(Chapter 7)

Neal was exhausted, dreams of the past few days in hell with Erics haunting him as he struggled to free himself and Peter and finally darkness won out. He was exhausted, tired and mentally withdrawn when his eyes opened and stared up dully at the white ceiling above. It wasn't his room at June's, blue eyes roving to the right then the left and seeing first a bland set of light brown curtains covering a window and then the door exiting the room opposite that. His eyes looked around the interior of the hospital room as he let his gaze fall on his hands laying on his chest, the soft beeping of the monitors he was connected to chiming in the background. He remembered enough of the past few days he wished he didn't, a listlessness falling over him as he closed his eyes again and fought to see something other than his partner tied and hanging over the side of a rocky face over the raging rapids beneath.

"He hasn't woken up yet. It's only the first 12 hours since they were brought in. He's dehydrated as your husband was and suffering from exposure. We set his shoulder. It should heal without any therapy required."

The voice was not one he was familiar with, male and somewhat clinical. After a moment, another answered it he knew well enough.

"Thank you Dr. Atkins. May I go in and visit?"

There was a silence and then quiet murmurings between the two before the sound of a door opening and then footsteps approaching him. Neal wondered if it was the doctor or Elizabeth. He opened his eyes to the dimly lit room again, two blue eyes looking back at him with surprise.

"Hey... how are you feeling, Neal?"

She sounded happy but tired, an exhaustion there he recognized from when Peter had been kidnapped. El was holding up as best she could. He moved his right hand to hold hers, his left shoulder wrapped up and sore when he tried to shift it. She moved closer and sat down.

"Fi... ine. Peter..."

He had passed out before he knew if Erics had hurt the agent any more than he'd already attempted. There was a guilt making him wish he'd been able to do more but El soothed him, patting his good arm gently.

"He's still... unconscious. You were both brought in 12 hours ago. Doctor said your shoulder should be ok. Did you need anything?"

El was being her usual motherly self, Neal appreciating her concern but still feeling that guilt about her husband being hurt. He wanted to visit him but it was still too soon he thought, his body sore and tired from their ordeal and he had just woken up.

"I'm good. Thank you El. How is Peter?"

He could tell she was avoiding talking about it, the ordeal still fresh in his mind and her terror at knowing her husband was hurt not something she was ready to talk about but she did.

"The doctor... he said Peter had a slight concussion but otherwise his injuries were minor. His temperature was low so they have him in ICU. His breathing is... a bit erratic. They think he has pneumonia."

She paused, a pained look on her face as he watched Elizabeth's blue eyes grow slightly shinier. She was trying not to cry as he sat up a bit more, putting his good arm around her and she hugged him back.

"I'm sorry... I shouldn't have... He's going to be ok, Neal. The doctor thinks so from all the tests..."

She was almost pleading with him to tell her something positive, his own injuries suddenly secondary to her worry. Peter was more than just his parole officer, partner or friend. The man had given him a second chance and trusted him even when it looked like he was working with Erics. He could see that Peter knew it wasn't so, his faith in him obvious.

"I'm sure he'll be ok. Peter's strong and stubborn. Maybe... I could go visit him later?"

He watched El wipe at her eyes with a smile, nodding her head.

"They said talking to him would help. I'll talk to your doctor... they should probably check you now that you're awake."

She fluffed up his pillows as he shifted to sit up a bit more comfortably, holding her hand in his. El had already pushed the nurse call button, both waiting for someone to show. They only had to wait a few minutes before the door opened up and a young woman in blue scrubs and a white lab coat came in.

"Mr. Caffrey..."

She glanced over at Elizabeth curiously, a friendly smile on her face as they shook hands.

"Elizabeth Burke. I thought Dr. Atkins would come check on him."

The woman, her dark brown hair short and pulled back in a loose ponytail smiled softly as she moved closer, amber eyes friendly as she checked Neal's pulse while still conversing.

"I'm his colleague, Dr. Tollez. He's checking on your husband at the moment, Mrs. Burke. How are you feeling, Mr. Caffrey?"

She had finished taking his pulse, helping him sit up a bit so she could push a cool stethoscope against his chest and back, having him cough to check his breathing.

"Neal... I feel like I rolled down a staircase without carpeting."

He hesitated, uncertain he would get what he wanted as he smiled up at her almost shyly.

"What's the prognosis, doc?"

He was semi-flirting with her, Andrea rolling her eyes as she finished her exam, gently feeling at his hurt shoulder before she stood back up.

"I think you'll live. Your shoulder will be sore for a bit, your x-rays and Dr. Atkins initial examination say you won't need to get therapy. Just take it easy for a bit. The soft tissue didn't tear and your joint pushed itself back into place so it's only slightly inflamed and healing nicely."

