It was 8:42 on a Friday night, and the absolute last place on earth that Peter Burke wanted to be at that moment was in his office, working on what was turning out to be the most boring mortgage fraud case in a very long list of very boring mortgage fraud cases. The case had reached a point where it was nothing but poring over dozens of files, looking for tiny discrepancies that would show them where the missing money had gone; after several hours of this, Peter's brain felt numb, and staying here studying files for the next few hours was almost the last thing he wanted to do.
Unfortunately, they'd been tipped off that day to the fact that their prime suspect had booked a flight out of the country, scheduled to depart the following morning – so the time they had to find the evidence they needed was severely limited. And the actual last thing he wanted to do was to let the past few weeks of work go to waste by allowing their suspect to escape.
No, it seemed that no matter how frustrated and exhausted and bored Peter was getting with the tedious work, he would be staying there until the job was done.
Neal seemed to have other ideas.
He was sitting in the chair that was usually across from Peter's desk, but he'd pulled it around the desk so that it was right next to Peter's – the better to annoy him with, Peter guessed, since he wasn't really doing much helping. This was, ironically, just the sort of work that Neal could likely figure out in a matter of minutes, if he actually could bring himself to focus on it. Of course, since it wasn't a fascinating piece of artwork or a beautiful woman – he couldn't.
"When can we go home?"
He sighed loudly, leaning back in his chair and flipping his hat gracefully up his arm and onto his head, as if they'd be leaving in the next few minutes. Then, he flipped it back down his arm again and onto the table, as if Peter was actually watching his little performance.
Which he wasn't. Peter was focused. He was working. He wasn't at all distracted by the way Neal was leaning on his desk, now, half-covering the files with his arms, and looking up at Peter with those eyes that were still startlingly blue, even after having seen them a countless number of times.
No. Peter wasn't distracted at all.
"You didn't have to stay, you know," he reminded Neal in his best stern voice. "You could have gone home."
"To an empty house with nothing to do?" Neal scoffed. "No thanks."
Elizabeth was hosting an event out of town, which was why Peter didn't feel bad about staying at the office so late. Apparently, however, Neal wanted him to feel bad about it.
"Come on, Peter," he wheedled, slipping a hand under the desk to rest innocently just above Peter's knee. "We've still got hours to finish this. Getting done by morning won't be a problem, even if we take a little break..."
"Stop it," Peter ordered quietly, catching Neal's hand and firmly, pointedly placing it back on the desk in front of them. "We're not home yet."
Neal followed his slightly anxious glance toward the glass windows of his office, then smiled with amused understanding. "No one's even here to see…"
"Hughes is still in his office," Peter pointed out.
"Yeah," Neal agreed. "In his office. You know, the one with actual walls and a door that you can't see through. It's not like he's going to notice from all the way over there that my hand isn't above the table."
"Unless he happens to come over here for something," Peter sighed, once again removing said wayward hand from his leg and placing it on Neal's leg this time. "And I'm sorry, but I'm not quite ready yet for my boss to become aware of our… arrangement."
"You're embarrassed by me?" Neal gave Peter his best wounded look. "Are you ashamed of me, Peter?"
"No, of course not," Peter insisted, setting down the file in his hand and turning his full attention toward Neal. "That's not it at all. It's just that in a professional setting like this, I can't afford to…" His words trailed off when he saw the barely suppressed sparkle of amusement in Neal's eyes, just beyond the practiced expression of innocent vulnerability. "And… you almost got me there." He turned his attention pointedly back toward the file on the desk in front of him.
"Technically, I'm pretty sure I did get you there…"
"Neal." Peter's voice was sharp, but he was trying to hide a smile himself at this point. "I have. To work."
"Yeah," Neal conceded softly, shifting his chair closer to Peter's so that their knees brushed just slightly against each other, sliding his arm strategically across the papers Peter was trying to examine and laying his hand lightly against Peter's wrist. "But you don't want to."
Peter closed his eyes, biting back a sigh of frustration, while simultaneously trying to conceal the affectionate amusement he felt despite it.
One rule. One rule regarding this relationship – no inappropriate behavior at the office or during working hours – and of course he has to decide to fucking seduce me here.
Of course he does. He's Neal.
