Bella was surprised how well Neal handled the fact that she was ruining his life. He hadn’t asked for all of this, and yet, he stuck with her. He claimed that it was alright, he had left his life before, and seeing as things would barely change for him now, he was content. It would also give him a life back, an identity nobody could poke holes in anymore. It’d make him safe.
Having John deal with all the crap surrounding her testimony and her and Neal’s impending change in status gave her a lot of peace and quiet, less stress and anxiety in having to deal with. Bella hated being a bundle of anxiety. She absolutely hated it and told Camille this, too. It felt as if she could jump out of her skin at any time or burst out in tears at the same time.
It was arranged that she would do her testimony through a skype call from NCIS headquarters. It was secure and the briefing room was informal with large windows that would allow Bella to look around her and not feel locked up. And while she, or her situation, had anything to do with the Navy, Dwayne Pride wanted to help Henry Taylor’s long lost sister – yet again, because he owed him that much.
Dwayne Pride also owned a bar and Neal, Bella and the Michaels went to the bar a few times so that Bella could get to know Pride better. If you were from New Orleans, you’d know Dwayne Pride, he was a local legend and he always stuck to his word. Bella realized that he had a big heart, he was very laid back and a great cook.
Bella knew this, because Pride invited her and Neal over to the station to get herself familiar there and he had cooked them a meal which they ate in the briefing room with his second in command Christopher LaSalle. Unlike Peter, Pride and LaSalle actually made her forget that they were Suits, too, just… not dressed in a Suit and wearing a different badge.
Grant checked in with her a few times, saying he was close to discovering something new, finding evidence of something he wouldn’t say just yet. He wanted to be absolutely sure about this.
Bella visited the doctor the day before the trial and she needed to have more surgery on her hand as some bones hadn’t set properly and some nerves weren’t healing well so they wanted to check the blood flow and other stuff that she didn’t fully understand and didn’t particularly remembered because she was so busy with what was going to happen only a day later.
“State your name for the record, please.”
“Isabella Marie Cullen.”
“And what’s your relationship to the defendants?”
“I’m their baby sister.”
Bella had to explain the relationship to her siblings, how they worked, why she left and why she was testifying against them now. She had to stay available for the rest of the day and the rest of the week but she was only a call away from the NCIS building and a five minute walk. Liquid lunch was waiting for them at home.
“I am so proud of you,” Neal said as he put his arms around her as soon as they stepped into their home. “How are you feeling?”
“Slightly less terrified but still very much so,” Bella replied as she let out a breath. “I’m doing the right thing, right?”
“Yes. You’re solving this peacefully, not without any bloodshed on your part. That makes you better than them. You’re helping them to get what they deserve,” he kissed the top of her head. “What would you like dinner?”
“Surprise me,” she smiled up at him. “Anything I can do for you?”
“You can keep me company,” he lifted her into his arms and walked with her to the kitchen before sitting her down in one of the chairs at the bar. He poured her a drink before looking into the fridge to look what to make for food. “Roasted chicken with roasted vegetables?”
It took two weeks for the trial against her siblings to be concluded and them sentenced properly, and Bella felt a lot lighter. For a week, she was free to do whatever, her father’s trial wasn’t until next week. And she wanted to have some fun. However, now that she was free, she could have another surgery on her hand that they had wanted to do two weeks before but she couldn’t.
Luckily, she didn’t have to stay, but she hated feeling miserable and out of place. But she wasn’t going to show anyone that. It was normal to feel like shit after being knocked out and she had planned a romantic donkey pulled cart ride through New Orleans for her and Neal, followed by dinner at a fancy place that he’d appreciate.
Bella loved the look of surprise on his face. “I get the feeling I don’t tell you enough that I really appreciate you and how much I love you,” she said as they were walking home in the darkness. Music filling the streets, people laughing, smelling of alcohol. “You’re handling all of this so well, and you don’t have to.”
“I love you,” Neal replied, a bright smile on his face. “Why wouldn’t I stand right next to you while you go through all of this? We’re both going through this and once this is all over, you and I will both have new lives, in a gorgeous city with friends. No more looking over your shoulder, and you can finally start living. I can’t wait to see what will become of you without your family holding you down. Living without fear.”
“What if you don’t like me then?”
“Ha, as if,” he barked out a laugh. “I do have to admit, you’ve changed my life in so many ways and I never thought I could change, but you made it so easy and natural.”
“Nah, you had it in you,” Bella smiled at him and then stopped in him front of TrueTone, the bar belonging to NCIS agent Dwayne Pride. “I have another surprise for you. Right in there,” she thumbed over her shoulder towards the bar. “Are you ready for it?”
“What did you do?” Neal asked suspiciously as he allowed himself to be pulled towards the bar.
