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Author: Puck (pucktheperv on LJ and Tumblr)
Warnings: Angst, Non-Con, Hurt/Comfort, prostitution, mentions of underage prostitution, fire play. Peter/Neal (with Elizabethan consent! ;P)
Summary: While chasing down a pyromaniac with a fondness for burning down museums, Neal is forced to go undercover as a prostitute, igniting fears about his relationship with Peter that he thought he'd put out long ago. When things go very wrong, both Neal and Peter have to face up to the fact that once a fire is kindled, it is hard to quell-especially without getting burned.
Author's Notes: I'm sorry, but I love angsty h/c whore!fic. And Neal would look so preeetty with glitter in his hair.
o o o
Chapter 1: Ignition
Love is a fire. But whether it is going to warm your hearth or burn down your house, you can never tell. -Joan Crawford
"Okay, everyone," Peter said as he walked into the conference room, pausing to slide a thick folder down the table to Diana, who caught it nimbly. "I've got it." He grinned broadly as he switched on the projector. "I've found our in!"
"Thank God," Neal said with exaggerated relief as he smoothly caught the rubber band ball he'd been tossing into the air. "Please, Peter," he looked up with wide eyes, his interest way too sincere to be anything but faked. "Enlighten us."
"I'll do that," Peter snapped back, using the opportunity to push Neal's feet off the table. Neal just smirked in return, tossing the damn rubber band ball up in the air again. Peter had a sudden urge to just smack him in the back of the head like a misbehaving toddler. Not that there was any point. Neal would probably enjoy having proof that he'd gotten under Peter's skin, even if that proof was a bruise on his scalp. Better to just ignore him completely. Like a time out, minus the standing in the corner thing. Not that Peter wouldn't enjoy making Neal stand in the corner—in his opinion men who acted like five year olds deserved to be treated like five year olds—but he was pretty sure that would fall under "less than professional". He already spent enough of his time doing less than professional things with Neal, like breaking into buildings and cracking safes and staring at the really attractive line of his jaw when he should be doing paperwork. Er, not the last one. But the others.
"So, we all know that Melbane's house is practically Fort Knox—"
"Fort Knox actually has some serious gaps in security," Neal cut in, using his pretending-to-be-helpful-but-really-being-snarky voice. "You would be surprised. I would say Melbane's house falls more under the Ben Gurion International Airport category. Complex but orderly, contained but functional, secure but workable, and a little bit terrifying if they happen to mistake your cologne bottle for a hand grenade." He paused, a thoughtful look passing over his face. "But I doubt Melbane searches people for hand grenades. We could probably get in his place that way. Blowing half the house down really leaves the area open for investigation."
"Thank you for that observation, Neal," Peter said dryly, his tone a warning to the probie who was chuckling in the back of the room. Neal did *not* need any encouragement. "My point being, up until now, bugging his house without his knowledge has only been a dream. The man's so damn paranoid that the flower pot on his porch has a hidden camera-AND a little sign warning away 'The Man'. After the sale Melbane made last week, Judge Kellman granted us a warrant to search his house, but, honestly, I don't give much of a damn about some small-time fence right now. I want the guys he's working with." Peter hit a button on his laptop, bringing up an image of a building consumed in flames. "The painting he fenced last week was from one of our earlier fires, and word on the street is that he's in cohorts with our fire-starters and that they sell only to him."
"No fence with any respect at all would buy from those sons of bitches," Neal said, face troubled. "I can't believe they burned all that art."
"The point is," Peter said before Neal could go off on yet another rant about art being the conservation of an artists blooming soul within the magnificent glory of their deepest strokes or whatever, "these guys meet Melbane at his place and, since he is a complete and total loner to a disturbing degree—not to mention the paranoid as hell thing—any attempt to bug the place by pulling the usual lawn guy, maid, any kind of help, is useless. This guy may be a millionaire, but apparently he washes his own undies because we haven't even seen him send a single suit out to the cleaners. Every day he heads to the office at exactly seven-fifteen, spends all day absolutely alone in his locked office, then heads directly home at six o'clock. No dinners with ladies, no trips to the opera, no poker nights with the boys. Just him alone in his little medieval fortress of a house, doing God knows what."
"But if he's so damn regular," one of the agents spoke up, furrowing his brow thoughtfully, "how come we can't just slip in during the day and drop the bugs? I mean, from seven-fifteen to six o'clock is quite the window." He nodded vaguely toward Neal. "Especially since we got Lex Luthor over here. I realize his security rocks, but so does the Bank of America's over on 43rd and it got hit just last week."
