oper_1895: Neal Caffrey in a suit. (Default)
[personal profile] oper_1895
Title: Best Case Scenario
Author: oper_1895
Fandom: White Collar
Spoilers: Pilot. Kinda.
Rating: R for non-sexual kink
Contains: Bondage, spanking, bit of food control, socially enforced power play, non-con humiliation and sexual contact.
Word Count: ~ 12000

Notes/Summary: A fill for collarkink Prompt: Total AU where Neal literally belongs to Peter. He's basically sold or placed into slavery/indentured servitude as punishment for his crimes, and he's not very happy about it. Peter and El take on the task of training him. They all bond, to whatever extent you want, but there's also friction.

Bonus points for keeping them as much in character as possible, despite the crazy situation.


The end result was actually not very AU at all, it's been shined up a bit from the collarkink post, but it's still more a series of ficlets than a cohesively plotted fic. This 'verse will be the setting for several planned [community profile] kink_bingo fills.

Comments welcome! (I'm so out of practice with fic).


You knew this could happen, Neal reminded himself, tugging habitually against the bonds keeping his wrists behind his back. Locks he could pick, but the sheer physical barrier of the tightly knotted rope was something else. He could get out, but it would take time, and considering the way he was currently being stared at, the chances of him getting that time uninterrupted were slim at best.

He had been aware of this possibility, he just hadn't expected it to feel quite so ... dramatic.
They had him in loose cotton pants, no shirt, bare feet. His new owners would want to see what they were getting. The metal collar was warm against his throat, a touch tighter than was comfortable. There was pressure and a *snickt* as the lock was engaged. And then another as the leash was attached to a convenient D-ring.

He opened his eyes when a tug on the leash told him to start moving. He put a bit of a swagger in his walk, put on the smile. "Hey, do you-"

"Shut it." The thug holding his leash jerked it painfully and Neal stumbled. "Speak again and I'll put you on a choke chain. You'll want to behave for your new master."

Neal shut up and followed. He did want to behave, for now at least. Convicts were given away for training. Rehabilitation was the official language . If they weren't going to serve society they had no worth. If they had no worth, there was no point in keeping them around. The training would either provide worth or... sometimes people didn't learn fast enough. Either way they weren't a problem anymore.

Neal took a deep breath. He knew he could con anyone given the time. The trick to this would be figuring out how to play this one, and hope that his new master didn't maim or kill him before he could find the key.

Neal shuffled into the transfer room and dropped to his knees at the encouragement of the guard. He stared at his new owner's feet, not wanting to antagonize anyone quite yet. A hand fisted in Neal's hair, pulling his head up. "Is this the one you wanted?"

Neal blinked in surprise as his new owner's face came into view. Peter Bruke? The man who put him in here in the first place. Peter was just standing there, barely paying Neal any attention, oblivious to his confusion.

"That's the one."

Peter quickly signed off on the paperwork then gathered up Neal's leash. Neal quickly came to his feet and followed the gentle pull on his neck as Peter lead him out, out of the Center and out into the daylight. He wanted to behave, he really did. But he couldn't help but stagger to a stop as they stepped out into the sunshine.

Peter looked back when his charge stopped moving. He saw Neal standing there, his hands still bound behind his back with his face turned up to the sunlight. Shaking his head Peter gathered the leash up closer in his hands and took a step back towards Neal.

"If you behave, sunshine won't be such a rare thing" Peter curled his hand around the back of Neal's neck and pushed him towards the car. Neal hesitated, feeling the warm pressure of Peter's hand over his collar.

"Why did you do this?"

"Because I think you're better than this." Peter's hand shifted down to Neal's shoulder. "Look. It's simple, I think you can be useful. You behave, you get privileges. You misbehave you, get punished. Your goal is to prove to me that you can obey orders and be productive. My goal is to give you structure and keep you busy and out of trouble. Understand?"

Neal nodded. This was good. The more explicit the rules, the easier they are to work around, to find the edges.

"Good. First challenge: don't speak until we get home."

The trip back was quiet.

--

It had been a long drive home. Neal had spent most of the trip dozing against the window and blinked groggily when they finally pulled up to a house. He opened his mouth when Peter opened the car door to take up the leash, but shut it at Peter's look. Instead, Neal slithered awkwardly out of the car, his hands still bound behind his back. Peter caught his shoulder as Neal stood and turned him to face the car. A slice of what must have been a pocket knife and Neal's hands were free. Step one, Neal thought

"It's late." Peter's hand on his shoulder guided him into the house. "I'll show you your space, you stay there tonight and tomorrow you'll get a tour."

First stop was a quick bathroom break, then he was taken to his room. From what Neal could see, the house was cozy and comfortable. Occasional splashes of colour caught his eye, but he didn't have time to examine anything as he was led directly into a small repurposed storage room. On the floor was a foam mattress and bottle of water. There was an intercom installed on the wall beside the light switch.

"Stay here. I'll let you out tomorrow morning. Intercom's for emergencies only." Peter gestured vaguely as Neal sank down onto the mattress, "We'll do the whole... thing with everything else tomorrow."

Peter leaned down to unclip the leash, then left Neal alone in the room, locking the door after it closed.

--

Neal waited, quietly, for a good hour after the footsteps went up the stairs. It wasn't like he was intending on leaving, he just wanted to see what this place was like. And he was bored. Besides, if Peter had actually wanted him to stay in the room, he would have made more of an effort on locking it, using more than just the privacy lock that came with the door. This lock barely even counted as even a symbolic lock.

The door swung open silently, and Neal glanced down the darkened hallway. To meet Peter's eyes, staring at him over a newspaper. Oops.

Peter stood up from the chair he had set outside the door, and calmly smacked Neal on the head with his now rolled up newspaper. "No."

"What?" Neal blurted out, thrown off his game. "I just wanted to look-"

Peter didn't say anything, just snapped his fingers and pointed to the floor in front where he was standing. Neal closed his mouth with a snap and went, dropping to his knees as the paper came down again.

"I expected you'd try this" Peter began. "You're not used to rules. I get that. But there are always going to be consequences."

Well, this was round one. Neal let his shoulders slump, presenting what he knew was a very pretty picture of submission. He would explain how sorry he was, Peter would see that he could learn, and it would be a good start to getting under that gruff exterior. A minor, and apparently expected, offence to get a feel for the this game's particular playing field. He opened his mouth, only to have the paper stuffed between his teeth.
"I said No. You know full well what you were doing."

Peter picked up a small took kit that had been sitting behind the chair. Still clenching the paper between his teeth, Neal shuffled over to Peter on his knees and accepted the hasp and padlock while Peter marked the doorframe. When Peter blindly stuck his hand in Neal's direction, Neal knew what was expected of him.

Breakfast the next morning was a perfectly healthy, absolutely tasteless breakfast bar, delivered by an unspeaking Peter, and 2 minutes in the bathroom.

He wasn't let out until lunch, and the leash was back on.

--

Neal had started his time at the Burkes' with a bare-bones room, and the pants he had worn in. After couple weeks of good behaviour he had earned a shirt and a second outfit, a spare blanket, a couple of books for his room. Peter and Elizabeth had taken to leaving him home with a list of chores through most of the day. Their random visits prevented him from getting into too much trouble, and the bit of jewellery added to his collar, a GPS tracker, meant that running required planning.