She patted him gently on the opposite shoulder, turning a moment to face El who saw him giving her the "ask about visiting Peter" look.

"Dr. Tollez..."

The doctor smiled at her and Neal, holding up a hand.

"Andrea... I guess you want to see if Neal can visit?"

She gave him a wink as if knowing what he was up to, nodding her head as she answered them both.

"Maybe tomorrow. Neal has only just woken up and needs time to heal. Maybe your husband will be awake tomorrow. He's not comatose, just sleeping from what we can tell."

Her words seemed to make them both feel better, especially El, as she walked with the doctor out of the room, their voices fading away some as the door shut behind them. Neal thought about everything that had happened the last few days, relaxing some with the thought that Peter was ok and he would get to see his friend soon.

()()()

Presently...

Peter woke up to darkness, only a hint of light in the place he was in coming through as horizontal bars. There were soft murmurings by rough voices as his vision cleared and he realized he was in a prison cell. He immediately sat up, looking around at the small gray dimly lit enclosure, bars keeping him in securely. He stood and moved cautiously towards the metal bars and stared out across the corridor at other cells in the dim darkness.

This is what you're looking forward to, Fed. A night of fun in a dark enclosure.

He turned, uncertain who had spoke but knowing the voice was close by.

Who's there?

He felt fear but most of all he felt guilt looking around the barely 8 x 10 enclosure realizing he was in Neal's old cell. He realized he must be dreaming. Peter relaxed some when he knew this was only a nightmare.

Hah... that won't keep me from tormenting you, Fed. Your guilt will keep me alive in your mind.

Peter turned, dark eyes sparkling back at him from the shadowy parts of his cell, white teeth flashing back a cold evil smile. He backed up against the bars, ready to flee although he was trapped, a hand grabbing his shoulder as he jumped in reaction, more hands holding him in place as the ghost of Erics moved towards him from the shadows.

Your subconscious is a very dark place right now, Agent. If only you could wake up.

Peter couldn't move, something keeping him in place despite the hands. He knew what he'd done had been accidental if not justified as it had been with Adler. He had been protecting his friend from a murderer but would his superiors see it that way.

Hah... until you wake up and know, We're going to keep you company...

Erics was nose to nose with him, those dark eyes suddenly changing until he saw Adler there grinning back and realized this was going to be more than just the ordinary nightmare. Vincent laughed, Erics no longer there.

He's a con and yet you protect him like an innocent man. Where was my protection from his conning, Agent Burke? Wasn't I technically a tax paying citizen?

Blue eyes flashed back at him now, a familiar smirk on the man's face he wanted to punch but he was trapped back in the past when he'd shot the man.

He had the treasure and you forgave him? Do you really think he's worth all this trouble, Peter? He's run and you forgave him but wait... you told him to go didn't you? Maybe Kramer was right about him changing you. You nearly lost your wife and your career...

Vincent was laughing at him, turning into Erics for a moment as both men's voices echoed darkly in his nightmare and he just wanted to wake up. He had done the right thing! Neal wasn't a killer like Erics and Adler. He had potential to do right and he had started taking that role more seriously until Kramer had interfered.

I have faith in him, far more than you showed your victims.

He was fighting back, watching their eyes gaze coldly back at him. Erics was back, white teeth grinning back at him like a hungry predator. Peter waited for a blow, something harsh to happen but another voice broke through.

Peter...

He looked up and around, searching for the faint voice before it came again and he saw Erics staring at him curiously.

Everyone's waiting for you...

He knew that voice, eyes staring back defiantly at the nightmare before him as he turned, the hands no longer holding him and saw a figure standing outside the bars. It was Neal and he was smiling back at him, the con's hand reaching through and grasping Peter's in his own.

Neal?

He wanted to be sure it was really his friend as he moved closer. Suddenly Peter found himself staring up at a bland white ceiling overhead. The room was bathed in soft light from a lamp to his left, his eyes moving down to a curtained window that was dark indicating it was night time. He glanced around the room in a slow circuit with his eyes noticing a figure asleep under the window on a small sofa. He smiled, a quiet yawn escaping his lips as he sat up, a small creaking of the hospital bed waking the sleeper.

"Peter? Hey hun..."

El was by his side, her eyes giving a quick look around as if for another person but keeping her attention on him. She was smiling softly, giving him a kiss on his forehead as he felt a bit more awake. He remembered waking up before and she had talked to him but he had been sleepy, worried about his partner. They both turned as the door opened up, a slight ray of light brightening the room for a moment from the hallway, a tall silhouette standing there. The door shut and as his eyes adjusted he could see who was coming towards them, El hugging him before she stood and stretched.

