Okay, I couldn't help it. The vortex of the finale pulled me in.

PICKS UP AT THE END OF 03.10 - O3 because I'm really optimistic for multiple seasons.
No beta, errors are my own, but thankfully I did get nudged a couple of times by Swanpride. Thanks.

How we deal with the stress points in life, effects not only ourselves but those around us.
Peter's auditory and visual experience on entering his home with El kidnapped. The forlorn, sickening expression and mournful "He took my wife." Followed by Neal's own agonized expression. Brought my thoughts to where Neal's and Peter's lives have crossed and their response to stress points.

Enjoy!

So many quick to judgement, to lay blame at Neal's feet without at a single thought about ...


"We're done Neal. Do you understand me. Done!"

Peter motioned Diana over, gave her whispered directions, while she kept a trained eye on Neal
Her face concerned, then angry. She walked to Neal and with a calm, professional restraint, motioned for him to turn around.

Neal glanced over her shoulder at Peter.
Peter shook his head, stolid, closed his eyes and turned back to the chaos of his nightmare.

Diana pulled Neal around. He brought his hands compliantly behind his back. He closed his eyes. He tried in vain to steady his breaths, his pounding heart and uncooperative body. A body that trembled and shuddered and stood on leaden legs. Legs that threatened to falter under the ominous weight pressing down on him.

Diana tried ever tactic she knew. From kind words to outright threats. Still, Neal sat unresponsive in the interrogation room. It wasn't the glass fronted FBI rooms for interviewing witnesses and cooperative suspects. No, this one was further down the corridor with no glass, just cold, barren, harshness – a sound proof door and walls, that made the room feel claustrophobic, tight, with warm stale air circulating through a small vent high above. The table and chairs were hard, unwelcoming, in bleak grey laminate and vinyl. The grey and black flecked carpet failed to hide it's wear and long held stains.

Neal's relentless gaze remained on his hands, held loosely in his lap, palms up. He was oblivious to the room, to Diana's voice and movements. All he could see was Peter's face. All he could hear was Peter's voice echoing through his existence 'He took my wife.' 'We're done.'

All Neal wanted was to tell Peter the truth.

Neal had droned out a single word in the hour and some odd minutes at the FBI with Diana, "Peter."

Diana knew the precious amount of time they had to find Elizabeth Burke, alive. Neal's cooperation was paramount, he was the integral key. Peter knew that and would have to resign himself to the unwanted contact with the conman he had once reverently called friend. Diana knew they would have to step over the boundaries of non-involvement with personal incidents. Everything was too close to home.

Jones brought Peter.

Peter, who's every breath seemed hollow, every movement forced, yet his eyes glared with a hostile intensity that threatened to burn into anyone who dared meet them.

Diana dared.

She placed a hand on his chest, felt his heart racing, his chest rising in an uncharacteristic, shaky heave.
"You need his cooperation Peter." She paused to ensure he'd heard her, then her lips curved ever so slightly. "No strangling the suspect. Okay."

Peter gave her a fleeting twitch of his own mouth, "Thanks Diana."

Peter inhaled an unsteady breath and let a smooth, controlled one slowly escape. He pushed the door open to the interrogation room, the fluorescent lights casting an unnatural glare. Their quiet humming seemed deafening in the sound proof reverberation of the small room. Neal remained stock-still – head down, shoulders slumped, hands held in his lap. A cold, carved statue of his own creation: Expensive, elegant, fit to adorn the foyer of any elite art gallery, and completely devoid of life - uncaring, unfeeling, unseeing - never to be held or loved.

Peter forcefully thumped both hands onto the table and loomed over Neal.

"Why?" He ground into Neal's face.

Neal flinched. His body trembled with a cold anguish.

"Why?" Closer, guttural, and filed with hostility.

Neal fought to find his voice. He wet his lips.

Peter placed a solid hand on the backrest of Neal's chair and the other slammed down in a fist onto the table. The impact caused the table, bolted solidly to the floor, to bounce.

