This came to me while I was at my dad's house over thanksgiving. I was playing with my baby sis and bro with play dough and what started out as a humorous little fic turned into this angst piece. I'm taking a few liberties as I don't know Neal's family history. Also, I 'm not from New York so forgive me if I got it all wrong. Be warned, it may be a small tear jerker, but it has a happy ending.

Disclaimer: I don't own White Collar or the song Pardon Me by Staind. Though both are extremely amazing.

Play dough was made to torment him. That was it's purpose, to annoy Peter Burke into insanity. The smell, the consistency and the fact that it dried hard and quick into his carpet. Peter hated play dough.

"I you pound it any harder, Peter, the table will collapse."

Peter glared at Neal and smacked the ball of red play dough again. Sam sat in his high chair and grinned, clapping his play dough covered hands together. Peter smiled at his son.

"Look, Sammy," Peter said, "Daddy made you a horsey."

He held up the brown cut out shap that resembled a dog more than a horse. Sam blew a spit bubble and hiccupped. Neal chuckled.

"What?" Peter snapped.

Neal pointed at Sam, "I was laughing at the kid."

""Oh, sure," Peter said, "Let's see your horse, Picasso."

"Picasso was a painter, Peter."

"Monet then."

"Um-"

"Just show me the horse."

Neal sighed and carefully picked up his horse. It was a perfect replica, of course. It looked as it it had been made from clay and had taken hours rather than ten minutes. Sam laughed with glee and reached out for the horse.

"You do that on purpose," Peter grumbled.

Neal rolled his eyes and handed Sam the play dough sculpture. Sam squished it in his hands. Peter grinned smugly until Neal laughed in delight at the baby's antics.

"Alright, play dough time is over," Peter said.

Neal frowned, "We just got it out."

"Don't care. Sam is bored with it."

"No, he's not," Neal said. He looked at Sam who was now shoving a lump of blue play dough in his mouth, "Oh, hey, buddy, no eating the play dough."

Neal pulled the slobbery lump from the baby's mouth. Peter smacked his hand away.

"It's edible, Neal. Let him be."

Neal glared at him, "It wasn't the eating it that I was worried about."

Sam coughed hard. His little face contorted and turned red as his hands clenched into fists. He coughed again and started crying.

"It was choking!"

Peter froze. Fear he'd never known blossomed through his veins and seized his heart. He was trained to act in a situation of crisis, to respond to danger with calm and collection, but this was his son. His nine month old baby, not some massive criminal trying to escape, but his tiny, fragile baby.

And then Neal was moving. His chair tumbled back as he unlatched the belts securing Sam. He lifted the baby out, laid his stomach along his right arm, and held his tiny face in his hand. Tilting him toward the floor, Neal hit the heel of his hand between the tiny shoulder blades.

"Hey!" Peter cried in alarm as he stood.

It wasn't registering in his mind that Neal was trying to save Sam's life. Only that Neal was hitting his boy and Sam was having trouble crying.

Neal hit him three times then flipped Sam over onto his left arm. He opened Sam's mouth with one finger, and swiped his throat with another. Sam took a deep breath and screamed bloody murder.

But Neal was grinning as he held of the piece of play dough.

Peter pulled Sam from Neal's arms and pressed Sam against his chest. Hot tears rolled down Sam's face as Peter kissed his cheeks. His tiny fists shook in the air. Peter bounced him up and down.

Neal smiled and started cleaning up the mess.

"Get out," Peter said lowly.

Neal looked up sharply, "What?"

"Get out of my house," Peter ordered.

Neal stood, confused, "Peter I don't-"

"Go! I want you out of here now."

Neal stared at him. Bewildered, he picked up his hat and headed for the door.

"And don't come back."

Neal tensed and spun around, "I don't know what I did!"

"I don't want you near my son, Neal! It was your idea to get the damn play dough out!"

"Peter, it was an accident-"

"I don't care! You could have killed him! He's going to have a bruise from the way you hit him! I don't you want you anywhere near him!"

