Neal had little appetite, and he noticed Elizabeth didn't eat much, either. The meal would have been a waste of food and effort if Peter hadn't done it some justice with multiple helpings of mu shu pork. Neal tried, but couldn't manage much small talk. No one did. The thing on everyone's mind was the events of the last few days, but no one brought it up until Elizabeth did.
"Neal, tell me how you knew Keller," she asked. "Peter said something about Monaco?" Neal told her about meeting Keller when they were both scamming the World Backgammon Finals. El listened while stirring her chopsticks in the rice. "Somehow backgammon doesn't sound very-sinister," she said. Peter remained impassive; he'd heard this before.
Suddenly it was very important to Neal that Elizabeth understand he and Keller had never been the same. He wasn't sure it was a good idea to tell the story of Keller shooting their partner for forgetting his passport, either for his own implied involvement or for El's peace of mind, but he was too weary to examine all the possible consequences and forged ahead, one eye on Peter. "So, this, ah, friend of mine never wanted anything to do with Keller after that," he finished.
"But he was still interested in you," El said.
So much for not incriminating himself. "Keller sees me as a rival," Neal told her, neither confirming nor denying her assumption.
Elizabeth nodded and put a bit of white rice in her mouth.
"Elizabeth, there is nothing I wouldn't have done, and nothing I wouldn't have given up to get you away from him." Neal put down his chopsticks and leaned closer to her. "I hope you can believe that," he said, despite the voice in his head screaming that this wasn't fair to her.
Elizabeth studied her food for a moment, then put her hand over Neal's. Peter shifted in his chair, but Neal didn't look away from Elizabeth's face. She gave him a kind look. "Neal, you know I can't say I believe you without being disloyal to Peter." She squeezed his hand as Neal took a breath to protest. "I do believe that you're sincere," she said as Neal pulled away from her and leaned back in his chair. "That's all I can give you. And I thank you so very much for what you did today."
Neal sat still, absorbing the disappointment. He finally looked at Peter, and was surprised to see softening there, and a flash of sympathy. Maybe Peter understood and believed his roundabout confession from earlier that day. "Kickoff is in three minutes," Peter said, not gruffly at all.
That announcement signaled a flurry of clearing the dishes, at least on the part of the Burkes. Neal was still too crushed to rally, so his plate and drink were whisked away from in front of him. Shaming his manners as a guest, he stood by and let his hosts do the cleanup and prepare the living room for The Game. Satchmo appeared from beneath the table and followed El into the kitchen in search of food scraps.
The TV on and Hank Williams Jr. singing "Are you ready for some football?", Peter sat on the end of the couch nearest the door and Elizabeth kicked off her shoes and cuddled into his side, clutching the teddy bear. Satchmo, who wasn't allowed on the couch, plonked down at their feet, everyone clearly at their family stations.
Neal couldn't make himself move. He replayed what El had said, sifting through it for any comfort. He decided El was saying she would believe him if it weren't for Peter's distrust. She would believe him if she could. He clung to that.
She patted the couch beside her, and Neal obeyed. He sat, doomed for Elizabeth's sake to watch a football game.
Emotionally and physically exhausted, he was bored within minutes. Unless he could use them in a con, Neal paid little attention to sports, and football was at the bottom of the list of things he might be interested in. A game of brute force where the winner one week was the loser the next. While he could understand why someone would play a sport—the thrill of competition, the fun of outwitting an opponent—he had no idea what fans got out of it. He was asleep before the end of the first quarter.
He dreamed that Kate's death had been an elaborate trick, a con Adler had pulled on him. He'd had similar dreams before, but this time, at the end, Kate came to him and accused him. "If you'd really wanted to save me, you'd have given up everything."
"I couldn't," dream-Neal protested. "I didn't have anything."
He half-woke then, but caution made him continue to behave as though he slept. He was leaning against Elizabeth, who, domino-like, leaned on Peter. In the background he heard the excited drone of the football announcers, but in the foreground, the Burkes were talking about him.
"… look innocent?" Elizabeth asked.
"Yeah," Peter said, no sarcasm in his tone. "I've never seen him sleep."
"Makes him look less superhuman?"
"Oh, I've always known he was human."
Elizabeth shifted minutely. "I hurt his feelings."
"Did he really refuse to pay my ransom?"
"If he had it, he would have paid it. It just might have been as a last resort."
"If he had it? I thought you were sure."
"Not anymore. I think Mozzie has it and skipped town. Neal as much as told me so earlier today."
"I know Neal tried to reach him. No one worked harder than Neal to get you back, El, and that's the truth. I honestly can't think of anyone I'd rather have on my team, despite everything."
"What if Neal had run, too?"
"Then we wouldn't have had anything to use against Keller."
"Thank heavens he stayed."
"Yeah. He probably could have run. Is he awake?"
"No, honey. He's sleeping on me; I could tell."
"Okay. Well, tell me something. Why did you want him here tonight?"
"I just—want to feel safe in my home. And Neal—if he's here, he's not getting into trouble."
"You wanted him here so we could keep an eye on him?"
"So we wouldn't worry about him, yes."
"I never thought of that as a kind of security." Peter's arm around Elizabeth stretched out and Neal felt Peter fasten onto the back of his collar. "You know, you're right. This feels much better."
Neal had the perfect excuse to pretend to wake up right then, but the game was only at half-time. He let himself fall back asleep with Peter's hand on his collar.
"Sleep, that knits up the ravell'd sleave of care" – Wm Shakespeare