NOTE: Well 30 chapters seems like a good place to stop.
Just want to thank everyone who has read this and reviewed it.
"Neal?" After knocking several times with no response, Peter used his key to enter his partner's apartment.
Panic surfaced until he heard the toilet flush and Peter sighed with relief. Minutes passed and Peter glanced at his watch, impatiently waiting for Neal to open the bathroom door.
"Sorry..." Neal mumbled as he grabbed his hat and approached the agent.
Neal looked away as Peter studied him.
"Do you feel as bad as you look?"
"Probably worse" Neal admitted. "Think...I ate something...bad" he added with a shrug.
"You ate what we ate and we're fine" Peter commented as he continued to stare at the ex-con. "OK, you got yourself a sick day..."
"Neal." The agent faced him with his hands on his hips. "You know the deal. You're sick, you stay home."
"But...today's...the take down."
"And we'll do it without you." Peter reached over and felt Neal's forehead.
Neal pulled away.
You don't feel too warm" Peter remarked. "Take it easy. I'll check on you later."
Neal opened his mouth to protest but thought better of it and remained silent as he watched Peter leave. Slowly he sank to the sofa as his legs finally gave out.
After a long day and a near miss that came way too close to Peter's head, the case ended with a sure fire arrest and a man Peter had longed to get for nearly five years. As much as he wanted to go home to his wife and a night of watching the Yankees on TV, Peter knew he should check on Neal first.
Peter let himself in and quietly closed the door behind him. He checked the bedroom first hoping Neal was resting but the bed was empty and it didn't take long for him to figure out where Neal was.
"Neal, are you decent in there?"
"Define decent" Neal replied, sounding tired.
Peter peeked in, surprised to see his partner sitting on the bathroom floor, surrounded by reading material and a bottle of Gatorade.
"Too tired...to keep rushing here" Neal said before Peter could ask.
"A bucket works just fine" Peter retorted with a slight smirk.
"Not for...everything" Neal countered with a deep sigh as he tried to get comfortable on the hard floor.
"Oh." Peter grimaced knowingly. "When was the last time?"
"Maybe an hour ago" Neal answered, shrugging.
"Think you're done?"
"No clue." Neal shook his head. "Can't imagine there's...anything left."
Peter extended his hand. "Come on. Let's get you back to the sofa." Neal stared at the hand before grasping it and allowing Peter to haul him to his feet. He hung on to Peter's hand as he fought to gain his balance.
"I'm good." Neal pulled free and staggered toward the sofa with Peter shadowing him the whole way. Once Neal was sitting Peter started opening cabinets, looking for something suitable for Neal to eat.
"Elizabeth left soup...in the fridge."
Peter stared at him. "She didn't tell me she stopped by."
Neal shrugged and hunted for the remote, finally finding it between the cushions. He turned on TV and started flipping stations, settling on an old sitcom.
As the soup warmed Peter stared at the 'wall', an area near the kitchen that Neal's new therapist used for charts and pictures. Every two weeks new pictures went up with Neal dressed each day for work. Each picture was dated and Neal simply had to follow the picture in the morning, therefore allowing him to get ready for work without depending on someone else to pick out his clothes.
She did the same with breakfast and dinner and so far it seemed to be working. Alongside the pictures was a chart and each day Neal succeeded a sticker was placed in the corresponding square.
"Neal, where did the rat pack stickers from come?" Peter approached the ex-con.
"June" Neal answered as he went back to flipping stations. "Pretty lame, huh?"
Peter shrugged. "Is it working?"
"That's all that matters" Peter remarked, though inwardly he agreed with his partner. They rarely talked about it but Neal seemed happier since becoming more independent.
"Are you hungry?" Peter set the tray down and placed the bowl on the table. "Sit forward" he said and waited for Neal to comply. Neal ate a couple of spoonfuls and sat back to see how it would settle.
"Elizabeth left an overnight bag for you." Neal pointed to the corner.
Peter glanced at it and then back at Neal, who hungrily gulped down more soup.
"You're ok with that?"
"I might...have suggested it" Neal replied sheepishly as he wiped his face with a napkin. "Elizabeth doesn't know about today, does she?"
"How do you know?" Peter asked as he opened a package of crackers and took one before offering the rest to Neal.
"Diana called. She...told me to take...it easy on you."
Peter settled back in the chair. "I'm fine" he said, though it wasn't exactly the truth.
"Sure...you are" Neal remarked before he continued eating. "Just be more careful, ok?"
"OK." Peter walked backed to the kitchen and opened the fridge again, discovering a container of food Elizabeth had left for him. He warmed the chicken and vegetables in the microwave and cut a few slices of bread from a loaf sitting on the counter.
"Are you done?" Peter asked as he placed his food on the table, noticing how much soup was left. Neal shrugged but took the offered piece of bread from Peter.
"Drink some more water." Ignoring the look Neal gave him Peter held the glass out and waited for the ex-con to grab it. Satisfied, Peter sat down and started eating.
"Did you notice a whole week...of stickers?"
"I did" Peter replied as he stabbed a carrot with his fork.