Neal let out a laugh, shaking his head. "Are you really comparing this house to a Bank of America? Banks are some of the easiest hits. They're like people who use the same password over and over—once you crack the code, you're set, you can hit any branch in North America and they'll all respond in the same way. Melbane's house is uncrackable." Neal began to idly toss his rubber band ball from hand to hand, chewing lightly on his lower lip, his eyes slightly out of focused as he thought. Peter had to admit that, as much as he believed in doing things the honorable way, it was interesting to watch that brilliant mind work.
"I thought nothing was uncrackable for you, Neal," Diana said dryly, lip twitching in amusement as Neal glared at her.
"Okay, maybe not uncrackable, but we'd need the kind of information that would take weeks of surveillance to get. See, Melbane's what those of us in the business call an 'Old Faithful.' Most people now rely on complicated electronic systems run by central computers. Heavy duty keypads, digital locks with thousands of rotating codes, fingerprint and voice recognition software—that kind of thing. Now, Melbane does have all of that, at least from what I can tell from the diagnostics on his electricity use. Either he's sporting a top notch system or he's wallpapered his house in flat screens and plays the Discovery Channel 24/7 on every one. Your average thief would tuck his tail and run. But that kind of security… when you get down to it, it's all a bunch of ones and zeros in trillions and trillions of different sequences. If you run all the data through a high-tech enough computer, you can crack it. But Melbane's smart. He's double layered the system. Beneath the million dollar gadgets he's got the kind of thing you've got at say… a prison."
Diana raised an eyebrow. "A prison?"
Neal nodded. "Peter, put up the computer image of Melbane's house."
Peter obeyed, a 3-D image of Melbane's house coming up.
"See the oversized cameras everywhere?" Neal pointed above the front door. "That thing records to VHS." He looked over at Peter. "Peter. How did you catch me?"
"I used your oversized ego to outsmart you?"
Neal let out an annoyed sigh as Peter smirked at him. "Seriously, how did you catch me, the second time? I could have been anywhere. How did you find out where I was?"
Peter frowned. "I knew your weakness. Kate. She's always been your soft spot." Though God knew why. Peter still had yet to figure out Kate's redeeming qualities. Neal may have loved her, but Peter was still not convinced she had loved him as much as Neal had believed. Peter was sorry she was dead, but not sorry that Neal was free of her.
"Yeah," Neal agreed, "but how did you know that I'd be at her apartment? Why wouldn't we be on the first chartered flight to the Swiss Alps that we could catch?"
"Well… I saw her on the security feed. She left you and never came back, so obviously you two weren't running off together. Not when you could have served three more months and been a free man."
"Exactly!" Neal sat back in his seat, grinning like Peter had won some sort of prize. "You saw the tapes. The old, shitty VHS tapes that get shipped off every week to some storage facility in nowhere land. That system hadn't been updated since Mark Wahlburg was Marky Mark. I could do a lot of things, but I couldn't fix those tapes. So you were able to look back to the very day that Kate took off."
"True," Peter said, remembering with some amusement Neal's face on fast rewind, beard disappearing. A beard was really not his look. It was almost as bad as Peter's moustache had been.
"Under his Fortune 500 system, Melbane has an antiquated setup, not to actually keep people out, but so he'll know if someone *tries* to get in. People as paranoid as Melbane are usually less worried about people gaining actual entrance than they are people sneaking in and spying on them. All that Orwellian future crap. You want to get past this sytsem, well, it's not so tough." Neal smirked at Peter, obviously enjoying the chance to recap on his escape. His *attempted* escape, anyway.
"You use a cassette player to forge a keycard, make sure you keep your face in enough shadow that the shitty lens can't make heads or tails of you, and use lock picks or even brute force against any doors that aren't automated. To make it look like you were never there, however, you would have to get into the main recording area—if there is only one. Since each camera records to its own tape, old systems often required multiple headquarters. Then you would have to doctor all the tapes to look like you were never there, something that is much easier said than done. The world before Photoshop was a tricky place to forge. It would take at least a couple of hours to do all the tapes, even for someone who really knew what they were doing." He shrugged. "So, yeah, give me a couple weeks to figure out exactly what kind of systems he's running in that place and I could probably be in and out like a ghost. But not the invisible kind. The old system would either have me on tape or have been obviously doctored."
"Okay…" Jones said, drawing out the word, "but if we can't go undercover and we can't trick the system, how are we gonna plant the bugs without tipping Melbane off that we've been in his place?"
Peter watched in amusement as the whole room turned as one to look at Neal and he just sat there, blinking.
"I have no idea," he admitted finally, when it became obvious that the Harvard crew was waiting on him for an answer. "What are you all looking at me for? Peter's the one who said he had an in. You want to take it from here, boss man?" The man gestured dramatically, like he was introducing some kind of show star. He really was a diva.