But it did mean that today, he was home and unobserved when the mail arrived. Which meant he was the first one to see the flyer: Pan'opt-out'ticon! Keep The Corporate Monoliths from Spying on You and Your Family! Learn How! Neal grinned. The flyer was 100% Mozzie. He was amazed at how much relief he that Mozzie knew where he was. He had backup.

He tucked the flyer was tucked away into the book he was currently reading. Hiding it would draw attention, but a piece of paper as a bookmark should blend in nicely. He started the dishes, the next chore on his list with a lighter heart when he heard the door open. "Location?" Peter called.

"Kitchen." Neal replied, with a sigh. He still wasn't allowed to talk unless asked a direct question. Peter wandered in, poking through the fridge and cupboards. Neal didn't turn away from carefully scrubbing baked on cheese off the pan from last nights lasagne. He felt a tug on his neck as Peter jerked his collar around to check the tracker. Neal bristled, but held his tongue. As if he'd still be here, ruining his hands in dishwasher if he had managed to get out of the tracker.

When Neal finally got the last of the cheese off, Peter wandered back into the kitchen dropping his glass into the dishwater, and the flyer on the counter. "What's this?"

"Junk mail."

Neal flinched when Peter flicked his ear "No, it isn't. What it it?"

Neal reached for a towel to dry his hands. Peter held up a warning finger. "Don't speak unless you're going to give me a proper answer."

Neal shrugged, "Junkmail. I was using it as a bookmark." He turned an accusing stare on Peter, "you better not have lost my spot."

"You'll find it again. Take off your clothes."

"What? Peter-"

"No talking. Take off your clothes. I'm not an idiot Neal, I know who this is from."

Neal skimmed out of his pants, the only thing he was wearing to save his t-shirt from dirty dishwater splashes. When his pants were neatly folded on the counter, he found his hands fluttering by his sides. There was nothing sexual in Peter's gaze, it would almost have been better if there was. That was something Neal could work with, some leverage. This impersonal stare just made Neal feel awkward.

"24 hours. No clothes, you will sleep on the floor in our room, you will not have access to your room. You're not going to be able to hide, that's the punishment."

Neal inhaled, Peter cut him off with a gesture. "Don't make me gag you. Hands behind your back, face the corner, nose to the wall."

Neal's eyes flickered to the sink full of unfinished dishes. "You can finish those later. Corner."

He heard Peter puttering in the kitchen behind him, heard paper tearing and he just knew it was the flyer. He closed his eyes against the anger and despair he felt welling up inside of him. It was a note from a friend, he felt like screaming, that's all. Just a note to say 'Hi, I'm thinking of you'. Couldn't he even keep that?

The leash was tied around his wrists, forcing his back to arch slightly to keep the pressure off his throat. "El will be home soon. Don't move."

Peter's hand in his hair shifted his head so he could place a piece of the flyer between his forehead and the wall. Two other pieces were put by his knees, and he spread his legs slightly to keep them pinned to the wall. "If the papers are not in this position when she comes home, there will be consequences."

Neal nodded slightly, shifting the paper up and down the wall.

Then Peter's warmth moved away from his back, the front door opened and shut again, and Neal was left standing there, willing the blush to fade away.

He closed his eyes, feeling the air currents on his bare skin. He could smell the sunshine scented air of their kitchen. It was warm at least, the position wasn't too awkward. The only problem was that eventually Elizabeth was going to come in. He couldn't get ahead, couldn't get a start anywhere with them, his best tool was taken from him by them not letting him talk, and they were so damned besotted with each other his second best tool was ignored. Even when he was naked in the corner, they just looked at him like a thing. A helpful and occasionally frustrating thing

It felt like forever and a day before he heard the door open again, and Elizabeth's shoes clacked into the kitchen. She stopped just behind him and ruffled his hair gently "Oh Neal." She sounded so disappointed. He waited for the 'what happened this time?' or even a 'will you ever learn?', anything that would give him leave to speak, but she just moved away again.

Neal barely kept back the protest. He had been good, stayed still and quiet, and he was bored and naked and suddenly feeling very exposed. How much longer would she make him wait? Maybe he could break position now and tell her Peter had said he could move when she got home. No, he dismissed that thought as soon as it crossed his mind. She'd tell Peter and he'd end up in even more trouble; he'd tried to play one off the other before, and ended up with 3 days of cold showers. He considered begging, sometimes they liked that but couldn't see her to read her mood, he didn't know how much Peter had told her.

Caught up in his thoughts, he jumped slightly when a warm hand rested on his shoulder. "You can come away now Neal."

He tried not to feel too grateful.

--

"He seems sad." Elizabeth snuggled into her husband's side. They were watching TV together in their bedroom. Typically late night TV watching was done in the living room, but their habits had had to change when Neal was introduced to their household.

"This isn't supposed to be a reward, you know."

"I know, it's just that... he is trying, but he's lonely. Yesterday I came home for a check and he was cleaning with the TV, CD player and the radio on. I didn't say anything and he looked embarrassed when he saw me. He's a social person Peter, without it he's wilting."

"You forget that exposing him to other people, also means exposing other people to him? He's a social person because he plays off of and uses other people."

"And because he likes people." El gently corrected.

"You know there's good reason to not let him talk."

"I know," El sat up slightly, muting the TV they weren't paying attention to anyway. "He's good at manipulating people, language is his weapon, we're preventing him from being able to gain any power, I know all that. But I don't think an hour of conversation with us over dinner will drastically alter the power dynamics in this house."

"Maybe you're right," Peter draped his arm over his wife's shoulders, pulled her in close.

They could hear Neal downstairs, water running in the downstairs bathroom. Then the bell-tone that indicated Neal's door had shut.

"He just put himself into that boring little room. Peter, you should go talk to him. The goal is to rehabilitate him, not break him."

"This could just be a ploy you know. You've seen him, he's been trying to play us with everything he's got, the only thing we've left him is his obedience."

"We'll that's something isn't it? It might be forced obedience, but he's still behaving. He baked a cake for me today."

"What?"

"You came home late," El poked at her husband's shoulder. "You didn't get any."

"You ate a felon's cake?"

"We shared his felonious cake, and it was very good, which is why there is no cake for you. The point is he was doing something nice for us."

"For you."

"Well, yes, for me, but I'm the nice one. We agreed on that before he came. Which is also, by the way, why you need to be the one to talk to him. Actually talk to him. If I do it, I'm just being nice. If you do it it's a reward and an indication we know he's trying."

"We'll talk to him tomorrow then." Peter turned off the TV, and rolled out of bed. "I'll just go lock him in for the night."

--

Outside his door Neal could hear the rustling and muted conversations of Peter and Elizabeth getting ready for their day. They liked having their mornings together; he was typically let out half an hour after they had their breakfast. Most days he just got his list of chores as they headed out the door, it was rare now for one of them to stay home to watch him.

They would leave him a plate of breakfast kept warm in the oven, and the leisure to get ready at his own time. He treasured those mornings where he could shower as long as he wanted (long hot safe showers were still enough of a novelty to be a treat), and he had time to himself. As long as he got his list done, what they didn't know couldn't hurt him.

And that gave him the time to draw.

He sketched on whatever he could pilfer from recycling. He drew tiny, long scenes on the back of paper from the shredder. He didn't dare root around for better paper, not knowing how much attention they paid to those supplies and he really didn't want this taken from him. They were consistent in punishing things they didn't approve of and he wasn't sure what they'd think of this. Even if they didn't mind, it would be something they could use against him later.

