Neal came into the office that day with the biggest smile on his face. Peter saw and knew exactly why.
Because in exactly eight hours Neal was free. It was the last day of his sentence.
He came down to Neal’s desk and said, “Got a case.”
“Can it be solved in,” Neal looked at his watch, “eight hours?” Peter chuckled, “Not that I’m counting.”
“Yeah I think it can.” Peter said with a smile. He gave him the file and filled Neal in about how some of Queen Elizabeth I’s jewels were stolen from their temporary exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum.
“Sounds interesting.” Neal commented, “And short.” He said with a smile as he closed the file in his hands.
Peter smiled, “What, if it wasn’t would you come in tomorrow?”
“Let’s go talk to the museum director.” Neal responded
They talked to the director and looked at the security footage. Well...what was left of it. They were out for the actual heist but they had the before and after. So they knew exactly when it happened.
Neal called Mozzie later to see if he knew anything or knew anyone who would.
“You know I’ll check. I’ll probably hear something if the item is that high profile and hot.”
“Thanks. I owe you one.”
“You owe me more than that, but it really doesn’t matter.” Mozzie honestly responded, “I’ll do that then head over to Mrs. Suit’s to help with your celebratory dinner party.” Neal smiled, “You survived 4 years with the Suits without killing yourself.” Mozzie only half joked, “You deserve a party.”
Neal chuckled, “Well I’m not done yet. Still have to finish out the day.”
“See you tonight, Free Man.”
Neal chuckled again and shook his head, “See you tonight.” He hung up.
He had no idea he would not see his friend that night.
Later Diana went to Peter and said, “I know who did it.”
“Great, who?” Peter asked
“Garrett Morey. Saw a someone on a street camera right after the robbery in black with a bag that looked full of tools. The camera was outside the museum across the street. Ran facial recognition and found the id. Seen recently at a jewelry repair shop a few miles east of here.”
Diana handed Peter the file and he commented, “Great. Solved quickly. Neal will be happy to hear that.” They smiled, “You still coming tonight?”
“Since Elizabeth’s cooking, definitely.”
Peter chuckled, “That’s what’s Jones said.”
“You know, he is annoying, but he grows on you.”
“Yeah. He does.” Peter smiled, it faded when he said, “Going to miss him around the office. So used to having him around I guess. The office will be boring without him.”
“Do you know his future plans? Are they legal?”
“He told me that he knows what he wants to do but he wanted to tell me at dinner tonight.” He smiled, “He seemed excited about it so I’ll humor him and wait.”
“Hopefully we don’t see him in the context of a case again.”
“Yeah,” Peter said, more seriously and his smile gone, “Me too.”
Peter walked from his office to Neal’s desk. “Know who did it.” He said getting Neal’s attention.
“Great, let’s go get him.” Neal responded with his classic smile. Peter smiled.
He was going to miss working with him.
They arrived at the old jewelry repair shop in a run down part of the city a few miles away. Peter parked his car and they walked into the shop. As they walked Neal heard a clap of thunder from not too far away.
“Sounds like it’s gonna storm.” Neal commented
“We should be back at the office before it starts.”
They walked into the old run down store. In the dim light they saw Garrett standing behind the dusty wooden counter. He was looking down at his phone. He was about six feet tall with short brown hair and a slender build.
Peter raised his badge and said in his stern voice, “Agent Burke, FBI. We want to talk to you about some missing jewels.”
Garrett looked up like a deer in headlights. He then bolted out of the store through the backdoor.
They ran after him. Neal ran around the front and Peter followed Garret through the back so they would corner him. They soon cornered him in the dark back alley behind the shop. Thunder roared nearby. The storm was getting closer.
“It’s over Garrett.” Peter told him, voice stern and gun raised. Neal stood to his right, about an arm’s length away. “Come peacefully and no one gets hurt. I really don’t want to hurt you.”
Garrett then said to himself lowly, “I’m not going to prison.” He then pulled his own gun from his waistband and pointed it at Peter.
Peter and Neal were shocked, to say the least, of the turn of events. Peter tried to talk him down, “Put the gun down, Garrett. You don’t want to bring them into this.”
“I’m not going to prison!” He repeated, now more of a louder declaration instead of a mutter to himself.