"I thought they had taken you home for a moment."

Her voice was worried and he wondered what she meant by "they" but then the door opened a few minutes afterwards and he saw a marshal standing there peeking inside before closing the door again. Neal made a face, handing his wife a coffee before sitting by the bed tiredly.

"They said I should go home considering but I think Hughes gave their supervisor a little talking to. Said I could stay and visit for a while."

Neal sounded tired, moving to drink his own when those sparkling blue eyes glanced over at Peter curiously, eyes widening in surprise.

"Hopefully... you're only surprised because I'm awake and not any other reason."

Peter gave his friend a tired smirk, Neal blinking back silently before an equally faint smirk curled his lips.

"Glad to see you're back."

There was a slight flush to his cheeks, a blush like he wanted to hug him but was a bit embarrassed with El around to do it. For a moment he wasn't sure what Neal was going to do as the con leaned over and gave him a half hug, a smile appearing on his wife's face but she remained silent and let them have their moment.

"You too. I heard you were home already."

Peter wasn't sure he wanted to discuss what happened to them (sensing Neal felt the same way) with his wife around. They would have to give a statement soon as they were well enough to do so. El kissed him, patting Neal on the left shoulder before excusing herself to go to the bathroom and wash up. They both waited for the door to close before talking a bit more freely.

"I thought..."

They both said it at the same time, a not so happy chuckle escaping both of their throats as Peter put a hand on Neal's arm giving a gentle squeeze.

"... thought you were dead. Erics..."

Peter felt his face flush as he tried not to think about what had happened accident as it was or the face he was having nightmares about it. Neal looked a bit uncertain, putting his other hand on the agent's.

"I thought I was too for a moment but then I heard you calling my name. I couldn't move or think straight, someone picking me up and then I woke up here. El said you were still unconscious."

Neal looked just as worried, both men quiet a moment before the con continued.

"They have me under house arrest because they found my fingerprints on your gun. Hughes said from the evidence I was obviously just defending myself if not you but the marshals didn't see it that way or OPR."

He fumed a bit but was otherwise relaxed as Peter moved to sit up, looking him in the eyes.

"You kept yourself and me alive. That's all that matters. Hughes will take our side. OPR will see the truth."

He watched his friend nod, a small frown on his face.

"What if... I hadn't remembered anything, Peter?"

Neal looked worried, moving up to rub at his temple. He looked tired, the scars of their recent ordeal both fresh and still quite evident.

"Nothing if I had anything to say about it. I'd have found a way to make sure you were safe. You know that, right?"

He saw the con nod, a relieved smile on his face but hints of worry remained. Neal still didn't trust himself being free, memory or not. He'd shot Erics but freed Peter despite his confusion at the time. Something of their friendship had remained despite the amnesia. Neal had his back.

"Yeah... I know I just... what if I had run? I'd be a fugitive again. Hughes would be furious at me if not you."

Peter heard the conflict there, that want to be free but also for the safety of a place to call home. Neal was definitely still conflicted on the issue of not running even if he did consider his current place home. The agent put a hand on his shoulder and smiled.

"We'd be 4 and 0. Trust me... I'd find you and make sure you remember who and what you are to us. El would make sure of it."

He heard the door open, El staring at the two men a moment before glancing at Peter curiously. Neal looked over at her and smiled slightly, nodding his head.

"I guess that's good enough. I think I'd know I was beat then."

Neal was grinning now, Peter rolling his eyes at the younger man as El moved closer and tried to figure out what they were talking about, sitting opposite Neal on the other side of the bed.

"Do I want to know what you were talking about?"

She had a croissant in her hands, feeding a bit of it to Peter as Neal shrugged.

"If Neal had amnesia you'd make sure he knew where he belonged."

El blinked, looking at him then back at Neal with an "oh" kind of look.

"I'm glad you remembered us then. If you hadn't, I'd show you the prom pic you took with Peter."

Everyone was quiet after that, a smile on their lips at the memory of that day. It had been stressful and Mozzie hadn't made it any easier but they had all worked together for the common good and everyone was safe. Neal nodded back, a wistful smile on his face.

"Not a day I could forget easily."

()()()

It was another three days before Peter left the hospital, his lungs sounding better and his injuries healing. Both men had been lucky to get out of their ordeal alive, news that Erics had died only a few days before a surprise.

"I can't believe they kept Erics' condition from us."

