Part 5, in which Neal learns something about the nature of forgiveness
Spoilers: Takes place post 4.16, so includes spoilers for most of the season in general and "In the Wind" in particular.
Peter was home - no, more than home, better than home. Peter was exonerated in the killing of Senator Pratt, and Pratt was shown to be the crooked ex-cop, dirty politician, and murderer that he truly was. Mozzie and Neal found James, Diana and Jones brought him in. James bitterly blamed Neal for his capture. Neal hoped to never see or hear from James again. Or hear his name.
For the first time in a long time Neal had no one to look for, no past to hide from, no dreams to run to. He still had almost two years left on his sentence. He hoped they could be productive years working with Peter and the Harvard Crew, without the distractions of Kate, of the music box, the treasure, commutation, of being on the run and away from the life he so badly wanted, of searching for Ellen's killer and his own past, of Sara. Of Sara. She wasn't a distraction, although her leaving might have been if they didn't talk at least once a week. He should have been able to focus completely on his job, but there was something niggling just out of his mind's reach that he couldn't quite identify, until he realized it was Elizabeth.
Peter never blamed Neal for James and the maelstrom his presence brought into their lives. Neal didn't think the same was true of Elizabeth, and he wasn't certain that he disagreed. He finally believed that he was not his father's son but he wasn't sure that Elizabeth saw him that way and, for once in his life, he was afraid to ask. The easy friendship they had was missing, and he felt its absence deeply. He didn't drop by the Burkes' unannounced anymore; he made sure to send Peter home from the office when the clock approached six pm. Whenever Peter asked him to come over he bowed out two times out of three, unless Elizabeth was out.
Peter noticed. He talked to El, she said she wasn't angry at Neal, just at James. She regretted being taken in by him and his story and was absolutely certain that she would never forgive him for what he'd put Peter through. Peter saw that she didn't acknowledge the pain James had caused Neal, but didn't push. He'd let her calm down, give her a little more time, then revisit the Elizabeth-Neal problem. He even managed to meet with Mozzie, to get another point of view from someone who was close to both of them.
"Is it weird that I feel I have to play matchmaker for my wife and my partner?" he asked Mozzie.
"Neal's hurt by what happened with James, by what's going on with Elizabeth. He grateful that you don't hold him responsible for his - James - but, you know he has a blind spot you could push an aircraft carrier through when it comes to people he cares for, and he's angry with himself that he didn't see James for what he really was."
"But you did."
"'Trust no one' isn't always a bad way to live, Suit. And he misses Sara, and Ellen, and - Elizabeth."
Mozzie just shook his head and sighed. "Give her time. But not too much. Otherwise this becomes the status quo, and it won't ever get better."
Peter considered two weeks to be enough time to let things work out on their own, otherwise he'd have to step in. To do what he wasn't sure, but to do something, to at least get the issue out in the open (and when did he become such a sensitive guy, he asked himself).
He didn't have to wait that long. Three days later Neal got hit in the chest by a load of buckshot fired from a shotgun by a suspect they were about to meet. Walter Stuart, businessman who was moderately proficient at pyramid schemes and fancied himself a hunter, fired through his office door when his receptionist announced the two gentlemen from the FBI. The door slowed down the shot but added to the shrapnel entering Neal's chest. Peter tackled Stuart a little harder than was necessary as he attempted to run past them, cuffed him a little tighter than he normally would, all the while yelling for someone to call an ambulance. Neal was conscious, though laying flat on his back and taking wheezing breaths as Peter squatted beside him, holding his shoulder with one hand and calling Diana with the other.
Neal's injuries, although painful, could have been so much worse, if Stuart had purchased his shells instead of making them himself and skimping on the quantity of both powder and shot. They were bad enough, though, that he had to be put under general anesthesia while the trauma team dug out dozens of pellets and splinters of wood from Neal's chest and abdomen.
Peter brought Neal to his home instead of Neal's, but only after assuring him that Elizabeth was out of town when Neal told him, in no uncertain terms, that he did not wish to impose on her. Also, Neal was unable to reach Mozzie, and June's housekeeper said something about an unexpected trip. Neal made it as far as the couch before dropping. He let out a sigh and turned to Peter, who sat beside him.
"Helluva day, huh?"
"Helluva day, " Peter agreed. "How are you feeling?"
"Been better, been worse. I'll be fine, it just - burns, more than anything right now." He let out a breath. "Did you get him?"
"Stuart? Yes, we did, and we'll be adding attempted murder to the list of charges."
"Glad I could be useful."
"Neal," Peter said carefully, "when I saw you fly back after you were shot, I was afraid you were dead."
They sat in silence for a couple of minutes.
"Peter, why aren't you angry with me?"