"Peter-"

"Get out!"

Neal swallowed, "Okay."

Neal stepped back and left, shutting the door quietly behind him. Peter glared at the door and continued calming Sam as he cried in the quiet house.

"It's okay, baby," he whispered, "Daddy's got you."

Sam cried harder. Thirty minutes later, he finally stopped as he fell asleep. Peter put him in his crib and sat down at the table.

He had only just sat down when Elizabeth walked in the door. Peter sat still and stared at the play dough.

"Hey, honey," Elizabeth greeted as she walked in carrying a bagful of groceries, "You wouldn't believe some of the deals I got. Sam's favorite baby food was even on sale," she put the bag down on the table and looked around, "Where is Sam?"

"Asleep, just went down," Peter said.

"Oh, good," she picked up a lump of play dough, "Did you guys have fun?"

"Neal's idea," Peter said angrily.

"Neal's here? Is he staying for supper?" She picked up the groceries and headed for the kitchen, "You know babe, you have to be careful with this. Sam like the way it tastes. Sometimes he puts too much in his mouth and almost chokes."

"He did."

Elizabeth spun around, "What?"

"He choked," Peter held up the blue chunk, "on this."

"Oh my god, Peter," Elizabeth cried, "Is he alright? How'd you get it out?"

"Calm down El. He's fine. We got it out."

"We?"

Peter sighed, "Neal did."

Elizabeth dropped the bag back on the table and crossed her arms, "You don't sound too grateful."

"I'm not."

"Peter Burke!"

"I'm grateful he saved Sam," Peter said fanning out his hands, "but it was his idea to play with the damn play dough in the first place."

"Wait, wait, wait," Elizabeth said as she sat down at the head of the table, "Go back. You're blaming Neal?"

Peter threw the wad of dough on the table, "He got it out! It was his damn idea!"

"Peter, I get it out all the time. Sam loves to watch me make animals and he loves the way it feels. It's a learning experience for him."

"He stuck the damn stuff in his mouth, El. He nearly choked!"

"It's edible, I told you that." Elizabeth picked up the play dough, "I made it so he wouldn't get sick if he did eat it. It's perfectly safe, Peter."

"He couldn't breathe! It isn't safe for him to play with and Neal isn't safe for him to be around."

Elizabeth frowned, "What do you mean?"

"You should have seen the way he was hitting Sam's back," Peter said, anger renewing in his brown eyes, "He hit him over and over. There's going to be a big black bruise there."

"Peter, that's what you're supposed to do." Elizabeth said softly.

Peter looked away.

Elizabeth reached out and placed her hand on his arm, "This isn't about the play dough, is it?"

Peter sighed, "He couldn't breathe, El. And I just sat here, doing nothing."

"Oh, Peter."

"What kind of father am I if I freeze every time my son needs me?" Peter ran his hand through his hair in frustration.

"A good one." Elizabeth turned his face towards her, "You are a very good father. But being a parent is like every other job. You learn as you go. And you're human, Peter. You're going to make mistakes."

"Neal doesn't make mistakes," Peter grumbled.

Elizabeth chuckled, "Is that what this is about?"

"What? What's so funny?"

Elizabeth laughed harder, "Honey, Neal isn't Sam's father. He's the adoring uncle."

"You're losing me, El."

"Honey, do you remember my Uncle Marty?"

"You're dad's brother. Yeah, what about him?"

"I adored him when I was growing up. Every Christmas party, every 4th of July and birthday, Marty was the only one I wanted. I clung to him, followed him every where. He was cool and I loved him more than anything."

Peter frowned.

Elizabeth leaned close and smiled, "Except my dad."

Peter suddenly found the composition of the homemade play dough to be of the utmost importance.

"My dad was the one I ran to when I was hurt. He was the one I wanted to impress with my grades. I was Daddy's girl 365 days of the year. He only shared me with Uncle Marty on the holidays. It's still that way."

"Sam's not a girl."

