mind was still fuzzy. Blue eyes like Neal's and a similar face stared back from his memory. What had the man said?

Thank you for watching over him.

The man had admitted to being Neal's father. The word hadn't been said but the man had almost said "son" but stopped and said his partner's name instead. If this man WAS Neal's father, then Peter had to find him and know what was going on and why Neal was in danger. There was no way to contact him but the man seemed to find them. James... wasn't that the name Neal had told him? James was obviously in danger if he had to hide from people like Carson. Peter wondered who the man was and why he had impersonated a dead agent. He could have taken out either one that first day but he played the game of concerned Fed to both Peter and Neal. He gave a quiet sigh, slumping back tiredly against the pillows. His mind was worrying about his partner more than anything, eyes starting to close as he went reluctantly back to sleep.

()()()

Neal felt warmer but the shivering continued. His core body temp was getting closer to normal but the doctor said it would still be another day or so before he would feel better. His eyes stared at the door of his hospital room hoping for some word about his friend and partner if not a visitor like June or El. Both had already visited him but he had been alone most of the day, sleeping at times but mostly worrying about Peter. He had chased after his father instead of seeing to his friend and that made him feel guilty. He had wanted justification, vengeance until he knew who it was he was chasing. Seeing his father had been a shock and knowing the man had killed Carson to save him was both a relief and curiosity.

"Neal?"

He glanced down from the ceiling to see El was there, the con never hearing the door open he was so deep in thought. She looked more relaxed than when he had arrived but he knew it had to be from something with Peter than himself. She moved closer, sitting beside him on the chair by his bedside and smiling at him with a much happier expression than he remembered.

"Peter... he woke up. The doctor said he's doing much better, both of you are. He thinks you'll both be out in the next couple of days."

She tucked the blankets around him, fussing like a mother or big sister over Neal as he let her. He was thinking about Ellen suddenly, the former cop the only mother figure he had to go by for such a large part of his life. He hadn't realized a tear rolled down his cheek until El handed him a tissue, that look she had of non-judgment on her face. He was glad for it as he shook his head, wiping at it with his hand.

"Thanks. Glad Peter is doing better. I'm sor..."

She put a finger over his lips as he saw the look on her face.

"You're not to blame for this, Neal. I don't and neither does Peter."

There seemed to be something else on her mind, something other than what had happened here to himself and Peter. He almost dreaded asking but she looked pained by the looks of it.

"You heard about Ellen?"

He said it simply, quietly and slowly her lips turned to a frown as she nodded, a guilt there in her manner.

"I didn't want to say anything in case... I wasn't sure you knew. I only just found out last night. I'm so sorry..."

He wanted to cry but it was still too personal for him to share even with El and possibly Peter. Mozzie knew how he was but even the con wouldn't see his emotions if he could help it. Neal wanted to let go but that fear of not being able to come back held him from the release he needed. It was all he could do not to cry, relief at knowing Peter was ok making him happier than he could say.

"Mozzie sends his greetings. I'll call him and let him know how you are soon as I can. June brought some clothes over for you if you want to change."

She could tell he wanted to be alone although Neal really wanted company, his pride keeping him from asking.

"I still need to thank him for taking care of Peter. I..."

Did she know he ran after someone and left her husband? Did Peter know? He still felt guilty for it despite finding out about his father and seeing the man he knew so little about. A man who had saved his life by killing Carson. She was gentle brushing hair from his face, smiling at him.

"Mozzie said you chased the person who hurt Peter."

She only knew a little of the truth and Mozzie had obviously not told her everything. His friend didn't know the whole truth of what he'd seen: Carson or his father being there. El placed a small kiss on his forehead, hugging him as she tucked him in and stood.

"I need to check on Peter but I will be back. Rest, Neal."