They didn't hurt him, he knew he should be thankful for that. They didn't touch him sexually, they didn't beat him, despite being completely within their rights to do so, should they feel the need. They just giveth and taketh away, as they saw fit. But they couldn't take something away if they didn't know about it. It was a small secret, but it was his.

So he fed everything he made through the shredder once it was finished.

He sat up when he heard the key rattling in the padlock outside his door and smiled when Elizabeth poked her head in.

"Good morning Neal, would you come into the kitchen? We need to have a talk."

Neal's stomach sank. A talk. That didn't sound good.
Still he rolled to his feet and dutifully followed. Putting off a punishment never made it any easier, and sometimes he got brownie points for accepting things.

Peter was just he finished up the dishes (doing the dishes, always Neal's job), he glanced of his shoulder at Neal. "Have a seat, you want some coffee?" (coffee, a very rare treat)

That wasn't at all what he expected. Neal froze in the doorway, a moment of panic while he tried to figure out the angle, what the scam was, the ways this would end badly, the ways he could manipulate the outcome. Then he scrambled to school his expression into something, anything but the bad-habit blank face he knew he must be showing. Mozzie had teased him about that tell of a face, but it was rare he got caught so flatfooted. Showing a second of blank was better than a wrong emotion anyway- he tried to kick his brain out of the rambling shock.

Then Peter smirked at him and he knew that Peter knew full well what Neal's expression meant and damnit, now he could manage rueful.

He sat.

By the time Neal had managed to get himself into 'pleasant and curious' Peter had brought him coffee and them at the table.
"You'll be joining us for meals now, when we're both home. During the meals you'll be free to speak however you like. Is there anything that you'd like to say now?"

Neal paused, digesting that information, and the surge of relief. A gift. Daily conversation. He wasn't in trouble.

"Thank you. I look forward to it." Neal mentally winced at the overly formal phrasing. After weeks of biting back words and holding his tongue it was difficult let the words flow. "I think the silence has been the hardest part of all this." He laughed a little, aiming for light-hearted self-deprecation, pleased it came out only a little forced.

"We've noticed" came Peter's dry response. Elizabeth shot him a sharp look and he continued, "We'll be changing things up a little in the next week or so. Just, don't start getting stupid."

Neal nodded, falling back into the safety of silence as they bustled out of the house. He could read the undercurrents of Peter's warning well enough: the longer leash might be just enough to hang himself.

--

There was a pile of folders left on the table.

Peter had spent breakfast complaining about meetings that would take all day. Elizabeth had tried not to gloat too hard about the fact she was going to be spending the day at tastings for potential new caterers.

Peter's folders. Peter's work. Probably unintentionally left in the morning rush. Possibly left as a trap. Neal spent a long time staring at them.

He ran out of interesting books in the house weeks ago, and then ran out of books he hadn't read. The cycle of creation and destruction of his art was wearing. He just wanted to be productive, to do something. He remembered the scams the forgeries, that brilliant moment when he could point to a thing and say 'that, I did that' and he felt alive.

He'd have to move the stack to finish his cleaning tasks. That made perfect sense. And oh look, one of them fell. His hand hovered over the pile. At this point it was an accident. But Peter would be coming home grumpy and he might as well be hung for a sheep as for a lamb.

And besides, he had loads of time before Peter came home. At they very least, this would be more interesting than daytime TV.

--

Turned out it was a lot more interesting. The Dutchman. He could see why this work came home with him. Peter's team had been chasing leads all over. There wasn't anything concrete until they got a tip off on suitcases full of books? He flicked through the folder. A bond. The importer who was killed had visited the archives for a bond, twice... he read more.

The first visit made sense for research, the second had no purpose. He leaned back in the chair, staring at the ceiling. The books. Published the same year as the bonds. The size of the bond, slightly smaller than the books.

Forgeries.

They were planning on forging the bonds.

So why the second visit? A forger good enough to pull this off would know what they needed on the first visit and not risk the second.

He pulled out the copy the FBI had of the bond in the archives. A magnifying glass. He needed a magnifying glass.

Rooting though Peter's office would be impossible to hide. A few drops of water and something plastic would work well enough.

He felt the familiar rush of potential as he moved quickly into the kitchen, looking for a lid, a washer something round. And found a magnifying glass.

Of course Peter would have a magnifying glass in his kitchen junk drawer.

It didn't take long before he found what he was looking for. Curtis Hagen. He knew who the Dutchman was and what his plan was.

Now what.

He had to tell Peter. But Peter would be pissed. He could just put the files back, blame any disorder on the cleaning. But he'd cracked the case how could he not tell?

He was standing over the table, covered in papers when the door banged open. "Neal?"

Fuck.

"Neal." Peter's voice was full of very careful restraint as he came into view of the table. Neal tried not to flinch away. "What are you doing?"

"I know who the Dutchman is."

"Back away from the table. Kneel. Hands on your head" Peter's voice was hard. Neal complied without hesitation, not wanting to anger Peter further. Of all the days for Peter to get home on time, of all the times for him to loose track of time. He stayed there, barely breathing while Peter went through the files on the table. Probably looking for what I took, Neal thought as the fear blended into anger.

He did like the Burkes, and he felt he'd been remarkably well behaved. He hadn't even tried to run once. And they repaid him with boredom, distrust and the occasional minor privilege, which he was expected to be appropriately grateful for. He tried to ignore the small voice pointing out that that was exactly how he did feel and concentrated on the wood grain of the flooring. He was just starting to zone out when Peter threw down the file he was looking at and moved to loom over him.

"Why did you look at the files?"

Neal looked up towards Peter and had his head unceremoniously pushed downwards again.

"I was polishing the table and I knocked the pile-" he said, watching Peter's feet.

"That's a 5-year-old's excuse, Neal, I thought you were smarter than that."

"Exactly!" Neal snapped. He clenched his hands against each other, feeling the tension creep in his back and shoulders and knew that Peter would also be able to see it through the thin t-shirt he was wearing, but he couldn't be bothered to hide his frustration.

"Before you arrested me I was a world renowned art thief. I spent my days being better than some of the most intelligent people in the planet. Sine you've arrested me I haven't let this house. I'm bored out of my head here! Daytime TV is utterly inane. Your personal library leaves much to be desired. The most stimulating thing you've let me do is make dinner. Then you leave this puzzle in the middle of the table, and expect me to just dust around it?"

"I expected you to behave and obey the rules."

Neal seethed. "Well then this little crusade is doomed from it's start if you expected that your gentle teachings could turn me into a perfect little house-boy."

"They could become less gentle" Peter growled pushing further into Neal's space.

"Then do it!" Neal stared up at Peter defiantly. "Hit me, fuck me, do something! You know the law doesn't care what happens. But I'm not going to be sorry for solving your damn case."

There was a long, long pause. Neal felt a flash of fear that he had pushed Peter too far, but he forced himself to keep his posture open and refused to look away.

"Fine, you want to get out of the house, you'll get out." Peter snatched up a basket of restraints, grabbed Neal's collar and dragged him, stumbling, to his feet and out to the back porch.

"Stay" He snapped as Neal started to drop his hands. Neal barely caught the force on his elbows instead of with his face as he was shoved into the siding. Peter tugged Neal's arms down slightly to cuff his wrists to the back of the collar. The leash was clipped to the front and tied off to a support intended for a hanging plant.

