p class="MsoNormal"Facing Keller was one of the hardest things Neal has ever had to do. Especially in these circumstances with so much on the line. Everyone's lives were at stake if this went south. Neal couldn't, emwouldn't, /emlose anyone else. Losing Kate had been hard enough, but when Mozzie was shot it felt like his whole world had been crashing down around him. El was kidnapped, Peter was in a near-fatal car accident./p
p class="MsoNormal"No more. No more deaths. No more near-misses. This is the end./p
p class="MsoNormal"So, when that gun went off, emjust as planned/em, and he felt that bullet embed itself in his chest, he knew it was over. Finally, this would be over./p
p class="MsoNormal"Peter would be just down the street, close enough to hear the gun firing and catch up to Keller and catch him and emfinally /emput him behind bars for murder… because no way in hell would Keller be able to avoid bragging about shooting Caffery to emPeter Burke/em. Bragging about getting the last straw. Keller was so predictable it would be boring if the man wasn't so dangerous…/p
p class="MsoNormal"And Mozzie would have enough unmarked liquidated cash to retire on, making for an easy life of whatever he would like to do. Leaving Peter and El with their brand-new baby and perfectly happy life and no Neal Caffery getting in the way, messing up their lives even more than he already has./p
p class="MsoNormal"Peter's son deserves to have a father, and if Neal is around, the chances of Peter surviving to retire were looking more and more grim given recent events./p
p class="MsoNormal"No, this is for the best. Neal rested his head against the concrete, waiting. This is for the best./p
p class="MsoNormal". . ./p
p class="MsoNormal"Except, it is not going according to plan anymore. Suddenly Neal was hearing the rapid thuds of running along the concrete and there was Peter with a whole team of EMTs and a stretcher and God knows what else./p
p class="MsoNormal""P'ter?"/p
p class="MsoNormal""Neal!" Peter shouted finally spotting him lying on the ground, the EMTs swarmed around him, stabilizing him, "Neal! You're gonna be okay." Peter's hand was warm against his bare arms. When did he lose his shirt? The EMTs were working quickly. "Keller is dead." Peter continued, another hand on his forehead, "I shot him. He's gone. You're going to be okay." Peter's voice sounded thick and wet, and that made more sense when a couple tears rolled down his cheeks landing on Neal's./p
p class="MsoNormal"emGod, /emNeal thought, emI must look awful if he's crying. /em/p
p class="MsoNormal"Neal realized they were moving, he was on a stretcher, and the EMTs were shouting at each other, but Peter was there with him. Holding his hand./p
p class="MsoNormal""P'ter." Talking was so hard, "You're the only one who ever saw any good in me." He had to pause to take a breath, his chest felt so heavy. "You're my best friend." Peter's been more of a father to him than his own flesh and blood father had ever been to him. Peter started crying again and Neal wondered if he had said that out loud./p
p class="MsoNormal""You're going to be okay." Peter tried so hard to give him a comforting smile, but it looked broken./p
p class="MsoNormal"And then suddenly the EMTs were shouting that they needed to load him up and take him to a hospital and Neal was alone and Peter was gone./p
p class="MsoNormal"-/p
p class="MsoNormal"For all intents and purposes, he should have been dead. That was the plan, after all. But his plans never seemed to work out when Peter was on the opposing team. The pattern seemed to hold even still, even after all this./p
p class="MsoNormal"He was told his heart had stopped three times. He had been in a coma for eight months. It did not look good. So, they pulled the plug on him, and nothing happened. He did not go softly into that good night, and then two weeks later, despite the odds, Neal woke up./p
p class="MsoNormal"-/p
p class="MsoNormal""Neal? Are you awake?" That voice sounded familiar. Where was he?/p
p class="MsoNormal""Can you see me?" And then the fuzzy blurry shapes started taking form. It was a face he recognized. Who was this again?/p
p class="MsoNormal""Mozzie?" And the man seated at his bedside grinned./p
p class="MsoNormal""Nice to hear your voice, mon frère." He sighed, "You cut it close, man." He shook his head, his glasses pinched between his thumb and forefinger, "Do you remember anything about the last time you woke up?"/p
p class="MsoNormal""I was awake before?" That was a surprise. Mozzie looked grim and reset his glasses, probably trying to get a better read on him./p
p class="MsoNormal""A couple times, you've been awake on and off for a couple weeks now, but you never seem to remember what was said prior." He shrugged, "But you seem to be improving with each awakening."/p
p class="MsoNormal"And then just like that, the previous wake-period was at the forefront of his mind. El and Mozzie had been with him last time, talking about something, and then he had coughed and they had immediately pivoted to him. How was he doing. How was he feeling. Did he remember anything./p
p class="MsoNormal""I remember. El was here last time with you. Peter was here with you the time before that." And Mozzie smiled./p
p class="MsoNormal""The Pink Panthers?"/p
p class="MsoNormal"Mozzie pursed his lips, "Captured with life sentences. We're safe." There was a pause, "And you'll note one other thing of import missing."/p
p class="MsoNormal"Neal looked down at himself, seeing nothing. "What?"/p
p class="MsoNormal""The Feds came through. Your sentence was considered paid in full, per the contract they signed." Mozzie smirked, "You're a free man, Neal."/p
p class="MsoNormal"The constant never-ending weight on his chest suddenly lifted. He felt like he could breathe clearly and deeply. This was fresh air. Neal smiled./p
p class="MsoNormal""So, what's next?"/p
p class="MsoNormal"Mozzie cleared his throat, "Well, you're not exactly emwhole/em." He waved his hands around, "You… you cut it really close, Neal." He voice was laced thick with concern, "We lost you a couple times and these emwhack jobs/em," Mozzie sneered, "are worried - emrightfully so! -/em about your stability. Health wise." His feet shuffled, "Until you can wake up and remember the last time you were awake, and until you can stand without passing out, these are your new living arrangements." He gestured to the hospital room./p
p class="MsoNormal""So much for free." How depressing./p
p class="MsoNormal""As much as it pains me to admit it, it's not unreasonable."/p
p class="MsoNormal"Neal would have argued back, but he'd already passed out, thus proving Mozzie's point./p
p class="MsoNormal"-/p
p class="MsoNormal"Getting to leave the hospital was a breathtaking experience. The second he stepped out of the building, he had to stop and take a moment just to let it all in./p
p class="MsoNormal""You okay?" A hand reached out for his elbow, ready to stabilize him if needed./p
p class="MsoNormal"Neal nodded, "Yeah, just, being out here, without an anklet or an ultimatum is…" He trailed off. All the possible words for this thought seemed inadequate./p
p class="MsoNormal""You deserve it, Neal." Neal looked at him, surprised to hear those words come so frankly from a man who had spent the last 5 years waffling on whether or not he believed them himself. "Let's get you home." Peter gave a half-smile, deflecting the brief sentiment he had let slip through, "Everyone is looking forward to seeing you." Neal deflated a bit, but let Peter help him into the passenger seat of the car. Getting in and out of vehicles is hard to do on crutches./p
p class="MsoNormal"The door closed. The window was down. The car was running./p
p class="MsoNormal"Peter paused./p
p class="MsoNormal""You said something to me, when you thought you were dying." Neal remembered. "Well," Peter cleared his throat, avoiding eye-contact for a split second before locking eyes with Neal, "Neal, you're my best friend too." Peter gave him a slight nod and then immediately walked to the other side of the car, probably feeling awkward./p
p class="MsoNormal"But Neal, well, Neal was still living in those three seconds, because suddenly he felt like he was home./p