"No, but he is your son. Not Neal's. Neal is just the cool uncle Sam will cling too. It's you he will follow, you he will mimic and adore. Neal could never take your place and he doesn't want to."

Peter rubbed both hands over his face, "I felt so useless today."

Elizabeth stood up and kissed his forehead, "Maybe Neal can teach you what to do if Sam ever chokes again."

"Yeah."

"After you call him and apologize."

I'm one step from a breakdown

Two steps from being safe

Just try to see this through

He could see the stars.

Only if he closed his eyes.

If he closed his eyes, and stared into the darkness behind his eye lids, he could see the millions of stars glistening back at him. Like diamonds. They sparkled for him, in clusters and constellations, in patterns and in their solitary glory. Just for him.

No one else in New York City could see the stars during the day. They were all for him, their beauty and their splendor. They were made for him.

As he laid on the ice, letting the cold seep through him, he closed his eyes and watched the stars. He counted them, named them, wondered about them. And he reached fro them.

But like everything else in his life, they were just too far away.

Just out of reach.

"He's not answering."

Elizabeth frowned as she changed Sam's diaper on the living room floor, "Did you call the house?"

"It's busy," Peter said, "June's granddaughter is probably tying up the lines."

"What are you going to do?"

Peter sighed. What he wanted to do was forget the whole damn thing even happened. He wanted to wait until Monday morning and bring Neal a cup of that expensive coffee he liked. They'd share a meaningful look and go back to work. No words would need to be said, no awkward silence to suffer through. That would be that.

But he knew it wasn't enough. Not this time.

"I'll go over there," Peter said finally, pocketing his cell phone.

Elizabeth smiled, "That a boy."

She picked up Sam and rested him on her hip. She kissed Peter lightly on the mouth, smiling at him.

"Isn't Daddy a good guy, Sammy?" she asked the giggling boy, "Yeah? Give Daddy a big kiss."

Peter took his son in his arms and kissed his cheek, hugging him tightly before passing him back to Elisabeth.

"I'll be back."

"Bring Neal for dinner."

"Won't leave with out him."

Peter grabbed his coat and headed out the door. On the drive to June's, he tried Neal's cell three more times but got the voice mail each time. He tried the main line but only heard the busy signal.

It seemed like ages before he reached the mansion on the other side of town.

June answered the door, looking bewildered.

"Agent Burke? Can I help you?"

"I'm looking for Neal," Peter said, "I was hoping I could-"

"Neal hasn't come home, Agent Burke. He told me he would be spending the day with you."

"He was. I mean, he is, we just…there was a misunderstanding that I need to sort out with Neal."

June raised an eyebrow, "You need?"

"I'm sorry?"

June eyed him cautiously and then opened the door, "Come in, Agent Burke."

"I really need to-"

"This won't take long," June said, "and it cannot wait."

Peter sighed at the no nonsense tone she used and hung his head. He stepped into the beautiful home and followed her to the parlor. She offered him a seat and took the chair next to him. She ordered tea from one of her servants and folded her hands in her lap. Peter felt as if he were ten again and was waiting for his punishment from the principal.

"June, what is this about?"

"Agent Burke, for nearly two years Neal has lived with me and not once have I found him questionable."

"That's good."

"You misunderstand my reasons for telling you this. I'm not reporting to you as a civilian to an FBI agent. But to as a friend to another friend of our mutual acquaintance ."

"I see," Peter paused, "actually, I don't."

June smiled, "You are Neal's friend, are you not?"

"Of course."

It was true. Even though Peter had fought tooth and nail for the past two years, his relationship with Neal had evolved from partners to friends. He didn't deny it and he'd grown rather fond of the bond between them.

"And yet, you still see him as second."

"I'm afraid I don't follow."

"You came here today, not to relieve Neal's pain from this misunderstanding, but to relieve yourself of the guilt. You put your needs above Neal's, and see him only as second."

