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"Nice coat, Doc," Peter drawled.

Moz glowered at him through his glasses. He tugged at the white lab coat on him, too perfect of a fit to be "borrowed."

"The hospital and I have an ongoing disagreement on how they should sanitize their facilities." Moz brushed a hand down a white sleeve. "It would be prudent if I entered this institution covertly." He shrugged out of it, revealing a plaid hornstooth jacket and a bowtie. He folded the lab coat, tucked it in his briefcase.

"In case Mr. Caffrey is in need of his attorney," Moz informed him solemnly. After a moment's hesitation, he swapped out his glasses for the exact pair.

Peter arched an eyebrow but said nothing. Asking would only subject him to a long enough explanation that would only turn him around.

Moz adjusted his glasses and gave Peter an expectant grin, but when he only received an eyebrow, Moz harrumphed. His scowl faded as he looked down at Neal.

"Heard he was with Michael Docks," Moz said, carefully as if giving Peter a chance to correct him. His Adam's apple bobbed. "Heard he tried…" Moz picked invisible lint off his collar.

"Heard?" Peter repeated.

"I might have glanced at his medical file." Moz rubbed a hand over a spot on Neal's bed, stopped, scrubbed his hand on his jacket and went back to running a nervous hand on the bed again. "Also heard Docks is dead."


"Good," Moz said with surprising ferocity. He fidgeted, clearly discomfited by his own outburst. His brow knitted. "Is Neal in trouble?"

When is he never? was at the tip of Peter's tongue but his throat closed up. He swallowed drily. Rook didn't appear impressed or even remotely sympathetic as he scanned the medical photos.

"Maybe, Moz," Peter murmured.

* * * * *

He was surrounded by starlight.

Through the veil of his lashes playing everything out like a kaleidoscope, streams of light zipped past him.

Opening his eyes felt difficult, herculean and each time he tried, his eyelids drooped further down instead after giving him tantalizing glimpses of shadows moving in front of him. Ghosts?

"…ate?" he heard himself moaning. He tried to reach for her, but his right arm felt weighted down. His left arm was pinned. He could vaguely feel a head and part of a shoulder butted up against him.

A large hand clamped over his ankle.

Waking up to darkness took time to get accustomed to. Neal learned from many years of watching his own back—night time is when someone takes your stuff, your money, your food, your life—to sleep lightly. Moz snaps awake at a floor creak, Neal had learned to do the same, but in New York where old buildings with noisy floors are called "historical townhouses," he honed in the ability to differentiate which sounds were good, which were bad.

Something bad had woken him up.

Neal stared up at the same white ceiling now softened by the dim hospital lights. He could hear voices outside his room, hushed, not urgent, fading as they shuffled past like he was the center of a Doppler. There was a squeak of a bucket, the slosh of a mop, the rattle of a cart, the sawing rumble of a vacuum.

Sitting up, Neal hazily wondered how he could still have vertigo if he could barely see his hand in front of his face. He rubbed his eyes, turned to where the pitcher of water should be.

Neal froze.

There, just below the sounds of a muted hospital, was breathing. Low, measured, careful not to be heard.

Neal whipped his head around, but all he saw were blocky shapes of machines, the low squatting shape of a chair, the thin line of light outlining the bottom of a door.

Staring into the dark, Neal blinked rapidly but the black just writhed into different shades of gray, like a monochromatic version of Picasso's Red Swirls Dream. Neal sat higher.

"Peter?" he rasped.

The breathing stuttered.

Of course it wasn't Peter. Neal vaguely remembered a warm, familiar weight dropping over a covered foot, a gruff murmur promising to be back in the morning.

Neal finger combed his dark hair but even without a mirror, he suspected it was a wasted effort. He grimaced when his left wrist throbbed. Painkillers had worn off, Neal calculated, so it must be close enough to morning. He tried to gather his thoughts, but they kept escaping his grasp.

"Moz?" he tentatively tried again.

Now it was gone completely. Maybe it was never there.

Neal reached for the pitcher again, but his hand was shaking. He snatched his hand back, curled around it with the other and tried to ignore the smell of burning fuel and of blood. He grimaced, his right hand trembling, banging into his bandaged left.