The door closed and Neal was left with his thoughts again. Peter was ok, his father had killed Carson saving himself and his friends but there were still questions. Was Carson the only one chasing after them? If that had been the end of everything, why didn't his father stick around? What was he still running from? His mind mulled over the thoughts, ideas and theories buzzing around his head like angry wasps. Ellen was dead, Peter had almost died but he wasn't sure how his father had come to rescue the agent only that he had been there to bring him back. He wanted more, the child in him craving to know who his father was... where he came from and why this man had left his family behind.

"Hey sport..."

Neal felt his head turn, looking up at his father as he played on the living room floor. He had a pad of paper and crayons, the man looking down and smiling.

"Is that your mother, Neal?"

His father sounded both amused and proud, crouching down to eye level and really looking at him. Neal nodded, his head bobbing up and down a bit too much he felt dizzy.

"Uh huh... She's on a... a sing."

His father laughed, blue eyes sparkling.

"Swing. That looks like fun. Come on and let's show your mother before you get ready for bed."

The memory faded to another image, his father in the bookstore so many years ago. He was certain it was him now in St. Louis. Maybe he was wrong about the man. Maybe everyone was.

()()()

It was two weeks later when everyone was a bit happier and healthier, but still on leave, that Peter heard a knock on the front door. It was late, past 9 PM and Elizabeth was out at a function catering. He had insisted she go, still a bit sore when it came to moving around but the doctor said his bruising had gone down, his head injury fine with no obvious side effects. He had been a bit dizzy the initial few days out of the hospital but subsequent doctors visits had shown it was a normal reaction to the head injury he had received. Now he just had the occasional dizzy spell or minor headache as he continued to heal and thought about just how close he had come to dying. If it hadn't been for Neal's father...

"Neal?"

He was surprised to see the very person he'd been thinking of standing there in his doorway. There was something under his arm that looked vaguely like a six pack of beer in a brown paper bag. Neal had a look on his face like he was trying to act cool and calm but wasn't.

"Peter... I didn't wake you or El did I?"

Neal's manner was contrite, almost sheepish which made the agent wonder why he was there and with whatever was in the bag. He moved aside and motioned for the young man to enter, Neal nodding with a very uncharacteristic reluctance that didn't fit what he knew of his partner and friend. Something was up and it piqued his curiosity as they moved to the living room and sat, Neal placing the bag on the coffee table.

"I was up and Elizabeth is at a function for a little while longer."

He watched the con nod back, something in his friend's manner making him wonder if he was ok. Neal pointed at the bag.

"For you..."

Neal pushed the bag over a bit as Peter sat beside him, opening up the bag and smiling. It was his favorite beer. This made him realize his friend was trying to butter him up but why. Neal leaned back against the sofa, eyes shut a moment as the agent tried to figure out just exactly why his friend had showed up.

"Neal, thanks. So... what brings you here this late at night?"

Peter kept it light, watching his friend open his eyes again. There was a look there he hadn't seen since everything with Kate had happened. He remembered that look all too well as he hoped his friend was going to be honest with him. Neal sat up, those blue eyes gazing at him curiously.

"You know Carson is dead..."

Neal's voice was low, cold even at the sound of the man's name. Peter hadn't liked the man either but there was something about the way his friend said the dead hitman's name that bothered him. There was something more here as he nodded, remembering what Diana had told him about his partner being arrested.

"They thought you had done it."

Peter felt sick remembering the feeling he'd had knowing his partner had been put in jail the day he was hurt. Neal was innocent but the young man had been forced to deal with imprisonment while he was still healing from hypothermia and being drugged by Carson. Diana had told him everything she knew and Hughes had let him know that things had been taken care of despite finding Neal with a gun. Lucky for him it had only been an old prop gun that shot blanks. Still he had not had time to deal with the consequences as he healed up and Neal had gone home. They had barely seen each other in the past week or so because of their own personal injuries among the obvious avoidance on his partner's part to show his face.

"I wish I had..."

Neal's voice was just audible as he said that, Peter reaching over to grasp his friend's shoulder and glare at him.

"Neal..."