“Talk to him. He can help you.” Neal pleaded, “You can make a deal.”
“No!” Garrett kept the gun on Peter who in turn kept his gun on Garrett. He then slightly turned right and pointed his gun at Neal, “Give me your gun, Burke. Or I shoot your friend.”
Peter and Neal were trying to keep calm. Being on the other end of a gun was always a terrifying experience.
“Do it!” Garrett yelled
In fear for Neal’s life Peter slowly put the gun down on the concrete. “Kick it over.” Garrett demanded. Peter did so and put his hands up.
“Can we talk now?” Peter asked, trying to get him to negotiate and calm down
“I’m not going to prison!” Garrett declared for what was now the third time.
“We can discuss that.” Peter replied
“What would you suggest? Being like Caffrey and having a taste of freedom but nothing else. Constantly being reminded that everyone around you is free. It’s a bit sick, isn’t it? Living such a restricted life in the free world. No, none of that.” Thunder roared nearby. The storm was almost there.
His voice now full of renowned determination, like he had just made a decision, “There is only one way I can truly get out of here.” He pointed his gun back at Peter and cocked it. Peter was frozen in fear. Neal had a look of pure terror on his face. He saw Garrett’s finger go to the trigger, about to shoot.
“NOOOO!!” Neal screamed and shoved Peter of out the line of fire.
Leaving himself directly in front of the cocked gun.
Before Garrett could process it he pulled the trigger.
The bullet shot into Neal’s stomach and he fell to the pavement.
It soon then started to rain. Thunder roared around them.
Garrett put the gun down in shock at who he actually shot. Peter looked up, wondering what happened. Everything had happened over the course of seconds. He looked over and saw Neal lying on the pavement next to him.
“NEAL!” Peter cried and went to help. He looked for injuries and didn’t have to look far. He moved Neal’s suit jacket and immediately saw his once white dress shirt now made bloody by the bullet in his abdomen.
“Oh God.” He muttered, “What did you do Neal?”
Neal weakly responded, “He was going to shot you. I couldn’t let that happen.”
Peter was in shock. He grabbed his phone to call for an ambulance.
“Need an ambulance at the alley behind the jewelry repair shop at 32nd and 4th for a gunshot wound to the stomach! Also need an APB for a Garrett Morey for attempted murder and grand theft.” He looked up to see that Garrett was long gone.
He ripped open Neal’s shirt to try to stop the bleeding. He knew immediately it was a gut shot. It looked deep too. He knew that wasn’t good.
He took off his tie and pressed it to Neal’s wound.
Neal smiled, brushing it off, “Just a flesh wound. I’ll be fine.”
Peter paused then responded, “Yeah, everything’s going to be okay. The ambulance is on it’s way.” Peter was worried about the rate at which Neal was losing blood. Putting pressure on it wasn’t doing much. He noticed Neal was starting to turn pale. By now the rain had them both soaked to the bone. Peter could tell Neal was fading.
“You were so good to me.” Neal weakly said, “And I didn’t deserve it. You didn’t have to take my deal, but you did. These four years, have been so much better than any sentence should be.”
Peter was starting to cry. He pushed back tears and adamantly said, “Don’t talk like that. Okay. The ambulance should be here soon.” He continued to apply pressure to the wound. Never stopping.
Neal smiled again, but it was off, weak, “I was practicing what I going to say at dinner tonight.” He took a deep breath in pain, “I guess you should tell Elizabeth that we’re not going to make it to dinner tonight.”
Peter wiped his face of the rain and tears with one hand, “We’re going to make it. You’re going to make it.”
“Thank you. For everything. Thank you.”
They heard the ambulance come and shortly after the paramedics showed up with a stretcher. They quickly started triage and got him in the ambulance. Peter jumped in without thinking.
Everything was in a blur for Peter. It seemed like everything was going so fast yet so slow at the same time.
When Neal’s heart flatlined in the ambulance the paramedic worked quickly to restart it. Peter sat, frozen in shock and fear.
“Is he going to live?” He asked the busy paramedics.
“We’re working on it.” One responded while injecting a drug in an iv.
When they got the hospital a few minutes later a swarm of doctors were waiting at the ER door. They swarmed around the stretcher as they moved him into a triage room. They were shouting at each other what needed to be done.