Stop it, stop it, stop it.

His hand eventually settled within the haven of its twin. Neal absently shook his hand loose, glancing at the corners of the room, at his bed, at the empty chair, at…

Docks staring at him, his mouth and slit throat agape.

Neal jolted, rearing back into the bed rail, his hip striking it low. Momentum pitched him over and he fell out of bed. His shoulder slammed into the room-issued set of drawers. The pitcher on top tottered, failed to regain its footing and tipped over. Lukewarm water bled over his head. Lights blazed on around him. Neal threw up a hand. His eyes teared.

A hand curled possessively around the back of his neck.

* * * * *

The moment his cell phone squirmed helplessly across the nightstand, Peter was awake. El murmured sleepily and her arm drifted over to curl over his chest as if pinning him down so he could get more than the three hours of sleep. Peter absently caressed the arm as he snatched the phone and grunted a "Burke."

"Peter, it's Diana." Diana sounded alert despite someone waking her up at five in the morning.

Her next words got Peter sitting up in his bed.

"It's Neal."

* * * * *

By the time Peter arrived at the White Collar Division, he could see Jones and Diana were already there.

Unfortunately, so was Rook and Dunbar.

Peter took the steps two at a time. He spied Dunbar was taking notes—of what, Peter couldn't figure—and Rook jabbing the table across from Neal, who was sitting in ill-fitting blue scrubs with someone's FBI windbreaker draped over his shoulders. He sat there, smaller than he really was, his ankles tucked and crossed under his seat. The new tracker blinked against a bony, exposed ankle. It was that glimpse, Peter found himself storming into the conference room faster than he expected.

"…want to know where it is, Caffrey," Rook was growling in Neal's face.

"I don't have it," Neal said in a weary voice.

"Mr. Caffrey, you're the one Docks sought out deliberately." Dunbar's pen seesawed in his grip, his voice mild and reasonable.

"You can't con the FBI, Caffrey. Just because you have everyone in White Collar fooled, doesn't mean we can't put you back in Super Max. You're going to miss those fancy suits of yours when you trade them in for orange jumpsuits—"

"Hey!" Peter barked as he stormed into the conference room. He took a deep breath, but it came out in a whoosh when he caught the glint of silver around Neal's wrists, the bruise at the corner of his mouth.

"Morning, Peter," Neal said, raising his hands up to wiggle a greeting. The cuffs jangled as Neal dropped his hands. He smiled brightly, appearing oddly young with his ill-fitting borrowed clothing, dark hair hanging over red-rimmed blue eyes. His face was pale save for the bruise on his cleft chin. "You're here early."

"What the hell is this?" Peter snapped.

Dunbar cleared his throat. He checked with his partner.

"Caffrey," Rook drawled, relishing the words, "was caught trying to escape his hospital room."

Peter arched an eyebrow. "Dressed like that?"

Neal gave Peter a withering look.

Peter pretended he didn't see it and dropped down pointedly in a chair next to Neal.

"The guard posted outside his room, heard Caffrey out of his bed," Dunbar explained.

"And when he went in, Caffrey attacked him." Rook smirked, folding his arms over his chest.

Peter arched an eyebrow at Neal. "How was he even going to get out of a fourth story room?"

"You could use IV tubing or the air ventilation," Neal volunteered.

Peter mentally slapped a hand over his face. Dunbar looked fascinated. Rook looked like he wanted to take that as a confession. At least Neal didn't suggest jumping down to a bakery awning.

"Look, Burke. We have six days left. Dock's list is the foundation holding up our case against Giraldi. Caffrey better cough it up—"

"I don't have it," Neal repeated.

"Why do you think Neal has this list of yours?" Peter demanded.

"We've checked Docks' belongings in all of his properties," Dunbar replied. "He'd implied the list was in a small drive or a media card of some sort, but we didn't find it anywhere." He stared at Neal with an apologetic grimace. "Given Mr. Caffrey's previous criminal endeavors as Nick Halden—"



Neal held up his hands to Peter.