It wasn't cold out, but the weather was grey and drizzly. Peter ignored the way Neal was trying to hunch in on himself against the weather and went back inside to calm down. Whatever had to happen next, it wasn't going to happen when he was angry.

He sat at the table, trying to figure out what Neal had found that they had missed. Something in the bond, from the magnifying glass on the table. He set an alarm on his phone, a reminder not to forget about his felon outside, and set to work.

He was still struggling when his phone rang. "Elizabeth," he sighed with relief.

"Peter? What happened?"

"Neal solved the Dutchman case" he admitted. "I accidentally left the files here, and came back to find him elbows deep in them." Peter rubbed at the headache forming between his eyes. "I don't know how he solved it, but he claims he knows who the Dutchman is."

"Why don't you just ask him?"

"Because he's currently tied outside cooling his heels before one of us did something stupid."

"Ah. Well, I was calling to tell you I'd be getting home early. Do you want me to pick up dinner?"

"You'd better" Peter leaned in his chair to check on Neal through the window. Neal had dropped his arms in as tight as he could with his hands tied behind his neck, and was shifting restlessly from foot to foot to keep warm. "Something warm, and easy to reheat."

--

Neal tried to angle himself to get a glimpse in the window. It looked like Elizabeth had finally come home. He shivered, the cold seeping into his bones, and shifted awkwardly, both wanting and dreading Peter's return.

He flinched when the door opened and Peter came out. Peter's hands felt burning hot where they touched his chilled skin and he couldn't help but lean into the warmth as Peter dragged him into the dining room. The edge of the table cut into hips as he was bent over it. Peter tugged his pants down as Elizabeth took a chair by his head, reaching out to tangle her fingers through his hair, and hold his hand.

He thought he'd appreciate for the numbness when he realized what was happening, but then the first leather thud hit, and the force of the paddle penetrated deep deep deep and he realized it wouldn't make a difference.

He struggled slightly, just to see where it would get him but the hand in his hair just tightened and he couldn't get the leverage to go anywhere. He made a little noise and was told to hush, just hush.
Peter paused in the spanking to sooth the skin with his hand. "If you want to talk you can count, but otherwise hush."

The world faded into nothing more than sensation: the gentle fingers in his hair; the deep pain in his thighs and ass. Eventually there were just the soft touches on his face and he realized his face was damp and his hands were free. A warm blanket was spread across his back, and when he started to stir gentle hands helped him stand and tucked him in on the couch.

"Neal? Hey, Neal. Come on back to us."

He was reluctant to open his eyes, he just wanted to rest in the warmth for a while longer. Apparently reading the files was a big deal. He didn't quite understand that but he could work with that idea. It would have been nice to have known that before the bruises, but this soft warm cocoon was nice. There was rustling and quiet voices, then the warm smell of curry and rich spices.

That was enough to get him to open his eyes to see Peter and Elizabeth and a coffee table full of re-heated Thai takeout.

"Here." Elizabeth presented him with a plate. "Eat and we'll talk."

Neal shifted gingerly into a sitting position, pulling the blanket tight around his shoulders as he got settled with the plate. "What are we talking about?"

"What just happened" Peter sat down, plate on his lap. "Neal, we do want to give you a chance to become useful. But you realize why digging through personal files wasn't acceptable."

Neal nodded, picking absently at the food and refrained from pointing out that they weren't Peter's files they were the FBI's files. He didn't think it would help the situation. "I'm sorry."

"You're right though, it's unfair to expect you to do nothing all day, and if you did manage to crack this case it proves you could be very useful. I'll talk to my boss we'll see if we can figure something out, maybe get some cases for you to consult on." He paused to stare Neal straight on, his face deadly serious. "If you try to use this opportunity to play me, or the bureau, I will stop you."

That was unexpected. Not the warning, that was pretty par for the course for conversations with Peter. But after everything that had happened today, he didn't expect Peter to take his side. It was almost worth the beating.

"Now" Peter leaned forward, and Neal felt himself responding to Peter's eager anticipation. "You wanna tell me about what you found on the Dutchman?"

--

After a week of Neal working through cases at home under Peter's careful supervision, he was granted permission to shadow Peter at the office.

When they had left the house, Neal had been eager, pleased with the change of scenery, deftly managing the length of the required leash trailing from his collar Peter's hand.

Neal's chipper demeanour didn't last though. He tried, Peter could tell, but the stares and the comments all wore him down. He had danced through various personas, shuffling them like cards in a deck. Flirtatious became whore. Happy became slut. Disdainful or any attempt to not notice looks turned the comments pointed mutterings of 'deserves to be beaten down'.

Peter's presence had been requested at a crime scene downtown. They'd been dropped there only to discover that the scene hadn't been fully processed yet. Neal wasn't allowed in. A felon's presence would invalidate anything found inside.

He also couldn't be left loose.

Peter locked him to a street sign, Neal looking wary. And of course Peter had gotten caught up with idiotic questions. By the time he had gotten back outside to collect his felon, a man and a woman had Neal backed up right against the pole, with the woman pressed up against his front, pinning him in place while she explored him with her lips and hands. The leash dangled down his back and tangled Neal's hands in the small of his back, where the man held him in place, urging his girlfriend along.

"Hey!" Peter felt a spark of something as the pair jerked away and Neal's wide eyes met his. "Back off!"

"He's just a thing." The man muttered as they moved away.

"A federal thing" Peter corrected, as he freed Neal's hands and unlocked his leash from the pole. Neal slipped smoothly behind Peter to stand half a pace behind his shoulder, Peter could feel the tension radiating from him. So far the couple's actions barely counted as a misdemeanour, but Peter dared them to push it. Instead they walked off and Peter turned his attention to Neal instead.

"You okay?"

"Yeah" Neal sighed, and all the tension left him. He ran a hand through his hair in an attempt to neaten the after-effects of the woman's explorations. "Just... it's been a day."
Peter watched him carefully, but his body language matched his words; tired, worn down, a little faded, but not damaged.

"Let's get back then. We'll find some nice interesting unsolved cases and hole up in my office for the rest of the day."

That got a flicker of a smile.

Now Neal was quietly following half a step to Peter's left, his head down and his hands quietly folded behind his back. Peter sighed but there wasn't much he could do about that now.

Half a block before the FBI building, Neal tugged on his leash to get Peter's attention, then paused with his hand slightly raised for permission to speak.

"Before we go in, do you mind?" He nodded towards the knot of smokers outside the building, "After today, I need a smoke."

Peter scanned the knot noticing Jones, and a silhouette familiar from Caffrey's surveillance photos. He was pretty positive that it wasn't nicotine Neal was looking for, but after today he didn't have the heart to deny him.

"Go ahead"

For the second time that day Peter pulled out Neal's leash lock and attached him to a handy pole. He ignored the new tension in Neal's shoulders, and passed off the key to Jones with instructions to bring Neal in once they were done. As he was walking away, the small strange man sidled up to Neal to offer him a cigarette and got an real smile in return.

Jones would keep an eye on Neal, and a moment with a friend might help counter the rest of the day.

Once home, Neal waited just long enough to be released from his leash before shutting himself in his room.

"Honey?" Elizabeth came downstairs, looking curiously at Peter. "Did something happen?"

Peter pulled his wife in tight. "Neal just had a bit of a rough day adjusting to how people see him now."

