So this is the end. A big thank you to all who have read and reviewed. Always a chance I will revisit this story to update how Neal is doing.
Needing a few minutes of solitude away from the party, Neal entered his apartment and opened the balcony door, breathing in the fresh air. It was a cool, clear summer night and the moon stood out above the New York skyline.
June had gone all out; somewhat against Neal's wishes; he had preferred a smaller affair but he gave in and allowed June to throw the party she felt Neal deserved.
Neal understood the milestone and what it stood for. A year post transplant and most of the restrictions had been lifted; but instead of feeling joy, Neal had spent most of the evening in a melancholy mood watching the others enjoy the party.
Peter knew something was wrong but he kept up Neal's pretense even though he spent most of the evening watching Neal.
Neal took a sip of the wine he had been nursing all evening. Another restriction lifted; though he still took a few pills and would continue for the foreseeable future; alcohol was allowed in moderation.
The ex-con startled. He turned as Peter approached.
"Are you ok?"
Neal nodded without much conviction.
"Are Mozzie and Diana still going at it?"
Peter smiled. "He's trying to convince her that aliens exist."
That elicited a small smile from Neal. It quickly faded.
"Neal, you've been quiet all evening. Tell me what's wrong."
Peter leaned against the wall, mirroring Neal's position. He whistled softly. "Don't think I'll ever tire of this view" he quietly said, glancing sideways at his partner.
"Can you believe it's been a year?"
"Some days, yes" Neal answered with a weary smile.
"It seems like yesterday." Neal pushed away from the wall and headed back inside with Peter following closely.
"Are you sore?" Peter asked, noticing the slight grimace on Neal's face when he closed the balcony door.
"A little" Neal admitted, as he touched his chest. "Feels weird not having the port there."
"I bet the shower was worth it."
Neal smiled. "Yeah." Again the smile faded quickly.
"Do you want to go back down?"
Neal ignored the question.
"Neal, what's wrong?" Peter gently grabbed his partner's shoulders and forced Neal to stand still and face him.
"Would you believe me if I said I didn't know?"
Peter released his grip with a slight nod of his head. "A little overwhelmed at the moment" he suggested.
"Something like that" Neal agreed as he placed his empty glass on the counter. "The party seems...it doesn't seem like enough." Neal paused. "I owe everyone...you so much and the party doesn't..."
"Stop." Peter held his hand up. "The party is for you Neal. Because of what you've gone through. Don't worry about the rest of us."
Neal walked away. "Peter, what you've done." He faced the agent. "I don't know how to thank you..."
"You don't need to thank me..."
"Yes I do." Neal shrugged helplessly. "I can't pay you back."
"Neal, you're right." Peter stepped back slightly. "There's nothing you can do so stop worrying about it."
Neal stared at him; a small smile played on Peter's face.
"Not funny" Neal muttered. "There has to be something and I'll figure it out." Neal sat suddenly. "I can't believe it's over." He glanced the agent's way.
"It's not over...not exactly" Peter countered, as he sat down next to Neal. "You won't be officially cured for another four years and Sloan needs to keep tabs on you...and then there's the long term survival clinic..."
"Peter stop." Neal stood. "If I've learned anything New York is my home. It's where my family is...I'm not going anywhere even when my sentence is over."
"Glad to hear it." Peter jumped up. "Let's go back to the party before they wonder where we are." Peter gently pushed Neal out of the apartment.
Less than an hour later, Peter knocked lightly on Neal's door before entering. Neal had snuck away shortly after they had rejoined the party but it was late and most of the guests were gone so Peter let him be.
He found his partner at the kitchen table, scribbling away.
"What are you doing?"
Neal glanced over his shoulder. "Trying to figure out what to say to my donor."
Neal put his pen down. "Sorry Peter. I guess I wasn't up for a party tonight. Are you leaving?"He asked, noticing that Peter was wearing his jacket. "Are you ok to drive?"
"I am but Elizabeth won't let me so she's driving." Peter circled the table before producing something from inside his jacket. "Remember this?"
Neal eyed the large envelope until a small smile spread across his face. "I forgot about that" he admitted as Peter handed it to him.
"Did you peek?" Neal scrutinized the envelope, to see if the seal had been tampered with.
"Your secrets are safe Neal. Unless you want to tell me" Peter added wistfully with a smile.
"I don't feel like going back to jail." Neal kept his eyes glued to his hands.
"Neal, I'll pick you up Monday." Peter turned to leave.
"Wait!" Neal jumped up as he tore open the envelope and searched with his hand, finally producing a smaller white envelope. "Here, take this."
Peter took the offering. "Neal, what is this?"
"Just read it later."
Peter's eyes narrowed. "Is this a goodbye letter? Are you going to be here Monday morning?"
Neal chuckled. "Stop worrying. I said I wasn't going anywhere."
Peter shook the envelope.
"Peter, it won't blow up. Go home." The agent took another step towards the door.