"Look at him, Burke!" Rook gestured sharply at Neal.

Neal made a show of glancing down confused at his chest.

"He's a con! He eluded you for two years—"

"Three," Neal helpfully corrected.

"Neal," Peter sighed again.

Neal shot him an unconvincing baffled look.

"Docks went to Blackman's gallery with the sole purpose of meeting Caffrey." Dunbar gave Peter the security logs despite Rook's glower. "Security kept track of Docks' movement, twenty-four seven."

Rook tapped a file on the table. "Protection detail got the request from Docks he wanted to go to this specific gallery on Hudson Street that night. Nowhere else."

Peter glanced over to Neal. The other stared back blankly.

"Your CI went off his leash an hour after Docks arrived." Rook counted down. "Then he shows up all nice and cozy with his dead body in one of Giraldi's buildings?"

Peter bristled when Rook turned back to Neal.

"Then Caffrey here tries to escape his hospital bed. Why? Going back to get the list you stashed? Retire somewhere in some island with no extradition agreement?" Rook straightened his top-heavy torso with a snort. "You're clever, I'll give you that. Trap Docks in his own perverted ways and get away with millions and his murder—"

"Now wait just a minute—" shouted Peter.

Rook slammed both hands down on the table but only Dunbar started. "How did Docks contact you on when and where to meet?"

Neal met Rook's gaze unflinching. "Carrier pigeon?"

Dunbar's pen stilled. Rook tensed like he wanted to vault over the table and attack Neal.

Peter gritted his teeth. The overwhelming urge to gag Neal fizzled, however, when he caught Neal huddling deeper into the windbreaker.

"Look," Neal said patiently, but it only seemed to rile Rook more, "I don't have this mystical list. Docks never contacted me. He was just there. A coincidence." Neal rubbed at his throat ruefully.

"There's never any coincidences with you, Caffrey," Rook barked. "Of all the galleries in Manhattan, you two show up in the same one?"

Neal shook his head. He looked wearily bemused.

"I don't know what to tell you. Do you want me to take a polygraph?"

Rook's upper lip curled back. "Fat lot of good that'll be with someone like you."

"Enough." Peter pushed the file back at Rook. "So far, all you've been doing is barking around Neal without any evidence. No warrant, no polygraph." Peter ignored Neal's eyebrow cocked toward him. "And get those damn cuffs off him."

"No, it's fine," Neal interrupted cheerfully as he set the handcuffs on the table and slid them away.

Peter inwardly groaned when Rook stared at Neal, the flush going past his neck.

"I want that list, Caffrey," Rook said low.

"I don't have it."

"Mr. Caffrey, the federal prosecutor is willing to offer you immunity for the files," Dunbar interjected in that smooth, collected voice of his. He even smiled at Neal to compensate for Rook's growl.

Neal was starting to show his frustration, his voice cracking a little in the end. "I don't have it."

Rook grunted. "So you and Docks—"

"Were having a drink. That's all," Neal finished, calmer now.

Rook's upper lip curled as he leaned forward on an arm. His mouth stretched to a curved slit from ear to ear.

"Oh, I get it. Cheap date, huh?"

Neal flinched.

"What the hell?" Peter roared, on his feet. "Rook, you seriously need to back—"

When it happened, no one expected it, apparently not even Neal. Rook rose in challenge. He lifted up a loose fist to shake at Peter, took a step forward and Neal…

Neal reared back in his seat, his arm lashing out and shoving Rook back. He could only reach Rook's torso. He lost his balance as his chair toppled. By the time Peter reached Neal, Neal was butted up against the corner under the wall plasma screen, chest heaving, his eyes wild.

It should have been comical the way Rook froze, his hand still up in the air, mouth slightly opened. Dunbar was half his size and pathetically trying to rein him back with a hand around his forearm.

Rook stared down at Neal, then at Peter when he'd planted himself between them. His mouth snapped shut. His eyes flicked to Peter then back to Neal.

"Don't," Peter growled.

"Agent Rook," Dunbar said just as low and urgent.

Rook's jaw worked. Something cooled in his eyes, but they never strayed from Neal.