"Yes, I do," Peter insisted, hoping he sounded more certain than he felt. "I want to finish this case, Neal, so we can move onto something more interesting. Don't you want...?"
"What if I could offer you…" Neal's long, elegant fingers traced their way up Peter's arm, as his free hand came to rest on Peter's leg, higher this time. "… something you want more?"
"I want to finish my work…"
"As much as you want to kiss me senseless?" Neal teased, arching a suggestive brow.
Peter shot him a glare, as the temptation Neal was offering became harder and harder to resist. "I'd like to knock you senseless…" He drew in a deep breath before meeting Neal's eyes with a bright smile. "But I have more self-control than that…"
As he spoke, Peter moved Neal's hand again, once more clearing his line of vision toward the file in front of him – the contents of which he'd long since forgotten. Neal promptly reached down and picked up the entire file, tossing it carelessly over his shoulder.
"I don't," he announced with a smirk.
Peter stared at him incredulously for a long moment, taking in the challenging lift of his perfectly groomed brow, the teasing upward quirk of his lips, the eagerness in the way he watched Peter, like a child acting out for his parent's attention, not really concerned with whether said attention was positive or negative – just with the fact that they got that attention.
"Pick that up!" Peter demanded, indignant, pointing beyond Neal to the file, its contents now scattered on the floor.
Neal's grin was cocky and appraising, and the look in his eyes could only be called delight – at having finally provoked a reaction, and gained Peter's full attention, Peter could only assume.
"Make me," Neal replied, his tone light and teasing, but suddenly strangely soft.
And suddenly… it all made sense.
Neal knew how to get just what he wanted from someone. He was an expert in determining what behavior was likely to elicit what reaction, and then playing his target accordingly, to achieve his desired result. If he was goading Peter, deliberately antagonizing him, literally daring Peter to try to take him in hand and make him behave – it could only be because that was what he wanted.
And wasn't that an intriguing thought.
Peter considered for a moment, uncertain – but the bold, challenging look in Neal's eyes drove his decision. He hesitated just slightly before getting out of his chair and heading toward the door.
Hughes will be in his office until he's ready to leave…
The chances of being caught were very slim as it was, and Peter was about to make them a lot slimmer. He pointedly locked the door to his office before pulling the cord to lower the blinds, then rolling them down until they were tightly shut. He turned back to Neal, who was watching Peter a bit warily, though his eyes were still lit up with triumph at Peter's actions.
Peter was determined that said triumph would be short-lived. He narrowed his eyes at Neal, a calculating smirk of his own rising to his lips.
You wanted my attention, kid… well, now you've got it.
Neal mentally congratulated himself on his victory as Peter closed the blinds and locked the door, clearly prepared, at last, to give Neal what he wanted. He grinned impudently up at Peter as Peter started toward him – but then, he noticed the almost menacing gleam in Peter's eyes, and Neal's smile faltered just a little.
His stomach did a funny little flip as Peter stalked back across the room toward him, his stride purposeful and predatory. Instinct told him to retreat, but there wasn't time, as Peter pushed his chair back a little from the desk with one hand so that he could lean down in front of Neal, roughly grasping the back of his head with his free hand and dragging him in for a fiercely possessive kiss. When Peter finally released him, Neal drew in a ragged gasp, a little dazed and heady and – yeah, definitely halfway to senseless.
Peter's hand tightened slightly in his hair, and Neal opened his eyes with an effort, meeting Peter's gaze, and feeling the fluttering in his stomach intensify at the dangerous glint he saw there. Peter's voice was low and dangerously soft as he issued a quiet command.
"I said… pick… it… up."
As he spoke, he released his grip on Neal's hair, and Neal swallowed hard, sitting up a little straighter in his seat. He watched Peter warily as he rose to his feet on legs that felt more like half-cooked spaghetti than muscle and bone, and crouched down to pick up the scattered papers, stuffing them hurriedly back into the file. Closing it, he rose unsteadily to his feet, placing the file on the desk. He moved as if to sit down again, but Peter was suddenly between him and the chair, holding his gaze with a calculating smile as he stepped forward, purposefully backing Neal away from the chair and the desk, toward the wall beyond them.