Sighing Peter turned just as Neal flung his arms around the agent, pulling a surprised Peter into a bear hug.
"Thank you" Neal whispered as he held on tight. A few minutes later, Neal let go and wordlessly walked away, refusing to meet Peter's gaze.
Peter couldn't sleep so he carefully got out of bed without waking Elizabeth and headed downstairs, greeting the dog near the steps.
"Go back to sleep" he quietly ordered and then found his jacket where he left it hanging. He took the envelope from the side pocket and entered the kitchen, grabbing a cold beer before sitting down at the table. He clutched the envelope in his hand, almost afraid to open it. Peter knew what it was; Neal had written him a letter in case he didn't survive the transplant; more curious to the agent was why Neal had asked him to read it now.
Peter took another sip of beer and then placed the envelope on the table and stared at it.
"Neal, what did you want to tell me if you died?"
Only one way to find out Peter silently mused as he carefully opened the envelope and pulled out a folded piece of paper.
If you're reading this I guess I didn't make it. I have no doubt you've seen my long list of crimes...sorry. Just know everything happened before I met you and I don't think I'm the same person. I know I became a better person and you're the reason it happened.
I hadn't planned on writing this but there's something I want you to know. When you agreed to go through this with me I felt much better about the transplant. I'm still scared but I know I won't be alone. You don't know much about my childhood but I spent a lot of time on my own. Death doesn't scare me. Dying alone does. Now I know you'll be there beside me if it happens and that eases my fears of the unknown. Whatever happens I know you'll take care of me. And I trust you. I need you to know I trust you and you did what was best for me. Whatever decisions had to be made, you did them with my best interest in mind.
Elizabeth once said you're the best thing that ever happened to me and your wife is a smart woman. As partners I didn't think anyone or anything could beat us. I guess something did. I know I fought with everything I could because I don't want to die.
I always wondered if we'd be friends when I was a free man. I think we would be. My biggest regret is we'll never find out. I was even going to let you take me to my first Yankee's game.
Peter, don't mourn me. You have a great life and a lot of people who need you and depend on you...don't let them down because of me.
Please don't forget me. Know that you meant a lot to me, even if I never told you.
Your partner in crime
Peter read it twice before he folded it up and carefully placed it back in the envelope.
He rubbed at his tired eyes as Neal's words ran through his mind. Opening his eyes, Peter ignored the tears that escaped down his cheeks. Despite the ungodly hour, he grabbed his landline and dialed.
Peter, what's wrong? Neal sounded half asleep and immediately Peter felt guilty and he remained silent...he couldn't explain why he had to call.
Peter! Now Neal sounded desperate and awake.
"Sorry..." Peter muttered. "I didn't mean to wake you."
Well, I'm awake. What's wrong?
"Nothing" Peter managed to whisper.
And you're calling me at three in the morning to tell me nothing's wrong. Understandably Neal was angry but Peter couldn't explain the need to hear his voice. To know he was alive.
"Neal, I'm sorry. Go back to sleep."
Peter, don't hang up. Several minutes passed before either man spoke.
Peter, did you read my letter? It was a rhetorical question and Peter didn't bother to answer.
I didn't mean to upset you. I just needed you to know...
"Neal I know."
More silence followed and finally Peter found his voice. "You'll go to a game with me?"
Peter heard an uneasy chuckle in his ear.
That's what you focused on?
"It's the only part that didn't make me want to cry..." Peter's voice trailed off with the admission.
Peter go back to sleep. Don't be late on Monday. For Peter's sake, Neal hung up. But it was another hour before the agent went back to bed.
Peter was early and he waited downstairs for Neal to get ready. Finally his partner sauntered downstairs with his hat already on his head. When he got closer Neal flipped the hat; a trick that used to annoy Peter; but for now he was just grateful that Neal was back to his old antics.
"Hey" Peter greeted still self conscious about the phone call.
"Peter." Neal smiled brightly as he descended the last step. "Where's the anklet?" He eyed Peter's empty hands.
"I figured you'd put it on at the office."
"Are Diana and Jones fighting over who gets the honors?"
Peter smiled. "You can put it on twice so they each get a chance."
Neal shook his head as he reached for his jacket. "Got you something." He handed two tickets to Peter. "Figured you bug me until we went so..."
"Neal, these are right behind home plate. How'd you get them?"
"You can find anything on the internet."
"Neal...Thank you." Peter pulled Neal towards him.
"Hey. You're wrinkling the jacket."
"Shut up. You're ruining the moment."
Neal relaxed against Peter. "So, do you think we'll be friends when I'm a free man?" Neal quietly whispered as he untangled himself from Peter's arms.
"Does it matter?" Peter smiled. "Partners are family for life. And I think this past year...do you really have to ask after this past year?"
"No." Neal smiled. "No I don't."
Peter opened the front door and motioned Neal out.
"Welcome back partner" Peter said, as he followed his friend.