June paused as the servant came back with their tea. As the man poured the steaming liquid, Peter avoided June's eyes and thought about her words. Did he really treat Neal as a disposable friend? Did Neal feel that way?

The servant left and June blew a cooling breath on her tea. Peter let his sit on the table.

"He isn't disposable," he said finally.

"Does he know that?"

Peter frowned, "Why wouldn't he?"

"Neal has the habit of giving his all. To the untrained eye, it seems as if he's being selfish, deceiving the world only to get what he wants and to hell with the rest of the world. But, in fact, it is just the opposite."

"How do you figure that?"

June smiled, "You're his partner, Agent Burke. Don't you already know?"

Yes, he knew. He knew exactly what June was talking about. Ever since Neal had been partnered with him he had seen time and again that his exploits weren't for his own benefit. The Bible, the coin, the portrait, even his incessant quest for Kate was to save her from danger.

"Neal always seems to put himself last," Peter mused.

"Yes he does," June said, "but that poses the question then. If Neal puts himself last, who puts Neal first?"

Peter rubbed his temples.

"You need to find him, Agent Burke and rectify this wrong. Through my years of life I've learned many things and one of them is this: those who put themselves last only last for so long. Eventually they all burn out and there is no one there to pick up the pieces."

Peter nodded, "Do you have any idea where he might have gone?"

June frowned, "Don't you have him on some sort of tracker?"

Peter felt like a complete idiot.

I'm three steps from this nightmare

Four steps from the door

The rest is up to you

Was it dark now?

Were the stars out behind the veil of electric lighting?

He could feel them watching him, even through the burning daylight, when they slept and the world moved on, he could feel them. Always there, always watching. He liked to think of them as the world's guardians. As it's own special protectors. When the world and its inhabitants slept, they would shine brightly, warding off danger, offering guiding light to those lost.

He loved that they always gave off light. Even when he couldn't see them. Even when they died, and their lights went out, they always went out in a beautiful spectacle of light. Bright and beautiful.

Space was cold, wasn't it? Wasn't that what it said in his fifth grade science book? And did stars burn hot? The sun was a star. So he thought they did, but his mind was going cold, like the black vacuum that surrounded the stars. It was slow and sluggish.

He wished for the stars heat.

Peter stomped the snow off his shoes as he slid into his car. He quickly turned the key and grabbed his cell phone, calling Jones as he held his hand in front of the vent.

"Jones."

"It's Burke," Peter said, "I need a location on Neal."

"Isn't he with you?"

"Would I be calling if he was?"

A head ache was growing behind Peter's eyes. He could feel the tension rising in his shoulders. When he'd left home, it had been necessary to find Neal, but in light of his conversation with June, it was urgent. He had a horrifying feeling growing in his stomach that Neal would do something stupid. He had to find him first.

"Got it. He's in Central Park."

"That's a pretty big place, Jones. Can you get anymore specific?"

"Looks like he's in the Great Lawn area. Near Belvedere Lake."

"Thanks, Jones."

Peter hung up and quickly drove toward the park. As he neared it, he dialed Elizabeth.

"Hi, honey. How's it going?"

"We've got a bit of a problem, El." Peter said.

"What's wrong?"

"Neal wasn't there. I talked to June and called Jones. I'm heading to find him now."

"Do you think he's okay?"

"Yeah," Peter said, "he's fine."

"Peter, it's been three hours since he left. If he's been out there the whole time…"

Peter had thought of that. Neal didn't have a car. If he'd walked all the way to Central Park and sat in the cold for the past three hours, odds were he was already trying to catch a cold. He sighed.

"Get some coffee ready. I think we'll be having a guest tonight."

Elizabeth was silent for a moment, "You're a good man, Peter."

"I don't feel like it right now."

"You are. I love you."

"I love you, too."

He hung up as he came to Central Park. He pulled off 5th street and onto the 79th Transverse Road. His heart sunk as he saw the sun setting. He had to find Neal soon.