"Please?" Neal whispered.

"Please? Please? You want something from me? I have nothing to give you Neal. g. Not my time. Not my help. And, definitely not my friendship. g." Peter spat the last nothing out with a cold deliberate slowness.

"Peter." It was a soft, forlorn supplication.

"NO!"

"Peter. Please, I..."

"No, Neal. No lies. No conversation." Peter shook his head. "All I want is to know where the damn treasure is. I want my wife back.

"NOW, Neal. Tell me NOW!"

The heat of Peter's breath touched Neal's face. It stung. Scornful eyes dug into him. Neal's vision narrowed. He wanted desperately to meet those brown eyes, to tell Peter the truth. His body refused to obey. He shook uncontrollably. His breaths arrived in rasps. His throat constricted and threatened to close.

His vision blurred, darkened and burst with grotesque images long suppressed.

"NOW "

Angry hands grasped him, pounded into him.

His arms flailed out.

Trying to gain balance, while fighting an unyielding foe.

He slammed against a wall.

His head ached and blood poured from his nose.

The metallic taste of blood filling his mouth.

He gagged and spluttered trying to clear his throat.

A raging, baleful voice screamed at him.

Threatened, then carried out the threats.

His vision blurred, darkened.

He swam through murkiness, struggling to breach the surface.

"STOP!" Neal had yelled with a penetrating shrillness before covering his head and sliding under the table, his chair flying backwards.

"Neal!" Peter's calloused composure slipped into alarm. He peered under the table at a quaking man, his breath's gagging, eye's unfocused. The slightest touch of Peter's hand sent legs kicking and scrambling until they pushed into the nearest wall. "Neal?"

Panicked "No"s were all that met Peter.

Diana and Jones had rushed in but Peter waved them out, asking for stillness, quiet.

Peter had seen this first hand only once before with a retired police officer. The man had barracked himself into his house and was prepared to fight anyone trying to overtake his domain. He'd been at Ground Zero, experienced the death and chaos first hand. A few years later he retired and slowly his social network and support system fell away from him, when his wife divorced him the trauma he'd survived returned full force. Watching a person lost to reality and furtively fighting a none-existent enemy required a great deal of calm and attention to detail to ensure everyone's safety.

Peter moved closer to Neal speaking softly, reassuring him. Neal's eyes remained focused on a distant past. His body responding to a violent threat - his hands braced protectively over his head, his feet pushing him tight against the wall, breaths short and gasping. Peter waited patiently, until the breaths calmed, the muscles relaxed and the distressed young man in front of him clung to the wall, face pressed into it, spent.

"Neal."

A shudder ran through Neal. Peter moved closer and touched his knee lightly. He flinched but didn't pull away. Peter moved closer, squeezed his knee tightly, then put a hand on his shoulder.

"Neal." Peter tried again.

Neal mumbled something unintelligible. Then inhaled sharply in an effort to fill his starved lungs with precious air. Peter gently pulled Neal from the wall. He trembled, his chest heaving with an despondent heaviness, sweat beading across his forehead. His eyes searched for focus, for familiarity, for reality.

"Hey, buddy. Come on, you're safe. Everyone's safe."

Peter wasn't sure what or who the trauma extended too. He figured Kate and the explosion was a good bet but Neal seemed bent on escape, yet with Kate he'd run to her, even if that meant being engulfed in flames.

"Come on Neal, I'm right here you're safe now."

Eyes blinked back into reality and as quickly shut tight.

"Oh. God. Oh, God." Neal shook his head, then pulled away from Peter. He sat knees up with his head pushed into them and arms wrapped tightly over his head. He rocked back-and-forth for several minutes. Mumbling softly, almost chanting to himself. Finally, he pressed his back against the wall and lifted his head and banged it solidly against the wall a couple of times.

"Neal. Stop it." Peter implored.

Neal caught his breath and peered sideways at Peter. "I'm... Shit."