Peter smiled, selfishly pleased at there was at least one thing in the universe that Neal Caffrey couldn't figure out in 7.5 seconds or less. "Yeah, I'll take it from here." He nodded at the file he'd sent Diana's way. "It seems that our loner actually does have some need for normal human interaction." He paused, lip curling up a little. "Actually, maybe 'normal' is too nice a word. Let's just say that a man by any other name is still a man."
"What does that even *mean*?" Neal questioned the agent next to him as Diana made a face over the file she'd just opened.
"Oh, damn," she said, voice sounding a little disgusted as she stared down at the file in her hands. "This is so not what I want to be seeing. It's like the absolute antithesis to 'double the fun.' Double the gross, maybe. Is that kid even legal?"
"What the hell?" Jones said, scooting his chair over to get a look at the file. His eyes widened and he grimaced. "Oh, damn! Damn, Peter! What the hell is this crap?"
"That is our in," Peter said simply, watching with a morbid sense of curiosity as the file was handed around the room, the agents all making faces and declaring the need for a mind rinse. When it finally came to Neal he took the folder with a smirk on his face, obviously eager to see what kind of pictures would make ten FBI agents want to cover their eyes and moan. The smirk quickly melted into a tight frown as he began to flip silently through the files, studying the photos.
Hm. Not really the reaction he's expected from Neal. He wasn't quite sure *what* he'd been expected, but he'd assumed that, at the very least, the somewhat prissy man would be offended, if not by the actions then by the mere idea of someone doing something like that up against the side of a Dumpster. It was not a particularly romantic scene to begin with, plus Neal was not a big fan of dirt. Once he'd stepped in a mud puddle up to his ankle and spent the rest of the day whining like a baby. It had been annoying as hell, but also kind of cute.
"I take it that kid down there isn't polishing his shoes?" Neal said, not sounding as if he particularly cared, though he was still frowning as he studied the sequence of pictures they'd gotten off a camera in the red-light district. The pictures were in black and white and the images were somewhat blurred, but it was clear enough to make out the two figures in the alley, one leaning heavily against the side of a Dumpster, the other on their knees in front of him. Like a perverted flip book, each image was just slightly different from the last, but there was no question about what was going on.
"No, definitely not polishing his shoes. Polishing other things maybe. But the guy is definitely Melbane." Peter sighed. "It seems we were a little lax with our surveillance. The guy's schedule is so minute by minute that, after a couple of days of noting that he watered the plant on his porch at exactly 6:20, we shut down 24/7 surveillance since we weren't learning much from the van. But apparently his obsessive compulsive schedule includes a regular visit to a street corner outside Queens every Tuesday just after midnight. He got a parking ticket last week, which came up in our systems, and good old Joe from Big Pay Pawn was more than happy to lend us his security tapes to keep our eyes off of all the stuff he had in there that 'fell off a truck,' if you know what I mean."
"And this helps us how, exactly?" Diana questioned, obviously not pleased at the situation.
"Well, we had NYPD pick up the hooker," Peter said, bending over his computer and bringing up the young man's picture. He was very pretty, with pale brown skin, full lips, and wide eyes. Good looks couldn't hide the tired, dull cast to his face, however, and it wasn't hard to tell that this one was old beyond his years. "Name's Carson Giles. Just turned twenty. According to him, Melbane comes around one a week like clockwork. They have a little hanky panky—"
"Hanky panky? Is that what they're calling street corner oral these days?" Neal shook his head, looking like he thought Peter must be the oldest person alive. "Personally I've always thought that 'hokey pokey' is more descriptive, and you can even hum the song when you get fucked up the butt."
Peter's brow furrowed at the sharp edge to Neal's voice. "Excuse me if I gloss over the details," he said flatly. "You want details, rent a porno. Now shut up and let me finish."
Neal just scowled at him, crossing his arms over his chest in a way that made Peter wonder what, exactly, he'd done wrong so very wrong now. Neal had been the one to make the dirty comment.
"The point is, aside from the occasional blow job in an alley if they're short on time, Melbane usually takes him home for their Tuesday tryst then puts him in a cab back."
"Wait," Jones said, raising an eyebrow. "Are you implying that you want somebody to go undercover as the hooker?"
Peter shrugged. "It's our only way in. We made a deal with the hooker—he finds himself a new corner for the next few weeks and we won't charge him with solicitation."
"How kind of you," Neal said dryly.
Peter rolled his eyes. "It *is* kind of us. He's breaking the law. Anyway, my point is, Melbane likes his precious schedule. He won't want to waste time looking for his toy if we have something just as good to offer him."
"And who, exactly, is going to be playing this hooker?" Jones asked doubtfully.