"Remember what you said?"
"So?" Neal prompted.
"I don't take back promises" Peter remarked as he eyed his partner. "What do you want to do?" he asked, imagining a day spent in some museum or art exhibit.
"I want to go...fishing again."
Peter stopped chewing as he stared at Neal.
"Seriously?" he asked after swallowing.
Neal nodded. "It's not about the fish" he said as he echoed Peter's words.
"I know" Peter agreed as he offered Neal another piece of bread.
"I'm good" Neal mumbled as he stretched out on the sofa, falling asleep soon after.
Peter stifled a groan as he shut the TV off, disgusted with another Yankee lost. He glanced at Neal, who had been sleeping soundly for the past three hours. Peter reached over and lightly touched Neal's forehead, pleased that it felt cool.
Peter was tired and he didn't have the energy to rouse Neal so he found a couple of blankets in the linen closet and carefully covered his partner with one. The other he used for himself as he got as comfortable as he could in the recliner, and slowly drifted to sleep.
Peter opened his eyes to bright sunshine. He glanced at the sofa but it was empty. He looked around but there were no sign of his partner. Jumping out of the chair his eyes caught the clock and he swore; he should have been at work two hours ago. In full panic mode he noticed the balcony door half opened and he hurried that way.
"Why didn't you wake me?" he asked in a demanding tone as Neal calmly sat there nursing his coffee.
"I called...you in sick" Neal replied with a bright smile.
"You don't call me in sick."
"You did it to me."
"Different situation" Peter countered as he glared at his partner. "I've seen you go from sniffles to the ICU in a matter of hours."
"Peter, I'm stronger now and you know it." Neal poured a second cup and offered it to the agent, who refused with a wave of his hand.
"Turning down...Italian Roast" Neal said evenly. "Now you know how I feel" he added, as he placed the mug on the table. After a few minutes Peter calmed down enough to grab the mug and sip the still warm liquid, silently savoring the taste.
"You're right" Peter admitted with a shrug of his shoulders.
"I should record that" Neal remarked evenly. "Secondly, worrying about me...distracts you and that's not a good thing when chasing bad guys with guns."
Peter stared at him with a bemused look. "Where is this coming from?" he finally asked.
Neal averted his eyes, away from Peter's scrutiny.
"Getting yourself killed doesn't...do me any good" Neal quietly admitted.
Peter chuckled as he watched Neal wrestle with the reality of his words.
"Is that your way of saying you need me?" Peter asked after several minutes of silence.
Finally, Neal looked up. "I didn't know I had to state the obvious." Several more silent minutes passed as Peter digested Neal's confession.
"Message received" Peter said with a mock bow before seating himself at the table.
"I take it you feel better" Peter remarked as he poured himself a second cup.
"Feel like a change of scenery?"
"What do you have in mind?" Neal asked as he leaned back in the patio chair, glancing up at the bright sun.
"Go to my place. Elizabeth has some projects she's been asking me to do and I might as well not waste a sick day if I'm not really sick."
'Sounds like a plan" Neal said as he stood. "Give me a few minutes to get ready."
"Neal?" Peter called out.
Neal turned and faced the agent.
"Are we good?"
Neal smiled. "We're more than good" he answered before walking inside.
Peter raced around the house, to ensure that everything was off and the windows were locked. He glanced at the pile of supplies and mentally checked off each item, making sure nothing was forgotten. A day of fishing had turned into a weekend camping trip to a little cabin up north.
The bell rang and Peter quickly opened the door.
"Hey Neal" Peter greeted as he glanced at the bag the ex-con was carrying. "Did you pack what I told you to bring?"
"Yes dad" Neal said with a roll of his eyes. The dog barked and Neal looked at him. "Does his bandana match your shirt?" he asked incredulously.
"El's idea" Peter quickly retorted. "And you're lucky. I stopped her from buying you a matching shirt."
"Guess I should say thank you" Neal said, chuckling.
Peter handed Neal a couple of bags and they quickly loaded the car. "So Mozzie didn't want to come?"
Neal shook his head as Peter checked the house one more time before ordering the dog into the car.
"He didn't want to ruin...our father-son bonding."
Peter raised one eyebrow. "Tell him next time he can be the quirky uncle."
Neal smiled. "But that would make him your..."
"Elizabeth's side" Peter quickly interrupted as he ushered Neal out the door.
"Gotcha" Neal said as he walked away. Peter watched as Neal wrestled the dog for the front seat and then ran back inside for the bag of snacks.
"All set?" Peter said as he slid into the car and eyed his partner.
Neal nodded and immediately began fiddling with the radio, stopping when he found a talk show he enjoyed.
"My choice on the way back" Peter remarked, an agreement they had come to while talking about the trip.
Ignoring the garbage Neal was listening to, Peter's mind wandered to an accident that seemed so long ago and a journey they had all endured to help Neal get his life back.
Peter smiled. Life would always be a battle for Neal and Peter wasn't sure what the future would bring; but for now that didn't matter.
At the moment Neal was winning his battle and he was surrounded by friends and family that would ensure he wasn't alone in his fight.