As his back hit the wall and Peter moved in close, Neal's hands came up between them, and he noticed with alarm that they were trembling a little, though he hoped not enough that Peter would see. Troubled by his own reaction, as well as by the sudden panic swiftly swelling in the pit of his stomach, Neal tried to remind himself that this was what he'd wanted, what he'd deliberately pushed Peter toward.
This is okay, he told himself again and again. This is okay, it's just Peter, he's not that mad, he's just playing, he's not going to actually do anything…
He rested his hands against Peter's chest, forcing a light, triumphant smile. "I win," he announced, with a breathless little laugh.
"Do you now." Peter's large, strong hands caught his wrists and drew them out from between them, pressing them back against the wall over his head, and then holding them there, pinned together, clasped firmly in one of his own. His eyes were knowing, challenging, as he gave Neal a slow, up-and-down look before asking mildly, "Sure about that?"
Cornered and restrained, Neal's heart raced with instinctive fear, as he fought against a rising sense of irrational panic. He trusted Peter, he knew he wouldn't hurt him, but it was hard to remember that as his mind was assailed with old, painfully familiar sensations – dark memories awakened by Peter's dominant, vaguely threatening demeanor.
Rough, invasive hands pinning him to the wall, the floor, holding him down – too tight, too strong, making useless his efforts to escape their grip…
Neal flexed against Peter's grasp, trying to free himself, but Peter just tightened his grip, edging in closer, the heat of his body against Neal's intense and overpowering.
Peter's voice was hushed and heavy with lust, and Neal froze, his stomach lurching. He tried to remember that this was Peter, and Peter loved him, and it was just a game, just a playful flirtation, nothing to be afraid of, because Peter wouldn't hurt him – but the voice in his memory wasn't Peter's, and the words, the tone, were far more cruel and threatening.
"Don't you fucking move, you little slut. I'll tell you when I want you to move, and until then you just keep still…"
Just Peter… just Peter, and Peter'd never hurt me, Peter loves me, Peter's not like… not like them…
"I'm very disappointed in your behavior, Neal," Peter declared, his words low and measured, as his free hand trailed slowly, possessively casual, down the length of Neal's body, stopping at the curve of his hip. He shifted in closer, raising his hand to rest lightly against the side of Neal's throat, and Neal's stomach dropped at the slight pressure of the touch. He froze, a shiver passing through him as Peter leaned in close to speak next to his ear. "Looks like I'm going to have to punish you."
The rational reassurances flew from his mind in an instant as Neal's heart sank, his breath quickening with fear, and a single realization filled his thoughts.
That's it. You have really screwed up this time, Caffrey…
Peter felt the little shiver that passed through Neal's body with his murmured words, and smiled a little to himself, pleased to be able to elicit such a reaction from the usually stoic young man. Their relationship was still very young – at least the current form of their relationship – and he was still figuring out how to navigate his way past the labyrinth of walls and defenses that it had taken Neal a lifetime to erect.
Just knowing that he could inspire pleasure and desire in Neal Caffrey so strong that he couldn't hold it back gave Peter a heady thrill of power. He loved the way Neal looked right now, with his eyes closed, lost in sensation, his breath quick and shallow with anticipation, willingly helpless and submissive under Peter's hands.
Experimentally, not sure how Neal would react, Peter pressed his thumb lightly against Neal's throat, pressing slightly upward. Neal immediately tilted his head back in the direction of the pressure, and Peter felt his convulsive swallow under his hand. Neal's breath quickened, his wrists flexing again under Peter's hand, but this time without the force necessary to actually pull away.
"Peter…" he whispered, his voice a breathless, ragged gasp – and the desperate sound of his name on Neal's lips sent a shock of pleasure through Peter's body.
"Shhh," Peter soothed him, leaning in to silence him with a slow, languid kiss, relishing the way Neal simply yielded under the touch of his mouth, surrendering immediately and completely.
Huh. That's new.
Not bad, of course – but new.
Peter drew away at last, declaring in a soft, stern voice, "You're in deep enough trouble as it is, Neal. Don't move. Don't talk. Not unless I say you can."
Neal lowered his head slightly as Peter's hand fell from his throat, nodding hurriedly and whispering, "O-okay…"
Peter frowned slightly, caught off guard once more by this new, utterly compliant version of Neal that he'd never seen before. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised; Neal had initiated this little game, hadn't he? It must be what he wanted – to have Peter take control, take over – take him, completely.