It was all a hazy blur for Peter. He heard the doctors tell each other the drugs they needed about stabilizing him, about getting an operating room ready.
Peter stood in disbelief outside the triage room as they worked. They soon rushed Neal out of the room and started down the hall. Peter tried to get the attention of one of the nurses or doctors.
“Is he going to be okay?”
A nurse turned around to him and said in a rush, “We’re working on it. He needs surgery.” She then ran to catch up with the rest of the doctors.
Peter stood in the bustling ER alone. He then looked down and noticed that his white dress shirt and black jacket were stained with blood. A nurse soon showed him to the surgery waiting area. He sat down, put his head in his hands, and started to cry.
He eventually tried to calm himself down enough to call Elizabeth.
She answered in her normal cheery tone, “Hey, Hun! Dinner’s ready for when you and Neal get here.” Peter’s heart broke again. He was silent. “Hun? Hun? You there?”
“El, Neal was shot. I-i-it doesn’t look good.”
Elizabeth was speechless. He continued in his solemn tone, “You need to call Mozzie.”
“He’s here with me. He was helping me set up. Where are you?”
“Mt. Sinai Hospital.”
“Okay, we’re leaving now.”
He hung up and put his phone away. He looked up and noticed two large men coming towards him. He soon realized they were Marshals.
They introduced themselves, “I’m Marshal Boone and that’s Marshal Sergeant. We’re here to pickup Caffrey’s device. We saw this is where he is.”
Peter looked at his watch. It was a little past five. Neal was suppose to be free. Instead he was fighting for his life.
The Marshals noticed the blood on Peter’s suit. Peter told them, “Come back later. He’s in surgery. He was shot.” He paused, “He was about to shoot me, but Neal pushed me out of the way.” He looked them straight in the eyes and said for the first time, “He took a bullet meant for me. It may have cost him his life.”
The Marshals tried to hid the shock behind their stern exterior but failed. They looked just a little sympathetic.
“We’re sorry.” Agent Boone said but it didn’t sound sincere to Peter.
“Peter Burke?” A female voice asked from behind. Peter turned around. It was a young doctor in surgical gear. Her surgical gown was covered in blood. Like it splattered and spilled on her.
“I’m Doctor Fields.”
“How’s Neal?” Peter desperately asked
She looked sympathetic, “The bullet wound is deep in his abdomen. Almost exited through his back. He lost a lot of blood. He was losing it faster than we could replace it.”
“What are you saying, Doctor?” He hesitantly asked
“His severe blood loss lead to hypovolemic shock. Where the heart can’t pump blood to the rest of the body. This led to his organs not getting enough blood and oxygen causing multi-organ failure. Heart included. The only way we could get it to beat continuously was to put him on bypass.”
He stood in shock and fought the losing battle of tears once again.
“So, life support.” He clarified
She nodded. “If there is anyone to call, you need to do it now. So they get here as soon as possible.” The doctor told him sadly
Ever since Neal was shot everything felt like a bad dream. He was hoping it was a dream.
But it wasn’t.
He knew that.
The doctor left and Marshal Boone said to him in an uncomfortable voice, “Condolences.”
Peter turned and snapped, “He’s not dead yet. You vultures.”
The Marshals looked at each other uncertain. Marshall Sargent said in an uncomfortable voice, “Um, w-w-we can get the device later. Sorry again.” They rushed out.
As he approached the ICU he heard a familiar voice from behind him, “Peter!”
It was Elizabeth.
He walked towards her and they met in a hug. He held on tight to his wife.
When they separated Elizabeth and Mozzie noticed the blood on Peter’s suit.
“What the hell happened?” Mozzie asked alarmed
“We went to arrest this guy and he ran then pulled a gun.” Peter started to explain, it seemed like it was so long ago, “I had to give him my gun. Soon after he was about to shoot me. He was just about to pull the trigger,” He wiped more tears from his face, “Then Neal pushed me out of the way. The guy shot him.”
“How bad is it?” Mozzie asked still alarmed
“It hit deep in his stomach. He was in surgery. The doctor said that he lost blood as fast as they could replace it. That since his heart didn’t have enough blood it couldn’t pump it to the body, leading to organ failure.”
“Oh God.” Elizabeth said in shock and gave her husband another hug.