Pardon me while I turn my back and walk away

Pardon me if I can't listen to the things you say

Pardon me can't fake it while you still believe

Pardon me

His mother once told him that the stars were dreams.

She said they were the dreams of achievers and every star he saw was just another dream come true. She would take him outside at night, in the cold or heat, and show him the constellations. She would show him his stars, all the dreams he'd made come true.

He once asked his mother where her dreams were.

She smiled down at him and knelt beside him, wrapping him in her arms. She told him that she had the biggest dream of them all and had shown him the moon, full and bright, hanging high in the sky. And she'd said that her greatest dreams had come true the day he was born and that's why the moon was so big and bright. Because it was her star, and he was her dream come true.

He couldn't see the moon now.

And he couldn't see the stars.

He could barely see anything and he was so cold. The shivers ran through him violently.

How long had he laid there, asking to see the stars?

He couldn't remember, and if he was honest with himself, he simply didn't care.

"Damn it, where the hell did it go?"

Peter shoved papers out of the glove compartment and triumphantly pulled out the flashlight. He checked the battery, took the keys, locked the doors and started running for the lake.

It was dark now. The sun had set and the night was illuminated by the city lights. There wasn't any one around that Peter saw, but he wasn't worried about that now. He was only worried about finding Neal.

Belvedere was a decent sized pond. Peter reached the edge and called for his friend, but he didn't receive an answer.

His nerves were frayed. Already, he could feel the cold nipping at his face and hands. If Neal had been out in this New York winter all this time there was a good chance he had hypothermia. Or the first stage of it.

Peter pulled out his cell and quickly called Jones again.

"Jones."

"I need a specific location on Neal, Jones."

"Burke? I told you, he's-"

"I'm at the lake, but I think Neal's been out here all day. I need to find him now."

"All day?"

"Since at least one."

"Jesus, it's almost seven."

"I know that! I need that location."

He heard keys tapping as Jones obeyed. Less than a minute later, he came back over the line.

"He's on the lake, Peter."

"Damn it!"

Pete hung up and ran onto the lake. The ice was sturdy and thick under his feet. He ran straight out, calling for Neal and swinging his flashlight around, searching desperately, frantically.

He was running out of time.

I'm one step from forgiveness

And two steps from my grave

We're all just passing through

Did it hurt to die?

He didn't know. He'd wondered before. When he had guns aimed his way, which seemed to happen a lot, he knew it would hurt. He knew there would pain, white hot, exploding through his body. But that was with a bullet. That was violent.

Would it hurt if he just fell asleep?

It couldn't hurt if he just closed his eyes, drifted off as he stared at the stars of his dreams, images of his mother running through his numb mind. It wouldn't hurt if he just gave in. He'd run out of reasons to fight, hadn't he?

Kate had left him, for good once he'd gotten her back. Fed up with his lies and his deals, she'd just walked away. She hadn't even looked back.

Neal didn't give up then. Because he'd had Peter and Elizabeth. And that had seemed like enough then. He didn't have Kate but he had friends that cared about him, loved him.

Or so he thought.

Tears welled in his eyes as he thought of little Sammy's face, contorted as he fought for his breath. He didn't blame Peter, not anymore. Before, he hadn't understood his anger, but now he did. Now he understood.

It was Neal's fault.

It was all his fault.

Peter stopped in the middle of the lake.

His heart pounded like a locomotive racing down the track. Time was slipping through his fingers, like grains of sand in an hour glass. He and Father Time were in a race and he was loosing.

His breaths came in white puffs as he turned and spun and cried out for Neal to answer him. But it was quiet except for the echo of his panicked shouts.

He ran for the south end of the lake, slipping and sliding on the ice. Images assaulted him as he cried out for Neal.

Neal grinning as he rolled the fedora down his arm to his hand and then placed it perfectly on top of his head.

"Neal!"

Neal with his feet crossed on top of his desk, the fedora over his eyes, snoring lightly until Peter smacked his feet off and Neal startled awake, tipping out of the chair in the process.

