Disclaimer: White Collar belongs to Jeff Eastin and USA Network.

A/N: Thank you all so much for your continued reviews! You have no idea how they brighten my day. I am so excited about this chapter, and I hope you don't mind that it's much longer than any previous chapters ;) I was going to end it here, but I was inspired to write an epilogue which I'll post tomorrow. Please let me know what you think.

Chapter 10

Several days later…

Neal woke up with a start. He had been dreaming again; it had become a nightly occurrence. Every time it was the same dream of him being in an alley with a painting and a masked man shooting him. He didn't understand it. Why would he have a painting? Was he an artist? Why would there be masked men involved? Who was giving him the money? Was this some kind of undercover operation that had gone wrong? Why did somebody want to kill him? The questions were endless and all unanswered; nothing made any sense. Who was Mozzie? Who was Kate? They were names that meant nothing to him. He tried to tell himself it was just a dream; just something made up by his subconscious. He really tried to believe that, but the last part of the dream just kept nagging at him.

He lay on the cold asphalt unable to move, his last thought was that most of all he regretted the game of cat-and-mouse with the FBI was finally over. Peter Burke would find him…dead.

It was not a coincidence; Neal was sure. Why would the dream keep repeating unless it had a hidden meaning? What kind of cat-and-mouse game was going on? Why was he playing the game? Shouldn't they be playing it with a criminal they were trying to catch? Were they playing it with the masked men? Why would he be regretting it then? After all, he worked for the FBI, but if he was supposed to track down the criminals, why would he be playing cat-and-mouse with them? He assumed the reference to Peter was because they were partners, but why wasn't Peter there? Wasn't he supposed to have his back? If he had really died, as it seemed in his dream, then why was he alive and here? Neal didn't remember seeing Peter anywhere, but he must have been there. Peter must have seen it happen and he must have found him in time…that's what partners do.

Neal felt relief flow through him for a few moments until he remembered another conversation with Peter.

"What happened?"

"We were working on a case, and you were hit from behind by some falling plastic tubing. We've caught the guy we think is behind the scam we were investigating, but we're still not sure if he had anything to do with your accident."

Neal was even more confused now. He thought Peter had saved his life after the masked man from his dream shot him, but now he was remembering Peter telling him that they were investigating a scam and he had been hit by falling tubing. Was he imagining things? Were his dreams now intertwining with real cases? How was he ever going to figure out what was real and what was just a dream?


A week later…

Neal woke to find Holly wrapping his arm with a cuff to check his blood pressure. He had no idea if it was morning or afternoon. His days and nights had been so mixed up lately that he had no idea what day of the week it was, or what time of day it might be. He felt like the whole world was revolving without him and he was stuck here in this bed with no escape. He felt completely useless and all alone, save for the occasional visit by Holly or Shari, who tried to cheer him up while checking his vital signs. He felt strange waking up and not having someone hold his hand. Elle had always been there encouraging him to open his eyes, but she and Peter had both gone back to work and would drop by on occasion, making sure he knew they hadn't forgotten about him. He realized that they had lives outside these hospital walls that he was stuck in for the foreseeable future. He couldn't blame them; he wouldn't want to be here either.

Elle had put some more pieces together for him; he had known that there was something more to Peter's gaze when they had been talking earlier. Elle had told him that Peter cared for him like a son, as well as being partners in the FBI. It seemed strange to Neal that Peter had scared him at first, but now he was a lot more comfortable with him. First appearances always tended to be deceiving when you didn't have all the information. He briefly wondered what Peter's first impression of him had been.


Neal was dreaming the same dream, yet again. He was standing in the alley and the masked man was approaching asking for the painting. Neal asked for the money and the masked man once again signaled to someone in the limo. The second man got out of the limo with the briefcase and set it down by Neal. Neal saw himself handing over the painting, and bending down to pick up the briefcase. He knew what was going to happen next. He tried to scream to warn himself, but no sound came out. He tried to run, but his feet were frozen in place; the Neal in his dream wasn't paying any attention to him. But this time…this time it was different…this time the shot caught him in the leg. Neal realized it wasn't a fatal injury, but still saw himself falling to the ground. This time, Neal looked up and saw the second man, the man who had shot him, looking down at him. The man pulled off his mask. Neal gasped as he recognized Peter's face and Peter was laughing.

"Three years Caffrey… three years of this cat-and-mouse game and I win. You can't run anymore. I'm sure Kate will visit you in prison."

He felt Peter rolling him over; pulling his arms behind him and heard the click of metal handcuffs around his wrists just before he passed out.


Neal woke up drenched in sweat, his heart beating rapidly.

"And how are we doing this morning?"