He could feel Elizabeth nod against his chest. "A good day for a present then?"

"Yeah" Peter felt a smile edge onto his face. "Yeah a good day for that"

Elizabeth leaned into his chest to give him a quick peck before going upstairs to retrieve a thin sketch pad and pack of pencils. A quick scrawled note on the cover, There's more where this came from!, and she slid them under Neal's door.

They'd bring him a plate when supper was ready.

--

"I can't believe you did that."

Neal didn't respond, his speaking privileges had been revoked and he didn't dare incur Elizabeth's further ire. He stumbled over the threshold as Elizabeth jerked his leash.

"Did you think I wouldn't notice? Is that it? That I'm just the silly wife?"

"What? No!"

"Shush!" She leaned into him, placed her finger against his lips. "Strip. Go kneel in the corner. Grab your cushion, you're going to be there for a while."

Neal watched her head up the stairs before he slowly started slipping off his jacket. She was angry, much more angry then he expected, especially if she was going upstairs. The baskets downstairs held the basics. Upstairs meant today was going to be a bit more creative.

Everything was folded nicely on the coffee table, and Neal was kneeling on his cushion when he heard Elizabeth come back downstairs.

"Close your eyes, hold out your hands."

He obeyed, didn't move when cloth covered his eyes, ensuring he wouldn't peek. He did flinch at the sharp sting of the crop across his palms. At Elizabeth's displeased noise, he opened his hands up again.

"Good boy. Now open your mouth."

When she pushed the metal of a ring gag into his mouth, it was his turn to make a sound of protest.

"I know you don't like this gag. That's why you're wearing it today."

Neal tipped his head back slightly as Elizabeth continued to work.

There was another smack of the crop on his upturned palms. He got the point, but palms were tender, he hoped this wouldn't continue too long. But he barely had time to finish that thought before Elizabeth stopped and there was the soft slither of rope and her hands on his as she moved his arms behind his back.

He could feel the saliva building up in his mouth and he swallowed awkwardly as rope was wrapped around his hands, and wrists. Elizabeth worked her way up his arms, and across his torso, and down his thighs, creating a web of ropes that effectively eliminated any possibility of movement. Hands lifted his calves. He tensed felt a surge of panic as it threw off his balance but Elizabeth was there, leaning against him to provide support as his calves were tied to his thighs. When he had his balance again, the ends trailing from his hands were tied to his ankles.

But by the time he had gotten settled again, saliva had wet his chin. He could feel himself flush with embarrassment, as he tried to regain control. This was why he hated this kind of gag, his mouth dry and too wet all at once.

"There." Gentle hands wiped his face. "You are going to sit here and think about what you did." She paused then ran a hand through his hair. "I'll be working at home, if there's something wrong, yell."

And then Neal was alone. He carefully shifted against his bonds but his limited exploration failed to reveal even a single knot within each of his fingers. With that distraction proving empty, he was left with his thoughts. His thoughts and the all-encompassing restraint of the ropes.

There was nothing he could do.

He relaxed.

There just soft darkness. The fabric of the cushion under his knees, the fibers of the rope that encased him, the ache in his jaw. His fingers moved absently against the strands he could reach.

"Neal." Neal startled in surprise as Peter's voice jerked him out of the darkness.

"You pick-pocketed."

It wasn't a question, Neal didn't respond. Besides, there wasn't much he could say. Even if he could say anything with the gag in his mouth. He became aware that his mouth was uncomfortably dry, and there was dampness on his chin and chest. His feet were starting to tingle.

"Why did you do that Neal? We've given you everything you need, and most of the things you wanted. Did we ever do anything that indicated you couldn't ask for something? That you had to steal for something?"

Neal didn't move. He could hear movement from his room, like Peter was pacing back and forth in front of his position on the floor. Sure they were willing to give him things he wanted, but only as tools: Neal was sexually assaulted today but he's useful, so let's give him some paper and a couple of pencils so he'll stay useful. Neal helps solve cases, we'll let him get himself a coffee. But now that they were annoyed, he was sure the things they knew he liked would be the first to go. Thankfully the things they used to bargain with him were also things he could bargain with.

"You're outside privileges are revoked. I'll bring files home to keep you busy, but you won't be leaving the house for a week. At minimum."

This time Neal very carefully didn't respond. Peter made a thoughtful noise, like he'd caught it anyway.
Hands immediately untied the blindfold, waiting a beat for Neal to close his eyes before they pulled his darkness away. While he blinked away the light spots, Peter unbuckled and removed the gag.

Neal worked his jaw, tried to wipe his chin against his shoulder. Peter disappeared into the kitchen for a moment and came back with a glass of water. Neal drank, grateful for the kindness and not sure how he felt about that. Peter pulled a chair up in front of Neal.

"You relaxed when I told you you'd be working from home. Why?"

Neal shook his head.

"I saw it to, Neal." Elizabeth laid a hand on Peter's shoulder. They two of them looked expectant and Neal shifted uneasily.

"Am I going to have to get this from someone else? Because you know I will."

There was tension and frustration brewing in his body, he could feel the urge to move, to get away, to leave, to run. Now he started struggling.

"Woah, woah. Calm down." Peter's dropped to his knees beside him, one hand heavy on the back of his neck, the other on the side of his face to force his attention.

"What's happening at the office Neal?"


"What are you doing?"

"Mortgage fraud cases for Agent Burke." Neal looked up at the Agent. Peter was in meetings all morning, Neal had been installed into conference room, leash locked to the chair, with a stack of files to keep him busy. It hadn't been a bad morning, until now.

"No, what are you doing in the chair?"

"I- working." Neal got a sinking feeling in his stomach. He stood. "You can have it."

"I don't want your chair, I want you to remember your place." The man strode forward, kicked the chair out from between them. Neal clutched at his leash against the jerk on his collar.

"I want you to remember you aren't an agent. You aren't special. Kneel"

Neal went down on his knees, head bowed, hoping Peter would be out of his meeting soon.

"Hands"

Neal barely had time to register before the Agent grabbed and cuffed his hands behind his back. A foot on the center of his back shoved him forward. The chair dragged across the carpet as he fell, catching himself on his shoulder and cheek. He settled himself into position, forehead pressed into the carpet and took deep calming breaths.
"I'm sorry." Humility rarely hurt in situations like this.

"And shut up."

Neal could hear people file in. He stayed with his forehead pressed into the drab institutional carpet. Laughter, snickering, a couple of lewd comments began the meeting, but he relaxed as they got down to business. But then someone dropped into the chair he was attached to, dropped their feet on his back.

Oh god. His fingers curled into fists. But that incurred a thump of a heel into his ribs, and he relaxed them. Relaxed everything they could see. Peter will be here soon. Or they'll get bored. Or the meeting will end. This will end eventually. Maybe this would ruin the horrid suit he was wearing.


"Was that the only incident?"

Neal couldn't look Peter in the eye, remembering the other daily humiliations. "No"

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"When things got bad, Jones and Cruz would usually pull me out with some excuse. I thought you knew."

"Why didn't they-"

"Please don't get mad at them." Neal cut in desperately, remembering coffee breaks and lunches and time spent with them looking Very Busy until the idiots had something better to do. Neal knew full well what his rights were, there wasn't a whole lot that Jones or Cruz could do.

