A Whole New Ballgame

by J. Rosemary Moss

~oOo~

Mozzie felt himself deflate as he stared at Neal. His friend was all but glowing. Well, that explained things.

Neal had been staying with the Suit and Mrs. Suit since last Thursday night. It was Wednesday evening now—and what happened in between couldn't be more obvious.

Neal must have realized how he felt about the Suit. And the Suit must have realized how he felt about Neal. And they had gone and done something about it.

Did Mrs. Suit know? Probably. Hell, she must be ok with it, or even Neal would have the decency to look guilty.

"What's wrong, Moz?" Neal asked, catching his friend's expression as he set a bottle of wine down on the table.

"Nothing's wrong. You—you just look so happy."

Neal popped the cork and then poured two glasses. "I am. I'm more than happy." He paused to hand Moz a glass. "You were right. I do like the leash—and I like that Peter's holding it. And I'm more than into him."

Moz sank into a chair. "So you're sleeping with him. And he's ok with this?"

"Not entirely," Neal admitted. "He's afraid we're making a mistake. He—look, you know Peter. Sometimes he thinks I'm still a kid. I had to remind him that he wouldn't send a child on dangerous undercover missions for the Bureau."

"What does Mrs. Suit think?"

Neal took a seat. "Elizabeth is amazing. She reminded me that she had Peter first—and then she made up a schedule. I get Peter every Sunday, Monday and Tuesday night, plus one Saturday night a month. Elizabeth has him the rest of the time.

"So . . . this is a 'Big Love' thing and Elizabeth is first-wife?"

"Pretty much."

"And how long do you think this will last?"

To Moz's surprise, Neal fell quiet for a moment. "I don't know," he said, staring down at his wine. "I didn't ask Peter for any promises. He didn't ask me for any either. He didn't even want to hear that I was over Kate—not until I was sure I meant it."

He smiled again, and Moz felt a painful and irrational stab of jealousy. It wasn't as if Neal had ever been his.

"It's funny," Neal continued, a far away look in his eyes. "Kate and I made such extravagant promises."

"Are you over Kate?" Moz ventured.

Neal shrugged. "I don't know if I'll ever be over her—but I've made my choice. I want to stay with Peter. I'll do whatever I can for Kate; I want her safe. But what we had together is finished."

"And Peter doesn't believe that?"

"No. Not yet. He's still afraid I'll run away if she crooks a finger at me."

Mozzie raised his eyebrows.

"His words, not mine," Neal explained. He paused again, this time to take a sip of wine. "Moz, I'll be spending a lot more time at Peter's. They have a finished basement and we're turning it into an apartment—"

Moz sputtered. "What! Neal, what about this place? You'd trade life in Manhattan for a basement apartment in the suburbs?"

Neal gave him a look. "Brooklyn is not the suburbs."

"It's not the city."

Neal hesitated. "No," he admitted. "It's not the city."

Moz smirked. 'The city' always and only meant Manhattan; the boroughs just couldn't compare.

"Listen, I'm not giving up my rooms here," Neal assured him. "And I won't—not for a while. I have to see how things work out between Peter and me first. And if things do work out, I'm hoping June will rent these rooms to you. I'll find a way to help you with the payments, man. I'll need a place to go when Peter and I get on each other's nerves."

Moz rolled his eyes. "Newsflash, Neal. Things aren't going to work out between you and Peter. These kind of relationships never do. He'll crush himself with middle-class guilt, even if his wife approves. He'll hate hiding what he has with you—and he'll have to hide it, unless you think the Bureau will understand."

"We know we have to hide it," Neal said, his voice even. "And I know Peter's not used to the idea of an unconventional relationship. But that doesn't mean he can't get used to it."

"Oh yeah? And what happens when Mr. and Mrs. Suit hear the pitter-patter of little feet? Do you really think Peter will want to raise his kids while he has two spouses? He's going to dump you so fast your—"

"Stop," Neal interrupted.

Moz stared at him and then reluctantly closed his mouth.

"I—I have no idea what will happen if Peter and El have kids," Neal said, his voice low and halting. "I don't know how any of this will work out. But I do know you're crazy jealous because I've switched teams. I love you, Moz, but I can't be your partner in crime anymore."

"You haven't just switched teams, Neal. You're in a whole new ball game now—a game you're not going to win.

"Maybe not," he owned. Then he paused to flash Moz a dazzling, affectionate smile. "But whatever happens, you're still my friend, Moz. And I made Peter promise that you'll be welcome at his place. Let's talk about when you can come over for dinner."

~oOo~

Neal curled up under his covers, listening to Mozzie snoring from the couch. It was the first night since Saturday that he had slept alone; the first night since Saturday that Neal didn't have an opportunity to steal more than his half of the bed from Peter or sleep through the night safely trapped in the agent's arms.

He rubbed his feet together, conscious of the tracking anklet on his left ankle. He sighed, looking forward to the time when he could prove to Peter that he meant to stick around, anklet or not.

Of course, he had no guarantee that he and Peter would still be lovers by the time the anklet came off. Mozzie's predictions of doom-and-gloom might prove correct. But Neal meant to stick around regardless--and Peter had made it clear that he wanted him around regardless. Neal grinned, knowing that Peter would always consider him his property.