Those blue eyes gazed into his, darkness there and coldness about the man who had tormented them both. Peter understood but was not expecting the next part.

"... but I know who did it, Peter. He was there."

At first Peter wasn't certain who he meant then he remembered that night. Carson had pulled him from the vehicle after ramming him at the red light. The man had drugged the agent and knocked him out before burying him alive. The image was clear in his mind now as he remembered the sound of a shovel hitting the crate he had been buried in. Blue eyes had stared into his then and they were the same as those looking at him now.

"Your father?"

Now Neal was looking at him curiously, something in his friend's expression making him think they were in agreement. Neal nodded back, the anger still there.

"Your father shot Carson? You didn't... tell. They said you didn't remember."

Neal shook his head, turning away as he stood and paced a moment before pausing and running a hand through his hair nervously.

"He saved my life, Peter. Carson was... was going to kill me. I was chasing him when Carson showed up in the alleyway. James... my father killed him, Peter."

There was a hopefulness there but also a sadness that made him realize what had been keeping his friend from him the past week. This was big and it changed so many things. Peter realized he had to tell his friend what nobody else knew about that night. He hadn't even shared this with his wife.

"Neal... sit down. I have something you need to hear."

The younger man seemed hesitant to obey but finally moved back to sit beside him on the sofa. He could see the confusion in his friend about what had happened. This was a huge moment for him and either what he said would make it better or worse but he had to be honest. No more secrets.

"The night... Carson took me is still a bit fuzzy but I left a few things out of my testimony. There's something that happened that I wasn't sure about until recently and now, you need to know."

He had Neal's attention now, his friend looking right at him as Peter licked his lips and tried to word it as perfectly as he could.

"Carson knocked me out and when I came to, I was in a box underground. Someone dug me out and carried me to safety. I think... no I'm certain it was James. He thanked me for watching over you, Neal."

He saw his friend pale some, jaw dropping as Neal just stared at him and then seemed to take the words in.

()()()

Neal wasn't sure why but he had to see his friend. He had been avoiding the inevitable, something akin to pride or sulkiness making him keep to himself while he tried to sort things out on his own. He had barely seen Peter in the hospital before they were released and then only one day after that before he confined himself to his apartment at June's. He wasn't under house arrest but it felt like that as he kept to himself and barely talked to anyone, even Mozzie. Now he was at the Burkes, a six pack of his friend's favorite beer under his arm as a peace offering. His usual flair and confidence was gone as he waited to be invited in and noticed Peter seemed surprised by his suppressed enthusiasm. The agent seemed curious but held back for once, letting him in as they sat at the sofa and were quiet.

They spoke just enough before the discussion turned to what had happened that night. Peter knew about his arrest and that he had a gun but he didn't know about who had really shot Carson. The agent looked surprised and yet there was that look of knowing, Neal understanding why when Peter spoke next. His father had saved Peter's life. James had helped them both.

"I don't... My father saved you..."

There was a certain smile playing on the young man's lips after a moment, the kind of look someone has when they realize they were wrong about something. Neal suddenly wanted to go search for his father and ask him all sorts of questions. He wanted to tell him about Ellen... A strong hand on his shoulder squeezed gently and he looked up into honest brown eyes and relaxed.

"Neal..."

He knew what it was Peter wanted to say even if the agent didn't have the words. He had once told him he wasn't a bad person and had good in him. This proved Peter right. Neal smiled at his friend, relief over him as the agent pulled a couple of bottles from the bag and handed another to him.

"We'll find him."

(The End)

Author's Note: Apologies on how late this was. I usually write so much faster but again my Muse was distracted by other things. On another note: No, I didn't want to actually do more than have Neal know that his father was alive and well. I figured that would be enough for a while and hoping the show has more than I could think of. :) I liked having Peter discover that he was right that Neal didn't come from an actual bad person. I figure with what Ellen said in the show that James wasn't bad but something came to change him as it changed Neal into a criminal but kept him from doing really bad things.