"It's happened before?"

Neal gave a slight nod yes.

"Kate?"

Neal shrugged. "Started after."

"In prison? There was nothing in the release reports."

Neal stared directly at Peter. The concern in those brown eyes, almost broke him. He sighed deeply. "I lie Peter. So well, sometimes I forget I'm lying to myself too."

A thin wry smile crept across Peter's face.

"What?" Neal regarded the wet hand, he'd just wiped across his eyes, like it was some foreign, disconnected object.

Peter chortled softly. "You just admitted that you lie to yourself. Not deceiving, misdirecting, conning. Outright lie."

"And that's a good thing?" Neal quipped.

"Admitting it, is."

Peter eased himself next to Neal with his stance mimicking Neal's perfectly. Besides, his legs had been numbing in the squat he held while waiting patiently for Neal to pull back to reality.

"So, you didn't speak with anyone after..."

"I did. I was required too. Once a week with a shrink. Twice a week with a counsellor."

"They never diagnosed you with Post-traumatic Stress?"

Neal shook his head. "Nah. I don't have any significant impairment in social or job functioning."

"Uhhh, no. I guess not. But you had flashbacks? They never caught any in prison?"

"No, not really. They called it 'Acute Stress - a response to a traumatic life event.' Kept shifting. One minute you're angry, then depressed, then confused, agitated, anxious – like no one ever experienced any of that just being in prison – it was supposed to resolve rapidly, within weeks. It did, as far as anyone asking was concerned."

"No flashbacks."

"Maybe. One got dismissed due to the situation."

"The situation?"

"Someone pissed off with me."

"Ah."

"Yeah. Never thought of that one before. Never bothered me again. Think he was embarrassed."

"And you weren't?"

Neal cringed, "No. I got dragged away, which didn't help things."

"Dragged away. The way I dragged you away from the plane? From Kate?"

"Peter." Neal exhaled with a shiver, "I don't ... didn't really ... remember. ... I kept trying to fill in the blanks. You held something out to me. It was hot. Then bright white and orange. Replaced by garish orange jumpsuits. ... I wasn't ... at first maybe, ... I never escaped, ... maybe no u... partnership, ever happened. Then bits and pieces started returning but I only wanted to hold onto ... the image of her face, ... to her."

All Neal wanted. All he wanted. To hold onto her. Peter clenched his jaw and fought the threatening wave of nausea. To hold onto her. Even if only for one fleeting moment, to touch, to smell, to drink her in, to know her in every possible way. And, that was it, Neal would always have run to Kate, never away.

"This flashback wasn't about the explosion?" Peter's question was pointed.

Neal twisted his head until he met Peter's intense gaze. He sighed, wet his lips and shut his eyes. "No."

Peter turned his head forward, then stared up at the ceiling. "Neal." He paused again and stole a sideways glance at the young con. He looked pensive, shaky and on the edge of unravelling. "I can't deal with this right now."

"I know. I didn't ... I made a choice..." Neal's breath caught. "Whatever you want, I'll do."

"Do you have the treasure?" Peter voice was tentative.

Neal bit his bottom lip. He knew the question was coming, it was the answer that was going to be agony.

"No." Neal finally managed.

Peter shifted around and glared at him.

"I don't have it ... now."

"What?" Peter's anger rose again.

"Peter, please." Neal implored, a hand rising defensively.

Peter saw the anguish, the fear behind those crystal blue eyes and checked his anger.

"Where is it Neal?"

Neal rocked his head, his eyes pressed shut. "Peter, I wanted it, all the treasure. All the possibilities, all the dreams, but ..."

"But what?" Peter pressed.

Neal looked around at Peter, trying to find the words, "It ... It takes... It took Kate... It tried to take me. It took Moz ... and now..."

"El." The desolation and exhaustion in Peter tumbled out. It was the first time he'd spoken her name since his beautiful, loving, everything Elizabeth had been stolen from him, it ached. He closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. "Neal, we need the treasure."