“No. No. No.” Mozzie kept repeating in shock. “He was suppose to be free today. We were going to travel. He has plans to get his life together. No. No. He’s going to get better. He’s going to get better, right?”
“The doctor said he’s on bypass.” Peter told them.
Elizabeth gasped and Mozzie couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
They walked into the ICU and into Neal’s room. Their hearts shattered seeing him lying there unconscious with many iv’s controlling his pain level, preventing infection, and maintaining his blood pressure. He was intubated to maintain his breathing and on bypass for his heart.
They sat down around him. Peter grabbed Neal’s hand, and for what seemed like thousandth time that day, tried not to cry. It was, yet again, a losing battle.
“I was suppose to be the one who got shot. Not him. What the hell was he thinking doing that?”
“He cares about you. A lot. You’re part of his family.” Mozzie replied
“Before the paramedics arrived I asked him why. He said that he knew he was going to shoot me and he couldn’t have that. What the hell was he thinking? He knew it could kill him.”
“Mozzie’s right.” Elizabeth said, “He wasn’t thinking about himself. He was thinking about you. Saving you.”
There was silence.
Peter then spoke again, lost in guilt and thought, “He was hours from freedom.” He choked back tears, “Now he’ll never see it.”
They gave him disbelieving looks, “Come on,” Peter said honestly, “We all know where this is going to end,” he wiped tears from his eyes, trying to prevent his voice from cracking, “and it’s not good.” Elizabeth consoled her husband with a tight hug where he could not hold in his sobs any longer.
Mozzie sat on Neal’s other side, in raw shock and disbelief. He was trying to find reason in this situation, an excuse, anything. His mind scrambled trying to reason through this, but all it came up with was, “No. No. No.” He wiped tears from his face. “He can fight this. He’s young and strong. There’s always a way out. No matter how bad.” His voice cracked with emotion, “There’s always a way out.”
They knew there probably wasn’t going to be a way out for Neal this time.
Doctor Fields came back in to check on Neal and talk to his family.
“How’s he doing?” Mozzie asked as she checked on him, fruitlessly hoping for a different answer than he already knew.
“He sustained a lot of injuries. He seems to be stable, but the machines are the reason.” She said honestly and sadly, “Who is Neal’s medical proxy?” She asked
Peter weakly raised his hand, “I am.”
She slowly broke the news to him,“Then ultimately you have a decision to make.” Her face was sympathetic, “Because I would recommend removing bypass. Due to his condition, he’s not going to get better. He’s not going to wake up. His organs will not get better. But it’s ultimately your choice, Mr. Burke.”
A new wave of emotion shook through Peter. He looked to Elizabeth and Mozzie. Lost and confused.
“I’ll leave you to talk it over.” She said and left
They sat in silence until Peter’s phone rang. He picked it up without even looking and said a weak, “Hello?”
He heard Diana’s voice ask alarmed, “I heard Morey was arrested on attempted murder. You guys never came back from arresting him. What the hell happened?”
Peter simply said, “He was going to shoot me, but Neal saved me. He pushed me out of the way. He took the bullet meant for me.”
Diana was in shock, “Is he going to be okay?”
“He’s on bypass. The doctor thinks he should be taken off it.”
“Oh dear god. I’m so sorry.”
He hung up without another word. They sat in silence again. The only sounds being the sounds of the machines keeping Neal alive.
Finally Elizabeth asked, “Did you ever talk...about...you know…?” Referring to taking him off bypass.
“No. We never did.” He looked at Mozzie, “You?”
“No. It never really came up surprisingly enough.”
“I don’t know what he would want.” Peter said, emotions overwhelming him
No one knew what to say for another long time until Elizabeth finally said, “You should do it.” They turned their attention from Neal to her, “He wouldn’t want to live like this. I don’t even think you can call it living if the machines are doing it for you.”
Peter looked at Mozzie for his input.
Mozzie was speechless. He got up and walked out. It was too much for him. Peter soon followed him.
He walked outside the ICU and leaned his back against the wall looking down towards the floor. He was taking deep breaths to calm down.
“This can’t be happening. He has plans. He said he wanted to get his life together.”
Peter hadn’t really comprehended what had happened either.