Peter was just accustomed to a little more resistance from Neal – both inside and out of the bedroom.
This – this just wasn't what they did.
Peter released Neal's wrists, placing one hand at the younger man's waist and holding him in place. Neal stayed obediently as he'd been positioned, as Peter's free hand slid down his back, resting at the base of his spine for a moment before drawing back and delivering a mild, stinging slap against his backside. Neal jumped a little, biting down on his lower lip, eyes tightly closed, hands clenching into fists – and Peter frowned, beginning to feel a little uneasy with his demeanor.
It wasn't quite as much fun when Neal wouldn't show him the slightest resistance, would barely interact with him, wouldn't even look at him. This strange new version of Neal was quiet and compliant as he never was with Peter, almost as if he was taking the game too seriously, or as if they weren't even playing at all… as if he was actually afraid that Peter might really hurt him if he didn't…
Peter's stomach clenched painfully, and he swallowed hard, his mouth suddenly dry. "Neal?" he said in a soft, hoarse voice.
Neal opened his eyes, hesitating slightly before he looked up at Peter in silent question – and even then, not quite meeting his eyes. Peter raised a gentle hand toward Neal's face – his stomach dropping when Neal flinched slightly. It was such a subtle gesture, anyone else might have missed it – but Peter didn't miss much when it came to Neal.
Except when it really matters. Shit. Peter, what have you done?
Gently, Peter placed his hand against Neal's cheek, tilting his face upward, feeling sick when Neal was so carefully obedient, moving passively with Peter's hand, offering not the slightest resistance.
How could you not have noticed this before? Idiot… idiot…
"Neal." Peter's voice was firm, but soft. "Neal, look at me."
There was a hesitant downward flicker of Neal's eyes before he obeyed, meeting Peter's gaze. He was clearly trying to hide it, but the patented Caffrey façade was a bit shaky at the moment, and Peter's heart sank when he found exactly what he'd been afraid he'd see there – fear.
"Neal," Peter said in a voice of gentle urgency, his fingers sliding up to stroke softly, reassuringly through Neal's hair. "Hey… it's okay… you're all right…"
Neal nodded automatically, eyes tightly closed again as he turned his face away, his fists clenching, trembling slightly over his head. Peter reached up to gently pull them down, his thumbs sliding into them to carefully unfold Neal's fingers, feeling sick when Neal yielded so readily, opening his hands at the slightest pressure, the slightest indication that that was what Peter wanted from him. Peter released Neal's hands, placing his own on Neal's shoulders and pulling him close.
"You're okay," he repeated softly. "No one's gonna hurt you, Neal. You're okay. You're safe…"
Neal froze for a moment, rigid in Peter's embrace, and Peter's heart sank.
Just how badly had he screwed things up between them?
But then, Peter heard a soft, barely audible hitch of breath against his shoulder – before Neal's face fell to rest against it, and Neal's hands came to rest, shaky and halting, against Peter's sides. Peter responded with a wordless, encouraging sound, raising one hand to rest at the back of Neal's head, the other on his back, soothing him gently.
Finally, Neal's trembling began to subside, and he drew away – awkward and stiff, leaning back against the wall with his arms folded defensively over his torso, his gaze downcast and distant. Peter watched with dismay and disappointment as the walls visibly fell into place, a schooled expression of calm taking the place of the fear that was so much more than Neal usually allowed anyone to see.
"Neal," Peter said softly, shaking his head slightly as he reached out to touch Neal's face. "Neal, you don't ever need to be afraid of me."
"I'm not," Neal insisted quietly, pulling away from Peter's hand, staring down at the floor.
"Yes, you are." Peter's voice was calm and certain. "I can see it all over your face."
Neal opened his mouth to protest again, but Peter held up a hand to silence him.
"Please," he said softly. "Neal, you said you'd never lie to me."
Neal looked up at Peter sharply, eyes momentarily wide and trapped – and then his shoulders fell, and he looked away again, silent.
"I don't understand why, though," Peter continued, shaking his head. "Neal, I – I thought this was what you wanted…"
Neal was quiet for a moment longer, before turning his face back toward Peter, though he didn't quite look at him yet. "So did I," he admitted softly. "I – I don't know why I…" He stopped, grimacing slightly as he looked up at Peter and amended, "I do know why. I just – I don't want to talk about it."