We. Such a small word with the incredible power of inclusion and unity. We. Neal pressed his hands into his face and rubbed at his eyes and bridge of his nose before clasping them, almost in prayer, under his chin. "We don't have much time."

"Like I don't know that?"

"No." Neal faced Peter, the hostility still evident in deep brown eyes swimming in red pools. Neal had to make him understand before everything transformed into a tumultuous disturbance again. He hadn't been caught in a lie, he'd been trapped in one. Trying desperately to protect Mozzie. To keep his fragile world intact.

"I didn't lie to you Peter, I didn't have the treasure when I told you to prove it."

"You lied to me." Peter persisted.

"No. No, I lied to myself. You proved to me ..." Neal swallowed, his mouth felt dry, exhaustion threatening to overtake him, "You proved to me I already had found treasure, a true one."

Peter's eyes flickered. He'd maintained a steady, unwavering eye contact with Neal. He wasn't about to let Neal get away with anything at this moment. There was literally too much at stake.

"I'm not sure when it happened, when the realization started to sink in, maybe the bridge ... in the room ... with Diana. I ... "

Peter wasn't sure if Neal was drifting from reality again. A psychotic break would end any chances for recovering the treasure within the time frame Keller set.

"Neal. Where's the treasure?" Peter cut in softly.

"Right before my eyes, where it's always been ...not streaming on a computer ..."

"Time Neal, time." Peter prompted hoping to keep him fixed to reality without pushing.

"Peter." Neal decided to put it into his own frame of reference, "Art is an imitation of life, no matter how exquisite it pales in comparison. All the master pieces, their value revolves around the providence – who owned it, who or what it was of, who touched it, who painted it - those paintings are priceless because of the life around the painting. The art is a glance into past lives, a moment reflected in time by paint and canvas, by stone and chisel, by clay and fire."

The passion was so strong in Neal's voice, Peter still wasn't sure where he was headed with this. His own head spun with thoughts and visions and scenarios, all disastrous. He needed Neal to stay with him.

"Treasure. Time." Peter whispered.

"Peter. The greatest painting is life itself." Intense blue eyes held onto brown. "And, the value... the richness, is in who you experience it with, who you share it with."

Peter's field of vision narrowed, darkened.

"You proved that to me Peter. You shared with me." Neal breathed heavy, trying to force air into tight lungs. He shifted to face Peter square on.

Peter's eyes had clouded. They no longer focused on him. No longer burnt intensely into him. He was dazed, caught in another moment.

"Life itself." Peter murmured, tears streaming down his face.

Neal reached out and laid a hand lightly on Peter's shoulder. Peter remained fixed, eyes glazed. Neal knew the only eyes Peter had were for Elizabeth. He knew the overwhelming despair that crept unwanted into his own existence. How often he'd envisioned Kate's face disappearing into flames. How many nights he'd woken in cold sweats, his hands empty and aching from unavailing attempts to cling to her. He wouldn't let that happen to Peter.

"Peter?"

No response. Neal sidled closer, until shoulders pressed together. Neal felt the trembling of the man next to him, his partner, his friend. He felt a head ease onto his shoulder and tears soak into his shirt.

Eventually, quietly he raised a hand up and beckoned. The door eased open, eased shut and opened again. Diana handed Neal the pen and paper. He scribbled several things down and handed it back to her.

Diana nodded, then stared at Neal, and whispered, "We'll get them back."


It was supposed to be a "one shot" because it wouldn't get out of my head so I could concentrate on other writing and such. But I'm getting nudged, okay punched in the shoulder, that I can't leave it here.

El gets rescued. Keller gets his comeupance.

Besides there are other goods one's out there about El's rescue and I'm sure Jeff Eastin and his writers, cast and crew, have one too. Well they better have! Thanks to them, and USANetwork, again for allowing us these diversions and letting us play with their characters. (Check out Rainey13 -Sometimes You Have to Pay ). Cheers! CCG