Pairing: Peter/Neal (with approving El)
Summary/Notes: When Neal spends a month helping out at another office, Peter and Neal play a game by phone to keep things interesting. Sexting. Brief mentions of sexual explicitness. Definite elements of dominance/submission in their relationship. This was based on the picture challenge for lotw at lj.
When they started it, it was clear; it wasn't just a game. It was a competition.
Neals only rule was this: whatever Peter told Neal to do, Neal had to obey.
Peter's only rule was this: Peter could only tell Neal what to do in a single text message. No add-ons, no filling in the loopholes with "and don't you even think about..." All he had were 160 characters to fence in Neal's overgrown, impudent subversive streak. So no matter what Peter said, it would always be just the shadow, the outlined essence, of an order.
They had been together for a while, of course, and so it's not like power exchange was new to them. If anything, the power exchange preceded the actual relationship by several years. But they had never really tried anything like this, this little contest of cleverness and will. Until now, they had somehow found the good sense not to blur the last discernible smudges of the once-wide line between personal and professional - between one kind of ownership and another.
But neither of them were all that good at backing down from a chance to prove their brilliance. And besides, this would be one of the few ways to keep their relationship going while Neal was being "loaned out" to the Los Angeles office for a month.
And so they played.
The first thing that surprised Peter was that Neal actually did obey. He didn't catch Neal breaking his rule, not once. He supposed it was because disobeying would have meant conceding victory, and Neal wouldn't ever want to do that.
But more importantly, if it weren't for the few minutes every day they dedicated to their game, they would have gone days at a time without communicating at all. The first few nights they talked a lot, but soon there were cases and leads and files and meets and stakeouts and any number of things to keep them from having more than a few minutes, and there were some days when they were so stressed that if they had tried to do more than play their game, they certainly would have ended up arguing. They both understood, however, why the other man needed to work; Peter didn't want his rates to fall too drastically without Neal on his team (though Peter wouldn't mind if they fell just enough to remind everyone that it would be better to keep Caffrey in NY once the loan was over). But really, it was the closure rate of Peter's unit that kept all Peter's unconventional methods (i.e., Neal and friends) on the right side of the Bureau.
And of course, Neal wanted to prove that he was well past reverting just because Peter Burke wasn't looking over his shoulder at every second; the fact that Peter had cleverly told him that he was looking forward to seeing Neal outshine those LA agents was probably a motivator as well.
But every day, no matter how busy, Peter would find time to think of something to order Neal to do. And every day, no matter how busy, Neal would do it. For privacy's sake, they used anonymous prepaids that Neal had procured through a source who didn't ask a lot of questions. Which actually meant that he got them from Mozzie, who did indeed ask a lot of questions, until Neal said, "They're for me and Peter. For personal use." At which Mozzie covered his ears and closed his eyes and said, "Please stop right there! I DO NOT WANT THAT IMAGE IN MY HEAD!"
The first night Neal was away, Peter picked something easy. At 10:00 at night, he texted Neal.
MESSAGE FROM PETER'S CELL: Jerk while thinking of me.
A few minutes later, he received a reply.
MESSAGE FROM NEAL'S CELL: Already did an hour ago :)
Peter smiled and decided to just call Neal and talk. They had seen each other that morning, but somehow they got into a little disagreement of whether Hemingway was overrated, and they were enjoying themselves so much that it was 3:00 in the morning before they went to bed, and Neal was almost late the next morning.
But as they both got busier, it became more difficult to find time to talk, and so their game was their only line to each other. Peter would text a message whenever he thought of something for Neal to do, usually in the afternoon or evening. And Neal would respond, sometimes right away, sometimes hours later, confirming he had obeyed.
Peter did his best to keep Neal guessing. He had Neal administer "punishments" to himself, sometimes playful (which Peter liked) and sometimes quite harsh (which Neal actually preferred). Other days, he instructed Neal to explore sensations and report back whether he liked it; Neal would dutifully send back his responses to activities like ice-cube play (loved it), figging (liked it more than he thought), and hot wax (not really).
Sometimes Peter threw in something non-sexual: "Make that dentist appmnt I know you've been avoiding!" Or "I know u skip breakfast when stressed. Stop it." And to Peter's surprise, Neal would obey these orders, too. Despite how much Peter admitted he missed Neal (and if El had been out of town also, Peter would have lost it), it was rather nice discovering this side of Neal, this more pliant version who actually listened.
Once, Peter's constant questions to his LA contacts about how Neal was doing - which even Peter admitted were taking on a mother-hennish quality - turned up a criticism or two. That afternoon, Peter texted: "Great work on case but stop antagonizing Rufus."
Peter was actually really nervous about how Neal would respond to this. Whenever they did a scene together in person, they made work talk completely, 100% off limits.