Neal sat there; the arm he had up to protect his throat hung frozen, mid-chest level. His eyes, the palest blue Peter had ever seen, were glued to Rook's fist.

Slowly, Rook's arm lowered.

"This better not be a con, Caffrey," Rook managed before he elbowed past Jones and Diana crowding the door. At Peter's look, his junior agents scattered, mumbling something about coffee and breakfast downstairs.

Dunbar stood there, abandoned by his partner.

"Agent Burke, you have to understand. This case…" Dunbar began but nodded when Peter shook his head jerkily. He left, prim suit, notebook and all.

Peter scrubbed a hand over his mouth. He turned to find Neal already standing, his shoulders braced on the wall as he rose.

"You okay?"

Neal blinked at Peter. He brushed hands over his front. "Sure." Neal nodded clumsily as if he had no control over his head. "That worked better than I thought."

"That was all an act?" Peter narrowed his eyes, noting the minute trembling in Neal's fingers.

Neal shrugged. He fumbled out of the jacket over his shoulders and buried his hands into the folds. He looked like he was prepared to do the perp walk with his distant eyes, his hands hidden away from the cameras.

"Want to tell me what that was all about?" Peter tracked Neal as he took care to straighten the chair before dropping into it. Peter found himself unable to look at Neal's hospital issued slippers. They seemed wrong somehow.

"Rook is not a morning person." Neal sat there, hands hidden on his lap under the table. He quirked his brow at Peter. "Like someone else I know."

"That's not what I was talking about." Peter chose to sit next to Neal instead of across the table. He relaxed his stance, lowered his voice.

"What happened at the hospital, Neal?"

"There was a guard outside my room." Neal rubbed his forehead and squinted myopically at him. "I thought I wasn't being charged with murder."

"Doctors thought the GPS would interfere with the machines." And he sure as hell wasn't going to cuff Neal to the bed. "And you're not being charged with murder."

"Rook seems pretty determined."

"Rook is a non-issue," Peter said firmly.

Neal grinned toothily at him. "Has anyone told him that?"

Peter stared at him, waiting.

The smile faded. Neal looked down at the table.

"I thought…" Neal nudged the cuffs on the table with a finger. "I woke up. Thought I heard something. Thought someone was in the room." With a shaky grimace, Neal continued, "There was... the guard. I thought he was…" Neal met Peter's eyes. "I wasn't trying to escape."

"What did you think you heard?" Peter prodded.

"Nothing." Neal's face stretched to a pained grin. "Seems to be a running theme today."


Neal held up a hand. "I don't even remember what it was I thought I heard." Neal covered a yawn with his hand.

Peter considered the weight of the paper folded in his back pocket.

"You found out something," Neal guessed. He tracked Peter's hands as the paper was pulled out and wordlessly slid over to him.

"There were four sets of prints where we found you," Peter told him quietly. He spied Diana and Jones peering into the conference room, twin frowns that retreated when he gave a small shake of his head. "Yours and Docks were two. The other two… we only got a match to one so far. Tommy Bonelli."

Peter watched as Neal gingerly picked up the sheet like an artifact.

"Agent Rook didn't mention him."

"Agent Rook hasn't ID'd him yet." Peter shrugged when Neal's eyes flew up. "He'll know soon enough." If they even bother checking other avenues, that is. Rook needed to take off his blinders first.

"Meanwhile, Jones is going through Bonelli's phone and bank records." And Mozzie—well, Peter wasn't sure what the little guy was doing. After some hard thinking, Peter had texted Bonelli's name to the undisclosed number Moz gave him in the hospital. Moz texted back, twenty four hours you'll have his head. Peter sincerely hoped Moz wasn't being literal.

Neal stared intently at the grayscale photo on the sheet.

"Look familiar?" Peter quelled down the tiny voice in him that said, I hope not.

"I don't know. He genetically looks like every henchman I know." Neal set down the sheet. "I don't know. Maybe." He knuckled one eye and tried to stifle another yawn. He failed.

"Was he one of Docks' men?" Neal gestured toward himself. "You think he got me to that place, served me up to Docks? Took the list while Docks was distracted?"