Neal looked over and saw Shari walking into the room sounding chipper as usual until she noticed the heart monitor beeping at a frantic pace. She hurried to his side and noticed that his hospital gown was soaked.

"Neal, what happened? What's wrong?"

Neal was still working on controlling his breathing. He realized his dream had changed into a nightmare. It wasn't real, it couldn't be real; Shari was here and he was safe in his hospital bed. She was feeling his forehead, a concerned look still on her face; Neal did feel warm.

"I think…I just…I had another bad dream. I'm ok."

"Are you sure? You're really flushed, you're heart is racing and your hospital gown is soaked. That does not sound ok to me. Let me get something to help you calm down and I'll get you a new gown. I'll be back in a bit."

Neal didn't want to calm down. He was desperately trying to figure out what had just happened. It was the same dream, but this time the ending had really scared him. This time Peter was the one with the briefcase; Peter was the one holding the gun that fired and Peter was looking down at him lying on the ground. Peter was laughing.

"Three years Caffrey… three years of this cat-and-mouse game, and I win. You can't run anymore. I'm sure Kate will visit you in prison."

Neal wasn't sure what to believe anymore. The Peter that had come to visit him in the hospital seemed to genuinely care about him, he was his partner. The Peter from his dream had shot him, removed his mask - so that Neal had no doubts about his identity - and then laughed in Neal's face.

I win.

Neal closed his eyes. He could still see the Peter from his dreams laughing down at him; gloating as if he had won the grand prize. Why couldn't he make it go away? It couldn't be real, it was all a dream; a nightmare. Peter was his partner, his protector, his friend. Peter had assured him several times that nobody was after him; nobody wanted to kill him, but now it looked like Peter himself was the one trying to kill him.

I win. I win.

Neal couldn't make the image of Peter laughing at him go away. No, it's not real, it can't be real. Suddenly, another piece of the puzzle fell into place in Neal's mind and he froze in horror.

He was regretting the game of cat-and-mouse with the FBI was finally over. Peter Burke would find him…

He saw Peter laughing.

Three years Caffrey… three years of this cat-and-mouse game…

The same cat-and-mouse game he had been regretting was over. Why was it over?

I win.

Neal could hear the clicking of the handcuffs from his dream as vividly as if they were right behind him; he could feel the cold metal touching his skin and suddenly he knew.

The door opened and Shari stepped in with a clean hospital gown and a syringe. She noticed that Neal had gotten deathly pale since she left. She knew something was terribly wrong and hurried to administer the sedative.


"Good morning Sunshine! You look better today!"

Neal didn't respond. Shari still couldn't figure out what was wrong; he had only spoken a handful of words since his nightmare several days ago.

"Today is Wednesday; it's almost noon, and it's a beautiful day outside!"

Shari noticed her perky demeanor was completely lost on Neal; he really looked like death warmed over, but she wasn't about to tell him that.

"Elle stopped in earlier this morning, but you were still sleeping. She didn't want to wake you. She hated leaving you again, but she wanted to go run her errands while you were still asleep."

Neal closed his eyes while he felt Shari do her usual pokes and prods. He was glad he had been sleeping; he didn't want to talk to Elle or Peter right now. He didn't want to remember.

"Only one more week, and then hopefully we can take your chest cast off, get a more comfortable back brace on and we can start you on some physical therapy. Soon enough we'll have you sitting up doing all sorts of things and then you can go home."

Neal didn't respond because he wasn't sure what to say; he didn't really care. He felt betrayed by the people he was supposed to be closest to. He remembered the names Mozzie and Kate from his dreams, but he was still fuzzy about who they were or if they could even help. He didn't even remember if he had a home to go back to, or where he would go once they finally released him. Who could he trust to tell him?

Peter and Elle had lied to him; they had made him believe that he was an honorable person who worked as Peter's partner at the FBI to help catch criminals. Now he remembered the truth. He knew why he was holding the painting in his dream; he remembered many paintings that he had sold that way...all forgeries. He was nothing but a conman, a forger and an art thief. What did Peter have to gain? He had won; he had sent him to prison - case closed. What Neal couldn't piece together yet was why he was working for the FBI and why he would work for Peter. Peter had been the enemy, but now…now Neal was confused. Peter didn't feel like an enemy anymore, somehow he had become a friend. He was certain that both Peter and Elle knew the truth about him and hadn't told him. He was certain that they knew he was a criminal, a black sheep, and yet they treated him like a son, maybe even a prodigal son…a son that had come home after disgracing his parents. He was sure they knew and yet they accepted him with open arms. Elle had assured him he was loved and he wanted to believe that. He wanted to be loved; he needed to be loved.

Peter's face appeared before him once again, still laughing…

"I'm sure Kate will visit you in prison."