But Neal just texted back, "Eyeroll. Yes, Peter." The next day he sent Peter a lengthy email about what a philistine Rufus was, and how all that day he was an obedient boy and made nice with Agent Carter Rufus despite said man's lack of personality or ideas. Peter grinned at the message, and that evening texted Neal that he should reward himself with a nice long session with the dildo; it was the first time since Neal left that Peter had given him permission to use it, and around 11PM Peter received a message that said, "Done, sir. Best order ever."
Peter was starting to enjoy this side of the game.
Not just the delicious parts, but also - especially - the orders that weren't all that sexual. It wasn't just the fact that this wider net of obedience meant that Neal was granting him access to his whole LA life, in a way. It wasn't even that Neal was being unusually submissive now that it was just the one order per day.
It was that he liked getting to challenge Neal, making him do something that he really found difficult.
He liked making Neal do things he really didn't want to do.
Particularly if they were things that Neal should really learn how to want to do.
So to Peter, it was a perfectly reasonable that on one afternoon, in the third week of Neal's LA stay, Peter sent a message saying: "Tell me why you first came to New York."
Through the rest of the day, Peter checked the phone every hour. But no response.
He was worried.
At 11:45PM, he texted Neal again.
MESSAGE FROM PETER'S CELL: Do you forfeit?
It wasn't the bravest thing to say, Peter knew. To push and push and push, until the game was something other than a game, and then when things got hairy to call out, "it's just a game, you don't want to lose, do you?"
But at 11:55, Peter's phone buzzed. He grabbed the phone and read.
MESSAGE FROM NEAL'S CELL: Tickets to NY were cheaper than tickets to Chicago.
Peter smiled warily. Technically, this was an answer to his question. Not the answer. But an answer.
Technically, Neal had obeyed.
But Neal could be thinking anything right now.
Peter wanted to call and talk, but he knew that it wasn't the right time to push it. So he sent one last text and went to bed.
MESSAGE FROM PETER'S CELL: Good boy (even if by a technicality). Good night :)
The next day, before Peter could send an order, he received a text.
MESSAGE FROM NEAL'S CELL: Can't talk for a few days. Undercover.
Peter's stomach tensed, mostly from worry. Partly from a suspicion that Neal, even if undercover, really might be able to talk but just was happy to have an excuse not to.
A few calls to LA confirmed that Neal was indeed going undercover for four days. It was a low-danger assignment with plenty of backup. Peter made sure they would send up-to-the-minute updates on any news about the case Neal was on to the New York office, and then did his best to get back to his own work and have some trust in Neal. Peter tried to relax and tell himself that Neal had learned by now not to take too many risks, and to call for help immediately if it looked to be more than a paper crime.
He also told himself that he was overreacting, and that his most recent order couldn't possibly have done more than mildly annoy his lover. Neal, by now, was surely used to Peter being a little intrusive, and the phone silence was just a smart undercover precaution with coincidental timing. Neal, when it came down to it, must like being chased, being pressed, because otherwise, why would he be with someone like Peter?
But Peter was nervous for the entire four days, for more reasons than one, until finally he heard that Neal had gotten access to the files they needed and the DC unit would be making some key arrests.
He texted Neal again that night.
MESSAGE FROM PETER'S CELL: Great job on case. Ready to obey another order?
After a pause, Peter's phone buzzed.
MESSAGE FROM NEAL'S CELL: Sexy orders.
After a second, Peter's phone buzzed again with an addendum.
MESSAGE FROM NEAL'S CELL: Like we talked about when we agreed to play.
Peter wondered how much bristle was there in that response. But he pushed aside the part of himself that wanted to call Neal and defend his actions and decided it would be an argument better fought once he got Neal back into that nice, obedient mindspace that Peter had briefly been able to enjoy. So he tried to think of something that would remind Neal why he loved playing games with Peter, and a few minutes later, he texted his order.
MESSAGE FROM PETER'S CELL: Jack until you're half staff, then take a picture of yourself and send it to me.
Twenty minutes later, Peter received a picture of Neal on his cell phone. He wasn't sure how Neal had rigged the phone position or the lighting, but somehow, it was a photo of Neal in profile, with his face darkened by shadow, and if Peter didn't know every curve and angle of Neal's face and jaw and lashes, he might not even have known it was Neal.
And there, in front of Neal's dick, were Neal's hands. Folded, calm looking, and completely obscuring the beginnings of Neal's erection.
It was such a Caffrey thing to do. To taunt him.
The next night, it was much the same thing.
Peter typed, "Come on your hand and text me a picture of it."
Then he thought better of it and typed, "Come on your hand and text me a picture of the come."
He thought that was quite specific; Neal could send him a picture of just the back of the hand, otherwise.
But later that night, Peter received a picture that was blurred and far too close up to be recognizable as anything explicit or even discernible. If anything, its hazy shadings of beige and white looked more like an abstract painting than a human study. A rather well-composed abstract painting, unsurprisingly.