Peter sounded upset, Neal idling rolling a small rubber band ball he normally carried around at work in his hands as they sat up in his apartment at June's. El was downstairs talking to his benefactress, the two friends sitting out on the terrace getting some sun now that he weather had cleared up as well. Compared to the past week. Diana and Jones had come to visit them both, the Marshals taken off guard duty the day Peter was released from the hospital. The agent was still a bit tired and hacky but he was walking better and the doctor said his injuries were healing just fine. Neal felt the stiffness of his left shoulder but came back to the room as a not so phlegmy cough drew his attention.

"We're not revenge types. Hughes knows that but OPR was investigating what happened so they had to keep it all hush hush while you were out and I was still unconscious. I'm surprised he lasted as long as he did."

Peter spoke with a slight rasp to his voice but he sounded better, soaking up the sun along with the con as they enjoyed the warmth of the sun while snacking on finger sandwiches and Italian roast. There was a knock at the door, Neal rising to go answer it as a curious look passed between the two. He opened the door and saw Diana there, a friendly look on her face hiding something else.

"Diana... to what do I owe this pleasure?"

He smiled as her eyes rolled at him sarcastically then moved to see something or someone behind him as he turned to see Peter standing in the threshold of the terrace. Neal let her in curious what was going on as he closed the door behind her and the agent pulled a folder out, her attention on Peter.

"Boss... I have something you might want to read."

She handed him the folder, Peter nodding back as he took the item with some trepidation and Neal could just read that it was a report about what happened. They both still on leave until their injuries were completely healed and also because Erics had been shot and stabbed. Peter had taken responsibility for both acts much to Neal's relief and worry. They were waiting on the results of the investigation into Erics death despite what happened. Agents using firearms or deadly force were up for review and sometimes psych exams. He watched as his partner opened up the manila folder and started to skim the contents, eyes moving down the pages inside and flipping them over until a relaxed sigh escaped his lips. Neal took that as a good thing.

"Good news?"

He waited to see what his friend would say, Peter reading through the contents again then handing the folder over to him and smiling slightly.

"Yeah... for both of us. Thanks Diana. I'm surprised it went through so quickly. I wasn't really up for an interview that day they showed up. Maybe that helped the case."

Peter sounded relieved as Diana moved closer and patted him on the shoulder, her own smile reflecting their relief at the news. Neal looked at the papers and felt a bit of the tension that remained leave him. There was guilt at having shot someone, bad guy or not but apparently it had been that bullet that saved them. Erics hadn't died from the stab wound Peter had unintentionally inflicted on the man but an infection from the bullet being lodged in his chest. OPR had deemed both acts done in self-defense so Peter was off the hook and in a way, so was he.

"Neal?"

He glanced up to find that Diana had left, his attention still on the folder until Peter had gently squeezed his shoulder.

"You did the right thing even if you weren't yourself at the time. I wasn't when..."

The agent hesitated talking about stabbing the man but Erics had turned to run at Peter and impaled himself on the knife while doing so. The coroner's report confirmed the angle of the wound and manner fit with what Peter had told them. It still didn't change the fact he had killed a man... they both had. A cold shiver ran down his spine despite knowing everything was ok.

"Thanks, Peter. Maybe... maybe we should go down and see what El and June are up to?"

Neither one was ready to talk about what happened but both knew they had done it for the right reasons. They had the other's back and Neal was glad for that.

"Sure. Tell my wife the good news. Maybe we can go out to celebrate."

Peter sounded a bit more upbeat, folder forgotten on the dining table as they stood up and moved towards the door. Neal smiled and held up a hand.

"I was thinking... Italian. I wonder if Mozzie would want to go too."

Neal contemplated calling his friend, the little guy having visited him briefly during his house arrest before Peter had woken up. Peter shook his head.

"Really? I thought he was allergic to oregano or something."

The agent sounded hopeful but Neal just shrugged.

"Lactose intolerant with a slight hint of food allergies. He does like wine though despite the nitrates."

He saw the wry smile on his friend's face.

"Trying to get him away from you own collection for a night?"

Peter was teasing him now, Neal rolling his eyes as he crossed his arms loosely over his chest.

"Maybe... we could just keep it small. He's not here..."

The two nodded at the other in silent agreement as they headed out of the room and down the stairs. Peter still had a hint of his limp from before, Neal remembering his hurt ankle but the agent was doing well.

"Take out at our place. I'm thinking cannolis for dessert."

Peter was looking at him with a take it or leave it look, Neal nodding back with false resignation.

"Fine... but I bring the wine. I have a bottle hidden up there even Mozzie doesn't know about. El will love it."

(The End)

Author's Note: Finally done! Yes, it's all resolved and fixed and happy and shining and such. Everyone's good and well and not so psychologically messed up as they should be but that's how I like it. ;) Hope you like this and sorry for the long stretch between chapters. My muse has been fingerpainting inside my head so I've been doing some more artsy stuff for my shops lately.