As for how long they would remain lovers . . . Neal would worry about that later. He and Kate had promised each other forever. Maybe he and Peter would have a better shot at eternity without any promises at all.

He felt a twinge of guilt at the thought of Kate. Neal refused to believe, as Peter did, that Kate was purposely working against him--that she had never really loved Neal in the first place. Peter was prejudiced against her, that was all. He couldn't recognize the angle she was playing. Neal appreciated his jealousy, but he wasn't about to trust the man's instincts regarding her.

But it was still over between him and Kate, Neal told himself. She had broken up with him back when he was in prison. Maybe that was her choice, maybe it wasn't--either way, they weren't a couple now. Peter might think that would change if Kate crooked her finger at him, but Neal knew better.

At least he hoped he knew better. He still loved her, God help him. And he would find a way to get her out of danger; he'd find a way to keep her safe. But he wouldn't fall back into her arms.

Now if only he could convince Peter.

~oOo~

When Peter strode into Neal's rooms Thursday morning, the kid had June's Italian roast coffee at the ready. Peter grinned and kissed Neal lightly on the lips. "Morning, beautiful," he said.

"Morning," Neal answered, favoring him with a radiant smile. But then he nodded toward the couch.

Peter turned to find Haversham sitting there, dressed and sipping a coffee of his own. He was giving Peter a look of jealousy mixed with distaste. Peter just nodded at him. "Morning, Haversham."

"Morning," Haversham mumbled. Then he set down his coffee, stood up and took his coat. He bowed (with exaggerated dignity) in the general direction of both Peter and Neal, and took his leave of them.

"He doesn't look happy with our relationship," Peter commented as the door closed behind the short man.

"You knew he wouldn't be," Neal pointed out. "But he likes you well enough, for a suit, so he'll get over it. Now drink up your coffee--we don't want to be late."

Peter obeyed and then gave Neal a playful salute. "Yes, sir."

~oOo~

"We've got a lot of paperwork ahead of us today," Peter said as he threw an armful of files down on his desk. "And Jones is printing out more pages from a bunch of websites. We need to connect this guy--Michael Ramirez--with these scams."

Neal took a look at the paper Peter was pointing to, which listed an impressive number of cons. "You think we can get him on all of these?" he asked.

Peter shook his head. "I'll be happy if we can get him on one. This guy is smart--not as smart as you, but smart. Fortunately he's young and a bit of a show-off . . . also like you."

Neal winked at him, taking that for a compliment. "How long have you been after him?"

"He's been running these scams for at least two years, but he's only been on our radar for the past three months," Peter answered. He paused to shrug. "Like I said, he's good. Cruz and Jones have been handling most of the legwork."

Neal nodded and turned to the bio on Ramirez. He frowned a little as he read about the guy's childhood in Miami: shuffled from foster home to foster home, in and out of trouble--it was all too familiar.

He turned to the photos of the suspect. Michael's smile jumped out at Neal--good for him. A smile like that would always be a con artist's friend. Neal shook himself: he was working for the Bureau, not rooting for the criminal.

He was cute even apart from the smile, Neal decided. Cute and muscular with black hair and swarthy skin: nice combination. This was the kind of guy who might be able to give Neal some competition if they found themselves cruising in the same club.

Neal checked the suspect's birthday again. Yeah, Michael was younger than he was, but he looked older. Judging by the photos, he couldn't quite pull off the sweet, innocent look that Neal had mastered. Pity.

He looked up from the photos suddenly, feeling Peter's eyes on him. There was a curious smile on the agent's face.

"Comparing notes?" Peter asked.

Neal grinned. "Yeah--but don't worry. I know which side I'm working for."

"And I'll make sure you remember."

Neal's grin turned mischievous. "I look forward to the reminders."

~oOo~

Ten hours later, Peter was guiding Neal to the car. They hadn't made as much progress as they had hoped on Michael Ramirez, so there would be plenty more paperwork to sift through tomorrow. Neal stifled a groan as he climbed into Peter's car.

"Coming home tonight?" Peter asked as they buckled their seatbelts.

Neal felt a peculiar warmth spread over him at the word 'home.' A few years ago, he would never have guessed that home would mean Peter, Elizabeth and Satch in a snug house in Brooklyn. But now even June's house couldn't compare.

"Yes," he answered. "I'm allowed over even when Elizabeth has you scheduled for the night, right? Or do you two need your privacy?"

Peter rolled his eyes. "Neal, you stayed over plenty of times before we were sleeping together. Besides, if we wanted privacy every second, we wouldn't have asked you to move in. We want your company."

"Then you won't mind helping me with the basement for a little while?"

Peter laughed. "Touché. Yeah, I'll help you. But then we'll kidnap you for some family time."

Neal let out a contented sigh. "Sounds like heaven."

Peter just smiled and, for once, kept his eyes on the road. Neal settled back in his seat, wondering how long this 'honeymoon' period with Peter would last. Not forever--he didn't need Moz's doom-and-gloom predictions to realize that. But how long did he have?

At length he decided it was best not to ask.