Mozzie looked at him, “This isn’t the first time he’s taken a bullet for someone. Rio, 2007. A job went south really fast. This guy wanted more than what we had previously agreed upon. He was about to shoot me but Neal tackled the guy. The gun went off and hit him in the shoulder. It was touch and go for a while but he was obviously okay. I owe my life to him. That’s when I knew he was more than just a friend. He’s family. Protecting the people he considers family is just who he is.”
Peter asked, “What should we do?”
Mozzie didn’t know what to say. He finally admitted, “I don’t want to give up on him.”
“I know.” Peter said consoling him
“He’s strong. He’s so goddamn stubborn. He’s a fighter. He can fight this.”
Peter knew that Mozzie was in denial. Neal was in complete organ failure. He wasn’t going to wake up. There was no getting better.
“His organs are failing, Mozzie. The only thing keeping his heart beating is bypass.”
Mozzie looked at him with tears in his eyes, “He was suppose to be free today.”
“I know. I know.”
They walked back into Neal’s room where Elizabeth was sitting. Peter sat down next to Elizabeth and Mozzie sat on the other side. They sat for what seemed like an eternity. Just watching him and trying to comfort him and each other.
“I can’t do it.” Peter admitted. They looked at him a little confused, “I can’t tell them to pull the plug. He’s young and strong and so goddamn stubborn. Maybe there’s hope.” He couldn’t emotionally bring himself to do it.
Elizabeth gave him a hug, “But Hun, he’s not going to be our Neal.”
“She’s right, Peter.” Mozzie spoke up. Peter looked at him in surprise at his change of thought. “Our Neal is gone. He wouldn’t want to exist like this.” He added, “But it’s ultimately your decision.”
He looked and Elizabeth who slightly nodded. She agreed with Mozzie.
Peter took a deep breath before getting up to get the nurse to make the most heartbreaking decision of his life.
“How long?” Mozzie asked the nurse. She was young with medium length brown hair and piercing blue eyes. It reminded them of Neal.
“It varies person to person. Based on his condition, not long.” She sympathetically told them
Then it was time to say goodbye.
Elizabeth took Neal’s hand and said, “You’re a very special man, Neal. I can never thank you enough for protecting my husband. Your personality, your laugh, your smile, can never be forgotten.”
Mozzie, still holding Neal’s hand said while trying not to cry, “You’re one of few who I let get close to me. You’re one of the only people whom I’ve ever considered family. We both never really had families so we made one ourselves. You’re irreplaceable, Neal. We’ve had so many adventures together. I thought we’d have more. Life has a funny way of giving you what you want. You were suppose to be free today, but in a way, I guess you still are. You’re finally free.” He wiped tears from his face and sniffled.
Peter had dreaded this moment. He dreaded having to say goodbye to his friend, “Out of all the cases that landed on my desk that day. I’m so damn glad that I picked up yours. You were never just an ordinary person or an ordinary case. We have something special. I liked you, a lot. You know that’s really why I took your deal. Then we started working together. It was by no means easy, but it felt so right. I wanted to fix you, protect you. But you ended up protecting me. Because that’s the kind of person you truly are. You’re family, Neal. You always will be.”
He looked at Elizabeth and Mozzie then turned to the nurse and nodded. She turned off the machines and removed the respirator. Suddenly it was silent in the room.
All they heard were Neal’s labored breaths.
They sat, quietly cried, and comforted him for what seemed like another eternity.
He took a breath and exhaled,
Peter looked over at the nurse with sadness and panic. She took his pulse and nodded.
She looked at her watch, “Time of death, 5:33 am.”
Elizabeth opened the front door, Peter and Mozzie behind her. The morning sun shone through the windows. They immediately saw the dinner party they were suppose to have the night before. There was a small and simple yet tasteful banner above the table that read, Congrats, Neal.
Peter saw that and immediately went upstairs to the bedroom. Elizabeth started to take it down, Mozzie went to help.
“Thanks,” He said, “For inviting me here.”
“You shouldn’t be alone now. Stay as long as you want.”
They finished taking down the banner and Elizabeth folded it up and put it on the table. She walked into the kitchen and started to put the food away that she and Mozzie had made yesterday. Mozzie followed and helped.