"I'm not mad at them." Peter left a distracted hand on Neal's shoulder as he ran the other hand through his hair.

"Well, we'll figure something out. As for now, you're still in trouble for picking pockets, even if it was just an attempt to get grounded. And next time you have a problem, just tell me." Peter replaced the blindfold, and with one final pat, walked away.

Minutes later he heard the sound of a jar opening and Peter's footsteps returned. "Lunch time."

Neal made a face. He was hungry, but he knew that sound meant this meal was going to be from the selection of jarred baby food the Burkes stocked in case of his misbehaviour.

"Don't look like that, you know how this works."

Neal smiled winningly in the direction Peter's voice had come from. While they were shopping this morning, Elizabeth had talked about lunch plans that had made his mouth water. "I thought that maybe today you'd take the extenuating circumstances into consideration."

There was a smile in Peter's voice as he answered. "I did. That's why you're getting apricots and mixed fruit, and not strained peas. Open up."

Neal sighed. Well that was something. If he was going to have to have baby food, at least it would be tasty baby food.

--

Elizabeth smiled her thanks as Peter brought a mug of tea. Neal was taking a shower, which Elizabeth suspected might turn into a nice long soak in the tub if they gave him time. He liked his creature comforts, when they let him have them. Like the suits that today's shopping trip was supposed to acquire as a reward for his weeks of good work at the office. Neal had waited until they were almost done before she caught him with someone else's wallet in his hand. That had ended their trip right then and there.

Peter sat down across from her, looking tired. "He was getting stand-off-ish at work, he's always known the value of a good suit. I thought new clothes would help him feel a bit more comfortable. Now, I don't know whether I should risk taking him back. Linking legitimate work to abuse is not exactly the thing we're going for here."

"He was pleased at the chance to get new clothes today. You were right on that one. And he does enjoy the work."

"But I can't keep exposing him to that, and I can't protect him every moment."

"So," she stood up to lean over Peter's shoulders, "shorten his days, don't bring him in when you know you're going to be in meetings. Cruz and Jones will help. He seems to like them, and they've already been going out of their way to keep an eye on him. Give the excuse of him acting out and needing to be under constant supervision by your team if that's what's needed."

Peter smiled up at her, pressed a kiss into her hand. "Have I mentioned how wonderful you are lately?"

"First time today."

"I forgot to ask, how did things go this afternoon with him? That's the first time you've been alone for a punishment."

"It went fine. He was very well behaved. The only time he broke the rules to protest was when I suggested he tried this with me because he though I wasn't smart enough to catch him."

Upstairs they heard the water shut off, and Peter leaned his head into Elizabeth. She frowned. "Do you think we have to be worried about this?"

"I don't know, it could be anything. If things are as bad as he said, it was probably to get a break from work. But it could also be that he's starting to feel trapped and was prepping a backup plan." Peter stood. "That's the one that worries me."

"I don't think you have to worry too much. He likes it here. He just isn't ready to admit it."

Peter closed his eyes for a moment, then stepped away into the kitchen. "I wish I was as sure as you."

Elizabeth went back to her tea, listening to the comforting noises of Neal in the bathroom, and Peter in the kitchen. She picked up her mug as the bathroom door opened to give Neal a bit of privacy as he went to bed. He tended to look bit awkward in the time after the aftercare of a punishment, like he didn't know exactly how he should be acting.

She was at the kitchen door when Neal got downstairs, a towel around his waist. His eyes flicked over to her for a moment before dropping down again, so she was able to watch unobtrusively as Neal paused at his open door. Confusion and surprise showed on his face before he continued inside and shut the door behind him.

Elizabeth let the kitchen door swing shut. He played the suave con-man, but he never seemed to expect kindness, and it never failed to throw him off his game. And that never failed to make her smile.

--

The shower had helped wash away the sweat and the stiffness of his hours restrained, though Neal knew he'd still be feeling it tomorrow.

His small room was almost comfortable now. There were a few pictures on the walls, (one of them carefully taped together from shredder strips, presented by a shyly smiling Elizabeth just after he'd been given the sketchbook), a small bookshelf, a radio, a shelf for his clothes. The one suit he had was hanging off the side of the shelf. Today's shopping trip was supposed give him a few more options, because they knew it mattered to him.

He really wasn't entirely sure how to take them. Peter was actually angry when he heard about the incidents at work, and annoyed that Neal hadn't just talked to him. The time spent bound after lunch was because of his use of manipulation instead of conversation to solve his problem.

But despite that annoyance, they hadn't even taken anything away after today. He had expected his room to be stripped bare again, as they had made it clear that everything in that room was a privilege. The room had been searched, presumably to make sure that had been his first attempt at lifting wallets. His new suits were nowhere to be seen, but he wouldn't need them during this week at home.

Home. Now that was an odd thought.

--

This is my chance was Neal's first thought upon seeing the gun.

Neal could just slip out the warehouse's side door. Peter was busy attempting to talk down Andrews, who was currently holding a gun to Peters head, so Peter wasn't going to be looking for Neal any time soon. No one would notice.

Then his second thoughts said But Peter- and this third thoughts got him moving.

"You really don't want to do that." Neal stepped out from behind the shelving, cutting through Andrews' threats.

"Oh? Don't I?"

"No. You don't. See, he's an FBI agent, there'll be all sorts of people looking for you if you kill him, and even more people looking for you if you kidnap him. And when they catch you, well, law enforcement types don't like people who hurt other law enforcement types." He could see Peter attempting to catch his eye, but Neal ignored him. Projecting helpful and sincere and just a little bit slippery as well as he possibly could.

"What you want is me." Carefully, Neal tugged down his tie, pushed aside his shirt collar to display the strip of metal around his throat. "I used to do what you do and I was good at it. I can be useful to you."

"So good they caught you, eh?" The gun didn't waver from Peter's head. Neal tried very hard not to let that distract him.

"Good enough they're willing to use me." He risked a glance towards Peter, who was looking decidedly displeased. Neal wasn't sure if that anger was at him or the suspect. "Besides they could only ever pin one job on me."

Andrews was wavering, wanting to be convinced, so Neal took another step closer.

"What have you got to lose? I'm useful enough to him I'll make a decent hostage, but I'm a Felon, if you get caught with me, you'll get a particularly strict sentence for stealing federal property. That's nothing in comparison to kidnapping an FBI agent."

"I could just kill you."

"Yes. You could. Then you'll be destroying federal property. And no matter which way you choose, I won't have to live like a trained monkey anymore."

"Okay..." the man nodded approvingly. "Cuff the agent then. We'll be on our way."

Neal smiled, as he reached for Peter's cuffs. He had to admit there was a certain thrill to closing the metal over Peter's wrists, considering the number of times their positions had been reversed.

Neal smiled again then kicked Peter not so gently in the ribs and followed Andrews out of the warehouse, into the sunlight.

--

Peter groaned as he straightened from when he had curled around the blow, feeling the handcuffs slip on his wrists. That miserable little bastard. Peter still had his official cuffs on his belt, the cuffs Neal had used were the pair Peter kept on hand to use on Neal. A pair Neal had apparently managed to switch out for the pair with a faulty lock. The pair Peter thought he had thrown out a week ago. Peter slipped them off, pulled out his backup weapon and moved quietly to do the door.