“I arranged another surprise,” she said happily. “And I think you’ll like it. It’s long over due,” she opened the door and pointed Neal towards one of the corners as she kissed his cheek. “Have fun!”
He looked at her confused before looking at where she was pointing at, and couldn’t believe his eyes. “Moz?” Neal laughed and hugged his friend. “You’re here!”
“Neal!” Mozzie said surprised. “I received an invitation from Shitface, expecting her to show up, but you’re here!” He then pulled Neal closer. “Did you know that there are cops in this bar?” He said in a hushed voice. “I counted at least three!”
“Yes,” Neal laughed as he pulled his friend down to sit. “How have you been, Moz?”
Bella sat down at the bar and smiled at Jimmy. He was Pride’s half brother and taking care of the bar with him. “Could you send Neal and his friend a glass of wine?”
“I’ll happily pour you two glasses, Bella, but you’ll have to take them yourself,” she wanted to say something but he put his hand up to shut her up. “You can walk to them twice, I know you’re a one armed bandit for the moment.”
Bella nodded as she watched Jimmy pour the two glasses and one by one, brought the glass over to Neal and his friend. The short, bespectacled, bald guy who looked like he was a conspiracy nut. Well, he was. And he looked the part.
“What is this wine?” Mozzie said as he sniffed it.
“Moz,” Neal playfully warned him. “You’re in a bar, you can’t expect top shelf.”
“No, this smells horrendous. Get me another one,” Mozzie said as he put the glass down. “This is how establishments like these make money, you know, cheap booze. It’s bad enough we’re meeting in a cop bar. Shitface has one strange sense of humor.”
“You’re such a snob,” Bella rolled her eyes at Mozzie. “If you want something else, there’s the bar,” she sat down in Neal’s lap and extended her left hand to Mozzie. “Hi, I’m Shitface. Well, not for much longer, but I’m her nonetheless,” she added before kissing Neal on the cheek. “Happy with your present?”
“Very,” he whispered in her ear. “But play nice.”
“I am playing nice.”
“You’re Shitface? I thought you’d be older!”
“Keep your voice down, Moz,” Neal said as he took a sip of his wine. “And there’s nothing wrong with this wine,” he added as he put his glass down and wrapped his arm around her. “This is Izzy.”
“And you’re together? You’re the person that changed Neal?”
“No? He’s perfect, he doesn’t need to change, but he wanted to,” Bella replied, trying not to get agitated. This was for Neal. She wanted to place nice.
“We’re going to retire anyway,” Neal shrugged.
“You’re what?” Mozzie said shocked. “Neal, you can’t retire. You’re far too talented to retire.”
Bella looked around, the bar was buzzing and there would be no chance of people actually overhearing them talking due to the music. “You can tell him,” she told Neal before kissing him again and got off his lap. “I’m going to sit at the bar.”
She watched from a distance as she nursed her iced tea. It was good that Mozzie was allowed to stay in Neal’s life after all of this was over. It just didn’t mean she had to like him. Then again, maybe they’d gone off on the wrong foot and the man would grow on her eventually. Neal already told her many times that the man was an acquired taste, but that he had also done a lot for Neal, so she was going to have to be nice.
And, for now, from a distance, because she wanted to take the shotgun that Jimmy had behind the bar and shoot Neal’s friend.
“Hey, Izzy, if you’re going to loiter,” Jimmy said as he pushed a tray of drinks in front of her. “At least make yourself useful and take this to that table over there.”
She eyed Jimmy for a moment and then the tray before looking back at him. “I can’t carry that, not without two hands!”
“Then bring it over, one glass at a time,” he winked at her. “I’m short staffed at the moment, just do that one table? You’ll get a free glass of cola from me?”
“Why do I get the feeling you’re trying to teach me something?”
“I might be, but I might just be short staffed,” he said as he pointed at the table again. “I don’t want you to look all bored at my bar while your boyfriend is catching up with a friend.”
Bella let out a breath and hopped off the chair before she started to walk back and forth to give that table their glasses. In theory, she could lift the tray with her left hand with no problem. She’d been a waitress before, plus her teachings had her balancing things all the time, but she had her other hand to catch herself when falling or to do a better job at lifting things. Bella was right handed, and she still couldn’t use her right hand. However, she was now feeling a little banged up in her cast so maybe something was healing.
She helped Jimmy for an hour or so, giving Neal plenty of time to explain things to Mozzie, and she had kept an eye on Mozzie’s face. His surprise, his worry, his concern and his sympathy. But most of all, his understanding.
However, after being out for a couple of hours with Neal and making sure he had a great time, Bella was finding it harder to ignore the feeling that she needed a nap. Or sleep. Whichever came first. She sat down next to Neal and gently took his hand. “Having fun?”