“All of Neal’s favorites.” He said as put some rissetto in the fridge, “He always loved your rissetto. Can’t blame him, it’s amazing.” He smiled
“He really loved my gelato too. Had some in the freezer.” Elizabeth said with a sad smile
As soon as Peter got upstairs he took of his jacket and shoes and collapsed on the bed. He laid there motionless until he heard his wife’s voice at the bedroom door, “You should take a shower and change. It’ll make you feel more comfortable.”
He remembered he was still in his suit from yesterday. The one with Neal’s dried blood on it.
He looked at her and nodded.
Peter took some time off work. He couldn’t get himself to go into the office. But word of Neal’s heroic action spread throughout the Bureau. Peter received calls from agents throughout the New York division, including some higher ups. They expressed their deep condolences and commended Neal’s bravery and heroism. Peter found this hypocritical because most people in the Bureau saw him as just an asset and a criminal. Never giving him the respect he deserved. But he was polite to them to get them to go away faster.
One afternoon he was sitting on the couch, just sitting and thinking. Elizabeth came to him putting a small plate of food on the coffee table and said, “Hey Hun, you should eat something.”
“I just keep repeating that day over and over. Could I have done something to have saved him? Why did I even take him to do arrests? That wasn’t part of his job, but then again he did a lot of things that weren’t his job. I just wish I could have done something, anything, that would have made it end differently.” He sniffled and looked up at her, “Why did he die and I get to live? He had so much to live for. He had his whole life ahead of him. He wanted to wait til dinner to tell me his plans. He seemed excited so I humored him. Mozzie told me the other day. He was wanted to come back. He was going to ask for a paid position at dinner.” He said with tears in his eyes.
He had such intense guilt about what happened.
She sat down and put her arms around him, “He chose to save you. He wanted you to live.”
“Because, he cared about you. Like you care about him.”
“It was his last day. He was hours from freedom and he does this. He saved my life. I owe him everything, and I’ll never get to truly thank him.”
“You can by doing what he wanted. Living.”
Peter nodded and wiped the tears from his eyes. Elizabeth hugged him tightly.
When Peter went back to work for the first time since the shooting, he walked into the office and everyone gave him sympathetic looks. He walked up to his office and sat down. He missed Neal so goddamn much. Without thinking he expected Neal to come walking in and they’d do their normal morning routine. Sitting in his office, drink coffee, and talk for a while before getting to work. He knew he would always feel immense guilt about what happened. He knew he would never truly get over that.
He opened a file to read but he wasn’t really reading it. His eyes gazed over the words.
Jones and Diana knocked on his office door.
Peter looked up, “Yeah.”
They came in, Diana had something in her hands, looked like a frame or something, “We have something for you.” She handed it to Peter.
“For the Wall.” Jones added
Peter saw it was Neal’s picture and a plaque for the FBI’s Wall of Valor.
He was stunned, “How did you do this? It’s just for agents.”
“After some persuading they eventually agreed.” Diana said with a small smile
Peter smiled, “Yeah I bet.” Knowing how Diana could get.
“He deserves it. Most agents say they’ll take a bullet for someone, but very few truly mean it.” Jones said, “By the way, Morey plead guilty to the heist and first degree murder. He’s going away for life.”
“Good.” Peter said, but he wasn’t satisfied. Because even though justice was served, it didn’t do much about his dead best friend.
“He did everything an agent does except carry a gun and a badge.” Diana added, “Also, the Bureau didn’t have any pictures of him that weren’t evidence or a mugshot so we went to Elizabeth.”
Peter looked at Neal’s picture again, immersed in a memory, “This was last 4th of July. We were called in that morning for the pharmaceutical heist but were home in time for fireworks. I remember I burned the steaks so we just got pizza instead.” He looked down at Neal’s smiling face. He was sitting in their backyard at dusk looking at the camera. Elizabeth had recently gotten a new professional grade camera and used the holiday to learn how to use it properly. He was so grateful for that.
“Gone but not forgotten.” Jones reminded Peter
Peter slightly smiled and nodded. “Neal could never be forgotten.” He then got up and walked out of his office with the plaque. Jones and Diana followed him. He walked to the Wall of Valor and hung up the photo and plaque.
“Gone but not forgotten.” Peter repeated in a quiet tone, “You’ll be in my heart forever, my friend.”