To the reviewer who was concerned I had abandoned Cross Out (and anyone else who may have thought that), I can say that I have no intention of doing that - I just have the misfortune of suffering from writer's block frequently. And that on top of soap opera levels of drama for the past couple of years as well as getting a job with varying hours that tend to be long and actually having a social life now, I just have not had the drive or time to write in anything at all. Thank you to everyone who has sent kind words and refrained from sending some not so kind ones, and thank you everyone for bearing with me. For those of you who had snide comments, I'm writing and posting this for me, not you, so you can deal with it or leave. That said, this chapter did not want to cooperate with me so I apologize if the quality isn't up to prior chapters.
I have to thank CrystalGriffin for bringing up Alex meeting Neal's parents (not that I can remember how long ago that was). I honestly hadn't thought of it before then.
Alex fidgeted with the material of her jeans, fingers absently twisting and pulling at the seam. She just couldn't make herself look away from the house they were in front of, staring at it as if it held her newest nemesis within - and for all she knew, it did. She twitched when a large hand covered hers, stilling her fingers. Immediately and almost on reflex, she turned her hand over and clutched at his fingers.
"It's okay Alex," Neal started soothingly. "It's just my parents. They're going to love you, not eat you or whatever it is that you're thinking they'll do." He was trying not to be amused at how she was acting, but it was hard. Now that they had been able to talk things out and share some of what they had done for their jobs (nothing specific, of course), he was finding it difficult to believe that she could be afraid of a couple of civilians.
She gave him a dubious look. "I got you blown up and shot," she pointed out. "I'm pretty sure that's a good reason not to like me."
"As far as my parents are concerned, all my injuries happened on the job and they won't ask." Though he knew his mom was going to ask why it had taken him so long to bring Alex by, but that wasn't anything to do with his job so they couldn't avoid it. "Anyway, not much we can do unless you want to run away."
That comment go the exact reaction he was expecting: for her to glower and get out of the car, closing the door firmly behind herself.
Alex elbowed Neal lightly when he stepped up next to her, still chuckling, and gave him another look before leaning into him as he put his arm around her shoulders.
"Ready, my dear?"
"As I'll ever be," she answered as he started them up the drive.
Before Neal could knock, someone pulled open the door. Alex couldn't help but stare at the man who was clearly Neal's father. They shared the same nose, height, and build, though Neal's hair was a bit darker.
Neal grinned and let go of Alex so he could step forward and hug the man. "Hi Dad. How's football?"
"Same as always, son," came the easy and, if she was any judge, often repeated answer. When they parted, Neal's father turned to her and his eyebrows rose. Apparently he hadn't thought Alex would be as young as she was.
Smiling a bit shyly, she stepped forward and offered her hand. "Hello sir. I'm Alex."
"I'm Jeremy. Neal's spoken highly of you," he responded, smiling back and shaking her hand.
"I'm sure that a lot of it was exaggeration," she said wryly, glancing over to smile at her boyfriend.
Neal just huffed and ushered her in past his father. "Let's go say 'hi' to mom before she comes running out to yell at me for taking too long."
Alex raised her eyebrows at him. "Is she why you're afraid of Jack?" It already sounded like the women were alike, just from other things he had mentioned before.
"I am not afraid of Jack. I just have a healthy respect for her." If he was going to be afraid of any of the females he knew, Alex would be right at the top of that list. And that was because he knew what she could and would do and some of what she had (he still thought the whole 'snowboarding' and train thing in France was nuts, and that was only one thing she had done. He was actually a bit afraid to learn about other things).
Alex laughed softly, but the laughter faded quickly as they entered the kitchen. Mrs. Smith froze when they walked in, a spoon hanging from her mouth. She closed the freezer and tried not to look guilty that she had been caught sneaking ice cream before dinner, then she started to scold Neal to deflect any comments regarding that.
As the evening progressed, Alex relaxed and enjoyed herself. It was clear that Neal had his mother's smile and sense of humor and his father's easy going nature.
Neal turned to Alex once they were in the car again and smiled at her. "See? That wasn't so bad."
She smiled softly at him and leaned over the gear shift to kiss his cheek. "Yeah, it went much better than I expected. No one burst in with guns so I'm happy."
He side-eyed her a little, not sure how serious she was before deciding that he'd just go with she was joking. "Well, I did tell James to try to stay away..." He grinned when that got a laugh from his girlfriend.
After pulling into the street, he glanced over then back at the road. "My parents both loved you," he said, knowing that she had been really worried about that.
She shifted a little then turned to him. "You really think so?"
Neal nodded. "Yeah, mom offered you dessert before she offered me any." And from a woman who perpetually thought that he was too thin, that was a big thing. "And dad was happy to talk football with you."
Alex relaxed back in the seat and nodded, smiling faintly. "I'm glad then. This summer, we should have them over to my house with everyone else. Make it a family thing." Because the unit were her family, even Snake, as slow as that adjustment was going.
That drew a soft smile from Neal and he nodded. "That sounds like a great idea." That would be plenty of time for them all to see how well they got along, because he was starting to think about rings, not that he planned to tell Alex that. He didn't want to risk scaring her off too soon after all.