"Neal, answer me!"

Neal sitting on his couch with Sam in his hands, lifting the baby up into the air as he grinned wide and made cooing noises, Sam laughing happily as he and Elizabeth watched from the opposite couch.

"Neal, damn it!"

Neal looking sad and defeated as he walked backwards out of the house, defeat lingering in his blue eyes. And then he was gone.

"Neal!"

Three steps from redemption

Four from the Devil's door

On a path that leads to you

He was wrong.

Death did hurt.

It hurt to let go, to just give in. It hurt to think of all the faces he was leaving behind. It hurt to think he'd never see them again, never hear their voices or their laughter. It hurt and he didn't want to let go.

But he could feel his heart hammering, his breaths shallow and fast in his chest. He could feel each shiver ripple through him, each tremble reverberate through his frozen flesh. And it hurt.

But it didn't hurt for long.

He remembered the stars, the way they glowed and beckoned him. He remembered that his mom was already waiting for him, ready to pull him into her loving arms, to show him the stars again.

And it didn't hurt anymore.

Warmth blossomed in his chest and filled his body. He closed his eyes, thought of the stars.

And let go.

Peter saw him.

He could have wept, fell to his knees and wept to the heavens, words of gratitude falling from his lips.

He ran, stumbled and slid across the ice. The flash light fell from his hands and he crawled on hands and knees to where he'd seen Peter. His fingers touched the metal of the flashlight first. He pulled it to him and flipped on the light just as his other hand touched flesh.

His immediate reaction was to pull back at how cold it was. It burned his finger tips.

Peter swung the flashlight around and it illuminated Neal's features. He gasped.

"Oh god, Neal."

The tinge of blue around his lips and ears on the unbelievably pale face shocked Peter. He didn't look as if he were breathing, there was no white puff of breath emanating from his mouth or nose.

He looked dead.

Peter pulled himself up to his knees and touched his fingers to Neal's freezing skin. He felt the pulse, weak and thin, beneath his fingertips and sent up a quick prayer of thanks before taking Neal's face in his hands and turning it towards him. He slapped Neal's cheeks lightly.

"Neal, wake up. Come on, Neal. No sleeping on the job."

Neal didn't wake up. He didn't move or even flinch away from Peter's hands. Peter racked his brain for his very small medical training. Hypothermia had already set in, and from the looks of it, Neal had already entered into stage two. And was nearing stage three.

Bad things happened in stage three.

Peter had to get Neal to a hospital, he had to get him warm, quickly. But first he had to get him awake.

"Neal, come on. I can't lug you all the way back to the car by myself. Don't give up on me yet."

Pardon me while I turn my back and walk away

Pardon me if I can't listen to the things you say

Pardon me if I can't fake it while you still believe

Pardon me

The stars were fading.

They were dimming, going out one by one. He couldn't see them any more and that made him sad.

He didn't want them to go.

He wanted to stay here with the stars, where it was warm and he didn't have anything to worry about. He wanted to float under their beauty and their warm glow where nothing bad could happen to him. Where no one could leave him.

But they were all leaving him, the stars. They were dying, quietly, dimly. They were leaving him all alone in the darkness, the one place he hated to be.

He reached out for them, begged them to stay, but they only winked at him and then disappeared.

Until there was only one.

And then it vanished.

And he was alone.

So he opened his eyes.

"Peter?"

Peter's heart leapt at the quiet rasp of Neal's voice. He grinned despite himself and patted Neal's cheek affectionately.

"Hey, glad to see you're awake."

Neal frowned, "Why is it so cold?"

"Might have something to do with you lying on the ice for the past six hours. But that's just my guess." Peter said, "Think you can stand?"

Neal turned his head, "Yeah, but I need a little help getting there."

Peter got to his feet and reached down. Latching onto Neal's hand, he pulled the man to his feet. Neal swayed to the right and blinked slowly. His knees started to buckle. Peter rushed under his arm and supported him.

Neal turned and looked at him, "What are you doing here?"