--

Come on Peter, come on... Neal didn't want to get into the car with Andrews. Really really didn't, and he could only stall so long. He still had the GPS tracker on his collar as a backup, and he was pretty sure that Peter would come after him. He was also mostly sure that the tracker would be removed the moment Andrews realized it existed.

And then Peter was there, and Neal had a moment of relief before Peter was yelling, and Andrews was yelling and Neal missed most of what was happening because Andrews' first reaction upon seeing Peter was to put a bullet into Neal. Ow. And he was wearing one of his nice new suits today to. Now he was sitting on the dusty parking lot, leaning against a dusty car, watching the blood soak into his cuffs.

Then there were sirens and Peter leaning into his face "Neal? You still with me?"

Right. Peter. Neal blinked the world back into focus, and tried to figure out how to respond though the haze of pain. "Ow?"

"Damn right ow. What were you thinking?"

Neal frowned. "He had a gun?"

Peter stared at him for a long moment, then Neal blinked and Peter was moving away and the EMTs were closing in.

--

Neal couldn't wait to get out of the hospital. But right now he really wanted to be able to move his hands. His hair was driving him crazy. A lock of his hair flopped down into his eyes again, and Neal sighed. Policy stated that he had to be in restraints at all times. The soft leather restraints locked each hand to its respective bed rail gave him a bit of movement, enough to sleep comfortably, but not enough to really do anything. Especially anything that involved his hands near his head. Smearing it up against his pillow was only a temporary fix. He debated the benefit of getting his hands into his hair vs the pain that squirming down his bed would cause.

He could pick the locks, but... he considered the moment when he had first woken up from surgery, alone, with his collar gone for the first time in months. A wave of panic had flooded through him at that realization. But Peter had shown up soon after, and now Neal was pretty he'd be going back with the Burkes. Mostly. He didn't want to ruin what chances he had if there was any doubt of him staying with them.

A nurse interrupted that train of though, to check his vitals and make sure he wasn't quietly dying.

"Hey" he grinned. "Would you mind just doing me a small favor? My hair is driving me batty."

The nurse gave him a tight smile, and nudged the lock back before continuing the examination.

"Thanks." Neal could feel it starting to slide down again, but at least he had gotten some reaction from the nurse. It was more than he usually got. He debated his options for a moment, then decided that he might as well push his luck today.

"I don't want to impose, but what are the chances of me getting let up for a wash?"

"We'll see" She replied shortly. Ah. Neal recognized that tone. That was customer-service-ese for 'not in your lifetime'.

Neal tried for charming, but the movement of his head caused his hair to slip down into his eyes again. "Maybe you could just let me loose for just a moment? While you're here? I'll be on my best behaviour"

The nurse finally turned to look at Neal straight on "You're no going to talk me into giving you any breaks, Felon, so give up."

Felon, while technically it was the socially appropriate appellation, it still stung. No reason to give up though.

"Hey, I got shot protecting an FBI agent." Neal tried his best wounded innocence look.

An unimpressed "Uh huh" was all the response he got as the nurse finished up and left the room. Elizabeth entered seconds later.

"Not exactly your biggest fan."

Neal sighed, partially wanting a break from performing, but mostly glad Elizabeth was there.

"It's a tough crowd." They still weren't talking about what had happened in the warehouse. It had been decreed that the discussion would occur when they got home, and they refused any conversation beyond that.

"Still" Elizabeth leaned in to comb his hair back with her fingers. "I'm sorry you're having such a rough time here."

Neal couldn't help but lean into the touch, and Elizabeth, wonderful Elizabeth, didn't comment, just let her hand linger.

"Not everyone's as tolerant of felons as you and Peter." He took a deep breath and let some of the tension out of his body. "It's not that bad. I get to look forward to your visits every day."

Elizabeth gave him a look like she knew exactly how he was sugar coating the truth, and Neal met her gaze with a guileless expression and his best smile. He was given perfectly adequate care, just nothing extra. It wasn't her fault, and there wasn't anything she could do about it.

"It's better than where I was," he offered.

"Well, to the reason I came." Elizabeth lifted a small cooler onto Neal's table. "I heard you're approved for solid foods, want to help me test gelato suppliers?"

Neal beamed. "I'd love to."

--

The next day he was discharged with a bag of prescriptions. He was just glad to get out of there and back to where it was safe. Also a shower.

He was pleasantly buzzed on painkillers as Peter and Elizabeth bundled him into the car. Neal let their comfortable conversation wash over him, distracted by the changing pattern of shadows and sunshine through the window.

"You agree with me don't you Neal?"

"Huh?" he responded, elegantly. He blamed the drugs.

"You were miles away." Elizabeth reached a hand back to Neal's knee, just to make contact. She did things like that, just to remind him he was here. He loved those little moments.

"In the land of the good drugs." Neal responded happily.

"No one sober could be that interested in shadows." Peter's voice was fond, and Neal smiled to hear it.

"Hey, art is all about light and shadow-" he trailed off at their grins, pouting theatrically. "You should be nice to me. I'm injured."

"You're already getting El's pot roast for dinner. Don't be greedy."

Getting out of the car was awkward and painful, but Neal felt warm and content as Peter followed him into the house, ready to catch Neal should be stumble.

"You're saying that as if you don't also get the roast." Neal lurched towards the couch as soon as they got inside then closed his eyes. He wasn't going to move until ever.

"So, do you want to wash up before or after dinner?"

"Oh before, please." Okay that was worth moving for. He could probably manage the energy to have a shower, especially for the reward of being clean.

"Come up when you're ready, then. I'll get things started." Even better. Peter sounded like he had something planned. Neal might be able to get clean without exacerbating the pain. He gave Peter a few minutes, then with a deep breath, levered himself off the couch.

By the time Neal got upstairs the bathroom was toasty warm from as a result of the space heater in the corner. Neal didn't remember it being in here when he was cleaning so Peter must have brought it in. Peter was waiting wtih plastic wrap and medical tape.

"Strip down and have a seat." Peter gestured towards the plastic stool he had set in the bathtub. "What will you need help with?"

Neal remembered when it felt odd to be naked in front of people. Now it was practically normal. He let his pants slither to the floor, then tested his range of motion. "Just my hair, I think."

"Sure," Peter held his elbow to steady him into the tub. "I'll do that first then leave you to the rest."

Once Neal was seated Peter taped the plastic over the bandages, then he took down the hand-shower.

Now this, this was bliss. Neal leaned one shoulder against the wall, as Peter's fingers scrubbed through his hair. He had to be using Elizabeth's shampoo as Neal doubted Peter was such a fan of lemongrass. Peter gently tipped Neal's head back, cupped his hand against Neal's forehead to prevent any soap from dripping into Neal's eyes as he rinsed out the shampoo, then started in on the conditioner, massaging it into Neals' scalp. Neal bit back a moan.

Peter paused at that. "How are you doing?"

"Just fine" Neal slurred.

Peter chuckled and resumed his task. "You gonna be able to stay awake through this?"

"Mostly." Neal quirked a smile, not bothering to open his eyes.

Peter ran a final rinse, then nudged Neal in the shoulder. "It's all you now."

"Yeah." Neal roused himself to take the hand shower and soap and started the work of sending a weeks worth of hospital stink and sweat and stress running down the drain.

"Come downstairs when you're ready. There's no rush"

--

Neal could hear Elizabeth and Peter in the kitchen when he left the bathroom and headed for his room in search of socks. Peter had left almost everything he needed in the bathroom. He nudged open his door, and his stomach sank. Suddenly, he was very glad Peter and Elizabeth were occupied. His room had been stripped bare.