Peter studied his face closely, taking in the stubborn set of Neal's jaw, the arms now crossed with deliberately casual ease over his torso – the fragile veneer of control that Neal was barely managing to cling to at the moment. Peter knew that all it'd take would be a little pushing to tear it down completely, to find out the answers to the questions screaming their way through his mind.
He also knew that if he did that – he'd break everything they'd spent the last three years building.
"You don't have to," he assured Neal quietly. "But – Neal."
Neal looked at him again, his eyes guarded and wary, but still revealing so much pain, so much uncertainty. He waited in silence for Peter to go on, his body visibly taut with nerves, clearly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Peter held his gaze, placing a gentle hand on his arm as he spoke in quiet, measured words.
"I will never… ever hurt you. All right?"
Neal nodded quickly, looking away again, blinking rapidly.
"I mean it," Peter insisted, placing a gentle hand on Neal's arm. "I love you, Neal. And I'd never do anything to hurt you. You have to know that."
"I-I do," Neal said softly, closing his eyes. "I do, Peter. I just – I'm sorry."
"No," Peter said, a trace of sharpness edging back into his voice. "No, Neal, you should not be sorry for what just happened here. I was the idiot who started this stupid game, without talking to you, without making sure it was okay, without telling you what I was doing… I'm the one who should be sorry." He sighed, looking away. "I spend all this time trying to get you to trust me, and then I just…"
"I do trust you." Neal looked up at Peter abruptly, his tone quiet but urgent. "Peter – I trust you. I know you didn't – I mean – it's not you that I…" He swallowed hard, and closed his eyes for a moment, but then opened them, holding Peter's gaze without looking away this time. He hesitated before concluding, "Maybe – maybe someday I'll tell you, but – but it's not you. I – I trust you."
"If you want to…" Peter phrased his reply carefully, though his relief at Neal's words was nearly overwhelming. "… I'll be glad to listen. But – you don't ever have to." Peter frowned, his voice becoming stern as he amended, "What you should tell me, though, Neal, is if something like this ever happens again. If I – misread you like this, if things – go too far, or – or anything, you have to tell me…"
"I-I know." Neal glanced down, swallowing hard. "I will."
Peter wasn't exactly thrilled with the uncertainty, the hesitation in his voice.
"I will," Neal insisted, looking up at Peter again, his voice a little more certain. "I – I will, Peter."
"Good." Peter nodded, deciding that, while he wasn't completely satisfied, it was the best he was going to get for the moment. "And – and just know, Neal, that – I'd never do anything to hurt you. Not deliberately. And no one else ever will, either, as long as I can do anything about it. As long as you want me to." He sighed, shaking his head. "Even if I'm an idiot sometimes. I just – I need you to know that."
"I do know." Neal finally smiled, and though it was small and uncertain, it was genuine, and the tightness in Peter's chest began to ease at the sight of it. Neal finally relaxed, visibly, lowering his head against Peter's chest for a moment, his hands – still shaky, but seeking, desperate, clearly willing – resting at Peter's waist and pulling him closer. "I know."
A knot forming in his throat, a suspicious stinging in his eyes that he refused to acknowledge, Peter gently, carefully wrapped his arms around the younger man, holding him close.
Almost as long as he'd known Neal at all, Peter had known that he loved freely and with everything he had. It was perhaps his best quality, but almost certainly his greatest weakness. And Peter knew that he had that love, and he treasured it. But, despite his mistakes, despite his clumsiness when it came to this growing thing between them, Peter had been given a much more precious gift, rarely given at all – Neal's trust.
As he held him there in the quiet while they both recovered, Peter silently vowed to keep every one of the promises he'd just made – and to guard that treasured gift from that moment on. Someday, he hoped to know the secrets Neal still held, locked away where no living soul could see them – though something deep down told Peter that he might regret it if he ever actually did know them. A part of him thought he was better off not knowing what dark past experience had caused Neal's reaction just now, what painful trauma had happened to him to make him protect himself with such walls as he had around him.
But even if I never know… no matter what happened before… Peter promised silently, … I'll keep you safe. And no one will ever hurt you again.