"I'm thinking that's one scenario." Peter winced. He wished Neal didn't put it so blithely. He pushed the paper closer to Neal. "Can you place him on the scene?"

"Does it matter?" Neal returned wearily. "You have his prints. That should be enough even for the FBI to make an arrest."

Peter scrubbed a hand over his chin, rubbing over the bristles and feeling like he could sleep for a week. Neal looked like he should. Probably will, according to his doctor. He studied Neal. "You doing okay?"

Neal nodded.

Uh-huh. Peter took back the paper, carefully refolding it. He was acutely aware of Neal watching, but when he looked up, Neal's eyes were elsewhere.

"You said one scenario."

"What?" Startled, Peter's fingers stilled over the final crease.

"You said," Neal treaded carefully, "that was one scenario. What were the others?" Neal's mouth twisted. "That I took the list and killed Docks under the guise of self-defense?"

"No." Peter caught the flicker of gratitude in Neal's eyes at his immediate response.

"It is a possibility," Neal pointed out. "At least Agent Rook thinks so." He canted his head, thinking. "We know what Docks was capable of, the type of victim he went for: dark hair, blue eyes, slim build. I was his…I was his type—"

"Oh, so you put your head on the chopping block for a couple of bucks?" Peter challenged.

"There's one hundred and twenty-nine million of those bucks," Neal reminded him.

Peter threw his gaze toward the ceiling. "You are your own worst defense. Are you trying to convict yourself, Neal?"

"I'm just saying." Neal's eyes dropped. "What if I have those files everyone's talking about? I don't remember—"

Bile sharpened Peter's tongue. "Neal, you stopped breathing on the way to the hospital. I watched them stick a tube down your throat because all that crap in your system made you forget how to breathe!" Peter grimaced at Neal's open-mouthed expression. "You telling me you would pull something like that, murder someone, to pull this off?"

When Neal didn't answer, Peter glanced over.

Neal was still staring at him with that caught fish look.


Neal's mouth snapped shut. "You were in the ambulance with me?"

Peter harrumphed, but damn it, he could feel the tips of his ears burning. "You needed to be accompanied by a federal agent," he muttered.

"Did you hold my hand?"

"Neal," Peter growled but he couldn't hold the glare at the sight of Neal's cheeky grin. Peter shook his head as he smirked.

"Shut up," Peter shot back with little heat. He punched Neal in the arm. Neal rocked back from the non-existent blow.

"Thank you, though," Neal said, sobering. "In answer to your question, no, I wouldn't. Not for $129 million, not for $129 billion."

Peter grunted. He folded his arms across his chest. "I never thought I ever needed to ask, you know."

When Neal offered him a rare shy smile in response, something uncoiled in Peter's gut.

It faded though and Neal's face shadowed once more. "So what now?"

"Now, we get Bonelli, get him to roll on his buddy and Giraldi and give him to Organized Crimes."

"Then it's back to business as usual," Neal concluded.

Was it really that simple? Peter studied Neal. Catching the Architect felt like a panacea, but Peter sensed Neal drifting afterwards during the lull. They never went back to "business as usual" before this whole mess. They hadn't been "usual" since the plane exploded and Peter'd had to tackle Neal to the tarmac before he could dive into Kate's funeral pyre.

When Neal squinted at the table, Peter shuffled his chair closer.


Neal looked cross. "Apparently."

"Did you get much sleep before?" Peter studied Neal and the smudges that seemed to have grown bigger than before. He was ashen, more so under the limp, dark bangs plastered over his forehead. Hell, Neal had looked better when he was in a coma.

Neal shrugged and rubbed his eye again. He blinked, bloodshot and dazed, at the table as if he couldn't remember what it was for.

"You want to go back to the hospital?" Peter quietly offered.

Neal paused, thinking it over before he slowly shook his head. His left hand, banded in gauze, reached up to smooth down a tie, but when Neal realized there wasn't one, the lost look on his face was a punch to Peter's gut.

Peter exhaled. "Okay," he murmured, rubbing a hand up and down Neal's slouched back. "Okay."

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Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?

~ Gandalf "The Hobbit"

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