Neal took a deep breath, then carefully closed the door. There was no point in letting them know that he knew until he was ready to deal with that, until he had figured the best way to play this.

The most important thing was the why. He had a few options. It was possible they didn't want him around anymore, but then it would have been easier to just leave him in the hospital and file the paperwork from there. So this was probably a punishment. He didn't have any insurance, and he had gotten himself shot. That had to be it.

He could imagine what the final bill would be like for them. It would make sense for them to cut back on some of the costs regarding him for a while. They had promised he would always have basic amenities, and the heavenly shower proved they didn't want to remove everything enjoyable. So he'd probably be up on their bedroom floor tonight, where they'd also be able to keep an eye on him, and he'd be given the chance tomorrow to start earning back certain items. Probably by helping cover the costs of his care.

Well, Neal was not without resources. He could see if he could get access to an internet connection and sell art his online. He'd make sure to what extra cases he could help with. And in the meantime he'd could provide entertainment. He could make himself useful enough to be worth the price.

Satisfied, Neal put on a smile and went to help set the table.

Dinner was delicious. Neal kept up the smile and played charming guest, full of stories. He was pretty sure he pulled it off, even if they kept exchanging looks when they thought he wasn't looking. If he could read them right they were suspicious that something was up, but were still looking for confirmation.

"Neal, are you okay?" It was Elizabeth who finally asked. Like it was going to be that easy.

"I'm just feeling a little wiped. I think I should just go to my room." There was another glance, something that Neal couldn't read.

"Okay," Peter sat back and looked Neal straight on. "Your things are in the guest room. Let us know if you need help with anything."

Guest room upstairs. Neal blinked, then tried somewhat desperately to recover, knowing it was too late. There was no way Peter would have missed that. Still, he started to stand hoping they wouldn't mention it.

"Woah. Hold up there, Neal." Neal sat back down at Peter's voice.

"You checked your old room didn't you?" Neal didn't say anything, and Peter didn't seem to need a reply. "Did you really think that we would have you sleeping on the floor?"

"I was stupid, and got shot. I can help with the costs, sell my art, work extra cases. I'll try to help make it up to you." Neal cut himself off before he really started babbling.

"First, you got shot in an operation saving an FBI agent, the agency is covering everything. So don't worry about that."

"Oh." He hated this, and they kept doing this. Coming out of left field with something, then watching with those smiles when they when they caught him wrong-footed and trying to catch up.

"Wait a moment" El cut in. "Can we just get back to the bit where you saved Peter's life and you thought we'd be mad."

"I wasn't supposed to be there." Neal protested weakly. When she put it like that-

"Neither was the suspect." Peter cut in dryly.

"So I'm not in trouble then?"

"Not for anything aside from slipping the trick handcuffs into my belt." Peter had on his serious face but he couldn't maintain it. "But I think we'll count time served in the hospital towards that."

Neal felt himself smiling, despite his best efforts, as he digested that information. He looked over to Elizabeth and Peter, who appeared to be attempting to have an entire conversation through telepathy. Neal decided to give them a break and stood.

"The tired bit was true. I'll head upstairs if you don't mind."

"Go ahead." El waved him off.

"I'll be up to see you in a bit." Peter called after him.

Neal turned to acknowledge the comment then continued on upstairs to the guest room. He poked through the drawers and closets. Everything he had was there, plus some extras of the basics to make the larger drawers look less empty. His pictures had even been framed and properly hung. It felt like home.

Peter was up 20 minutes later, presumably after finishing whatever discussion he and Elizabeth so desperately wanted to have. By that time Neal had made himself comfortable in bed, a book propped up on his knees, his toes tucked under the covers.

He put the book down and looked up as Peter leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms.
"Look Neal. I know this program has been abused and your view's probably very different from mine. But you know it was supposed to help rehabilitate people." Neal nodded, wondering where this was going.

"If you can demonstrate that you are, or can become, a productive member of society and not likely to go back to your thieving ways then there can be a time limit on this arrangement. A couple of years and you'll be out of here."

A time limit. Neal didn't even know what to think about that. As far as he had known this arrangement was for life. The best case scenario was getting released into the custody of someone who didn't abuse him. And now, not only did he have people who actually wanted to help him, but he had people who were going to set him free.

"And if I wanted to stay?"

Peter smiled. "Then we could work something out."

Date: 2010-06-08 07:10 pm (UTC)
dariaw: (Default)
From: [personal profile] dariaw
This is SOOOO good - it's just the right blend of angst and kink and sweetness!

Date: 2010-06-08 08:56 pm (UTC)
vain_glorious: (Default)
From: [personal profile] vain_glorious
I really enjoyed this story. I hope to see more in this 'verse.

Date: 2010-06-11 11:01 pm (UTC)
forestgreen: charchoil picture: Iason embracing Riki possessively and Riki reluctantly surrendering. Charecters from Ai No Kusabi (Default)
From: [personal profile] forestgreen
I enjoyed this story a lot. I loved the tightrope you walked between angst, tension and building friendship. It was excellently pulled off.

I would like seeing more of this. Thanks for sharing it with us.

Date: 2010-06-12 05:36 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I'm looking forward to read this all again here--and excited to learn there might be more!

Date: 2010-06-12 06:55 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Thanks for reposting this in one easy to read format!

Still loving it. ;p

Kip

Date: 2010-06-20 07:29 am (UTC)
bientot: EPN heart in the sand (E+P+N)
From: [personal profile] bientot
I followed this like crazy on LJ CollarKink and it's even better now that it's pulled together - you've made an improbable idea into a wonderful AU!
Edited (tag fail) Date: 2010-06-20 07:30 am (UTC)

Date: 2010-06-28 09:40 pm (UTC)
purrfus: (Default)
From: [personal profile] purrfus
Found this on the lj community, which is bad because no summaries and I almost skipped this which would be very bad.

Beautifully blended. You brought all the elements together and totally rocked them.

Date: 2010-07-20 04:27 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] silverwolf
I really really enjoyed this. Great fic.

Date: 2010-07-24 09:49 pm (UTC)
deaniebtvs: (Default)
From: [personal profile] deaniebtvs
Very nicely written story. I'm impressed how you mananged to keep all three of them in character, even though the situtation was so not what you'd find on TV. Excellent story.

Date: 2010-09-04 02:13 pm (UTC)
foxyfurs: (Default)
From: [personal profile] foxyfurs
Gorgeous. I'm a sucker for well-written h/c and this soooo fit the bill!

*fangirls you!*

Date: 2011-03-22 04:54 am (UTC)
meret: (greengoddessM)
From: [personal profile] meret
Great story! I really enjoyed this, and hope to see more in the universe. :)

Date: 2013-09-21 09:52 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
(He was given perfectly adequate care, just nothing extra. It wasn't her fault, and there wasn't anything she could do about it. )

I don't think so. She's not being a decent nurse. A bitch more like it. I dissapointed El didn't complain.

Date: 2013-10-04 05:15 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I hate the burkes.
They are so cold to neal and like to humiliate him and act like its fir his own good. And even after know that Neal has been abused by his staffs, i didnt see any remorse or say sorry for not noticing or dissapointment that he has assholes coworkers.

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oper_1895: Neal Caffrey in a suit. (Default)
oper_1895

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