"Finding you," Peter answered, "We need to get you to the car. The ambulance is on it's way, but they can't exactly get out here."

Neal nodded, "'Kay."

"Walk with me, carefully. Take your time."

"Peter?" Neal asked as they started forward.

"Yeah."

"Why were you trying to find me?"

Peter frowned, "Was I not supposed to?"

Neal shrugged his shoulder and stumbled, "Maybe. I can't really remember right now."

Peter's stomach twisted. Amnesia was a symptom of the third stage. He sped up.

"What were you doing out here anyway, Neal?" Peter asked.

"Looking at the stars."

Peter glanced up, "You can't see the stars in New York."

"I can. When I close my eyes, like my mom taught me."

Peter swallowed hard. In the two years they'd known each other, Neal had never talked about his family and Peter had never broached the subject. He knew Neal's mom had died of cancer when he was a preteen, and he knew it must have been hard on him. Neal had no interest in reliving those hard times and Peter didn't want to force him to.

"What did your mom teach you about the stars?" Peter asked quietly.

"She said they were dreams," Neal said softly, "They were dreams that came true and that all I had to do was close my eyes and I could see them."

"And you had to do that on the lake? In the dead of winter?"

"Mom liked to ice skate. We did it a lot. Before."

Before his world turned upside down. Before his dreams of sharing his life with his mother were shattered and ripped to shreds. Before the stars disappeared. Peter understood all about before.

"You wanted to be close to her."

Neal nodded, stumbled and said, "And close to my dreams."

Peter frowned, confused, "Close to your dreams?"

"I had to remember the dreams I made come true to make up for the ones that didn't."

Peter could see the car looming ahead. He could hear the sirens in the distance. But Neal was leaning against him with all of his weight and his legs seemed to be slipping form underneath him.

"Come on, Neal. We're almost there."

"Always almost there. Never there."

"Damn it, Neal. Come on. Tell me your dream, the one you didn't make."

"I wanted…wanted a family."

Peter was practically dragging Neal across the ice, hoping it wouldn't give beneath them, hoping Neal would make it the ten feet to the car, and hearing the words he spoke so softly.

"You'll have one."

"She was the one."

"No, she wasn't. She left. The one loves you just as much as you love them. She wasn't the one, Neal."

"I'm sorry."

"No, I am, but we aren't having that conversation now."

"I'm tired."

"Damn it, Neal!"

Three feet from the car, Neal's body gave out. Peter tried to support his weight but they both ended up in a heap on the cold ground. Peter pulled Neal to him and crawled across the ground. He leaned Neal against his chest and wrapped his arms around the man, hoping to share body heat.

The sirens were growing closer.

"Neal, stay with me."

"Tired."

"You can't sleep. If you sleep, you die, and I'm not…I'm not paying for your funeral."

Neal smirked, "Cheapskate."

Peter smirked, but it died quickly. He felt fear seize him as it had earlier that day. It was the kind of fear he'd only felt once. He didn't know he would feel towards Neal, but then he recalled Elizabeth's earlier analogy.

Neal was like the adoring uncle.

Like Peter's brother.

"I don't want to die," Neal whispered.

"You won't," Peter whispered back, voice cracking, "I won't let you."

Red and blue lights flashed around them. Peter looked up, past he ambulance and paramedics flooding from it to the black sky, to the drowned out stars.

And wished for a miracle.

Pardon me while I turn my back and walk away

Pardon me if I can't listen to the things you say

Pardon me if I can't fake it while you still believe

Pardon me

He saw her.

She stood dressed in white, emanating a white light all her own. Her dark hair fell in waves around her angelic face of pale skin and crystal blue eyes.

She was just as beautiful as she had always been, even when the cancer got bad and she was so sick. She was always so beautiful.

He reached out his hand to her and she smiled, taking his palm in her slender fingers and turning it over. She kissed his hand and curled his fingers over his palm. He looked at her, confused and she smiled, sweet and kind.