Peter's eyes slid over to Neal and Jones let out a laugh. "You gotta be kiddin' me! Fancy pants over there? Maybe when you need an escort that retails for eighteen-hundred a night not including the cost of champagne or flavored condoms. But on a street corner? Please."
Eighteen-hundred a night? Wow, Jones had some high standards for Neal. Peter's eyes danced over the man's very attractive lips. Okay, maybe eighteen-hundred was reasonable. Or possibly the goddamn sale price.
"Neal best fits the profile for our boy. Attractive, slim, not particularly threatening. You have a better suggestion, you let me know."
"Okay, whoa, wait up there, cowboy," Neal said, holding up his hands. "I don't remember volunteering for this! I'm sorry, Peter, but I don't do street corners. Julia Roberts in 'Pretty Woman' is not my style. Not going to happen."
Peter looked at him, a little surprised. Neal usually jumped at the chance to pretend he was somebody else. And, yeah, maybe this was a little unconventional, but it was just undercover work. It wasn't like they actually expected him to start taking clients or whatever. "What, you're saying you won't do it? It's not like it's going to be a tough gig-you flirt like most people breathe."
Neal scowled. "Very funny, Peter. You can make me come to work, you can make me file papers, you can make me fill up your fucking coffee cup, but you can't sell my ass to some psycho just so you can close some stupid case."
"Some stupid case?" Peter said, surprised at the intensity of Neal's tone. "Just 'some stupid case'? This from the man who spent two hours last night talking about how our perps should be crucified for what they're doing?"
Neal made a frustrated sound. "They should be! I mean, these guys *burn down* museums just so they can sneak out a couple of masterpieces! The stuff they steal may get the highest black market value, but the stuff they destroy is priceless! It's not just paint on a canvas, it's a piece of that artists soul. No one with *any* respect for art would *ever* pull stunts like that, not for the Mona Lisa herself. I want to stop these guys and you're right—Melbane is the way to get to them. He's obviously the one buying and fencing the pieces. But there has to be another way. There has to be. Because I'm *not* doing this." He glared at Peter as if daring the man to argue.
"For God's sake, Neal, it's just an undercover job—"
"As a *whore*." His jaw tightened, the movement reminding Peter of just how attractive a jaw it was. Damn it, this was *not* the time for this.
"I think you can handle it. What was it that guy who stole the Haustenburg said? You're a butterfly who flits from flower to flower?" Peter shook his head, chuckling a little at the memory.
"Are you saying you think I'm a whore?"
Peter's eyes widened at the furious look on Neal's face. "What? No? No! When the hell did I say that?" Seriously, sometimes this man was worse than a woman.
"Hey, look," Diana interrupted, holding up a hand. "Considering that pretty much the only time us ladies get to go undercover is when they need a hooker, I can understand your reservations, Neal. But we won't let anything bad happen to you. It's just a way into Melbane's house. I know it's awkward, and not the kind of thing guys are used to dealing with, but we'll be there to back you up."
"Neal, who else are we supposed to send in?" Peter asked. "Jones? Melbane would probably run screaming. We need someone… well, someone prettier." And Neal was nothing if not pretty.
Neal's eyebrows shot up, mouth dropping open. "Someone *prettier*?" An upset look came over his face. "So you don't even need my skills. You just want me for my pretty face."
Jones snorted loudly and Neal scowled at him.
"Just want you for your… no we don't just want you for your pretty face!" Peter rubbed his forehead tiredly. "For the love of God, Neal, this is the FBI, not the Miss America pageant."
"Though, if it was, you would totally be wearing the sash," Jones put in very unhelpfully, earning himself a glare from Peter.
"We need you because you're the one who fits the profile, okay?" Peter said, trying to sound soothing. "It is not a personal attack! Besides, I thought you enjoyed a con!"
"Believe it or not, putting on a crop top and panties then flashing my junk for any man with a twenty is really not my idea of a good time." Neal shook his head. "Get Jones to do it. Get the new probie to do it. Get goddamn Hughes to do it for all I care. But I'm not doing it." He stood abruptly, grabbing his jacket and somehow managing to pull it on gracefully despite the fact that he looked ready to spit fire. "I'm taking an early lunch. I'll see you later." With one last glare at Peter he stalked off, slamming the conference room door behind him.
Peter let out a moan, rubbing at his forehead. "Diana. You want to tell me what I did this time?"
The woman just shook her head, looking slightly amused. "Sorry, boss. You're gonna have to muddle through this one on your own."
"Wonderful," Peter muttered, shutting his laptop. "All of you, get gone. I'll talk to Neal and we'll reconvene in three hours."
The agents all nodded and started shuffling their things around like obedient puppies. At least some people still listened to him. Now all he had to do was deal with Neal.