I don't own White Collar or the Characters...if I did I wouldn't have to entertain myself this way!

Chapter Eighteen

Peter paced the ER waiting room, occasionally glancing to where Elizabeth sat. His heart was wracked with remorse; he should never have agreed to let Neal go in like that. Wasn't it his job to protect Neal? It certainly wasn't his job to offer him up to the mob on a silver platter. He'd gone and told Murphy that Neal would be home unguarded; not knowing the agent was a traitor. That seemed to be going around the O.C. division lately. It would be a long time before he trusted another agent with Neal; they just all seemed to be out to get him, one way or another.

He was getting all too familiar with this room, and he didn't like it. The cheery Christmas decorations seemed out of place. They certainly didn't improve his mood. He checked his watch, it was past two am. He felt a pair of soft hands wrap around his waist from behind, and he stopped pacing, hanging his head just a little, pulling in a strained breath.

"This isn't your fault." Elizabeth gave him a little squeeze.

He turned inside her arms, so that he was facing her. He knew she was just trying to comfort him, to make him stop worrying, but down inside he knew he had willingly put Neal in harm's way. He was thankful that she was here with him, normally she always made him feel better; but tonight, he wasn't sure anything would. He just felt so damn guilty.

"Yes…this time it is. I should have known better. I never should have let him go in." He sank his head down in her long brown hair; the familiar smell of her was comforting.

"Honey, you and I both know that Neal would have found a way to do this, with or without your help. At least this way you were there to protect him." Peter lifted his head and looked down at her.

"Protect him? I didn't protect him. He's back in the hospital because I couldn't protect him." Peter could feel his hands start to tremble; he pulled out of Elizabeth's arms, shoving his hands down in his pockets. "It wasn't supposed to be like this."

"I'm right here, Peter." Neal's voice made Peter just about jump out of his skin.

"How long have you been standing there?" Peter turned to face his partner.

"Long enough." He flashed a smile in Peter's direction.

Neal stood leaning up against the doorway to the waiting room. Peter slowly checked him over. The blood soaked turtleneck and sweatshirt had been replaced with a hospital blue scrub top. His left arm was supported in a sling. Peter could see the start of two black eyes from the broken nose, but underneath the bruises, his blue eyes were clear. Relief pulsed through Peter's veins, and he felt his whole body relax just a bit.

"Neal…"

"Peter…" Neal raised an eye brow, and tried to look playful, but he was too tired to pull it off.

"Let's get out of here." Peter offered, handing him a wool jacket that Elizabeth had brought over. He was grateful Neal let the previous conversation drop.

"I thought you'd never ask." This time there was a slight twinkle in his eye.

.

When Neal awoke, the late morning sun was streaming in through the windows. He rolled over, burying his head in the pillows, letting out a small moan. He really didn't want to get out of bed; it was the first night's sleep he had had in his own bed in ten days. He could hear laughter coming from the kitchen. It took his brain a moment to remember that Peter and Elizabeth had stayed in June's guest room last night. This morning, actually, he reminded himself, which is why he wanted to stay right where he was. But apparently, his sleeping was doomed, as he heard Peter's voice casually chatting away. He carefully dug himself out from under the pillows, sitting up slowly, guarding his left arm. He grabbed his bathrobe, easing it over his bandaged shoulder before slipping it on the rest of the way. The smell of the Italian Roast was filling the apartment, and it was calling his name. He softly padded over to the dining table where Elizabeth was sitting, taking a seat next to her.

"I'll take a cup." He called to Peter, only half teasing.

"Oh, so what…I have to wait on you now?" Peter turned to face Neal; his manner was relaxed and playful.

"Hey…I think I've earned it." He grinned back at Peter, his blue eyes twinkling with mischief. Elizabeth patted his arm gently.

"You've done more than your share Neal. I'm just glad you're alright." She cast an ominous glance at Peter. "He takes his black."

Peter just rolled his eyes, and chuckled to himself. He was glad things were getting back to normal; Neal being cunning, Elizabeth being motherly, the two of them ganging up on him. Trying to keep an eye on Neal was hard enough on a daily basis, without all the madness of the past week and a half. He poured Neal a cup, and refilled his own before heading back to the table, sitting across from Neal and Elizabeth.

"Hughes called this morning. They're indicting DeLuca this afternoon. We're on leave until the New Year." He leaned back in his chair a little and sipped his coffee, watching Neal.

"So…" Neal spoke up after a minute, his voice was blithful. "We going to get that Christmas tree today?"

"How did you know about that?" Peter was a little taken back, but not entirely surprised. It was hard to keep anything from Neal.

"Peter…" He flashed a wide playful grin, his blue eyes filled with delight.

Peter just smiled into his coffee cup. Yes, things were truly back to the way they should be.

THE END