Peter looked at Neal with one eyebrow raised. "For what?"
"I can't speak for when I was in prison, but probably while you were chasing me and certainly since I was released to you I know I've made your life difficult, and I have to wonder. When are you going to just give up?"
"That's the pain and the anesthesia talking, Neal. You're a good man, and you're my friend. Why would I give up?"
"Peter, don't you see? It doesn't matter in the end, I can be a good person, I think I'm becoming one, and you've been so important in getting me there, but it still comes down to my life causing your life nothing but trouble." He looked away.
Peter put his hand on Neal's shoulder. "It does matter. It always matters. That's what family does, and you are family."
"I don't think Elizabeth thinks that anymore, and she's your family far more than I, and that's as it should be." He paused, realizing the events of the day made him say more than he had meant to say. He thought he heard a sound on the other side of the window.
"When did you say she'd be getting back to the city?"
"I don't think I did," Peter said uncomfortably.
"Peter," Neal began, but was hit with a wave of dizziness as he turned his head too quickly. He slid down and let out a couple of deep breaths, clutching Peter's arm with one hand and his side with the other. They heard the front door open and Elizabeth's voice.
"Honey, are you home early?"
Neal whispered angrily to Peter.
"Where's Mozzie, where's June. I don't believe that they both skipped town when they were both here this morning." He sat upright and closed himself off from Peter.
"In here, Hon," Peter replied to Elizabeth. "Neal, please," he said softly, "I didn't know what else to do."
Elizabeth came around the corner and stopped short when she saw Neal on the couch, a hospital gown covering his upper body in place of his usual shirt and jacket, his hair uncombed and his face pale. It was evident that Neal and Peter were having some kind of discussion, and it wasn't going well for either.
"Neal! What happened?" She crossed the space in two steps and sat on the coffee table in front of Neal.
"I'll be out of your hair as soon as Peter's ready to take me home," he replied in as even a voice as he could manage.
"He was shot - buckshot in the chest," Peter answered. "They put him under general at the hospital, and he's not supposed to be alone for twenty-four hours."
"I'm sure I won't be alone at June's."
"Of course you won't be alone, you'll stay here. Why wouldn't you stay here?" Neal's head dropped, and Peter was silent. "Is there a reason?" When neither one answered, she asked quietly, "am I the reason?"
"Hon," Peter started.
Neal put his hand back on Peter's arm to cut off whatever he was going to say.
"It's okay, Elizabeth. I know things are difficult right now, with us, with everything you and Peter have been through for - well, for years now. I understand, really, I just - just - wish that you wouldn't be angry. With me. Everything else, I get it."
She reached forward and tentatively put her hand on his knee.
"I was angry. At James, at you, at the Bureau, at Reese, at Peter, even. But I was wrong, and you were convenient." She took a deep breath. "I don't know how everything got so out of hand." She took his hands in hers. "I'm sorry, Neal. I let my feelings toward James bleed over into everything in my life, especially you. But no matter what, you're my husband's partner and you're our friend. And you were shot today. God, Neal, you were shot today." The tears that had been close to the surface finally rolled down her cheeks as she squeezed his hands.
"It's okay, Elizabeth," Neal replied squeezing hers in return. "I'm fine. And I'm just so sorry about - " he couldn't even use James' name - "about him. In spite of everything I've ever done I don't have a lot of regrets in my life, except calling out to him at the cemetery the day Ellen was buried." He had to stop; the events of earlier in the day were leaving him too raw, his emotions too close to the surface.
Both Peter and Elizabeth understood. Peter put his arm around Neal's shoulders, Elizabeth slid a little closer to the edge of the table and rubbed her thumb across the top of his hand.
"I never told you how truly sorry I am for how things worked out for you. I know none of this was what you wanted or hoped for, none of this was your doing. I'm sorry I shut you out, that I didn't behave better toward you."
His head was down so that all they could see was his hair as he nodded. Peter could feel a slight tremor in Neal's shoulders and pulled him closer in a hug.
"Thank you," he whispered, "thank you both. Peter, I would like to go home, though."
"Why don't you take a nap while I get your prescription filled, then I'll take you home when you wake up."
"So, June and Mozzie, back in town?" he asked, looking up with a slight smile. His eyes were clear, if a little red-rimmed.
"Yeah, I think they said something about getting back around - " Peter looked at his watch - "now. Stretch out, I'll be back in a bit." He stood.
Elizabeth rose, too, and said she'd go to the drug store, Peter should stay. She got a blanket and pillow from the closet before she left.
"Sleep well, Neal," she said as she covered him. "I'm glad you're here."
"It's good to be back, Elizabeth," he said, just before he drifted off to sleep.
Thank you for reading.