Neal stood off to the side, intently watching the basketball game. He had twisted his ankle nearly five minutes into the game and though it wasn't as bad as he made it seem, if Peter saw through the ruse, he didn't call Neal on it. Neal had played, mostly because Peter had wanted him to but it was apparent from the beginning that Neal didn't have the killer instinct needed to compete with these guys on the floor.
"How's the ankle?" Neal smiled at Elizabeth.
"He looks good, doesn't he?" Elizabeth asked with her eyes on her husband. Neal nodded. Most watching the game would never have known how close Peter came to dying. He still had a brace on his knee and Neal noticed a slight limp when he ran, but he kept up with the others, not bad considering some were almost half his age. Peter scored the go ahead basket and Elizabeth started yelling and clapping.
"Game's almost over" Elizabeth remarked, "Don't you want to go back in?"
Neal chuckled. "Peter wants to win this year. I can't compete with these guys."
"Neal, do you know why he wanted you to play?" Shrugging, Neal shook his head no.
"He wants you to feel part of the FBI, part of his team…."
"Elizabeth, I don't need this game to feel like I belong. After everything that has happened the past six months, I know I belong. I played because Peter wanted me to, but we never discussed how long I had to stay in."
The fans started yelling as the game was tied in the last minute. Both Elizabeth and Neal drew closer to the action. In the last few seconds Peter stole the inbounds pass and tossed it to Jones who easier made the layup. Buzzer went off signaling the end and even Neal was clapping, caught up in the excitement of the ending.
"Great game" Elizabeth yelled as she hugged her sweat soaked husband.
"How's the ankle?" Peter asked, slapping Neal on the back.
"Good. Let's get cleaned up and we're going out to celebrate with the guys."
"We are?" Neal asked cautiously, wondering why Peter didn't mention this beforehand.
"Yes, weare" Peter emphasized with his hand on Neal's shoulder. "Your job application came back today, officially approved and we are going to celebrate."
"Neal that's great." Elizabeth reached up and gently kissed his cheek. Neal still wasn't sure how he felt about this but he was happy the job would be waiting, if he chose to accept it.
"I'll be back in a few minutes" Peter said as he walked away, beckoned by one of the players on the NYPD side.
"Neal do me a favor." Elizabeth pulled the young man away from the crowd. "Stay sober tonight and make sure Peter gets home safe." Before Neal could question her, he heard Peter calling his name and he followed the agent to the locker room to get ready.
Elizabeth was at the door waiting when it opened and Neal helped Peter into the house. The young man looked confused and shocked and Elizabeth understood completely. She wished she had explained to Neal how Peter got with this group as they mourned their comrades who died. Peter was blabbering something incoherent as Neal helped him off with his jacket.
"Help me get him upstairs" Elizabeth quietly said as she steadied her husband between them. Once they were upstairs and Peter was safely seated on the bed, Elizabeth ushered Neal out of the bedroom.
"He'll be fine in the morning" Elizabeth quietly said as she walked Neal towards his room. "Peter will probably sleep until mid afternoon so if you'd like I have a new recipe you can help me with."
Neal seemed lost as he kept glancing towards the master bedroom and he was sure he heard Peter crying.
"Neal, this happens every time and I promise you, he'll be fine and he won't remember this in the morning. So get some rest and don't worry about him." Elizabeth reached up and quickly kissed him on the cheek. "Thank you for a being a good friend." Elizabeth eyed the dog who stood in the hallway, unsure of where he belonged.
"Satch, stay with Neal tonight." Neal called the dog who quickly trotted over and followed him into the bedroom.
Neal changed and then realized that he needed to use the bathroom which of course was right next to the master bedroom. He tried not to listen but Peter was loud and he clearly heard him crying and Elizabeth's voice trying to soothe him. Back in his own bedroom, Neal covered himself with the blankets and buried his face in the pillow. The dog settled next to him.
"Satch, he'll be fine tomorrow" Neal whispered as he scratched the dog's head. Once Peter quieted down and mostly likely passed out, sleep came rather easily for Neal.