“Yes,” he smiled at her. “Why?”
“Then I’m going to send Cole a message to come and pick me up. You can catch up with your friend for a bit longer, I just don’t want him inside our home.”
“Or, Moz and I can continue to catch up in the morning and you and I are going home together.”
“Oh, no, by all means, take him,” Mozzie waved his hands in no particular direction. “I have all the time in the world and I’m going to enjoy New Orleans, perhaps search for a place with better wine and music. Call me,” he said as he rose to his feet with a smile. “Nice meeting you, Izzy and thank you for the trust.”
Neal went out with Mozzie the next day, leaving Bella alone in her home. While it was a lot safer now that the FBI had taken care of some of the immediate threat, it was still strange to be alone in her house. It was far too big to be alone and that was a strange realization as she bought this home with the sole purpose of being alone.
She had loud music playing throughout the house and she decided to do some chores. The laundry. Some cleaning. She’d do what she could. Bella often wondered what she was going to do after her father’s trial was over and she and Neal would be in WITSEC.
One of the terms was that she couldn’t access her money anymore, so it was a good thing that she’d set up pencoin accounts for her and Neal and she was slowly moving most of her money there. Not that the government knew about those accounts, but this was just in case she had to hand over all of her aliases.
Which was likely.
They didn’t have to do things anymore for the rest of their lives. Didn’t have to work, and just have fun with life, but Bella knew that both she and Neal were going to get restless. Maybe get in a little bit of trouble. Neal wanted to live like artists, and that wasn’t so bad. New Orleans and art would go really really well.
She didn’t know what to expect from a normal life and wasn’t sure if that would ever happen. She and Neal could always continue with their shenanigans, especially in aid of the Michaels should they need it, by creating new aliases and just keep going.
At least Neal could. If Bella didn’t get full functionality of her hand back, hacking was going to be out of the question because she’d need speed. Developing cool code and apps was something she could do in her own time though. So maybe not a lot would change.
Bella was just in the middle of yelling along with some Green Day when the bell of the tunnel door rang. Looking at the CCTV, she saw it was Grant. She turned down her music and buzzed him in. “Hey!” she called out to him. “I’m in the kitchen!”
“Of course you are, Grant called back and soon emerged around the corner with something in his hands. “Where’s Neal?”
“I found something and I already gave the original to John to hand in to the FBI, but I asked him if I could tell you first,” Grant said as he sat down at the kitchen counter. “But I think you want Neal around when I do tell you.”
“He’s out with a friend,” she said as she turned on the kettle. “Is it important? Something that I need to know?”
“I’d like to think so, yes. That’s why I handed it over to John, too.”
She let out a breath and nodded. “You were gone for weeks,” she said as she shot Neal a message to come home and bring Mozzie but leave him in the courtyard.
“I was,” Grant nodded. “Was fun. Cleaned up along the way. Found some skeletons that Carlisle likely intended to kept buried, so I gave those to John as well, however… this,” he said as he pat the file in front of him, “is going to blow your mind.”
“Then why wait until Neal gets here?”
“You’re impatient,” Grant laughed. “We wait until Neal gets here.”
She shrugged as she took out her tea kettle and put a bag of tea in it while still waiting for the water to boil. She put the sugar on the counter and a few mugs. Turning around, Bella took a large plastic container from the counter behind her and put it next to the tea with a big smile on her face. “Cookies. Made them myself,” she said proudly. “And the help of my kitchenaid, of course.”
Grant smiled and opened the container and happily took a cookie out of it. “Nice, thanks!” Grant took a bite off the cookie and spoke while he chewed. “So, any ideas of what you’re going to do after putting dear old Carlisle away for good? WITSEC, wasn’t it? And you’re allowed to say here.”
Bella nodded. “You’re staying as well.”
“New Orleans is my home, if I’m not away on assignment, I’m here, I already told you that.”
“I know, but it’s good to hear that again,” Bella smiled at him. “My whole world fell apart and continues to be a bit wobbly, it’s nice if some things stay the same, you know. At least just a little bit.”
Grant breathed out and nodded. “Yeah, I can understand that. Especially after everything. You chose your own family now, you’re making friends. You’re building your own life, you have the control.”
“And you belong in my life.”
“Don’t worry,” Grant smiled at her. “I’m never going to give you up, let you down or run around and desert you.”
“You’re rick rolling me now? Seriously?” Bella laughed as she poured the hot water into the tea pot. “Wow.”
“I’m your brother, I have 15 years of trolling to catch up with, so you better be prepared, because I’m so going to put plastic wrap all over your toilet seat when you’re not looking.”