"Go back," she whispered, her voice melodious and smooth.

He didn't want to, but felt life pulling at him. He held on to her hand tight and she gripped his hand back.

But her smile was sad and sweet as she said, "Go back, Neal. You have so many more stars to make."

He smiled at her, understanding dawning on him. She smiled back.

And together, they let go.

Peter sat with his head in his hands beside Neal's bed.

He'd sent Elizabeth home an hour ago to rest with Sam. Neal hadn't woken up for the past three hours. Not since they got him back.

Peter sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. He stood and looked at Neal.

"You know, I blame you," Peter said absently as he walked to the window.

Neal was quiet.

"I didn't have a single gray hair before this partnership," Peter went on, "and now I've got five. I'm in my thirties for god's sakes. I shouldn't have gray hairs."

Peter glanced back at Neal, "You probably won't ever get gray hairs. Even if you do, it will probably be in the sophisticated way that makes women drool. Lucky SOB," Peter sighed and looked out the window, "but that's about all I blame you for."

Peter tapped his knuckle on the window and spun away, "I'm sorry, alright. You know I'm no good at this emotional crap. I hate admitting it, but I was wrong. Big time wrong. See, I somehow got it in my head that you were trying to steal my kid from me, trying to take my place. Stupid, I know, but," Peter shrugged, "I guess I'm just…scared."

Peter checked to make sure Neal was still asleep before going on, "I'm scared Sam's going to hate me. I keep thinking I'm going to screw up big time and Sam's going to take the consequences. I didn't have the greatest role model, you know. So how can I be sure I'm doing it right?"

"And then you just stroll in and make everything look so easy," Peter said walking around the bed, "Everything comes so easily to you, and Sam adores you. So I went temporarily insane. I blamed you for my own insecurities and the worst part," Peter sighed and sat down next to Neal again, "the worst part is I never even thanked you for saving Sam's life."

Peter looked down at the floor, "Damn it, I'm sorry, Neal."

"You're a great dad."

Peter's head snapped up so fast he almost gave himself whiplash, "Neal?"

Neal smiled weakly back at him. Peter suddenly turned red.

"You heard all of that, huh?"

Neal nodded weakly.

"So…"

"You're forgiven."

"Good, but that wasn't what I was going to ask," Peter said, "I was going to ask if you were alright."

"A little hot," Neal said, "How many blankets are piled on me?"

"I lost track after a dozen," Peter smirked, "but that still isn't what I meant."

Neal sobered, "I'm not suicidal, if that's what you're thinking."

"It wasn't."

"I just…I needed to…"

"Neal, I'm not worried about why you were out there. I want to know if you are okay, right here. In this moment."

Neal stared at him, "Why?"

Peter shrugged, "Sometimes you need to be put first."

Neal smirked, "I'm fine, Peter."

"Neal-"

"I am," Neal insisted, "I'm a little frozen around the edges, but I'm okay."

Peter studied him, "You're sure?"

"Positive."

"Okay, I should probably go get the nurse," Peter moved to stand but stopped and looked back at Neal, "but first, I need to ask you a favor."

Neal frowned, "Am I going to regret it if I agree?"

"When he's old enough," Peter said, "I want you to take Sam on the roof and tell him the story about the stars."

Neal gaped at him.

Peter shrugged, "I know it's your mom's story, but…"

"No," Neal said quickly, "I will. I promise."

"Good." Peter grinned. He clapped Neal on the shoulder, or where he assumed his shoulder was underneath all those blankets and headed for the door.

"Hey, Peter."

"Yeah?"

Neal smiled, "Thanks."

"No problem," Peter said with a smile. He turned back to the door and added quietly, "little brother."

I'm two steps from salvation

But I'm only taking one

Pardon me

She watched the man leave her son's room and stepped through the door. She watched his head lean back and his eyes close, and smiled at her baby. She blew a kiss to him and wished him luck for his dreams.

And then she flew back to the stars.

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IsmayDeVain