Elizabeth was up early and fixing herself a quick breakfast when Neal walked in, still looking shell shocked from the night before.
"Morning Neal" she cheerfully said, as he sat down at the table across from her.
"What the heck happened last night?" Neal asked, as he rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
"You tell me" Elizabeth countered evenly, "I wasn't there, you were."
Neal shrugged. "It started out ok with us boasting about the win and they took it good naturedly but the later it got and the more they drank, the more morose the mood turned. Some had the sense to leave but Peter wouldn't go and David finally told me to get him out of there before he wasn't able to walk." Neal shook his head. "As it was, I practically had to drag him home and I almost called a cab."
Elizabeth smiled wearily. "I must be the only one who hates the game because I know they'll go out drinking afterwards and I know how Peter is. He keeps everything inside and it all seems to come out at once and it's so hard to see him like that."
"Who's Steve?" Neal asked, remembering a name Peter spoke often.
"Peter grew up with him and they were going to be NYPD together until Peter chose the FBI." Elizabeth paused but Neal already knew the rest. "He died that day, didn't he?"
Elizabeth nodded. "Neal you came into our lives at the perfect time, even though your name monopolized way too many dinner conversations" she added, with no hint of regret. "Peter healed while chasing you and neither of us could have imagined you'd be part of our lives in this manner."
"And Peter won't remember last night?"
Elizabeth shrugged. "He doesn't act like he does or maybe he's just trying to protect me. Neal, I know from experience, he'll be fine and back to himself today. I'm glad you were there for him…Peter doesn't let many see him that way…"
"I owe him so it's the least I could do." Neal grinned brightly as he poured a bowl of cereal for himself.
"That smells good" Neal said as Elizabeth took the chicken dish from the oven. "I'll pack some up so you can take it home" Elizabeth offered.
"Something smells good" Peter said as he entered the kitchen.
"Morning sleepyhead" Elizabeth neared her husband for a quick kiss. "Just eat some toast for now. If your stomach is ok, we'll have this for dinner." He nodded, eyeing Neal. "Morning Neal."
"Afternoon is more like it" Neal retorted, smiling at his partner. "Do you think you can drive me home? Mozzie called and needs to see me."
Peter's eye narrowed. "Anything I need to know about?" Neal held his hands up innocently, inwardly pleased that Peter sounded like himself.
"Peter, if it's anything bad, I promise you'll be the first to know. Scout's honor."
"You were never a boy scout" Peter retorted, "but I believe you. Go get your stuff together, I want to get home before the snow starts again."
The ride was quite for both men until Peter pulled over to the curb in front of June's house.
"Neal, wait." Peter said when Neal had one foot out the door. The ex con turned with his eyes on his partner.
"Thank you" Peter quietly said. "For last night and for being you and coming into my life when I needed a big distraction."
Neal was silent, unsure how to respond to Peter, to someone who meant more to him than Neal could ever express properly. But Peter already knew that and he quickly took care of the tense moment.
"Now get out and don't be late tomorrow. Understand?"
Neal smiled. "See you tomorrow. If you arrive early, June has this new coffee that you have to try." As Neal got closer to the house, he spied something in the shadows.
"Mozzie, you can come out, Peter left." The little man wandered out of the shadows and followed Neal into the house.
"That smells good. Bet it will go good with some wine." Mozzie remarked as they entered Neal's apartment. Neal took the hint and quickly warmed up some chicken in the microwave while Mozzie found the perfect bottle.
"I saw you play last night" Mozzie said when they were seated at the table.
"You were at the game?" Neal couldn't keep the surprise out of his voice. "Why didn't you say hi?"
"Too many good guys" Mozzie retorted. "Had to keep my distance" he added.
"Mozzie, get use to them, they're part of my life now and mostly good people."
"What about me?" Mozzie asked. "Am I still a part of your life?"
Neal chuckled softly. "Moz, you're my best friend, you better not go anywhere." Neal picked up his glass.
"Here's to new beginnings" he toasted.
"And old friends" Mozzie countered.
"I'll drink to that" Neal said and he did.