Kate…Kate…a woman's face crystallized in Neal's mind; a beautiful woman…a woman with long brown hair… telling him goodbye. He had loved her…his mind was slowly processing this new information. He remembered being furious, how could she leave him? He had to find her…he had to explain...she had to have known he was anticipating the day when he could walk back into her arms. How could she do this to him? He remembered now. He had spent weeks planning, weeks coming up with the perfect con…the perfect escape. Only, he had failed…he had missed her by two days…and all she had left him was an empty bottle of wine.

You can't trust anyone.

Neal could hear Kate's voice, he opened his eyes and she was standing over him, warning him.

You can't trust anyone.

She looked over her shoulder, a scared expression on her face, and then she disappeared as quickly as she had come.


Neal screamed into the darkness, but no one cared.


Shari had been her usually perky self today and informed him the sun was shining brightly outside and it was a beautiful day; as if he could just run outside and see for himself. He couldn't prove she was lying just with her words, so he decided to humor her and see. She happily pulled up the window shade for him, but the window was off to the side and behind him, so he couldn't directly see the sunlight. It didn't matter…the dreary hospital room still came alive with brilliant light displaying different moving patterns on the wall that Neal assumed were created by branches and leaves just outside his window, moving in the breeze. It wasn't much, but at least it was something to keep his mind off his problems, at least until it got dark.


Neal was afraid Peter might have forgotten about him. It was quite possible he had gotten caught up in a case and just didn't have time. Neal hadn't seen him for several days…although he really wasn't quite sure how many, so he was relieved to see him walk in the door.

"It's a little dark in here isn't it? It's too early for you to be asleep."

Peter flipped on the light and Neal closed his eyes to let them adjust to the sudden light. He heard Peter sit down in the chair next to his bed, and when he opened his eyes Peter was studying him. Neal assumed it was because Peter hadn't seen him for a few days and was trying to determine if Neal looked any better; Neal wasn't sure he did.

"Shari opened the shade for me and turned the light off so I could see the sunlight."

"That was nice of her."

"Why do I work for the FBI?"

Neal had asked it as a simple question to start a conversation, a conversation he really didn't want to have, but there were still so many unanswered questions. He needed to figure out why Kate was warning him. Had she meant he couldn't trust Peter? He needed answers, and he figured Peter was the best place to start.

Peter froze momentarily at the one question he had hoped Neal wouldn't ask, but Peter supposed it was inevitable. He wasn't sure what to tell Neal, or how much to remind him of. Neal hadn't mentioned that he had remembered anything other than his mother yet so Peter tried to cover the high points of their cases together without revealing certain criminal aspects.

"You enjoy solving puzzles. You enjoy helping people. When you look at the faces of the people we've helped it makes it all worth it; there's a certain satisfaction you can't get anywhere else. You like to get inside people's heads. You figure out what makes them tick, why they've committed the crime and then we come up with a game plan to take them down. I have to admit, you are one of the best at your job!"

Peter noticed that Neal had a budding smile on his face and a sense of pride growing in his eyes; well at least Peter hoped it was pride.

Peter could have added that Neal was also the best liar, cheat, conman, extortionist, thief and escape artist he had ever seen, but for right now he just wanted to focus on the positive aspects of Neal's FBI position. It wasn't as if Peter was lying…Neal was one of the best… not even a high school graduate and he still put Peter's Harvard co-workers to shame. Peter had noticed Neal's expression soften, and realized that Elle's theory was beginning to grow on him; maybe what Neal really needed was just positive love, encouragement, and law-abiding role models.

Peter continued to tell Neal about how he had helped a young girl and her dad save their home after a dirty judge was trying to swindle many families by creating false second mortgages; then evicting them. Peter also explained how Neal had come to Peter for help to save a young girl's life and helped her get on a donor transplant list. In the process, they had managed to shut down a corrupt organization trying to buy and sell organs. On a more recent case, Peter told Neal that they were able to shut down a corrupt operation threatening adoptive parents. Peter left out any details where Neal had bent and even broken the law - in typical Neal Caffrey fashion - because Peter didn't want to have to explain that dark side just yet.

Neal appeared to be impressed at what Peter was telling him.

"So… it sounds like we make a great team."

"Yeah, I would say we are one of the best teams out there and our recovery rate is much higher than the average bureau rate. In our case, I would say the sum is definitely greater than its parts."

Peter was expecting Neal to say something sarcastic like 'Well, I can see modesty becomes you,' but then realized that he wasn't talking to the 'old' Neal.

"It must be an honor to work with you then."

Peter was taken off guard by Neal's apparently sincere remark and realized, almost in awe, that Neal hadn't said one sarcastic thing to him since he had regained consciousness. Peter was actually starting to miss the 'old' Neal.