Peter grinned, only half in frustration. Leave it to Caffrey to literally turn bending the rules into an art form.
The next night, Peter texted, "Spread your cheeks and send me a VISIBLE pic of your hole."
Later that night, he received a close up of Neal's face, his hands spreading his cheeks apart, with his mouth open.
Peter laughed out loud. Of course Neal would find a way to point out that any orifice is, by definition, a hole.
And of course Neal would find a new way to torment him.
Not that Peter minded getting a picture of Neal's lips.
But Peter became determined to get Neal to send him a really good dirty picture, and for the rest of the nights that Neal was away, this is exactly what Peter ordered. But for every order he gave, Neal found a way to make the picture silly or abstract or otherwise abominably clean. And he always found a way to do it so that he was technically obeying orders.
Peter knew why.
This was a message.
This was Neal's way of using the game to push Peter into recognizing something about their relationship; this was direct and proportional retaliation for Peter trying to do the same to Neal.
But it wasn't about Neal being bitter, Peter could tell. At least he hoped. But Peter was pretty sure Neal was having fun with this. It had been a while since they had really had the chance to play against each other at something, even if it were just a contest over who can trick whom into sending what kind of pictures. And Neal's subversions of orders were getting more creative and resourceful by the day, and Peter was as delighted as he was antagonized.
But still, Peter couldn't miss the message his lover was sending: that the only reason Neal Caffrey obeyed a rule was because he enjoyed showing off how good he was, how brilliantly he could devise a way to follow the letter of the rule while completely subverting the spirit in which it was intended.
Neal was saying to him: "You can throw as many rules at me as you want, but I'm always going to figure out a way to do what I want to do, because there's no such thing as a Neal-proof order."
And Peter knew that there might be something to this; there was some part of Neal that believed that nothing was more life-affirming that stretching a rule (almost) to its breaking point. And Peter was starting to think about whether this might be something elemental to Neal, and not just some bad habit that Peter could cure him of. El had even been reminding Peter for a while that he might have to change enough to accept Neal the way he was, instead of waiting for the Neal he could be if he only listened to "reason."
But then again, maybe Neal should just accept Peter's flaws. For instance, Neal could accept that Peter would always want to push Neal into sharing, and being open and honest, and trusting the people who actually cared about him (and Peter was not yet convinced that this was a flaw on Peter's part). So maybe Neal should just learn to live with that. Because if neither of them were willing to give on the basic issue of what it means to share a life with someone... well, that wasn't the same kind of problem as whether to stock beer or wine in the kitchen.
But while Peter knew that his wasn't an issue that would be settled any time soon, he still wanted to win the battle at hand.
But Neal kept finding a way to send pictures of himself that were exactly what Peter asked for but weren't at all what Peter wanted.
The last night before Neal got to return to New York City, Peter texted him his order.
MESSAGE FROM PETER'S CELL: Take a CLEAR naked pic of u that i will love jacking off to.
Neal would of course be able to find a way to subvert the intent of this one if he wanted to. But Peter was counting on the fact that Neal would want to show off how well he knew Peter; Neal would want to demonstrate how good he was at pushing Peter's buttons, at knowing exactly what would make Peter helplessly, desperately hard.
Besides, maybe Neal's vanity would help, too; who would want their lover to jack off to an only-mildly-sexy picture of themself?
A few minutes later, Peter received a picture.
It was Neal, taking a picture of himself in the hotel mirror. No artful lighting, no special set-up, just the cell phone in Neal's hand. Peter could see his nude body from the thighs up, and he looked beautiful, but he wasn't erect, and he was just standing there, not even looking particularly sexual, giving Peter a smile.
On his chest and stomach he had written a message in blue marker, and he must have done it backwards because the mirror showed it as lovely, clear script.
It read, "I love my pushy, nosy, impossible boyfriend, and I can't wait to see him."
Peter couldn't look away. He felt a swell of sentimentality wash over him, even as he grimaced in recognition of Neal's victory.
His dick was apparently even more of a heartsick sap than his mind was, though, because soon it was fast and sweet and almost - almost - as good as if it were Neal's hand pulling him closer and closer to bliss, as he stared at the blue letters on Neal's chest, at the eyes and the smile above them.
A few minutes later, Peter's phone buzzed again.
MESSAGE FROM NEAL'S CELL: Was your order obeyed to your satisfaction?
MESSAGE FROM PETER'S CELL: Of course it was. Cheater.
MESSAGE FROM NEAL'S CELL: All's fair in love and other contests
MESSAGE FROM PETER'S CELL: I love you too
MESSAGE FROM NEAL'S CELL: Tell me in person tomorrow. with your body lol. That's an order btw :)
The next day, Peter obeyed.